Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Baseball got ahead of them this time!

Reading IndiaUncut's post on sabermetrics in basketball, I was reminded of a fascinating book called Moneyball, that came out some time in 2003. Written by Michael Lewis (of "Liar's Poker" fame), it's about Billy Beane, the general manager of a baseball team (the Oakland As) that can't afford any of the star players and has the lowest payroll in their league, to the top of the league - using a heady cocktail of old-fashioned scouting methods and new age data mining. It's a great book - you can follow it well enough even if you don't know much about the game and Lewis is a natural storyteller. Read the NY Times review of the book here if you'd like to know more.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To boo or not to boo boors - is that a question?

Read an interesting article in the South China Morning Post this morning - an interview with a guy who has become quite famous in the Chinese internet world in less than a month. Simple enough story – The Hero Of Our Story sits on Number 68X Kowloon bus. Co-passenger is talking quite loudly on his mobile. THOOS taps co-passenger’s shoulder and asks him to tone it down a bit. Co-passenger turns around and blasts THOOS for a little under 6 minutes. This video has scored more than 2 million hits since when it first came out on April 29, and the co-passenger is now notorious as the “Bus Uncle”. You can find the video here and might find it quite entertaining – Bus Uncle video. (Viewer warning: Beyond 3 minutes, the video gets quite un-“under 18 years” worthy (no, no, not that kind of under 18, just a lot of “macho” abuse), viewer please exercise discretion in watching. If you’re under 18 and have clicked on this link, you are a bad boy/girl!)

I felt quite sorry for THOOS till I read his interview this morning. Sample this quote, “The most important thing I learnt from the incident is that I must work hard to shorten my working hours so that I can go home earlier and avoid taking the same bus with Bus Uncle again… (But) I am not mad at him, as I know he has pressure ”. Pressure? Like what - peer pressure? atmospheric pressure? Well, duh! It’s one thing to be empathetic, it’s another to give boors like Bus Uncle a reason to behave the way they do.

If I could meet him, I'd probably ask him if he had a brother in India I could bother for some instant pressure release? Every time I need to let some steam off, I’ll shadow this guy, talk loudly around him and wait for the fatal shoulder tap (fatal for him, that is!), when I turn around and let flow a choice stream of pressure-releasing-words, in multiple languages. After which, he'll go around telling everybody how he understands I "have pressure"... maybe they'll call this the HongKong Habit, along the lines of the Stockholm Syndrome - empathise with those who abuse. Boors rule!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Do I really need one?

To IndiaUncut's question, not sure I really need one... The cloak isn't really going to double my invizibility now, is it?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Good, better, BEST?

It's funny how a mention of Mumbai is incomplete without the local railway, and the sundry trials and tribulations (and occasional epiphanies) of traveling the Virar Local and the Dombivli Fast, while no one spares a thought for the old faithful trundler, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) buses.

For somebody who's from a city where anything greater than 10km is a long distance (this city), taking a train was more like an afterthought, something you did once or twice a year. Like most other Indian cities, public transport typically meant buses and I used them a lot (which is why I know this). When I came to Mumbai 3 years ago, it was, therefore, a little disorienting when I'd ask people whether they travelled by bus, and they'd either give me blank stares or think I'm a looney and split their sides laughing.

That was till I started taking the buses myself, and I have to confess, I love it. I don't take them to get to work - honestly, they do take a lot of time. But on weekends, when I really want to unwind and see the city, I don't mind taking a bus. The buses are empty, they're fast enough to get a good breeze going, but not fast enough that you'll miss the sights and sounds, and they take you through parts of the city you'd normally miss if you were taking a cab or the train.

I love Bombay, but there are times when I wish I was in a city just a little less hectic, where things move at a pace that'll let me look around. I guess everybody has their own little escape chute when they need to slow down and look around... and buses are my private escape chute. If you'ven't tried it yet, hop on.

(Inspired by this post, especially the lines -"The sight of a large number of people moving with a collective sense of purpose - deftly avoiding the roadside hawkers, crossing the narrow lane, running on the platform, penetrating the layer of “macho” dudes who hog the entry points of the train - to keep up their destiny with the “Virar fast” is remarkable." Thanks Ravi)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A fabulous link I Stumbled Upon the other day - how Hobbes grew to become Tyler Durden. It isn't every day that you get two of your fave characters to meet on the same timeline!

