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THAT face with THAT warm smile….

There is a lady (probably my mothers’s age) I see almost every working day at the restaurant on my campus. She has the biggest, most natural and widest smile ever, and she has the warmest “Halllooo” ever. 

There she is smiling, laughing, & talking cheerfully to her customers 24*7, and in the last six months I have never ever seen her remotely sad or upset. In fact, she would give a huge complex to most characters from a feel good movie. (Remember Rajesh Khanna in Anand, or Roberto Benigni in Life is beautiful?) 

Its incredible how a person can come to work, make a conversation with EVERY customer, and have some nice things to say to everybody. Most days I don’t go to her ice cream and desserts counter (I cant think of any person more suitable to serve you sweet dishes!). We could be having a quiet lunch somewhere in the corner. She bellows a loud “Halllloo’ and in case we missed her, follows it up with a “Guten Tag!” 

Every single day I cross her, she pauses to have a few minutes of friendly banter. She cannot speak more than 5 words in English, and I cannot speak more than 5 words in German. Yet I talk to her daily in a ritualistic way; the same applies to my team mates who lunch with me. On some days when work is stressful, I go and get an ice cream from her and listen to her 200 questions in German about how I am doing. I just nod something silly back, and she pretends she can understand me! No problem in the world appears significant after that ice cream, and it’s got nothing to do with the ice cream  🙂 

Some gestures, people, and smiles permeate all artificial barriers of language / culture / race. 

I consider myself a pretty light hearted, warm,  and occasionally funny person. But I can NEVER have a smile around me all day. Not even if I try to fake it. 

Its incredible how we make a big fuss about celebrities from sports, entertainments, art fields, but hardly stop to applaud the heroes we see in our lives everyday.  To me she is one such hero. In an increasingly cynical world driven by ambition, greed, hatred, stress, and complexity, some people remind you that life is essentially simple and meant to be lived with a smile. 

May her tribe increase!

Cheers!

Vasu

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Bucket list entry # 6561: Indian man, German shepherd dog!

Have you seen the movie “The Bucket list”?

It’s not a great movie, or a classic; it’s pretty much candy floss Hollywood, but just happened to feature two stalwarts in Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, who made a very simple story line look good on-screen.

In fact, on a guys evening out at Prithvi’s place in Bangalore, when there wasn’t anything exciting to do, we hired the DVD almost as an afterthought. The only other notable event of the day was Akash’s ridiculous claim that “The Dark knight” wasn’t such a great movie, and all of us pouncing on him like a pack of wolves!

Back to the bucket list; without getting into a movie review, or storytelling, I would explain the central theme in brief: two old men, who know the end is near, exchange notes about a “bucket list”, or things to do in life, before you “kick the bucket”; and they set about doing just that in the last few days of their lives.

The list itself is a combination of some very simple personal desires that they yearned for, to the extravagant, such as skydiving, tattoos, climbing the pyramids, the French Riviera, the Great Wall of China, a lion safari in Africa etc.

Many random things to do, and places to visit, capture my imagination every once in a while. I think that’s the case for most of us. The only cue I took from the movie was to actually write it down and make a list. However silly the list may sound!

This particular item in my bucket list is a very old fascination: of owning a pet, a dog in particular, and a German shepherd to be precise. Of all dog breeds, I dig the German shepherd the most, the Labrador comes next. To me that’s the best choice for a man, and though many other dogs look much cuter, in terms of intelligence, utility, versatility, and ease of training, the GSD / Alsatian is the king of the canine world! I don’t have too many friends who own a GSD. My cousin Vaish has a terribly cute Pug, but I haven’t played with him 😦

It may not sound like a big deal, and a relatively easy item to tick of the list, but trust me, it’s been a bloody difficult wish to fulfill all these years, and will possibly stay that way for a few more.

To start with, I have to grapple with this huge contradiction that I love animals, but I am scared of being very close to them. Dogs in particular! I am the guy that ticks “Like animals, but at a distance” box in any questionnaire. My pet theory (pun intended) is that if I happen to have my dog starting from the days when it’s a small puppy, I would eventually overcome my fear.

It all started with my neighborhood in Chennai. As little kids, my sister (Poorni) and I were taking a walk around the streets when a friend of mine, who used to have this Alsatian, lost control of the leash and the dog. The dog ran wild and bit my sister, and I was helpless nearby. Poor girl is still petrified of dogs, and I am just 1% less afraid than her! She would hold my hands when there was a dog anywhere in the near vicinity, and I used to act brave. There was no way I could tell her I am equally scared, as having me around was her only source of comfort against any dog!

The problem of stray, street dogs is massive in many Indian cities, most notably Bangalore.  There were these incidents last few years when street dogs attacked people in packs (children in particular) and remains a source of huge debate between animal lovers and the regular people on the roads. Despite being a massive animal lover, in this context, I would place the interests of people above dogs. It may be sad, but that’s the pecking order.

Even if Bangalore evolves an effective mechanism for tackling the stray dog menace, it still doesn’t address the problem of irresponsible owners. Like my friend whose dog bit my sister.

Trust me; this is a massive problem in our country. And it felt even more massive to me when I have traveled abroad. Pets are so well-behaved, and owners are so mature here. I have never heard a dog bark and scare a stranger, or appear intimidating in any way. I have seen that in US, Japan and in Switzerland. I figured out the laws for keeping are very stringent, and well-regulated. Along with pet insurance, regular medical checkups, there are mandatory classes for pets, and owners.  The system pretty much ensures that if at all you have to keep a pet, you have to be extremely sensitive to the animal and fellow human beings.

