Monday, October 31, 2011

Comparing Technical interviews in India and abroad

Technical interviews! Yes, I am talking about the one where they ask all technical details like "how is the file transferred", "what happens when you rollback", "where event would write this data check immediately before the save giving you time to abort the transaction" etc etc etc. Luckily for me, my last technical interview was years ago and I emerged unhurt from the last one. But my friends have to go through the whole nine yards every few months. How boring! Then, we have to pay our bills too... no? 

On Saturday, the topic of "technical interview" popped up giving me unique insights about these conducted in India and also abroad. Now when I look back in time with the recently gained third person perspective, there is only one thing coming to my mind. It is so true; at least some part of it is true.

In India, a technical interview is like running across the field with guns constantly firing at you. The attackers never run out of ammunition and there are shots fired out from everywhere. So, the panel of interviewers embark on a mission to destabilize you. At the end when you are less confident and have also lost hopes, that is when you hear the golden words, "You are selected!".

Outside India (to be precise USA and Europe), a technical interview is a different ball game. How does this happen? The interviewer says "I know you know the answer. But I have to ask you this question." Apologetically, he asks the question. Under a normal scenario, it is an easy one to answer. In an exceptional scenario, it is a difficult one to answer. 

What do you do in an exceptional scenario? Admit you don't know the answer. That is the most honest approach. But there is another approach. Be very careful for I'm not sure about the results. So far, I have heard "claims" of this approach fetching results. So, what is the approach? Tell the interviewer "Oh come on! That is an easy one. Give me a difficult question to answer".

Good luck!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Little this. Little that.

"little mulagu podi, little malli podi, little manjal podi...". These are the basic ingredients of an Indian dish. My photographer friend quoted a comic dialogue from the Malayalam movie "Mr Butlers" to illustrate how easy it is to cook Indian food. While cracking jokes and quoting comic dialogues of Malayalam movies from memory, he used a little bit of this and that to cook an amazing beef dish, the taste of which still makes me salivate.

There is a catch. Don't ask him the recipe. Also, don't ask him to cook the same dish again. For him, cooking is all experimentation. To make matters complicated, here is the second edict. Never record or retrace your path. Strangely, the first request reminds me of another friend living presently in California who never share recipes. In fact, there is nothing to share as he cooks from the heart and uses his nose effectively to predict the taste.

So, back to my photographer friend. He cuts the beef into very small cubes. He boils it in water. He saut├ęs onions, ginger, garlic and tomato in oil. Then he dumps the cooked beef into the same pan. Little this. Little that. More action with spatula. Voila!

Tags: Musings,Cook

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Le 48 Condorcet, where food is made of fun and love

A restaurant with no name? That is impossible. When we asked the restaurateur the name of his enterprise, he replied, "There is no name!". How do we check-in using the FourSquare application if we do not have a name? Now, if you are wondering how did we end up in a restaurant without a name, the owner is a friend of my friend. So, my friend stopped her car in front of the restaurant and all of us walked in without caring where we were walking into. But after having a great dinner and emptying two bottles of wine, the owner handed us his card. The restaurant has a name as displayed on the card - Le 48 Condorcet. It is the address of the restaurant.

The restaurant is small, slightly bigger than the living room of my apartment in Paris. Thankfully, it does not looks run down or in need of urgent maintenance. On the contrary, it is clean and welcoming. There are funnily shaped salt and paper shakers on all the tables. The salt and paper shakers, some shaped like animals, are placed naughtily giving an indication to the pleasant and colorful nature of the owner. When we stepped in, the door to the kitchen was open. It resembles a kitchen that you seen in a normal apartment. Later, we came to know the place was in his family for a long time. Somewhere along the line, they converted it into a restaurant. We ordered pork with lentils. It was the most delicious dish I have tasted for a while. Later, we had desserts. By this time, the wine was working and I could only see chocolate, cream and cherries soaked in a digestif, a signature dessert of the owner.

Feeling hungry? Then, here is the address of the restaurant and other contact details. The owner's name is Pascal Desrosiers.

Le 48 Condorcet
48, Rue Condorcet
75009 Paris

Tel: 01 45 26 98 19

The most surprising part was when I walked into the toilet. There was a miniature library inside the toilet. It does make sense because the owner lives in the restaurant, probably on the first floor.

Picture Courtesy: Nishanth Adu

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Movie Review: 7aum Arivu

In the 6th Century, a warrior belonging to the Pallava dynasty travels to China. In China, he helps a rural village to fight both disease and enemies using his knowledge of medicine and martial arts. Later, he establishes the Shaolin temple and becomes famous as Bodhidharman(Suriya). In present day, Chinese government is worried about a genetic research project conducted by Subha(Shruti Haasan). So, they sent an assassin named Dong Lee(Johnny Tri Nguyen) to kill her. Subha is involved with a circus artist Arvind(Suriya). How does this all connect together forms the story.

