jay's old blog

this blog will be deleted soon - please visit my new blog - https://thesanguinetechtrainer.com

Threads and Tasks Revisited - Update 1

I have already written about threads and tasks here, here, here, here, here and here. I thought, perhaps it is time to revisit those topics.

Tasks and threads in c sharp are interconnecting concepts. Both allow you to build an application that can mimic the behavior of a multi threaded application. The idea behind any multitasking application is the same. There is just too much power at disposal and by switching them fast, you are able to give the impression that many things are happening at the same time. Perhaps the best example would be when you are driving. Obviously, your eye is on the road, but your hands are on the wheel, your legs on the breaks. While driving, you are able to glance at the speed, fuel level, and so on, all without ever stopping the  vehicle itself. You are doing many things at once, however they are not happening in a parallel fashion. Your attention does go from the road to the speed dial and come back, fast.

Same things happen in applications. Most computers today have super fast processors. It is possible to ask these processors to work with multiple 'thread' and make them do many things at a given unit of time, like per minute or per hour or per day. That is where threads and tasks come into the picture.

The primary difference between threads and tasks is the amount of control you have. With a thread, you simply assign stuff to another thread, and that's pretty much it. Threads do not return stuff, which make it 'not so easy' to use them when you are trying to make things happen after something has happened. You could say, a thread is like a one way street. Stuff goes away from you, but nothing comes back. With tasks, you have an option to keep track of things.

You use threads when you dont want to have extra control over the multi threading you are attempting to do. You use tasks when you want that extra control. Almost in all real life situations, you will end up tasks and threads. Also, when using tasks, you end up using a lot of lambda expressions as well.

As always, find the code at my bit bucket repo right here.

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Rogue One - Better than expected star wars movie

I am not exactly a fan of the star wars franchise, but as a standard sci-fi movie guy, I like the movies the franchise puts out. The last year movie, Force Awakens was essentially a rehash of everything that was good about star wars 4 - 5- 6. It was a neat movie but it wasn't exactly original. With that as the context, I went to rogue one with extremely minimal expectations. Surprise...surprise, this was actually a good star wars story. It also had enough entertainment value to keep my movie companion happy, which means, the movie is doing justice to viewers who are familiar with the franchise, and those that are not. Excellent balancing act.

Although the poster puts the female lead front and center, as she (and her friends) reach their logical ends, I could not help but wonder that she did not do much in the narrative. Sure, she 'rebelled' at the right moment to get some gears and nuts moving, but otherwise, she wasn't exactly the 'female lead' who takes charge kind of impression the movie poster and the trailer seem to give. Fortunately, she did not end up doing stuff with the male lead, so that's something, I suppose.

The story is standard fare. The rebels need to steal some plans, and they form a team, and they succeed to do it at great cost. As many have pointed out, the plot is pretty much the opening crawl which comes at the beginning of the star wars 4, a new hope. Not much of a breakthrough is being done in terms of story. The character development is also pretty simple. What really sells the movie, is how incredibly the look of 'a new hope' is replicated here. I was surprised to see thumb sized buttons in almost every display. I was equally surprised to see old fashioned uniforms. The aliens look not too CGI, but they look alright. The movie has that classic star wars look.

What really carries the weight of the movie is the invisible influence of the emperor and also darth vader. When Vader eventually shows up, he mostly walks and talks and delivers a cool pun. Otherwise, he seems just alright. However, as the movie reaches its end, he just unleashes the full force and just takes care of everybody. That is perhaps the biggest take away of this movie. Also, the movie justifies the 'hole in the center' fun thing about a new hope. Further, it connects directly to the events of episode 4.

The last part about connecting things is what makes me love this movie so much. Since it is connected to the events that follow (and also because all the characters are dead), there will be no sequels to this movie. That's good because, almost every movie these days seems to leave threads hanging so there can be sequels and endless stories. For once, it is nice to see a movie that does not leave unnecessary sequel hooks that give me that feeling that man, I am getting only half the pie for full price. Glad to see a movie that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Thank god that I dont have to suffer through same old characters again and again.

