Thursday, December 31, 2015

The smartphone state

UK government wants to become a smartphone state. What is a smartphone state? After reading the article, a smartphone state is where all the administrative tasks related to being governed can be accomplished using a smartphone. It is a novel idea. A few years back, we wanted to do the same over the Internet using browsers. The transition from the browsers to the smartphone is a sign of the progress made in the past few years.

In the past few years, I have lost three smartphones. So I am very skeptical about making the smartphone as an essential element in our life. The smartphone is already controlling our lives. It virtually dictates the way we live. But can we turn it into our identities? Forget about smartphone snatchers, a breed commonly found in the big cities. We are prone to lose it anywhere. How can we make such a device into our identity? You may argue a driving license and passport can also be easily stolen or lost. In real life, we do not display it outside so often as a smartphone.

Besides the above point, what about the price of a smartphone? It has been steadily climbing. It has come to the stage we have to save for a considerable period before buying one. You could always get tied to one of the telecom operators to get a phone with an affordable down payment. Eventually, the phone would have cost you more than what you have paid in full. When will the trend turn downwards?

Tags: Musings, Smartphone, UK

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pappettan explains why the women dress the way do while clubbing

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

Photo Courtesy: Jithu, Paris

I was driving around the city with Pappettan. We were looking for a place to park our car and find a decent place to sate our hunger. It wasn't late in the night, and a small crowd had formed in front of one of the popular discos in the city. The sight was a pleasing one with both the sexes putting on their best behavior and also attire. The crowd formed into a well-disciplined queue. I couldn't wonder about what would be the state of these partygoers in the next couple of hours. Would they look as fresh as they looked now? Will they be behaving in the socially acceptable manner?

While my mind grappled with these questions, I noticed another pattern. It wasn't winter. But the night was cold with the blowing winds bringing the temperature a couple of notches down. The women were underdressed. They had no overcoats. It was a night where overcoats would have helped to withstand the cold. This thought also fired up the latent prejudices.

Me: *with a smirk* Look at them. Look at what they are wearing.

Pappettan: *calmly* What is wrong with that?

Me: *explains* Shouldn't they cover up?

Pappettan: *laughs*

Me: *irritated* Why are you laughing?

Pappettan: *adopts an as-a-matter-of-fact tone* It is the economics.

Me: *mistakes Pappettan's calm for condescension* Economics! What are you now? Dubner and Levitt?

Pappettan: *with a smile* I don't have to be a Dubner or Levitt to figure it out. It is the economics of clubbing.

Me: *confused*

Pappettan: *like a teacher* What would they do with the overcoat once inside the club?

Me: *unsure* Cloakroom?

Pappettan: *still like a teacher* How much does the cloakroom cost you?

Me: *gives up* Not sure!

Pappettan: *hits the final nail in the coffin* Well, you can get another drink with what you are paying for the cloakroom in this part of the world.

Tags: Pappettan Says

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dining and drinking with business partners

Christmas is in the air. The FM channels are playing Christmas songs. People are sporting red more often than any other time of the year. The shopping malls are crowded. There are numerous emails with special offers. I love Christmas. It falls conveniently at the end of the year not only to reflect what happened during the year but also to spread light in our souls during the period of shorter days. You only see happiness around. It is also the time of the year when they organize dinner parties at work.

When the topic is dinner parties, you may find an ocean of literature floating around the internet. These articles range from superficial to detailed. They tell you what you should do, and you shouldn't do. Most of these boils down to one thing. Common sense. But as you know, common sense is not so common. Moreover, the good food and copious amount of alcohol make the limited reservoir of common sense evaporate quickly. I will not try to hammer the etiquette into you for I am no expert. However, a friend of mine narrates an incident in his life that should give us a good lesson on what not to do in the event we are going out for dinner or the walk up to the nearest public house from work.

So my friend was invited by his partners. By partner, I refer to the term used in the new age lexicon. There are no suppliers anymore which is reminiscent of the old feudal system. Now, we are all equals. Partners. So here is my friend with the unspecified invitation by the partners. It could be the nearest public house that may be followed by dinner. There is nothing formal about it from the outside, yet there is a subtle smell of official business emanating from it. Being a good sport, my friend plays along. The team comprises of my friend and three partners. They end up in a pub. In the pub, the partners order soft drinks after my friend orders beer. You may ask why? The reason is simple. All three partners are teetotalers. Since I was not there, I could only repeat what my friend said. He sums it up this way. It could have been a fun night. But it wasn't.

