Blackberry saves the day!

I moved onto the Blackberry Passport phone from the iphone 5s recently. It looks gorgeous, is shaped to capture eye balls (it’s the only square phone on the market that I know of!) and the reviews swear its battery wouldn’t fail you on a stroll through the Sahara desert (so why even talk about a corporate day). So like I said, its a cool gadget. I took it therefore – all new and shiny – to an important meeting, all suited and ready to be the envy of the crowd. The meeting began on time – and all of us freshly brushed, voices toned and what not – put our phones on silent (there’s always a little button sticking out for this on the side right?) and got ready for some deep discussion. And five minutes into the meeting, a big “DONG” sounded – like a hammer coming down on a rusty nail in a whisper-quite room. All heads turned to me – for I was the offender and I realized to my horror that whatever the button on the side was for – it wasn’t to turn the phone into a silent tomb. Flushed and sweating, I walked out attempting to turn the thing off (and ended up shutting it down). For the record, the DONG was from an email marketer who wanted to sell me a farm – house on the outskirts (around 100 kms from anywhere) complete with cows, hens and so on.

Cursing freely, I set down to analyze how the blackberry could be asked to feign laryngitis on demand – and I discovered to my delight that not only was it equipped to go silent, but had the capaility to make my life so much better in many, many ways. Instead of just features (silent,normal and so on), the blackberry team had also added “day in life” modes – “bedside”, “meeting” and “do not disturb”. Its these that we will discus today (and I am sure when you are done reading, all of you are going to storm your neighborhood store for blackberrys – time I got myself some of their stocks I guess!).

“Bedside” mode: This one makes the blackberry don its night pyjamas and turn itself into an alarm clock – literally. It dims the clock (a big analog one – not the smallish digital ones you see on the competitors), turns off all notifications (you can choose to turn something on if you’d like), and waits like a rooster to herald in the new morning. Sweet undisturbed sleep is what you are guranteed – I’ll tell you its lovely! The only thing it dosen’t do today is take you in the arms and rock you to sleep singing a lullaby on the side. But given the massive number of updates form blackberry, am sure these feature somewhere in the fall roadmap!

“Meeting” mode: When you choose to accept a meeting (or a conference call meet), the one thing you don’t want is to appear to multi-task or look insensitive (like I did in the scenario at the beginning of this post!) and get the speaker all upset. I do know though that you, I and every average meeting-attender does multitask (I am an old timer, no point in giving me that “holier than though” look!) – in fact, on the lines of “I know what you did last summer”, let me recount what you do in a typical meeting (take that!) – its all neatly tabuled by Intercall:

whatelseareemployees

No matter which of the aforesaid stuff you are doing, the phone will go all silent (while bringing in the latest cricket and soccer playoff scores, recipes, whats app and facebook updates etc. – silently). As a bonus, every time you accept a meeting it goes silent,  you don’t have to repeat all the “search and mute” dance – its all taken care off by the geniuses at blackberry!. Truly a godsend huh?

“Do not disturb” mode: Imagine your name is Mr.Dhoni. You and your boys have promised the nation that as far as the cricket world cup trophy is concerned, you #wontgiveitback! But turns out the Australians have other plans and beat India all ends up. A very angry Mr.Arnab (from #TimesNow of course) is calling you on behalf of the nation (cue to him bellowing “the nation wants to know..” ) – it seems a very sticky time to hang around. The question is what can you do? You can take off to the Alps (unless there’s a bollywood shooting going on there in which case your pictures will still reach the remotest Indian villages!) or you can simply sit tight in your room, lock the cup up and turn on the “do not disturb” mode on your blackberry. The phone will turn into somethign like the deaf adder from the scriptures – and deny access to everyone no matter where – next door, in the himalayas or in Jupitar.  Unreliable rumours are on that should folks still try to reach you, the phone will threaten to effect collateral damage (perhaps they’s take some advice from Mr.Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage days).

So there you go – instead of just features (silent, not silent, vibrate and so on), Blackberry has just upped the game by providing real life scenarios. Way to go blackberry. I am confident that over time it will add more scenarios – just a few that come to mind:

  1. boss mode on Friday evening – so your boss can’t reach you on the cusp of leaving for the weekend and shove some tasks which will keep you working through the weekend!)
  2. Appraiser mode which will automatically sends messages notifying you are on vacation and effectively render you unavailable during the critical phase of the performance cycle for your team
  3. Subway/ Starbucks mode that automatically answers the 100s of questions both of these wonderful stores ask for every product you order (eg.cold/hot/skim/cream – and this is just for milk!)

I rest my case. When are you getting your berry?

Of cars, charging docs and shiny new gadgets!

My laptop (a thinkpad) after faithfully serving me for 3 years was replaced with a newer, thinner and smarter-looking piece this week. The laptop has been a wonderful workhorse – serving me well after a brief starting period when the machine threw power tantrums and going into freeze mode ever so often. Many visits to the local IT doctor did not work, it played truant to all his geeky remedies. Finally, he clenched his teeth and with a determined chin took it to a closed room and I suspect from all the noises within undertook the hardware equivalent of cntl+alt+del – a procedure that made the machine a ready convert. The machine has been behaving well ever since – I suspect resigning itself to the fact that irrespective of all its intel chips/ big memory /graphic cards and such wizardry capabilities, its owner would only engage it to do powerpoints, spreadsheets and documents – and then more of the same. It’s like having Dhoni confined to the little league you say? Well, such is life – into each life some rain must fall!

