Monday, December 27, 2010

mist, mistakes and a mystic

the delayed winter is here.
after many warm days and nights, it started cooling a bit in the last couple of weeks in Bangalore.
a few days ago - my morning trip to the airport was refreshingly different - with hardly 10 meters of visibility!

the good feeling did not last long - to think of the possible flight delays.
as expected, all flights in and out were delayed.

the real impact of the size of the bangalore airport could be felt.

particularly compared to the T3  - in spite of its problems - this is woefully inadequate for the increasing traffic.

the place looked like what bus stations used to look like.

announcements about the 'bad' weather being the cause made me think.
was the weather really bad?
they could have been kinder to mother nature by saying the foggy weather, that technology has not yet been able to deal with.
why bad weather or good weather.

maybe the trigger was what i had heard the previous evening.

the previous evening, i had an opportunity to listen to Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, in person, talking to a small group of people, specially invited to spend an evening with the mystic.
He spoke on spirituality - how it is misunderstood and what it really means - and how there could be a balance of spirituality and 'normal' life.

in his definition, every human being is a mystic. some realize it and work towards an inner understanding, and are called mystics - and the others, just mishtiks [mistakes, as pronounced in the typical chennai tamil!]

p.s. i finally reached delhi - a full 10 hours after i left home [close to 11, from the time i woke up!].
but, that seems to have been a much better day compared to the last couple of days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

commoditized universes

Oliver sets a new benchmark being at his peak in the last 2 weeks.
George breaks an earlier record to rise above that, yesterday.
Tania hits a new record.
Omanakutty crashes against tough competition and not being in good form.
Raghu's popularity rises with increased interest from the traders.
Sonya makes gains though the fans are dwindling.
Global trends help Edward stay high.
Chandra oscillates.

what could the stories above be? sports? business? P3? politics?

now read the same, replacing the names with the alternatives as below:
Oliver = [crude]Oil
George = Gold
Tania = Turmeric
Omanakutty = Onion
Raghu = Rice
Sonya = Soya
Edward = Edible oils
Chandra = Copper

these were slightly modified headlines from the commodities section of a business paper a few days ago.

with the overdose of politics and scams on almost every page of newspapers and every news channel on TV, i had switched to more of business news channels - that still carry some 'stories' - of companies, personalities etc.

i have always thought that the financial markets were the fictional side of business. most of the derivative concepts being primarily speculative and though cloaked in a lot of mathematics, it is not real economy!

nowadays i spend more time on the commodities [and weather] sections. one of the benefits of travel is that you get time to read the paper at leisure!

it struck me that every commodity seems to have a life of its own - going by the headlines - when the behavior on the [commodities] market, both real and the trading market. the movement of prices of commodities are many times attributed to behavior as if these commodities could act on their own.

such as Soya oil gains despite subdued demand.
what could Soya have done to achieve this?
Or Turmeric, when it hit a record Rs. 16,000 per quintal?

i recently read about the google / harvard university project on the study of the 'english language genome'. by analyzing words from published books over the last 200 years,
wonder if they also look at these 'sentiments' in the business news to complement the stock ticker data.
could provide many plots for novels and movies..
move over matrix!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Teeth[ree]-ing troubles

after a long gap from the blog -- thought i should write on the new T3 terminal at New Delhi.
having used that every week in the last 3 weeks [and scheduled to in the next 2 as well!], before it is no longer news.

the first impression was the size. having been used to the other Indian airports, this looks somewhat intimidating!

Earlier, with the new runway, it used to take about 20 minutes of taxiing to get to the terminal after landing.
now, if you land in one of the farther gates, it would take about 15 minutes to get to the baggage claim area, even if you use the travellators.

the walk areas are wide and carpeted.
but it makes it difficult to pull your luggage along as the carpets have not yet settled in.

the parking infrastructure is very comfortable and world class in terms of design. the driver was cribbing about the check out system - where you go to a booth on the floor to pay and then yuo need to be out of the parking structure within 15 minutes - else pay more!
the construction is still on, with the exit control guards sitting out in the open.

the check-in area is very spacious. multiple bays and check in counters dedicated to various airlines. it does not feel crowded.
after check in, the shopping area is also spacious with comfortable seating.

there are many four seaters with a central riser with power points.
these seats also have small armrests that can comfortably accommodate a laptop.

the upper level is for the food courts.
it is still to be completed - but the floor is already giving away in some places - with the tiles broken.
the quality of workmanship in some other sections are also shoddy, with the joints either visible or mis-aligned.

the departure gates are also well spaced - you would be very lucky to get one of the closer gates - which is not bad, less than 5 minutes of brisk walk to reach after clearing security. there are sufficient seats

with some recliner seats as well..
another interesting aspect i noticed was that the labeling of toilets - the his and hers labels are on the doors, but to identify them as we walk along - other than the signs, there are pictures of men and women to let one identify.
with attractive pictures, wonder if it would lead people to the wrong toilets!

on departure, i realized that the time saved on arrival taxiing is lost.
though one of my flights was ready to take off on time, it had to taxi for about 20 minutes before reaching the runway to take off!

as my luck has been running in the last couple of months, every flight that i had to take has been delayed..

