Saturday, 31 December 2011

Things that made the news in 2011

1. Mass creature deaths
2. Egypt Revolution
3. Raymond Davis/Pakistan
4. Arab Unrest
5. Cricket World Cup
6. NZ Quake
7. Libya
8. Japan quake and tsunami
9. WikiLeaks India
10. Anna Hazare
11. IPL 4
12. Alcohol prices raised in Mumbai
13. Kalmadi arrested
14. 2G scam
15. Metallica in India
16. Osama Bin Laden dead
17. Goddess Lakshmi on swimsuit
18. Baba Ramdev on strike
19. Neeraj Grover Murder Verdict
20. MV Wisdom stranded at Juhu
21. Ghulam Azad on homosexuality
22. Padmanabhaswamy Temple Treasure
23. Govind Tiwari
24. Kalmadi Dementia
25. Rupert Murdoch/News of the World
26. Hina Rabbani Khar
27. Karnataka Mining Scam/Yeddyurappa Resigns

28. London Riots
29. Market Crashes
30. Delhi HC Bomb Blasts
31. Delhi Quake
32. Mayawati-Assange
33. Open letter to a Delhi boy
34. NaMo fast
35. Steve Jobs passes away
36. Blackberry Outage
37. Ra.One
38. Orissa Floods
39. F1 in India
40. 7 Billionth Baby
41. Nammo Metro
42. Kolaveri Di
43. Kepler 22
44. CST Flash Mob
45. Kapil Sibal & website regulation


Friday, 30 December 2011

Friday Links 19


Monday, 26 December 2011

Movies Seen - Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Bridesmaids, Jeff Dunham's Christmas Special, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Emerald Knights, Bitter Feast, Green Lantern

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Deep emotional film. Good acting, story, direction, though a bit slow for my taste.

Bridesmaids (2011)

Started off well, building up to what seemed like a really good comedy. Then the lead character's unnecessary neuroticism ruined it. Which is a pity since she's extremely likable, and the script is mostly good.

Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special (2008)

Hilarious. Highly recommended.

The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)

Tim Burton at his best. Highly recommended if you like that kind of stuff. Wish I had seen this 15 years ago.

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)

An animated sequel to the Green Lantern film. A collection of stories within stories within a larger story arc. Enjoyable.

Bitter Feast (2010)

I liked the focus on the personalities of the lead pair at the start of the film. Good definition there, and a lot to identify with. Unusual film. Non orthodox. Interesting. Recommended. Food bloggers have to watch this film.

Green Lantern (2011)

An O.K film. Similar in scope to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. You'd expect more from a film released in a superhero film filled year.


Friday, 23 December 2011

Friday Links 18


Dolphin goes whale sliding -

Turtles killed by blue lined octopuses -

More about the awesome naked mole rat -

Bearded Dragon plays ant crusher on smartphone -

Fire ants rely on local collaborators -


Excellent video explaining the resurrection fern -


A Google Chrome ad demonstrates how a TN based artist is bringing back Tanjore -


Shit Girls Say -

Best Inception meme yet -

And that ladies, is "how it's done"


Goa - Fisticuffs and Feni -


I wonder how many football injuries are the result of celebrations -


The case against Santa -


Malayalis in Pakistan -


The Stephen Bennett murder trial draws to a close -


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Movies Seen Recently: Cop Out, X-Men: First Class, Bunraku, Enchanted, Couples Retreat, The Root of all Evil

Cop Out (2010)

Expected more from a Kevin Smith film. Only Sean William Scott provides some real humour.

X Men: First Class (2011)

Props to Kevin Bacon for one of the best portrayals of a villain. As enjoyable as Tom Hiddleston's performance in Thor. The movie itself has a pretty average narrative for the most part. They could have done better, and improved the story too. Because of these drawbacks, the film tends to get a bit shaky towards the middle, but ends on a high.

Who Says Science has Nothing to Say About Morality? (2011)


Bunraku (2010)

A waste of time.

Enchanted (2007)

Just O.K.

Couples Retreat (2011)

Mostly a waste of time.

The Root of all Evil (2006)

Interesting Dawkins' led documentary on the evils of religion. Recommended.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens & Shashi Tharoor on Freedom of Speech, Plus my Views

An interesting discussion between Christopher Hitchens & Shashi Tharoor on freedom of expression. I'd say Tharoor wins the 'debate' on technical grounds, though for the most part they seem to be talking at cross purposes.

Hitchens especially seems intent on taking a hardline view on being intolerant towards people who are intolerant towards people like him. Tharoor, while agreeing with Hitchens for most of the time, looks at a more pragmatic means to get along with everyone.

