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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Idea Caravan

I have always enjoyed TED Talks. They are inspiring; open up your thought process and give you another perspective. They are very interesting and they cover an antire gamut of social, technological and live issues. 

Forever imprinted on my mind will be the TED Talks by Joe Smith on how the world can literally halve its paper towel consumption by using only one paper towel after washing hands, rather than using two AND the TED Talk by Pranav Mistry. I have seen many other TED Talks over the years but somehow these two have left an indelible print on my gray matter.

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012 and Indiblogger created a contest of sorts out of it by encouraging people to blog about them. An excellent thought and initiative I would say to take the TED Talks to a wider audience and add more perspective to it. I went through a couple of the talks from Dec 2012 and here are my quick comments on a couple of them. 

Besides reading what I have written, I would strongly suggest you head to http://www.ftideacaravan.com/ where you will find all the TED Talk videos. 

View them. They are GOOD.

TED Talk by Mittal Patel


Mittal's talk on the ‘invisible’ nomadic tribes and de-notified tribes was shocking. Their only record with government bodies is with the Police. The women are pushed to prostitution with the men playing pimp. Scary! Shocking! Even more shocking was about wrong people stuffed into jail on account of mistaken identity in the absence of their identity card which could have proven their real identity. Her organization - Vicharata Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM - http://vssmindia.org) – is an attempt at uplifting the life of these uncared forgotten people.  

TED Talk by Ruma Roka 



Ruma's talk on the deaf kids touched the heart and at the same time gave us a very different perspective. Her exploration of the meaning and purpose of language was interesting. Her attempt to connect to employers and identify jobs that the deaf people could undertake and designing a study curriculum specifically for it is commendable. An excellent success story of having 25 people employed into mainstream organizations !! 

Both women have talked about social issues and have also effectively displayed how a single person can actually make a difference. As more people would join their efforts, the effects will be manifold. Drop by Drop ... certainly fills the Pot. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Great Drive - entry for Michelin Pilot Experience by Hemant

This was way back in 2009. I was in Dubai in those days on a long term project and had planned for a week in India. Coincidentally, there was also a plan for a 2-day Alibaug trip with MBA batch-mates – Nikhil, Shubham and Arijit. We synchronized the Alibaug trip with my India visit and decided to make it for the road trip to Alibaug.

Within a few hour of landing at Mumbai airport, I was on my way to Nikhil's residence where Shubham and Arijit were already waiting for me. It had been a long time since I had gone out with friends …. A very very long time …

The highlights of the trip were the Alibaug Beach and the Fort, beside the overnight stay at a guest house and the long drive from Mumbai to Alibaug in Nikhil's car and back.

All 4 of us had a lot of fun during the entire road trip from Mumbai to Alibaug … reliving memories of our MBA days and catching up on the time since and our career graphs as well as personal lives. It was great to be back together again – a rarity these days considering we all work in different companies and often located in different cities and even countries.

For me personally, the Alibaug beach was a unique part of the trip. Long time since I had soaked myself up in sea water, (usually any soaking that happens is courtesy Mumbai rains … soaking me up at the most unexpected of times ...  and I am not complaining – I love rains). It was nice to be back to the sea after my 'walk in the water' several months ago in Dubai's Jumeira beach

The only dampener was the 'apparent pollution' of the sea water at Alibaug. Something which seemed like oil (brown in color) was gradually creeping up the shore. All the sea water was brown and looked awfully dirty. We walked up to a distant spot of the beach where the 'polluting oil spill' reached about half an hour later. That half an hour was pure fun in water. The big waves thrashing against our bodies and we literally going under water with every wave. We were not carrying a camera to the beach (since we all planned to soak ourselves) and hence no pictures of the polluted waters ... 

