Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Flawless Code

Great article on how near flawless software gets written to launch space shuttles. For the rest of us who have to content ourselves with the bugzilla of business application software this seems like a fairytale. Interestingly enough, getting to that level of perfection is hardly rocket science.

What's going on here is the kind of nuts-and-bolts work that defines the drive for group perfection -- a drive that is aggressively intolerant of ego-driven hotshots. In the shuttle group's culture, there are no superstar programmers. The whole approach to developing software is intentionally designed not to rely on any particular person.

And the culture is equally intolerant of creativity, the individual coding flourishes and styles that are the signature of the all-night software world. "People ask, doesn't this process stifle creativity? You have to do exactly what the manual says, and you've got someone looking over your shoulder," says Keller. "The answer is, yes, the process does stifle creativity."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Death Trap

I had met Sripriya online three years ago while looking for a roommate. She was a victim of a physically abusive marriage and had recently undergone surgery for a leg that her husband had broken in a fit of rage. She was legally separated at the time and was looking for a roommate to help pay the bills as she recuperated. We never ended up meeting in person as I did not need to move to her town in the end. We stayed in touch by e-mail and phone.

Talking to Sripriya always leaves me emotionally drained. Knowing her condition, I feel guilty when I don't respond to her e-mails or try to call her at a time when I can get by with leaving a voicemail message. I realize how she feels desperately lonely in a situation that seems like a death trap - that she just needs to talk to save her sanity. Talk to someone she thinks would have empathy for her - it is just too overwhelming to be that person.

She has a twelve year old daughter who lives in India with her family - a helpless pawn in a game involving a two adults - one dangerously violent and the other precariously helpless battling through a complex legal maze. For the longest time I though Sripriya was divorced or was at least on trying to get out of a marriage that was making a physical and psychological wreck of her. I would have sworn she had told me the very first time we spoke that the papers had been filed. She pines for her child who is growing up alone in a hostel in another continent, feels like a failure for not being a mother to her, compensates by mailing gifts and spending any time she can in India.

Sripriya used to be a practicing physician when she was in India. Today she can hardly speak in coherent sentences. Thoughts collide with each other randomly as she moves aimlessly in space and time - you hear one thing now in fifteen minutes she has contradicted herself ten times. The same events are recounted endlessly in several different ways and it is up to the listener to arrive at the truth. She has been through so much that she probably cannot distinguish between truth, lie, fiction, fear, hope, dream and despair. There is a breathless, anxiety about her high-pitched speech that makes it impossible to interject with any dispassionate thought that may help her step outside her situation for a little bit and see issues for what they are.

Yet this cannon ball of confusion, contradiction, self-pity, hopelessness verging on borderline insanity is one of the most loving and generous people I have come across. I remember telling her that I was in the US trying to get a steady job so I could afford to bring J to live with me and she said "I would not dream of asking you to pay me rent. I will find another roommate and you can live for free like my sister". This from a woman who had her utilities disconnected for not being able to pay for them. I was moved to tears at the gesture.

I talked to Sripriya after a long time last evening. I was glad to see her pause between her sentences, to have her explain her legal situation in terms that finally made sense. Some things have improved but a lot remains the same. The divorce is yet to come, her child still lives in India, the husband has put out a paid online matrimonial ad and says that he still wants to stay married with her.

I would love for time to heal her completely turn her back into the person she must have been over fifteen years ago. I pray Sripriya, that you get back the life you have lost and much more.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cooking Right

The divide between the haute cuisine of the rich and the subsistence grub of the poor is probably sharp everywhere in the world but the French are doing something novel to bridge it.

“Although these lessons are open to everyone, they are not really meant for bourgeois women who want to show off to their boyfriends,” said Marc de Champérard, one of the most influential food critics in France, who co-founded the university with Michel Onfray, the philosopher.

“They are meant for those who have been excluded and marginalised by liberalism and globalisation.”

And then there are the victims of simplification in the form the easy availability of partially prepared food, helpers and spice mixes obviating the need for the purist, from-scratch style of cooking. You are tempted to cut corners and substitute. Helping this demographic remember what they know of traditional cooking haute or otherwise is possibly even more challenging.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Word

Interesting post about what the future holds for the credit card - particularly liked the title Numiscartomancy: Divination using credit cards - nice wordplay and many possibilities. You may be able to choose numbers and images that are Feng Shui friendly for you or have a whole tarot deck of credit cards to do readings with. There may be benefits to embedding credit cards where it would be least expected - like in an earring or cuff link perhaps. One use that comes to mind is being able to shop discreetly though others surely abound.

Totally love the idea of card consolidation. One plastic, many credit limits, balance transfer offers, rewards programs and air miles. The competition between card issuers should intensify when customers have the ability to mix and match offers to best fit their needs.

I'll be waiting for
"numiscartomancy" to make it to Wikipedia.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Living In Hell

Read this story about a man who thought depression was a bunch of hooey for most of his adult life until it happened to him. This reminds me of a conversation I was having with a friend a while ago about the effects of untreated depression in marriages particularly when the depressed person is in denial of their problem and tries to compensate for it by taking control of the relationship often aided by outsiders who think they are helping. S had said :

This is such a common theme, I think that for the longest time psych disorders have been swept under the table and therefore if they are not talked about they do not exist. The controlling aspects of people's personalities are sometimes organic (in their heads) and in other times are placed there by misguided individuals trying to help (parents, friends, colleagues). Both are ingredients for failure. If a person cannot be happy in their life by themselves then they will not be able to make someone happy in a partnership. Remote control marriages are the norm nowadays rather than the exception. If a person fails to take guidance that is in their best interest, then the outcome of the situation is a foregone conclusion.

