Things that just continue to evade you

I don’t know about most of you, but there are loads of thing that continue to evade me. As much as I try to catch them, they whizz past me making a whooshing sound. If I were to make a list, even a quarter of it would be longer than ‘War and Peace’. (BTW … Peace is another thing that evades the world today. But that’s a topic for the newspapers of the world to write about)
Ok, coming back to my list.

This picture, that I recently saw in a magazine reminded me of one of those things. Actually it is a skill, and the lack of it gas been reaffirmed over the last couple of weekends – An utterly evident inability to get a coal barbecue going! What would I give to get a roaring BBQ like this one going –

Anything at all.

I have tried every trick in the book, on Weber grill company’s website, every type of coal, lighting fluid, kindling and brand of matchsticks available in every supermarket. Every nook and corner in the garden has been experimented with to shade or expose the grill to or from sun, wind, shadows, birds, bees or pollen in the air. I have even tried changing the chemical composition of the air surrounding my house. But nothing has worked. To get a BBQ dinner ready for 7 in the evening, I have to get started at 9 in the morning. But come dinnertime, there is one pathetic little piece of coal weakly glowing in the corner of the grill while I am caked in soot and surrounded by heaps of meat and veggies beautifully marinated with the choices seasonings and a bunch of friends rumbling stomachs standing around grumbling with empty plates in their hands, staring at me.

After a few hours and many beers, one of them will usually come over and yank the tongs out of my hands. And in less than 10 seconds, there will be a roaring fire and that empty grill top will be groaning under the weight of meat and veggies sizzling away to glory.

When the same thing happened last weekend, I quietly slipped away and tried to hide my face in the latest copy of ‘The New Yorker’ (which for the life of me, I still don’t remember why did I subscribe to). There another picture stared at me. This one ….


In one swift stroke, this brutally swept aside every other item on my list and perched itself right on top.

At first I thought this was a joke. But no, this magical thing really exists. Apparently here’s how it works – You can order a big stack of DVDs, run through them on your expensive HD blu-ray player and 4K TV, and a few hours later, you will emerge a connoisseur of fine art! As simple as that.

Really?

It’s mindboggling that there are organisations that spend their time making stuff like this.  And more importantly people are willing to spend their money on this?

As I continue devote every Sunday evening for the rest of my life trying to get that BBQ going, I will stay happy and content in my ignorance of why does Monalisa’s smirk make it the best painting ever made.

Dylan said “Don’t criticise what you don’t understand.” While I fully agree with this philosophy, I will make an exception for this one. I have bigger fish to fry … or rather, grill.

Have a great spring.

Something has been lost

Dear someone of great importance who has lost something of terrible significance. You will be glad to know that all your recruits are immersed diligently in the search for that IT. And they are earnestly following your three commandments.

  1. Be relentlessly dedicated: Any free time one gets must be devoted to this search. And if one ignores the other things might seem of more importance (like your work, interests or family), the reward maybe higher.
  2. Remain Inconspicuous: One must conduct this search in such a way that no one raises as eyebrow should they discover that you are searching for IT.
  3. Focus the search area: Once must search for the IT in one place and that one place only. If you are found searching elsewhere, you will be out of this race.

Somehow the IT seems to have remained elusive so far, but that should not be a cause of concern to you. Anywhere one looks, everyone can be found immersed in the search.

All over the world, a typical day now roughly looks like this. Millions of people start their day and immediately begin the search. They are at it while walking, waiting for their train or the bus, while travelling, while eating, sitting in their office/home or doing any of the mundane things that life demands. When something or someone interrupts them, they look up with a grudging sigh, give that interruption an evil eye, reluctantly abandon their search to quickly deal with that irritating interruption, and get back to the search. This interruption could be any of these things –their train or bus arriving, which is also filled with people also engaged in the search. Or when someone talks to them or while walking, they bump into someone who is also conducting that search unaware of his or her surrounding. Or when they drop the food they are eating while conducting the search. The list of these interruptions is endless, so I will not bore you with the details.

