Disclaimer Generation

This is my opinion, based on my research and preferences. You should do your own, to figure out, yours.

I overheard a young man say this to his father last weekend. Somehow, it just stuck inside my mind, and kept coming back. Today morning, I thought about it a little more. I stepped back, and realised that, I do this too. With family, with friends, with colleagues, with everybody. Step back yourself, and think for just a minute, on how you respond, when someone asks you for an opinion.

We are currently a generation, which gives opinions and recommendations, only with disclaimers. We are afraid of telling it as what it is. We are afraid of people coming back and saying – “you said so.”. I don’t remember it being so hesitant, when I was growing up. There are so many things, that I have done, because I trusted someone’s opinion, went to them, asked for the opinion, and just did exactly this.

Now, where am I coming to, with this? Is this a bad thing? Probably not. The newer generation is becoming more aware. They are making more informed decisions. However, I am just a little sad, that the trust factor is diminishing. Every time, I say, “This is my opinion, you should also do your checks”, it kind of feels like, I am washing it off of me.

What do you guys think?

Don’t do their work!

–Rant alert–

I have ranted a little bit about the implementation approach of the Swachh Bharath campaign by some folks earlier, but it looks like the line is being crossed (literally) in some situations.

Spot cleaning: I am OK with spot cleaning. There are some spots which look super super shabby and the municipality/corporation has been ignoring because it has crossed the threshold (not that I am OK with them ignoring). Spot cleaning and get it to square zero is a good way to get them to a fresh start. This has worked in quite a few places. The municipality and the public takes it up from then on and ‘maintains’ this now clean place.

Traffic woes: More recently an upmarket locale in Bangalore (which has their own very active FB group) decided that the traffic has just gone haywire and requested the Bangalore police for some action. They met with the Commissioner and other officials and presented their plight. The Bangalore police from their end analyzed the situation and has made a proposal to fix the traffic problems by introducing/removing some turns on the congested area. I am fine with this too. In fact, this is probably the right approach. You present the problem to the civic agency and they hopefully help you out. The efficacy of the response or the speed at which they respond to your suggestion is a different story, and is dependent on if you have some heavy influencers in your group. But, having said that, this is the right approach.

Showing respect and friendship to the civic workers: Well, this may get a little touchy, but hey, I am fine with this too. A few residents wanted to show how much they appreciate the civic workers that they helped them on one day by sweeping the streets with them (or laying the roads with them) and bought them snacks/food etc. They communicated how much respect they have their service etc. How much, this is scalable, is another question. But, sure, this was a humane gesture.

DIY – Do it yourself: This is where my problems start. A group recently thought a pot hole in an area was never fixed attempted to fix this by getting their concrete and gravel and a pickup truck. A couple of rains later, the pothole was back. Then they attempted to fix it again. I don’t know what the current state is. But hey, this is something best left to the experts. They know how to do it. Whether they do it right or not is a different question, but this is not something each one of us can go and undertake and do it. This is not scalable. We do not have the right equipment, nor technology, nor the know-how. Also, one of my friends pointed out, one plausible outcome of this is the continued negligence of the civic authorities. Why should they do it, when the residents are doing stuff themselves? Why, for all you know, they showed some bills for fixing it, and made some money themselves too.

Urban planning – Dangerous: Last but not the least, today morning, I read an FB post, where some folks just got together and painted a zebra crossing. What the ???? This is dangerous. There is science behind where a zebra crossing needs to be. There is science behind how that can be monitored. Again, how well, these are done is not my question. It is up to the civic authorities to do this. In fact, it is a combination of multiple departments. The traffic police needs to approve this too. And hey, today was a zebra crossing, can I please get a speed bump in front of my house. I don’t like the way folks are driving on my road. By the way, I have some extra money, can I also put up my own signal?

We all need to get together. We all need to take responsibility. We all need to be the change we want. But this is not the way to do it.

Instead let us:

  • Stop ignoring problems and get in touch with the civic authorities and get them to fix it. If it does not get done, escalate it, Or help them fix it.
  • Have empathy to civic authorities first.
  • Keep our surroundings clean from now on. Do not litter, spit etc.
  • Follow traffic rules and avoid road rage.
  • Help and be sensitive to other folks.

