22 March 2017

What airport am I in? #7

I was waiting for my team mate Bob Hickey to land from another flight. In the meanwhile, I took it upon myself to esplore the airport. And it is then that I came across this beautiful piece of art.

This sculpture is 25 feet tall and made in 1984. The artist is Roy Lichtenstein. Entitled “Brushstrokes in Flight”, the sculpture was thought to arrange some brush strokes to evoke the sense of flight.

Which airport am I in?

21 March 2017

The World Happiness Report is out!

The Top ten countries are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

Apparently, to be very happy, you need to live in shivering cold 🙂

India (my birth country) is at rank #122. Its arch nemesis Pakistan is #80 and every other (much smaller) neighbor – Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and get this – Myanmar – has outranked it. Upon reading this, India slipped further 3 ranks this morning 🙂

Finally, there is a curious correlation between per capita alcohol consumption and happiness index. I am not suggesting any causality. Just saying 🙂

For serious readers who want to read the article and how the indices are measured… here it is… http://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17_3-20-17.pdf

20 March 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Orange bloom

This cocktail is made with Cointreau, Sweet Vermouth and Gin. I, of course, experimented with the German Gin – Monkey 47. So that cocktail was pretty much a concoction of a German alcohol, a French liqueur and an Italian liqueur. Should have had an Alpine name!

While the cocktail itself was great – especially for anybody who likes orange, the Monkey 47 struggled mightily trying to stay above the strong orange nose and finish from the Cointreau. I am more or less convinced that Monkey 47 is so complex, it is best taken straight up (or on the rocks). I would not even bother it with tonic water.

19 March 2017

Unix scripting for a couple of hours… Friendship scripted for a whole life

The year was 1997. I was running a development team. Those start-up days, we often put the new entrants in Consulting Services team to test our software (which, if I may suggest, needed a lot of testing :-); did I mention I was running the development team? 🙂 ). One particular time, we were having a rather difficult time recreating a crash. And as you may know, without a core dump those days, we had very little ability to fix hard to trace bugs.

The plans was to have a full team of consulting services team keep hitting the same sequence of keys till somebody’s version crashed. That night, I was going around the building at the dead of night checking if anybody was still in the office. There was one, very young guy sitting in a corner and looked like he was trying to read something on his terminal.

“Hi, My name is Rajib. What are you doing so late at night?”, I introduced myself.
“I am Kwok Poon. I just joined in consulting services.”
“Very good. I am in development. So, what are you doing so late, though?”
“You are in development?”, I asked, ignoring my question.
“What is scripting? Can you teach me how to write scripts?”

Now, mind you, this was way back in 1997. He was talking about Unix scripts.

For a moment, I scratched my head and asked “Sure. I am not the best. But I can teach you enough. Now or tomorrow?”.

“Can we do now?”

I glanced my watch. It was 1:30 AM. Sharmila was going to be totally asleep. What the heck. I sat down and for about a couple of hours gave hime some pointers on scripts and most importantly taught him “man” (the manual in Unix where you can get all the help 🙂 – which I was incessantly going to 🙂 ).

While he was picking up at lightning speed, I still was dog tired after a couple of hours. 
“Should we go now?”, I asked.

“You go ahead, I am going to try a little more”.

Next day, when I came to office, I remember meeting Willie – the head of consulting services and mentioning that there is a young Chinese employee in his group that might make a good name for himself. His intellectual curiosity and sharpness was something to be envious of. That is when Willie told me – “I know. He has automated most of the tests for your development folks. Somebody from your team taught him how to write Unix scripts”. I am not sure I ever told Willie who it was. (I was certainly afraid that a system crash by an errant script code might point back to me 🙂 )

But I absolutely narrated that story to Kwok as the experience I will always remember him by when I met him for breakfast last week in California. I was glad to know that he remembered that night too! I was good seeing him after so many years!!

He was so super sharp that he was soon shipped off to some of our toughest customers with very complex supply chain problems – first to Japan, then Korea, then Singapore, then Taiwan and then Hong Kong. (I might have the sequence of the last four countries wrong). I do remember meeting him once when I was visiting our Hong Kong office.

There was so much to catch up on when I met him this week. Being in the Bay area, it does not take much to guess that he has been with some very successful startups and continues with his entrepreneurial zeal. I found out that he married somebody in Taiwan that he had met in Dallas! That is a story for another day!

