Sunday, October 31, 2010

Country rustic in Yankee Land

It was the year 2003. My first ever visit to USA. On an assignment with my company to meet with some important prospects to help close some deals.

We had this all important meeting with a potential client. A client whose reference would go a long way in helping forge strategic accounts in future. The client was at that time, one of "America's Top 10 Advanced Computerized Healthcare Organizations" and very high on the list of "America's 100 Hot Wired Companies". The participants in the meeting included the drivers of information technology systems for the organization at the national-level. You can well imagine therefore, how carefully groomed and meticulously prepared our team was (which included the entire US office other than the CEO and our receptionist). With the time we had spent preparing the demo, I thought we were well-prepared. Well, we were well-prepared; no doubt, but only for the demo.

I was a little nonplussed therefore, when, following the smartly-suited executives, an elegant lady walked in, dressed in a startling purple outfit. Oh well, nothing like a little colour in a medical outfit, I thought. (No pun intended). Her outfit also looked like a robe I normally thought people wore at bed-time, but I hardly knew a thing about women's clothing (back then), so I dismissed it at that. But something drew my eyes towards her again. Er... um... well, to her outfit. I thought even by cheery standards, the purple was still a little too purple. It was then that I saw - for the first time - her hat. Yes, people do wear hats. Maybe not in a corporate meeting, but I am willing to make allowances for that. What I could not digest was that she was wearing a witch hat. Given that there had been no alcohol in my bloodstream for more than two metabolic cycles, I knew I could trust my eyes. (For those of you who were distracted by those metrics, rest assured there has NEVER been any alcohol in my bloodstream). But even so, to be sure, I blinked, hoping against hope that the darn hat would disappear when I opened my eyes. The confounded thing hadn't moved. And I realized this time that it had the same purple hue as her robe. With a lacy rim. (Gulp!). I blinked again. I had not only lost hope about that hat disappearing, but also, I was sure I would see something more this time. I was right. I noticed her earrings this time. Her earrings were a spider's web. Complete with a spider.

She was in a witch's outfit!

My stomach turned. If initially I was concerned that I was not concentrating on the meeting underway, by this time, I couldn't care less about the meeting. A gut-wrenching yell to "Mommy" was ready to leave my lips.

For the first time in the last 2 hours my stomach was turning for reasons other than the demo at hand. I glanced at my colleagues, but they didn't seem to have noticed. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" had been keeping this lonely soul company in the corporate apartment for the past several nights. I had on several occasions - including the previous night - allowed myself to be engrossed in the book into the wee hours of the night. I sighed, wishing that I had slept well the previous night.

And then - with a surge of relief - the "mystery" was solved. It was 31-October; Halloween. I wasn't seeing things after all. People dress up in Halloween costumes on 31-Oct and - you have my word for it - even go to work in those costumes. While I silently cursed my colleagues for not having warned me earlier, the experience helped. Or else I would have surely screamed on seeing the "skeleton" later in the day, in the rest-room washing his hands. But I was a man by then. I actually beamed at him. He beamed back at me. We didn't see the need to make any bones about his costume. (Pun intended, of course).

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scratchpost

This is a "scratch post" - am using this to test some FB gadgets. You will keep seeing changes here - and this post will eventually disappear. Perhaps to reappear.

If you want to click on buttons in this post - whenever they are visible - do so with caution. It will update your FB profile page.

iframe - standard - showfaces

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Love Evaporation!

As part of learning to gargle, my 21-month-old-son has learnt to hold water in his mouth and then spit it out. Needless to say, this has led to some "interesting" episodes where milk has gotten transferred from the glass or bottle to different destinations other than his stomach.

I was however, not prepared for what he did today.

When my attention returned after a 60-second interval - no more - to my son and my laptop (which was on when I had left it), I found he had "transferred" - in my best estimate - about 5-6 gargles-full of water onto my laptop. Which, as I said, was on when I had moved away from it 60 seconds earlier. With a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach and hoping against hope, I felt the laptop for a pulse. There was none. It was done for.

For a good 2 seconds - bad 2 seconds, actually - time and the world stood still for me. The potential damage of a $1,000 - irrespective of whether my company paid or had me pay - paled in comparison to the catastrophe that awaited me if my data had gotten corrupted.

But my high-school physics and chemistry kicked in, so I leveraged the combined forces of molecular movement, air velocity and elevation. I set it vertically to drain the laptop of the water, opened it up and kept a high-speed table-fan right next to it and let it dry in phases (keyboard, under the keyboard, power-unit/fan) across several hours.

