Friday, December 30, 2011

FasTrak Fool or Foolish FasTrak?

There's this guy - or gal - who seems to be making a habit of it. Either evading the toll or wrongly getting into the FasTrak lane.

Same car, same place. White Nissan hatchback/truck bearing plate number 3POH888 (number changed, of course). Bay Bridge. Twice  in 5 months. A white-colored Nissan, mind you, a white-colored Nissan.

Why do I care?

Because the blokes at FasTrak want to be "in the wrong lane" too. They keeping sending the violation notices to me. Because my car bears the number 3PQH888. The first time I dismissed it because there was clearly a human error caused by the "O" resembling the "Q" and all other numbers/alphabets being an exact match.

That they made the same mistake again is surprising enough, but what really gets me is that the Toll Notices contained the description of my car too: a Black Not-Nissan Sedan. Accompanied by the picture of the white Nissan.

Somebody, please slow down and look before you rush.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupational Hazards

Used under CCL from kuminiac's album
Like the fire eater pictured here, EVERY profession - without exception - has its own occupational hazards. Some are just more visible and some have a greater element of physical danger, but it's always there. 

Often, some professions are romanticized by society and the media (e.g., software engineering in India) or are vilified by its own circumstances, actions and then some more by society and the media (e.g., police forces). To a point that its occupational hazards are completely obfuscated.

Over the years, I have been struck by a different perspective of "occupational hazard" - viz., how the core soft skills (separate from the job-related competencies) exercised in one's profession tend to unwittingly and inadvertently define the individual.

The following are examples (in no particular order) that I have encountered in my personal life - examples where I have seen professionals excel at their core skills and outperform their colleagues and then seen that very skill reflecting in their personal lives in ways that they may not have always wanted and in ways they may not even realize

Profession Key soft skills Observed Impact
Doctors Fine blend of compassion and detachment: Compassion to connect with the patient's pain, illness and suffering; detachment to ensure that the doctor can be part of the solution and not become part of the problem. This helps them deal with misery - and often, death - that they must bravely come face-to-face with every single day. Convey an image of being hardened when  they talk about pain, misery and death (and the circumstances that bring these on) with  detachment. The very detachment that makes them excel at their profession.
Sales* - Eloquence & Confidence
- Optimism without being foolish
- Zero fear of rejection without being shameless
Elan even in the absence of sufficient data and greater tolerance for white lies.
Accounts & Finance - Drive "accountability" down to the penny(/cent/paisa)
- Draw confidence and comfort from a balanced ledger
- Keen financial impact analysis ability
Tendency to seek greater comfort in arithmetic than in math - i.e., have trouble seeing the larger picture and putting things in perspective.
Software Engineers* - Syntactic and computational precision
- Top-down, divide & conquer problem-solving approach
Have a black & white perspective of life - often ignoring or failing to comprehend the hues & colors of the human touch. Often sacrificing semantic appreciation for syntactic precision*

* I am a software engineer by profession and my "recent" transition to a technical pre-sales role required a little bit of transformation. Kind of an "upgrade to color". I must admit therefore that I am called upon to practice a combination of skills of these two professions and consequently, am equally prone to a combination of their impact.

Of course, the foregoing is not intended to ridicule any profession or professional - true professionals are ones to be saluted and admired in any field. Like I have pointed out before, the emphasis is on "ways that they may not have always wanted" and "ways they may not even realize.".

The foregoing is just a conclusion I have drawn that leaves me bemused. It has made me realize that there are more occupational "hazards" and more perspectives to these "hazards" than meet the eye. And most importantly, it has served as an eye-opener for me and led me to some serious introspection. 

Monday, October 03, 2011

Naming Ceremony: What's in a Name?

"A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet"
                                                              - William Shakespeare

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"*
                              - Gertrude Stein

Last week, I got involved in helping someone find a name for his new venture. For reasons of confidentiality, I cannot talk about the venture nor the name that we closed out on, but the process was an interesting and intriguing one.

