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Sunday
Oct082017

Harvest moon

The moon is always beautiful and fascinating. Friday morning I opened the front door and the moon looked a little bigger than usual and it was full. 

So made Jr. wait for school and took a few pictures from our doorstep.

After a few mintues realized that using the extender would definitely give me a better shot. So put that on and took a few more pictures. It was a setting moon. 

Moon photos are always better if there is a backdrop that shows it in scale.. this one was just a handheld shot but it is beautiful in its own way..

Later that evening got to see a lot of posts from the previous night on the rising moon. Apparenlty it is called a "harvest moon". Had no idea. Have been living in a very busy and warped world recently. 

Just happy to be able to upload some pictures and be normal again!

Tuesday
Oct032017

Routines'R'us

On my recent Asia trip, I had to participate in a business dinner at a Japanese restaurant. In case you don't know my food habits, here is a short summary of what I don't or can't eat:

1. I am Vegetarian (so no meat)

2. Allergic to Peanuts and Sesame seeds (so that rules out certain places like Thai restaurants, select Chinese restaurants that use Sesame oil, etc.)

3. Allergic to shellfish (not that I eat fish, but if they cook using the same utensils or some of that gets transferred, I still get a reaction

4. Allergic to eggplants (that rules out a few dishes in middle eastern , Italian restaurants)

5. Allergic to select fruits/vegetables (simple check is, if it has fine hair on the skin, I can get rashes just by touching them, if I eat them there will be othe side effects)

Usually when I eat things on the allergy list the symptoms are skin eruption, wheezing followed by a throbbing pain in the base of my head behind my left ear followed by extreme light and sound sensitivity which is immediately followed by violent throwing up till my stomach is empty. Then I sleep out of sheer exhaustion and after two or three hours wake up like the world is a rosy place and feel on top of the world. 

This happens periodically. With a lot of food restrictions, I have managed to make these "food poisoning" episodes (as my parents and wife call it) less frequent. The problem though is that when they hit me these days, the magnitude of the episodes is increasing on a Logarithmic scale. It is like I exchanged frequent mild tremors for a Banda Aceh type quake! 

Now given all this, I do NOT carry Epi pens with me because my allergies are not the deadly kind. On the Immunologist scale, most of them are a level 4 or 3 reaction. Severe enough to end up immobilized for the short term. Then again, I have not tempted fate by deliberately exposing myself to high levels of these "toxins".

Recently I am hearing that the reasons for this are :

- that kids who are not exposed to lot of different foods as babies are more prone to getting food allergies (eating street food as kids can help was one idea that was talked about)

- some of these are genetically transmitted triggers (my had had excema as a child)

- some of these are environmentally acquired (dust allergies etc.)

I am also told by friends who read the "news" that :

- reintroduction of these allergens in small quantities helps overcome this as long as it is done at a young age

- one can naturally outgrow allergies to certain foods and develop allergies to new ones, if one is prone to such allergies and that one has to periodically "test" for such changes (a colleague of mine has developed an allergy to almonds close to the age of 50! )

- allergy to peanuts could be allergy only to dry roasted american peanuts vs. boiled Indian peanuts (this I can actually vouch for.. I can eat a few Indian peanuts without getting a severe reaction but the large US peanut gives me rashes within a few hours)

- There are "eastern treatments" that can work for this ranging from :

   - oil pulling (gargling sesame oil in your mouth for 10 minutes and spitting it out for 30 days)

   - going to some place in Andhra where they take a small live fish and push it down your throat 

   - going to kerala where they put a flour dough boundary on your stomach and fill the surface of the stomach with some herbal liquid which absorbs the poison from your insides 

etc. etc. It may not be fair for me to clump all of them under same bucket as some come with more evidence, recommendations, different thumbs up/down ratio on Youtube comments, and other metrics which are equally helpful in evaluating cures. In spite of having a lot of respect of eastern medicine (our elders were wise) but being a product of western HEROS thinking (Hypothesis, Experiment, Result, Original Schedule, Status .. for those who are wondering), have not tried any of the pulling, fish shoving or toxin absorbing stomach swimming pool treatments. 

Instead I have always :

- Watched what I eat

- Mostly eat only home cooked food (take my lunch with me to work every day)

- eat the same thing on trips (after doing trial and error in different restaurants, different dishes, and taking my own food with me for the most part of the trip)

I am also not fun at business dinners because of my abstinence from alcohol, sodas and coffee. So it is either sipping water without ice, orange / apple juice or apple cider or tea!

On this recent dinner, the chef was challenged to know of my Vegetarian status and allergy status. So he got "creative".  I get the "poor guy" looks from people which baffles me. Even if I am allergic to a subset of food, there is still plenty I can eat! 

The restaurant came up with mountain yam cooked and extruded to look like pasta, a funnel of asparagus, cucumbers, and other greens in a yogurt sauce, something called dragons beard leaf, some other stuff that folks had difficulty translating into English.. 