A different take on Swacch Bharath

(pic source: news.oneindia.in)
(pic source: news.oneindia.in)

I have been thinking about this Swachh Bharath Abhiyaan that is the “in-thing” nowadays. For those who have been living under a rock for the last 2 months, this is the initiative kicked off by our PM – Narendra Modi – which encourages people to take on a pledge to ‘clean our India’ by spending atleast 2 hours per week. He said his characteristic fervour and said if our ‘sava sow karod desh vaasiyon’ (1.25 crore people of India) each do their bit, our country would be sparkling clean. Very noble initiative, I must say. And yes, we need to do something about our state of the country with respect to cleanliness. It is a mess. And sure, no other PM has ever touched this subject. So it is commendable.

But I digress, let me get back to my thoughts. As much as I think it is a great initiative, it is my personal belief that the implementation methodology might be slightly flawed. Again, disclaimer, I stress on the words “I think” and “my personal belief”. I would love to be proved wrong.

Ever since the initiative started, there have been challenges that have taken place on celebrities who have awkwardly held brooms that they have never held in their hands before, and made pretenses of cleaning a bit of a street (here, here, here, and several more). Our PM did a good job – probably because he had done this kind of thing during his RSS days. My problem fundamentally boils down to two things:

The scale of garbage and junk in our country is way more than can be handled by how many ever people awkwardly wielding brooms, wearing green gloves, and a black plastic garbage bag in hand. It is not a scalable solution.

If the people are going to be cleaning, what are the corporations going to be doing? Are there any initiatives that have percolated down to the Municipal corporations? Atleast I have not seen any change in the BBMP or in the Chennai Municipal Corporations. These fine folk have the equipment, the machinery, and the skilled manpower to handle garbage. Given adequate direction and incentives, they can bring about change that the billion of us cannot achieve together.

Ok, I now see the dozen of you come forward quoting the fabled – “Ask not what the country does for you .. blah blah”. I agree. But be practical. More practical would be the case, where there is a massive drive by the Government with the corporations, panchayats, municipalities (all working together), perhaps even with participation from the public (the ambanis, khans, and the rest of us mango folk too) – and then, the Government says – Now, you sava sow karod vaasiyon, we have given you a clean slate to begin with. We are now giving you a methodology for waste disposal. We are giving you these laws by which we can punish the wrong-doers. Now, do you bit, in preserving this beauty.

Now, you may say, is this scalable? Is such a massive drive even possible? Give it some thought. This does not need happen over night on one day throughout the country. National Clean Our Garbage Day. NO sir. That will not happen, and does not scale. But as a good software engineer will tell you, start incrementally. Start working on portions of a city. It has been proven possible. I have read articles about Surat doing it. I have seen parts of  Electronic City (In Bangalore) do it (the IT companies partly fund this). I have seen portions of Coimbatore like this. In short, I have seen this in all places where there is a good corporator.

In short, get a concerted effort by the government (multiple bodies working together and perhaps public participation) to do a first sweep cleanliness drive. Then work with the public to ‘keep’ it that way. Formalize processes for waste segregation and waste disposal. Impose regulations and penalties. That is the way to go IMHO.

History of the South


I have written about this before and I will continue to write about this in the future. And I am not writing this because I hail from the South of India. I am not one of those who divide the country between Madrasis and the Northies. I was born in the south. I have lived in the North. I still have several friends from all over India. I studied in the US for a brief period of time, and hence, I think my views are fairly unbiassed. And now, that I have that out of my chest and out of my way, let me get to my rant.

In all of my history lessons (I studied CBSE), I have studied about the Maurya empire, the Gupta empire, the Great king Ashoka, the mughal invasions, Ghazini and his ghastly incursions into India. We studied about the World Wars, and how India participated in it, because of the British. And ofcourse finally we studied all about the Independence struggle, and Sepoy mutiny, Maulana Azad, Gandhiji, Nehru, Bhagat Singh, and the likes. In Geography, we studied in detail about the Gangetic plains, the Brahmaputra, the Himalayas, the 5 Rivers of Punjab. We even studied about the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.