My last - and perhaps, my only other - really serious project at identifying a name was when my wife was carrying our baby. While my wife and I sifted through many names, the "framework" was simple and the decision-making straightforward. The framework/parameters were that we both wanted a name that was easy to pronounce and easy across cultures, had a meaning that we would be proud to have our child live up to and was not a “retro” name. The decision-making was simple: we had to both like it.

With the business venture, though I had not expected it to be all too easy, it was a trifle more challenging than I had imagined. Whatever the approach to coming up with a list of names, it had to have a corresponding or phonetically similar domain name available, should not already have been trademarked/copyrighted and had to be "culturally scalable".

While my friend went with right-brain gut, I resorted to left-brain structure to compensate for my handicap in creativity. I came up with a table that looked roughly like this:

·         Domain not available
·         Domain parked – may be available
·         Domain available
One word

Two words



Within the table, all names considered were listed and color-coded to indicate availability of the corresponding domain name. The X-axis helped profile the name based on its meaning – or lack of it – while the Y-axis helped identify names of different compositions.   

I originally started out with just "Descriptive" and "Non-descriptive" on the X-axis but the Wikipedia page on "Product Naming" helped me put more structure around it.

Eventually, we went with a name that my friend pulled out of his hat, but the table above did help me "brainstorm with myself" and generate a bunch of names.

Like I said, I found the process very interesting and am wondering how one would come up with a name if you didn't want to engage a pricey branding/marketing organization and if your creative juices weren’t flowing. Would be happy to get inputs from my readers.

Of course, once you build the brand even “fanciful" and "arbitrary" names will sound nice and even logical – Google, Twitter, Cisco, Apple are all excellent examples. These are neither descriptive nor associated with the founder’s name – e.g., Tata, Ferrari, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, etc. – and yet, have built a powerful image and perception around the brand.

Last but not the least – and the real motivation for this post – is that I began reflecting upon a few Indian logos/brand names that we grew up with as children. I marvel at how these brands acquired mindshare without the benefit of extensive market research, without mass marketing and without social media. All of these brands are brands that were descriptive as well as suggestive as well as fanciful as well as rich in the meaning they conveyed. All but one – at least in my eyes – were also rich in the quality they delivered (and there will be no prizes for guessing which one I think, did not deliver that quality).

The next time I see or hear a name that makes me wonder what it means or why someone chose that name, I am sure I will spare a little empathy for the person who had to make the decision.

After all, even though I Google for something I want to find and tweet something I want to announce, and Like something I like and even though I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and drinking Rasna, left to me, I would never have come up with these names. Names that resonate in so many hearts and minds across the world.

Even though a rose would smell as sweet by any name called, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose*.

*I have of course, twisted the interpretation of this slightly, for effect

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good Work, Goa Police!

Unlike my other posts, this one is not humorous, introspective, sarcastic or reflective. This one is a grim, true story.

Often, we hear of incompetence, shoddiness, bungling and apathy on part of the Police - whether in Goa or elsewhere. It may stem from a lack of skills, lack of willingness, lack of diligence, lack of integrity, whatever... you get the picture. And it's a rather prevalent picture.

The same "energy" that fuels my angst when I hear of such incidents is fueling my obligation now - along with other factors - to recognize and publicize some outstanding work that Goa Police did this week.

Earlier this week, on 19th Sept., a 10-year-old was kidnapped from outside his school in Margao, at 1:30PM. Goa Police employed a combination of good old police work and surprising tact & professionalism instead of plain force to effect a successful rescue and nab the pieces of human garbage that perpetrated this crime. In just about 4 hours, the boy was rescued and by 8:30PM he was home after a 25km. journey and after completing all the police paperwork and procedures.

