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.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Movies seen Recently: Himalaya, Nikola Tesla, War Wolves, Blade Runner, Megamind, Predators

Himalaya with Michael Palin (2004)

Beautiful. Highly recommended.

Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World (2004)

Concise documentary on the work of Nikola Tesla, including his various inventions & patents.

War Wolves (2009)

A waste of time.

Blade Runner (1982)

Visually stunning yet slow. You can see this film's influences in a lot of more recent sci-fi films. Way ahead of its time.

Megamind (2010)

A decent watch. Nothing to rave about, really.

Predators (2010)

Good action movie, though not as enjoyable as the original. About as entertaining as the first Aliens vs Predators film.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Book Review - The Tulleeho book of Cocktails

Tulleeho, the Delhi-based beverage education & training organisation, has come out with a book on cocktails. Edited by Rayna Jhaveri, and published by Westland Ltd., the book presents a variety of different alcoholic cocktails, the objectives being to enable you to make them yourself, not get lost in conversation about them, even though you might have never touched one.

All the cocktails in the book are either classics or Tulleeho productions (Tullee Tipples), and they're all helpfully tagged - Desi Dhamaka, Market Fresh, Old Boy's Club, Dessert, Ladies Special, Herb & Spice.

Pages 1-5 detail the various things you will need to make your own cocktails. This home bar essentials section recommends that you stock different alcohols (vodka, rum, tequila, gin, whisky, brandy, liquer, beer, wine, vermouth), barware (shakers, strainers, crushers, spoons, knives, openers), glassware (beer, old-fashioned, tall, flute, wine, shot, martini, margarita), mixers, condiments & garnishes.

Pages 6-12 comprise a crash course in Mixology, with pages 6 & 7 looking at different ways in which cocktails are divided (classic and contemporary, look and glassware, preparation process, cocktail family), pages 8 & 9 looking at bartending techniques (stirring, shaking, blending, layering, flaming, dusting, frosting), page 10 looking at measurements, and pages 11-12 looking at various bartending tips and tricks.

The rest of the book is mostly made up of cocktail recipes, beginning with vodka cocktails (pages 15-40). What strikes you immediately is the originality of the content - only 5 out of the 25 recipes in this section are classics. The rest are all Tullee Tipples, or originals. This trend continues throughout the book, with originals outnumbering classics in the tequila, gin, rum & whisky sections (though the brandy, beer & wine sections seem to marginally include more classics). 

But coming back to Vodka, I'm looking forward to trying the very original Vasanth Neer, which involves coconut water. Originals in other chapters that I'd like to try are the interesting iced tea variant in the tequila section, the Khus syrup cooler in the gin section, the Black Knight (made of rum and coffee), the Godfather (made with whisky and almond-flavored liqueur) and the Boiler Maker (beer and whisky)

Each section also comes with a short history of the main base alcohol used in that section, some trivia, and preferred ways to serve it. Recipe pages also helpfully include brief descriptions of unusual ingredients and possible substitutes, should you not have them.

The book also offers, at the intervals between each chapter, 'Specials' lists i.e lists of cocktails that can be served on special occasions like festivals.These include Holi, Valentine's Day, Monsoon, Diwali, Christmas & Dessert, with the recipe page numbers included for the cocktails on each Specials page, allowing for easy navigation.

Also hidden somewhere in between is a quick liqueur guide. 

The latter part of the book is made up of Monin & Bacardi cocktail specials (Tuleeho's sponsors), a list of ways to say 'Cheers' around the world, a very useful party planner to help you estimate the amount of alcohol you will need according to the number of people attending, a smart drinking guide, a nation-wide where-to-buy guide, and a glossary.

A very organised book with useful information and a recommended buy.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!


Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Links 12


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Movies Seen Recently: The Big Lebowski, Rio, The Roommate, Up, The Social Network

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Dark comedy. The Coen Brothers don't get better than this.

Rio (2011)

A fun watch. Recommended.

The Roommate (2011)

Not a bad thriller, though the story itself is a well-used rehashed plot.

Up (2009)

The first 10 minutes of the film were sublime. The rest, not so much.

The Social Network (2010)

A very good film and a recommended watch.

I've also been watching the Headbangers KitchenFlight of the Conchords, & Mighty Boosh series. I recommend the first, but the second and third, talent filled as they are, aren't exactly my thing; a little too bizarro for me to actively watch and enjoy solo. Might be fun in a group though, but probably not a lot. They're nowhere close, in terms of humour, to Arrested DevelopmentThe Office, 30 Rock or Community.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On abbreviations

As a child, the only abbreviations I used were AM, PM, AD, BC, TV, N, S, E, W, etc., eg, i.e, Dr. & O.K. And of course I knew what INRI meant. Moving up through school, I learnt what KFC meant (Who didn't?). 

