Sunday, April 30, 2006

First Book

After begging and bribing J for several months to read me a book, she obliged last evening. The book is called Who Is Who by Patricia C. McKissack and it is A Rookie Reader. She had shown some interest in a couple of Dr. Seuss books before but it had not proved enough to overcome what I think was the "fear of reading".

She has been able to read four and five letter words for a while now but the progression from discrete words to whole sentences seemed to scare her. The more I tried to make her take the leap the more she resisted until I gave up. With J I have learnt to push only so far and no further. But maybe I had not quite given up yet.

Yesterday morning I spoke in her language. I said to J "All my friends have their babies read to them. I am the only Mommy whose baby does not read to her. That makes me really really sad. I never get a turn to tell them what J read to me". J said in all seriousness "I'll read to you today so you can tell your friends, J reads to you too"

There were a couple of mothering lessons for me in this thing. First, I should have introduced reading with something that would be effortless for her - maybe a book for 6-12 month olds that have just one or two words a page. Second, use J-speak when other channels of communication fail.I don't know about her, but it was quite a momentous evening for me.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Pass Thought

If I live long enough and technology incubates fast enough, I might be checking my bank account online autheticated just by thinking the correct password in my mind. The new biometric signature pass-thought seems incredibly cool and rather scary.

What if someone came up with the equivalent of the Trojan-hearse malware that intercepted your thoughts and scrambled them. Its one thing to have your computer and data held to ransom and quite another to have your mind remote controlled. Sounds more science fiction than science but that could very well change in a few decades.

This is technology that feels a little too close for comfort.

Friday, April 28, 2006

At A Carnival

I took J to the spring carnival at what will be her elementary school come September. It was gorgeous day and the grounds were full of kids in bright summer colors having fun. J absorbed the scenery more than she participated in anything - I guessed the crowds must have overwhelmed her. We sat on the grass watching the excitement all around. In the far distance they were playing music - surprisingly Beach Boys.

Then I heard Johnny Cash singing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!'' I wondered who had picked that song and how it could be considered appropriate for the occasion. You read about purging schools of weapons and then on a carnival at an elementary school they play music about one man killing another just to see him die. Only days ago the Columbine High school massacre of April 99 was being commemorated in the media. Something felt wrong about this picture - almost disturbingly so. All around the fun times rolled on. No one had paid the slightest attention to Johnny Cash.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tie That Binds

An WSJ opinion piece written by an woman just a few days ago, brought memories of home (India) and grandmotherly advise. Naomi Schaffer Riley argues that feminism endangers women and defies common sense. Drinking alone at bar at 3:00 a.m. is inviting trouble and rapists alike.

Growing up I had heard grandma say "She should have known better" while talking of women who had been sexually assaulted. To ask why it should be acceptable to have rapists at large was never questioned. Presumably there are all kinds of sick people in the world and you had to look out for yourself.

I find myself sitting on the fence like I did in my growing up years wondering if Riley is right or wrong. I am already teaching J about "bad people" with bad intent and how they may try to snare her. I don't feel any qualms about outraging her innocence in describing what a "bad guy" might do to her. I am being a typical paranoid mother. Not once am I questioning why these lessons should be necessary in a free and equal society.

As women we learn to "know better" very young, it gets baked into our gene. We pass those lessons to our daughters in an infinite chain. Our survival instincts are as keen and strong as animals in the wild who know to protect themselves and their young from predators. Like them we do not question the divine order of things. In the mix there will be vultures and hyenas as there will be rapists and serial killers.

How little is different between the wild and the civilized, between generations, countries and colors. How little is different between Ms. Riley of WSJ and my illiterate grandmother who never saw beyond the backwaters of her mofussil town.The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Packaging Gaffes

I have been following the Kaaya Vishwanathan's story about a story with interest. Thanks to Joe Malchow's, post on the subject I discovered Ivywise - a hothouse for grooming kids for Ivy League schools. Apparently Vishwanathan was packaged by them.

I haven't had a chance to real the Opal Mehta story but seems from reviews like a harmless and uninspired piece of teen chick-lit with a desi flavor for zing. Successful teenage writers are not all that uncommon, but when a seventeen year old wins a half a million dollar book contract they come under intense public scrutiny as Ms Vishwanathan is.