To cut a long story short, Goa Police swung into action in no time. They deployed 4 teams of plain-clothes policemen, hired 4 private cars so as to not arouse suspicion, worked with cell service providers to trace the call and place a real-time track on the kidnappers' movements and had clearly anticipated possible moves by the kidnappers. They reportedly sealed the borders as well when the cell movement indicated an eastward path. Indeed, the final rescue required them to move to Plan B since the kidnappers put paid to Plan A at the last minute. Whether they did go in with a Plan B in the first place or not, they did come up with one.

Moreover, going by all reports, all this happened without any reward being offered or sought. And no strings pulled. The victim reached out and Goa Police answered their call of duty.

While one does not want such incidents happening anywhere to anyone, hopefully, this will raise the bar. And hence, confidence. Of Goa Police in itself and of the public at large. Hopefully, the perpetrators will remain behind bars without any attempts by "vested interests" to "influence" a milder outcome. Hopefully, this will become Goa Police's norm and will extend to spheres other than child-related crimes as well.

Good work, Goa Police! I salute you on this one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

India Against Corruption. Really?

Scene 1: Borim Bridge Toll Plaza (when toll was still being collected)
Actors: X, a well-to-do businessman, driving his car; my father, the co-passenger.

X pulls out a small chit from the glove compartment that resembles the toll ticket, holds it up through the windshield and without rolling down his window tries to convince the ticket agent that it is in fact a return ticket he had purchased earlier in the day. After all, he asks my Dad, why pay the princely sum of Rs. 6/- for a confounded toll?

Scene 2: ~1998, Goa
Actor: MBA from IIM-C, Regional Sales Manager for Goa for one of India's largest pvt-sector enterprise, talking to his Dad over a phone call

"Aur haan, Daddy, yahan pe driver license chahiye hoga; ek karvake bhej dijiyega" (And oh, yes! I think I'm going to need my Driving License here; please process one and send it to me)

Scene 3: 2007, Conference Room, One of the Largest Pvt. Sector Banks in the country
Actors: Sr. GM - Technology and his cohorts, me and two of my very senior colleagues (including our own GM)

Under CCL from EMSL's Album
(I mentioned the year and "Technology" so you understand the significance of what I am about say). We - about 12 of us - are all seated and awaiting the Sr. GM. He walks in 5 minutes later and to my shock (and that of my colleagues), everyone in the room except my 2 colleagues and I, stood up when he walked in, waited till he sat down and then seated themselves. In 2007. In the technology function. I later found out this was the culture in the Bank across lines, across functions.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ironies: A Study of Contrasts

From Wikipedia - reportedly taken
at Baker Street Tub Station
\ˈī-rə-nē - noun -  (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity

This is a compilation of "calling-it-as-I-see-it" observations based on my life in India and the US. It is neither anti-India or anti-USA, nor for that matter, pro-India or pro-US. It is like I said, a compilation of calling-it-as-I-see-it observations. I know there is more than meets the eye to most of these and surely, there are rational explanations for others, but here goes:

India is a tolerant state, but we have no patience.
Americans on the other hand are generally patient, but have low tolerance.

The US is a dominant global force, 
but GK about the world (in particular, geography and culture) is surprisingly poor.

India is fiercely territorial, 
but wants to adopt (read: ape) all trends foreign.
Whereas, the US is inherently cosmopolitan, 
but will resist new ways or balk at non-American ways of doing things 
(e.g., my wife's gynecologist who freaked out and cautioned against
contamination when she found out we were making curds at home)

Indians tend to over-engineer and have complex decision-making setups, 
but Americans have trouble placing or processing a simple order for "coffee" 
(Colombian vs. French Roast vs. Vanilla vs ..., 
 with cream vs. without cream, 
 sugar vs. Splenda, 
 here vs. to-go). 
Or water (regular vs. sparkling, plain vs. flavored, with ice vs. without ice).

Americans have sophisticated recycling technology, but haven't learnt conservation.

Indians believe in karma and after-life and are God-fearing, 
but seem to care little about reputation and lie without compunction.

Life in America revolves around instant-gratification, 
but Americans are much better at seeing the big picture.
Whereas, instant-gratification is not our culture, 
but we have narrow perspectives and short-term views.

