Oct 26, 2009

Trade-off

Rigorous Advertising and Promotional offers seem to be working well for the organized retail players in Bangalore. If Star Bazaar and Total Mall were going gung-ho with their promotional fliers, last weekend, we saw a flurry of activity from Spencers Hyper Market that has opened up in Sarjapur Road. The crowd was thronging the new groceries outlet from the day of opening. A special counter called "Collect your free gift" was crowded even more. It's something that I can never miss.

Hubby and I visited this hypermarket yesterday, looking at different varieties of imported sauces, canned foods and snacks. It's good to see that we can now prepare Italian, Mexican or American cuisine with as much ease as Indian delicacies, what with all the malls stocking up the raw materials required. On the flip side, some of the practices that have been damaging the environment are also on the rise.

For instance, the plastic covers at the vegetables and fruits section. I seriously wonder how many rolls of plastic sheets are being consumed on a daily basis from these malls. Whenever I tear up a plastic cover from the roll, I feel guilty but I try to overcome it by storing these plastic covers and reusing them wherever possible. I also try my best to shop at local vegetables and fruits market where the vendor puts all the items in a single plastic bag. I come home and wrap the vegetables in the plastic covers that I have collected. Although I'm not eliminating my usage of plastic, I'm trying to reduce my consumption as much as I can.

One way to cut down on plastic consumption in such situations is to have a similar setup as a vegetable market where a vendor (in this case, a hypermarket employee) can measure the quantity and drop the vegetables in either a cloth or a jute bag. Once we bring the vegetables home, we can wrap them in zip pouches and put them in the fridge. Since we "pay" for the zip pouches and the quality of such pouches is good, I believe we wouldn't feel like throwing them away as we get rid of low quality plastic bags.

Small steps taken by each of us can help a great deal in preserving the environment. We are in a situation where we have to make a trade-off between protecting the environment and our convenience. What's going to be your choice?

I came across this picture on "The Great Pacific Garbage patch" recently and it definitely looks disturbing.

Oct 22, 2009

Get things done

I'm not as crazy as Monica of FRIENDS when it comes to organizing things but I do like to be organized and meticulous. This characteristic of mine has been very helpful throughout my professional and personal life. Before I start any initiative, I sit down and prepare lists with the tasks and actions along with tiny little check boxes right next to them. It's an awesome feeling to put a checkmark once you are through with the task. At the same time, it can also be an anxious and frustrating feeling when the boxes are unchecked and the list keeps expanding.

I have tried simple paper based lists in tiny notebooks that I used to carry all the time. But this overwhelming feeling has always been there when I look through the list of things to be done. Being a person who likes to dabble with many different things, the list is always huge with immediate actions to big, hairy dreams. I have also explored list managing tools from MS Excel to Outlook task manager to many such similar applications. Although I was able to execute on many of the action items, I always had the feeling of getting lost in different tools, notebooks, papers and post-its.

Sometime back in 2006, I came across this book "Getting things Done" by David Allen from one of my favorite blogs (Steve Pavlina). I went to a book store and was shocked to see that this book is priced at around 460 Rs. I didn't buy it but after a few months, I changed my mind and bought it. I started reading it over the next weekend and was able to appreciate some of the principles like "Mind like water", "Context based lists", "differences between processing and doing" etc. I started implementing the productivity methodology using pen and paper. After the initial excitement, the enthusiasm had died down and I went back to my old ways of random lists.

For three years, I didn't go back to this book or the methodology again. About a month ago, when I seriously decided to work on many things that I really want to work on, I went back to this book, refreshed the methodology from blogs and David Allen's website. This time, I wanted to be serious about it and not give up in between.

I'm a fan of Evernote and have been using it as a primary notes management application. I experimented with using Evernote as a GTD tool. It gave me the initial push and I was able to follow the methodology and accomplish some of the action items that were long pending. After a couple of weeks, I stumbled upon this fantastic GTD tool called ThinkingRock (I love their logo!!!). This tool is built for GTD and follows the same workflow as what David Allen has proposed in the book. I've been using this tool for the past 3 weeks and I'm making good progress on many of the open loops and projects. My mind seemed to have reduced the chatter of constant reminders of tasks that ought to be done, thanks to GTD and ThinkingRock.