And that one place that you asked everyone to look for IT, is still the same – those little Glowing Rectangular Screens that you have given to everyone.

But can I ask you why is so hard to find that IT? Inspite of everyone continuously staring into these Glowing Rectangular Screens (which we mere humans call smartphones), this IT has still not been found. Do you think this search will ever be successful?

Maybe you have not really lost anything, and are just fooling us. Maybe this IT was something that was ours all along, which you wanted. And with this search that you deceived us into conducting for you, is nothing else but a way for you to take that IT from us.

I think I now know what this IT is – this is our time, our intelligence and our ability to harness it fruitfully elsewhere. And looks like you have succeeded in your venture.

I hope that we can somehow abandon this search, and take back what rightfully belongs to us. It’s going to be hard, but I know we will.

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Global warming, here i come

I am about to rake in millions now…. for I have discovered the answer to the issue that the world is struggling with today. Imagine the odds? Yours truly sitting here, tapping into a GRS, listening to muddy waters tormenting his Fender Telecaster through the Cadence Amayas – has done what hundreds of world leaders could not achieve at the Copenhagen climate council in 2009. I must patent it quickly before anyone discovers the secret, but not before i share it with you.

The brilliant discovery that i have just made is how to solve global warming. Probably your hearts are racing, for this is a momentous discovery, and i certainly don’t want to keep you waiting with bated breath. Because by doing that, you are adding to global warming, the very problem i and all my fellow scientists, leaders & thinkers are trying to solve.

Mean surface temperature change for the period...

global warming temperature change, Image via Wikipedia

The answer lies in the second law of thermodynamics …………………….. Confused? ‘Elementary, my dear Watson‘, as the great Sherlock Holmes would say (well not the scruffy version depicted by Robert Downey Jr recently).

Now most of you learnt this during the incredibly boring physics lessons at school (and promptly forgot when the question did not appear in the final exams paper). The second law of thermodynamics simply states that any physical system cannot convert all energy from one form to another efficiently. It must produce heat as a byproduct. What is the most abundant form of physical system on this planet? – us humans. There are six billion of us. Another thousand were probably added by the time you finished reading this sentence.  That is the root of all problem, not the cars, factories, machines, aerosol cans that they want you to believe. Stay with me now, don’t click the little red cross on the corner of the browser window, not yet.

So, what do all of us do all day long – produce heat, and humongous amounts it. All the paranthas, sausages, pasta, pizzas, beer etc sitting in our stomachs are being converted to energy that we need to be able to run about or read this blog, but as the second law states most of it is being converted into heat that is dissipated out. An average human body generates heat equal to a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Don’t believe me, ask Einstein. Now imagine, 6 billion 60 watt light bulbs – that’s a helluva lot of heat.

So my solution to global warming – DO NOTHING….yes, nothing! Quite simple and brilliant, isn’t it? You eat and make merry as usual, but after that –  don’t do anything. Go find the most comfortable coach, bed, seat etc and then stay there till the next meal time. No need for movement = no energy conversion = no heat production = no global warming.

I certainly ‘Walk the talk’ and try to do exactly this on most weekends (to the utmost annoyance of my lovely wife though). So the next time your boss, spouse or anyone for that matter gives you a shakedown for just sitting there and doing nothing, relax take another deep breath, send them the link to this article. Remind them that you are serving a higher purpose.  Then go back to helping mother nature fight global warming. Isn’t a cooler and quieter world, a better place?

What if news media only reported good news?

Pick up a newspaper, a current affairs magazine, watch a TV news bulletin or listen to the news on radio (does anyone still listen to radio news?), there is one omnipresent thread … majority of the news coverage is about disasters, mishaps, accidents, economic busts, wrongdoings, scandals : basically all that’s wrong with the world. If the media is to be believed, everything is going south. Here’s a case in point : the annual round-up of 2010 as published by ‘The Economist’ : Out of 40 odd events they mention, only 2 refer to ‘positive’ news! … see for yourself.