I am pretty sure we all have our share of horror stories. Sometimes we inflict pain. At other times, we endure pain. In a business scenario, it is not customary that you take someone for a drink. You could always invite somebody for dinner sans the alcohol. This way, you are not embarrassing your guest if you are a teetotaller. The most important thing is to ensure you have something to talk during evening other than business. This simple measure makes the whole evening much more fun. In case, you do not like alcohol and do not have enough topics, make sure you invite a friend who has these skill sets. In case, you don't have a friend with such skills, why don't you put a comment here with time and the date (and also a flight ticket and a visa, as applicable)?

Merry Christmas in advance.


Tags: Musings, Christmas, Partner, Alcohol, Dinner

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

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Books: The Energy Bus

The Energy Bus is a business fable. Set against a business background, the protagonist undergoes a transformation using certain principles. This transformation makes him a better person and also achieve success in both personal and professional life. Jon Gordon is the author of the book. Using this book, Jon Gordon teaches us ten golden rules to reinvent yourself by getting rid of the negativity.

There has been a lot written on the happiness of the employees. When the workplace turns out to a happy place, the employees are not only in for the long haul but also are innovates and productive. The workplace does not magically transform into a better place to work. We have to work towards it. Jon Gordon teaches us how to do in this book.

Jon Gordon could have easily written a blog post regarding the rules. Instead, he chooses to write a business fable. Because it is a fable, we can read it with ease. The flip side is the reader skimming through the story without any intake. He also has a website for the material covered in the book.

I was looking for a novel that will not tax my brains. I found one. In the process, I did learn a trick or two. This book is ideal if you are looking for a welcome break from heavy duty reading. This book is also good if you are looking for some inspiration.

Tags: Books,Jon Gordon,Fable

Monday, September 14, 2015

Photos: Reminiscing

One needs a secluded place to recollect the past. A beach is a good place for reminiscing. Even among the noisy, joyous crowd, who try to record the moment for posterity, you will still find many souls engaged in activities like reading, napping, etc. In a normal situation, noise is a deterrent to these activities. But the logic goes out of the window when a beach comes into the picture.

Durdle Door in Dorset situated along the Jurassic Coast is a pebble beach. The limestone arch and the pebbles provide a great deal of fodder for a photographer. I was interested in a textbook composition. Capture a person and also the arch. The picture is the below is the closest I could accomplish. The lady seems deep in thoughts. She may be reminiscing.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Movie Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

The title is catchy. If the distance is only 100 foot, why do you call it a journey? Sometimes, the greatest distance in the mind. The distance of 100 foot is between two restaurants - one French and the other Indian. The bridging of this gap and coming together of two culture via cuisines results in the interesting title. The movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, written by Richard C Morais. An American novelist pens a story of the integration of an Indian family in France. There are three cultures coming together here which is another interesting fact about the book. 

An Indian family moves to the UK as a result of losses in a violence outbreak in India. They are unable to adapt to cold weather in the UK. So they go looking for a new home. After traveling extensively in Europe, their van breaks down near Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val. The patriarch takes this as a sign and decides to open an Indian restaurant. He chooses a spot right opposite a Michelin-starred restaurant run by a French lady. The two restaurants are constantly at loggerheads. The youngest son of the Indian family bridges the gap between the two restaurants and also the owners when he decides to pursue French cuisine.

When two cultures clash, there is drama and also comedy. These types of clashes have been exploited many times on the screen. But with Lasse Hallström as the director, the proceedings get overly sentimental at times. Luckily for him, he has two seasoned performers, Helen Mirren, and Om Puri to prevent this movie from becoming a mediocre enterprise. Together with the veterans, there are two spirited actors, Manish Dayal, and Charlotte Le Bon, to keep us engaged. Manish Dayal is the protagonist who makes the 100-foot journey possible. Charlotte Le Bon is his friend and love interest. One of the annoying factors of the movie is the forced usage of English even when the French characters are talking to each other.

