Archives for 2008

Re-invent Thyself

It is the season for resolutions. Wordy eloquence matches the flight of ones ambitions. Here is dreamy grandeur that would have put Rome in its heydays to shame.

If there is one characteristic that marks out human beings it is in our ability to envision a grand future for ourselves. The heavens of the religious and the certainty of the scientific folks amongst us would assert this.

I have been thinking a little about what resolutions I would take upon myself. A lot of candidates presented themselves. But the essence of all these was simple. Captured in two words, they arrived like a commandment rather than a resolution. 

Re-invent Thyself.

13 Essential WordPress Plug-ins To Begin With

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Recently two of my friends have started blogging. I have been sharing little detail so far on some aspects of setting up their blog. I thought to write up a post on the basic plug-ins essential to begin with in the hope it will help more people.

Akismet

The default spam filter that comes along with WordPress installation, from the developers of WordPress. This should be the very first plug-in you activate on your blog.

All in One SEO Pack

This plug-in allows you to refine keywords, titles etc on a per-blog post basis. Essential to tweak the amount of metadata you supply to search engines and in turn improve findability.

Add To Any

Users love to bookmark or mail the URL of content they find interesting and useful. This plug-in makes this process easy. One of those minor usability improvements that provides immediate results.

Disqus Comments

The comment system in WordPress has a limited world view and is restricted to your own blog. What if you wanted to track your commenting across multiple blogs? Disqus is one attempt to track conversations across all Disqus enabled blogs.

FeedBurner FeedSmith

WordPress allows users to subscribe to RSS feeds of your blog posts. What if you could better manage how you serve this feed, say subscribe by email, track subscriber statistics etc, then you need this plug-in. Besides it takes the load off your servers if your subscriber count is large. Of course this is just a simplistic description, the FeedBurner provides lots more features, check it out.

Google Analytics for WordPress

This is a free analytics service from Google. Register and receive a tracking code and embed it using this plug-in within your blog. Track every aspect of your blog’s visitors- entry and exit pages, bounce rate, duration stay..should be more than enough for personal bloggers. This is essential.

Google XML Sitemaps

This plug-in generates metadata files required by search engines to scan your site for content and updates to them. Again essential if you want your content to be discovered by search engines.

WordPress.com Stats

Allows usage of WordPress infrastructure to show stats. Google Analytics always has a latency in showing information, WordPress stats are near real-time.

WordPress Automatic Upgrade

Click through upgrades of your WordPress installation. If you do not have version 2.7 and above then you need this.

WordPress Related Posts

You have written more than a handful of posts and tagged each post. This plug-in uses these tags to display a random list of posts that have similar tags like the current post. Again, improves stickiness and will be a easy way for visitors to check out your other relevant posts.

WP-Cache

Imagine your blog is Slashdotted. An electronic equivalent of the barbarian hordes would arrive at your site. The web-server after dutifully following your scalability tactics would eventually kneel. Use this plug-in and be untouched by this assault. Generates static HTML pages for each post. Essential once you have large traffic.

WP-Polls

Engage your visitors better by soliciting structured feedback via polls. A fully featured plug-in, it allows you to design, track and measure polls and the responses.

WP-Greet Box

Welcome your visitors like a good host in a targeted fashion. And also request them to subscribe to your blog via the RSS feed. One of those simple but essential usability enhancements.

Of course these are basic ones that I use currently, feel free to share details of what other plug-ins you think are essential.

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5 Indispensable Books to Guide Your Soul

This is for each of you who have aspired to a higher state within.

Sometimes one hits a wall. A wall of obstruction that prevents us from making progress. These states come out as an unease, a state of disquiet, a sense of being alienated from the world and its events.

However this state of unease is not a conducive condition for any sort of contemplation. Sri Aurobindo talks about ‘uthsaaha’, the Sanskrit word for enthusiasm, as a necessary condition for all yogic endeavors.

But enthusiasm and hope are not the easiest of qualities to gain when one is beset by travails within and without.

Sometimes, just sometimes, there are intimations..like postcards from eternity. They arrive without warning. The discerning mind of the aspirant latches onto them.

Every time I have lost my grip, and was to slip into the abyss, a life-line has been thrown to me, often in the form of a book. Today I shall share details of 5 of these books. My review shall be brief, for the essence has seeped deep within me and the specifics of time, place and plot have given way to reveal the story of every aspiration and mine.

The Sannyasin

Satprem A partly autobiographical work of Satprem, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, it speaks of the chief protagonist Nil’s attempts to storm the gates of Heaven. And how in the process this pleasant green earth eludes him. The impossible intensity with which Nil feels the burning question, all point to an experience lived and savored, not merely thought out in the mind and cast on paper.

