Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Summer vacation

1. Rise late. The only reason one should rise at all is that one can go out and play till it's time to go to sleep again. Well, almost. Because Mom keeps intervening (shouting, yelling, torturing) with calls to have food (three times a day. Imagine!), to bathe, to sleep, and to do all those boring things you thought you didn't have to do when school was out.

2. No homeworks. Mom might say the teacher has given writing work for the holidays, but everyone knows she's bluffing. No teacher ever gives homework for Summer vacation except when you're very old, like 15 years or something and are in 10th or 12th.

3. Indoor games means watching TV. When one is tired of football, cricket and badminton, and even bey blade (if that's possible), one can indulge in indoor games. Like watching Pogo, Cartoon Network, Disney, and other channels whose names one cannot even spell, let alone read.

4. You miss your Best Friends. When the friends you like best have gone to their parents' hometowns, you learn to get along with the ones you despised till last month. Well, one can't always choose one's companions, and has to make do with whoever and whatever lies around. Life's gotta go on.

5. Visits and visitors: Not sure whether this is pro or con, but vacations surely mean a lot of people travelling hither and thither. As long as one gets to play what one likes to play (indoor and outdoor) it matters not where one is. When one is in places like Mumbai or Kerala, Mom's calls for bathing matches or exceeds that of her calls for food. (See #6)

6. Bathe, bathe, and bathe. Though one dislikes interruptions while playing, sometimes the interruptions turn out to be games themselves. Especially in places like Mumbai and Kerala where one yearns to bathe in cold water (unlike Bangalore) once every ten minutes. One gets to stand under a tap in the garden or pour water on oneself from a hose pipe without fear of catching a cold or fever. Even better fun if one of those untimely rains decide to descend.

7. Eat junk food, when not eating Mom's brain. If one eats the latter too much, Mom immediately thrusts a four-line or a square-line or a double-line book to one's face. To pre-empt such a situation, just tell Mom, "I will have some snacks and watch TV while you finish your work," and all is well.

8. There is no such thing as end-of-play-time. There are only pauses, before a fresh start.

9. Birthday parties are more fun. The number of kids at the parties will be less and one's roles are more significant than during the rest of the year when the bigger kids sideline the smaller ones.

10. Sleep time. One can play and watch TV and resist sleep as long as humanly possible. 'Humanly possible' means till Mother collapses over her computer keyboard.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ghosts of LOCs past

The maid was sweeping the floor, making wide arcs with her broom. I was surprised to observe that even at the end of the process, there wasn't anything in the dustpan. In a house where the five-year-old always manages to throw things around (objects that are precious to him, and garbage in my eyes), and where there is a perpetual thin layer of dust on every piece of furniture, a spotless dustpan was out of the question.

I accused her of not cleaning properly - of not crawling under the bed and peeping under the table and pulling out lethargic dust-bunnies or other misbehaving undesirables hiding under them.
She said, I did check under the bed and sweep well. There weren't any.

It simply wasn't possible. My argument was, though she cleans the house daily, there should be something for her to gather. There should be something visible - a certain acceptable amount, not more, not less - in the dustpan. Every day. Crumpled paper, dust, black hair, grey hair(ouch!), broken pieces that were once toys, pencil tips, eraser crumbs, dirt, whatever.

Our brain has this uncanny, unnecessary and annoying ability to pull out metaphors from the past and toss them right to our face. We can almost hear it chuckling as it does so. So it was, when I thus spoke to my maid, I was stopped short by a voice (inside my head?) reprimanding me for not unearthing - hold your breath - enough defects from an unsuspecting developer's code during a Code Review (CR).

The sky ripped open with a flash of lightning, the scene before my eyes rolled back, the maid vanished, and I saw myself perched before my PC, lines after lines of code (LOC) scrolling up and down before me. I was straining my eyes sweeping between the lines and over the lines, trying to bring hidden faults to light: logical, analytical, syntactical, grammatical, typographical, nonsensical or any other that I could jubilantly ("eureka!!") make a note of in an excel sheet, categorise them as Major, Medium or Minor as per my whims and fancies. There is this N:1 ratio that wise people invented in the last century: for every N Lines Of Code, there should be at least one defect. I am sure it is based on the undisputed fact that nobody is perfect, so nobody's programming code has the right to be perfect. The overall number of defects at the end of the CR hangs in a delicate balance: if the number is too large, the program is not well-written and the developer is in trouble. If it is too low, it does not mean the program is well-written, but that the review was not exhaustive enough. Which was why my eyes were peeled for the evasive crumbs of programming defects, to sweep them into my dustpan of an excel sheet.