Finally, an anxious 6 hours later, all the water had dried up and lo & behold, the laptop booted up! The poor chap (my laptop, that is; my son got away only with a groan from me) isn't out of the woods yet, but at least I was able to take a complete back-up of all my data.

I love evaporation! And Dell. Goes well with my Nokia E71 that survived an oil attack earlier this year (oil is thicker than water, so the speaker was out of action for a whole week). Phew!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

CA-130 - a breathtaking drive

I have always found it captivating to climb up to an elevation and gaze at the city or city lights or expansive countryside at my feet. Perhaps it is because of Amar Chitra Katha stories I read as a child where kings had outposts atop hills to watch for the approaching enemy or it may be because of my frequent trips to Moti Dongor (a hill in my hometown named after the 'Moti' [jasmine] flower that grew there aplenty in yesteryears) from where one got a view of the entire city. As a teenager, a few of us friends would cycle up to the top of the hill and perch ourselves atop a boulder on the eastern side of the hill to take in the unhindered view of the town at our feet and the open countryside beyond it.


On Sunday evening last week, my wife had to attend to some chores. Not having to multi-task to satiate our toddler son's ever-growing inquisitiveness would have been a great help, so I decided to take him and do something that I would love doing but my wife wouldn't quite enjoy - drive up to Mt. Hamilton.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

All for the best!

In primary school - probably in the 3rd standard - we had this lesson titled "All for the Best". It was a story about this wise minister who always felt everything happened for a good reason and always dismissed every untoward incident with "All for the Best!". Which earns him the King's wrath one day because he exclaims "All for the Best!" when the King accidentally chops off one of his own fingers. A few weeks later while out hunting, the King is captured by some tribals and is about to be sacrificed to their Goddess when they see a missing finger and thus "disqualify" him from being sacrificed (since only "healthy" men were to be sacrificed).

I was reminded of this story today though of course, my experience was hardly as bizarre or life-threatening.

I landed in Denver, picked up my rental car, punched in my destination address in the GPS and took off. Less than a mile out, my GPS failed. I pulled over and realized the battery was dead and the power-cable was broken. I usually carry my personal GPS - for the petty pleasure of saving my company $10+ per day, but this evening, I was kicking myself for trying to save those $10. For, the road out from Denver Airport is miles and miles and miles of nothing. And at 9PM at night, for sure, you can see nothing else but nothing.

One cannot of course make a U-turn on the freeway and with seemingly every exit either leading to another freeway or a toll road, I didn't really know where to turn. To my luck, my cell-phone signal was also low, so I couldn't use the GPS on my phone either. I would have called my wife for navigational assistance, but my ear-piece was in my bag in the trunk and there was no way I was going to try navigating with the speaker-phone at 70mph at 9PM on an unfamiliar freeway. I was averse to going back to the car rental, because that too was, well, in the middle of another nowhere.

Right then, I heard a soft but ominous alarm in the car. The car was overheating.

That made the decision for me. I was going back to the car rental - middle of nowhere or not. At the car rental, while they were checking me out with the new car, I asked them for a GPS. To which, the customer-rep said he would have to go get one from their storeroom because the ones he had were all broken! DAMMIT, I thought, but I also thought I could just borrow their power cable instead of renting the unit. Turned out it was the power-cable that was broken! For a split second I was convinced some forces were conspiring against me.

But since the car had over-heated and since they didn't have a GPS handy and since I wasn't cussing and yelling - yet - the customer rep decided to help me out. He asked what make my GPS was. Garmin, I said. Turned out he was a sales rep for Garmin before he joined the car rental agency! For the first time in the last 30 minutes, I was actually happy about something. He rummaged around, found a power-cable for my GPS and even went on to tweak some settings on my GPS.

That's how I learned about WAAS and EGNOS - http://www8.garmin.com/aboutGPS/waas.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Area_Augmentation_System.

I drove off - though delayed by a good 30 minutes - actually happy that the first car had overheated! Were it not for the overheating, I might have elected heroics based on the position of the moon to get my bearings to head west over trying to find my way back to the car rental! And of course, I would have been without a GPS for the remainder of my stay. And I would never have heard of WAAS or his cousin, EGNOS. On the other hand, had the GPS not failed, I would have probably had a much longer drive coming back to return the faulty car.

