Monday, May 30, 2005

Email Addiction

Today's San Jose Mercury News published the results of an AOL study on the email habits of the public across the country. It turns out that the Bay Area is #2 in the US, behind Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, in email addiction.

Does this surprise anyone ? Certainly not I !

Every morning, the gym facility at my work is teeming with employees, performing their exercise routines before the grind of the workday. It is common to see people on the elliptical machines and stationary bikes, with their laptops perched on the magazine stands, typing away while stepping and pedalling furiously. Multitasking at its best !

I sometimes see one particular individual taking his laptop around with him to the weight machines. He'll do a set on the weights, send a few emails while his muscles recover, then do another set on the weights. Repeat until workout is done. Dedication ? I'd say so.

I once asked him if he took that thing in the bathroom with him. He laughed, but didn't directly answer my question.

According to the news article, 6% of respondents check their email while in the bathroom. Who wants to bet this guy is one of them ?

Although that begs the question: how does one gracefully put the laptop down when one has to wipe ? Or is there a delicate balancing act from knee to knee ? This, I would like to know. Hmm.. on second thought, perhaps not.

Our company touts employee efficiency and productivity as one of the pinnacles of its great success. The antics of its gym attendees is living proof that said campaign has been successful.

In case you're wondering, no, I don't check my email while in the bathroom. But, I will be hooking up my wireless router at home sometime soon. After that, it's open seas. Who knows what the future may hold ? :)

Link to article: [Mercury News]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Bay to Breakers 2005 - A Celebration of San Francisco

Continuing with the recent theme of diversity, there is no event more colorful, more flamboyant, more San Francisco than the yearly Bay to Breakers race. A tradition that started in 1912, the event is a mixture of serious runners competing for prizes, and the general public out to have a good time. Elite athletes from all around the world compete on the same course as thousands of ordinary people, as they all make the 7.5 mile trek from the Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

Some people choose to run, others walk. Many sport costumes, ranging from the creative to the downright outrageous. Some wear nothing more than gym socks and running shoes. All money raised is given to local charities. It is an event that embodies the true spirit of San Francisco, and showcases its unique culture to the world.

This year, I wore my jester costume, the same costume I have worn in previous years. Hey, it's comfortable. I know I should probably come up with something new and original, but I haven't had any brilliant ideas yet. So a jester it is.

This is me, and my friend Matthew who volunteered with the Red Cross as an EMT for the race.

Last year, I ran this race for the first time, having previously only walked it. This year, I vowed to improve my time dramatically. My athletic ability has changed immensely since I started working with a personal trainer to prepare for the Fire Academy.

Ok, I didn't set any speed records. It took me 1 hour, 37 minutes. I couldn't make it up the dreaded, brutal Hayes Street Hill without stopping to walk. Even so, I finished a full half-hour faster than I did last year. I'd say that's a victory.

That is only a portion of the Hayes Street Hill. It extends for a full 1/2 mile at a ridiculously steep gradient. Perhaps one day I will be able tackle it running. Maybe next year. :)

And what would Bay to Breakers be without the naked people ?? Of course, it is never the young, good-looking types who choose this particular couture (or lack thereof). It's invariably the fat, old, wrinkly ones. After taking a picture of these two fine specimens, I ran past them - and vowed on my life that I would NOT look back.

It's a good thing I didn't. I think I would have been scarred for life.

This yearly event is just one demonstration of why San Francisco is world-renowned for its unique culture and widespread acceptance of personal expression. Even when the race is over, and the last stragglers have crossed the finish line, there remains a sense of community, brotherhood, and acceptance. In this fine City, and the greater Bay Area area, that feeling is sustained year-round, long after the costumes are hung in the closet for another year.

Links to my previous Bay to Breakers stories: [2004 2002]

Link to Bay to Breakers official site: [Bay to Breakers]

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Diversity in California

Yesterday, during a most excellent trauma conference put on by a local university hospital, my friend Rakesh related a story about a coworker of his who came to California from India. This story, I think, is a perfect compliment to my previous entry on diversity and cultural acceptance.