Another highlight was the visit to the Fort. Surrounded by the sea it was magnificent. The disappointing part was that it was in ruins (literally). No maintenance at all. There was no proper restoration done for the fort. In fact, in the name of restoration, renovation or repair work was carried out- with patches of cement and concrete. It reduced the authenticity of the fort and its magnificence.  (lots of pictures clicked in and around the fort)

  
Some pictures from our unforgettable trip


All 4 of us at the Fort Gate - Finally got someone to click a pic with all 4 of us in the same frame :) 


Arijit with the backdrop of the fort and other tourists 




Photographs clicked during the Boat Ride to the Fort 



The Fort ... from the Boat in the Sea 


Our 'extremely expressive and vocal' Guide to the Fort


Nikhil with the Fort in the background


Nikhil's attempt at 'Rock Climbing' 


The ruins that I mentioned above 


Shubham with another section of the Fort


Our Drive ... Nikhil's new Wagon R


The island fort ... from the Car


A lone ranger fishing boat setting out to the sea 




That road trip is forever embedded in my memories. I probably laughed and had more fun in 2 days than the previous 2 year. It was simply wonderful. An unforgettable outing.


A chance to win a trip to Michelin Pilot Experience at BlogAdda.com 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: Band Room Bash by Candice Speare


Book: Band Room Bash

Author: Candice Speare

No. of Pages: 256

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Heartsong Presents 

I had picked up a set of 3 novels by Candice Speare 2 years ago when I visited the Floating Library / Book Store in Dubai – a book exhibition of sorts on a ship. 

I had also picked up 2 other sets of 3 novels and a couple of other books. 

I read the first novel by Candice Speare earlier this year and picking up the next one now. I am planning to read all the 9 novels in this year itself.

Coming to Band Room Bash, our lady protagonist, Trish, found a dead body in a milk-case in the super market in the first novel I read earlier this year (Murder in the Milk Case). 

This time around she (keeping up with the reputation) finds a dead body in the school's band room.

What makes the whole thing interesting is that:
1. She just can't curb her curiosity and in spite of all the people asking her to NOT  do it, she begins to note down the clues and begin's her investigation
2. She is 8 months pregnant
3. Her son is one of the 'suspects'

The novel makes for interesting reading as Trish keeps discovering clue after clue and even gets a new partner-in-crime of investigating. Someone as stubborn as herself, who wouldn't listen to the Inspector who warns them against investigating and finally resigns to their stubborn-ness.

There is a time when Trish realizes who the murderer is and at the same time endangers not only her own life but also that of her mom-in-laws youngest unborn grand-child … her own child …  who decides that his time has arrived to appear in the world – right after the murderer is caught !

It was a light read. I enjoyed it. You feel for Trish and identify with her stubbornness, carelessness, thoughts and general style of behaving. She is not a fictional character for you (like Sherlock Holmes – too good to be real). She feels very much real and neighbourly. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Road trip to get nostalgic …