Extending the logic of the argument, I can see how in a parallel universe, Calvin would grow up to be the-engineer-who-calls-himself-Dilbert. Calvin, in a remarkable change in form, overcomes his weakness in Math, and uses his near-genius IQ to transform himself to Dilbert, the engineer. He is ashamed of what he has become, so he changes his appearance - hides behind dorky glasses and an ever upturned tie (though the hair spikes still remain, muted to engineer standards, of course) Pl see exhibit below. His playfulness has toned down, but his sarcasm has become more evolved - that's only natural when your playground has evolved from calvinosaurs to elbonian mp3 players. He still hates authority - Calvin's dislike towards Ms.Wormwood's figure of authority is further deepened by Calvin/Dilbert's exposure to the Pointy Haired Boss - and his anti-social tendencies have gone from bad to worse - as Dilbert's biographer, Scott Adams, says: He's got the social skills of a mousepad and he'd rather surf the Internet than Waikiki.

Hobbes has morphed as well - in the dog-eat-dog world of corporatedom, he became Dogbert. Now that's not what his biographer says about his origins, but it's obviously a way for a square Dilbert to explain the existence of a strange talking dog. Look no further than Adams' description of Dogbert:

Genetically he may be a dog, but Dogbert is no man's best friend. He treats people with disdain, reserving special contempt for Dilbert, who's no master--or match--for Dogbert. (Although he wouldn't admit it, if push came to shove, he'd protect the bumbler. And never let him forget it).

Calvin was never a match for Hobbes, and that hasn't changed. Hobbes/Dogbert, however, would protect Calvin/Dilbert if it really came down to it - old friends can't be forgotten that easily.

What of Sue Derkins? She never forgot Calvin, and worse, never forgave him for his G.R.O.S.S. behavior. Seeing how Calvin had gotten over his fear of math, and became an engineer, she gravitated towards engineering herself. Sue's industrious and conventional self took to engineering like a Calvin to dinosaurs, and she followed Calvin/Dilbert to his cubicledom, in the process, changing her name to Alice and her appearance to something out of Godzilla, only a lot smaller. As the only female engineer in cubicledom, she aims to torment Calvin/Dilbert by being out of his reach. Unfortunately for her, that didn't happen... however, she hangs around with the eternal hope of having the last laugh. Her description is a perfect indicator of her Sue-ness: She (Alice) has a quick temper when confronted with the idiocy of her co-workers. Sue's temper in the face of Calvin's idiocy has only multiplied to encompass the whole office now.

Calvin is dead, long live Calvin!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Back in Mumbai... and am very impressed with the Mumbaiya use of space. It's like the traditional reason why Mallus don't do well at football - give them a corner and they open up a tea shop! Give the Mumbaikar some space, and they'll squeeze it for their money's worth. Take this example:

This is an ad overlooking Mumbai's very busy Kemps Corner flyover. It's a brilliant spot to put it at, given the traffic that's going to see this at eye level. What's even cuter is the way this space got created. Behind the ad is a building that's being renovated. They've screened the renovation from the general public and used that space to put up an ad... in what must be Mumbai's most expensive ad spot. Outstanding. Trust the Mumbaikar to put his space to good use!

Friday, May 19, 2006

More from Chennai - in this case, politics and public transport numbers. Every five years, the buses in Chennai have their titles changed. As somebody who has used the sterling Metropolitan Transport Corporation (the agency that runs the city's buses) for a long time, I've watched this 5-year tamasha played out twice already.

This is the game: When I used to travel to school, I used to take a bus - 7F. The government changed in 1991 and the bus became 7J. While the change was initially puzzling, we got used to it in no time. It was quite interesting to watch buses all across the city take up strange titles - Js and Rs as suffixes become extremely popular. The names didn't need a lot to figure out - J was the initial of the then chief minister and R was the initial of her mentor, a late chief minister who is invoked by all and sundry in this state as their icon.

