bookmark_borderChanging habits is hard

After using the Dvorak keyboard layout for more than 15 years, I am returning to the QWERTY layout. The switch feels more difficult than learning to touch-type for the first time, given how arduous it is.

As I write this post, when I think of a word, my fingers immediately hit the Dvorak keys for the letters, as if of their own will. But with the QWERTY layout, what comes out on the screen is gibberish. To avoid mistakes, I have to stay alert and be conscious of every single keystroke; only thus will I overcome the power of muscle memory and slowly form the new habit. Writing is thinking has never sounded so true as I try hard to separate the typing from the thinking.

But why do I endure this hardship? I think that, when I adopted Dvorak, disruption of my previous typing patterns relieved me of the pain in my left arm. Now that my right arm hurts in that familiar way after much typing, I hope that another change will have the same positive effect.

bookmark_borderBack from a well deserved break

After taking last week off, I resumed work today. Because I still had 26 days of leave remaining for the year and had to use all of them before it ends, I booked a week of holidays without any planning. The break from work, especially after the recent hectic weeks, was a welcome change. And although I wasted the first few days on Discord and reddit, I eventually relaxed in the more pleasurable activities of reading books and watching films.

I saw Passengers yet again. I am not equipped to review films objectively, and so at the risk of being ridiculed I admit to loving Passengers. I am fascinated by how the film depicts the despair of people who are condemned to a prison of time and solitude. Also, the characters of Chris Pratt – who “used to be chubby”, P reminds me – and Jennifer Lawrence – “she’s not all that”, P also says – had me completely engrossed. I disagree with the reddit opinion that the plot should have been darker—but I also admit my bias for romance.

Amazon Prime then started suggesting to me the Hunger Games films. I had watched the first one a long time ago and had not been impressed. After seeing Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers, however, I gave Hunger Games a chance. They were entertaining, yet not deserving of all the hype. Still Lawrence retains my new found appreciation.

Over the last couple of months, I had been reading three books: Line by Line, a book on English grammar; Writing Solid Code, a book on programming; and Crossing to Safety, a novel by Wallace Stagner. I wanted to finish Line by Line quickly because it is the type of book that easily falls to the wayside if it loses the reader’s attention; I am glad I completed this goal. I also finished Writing Solid Code, which was always going to be a slower read, the ideas in it requiring careful reflection.

Crossing to Safety gets special treatment. I am deliberately taking my time to read it—I might actually have been at it for longer than two months. Although it is a short book, it tells a great story, has interesting characters, and is very well written. I continue to savour it a few pages at a time every night in bed.

This week, I also made some small lifestyle adjustments. I removed the company’s Outlook and Teams apps from my phone. Without those, I have to start the work laptop if I need to see my work calendar. But I think setting boundaries in this way is good, especially now that home is also the office. I uninstalled the reddit and Discord apps, realising how much of my time they had taken. I then subscribed to several long-read blogs, which – goes the theory – should fill my freed time with more reading.

Altogether It was a decent holiday. I disregarded work, ate out, ordered take-aways, read books, watched films, and made life adjustments. I am now filled with new vitality to tackle the last few weeks of this long year.

bookmark_borderJust my luck

I went to the office on Wednesday for meetings and a team lunch outing—the first time I travelled into London since March 2020.

While everyone was happy to see colleagues in person again, I saw no evidence of excitement. The office was too cold, too quiet, and too unlike home. The pulled pork feijoada at Cabana restaurant, however, was delicious.

On my way to London, as I plunged into deep thoughts to escape the dullness of the commute, I realised that I had been awake for two hours and still had at least one more hour before I reached the office and started working. By the time I walked through the front door, I would already be tired. In contrast, if I was working from home, I would be starting the day fresh and full of energy. There and then I knew I was never going back to working full-time in an office.

The day would have been uneventful if one colleague who lunched with us didn’t send an email later in the evening to let us know that she had tested positive to COVID-19.

bookmark_borderObjects that tell stories

Photon Micro-Light

Today I replaced the batteries of my Photon Micro-Light and gave it a bit of TLC. With some elbow-grease, the little torch was once again clean and shiny. Although it shows wear from being carried on my keychain for 20 years, it still evokes happy memories.

I bought three of the novel and rather expensive Photon Micro-Lights in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2000. Back in Mauritius, I kept one for myself, gave another to my dad, who was then building up a remarkable collection of electric torches, and the last one to Bambi, my late brother-in-law. I thought then that he would find the small light useful in his dark nightclub DJ booth. Today the micro-light in my pocket remains a link connecting me to the great person and friend that was Bambi.