A depressed person, for whatever reason, will draw vital energy from you and change the direction of your movements. In a sense this can be productive, if you both move to a "better place", but in most cases it takes one with vitality and drains them of all energy to be happy. One must be strong in convictions, to recognize that point beyond which there is no hope left and get out before there is too much damage to ones self and their interactions with those for whom they care.

Though belonging to an entirely different context, Alexandra Fuller's words ring true both for those who suffer from depression and their partners who haplessly, cluelessly suffer along with them. There is enough pain to go around yet the most abundant love is not nearly enough to soothe and ease it. You come away from the relationship broken and flawed trying to make sense of your own humanity and that of the one you tried so hard to help.

Those of us who grow in war are like clay pots fired in an oven that is over hot. Confusingly shaped like the rest of humanity, we nevertheless contain fatal cracks that we spend the rest of our lives itching to fill.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I run in fields of
your flighty laughter,
memories of you
spun like candy floss
for me to hold atop
a stick long after
you are gone.

I imagine you sit there
working through hedge
funds,libor rates, shell
corporations and other
mumbo jumbo that meant
nothing to me then or now.

We traded love in verse
or pun all through long
summer afternoons while
you worked and I pretended
to.That meant everything.

I did not tire of your
thoughts as you spoke
them loud, nor of the
gussied up lies of your
febrile imagination.
I just loved.

I soaked in all of you
until I changed hue. Willing
to be the chalice bearer
of love unconditional. I
would have poured until
deluge overcame you.

Instead you chose to
leave me in fields
ablaze with nothingness
smelling your absence
in westbound wind. You
did not wave as you left
you just did.

There is a word you have
missing after a
apostrophied departure.
You left for me to
fathom the infinite
ways to fill in a blank.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spins On Silence

Things that can go through a man's head when a woman suddenly stops replying to his e-mails.

Yo Babe,

Where have you vanished? Have I said something to offend you?? It's not fair that you just stop communicating...as though you dropped off the planet!!

That SILENCE...it's the most inexplicable thing for us lesser evolved men!?! What does it (the silence) mean??? It's got to mean one of the options given below, so just hit the reply button and write one of the numbers below -

1. Not interested in pursuing this any further.

2. Let me think about this, I’ll get back to you later…after x days/months/years.

3. Your e-mails are asinine and juvenile (especially on the sexual innuendos front); improve your outlook and then maybe.

4. I don’t like your looks at all.

5. My parents/grandparents/cousins/pets will not like you because you're not a 'Bong'.

6. With that age difference, it's almost like cradle-snatching!

7. Don’t want to leave where I live, have a great job here and am willing to wait even several years to find a local desi.

8a I am seeing someone else, I like him better, best of luck OR

8b I am seeing someone else, I like him better, but what the heck, we can be friends OR

8c I am not seeing anyone, however, I don't think things will work between us but we can be friends

9. I kind of like what I see, let's take this forward...slowly/come over meet me NOW!

10. Here’s my Tel # (__) ___-____, I feel too shy, you call me.

11. I'm already in love with you but too bashful to admit it.

12. Other reason... I want another child, you don't

Note 1: In case its 8b, 8c, 9, 10, or 11 please e-mail your pics (it's only fair!).
Note 2: Respond even if it’s a rejection, don't worry I can live with it, I'll pick up the pieces and move on...I promise!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Making The Call

Time was when getting a phone call was a major event in the household - it made the callee somewhat of a celebrity. That was in the dark ages. Now you don't want to get off the couch to even check the caller-id let alone answer the phone. Check out the caller id on the TV screen and "You don't have to even get up to see if it's worth pausing the TiVo to answer the phone or not,".

That sounds like unsocial if not anti-social technology. Short of the caller being a pesky telemarketeer, you ignore a potential hour of conversation with a real human being who has taken the trouble to take time off their schedule to call you, in favor of remaining a torpid couch potato. Apparently, such technology is enabling us mind our manners better or so its purveyors would have us believe.

Etiquette is a major motive for shifting caller ID off the phone, said Bill Geiser, vice president of watch technology for Fossil. He recalls using his Bluetooth-enabled watch during a recent meeting in which participants were told to turn off cell phones and PDAs. Geiser kept track of incoming calls through his wristwatch, which made it easier for him to figure out who to call back during breaks.

Not sure why sneaking peeks at a watch is superior to sneaking peeks at a regular cellphone or why there would be less social stigma attached to the former.

"The whole concept of the social stigma associated with using your phone in public is something that's getting increasing notice," he said. "The idea behind this watch was for someone who wants to stay connected, to give them a very discreet way to do it."

Is staying connected 24/7 really all that important ?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Catching Up

Exasperated after playing phone tag for days, Lauren said "Your voice mail greeting needs a makeover. What's up with you, girl ? Why don't you ever answer the goddamn phone ?" as soon as Sheila came on the line. "Where can you meet for lunch ? I am in town and have an evening flight back to Dallas" Lauren asked. "How about the old favorite, The Mongol Kitchen ?" Sheila suggested. "Too noisy. I need to talk" Lauren replied. After going back and forth over some options they settled on a quiet Greek restaurant a few blocks from Sheila’s office.