In some ways, the discussion above is pointless, because there are only so many matter-of-fact options available to a person involved in a making a decision that might result in people being offended and violence being incited (i.e if you want to look at things purely from a practical perspective). 

On philosophical grounds, and as far as legal premises are concerned, there probably is no divergence between the views of the 2 men above. They actually agree on on the fact that freedom of expression shouldn't be curtailed, which is why this isn't much of a debate to begin with, only a space for 2 people to air their own angles on situations arising from freedom of expression. 

Tharoor, the diplomat, focuses on avoiding conflict within a conflicted society prone to violence, while Hitchens the writer, who has no one to fear or nothing to lose, obviously takes a hardline approach to extremists, expressing outrage at people who are intolerant and advocating a no-backing-down approach, independent of context, and calling out the religious for the hypocrites they are.

There are actually a couple of points during the discussion where you can see Tharoor saying things that you know Hitchens isn't going to like, and you know he's going to respond negatively, even though Tharoor's points, and his own rebuttals, aren't really relevant to the issue at hand to begin with.

I've already made my own views on the subject clear, and agree with both of the men above. A true democracy is one where fairness prevails, and who's citizens are treated like adults, not children. A true democracy provides an environment where everyone has the freedom to express their own views, through physically harmless speech or actions, without fear of prosecution, no matter how offensive they may be to the rest of the populace, even the majority.

Take the case of flag burning for example.

A large number of Indians, even so called 'well-to-do', 'educated', 'progressive', 'modern' Indians, will tell you that this government is justified in banning the burning of the country's national flag. Yup. A blanket ban. Just like that. Free of context. That's how ignorant and backward some people are.

Others will tell you that it's O.K to burn your national flag if your intention is Just. Yup. As if they have right to permit or forbid you from such an action, pending their assessment of your intent, or an assessment of your intent by a judge or judges. Ludicrous. Where do people get such fascist arrogance from?

The fact is, it's O.K to burn your county's national flag, just for fun. It's O.K to destroy a symbol of your country that people take great pride in, just for fun, and it's O.K to piss on that symbol, just for fun. Why? Because it's your life, and no one has a right to stop you from doing what you want with it, and doing what you want with your property, no matter your intentions, no matter how offensive your thoughts, words, or actions seem to them. Of course they can question your intentions, and of course they can be disgusted at what you do. But they can't stop you. That's the whole point of democracy.

The respect that you have for another person's right of expression, no matter how offensive it is to you, is what defines you as a civilized member of society. Anything less is fascism, plain and simple.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Friday Links 17


American Marathons -

How we view Dogs vs Cats -

If you didn't already know how to interpret error bar graphs -

A typical comments page on Memebase -


Spontaneous tool use in a dingo - assuming no previous training -

Silverfish rub themselves on adolescent ants to disguise themselves-

Emphatic rats spring each other from jail -

The opposite of the bee waggle dance -


Realism in UI Design -


What really happened aboard Air France 447 -

Behavioural Economics: Context determines behaviour -


Sexism in selling science toys to kids -

Family dances happily with dead baby as part of 'grieving ceremony'-

Edinburg had a library phantom -


Short animation film - Horn OK Please


Kalyan Karmarkar experiments with Hyderabadi biryanis -


Dragons as psychological projections of the monsters within ourselves -


Monday, 12 December 2011

Movies Seen Recently - Columbiana, Blitz, The Time Traveler's Wife

Columbiana (2011)

A generic brainless action film. An O.K watch, if you don't like to think.

Blitz (2011)

Reminiscent of a number of police films, not a bad watch.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

A bit slow. In fact, the 2nd slowest Rachel McAdams film I've seen. Just an O.K watch.

I've also been running through Weeds and Spartacus: Blood & Sand. While you lose interest in the former by the end of S2, the latter mostly sucks.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Funny Calls I got while at a Call Center

You get weird calls when you work at a call center.

There was this one lady caller who's name was 'By-the-way'. As in Mrs. By-the-way. Sounded ancient. And funny. And made me conscious of the ways I began my sentences.

The Greek last names were the worst. Too unpronounceable. The owners they belonged to were used to people struggling with their names, and so usually preempted our awkwardness by asking us to refer to them by their first names. We were grateful.

There was the customer named Daniel, not unusual in itself, but I had to transfer him to a clearings house agent, and that guy introduced himself as Daniel too. After a short pause, I stuck to transfer protocol. "Hi Daniel, this is Daniel from XYZ dept., and you won't believe this but I've got a customer named Daniel on the other line."

