Sunday, October 30, 2011

An Open Letter

"In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people's lives."  ~Anatole Brjoyard

     A week back I visited the post-office to collect my renewed passport. It's been at least 5 years since my last visit to the tiny, dark office atop a grocery store. Nothing much has changed over these years. My trip involved sending out a few wedding invitations as well. I had no freaking idea about the stamp value and checked with the postmaster (quite embarrassingly, of course).
     The last time I sent out a book post was about 10 years back. Friendship day and Christmas would cost me a lot for the cards and postage. In an era devoid of electronic mail, the postman was my gatekeeper to the outside world. Weekly deposits of "The Week" and "Competition Success" ensured that the tiny village in Kerala was updated. We would wait expectantly for the postman to trudge along, his old bag hanging by the side and a bunch of letters in his hand. He would come by the house, drink a glass of water - at times have a snack and then go on his way.
     Over the years, even as I type this blog out - I remember the times when I would receive a letter from a long-lost friend. Most of these letters have been chiseled by moths but the warmth of their imprints have survived time. There was a personal touch to every letter sent out, no spell-checks to highlight our errors, every punctuation in place.
     When I was in college, I remembered missing out on a couple of issues of "The Week". My instant reaction was to send out an email to the publishers. Within  a couple of days, I received a letter from "The Postmaster of India". He had received the complaint from the publishers and within 4 days, the issue was resolved. I was awestruck by the promptness of a machinery that had been termed as slow, at times delayed. Over the years, they've re-named and branded themselves with a newer image, "India Post". Although my interaction with the postal service has dwindled to a trickle, the image of licking stamps before pasting them on the letters is instilled forever.

"Letters are above all useful as a means of expressing the ideal self; and no other method of communication is quite so good for this purpose.  In letters we can reform without practice, beg without humiliation, snip and shape embarrassing experiences to the measure of our own desires... "

Friday, October 14, 2011

M for Microsoft

"There are people who don't like capitalism, and there are people who don't like PCs, but there's no one who likes the PC who doesn't like Microsoft."
     And then Windows appeared. It was colourful, had a file manager and minesweeper. There on Windows became the holy grail. Each release was eagerly anticipated and more often than not, our expectations were met. The Office suite followed suit and Microsoft became an integral part of our lives.
     Over the last 5 years, the company has been a major player in my career. First Aditi (I worked there for close to 3 years) and then Artech worked with Microsoft, Redmond for their recruitments. Aditi is also a gold partner with Microsoft and does a lot of software service projects for Microsoft. Over the 4 year tenure, 2 facts captivated me. Microsoft interviewed and hired people who had an aptitude for technology, creativity and challenges. Unlike Apple or Google, they didn't care about the candidate's background, more stress was on his ability. Secondly, Microsoft takes pride in the fact that although they are not the Industry's best pay-master, they provide one helluva place to work.
     I was astounded by the way managers would receive me in their offices. Some of them had game consoles, while some others had pictures of their family pasted on the walls. The attire remained the same through the week, business casuals or plain casuals. I remember one specific incident while walking into a Microsoft building. A bunch of software professionals drinking Margarita's at 10 Am, celebrating the release of their new product. Over the years, Microsoft has diversified its product line. With the increasing interest in gaming, they released the Microsoft Xbox kinect a year back (formerly known as Project Natal), a gaming console without a controller. I had seen the television ads and the E3 demo for the product, but my eyes virtually popped out of their sockets when my cousin purchased it.
     The console has a set of sensors that detect voice commands and muscular movements of the player. 15 years back, this could be a part of a Steven Spielberg movie. Today, its a part of reality. In the last decade, Microsoft has had its share of failures and competitors. But at no point of time, there has been one single entity that looks to take over Microsoft's monopoly in the technology space. Like someone once remarked, "Jobs might have the apple, but the orchard belongs to Gates."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Think Different