In the latest directorial venture, A R Murugadoss attempts to tell the importance of science, ancestry and also the evils facing India in a simplified (yet not an oversimplified) way. Although the basic plot has nothing new, Murugadoss weaves his screenplay in an intelligent way to keep the viewers focused. So, the movie starts in 6th century, moves to the present and switches back to the recent past. Using this technique, the audience is hooked at an early stage. Post interval, it is a cat-and-mouse game between Dong Lee and Subha-Arvind combination. Subha and Dong Lee have ulterior motives. Subha's is an easy one to guess. But Dong Lee's is a tougher one to guess. Here is where Murugadoss uses his imagination impressively because it evokes the memories of the Bird Flu outbreak in the recent years. In the second half when the crisis unfolds, the lead characters think analytically. This is a welcome change from the usual emotional outbursts accompanied by irrational behavior. The lead female protagonist is a thinking lady instead of eye-fluttering cutie although it does help to see pick a beautiful woman to play the role. The CG effects used in most of the hand-to-hand fight sequences greatly enhances the thrills. The Bodhidharman fight at the beginning and Arvind-Dong-Lee fight at the end are excellently choreographed. When Arvind and Dong-Lee fights, check out the way their hands move, slowly and clearly, to showcase the martial arts technique. The locations used for the Bodhidharman part of the movie are visually pleasing.

On the flip side, the movie is jingoistic with Tamilian ancestry, references to struggles in Sri Lanka and imminent danger from the behemoth China. The song placements especially Arvind sings and dances during his heartbreak is downright silly. The CG effects and car crashes goes overboard when Arvind and Subha escapes from the hospital. It is clearly an imagination worthy of a kid and the tendency to spend money, both on steroids. What could have been a beautifully choreographed zombie action scene ever seen in an Indian movie falls flat because of the above two factors. You have a municipal worker coming out of the drainage system and also a good looking woman figuratively kicking Arvind's butt after being hypnotized by Dong Lee. But the editing and CG effects takes the fun out of the scene. A lot of dialogues in mid-sentence have been muted out which becomes an irritant at times. As a result, the best on-screen insults, when Subha blasts the committee members end up, as a game of dumb charades. The background music could have better. It could also be conspicuous with it's absence at many places in the movie.

Surya plays both Bodhidharman and Arvind which is a simple role as far as writing is concerned. Yet, he stands out in both of them because of his screen presence and acting. Arvind is a trickier role to play as there are different phases to it - carefree, confused and determined. All three phases are safe with Surya. He easily convinces us and takes us along in the ride. Even in the dance sequences, his smile indicates he is having a ball of a time. Johnny Tri Nguyen as Dong Lee is the perfect foe. We have not seen him before in screen which adds to the curiosity factor. He quickly establishes his role with lack of emotional attachment, movements and fights. Shruti as Subha succeeds to a great extent. It is a difficult role of a researcher determined for results while being concerned about the lack of involvement and commitment seen around her. It is on the highly emotional scenes where she has great difficulty in coordinating the voice, the expressions and the body movements.

With all the shortcomings, this is still a good choice. Go for it.

Language: Tamil

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bachelor pads

I love visiting these places. It is neither the abundance of liquor nor the ever-present chaos that attracts me to this place. When I look around, I find tiny remnants of my past life in a bachelor pad. Yes, I do live like a bachelor now in Paris. But I have crossed over to the dark side. Once you have crossed, there is no coming back. That is the reason why I always ask for a maid to come to clean up my place once a week. Old habits die hard. I still can't tidy up my place!

Two weeks, I was invited over to a bachelor pad. "Please come over. My colleagues are also going to be there. We can cook Indian food". That was the mission statement. By the evening, this mission statement could enlist 6 participants including the two hosts. Considering the size of the apartment, 6 is a big number. The apartment itself turned out to be a spectacle; carpets that has seen better days, blackened tiles in the bathroom, overflowing makeshift garbage bin, an under-equipped kitchen. 

Have you seen an "overseas" bachelor kitchen? It is fully equipped yet not. This was one classic example. There are pressure cookers and non-stick pans of various sizes and shapes. But knives and spatulas are rare items. In this particular case, there was one knife and no spatula. No spatula resulted in sauteing using spoons. I took one look at the kitchen and I can picture a mother packing a suitcase for her son's relocation. The under-equipped kitchen was compensated by the abundance of gadgets. There was one iMac, one iPad and 2 iPhones. In addition to these, there were a set of golf clubs, broken furniture and several cardboard covers stacked on top of other.

I had heard about the broken furniture during my conversation with one of the resident bachelor. The table broke when an experiment went bad. Several phone conversations, in a span of two days, about a terrible hangover led me to the experiment gone haywire. Yes, I am inquisitive and I possess good interrogative abilities. I have nothing against experimentation. But what cracked me up was the sight of 2 tables and 1 chair resting in peace in one corner of the room. I'm pretty sure this collection was not acquired in one day. So, this indicates only one thing; a bad learning curve. At the same time, I like the perseverance. Try until you get it right.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Photographer, the smooth operator

Photographer at work
Life is all about choices. I didn't say it but someone else, may be someone famous. I agree with the statement as I have made all the wrong choices, as far as hobbies are concerned. My newly acquired friend is a photographer and the recent interactions with him make me think that I have chosen unwisely. We went together for Salon du Chocolat last Saturday and I made some interesting observations during the 4 hours we spent there.

Have you watched a photographer at work? He has to balance himself with grace to make sure he gets the right picture. The more powerful the lens, the more tough it is to balance. So, the photographer ends up with a stance which is similar to a combat stance. Now, compare this with a blogger on a computer or a a smartphone? What is so manly about it?