If my maid threw extra pieces of paper or sand into the dustpan (even if she had to bring them from her home for the purpose), I would have been satisfied. On the other hand, since the program code could not be changed to insert bugs (because the version-control repository would record the modification along with the name of the mischief-doer), the only thing to do was report non-existent or impossible bugs. Like this:

"The comment on line 143 does not follow coding conventions." - Minor
"It is better to give the '{' in the next line." - Minor
"There is an extra space between the end of code and the semicolon." - Medium
"An extra couple of blank lines between two blocks of code!" - Medium
"If the program forgets to perform NULL check, there will be a series of crashes." - Major

If, by chance, we found a real bingo Major / Critical defect (a potential crash, a suicide bomber or a hidden grenade), we would split it into one major and 2-3 medium defects, even invent a few minor ones, so that the overall ratio of CR defects would remain 'as expected', without any harm to the coder or the reviewer.

"There has to be defects concealed in all these hundreds of square feet of code," I said.
"Eh?" said the maid.

Jolted back to the present, I stared at her for a second and said, "Why don't you sweep the floor again, you might find something."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The gadget of the Times

Once upon a time, it was the radio. Elders had to be given written directions on how to switch it on and listen to music or news. There were some who quickly picked it up and gave tips to youngsters on listening to Ceylon Radio instead of AIR.

Then came the television that captured the fancy of young and old alike. Elders had to be given written directions on how to switch it on, tune to the channel of their choice (even though there existed only one channel). There were some who quickly picked it up and even gave tips to youngsters.

Soon there emerged many different gadgets, out of which the computer and mobile phone were perhaps the most popular. Elders were given written instructions to use them, to make calls, to connect to the Internet, to send emails. There were some who quickly picked it up and gave tips to youngsters, as to whether Nokia was more rugged than a Samsung, or if Norton was better at virus-protection than McAfee.

I wonder what the omnipresent gadget is going to be, in my ... Time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Right and Wrong - a theory of Relativity

A woman called me a few days ago, regarding some nursery rhyme DVDs for my son. I didn't hear half of what she said. In the end, she asked me for my email ID so that she can send an order form I could fill up and return to her. I could easily have said, "I'm not interested," even before she started elaborating. Or when she asked for my email. I have already given that answer to scores before her, regarding credit cards, bank accounts, job opportunities, and other things I can barely recall. Instead, I gave her my email ID (knowing that this act could bring another ten spam mails per month in my mailbox). I know I am not going to place an order for the DVDs. Yet I did not say it.

Ever since I started working from home, I have had to convince people that Working from home really meant 'Working'. Everyone (especially a few specimen in the family) just assumes that there is no work involved, it only means 'being at home' - being available to chat for hours on the phone, to cook till my hands crack, to sleep throughout the day, to keep the house spic-and-span despite the energetic five-year-old throwing things around, and to wash clothes till the clothes-line breaks. If anyone manages to get convinced that I am doing some work, they immediately conclude that the pay is pathetic. The inevitable next step would be comparison with a Software Engineer's bank balance (considering my history and all that). So what do I do? If anyone is indiscreet enough to ask (oh yeah, some of them demand to know) what my pay is, I add a third to what I really get and give them the new total. Merely for my peace of mind.

Lies, both scenarios. Harmless lies, unspoken-lies, true lies, whatever - lies nonetheless. The DVD woman would wonder, If she were not interested in placing an order, why didn't she say so? The relative who asked me about my salary would wonder, Why didn't she just tell me the truth? To me, they were Right, for reasons I know.

How did I get into this? I was taught that dishonesty, lies, theft, and all their relatives that go under different names, were Wrong. In due course, I found out that half-truths, truth-not-spoken and harmless-lies were sometimes termed Wrong. Silence also fell in the same category. There were no rigid rules. When confronted with one of them, the wise thing was to check the premises before pouncing on the verdict.

I could cite two other instances, both during recruitment interviews. In the first, as a fresher, I tried to keep the complete truth from the interviewers, because I did not know which was worse: the truth or concealing it. Before the discussion was over, they figured out I did not tell them everything, and that alone caused them to reconsider their initial favourable decision. In the second case, I told the interviewer in all honesty that I rely heavily on Google. They expressed surprise, and gave me a chance to modify my answer, but I didn't. The result, I was rejected. (Looking back now, I was lucky they turned me down, but at the time I was unhappy. But going over and over it, I knew I would not have been able to hide the role Google played in my life.)

With relationships, it is a whole new maize altogether, of Right and Wrong and their combinations. What is Right to one, is invariably Wrong for the other. There is also a middle-ground, a place that looks different when viewed from a different angle. Right and Wrong do not depend on facts (What are facts anyway?) or the premises. It depends also on what kaleidoscope you are viewing through, your age, position, location, experience, your requirements, your expectations, your relatives, and a whole bunch of uncertainties.

