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Showing posts from January, 2008

One Night @ The Call Center

By when you make it to page twenty of Chetan Bhagat’s One Night @ The Call Center, you see a Bollywood screenplay pretty much writing itself. Had I been more Bollywood-savvy I would have figured the entire cast - a younger Rahul Bose seems perfect for Sam, the narrator. I don’t say this is a demeaning way at all. In the right directorial hands, this is a story ripe for being Bollywoodized.

The material is fully ready waiting merely a couple of item numbers to be shoe horned at the right spots. There is love, sex, heroes, villains, vamps, God (though God knows why) and a long suffering Indian wife who catches her husband cheating on her even as she slaves to make the perfect Badam Milk for his mother. Plot elements are borrowed from sources on cyberspace and elsewhere – probably a natural thing for something that has Bollywood stamped all over it.

Though the God element in the prologue was intriguing, I did not get the point in the end - especially in the epilogue. Other than that the st…

Seventeen Pebbles by Jane Hirshfield

Reading Seventeen Pebbles by Jane Hirshfield took me back to a time long ago when I loved collecting pebbles whenever I visited a new place. It was my kind of memento. Sometimes leaves, sea shells and twigs would be added to give more definition to my memories.

As I was to find out, pebbles are not so different from one another even I found them a thousand miles apart. Once inside my box of "treasures" I could not tell the places apart. Hirshfield's pebbles unlike mine are as distinctive as they are beautiful.

After Degas

The woman who will soon
take a lover shaves her legs in the bath,
considering:
Would knowing or not knowing that she does this please him more ?

Maple

The lake scarlets
the same instant as the maple.
Let others try to say this is not passion.

Lemon

The grated lemon rind bitters the oil it steeps in.
A wanted flavor.
Like the moment in love when one lover knows
the other could do anything now wanted, yet does not.

Sentence

The body of a starving horse cannot forget the…

Adventures In Direction

I got lost twice within a couple of hours trying to get from my apartment to point A and from point A to point B. I am direction challenged to the point of being handicapped but this time it was not me. I called the woman I was supposed to meet at point A and asked for directions but she handed the phone to her husband right away.

Everything heads south from this point. I scribble down what he tells me – interestingly there are more landmark references than there are directions. I thought that was a woman thing. When I review what I have scribbled it reads like “Keep going until you see a church, then after a while, there will be a road on the left that forks in about a mile. Take the left branch and keep going. Turn left and one stop light and right at the next ..” after several more contortions left-right, right-right, right-left I should see a house with a porch. That is my destination. Did not sound promising but I trusted the man to know the way to his own home.

So off we go, J an…

Flying Solo

J takes music lessons on the weekend and that is the only activity that I have been able to sign her up for given my schedule. There is a ton of learning and recreational opportunities for kids - storytelling, crafts, dance, drama and sports to name a few. The problem is not the lack of options but when it the classes meet. A 3:00 p.m on Tuesday does not work for me.

The system seems to penalize single parents without an extended support network who are trying their best to keep their head above the water. Working full time and enriching your child's life outside school seems to an impossible proposition unless you have a partner or a whole bunch of family who are glad to pitch in. This would mean either being married or living very close to your family. It is surprising given the statistics

As of 2000 an estimated 13.5 million single parents had custody of 21.7 million children under 21 years of age whose other parent lived somewhere else.

Given the numbers it woul…

Bitter To Sweet

Reading about these magic African berries that make everything taste sweet made me wonder about having one magic thought which when recalled could make an utterly wrong day, set a terrible month or year right - spin a gossamer web of happiness over what is unbearably painful. I know that water tastes sweet after eating amla - but neem still tastes bitter.

When I am feeling low I find myself tunneling into a book or a movie - overlaying the life of a character over mine. For a while I would have escaped the here and now, living another life in another place and time - not quite the magic berry for the mind, a poor substitute at best. This is my amla standing in for miracle fruit.

Reading For J

J finished reading Dairy of a Wimpy Kid a few weeks ago and announced in all seriousness that it is the best book she has read in her life. It had been random chapter books, Abby Hayes and Junie B Jones up to then. For a book to make J's reading list these days it must have hundred or more pages and no pictures - it is very important to not be caught reading a "baby book". I had to sneak and read Wimpy Kid being that J frowns upon grown ups who fail to mind their own business and raid the bookshelves of "little people" (her preferred way of depicting herself when she wishes to be viewed as a victim).

