Friday, June 30, 2023

40 lessons from my 40 years

I turned 40 years of age on the 14th of August 2022. I began creating a mind map containing 40 lessons I had learned over these 40 years. However, I haven't published them yet as I was being too circumspect about it. I'm not sure why I was being so cautious, especially since one of the lessons I discuss is about valuing progress over perfection.

 Today, I have decided to follow my own advice and publish them. It's alright if they're not perfect. These lessons and my personal growth hold great value for me, and perhaps they will be valuable to others as well.

 So, here I go.

#1 The master appears only when the student is ready. This is actually the first lesson. What I have to say below may not resonate with you and that is fine. The learning will only be relevant to you when you are ready. So ignore those that do not matter to you, even if it is all of them, and move on. Don’t try to force anything, it's futile. You will be ready when you are ready

#2 Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is life-changing. This is no understatement. This wisdom might seem woo-woo as it is ancient, and also new-ages. I resisted it for these reasons for 34 years of my life. Then I started doing it. Now I cannot resist deep breathing. And note, it will not have any effect on you initially. You will be skeptical about its use and relevance. But then suddenly it will become transformative for your life. This is one of those areas where you have to just do it. I do the Wim Hof method. It’s exactly 11 mins daily if you follow that popular YouTube video of Wim’s. Do whatever works for you. But ensure you breathe thru your nose deeply for 10 uninterrupted minutes daily.

#3 There are seasons in life. And like seasons they are cyclical. For me, it is about the seasonality of how disciplined I can be in my life. Sometimes I need to hold a tight leash and be very disciplined and stick to every routine and habit. I have the mental strength to push thru. This leads to the leash becoming taut and tense. That’s OK. Because this is followed by a time when there is general looseness. Things are relaxed and you are missing your habit markers. The learning is not to beat yourself up about this. It is by the design of life that it is cyclical this way. Trying to adhere religious to one state or another, despite the internal change of seasons causes problems. I have learned that one needs to introduce the mind to a concept of flexible discipline. Another way to look at it is to have healthy addictions and obsessions. But remember to switch between them and cycle between them. Don’t be addicted to being addicted.

#4 Incentives in life seem to be biased toward the fast and the agile. I believe it is a FALSE motivator to succumb to. I use the word succumb as it is easy to do so and in fact, society will incentivize you to succumb to it. It might be a good motivator in the short term and in some seasons surely go after it. But know that it is not useful really in the long term and in fact, can affect you negatively. The true joy in life is found in slowing down, backing yourself, and in fact, getting bored. Mono-tasking is such a tremendous source of joy. In fact, it's a luxury. If you are able to mono-task, you are actually winning. It comes when you are able to resist the urge to get more done in the short term.

#5 Books in all forms make life worth living. Not much to elaborate on here, but I genuinely believe this to be true. Something about books makes learning from them, fun and life truly enjoyable. 

#6 Life changes from moment to moment. And it changes every instant. When the spotlight is on, say for example when a loved one is going thru a health challenge, you can feel the change. Everything seems to be different. Everything is noticeable. At other times when most of life is running smoothly, you don't see the changes. But change is happening. These imperceptible changes can be momentous or insignificant. Therefore resisting changes is sort of futile and makes no sense. It's easier to assume that because of the changes that are imperceptible, one's life can dramatically change at any given moment. But, I will be the first to concede that when you become mature enough to understand this, it sucks. It is not a pleasant insight. To appreciate it, one needs to also understand the paradox of control.

#7 Paradox of control is real. Because of the previous point, one obvious conclusion to come to is 'nothing is in your control'. Which is mostly true. But it's also mostly irrelevant, as there is one very important thing that is in our control, which is the most important. We can control how we react, and what we think. That is the most important. The paradox is this - don't try to control change because you cannot; control your reactions to change i.e. be accepting of it, fully. Then the change will be under control.

#8 Acknowledge the separation of action and reaction. An extension of the paradox of control is that one cannot actually make someone else happy or sad or even angry. That is a reaction that is not in your control. Your actions can certainly evoke certain feelings in another, but what that feeling is, is never in your control. By understanding this you set yourself up for a life of less misery as you can live without having to overthink everything. Don't try to willingly hurt someone, or do hurtful things, but at the same time do not censure yourself.

#9 Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Pain is the first arrow that is shot at you. But suffering is the second, third, and nth arrow you shoot at yourself. 

#10 Beyond a certain threshold, there is more joy found in eliminating than in adding. Nothing feels as good as not having one more thing to be responsible for. Especially if you can eliminate the things which can cause niggling issues - pain, repeating setbacks. In fact, removing something that is an issue is more likely to cause you happiness than incremental improvements in some aspects of your life. One of life's purposes is to slowly lower that threshold to the bare minimum so that not much is needed to find joy.

#11 Simplicity unlocks power that can surmount the challenges that complexity imposes. We often underestimate the simple as we seem to think the complex is better. 

#12 Lowering one's expectations actually helps one enjoy things more. This is almost like a law of simple physics. Low expectations fulfilled consistently is more satisfying than high expectations which constantly fall short of being satisfactory. This can also help one mentally to simplify one's personal surroundings and more importantly, one's decision-making heuristics. It is beneficial in the short term and in the long term. 

#13 Consistency beats intensity. If one has low expectations, they can be met consistently without life interrupting them. This way you can reap the benefits of compounding. Intensity is good in short bursts, but cannot be maintained and therefore does not reap the rewards of compounding.

#14 There is a fine line between being disciplined and being hyper-intentional. The latter is just another form of perfectionism that is willingly inviting suffering. Trying to be hyper-intentional is like grasping at things that are outside your reach, for a reason. A deliberate life is better. There may be a season for hyper-intentionality, but it is something deliberately done, not because of the demands of society. In essence, hyper-intentionality and 'hustle' are unnatural.

#15 Life is meant for leisure. We have been fooled into thinking that work is everything. Work needs to organize around leisure, not the other way around. We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS.

#16 Focus on the big things first. Don't sweat the small stuff, especially in the beginning. As Steven Covey said, put in the big rocks first, the other small stuff will organize itself around the important things. Also, you are what you give your attention to.

#17 Surmounting the fear of failure is pivotal in every endeavor. It is the number one thing holding most of us back from living a deliberate life. To overcome this it is useful to start from knowing that it is biological. So, one has to find ways to manage the biology of fear. Courage, as Lewis Carrol said is the form of every other virtue at its testing point.

