Saturday, 22 May 2010

Two Kinds of Employees

There are two kinds of employees in any organisation:

Those who play it safe

Their job role is defined around a list of fixed responsibilities and tasks, which they will follow to the letter and not change. They will do everything that is within their agreed purview, and will do it efficiently. They carry out fixed and routine tasks. They follow set rules. They do what they are told. They will not take initiative. They will wait for orders. They play safe. They follow the straight path with no diversions. Diverging from a process means more work, independent thought and accountability. 

This is a comfortable, no risk, CYA work ethic. They cannot be held responsible for something they are told to do. They will enjoy stable jobs but will always be seen as followers. There is a limit to how much responsibility they will be given in an organisation. They will be used well, but not relied upon for bigger things.

Those who show initiative

They define themselves by their goals, not by a fixed list of tasks or responsibilities, which can constantly change. They are ready for change. They will go out of their purview to get something done. They not only follow the rules but change them and break them if necessary, and set new rules. They do what they are told, and more. They think for themselves, and do what they should have been told to do. 

They constantly take initiative, and not wait for orders, but do what they think is right. More importantly, they take responsibility for everything they do, because their actions are theirs alone, and not necessarily group mandated, but actions that they believe will help the group at large. This contains an element of risk, as bad decisions are occasionally made, and consequences follow. But in the long run, they are trusted with larger projects that require independent thought.

What do you think? Which group are you in?


Friday, 21 May 2010

Monsterpiece Theater Redux

The children's T.V show Sesame Street used to screen a series of sketches called Monsterpiece Theater (or Theatre) back in its heyday, which were really well-made parodies of popular literature, T.V shows, plays and films. The show's setting was itself a parody of the British Masterpiece Theatre hosted by Alistair Cooke, each episode opening with Alistair introducing a well known play, book, movie or musical.

The reason I bring this up is because I used to watch this show as a kid, and never got any of the cultural references, but after all I've learned over the last 10 years, I get them now. It's strange that you have to be an adult to fully appreciate a children's show. I wonder if there are any other examples out there? Why would the show's creators do this? Were they aiming to reinforce what they considered to be good art? To tell us kids what's good and what isn't?

I've linked to some of the sketches below. Notice how much of the humor is actually derived from lines that directly reference the original source material. Like I said, it would help if you've read or watched the stuff being spoofed to truly appreciate this.

1. Hamlet (4.46)

"It don't get classier than this" 

Mel Gibson doesn't scrimp on his acting skills as he and Elmo help explain feelings in this spoof of Hamlet.

2. Monster of Venice (3.20)

"Guess that why not called Monster of Cleveland"

A cake and balloons somewhat replace 'a pound of flesh' in this message about equality. Grover's monologue is hilarious.

3. The 39 Stairs (3.27)

"There better be something exciting at the top"

They make good use of the old-school Film noir theme in this spoof of the title of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, based on John Buchan's book by the same name.

Notice the shadow on the wall as Grover goes up the stairs - reminiscent of Nosferatu?

4. Waiting for Elmo (2.57) 

"Why couldn't they do Oklahoma?"

Grover and Telly explore their feelings in this spoof of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

5. Chariots of Fur (4.39)

Grover and Herry carry out the best Chariots of Fire parody ever.

6. Twin Beaks (5.24)

"Me like bird that knows own name"

The longest MT sketch, a spoof of Twin Peaks, and kind of creepy in a way that only a David Lynch product can be. Watch for multiple show references. There's an educational reference in here somewhere but I'm missing it and don't care.

7. Gone with the Wind (2.22)

" hear it about...the wind"

Flying sheep don't deter you from subtraction lessons in this Gone With The Wind spoof.

8. Little House on/under/in Prairie (2.18)

"You got maybe a bungalow?"

Alistair Cookie personally helps to explain prepositions in his own unique way in this spoof of Little house on the Prairie. Reminds me of Monster in a Box (below).

9. The Old Man and the C (1.41)

"That surprise ending gets me every time"

I find it apt that one of the shortest sketches in this series was a parody of one of Hemingway's shortest works.

10. Me Claudius (1.52)

One of the first Monsterpiece Theater sketches, this had no standard opening theme. It spoofed the T.V series I, Claudius, complete with something slimy crawling across a Roman mosaic. 

Other Monsterpiece Theater sketches can be found below:

Upstairs/Downstairs (4.07) - One of the first MT sketches, a parody of the British T.V show of the same name.

Ali Baba and the 40 thieves (4.20) - A sketch that never really takes off. Here's a link to the original story.

The 400 Blows (2.49) - A counting lesson spoofing the title of Francois Truffaut's film The 400 Blows.

The Taming of the Shoe (3.31) - The first of Shakespeare's works to be spoofed in this series, and a lesson on cooperation.

The King and i (1.55) - A spelling lesson probably based around the full feature musical.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (5.02) - a parody of the title of the similarly named film.

The Sound of Music (2.22) - Grover struggles with The Sound of Music.

Dr. No (3.59) - A spelling lesson based around a spoof of Ian Fleming's Dr. No.

1 Flew over the Cuckoos Nest (3.02) - This counting lesson spoofs the title of both the film & book.

Monster in a Box (2.59) - Spalding Gray's work is spoofed to discuss prepositions.

The Sun Also Rises (5.00) - A clever play on the title of Hemingway's first book provides for a basic home science lesson.

Monsters with Dirty Faces (4.32) - a black and white spoof of Angels with Dirty Faces. 

Lethal Weapon 3 (2.16) - Mel Gibson and Danny Glover reunite for a few seconds of 'danger'. 

Room at the Top (2.36) - A parody of the title of the movie. 

Inside/Outside Story (3.32) - A spoof of Westside Story. 

Conservations with my Father (5.18) - Sesame Street turns Conversations with My Father into an environmental lesson.

The Horse Whisperer (2.53) - Possibly the last sketch in this series, & possibly inspired by this film.

ABCD Blue (3.01) - NYPD Blue does the alphabet.

Anyone's Nose (2.37) - Inspired by the Anything Goes musical by Cole Porter.

Cyranose de Bergerac (4.51) - Considering that the intro is short, this spoof of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac play is a really long sketch.

Adding with the Fiddler (3.54) -The muppets turn a popular play into a counting lesson.

Dances With Wolves (4.38) - A bit too long, in my opinion. See the original movie if you haven't done so already.

Guys and dolls (2.41) - A musical parodying the title of this musical.

Howard's End (1.31) - The shortest MT sketch ever, parodying the title of the film and book.

Twelve Angry Men (2.01) - A parody of one of the movies, or all of them. Or the book. It's hard to say.

Little Red Riding Cookie (4.18) - A spoof of the original fairy tale.

Comments welcome.


Monday, 3 May 2010

Planning a Trip to Ladakh

                                  Diskit, Ladakh - 16 May, 2009

With the tourist season upon us, I thought I'd post a little information about Ladakh for all of you wanting to visit, to help you plan your trip.


Ladakh is situated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and is India's largest and one of its least populated districts, bordering Pakistan and China. It is mostly barren, with beautiful mountains and a few rivers and lakes. Green fields, farms and pastures exist in patches, mostly around towns and villages, each of which is centered around a Buddhist monastery, which is usually on a hill.

It's cold and snowed in for most of the year, but comes alive in summer, when tourists go there. The capital of Ladakh is Leh, a town where most tourists and local tour/adventure agencies base themselves.


The people are friendly. Most live in towns and villages, the largest being Leh, and a few are nomads. Many town residents have tourism related occupations. Village life is centered around farming and rearing animals. There is very little crime.

Best time to visit

A few people visit Ladakh at the height of winter, braving the minus temperatures (-20 C) only to trek along a frozen river. If this is not your thing, then the best time of year to visit Ladakh is summer - June to September. July and August are the best/warmest months (10-30 C). It is very sunny and rain is extremely rare during this period.

I visited Ladakh in early May 2009. It was freezing (even in the afternoon) as winter was just coming to an end. I even caught a bit of snow. If you're not used to the cold, or don't like it, visit later, or go to Himachal or Kashmir. The only good thing about going to Ladakh that early is how few other tourists there are at that time, and how cheap accommodation is. However, roads to Ladakh might not always be open in May (see 'How to get there').

What to Wear

If travelling to Ladakh between June & September, a jacket & sweater will suffice. Other times require heavier clothing like thermals.