The coworker in question had just been hired by our company, and had entered the country on an H1-B work visa. He had landed on the Saturday, having never been outside India, and having never experienced the American culture. That Monday, he reported for his first day at work.

This was back in the time where technology companies were much more generous with subsidizing meals and other such perks of the now-defunct 'dot-com' boom. Every Monday, the department brought in lunch for its employees, rotating between a large variety of cultural favorites, such as Indian, Chinese, Mexican, American and so on. This particular Monday just happened to be Indian food week.

While heading towards the breakroom, the new employee overheard his coworkers, of all different racial backgrounds, talking about the food choice for the week. They were saying "I really hope they brought in the palak paneer this week." "I could just die for some chicken masala." And so on.

The transplanted coworker looked at them in awe. He asked, in absolute amazement, how it was possible that they knew just as much about Indian food as he, a native, did. One of the coworkers responded,

"Welcome to California, dude."

How cool is that ?

This state, and especially the high-tech Bay Area, is teeming with people of all different backgrounds, faiths and orientations, from countries all around the world. Drive down the streets of San Jose and San Francisco, and you will see more ethnic food selections than the traditional American - with a rainbow of clientele in each. Not only is the Bay Area truly multicultural, its residents habitually interact and intermingle with each other. The tendency of various cultures to keep to themselves is not nearly as prevalent here as in Toronto. I like that.

What are my favorite foods ? Meat tortellini (with a GOOD tomato sauce), chicken teriyaki, various flavors of sushi, chicken masala, thin crust pizza, and a nice, spicy Thai basil chicken. Plus of course, San Francisco's Ghirardelli, and Canadian Cadbury chocolate. Aw yeah.

My name is Andrea, and I am Californian. Dude.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Taking the high road

In preparation for the interview process for a paid or volunteer position, my firefighting class held mock oral interviews in last week's class. One of the questions that was asked of us was how we dealt with racial diversity. The story that my classmate Sam, an African American man, recited in response was one of the most uplifting and encouraging tales I have heard in a long time.

While earning his degree, Sam took a college class that was centered around racial issues. One particular student, who freely admitted that he was born and raised in the South, had some markedly negative opinions about people of other races, including African Americans. The other attendees were quite ruthless with this student as a result of his declarations. He was the target of a number of verbal attacks for his views.

Sam, being a Black man, had every right and reason to be angry at this person for his intolerant opinions. He would have been completely justified in feeling resentful and contemptuous towards this student, and easily could have joined in with the others in their harsh rebuttals. Instead, one day after class, Sam approached this man with a question. He asked him,

"What do you call a Black pilot ?"

The student shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know".

Sam answered, "A pilot."

The student, initially stunned at the answer, hesitated. Slowly, he cracked a smile, then chuckled out loud. A pilot ! That's it ! Nothing more than a pilot, regardless of his skin color. The two broke out in hearty laughter.

This shared experience broke down the barriers between them, and opened the door to a revolution of sorts in this student's perception. Over the ensuing few weeks, the class explored the topics and issues at hand, this time with open minds and a true, honest desire to learn and to appreciate one other. After the semester was over, this student was a better person; more informed, more open, more respectful of those around him. And so was the rest of the class.

I have always said that one can educate the ignorant, but one cannot change the mind of a bigot. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to enlighten certain people in my life about racial sensitivity and stereotyping, and have been met with nothing but backlash. When ignorance is coupled with stubborn superiority, haughty arrogance, and complete unwillingness to accept anything that deviates even slightly from one's own opinions, any contrary statements are likely to fall on deaf ears.

However, in this case, the student in question was prepared to explore views that did not necessarily match with those he had grown up with. This was evident in the fact that he took the initiative to sign up for the class. His openness to new ideas, and willingness to discuss the issues, were the key to his new appreciation of diversity.

