Yankee Doodle Doo! — A Big Apple Travelogue

Of all the things that my editor is known for, sense of humor is not certainly one of them. So when he called me up and asked me, whether I would like to go to New York, I was a bit taken aback. He was sombre and so was his tenor, giving me little reason to suspect his intentions. “It is for a Juniper event, 3 days to Big Apple,” he added. With nervous excitement, I acquiesced and from that day onwards (till I came back), all I could think of is New York.

It was a roller coaster ride, many ups followed by the downs. As I had decided to stay back for a few more days, 4 more to be precise, there was a lot that needed to be done, right from finding a roof to arranging the moolah.

To cut the long story short, this piece isn’t about my trials and travails in the US, but rather the impressions that have formed on my mind and what I bring back from the continent.

As my plane landed on a chilly January dawn at Newark International Airport, the first thing that came to my mind was the sheer scale of the complex. I could see from the air itself, that the place was mammoth. And once I disembarked, my doubts turned into reality; there were some hundred odd terminals and more. Newark Airport is some 20 odd miles from New York, in the neighboring state of New Jersey. It took some thirty minutes drive to reach my hotel on 50th street, the New York Palace Hotel. Right next door to the hotel was the St. Patrick Cathedral that seemed to be inspired from maestro Antoni Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona. And so was the famous Rockerfeller Center, some meters away.

Mapping Manhattan
In many ways, walking in between those sky-reaching towers gives you a sense of deja vu . Have we not seen this somewhere is a constant hum that keeps reverberating through the conscious mind and there are valid reasons for it. New York City (I will henceforth use the rather stylish acronym NYC) has been captured on celluloid innumerable times. So when Spiderman is shown slinging his way through the rather narrow streets of Downtown, or how Robert Neville (Will Smith) in I am Legend , finds out in the empty streets of Manhattan that he isn’t actually the last man standing, or even John McClane (Bruce Willis) and a store owner play a bomber’s deadly game as they race around Broadway while trying to stop him. Closer to home, a certain Mr. Karan Johar, has canned NYC almost exclusively in the very few films that he has made (thank heavens). Continue reading

Open Vs Proprietary: The War is still On

No sooner had I put up innocuous query on LinkedIn asking respondents whether open source is cheaper than proprietary software, responses to the same started flowing in. Experts and professionals from around the globe started debating the issue on the forum. Some were die-hard open source proponents arguing about all the good that is there in those lines of code written by the developer ilk. On the other hand, there were the pragmatists that argued against and prescribed more practical approach that could only be possible through the use of proprietary or as a few called it, closed systems.

The age old war between the two technologies, namely, open source and proprietary software is still very much on. Like the proverbial good versus evil clash, everyone was eager to paint the other as evil. Lost somewhere in translation is the real issue, namely which of the two is cheaper, secure, easier to maintain, etc. The question we really need to tackle is not a philosophical one, i.e., what is good or what is evil but simply which is preferable and which is not. So here is a primer on what is what.

Apples & oranges?

One of the issues that lot many experts often raise and rail about is when the two, namely open source and proprietary are comparable at all.  The way the two have emerged and evolved is the reason for it. While, open source has been around for many decades, thanks to the mainframe legacy, where in the computer belonged to the technologist. Hence, a breed of technologists emerged who believed in technology for the sake of technology. Meanwhile, the proprietary software, one can say is of recent emergence especially since the college dropouts Bill Gates and Paul Allen started peddling software developed by others for profit, and so was Microsoft and proprietary software born. Since, the past three decades, the war between the two has continued ever since. Continue reading

Why I delete more friends on FB, than adding new ones?

One of the existential questions that I often grapple with these days is whether the friends on my Facebook List are my friends at all? In the sense, from time unknown, I have come to live the idea of a friend as someone whom you know and trust implicitly. A friend is someone you can wake in the middle of night because you have a nightmare and yet expect not to sleep till you have done so.

And yet, the people on my FB, purportedly known as friends are anything but so. They are an assimilation of colleagues, contacts, acquaintances and so on. Over the past year or so, I have accumulated quite a handful of them, some 260 for a guy who can count just a handful in real life.

In the exuberance to spread my wings in the social space, I let my email accounts find friends for me and result is, today I have a whole lot of people I know little or none of. It was over the next few months or so of ‘wall’ interactions that I came to know more about them. And in the process, I also came to know much about myself as well. I came to realise that whatever I do, there are certain traits that I just can’t accept in my friends, real and purported ones.

So, over the last few months or so, I have been revisiting all my friends on Facebook, and taking a value-based judgement on a simple assertion: does the person add value to my wall or not. It was certainly not an easy task, but I persisted on it. The result has been that these days I am deleting more people from my list than adding new ones. In the same process, I have come to realise some of the things one should be doing and more importantly not doing on FB.

Thus, here are some pointers on “how to make friends on FB and keep them as friends”.

1) Don’t be a bloody show-off
Meeting Amitabh Bachchan tonight, will discuss his hernia. Flew executive class to Florida, the wine was good. Tired of globetrotting, need rest. Buying Armani feels good. 10 days to Honolulu.

Continue reading

Now hot, now cold climate-wallahs

Demeter, the Olympian goddess of harvest and climate, is known to act in extremes, at times her benevolence knows no bounds and so does her wrath. Probably, the climate nowadays seems to be going along with the whims of the ancient Greek goddess. Suddenly, there is a flash-storm in Philippines, an earthquake in Haiti, hurricane in Florida, unbelievable snowfall across Europe and now the east coast of the US. The whims of Demeter seem to be dictating the climes now.

And she isn’t the only one whimsical around. The climate-wallahs or more appropriately the climate change-wallahs seem to be more whimsical thanDemeter and with passage of each day they seem to turning ridiculous as well.  Savour this, not such a long-time ago, there was a large looming question mark over our very existence, every action from the computers we run to the farts of the cows (they are a big cause, by the way) were dubbed as detrimental to our environment and hence our health as well. The climate seers while predicting doom, also prescribed big sacrifices from all, from what we eat to how we commute. Continue reading

Dear MF Hussain-saab

Salaam from India. I hope you are doing well, which I can well imagine you are, considering that at your age there is so much little that one needs and there is just so much that you already have. Well, to be honest, I have been wanting to write you for some time but I was confused about where to send you the mail, as some said that you were a royal guest in UAE, while a few contested that you were put up in London and the rest assured me that you were very much on your way to India.  It was not until that you took up residency in Qatar, that I wasn’t sure of your precise location. In fact, it is about this precise location that I wanted to talk to you about.

Let me first make an honest confession, I am a great fan of yours and your work. Even though, I cannot imagine ever being able to own a Husain piece (and so do probably 99.99999 crores of Indians), yet there is an unknownaffinity that pulls us to your canvass or any piece that you touch including tablecloths, handkerchiefs and even walls. Probably, it was exclusivity of your work that made it so valuable to us. Sotheby used to auction your work for millions of Dollah. I well remember there was this industrialist that had commissioned a hundred paintings from you for some Rs. 100 crore. Now, it is not every day that a painter gets that kind of money, do they? We all Indians were awed and intimidated by your paintings, even if those stark and blurry figurines did not make any sense.

Also, there was a personal connect for me. In most of your paintings that I chanced across in various magazines, etc. your favourite motif was the horse. White, black, yellow, purple horse with open jaws or mouth shut, galloping or standing still. Even when there was no need for a horse in your painting, there would always be one. For instance, in one of the paintings your muse Madhuri was naked and straddling your motif, a horse. Now that was certainly hard to imagine, considering that Madhuri would never ever ride a horse like that. Nevertheless, I share with you the passion for horses. As a kid, I remember my father taking us to Juhu Chowpatty, I used to love the horses there and would lug at my dad’s shirt asking for a horse ride or even two. Some years later, they stopped horses and camels on the beach, and yet I still loved them and would gallop on an invisible horse often when I was alone. So you see from that time on, I have been very impressed by horses.

Continue reading

A letter from Mrs. Ramalinga

At some point in time in our cyber lives, each one of us has encountered the Nigerian 419 mail. Namely, a mail that comes from some old bank employee or a widow, that promises huge sums to the gullible fool that does not dump the mail into the trash bin.

The scamsters, which in spite of their rather mundane modus-operandi, are pretty much successful and account for millions of dollars in fraud each year. One of the reasons behind their high success rate, is their adaptability. So when the US invaded Iraq, their were lot of messages coming from the Baath Party, or even from Afghanistan. The Nigerians are pretty well aware and out there to con you.

So, when my friend Nelson Johnny sent me a forward from Mrs. Radha Ramalinga, I was much amused. The text was strikingly similar to the Nigerian 419 scams. The same bait, the same hook and the same story. Some preliminary Googling on Radha Ramalinga revealed that the con mail has been around for some time, with many people reporting about the same. Also the fact that Mrs Ramalinga is a real person, was another interesting bit.

