Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Driving

So we are finally entering the part of the year when travel becomes more of a curse word than a pleasure. I have always been one who enjoys the journey almost as much as the destination but I can't ever admit to being one who enjoys some of the aggravations that occasionally pop up on the journeys. At this time of year one of the worst is holiday traffic. It always seems to me that at the time of year when most people are claiming to be at their happiest, they are their crabbiest when it comes to taking the road most travelled. I can't tell you the number of times I've been honked at or flipped off for doing nothing more than driving.

Now I'm not the type that purposely drives like a maniac with the intent of ticking someone off but what I think a lot of people do is assume that they are purposely being cut off or crowded on the road simply because. No other reason. Just because. I think all that happens is that at this time of year we expect there to be a lot of jerks on the roads and it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophesy. I mean think about it; how many times have you been on the road and when you're trying to merge into traffic you end up getting your openning in traffic blocked off by someone from behind. Or how many times has the rage built up in your mind when you're sitting waiting to make a left turn and the guy (or gal) in front of you is busy looking down and doesn't see that the light has turned green. You lean on the horn big time that time don't you?

Not that it isn't warranted sometimes but at others, just learn to relax rather than flip out. I know it's easier said than done but by flipping out, the wait isn't going to suddenly evaporate or delays won't suddenly clear up but at least you'll be of healthier mind and body if you don't let it get to you quite so much. I think one place I also would want to avoid this upcoming holiday season is the parking garage at the mall. I don't think I've seen a deadlier forms of combat this side of a war zone. People (and call me sexist), especially women, are probably among the most violent and vehement when it comes to parking disputes. I have seen grown women come close to blows just because they feel that they were denied a parking space. And half the time most of these women are little beings in huge gas-guzzling vehicles with loud horns. In such cases, no matter what you do you are sure to lose the arguement so the best thing to do is keep your head low or avoid the situation altogether.

I prefer the vast open surface parking at some malls. Sure it may be raining, or hailing or snowing but it doesn't matter. I would rather walk to the mall through horrid weather than sit stuck in a stream of cars waiting for someone at the head of the line who is waiting to turn into a parking space while a family with five kids, three strollers, thirty bags and two harassed parents is slowly trying to get their gear together and get in the car to get out of the mall parking lot. It's even worse when you realize that they aren't leaving and are just loading one batch of bags and are getting ready to go for another round of shopping. It's part and parcel of the season and though I dread it more and more frequently these days, I still enjoy some of the sights and sounds once I'm where I need to be.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time to Educate Parents

When gift-giving season arrives many parents are in a quandry as to what to get their kids. They often will spout off a list of games and such that they want and their parents will be left scratching their heads wondering how and where to get these games. These days there are plenty of places to get them whether it's in a traditional cash-and-carry type of store or online; in most cases you can't help but find the game unless it's very very very popular. But some parents aren't sure whether the games their kids want are appropriate for their children and it's up to certain Watchdog groups and others to make the decision for them. Unfortunately even with all the efforts being undertaken to 'protect' children from violence there is still disappointment on the parts of many parents that they aren't fully aware of what they gaming industry has been developing and that they are to blame for rising levels of violence.

Now having played through one of this year's most notorious games, Grand Theft Auto IV (GTAIV) I know that it is definitely not something I would want a young kid to play. Sure the graphics are great and it's got a great storyline but it's definitely something that will appeal to someone older and that's the game's target audience. I mean think about it; if you look at a lot of the movies that come out these days they are targeted at very specific audiences. Now a film like "Bolt" will definitely not be on the top ten list of most men's magazines because that's not the target audience. Maybe People magazine will have it listed but that's because it's the type of movie that is aimed at kids and younger people. How do you know? Well the ratings are a very big clue and though games are also rated in similar manners, many parents are still quick to blame the gaming industry.

I think most parents are aware of the ratings of movies and there are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure that only kids of the appropriate age get to see certain movies. Games have had ratings on them for a long time as well but that hasn't been enough. Then stores implemented policies in order to keep kids from purchasing age-inappropriate games without their consent and still there was outcry that this was not enough. Kids were still managing to play these games. Now I have been one who has always felt that parents are ultimately the ones who should have control over what their kids do and don't play or see. If they feel that strongly that their kids shouldn't be exposed to such levels of violence then it's their responsibility to take action to ensure that they aren't. Most of the ones making the complaints against the industry are those who usually didn't do enough and are making up for it after the fact.

They think it's the games and movies that are turning their kids violent but I'll tell you, the environment in which a kid is raised is also very much a reason behind how a kid behaves as well. If you live in a house where you're taught respect or the difference between doing something good or bad then chances are most kids will realize that games that portray violence are bad and though they will still want to play these games they won't wish to emulate the things they see in the games. If however they live in an environment where excess drinking or violence is a natural occurence, what difference does it ultimately make if they play a violent video game or not. They are probably already pre-disposed to being that way due to their life experiences. So if you're stuck in a store looking at games and trying to figure out what best to get your kids, do yourself a favor and relax, look at the ratings but look at your kids as well. You'll know whether they are ready for the game they want or not.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 24, 2008

Squeaking Out Another One

The play pictured to the left is probably one that will either mark the turning point to the Redskins season or be one of a handful of wonderful plays that could have combined to reflect on a wonderfully sine-waved season. The play was the fourth quarter interception by Shawn Springs that ensured that the Redskins would maintain posession of the ball and thereby keep their hopes alive for at least another week and getting that much closer to a playoff berth. By all accounts this should have been a game with an extremely high score and uneven competition but as it has been with every other game this season, the Redskins managed just enough to ensure victory.

Play this time was a bit better as Clinton Portis was able to get in the runs that had been missing last week against the Cowboys. It was able to pound through holes in the defense and gain significant yards (143 total rushing yards) in his efforts to help keep the team's ground game alive. There were lots of complaints last week over the fact that the ground game seemed to have been forgotten in lieu of wanting to reacquire the much-vaunted West Coast offense that Coach Jim Zorn was supposed to have implemented. Although there were some attempts at it last week, Sunday's game at Seattle was enough to stifle the critics (at least for a little while) over whether or not the team would even try to re-establish the balanced game they had had just a few weeks prior.