Lauren looked perfectly turned out as always in her fashionable clothes and tasteful accessories. The sea-green of her knitted top was the exact shade of her eyes - sad, tired eyes that needed mascara, liner and shadow to look pretty. Laughter helped but not very much. "What's going on, Lauren ?" Sheila asked right after the waitress got them their menus.

"So much that I don't know where to begin. Tomorrow is the third anniversary of Brad and I moving in together. He still does not want to talk about marriage and comes up with the most absurd reasons to postpone it. I don’t want to start a family before we marry – he does not care either way. I mean, this is the guy that loves children and will spend hours being goofy around his nephews and nieces. You would think that he’d long to have a baby with me – but he just fucking does not care. I don’t get it.” She had to stop for the appetizers to be laid on the table.

“We’ll need a few more minutes to order” Sheila said to the waitress.

“When you’ve invested three years of your life on someone, its hard to just pick up and move on and he’s been wonderful in every way. Sometimes, I wonder if I expect too little, maybe I am short changing myself in this relationship. Sheila, I am so incredibly exhausted waiting” Lauren said.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Lauren. I haven’t lived in with anyone and don’t think I ever will. It’s seems like a very hopeless state to be in – waiting, hanging by a thread for things to happen. But then, I come from a very different culture – we have been raised to expect sureties in the form a religiously sanctioned marriage blessed by the elders. No other state is quite kosher. ” Sheila said.

“You think I should move on ?” Lauren asked.

“Depends on what you want to move on to. Another live-in relationship with another man ? That would not be worth leaving Brad for. You would not be changing anything about your current situation except introducing a new set of unknowns into your life.” Sheila replied. Their gyro sandwiches had arrived.

She watched Lauren’s French manicured fingers gesturing as she spoke about things other than Brad – she could have been another person. Sheila thought about the despair women of a certain age felt when their longing for home and motherhood forced them to make choices that hurt them.

“So how did your date last weekend go ?” Lauren asked her.

“It was mostly good” Sheila replied dreading the obvious next question as soon as she said that.

“Well ?” Lauren looked at her wondering why she had stopped.

“You know we had this deal of keeping things strictly platonic between us until I was ready.” Sheila started saying.

“Did he break the deal ?” Lauren asked with a smile.

“No. That he did not. Instead he expected me to tell him when it was okay to hold hands. He wanted me to take the lead and he’d follow. That’s ridiculous ! There is a difference between the letter and spirit of things. I liked it that he took the deal seriously enough but would have liked a creative interpretation a whole lot better” Sheila said with a laugh.

“Can boys ever win with you and your rules ? The poor sod was trying to be compliant and now you wish that he had pushed the envelope a little like dude where is your imagination ” Lauren teased her.

“Exactly ! So we had this one tight embrace that lasted several minutes and I was not able to feel a tumescence.” Sheila had to stop because Lauren was doubled up with laughter.

“Girl, you’re something. First you make the dude sign up for an all platonic deal and then when he does not try to get it up you wonder what’s wrong” Lauren said.

“Well, you never know” Sheila said defensively

“Looks like you don’t want to know and prefer to speculate instead. I say put the guy out of his misery and just have some fun. You’ll not have to wonder if anything’s wrong” Lauren said.

“Logically that would make the most sense but what really troubles me is if he can translate emotional closeness to intimacy naturally. Some men view the object of love very differently than the object of lust – the two cannot be the same at least in their minds. That’s what bothers me. I won’t know the answer to that even I put him out of his misery like you suggest” Sheila explained.

“That’s an interesting point. Brad and I almost always have great sex but he can be emotionally distant a lot of times. Maybe that’s why he keeps putting off marriage – maybe I’m not the object of his love” Lauren said pensively.

Sheila had nothing to say that would be an honest response and yet not hurt her.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

On Heartbreak

A friend said that he has been heartbroken so many times that he can no longer reconstruct from the broken pieces and then there are fragments that others have held on to, never returning them to their owner. He got me thinking about my relationship with and response to heartbreak. I wrote to him:

For me its not so much the broken heart itself but my inability to react at any level to heartbreak. My resilience has grown to the point where I feel nothing at all. The end of a relationship was once the end of my life the way I knew it - today its like tossing away an empty cup of coffee. If the coffee was good, the taste stays with you for a while, the aroma reminds you of it - but that's about all. You don't pine over the cup you put in the trash - life goes on. There is a surfeit of both disposable cups and coffee in the world. I think I have grown blasé about loss of love.

I think my defense mechanisms to cope with pain and anguish have dehumanized me. I don't know what's worse - to not be capable of heartbreak any more or to be so emotionally numbed that no pain can touch me again. I don't glorify pain and God knows I don't seek anymore - I have like they say done my time. However "feeling" is key to being alive and to that extent I must be less than alive.

Yet, the fact that I am looking for "the one" is probably indicative of residual hope, residual ability to dream. Whether in my emotionally benumbed state I would even recognize him is entirely questionable.

His response though entirely unexpected in the context, brought levity into the discussion:

Hey, we've all been through pain and suffering and come out the better or worse for it. The last thing you want to do is to become Garrison Keillor's woman brooding by the fireside over merlot talking "relationship". Chill, enjoy and peace out - and here is the Keillor reference.

Women get broody sometimes and want to sit in front of a fire with a glass of merlot and discuss The Relationship, which is never a good idea. You know this. If you were captured by Unitarian terrorists and sat on by a fat lady and told that you absolutely must discuss your relationship, you should say no, no, no.

