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Showing posts from September, 2007

Speech Held

I sort of like some of the Ram Gopal Varma movies which is a far cry from being a fan. Even with that, I approach his work without a great deal of expectations and am most often not too disappointed.

I am on the fence as far as Nishabd. Lolita comes to India by way of Brisbane in this one. A child of divorced parents who have since found other partners, she seems to act from her need for a father figure which at eighteen is combined with need for male attention and physical desire. This child-woman, a heady cauldron of rebellion, uninhibited sexuality, anger and confusion takes an older man's (her friend's father, played by Amitabh Bacchan) life by storm. He acts primarily out of lust but wants to mistake it for "true" love - only if to sanctify his feelings.

It is generally acknowledged that a young woman with issues of self-esteem will seek empowerment in being able to sexually allure "unavailable" men.Jia, the child-woman in this movie does the same. The…

Voting Lines

Some time ago, J wanted to know about who was running for President and who I would vote for. I explained to her that I did not having voting rights in her country but introduced her to the candidates in the fray via YouTube. After she had listened to everyone, I asked her who she might vote for if she were the right age. J was sure she wanted a President who would end the war. Interestingly, Barack Obama was her favorite.

She thought he was very "cool". I had to ask her why she did not care about a woman President - that would be a significant first too. Apparently, being a ethnic minority scores way above everything else. J loved his name in how it is different from everyone else's. She was able to identify more readily with ethnic minority than with being a woman. Being that I have an Obama fan in my house, I have wondered about who his grassrootssupporters are. Besides the usual suspects (left leaning liberal types, ethnic minorities etc) he seems to have tapped into …

Staying Sharp

37 Signals answers the question that has always bothered programmers. In order to be good at what you do, do you need to stop having a life outside of keeping up with technology ? While I agree with the answer (in principle) 37s provides, the industry does not seem to value understanding of core concepts on whose foundation all languages and application development tools are built.

When time and money are in short supply (which is almost always the case), they need someone whose skills are fresh even if their grasp of fundamental concepts of programming and design and seriously deficient. Therefore, it is commonplace to have a twenty four year old kid with two years of experience in whatever "flavor of the month technology" business has decided to go with be responsible for a substantial development effort.

While he/she maybe highly fluent in the language, their grammar is lacking and aesthetics is most often completely absent. To land the job, even a seasoned programmer has t…

Ratting Out Neighbors

This is an intriguing concept - ratting out your rotten neighbors so newcomers in the community know to stay away from trouble. Anonymity plus connectivity allows us to speak about the guy next door to the whole world with complete candor. Unlike the village gossip whose reputation traveled ahead of her, I can rant about my uncouth neighbors on the net all I like without so much as having my identity revealed let alone have it have it sullied.

Online reputation is something that takes managing these days because we are all equally able to spoil it for someone else. The purveyors of such services may be able to keep some of the bad press at baybut an universal opt-out would be hard to achieve. In the end, it is up to the individual to keep their online avatars and real identity as far apart from each other as possible so the two worlds never collide to cause embarassment or worse.

Modern Housecalls

This NYC doctor doing e-housecalls is definitely looking and thinking forward. This kind of thing seems poised to take off in a big way given the rising cost of health-care and diminishing employer medical benefits. It may be possible to have a kits along the lines of a blood sugar monitor that a patient can use to do basic lab work at home and send the results to the doctor. Robots are already conducting surgery and then there was Operation Lindbergh.

It should only be a matter of time before the common person is able to benefit from such innovative technology. Reforming the health care system in this country may be cleaning the Aegean stables, but there is a gold mine of opportunity in that mess for medical device and high technology companies not to mention tech-savvy doctors.

Sheep's Cheese by Jane Hirshfield

In the cellar, sheep's milk cheeses
soak in cold brine.
Once a week, a man comes to turn them.
Sixty pounds lifted like child after child,
lain back and re-wrapped
in their cloths on the wooden shelves.
The shelves are nameless, without opinion or varnish.
The wheels are only sheep's milk, not ripening souls.
He sings no lullabye to them. But his arms know the weight.

I love the way this poem starts with something as mundane as cheese and elevates in degrees to the profound. First an analogy between a ball of of cheese in brine to a child. My initial reaction was to imagine a fetus curled up in amniotic fluid but Hirsfield probably had in mind a swaddled newborn being changed and tucked away for the night. Finally, the reference to wheels and "ripening souls" which seems to suggest a Tibetan prayer wheel, karma, birth and rebirth. That was an amazing train of thought !