The new laptop, it definitely seemed lighter – however the bag it came in weighed a ton. Wondering if they added a mini-bar as an accessory, I (hopefully!) open the bag – and out tumble tons of shiny new stuff. The DVD drive comes in a separate box, the wireless keyboard and mouse, half a dozen cables (only god knows for what), a docking station – and very importantly a contraption that looks like something out of a bruce-lee movie. This is a veritable buffet, and you can pass a very diverting hour or two simply trying to figure how they all fit in! And sadly, no mini-bar there.

Onto the machine now – I boot it and the windows OS asks me for the password, decides I am Aladdin, puts on its blue home face and goes into configuration mode as a prelude to opening its wonder wares. The “Dude, I am hungry, charge me up” low battery light blinks up and I fish around – pull a cable, connect it to another (thanks lego for teaching me skills that are relevant a few decades hence!) – I suddenly realize I don’t know where to plug in the charger. They have changed the ports! Ten minutes of searching, swearing and experimenting later, I find the new port – it’s a little squarish hole now placed at the top-left corner (it was a round pin-type contraption on the bottom-right corner on my earlier machine). So 3 years and 2 levels up, someone changed the charger ports.Talk about innovation!

This is the topic I wanted to muse on. Charging ports are like fuel cables at the local petrol station (or if you are in the us, gas station). You need them to fill your device up so it does what its supposed to – so why do they make it different on every machine? No matter which car you buy – a Ferrari, a corolla or even a hummer – you can always get it charged at any station around the world – how odd would it be if we had to carry fuel hoses everywhere I travel? Cars seem to get them, but devices don’t – and isn’t that a shame?

Or talk about docking ports – think of them as car parking slots – at most you have a small, medium and large (and if you are a burger outlet owner, perhaps you may want to bung in an extra-large version) – you don’t have a parking slot that is dedicated to a particular model and year? If you did, traffic would go nuts (where it hasn’t already that is!).

Thinking deeper, memory cards come in only a few varieties. As do sim cards (a full, micro or nano!). Software platforms (like dropbox, gmail, twitter etc.) work across as well – its only stuff that device manufacturers make that’s so unique to them.

Which brings me to the central question – why do they not standardize hardware essentials like charging ports and docks to a few types? Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place for absent-minded people like me who are always forgetting chargers – we could find a replacement in a thrice no matter we travelled to? And on that note, how do they manage all their travel – do they check in two bags everytime – one for their travel ware, and another for all the cables?!

By this time, the device is configured and inviting. I logon and am delighted. The track pad is cool. The buttons work very well. The laptop is spaced out well and the wrist feels comfortable. I like it! And yes the powerpoints and documents come up brilliantly – it passes all the regular tests with flying colours. Nice job IBM – but for that charger!

As I fire up my mails, I see a headline about Apple working on developing a car. I go day dreaming again. Come 2017 (or whenever they launch it )I’ll probably break my bank and buy the car – thinking about everyone I can demo it to and make them gasp in admiration. Driving from the showroom, I would look at the delightful interiors and rave on the performance –-at which point an elegant light on the dashboard would let me know that my tank’s near on empty. Rushing into the nearby station (remember the car is rumoured to be electric!) – I’ll breathe a sign of relief – only to have the attendant smile at me wickedly and ask me if I have brought in my charging cable? Ok that’s more a nightmare than a dream!

Football, a world cup and a wildly cheering populace!

Its World Cup time folks and the world is being dazzled by some of the world’s best footballers in the home of the game – Brazil. Its a wonderful sight, and everywhere you go there’s football fever in the air.

 

And why not? For one thing the football is just awesome. You get to see some great footwork, some brilliant saves, great thrillers, moving melodrama, victory dances – a whole world of wonder. But football is special I guess for other reasons too:

 

1. It provides great insight into management and team dynamics (what a first up point huh!): Its the only sport I know where the players turn out in Tees, shorts and tattoos while the management come fully decked in suits and ties – looking like they are in a shareholder’s meet. While the players are fresh and vigorous (and could step right into an advertisement for a health spa), the managers (paunchy, older, i trust wiser!) look like they have serious bouts of indigestion (actually they resemble parents of specially troublesome teens – which is perhaps not a bad comparision)!  And yes, there are the experts too – these are like our very own corporate gurus – they know tons of stuff but get the results often wrong! The only very reliable predictor so far has been the octopus in the 2010 edition – and am not sure Paul took an advanced course in statistical prediction at Harvard!

 

2. You see fashion statements everywhere: Looks like the current haircut of choice is a mushroomy attempt which leaves one looking like a bushy umbrella (without the stalk) or a small UFO has settled onto one’s head. There are variations of this – there’s a sunflower variant, there’s one seemingly inspired by the evergreen bridges of chirapunji – even a pony- tail- type effort which seems straight out of the vedic times. Of course these are instagram-friendly and about 300 times more expensive than their counterparts!

 

3. Footballers may be stars, but they also have the spirit of youth alright (almost feel like singing Nirvana’s – “smells like teen spirit”!). No matter if a player is from a sophisticated EU country, a hard-working Asian, a sporting Australian, a capitalist American – when he is upset he cusses. And it takes very little to upset him. Which goes on to prove that the language of the rebel (in sailor blushing detail at that!) is perhaps the official language of the youth – the world over. There’s just one difference – sometimes, they decide that football skills are a better way to express their emotions – and when they do that – boy, oh boy – do they make your heart sing!

