Thursday, August 13, 2015

Books I have read recently - #4

On Writing - Stephen King:
Its not everyday that a writer opens up his toolbox, picks every tool and shows you how to use them. Its not like I am going to be a writer after reading this. But this inside scoop is as inside as it gets. And baring all, not “IPR”ing out shows Stephen King’s confidence. I found the entire manifesto fascinating. I am grateful for the crash course!

Dead Zone - Stephen King:
I read this book closely following the above book. As a result it was the experience of riding two horses at once. One horse was the examination of each tool from the tool box and how it was utilized in the making of the book. The other horse was what took me on the ride and allowed me to experience the terrain for what it was. It was strenuous at first but the experience settled. I found the story interesting but it was boring in patches. The significance for me has been reading it in the context of the earlier book. Writing is hard work and I was able to appreciate and infer the back work that goes into making the final draft.

Tripwire - Lee Child:
My third Jack Reacher novel. This one reads almost like life has caught up with Jack Reacher. We see him faltering and rusty with his instincts. It takes his lover to put him on track many times. The novel grips you and doesn’t let go till you finish it. Lee Child has a way with words. Very complicated situations get said in easy sentences. Like a snake crawling through tricky spots owing to its nimbleness. I wish they make more Reacher movies. Tom Cruise sort of screwed it up by starring himself in the first one. The problem was not his acting. Despite being over a foot short than the book character, he was able to portray the gruff and touch drifter with considerable authenticity. The problem is that owing to his star status, he can do only so many movies in a year and it doesn’t look like this character is a priority. The Reacher novels have a big advantage in that the original author is still reeling them out unlike say the Bourne series. We already have over 15 of these. Hollywood needs to do a reboot of the Reacher series and make a solid person star here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Imitation Game

Who said that suspense films need a murder or corresponding eeriness to go with them?

Those thirty seconds where the turing machine ticks in that pivotal scene and the matching background music. There was a third layer to that - my heartbeat.

And Mr. Cumberbatch - is he the some actor who did the majestic Sherlock? Excellent! His utter lack of comprehension for humor and sarcasm reminded me of Sheldon Cooper. Only it wasn’t funny here.

The last ten minutes were heartbreaking. It was more irksome when I got to know about the “royal pardon” he received in 2013. How presumptuous! It must have been a “royal apology”. Get it right at least now. Way to pay back your heroes Britain!

More importantly, we need to realize that at each point in time and as a consequence history, our actions are governed by our levels of evolution then. We can see several examples. Slavery in the 19th century, The two world wars in the early 20th century, utter (legally endorsed) racism as late as 1960-70. What happened to Alan Turing is another example.

We would do well to learn from our examples from the past. I suggest we think about fifty years ahead, infer our evolutionary scale then, and put those changes in place now.

May I suggest the following?

* Apologize for climate change denial and look for renewable sources on war footing
* Acknowledge that population explosion is a problem, fix the revised target as 1B and get there in 50 years
* Assure people that no more forests will be cut and that paper will be made from hemp instead
* Make organic the defacto instead of the premium alternative
* Stop torturing animals to get your meat

Once you’re done, I will guide you with next steps!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mary Kom

In our nation, we have a certain blindness. Let’s call it cricket blindness. That is not to say we are blind to cricket. But the other way around. Our love for cricket blinds everything else.

It is this selective love that keeps other sports stunted in the nation. If you go back three decades, our victory in the 1983 cricket world cup was a miracle. Its not to say we didn’t deserve it. But something clicked at the right moment to turn the tide in our favor. That day could have been another world cup down the drain for us.

But once we won the world cup, a certain frisson caught us and our cricket fever has lived on though the team’s performance has been variable. Other sports have not had this major luck. Coupled with indifferent sports bureau’s in the nation, we seem to be just going through the motions.

Mary Kom has been three times world champion in boxing. Yet I got to know about her only because of the movie. Her story is a classic example of succeeding against extreme odds - fueled just by her love for boxing. Her second championship victory came against extreme official and personal difficulties. She was a mother of two and was on the verge of losing one of them. She then defended her title once after that.

