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29 April 2012

It is about jobs, honey....

I am currently in Batavia, a small town in the northwest New York State, in the city of Buffalo. I am here as a consultant, implementing manufacturing technology solutions for a Milk Processing Plant being set up here in Batavia.
There is a palpable level of excitement in the air in Batavia as this is the first manufacturing plant to be opened here in a number of years. Over the last few years, many of the companies in Batavia closed shop and moved to nearby cities of Buffalo and Rochester (both cities about 40 miles from Batavia, but in opposite directions).
Genesee County, the area where Batavia is located, is an agricultural land area and the place is dotted with a number of Farmers and supply of milk is in abundance here. That is one of the reasons why Alpina is setting up its manufacturing facility here.
I spoke to the taxi driver on the way from office to my home. "The new plant will change the economy of Batavia. It has been a long time since we had a manufacturing industry here." he told me.
Mrs. Anderson, the chef at a nearby coffee shop where I drink my tea from, told me that all of Batavia is already planning for this new facility.
"A friend of mine is milk farmer, and he has already purchased new cows. We are all thankful for you that you are starting up a company here in Batavia" she mistook that I was an employee of Alpina by  looking at my 'Alpina' overcoat. There was genuine gratitude in her eyes.
"I hope you will put in a word for my husband. His name is Brian Anderson. He has applied for one of those openings they advertised for the plant. I hope you will be able to help me" she looked at me hopefully.
I couldn't disappoint the poor lady. I promised to her that I will do my best.
(Of course I did. I spoke to my friend, who is the recruitment manager about Mr.Anderson. I hope Mr.Anderson will get the job).
The talks in the last few days give me a different perspective of America. while in India, I used to wonder why there was lot of discussion about jobs here. How can jobs suddenly disappear, since people will have need for some of the stuff being produced?, I used to think. How can a whole economy go to recession, I used to wonder.
It turns out that my understanding of pure capitalism was incomplete.Despite me having multiple MBAs and my MBA thesis being on Macro Economics.
You see, American economy can be compared to a tap which is fitted to a Water Tank. The higher the level of water in the tank, the more the pressure of water in the tap. As the water level in the tank lowers, the water pressure in the tap decreases.
It is a one-to-one relationship and a direct co-relation between water level and water pressure.
The american economy is similar. Despite all the global big names that we associate with America, a significant part of American Economy still rely on small businesses. As the economy start to move downward, these businesses start downsizing and once the economy is in recession, these companies close shop leading to high levels of unemployment.
The link between economy and jobs is similar to water level and water pressure. In India the situation is different because Government is one of the major job providers here. So even when the economy goes into recession (Indian economy is anyway not large enough to go into recession and in addition, we have a growing middle class with appetite for goods and services, which shores up the economy) there is a certain level of 'Job Stickiness' in India. The concept of Government jobs is not much visible in US, jobs are mostly in private sector, small businesses. The economic relationship between employee and employer is taken for granted. There is no concept of employee loyalty or Organizational Loyalty in US. Jobs are dependent on the strength of economy
As economy goes up, new jobs get created, and vice versa, pure and simple.
This means that in the small towns of US, opening of a new business is always a good news. In addition to direct jobs, the town benefits due to the ancillary jobs being created. 
And setting up of a new plant is always a welcome news for people like Brian Anderson....

28 April 2012

Why do people find it difficult to give up and move on?

Why do people find it difficult to give up and move on?
I was thinking about this question as I was listening to one of those FM channels that dot the radiowaves in Batavia. The RJ had made some comments about Farmers and one Farmer named Terry called up to protest the RJs comment. Despite RJ professing his innocence, Terry held his ground and argued that just as he was offended by RJs comments, there will be many farmers who would have felt offended listening to the RJ, eventhough RJ was innocently making the comments.
Finally RJ gave in and apologized.
Well, that should have been the end, except it wasn't.
Soon after the song got over, RJ made another comment and said that he hoped that someone else wouldn't feel outraged at his new comment.
Why did he have to say that?
He had already apologized. But in his mind he was still the victim of someone's over sensitive ego. Even after the new song, while he was in the 'Temporal Present', he was still living in the 'Psychological Past'.
Reminded me of this famous story which goes like this.
Two celibate Buddhist Monks are walking in the forest when they come across a stream which was hip deep. On this side of the stream a beautiful woman was standing wearing a pretty dress. On seeing the monks, she ran up to them and asked if they could help her.
"What is the problem?" asked one of the monks.
"I am getting married today on the other side of this stream. I am wearing this expensive wedding dress, if I cross the stream like this, my dress will get wet. Can you lift me on your shoulders and help me cross the river?" the woman asked
To the utter dismay of his partner, the monk readily agreed.
The woman took off her clothes and sat on the monk's shoulder. As the crossed the river, the woman got down, wore her dress, thanked the monks and ran off into the town.
As the monks were walking to the monastry, the dismayed monk asked his friend. "How could you do this? Our teachings tell us to avoid contact with women. And you carried a naked woman across the stream? You should be feeling guilty?"
The other monk did not answer.
After some time, the dismayed monk again said, "You have violated the teachings. Don't you feel guilty? We are not even supposed to look at women and yet you carried that naked woman across the stream?"
Again the other monk was silent.
After some time again the dismayed monk asked, "Our teachings proscribe us from even looking at women.Yet you allowed the naked body of a woman to touch you. Don't you feel that you have violated our tenets?"
This time the monk who carried the woman replied, "I have already let her down at the stream. Why are you still carrying her?"
Many people are like that, they still carry naked women on their shoulders. When we keep negative feelings to cloud our mind, we are blocking out the positiveness from coming in.
Learn to give up things that are not important, that are not worthwhile... you are far too important a person to fill your mind with less important things. Give up bad emotions, bad experiences and let good ideas and positive experience come in.
Let go of the woman on your shoulders. Let go of Terry the farmer.... 