 

4.It gives everyone a chance to bring out the sports(wo)man in them- and I don’t mean just the players. 50,000 spectators are on the grounds cheering their teams every match and half the world is cheering them on TV/ Web whatever – truly it brings out the sporting spirit in each of us. A grandfather uses his fork to show his grandson how Pele used to do it, a teenager emulates Ochoa’s hairstyle in a last-ditch attempt to win some attention from that girl across the street who seems immune to all his charms, a manager cancels a meeting (to the relief of all involved) as he decides his football team deserves his attention more for a very important fixture, a child deduces the goalpost must really be in the television set and smashes the screen in – everywhere the spirit is on display. Smiles, grins, exasperation (oh! if only he had listened to me on how to take that corner!) – its a rainbow of emotions – everywhere.

 

I guess all of this is what makes this perhaps the greatest spectacle in the world. And this time around, there are wonderful places to catch all the action:

– On TV of course – live action unlimited

– Go to the google homepage and some wonderful doodles are present, clicking on which you get details of all the action

– Social media has plenty of analysis and streaming news. Check the World Cup page on twitter – simply, simply wonderful..

and on and on….

 

So enjoy the game – and may your whistles and cheering be louder than ever. If you’ll excuse me now – got to go take a look at a match myself!

Delightful stuff – from a master of humor and poetry

Doing the weekend tidying-up activity, I came across a much loved book from long ago  – Shel Silverstein’s book of witty, wicked poems which would delight the child in everyone. Eagerly I looked for some of my favourites – there they were tucked into the book and as wonderful as ever. I present a few for your pleasure – beware reading will leave you with a big goofy grin!

 

First up – how do you determine if a window is open (no, we are not talking about Bill Gates’ software here!):? Here’s his poem titled “STONE TELLING”

How do we tell if a window is open?

Just throw a stone at it.

Does it make a noise?

It doesn’t?

Well, it was open.

Now, lets try another…

CRASH!

It wasn’t! 

 

Have you wondered if you are giving kids’ conflicting advice? Here’s one kid musing in a poem titled “MA AND GOD”

God gave us fingers – Ma says, “Use your fork.”

God gave us voices,- Ma says, “Don’t scream.”

Ma says eat brocolli, cereal and carrots.

But God gave us tasteys for maple ice cream.

 

God gave us fingers – Ma says, “Use your hanky.”

God gave us puddles – Ma says, “Don’t splash.”

Ma says, “Be quiet, your father is sleeping.”

But God gave us garbage can covers to crash.

 

God gave us fingers – Ma says “put your gloves on.”

God gave us raindrops – Ma says “Don’t get wet.”

Ma says be careful, and don’t get too near to

Those strange lovely dogs that God gave us to pet.

God gave us fingers – Ma says “go wash ’em.”

Bod God gave us coal bins and nice little bodies.

And I ain’t too smart, but there’s one thing for certain –

Either Ma’s wrong or else God is.

 

And finally here’s his take (from the poem EARLY BIRD) on the “Early bed gets the worm” proverb:

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird.

And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.

If you’re a bird, be an early bird –

But if you are a worm, sleep late.

 

All of this (and some more awesome ones are in his “Where the Sidewalk ends” – trust that the afternoon looks sunnier already?!!

“Kindle”ing Nostalgia – finding precious treasures in the digital aisle

Yesterday, while browsing our endless digital aisle (also called amazon.com), I came across two priceless items – they make me so happy (and nostalgic) that this will be the topic of today’s post.

First up, I discovered several versions of Peter Cheyneybooks in the kindle bookstore. Peter Cheyney for those who are not aware was a very popular “thriller/detective story’ writer in the early 40s. It was my father who introduced me to Cheyney’s books while we were strolling one lazy summer holiday through Mumbai’s old lanes browsing through used-book stores – the only ones that stocked such items. I loved the book – a racy thriller with catchy dialogues and super heroes on par with James Bond – minus of course the blood and the gadgets, but awesome page-turners. Over the years, I have popped into several libraries and book stores in search of cheyney’s books (they are that good believe me!) – but for a library in Norwich, UK and an obscure library in chennai, India – havent been very successful. To find several of his books (and kindle versions meant I could download them right away) was a treat – and also brought back pleasant memories of a precious childhood moment. Thank you kindle team!

That got me greedy and I started looking for other favourites. Would they have asterix and oblelix comics online too? They didnt have that – but had something equally attractive. MAD Comics are online now as well. MAD comics represent humour, satire and artistic fervour at their very best – as anybody who would have read them in their childhood would attest – and to find them in all their glory was the equivalent of a “home run” in a World Series game…. For starters, I picked up “MAD about OSCARS” which featured parodies on lots of movies (The godfather became The Oddfather, A beautiful mind became A booty-full mind(!), The sixth sense became The Sick sense(!!) and of course The Lord of the rings became Bored of the rings). And the credits belonged of course to MAD’s famed “usual gang of idiots” and featured Alfred. If you haven’t read any of MADs works before – pease do get started with either the ‘MAD about Oscars” or their parodies on Super heroes – they are guaranteed to have you in splits.