If Martians or other sensible beings out there in the universe are tracking the events of planets around them looking for new worlds to invade and colonize, thanks to all this disaster (& in equal measure disastrous) reporting, they will surely leave Earth to its miseries. While avoiding Earth’s alien domination is certainly a good thing, but i wonder if our current road is the best route to that goal. In Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’ after many years of meticulous research and beer drinking,  Ford Prefect – the friendly earth reporter from the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor, described earth simply as “Mostly harmless”. If he were to be around today, inspired by the current news coverage, he will surely change the listing to “Mostly harmful”.

Before we begin to answer or argue the validity of the question “What if news media only reported good news?“, credit must be given where it is due. This question was put forward by my lovely wife. Now this was no minor, passable conversation – This was a customary ‘after movie discussion’ –  a type that often occurs between adults across the world just when they have finished watching a movie at home on a friday evening, when the kids are sleeping, the credits of the movie are rolling accompanied to a muted indescribable song, both of them are nestled comfortably in the large leather couch, too lazy to clear the wine glasses or find the remote to switch off the TV. Such discussions, which often meander around critiques, praise, questions about the story, actors’/director’s abilities are indispensable triggers which keep the Bollywood machinery humming (and ensuring guaranteed jobs for cleaners).

The movie in question was ‘ Peepli Live‘. One of the new breed of ‘Intelligent Bollywood movies’ that are in vogue these days – a dark comedy regarding a nationally televised live coverage of an attempted (rather threatened) suicide by a poor farmer set in an obscure Indian village. While this story is nothing new in India – thousands of such suicides have happened – but the movie depicts how this (non)event captures the imagination of the country fuelled by the media houses looking to boost their popularity ratings.

Anyway, this muse is not about the movie, it is about the news which was being covered – a rather unpleasant event about the possible loss of a human life. But since the world is more interested in hearing about vice rather than virtue, it is expected that such events are the ones which will continue to make headlines round the world. If newspapers were to do otherwise, people will get bored to death, seeing happy faces, only news about accomplishments and successes on the front page. But since I am too chicken to start a newspaper, magazine or a website dedicated only to success stories, i will remain happy without my daily newspaper subscription and agree with Earl Warren (an ex chief justice of America) who once famously said – “I always turn to the sports section first.  The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures”

Here’s to a 2011 that beings a world filled with more success and happiness rather than disasters.

Were they ever enemies?

This was the first phrase that popped into my head when I saw this now ubiquitous message proclaiming to the world on facebook that ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are now friends. Chances are most of you reading this have a facebook account (who doesn’t these days … huh?) and seen this super-friendly message a trillion times. So why is there a need to write about it? Since the question is purely rhetorical, we will let it pass for now.

I cannot help but wonder that thanks to facebook, before they became ‘friends’, were they ever enemies? And why is this important for me to know that someone whose existence I am only reminded of when I read of his/her latest exploits like ‘just had 3 tequila shots straight up…yohooo!‘ and I see a grainy, barely recognizable picture taken in a dimly lit bar and uploaded from his/her uber-cool mobile gadget, has now become friends with another person, whose existence i was blissfully unaware of before now and of whom I will probably never hear again? … and to top it all what is there to ‘like’ about it? (I wish some of these sites have an ‘unlike’ button)

Now don’t get me wrong and report me to Mark Zuckerberg. I do love this modern day invention from the bottom of my heart (okay this was a little over the top). I have been able to find some folks with whom I had been out of touch for a long time, and I have even been guilty of sharing some photos occasionally. As with all of these modern day social media inventions, this one also comes with it’s own set of ironies. The best one I have heard of recently is about someone who ‘tricked’ her friends into wishing her a happy birthday on FB second time in 3 months, by just changing her birthday in her profile. The same people who had wished her 3 months back, got a reminder and robotically went to her wall (what a cool name for something that does not even exist in real life) and promptly posted a heartfelt birthday greetings message.

