Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books: New York

In many ways, Edward Rutherfurd is similar to James A Michener. Both of them are interested in a place, and they weave a story spanning generations against the backdrop of that place. Although it was ages ago I had read the novel by Michener, I feel Edward Rutherfurd has a more interesting way of more engaging way of telling a story. I had picked Edward Rutherfurd's Paris a few months back. I loved the book that also set preconceptions in my mind. I was surprised while reading this book. It is similar in many ways with Paris but different in many other ways.

From humble origins as a city named New Amsterdam primarily due to the early Dutch settlers, New York has come a long way. The Indians who occupied this piece of land have long away, and it is right now a melting pot of different cultures. Whereas France, the subject of  Rutherfurd's Paris, has preserved its heritage with own version of integration, New York has assimilated the characteristics of different cultures that sought refuge in the city. There have been different communities fleeing from persecution or suffering from different parts of the world to start a new life in America. With this mind, you will find the story is about one major family with author introducing with new characters belong to other families midway. This style is different from what the author used in the earlier novel. In Paris, the story moves forward with three families who remain interconnected from the start to the end. Like Paris, the families once introduced keeps crossing each other in different centuries. This interaction makes us a co-conspirator with the author, giving us a strange sense of satisfaction.

Spanning from the days of New Amsterdam to a few years after the World Trade Center tragedy, the novel portrays the spirit of New York. The city gets up in it's feet with amazing speed and energy even after getting hit hard. The book covers the struggles, catastrophes and prejudices in the mind of New Yorkers at various phases in the history. It also gives us glimpses of American history, along with the author's take on events. The book dedicates whole pages on the struggle for independence while it goes light on civil war. Interestingly, the chapter of the freedom struggle is titled Love and the backdrop is the failed love story of a Britisher with the daughter of a Loyalist.

It is a bulky book written in an entertaining and engaging way. If you like to read a good story, then this is for you.

Tags: Books,Edward RutherfurdNew York

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The business of Business As Usual

Business As Usual. What does this term conjure up in your mind? Words or phrases and their association in our minds. It is an interesting field. For me, the term has a negative connotation. Although I haven't analyzed why in a deeper sense, I am sure it was because I heard it in a negative context the first time. The first association stuck with me like the first impression. Since I associated it in a negative manner, I have used it in my speech and other modes of communication to convey undesired impacts. 

Hearing it in a meeting for the first time after having moved to UK, my senses became alert. I was expecting a doomsday prediction by the speaker. But nothing happened. He carried on with his speech. The usage is normal, and it does not have any negative connotation. It was just in my head. More importantly, you encounter this word very often when you perform planning. What is Business As Usual? In a simplistic terms, it means normal day-to-day operations. While planning, you should never hamper the normal day-to-day operations to implement something. Life goes on. Similarly, after implementing a new capability, it is important we transfer knowledge to people performing day-to-day operations for the new capability should help them do their jobs better. With these principles in mind, it is quite normal to come across this phrase in different modes of communication. In an acronym-infested industry, it is also known as BAU.

Speaking of Business As Usual, a friend of mine talks about a project whose aim was to supply all employees with a laptop running Windows 7. You may argue Windows 7 is old. But the employees are using laptops running on a platform that most of us has abandoned four years back! Interestingly, these kinds of projects are very common. There are challenges like overcoming fear and getting your target audience to adopt the new platform. Typically, you leave your laptop with the technicians who has set up a special command center in the building. After a few hours, you pick your upgraded laptop if you already have one of the acceptable models or a new laptop if you were using on a really old model. This process is working fine. But what happens when a new employee joins? He/She is given a laptop running the old Windows version. This forces the new employee to visit the command center soon for an upgrade. Is it not a waste of time and efforts? What happened here? Whoever designed the process forgot about BAU?

Tags: Musings,Business,Planning

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What were you like in those days?

Do you remember how you were like in those days? By those days, I mean younger days. When I say younger, go back a few years or even a whole lot of years depending on your carbon dating results. Go back to your teens. Even to the cusp of teens. How do you remember yourself to be? Recently, a friend of mine told me about me. He started off with a question. "What happened to you?". A disturbing question. Thankfully, he did not let the question hang there like an orphan. He continued. "You are so different from what you were in school". By now, the conversation was steering into dangerous territory. I was curious. So I kept quiet. "I remember you as perpetually pissed-off kid".