The second half surge by the Seahawks was enough to put most Redskins fans, including myself, on edge due to the fear that we were getting ready to witness yet another unfortunate turn of events that would lead to a late game scoring drive that would leave us well short of winning the game. On what would be Washington's (hopefully) final posession of the game, Jason Campbell (who also gained significant rushing yards this game) was steadily moving the team down the field after having started from their own three yard line. It seemed that despite the fact that Clinton Portis was on the sidelines after again aggravating his knees and sustaining some big hits the team would still be able to steamroll into the end zone for another score to clearly clinch the game in the final minutes. And then it happened.

Ladell Betts was bursting his way through the defense when suddenly the ball was torn from his hands and taken away by Seattle. There was no point in challenging it because it was in the final two minutes of the game. The sudden shift in momentum could have been disasterous as this was the same team that had defeated the Redskins in the playoffs the last two times and so it could have meant a sudden drop in morale that would have led to a score and thus improving Seattle's record to 3-9. It was not to be. The very first pass by Matt Hasselback was thrown just as Shawn Springs turned and Springs torqued his body at a seemingly impossible angle and grabbed the ball from Seattle effectively ending their hopes for a change.

It was a welcome homecoming for the team as Coach Zorn was returning for the first time since becoming head coach and running back Shaun Alexander was returning after being released by Seattle as well. After some disappointing losses in the playoffs to the Seahawks it was reassuring to come out and see the team win. However it still seemed as if the offensive line was collapsing faster that it should have and there were many times when Campbell was being rushed to make his pass. Still showing a lot of improvement over last week, there weren't as many sacks on Campbell allowed and thankfully the turnovers were few and far between. Now as we come into the home stretch of hte regular season we once again see the Redskins meeting up with the team that dealt them their first loss of the season, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. And though defeat is not a sure thing against this team, I keep hope alive in the fact that Tennessee was defeated quite badly by the Jets yesterday. Perhaps such a win is in the Redskins future too.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Airbags for the Auto Industry

Looking back in time it shouldn't be all that surprising that we find ourselves in the situation we're currently in with the American auto industry. Now I'm not going to argue as to whether or not it makes sense for Congress or the president (both incumbent and incoming) to do anything to 'bail out' the auto industry nor am I going to try to come up with solutions to it knowing fully well that even if I did come up with the end all be all solution to the dilemma, there are far too few people who would read this blog and then think it to be the idea that would save the auto industry. Heck I'm not even going to talk about what the deep driving reasons behind the collapse may be. I'm sure there are economic indicators but as a layman, I will point the finger at one thing that most certainly had some part of it. Ego.

Now the heads of the big three American automakers were in DC this week to request (cough cough... beg) for money from the government to keep the industry from collapsing as sales are suffering big time. It's all tied into the credit crisis that is affecting the entire country. Credit companies are going belly up due to the number of bad loans that were being passed around and now people are so freaked out about getting a loan for anything that they aren't buying cars. Plus, with fuel prices fluctuating as if they are on a see-saw most people are getting reluctant to even contemplate getting a non-fuel efficient car. And therein is part of the problem. How to build a car that is good enough for the family but is fuel efficient as well. The answer so far has been you can't.

So where does the ego come into this? Well if you think back about a decade ago you'll recall that minivans began picking up in popularity because it offered the cargo and family carrying capacity that most vans did but on a much smaller scale. Vans like what the A-Team or Scooby-Doo drove were just a bit too much for most people so they weren't as popular as they had once been. The minivan was the perfect answer. But the problem was that most guys had an issue with the minivan. It didn't quite go with our macho exterior so we were very reluctant to even consider finding ourselves behind the wheel of one. I remember that I sat in one as a kid was was thrilled that there was so much room in back but I also recall thinking that it was like sitting in a glorified school bus. For most men it became a sign of being a family man whose days of fast driving and fast living were long gone. So then what to do?

In comes the SUV craze. The Sport Utility Vehicle became the catchphrase of the late 20th Century and everyone could agree that it was a happy compromise for everyone. It offered good cargo capacity and it was macho. Most guys could feel comfortable in their male egoness by saying that they drove an SUV. You couldn't make the assumption that they were family men. You could assume either they had a family or did a lot of off-road driving in winter landscapes on the weekends. This was the illusion that was sold to a lot of us and we happily embraced it. So what if they were among the least fuel efficient cars on the road. If I wanted to drive an urban tank then that was my right wasn't it? Sure I would have to fill up fuel after sitting in traffic for five minutes but still, that didn't matter because it was way better than a minivan.

Move forward in time and as emissions standards changed and as fuel prices began their steady upward creep it became more apparent that something needed to be done. Now while most commercials will happily proclaim that their SUVs will get the highest mileage per gallon of any vehicle in its class, even the hybrids are only able to do as well as my Porsche. And I think that my Porsche is a hell of a lot more fun to drive and anyways, my priority is not for hauling a lot of people so why do I need a minivan or an SUV. So in spite of the fact that people were becoming more aware of the need for better mileage, Detroit continued to churn out cars that were still way behind in their fuel efficiency standards. I mean even Ferrari is starting to seriously look at developing high performance engines with great fuel efficiency. I know the American auto industry has been trying for a long time to get standards up to snuff but there has never been a sense of urgency because people continued to buy their cars despite everything else. Now that the industry is on the verge of going belly up, they realize the mess that their ego has gotten them into.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aggressive Expansion

I have worked around Dulles Airport for several years now and being an aviation nut and a person prone to staring at the planes as they approach the airport (or take off -- depending on the prevailing winds) I was well aware of the fact that the airport was finally getting around to completing construction on their third runway (as pictured in yellow in the picture to the left). The expansion is just one of three new runways being opened this week at airports around the country. New runways are also opening at two other high-traffic airports including Chicago's O'Hare and at Seattle. Pundits within the government are hailing this as signs that airports continue to do well despite the downturn in the economy (some still hesitate to say recession despite the fact that that's exactly what it is) while others claim that it will ease the travel concerns many Americans have. I would simply respond with a very deadpan, "ha ha."