This book is a journal of a middle school boy replete with hilarious illustrations. To restate the obvious i.e. boys don't write diaries, the narrator Greg provides his disclaimer right out front - "Don't expect me to be all 'Dear Diary' this and 'Dear Diary' that". Luckily for the reader he does not walk the talk. This is the fi…

Not To Drive

I am a notoriously lazy driver. There has never been a chance to ride along or carpool that I have not snapped up immediately. Though it made for a very long commute, I loved being able to hop on a train to get to work. I soaked in the sights of the subway stations and bus shelters, read the latest Harry Potter or just sat still and enjoyed not being the driver. Then came J, elementary school and living in the burbs. Driving and mommyhood go together.

Anything more than two hours of driving is too far to go "just for a weekend", I hate driving in the dark and will do anything to avoid driving in bad weather - even a mild rain would qualify. The idea of living in the heart of a big city has always been appealing because I will not need a car and won't miss its absence. All around me are people who love driving long and far. Just to hear accounts of their ten and twelve hour drives wears me out.

To me, to drive or not to drive has never been a question. The sad truth is I li…

Childhood Robbed

When J asks me a question and I am not quite sure of the answer (which is very often the case) she is prompt to add "Look it up on Google". She has heard of Wikipedia and knows that I often check out books on Amazon. Kids at her age are internet-savvy and I am quite sure there are six year olds out who are much more sophisticated in their use of it than J is.

Neil Postman's observes in his book The Disappearance of Childhood :...if we turn over to children a vast store of powerful adult material, childhood cannot survive. By definition adulthood means mysteries solved and secrets uncovered. If from the start the children know the mysteries and secrets, how shall we tell them apart from anyone else?

Back in the dark ages before there was internet, acquiring knowledge was a painstaking undertaking. You had to have access to libraries and encyclopedias not to mention a robust memory to store what you had learned for easy recall. The meaning, etymology and pronunciation of a …

Not Quite Ready

Read this excellent summary of signs that an organization is not ready for outsourcing. Almost every consulting engagement that I have been a part of, has suffered from a multitude of the malaises listed. But that did not dampen their zeal for outsourcing whatever was in sight - from back-office operations to core business processes and critical applications. While the results were far from pretty, never was it attributed to the organization's lack of preparedness.

Vendor SLAs are scrutinized, operational metrics are sought where none exist and blame is divvied up as convenient. Major unforeseen costs and inconveniences are attributed to the newness factor. It is generally believed once that wore off and everyone in the equation reached stable equilibrium all will be well.

Interestingly enough the clamor of the initial days subsides to a low din and just stays that way for the length of the outsourcing relationship. It is deemed an acceptable level of chaos because eliminating it i…

Buying Luck

I have a fern covered in gold brooch and love the idea of wearing a real leaf as jewelery. Designed by nature, it is unique and one of its kind. The four-leaf clover pendant along the same lines is a nice idea too. I am not so sure about the "cheap good luck charm" part. I wonder if good luck charms retain their potency when they can be bought and sold at will. Or maybe it is an outmoded notion that fortune like love cannot be purchased; that it comes only as a reward for good karma.

There are stories of lottery winners who lost it all and those who managed to keep it. Being able to keep the windfall seems to require having "earned" it at a certain level and a genuine desire to pass forward the rewards of good fortune. Likewise, finding one's own four-leaf clover and preserving it in gold for posterity might well bring the well deserved good luck.

Translated Birdsong

If I knew how, I would have loved to upload J's name in birdsong as a ring tone for my mobile phone . Until then I have to content myself with knowing that it can be done. Surely some geek at the workplace will take pity on my tech-retardedness (in some other language there may be a word that describes the combination of being technology challenged combined with the irrational fear of new gadgets much more succinctly) and help me out. Whatever the accuracy of the algorithm being used, English translated to birdsong sounds perfectly delightful.

Andantino

The next morning when she checks her mail, she finds his response to her initial contact.

I liked your profile, though I must admit that your description is shrouded with mystery - what I call the "Tell you later" syndrome. A little about myself. I was born in Calcutta, raised in Bombay, and spent the first 18 years in India. And then undergrad in NY and grad schools in CA - so I guess I spanned both sides of the coast ..and work has taken me to places like Austin, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, etc. Have traveled a bit, but not as much. But I am keeping that as one of my "To Do's" among so many ..