to summarize, T3 is a refreshingly pleasant experience, in spite of the glitches. i have probably explored less than 50% of the terminal.

i have not had any checked in baggage. but a couple of others i had spoken to, had some not so nice experience with their bags.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Navaratri - contemporary and green

this time, the 'golu' was a little different from the usual format.
a smaller arrangement for the steps meant that many of the dolls had to stay in the cartons in the loft..
the space thus gained was taken up by the 'intergalactic sports meet' - inspired by the CWG and India's good showing reflected in the medals tally.

the green aspect came from the approach to recycle and reuse.
all athletes were made from wire [literally wire-frames] taken from broken and unused clotheslines / creeper support from the garden.. some of the other props - such as the poles for the medals tally banner and the bar for the pole vaulter were dry twigs from the garden

their skeletons were padded with shreds of newspaper, thread etc.

a slideshow of some of the pictures:

If you are not able to view that flash slideshow, or want to see the pictures as an album, you can follow this link to see the photo album.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

200 minutes on the road

that was every day, and that too, at least 200 minutes -- in the past few days, while i was on business travel.

this is more than three hours every day!
considering that i usually spend about an hour and a half every day normally - maybe this was not so bad.. i know some colleagues who spend that much time in Bangalore every day - living close(!) to 50km from the office.

one day, i had to visit four different office buildings for meetings from early morning till late evening.
the cab driver was wondering which office i worked out of, as he was apparently used to dropping visitors off at one facility in the morning and pick them up in the evening.

but the comment that triggered my thoughts were by the cab driver in Bangalore who had come to pick me up from the airport.. he was the same person who had been been driving me to and from the airport almost every week in the last few weeks, when i have been spending two to three days away from Bangalore - he asked me very innocently : Sir, don't you have any work in Bangalore? :-)

while it seems to be a lot of time in transit, and i believe and have been one of the regular users of technology for team working, there is no substitute to face to face meetings to establish the instant connect.
at least, i guess, it will stay that way, till most people are comfortable with not having face to face meetings.

for those that do, i use a lot of the 200 minutes for phone calls! otherwise, that is useful time for reading the newspaper or catching up with books.

i can now fully empathize with : bus drivers, cab drivers, travelling salesmen, pizza delivery boys [!] and many more professions that need their teams to be out on the road many more minutes, every day..

Sunday, September 12, 2010

restarting with Ganesha

After a gap from this blog, thought it was a good way to restart with this year's ganesha.
both the government agencies and many social organizations have been creating a lot of awareness of the pollution caused by painted ganeshas and indiscriminate immersions of the idols along with the flowers and other stuff.

this year also saw just plain mud ganeshas in the market.

we [my son and I] decided to make our own mud ganesha this time.
with some clay from our own garden, we set out to make a ganesha based on our own imagination.
the clay needed cleaning - to remove the pieces of stones and concrete etc.
and then had to be kneaded to make a smooth paste.
then some complications, as the clay was probably a little too watery.
with some more work, could get that to be more consistent to be shaped.
was looking for the 'kundumani' beads for the eyes, before deciding to use black pepper.
finally, it was all well and ready for the puja the next day - with time overnight for the idol to dry a bit.
Happy Ganesha!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


not sure what the reasons are, but it looks like the Gods are also vying for the mindshare of mankind.

Recently i had been to chennai and visiting a relative after many years. their house was close to a 'mariamman' [local village goddess] temple. this was one of those temples that had become very popular over the years. i remember that during my school days, it was quite neglected and used to have some activity only on special days.

that day seemed to have been a special day. there was a lot of crowd in front of the temple, waiting to get in. there were people carrying some 'kavadis', accompanied by their near and dear ones. effectively, the road was completely blocked - which was otherwise a two way street.
the police personnel watched and cajoled raffic and the people to keep on moving and after about 10 minutes, somehow, we were able to get on to a side street and take an alternate route.

I had a similar experience the next day in front of a sai baba temple, also in chennai.

the following day, we were driving back to bangalore from pondicherry via tiruvannamalai. it was a full moon day. i was told that the tiruvannamalai town could be crowded, as many devotees undertake a 'giri valam' - circumambulating the mountain, barefoot. so, we wanted to cross the place well before evening.
but, unfortunately for us, it appeared that they decided to block the main road a little earlier that day - as they probably anticipated a larger crowd.

we were approaching the town from the east, needing to go west. we were asked to turn back and take a further details or instructions, even from the policemen. there were no signs. a couple of auto drivers we asked for help, started arguing amongst themselves if we would be able to find our way, as it was a very narrow road, that had most of the length dug up.

we decided to brave it amd followed a bus to salem, assuming that he would know the way.
after a couple of kilometes in the wilderness and a very small village - where we could see a peacock, with its feathers spread out, that posed for us, to take  pictures..
we got on to a main road that took us back to tiruvannamalai!

this time, we were approaching the town from the south. another detour and a few kilometers later, we were guided to take another road - a paved one this time, but just about as wide as the car! with hardly a soul insight, we would stop whenever we saw someone, just to reassure ourselves that the road did have an end on the other side, and connected to a larger road that would eventually take us towards our destination.