Ate or tasted stuff that was translateable and found it to be tasty after mentally preparing myself for the worst. Then they gave a sauce which had some green wasabi stuff, white stuff and a powder that had to be mixed in the sauce.. (could clearly smell sesame seeds on that powder and avoided it) for the yam to be dipped in and it had a sambar flavor! 

There were some dishes that were simply shutting down my nose with the smell and those I passed on to my fellow diners. The tea was great as was the conversation and I loved the fact that everyone in the table at least respected my "sensitivities" in a literal sense. Everyone else in that table had a penchant for fine wine, high proof alcohol, exotic dishes of every kind from everywhere in the world. In short, I was feeling like Buddha dining with the Anthony Bourdain family! 

After that dinner, I did not go through the usual throw up routine. There was mild rashes and a stomach upset for 48 hours, but the rashes are gone now and the stomach is well set after a day of dieting only on bananas, oranges, grapes, almonds and coconut water. 

This weekend, I plan to start eating one sesame seed and one peanut on saturday, increase it to two each two days later, four four days later and see how far it goes. I have to see what the breaking point is. Worse case I will drink salt water and throw up.  Was inspired by one person at the table who drank like a fish who could not handle alcohol at all as a young man but he told me he conditioned himself to it over time as his job involved a lot of wining and dining! 

Will post the results HEROS table style and let you know if shocking the system on a non linear scale helps condition it better. Somehow my initial "gut feel" is that a linear increase my condition it less. While my experiement is still not as agressive when it comes to the max, it is still a lot less than eating a full ellu urundai! 

Routines may be good for me, but I think those periodic throw up sessions after "food poisoning" were actually doing me some good in a self regulating way. 

Yoga has definitely helped with getting back to normal post such attacks, but even doing yoga 200 times a year for more than six years has not eliminated the food related triggers. There are other triggers like dust, old library books, certain incense sticks, perfumes etc. that I have improved with respect to tolerance levels.

(these topics have all been broached before in various forms.. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here..   but going for the experiment this time).

Will come back with data!

Monday
Oct022017

Lightning strikes

Last month, during one of those days of my self imposed social media ban, was waiting outside on the street while Jr. was having her Saxophone lessons.

The skies darkened all of a sudden and there was thunder and lightning strikes, the likes of which I have not witnessed in almost 2 decades in the bay area. They were so frequent that I could get photographs of lightning with my iPhone!

Here is a photo.. 

and a edited video.. (I kept rolling for a good 10 minutes)

it was a memorable 15 minutes.. then the skies cleared and it was back to normal. In case my memory fails me someday, this blog will be there to put the marker back.. 

This was an amazing treat from mother nature! 

Sunday
Oct012017

Software tricks that compensate for hardware

If you hear about software compensating for hardware be it in imaging, networking, security, etc. etc. take it very seriously. 

Got to witness it firsthand over the weekend. We were at a friends place and one of our friends who works at Apple, whips out an iPhone8 and says "let me show you the portrait mode on this one". She takes a photo of me and with a single swipe on the icons in the bottom she was able to adjust the lighting on the portrait, AFTER the photo was taken. The background was also blacked out instantly and precisely.

It is interesting to note that Apps have figured out how to identify your face and put bunny ears on them, glasses and hats on your image and move them dynamically as you move your face. That is already 2016! as pointed out by my other friends. So the face and body recognition has come a long way. The speed and precision with which it is being done is what is amazing and scary! 

It takes me (and I do this with practiced ease) 3-4 minutes to cut an outline and create portait shots by blacking or whiting out the background. I use the smart cut tool in Adobe Photoshop CS5 and do a layer by cut followed by a solid layer and reordering the layers. 

The key issue is that the smart cut is only as precise as I can do it manually. My rush and crude job in the picture below shows that I did not get the boundaries right on my head line or right ear, which is because the background color blends with skin color or fuzzy boundaries are hard to delineate. The option is to gradually increase opacity between the layers. It can be done and it will take another few mintutes and can be automated.

How do you adjust the lighting post picture?! Think the iPhone8 is taking a page out of the Lytro book and doing multiple exposure shots (kind of like HDR but by adjusting focus) or is adding image sensor tricks to deliberately over expose or underexpose a group of pixels after it identifies the face prior to taking the pictures and is then able to play with this in the post processing. Dont know what kind of AI went into this, but whatever it is, very impressive!

Note that when I do smart cut and add a black layer, there is no lighting effect. I can also recreate part of the effect by creating a custom Vignette option. But I cannot change the local lighting on my face. It will always match the original. 

The "smart cut" being done with software is what is incredible. This is going to put portrait studio kits out of business. 

The SLR camera and lenses are temporarily safe. It still takes a good zoom to capture pictures of moving subjects against a plain backdrop and CS5 to adjust it. Maybe when you import the photos into an iPhone8 those photographs will be edited with a button click. Photoshop options and customized macros are going to be folded into the iPhone. You dont need those anymore soon..

