Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Global Warming, er, um, Globalisation!

A strange kind of ennui prevented me from blogging these few days. Apologies. The mind mulled over various posts I usually have swimming around in my mind, but didn’t focus on any one, as the faculties didn't co-operate with finger tips.

My guess, a wild one at that, is that the heat is to blame. Plus the humidity, the fluctuation between a chilly office and the stifling outside (43 degree C) among other things. There’s talk of swine flu and the joke is that during elections there are enough swine around to spread their kind of flu. Hmm. Today, in the train, a man standing near me was sweating so copiously that I had to take away my hand from his face, which kept inadvertently gravitating to my said appurtenance. Hell, the guy felt clammy and like his pores would split open with the deluge of sweat. Poor chap! And, he had closed his eyes and was mumbling some mantra, “sshhhhhwami, sssshhhhwami,” is all I could hear him say in a Southie accent. Maybe, the Gayatri Mantra.

Heard of global warming? A chappy in the office, actually a tech guy, said the other day that the heat is because of “globalisation”. I corrected him and said it was “global warming,” but then I am not too sure. Got me confused. How could “global warming” occur without “globalisation,” the process of sending toxic, ozone-depleting chemicals around the world?

Chlorofluro Carbons (CFCs) the toxic chemicals that deplete the ozone layer that protect us against the sun’s radiations have been at the centre of the global warming agenda. Phew! CFCs, which we think are quite harmless, are present in deodorants, refrigerator and air-conditioning cooling systems, and the developing nations were told to cut down totally on its use. However, nothing happened. The US, which was supposed to phase out CFCs totally by 2000 still smuggles 10,000 tonnes of CFCs according to this article . And the guy behind this smuggling racket is, yes, you guessed right, one H. Patel, an Indian. By exercising of my fading analytical faculties the CFCs must have also been made in India or China, future superpowers, which are also the backyard of all things chemical – both legal and illegal.

So when you are sweating it out, or freezing in your outsourcing unit (Outsourcers like the temperatures to be at freezing point, ergo, those cute, rounded girls with wraps and sweaters in the blazing heat! Been there, cuties, done that!) blame the babus and politicos who have turned their eyes off illegal CFC manufacture.

Or, better still, write to the Member of Parliament from your constituency and tell him to see that CFC phase out is strictly implemented.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Twitter, Facebook, and Lack of Morality!

Being an avid viewer of television and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Ryze, I am shocked, nay, slightly disturbed, to read the following news that appeared in Mumbai Mirror. Guess, I should cut down on these, for my own good. In another posting here I had talked of a digital-media-junkie reacting to the news of an earthquake with "How come it is not on Twitter?" We don't believe what's not on Twitter or Facebook. Reality comes to us not through our senses but through online media. Probably, quite reluctantly I must admit that this is part of the social de-sensitisation that I talked about in my blogpost here. If millions of people are de-sensitised thus, we would have no moral values left to judge what is right, moral, and just. We would be too dependent on our gatekeepers - social media - of a dubious nature. Everyday I open the newspapers to rapes kidnappings, robberies; what I don’t know is whether I have to blame it on the economic situation or the loss of moral values. But this incident where a gang of youths raped a US citizen after partying with her goes far beyond my understanding or reckoning. I have heard of date-rape but date-gangrape? I think it’s one of those queer things that happen only in India.

What triggered this thought is a news snippet that appeared in Mumbai Mirror of April 15, 2009: “TV, Twitter and Facebook might keep you socially happy in cyberspace but in real life, social networking sites can harm people’s moral values.”

The study was done at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California and suggest that digital media culture may be better suited some mental processes than others.

“The study used real-life stories to induce admiration and compassion in 13 volunteers. Brain imaging showed that they needed six to eight seconds to fully respond to stories of virtue or social pain.”

Said author Mary Helen Immordino-Yang,”For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection. If things are happening too fast, you may not even fully experience emotions about other people, and that would have implications for your morality.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why This Distrust of the Internet?

