Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What I learned from my Volunteering attemtpts

I wanted to share a little of what I learned about volunteering. First let me share the background of my volunteering efforts. The lessons are at the end of this post.

Like many of us, all my working life, I kept telling myself that once "I had a lot of time" I would devote a good chunk of it to 'volunteering efforts.' Prior to 2008, my volunteering efforts were mostly those sponsored by my company. We'd drop off something for occasional food and clothes drives, or buy, gift-wrap and drop off a toy for "underprivileged" kids during the Holidays.  And a couple of times each year, in exchange for donating our time on a Saturday (races-for-causes, painting school classrooms and the like) we'd receive a logo-filled T-shirt, a goodie bag and the accompanying warm glow.

There were many occasions when I wondered if the amount of time and money that our corporation spent on organizing the event (the logistics, transportation, food for us, the T-shirts etc) weren't better spent by simply collecting money and giving it to the organization instead. But I am also pragmatic, and I understood that there is a "team building" aspect to these events.

Once we left our jobs, my wife and I looked for volunteering opportunities. We did try out several. (I am a big fan of the "marketplace" model that uses in many cities – matching non-profits with would-be volunteers.)

Of course, just because we showed up didn't mean that the organizations had the ability to utilize our skills. To oversimplify, what a lot of organizations needed was really some administrative help. Many of the small and local organizations really needed to improve their operational efficiency. Anyone who's spent time volunteering can tell you that. The feeling that for a few dollars an hour, anyone could have done what I was doing never went away. It wasn't what we had hoped for, but we did help out. However, with us moving from city to city frequently, we couldn’t be of much long-term help to these organizations.

What I felt was really lacking in volunteering at these places was 'scale.' I was more inclined to give my time if it would positively impact a lot of people rather than just a handful.

When I was in India, I chanced upon an email about an opportunity at NPTEL. I responded and was included almost right away. This was a nationwide effort to create instructional videos for engineering students (very similar to MIT's OCW). The scale and scope was there, plus they needed someone like me. Also, because this happened to be my alma mater, I was welcomed back and knew ways to get things done. The professors were churning out good videos. But not many people were watching them online.
 My task was to help get the word out. And I even had access to a sizable budget. Plus, I had knowledge of both sides. I had taken some of these courses, been a student in one of the colleges and taught similar material during my grad school. I knew the strengths to tout and what needed to be improved. Also, the effort needed was quite similar to what a lot of middle managers do, so I had the experience. I felt very much at home. We organized workshops, visited colleges and it worked great for a few months.
They kept asking me to take a salary and become an NPTEL employee so that they could give me more responsibilities. The problem was that after a dozen years of corporate life, I didn't want to become an employee. I didn't want to have a boss to report to. I liked the autonomy that came with doing everything voluntarily and without pay.

I can now see that what I thought was a virtue was the real stumbling block. Since I didn't have a "contract" of any sort, it never went much beyond helping out on an as-needed basis. And then it was time for me to come back to the States.

Which brings me to my current thinking on volunteering efforts.

Lessons about volunteering:1.    Just because you think of yourself as capable doesn't mean that a non-profit can readily use your 'skills.'
2.    In my case, my efforts felt meaningful only when it was at a large scale, something that would impact many people. Also, somewhat paradoxically, whenever my volunteering efforts closely mimicked what my regular work was like, it felt satisfying. In other words, doing what I am reasonably efficient at doing, but doing it pro-bono felt good.
3.    Unless one becomes officially affiliated, one can't expect to be handed lots of responsibility and opportunities.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Happiness Book that influenced me the most

This is a long overdue post. While commenting on one of my posts on happiness, Chris P. asked me two questions: 1.What's the best happiness book you have read; and 2. Are you happier now?

The first question is easier to answer. Without a doubt it is Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard's professor Daniel Gilbert. This is not a self-help book, at least not in the shallow sense of the phrase. This is a very accessible book covering the latest research on our very human failure to predict what makes us happy. (It is full of cleverly constructed experiments that expose how our cognitive biases conspire to make us imagine the future poorly.) Prof. Gilbert is smart and articulate in the way we wish all our teachers were.