For the sunny climate, carry a hat and sunscreen. Also lip balm for chapped lips and sunglasses for the constant brightness, especially snow blindness. A polarising filter for your camera would help, and a torch if you plan to go wandering about/camping/trekking at night, or during power cuts.

In addition to the above, if travelling light or backpacking for two weeks or more, a couple of shirts and t-shirts will do, along with a pair of jeans and lighter trousers or shorts. Your shoes should be comfortable to walk in. Carry at least two pairs of socks and underwear. And carry sandals for warmer days.

How to get there

The only two ways to reach Ladakh are by road and air.

There are two roads that take you into Ladakh. The Srinagar-Leh highway and the Manali-Leh highway. These roads are closed for most of the year and only remain open for about 4-5 months. The Srinagar-Leh road usually opens at some point between late April and late May, and the Manali-Leh road at some point between May and June, usually later than the Srinagar one. Both roads close around October. There are no fixed yearly dates for the roads being declared open or closed, as the factors involved in road clearing (amount of ice, snow, mishaps, etc.) vary every year, so plan accordingly. The road status is updated on the official Government of Leh website.

You can travel by bike or car on these roads. However, it is better to do this from June onwards, when it isn't so cold, and when the snow and ice will have melted away. You can complete the entire Srinagar-Leh or Manali-Leh stretch in around 15-18 hours, but it is advisable to stop and rest for the night along the way to acclimatise to the altitude (see Acclimatisation).

Government tourist buses ply to Leh from both Srinagar and Manali when the highways are open. Buses from Srinagar (Rs. 710 in 2009) halt for the night at Kargil, and buses from Manali halt for the night at Keylong (tented accommodation). You might have to arrange and pay for accommodation yourself (I certainly did in Kargil).

You can arrange for travel in a private or shared taxi from Srinagar or Manali. These charge you around Rs.1200 (shared) for the one day drive to Leh. Shared taxis also take passengers halfway from Srinagar, Jammu, Gulmarg, etc to Kargil, from where you can make alternate arrangements.

You can fly into Leh year round. Flights leave from Delhi, Srinagar & Jammu. Book early for cheaper tickets.


Most of Ladakh is situated at an altitude of over 3,000 metres. Leh is at 3,500 metres. Places this far up have reduced oxygen levels. Now, what normally happens when you travel to places this high too quickly, or exert yourself at these altitudes, is that you begin to experience fatigue, shortness of breath, disorientation, nausea, dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite, etc. This is called Acute Mountain sickness (AMS).

People tend to get AMS while doing a quick road trip, or while crossing high road passes, or soon after they fly to, or over exert themselves in Ladakh after only just arriving there. AMS is a silent enemy; it may not strike at once but settle in during your first night or second day in Ladakh. Different people are affected to different degrees.

To acclimatise or get used to the low oxygen Ladakhi atmosphere, you need to:

1. Take your time getting there, giving your body more time to adjust. Travelling by road is better than flying in, and a two-day road trip is better than a one-day trip.
2. Take it easy during your first few days in Ladakh. No exercise, just rest.
3. Drink lots of water. Hydration helps counter AMS, so sip on water continually, even if you don't have an appetite for food.
4. No alcohol.

To counter AMS while crossing a high pass on the Srinagar-Leh or Manali-Leh highway, cross it as quickly a possible. These high mountain passes offer stunning scenery but their heights and the quick time it takes you to reach them ensures that AMS hits you immediately, so it is advised not to stop there for more than 5 minutes for photography or other purposes and get to a lower altitude quickly, especially if you are travelling by yourself or operating your own vehicle.


Most homestays and guesthouses on the outskirts of Leh start at Rs. 200. Those in the centre of Leh charge more, around Rs. 400. Hotels are the most expensive, with prices starting at around Rs. 1000 in season.

I vouch for the homestays and guesthouses. They have more personality, and you get to interact with locals and foreigners alike, whereas hotels tend to accomodate package tour groups from India.

If you decide to stay on the outskirts of town, you will save money on cheaper accommodation, but will end up spending a lot of time and energy walking into town every so often, which isn't very advisable if you're trying to acclimatise to the high altitude. My advice is rent a bike if you have the cash.


Speaking of cash, carry some of your own. There are only three ATMs in Ladakh, all are in Leh, and they tend to malfunction or get crowded. Visit them during early morning or late evening to avoid the long lines.