As I stated, the addition of runways to these major airports is a welcome addition and though I'm not expert on aviation I think I know enough to say that the problem isn't so much the facilities these days as the airports themselves. People automatically think of additional runways meaning more takeoffs and landings possible without the usual delays of planes lining up waiting to leave or arrive and while that's true, they don't often think about the other needs that this brings up. Great! So you have three runways that will be operating in parallel to one another. So when it snows that means you'll have another couple of miles to clear off before you can get planes to takeoff and land. You'll have more planes coming in from far flung destinations and have them roll up to the terminal only to discover that ... shock and awe!... you have too few gates and ground personnel to deal with them.

Isn't that the problem that has been there before? When I go through Dulles or any airport for that matter I have always seen that the personnel on the ground have a greater need for expansion than other services. What do I mean? Well think about it, when checking into a flight, have you seen how few ground personnel there are at times? And what about at security. You tell me the last time you've been to an airport and have sailed through security (and I don't count when boarding a red-eye or dawn flight). I have been through airports where at the height of traveller rush-hour there will be four lines operating despite the fact that they have fourteen other security lanes sitting empty and off. And what about baggage? Sometimes the wait for baggage can take longer than the actual flight. I have come back from travel only to wait longer for my bags to come out of the cargo holds than I did for the entire trip.

The reason isn't because the ground personnel are lazy or dallying around the entire time but because there are too few of them and far too many flights for them to deal with as quick as we'd like. Not only do these crews take bags to the baggage claim but who do you think takes the bags to your flight once you check them in? The same guys! So it doesn't really matter that you have three new runways, it just means that rather than sitting on the ground or circling the airport in the skies you'll be waiting on the ground. Airport infrastructure needs expansion just as much as their runways and until the FAA and other airport authorities realize that as well they will only staunch the flow of travel delays, not stop it. Same can be said of the move by President Bush to open military travel lanes to flights. Great! You can get to your destination faster and wait longer for your bags to arrive. Thanks but no thanks!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Frost? Time to Panic in DC

I remember back in 1992 when President Clinton was first elected President the people on the radio in town were sure to give some advice to the first family as they had not really been part of Washington prior to winning the election. They were given recommendations about where to eat, where to go and what to do when they had some free time. They also were given advice about what to do in the event of inclement which in this area can range from early morning dew to a major snowstorm. I say that literally and figuratively since the reaction we get in our area to even the mention of snow can be comical but often more so distressful given the ridiculous way so many people react to the news.

Take this week for example. The weathermen in the area were predicting that there was a chance for snow flurries or even a passing snow shower today and so the prognostication began in earnest. Of course what they don't explain is that the "far northern and western suburbs" or the "higher elevations" that they often refer to are so far out of Washington that anyone commuting from that distance into and out of the city is probably better prepared for snow than those of us closer in since they virtually live in the mountains! And the higher elevations? Well that doesn't mean Capitol Hill but rather the mountains and foothills of the Shennandoah Valley which is again well beyond the commuting range of most Washingtonians. So then why the need to panic? I guess simply because it's a tradition in this town.

I have been driving now for twelve years and I've been through my share of snowy winters which required a little better control when it came to driving. I'm proud to say that I'm not a member of the panic-prone and am relatively comfortable driving when the weather is bad. What gets me is that unfortunately there are plenty of Washington outsiders who have no idea how to drive in the winter and because they've seen the SUVs they own crashing through snow drifts and going uphill in driving sleet they figure that a wet surface or icy surface is just like a normal dry surface and so proceed to speed down the roads at full racing speed. Then they scratch their heads and claim ignorance of what happened when being questioned by police on the side of the road where their vehicles usually end up after hitting a patch of ice and spinning out.

Maybe that's why so many people in Washington panic when there are even hints of snow. They just don't know how to deal with it. This morning too there was a touch of frost in my area and I just blasted the heater long enough to help melt it and make it easier to scrape off. But I'm sure there'll be a minor run on the shovels in the area as people "get prepared" for winter. The last two winters have been relatively mild in the sense that we'll get snow one day and then it will be clear and passable the very next. So for one day of panic and potentially being stuck at home, the majority of people in the area will stock up on milk, water, bread and toilet paper. Runs at the video store or far less frequent now since there are so many other options for entertainment available now.

The lead story today was the fact that frost was reported in some areas so at least a part of the prediction for the weather was true. I'm tempted to drive through suburbia this morning to look out for citizens armed with snow shovels staring up at the skies waiting for snow to fall. I'm also waiting to find the one guy who occupies every office and uses the excuse of 'snowfall' in his area to call in and say that he's not coming in. I remember encountering such a guy in another office and he called in to say he wouldn't be coming in due to the weather. We had transparent flurries falling in the midst of spotty sunshine and this guy only lived five miles from the office. Oh well. I guess we'll see how panic prone President Obama will be. Seeing as how he's from Chicago I doubt he'll raise a big stink and declare a federal emergency. Then again... who knows?


Monday, November 17, 2008

Back to Back Losses

I'm sure some readers thought that I would again avoid writing about the Redskins after their second loss in two games as a means of ignoring the fact but that's not the case. Two weeks ago when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers here at home, I was disappointed but I didn't write on it considering the fact that we were in the verge of one of the most historic elections in recent history. Still, as a sidenote, you can say that out of the last 18 elections, the streak that the Redskins have held remains intact. What streak you ask? Well there's an urban legend that says that if the Redskins win their last game before the election, the incumbent party's candidate wins the election. If not the challenging party wins the election.