it was also very interesting to listen to how the people we crossed gave us directions. from the language - with a strong local dialect, that had some words that we could not understand - to the asumptions they made about our knowledge of the local topology as well as simplistic directions that we have to take three turns forward and two turns that would bring us back to almost where we were [or at least that was what we understood] and then the second turn would take us to the road connecting to the main road!

anyway, we finally crossed tiruvannamalai after spending more than an hour and about 12 kilometers, to crossed a distance of about 2 kilometers in 10 minutes.

with this experience, when i heard of the kavariyars that go to haridwar, i was somewhat relieved that what we went through was much milder.

while this is a regular event, it was not clear why the authorities have not managed to find a traffic regulation pattern - as i was told that all roads to haridwar would be completely taken over by the kavariyars and nobody can predict the delays.

the same question that crossed our minds about tiruvannamalai - as to why that could not have been managed better - as that seemed to be a regular occurrence, every full moon.
when we can manage kumbh mela without any major incidents, i am sure this should be a cakewalk.

when i wanted to check out more on the kavariars, google turned up with just one result!
that i could not register it as a googlewhcak was a disappointment,though.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

modernizing languages

the recently concluded world tamil conference evoked varying and extreme positions from different groups.
from the comments on inconvenience caused to the public to the non-inclusion of the former president of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam among the invitees / dignitaries, there were enough controversies.

in one of my recent visits to chennai, i noticed that there were many 'tamilized' name boards all over.
among the interesting ones was:
'alai pesi' - wave speakers - for mobile phones, a variation of 'tholai pesi' distant speakers [for normal phones].

but, on the TV commercials, i notice that still many english words were used in their native form.
one of the mobile TV ads spoke of 'kaal rates' [call rates] - where 'kaal' in tamil means a leg!

i am not sure if the renaming of streets is to keep the language current. my feeling is that many of the old names represent significant aspects of the local history that would be lost forever.

languages need to evolve, by absorption of newer terms to keep with the evolving technological and social trends.
why can we not just accept the words from other languages - where these would have originated - and localize it in terms of pronunciation.

how would facebook sound, when it is referred as 'mugha puttakam' or blog as 'inaya thala aettu kurippu'..

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Counting people in cups of corn

Last week, made a quick trip to yercaud.
the drive was good, with the roads and the weather in excellent condition almost all the way.
the last few kilometers on the 20 hairpin bends uphill, it was raining heavily with very little visibility.
the hotel where we stayed was small, but functional. one of those ecology themed hotels, close to the lake.
with very misty weather, took pleasant walks the next morning - but the view points - the pagoda point [invariably spelt as pakoda point - pakoda being a local snack!] had only the view of the mist.

we found very few visitors at the view point, and the local dog at the temple could also not be bothered from its sleep.
there were a few vendors who had their stalls - though on push-carts and makeshift sheds, they had screen-printed banners with names such as steam and roast - for steamed corn and roasted peanuts!
their steaming equipment was a hand operated blower!
i was wondering how they plan their quantities - as it looked like the corn would feed a battalion. i tried to imagine how the vendors would feel as they see visitors coming there. they surely welcomed us very enthusiastically and expectantly.. though we were not good customers.
i was tempted to try the fresh fig and honey combo, but decided against considering the cleanliness aspects.

on the way down, as the sky was also clearing up a bit, we saw many vehicles - cars, buses, two-wheelers going uphill. tried to visualize the emotions and expectations of the vendors at pakoda point!

like in cartoons, the image that flashed before my eyes, were that each vehicle was equivalent to a number of cups of corn..
2 for a 2 wheeler, 2-4 for a car and 10 for a bus....
i am sure they would have done good business for the rest of the day, going by the number of strewn paper cups and plastic spoons we could find along the way back.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June tunes

June is here.
I love the smell of the earth with the first fresh showers followed by the fresh plant smells.
June is also the time when the schools re-open in Bangalore and one can see children getting ready to go to school in the mornings.
with the new school session starting, it is also interesting to observe the proud, dreamy and anxious parents, getting the kids ready for school, on to the bus etc.

as i wait for my company bus in the morning, these scenes not only provide some diversion, but also interesting insights.

like the mother of a small boy - who spotted another older boy going to the same school - and quizzing him on the school, teachers, bus timings etc.
or the father who gets a kid on the bus, then crosses over to the other side, to wave 'tata' to the kid, as the bus makes a U turn after picking up some other children.
or the very concerned mother who argues with the bus driver every day, as to why he cannot drop the kids back on the same side of the road - rather than the other side, in the afternoon - as it is not safe for kids to cross the road, particularly when the parents get a little delayed
or the patient 'ayahs' who get the little kids and their school bags + lunch boxes well settled before the buses move
or the impatient drivers, who play a teasing game with the kids who come late, by raising the engine, to make them run faster to the bus..

among all this, there are also these occasional drivers - both bus drivers and others - who drive into dirty puddles and splash water over others waiting.

evenings are wetter, with regular rains that time themselves with the office timings, to make two-wheeler drivers take shelter under trees - or the elevated roads and fly-overs, to wait out cloud bursts.

this is very different from the Mumbai culture, where life goes on, in spite of the heavy monsoon downpours.
in fact, the culture is so different in Bangalore, that - soon after we shifted here about 20 years ago - we would be among the very few that carried umbrellas - which were very common and a mandatory accessory in Mumbai, during this season.

that has changed a lot in the last 2 decades. while the acceptance to live with nature has increased, the awareness and responsible use of water has yet to catch up.
i have seen the ground water table dry up and go lower in our area. the recent rule about rainwater harvesting should show some results in the next few years, like it has helped chennai.