Sidenote: We were in South Africa to attend the African Computing and Telecommunications Summit (ACT 2000) in Sun City and to meet providers of satellite Internet. The mission was, first, to learn about the opportunities that were burgeoning in Africa and, second, to find an Internet provider to participate in the cybercity project in Mauritius. It was a precursor to Ebene, and we were tasked to see how we could attract investors in a freeport technology park with a reliable and cheap Internet service alternative to Mauritius Telecom.

bookmark_borderAre Mauritians racist?

On /r/mauritius there is an interesting albeit controversial discussion about racism in Mauritius. It is interesting that every participant thinks that some other community, presumably not their own, is racist. One says that the Chinese and Muslims suffer the most prejudice; another, that the Chinese are the most racist; yet another, that the Creoles and Muslims are the biggest victims of racism. The consensus then seems to be that, generally, Mauritians are racist.

However, someone rightly points out that it is not so much racism as it is communalism. Sadly this division is an effective formula for politicians to win votes and the abandonment of it is unlikely.

bookmark_borderThoughts of Marcus Antoninus Aurelius

I recently finished reading Thoughts of Marcus Antoninus Aurelius, a collection of Emperor Antoninus’s thoughts about Stoic principles. The format of the book is notable in that each ‘thought’ is written in short sentences, sometimes even in just one phrase but rarely more than a few paragraphs. I like the book because it shows a man at the head of a great Roman empire sharing in common with us such simple desires of being good, just, and content.

Marcus Aurelius writes a lot about the importance of wisdom, justice, and humility in living well. He is also fixated with the inevitability of death and the finitude of everything; glory, he says, is a futile pursuit as nothing is permanent and we are soon forgotten in the progress of time. Little did he know that his thoughts would endure for 2000 years.

Not Marcus Aurelius’s own words, but a commentary from the translator, nevertheless this passage is thought-provoking.

Many men think that they are seeking happiness when they are only seeking the gratification of some particular passion, the strongest that they have. The end of a man is, as already explained, to live comformably to nature, and he will thus obtain happiness, tranquility of mind, and contentment.

bookmark_borderDon’t have floorboards in the kitchen, they said

Shortly after buying our house we went shopping for decoration materials. We wanted floorboards in all the rooms on the ground floor so that it was a seamless polished wood surface from the front door all the way into the kitchen at the back. That wish went against the general wisdom of not laying wood flooring in rooms where there is potential for liquid spills. So we bought the best quality product that was available just to be safe. It was industrial grade, suitable for high traffic, and guaranteed to last for ten years—a lifetime away, we thought. That was 16 years ago.

The inlet hose to the washing machine under the kitchen counter started leaking. The trickle did not flow to the front where we would have seen it but instead found its way between the wall skirting and the floorboards to soak into the sponge-like underlay material. So all the time the leak was developing, the water was accumulating under the floor. The underlay eventually reached saturation point, and water started seeping through the floor joints until the kitchen floor was truly flooded.

I fixed the leak, cleaned the floor, and ran the dehumidifier. Fortunately, the boards are not too deformed; there are two small bulges in front of the washing machine – could we conceal them with a mat? – and there is some swelling on one side panel of the kitchen cabinet where it was in contact with the leakage.

The damage is not costly enough for us to claim on insurance, but it makes one more problem to address.

bookmark_borderADSL 4 EVERY 1

Screenshot of ADSL 4 EVERY 1 petition

We all reacted quickly and loudly to the ICTA proposal to snoop on Facebook activities, and with our concerns validated by EFF, Mozilla Foundation, and international media, the approval of the plan is unlikely.

Another shock-worthy event that received much less attention in 2004 was the launch of ADSL services by Telecom Plus (now MyT) at the hefty price of Rs 5,500 per month. But some people protested and forced Telecom Plus to halve the price—which is quite an achievement. Of course, change.org and reddit did not exist yet, so the online petition had to be handcrafted. Thanks to Wayback Machine, you can see the look of ADSL 4 EVERY 1.

Three of us collaborated from Canada, UK and Mauritius to put the site together within a day. The text feels like a first draft and expresses more outrage than actually arguing, but it achieved its goal.

bookmark_borderBFF

Once, we met Patrick on a busy Paris metro train in a very unexpected way. He, his wife and daughter, and his parents were travelling from Canada to visit his brother. Priscilla and I had flown in from London the evening before to celebrate my birthday. Neither Patrick, nor I knew that the other would be in the city at the same time.

We were in two different carriages, so we all got off at the next station for us to meet. Patrick said that they had missed an earlier train, and I told them that Priscilla and I had taken the wrong train and were coming back round on that one. If not for those mishaps, we would not have run into each other. I don’t know what to call this other than fate.

Patrick and I have been friends since we studied at the same school in Mauritius. Before Paris, we had not seen each other for more than ten years. Yet, it took us but five minutes to express our pleasure of reuniting, to hear what had happened in each other’s life, and to finally say our goodbyes. I think here is what makes male friendship special. Little is needed to reconnect us even after a long time, and there is this ingrained belief that we will always come together again.