The photographer with his equipment can command respect especially during a fashion show. Have you seen how people raise their phones to click a picture during a fashion show or for that matter any kind of show? The raised object obstructs your field of vision when you are standing at the back of the crowd. The photographer pushes away the offending phone curtly. If the phone owner is miffed, the photographer says the magic word "Press" and there are no questions because of the size of the equipment he carries. What can a blogger do?

Photographers are more voyeuristic than a blogger. A blogger conjures up faces using words. But the photographer uses real faces to tell his story. The real faces he focuses on are usually of the fairer sex. The subject suddenly becomes conscious and a imperceptible blush flashes by. If the photographer chooses to continue with his clicking experiments, then the blush turns from imperceptible to perceptible to permanent. The subject might not see the final outcome but realizes the importance of the photographer's action. But in a blogger's case, the subject will never know that the subject was a subject.

Now for the best part, a subject voluntarily poses for the photographer when the latter is in action. That is when the photographer becomes a smooth operator. He clicks the subject and shows the outcome to the subject. Then he pulls out his visiting card from his wallet, hands it over and asks the subject to call for the picture. There is nothing in a blogger's life to beat this.

Like I said, choose wisely. But before you running for DSLR, here is the catch. That night, we were on the top of the convention center near Porte de Versailles used for parking. It was dark when we came out and Tour Eiffel was at a distance in full glory with lights all over her body. We spent nearly twenty minutes in the freezing weather to get a good picture. I was shivering despite three layers of clothes. He was wearing only a T-shirt focused on Tour Eiffel. Only passion can drive you to do that.

Walking the 14th

This is another one in "Walking Series" organized by Sab. This time, Sab has a map with locations numbered along with another sheet printed with a quiz corresponding to the numbers. This makes the walk more interesting. So, we start from Cite University (RER station to be precise) through the Parc Montsouris and finish at Denfert Rochereau.

So, we walk through a beautiful garden into a hidden leafy street. There, we move on to see the old tunnels used to transport water to Paris, the aqueduct markers, a communal garden and a famous prison. There are also Sab's favorite subjects featured on most walks - the old Petite Ceinture line and rare plaques on the buildings.

Enjoy the montage and for more details, sign up with Sab.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salon du Chocolat 2011

Paris has a tradition of annually recurring event. Salon du Chocolat is one of them. Of course, this is about the famous institutions specializing in chocolates, famous chocolatiers, devices to make & display chocolates and a whole lot of chocolates. If you are chocolate fan, then this is the place to be. You can see it, sample it and also spend a lot of money on it. 

There is a fashion show at 5 pm everyday whose theme is also chocolate. But the entire place is so crowded , thereby a big disadvantage for the vertically challenged people like me. I could hardly get a glance of the proceedings at the back of the crowd. My photographer friend had come armed. He had two bags - 2 cameras placed in separate bags and a fold-able stool for additional inches in height. He ended up taking pictures while I glanced around. When I looked around, I chanced on the sweetest memory of the event - a beautiful French woman shorter than me looking helplessly at me, sharing my pain of not able to see the show. Kids were perched on shoulders of their dads; even some women on their men. Going to the gym pays off eventually for some!

There were tall fountains of chocolate similar to the one I came across in Brussels. It was hot liquid chocolate dancing down the fountain. The air around had the unmistakable smell of chocolate. Also featured is the Pissing boy who pisses chocolate instead of water.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I made my move

I love to hear about how a couple met each other for the first time. There I was, on the other day listening to a friend recount his version of the story of how he met his girlfriend. The story was not extraordinary. But the slideshow of emotions on his face was priceless while recounting the incident.

Apparently, he met his girlfriend three years ago through common friends. During the first meeting, he was wearing a pink shirt. So, she doubted his sexual orientation. Then they met again accidentally at a club where they bonded after which my friend made his intentions clear. Here I'm going to quote my friend verbatim. "I made my move". His voice dipped a few decibels when he was on the "I" and went up a few notches by the time he reached the "move". For a moment, he was reliving the propitious moment oblivious of my presence.

In his case, the first impression of the pink shirt had an effect. His move was at first mistaken by his girlfriend. But my friend's persistence paid off eventually. What caught my attention was my friend's eyes focused away as if being in that moment in the past and the change of decibel levels during narration. This definitely was a time when the guard was down. The expressions on his face reminded me of the famous Mastercard ad. "For everything else, there is...". 

Tags: Musings,Move

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"X-ray sheet" technique

X-ray sheet can open locked doors. This is true in France. So, X-ray sheets are not only used by physicians to check the state of your internal organs but also by door specialists to unlock closed doors. Does this surprise you? It surprised me. But then, I have my friend vouching as a witness to this operation and also performing it. Don't worry, my friend is a law-abiding expatriate and he was trying to get inside his apartment after conveniently forgetting the keys inside. This happened twice.

When my friend was locked out his apartment the first time, he called up a door specialist. The door specialist arrived carrying a suitcase, which is popular with all workers who specializes in the sundry tasks associated with a house. After the examining the door, the specialist searched his suitcase and pulled out a X-ray sheet. He then placed the X-ray sheet in the narrow space where the door meets the wood attached to the wall. The X-ray sheet was placed in the lower half of the door. Then, in one swift move, he pulled up the X-ray sheet passing over the lock in a matter of microseconds. The door was open.