And yet, Indians save for a rainy day, 
While the Americans live for today.

The US has an outstanding social support infrastructure, sophisticated medical technologies and established, widespread healthcare networks and infrastructure, 
And yet, the fabric of domestic support is rather fractured, its population is plagued by life-threatening or arcane allergies and it is easier to buy a gun than life-saving drugs.

We've inherited bureaucracy that can nauseate, 
but haven't inculcated system-oriented/process-driven thinking.
Americans are light on bureaucracy, 
but are highly process-oriented.
And yet (or perhaps, I should say "therefore") 
no one handles chaos and surprises as well as Indians do.

Americans are paranoid about privacy 
And yet, acts, facts and artifacts they expose to public view 
makes "private" a redundant word in the dictionary.

Conversely, India gave the world the Kama Sutra,
but we rebel at the idea of formal sex education.
And yet, make Bollywood movies that are so suggestive,
It might make the Playboy look like an Archies comic book.

The Americans have almost made creativity a science,
And yet, India produces far better ads than the US.

Indians are very particular about "what others will think" and love to give advice,
but get very defensive when we receive even constructive feedback.

America is by & large a "cold country" (even the supposedly-harsh summer only lasts a couple of months), but it's obsession with ice and fascination with cold meals is inscrutable.

Indians are subservient by nature,
but find it very difficult to follow any rules.
Whereas Americans, care a damn, 
but are sticklers for the rule.

Americans are extremely civil and affable,
Always smiling, holding the door for you and waiting,
And yet, are litigious to a point that makes you wonder
whether money is indeed the key to happiness.

India is a country of a billion people,
but we are yet to learn how to conquer scale.

America is high on hygiene,
but the only place they find to put up water fountains is outside public restrooms.

We are high on rituals and ceremonies in India,
but don't quite have the penchant for "doing things in style".

Religion and spirituality do not matter in the US like they do in India,
and yet, "In God We Trust" is the official motto of the USA.

Much as I am sometimes harshly sarcastic about life in both nations,
Fact is, I have enjoyed the best of both nations
And have had the privilege of living in what I consider to be the best states in both nations:
Goa and California.

Jai Hind! In God We Trust!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cricket: the de facto Uniform Civil Code

The role of religion, power, caste and community in our lives - especially in sharp contrast to its insignificance in the western world - causes me much angst. Hindu, Muslim, Brahmin, Kshatriya, MLA, Cabinet Minister and other considerations take precedence over merit, order, society, public good, nation, India.

And then there's cricket.

The betting scandals had long killed my fervour for cricket. That we were ranked second in the ODI ratings and first in Test ratings, I cared little for. Heck, I wasn't even sure if Dravid still played for India.

As the buzz of the upcoming World Cup got louder though, some spark ignited my fire again. The D/N matches - and most of the good ones and all the knockout matches were D/N matches - began at 1AM local time for us (and 2AM when we moved to DST). But I was up for it. I subscribed for the streaming service and adjusted my schedule accordingly. Grabbing 2-3 hours of sleep before the match and 1 hour in between innings became a routine. Midnight snacks became a regular meal, and Facebook was the medium to discuss the match real-time with friends and family. I had forgotten the agony of the 2007 World Cup, so I was sure we were going to make it to the quarter finals. But QF was all I was expecting - and the expectation dropped I guess, given that we were up against Australia for the QF.

In a solemn show of patriotism, 12 of us colleagues gathered in the office at 2AM to cheer for Team India - hoping we would win, but assuming this was going to be the last match. The victory that unfolded was of course, a precursor to a monumental and larger victory. Outstanding fielding and bowling followed by gritty batting saw us through. A billion hearts stopped for a few overs as we stumbled at 187/5 with 70+ runs to score against an Australian onslaught, but we did it.

The first wave of patriotic euphoria was evinced right after the quarter-final on Facebook and Twitter. As my good friend, Prasad Govenkar put it, "FB and Twitter would have had their fair deal of performance testing today. The real test would be on 30th March..". Indeed, the victory "polarized a unified wave" of support and euphoria.

