Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Some Sense

Reporting is something we in K-World swear are always worked up about. Everything that we do focuses down to one single thing – is the message clear. Of course we do all the scut work but that does not necessarily mean we crunch a lot of numbers collected painstakingly. No sir, we scan the Net and put pieces together and cut down to the chase. The last part is most crucial as we have to convert all that Nobel-Prize-winning-speak into English or simple arithmetic. So when I come across this piece of info that was published in a magazine no less than The Economist, I freak out:

“Among American states, for every cent per kilowatt-hour by which prices exceed the national average, energy consumption drops by about 7% of the average.”

Decipher it for me please!

Movie Minimalism

This week I continue with the theme of minimalsim.

A  seminal piece of minimalist piano composed by Michael Nyman for the 1997 movie Gattaca. The movie itself was shot using a minimalist theme of colour and screenplay. It steers clear of all the clutter and imagery associated with science fiction movies . The movie was shot  using modern day and even older buildings, high ceiling, white walls and motifs but with clever lighting using shades of radium green, test tubes and steel surfaces.  An example of this minimalist futuristic iconery is the double helix DNA stair cases in the apartment.

The music by Michael Nyman follows the theme and deliberately downplays itself like the characters and mood of the movie. The popular reviews have trashed the compositions of Nyman for the movie for they fail to accentuate the inherent suspense in the film’s plot but that is minimalism to you. A work stripped down to its most fundamental features; music with repetitive iterations and sparse simplicity.

The music and the art render temselves aptly to the theme of the movie that deals with a future of genetic discrimination in creating a society of two classes – the valids and invalids based on individual genotypes. The dystopic future scoeity  therefore is reduced to the function of four basic genes. The construction, repetition and iterations of these genes define ones place in society. Sparse and emotionless, the genes therefore represent a minimalist view of life on a larger scale. The music and visual themes seem to revolve around this very basic structure.

Oh Bengalora!

Just back from Bengaluru! I had been there for six days for my Base SAS Programmer training. For most of the Six days I sequestered myself in posh Indiranagar. The guest house and training institute are both here. I used to live not far off from this place in Jivan Beema Nagar 5 years ago. But I had a first hand experience of The Great Bengaluru Road Rage when I tried to visit my friend in Ramamurthy Nagar about 6 km away. It took me 2 hours to get back thanks to the traffic. It was already bad when I was around. It just went to dogs in these years. 

A word on the auto drivers! They are as mindless as their Chennai brethren when it comes to the ride. They are hell lot better off playing with dodge ’em cars than driving these unruly machines. Most of them plonked the meter for me.  Some demanded ridiculous money for even more ridiculously short distances. A few charged me just Rs 15 for 2 km (Chennai guys will ask your heart and kidney too for any distance).  But unlike anywhere else Bengaluru auto rickers throw an amazingly obnoxious attitude at passengers. 7 out of 10 you flag simply refuse to take you to the place you want to go. You would think that it is they who decide where you should go! Some do not even say no. They just drive off as if you do not exist! It would seem odd at first but this kind of rejection gets your nerve after some time. Makes you feel like yelling at the top of your voice! They really make you feel like a bad loser!  We Indians are all expect best customer service experience from any service provider and naturally extend the expectation to the auto rickshaws. But Bengaluru rickshaw drivers think they are not service providers. They are merely making you a favour! I thought this attitude  was an anomaly that started off with one and gradually caught on. But on second thoughts, it seems like a psyche that developed out of the constant road rage these people are subjected to on the roads of the city. Bangalore traffic drove me nuts in just two hours. Imagine living through it for 10 hours each day ! No wonder they reject you. It is not your face that puts them off but the traffic they have to weave through to get you where you want to go. Maybe this attitude is a rationalization to all that insanity these people are subjected to. In the end, they are indeed making you a favour. They are taking the road rage that would otherwise drive you crazy if you were to drive yourself! Bangalore desperately needs a traffic solution!

Minimalist Me

I was always a fan of minimalism. Probably because I cannot take too much detail at a time. I small things and straight lines. Geometry interests me in life.

Last year we had a contest in our office. We were all required to make abstract slides about ourselves, pool them and guess who is who. I made this slide using a minimalist layout. All black background, plain black and white photogaphs with light play making up for the detail, straight line layout in geometric symmetry and a plain geometric circle. Maybe I should not have embellished the circle with those little dashes. The circle represents my interest in photography and is meant to be view finder. But it looks more like a sniper rifle view finder than a camera viewfinder.

