A story of me and my expensive watch…

A few months ago, my wife decided to get me an expensive watch. Until then, I had not owned a watch of any significant value. My expensive watch

I had been considering buying a new watch since the two I had were looking tired.

Minimalism was far from my mind at that time.

As for watches, I have never been picky.

If it tells time, and does not look like a clock on my wrist, I can live with it. When I asked my wife about the price, I didn’t get a straight answer. She said something about significant birthdays and once-in-a-lifetime purchases.

I didn’t push it.

Clearly, if she felt that I could use some bling to boost my image, I wasn’t going to dispute that. Moreover, I didn’t want to appear insensitive to her thoughtfulness.

After all, it was a thing of beauty; very elegant, and — as per some Google searches that I did — pricey.

But, was it going to bring me joy forever?

I have always had a philosophy in life — only buy things that you can actually use without worrying about its cost. If you had to store it away in a draw or a locker, it defeated the purpose. I applied the same rule to social events and interactions. If it’s too formal and uppity, I try and avoid it.

No point trying to be someone you really are not.

“Pushing the boundaries” and “getting out of comfort zone” etc. were strictly for work. No need to bring it home.

Suffice to say, I was a little out of my league with my new watch.

For the first few days I wore it wherever I went. I proudly displayed it to friends and casually brought watches up in conversations. I gestured with my watch-wearing hand during presentations at work similar to Roger Federer playing tennis wearing his Rolex watch.

Mostly, people didn’t notice.

So, I gave up trying too hard to make people notice that I was wearing a fancy watch. I decided to use it like an everyday watch.

I quickly realized that it was not that simple.

Lock it or lose it - Reboot SocialThe first time I wore it to the squash club, I worried about leaving it in my racquet bag among squash balls and loose change. The “Lock it or lose it” sign in the locker room was not confidence inspiring. The fact that my six-racquet bag did not fit into the change room lockers made matters worse.

On my late evening walks, I suddenly had a new worry; I could get mugged, for my watch!

In a way, I felt stupid.

For the life of me I cannot remember the last time I looked at someone’s watch to see if it looked expensive. All the same, I now had to content with the fact that there may be people, unlike me, who can tell an expensive watch when they see one.

People have been known to commit crimes for far less money.

Notorious B.I.G. said it: Mo Money Mo Problems.

Indeed!

The fact that I wear my watch on my right hand didn’t help either.

I seemed incapable of doing anything without bumping my watch against something or the other. I had never noticed or worried about that before.

In a weird sort of way, my new watch had added stress to my life. I did not need that.

I loved the watch, but disliked the hassle that came along with it. It would be a shame if I scratched it up or worse, lose it.

I had a dilemma — I needed an everyday watch.

So, I got one.

I must say it is a climb down from a luxury watch to an everyday watch.

But, I am good.

I feel right at home throwing it into my gym bag or fiddling around under the hood of the car wearing it.

In reality, I barely look at it.

I rely more on my phone to tell time.

Duh!

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Of breathalyzers and false positives…

Of breathalyzers and false positives

At first, I thought that there had been an accident.

As I inched my way up the line to the police officer with the flashlight, I realized that I was caught in a RIDE spot check – an Ontario sobriety testing program designed to catch drivers driving under the influence of alcohol. There were flashing lights and pylons everywhere and the cars ahead of me were being channeled into a single lane.

I thanked my stars!

I had just passed up on an offer for a quick beer from a colleague.I know that one beer is below the legal limit set by the province, but, who knows what breathalyzers can do? The last thing you want is to end up on the wrong side of a breathalyzer test.

Some recent reports in the media had called into question the integrity of the breath testing equipment – Intoxilyzer 8000C – used by the police in in Ontario. Aging equipment and lack of maintenance procedures had culminated in a few disputed charges.

Imagine a scenario where you are charged with a “refused to provide sample” because the breathalyzer did not register your effort to blow into it.

Apparently, it happens!

As much as I support the idea of keeping drunk drivers off the road, the thought of innocent people being wrongly judged by machines is not a comforting one.

But then, this post is not really about RIDE programs and its merits or demerits.

It’s about false positives and false negatives, in life.

Which is worse, a false positive or a false negative?

It depends.

In the context of our legal system, a false positive is worse than a false negative.  The presumption of innocence is a cherished characteristic of modern justice and best summarized by Sir William Blackstone’s saying:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

However, in the context of medicine and diagnosing illness, a false negative can have dire health consequences for an individual. At the same time, false positives can create panic and divert scarce resources towards wild goose chases.