By being the bigger person, Sam helped build a culture of respect and fairness amongst his classmates. It would have been so easy for him to succumb to the primal, human instinct for revenge. Instead, he rose above the intolerance, and encouraged, in a positive way, a revolution in this student's mind. This in turn opened the door to a newfound understanding for all those who attended the class.

In this society, infused with pride, arrogance and retribution, taking the high road is a difficult thing to do. But in some cases, like this one, it is the best thing to do.

It is people like Sam who truly make this world a better place - one human being at a time.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pac-Man turns 25

Absolutely anyone who grew up in my generation is intimately familiar with one of the most revolutionary video games in history. Of course, I am talking about Pac-Man, and its many variations and offshoots. Last week, the game turned 25 years old. Reading the story in the news took me back to that time, where as a child, I watched this phenomenon unfold in front of my eyes.

It was the early 1980s. I was an elementary school kid in the suburbs of Toronto. First came the original Pac-Man, then one year later, his partner in crime Ms. Pac-Man. As it was rare that I was both in an arcade or store contained this game, and was allowed to play it, Pac-Man held an aura of mystery and intrigue. After my first game, played on one of those little tabletop games sold at Toys R Us, I was completely and hopelessly addicted.

I had a Pac-Man t-shirt. I carried a Pac-Man lunch box. I watched the Pac-Man cartoon. I snuck in games at the local variety store whenever I could with my weekly allowance, constantly battling the ever-present crowds around the machine. We were never allowed a home video game system, after our parents discovered the addicting properties of the Intellivision II. I was like a closet alcoholic, stealing a fix at every possible opportunity.

We even ate the Pac-Man pasta. My sister Diana and her friends used to heat a can up in the morning and put it in their thermoses for school. It would still be hot by lunch time. For some reason, it tasted so much better with the Pac-Man logo on the front of the can. Regular Chef Boyardee pasta ? Yuck. But Pac-Man pasta ? Aw, yeah.

Even to this day, Ms. Pac-Man remains one of my favorite arcade games. Dave & Busters in the South Bay has one. Every time I visit this most excellent establishment, I can be found in the back corner, sitting on a little red stool, chomping away at the power pellets and blue ghosts. Although I thoroughly enjoy the dazzling world of high-tech virtual firefighting, car racing and police shooting, something still draws me back to that enticing red stool.

25 years later, and Pac-Man and his offshoots continue to enjoy a dedicated following from many of us who grew up with them. At yesterday's Bay to Breakers foot race in San Francisco, I did not see any costumes from the newest video game hit Halo 2. However, I did see a most excellent Pac-Man entourage.

[I will post an entry about my amazing experiences at B2B soon. :) ]

In the early 1980s, Pac-Man made its debut, rising from humble beginnings as its creator ate a slice of pizza, and revolutionizing the world of video games, the public's perception, and the mass media in its entirety. Not bad for a hungry little round guy.

Happy birthday, Pac-Man.

Link to article: [CNN Money]


For those of you who, like me, still hold Pac-Man dear to your heart, there is a t-shirt out there that depicts the 256th level of the original game. The program actually breaks down if a player reaches this level, hence the garbled screen. This is one of the coolest shirts I've ever seen. Yes, I do own one. :)

Link: [Errorwear]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Perception, reality and choice

Human perspective is an interesting thing.

Several years ago, I was driving with a friend of mine, approaching an intersection. As we both watched in muted amazement, a car exited the gas station, took a wide turn, and forced a truck onto the median. Other cars swerved about wildly, narrowly missing the errant vehicles. Luckily, or perhaps miraculously, there were no collisions.

Even though my friend and I were both in the same place, witnessing these events in front of our eyes, our interpretations of what actually happened were significantly different. We watched the incident from a similar vantage point, myself in the driver's seat and her in the passenger seat, and yet we spent the next 10 minutes attempting to agree on exactly what we had just seen.