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Barbarella - sci fi that takes the crazy, pushes it beyond 11

There are very few movies that can surprise me these days, and Barbarella happens to be one of them. The film has classic written all over it, and there are so many things packed, the editing so tight, each frame filled with so much 'oddities', wow! Just wow! Perhaps the sad part about watching this movie is realizing that it is impossible movies like this will be made at present time. However, I am fortunate that streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are keeping stuff like this online, so a new generation of fans like me could be created.

Right, so, the movie. Let's see with the plot here. The plot means a lot only if we understand the setting. The setting is that of some futuristic society where space ships and interplanetary is real. (yes, if you like such settings, please check out my novel on amazon, and buy it, of course) The culture is such that all savageness has been removed (this means, there is literally no concept of shame, killing and other human stuff, if you know what I mean) and people are used to it. For instance, our heroine stands in her birthday suit talking to her boss, and neither of them reacts to the state, for such emotions have long been lost.

Some super cool engineer has built some weapon (although weapons are banned) and he was on some mission. He is now lost and it is now up to Barbarella to find it. Obviously, she takes that mission. Although, why she is the chosen one is never explained. It is difficult to care as well because she is mostly undressed most of the time. Now, the movie does objectify her like crazy, but the thing is, the movie objectifies men as well. Any man in the movie who is even half way good looking, is wearing nothing or wearing something to cover the essentials. The movie is sexist, but it is an equal opportunity sexist so people of all orientations can enjoy and chill out.

Other than the obvious sexism (of both genders), the movie is filled with craziness of all sorts. The special effects are all very well done. It is all practical effects, so what you see what you get. Despite growing up in the golden age of special effects, I found the effects interesting and appealing. The visuals are crazy and makes you wonder every minute, 'what were they thinking'. If not the effects there is also the thing about sets. There is the space ship interior set, and then there is that north pole kind of set, then there is that underground hell set, and then that flying action scene set, then that sleeping room set, and the torture room set, the underground revolution set and the final living planet kills everybody set.

There are so many sets, and each of them is filled with enormous contraptions. Each set has a unique sensibility about it, and perhaps on repeat viewings I will be able to get in more of it. The movie begs to be watched multiple if only to take in all that is happening on the screen. The writing is extremely good, and the cheesy dialogue complements what is happening on screen. A lot of things dont make sense (like the many, many revealing outfits that Jane 'hot' Fonda wears) but it does not matter.

For all its crazy sets, hammy acting and over the top effects, there is a lot of meta commentary going on in the movie. I could catch a few about human nature, and I am sure, repeat viewings will reveal the genius of the entire movie. I also feel that the actress was in on the sexism and the comedy nature of the movie. She does an excellent job, and perhaps that proves her acting ability for she went on to win two oscars, later in life. Yeah, she totally was in on most of the jokes and sexual objectification.

While I am sure I will watch it again and again, I need to now go and find other cult movies like this. The movie also makes me watch star trek classic episodes for some reason. Yep, got to do that.

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the hobbit - a nice little children's novel

The hobbit movies were kind of fun, even if they were lengthened and had too much CGI. Still though, it was a nice tale, and that is when I decided to collect the book on Kindle and see how the source material holds.Thankfully, the book itself is short and does not have any padding or unnecessary characters. That means, it was a fun read.

A striking feature about this book is that narration style. The book speaks directly to you, breaking the fourth wall. The 'narrator' somehow knows the entire story, making him omnipresent in time and space. He already knows everything that has happened, and hence, it is possible that in his view, this story did take place, and there is indeed a middle earth and evil forces and dragons galore. Although the movie got dark at some places, the book is totally light. Gandalf is pretty cool, but he is literally the human version of deus ex machina. He just shows up, whenever things get tight. The characters even comment on it, and outright call him out when they don't do the machina thing. It's very cute on their part.

The movie sort of revolves around a quest. Essentially, it is a road trip with hobbits, dwarfs and a wizard. On the way, they run into elves, orcs, trolls, shape changers and so many other mythical characters. The dwarfs want to take back their castle (and all the gold in it) from the dragon. When they set out, they are like a dozen or so and their plan is to use the back entrance and sort of get in. They want to steal stuff and that is where our Bilbo Baggins comes into the picture.

From the very first page, I could not stop thinking as to how stupid their plan is. They are just 11 people. And they have zero resources. They have no plan to take down the dragon. They are pretty much winging the whole thing, this is probably where Indiana Jones got his life philosophy. Anyway, they end up getting captured, they escape and eventually act very foolish when another guy actually kills the dragon.