In one form or the other, we have all experienced false positives.

Whether it is your car alarm going off for no obvious reason, or being uneasy about the big burly guy walking behind you in a dimly lit street, we hold statistically unsound presumptions that lead us to judge situations and people around us.

Think of how your internal cognitive detector kicks in when you deal with someone who you believe is not telling the truth. The goal of the tools, whether cognitive or electronic, is to enhance our predictive powers that help us get closer to the truth.

But, like the breathalyzer, our cognitive detector is also prone to errors of judgement.

In most cases, finding truth is an iterative process. You get closer to the truth every time you discard a known piece of “false.” Under a more philosophical lens, truth should be viewed as a destination, and the things that we identify as false, the vehicles to get there.

Back to the police breathalyzers.

One of the issues with accepting the results from this device is that it has no published “uncertainty of measurement”- or as we ordinary folks would call it, an “error rate.” So, if we assume that the device is 95% accurate, that would mean that 50 out of a 1000 people stopped could get charged incorrectly.

Additionally, if you assume that 1 in 1000 drivers are actually drunk while driving, the probability of an actual drunk driver being stopped and being charged is a mere 2% (1 out of 50). That would mean that the rest of the 49 could be incorrectly charged.

Tough luck?

Which brings me back to the top of the page, and the original scope of this piece.

The era of personal diagnostic tools is upon us and will soon dominate the consumer market in the same way smart phones currently dominate communications and transactions.

One technical obstacle remains: how do we accurately measure low frequency occurrences of a “something” within a population?

In the breathalyzer example above, a 99.99 accuracy rate would be needed to avoid falling into a false positive trap and mislabeling a driver “drunk” when they are not. We will need to have a breathalyzer tool with 99.99% accuracy.

Perhaps we do, but without a published error rate, we are in the dark.

At the end of the day, it is not about the breathalyzer either. It is about perceptions. What if someone was charged in error?

Are we too quick to judge?

 

Why Charlie Gard’s life matters

Charlie Gard - UK Supreme Court

Photo Credit: Garry Knight – https://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/31363621202

Charlie Gard has reportedly been granted permanent residence in the US so he can travel to America to receive experimental treatment.” Katie Foster – The Independent, July 19, 2017.

Despite the headline shown above, the fight may not be over for Charlie Gard. The police could still stop Charlie’s parents from making the move to the United States.

My original post is shown below.

By the time you read this post, Charlie Gard may have been taken off life-support.

Pope Francis and Donald Trump actually agree on something – Charlie Gard’s right to live.

Strange are the ways of the world.

Charlie is a ten-month old child in the UK with a terminal mitochondrial disease.  He has severe brain damage and has been on a ventilator for months.

Charlie’s parents want to take their son to the United States for an experimental treatment. A treatment that could potentially improve his quality of life. They want what they believe is best for Charlie.

They understand that it is not a cure.

Mitochondrial diseases are severe and horrible. There are no cures. They are uniquely devastating. It is always ultimately terminal, especially when it strikes an infant – the little ones are the hardest hit.

Charlie has suffered catastrophic brain damage. The doctors are of the opinion that since the treatment that Charlie’s parents are seeking will not reverse the brain damage, it is pointless.  Charlie cannot be “cured”.

The judges agree.

The UK and EU courts have ruled that Great Ormond Street Hospital may take Charlie off his ventilator, against his parent’s wishes.

It was not about the money, or the cost to the Government. Charlie’s parents have raised money over $2 million CDN through gofundme to cover the expenses. There were offers of help from high places – doctors in the United States, President Trump, the Pope, to name a few.

I want to pause here.

Charlie’s parent’s situation is difficult to relate to when you are watching from the sidelines. I realize that a lot of people, agree with the doctors’ point of view on this.  They believe that Charlie’s parent’s judgment is clouded by grief, and that physicians, especially at a world-renowned children’s hospital, cannot possibly be wrong.

But, consider this: If doctors only treated patients who were guaranteed to be cured, where would that leave us? Does Charlie Gard not have a right to treatment, irrespective of his chances to be cured?

Treatment and hope are not pointless. Believe it or not, recovery, even from severe brain damage caused by a mitochondrial disease, is potentially possible.

I have stood in Charlie’s parents shoes. I still live it, every day.

Anakha - Why life mattersAs some of you have read, my daughter also has a rare terminal mitochondrial disease. She suffered devastating brain damage (progressive cavitating leukodystrophy) when she was nine months old. I too was told that my daughter will just continue to get worse, that there is no treatment, no cure. The time and resources needed to treat her were not worth it. She was practically dead to them, just like Charlie Gard.