Somehow, I feel this mail did not originate from a cyber cafe in Lagos, but some where in Ulhas Nagar in India. The look and feel of the same give a very ‘Indian’ touch to the mail. Though on closer inspection one finds that the Namaste spelling is incorrect and there are quite a few typos, namely no space after comma. Also, the mail id provided for future interaction is slightly different from the one the message originates from.

Nonetheless, I have high regards for Ramalinga Raju as a con artist, his corporate swindling should be studied like a case study. In fact, I had written a piece on it earlier, “Why demonise Raju?” (http://shashwatdc.com/2009/01/why-demonise-raju/). And now receiving a con mail fron someone purporting to be his sister-in-law, I really felt good (though I need to thank Nelson, but whatever).

So, if you have been unlucky till now in receiving the mail, here is a copy of it: Raju420. Continue reading

The Union Budget and me

(This piece was written quite a few years ago, some 7-8 to be precise when Jaswant Singh was the FM, for my blog Anonymuncle. At that time, I was with a financial newspaper and was overwhelmed with the importance and coverage that media gave to the budget. This piece is a subtle reminder of the same.

When I look at it now, I don’t see much of a difference in the way Union budget affects us. I still am non-chalant, a little morbid and a little unsure now)

Year after year, me, my ma and dad used to sit glued to the television set listening with rapt attention, how the finance minister would shape our destinities. Budget times were always something different and all purchases were either hurried or delayed depending on the probablity of it being good or bad.

The finance minister all of sudden seemed to acquire a halo, like those potraits of gods, with the sun shining behind.  Manmohan Singh used to be pretty entertaining, with his couplets and straight-faced humour. Then, there was Chidambaram, humble and up to the point. Yashwant Sinha, there was always something menacing about him, with him around, good news always seemed far away. Cut to the current incumbent Jaswant Singh, dont know how he is, neither do I care anymore. Simply because the budget doesnt interest me anymore.

A sense of forebrooding envelops me, I have an inkling of what is their in store. It is more or less the same, mobiles, PCs, Tvs, et al get cheaper and LPG, kerosene, petrol get dearer. The income tax slab is raised or retained. The fiscal deficit increases by a hundred thousand crore, the defence sector goes richer. Some new surcharges are introduced, be it Kargil, Gujarat or now Infrastructure.

What bothers me no end is the tax slab, simply because I constantly try to evade it. I simply cannot come to terms with the thought of wasting my hard-earned money on some 500 nincompoops who already make millions under the board. As a citizen of this nation, it is our duty to pay taxes, we are reminded again and again. Yeah, so that all our honourable leaders can lead a life of more comfort, as it is, they move in cavalcades, with glaring red lights and lead a life which would embarass even the Maharajahs of yore. No, give me a better reason. Continue reading

Looking out from 25000+ feet

‘The mountains are Vishnu’s bones, clouds are the hairs on his head, the air is his breathing, rivers are his veins, trees are the hairs of his body, the sun and the moon are his two eyes and the passage of day and night is the moving of his eyelids.’

– Rig Veda

From the time when I boarded an aircraft over a decade ago, have been fascinated by the sights that one comes across from the tiny glass pane up in the sky. It is nothing less than magical to see giant bridges turn into tiny dots, long railways transform into an micro-toy trains and looming sky scrapers mere indentures on the landscape. Even after scores of trips over the Indian map and other ones, I still take the window seat and keep peeping out, as if there is something else that might just come up. Or it could be someone as well, like say, God. After all doesn’t he (she or even it) lives in the heavens. I have been keeping a watch out for him as well, because looking beneath at the wonderful creation that more or less fits on my palm, my belief in his existence is reaffirmed.

To-date, my most memorable journey was the one I took from Mumbai to Newark, non-stop. The American Airlines plane, to cut the route short, flies over Asia and Europe to the North Pole and then descends over the American hemisphere via Canada. I spent hours peering out in the darkness of the North Pole, could somehow feel the chill of the immense block of ice and the moon kept me company in the vigil. The fact that almost a century and more back there were so many valiant explorers who were racing to the find the North Pole to plant a flag. So many perished in the endeavour and so many just disappeared. And here I was their descendant, flying over the Pole in the comfort of a cosy cabin munching on cashews and sipping wine.