As with most stories that are good, it is the characters that remain with us. Bilbo Baggins is clearly the most well developed character in the novel. He starts off like this lame guy who just wants sit at home, smoke (weed, I think) and have double breakfast in his comfy home. Then, the adventure calls him and something, somewhere wakes up. He decides to go out his comfort zone and just goes crazy. At times, he regrets things. At time he scolds himself.

Yet, he perseveres and perhaps that is the whole point of this novel. I think the story is about going out of one's comfort zone, agreeing to do something different. Then, perhaps the most important lesson, once an agreement is made, keeping your end of the deal. His team mates dont like him. They think he is a baggage (is that where the name, baggins comes from?). He is worthless. Some of them are even open about it, and express their views without holding it back. Despite all this, Baggins survives. Heck, when all is said and done, he even teaches a thing or two to the rest of the team, the apparent pros in the field.

Other than Baggins, I felt that the dragon was perhaps the most well developed character. Pure representation of evil. The dragon chapters are the best, and the gold and its effect on everybody. Very cool. There are a lot of other characters, and of course Gandalf is super cool. However, I still dont how this whole wizard thing works. What are his power limits? What are things he can do and what he cannot do. There is so much lack of clarity, but I suppose that is okay. The novel moves at a brisk pace, without any stoppage. New characters are introduced, and their threads closed satisfactorily.

Overall, I am very pleased. Next stop, the 3 lord of the ring novels.

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war of the worlds - tom cruise is not actually tom cruise

After a long long time, I finally got around to watching war of the worlds. The trailers and the marketing led me to believe that this is going to a full on action spectacle. 11 years of marketing put that expectation. However, I have watched a lot of Spielberg movies, and I know that the guy will never ignore the 'human' aspect of anything. Even when there are dinosaurs splitting people in half, he keeps the emotions in that.

Then, the movie opens with a guy who has difficulty hanging on to his kids. The lead is played by tom cruise, but its clear, cruise is playing against type. Similar to that other movie, collateral. He is not successful, nobody is charmed by his good looks and almost nobody likes him. He wears this dorky hat throughout the movie, and now I think it was a deliberate choice. Throughout the movie, cruise is not doing anything heroic. Most of the time, he is just clueless and when the credits roll at the end, he is still clueless. He survived mostly because he ran, and got lucky.

Essentially, the movie is not an invasion movie with a family in the background. It is a family movie, which just so happens to take place in the background of an alien invasion. 11 years later, the movie has special effects that still hold up. The movie also does not make any attempt to explain what the aliens want from us. Perhaps, that is one way of the story conveying to us that perhaps, in life, disasters can happen. Most of the time, these disasters do not have a logical explanation. They happened because they did. Perhaps, disasters are an opportunity.

Here, cruise is the stereotypical dead beat father. For good or bad, his kids are stuck with him during an alien invasion. Even during this time, he is unable to connect with his son. He almost loses his daughter as well. The movie does not do him any favors either. Throughout the narrative, repeated evidence is provided to ensure that the audience knows that this guy essentially sucks. He cannot even sing a lullaby to calm his child down. His ex-wife did the right thing by taking the kids away from him, and marrying a far more successful who genuinely cares for the kids. The children's behavior towards him is also justified.

Another aspect of the movie is that no magic transition happens. Cruise does not turn into a super dad overnight. When he finally delivers his kids (not a spoiler because children never die in a spielberg movie!),he is still essentially the same guy that we saw in the beginning. He just happens to have the daring do to keep his children safe. That is probably just his maternal instincts coming out and doing the natural thing i.e. protect his offspring. There is no evidence that he will turn a new leaf, organize his life, get a better job and all that. However, he does have that satisfaction that he is a survivor. His children seems to have regained some respect for him, and perhaps, he will take this opportunity and make an attempt at something better.

At the end, that is what a good science fiction movie should be all about. Giving us a thoughtful perspective about human nature under different circumstances. Oh yeah, the aliens die because of the old 'microbes in the air'. It's kind of stupid but you have got to let is slide :)

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Befikre - a movie at odds with itself

Befikre is a movie that seems to be designed to a particular type of audience. It appears to be very progressive (a simple image search shows the leads in various states of undress) but also harkens back to primitive ideas about love and relationships. In fact, I am inclined to believe that the movie is a subtle mockery of the current generation while appearing to be appease them. All in all, the narrative is unable to make up its mind, and what we are left with is an extremely boring movie that is neither a comedy or a tragedy or a romantic story or even trying to convey something meaningful...or, at least, break some new ground.