If using an international credit card for ATM withdrawals, remember that you incur a charge for each transaction, no matter how small, so make it a large one.

Banks will exchange travellers cheques and foreign currency and arrange transfers.

Ladakh is relatively cheap overall. I was able to get by on Rs. 700 a day as a solo backpacker, spending Rs. 300 a day on accommodation, another Rs. 300 on meals, and the rest on travel. Staying at a fancier place, renting your own bike or vehicle, shopping and drinking alcohol would of course require a budget of over Rs. 1000 a day.


Leh has numerous restaurants catering to foreign tourists. Pizzas, pasta, Israeli, British & Italian food are common. Also expect a lot of Kashmiri, Tibetan and North Indian/Punjabi food in both Leh and other Ladakhi towns. I didn't come across South/West/East Indian food on my trip there. Veg food is as common as non-veg here. You will have to travel south to Himachal for fish.

Most restaurant meals are priced at just under Rs. 100. Veg dishes are slightly cheaper at around Rs. 70. Non veg. tandoori, sizzlers, and other fancier dishes start at around Rs. 120.

Getting Around

Local buses from the bus station at Leh are cost-effective for short trips from Leh to nearby towns. Tickets to places half an hour away like Thiksey and Shey cost around Rs. 10. Buses to towns an hour or more away aren't very frequent, so plan accordingly.

Taxis are available from the taxi stand near Leh market, but charge a lot - a few hundred rupees for just a few kilometres.

You can rent a bike at around Rs. 500/day.

You can join a shared vehicle tour to a specific location. Tour agencies around Leh advertise vacancies on their various car trips by putting up signs in their office windows lining the main streets around Leh. It's a great way to save costs and meet other people.


Most places in Ladakh don't require permits. But places close to the borders do, like Pangong Tso and the Nubra valley. You can arrange permits yourself for Rs.20 at the permit office in Leh, or Rs.100 through an agent. They are valid for a week.

How much time you need

I recommend at least two weeks.

If you're working, and can only get a week's leave, then, combined with weekends at either end, you'll only have 9 days in total for your trip, so you'd be better off flying to Leh. This might cost more, but leave more time for resting & sightseeing, as the road option would have you spending 2-4 days in travelling to & from Leh, leaving you with just 7-5 days for sightseeing. Also, to utilise your time better, travel around by bike or car when you get there.

If you take two weeks off from work, you're going to have 16 days in total for your trip. With all this time at your disposal, you don't have to take a flight to Leh, and should be able to see and do a lot more.

What to do

This depends on how much time you have and the kind of activities you enjoy. I have, however, included some basic information below, allowing you to pick and choose what you would like to do.

Quarter day to half day sightseeing trips from Leh:

Leh market
Hall of Fame museum
Shanti Stupa
Spituk monastery & town
Leh palace
Namgyal Tsemo gompa & castle
Thiksey monastery
Shey monastery
Hemis monastery & museum
Stok palace & museum

You can drop by the Hall of Fame museum on your way to or back from Spituk, as it's along the way, and cover both in one half day.

You can visit Thiksey and Shey in one half day, and Hemis and Stok in another, or see all four in one day, if you take a prepaid taxi from Leh. You can spend the night in these monasteries for a small cost, or for free if they let you be a volunteer teacher.

One day or longer sightseeing trips from Leh:

Pangong Tso
Nubra valley (Sumur, Diskit, Hunder, Panamik)
Western Ladakh (Likir monastery, Alchi gompas, Basgo monastery & ruins, Lamayuru monastery, Pattharsahib Gurudwara & magnetic hill, Mulbekh)
Chemrey valley

If travelling from Srinagar to Leh on your own, you'd be passing through Western Ladakh, so it would make sense that you break here or spend a night at Alchi, before proceeding to Leh. For those of you exiting Ladakh via Srinagar, it makes sense to take in all these places on your way out.

Other activities:

One day rafting and kayaking trips are available from July onwards, once the rivers swell.
You can go trekking through the Markha valley.
Also, peaks like Stok Kangri & Stok-La are open to amateur mountain climbers.

Local agencies organise everything. Budget at least 8-10 days for these trips and around Rs.700 a day for treks.

Feel free to add to the information posted here. You may contact me with any queries at dmello dot daniel at gmail dot com.