Thursday, October 23, 2014

St Paul's Cathedral, my sacred heart of London

Have you looked at St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge? When you are the standing at the Tate's end of the Millennium bridge, you see the dome of the cathedral rising up into the sky. The dome is what makes this view unique. Right towards the lower edge of the frame created by your naked eye, there is a sea of people crossing the bridge. The dome and the human sea together makes this view unique and breathtaking.

The dome of St Paul's cathedral is a light show in itself. Depending on the mood of the sun, the dome displays different colors. This phenomenon makes the dome more interesting and exciting. Similar to putting hand into the cookie jar without knowing what cookie you may end up with, you will see a different color every visit. When you travel in Europe, cathedrals and domes are a familiar sight. Have you noticed dome is a significant feature in both Christian and Muslim places of worship? It is easy to differentiate between the domes (Christian versus Muslim) the way it is constructed.

For me, the sight of the dome from Millennium bridge represents a different thing. Have you climbed the small hill in Parc de Buttes-Chaumont? If you have climbed on top of that small hill, you will get a view of Sacre Coeur from there. The sun, if he likes you on that particular day, will play his magic on the domes of Sacre Coeur giving you a look that is equally breathtaking. The view of St Paul's from Millennium Bridge reminds me that St Paul's is my Sacre Coeur in London.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your reputation precedes you

"I have heard about you." It is a fairly common statement. Consider the scenario. On a day at work, you meet a colleague. You extend your hands for a firm handshake and introduce yourself. The other person states his name. At this point, you realize the name had cropped up in a casual or a serious conversation. You decide to share this information with the other person. After your revelation, what is the other person's reaction? Is that person surprised, puzzled or uneasy? What would have been your reaction if the roles were reversed?

Yesterday, I was in a similar situation. I met a colleague for the first time. As soon as the introductions were over, I blurted out the truth. I have heard about this person before. I carefully chose the word "blurted" for I regretted sharing the truth. The other person was visibly uncomfortable. Luckily, I didn't have to analyze his facial patterns to find out what he was thinking. He carefully framed the response. "I hope you heard good things about me." It is ingenious but pointless. Ingenious because the unprepared gives out the truth. Pointless because there aren't many unprepareds.

So what can we do in such a situation? As you may have realized, there is no ideal answer to this. One way is to acknowledge and ask what context did the other person come across you. Who was he speaking to? The other way is  to acknowledge and apologize for coming across the other person for the first time. Try to find out what the other person is currently doing at work. What is past is past? There is no point in worrying what the other person has heard. You may be famous or notorious. Right now, you have to move on.

Tags: Musings,Work,Colleague

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seats seats everywhere but not a single one to sit

I avoid the rush hour while commuting. Since I stay far away from where I work, I have to catch a very early train in order to be at work on time. Then there are days where you tend to miss the your original schedule and, as a result, is caught up in the rush hour. This occasion turns out the day on which you don't get a seat, and you end up standing till your destination. For commuters to London from Reading, this is a daily phenomenon. But I travel in the opposite direction away from the regular traffic.

During the rush hour, most of the seats are reserved. Just like in India, there are unreserved compartments although I have not figured out how to identify one. In reality, all the seats might not be taken. The reserved seats have a piece of paper sticking out of the top of the headrest. This piece of paper indicates the length of reservation with respect to the from-station and the to-station. You can still squat here, but you will have to vacate when the rightful owner turns up.

On the day when I took this picture, most of the seats were occupied, and these stubs were sticking out of most of the seats. I found a seat after the first stop.

Tags: Photos

Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Review: Philomena

Two different people comes together in life for a purpose. When the difference is akin to chalk to cheese, we can expect a lot of drama and comedy. Hence, this approach is a commonly used one in the movies. Every year, there are movies of two people who can't stand each other taking part in a journey. Philomena is also based on a similar premise. The movie succeeds in giving you a lot of smiles and ends up tugging your heart because of the phenomenal actress called Judi Dench and a surprising performance by Steve Coogan.

Stephen Frears tells the anguish of a mother who goes in search of her son whom she had given up for adoption. He bases his movie on the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena Lee is played by Judi Dench while Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith. Both of them are at a crossroads in life. Philomena constantly wonders what happened to the baby she had forced to give up for adoption. She was an unwed mother, and her family had left in an Abbey during her pregnancy. The sisters at the Abbey had given her son for adoption. Now that she wants to find out, the Abbey is not cooperating in her search. Martin has just lost his job and is trying desperately to overcome the depression. The two of them embark on this quest.

Martin and Philomena are different people. Martin is an atheist while Philomena believes in God. Martin has suppressed hatred while Philomena has nothing against the world. The situation is weird as we expect Philomena to be angry because she is the wronged woman. Philomena is grateful for all the niceties of life while Martin is rude. Philomena is full of wonder when she finally ventures out of her small world with Martin. She is naive. But her naivety is beautifully portrayed by Judi Dench. Judi Dench, with her performance, forces us to look at things we take for granted in a new perspective. The performance also raises questions. How can one be forgiving? Why isn't there any rage? Steve Coogan's Martin learns a lot from Philomena. At the end of the movie, he is at a place that holds more peace than when he started. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the screenplay, delivers a performance that hooks us as the movie progresses. He plays the bumbling Englishman with a characteristic sense of humor initially and later turns serious. Steve Coogan has sprinkled the right amount of humor in his performance thereby not making it heavy duty.