Carson McCullers was twenty one when she wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. There is nothing adolescent about her theme or her masterful handling of it. Vishwanathan's youthful celebrity is unlike McCullers' in every possible way and for that she is fated to be hounded by charges of "plagiarism" and those of "packaging" herself and her book for the big league.

What a sad and early end to a literary wannabe tale. Moral of the story : Better to arrive late without pomp and circumstance than early only to go down in a sudden blaze of glory.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Kindergarten Enrollment

I have many memories of school admissions mostly unpleasant ones. The first time was starting kindergarten at what was supposed to be the best school in town. My mother was a woman on a mission - she would move heaven and earth if that's what it took to get me enrolled there. It turned out that she had a friend who had graduated from there summa cum laude. One summer morning, I was taken to be "introduced" to the school principal by mom's friend.

I remember the anxiety that clouded all discussions in our home about my kindergarten admission and my mother's painstaking efforts to prep me for the "audience" that I had been so fortunately granted. At less than four I had been tasked with making the equivalent of an elevator speech and work my way in. I could tell a lot was at stake on how I fared. I don't remember what (if anything) I was asked. Maybe the event and all that led up to it was stressful enough to make me forget.

Thanks to my mother's "connections" I was enrolled without having to jump through the hoops as I would have to several othe times in my life. School admissions have been associated with mom and I visiting schools, waiting outside the principal's office, serpentine queues of people waiting for admission forms, tests and the agonizing wait to find out if I had made it.

I enrolled J at kindergarten today. I had arrived before time expecting to see a long line of parents. The whole process took less than twenty minutes. J and the other kids colored and watched Barney as we parents completed the paperwork. They will have an orientation program in a few weeks and then another one just before school starts. The school
enjoys a great reputation and made a wonderful first impression on me and J. I could not help thinking about the contrast in our "starting kindergarten" experience. I missed my mother dearly this morning and wished her life had been easier.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Primitive Art

My grandfather had an ancient Kodak box camera he had bought second hand in the 1930s. It was his pride and joy. When the season and the slant of the sun was just right he would herd the family up to the terrace to take pictures. There are many shutter bugs in the family with sophisticated equipment but none can rival him as a photographer.

I learnt from him that a good photograph is about perceiving the mundane and commonplace in an extraordinary way. It is about having an artistic slant to life. That a bare terrace with crows perched on clothes-lines is as good a background as any other if your eye is keen and focused on your subject. That a pinhole camera can create lasting works of art.

It would have warmed Grandpa's heart to see the beautiful images one giant and primitive camera has created.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tracing On Mist

Sometimes on a misty morning, I trace J's name on the window pane. I remember the first time I did it on a whim. J watched me and her face lit with happiness. "Mommy wrote my name on the window !" she squealed in delight. Since then she looks forward to mist at daybreak and will ask me to trace her name on it. I have no idea why this ritual has come to be so special for both of us. There are perhaps "muted meanings" in the impermanence of writing on water that are for me to discover.

Wet Poet by John Engle

Today the rain
writes warm, wet poetry
on my window pane.

Long, liquid lines
arrange themselves
in lyrical patterns
and designs
that flow
with muted meanings
that I need to know.

And as I read,
my words
are taught to fly
with music
brought to me
by cloud and sky.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sophie's Choice

I had tried to read Sophie's Choice by William Styron years ago and did not make it past twenty pages - it just did not flow at a pace that makes reading pleasurable for me. I watched the movie this evening and it made me cry.

Maybe because I am the mother of a little girl, it left me feeling terribly depressed and disturbed. I know I will not be able to get over the image of Meryl Streep making the choice that would haunt her for life or the heart rending cries of her baby girl as she is taken away to die.

Sometimes when you have read a book and loved it, your expectations from the cinematic transfer come in the way of being able to enjoy the movie. I am glad I did not read the book before, now I don't want to because it may take away from the Sophie I got to know. I don't know if Alan Paluka stayed faithful to Styron's story but to have Streep bring his character to life so amazingly could be a writer's dream come true.