One idea that I had was this.. Build a housing for an iPhone where the phone's camera focuses on an internal white board inside the box which replaces the plane of the full frame sensor in an SLR. You directly put your 2000$ lens on to this small box and the phone connects to an EF lens, telescope, binocular etc. etc. 

In the mean time photography enthusiasts like me will still lug around a heavy bag... 

Technology is moving very fast. Faster than a common person with respect to that technology field is improving. I am in hardware and see a scary progress in software. A software person is probably seeing the same thing in hardware space. The collective improvement is something neither one can anticipate or expect. . . it beats the average expectation by a wide margin!  The happy go lucky average users (all of us) don't see the larger picture of where this is going!

Monday
Sep252017

Navarathri Golu - 2017

We are currently celebrating Navarathri (nine-nights) and the Golu visits that come with the celebration. 

The women and girls (and their drivers by induction) are dressed nicely. 

There is high octane fuel.. err Sundal to feed the traveling beauties and chaufers.. 

Some fine singing by the kids in front of the doll displays and 

the doll displays themselves.. a thing we look forward to in this household. 

For those of you who are new to this blog, here is the background. South Indians celebrate Navarathri (Dushera, Durga Pooja in other parts of India) with elaborate doll displays on a staircase pattern (padi) and make some yummy treats with various legumes on 9 nights of the festival. They invite ladies and kids to visit their house, they sing in front of the deities, eat the snacks and are off to visit other folks. The ninth day is a prayer to the godess of learning, Saraswathi and the tenth day is celebrated as the day of Victory (Vijaya- Dasami).

In most houses where there has been a death in the family that year, they skip the display in their house and visit other folks. In some rare cases, where families found that the first year they kept the display as a newly wed family correlated to a death of a closed one, and I use the term correlate with a lot of hate given my applied math background... they watch cautiously. 

My grandmother apparently lost three kids to three years when she tried to keep the golu and decided that keeping the golu was not auspicious for the family. Since then (60 odd years ago), there has been no golu in this house on any paternal desencents. Any woman who gets married to a guy in this family, is promptly brainwashed irrespective of her education level and is told "not to tempt fate by keeping a golu". 

Let's just say that everytime I piss a flamingo dies. Unfotunately piss I have to. Out of respect for my elders (let's call it that) I am just happy visiting golus and taking photos of my cuties in different dresses. . . and of course documenting the golus from bay area which are frozen in time.. the Golus in Chennai seem to have morphed into some advanced concepts in terms of themes, dolls and partying! 

This is typical of any immigrant community that evolves on one side and supresses evolution on other fronts to keep things "authentic".. 

This year we managed one family portrait..

and visited 10 or so Golus over the weekend. I will miss the rest of the golus because of work. It is what it is.. Have asked Jr. to take some nice pictures of golus they attend and show me and I can add it to the slideshow below..

This year I also got to take pictures of the Dasavatharam set (10 avatars of Vishnu) from different Golus (where it was possible to take a picture). Given the circular golus and a shallow depth of focus, some golus were a challenge to capture.. next thing I know, we might need drones to take ariel views of the golu and add videos. Golugraphy has to make its technological advances, no?!

Talking of technology, the kids are taking their science projects and making the Golus interesting. We were witness to a volcano demonstration as part of a golu. Every visitor gets to see the volcano. Just think of how much fun Golus are becoming! 

Here they are...

Given that kids place the dolls and there is sometimes breakage in transit, it is impressive that the golus make it with all 10 avatars. Sometimes folks place it in the wrong sequence while majority place it right. Have written about this in a FB post before.. but there is a logic to this. My grandpa taught me that the 10 avatars of Vishnu is our forefathers way of teaching us evolution. The puranas that talk about the 10 avatars pre-date Darwin by 100's of years. 

The idea is :

life started in the ocean.. the first avatar is fish

Life moved to amphibians .. second one is a tortoise

Then it came to be ground feeding land animals .. third one is a boar

Then came a predator .. Vishnu as a Lion

Then came a pygmy or dwarf .. Vamana

Then it is all homo sapien transformations with a man who is mentally unstable (but physically a man as we know it) - parashurama (violent man)

followed by Rama - man with ideals

then Balarama -- a man with a plough (he has now settled and has figured out how to tame rivers and do agriculture.. non nomadic man)

then Krishna (god who does anything he has to to win and in the process sets up the downfall of man)

Finally Kalki, the doomsday avatar of Vishnu who finishes off what Krishna started. (Last year I had made fun by saying Trump is Kalki and regret that.. he won as I predicted and given where we are.. he might actually be the 10th avatar of Vishnu.. given God comes in all shapes, sizes and colors..even orange)

It is interesting to see how sometimes we miss the bigger picture or the hidden lessons! 

As usual, look forward to next years's Golus..