Siddhartha

41RV449YN2L._SL160_ Contrary to what I expected this is not the story of the one called the Buddha. Rather its the story of character called Siddhartha who lived during Buddha’s times. He too wishes to reach the source and find answers. But unlike the Buddha, this Siddhartha’s methods and means are more commonplace, which makes this book resonate more deeply with our own quest.

 

 

Ka

51T6Q1WDFYL._SL160_ The story and myths of the Indian pantheon. A god of birds in search of ransom that would redeem his mother, the king of gods who often falls prey to lust, a Rishi who whispers the highest secret to his wife with the lower gods straining to catch the cadence of it – words hardly do justice here. The author displays a very rare understanding of the symbolic and metaphorical nature of the Hindu psyche. Forget the Ganges, take a dip in this book, and the gods might just notice you.

 

Last Temptation of Christ

51585A01V6L._SL160_ The Christian institution I studied in attempted numerous times to ‘save’ my soul. None of these evangelical methods worked of course. The super-son or the super-lamb portrayals popular with the common mass and the official system, or the sanitized and simplified biblical version might suit the evangelistic purposes of the establishment but means very little to the true seeker. Read it to understand the very real torments even of the chosen ones. Also know what it is to suffer, that wounds of the flesh are mere trifles before the anguish of eternal separation from the Highest Divine. This book has single handedly birthed in me a profound devotion for Christ.

Essays on the Gita

41mXMgHhZdL._SL160_ There is a scene in the assault on Minas Tirith in LOTR with Pippin and Gandalf. Pippin wonders aloud, “I didn’t think it would end this way”, to which Gandalf replies, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it.”. The setting is critical. Right in the thick of the battlefield, Gandalf chooses to comfort the hobbit with a truth that is universal. Such is the setting of the Gita. In response to Arjuna’s shirking from the great battle of Mahabharata, Sri Krishna, the incarnate Godhead, sings of the eternal nature of the soul and the imperative to follow ones duty, however bitter the act and the outcome. One can almost hear in the intimacy of the inner ear Sri Krishna himself. This more than any other version of the Gita seems to channel the Higher Word without the interpreting agency of the human element.

Of course this is a just a quick list. The number of books that I have sought solace from are many. Based on time and your interest, I shall share more.

How To Handle Your Job Loss – Part 3

This article is third part of a series on steps you need to take in the event of a job loss. The first part is here. The second is here

Job Solicitation

Focus on two or three job portals. Upload your resume. Stick to the recommended format. If you wish to be creative, then do it on a hosted service like VisualCV. Most online job portals expect the resume in a certain format so as to better display the contents on their systems, don’t make it easy for them to reject your CV.

Get the list of recruitment agencies. Talk to a representative of the firm. Ensure you project a confident disposition. Note that a recruiter has her bonus/targets riding on you getting employment. Often she would reserve the best openings for individuals who are sure to get through the interview process. Don’t mess up, you typically get one shot at coming across a skilled professional to any recruiter.

Talk to companies that are recruiting directly too. Reach out to the HR folks, they are not easy to track down though. This is where your online and real world contacts can help. Check how you can reach out to this audience, they can easily short-circuit any long-winded road to employment.

Follow-up

Always follow-up with recruitment agencies, potential employers and contacts. Maintain a journal on the contacts made. You don’t want to sound too desperate, so contact them once a week, or even better check with them on when you should/could get back. Keep your online sites updated on how your job hunt is proceeding. Come across as someone who is proactive and can take the situation in your stride.

Interviews

It takes a couple of weeks for the interview calls to come in. Of course this is no scientific number and can vary wildly based on your domain, market situation etc. But once it does come in ensure you have a strong feedback loop in place to tweak your approach/skills based on how it goes. And remember just because an interview goes well does not mean you will actually join the company. Refuse to be elated in the short term. Hold your emotions in check. Nothing is certain until you actually join the company.

Closure

If all goes well, you will actually get a job. Once you are in that stage, ensure you reach out to all your contacts and update them. And thank them for their support, even if it is just listening to your story of woe. Update all your online profiles, LinkedIn etc. Let the world know you are back in action.

This has been a long rambling post. I hope this would be of some help to you. And do share your thoughts on the methods and what else has worked for you.

I shall leave you with a final thought – Be agile, be hungry and believe no night lasts forever. All the best.