I wonder sometimes if we are pushing the envelope a bit too far at times? Why is it so important for us to be perennially socially-connected with a tool whose name, even my dumb Microsoft word processor does not recognize and shows as spelling mistake? Is there anyone readying this who does not have a facebook account and still has real friends?…. and why am I bothered about this, its late and I should be in bed!

… then why are they telling us?

why

“But dad … then why are they telling us?” said the 4 yr. old boy. An innocent remark, but a profoundly important one.

So let’s put this into context and start again. This remark was in a small story narrated by our very good Swiss/Greek couple friend over a cup of cappuccino, home-made plum schnapps and Greek candied fruit mixed with yoghurt.

Here is the setting: Last night, my friend and his 4 yr. old son are watching TV in their fantastic little house overlooking the best part of the Swiss Alps, and a news report about some extremely heavy snow in China comes on the TV.

Son – “Dad, Where is China?”

Dad – “Son, It is very, very far away from Switzerland – halfway around the world”

Son – “If it so far away, then why are they telling us about snowfall there?”

Dad – “mmmm…….” (No answer that will make sense to a 4 yr. old)

Now… think about this for a moment, for a 4 yr. old, it makes no difference whatsoever what happens in a place called China (at least not yet), why does he have to be told about snowfall there – there is more than enough of it in Switzerland!

And I cannot agree with him more, this is information overload of the highest order. Information is all around us today – beaming over fiber-optic cables, over satellites, TV, radio, internet, smartphones, signboards, newspapers, blogs (like this one J). Can we make sense of all this information? Does it make us any wiser? Are we just addicted to information, like an addiction to drugs? Do we have to check the online status of our friends every minute? The exact standing of our portfolio (which we convinced over selves is invested for the long run) over our iPhone while waiting at a traffic light? Do I have to watch a continuous coverage over Sky news of a ‘breaking story’ about a cat stuck in a tree in small town outside Ipswich? Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in his fantastic book Fooled by Randomness “I don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or parties. If a piece of information is important, it will find you – you don’t have to go looking for it!”

So next time you are told a galactically important piece of information that you could have lived without – put on the thinking hat of a 4 yr. old and ask the question – “Why are you telling me that?” … Say it clearly, but remember to say it nicely.

A day without my blackberry



Yes .. i committed sacrilege today. I left my blackberry at home! … What ??!!!  I can hear some of you scream … and you survived the day, in one piece – without hypertension, withdrawal symptoms, a nervous breakdown, without your company shutting down ?

The answer to all the above is a resounding YES. Blame it on Monday morning blues, a hundred things on your mind as one is rushing off to catch the 7:24 train, or just plain absentmindedness. Picture this – rushing from one meeting to another, you want to check which one of the damned 14784 meeting rooms spread over a 1000 floors you have to get to in the next 11 seconds,? You can alway count on your trusted blackberry to rescue you. You casually reach into your trouser pocket to nonchalantly flick out the blackberry and expertly type in the password one handed, but your hands meet thin air !!  The hair at the back of the head stand up, perspiration start to form at the temples… and you realize that the blackberry is peacefully resting on the bedside table in your house, you look around yourself hoping that your co-workers will not trample you to death because you are the only person in this entire building who does not have his blackberry within 6 inches of him.First things first – the meeting can wait. Rush to your desk, call your wife (hoping you can catch her at home) … curt instructions barked into the phone – “I left the blackberry at home, pls switch it off and keep it where i can find it”.

Suddenly it feels a load has been taken off! I don’t have to to look into that darn GRS every few minutes. You walk around with a slight smirk on your face, silently laughing at all the people around you furiously tapping into their blackberries (their alternative to the cardio-workout – i think).

The day goes by… it actually felt good to not to be attached to that 200 odd gm device representing modern technical slavery.  Yes, i did miss the fact that i could not call people on the move (There you go – another modern malady), but the world did not come to an end, the stock price of my company did not fall by 50% because some e-mails were not instantly answered.

So will i do it again – surely i will! … but will i do it tomorrow?  No… I do like to live life on the edge – but leaving my blackberry at home for 2 days – that’s taking it too far, even for me.