The weirdest call I got wasn't even from a customer, but a couple who lived on the floor above one of our bank branches. Apparently, it was past bedtime, and the bank's automatic doors weren't working properly, and would keep opening and closing. Apart from being a serious security risk, it kept the people upstairs awake. I asked them to call the police.

We'd get our share of drunk callers too. Imagine accepting a call, only to hear a man gargling on the other end of the line, and then asking if he sounded like Sonu Nigam. After he repeated this 3 times, I hung up. Not as bad as the situation one of my colleagues, and an aspiring trainer, found herself in, when she got a caller who identified himself as being drunk, and told her he was making love to the floor. The only silver lining with weird calls like these, is we were able to end them quickly, which made our average call times look good.

Of course, sometimes even good calls stretched longer than they should have. A friend and colleague, after tending to a caller, ending up at the receiving end of a member of the Watchtower Society, who probably sensed fresh meat. Experiences with other callers who lingered, were much more pleasant, and usually involved tourist recommendations and chats about the weather when they discovered we were Indians. 

And you got to really help people occasionally. I remember trying to help out this one guy who really seemed depressed, and towards the end of the call  he told me he'd have probably killed himself if I hadn't helped him. That one felt good. 

There was also this really sad lady caller who just wanted to talk to someone. I heard her out for over 10 minutes, way longer than the average call handling time we were supposed to stick to. But I didn't worry about my stats, they were already good, and 1 or 2 outliers a week wouldn't make a difference. Plus, it wouldn't have been proper to disconnect on the lady. We were only allowed to do so with abusive callers. I could of course have coaxed her into disconnecting, but I heard her out. She talked about life being both beautiful and futile. Call volumes dropped that afternoon. I learned later that a series of bombs went of in a few of that country's busiest train stations.

When you work a rush hour shift, one coinciding with your host country's busiest call volume timings, you're usually left with a hoarse voice by the end of the day. So it wasn't surprising then, when at the fag end of one such day, an elderly gentleman asked me if the person he was speaking to was a boy or girl.

Most callers were polite, and even more so when they were speaking to a manager. During night shifts, when we were the only team on the floor, and our Team Leader was taking a nap downstairs, I was glad to take escalated calls, posing as the TL. Irritated customers change their demeanor drastically when they think they're speaking to someone with authority.

Speaking about night shifts, the good thing about working for a UK process is that they're minimal, most of your work being scheduled from afternoon to dinnertime. Those of us who did spend the odd month working the graveyard shift, found that we had the floor to ourselves for the night. We were often the only team present, had only our fellow team mates for company, and could only take our scheduled team breaks in pairs.

The first 2 nights of the graveyard shift were the worst. Adjusting to the new shift and changing our body clocks usually meant falling asleep on the job and missing a few calls. But it was smooth sailing after that. You got hardly any calls during the early hours of the morning, and spent most of your time fooling around with your team mates, chatting, reading, or playing computer games.


Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Links 16


New possibly habitable planet found -

Woolly mammoth to be cloned within 5 years? -

Stanford University is organising a few free online classes -


Good concise response to the philosophers' insinuation that morals have a supernatural basis -

Jonathan Israel's 8 points seem like a good philosophy to live by -


Why do naked mole rats live so long -
Also read why male rats have rubbish sperm -

Interesting facts about odd-eyed cats -

Pop Culture

Salman Rushdie on when the film is better than the book -


On Russians in Goa -


America has banned the import of Kinder eggs -

Tit for tat diplomacy is getting out of hand -


Monday, 5 December 2011

Movies seen recently: Vexille, Last Stand of the 300, Google: Behind the Screen, A Scanner Darkly, Cars 2, Red State, The Zookeeper, Kung Fu Panda 2, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Animal Kingdom

Vexille (2007)

Animated. Interesting premise. An O.K watch.

Last Stand of the 300 (2007)

Very interesting History Channel documentary, showcasing the different parties involved in the second Persian invasion of Greece, and the Battle of Thermopylae. Recommended.

Google: Behind the Screen (2006)

Documentary on the security concerns behind using Google.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

An intelligent yet dull film.

Cars 2 (2011)

A fun watch. That's all.

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith pulls a Coen Brothers. Almost. A good watch, though not everyone might like it.

The Zookeeper (2011)


Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Excellent character development. Continues with the epic feel of the first film. Highly recommended.

Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)

Avoidable. A little bit of emotional drama doesn't save this film.

Animal Kingdom (2010)

Australian crime drama. An O.K watch.


Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday Links 15


On Science Programming -

Sheldon uses IE -

Thousands of blog posts remain as drafts as Sachin misses century -

So that AXE deo was a waste of money -

How to get out of the friend zone -

Correlation does not imply causation -

Looking for the One -

Fake Walmart store discovered in Ulhasnagar during anti-FDI protests -


On idleness & airport carousels -


Jethro Tull - 'Thick as a Brick' -

The Yardbirds - 'Crying Out For Love' -

HIM - 'Don't Fear The Reaper' - [For context, here's the original -]


Richard Feynman on the Scientific Method -

Uncovering Da Vinci's rule of trees -


From - 7 movies that put insane work into details you didn't notice -

Excellent narrative by a wildlife filmmaker on trying to capture falling gulls -


Denied permission for a serpentarium, he let loose live snakes in a govt. office -



Charlie Todd, the Improv Everywhere boss, talks at TED -

If you're looking to buy a camera, the feature search on DP Review is very helpful -


Monday, 28 November 2011

Movies Seen - The Oxford Murders, Passion Play, Bolt, Eyeborgs, Eagle vs Shark, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, Sita Sings the Blues, The Way Back, Born to Ride, The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Oxford Murders (2008)

I like the camerawork and use of dark thematic elements in this film. It does everything it should to not go overboard with the suspense, like in Angels and Demons. It's too bad the plot can't match up to the rest of the film.

Passion Play (2011)

I loved the once-upon-a-time feel of this film. The story is unreal, but you don't care because you know you're being told a dark sad story. So you can't really criticise the narrative either. The performances and use of music are excellent. This film deserved more than it got.

Bolt (2008)

Silly film told with a lot of heart. Good for kids.

Eyeborgs (2009)

A waste of time.

Eagle vs Shark (2007)

Sublime. One of the best films I've seen this year. Highly recommended. Jemaine Clement plays the same character in the Flight of the Chonchords TV series, but it works here.

Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)

A short account of a true adventure. Interesting.

Sita sings the Blues (2008)

A fun one-time watch.

The Way Back (2010)

Excellent cinematography and effects. Based on the supposedly true story of a group of people who escaped from a Siberian prison camp and walked to India. Very engrossing. Recommended.

Born to Ride (2011)

A waste of time.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

A waste of time. Nick Cage attempts another awesome role in a film with a poor story. Unlike his other recent films, which I quite liked, this one sucked, barring one Star Wars reference.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Links 14


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Facilitators vs Teachers

If organising a training programme for your employees, make sure you hire the right type of trainer.

Many teachers (school, college, etc.), pass themselves off as soft skills trainers, presumably because they think they have the skill sets to deliver programmes that involve communication, grammar, culture, reporting, writing, presentations, etc.; and presumably also because they want more money.

Nothing wrong with someone wanting to make more money. But the problem is that teachers simply don't have the requisite skill sets to be successful corporate trainers. They lack the probing, listening and interpersonal skills that make good trainers, and ironically these are some of the very skills they aim to train people on.

Don't get me wrong. I respect teachers and the work they do. It's not their fault that they're largely slaves to curricula and boards that force them to act as dispensers of information rather than facilitators of information. But that's reality. And that's why they don't belong in a corporate training room.

Teachers are used to one-way communication. They're preachers. They talk, you listen. You ask questions, they answer. Their word is law. The textbook is God. You study. Then there's a test. That's what they call a course. Any decent training manager will tell you that this isn't how a corporate training exercise is run, be it 1 day or 1 year long.

Employees aren't children; they can't be preached to. And unlike academia, the corporate world doesn't adhere to a set of textbook lessons to be learned and followed. Every employee who enters a training room comes in with some prior experience and set of assumptions about the course subject matter, either learned on the job, or elsewhere. This is called context. A good trainer recognises this and works with it, not against it. We call these people facilitators.

Facilitation involves understanding that every person in your training room already has some idea about what they're there to learn about, and each person probably sees this subject in a different way, and approaches this subject from a relatively different set of viewpoints and assumptions, and rather than preaching, you're going to use probing and questioning techniques to make members of your group identify their own problems with respect to the course subject, question their own methods, respond constructively to each suggestion you or anyone else makes, and come up with their own ideas and solutions, with an action plan, all within their individual limits.

Teachers suck at this, mainly because they're used to objective, context-free instruction. Facilitators, on the other hand, thrive on it. And who exactly is a good facilitator? A facilitator is anyone with decent interpersonal skills, and adequate subject matter knowledge. That's all. That's all you need to be a good trainer. Don't let the fancy jargon and pictures you come across in the business media, fool you. You don't need any special qualifications to be a good trainer or facilitator. But you do need certain essential skills.