While I'm working on my laptop, when a thought/action item/idea occurs, I immediately click the ThinkingRock app (It's open as soon as I switch on my laptop), press F6 and record it (Collect Phase). I know I can come back to this recorded item later. This doesn't disrupt my normal flow of things.

On a daily basis, I spend some time, looking at the collected items one by one and decide what needs to be done. I can either classify it as a project (if it involves more than one action) or a next action (Process Phase). I set the context and decide if I can schedule it to a specific date, delegate it or mark it as ASAP.

Whenever I need to do these tasks, I just look at the list of tasks, grouped by context and start completing them one by one.

For a detailed understanding of how this methodology works, buy the book and read it. I highly recommend it. If not, there are tonnes of resources available in the web and in David's website. Leave a comment if there are any questions on GTD, I'll be glad to help you out.

Oct 19, 2009

The visible jinx broken

The story plot that has been lingering in my mind for sometime now is finally taking some shape in the form of written words. I have started out on my very first novel. It's not my childhood dream to become a writer but ever since I started blogging in 2004, I have been enjoying the process of writing. It's a fulfilling feeling to see thoughts taking a tangible shape. I'm learning in the process as I churn out grammatical errors and improve my vocabulary.

As with any new initiative, there is always an initial hesitation to get started and see some output coming through. Excuses float around in all directions. We divert our attention on purpose by working on numerous other tasks except this new initiative. I decided to break this barrier by not allowing any excuses to crop up. Having started with implementing the GTD methodology(I have a next action item to write about this technique this week), I could see good progress with many open loops in my life.

I now feel so relieved, having penned down the first ten pages. Sometimes all you need is a little solitary time to push you towards the right direction and wake you up from procrastination. With Kishore-da and Lata-ji's yesteryear melodies for company, the experience has been unique with me getting into the life of my protogonist and characterizing the qualities.

My plan is to have the first draft of my novel ready by end of this year. One of my colleagues mentioned to me sometime back that I'm a good finisher. Hope I could continue to remain true to this nature of mine.

Oct 15, 2009

It's blog action day

Climate Change - a very relevant topic for this year's Blog Action Day. In my existence so far in this beautiful planet, I have noticed the changes and the drastic impact climate change has started to create. There is enough material available in the web to discuss about the causes of such climate change that's happening in the world. Through this piece, I want to let the world know of the tiny little steps I'm taking to reduce the impact of climate change. I know these are very miniscule efforts and there is a long way to go.

I'm a believer of public transport and have been using the public buses in Bangalore. Though the buses get crowded in the peak hours, there are different options available in the form of Big10, Volvo buses etc. The ticket prices are affordable and doesn't burn a hole in my purse. Also it gives me a bit of satisfaction that I'm reducing air and noise pollution by not hiring an auto rickshaw.

At home, I collect the water that I use to clean rice and vegetables and reuse the same water for the plants in my garden. With water supply restricted through tankers, I have no other option but to reduce the water consumption as much as I can.

I do not print unless it's absolutely needed. I'm fairly comfortable reading from my laptop. Thanks to libraries, I prefer to borrow books than to buy my own copies. I reuse one sided papers and bills/receipts for making shopping lists and rough notes.

I'm trying to reduce the clutter that gets accumulated in my home by consuming less. I highly recommend you to watch this brilliant video called Story of Stuff of how more consumption can in turn lead to severe outcomes of climate change.

I believe several such small efforts can control the effects of climate change. Let's join hands in making a positive impact.

Recent movies

It's been almost a year since I watched a Tamil movie in a cinema theatre, the last one being Vaaranam Aayiram. By the time I realize a movie is good enough, it's already out of the theatre in Bangalore. Nevertheless, I ensure I don't miss out on good Bollywood movies.

On our wedding anniversary, hubby and I took a day off from work and decided to watch either Love Aaj Kal or Kaminey. I'm so glad we choose the former. LAK is worth a one time watch as I like Saif's acting in such kind of movies. Hum Tum is one of my favorite movies in this genre. As everyone had already mentioned in their reviews, the "Kal" portion was just too good. Saif as a Punjabi has done a tremendous job, so does the actress essaying the role of Harleen Kaur. I couldn't believe when I came to know she is from Brazil. She fitted the role of a Punjabi girl perfectly. I never liked Deepika as an actress as I find her acting and voice to be too artificial. But she wasn't that bad in this movie. I liked some of the songs in this movie, especially the tunes of "Yeh dooriya". Though I wouldn't say LAK is a must watch movie, it's not a bad movie either.