#18 Incompetence is better than insecurity. I will go as much as to say that one of the lowest kinds of behavior is letting one's insecurity determine the interactions with others, especially those who are less fortunate. An incompetent, but kind person is better than a competent, insecure, and scheming person. 

#19 Consumption without creation can be addictive. One of the challenges of modern existence is a person can now easily survive by consuming more than creating. This can apply to almost all aspects of life including food, ideas, entertainment, relationships, work, etc. The antidote is to take breaks from consumption and create something, however trivial it is.

#20 Eat plants and food made from them. Avoid at all costs, animals and their secretions as your sustenance. Voluntarily putting parts of a carcass never appealed to me. I am now also convinced that consuming dairy taken from a mother, while depriving her child of it, is even more cruel.

#21 Overeating is worse than fasting. The after-effects of over-eating are a worse affliction than fasting for reasonably long periods of time. Occasionally skip meals. Fasting, done right, can be a panacea.

#22 Relationships can be hard but need not be. Given time every relationship, even the one with yourself becomes fraught with burdens. Do not kid yourself that some will be easier than others. But this does not mean you should not have those relationships. In fact, 'you' exist mostly in the intersection of the Venn diagram of the relationships and roles you play. There is no escaping it. Instead, make the intersection large enough by being consistent and interesting enough by being unique. This way, you can enjoy every relationship you choose to have.

#23 Identify who you give your time to in life. This may seem harsh, but identifying who you value in life (and give time to) and who you don't (and not give time to) is essential. Learning to do this deliberately and without drama will transform your mindset. Without prioritization, perfectionism will corrode your existence. 

#24 When in doubt, put pen to paper. If you are feeling frantic about anything, sit down with a pen and paper and write about it. This might give you insight which might solve the problem for you. If not, it will give you time. Either way, you will be better off.

#25 Iterate, Iterate, Iterate. Learning to do this, taking small risks, experimenting, and treating every day as an experiment is contra intuitive. It is actively discouraged in life. But you must. It is transformative. This can be applied in most domains of life - mental, physical, emotional, professional, and even spiritual aspects.

#26 Live life with a gardener's mentality. Gardening requires persistence, delaying gratification enough, but not too much. It requires building systems and developing a craft. And above all, it values patience and a willingness to weed out the inessential. 

#27 Competitiveness is an overrated mindset. Like hustle, it is a false and dubious driver. We should treat competitiveness and the comparison it evokes as drugs. In small infrequent doses, they are helpful to alter your state and elevate performance. But they are highly addictive, and lead you towards a downward spiral. Beware while using competitiveness, to not end up abusing it. 

#28 Shame is self-imposed. It is not an emotion others can impose on you. Liberate oneself from shame and definitely don't feel a sense of it always. 

#29 Short sounds confident. Elaborate sounds nervous. Speak, write, and communicate with brevity as much as possible as it will make you appear confident. But do so with clarity and kindness. 

#30 Leading is making others feel that they are important. A manager casts the spotlight on him or herself. A leader, on the other hand, will make you feel important. Choose to be a leader most of the time and a manager only when necessary

#31 Solutions can be found when those looking for them feel valuable. Make oneself and others feel valuable and useful, the solutions to problems and issues will appear before you. It is indifference that blocks the obvious and makes us blind.

#32 Praise them even when someone is not worthy. Providing positive motivation rewards you as much as it helps others. Share the rewards, and acknowledge their contribution, vocally and publicly. It feels good and leads to better outcomes. Being stingy in positivity is of limited utility, and does not maximize potential. 

#33 Strive to be worthy of what you receive. Taking more than your worth and getting the praise that is not yours to take, will make them feel less rewarding. Greed deadens the senses and very soon even what you deserve will feel bitter and unfulfilling.

#34 Fortune favors those who are prepared to receive it. If you are getting some benefit while not being intentional, know that it is accidental. Enjoy it briefly, but it is not sustainable. One starts becoming lucky when he has started cultivating luck. 

#35 Work based on time goals, not completion goals. Work expands to meet the time you give it. 

#36 Make the criteria for saying YES broad enough. But beyond that boundary automatically say NO. there is more to be lost by saying yes to everything, than by saying no to some things. Make the decision simple and automatic. Make it clear so as to not have to spend precious energy deliberating it.

#37 Pay twice as much, but for half as many items. That way you will get quality and you will save money. Also, merchants who sell at higher prices will also give you more quality attention than those who sell less valuable items. 

#38 Having energy and enthusiasm for a task will help you closer to completing it than having the expertise to do it. Same for an idea. An idea's chance of coming to life is higher when the person having the idea is energized and enthusiastic about it than if the person is qualified but lacks enthusiasm for it. Relatedly, giving too much feedback to a person's idea which can dampen their enthusiasm for it, will lead to worse outcomes than what the feedback intends to improve. 

#39 Action relieves anxiety. If you are feeling anxious, get moving. If you are worrying about the outcome of something, just start doing the task, and the anxiety will melt away. If you don't have the motivation to do something, just mechanically start doing a part of the task, and motivation will emerge. As Rich Roll says, mood follows action. 

#40 Trying too hard is a sure-shot way of failing. Life is too short for wasting it away setting yourself up to fail. 

And finally a bonus one,

#41 We only have the rights to our labor, not its fruits. As Lord Krishna said in the Mahabharata, do not be bothered about the fruits of your actions. Do your duty and things will fall into place.

This collection of lessons represents only a fraction of the wisdom I hold dear. There are many other valuable insights that didn't make it into this list, but I plan to compile an honorable mentions list in the future and incorporate them accordingly. Additionally, I acknowledge that certain quotes I have included in this compilation were borrowed from others, and I haven't altered them as their original framing holds significant power. Crediting the sources appropriately will be a priority in future iterations.

 However, for now, embracing the principle of progress over perfection, I am choosing to publish this compilation

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A story about a Green Boy who saw beauty in everything

The Green Boy was on his way to the school, where he would learn about the important things in life. Along the way, he had to go through the forest. Green Boy was a happy child and eager to learn, so he set out on the journey with a keen sense of adventure. 

