Apartment hunting in San Francisco

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Since I moved to San Francisco just over an year ago, I have often been asked by my other migratory friends about the apartment hunting process here. So, here are a few quick tips for those of you looking for an apartment in the city:

  • Look for listings on craigslist.com and livelovely.com all through the week (yes, do it while you are at work). Good apartments don’t stay on the market for long. So, call them and make an appointment as soon as possible.
  • Make a calendar of open houses and showing appointments for the upcoming weekend/weekdays.
  • Get to the open houses a little earlier than scheduled time.
  • Keep one packet of a bunch of important information about you for each of the open houses. This includes your credit report, pay statements, references address/phone numbers, chequebook, and whatever that can help you sell yourself. The owners are looking for stable income – the more the merrier!
  • Carry a pen to the open house.
  • You’re gonna have to make a quick decision to apply or not. If you want to show the place to someone else, take some pictures and share with them. While they are taking their time to pore over the pictures, you should be filling out the application – it’s usually ‘first come first serve’ if the owner gets more than one good application; and trust me, they always get more than one good application.
  • More about the last point – see a few bad apartments before you see a good one. If you love the first one you see, you’re probably going to be hesitant in applying without seeing any others.
  • Application are often free. So, apply even if there is a slight chance that you like the place (do this even if the application costs a small amount). This buys you more time to look at other apartments while they go through your app (takes ~1-2 day).
  • Look for constructions, fire stations, or any other sources of noise nearby. Open the windows and make sure that the noise level in the apartment is acceptable.
  • After seeing the place, take a quick walk around the block to check out the neighborhood in general.
  • Neighborhood crimespotting resource: http://sanfrancisco.crimespotting.org/
  • Use this tool to look up information about the building that you are interested in: http://ec2-50-17-237-182.compute-1.amazonaws.com/PIM/ -> Tells you the year in which the building was built which tells you if it is rent controlled or not.

Happy hunting!

PS: Image credit – http://www-conf.slac.stanford.edu/lp13/tourism.asp

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Manasi’s Birthday!

It was my wife, Manasi’s, birthday last weekend. Birthdays are usually a big deal in our family. We tend to go all out to surprise the birthday person. But, given that Manasi and I try to surprise each other every year, it gets progressively difficult every year – the other person is already aware of all the tricks that you have up your sleeve to surprise them! This year, my friend, Asha, came to my rescue. She suggested that we organize a treasure hunt for Manasi in our very own neighborhood of Seattle, Capitol Hill. It took us 10 days of meticulous planning, gift shopping and a bunch of coding for a WindowsPhone  treasure hunt application and we were all set for the D-day.

This is how it all unfolded – On her birthday, when she woke up, I was already out of the house. She found some instructions on her bedside table that told her to get ready and leave the house within the next hour. When she was ready to start the hunt, she got her clues (one by one) on the custom application that I had written for her. When she figured out where a clue pointed to, she would go to that place and find her gift – either with the checkout person at a cafe or just lying on the sidewalk or hidden underneath a streetside statue! Once she found the gift, she would have to open the app on her phone which would check her in at the location (on facebook as well). Only when she had successfully checked-in, would she get the clue to the next location i.e. her next gift. All the while she was out and about looking for her gifts, 3 of our friends – Asha, Gaurav, and Jugal – and I were running around in our perfect disguises (Gaurav deserves a callout here for the homeless guy disguise!) placing the gifts at the locations right before she arrived and then, hiding ourselves nearby to make sure nobody else other than her picked up the gifts. We perfected the ‘art’ of stalking that morning!

It took her about 2 hours to find all 9 of her gifts. It was not so long that she would get dead tired and just long enough to make her and the rest of us super hungry. Therefore, the last clue was very wisely chosen to point to our favorite brunch place on the hill (the fact that we had to wait for more than 30 minutes to get a table there was another story!).  Overall, I think it turned out very well. The clues were pretty good (probably a bit on the easy side or may be Manasi was just very good!), the app worked perfectly, the stalking and other logistics were flawless (she never realized that we were around her at any time), and most importantly, she enjoyed it!

