Life in B&W // Phoenix, AZ

Right now, I’m in a black and white state of mind. I don’t know what came over me. One second, I’m playing around on Lightroom. Another second passes and I’ve converted a whole set of photographs to black and white and I’m just staring at them.

I find it interesting that taking away color centers one’s focus on other attributes. Contrast, light and texture stand out so much more in the absence of color.

Black and white photography was once at the cutting edge, just like cave paintings, oil paintings and other forms of expression or documentation. Today, it’s a creative tool. I can easily take any photograph and run it through my own black and white filter. I wonder what traditional film photographers think about the creative freedom that digital photography provides.

Nowadays, everything is photoshopped, altered and enhanced. So much so that some people think that photographs can have more value when they are left unaltered. Just look at all the people that use the #nofilter hastag on Instagram.

I personally think that photography is a form of expression like any other art form. The artist should be allowed to do whatever they like. Only the ignorant think that photography is some objective form of documentation. If it were, we would all be carrying around color charts and scales like crime scene photographers.

Let’s get back to the photographs. These are all photos from a family trip to Phoenix last summer. Obviously, they are all in black and white. The rest of the post will be light on words and heavy on photographs. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Anitha’s Arangetram

The occasion for our visit was my cousin Anitha’s arangetram. If you don’t know what an arangetram is, read this. It’s a huge milestone in an Indian dancer’s life.

Untitled

The event was extremely well put together. I can’t start to imagine the amount of time and effort it took from friends and family to plan and run it.

Untitled

UntitledUntitledUntitled

My sister Chithra is one of the most emotional people I know. I don’t mean it in the slightly derogatory way that most people use it. I mean that when she is happy, she is really happy and when she is sad she is really sad. She is the furthest from the normal zombie-like people I meet day to day. It’s what makes her amazing. The following two photographs are proof. They were only taken 4 seconds apart!

UntitledUntitled

Family

One of the main benefits of family events at this scale is the time we get to spend with family. As time has gone by, we have become scattered all around America. It’s events like this that bring us back together.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Scottsdale, AZ

The four of us spent a day by ourselves (it’s rare considering that the four of us are split across California, New York and Texas). We stopped by a park in Scottsdale to view the model trains and take a walk. I’ve always loved vehicles like planes, cars, and trains and models. Anything that brings those two things together is a home run.

If look closely, you’ll see that the movie showing at this tiny drive-in theater is “Attack of the Giants”, starring my father and sister.

Untitled

Untitled

The Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter that sits between my Sony a7 and my Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f/1.4 lets me get much closer than I could before while still maintaining the compact form factor I love. The shot below wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Untitled

Untitled

We walked around the park around sunset and the lighting was amazing. I have only started to understand how much environment and lighting affect my enjoyment of the photographic process.

UntitledUntitled

Untitled

SumoMaya
Scottsdale, AZ

We ended the night with dinner at Sumo Maya, a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant in Scottsdale. I’m going to reserve judgement for now. The vegetarian options were limited. So, I don’t think we weren’t able to try a wide enough sample of their offerings.

UntitledUntitled

My lovely mother

Untitled

A rare self portrait and my sister

UntitledUntitled

Redesign

This blog has been an important part of my life since I started it back in October 2008. Originally, I was drawn to it just as I am drawn to photography. A blog is like an art form at the surface. It’s a canvas for my thoughts and ideas. However, this seemingly simple and flat medium is held up by an incredibly complex system of hardware and software. It’s staggering how much technology is needed just to host a vanilla HTML page. So, what drew me in is this dichotomy between right brain activities like writing, photography and design and left brain activities like programming and infrastructure management.

For the first two years, this blog was in a constant state of flux. I frequently changed blog themes, post formats, and writing styles. It was a phase of experimentation lacking any true vision or goals. As time went on though, my ideals started to crystallize. Through analytics and feedback from friends I started to understand the type of content that my loved ones truly appreciate.

I was also shaped by other blogs and publications. I adapted the photo-rich life blogging style from Danny Choo, the discreetly placed links within posts from LA PINK ONE, historical explanations from Randomwire and borderless photo tiling from VSCO’s journal.