Some of the things she went through professionally because of bureaucratic politics made me very sad. Agreed, she had some character traits she could have tempered - but that doesn’t validate the treatment she received. When the players put the nation first before everything, at least the administration should do their job and not make things harder. I wonder how players from other fields feel when the see our cricketers being pampered with money. There’s one dialogue in the movie where Mary Kom tells the IAFB chief - “we will with the help of your tea and banana’s”. Really? Is that the kind of support they get?

About the movie - Priyanka Chopra’s performance was excellent. Barring just one or two scenes, her personality had vanished and just the character’s personality was shining through.

On a related note - I love the promos for Kabaddi going on Star. Big B and Salman promoting the game, the theme song and the other promos. This is the kind of revival for the other sports I am talking about!

Let’s build some solo tennis champs and a world class football team as well! While we’are at it, let’s work on a ping pong team and athletics as well. For all these, several things need to happen in terms of infrastructure, funds and all.

But as I see it, the core thing is to build a love for these games among the public in large. Star showed us how to do this successfully with Kabaddi. Why not take this forward for all sports!

Here’s wishing Mary Kom the best for her attempt to bag a boxing gold in Rio 2016!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I rode the metro in Chennai

Chennai gets its metro! I’ve been excited about the metro ever since Delhi had one. Bangalore followed suit later. The construction and execution at Chennai however has lumbered on for months. That’s typical of this city.

It is my opinion that if properly constructed, the metro will be the backbone of the city. Considering our population and congestion levels, we can survive in the future only with trains. Ask Mumbai! Even now, I think we’re a decade late. This infrastructure and planning needed a certain foresight which our leadership was and is lacking.

I won’t bicker more - I travelled the metro and I have been quite excited about it. There is an excitement in being suspended 100 ft above the ground watching the city pass by. Close your eyes and feel the place, you could be in Singapore or Tokyo! Yeay!

They got many things right. The design is clearly modeled on best practices from around the world. Perhaps closer home from Delhi’s lessons as well.

* Escalators to reach the steep top. The escalators flatten out for three steps before ascending. Very thoughtful! I’ve seen any number of people in malls who are scared to step into escalators because they can’t get the timing of their foot placement right. Here they can just walk into flat ground and they have an additional 1-2 seconds to get it. This will remove their fear of normal escalators as well.
* Restrooms in every station. But they’re very small and won’t sustain. They even kept a lifebuoy handwash in the restroom. Seriously - its a cute thing to start with but it won’t sustain.
* The stations are VERY SPACIOUS. This is true considering the future growth as well.
* Detailed local map surrounding a 2 km radius of that station
* Lady driver! Extra points for not publicizing. This needs to be the norm
* Spic and span stations and train. We’re just starting out. This is one thing we can and should sustain. But alas… I will keep my hopes tempered
* Fully automated and digital turnstiles - we could be walking in Singapore
* The guidance from boarding to disembarkation is all automated including telling which sides the doors will open and close. Very neat!
* A big thank you for letting people use their mobiles for photographs and videos in and around the trains. It would have been easy to make a fuss about security. I could see so many excited (yours truly included) with selfies, videos and groupies.
* Premium class is priced at 2x instead of the ridiculous 10x at the other lines. Those first class tickets are mainly used by railway staff. But for the metro, the premium class is sort of redundant to start with. The regular coaches feel like premium. When have we ever traveled in AC on a local train?
* They cover two arterial roads - mount road and 100 feet road
* Smart card usage is built into the entire system. The current vending machines at the other suburbans are languishing. I’ve tried hard (and in vain) to get a new smart card there. Even if I had, the vending machines don’t work at many places. Contrast with Mumbai - both getting a smart card and getting a ticket from the vending machines are a piece of cake. Add to it, the benefit of skipping queues.

* Airport station and CMBT stations take the coach right into the heart. Great!

There are few things they did not get right.