My friend was relieved to get inside the apartment. But his happiness was short lived as he was presented with a bill of 90 Euros. The cost made him wiser. Now, he began to double-check and triple-check if the keys were with him before he stepped outside his apartment. But this was also short-lived. In a matter of days, he was again locked out. This time, he didn't call the door specialist. Instead, he called up a colleague, visited the colleague's house and brought back a X-ray sheet. The X-ray sheet worked and he was back inside the house.

Now, does my friend carry a X-ray sheet with him all the time? Does he double-check, triple-check and quadruple-check for the keys before leaving home? I do not know. Reading this, are you going to carry a X-ray sheet too? If you are thinking of carrying one with you, let me remind you why this worked. This worked because my friend has a habit of pulling the door with force to close it on his way out. He doesn't lock it. If you also have the same character traits, then this might work for you. As of writing this, I am not sure if this solution is location specific; in other words, works only in Paris and other parts of France.

As a foot note, please try this operation only on your door. Trying this on your neighbor's door or in that matter any other person's door will have undesirable consequences.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life Lessons from a guru

There are many gurus offering help on how to live your life. My young friend had been to Germany to attend a satsang of one such guru. The satsang was an unnerving experience for him. The crowd was predominantly non-Indians. The guru was away in India where the base location is situated. My young friend was given books of enlightenment penned by this guru. He read through the book and shared his thoughts on this which was very entertaining for me.

In a nutshell, there are good things and bad things about the book. All the good things were taken from Bhagavad Gita. There is no points in guessing these are lessons which can be used as guiding principles of a good life. The bad things were the ideas and teachings originated from the guru himself. According to my friend, there were nonsense and foolish. The best part of the bad things were as one progresses in the book, there were contradicting lessons to what was taught earlier.

So, my friend brought this to the person who invited him to the satsang. The host replied, "I had the same questions while reading to the book. So when the guru came over to Germany, I asked him about it". Do you know what was guru's reply? The guru replied, "Yes. But that is life".

My friend is now convinced there is no art behind all this. The art should be preceded by a "F" to summarize all the hoopla around this.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Random Images of Paris

A walk from Opera to St. Germain Des Pres yesterday. And I was able to capture a few images - both still and moving - of Paris. The weather was sunny which is unusual for an autumn day


Tags: Videos

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Price of Democracy

Price of Democracy. In three words, my French friend casually dismissed a serious topic. The French elections are coming up next year and the opposition party is in the process of finding the right candidate to contest the incumbent president. I'm completely ignorant about the policies of the various parties and also the challenges of France. But what caught my attention was how the government bears the cost of the campaigns.

In France, if a candidate secures 5% or above, the government funds their campaign. If the candidate is too poor to fund his/her campaign, the government allocates money for them to run their campaign. Why is this so? This is mainly to ensure that anyone can contest an election - be it poor or rich. Ironically, it is mostly the political parties who put up a candidate. The political parties have their pots of gold. Then, why this elaborate charade? Funding the campaigns is a way to take out "special interests" out of the equation. When the candidates have the money to finance your campaign, they do not have to depend on "special interests". Ideally, this should translate into meaningful legislation for the people. In a way, this will certainly curtail corruption to an extent.

Having known the French flair for checks in the form of documentation, this is an addition burden on the government. They must be having a specific organization monitoring this process at all stages. Doesn't it mean a lot of tax money which is dedicated for performing these checks and also funding the campaign? That is when my friend shrugged it off with the simple statement of "Price of Democracy"!

Watching Paris from Sacre Coeur

You can see Paris from Sacre Coeur. The steps and the green gardens offer a space to relax for the many visitors coming to get a glimpse of Paris from this hill top. There are many vendors offering beverages of all kinds. What strikes me are the people sitting silently on the steps and focusing on Paris unaffected by the surrounding cacophony.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Your ISP is watching you in France

My French friend received a letter from his ISP. The ISP has found out his habit of downloading music & movies from the websites for sharing files which are popularly used for circumventing the payment process. That reminded me of a conversation with another French friend during my newbie days. "It is illegal in France to download copyrighted material without paying for it. But we do it anyways!", said my friend ending the sentence with the characteristic French shrug. If you have seen the French in real life or on TV, you know what I meant by the characteristic French shrug.

In France, it is illegal to download copyrighted material without paying for it. France has also passed a law in 2009 which is popularly known as the "three strikes" law. In short, you are given three chances to get rid of your bad habits before the consequences kick in. Luckily, there is no jail time involved. But you are denied Internet access for as low as 2 months. In this hyper-connected world, 2 months is an eternity!

So, what is my friend going to do now? He has no plans to get rid of vices. He is going to proceed as if nothing has happened in his life. He will wait for the second letter and then consider his options. What are his options? The second letter is so far way in time for him to even evaluate his options. Changing ISP might be one of his options. But I doubt. With "black list", it is impossible to change ISP to start a new virtual life. Probably, he might be lucky but only for a short period before his past catches up with him.

If you are in France, be aware your ISP is watching what you do. It might be an intrusion of your privacy. But if you want to exert control, then privacy be damned!

Books: That used to be us

An appeal to the American public. That is how this book can be summed as. Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum collaborates to pen this non-fiction which takes a look at the present challenges faced by USA. The authors analyze how American ended up in this precarious situation in the first place and put forward their solutions based on their personal conviction and ideologies.