15 Park Avenue

I wish Aparna Sen had made 15 Park Avenue more multi-lingual than predominantly English. That would have made for a more accurate portrayal of urban India. Other than that one complaint, this is an excellent movie. Shabana Azmi is spectacular as the loving but authoritative older sister driven to the edge of despair by Konkona Sen's schizophrenia. Her role in Konkona's life leaves a long shadow upon her relationships with men. Understanding who she is and where she comes from is not exclusive of her struggle with her sister's illness.

She expects a man to accept her holistically and in that Kunal, played by Dhritiman Chatterjee (Konkona's psycharitrist and a married man) does much better than her significant other Sanjeev (played by Kanwaljeet Singh) who is her co-worker and a professor. Both men are there for her in crisis involving Mithi (Konkona Sen) but Kunal has genuine empathy for her in a way Sanjeev does not. He is merely doing what he is expected to given their…

Peaceful and Promiscuous

The combination of peaceful and promiscuous has always been a compelling one. When inspiration comes from nature, the case is that much stronger. The role-model ape in question is the bonobo described thusly:

In newspaper columns and on the Internet, bonobos are routinely described as creatures that shun violence and live in egalitarian or female-dominated communities; more rarely, they are said to avoid meat. These behaviors are thought to be somehow linked to their unquenchable sexual appetites, often expressed in the missionary position. And because the bonobo is the “closest relative” of humans, its comportment is said to instruct us in the fundamentals of human nature. To underscore the bonobo’s status as a signpost species—a guide to human virtue, or at least modern dating—it is said to walk upright.

Better to have an enlightened ape be your life-coach than be harangued by another "professionally qualified" human who presumes to have figured it all out. If not anything e…

Freedom To Be

I was familiar with Rita Golden Gelmen's name because More Spaghetti, I Say ! used to be J's very favorite book a couple of years ago. Recently I read her book Tales of a Female Nomadwhich is not a children's book. I liked it for a variety of reasons. It is a story about a woman coming out of the relatively secure cocoon of a long marriage unprepared for the solo life.

It is of course a fascinating travelogue written from the point of view of someone who wishes to immerse herself in different cultures, participate in the lives of strangers but not judge them; a journey of self-discovery that was prompted by difficult personal circumstances. As a woman, a single mother and an immigrant I found it easy to relate to all the themes that come across in this book. Needless to say it feeds my unsatiated wanderlust.

She says at the end of chapter three : And while I was in Mexico, I discovered something intriguing. Once I leave the U.S., I am not bound by the rules of my culture. An…

Receding Fear

The news story read Congolese do not kiss anymore - because of Ebola. It reminded me of the 80s when people first heard about AIDS. Rock Hudson had made headline news from dying of it. People generally believed that as awareness grew, promiscuity would decline rapidly. Nature was restoring missing equilibrium in society through an act of cruel kindness.

Decades later, AIDS is no longer breaking news, there is a vaccine in place and the official statistics do not confirm the hypothesis of inverse proportion between AIDS awareness and promiscuity. There must have been an initial state of limbo when people hesitated to indulge in high risk behavior just as the fear of Ebola has the Congolese not kissing anymore. Even extreme fear yields to nonchalance over time. In its wake comes a little recklessness.

Someone will risk a one-night stand with an attractive stranger and throw protection to the winds, the Congolese will kiss when the emotional impulse is strong enough to overcome their bette…

Being Female

Entertaining account (even if steeped in cliche) of a man who tried to live like a woman for a week just to see what it was to be a woman. His observation about difference in shopping styles is interesting:

We shop like different species. Men, who are hunters, have their prey - whether it's a new hammer or a pair of shoes. They go to an appropriate place (a shop) and capture it. Women, as gatherers, wander randomly through the bright forest of retail aisles, waiting for something to attract their attention.

He concludes his essay with : Tammy Wynette was quite wrong when she sang 'Sometimes it's hard to be a woman'. It's not. It's always hard to be a woman. Especially if you're a man.

To that one might add, it's hard to be all that a woman is expected to be especially if you are a woman. Ironically enough, their quest for a perfect body may prove counter-productive.

Buying Green

I have frequently drooled over products in health food stores. Something about the earth-tone packaging, folksy copy, smell of incense and the sound of new age and world music impairs my ability to think like a savvy consumer. I no longer do that math, I merely submit to temptation.