Watch it for Judi Dench.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Books: DarkMarket

Over the years, the internet has transformed from a luxury to necessity. It is fast becoming a fundamental human right. In Finland, it already is. With internet proliferation comes a group of people who are exploiting it for making money. For instance, you have either heard about or received emails regarding the promise of treasure out of nowhere commonly referred to as the Nigerian scam. There are a whole lot of other scams. Misha Glenny uses his background in investigative journalism to trace the rise and fall of DarkMarket, one of the sites favored by hackers. In order to uncover the complex world of secrecy and anonymity, he travels from Brazil to Turkey via Scandinavian and East European countries.

Although the book chronicles the rise and fall of the website named DarkMarket, it is not a straight narrative. It does lack a chronological narrative. The book jumps back and forth between different characters and time periods. As a result, the book confuses anyone who is not reading this at a stretch. The book also will disappoint you if you are looking for conclusions. The authorities catch a major player behind the website as documented in the book. But after capture of this criminal, no one is sure if they have got the right person. The major success of the book turns out to be the shocker it delivers to a person who has adopted technology with both hands without realizing its darker side. These days, we conduct a lot of our day to day activities using the internet. Our online identities are vulnerable. An experienced hacker can effortlessly extract this information from our computers. The extracted information is sold cheaply to fraudsters who then uses it for various schemes. Any legal procedures against these people take enormous efforts, and sometimes fruitless, because these crimes extend international boundaries. With law enforcers spread across the world, it is difficult to keep it a secret and also to get everybody to  cooperate. Since there is a lot of money involved here, the organizations behind these websites are becoming like the modern mafia.

Technology makes our lives easy. At the same time, technology also has an evil side. We have been ignorant of the negative aspects. Misha Glenny wakes up from the slumber. Forget the lack of structure in the book. This book is still a must-read for you to understand the darker side of the internet. I am sure you will be afraid to use even the nearest ATM machine after reading this book.

Tags: Books,Misha Glenny,Hackers

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When if becomes when

Communication plays an important role in both our personal and professional lives. If you analyze our daily life, you will find us sending out messages. We all have our signature ways of communicating such as overly optimistic, neutral, unfocused and even apocalyptic. In recent times, I have been noticing the usage of if and when while communicating. It is interesting when you choose one instead of the other, the meaning of the sentence changes. Not only does the meaning of the sentence changes, but also there is a change in the tone of the message.

The first instance of change was to move towards optimism from pessimism, and it happened when a person corrected a colleague doing a presentation. The presenter was describing a new process which spans multiple business units. Since there are at inception stage, there were struggling with the corporate inflexibility and also self-doubt. Midway during the session, the presenter said, "If we reach this stage, then everybody will realize the benefits." The colleague quickly corrected, "When we reach that stage, everybody realizes the benefits". Consider both approaches. A simple change. But the message now was sounding more confident than the first take.

The second instance was to sound more apocalyptic than cautionary. Here the speaker was involved in an initiative that was going through trying times. So as the person-in-charge, he wanted all artifacts to be in place so that there is a proper audit trail of what transpired. To achieve this objective, he addressed to his team members. "I want it all in one place. When this explodes, I want everyone to know what happened here. Remember when it blows up and not if it blows up." He was sure the blow up was imminent.

If you analyze this further, the changes were small. But the underlying messages changed. A simple change from if to when can create a bigger effect in the minds of your audience. Always keep this in mind while you are composing the next message. Decide how you want to sound and choose your ifs and whens wisely.

Tags: Musings,Communication,If,When

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Lives of Others

The German movie Das Leben der Anderen or The Lives of Others is about an oppressive state where citizens are made to distrust each other, freedom of expression curbed, and individuality suppressed. In order to tell this story, the director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck sets his film in German Democratic Republic (GDR), five years before the fall of Berlin Wall. In this drama, the director focuses on a Stasi agent who is efficient in bringing out confessions. When he starts eavesdropping the life of an artist couple, he couldn't resist from getting involved in the lives of the couple. Does this actually bring any difference to the couple? It does not. But does it tell us the value of freedom we take for granted. It does!

Ulrich Mühe is the Stasi agent Wiesler. Mühe plays the methodical agent with considerable restraint. There is no emotional outburst only calculated moves. So he never loses his calm under extreme circumstances. Even when his superior suspects foul play, Mühe displays no visible change in demeanor and before the superior could act, he has already made his next move swiftly. At an unanticipated tragedy, Mühe shows the breakdown and swift recovery of Wiesler beautifully. Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck plays Dreyman and Christa-Maria Sieland respectively. They are the artist couple where Dreyman is the playwright and Christa-Maria Sieland the actress. Among these two, Martina Gedeck gets our attention mainly because she is vulnerable, and the exploited. Even the scene where she gets used by a party boss in the car and the subsequent scenes where she tries to forget the incident shakes us up.

Years have passed since the Berlin wall has come down. The director successfully creates an atmosphere that is devoid of color and indicates a potential decay. The film is set in drab locales depicting the strangled growth and stagnant mindset. The movie also focuses on the helplessness of people who wants to change the system and not escape from their current predicament. Unfortunately, they have limited options. It also brings a revulsion in us towards the oppressors. The only drawback is the sudden change of mind in Wiesler. For a man who has devoted his life for this line of work, the change is dramatic and abrupt. But if we overlook this factor, we have a moving tale to watch.

Must watch for serious movie lovers.

Language: German

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 India License.