According to the authors, America faces four challenges - globalization, IT revolution, budget deficits and energy dependency resulting in climatic changes. When embarking on finding the root cause, it starts with Thomas Friedman's favorite game changer; collapse of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall signified the Cold War and when it went down, the Americans relaxed thinking the fight for global supremacy is over. On the contrary, when the Berlin Wall went down, it created something which again Thomas Friedman had popularized earlier, the flat world. As nobody anticipated this, everyone was taken by surprise when China and other third world countries quickly caught up with highly-skilled, highly educated, lowly-paid workers.

Thomas and Michael blames the polarization of the country based on two-party policy for lack of political capital to take a hard stand on issues. One party wants to raise the taxes while the other wants to tax-cuts. If you want to secure your future, then money should be spent on the right things while money should be cut back from the wrong things. The policies of these two parties are in direct contradiction with the policies adopted by their political leaders of the past who are often quoted as example. Those leaders adopted a middle-of-the-road policy because there always a third party candidate who carried the middle-of-the-road agenda. This is what is missing in America right now.

The authors are patriots in the American sense. So, there are a lot of instances in the book which highlights the American spirit and it's past glory sounding almost like a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Since the authors intend to jolt the reader from their dispassionate and unattached stance, they shout at the top of their voice about the impending doom. This turns off the reader after a while. By the time, the reader reaches the last section where the next steps and fine examples of American spirit are described, hope has been extinguished.

Like I said, it is an appeal. But is anyone listening... or reading? Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Three Musketeers

Among the classics by Alexander Dumas, the Three Musketeers seems to be the favorite among movie makers. Every decade, there is an updated version out for release. As the technical wizardry improve by leaps and bounds, it also gives an opportunity for the film fraternity to revisit this classic with stylized pyrotechnics and action choreography to keep the audience thrilled and glued to the seat. The latest offering from the director Paul W. S. Anderson is one such attempt.

Paul has tweaked the movie at two places - in the beginning and the end. The beginning shows the three musketeers - Athos(Matthew Macfayden), Aramis(Luke Evans) and Porthos(Ray Stevenson) teaming up with Milady(Milla Jovovich) to steal the blue prints of the war machine (a flying ship), a work of Leonardo Da Vinci from Venise. The subsequent betrayal of Milady by switching sides with Duke of Buckingham(Orlando Bloom) makes Athos give up hope on love and women. The ending shows the possibilities of a sequel with the return of the principal cast.

The middle part of the movie almost faithfully adapts the journey of D'Artagnan(Logan Lerman) from a simple country boy to a musketeer. He tries to save the face of the queen who is constantly at loggerheads with Cardinal Richelieu(Christoph Waltz). D'Artagnan gets involved because he is smitten by the lady in the waiting for the queen named Constance(Gabrielle Wilde). D'Artagnan also has an axe to grind against Rochefort(Mads Mikkelson).

Paul chooses an amazing ensemble of able performers. But the movie which starts off with a bang in Venice soon lose the interest of the audience except of the occasional computer aided stunt choreography. But towards the latter part of the movie, Paul tries to redeems himself with the thrills. Action choreography and computer graphics are the two things working for the movie. The former is preposterous and the latter is evident. But the combination of both shows the creative mind of the director attempting to woo the audience.

Matthew Macfayden as Athos and Orlando Bloom as Duke of Buckingham stands out. Athos is the complex yet stable character most of the movie goers will sympathize with. It is safe in the hands of Matthew. Orlando gives a never-seen-before interpretation of the Duke of Buckingham, bordering on evil and self-centered. It is a delight to watch Orlando in action. Christoph Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu underplays the role to the extent the audience forgets about him.

If you have no other choices, go for this... for the action.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: **

Camaraderie and name calling on a Friday evening

Last Friday, I was invited to a non-decrepit waterhole situated near Boulogne - Jean-Jaures. My young friend from Kerala works right across the street. This waterhole is a favorite among his co-workers. I can safely say so as he is Mayor of this place on foursquare and has rightfully retains the position with nearly 70 check-ins. What I experienced here is the camaraderie reminiscent of Silicon valley firms.

All of his co-workers had come down to this place to celebrate the Friday evening. Considering the limited seating space offered, nobody else could be accommodated. Everyone was at different levels of intoxication starting from drunk upwards. The popular game was to call each other the aperture associated with the posterior part of the body. Of course, the people higher up on the ladder were the target of this game often. Another thing I noticed was the emphasis and decibel levels peaked while addressing a higher-up-in-ladder with this greeting.

It reminded me of the beer parties on Friday evening hosted by various Silicon Valley firm during the boom time. The main difference being absence of statutory warning associated with the Silicon Valley firms. Drink responsibly and have a designated driver in case you plan to have get drunk. This is not applicable in Paris because of the excellent public transportation system; except when they go on a strike.

Being in the middle rung of the ladder, I have been called an opportunistic, sly, not very intelligent and many more things when I was associated with such parties back home. I have never been called this particular anatomical part; at least not on face!

Tags: Musings,Camaraderie,Friday

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reward and Punishment

Carrot & Stick. Reward & Punishment. Management mantra. The interesting point in all organizations is the absence of both for the untrained eye. Of course, there are rewards and punishment when you grade the employees annually. But this is too infrequent that the whole yearly process gets the tongues waggling about favoritism.