If I have to call one movie as bad in the recent weeks, that would have to be Kaminey. I'm so happy I didn't spend 500 bucks to watch this movie in a multiplex. Thanks to Tata sky, I just spent 75 Rs but it wasn't worth this money and 2 hours of precious time. I couldn't understand what this movie was all about. Is it really worth the hype? A complete must-avoid movie, if you ask me.

Ever since Wake up Sid's promos started airing, it looked to me as an interesting story. The story is not very new as the first half resembles Lakshya to some extent. The protogonists in both the movies do not know what they want to do in life. They come from a rich background, their fathers want them to join their business, their mothers try to convince them to listen to their dads, their girl friends are the smartest and provide them the necessary support. But the screenplay is dealt in a light hearted and fun manner in Wake up Sid. After Konkana's entry, the visuals look colorful. Every frame seems to have a sense of beauty - be it her well decorated condo, her Mumbai Beat office or her experiences in Mumbai. The colors are bright and peppy. I loved the birthday scene where Ranbir makes a cake out of bread,jam and a matchstick. Both Ranbir and Konkana have fitted their respective roles nicely. Though easily predictable, the gradual turn around of events that take their relation from friendship to love is well made. I'm sure the song "Iktara" will linger in my mind for a long time,although I don't understand the lyrics. Wake up Sid is definitely a must watch movie.

Oct 13, 2009

2 states

What an interesting novel! Having read his 3 previous books, I was really looking forward to the release of Chetan Bhagat's 2 states. On my trip to Landmark at Forum, I saw this pile of books with a red colored cover page. I immediately picked up a copy for myself. It's no surprise that everyone waiting in the billing queue had their copies as well.

From the very first page till the end, the plot has been etched out in a very interesting manner. The story is not new to us as we have seen similar stories in Bollywood (DDLJ) or Kollywood (Jodi, Poovellam Kettu Paar, Abhiyum Naanum to an extent). But the way the plot has evolved and the witty dialogues ensure the novel is engrossing. I finished reading it in a 5 hour straight sitting.

It's a love story between a Punjabi boy, Krish and a Tamilian girl, Ananya. The main track of the story is the way they convince their parents to like each other and be present happily in their wedding. As I come from one of the two states, I could easily relate to the customs, food habits and dialogues when the boy meets the girl's parents. The specific part where Krish spends a few months in Chennai, trying to impress her girl's parents was just hilarious and was handled very well with every page having something to laugh about. On the contrary, Ananya's time in Delhi was a bit too serious. After a lot of interesting and funny moments in convincing their parents, the couple finally tie the knot. At the end of this book, I was so impressed with the characterization of Krish. Man, doesn't he love Ananya so much? Although the author says some of the incidents are from his personal lives, I couldn't separate out which ones are real and which ones are fictional. The best part is that he doesn't try to be too preachy about being one country and not multiple states.

It was a lot of fun reading this hilarious novel. If "Five Point Someone" made a lasting impression on you, I'm sure you would love the story of "2 states".

Oct 12, 2009

Nancy, the horticulturist

A new home, a new garden - this was something Nancy had been looking forward to for many months now. Her parents had purchased a piece of land in the outskirts of the city and their home was nearing completion. Nancy has always been fascinated by plants. In their current rented apartment, she used to admire her mom, Cynthia tending to saplings in mud pots in their balcony. She always used to volunteer to pluck tiny roses from the pots just before Cynthia begins her prayers every evening. "She will major in botany and will become a horticulturist!!" - Cynthia proudly proclaimed to her apartment neighbours about her 5 year old daughter.

The day finally arrived when they shifted to the new home. As promised, Nancy's dad Albert ensured they had a nice patch of fresh grass ready in their lawn area before they moved in. Nancy was more excited about the lawn and the grass than their new home. While Albert and Cynthia were busy setting up their home and arranging things, Nancy was joyously jumping and playing on the lawn. When she felt exhausted, she laid flat on the fresh grass, admiring the clear blue sky and singing the kindergarden rhymes that she recently learnt in school.