27 April 2012

What could have been...

Last week I had been to a place called Cupertino (check out my blogpost about my impressions on Cupertino) near Sanfrancisco, California. My brother lives there.
My brother has been in US for more than 12 years. In the last twelve years, he has been thru multiple technology companies including Amazon.com and a technology startup. Currently he is setting up his own Startup and doing technology consulting on the side. 
We Indians are known for our preference for job security. From all that I knew, my bro was having a good position at Amazon. His resigning from Amazon to join a risky startup was counter-intuitive to an Indian psyche.
I asked him why he left Amazon for a startup.
"It was in the year 2007, I was sitting in a technology group meeting in Amazon. That was the time Youtube was starting up (can you imagine, it is 5 years and now we can't live without Youtube. How fast the things change?!!) and people were starting to use Youtube. It was the beginning of Enterprise 2.0, as it were." said my brother.
"In our technology meeting", (bro continued) "someone mentioned Youtube. To my surprise, one of the participants in the meeting asked "What is Youtube?". I was totally impacted by this question. E2.0, one of the major technology revolutions starting right under our noses, and here was a member of a high technology company, in Silicon Valley, saying that they did not know Youtube"
"This incident left a deep impression on me. I realized that sitting in the comfort of a day job, I was as likely as my team member, to let technology innovations pass me by while I stand as a bystander watching others stealing a march over me in the prime of my career. I was not about to let that happen. Almost immediately I quit my job at Amazon and joined a Technology Startup. And here I am" my brother completed with a dramatic pause.
I was impressed by what my bro told. Suddenly something stuck a chord. Similar incident had happened to me. Through the comments of one of my friends, I had seen what I would have been had I not changed my career path.
This was how it happened.
At the start of my career, I used to work in a Steel Plant, in town of Durgapur. in the eastern parts of India. I was working as a mechanical engineer. I had joined that company in 1987. When I joined there there was nothing called IT. Computers were not allowed in the offices at that time since the powerful labour unions branded them as 'Job Killers'.
I worked there for about 11 years, in Operations and Maintenance areas and was growing reasonably well . I had dirtied my hands tightening nuts and bolts, and had learned to use the welding machine and how to drive a Dumper. The job offered a well defined career path. I could retire as a 'Deputy General Manager' or a 'GM' one day.
Then in the year 1998, due to a combination of circumstances, I changed my job and joined a Business School as a Faculty at about one-sixth of the salary that I was getting in the Steel Plant. I was 35, and as per traditional wisdom, too old to learn anything new. I switched to an entirely new career at an age when others are settling down and start stagnating mentally. 
It was not easy. The future was uncertain, and I was filled with Self-doubts if my decision to leave the Steel Plant was the correct one. 
That was the time IT had started to boom in Bangalore. I picked up some IT Skills (I had none after 11 years of working in Steel Plant. Every time I logged in to the computer, I expected it to blast.. I was so scared to login to the computer.). I attended some training programs, mentioned in this post of mine.
The effort paid off in the year 2000, when I joined a Software company in Bangalore as an ERP Consultant. This meant that after two years in Academia, I had again switched industries and moved from Academia to Information Technology.
I did well in ERP (I found that implementing business solutions was my forte), and in the year 2004, I joined a company called TCS in Bangalore as an ERP Consultant. 
The ERP practice of TCS was based out of Kolkata, the capital of the Eastern Indian State of West Bengal (!), where, till about 10 years ago, I was working as a mechanical engineer in a Steel Plant. As a part of work, I travelled to Kolkota and from there I travelled to Durgapur where I spent 11 important years of my life.
I had many friends there and I stayed with a friend of mine named Kishore.
We spent a good one day, and the next day, as I was leaving, he wished that we will keep in touch.
Previous day Kishore had told me that his daughter had a hotmail address. 
"Give me your hotmail address", I told him.
"I don't know anything about this 'email-shemail'. I have no idea on how to get a hotmail address. Give me your mobile phone number or let us contact thru post." answered Kishore.
I was shocked that Kishore did not have any idea about hotmail (which had been available for more than 8 years, in terms of technology, it was antique) about something that I take for granted. 
Suddenly I realized as to what a good decision it was to have left Durgapur for a risky opportunity. If I had not taken that decision  at that time (there were a lot of people advising me against making that move), I would have been like Kishore, allowing the greatest changes of my generation to idly pass me by, while I sit in my small, comfy zone and decay.
An eye-opener, as good as any, it was.

26 April 2012

What is your perspective on life?

