Pic(k) of the Week – Snowy March

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

The World is Getting Better

There is no magic number when it comes to having kids. One is good. So is two. As is zero. We recently went from one to two kids. So far, it’s been a learning experience in sharing our time and space with a brand new chubby addition to the family.

Meanwhile, our six year old did a rendition of Dog Man and I put it up on Instagram like any ordinary social media influenced mom is wont to do. Within minutes, we had none other than the author Dav Pilkey himself popping up with an encouraging comment. I have been known to disparage my son from reading Captain Underpants because of the scatological humor and distorted spellings. But I gave in when I saw how happy the books made him. You can’t go wrong with gross stuff, when you are trying to elicit a few “laffs” from a first grader.

There is no magic solution when it comes to parenting. They will read what they want. And draw what they like. All we can do is try and guide them along the right path and teach them to be kind and respectful. Along the way, we would also like them to be smart and strong.

If the news is any indicator, the next generation is not just about selfies and Snapchat. As Daenerys said in Game of Thrones, they will probably be better “rulers” than the ones who came before them. Something about the way they are changing the political dialogue all over the world is giving me hope.

On that optimistic note, here’s an editorial by Bill Gates where he says “There’s also a growing gap between the bad things that still happen and our tolerance of those things. Over the centuries, violence has declined dramatically, as has our willingness to accept it. But because the improvements don’t keep pace with our expectations, it can seem like things are getting worse.

On the whole, the world is getting better.”

Valuable Brands in 2018

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

When we say “the most valuable brand” we mean the brand value, which is not to be confused with the Enterprise Value (EV), which is a measure of a company’s total value. “EV is calculated as the market capitalization plus debt, minority interest and preferred shares, minus total cash and cash equivalents.” – sourced from Investopedia.

Brand Value is more of an abstract concept but one that has to be essential, long-lasting and practical. It could be intangible as an asset, but it represents the core values of a company and shapes the perception of its customers.

For eg, IKEA has the following core values (Src – 6Q Blog)

1. Humbleness and willpower
2. Leadership by example
3. Daring to be different
4. Togetherness and enthusiasm
5. Cost-consciousness
6. Constant desire for renewal
7. Accept and delegate responsibility

Back to the infographic at hand, I am not surprised to see Amazon’s influence in USA and TATA’s hold over India. Then you have Mercedes-Benz, Nestle, IKEA and LEGO – these brands nicely fall into allotted slots as well. What surprised me was Canada with RBC. Maybe I should get to know my neighbors better.

When gathering data, it is good to have absolute numbers. But sometimes it’s the unquantifiable impact, or the inherent belief, that seems to make a fraction of a difference, and could prove immensely beneficial to a company in the long run.

Amazon Go

The earth has made a full trip around the sun since I wrote about Amazon Go here.

The beginning of this week saw the automated 1,800-square-foot store being finally launched in Seattle, Washington.

Here’s some Insta humor to brighten up an otherwise dull Wednesday.

Amazon Go

The Addictive Power of Social Media

The Addictive Powers of Social Media
Photo by The Art of Social Media

Recently I have been worried about this constant feedback loop generated by social media, and when I say social media, I am mostly thinking of Facebook. It’s one of the big “four” (Amazon, Apple and Google make up the rest) and recently it seems to be losing its footing when it comes to weeding out the nonsense from the real stuff. Trolls, bots and click-farms are a concern when democracies are at stake, don’t you think?

I have been active on social media for years and I do realize that there are some benefits of being connected to family and friends, being more aware of happenings around the world, and browsing through aesthetically composed pictures (here’s looking at you, Insta).

This New Year, while I was contemplating the hours I spend on Facebook, I found out that “On Jan. 1, Germany began enforcing strict rules that could fine major internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube up to 50 million euros ($60 million, £44 million, AU$77 million) if they don’t remove posts containing hate speech within 24 hours of receiving a complaint” – CNET.

It’s a step in the right direction. People are far meaner online, thanks to the anonymity factor, than when they are debating face-to-face. And it’s as damaging as all the fake “likes” and “loves” one garners after posting a photo on Facebook.

Speaking of which, I recently read Justin Rosenstein’s interview on the Guardian where he says that “he was particularly aware of the allure of Facebook likes, which he describes as bright dings of pseudo-pleasure that can be as hollow as they are seductive.”

And who is this Rosenstein guy you ask. Well, he is the Facebook engineer who created the ubiquitous “like” button. A button which needs no introduction, and has recently been supplemented with the love, angry, wow, and sad “reaction” buttons.

