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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Movie Review: Hercules

I am skeptical of Brett Ratner movies. The man has an incredible capability of making the most boring heist movie (After the Sunset) and a weird Hong Kong Style action movie(Rush Hour with the sequel being an exception). If the above is not sufficient, think of "X-Men 3: The Last Stand". As Brett Ratner on how to massacre an excellent series. So when he directs a movie based on the Greek hero, I was sure of a disaster. There has been many Hercules in 2014. The Legend of Hercules was good enough for swallowing aspirins. Coming back to Brett Ratner and his installment, Dwayne Johnson lures us towards the movie. There is bound to be a certain element of entertainment in his films. Luckily for us, Brett Ratner gets it right this time, engaging and entertaining us at the same time.

The movie is entertaining because of many reasons. Dwayne Johnson is right for action roles, and the title role is safe with him given his physique. The movie is based on a graphic novel, "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" that means there is an acceptable plot. Then there is the supporting cast of Rufus Sewell as Autolycus, Ian McShane as Amphiaraus, Joseph Fiennes as King Eurystheus and John Hurt as Lord Cotys. If the British actors aren't enough, there is a horde of Norwegian artists. The movie treats Hercules as a man with extraordinary strength who lives a life of a mercenary with a band of trusted friends. They are invited to defend the kingdom of Thrace. In order to fight against Rhesus and his army, Hercules, and his friend has to make an army out of untrained men. There are plenty of battle scenes. Luckily for us, the emphasis is on showing savagery on screen. Instead, the director concentrates on stunning us visually showing us the formations the army adopts in order to defend itself. When the director Combines the above with some aerial shots, he can explain the extent of damage and also provide clarity on what the protagonists are doing to defend themselves.

There is no point talking about acting in an action movie. There are plenty of one-liners, some of them evokes genuine laughter. The movie is a visual treat for an action junkie. So if you like action, go for it. If you do not believe in gods and demigods, the director's perspective will provide amusement for you.

You will find more information on this movie here.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: ***

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Whose customer is unhappy?

Customer is the king. Despite this mantra, all of us complain about our clients. When we complain about our customers, we often forget our behaviour when roles are reversed. Are we any less demanding than our customers while we are dealing with our suppliers? We can be as difficult as our customers. Once a friend confessed to the guilty pleasure of dealing with vendors for it gives him an opportunity to behave like his customer.

Recently, I came across a disgruntled customer. The customer has become disillusioned with prices and level of services after years of business with a reputed system integrator. Now they are shopping for a new system integrator. Since I was working for the same customer on a different engagement, I became friendly with various groups of the reputed system integrator. My association with the system integrator was neither in professional interest nor personal interest. Working on the same floor, friendships and casual acquaintances has a way of blooming.

During my association with different groups of the reputed system integrator, I unearthed a finding which baffled me. Whenever the conversation turned to the strained relation between the system integrator and the customer, there was only one statement regardless of which group was involved. "My customer is happy with my services. But they are not happy with the other services being offered." I was confused after talking to all the groups. The individual groups were confident about their service levels and the customer's satisfaction levels. But they were worried about service levels offered by other and the respective customer satisfaction levels.

What is wrong, in this case? Is everyone lying? Or is everyone so naive that they are unable to read between the lines? Is the customer playing games? Or is the customer overly polite while giving out the negative feedback? Whose customer is unhappy?

Tags: Musings, Customer, Satisfaction

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