Needless to say, that we were up against Pakistan in another epic battle gave the whole game a different hue. Ignoring the right/wrong, rational/irrational, hyped/well-deserved aspects of our attitude, the plain truth is, an India-Pakistan match does embody more than just the game of cricket. The undercurrents are too deep and strong to allow even the most rational of us to focus on just the cricket.

The already high-voltage atmosphere became super-high-voltage thanks to the media, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Dr. Manmohan Singh's invitation to his Pakistani counterpart and in general, the intensity of collective sentiment. When Pakistan lost Afridi, I could already smell the firecrackers back in India. The law of averages had to postpone their act for another day.

Along with Team India, the fervour also climbed to the next level. April 2 was declared a state holiday in Maharashtra because police troops from all over Maharashtra were moved to Mumbai. Wankhede became a no-fly zone. 3,000 VIPs, diplomats, celebrities and mega-stars - including the Presidents of India and Sri Lanka - lined up to attend the mega show. Police barricades went up at 5PM the previous evening in a 1.5 kilometer periphery beyond the stadium. Facebook profiles took on the "Bleed Blue" badge. Meetings were cancelled and deadlines were pushed out. Families assembled and snacks were lined up. Cell and internet service providers geared up for the onslaught. Alarm clocks were set for 1:40AM - 20 minutes ahead of the match - some of us wanted to catch the national anthem before the match.

For an entire week before the event - and God knows for how long after the victory - little else mattered. All over the physical and virtual (read: Facebook, Twitter) worlds, we had only one identity: Indian. We were rooting for just one team: India. We all wanted the World Cup to be won by one country: India. Our clocks were tuned to just one timezone: India. I am not embarrased to say I had goose pimples when "Vande Mataram" started playing in Wankhede as the contest drew closer, tighter and more intense (though one may question the lack of neutrality of a World Cup host in that action). Nor that I felt a lump in my throat as I voluntarily sprang to my feet with a gut-racking yell when Dhoni hoisted Kulasekara for the winning six.

The celebrations outside India were equally overwhelming. El Camino Real was dotted with cars flying the Indian flag. My friend posted this video of the celebrations in his apartment complex in Sunnyvale, California:

And another colleague posted this video of celebrations in Artesia (near Los Angeles).

The Hindu, Muslim, Brahmin, Kshatriya, NRI, MLA, Cabinet Minister, Prime Minister, Bollywood Celebrity, Industrialist, Italian King Maker, Heir Apparent, Advertiser, Manufacturer, Banker, Broadcaster, Service Provider and common man had come together for a single-point agenda: cheer Team India. Bleed Blue. Jai Ho!

And while we're at it, one more round of applause for our 1983 hereos who did it without a third umpire, DRS, powerplays, streaming telecasts and a 1-crore reward:

Last but not the least, let's not forget the sacrifices and efforts of countless law & order personnel who stayed away from the match and their families to ensure order and everyone's safety.

Congratulations, India!

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Child is Father of the Man

I once read that timelessness and a wide range of perspectives & interpretations are key traits of profoundness. And that is the very profoundness I am experiencing of William Wordsworth's words "The Child is father of the Man". In his poem, "The Rainbow", William Wordsworth teaches us that one's formative years are in fact sooner than later in life, and thus highlights the importance of good upbringing and inculcating positive traits early in a child's life.

The last 26+ months - and especially the last 6 months - of parenting have given me a whole new perspective. To life and to how a Child is indeed the Father of man.

Here are some invaluable lessons I've learnt from my 2-year old, that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life and which I have hopefully learnt well:

Negotiation: Handling my-way-or-the-highway situations are part of every parent's life and before you know it, becomes all in a day's work. Distracting him from the pastry he got a glimpse of just before dinner. Convincing him that returning my "boring" cell phone in exchange for his "exciting" matchbox car is a fair trade. Getting him to finish his glass of milk. The list goes on. It takes little to get frazzled under these circumstances though in fact - and that's the lesson I've learnt - it takes even less to steer these situations to a happy ending.