This is possibly the most powerful performance of Meryl Streep I have ever seen. So immediate and real is her portrayal of the holocaust horror, that she made me grateful beyond belief to have a living, breathing child to hold close to my heart.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cake Burger

Apparently having a sweet tooth is not a male thing. Real men would rather disguise their cake as a burger than be caught eating "cake"

There are plenty of sweet-toothed men, but many feel too embarrassed to eat elaborate cakes and the like in public. For men like this, especially middle-aged businessmen, the great thing about the sweets at Mamido's Burger is that they come disguised as fast food. Such men can now walk around town munching away, safe in the knowledge that nobody will ever suspect that what they have in their hand is not a hamburger but a cake. Perhaps this is why men number so highly among the shop's patrons.

The success of the cake burger venture is perhaps explained by the role food plays in perceptions about gender held by the individual and society.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Liberated Desi Female

In my town, there are more Indian women at the workplace and the desi grocery stores than there were seven years ago. What's more they are of a very different stripe as well. A lot of them I can tell have arrived fairly recently from India and are working onsite for their clients.

The girls from the bigger metros are smartly turned out and at perfect ease in their surroundings. More often than not they have worked in the US and elsewhere in the world before. Typically in their late 20s to early 30s, these women are largely single and seem to be enjoying it. A lot of them tend to be conspicuous spenders. Its heart-warming to see how far the desi woman has come along. Back in the day all one saw was the hapless H4 wife that followed her H1 husband mutely wherever he lead her devoting her energies to finding "good deals" on everything that her household needed or desired.

Given the abundance, one would imagine the desi guys would be spoilt for choice when their thoughts turned to matrimony. Yet the four week vacation to India for the engagement, marriage and honeymoon combo package is very much in currency with no signs of slowing down or stopping. I find that bewildering to say the least.

"Not quite" opines my friend S. "Why not ? These are educated, well groomed, attractive women and already in the US on their own. Why on earth would a man pick up a random photograph his mom selected to go marry in India when he can find someone compatible right here. It makes no sense." I say.

"Sure, they are all of that. Would a desi guy date them ? Sure. Shag them ? Absolutely. Marry them ? No way." he informs me. "And why the hell not ?" I ask. "Because they are not the type guys get married to" he tells me.

"So how do you know the girl back home is any different ?" I ask. "You don't go marry a girl that lives alone in a big Indian city and works late hours at a call center. They are no different from what you see here." he says.

I see S in due season finding himself the coy and demure Indian woman who had her modesty and innocence zealously guarded by her family within the confines of her home. Until then he will continue to date and shag the liberated Indian woman abroad without remorse.

"So do these women know what you guys are after ?" I ask him. "Mostly they do and they are quite ok with the arrangement. They understand they can't be the stereotypical desi wife we require and don't want to either. So what choice do they have ?" says S.

"But aren't these women a lot more interesting than the virgin vegetables you guys go home to find ? " I ask

"Sure, they are. But marriage is about the long-haul. These chicks are just not marriage material. They can get a guy to stray but not to commit and stay. Too bad for them" he responds.

Since we had this conversation I'm no longer sure if I should be excited about the confident, emancipated Indian women who can say "the world is my oyster". I see them look longingly at J. I recognize that look - I used to have it too until I became a mother. If the statistics are to be believed 25% to 40% of modern Indian women don't want children. The rest, I presume, do and hear the biological clock ticking ominously as many false hopes like S come and go out of their lives.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Instantly Accessible Memories

My memory is often like a sieve and what's more fairly random about deciding what to retain and what to let go. As a student, committing stuff to memory took forever and still remained perilously close to slipping away. Over the years I have found lesser and lesser use for my ability to remember and so my inability is not quite the handicap it once used to be. James D. Watson's essay "On My Mind" talks about long lasting memories and why it is not as valuable an asset to human beings as it once used to be. He says:

Until the development of written languages, all of human experience and culture had to be carried in our brains. Older people with vast memories of the past were necessarily more respected than their younger, less-experienced counterparts. Today, however, much of our culture is stored in books, in musical scores, in enduring works of art, and now in the hard drives of computers.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fragrant Films

I was excited to read on Yahoo News "Movie fans bored with hi-tech sound effects and graphics will soon be able to experience cinematic smells". My first guess was some company like Digiscents had finally made good on their promise of being able to permute and combine the basic smell types to create the full olafactory spectrum. So I was dissappointed by a system considerably cruder " The six smells, which include forests and citrus, are released under cinemagoers' seats."