I am sorry to hear that you went through a difficult divorce. I have borne the brunt of that on my end as well. I guess keeping your head up and faith in the truth ( a rather philosophical outlook I have now!) and pursuing other passions keeps one going.

Send me an email at helios@sunspot.com. Look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers
Helios


To which she responds …

Sized In Vain

I am not much of a clotheshorse and most definitely not up to the challenges of shopping for them online. Thanks to vanity sizing a woman never knows what size her clothes are. She can never tell if it will fit unless she has tried it out in a fitting room. Depending on the label and the vintage she could range from 2 to 8. Help is now at hand with sizemeuponline.

There are apparently some industry data exchange standards and an XML specification but it does not help much without a governing institute like the bureau of weights and measures. With even the kilogram standard needing recalibration what are the odds of getting a Marilyn Monroe mannequin to be and remain the gold standard for dress size 12 ? Women in need of a dress that fits might be better served by a body scanner and purveyors of mass customized couture.

Application Types

Anyone who has ever coded an application or been in the thick of things when one was being coded by others would chuckle reading this blog post that compares applications to certain type of employees. I have to admit that I have seen all the types she has on her list and then some. My most recent experience was the totally "Clueless Guy" who was "Undecided" to boot.

The application's sole redeeming grace was that it guaranteed employment for hoards of developers, testers not to mention a few architects, analysts and managers - a cash cow if there was ever one. The party lasted all of two years and a close to two million dollars when senior management had an epiphany - Bangalore it expeditiously. I'm sure that it makes perfect sense to have a "clueless + undecided" guy in a different continent serving the business needs of your customers 24/7. This must be what they call smartsourcing.

Two Poems

Read two beautiful poems that seem to belong together - almost like they were a pair. Love and loss are often inseparable even cyclical.

"Separation" by W.S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.


"You Fit Into Me" by Margaret Atwood

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Dating History

A co-worker's recent comment triggered this post. He is a very highly networked individual and that has clearly paid rich dividends in his career. He volunteers for a number of organizations and coaches kids for soccer. Rob is attractive, has a pleasant personality, is well liked and is really fun to be around in the workplace. All things considered, one would wonder why he is still single in his early 40s.

When conversation turned to dating and the pitfalls thereof, Rob said he wished he could review dating resumes before going out with someone, be able to get reviews and recommendations from friends, family and exes and finally how neat it would be to have all that information readily available online. His rationale was that most hiring decisions he has made or been a part of have been successful because one or all those data points were available for the candidate. His lack of success in the dating game is due to the absence of the very same information about his dates.

Though …

Modern Cubes

There is something very Modern Times-esque about this story about this contraption for turning the cubicle worker mobile. The idea is to keep workers gainfully employed on the computer as they get their daily quota of exercise on the tread-mill. The feeding machine would fit in nicely in this scheme of things along with the state of the art napping device.

A built in alarm is set and once nap time is up, lights and vibration serve as a gentle wake up call. Members pay $65 a month for an unlimited number of naps, while non-members pay $14 for 20 minutes in the Energy Pod.

When sleep is that expensive, unlimited access to the device could very well become an employee benefit. The whole idea of making the most of the 40 hours a week (on average) of worker time may not always yield the expected returns. Most people don't miss their deadlines because they were slipping away for a workout at the gym or napping at their desk from sheer tiredness.

They are not successful as individual perfor…

Split Yet Green

Apparently you cannot be green and divorced at the same time and there is obviously merit in that argument. My neighbor downstairs is a single dad who keeps his apartment so tidy that management of the property would likely pay him to use it as a model to show prospective renters.

Nothing looks like its ever been used. The books and CDs are lined up so carefully that you hesitate to venture near for fear of disturbing their order. Having been neighbors for three years now, my guess is it would take an act of God to fluster him or put his house in any state of disarray. The perfection is almost repelling. I'm not surprised that I have never seen any visitors at his place in all this time - it would intimidate me to sit on his couch.

When his little girl comes to spend a weekend, his house is the favored watering hole for a bunch of neighborhood kids including J at times. Unlike us adults who step even on his doormat gingerly, they don't think twice before trashing the place. But…

Touchscreen Waiters

Inattentive to outright churlish waiters are part of the eating-out experience. Then you have the "Is everything okay ?" every five minutes style of waiting which drives me up the wall. It seems that striking the right balance is a fine art. It must require a certain mileage in the industry that most wait-staff lack being that this is not a line of work the majority of them is looking to build a career in. Consumers can now have touch-screens to replace surly waiters.

