Saturday, May 2, 2015

10 miles in a little less than 5 hours

I wasn't crawling. Nor was I running. Nor was I walking. Even if I were running or walking, I would not have taken 5 hours to travel 10 miles. Since I was driving a car, there wasn't much I could on this Tuesday. The GPS showed a mere 10 miles to home when I was caught in the gridlock that turned out to be a nightmare on M4 Eastbound for commuters like me. Despite the constant accelerating and braking, none of us were going anywhere. The inactivity provided me with ample time to reflect on traffic.

For a person who migrated from Bengaluru, the gridlock is not an uncommon sight. We are part of such inconveniences on a daily basis. Our blood pressure mounts to an alarming height and, as a result, we constantly learn new invectives. Believe it or not. There is no gridlock in Bengaluru if you have sat like me in the car on M4 on that fateful day. The vehicles in Bengaluru moves in spite of the gridlock. It may not move at your desired pace and aggression, but it does move. I could see people getting out of the car for stretching their legs. The hours of waiting can do that to people. Getting out of the car in the middle of the road for stretching your aching body is a common sight in India. But can you imagine this happening in the civilized West? There were more sights to follow. A driver made it to the shoulder, parked his car and lit a cigarette. Obviously, he wanted to calm his nerves. Another one was jumping the fence into the trees, of course to attend the call of the nature.

An overturned cement mixer caused the gridlock. By any standards, it took an awful lot of time to get it cleared. I reached back home around midnight. How could this happen in a civilized world? Aren't these things to cleared up as soon as possible? There was also a planned maintenance on M4 and hence lane closures in the section where the accident happened. On a normal day, you could expect delays. That day was not normal. The particular section of road was closed, and all the traffic was diverted to another road. Unfortunately, there was already maintenance work on the diverted route where there were many lane mergers and closures. Reading is an interesting city. You can neither get in nor get out gracefully. There aren't any wide roads leading into or out of the city. When will they have better roads to get out of this city?

In a gridlock, there isn't much to do. You wait. The authorities have to clear up the mess. Until, then listen to the radio if it doesn't eat your head. In India, there are street hawkers peddling their wares in our face. Their tireless calls for mercies will drive us mad and also make us feel guilty. But they also serve a good connection to the outside world when we are sitting on the man-made island of comfort and loneliness. Over here, there are only tailgates to stare.

Tags: Musings, M4, Traffic

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Evolution of checks in airports

Airports are playing a major role in my life in the few months. Of all the journeys I have taken in the past few months, most are related to work while a few have been for personal reasons. Right from the day when I boarded the first plane tugging my mother, the air travel has changed. The check-in process was a nightmare. The security personnel at the old Cochin airport (timeshare with the Navy) ravaged the carefully packed suitcases. The experience was unnerving. As a result of this traumatic experience, I was shocked during my first flight as an adult when no-one asked me to open my suitcases for creating a similar mess of the orderliness in the name of security. The big scanners have made life easier.

There was still a major issue. You spent a great deal of time in front of the check-in queue with a physical ticket. Now, the physical ticket is on its last leg. E-ticket or a printout is fast replacing the old physical ticket. This replacement has made it easier for us to buy a ticket eliminating the delay of postal services. In addition, we can defer the decision to buy a little longer. After the e-Ticket, the check-in process evolved. With the introduction of Web check-in, we do not have to hurry to the airport. There are separate counters for Web check-in that are shorter and faster. Have you been to London Heathrow airport? I regularly use this airport. Most of the time, I have only a laptop and a carry-on bag. As I have completed the Web check-in from home, I don't even have to go to any of the airline counters. I walk straight to the security gate, present my boarding pass stored on my mobile to the scanner installed at the gate and wait for my facial scan. There is no human interaction. Even though the whole process seems like a dream so far, there are many things which needs improvement.