How To Handle Your Job Loss – Part 2

This article is second part of a series on steps you need to take in the event of a job loss. The first part is here. The third is here

Social Life

Forget work-life balance crap. This is a dog eats dog situation and you have to amend your social life accordingly. If you were the 9-5 type forget it for a while. Typically you would spend 4-5 hours a day doing research, contacting friends for leads, talking to recruitment agencies and doing searches on online job portals. You will typically need to spend another 8-10 hours brushing up on your skills. This is the hard part. Fail to do this and you might as well forget a quick turnaround.

Skill Practice

This is a crucial. When sitting at home it will get difficult to focus on getting a job. You might be tempted to rue your fate, watch a movie to just ‘relax’, get together with your drink buddies to drown your sorrow etc. Please do not go this route. Focus is essential.

Brooding over the situation will not change anything. Rather focus your energies on building your skills, which in turn has a direct impact on your confidence. Even better try to do some actual work – build an application, teach someone, help out a buddy to gain a skill, reach out to your neighborhood firms to provide your services free, speak in user groups, write articles etc.

Do whatever it takes to be in touch with your line of work. If the job hunt gets protracted you should have a set of assets and accomplishments you can showcase to any potential employer. The last thing you want is a big gap in your resume with nothing to show for the time spent. 

Proactive Steps

If you have ever harbored any entrepreneurial dreams now is the time to flesh it out. This will require a post of its own. So lets get back to employment mode.

Try part-time gigs, do not be stuck on full-time employment. Be flexible in your job preferences. If a potential employer demands a new skill, showcase your ability to learn quickly. Prove it to them by offering to pick the skill in a couple of weeks. Seriously consider re-locating if need be. This might be difficult if you have a family but give it a thought.

Research

Get on Google Alerts. Watch for keywords pertaining to your industry. Notice the trends that are emerging and be prepared to tweak your job hunt strategy, your skills, your CV..just about everything that can have an impact on your job prospects.

Set yourself up on Google Reader to read blogs on your industry. Even better setup a blog for yourself. Perhpas you can share experiences in refreshing your skills, your job hunt strategy and how its working out..basically anything professional that can aid a potential employer to make an assessment of the kind of person you are.

How To Handle Your Job Loss

There is a very good post on handling a friend’s job loss here. However I found it too self-absorbed and without any direct steps that will alleviate the situation. I believe in attacking the problem head-on.

What credentials do I have to comment on this you ask. Well, I have been caught in the dot-com bust and have been retrenched twice from my previous companies. And both times I have got out clean by following these steps.

Given the size of this article I have split this into 3 posts. This is the first installment.

Steps to take in the event of a layoff

Finances

Immediately check your cash balances, assuming you have been prudent with your spending. Close out credit card balances if you can. Cancel your second phone line. Get down to the cheapest plan for your communication needs. Watch your house rent, this is typically the largest component of your expenses. Check if cheaper options are available, or if you can move into a shared space. This is a highly inadequate treatment of this matter. Am no expert on this…so head out to Ramit Sethi’s blog for a series of tips on saving money.

Communication channels

Keep a net connection and mobile available. Both these will be essential in your job hunt in the next few weeks. Get a clean and professional mail id setup. None of the ‘hotguy4u’ or ‘coolgal’ mail ids. Sends a wrong message to employers. Keep your phone charged.

Skills

Forget how you were positioned within your old company. Remember a tight economy means lots more people are available in the market. Take stock of which skills you can take to the market place.

Brush up on your fundamentals. It does not matter if you have 10 years experience building serious e-commerce systems. The moron at the other of the table can still ask you SQL syntax questions, sad but there is no two ways about it. You gear yourself up for how the market wants you to be.

Invest in quality books for the skill you want to focus on. Check with friends for ebooks and borrow them. This can give you a low cost way of getting up to speed quickly.

Positioning

Update your resume. Highlight all the measurable value-adds you have contributed in your tenure. More tangible the results of your efforts the better, say publicly available URLs of applications you have built, articles you have written, open source projects you have contributed to etc.

Networking

You need to get your real-world and virtual networking in order. Get in touch with your list of contacts regardless of whether they might be able to help you or not. Enquire about their status and update them on yours, drop a word that you will appreciate any information about companies recruiting. You never know from where the lead for a new opening might come from. Many job openings are filled by referral than via online job portals or recruitment agencies.

Get your LinkedIn profile set-up/updated. Change status to indicate you are on the look out for a job. Do the same on all social networking sites you are on. Remember this is serious and not time to throw virtual sheep at friends.

This concludes the first part. Will post links to subsequent parts shortly.

[Update: Part two is here. Part three is here.]