It won't be a big loss from a customer experience perspective where a restaurant's wait-staff is a big reason for business not being brisk. It would probably drive down cost for the customer and improve service quality - overall a win-win. However, to replace great waiters with a lifeless machine, strip a restaurant of what makes it a favorite with customers would be a shame. Turning touch-screens into the de-facto way of doing restaurant business would make as much sense and 100% IT outsourcing is makin…

Random Notes

Great pointers for those who are considering a career as a brand strategist - the list of job disqualifications is fairly long.

We speak in jest about finding something so funny that we died laughing - turns out that it has really happened. Maybe this should be a warning for everyone who has ever said that they want a partner who can make them laugh.

It was a few days before Christmas. I was that the office cafeteria with a friend. We had both paid for our lunch when we realized we had forgotten the water. I made a sprint for a couple of Aquafinas and the next guy was paying for his meal. He had paid for our aquas too and said cheerily "Enjoy your lunch !" Unlike the Starbucks cheer-chain, this one ended with us thanking the guy a few times for this nice, surprising gesture.

Headhunting Stories

When you've been in the IT consulting business for a while, you run into a host of colorful characters in the form of agency sales and account managers and plain old recruiters. There are stories and stories but here is a small sampling :

1- It was a phone screen with the agency recruiter before being submitted to the client. After about five minutes she asked me "Have you ever considered a career in radio ? You have the perfect voice for radio" When I said I had not she had a second recommendation for me"How about technical recruiting, you know interviewing candidates and screening them for submission to clients ? I think you would do really well at that too". While those were great votes of confidence, neither resulted in a job.

2 - She is a recruiter in her early twenties and asks me to meet her for coffee at the local Starbucks. Before I leave I find out that she has no college degree, has quite a bit of credit card debt - she hardly makes any commissions and…

Getting Wrong

This article on how Hollywood routinely gets Africa wrong is aptly under the Provocations section of GOOD Magazine. While it is completely true that "An Africa that is more than lush landscapes, bloodthirsty tyrants, and trigger-happy killers is long overdue.", Hollywood's distorted perspectives on cultures and peoples outside North America has its own benefits.

As an immigrant it helps you understand the broad brush stereotypes that are associated with your kind and come up with some handy coping mechanisms. For desis it could be the fake gurus, Patels running motels, thick accents and arranged marriages with an occasional doctor thrown in for good measure.

So when the course of casual social interaction, some or all of those assumptions are made about you, you don't feel overly perplexed. You do what you can to give folks a sense of where the median India lies - somewhere between the extremes of a Bollywood Musical and Salaam Bombay, you encourage them to check out s…

Besotted By Chai

I tried the Panera Bread Chai Tea Latte for the first time this morning and am completely smitten by the taste. This a way better than the Starbucks Green Tea Latte - a beverage so gross that it had managed to wean me from all manner of chai for a bit. I drink copious amounts of black and green tea but masala chai is always a special treat reserved for a lazy Sunday morning. My blend is the the very refreshing desi formula but Panera's concoction is quite a different animal.

The official recipe says "brewed black tea with honey, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and steamed milk". I guess it must be the vanilla that makes it taste so unlike the masala chai I am familiar with. While I love how it tastes, I have no desire the pay the ridiculous price of close to $4 for it. So I came home and tried to reproduce the taste with fat free milk and it did not taste half bad. I have to fine tune the mix of tea and spices until I get it just right.

Buying Power

An American friend was recounting her recent trip to Disney with the kids. It was fun, got really crowded around Christmas and there were tons for foreigners - specially Europeans. With a stronger currency they were having a lot more fun than the average American like my friend who had planned and saved for this trip for a couple of years. I guess it won't be long before foreigners over-run and out-shop the locals at their local malls. Travel to the States may actually peak before Black Friday. Shopping in NYC is a good start on the way to the outlet malls. I can't wait for some IT work to get near-shored from the EU to the US.

Never Safe

I have been thinking about a six month India trip for J - it is probably a desperate bid for cultural immersion before its too late for impressions to be etched. When I first discussed the idea with her grandparents they had a mini panic attack. I had imagined they would be excited - which in all fairness they were but anxiety overshadowed that.