All this goes to prove that Chris Anderson was right – the digital world does have a long tail (aka an endless shopping aisle) which allows us to pick items not just on today’s blockbuster list, but on our evergreen favourites list. And to this long tail, here’s a salute – thanks guys.

A concotion of New year wishes, grandma (& grandpas) and air travel

Its that time of the year when everyone is thinking up of wishes for the new year.

I have a special one – mainly inspired from my recent travel spanning 3 countries, 6 airports and marathon queues and here it is:

“In 2013, air travel should become grandma (and grandpa) friendly”

This is in truth a googly (or if you are reading this in the US a “headfake”) – it’s actually several wishes (and rules) rolled up into one. As a bonus and to please the bean counters however, I shall also talk about the associated saves.

Here goes (beware it’s a bit wicked!):

Wish A: Any airline which globalizes food names will have their licenses revoked immediately. Idli, vada and sambar can no longer be called rice pan cakes, lentil doughnuts and semolina porridge! I shudder to think what they would call haka noodles or sushi (unless ofcourse like the pizza these were named before we become “globally” enlightened!)

So what’s the ROI? –Fewer dictionaries required on board to help the stewardess convince the grandma that the food is indeed vegetarian and never walked once in their lifetime. This time saved by the stewardess can be used to sell more duty free goods – $$$

Wish B: A World-wide realization that Grandpas are not fedex employees. Getting them to remove (and repack) any “large and/or complicated” electronic equipment at every security check point (which in these days would mean everything from watches to mobiles to tablets to laptops) will require the CEO of the concerned airline to come down and personally put in everything that has been removed into the minuscule sized luggage that grandmas pack. The same logic applies for liquids (remember grandmas are not chemists and cant be expected to carry pipettes to measure their concoctions into 100 ml bottles) – they will be allowed to carry any sweets/ treats and such with no checks whatsoever. Exceptions include any home-made medicine they may carry for their grandchildren – these can (actually must) be confiscated -failing which the aforementioned CEO will need to partake of the stuff.

So what’s the ROI? millions of hours saved of course. Also the CEO gets some exercise (and the bitter medicine) which will help him live longer (and understand life is not all roses…)…

Wish C: “Name Pattern based Terrorist identification software” (wow!) must be globalized. A name (or initial) which goes without any challenges in the UK (for example) cannot be detained for questioning in the US (or for that matter across different airports in the same country). An addendum is to acknowledge that Indian parents (and East Europeans too I suspect) consider their job properly done only if their children have a minimum of 21 characters in their names – getting these checked by the poor hassled TSA (or equivalent) agents will result in the CFO of the concerned airline having to take chinese lessons! Continued failure to adopt this law will result in him having to watch this video!

So what’s the ROI? – Saves in the doctors’ fees that will undoubtedly result if the poor security guys continue to be subjected to reading a million passports each with wildly different roots

Wish D: Asking people to checkout their luggage only to give it back to a connecting flight’s counter a hundred yards away will result in the CTO of the airline having to listen to one of grandpa’s long (and very boring) tales. Same fate will befall the airport boss whose terminals are more distant from each other than your destination airport is.

So what’s the ROI? -Saves from the reduced risk of someone’s grandpa checking your luggage (by mistake of course) to a remote destination isn’t enough?

On which irreverent note, I should acknowledge that much as terrorism, technology and scale have made travel that much more complicated, the people on the ground (stewards, security agents, luggage coordinators, information kiosks) more than make up for it by extending their help – and with a smile to boot. It was Christmas time then – and the good cheer, goodwill and kindness of these people was wonderful to behold – thank you all.

And wishes to all my readers for a wonderful year ahead. I know some of you would have come hoping to see a signature “meditation on our times type”  story or perhaps even a technology story – but new year eve I believe deserves something like this –  irreverent and absolutely not-on-point. Agreed?

A tale of 2 storms…

The last week belonged to sandy and nilam, no matter what Obama/Romney or the congress/ iac say. Sandy hit the east coast of the USA, while its cousin played havoc on the southern coast of India. And here’s what intrigues me – I cannot imagine where they got their names from.

Sandy wasn’t sandy, she was very water-y – as the journalists kept pointing out standing in knee-deep water – I guess to emphasize how water-logged the place was (and no, it was the real thing, not a bath tub).

Her Indian sister Nilam was windy, noisy and scary – but comparing her to a blue sapphire (which is what the wikipedia assures us Nilam means) boggles the imagination. A friend helpfully mentions there’s a species of mango named Nilam too – but then why would we name a storm after a fruit!

Ok we’ll let that go. Perhaps the weathermen had too much vodka the night before, or maybe someone asked the bureaucracy’s spin doctors to name them…

The relief efforts deserved a clap for sure. Removing fallen trees, dispensing food and aid, restoring power and bringing the city back to normalcy was done with express speed in Chennai. And the US is bouncing back with alacrity too – per the papers and the lady on tv (now on more firm ground – and we can’t see the water anymore – or anything for that matter though – perhaps because she’s now emphasizing that we have a power problem!).

The social media played a wonderful role too – sharing information on dos/ donts, location-specific information etc. – i’d think it was a god send for all those who lived through the storm – and allowed their loved ones across the world to stay in touch.