A few years ago I went on a road trip to Alibaug with 3 of my friends from MBA days. It was 2 days of fulltoo fun and masti. I had blogged about this trip with some pictures (You can check that out here). It would be fun to do it again … some change of scenery would be a nice break.
The pertinent question now is: do we do it alone or do it with our better halves. All 4 of us (Arijit, Hemant, Nikhil & Shubham) are now married and the 'better half' will surely be pissed off if we planned it all by ourselves.
So the first thing to think about it is a comfortable car / vehicle which will seat all 8 of us. Any suggestions? An Innova / Xylo would not be comfortable for 8 of us … we will need a bigger one. A comfortable 8-10 seater with good air-conditioning (not that we would need much of it looking at the weather – but then when it rains heavily, u got to roll-up the windows and switch on the AC). I will leave it to the car rental agency to suggest a suitable vehicle.
Now comes the location part – 2 locations that I have often heard about but never got a chance to visit – Harihareshwar and Ganpatiphule – both are famous for their Temple and their beach. Here is a google maps snapshot of the route we will be taking. Surprisingly, we will be travelling Mumbai-Harihareshwar-Ganpatiphule – Mumbai … all three are located bang on the sea BUT the road between them is far away from the coast.
It would have been splendid if the road between these locations would have been close to the sea – almost like a road going parallel to the sea. Wouldn't it make it a far more scenic ride and wouldn't that create several more picnic and stop-over hotspots for tourists or weekend-picnickers – boosting the local economy. I wish our Tourism Ministry would look at such easily do-able things that would boost local/domestic tourism as well as lead to greater economical development of these places.
For this trip … I have in mind a couple of experiments that I would like to do:
We hail from different parts of the country with different family influences (and hence Food influences). Would like to trouble the ladies a bit and have some sampling of authentic Bengali, Marwadi, Maharashtrian snacks and food items.
Antakshari during the trip could also be allowed to go 'regional' with songs from different languages and if we cannot do it ourselves, get some CDs or MP3s to play. Variety of food and music !!
Also, plan to group a good collection of Bollywood songs based on the moods and maybe by composer or singer too. Different moods for different times of the day and part of the journey (even some devotional stuff for times when we are around the temples).
Talking of moods, I would also carry different fragrances of the Ambi Pure AC vent clip-on variety model. They have about 4-5 fragrances and would love to use them alternatively – in conjunction with the moods of the songs and music. (More about the new product and its fragrances at AmbiPur FB page)
It would be fun. We did our MBA in 2003-2005 and then, in the past 10 year, being in one place at same time is a rare. After our MBA, 4 of us got together for the Alibaug trip and then again for Arijit's Marriage. Very recently Me, Nikhil and Arijit met at NITIE (our alma mater) to address the new batch to share some gyaan with them J Our wives would practically come together for the first time (can't count the marriage bcos Arijit's wife was just introduced and could hardly spend time with us).
So … the plan is in place (almost). Now, we just have to wait for an opportunity where all 4 of us are in Mumbai with our wives and we have the weekend to spare for a coastal road trip. Who knows? If we had an extra day, we might even go further to GOA !!! Of course, neither Mumbai nor the above locations are important – it's the group that is – so we could as well gather in any part of the country and plan a road trip to the nearest scenic tourist spot

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

Book: Inferno

Author: Dan Brown

No. of Pages: 480

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Doubleday

So … finally I pick up Inferno to read. I loved the first 4 novels from Dan Brown. The fifth one was a disappointment and I was afraid the 6th might be one too. The preview chapters excited me as I read about Langdon having a nightmare and then suddenly waking up in pain, in a hospital, with an assassin outside, in a city which is thousands of miles from home and with no recollection of how he got there. Hopes were slightly raised!!!

The novel starts off pretty well with all the usual Dab Brown bells and whistles formula albeit with a twist (mentioned above). So we have a global man-made catastrophe about to strike and Langdon seems to be the only one who can stop it with help from a beautiful lady who gets entangled with him and is on the run with him. We have assassins following them along with police and para-military agencies. There is no one who can help and Langdon has to crack the code (AGAIN) using his intimate knowledge of history, symbology and historical places.

Dan Brown creates some good amount of suspense in terms of who's who and what their motives are and how does Langdon end up in the situation he finds himself. Making earth's population explosion as the key issue was an interesting device. While you read Inferno, you get the 'Da Vinci Code' and 'Angels and Demons' kind of feel again and again … and you might be forgiven for thinking that Dan Brown is now writing on a fixed formula. Yes, he does that. But, the novel is an interesting read anyway.

The plot is pretty interesting. The story has a very interesting set of twists and turns which might not shock you but will surely surprise you. The narrative manages to keep a strong grip on the reader. There is more to the story than history, symbology and historical places. I actually enjoyed reading this one. 

The central issue of the story - Over Population - is a very real one but the 'solution' offered by the 'villain' is not just drastic but pretty much dangerous and leaves u stunned to the core. You keep osciallating between your own views on the solution.

