Friday, October 21, 2016

Books: A man called Ove

There are two things interesting about this novel. Firstly, the author Fredrik Backman is a blogger who is debuting with this novel. A blogger is never short of stories to tell. They may not be able to weave a coherent story, but there have a lot of exciting episodes. So if you are short of time, the book can be read at your leisure with sufficient breaks without losing the overall plot. Secondly, the Fredrik Backman is from Sweden. I have only seen mystery writers coming from this region. So a fiction and not a crime or thriller caught my attention.

Ove is an old man who is always fighting with the world around him. He is never happy. As the story starts, an interracial couple moves in as his neighbor. When they reverse their trailer, they destroy Ove's flowerbed and overturns the postbox. Ove reluctantly helps the couple, and this act changes Ove forever. In the past, we have encountered many grumpy old men in real life, books, and movies. It is Fredrick Backman narrative style which makes Ove different and intriguing than the ones we know. Fredrik Backman devotes each chapter to tell us about an event in Ove's life. All through the book, he uses non-linear narrative like a seasoned player. He switches between the present and the past. You can never understand a person without knowing his history. Fredrick Backman realizes it. So he describes the present which makes us laugh at the old man's eccentricity. But when he explains the past, our smile dies quickly, and we empathize with the old man. Even after knowing the history, the author still makes us laugh with Ove's escapades in the present. It is quite evident that the author wants us to have a fun filled ride with adequate room for thought and reflection.

The book is translated from his original language. The emphasis is on the narrative and not the style. After reading the book, you are engulfed with a warmth and newfound love for life. There is an explanation for human behavior. Are we ready to let go of our initial reluctance and delve deeper to find out more about people we try to avoid? There are a lot of profound messages in spite of this book being a quick read. There is no time like now to read this book.

Photo Courtesy: Amazon

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No more shopping lists

Automation is the buzz word. The machines are taking away our jobs. There are even talking about Universal Basic Income so that we still have money to spend while we will not have any job. Isn't that a dTream come true? We do not work. However, we get paid. When you get over the initial euphoria, there is another angle to the UBI. We are back to being kids. Whoever is handing out the UBI becomes our parent. While we debate our fate, there is no dispute about automation is going disrupt our lives. So the article by HBR caught my attention.

Quoting Amazon's Dash buttons, the article infers the following.
" closets and refrigerators in the home will place orders directly with the retailers’ algorithms, sparing the consumer the need to prepare shopping lists, remember which products to buy, and go to the trouble of doing everyday shopping. Products will flow to the household like a utility, as electricity and water do.
Although the article is a guideline on how marketing changes as a result of automated shopping, I could not get past the reference to shopping lists.

Every week, my wife prepares a list of purchase and sends it to me. Though I dread this list, it has become a part of my weekend ritual. I use this list to undertake the journey to the local grocer. The list is unstructured in many ways. Sometimes, I have to go to multiple stores to buy all the items. Most of the time, I go through a couple of passes in the grocery store as these items are arranged differently in the list and the store. To tell you the truth, I reorganize the list to ensure I take the shortest possible path in the grocery store. Don't be surprised. Blame it on the no man's land created by efficiency and obsessiveness.

Considering the never-ending struggles with the weekend shopping, I should be happy to see the obsolescence of shopping lists. Strangely, it makes me sad. As a result of automation, my worth to the family has come out. They do not need me for getting the groceries. What is my contribution once the automatons take over? What would I do with all the free time? My head is spinning.

Photo Courtesy: Bruce Turner

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Buying a watch is not as easy as you think

The story unfolds in a picturesque country. The country was created in a tiny space set up by three bordering countries namely France, Germany, and Italy. Had these three countries come any closer than they have due geopolitical reasons, our story would have happened elsewhere. The country in question is not only known for romantic destinations but also for punctuality. It may be because of this trait of these countrymen that they are also makers of the finest devices to ensure timeliness. If you haven't guessed the country yet, let me spell it out for you. I am talking about Switzerland and their watches.

If you are planning to bring a watch as a souvenir from your Swiss visit, then you need to listen to this story. In like Flynn. So you may think. But the reality is anywhere near that phrase. As usual, the protagonist of this story is not me. I wish I were leading an exciting life like all my friends who have been part of this blog. The truth is my friends live a more colorful life.  The story features my friend who lived in Switzerland. We wish to go there for a vacation, but my friend has lived there. Hopefully, my earlier point about my friends makes sense now. On a fateful day, my friend decides to shop for a watch.

My blissfully ignorant friend walks into a store selling watches. My friend's goal was to buy a watch. My friend was puzzled that none of the watches on display features price tags. He disregarded the warning bells, attributes this strange phenomenon to something Swiss, and steps into the shop. A friendly store assistant greeted him. The store assistant sat with my friend and patiently understood the requirements of the watch right from the color to the size of my friend's hands. At the end of the interaction, my friend was eager to try the watch. But the store assistant asked him to wait as they have to make the watch for my friend to his specifications. The total cost was a 5 figure number. My friend was quiet about his initial reaction on hearing the price. But he went silent at this point while recounting the story. If he was reminiscing, his facial expression was so painful that I didn't want to pursue further down this road.

To quickly escape, my friend said he was on vacation and hence couldn't wait for the watch. The store assistant assured him not to worry as they deliver the item anywhere in the world. Sometimes, the businesses take the word customer-friendly very seriously. At this point, he paused again. He refused to divulge more information. I am not sure how he came out of this predicament. But I am confident he didn't buy the watch because he was not wearing a Swiss watch when he was talking to me.