A month passed by quickly and Albert's family had settled down. It was a Sunday morning and a fat man named Balraj was standing outside Nancy's home. Albert stepped out to speak to him while Nancy was holding her dad's hands and listening to the conversation intently.

"The grass needs trimming and you also need to sprinkle some urea once you have trimmed the grass. Ensure the weeds are also removed. There seems to be some thorns as well. Clean it up nicely. If I like your work, I can think about hiring you as my regular gardener", Albert gave the instructions.

That afternoon, Balraj completed his job perfectly and Albert was impressed, "You seemed to have done a good job. Come over last Sunday of every month and ensure the garden is maintained properly".

The lawn was no longer soft and green. There were brown patches after trimming. Nancy hated the sight of her garden now. "Daddy, I don't like this gardener man. He has cut all the grass and it doesn't look good", she expressed her opinion. "It will grow soon, dear. You have to trim the grass regularly or else the lawn will look bad". Her dad's explanations were not convincing enough.

Month after month, Balraj did his job dutifully but Nancy just hated the sight of him. She was no longer interested in spending her play time on the lawn. Cynthia noticed it and wanted to ensure her daughter's interests in plants doesn't dwindle. It was a sunny evening and the sun was about to set. Nancy was playing with her soft toys, sitting near the portigo. Cynthia sat beside her, "Nancy, I don't see you playing on the grass anymore. What happened? Don't you like the lawn?"

"The grass is not good, mom. I don't like the brown patches. Grass should always be green. Why does the gardener come every month and cut it?", Nancy asked. "This is how one should maintain a garden, dear. You should trim the ends of the grass regularly for it to grow well. Think about this. Doesn't mom take you to the haircut lady every 3 months to trim the ends of your hair? Now, see how it has grown so well! It's the same thing", Cynthia loves to answer the questions her daughter poses now and then. Nancy seemed to have got convinced and was no longer feeling bad about the lawn. Whenever Balraj visits her garden, she started to question him on each and every task he was doing. "Nancy, the horticulturist in the making", Cynthia thought while observing the conversations between Nancy and Balraj.

Oct 6, 2009

Gadget gap

We have always been talking about generation gap for many generations. While I was thinking about different habits in my family, I couldn't help but notice that there is a strong gadget gap as well. Flashback to the late 80s! My father bought home a big Prestige pressure cooker. As a child, I was so excited about the sound of the whistle, while keeping track of the count. The cooker sat proudly on top of the gas stove as a king of the kitchen while the rest of the cooking utensils looked humble like its royal subjects. But this treatment lasted for just a few days as my grandma was completely uncomfortable with this giant new entrant in the kitchen. Although she was scared to use this gadget, she gave excuses like "Oh, the rice doesn't seem to quick properly in this cooker" or "the rice is very dry and doesn't taste good". After the few days, the cooker was safely kept in the topmost kitchen shelf. We were back to our good old ways of using the traditional brass vessel where it takes 30 minutes to cook 1 cup of rice. Yes, you heard it right - 30 minutes of time and LPG energy. It's of no use arguing with grandma for she felt very strong about not using pressure cooker. This continued for many, many years.

Coming back to the current decade, my father is very much comfortable using pressure cooker and when one seems to think the gadget gap is closed, yet another gap opens widely. My brother has bought a cute, little Black & Decker coffee maker. In a family where every morning begins with a hot cup of coffee, this should be a very useful gadget in the kitchen. Before this cute thing landed up, we have been using a manual coffee filter for God-knows-how-many-years. The gentle tapping on the head of this filter used to be my morning alarm. There is a strict and time consuming process that was followed using this filter. There could be severe repercussions if you don't adhere to this process such as spilled decoction, light flavor or burnt fingers.

An automatic coffee maker could solve many of these issues and one can grab a cup of coffee within 10 minutes and get on with the day. But it doesn't seem to be the case. Even though the process is cumbersome, my dad still prefers the manual filter as he believes that coffee from coffee maker is very light and doesn't taste good. I could notice a slight difference in the taste but nevertheless, it doesn't drastically cross my JND thresholds (just noticeable difference). But it's not the same with dad.

I wonder how I would be 30 years from now. What kind of gadgets would come up that would make life easier but I would be reluctant to change my good, old ways? Will it be a robot that programmes as per the recipe details and prepares the meal on its own? Will it be a gizmo that reads from all my books and gives me a summary?

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