Before I read this book, a lot of my ideas about happiness were naïve. I first encountered a lot of new (to me) concepts in this book. Concepts like having a happiness "set point", the differences with which we rate our current experiences versus our memory of past happiness; and our skewed loss versus gain assessments. Perhaps the most important concept I picked up was that of Hedonic Adaptation.

Many of these concepts had a deep impact on me. I learned not to put too much weight in statements like "Once I get [ABC], I will …" or "As soon as [xyz] happens, my life will be wonderful again." This is the book that taught me to distrust many of my emotion-based expectations and anticipations.

I must add that Stumbling on Happiness was the first book of this genre that I read, which is one reason why it had a big impact on me. When I later read Sonja Lyubomirsky's How of Happiness, a lot of the material was already familiar to me, and thus that book didn’t have quite the same impact that Stumbling on Happiness did.

If you haven't read any of the books in the "Happiness Lit" genre I strongly recommend Stumbling on Happiness. It might change your life, just a little.

Chris's second question is: Am I happier now? This one is more difficult to answer. The short answer is yes, I am. Yes, because I am a little more aware of the underlying mechanisms at work. Perhaps an analogy would make my point better. Reading this book is like attending a movie appreciation class. The movies you view may not change, but you are able to see deeper into the ones that you do watch.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Year End Sunset

When this calendar year ends, I am planning to stop updating this blog.

I have been at this 'Time Off' thing for 3.5 years. I will have 2 more months to make any new posts. I will try to post my lessons learned (hopefully they won't be platitudes.) There will be around 200 posts in all.

This blog was a good way to work out my thoughts and ideas in a somewhat public forum. But I feel that I have already shared whatever thoughts I wanted to share about taking sabbaticals/Time Off/Early Retirement.

3.5 years is roughly around 10% of most people's working lives. Seems like a decent point to stop this blog. And time to try something else.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tim O'Reilly - Just don't run out of gas

To me, the following analogy by Tim O'Reilly seems to be referring to 'money during retirement'. When thinking about how much is enough, the metaphor of 'gas for the road trip' seems very apt.
Tim O'Reilly: It was at this time that I formulated an image that I've used many times since: profit in a business is like gas in a car. You don't want to run out of gas, but neither do you want to think that your road trip is a tour of gas stations.
Replace "profit in a business" with "money during retirement." I have referred to the quote before, but I read it today in Tim's Google+ post, where he muses about the legacy that Steve Jobs left behind, and the wisdom of Tim's analogy hit me afresh.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Great Courses by The Teaching Company

This might sound like a paid advertisement, but it is not. I am just a consumer who's always been impressed with The Teaching Company's products.

This company produces quite a number of audio and video courses under its Great Courses series. I have listened to and watched several full courses. They take time, but they are invariably excellent, no exceptions.

It turns out that I have been using their products for over 10 years now, but I only started to pay attention when Bill Gates mentioned them by name, in his GatesNotes blog. I had been searching for around 3 years for a macro-economics book whose material would be accessible to me. Bill Gates recommended a macro-economics series by Timothy Taylor titled America and the New Global Economy. This course came the closest to what I was looking for. My wife and I watched all 36 episodes earlier this year.

Bill Gates also recommended the "Big History" course by Oxford's David Christian and we are watching parts of it now. I don't have the words to describe how good this course is. (Bill calls it "his most favorite course" by TTC.)

As an aside, I am delighted (and grateful) that someone with my modest means can get to enjoy the exact same products that Gates with his purchasing power can.

If TED talks are fast food for our brains, then the Great Lectures are the healthy gourmet meal plans for our intellects.

Most of these DVD set costs several hundred dollars, but I am also seeing quite a few for under $40. Personally, I have always borrowed these from the libraries. Do check them out from your library and give it a try.

Each episode of any Teaching Company disk that I watch serves to remind me of why I should always chose time over everything else -- time to spend viewing the Great Courses.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Biggest Worry

Quesiton: Deep down, what is your biggest worry?

