17 February 2018

Where did that come from – a “checkmark”?

Have you noticed how in many forms and applications, you use the “checkmark” symbol to say “Yes”? It is often called – and I remember in India that is what we used to call – a “tick” mark in other parts of the world. Some of you growing up in India, probably also remember the “tick” mark on your answer sheet that the teacher used to put if you got the answer right and a big “X” if you got it wrong.

Almost universally, that “check” is used to say Yes and the “X” is used to say No. There are exceptions though. In many forms in US – in general when it is a multiple choice question – for example the US customs form, you put in a “X” to mark the correct option. Also in certain places like Sweden and Korea the check mark stands for “No” or “False”.

The question is – why do we say “Yes” or “True” with that weird character – one short stroke from left to right downwards first and then a longer stroke upwards left to right next. Turns out there is a very interesting history of this symbol. It goes way back to the Roman Empire.

In the Roman Empire, when voting, citizens would put a “V” sign against the candidate that they chose. The “V” stood for the latin word “veritas” – mean “true” or “affirm”. (Remember “In Vino, Veritas” – in wine lies the truth?). This “V” symbol took a life of its own as it got used over a long period of time.

So, how did we get to the short line on the left? Well, for that we have to blame fountain pens. Or rather the pre-cursor to fountain pens – the “reservoir pens”. While “dip” pens (like the quill pens) were simply dipped into ink and then written, the “reservoir” pens held ink inside of it (like a modern day fountain pen). References to these kind of pens go back earlier than the 10th century. I understand Leonardo da Vinci used to use a form of this pen too.

In any case, while this design took away the need to carry ink with you all the time (which was clumsy at best), the modern day engineering advances of nibs was still not available. The flow from the barrel of ink inside to the tip of the nib outside was not very smooth. If you wrote with those pens, for the first fraction of a second, you would not have any ink (the nib tip would have dried) but momentarily the ink would start flowing in (as the capillary action set in). This is what will happen to a modern day fountain pen too if you have not used it for some time resulting in dry ink in the nib. That is why often, after pouring ink in, you draw a lot of straight lines on a piece of paper till the ink starts flowing.

Well, so, every time, they wrote a big “V” to ascertain their choice and opinion, the top of the left line (which is where you start) would not get marked since the ink would have not pushed thru the dry portion of the nib yet. But moment it came in, the rest of the letter would be fine.

Over the years, all those “V”s in elections and other choices, tended to have a short left line and then eventually, it became a symbol unto itself – which is today known as a “check” mark or a “tick” mark!

16 February 2018

A sub chapter in my life that I almost forgot to write about

As you know, I spend a lot of time on the road for work which means many an evening is spent grabbing a quick dinner sitting at the bar. And the days I am not traveling, usually Sharmila and I go out and get a drink. A common theme in all these settings is that I make friends with the guy or the girl behind the bar and get to know about their life stories.

There is an interesting pattern there. Try it out yourself if you do not believe me. More often than not, it would be a young person in her or his twenties. They would have invariably finished their high school. After that either they could not afford college or are working at a bar to earn money to some day go to college. I know of kids (and I consider twenty year olds – kids) for whom a few thousand dollars is the difference between going to college or not going to college.

A few months back, at the urging of a friend of mine – Aaron, I attended a breakfast meeting of YearUp.org. I had some familiarity with this organization from one of my prior jobs. I would recommend that you read up on them – what they do and all that if you live in the US. In short, they take kids who are done with high school and try to give them a “break” into the corporate world.

Money is not the only issue with the kids. Professional skillsets is also not the only other issue. Most of them do not have the background or exposure to present themselves. They have a hard time writing a reasonably good resume. Because they have no understanding of what corporate America thinks is a “good resume”. They have little to no interviewing skills in a corporate set up. Most of them would not even know how to talk to an executive for a few minutes.

That is what YearUp tries to solve for. They try to give those kids some professional skills and a lot more of the soft skills and try to engage other corporations to give them an opportunity at an internship for six months. In all, as the name suggests, the full program is for a year.

But there is a catch. They have strict rules for the students. No cuss words. Always formally dressed. Always carry a resume. Never be late…. If you play by the rules, the year is free to you. If you get demerits, you are thrown out of the program. Lest you think these are easy… I want to remind you that most of the students can not afford cars. One of my students takes a bus, then a train, switches to another train and then a bus again – a two and a half hour ordeal EACH WAY to go to his internship place. And he cannot afford to be late as long as he wishes to stay in the program.

In any case, late last year, I enrolled myself to give my time to the cause. I came in mid stream but a few folks – like Amrutha and Carla – were very helpful in getting me inducted. I was assigned twelve students. I have to tell you – all of them have incredibly humble beginnings – one girl pushes disabled people in wheelchairs at our airport, one girl worked in the catering section of a local racetrack, one guy mows lawns, one guy worked at the backend of a local retail store… but their determination to be successful someday is jaw dropping to me. I certainly had a humble beginning myself – but nowhere near these folks. My parents gave up a lot in their lives but they always paid to make sure we got college done – even if they had to borrow money. And yet, these kids while not having that advantage, has more determination than I ever had.