I guess it’s worth saying a special thanks to the efforts of our friends, support infrastructure and administration, media and the technology innovations that have helped get us through the crisis. Spare a prayer, a kind word and a penny or two for those who have been affected adversely by these storms(or whatever these “nature’s fury” acts are called). Don’t forget to have an extra helping of turkey this thanksgiving or a sweet during Deepavali for having made it through.

Anyway, we are back to normalcy now and the politicians can heave a sign of relief and get back to their business. Will it be Obama or Romney?

On the Indian side, we have equally heady affairs to be sorted out. We have an incumbent government that’s being accused of being corrupt and inefficient (so what’s new?), an opposition party being accused of being no better and a people’s movement which is suspected of harboring political ambitions (and hence making selective allegations..). If that doesn’t sound like a Len Deighton whodunit plot, I don’t know what does…

The biking chronicles – at the shop…

I seem to remember that sleeping beautyslumbered for a hundred years before her prince arrived and woke her up. And then – says the story – they lived happily ever after.I suspect though that they left out a little bit on that fairy tale. I am sure our beauty would also have been startled to see her baby-nephew (as she knew him before she went a sleeping) walking in with a bent back, aged hair and a walking stick. She must have been amazed to see the horse carriage of her pre-slumber somehow transformed into a gleaming jaguar. And so on….

Now I bring this up because I felt just like sleeping beauty must have after that wonderous,long sleep (of course I didn’t feel half so beautiful, but certainly twice as rattled) when I walked into the bike shop the other day.

For starters, get this straight – today’s bikes are way more complicated than your cars. Your car could have 5,6 or 7 gears (any more and the engineers simplify and make it an automatic which would mean just one gear to contend with); your bike on the other hand is likely to have 21 or more. Your car can be only one of 4 types:

– a big bad guzzler (read suv),

– a sleek toy to win the admirers over (sports car),

– a hatch (now what does it hatch by the way?)

or the one one with a tail (sedan).

The bikes though have many, many categories. You can choose yours based on
– size (small, medium or large – maybe they even have an extra large like you’d prefer your coffee – and the beers)

– usage (mountain – never mind there’s none within a 100 radius, road or hybrid),

– metals used (titanium, carbon, alloy and many such more you can make sense of only if you still remember the periodic tablethey taught you back at school),

– foldable (yes you read that right – there are bikes you can fold and carry on your backpack, try that with your car)…..

“Sir, would you prefer a carbon fork?” asks the sales guy cutting into my reverie…

I am confused. Do they now serve cutlery on bikes too – “Truth be told, I’d prefer steel or plastic better” I haltingly reply.

Now he looks a little surprised and then sizes me up.

“You new to b-i-k-e world?” he queries spelling each letter like you would to a toddler (and one not quite as smart as the honesttoddler at that!). When I answer in the affirmative, I seem to notice a gleam in his eye while he excuses himself to meet with his comrades and plan on how to make this deal count (I suspect he also called his wife and promised her some jewellery as he sees some fat commissions come his way…).

Here’s the third bomb. Bikes follow the “management by subtraction” logic unlike cars. So while you’d pay more for a car that has more features, you pay most for a bike that has less (except for the gears of course, still wondering why they need 21 of those..).

I soon end up with a bike sans a bell (and that too in India – even the circus mono-cycles have bells here!), a stand (do I have to carry it always?), mud guards (maybe they’ll also sell me a washing machine considering its monsoon time here?), suspensions and a lot of other stuff – and a hefty price which confirms my bike is mmiddle upper class!

My mind boggles. The friend’s too – and he goes out and smokes 20 cigarettes on the trot. The sales guy comes over and pats me consolingly on the shoulder.

“Never mind, I will give you a bell, a stand, a guard, a water bottle…just don’t tell the manager”. And to make me happy he demoes a feature – the wheels on my bike are removable it appears – a feature I think I will use once every 10 years or so…

And so I exit the shop with an expensive bike, a bag consisting an even more expensive set of accessories (essentially they take everything out of the bike, put it in a bag so you can carry it on your back and then charge you twice the amount – don’t ask me why!). But there’s a silver lining – my bike comes equipped with an Indian flag (just about everything else is from Taiwan or maybe Congo for all I know).

As the wise man said, something learned (me), something earned (he) – what more can you ask on a sunny day?

Biking – The journey begins

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one wonders if one is exercising enough.

Generally (and if you are like me), the answer comes back pronto – NO!!!

I amble thoughtfully and watch some tv, thrash (metaphorically speaking) a politician or two, read a book – but the thought doesn’t go away.

So I call a few friends and confide in them – only to have them echo the same thought – they too feel they aren’t exercising enough. My glance now goes to the book shelf – where a coach is urging you to “ACT and ACT NOW!” from behind an attractive cover. Besides, from the expression on his face and the cut of his suit, you feel he knows what he’s talking about – and has the bank balance to prove it too.

I look around – the advice appeals to all of us – but what’s the best exercise for us?

“Yoga? The last time I tried that a doctor had to help me untangle my legs from my head” says friend 1

“Basketball? At your height the basket (and the ball) are always going to be out of reach” says friend 2

“Horse racing? All the horses have accompanied the punters to Srilanka for the T20 worldcup, so no dice!”says Friend1

“Soccer (or un-american football!)? If you cant swear in spanish, you’re a dead man!” says friend2(or should it noe be ex-friend2 after that last comment of his!)