The evening on the first day of his journey, as he walked in the forest, he came upon a tree full of fruits. Green Boy looked up, hungry after an afternoon full of walking. And in the tree, he found many juicy fruits. Green Boy eagerly climbed up and ate a few of them. 

As he was munching on one of the fruits, up higher in the tree, what did he see? 

A shiny juicy fruit nestled amidst the leaves, all the way on the top of the tree. Shinier than any other, and bigger also. Green Boy was intrigued. He climbed up to get to that fruit and as he reached the top, he realized that it was actually the moon! 

"Oh, such a wonderful thing!", Green Boy exclaimed "It would have been such a juicy shiny fruit!"

Hearing this exclamation, Mr. Merry Moon was amazed. 

He said to Green Boy, "Wow! Green Boy, you are the only one who looks at me and sees a shiny juicy fruit, everyone else thinks I am stinky old piece of cheese." Green Boy smiled sheepishly. 

"Thanks to you, Green Boy, I feel happier today. You are a good friend", said Mr. Moon. Green Boy tipped his hat and went on walking. 

It was dark by now and the forest was very silent, except for the rustling of the leaves. As Green Boy was turning into a path, what did he see in the bushes ahead of him? A pair of angry yellow eyes, shining from amidst the bushes. 

Then came a growl and a roar and out came a large Grey Devil with its fangs! Grey Devil started chasing Green Boy, who ran for his life. 

Grey Devil shouted behind him, "Stop you small little inconsequential little fellow. Ha.. ha.. you cannot run away. I am going to trouble you!" 

Around the trees, amidst the bushes, on top of the stony path, the Grey Devil chased poor Green Boy. But Green Boy kept running. It was almost dawn by the time Green Boy managed to escape the Grey Devil. 

Green Boy was tired. He had been running. He was tired, thirsty, and hungry. He came upon a green lake, filled with glassy green water and lots of leaves and plants floating on it. 

His face lit up with a smile and he sat on the bank and started drinking water from the lake. 

But soon, he heard a loud croaking noise. "Ribbittt. Ribbittt. Ribbittttttt". 

Two eyes popped up from below the water. Green Boy was nervous and about to run away, when he heard a voice call out. 

"Who drinks the water from my lake without my permission?", Mr. Warty Frog said.

Green Boy was relieved it was not the Grey Devil. 

He said, "Oh hello Mr. Frog. Sorry, I did not ask you permission. I am Green Boy. I was thirsty and this water looked so nice and refreshing. It was also the same colour as me. So, I took a sip" 

Mr. Frog looked surprised. 

He said, "Oh, what a wonderful thing to hear. Everyone else thinks this is a dirty swamp with stale icky water. You, Green Boy are the only person to think that this water looked nice and refreshing!" 

Green Boy smiled sheepishly. Mr. Frog said, "You are surely a friend, Green Boy". Mr.Frog continued,  "Come, let me take you to my home under the water and give you some breakfast". 

So Mr. Frog took Green Boy into his lake and to his underwater home. There, Mr. Frog introduced him to Mrs. Frog and their two hundred children, all called Tadpola or Tadpolee.  They all sat down and had a scrumptious breakfast. 

After breakfast and after resting for some time, Green Boy bid farewell to Mr. Frog and his family and off he went. Along the way, in the forest in the late morning, he observed the beautiful things with happy eager eyes. 

He was wandering through the green forest lost in its beauty. So lost was he that when he turned a corner he missed the large spider web and landed smack in the middle of the web. 

Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider sat watching as Green Boy tried to jiggle away trying to free himself. But as she approached him, to see what to do with him, she was pleasantly surprised. Instead of being scared, Green Boy was actually in awe of the web. 

He was saying, "Wow, look at this. Such a beautiful silver design, it catches the light so amazingly. Look at the intricate patterns and designs. Surely, whoever wove this web must be an artist" 

As he gushed over its beauty, Madam Spider felt amazing about the web she had woven. 

She went up to Green Boy and said to him, "Green Boy, you are amazing. Everyone else just gets scared when they get caught in my web. But you, you called me an artist. Made me appreciate my own creation!". 

Green Boy looked sheepishly and smiled. 

"Come, let me show you how to free yourself." Madam Spider said as she showed him the way to free himself from the enormous web. 

Green Boy thanked Madam Spider and went on his way. 

Along the way, he came across a giant anthill, built like a large castle rising from the ground. All around the anthill were busy ants marching in and out, carrying their food and other necessities. It was really a hive of activity, and there were so many things going on everywhere that it seemed like complete chaos.

Green Boy stood there looking absolutely amazed at this sight. His eyes were big as an owl's and he was genuinely amazed. 

He exclaimed, "Wow. Such an amazing display. So organized these ants are. And so hardworking. Look how wonderfully they are going about their work!". 

Hearing this, General Order Anticus the Third, or GOAT as he was known amongst his friends, stopped directing his battalion of soldier ants and looked incredulously towards Green Boy. He was so happy that a big tear drop formed in his ant eyes. 

He came running towards Green Boy and kissed his hand and said, 

"Green Boy, you are so kind. Everyone else thinks we are pesky pests and calls us busy bodies who are running around all over the forest floor." 

He said, wiping away the tears of joy, "You, Green Boy are the only one who has said we are something good! You must surely be a friend." 

Green Boy blushed again. 

General Anticus said, "Come, I must take you to meet our Queen. She will be very happy to see you". 

And off they went into the ant hill. In there, General Anticus introduced Green Boy to the royal family and they all had tea with the Queen. It was a very fancy affair with many amazing intricate pieces of cutlery and grand paintings on the walls. Green Boy really enjoyed himself. 

After Tea, Green Boy, bid farewell to the Queen and to General Anticus and his ant friends and headed onwards on his journey. 

It was late evening again, and Green Boy was nervous about having to encounter the Grey Devil again. But, he wanted to make his way forward, so on he went. 

As he was walking, he came across a quiet part of the forest. There were more hills and stones than trees, and the trees that were there did not have many leaves. He came upon one such barren tree, old and majestic, but without many leaves and pockmarked with age. But it was tall and sturdy. 

Green Boy looked up in awe and even though it did not give any shade or a cool breeze, he was amazed by its tallness and strength. 

He said, "What an amazing tree. And how many years it must have seen and how many people it must have provided shade and a cool breeze too!" 