I have all the clues shown in the picture gallery below. One or two of them would make sense only to her as they relate to some events from our lives but most of them are generic enough for you to give a shot. So, if you live in Capitol Hill, or anywhere in Seattle, check them out and see if you can figure out where the treasures were hidden. I’ll post an update later with all the locations.

PS: If you want to know more about the app or Windows Phone in general, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Pump it up!

It’s been 3 years and 2 months since I have been dealing with all the syringes, needles, lancets, insulin and testing strips  every day. During this time, I’ve gone through numerous “situations” at the dinner/lunch table. I’ve listed some of them that are relevant to this post down here:

“I’ve already taken the insulin shot according to what I thought we were eating. You guys go ahead and order the dessert”! aka “you suckers! couldn’t you have thought about the dessert in the beginning itself!”

or

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! shit! I can’t scream out loud in the middle of the office cafeteria! suck it up! suck it up!”

or somebody at the dinner table saying:

“Oh crap! I can’t watch this! I am just going to be rude, leave my dinner and walk out of here while you finish injecting yourself with something that saves you from dying everyday.” or something a little politer than that.

Something in the way I manage my diabetes changes today – in a good way. Now, I don’t have to deal with any of the situations listed above and I don’t even have to care about injections anymore! Instead, I am going to care about something way more sophisticated than that.

What’s different?

I finally have this brilliant piece of technology attached to my belly (trust me when I say that it is better than injections) that pumps the insulin under my skin all through the day. It’s called Omnipod. Here is how it looks:

Omnipod - Pod and the PDM

My first Omnipod - Attached to my belly.

It contains an insulin tank and a stepper motor that pumps a constant (or variable) rate of insulin (called basal insulin) to me throughout the day. And when I want to eat something, I whip out this other device called PDM from my pocket and press a few buttons. The PDM (Personal Diabetes Manager) talks to the pump over radio frequency and asks it to deliver the extra insulin (called bolus) for the food that I am about to eat. And that’s it! I put the PDM back in my pocket and start eating – no poking, no needles, no showing off your six pack (ha!) to the world.

Actually, I lied a bit there when I said “no needles”. How can a diabetic live without needles now – can he? My diabetic control still is completely in my hands which means I still need to

  • Test my blood sugar by poking my fingers 4-6 times a day. [Here are the needles!]
  • Count carbohydrates in whatever I am about to eat before eating it and tell my PDM to deliver insulin accordingly.
  • Fly the airplane just as before – See the analogy here
  • Stuff my face with whatever I can find in case my blood sugar goes low.
  • And most importantly, refuse to share any food with the friends by saying – “Sorry, I already took insulin for this.” 😉

Scary Stuff!

And ofcourse, the pump is attached to me by a really strong adhesive and lasts about 3 days. So, I need to take it off every 3 days and install a new one. Now, there are a couple of problems with doing just that. First – a tiny tube (called a canulla) doesn’t just get under your skin without a needle poke. So, here come more needles. Although, the insertion process is automatic and not nearly as painful as my biggest scare about this whole setup – the pod removal. You see, being an Indian, I have been “blessed” with a very hairy belly and arm (see Russel Peters explain that to you here). I am just horrified by the thought of waxing myself twice a week! But, I’ll get to that when I get to the first pod removal day (just 2 more days to go :o).

I own my data!