How could it be that we had such divergent interpretations of the same event ?

One person's perception is just that - perception. It can be flavored by that person's own opinions, interpretations and life experiences, and can be vastly different between two people who witness the same events, the same conversations, the same relationship dynamics.

Yet, to each individual observer, their perception is their reality.

My version of the near-accident was reality to me, as was my friend's to her. Whose was more accurate ? We will never truly know. We can certainly guess by asking every other witness - who each had their own versions - and hopefully find some common ground. But we'll never know for sure.

Another example of this is religious scripture. In all religions, there are significant variations in the interpretation of the sacred words. Some religions have a number of denominations which, although they agree on basic concepts such as the presence of a higher power, differ vastly in how to apply the concepts and events contained in the text to a way of life. As such, the doctrines of the world's religions cover a huge spectrum of practices and beliefs.

So who is truly right ? Who is wrong ? None of us will ever know. All we have are opinions, formed by our simple human minds; our perceptions of the elusive truth, which in turn become our version of reality. Only a higher power, if such an entity exists, can say for certain who is right or wrong. It is not up to us to make that determination.

"Judge not, lest ye be judged." How true that is - and how powerful it could be if more of us applied it to our everyday lives and interactions with others.

How many times have I heard people tell others, "You're too sensitive !" "Get over it !" "It wasn't that bad, forget about it !" These words grate on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. What the speakers are really saying is, "I judge your feelings to be unimportant."

How fair is it to judge how another person should feel ?

When it comes to emotions, there is no right or wrong. There is no black and white. There are only many, many shades of gray - each shade blended and molded by the unique perspective, experience and personality of the individual.

Every person is entitled to feel the way they feel. The word 'should', I believe, does not apply. Those who try to change someone's perception based on their own version serve only to invalidate the feelings of that person. Being at the receiving end of this, as I have been recently, is a painful place to be.

Respect. A word that embodies more facets and dimensions within the human relationship dynamic than this blog ever could handle. In this case, respect is acknowledging that a person feels the way they do, even if your perception is different from theirs. Respect is refraining from judging that person based on how you think they should feel. Respect is appreciating that person's perception for what it is - their personal reality.

Of course, there are times when a person is so focused on perceived wrongs against them, that they wallow in the status of being a victim, and refuse to take charge of their own reactions. They seem to prefer being the perpetual target of all the world's injustice, and complain loudly to anyone who will listen, while steadfastly refusing to take any action. Sometimes, respect can mean a gentle (but firm) kick in the butt to encourage that person towards empowerment.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control how we react to them. Sometimes, that means removing ourselves, as best we can, from a toxic relationship. Sometimes, that means accepting the other person for who they are, and choosing to allow their venom to roll off our backs. Sometimes, that means dealing with the anger, the hurt and the disappointment in whatever way we know how; then, seizing our power, rising above the disappointment, healing ourselves and moving forward.

Judgment is a choice. Respect is a choice. Empowerment is a choice.

In my life, I strive to respect others' feelings and their perceptions without judging them, even if my own perspective is different. I do my best to help others to empower themselves if they so desire. And, I elect to empower myself - to seize my own inner strength, to deal with and rise above that which has wounded me, and to live my life with a clear conscience and a healed heart.

That is the reality that I choose.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The sleeping dragon has been awakened.

There have been a few times in my life that I have discovered something so intriguing, so profound, so perfect that it speaks to the very core of my being. It stirs the passion in my heart, quickening my pulse, stealing my breath, sending a charge through my body.

I remember this feeling. It was the vibrant energy that rushed through my veins when I first saw the recruitment flyer for the Paid-On-Call firefighter program in my county. That brochure spoke to my inner soul, motivating me into the gym and the classroom in preparation for this opportunity.

Who would ever have thought a job could reach me in the same way ?