As usual, Langdon takes you through a touristic journey of art - Dan Brown does an excellent job at that. I am sure, Inferno will again drive a surge in tourism for the locations through which Langdon goes through in this book.  I just wish, Dan Brown books were in some sort of new age Digital Book format where each location / painting / sculpture / wall / ceiling he describes, could be laced with pictures and 360 degree panaromic views of the actual location along with video guides and all. It would make the whole reading experience much more 'visual' and enjoyable. We won't have to wait for the movie to enjoy it visually.

There were a few things which I did not really like about the book. The 'coo' of a pigeon which seemed to have 'saved' Langdon and is a constant source of suspense did not really pan out well. The 'assassin' could have played a greater role. I expected it to be more exciting. Another thing which struck strange (and difficult to digest) was imagining middle-aged Langdon running around and chasing.

What does impress is the pace of the novel, the twists and turns in the story, and finally, the climax. Very unlikely, very unexpected, very … thought provoking and scary.

I never recommended 'lost Symbol' to anyone because I kind of did not like it. But, Inferno is something I will easily recommend.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review: The Chimera Vector by Nathan M Farrugia

Book: The Chimera Vector

Author: Nathan M Farrugia

No. of Pages: 362

Genre: Fiction - Action Thriller  

Publisher: Pan Australia

So this time it is slightly different. This one did not come from BlogAdda nor did it come from the publisher or directly from the Author. My dear friend was reading it and realized that I would also enjoy reading it so she suggested that I read it too so we can both discuss the book while we read it. She is the one whom I refer to for most of my book recommendations.

The Chimera Vector has an explosive start and after a few pages, you are reminded of Robert Ludlum's Bourne Identity with the protagonist showing signs of a combination of memory loss and mixed-perceptions. It establishes a strong and very interesting premise on which you expect the author to weave an exceptional and engaging story as the protagonist begins her journey of discovering herself, her past and her role in the future. As the story moves forward, even the Matthew Reilly touch sets in as the story becomes a high octane action thriller.

The basic premise and the plot of the story have a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the potential is not completely realized. The book ends up becoming a narration of mind-numbing action which goes in too much details of actual physical hand-and-leg movement of the individuals. I like action-thrillers and so did not really mind it but it did become too much. At some points, it felt like THAT was the only thing in the story.

The concept of the Psychopath gene was interesting but the plot really got mixed up in the end. I was confused about who was on whose side and what the different 'sides' were actually. Wish there was a little less complexity for my mind to manage.

You have an scientist who spends 5 months de-programming individuals. This is the person responsible for the whole programming process and knows the subject in and out. Then comes an individual who gets 'deprogrammed' and the scientist teaches her (did he?) the art of deprogramming … and voila … she begins to deprogram other individuals in a matter of weeks!! How on earth she was able to do this is beyond me. The over-simplification of the programming and deprogramming process ... reduces the whole thing to mere hypnotism standard … in effect reducing its seriousness and threat factor.

Although containing interesting thoughts and ideas, the story and the writing have some loop-holes which leave you with a sense of irritation and hopelessness. You wonder why the author wasted such a fantastic opportunity to churn out a memorable block-buster.

He could have seriously given RL or MR, run for their money and to some extent he actually manages that. But the action became more prominent than the characters. Sophia could have easily been in the league of characters like Jason Bourne and Scarecrow and Jack West Jr. Wish Nathan had spent some more time on the character's development. What I found missing was the inner turmoil of a person who has undergone brain manipulations and who is lost about what he has done and who he is. The character development was a casualty of the excessive action sequences in the story.

It is definitely a good novel to read as far as hard-core high-octane action is considered … plenty of it around.

The genetic manipulations give different characters super-human qualities … what I find strange is why are these not made use of in the story more often. It was like watching the X-Men movie where the mutants use their abilities only when they are threatened to death or near-death experience!!! I would have loved to read more of those abilities being put to use and the protagonist's way of circumventing them to meet the objectives. That would have made for interesting reading …    

The other strange thing was the high-security heavily guarded military or research bases are so easy to find and breach in this novel … almost seems like a joke. A little more work on that area would have made for an interesting reading too. Well, it was Nathan's first novel so I guess it is OK and could be overlooked.