These days I spend two or three hours each day reading email. By reading I mean, I delete a lot of emails that come from Africa, written by women who say she is the heiress of a big diamond mine in Sierra Leone, and need me to come urgently to her country with a lot of cash to rescue her from a bad uncle who had killed her papa and embezzled all the cash. Then I cautiously open the mails, which I think, maybe, of some use and find that they are some scheme like the above and am disappointed at the time I wasted. I once lost some money being a member of a pyramid scheme which promised to make me a millionaire. You guessed right, the solicitation came from the net.

The result is: I don’t take the net seriously though I am addicted to it. I take everything I read on the net with, okay, I will use the clichĂ©, a pinch of salt. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my own writing here seriously, I do, but that’s my own, isn’t it? What I am trying to get across so circuitously is: why is it that though the net is a wonderful invention and is so full of potential to reach across, it is such a cesspool of credibility, a junkyard of wasted effort?

A friend, a dot com entrepreneur recently asked on Facebook “everyone knows its potential but no one wants to agree to use it.” I once worked for a dot com entrepreneur who made US $ four million a year selling products online but had to face overwhelming disputes with the payment gateway and had to close it down. I also worked for another dot com enterprise which project, billed as another Facebook (No, even better, because the company promised to make you money if you wrote things on its pages), actually, the project never took off and he lost around US $ ten million and nobody made any money except the employees.

The really successful companies on the net like Yahoo and Google have no customer interface at all. Whatever happened to the age-old wisdom of the customer being king? Facebook did some changes on its website which we all thought were arbitrary and, protest we did! It’s heartening that they listened and, rather reluctantly, have put the suggestions to vote. The result: the overwhelming majority is against the policies they implemented and for sweeping changes. At least Facebook listens!

I have been trying to get the attention of Google for an Adwords campaign I intend to do. I have dropped the cheque in their drop box in some bank’s office and, over a few months, am anxiously waiting for the account to reflect in my Adwords account. No luck. A bit disconsolate, if I click on the customer support section, I am directed and have to perforce scan several FAQ pages, the study of which doesn’t throw up any solution to my problem at all. Then I write my complaint in a text box and submit and wait another month. Along comes an email (a standard one) quite helpfully suggesting that I go to another section where I might get an answer to my question.

They don’t care for us down there in Mountain View. Quite bitterly, I am led to guess, that’s what internet success is all about and they are high on success. Still disconsolate I try to locate the office address of Google in India and write them a letter attaching the Xerox copy of the cheque I had sent, still there’s no reply.

The net is evolving; it is a phenomenon much unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Even comparing it with the advent print and publishing doesn’t seem appropriate because printed books weren’t really cheap and widely available in those days, as the net is nowadays. Should we therefore pause and rethink our strategies before running to launch dot com companies and websites? Well worth the thought.

En Passant...

The aspiring Prime Minister of India, known for his volubility, made an inadvertently hilarious play on words when he called Osama Bin Laden as Obama Bin Laden, not realising the faux pas. Agreed, it is only a substitution of one letter, but isn’t this a big gaffe for the PM-in-waiting who would have to meet Obama if he is prime minister? Agreed, in India it’s Chalta Hai. What if he refers to him as Osama once again in an international forum? An aide had to send him a note pointing out this gaffe when he said, “I seem to have made a mistake...” meaning he hadn’t even realised that he had made a mistake.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Vagaries of Language

“Let’s get together. Let us see what we want from each other,” the heavily South-Indian-accented voice says.

She works for a desi-owned dot com and is trying to sell me space on her website and I am in no position to buy, what with recession cutting a swathe through the economies of business. So I stall and make the usual excuses, “no budget,” “no plans,” after all, who has money to advertise in a recession.