So what do we have left? BIKING we say unanimously. We’ve all done it before – me in my distant school days, another during his early worklife and a third when he was a baby. We huddle and agree – cycling its going to be.
Now that we have an agreement, I pull out a Lance Armstrong poster and replace the self help guru’s book with Lance’s “Every second counts”. Is it just me or is our man in the smart suit and the attractive cover scowling now?

“But didn’t he (Lance not the self help guru) dope?” asks a concerned neightbour.

“Nope its not proved yet” I answer. “Besides if something can help you beat cancer, help you cycle a thousand mountain and snow miles year after year and provide you with enough energy to run a foundation as well – I don’t think it should be called a drug, it should be called a miracle tonic!”. On which smart repartee, I proceed to the bicycle shop to see whats on offer.

Part 2 – adventures in the bicycle shop would follow shortly….stay tuned (please!)

Part 2 – A story of 5 breakfasts and a stroll in the park

And the second day dawned bright and sunny (or so it seemed from the hotel room window). I was ready in a jiffy and skipped down to the hotel restaurant eager to partake of their ”full English breakfast buffet” -advertised very prominently in their brochures.

As I waited to be seated, I looked around – the place was almost full – the hotel’s copy writer had struck gold. The waitress came over, smiled and asked me for my coupons.
”Coupons?”, I asked, not quite sure if I had heard her right.
”Yes, the coupons”, she answered in a Russian accent (or maybe Czechoslovakian or for that matter Ukrainian or..)
”Coupons??” I stammered again, wondering what on earth she was talking about.

She accepted fate had dealt her a flawed customer but she put on a brave face and showed me to my seat – reasoning perhaps that not all days are sunny and nice (I realized later as a hotel customer, these coupons would have entitled me to get a significant discount – but surely the hotel should have an easier way of doing this?!!).

Once seated, the multiple choice quiz started:
Brown or white bread?
Coffee or tea?
Latte or cappuccino?
Milk or cream….sugar? ….
I didn’t ask for my score but must have done OK as she didn’t look too rattled when we were done. And while we took a few moments to recover post this exhaustive round 1 questioning, I asked her about the English breakfast; her face beamed in approval and she launched into round two – this time questions to be answered in short sentences..
How would like your bacon?
How would you like your eggs made?
What garnishing would you prefer for the omelets?
How would you like your sausages?
And on and on until she found I had given up long ago. Being vegetarian, most of these were outside my palate, and I just would have to have a full English breakfast without the English bits today. While I accepted my fate with a shake of the head, she accepted her fate staunchly too. She may have got a coupon-less, low scoring and incapable (of sampling the varied fare) customer on a sunny day – but the waitresses here are made of strong stuff. I could hear her saying ”boy, do these customers flatter only to deceive!” in Russian – or probably Ukrainian or Yugoslavian – as she went to get me what turned out to be an awesome latte.

The rest of the buffet was actually quite good – and to work it out I decided to saunter in the Hyde park across the street. And man, was this a smart decision.

The Hyde park is just that – a park. It does not aim to be a private amusement park (with ticket collectors out front, numerous food courts and very amused owners counting their earnings) nor is it one of those elitist -looking places which require you to treat them as holy ground (or a history book!). It’s a very unassuming park, and most delightful at that. As I walked through its open iron gates, I couldn’t keep reflecting on the fact that iron gates and bars didn’t always mean restricted freedom, sometimes they were gateways to a different life altogether.

The first thing that hit me when I stepped in was the absolute lack of transactional commerce within its boundaries. People jogged, exercised (themselves and their dogs), made friends, read newspapers, observed wildlife and reflected on life (or whatever) – no one was buying or selling anything. Sitting back on one of the abundantly provided benches, I watched life go by and a sense of serenity prevailed.

This was life in a microcosm. Just ahead of me, a toddler was bravely trying to perfect her walking skills using a stroller, while her parents walked behind her – pushed her infant sibling in a pram and admiring her efforts. She stumbled, got back and tried again – and when she took a few yards without stumbling, she was greeted by applause from all – and we had a beaming kid bent on making sure she picked the right skills to go far in the world. There were dogs everywhere. There were those nature gifts with a woolen sweater at birth, the long pudgy ones with very small legs (or should I say the vodafone dog’s cousins?), little ones that looked like they were toys and struggled to keep up with their elderly mistresses and those that looked like ponies (the equivalent of hummers on the road). They dashed about unencumbered by leads, chasing butterflies and generally having a whale of a time. A young couple engrossed in each other’s company were oblivious to the surroundings and the weather (now turning cold fast), bringing back memories of their past golden years to a few of the seniors bundled in a few jumpers and actively sharing stories..all in all, this was life itself – in précis.

Cut to the beautiful fountain and a statue of a very thoughtful young man center stage. This was Jenner – the gentleman who discovered the polio vaccine but decided to let it go unpatented in order to make it more accessible for the poor. I didn’t have a hat on, or I would have doffed it to him – it’s such men that give us hope.

I was very intrigued to note that the benches were dedicated to numerous persons – one was dedicated to an artist, one to a boy who had died in his teens and many such more – all with messages definitely composed by loved ones and bearing heartfelt stories no doubt. This was one park that had character – in troves.

Winter had shorn the trees of their leaves and a part of a large tree trunk lay on the ground weathering away. Amidst the decaying branches, white, purple and yellow flowers were peeping up and blooming – as were new shrubs. Life’s transformation is best seen in our parks and forests and you somehow intuitively understand that death is but a comma for another life to begin. Fittingly, this tree was bang opposite the bench dedicated to the boy who had died young..