Apart from getting rid of the injections, there is one more thing that my Omnipod does for me – it keeps all of the information in one place. In my old setup, I had my blood sugars in my glucometer, the amount of insulin I took in my head, and the amount of carbs I ate also in there somewhere in my head. Diabetes is different for everyone – everyone behaves differntly to different kinds of food, activities, exercises, seasons, stress, sickness, insulin. In order to manage diabetes better, you need to understand your own diabetes. In order to understand your diabetes, you need to be able to look at all the data and the graphs. This allows you to figure out what affects your blood sugar and how, so that you can make better decisions in future. This is all just a very complicated feedback loop with a lot of inputs. The problem with my old setup was that all the information was in different places and I am obviously not diligent enough to collect all of it and put it in an excel spreadsheet to visualize it. My Omnipod PDM, on the other hand, has a glucometer inside it. It also tells me how much insulin I should take if I tell it how many carbs I am eating. So, there you go – blood glucose, insulin, and carbs: all the data inside my PDM! Now, I can surely understand my diabetes better than ever before.

Shortcomings – what’s that?

Inspite of all this awesomeness, there are some shortcomings that I have noticed. But today is not the day for the shortcomings. I am too pumped up to point out any issues with it right now. I’ll post about them once I have had enough experience wearing this beautiful thing! Until then, expect some more posts about the pure awesomeness of this device!

The Pacman Phenomenon

I had a great trip to India a couple of months ago. Before I flew out of Seattle, I was a bit skeptical about how I would like my time there. I was going back after 2 years, and given the pace at which India runs, a whole lot could have changed, or may be, nothing at all! I wasn’t sure how my perspective of looking at things had changed in the last two years I had spent in US. The first and the most striking of these things was the traffic.

Traffic is the first real Indian experience you have once you are chucked out of the comfortable seats of the aircraft with overly courteous air hostesses and the supposedly good Indian food. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game on Indian roads. Everyone is in a hurry, trying to get somewhere and no one knows for sure what the traffic rules really are – heck, nobody really cares what they are! The only time that we spend educating people about traffic rules in India is in a 15 minute session by a middle school teacher in standard 5. ‘Drive on the left side of the road’ – that’s the only rule that I know for sure exists – not always followed but a large majority of people know about it. An Indian driver doesn’t really understand why the road is painted with different lines in various places. He doesn’t know because nobody told him. So, he makes up his own hypothesis of what the lines are supposed to be used for. My personal favorite is the case of the lane divider dotted line. An Indian driver – in most of the cases – does not know (or not care) that the line is supposed to divide the road into various lanes. A line in the middle of the road actually serves as a great line of reference for him to make sure that the car is going straight. So, he decides to drive his car ON the dotted line all the time – half of his car sitting in one lane and the other half in another lane. And it’s not like I am saying this because I had one bad experience with a bad driver in India. My findings are supported by a good amount of empirical data (at least 5 drivers) gathered during my trip to India. Sitting in the front seat of the car, next to the driver, I couldn’t help but feel like a pacman gobbling up all the dots in the line, not missing a single one and enjoying it all the while. And it wasn’t just me showing the love for the delicious dots on the road. There were a whole lot of other pacmans on the road. Indian roads seemed to be swept over by something I now like to call The Pacman Phenomenon.

The Pacman Phenomenon

If you looks a bit more closely, you’ll find that there’s a huge difference in the basic mindset of an Indian driver and an American driver. Driving in India – I would like to say – is very defensive. I know that I am contradicting myself by calling driving in India a survival of the fittest game and then calling it defensive. But that’s the beauty of it – an Indian driver has to be defensive to save himself but he doesn’t really care about what other drivers are doing – he keeps killing other animals on the road and keeps safe by saving himself from them at the same time. Take for instance, the common example of changing lanes. In America, it’s a very widely accepted rule that if you are changing lanes, you are responsible for making sure that other drivers are not affected by it. A driver driving in the next lane just keeps on speeding away and you adjust your lane changing move according to where he is. In India, on the other hand, this driver in the other lane has to make sure that he doesn’t get killed because a car in the next lane decided to change lanes. It’s a very widely accepted rule that the car in the next lane is not expected to check before making the move. It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep themselves and only themselves from getting killed. And that is why I call this kind of driving defensive. Obviously, both Indian and American systems work – well, people have been driving on roads in these two countries for decades now. But, I personally believe that an anarchical traffic system like India’s only leads to a higher number of accidents, a high mortality rate, higher stress levels, more traffic jams, and a longer commute time on average.