Response: That someday I could become unexpectedly physically incapable, and my savings won't be enough to cover my healthcare costs. I really believe that we can weather all other contingencies. For now, we have a high deductible health insurance. But healthcare costs are where we are rolling the dice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Handling Uncertainty

Back when I worked for an airline, we'd go to the airport to fly "standby." If the plane had empty seats, we'd get on. If everyone showed up, we went home. By definition we couldn't book hotels, or have concrete travel plans. A few times we ended up in cities very different from the ones we intended to visit.

We never liked it, but we figured out ways to deal with the uncertainty. Most airline employees do. Not once did we end up with no hotel room to sleep in for the night. If you have a credit card, you can find a room, albeit at a high price.

Anyway, all that is back-story. I guess we learned from our "standby" mode of existence. I am no longer with an airline, but we are still doing 'stand-by.' When there is fluctuating demand and supply, there will be instances of over-capacity or over-demand.

The people I consult with call me for short projects when they have a need (higher demand). Other times I don't work. Home-owners or landlords sometimes look to sublet for a month or two (overcapacity). We rent from them. In the end, it always seems to work out.

So why do I do this? My shying away from long-term commitment stems from the belief that Flexibility equals Autonomy. And I want (the illusion of) autonomy over everything else.

If you can handle a level of uncertainty, you can make things work.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Conviction (Pirsig Quote)

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it is going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Early Retirement: The Only Criterion that Matters

Question: Can I retire early?

Response phrased as another question: Do you have kids (or plan to)?
If yes, no you can't.
If no, yes you can.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What you really need to get by

For nearly three years now, my wife and I have tried to be 'location independent people.' No apartments with long term leases. We move from place to place, seeing if we can make this mode work.

Repeatedly settling in and winding down over and over seems to be instructive. It has forced us to be efficient, to examine and rethink each of our possessions. (As an aside, here's my suggestion for anyone looking to de-clutter – Move houses)

So after nearly three years of doing this, here's my whittled down list of what I really need to get by: One big suitcase of sensible clothes, a sturdy set of multi-purpose pots and pans, a reliable car, and the very best electronic gadgets that I can afford to buy.

Everything else is only 'nice to have.'

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Few Quick posts

I haven't been posting here much lately. Many reasons. Among them are the "rules" that I have created for myself. Rules on what to post, how to write it, how to not sound arrogant, what it should convey, and most important, my worries about who might misinterpret what I say.

All of that has stifled my output.

So I am attempting to break free. For the next few days, I will post a few short quick posts. I'll call them as I see them, not worry about my rules. If I offend, it is only a by-product, not the goal.

So take the next few posts with a grain of salt. All of them, for that matter.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Now is the time

Even in Kyoto, I long for Kyoto – Basho

On paper, I have all the free time I can handle. And yet I don’t have enough of it.

This summer, my wife and I rented a condo in downtown Chicago for three months. We wanted to enjoy the city. The idea was to take leisurely walks and explore whatever caught our fancy. A summer vacation in our own city.

As soon as we moved in, we started discovering more things to do. Music concerts, festivals, library talks, author lectures, performances, new places to eat. I took on some consulting work. Thanks to Twitter, we discovered that there was great music every Thursday night, a neighborhood tour on Tuesdays, a foreign film festival every Wed, and jazz at lunch and lots more things. Friends and family came over to visit and stay. Pretty soon, we had so many engagements that we had to pick and choose.

In no time, my calendar was so full that I was just as busy as when I had a full time job. But this post is not about the numerous things to do in Chicago.

My main point is that there is never going to be enough time in life to do the things we want to. Each day, all of us are offered such an assortment of pleasurable diversions to choose from that we'll never have the kind of time in future that we secretly hope we will. Lennon was spot on when he reminded us to pay attention 'when we are busy making other plans.' No matter how many times we hear the cliché, this journey is the destination. This is it.

I am now convinced that our thinking is flawed when we say "Some day I am going to …" or when we tell ourselves "After I am done with this, I am going to get to the things I really want to." That's not quite the way things will unfold.