So that comes to another reason I haven’t had a pet so far. The challenge of keeping a pet to the standard I would like to maintain is difficult in India. There are millions of pet owners in India, but from what I know, not too many of them are sensitive to the pet’s psyche, and its behavior in a public place. What would be easier in India though is to take care of my dog when I am working late, or travelling for e few days. I would find it relatively easier to find a neighbor or friend who takes care in my absence. There are dog walkers in Switzerland, but they come at a price and have their own schedules! Bottom line is, I would like to be a very responsible pet owner, or not have one at all.

On a lighter note, one of the most enjoyable sights from my apartment in Tokyo was a regular “owner – pet – pet – owner” routine I would see from my balcony every evening. The dogs are so well-behaved, (and bloody cute as with anything Japanese) that on the rare occasion when a dog barks at another on the street, the masters stop, apologize profusely  in the long tradition of Japanese manners, exchange pleasantries and become friends. God knows how many business alliances, and love stories have come about that way!

But, by far my biggest challenge has been living in one city long enough to keep a pet. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through relocating cities / countries, and flight journeys! There is no way any dog can live off a suitcase like I do! I remember pleading with Amma to keep a lab, when I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have a place of my own.  Her decisive statement was “If you insist on getting a dog, fine. I can only feed so many people in this house, so it’s either you or the dog. Your choice!”  Appa, and Poorni were eagerly waiting for my response. ..in one of the most decisive moments in my life, I chose myself over the lab instinctively 🙂

 I can thankfully laugh about it today, but on that day I was an angry young man!

So perhaps one day when I know I am going to stay in one city for years together, I would finally knock this long pending item off my bucket list.

Till such day when you visit my house and play with my dog, enjoy the amazing videos here!

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: Since I have made, chopped, and changed such lists  for so long, that it doesn’t make sense to start this series with #1. Those who know me know my fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers. So I would number this series with my favorite numbers rather than 1, 2, 3…6561 is one such number. I was born on a terrific day for a number lover: 8th January, 1981, or 8-1-8-1. 81 * 81 =6561. Also, 8+1=9, and 9*9*9*9 =6561. There you go!

The Rise of ‘Algorithmic Authority’ -an interesting blog on NY Times

Read: http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/the-rise-of-algorithmic-authority/

 Professor Clay Shirky blogs about how we process informatiom from multiple sources, compare and trust the final picture, rather than relying on a single source for new / information.

If you take Wikipedia as an example, most pages present views and information from multiple sources we do not know, let alone trust. Yet, a wiki article on anything presents a close to decent picture for us.

I have stopped reading newspapers, I do not take anything I see on T.V news at face value, and most new things I read about in a book / magazine, I google them! Yet, I consider myself fairly well informed on whataever topics that interest me.

Would the internet work on our ability to cross link information from multiple sources, and do away with traditional sources of information?

I see this field growing with more research and advancement. Perhaps the next few years will give us the answer.

Cheers!

Vasu

Fantasia cricket…

Warning: If you are not a fanatic of that silly game called cricket, don’t bother reading further! 

Picking a fantasy team is the favorite sport for those who don’t actually play the sport at any decent level! Cricket is no exception to the rule, and has billions of arm chair critics and experts like me going around! 

And, as if to induce us to do this even more, Cricinfo – that mother of all cricket websites, is picking an all time XI for all test cricket nations. 

India’s turn has not yet come, but they’re done with England, Australia, New Zealand, and are now with South Africa. 

There is a panel of experts and there is an online voting too, so you pretty much end up with two different teams, but there are many names that would make it to both the teams.

 One common trend I noticed is that the online generation, which is typically young, picks more contemporary players, where as the “experts” tend to grow for players from my grand dad’s generation, of whom there is much written about, but nobody has actually seen.

 I guess all this is speculative, and subjective; so each one is free to play selector! 

Though I am Indian, I think the best two all time test teams would be Australia, and West indies. It’s a no brainier actually! And boy what a contest that would be,  in the imaginative world of your brain where this match could take place!

 Here is Cricinfo’s all time Australia XI: Victor Trumper, Arthur Morris, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Keith Miller, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath 

Give and take a couple of names based on your taste, this is as good as any team that could take the field. But is it as good as an all time West Indies XI? 

Since Cricinfo hasn’t picked its XI yet, I took the liberty of making my own West Indies list: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, George Headley, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Jeffrey Dujon, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs 

That’s a bloody mighty team, and although Australia would fight like hell, I think West Indies will prevail. 

Picking an Indian XI though, is not easy, primarily because there are a few glaring weaknesses (fielding, fast bowling) that will make it tough against any top team, and because we have very little videos of olden players.