A pissed off kid! I was not flattered. What made him think of me as a pissed off kid? Did I have a permanent scowl on my face? Was I grumpy always? I couldn't figure it out myself. I thought I have a perfectly disturbed childhood like rest of us. There are a whole lot of things I would like to change from that period. But in  total, it was a good one too. I gave enough anguish to parents and elders. In the end, I turned out okay. What was construed as perfectly normal was given a different interpretation by my friend. If it was meant to be any consolation, he closed it by saying, "Now you blog, you take photos...". Essentially, he did a me on me. He kept it clear, but vague enough to get me thinking. Just like me. 

We do not really remember our childhood. We only remember fragments of it. Sometimes, these fragments can be dangerous and misleading. It is good to have an outsider's view. Having said it, my friend was being truthful, though it was disconcerting for me. Luckily for me, there were better things to learn about my childhood during my recent visit to Kerala. After a long time, I met all my maternal uncles after a very long time during the recent trip. Since I had crammed many things in the short day, I was spending more time than initially planned and hence getting late. This led to a remark from my uncle. "You were never late. You used to be at least 5 minutes early". So punctuality was a casualty of becoming older! I don't even remember me being punctual! I have three maternal uncles. By strange design, the youngest of the three was the last one I met on that day in Kerala. We had to pick him from the nearest town before going to his house. Since he had health challenges recently, we were not happy with the arrangement. We didn't want him to be going out to get something just because we were visiting him. I was slightly angry but didn't say a word about it. After we reached his home, he gave me a packet. It was freshly baked peanuts wrapped in a newspaper, the kind you buy from a street seller.

I was surprised. I don't like peanuts. Why is he buying me peanuts? I am glad I didn't ask this question loudly for his wife explained me about his little escapade. He had gone all the way to the nearest town to buy peanuts. During my growing years, I used to hang around with my youngest maternal uncle a lot. According to him, I loved peanuts and would always ask him to buy me some. Even though I had forgotten about this, this is how he wants to remember me. Sitting there holding that crumpled newspaper with peanuts, I tried hard to remember. I couldn't recollect this phase. But I did remember a lot of other things. The distance my uncle covered that day in order to buy the peanuts made me travel back in time by decades of years. That journey in a split second made me happy despite having an unsolved mystery. The mystery of what was I like in those days.

Tags: Musings,Younger Days,Friends,Family

Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Call

A movie set inside a room. That is a recipe for a good thriller. Don't beileve me? Have you seen "Rear Window" directed by Alfred Hitchcock? There is another one from Alfred Hitchcock titled "The Rope" which also has a similar premise. Recently, there was the Ryan Reynolds starrer "Buried".  All these are some of the enjoyable thrillers with this premise. The Call directed by Brad Anderson and starring Halle Berry has a similar premise.

Halle Berry's Jordan is a 911 operator who is coping with past demons and hence gets herself assigned to less stressful work like training newbies. One day, she reluctantly takes up a call of a kidnapped girl Casey(Abigail Breslin). Unknown to Jordan, Casey's abductor is the one responsible for her current situation. So, the stage is set for redemption and closure. To Halle Berry's credit, she is able to display some histrionic skills in this thriller. It is difficult to show off your acting talents in a thriller.

Brad Anderson is able to keep us hooked to movie in the first 2 acts. The first two acts are thrilling and full of suspense. We are constantly outguessing the various players and also the director. During the third act, he disappoints us. In order to find closure for Jordan, he takes liberties and get Jordan out of the "hive" into the open. Suddenly the operator becomes a detective. Those scenes are difficult to digest. He carries a risk of diluting the thrills and the pace if he had spread the two acts into three. With the current third act, he is actually taking the suspension of disbelief a bit seriously.

It has some thrills but a cliched ending. Go for it if there is nothing else to pick.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Movie Review: Filth

With emphasis on profanity and sexual perversions, the movie is aptly titled Filth. I have not heard of the director Jon S Baird before. I indirectly know Irvine Welsh. The movie is based on his novel. All of us know one of his other works which is named Trainspotting. As a movie, it has already attained cult movie status. Yet I have not watched it completely after one of the extreme scene totally turned me off. In a lot of ways, this movie draws parallels with the earlier. Both the movies are about eccentric men who are from Scotland with substance usage issues and foul mouths. Add a generous amount of sex. You have Filth.

It is neither profanity nor the perversion related to skin which drove me to select this movie. It was the leading man, James McAvoy. He has come a long way in playing supporting roles and also from confused young man kind of roles. Remember, he is young Xavier aka Professor X now. Of late, he has been sporting a beard and also been experimenting in the dark roles. If you use the dark painful characters he portrays as the yardstick, his career like that of Leonardo DiCaprio. Gone are the days when these guys have played happy and simple characters. Of late, both of them have been playing dark characters who are on the brink of a breakdown.