How a Breakup Reinvented the Ramayana

Sita Agni

Myths are archetypes. They seem to hold in them the universal story that encompasses the essence of all that we are.

The test of a living myth is if it provides vivifying waters to the parched mode of individual existence. If it does not connect at the level of the individual psyche and alter the balance within, then it reduces to being a mere story.

Perhaps Joseph Campbell, in the Power of Myth, puts it best when he says-

“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”

Roger Ebert on his blog, speaks about a new rendering of the Ramayana.[Note the entry appeared on my Google Reader, for some reason the link on the header seems to be broken and does not land at the blog itself. Pick it from my shared posts here.]

The common place is often only a perception away from being a profound story of mankind.

A break-up, common in these harrowing times, of Nina Paley, leads her to plunge into the Ramayana. Sri Rama’s treatment of Sita, causing her to commit sati and be re-born, finds a modern echo within Nina. Instead of drowning in the fires of despondency, Nina forges the Ramayana brand new.

A break-up instead of becoming a statistic and a lasting wound, ends up being a catalyst of life-affirming creativity through myth.

I have seen a few stills from another review here and they seem to be amazing.

Not sure what options exist in India to catch this one. Please drop a comment if you have a means to see this movie in Bangalore.

Identity and The Fragmented Self

Free face of a child with eyes closed creative commons

Identity and the Fragmented Self

The question of identity, the who we are part of the riddle, is fraught with a beguiling complexity.

After all what could be more complex than one’s self. This palpable, tangible being that is us. Asserting itself in every pang of hunger, the stir of desire and in the rushing headlong into life.

In the relationships that tether our being within time and a social setup.

In our accomplishments. The pieces of paper that attest to our knowledge.

In the ID cards that brightly announce our affiliation to a soul-less entity.

In our calendars, schedules, the GTDs that have captured the major facets of our living.

No less in our agony and torments than our dreams and aspirations.

Each a mirror, a specific reflection of what we are within a specific context. Of a role that we play.

Remove all these. Relationships. Ideas. Memory. Experiences. Strip away the verbs that somehow seem to imbue our nouns with meaning.

How to define what remains, this enigma? Are we as a child? A pristine spot of consciousness? Or a orphaned animal out in the wild of reality?

Which brings us to the question. Are we merely an aggregation of connection end-points established with the external world, within the bounds of a specific time and space.

Are the pulls and pushes of the external the only terms of our living? Is there no independent existence to the ‘I’?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

A Thought – The Sanyyasi’s Reticence

The Sanyyasi is said to be a recluse. Shunning all contact with the traffic of the world. The lonely king of an empty kingdom.

Men of the world look down upon him and think, ‘What an existence! Without any possessions, living on the whim or generosity of the world. Not knowing where the next meal would come from. Living on faith instead of food.’

On another extreme, men idolize the Sanyyasi. Even revere him. But keep him so high by patronizing him that all possibility of following the ideals are ruled out upfront, like a disclaimer in a legal document.

But the Sanyyasi watches silently. Observing. Learning. Becoming.

He thinks, ‘How vain is man! Positing cause and effect where none exists. Trading in hypothesis that can never be proven true. Building upon laws that are more volatile than the sand patterns on a beach. Anchoring the soul’s infinity to the trinkets of time.’

“I shall be the witness, for without me the folly of man would be truth. I shall be there when he falls and cries out for succor. Until then I shall watch as the nameless one does, for I am a Sanyyasi..the witness in time.”

A Thought – On Humility

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Image via Wikipedia

Let me state this upfront. Humility is not weakness, not a weakling standing by the corner..almost apologetic about being there.

Humility is not mock graciousness either.

It is understanding grown so fine and acute that it is aware of what all could have gone wrong, of all that was not known, of all the contributions others have made and above all awareness of the role chance plays in events.

Be it physical characteristics or traits acquired over a life time. Each of these did not happen by our choice. This physical self I was born with was obviously not the outcome of my decision. What I choose to acquire over a life time too, was not my choice.

I don’t mean to say I did not get to choose anything ever. If the thing I chose had not entered my field of consciousness I would not have been aware of its existence and hence would not have known to choose it.

This machinery of life is like an infinite roulette machine. What we end up getting is governed by forces that we don’t understand or know. In spite of the hypothesis about gravitation, mind and consciousness we are still tinkering with a system for which we have no user manual.

Given the precariousness of this setup it would be quite presumptuous for anybody to claim entire credit for the outcome of their actions.

Humility understands this complexity. And knows that the same opportunity may, and will most certainly, be bettered and offered to the next person we look down upon.

Humility is the state of being grateful for the opportunity to be who we are.

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