There are instances when you are not travelling light. Hence you need to approach the check-in counter to drop your bags. There is always one counter dedicated to baggage drop related to Web check-in. In the old days, one counter was sufficient. There were not many who were performing web check-in and hence this could double up for taking care of other types of passengers during rush hours. These days, everyone is doing a Web check-in and hence one counter can become a bottleneck. When there is a bottleneck for the traditional check-in counters, the airport officials quickly address it by opening up the first class and privilege member counters to handle the traffic. This method is not adopted for Web check-in.

Have you compared how two operations namely check-in and security check has evolved over time? While the former is becoming easier and less time consuming, the security check have become intrusive and tedious process. Every time I am traveling, I fear they are going to ask me to strip before going through the metal detector. Now, we not only empty our wallets but also remove our shoes, belts and jackets. In a way, this serves as a reminder reeking of irony and sarcasm. No matter the progress we make, there are tons left for improvement.

Tags: Musings, Airport, Checks

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Movie Review: Un Beau Dimanche

Why do French movies end up with an uninteresting name in the international market? For instance, "Un Beau Dimanche" is titled as "Going Away". Even if you do not know French, you can still use Google Translate and wonder why the translation ended like chalk and cheese. But if you are wondering after seeing this movie directed by Nicole Garcia, both of the titles are apt. But "Un Beau Dimache" which translates to a beautiful Sunday is a fitting as the major event in the movie happens on a sunny Sunday, which is also a Whitsun.

The movie is about a nomadic teacher Baptiste(Pierre Rochefort) who picks up contractual teaching job all over France for a few months and then moves on. When Baptiste meets Sandra(Louise Bourgoin), divorced mother of one of his students, he is attracted to her who is also a nomad like him. Very soon, Baptiste returns reluctantly to his roots. Although he has been fleeing his past and family, he has to go back to them for Sandra and her son.

At the core, the movie is about dysfunctional families and how one hates to break the claustrophobic expectations set by one's family. Dysfunctional family is a favorite theme for a drama. We have seen this theme playing out in different variations. As a result, "Un Beau Dimanche" has nothing new to offer. As with French movies, the emphasis is on performance and not on extravagant settings.

Though the movie gives you a sense of deja vu, this is recommended for a stress-free viewing. You know what you are getting. The movie may not surprise you. But it will keep you engaged.

Language: French

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Practice. Practice. Practice

Practice. There is no other way in Maths. 
The Mathematics teacher told repeatedly told to us during the course of final two years of high school. The importance of practice was again highlighted by Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled Outliers. While in high school, I and my friends were fascinated not by what our teacher was telling us but how he was pronouncing Maths. The t didn't sound like the letter s or the letter x but as a hybrid of these two letters. The sound was funny. As for Malcolm Gladwell and his book, he is good at pointing out a concept, tirelessly writing on it without offering a way to master it.

Now, I am reading "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. Like many of us who are trying to acquire talent, the author is also intrigued and hence on a quest to decipher the mystery. In his search for the answer, Daniel Coyle encounters myelin. In simple words, myelin insulates nerves and helps them fire quickly thereby sending messages to the brain faster. The only way to shape myelin is not through the genetic lottery but practice. Ironically, my Maths teacher had recommended the same decades ago. How does the practice help? Repetition helps in recalling what you are learning with minimal effort. Take a look at what Abraham Lincoln has to tell us about learning.
I am slow to learn and slow to forget what I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.
According to Daniel Coyle as mentioned in the book "The Talent Code", practice makes our nerves to fire on all cylinders. This ability is also called reflex. The less you practice, the more error-prone you are. If you check out any self-help book, you will find advices on acting out imaginary scenarios. What is this if not practice? Aren't you practicing when you map out all possible scenarios either in a piece of paper or a dark corner of your mind before you step into that critical meeting? The author illustrates the importance of learning by quoting the words of the famous pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.
If I skip practice of one day, I notice. If I skip practice for two days, my wife notices. If I skip for three days, the world notices.
If the repetitive practice help us to perfect a skill, are we really on the right track? Are we turning into parrots? Daniel Coyle explains this using a term called bitter-sweet spot. After entering this spot, we commit mistakes, evaluate the steps that led us to mistake and then retrace to begin again. If you analyze this further, what happens here? We identify what led us to the error. If we have identified it, doesn't it became easier to avoid it? There is a better option. We can falter without falling over to create something even better. We are pushing the limits. By doing all the above, we are also learning the technique to accomplish a task. As Daniel Coyle points out in the book, the importance of technique is explained by the coach of Spartak Tennis Club Moscow, Larisa Preobrazhenskaya.
Technique is everything. If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!
Now, are you ready to practice?