I like my greensource tee-shirt made from "organically grown" cotton specially for the product tracking feature. I actually took the trouble to check where the cotton for my shirt was grown and was actually rather pleased that I could. I can almost see a shepherd herding his goat past the field of "organic cotton" as the cotton pods nod gently in the breeze. There is no exploitation of the soil or of the farmers. Everyone did their bit bright and happy in making my floral printed white tee-shirt. Instead of being a mass produced commodity that came out a sweat-shop, this is a labor of love. While the vision is idyllic it is almost definitely very far from reality. They wanted to sell …

Lessons In Failure

It was the third time within a month that I had completely lost it and gone off at J. From the outside looking in, I was a raging lunatic that needed to be put away for everyone's good. It had become a predictable pattern. J would commit her offense, I would begin by asking "Why ?" she would have nothing to say for herself. The more I insisted on knowing what she was thinking when she did what she did, the more inert she turned. Her inertness infuriated me.

The anger and decibel levels would mount, J would cower in fear. Then I would have my melt-down , say and do things that I would in normal circumstances find most unconscionable. The child would be screaming and crying in sheer terror. Then I would cool, look back upon the episode in shock and dismay; try to make it right. If only there was a way to turn the clock back, go back to the moment just before it all started.

As soon as I returned to some semblance of normalcy, J would go out of her way to forgive and forget, …

Kids Politics

The dividing line between child and adult concerns is already too blurred for comfort. Now they have books to explain politics to kids - i.e. depending on the parent's leanings what the case is against liberals or conservatives. I haven't seen any of these titles in the local public library yet and hopefully they will stay out of the school system. It is hard to fathom the need for such indoctrination at a tender age. Is this not a way to incubate extremism ?

The comments on MeFi on this are hilarious. I guess it is the best one can do - find humor in something painfully sad. It seems like present day adults have made it their life's purpose to take away from children their right to an innocent, uncomplicated childhood. Such attempts adultification of children could do more harm than good. We probably need a Greenpeace like organization to advocate and fight for the inviolable right of all children to their childhood. Constant involvement with kids is a relatively new con…

Type Mismatched

Back in the day, I was able to entertain a dozen people on a day's notice and did a pretty decent job. Today, I had a mini meltdown getting through J's birthday party with ten kids and about seven adults. The venue was a picnic shelter in the woods bordering a lake with a playground is tucked around the corner. My friend D baked J the most gorgeous looking cake. I had a couple of moms call me this morning to see if I needed any help and I graciously declined. Instead, I tore through the preparations like a possessed hell-cat. I was too stressed to receive any meaningful help. The party went well and without any major snafu.

I wondered why it was so hard for me to keep my sanity - it was only a kid's birthday party and J had picked who to invite. It must have had to do with the adults who I knew would be coming. They make a pretty odd mix. Except for Lindsey none of the others are very social. I knew my attempts to get them interacting with each other would fall flat on its …

Over The Hill

Reading this article on been there done that desi dudes reminded me of desi men I have met in the past. Each acquaintance was instructive in its own way. The author may be on to a microtrend here that Mark Penn's eponymous book neglected to capture.

Most of these men were back in the dating scene after a one or two year hiatus. After scouring the market for close to ten years preceding, they had finally found the trophy wife to take home. Unfortunately, the the marital state lasted all of ten months or less before they parted ways. So in their late 30's to mid 40s, with half their net-worth gone in the divorce settlement they are back in the market with some vengeance. They are candid about being "super-selective" and come armed with failure-proof checklists that are as exhaustive and they are exhausting.

One senses a certain pressure to make up for lost time. Career growth and investing are the dominant themes of their lives. A sporty coupe and a downtown loft are …

Honest Opinion

My manager recently sent us a survey to fill out. It was an anonymous questionnaire that would rate him as a leader. Among the data points being sought were What was his style - did he build consensus or merely seek followers, was he effective or inspirational, was his problem solving style innovative or run of the mill and so on. I could have been honest and said it like it was. This guy is very smart. He is equally comfortable being in weeds and pitching a business case to senior leadership. I have a lot of admiration for someone who can do that.

For the most part, the team likes him but we do have some feedback for him. Praise for work done well comes rarely if ever, even though he gets the big picture his decisions inevitably end up serving tactical objectives making longer term goals harder to achieve. Cultural awareness and sensitivity is not his strong suit. And finally we really want him to know that acting like a teenager is not cool for a man in his late thirties.

Yet judging…

About Nothing

This is my 1001th post. It must be for a reason that I have been listening to Ron Goodwin's Music for and Arabian Night lately - that used to my childhood favorite album. Talking of childhood, I was recently surprised by two emails that came within a few days of each other. One from a boy who had a crush on me when we were fourteen and another from my best friend who had moved out of town in our eight grade. They are not mutually acquainted.

She and I have been in touch episodically since then but I had not heard from her for several years until last month. The boy is now a married man with a daughter slightly younger than mine. I deleted his mail without replying and could not help remembering those far away days when I may have read, re-read, bisected and dissected every word he had written, injected the serum of meaning into the most innocuous remark or gesture until it turned into a thing of incredible significance. The passage of time is a powerful thing.