Some argue that this wasn't the case in 2000 when Gore should have won against George W. Bush and we know the results of that election but while the eventual winner seemed to throw a wrench in that theory's inner workings, the supporters of the theory quickly point out that Gore did win the popular vote so perhaps the streak continues. In this case since the Redskins lost to the Steelers it was a shoe-in that the Democrats would win the White House. I'm sure there was a lot more to it than Barack Obama hinging all hopes on the Redskins play but you know how superstitious people get when it comes to sports teams. But I digress. After that loss to Pittsburgh in which the two main weapons of the Redskins was shut down, namely the running game and the passing game, they were left with a bye-week to contemplate what went wrong.

After last night's loss to the Cowboys at a stadium packed with Skins fans (unlike the previous home game where the stands resembled Pittsburgh more than Washington) I think it remains that the answers have still not been found. And it's not that they lost for lack of trying. Despite being injured and questionable for most of the week, the Redskins ran Clinton Portis better than the previous game against Pittsburgh. Though he didn't have another 120 yard game, he still managed to churn out enough yards to make a difference. Whereas during the last game the Redskins only scored a pair of field goals, there was more hope this time given the number of defensive turnovers. I was quite hopeful that the team would make something of those plays but alas what they tried wasn't enough.

I think part of the problem appeared that though the ground game was making some headway, the usual pairing of a strong passing game was lacking and other than a few good passes from Jason Campbell, the team wasn't able to get into a rhythm that they have normally found themselves in. One could say that the time off was worse than if they had continued playing without a bye-week but we'll never know. Pressure is something that Campbell has had only a few times this season and though he wasn't sacked nearly as many times as he was in the game against the Steelers, Campbell was still pressured enough that he wasn't able to hit receivers when it counted. I think Chris Cooley had another great game as he usually does gaining first downs when they counted and Mike Sellers was outstanding as he led blocks for Clinton Portis and even scored a touchdown early in the game.

By the fourth quarter it was clear that the Redskins were fighting an uphill battle and the Cowboys ran a textbook ground game with Marion Barber as the key player in the entire drama. Running down the clock and keeping the Redskins offense off of the field was enough to help them secure the win. And as I said, it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the Redskins. They had a decent time consuming drive going on in the third quarter that looked to be making headway towards the end zone when a costly turnover ended up robbing them of some momentum. It was unfortunate and is finally a sign that perhaps there are chinks in the armor of the team. Now standing at 6-4 in the NFC East they are still in contention (behind the Giants who steamrolled through Baltimore's vaunted defense) they are in second place tied with the Cowboys but this is the turning point of the season. Will they be like the teams of past season that have started off strong with promise and then end up fizzling out or will they persevere and make the playoffs? I think they have the tools, they just need to be honed a bit more. Oh well... maybe next week.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Knowing When Enough is Enough

When I was a kid, I used to drink copious amounts of cola. I remember some afternoons I would finish off my allotted glass and then would be bummed at the fact that I was finished and couldn't get more. When I was younger I didn't really think about the fact that what makes cola what it is is a combination of many ingredients (most of which are not good for you in excess amounts) but that the key ingredient was water. Thinking myself to be quite clever then I added water to a remaining bit of cola in my glass one time and was amazed to find that it 'magically' appeared to increase! Wonderful! That is until I decided to taste it.

That was my first rather pedestrian lesson in some basic form of chemistry and it stuck with me. Unfortunately not everyone has such a mundane incident to help them realize the effects of substituting one ingredient for another. In fact in the case of 48 year-old Hang Mioku, she learned her lesson the hard way. As you can see in the picture included herein, Hang has undergone a radical change although it is self-inflicted and not for the reasons that you think. Apparently Hang underwent her first cosmetic surgery procedure at the ripe 'old' age of 28 and became instantly hooked. From then on Ms. Hang continued to undergo periodic cosmetic surgeries in order to maintain her looks.

Finally it came to the point where doctors refused to do surgeries on her anymore following the last where her appearance had changed so much that she no longer resembled the person her family knew. Her parents put her through counciling for her apparent addiction and although it was helpful for sometime, it didn't last and Hang eventually found a doctor who was willing to give her silicone injections which he administered. But not content to leave things to him, she willingly took the syringe he offered her to take home as well as a supply of silicone that she could use to inject herself at home. Things went fine until she ran out. Now here's the point in this tale that begins to crossover with my cola story and that's what to do when the actual product finishes off. Simple. Find what seems to be (though really isn't) a good substitute.

When her supply ran out, Hang turned to an alternative she found around the house. Cooking oil. The results can be seen in the picture above. Needless to say she wasn't too thrilled with the results and went on to Korean TV (a move which undoubtedly took a lot of guts considering how obviously concerned she was regarding her good looks) and told of her ordeal. Viewer donations poured in and she was able to have the surgeries required to return her to somewhat of the condition that she was in prior to the injection of cooking oil into her body. Doctors reported that nearly 60g of oil were removed from her face and 200g was removed from her neck. Although she has been left scarred and disfigured by the resulting 'ballooning' of her face, Hang realizes her mistake but is still hopeful that she can have another surgery to repair the new damage that she self-inflicted.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seeing Bollywood Through Hollywood's Eyes

Indian cinema has long been trying to break into the world mainstream for a very long time. Back in the middle of the last century when "Mother India" was released and feted at the Oscars, it seemed to many at the time that perhaps Indian cinema was finally getting the attention it deserved. After all that was the time when directors who became legends including Guru Dutt, Shyam Benegal, and so many others were at the height of their moviemaking prowess. However the love affair with India was a hit or miss proposition and it wasn't long after that Indian movies began taking a backseat to other cultural cinemas as well. It's not because there are no worthy Indian movies out there, but I think it's because a lot of what is out there is so skewed or fantastical in its depiction of India that no one wants to see it because they can't relate to it or understand the context.