The events that I am about to narrate happened about 12 years ago in the year 2000.
After working for about 11 years in a utility / manufacturing company as a mechanical engineer, I had moved to Bangalore as a Faculty in a local MBA Institute teaching Operations and Finance to a group of prospective MBA students. 
During those days, Bangalore was striving to become the IT Capital of the world. All those famous IT companies had their presence in Bangalore. We had the Infys, the Wipros, the TCSs of the world littered around 100s of wannabe IT companies small, medium and big. For those who know their stuff, Bangalore was bubbling with opportunity. It had a thriving IT community that was struggling to meet the ever increasing demand for talented knowledge workers... 
When I came to Bangalore, I hardly had any experience in IT. I was scared of logging on to the 'Windows95', which was the OS at that time and then later on to 'Windows NT' which was the nextgen OS.
However, since the opportunities were in the area of computers, I joined a training program on Oracle.
This program was designed by Oracle Education and was delivered through Oracle Training Partners. There was a partner named 'System Logic' near our office and I joined the program.
The program was not cheap by any means. It was a 6 months program which trains you in Oracle Database, Oracle Web Application Server and Java. The program was held from 6.30 PM to 9.00 PM every weekday. So I had to finish my days work and go for this program.
It was tough.
This story is not about my struggles. Like I mentioned in the title, it details your (or of mine or of anyone) perspective of life.
One of the attendees in this program was a guy named Prasad. He was about 3 years junior to me and was working in a company about 30 miles away from the class. Every day he used to take the office bus, travel about 30 miles to attend the program. 
Since he was also working in a manufacturing company and was also a mechanical engineer and finally very close to my age, we became close during this program.
The program was very demanding, but Prasad stuck to it like a true champion.
We soldiered on for about 4-5 months and we were coming to the end of the training sessions.
Our co-ordinator asked us to prepare our CVs. All of us were focussed on CV preparation and sending the same to companies. There was excitement in the air as most of our CVs were getting rejected and we were modifying our CVs and targeting different companies (or different people in the same company).
All thru this I found Prasad aloof. He was not interested in preparing his CV and he was not much bothered about changing companies.
I knew that he was not happy about his present situation. That was why he was attending the program in the first place. He wanted a change. He needed a change.
"Why are you not preparing your CV and applying for companies like the rest of us?" I asked him one day while we were sipping our tea.
He didn't answer. I pressed the question.
"Look Ram", he finally responded, "I think I am too old to learn anything new. I think at my age I cannot learn anything."
Was he kidding? I was three years older to him and was optimistically trying to get into new opportunities. And here he was, deciding that he was old, and closing out any new opportunities that could come his way.
I left it there. I went on, got into IT and got into an exciting area of ERP consulting. After about 6 years, I got an opportunity to implement ERP systems in a nearby manufacturing company. 
One of those days, I got into the company bus and I could feel that someone was staring at me. I looked around and found Prasad looking at me. 
I said hello with the same enthusiasm that I used to greet him, but Prasad had somehow changed. 
He looked lost, down and depressed. The 6 years of growing old without looking for new opportunity had tired him. He looked worn out.
At the prime age when your productivity was supposed to go up, Prasad decided that he has grown old and stopped learning, changing and adapting. That was his perspective of life.
People, our life is like a tree. The moment it stops growing it starts decaying. For us the growth comes thru learning new things and trying out new experiences. Stopping your growth through the idea that you have grown older will lead to only one outcome. 
You will grow older, quicker. 
What is your perspective of life? Are you a learner and one who grows, or have you stopped learning and has started decaying?

25 April 2012

A Random Thought...

As you can see, my blog title is 'Random Thoughts...'.
Today, just out of curiosity, I tried searching for 'Random Thoughts Blog'. I just wanted to check if my blog is referred anywhere in the wide web world.
Do you know what I found? Everyone names their blogs as 'Random Thoughts'. There were so many blogs out there meeting the above search criteria. If you thought that you are original, ask all those bloggers whose blogs came up in the first six pages on a google search.
Still I didn't see my blog.
This means that the blog title 'Random Thoughts' may sound intellectual, everyone has random thoughts and want to update them in the blog. You even have a website (number 1 hit on google) called randomthoughts.
This means only one thing. I have to change my blog title. What about...
"Clear Thoughts"
"Idle thoughts" (I have a feeling it is already popular)
"Thoughts from the right hemisphere" This was my blog title when I thought I was kind of intellectual.
Let us try something out of box.
Why not "Thoughts out of box"
"Gentle Musings" or simply "Musings"
I give up. Any suggestions?
In the meantime I am changing my blog title to "Thoughts Out of the Box"

Benefits of learning Spanish....

While on a project in Bogota, Colombia, I picked up Spanish.
Not much of it. 'Aprendo un poco espanol' as they say there. A few words here and there. Enough to manage basic navigation. 
I could string basic sentences. I learned to ask for help ('Me necesita su ayuda'). Learned to say that I am a vegetarian and do not eat meat, fish or chicken (Soy vegetariano. No como carne, pescado o pollo).
Piddling Espanol, if you see what I mean.
The benefit of those lessons learned and much forgotten, accrued to me in Newark. I wanted to go from Terminal C of Newark Airport to Newark Penn Station to take the Path Train to New York City (Time Square, to be precise). 
To go from Newark to Penn Station, you have to take Bus No. 62 (make sure it is going to Penn Station. The bus returning from Penn Station is also number 62). It will cost you a dollar and 50 cents to travel from Place A to Place B.
After a long wait of about 40 minutes, I espied Bus 62 arriving at the bus station. I confidently climbed in.
In the buses in US, you have to pay the money as you enter the bus. There is a ticketing machine and you have to insert exact change and collect your ticket. The hawk eyes of the driver watches you while you engage in this exercise. There are no conductors in the bus to collect your money as they have in India. Being driver is a lonely work out here.
As it happened, I had only 20 Dollars. That is not exact change, as you can see.
The machine did not even bother to accept my 20 Dollars. It simply rejected the same.
"You have to insert exact change" driver told me.
"Unfortunately I don't have change" I responded, "I have only 20 Dollars, thanks to the ATM machine in the airport"
"Then please get out of the bus", the driver told me.
Something about the way he spoke told me that he was a Latino. Most probably a mexican. So I switched to Spanish.
"Tengo dineros. Pero no tengo Cambios. Soy de la India y en Nuevo York por dos dias a visitar. Necesito ir a Neuvo York" I told him.
"Oh, usted habla Espanol. Pasa, pasa. Please get inside" the driver smiled and waved me in.
As they say, it pays to learn new language...