I saw the numbers switch back to the less politically inclined suffixes, e.g. A, B, C etc., when power changed hands in 1996, and then change once again to J and R in 2001. Given the perfect correlation between politics and bus numbers, I anticipated a change after the new government came into power in the state last week, and voila - when I landed in Chennai three days ago, what do I see, but the familiar A, B and C!

I felt a part of a world more secure, where I know what to expect from the governments I elect into power. Not good roads, not clean water, not uninterrupted power, what I expect are consistent bus numbers - consistent with party policy, that is. And the government unerringly delivers on that, in less than a week after getting power. Such sense of purpose and ability to execute in a constantly fluctuating world has to be a good sign.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Had the opportunity to go to a fashion awards nite over the weekend. It was the first time I was out for something like this, so well, it was quite interesting to watch models sashay down the ramp, Bollywood stars do the odd stage dance and fashion folks congratulate each other and themselves with great ado. Knowing how friends and family could doubt my presence at such a non-geeky event, I got some proof... or so I thought. Here are a couple of (very grainy and quite sad) pictures taken with my inadequate-to-the-task phone:
Yeah, looks like I stood right in front of the TV and took a snap... Anyways, geek that I was, while I was impressed by the bevy of beauties, I was just as impressed by what it takes to get something like this organized. For one, the film and fashion folk involved are not exactly known for their punctuality or awareness of where to be, and when. That, of course, translated into winners being announced, presenter waiting to hand off trophy, and no actor/model anywhere in sight. Second, the technical stuff - lights, camera, action, etc. - was quite a handful. Take a look at this pic:

The camera in the picture was swinging up and down all night along in a huge arc, which threatened to decapitate a few people each time it came down, but miraculously missed each time. Add to that two cameraman who walked up and down the ramp each time a fashion show happened. Add to that a gazillion other arrangements, a teleprompter that went berserk as some models and actors didn't turn up. It was quite a revelation to watch something like this unfold in real life versus on the small screen where it's all spruced up to look real neat.

All in all, an evening well spent and extremely educational. Would recommend the same to you, especially if you can wangle the invite. Good luck.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Got some good advice on blogging from this man. In light of aforesaid good advice, am putting in some shorter blogs as well.

Was out on retail therapy yesterday and we visited one of our old faithful stores in Phoenix Mills. We were at the counter, waiting in the interminable line, when we saw this at one of the inactive counters:

I guess as you get closer to the counter, this informative signboard tells you as much!

Friday, May 12, 2006

In traveling between Delhi and Mumbai, am missing out on the political media activity in my own town, namma ooru Chennai, where election results came out yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, am reading the papers and following it on the web, so am in tune with most of the activity, especially the free offers going around. Both the main parties involved seem to have hired a soap marketing discard to do their policy work – you get a free computer or a free TV depending on who gets elected (the question seems to be - would you like or will FTV do?!) But, this piece isn’t about that... it’s about the channel wars and the way these will shape Indian TV as we know it today.

What channels you say? These channels - Sun TV and Jaya TV. A brief history of these channels can be found here - Sun TV history and Jaya TV history. They are quite unabashed in their political preferences, with the channels' logos matching their political parents' symbols. While I was channel surfing a few days ago, I chanced upon the ruling party’s channel which had an interesting half hour telecast. The Hindu-CNN-IBN poll had been published the day after the elections, predicting that the ruling party would be out of power. So what did the channel do? They picked two of their star campaigners, put them in front of the camera with a popular journo-chat show host, trying to convince voters that the poll was inaccurate and that the ruling party would win at a canter. Of course, yesterday’s results had quite the opposite verdict. And going by the pre-poll propaganda on the rival channel, wouldn’t have put it beyond them to have done something similar if the shoe was on the other foot.