Years from now this may well read like the first attempt to make a talkie movie. You started with a live orchestra playing backstage and moved on to better things. Maybe there is hope for scent technology yet. I was never quite able to figure why VCs did not think Digiscents had potential.

I remember trying to convince R (my ex) that we should take a look at their API (which they were giving away to developers for free along with the SDK), because this could be huge if it worked out. R had smiled at me indulgently and said "You go ahead. I much rather figure out WAP and mCommerce stuff". This was 1999. Its not for nothing that they pay him what they do to be technology evangelist.

Monday, April 17, 2006

To See List

For those of us who are drawn by places of historical interest, the itinerary is clearly planned and prioritized (if one goes by the year when noted at risk) by this list of endangered world heritage sites. There is also the most endangered sacred sites around the world. There are many such lists out there with different criteria for inclusion.

I regret most the places in India that feature on these lists that I never visited some of which were literally down the road from the where I've lived and grown up in India.

Yet when I think about it what's to regret ? Would it not be worse to have seen history and to have it disappear twenty years later like it never existed. Maybe the endangered sites are much better served if tourists did not feel like it was their last chance to see it. That may give nature enough time to heal.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Below The Belt

Reading a Russian political leader's characterization of Condi Rice in this article from Daily Times got me wondering if he may have taken similar liberties in talking about a powerful, single man.

It is sad and shameful that men will stoop so low and that the most powerful woman in the world is not immune to crude remarks about her personal life. Instead of rebutting her offending statement about Russia as would befit a political adversary and an intellectual equal, he chooses the crude, tasteless option of hitting below the belt.


"This is because she is a single woman who has no children. She loses her reason because of her single status. Nature takes it all. Such women are very rough. They are all workaholics, public workaholics. They can be happy only when they are talked and written about everywhere:"
...

"This is the only way to satisfy her needs of a female. She derives pleasure from it. If she has no man by her side at her age, he will never appear. Even if she had a whole selection of men to choose from, she would stay single because her soul and heart have hardened."

Its only fair then that smaller fry like this correspondent for Daily Times would piggy-back on Zhirinovsky's statements in his diatribe against Rice. Its interesting how universal male insecurity is in the face of a smart woman in a position of power.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Middle Aged Teens

Most often, teen fashion looks perfectly nice on teens but on not their moms even if the woman in question is in great shape. It is increasingly common, however, to see older women dressed like teens. In doing so they do disservice both to themselves and their children who are likely to view them as flippant if not undignified role models. How seriously can a boy of sixteen take a mother who wears low slung rhinestone encrusted jeans not unlike his girlfriend ?

When women keep up with latest fashion, they keep up with icons increasing younger than they are. As time goes by the disparity between the consumer and ramp models who dictate their choice of clothes and accessories increases. There comes a point when a woman needs to find her own style or seek role models closer to her age or run the risk of looking ridiculous on clothes that are twenty years too young for her.

While many older women have bodies that can fit in painlessly into teen-wear, it does not give them elegance and sophistication that makes an older woman stand out in a youthful crowd. A middle aged woman can look more attractive than she did at sixteen if the years added to the body of her life. It is like Sophia Loren once said "There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Spanner In Works

Though its well known, acknowledged old news every once in a while the "real" cost savings from outsourcing makes headlines. That it may take "research" to derive the obvious, common sense conclusion is quite baffling.

"This research proves that the promise of massive operational savings is unrealistic when you take into account the costs of procurement and ongoing contract management,"

One small detail that researchers don't seem to uncover is the role that fear of unemployment plays. Most places I have consulted typically have a local resource that acts as the lead developer and designer - the number of such resources is proportional to the size, "presumed complexity" and budget of the project. More often than not these individuals act as a major bottleneck in the process and play havoc with planned expenses.