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

     I remember reading this one book in my childhood. It included stories about famous inventions and discoveries. Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Madam Curie & Alexander Bell - a few anecdotes that flashed through my head every time I saw a bulb switch "ON" or witnessed a thunder storm. These men had achieved unquestionable greatness, no doubting that. Over time, I could never appreciate the true efforts of these scientists. These men and women had lived in an era of discovery. Though our limitations were more, the scope of inventions was higher. Unlike today. The modern day isn't purely about inventing anything original. Rather the mantra is innovation. And Steven Paul Jobs played God in this period.
     The next generation might grow up with a whole new range of Apple products without recognizing the image above. I have never appreciated Apple products and will refrain from doing so in the future as well, but my admiration wasn't for swanky white mobile devices or hand-held computers. It was about a balding man in a black long-sleeved mock turtleneck, Levi's 501 blue jeans, and New Balance 991 sneakers on stage. He might have ended up selling a bar of soap with the way he did it. Jobs was a role model for those who had struggled to overcome the failures in life. Reading about him, the ups and downs of his life gave a notion that everyone has multiple chances to make it big. A chance to connect the dots.
     56 years of contribution to the digital age is now a mere wisp of smoke. The Apple legacy will continue to grow based on the efforts of competent engineers, but technology will miss its hungry and foolish prodigal son. Eve bit an apple to bring humans to earth, Jobs has taken it back to where it belongs. Rest in Peace.

Interesting Quotes about/by Steve Jobs:
"I feel like somebody just punched me in the stomach and knocked all my wind out. I'm only 30 years old and I want to have a chance to continue creating things. I know I've got at least one more great computer in me. And Apple is not going to give me a chance to do that."
- On his expulsion from any position of authority at Apple

"Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me ... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me."
On the success of Bill Gates and Microsoft

"I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next." 
- Jobs: Iconoclast and salesman" by Brian Williams, at MSNBC

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." 
 - Stanford University Commencement Address

 “You could make the case that Steve has injected so much of his DNA into Apple that Apple will continue, Or you can make the case that without Steve, Apple will flounder. But you cannot make the case that Apple without Steve Jobs will be better. Hard to conceive of that.”
- Guy Kawasaki, Apple executive in the late 1980s

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Turning 27

  • "Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.  Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul." ~Samuel Ullman

     I'm 27, Period. A couple of years ago, I was worried about the quarter-life crisis. Now someone tells me that over time, the average lifespan might reduce to the mid-fifties (Alexander died at the age of 32, that leaves me 4 years to beat the current world record for conquering the world). When I was younger, I wanted to be old. Now that I'm older, I wish I could go back to my younger days. Is this what they acknowledge as the mid-life crisis?
      I can't help but admitting it - I feel old, rather grown-up. I still play soccer for a couple of hours every day and my hair is still intact (and black!). But, the spring in my step seems to have disappeared. My prized possessions of a good memory and creativity seem to have taken a bad seat in the harried stream of life. I feel heavier, especially at the middle (probably to balance my center of gravity) and yawn every other hour (notwithstanding the fact that I've just had lunch).
     Over the last 6 months, I've had a chance to re-witness my childhood or rather re-construct it. I've watched my nephew grow up from 0-6 months (sounds like the size on a kid's dress). More importantly, the way my parents have contributed to his upbringing. Watching from a distance, I see myself in the toddler. And understand the amount of sleepless nights borne by my parents to get me here. As an afterthought, wouldn't it be great if I could reverse the aging process and start shrinking? (I'm no Brad Pitt, but my case would surely be curious)
      On the other hand, I look at my nonagenarian grandmother. She needs help to walk, and struggles with her eyesight and hearing. But she's had a contented life. Her 7 children are well-off and take care of her needs and wishes. It would be a miracle if I could make it alive for that long. But would I have a similar life or a plain sorry ending?
     So, I'm 27 (gasp!), Getting married within a month (cheers!), and planning to settle down in life (sigh! settling down is fine, settling expenses isn't). There's not much of a choice that I have, so I might as well reset the counters and start all over again.

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."
                                                                                               - Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Loss of Innocence

 "I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,
And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago."