Showing posts from December, 2008

Quid Pro Quo

Arati Pandya Singh in this Little India article echoes the sentiment of many a desi who have their names routinely mauled and slaughtered beyond recognition in the West. My first name is more pronounceable than the last and I always encourage people to not even try to say my full name. First name is all I go by.
It used to cause some discomfort when at conference calls in the workplace, when a bunch of us would be introduced by the meeting organizer to those on the phone. Whereas, everyone else got referred to by their full names, I was only a first name. It was as if I was missing an appendage that everyone else had. And this is the fate of many a desi. Rarely if ever does anyone trouble to take on the challenging last name let alone get it right. Rarely if ever does a desi insist on it.
There must be something to do with pecking order in the organization, that I don't get to be a part of (for better or worse) being a consultant, and ability of the locals to pronounce a desi'…

Dream By Dawn

After a very long time, I dreamt of P early last morning. So real and lifelike was the dream that I had trouble orienting to my real world after I woke up. It is said that dreams of dawn come true. As beautiful as this one was, it is so completely improbable that will not meet reality even at a grazing tangent. Yet once, it might have been and I did not want it - now that it cannot be, I wonder what if. More than ten years ago, P disappeared like pebble into the depths of an immense lake. At the time, there was not much to see or feel. The ripples on the lake were gentle, graceful and dignified just like everything about P was. 
We had each taken a separate branch on our fork of the road not knowing then how far apart that would cause us to diverge over time. What is more there would be no way to connect once - only for old time's sake. I have more than a few things to tell my precious yet castaway pebble that were either not said or worse said all wrong in the callowness of youth.…

Lifestream Aggregation

Mashable has this great post on social media how-tos for everyone and everything. Taking a quick look through the possibilities started to make my head hurt. Clearly, there is way too much going on to keep up with. Yes, you can do two hundred things with Google Maps to enhance the quality of your life online and so can you with Delicious, Facebook, Twitter et al. The point is how much is too much and how much is enough to get by without becoming socially inept or even irrelevant. Mark Drapeau offers some words of wisdom : There aren’t any secrets. You get out what you put in. Work hard, add value, and don’t rest on your laurels. Note what’s happening in the news, and in life. Always evolve; adapt to your environment. Embrace trial-and-error and a spirit of lethal generosity. Take risks. Be surprising. Be awesome. Also, how many lifestream aggregators does anyone need ? There are atleast twenty waysyou can go about it and they are unequal in coverage. Until a leader emerges, you would pr…

Branding Hope and Dream

Interesting discussion on brand mania and what it is all about. To quote Debbie Millman, a branding consultant:
When we covet a brand, we covet the feeling that that we hope that brand will produce as a result. Most people believe that brands are the promise of an experience. I believe that brands are a projection of our hopes and dreams and fantasies about who we are and what we want people to believe.Later in the interview she talks about how some brands have stayed on with her because those products marked some rite of passage in her life. While I am not able to relate to brands are a projection of our hopes and dreams and fantasies about who we are and what we want people to believe, I can understand this.

How can you view your hopes, dreams and fantasies through a Prada bag or a Burberry coat if thousands of others use the exact same vehicles to project theirs. It would be the hopes, dreams and fantasises of the masses that you would be acting out not yours. It would mean then th…

Telling A Story

The neighborhood I have lived the last four year boasts of some pretty tacky Christmas decorations. While they can be an eye-sore specially past the end of January, they do help spread holiday cheer this time of year. The lights remind of Diwali at home which is likewise often garishly over the top.

This year things are rather subdued. Lots of homes have no lights at all. A wreath on the door is about all they have for the holidays. Maybe it is a sign of the times - the parking lot at work was pretty full the week of Christmas and those at work acted like it was business as usual. This is a lot different from what I have seen in the past. Attendance starts to thin in the second half of December and by the week of Christmas almost no one is around. The few stragglers that do come in are elsewhere in their minds.

J has not asked for a Christmas tree this year either. Thanks to some ethnic diversity in her class lately, she has figured out that everyone does not celebrate Christmas and th…

Haphazard Multitasking

Multitasking comes to women almost magically when they first become mothers. Without that essential survival skill, neither baby nor mother would make it past babyhood. The skill is honed further with the birth of the next kids until the woman is able to the feed one, diaper the next, get the laundry started, answer the phone, catch her favorite soap and cook dinner all at the same time and not miss a beat.

While our modern lives may have complicated a mother's routine some, it has also afforded many simplifications to it. As a result, she may not be multitasking any more than her forbears going back thousands of years. With that, I am a little skeptical about all the gloom and doom around the fate of multitaskers - there need to be some qualifications to preface this outlook.