The typical lead developer/designer (from my experience) has not had an opportunity to keep up with latest technology because they were too busy trying to keep their jobs. The technology skills they have are at least ten years too old and will not be any use to them once they lose their current job. It does not help that they are in the late 30s sometimes early 40s - the twilight zone of a development career in IT.

Their modus operandi on outsourced projects is to provide minimal information upfront to the team offsite and zero oversight through the development and testing cycles. When at last all is done, they begin complaining bitterly about the abominable end product that they now have to work overtime to fix and render acceptable.

I have heard the line "The offshore code sucks so bad that it needs a full re-write" more times than I remember. Clueless middle management does not recognize that code cutting is no rocket science and that if the lead developer/designer had done their job code would the least of anyone's concerns. Instead they have this person work overtime to "fix" what should not have been broken to begin with. Not once does anyone question why they had not anticipated the extent of damage until the final product was delivered. Is that not their role ?

After all is said and done, everyone bemoans the lack of savings from the deal, powers that be proceed to switch vendors to remediate the situation and researchers write up thesis on the failed promises of outsourcing. In failing to take the human element of the problem into account everyone gets it wrong and we as consumers pay for expensive mistakes.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Class And Caste

The Indian caste system is much maligned in the west and desis of the progressive stripe try hard to take "caste" out of their genes and system. Professor R Vaidyanathan of IIM Bangalore has a very interesting and logical counterpoint. He argues :

"..the caste system is undeniably a valuable social capital, which provides a cushion for individuals and families to deal with society and the state. The Western model of atomising every individual to a single element in a right-based system and forcing the individual to have a direct link with the state has destroyed families and erased communities. Every person stands alone, stark naked, with only rights as his imaginary clothes to deal directly with the state. "

The west has its "caste system" too. It distinguishes very sharply between new and old money, the colors black, brown and white among other things. Only the "system" of classification does not take unique inclinations and talents of a group of people into consideration. In as such, it fails to harness the strength these individuals could bring to bear were they to act as a group.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Linked And Apart

Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a disarmingly charming little book. It does not read like a scholarly tome and is like an interesting story told by someone erudite with a mildly avuncular air. In summary it makes for very enjoyable reading and a Sunday afternoon well spent.

It was fun to test the six degrees of separateness rule. I picked Bill Gates to check if the rule applied to me. Turns out I could be about two degrees away given that I have an acquaintance in Microsoft who worked pretty close to Gates a couple of years ago.

Knowing someone that links to a major hub puts you several degrees closer to anyone you care to link with. For instance, my friend Kate's sister is an aspiring Hollywood starlet and that gets all of us who know Kate several degrees close to stars who would have otherwise been completely out of reach. Kate becomes our connection to the Hollywood hub.

Everyone knows someone who is either connected to a hub or knows someone who is. It was fascinating to work out how many major hubs were less than three degrees away from me.

In spite of all the closeness and the bewildering maze of connections that I seem to be a part of, I have no idea who lives next door and would not know of a way to connect to them. A hundred years ago, we would have been living in a village where everyone knew everyone with only one degree of separation between them. Maybe we could have never been able to connect to anyone half way across the globe or claimed to be two degrees apart from the Clintons.

Yet on a difficult day, there was a community that came over and stood by you. It was hard to both feel alone and be left alone. What's to say life in a village was not superior to our six degrees separated existence where so many connections exist in theory but not in spirit, or in any way that touches our lives.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mommy To J Ratio

"I'll be done with my breakfast in one Mommy second" J said when I begged her to hurry up for the gazillionth time this morning.

"What is one Mommy second ?" I asked her never having heard that one before.

"It is the time J takes to finish her milk" she told me.

"So what would one J second be ?" I wondered aloud

"The time it takes Mommy to finish her breakfast" she replied promptly.

I also found out that "one Mommy second" is bigger than "one J second" and this is obvious for more reasons than one. According to J, they vary in direct proportion to our ages. Thus Mommy Second/J Second = Mommy's Age/J 's Age.