Helen Mirren steals the thunder from all of them with her portrayal as a French woman running a business. Why did the director choose her when there are other internationally renowned French actresses? The unusual choice also allows us to see how Helen Mirren transforms herself into an outwardly cold yet inwardly warm French entrepreneur. Finally, it is the mother in her which attracts Manish Dayal's Hassan to pursue the traditions of the adopted country actively. Om Puri makes his role enjoyable, but this is a role that has shades of his previous performances. 

This move is s a perfect choice for a quiet evening where you want to avoid loud noises and heavy thinking. A delightful watch. You better have your food ready for this movie will make you hungry.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why wait for the imminent complete breakdown?

Wireless Internet aka WiFi has become an essential part of our life. Most of the companies now offer a WiFi for their visitors to connect and work. The WiFi enables me to connect to my company network even while I am visiting a partner site. There was a time I had to abandon my laptop while visiting a customer site. If I carried the extra weight of the laptop to the client site during those days, I could only connect painstakingly through either using a data card or using my mobile as a hotspot. Since WiFi has become a vital part of working life now, a recent incident with WiFi connectivity made me realize how mechanical we have become in our working lives.

As part of a recent engagement, a few of us work out of a partner site. Since most of us belong to the management team, we carry our laptops and seldom has a need to connect to the partner network directly. So all of us connect our laptops to the WiFi at the partner site to go on about our tasks. As more and more people join, the WiFi sputters and backfires. After a few days, we became passive to this problem. One fateful day, the WiFi stopped working, and all work ground to halt. Proclaiming myself as the de facto leader of the noble quest to restore the internet connectivity, I called up the helpdesk. After recording an incident, I waited for the resolution. While waiting, we turned our mobiles as hotspots and connected to these temporary hotspots to continue our work. Very soon, the batteries on the mobiles started running out. We survived the day with great difficulty. Unfortunately, the connectivity issue persisted on the day after too. At this point, we were also concerned about the data plan. So, we called up the helpdesk again. This time, we were in for a surprise. Although our problem was recorded, no one has acted on it because the severity was low. According to us, the severity should have been high since none of us could work if we did not have our mobiles. From the point of view of the helpdesk, there was only one incident against this issue. When we got out of the call, the rest of us called up the helpdesk separately to create tickets. Within an hour, we had registered multiple complaints that translated to various incidents in the systems. The severity rose as the number of tickets related to the problem were high, and the technicians resolved the issue in another hour.

Reflecting back, WiFi is an integral part of working life. The issue should not have taken more than a day to fix as the resolution is mostly rebooting the router. Sometimes, the resolution takes longer because nobody knows the location of the router. Don't be surprised. That one is a true story.  Why did the helpdesk wait for a day? Why did the helpdesk wait for many people to complain before taking the corrective actions? Haven't we all heard about the best medicine named prevention? Is it not possible to identify the significant impacts by looking at the symptoms? Are we waiting for loud, uncontrollable cries before we attend to the problems?

Tags: Musings, WiFi, Helpdesk, Resolution

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

The film is based on the Maersk Alabama Hijacking where in the captain of the ship was taken hostage. When the failed attempt to hijack this cargo vessel and capture & release of the captain by a band of Somali pirates is made into a movie, Paul Greengrass is at the helm as the director. Paul Greengrass has a unique way of transporting us to the middle of the drama using his signature narrative style using intelligent camera work, slick editing, and engaging background score. He can combine many minute details into making a movie that makes you glued to the seat. He is so successfully in packaging all these that we are unable to point out one single thing but his grasp of the medium.

The book "A Captain's Duty" by Richard Phillips forms the basis of the screenplay. Paul Greengrass has used the format of a thriller; the thrills are not due to superhuman feats but man's instinct for survival. Captain Phillips played by Tom Hanks is an ordinary man with simple worries about a safe future for his children. He arrives in Salalah in charge of cargo headed for Mombasa. While transporting this cargo, his ship is attacked by pirates headed by Abduwale Muse(Barkhad Abdi). The pirates do not succeed in capturing the vessel, but they take Captain Phillips as their hostage. On the other side, Muse is pushed by village elders to undertake a mission. In the process, he becomes determined to take over the ship at all costs. This decision eventually causes the downfall.