 So I gave myself a few golden rules to pick this XI: 

  • Generation: I am going to pick only from players I have seen in action. So that rules out names like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Subhash Gupte, Amar Singh, Mohammad Nissar
  • Batting: Variety in batting: a good mix of players with aggressive, risky games + solid technicians who can grind it out + players who can capitalize and score fast against spinners and the old ball.
  • Fielding & catching: This has to be the best fielding & catching XI we can play, as our fielding standards are lousy, and against a real top team we would be made to pay dearly. This was a tough rule for me, as it ruled out a personal favorite G.R Vishwanath, in favor of another personal favorite, but not quite Vishy’s caliber: Mohammed Azharuddin. Thankfully, our slip & close-in catching is as good as any with Dravid, Sunil, and Sachin.
  • Keeping: Since I am playing 5 batsmen + 4 bowlers + one all-rounder, I wanted to pick a wicket keeper whose batting was pretty good & versatile, while being a safe keeper. Amongst M.S. Dhoni, Syed Kirmani, Nayan Mongia, and Farokh Engineer, Dhoni was the better wicketkeeper batsman at number 7
  • Bowling: There has got to be variety in bowling: 2 pace and swing bowlers (spin and reverse swing will be the only factors that will help us get 20 wickets against strong teams), one bowling all-rounder (Kapil, the de facto choice), one leg spin, and one finger spin. Kumble was the obvious first choice spinner, and my second choice had to be a finger spinner (that ruled out Chandra in spite of terrific numbers and a mystery factor) that got good turn (as Kumble doesn’t spin much). The choice was between two sardars: Bedi & Harbhajan. Numbers being fairly similar, I went for Bhajji for his batting at number 8, better fielding, and a slightly modern aggressive streak that has helped us compete better.
  • When in doubt, go by gut instincts, personal bias, and throw stats to the wind: Sehwag, Azhar, Bhajji, Srinath (struggled in early days with no guidance, matured into a deadly bowler, but fitness and terrible support from fielders and other bowlers let his statistics down) are such personal picks. They may make the cut even by statistics – Sehwag’s stats for example, are as good any anybody else’s, but there will be naysayers. That’s why Kapil is also captain ahead of most others. Kapil is the best all-round player in this team, and while that itself is no consideration for captaincy, he deserves the honor purely for his attacking instincts and style of play. And he is the only bloody Indian captain to win a world cup. So I let my favorite’s reign- after all it’s my team! 

And so, here is my all time best Indian test XI dream team:  Kapil’s devils:

Sunil Gavskar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, M.S. Dhoni,  Kapil Dev (Captain), Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath

 I would rate this team as the joint 3rd best with Pakistan & South Africa, but behind West Indies & Australia. 

My verdict (for a 3 match series):

  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time Australia / West indies XI : Will lose
  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time SA XIs : Draw
  • Sub continental pitches against:
    • England, SA, NZ, SL: Will win
    • Pakistan, West Indies, Australia: Draw
  • Swinging conditions against England / NZ XI: Will win 

The most awesome sight for me would be to watch the chalk and cheese pair of Sehwag, and Gavaskar open. If they happen to survive the first session against an attack that has any one amongst: Lillee, McGrath, Ambrose, Holding, Marshall, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Warne, and then we can beat any opposition anywhere. 

And the contest to savor for a life time would be: India Vs. Pakistan, on any good pitch amongst the few available on the sub continent. 

Here is to some more day dreaming  🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

 P.S: Those who think the IPL & T20 is cricket may have a different opinion if they watched some classic Australia vs. West Indies clashes from the 60s through the early 90s, which are up on YouTube. That’s pretty much how my fantasy game would have played out.

Select clips that I am in awe of:

Empire of cricket series’ story on the historic series in 1960 featuring the first tied test in Brisbane:

Gary Sobers smashes a double hundred at Melbourne, playing for a Rest of the World XI against Australia:

Dennis Lillee Vs. Viv Richards:

Curtly Ambrose’s spell of 7 for 1 at Perth:

Outside magazine’s Adventure Lab: World’s Best Climber

Prety cool read & videos about how an awesome climber (Dean Potter) would fare against a Tokay Gecko 🙂

Check: http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2009/11/adventure-lab-worlds-best-climber.html

Cheers!

Vasu

I Heart My City: Arun’s Bangalore – Intelligent Travel Blog

I Heart My City: Arun’s Bangalore – Intelligent Travel Blog

Posted using ShareThis

I was pleasantly surprised and a touch nostalgic to read about my adopted home town of Bangalore in the National Geographic Travel Magazine. Thought I’ll share a nice read about a charming old city indeed! Wonder if they have something about Chennai as well…

Cheers!

Vasu

Excerpts from Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi”. Reproduced from Outlook magazine

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?234562.

This is one of the best books I’ve read that discusses India’s modern history and role in the world. I may not agree to all the points made, but I strongly admire the central themes of Indian democracy, pluralism, and ability to cater to the needs of a significantly diverse population, in the face of complexities of the magnititude not witnessed anywhere else in the world.

The book is a strong recommendation for any Indian / person interested in India. At the very least, you can try to read & absorb this article 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

The dark and sinister confessions of a facebook addict

Facebook threw up an interesting statistic to me. “How addicted am I to facebook”. It was a shockingly high number, and so high I dared not publish it. Damn, it was even higher than that of a good friend of mine S,  who I keep taunting in jest for being on Facebook all the time! 

And she coolly  suggested I have to first admit there is a problem. She made it sound as if I was an alcoholic in need of help! 

While all that was in good humor, I couldn’t help thinking about it. Have I let the online social networking world take over my life? 

The short answer was no, and the long answer is as follows: (And this is dedicated to my well meaning friend who got it wrong nevertheless!) 

I have been observing how people use / misuse social networking for a while. I think some people use it very smartly and that is irrespective of how much time they spend on it. Some people may spend less time, but may go about it in a way that doesn’t help them or their online  friends. So while it is a good idea to keep your time spent on it to the bare minimun, it’s also important to understand how we use these technologies, and where we should draw the line. 