And just like Charlie’s parents, I refused to listen to the doctors.  As every parent of a terminally ill child will do, I researched, reached out, and never stopped trying to find something, anything, to help my daughter.

And my daughter did not get worse.  With treatment, she stabilized.  And with the time that treatment brought her, she regained many of the skills that she had lost.

Her doctors can only attribute it to neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganize itself.  My daughter went from having the motor functions of a two month old infant at 10 months old, to now being able to speak, orally eat, use a manual wheelchair, and even a walker, at 2.5 years old.

I know it sounds like small steps, but believe me, these are huge for our daughter and us.

One year after my daughter suffered her catastrophic brain damage, new peer-reviewed research has reported two children with the same rare mitochondrial disease as my daughter, alive at 12 years old and 16 years old. There is evidence that the treatment my daughter received – not a cure – definitively helps to stabilize and even improve their condition.

Yes, they are still disabled, and ultimately still terminally ill.

But does that matter?  They are alive, and living.  My daughter has been given the gift of time, time with me, time to be alive.

I know many children with life-limiting diseases who are tube fed, on ventilators, who are quadriplegic, blind, deaf, who cannot hold up their own heads. But, I see the light in their eyes as they watch Frozen, their smiles when they feel the sunlight on their skin, the joy that they bring to the world.

Charlie’s parents want to give Charlie a chance to live – not a cure – but a chance to experience life. They understand that it is the merest of chances, but they still want to try.

But the State did not agree.

Good, caring, loving, conscientious parents have been told that faceless, nameless entities  know what is best for Charlie, better than his parents,  better than other doctors, including mitochondrial disease specialists at other hospitals who are willing to treat Charlie and respect his right to life and treatment.

The State has declared that Charlie Gard has no right to live. Charlie’s parent’s right to choose medical treatment for their child has been stripped from them.

It is absolutely appalling how cruelly Charlie Gard and his family have been treated, and I cannot shake the fear that one day, this could be Anakha.

I pray that the most powerful man in the world and the revered Pontiff can help little Charlie Gard.

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Canada 150 – Things I love about Canada.

From the perspective of a Torontonian… Canada 150 - Things I like about Canada

I am not sure when it happened. I first realized it while I was sitting in a restaurant in Kerala, India.

“I am ready to go home,” I told my wife as we were waiting for our dessert.  We had been vacationing for nearly a month.

“You mean…” her voice trailed off as I completed the sentence for her, “Yes, back to Toronto.”

We both went silent for a while. The implication of what I had said was significant to both of us. Until then, India was always home, Canada was where we lived. Somewhere along the way, without us realizing it, things had changed.

Canada, or more specifically, Toronto was home now. And what better place to call home?

Hardcore Torontonians may refer to me as a 905er – someone who lives in the suburbs of Toronto. I am not offended; it’s true. In my view, I have the best of both worlds – I work in downtown Toronto and live about a thirty-minute drive away in Mississauga.

Looking back, I cannot think of any major event that contributed to this transformation. Though, I can think of myriad little things that probably brought about our change of heart.

So, on this 150th anniversary of Canada, I would like to share with you “Things I love about Canada.” After all, I have been a part of it for the past twenty-five years! Please switch to fullscreen to watch the below video.

Just a note, the video below looks better in full-screen mode.

Would be awesome if you shared this…

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Work-life balance – It is no longer one or the other, it is always both

Work-life balance

My mobile phone buzzes, cajoling me to pick it up.

I look up at the clock on the cable set-top box, the time is 11:32 PM.

I ignore the phone and go back to the TV.

It’s Friday night, I am binge-watching the fifth season of House of Cards with my wife.

The phone vibrates again.

Reluctantly, I pick it to see if someone is sending me another joke on WhatsApp. Folks in India have just woken up.

It’s work.

I am not on call, nor working on a group project or deliverable. I don’t have customers on the other side of the globe.

Briefly, I consider replying to one of the emails, then decide against. I do not want to get sucked into a work-related discussion in the middle of the night on a weekend.

It’s family time; work can wait.

If the above feels like a movie that you have seen before, you are not alone.

Welcome to the world of real-time communications where work never stops, unless you chose to. And, work-life balance seems a lofty, unrealistic goal for a lot of people.

To some extent, we may have brought this upon ourselves.