By now, if you are like me, you may have gotten a pattern emerging from this. When we studied about our country’s ‘rich’ history and diverse geography, what we had been studying is pretty much the history and geography of the North. I distinctly remember, we had about 2-3 pages (out of the 250 page text book) each year dedicated the powerful rulers of the South. Some of the things that we learnt about these rulers were: The rulers of the South built splendid large temples. They fought amongst them heavily. They were dark skinned and of Dravidian origin. There were also mentions of the grand Vijayanagar empire, and two things I remember from that are the Belur and Halebid temples, and how they stopped the Mughals in their tracks from invading the South of India.

In more recent years, as I travel a bit through the erstwhile Chozha (Chola) empire and reading classics like Periya Puranam (a chronicle of the Saivite saints of the south) and Ponniyin Selvan (en semi fictitious epic of the Chozha-Pandiya times), I realize how painfully little I know about the part of the country I hail from. If I, who is from the South, know so little about my own history and geography, I can imagine how much somebody from (say) Delhi or Mumbai would know.

For the sake of elucidating the fact that there is more than what I studied, I am going to gloss over some of what I have learnt in recent times. And by no means, am I going to cover too much, or bore you with details.

The Chozha empire under the reign of Raja Raja Chozha  (the one who built the Big Temple in Tanjore) had direct or allied control of territories which spanned from parts of Burma, Cambodia, the islands of Indonesia, and further. [link]

There are inscriptions and books of historical significance in South East Asia (specifically the Malay peninsula) stating that the rulers had origins from the Chozha rulers. The temples and architecture of Angkor wat are of distinctly a fusion of the Chozha and Kalinga style. The Khmer king who built it was Suryaverman II. Does the name ring a bell? Well, Raja Raja Chozhan’s original name was “Arulmozhi Verman”. He was nicknamed Raja Raja Chozhan (king of all). The Chozha kings had captured all of the southern peninsula – inclusive of Sri Lanka. The tamil eelam guerilla force (LTTE) had the tiger in their symbol and called themselves tigers too.

The Chozha kings were for the most part great administrators and did not mind other religions to flourish. Buddhism and Jainism was spreading at that time. In most places, the state maintained a balance. The state was mostly Hindu, but there are defenitely instances of the Kings helping build Buddhist monasteries in Nagappatinam and in several places in Sri Lanka. In some areas like Sri Lanka, Buddhism gained more power and started having influence in the state – which continues to this date.

The textbooks briefly mention Mahabalipuram (Mamalapuram) and their exquisite sculptures. The Pallava kings did way more than that. They waged war against the Kalinga empire at one time and won too. Did we know that? Yes, Kalinga is currently Assam and Odisha.

There is even more that I could go on and on forever, like the siege of the Madurai Meenakshi temple by the Jains. Or of the three main saints of the south – Appar, Sundarar, Manickavachagar. (Note: We learnt about Kabir and Meera.) The text books briefly mention the few days that Swamy Vivekananda spent in Tamilnadu on his way to Chicago. Oh, he spent much more than a few days. He spent quite a few days and has a deep rooted connection in the South of India. He even made the famous “Arise, awake and stop not till you succeed” statement first in Kumbakonam near Tanjore. I now have my North Indian brethren’s attention who are now trying to pronounce that town’s name. Instead, we learnt about the dark skinned people of Dravidian origin lived in the Southern parts of India.

Now, let me put aside all of this (probably) mindless ranting. With the schools of the land following such text books (which are the standard), I have stopped blaming the people. If folks like me, who have spent their school years fully in the south are not able to appreciate the historical context from where we hail from, how can I expect my brothers and sisters from the North to know any better. Times are slowly becoming better. And by that, I am not meaning text books are changing. I mean people are becoming more aware. My north Indian friends in Bangalore and slowly beginning to shed their fear of Tamizh/Other Dravidian languages, and venturing deep into the South, to see the spectacular temples of the South. I only wish the Governments (well, all of them, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, AP, and Kerala) get together, and put together a better tourism program, which will enable this. Right now, the governments are focusing only on those areas, where they can make the money – Navagraha temples (temples for the Nine planets) in Tamil Nadu, Belur-Halebid circuit in KA, beautiful beaches of Kerala, and of AP, I do not know what they are up to (let them first figure out their statehood status). I also wish there are private players in the market, who could enable this for the inquisitive.