While I ended up thoroughly bored by the movie, my companion seemed to enjoy it, and I suppose that is something. Then again, a bigger beef I have with the movie is that this movie is actually directed by the legendary 'Aditya Chopra'. That is perhaps is very shocking to me. For those who came late, this is the same guy who made DDLJ, Mohabbatein and my personal favorite, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. This is the guy who not only knows the story he is telling. He is also is a technical genius when it comes to attention to detail, camera work, character development and so on and so forth.

When I look at Befikre, I am convinced that perhaps this movie was done because AC was getting bored out of his mind. There is also the major factor that SRK is not in this movie. There is none of that character development. None of that technical innovation. The song lyrics do not have a depth attached to it. The movie is not shot in just one location, and the additional characters are card boards.

I hope this is simply one of those 'forgettable' hobby type activities by him, and that, his next movie will show him returning to his usual popular entertainment that are also labors of love.

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Xiaomi - good products - hopeless service

About a year ago, my 1520 died on me (something which is completely my fault) and I had to buy a new phone immediately. I could have gone with either OnePlus One or Mi4. After much discussion with self and others, I bought the Mi4. At the price I bought, the phone itself was awesome. Great processor, RAM and decent camera and display. Then, a year later, it finally died on me. So far, I was very impressed with the phone.

Then, I decided to check in with service center. Then, everything that can go wrong, went wrong.

  1. My issue was that the phone had stopped charging. Everything else (as confirmed by the engineer on call at the service center) was just fine.
  2. A day later, the engineer calls me and informs me that the charging point on the phone has gone defective. He quotes a price, and I agree to it. Then, I also ask him to replace the battery.
  3. A day later, the engineering promptly calls back and says, its all done.
  4. I go to collect it. Pay and collect the device.
  5. It's charging just fine. Then, I insert the SIM. Then, I realize that the SIM is not getting detected by the phone. Surprised, I check the SIM on my second phone, and the SIM is all good.
  6. I bring this to the attention of the engineer (and from here on, it just goes down hill)
  7. The engineer checks the phone and says, the motherboard has gone bad.
  8. I point out to him that before I gave the phone for repair, his colleagues informed me that only the battery point is faulty. Everything else is fine. Now, since the issue has arisen, it must be the service center's fault.
  9. The engineer says, that does not matter. If I want the SIM to work, I need to get the motherboard replaced. Then, he promptly walks back into the 'back room' which is 'employees only'.
  10. I demand to see the manager. The waiting desk person (the engineers are no longer interested to speak with me now) says that the manager is out.
  11. I demand the manager's number. The waiting desk person consults for half an hour, and then eventually gives me a phone number. The number is simply the store number, which I already had, and when dialed goes back to the waiting desk person who gave that number.
  12. I point this out to the waiting desk person. She says, that is all she can do.
  13. I return home. I call customer care and explain what happened. The care execute gives a complaint number, promising to escalate. A week later (and now months later) nothing has happened.
  14. I go to the official twitter handle, and send in a complaint. No response so far.
  15. I go to their official forums, and post for 2 weeks straight. The moderators don't address my issue. Instead, my thread is deleted because, by posting my issue continuously for 2 weeks, they say, I am spamming their forums.
  16. I get a phone call from a separate department - the post service feedback department - and I tell them what happened. They also promise to escalate. Nothing happens.

Eventually, I give up and decided to buy a phone from Oppo instead of the Mi5 or any other Mi device for that matter. Right now, I am decidedly confused with Mi, as a company. A lot of people say that they have had good experience with the service center. Perhaps my case was unique. One thing I get for sure. The mi folks have a system in place - a service center, forums, twitter handle, evaluation team, customer care team and so on. However, the people in the system are not doing their job and simply sucking at things. This episode is strangely reminiscent of another experience i had recently with Airtel. It's equally appalling. Both Xiaomi and Airtel can learn a lot from Vodafone.