Reward is the easiest because it leaves a good feeling in both the person involved. But this is not always the case. Most of the managers who has the power to reward are given so few resources to do it. Usually, there is either no money or a very little money to spend on a gift or an outing to a restaurant. Then they are left with the only economical tools - words and certificate of recognition. But they are people who are unaffected by these gestures too. "Only this? No raise?", asks the straight shooters!

Punishment is harder to impart for it leaves a bad taste in both the parties. In some cases, punishment is disproportionate compared with the reward. This results in either lack of accountability or lack of interest in the proceedings which ultimately affects the morale of everyone. In such cases, there is neither creativity nor experimentation.

For building an efficient team, there should be a proper system of reward and punishment. They should be proportionate. If you are putting up a new team, the rewards should be easily achievable and punishment almost non-existent. Once the team find their foothold, increase the stakes. Raise the carrot for better productivity and get a bigger stick for reducing errors.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

7 years of imposed abstinence?

When you raise a glass in toast and clink the glass on another glass, you enthusiastically say "Cheers". Or an equivalent of "Cheers". But what are your eyes doing at this point? Are they searching for the next glass to clink? Are they measuring the impact of the clink, fearful of breaking the glass? If the answer is yes to any of the above, then you are doing it wrong as you are supposed to look directly into the eyes of the other person.

Why? You may ask. The answer is simple. If you do not look directly into the other person's eyes, then you are jinxed with seven years of no sex. Yes, you heard it right. Seven years of no sex. That is too heavy a price to pay for such a small mistake.But where did this originate? I think it originated from the distillers. They want us to be relaxed after downing the drink. In order to make sure the relaxation happens, elevate the temperature with a no sex myth.

Do you know the irony of the whole thing? It works!

Tags: Musings,Cheers,Sex

Monday, October 10, 2011

Abandoned newspaper

This is a common sight on Metro and SNCF in Paris. There is always a newspaper abandoned on the seat. It immediately brings back memories of journeys back in India where we place a handkerchief, a magazine or a newspaper on the seat to inform other travelers that the seat is taken. So, it is discomforting and unsettling for me.

How can I remove the newspaper and sit there? Isn't this against the golden rule that was imbibed into me from early childhood. A newspaper on the seat means it is taken. I have been programmed to think that way.

Okay, I decide to be a Parisian. I take the newspaper and take a seat. But where would I throw the newspaper? There are no garbage bins inside the train! Am I supposed to litter the train? Isn't that giving a reason to the Europeans to say bad things against Indians?

Yeah, a simple act of picking up the newspaper and throwing it away becomes complex when you overanalyze it. But I have a request to the fellow travelers. Please pick up the newspaper with you and throw in the nearest bin when you get off at your station. Moreover, in this overly security cautious era, I do not want to pick up your newspaper fearing the unknown.

Tags: Musings,Paris,Metro, SNCF

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Movie Review: Dream House

Will Atenton(Daniel Craig) resigns from his job to spend more time with his family and finish his novel for publication. Recently, Will had moved into the suburbs with his wife Libby(Rachel Weisz) and their two daughters - Trish & Dee Dee. The family is very happy in their new home. But very soon, Will notices a lot strange things about the house. He sees footsteps on the snow. Later he finds someone watching the house. He also finds a group of kids performing mock rituals in the basement of the house.

Will learns about the murder of the last occupants of the house. The wife and the two kids were murdered by the husband. The husband was shot in the neck by the wife before she died. A shocked Will approaches the neighbor Ann Paterson(Naomi Watts) for answers. But she is sympathetic but not very helpful. The cops do not help. So, Will decides to track Peter Ward, the previous occupant of the house. Will is shocked when the truth is revealed. But he doesn't believe the truth and decides to find out what really happened to the previous occupants.

Jim Sheridan directs this boring thriller based on a man searching for truth in a hostile environment. The movie opens in a very slow manner establishing the new home and the surroundings of Will Atenton. The viewer is aware of something amiss at this stage itself by several in-you-face technique used by the director. The movie actually picks up pace during the second act when Will learns the truth and decides to unravel the mystery. But then it loses charm. The ending is too contrived and also convenient to believe. All these factors act against the movie.

As for performance, it boasts of big names. But there is nothing to write about.

Skip it.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: *

Saturday, October 8, 2011

SNCF strike

Yesterday, SNCF employee in Paris went on strike. SNCF has employees who checks and validates the ticket of the travelers. They get on the trains randomly with no predefined schedule; at least in the eyes of a casual traveler. One such employee was attacked by an agitated traveler. That was the reason for the strike.

Although it sounds like a valid reason, I am not sure how the authorities can be of any help here. Are they going to assign a security personnel to the employees while boarding the train for checking tickets? Are they going to teach self-defense tactics to their employees? Are they going to provide monetary benefits because of the health hazards?

While these questions remain unanswered in my mind, what struck me was the way in which the strike was conducted. I boarded a SNCF train to my workplace. The train stopped after 2 stations and we were informed about the halting the service. All of us got out and waited for the next train. The next train came in a few minutes. Strangely, this train also originated from the same station I boarded initially. This train took me forward by another two stations where it stopped and we were informed about end of service for this train.