Like they say, "All for the Best!". Though of course, for the GPS not to have failed and the car not to have overheated, would have been better than the best...

Chiquita Sundae: Phenori with ice-cream


I picked up a "Chiquita Sundae" from Chevy's tonight for dessert and stashed it away in the freezer - in a bid surprise my wife - so she & I could have it after the little fellow was off to sleep.



And now that the little fellow has indeed gone off to sleep, I got the 'Chiquita Sundae' out of the freezer.


It is - according to Chevy's online menu - a "rich vanilla ice-cream in a sweet cinnamon boat topped with our homemade Cajeta or homemade Chocolate-Kahlua sauces and whipped cream". This is the first time I've eaten a "Chiquita Sundae". The "cinnamon boat" tastes a lot like 'phenori' - a Konkani delicacy that is much like the 'chiroti' and is usually a common delicacy during Ganesh Chaturthi (though the 'phenori' doesn't have cinnamon).


I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone who likes desserts. And I'm wondering why I never thought of 'phenori' with ice-cream before. Slurp!


To my wife, who fell asleep trying to put the little fellow to sleep: if you haven't yet charged out of your seat by now on reading this, you'll find the other half waiting in the refrigerator. The half that I generously left for you after successfully fighting temptation. Well, not quite an arithmetically-accurate "half", but at least you'll know now what 'phenori' with ice-cream tastes like. Bon ap├ętit! :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

iMpressed

I've always wondered what the form-factor and general experience would be to generate content using a touch-screen UI/device (read: iPad). I'm still kind of struggling with feeling my way around the touch UI, but other than that, I must say I'm quite pleasantly surprised thus far. Now onto some 'hands-on' consumption as well, with this device before I decide that I actually want one of these.

The only bummer is that since it does not support Flash, it's not a handy device if browsing Picasa Albums is a common use-case - which in my case, it is.

But for those of you who haven't gotten your fingers around an iPad yet, do give it a shot.


iMpressive!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

From Margao to Mangalore - on US 101

Right from my childhood I have been regularly traveling from Margao to Udupi/Mangalore by road. Tagging along with my grandfather on his visits, or making a quick vacation of my father's business trips or just going to visit my maternal grandparents and other friends and relatives in the area. And for the last few years, to visit my in-laws.


The road from Goa to Mangalore is along NH-17 - a coastal route along India's west coast. It crosses the western ghats, passes through scenic hills and is adorned with little villages and paddy fields and has a brief stretch at Marvanthe of about 5 kms. right by the Arabian Sea, which suddenly gives way to the maddening traffic on the Kundapura-Mangalore segment. And all along of course, you are never lonely - there are people, cattle, parked trucks and farming machinery of all shapes and sizes. More recently - for the last 12 years or so - the Konkan Railway line that runs parallel to NH17 in many places also keeps you company on your drive.

As the roads and infrastructure improved and so did the quality of cars, the 300+ kms. journey became a half-day affair. Start early right after breakfast to reach by lunch time, or leave right after lunch to reach in time for dinner. Each trip to Udupi would be about 3-4 days, filled with fleeting visits to meet cousins, aunts, uncles and friends and of course, sumptuous meals at every house we visited. Feeding your guests like they live in a drought-hit area is of course, one of the cornerstones of Indian hospitality.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Intruiging "atmoshperic" pressure in "high places"?

I have been following - not comprehensively and closely though - the saga with Mike Hurd and HP that has been unfolding in the last few days. I have no idea who is right or wrong - and have neither the interest nor inclination of forming an opinion myself - but what bewilders me are the kinds of justifications that the two camps are coming up with.

In a nutshell, this is how the saga unfolded: sexual harassment allegations against the CEO => internal investigation => original complaint was deemed "unfounded", but other irregularities w.r.t. expense statements and payments were unearthed => CEO resigns (presumably under the "advice" of the Board) => a divisive saga is played out in public court with two camps emerging (one in support of the ousted CEO; one in support of the move to oust the CEO).


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Unhandled Expectations

I just started a new blog - Unhandled Expectations (http://unhandledexpectations.blogspot.com/) - to capture things about technology, tools and their world that puzzle me. Trends, practices, technical architecture, use-cases, purpose, factors that define success, what-have-you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A mind-Bloggingly terrible nuisance!

