Saturday, October 16, 2010

Learning to drive (in Mumbai) - 1

15 agonizing years. Near and dear ones wondering what's wrong with me. And with all good intentions goading me on. My own internal frustrations building up. But lots of fear to deal with.
What am i talking about? Don't laugh but i'm talking  about learning to drive!

I can't tell you how scared i was about driving. Basically i just couldn't get some things. For example:
1) How do you manage 3 pedals with 2 legs?

2) How do you manage steering and gears with just a pair of hands? 

3) How do you judge stuff on the left hand side when you are on the right? 

4) How do you tell the guy driving behind you not to honk the heart out of your chest?

5) How do you take a u-turn that requires a reverse at the end when no ones willing to even stop for you?

6) How do you tell the guy trying to nudge his way in ('illegally') that you are freakin' late for a meeting so can he please get the hell out of the way?

7) How do you temporarily halt the car in the middle of traffic, gently come out of the car and smack the auto guy on his head for dramatically stopping for a customer without showing any indication?

8) How do you drive on a one-way street with traffic from both directions? 

And then there were the moral dilemmas:
1) To go or not to go
Red Signal. You're first in line. No one's coming from any other side. 20 cars behind you honking for you to move. Do you move? If you don't you get cursed. If you do, the cop lurking behind the pan-bidi stall springs at you.

2) Traffic Cops - The Black Swan experts
Do you halt at a signal at 7:00 am when there's no one. Does the traffic department really expect you to do that or are they just playing safe; in case there's some problem, they'll just say: "Well, we put in a signal there, see. We've done our job". 

3) Learners/Driving School guys
I mean, should they really be plying in the MIDDLE of the road when it IS apparent that they cannot distinguish between an accelerator and the clutch? Should you keep honking at them to move or should you keep in mind that you were at that stage too?

Some other anxieties were that it was too late for me to learn or that I would be exactly the guy to make that horrific mistake on some Bhagat road leading to a car pile-up.

So what made me go for it? The main motivator was Independence.

I was tired if being at the mercy of chauffeurs. I wanted to be independent. If a driver quit (and oh boy, quit they do) you're at the mercy of cabbies or auto fellows. Bus+Train works well but monsoons and heat (which between them is basically the entire year) is a problem especially if you are going in for meetings. Especially meetings in offices which are not walking distance from a station or far enough for a cab to go there. i used to depend on radio cabs : Meru, Mega etc. but these are just not dependable from the availability point-of-view.

Moreover, what if there was an emergency at home? I would need to knock on a neighbours door or again, call for a cab which may not happen. 

Lastly, there have been several opportunities i've missed by not knowing how to drive. Like going on road trips in Spring or Fall in Michigan.

So finally, i took the plunge and joined a D-school.

Yes, the D is almost like Dawood (and not Driving) because that's how i think they operate. Gang-like. Goon-like.

Next Post: My experiences learning with a D-School

Thursday, July 08, 2010

You use e-mail? hah!

If anyone else told you this, i'm sure you would distance yourself from this person as being a luddite. But what if this came from a pioneer of computer science? Surely you're joking you would say. But no. It's true.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.
This is from Donald Knuth, renowned computer scientist and Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming at Stanford University.(link)

While lesser mortals like me will still need to use e-mail heavily i think it's important to not allow technology to come in our way, especially our capacity to stay focused on a task. I'm sure almost all of us at some stage have been distracted by checking our e-mail for an update from the admin team on tomorrows flight tickets. Or fooling ourselves into thinking that "we need a break" and hence check e-mail. And the worst culprit - the Blackberry device.

An excellent aid to efficiency it can be a bad accomplice to distractor goons in our head.And with the amount of spam coming into our mail boxes, it's irritating to have the Blackberry beep and checking it only to find an unsolicited e-mail for a training programme. And many have this fascination for replying to e-mails within a minute of its coming into our mail boxes (i confess i do to, to a certain extent)

One thing that has worked for me in office is to put the Blackberry on "e-mail silent" mode and checking e-mails once every two hours on the laptop itself. I had also got into the bad habit of replying to e-mails in the dead of the night - these would be mostly e-mails from countries on the wrong side of the time zone. I've stopped this too. I use the "bedside mode" in the "phone calls only" option.

Maybe another good strategy is to have an alarm ring at some fixed time in the day - say 3 pm - this would be the "e-mail checking" time.

Lastly, i think it also pays to be smart with how you handle e-mail traffic. One has to learn to sift through e-mail rapidly to:
1) Read Now
2) Read Later (though a large number in this list is psychologically damaging when you see your mailbox)

3) Forward and Forget (like "please tell your team" memos)
4)  Forward to action ("Hi S, can you pls. see this and reply. Thanks")
5) Delete

The one big (and common!) mistake people do is to read through every 'forward' that comes their way. Please don't! You are not doing anyone a favour by reading their e-mails. Most people who forward something to you may do it just because you are on their list. Or that some information may be useful to you. It is your responsibility to figure out whether something needs to be read or not. With the information deluge that each of us is going through, sound info-sifting strategies have almost become a survival game.

(P.S - i've written it as e-mail and not email as Prof. Knuth suggest at the end of the page here - yeah, so i do one more keystroke. Big Deal. Taking this logic forward we should do away with so much punctuation and nuance (why caps at the start?).)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Banking e-responsiveness

Convenience and the Internet have become synonymous for consumers like me. Gone are the days when you had to struggle to find out the simplest things like where is the nearest Canara bank branch located. 

In the pre-Internet days you would probably do something on the following lines:
1) Search the telephone directory under "C"
2) Call up a branch listed in the directory
3) Be put on hold or keep having your line getting transferred or hear a response like "What do you think this is? A help-line?"
4) Give up after some time
5) Call up a few friends and locate the branch

Now with the internet all you do is:
a) An online search with a few helpful tags like "canara bank branches mumbai". 
b) Get to the Canara bank webpage where you are greeted by a couple, delirious no doubt, with the joy of internet banking.
See a blue tab called "locators" right there.

b) Locate the branch

Simple, right? 

This is what you get when you go through that process:
Yes. Some brain decided to sort the list. Alphabetically. Based on the first letters of the address, which God knows is as random as you wouldn't want it to be. Total number of records: 103. And to get more pleasure out of the exercise, they limit the display results to 10 a page. So i have to keep clicking and search on every page for the area i am looking  for. No Good.

Best part is if i just do a "Canara bank Mumbai" Google search, it  gives me a really nice result format - the one i kind of want.

Would it have hurt to give this format on the webpage? Or at least give an area-sorted list? Or an area-search button?

So what am i left with? Step 5of the pre-internet process: "Call up a few friends and locate the branch"

It's easy to talk about e-responsiveness but if you're not thinking about the process from the consumer angle there's no point really. You might as well operate it as a brick-and-mortar establishment. That way at least you won't raise expectations and have it crashing down later.

Incidentally, a site that does a much better job on this front is this

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What kind of a mother is...


'Go for it,' my mother said, 'they might never ask you again. Our show isn't on air yet. No one knows who you are. Do it and you'll have these beautiful pictures to look at when you're my age'.
But then parents forcing their children to do all kinds of things for their own fame - which i am assuming is the case here - is not entirely an unknown thing.