Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rush Hour III

It is four in the afternoon. The heat and humidity were stifling and the smoke and dust were suffocating. The roar of hundred engines revving up simultaneously hurt my ears. And then without warning, everyone took off in what looked like a free style obstacle race. There were no rules to hold you down. You can cut your competitors off or nudge them out of your way or just push the pedal to the floor and keep it there. The safest position is at the head of the pack and we were right there. From there you get an unobstructed view of the approaching bumps, potholes and puddles or whatever obstacle that happened to lay ahead.

The wind rushing thru the glassless window, the constant jostling over the bumps and the near misses quickly converted me back to religion. Our muscles were taut with tension and minds stayed focused as we closed in. I could feel the speed pick up significantly and I could see others racing straight at us from the all sides, also determined to be the first to reach that invisible finish line. It was quite clear that this was no longer a matter of routine, but instead, the battle lines had been drawn and everyone’s prestige was at stake. One false move here would surely result in a ride to the emergency room, but that was apparently the farthest from anyone’s mind – except mine.

And then as suddenly as it had begun it all came to an end. Our driver managed to slide past the other three – each one of them many times our size. As it happened, the other drivers blinked first and came to a screeching halt just inches from where we passed them by. If a crash did not kill us, the looks from the other drivers certainly did, but our triumphant driver conveniently ignored them, as though nothing had happened. With a contented sigh he eased back on the pedal while I grabbed that moment to get my breath back. 

 If you thought I was describing an obstacle course auto racing event, I must apologize for having misled you. These were but a few light moments captured during an approach to a busy intersection, on a major highway in India. The three wheeled auto in which I was riding is an extremely unstable light bodied auto-rickshaw competing for the same road space with a passenger bus, a monster truck and a motor cycle (I am discounting all pedestrians, cycle riders, cows and pigs also sharing the road, of course) And if you are thinking of highly dangerous speeds, we were only doing 35 mph at the most, whenever the city roads allowed that at all, but none the less treacherous and unpredictable. Looking back, safely ensconced in my chair at home, I can write about it in good humor

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Baby Shock

I was rummaging through my digital archives (its amazing that we had intranet emails way back then in 1991) and dug up some old stuff that I found to be quite fascinating and makes me thankful that those days are over. This one, I distinctly recall, was keyed in frustration, after a sleepless night with a restless baby and sent out to my colleagues first thing in the morning, in 1991. The baby in the article is my son, who is now a full grown 6 feet tall pitcher for his high school baseball team. I am sure many of the young readers will relate to it, even today.

Here is the posting. Please remember that this was addressed to my friends and colleagues.

Distinguished readers - I present you, Baby Shock..

I'm sure everyone of you have heard about electric shock, culture shock, future shock, (*) shock etc., but I must tell you that what I'm currently going through is what the scientists call Baby Shock. It's a relatively new concept and they say there is'nt much physical evidence to go on. But ask me. Physical evidence, my foot, ouuch!!! That hurt.

Well, you see, it all begins when I get back home after an extremely hard day’s work – which is almost every day. After the hectic commute, I finally droop into my house – or whatever that is left of it, I should say, and what do I see. It’s a dirty sight. Stuff lying all over the place. Ever heard of the saying – there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. Well, here it is more apt to say that this place is for everything and much more. Newspaper is all rustled up and lying in pieces all over the carpet. Sports section, in particular was soggy and in tatters. I was just planning to read about the astounding Braves victory. Combs, napkins, facial tissues, bottles, cups with spoons included and pieces of food on everything – sofa, walls, tables, carpet and on the towel which was hung shabbily over the new Braves poster on the wall. And amidst all this chaos, peering painfully through his bright eyes, just his beautiful face showing, was the baby, with the rest of his body somewhere under the sofa. I looked at him, he smiled back at me, and then with a glare, which I immediately understood, he turned towards Mrs. Mother. Taking the hint, I too looked at her.

Mrs. Mother was an even uglier sight. Hair in disarray, clothes all crumpled, food wet & dry all over her body, hair and face too. “Why does’nt she use a napkin while having her lunch?” – were my first thoughts. The kitchen looked even dirtier, with dirty plates and glasses as though the kitchen and Mrs. Mother both needed to be put in the dishwasher along with all other dishes thrown around the place. There was a whine from under the sofa and I realized the poor thing wanted to be rescued. So, deciding to straighten things up, I picked up the baby from his makeshift shelter and then glaring at Mrs. Mother, I asked her pointedly…

“How could you?…” waving my hand around the place.