Never use the word "relationship." You can say "marriage" or "romance" or "partnership" or "living arrangement" or "hubba hubba ding dong," but the word" relationship" is like the hissing of vipers. If the romance or marriage needs help, the answer almost always is Have More Fun. Drop your list of grievances and go ride a roller coaster. Take a brisk walk.Dance. Take a trip to Duluth. Read Dickens. There is almost no marital problem that can't be helped enormously by taking off your clothes.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ten Reasons

Some reasons why men will call women even if they have zero interest in her relationship-wise

1) They have nothing better to do at the time of making the call and would rather spend it talking to a woman than channel surf or browse the web mindlessly or perhaps as an accompaniment to those activities.

2) They find conversation with her amusing and/or interesting just as children find the tricks of a performing monkey. As with kids, they grow out of performing monkeys and need more varied fare to sustain equivalent levels of amusement.

3) They like the fact that if they call her consistently and frequently over a period of time, she expects them to call her and will call them if they don't. Seeing such a Pavalovian response is gratifying to some men - it makes them feel powerful.

4) They are jaded in their primary relationship i.e. a wife, a steady girlfriend and want to take a break by seeking alternate female company. These deals are strictly telephonic and long distance.

5) They are going through a break-up and need to talk to a woman who reminds them the least of the party they are breaking up with. In such situations the exact opposite is of particular interest. Once they are fully broken up, the exact opposite begins to irritate them simply because they are the exact opposite. They now want a happy medium - after all the ex was not a complete shrew - she had many good qualities that shine so much stronger now that she is the ex.

6) The woman's voice on the phone is really nice - you know the kind radio talk show hostesses have. Its a pleasure just to hear her say anything including reading the Hanuman Chalisa or whatever else may be her religious passion.

7) Just from talking to her, it is clear that the woman is totally not his type. However, he's curious about her, about her type the kind of men that might actually find her wife-material. Once he knows enough, he'll be ready to do what he really needs to do -i.e. find who he truly wants to be with.

8) He is able to open up with her like he never knew he could. She is his therapist/shrink for free. Thanks to those long conversations on phone, he is able to work through his issues and become "normal"

9) He views her as a philanthropic project. Here is a woman who needs to be saved from herself. He is happy to be of assistance believing that such random acts of mercy will reserve his place in heaven. The calls are very long and conversations are always meaningful.

10) She makes him laugh and is the best power break in the middle of a busy day and the best thing to unwind with after work. It helps that her the sound of her laughter is seductive. After a while, the laughs take a while coming and sound contrived when they do signaling the time to move on.

Friday, October 20, 2006


You are to me all I need
and more- just a little
out of reach.
Maybe I seek
to keep you there
so you will turn into
my magic talisman of love –
the one I desired the most
yet did not
seek to make
all and only mine.
The sum total of all lost loves
will still be less than
my willful denial
of my need for you.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Toothfairy Watch

J has been attending kindergarten for a few weeks now and I have been waiting to see signs of the apocalypse that everyone promised this transition from daycare to "real" school will cause. Her vocabulary has expanded quite a bit, she tries to act like the older kids and imitates her homeroom teacher. Other than that not much has changed.

I usually pack her a home made Indian meal and had expected that to be a sticking point. From my cafeteria volunteer experience, no one else brings in food that the others will not recognize. Her wardrobe is unusually small and contains no brand name clothes. With the concentration of little fashionistas in her class, some coutre-discontent would have been understandable. J has surprised me on all counts.

The one thing I had not anticipated has happened instead. She is waiting with baited breath for the tooth fairy to come calling and expects to loose her first teeth any morning now though there are no signs of that happening any time soon. This morning she said "Mommy, I am going to pull my teeth out". Goes to prove that I have long ways to go before I figure what goes on in J's head. I see potential for the unyeilding teeth to blow up into the major crisis of her kindergarten year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Simple Devices

My Nokia cellphone is over three years old, clunky, sad looking and completely worn out. I like that it functions normally even after having been drenched in rain overnight, that I can take it apart, blow dry any dampness and put it together at will. In summary, it is a good phone and has paid for itself many times over.

Lately, I have been looking for a replacement - a newer, smarter and slimmer number. Choices abound but most of them are too complicated for my limited capacity to figure out state of the art gizmos with more functions than my brain.

At the going rate, I will turn completely obsolete technology wise in twenty years from now and be need of the future-day equivalent of an e-mail machine that does not require you to have an e-mail address, a computer or internet connection. You plug in the machine and are ready to receive e-mails and photographs from people who are not technology challenged.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Colors Of Benetton

Even in the 80s in India, Benetton was a familiar name thanks to the deliberately provocative and often politically incorrect ads. They made you wonder about the message being conveyed and what the "United Colors of Benetten" truly stood for.

Color is pervasive and universally understood and it seemed that the company chose to play on those themes much like the famous Jensen & Nicholson ad for paint "Whenever you see colour, think of us". Unlike the paint ad, Benetton’s word and picture play on color was fraught with conflict, high on shock quotient and sent mixed signals. You did not know whether to view it commentary on news and events or just creative ad copy

Benetton’s ads provided an early example of the erosion of clear distinctions between types of information – between sales talk and independent reporting and commentary – as corporations sought to gain attention for their products and enhance their brand images by establishing themselves in the viewer’s mind as content-providers in their own right.

I miss the Benetton-ad genre both in print and online media with its blatant disregard for established industry norms.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Being Thin

When I responded to this email a few weeks ago "Yes, I am interested", I had no idea what to expect to see .

On November 14, 2006 at 9pm EST, HBO Documentary Films presents Thin, an intimate look into the lives of four women suffering from an eating disorder.