\

The pictures…the fire truck represents a water carrier or Aquarius, my sun sign. General Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is one of my egos especially in tight business situations.  Ian Anderson and his flamboyant flautist stance symmetrically opposite is my alter ego symmetrically opposite to my hard ass boss attitude – fun loving, maverick, flamboyant and almost child like. The lone walker on the rail road  is a giveaway. But it also stands for my current lonesome life. The pic in the middle is my gem….it is Ron Mueck’s minimalist sculpture called the Big Man. Look at that brooding big bald man. He is like me except that I am not bald. The lost in thought look alludes to my own broodings and The nudity refers to my insecurities that sometimes take me over.

The idea of abstract slides on self was not bad. We ended up with quite a few creative slides all done on powerpoint.  I think I should tag people on this. Let us see some more creative work.

Tagging: Nomad, The Smokin’ WDM2 and Vrij first.

Just use a normal single Powepoint slide, fill it with whatever you think depicts you (except your name, pic and other direct indicators), convert it into a Jpeg using Photoshop or any other photo editor and upload. I hope it is not much trouble 🙂

Now Showing – Hunt for a Rooskie sub whose captain speaks with an Anglicized accent!

Sunday and it is movie time for me. So I pulled out a DVD from my collection and played it while having Iced Tea and slices of Alphonso mango. Today’s movie is an adaption of a Tom Clancy novel – Hunt For The Red October. No sooner had I pulled it out randomly, I had this dreadful feeling.  Sam Neil is still haunting me!!!

Sean Connery plays the Lithuanian captain of the sub and his British accent somehow set well with the role. Better than Robin Hood speaking with an American accent.

Movies based on spy novels cut corners to maintain running time and hence there is no scope for character development.  John McTiernan, the director seems to have a ready made solution. He cast Sean Connery as the protagonist Russian sub commander. Sean needs no character development. He wears it like a coat. You get the idea before the idea gets to you. He could play Gabbar Singh and speak British English and you would still clap!

Clancy’s novels are full of is research on NATO weaponry and US Government machinery. But the movie dispenses with the bull and takes it at the same speed as the protagonist submarine which is fitted with magnetohydrodynamic drive (!) for the kicks.

I cannot stand 10 minutes in one but like submarine movies. I like movies shot on any moving vehicle.  I can even take in a movie shot on oil rigs! I like to see men at work. Funnily enough, there were about one and a half women in this movie! One is an air hostess who speaks about 3 lines for 40 seconds and disappears. The other is Jack Ryan’s little daughter who has exactly one line and 20 seconds before she makes an exit too. Otherwise this is a guy’s movie without Rambo!

Ah yes! Sam Neil who would not leave me yet from my previous post. He plays a No. 2 to Sean; a serious no nonsense character. But he speaks with a silly Russian accent and spends his reel time with the facial expression of a guy who is behind all the sneaky farts. For a change, he was funny!

\

Tag Time

Nomad has tagged me…

I moved this here from my travels blog to here as it is most apt here.

Last movie seen in a theatre?

Last movie? Must be Bourne Ultimatum in Oct 2007 with team Tango (one of my teams at RR Donnelley) at Sathyam. Could not remember much about the movie but the coffee at Mocha with all the kids was wonderful.

What book are you reading?

Just finished Liar’s Poker and started with The Weather Makers

Favourite board game?

Darts! After all it is played on a dart board. The one I recently bought for home has me hooked!

Favorite Magazine:

Outlook Traveller!

Favorite Smells:

Mom’s cooking and the fragrance of Cananga odora (green one) while on the tree – you know the flower champak.

Favorite Sound:

Idling Alco type diesel loco! Also the sound of a three year old child singing (esp Biju’s daughter Cookie).

Worst Feeling In The World:

That stinging feeling I get sometimes on the sole of my feet – like a thousand tiny cold needles being piereced into my foot. They say it is a sign of diabetes! Heaven help me!

What Is The First Thing You Think Of When You Wake?

What do I cook today?

Favorite Fast Food Place:

Saravana Bhavan or Tandoor Express (both in Spencer Plaza) where Biju and I settle to trade our respective rants.

Future Child’s Name:

Somalingam!!! After that telugu proverb – Aalu choolu ledu kani koduku peru Somalingam! (Got no wife, nor conception but son is named as Somalingam! )

Finish This Statement. “If I Had A Lot Of Money I’d…”

… worry even more about taxes!

Do you drive fast?

Yeah! I drive some people nuts…really fast!

Do You Sleep With A Stuffed Animal?