Sorry Nathan … you hit my head, but missed my heart !! Better luck next time !!!

Personally, I never give up on an author in one read (novel). I have seen good reviews of the 2nd novel by Nathan and for what it is worth ... I will someday read the 2nd one too.
Being an action-thriller genre fan, its not easy to ignore Nathan's work which is decently good in that area.

Definition of Abusive words (Gaali)

 

 प्रोफेसर ने हिंदी क्लास मैं पुछा - गाली की परिभाषा बताओ ...

 

स्टूडेंट बोला - अत्यधिक क्रोध आने पर शारीरिक रूप से हिंसा न करते हुए, मौखिक रूप से की गयी हिंसात्मक कार्यवाही के लिए चुने गए शब्दों का समूह , जिसके उच्चारण के पश्चात मन को असीम शांति का अनुभव होता हैं , उसे हम गाली कहते हैं !!

 

प्रोफेसर बोले - आपके चरण कहाँ हैं प्रभु !!

 

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For those who cant read hindi but understand it nevertheless ... here is the transliteration ....

 

Professor  in Hindi Class : "gaali ki paribhasha batao.."

Student: "atyadhik krodh aane per shaaririk roop se hinsaa na karte huye, maukhik roop se ki gayi hinsaatmak kaaryawaahi ke liye chune huye shabdon ka samooh jiske uchchaaran ke pashchaat mann ko aseem shaanti ka anubhav hota hai, use hum gaali kehte hai..!!''

Professor: Aapke CHARAN kahan hain prabhu....

 

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For those who are unable to appreciate  Hindi at all .. heres the English Translation ...

 

Professor - Someone tell me the definition of 'Swear Words' ...

 

Student - The group of words chosen in situations of extreme anger, which aid the violent expression in words rather than action, the utterance of which gives immense internal peace to the individual uttering them ... are known as Abusive or Swear words.

 

(Mind you ... the definition in English is not even half as much fun as it is in Hindi)

 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

June Reading Summary


Before it gets too late and I end up posting only the summary for lack of time … let me just do that proactively … the June Reading Summary …

1          Novel: The Vacancy by J K Rowling
2          O Henry Shorts: Vereton Villa by O Henry
3          O Henry Shorts: An Unknown Romance by O Henry
4          O Henry Shorts: The Pink Flask by O Henry
5          O Henry Shorts: How She got in the Swim by O Henry
6          O Henry Shorts: An Odd Character by O Henry
7          Novel: The Oath of the Vayuputra by Amish Tripathi
8          Prof. Shonku Short: The Amazing Creature by Satyajit Ray
9          Hitchcock – Home Sweet Homicide: The Owl in the Oak by Joseph Hansen  
10        PKD Shorts: The World She Wanted by Philip K Dick
11        PKD Shorts: A Surface Raid by Philip K Dick
12        PKD Shorts: Project Earth by Philip K Dick
13        PKD Shorts: The Trouble with Bubbles by Philip K Dick
14        PKD Shorts: Breakfast at Twilight by Philip K Dick
15        3I Crimebusters Novella: An Ear for Danger by Marc Brandel
16        Hitchcock – Most Wanted: The Incomplete Salmagundi by S. S. Rafferty
17        JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The First Miracle by Jeffrey Archer
18        JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The Perfect Gentleman by Jeffrey Archer
19        JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: One Night Stand by Jeffrey Archer
20        JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The Century by Jeffrey Archer
21        JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: Broken Routine by Jeffrey Archer
22        Novel: Romi and Gang by Tushar Sharma
23        WGS Shorts: In the Moonlight by Guy De Maupassant
24        WGS Shorts: A Practical Joke by Guy De Maupassant
25        WGS Shorts: The Achievement of the Cat by William Makepeace Thakeray
26        WGS Shorts: The Guests by William Makepeace Thakeray

27-30   Hindi Shorts: Several Hindi short stories from the children's magazine 'Champak'