At this point, as a customer, to other current and future buyers (including myself), I can only advise this much. Perhaps, we should not buy expensive stuff from Mi. For instance, I happily bought the mi band from them. I also bought the mi power bank. I may even buy their low range and mid range phones. However, I will never buy their high end products, and nor recommend others to buy it.

Xiaomi may be grabbing the headlines, do cool presentations and all that. At the end of the day though, it is just another cost cutting, low end company. Cheap products = cheap service. With that perspective, I am no longer upset about what happened with my Mi4 experience. Now, when I go online to buy their products, I set my expectations low for I am paying a low price.

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Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are here with offline option

[logo of amazon and netflix, obtained from their official logo disbersing media center links on their website]

A while ago, I blogged that Netflix should enable offline mode. I made a case as to why that is not just neccessary, but rather mandatory if netflix wishes to survive. And now, as of this writing not only is netflix offering offline video, amazon prime video is finally here. It just so happens that Prime Video always had offline mode.

For me, as a consumer, this is a god send. This and other scenarios such as the entry of Reliance Jio are a sign of things. It is not a coincidence that netflix and amazon video make an entry into the second most populous country in the world, and Jio launches in India. Internet has always been one of those things that was needed but not available. Despite the valiant efforts of Reliance, Jio will still fall well short of meeting the broadband needs of Indian consumers. However, at least, there is availability in a place where there none to start with. This explains why Netfilx and Amazon are making an entry into the Indian market.

This will also signify an intense shift in the way we consume media. The smartphone - cheap as it is - is perhaps the only gateway for a lot of folks to everything from accessing information to porn to entertainment. Now that (limited) broadband access is also in place, Netflix and Prime Video need to do what they can to get people to use it. I see this impacting a lot of folks in a variety of ways.

Obviously, Vodafone and Airtel will have to reduce their rates. They would rather make less money and keep their customers than the other way around. So, data rates and broadband rates should come down drastically, and then stay steady.

Compression technology should also improve incredibly. India will always be a special case when it comes to broadband speeds. We still believe 256 to 512 Kbps qualifies as 'broadband'. I am already seeing Prime Video offering to deliver an hour of content for less than 100 MB. That is just awesome. Of course, compression technology is usually open source. So, what we will probably see is innovation in the ability to compress content on the fly, and then deliver it.

Another place where I see this impacting is general entertainment. Especially, movie box office. The television has already taken a huge bite out of movie business (which explains why a box of popcorn costs more than the movie ticket itself). With folks being able to get entertainment on their mobile screens, there is an even less reason to step out of the home and sit in a cramped movie hall and watch half a dozen trailers, ads and what not, before the actual movie starts.

Then, there are the originals. As it is already happening with many bollywood productions, I fully expect some of the more advanced movie studios like YashRaj and Red Chillies to tie up with these streaming providers for exclusive content. I wont be surprised if SRK or Salman Khan produce and may be even act in special content. I expect them to have a huge pay day as well.

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Digitial Infrastructure (or the lack of it) and demonetization and cashlessness

[Image from wikimedia by Cawi2001]
Perhaps, one of the most significant economic decisions in my country was taken with the demonetization (and its sequel actions) in November, last month. Fortunately, I have already gone cashless for almost everything in my own life years ago. So...this action did not affect my day to day life. However, not everybody has gone cashless like me, and hence this is a sudden change for a lot of people. Since money is something that is part of our lifestyle, this change will force folks to live differently.

Is the demonetization good or bad, I cannot say. I don't know. My field of expertise is not money. However, every system depends on other systems. The direct effect of demonetization is going cashless and that rests solely on the digital infrastructure. It just so happens that I have already written about this issue before, and it looks like it is time to revisit the topic.

Here are some incidents to build the context here.