I became more deliberate with the way I crafted posts. The whole process started taking longer, but I was having more fun, and most importantly the results were much better. Sometime last year, I realized that the design of the blog lacked this focus that the content has. I myself didn’t fully understand the rationale behind many design decisions. That’s a bad state to be in.

Before and After

About six months ago, I changed everything. The redesign went live, but I never announced it. There were so many loose ends to tie up that I wanted to wait for perfection before officially talking about the redesign. Well, it has been months and I’ve realized that this blog will never be perfect. There will always be things for me to change and improve (I already have a long list on my desk). That’s why this post now exists. Look at the side-by-side comparison below of the earlier look to the left and the newer look to the right.

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 6.47.26 PM copyScreen Shot 2014-08-05 at 2.11.31 PM

Rationale

Just like any design or engineering exercise, the answers, the results and the decisions aren’t what is important. Rationale is. It’s the philosophy and intent behind these answers, results and decisions that is important. So, as I list out the many changes I made, focus on the rationale behind them.

  1. Comments are gone: 99% of the comments I used to get on this blog were spam. I have a decent filter that catches them, but occasionally one would get through. I also found that most useful conversation about my posts happens on Facebook, Hackernews and Reddit. I couldn’t justify a comments system anymore. So, I cut it out.
  2. Social media links are gone: I used to have share buttons and links to my social media accounts. They barely got any attention. So, I cut them out.
  3. Color: I wanted my blog to have a clearer identity. Everything was some shade of grey. It didn’t communicate my taste or my vision. So, I decided to run with a theme I had been mulling over for ages. Black+Yellow.
  4. Header menu: It wasn’t always clear how to get back to my blog from other pages. So, I added a “Blog” link to the menu. The RSS logo to the right didn’t communicate its purpose. I replaced it with a “Subscribe” link. The links were a combination of center and right justified, it didn’t make any sense. I left justified everything but the subscribe, which is prominently displayed to the right. This blog was originally going to be a portfolio in addition to a place for my thoughts and stories. It never happened. I cut out the projects section of the site.
  5. Prominent buttons: The navigation and search buttons are more prominent since they were lost in the previous design.
  6. New about page: My old about page was verbose and self-aggrandizing and didn’t really talk about the blog much. I put up a new picture of myself and rewrote the blurb.

Going Forward

This blog has been more than I could ever have imagined. It has helped me improve my writing, my photography, my storytelling and the way I think. I still have big plans for it.

First, I need fix the mobile and tablet experience. More and more of my readership is coming from mobile these days and the experience isn’t up to par.

After that, expect to see new storytelling methods and new mediums that I haven’t tried before. I want to better tell my life’s story to you and improve the way we connect through this blog.

Brohaus Offsite at Kirby Cove

DSC00536

Almost since the moment we all moved into Brohaus, there has been talk about taking a trip together. We dreamed of renting a castle, spending days on a houseboat, going to the beach, traveling together. After years of dreaming and vague plans, we never actually went on an offsite. In the spring of last year, I decided to do something about it.

Kirby Cove is one of the highest demand campgrounds in the country. It is situated in a small, private cove slightly northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin County side. There, you’ll find an old fort called Battery Kirby and a beach offering sweeping views of the bridge and San Francisco. Within, there are 4 campsites and a day use site that are available by reservation only. Reservations open up 3 months in advance at 7am PST and are usually gone within a minute or two.

I woke up a few days at 6:45am, but the reservations were going extremely fast. I was almost going to automate the process, but fortunately I didn’t need to and landed a reservation for a Sunday night to Monday morning reservation.

Fast forward three months. When the day finally came around, we packed up a few cars with all our camping essentials and started the drive north.

Untitled

Le Garage
Sausalito, CA

Before setting up camp, we stopped for lunch at Le Garage, an affordable brunch spot offering quick and relatable French cuisine. It’s situated along the bay by the Liberty Ship Marina. The views are refreshing, the service is quick, there is plenty of (valet) parking and the food is top notch. If you are in the area, definitely stop by.

Given the large size of our group, we waited a while for our tables to get ready. As anyone would when they are about to go camping and get away from it all, we all pulled out our phones.

Untitled

Some of us perused the menu.

UntitledUntitled

A few of us worked on our dating profiles.