If I thought adult relationships were too much to handle, matters involving children turned out to be absolutely hazy. Don't even attempt trying to investigate which one of the brawling kids is Right. Because interfering in their affairs is Wrong. Pulling them apart maybe Right as long as their claws are not dug into each other. Trying to pointing out who did Right or to resolve their conflict, is Wrong.

He took my toy.
She pushed me.
He pulled my hair.
She threw sand in my eyes.
He hit me with that toy.
She lied.

Am I Right, or is he Wrong.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Guardian

There is a legend of a man who lives beneath the sea. He is a fisher of men, the last hope of all those who have been left behind. Many survivors claim to have felt his gripping hands beneath them; pushing them up to the surface; whispering strength until help could arrive.
But this, of course, is only a legend.

-- Opening lines of the movie, The Guardian

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to wreck relationships and make a Villain of yourself

I used to think, the Villain was the guy who (among other things) broke up strong, enviable friendships. I thought such things (as powerful bonds snapping for no reason) happened only in the movies. If such a person existed in real life, I thought, we could easily make him out for his cunning eyes, malicious words, obvious bad intentions and sloppy look. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, if any of you harbour such misconceptions, I am here to set you right. If you don't, the rest of this blog ain't for you.

If you - decent, civilized, educated, well-dressed, honest, live-and-let-live person - really put your heart into (sometimes without even intending to) wrecking a relation, with intentions honourable or harmful, let me assure you, you can do it. The relation in question can be anything from a close friendship (spanning a quarter of a century), to a loose acquaintanceship that is on the verge of something deep, to a comfortable, unnamed camaraderie that has existed since time immemorial.

Okay, I might as well confess that in the last ...mmm... fifteen-twenty years I have had the good fortune to have found myself at all the three corners of the situation in question, in different instances: as the victim who suddenly found the branch I was holding to broken, then as the one who broke it, and later, yes, as the Villain who prompted it to break. The last, quite unintentionally, I assure you.

The trick to make it work (being the Villain, I mean) is Persistence. As you all know, Persistence pays. You may also know that persistence is quite impartial - it does not distinguish between innocent and indecent intentions, or between men and women. If you keep after it, it has to pay, sooner or later. Mostly later. You may not know it is bending, till suddenly one day you hear the 'snap!' The only possible side-effect is that your own relation with the victim(s) could snap with it.

So, as I was saying, if you really want to wreck someone's cosy friendship or affaire de coeur that is really rankling you, go ahead. Whisper the magic words into the ears of one of them. Keep whispering, day after day, week after week, month after month. Don't give up and you'll see the results.

When you do, come back here and post a comment so that I'll know. If you're going to tell me no such thing happened ever in your life, I suggest you hold that comment and ponder for a while. If you tell me it's a woman thing, my answer would be, open your eyes and look around.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

How much business is good business?

The Playzone was closing that day. We weren't aware of it when we went in. I had to shop and our son wanted to play. It was mid-week and schools were not yet closed for Summer. Children would be having their exams. I assumed that was the reason the place was empty.

"Today is our last day," said the two girls who attended to the children. We have been seeing them for close to four years. They would wrap a tag around my son's wrist (evidence that his parents have paid the money), help him and the other children play with the machines in the play area, and when it was time to redeem the tickets, they would hand over small gifts. The toys and other equipment would be moved to the other end of the city. The girls stay close to the mall, and they would not be able to commute that far. They would have to look for another job. When we left, I made sure my son said proper Goodbyes and Thankyous to them. He repeated something about the place closing down, but I doubt if he realised what it means.

The place used to be crowded whenever we visited during the weekends. That it was not making a good profit was strange. Well, maybe not as crowded as they expected it to be when they first lugged the machines here.

The mall itself was new when the Playzone was installed. Ours is a generally quiet area that some Bangaloreans refer to as the 'outskirts' and others joke as being not even a part of Karnataka. Till a few years ago, it wore a border-village look (there were no decent hotels, only Punjabi Dhabas meant for late night truck/lorry drivers, and a couple of faded old apartments). Then one day there burst upon the scene a new highway that sliced the heart of the region and changed things forever. All of a sudden there was traffic, there were people, there were lights, apartments began sprouting, there were shops with well-lit exteriors, there were hoardings, there were Pizza joints and there were Chinese restaurants serving Momo. The Dhabas vanished without a trace - the few that remain, have renamed themselves to restaurants or hotels. The narrow roads that had forgotten asphalt, got a fresh coating, were widened, and were spruced up to match the highway. The new mall - our own friendly neighbourhood mall - materialised as the door to development. Deprived of the weekend-nooks that the rest of Bangalore boasted of, we would throng it on weekends, and proudly take guests to gaze at it, as if it were Vidhan Soudha.