My childhood best fri…

Business Requirements

I have been in the IT industry for about thirteen years now. Thanks to my haphazard career planning and often the complete lack of it, I have changed just as many jobs during that time.Not content with merely job hopping every year, I have also worked in all kinds of roles and not in any chronological order. So for instance, I may have managed a program for a year and then found a business analyst gig for a change of scene. Coming out of that I have done a few months of testing followed by a spot of database design or process re-engineering work.

Since recruiters had no idea what the heck I had been doing and were not able to find a concentration of keywords to help them navigate through my resume, I ended up in random places assigned to do whatever came in handy. I went with the flow because it gave me an unique opportunity to gain first hand experience of things I would have had no idea of if I had followed any defined career path.

The most significant gain from all this has been my …

Democracy Lite

Seven, eight years ago, the idea of website scraping was as cool as it got but it was the beginning of things like Netvibes and an array of mashup tools. The technology that made it all possible also caused a shift it how we think about an relate to web applications.

Increasingly, it is not good enough to be handed the mass produced stuff with indifferent to aggravating user experience. We want to tweak and personalize it - preferably have our own portal that gives us our daily media diet balanced the way we like it best.

Apparently, this is kind of user-generated innovation is merely "democracy-lite" according to NYT columnist G. Pascal Zachary. The hoi polloi for all its web and tech savviness still does not get a piece of the action where it really counts. He writes:

For all the hoopla over the power and promise of user-generated content, consumer-directed design and other hallmarks of our new golden era of democratized innovation, one of the iconic products of our times — …

Staying On - Nirmal's Story (Part 1)

Nirmal has four older siblings and is eight years younger than the youngest of them. Money was already in short supply for this Mumbai family which lived in a lower-middle class neighborhood on the fringes of Dharavi when this unplanned addition happened.

His father's business was already failing and soon after Nirmal's birth he turned gravely ill. As soon as he was old enough to understand, his older siblings told him he was unlucky for the family - their mother was widowed by then. Even in their one and a half room tenement, the distance between him and the rest of his family was enormous. He felt like an intruder.

His oldest brother had graduated from an elite engineering school and was now working. He was the man of the family. There were debts to be paid off from their father's business obligations and long hospitalization. There were two younger sisters to be married off. The other brother was in high school and showed every sign of being able to make it to medical c…

Tea Snobbery

I was never a tea snob even though I spent most of my life surrounded by the variety. The pot had to be bone china and unblemished by tea stain. It had to be rinsed in hot water before letting the leaves steep for exactly five minutes. The water had to come to a rolling boil but not scald the kettle. Black tea was always best. They were willing to jump through a lot of hoops to find the most fragrant Darjeeling tea and some of these teas were quite expensive.

You stood in the front stoop of the tea store and inhaled the beguiling aroma of different teas - Assam and Darjeeling with an occasional Nilgiri thrown in for good measure. Tea shop owners were more often than not connoisseurs of tea and were able to introduce their patrons to a taste they would love and keep returning for. If you found a really good tea shop it was customary to spread the word among family and friends.

If you were a regular, the proprietor would have a special house blend that was exactly the thing your tea palat…

Time Saving

It take me about seven minutes to walk from the parking deck to my desk on the fourth floor. If the elevator does not show up with fifteen seconds I am set back by a three or four minutes. On most days, a combination of factors like when I manage to leave, the height of my shoe heels, whether I get the elevator or miss it by a whisker and the exact spot where I park my car will decide whether I can make it to J's daycare by 6:00 p.m. I like to give myself a thirty minute buffer so I don't have to race against time to make it at 6:30 when the center closes. To make my six o'clock target every minute counts.

Self-parking cars are already on the road. As I was sprinting from the reception area to my car one evening, it crossed my mind that it may be possible (and not in the too distant future either) to drive your car up remotely from a far corner of a parking lot to a spot that has now cleared up. This would reduce the time it takes to get your car. You could be wrapping up …

Closet Groupie

I had opportunity to emcee a sitar recital recently. The artist was very young and extremely talented. Not being a full-blown celebrity yet, his audience was not hanging from the rafters. The setting was so intimate, it could have been a soirée at someone's house. Being backstage was a fascinating experience specially to see how the different the stage personality was from that of the one in the greenroom. I got to see a few groupies as well.

They have been following him around his tour. The blond in jeans and kurti had come with him from New York. Maybe she would follow him wherever he was headed next. The combination of prodigious talent combined with a somewhat devastating charm must make this young man quite irresistible to girls of a certain age.