I certainly have had the fortune of meeting very sharp people in my life. Some very curious people. And some very humble people. Not too many put it in a package like Kwok has! Always great to have been touched by people like him in my life journey!

19 March 2017

Meeting a classmate after 26 years

The last time I saw Sunita – my MBA classmate – was in March, 1991. I think she was running for an interview, all smartly and formally dressed up – during those last days of our MBA school when all the students were singlemindedly determined to ace their on-campus interviews.

I did not go back for the convocation or for the two get togethers that had been arranged by our group. That Sunita lived in San Francisco is something I had found out only a few years back. Even that, it was her husband – Ganapati – who was my senior from Engineering school that I had traced. And then remembered that he got married to Sunita.

I had about an hour between the customer meeting ending in San Fran and meeting one of our sales person that evening. That was enough for me to walk up to Wells Fargo building and call Sunita down to go for a cup of tea!!

She has remained pretty much the same way as I remember from 26 years back. Of course, now that she has a great job, she does not dress that formally any more 🙂

It was good to see an old classmate and catch up on her life journey!!!

19 March 2017

Of coding, soccer and getting even with HR!!

It was towards the end of the last century. I was in a startup company that, in spite of me, was doing extremely well. Commensurate with a small company experiencing astronomical growth, we never had enough people and work days used to be excessively long. I distinctly remember wrapping up work around 1:30 am and be home around 2 am almost every single day. If not anything, I used to hang around till every developer left. Not that I was too much of a help in writing code – which explains how I became a development manager – but at least I was there for some moral support.

I also remember that one of my practices before heading to the parking lot was to check into all the rooms in the two floor building to see if anybody from any of the other teams were still working. Invariably – and I mean without any exception – there would be one guy sitting at this desk pounding away at the keyboard. He was always in his soccer clothes – including the cleats. And always had a soccer ball next to him. He was the development manager of another team and he liked his work as much as he liked soccer and would always put in a soccer game in the evening before coming back to office. And he played at a very highly competitive level.

During my business trip last week, one evening, when I finally caught up with that gentleman – Glen Jones, I was a little surprised to see him very visibly limping. Not knowing what had happened to him during the years that I had not seen him, I was, of course, a little worried. Sure enough, there was no need to be. He still plays soccer very regularly and had a temporary hip muscle pull from previous day’s game.

Over dinner, it was very fulfilling to catch up with Glen and his life journey. In fact, we remembered the day when Mark Whipple, Sharmila, he and myself had met one late night at a bar up there in the mountains outside Denver. (I was vacationing with my family much further out – but Sharmila and I had driven down to meet Glen and Mark – both of them used to live in the Evergreen area).

Glen had a very funny story for me. In those start up days, we used to have a very strict discipline around coding. If you ever broke the build (by checking in incompatible code before doing a system wide test locally) during the automated run any night, there would be a hangman noose in front of your door to shame you. Those days, we never thought anything more of it.

Later in life, Glen worked for a very large company. And let’s just say the developers were not exactly as disciplined. And Glen brought in the practice of hanging the hangman noose. Let me remind you – this was a very large company.

Soon, corporate HR was at his door giving him some stern lectures on sensitivities and all that. He told me about how he remembered distinctly about being pulled up by the HR lady.

“What did you do?”, I asked.
“What could I do? I just kept quiet”.
“Later in life did you folks in your team ever have a laugh over it?”
“No, but I got even with the corporate HR lady”.
“You got even with the HR lady? HOW????”

I almost snorted out my bourbon when he nonchalantly said “Oh! I married her”!!

It was a memorable evening!!

19 March 2017

From the bartender’s corner – Gin #6: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

This is definitely one of the costlier gins – if not the costliest. For a bottle half the size (375ml), you pay about twice the price of normal gin bottles. It is also one of the few German gins. This also has the distinction of having the largest number of botanicals in the gin. 47, to be precise. That explains the “47” part of the name. (It has nothing to do with the ABV content of 47% – 94 proof; that is a mere coincidence).

To get to the other part of the name – “Monkey” – one has to go back to 1945. The Second World War had just come to end. An Indian born, British Royal Air Force Commander – Commander Collins was sent to divided Berlin to overlook reconstruction. At that time, he had adopted an egret monkey in the Berlin Zoo called “Max”. Commander Collins created a new gin out of the botanicals he had learnt about in India and the ones available in the Black Forest area in Germany. He called it “Schwarzwald Dry Gin”. It was not very popular outside of the guesthouse that Collins owned.