I can understand a strike and complete or a partial disruption of service. But I can't understand why they have to take us progressively to 2 next stations and halt the service. I can understand if these train originate from different stations. But strange as it may sound, all these trains originated from the same station. So, the whole process of advancing by 2 station resembled a relay race. I still can't understand the purpose. Are they punishing all travelers for aggression show towards one of their brethren.

Anyways, I joined the long line of travelers hurrying out of the train station to find an alternate mode of travel. The line walking towards the nearest bus stop looked similar to the biblical exodus. The bus stop soon was crowded and I had to wait for two buses before I could board.

Tags: Musings,Paris,SNCF

Movie Review: Real Steel

In a not too distant future, Charlie Kenton(Hugh Jackman) tries to make money by operating fighting robots. His robot Ambush is destroyed in a fight. Charlie's debts are mounting and he needs a new robot when he gets the news about the death of his ex-girlfriend. Now, he has take the custody of his 11 year old son Max(Dakota Goyo). When Charlie appears before the court to relinquish custody of Max, he finds a chance to make money by keeping his son under his custody for a few weeks. He takes up the offer.

Although Charlie tries to leave his son with his friend Bailey Tallet(Evangeline Lily), Max persuades his father to take him along for the fights. With the money earned for keeping his son, Charlie buys a new robot. But the new robot is destroyed in the initial fight. Now, Charlie and Max scours a robot junkyard to find replacement parts for the destroyed robot. There, Max comes across an abandoned robot. Despite the skepticism displayed by his dad, Max brings the robot back to their trailer. How this robot changes the lives of Charlie and Max bringing them closer forms the rest of the story.

Shawn Levy directs this entertaining drama about a man who has no aims in life to rediscover himself. The director sets the story in the future and the robot fights as the background. On the brighter side, the future is not dark and the gadgets do not hog the show. In fact, the gadgets (the fighting robots) blend in seamlessly in the movie making the viewer think they are characters. The strength of the movie is father-son interaction with some brilliant dialogues between them. The story has nothing new to offer but the protagonists (father and son) and the backdrop makes this a movie to watch.

The performances of Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo are the key elements in this movie. Hugh's Charlie is a smooth talker with no clear plans on what to do with life. He abandoned his girlfriend as soon as Max was born. He is always in need of money and does not even hesitate to make money by handing over the control of his son. Hugh's screen presence and personality makes the viewer forget all the flaws associated with this character. Goyo's Max is an intelligent and stubborn kid who never gives up. When Hugh and Goyo comes together on screen, it brightens up. Check out the scenes like the first fight of the new robot where Max controls the robot while Charlie helps him, Max challenging the owners of Zeus for a bout while Charlie trying to pull him back, Max and Charlie bantering about who gets the credit just after the first league fight and the tears rolling down Max's eyes on watching Charlie controlling the robot in shadow mode.


Language: English

Genre: Drama

Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Drive

The Driver(Ryan Gosling) lives in LA and works in a garage run by Shannon(Bryan Cranston). In addition to his work as a mechanic, he also does odd jobs on the side mostly dangerous ones. He is a stunt double for Hollywood movies mostly arranged through Shannon. At night, he also drives getaway cars for robbers. Being familiar with all the streets in LA, he is always successful in dodging the cops. Having implicit faith in the skills of the Driver, Shannon approaches a mobster Bernie Rose(Albert Brooks) to back him in car races. Bernie agrees after seeing the Driver in action.

Meanwhile, the Driver who is a loner bumps into his neighbor Irene(Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio. When their car breaks down at a local supermarket, he gives them a ride home. The Driver is attracted to Irene and she also likes the unemotional Driver. Very soon, the Driver, Irene and Benicio become good friends. But the Driver's happiness is short-lived as Standard Gabriel(Oscar Isaac) - Irene's husband and Benicio's father - returns from prison.As a result, the Driver tries to stay away from Irene. But when he finds out Standard is in trouble which might affect the lives of Irene and Benicio, the Driver agrees to be a part of a heist. The heist goes bad pulling the Driver, Irene, Shannon, Bernie and Nino(Ron Perlman) into conflicts.

Nicolas Winding Refn directs this lackluster action movie where he has amalgamated multiple styles into one movie. The photography & the background track with songs are influenced from Quentin Tarantino movies and bloodshed from Korean movies. On top of it, Nicolas builds his movie based on silence. The Driver speaks very few words. He either stares at people or smiles. The attraction between the Driver and Irene is build on silence with smiles and longing looks. This is the best part of the movie. All the best efforts from the director fall flat for multiple reasons which includes miscasting and selection of a wrong genre to try these. The movie evokes intentional laughter from the viewer at the predicament of the protagonists. But these are a few.

Ryan Gosling is miscast as The Driver. He is too young to carry a character who has to speak or express with limited movements. Carey Mulligan brings in freshness as Irene but that is because we have not seen her much on the screen before. Albert Brooks is the only one who rises above the script and amuses the viewer.

Barring the music and unseen footage of LA, there isn't much in this movie. Skip it. If you decide to go, leave the kids behind as there are a lot of gory scenes.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Movie Review: We need to talk about Kevin

Eva Khatchadourian(Tilda Swinton) dreams of Tomatina festival. She wakes up from dream in her shabby house which is in disarray with the remains of food, alcohol and sleeping pills from the previous night. After dressing up to go out in the morning, she finds red paint thrown on the outside walls of her house and also on her car. She hastily cleans up her car and attends a job interview at a local travel agency.