Although the movie delivers what it is supposed to, there are drawbacks. The book can only offer the author's point of view especially since it is an autobiography. But a movie can have a more balanced perspective. I am not asking to justify the motives of pirates. There is no background information. A good look at the ragtag team of Muse and their demands for millions makes you wonder where does all the money go. The movie touches upon on this subject when Tom Hanks asks about why Muse is in the lifeboat trying to escape possible capture if he had millions. But the thread is never taken up the Barkhad Abdi or pursued by the makers. What drives these people to take extreme measures? Why is survival very difficult in that part of the world? The above question present challenges. If the director explores these issues the genre will change. Without even a brief overview of Somali situation, the movie turns out to be one-sided.

Tom Hanks delivers an impressive performance as Captain Phillips. The scenes where he negotiates with the hostages, the climactic scene in the lifeboat and his interaction with the nurse after his release shows his mettle as an actor. As a reviewer, it is tough to judge the actors playing the Somali pirates as they have no previous performance that can be used as measuring stick. Barkhad Abdi gets more screen presence and lingers in our memory. As a result, we overlook a good performance is Faysal Ahmed as Najee. Najee is the muscle behind the hijack. He is always angry and impulsive. These characters traits makes him hot headed and stupid.

Highly recommended.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Photos: The Arch of Durdle Door

The picture shows the natural arch found in Durdle Door, Dorset. Nature has many ways of surprising us. The arch is one way. It looks as majestic as Arc de Triomphe. Whereas men had toiled the erect the Arc de Triomphe, mother nature has silently toiled many years to carve this wonder. I have come across the similar natural arch a few years back at Etretat, a coastal town in France. Durdle Door and Etretat share many characteristics. The arch is one of them, and the pebbled beach is the second.

Tags: Photos, Dorset, Durdle Door, Jurassic Coast

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review: This is where I leave you

When you see the names of Tina Fey and Jason Bateman in the cast, you have already prepared yourself to see a comedy. If the names of these stars aren't enough, you have Shawn Levy as the director. To help you recall, remember "The Internship" where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson struggle in Googleplex. Sometimes, all the names associated with comedy may be misleading, and you end up with a drama that makes you chuckle at times. A drama is not bad if you have prepped yourself in the first place.

This movie is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by Jonathan Tropper. I haven't read the book. But if I had known it was an adaptation, then I would not have assumed this would be a comedy. The story deals with a dysfunctional family who comes together to mourn the death of the patriarch. After the death of her husband, Hillary Altman(Jane Fonda) brings her children under her roof to sit shiva. Paul (Corey Stroll), Wendy(Tina Fey), Judd(Jason Bateman) and Phillip(Adam Driver) are here children. For simplicity, Shiva is a Jewish custom where the family sits together for seven days for mourning. To make matters worse, all the Altman kids are going through difficult time.

As you can see, the stage is set for comedy. But the movie explores the human side of coping with issues ranging from love to anger. None of the people is happy. All of them find happiness eventually. They make us chuckle in the process. But at the end of the day, is the movie any different from the countless movies of dysfunctional families we have seen already? The answer is no. There is nothing novel or memorable here although the director tries in vain to entertain and shock us. When you have finished watching the movie, a question lingers in your mind. What would have happened if this was a movie featuring a different set of actors? A set of players who regularly features in dramas. Would I have liked it better?

Stay away.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: *

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The art of naming restuarants

Names play an important part as it provides an identity. Have you wondered about the art of naming a restaurant? What does the owner think while choosing a name? Does it reflect the cuisine or does it reflect the experience? While conversing with my daughter recently, I learned the importance of a name. Not that I didn't know it before, but sometimes a chance conversation could reopen your eyes.

Daughter: *with excitement* Let's go to that place where we went before for dinner.

Me: *not able to understand where* Do you remember when?

Daughter: *clarifies* It was a while back. It is a nice place.

Me: *still having trouble in recollecting* Remind me, please.

Daughter: *with patience* The one opposite Ryman.

Me: *bingo* Oh! Royal Tandoori.

Daughter: *smiles* Yes.

Me: *carefully diverts to choose another restaurant* Can we try "House of Flavours"? Have you been there?

Daughter: *abruptly* No

Me: *awaits a clarification*

Daughter: *seals the deal* No, we will go to Royal Tandoori. It is posh. The name says so.

My personal preference is the second one because of the ambiance. But the word "Royal" won my daughter over. Now I also know why the restaurants these glaring adjectives as part of their name.