The real trick for each of us is to figure out how to do the soul-enriching things that we love and enjoy even as we do the things that occupy us day to day. Because this is it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Emphasizing Mind over Material

Discussions around the concept of time versus money interest me. I recently came across a couple of articles that discuss wealthy people's non-conventional approaches to spending their money.

The first one is an article in the LA Times (by Jessica Guynn) wherein she writes about how the new Silicon Valley millionaires who are shunning the traditional materialism of the affluent. They make up their own minds about what makes sense for them. "I have pictured myself owning expensive things and easily came to the conclusion that I would not have a materially more meaningful life because of them," says Moskovitz, one of the neo-millionaires mentioned in the article.

As Jessica writes:

It's not that this new generation of tech entrepreneurs doesn't seek status, Marwick said. They just seek it in different ways.

"This is not a community that values good looks, visible wealth or having a hot body. Those are not the ways that they distinguish high status from low status," Marwick said. "Technology millionaires don't hobnob with celebrities or buy a fancy car. They travel to Thailand or they fund an incubator. These things are just as expensive, but that's the classic hacker ethos that prizes the mind, not materials."
Read the full article here.

The second one is by Barry Ritholtz, a columnist for the Washington Post titled "7 life lessons from the very wealthy." At some level all of us know these lessons, but it is always good to be reminded.

One of Barry's lessons is:
Don’t become “cash rich” and “time poor.”
Work is the process of exchanging your time for money. Remember: What you do with your time is far more meaningful than the goods you accumulate with your money. If you are working so much to become rich but you ignore your spouse and miss seeing your kids grow up, you are actually poorer than you realize.
Barry Rithotz runs a blog called "The Big Picture." Read the full article here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Assorted Links - Living deliberately

A few quick assorted links for today. All of the following mostly deal with the idea of spending the limited time we have available thoughtfully and deliberately.

1. Merlin Mann of 43 folders on "Cranking."
Mann's day job is to write about time management. He posts about it and is writing a book on “how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life." He wants us all to find the time and attention to do our best creative work. In the process though, he finds that he is not following his own suggestions. This post is in reaction to that realization.

2. Is a Well-Lived Life Worth Anything? (HBR)
Umair Haque laments the loss of "Eudaimonia" and says that we have replaced it with "Opulence" and materialistic pursuits. Some of the phrases he uses are worth thinking about: hedonic opulence vs. seeking eudaimonic prosperity. Let's hope that the Eudaimonic Revolution which he predicts does indeed happen, where everyone tries to "master the the art of living meaningfully well."

3. PenMachine's (Derek Miller) Last post.
Derek Miller's very last post. In this poignant read, he writes about everything he will miss, his family having to cope without him, and reminds us that we live in a "wondrous place."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Geoff Dyer - Otherwise Known As The Human Condition

It takes a bit of getting used to, the idea that spending 365 days a year doing exactly as you please might be a viable proposition. – Geoff Dyer

I spent the better part of last week reading Geoff Dyer's latest book, "Otherwise Known as the Human Condition." The book, which is a collection of his reviews and essays on a wide range of subjects (essays about photos, book reviews and synopses about authors, about World War I, pieces about jazz and its music-makers and a number of "personal" articles that are category-defying), is an exhilarating read.

To label Dyer a polymath is inadequate. He writes with confidence and intimate knowledge on a very wide range of topics, sharing his candid opinions without holding back.

I learned about Geoff Dyer from a review by Lonely Planet's Tony Wheeler. I am not reading much fiction these days (my attempt at "culling") and so I didn't read his "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi."

However, when I came across his Human Condition book, I picked it up. I have found that reading an author's "journalism in book form" is actually a very good way to get introduced to authors I have not read before. These types of books give us the option to read just a few articles to see if they resonate. If we like them, we can go on to read more of the author's books.

In this collection there were a number of articles that were often too literary for my taste. I was happy to abandon them and move on to the next article. I must add that this book is not for everyone. But I also discovered authors I should read –Rebecca West (her Black lamb and Grey Falcon) and Ryszard Kapuzcinski's (his real life adventures) and it was illuminating to read about what Dyer thinks of writers I admire—Cheever and James Salter.