Our obsession with staying connected every second of the day plays right into it. Everyone knows that every waking hour of the day you are online and checking notifications as they come in. So if you get the odd “Hey, got a minute?” you have no one else to blame.

Realistically though, in today’s world, can you really disconnect?

And, if you do disconnect, will it be a career limiting move (CLM)? What if you don’t respond to work-related communications after hours and your colleagues do?

On the flipside, there may be an upside here.

The same technology that keeps you working all the time also allows you to always stay connected to your personal network. Most employers have given up or cannot control what you do with your personal communication devices that you bring with you to work. Your personal interactions are no longer confined to evenings and weekends. There is nothing preventing you from making a restaurant reservation online, checking your Facebook timeline, or replying to a personal email from work.

So, perhaps there is some middle-ground here.

Maybe the new norm is a work-life balance where work never stops and your personal interactions also never really stop — even during normal “work hours.”

Then again, it is all about perspective.

For a lot of young people, probably this is the only model that they have seen and it does not phase them. They are comfortable with the overlap of work over life and vice-versa.

It is no longer one or the other; it is always both.

As for me, somewhere along the way, I made a choice — work time and personal time are like church and state to me.  I try and keep them separate to the extent possible.

I am old school.

And, if not replying to emails in the middle of the night is considered a CLM, so be it.

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When minimalism starts making sense

Foray into minimalism

My foray into minimalism

I want to make sure that I don’t come through as a fake as I write this post.

Minimalism, as a lifestyle, is not something that I have ever consciously aspired to. If anything, I would be closer to a Maximalist who believes in the “Life is too short, so, have a good time!” philosophy.

A true epicurean!

Though, I may not be ready to take it to the “Live rich and die broke” level.

For that matter, I was not quite sure what minimalism entailed.

Large white sparsely furnished spaces and artwork that show small objects on large canvases come to mind.

My curiosity was piqued when I looked up the profile of Tynan, a blogger that I occasionally read, and it said, “I only have one pair of pants and two shirts.”

It was clear that it was a choice that he had made and not one driven by the lack of money.

So, I decided to explore minimalism a bit more.

To say that interpretations vary, would be an understatement. There were people who sold or gave away their “things” to declutter their lives; people who could fit all their worldly possessions in a backpack; people who quit their jobs and took up nomadic lifestyles…

Mostly stuff that I could not relate to.

It appeared that minimalism did not always translate to “cheap.” On the contrary, some of the practitioners of minimalism left me wondering, if they were independently wealthy. The pursuit of quality vs. quantity appeared to be the underlying sentiment – be it things, jobs, relationships, etc.

Then I stumbled upon a question that I could finally relate to but did not have an answer for:

“When do you know that you have enough?”

Not surprisingly, if you Googled this question, almost all the answers you get are related to money – enough money to retire; enough insurance etc. While the requirement of money is a no-brainer, I decided to explore other aspects of “enough” as it pertains to a minimalist lifestyle to see how I compared.

Do I have enough home?

I would say, yes. Having sold my house and moved to a condominium, I seem to be on the right track here. In case you are wondering, I have no plans to sell my house and hit the road or join a monastery, yet.

Do I have enough car?

“Yes,” to that too. Though I had no minimalistic intentions while replacing our gas guzzlers for hybrid cars, I will take an “X” on that box.

As I went through a mental list of “do I have enough?” that covered food, clothes, furniture, artwork, etc., I stopped at electronic gadgets.

Do I have enough electronic gadgets that make me happy?

Sheepishly, I have to admit that I have more gadgets than I need, or have a use for.

I have an opportunity to take my first step towards minimalism – declutter my tech junk draw.

But then, why would I give these things away? I have been holding on to them “just in case” I needed them in the future. Not to mention the fact that I paid good money for some of it.

So, I read more about the virtues of decluttering – selling or donating stuff that you don’t need.

I got more questions back.

Are the things that you don’t need – in my case, old smartphones and other mobile gadgets – adding value to my life and making me happy?

The answer was a resounding “no,” they are sitting in a draw and certainly not adding any value or happiness to my life.

Could these things potentially add value to someone else’s life, or make them happy?

I had to reluctantly admit that it potentially could bring happiness to someone else.

Then, why not give it to them?

I was stumped. The logic made sense.

There is something liberating about being able to let go, even when they are only old iPhones that you no longer use.

The feeling of enough!

So, I have decided to give away a few gadgets that I have not touched in over a year.

My first foray into minimalism…

So, do you think that there is merit in minimalism? Click here to add your comments.