Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A long long time

Good morning! After a long, lethargic break, i am, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenneger, "Back!" Back to blogging, and back to seva.

SO i have been looking out for product marketing jobs lately, and my MBA almost done. And i Have been having a lot of fun after completing most of my course work. As in Shrek III, "I didn't realize what I was missing until i lost it." Coming back to seva feels like that...a breath of fresh air and life again.

A lot of buzz for the Guru Purnima happening in Hartford. I am handling the facebook marketing and am hoping to have something up and running by tomorrow. Lots of organizing work happening here.

Going through the MBA I had ups and downs, and realized how many things can go wrong and how fortunate i am to have the umbrella of Grace and love that Guruji has provided. More soon. JGD!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Time For Praise

I just love understanding people's drives. So far i focused on the lows of being here, but some praise for the wonderful values i have observed among people here:

1. Focus - Individuals here can spend their lifetimes in pursuit of what they choose to excel in. This tendency is even more pronounced with the Japanese. It is not unheard of having say, coders, who wrote code for 15 years and would love to continue writing code for the rest of their career. Integrity is a very important trait, in that even in day to day communication people are sincere and speak their mind honestly. When one says that he/she likes something, it means he/she is really informed about it, and driven to excel in the field.

2. Action Oriented - People talk and think in terms of solving problems and actions to take rather than in getting stuck. Excuses have no place, either you do something or you don't do it. When stuck in a situation, people try to think of ways of solving it themselves rather than relying on outside help. To note, human labor is very expensive in the US. This may be a reason.

3. Planning - People do their best to be on time. Things should work as planned. People spend a lot of time planning to cover all eventualities and then go all out to fulfill the plan on schedule.

4. Competence - This ties in with 1. One needs to demonstrate competence, and concern. I haven't heard too many of my American friends apologize as profusely as we do in India simply because accidents are not meant to happen.

5. Friendliness - If you are doing something well, people will take potshots at you. Take it in your stride. Have a sense of humor. Skilfully and confidently being with people and allowing them to point your mistakes.

6. Confidence - already covered

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More reflections and personal opinions

The MBA has brought plenty of learnings this far - in terms of working with people here, in terms of understanding my personal strengths and opportunities and in having fun. Some observations that i admire about people here, and some things that i find strange.

My classmates are very results-driven and pragmatic. In typical meetings, every person comes informed and with an attitude of finishing the work right then. There's very little time wasted in explaining or reexamining concepts which have been covered in the assigned reading. My colleagues are interpretive and grasp the concepts needed to get the job done very quickly. Also, they communicate very efficiently, talking facts and solutions. People expect that you are credible and that you mean what you say or hint at. You would be held liable for what you speak. Their listening skills are strong, and people are quick at grasping the slant or implications of the sentences.

From what i have observed, this probably comes from a culture of reading and of implementing ideas. Even when having fun, my friends would have theme parties or play games, all requiring a fairly good grasp of rules. Reading definitely helps sharpen the intellect. Plus this is a culture of confidence where a high premium is put on one's accomplishments and skills, rather than on wealth and social status. I have rarely seen Americans hesitate or talk unclearly, even the not so educated ones. People articulate their ideas and opinions confidently, and often politely. A person is rarely blamed openly, but mostly within confined circles. If something is wrong, nobody would point it out to you, unless they are close friends, and then you would be expected to find a way out of the mess. If people sense that you are not going to improve, then you are excommunicated. One has to be very discrete in expressing personal judgements or opinions and careful about the audience. Courtesies are not as important, but people expect sincerity and a willingness to work and deliver results and to collaborate with them. If all these rules can be observed, you would notice that MBAs are very friendly people :)

The culture is an open culture. As a good friend had pointed out to me once, children here are raised to believe they are superstars and have little restrictions imposed upon them. On the flipside, every person is responsible for his/her own life from a very young age and people start working towards making a mark for themselves from a very young age. Competition is a part of the culture, and people's aim in life seems to expand their personal capabilities to the maximum. Relationships, marriages and other social institutions are considered secondary to this goal. Hence the problems. If you fail, or get weak or screw up, its game over - you lose your 'friends', who are not expected to help you get your act together in the first place. So people lose everything and sometimes they get it all back. Hence, the high stress in society and the fear. People resort to marijuana, to alcohol and to other recreational drugs to 'lose' reality sometimes. It has become such an ingrained part of culture, that the line between dependence and between doing these for fun is blurred. College is supposed to be a phase in a young man/woman's life to have as much 'fun - as many outings and trips and activities and friends and sex and booze as possible. Everything is governed by the WIIFM principle - whats in it for me. It is assumed that selfishness is a person's nature and a person works towards his or her enjoyment, trying to create a personal world perfect with their personal vision of how people, situations and objects should be. However, a lot of respect is accorded a person who gives back to society. The rule for success is get successful first, take care of people and society after that.