I don’t think I have consciously thought about the difference between ambition and aspiration, not quite in the way Geoff makes them distinct, while also giving us a hint of what it takes to make it as a writer or an artist.

It is possible to have aspirations without having ambition – and vice versa. […] I had aspirations but was not ambitious. I liked the idea of writing because that was a way of not having a career. […] And though many of my friends aspired to be artists, not many of them had the will, talent, luck, or stamina to stick at it. Some of them were just too lazy.

In many of his nostalgic pieces there is an undercurrent of melancholy. Consider this section from his essay "On the Roof" where he wonders about what must have happened to all the people that he used to hang out with in the early 80's, the friends that he no longer kept in touch with:

The same things that happen to everyone: home ownership, marriage, a kid or two, disappointment, divorce, cancer scares, worsening hangovers, death of a parent or two, qualified success, school fees, depression, sudden rejuvenation following the discovery of Ecstacy, holidays in India or Ibiza, telly watching, coming out (as homosexuals), coming in (as heterosexuals), going to the gym, more telly watching, new computers, bad knees, less squash, more squash, more tennis, rewriting (and downplaying) of earlier ambitions to diminish scale of disappointment, fatal breast cancer, less sleep, less beer, more wine, more cocaine, hardly any acid, frightening ketamine overdose, total breakdown, more money, discreet tattoos, baldness, stopping going to the gym, yoga, even more telly watching…

The book has five sections, titled Visuals, Verbals, Muscials, Variables and Personals. After wowing the reader with his breadth of expertise, in the section titled "Personals" is where he becomes himself, descending from the super-human perch I had placed him on after reading the earlier sections of the book. He writes about growing up in the UK in a middle-class family with its economizing ways, and how he found a way out by becoming a "scholarship boy."

Geoff is very humorous and often self-deprecating in a confident way. Here he shares an exchange with a librarian at the exalted Institute of Jazz Studies in Rutgers, NJ, where the librarian gets to wondering about Geoff's audacity at writing a jazz book.
"So what are your credentials for writing a book about jazz?"
"I don't have any," I said. "Except I like listening to it."

Given where I am, there are many sentences and sentiments in the book that resonated.

[On his thoughts on getting a Ph.D as opposed to being interested in everything]: "Post-graduate work takes you down a path of greater and greater specialization (culminating in the supreme pointlessness of a Ph.D.)"

[On acquiring a taste for idleness]: "If Oxford had given me a taste for idleness, living on the dole in Brixton refined it still further."

[On choosing autonomy]: I have done pretty much as I pleased, letting life find it's own rhythm, working when I felt like it, not working when I didn't. I've not always been happy – far from it—but I have always felt responsible for my happiness and liable for my unhappiness.

In short, Geoff Dyer's Otherwise Known as the Human Condition delighted me while also making me ponder about many things that I haven't thought deeply about.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sparked: Micro-volunteering for busy people

Micro-volunteering. I admire the creativity of the marketing team that thought up this concept. Even though each one of us probably wishes to volunteer our time to causes we believe in, our schedules simply don't permit it. With so many little things that need taking care of, and errands to run, it is near impossible to even set aside (say) 4 hours on any given Saturday for volunteering efforts. These days, we are all overburdened sherpas teetering under the load of our personal and professional to-do's.

Which is where the genius of a site like comes in. By allowing us to "micro-volunteer" they are able to remove that barrier to entry. Not too long ago, I found a mention of, an online micro-volunteering site. I was intrigued enough to investigate and I am so glad that I did.

The sign up process is a cinch – you can use your Facebook login (if you like). 100s of non-profits submit their "challenges." We (the volunteers) can click on 2-3 causes from a list of 12 (education and poverty where the ones I selected) and then the "skills" that we have to offer. (Again, from 12 choices I selected IT, Design and Copywriting.) And that was it. I was enrolled and in.

I was immediately presented with dozens of challenges for my causes that could use my skills. Each challenge is a task that takes just a few minutes. Probably because I chose Design and Copywriting, I was offered the chance to review a fund-raising appeal letter, and to critique non-profit websites. I completed a couple of challenges and it was as easy as adding comments to blogs.