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I am in blues today

I have those days like the Tour De Cure day when l think that diabetes may actually be a good thing. And then I have some days when everything that could go wrong goes wrong and I feel like diabetes was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Last three days definitely belonged to the latter category. Before I talk about my awful weekend, some updates: I got a call from my endocrinologist Friday evening about my test results. He told me that my HbA1c had gone down to 6.1 (yayyy!!), TSH was good at 2.3 (I think) but C-peptide was down at 0.5. What that means in plain English is that my pancreas is not producing much (or any) insulin of its own now but I am still maintaining good blood sugar levels. I knew it was going to happen one day or another, so, that was not a shocker at all. I am fully reliant on externally injected insulin now.

So, the same evening, I somehow get away from work (actually, I just ran away for one evening! couldn’t take it anymore!) and went out with friends – ate out, had cheesecake for dessert. My blood sugar after a few hours – 257. I go to sleep, wake up with 177. I inject lantus, drink just a glass of milk for breakfast and keep testing my blood sugar for next 5 hours – 158, 147. The same trend of eating less and high blood sugar continues for the rest of the day. Today, I inject the same 12 units of lantus again and eat 2 slices of bread in the morning at 1030. I dont eat a thing for 4 hours after that and my blood sugar goes up to 244 (after 4 hours!).

Now, my cause of frustration was not just my blood sugar but also the effect it was having on my weekend. It was an awesome weekend and I had decided to work through the whole of it to catch up on some stuff. But, high blood sugar and complicated programming do not go well together. I was feeling really crappy all through the weekend and couldn’t sleep well last night. Because I was feeling crappy, I couldn’t work as well as I should have, and thus was feeling even worse. So, all in all, it was a really really crappy weekend.

As far as my blood sugars are concerned, I think my lantus was the culprit. It had gone bad or something and wasn’t working at all. I took out another pen and it looks like it is working fine. It’s too early to judge but I’ll find out for sure by tomorrow. Gotta try to get some sleep now.

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Diabetes – Handicap? WTF!

Note: I am very frustrated right now, so, a number of things in this article may reflect those emotions. I’ll try my best to not put any swear words in the post though.

I am sure everyone has heard about Judge Sotomayor’s nomination to Supreme Court by now. Along with being the first Hispanic woman in the Supreme Court, she’ll also be the first type I diabetic in there. When the diabetes community heard about this, we were all happy – we were blogging and tweeting about this like crazy (AFP). This was until I read this article being run by Time magazine – Sotomayor’s Diabetes: Will It Be a Handicap?. This is one of the most disappointing article I’ve ever read about diabetes. The basic theme of the article is that Judge Sotomayor might not be able to perform her duties well enough because she is a type I diabetic. It goes on to say and I quote – “The nominee’s chronic condition is worth noting, since it puts her at increased risk of several serious medical conditions, including heart disease, kidney problems, blindness and nerve damage — and an increased risk of early death.” WHAT??!! What the hell is he talking about? There are a few reasons why this statement of his statement PISSED ME OFF:

  1. Basically, what he’s trying to say is that it may not be a good idea to give so much responsibilities to a type I diabetic. And that pisses me off. You are entitled to say that about anyone (not someone with a condition, but, anyone) once you have realized that he/she is unable to handle those kind of responsibilities. But, if you make such a statement about a person with a condition like diabetes without any references to his/her past performance, you are discriminating – in my eyes, you are no better than a racist. Sotomayor has been a judge for past 15 years and has been fulfilling her responsibilities without any problems. I don’t know why moving to Supreme Court would change anything at all. They are still allowed to eat snacks and inject insulin in there .. right?
  2. We, diabetics, spend a lot of brain cycles thinking about balancing out our carb intake with our insulin intake to make sure that we maintain those good blood glucose numbers. Good, consistent blood glucose numbers is something that we take pride in. And bad high and low numbers make us feel really guilty. That’s how diabetes management system works 24×7 at the back of our minds.
    The complications that the author lists in the article are basically caused by consistent high blood sugar (and not diabetes) – diabetes causes high blood sugar if it is not managed properly. So, I would read the above statement (quoted from the article) as an insult to my diabetes management skills. All of us our trying to maintain a normal lifestyle living with diabetes. We are doing things that normal people do – heck, we are doing better; we are becoming judges in Supreme Courts! But the system is still running 24×7 at the back of our minds. The pissing off part: You can’t just write a totally under-researched article in the time magazine and say that we are all going to die soon because we all have high blood sugar. If you do not know anything about anything, just shut the f@@k up!
  3. The article lists a number of inaccurate facts about type I diabetes in general. I would expect a minimal amount of research about the topic if the article is going to show up on the website of time magazine.

I am not writing this to tell people about how difficult it is – no, I don’t think that way and that’s not the intent of this post. I just want to say – I don’t deserve any discrimination just as I don’t deserve any sympathy because of my condition.

Inspired

I ride with DiabetesRedRider
As far back as I can remember, I’ve never been a performer. Never went on the stage to act in a play, to dance or to sing. I was never great at sports; still, I tried a bit but was thrown out of teams pretty quickly. Looking back, I do feel like I should have tried a bit more to do something and find my passion rather than just kill myself studying all the time but I still don’t regret any of it. On the other hand, I love performers and inspirational characters. Heck, I’ve seen ‘The Last Lecture’ a million of times! There’s so much that I need to learn from these great people, so many important lessons to live my life. Whenever I see or hear one of them, I am usually very inspired and feel great standing up and clapping for them. Just joining my hands and clapping for them to show my appreciation makes me feel really good! Ever wondered (or experienced), how it feels like if someone is clapping for you because you inspired them so much that they just want to show their appreciation? I haven’t. That’s because I am not one of those great people. I am just another software engineer who’s sitting in his balcony writing a blog for himself!

I participated in an ADA fundraising bike ride today where a number of people – some diabetics and others non-diabetics – come and bike hoping for a cure for the disease. All the diabetic riders in the event are given a special status of ‘RED Rider’ and this super-awesome Jersey that says ‘I Ride With Diabetes!’ I was wearing that jersey and was super-duper excited about it! As we lined up at the start line, the announcer asked if there were any Red Riders in the bunch. 6-7 of us raised our hands (and because I was super-duper excited, I also shouted out ‘whoooohoooo!’ at the same time!). And then to my surprise, everyone started clapping for us! The clapping went on for a couple of seconds and in those 2 seconds, I was more sure than ever that I getting diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes was really not as bad a thing as I thought it was! I wasn’t doing anything really great – I was going to bike 45 miles just like everyone else in the bunch. Ofcourse, like always, I had to make sure that I keep track of my blood sugar levels while I am doing it. But, I felt really really good standing there and watching people clap for all of us. It felt like all of them understood what it takes to live 24×7 with this disease. Now, I know that most of them were there for just a fun-filled ride on an awesome day and they probably thought that if it was for a good cause, that’s an icing on the cake. But, all of them raised funds, came to participate in the event, and clapped for all the red riders in the crowd – it’s a good enough motivation for me to keep going, thinking that all of them are standing beside us in our fight against diabetes.

There’s one line that Prof. Randy Pausch said in his last lecture that has had a huge impact on my life: “We can’t change the cards we’re dealt, just how we play the hand”. The thing that made me happy about today was that may be, by a really really remote chance, I inspired one of those people in the crowd to think about this and just play the hand that they are dealt.

A War: That’s what it is …

Here’s a video I came across on youtube. It’s not very dramatic, not a boring lecture, and not funny. Just a simple plain account of a day in the life of a kid with Type I.

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