Sunday, October 19, 2014

Freeze your eggs for your company ?

A couple of days ago in the morning news I picked up that Facebook (and soon Apple) provide a core benefit that allows you to freeze your eggs for free. I think the article was called freeze your eggs free your career, or something catchy like that. Of course, there was some outrage around this. My Facebook feed is full of outrage and re-sharing of this news. Well at least some good news that we now know Facebook is not reading our posts then. 

Now my knowledge is only as good as what's reported and we all know news is always sensationalised. Any how here is what I think: 
The issue is that it's a core benefit. If you have a core benefit it implies that it's something you need for a comfortable life. For example, medical cover is needed for you in case you fall sick and you of course want to get better. On the other hand, it's in your company's best interests  to make sure you get better soon and get back to work. But at the same time, you are not expected to use your medical until you need it. Now do you use your benefit and freeze your eggs only if you need to? There is no particular point at which it turns into a need because it's always a choice. But then, it raises the logical question that whether or not you want to postpone your pregnancy why don't you just freeze your eggs anyway, it's free. Well there may be many reasons why personally someone would not want to do that. So even though it's always a choice it creates the air of a non choice. What's in it for the company? If women postponed their pregnancy, company has to find replacements during maternity, ensure continuity of work hours, longer work hours, and hence the freeze-your-eggs option which probably is even economical if the company thinks the maternity pay might actually be around the same expense for it, especially if a women had two children. If that's true, they got their policy right. But on the other hand if they wanted to make it a more conducive work environment for women and ensure they have more control on their careers and pregnancy so that the overall productivity for the company increases, they need to make it optional and broader. I dunno Facebook's policy but most private medical insurance doesn't include maternity cover. Understandably, because it's an assured expense in most cases.
What they could have is an optional benefit of fertility cover at a reduced premium. This is again an assured expense but given the wider variety, the company could possibly provide benefits for everyone. It could include maternity expenses for those having children, fertility enhancing treatment and IVF for those who are trying to have children, adoption and surrogacy expenses for those who want to but can't have children, freezing eggs and IVF for those who don't want to have children right now and any sterilisation surgeries for those who do not want to have children any more.  It need not be only for female employees, male employees will also need to share expenses at most times and men might need treatment as well. It could cover the employee or spouse or both and could be useful for same sex partners as well.

Update: Turns out they do have a decent maternity pay, they do have policies that help with adoption and surrogacy, and they also help you freeze your sperm. Now that's a holistic package, won't you agree! Again, **disclaimer** I got this information from other news media. I guess it's some of the random banter that media people have over in their pass time.
Also, it's a proper surgery. And there are always risks with surgery.
I'm sure there could have been more discussion on the unlimited holiday policy that some companies are bringing on these days.

Anne Frank's Diary

I'm disappointed with myself for not having read this before and I believe I should have read it at school. It should be part of school syllabus or at least flagged and encouraged at school to young teens and preteens. It is across Europe and even in India, it was in school curriculum for my mother. I wonder what happened in my case. Anyhow I began reading it upon my return from Berlin.

While I'm in no way qualified to review this book, neither it's contents nor its author, I can talk about how it made me feel. Like a million others, for all these decades, at the end of it, I wanted to hug myself and cry. That was the effect mostly of the epilogue rather than her diary. The epilogue tells you that this energetic optimistic opinionated teenager that you spent days with, discussing her innermost thoughts including her plans for the future, had had that future snatched from her and from you. You, Kitty, lost your dearest friend.

She is smart, funny, intelligent and in every way I can relate to her. Not to the holocaust or specific subjects or specific incidents, but to the way she feels and thinks and analyses and draws conclusion and occasionally is wrong and how she reacts when she realises she is wrong, the way she is her worst critic and takes in everyone else's criticism. The extroverted introvert. At moments when I read something significantly describing her feelings, I wondered how her father would have felt when he read it for the first time. The pang of pain I felt just thinking about it, I cannot fathom his emotions. I think the reason why this diary became so popular is because it doesn't describe the holocaust or discrimination or the pain of war but it describes a real person going through all of these and reacts not dramatically but really. The emotions are raw and unmasked and absolutely real. You are her trusted friend and she is pouring her heart out to you.
The diary also gives you some solace that her wish to be a writer and a journalist are fulfilled.