He would not let me….” Was the mumble that I got, pointing at the precious baby. But there was just an innocent smile from him.

“What about the kitchen? it’s unhygienic” I persisted.

“Never could get down to it. You see, he……”

Again, that innocent smile. I could’nt believe this slander and combing his ruffled hair gently with my hand, I demanded

“At least you could have taken a shower, yourself” pointing to her shabby appearance.

“….tried, but you see, he began screaming and …..”

Again that smile, now purring gently and rubbing his head against my chin.

“Now, don’t tell me that you could’nt eat your lunch without throwing it all over yourself and the table, because of him” I asked, my temper rising.

Have’nt yet had my lunch. Just managed some juices.” Was the answer, again pointing at the poor child. This time there was a protest and a desperate request for petting, which I promptly did and put the baby back at ease, reassuring him that I was on his side. He smiled back gratefully.

And then I turned towards Mrs. Mother and admonishing her for this open slander, I said “All right, why don’t you just go and clean yourself up, while I straighten things up back here. And please stop blaming the defenseless baby for your own shortcomings”.

She vanished immediately into the bathroom, with a sigh of relief and a sympathetic “tut, tut”, which I attributed to lack of manners. Brushing aside the insult, I gently placed the precious baby down on the carpet and strode purposefully towards the kitchen.

At first, there was a slight tremor and then with increasing crescendo, an ear piercing “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa……” continued right thru the night into the early morning.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Penny Wise Bargain Sale

Once upon a time, somewhere between Atlanta and Tallahassee, in the farming belt of South Georgia, lived a successful farmer by the name of Farmer Jack. He grew everything that grew, and sold everything that sold. In the process, he made a lot of money and into this moneyed world came his sweet obedient daughter called Penny.

Now, during Penny's 16th summer, she informs dad that she wants to start a business on her own. "Here Penny, take this million dollars and do what you please with it—and if you get hungry spending it, here's an apple, the best of the day's pick," said the doting dad. "Thanks, Pa," was Penny's reply.

Now, although Penny was a farm girl, she knew about the Internet. Being an entrepreneur like her dad, she decided to sell her prize apple on the 'Net. The only thing she needed now was for someone to build her one of those things called a Website.

Having heard the latest buzz about off-shoring, Penny knew about Indian software programmers. And the object of her entrepreneurial attention not only fit that description well, but turned out to be a really smart old gizzard named Vish.

"Vish, can you build me a Website to sell this apple?" asked Penny.
Not one to turn down business offers, Vish said, "Sure thing, Penny—but it will cost you some."
"Here's a million dollars and that's all I got."
"But Penny, I don't need that much," said honest Vish.
"Well, do what you want with it—but build me a Website to sell my apple," said Penny, and off she went to play with her cows.

Being conscientious and truthful, Vish promised himself to give Penny her money's worth. His pockets brimming with money, and eyes glazed with visions of a powerful portal, he quickly assembled his team of analysts, designers, graphic artists, architects, and programmers. Then he gave them their marching orders—"Build me a portal, one like no other on the 'Net!" and sent them off to huddle over their monitors.

Soon enough, Vish reported to Penny "Here are the Vision and Requirements documents." "Vish, what is all this about a robust and scalable portal on a configurable and federated framework? I don't see any mention of my apple or the Website!"
"Not to worry. This is much bigger than a single Webpage with an apple on it. You can buy your fertilizers and your equipment through it, and sell your apples and potatoes too, all while keeping track of how much money you make and what you owe the taxman." "Whatever! Vish, as long as I am able to sell that apple I am fine." And off went Penny to play with her chickens.

Not much later, Vish showed Penny the Use Case Diagrams, and the use cases with the actors and the scenarios for cataloging the products, searching for matches, making payments, and processing the orders.

Not having read as much paper during all of her school days, Penny pleaded miserably, "Vish, do you have to show me all these to build the Website?" "Well, it's the standard process, Penny. We need your buy-in on "what" we are building. It ensures you get what you want." "Well, I don't understand all this, but if you say that there is place for the apple and the Website—I have no problems."