Ever since last November, I have been spending one on one time with these new friends of mine helping them understand how to present themselves in a corporate environment, how to behave in a corporate environment, how to write resumes, how to interview, how to think about careers and all that good stuff. I am thrilled to say that due to the efforts of Yearup, six of my twelve kids have scored jobs in the last two weeks. I am still working with the other six.

If not anything else, I would ask you to just go to Yearup’s website and read up about them. They just want to create opportunities. They certainly created a few for me. Who knows? Someday you might create some opportunities for a few of their kids too!!

P.S. In the picture, I am addressing a larger set of students giving them my thoughts on how to work with recruiters …

16 February 2018

The Bhaduris of Knoxville

My final stop in Knoxville was to visit the Bhaduris at their house. Lots of memories from the past when the three families – theirs, ours and the Mukherjees used to get together and the kids were young. Now, two of those are in college already and one more threatening to do so in a few months!!

Too many hilarious moments from the past to out together in one post. It was great to see that Budhendra’s legendary sense of humor is still intact! I am sure Anusuya and Amitesh will remember the “chhipi” moment!! We also reminisced how the three wives – Arpita, Sharmila and Anusuya had settled on a 5K race training plan way back in Dec 2010. Out of curiosity, I had checked their chosen training regime to find that the very first day said “Take Rest” 🙂 :- ) I kid you not!!

Budhendra is absolutely the kids’ favorite uncle. Both of mine had learnt fishing and boogie boarding from him and they are hooked on to it now!!

It was great to see Budhendra, Arpita and the twin brothers!!

For the ones who are surprised to see us drinking coffee – that surprise is understandable. Actually, last evening we chatted so much over quite a bit of wine that I forgot to take the picture. I had to make amends this morning!!

15 February 2018

For the record…

… if you ever find me someday teaching high school students or even middle school students – specifically Maths and/or Physics – you can certainly hold the lady on my right responsible for transgression 🙂

I was in Knoxville for a couple of meetings. Swung by Nivedita-di and Ranjan-da’s house for the first time ever. I am totally glad that I did. The Gangulys are one of those couples that can be great friends with toddlers, teenagers, thirty somethings as well old folks like me with equal amount of ease and grace! Ranjan-da’s humor and passion for art (including some incredible cartoon drawings) is met and matched by Nivedita-di’s, poise, intellect and gravitas.

Ever a cheerleader of the Roy family, Nivedita-di and I actually discussed the possibility of me switching to teaching as I think thru what to do with my career when I get back to working again. I have to say with all due honesty that I am a wee bit tempted!!! Of course, there is always the worry of being the wrong model to highly impressionable kids…

14 February 2018

Checking in with the Pulijals

This was a very long standing promise that I finally got to keep. After almost 10 years!! I remember making that promise when Hari and Usha had visited Sharmila, the two young daughters and myself in our then-new home in Atlanta. I remember having a great time talking about everything and sundry. That meeting itself was after another ten years since I had visited them both in their house in Randolph, New Jersey.

Since I have some time these days in hand, I got into the car and pressed the gas after pointing the car in a generally north easterly direction from Atlanta. The idea being to catch up with some old friends. First stop was Roanoke, VA. Thoroughly enjoyed the solo trip. Took a lot of stops to enjoy the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Eventually showed up at the Pulijals’ abode around 7 PM. It was almost a throwback to that evening I spent at their Randolph house. Non stop chatting. We talked about our old colleagues from US and India, about the kids, about Usha’s passion for dancing, growing plants and trail walking and Hari teaching young kids yoga and Bhagwad Gita! I am not sure how we got there, but we also talked about the reverse osmosis process while softening water!!

It was just like the good old days!!

It took me quite some time to get to the promise I had made them that I would visit their then-new digs in Roanoke. Finally, I got around to it last night!!

Loved it!

9 February 2018

Puzzle time!!

Sitting at the motorbike center (bike getting serviced), I am bored enough to see if I can bore you with one more puzzle to get the weekend rolling ….

There is a contest to judge the smartest couple of them all. Teams of husbands and wives show up for the contest and are soon read out the rules…

Each couple will be taken to a separate room by two officials. Each room will have two tables in diagonally opposite corners. The couple will be separated in the room and asked to go sit at the two tables in the two corners with their backs to each other. From that distance, they will not be able hear or see what is going on in the other table. Under no circumstances can any of the couple utter any sound. If they do, they would be automatically disqualified. Next to each table sat one of the two officials.

The husband and the wife will be given a dice (all dice are perfect dice – one sixth probability for each side). At the sound of a large gong, they will independently roll their own dice on their own table. And note whether they have an even face up or an odd face up. (Odd means 1, 3 or 5). Now, on a piece of paper, each have to write what they think came up on the OTHER table – odd or even. Once both have written their guesses, the two officials will shout out what was written.

If at least one of them guessed correctly about the other table, they continue. If both got it wrong, they will be escorted out of the room and eliminated from the event.

The last couple standing (actually sitting at their tables 🙂 ) wins the event.

So those were the rules.

After all the rules were explained, the officials allowed each couple to talk for a few minutes in case they wanted to come up with a plan and then were escorted to their rooms for the competition to begin.

The smartest couple had devised a way such that they would always win. What strategy did they use?

Note that this is not a trick question like whispering or passing hand messages etc. They were really smart and came up with a way to never get escorted out.

If you know the answer / figured it out, please send me a personal message. I will respond there and also announce your name in the common forum.