24 April 2012

Snowing in Batavia....

The sunday weather forcaster predicted 'winter storms' in the north western parts of New York state including areas of Lake Erie, near the districts of Buffalo. 
You can expect severe winter storm and heavy snow fall and snow accumulation in these areas for the next two days starting from the night of 22nd of April  till the evening of 24th of April, so said the weather guy.
Bang in the middle of my travel season, as it were.
I had flown down to Sanfrancisco, California, on the 19th of April and was scheduled to be back in Batavia in the early hours on the 23rd. The snow storm warning, if it is accurate, meant that I will land in Buffalo airport right in the middle of Snow, as it were.
Of course, I did not believe these so called 'weather' forecasters. They are more like 'Whether' forecasters. "Whether it will rain or whether it will snow, well, we don't know. It might rain or it might snow", sitting in their weather protected cabins, solemnly they proclaim to the wide world. In India, I have not seen many weather forecasts turning out to be accurate.
So, despite the dire warnings, I ventured out of SFO on the evening of 22nd, bound for Buffalo.
The route I took was to travel from SFO, Washington DC, Buffalo. My flight from DC took off on time. I considered it a good sign that the flight was not delayed due to bad weather at Buffalo. 
Snowflakes were falling and snow was slowly building up on the sidewalks as I got out of the airport. I rented a  'Hertz' car and took off to Batavia, a distance of about 45 miles. There was not much traffic on the roads (since people had faith on the weather channels, I suppose), but driving was not easy as visibility was about 150 meters at max.


But I soldiered on. 
As I was driving the intensity of snow fall increased. Just like rain pelting at the windshields back in India, soft snow flakes were hitting my windshield. Once they hit the windshield, it was as if their life mission was accomplished and they quickly receded into the sides, pushed by my viper, and patiently waited for their brethren to join them.
The snow continued to fall as I reached my home in Batavia. I was all excited to see the snowfall. For one, I had never seen snow fall in my life. Having lived my life almost exclusively in the tropical Indian cities (where the climate is always 'hot, hotter, hottest'), sitting through a snowfall was an adventurous experience for me. But there was another reason for my excitement. Like they say in stock market, snow fall was a 'Lead indicator' of good things to come. In every English movie that I had seen, the snow fall was a signal for pretty women to jump out of their cars, run to the nearest available guy they espy on the streets and lock lips with them like they (the guys on the streets, I mean) were some kind of postage stamps. Snow was a harbinger, if I may use a tough word, of kisses and liplocks to come. The way I saw it, I just have to be out there as the snow ebbs and I may not need a lip balm for the next few days.
I couldn't wait for snowfall to stop to venture out into the streets.
In the meantime, while the snow was falling, I was out with my camera. I took photos, I took videos. I took photos of my car, photos of the white sheet of snow covering the grass, I took photos of balls of snow covering the leaves in the plants in front of my houses. I took snaps of the snow covered rooftops, of cars covered with snow, of footstep marks on the snow. I took long shots, I took panoramic views and I took close ups....
I took photos of snow, if you see what I mean.
Watching the snow fall, I felt very excited like a kid who has seen the magic wheel in a local fair. I couldn't sit still. I had to get up every few minutes and watch the snow fall all over. I felt very happy that I had seen much of what US can offer. I had been to Niagara, to NY and to Silicon Valley. 
And now I have seen snow fall. What more is there to see?
Snow continued to fall thru the afternoon and into the evening. My excitement started to wane. Enthusiasm was turning to irritation. Anyone read the story 'The Rain' by Somerset Maughm? The story talks about a group of people stranded due to incessant rain in a Pacific Island. Over a period of two weeks, the excitement of the tourists turned into depression and finally into paranoia. 
While I wasn't depressed, the incessant snow fall had its impact on me. By the evening, I was not much fascinated about the Snow fall. Snow could go to....you know?. To make matters worse, it started to rain. If snow fall was bad, the rain after snow fall was the ultimate. It was not much of a rain than was a drizzle. But, sitting in the house, with the only sound was the fall of the rain on the roof and the house slowly turning colder, I felt very lonely.
But that was yesterday.
Today the day has started great. Finally sun is coming out and the snow is started to melt. I went out just now and took a few more snaps. Will upload them some time.


23 April 2012

In Cupertino (Apple Country) amazed and excited....