Director Lauren Greenfield (author of the critically acclaimed book Girl Culture) has turned her focus on the epidemic levels disordered eating has taken in the past few decades. A disease once downplayed as a vanity issue, is now being recognized as a serious mental illness.

In Thin, Greenfield explores the various stages of recovery and downfall through group therapy sessions, mealtimes, weigh-ins and heated arguments.

In addition to Lauren being available for interviews, we have film screening opportunities, signed books and a custom resource guide available. We are currently looking for partners to help us communicate Lauren’s message. If you are interested in supporting this documentary, please contact me directly.

The first thing about the movie that struck me was how unobtrusive the camera was. It was like being there in person, watching the horrifying tales of these anorexic women unfold before you - when truth is told so starkly you are left feeling raw and wounded.

How small is small enough, how thin is thin enough are questions that the protagonists of this movie have not been able to answer. They have carried their obsession with thinness to the edge of insanity - to a point where they would rather kill themselves than ever be "big" or "fat" again. As a woman and a mother of a daughter, I had to wonder what combination of circumstances could trigger such irrationally dangerous behavior in an otherwise normal person - could I become one of them ?

I wondered about the size two and less women that I see swing in and out of Victoria's Secret, Gap and Ann Taylor Loft, about the many deprivations they must suffer to fit into those "small" clothes - about how they might be teetering on the brink of chronic eating disorder that may one day require them to be hospitalized and force fed through a tube.

"Thin" will make you question the premise of small and thin is beautiful - it will make you want to tell every super thin woman out there to watch this movie and save her life and sanity while she still can.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Day Of Rest

Music is so ubiquitous that it takes conscious effort to be in silence. Screen savers, cell phones ringtones, while on hold waiting to be connected to be a real human, public places, car stereos, the home theatre system and much else in between is replete with music. It makes perfect sense to take a day off from music even if for contemplation on its exuberant profusion.

I have come to that point in life when discovering new music and genres is increasingly tiring even boring. No longer is a "new unlike anything else" sound worth seeking out. Chance discoveries are welcome but very rarely has it enthused me enough to check out other works of the artist or even the full album if one song caught attention. There is an abundance of music tinged with nostalgia that is easier to turn to for comfort - just like soul food is easier to reach out to than the finest gourmet delicacies.

Great music once needed to be sought out with great effort but now everything is a click away and some loose change to download. Such easy access somehow makes even the very best less desirable. Many of us have enormous collections of music that we always mean to listen too but end up only stockpiling more and more. Music has been tainted by the same consumer culture that fills our lives with a surfeit of things that we have little use for.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dog Collared Passengers

Interesting discussion on the difference between being security conscious and paranoid on Slashdot spurred by the proposed RFID tagging of passengers in airports. Maybe the powers that be should go one step further and embed RFID chips into new-borns before discharging them from hospitals so they may be able to keep a vigilant eye on them at all times and pre-empt all misdemeanors and infractions.

It would not hurt that the huge mine of data this exercise would cause to be harvested can be sold for profit to all providers of goods and services - one possible salutary effect of this could be a lowered tax burden on the RFID-enabled generation. They can pay their debts to society by data on and about them.

In the meanwhile it will become ever so simple to get included on the no-fly list because human intent will be recorded, monitored and assessed by computer programs - a small glitch in the algorithm could well be one's undoing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Interview Impersonation

In the late 90s when I worked in India, it was common for my co-workers to schedule their phone interviews for jobs abroad while at work. The calls were typically taken in conference rooms where the interviewer assembled a bunch of experts who were tasked with writing answers to difficult questions so they could read it out loud. It was not surprising that most of these phone interviews translated to job offers.

The business of impersonation in job interviews is still thriving in India and seems even easier than it was before

A typical interview, especially in a BPO/call centre, lasts for no more than 3 or 4 minutes, which makes close verification very difficult, even if the candidate has provided his photograph.

The credibility of India as a favored destination for BPOs is being challenged at many levels. There is news of grand data theft on one hand and of Munnabhais on the other. It does not help that the cost of living in major metros is soaring even as the pay difference between US and Indian IT workers is narrowing.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sharing Books And More

Showing only the spines of books on a vitrual bookshelf to replicate the real world would have made Shelfari a little different from Amazon's Listmania because there is very little to tell the two apart conceptually at least. Another nice touch would be to allow e-notes to annotate and comment on the text to replace the scribbles around the margins of your old dog-eared favorites - if the idea is to convey the essence of your personality through your bookshelf and not merely present an electronic inventory.

But the idea has potential and can grow in many different directions. A tour of your home complete with virtual bookshelves, wardrobes, pantry, furniture and more could open up both novel social networking and ad space options. You can Google Earth to an address that's has a virtual "open-house"and check out what's inside Goldilocks-style. Clicking on the wicker ottoman could take the visitor to a Pier 1 Imports page. Visitors may be able to beg, borrow, barter or buy stuff around your home that they fancy and leave invitations for you to return them the favor. It should not be too hard to introduce eBay style auction into the mix.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Aborted Cursive

After years today, I wrote a letter and mailed it the old fashioned way. I had no idea it would be so hard to write the fifteen to twenty lines that I did - my fingers hurt, the letters were malformed and almost tumbled off the lines.

The half pager that I so laboriously
produced looked nothing like my meticulous class notes from the high school days. While my distressed chicken scrawl may be evidence of my state of mind to the graphology inclined, the real reason for the demise of my longhand is probably the computer keyboard.