With that, I will stop …. I hope to have reached some readers of this blog by giving them a slightly fresher perspective on what ‘more’ is there to our country than what we just study in our text books. Let us first discover our country. We can then open the gates for the “Incredible India” to our friends from other countries. It is currently the opposite now.


PS: Please do pardon any factual inaccuracies that may be present in this article. They are probably products of the emotional cloudburst that happened while writing this article. 

Trivial April Fools Jokes

It has now come to the point where companies try and pull a slow one (yeah, its not even fast these days) on April Fools day. The jokes are lame and silly. On first glance, it is obvious that it is a prank.

  • Google Blue. Really? A first look at the video instantly tells you its a prank.
  • Youtube going down. Really? Just a few days/weeks ago, there was a revenue report, which reported it was doing quite well.
  • Adobe releasing a new font called Blank, which users cant see. Really?

Guys, if you dont have any thing to fool people, just skip this year. This is just silly.

Too Many Hops

Quite recently, I had been talking to a friend of mine, who was vying for a senior leadership position. After a couple of conversations with the recruiter, he was told he had taken too many hops, and hence the company was not considering him. I was thinking about this for a bit, and I thought I would share my thoughts.

I personally feel that, ‘rejecting’ based on this reason as the only reason seems pretty foolish and hasty. The least that one should do is to find out the reason for the hops, and how the hops happened.

Insecurity? Were the hops because of the candidate not feeling confident that he could do the job assigned to him? This might be a valid reason for rejecting, but then, we should also dig in into finding out how the fellow landed up that job in the first place. In the numerous interviews that I have taken, I have found that, one can easily figure this out, using some behavioural traits.

Performance. Were the hops because the candidate did not perform well? Did the interest levels dip soon after the candidate was hired? Again, think. Why was this not caught during the interview process? Again, performance measurement is subjective. It could be your perspective that he may have gotten the boot because of bad performance. But, this is a valid case of rejecting a candidate.

Burnt bridges. How did the candidate leave the previous companies? Were they amicable? Were they jumps with the management in full support? Were the jumps such that management tried ‘everything’ to retain him? Did he burn bridges? If the candidate had had personnel (not personal) issues because of which, he burnt bridges (fought with manager/team etc), then this is definitely something that should discourage you from hiring this person.

The fire brand. Is the candidate someone who has the fire burning in him to grow fast? Did he find that he has been increasing his net intellectual/management experience worth significantly by jumping from gig-to-gig once in a few years? If the candidate is someone like this, you can be sure that he would not have left the previous gigs in bad taste. He would have alternate plans, succession strategies, etc, that when he leaves, it does not leave a void. It is not necessarily a bad thing to hire this guy. Except, one should hire him recognizing that he is a fire brand, and craves growth. For a senior management position, this craving is a good thing. Stoked correctly, this fire brand can create miracles for a company.

To end, my opinion is that, too many recruiters make this mistake of judging a candidate by too-many-hops. Yes, I agree, there are some folks who have had too-many-hops because of ‘issues’, but you cannot generalize. In this current generation of companies, there are two kinds of people who race to the top – both the turtles and the hares. The turtles are the folks who have risen in the company (it took them 15 years in the same company to become the senior manager/director). The hares are the folks who gain experience and expertise in working through a variety of positions (these are the folks who have risen to a senior manager/director in 7-8 years). Think for a moment, and you can easily recall folks in both categories.

The Depressing State of Affairs

This is a rant post. If you are not interested in my rant/opinions, please hit your back button now 🙂

Everytime I read the paper these days, I am so depressed with the current state of affairs in our country. It so happens that every piece of news is about corruption and how the nation’s so-called leaders are making so much of a mockery of governing the country. Be it coal blocks. Be it the commonwealth games. Be it the race for the president. Be it the Tatra trucks deal.