Friday, May 28, 2010


one of the side effects of long air travel is an 'opportunity' to watch movies - some which one may not have watched otherwise.
last week, i watched this movie called Exam.
very interesting and absorbing. a simple theme. simple setting - all of the story is enacted in a windowless room.
it is about 8 candidates who come to the final stage of a selection process - without knowing much about the organization or its business, except that one winner would be the assistant to the CEO.

i was reminded of the 12 angry men.

not sure if I would have noticed this movie when released in theaters. maybe it already had its run.
on the topic of movies, i noticed during my recent trip to the US, that the pre-release promotions such as actor / producer interviews in the media, 'creating' some news about some of the characters or the movie itself - is not uncommon in hollywood also.
with so much money at stake, such promotion as well as in-place branding for products in movie scenes are becoming more common.

currently, i am also eagerly waiting for a positive result in another area. the top kill exercise being undertaken off the gulf of mexico. this has to succeed to not only limit and stop further damage to the environment, but also restore confidence in technology and engineering.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

splitting hairs

as i was at my monthly haircut session, i noticed some news stories [in the old newspapers and magazines that are a part of the salon visit experience] in the last week about some innovative solutions for the gulf of Mexico oil spill.

the most interesting one - which was contextual to where i was, was about using human hair to absorb the oil.
it sounded very logical.
i have heard of the tonsured hair from Tirupati being exported for making wigs, but this seemed to open up another market.

that set me thinking if my habit of keeping my hair short [full-short, in the language of the hair dresser] was not very social. if i grew my hair long, surely it would help the shampoo industry also. but then, would it mean consumption of more water that would only be polluted by washing the hair - as i am used to having head baths twice a day? also, with less frequent visits to the hairdresser, how would that industry survive? with a high level of attrition or shuffle among the technicians, and the growing costs, they already operate on hair-thin margins - mankind cannot afford to make them an endangered profession.

that is why, when some of my follicular-challenged friends say that they are charged more on their visits to the hairdresser, i can understand the reasons they are given ranging from an MBA-like answer such as since their visits are less frequent, and the annual RPC [revenue per customer] need to be at their industry norms, that have to charge higher, to a more frivolous reason that the hairdresser needs to spend more time searching for the hairs to be cut!

before i could get more confused, another report resolved the dilemma. with about 210,000 gallons of oil spilling every day, this was not a practical solution.

it was time for my turn and i decided to let this global problem be solved by the experts, while i relaxed and got my monthly 'full short'.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

very different customer experiences

yesterday, i had two very different customer experiences.

the first was very pleasant - and something that i was not expecting - or rather was expecting it to be much more gruelling. this was about a college admission.

going through the admission formalities, i was prepared for a 4 hour process, as the communication mentioned. the set up was very structured, and well coordinated. right from the security guard, who was very courteous, was aware of the process and proudly explained that there were 4 steps and the as we move from one stage to another, we would not have to retrace our steps.
it turned out that way - well documented steps, with the staff involved knowing not only what they were to do, but also the previous and next steps.
in fact, we were taken on a slight detour of the stages for the counselling step, and were taken to the department instead of the generic institution overview - as, we  were told that there could be overlaps and the time would be more effectively spent if we had that discussion only at the department.

the last step also included a feedback seeking session, where the feedback from the parents and the students was sought - even if only informally.

compare that to a less than overwhelming  experience from an institution that ought to be extremely customer focused - a bank.
getting an account converted from a junior account to a major account exposed the inadequate training to the staff on the process, the documentation required, the next steps etc.
having already made 2 trips to the bank on this activity, i found that even the branch manager was not very well equipped in terms of the wordings of declarations to be provided..
the TV ads from this bank talk about being sensitive to small things - such as wishing the customer who comes to the bank on his birthday - i found that the staff were more preoccupied with their promotion letters than customers waiting for more than half an hour to make deposits.

my hope is that the educational institutions like this one would turn out more customer focussed or customer-responsive graduates that would make a significant difference to the service industry.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brinjal - the versatile vegetable

Why a post on Brinjal?
as my favorite vegetable, i thought that it was time to give it some space on this blog!

the sheer number of varieties that this vegetable comes in, does not make it any common vegetable.
each one, due to its size and texture is ideally suited for some specific dishes.

The more popular varieties in the west - called aubergine in europe and egg plant in the US - are not as tasty as the smaller varieties you get in india.

I am sure you would have tasted it as a normal dry sabzi, as a gravy-ish bartha or the small ones, that are stuffed with masala as in the 'ennai-katthrikkai'.

other variations i like include the 'porichha kootu', with a dash of shredded coconuts or that little extra flavor that it adds to the avial - or the sambar-ish rasavangi,

you might also like the Vangi bath or gothsu or the special mangalore style gravy made with black channa that goes very well with jolada roti - all karnataka specialities.

when i used to live in Bombay and visit home for vacations, i used to enjoy a different dish made of brinjal every day, specially made by my mother.

I have been watching the recent controversy about Bt brinjal. the activists - both pro and against - are all missing the simple point - with the introduction of the Bt-ed variety, will the diversity be extinct? the commercial interests would surely overtake the gourmet's interests, and, we might have just the engineered variety.

i have not tasted it or seen any reports of how this new variety would taste.

the arguments on both sides are about the economics, the possible control of the market by multi-nationals, the possible effects of this variety on people etc etc etc.

nobody seems to care about the taste.

we have so many campaigns to preserve our heritage art, culture, wildlife.. but taste?
recently one of the magazines carried some articles on 'kitchen archaeology' - which included capturing and preserving old hand-written recipe notes, which are very traditional to every family. they may preserve the ingredients list, the process steps etc - but without the right brinjals, the original taste cannot be preserved or experienced.

in any case, if the taste can be preserved or the variety not compromised, i may not mind the Bt brinjal!
particularly if it can be used to make one of my top choices for dishes made with brinjal - the 'katthirikkkai rasam'.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jumbled newspaper

i had not planned it that way.
this morning, i started reading a newspaper [sundays are the leanest days in terms of newspapers @ home, as we get only 2 papers, compared to 3 during the week and 3 or 4 on saturdays, depending on the mood of the newspaper boy].
i had to step out for something, and when i got back the news papers were all jumbled up - not left in any order, by others who read the papers.
so, i read paper 1: main, followed by paper 2: sunday supplement 1; paper 2 sunday supplement 2; paper 1 supplement 2 and paper 2 main.

since each section was anyway independent, it was ok.
but, for some of the news items that were duplicated - found that the reports were very different.
or, the relative importance assigned to the reports in terms of prominence or location also varies from paper to paper.

i used to think that this was the characteristic or the character of the paper and the editorial policies.
but, of late, whether it is the TV channels or the print media, the 'advertorials' or 'placed' news and paid-news seems to be more the norm.

even the relatively conservative paper, Hindu, has prominent ads on the main page.
[nothing to beat the Times, for the launch of, when the complete front page was taken up [though the traditional first page was actually page 3!].
i suppose it is the pressure of profits - or possibly survival - that is pushing the media to resort to any-way-to-make-more-profit tactics.

to some extent, this competition is also pushing the print newspapers to be the same as their peers - in terms of the format - and, at the same time, be different enough to push those differences as their USPs.

with all this, another aspect that seems to have undergone significant change is the reporting style and also the background / profile of the reporters.
columns that were earlier associated only with seasoned and long-standing reporters are making way for more investigative reporting and sting operations taken up by much younger professionals.

some publishing houses have also started diversifying or extending their 'product portfolio' with news papers targeted at different segments, including tabloid formats from the earlier traditional or business news papers.

with all this, i am not sure how much of what we read or see / hear is really 'news' anymore. so, i guess i could jumble the morning papers and even mix and match pages and still not miss any story significantly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

crane-ial stuff

one of the recent forwards in an egroup was the story of an Indian crane operator, Babu Sassi.
while that seems to be a hoax - per the hoax slayer, it led me to look more closely at the construction cranes that seem to surround our building.
one HUGE concrete tower of residences that are coming up on a reclaimed land [which had drain water flowing in that area and landfilled over the last few years.. and two commercial complexes - one a hypermarket and another a five or seven star hotel to be operated by the Taj group, adjacent to a bowling alley, multiplex cinema halls and an ice-skating rink!
i have been watching the construction progress over the last few months.
the first glimpse of the crane - which i later came to know as a tower crane - was what appeared to be scaffolding and a 'helicopter cockpit'.
i wanted to see it put together, but unfortunately, that happened when i was travelling one week.

last week, i suddenly noticed that the crane had grown taller! it seemed to have risen with the construction - having completed the concrete work for 5 basement levels of parking and slowly rising over the ground level.

after some web research i found that it was a self-erecting crane! neat concept of bootstrapping applied to a practical problem.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

whether weather is an interesting topic..

with the warmest days of the year in Bangalore, it difficult not to complain of the weather.
as everyone is eagerly anticipating the refreshing evening showers to set in - to cool the dry, hot day temperatures, i chose to dedicate this post to the weather.

many years ago, when one of my classmates in B.Sc., decided to go to the US after graduating in Physics, to pursue studies in meteorology - many of us used to pull his leg that all he would need is a set of standard predictions and just mix them all together with some probabilities - and some part of it would be true every day.

in one sense, we also used to tell him that he should take a parrot with him - since computers were still not that common - to model his predictions along the lines of the street parrot soothsayers.

my ideas of the weatherman - or the weathergirl - made popular by the TV channels, and the profession have significantly changed since then.

from Dr Karmarkar's model for predicting the Indian monsoon, to the detailed reports of Vinson Kurian in the business line newspaper, i am starting to get more intimate with the weather systems around us!
yes, the reports talk of systems and with names for the cyclones and treat them as individuals with their own behaviours,
the reports talk of these systems or names moving across, having to resist opposition or be influenced by other emerging phenomena - sprinkled with acronyms such as IMD, ECMWF, MJO etc.

i also found it interesting that the India meteorological department has so much of information available for free and near real time. another company skymet, has made a business of analyzing and providing weather data feeds and a few of the leading newspapers and TV channels depend on their feeds.

such analysis are also available in specific contexts - such as  Media, Agriculture, Insurance, Shipping, power etc.

so, talking about the weather is not just a social pastime, as it is supposed to be in the U.K.
one of my friends, while talking about the ever changing weather in London, said - if you do not like the weather in London, just wait a minute! [hoping that it would change so quickly].

talking of weather - a friend, when asked why he does not exercise regularly, blamed it on the w(h)e[a]ther. he said that he would exercise based on whether he felt like it when he got up in the morning! and most of the days, felt lazy to get out of bed. he was in Seattle, where most of the year, one can see only cloudy or rainy days!

the next couple of months, i have one more serial to track  - the monsoon watch on TV and the newspapers.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

street vendors and clandestine geometry

clandestine geometry is an interesting term i came across, while reading a book called 'street vendors in the global urban economy'.
an collection of insightful papers by various researchers covering the street vendor ecosystem across the world, primarily in the developing countries.
this term, used by Luciana Itikawa in the article of the same title, uses street maps of urban towns to plot the geometries of various densities and distribution related to the number of vendors at a place, the routes for smuggled goods, metropolitan tradeways etc.
capturing the economic and political synergies that are so closely intertwined with street vending.

i have always wondered the viability of street vending. with each transaction typically being a very small amount, and when the materials sold are perishables, such as food / vegetables etc - the nett take home for the vendor could be very small.

i could relate to the articles about the Indian scenario and found it interesting to note that the systems of political patronage and legal constraints are very similar all over the world.

for example, the municipality laws and the criminal laws [enforced by the police department] are in many points contradictory. that is, what is permitted by the municipality is not legal according to the police. so, technically it is near impossible for a street vendor to conduct business complying with all legal requirements.

then,there are these mafias and coteries that create or in some cases prevent unionization. many of these put women vendors at a great disadvantage. across major cities and towns, it appears that 20-50 rupees per day is paid by each vendor in terms of taxes and protection fees to the goons or the police!
the book has some statistics about not only the business generated by the street vendors per square meter, but also the bribes paid per square meter.
in brazil, for example, the bribe amounts to between 10.5 and 17 % of daily business volume!

there also seem to be an organized system to support these vendors with their supplies on a regular basis. obviously these middle men make more money than the vendors.

with all this, the kinds of goods being sold has also changed.
last weekend, i was in Pondicherry - and while taking a stroll along the ocean front, noticed a very large number of street vendors. this used to be a very peaceful and quiet walk, many years ago. i could find all kinds of wares being sold - from the regular 'chat' stall, to - i guess, pirated - DVDs. there were many chinese LED lit toys that could be catapulted in the air and would return to you, glowing all the while.
but, i could not find what i was looking for - after dinner - some dry roasted peanuts!
the peanuts that were available were the steamed ones, with garnishing of chillies, onion and pudina! while i like it, i was looking for the traditional sand roasted, slated peanuts.
finally i found one - and asked him why he was the only one.
he said that the margins are very low and the vendors prefer to switch to the boiled ones, as they can prepare them at home and the cart is less messy, while, for roasting, he needs the stove, and whoever buys, wants it hot - limiting his business volume.
he also comes there only for the weekends, he said.

the book also has stories of some successful vendors and how they made it, the kinds of challenges they had to overcome - as well as stories of dreams that went bust.

my intrigue about the parallel economy and the empathy for the plight of the street vendors has only increased after this book.

looking at the new entrants to this section, along my usual walking route, reaffirms that this still a financially viable option for many.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

(re)cursive writing

i have wondered why children are taught cursive writing in India, while in the US most of the writing practice is to  'print'.
one also finds a lot of variations in the script and handwriting - sometimes possibly influenced by the other - mostly vernacular - language that is also taught.
Indian scripts require a different stroke mechanism, while the Roman script expects the hand and pen to move differently.
and there is no concept of a cursive writing in Indian languages.
nor for that matter, in the typed world.
since most of us type our words using computer keyboards, is there still a place for cursive writing?
one argument that i have heard in favour of cursive writing is that it lets one write fast.
i guess that was ok when everyone was expected to learn typewriting and shorthand!

in writing letters or emails or other notes, a larger amount of time is spent in thinking and formulating our sentences than in the actual writing. so, the benefit of speed is also not all that important.

if it was really that beneficial, why can we all not adopt the shorthand notation and script?
that could be one solution to the multi-lingual requirements of the Indian constitution.

why is this post called recursive writing?
it is writing about writing!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

thiruchy junction

Got back from a one day trip to Trichy to attend a wedding.
it was a day of many pleasant surprises.
the first was the A/C waiting lounge at the station.
it was not crowded and fairly clean - at least when we got there. could get a quick bath and get ready.
all for a very nominal fee. surprisingly the lounge was not very crowded.
the next surprise was the auto. found out that they are the same pretty much everywhere these days - trying to make a quick buck, mostly from persons who are new to the city or town. a 4/5 km ride cost more per km than an AC limousine!
it was an early muhurtham - and so had an opportunity to visit a couple of temples - with a lot of history.
the huge and intricate temple of Akhilandeswari and the 'appu' or water lingam - one of the five special lingams dedicated to the five elements in south india. the temple was very clean - and, surprisingly, not crowded.
we were not rushed and could get a close few minutes with the deities.
next was a visit to the 'uchchi pillayar' temple - one of the few hill temples for Ganesha, rather than Karthikeya - in this region.
the thayumanavar temple about three fourths of the way to the top has had a few recent make overs - with paintings and flooring - and is clean!
back at the railway station, had close to 4 hours to kill.
the AC lounge was even less crowded and much cleaner now - as there were persons cleaning it very frequently.
the station was also well maintained and not crowded.
except for the traffic on the roads - which seemed very chaotic, possibly because of two visiting politicians that day.
the last surprise for the day was that there was NO curd rice available at the restaurant or with any of the vendors; as well as no fresh fruits at the station - every shop only had packaged food.

would like to go there more leisurely sometime.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I recently saw an ad on TV, for an insurance company that spoke of how complicated, confusing and jargonized our world has become and that is was time to uncomplicate!

not simplify - which i always thought of as the opposite of complicate, but UNcomplicate!

I pretty much accept undo : ctrl-Z, as the savior of many a disaster, while working with the computer. without that, life would have been a lot more difficult. the power to change one's mind and pretty much retract something that was done is really awesome.

i guess this could be a case of peer pressure. with facebook being so popular, the conversion of a noun - friend - to a verb to mean make friends, rather than befriend - that wren and martin taught us, paved the way for, what else - UNfriend! so, many people might think that Un-ning something makes it the opposite.

i am used to some words only in their un-form - such as uncouth or ungainly, though the non-un forms [un-un form?] couth or gainly are popular among scrabble players and are valid words.

i also found a site for unwords, though it is not really about words that could have been back-worded using un. these are more words that have been 'created' to mean some concept or thing.

a quick search of some dictionaries returned close to 4000 words that began with un.

maybe this is what makes english easy to adapt and adopt across the world.
is post-paid also a back word?

p.s. btw, this is my 'UNdred-and-first post on this blog! 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

dream jobs

the much delayed elevated expressway in bangalore has finally been opened to the public.
though i have not been on it yet, i could see that a lot of work was completed in the last couple of months.
one small section is still to be done, but the major portions are complete.
in the last few weeks, as i had to go past the earlier entrance to electronics city beyond the toll booths and make a U turn to get back, i would be filled with thoughts of one of my old dream jobs - of a toll booth collector.

though in my professional career of about 30 years, i am only in my third job, i have switched many more among my dream jobs.

in school, i wanted to be a train dacoit! the trigger was a plastic spectacle with an artificial nose and moustache - that a family friend presented.

then, when i started learning German, i wanted to be a translator, or rather interpreter - and thereby be pat of historic moments of treaties beign signed between countries.

like a few other school friends, a railway engine driver or a pointsman - who had the power to change the tracks for a train, were also dreams at some time.

at IISc, doing some work in the library as part of the student assistanceship program - i wanted to be a librarian, who can get all the books in the world to keep on reading - till i realized that not all llibrarians read seriously. by extension, i also wanted to be in a bookshop - to not only be able to read all the new books,, but also interact with readers who walk in and help them choose. the habit of reading was inspired by my father, who worked in a bookshop.

i used to think that i could be a good teacher - for primary school children - till i attended a workshop for primary school teachers. though all the participants were very passionate about their jobs, the kinds of stories that i heard of the challenges they have seen with some children - made me think twice.

i have also dreamed to be an author - and write a book. after toying with themes of fiction and non-fiction, i felt more comfortable with non-fiction. even after identifying the theme and the name for a 'multi-modal and multi-dimensional' creation, i have not yet started, except for a blog post. [my other blog]. since i started that - in the last one year, my ideas have also become better formed.

i like wilfing. tell me if you know someone who has a job for wilfers.

i know a friend who would like to be a lift-operator.

but, i think that the job of a toll-collector is one of the most challenging and satisfying. it is a job that offers a lot of potential for constant learning; learning new languages to talk to the passing drivers; learning to be patient and keep one's calm; meditating between peak times; sit in the booth and sip coffee while watching a heavy downpour, when traffic is likely to be sparse; to read the psychology of drivers and automobiles, that coule lead to publishing research papers on 'human behavior on busy toll roads' that could lead to solutions to tackle road rage, which, in turn, can be extended to reduce or eliminate human rage, which might be the solution to the problems arising out of conflict between individuals and groups.

now, do you see how a toll-collector holds the key to a more peaceful world?
tell me what is your dream job?

p.s. thanks to those who contacted me wth suggestions for this [my 100th on this blog] post. i will try to address them sometime in the future.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

nervous 99

as i sat down to write my previous post, i realized that i would reach a 100 posts in this blog with the next one.
that makes this the 99th!
as i have been thinking about what to write in the 100th post, i realized that i was getting into a writer's block.
one of the thoughts was to delay this post, so i get more time for the next.
but then, that would not solve the problem.
it has taken a long time to reach this milestone. longer than what i thought i would need - by posting regularly every week.
it has also taken longer because i have multiple blogs - at least a couple of them reasonably active [2 on the company network] and this one.
a few blog posts are within some communities.
when i looked at it like that, i felt more courageous, as i crossed the 100 post mark long ago!

but stil, this blog is special.
as it has no specific theme and let me write whatever i wanted.
one question that i do not have a clear answer for - why do people blog? why do others read..
i do not know!
while some blogs are specific to a theme and have more serious content, some some are just ramblings - like this one!
some bloggers i know are very very active and some are very sporadic..

while i have received many questions, some requests - i cannot relate them to the stats shown by the widget on the page - that indicates visitors from countries that i have only read about and wished i could visit - as the comments on the posts do not provide any clues.

while i mull over what to write about the next time, it would be useful to know if you have any suggestions.

Monday, January 11, 2010

on being driven..

this is not a self-motivation post!
recently, an auto rickshaw hit my car from behind. the fault was clearly his.
starting with a complete denial that he did anything wrong, after an eye witness extended support, he made a turnaround outside the police station, to admit his fault, so that damages may be claimed

as we were going towards the station, he produced his papers and pleaded that we do not lodge a complaint, as he has a family with 2 small kids,, and that this was his first accident and he had a loan to repay etc.. on closer scrutiny it turned out that his driving permit for an auto had expired a couple of months ago! the other papers - road tax, insurance etc were fine, as the vehicle was with a financing institution. that would have meant more trouble.

a few months ago, soon after my hand surgery, i was in an auto that was stopped by the police. it turned out the driver did not even have a license - let alone a auto driving permit!

in my frequent business travel, i have been driven by different cab drivers.
with some of them, one gets a comfort feel immediately, about their driving style. with others, it is not at all comfortable - like the driver who brought me tot he airport yesterday - on the highway, he suddenly seemed to have become uncontrollably thirsty - that he started drinking water from a bottle with both his hands..  while driving at the same speed. luckily, there was no traffic on the road..

i have had  drivers who want to vent their road rage because some one cut them or did not let them overtake or turn, or drivers who are in no hurry and would not cross 30 km per hour, even when the roads are empty.

and this is not just in india.

probably only next to lawer-jokes, new york cabbie jokes rank the most common.
the ones that i remember are the ones about the cabbie who always jumps red lights, because his brother had been doing that for years without getting caught - and stops at a red, because his brother might be coming the other way!
or the cabbie, who was asked to go to heaven and not a priest, as the cabbie's passengers always prayed, while the people slept through the pastor's sermons!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

thoughts for the next decade

it suddenly occurred to me - as part of the seasonal introspection - that i have been only writing more of 'reportages' than a diary!

so, this time, i am going to make it a real rambling!
that is also in line with the blog theme - ' random thoughts'..

in a way, things around me are the triggers for thoughts, so not having very profound things to say to myself or anyone else is fine, i guess.

rambling is actually very difficult. while it may seem random, there is some connection and flow.

like the picture above, the water, land, trees, mountains and the sky are all flowingly connected. it may not make sense to see or express this connection unless one is looking for a reason for them to be connected.

while i stopped making new year resolutions, and made it more of a monthly review of plans and priorities, the new year is a time to take stock of some medium to longer term plans and make them more short term.

the last year has been good in many ways. i look forward to even more in this year - which is also considered the beginning of the new decade.
that is something that am not fully convinced. when i had posed this question to some of the other group members - of a couple of groups that i am a member of, i got a few answers that the very 'first' year is year zero - as it is still not 1 year old!
i understand and agree with that argument. but still, only after 100 years are over, would it make a century!
similarly, year '00' cannot be the beginning of a new decade.
the media - or the greeting card makers - influence many of our traditions - and create new ones.
with more and more people using SMS to send greetings - apparently this new year, the number of SMS greetings was more than a Billion in India! - they also have to find newer ways of growing their revenues.

e-greetings are fine, and maybe more eco-friendly, but, you cannot paste them on your notice board! paper greetings were also a source of revenue for some of the charities - including UNICEF - that went to help many improvement projects across the world.

talking of improvement, one quote that i received in a -- hmm... new year greeting !! -- said:

'To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.'
simple, but very profound.

making a new decade resolution is better than a new year resolution because it makes you think bigger - on a larger scale.

move away from making wishes for yourself alone, to make wishes inclusive of others, and wish that there would be significant improvements in all our lives.
after all, we are in a very connected world.

in a recent retreat we had of some friends from another group that i am a member of - that delves into the topics related to understanding the human mind, we explored the power of 'the law of attraction'.
wishing strongly as a collective, can make things happen.

the most visible of this theorists, was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his theory of the creative intelligence and mass [transcendental] meditation, to improve the world.

to conclude, while I haven not yet understood why the new decade begins with 2010 and not 2011, I wish that all of us realize our dreams of good health and happiness with a comfortable lifestyle in a more peaceful, environmentally responsible world..

how is that for a one sentence wish that has various aspects connected!!