But what caught me dead on my tracks on a busy day is the accent. I can hardly understand her, as the South-Indian voice is heavily influenced by an American hangover, maybe picked up from too much watching Hollywood movies. She is deliberately rolling the “aaazzhhs” and affecting what she thinks is an American accent. Poor thing, she hasn’t heard her own voice, so she doesn’t know how laughable she sounds.

“Let’s get our priorities right, y’knowwwww,” again the heavy accent, embellished by artificial overtones, there’s an irritating dragging at the end of each sentence (as if a train is screeching to a halt), and a shortening of vowels (much unlike the South Indian tendency to amplify each vowel like an elastic band). I say “yes, yes, yes” several times but don’t understand anything except a few words here and there:

“Gauge your requirements...”

“Assess functionalities...”

“Make proposal...”

“Execute... deliver....”

All these taken in the light of the opening sentence gives a very skewed and distorted picture to a male mind (no matter, though, that I am beyond my prime.). Next thought: is she some kind of nympho?

If this is what call centres are training their employees for, then god forbid customer support.

En Passant....

Read in tabloid dated April 17, 2009: “Raped American Drink Not Spiked.” What the heck is an American that can be raped? Hmmm... classic case study for Lynn Truss, I guess; she of the “Eats, shoots and Leaves” fame. Ah the vagaries of language.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Don’t Let the Sun Set on Your Anger, Just Go to Sleep!

You tend to doze in front of the idiot box, barely watching the movie, name of which eludes you, is it “What lies beneath” or “Zodiac” or “Code Red” or what? Things blur. The sub-titles are hazy, you turn to your laptop and idly surf the internet just staring at the pages and cursing the net speed, you desperately keep your eyelids from closing while you type your blog post, you do your best to keep your nose off the computer screen and to keep the head from smashing into they keyboard, you take deep breathes and say “I will go to bed in a few minutes, this is the last,” but you linger on, not having the strength to drag yourself to the bedroom. Then you sit some more and sleep leaves you, you are fully awake and in a zone I call “dazed-and-dozing” where productivity is at a nadir and you make a lot of mistakes, simple sentences take hours to form, simple words seem to dance in your head but don’t travel down to your finger tips, you go from channel to channel, from site to site and wonder, “God, what’s all this stuff,” you are tuned out, done in, you are exhausted but can’t find rest, you are the epitome of fatigue and when you drop into your bed, you can’t sleep.

That was me a few weeks ago, and I was blaming the recession, the economy, global warming, the politicians, the media, the works!

A week ago I decided to go to bed early and get up early, just to break the monotony, break the pattern that I was falling into. Hmm... let’s see if the “early to bed...” maxim holds. I went to sleep at 10.30 p.m. slept soundly when sleep is at its strongest and found that I woke up naturally at 6.30 a.m. I surf a bit and found the speeds much better, even start this blog post (see, not many mistakes!). I do the morning rituals, take a bath, read the papers and catch the 8.08 a.m. Belapur local and lo and behold! get a window seat, which is an impossible feat around 8.45 a.m. and am in the office in time. (Earlier, I used to stand all the way to work and it made me irritated being pressed against so many hot sweating bodies, and would reach the office like a wet and fuming rag.) I have coffee at the CafĂ© Coffee Day at VT and read Outlook and a newspaper. I am more tolerant and I find I can concentrate better in the work; at least, I don’t have any irrational fears, and am sailing smoothly. I read two newspapers and a magazine, amazing! My, God! I didn’t realise how I could make time for all this.

Now for making this into a habit. I guess a lot of our problems centres around our inability to sleep on time. People don’t let the sun set on your anger, just go to sleep. I am not blaming politicians and the media anymore. I know, I know, they are doing their job, and if they don’t, they will get the fat end of the stick in their backsides. Look what happened to Jagdish T.

In the mean time, where’s that manuscript of mine that needs editing? Where’s the unfinished novel that has been gathering pixel-dust in some corner of my computer? Where’s the travelogue I need to polish to the finest texture of the craft of an Ibn Batuta or a Fa Hien?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Zeitgeist, They Say!