Eva is happy to be selected for the job. While walking back to her with a smile, she is interrupted by a lady who speaks harshly at her and also slaps her. She feels sad but flees the scene without complaining. Later at the supermarket, she hides another lady. Minutes later at the checkout counter, she is surprised to find all the eggs in her shopping bag is deliberately broken.

Later at home, Eva reminisces her past with her husband Franklin(John C. Reilly) and her son Kevin(Ezra Miller). Eva and Franklin were successful. But what happened to Eva that makes her live a of solitude now? Why does she have to start her life all over again? This forms the rest of the story.

Lynne Ramsey directs this movie based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver. The movie deals with a mother who tries to rebuild her life after a tragedy. So the movie moves from the present to the past using a series of flashback which helps in keeping the viewer glued to the seat in anticipation. Even though the viewer has guessed the imminent tragedy well ahead in advance, the brilliant use of flashbacks and the minimal background music along excellent performances from the lead actors make this movie an interesting watch.The director's success also lies in finding the right actors to play Kevin at two stages(pre-teens and teens) and also extracting a convincing (and disturbing) performance from them.

Eva is safe in the hands of Tilda Swinton. Tilda's Eva has various phases. First she is a carefree woman who gets pregnant expectantly. Then she devotes her time in raising her first child with difficulty and at times unable to control her anger. Then she worries about her son as he grows up unable to understand him and also failing in communicating her fears to her husband. At the same time, she tries to fight the guilt of almost neglecting her first child in the formative years. Erza Miller as Kevin in teens and Jasper Newell as Kevin in pre-teens are excellent. Both of them have to give similar performance. Kevin is a chameleon behaving rudely to his mother while displaying a different face to his father.

Must watch. Be warned there are disturbing scenes not suitable for kids.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Monday, October 3, 2011

25e Fete De Automne Paris 2011

This is something I came across by chance. Don't be surprised by the title. If you are in Paris and miss the Durga puja festivities back home, then here is your chance to be part of it away from home. The venue is Cite Universitaire. Located inside this beautiful campus, there are different buildings dedicated to international students. I could see Sweden, Mexico, Switzerland and oh yeah Etat Unis too. One among them is the building for Indian students identifiable by the string of flashing bulbs. Of course, the flashing bulbs will come off as soon as the Durga Puja is over and hopefully back when Diwali kicks in.

You are greeted with posters in French stating the name of festival, date and time of activities. There is also a huge banner of State Bank of India in Bengali. The auditorium is on the first floor. At the entrance, you are greeted with a wide variety of footwear giving the all-familiar feeling of visiting a place of worship. Inside the auditorium, there was a dance program by Indians and non-Indians. The audience was predominantly Indian. The men (and the boys) dressed casually and the women mostly in ethnic attire.

The festivities last till 5th October. The programs are from 8pm to 10pm. So, if you are interested in finding out more, here is the address.

Picture Courtesy: Nishanth Adu

Tags: Travel,Videos,Paris

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nuit Blanche Paris 2011

Projections and Expositions. That is how "Nuit Blanche" was explained to me. I have been in Paris long enough to understand exposition is usually an exhibition in a museum. Projection did not make any sense to me until I was out on the streets that night. Exposition do not bring any excitement as the my last personal experience of museums-open-till-midnight was not worthy of mention.

So, what is "Nuit Blanche" all about? In simple words, a select few institutions in Paris are open till 3 am. As a result, Parisians & tourists can move from one point to another visiting these institution and enjoy what they offer. The trains run till early in the morning. If trains aren't, Paris isn't a difficult city to find a cab. Of course, the aim is to promote tourism and also the image of the city. You remember, Paris is also called the city of... Yeah yeah.

I chose to spend the evening with a photography group. Although there were multiple places participating in this event, we chose the locations close to Place de Clichy. Parks were open luring in kids along with their parents. Grownup kids in costumes entertained the crowd. A nearby church remained open. They had an exhibit; a long circular ribbon held up above the ground using the air blown by multiple fans located around it. It was an amazing sight but also makes you realize iPhone is not powerful enough to capture the moment. A school remained open with a giant screen set up in the middle of school-courtyard. A short film was projected non-stop in a continuous loop.

While walking around the city, I figured out what my friend meant by projection. All around the city, giant projectors were set up. Using these projectors, moving pictures were displayed on tall buildings. This was a unique sight for me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Parisian drivers park their cars close to one another on the streets. My favorite analogy for this phenomenon is cars kissing the bum of the one in front. I used to wonder how do the drivers take their cars out of this gridlock. But not anymore as I have seen it happening in front of my eyes. It can be summed up as Vroom... Thud... Vroom... Thud.

Parisian driver steps on the gas after turning the wheel away from the curb. The driver takes the car forward to the point of hearing a thud resulting from the collision with the car in front. Upon hearing the sound, the driver stops and reverses the car till the sound of next thud. This time, the rear of the car has hit the front of the car parked behind. The cycle is repeated a couple of times before the car smoothly slides into the road.

Last month, I witnessed a compact car being parked in front of a brand new BMW. There were a few loud thuds. After parking the compact car, the driver got out of the car and walked away nonchalantly without even throwing a cursory look at the BMW!

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