I guess the point she was trying to make is that my expectation for the time it should take her to finish her breakfast is unrealistic given the Mommy-second to J-second ratio. This was possibly the simplest lesson on gravitational time dilation anyone ever received.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Awarded Patience

My co-worker T got engaged over the weekend and conveyed the glad tidings to us this morning. Much friendly bantering ensued and like a birthday boy, T did not get much done today besides basking in the attention. By popular demand he promised to be available until there were visible signs of his hitched status. A date for the wedding has not been fixed yet.

Later in the afternoon we went into a meeting where T was the only man. One woman congratulated him, soon everyone knew and "Oohs" and "Aahs" followed. Then there were questions. "So how did she react ?", "How did you propose ?", "Was she expecting it ?" (the answer to which was "I guess it was about time. We've been dating seven years. She has waited enough")

Nevertheless the ladies persisted "Did you go down your knee when you proposed ?" (acting out the Cinderella and Prince Charming fantasy I guess) ,"She must be overjoyed ?", "Have you decided where you'll be getting married ?" (i.e. was this going to be a destination wedding or a theme wedding ? T presumably is a destination kinda guy) and finally "What does the ring look like ?" T went on to describe it and the ladies cooed en-masse "How beautiful !"

I came to see a very interesting contrast between the reactions of a random bunch of men and women to the news of T's engagement specially in light of the fact that his girlfriend "had waited long enough". The women illustrated why T believed he had done the girl a favor by deciding to marry her at the long last. She had waited for him long enough to make her worthy of the honor and privilege. One guy reminded T that he had "upgraded" his girlfriend's status by getting engaged but nothing had changed for him. T was in complete agreement.

As a woman I felt offended when he said that and I was the minority of one. Isn't it as much a man's pride and joy to ask the woman he loves to marry him ? The boys viewed the engagement as T finally caving into pressure, to the girls it was about perseverance awarded with a diamond ring.

I wondered how little is different between women in the first and developing worlds and how little "independence" and "choice" had to do with mindsets. A girl in India who "catches" a suitable boy to marry her is viewed exactly how T's fiancée was viewed today by this group of Americans. Whereas men think she was impossible to shake off , the women marvel at how her persistence paid off in the end. I felt sorry for T's would-be bride and for those who so rejoiced over her good fortune.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Brick Lane

When I started reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali last evening, I was not looking to stay up past midnight to finish it. It is the kind of book, that if I don't finish the first time, I will never get back to again. Unputdownable books are not always the most memorable. It requires that the story have a reasonable pace but does not call for introspection or any deep emotional response.

The theme of Ali's story is common enough. A dependent woman trapped in a dead marriage meets a breath of fresh air - a man unlike anyone she has seen in her cloistered life. They have an affair, the marriage morphs in fundamental ways but survives. In the end everyone wins. Nazeen, the trapped hausfrau gains freedom - she opts to stay on with her two daughters in London, Karim her lover is absolved of his obligation to her when she says she does not want to marry him. Chanu her husband returns to Bangladesh to start over after thirty years of being an impoverished failure in London.

Despite its very ordinary premise and predictable denouement, the story is well-told. The characters and their circumstances come to life from the start. Frequent flashbacks take Nazneen to Bangladesh, but there is no contrived exoticism - a prop too many sub-continental writers use. The letters from Hasina, Nazeen's sister are excruciatingly painful and I skipped all of them. Besides the letters and the fairy-tale end that does not jive with the rest of Ali’s story, Brick Lane is actually a half decent read.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Linked List

A line from a New York magazine article on SMS as the new hook up tool reminded me of a job interview over ten years ago. The line in question being

“I was on a date at a restaurant and was holding her hand across the table while texting underneath the table with the other hand to another woman I was dating. The other woman was on a date with someone, too—a tragicomedy of texting, if you will.”

Unaccountably that image of two people on a date cheating on their dates via SMS with others who are similarly on dates in an infinite chain of linked messages brought to mind a question I was asked at that interview. "Can you explain what a linked list is and an give example of its use ?" Those were my C programming days and the question very typical. I may have answered the example part very differently today when there is the "tragicomdey of texting" to illustrate pointers.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Being Nimble

At the local Wal-Mart, I recently noticed something new. An area full of colorful displays seemed to have been carved out in the middle of the store. You walked in out of curiosity to find a slew of stuff priced between 50 cents and a dollar. If you were planning to swing by the neighborhood Dollar Tree later, Wal-Mart had just saved you the trip along with some change.

