Thursday, November 19, 2015

The link between safety and the day of the month

Esprit. There is no way you can kill it. You may be able to suppress it using fear. The above has been my lesson after the recent attack on France. Going by the social media feeds, the city is back on it's feet. I was glad when Facebook rolled out a change to indicate the safety of self or a friend immediately after the attack. This useful feature saved me from elevating levels of anxiety. The breathing returned to normal when the Facebook kept notifying the increasing number of friends marked as safe. I realized I had quite a lot of friends in that city.

Now that the lives of the Parisians are returning to normal, if we may call it so, I decided to have a chat with my young friend. I was surprised and also relieved when my young friend was tweeting from the safe confines of a house when violence was unfurling in Paris. As he possessed a prolific and active lifestyle, I was expecting him to be outside on the streets partying in that hour. Though this question haunted me, I decided not to broach this subject immediately. Instead, I decided on a detour before revealing my real question. Like the famous idiom "All roads lead to Rome", both paths ended up with interesting results.

Progressing after the niceties, I brought the subject of the Facebook status of people being safe and common friends. Since there were quite a few updates, I couldn't recall everyone on the list. So I ended up asking about some of the common friends and ended up with one in particular. My young friend had contacted him immediately after the events. But he didn't want to mark himself safe until the morning. Why is that so? I was curious. The answer was funny. He was in a "rendezvous" and wanted more time to decide if he was safe or not. If you have lived in Paris, you pretty much know what a rendezvous is. For other, you may take an educated guess!

After a good laugh, we left the friend and the rendezvous behind us. The turn of events did worry me. There is a bigger question of the safety of the city. The city has a violent past. Will it ever be safe? There is an important and a smaller question in my mind. Will my young friend be safe? The answer to the first question is beyond us. But the second part was easier to solve. "If it ever happens in the future, you should check the dates.". On hearing this, I was intrigued. What has the date to do with it? Is my friend superstitious. "No, I am not superstitious. If such an event happens after the 10th of the month, you don't have to worry." Thus replied my friend. When I was silent for a few minutes, my offered an explanation. "By the 10th of every month, I would have exhausted my salary. So I spent the rest of the days of the month inside my house!"

Tags: Musings, Paris, France, Rendezvous, Young Friend

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Heaven is here at Burnham Beeches Natural Reserve

Every season as its characteristics. Likewise everyone has preference for certain seasons.  I have never understood when people go weak in the knee while describing autumn also known as fall. The leaves are at the end of their life. As a result, they fall leaving the tree naked. Then the tree awaits the arrival of spring to cover itself with a new coat of leaves. If we consider spring as the beginning of life, then autumn is the sunset years. Moreover, if you are going gaga about the yellow color, the jackfruit tree in front of my ancestral home used to have yellow leaves all year around. So please cut me some slack if I look at you sans expression while describing fall colors.

When autumn arrives, everyone is searching a place to see fall colors. I remember a time when my colleague carried a weighty SLR around the office campus located near San Jose downtown before the advent of DSLR to capture the colors. I never understood the fascination. Now I have a DSLR; I am interested in fall color. The interest is to undertake landscape photography in the hope my composition will improve. Luckily for me, the locations just fall into my lap thanks to the hard word done by dear ones. Recently, I came across Burham Beeches Natural Reserve. The natural reserve is located in Maidenhead. As this is very close to Reading and the weekend sported an unusually high temperature coupled with clear skies for an autumn day, I decided to visit Burham Beeches.

The natural reserve is good enough to make a believer out of anybody. Nature is indeed beautiful, and she can also wear clothes sporting multiple colors. I could see a red tinge to everything. The result was surreal. 
You ask yourself if you are in a dream. 
You ask yourself if you are alive. 
You ask yourself if you are in heaven. 

I equated this place to heaven, and that also provided the lesson of the day. You may seek heaven everywhere, but it is close to your home.

Tags: Travel,Autumn,Maidenhead


Friday, October 30, 2015

Tickety-Boo, the Indian connection

You will be surprised at the number of Indian restaurants in the UK. As India was part of the empire where the sun never set, the love for Indian cuisine is not surprising. You could safely say Indian cuisines to the British is akin to Moroccan cuisine to France. It is equivalent to being the national cuisine. Like the cuisine, there are other hidden connections to Indian.

One of my British counterparts gets excited while discussing plans. He talks fast explaining the various components, the interconnections and the final desired output. At this stage, he describes the state as "Everything is tickety-boo".  Although the term tickety-boo is new to me, I assumed it has something to do with the happy state where we all want to end up.  My friend always reinforces this state by saying this sentence more than once. Sometimes, it brings a smile on my face.

