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

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