* Security checks are cliche! Is there a point to just do them here in the metros and not elsewhere? Also, if a 100 people come in will they all wait in queue for 30 minutes to finish the scanner? I am betting these will be abandoned. May be they will become namesake.
* The pilot route is too short. I agree in principle regarding opening with what you have instead of waiting longer. But it still is a case of too little too late.
* Cost is steep. Yes the project is costly but we need to balance it with usability as well. If people are going to pay 40 bucks for five stations one way, it becomes infeasible as a form of daily commute.
* The current plan doesn’t cover the city fully. Given our long delay in just conceiving something like this, I feel we should have gone all out. Bite the entire bullet in a go! There are critical parts of the city which can benefit from the metro
* They could have started with a preview period for a month where the journey could have been priced at 500 bucks. Give every traveler in this time window a “First to travel” star. It could have given some much needed publicity. I think this excitement is needed. If the looks on the travelers on the trains was anything to go by, this plan would have worked wonderfully. I guarantee, in the US, the marketing engine would have constructed an entire train with money from a “fit a screw into USA’s pride” campaign.

My wish list:

* We have the following lines including the metros:
    - Beach to Tambaram/Chengalpet
    - Beach to Velachery (extend this to mount so it meets the Tambaram line)
    - Central to Avadi / Arakkonam
    - Mount to Annanagar via Koyambedu (if this can meet the Avadi line somewhere…)
    - Washermanpet to Airport metro

    Please make everything metro like. Define intersection points between each line so anyone can travel the city just using the train. The current coverage will account for perhaps 70% of the city which is outstanding. It will also make auto wallahs use the meter! If this happens, the metro will be a tourist experience by itself. One can easily spend a day traveling the metro end to end.

* Conceive additional exchange points between lines. Hop skip and jump to a train on another lane!

* Extend the smart card to be usable in buses as well. We can start with ac buses. Be generous with discount on large recharges of smart cards. Win-win right?

* Actually railways is one area where there is a certain centralization available. Why not create ONE smart card for usage across any railway in India? The card is prepaid anyway, so there is no cheating possible. Allow people to book on IRCTC with this card as well. VISA can do it internationally, why can’t railways do it in India? Bring on RAILCARD!

* Create a culture where people value and nurture the system. It will be a shame if we let the machinery dwindle by itself with filth and neglect. The pricing is a first level cushion but it is not sufficient. We need to be strict with discipline.

All said and done - well begun is half done. We began ok, and we are nowhere near half done. But we are off the barracks! So - a thumbs up to the entire team. Make us proud!

Below is a 2 minute montage of my travel experience.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Maggi and the case of senseless promos

Finally, the 2-minute noodle pack is gone - for now at least.

I am happy about it. Mainly because the N-company is untrustworthy.

After all this, this is what they say:

The amino acid L-Glutamate is one of the most abundant and important amino acids of proteins. It is found in all foods that contain protein, such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish, and many vegetables. The natural flavour-enhancing levels of glutamate in food varies greatly, but are high in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, soy sauce and fish sauce.
Monosodium glutamate, abbreviated as MSG, was discovered more than a century ago by the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda, who gave this unique taste the name “umami”, the fifth taste beside sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Today, MSG is mostly produced by a natural fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make such common foods as beer, vinegar and yogurt.

Are MSG or glutamate unsafe?

None of the many scientific studies carried out over the last 30 years has shown a link between MSG intake and adverse reactions such as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. The international World Health Organisation / UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s evaluation committee, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee for Food and the United States Food and Drug Administration have affirmed that MSG is safe under common conditions of use.
There have been some concerns raised about the contribution of MSG to sodium intake via the diet. However, MSG contains only about one-third the amount of sodium as table salt (13 percent vs. 40 percent) and so where we use it in products, in combination with a small amount of table salt, MSG can help reduce the total amount of sodium in a recipe by 20% to 40%, while maintaining an enhanced flavor. The level of glutamate for example in MAGGI Noodles is around 0.2 g/100 g, which is close to the average level of glutamate measured in the same portion size of tomatoes or peas.
Tomatoes and Peas are not engineered by God to produce concentrated MSG taste impact. Despite all the outcry you will not say you won't add it / engineer it / manipulate the quantity. Instead you will post a lawyered response to all allegations? Seriously, is cash in pocket the only thing corporates care about?