From way above the tree, from an eyrie up in the high branches of the tree, came a high-pitched whistle. A happy high-pitched whistle. 

It was Grandma Glory Eagle. Down she came from her eyrie to meet Green Boy. 

She took him under her wing and said, "Hello there Green Boy. Welcome to my home. Thanks for calling my home tree amazing. It is an amazing tree. My eyrie up there has been on this tree for so long. Nowadays, people just want to cut down this old tree, but you called it amazing and recognized its long strong history" 

Green Boy felt happy listening to Grandma Eagle. He smiled sheepishly. 

Grandma Eagle then took him up to her eyrie and she gave him cookies and an assortment of snacks to eat. They talked all about Green Boy's adventures and all the new friends he had made. 

Then, when it was time to leave, and Green Boy was about to get down from the tree, he heard loud rustling from below the tree. There below the tree stood the sneaky, Grey Devil, looking up with its sharp teeth. It was looking up right at Green Boy. 

Grey Devil was prowling, waiting for Green Boy to make his way down. 

"It's trouble time for you Green Boy!" sneered Grey Devil, "I have got you now!". 

Green Boy was worried. He asked for Grandma Eagle's advice on what to do. She suggested that he call all his friends and make a plan. So, Green Boy used Grandma Eagle's phone and called all his friends.

He called Mr. Merry Moon, Mr. Warty Frog, Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider, and General Order Anticus the Third. On a conference call, they all heard Green Boy's predicament, and together with Grandma Glory Eagle, they hatched a plan to put an end to the trouble Grey Devil was planning for Green Boy. 

And what a lovely plan it was! 

 Soon, it was night, and Grey Devil was getting agitated. He was taunting Green Boy to come down.

The friends started putting their plans into action. 

First, Mr. Moon turned off the lights completely. 

It was pitch dark black and Grey Devil had trouble seeing himself, let alone the surroundings. He got nervous. What was happening? 

Then, Mr. Frog started making loud and fierce croaking noises. 


It was so loud and eerie in the darkness, that Grey Devil strated shivering. 

Then Madam Spider, threw a huge web onto Grey Devil and trapped him where he stood. He could move just a bit, but could not get himself loose. 

He was really nervous now. He was in the dark, hearing scary sounds and now he was trapped. He began sweating and shivering. 

But the friends were not done. General Anticus had come with his battalion of soldier ants and they charged Grey Devil and started biting his legs. 

"Awww, Awww, Awww", Grey Devil screamed as the stings of the soldier ant's bites ran up his legs. He was in trouble and he knew it. 

Then Grandma Eagle swooshed down from high above with her powerful wings and sharp talons making a screeching sound. 

Grey Devil could not see, but he knew that something big was rushing fast towards him. Left completely in the dark, with scary sounds, combined with feeling trapped from the web, stinging bites on his legs, and the screeching approaching monster from above, he finally had it. He started wailing.

He was so afraid by now, that when Green Boy said, "Hey, Grey Devil, will you trouble me again? Do you see what I can do?", Grey Devil immediately begged him to let him go. 

Grey Devil said, "Oh, Green Boy, I am sorry to even think of troubling you. I saw you were small and inconsequential, so I thought of troubling you. But, you are so much more powerful and magnificent."

He shivered and continued, "I will leave you alone, and from now on, I won't trouble anyone because they are small or inconsequential. Please let me go." 

Hearing his honest plea, the friends decided to end his misery. 

Grandma Eagle went back to her eyrie. General Anticus asked his soldiers to stand down. Madam Spider withdrew her web and Mr. Frog stopped making the horrible croaking noise. And finally, when Mr. Moon turned on the lights, Grey Devil ran away so fast it was a funny sight to see. 

All the friends had a hearty laugh. They all joined Green Boy in Grandma Eagle's eyrie and they had fun discussing the events of the evening. They told jokes about how they met Green Boy, and also about Grey Devil. 

Grandma Eagle kept them supplied with cookies, cakes, and tasty juices. What a wonderful evening it was. 

The next morning, Green Boy bid farewell to his friends. He had to head over to his school. He was eager to learn about the important things in life. 

Grandma Eagle offered to show him the way so that he could reach there faster. So she flew above and Green Boy followed her down on the forest floor, observing the many things around him. 

Soon, they reached the school and Green Boy said thanks to Grandma Eagle and bid her farewell. He had arrived at his school and was eager to go and learn new things. 

It was a bright new morning. Green Boy felt happy in his heart. He had learned so much along the way, and he was eager to learn so much more!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No smoke without fire

The Falklands War between Britain and Argentina happened in the year 1982. I was born in that year and my only knowledge about this conflict comes from the various History Channel documentaries I have seen.

But this post is not about the Falklands War; its about how seemingly unrelated pieces of information from unrelated sources always has some some connection! There is definitely no smoke without fire!

This past Saturday, I read in the Mint Lounge (according to me, the best weekend English read) a travelougue by Wendell Rodricks titled "You need visa power: Ahead of a 51-day cruise around South America, the merry-go-round begins at home"

It was a good read which described both the awesome nature of such a journey and the idiosyncrasies of all the visa related hassles. But here is the thing, it had this one small piece of information about visa problems for visiting Falklands Islands.

Meanwhile, Argentina was throwing a fit: “Your ship is going to the Falklands. We don’t recognize that name. Reapply with ‘Islas Malvinas’.” I curse the Falklands War and reapply with newly attested fingerprints and affidavit.

I remember thinking about the Falklands War as I read this and wondering if there was some new conflict brewing these days.

Lo! And behold I read in the Times,UK today about rising rhetoric and tension about the Falklands! Here is an excerpt from 'Troubled Waters'

Britain is sensibly playing down talk of a new war with Argentina. Since the Falklands conflict in 1982, London has slowly but steadily rebuilt its relations with Buenos Aires, now an important trading and political partner. But the Government has made it quite clear that the islands and access to them are, and will be, defended in the face of any new threat from the mainland.

Argentina’s declaration that it will do all it can to prevent the drilling for oil in Falklands waters must be dismissed for what it is: foolish bluster, provoked by dreams of oil wealth under the seas and intended to divert Argentine public opinion from the failings of President Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner’s floundering administration

I am having immense (for lack of a better term) sense of deja vu about this. This smoke and fire quotation makes too much sense!