I am currently in Cupertino, the home of the Apple, the city of Steve Jobs, the location of  '1, Infinite Loop' the address of Apple computers HQ.
The Capital of Apple Empire...
In this area, everyone and his grandmother possess Apple Products. They have the Apple Macpro for the desktop, iPhone to talk, message, download and upload iPhone apps, iPad to interact with Social Media, listen to music and take photographs and finally the oldies still have their iPod touch to listen to music...
In this Apple world, I, with my Dell 6300 with its curveless and boxy design and with the Windows XP OS, feel almost like an alien from Mars. I am looked down upon as I walk around with my Sony Camera (Buy your iPad for photos, dude? which ancient world are you in?) and it is almost sacrilegious to talk to my friends using a Samsung Galaxy 1-1903.
Eyebrows get raised, if you see what I mean...
But what excites me is the level of energy, innovation, excitement that pervades this part of the world. 
Wherever you go, the talk is about the next path-braking iPhone application. The conversation focuses on the latest meeting of Angel Investors and the thoughts focus on the latest one billion acquisition of Instagram by Facebook.
Face book paid one Billion for a company which was liberally valued at 100 Million at the most. At USD 1 Billion, the valuation of the Instagram by Facebook was almost 100 million for each of the 11 engineers in that company !!!!
Amazing. Let me say it again. Astounding....
I checked out Instagram on my Sister-in-Law's iPhone. I was impressed with the application. It is an application which you want to download (especially since it is free) and play around with. No wonder it had about 25 million users within a very short span of time.
Wherever you go, be it the restaurant, the gym or the nearby park, you overhear discussions that invariably focus on the following topics. Latest Startup in the valley, the newest applications that are being launched, the next meeting of angel investors who can provide funding to your venture or, the holy grail of a Silicon Valley Entrepreuner, the latest funding from a VC Fund...
Of course there may be failures. There may be startups that fold without funding, there may be applications that no one uses. But no one speaks about failures here.
Wherever you look in the valley, there is an overwhelming sense of Optimism, of Innovation and of new ideas. People walk with spring in their steps and light in their eyes.
It is contagious. You can't escape evolving into a different person. Version 2.0 as it were.
All these days, despite many of my friends having moved to US, I refused to budge. I thought that India is a pretty comfy place to be. And it is. But once I am here in the valley (for just three days), I am already a changed person.
I am more excited, optimistic, overawed and amazed at the kind of money and opportunities available. I look forward to the future as full of potential.
Looking at the cycle of effort and planning a startup has to go thru, and looking at the kind of efforts and rigorous planning that these guys put in and looking at the positive way in which they look at the whole process of the Startup Cycle (remember, for every startup that succeed, there are thousands out there that go out with a wimper), the positivity in this environment is electrifying.
Startups are the new Goldmines, they are the new Diamond mines and the Engineers and the technologists that develop new products and solutions are the new prospectors....
Let us raise a big toast to them for making our life more easy (mobile transfer of money), productive (all those task planning apps on the mobile platform) and happy (take a look at tomcat, won't you) and ridiculous (take your self picture with Instagram, and change it to a Black & White background).....
Keep up the good work, guys...Keep taking risks, the future is yours and it needs you...




19 April 2012

The stupid and the smart

"Every person has both good and bad in him", said Shad-e-manzil.
He was my taxi driver driving me from Buffalo to Batavia, with me trying to bring a disastrous day to a close. Shad was talking about Iraq and the mess that country is in, he being from Iraq.
While he was going about the co-existence of good and the bad in the same individual, I was wallowing in self pity thinking how  stupid could I be?.
Just take a look at how the day had panned out for me so far, won't you?
I had arranged to pick up a car from Hertz office at Buffalo Airport on 16th Afternoon. Since the days are longer in this part of the world at this time (we are talking of April in NY), I thought that I could easily pick the car at Buffalo and be back at Batavia before sundown.
Little did I know...
Batavia is about 50 miles from Buffalo. While the Grayhound bus charges $10.50 for this distance, a taxi will charge $105 for the same distance. However, bus services between Batavia and Buffalo are few and far between. There was one starting at 5.30 PM.
So, to save on costs, I decided to take the Grayhound bus.
The gray hound station is about 3 kilometers (less than 2 miles) from my house. To save on my taxi expenses, I decided to walk the distance.
'Walking is healthy option', I justified my stinginess to myself as I lugged myself.
I took the Grayhound and reached Buffalo at about 7.00 PM. The Grayhound bus terminal is about 30 minutes bus drive from the Airport. Taxi would charge me about 20 Dollars. So, to save money, I took a city bus from Grayhound terminal to the Airport. Ticket charges $1.75.
It was a smug, money saving me sitting in that city bus in buffalo that day.
You the reader, would have understood by now that I am subtly communicating that saving dollars is very important to me.
I heaved a sigh of relief as I reached Hertz premises by about 7.30 PM, still with good amount of sunlight. It should be simple just to pick a car and drive back to Batavia, I thought.
What complexities could be there in a simple process of renting a car, I thought. 
I was feeling pretty good at this point. I had had a healthy walk and I had made some good savings by using public transportation. Here is a smart guy, I thought to myself.
At the Hertz station, feeling all pumped up, I asked for the car. The lady at the counter asked me for the license.
That is when I realized that I had left my license at home.
There was nothing I could do, but to take a taxi back to Batavia (remember, buses are few and far between?). This is how I have ended up sitting in Shad's taxi, listening to him talking to me about Iraq and the role of religion in politics.
"Every person has got both good and bad in him", said Shad.
I was feeling frustrated, silly and stupid all at the same time. I was cursing myself for forgetting to take the license when going for renting a car. What can be more stupid than that.?
I have to go again tomorrow to collect my car, I thought to myself.
That is when the 'Smart' me came into existence.
"You will be going back empty to Buffalo?" I asked Shad.
"Yes, I won't get any passengers to Buffalo. You are my first trip to Batavia in almost a year. I don't expect to be second time lucky and get a passenger on my way back", said Shad.
"I will pay you additional 25 USD to take me back to Buffalo Airport", I told him. The way I saw it was that if I go to Hertz tomorrow, I will have to again shell out another 13 USD and do that walk again. In addition, I had pre-paid for the car and if I do not take it, I will lose another 50 USD. By paying additional 25 Dollars, I will be a net gainer by about 40 Dollars.
The way Shad saw was that his normal average fare within the Buffalo city was about 10 USD and an additional 25 USD will pay for 'Shawarma' for him and his family of wife and four boys (three of them 'Naturalized' US Citizens, Shad told me).
So, to cut it short, we went to my home, I entered the house, collected my license and was out of the house in less than a minute.
Darkness had fallen when I reached Buffalo airport. I went straight to Hertz. They checked my license and handed me a key.
Just out of curiosity, I asked if the car comes with a GPS. Silly question, which car in US do not come with a GPS?
No, the heartless fellow at Hertz told me. Your booking is for a compact. We do not have GPS in the car.
It was dark by now, and if I drive in the dark without a GPS, I will reach New York instead of Batavia, I told him. I insisted on a car with GPS.
"We have only high end cars with GPS', the guy told me, "it will cost you more"
"How much more?" I asked a fair question.
"You will have to pay additional 10 dollars per day for the high end car. In addition you have to pay 13 dollars per day for the GPS. And then there is tax." the guy rubbed it in.
It was coming to about USD 60 extra. What the heck, I needed a car with GPS. I was not going anywhere without a GPS.
So he charged me additional 60 doubloons for the high end car.
I went down to the hold area to get my keys. The lady there gave me the keys and asked me to go to Q6 and collect my car.
"You don't want to check anything? Are you not coming with me to check for scratches and stuff?" I queried
"No sir, here is your key, there is your car, just sit in the car and drive away", nothing could be simpler the way she said it.
I went to Q6. Standing there, waiting for me was a Chevrolet Impala, as high end as they come. And the biggest car I would be asked to drive. (I am kidding. At home, I have a Corolla Altis which is equally big).