I have a few guidelines that I try my best to follow when it comes to social networking, specifically for Facebook. This is based on what I did in the past, and found to be a waste of time / harmful, and what I have seen others doing: 

  1. I don’t typically add friends I do not know at all
  2. I do not add friends to show that I have a few hundred friends on my Facebook
  3. I do not use it to read up about people’s personal info or stalk women (Women, you could be either flattered or shocked if you know how many men you never know stalked you online!)
  4. I try not to share very personal feelings, discussions, moments, photos etc
  5. When I see something very significant posted on a friend’s profile (such as a child’s birth,  a separation, or a new job) I make it a point to contact them over phone / in person. A lot many people think it cool to just click on “like” and not bother there after
  6. I use the privacy settings pretty well, to control who can see what
  7. I do not see my friends as “virtual only”. If anybody on my Facebook happens to be in and around where I live, I make it a point to call / meet hang out with them
  8. I use it to promote my thoughts / websites etc, but I do not rely entirely on Facebook for that
  9. If I go somewhere and take pictures, I do not upload a few hundred pictures and expect my friends to see all of them!
  10. I do not play any games on Facebook 🙂 

Now you may, or may not agree to the points above, but I think it’s a good idea to develop your own guidelines and stick to them. Else we all may have technology like this take over our lives, and affect our ability for normal human relationships one day! 

On a lighter note, one of my best friends ever – B, refuses to tag herself on photos of us together. She truly believes she does not look cool enough in those pictures, and apart from laughing out loud and screaming “Women”, I didn’t bother about it. I know a lot of other friends who take such things seriously. Do  you need a Facebook picture / wall post, or some stupid Facebook quiz to tell you who your best friends are?

 P.S: I know the title of the blog is misleading, but it’s always a nice feeling to pull a fast one on people 🙂

 Cheers!

Vasu

It’s a Free Country…So why can’t I pick the technology I use in the office?

Lovely read from the WSJ on corporate IT policies. It would be interesting to see how the future shapes up…  

Link to original article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703567204574499032945309844.html 

By NICK WINGFIELD 

At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete messages after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal Web site feels like being teleported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant search results.

At home, though, you zip into the 21st century. You’ve got a slick, late-model computer and an email account with seemingly inexhaustible storage space. And while Web search engines don’t always figure out exactly what you’re looking for, they’re practically clairvoyant compared with your company intranet.

This is the double life many people lead: yesterday’s technology for work, today’s technology for everything else. The past decade has brought awesome innovations to the marketplace—Internet search, the iPhone, Twitter and so on—but consumers, not companies, embrace them first and with the most gusto.

Even more galling, especially to tech-savvy workers, is the nanny-state attitude of employers who block access to Web sites, lock down PCs so users can’t install software and force employees to use clunky programs. Sure, IT departments had legitimate concerns in the past. Employees would blindly open emails from persons unknown or visit shady Web sites, bringing in malicious software that could crash the network. Then there were cost issues: It was a lot cheaper to get one-size-fits-all packages of middling hardware and software than to let people choose what they wanted.

But those arguments are getting weaker all the time. Companies now have an array of technologies at their disposal to give employees greater freedom without breaking the bank or laying out a welcome mat for hackers. “Virtual machine” software, for example, lets companies install a package of essential work software on a computer and wall it off from the rest of the system. So, employees can install personal programs on the machine with minimal interference with the work software.

Some forward-thinking companies are already giving employees more freedom to pick mobile phones, computers and applications for work—in some cases, they’re even giving workers allowances to spend on outfitting themselves. The result, they’ve found, is more-productive employees. There’s a reason professional chefs bring their own knives to work, rather than using a dull set of blades lying around the kitchen.

What century Is This, Anyway?

For a look at how sharp the divide between work and home can be, consider my experience. The Wall Street Journal gives me a laptop with Windows XP, an operating system I found satisfying when it came out eight years ago but that lacks a lot of modern touches, like a speedy file-search function. My home computer, meanwhile, is a two-year-old iMac running the Leopard version of Apple’s Macintosh operating system. Among other virtues, it’s got a search function called Spotlight that lets me track down files in a flash.

Or take email. Please. There’s a limit on how much email employees can store on the company’s system, and I routinely bump into it. So, I need to spend time hunting through old notes in Microsoft Outlook and deciding what to keep and what to delete, or risk a shutdown of my account. I’m not the only one; a colleague told me she often receives messages with large attached files that overload her inbox while she’s asleep. That means she can’t receive any more mail until she gets into the office in the morning and cleans out her messages.

Limits like those are tough to swallow when you consider how generous free email services are. In nearly five years, for instance, I’ve used only about a quarter of the storage space in my personal Gmail account from Google Inc., despite almost never deleting messages. Furthermore, I can search for old Gmail messages almost instantaneously, while the search function in the email I use for work is painfully slow.

When they get fed up with work technologies, employees often become digital rogues, finding sneaky ways to use better tools that aren’t sanctioned by the IT department. In my case, I’ve installed a search engine called Google Desktop that lets me quickly scour my hard drive for files, and a product by Xobni Corp. that does something similar for Outlook email, even though neither is approved by my IT department. And those programs have made a world of difference. In a simple test, it took Outlook two minutes to track down an email from a few months ago, based on a few search terms. Xobni found the message before I finished typing the words.