Losing gracefully: True, I've learnt the ropes of negotiating, but that's about all I've learnt. I am not an expert by any standards. For every deal I win, I lose two. If not more. And I've learnt to concede gracefully. Yes, he managed to blow bubbles into the milk so it spilt out anyway. Yes, he proved that the cell phone can travel to the ground at a much higher speed than I had imagined. Yes, he kicked off his shoes sitting in the shopping cart. Again. No, he cares little for the vile threats I just made and the fact that it irritates me actually prods him on further. So there! Send your ego packing. Concede defeat. Dust yourself, get up and move on. Life goes on. (Of course, as far as [not] drinking his milk goes, life is teaching me a sweet lesson by coming full circle - and that's another lesson I've learnt)

Tact: Knife in hand. Tantrum at 3AM. Standing on a wet, glass-top dining table. More than 6 feet away from me and walking around with my iPad. No amount of enticement or intimidation will work in these situations. Neither the carrot nor the stick has any value. Any sign of excitement or agitation will only be counter-productive - or even harmful. The only recipe for happy endings in these scenarios is tact. Don't ask me to describe it here. I cannot. But I've learnt. At least I've learnt what tact is and its importance. Can't say I've learnt to be tactful, though. That'll probably take a few more years of training.

Perseverance: By far, the two most trying feats have been teaching him to eat by himself and his potty training. While the credit for both accomplishments goes 100% to my wife, the journey was filled with carpet-cleaning sessions (for which I will rightfully reclaim some credit), mutual frustrations (triangulated frustration to be precise - no pun intended; I am not a telecom engineer) and regularly laced with hope and despair. But nothing succeeds like success. Even if you have to try and try till you succeed.

Detachment: This one is a paradox. "Detachment" is the last thing I feel when I think of my 2-year old. Yet, he has taught me detachment like few other people and experiences have taught me. Detachment is a far more effective and far less corrosive solution to overcoming your anger. When I found him serenely gargling all over my laptop or when he jumped off the back of the sofa onto my neck as I was sitting there inobtrusively having dinner, I thought I was going to pop a nerve in my head (okay, yes, the second time he jumped on me causing me to drop my cold dessert on my legs, I did lose it, but let's not dwell on the inconsequential). What stopped me from in fact losing it on both these occasions was the look on his face. I was beside myself with rage, but in that split second before I really lost it, I saw the innocent flush on his face. He was excited at what he had done, because he had done something that he had never done before. There was no malice. No awareness of the consequences of what he had done. Just joy. Because he did what he had to. Because he felt like doing it. No, I did not spare the rod and risk spoiling the child, but that moment of detachment helped me cope with the mess at hand. And taught me an important lesson that comes in handy in my work life too.

Focus and Prioritization: I never knew kids could be so manipulative. I have time and again been hoodwinked. He will come grab my laptop when I am working and I will shoo him away. The third time I shoo him away, I succeed. Only to spot him 10 seconds later climbing into the 12-inch shelf that holds the DVD player and pulling at some wires. Obviously, I rush there to fix things. Only to turn and find him seated at my laptop grinning triumphantly at me. While this taught me to lose gracefully, it also taught me to deal differently with a bull in a china shop: don't try to protect the china - it is futile. Focus instead, on luring the bull out of the shop.

Patience: I hardly need to explain this one. Now I know why they say patience is the mother of all virtues. Alas, my quest to be a virtuous man remains incomplete.

And from this list, I have excluded the tangible skills of parenting itself, that I have learnt. Not to mention, growing awe and bewilderment at how our parents raised us. Without high-chairs, sippy cups, Barney and Caillou.

Indeed, the Child is the Father of man.

For those of you who are interested, here is the original poem:

The Rainbow

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

- William Wordsworth, 1802