A side benefit for me was that I got to find out about so many neat non-profit efforts that I didn't even know existed. In 30-45 minutes, I was able to respond to a 3-4 challenges. also sends me reminder emails (if I have not visited the site in 7-10 days) and sends me a teaser challenge or two, asking if I would help out. So I go back and oblige if I have a few minutes.

Please note that I have only tried out Sparked for a few weeks. Normally, I would try out a site for a few months before posting about it. But it occurs to me that perhaps the best way I can assist Sparked is to help get the word out.

Each time I help out on a challenge, I get a buzz that is sweet and pure. Be sure to try this out and see if micro-volunteering is for you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Frugal options

I came across this list, which is quite good, except that it romanticizes frugality. At first, I thought that this was a good list for early-retirement aspirants. However, if you are not already doing a good majority of the things listed here, then maybe you should rethink this whole early-retirement idea. Unless of course you are pretty sure that you have definitely saved up enough.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Two Quotes that resonated

Here are a couple of quotes that resonated:

“If you can’t change the people around you, it’s time to change the people around you.”

That one is by Peter Shankman, in his great post "How to Jailbreak your Life."

"Time is not money, time is worth more than money.”

I got that one from a review of Adrian Ott's book, The 24 hour customer

Thursday, April 21, 2011

So Many Good things, So Little Time… and Is that Okay?

One big reason for me to leave my full time job was the hope of having more time to read good books, to watch good movies and to pursue other good things which I couldn't get to because I was forever pressed for time. To my way of thinking, my job (which I loved) took away from my pursuit of too many other good things.

I have come across very few people who felt the same amount of pressure as I did about time marching on relentlessly. (I've gotten much better now.) Therefore, it was a delight when I read Linda Holmes's NPR MonkeySee article and saw that she knew exactly what I was feeling.

In her post "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything," she writes:

The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see.
This exact thought used to leave me depressed.

Linda then goes on to list out two possible responses to this immense realization. One response is active and aggressive culling -- to try to pick and choose what we consume because our time is so limited. ("So many movies, so little time.") The second response is surrender – to make peace with this realization of our finitude. The latter is the one I have trouble with but am making progress towards, albeit very slowly.

As Linda describes it:
Surrender is the moment when you say, "I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I'm supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn't get to."

It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to.

That's your moment of understanding that you'll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there's something being performed somewhere in the world that you're not seeing that you would love.

The only part where I disagree with her post is where she tries to convince us that missing is actually a good thing.
"It's sad, but it's also ... great, really," she writes
Maybe I still haven't quite surrendered enough to see how it is so great. I can see myself coming to terms with the fact that in this lifetime, all I can ever hope to savor is a tiny cup dipped in a vast ocean of wondrous things. Linda makes it sound like experiencing is an all-or-nothing deal. But to my way of thinking, savoring two cups from that ocean is better than savoring just one.

But that's just a very small nitpick.

Linda's entire post is excellent. Don't miss reading it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 4 Hour Work Week - no middle ground here

When it comes to Tim Ferriss, there seems to be no middle ground. People either love him, or detest everything he propounds.

Consider this comment in this blog from Mike:
I can see from your sidebar that you're reading the 4HWW. Please, save yourself the time. Tim Ferriss is, in my opinion, a digital snake oil salesman and his book is the worst kind of vague, bombastic hype.

I do see Mike's point. Each time I read a chapter of the book, I can't decide if Tim Ferriss is doing an infomercial, or if he really has figured out a few things the rest of us haven't. (More on that later.)

I did find one level-headed review is Charles Broadway's blog C. In the post titled "Is Tim Ferriss A Scam Artist?"

Charles writes:
The only person who can live the Tim Ferriss lifestyle is Tim Ferriss, but the value of his book and blog comes from his zany way of looking at problems and all the ideas you get from his lifestyle experiments. He is a lifehacker extraordinaire.

The entire post is quite good, and Charles is full of ideas and sentiments I agree with.