A little further, there was a statue of a little boy playing an instrument. He had a lot of strange creatures looking upto him – this seems to be the magical Peter pan. The magic was working, and the crowds were having a very busy time taking photos with him in their frames. And this made me happy – the tourists were here as well! No matter where you go on earth, you are likely to see two types of folks brandishing cameras. The first use point-and-click equipment and their aim is to capture moments that show they have been there. They are there one moment and gone the next leaving only a few bottles of coke behind. The second are the enthusiasts, they bring serious equipment and their attempt to capture pictures is part of wanting to be part of the scenery experience. They are generally well read (mostly very well read and very appreciative of the environment) and just seeing what they are capturing can get you to enjoy the experience a little more. I followed the folks with long lenses (and long hairs) accordingly and saw that they were zoomed in on some very elegant swans in the stream. I walked across to the benches by the water and sat down, watching the birds and ducks. A wonderful captioned board indicated the various species we could hope to spot, highlighting the plumage, eating patterns, migratory tendencies and so on. I sat mesmerized as I watched these waddle away, unmindful of all the people and happenings around; apparently just moving with the flow – almost zennish. A half hour later I walked back enjoying the drizzle from above and nature all around. Now more sensitive to her working, I spotted wondrous creations all around me – little flowers, multi-shaded leaves on the stray shrubs, squirrels squirreling and birds surveying the scenery from little wooden stumps. You can’t help feeling privileged when in such August company – but here’s the thing – you need to spend quality time to become one with her and start admiring nature – these are not like the amusement parks which use noise, loud colors and contraptions to pull you by force in their direction.

The next day, I had another two hours to kill. As I walked down to breakfast, I remembered I had forgotten my coupons once again and decided I would try a local cafe today. A few yards away stood a quaint little cafe – ”Sheila’s cafe”. It proudly advertised that they did not charge more to dine in (very interesting because in India, patrons are charged for takeaways instead. Maybe this reflects the higher cost of land in London (and hence dining in is priced higher) while in India, the rational for higher takeaway cost is simply the additional boxes and packing costs.

I saw a couple of customers coming our of Shiela’s cafe and they seemed contended, so in I went. The cafe was at the corner of a rundown building and had but two tables. I walked upto the hostess and we had the multiple quiz again. I ended up with beans on toast and a latte. Within a blink of an eye more customers turned up – this seemed a very famous jaunt. In 15 minutes I walked out thanking the hostess (maybe she was Sheila, I couldn’t find out as she was so very busy tending to the London population’s hunger) and having paid a very nominal amount (and without coupons!). I also had had some what I now recognized as English breakfast (beans, grilled tomatoes) so I was getting somewhere!

I spent some good time on the park again – this time walking random paths. It’s amazing what a good breakfast can do (without it I’d have probably retired to the room and taken another power nap!). And I agreed with yesterday’s observation – the park is certainly life in précis. You have seasons every day (evenings and mornings are busy – just like summer and spring are) and every week (weekends are more lively than the weekdays). You meet new people, who are fellow travelers on life – and you get the chance to focus on anything you want (you can sit and crib about how life is such a boner these days, grab a sneaker and get some blood pumping into the system or sit back and relax enjoying nature at her game). Either way, the park doesn’t care – but the people do – and if we do something worthy, maybe there will be a bench dedicated to you to inspire the generations to come.

Work took most of the next day – and I had to leave the day after very early. The hotel has an excellent concierge (it really is a very good business hotel) and I ended up in the Lufthansa lounge in the very early hours. Just outside the lounge was one of those massive massage chairs inviting us to partake of its services ( a 3 minute deep massage). 3 minutes? Couldn’t hurt – so I dropped in the required change, not realizing that the chair had been designed by someone like Stephen king (only he can make everyday objects like cars get supernatural). The chair took a few seconds to verify my coins were legal, rubbed it’s metallic hands in glee and got to work. It pounded, it kneaded, it pressed and stopped. Over already? That was but a pause, the kneading, pounding and pressing started again. Three minutes later I entered the lounge again, a fresh and hungry man thanks to the massage monster. I saw that this Lufthansa lounge had no doubts about it being morning (as its Chennai counterpart did) – and I helped myself to a wonderful breakfast of croissants, cereals and what not – and was on my way. That’s when I saw my friend the massage chair again – it seemed to be daring me to have another go – as did the Lufthansa flight which was already boarding. I looked hither and I looked thither – and I decided thither was higher priority. Three minutes later, a happy pounded me walked to the Lufthansa flight wished everyone a very good morning and boarded the flight – in the right mood to enjoy another long flight back home.

A story of 5 breakfasts and a stroll in the park…

Business beckoned again – this time to the United Kingdom. The travel gurus at my company used a very complicated algorithm to find me the least expensive “business class” route which would get me to London in time to attend a critical (or so they said) meeting. And the software declared that the most timely, lowest fare,plushest option from chennai to London was through Frankfurt! I suspect this software was developed/used by sub-prime selling financial Mughals in an earlier life- but I had my ticket and a prospective 5 days of fun, so off I went with a smile on my face (actually a yawn as I had been working long, long hours for a week) and a hastily prepared suitcase.