I just read today about the military “forgetting” to order helmets for the troops. How ridiculous can that be. Apparently bullet proof vests were ordered but not helmets. The Indian Express mentions that, a soldier who suffers from a chest wound can still some times recover, but a solder with a wound in the head is almost certain to die. Apparently 40% of the fatalities last year were because of wounds in the head. This just irritates me beyond words.

There is almost no leadership in the government. We cannot hear our PM say anything without “consulting” his Italian mentor. The UPA government makes policies that are almost everytime withdrawn the next day. Someone in the coalition threatens to pull out. Be it Mamta, or DMK. Ridiculous.

And there is our dear friend Kapil Sibal, who has not even left the prestigious educational institutions alone – the IITs. Looks like he was not satisfied with the amount of confusion he caused with the abolition of the Xth boards, grading systems, and the subjective evaluation system of kids. Ask any parent, and all I hear is hatred for this system.

Then I hear about the perks that all these so-called Ministers of Parliament get, and what they use it for. You can recall the IPADs and the porn-gate incident at the parliament. After all this, a week later, there was a small announcement in the newspapers that the Lok Sabha is going to have wifi. Wow. Now is that not convenient.

Sure, we can blame the Congress for all this. The frustration does not end there. Is there an alternative ? The amount of in-fighting that is happening within the BJP is even worse. I am pretty disillusioned with them as well. If dear leader Mr. Modi cannot tolerate someone within the party (Mr. Joshi), how can he tolerate someone from the administration, an opposition party, or perhaps a coalition member.

We pride ourselves as a nation which has woken up to the mobile world. True. The proliferation of mobiles has increased like nothing else. I read somewhere that there are more mobile phones in India than there are toilets. But look at the other side. Folks like Raja made the money in allocation of the spectrum. One cannot put a number to the amount looted. I fail to even succeed at counting the number of zeroes in that number. But hey, Raja is out.

Then there is the Air India pilot strike. If the state of the country’s International carrier is in such a shape, one can but wonder. The Maharaja has never had a good reputation, and this does not do it any good. I flew to the US once in Air India in 2001, and I vowed never to ride in one again. Such was the apathy to the passenger. And this was when the airline was in fine shape. Now the pilots are staging protests like a factory union. I personally believe this is all the Government’s fault. One, to have let this situation fester so bad. And two, now not being able to control and bring the situation back in control. You see the same news every day in the paper that Ajeet Singh has said, he is ‘considering’ what to do with the striking pilots. And in the middle of all this, the first A380 dreamliner lands with a water cannon salute. Sure, it is now securely parked in a hangar (for which I am not sure if AI has the money to pay rent for) – because there are no trained pilots to fly the damn plane.

And ofcourse, amidst all this, our dear president Ms. Patil (and her small entourage of about 60 family members) tour the world at the country’s cost. There are “Parliamentary Sub-Committees” of ministers and aides, who tour the US and Europe to “study” such things as the effect of rainfall on drought hit areas. Defenitely worth a study.

T20 was a sham. Gym equiment worth lakhs of Rupees were accounted for multiple crores of Rupees in the Commonwealth games. Kalmadi is out, and even saying he may apply for election. Maybe he will get elected. He now has the minimum qualification of having gone to jail. During all this, sad news such as the Olympic Weight lifting team being put up in a Tin shanty in Delhi also comes out. Sad. The only guys who earn us a few medals are the ones who are treated this way.

The sad part is that, this is starting getting to get noticed. Guys like S&P are giving warning signals. We got some bad press from BRIC as being one of the lower rung countries. The UN recently said that India is the most unsafe country for ladies in the world.

There are no good roads. There still is not enough water in most parts of the country — states constantly bickering about why they should not be releasing water to the nearby state. No electricity — wind farms and new plants marred by protests. Unemployment persists — with the government of some states giving a free tv, Rs. 1 rice, and subsidized alcohol, why is this not so surprising.

I know that this article reads very depressing and pessimistic, but I cannot help it. I poured it all out. And I am not too sure if I feel better after pouring it out either. If the situation improves, it would be no short of a miracle. Until then, I will do the Bangaloreans have taught me — “Simply Adjust Maad Sir”.

Update: As reader rakamath states below, its not the dreamliner,  but 787. And the first one is still yet to arrive. I guess I got confused a bit seeing a file photograph of the water cannon and new aircraft in a newspaper photograph.