Scholars who study original documents say the demise of handwriting will diminish the power and accuracy of future historical research. And others simply lament the loss of handwritten communication for its beauty, individualism and intimacy.

I guess I should be grateful that the computer did not come into my life until I was an adult and the complete dependence on the keyboard to produce the written word happened only years later.

The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better -- a lifelong benefit.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fish Eating

Eating fish has never been so difficult - all water is contaminated, most varities are over fished verging on extinction, mercury levels are dangerously high. Farming your catch in your basement seems like a reasonable option.

Beats using a
mercurcy calculator to figure if the portion on your plate is too large to be safe or pulling flash cards out of your wallet to select a fish to order from the menu - it weighs too much on the conscience to know that you may be eating some of the last Chilean Sea Bass on the planet.

For the burger lover who wants to go green there are delectable garden burgers but sea food alternatives seem to be confined to imitation crabmeat.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Packing Up

I have not seen a 5000 piece wardrobe but have come pretty close. A few weeks ago, I helped a friend move a lifetime of possessions to self-storage as she prepares to sell her condo. This was the home of her dreams and I could see why. It stands by a river in the middle of the woods - a sense of peace descends on you the moment you enter the driveway. Civilization is within twenty minutes but feels like it could be light years away.

There were more that fifty cardboard boxes in the hallway when I arrived and the bedrooms were overflowing with more. Memories jostled with each other for space and the closets brimmed over with clothes that spanned several decades in fashion. A bottle of Chanel perfume from the 50s that belonged to her mother, grandma's tortoise shell combs, retro and art deco jewelry from her teens, books, music, prints, slides, travel memorabilia and everyday things poured out of boxes.

For years, she has traveled for work and for pleasure - there was never enough time to unpack and settle. When at last she seemed to have found a home of her own, circumstances conspired to render it untenable.

We worked all Saturday and part of Sunday to get everything boxed and put away. When we finally sat down on the living room couch to eat our Chinese take-out dinner, it was close to midnight. She commented "It feels light around here now" and I had to agree. Possessions and old memories do have a literal and figurative weight. Surprisingly though, I felt weighed down and depressed - twelve hours of sifting and sorting through the substance of someone's life had taken its toll.

Being familiar with the rootless state, I wondered if this is how my life might turn out if I remained wandering from place to place as I have been for the last few years. It does help that I don't own much and have no desire to acquire either - maybe instead of her hundred odd boxes I will end up with ten. After that weekend, I feel an urgent need to plant roots.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Customer, Guest or Athithi

I remember my desi sensibilities being jarred the first time I visited socially with an American family. After spending a wonderful evening our hosts stayed on in their living room as we let ourselves out the door. I wondered if anything I had done had provoked such rude behavior. Back home we always walked our guests out to the taxi stand in the least. It was not unusual to have an elderly couple dropped home by the host. You never let anyone walk away from your home unaccompanied - that constituted lack of respect and courtesy.

Over time I came to realize that my friends abroad did not mean any harm by not walking me to the parking lot and that there was no uniform protocol around the bid good bye ritual. I have had the families congregate on their front porch waving until my car disappeared from view, others have driven ahead for me to follow them to the main interstate because I am directionally challenged and yes some have asked me to shut the door behind me when I left.

I also observed concept of Athithi Devo Bhava
is not ingrained as deeply in the desi psyche as one would expect. Desis settled abroad can act much like the locals do in the interests of assimilation perhaps. I have had front doors decorated with Jaipuri door hangings shut on me before I had a chance to wave good bye.

The concept of Athithi - which literally translates to "without a date" implying an unexpected visitor with whom no prior appointment was made - is beautiful. The pleasure of seeing a friend at your door when they surprise you with a visit has few equals. The idea is to treat such visits as sacrosanct and honor the visitor like they were God. When cultural differences are taken into account, you can often arrive at the same destination though for entirely different reasons not to mention motivations.

At the Seva Cafe in Ahmedabad you pay for your meal (if you want to) after you have eaten - the menu has no prices. The idea to perpetuate a cycle of giving and taking. Proceeds from what a previous guest has paid is used to pay for the next guest's meal. The hope is they in turn will continue the chain.

At Just Round the Corner in London, there are no prices in the menu either. The customer pays what they think the food is worth so in theory it is possible they may pay nothing at all. It is a social experiment in the economics of trust. The Seva Cafe is possibly an attempt to seek out the intrinsic good in human nature and let that power a commercial venture.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Talent Search

The phrase thought-leader features prominently in the industry buzz-word soup. The Economist tries to assess what the scarcity of such leadership means for businesses that depend on brainpower to operate. Of the many interesting observations and statistics are the effects of disloyalty both of employer and employee:

Companies happily chopped out layers of managers during the 1990s; now people are likely to repay them by moving to the highest bidder.

Anyone who has been let go "unfairly" and has been wooed by the competition across the street only to be fired in a few months knows first hand that loyalty to an employer can be kamikaze. To survive the choppy waters of the fickle job market, you need stay alert and be on the move.

Likewise, when you have seen your team of A players drop off like flies for a fifty percent pay-hike plus scandalizing stock options you realize that the best work-life balance and commitment to career development amount to nothing. For more reasons than one, talented employees and "Lifers" are disjoint sets in this day and age.