There were concerns about what if she grew homesick and wanted Mommy would I come get her, would they have to drop her off ? What about school ? I could tell there was more than logistics on their mind but was not sure what it was exactly. J for her part was ready to pack her bags for the trip right away when I asked her. She said she would miss me but she could always call and it was only for six months. It was not like she was going away for ever. Her teacher thought it was an excellent idea as long as J and I were able to endure the long separation.

All this reassured the grandparents somewhat but they were still not sure it was a good idea. …

Articulation

"Reflection,"
we call the mountains in the lake,
whose existence resides in neither stone nor water.

From Articulation: An Assay

Found this fascinating story via Buzzfeed on Lakota Nation, a nation inside a nation or superposed on it at least. The comments on the blog post are just as interesting as the story itself. Like a lot of other folks, I'm very curious to see how this all pans out and specially what it means for the rights of illegal immigrants from Mexico given they are an indigenous people. As of now, this contemplated nation feels like Jane Hirshfield's assay on reflection.

Geek Stuff

The Wifi Donation Alarm Clock has to be the most horrible punishment for the snoozers among us but it is almost guaranteed to get the job done. Also on the flip side, one person's friend is the another's enemy so our collective propensity to hit snooze on the alarm clock benefits everyone in the end; friend and foe alike.

After you've finally hauled yourself out of bed and made filled your enemies coffers in the process, you can feel a new rush of despair looking at the calendar. No matter what month of the year, there is always something to feel lousy about. Based on my most recent experiences at the work place, the line for November resonates deeply with me - Planning. Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress. I could not agree more.

Too Vegan

You can never be too vegan apparently. I am just as confused as this blogger by "Vegan Cane Sugar". For a minute I wondered if unbeknownest to me, I had been eating sugar laced with bacon powder - just to enhance the flavor. Before, I got ahead of myself I read the update further down in the post which clarifies the use of charcoal in the sugar-making process may render it un-vegan.

At the grocery store today, I saw this over-priced chicken that was fed a 100% vegetarian diet. In nature, hens do eat worms and are none the worse for it. I was not sure why it made sense to turn the chicken vegetarian and have the consumer pay for its unnatural diet. Would it not be better to leave the poor chicken to their own devices and have the wannabe vegeterian find some textured vegetable protien instead ?

Rental Womb

The morals and ethics of being a surrogate mother are enormously complex. One perspective is that of a generous woman who is willing to pay the emotional and physical toll of pregnancy on behalf of another who is unable to bear her own child. The act of handing this child over to its biological parents after carrying in for nine months is a great sacrifice and a gift beyond compare.

And there is the other view of a woman who is bartering her womb and her childbearing years for money, being no more than a sterile petri dish emotionally to the fetus growing inside her. The loving bond between the mother and her unborn child either does not exist or is killed early. She must bear and deliver the child mechanistically so she is not traumatized from having to part with the child.

The emotional state of a pregnant mother supposedly has a lot to do with the physical and mental well being of the child. It seems in the surrogate arrangement, this would tend to be a casualty. The birth of the chi…

Investment And Change

Solving for world hunger and improving your vocabulary while you are at it - that's an unbeatable combination. This can get addictive specially if you are working on getting past your best level - I got stuck at 46 and remained there up until 12000 odd grains of rice. It was really hard to pry myself away from this site and put my time to uses far more mundane than solving world hunger.

The idea can be extended to yield bigger and better returns for highest reading, history, critical reasoning or math scores; make learning fun and rewarding for kids. So many grains of rice for every correct answer; the top scorers could earn seeds, clothes, livestock and even land for the poor. The Freerice.com about page summarizes what makes this concept click :
Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your vocabulary can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry …

In Flux

I don't know about the ten archetypical males this article talks about, but I am in complete agreement with the author when he describes the consequences of women redefining their own gender roles in the wake of the Women’s suffrage movement :

As women took steps to define their own gender roles, men missed the opportunity to do the same. We were left with a confused, ragtag concept of what it means to be a man, defined not by ourselves, but rather by contrasting ideals from two sources — liberated women and posterity.

While his archetypes are probably more relevant to the Western world than they are to the Eastern, the issue of manhood caught in the flux of two contrasting ideals - "liberated women and posterity" is fairly universal. Reading this reminds me of a comment my friend Janet made recently. She got married a few years ago after dating many men over a long period of time. The marriage has run into rough weather and they will end it officially soon.

I asked her if…