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Beijing 2008 - Amazing thought-provoking painting

Amazing thought-provoking painting "Beijing 2008" by Chinese-Canadian artist Liu Yi


The woman with the tattoos on her back is China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is America. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan.
This painting, named "Beijing 2008", has been the subject of much discussion in the west as well as on the internet. What's interesting is that this painting is called "Beijing 2008", yet it depicts four women playing mahjong, and conceals a wealth of meaning within…
China's visible set of tiles "East Wind" has a dual meaning. First, it signifies China's revival as a world power. Second, it signifies the military might and weaponry that China possesses has already been placed on the table. On one hand, China appears to be in a good position, but we cannot see the rest of her hand. Additionally, she is also handling some hidden tiles below the table.
America looks confident, but is glancing at Taiwan, trying to read something off of Taiwan's expression, and at the same time seems to be hinting something at Taiwan.
Russia appears to be disinterested in the game, but this is far from the truth. One foot hooks coyly at America, while her hand passes a hidden tile to China, both countries can be said to be exchanging benefits in secret. Japan is all seriousness while staring at her own set of tiles, and is oblivious to the actions of the others in her self-focused state.
Taiwan wears a traditional red slip, symbolizing that she is the true heir of Chinese culture and civilization. In one hand she has a bowl of fruit, and in the other, a paring knife. Her expression as she stares at China is full of anger, sadness, and hatred, but to no avail; unless she enters the game, no matter who ends up as the victor, she is doomed to a fate of serving fruit.
Outside the riverbank is darkened by storm clouds, suggesting the high tension between the two nations is dangerously explosive. The painting hanging on the wall is also very meaningful; Mao's face, but with Chiang Kai Shek's bald head, and Sun Yat-Sen's mustache.
The four women's state of undress represent the situation in each country. China is naked on top, clothed with a skirt and underwear on the bottom. America wears a bra and a light jacket, but is naked on the bottom. Russia has only her underwear left. Japan has nothing left.
At first glance, America appears to be most composed and seems to be the best position, as all the others are in various states of nakedness. However, while America may look radiant, her vulnerability has already been exposed. China and Russia may look naked, yet their key private parts remain hidden.
If the stakes of this game is that the loser strips off a piece of clothing, then if China loses, she will be in the same state as Russia (similar to when the USSR dissolved). If America loses, she also ends up in the same state as Russia. If Russia loses, she loses all. Japan has already lost everything.
Russia seems to be a mere "filler" player, but in fact is exchanging tiles with China. The real "filler" player is Japan, for Japan has nothing more to lose, and if she loses just once more she is immediately out of the game.
America may look like she is in the best position, but in fact is in a lot of danger, if she loses this round, she will give up her position as a world power. Russia is the most sinister, playing along with both sides, much like when China was de-occupied, she leaned towards the USSR and then towards America; as she did not have the ability to survive on her own, she had to weave between both sides in order to survive and develop.
There are too many of China's tiles that we cannot see. Perhaps suggesting that China has several hidden aces? Additionally China is also exchanging tiles with Russia, while America can only guess from Taiwan's expression of what actions have transpired between Russia and China. Japan on the other hand is completely oblivious, still focused solely on her own set of tiles.
Taiwan stares coldly at the game from aside. She sees everything that the players at the table are doing, she understands everything that is going on. But she doesn't have the means or permission to join the game, she isn't even given the right to speak. Even if she has a dearth of complaints, she cannot voice it to anyone, all she can do is to be a good page girl, and bring fresh fruit to the victor.
The final victor lies between China and America, this much is apparent. But look closely; while America is capable, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker. Playing by the rules of China, how much chance at victory does America really have?


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Found this on Facebook and found it pretty intriguing, interesting and worth sharing and reading again at some later date … so I reproduce it on my blog. I am reproducing the full text which gives credit to the artist but I have no clue as to who has written all the explanatory stuff below so no attribute there. If someone knows or the original author comes by this humble blog, let me know. I will include the appropriate attributes and source info.