"What does your name mean?"


Ever since I started traveling and meeting people from outside Kerala, I’ve been asked this question on multiple occasions: “What does your name Sijo mean?”. Let me get to the answer straight away. It does not mean anything. Its just Sijo!

There was a time in Mallu land when a particular practice of naming their kids was popular. You mash up the sounds from the names of your parents and come up with a new name. So in my case, it ended up as Sijo — My father’s name is George and my mother’s name is Santha. They mashed up Sa and Go and tweaked it a bit to reach Sijo. In my sister’s case it ended up as Ginsy — Dad’s Go and Mom’s Sa put together and tweaked to reach Ginsy. Which parents sounds go first and second, well, there also is a pattern there. For the first kid, its dad’s name sound first and mom’s name sound second and for the second kid, it’s the other way around. From the third kid onwards, its whatever. But most people did not end up being tested on the limits of that rule since around that time, the cultural norm by then was to have two kids. (Research shows that you invest more and in fewer kids with rising prosperity).

Around the time that I was born, quite a lot of kids used to be named this way. And that approach and the derivatives of that approach resulted in many in my generation having names like Sijo, Jijo. Lijo, Biji, Liji, Tojo etc. It’s a trademark Mallu thing and it was so natural for us to come across such a name. It was also a dead giveaway that someone is a Mallu. Given this context, I was quite surprised and amused when I used to come across the question “Is Sijo a real name?” from people outside Kerala. No Mallu would have ever asked me that question. It was both amusing and insightful.

Side story: My Dad’s younger brother’s name is Somy and his wife’s name is Mini. With their names, you have a unique situation. You see, if you write the word in Mallu script and then you try to mash up the sounds, however you try mashing up the first and last sounds of both names, you will still end up with only Somy and Mini!. Note: It works that way only when you attempt in after writing their name in Mallu script and their kids are named Riya & Rony.

So thats the story of the name Sijo. After the advent of Google, I discovered that “Sijo” is also a form of Korean short form poetry. I sometimes use this as trivia when the name related conversation presents itself; if I’m in a mood to extend the conversation that is.

An example of a Sijo poem

I was also equally amused when I came to realize that such a short and simple name as Sijo could have such diverse pronunciations. The versions I came across included, but were not limited to, Seejo, Sizo, Shizho etc with the most popular one being (way more popular than Sijo itself) Seejo. Infact, given this scenario (and also at times when Im not really in the mood for answering all those follow up questions) I just resort to introducing myself as George. Dare I say Kuruvilla. I would then have to go on to explain how I and that fast bowler Aby Kuruvilla are not related. This situation arises only if the person gets to get over the oddity of the name Kuruvilla. Sometimes the expressions are as if they were exposed to an absolutely foreign name. (On the Aby Kuruvilla piece for purposes of clarity, no, we are not related).

This phenomenon is observed when I’m traveling in other parts of India. Have not run into similar situations while traveling abroad. When traveling abroad, people have asked me how do you spell your name or how do you say your name and stuff. But never, why such a name and what does that mean? Coming to think of it, how do you say your name is not a question I come across within the Indian context? Hmm. That’s also an interesting pattern.

We come up with names names because we need some sort of an easier reference system to refer to that person or object when we communicate. Within that context, its not really required that every name should have a meaning. Do we really question or care why the table was named table and why coffee was named coffee? I think the practice of asking meaning of names has its roots from the origin of words itself. As language developed, most words were derived from other words (either from same language or other languages) mostly by building on their meaning or at times by making them sound similar. This approach was developed as an easier framework to come up with new words and also to serve as an intuitive system to learn and / or figure out words.

We witness a similar approach when it comes to some of the words in the modern vocabulary and the bulk of it does get captured in urban dictionary. The modern urban dictionary frameworks have substantially been revamped btw. Sexting is fairly intuitive but Im still at a loss as to how the word twerking came about.

Side story again: I very recently got traumatized when a friend of mine, who also happens to be a great fan of Victorian era and all things vintage, introduced me to this word “Albatross”. She said it was from a poem. I googled it up and ended up reading the urban dictionary definition first. I really shouldn’t have. To find out how bad it was, you will need to check that out for yourself. But don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Now, I’m also wondering what sort of poems she would be reading. Coming to think of it, “Poorapattu” is also a poem afterall. Hmm.