So what does this word mean? It means everything is alright. You will find a song with titled "Everything is tickety-boo" by Danny Kaye. It is a happy song. But what is the origin of this word? The origin has ties to India. This word is the British version of "teek hai babu" in Hindi meaning "it is alright, sir".  I tried to say the Hindi expression repeatedly but couldn't come up with the British equivalent. But then British has been known to anglicise the Indian names with ones that require lesser tongue-twisting.

Tags: British Lessons,Ticket-Boo


Monday, October 26, 2015

Pappettan empowers

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

It has been a while since I met Pappettan. So when I ran into him, I was happy. But he seems to be in a hurry to leave.

Me: *inquisitively* You seems to be in a hurry.

Pappettan: *explains* I have to get a certificate from that government office. *pauses and then continues* You may join me.

Me: *from my previous experiences with such organizations* Are you going to collect the certificate?

Pappettan: *confidently* No, I am going to request and then collect.

Me: *slowly breaks the bad news* They take a couple of days after the request to prepare the certificate.

Pappettan: *unaffected* It is a simple certificate. I will request them to give it today itself.

At this point, I knew there was no amount of carefully constructed argument that would refute his belief. So I decided to accompany him to his destination. Secretly, I wanted to see his face when the cookie crumbled. At the government office, the response of the clerk was similar to what I anticipated. But the ensuing conversation was not the one I expected.

Clerk: *in a matter of fact tone* Please come back in 2 days and collect the certificate.

Pappettan: *determined yet politely* But I would like to have the certificate today.

Clerk: *slowly and with an gradually ascending tone* Do you think preparing the certificate is child's play? Do you have any idea the kind of verifications we have to do before the certificate is issued?

At this point, I struggled hard to suppress my smile. But Pappetten kept his cool.

Pappettan: *gently* No, I don't have any idea about the work you have to undertake to produce this certificate. But you are the only one who can give me this certificate in one day. You have the power to do it.

After a few hours, Pappettan walked away with the certificate.

Tags: Pappettan Says

Monday, October 19, 2015

A retrospective on retrospective

What does the term retrospective mean? Without looking at the dictionary, I would come up with a very loose definition of the term as pondering about the past searching for ways where amendments were necessary to influence the results in a more favorable way. If you are wondering how I arrived at this definition, let me tell you. I used my experience where all of us huddled together to come out with the lessons learnt. With this definition in my unconscious mind, I was thrown off balance when a friend requested this term in an email. Now I am getting ahead of the story.

In the course of doing business, we have to proceed at risk many a times. Sometimes, the approvals are not in place at the right time. We proceed on acquiring and provisioning resources based on an unwritten understanding between various parties. I am not sure if this is the right or even the recommended approach. But many of us fall prey to this approach. I was facing such a conundrum. I decided to approach a friend to proceed at risk. He was okay provided we have secured approvals from higher-ups. Once he had given me a way out of the predicament, he put forward a requirement. When I ask for approvals, I should include a word in the email. The word was retrospective. Now you can imagine my surprise since you already know the definition I had in my mind. I asked my friend why he wanted this word. He patiently explained. He is doing something well ahead in advance before the approvals are in place. In effect, he is performing a past action when the approvals come through. Hence, he wanted the word retrospective.

Is retrospective the right word? I don't think so. My friend had picked this word from one of his previous emails. The word is out of context here. The perpetrator could have been the sender of the email chain or my friend. In real life, we have many such incidents. A word stands out in our communication. The particular word has an aura around it. We want to use it somewhere sans malice. We don't know how. In the end, we mechanically reproduce the word taking the edge out of it. The whole incident takes me two decades away to Mangalore railway station. While waiting to fill in the paperwork to transport a motorbike on the goods compartment, I overheard the conversation with the railway clerk and another passenger. The passenger was taking his dog along. To take his dog, he had to provide a statement stating the dog was not voracious. The clerk could have possessed an advanced vocabulary, but his mannerisms gave him away. He was reciting from his memory. Even today, I remember it vividly. The peculiar pronunciation of the o and a rings in my ears. He held the pen like a painter holding his brush in the air pausing before he contemplates the right place on the canvas. He sat on the stool with his bust thrust forward with an unnatural arch like a model posing for a photoshoot.

We all travel this path often. We see something catchy from daily conversations and try to use it. In a similar case, we see a word often used by our peers and lap it up in our vernacular without understanding the meaning. All it takes is a bit of an effort learn the meaning or even to identify an alternate word. The result is that you say the word with the right feeling. Isn't it worth the effort? If you were wondering about the right word for my friend, all I could come up was retroactive. If you come with a better word, please let me know. 

