A concotion of New year wishes, grandma (& grandpas) and air travel

Its that time of the year when everyone is thinking up of wishes for the new year.

I have a special one – mainly inspired from my recent travel spanning 3 countries, 6 airports and marathon queues and here it is:

“In 2013, air travel should become grandma (and grandpa) friendly”

This is in truth a googly (or if you are reading this in the US a “headfake”) – it’s actually several wishes (and rules) rolled up into one. As a bonus and to please the bean counters however, I shall also talk about the associated saves.

Here goes (beware it’s a bit wicked!):

Wish A: Any airline which globalizes food names will have their licenses revoked immediately. Idli, vada and sambar can no longer be called rice pan cakes, lentil doughnuts and semolina porridge! I shudder to think what they would call haka noodles or sushi (unless ofcourse like the pizza these were named before we become “globally” enlightened!)

So what’s the ROI? –Fewer dictionaries required on board to help the stewardess convince the grandma that the food is indeed vegetarian and never walked once in their lifetime. This time saved by the stewardess can be used to sell more duty free goods – $$$

Wish B: A World-wide realization that Grandpas are not fedex employees. Getting them to remove (and repack) any “large and/or complicated” electronic equipment at every security check point (which in these days would mean everything from watches to mobiles to tablets to laptops) will require the CEO of the concerned airline to come down and personally put in everything that has been removed into the minuscule sized luggage that grandmas pack. The same logic applies for liquids (remember grandmas are not chemists and cant be expected to carry pipettes to measure their concoctions into 100 ml bottles) – they will be allowed to carry any sweets/ treats and such with no checks whatsoever. Exceptions include any home-made medicine they may carry for their grandchildren – these can (actually must) be confiscated -failing which the aforementioned CEO will need to partake of the stuff.

So what’s the ROI? millions of hours saved of course. Also the CEO gets some exercise (and the bitter medicine) which will help him live longer (and understand life is not all roses…)…

Wish C: “Name Pattern based Terrorist identification software” (wow!) must be globalized. A name (or initial) which goes without any challenges in the UK (for example) cannot be detained for questioning in the US (or for that matter across different airports in the same country). An addendum is to acknowledge that Indian parents (and East Europeans too I suspect) consider their job properly done only if their children have a minimum of 21 characters in their names – getting these checked by the poor hassled TSA (or equivalent) agents will result in the CFO of the concerned airline having to take chinese lessons! Continued failure to adopt this law will result in him having to watch this video!

So what’s the ROI? – Saves in the doctors’ fees that will undoubtedly result if the poor security guys continue to be subjected to reading a million passports each with wildly different roots

Wish D: Asking people to checkout their luggage only to give it back to a connecting flight’s counter a hundred yards away will result in the CTO of the airline having to listen to one of grandpa’s long (and very boring) tales. Same fate will befall the airport boss whose terminals are more distant from each other than your destination airport is.

So what’s the ROI? -Saves from the reduced risk of someone’s grandpa checking your luggage (by mistake of course) to a remote destination isn’t enough?

On which irreverent note, I should acknowledge that much as terrorism, technology and scale have made travel that much more complicated, the people on the ground (stewards, security agents, luggage coordinators, information kiosks) more than make up for it by extending their help – and with a smile to boot. It was Christmas time then – and the good cheer, goodwill and kindness of these people was wonderful to behold – thank you all.

And wishes to all my readers for a wonderful year ahead. I know some of you would have come hoping to see a signature “meditation on our times type”  story or perhaps even a technology story – but new year eve I believe deserves something like this –  irreverent and absolutely not-on-point. Agreed?

Musings – book or ebook?

A rainy evening finds me browsing in the local bookshop. Walking through sections, reading the back covers, randomly scanning the pages – just another day amidst the books. You never know who you’d be introduced to – a swashbuckling adventurer, a philosopher or a business man – and as long as they have a good story to tell, they are all equally welcome.

Of late though I also have had another bookshop even more ready with its wares – the kindle bookstore. With amazon entering India, the prices are reasonable (and several come free!)and the delivery instant – so much so that I already have a well filled out kindle library. And some of my good friends are still hesitating to try these electronic texts – “what about the texture, the feel and the experience of a real book – surely the ebook can’t deliver that?” they ask with tentatively.