Through sheer luck, and a bit of crafty schmoozing, I have spoken to a small but emerging group in my company, whose product beautifully pairs my zeal for technology and my deep commitment to public service. It is of utmost importance for me to balance my career goals with my unassuming desire to help people in need and to make a difference. It seems that this opportunity can do both. I am speechless. Truly, utterly speechless.

Of course, I don't want to get too excited over this just yet. My disappointment when I found out the Paid-On-Call firefighter program is not yet implemented in my city [Scroll to the bottom story] is still fresh in my mind. It is unwise and presumptuous to jump the gun at this early stage. So I am putting a lid on my enthusiasm for now.

But I won't forget this feeling.

The sleeping dragon has been awakened.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Play Ball !

Spring is a wonderful time of year. The flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and it's time for the San Francisco Giants and the new season of recreational softball. What more could one ask for ?

Throughout my ballplaying career, stretching back 17 years now (dang I feel old), I've played a large spectrum of leagues, from the recreational fun types to the more competitive school-based organizations. Each league, and each team, has its own attitude and personality, from laid-back and fun-loving to competitive and driven. My team's opponents this past Wednesday were definitely the former.

The opposing team was a new addition to the league, having never played together before. They had some great talent, some average players, and some who were just out to have a good time (and hopefully hit the ball if they got lucky). But what struck me was their attitude. They cheered each other on, chanted, high-fived, joked and laughed - both with us and with each other, throughout the entire game. It didn't matter to them that we were whooping their butts, and that the game ended in the fifth inning on the 'slaughter rule'. (Game ends after 5 innings if one team is ahead by more than 10 runs.) They seemed not to care about the score, and were having a lively party throughout the game.

That's the kind of team I absolutely love playing for and against.

I've played for championship teams with superb talent and winning ways, that were so focused, so bent on beating the other team, that they forgot to have fun. Although I basked the delicious glow of victory after the championship was won, there was something missing. Something intangible, unexplainable, yet impossible to ignore.

Of course, winning games is nice. I'm not saying I want to lose. I've played for teams that have lost by up to 20 runs in one game and made more errors than outs. These were special teams, made up of exceptional people, who were having the time of their lives, even when the scoreboard was not in their favor.

When the game is over, and handshakes are done, the score is no longer important. What really matters is how much we enjoyed ourselves.

I'd much rather play for the fun-loving losers than the hard-nosed champions.

Am I competitive ? Absolutely - but mostly within myself. I put forth 110% effort, all game, every game. I rarely look at the score, and often don't know if we're winning or losing. Either way, I am out there giving it my all - diving, sliding, running, doing everything in my power to catch the ball, hit the ball, and get my hiney on base. When I am granted a walk at the plate, I don't just walk to first base. I run. Full-tilt.

My philosophy:

If I'm not dirty, bruised or bleeding, then I haven't played hard enough.

You laugh, but this is only partly in jest. Rarely does a game go by where not one of the above conditions are met. Yes, I'm proud of it, and will happily show the permanent sliding scars on my knees to anyone who asks.

Playing softball is not just about the sport. Perhaps even more importantly, it is about the social interaction, the friendships and the camaraderie. I have met some of my very best friends through this game, relationships that have sustained the test of time and distance. Two of my closest friends and I all met each other playing softball - and now, several years later, they are married to each other and have a beautiful daughter. The 'Walking Wounded', the old Toronto team, are still great friends, even though playing Sunday Night Baseball is a distant memory. Through our weekly forays onto the field, and subsequent trips to the bar, our friendships have grown and flourished, enduring life changes, long distances, and trying times.

Softball isn't just a game. It is a way of life, a stepping stone, to teamwork, self-improvement and long-lasting relationships with like-minded people.

When the umpire yells "Play Ball !", it's not just the start of the game. It is the start of something much more special, intangible yet cherished, that lasts infinitely longer than 7 innings and a pizza.
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