Now reading Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Heathrow Minute

In love with airports I must be. But not usually. They are not destinations and they are not places where you want to spend time, unless I hear of it's the Dubai airport. Killing time doesn't put me off, but people watching is certainly boring at airports unlike railway stations. Railway stations, I love!
Heathrow airport is a beauty and I didn't know it till today. Till today I thought it was a chaotic mass of people and flights. Today I witnessed the Heathrow Minute!
While an aeroplane is evidence of amazing engineering, Heathrow is evidence of incredible logistics. And today I think I witnessed it. My flight was in queue and I could see flights in front of it, and flights cutting the queue from other fringes of the fishbone sort of network this was, and the flights in front of us were cutting others in other fringes. They all went one by one on to this long long runway. And when one flight starts moving very quickly on the runway, another already takes its place sometimes even moving along almost behind it. And between one flight going into air and another, it was a few seconds, may not be 45 but certainly not more than 60, definitely not a minute.
Let me explain my dear readers that all over the world flights usually give a gap of roughly 2 minutes between any two flights to take off from the same runway. Heathrow, with all its enormous traffic and large terminals, has only two runways - one to take off and one to land. It would be impossible for all the flights scheduled to land and take off if the gap between any of them is 2 minutes, apparently. Hence, Heathrow logistics devised a method. Each taking off flight would use two separate helical paths - one to the right of the runway and one to the left. And two different helical paths would be used by those landing but those taking off and those landing will overlay the same two helixes, ie same radius and same length between two coils but at slightly different heights hence all together avoiding collision. This gives efficiency and flights don't have to wait too long between each landing or each take off. They optimised this so efficiently that they managed to reduce the time between any two take offs to a minimum of 45secs. This 45 seconds is called the Heathrow Minute. You see what they did there!
And shortly we took off and I could see flights and flights and flights, the entire fishbone network, terminals with flights and more flights. It was night time so our runway looked bejewelled with bright white lights. The whole place was lit up in all colours on the ground, green purple, yellow, blue.
As our flight struggled and flew beyond the cloud cover that had been depressing London for a few days now, in the night I clearly saw the lights and the shadow of another flight and then in the far distance another and then again in the horizon yet another!
How come flights don't drag the clouds along? Or cause rain?
Soon we were high above in the night sky and I could see Venus (I think that's what it is since pole star should be behind me, flying south west). I tried to look higher up in the sky with the limited window view and there limited manoeuvring you could do with your seatbelt, and I saw clearest I could, the big dipper. I must admit, I felt I had moved closer to the night sky, even though I know in the grander scheme of things, this distance decreased is infinitesimally small. I wish my flight had a see through ceiling. Please can we make one? [ update: looks like they are making one]

Night time landing is special too. It gives you a completely different view of the city. The city feels like a thriving, breathing organism and you can see these fibres alive and ripping through it like arteries carrying the life force of electricity.
PS: all written on the flight, using flight safe mode of course. Err, I tried to double check my information on Heathrow Minute but couldn't. So, please feel free to contradict me if you have evidence otherwise. I watched it in an NGC documentary. Else please accept what I write as the supreme truth and nothing but the supreme truth.
PPS: all this talk of airports makes me sad. Visakhapatnam Airport lost it's roof to Hudhud, the cyclone.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ten Days of Travel: Venice

Pretty and pretty busy. As I mentioned earlier K and I ended up in Venice on a weekend. At least thankfully it was two weekends before Clooney and Amal decided to get married. (I heard they shut the grand canal for their wedding, I would have been royally photography hollywoodly pissed with them. Imagine planning ahead and spending so much money just to know that the biggest attraction in Venice is closed.)

We reached Venice late evening on Friday but by the time we stood in the queue and another and got waterbus tickets, it was an hour and the water bus itself took an hour to take us to our bnb because we stayed in Lido, an island off the Venice islands at we reached there at 10pm. We took a Rolling Venice card by the way. It's an under-29 card that gives you discounts etc.
The one hour water bus journey from the train station through the Grand Canal under the Rialto bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, out into the sea near San Marco and stopping every 3 minutes, was actually very pretty giving us a tour of Venice by night. Here is a picture from the scenic trip.

And then generally a few:

Once we reached the bnb, which was a super cute villa with the owner living in an annex (out was it the other way around?), we headed out to have dinner but it was a little too late and we were worried that things will shut down. We needn't have worried though, Lido is village-like but still happening. We went to an Indian restaurant for dinner and made small talk with an older Canadian Pakistani couple at the next table. Venice is full of couples and honeymooners!