Me, I am ambivalent – I sometimes vouch for the ebook and sometimes for the physical book. I prefer certain devices for certain book formats. Blogs (and of course micro blogs) make for great reading on my phone as do the occasional poem or kindle single. The iPad is good for a short story or illustrated books or for that matter video books. The kindle I prefer for novels – its light weight, long lasting battery and eink technology make for the perfect reading experience of the longer formats.

I love the physical books too – some look so appealing on their shelves as to make even the consideration of an electronic alternative a compromise, almost a sacrilege! Classics in particular (autobiography of a yogi; Godel,Escher, Bach etc. for instance) seem to be best savored in book form. I prefer reading asterix and tintin comics too for that matter on paper (though that may change if they come up with a super iPad version). Interestingly, different formats seem to appeal for different types of books – the hard cover (with large, detailed typeface and high quality print, and exquisite paper) seems tailor made for the classics we want for our libraries, paperbacks seem best for one time reads.

To sumup therefore – texture and feel do have their part to play – but not all the time. Books (like good movies and most times even more) have a way of leading you into the plot to the point that the format, print quality and other parameters fade into the background. All you need are non-distractors(typos, missing/torn pages/very bad print etc) and of course some aids to enhance the experience (hot chocolate anyone?) – and soon the plot is all that holds your attention…

Which brings us full circle – it certainly does not seem to be an either/or type question. I guess we’d go for the ebook formats when we need stuff instanter(!) and for the physical books when a book “demands” it at the bookstore. Kind of like we embrace either tradition or novelty in our lives depending on the occasion, I guess we will continue to buy, savor and share both of these formats.

Which brings me to the one sore point I nurse relating to the ebook format. Digital rights makes it very hard (actually almost impossible) to share the ebook with my friends – something I love doing with my books in general. Which is a shame really because books are meant to be digested, enjoyed and shared with others – that’s when we do justice to a good author’s insights. And what makes it harder to accept is that the electronic format is truly designed to share easily – and the fact that a material object is easier to share than a bunch of atoms just is so hard to rationalize.

So if you’ll excuse me, got to go now and enjoy Antifragile( yes I know Taleb prefers the physical form better but then only the ebook format is available right now in my country and what’s more it makes for perfect reading on my kindle device!).

Christmas time

So we are alive and well! The Mayans’ it turns out were predicting quite something else ( loss of india’s cricketing dominance even on turning pitches home maybe?) and not the end of the world.

We get therefore to celebrate Christmas 2012 – and celebrations and sparkling conversations are holding center stage  around the world.

In this time of good will and peace (and good food), its kind of easy to think of our world as a delicious gift with a blue ribbon around it – and perhaps that’s the right way to do so.

For this festival seems to be inclusive and truly ancient – and has orgins tracing back to the sun god Mitra (by way of hailing  the return of the Sun post a dark winter) per my googling adventures. The misteltoe, christmas tree and other rituals too could possibly be traced back to the early roots of civilization (just do a search for “christmas day orgin” in google.com). So this christmas maybe we can say thanks to Jesus ( one of the most compassionate messiahs to land on earth) and also raise a toast to nature for giving us of her bountiful and heralding the rise of the sun after the long winter (also celebrated -albeit after a short winter – in southern India as pongal, the harvest festival).

Time to say Merry christmas now – and to wonder and celebrate the thoughtfulness and ingenuity of our elders in providing such festivals for us to partake in.

Eulogy time..

A good collegue, a friend passed away this morning. A gentle man devoured by a ravaging cancer. Over time, the disease took away his appetite,  his mobility, his stamina. It could of course do little about his smile, which continued to shine through – amidst  grimacing pain. It’s this smile, and his gentle habit that I know will inspire his family and friends forever. 

Death forces us to ponder on bigger themes.

On the fickleness of life and the futility of trying to caliberate the effectiveness of our minute lifetimes, foibles and stresses on the grand scale of evolution. What’s a hundred years (or less) matter in an evolutionary history of eons – our mountains fade away into molehills when seen in perspective. And should this insight not destress us as we understand that our life’s events are for the most part insignificant on a world scale?

It also encourages us to acknowledge the ancients wisdom in codifying a religion embracing concepts of immortality. When nature takes away a loved one from the reaches of our eye and touch, it is religion that assures us of the loved ones not being lost forever – only to our five senses. Sometimes we need to augment the scientist’s facts with religion’s truths – the mind needs the solace of the soul so to speak.

As I write this, I know its a normal day for nature – though a devastating day for ones experiencing the loss. Time and prayers will heal some, in the meantime its perhaps best to pack some goodness, a comforting shoulder and a thoughtful mind and offer these to the many who need it…..and maybe saying a hero’s story or two in praise of the departed one would help too.

Respect for the role or the person?

A friend called up the other day. He had recently moved to a semi-independent role from a managerial role for a large portfolio and he was surprised that the attention he had been garnering until recently had gone down significantly. “Are they ungrateful or am I not the leader I was anymore?”  he wondered.

We mused this over a pot of coffee and a few cups of tea (we had one of those uber coffee shops nearby). He really had been a good manager, so this wasnt about people acting up. Not at all – so what was happening?

My friend got it first – “looks like I missed the “parnephelia associated with the position” with my person. The oohs and aahs were really for the position huh?”

We had a good laugh as we thought about the fate of our politicians once they were out of power. Or the hero who finds stardom suddenly elusive after a string of losses. What about the manager who who finds his (willing) subordinate list shorter after a transfer? Or even a teacher who finds disciples not quite as submissive when the students have graduated. Maybe understanding the adulation was really a “role thing” makes the heartburn easier on us…

But while this could be the rule, exceptions abound. Scientist and former Indian president Abdul Kalam fondly remembers his childhood teacher for shaping his success. We see Indian gurus and world-famous musicians wax eloquence on the greatness of their masters all the time. Anand viswanathan, the chess champ recalls his mother’s pivotal role in getting him onto the world stage.

The interesting thing when you think about it is that none of these “remembered” folks would have seen with certainity the success their prodigies were to become. Kalam’s teacher would certainly not have known his student was a scientist or a president in the making. He must have just given of his best – with no expectation of reciprocity of any kind. He must have actually given unconditionally to a million others who may have not captured the eyeballs but must be living quitely inspired lives somewhere.

Which brings us to a central question – how successful are we in doing what we are contracted to do (our position) and how do we fare on unconditional giving? (what we give dosent matter really – we could give anything at all- money, knowledge, compassion or wisdom).

And an even more pertinent question – have we thanked enough or spared a thought for the many who played “compass” in our lives?

Got to partake of my own medicine now – so if you’ll excuse me now – have some leading lights to call and say thanks now…..

Two devices – and the story they tell about you…

My blackberry curve finally gave up on me last week and I switched over to a galaxy note2. The swap was uneventful – a quick drive to a nearby shop, some innocous questions (from me) and some good salesmanship (and I have the device to prove it!).

As I hold the device in my hand and begin to understand its underpinnings, I realize something profound – these two devices actually tell a “generational” story.

The bb curve is a work machine. Its virtuosity is in its ability to bring home the office. And of course its all about efficiency. You need to understand one new button (the track pad), configure two new apps (email and messenger) and you are already up and running at full speed. You can manage up, you can manage down (or for that matter using the calender you can manage yourself) – either way it screams urgency and efficiency. And there’s a blinking red light to make sure you know there’s work waiting for you. This is a hyper- efficient, highly secure digital post office which keeps you in control of your work world.

The note 2 on the other hand is a playground, which you can also take to work. It encourages you first to set the environment (screensavers, widgets and so on) and then goes about identifying every friend you ever knew and asking you if you’d like to have them linked up. Where you had a collegues’ phone number and work email id within easy reach with the bb curve, you are more likely to have the twitter or facebook handle of a friend (who could be a collegue!) on the note. It encourages you to read books, watch movies, take pictures, annotate them and share them with your friends – as I said it encourages you to have fun. And its form factor (brilliant screen and outsize shape!) is likely to see you prefer creation and consumption as opposed to telephony
(unless of course you’ve missed your session at the gym -or are a bluetooth fan).

In closing, the devices are representative of their times. The bb curve appealed to a hard working executive who wanted to stay on top of his work life.The note seems to appeal to a generation which brings their personality (and attitude) to the office – and believes in a social world as opposed to a more hierarchical one.

On which note its perhaps worth taking a look at the device we prefer – and contemplate on what that tells about us?

P.s – this is my first post using  wordpress on the note 2. All disclaimers (bad spelling, grammer etc. apply!!)