I have seen people going into fits of rage and irritation when someone misspells or mispronounces their names. Personally, I’m cool with this happening. I am not really particular about how people say my name and am really cool about the fact that my name does not have a meaning. The way I see it, not having a meaning for my name is one less thing that I need to be confine myself to live up to. After all, its just a name. At the end of the day, the name is just a string of sounds sounds patched together and its primary objective is to sort of serve as a unique identifier while communicating. To that end, the name Sijo serves just fine. Infact, it makes it easier on occasions to strike a conversation when you very clearly know that this is going to be one of the questions that pop up in the earlier parts of the conversation. Similar to how you know that the opening question in an interview will be “Tell me something about yourself”! Its like someone opening a chess game with a particular move. If you clearly know what the other persons move is going to be, you can very clearly prepare your approach to counter that and use it to your advantage even.

And when seen from that context, I know that the conversation has passed the initial awkward stages and is transitioning into some sort of a comfort stage every time I hear this question come my way: “What does your name mean?”

Resist the temptation of that bigger round


Dear early stage founder, 

Resist the temptation of that bigger round. 
Bigger need not be better.
Bigger could mean larger dilutions, longer conversations and higher exit thresholds.
Bigger could result in larger and persistent drain on your time & attention.
And expensive mistakes. 

Opt for smaller rounds instead.
The ones that are strategic and close fast.
Raise as little and as late as possible.
And only from those who offer friendly terms.

Rounds done right can propel.
Done wrong could derail.
Rob momentum and land you in dead ends.
View fundraising process also as a potential distraction.
One to be gotten over quickly and not having to revisit / regret. 
Time and attention being most precious capital.

Think organisation building.
All attention and mindshare going into building product and customers. 
An early stage round coming at the expense of building defeats the purpose and is just too costly. 

Rethinking import substitution in the knowledge age

Import substitution is a trade and economic policy which advocates replacing foreign imports with domestic production.

Over the past few years, considerable amount of my time and attention have been directed towards board games. Over the past year or so, fair amount of my time has also gone into dabbling with code — mostly Dialogflow, Telegram bots, Apps Scripts & most recently Jekyll (in that order). To pursue & advance on both these interests of mine, I have relied on the internet a lot.

Videos, blogs and websites have been my primary sources for learning. Almost all the board game titles, I learned to play not by reading up the manuals but by viewing gameplay videos on YouTube by independent creators. Reviews and strategies for advanced game play were picked up by reading through several websites. Even when I had to refer to the manual, I have mostly googled it up on a need basis as against locating it from my cupboard or storing a digital copy locally on my machine.

Similar has been the experience with coding also. While all the platforms I have listed above have fairly good official documentations, I have seen me use them as reference resources. What I used for learning was by and large tutorial videos and blogs / articles by independent creators. Beyond doubt, this is a better way to learn than official manuals. The statement in no way invalidates the need for official manuals. They aren’t mutually exclusive. They coexist and complement each other.

What I wish to bring the attention however is to another point. Almost exclusively, all these videos and articles were of foreign origin and their creators foreign nationals (Amit Agarwal might have been the only exception). In all these instances, reputation and value is flowing out of our local economy and to another country. Each time I direct people to these resources as part of any guidance efforts, it is adding on to the value drain.

This got me thinking about the need to advocate for local production of such knowledge resources. In the information & knowledge age that is the 21st century, the concept of import substitution has to be consciously extended to such digital resources. This is also one category of goods that can be created through cognitive contributions alone.

In summary, start publishing tutorials. You will be helping yourself and also contributing to the development of your country. Your learning retention will be better, reputation will be enhanced and you will also doing your bit towards nation building.

The challenge with internships in Kerala

Context

  • The candidate should be able to spend 6 months (min 2) in internship.
  • The internship window should be fixed and know in advance.

The present scenario

  • Exams keeps getting rescheduled.
  • Resulting in shortened and uncertain semester break periods.

Interventions required

  • Exams to happen on time as per academic calendar.
  • One semester in final year to be kept aside for internship.


Ignore them both

No single image has left so much of an impression on me as this one.

                                        Ignore them both & keep doing doing work

I had come across in one of the articles from Brain Pickings titled Advise to Sink in Slowly. This illustration also helped me appreciate the role of art to convey in a powerful and profound manner.

Ignore them both. Advise to sink in slowly indeed. I have also added a line to that in my head every time I reflect on this post — Keep doing good work.

Bring down cost of experimentation

A guiding principle for all those interesting in instilling a culture of innovation or nurturing an innovative ecosystem: Keep bringing down cost of experimentation. Both economic and emotional.

A welcoming environment where people feel the comfort to try things out and have fun with it is your responsibility. Start by being appreciative of people trying things out.

Slay hoaxes

When in doubt, search.

Arya’s article from the other day about fact checking brought to mind a website I have often relied on – hoax slayer. Just that very day, I also came across this page / segment titled hoaxposed in ThePrint.