This is some of what i have surmised so far from my interactions. Of course, I attend college and hence deal with a more informed, more purposeful group than the general populace, as my friends tell me. Of course a lot of rings close to the stereotypical image we have of the American society but seeing it at the ground level reveals many subtle nuances and differences. Lets see what discoveries the future brings.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Project Natal and jumping the Fourth Wall

Video Games loom over other forms of entertainment in a significant way, they are much less bound by the fourth wall – the distance between the actors and the audience. Though most video games have grandiose themes - where players typically command gargantuan armies and civilizations, create cities, wield cutting edge weaponry, perform cool stunts beyond the Matrix, or rock the bejesus out of thousands of screaming fans – their success largely depends on how much can they engage and immerse the player. Video game designers employ many techniques to this end – from improving the realism of animation effects, to using atmospheric sounds, to incorporating engaging, emotional storylines with top notch voice acting (like David Hayter’s gravelly Solid Snake in the Metal Gear series).

The Wii commercialized a revolutionary idea of engaging the audience, letting them control the

character on screen through physical gestures instead of mashing buttons on a controller. However, players still depended on a “Wii-mote” to communicate with the console, and hence the range of motions was limited to simplistic arm gestures. Microsoft’s Project Natal is a bold new step forward in immersing the player physically into the game world.

The technology behind the Natal relies on a simple monochrome camera to capture a player’s motions. Though not as advanced as the motion-capture cameras used by films, it claims to reflect most player actions within 10 milliseconds and to recognize any object introduced before the camera within 160 ms. A 3d projector captures the player’s body motion, without any needs for sensors or physical attachments, The motion is compared to a database of human physiology to determine the movement and translate that onto the screen action. IGN has posted an interesting video presentation from the Consumer Electronics Show which can be seen here.

The implications of the technology are immense. It could be an engaging, fun solution to couch potatos’ weight woes and bring fitness into the living room. It could be employed to operate computers and other devices via gestures. It is a step forward in technology’s transition towards gesture and voice driven operations, reminiscent of Pranav Mistry’s exciting TED talk. Gaming is in for exciting times ahead.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

College Champions of 2009

Early in summer, I heard from my MBA friends on how exciting the remaining year was going to be, once the gators start their defensive campaign of our football title. At that time, they were excited about a game i did not understand, and a team whom i was only begining to feel kinship towards. The football season started and i learnt and understood the strange game and our decorated team better, often at the expense of my MBA friends' viewing pleasure, who patiently explained the basics of the game in the middle of exciting moments. But i learnt, and i enjoyed every contest more and more. We were invincible in the Swamp, our state-of-the-art stadium - "Where only gators get out alive". We had been unbeaten here for a long long time, and though we had scares in one game during the season, that record was never really under threat. The Gators finished their season unbeaten. So did Alabama and Texas, and the other conferences came to a close. The showdowns were imminent.

A month before our SEC final, i read an article in Sports Illustrated that moved me. It had to do with a tough junior with a big heart who had grown up in the shadow of his father and loved him. That father was in prison, the kid would understandably have had emotional difficulties to cope with. Yet, he continued to rush headlong through fearsome, intense defences towards end zone salvation. He had the speed of a panther, the agility of a gazelle, the toughness of a rhino and the focus and will of a champion. And at the end, it was that will, above all else that led him to rewrite college football history at its greatest stage.

Mark Ingram Jr became the first player from the hallowed University of Alabama footballing tradition to win the Heisman, the pinnacle of achievement for an athlete in college football. He rose to the trophy on the wave he had unleashed against our Florida team, tearing through our defenses, unstoppable. It was both fearsome and beautiful to watch him in action (check youtube for clips). But that game only set the stage for a bigger clash. A clash in which he became only the second player in college history to win the Heisman and the championship in the same year.

Fittingly, the finals of the BCS championship, played out before 94000 fans in Pasadena, California, was a titanic struggle of muscle and will between the top two teams in the country, the Texas Longhorns and the Crimson Tide.

The Longhorns were handicapped early when their Heisman probable, Colt McCoy injured his shoulder and was sidelined. Yet they fought furiously, riding on a seemingly impregnable defense. McElroy, who was toying with Florida's defenses was sacked again and again and seemed clueless. However, the Alabama defense fought fire with fire, snatching initiatives away from the Texas offense. The first half advantage enjoyed by the Crimson Tide was reduced to a 3 point lead, thanks to two superb passes by Texas' freshman QB. Yet it was a sack on him, Garett Gilbert, that sealed Texas' fate late in the fourth quarter. The ball flew out of his hand, and the Alabama defense pounced on it for a turnover on the field goal line. Mark Ingram, out with a cramp and injured calves, returned to the fray. He went down the first time. On second down, he made an incredible scramble to the end zone and put Alabama up for good. 31-21. Game Over Texas. The Tide had swept the valiant Longhorns.

It was an unforgettable contest and has left me looking forward to next year's bowls.