So here's my own take on the 4HWW:

I actually got quite a bit from the book, especially in terms of different perspectives. 4HWW is also full of great resources for marketing, especially if I ever dabble with an internet business of my own. In a sense, Ferriss is like Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme. These guys hold such extremes of their points of view and with such utter conviction that they force us to re-evaluate our opinions. It is good to be jolted like that from time to time.

What I don't like about Ferriss is that he mocks the timid and the conservative. Surely, he knows that his ideas are not for everybody.

Plus, I actually got the entire 4HWW as an e-book for free in some promotion that Ferriss did. (Wired magazine named Ferriss the self-promoter-of-the year!) I recommend that people check out the book (search the web for a free copy of the e-book) and decide for themselves.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Measurements that mislead

After reading this article by Jonah Lehrer, I wonder if perhaps I have been placing too much faith in metrics and measurements.

In most jobs there seems to be no clear way to measure the truly high performers versus those who are lucky to be at the right place. When I worked a corporate job, I would often wish that all employees could be assigned objective performance ratings (something akin to the Elo chess ratings instead of the subjective ratings that their supervisors give.)

I know of several people (myself included) who can raise their performance when they know that they are being observed and evaluated. Even so, Lehrer's article in WSJ is enlightening in the one main point it makes: That it is important to distinguish between "maximum performance" under staged conditions and long term "typical performance."

Maximum performance has its place, but when it comes to ourselves we should be focusing on our typical performance.

Here's the link to the article.

Friday, March 18, 2011

That's Enough

One of the most difficult decisions to make in the context of retirements or scaling down is to know if what one has is enough. I know first-hand that these doubts never go away. There are always scenarios in which the savings seem inadequate.

In light of that, I really liked this poem by a favorite writer of mine – Kurt Vonnegut. (I found the poem in Bob Sutton's blog, Work Matters)

It's a small poem that appeared in the New Yorker back in '05. I am posting it in full.

Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel 'Catch-22'
has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!"

--Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eudaimonic Well-Being as opposed to Happiness

Here's a short article in WSJ that makes a distinction between Happiness and "Eudaimonia."

From the article:
The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one's sports team—a feeling called "hedonic well-being"—tends to be short-term and fleeting.
Researchers have found those with greater purpose in life were less likely to be impaired in carrying out living and mobility functions, like housekeeping, managing money and walking up or down stairs.
A lot of it is common-sense, but it is good to remember that these two are related but quite different. The full article is here. Thanks to Sateesh for the pointer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Another Perspective on Stability

Stability in our lives is something that most of us intuitively seek out. Mr. Kukunoor, it turns out, has a very different perspective on stability.

Nagesh Kukunoor was a featured speaker in IIT Madras at this year's Saarang festival (2011). He narrated the story of how he came into movie making. He was working in Atlanta, GA, as an environmental consultant, leading a comfortable life. However, he harbored this lifelong desire to make movies though he had no training in it whatsoever. Mustering up courage he quit his US job, sold off all his stuff and moved in with his parents in Hyderabad, India. Using his own savings and his credit cards, and with a lot of assistance from both his parents he wrote and shot the movie "Hyderabad Blues." After starting out slow, the movie really caught on and Nagesh Kukunoor made a name for himself as a director.

Based on his own experience, Nagesh Kukunoor came to believe that stability (and the comfort that a regular paycheck brings) works actively against those who want to pursue their passions. He believed in this so strongly that he named his own production company SIC – which stands for Stability Is a Curse. He has gone on to make around a dozen movies under this banner.