James  McAvoy's Bruce Robertson is an addict. He is addicted to alcohol and drugs. He is a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh who is aiming to get promoted soon. But he has a bunch of officers who are potential threat. As a result, he plays a lot of mind games with colleagues in order to increase his chances at the promotion. When the movie opens up, a Japanese student has been murdered. The one who solves the case will eventually get promoted. A sick mind also hides a lot of prejudices. As the movie progresses, we find out many of the prejudices of Bruce.

It is how the movie ties up all the loose ends that makes this is an interesting watch. The proceedings keeps us on the edge, that is if you can get past the profanity, sex and drugs on the screen. The movie boasts of many excellent performers like Jim Broadbent, Eddie Marsan and popular stars like Jamie Bell. Though the screen is crowded with famous names, it is James McAvoy who steals the show. At the end, it is difficult not to sympathize with James' Bruce.

Strictly for fans of serious cinema. It is definitely not suitable to watch when kids are around.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ****


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't stick your face into that device for you may board the wrong train

Your mama may have taught you about being attentive about your surroundings. Not only your mama but your wise and respected teachers may have too. But are you? I plead guilty. Despite many wise men and women trying to instill this important quality into me, I have not risen up to their expectations. What happened to me at Reading railway station illustrates that. I boarded the wrong train.

Boarding a wrong train is actually difficult in this part of the world if you are a commuter. The trains to certain destinations always arrive at the same platform without fail most of the time. For instance, I can walk with my head immersed in the iPhone, a book or a magazine, arrive at a certain platform and board the train to a particular destination without even glancing at the fellow passengers or even the display boards. I can be sure of reaching my intended destination. Remember, I did say most of the time.

Why most of the time? You may ask. Because sometimes, they divert a train to the platform to avoid delays. You have to keep in mind this quick reshuffle do not affect the timings of both the trains, the reshuffled one and also the original train which was expected to be on that platform. This is also done quickly in order to use the few minutes of gap between the schedules of the trains. This gap is barely noticeable for a traveler whose head is immersed in any distracting devices. So, if you are expecting to board a train departing at 6:57 am, you might end up boarding a train departing at 6:54 am.

To make a long story short, I ended up in Oxford instead of Swindon. This is the first time I have boarded the wrong train in UK. When I told my predicament to the officials manning the station barrier at the exit in Oxford station, they inspected my weekly pass to Swindon and advised me to take the next train back. There was no need to buy a new ticket. In case an official came around asking for tickets, I could tell him/her about boarding the wrong train. I could also tell them that the officials at the train barrier asked me to take a return train without a new ticket.

Can it be as simple as this? Then why would they display penalty for traveling without a ticket in bold letters everywhere inside the train and also inside the station? I was skeptical. I boarded the next train back. As luck would have it, there was a train official checking for ticket. When she reached me, I showed up my weekly pass to Swindon and mumbled about missing the train. "Oh". She said with a shrug and moved on.

To sum it up, boarding a wrong train doesn't mean you have to pay for an additional ticket. But it is always better to be attentive and aware of your surroundings.

Tags: Musings,Train,Boarding,UK

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Books: The Chase

This novel is constructed like a popular Hollywood thriller. I say popular for a reason. A popular thriller doesn't necessarily needs to be stimulating intellectually. It engages you while keeping you superficially connected to characters and proceedings. This is how the novel pans out. This style may not come as a surprise if you examine the bio of the authors - Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. The latter has been involved in creating successful TV series. Either he is using those skills or this book is a result of a rejected script!

The Chase is the second in the series Fox-O'Hare series. Nicolas Fox is a con-man and Kate O'Hare is obsessed with bringing him to justice. When Nick is captured, Kate's boss decides to play a game. They decide to team these two people to apprehend bigger criminals. This is where the plot resembles the TV series White Collar. Essentially the plot is the same in the TV series and the running length of each episode is 45 minutes, if you discount the ads, which keeps you engaged. Thankfully, the superficial treatment is engaging enough that you tend to finish the book in a couple of reading sessions, assuming you like long reading sessions. There isn't much to figure out, thereby making this less taxing to the brains.

As for the plot, Nick and Kate finds a new criminal who deals in stolen art. He was one of the influential persons in the previous government and is now running a security agency filled with ruthless mercenaries. Now this is serious game which might involve bodily harm or even death. The book is how Nick and Kate pulls small cons which culminates into a bigger con while traveling around the world.

Go for it if you really want to be taken for a ride.

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