The sitar and the tabla cases have been all over the world along with their owners and are covered with a colorful assortment of air cargo stickers. For a few hours I was transported to a world completely unlike the one I inhabit eve…

Reverse Brain Drain

Even mainstream media outlets are waking up to the sorry plight of legal immigrants in America and it is about time too. The shrill headlines are bound to provoke reaction and often of the uninformed, knee-jerk kind. There are many conspiracy theories around the colossal bureaucratic ineptitude that has led to the log-jam in the employment based immigration process.

Maybe the government really wants to the high-skilled immigrants to pack up and leave so those jobs can be reclaimed by the "natives" who had been displaced by "cheap" (the most persistent myth about H1-B workers is that they are universally low paid) immigrant labor. Maybe the powers that be want the likes of Google, Cisco and Microsoft to wind up operations stateside and relocate to the third-world. There must be an grand design to explain this all. In the meanwhile, the hapless immigrant continues to wait for Godot.

There are many who think that it is in their country's best interest to allow st…

Beautification

Like the author, nothing surprises me these days - not even the idea of anal bleach. I figure if something as painful Brazilian waxing is largely mainstream, this is only the logical next step. Once there is bleach can tattoos and other embellishments be far behind ?

What purpose any of that would serve is beyond me but when have vanity and logic gone in tandem. For those who want to smell like a melon (odd choice of fragrance all things considered IMHO) after being waxed, bleached, pierced, tattooed and otherwise beautified, there is a way to do that too. Some of the reactions to this piece of news are quite hilarious.

Doing Good

For anyone who has felt the twinges of guilt about not being giving and generous enough here are some radical thoughts on philanthrophy to feel vindicated by. One paragraph forms the kernel of the author's argument:

Undoubtedly, most philanthropists mean to make the world a cleaner and more equitable place. Yet it’s like trying to reduce your sugar intake by eating 125 chocolate bars every day and then swearing off the occasional Pop-Tart. It’s as if the right hand has never met the left. But here is the punch line for this argument: We can all be good citizens much, much more effectively in the course of making money than in the course of giving money away.

It seems that philanthropy is ultimately bad in proportion to the grandness of its scale and design. The Gates foundation has ambitious, world-changing goals and without the right hand having met the left, the good is outweighed by the bad as Price describes. An average person giving away used clothes to a thrift store is helpin…

Whiting Out

The case for and against open-source software that allows you to white-out online ads is fairly nuanced. I find pop-ups as annonying as the next person but don't worry too much about watching an ad for Ralph Lauren in return for a day-pass to Salon. The annoyance is outweighed by what I get in return for it. Every individual must have specific criteria for what ads they would like to see or perhaps tolerate versus what they would white out without hesitation.

The all or nothing approach would not bode well either for the seller or the potential consumer. Handing the controls over to the consumer would yeild valuable data for the advertizers and enable them to fine tune their campaigns. If the vast majority of a target group have a certain product on their white-out list, chances are that ad-space was not driving in any traffic even when the option to white-out did not exist. Instead of having to guess at the outcome and have to pay for it, there would now be a way to acertain a p…

Informed Decisions

I get caught up with the goings-on back home when I chat with my mother. This happens on days when I call just to hear her voice but really have nothing specific to say. A few days ago she recounted something her friend Renuka had shared with her. Renuka, is the principal of a local high school. From meeting her a couple of times, I was struck by her erudition and progressiveness. She is a breath of fresh air in the slow, sleepy Kolkata suburb where my parents have made their post-retirement home.

A few weeks ago, Renuka was forced to have a conversation with a fourth grade teacher because her cellphone rang all day long and often she would interrupt her teaching to respond. During the course of the meeting, it became fairly obvious that the teacher in question was moonlighting as a call-girl and those phone calls were from prospective clients. Renuka had always assumed that this woman was independently wealthy judging from her expensive clothes and accessories that were quite incong…

Lost Memories

Like there are scientific explanations for why frightening and traumatic memories linger on for a long time, there must be others to account for the gouging of parts of memory until your recollection of the past is like a sieve. Most of the bad parts have been blanked out but along its periphery good memories have gone too.

My mother, J and I lived in the same house with R in the last and possibly the most painful months of my marriage. Between changing her diapers, feeding and bathing her I planned the logistics of our escape from hell. The emotional abuse was escalating rapidly to the point where I called the women's shelter for help.

A volunteer would check on me almost every other day to make sure we were doing alright and were on track to leave as soon as J's doctor deemed it safe for her to take the flight to India. Former co-workers were helping me in any way they could without drawing R's attention. Those were very frightening and stressful times.

Yet on the surface …