Not too long ago, I was reading that the only credible competition to Wal-Mart comes from the dollar stores. This appeared to be a move to make inroads into that segment. A few days later the display was gone. I figured it was a teaser campaign. Maybe it will be back again to research the market in a different set of conditions. Over time, we as consumers will determine if it is worthwhile for Wal-Mart to get into dollar store space. We will possibly help eliminate the only competition there exists in our quest to stretch a dollar past break point.

While Wal-Mart can be faulted for a lot, the lack of nimbleness at middle-age is certainly not one of its failings. Tremors must be going through the collective heart of the banking industry now that Wal-Mart wants to play in their sandbox.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Puppet On Chain

Celebrities who fear that they may be reaching the twilight zone of their career have much to learn from cartoonist and comedian from Minnesota, Aric McKeown

His is possibly a great way to get the fan base to pay for their soon to fade idols. This is much bigger than reality TV. I can imagine the mass hysteria that will overtake India if it were possible that anyone could SMS their votes for what Amitabh Bacchan would have for breakfast that morning. Better still buy out the competition and popular vote so he ate something of their choosing.

As fans up their ante to have the puranpoli score over rava dosa and poori sabzi, Bacchan would be laughing all the way to the bank. I'm expecting that he would webcast or podcast himself eating what his fans have either voted or paid for him to eat. So once the puranpoli has won, there are deals to made for five star restaurants who seek his endorsement of their version of the recipe. With some luck the purveyors of silverware, china, table linens and the like could gain brand cred and the star some serious money. In every pixel of screen realestate there is hidden potential.

An idol that becomes a puppet in the hands of their adoring fans is the stuff of dreams. In being able to remote control their idol there is both a sense of empowerment and an intimate connection, a combination that fans are highly likely to pay for. Stars who have already faded into oblivion could gain a fresh lease of life and come out of bankruptcy to boot. There is always nostalgia to be cashed as long as any of their fan base is still alive.

Anyway I look at it, this is an idea with potential and it may not be long before some VCs pony up the funds to have the web and mobile interfaces built to take this show on the road.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Serially Blinged

There is the word bling and the word bling-bling. I have tried to figure the difference between the two based on usage and context because the standard definitions of the two seem to vary little. It seems that an instance of unnecessary, expensive ostentation is bling where as bling-bling is a large assortment of these blings.

The other way to interpret this could be that a bling for a bling is a bling-bling. For example a horribly expensive little electronic gizmo could be the bling in question. A very pointless accessory like a platinum doll charm to dangle from it be the bling-bling. Now if the charm came with any further add ons (like a pair of diamond shoes for the said doll) those could be the bling-bling-bling.

So being in possession of blings ad infinitum is about having huge amounts of time and money at hand. The neat thing is that for every bling there is a potential bling bling - layer after layer like a Russian doll. The universe of blings remains in balance because whereas creating a bling-bling takes a whole bunch of imagination, owning one requires having none at all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Managing Marriages

Marriages must be in a state of emergency if it now takes "Managed Monogamy" to keep a couple together. The significant difference between this and its older avatar "Open Relationship" comes about through the connotations of the word "managed".

Whereas in an open relationship you presumably set each other free to pursue extracurricular activities, you ceased to have any control over what your partner did on their spare time. There is a greater sense of empowerment in managing. You get to determine the rules of engagement upfront and are required play by those rules. This is a more constrained type of open-ness. The old ball and chain tugs you ever so slightly if you stray too far away.

The underlying premise seems to be that marriage is a form of entrapment desirable for the social acceptance that it affords among other things. However, the natural instinct of both the parties is to break loose and turn fully polygamous. That being assumed inevitable the best way to keep chaos from taking over order is to "manage".

With office spouses in vogue and convergence technologies blurring lines between personal and professional space, it may not be long before management of marriages involves NPV, TCO, ROI, earned value metrics and the like. It may then be reasonable to treat a troubled marriage like a badly managed project. A case of mismanaged monogamy perhaps.