This car was all automated. I was already stressed out that it was about 9.30 PM and it was already pitch dark. And here I was, in an unfamiliar country, in an unfamiliar airport, about 50 miles away from my home and trying to drive a fully automated car. Once I sat in, I did not know what to do. 
I tried all the stuff normal people will do to start a normal car. None of it was working.
I tried starting it, it didn't start. The seat was far away from the steering wheel that my legs were not reaching the accelerator. And I did not know how to move the seat forward. I checked under the seat, there was no lever which I can pull to move my seat forward. In addition, eventhough my car started, I was not able to shift gears from the 'Parking' position. 
I felt helpless. I called for help. The professional came to assist. Fortunately for me he was compassionate. He showed me the bare minimum setups that I will require to navigate the night. Lights are automatic and will light up based on the external lights. You do not have to adjust the lights, he told me.
That was a relief. I was worried about the lights all this while.
He showed my how to move my seat forward. As a bonus, he also showed me how to slide it back, to lift it and to lower it. That was one problem less.
Then I started. I was hesitant at first, but once I hit the highway, it was smoother, since the traffic was thin and was moving in only one direction as it normally happens in a  freeway.
I reached home at about 10.30 at night, all tired from the adventure, but highly satisfied that I had conquered another demon, that of driving in US highways after dark. 
It was not as bad as I thought it would be. 
I forgot my license when going to collect the rental car. That was stupid.
But.....
I negotiated a good rate with Shad and I drove an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar highway, in an unfamiliar country at night and overcame my fears. That was Smart
I had both Stupid and Smart in me.

10 April 2012

'Oopar wala jab deta hai chappar faad ke deta hai' (When god decide to give, he gives in abundence)

In the story 'God Sees the truth but waits' Leo Tolstoy tells the story of Ivan Aksionov, who is convicted of a crime that he did not commit, spends 26 years in Jail, before the Justice system finds that he was innocent. The moral of the story is that while god sees everything, sometimes he waits for a while before giving the bounty.

Why am I telling this?

Those who know me in the Engineering college hostel know how much I love curd. I could eat almost anything if it is accompanied with curd. I used to love it so much so that my name in the hostel was prefixed with the vernacular word for Yogurt. 

If  all my engineering college colleagues had seen and known how much I love yogurt, definitely god should have known the truth that I dig Yogurt.

But he waited for about 25 years before he decided to be liberal.

For the last 3 years, I have been implementing ERP systems in a Milk Products plant in both Latin America as well as here in US. Whatever may be the drawbacks of that company, from my perspective, one thing is abundantly available.

Yogurt...

These plants produce yogurt in different flavors and since I am working as a manufacturing consultant here, I have the rare opportunity to taste yogurt any time I want and in any quantity I want. All free. Yogurt a gratis.

Believe me, I am making full use of this opportunity.

And the best thing? These are all low fat, low sugar, fruit based yogurts. They are so yummy, my mouth melts as I am writing this.

I think I will raid the fridge for another Strawberry Yogurt and top it up with a mango yogurt. Or should I go for Pineapple flavor? 

What the heck, I will have them all....

Like they say, 'Oopar wala jab deta hai chappar faad ke deta hai'. Translated, this means, 'When god decide to give, he gives in abundance'

God wills me to eat yogurt. Who am I to fight against Gods wishes?