Next, Vish's designers showed Penny the object model and the screen mockups and report layouts and the database schema.

"Remember last time, when we showed you the "what." This is the "how" we are building the portal." Losing her patience, Penny whined, "Vish, all I see here is product, order, customer, price and notification, but no apple! Speaking of which, I can't hold on to it any more. I better sell it today or eat it!!" "That's taken care of. Here, take a look. The whole apple-buying world is looking at a picture of your apple online. And look, here are some orders too—pick an order and ship your apple, Penny." "WOW! That was fast. I'm off to my daddy to tell him my success story" And off she went to play with her horses.

Yet relentless Vish and his team plodded on, and finally after a sleepless month they had all the rest of Penny's portal completely ready. They called the site "Penny Wise Bargain Sale." Satisfied that they had delivered what Penny wanted and built what she paid for, the team went home for a well-deserved rest.

But just as I was putting the finishing touches to this fairy tale and turning in for the night, the phone in Vish's bedroom rang—and who do you think was on the line?

"Hey Vish, this is Farmer Jack."
"Good evening, what can I do for you?"
"I hear from Penny how you sold her apple without ever going to the market. Was wondering if you could help me sell my apples and oranges, potatoes and tomatoes, corn and cotton, too."
"Farmer Jack, you are all set to go. Penny's portal can handle all of that and more."
"Really? Great! Just one more thing, Vish. The company I purchase all my fertilizer and feed from, and the meat-packing company I sell my cattle to—they want to do business with me on a computer, they call it some goat exchange or something. Can you build that too? I'll pay you handsomely."
"What they are talking about is Electronic Data Exchange and it's already built into the portal, Farmer Jack. What's more, your Penny has paid for all that."
"Now, isn't that something? I knew Penny had more brains than she cared to show—but this sure beats everything. It's time for me to turn over my business to Penny, and maybe you should think about working for her. And good night, Vish."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Information Free For All

As a kid growing up in Bombay, it never occurred to me that lightning can strike anyone living in a city. I used to imagine that the city builders normally protected us from such eventualities. It was my firm belief that great scientists, thinkers, and statesmen around the world were incessantly and proactively working towards eradicating diseases and other evils. I never thought that people would even conceive of building things that could wipe out humanity.

All the stories from all the history books consistently portrayed the same heroic picture of the great leaders of the great societiesnever undermining their stature or achievements, and I grew up with a burning desire to emulate them. To me, Edison was a great inventor, not a ruthless businessman or a relentless taskmaster. I always regarded Nehru as a pundit and a statesman, and did not know him to be a dancing Romeo with personal political agendas.

As children we lived in an appropriately sheltered world, filled with noble ideals. Our minds were shielded and protected from corrupt and negative thoughts, left to harness their powers for one purpose only
that of expanding our intellectual horizons. Then was not the time to find out that leaders were also politicians with fallible personalities. Or to learn that all you must do to destroy humanity is learn chemistry well.

Information and knowledge was dispensed via a narrow and safe channel, controlled by people of great integrity whose sole responsibility was to ensure the quality and appropriateness of the information. Yes, there were occasions when that responsibility was undermined or even abused
but then, there was always the option to change the "channel"so to speak. In other words, knowledge and information were institutionalized.

This is not to say that bad things did not happen
but when they did happen, their effect was localized. Only the good and noble aspects of the bad events like World Wars, slavery and partition were related in the school history books, so that unless they happened in one's own backyard, one was not negatively impacted by them.

But now, information is instantaneous and free. In this age, information meant for mature audiences is also available to children in its raw, native form. We (and our children) are simultaneously finding out that the political and corporate leaders entrusted with great responsibilities are in fact undermining them. People are faced with making rushed decisions based on the flood of instant information at their fingertips. The dot-com bubble, the stock market frenzy of the 90's, the recent corporate scandals, and the current global outsourcing initiatives can all be linked to that one single ailment
information overload. Strategies are based on information, numbers, and imitation rather than on ideologies or thoughtfully conceived plans. Results are measured in percentages and days, rather than in terms of impact and values generated and studied over a period of time. In short, information is run amuck. What was supposed to alleviate our problems has become the root cause for irresponsible and unaccountable behaviors from children and leaders alike.