Photo Courtesy: Blake Buettner

A gift which cannot be used

There is always a leaving do whenever someone resigns or retires from an organization. Leaving dos are always associated with parties and gifts. Under normal circumstances, both are to be cherished. There might be extreme cases to the left and the right of the spectrum. Recently a friend narrated an interesting incident.

A colleague of my friend was leaving the organization. As a result,  there were two gifts presented to the co-worker. The first was an iPad Mini. It is a fitting gesture. The second one was a pen. Once the pen was handed over, they instructed. Do not write with this pen.

At this point, my friend was taken aback just like us. Why would you gift a pen and request not to use it? It doesn't make any sense. So they explained. This pen is a gift. This pen is not for writing. This pen is for passing it over to your next generation. So the pen moves down your bloodline.

I do not doubt my friend. But are there gifts like these? It is a lovely gesture of your friends and colleagues to give you a gift that doubles up as an inheritance for future generations.

Photo Courtesy: Kenneth Moyle

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pappettan on follower count

When a group of photographers met up, the conversation steered into Instagram. I was part of this group along with Pappettan. All of these photographers are already part of this social network and post regularly. As their photographs are exceptional, the count of followers of these photographers has been gradually increasing.

Photographer 1: *excited* I posted the pic from last week's trip.  And do you know what happened?

Rest of us: *disinterested*

Photographer 1: *ignores and continues* The gorgeous actress from the recently successful crime drama followed me on Instagram.

He shows the star's handle listed as a follower of his Instagram account

Rest of us: *hiding our jealousy and nods*

Pappettan: *after a brief pause* So what? Look at the photographer 2

Photographer 2: *suddenly wakes up and looking suspiciously at Pappettan*

Pappettan: *continues with a sly smile* This actress is only following you on Instagram. His wife is following him everywhere!

Photo Courtesy: Patrik Nygren

Monday, October 10, 2016

All of us are not made equal

Some of the motivational quotes tell us we are made equal. It is upon us on how to achieve greatness. Are we created equal? Philosophy and religion may say this. Today I was watching a gymnastic class for kids. After looking at a bunch of kids performing acrobatics, I have come to the conclusion that philosophy and religion may not be right.

Kids are an enthusiastic crowd. During the gymnastics class, they were divided into various groups depending on their skill levels. They were given the same kind of exercises with differing difficulty levels for the different groups. It was fun to watch the kids perform these activities. In one of the exercises, they have to run, jump up a raised platform, place their hands on the platform and then perform a somersault. There were some experts in the group. For most of them, it was improvisation, and that is when I realized not all are made equal.

There is an element which marks the kids apart from the crowd. They may be able to do this seemingly difficult task. But one factor makes all the difference. Grace. During the learning phase, some kids recover from failure gracefully. They not only recover but also perform the act with grace when successful. You can learn grace. It is an acquired skill. But some of us are born with grace. Of course, they are at an advantage in everything.

Photo Courtesy: Malingering

Sunday, October 2, 2016

0 to 10K: Final Transformation

Author's Note: This is the final of a three part series.

You can find the other parts using the following links.
0 to 10k: The desire to rise
0 to 10k: Finishing 5K

During the fifth week of the "Couch to 5K program", I started pain in my shins. I had decided to spend as little as possible to cross the 5K barrier. As a result, I had not bought a new pair of shoes. Instead, I was running in an old pair of shoes. When I reached the fifth week, I was sure this time was going to be different, and I will be completing the program. I have been running three times a week despite my frequent official trips.

When I shared my pain with a friend, he immediately narrowed the problem to the shoes. My friend who participated and completed the marathon had insisted that the shoes are the most important thing for a runner. I had conveniently ignored the advice. As I could not stall expenses forever, I visited the Sweat Shop, underwent a gait analysis and walked out with a new pair of shoes. The pain in my shins vanished with the new pair of shoes.

To maintain my interest, I had initially chosen three different routes for the three runs in a week. As I ran longer, two routes proved difficult because of busy roads and frequent interruptions due to traffic light. I decided to use the on the road leading the to the University of Reading There was a busy intersection, but it cleared out fast. Then there is a lot of activity at the University. There are fellow runners, people playing various sports and students walking inside the University. When I finally ran five kilometers, I was circling the football field twice before leaving the University towards the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Soon, this route became repetitive, and the motivation levels went down.

I decided to change the route. I ventured out of the University and circled it from the outside to arrive at the Cemetery Junction. I realized I was covering more than seven kilometers this way. I became more emboldened. Instead of returning home from Cemetery Junction, I went inside Reading City Center before returning home. Very soon, I was circling the University, going inside the Reading Center from the east, proceeding to the west and then returning home. I was circling the University and also the Reading City Center now. I was also running 10 kilometers by doing so. 

My joy had no bounds. I was doing 10 kilometers in one run. I performed this feat at least once a week. This achievement was the second good thing to happen. A few weeks before this feat, I had gone in for a second health check. The doctor was happy with my lifestyle changes were working out. 

Nothing is impossible. We learned it as children. But I have abandoned these learning while growing up. As far as running is concerned, I have undergone many humiliations by consistently underperforming. I am not sure if underperforming is the right word for finishing last. So being able to run ten kilometers reaffirmed the learning. When I finally accomplished this feat, my confidence also increased manifold. It did not transform my body into that of a Roman God. But my mind underwent a transformation. There are no impossible tasks. There are only tasks which you are either interested to do or not interested in doing. 

Photo Courtesy: Petr & Bara Ruzicka
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