Of the burgeoning masses of engineers, scientists and researchers in the developing world, the article says :

Alas, adding willing hands to the global economy is not the same as adding trained brains. Both India and China are suffering from acute skills shortages at the more sophisticated end of their economies. Wage inflation in Bangalore is close to 20%, and job turnover is double that (“Trespassers will be recruited” reads a sign in one office). The few elite institutions, such as India's Institutes of Technology, cannot meet demand. And there are also cultural legacies to deal with: India's Licence Raj destroyed management skills, while China's Confucian tradition still emphasises “face” over innovation.

Indian managers have another cultural legacy that this story does not mention. While they often have an eye for detail and will get the job done, they rarely challenge the status quo or question the premise of objectives their higher-ups expect them to fulfill.

An education system that involves learning by rote and rewards the ability to regurgitate verbatim a years worth of classes from early childhood, does not promote creativity in management style. Only the select few that make it to top tier engineering and business schools get a shot at being able to exercise their originality and even that is many years too late.

With the average student- teacher ratio in Indian grade schools, fostering individual creativity is a luxury that teachers can ill-afford. They have to get through the syllabus and prepare their wards for the all important board exams - goals in direct conflict with exercise of free will in education and learning for pleasure.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Citizen Filmmaking

Saw a short movie called Ten about a man who breaks all ten commandments before breakfast. An idea with potential but not the best execution. Consent on the other hand is a six minute movie that's interesting, funny and different. As filmmaking becomes as easy as having something to say and a cell phone video camera to say it with, the diversity and number of really short movies can only grow exponentially.

While these citizen-filmmakers may not be able to churn out Hollywood epics, they can certainly tell a good story with moving images, words and music. It would not be surprising if filmmaking became compulsory teaching and learning at schools. Maybe ten years from now, a Powerpoint (or Keynote) presentation would be considered primitive - you would need to be able to pitch your ideas in a richer and more textured media than that for anyone to notice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Vital Signs

Sleep comes late to my eyes
most nights if at all. Sometimes in
the quietness of the dark between
the sounds of my child’s breath
a voice asks me “Do you remember
the last time you were lovingly touched ?”
I choke back tears and say “Yes”
She asks me “When was that ?”
“Seven years ago and that was late”
“What about since ?” she asks again
“Never since” I say, the heart heaving
with pain. “Never since” I repeat.
The years pass me by. She says “Yes”
like she hears me. “Do you miss that
loving touch ?” she asks
“So much that I mistake it for life” I say
I want her to tell me I will
Live and be loved again. She fades
away like night melting to dawn.
I hear my child breathing and birdsong
These are signs of life I tell myself.
I hear her whisper one last time
“Pray to life for love to return”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Starry Nights

Staring at the night sky in pitch darkness was an opportunity we had an abundance of growing up. Power outages were the bane of summer nights. We stayed outdoors as long as possible to cool off. Later men would sleep in the open on charpoys and folding cots while the women stewed indoors. Despite the heat and the humidity it was wonderful to watch the stars on a cloudless night - for a little bit, the irritations and aggravations of the day melted away. When in love, you wondered if the object of your adoration was also watching the moon scud through the clouds and thinking of you as you were of them.

Then the moment would pass, the spell would be broken by the sting of a mosquito that you had to swat. The yawning gap between heaven and earth would become too obvious to ignore. In their mating season, the dhols on the streets would yelp in coital ecstasy forcing you to shutter the windows.

Reading about how the lights were made to go off in Reykjavik for people to watch the stars brought back memories of dark summer nights of long ago that though not of our own choosing were not fully void of pleasure for that. I often wished all lights would be turned off on Diwali so there was nothing but glowing candles and oil lamps to illumine the night.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Musical Trail

My first tape recorder was an dull brown Philips the size of a shoe box with piano style buttons to start, stop, pause, play, record, forward and rewind. My first tape was a Beatles Medley recording. At thirteen growing up in my small town in India, that felt a lot to own. I added to my collection slowly and tentatively. A collection of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas was next. My mother got me the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib by Jagjit Singh for a birthday. Ron Goodwin's Music For An Arabian Night must have played several thousand times in my teens.

Mrs M, our neighbor had a great collection of western classical LPs. Sometimes on summer evenings music wafted over to our home through her open windows draped with lace curtains. I heard snatches of memorable music but did not know what I was hearing. But I must have heard just enough to grow curious and explore on my own. Thanks to her, I became a faithful reader of Kishore Chatterjee's classical music reviews in The Statesman.

He taught me about Bruckner, Mahler and Mozart's Idomeno. Any chance I got to browse through music in the few stores in our town, I would look to see if any of his recommendations were to be found. Most of my tapes were HMV and EMI recordings. The collection included performances conducted Zubin Mehta, Neville Marriner and Daniel Barenboim. Some friends who owned dual deck music systems recorded music for me as I longed to have one of those things myself. My wish would be granted only five years later and would travel with me to college.

My room-mate was an army brat with a varied and interested collection of music. She introduced me to many genres and artists I had not even heard about. Her mixed tapes spanned generations and genres and though un-uniform in quality they often held surprise finds. We spent time making mixed tapes from mixed tapes ad infinitum trying to create that one desert island album that one never grows tried of listening to.

I remember the one time when she played the songs from Footloose and Grease back to back for days until I had to beg her to stop. In retribution I started playing Debabrata Biswas songs at medium to high volume. She ended up liking what she heard and before I knew I was recording Bengali songs for her to take home for the summer vacation. Then when college was over, I took my collection of fifty odd tapes to my first job.