Used to sleep with a live animal…my pet dog. Now I stuff myself like an animal and sleep!

Storms-Cool Or Scary?

Cool. But not dust storms.

Do You Eat The Stems On Broccoli?

Never cooked broccoli…heard they smell like….

If You Could Dye Your Hair Any Color, What Would Be Your Choice?

Salt and pepper! Always loved the look. Would rather wait for nature to do it fast.

Name All The Different Cities/Towns You Have Lived In.

Durgapur, Vizag, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Bangalore and now Chennai.

Favorite Sports To Watch:

Football

One Nice Thing About The Person Who Sent This To You:

Nomad is an essential ingredient for a beer fest! A total live wire and a great travel mate! Never hesitates to say his thing….bold and articulate!

What’s Under Your Bed?

Karupam Poochi!

Would You Like To Be Born As Yourself Again?

Sure…why not…better than the Hindu karmic rebirth in store for me…a pig or an ass!

Morning Person Or Night Owl?

Both! Having worked in shifts before…I can make the best of any time.

Over Easy Or Sunny Side Up?

Like both way. I like all aspects of life…and eggs.

Favorite Place To Relax:

It is summer now and nothing beats the cool white floor of my home! I lie down with just a pillow under my head on Sunday afternoons and sing Mukesh songs!

Favourite Pie:

Apple Pie

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:

Plain vanilla….with all kinds of sauces and nuts

You pass this tag to –

Sridhar Joshi

Sri Prasanna

In The Mouth of Madness

I had once watched a movie named In The Mouth of Madness. It is a horror movie with a theme of apocalypse, fantasy – reality blurring, insanity and flashback and flash forwards. Despite being a tribute to the seminal horror writer H. P. Lovecraft the only impression the movie cultivated in me was one of insanity. I abhor horror flicks. They are all insane. One of the scenes in the movie depicted protagonist Sam Neil (who also antagonized me in that utterly horrible flick, Event Horizon) trying to escape from a lunatic, possessed town in a car in the dead of the night. The town is where insanity has unleashed. All the townsfolk and Neil’s partner have turned into mad and Devil-possessed zombies and are zeroing on Neil. As he drives away from them, he hits the highway and runs over a cyclist and into a tunnel. When he exits the tunnel, he finds himself in the same spot where he had gotten into the car….right in the middle of the town he has just escaped. He drives out again, runs over the same cyclist in the same replay of events and enters the tunnel only to find that he is in an endless loop of the same event. The movie then moved into an abstract narration of events and apocalypse and I lost track. But this scene was shot quite well despite my misgivings about the movie. In fact I could not sleep after watching it. The endless loop of the same events caught my imagination just too intensely and remained a model of psychic patterns of the paranormal in my mind.

One of the main reasons I travel on trains is to check out the Great Indian Outdoors. I love to watch the changing terrain through the windows, the hues and colors that play out and the diverse vegetation. The diversity of the Indian landscape can best be understood on train. But I have my rants too. Consider ghat sections. I have done the Mettupalaiyam-Ooty line, the Kalka Simla line, the Kothavalasa Kirandul line, The Subrahmanya Road – Sakleshpur section and the Punalur Tenkasi line. All of these lines boast of some great vistas, thick vegetation, undulating curves, deep gorges, wonderful bridges and amazing tunnels.

Subrahmanya-Sakleshpur section was my last ‘ghat trip’. It was not any different from the other railway ghat trips I had done except that I had done this one at the odd hour of night while traveling between Mangalore and Bangalore. I could not savour the vistas but the bridges, tunnels and curves were quite discernable even at 11 PM. An hour into the run on the ghats and I was suddenly squirming in my perch at the door of my Sleeper class coach. All the excitement was over. What was unfolding outside was a bad case of event replay. The amazing ghat route suddenly seemed to replicate itself. We were negotiating the same bridges, same curves as we did till then. Those dank and dark tunnels were all seemingly of the same length and shape. Each appeared immediately after a curved bridge and smelt the same inside. The darkness connected well to horror for I felt like I was in the mouth of madness every time the train entered a tunnel. Soon the frequency of curves, bridges and tunnels intensified playing like a bad dream of repeating events. Lovecroft had exorcised me and I suddenly longed for barren flat lands. Even the forest outside connived to drive me paranormal. The tree line remained constant with the same kind of trees (I could make them out thanks to the neon light at the door of the coach). The only solace I found was when the train passed through the infrequent ghat stations that had no lights or people but with a generous clearing.