Tags: Parenthood,Restaurants

Monday, August 24, 2015

Photos: The view from top of Durdle Door

Durdle door is part of the Jurassic Coast and is located in Dorset, England. After parking the car, I walked down the tourist track to reach Durdle door. Before I reached the pebbled beach to view the natural limestone arch, there is a platform in the middle of the cliff. This platform gives you a spectacular view of the sea. The sea is like a chameleon. Depending on her mood, the sea has shades of green or blue.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Movie Review: The November Man

The November Man is an adaptation of the novel written by Bill Granger. There is a series of books which details the adventures of CIA operative Peter Devereaux. I haven't read the series. The series occurs during the tail end of the Cold War ear considering the year of publication. Pierce Brosnan and Roger Donaldson unite after Dante's Peak. The genre is a thriller, an area where Pierce Brosnan is comfortable.

The movie opens with a quick introduction of Peter Devereaux(Pierce Brosnan) and his new protege David Mason(Luke Bracey) before the former retires from the spy world. Before long, he is called back from retirement to bring back an asset from Moscow. This time around, there are surprises. Devereaux is on the run with former protege hunting him. The key to the mystery lies with a refugee case worker named Alice Fournier(Olga Kurylenko).

When the movie is adapted to the screen, there are changes to the timelines. The cold war was over long back. The Russian oligarchs or cheap replica of Russian bureaucrats are the favorite Hollywood villains for movies set in Eastern Europe. Give the movie the darker tone and there is a shadow of misery everywhere. There is no way this movie can work past the cliches. Despite this, Roger Donaldson succeeds in capturing our attention by setting a pace for the movie. He doesn't give us time to think due to the speed at which events happen on the screen. 
Moreover, he has Pierce Brosnan as the protagonist. As the settings have a James Bond hangover, Brosnan is in familiar territory. On top of it, we are all waiting eagerly to watch Brosnan reprising a role that has shades of the man who has the license to kill.

This movie is perfect for a forgettable evening. You watch this on an unremarkable evening where there is nothing else to do.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **

Photos: The majestic mountains of Snowdonia

Though the summit of Snowdon mountain was foggy, the sky was clear in other parts of Snowdonia in Wales. The roads wound through the mountains. The grass on the mountain was green interspersed with brown. The combination gave a rugged look to the terrain. This picture was the last one of the wonderful day and also the last of this series.

For other pictures in this series, please follow the below links

Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reframe your mind using positive thoughts

Norman Vincent Peale have written a book on positive thinking. He advises on chanting positive thoughts to influence outcomes in life. To bring about positive changes in life, he advises on recanting positive affirmations throughout the day. These positive affirmations use religion as crutches. If we disregard the religious overtures of these affirmations, the main question becomes visible. Are these techniques effective?

Recently, I was reading Tina Seelig's book named "Insight Out" when I came across the answer. Tina refers to what most of the behavioral experts endorse. Reframe your mind. By chanting positive affirmations, you retrain your mind by giving it a new frame of reference. This process helps in looking at events in a different way. The best example she quotes in her book is by Mauricio Estrella. I am quoting it verbatim below. Mauricio used a simple technique to reframe and retrain his mind. He decided to use passwords that will propagate positive thoughts and retrain his mind.

Letting all the frustration go, I remembered a tip from my former boss, Rasmus. Somehow he combined to-do lists with passwords, and I thought to use an augmented variation to that.
I'm gonna use a password to change my life...
My password became the indicator. My password reminded me that I shouldn't let myself be a victim of my recent breakup, and that I'm strong enough to do something about it.
My password became "Forgive@h3r"
During the rest of the week, I had to type this password several times a day...
In my mind, I was reminding myself to "Forgive her". That simple action changed the way I looked at my ex-wife. That constant reminder that I should forgive her led me to accept the way things happened at the end of my marriage, and embrace a new way of dealing with the depression that I was drowning in.
In the following days, my mood improved drastically. By the end of the 2nd week, I noticed that this password became less powerful, and it started to lose the effect. A quick refresh of this "mantra" helped me. I thought to myself I forgave her as I typed it, every time. The healing effect of it came back almost immediately...
One month later, my dear exchange server asked me again to renew my password.  I thought about the next thing I had to get done.
My password became Quit@smoking4ever.
And guess what happened. I'm not kidding you. I quit smoking overnight.
One month later, my password became Save4trip@thailand.
Guess where I went 3 months later. Thailand!