The Journal declined to comment on its policies. But even with the potential for productivity gains from newer technologies, it’s tough for many enterprises to stomach the prohibitive costs of a companywide upgrade to the latest software and hardware, especially during the current economic downturn. Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates enterprises will cut technology purchases by 6.9% this year, which would be the biggest decline on record.

Furthermore, there are indirect costs connected with upgrades that give businesses an incentive to stick with battle-tested technologies, like the hassles of retraining workers and of dealing with buggy new products. In one example, many companies never bothered to upgrade to Microsoft’s last version of its operating system, Windows Vista, in part because of technical issues with the software when it was first released.

Home-Field Advantage

It wasn’t always this way. For years, the big breakthroughs in computing technology came in corporate IT departments and university computer labs. But that started to change as the cost of PCs plunged and they became fixtures in people’s homes. Now consumers buy more PCs than businesses do—and the consumer market spurs the most interesting innovations.

Instant messaging reached the mainstream through America Online. Amazon.com Inc. used the technology behind its shopping site to become a pioneer in “cloud computing”—where businesses rent resources in Amazon data centers rather than running hardware and software on their own. Apple Inc.’s iPhone broke new ground in Web surfing and running applications on mobile phones.

The rise of the consumer market also means people have gotten a lot smarter when it comes to technology—and a lot less patient with substandard stuff at the office. Even with the weak economy, companies will find it harder to recruit savvy workers if they don’t let them use their favored technology.

Some companies have decided the best solution is to start giving workers what they want. Until a couple of years ago, Kraft Foods Inc., the consumer-goods giant, had a rigid approach to workplace technology that was typical of many big companies: It locked down PCs so employees couldn’t install software on their own, and it prevented them from accessing sites like YouTube and Facebook. When it came to hardware, Kraft offered a limited choice of smart phones and Windows PCs.

Executives began to worry that the company’s technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends. Kraft was a consumer company, they figured, so workers needed to be more familiar with the technologies that consumers were using, whether the iPhone or YouTube.

So, the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Web sites, and the company started a stipend program for smart phones: Workers get an allowance every 18 months to buy a phone of their choosing. (Over 60% picked iPhones.) Kraft has also started a pilot program to let some of its employees pick their own computer. One catch: Employees who choose Macs are expected to solve technical problems by consulting an online discussion group at Kraft, rather than going through the help desk, which deals mainly with Windows users.

“The win for Kraft is employees are more productive if they use devices they’re familiar with,” says David Diedrich, vice president of information-systems technology, security and workplace services at Kraft.

A Brighter Tomorrow

The prospect of giving employees choice may be too frightening for some companies to contemplate, but there are ways of doing it without completely giving up control. Employers could require workers to sign agreements promising that they’ll back up all their data and run the latest antivirus software and won’t download pornography. Employers can also require workers to run all of their corporate applications inside a virtual machine on the computer, which seals company information off from everything else.

Still, financial-services companies, law firms and others may feel the need to maintain stricter control, for regulatory and legal reasons. Even some companies moving toward letting employees choose their own computers, like consumer-goods maker Unilever PLC, say the policy won’t work for every employee inside a business. One reason: Many companies offering free choice ask workers to troubleshoot technical problems on their own, and some people simply aren’t up to the task.

That said, many executives agree that change is in the air. Chris Turner, Unilever’s chief technology officer, says the pressure to relax IT policies is bubbling up, especially from young employees. “They look at your standard corporate desktop and say, ‘I can’t work with that,’ ” Mr. Turner says. “If you can make it an attractive thing that they want to work with, that’s a hugely powerful thing.”

Friends, Jazz, Rain & Bombay

Well the title sums up the weekend that was.

It was one of the better weekends in the charming little town of Basel, Switzerland, where I have been living last six months. I have a lot of socializing opportunities with expat groups, travel groups, tennis club friends, and friends from work. I feel so much at ease with my circle of friends in Basel, that I can call it my third home after Chennai (where I was born and partly grew up), and Bangalore (where I spent most of my adult life).

 It started with my Brit friend (Cumbrian lass as she calls herself) H’s birthday party on Friday evening. Now H was a wonderful host and I have no words to describe how well organized and fun the event at her place was. To top it all, there were 3 men and some 10 women, and you can’t ask for more luck in life  I was amazed at how well maintained her place was (mine is a perennial mess in spite of being half the size of her place), how well planned she was with the music, drinks and snacks. Now if ever I have to throw a house party in Basle, this would pretty much be my benchmark.

There were a lot of common friends from previous events and I also bumped into a lot of new friends. There were a lot of interesting conversations before we all started dancing, and in particular I remember touching upon a rough comparison of how friendly or not the Swiss, French, German, and English are. Since I was with people mostly from UK or its former colonies, it was no surprise as to who were considered the coolest lot. But my take was simple, utopian and idealistic: every person is about as friendly as you are irrespective of race, religion, color, age, or sex! To me, everyone is as cool or uncool as every other one, and the only thing that matters is how friendly and open you are. As you guessed nobody took me seriously, but being disagreed with and / or saying something not popularly accepted, has never stopped me from calling it as I saw it!