The popularity of MySpace, FaceBook and YouTube has opened up the concept of "user generated content" from the keyboards of the accomplished writers to our computer literate teenagers.

The onus of managing and relaying information has slipped from institutions and rests squarely on the individual
but no one has realized it yet. Instead of taking the printed word or video image at its face value, everyone from leaders, teachers, and parents must find a respectable way of filtering the good from the bad. If censoring was the trusted means to manage information in the old days, mentoring should be the new way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

A struggle that need not be..

Another one of my blogs - taken from the AlwaysOn postings of a few years back. A must see movie for everyone The March of the Penguins rekindles a profound introspection of our role in nature

Yesterday, my family got together to watch the March of the Penguins. My 9 year old daughter had been recommending this movie for a long time and finally, she managed to ambush our schedules to make this happen. It’s a poignant movie about the Emperor Penguins and their fight for survival against great odds to mate, breed and raise their new hatchlings.

For those of you who have not seen this movie, it is about the 70 mile march that the Emperor Penguins have to make between their breeding place and their feeding place. They go thru this march about 3 to 4 times during a period of 5 months and it is agonizingly painful and hazardous for the entire penguin family. They have to do this, because, the breeding places need to be far from where their predators live – which also happens to be the Emperor Penguins’ feeding place. More importantly, they need to breed and raise their chicks on significantly thicker ice shelves, which would not give way during 9 months of the breeding and rearing season. The depressing part about this movie is that the life and death issues faced by these Emperor Penguins are issues that have already been overcome by us, the humans, using modern technology. And yet, we stand there watching in awe and pity while these poor creatures have to suffer thru this harrowing period, just to procreate and advance life. For the most part of the breeding, the Penguins have to protect the egg initially and the chick later, from the freezing cold by nesting it between the top of their feet and the bottom of their belly for 4 months. They huddle and shuffle in this extremely delicate position, thru biting blizzards with 100 mph winds and temperatures well below freezing, fully aware that one small slip would put all the hard work and the big march itself, to waste. Add starvation for 4 months and the misery is complete.

Just as an example, here are two issues that the Emperor Penguins have to face that we as humans have overcome with technology:
1. It no longer takes us or our pets, 7 days and nights to travel 70 miles.
2. From conception to delivery, our own babies and their mothers are continually protected from natural calamities, artificially if required, using modern techniques and appliances.

I think it is about time that we took an active role in helping these and other co-habitants on planet earth with our advanced technology, in overcoming specific crisis situations. In this specific instance, while we are already there producing the movie, how about providing the parent penguins with better shelters during the incubation and hatching periods, that would better their chances of survival from 60% to 95% or better.
We have already influenced the weather patterns by releasing tons of chemicals into the atmosphere that could possibly destroy their breeding grounds forever, by thinning the ice shelves considerably. We have impacted the livelihood of many other species by our deforestation and reforestation, by oil drills and oil slicks, by our dams and our canals, with our nuclear tests and smoking chimneys, from our zoos and domesticated pets to pesticides and fertilizers, from the antibiotics to the heart-lung machine and the list goes on. So let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that we are not altering nature or the habitats of other organisms on the planet. Why not try to find a balance between the extremes of being good Samaritans and nature police. Look at what we do when faced with natural disasters, ourselves. Take New Orleans, for instance. Everyone knows that it does not make any sense in rebuilding it after the Katrina flooded the city – but yet we don’t think twice about spending billions of dollars reconstructing a city which is guaranteed to be evacuated every other hurricane season and carries 10% risk of getting flooded again by another major storm.

When science led us to cloning, we had already crossed the line between being humans and playing god. Then let’s stop pretending that we are not and instead use that power to better the lives of other species that share this planet with us. When they start to threaten our own existence we could get rid of them, the same way we respond when threatened by our own species, anyway. And instead of treating every good Samaritan act as interference, lets see them as another man made accident, like say, an oil slick caused by an oil tanker near their feeding grounds that will kill them and the fish that they feed on. Oh! but that’s not interference, is it? It’s just another accident while going about our business, as usual. When we rarely have second thoughts at clearing out the flora and fauna for our conveniences why deliberate so much when it comes to saving them?