Also, the power of travelogues is immense, don't you think?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Giddy heights...

My fascination for climbing tall building and looking down at the land and people below is an old one. I was already fascinated by buildings and had tried to reach the highest floor of tall buildings in my hometown of Bangalore, when I read the romantic interpretation of the skyscraper as an epitome of human achievement in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and I was hooked. There is something about a tall building that is surreal - it literally and figuratively takes you above and beyond the mundane and the trite.

This fascination for reaching the top floors of tall buildings continued, and when I was in Singapore, I remember pestering my friends to accompany me in trying to get to the top of some random skyscraper. One hilarious incident took place when I forcefully took a bunch of friends up the elevators of a tall building in the Raffles area of Singapore. We ended up on the topmost floor accessible through the elevator only to find that there was no view to be had, as this was the lobby of one of the offices in the building. Although, I was mildly disappointed that there was no 'view from the top' to be had, it filled me with excitement to feel my ears pop at the altitude! But, this of course did not satiate my need to 'reach the top' and towards the end of my stay in Singapore, my friend and I did manage to go up to the 71st floor of the Swisotel building, Singapore's tallest, to the New Asia Bar, and my glee was visible!

Another experience in heights was when I visited Kuala Lumpur and went up the Menara Kuala Lumpur, or KL tower. Although, shorter in height than the Petronas Towers, which I could not climb due to unavailability of tickets, it was nevertheless a tall building and I enjoyed every moment of being on top of it.

People who know me, clearly know my dislike for Dubai as a city. It is, according to me, very pretentious and tries very hard at being a tourist friendly place, but it is not. For a skyscraper enthusiast though, there can be no going around the fact that the tallest building in the world is now in Dubai and I am itching to go see it - from the top. I remember going to the base of the construction site of the Burj Khalifa in early 2009, when it was still being constructed and being awestruck at its height.

My inherent fascination for tall buildings, combined with this inspiring comparison about the Burj Khalifa's design being inspired from Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt Mile-High Illinois makes it irresistible to my skyscraper fetish. (Frank Lloyd Wright, who it has been noted by Ayn Rand herself, as being the inspiration for the character of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, adds compelling incentive)

The Burj is American in another way. Most of the coverage of the Dubai tower has focussed on its height and its location, but it is also an interesting design. The form is not a minaret, like the Petronas Towers, or a stylized spire, like the Taipei Financial Center. Smith (who is no longer with SOM) and Baker have not produced an elongated cluster of shoe boxes like the Sears Tower, a high-tech-construction like Norman Foster's Hearst Tower, or a twisty sculpture a la Santiago Calatrava. Instead, they have opted for a distinctly unfashionable organic form, a sort of stalagmite. Many observers have noted the similarities between the Burj and Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt 1956 proposal for a 528-story state office building for Chicago's lakefront, which he christened the Mile-High Illinois. Wright's design is twice as high as the Burj, but there are distinct parallels. Both buildings are constructed of reinforced concrete; both have floor plates that reduce in area as the building rises, producing a stepped-back silhouette; both have a treelike central core that rises the full height of the building to become a spire. And both use a tripod design: The Mile High is triangular in plan, and the Burj has three wings that act as buttresses.

I'm not sure if the famously prickly Wright would have considered imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but he would have been pleased to see a version of his conception take shape in the Middle East, which was the site of one of his most spectacular unbuilt projects. In 1956, the government of the young king of Iraq, Faysal II, aiming to modernize the city of Baghdad, commissioned a number of leading Western architects: Walter Gropius for a new university, Alvar Aalto for the national gallery, and Le Corbusier for a stadium and sports complex. Wright was invited to build the opera house. The Old Wizard, as his biographer Brendan Gill called him, produced an astonishing interpretation of Scheherazade on the Tigris, a circular opera house surrounded by colonnades and water gardens, and topped by an open spire containing a statue of Aladdin and the wonderful lamp. Shortly after the design was completed, King Faysal and his family were murdered in a military coup, and the new regime abandoned the project. Fanciful proposals, such as the Baghdad Opera House and the Mile-High Illinois, are usually regarded as slightly off-key, the day dreams of a master in his dotage. The Burj suggests that the Wiz still has lessons to teach us.

(Read the complete article here)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Travel on my mind

I can by no account be called a traveler, for I have been to very few places in this world; although in my mind, I am a wanderer, a person who likes to explore and a person who knows geography - as it is shown in maps and recounted in the numerous travelogues and history books, I have read.

But more or less, since the time I last posted on this blog, my travel quotient has been higher - I have had the opportunity to go to few places, and all these have left me with richer knowledge, unforgettable experiences and above all a great sense of being!

I do not know when I will get around to writing a travelogue for all these journeys, but here are some photographs which tell the story as well -

  1. Journey in the Konkan - Ratnagiri, Guhagad, Ganapatiphule, Chiplun
  2. In Durian Land - Kuala Lumpur
  3. Amongst the Rajputs - Jaipur
  4. Rooftop of the World - Leh
  5. Beach cocktail - Goa
I came across this wonderful article by Pico Iyer (amongst many books, the author of The Global Soul; which I think is a superb book every traveler should read) about Somerset Maugham, titled The Perfect Traveler.

Here is a superb description of what I agree should be the characteristics of a perfect traveler, from this article -

The perfect traveler must be a perfect contradiction. She should be open to almost everything that comes her way, but not too ready to be taken in. He should be worldly, shrewd, his feet firmly on the ground; but he must also have the capacity to give himself over to moments of real wonder. He or she must be curious, observant, spirited and kind—ready to spin a spell-binding tale of adventure and irony at the Explorers’ Club, and then throw it all over for a crazy romance in the South Seas.

The above characteristics and an attitude as described by Robert Frost in "The Road not taken"(in its philosophical but also in its literal sense) are my prescription for a traveler!

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If half the world were sterile...

I came across this interesting article by David Brooks in the New York Times. It talks about a scenario where one half of the entire population of the Earth, is rendered sterile due to some hypothetical, freak Solar 'incident'. What would happen in such a situation? I tend to agree with the author that the fabric of society would disintegrate - majority of the human race lives on the premise that "I am living today, to make my tomorrow better". In a situation where entire populations of a continent does not have a tomorrow, there will not be any shards of moral fabric left in them, to help them distinguish between right and wrong.