Hoaxes have always plagued humankind. Its nature has changed in the digital age. While its change in nature has resulted in hoaxes spreading wider & faster, slaying hoaxes has also never been easier. All it takes is a one search on the internet to ascertain the veracity of the information. If the information is not available or not carried by any trusted sources, then it's most likely a hoax. Even better, if it actually is a hoax, most likely it will throw up as a link itself mentioning it as a hoax.

I have made use of hoax slayer on numerous occasions to convince people that a text message or mail is actually is a hoax. Just yesterday, I also ended up realising that hoax slayer website is the result of the efforts of one individual.

Hoax-Slayer is owned and operated by Brett Christensen from his home office in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. Bundaberg is a small city a few hours drive north of Brisbane and is famous for its rum, ginger beer and sugar cane. Brett founded Hoax-Slayer in 2003. He researches and writes most of the articles published on Hoax-Slayer and manages the day-to-day-running of the site. 

From the hoax slayer website

Taking a cue from Brett, each of us can also do our bit towards the phenomenon and social menace of hoaxes. Each time we come across questionable information or appeals to forward information, we can commit to take out a moment to do a search & verify. Should it turn out to be a hoax, we could also share back the hoax slaying information. Both these actions, together and individually, can contribute to curbing the propagation of hoaxes. Armed with the sword that is the internet, each of us can be hoax slayers ourselves.

Auria Kathi, the AI artist

An interesting 20% collaboration project of Sleeba Paul & Fabin Rasheed.

Today’s Office hours call was with Sleeba Paul, an ML professional and a GECT (MTech) alum. Few days back I had received a note from Sleeba, appraising me about a project he had put together along with his friend Fabin Rasheed, a designer with Adobe.

On 2019 Jan 7th, we’ve launched Auria Kathi. She generates a short poem, draws an abstract art based on the poem, and then colours the picture depending upon a mood. All these creative tasks are done without any human intervention. Everything from her face to art to voice is artificially generated. We try to push the limits of generative art here. Auria is envisioned as a hub for artificial artistry. In the coming days, she will be creating more varieties of artificial digital art.

Excerpt from Sleeba’s email note about the Auria Kathi project

Sleeba mentioned that this was a project that he was pursuing on the side and stemmed out of curiosity. Auria has made it to the 12th edition of the Florence Biennale 2019 under the under the contemporary digital art section. While Sleeba has reached out for guidance on raising funds for the their travel to participate in the Biennale, my interest in having a chat with him was based on my sheer interest and curiosity in their work. What I wished to understand was how they came up with this project and what their plans were with it going forward. My objective was also to nudge them towards different use cases that could be explored with their present project or with the underlying capability.

For those who wish to check out Auria, she is on both Instagram and Twitter and will be posting daily for next year.

Links


Americorps

It’s time we shifted our policy making towards such well designed programs.

It was during my IVLP that I came across the Americorps. Americorps is a voluntary public service program, supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors.. The objective of the program is to improve lives and foster civic engagement.

Members commit their time to address community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks etc. The members rewarded for their contributions through living cost stipends and education credits.

Members may be provided low financial compensation in the form of cost-of-living allowances, student loan deferment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and the Americorps Education Award.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is a United States government program that was created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA) to provide indebted professionals a way out of their federal student loan debt burden by working full-time in public service.

The AmeriCorps Education Award is granted to members who are serving, part-time or full-time, in participating programs through Americorps. After completing a term of service, Americorps members are eligible to receive the education award to pay education costs at qualified institutions of higher education, for educational training, or to repay qualified student loans.

What was striking to me about the design of the program was how they had tied the rewards to education credits. What was even more striking was that the education rewards can also be transferred to your child, (including step-child, foster-child, grandchild, or step-grandchild). There are few safeguards also put in place. There are limitations on the numbers of terms an individual can serve and the maximum value of education award an individual can receive. Education credit transfer is allowed only for those who are over 55 years of age as well.

By combining service with education credits, it incentivises people to both take up service roles and pursue their education. For young adults, they get to do service roles at an age where you are most idealistic, stand to gain some professional experience while contributing and also get to reduce their cost of education. For seniors, they get to contribute their expertise and time to meaningful service roles while also affording the ability to gift education credits to their children.

Every country and society needs people, and qualified people particularly, contributing time to public service. A well designed program similar to Americorps has the potential to attract more and qualified talent to public service. I also find this education credits approach better than the one hinged on market salaries to attract talent to public service roles. Studies have also found that participation in Americorps strengthened civic attitudes and made members more likely to choose careers in public service.

It’s time we shifted our policy making towards such well designed programs.