When the goal of multitasking (as is often the case in workplaces) is to make up for poor planning and non-existent management, then stress is inevitable. The problem therefore is not with multitasking itself …

Le Cirque : A Table In Heaven

There is almost always two sides to any good story and making of an exclusive restaurant is no different. We have heard about Le Cirque from Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. Now, HBO's documentary Le Cirque : A Table In Heaven offers an intimate view from the other side. You see the tremendous performance pressure the management and staff are under to be rated favorably by an reputed food critic. A small error or omission in the complex choreography that defines a customer's dining experience can result in a highly damaging review - it can undo very quickly what it took millions of dollars, untold amount of sweat and toil to build.

Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque struggles to protect his own vision of the restaurant when they close in 2004 to re-open two years later. His three sons have ideas that will make the new establishment much more competitive and attract younger clientele. Their father can the biggest asset for Le Cirque and impediment to changes they wo…

Global Villages and Privacy

The closing line of this NYT article on leaving a digital trail behind us, quotes Thomas W. Malone, director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence quotes as saying : “For most of human history, people have lived in small tribes where everything they did was known by everyone they knew,” Dr. Malone said. “In some sense we’re becoming a global village. Privacy may turn out to have become an anomaly.” How true ! Indeed the concept of privacy is so new that it still needs to be explained to our our parents and grandparents. It was only when the real villages had ceased to be the hubs of society and the global digital village had come to take its place, that the concept of privacy came to exist. To the professor's point, there will be little room or need for privacy once the global village mimics the social patterns of the real villages - it will at that point become an anomaly.

Keeping It Simple

A while back I had read this short story titled Quant in which a Wall Street in which the mind of a developer of trading strategies is so valuable that his firm will do anything to stop him from leaving. To say more, would be to give the plot away but suffice it to say that the story was part of the Wall Street Noir collection.
It is stories like this and the movies based on it that have for the longest time perpetrated the myth of the math and statistical geniuses who get to be the masters of the universe because of their vastly superior intelligence. They live in their ivory towers inside iridescent bubbles that we can all watch in awe but cannot touch. The rest of us, must repose our faith in their ability to best manage our hard earned money; for left to our own devices we'd sink without a trace in the turbulent seas of finance and investing like a ton of bricks.
Recent events have proved that these so-called geniuses were playing ducks and drakes with people's retirement …

Cat Dancers

A film about dancers whose are an exotic-tiger entertainment act is not the most accessible one to a general audience including the animal lovers. Cat Dancers is such a story and yet it completely transcends its niche and leave you with a memorable experience. You learn about the lives of a very unusual trio of entertainers Joy Holiday, Roy Holiday and Chuck Lizza and the big wild cats that they love like their own children. The three also form a ménage à trois. Ron has this to say about their unconventional relationship :

"I think the human race is very archaic. They need labels - which is very, very sad. When Chuck came into our life, the intimacy that we had spiritually...made us three of the most unique people."

The story could be about love in many forms - a human being's capacity to love animals filially, an animal's near-human ability to reciprocate human affection, and the acceptance and indeed celebration of bi-sexual and extra-marital love. It could a…

Recognizing Peace

There is so much to learn and ponder over in the His Holiness The Dalai Lama's talk on Peace and Prosperity recording by National Geographic. There are some words of wisdom that make a deeper impact than the rest because they happen to strike closer home. For me, that was The Dalai Lama's explanation of what separates non-violence from violence and how motivation for a certain action is what ultimately determines whether or not it can be called violent.

The examples he cited were a mother disciplining her child in a harsh tone or a genuinely caring teacher doing so with a student. In both cases, the actions would appear outwardly violent without actually being so. The motivation stems from love, concern and a desire to do good for the person towards whom the apparent violence is directed. According to His Holiness that disqualifies the act from being one of violence. On the contrary he says the use of guile, charm or bribery to serve some questionable ulterior motive while appe…

Participation In Poetry

Found this article on the lack of relevance of poetry to the "consumer" ( the would be buyer of a volume of poetry) and some ideas on correcting this problem. The culprits are numerous - the self-absorption of poets who write for themselves and not for their readers, lack of positive energy in most poetry and then (surprisingly to me at least ) the MFA programs. It quotes John Barr who suggests that the lack of audience participation in the creation of poetry is causing the genre stagnation :

“If you look at drama in Shakespeare’s day, or the novel in the last century, or the movie today, it suggests that an art enters its golden age when it is addressed to and energized by the general audiences of its time.”