If you thought the darkness and the thick forest exorcised me, I had the same uneasy feelings in the daytime ghat trips too. Tunnels drive you mad believe me. The Kalka Simla route had more than 100 of them all looking same. It was a torture by the time we crossed number 50. The KK line also had its share of 38 or so tunnels and the indistinguishable curves, bridges and gorges. It had something else too. Every station had a long iron ore rake waiting with three WAG 5 electric locomotives at their head. To make things worse, these iron ore trains (thanks to the standard wagon design for the only goods transported) and their triple WAG power also looked same all along. The locomotives were entirely from the same shed and hence the same livery. They kept replaying in my mind like a bad case of deja vu! In 4 hours, I had seen more than 50 WAG5 locos of the same livery while passing through similar tunnels and curves. It was only when the train reached Araku that the ghat terrain gave way to some barren flat lands. Bharath Moro then had remarked that he found dry flatlands interesting. I agree with him. Also, I found them reassuring. Even a small rock on the horizon would change the scene dramatically. The lack of detail ironically acts as a major differentiator. The feature rich ghats remind me of Sam Neil’s ridiculous replays

In contrast, one of my most exciting railway journeys was on Metre Gauge during monsoon between Madurai and Bodinayakkanur. The branch line was not a ghat route but had hills at generous intervals. The route was interspersed with paddy fields, fruit orchards, coconut plantation, dry and barren land, shrubbery, little villages, small towns, large ponds and a few wonderful curves. The vegetation changed its nature in just 60 km as the train headed towards the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The line spared me the deja vu of ghats by terminating at Bodi at the foot of the Cardamom Hills. Bodi station stood in the shadow of two great peaks amidst greenery and uncanny silence.

The ghats exorcised the Sam Neil movie, but the coastal route in Kerala at sea level still left me despondent. Do not get me wrong. Kerala is blessed with some amazing greenery and natural wealth. It is a treat to watch the unending orchards broken only by quaint bungalows with their red tiles and teak pillars. The backwaters and serene rivers dotted thickly with coconut only add to the excitement. But after sometime, they too start replaying all over. The Shoranur- Cannanore section had the ubiquitous and pervasive coconut trees, the ramrod straight areca tree plantations that are plain boring and inanimate, the same jackfruit and teak trees programmed into a loop, the other plantations that beat nature by being laid in a predictable pattern which seemed to make all plantations similar, the rivers that seem to reappear again and again and the towns though bereft of the clamour and overgrowth of towns in other states nevertheless taxing the mind by being indistinguishable from one another. An hour into real Kerala and I am surprised at the state’s ability to remain the same from end to end. I must say I really enjoyed the beautiful state’s bounty when I travelled on the Shoranur- Cannanore, the Shoranur-Quilon and the Shoranur – Nilambur Road sections. But frankly, it was tad too green, too thick and too monotonous for me after a while. I still longed for open spaces.

But open spaces remind me of some other cracko movies…ones that depict post-Armageddon barbarian Earth. I have seen a couple of them and they impacted my mind as badly as In the Mouth of Madness. The railway between Raipur and Bilaspur in the height of summer exorcised scenes from such movies with its fallow, dusty and almost Martian lands bereft of the will to live.

I have not yet been through the deserts of Rajasthan which is a contrast to Kerala but equally touristy. Maybe I need to watch Resident Evil II and trouble my mind a little more before I allow another terrain to exorcise me!

Of All The Bard’s Men…

We in the K-World do not deal with technologies or engineering abilities. We do not build, invent, design, devise or create. We get things done in the strictest sense of this silly simple first line explanation of the word “management”.  We do not hire ‘talent’ in the strictest sense  even though we pass around the term more than anyone else in power meetings. We hire people. We train them. Anyone who speaks English, provides a text book definition of net profit margin, has a neat excuse for the gap year in his resume and wears decent togs to work.  KPOs are some of the most people centric and people intense industries. People see, process and deliver. People are the machines of this Machine…not computers.

People management is therefore a major part of any manager’s daily chore. They call it ‘people skills’ (we are a jargon Disneyland, mind you) or more simple inter-personal skills (go figure!). It is a psycho thing that took off somewhere from that Parent–Adult-Child States thing that Eric Berne so fondly postulated. We are supposed to be experts at it. The whole thing is about how you manage the mickies that afflict your subordinates that make them jump ship. They suddenly feel like a human being in a crowded, stuffy city bus on a hot day. We should always be reading their minds, act ‘proactively’ (yeah this is what always denies us managers the raise and promo!) to address their insecurities and turn them back into the machines they were. Matrix Relapsed! It could be the silly job that they suddenly realise they are doing. It could be their classmates who are earning bigger paychecks doing considerably lesser elsewhere. It is mostly the night shifts that suddenly after 5 months seem unfair, inhuman and taxing. It could be the next door team that gets paid a wee bit more. It could even be the poor computers they were fobbed off with, stuffy little room they sit in, ratty team mates or even the colour schema of the decor (blue is not exactly cheering me!)