Got a few lakhs lying around? Invest in the stock market! Before you get a fairly long and sturdy stick to whup my ass with, let me say this: the market is not going to bottom, at least this much, anymore. I will not forget the chance I had to pick up Larsen & Toubro at around Rs 500 and today it’s around Rs 800. How much would I have gained? Sixty per cent in a few weeks. If I had invested a lakh I would have earned Rs 60,000 without doing anything at all and that too in a stock with little downward risk. Looks good enough? Where else can you get such appreciation in such a short while?

Markets are never bad. Wise investors, the sort who watch the market and play according to rules still make money in the market. Ask Warren Buffet. He is the one who said "When the market is all ecstatic, sell, and when the market is weeping over spilled shares and debentures, buy."

Robert Shiller has written a thought provoking book in Irrational Exuberance. His basic theory is that during a bubble “people who communicate regularly with one another think similarly. There is at any place and in any time a zeitgeist, a spirit of the times. So if everybody around is investing in the stock market, the tendency for potential investor is to do the same. Like sheep in a herd, investors in a bull run find it cozy to be inside the herd rather than outside it.”

Except that now people are shy of the market and whatever communication there is is: “don’t buy!” One is so scared, ones pants are still yellow after the ride in the bullock cart that the market felt like in the past few months. But if you have a few lakhs lying idle in the bank this would be the right time to invest. However, I wouldn’t bet my last lakh of rupees on this. So take this piece of high-falutin, irrational wisdom with a pinch of salt.

Zeitgeist, they say, is all wrong!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hypocrisy in Online Forums!

Of the many forums I am a member a fight is brewing in a forum of writers discussing books and authors, and as is expected the exchanges are nothing short of vituperative and virulent. One of them goes something like this:

"And yet because you are a member of this list we respond to your posts out of kindness and generosity without calling you names or labeling you silly and graceless. in other words we are showing more grace than you do."

Great! In such circumstance (of which I have seen many, and been in the midst of several, skirmishes, if I may call it that) everyone pretends to be generous, kind, graceful and the most tolerant. All very good qualities, doubtless. Maybe, a bit pretentious. But then why do you not exhibit these qualities? I think there's a basic hypocrisy here.

If we all pretend to be such paragons of virtue as generosity, grace, kindness then please, please, puhleezeee people exhibit those characteristics instead of just talking idly about it on your well-padded seats in well appointed (I presume) apartments.

Methinks we are so disgusted with our lives on terra firma that we desperately need to live another life to show that, no, we are actually good and believe in fairness, justice, kindness and generosity, qualities we would love to be known to possess. But life gets in the way of all our designs on life and we become hardened cynics. Therein lies the hypocrisy.

What say?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Technical Mumbo Jumbo!

In my profession of providing content to corporates there's a lot of jargon which keeps being duplicated without thought. I would like to point out one such instance here....

In our partnership with these prestigious organizations, xxxxxxx delivers workflow and knowledge support [hmm...] to smooth “handoffs” [hands off?] between physicians, nurses, managers and other members of the healthcare team. [Hmmmmpppppp...] We help bring them the pertinent evidence-based content [what's that?] and patient-specific information they need — anytime, anywhere, on virtually any computer device [can't believe this] — to make the best-possible decisions for each patient.

Guess brevity is not a virtue for corporate content providers. In fact, Anthonybhai would be offended. "What's all this bullshit men, what "handoff", you, tho, men, are the limit men, sachi, no?"

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Bit Wobbly... I Am Off to Bed....