Untitled

When the food came out, we were happy. My omelette was cooked perfectly and topped with the largest caper I have ever seen. The frites were perfect, crispy on the outside and a little mushy on the inside.

UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

Clockwise from top left: Mark, Omelette, Jeff and Dustin in awe of an egg, Burger

After we finished up lunch and packed back into our cars, we were off again, this time to Kirby Cove!

The drive there was an amusing experience. We were all in a line about to take a left into Kirby Cove road. On the opposite side of the road was a long train of tourists waiting to park at the lot for Battery Spencer. I noticed that if a lady driving a minivan were to just back up a foot or so, we would be able to squeeze our cars past and down towards to Kirby Cove gate.

I made eye contact with her, rolled my window down and asked if she could reverse a little so that we could get through. She must have been frustrated with the slow moving line she was in, and I could see it. After I spoke a few words, her eyes immediately lit up and she shouted back something along the lines of, “You’re going to have to drive all the way to the back of the line, mister!” I then calmly responded that we weren’t trying to cut in line and that we were actually trying to access a road to her right that goes down into the cove.

She looked down at the road to confirm that there was in fact a road leading down. Bewildered, she turned back and started slowly inching her car backwards. We waved thanks and continued driving down towards Kirby Cove.

Kirby Cove is only accessible by car to people who have permits (because of the extremely limited parking space). Hence, all campers and day users must display a printed permit for that day on their windshield and must use a combination to unlock the gate on Kirby Road. Here I am unlocking the gate.

Untitled

After we got everyone through, we locked the gate back up and continued down the rest of the 1 mile dirt road towards the parking lot.

Untitled

In true Bay Area fashion, we brought an electric car with us.

Untitled

Even though we had made it all the way down the cove, there were still a few hundred yards between the parking lot and our camp spot. We had reserved space number one, arguably the best site, but also one of the furthest from the lot. As you can see below, there was plenty of dragging gear from our cars to the site.

Untitled

Fortunately, the NPS made some wheelbarrows available for use. They made the job of transporting our items ten times easier.

Untitled

Once we had everything at the site, we immediately started pitching our tents.

UntitledUntitled

We brought the tent that we purchased for Burning Man and a smaller tent that JJ has.

UntitledUntitled

The View

This is one of the reasons that space one is the best. Just look at the view. Can you imagining waking up to this?

Untitled

Below is an unedited panorama from the next morning. Scroll or swipe left and right to view it. Unfortunately, that morning was pretty foggy and SF was not visible.

Untitled

After the tents were up and the campsite was in order, we started on a well deserved snack: beer, bread, cheese and meat.
UntitledUntitled

Then came the exploring. In the picture below, the shaded area to the left is where our campsite is. The pathway in the center leads to Battery Kirby to the right. Battery Kirby, the namesake of the cove, was in use from the late 1800s to right around the time of World War II.

Untitled

I guess boys will be boys. We climbed and explored all over the battery.

UntitledUntitledUntitled

None of us knew that Eric was a parkour master. Look at those moves, and those shades.

UntitledUntitled

Some of us were a little less talented in the parkour department. ^^

UntitledUntitled

Drew, however, may actually be a monkey.

UntitledUntitled

One of my favorite parts is a tunnel that leads to…

UntitledUntitled

You guessed it, the ocean! We spent some time soaking in the views and the sound of the gentle waves on the beach.

UntitledUntitledUntitled

Then we discovered the swing. Any of you who have been to Kirby Cove know the swing. It’s a rope that is tied to an old tree on one end and a small plank on the other. You may take a few tries to get enough speed and quickly plant your bottom on the plank, but once you get a hang of it, it’s a blast.

UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

The feeling of nearly being launched into the ocean was both terrifying and liberating. Some of us counted the swing as our favorite part of the whole trip.

Untitled

As night started to fall, we turned to our favorite camping food for dinner, Frito pie.

UntitledUntitled

As the fire raged on, we sat around in a circle talking, took solitary walks to the beach, looked at the stars and even scared away a raccoon looking to get a free meal. I stopped taking photos at this point because I was so immersed in the experience. If you want to know more, you’ll have to ask one of us in person.