09 April 2012

Trip to Niagara Falls

Unlike what we pronounce it in India, it is Nia-ga-ra falls and not Nia-gra falls....
Well, after three days of vacillation, today I decided to go to Niagara falls. As mentioned in my previous post, I had rented out a car for the weekend here in Batavia. Over the last three days, I used it only twice or thrice just to drive around in the Batavia town. I would have driven that car for about 10 Kilometers maximum over the last two days. 
Well that was my experience of driving a car with an unfamiliar steering wheel system, in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar driving rules, before I decided to drive about 100 Miles (to and fro) to go to Niagara falls.
Given an option, I would definitely have delayed my trip to Niagara. For one, I was hesitant to drive down on my own in US. Second, I was not sure where was Niagara Falls and all the internet sites that I referred told about 'Niagara Falls on the American Side (also known as American Falls)' and the 'Niagara Falls on the Canadian Side'. Most of the information that I received told me that Niagara Falls look much better on the Canadian border. 
I was under the impression that there are two Niagara falls and the one on the Canadian side was the one to go to.
Another reason for my hesitation was that my brother freaked me out. Being the affectionate bro, initially he dissuaded my from renting a car in US. He told me that I will find the adjustment from Manual to Automatic transmission difficult. Then he told me that the adjustment from left hand drive, that we have in India, to right hand drive that we have in US will be difficult. And finally, he pointed that considering the risks involved, and considering that I will be here in US for only a month, why rent a car at all?
I worried over it for four days, but given that this was a long weekend, and taxi services are very poor in Batavia and finally, due to the fact that I was going to be alone in Batavia for three days, I had to rent out a car.
Having rented the car, I was hesitant to take it out. I was scared of the right hand drive, of the GPS, of the automatic transmission....
You name it, I was scared of it.
So for me taking the plunge and taking the drive to Niagara was quite a heroic effort.
I started out in the morning by about 9.00 AM. I took the 'Interstate 90 (also known as I90)' and headed west to a town called Tonawanda. At Tonawanda, I merged into I290, and quickly exited the same and got on to I190. Just after crossing the Niagara River, I took the Exit 21 and headed straight to the State Park.
Of course I am exaggerating, Everything was not hanky dory. I missed Exit 21, then came back, paid extra 2 dollars of toll, before I exited correctly on Exit 21. 
The Niagara river breaks out into multiple branches and each of the branches form one fall. The falls drain the Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. There are three falls which together comprise the Niagara Falls. The first and the majestic falls is the 'Horse Shoe Falls' which is better visible from the Canadian Side. Then there are the 'American Falls' and finally a small falls called the 'Bridal Veil Falls'. Niagara Falls are located between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York.
The moment you park your car and are out of the parking lot, you are in the middle of the Falls. Your first view of the falls is invariably the American Falls. While you can get a very close view of the falls, the best view is from the Observation tower from where you get a birds eye view of the falls. There are telescopes fixed on the observation tower and you can have a very close view of the falls by paying 25 cents.
One of the best scenes is the rainbow formed on the river once the water falls into it from a great height. Once you are standing on the top, you can look down and see the rainbow on the water. Having only looked up to the sky to see a rainbow, it was strange for me to look down to see a rainbow. 
I was surprised to see the number of Indians and people of Chinese origin visiting the falls. Either these are rich people on a tourist visit to US or these are people of Asian descent working in the US. Either way, the Asian invasion of the US was well and truly in display there. 
There are islands at Niagara separated by the river. One is the Goat Island and the other is the Three Sisters Island. The state park is connected to the Goat Island by a pedestrian bridge. While the American Falls can be seen from the State Park, you have to cross over to the Goat Island to enjoy the 'Cave of the Wind' and the 'Terrapin Point' from where you can see the Horseshoe falls.
I crossed over to the Goat Island and walked a lot. At one point, I came very close to the Niagara River and drank some very tasty river water. It was awesome.
The 'Cave of the Wind' is a tunnel which will take you to the bottom of the falls where the water falls on the rocks. The cave was constructed using only hand tools since, the engineers were afraid of the damage that dynamite could cause to the falls. The hole was bored in the rocks and Shaft was created. The lift takes you down the shaft into the bottom of the rocks. The sight of huge quantity of water falling down on the rocks is a sight to behold. To go to the Cave of the winds, you have to wear special plastic overcoat which they will provide at the time of booking a ticket @ USD 6 per ticket.
Finally you come to the Terrapin point from where you can see the majesty of the horseshoe falls. These are the greatest of the falls and what makes Niagara as one of the world's greatest Waterfalls. Standing in Front of these Grand Beauties, one is overawed  by the force, the majesty, the magnificence and the power of nature. If you thought that you are great and invincible, these falls teach you humility.
There is a Food Court opposite the falls where you can get Indian food. More about that in another post.
Finally, after about 4 hours, it was time to say goodbye to Niagara falls. Like we do in India, my goodbye was more like 'See you soon'. I was leaving Niagara with the determination to come back to see the falls again with my family. 
As I sit and blog this, what were the few benefits that I got out of my Niagara falls drive?
One, if you want to do something, do it. Don't sweat it out, don't worry about it, don't make a mountain out of a molehill. For two days, I worried if I will be able to drive down to Niagara, whether I will be able to handle multitude of uncertainty. I laboured over it so much that I did not venture out for two days. However, in retrospect, I should have 'Just Done It'. Had I gone to falls on Friday, I would have been able to visit some other places on Saturday and Sunday.
Two, I got a lot of confidence and mental satisfaction of having handled the unfamiliarity quite competently. My self esteem and confidence have definitely gone up as a result.
Three, whenever I used to hear my US returned friends talk of driving on the Interstate, I used to feel out of place. Now that I have done it, I have done it !!
I feel good....

Indian. food at Niagara falls

Just opposite to the Car Park at Niagara Falls, there is a food court known as 'Welcome Centre' where they have Indian Foods. Here you can get real good Indian Foods. The owner is from Punjab and the chef is a Sardar. I purchased an Aloo Paratha which came with Pickles and Dahi. It was soft and delicious. Only grudge is that they could have gone easy on the Ghee. 
I saw a few people of Chinese Origin buying and then struggling with the Indian Food. You could see from their faces that they are unaccustomed to spicy Indian Curry.
Despite there being a Chinese food counter in the same food court, these guys were eating Indian Food.
Crazy world, isn't it? Indians eating Chinese foods and Chinese eating Indian food, when both are available side by side.
Talking of food in US, I have something to say about the Burgers that they serve here.
US is the home of the burgers. When you are here in US, you will expect tasty burgers. However my experience with Veggie Burgers here in US have been disappointing. In general, I found them bland and tasteless. Probable reason is that the US chefs go light on spices. But that makes the Veggie Burgers unpalatable to Indian tongues. This was not the case when I had Veggie burgers in UK. There the burgers were similar in taste to that available in India. 
Burger in US? that is one food that I am not excited about.