Tags: Musings, Approval, Vocabulary

Friday, October 2, 2015

Smoking ban in the car

Even when I was a smoker, I disliked smoking in the car. When you smoked in the car, the interiors smelled terrible. If you can't fathom this, have you ever been checked into a smoking room in a hotel. Then you know what it means to be riding in a car where the previous occupants have smoked. But it is not the smelly interiors that make me happy with the ban on smoking in the cars in the UK. What you do in your private space and with your health is ultimately your business. This ban would not prevent you from doing so. But if you are anyone under 18 in your car, then you will be charged.

There is a reason I like this initiative. There are no words to describe this addiction. To satisfy the smoker's needs, they usually put other at risk. When I look around, there are many people who smoke in the car. On one instance, I saw a mother walking out of Morrisons with her children. As soon as they loaded their car and safely strapping the kids, she lighted a cigarette before starting the car. The cigarette was dangling from her lips with smoke drawing a funny pattern all over her face when she passed in front of me in the car. I couldn't help wonder. She could have smoked the cigarette outside the car before driving back home. The kids would stay in the car. She could observe them from a safe distance. But what was the rush? As an adult, I can protest against second hand easily. But how can children protest? Even if they do, will any smoker take them seriously?

The ban came into effect on October 1st, 2015. Of course, there are protests against the ban. Listening to the radio while driving, I came across the best offense against this ban from a representative of a smoker's association. Ask me no more. Yes, there is an association like this. According to this eminent personality, the second-hand smoke is safer because the smoker has already absorbed all the harmful contents.  What comes out of his mouth and nose as second-hand smoke is purified content. I am not sure where he is coming or going with this argument, but it is entertaining. The conversation highlights the fact there is freedom of speech and we can talk anything without any basis on account of this freedom. Moreover, no matter how you try, there will always be resistance to whatever you do. There will never be unanimous acceptance.

Tags: Musings, Smoking

Monday, September 28, 2015

Books: Smart Cities

The term "smart" has invaded our lives in many ways. Some years ago, we were advised to work hard. But now we are asked to work smart. The preferred way of working is the easiest instance that highlights how this term has found its way into our lives. The word smart also appears during our journeys. M1 connecting London to the north of UK is undergoing works for the past few months. The idea is to convert it into a smart highway. The utility company is rolling out smart meters to many homes. All over the world, local bodies are marketing smart cities driving up the cost of the property. Under these circumstances, I was curious to find out what smart means in the modern context. The book "Smart Cities" written by Anthony Townsend provides a good view on this subject.

Anthony Townsend takes his own time in revealing the message of the book. While we struggle to find the central theme, Anthony Townsend details the history and present state of technology meticulously. He succeeds in holding our attention even though we are wondering the end game constantly. Smart cities are not possible without the advances in the technology. Modern technology has aided in better city planning. The reducing price of electronics and the popularity of untethered network have helped in this process. As an example, Anthony Townsend provides the example of, a simple solution built using Arduino. Ideally, a city should be a rich web of overlapping connections which resembles a semilattice. But without information about what is available in the city, this interplay will not happen. Modern apps like Foursquare is helpful here. Using these apps, you uncover the new things in a city. All the above modern miracles are possible because of the ease at which we can connect to the internet. The popularity of untethered networks has driven this change dramatically. 

Most of the instances quoted by Anthony Townsend have come to fruition because of determination of responsible hackers. This fact leads to another important question. Who will facilitate the shift to smart cities? Will local civic leaders initiate the change? Will responsible and driven citizens lead the pack? In the modern times, the local civil bodies have to rethink their old system of procurement. This old system has proved to be very costly for cash-strapped local civic bodies. Although some civic bodies have introduced competitions for writing best apps for the city, the results were not favorable. One of the main reason was the disconnect between the software developer (or the app writer) and their user base. Based on the undesirable outcomes, the app competitions have undergone a change. Now, the cities analyze the major problems they want to solve, and then they drive the competition based on these problems.

Finally, patriotism plays a major role. Many civic bodies are building solutions that are already available to their counterparts in another part of the country or another part of the world. The available solution is already in use and well tested. But the sentiment for building a local solution by a local provider has been detrimental to the progress. Because of the above sentiment, the various local bodies are reinventing the wheel. There is an open unanswered question about how to overcome this?

Anthony Townsend has provided a detailed account of where we stand on the subject of smart cities. He has provided a detailed history, countless examples and the present challenges. The book is an interesting read. After reading the book, you might take a couple of more days to digest the whole information and find the underlying message. Unfortunately, the message is not right on your face. As this phenomenon is touching our lives already and will transform our lives in the future, I recommend this book. As the narrative is replete with captivating stories from the past and present, the book keeps you entertained.

Tags: Books,Anthony Townsend,Smart Cities

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