bookmark_borderBack from a well deserved break

I resumed work today after taking a week off. Because I still had 26 days of leave remaining and must use them up before the year ends, I just booked last week without thinking what I was going to do. Despite the lack of planning, it turned out to be a good break. Spending that time without a single thought about work was a welcome change. And even if I wasted the first few days on Discord and reddit, I eventually got bored and turned to the healthier activities of reading books and watching films.

I saw Passengers one more time. I am certainly not equipped to review films objectively, so at the risk of being ridiculed I am admitting to loving Passengers. I think Chris Pratt—who ‘used to be chubby’, P keeps reminding me—and Jennifer Lawrence performed very well in it. They kept me engrossed in a story that has only four characters, one of which is an android. The film’s depiction of solitude and time as a prison and the despair of the condemned is fascinating. When I checked what other people thought of it—on reddit of all places—I disagreed with their suggestion that it should have had a darker plot. But, to be fair, I have a bias for romance.

Amazon Prime then started suggesting the Hunger Games films. The first one, which I had watched a long time ago, had not impressed me. However, after seeing Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers, I gave Hunger Games a chance. They were entertaining, yet not deserving of all the hype that they generated. I still have a new appreciation for Lawrence, though.

I had been reading three books over the past couple of months: Line by Line, a book on English grammar; Writing Solid Code, obviously about programming; and Crossing to Safety, a novel by Wallace Stagner. I wanted to finish Line by Line quickly because it is the type of reading that easily falls to the wayside if the momentum is lost, and I am glad I managed to. Writing Solid Code was always going to be a slower read, the ideas in the book requiring reflection for them to be assimilated. But I finished it, too.

Crossing to Safety gets special treatment. I am deliberately taking my time to read it, and I might have actually been at it for more than two months. Although it is not a long book, it tells a great story, has interesting characters, and is very well written. I continue to savour it by reading only a few pages every night just before sleep.

I made some small lifestyle adjustments during the week. I removed the company’s Outlook and Teams apps from my smartphone. Without these apps, I’ll have to open the work laptop if I need to see my work calendar; but I think doing this to set boundaries is good, especially now that home is also the office. I uninstalled the reddit and Discord apps, realising that they had been sucking my time lately. I then subscribed to about a dozen long-read blogs, which—goes the theory—should make reading the only option left for filling the hours that I recover.

It was a decent holiday overall. I forgot about work, ate at restaurants, ordered take-away food, read a lot, watched a few films, made some life adjustments, and am now reinvigorated to tackle these last few weeks of the 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 it was pleasing to see our colleagues in person again, there was no show of excited anticipation; it was like a regular pre-COVID working day in a not-quite-like-home-comfort and rather chilly open-plan office. The pulled pork feijoada at Cabana restaurant was delicious, though.

As I plunged into deep thoughts to escape the dullness of the morning 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 clean and shiny again. But even if nothing could erase the wear from it being carried on my keychain for 20 years, I like it as it is for the memories that it evokes.

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 the small light would be useful to him 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 Mauritians are racist generally.

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 is therefore unlikely to be given up.

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 almost 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 truely 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 insurance claim-worthy, 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, it is unlikely that the plan will survive.

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 — a decent achievement, I suppose. 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 how ADSL 4 EVERY 1 looked.

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 arguments, 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 and, before Paris, 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.

bookmark_borderWOW

My sleep pattern is wrecked. I go to bed at around 2 a.m. most days, except when my body crashes and forces me to an early sleep. I then have a very good rest, but only to recover for more 2 a.m. bedtimes. In short, it swings from one extreme to the other.

Now, my employer plans to have us back in offices in October. Undoubtedly, this will be difficult for many of us who will have to swap from-bed-to-zoom-in-10-minutes for early pre-COVID wake-up alarms and hour-long commutes to actual offices. Add the equally tedious return journeys, busy roads, and crowded public transport, and it goes from a difficult to a depressing outlook.

My colleagues and I are lucky, though. In 2019 we started the company’s new Way of Working (WOW) that allows employees to work remotely for up to three days of each week, with the condition that those days not be fixed. As software developers, my team need fewer face-to-face meetings than other client-facing teams in the company and have, therefore, been able to relax this rule. Now that almost two years of ‘COVID Way of Working’ prove that people can be productive working from home, it will be interesting to see how WOW evolves.