A few shops in the little mall have closed down in the last few years and new optimistic ones opened in their place. I see every likelihood of other high-profile shops closing down too, claiming poor sale, unless they can hold on for a few more years, till we are ready for it. Many more will lose jobs. The children will look into the empty, dark space that was once their favourite play area. Then they will outgrow those thoughts.

If business is not good, nothing is worth the effort.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My part of the town

We are a sleepy group of people. I know many of my neighbours would take offence at this, but I like us that way. We pretend we are very outgoing - the way Bangaloreans should be or are reputed to be. The fact is that most of us would rather be home after eight or nine in the evening, catch a program or so after dinner and go to bed early.

The day we celebrated India's epic World Cup victory, close to eleven at night on April 2nd, when India needed 7 runs from 15 balls to win, when it was evident that the Cup was ours, I heard a shout go up from a couple of floors above. "Someone else is watching the match as well," I thought. Till then there was no sign (meaning, no animated responses) from any part of the apartment. And when MS Dhoni hit that memorable six, sealing the match and the Cup, another roar went up, followed by a few claps. Fifteen minutes later (probably after someone rushed to locate a shop to buy crackers) came about six bursts from a distance that did not even make my sleeping son turn to his side. That's it. We were happy and we went to bed happy. Elsewhere in the heart of Bangalore, I am told, the celebrations continued throughout the night. Most cricket-unlovers would not have slept, with all the noise.

On New Years' eve, I kept my son awake, promising him fireworks at the stroke of twelve. When our clock showed a minute to twelve, we rushed to our balcony where faraway sounds of a party were floating in. A full ten minutes later (during which I was bordering on frustration that there was not even a single colourful cracker to show my eagerly waiting son - sound must have taken ten minutes to travel one kilometre that night), I could vaguely hear the countdown to zero from the party. All of a sudden, the sky was lit with rockets and crackers of all colours - for about ten minutes. Soon the cars sped by, signalling the end of the party. Then, absolute silence. It was over, and people had gone to bed. There was no New Year celebration in our own apartment, people either looked at the TV, or watched the crackers from their windows, or went out to celebrate, or slept peacefully like any other night. New Year would come in whether we stay awake or not, whether our doors are open or not. The sole reason I sat up late this year was for my son.

Diwali, though it is meant to be noisy, is a comparatively quiet affair. We step outside with our crackers of all kinds and kids of all ages, take over the road, make noise and leave the place a mess - but it will all be over by eight or nine in the evening. There are elders and babies in the apartment and they need their sleep. Even in the apartment nearby where college students stay, the celebrations don't go beyond ten.

Boring, old-fashioned place, is it not?

I am the last one to complain. Even as I write this, I fear things will change in my part of the world. The pace of change is frightening, and we won't be able to stop it. But for some more time, many of us would remain so - old-fashioned.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The whole world is mine

5-year-old: "You can't sit here! It's my house."
4-year-old: (wide-eyed, moving to another chair) "Here?"

5yo: "Okay, you can sit there. This is my house, you understand?"
4yo: (chewing a biscuit) "Okay..."

5yo: "This house is mine, this chair is mine, this room is mine, this... this... whole world is mine!"
4yo: (stops chewing and stares)

5yo: "Do you know what 'this whole world' means?"
4yo (staring): "No..."

5yo: "This house, the gate, the road outside, everything is 'the whole world'."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Those days, those books...

There was a time I spent my spare time reading.
There was a time I planned, made a list and bought books.
There was a time a sizeable chunk of my salary was dedicated to music cassettes and books. Books, more than cassettes.
There was a time there would be a book in the queue waiting for the first to be read.
There was a time I would put the child to bed early so that I can pull out that book from the bedside and read till my eyes close. The last time I did that was when I sat till 2AM to finish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That was probably the last time as well.

Now? I just can't hold a book long enough to consume its contents. Oh, I do get my amount of spare time. There is no way I can complain of 'lack of time'. In the last couple of years, I bought two books: Chasing the Monsoon in Winter 2009, and The Catcher in the Rye in Summer 2010. I did not get past 3-4 pages of the first and about one-third of the second. They remained at my bedside for weeks, then next to my computer for another few more. Then, I sidelined them to the book-shelf where they still await my touch.

It's alarming. I just can't hold myself down enough to finish a book. There is this pull, call it Gravity if you will, that draws me away. I know it's all about priorities - if I really want to read, I know I can. But these things that need to be done, the things that suffocate me, they are always on the top of the list.

I miss books. Gawd, I miss reading.