I have just emerged victorious - but rather broken and disappointed - from a 72-hour struggle with what has clearly been my first ever - and hopefully my last - encounter with a *L*O*U*S*Y* product from Google. Blogger. Blogspot. Whatever you call it. Thanks to Blogger, I took a trip down memory lane and went back to school. Kind of. I had to revise my HTML basics and literally "hand-write" my post from scratch trying in raw HTML in the "Edit HTML" tab of the editor.

For those of you who blog on Blogger/Blogspot (the same blogging site on which this blog is posted), you would have seen the "slick" new editor. Since I only posted brief messages till now, I thought it was rather neat. My wife had previously sought my help clean up some posts on her blog - the long and short of her problem was that the editor seemed to have a mind of its own and arbitrarily inserted whitespaces and new lines. I dismissively attributed the clunky behavior to the fact that she was copying+pasting from the Word document where she had originally composed her notes and recipes - after all, if you paste rich text in a "smart" editor, the formatting will also carry. Right? Turns out, I was only partly right.

Turns out that WebKit (Apple's layout engine on which Chrome is based) does some mighty weird things every time you edit anything - the algorithm it uses to "interpret" hard returns and formatting is "intriguing" at best. In a nutshell, it creates "" tags for empty lines and these tags add vertical whitespace. Especially when - at times; the logic of which remains a mystery - it also adds a line-height attribute (125% and 20px seem to be WebKit's favorite values). And God help you - assuming even He is willing to touch the resulting mess - if you switch between the "Edit HTML" and "Compose" options.

Granted, I was trying to create a rather lengthy "post" and I will agree that blogs may not be the ideal forum for such lengthy content, but that is no excuse for the mind-bloggingly terrible nuisance this new editor has turned out to be. 

(Sigh!) The bright side of this experience is that I tried out Wordpress (and will probably migrate there), burshed up on my HTML, learnt some new things in Eclipse while experimenting for a fix and got a lesson in perseverance.

Thank you, Google! GRRRR!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An old habit is re"Kindled"

I used to be an avid reader. It was not uncommon for me to finish an entire book in a day during my summer vacations as a school-going kid. Gradually, increased pressure of studies, email, the internet, work pressures, parenting and other excuses pushed this wonderful habit into oblivion.

A recent project I was working on, had me landing on the Amazon home page regularly. If you've seen their home page, you would know that the first thing that hits you is "Kindle". Repeated visits to that page started tempting me to buy a Kindle, but I kept putting it off because - I told myself - I no longer read like I used to. That's when it hit me. "I no longer read liked I used to?" That's right, I realized; I didn't. That introspection, combined with some work-related travel (with no in-flight WiFi) helped rekindle the habit.

In the last month, I have read 2 books - 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Middle East Conflict' and John Grisham's 'The Painted House'. I started reading 'The Associate' (another John Grisham novel), but thanks to a recent meeting with Subroto Bagchi, I have now picked up 'A Whole New Mind' as well.

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)I'm still tempted to buy the Kindle, but I'm still telling myself I don't need one.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying reading. The old fashioned way.

An old habit has been re"Kindled".

Monday, March 08, 2010

Thou shalt (NOT) cast the first stone

I live by old values, but am well-disposed to change and realize that value systems evolve and evolution of values is not necessarily a bad thing. Therefore, though I was taught in school that "only s/he who is without sin may cast the first stone" (John 8:7), I realize that constructive criticism is a key ingredient to continuous improvement and hence, I truly believe that one need not be above board before pointing out another's shortcomings. Indeed, I will decry a poor user interface for instance, even I cannot design a good UI for nuts and likewise, I will willingly accept meaningful criticism on the quality of my cooking from someone who can't even tell whether the stove is on or off.

But there's a fine line there. There's a fine line between providing constructive criticism and ascending the throne of Vikramaditya and absolving oneself of all shortcomings while haughtily finding fault with all & sundry. And my blood comes to an instant boil - so help me God - when people knowingly, regularly cross that line.

Therefore, someone pulling people up for coming to meetings without preparing for or without reading background emails on the agenda and subject matter is fine even if that person himself hasn't read all the background information. But pulling people up when that person himself hasn't read all the background information under the pretext that it is okay - for whatever reason - for him to come ill-prepared is unacceptable. Likewise, pointing out non-compliance of some process by someone who is himself not fully compliant is okay, as long as that someone is trying to be compliant. But pointing out someone else's non-compliance while trying to dodge, trivialize or worse, justify one's own non-compliance is (grrr!) not acceptable.

Grow up, fellas!