Should I listen to your opinion ?

I have been reading Seth’s blog for a while now. Most often than not, his short posts are enlightening. But today’s post just hit the nail on the head. A little harsh, but 100% truth. An excerpt:

If you are not a customer, a stakeholder or someone with significant leverage in spreading the word, we will ignore you. And we should. When you walk up to an artist and tell her you don’t like her painting style, you should probably be ignored. If you’ve never purchased expensive original art, don’t own a gallery and don’t write an influential column in ArtNews, then by all means, you must be ignored.

An opinion needs to be based on experience and expertise. I know you don’t like cilantro, but whether or not you like it is not extensible to the population at large. On the other hand, if you have a track record of matching the taste sensibility of my target market, then I very much want to hear what you think.

Read the full post here.

Craigslisting my IPAD: Vivek Wadhwa

There are two interesting themes reflected in the title. Craigs-listing is actually now a verb ! Wow. That is the impact an online sharing/marketplace site can create. For those who are not in the know, please go here and check it out. The other interesting theme is something that I will summarize momentarily below. Vivek Wadhwa writes a very compelling article on what the IPAD is NOT. Now that the hype is died down (a bit? maybe just a little?), Vivek dissects on some features that he had expected and how it is not found in IPAD 1.0. He also says that, since he is an apple fan-boy (unashamedly so!), he will check if 2.0 will have it, and stand in line, and pay his dues to Steve Jobs when it releases. Thats the fan following Apple has. Applegate, Antennagate – whatever! 😉

Now for some of the key points that Vivek points out that is not present in the first version of IPAD:

First, I can’t easily load my Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents on the iPad or access the year or more of e-mails that I carry around on my 32 GB USB drive.  The iPad has no USB port, and its means of transferring documents—through iTunes—is pathetic.

I agree with Vivek here. For the most part of the public – especially the atypical non-apple folks, who bought the IPAD, this would be a huge bummer. Also for the large non-technical populace, it would be a challenge (fondly called Grandma and the junior in the article).

Second, Apple’s Microsoft Office-like products on the iPad are just cheap imitations. Apple’s Pages is a decent word processor, and Numbers is okay as a spreadsheet manager, but these don’t hold a candle to Microsoft Word and Excel. Moreover, I can’t use the excellent cloud-based word processing tools that Zoho offers, or the decent tools in Google docs. The iPad doesn’t recognize the rich-text format that these applications use, so it doesn’t display a keyboard when you try to type.

For those people, who thought, Fine, there is no office, but I can use google docs or Zoho, Bang, it cannot be done either. Another huge bummer. For a device, which touts working off the cloud, if it cannot support Zoho or GoogleDocs, it is not cutting it, in my opinion. But then, Apple has never really cared about interoperability (until more recently ofcourse).

Third, I usually need to view different applications in multiple screens when I am writing.

Oops. I did not know about this. This is a huge bummer for the folks who live on alt-tabbing (or window-tabbing). Apparently the IPAD only lets you multiprocess one app – which is – you can listen to music, while you are surfing. Hrrm. #FAIL.

Fourth, on many of the websites I visit, I can’t watch Flash presentations.

I thought this would be #1 on the list. But it finds a mention in the list (It has to!). For those following the Adobe-Apple war, this would not be a surprise. Lets just wait for everyone to switch to HTML5 (2020? anyone?).

Last, I didn’t miss the camera that didn’t come with my iPad until I got my new iPhone, but now I can’t fathom why it isn’t there. Facetime, on the new iPhone, is a killer app. It changes the way you use your phone and the way you communicate with your friends and relatives. The iPad lets you make Skype calls over Wi-Fi, but there is no Facetime app—and that’s because there is no camera.

This is an issue too. No Camera? Why Steve? Why? How can you create a tablet which you expect non-technical people also to use, and NOT have a camera? First thing, someone is going to try and do is to do videoconferencing with grandma ! Well, hopefully IPAD 2 will have it.

I think this is a great list. Kudos to Vivek Wadhwa for his very insightful comments.

(Article found through TechCrunch)