PS – In that talk, Nagesh also narrated the story of trying to get Hyderabad Blues sold. India's Star TV expressed interest in the movie. Nagesh who had run out of money once the movie was made, and was headed back to the US asked for Rs. 2 lakh, which is quite a small sum. But Star TV refused to pay that and Nagesh dropped the asking price to Rs. 1 lakh. The network again refused and in desperation Nagesh said he'd settle for 0.5 lakh. The network wouldn't even pay that. In the next few weeks, the movie got picked up by a couple of international film festivals. Within months, Star TV came knocking and paid Nagesh Rs. 50 lakh (100 times his last asking price) for the rights to broadcast it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Early Retirement Dilemma in One Sentence

Barbara Ehrenbeck in her book Nickel and Dimed (a good read) raises the question of why she gave up her job and proceeds to answers it herself.
I treasure the gloriously autonomous, if not always well paid, writing life.
It can't be stated more succinctly than that.
Choose only one: a) Autonomy or b) a good salary.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How An Economy Grows, and Why it Crashes

My friend Kalyan liked the book "How an Economy Grows, and Why It Crashes" so much that he bought 4 copies, and gifted one to us. That's how I came to know about and read the book.

If someone had told me that any author could explain the differences between "Keynesian ideas" and the "Austrian school" to any lay person, I'd have been highly doubtful. But the Schiff brothers do it, in the first 3 chapters of this highly readable book.

Peter D Schiff is an investor with a great understanding of economics. Let's assume that 1 in 50 people work as teachers. But only 1 among these 50 teachers is a master teacher. Only they have grasped the subject to such an extent that they can explain it to others with lucidity and simplicity. Peter Schiff is one such teacher.

This book has much going for it. It is a book presented as one ongoing allegory. If you have read "The Richest Man in Babylon" or "The Wealthy Barber" you know the kind. This book follows that storytelling tradition.

The story starts with 3 guys (Able, Baker and Charlie) stranded in an island where they have to catch fish by hand daily to survive. Each and every concept of trade and economics is built as these three become sophisticated in their economic dealings.

The authors build seamlessly from microeconomics concepts to grander topics in macroeconomics. Using examples of two larges countries (US and China, very thinly disguised) the authors play out several dire scenarios. In its criticisms, the book is hard-hitting and opinionated, and doesn't hold back.

The authors come down very strongly against holding on to US dollars. In a way, this book serves a personal wake-up call to me, because I don't own any tangible assets at all, and all savings are in paper US dollars, which Schiff feels has to fall prey to eventual inflation.

In each chapter, boxed "Reality Checks" are sprinkled on the side margins for extra clarity. "Takeaways" are given at the end of each chapter to reinforce the economics concepts introduced.

The book is a very easy read, and can be finished in one to two sittings. Everyone who is 15 or older should read this book. I can't think of any exceptions

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Most Enjoyed in 2010 List

Most Enjoyed in 2010

Fooled by Randomness by Taleb
Most enjoyed classic: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Why An Economy Grows, and How it Crashes by Peter Schiff
Happiness Books – The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseieh

Videos: Richard Dawkins DVD set – Growing Up in the Universe
Himalaya by Michael Palin (BBC)

Movies: The Social Network, A Year of Saturdays, Bard Songs, Certified Copy

Web Video: Numerous Ted Talks especially from Ted Global 2010 in Oxford.

Travel – India: Central TamilNadu road trip (so much to see in "my" home state).
US West Coast trip: 35 days on the road, with our car serving almost as a makeshift RV. (We slept in motels.) It was a great way to rediscover much that America has to offer.
Specifically, the 10 days that we spent traveling in New Mexico (esp. white Sands NM).

Sporting Event – Watching Tendulkar score 200 in a One day match (on TV).

Escape: Managing to avoid the 2010-11 Midwest winter.

Place to Stay: Candlewood Suites in IL – Hassle-free living, so much so that it felt like home.

Gadget: The iPad, (hands down). It changed the way we approach travel (and much of) planning and was invaluable during the road trip.

Project: Working on The One Paragraph Project, choosing 'Conflicts Around the World' as a broad topic. Just a little research made me appreciate so much more of the world news.

Software: Paint.Net (free graphics software)

Blogs: GatesNotes & Marginal Revolution

Freshly made guacamole with warm torilla chips.
Papa John's pizzas, esp thin crust.
Gits Rava Idli's.
Bryer's Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Ice Cream.

Home Appliance: Rice cooker: We bought a small (3-cup) electric rice cooker and it ended up altering what we ate during our West Coast trip.

Personal: My mother's remarkable recovery after a major operation. Spending time with my parents and (re)connecting with them.