Much later – in 2006, one distiller Alexander Stein discovered about the story and reconstructed the recipe. And then the name Monkey 47 was given – in deference to Commander Collins’ affinity for Max.

This gin is made by Black Forest Distillers in South West part of Germany not too far from the French border.

The gin itself is extremely complex. Here is another unique trait of this gin. The base alcohol is made from molasses. I had it straight up today. The nose is very rich – thanks to all those botanicals. The juniper, rose and lavender is very distinct. To the palate, initially it was all mint and juniper. As time went though, you could detect some more herbals – different berries, pepper and peppermint. Of 47 botanicals, I was probably able to detect no more than six or seven. The finish was strong in citrus.

If you have tried different kinds of gins, you may want to try this. If you have not, this may not be a good buy. For one, it is too pricey for no good reason. For another, my guess is if you use it for a cocktail, you cannot find much difference between this and Nolets or even a Vivacity. Unless you have a far superior ability to detect small traces of other herbals.

18 March 2017

My nephew – the web page builder!!

When I call my brother in the evening (for him) pretty much everyday, usually the nephews are busy studying and we never get to talk. But their exams are over now and they are headed to the next grade. When I called my brother up today, he did not even get a chance to pick his phone up. The younger one quickly answered the phone – “Jethu?” (That is what they call me). And for about twenty minutes we chatted. This is the ten year old.

He could barely contain his excitement while narrating to me that he had solved the Rubik’s cube. And then for good measure, raised his voice and let me also know that his elder brother cannot even get one layer done correctly. It turns out that after exams got over, he brought out the cube I had given him three months back when I went to visit my parents and had finally gotten the better of it. Per my brother, he is somewhat of an annoyance now – going around asking people to jumble up the cube for him!

“I timed myself. My best is 3 minutes, 25 seconds and 67 milliseconds”, he declared! Barely trying to conceal my laughter, I asked “67 milliseconds? Why the milliseconds?”. For once he was stumped. He was not too sure why the milliseconds. Finally he blurted out – “That is what the phone said”. Encouraging him to shave off the milliseconds in his next try, I asked him to give the phone to his thirteen year old brother.

That ensued some more fun. The elder nephew straightaway complained that his website still says he is nine years old and that I needed to fix it. A little background here – I have websites for all my nephews and nieces (which is basically their names dot com) and then every time I go to India, when I see something they have created – mostly drawings, paintings etc – I take pictures of them and put it up on the website. I hope someday many decades later, they can use the website to remember their early childhood, the times they spent with me and show them to their next generation.

Now, while I update their pages with their creations, frankly I never go to the “About Me” page. So, it usually stays there unedited for years. And I suspect some friend of his went to his website and pointed out that he is still nine years old. And that is what the complaint was all about.

While on the phone, I went to his website quickly – and it indeed said “Welcome to my page. I am 9 years old – so it will take me a little time to build my website. My uncle (“J2″) is helping me with this”.

Since their exams were over, I proposed that I teach him how to maintain his own page. That way he did not have to be dependent on me and he could control whatever was written there. He was thrilled at the idea but was also mighty scared that he might mess up the whole thing that I had created. I told him not to worry and that we will start small. We will start only by changing “9” to “13”.

After forty minutes of conversation with the two nephews together, I shot an email to my brother with instructions for my elder nephew on how to edit his “About Me” page.

An hour later, after dropping off Natasha at the security line at the airport (spring break is over for NYU), I was walking back to my car when out of curiosity, I checked to see if the nephew had made the change. He was genuinely scared of messing up the whole website after all.

I had to stop in my tracks and laugh my head off when I saw what he had done. It appeared that not only had he changed the number from 9 to 13, he took suitable amount of umbrage at the line that followed – which said it will take a little time to build out the site. He obviously did not want to make any large changes – he was so scared. But his self-righteousness also did not let him let the sentence lie as is. So, he made a small change to convey to the world his self-confidence in managing his website. But no larger a change than was absolutely necessary.

If you go to www.nirbanroy.com and press About Me – instead of “I am 9 years old – so it will take me a little time to build my website.”, now it says “I am 13 years old – so it will take me no time to build my website”.

I smiled the entire drive back thinking thru what must have gone thru his head and how he has absolutely overachieved his goal!!!

Decades later, I hope to show him this blog entry in my website so both of us can laugh at it together!!!