Mauricio's story is simple and thought-provoking. We are all forced to change our passwords every few days in our organizations. Rather than thinking about the biggest problem we are facing, we could adopt this style of formulating passwords. A friend of mine implemented a slightly different way of Mauricio's example. He swore a lot while exercising. He did it when he had expended all his reserves of energy and needed a sudden boost. This technique was not working out. When he came across Mauricio's story, he decided to think positively while energy levels sank. As a result, he felt a sudden burst of energy flowing through him. This was in stark contrast to his earlier experience.

Now, are you ready to try out Mauricio's technique? Tell me how this worked out for you when you have tried it out. I am interested in knowing.

Tags: Musings, Norman Vincent Peale, Tina Seelig, Mind

Friday, August 14, 2015

Scrambling for the back bench

I am attending training sessions this week. The training provides a good opportunity for shared experiences and networking. On top of the above benefits, the training also allows me to take my mind away from the pressures of professional life. It is the right time to pause and reflect. In a way, it is an experience to revisit the school days. But there is also a marked change from what we experience in our school days.

If you remember the school days, the front rows used to get filled faster. The early birds and the studious ones used to occupy the front benches. The students who wished to stay below the radar used to go for the middle rows. The latecomers often dubbed as inept and lazy ended up in the backbench. They were the social misfits, at least according to our limited world wisdom. If you are in the backbench, you often encounter the wrath of the teacher too.

There always has been a surefire way to attain the backbench. Create mischief in the class or come late to the class. This week, I realized the equation has changed. I was neither early nor late to the class. But I found the rows at the back to be filled already by the time I reached. The front rows were empty. As a result, I had to pick one in the front row. To get a 30,000 ft view, you need to be as far as possible from the stage where the action is happening. But a scramble for the nosebleed section is something I couldn't comprehend! The irony was you come in early to get a place in the back row,

Tags: Musings, Training, Back Bench

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Photos: Trekking the Snowdon mountain

There are two options to the summit of Snowdon mountain in Wales. The first option is the easiest. Take the train. The second option is harder than the first. You have to trek up the mountain. But you cannot show up one day and expect to climb all the way without any preparation. A friend of mine abandoned the exhausting climb midway. While in Snowdonia, I took the first option. On the way down, I noticed many trekkers walking down the mountain. I am not sure if they were able to reach the summit. Their walk suggested they had a good time.

Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Monday, August 10, 2015

When you are in Falmouth, you should have an early dinner.

Falmouth is a small city in Cornwall, UK. In case you wind up in this city, there is one thing you should know. All the restaurants close by 10 pm. The city center is a blink-and-miss. The city hosts a harbor, and you can find a variety of boats anchored in the harbor. Consequently, you let your believe there is a certain kind of life associated with this city. If you tread in the line of thought, you will be fooled easily.

This weekend, I was in the city trying to find a place to have dinner. The first place featured Pizza and seafood. I ignored the first and focused on the second. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter apologized saying there are closing the kitchen and those seated remain the last ones to be served. In a way, this behavior reminded me of restaurants in Montmartre which refuse to take any more clientele after a certain time. There is a difference. In Montmartre, they neither want people to wait indefinitely nor want to hurry the existing customers. Here, they want to close the shop. And the time is only 9 pm.

I decided to walk through the city center. After rejecting the little choices I had, I came across a Thai restaurant. They had one reservation and if they showed up there would not be able to entertain us. At this point, I was curious. I asked the person at the counter. "Do restaurants close early around here?". The person nonchalantly replied. "Yes, unless it is an Indian restaurant. They are open until midnight or even until one a.m.". At this point, I choked. Until now, I wasn't able to figure out if it was a veiled insult or innocent remark. 

A group seated at the table right next to the host overheard my request for a table. As they had finished their dinner, they decided to take an early leave so that the restaurant could accommodate my family. The food was good. I soon forgot about the bitter taste. I trust it was an innocent remark. To be frank, the only restaurant that was open till one a.m. was a pizza shop. Probably, it is run by Indians!