Buttons are the easiest, they require no effort, no typing, and yet they send across these little packets of affirmation which provide a short-term feeling of happiness. Kind of like a dopamine infusion. And I may go as far as to say – not so different from cocaine.

While we reveled in the “bright pings of pseudo-pleasure” derived from sending and receiving likes, Facebook found itself swimming in a sea of valuable data. So they mined it with care and sold it to advertisers.

It also tweaked the activity-alert/notification color from dull blue to trigger-happy red so as to drive maximum engagement. The pull-down-to-refresh feature you see on these sites and their apps, well, they are not so different from the pull-down levers of slot machines. The advertising professional in me loves all these little modifications, and that’s why I got hooked into the psychology behind the social media phenomenon.

According to the same Guardian interview, Loren Brichter, the designer who created the pull-down-to-refresh mechanism, says he never intended the design to be addictive – but would not dispute the slot machine comparison. “I agree 100%,” he says. “I have two kids now and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention to them because my smartphone has sucked me in.”

When we share pictures of our food, homes, vacations, kids, friends and family, I guess we are trying to project a controlled image of ourselves to people we don’t get to meet on a daily basis? And there’s nothing wrong in doing that. It’s all good till it gets addictive. Till these likes and reactions and comments take over so much that we lose sight of the good from the bad. Till we start sharing every single thing that happens to us. And till we almost plan things around a Facebook post.

There are people whose “feedback loop” has gotten so out of hand that they are posting pictures on a daily basis. The give and receive likes and post saccharine comments almost instantaneously. No matter how blurry the shot or how awful the picture, they have to adorn it with a suitable adjective in the comments section.

But I am not worried about them. My concern lies with the next generation who will not know a world before Facebook. Will they miss out on hanging out with friends in real time and find it difficult to forge real connections? Will they miss out on real-time fun? Every single shared joke will be online, and worst, forever. There are things I have said and done in my teens that I don’t want to be stored in a chip for eternity. And neither do you.

During a talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business, former Facebook VP for User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya said that the “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

Later, of course, he went on to apologize for his hard stance on social media, especially to and on Facebook, which led him to release a more balanced statement weighing the good vs the bad. And I agree, it’s not all bad. None of this is part of a mega evil plan laid out by a mega villain rubbing their hands in glee as we tap likes and loves.

Social media sites are not driving us insane on purpose, and they do a lot of good in the world in many ways hitherto unknown to us. And I am sure that they can become a force for the greater good, if only we knew how to use them better.

Maybe the next generation, the one I worry about, will do just that.

Pic(k) of the Week – Joyeux Noël

Ridgefield, CT
Ridgefield, Connecticut. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Ridgefield Holiday Stroll 2017

Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

If you had a list of New England town must-haves, three-century-old Ridgefield in Connecticut would tick every box. Located on the western fringe of Fairfield County, it’s the right amount of small. It’s upscale but not pretentious, has museums and playhouses, and parks and lakes. The town’s generously tree-lined Main Street has rows of charming storefronts and a slew of Colonials and Capes, which made for a pretty nice backdrop for the Holiday Stroll.

Ridgefield CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Ice sculptures, Christmas carolers, cozy cafes, and tasteful decorations aside, we found an indie book shop called Books on the Common. Defying the onslaught of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it has been a part of the community since 1984. It had everything we wanted. A great collection, cozy reading corners, friendly staff, fun recommendations, and a warm, relaxed vibe that made it almost impossible to leave.

Books in the Common, Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Books in the Common, Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Books in the Common, Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

During checkout, our six year old was given a Dog Man Comic Creator, and since then he has scribbled some fun “situations”, with plenty of CRASH, KA-BLOOM, and SPLAT thrown in for good measure. We love indie shops, especially those that are not just pretty to look at, but also has the goods if you know what I mean. Books on the Common is one such store, and we will be going back for more.

Tazza Cafe in Ridgefield, CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We also stopped by at Tazza Cafe for some hot chocolate, and later, at Prime Burger for a bit of Americana – burgers, fries and milk shakes.

Prime Burger in Ridgefield CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Prime Burger in Ridgefield CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©
Ridgefield CT
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Christmas,  as I have written before, is a joyful gathering filled with food and festivities. It’s meant to include, not divide.