Tags: Musings, Practice

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What takes us long to exit from the road leading to nowhere?

Conveying messages in a workplace is challenging. When there is bad news like abrupt termination of a contract or a project, people are very careful in framing the message. In an informed world, the messenger is likely to send himself/herself into HR/Legal arena. Will the messenger be alone? This question opens a dedicated discussion. So let's concentrate on how we perceive a carefully conceived and concealed message.

Recently a friend of mine was working on a project that was undergoing changes at the speed of light. The constant changes were destabilizing everyone as they couldn't plan a thing on professional and personal grounds. Unfortunately, this has become the norm of the modern workplace. After months of indecision, all parties were able to decide on the next steps. The decision also meant scaling down the existing operations. As luck would have it, the functions headed by my friend was no longer required.

The writings on the wall could never have been clearer. His friends, who were working on the same project, encouraged him to look for other opportunities. During the initial days as the direction wasn't clear, his friends hinted at the impending doomsday scenario. When my friend was still hopeful about a positive outcome, his friends panicked and changed the language to use more precise words. Despite the well intentions, my friend failed to lose hope. Now things are clearer. My friend has not woken up from his slumber yet.

I am an outsider. But I can't stop wondering. What keeps us going even when the signals are clear? What makes us hope against the hope that bad will not befall on us? What makes us complacent in our daily routine?

Tags: Musings, Message

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Photos: Stonehenge

How do you explain Stonehenge? I can only think of Jackie Chan and Owen Williams wondering about the rocks in one of the installments in Shanghai Noon series. They are clueless like everyone. Is it a temple? Is it a burial ground? No one is sure. Why does this place attract numerous visitors?

Stonehenge is a great place to take photographs. At the same time, taking a picture here is a difficult feat, primarily because of the crowd.

Tags: Photos

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trouble with Auto Correction

All word processing applications offer the feature of auto correction. This feature is built into the keyboard applications on computers and mobiles these days. This feature is convenient and becomes lazy. As if auto correction was not sufficient, these software have long since bundled prediction and also learning by experience bundled with them. Although I find it annoying most of the time, there are occasions when I am glad to type less.

All these features are made me lazy and also eroded my knowledge. Instead of typing a long word, I choose to pick it from the list. While I save time here, I have become lazy. Most of the time, I do not convert this saving into anything productive. Moreover, it is a minuscule saving. On the other hand, I am not sure about the spelling anymore. For instance, I have forgotten if it is the "e" or "i" which comes first in weird. Now, I type blindly and wait for the auto-correction feature to kick in. I assure you this is the tip of the iceberg in order to keep it short.

While auto correction can point out your mistake by underlining the wrong word with a red line, the feature can never tell if the sentence written by you is wrong. Absence of this knowledge leads to embarrassing situations. A friend of mine has sent out an introduction email for a colleague. The name of the colleague was Alan. While typing the name, my friend interchanged the letters l and n! To quote another incident, I was in a training session recently where the topic was estimation. The instructor was teaching us various estimation techniques with gut feel being one of them. The handouts contained a typo. As a result, gut feel was printed out "but feel". Now you may imagine our surprise at this estimation technique.

Tags: Musings, Correction

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