Thursday, March 17, 2016

Prof.K. Ramachandran (1947- 2016), Emeritus Fellow IDC IITB, passed away on March 17th after a brief illness. An alumnus of IDC, Prof Ramu contributed a lot to the design community as a design practitioner, academician, administrator and mentor.

Before joining IDC, IIT Bombay as a Professor in 2008, he was a Professor and HOD at the Department of Design, IIT Guwahati from 2001 to 2008 and was Chief Designer with Crompton Greaves for many years. We as IDC family extend our heartfelt condolences to his bereaved family. May the almighty give his family strength to bear the loss. May his soul rest in peace.

Prof Ramachandran was one of the most gentle and kind human beings I have met.
There was a different aura around him, he was very approachable, very friendly and accomodative. As a prof, I have never seen him shouting at anybody or firing anybody. There was this calming presence about him. Whenever we were in a difficult situation, had good suggestions to offer.

During my student days at IDC, Prof Ramachandran taught me as a visiting faculty at IDC during our ADS course in 1990.
Later, in 1998, we met in Vashi and I introduced myself. We became friends there and at that time he was with Crompton Greaves. Later, I joined IDC as a faculty and he joined IIT Guwahati. During my first interview at IIT for a faculty position, he was one of the jury members along with Prof R.K. Joshi. I interacted with him a lot during my teaching trips to IIT Guwahati. They had just started the course there, construction was going on and classes were on sheds with asbestos sheets as roof.  Summer was quite bad there and it was a challenge to brave that heat and teach. Lots of portable fans were put up on those sheds whenever we had a class. Everyone had to drink water frequently to survive in that climate!

We shared the guest house (which was actually a bungalow with four bed rooms) and one staff called Deepak was the lone staff-receptionist-clerk-supervisor-care taker-cleaner-cook-peon in the guest house.
Our friendship grew in those days, with dinner over Royal Stag which was the popular drink at IIT G at that time.
He bought a second hand Maruti 800 car through the "Discuss Faculty" mailing group.
All staff members had to go to the city once in two weeks to buy all grocery needs.
During all my subsequent trips to IIT Guwahati, he became a kind of local guardian to me, picking me up everyday from the guest house for the classes, droping me back after the class and then dinner.

We met each other during all his vacation visits to Navi Mumbai and had a few lunch meetings at a favourite restaurant in vashi. They were quite memorable, because there were no time limits, we had open ended discussions and he used to talk a lot about his days in Crompton, his student days at IDC, his new life as a professor at IIT etc.

His family visited us many times at my house at New Bombay when his son was getting married. They wanted me to design the wedding invitation and made this special request: The invitation should look like a magazine, with a large photo of the couple taken during their engagement. I designed the card accordingly and really wondered how people would react to a radical invitation card like that. It became a hit, with lots of his friends and relatives showing surprise and appreciation for such a card.
At the wedding, Prof Ramu introduced me to many guests as the friend who designed the innovative card! Suddenly I was a celebrity!

Later, he left IIT Guwahati and joined IDC and I still remember his first day at work. I took him around IDC and then to Prof Kirti's room where Kirti hugged him and wished him all the best for his tenure at IDC. He was very close to many of his classmates at IDC from the 1977 batch (Which produced so many faculty members : Kirti Trivedi, Kishore Munshi, Bhaumik and Ramu).
He invited me for the end sem presentation of his students every semester and was very keen to know about my feedback to his courses and the work done by his students.

Gave me quite a lot of knowledge -- not only about about rendering techniques, visualisation, design  but also on meditation, ESP, handling Human Human Interaction, motivation etc.

He was the CEED coordinator for a couple of years and we had quite a nice time facing the boring but challenging administrative work of the CEED exam.

After his yearly visits to USA to meet his son and family, he used to call me to his cabin and show me all the photographs he took in the US.

Later, as life got more and more complicated with more and more non-teaching work load to both of us, our HHI also reduced considerably and our only interaction for the last one year was during the faculty meetings where both of us exchanged the doodles made in our writing pads and then at tea breaks at Descafe in the mornings.

Yesterday, when we entered the Balaji complex at Kopar Khairane on our way to his building, I saw the nice garden where we used to sit and discuss  many things- from the intricate details of Crompton Greavesan to the future of IIT Guwahati. That well behaved, friendly, soft spoken man who was very much an artist at heart will not be there any more. That really hurt.

In prayers for his soul


Friday, July 26, 2013

The real terrorists

Thought of sharing three real life stories from the world of bureaucracy.

Story 1:
July 26, 2013:
Today I read an interesting story in the Times of India fontpage. "Jawans on loo break still on national duty".
The story is about a jawan- Sepoy Lakshman Kumar, who was on his way to a toilet while on duty when he suffered a fall along the Indo-China border in Ladakh on August 15, 2009. He died four days later.
His wife was denied all compensations by PCDA - Principal controller of defence accounts, saying the soldier was not on duty when he got injured.
His widow challenged the decision to deny compensation.
Yesterday, the Armed Forces Tribunal in Chandigarh said that 'A soldier taking a loo break during working hours should be deemed on duty for the nation" and ordered Rs 10 Lakh compensation with an additional 10% interest.
The widow asked in her review petition:  "It seems strange that the office of the PCDA is suggesting that a person should not even go out to attend nature's call and if he does, he shall not be considered on duty during those particular moments".

Story 2:
January 2013.
One housewife died in an accident. Since she was holding life insurance policies, her husband files a claim. The insurance company rejects the claim on the grounds that the deceased was "not an earning member" and she was just a housewife!

Story 3:
One college teacher is seriously injured in a train accident in Kerala. He had to spend four years under treatment for a spinal injury and reaches the point of retirement. The administrative section of the university refuses to give him any retirement benefits saying that the train reaches the station at 4.55pm and the teacher was at fault that before the end of official working hours, he left the office! The teacher says that that day was a strike called by the students of that college and there were no classes.

Story 4:
One very famous and reputed institute of the country invites a professor to attend a meeting in their campus. The prof reaches the campus one day in advance. In the evening, he realises that he needs to buy some medicines and goes to a medical shop just opposite the main gate of the campus. While crossing the road, a vehicle strikes him badly and passers by take him to a nearby hospital. After sometime, when he regains consciousness, the doctors tell him that he needs blood urgently. The prof calls up the registrar of the university. The registrar hears out the details and promptly declares that he cannot do anything about it because "accident happened outside the university campus - on the road".

All these are cases of strict bureaucratic execution of rules told to them.
They might be legally right, but when we look at the humanitarian angle to the final verdict, these bureaucrats are the real terrorists. They are "public servants" who are supposed to serve the public, take decisions in the right spirit and serve the nation.
But all these cases show the perverse side of bureaucracy. 
Time has come to teach the bureaucrats that rules should be used, after all, to serve humanity. Not to kill.
Let there be light.

Asatoma Satgamaya
Tamasoma Jyothirgamaya
 Mrithyorma Amritham Gamaya.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cellphone mania – a process of addiction

I have a humble request to people who call me on my cellphone:

Ask these simple questions to yourself before calling.

  • 1. Is this call really important? Can my questions be answered through text (SMS or Email) ?
  • 2. Is this call so urgent and important that I cannot wait for a few hours to get a reply?
  • 3. is there a possibility that the receiver of the call may find it inconvenient to answer the call?
  • 4. Are the topics of discussion of a specific nature that we cannot leave any record in text form ?

I was experiencing a reduction in hearing ability on my left ear for a few years. Meanwhile, my wife happened to mention about Prof Girish Kumar from IIT Bombay who is doing a lot of research on health hazards of mobile phones and mobile towers.
The most important conclusion was that mobile phones have an impact on our health!

As the hearing problems increased, my awareness about mobile phones also improved a little bit. I started observing the calls I make and the calls I get.
Then I realised (to my dismay) that 90% of the calls I made were just out of habit– everything I wanted from these calls could be communicated through text and the reply could also be communicated effectively in the form of text.
Example: During June I get a large number of calls asking the dates of our yearly Design Degree Show. The best example of how text can be and should be used in cellphone communication!!

The next angle is the question of patience. A student of mine called me recently to ask about the price of a particular font. I said that I am not a font vendor and I cannot answer such a question so fast! After a few days I heard that he was calling many other "font specialists" with the same question. 
A clear case of impatience. 
If he had taken the web addresses of font vendors and spent about 15 minutes on the web, he could have found the price of that font from all the vendors selling it. Later, he told me that he was a victim of the "Hurry - i dont have time" culture perpetrated by the big digital products manufacturers.

We have one hour to spend on facebook and twitter. But we dont have time to send a query on email or sms and give the receiver a few hours to reply!!

My ENT doctor conducted some tests and told me that he gets lots of patients from the 16-25 age group. he says listening to music with the earphones is also harmful to the ear.

Lots of cases are reported in newspapers about young people trying to cross railway tracks while listening to music through earphones and losing their lives. That is another side effect of cellphones and iPods!!!

I wonder about this: Is there a slow conditioning process happening around us that all of us are becoming slaves of the cellphones and smart phones ?
Why am I checking my email every hour on my phone?

Look at people switching their cellphones on immediately after a plane lands!

Did anyone die because someone didnt switch on a cell phone on time?

some related links

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making sense of Common Sense!

A humble request to job seekers.

In this world of internet and high speed communication, job seekers communicate a lot through email with potential employers as well as others who help out with finding a job. On an average, I get about ten requests from people who seek jobs and who are looking out for employees. 
Of course, this is a great business opportunity for me, i know! but time doesn't allow me to take this into another venture like "facebook"!

I am noticing this common mistake people do for a long time. An alarming majority of job seekers send their resumes with the file named as "resume' or "bio".
If you look at a prospective employer's email inbox and a folder he uses to store these resumes, it is a disaster to handle 100 word files with the same file name!!
This is not rocket science. Please name the file with your name on it!

Second problem: There are people who dont have the latest version of MS word to open files with .docx extension. Recently I had to install the latest version of MS office just to read a file which came in by email!!
Maybe, it is better to save resume files in .doc format which can be read in lower versions of MS office. 
yes, I expect some answers to this problem  and the comments this blog will make: If my 'prospective employer' doesn't have MS Office 2012, then I should not be working there!

Personally, I prefer resumes in PDFs!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Win a Honda City

Subscribe and Win!

I came across this ad in a newsmagazine: Subscribe for 5 years get a chance to win a Honda City. I have seen these ads in several magazines for more than 10 years now. But never thought about the reality till I saw this email about "reality" shows and SMS income.
Did any magazine ever showed any proof about the winner of this "Subscribe and win a car" offer ever? Have you ever come across a "real" subscriber who won a car by subscribing (for FIVE years) to a magazine? Why is this kept a secret? Is there any Govt machinery which monitors this kind of offers with luck dips?
What is the frequency of these lucky dips by magazines? Why don't they publish the results? How many "Honda City" cars do they gift per year? From how many entries do they select the winner? Who witnesses the "lucky" dip?

Absolute Zero!!!!

If you send an SMS to "save" a contestant in a reality show from "unsafe" zone, you spend much more than the standard SMS rate, sometimes this can go upto Rs 7.00. This is hidden under the asterix "standard rates apply"!!
The producer and the channel makes crores of profit.
But did anyone care for the following:
1. Is there any record of number of SMS messages received for each participant?
2. Should there be a record of SMS recieved?
3. Is the winner decided by the number os SMSs received by the contestant?
4. Why is this number NEVER revealed by any producer of these reality shows?
5. Why is the SMS rate for reality shows not disclosed during the programme or the web site of the channel or the phone service providers?
6. What is the time lapse between receiving the so called "SMS Votes" and the actual telecast of the programme?
7. What happens when a victim viewer sends an SMS well AFTER the deadline for shooting the next episode is over? He still spends Rs 7.00 and doesn't know his "vote" will not save his favourite singer?

Recently, a reality show participant in a music programme revaled to his friend in Orkut that he has been eliminated. The friend found out to his horror that this singer's fans were voting for him for more than SEVEN days after the "REAL" elimination because the episodes of the programme are shot well over 10 days in advance!!!

What happens if we post this question to the Govt?
1. We will need to find out to whom should we complain?
2. We will go by the gut feeling and complain to some dept in the Govt, they will say this is not in our jurisdiction, you ask XYZ.
3. XYZ will give the same answer and forward us to ABC.
4. After this process repeats five times, we give up!

Thousands of unsuspecting viewers will continue sending SMSs at RS 7.
The producer will not only walk, but "sing" his way to the bank!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hollow and Empty

116 smiling faces :-)

24th Dec. 5.30am:

Nokia 73 hollers it’s time to wake up. I am breathing Zzzzzz…. into my wife’s unwilling ear.

After a ten minute struggle to freeze time, I give up.

The Art of Living Advanced course starts today and the reporting time is 6.30 am.

Half-asleep, I rustle up my favourite cup of tea and try to read the newspapers.

There is yet another rape somewhere, yet another corruption case and yawn, yet another box item on Mahendra Singh Dhoni. What will happen to the world if Dhoni is out of the team for two matches? Will the heavens fall? Will ESPN and NEO Cricket shut shop? What will Dhoni eat for breakfast when he is not in the team?


Dhoni matters even if he is not in the team.

I braved all hurdles to the venue: which was primarily crossing the indomitable main road in front of IIT main gate in one piece. After the registration formalities, I entered the hall. It was just what I had seen the last time I had been to Shetty school hall in Powai. A meticulously clean and well appointed hall, with clean mattresses laid out on the floor. The stage was tastefully designed: A big sofa for the teacher next to a huge photograph of Guruji Sri Sri Ravishankarji with beautiful orchids and a cute Christmas tree.

Then over the next three and a half days, we were transported to a new world. Our instructor Ms Sangeeta Jani and her team led us into a new world of peace, silence and laughter. It was a typographer’s equivalent of an absolute white page without any marks. Straight out of Basel!

We did so many things – some of them spiritual, some of them crazy and naughty!.

All of us went on “silent mode” for two-and-half days. (Switching off the mobile phone itself is half way to spiritual nirvana!). It was hilarious, to attempt to speak without words – to see everyone gesturing wildly to convey a simple message.

Everyday, we got breaks from the class to walk around and explored the place. In the evening, we were encouraged to go on a nature trail. I bumped into an old friend at the course and we went on a foodie expedition which mostly ended at the Naturals ice cream parlour. Their staff would look at us sideways wondering who are these “goonga log” virtually cleaning up the shelves!

Btw, their new flavour, Guava icecream is fabulous!

Back at the course, we danced, we laughed, we shared our experiences with each other, we played cricket, football and kabaddi, we became babies, lions, peacocks, rabbits and elephants, we were dead and reborn. We sang, screamed and roared.

And we meditated to our heart’s content.

Lessons were from the Guru himself, taking us to a wonderful world of absolute peace. ‘Hollow and empty’ was an extraordinary experience and the happiness grew as we continued practising it!

In one of the sessions he asked: Imagine that you are going to die in the next one week. What will you do?

At first, I started counting the long list of "things to do..." and then realised it is all rubbish. Then the realisation came that what I believe is in a way good for peace. Do not have any desires... Then you can die a happy man whenever the "call" comes!

And then guruji gave the most important lesson of my life: If you die now, nothing will happen to the world. Life will go on as usual.

So true!

Something I always believed in!

So, what was so special about this course? There were 116 participants, aged between 17 and 70, from diverse professions. By lunch time on the first day, the place was brimming with positive energy and everyone around was happy! It is a very, very rare treat to be in a place full of radiant, beaming faces!

Morale of the story: There is no word called Depression in our dictionary.



Sri Sri Ravishankar, The Art of Living Foundation,

Sangeeta Jani, Vinaya Hegde, Neha Ahuja, Prem and Preeti Nambiar, Chandrasekhar, Swati, Rama, Shweta, Prasanna, S.P. Singh and all volunteers ( I don't know all the names ) who worked so sincerely for this wonderful course.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mobile by default

A headache in the pocket: Why i love my gmail !

First of all, the disclaimer:
Any Resemblance to Actual Events or Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental.

A few months back, my doctor shared one 'experience' with me. He started having chest pain and went for a check up. In an era, when even a patient with a running nose is also asked to go for full body MRI, my doctor (in his unfamiliar position on the other side of the fence) was also asked to some tests. A week later, doctors couldn't find out what is causing the chest pain. Then he met a smart cookie, who asked him what is kept in the shirt pocket. Then the bulb lit up like we see in Tintin comics....Eureka!!! He was keeping his mobile in his shirt pocket!
My Doctor stopped keeping his mobile phone anywhere near his chest and the pain vanished like "select-all-delete" in Photoshop!
And everyone lived happily ever after!

Cut to:
Yours truly, an avid nokia user and mobile phone lover, experienced a bit of a headache. And came across a few emails by Prof Girish from IIT B about the health risks of mobile phones on the human body.
I reduced talk time on my mobile phone from 60 minutes a day to 10 minutes a day.
My headache also went for a 'select-all-delete' !

This set me thinking about the "default" setting in our minds about how we use mobile phones.

Once the phone got liberated from the wires and started travelling everywhere with each one of us, personal space is vanishing. Everyone has access to everyone's personal space and it is 24 x 7!!. Irrespective of whatever the recipient is doing and where he is, the phone is going to shout and announce an incoming call (of course, we have the option of using the silent mode).

Most of us check emails atleast 5 times in a typical working day, between 9.00 to 5.00.
I realised that 90% of our mobile calls can be avoided if both the parties are having plenty of (and free) access to the internet.
If one person doesn't have access to the wild world web, there is SMS. I love the SMS option because the phone will not ring when you are driving or jumping into a bombay local train, crossing the dangerous main gate road in front of IIT or taking a class. The SMS gives a better clear picture of the purpose of communication and the most important thing is that the recipient can read the message as per convenience.

Today, I fell into this trap of "default" setting. I was flipping through my diary and realised that today is my close friend's birthday. Without thinking about anything, on the spur of the moment, I called him on his mobile. Poor friend, he took the call and said "I am driving, will call back...".
Then I realised that in the brain vs heart battle, my emotional self got the better of the logical self and made the call ! Maybe, an SMS saying Happy Birthday might be enough. I don't think a real friend will feel bad that I didn't make a personal call for a birthday!

When you get a call on the mobile, you don't have the time to "mentally prepare" for a conversation. In the case of SMS, I get all the time in the world to "mentally prepare" for tackling the message. Sometimes, I have predictable communication requests from friends.
There are people who call at the most inconvenient timings (like a working day 11.00am when there is a 99% chance that every working man is busy with official duties...........or on sunday at 2.00 pm when every human being on earth will be enjoying a siesta!) just to ask "How are You".
I really appreciate the concern...but I hate the timings!

Last few months, I was looking at the purpose behind calls I get on my mobile phone.
1. Courtesy calls: To ask "How are you?"...these can come at anytime the caller finds convenient. The recipient's convenience is never thought about. Recently I had to write a very bad mail to a friend who loves to call at 11.30 pm and 6.00 am. Thank god there is a "silent" mode in my handset!

2. To wish me "Happy Onam" personally. If you are roaming, you pay for incoming calls and god save you!

3. Asking the telephone number of common friends.

4. To add one more role to my already stressed out life: To make me play Agony Aunt (or uncle). They take out their problems one by one......I listen with patience and bite hard...think of god...yes he is there.....then visualise all the divine icons...test the patience again and again.
Yes it is there intact. Meditation really helps.

5. To save on recruiting agencies. Everyone in publishing wants to find a "designer".... " or my ex- student" who should be not only very very good at work, but who will work for the cheapest salary (or free). I stopped this free service long time back!

6. From telemarketing jerks offering life insurance and car loans.

Now I feel that most of these communication problems can be solved in email or SMS. Dialling on a mobile phone has become a way of life for many people. Like a 'default' setting. I wonder if we ever think about the person who is receiving the call. Will he be free when we are calling? Is it the right time? Is it important to make this call? Can the purpose of the call be solved using an SMS or email?

What about health hazards of mobile phones? Recently, I read about the extremely dangerous health problems faced by people staying in buildings which host the mobile transmission towers. Those who are in the top floors face a real danger due to radiation from the high power transmission towers.
There is no concrete evidence (or published evidence!) on the hazards of mobile phones on the human body, especially for those of us who use the phone close to the ear.
Even if there is scientific proof that mobile phones are bad for our health, that news will never appear in any newspaper! Which newspaper wants to sacrifice crores of advertising revenue from the mobile companies and service providers?
Long live the zoozoo!

Now for the flip side. Mobile devices empower us to stay connected when we are driving, in a train, on top of a hill, in a boat, in a hospital......wherever we are!
In case of an emergency, it is a wonderful tool to find out if our dear and near ones are safe.
For those who need help in an emergency, can contact family and friends very fast.

So my friends, please use more email and sms and give your mobile a holiday!

Good bye Nokia, Welcome Gmail!

But I still love the zoozoo ads:-)

Story of a WIV

Recently I learned a very valuable lesson on the value of time. I happened to read a letter written by Dr. Sunil, an NRI, a classmate and friend of my brother.

Dear Dr. ......,
I would like to document some of the ayurvedic recipes developed by my grandmother for common medical problems. She has done a considerable amount of work in the area of natural medicine and handed over all the data to my mother. I would like you to discuss this with my mother in detail and work on a project to make a documentary film on this topic. Please give me the details of time required, total cost etc.
I am enclosing a demand draft of $ .............. for your valuable time needed at this initial stage of the project. Please let me know the time required there to encash this so that I can plan all future payments according to that.

This letter, dated some time in 2003, showed a very serious acknowledgment of the time taken by a person to finish a task. Dr. Sunil later told me that it is a way of life in USA, that they pay for whatever amount of time taken from others.
And even for social visits, he calls up and discusses the time slot convenient for both the parties!

Last month, I had a very sad experience-got one WIV (walk-in-visitor).
I was in M.S. University, Baroda and got a call from an old friend, who was keen on pursuing "research" in IDC.
"Where are you" I asked.
"In front of your cabin" - he said!
That was a shock!
He had come to IDC from a far away city without informing me!.
It was his first visit to IDC and had hundred questions.......whom to meet? where to stay? what to do ?

He didn't have any reason for dropping in without informing. I thought you will be in your room, he said!
Email, mobile phone, landphone, SMS, post mode of communication was useful here!

I am observing the trend now...About 90% of visitors I get are WIVs! The sad part of this trend is that I have missed meeting so many of my great friends because of this reluctance to inform in advance about a visit!

Maybe, the fact that I am in an academic institution might be playing in their minds...a kind of misunderstanding that a teacher will always be inside the dept and hence no need to fix a meeting! How cruel is that?

After that, I am very very careful about meeting people. I stopped going to anybody's cabin as a "walk-in-visitor". I try my best to call the person I want to meet and fix up a convenient time.
It is a very good idea to respect other people's time.

It is very very important to fix up a time slot to meet anyone, even your closest friend.
Most of us chalk out a list of things to do in a day and most of the tasks will have a deadline. What happens when there is an unexpected guest who takes half an hour from you? All other tasks get postponed by half and hour or some tasks are postponed to the next day!

The important lesson here is that the WIVs will never take responsibilty for problems created by our failure or delay in finishing our work.

Recently, I had a very serious issue with a chronic WIV who walks in to every cabin in the office and spends min 45 minutes in meaningless time pass conversation. He made sure no one can do any serious creative work in the office space! People who had to do any serious work had to go out and sit in other spaces to avoid this WIV!
Now cabins of many staff members are always empty, in fear of the WIV!

I have a friend, Mr. Sethu Das, the commander in Chief of "Friend of Tibet" organisation. He recently decided to spend half a day with me at IDC to discuss some issues on graphic design. The meeting was finalised one month in advance through email and he kept his time like a true perfectionist. It was one of the most memorable design discussions I have ever had, enlightening on both sides! Because of the advance notice, I could keep the entire time free of any disturbances and was totally relaxed.

A lesson for all of us.
Time is very very valuable, mine as well as yours.