A general awareness of the world around me got me recognising the political (UAE, UN, EU, US, NY, UK), the security & military (FBI, CIA, KGB, MI5, MI6, NATO, SAS, Gen. Lt., Corp.), the media (DD, CN, AP, BBC, CNN), and general terms like vs., RIP, WWF, WWE, NBA, SOS, Y2K, WWW, PT, CD & DVD.

But my love/hate relationship with abbreviations really began when I moved to Bombay in 2000. Everyone was using (abusing?) them. It all began in college. Junior college. Or JC as they called it. Subdivided into FYJC & SYJC, or FY & SY respectively. 

Senior college was SC, and subdivided into FY, SY & TY. Lectures were 'lecs'. Professors were 'profs'. Psychology was 'Psych'. Sociology was 'Socio'. And our final degrees were BA, B.Com, B.Sc, B.Sc.IT, LLB, BMS, BMM, BBA, BE, B.Tech, B.Arch, MA, M.Sc, ME, M.Tech, M.Arch, D.Lit, D.Phil & Ph.D.

This was all quite new to someone who's only knowledge of educational abbreviations till that point was SSC & HSC. This category soon expanded to also include SAT, CAT, GMAT & IELTS. College also left me with APA, viz., p.a., et al. & ibid.

It was around this time that I took an interest in photography, and P&S, DSLR, AF, AE, DOF, CMOS, EVF, HDR, IS, ISO, RGB became a part of my life forever.

But the real fun started when I began work. In a call center. I had a TL (Team Leader), who reported to a STL (Senior Team Leader). We had to undergo OJT (On the Job Training), and any breaks we took were OPAs (Off Phone Activity). Our work was subject to QA (Quality Assurance). Any leave we booked was either PL (Privilege Leave), EL (Earned Leave) or SL (Sick Leave).

And getting a job meant using an ATM with a card with a PIN number. And getting a PAN card. And learning to invest in financial organisations like ICICI, HDFC, SBI & HSBC through MFs while tracking NAVs. And getting to know about INR, USD, GBP, EUR & AED.

The corporate world in general is no better, hierarchy wise. You complete your MBA or CA, learn about USP, ISO, IP rights, B2B & B2C, send your CV to a company's HR dept., start off as an AM, then move on to AVP, VP & possibly CEO, CFO, CTO or MD, each with their own PA. 

The work you do always has to be done ASAP, or by the EOD. You might work in R&D or need to raise a PO at some point, with an eye on ROI & P&L. Remember to track figures in YTD. 

You need to be extra careful when dealing with VIPs or HoDs, especially when you Cc them in emails with large JPEGs or PP attachments you make on your Windows OS computer. And you'd be laughed at if you didn't know what large organisations like IMF, WHO, RBI, IBM, AT&T, AOL, HP & BP stand for. 

IT people perhaps have it worst, with terms like IP (addresses), VoIP, VPN, LDAP, ROM, DVR, CPU, NEC, AMD, CAD, CMS, GNU, HTML, .NET, J2EE, JDBC, JVM, JSP, DOS, COBOL, CSS, XML, URL, IE, RSS & PHP being par for the course, and new ones being invented daily.

And moving back from the professional to the personal, I realise how keeping up to date with the news and pop culture has changed my vocabulary.

Reading introduced me to JRR Tolkien (Of LOTR fame) & CS Lewis. An interest in property taught me what NOC and FSI mean. Terrorism produced RAW, WTC, POW, GI, MIA & WMD. Let's not forget TV networks like like HBO, CBC, NBC & ABC.

Digital networking dealt out SMS, IM, BRB, WTF, OMG, LOL, FUBAR, ROTFL, OCSL & IMO. Newspapers like the TOI, IE & HT gave me MP, MLA, BJP, RJD, UPA, NDA & GOI. Current crazes include 3D & IPL (RR, MI, KKR, CSK).

The health and medical world dosed us with AA, LSD, SARS, ENT, GP & ER.
Technology having overtaken or lives, we can't go a single day without using terms like LED, LCD, LAN, RAM, HD, MP (Megapixel), WiFi or 3G. And let's not forget cricketing terms - FOW, LBW, C&B, NO, St., Wkt.

Have I left out any?


Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday Links 11


Intellectualism vs Science -

Hitchens on deathbed recantations -

Marshall Poe on being unable to write a big-idea book -


Protecting against tear gas -


Inside the mind of the octopus -

There is no correlation between dog bites and full moons -


The Sunny Nihilist has some funny Graph Jams -


How the potato changed the world -


Daniel Engber thinks pop psychology may be giving us too many 'Effects' -

Michael Gazzaniga on Neuroscience & Justice -


How to pick a sci-fi or fantasy book -