Such apparently has not been the case with poetry the efforts of Poetry In Motion et al notwithstanding. It seems to me that poetry is more easily accessible, widely dispersed and democratized than ever. I am not sure if I am convinced that there is a lack of poetry being…

Necessity and Invention

While we learn the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" as children, its not until much later that we appreciate what it is all about. The phrase came to mind while reading this article on the use of unused cellphone airtime as a form of digital currency in Africa. If only roll-over minutes could be traded for goods and services in America.

Back in India domestic help resort to missed calls to communicate with their employers. It could be to notify them of a delayed arrival or absence. To know more details, the employer would need to call back at no cost to the domestic help - incoming calls on cell phones are free in India.

In other situations, the number of missed calls, or the number of rings before hanging up could be a pre-defined code between the caller and the callee - no one ends up paying anything and yet a message is fully communicated. This is another example of necessity spurring creativity if not outright invention.

As for the cell phone operators, they wi…

Half Baked Logic

This BBC article based on scientific research suggests that romantic comedy fans are likely to to fare badly in the realm of relationships. The argument goes as follows :
The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realise

Dr Bjarne Holmes
Heriot Watt University Is it possible perhaps that the fans of romantic comedy find escape from the imperfections and aggravations of real relationships in these movies. Maybe it is a good thing to have this safety valve because the alternative might involve growing depressed or resentful over their real-life situation.

Extending the same half-baked logic it can be argued that Disney animation movies render kids unfit for the real world which are clearly no replication of the land of fantasy and fairytale. If a child can parse magic from reality and be none the worse for it, should normal adults be given equal credit.

Andaz Apna Apna

For the longest time I've meant to watch Andaz Apna Apna (AAA) because of everything I have read about it . AAA has a cultish, iconic status among desi movie buffs who understand Hindi. Fourteen years too late, I did watch it a few days ago and wondered why someone would recommend watching it once a week - once was more than enough for me.

Comedy is one of my favorite genres and I know good Hindi. With that combination, I should have figured out the deal about AAA but unfortunately it did not register with me. Maybe I lack the requisite knowledge and interest in Bollywood trivia it takes to "get" AAA. Now, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was a movie to remember not so much for the sheer heights of absurdity that it reached but for the finesse with which it was done.

Like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, AAA attempts satire as well but misses out almost completely on subtlety unless you count the numerous self references to Bollywood cliches and characters. Without any real substance or original …

Winding Back

A few days ago J asked me what games I played when I was her age. Answering her question took me back to a place in time that I am have grown so unfamiliar with that I often stumbled and even lost my way. I started to describe to her how I spent afternoons of my school holidays in the shade of a young papaya tree making things with clay collected from place where the tap in the garden leaked making it all slushy and muddy. 
Sometimes, I would stack playing cards all afternoon in elaborate formations and my back ached with the effort. In the evenings my friends and I would race through the paddy field behind my house - often we had no destination and ran for the sheer pleasure of it. I stated the basic facts accurately enough but my description of things lacked something - liveliness perhaps. I could sense that I was not being able to express to J how those days had really been, how I had truly felt and who I was then.
Time blurs memories until you no longer feel sure of your unquestione…

Apple Cake

Neither J nor I are particularly fond of apples and yet we've had a small bag of them lying around the house for days. I take one to work and bring it back uneaten and return it to the bag to try again another day. Finally, in desperation this past Sunday, I decided to do something with the apples. After looking around Epicurious with J for apple cake recipes which we found too complicated, I settled for something that looked simple enough for a very novice baker like myself with J as the assistant.

For the first time today, I was able to get a cake out of the oven that looked and tasted like one. I could not help making some minor tweaks to the ingredients - instead of cinnamon, I used the same quantity of allspice, clove and nutmeg powders mixed together. The walnuts were replaced by chopped almonds and pecans. Since there were five ripe apples in the mix and a whole bunch of sugar, I added a little kosher salt to dampen the cloying sweetness.

J was very pleased with herself for…

Smater Phones

I've gone into meetings feeling like a character from the Flintstones around a room-full of folks with slick smartphones. My trusty Motorola Razr is over three years old and very unsmart. According to this WSJ article, if I continue to lug around my Inspirion any longer and not invest in a nice smartphone - the device de jour, I would really retreat to the dark ages. 
Being that I am texting challenged to the point that I respond to SMS via email and cannot work without a big screen and keyboard, I would love to see some enhancements to smartphones so folks like me are able to able to take the plunge and chuck our laptop or god forbid the more pre-historic desktop - tower and all. A retractable and fold-able monitor would be most useful and a virtual keyboard can only help. With just those two enhancements, the usability of a phone as a computer would greatly improve.