A bit indisposed, guess it is something I ate, so a short takes today, as I have this urge to lie down and sleep which I am fighting, you know, it’s been a hard day’s night and all that.... Also the heat is taking its toll. I feel dehydrated all the time. So here goes:

I am not boasting okay, so don’t take it amiss. I don’t believe in idle protests which get me nowhere so I take my issues with the biggest people in the land, i.e., ministers, general managers, directors, secretaries and the like. Sometime back I had written to Lalloo Yadav regarding the badly maintained rakes in Mumbai and here’s my blog report.

Subsequent to this I got a reply from the Western Railway which is reproduced in the above post. Since I hadn’t heard from Central Railway on which I travel most of the time I wrote again to the minister with a copy to the general manager of Central Railway.

Imagine my surprise when a few days back I rode on a new rake (usually the rakes are very old) on the central railway on my way to work. Also the seats in the other compartments are being overhauled, new seats are replacing the old sagging ones, things are improving.

No, no, no, people, I am not boasting, it feels good to be a part of some change, at least. I did my bit instead of hanging my head and doing nothing.

En Passant....

We Indians are notorious for our disobedience of queues. I take great pains to see that there’s a proper queue at CBD Belapur rickshaw stand every night when I return from work. But people won’t obey my flustered waving. They prefer to stand in a zig-zagging line which clearly intercepts a road that leads to the station, and, obviously, when a vehicle comes across, they have to break the queue and the queue goes for a toss and is a huddling mass of people. So anything goes.

I get dirty looks when I try to organise the queue and today an amply-endowed South Indian Mami said to her bespectacled husband, “Pakrango, queue-il nilkan solrae,” or, something such (my Tamil is bad, no, in fact, horrible). Harmless statement this but the look said it all. The ample Mami was holding up the entire traffic and the Mama was struggling with the bags. But still they wouldn’t observe queue rules. My story on queues is here.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Migrant and Outsourced Ones!

I saw a great movie yesterday, named "Primeval,” really scary, too. In it an actor, an African-American says, “Man, anything you do to get out of Africa is a good thing.” Really?

Now HBO and Star Movies have English sub-titles and that’s a good thing. A lot of things are clearer, and you have a better sense of the plot and what’s happening. Earlier I didn't understand Hollywood movies, all that very much, I confess. Most importantly, regardless of what is happening around you (the pre-dinner maelstrom of son’s tantrums, hunger pangs, phone calls, raucous children outside), you can understand what’s going on on television. Sub-titling, I feel, is better than dubbing Hollywood movies into Hindi. Movie watching is a pleasure. Thanks, mucho!

But, I digress. Where was I? Yeah. This character, an expatriate African, used to the good life is really so repulsed by what’s happening in his home continent that he says “getting out” is a “good thing.” Do our own NRIs also feel that way? Having been an NRI for a brief while (one year actually, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia) I can understand the feeling very well! When I got back, it was as if I had entered a strange distant planet peopled by the great unwashed multitudes who travel in crammed trains and buses. But I wonder why I haven't immigrated again, why I stuck to India.

The reason is not far to seek. Today I was in a train compartment so full of people that due partly to the closely packed bodies and because of the oppressive heat everyone was sweating. And no one was complaining. In Europe, Americas, why even Africa, people would have killed each other if they were cooped up in such narrow spaces. But here we adjust, and we compromise, we aren’t welcoming of change, so much so that we hold on to our chicken coop mentality so well described in Adiga’s “White Tiger”. (In Kerala it’s common for chicken thieves to pour water over chicken in the night, which make them docile and silent, before abducting them. Only difference is that in India it’s sweat, not water that people are washed with.) If anything goes wrong, even if terrorists attack us, or the floods wash over us, we "adjust" and go on as if nothing happened. No it isn't the great bounce-back-to-normal spirit as much as the lack-of-viable-alternatives that is behind this.

En Passant

Recently with the coming of outsourcing centres, I guess the world is doing business the Indian way, more than India doing business their way, or the international way. Another movie I saw recently was “Outsourced” (Ayesha Dharkar is fantabulous!) which does portray an outsourcing unit with some semblance of truth.