I found this particular excerpt very powerful -

Instead there would be brutal division between those with the power to possess the future and those without. If millions of immigrants were brought over, they would populate the buildings but not perpetuate the culture. They wouldn’t be like current immigrants because they wouldn’t be joining a common project, but displacing it. There would be no sense of peoplehood, none of the untaught affections of those who are part of an organic social unit that shares the same destiny.
But, of course, that’s the beauty of this odd question. There are no sterilizing sunspots. Instead, we are blessed with the disciplining power of our posterity. We rely on this strong, invisible and unacknowledged force — these millions of unborn people we will never meet but who give us the gift of our way of life.

It is in this context that we should view crackpot schemes which are usually proposed by crazy, dictator wannabes. It has been said rightly that "Power corrupts; And absolute power corrupts, absolutely". Those who are power hungry, even for the sake of the 'common good' (the main raison d'etre of most governments around the world) are easily corrupted by this very same 'common good'.

Distrust those who claim to offer these global panacea. There is a rot of corruption behind them.

Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution - where the discussion first started!

Monday, December 22, 2008

"Ceteris Paribus & in Hindsight, we were right!"

Mint has an article today about an American journalist's perspective on how Indian banks avoided the global economic crisis.

The basic premise of the article is the author's 'mea culpa' reaction which Americans, the US Feds and specifically Alan Greenspan should have. The 'No regulation in the banking sector stand' which the above mentioned "culprits" had maintained, in comparison to the "prudent and timely controls" by the State (read RBI's ex-governor YV Reddy) in India, is the main reason why Indian banks are safe, while American and Eurpoean ones aren't.

The author interviews India's top bankers who are partayed as being very 'perplexed' about how the Americans could have been so 'greedy'. They compete with one another in having a 'our garbage don't stink' smugness when they gesticulate about how Indian banks are more regulated and hence - 'safe from greed'. They all seem to accept that had they been shown the carrot of deregulation, they would most probably have gone ahead and 'sinned' just like the American banks. They all seem to agree, that while they opposed RBI's stringent measures at the time they were being introduced, in hindsight they thank RBI that they did not have the 'temptation to sin'. One of them even goes on to say that the RBI governor saved them!

There you have it folks - India's top bankers agree that they are children who need to be 'shown the right way' at every step, lest they should fall prey to the evil, greedy temptations that are by the wayside!

I find this attitude revolting - but who is to blame for our apparent lack of morals and self regulation in the absence of a grand regulator? Well, the answer is simple - the regulator.

While the article gives due credit to YV Reddy's foresight of 'applying brakes too early than too late', I find the complete lack of comparing the two situations in the right context, apalling! One needs to compare oranges with oranges, after all.

The crux of the problem in the US economy is the government sponsored push towards increased home ownership. This push by the US state to over-promote homeownership has been the 'prodigal push to the stack of dominoes' which eventually lead to Fannie and Freddie becoming over aggresive mortgage lenders, to the over exposure to subprime borrowers, development of CDOs and all those other weapons of financial mass destruction. The important fact one needs to observe here is that the crux of the issue starts with government interferring in the working of the market. By artificially trying to boost homeownership, the government essentially lets loose excessive corporate risk taking - this is essentially what happened.

Robert Shiller in the book "The Subprime Solution" analyses this very problem and rightly points out that -

"Overly aggressive mortgage lenders, compliant appraisers, and complacent borrowers proliferated to feed on the housing boom. Mortgage originators, who planned to sell off the mortgage to securitizers, stopped worrying about the repayment risk. They typically made only perfunctory efforts to assess borrower's ability to repay their loans - often failing to verify borrower's income with the Internal Revenue Service, even if they possessed signed authorization forms permitting them to do so."

The reader, here would kindly note that a regulatory enviroment existed. The borrowers were essentially required to authorize the lender rights - to verify the borrower's ability to repay the loan. But in an environment where checking if a borrower can repay, would have hindered the mortage lender's chances of 'closing a deal', a lot was let slip between cup and lip. Afterall, there was the Big Brother State standing behind mortgage lenders like Fannie and Freddie waiting to write-off bad assets, you see.

Does my arguement here then mean that in India there is no government sponsored boost for home ownership? The answer is, partly yes. As one CEO-designate of one of the largest banks in India tells the author -

"Indian banks are not levered like American banks. Capital ratios are 12 and 13%, instead of 7 or 8%. All those exotic structures like CDO and securtization are a very tiny part of our banking system. So a lot of the temptations didn't exist"

Luckily, it seems that the Indian State has not got behind the 'increasing home ownership' bandwagon. While HDFC has been a private player (majority stake) in the Indian mortgage market it has not come under pressure from the government to boost home ownership and therefore no apparent need to take excessive risks by creating money out of thin air using CDOs and other weapons of mass financial destruction.

The housing real estate market in India has to a large extent grown due to growth in Indian economy, not due to subsidies given by the government. Therefore it has not been a 'government generated boom'. As Murray Rothbard elucidates - the 'bust' in the business cycle is usually causally linked to the earlier government generated 'boom'. The market economy is self correcting and will quickly eliminate the earlier government generated errors in investment, unless the process of adjustment is interfered with by government policies. (Source)
Also, one needs to evaluate the relative sizes and trend of the two economies being compared. I am currently involved in an assignment which is trying to study how Indian consumers are responding to the global recession - and the main problem I face, is ascertaining whether Indian consumers are in fact, facing a pinch like their western counterparts. The growth in the Indian economy and the new affluence which many Indians have witnessed as a result, is making the Indian consumer somewhat of a contrarian.

Considering many such differernt nuances about the nature of the Indian and American economies, I think it would incorrect to heap all the praise on the strict regulatory environment of the Indian banking regulators as the main reason why Indian banks are safe vis-a-vis American banks. That would be assuming that Ceteris Paribus all other conditions are the same between the two economies. Unfortunately, with the case of central macro economic planning, the only way to prove something would be based on what has, by luck, turned out to be a better strategy, in hindsight.

God forbid, if the same Indian bankers were asked by the government to start lending money to people wanting to increase home ownership, the same incentives which drove the 'greedy' American banker might tempt our bankers too. Would not happen in India you say? Read this.