Later that night we headed to Noohn, one of the chic lounge bars in town. Now this is another interesting thing about Basel – there are about 4-5 hot spots a few streets apart in town, where most people are headed to on the weekends. The chances of meeting a familiar face are phenomenally high, and I have taken to this small town culture like a fish takes to water. The ladies stayed on till fairly late in the night and I left early. I can’t stand smoke for too long and I am not too much a late night party person in any case. I had such great fun overall that I didn’t bother eating much…now that’s a rarity for a big foodie like me 🙂

Saturday was mostly a damp squib with the overcast weather and my laziness. The only good thing I did was to make up my mind to review, refine, and publish a lot of un published blogs lying as silent documents on my laptop. I had all the time and inclination in the world to do just that Me and my Indian friend V was yearning for a men’s night out in Basel, and my reputation as being clued onto every exciting event or place in Basel was at stake. We headed out first to the formal and relatively sophisticated “Birds eye jazz club”. Now the most interesting thing about this club to me is that on my very first day in Basel, after a long flight from India, I headed there and had my first conversation in Switzerland with a cute girl out there. And she was there yesterday as well. That’s how Déjà vu should be:)

We listened to a pretty good “Bakustic jazz” show from a band that looked and sounded pretty much Middle Eastern. We had a 12 CHF entry free and while we felt that there was a value for money, there was some spark, or excitement that was missing. That being the case we headed to a very ghettoish Cargo Bar, right by the bank of the Rhine River, and every bit as the name sounds! There we hear the most awesome jazz band in ages play and they all looked like university students. I wish I can get their name and get a CD of them, they were simply mind blowing. My mind was wavering to how the music scene in India is. I think we have a really strong classical, and film music tradition. But up until the last decade or so, I really did not find our youth bands come up with anything spectacular. I guess it’s fairly harsh to say, and my knowledge is limited, but I did feel that we were not creative and original enough. Whilst on this topics, I’ve got to say that a couple of my Indian friends in good old Bangalore are budding musicians who have their successful bands. Ananth Menon is part of Bangalore’s top notch band “Galeej Gurus”, and Aditya Vikram Mukherjee is the lead singer with “Today’s special” and Cheese. If any of you reading this happen to be in Bangalore, don’t miss my friends’ shows. That’s pretty much as good as it gets back home! You could hear a sampling of Aditya singing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IpXnJac7m4

Sunday morning was as lazy as Saturday, and in the evening my American friend S reminded me of our plan to watch a film. This is part of a series of Inter cultural films playing in a small theater in Basel, with an intro and discussion session. Today, it was the Indian film “Bombay”, in my native Tamil language with German sub titles. I made it a point to go and check out how people perceive a film that pretty much symbolizes where I am from. I realized pretty late than S is just learning German, and it was so sweet of her to agree to watch the film in any case, with my translation every time there was a song (that’s why Indian films are so uniquely useful!)

Bombay was a pretty good choice too, as most western audiences equate Indian films to the meaningless SRK – Karan Johar movies. Well they too are Indian films, but they are not the only Indian films. That’s a huge topic in itself, and may be you could start by reading my responses to an article in Hindustan Times.  Check “Reflecting countries and cultures and crossing cultures in movies” at: http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/expat-on-the-edge/2009/11/04/reflecting-countries-and-cultures-and-crossing-cultures-in-movies/

While, not one my favorite films, it’s a good film with a universal message, and it was interesting to hear S, who had little trouble understanding the movie say how the visuals were so brilliant, and helped her follow the key messages. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mani Ratnam, a master craftsman, and one of India’s finest directors. A. R Rahman’s music was also thoroughly lapped up by the audience, and it’s a pity that Slumdog Millionaire, and that irritating Jai Ho song won him an Oscar, when you consider that a phase of his career which included Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, was one of his finest ever, and hardly got noticed outside India.

 We had a fascinating conversation over Italian Pizza and German beer (now that’s a combination made in heaven) about religious identities, secularism, our lack of understanding of different religions and yada yada.

In the course of an eventful weekend, I lost my umbrella and cap at different places, and should have been pissed with my terrible absent mindedness. But sometimes when things are going well, when you’ve had a nice time, and when life is as exciting as it can be, you could just ignore the rain & cold conditions, forget who and where you are, and just run hard with the rain on your face and a huge grin over nothing in particular. That’s what I just did…

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: If you liked this post, youmay also enjoy reading: https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/the-singing-sensation-the-ultimate-bathroom-singing-list-the-band/

Links to interesting blogs / articles I read & have a view on

Vir Sanghvi of Hindustan Times wrote this thought provoking piece, and I contributed to that discisson.

Check the link at: 

http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/medium-term/2009/10/27/is-it-really-racism/

Cheers!

Vasu

Us and them

Over the last many years, I have had some opportunities to travel to far away lands. Though I have only been to a few countries and had fairly short stays, it was eye opening in many ways. In every conversation, interaction, or moment of solitude on a snow clad peak, I would constantly reflect on how much more cultures can grow stronger by increased exposure to a different way of life. As the Indian Diaspora expands into every nook and corner of the world, (yes I mean it – I have seen Indians in the least expected places!), all of us would notice a few changes in the world around us and how we respond. Even if you have never stepped outside the shores, you would find yourself reacting to people in your family such as a Gelf settled engineer, the IT geek from South who propagates consumption of Thayir Saadham in a Tex- Mex place, or the Punjabi dhaba owner in Cannedda or UK.  Whether you like and accept some of the changes or not, you cannot ignore the fact that it influences you.