  • Last week, I was unable to get fuel at the petrol station. I have multiple bank cards (credit as well as debit) and multiple digital wallets (paytm, ola money, jio money, pockets by ICICI). Both the cards and the digital wallets have money in them. I offered the petrol vendor that I have 7 payments option to give him. However, he said, he cannot work with any of those because none of these systems are working for him.
  • I recently spoke with Vodafone (whom I totally love) and asked them, is there any chance that they will reduce their data charges. I told them that each and everyday (and especially after the demonetization) more data is being consumed. The current charges 250 rupees per GB (which is roughly 4 dollars) is incredibly expensive. While Vodafone offered me 50 % discount (but I had to buy an offer pack to get the discount in the first place) because of what Reliance Jio is doing (about whom I will talk next), Funnily enough, other service providers such as Airtel, Idea and so on, also have almost identical prices.
  • Reliance Jio finally launched this year, and I obtained one of their SIM cards. As of now, they are currently providing free data services. It looks like, post the free offer, their rates will be a lot lower (less than a dollar per GB). However, because they are free (and people love free stuff), their network is clogged pretty much all the time. Most of the time, I will be lucky if I can get more than 512 Kbps on the Jio network. However, I dont think it is Jio fault. It's a free lunch, so everybody eating, whether they are hungry or not.

The above bullet points sort of indicate, the simply bad digital infrastructure we have in place. Payment transactions not happening. Incredibly high prices for what is now an essential service. This is not just about the mobile service providers though. Perhaps, the rates are high because there is simply too large a population to serve and the operators dont want too many people using the internet in the first place. Perhaps, one reason too many people are clogging the Jio network is because the landline/home internet services simply dont exist either.

I live in two homes, switching between them constantly. Neither of my homes are in what can be called remote locations. We are both located right in the city limits, with hundreds of homes and buildings. Despite this, at both of homes, there is no reliable home broadband access. The service providers simply dont exist at one of my homes, and at the other, I have to pay insane rates (800 to 900 rupees or roughly 15 dollars) just to get 75 GB of data. When you consider that a standard game on Steam ranges from 20 to 60 GB, you see how things look bad. In fact, there are times when I bought a game for 5 dollars, but ended up paying an additional 15 dollars to download it!!! Oh, the irony!

At the end of the day, I remain, as ever, hopeful. I hope that perhaps now that we are inevitably moving to a cashless economy, basic internet access will be declared an essential services like roads, water. I am hoping that there will be a huge push to improving the broadband infrastructure. Perhaps in a few months, I will be paying 15 dollars and get 500 GB of data at my home. I hope that I can download any number of Steam games and movies on Netflix, without having to do data math in my head.

Hope springs eternal, man.

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farmers wait syndrome - the lull between work

A few months back, I floated this concept or syndrome or something similar called Consciously Careless. Recently, I ran into another such concept which I would like to call the 'farmers wait syndrome'.

The context is something like this. Farmers (at least the farmers I saw during my growing up years), as is the case with any profession, are influenced by their work requirements. A typical farmer will toil hard during the sowing season. This is the time when she/he will go ahead and prepare the soil and plant the seeds. Once the seeds are sown, there is (mostly) not much to do, except to wait for the plants to grow. Once the plants have grown, they will then be harvested and time to count the money.

I will, for the sake of convenience, call the activities before the 'waiting for plants to grow' part, 'seeding phase', and the activities after the 'waiting for the plants to grow' part, the 'harvesting phase'. Now, let us suppose for argument sake, the 'seeding phase', 'waiting for the plants to grow' and 'harvesting phase' together total 10 units of time. The 'seeding phase' might take 1 unit. The 'harvesting phase' might take 1 unit. Both of these phases will involve hectic work. There is so much work to do, and everybody involved is literally working from dawn to dusk.

However, the back breaking work only lasts 2 units. The remaining 2 units, the farmer has not much to do. To me, the question, is after the heavy duty stuff of those two phases, what does the farmer do in the 8 units of free time? Does the relatively lameness of the 8 unit time period affecting her or his ability to work? Does it have an effect on the mind? If this effect is one that can be described as negative, how does one negate the effects? It is these questions and the situation I like to call the 'farmers syndrome'.

Sometimes, and a lot of times, it does impact me. That nature of my work - as a trainer and developer - is such that, work comes in bursts and those bursts bring in large amount of work. Kind of like the seeding phase or harvesting phase. Then, there is a lull. There are stuff that people do, to avoid this lull and do it of course. However, what about those folks who are unable to fill this lull. What kind of productivity hit are we talking here? Then, there are other factors in play here. There are times when other scenarios could be misconstrued as the 'farmers wait syndrome'. In which case, applying the solutions to a non-farmers wait syndrome will not lead to any results.

Someday, perhaps, I might expand upon this idea. Till then, these are my thoughts on this topic. 

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