The towns are all decked up, there’s singing on the streets, presents are being exchanged, parties are being planned, smiles are freely exchanged, hands are tightly held, and kids look happier. They know Santa season is here and they are trying their best to be nice, even if it’s for that coveted toy they have been eyeing for a while.

At the cost of sounding cheesy, I must say it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

10 Things I am Thankful for Right Now

Autumn in New York
Autumn in New York. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Today the kids in my son’s school had their Thanksgiving lists up and ready. As it turns out, the kindergarteners and 1st graders are thankful for toothpaste, leaves, dogs, grandparents, chocolate cake, puddles, moms, dads, Batman, snow, recess, Legos, frogs, mint chocolate ice-cream, Christmas and more – but not necessarily in that order.

So I thought I should make a list as well.

1. I will start with my own little family. Thankful for each and every one of them and all that they do day to day. Every little thing.

Thankful for parents who understand.

Thankful for my extended family, the aunts and uncles and cousins who keep in touch via WhatsApp, no matter where they are. It could be as simple as a picture of a giraffe from my aunt who writes “For the little guy, with love, from Amboseli, Kenya.”

2. Friends. The real ones. The ones who take time out of their busy schedule (even if they have a cross-continental wedding to attend) to hear you gripe about life in general.

Friends who turn up with a casserole when you fracture your leg.

Friends who text you out of the blue and you pick up where you left off. They don’t need to pretend perfection, and neither do you. Friends who keep in touch after moving to another country.

Friends who stand up for you.

3. Thankful for technology (FaceTime is the best) that makes expat life so easy. It also makes switching career paths to start a craft brewery business or getting a degree that much more plausible.

4. I am grateful that For Now, Trump to Keep Ban on Importing Elephant Trophies.

5. I am not a vegan by any means. Not yet. I have a hard time saying no to delicious food. But given the cruelty in factory farming and environmental impact of high meat consumption, I am grateful that there is a slow and steady movement towards better eating. And more choices for people to make better decisions. Click here for an encyclopedia of vegan food.

6. Happy to have the four seasons of New England, Fall being my favorite.

7. Thankful to have lived in two different countries on two sides of the world. It gives me perspective, and often, hope.

8. Thankful for crumbs on the floor, because that means there’s food on the table.

9. Thankful for the outdoors, the parks, and the patches of green around me.

10. Thankful for the pale blue dot we call home.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a festive fun weekend!

Pic(k) of the Week – Autumn in New York

Upstate New York in Fall
John Boyd Thacher State Park in New York. Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Hot Chocolate and Old Books in Kent

Kent, Connecticut
Photos by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Have you ever bought a book because you liked how it smelled?

Well, I just did.

This is how it all began.

We were in Kent, a town in Connecticut’s  Litchfield County, often described as “quaint.” For the better part of the 19th century, it was one of the leading iron-producers in the state. It has a lovely stretch of Main Street, cafes, covered bridges, waterfalls, jazz festivals, and so much more.

Right across the Visitor’s Center, they have the Kent Coffee & Chocolate Co., a place that looks made to order for a crisp fall afternoon. We got the dark chocolate barks, a vegan hot chocolate with almond milk, a buttered bagel for a carb-happy kid, and an Irish Cream Mocha. When asked about the egg content in the barks, they took the extra effort and confirmed that it doesn’t. When you have a kid with allergies, this is the sort of service that makes you life-long patrons of a place.

The barks, especially the one with cranberry, were the lip-smacking melt-in-your-mouth kind, and lasted until the next morning’s Sunday paper and coffee.

Sunday Times and Kent Chocolates
Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

We stepped out into the tree-lined street, feeling warm and content. Dark hot chocolate, the kind you can wrap your fingers around on a cold day, has a certain kind of power. It can rival wine and coffee on a good day.

Rows and rows and books lay before us, separated into categories like politics, mysteries, history, travel, humor, children’s, cooking, beverages, philosophy, etc. I picked up an old tattered copy of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and as soon as I opened the book, I got a whiff of what can best be described as an old book scent, the exact same one from my childhood.

So of course, like any normal person, I had to get the book.

Then I found this edition of The Beauty and the Beast, exactly like the one I read and re-read as a kid. I had to get that too.

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

Apart from memories, we found other books – a tongue-in-cheek one on British humor, graphic novels, a beer encyclopedia, a cookbook by Bill Granger, and so on and so forth.

There are many ways to spend a Saturday. But one in which you browse books on a sunny fall afternoon in a small New England town, and get transported to long summer holidays in a far-off country on the other side of the globe, is up there with the best.