I guess some of my plans worked well in life, and I was lucky enough to lead a “best of both worlds” life. I have seen India grow, change and evolve significantly and I have been privileged to have been at the core of this fascinating part our history. I feel a lot of 2nd generation Indians, NRIs, and people who moved out a while back for studies or work, have missed being a part of this. As a result, a large section of these people tend to be fairly surprised at the “development and change”, when they visit folks and friends back home. On the other extreme, we have people who have rarely travelled abroad, which is not a sin at all, but are blind to the country’s problems and live in a false sense of  a superior culture, and strongly believe that  “we are like this only”. I guess I can take a middle path and comment on where we can change for the better, where we should not change, and where we should lead the way. 

So the narrative I attempt to build, and get your views on, is a personalized account, in 3 parts on:

  1. What are the changes in society, I would wish India (US) embraces from other countries (THEM – refers to the few parts of US, Europe, Far East that I have visited, could be extrapolated to denote the “developed world”)
  2. Where we should stop aping them, and pursue what we have been doing all along instead, and
  3. What are the areas, where we can lead the way

 For the sake of a focused discussion, I wanted to restrict the number of I topics to specific number. I went for the number eight – for no random reason. I want to stress again that this is highly personalized, and I am not expecting everybody to agree with my list. There are some topics I care about, and there are some that I don’t care so much about. For example, I do not have a very strong personal feeling or opinion on the topic of homosexuality in India. I have nothing against homosexuals, and I think its okay, but I would not be holding up a banner and marching for gay rights either. But if there is a need to make a protest march on some of the topics below, then I would gladly do so!

If you are reading this, chances are that I sent you this link, and hence I think you can contribute from your experiences. I am fairly curious to find out what people’s opinion is on the topics I listed, and what the #1 topic you personally feel should be added. 

So after a really long introduction, let’s get right to the core of the blog:

  1. Have a life beyond the office cubicle, the laptop, and the blackberries
  2. Dress smart
  3. Take a vacation
  4. Public display of affection (PDA)
  5. Know your country / history
  6. If there are some rules & processes, follow them, or don’t bother having them in the first place
  7. Can we have some genuinely funny TV show please?
  8. KISS – Keep it short and sweet!
  9. Show creativity in “creative” fields (cinemas, literature, and music) and stop ripping off!

I’ll soon publish detailed views on each of the topics above.

Cheers!

Vasu

A farewell we all would love to write….

(First blogged sometime in 2007, and reproduced here)

In case you guessed it, you are right. I am posting yet another unoriginal piece on my site, a forwarded message at that, but it was simply too irresistible. There are too many things happening, that have prevented me from writing on some key topics as regularly as I would have liked. I thought I would share masterpieces like this once in a while to remind me to write frequently on my site.

So, without further ado, here is a mail an employee wrote on his last day. Not sure how true this is – he either actually did do it, or had it on his drafts and shared it with friends. All said and done, it would have made Dilbert proud 🙂

Dear Co-Workers and Managers,

As many of you probably know, today is my last day. But before I leave, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know what a great and distinct pleasure it has been to type “Today is my last day.”

For nearly as long as I’ve worked here, I’ve hoped that I might one day leave this company. And now that this dream has become a reality, please know that I could not have reached this goal without your unending lack of support. Words cannot express my gratitude for the words of gratitude you did not express.

I would especially like to thank all of my managers both past and present but with the exception of the wonderful Saroj Hariprashad: in an age where miscommunication is all too common, you consistently impressed and inspired me with the sheer magnitude of your misinformation, ignorance and intolerance for true talent. It takes a strong man to admit his mistake – it takes a stronger man to attribute his mistake to me.

Over the past seven years, you have taught me more than I could ever ask for and, in most cases, ever did ask for. I have been fortunate enough to work with some absolutely interchangeable supervisors on a wide variety of seemingly identical projects – an invaluable lesson in overcoming daily tedium in overcoming daily tedium in overcoming daily tedium.

Your demands were high and your patience short, but I take great solace knowing that my work was, as stated on my annual review, “meets expectation.” That is the type of praise that sends a man home happy after a 10 hour day, smiling his way through half a bottle of meets expectation scotch with a meets expectation cigar. Thanks Trish!

And to most of my peers: even though we barely acknowledged each other within these office walls, I hope that in the future, should we pass on the street, you will regard me the same way as I regard you: sans eye contact.

But to those few souls with whom I’ve actually interacted, here are my personalized notes of farewell:

To Philip Cress, I will not miss hearing you cry over absolutely nothing while laying blame on me and my coworkers. Your racial comments about Joe Cobbinah were truly offensive and I hope that one day you might gain the strength to apologize to him.

To Brenda Ashby whom is long gone, I hope you find a manager that treats you as poorly as you have treated us. I worked harder for you then any manager in my career and I regret every ounce of it. Watching you take credit for my work was truly demoralizing.

To Sylvia Keenan, you should learn how to keep your mouth shut sweet heart. Bad mouthing the innocent is a negative thing, especially when you’re talking about someone who knows your disgusting secrets. 🙂

To Bob Malvin (Mr. Cronyism Jr), well, I wish you had more of a back bone. You threw me to the wolves with that witch Brenda and I learned all too much from it. I still can’t believe that after following your instructions, I ended up getting written up, wow. Thanks for the experience buddy, lesson learned.

Don Merritt (Mr. Cronyism Sr), I’m happy that you were let go in the same manner that you have handed down to my dedicated coworkers. Hearing you on the phone last year brag about how great bonuses were going to be for you fellas in upper management because all of the lay offs made me nearly vomit. I never expected to see management benefit financially from the suffering of scores of people but then again, with this company’s rooted history in the slave trade it only makes sense.