Untitled

Shenanigans

We are a bunch of goofballs and we did what goofballs do best. Mark got attacked by a rusted support.

Untitled

Drew demonstrated proper tsunami evacuation form.

Untitled

Mark got hungry and resorted to eating wooden signs.

Untitled

We got to use our pocket knives to empty some water before leaving.

Untitled

Fin

All trips need a jumping shot. I’m going to have to apologize at this point. It was my first time taking my (then new) camera with me and I didn’t properly set the shutter speed for this. The photos came out a little blurry, but nevertheless great.

UntitledUntitledUntitled

We had an amazing experience. We may just want to make it a yearly thing. Kirby cove is everything we could hope for in a camp ground and the location for an offsite. You should go there and blog about your experience. Send me a link!

How I Abandoned Vegetarianism

Food is an important part of our individual identities. The food that we like to eat and the food that we eat every day are determined by a wide range of factors like culture, economics and geography. Hence, food can reveal a lot about a person’s values and history. This post documents my relationship with food, specifically vegetarianism and how I eventually abandoned it.

Untitled

“popeye’s dream” at All Spice

Life as a Vegetarian

I was raised a Hindu; and, although my family wasn’t very conservative or strict, many associated practices like vegetarianism stuck. I ended up an ovo-lacto vegetarian in a household of ovo-lacto and lacto vegetarians. I always asked if soups had chicken stock, made sure asian food didn’t contain fish sauce or oyster sauce and informed friends of my dietary restrictions before attending a party or going out for dinner. Being a vegetarian added some overhead to my life.

Surprisingly, there were numerous advantages to being a vegetarian. Whenever we flew internationally, we would request vegetarian meals in advance. Special meals always came out first and seemed much more interesting than standard fare. I also never had to sit in the airplane and wait for the food trolley to finally make its way to my seat while the smell of food circulated through the cabin and made me hungry. I never worried that my meal selection could run out before I had a chance to order. Sometimes after eating out, while some friends would complain about upset stomachs because of undercooked meat, I was fine. During biology class, when we learned of parasites that can spread through meats, I never worried like some of my classmates did.

Untitled

Tofu-Ball Soup (豆麩団子のお椀) at Kajitsu

Of course along with those advantages came quite a few disadvantages. I avoided barbecue restaurants, steakhouses, most fast food restaurants and whole cuisines like Japanese and Brazilian because of the lack of vegetarian options. I rarely bought lunch at school. Salad and cheese pizza were my go-to meals at theme parks, conventions and other places where food options were limited. When I started watching my diet more, I found that it was extremely carb heavy because being a vegetarian often meant avoiding proteins altogether and substituting with carbs.

Friends would frequently ask questions like “don’t you ever feel like trying meat?” and “what happens when you accidentally eat meat?” The questions bothered me a little; but, I would point out that just as I don’t eat meat, most of them don’t eat certain things because of personal preference and allergies. I was still happy as a vegetarian.

A Gradual Shift

Two changes started occurring in me that would eventually lead me to where I am today.

First is the gradual erosion of my vegetarianism. When I was a child, if I accidentally ate meat, I would spit it out and find something else to eat. My reaction to meat was never as harsh as that of many people I know who immediately lose their appetite or even gag or vomit if they accidentally eat meat.

UntitledUntitled

brandade ravioli and skuna bay salmon at Longman and Eagle

As time went on, I slowly stopped caring if soups contained meat broths. I was fine with pulling the meat off pizza and eating it as long as there was no strong meat flavor. I even started to prefer refried beans cooked with lard. The knowledge of if something contained meat no longer mattered. I only started avoiding whole pieces of meat and food that overwhelmingly tasted like meat.

The second change is the result of the crystallization of one of my guiding philosophies. It happened in the fall of 2006 during my MIT alumni interview. Towards the beginning of the interview, the alumnus asked me a question that threw me off balance, “If you can boil your values and guiding principles into one statement, what would that be?”. I didn’t know how to answer. I was prepared for the usual shallow questions I received from other alumni, but I just didn’t know what to say to this one. I told I’m had to think about it and we continued on with the rest of the interview.