Now, Hollywood director Danny Boyle who has crafted films such as "Trainspotting", "28 Days Later" and the sci-fi drama "Sunshine" has now directed a movie set in India titled "Slumdog Millionaire". The basic premise seems to fall along the lines of the typical Indian movie. A young man from the slums of India gets his chance at fame and fortune when he wins a shot on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and manages to win. However the authorities are suspicious of how a man from the slums could win and decide to beat him until he reveals how he 'cheated'. The young man then returns to the show to prove he has the capability to win on his own but also to find the young woman he loves. I'm sure there may be some who will read this brief synopsis and shrug thinking that this isn't so different from so many other movies that are out there in India but where the difference comes in is how the subject is approached.

Many times in Indian cinema the stories are promising but end up being loaded with so much fluff that in the end the audience tends to forget what the story was that they had originally come to see. Danny Boyle mentioned that though he was open to the idea of casting Indian actors (famous actors mind you) he felt that they were too 'well-built' and 'toned' to accurately portray someone from the slums of Bombay. Therein lies the problem with Indian cinema at times. The characters are so miscast in most Bollywood films that the first aspect (in my estimation) to believing the story is thrown out the window because you'll never believe that a guy as muscular as Arnold Schwarzenegger could be a poor and sickly kid with nothing to eat. I guess a joke that would be so obvious to the pun writers in that case would be that he eats only iron. Bad one I know but those are the types of jokes you can expect.

If the audience doesn't believe the character is at least a little realistic, the audience will be less likely to take any interest in the story. Often times you don't think of the character but rather the actor portraying the character. I don't mean to typecast people but at least help sell the character. By casting relative unknowns in the roles of his movies Boyle manages to sustain interest in the story because we see the character for who they are supposed to be rather than the Bollywood hero they so often portray. The other aspect that helps 'sell' the reality of the storyline is staying true (at least a little bit) to real life. Sure we all sing or hum but how often do you have a choreographed chorus line dancing with you in the streets? I'm pretty sure that it's not often but that's what is expected in Indian cinema because that's what the majority of the audience wants.

That's the other basic problem plaguing Indian cinema is that their target audience expects to get their money's worth by seeing a movie that will last at least three hours and be full of songs that they will be singing long after the leave the theatres. The problem is that there are so many storylines that many Bollywood writers borrow to bulk up their movies that in the end the movie is an amalgamation of thirty different movies and ten different genres. The end result is a hodgepodge film that is neither here nor their. I'm sure there will be those who complain against Danny Boyle and his depiction of India in his film. They will claim that he is highlighting the slums and not the 'real India'. Well having been there before I can honestly say that the slums are a part of the real India as well. Sure it's not the only part of India but no one can deny that it is at least a part of the country. If Indians begin to embrace that fact then perhaps they can start embracing reality in their films as well.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meeting to Meet

I think one of the banes of any office worker's existance can easily be meetings. These occasional or frequent (depending on your office) enforced get-togethers can often lead to a loss of productivity to the point that you begin to hold meetings to discuss why you aren't being productive anymore. It's a vicious circle that keeps itself alive by the fact that it's self-feeding and never ending unless someone steps up and boldly refuses to attend them. Of course then you'll be holding a private meeting to discuss how you aren't a team player or that it is reflecting badly on your performance. So suffice it to say that we all have attended meetings that we all have hated all the while wondering why we're bothering to meet in the first place.

I think most people will agree that meetings these days can often end up being very counterproductive. I say this because as I have been studying business models during my pursuit of my MBA I have encountered cases where businesses have described how the greater the hierarchy in their operations, the less productive or inventive that organization has become. Basically this is because they found that the more levels of hierarchy there is the more discussions need to be held so 'progress' can be reported up the chain of command until it reaches the very top. The problem I see with this is that often times things are 'lost in translation' and the findings are sometime so misinterpreted by the time they reach the top that you're at a loss to explain how and why certain things are the way they are.

But one thing I've never understood about meetings is that there never seems to be a good time for them. If you're being led by a very early rising manager then you will undoubtedly have meetings the first thing in the morning at such a time that if you're running late, you won't have time for coffee or breakfast before it's time to own up to what you have been doing the last week or so. If you have a manager that likes to see how the day pans out then he'll likely call the meeting for the later afternoon when most of the civilized world is looking to head home and do some relaxing for a change. Then of course there are those who like to loosely refer to meetings held around 11:30 or noon as 'working lunch' meetings but there are far fewer who actually provide lunch or give you time to get lunch before the meeting kicks off. The consequence of that is that you have the occasional rumble of someone's stomach at an inopertune time. Sometimes the noises are so loud that those on teleconference seem to think someone has spoken and the message came out garbled. "I think the line is a little messed up; did someone say something?"

And what's the deal with having meetings at the end of the day with a deadline for the action items being the next day? If managers didn't sit on their meetings until the end of the day their staffs would have more time to accomplish their work rather than working late. Stands to reason doesn't it? I know that there have been some weeks with me where I've had meetings the first three days of the week; one on each day. And the basic result of this was that we explained to varying levels of management what we had worked on since our last meeting and what we were aiming to work on. Monday was our direct manager (our team lead) then was his manager (his lead) and then the section manager on the third day (the lead's lead's lead). All naturally insistent that everyone have their team's on hand so that everyone knows what's going on. Because these initial meetings last so long we end up attempting to find ways to streamline the process. So then we have joint meetings to discuss how to shorten the process for our meetings.

I remember working on one job where we would put briefing charts together for the month end briefing before the previous month had even ended. For example, we would start assembling February's charts at the end of January. The reason being that by the time we got through the levels of management, it was time to present the actual data. We spent more time meeting and vetting our draft charts then we did in actually working on what the charts were showing us. I remember sitting there in one meeting when one of the managers asked why our productivity was down for the month and I sat there screaming in my mind that if we didn't spend so much time on putting charts together perhaps we could be productive.

Some people out there live for meetings because it's a more-or-less legal excuse to socialize on company time while at work. I don't mind general chit-chat for a bit but then when the chit-chat ends up taking longer than the actual content of the meeting is when I start to get worried. We had a manager on one of our teams who was so good at making small-talk that lasted for 45 minutes that we used to get worried when she started off by saying "I won't keep you long." That was an indication to us that the actual content of the meeting was very small so in order to utilize the entire hour that the meeting was scheduled for, we would spend the first 15 minutes discussing the work and then the rest of the time in idle talk. It led me to conclude that in meetings with briefing slides, the time in the meeting was inversely proportional to the amount of time you would spend in the meeting. For example if there were only ten slides you could probably count on being there for four hours. If you had 115 slides then you'd probably be there for two minutes. There are exceptions to the rule of course but more often than not that theorem holds true. Now if you'll excuse me... I'm off to a meeting.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Mum's the Word

Parents usually hope that their kids can go to school and come home better educated about the world around them. Generally that belief holds true and it is of particular importance when we are undergoing historic changes in our country. I can recall being in college when the first O.J. Simpson trial concluded and a 'not guilty' verdict was returned. I don't think I had seen the nation quite as polarized along racial lines as I did at that time. The whole arguement (whether you believed him to be guilty or not) was over whether or not a black man could receive bias-free judgement in a court of law in this country and the answer came back with a resounding yes.

I remember being on campus a short while after the verdict was read and the topic was on everyone's minds. You couldn't help but go somewhere and hear about it. I'm sure that even in schools (like high schools and such) were probably discussing it as well. It was hard not to; it was garnering such media coverage that you couldn't help but not avoid it. And I think the main benefit of that was that it provided many educators with the opportunity to examine the laws with students to understand why the verdict may have come out the way it did or to discuss the points of the law that were brought into focus at the time. And this is of major importance to young people today isn't it? I mean we all need to understand how the laws of our land govern our lives if we are to live here don't we?

Well the election last week was yet another example of how educators can use the election to discuss their topics in schools. That is of course if school officials don't forbid the subject of the election from being brought up at all. It seems that students at Puckett Attendance Center (a school in Puckett, Mississippi) have been told that they cannot discuss President-elect Barack Obama in the halls or in class unless they are in history class. No specific reasons have been cited but this all seems a bit... strange. Now while it's true that John McCain won the state with approximately 56% of the vote (to Obama's 43%) but is that reason enough to forbid students from talking about the results?

I am hesitant to lay the blame for this... action... as I don't live in the area and I haven't ever been to that part of Mississippi but I can't help but wonder what must have motivated the decision on the part of school officials there to stifle the talk of students. In a way this reminds me of the case against Harry Potter. Now I'm not saying American politics is like a wizarding academy in England (but it can be) but I'm saying in regards to how many parents and teachers tried to get the Harry Potter books banned from schools. The simple reason being that they considered them sacreligious which was bad. But I think they were missing the point. I think they were missing the fact that finally, after a very long time, many students were interested in reading again. Isn't that a good thing when you have such low literacy rates?

Now that you have an event inspiring talk among students about world leaders rather than what Lindsey Lohan did or who Brittney Spears is dating, don't you think educators in schools should encourage the talk instead of shutting it down? Maybe they aren't happy with the election results or maybe the talk of the students was distracting to the point that they couldn't teach them anything else but whatever the reason, the sudden silence by the school district and the teachers is a bit mysterious to be sure. I certainly hope that they have some decent reason for it rather than what I fear the truth may be. If racial prejudice ends up being the reason then I can't help but feel sad that for every step our nation takes forward, we're still taking steps in the opposite direction too.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 07, 2008

Loss of a Creative Mind

In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding this week's historic election I'm sure there are some who did not hear the sad news that famed writer Michael Crichton passed away at the age of 66 after a private battle with cancer. I was saddened when I heard the news since Michael Crichton was a writer that I admired. Growing up I often read as much as I could if the subject interested me though my problem was that there were tons of subjects that interested me. Being such a voracious reader it was difficult to sit down and read everything I wanted to. In time my parents began encouraging me to write as well and I found the best way for me to try and develop a style was to find a writer whose technique I found appealing and would want to emulate. The problem was finding an author who wrote on a diverse array of subjects. I found my answer in Michael Crichton.

Many undoubtedly came to know about the author through his book "Jurassic Park" which became even more popular after the movie was made by Steven Speilberg. What many people don't realize is that Michael Crichton had been around a lot longer than that and had been involved in creating new worlds both on film and in books for much longer. Seeing "Jurassic Park" inspired me to pick up his books and read them and I'm all the more grateful for that fact. I read through "Jurassic Park" in a short while and decided that I would check out some of his other books and what I found was that Crichton not only focused on science fiction but on other subjects as well. And diverse subjects at that. He touched on cloning in "Jurassic Park"; he covered biological terrors in "The Andromeda Strain"; he wrote a gripping police noir-esque piece in "Rising Sun" and the list goes on.

What I liked about his style was the fact that he didn't overdo it on the techno-babble like some "Star Trek" episode. He always gave enough detail to make it plausible and understandable but just to the point that the reader didn't start getting a glazed expression on their face as reading the books. He also gave it a touch of reality. Being a doctor himself, Crichton used his medical background to help ground many of his stories in reality or near-reality. Some of the work described in books such as "The Terminal Man" or "A Case of Need" were so fantastic when written that it challenged scientists and researchers to determine if it could really be done and today many of these things are becoming a reality.

And that is what I think some of the great writers of our time can do; challenge the status quo so that we push our thinking to the limits. And beyond. Perhaps making dinosaurs the way they're shown in "Jurassic Park" will never come to pass in my lifetime or even in the distant future but it hasn't stopped scientists from wanting to try it. Same could be said of Arthur C. Clarke whose ideas and thoughts inspired many of us to study science and technology. Perhaps Clarke's vision of "2001" has not come to pass as yet but it can't be that far in the future anymore. Our only limitation is imagination and money and because of writers like Clarke or Crichton, we have the inspiration to do more. I keep writing once in a while; my little blogs are my attempts at becoming a better writer and being able to express my thoughts. But still, seeing that someone like Michael Crichton could also use his innate curiousity and interests to inspire so many is a wonderful thing. He will be sorely missed though the world will definitely be a more inspired place for having known and embraced him and his ideas.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Prognosticators Supreme

There's a saying that says that "time heals all wounds" but I would like to add to it so that it actually reads, "time heals all wounds unless you constantly pick at it and fail to let it heal." The reason I say this comes on the heals of Barack Obama's historical victory and the aftermath that has already started to follow. It started shortly on the heels of Senator McCain's concession speech in which he graciously and honestly (at least in my opinion) admitted defeat and pledged to work with the new Administration for the good of our country. This was the Country First attitude that I had been waiting to see. This was an echo of the John McCain I (and so many others) were ready to vote for back in 2000. He's not the John McCain of today but he could have been. But the damage the new John McCain and indeed the entire GOP party has reaped continues to grow.

What do I mean? Well if you read the comments on any web article regarding the victory by Barack Obama you will see lines and lines of endless drivel about how this election spells the doom of our nation. These 'educated' readers talk about how they have been robbed and how the election of Obama will lead to anarchy of Biblical proportions and how we are on a road to disaster. Um... excuse me... but where have we been going the last eight years. I will admit that I'm not a big fan of the current administration. However, over the course of the last few years, the situation which was tenuously good in the beginning has deteriorated and has continued to deteriorate because of the partisanship that has creeped into Washington. Remember after 9/11 when there was a statement made by President Bush along the lines of 'if you aren't with us then you're against us?' Seems like that line has come to include domestic politicians as well.

If you don't see things 'our' way then you are a traitor to this nation and a loser. I was younger when Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and again in 1996 but both those times I remember some disappointment but not the type of resentment and utter hatred that seems to be seething in some corners. Sure maybe these pockets are limited to pathetic people who live in their parent's basements despite being over 40 years of age and have nothing better to do all day than read new articles and post scathing comments on how this country is going to Hell in a handbasket. If you are that disappointed and apathetic then by all means head north to Canada or down south to Mexico. Maybe you can start leading the charge for reverse migration. But it isn't just the denizens from the dark corners of the internet, it's also people who have worked for their candidate of choice and have come away with defeat.

I was watching the news and members of the Republican Party here in DC were making statements like, "Well the next four years are going to be a nightmare" or "This is a disaster and people will realize their mistakes". Maybe that is so and maybe things will go from bad to worse but do people honestly believe that by being so stubborn and obtuse in their acceptance of defeat that they will make things better? I think the Republican Party needs to understand that their methods and beliefs have to change with the times. We all (democrat, republican, independent, green, blue, red, white) need to work together for change. We need to work together to fix the problems. But we have become so divided by this us versus them mentality that until that attitude subsides, it's going to be difficult to accomplish anything. By trying to force a kid to eat strained peas they aren't going to enjoy eating it but if you try being not so forceful the results may be for the better.

I just hate the attitude that so many people have that Obama is going to be a bane for our country. I ask again then; what do you think of the last 8 years? Apparently some 9% of the population of this country still approve of the job President Bush has been doing. I would say he is also responsible for perpetuating the us-versus-them attitude since even with the economic crisis going on now he made statements to the press that if Congress doesn't approve his plan then they are out to ruin the country financially. Now he wasn't so explicit in his comments but the message was there. I had memories of his rhetoric leading up to the War in Iraq. And the feelings have finally permeated down to the common man (I have decided that I will never again use the phrase Average Joe). If you, the people who fear doom with the election of Barack Obama, feel so strongly about the future of our country then do what the democrats did after the 2004 Presidential elections and have your say in Congress, the real seat of power of the people. Get your message out there (not one of hate but one that works) and take back the real seat of power. Don't be childish and sulk.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes He Did...And So Did We

There are rare occasions in history where you can be there as a witness to something so different that you can't help but be moved by the moment. I think last night's sweeping victory by Barack Obama to become our 44th President of the United States certainly qualifies as that one moment in my life so far. Though I've only experienced around three decades of history in the making, many of the 'defining moments' of my life thus far have often been marked by tragedy. I remember the Challenger disaster in 1986, the loss of the Columbia nearly two decades later, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and of course, September the 11th 2001. But last night's acceptance speech by Barack Obama was something else completely. It was something positive and bright for the future of our country.

Whether you supported him or not one thing we must all admit to is the fact that the state of our nation and our standing in the world is not where it once was. Our economy has come to depths it has not seen in many decades and the effects are being felt not just here but around the world as well. Our armed forces are deployed around the world and are in the midst of fighting two wars. Old beliefs that have long defined this nation are slowly starting to be torn down and the first major step in that continued forward progress is the election of Barack Obama, a minority who raised himself to the level that he finds himself today. Whether you believe he will be the catalyst for change that he wants to be or not no one can deny that his being elected speaks to the fact that our country is looking for a new course.

In his concession speech to his opponent and to his gather supporters, Senator John McCain spoke quite eloquently about his desire that the country now turn to support Obama and in turn support the progress that needs to occur in order for real change to come to this country. Though the two have been at odds for quite a long time during this campaign, Senator McCain now spoke of support for his opponent and his (and our) new President. There are still a few more weeks remaining before Obama begins his historic journey but it is one that appears to be hopeful in the way it was during Bill Clinton's first run for the White House. Even then, the youth vote was spurred on by Clinton who sought to encourage the youth of this country to get involved in their future and Obama has been no different.

During his speech last night at Grant Park in Chicago, Barack Obama spoke of his hopes for the future. He has set terms of realism so that there are no false expectations of what he can accomplish in his early time in office. His detractors will undoubtedly point to this statement as an indication that he isn't ready to do anything different or better and that he will take us down a path to further ruin but I beg to differ. Our future is not known and had we had that level of foresight into what the future holds I doubt our country would be in the position it is today. Obama's main goal now will be to not only lead the country but reunite it as well. Perhaps it's a stretch to say that it will be like the years after the Civil War but the parallelism isn't too much of a stretch. The country is so divided into an 'us-versus-them' mentality that it will take some time and effort to end the vehemence of that divide and bring the country together again. I for one am looking forward to the journey.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008

I got up early this morning (even by my standards) so that I could get ready and get in line to vote. I live in the complex where my polling location is (it's the clubhouse in my complex) so I didn't have to drive and I walked (okay... ran) to line up this morning. It was exciting to see that even at 5:45 in the morning there were already about 74 people ahead of me in line. About fifteen minutes later as the doors opened and voting began for the day I could see the line I was in stretched out beyond me and was approximately 200-some people long. I know; I had time to count them. It was amazing to see such a huge turnout.

I have voted in Presidential elections since 1996 and in that time I have seen the number of voters coming out on the upswing. That too the younger voters among whom I still count myself. People may think of me as crotchety at times but I'm not completely over the hill yet in my thinking (I'm still at the bottom of the hill). In those years I have voted on machines that were the old toggle switch type on which we flip a switch to vote and then have a card punched and now I'm fully into the modern age with the touchscreen voting machines. And while I am always wary of these machines, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt but still, after what happened to me this morning as I went to vote left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and though I'm hesitant to cry wolf, I say this as a warning to those of you who have yet to vote.

When the machine was activated for me, the ballot appeared with all of the potential candidates listed and when I touched my choice, the opposition party candidate's name appeared to have been selected as my choice. Now I'm not idiot and I'm fairly well educated but I couldn't figure out how the touchscreen read my vote clearly for one name as being a vote for the other. To be a bit clearer in my dilemma, imagine wanting to vote for Superman and when you touch Superman's name the Joker's name is highlighted and marked as your vote. When I tried to change my vote (prior to submitting my ballot) it would not change. I couldn't change from the Joker to Superman and nothing I tried seemed to work. I called the election official over immediately and informed him of the problem. He told me that I needed to touch the erroneous check mark and the choose the name I wanted. In the end I got the correct name highlighted but it just showed me that things can go awry even in the face of such modern methods.

Now I'm not accusing anyone of any shady dealings but still, after two elections where voter fraud and 'lost votes' have occured in such high numbers, I'm not willing to overlook this as a case of 'user error' on my part. I know what name I touched and the default that came up on the machine was not my choice. Though I'm technologically savvy, I couldn't get the wrong name to go un-highlighted and generally people who know even less about technology usually go on touching buttons until the screen changes. The only other button that would have worked at that time was the 'Next' button that would have asked me to confirm my erroneous choice and therefore submit my vote. Had I now known what to do my vote would have gone to the candidate that was not my choice. I can't help but feel that this was not a single case and that it must have happened and may be happening in numerous places. It's a bit hinkey isn't it?

I am going to be watching the results tonight as closely as most people and I'm hopeful that the elections this year are free of the uncertainty and errors that have marred the last few. I'm hopeful that we will know by midnight tonight who the next President of the United States is. Sure the lines are long and the wait seems endless but bring a book, listen to your iPod or enjoy the company of others stuck in line with you but be patient and persevere; it is your right and your duty to vote. Don't give up your right for the sake of a day of inconvenience. Make your voice heard and cast your ballot but for Heaven's sake, make sure the candidate you vote for is the candidate you want!


Monday, November 03, 2008

Nail-Biting Finish to Decide a Winner

It was literally down to the wire and the outcome of the year was in doubt until all competitors crossed the finish line but in the end it turned out that Lewis Hamilton had finished high enough in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos to become the world champion for Formula One racing. The margin of his victory? A single point. Yup. One point. Finishing the race overall in fifth place he managed to finish in the driver's standings one point ahead of second place driver Felipe Massa of Ferrari. I can only imagine the heartache that Massa must have felt after his tumultuous year to be that close to celebrating a championship and then hearing that you were defeated by the closest of margins.

With Hamilton's victory however comes the return to championship form that McLaren had been struggling to find since last winning the world championship back in 1999 with Mika Hakkinen. Since that time a veritable littany of drivers came through the paddock area and until Hamilton burst upon the scene last year, there were near misses and total disasters in terms of McLaren's standings with other teams. Last year seemed to be the year for Hamilton where he pushed eventual champion Kimi Raikkonen to the very limit though the margin was a bit wider when all was said and done last year. This year it was literally anyone's championship until almost the very end.

I can honestly say that though I'm a Ferrari fan I was torn last year between pulling for Raikkonen and pulling for Hamilton who as a rookie, would have made double history by being the youngest driver and first rookie (I believe) to win in his first year of driving in Formula One. Although the eventual triumph was delayed by a year, Hamilton still managed to become the youngest champion in history and though I was torn again, I know that the competition this year was fierce and Hamilton proved himself worthy of winning this year. Though I was also rooting for Massa, ill-luck and misfortune at a few races this year sealed his fate rather than giving him the wider gap he needed to win.

I think in a lot of ways this shows that some of the rules and changes that have been implemented in Formula One now make it a bit more exciting to watch as many complained that when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari began their winning ways in the late 90's and early 21st Century that things would go on that way for a long time. I think some of the rules that were implemented at the tail end of Schumacher's career ended up stifling him more than making the field an even playing field but now the fruits of those trial and error rule changes are in evidence. Now more than ever the rule changes have shown that the races are not just between cars but drivers as well and the best drivers do come out ahead.

I'm excited that since Michael Schumacher's last victory we've had at least three differenct champions come out on top at the end of the year and I like the fact that the results aren't known until the last race of the year. Though I used to enjoy watching Schumacher drive like the wind during his races, it was a bit disappointing to watch the final few races knowing that Schumacher already had the championship with about four races still remaining in the season. I'm sure the teams and drivers themselves don't want so close a year, but it makes things all the more exciting for us fans. Congratulations to Britain for a great champion in the form of Lewis Hamilton and here's to hoping for just an exciting a year next year. Only 143 days remaining until the 2009 season kicks off!