By the time we got to Venice we had been walking everyday for hours, for the last 7 days. And after Florence and Rome, there isn't much to see in Venice; it's just a pretty town with its interesting waterways instead of roads or even tiny alleyways. So we pretty much had no agenda and woke up late and took the next water bus to San Marco.
San Marco is like any famous south Indian temple (I say south Indian because I haven't seen many north Indian temples). It's internal walls are all gilded. The difference however is our ancestors used thin gold leaves to cover up all walls and then engrave the stories from our epics while this one used thin gold leaves infused on glass and created mosaics on all walls depicting the stories from the bible. Something like this:

While the church is very pretty, it's hard to see the detail of the gilded glass from far. There is roof top or a mezzanine floor of sorts which you can gain access to. From up there we could see the ceiling and walls in much better detail. There was a museum too of a few artifacts from the church that were preserved including four horses. These horses are made of bronze with lots of ugly scratchings on the polished bronze. Apparently that was intentional because the bronze shone so brilliant in the summer sun that people had difficulty looking at the horses!

The only other thing that was on our agenda was the Florence-missed Leonardo da Vinci museum. But on our way we saw a museum on making violins and violas and all kinds of magical things with the background score of a Vivaldi composition.

 Now as I've mentioned before in the previous post, it's not a museum of da Vinci's works but a tribute museum to his works. It contains wooden models, most of them working models of the sketches that Leonardo da Vinci provided for various inventions.
He was an incredible mind and his reach so far and wide, from architecture to machine guns and defence strategies to engineering. He studied transmission of motion and energy vividly. Here is a model (not working) of a flying man and another walking on water. 

Now that we are done with everything on the agenda we just mostly walked, only stopping by to have some OK food in the overpriced restaurants. There was this restaurant with a terrace seating with great views of the city but the reviews on TripAdvisor were really bad for the food and for the pricing too. So we decided to go before dinner at around 5pm and generally have some snacks or not. Because otherwise they would charge you a cover charge. We noticed that a lot of other people were doing the same thing. We got done beautiful views. We also captured some cruise ships ( honestly I think K never saw a ship before!!!! hope he doesn't read this).

But the views didn't include most of the city but just one sided and that too towards the sea. So we went up the bell tower. But it was nearly night by the time we got up there because we first spent a lot of time finding the public loo and upon realising it was closed, spent a lot more time going into a random restaurant and finding a socially-not-so-awkward time to use their loo and leaving without eating there or buying anything. K thinks I'm a sentimental fool to worry so much. He would have just gone to the restaurant in the first place and wouldn't have bothered with small talk. Anyway it was night. We got some great views but would have been better in the day.

We walked all the way to Rialto bridge to see the market and realised it's closed because it past 5pm. So we ate some decent pizza and walked around some more. We reached Lido quite late. And we were expecting to see shops closed, restaurants empty and generally like what we saw the previous day. But we saw a bustling centre very much alive and happening. Not as crowded as Venice which is a good thing. There was an open orchestra on a bridge and lots of people around it dressed for all occasions; the cyclists who stopped by to listen, the midnight strollers like ourselves just hanging around, fancy restaurant diners at their tables in flowing clothes and dribbling champagne, kids running around the water fountains. The orchestra was wonderful and the night was magical.

The next day. Our final day of our 10 day trip was only a half day. To make the most of it, we went to Cannaregio as early as we could, sat like 11am! It's supposedly the non-touristy area of Venice, off Grand Canal and close to the station. It was not touristy at all. It was just canals and alley ways of canals. A large square in the middle of the Jewish ghetto with a museum for the victims of Nazis did attract a few walking tour groups but largely it was a local area. We didn't go into the museum - we didn't have time and I wasn't about to get sad.

We strolled through the narrow footpaths next to canals and walked up and down bridges. We looked for TripAdvisor's most amazing cafe around and unfortunately the food was so horrible we ate two bites and left the rest. And then we were on our way to the airport.

To get to the airport we took a waterbus from Cannaregio to Piazzala Roma. From Pizzala Roma we took a PeopleMover (honestly that's what it's called and it's like a large cable car except it's cables are below on rails and not above; it's called a fennicular) to a island called Treviato. It's a parking island. It is created so that the residents of Venice may still buy vehicles and park them here. This island is connected to the mainland by a long road bridge. And then we took a bus to the airport, all because we were taking the flight from another Treviso airport. If it were Marco Polo we could take a waterbus all the way.

And we reached home after 10 days of travel.