"The government, on its part, also infused Rs 4,000 crore into the housing sector through National Housing Bank (one of the reasons for LIC Housing Finance cutting its rates) and forced PSU banks to slash home loan rates for new loans of up to Rs 20 lakh.

The steps taken by the government and the RBI were also aimed at reviving the housing sector which is struggling because of the slowing economy"

So it begins...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Three articles that are worth reading.

Here are three articles I find very interesting.

1. 'Macroeconomics is Complete Bunkum' - by Bill Frezza: For a free market supporter and a strong follower of the Austrian School of Economics like me, this article rings as being very true. As the author mentions, it is only Hayek, Rothbard and other Austrian School economists like Menger who advocated the futility of the use macroeconomic statistics and its direct result - central planning. I say down with this macroeconomic, central planning nonsense! Viva Liberty!

(Hat Tip to Mr. Sadowski in the RCM comments)

2. 'Our Friends in Bombay' - by Christopher Hitchens: Staying true to my earlier call that people around the world need to be continually sensitized about the regular nature of terrorist attacks in India - the most by any standard, outside of a war zone - I find this article as a superb piece of straight talk by Mr. Hitchens.

3. 'Eye Spy' - by Priya Ganapati: Finally! Here is something I have always hoped would happen. A camera in the eye! As a photography enthusiast, one of my regular complaints is the fact that in the presence of a camera, people being photographed, stop being 'themselves' and pose. While I accept that it is a mark of a great photographer who can prevent his subject from doing this, I have hoped many times that the camera become invisible. Like an extension to ones' eye. Well, a camera in one's eye socket is the closest to this dream as can be!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Story...

It has been a long time now, and I have seen it all. I was born in early December in the year ninteen hundred and twenty four when the Nation I was born in, was still a hostage. It was hostage under an imperial dynasty which was weak and waning in its superiority around the world, and to make itself feel great, I was conceived. I was concieved in honour of a British King, but my favour has always been to the Grand City and the Nation I was born in. And what a Grand City it is, where my foundations are rooted - Bombay!

Ah! Bombay - the city of oppulence, the city of poverty, the city of trade, the city of love, the city of glamour, the city of an undying spirit and above all the city of dreams. The dreams of a scores and scores of my countrymen from the hinterland and scores of others from around the world. A coastal gateway to the magnificence that is India. This is the city I was born in and the city that I have seen grow to great heights, all the time being the very fuel feeding in to this vast nation's engine. And I have seen the strength which my country has gained.

I was there on the day our country gained Independence from the imperialists and I sighed a sigh of relief and of victory. I stood witness as the last regiment of the Imperial army beat a retreat past me, and sail away from the shores of Bombay, and away from the shores of India. I stood there that day with my grand elder brother - a magnanimous gentleman, who was born a few years before me, in defiance of the very imperialists who were retreating that day. And boy, did we rejoice that day - for we knew what a nation like ours could achieve in freedom.

We have stood, my brother and I, during all these years - witnessing our young nation grow. But we have also seen her suffer and cry out in pain; but we have stood steadfast in our patriotic duty to our nation - my brother as a great, grandeur host to all the leaders and businessmen of the world, with me welcoming all those who wish to enter our great city and nation. For the last sixty one years of our young nation's independence we have stood in service and have done so proudly.

During these years we have heard our city cry in pain when being subject to many atrocities against her. We have stood witness to many cruel and evil people try to undermine the very fabric of our city's gene - and also seen them fail. They have tried to demonstrate through thier impotent, evil and sinister ways that they can hold the enterprising nature of our citizens hostage. Through fear and terror they have tried to shut down our thriving businesses and disrupt the very way of our lives. They have repeatedly tried forcing us into believing that we will fail in our free enterprise and in growing up to be a thriving business market. It has always been they who have failed. Over these years I have personally seen the various atrocities they have tried to bring us on our knees. I have seen mindless riots acted out within yards of where I stand and also I have seen bombs go off in plain view. And I have seen the mindless impotence which has been thrust at our very faces, hoping that it will permanently discourage us.

But I have never seen my city succumbing to any of this. But instead I have seen my city resurgent always - I have seen it fight this terrible evil in a unique way; by proving to the evil doers that nothing they can do will perturb us from believeing in our capability to grow and be free. I have seen both the wealthy businessmen and the struggling street food vendor come back to the very places where henious crimes very committed and be guests of my brother's and my hospitality. I have seen throngs of people light candles and hold protest and also hold each other's hands in unity. I have seen young lovers looking at the vast expanse of the Arabian sea, eager to know what magnificence the future holds for them. I have seen old couples looking at the same expanse of the Arabian sea, thankful for the gifts they have earned through their long lives, gained through hard work. I have seen photographers capture the happiness of families on their vacations and of people marking the passing of their loved ones by strewing the ashes in the sea. And my brother and I have stood in the background of these memories, always happy to welcome all those who wish to come to our city and nation and partake of its greatness and for those who want to contribute to it. And all of them have looked upon our welcoming arms and thanked us for our graciousness.

But it is with a profound sense of grief that I stand this past week for I have witnessed a horrific scene. I have seen my brother's hospitality besieged and held hostage. I have seen his head set on fire by exploding grenades. I have seen evil men, dock their boats full of explosives in my dock. I have witnessed maniacs shoot weapons on the courtyard which cause loud horrific noises, where the loudest sounds usually is that of a group of cheering school girls on a vacation. I have stood witness as many of my city's guests have been brutally killed and my brother's furniture set ablaze. I have witnessed my brother's body burnt and scarred. I have witnessed my winged friends - the pigeons who rest in our courtyard, scared away by the sound of gunshot and blazing fire. I have witnessed the vile impotence of the men who perpetrated this henious crime and the sixty long hours they held my brother's hospitality hostage.

I have witnessed the worst days of my life.