When I finally answered, this is what I said: “I want to be a swiss army knife. I want to be able to thrive in any place or any situation.” He loved the answer and it formed the cornerstone for the rest of the conversation. At the end of it, he told me that I had as good a chance as anyone of getting in and wished me the best of luck. As I left the room. I felt a mixture of excitement and confusion. I loved the words that came out of my mouth, but where did they come from? It was one of those moments when a solution seemingly appears out of ether, like when I’m staring at a difficult problem in an exam and all the puzzle pieces line up magically.

Around that time, I had started learning foreign languages, dabbling in self improvement, and getting good at things I used to hate. Clearly, this philosophy had been guiding me until that point without me ever realizing.

As I thought about it more, a glaring conflict emerged between that philosophy and vegetarianism. I hated when people were picky about their food or told me that they don’t eat certain foods for any non-medical reason. What a contradiction! I was the pickiest of them all. Here is this artificial restriction that is completely inconsistent with what should be my guiding principle, who am I to criticize others? At that moment of awareness, I decided that I would start walking down the road to complete abandonment of vegetarianism.

Final Steps

In high school, I started eating California rolls at sushi restaurants. I was for some reason under the impression that “imitation crab” was imitation meat and completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s made from fish and is very similar to fish balls or narutomaki that you may find in ramen. When I found out, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had been eating fish all along and I never realized! One day, while eating my California roll, a friend offered a few pieces of his salmon sushi, and I thought “why not?”. I was genuinely surprised. It didn’t taste especially fishy and had a palatable texture. From that day forth, I started trying many different types of raw fish. Whenever anyone asked me if I had dietary restrictions, I would tell them that I am mostly vegetarian, but eat raw fish. I wish you could have seen the looks on some peoples’ faces when they heard me say that.

UntitledUntitled

arctic char and maine scallops at dovetail

Fast forward 4 years and being a vegetarian that ate raw fish was pretty good. I could now eat at most sushi restaurants with friends and I grew to love Japanese cuisine; but, all this raw fish got me thinking “if I can eat raw fish, why not cooked fish?”. So, I began eating fish at the fanciest of restaurants (only Michelin star or recommended) because I knew that they would use only the freshest fish and cook it properly. By my senior year, I was regularly choosing the fish option at restaurants and proudly called myself a pescatarian. I could eat almost anywhere, but I didn’t want to stop at that.

When I moved to California, I started easing my way into the rest of seafood. I would order one appetizer like oysters or fried shrimp heads. Slowly, I would order more and more seafood. By end of my first 6 months in the Bay Area, I was eating all seafood including some weirder things like sea snails and sea cucumbers. This satiated my appetite for change and new foods for some time.

Untitled

Ramen at Hide-Chan

As my second year in the Bay Area came to a close, I had a thirst for change again. My conversion wasn’t moving fast enough and as I went from one summer barbecue to another, I was still effectively a vegetarian since I still didn’t eat hamburgers or hotdogs. One day at Ssisso we bought chicken wings and I tried a few. The Uber back to Ari’s place was difficult to say the least. Nausea rushed over me and I felt terrible. However, an hour went by and I was back to normal. I had started to eat chicken.

On the first day of Burning Man, a few people from my camp had made some pork stew and asparagus. I originally stuck only to the veggies, but after 10 minutes I thought “to hell with it” and poured a large ladle of stew into my bowl. It wasn’t too bad, though the few glasses of wine I had probably helped. I told myself that I’m going to eat everything from this point on. If anyone asks me what kind of diet I stick to, I’m not mentioning anything that ends in -tarian.

Next Steps

Untitled

Me at Kajitsu

It’s been a year and a half since my “full conversion” and I couldn’t be happier. I can more easily adhere to high protein diets, better appreciate foreign cuisines and I have started to cook many classic meat-heavy dishes. Gone are the days of being the pickiest person at the table and being asked about my dietary restrictions. And I can finally order food from the standard menu when flying internationally!

I don’t want to stop here though. I may now be in line with the average American, but there still are many foods around the world that I need to try and learn to appreciate like insects, rotten foods, living foods and others that look downright revolting. For me, 2015 is going to be the year of bizarre foods. If Andrew Zimmer can eat it, why can’t I? Friends, join me if you are interested. It’s guaranteed to be intriguing.