How To Be A Geek Goddess

I have to admit the title How to be a Geek Goddess by Christina Tynan-Wood had me a little apprehensive. I did not want to be advised against using the CD drive as a cup-holder, the futility of finding the "any" button on a keyboard or a step by step guide to using teh internets. While there is a bit of cuteness going on in the book every now and again, overall it is an useful addition to the book shelf of those who approach technology with some trepidation. 
The idea of a book on technology geared towards women is a nice one. Women do have a different slant on technology and their relationship to it ; rarely do books speak to them in a tone of voice they can comfortably relate to. Geek Goddess tries to fill this void. Being a mom, I liked the chapter which focuses on how to keep kids out of harms way - there is a lot of good information and commonsense advise.
Hyperlinks are scattered throughout the book as reference to websites on the subject at hand. While useful, that info…

Fact And Fiction

Read a nice article that tries to tackle the question of the future of science fiction and if it will even survive. The argument goes as follows : is going to be even harder for science fiction writers to predict the technological developments which will transform our lives. Science fiction, claim the doomsayers, is dead - or, if not dead, in terminal decline.

Sci-fi is not my thing and I have read precious little of it - The Time Machine, The Left Hand of Darkness and Yargo are the only three I can remember having enjoyed. I heard about Repo ! on NPR recently and thought idea of organ repossession in the event of failing to pay the installments was particularly poignant these days. Yet, most of the punditry were dead wrong about the financial meltdown that is unfolding around us today, even a year ago - they just did not see it coming. Why then is it such a bad thing that sci-fi did not see the transistor coming and all the changes it brought in its wake ?

If the unthinkable did ha…

Pricing And Cat Herding

Loved reading this thoughtful post on right-pricing the iApp. The parable the prefaces that post is priceless. Among a bunch of other things, I learned the word abandonware. Andy Finnell makes his case against $0.99 iApp thusly :
There will be an iPhone app bust. The current prices simply aren’t sustainable. Either developers will crash out of the market when they discover they can’t make a living off their current prices, or the gold rush developers will lose interest and leave when they realize they can’t make a quick buck off the store. The developers left standing will be the ones who set reasonable prices for their applications.

I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. I currently have an iPhone app in development, and when it comes out, I will price it $9.99 or higher. Knowing nothing about the marketplace or the potential pool of iApp customers, I am wondering if there may not be a spot for an officially appointed or better yet, a self-styled evaluator and cat-herder of iAp…

Online Scrapbook

I used to love scrapbooking and have had a few different ones in my life. Since J came along, all I have had time for is to collect the memorable scraps to put together in a book someday in the future. It's been seven years since I started putting aside J related memorabilia but a scrapbook is yet to happen. Seeing this really neat online scrapbook maker inspires hope - maybe that project can actually see light of day.

Worst Calls

The 10 Worst Predictions of 2008 are rather amusing to read and recall. I guess schadenfreude is the word I am looking for. The common person gets their comeuppance each time the punditry gets it all wrong - and the mistakes come fast and furious. The fear of $200 gallon oil mongered by the Goldman Sachs analyst was not a lot different from the panic some of my desi acquaintances got into a few months ago, when the price of rice kept rising like it would not stop.

Some advised me to start hoarding what I could in whatever space I have in my apartment, others suggested that I ask my folks in India to visit with as many bags of rice as their baggage limit would allow. Yet others went on to say, our rice-eating days were numbered and we should prepare to change our dietary habits to survive in the post-rice world. It seems as if the only difference between the regular guy and the experts is chutzpah.

The White Tiger

I read Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger this past weekend and absolutely loved it. The literary scene these days is dominated by one or two hit wonders - heavy-weights with real oeuvres to their credit are a thing of the past . With that, it has become increasingly harder to come by fiction that holds your attention and actually offers a refreshingly take on the human condition. Adiga offers generous portions of both in this book, his debut novel.

The bar for a desi author writing about India when being read by a desi reader is automatically set higher because the reader knows the score. Adiga's India and Indians are entirely believable which is more than what can be said about a lot of other books of this genre - namely contenders for the Great Indian Novel mantle.
Adiga is not subtle in taking on everything that defines India and telling it like it is - be it the mind boggling number of deities, secularism, marriage, family, casteism, bureaucracy, corruption, lawlessness, entre…


I am mom and got off the boat a little while ago. Even with that, I fully qualify for the FOB mom label. Today I found a blog just for people like me written by their kids - My Mom Is A Fob. They also have a place for the the FOB dad.We parents are apparently a niche of our very own and offer plenty by way of amusement to our bewildered children.