I am in Mourning. I am the Gateway of India.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ten suggestions to get out of this rut

How to prevent this incident in Mumbai over the past two days from being forgotten in a couple of days time; when for instance, some starlet wears a blouse which displays her cleavage. Here are my suggestions,

  1. Online Activism: Many journalists are net savvy and have large readership amongst net users. There should be blogs, twitter pages, Facebook communites which keeps the readers updated and provide opportunity to contribute to change
  2. Media Persistence: I sincerely believe that people do not forget such things, unless a more atracting carrot is dangled in front of them. There should be a regular section on every primetime news production to update, everyday on the developments on the investigation of the case
  3. Seek Foreign Interest: I saw a reporter on TV this morning saying that this will have a significant impact on the international opinion because foreigners have been targeted. Call me opportunist and biased, but we Indians have an affection when we are discussed by westerners and we should use tis opportunity to get the international community to see that there is no other place in the world, where there is a terrorist attack every week, and there is hardly a hue and cry. Apart from condolence messages and overtures about how two nations are united in their efforts to fight terror, nothing ever happens. Atleast the public does not know about it. It is time we know, because believe me when I say this, its not the government which is under trouble, its the common man.
  4. Canvas to Think Tanks: Around the world and in India, the politician always has his political party and the idealogical party. The change in attitude needs to come from the idealogues. The idealogical party is the 'school' for politicos. These breed the new generation and they need to come sensitized to these issues. Both in India and abroad
  5. Remove Economic Barriers to Trade: Terrorism is a symptom of the terrorist weighing his and his extended communities, opportunity cost. Humans are inherently self loving people. If we have an opportunity to positively influence our own lives through economic activity and trade we will choose it. It is only because of restrictive trade practices that some people don't see a profit motive and hence resort to other things. All the notions of freedom fighting is not relevant if it does not pertain to individual liberty. One man's freedom fight may be another's terrorism, but in fact it is each man's fight for individual liberty that matters in the long run
  6. Be Apathetic to certian things: When the controversy over Da Vinci Code's blow to Christianity was being discussed, the author Dan Brown made a great observation. It was only since the publication of his book that religious groups started recognizing that their beliefs were under threat. He said that it was not his book that will kill religion, but apathy towards it. We spend time being apathetic towards the terrorists until they cause a commotion. We should be apathetic to irrationality and kill it, not apathetic towards the terror attacks.
  7. Educate the Children: About the principles of Liberty. Every child should know that he can do anything he wants to; as long as he does not cause harm to another. "Your Right to Swing Ends Where My Nose Begins"
  8. Educate the Children: About responsibility. Every man is the cause of all that he experiences. Most people have issues with others, with groups, with idealogies. But in the end it is how one individually responds and reacts to things that makes the difference. Teach them to adapt a constructive approach.
  9. Educate the Children: That government is an abstraction for delegating responsibility of actions which individuals cannot influence. And it has been grossly overused. Each person can individually decide what is good for him in the market, about trade and commerce. The government should not have this responsibility, nor can it have a positive influence in the true sense. Governments should restrict themselves to their prime function - protecting its citizens from physical harm by others and protecting property rights. My actions cannot influence (in a big way, individually) when it comes to preventing terrorists from comadeering police vans and shooting at me. This I appoint a government to help me against. I can however decide how much money I need to save and how much I consume and how I price the intellectual capabilities I have, in free trade. I know what perception of value is, in an exchange.
  10. Have Active Minds: We are told from the days we are born that we should have an open mind towards everything. Objectivist thought neatly points out that an open mind to everything is an open mind to even a bad idealogy - say for instance, racism. Have an active mind. It is only man's intellect which distinguishes him from the other animate creatures and he has to make use of this mind actively and 'Reason' it out.
Viva Liberty!

"The Crown Jewel on Fire"

For Mumbaikars and anyone who has been to this historic city, a trip to the glorious site of the Gateway of India is like a pilgrimage. Not just another attraction in the area is the Taj Mahal hotel, overlooking the Gateway and the beautiful Arabian Sea. It is one of India's symbols of prosperity and enterprising nature. It is a symbol of all that is good about the wealth and eminence of Indian entrepreneurship.

Today, 27th November 2008, this 'Crown' has been set of fire. I have written before, about terrorists and the impotence which personifies their action, when my hometown of Bangalore was attacked.

And I think it makes sense to repeat that here.

"It should be very clear that the perpetrators of this heinous crime cannot hide behind any ideology since such attacks do not warrant any. It is weak cry by a few pathetic human beings whose only response to any form of competence is a blaring and violent display of their impotence. An impotence characterized by a lack of constructive capability, satiated by such pre-meditated acts of indiscriminate violence. "

I disagree with the call that Mumbaikars will keep taking things 'In their Stride'. It is a call which should be rejected outright.

People cannot be held at hostage like this.

In any case this is how I would like to remember the beautiful Taj hotel in Apollo bunder, in my favorite part of Mumbai!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

'Broken Window' theory and Mumbai's litter problem

I am guilty for I have littered. But its only because others did it too!

I use Mumbai's suburban railway network to commute to and from work everyday. I also eat the absolutely delicious chana, singg and other sinful treats which are served on platforms. I also face the problem of disposing the paper cones they come in, once I am done eating the contents . There are no dustbins in the trains. Sometimes I carry them home in my pocket and dispose of them in the dustbins there, but mostly I litter the platforms.

Like the rest of them.

I feel bad for doing it, but I say to myself - hey, there is so much litter and filth all over Mumbai that what harm could one additional little peice of paper do?

Does this sound familiar? If yes, we are all providing more evidence to strengthen the 'Broken Window' theory which a group of researchers from Netherlands have just proved.

"The idea that observing disorder can have a psychological effect on people has been around for a while...

It was this effect that his experiments, which have just been published in Science, set out to test.

His group’s first study was conducted in an alley that is frequently used to park bicycles. As in all of their experiments, the researchers created two conditions: one of order and the other of disorder. In the former, the walls of the alley were freshly painted; in the latter, they were tagged with graffiti (but not elaborately, to avoid the perception that it might be art). In both states a large sign prohibiting graffiti was put up, so that it would not be missed by anyone who came to collect a bicycle. All the bikes then had a flyer promoting a non-existent sports shop attached to their handlebars. This needed to be removed before a bicycle could be ridden.

When owners returned, their behaviour was secretly observed. There were no rubbish bins in the alley, so a cyclist had three choices. He could take the flyer with him, hang it on another bicycle (which the researchers counted as littering) or throw it to the floor. When the alley contained graffiti, 69% of the riders littered compared with 33% when the walls were clean."

Going by this theory, here is an answer to all those who think that cleaning up the streets of Mumbai is futile. If it were done, people would not see litter and would be that much more reluctant to be the ones who litter it.

It is high time. Lets keep our cities clean, then others will too.

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