Finally, actors and actresses should stop doing happy dances on TV promoting these products. I think the worst so far has been the deos that attract women. Taapsee looked like a smart woman. I was totally dejected seeing her as well on one of the deo ads.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

an attempt at leaving diary

I am no stranger to videos of animal cruelty. I also have no qualms admitting we as a race are messed up. If there is hell, we are collectively going there. What was protecting me was that I am vegetarian. It gave a certain cushion to the emotional blows about animal treatment.

However, I grew up on diary. Diary was very much a part of my lifestyle. Milk for tea and coffee, curd, butter milk, ghee, milk sweets - you name it. I won’t read much into the unsuitability of milk for the human body. If anything, my body probably mutated over the years to accommodate milk. But times HAVE changed. Thirty years ago, the milk came freshly milked from nearby cows.

Now cows are artificially impregnated. Hormone injected. Their calves separated and sent for veal production. Milking done with mechanical milkers. But then I knew all this as well. There was one photograph which really got to me. It was the sight of a cow whose udders where six-seven times the normal size. It was made that way by injecting hormones that do that to the cows. We are one depraved, messed up, beeping species. It feels very difficult to knowingly be part of this cycle. Finally - organic milk. The theory is good. But as a general thumb rule, do not trust corporates. Assume they would lie through their teeth unless proven otherwise.

So staying clear of the vegan label, because I feel there is a certain prudishness associated with being vegan, I am making an effort to avoid diary. Its not to say I won’t enjoy an occasional pizza or ice cream, but regular consumption will be avoided.

The real pinch comes with caffeine - because milk is an excellent base for holding tea or coffee. I tried black tea over the past few days. I expected to tolerate it, but surprisingly, it is far more refreshing than I expected it. It turns out that the quantity of tea required is lower with water than with milk, yet the tea tastes far more intense.

Another surprising aspect was that I feel a lot more gratitude towards cows after I skipped milk for the last few days than when I was consuming milk.

Friday, May 08, 2015

fruits and memories

It should be the sweetness of Alphonso that made my mood sweet as well. Otherwise bitter and quarrelsome with my brother, the season of Alphonso made me mellow. Looking carefully for the sweetest portion of the fruit, I would carefully cut off that portion to the extent my dexterity allowed and hand over the dripping fruit to him with a smile. Used to my bickering, the perplexity on his face as he devoured it eyeing me was a sight to behold!
Post note: The above scene never really happened. I ventured an attempt to write the bit for Aamras (paper boat drinks). I like the way they theme their product.
Post note 2: I was always petty and cruel to my brother! But the good thing was he didn't like fruits in general. So the Alphonso was entirely mine smile emoticon
Post note 3: Got served a mango for dinner today. Fruits and memories! Mangoes are proof we exist in heaven. (Apart from jack fruits and bananas)

Friday, January 09, 2015


I am trying to articulate exactly, the uneasiness with this movie. Let's take it from the top:

Is making a movie like this covered under freedom of speech? Check!
Does this movie articulate the truth - in general at least if not exactly? Check!

So what is the problem?

* First is the "conflict of interest" part of the lead. This should have been anticipated up front, but they went ahead an did it anyway. There is a reason why people in deliberation positions are not allowed to have a stake in the exact item on which they are deliberating. It applies here as well. By not addressing this honestly, they have expected unanimous trust towards Aamir. It did not happen, and they've weakened it further for future.

* Second is "intellectual integrity". I find that lacking here. Because one religion is picked for example. If all religions (Christianity for the aggressive conversions, Islam for the extreme extremism) had been picked up equally for dissection, it would have been of a different league all together. But it needs guts. They bailed and took the easy way out.

So do not hide behind "freedom of speech". You have all the freedom. But this movie is not honest! Sadly, it would have been a good movie otherwise.

PS: I however agree with one aspect. We as public have the annoying habit of asking for boycott of movies / giving police complaints and wasting court time whenever we find it offends sensitibilities. I feel once the censor board clears a movie, it onus is entirely on the board, not the movie makers. Courts should not entertain complaints on a movie thereafter. The censor board needs to be made more accountable. (Remember Vishwaroopam - it was unfair, what happened to Kamal). If we feel a movie isn't worth our time, money, sensibilities - hit them where it hurts, their wallet, by flopping the movie. Everything else just fuels publicity.
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