To be a good facilitator, you need to be interesting, not boring. You can't have your group doze off on you while you're trying to help them. A sense of humour helps. So does a confident inspirational personality.

You need to be a good listener. You need to be quick. You need to pick up on suggestions from group members and bounce them around. You can't let discussions get away from you at any point. The group has to see you as their natural leader, has to turn to you to solve impasses.

You need to engage everyone. You have to be able to tell what interventions you should use, when you should stop using them, and when to move on.

You needn't be an expert on the subject mater; this is a soft skills course, not a technical one, and being an expert here is irrelevant, simply because there's no direct transfer of knowledge happening; you're simply enabling your group to come up with their own solutions.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Movies Seen Recently - Tintin, The Tale of Despereaux, 400 Years of the Telescope, Food Inc, The Blind Watchmaker, The Enemies of Reason

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Outrageous and fun. You can see why Spielberg used animation. He could direct outlandish stunts here, that he couldn't in the Indiana Jones films. A live action Tintin film with incredible action sequences would not only cost more to make, but also wouldn't have attracted the same respect. People are more accommodating when it comes to animated films.

The Tale of Despereaux (2008)

This animated film has a lot of good dark thematic moments, and excellent storytelling material (like the mouse who isn't afraid, in spite of being repeatedly told that he must). However, it turns out to be a mostly underwhelming experience overall. 

People don't watch animated movies to feel intelligent. They want to be overwhelmed, entertained. Anything less than that can only garner you critical acclaim at best.

400 Years of the Telescope: A Journey of Science, Technology and Thought (2009)

PBS documentary that's just O.K.

Food, Inc. (2008)

Documentary on the effects of increasing corporatisation of the food industry in the US. Explains why junk food is cheap, and healthy food expensive. Recommended watch.

BBC Horizon - The Blind Watchmaker (1987)

Dawkins led documentary on evidence for evolution, in which he suggests with examples how evolution is merely mutation guided by natural selection.

The Enemies of Reason (2007)

A 2-part Richard Dawkins led documentary on the possible futility of various forms of pseudoscience. Many forms of pseudoscience do not have any backing proof, and are based on Belief, which is antithetical to Reason, but people still choose to believe in them.

I'd love to see a follow up documentary on the morality of judging people who choose Belief over Reason.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Friday Links 13


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bosses and Shells

People often bring back shells from trips to beaches.

Which is wrong, environmentalists say. I'm not talking about the tiny ones that wash up on the beach. Those are fine to collect. I'm referring to the large coral type ones that you buy at dedicated stalls along the beach. The ones with spokes, sometimes with light bulbs inside them.

These large shells contribute to ecology. They act as homes for tiny sea creatures. And they don't just land up on beaches. You dive to get them. That's how shops and stalls get them. Purchasing these large shells contributes to the destruction of the ocean's ecosystem.

Speaking of which, how does one even get a light bulb into a shell?

A company I used to work for used to have large shells adorning a hallway, as decorations. Funnily enough, the Chairman was an ardent environmentalist, and even owned an environmental consultancy, but probably wasn't aware that it wasn't in good taste for us to keep shells as decorative items.

I suppose he eventually found out. Those shells disappeared soon after. I had thought about telling him myself, but didn't want to attract any negative attention to myself.

Speaking of bosses & negative attention, I once almost locked a boss inside a ladies loo at a company party. Almost. It wasn't completely my fault. We were both sloshed, and he had to ask me where the men's loo was. I almost showed him to the wrong door, all the while imagining bolting it from the outside once he went in. But better sense prevailed, and I kept my job.

Then again, there was this one friend of mine who worked at a broadcast monitoring company, who didn't have my level of self control. He told off his boss while drunk at a company party, and then proceeded to never get an increment in all the time he worked there.

I guess I've been lucky. I once had a boss who was a really good teacher, and I learnt a lot about corporate culture from him. But he did have this one nagging fault. He'd always use the phrase 'take a dump' to describe printing something. For example, "Daniel, take this pen drive and go take a dump". Like I said, self control is important. It helps you stifle your laughter at points like these in your life.

Being on good terms with people helps. Like when, as an executive at a call center, I brought back a packet of cashew nuts from Goa, for a team leader who had asked for them. Too bad they turned out to contain worms. Not that he would have ever done anything to me; we were on good terms. 

Which is more than can be said for the passive aggressive relationship I had with my own Team Leader. But he couldn't touch me. It helped that he knew that I knew that a married man such as he had been sneaking around dance bars, and enjoying jaunts with young girls from the office too. Sometimes, leverage is your best friend.