07 April 2012

The cost of war in Afghanistan

For all of us in India, the cost of the American lives lost in the decade old war in Iraq and Afghanistan is at best a theoretical exercise. We use the number of Americans dead in the war as a validation of our initial opinion that US should not have gone to the war in the first place. 'Having gone to an ill judged war', we say, 'the Americans have to learn to deal with the consequences'.
Distance tend to intellectualize the issues. Lack of our involvement in the war make us 'disinterested parties'. But for the families and the communities in the small towns across America, the pain, the impact, the consequences are all real, in-your-face and very, very saddening.
The other day, I got a taste of what the ordinary American is feeling, when I visited Walmart.
Right at the entrance to Walmart, they have put up on a wall, the photos of all the young men (yes, they were mostly young men), who paid the ultimate price, with their lives, in the ill thoughtout war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The picture as seen in Walmart is attached above. These are the pictures of young men from around Batavia who lost their lives in the Iraq / Afghanistan war.
Each picture had a caption with their names and the place where they lost their lives, Iraq or Afghanistan. 
All of them were the pictures of young men, in the pride of their lives, sons of proud parents, husbands of proud ladies, fathers of very small children (who, when they grow up, will be proud of their fathers) and committed lovers to their girl friends.....
Seeing the pictures of young lives, snatched out of their hands even before they had begun, made me feel very, very sad. While one part (the rational, objective part) of me kept saying that this is an internal affair of the US, the other, emotional,  part of me, reminded me that these are all the people that shared a life with me in this planet for about 25 years on an average. These are all people who laid their lives because their leaders made terrible choices and they were too proud of their responsibility to go against the wishes of their leaders.
Coming to think of it, the worst part of their death is not that they went and died in a god forsaken country, but the worst part is the knowledge that the citizens of the countries (Iraq / Afghanistan) for whom they laid down their lives, will not even show the gratitude that these dead soldiers thoroughly deserve. For most of the citizens of these countries, on US soldier dead is 'One less enemy on their soil'. 
America went to the second world war and people of most of the countries on whose side they fought, be it France, England or other parts of Europe, were very grateful to the Americans for coming in to their country and liberating them. But the absolute lack of gratitude on the part of those who are supposedly being benefited by their actions, is most galling aspect of this war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That thought make me even more sad...

06 April 2012

New Car in US

I have rented a new car in US. This is a red Chevrolet Aveo.

I am in the process of learning the new 'Right Hand' drive car. It is not easy. The main challenge is related to 'Automatic Transmission'. In my car in India, I drive a car with manual transmission. In my car, which is a left hand drive, I change the gear based on the speed of the car. And also while driving long distances, I rest my right hand on the car window. So when I drive this car, my left hand is always itching to shift gears, and my right elbow feels like resting, as I do while driving my car in India. 
In addition, there are no clutches in this car. In my car in India, as soon as the car slows down, I press my clutch with my left leg to shift gears. So here also, while slowing down at red signal, I instinctively press the left leg and this leads to me applying sudden break. The breaks are very good. So the car comes to a sudden stop. 
This is not an issue in Batvia since the traffic is very light on the city streets. So the only impact is the discomfort that a sudden break causes me. But, if this happens in the streets with busy traffic, I think I will have a problem.

04 April 2012

I am in USA

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was supposed to visit US.

I have done that. I am now in US.

I am here for some business meetings and discussions with an existing customer. The company is Alpina, for whom I did multiple projects from 2008 to 2010. Alpina is setting up a manufacturing base in US and I am here for discussions on implementing OPM in their upcoming plant.

I am currently based out a place named Batavia in the state of New York.

From Bangalore, I traveled on Sunday by Air France to Paris and entered US thru Atlanta, Georgia. From Atlanta, I took Delta Airlines to Buffalo. Due to the time gain, I reached Buffalo on Sunday evening.  I stayed overnight at Bufalo Airport and left for Batavia on Monday.

Eventhough my luggage was checked in  all the way from Bangalore to Buffalo, as per the US rules, I had to pickup my baggage at Atlanta, run it thru US customs and check in again to the Buffalo flight. So I took my luggage and reached the US Custom area.

In the custom form, I had checked that I was carrying food into US for personal use. So at the Atlanta Custom, the lady asked me if I was carrying items like 'Jeera'. Since I was carrying Jeera Powder, I told them that I was carrying it. She also asked me if I was carrying Dal and Rice. I was carrying Dal, but no Rice.

She now moved me to another black officer. While asking me to open the box, he asked me if I was carrying 'Jaljeera', 'Chawal', and 'Dal'. I was surprised that this black guy in Atlanta Airport knew typical hindi terms like Jaljeera, Chawal and Dal.

That is the potential of Indian immigrants...

He opened my luggage, opened the Dal and poured the contents of Dal into a Sieve and Sieved the Dal. 'It was to ensure that there are no insects in Dal', he later told me. Having satisfied that there were no insects in the Dal, he repackaged the Dal neatly in another packet and handed it back to me.

Next he asked me if I had Jeera. I told him I had jeera powder. 'Always bring Jeera Powder', the guy advised me.

Lessons learned. One, When bringing Dal into US, ensure that it doesn't have insects. Two, always bring Spices in powder form.

Other lesson. Indians are awesome, they can teach 'Jaljeera' to the Blacks in US.