Not much was added to it in the next few years. I got gifts of music sometimes and bought an occasional tape but the feverish pace of musical discovery of the teen years was now over. I was caught in a musical time warp. Then there was marriage with a man who came from a world entirely different from mine whose music that was completely new to me. On the long road trips we took turns listening to my music and his and found to our mutual surprise that there was some common ground.

Somewhere between the unraveling of my marriage and the years of wandering rudderless and rootless thereafter, my collection of tapes (and later CDs) seem to have fallen away from me slowly. Maybe they are somewhere in the attic of my parents' home, maybe some were left behind in the armoire of "our" room in his house. Some are entirely unaccounted for.

I still have some remnants that survived the upheavals and made to the J's collection. She knows to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons now when Mommy needs a little cheering up better still Radetzky March . I miss the music I have lost over time and try to remember what I had so I can recreate the past for J even if she never sees the hand painted sleeves of my tapes or the catalog that listed everything in my collection and the story behind it. She may never get everything neatly boxed as I would have wanted but it will come together in flashbacks from the past and inspirations from our present.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Desperate For News

The hapless H4 wife is one among the many stereotypes that abound about desis. Having known many myself, I have an appreciation of their plight though the desperation that this TOI article describes is news to me. That they could become victims of domestic abuse is easy to understand given that their legal status in the country is tied to their husband's and they have no means of acquiring financial independence.

Why turning to swinging should be an H4 wife syndrome is not quite as clear. It is a choice any jaded and adventurous couple could make if they were so inclined. How typically TOI to use an "undercover agent" to uncover material for the tabloid the publication has now become.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gang Of Five

The name Alakananda crosses Sheila's mind atleast a few times a year since they lost touch with each other in 1997. Aly for short - petite, pretty, stand-up comic and stubborn - they went to college together and were meant to be friends for life. One evening, sitting at the Starbucks near her house between trying to finish up a tedious presentation for work and chatting with a prospective date, Sheila typed in "Alakananda Sen" instead of "current Libor rates" as she needed to into Google search.

The first thing that showed up was a posting on a Indian matrimonial site. The profile was brief, succinct and very Aly for someone who knew her as well as Sheila did. The picture was startling because it was the one taken in 1995 outside Sheila's house the day Aly, Aparna, Revathi and Simran had come over to spend a day at Sheila's for the last time before graduation. Posting a picture that old was not quite as Aly - maybe people change, maybe their motivations change as well.

The picture brought back more memories than she thought she had left of the time. She found herself smiling thinking about Revathi's boob jokes - that was her specialty. She was the potty mouth of the group and while the rest did not go quite as far as she did, their encouragement was never lacking.

Then there was Aparna, the femme fatale of whom Shiela's then boyfriend had said "The only way a guy can save himself from her is to keep out of her way" and Shiela had asked "Wasn't she interested in you once ?" and Prashant said "I was not challenging enough for her. She likes bad boys and conquests." Later, Aparna would say to Sheila “Prashant is a good guy - not your type, but he is good for now” Maybe she was gifted with prescience.

Men wrote love letters to her signed in their own blood, engagements were broken over her, each time she went to an inter-college fest new lovers followed her back home. Yet, she was no bombshell. There was something about her that men inevitably resonated to - it did not hurt that she was a phenomenally talented singer with oodles of stage presence. It would be no surprise to anyone if she became a playback singer of repute in Bollywood and settled into a glitzy and unconventional lifestyle. She was not the marrying kind if the boys were to be believed – too predatory and thrill seeking to be satisfied by one man.

There was a picture of the group under the same tree taken no more than a few minutes after Aly's was. Sheila was supposed to be "good with the camera" and most likely to succeed professionally. Aly was going to get married in the next few months – her parents were feverishly match-making and she could not wait to escape from father’s suffocating authority. Simran was going to "find herself" and her real calling after college and would probably be in the fashion business - she was a clotheshorse with all the right connections in Delhi.

Revathi would be missed for her reading aloud of “key passages” from Sidney Sheldon and worse. She had most recently answered the door to her older sister’s fiancé in a sheer negligee nearly causing the wedding to be canned. In her defense she claimed that she a black bra on under the see through maroon, so technically she was not “exhibiting the goods”. The standing joke was Revathi would work long enough and hard enough to get her “goods” enhanced a la Pamela Anderson. No one knew what she would do after that.

Alakanada said in her profile that she worked for a public sector company , lived with her parents and was looking for a man who did not take himself too seriously. Had time stopped still for her in some sense ? Had the stagnation made her oblivious of its passage ? Sheila wondered where the three other girls were and turned to the web for answers. The presentation would have to wait till tomorrow.

It turned out to be an evening full of surprises. Aparna had been recently been appointed director of business applications in a Bay Area start-up. The inducement grant in the form of non-qualified stock options she had been offered for coming on board had caused quite a ripple in the industry press. Instead of running an upscale boutique or even being the garment export business, Simran was an analyst in a Chicago based financial company. Her personal web-site had some picture of a new-born – her daughter. Revathi was not even google-worthy – which felt like a dead end in the quest for her whereabouts. Revathi could as well have fallen off the face of the earth.

Driving back home, Sheila pondered about where people had ended up ten years after that afternoon at her house. How, predictions about career, success, life goals and happiness mean so little. Despite herself, she wondered how she stacked up against the gang as a woman and as a professional. There were no messages on the home phone, the weekend was two days away and promised to be long and lonely. The quest for the literary agent who would propel her "to the stratospheric heights of literary celebrity” had yielded naught for a year of trying. To feel like a failure by comparison felt so disgustingly petty.