That there may some merit to curbing that temporal urge to stray in the interest of long term good and emotional well being seems out of scope of the managed monogamy discussion. When primal instinct overrides both common sense and ancient wisdom there is not much hope left for an institution that is already challenged by the demands placed on it by our times.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Emotional Intelligence Aid

A lot of "normal" people would benefit from the device that warns you if you're being boring or irritating. Captains of industry for example, given as they are to tendencies of megalomania, assume their words routinely spellbind their audience. Often times the audience is fast asleep. Surely a cue to stop while they are still wakeful would be useful. Talk show hosts would likewise benefit except the signs of boredom and irritation would have to be transmitted over some distance and that should be easy enough.

For the emotional intelligence challenged the device would serve equally well in social situations and the workplace. They would be able to avoid needless faux pas that make them unpopular. Having something like this handy at a job or college admission interview could be construed as cheating. You have a prop to guide the course of the conversation that works to your advantage. That's quite a bit like getting SMS messages on a cell phone to cheat on an test.

Whereas the black and white is clearly discernable for an IQ prop the same may not be true for an EQ aid. Users of the device may get their shrinks to prescribe it for social anxiety disorder. To that extent holding their medication against them would amount to discrimination which can easily lead to some nasty litigation. If I was in the legal business I'd be paying close attention to a potential new revenue stream. Or maybe its just my overactive imagination at work.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

We Are Family

Every once in a while, I revisit the importance of a father-figure in J's life. The best way I have found is to ask her how she feels about it. She has gone through distinct phases in the last few years.

When I first broached the subject of "father" her reaction was one of vehement denial. She did not want to hear anything about him and most definitely did not want a father. The next time, there was some curiosity along with a grudging acceptance of the fact that she missed having a father. While she still did not want her "real" father who she has never seen, she was interested in a "good daddy" and trusted Mommy would find one in short order.

Thankfully children have a very mutable notion of time. An hour could last an eternity if a treat is promised after naptime. Yet the years that she has been waiting for the "good daddy" to come into her life could be only as long as a few minutes. Last night we spoke about her father or the lack of one. My little girl has come such a long way that she humbles me.

Me: When do you think we'll find your "good daddy", J ?
J : I've told God to find me one soon.
Me: But when do you think God will find him ?
J : It could take some time.
Me : Does it bother you that God is taking so long ?
J : Does it bother you ?
Me : Sometimes it does.
J : I don't care if it bothers me.
Me : Why do you think you want a daddy ?
J : So we can be family.
Me : Aren't we family now, J ?
J : We are little family. I want to be more family - like the song We Are Family.
Me : What's the difference ?
J: The house is empty. I want the house to be full of family just like the song.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Offshore Bound

My friend, A was on the market for a consulting gig at the beginning of this year. She discovered that headhunters had rebranded in 2006 and were now referring to themselves a "talent acquisition professionals". We thought that was a hilarious nomenclature given how clueless most headhunters are about the "talent" they supposedly go scouting.

Unless it passes the resume scanning software's selection criteria based on keyword density, a jobhunter has little hope of getting noticed - and that's exactly what happened to A. She is a business process re-engineering specialist. That analysis would logically precede any reengineering would seem an obvious conclusion but we forget that we are dealing with bots - the humans are too busy taking clients out to lunch to keep the requirements flowing in.
Whereas in truth A is overqualified as a business analyst, recruiters usually assume she has no experience at all.

Like A, I have consulted long enough to be very disillusioned by this whole headhunting business. Interviews with headhunters are like interacting with your bank's voice activated customer support system. They stick to their script like their life depended on it and don't want you stray from a set of acceptable responses. Unlike me, A is too polite to refuse to do the "meet and greet" routine which they insist upon if you are local.

Hearing her recount horror stories from the latest jobhunt, I said that this function would be outsourced soon unless people in this business demonstrated a significant level of differentiation from a keyword scanner programmed to service at voice prompts. As luck would have it, by the end of A's search she was contacted by a couple of desi recruiters
working from Delhi using VoIP phones with a local numbers.

The other kind of job that I see going offshore soon unless it already has is the administrative and book-keeping work at doctors' offices. I would not know where to stop ranting once I got started
about that one.