Tags: Musings, Falmouth, Dinner

Friday, August 7, 2015

Uber revelations in Mumbai

Uber is a breath of fresh air. Having spent a considerable amount of time waiting for taxis in Paris in various weather conditions and extraordinarily large amounts of cash for cabbies in The UK, I was happy to hear about Uber. Here is one company that makes our life easier. The fare is cheaper and affordable. There are no disappointments after flagging down a cab. Sometimes, the driver is not interested in going in your direction. The Uber model is beneficial for both drivers and also the passengers. When I visited India a few months ago, I realized the above statement is not true. Although the model remains beneficial for the passengers, it does not necessary hold true for the drivers.

While in Mumbai, a friend of mine hailed me a Uber cab. My friend showed me a cool app showing the location of the cab. After doing a quick action on the phone, we were directly connected to the driver. But the driver's location was shown incorrectly on the app and hence he will not be able to pick me up. We tried again. This time, a cab showed up within a few minutes. I was planning to catch an international flight. The app directs a route for the driver. The driver seemed confused with the directions. He told me he would be taking a different route. I don't know Mumbai, but I decided to take a leap of faith. To be fair, I reached my destination on time without taking a circuitous route. I classify all the above as software glitches. What disturbed me was the conversation with the driver.

I was curious to find out how Uber has changed the driver's life. So I went for an open question. "Is Uber better than your previous job?". The driver shrugged. "I can't say anything now. I will have to wait and watch". With this statement, I was intrigued. "Why?". My response might have been inappropriate, but I couldn't resist asking it. "I still have not got paid. I have started this job only for two weeks". This answer was shocking because I thought the drivers were also the owners. On the way to the airport, the driver explained the situation. His current boss owns two cars. The owner is hiring drivers and running the operation using Uber.

When I reflected on the new revelations, the situation has not changed much for the drivers in India. In fact, the drivers will find it tougher now. Earlier the owner hires the drivers and hands them over the keys. In the evening, the driver returns with the collection and the odometer reading. The driver gets paid in the evening. The owner pockets his share. This system was advantageous for the driver as the odometer reading does not reflect the number of trips he made. The driver might have taken a passenger to a destination and taken another one back to the starting the location. As the fare covers both to and fro, the money earned from the return journey goes into the driver's pocket. Now the owner gets paid by Uber without leaving the confines of the home. Where does that leave the driver?

I have nothing against Uber. I believe companies like that a great enabler. But there is always smart people out there who will be able to use these services in a different way than envisioned.

Tags: Musings, Taxi, Uber

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Contraband cigarettes

Of late, there have been many instances of seizures of contraband cigarettes reported in Reading. These shopkeepers have been selling cigarettes purchased from European countries. After purchasing, these items find a way to the UK with paying the necessary taxes associated with imports. In the end, the shopkeepers pocket a higher sum as profit when they sell these items at local prices.

I do not sympathize with these shopkeepers. They are charging their hapless customers the same rate and are not passing the cost benefits to the customers. Smoking is a costly business. I know for sure because I was a smoker until recently. I found cigarettes to be more expensive in Belgium than France. I also cigarettes to be costlier in the UK than France. In both France and the UK, the government charges the smokers more and also scare them away with nasty pictures on the cigarette packs.

In India, cigarettes are sold either as packets or as single units. The flexibility of buying a cigarette versus as a packet is two-fold. You smoke less. You spend less. When you have a pack in your pocket, you need less activation energy to smoke. Why don't the shopkeepers adopt the same modes of sale in Europe and UK? Wouldn't this approach not only reduce smoking but also provide more profit for the shopkeeper? The more profit means less contraband into the country.

Tags: Musings, Cigarettes, Contraband

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Movie Review: Mission Impossible : Rogue Nation

So far, a different director has helmed each episode of the Mission Impossible series. Christopher McQuarrie handles the latest one in the series. In case you are wondering who Christopher McQuarrie, he is the one who gave you Jack Reacher. I liked Jack Reacher because the ability of the director to establish the character with a fast-paced narration. So I was looking forward to this movie. Moreover, the trailers showing Tom Cruise hanging on the side of Airbus is exciting and intriguing.

The movie wastes no time and starts of the cliffhanger in the trailer namely the Airbus scene. During the time, all the main characters Ethan Hunt(Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn(Simon Pegg), William Brandt(Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell(Ving Rhames). Once the stage is set, we get to know IMF has been compromised. Although Ethan believes there is a much larger secretive organization named Syndicate, there is no proof for the same. IMF is disbanded. CIA absorbs the current operatives under the supervision of Alan Hunley(Alec Baldwin). Ethan is on the run after being captured by Solomon Lane(Sean Harris) and escaping from his custody with the help of the mysterious Ilsa Faust(Rebecca Ferguson).

