Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Best of 2008


Thank you for reading stuff on Almost Famous. Here is my blog's list of Top 5 articles from 2008 (in alphabetical order):

Country Club
For building trust and awareness, there is nothing more effective than a rotund leader with a fat moustache, mysteriously grinning and giving a thumbs up sign. I've decided to plan all my fun-family trips from Country Club henceforth, unless the rival firm's head decides to do the chicken-dance.

Director Writer Hyung-rae Shim's "interview" about his latest movie D-War - 'unknown creatures will return and devastate the planet. Reporter Ethan Kendrick is called in to investigate the matter, and he arrives at the conclusion that a girl, stricken with a mysterious illness, named Sarah is suppose to help him. The Imoogi makes its way to Los Angeles, wreaking havoc and destruction. With the entire city under arms, will Ethan and Sarah make it in time to save the people of Los Angeles ?'

I Knew Something was Wrong

As we all sat waiting for our turn, the activity didn't look relaxing at all. All the previous colleagues (read victims) squealed and made visibly ugly faces as the attendants crunched their toes and poked at their feet. But free ka massage kaun jaane dega!

Jumping Lights - A Consulting Perspective
It is a piteous world for law-abiding citizens. We roast and simmer, getting garnished with dust and vehicle smoke; While the zippers and zappers are a step ahead, probably enjoying a chilled drink at home before we are halfway through our treacherous route. Is there no way out? Yes there is. I managed to switch to the group of outlaws. It ain't easy. But I'll show you how.

The Ring of Batman
You may be wondering right now - 'What the hell is Batman doing with a giant key ?' I hope by the end of this I would have put things in perspective and reinforced an important learning of life.

If you have enjoyed your experience with the blog, do subscribe to the feed. And if you are already a subscriber, spread the word! Share this article on Google Reader. I hope to keep you entertained in the years ahead.

Have a wonderful 2009! Wish you a very Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Tale of the Water Tanki

There is a classic rumour, a horrendous tale of engineering stupidity that exists in the campus of IIT Kharagpur. You haven't heard the rumour yet ? Here goes: "There is this Professor Roy in Civil Department. See that tall water-tank near the PAN loop? He designed it. He is so stupid, he forgot to add the water's weight to the calculation. Which is why it stands there empty and unusable." I was proud of this tale. We passed it down from one batch to another. And I did watch this Professor ride his wobbly cycle to the department. Combined with other incidents heard about him, I thought he was a complete fool....

But we came to know in those years that even IIT-Kanpur had the same story. We were the oldest of all IITs. So we just assumed that they were inspired by our culture and chose this story to emulate it in their own campus.

Yesterday, while sharing a few drinks with my office friends here, we began to narrating crazy incidents from our engineering days. They were cheeky, incredulous and generally hilarious. I was surprised by each one of them till a guy from IIT-Madras spoke, "You know, there is this water-tanki in our campus..."

But that was impossible! This was my campus's story! And then we went through a brief but heated discussion on this - each defending that the defunct tank and the moron professor belonged to his campus. Obviously with no base and rationale to sway opinion, it was an inconclusive failure. The glasses got refilled with another peg and we too picked another deep topic to mull upon.

This Water-Tanki story and other such tales are quite open to adaptation. Prof. Sengupta becomes Ram; Ram becomes Chatterjee. But the core purpose stays the same - to prove that they too stink at the subject. And one example is enough to smear everyone with mediocrity.

The best part is although the tale (like other philosophies of campuses) are completely hearsay, the students narrate it with genuine belief and conviction, like they saw it happen themselves. "This Professor is so sanki (mentally unstable) know he picked up a group's lab report and tore it in half and then threw them out of the class..."

So what legend does your college cherish?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bachna Ae Haseeno...

My mama ji too graduated from IIM, though a decade before I stepped into IIML. From his odd set of worldly advices, I found one to be surprisingly accurate and timeless - "There are two kinds of males at IIM - Those who do it, and those who talk about it."

In my long years of graduation, I had survived a batch with 590 guys and 18 girls. You've heard the saying right? "If a group of IITian girls are placed on the moon, the average beauty level of Earth will go up." I don't subscribe to that view. We won't actually take pains to place them on the moon, will we?...Come on! Be reasonable.

So when I heard my mamaji's profound statement, I resolved to belong to the former group. In what I'd vicariously seen and heard about IIM, I thought it'll be a radically different crowd. But it turned out people were not quite different in their sensibilities, just their mannerisms.

It was called bakar/gupshup there. It was called networking here.
It was called Bandi check out karna there. It was called assessing the landscape here.
In IIT we'd arrive to the class in our objectionable attire and fall asleep soon after. Here, we'd dress up to acceptable standards, turn up for the class and then fall asleep.

Like I said, freshers were the same monkeys from undergrad colleges. The ones with work-ex were polished monkeys - with thicker cologne and more expensive pair of jeans. Through the first term or so, I discovered and selected potential candidates. I also received gyan from seniors on previously successful and failed love stories. There were 3 paths to success:

Project Buddy --> Friendship --> LOVE

This was a hard one to pull off. You couldn't be obvious in your motives, considering fellow monkeys can get nasty when they feel wronged. You did it in more subtle ways - surreptitiously doing her part of the project work, allowing her to do the crucial 'introduction' to the project presentations, . And if things went well, a love story could blossom like the 24 million shades in excel.

Committee buddy --> LOVE

Think Godzilla and the screaming reporters and cameramen. Think Rang De Basanti and DJ and the charming blonde Sue. Under stressful situations and serendipitous moments blossom the timeless romantic tales. In short, if it 'clicks' with the batchmate/junior you are working with, then you were all set for life.

In both cases, I could barely manage my share of work. So I decided to focus on the third method.

Mess Buddy --> Friendship --> LOVE

Like I had attempted at IIT, it meant creating chemistry over meals, hoping repeated exposure would do the trick. Given the social setting of the mess, it would have been weird to arrive alone for meals. So a wingman/2-men unit was required. Within us monkeys, it was important to find a partner who shared a similar disposition. And not just any kind of chimp. He had to be that synergistic monkey that would help in making an impression of superior quality (for both). I found that in my room neighbour (I guess finding synergy didn't take that long). So after some brief strategic thinking, we began to roll out our plans in ensuing academic terms.

I would venture into the Mess with my neighbour/Wingman Suhaib (specially) during dinner. We would pick up food and scout the mess hall for girls, rapidly calculating the entertainment value to be had by having dinner with each of them. Girls would get points for being any of funny, irritating, interesting, good/bad looking, stupid, interested in us, irritated by us, in a group with a majority of girls and of course, for being completely unknown. We always feared the risk of crumbling under the pressures of socializing over dinner in the same venue repeatedly; Of being judged on our chatting skills ; Of laughing too loudly and spilling stuff ; Of laughing too little and appearing dense. Like company stocks, we had to consistently outperform the average dinner-conversation index to get any kind of credibility.

It took time. And I can safely blame my CGPA on this (...and alcohol!). Did I cross over to the other side? I choose not to tell. But if you are at campus, discussing this over a sutta at Guptas or Fauji, then you sure know which group you belong to! I'll truthfully reveal that I graduated single and content.

I thought I was in an excellent position. Till I found out that at work our kind were an exception here. "You don't have a girlfriend??? Why?" Their repeated bewildered looks bothered me for the first few weeks. Am I bowing down to peer pressure? You bet! Chapter 3 of my pursuits begin here in foreign land Singapore.

I awwwready said la...Beware lovely ladies .. Can Can?... (Bachna Ae Haseeno in Singlish)

If you want to read about other failed attempts:
Male Fantasy - O La La
The Laptop Crisis

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wash, Rinse and Repeat

Our washing machine has been acting strange for the past few weeks. As it counts down to the last 6 minutes of the wash-spin cycle, it gets stuck. It makes ugly wheezing sounds, like an old fiat trying to speed up. It never manages to reach that final goal of '0 minutes'. The machine runs that last 6 minutes for a couple of hours before giving up on our soggy clothes.

We've got so used to the automatic lifestyle - hurling clothes inside the machine and recovering them after a day or so, when they would still be fresh and fragrant. But after getting pampered by that habit, standing by the machine and supervising each individual procedure is quite hard.

It is indeed a problem. And we don't have any easy solution.

Won't LG, this giant superstar of white goods, have people to handle this? Yes. As devices have got complicated and problems deviling, they have made it easier for us to reach customer care. But with the same gusto, we have gotten remarkably sloppier and lethargic.

We soon found a temporary way around the problem - To achieve a washed set of clothes, we had to start the machine like any normal routine, pounce on it in that last 6 minutes, restart on another mode to drain off the water and remove the stuff after a small gap of time to avoid smelly clothes.

Of course it's a tough one to execute. After the machine got diseased, Vikrant once stuffed clothes inside on a Thursday evening and forgot about it till Saturday night. He courageously removed the wet, stinking, twisted heap of clothes then and somehow hung them to dry. We avoided that area the whole of Sunday. Inspired by the stench, we decided to take some serious action. After a brief search within the house, we found an expired warranty card with some LG contact information.

There is one LG service phone line.
There is one warranty number to identify our history with them.

All that is required is that one of us on any one working day gives a call to them to arrange for a technician to come over at a convenient hour.

Have we done it yet? No. Here is how this typical dinner conversation goes:
"Hey we should really do something about that washing machine."
"Haan. I haven't washed clothes in a while. We have that LG number right?"
"Yes. Let's do this - I'll give them a call tomorrow. We'll ask the guy to come over on the weekend."
"Good idea."
"Hmmm...But I might be busy tomorrow. So you try calling them up. In case I find time I'll do it."

Wash. Rinse. And Repeat a similar conversation the next day. The best part is you can assign any voice to any one of us and it would still be true.

If the machine had completely died, we'd have been more inclined to do something about it. But no, the God of laundry had to partially screw it up so that we got a chance to exemplify our Indian 'kaam chala le' attitude. So it has been three weeks. Sometimes we succeed with the machine mode trick, sometimes we don't.

Soon it'll be Happy Holiday season and all service centre employees will be merry making at home - in their freshly washed and dried clothes; singing songs of the warm sun and dry winds. Meanwhile, our mountain of clothes would grow and cast a humid shadow over our lives, crunching our spirits like a soggy cereal.

I know we should act on this soon. But the inertia retarding us is so unassailable that I think we'll compensate with extra shopping this month rather than make that ONE phone call.

So in case you haven't decided yet, I'd like underwears as gifts for Christmas - preferably the washed ones.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

O Pigeon, What art thou thinking!

The title of the news video reads "Exclusive: कबूतरों पर ग्रेनेड का कहर "

The reporter Vishal Agarwal seems to have been given a formidable task of filling up a 1.5min slot of fluff reporting. He's reporting live, clearly unedited material about pigeons in front of the Taj. He successfully captures a kabootar / pigeon's perspective on the Mumbai attacks.

I am not an expert on animals. But by a superficial analysis of their head-bobbing and extent of toilet training, I do believe that they are one of the dumbest animals (or at least the biggest morons within the birds category). The reporter attempts to attribute to their little pigeon heads ace qualities of memory, cognition and emotions like desperation, nostalgia and disappointment.

The flip side is none of the pigeons were available for comments - they were busy crapping or reminiscing their old Gateway of India days.

The wikipedia article I perused for getting some estimate on an average/achiever pigeon's dumbness mentioned an article that sets standards for pointless research.

In a famous article in 1995, Watanabe, Sakamoto and Wakita described an experiment which showed that pigeons can be trained to discriminate between paintings by Picasso and Monet.

The birds were first trained on a limited set of paintings: when the shown painting was a Picasso, the pigeon was able to obtain food by repeated pecking; when it was a Monet, pecking had no effect. After a while, the pigeons would only peck when shown Picasso paintings. They were then able to generalize, and correctly discriminate between paintings of the two painters not previously shown, and even between cubist and impressionist paintings (cubism and impressionism being the two stylistic schools Picasso and Monet belong to). When the Monet paintings were shown upside down, the pigeons were not able to properly categorize anymore; showing the cubist works upside down did not have such an effect.
I am no smart pigeon to judge impressionist paintings. But thanks to India TV, I can now accurately differentiate between crap and content on television.

Thanks Vatsal for posting the video on facebook (link)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Logic Fail!

(the title is a tribute to my current favourite Fail Blog!)

Logic Fail
: A seemingly correct response derived from logic which is inappropriate, inaccurate or absolutely wrong.

Recently, I was subjected to a besieging task of expressing my opinion to a girl about a guy's pictures. Fact is guys cannot opine about guys. We can make quite rich comments about girls - from poignant descriptions to details bordering grotesque territory. But pictures of males can at best evoke a qualification response.

Hence, I sent the same response back.


Verbosity failed me at an opportune moment. The bottomless well of colourful opinions dried up. I've been told that through those two innocent letters, I had sent additional signals of indifference and insensitivity.

Logic: Brain thinks 'ok'. You say 'ok'.
Logic Fail!

The problem is one doesn't learn from logic fails. It is quite possible to commit another blunder of same or higher degree. Here's another:

There are four friends A,B,C,D; A, on his birthday, receives wishes from B. But he requests B not to remind C and D since they have forgotten. Should B respect A's request and not remind them, or should he remind C,D to have them wish A (even though A has asked him not to) ?

In this gripping tale of friends and dilemmas, I was B. After A's (Suhaib's) birthday had passed, I was not completely convinced about my decision. Creating fictitious characters from A to D, I posed this question to 8 other gtalk friends. What should B have done?

All eight said not reminding would be stupid/insensitive/silly/dumb. Apart from that, the gaali I got from C (Prerna) and D (Satbir) was a lucid signal of a bad judgement.

Logic: Friend says don't remind. You don't remind.
Logic Fail!

I've saved the best kissa for the end.

This incident is about an year old. Prerna, along with big suitcases, had to be dropped to the station one night from the campus. Tejvir was accompanying her in the autorickshaw. To drive back Tejvir from the station, one more guy had to trail them on a bike. As we stood chatting after dinner, the options left were Suhaib, Satbir and I.

At an appropriate moment, Suhaib apologetically took a step away from her. "I am sorry. I have some crucial work now. So I can't go out."

That left just Satbir and me. Prerna waited for a response from either of us. We looked at each other and gave a shrug (a mix of either way and whatever). We were both jobless and competent bike riders. The solution was quite obvious. No, volunteering did not pop up as an option in my brain. Instead, I sensed that since both of us are ready, only the purest form of decision making suits the occasion.

So I pulled out a coin and said, "Let's toss for it. I'll go tails."

Satbir and Suhaib coldly started at me. Apparently leaving such a task to the god of randomness does not reinforce friendship. Before the coin could flip in the air, Prerna turned red and screamed "Stop it! None of you needs to come." The crisis was resolved rapidly. Satbir mounted the bike and left with the auto. On the way to the station, Tejvir repeatedly convinced her that I was being funny and it was one of those stupid jokes.

But I wasn't joking at all. It was just another Logic Fail.

Bonus Material:
Before Satbir took off on the bike to reach the station, he leaned to me and said, "I don't know why we went through all that. Maine pehle hi soch liya tha ki mein jaaunga (I'd already decided I'll drop her)." That is why I insist, that Satbir in conversations chooses to miss the most important pieces of information.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lesson of the Day - 1

When a office colleague meeting you for the first time over tea asks you politely 'So are you married?', do not gasp "NO!", pushing your head back with a revolted look on your face. Instead, politely nod sideways to indicate your status and gently ask her the same question. Because chances are that once you do so, the answer could be yes.