So job satisfaction is one big issue or so it seems. End of the day it is all about “Show me the Money!” like Cuba Gooding Jr in Jerry Maguire, but they rather prefer to call it something else. “I see no growth in this role.” Or, I work hard but hardly recognized”. The last remark is a major excuse; one that is always directed at you the manager and everything that supercedes you. Anything that you Mr. Manager do or not do will be held against you. My boss always measured my “people’s skills” rather critically. It always seemed I never encouraged anyone. That crafty Soviet Politburo styled thing called “skip-level meetings” that are a part of this set up always came out with my shortcomings as a boss.  My boss meets the team and keeps me out of it. later in the appraisals – “So, when was the last time you said ‘Good job. Keep it up?’ to your subord?” It is a different matter that I had never done this to my dog. He never fetched the ball anyway. But I am expected to pat the backs, ruffle the fur and say “Good Boy!” to the little puppies under me every time they fetch the ball – do a good deed. Well I had more long term methods and less puppy love tricks to show my appreciation. I preferred to provide recognition through more responsibility supported by more power and independence. Fair deal, except you are supposed to be Hitler II without the “Thank you for the great work” cards.

I always had this feeling that Shakespeare was a great psychoanalyst. From Lear and Prospero to Shylock and Othello, his characters had it all. They were intense and fleshed out with passion by the bard. Take Julius Caesar as a study. The Senate was made up of ambitious men. They found Caesar standing between them and their ambition. Fuelled by envy they used the excuse of Caesar turning into an undisputable autocrat emperor to kill him. They led everyone to believe that they were doing it to restore the Republic. Mark Antony was deliberately kept away from Rome so that Caesar is bereft of his power and judgment. His popular speech upon returning to Rome is manipulative enough to provoke the minds of the plebs and turn them against the Senators. I heard it a hundred times in high school oratory competitions where everyone safely put their bets in this speech as a means to see themselves through the event (into which they were forced) and get back to their bleeding Irodov problems in General Physics. But the following lines are of significance here:

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

The good managers who take the fall due to their people management skills are like Caesar. They are put into the soup with the responsibility of service levels. They have to do with whatever talent is provided to them to get things done. They have to groom talent, manage timelines, maintain quality standards, ensure process control, deal with attrition, excuses, poor inputs, knowledge management…whoa time out! Somewhere in this, they fail to read the minds and play the parent adult child game. The subords are not ambitious like the senators. But much like them, they need a reason to vent their feelings. The real reason could be anything from incompetence to immaturity. It could be a genuine rant that they cannot articulate. It could be a mid career crisis, insecurity, monotony or a nasty peer’s seemingly innocent gossip about the state of affairs or even a case of envy. They cannot push it down. So they push it up. To the manager and all that supercedes him. The good manager is where the buck starts and stops. The good he has done goes underground. What remains is Hitler II. Appraisal time and the team managers come out dry cleaned. And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

It was when I went a level upwards and had managers under me that I realized the rules of the game I never saw before. My immediate subordinates were team managers now and took the shit . They understand what it means to be a boss and hence have better rapport with me than what their subords have with them. But I can always expect them to wake up like Neo any day and realize that someone above is treating them like a Duracell. The rise up the level also meant that I had a ringside view of the team vs. team lead. I had a personal sneak preview into each of their compulsions. I had an equal measure of both. I could now see the need for recognition, the thank you cards and all that little gestures that mattered to the masses. I also had a good understanding of what the poor team leads went through. But the trick was in balancing both. Having faced my boss complaining about my people’s skills, I did my best not to do a biased people skill measurement. After all we are not psychoanalysts. Eric Berne the psychiatrist who created transactional analysis had undergone two bitter divorces. So much for his whole parent adult child crap, he could not deal with two women! I use other methods but will not discuss it here. I leave it here for each of you to figure it out if you are in the same situation as I.

If you are a team leader, read Shakespeare. All the bard’s men have something to tell you. If you are planning to kick your manager’s posterior:

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason! Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me.