The chennai airport welcomed me with all it’s bustle and I picked “the best of Ruskin Bond” as my companion for the trip from the wonderful little (higginbothams, one of our oldest bookstore chains) airport shop. I was halfway through the first half of the book before getting my immigration cleared – all countries typically have long ( and often serpentine) queues for those aspiring to get into their shores; are we the only ones who make it very difficult to leave too? Incredible India indeed!

And so I found myself somewhere in the late night/ very early day in a much crowded airport lounge. I also discovered I was hungry – and so began the story of my many broken fasts. As I walked to the buffet table, I wondered if they would serve me dinner (like our roadside dhabbas did to appease the hungers of the trucker population) or breakfast (like the temple towns did to prepare the faithful for meeting with their lord). The answer it turned out was that it was like our Indian team – it had a bit of everything but nothing end-end. There was curd rice (definitely dinner), cornflakes (breakfast) and “all time” snacks (veg rolls and salads). I had a bit of everything and like the Indian team (they are becoming our role models huh!), slept my way through most of the journey. I woke to the aromatic smells of some nice crossients – and to my chagrin, found my spectacles missing! Being very tired the previous night, I had put them in a little sleeve and left them in my shirt (and not in the mag rack like I usually did) – and now the shirt was there, but the spectacles most definitely weren’t. I looked hither and I looked thither – trying to look inconspicuous all the while – I didn’t want guiness to crown me ”the first de-bespectacled person” on an airplane. But hither they were not, nor were they thither. I was worried – how do you organize a “spectacles” hunt on airplane without making a spectacle of yourself? This needed a fresh perspective – so I washed my face and downed a few coffees – no breakthrough resulted though. By this time, I had made a few of my fellow passengers a bit curious I am sure – they must have been wondering what I was doing peeking into the numerous cubicles (and believe me this flight had plenty). Deviously, I picked the flight magazine from the rack ahead of me and tried to appear nonchalant. And blow me down – the first thing I saw was a map of the spectacle holder provided on all seats – which required one to open the hand rest and navigate to the left most end and then feel around until you found it. Could it be there – no reason not to try. And lo, there it was. Grabbing the missing specs and placing them back where they belonged, I studied my neighbour’s face. It was inscrutable.And as far as I knew, my specs did not understand maps nor had locomotive power – so it must have been a kind stewardess – thank you mam..

The Frankfurt airport exuded efficiency as always. There were the 10 odd lcd screens each with 50 odd entries you had to look through to identify your flight from. This makes for excellent eye exercise, even better than searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Flight found, I trudged to the lounge, downed a coffee, read a few more interesting stories from Bond (this Bond unlike his namesake specialises not in gadgetry and vodkas, but in rustic locations and wholesome stories) and in an hour found myself on another flight bound for London. This flight had a business class section, but all the seats across all the aisles were the same (no acrobatic seats with spectacle holders on this one) – and the way they differentiated between classes was deceptively simple – for the business class sections, the middle seat was left empty and therefore the seat was priced 50% more – cool huh?

There was only one little problem – for some reason the flight wasn’t taking off. The captain demystified this for us in German and English shortly – there was some technical issue and we were to be grounded for at least 2 hours while they figured how to expedite things. An hour later, the captain had found a way to ease his wait – the crew had been here very long, so they were going off – a replacement crew was shortly coming in to take their place – while we continued to wait! And he was a nice man, this guy – he wished us a good day ahead!

The new crew came, and they were certainly nicer – for one thing they served us breakfast. I got my Asian vegetarian meal – which consisted of a bread product, some cut fruits and a special vegetarian dish. What this last dish was I could never ascertain – maybe I hadn’t been introduced to the species thus far, or it had vegetated so long, that it had lost its essence (kind of like asing when an apple loses its “appleness” what remains?) or something – but I just couldn’t say what it was. The cut fruits though were awesome – some kiwi fruit, strawberries, mango (yes mango!) -man, this was exotic stuff. You make me happy Lufthansa…

The flight landed at Heathrow a few hours late, but to good weather. I found myself a taxicab and was off to the hotel. These London taxicabs are really cool – they look like the ones Sherlock Holmes rode in, but are powered well, have all the latest gadgetry and tons of space. A perfect blend of tradition and technology these. As we drove through the homely yet strangely aloof streets, one couldn’t help feeling like a school boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his mother. A stern mother yes, but a mother all the same.

The taxi dropped me at the Corus Hotel – one of those white large hotels that cater to business travelers. They checked me in quickly and I found myself in one of those lifts which claims it can transport only take 13 people – leaving you to wonder how you could fit in 13 people into its very small interiors in the first place. Ruminating thus I walked to my room on the 9th floor, slipped in the card (electronic cards instead of keys are a giveaway that the hotel is a business hotel) and stood mesmerized. This was the smallest hotel room I had ever seen – but boy was it loaded. In a room that was perhaps a little bigger than the aforementioned lift placed sideways, the room had a bed, a tv, a kettle (and choices of green tea or decaffienated coffee), funky lights (about 10 of them!), a safe, a motorized iron stand and machine, a wardrobe, a full bath, a concave and convex mirror (presumably to help you make faces at yourself and pass the time of the day), two telephones and an excellent free wifi connection (I told you this was a business hotel).The only thing it didn’t have (but should have had) is a placard which said “great things come in the smallest packages,”. So began another précis travel…

To be continued…..