To all of the executives of this company, Jamie Dimon and such, despite working through countless managers that practiced unethical behavior, racism, sexism, jealousy and cronyism, I have benefited tremendously by working here and I truly thank you for that. There was once a time where hard work was rewarded and acknowledged, it’s a pity that all of our positive output now falls on deaf ears and passes blind eyes. My advice for you is to place yourself closer to the pulse of this company and enjoy the effort and dedication of us “faceless little people” more. There are many great people that are being over worked and mistreated but yet are still loyal not to those who abuse them but to the greater mission of providing excellent customer support. Find them and embrace them as they will help battle the cancerous plague that is ravishing the moral of this company.

So, in parting, if I could pass on any word of advice to the lower salary recipient (“because it’s good for the company”) in India or Tampa who will soon be filling my position, it would be to cherish this experience because a job opportunity like this comes along only once in a lifetime. Meaning: if I had to work here again in this lifetime, I would sooner kill myself.

To those who I have held a great relationship with, I will miss being your co-worker and will cherish our history together.

Please don’t bother responding as at this very moment I am most likely in my car doing 85 with the windows down listening to Biggie.

 Cheers!

Vasu

A tribute to my favorite songs & videos, and the memories they bring…

(First blogged in early 2009, and reproduced here)

This is an out of the blue inspiration to write a blog that would be a poem / song that includes words from my favorite songs of all time. It’s sort of a tribute to a lot of people in my life and some of my favorite songs and videos!

I wake up to a “Tequila Sunrise” and I have become “Comfortably numb”. I wish I knew why, but “I believe I can fly”. Fly even higher than where I am and soar away….I dream that “I am leaving on a jet plane”, but I don’t know where to. There is a “Beautiful stranger” out there. She is a “Black magic woman” and she’s spun a web around me. I don’t know who she is, and I don’t know why she is there. All I know is she is “Taking my breath away” and “Nothing else matters

Now she is gone, I don’t know why, and till this day sometimes I cry. She didn’t even say good bye, she didn’t take the time to lie. Bang bang, my baby shot me down
It must have been love, but it’s all over now” and I have to “break free”. But I have no pain, and I still smile thinking of you. After all you are the “craziest diamond to shine

There’s always hope and I don’t know any other way. There’s too much love at stake and there’s no more I can take. There are friends, and they are god sends. I miss ‘em all but one more than the rest. “How I wish, how I wish you were here. We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

I wake up to the fragrance of a “Jasmine flower”. Sometimes you know life is a “Bittersweet symphony”, but still want only the sweet notes on the symphony. Doesn’t all the bitterness makes life sweeter? Everybody sees it their own way and no way is the only way. All it goes is to show “You never can tell”. There’s always hope and I don’t know any other way. The fragrance is from a “Beautiful girl” and I feel intoxicated with hope. She is just around the corner and I ask myself yet again if she will be mine? Am I asking for too much? Should I just whiff the sweet scent of this woman and die in this bliss? Oh the smells, sight, sound of her. The look in her mystic eyes, the melody of her child like laugh – I can never have enough. “You fill up my senses, come fill me again

Oh “The way you make me feel, you really turn me on” and slowly but surely, “I am coming back to life”. Your words are poetry, and your “Sounds of your silence” is music beyond comprehension. All life I have been “Another brick in the wall”, but with you I have “Broken through” with you. Tell me what you need, tell me all. I know I can’t undo the past, but today and tomorrow is ours. Whatever it is, “I will try and fix you

Life is a fight and I have an ally now. I know you will be there for me as much as I’ll be and I feel strong. I feel ecstatic and powerful. I wonder if I’ll feel the same without you. Together, we can live our dreams, and climb the mountains we see. Together we can take on the world and smile through it. Together, we look into the “Eye of the tiger” and see the stronger animal.

Come, come, come with me, and come to me.” Come as you are” , cos you are perfect as you are. Your coming will make me run, make me fly and make me touch the sky. I can see the other diamonds in the sky, everyone who has touched my life, but none brighter then you. I am on top and I love every second of this life. This is what life is meant to be – an “Ecstasy of gold

Play list:
1. Carlos Santana – Black Magic Woman
2. Chuck Berry – You never can tell
3. Coldplay – Fix you
4. Eagles – Tequila Sunrise
5. Ennio Morricone – The Good, The bad, The Ugly – OST – Ecstasy of gold
6. INXS- Beautiful girl
7. Jim Morrison – Break on through
8. John Denver – Annie’s song
9. John Denver – Leaving on a jet plane
10. Kenny G – Jasmine flower
11. Kenny G – I believe I can fly
12. Madonna – Austin Powers OST – Beautiful stranger
13. Metallica – Nothing else matters
14. Michael Jackson – The Way You Make Me Feel
15. Nancy Sinatra – Kill Bill 2 OST – Bang Bang
16. Nirvana – Come as you are
17. Pink Floyd – Another brick in the wall
18. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
19. Pink Floyd – Coming back to life
20. Pink Floyd – Shine on you crazy diamond
21. Pink Floyd – Wish you were here
22. Queen – Break free
23. Roxette – it must have been love
24. Simon and Garfunkel – Sounds of silence
25. Survivor – Eye of the tiger
26. The Verve – Bittersweet symphony
27. Top Gun OST – Berlin – Take my breath away
Please use the YouTube links I have given for these songs in case you haven’t heard it before 🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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