Here is one such journey I made, albeit much shorter and in daylight: fromMumbai to Delhi, on Indigo Flt 6E382. As I was looking out of the window as usual, random thoughts kept popping into my mind (as usual again), with a small difference though, this time I had a pen and paper on which I could jot down whatever came to my mind. This post is a chronicle of the same mind that was travelling at 100s of Kms per hour. Here it goes:

  • The captain makes an announcement; “Welcome onboard, we are flying at 37000 feet . The place is near Ahmadabad. It almost seems like am flying over the Indian map. Continue reading

Twit Me Journalist

Blood oozed out profusely through Neda Agha-Soltan’s nose and mouth, as lay dying on the pavement. Within seconds of it, her eyes rolled to one side, and it was evident that life was ebbing out of her. The 26 year old, had been shot apparently by government militiamen as she was proceeding to join a pro-democracy protest against the alleged fraudulent victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Iranian. Neda’s sad end was captured on a mobile phone by one of the onlookers, and uploaded on Youtube on the same day, i.e. June 20th 2009.

Within a few hours the short video clip had been viewed by millions across the globe, and over the next few days Neda became an emblem or rather a martyr to the cause of ‘the Green Revolution’ in Iran. Numerous websites spawned up paying tributes to her, bloggers furtively wrote in her memory, even the mainstream medium joined in, with the video clip being shown on CNN, BBC, etc. In a quirky way, Neda became the first celebrity of the citizen journalism, a method wherein information is created, disseminated and consumed by the laymen and not by journalists working in the media.

Yet the concept of citizen or participatory journalism is not a novel one, it has been around for quite some years. With the mainstream media turning into a pamphleteer of the rich and powerful and doing little about mundane issues that really matter to the common man. A new street journalism that was essentially “by the people” began to flourish facilitated by the emergence of the Web earlier and mobile later. The Web was the catalyst for the movement, as individuals with a web-connection and a point-of-view could now broadcast the same to the world at large. The new world was now populated by bloggers and writers who were furtively punching in stories, uploading video clips, etc.

Some years back I had met Oh Yeon-Ho, the founder of one the most popular citizen journalist portal, Ohmynews. When, I expressed my reservations on how untrained individuals could be dubbed as journalist and expected to create news content, Yeon-Ho assured me that it was well possible and quite required because the conventional media completely ignored the common man. “This is the common man showing his thumb to the mammoth news organizations that think he does not matter,” he had joked. Indeed, the whole edifice on which the 4th estate rested, namely, a controlled medium and a controlled message, was the danger of being swamped away in the new world, in which the consumer was also the creator. Continue reading

7 Steps to becoming the CIO

Peep into an ant-hill and you will know what seamless order and perfection is. The tiny insect cousins have truly evolved a highly complex organizational structure that in spite of being hierarchal is also highly efficient. At the very apex sits the queen, cynosure of all the domicile ants, and does little work except fawn and procreate. Below the queen, there are the scores and scores of workers ants that toil endlessly to ensure that queen is unperturbed and amply at ease.

Were we to project this organizational structure on to a standard enterprise, more so on to IT function of the typical enterprise. It will be fairly evident, that the CIO is the queen of the IT-hill, fawned upon by the rest of the managers and professionals. The IT function head has little to do with IT these days and frets and fumes over mundane things like RoI, people management etc.

For the sake of illustration, take the case of Mr. O, who is a CIO of a fairly large pharma company, leads a lifestyle that could be the envy of many. More often than not he is constantly touring the country and globe for work, conferences, etc. He is courted by vendors, analysts, journalists, and others who are all ears for every word that escapes his mouth. The CEO of the company is all ears, whenever Mr. O has a new proposal or strategy. He moves along in hallowed circles receiving awards and recognition with amazing regularity, has a spacious cabin with all the works.

So when does Mr. O work? Well, honestly he does not really work, but merely gets his work done. Over the years, he has outsourced much of the infrastructure management to external vendors. Even so, he still has a small and cosy team of managers and IT professionals that handle the day-to-day functioning of the IT infrastructure and the data center. The ant-hill isn’t much different from the IT-hill, isn’t it?
One cannot be sure if the worker ant within the ant-hill aspires to be the queen, but the IT manager at the IT-hill surely desires to be CIO. This was evident, when we floated out a survey on what it takes to be a CIO to sample of around 500 IT mangers drawn from different verticals, cities, and profiles. To say that the response was overwhelming would be an understatement; close to 300 IT managers had completed the survey within 2 days, while the others continue to do so over the next few days. The dozen odd questions were designed to capture the ‘essentials’ of what it takes to be a CIO. Once, the verdict was out from the IT manager’s end, the same question was posed to the CIOs and external consultants and they were asked to share their views on a similarly designed survey.