To be honest, I have nothing in favour of or against either party, and am not cribbing about them doing this. What excites me is the opportunity the wars might have unearthed, quite accidentally. For about a month, this was riveting entertainment. People actually tuned into this stuff on a daily basis. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill “unbiased, objective reporting”. This was hardcore, (pie-)in-your-face reality TV… and it worked. This initial success, I think, will inspire a future TV world, which would look something like this…

Cable channels for each party – you’ll have the national channels – INC, Bhajpa TV, CPI TV, Janata Dal TV – and the state-specific regional channels. Each time a party splinters, they’ll form their own channel. There’ll be spycam shows (“Watch the other party MP/MLA stash his suitcase”), news shows (“As our esteemed leader said for the 50th time...”), history shows (“This party was founded in the blood and toil of a brave man”), event coverage (“Watch the largest crowd gathered anywhere in the world at our rally”) and advertisements from affiliated sponsors (“One ad slot for every crore in the party kitty”). There will be soaps where the good family is in the right party and the bad family is in the wrong one. There will be movies telecast of star MPs/MLAs and also star campaigners.

Depending on the alliance formation, the cablewallah will charge you for a bouquet of channels – arre baba, political parties will ensure Conditional Access System comes in, na, otherwise how will channels make money? For example, in this election, Star, INC, DMK, etc. could be a bouquet, and Zee, Bhajpa, AIADMK, etc. could be another bouquet. All party members have to ensure they get their bouquet of channels at home, and if caught watching other party channels will be summarily suspended.

Pipe dream, you say? Stranger things have happened, say I.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Went star-gazing last week. No, I don’t mean hanging around the JW Marriott hotel in Juhu watching spaghetti strapped maidens and tight T-shirt clad hunks. We went to Karjat (for the non-Mumbaikars, that’s a village about a 100 km from Mumbai) to watch some specks in the sky. No real reason to go - had nothing to do for the weekend and my credit card had this offer going (for a fee, of course!). Also, a friend had come from Bangalore and we had to show him that Mumbaikars had all kinds of cool options to choose from.

So there we went, around 9:30 PM on a Saturday night, when logic said we should have been drinking the night away. Ah well, logic was for another night, we were out to romance the stars (hmmm, wrong context, but is there any other way I could romance the stars?!). Anyways, at around 11:30, as we were stuck in some truly awesome traffic at Panvel (f. t. non-M., outskirts of Mumbai – where you can start breathing oxygen again), my Bangalore friend, sweat dripping, turned around (it took some doing, mind you, given the seats were designed by a deranged psychopath specializing in slow killing) and said with real wonder, man, you guys stay out real late. Yup, I grimaced, Mumbaikars stay up late, just the wrong people at the wrong place.

We finally made it out of the midnight jam, and made it upto Karjat, where in the middle of nowhere, we stopped. Thinking that it was a good time to make for the fields before the bandits arrived, we were about to exit stage left, when the guide announced that we had reached our destination. We had come to a field near Karjat village, where we laid down some styrofoam mats and parked ourselves. The guide, who was from the Nehru planetarium, then took us through a few constellations for the next two hours.

Our greatest learning was that our ancestors were tripping on some seriously crazy stuff to have seen what they did in the stars. Yeah, look at ol’ Leo and tell me you see a lion there – and I should probably ask you what weed you’re smoking. Anyways, a few crazy constellations past, the cloud cover decided to put paid to our night out plans. We decided to wait the clouds out, but it proved to be quite useless – the clouds had the last laugh, and we left at around 3:30 to get back home by 5 AM.

Even with the cloud cover and the bad ride, it was just fabulous to be out there. The dense silence and the pitch blackness of the night in the middle of a field was just what the doctor ordered for my city-dwelling self. I cannot begin to explain what a great feeling it was just to be there, sitting and soaking in the surroundings – till I got pelted by the rest of my group, and came back to reality and making enough noise to disturb the still of the night. People, do try to go if you can – it’s just a great experience – you, the stars and a field in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dear reader,

Hello. As the reader of my first post, welcome to my page.

Let me introduce myself - I'm an observer. I like to look around me, and I like to think about what I see. I observe, but am not observed - a veritable Invizible Man - and this blog is a record of my observations. Introspicio ergo sum, says I.

That's the high-falutin stuff that's supposed to make you think I'm a genius, but maybe it hasn't worked, so here is the more mundane me - am on the older side of 25, live in Mumbai, work as a consultant, and like to write. Was inspired by a couple of my friends to write a blog - dunno why I waited this long. Well, here it is - my first post.