As you can see, the stage is set for spectacular action scenes. The movie changes locations from Belarus, Washington, Cuba, Paris, Vienna, Morocco and finally London. The constant shift in location adds to the excitement, and nowadays this phenomenon has become very common in movies. Either the travel and studio support environment has improved or the air ticket prices have nosedived. In addition to the shift in locations, this movie is also a nod to the previous ones in the series. There are references to Ethan's escapades in the past and also brings back the IMF characters. On top of all this, there is also a bike chase in Morocco which is a hat tip to MI-II. The face changing masks are there. There is no high-altitude acrobatics. But there are highly impossible "Ethan" stunts.

As the name implies, this series is detached from reality. Hence, if the movie can dazzle you with visuals relying on the suspension of disbelief, then it can be termed a success. In that respect, the movie succeeds. Simon Pegg's funny lines prevent us from guffawing and instead smiling when Ethan is ready to execute the underwater stunt. There are other places where Simon Pegg comes to the rescue of the movie with his witty lines. There is nothing much to write about the other actors. They just fit the bill to give us an entertaining watch.

If you are an action junkie, then this is for you.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: ***

Photos: Three is company

I posted a photo of a lone rider previously. He had two more companions. All the riders gathered around the edge of the slope before they decided to bike down it. This is a picture where all of them gathered to discuss. I have no idea what they were discussing. This was a quite a sight on top of Snowdon Mountain in Wales.

Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Having read the novel, I was happy with the selection of David Fincher as the director of the movie version of the novel "Gone Girl". David Fincher has given us dark movies before. Who else is the right choice to bring the darker side of marriage? The novel resembles a screenplay where events unfold in a non-linear manner for a major part. Gillian Flynn, the author of the novel, pens the screenplay for the movie that is almost a replica of the novel. When the novel gets adapted as the movie, the latter becomes darker and shocking than the former.

David Fincher sets a dark tone for his movie. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike plays Nick and Amy respectively, a couple who loses their jobs during the economic downturn and subsequently moves to a small town in Missouri when Nick's mother health deteriorates. In his hometown, Nick opens a bar with his twin sister. As the movie opens, Amy has gone missing, and the townfolks are frantically searching for her. As time progresses, we realise that Nick and Amy have been leading a less perfect life. The choice of the lead pair by David Fincher is unusual but right. As they are both beautiful people, the disintegrating marriage and violence on the screen turns disturbing for the viewer. Rosamund Pike has played bad girl before in Die Another Day. But Amy is a new territory for Rosamund Pike, and she easily slips into it. She undergoes physical transformation to match the various phases of Amy. Ben Affleck has a tougher role because he is the one always reacting to situations. Although he gets overshadowed by Amy at many places, he also brings out the suffering and confused husband ably.

As a person who has read the book, I am happy with the adaptation. David Fincher is back in form after the disappointing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The direction, the screenplay and the acting transforms this adaptation in an engaging drama told in a thriller format. There is an underlying theme of violence. When the violence erupts, the ensuing scenes repulse you. Hence, this is not a movie to watch with kids.
Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Friday, July 31, 2015

Planning and execution lessons of a different kind

The school is closed for the summer holidays. Since then my daughter have been excited to go out in the evening. At times, I have trouble matching up with her energy that I come up with excuses. As she is growing up faster than I want her to, my excuses are shot down at ease. While I struggle with reasoning, I also realize an important point. I should learn from her the aspect of planning. The way she planned a visit to the nearest Toys-R-Us taught me a lot more about planning and execution than all the on-the-job training and books.

Her objective was simple. She wanted to buy a pack of Yummy Nummies. She had already found out the price for a packet and also the shop. The shop was Toys-R-Us. The price effectively took out the first objection as it was reasonable. The next challenge was the actual trip. Before I could come up with traffic, she gave the distance from our house to the nearest shop. The shop is 9 minutes away by car, as there was no traffic. If you are wondering where is she getting this information, she is getting this information from the same place where we are getting it. Google Maps! She has done her planning well.

I had other errands to run that evening. When I returned to the car after the last errand, she had already set up the GPS with the directions to Toys-R-Us.

Tags: Parenthood,Toys-R-Us

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