Based on the findings of the two, the IT manager survey and the CIO & consultant one, we present the 7-step guide to being a CIO. While much of this may seem fairly obvious and common sensical, yet, remember that it is the small things that make a CIO. And it is these traits and specialities that need to be imbibed and displayed to earn the CIO cap. While the steps might seem fairly easy, they require a complete change of mindset. So, if you are ready for the challenge, here is the way, presenting the IT Next’s 7-step guide to becoming CIO.

  • Be business savvy
Over the past many years the role of the CIO a 180° turnaround. While, he continues to remain the king (or the queen) of all things technical, the role has expanded in a way to encompass all the organization. Thus, a CIO is no more chained to the data center or the IT department, but is expected to take on a much bigger and strategic role within the organization. Also the fact that with rapid digitization, IT and technology is not merely backend, but very much front-end as well. Thus, while a retailer might be concerned about implementing the best inventory and warehousing system at his shop, he could also look at the Web and mobile as an additional front to reach out to the customer. Herein IT provides him a completely new revenue stream that did not exist before. The CIO in this case needs to be the change agent that brings about such a transformation, not reactive but proactive. Continue reading

Mogambo; miss hua..

It has been 5 years since Hindi Film industry’s foremost villain, Amrish Puri left for the heavenly abode of Dongrila and Hindi films have never been the same again. He was the last ‘villain’ of Hindi movies and great one, by par. In these few years, his absence has been acutely felt by viewers of Hindi movies. The hero no more seems as heroic as he did in the past, simply because there is no villain who can tower over him. He was the epitome of villainy, who merely by his presence on-screen could repulse you or send a shiver down your spine. To be honest, he was the last of the great school of villains, that went long time into the past, having illustrious names like Pran, KN Singh, Kanhaiyalaal, Madan Puri, Amjad Khan, etc.

Let me illustrate this point with a personal example, sometime back while watching the film Ghazini, I realised the importance of a good villain in a film. Somehow, I could not sympathise with the character played by Aamir Khan, simply because the ‘bad guy’ did not seem to be menacing enough. He was bad alright, killing or maiming people like any other villains are expected to. But he was not evil, he was not sinister, he was not wicked. And therefore, the protagonist did not seem to be valiant and gallant. Now, imagine Amrish Puri in the role of Ghazini, the main villain and the contours change completely. Almost instinctively, you start to sympathise with hero even before the film starts that was the power of Amrish Puri.

The reason is fairly simple, unlike the West that tends to see the world in grey and color; we are brought up to see everything in Black and White. So, if it is not good, then it has to be bad, if not punya then paap. Even humans are bracketed into these slots, so if you are not a suputra (or suputri for that matter), you are definitely a kuputra (kuputri similarly). Our allegiance to the good is equally matched by our ambivalence of bad. And so we happily exist in this two-dimensional universe. Continue reading

Zewak: The search engine

Imagine, it is a hot afternoon and you are trudging your way on a street, hot and thirsty. All you want is a nice cosy restaurant where you can sit down, order your lunch and possibly have a drink or two. You keep looking here and there, walking down the length of the street, but are unhappy with what you see. So, you finally catch hold of a person, who seems to be all knowledgeable and approachable. You beseech him to guide you to a ‘nice’ restaurant, where you can find all this and more.

On hearing you out, the person, cross-checks with you a few more things; things like, what is the cost range you looking at? You want to have a beer or a juice? What kind of cuisine you looking at? AC or non-AC? And a few more like this. Based on your responses, he proposes a few options and then on further discussion, you finally chose one from them. The search for the restaurant for a hungry you in this scenario was two-way process.

This is how we work in life; this is how we find what we want. And yet, the online world is anything like this. Most often the search, or more precisely Googling, is a one way process. Wherein we put in a keyword and thanks to the wonderful algorithm and the scores and scores of servers, the search site puts out a veritable lists of things that might be of interest to you.  It is basically information inundation. Going back to the scenario earlier, a hungry you, are presented a telephone guide of all the restaurants that are in the area.
So, while Google has become an integral part of our lives, it is surely not the best solution that we have. What we need is a new search engine, a new idea, a new concept that kind of maps our real life and mimics our offline life on the online space as well. Continue reading