I imagine in time J and her Asian friends will write about their parents FOB foibles - I know I have plenty. I can see hows her exasperated "Mommy...."s can become a rich source of material. Not a week goes by when I don't do something that makes my seven year old roll her eyes in disbelief. Who knows, maybe my eccentricities have to do with being a FOB mom as well. The bloggers have a handy definition of FOB which with some minor adjustments for desi behavior who translate over quite nicely to define the Indian FOB
FOB stands for “fresh off the boat,” and is a term often used to describe Asian immigrants
who just aren’t quite on…

Feeling Solitary

If the 21st century's making you feel miserable, there are at least seven reasons why. The article cites a study which shows a lot of people have one one they can confide in - further along there are references to yet more studies and depressing ones at that. David Wong has it exactly right when he talks about the demise of mass media contributing to the overwhelming din of dissenting voices. He says :
There effectively is no "mass media" any more so, where before we disagreed because we saw the same news and interpreted it differently, now we disagree because we're seeing completely different freaking news. When we can't even agree on the basic facts, the differences become irreconcilable. That constant feeling of being at bitter odds with the rest of the world brings with it a tension that just builds and builds.
In the pre-internet days, I remember having read the same article in a print magazine or newspaper that many of my friends and acquaintances had as wel…

Mall Music

Listening to holiday music in shopping malls always makes me wistful for the year gone by - makes me pause to think about how much and how little things have changed in my world since the last time it was this season. Nothing signals the passage of time quite as poignantly as the sound music that is associated with holidays or festivals - back home in India, it used to be the listening to Mahalaya on the radio.

Then sometimes, I might walk into a store and hear a popular number from the 80s or 90s playing; making me share a smile with a stranger who like me is thinking how it the song does not fit with the here and now, or maybe we both have some pleasant even if different memories associated with that music.

While I have noticed there is something different about mall and elevator music, I did not know that there was music specially composed for such places.

Cake In Mug

I can't bake to save my life because following any recipe requires more discipline than I have. Improvisation, short-cuts and baking I have found do not go together unless perhaps if you are a professional. This recipe for a making a cake in a mug looks very promising even with my non-existent baking talents. For one thing, there is no oven involved in the "baking" which in itself is a huge reduction in complexity. When you add to that the ability to stir together everything in a coffee mug, you figure your problem has been greatly reduced in size as well. Most importantly though, throwing out a mug-full of chocolaty goo from a failed baking experiment beats having to do the same with a baking tray full of charred brownies with a baleful J looking on.

Picking A Gift

I got to know H's mom by way of ballet lessons J and H took a couple of years ago. We've become friends since - she is one of the few desis I know in my little town that I like well enough to socialize with. A few days ago it was her wedding anniversary and that was coincidentally also the day I pick J & H after their lesson on the way home from work - she drops them off in the afternoon. I don't know her well enough to pick the perfect gift for her and her husband and yet I did not want to show up without one. This is the kind of relationship where you need to mull over a gift that is both appropriate and gracious - its not something that comes to you naturally.

Thanks to poor planning and a busy day at work, I was not able to make it to the store to pick up something - so I had nothing to give them. Within minutes of my reaching there with the kids, two other couples dropped by with surprise cakes, cards and flowers for H's parents. It made for a happy, almost fes…

Left Behind

This WSJ article on SL widowhood makes for fascinating reading. Cyber relationships spilling over into real life used to be one thing but with SL the two worlds can remain distinctly apart and yet cause equal or more damage to the real world relationship. The conclusion of the article says it all :
Sitting alone in the living room in front of the television, Mrs. Hoogestraat says she worries it will be years before her husband realizes that he's traded his real life for a pixilated fantasy existence, one that doesn't include her."Basically, the other person is widowed," she says. "This other life is so wonderful; it's better than real life. Nobody gets fat, nobody gets gray. The person that's left can't compete with that."

Creative Reading

In working with a number of talented graphic designers in the last couple of years over the course of different consulting engagements, I have often marveled at their unique way of framing the otherwise ordinary. They are good with language and visual art obviously but just the combination of the two without creativity would not make them successful. While excellence in language and art can be taught (at least to some extent) the same is probably not true of creativity.

Reading this list of books that inspired some well-known graphic designers made me think about my own reactions to reading some in the list that I have. The list is an unusual one to begin with - very few of the best known or most frequently listed books feature in it. But what I find even more interesting is the reaction of these very creative people to these books. It would be worth working through this list just to see if reading might stimulate creativity where none existed before.