Ganesha Workflow

I have a problem with productivity. It’s because I follow what I call the “Ganesha Workflow”.

Basically there are times when I “get into flow”, and at those times I ideally want to just keep going, working ad infinitum, until I get really tired and lose focus. The problem, however, is that it is not so easy to “get into flow”. And this makes it really hard for me to plan life and schedule my day.

So where does Ganesha come into this? I realise that my workflow is similar to the story of how Ganesha wrote the Mahabharata.

As the story goes, Vyasa was looking for a scribe to write down the Mahabharata, which he knew was going to be a super-long epic. And he came across Ganesha, who agreed to write it all down under one condition – that if Vyasa ever stopped dictating, Ganesha would put his pen down and the rest of the epic would remain unwritten.

So Ganesha Workflow is basically the workflow where as long as you are going, you go strong, but the moment you have an interruption, it is really hard to pick up again. Putting it another way, when you are in Ganesha Workflow, context switches are really expensive.

This means the standard corporate process of drawing up a calendar and earmarking times of day for certain tasks doesn’t really work. One workaround I have made to accommodate my Ganesha Workflow is that I have “meeting days” – days that are filled with meetings and when I don’t do any other work. On other days I actively avoid meetings so that my workflow is not disturbed.

While this works a fair bit, I’m still not satisfied with how well I’m able to organise my work life. For one, having a small child means that the earlier process of hitting “Ganesha mode” at home doesn’t work any more – it’s impossible to prevent context switches on the child’s account. The other thing is that there is a lot more to coordinate with the wife in terms of daily household activities, which means things on the calendar every day. And those will provide an interruption whether I like it or not.

I’m wondering what else I can do to accommodate my “Ganesha working style” into “normal work and family life”. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Zen and the art of shooting

So I was at this resort near Nandi Hills for a day-long workshop on Saturday (actually it was a three-day workshop but my session was only on Saturday so I went there only for one day). One of my colleagues and fellow-teachers had brought along an air gun and at a time when students were busy doing some homework we had given them, we went off for some shooting practice.

First we used cardboard pieces and drew targets on them. I remember taking some four or five rounds at it. First three times I shot way to the right of the target. The following time I decided to correct for this bias and aimed a little left of the target. However, it turned out I had overcompensated and I ended up shooting left.

This was the first time ever in my life that I was shooting (barring toy guns when I was a kid). The first couple of shots I was just getting use to the feel of the gun, the posture, etc. What I found tricky was that there were two viewfinders through which you had to look through simultaneously (genius design – to eliminate parallax error). And then you had to concentrate, focus and shoot.

My first few shots I figured that I thought too much about shooting. I took aim, and then held the position for a while till I was convinced that I was aiming right. Then I would get distracted (damn you, ADHD) and then I would have to try and concentrate again. This would happen a few times until I would go impatient and shoot randomly, and thus miss the target.

After a few rounds of shooting at the cardboard, we moved on to shooting a fruit. Four of us took two cracks each at the fruit, and I was the only one who didn’t manage to hit the fruit at all. On both shots I missed by a long way. I had that sinking feeling I always have when I’m trying to learn something as part of a group and end up being clearly the worst in the group. That’s a frequent feeling for me nowadays.

So for the last round where we used an empty Bacardi carton as our target (the aim was to hit the face of the Bat logo on the carton), I decided to adopt what one of my friends called the “Zen method”. “The first time you take aim, just shoot. Don’t over think”, he said. I had some reputation to salvage.

We all took two shots each at the carton. I did what I was told. As soon as I had taken aim, I shot. I ended up hitting the bat logo once on the tail and once on one of its legs. Here is a photo taken as soon as I had shot the tail (red circle; the other shot on the bat is a colleague’s). The Zen method worked!



PS: I think this is the first time ever I’ve put up my photo on my blog. So all those of you who read this but don’t follow me on any other social medium – you finally know what I look like.

The Problem With a Common Engineering Entrance Test

… is correlation and concentration.

Like everything else, a student’s performance in a test can be divided into two – the predictive component (which can be explained based on preparation levels, general intelligence, ability to handle pressure, etc.) and the random component (which includes and is not limited to illness on the day of the exam, reaching the venue late leading to unsettlement, pure luck (or the lack of it) and so on).

Now, when you have a number of exams, what you expect is for a student’s “random component” to even out across these exams. If he outperforms his “predictive component” in one exam, you would expect that he would underperform in another exam. It’s like the “predictive component” of his performance is the expected “value” of his performance.

Thus, when you have a large number of entrance exams, it gives students the opportunity for their random components to even out, and take luck out to some extent from their college admission process. When you collapse all entrance exams into one, however, a student who happens to get a large negative “random component” on that given day is denied a second chance. Thus, the college admissions process will become much more of a crapshoot than it is now.

The other thing about uniform admission standards is why should every college have the same requirements for the students it wants to recruit? Having a common exam forces this upon colleges, unless they are allowed to change their weights allocated to different sections differently. If this doesn’t happen, it’ll only end up bringing all of the country’s education system to a uniform mediocrity.

Degree Coffee

During my experiments to make hot chocolate of various degrees of chocolate-milk combination revealed that the higher the milk-to-water ratio, the more frothy the chocolate became. That was when I realized why restaurants (especially in Bangalore and Madras) try to make their coffee frothy – it’s a sign of  quality, that they’ve used sufficient milk and not diluted it with water. Hence you get “degree coffee”. The “fat concentration” in the milk, that provides the froth, needs to be above a certain limit, which is measured using this instrument with the reading in “degrees”.

The  quality of a good hot cup of “milk coffee” comes from two ingredients – the coffee powder and milk. If there were a way in which coffee beans could lend their flavour to milk directly, that would have been the ideal coffee. Unfortunately, since this is not possible, you need to add water. Water adds nothing to the taste of coffee. It only dilutes it. However, it is critical because it is the passing of hot water or steam that allows the flavour of the coffee beans to be released.

Given this, the ideal coffee is one where the concentration of coffee flavour and milk are maximized for a unit volume of coffee (ok concentration of flavour varies according to taste (I prefer “strong” coffee) but milk is important). This implies that to make good coffee you need to make a very concentrated decoction (one that maximizes flavour per unit volume) and then “dilute” it with an appropriate amount of milk.

Which is why you see that in “darshini” restaurants in Bangalore, they put very little “decoction” in the cup and pour a large quantity of milk. And the coffee in most darshinis is invariably tasty. Similarly in the small restaurants of Madras. Similar algo. And in the cafes of Rome, where they make a concentrated espresso and then add foamed milk to produce absolutely stunning cappuccino.

Working further backwards, the trick is to extract as much flavour as possible using as little water as possible. This is why “decant coffee” and “brewed coffee” (that you get in America) suck. They use way too much water for way too little flavour. Espresso is designed towards extracting a lot of flavour using very little water (or steam). Also, there is an “espresso roast” – coffee beans are roasted more than usual in order to make espresso. Unfortunately the technology is too expensive to keep in the homes.

In India the traditional method is “filter coffee”, where hot water passes through a bed of coffee powder. I prefer, however, to use a percolator, which uses steam rather than hot water, and which works against the direction of gravity (steam moves up while collecting coffee flavour and then condenses in a jar above). Unfortunately the percolator I use (purchased from Coffee Day) is unstable and prone to falling off and ruining the kitchen.

What’s the best coffee you’ve had? How do you prepare coffee to get strong decoction? Do you swear by the filter? Or do you get reasonably priced espresso machines? Let me know.