Friday, July 17, 2009

The (4,5) Crosswords

Absolutely frustrated and exasperated with the abysmal quality of the Hindu crossword these days. Negative this post may be, but hey I got me a muse! :)


1 Now in the abyss, just a good girl initially (4,5)
2 Gets confused: one Roman giant jag on Greek slopes(4,5)
3 Girl, clumsy moves ain't a jig (4,5)
4 One ganja git on steroids? Sort of (4,5)
5 Known for a half a jiff gag hints, endlessly confused (4,5)
6 Rhymher: clues neat are buggy, say 5D (4,5)
7 Always gets Aga TJ in karate dress, say gee! (4,5)
8 Respect tag for completely gaga, half nitwit? Hardly. (4,5)
9 Blasphemer in the Holy Grid (4,5)

Discards (only because I am not the answer :) )
Eskimo house without toilet messes up Agra monument profit (4,5)
Sings motley clue at Jain gig (4,5)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Crossword Blues

Returned to doing crosswords today. Was reminded of this poem gathering dust in my vault, more than seven years I think. Thought this was occasion enough - also since now it's nearly two years since I put anything up here. Renaissance Post!


That morning I was out in the garden,
Body in chair, newspaper in hand
My mind none knows where
for it was lost in thought.
So many right, yet so many left.
So many acrosses, I was feeling down
Was it hell or inferno?

Ere come flying did this crow
Blacker than night
Darker even than the mind
of the grid-setter so cryptic.
Twinkle in eye, mischief brimming
the crow, he perched on the arm of my chair,,
looked through icily, said

“What have we here, boxes?
Light boxes, dark boxes,
Shaded boxes, numbered boxes
but filled, lettered ones so few.
It is, I see, that which Nature she abhors!
As to how to fill these blanks,
I’m sure, you have no clue!”
Thus spake the crow.

To these words offence I did take,
For though no master, I was no slouch
And I taught him the perilous
ways through the Holy Grid.

About how a tree was an unetched three
And how the ear was the sense organ of time
About how Al ever managed to operate the lever
And how confused fears made you feel safer.

Thus I explained to him at length
About clues- cryptic, quick, hidden
and other literal sorts you know
the rowdy, wordy anagrammic clues
and funny, punny homophones.

At this juncture,
I paused my lecture.
Not because my pupil was perplexed
rather `cos his were unflexed!

The insolent indolent crow,
he smiled a knowing smile
Not in the least awed
(I know) for now he guffawed
and then he cawed,

“Mere wordplay!
The CrossWord, tis but an eternal truth
The Beginning, cross words were heard
no sooner than God made woman.
Then so many battles, so many wars
when all people did was cross swords”
(How words could this get, I thought)

“And I believe Christ’s last utterings
are now to be had as the Cross-Words,
The End!”
Oh, the way he punned it
I knew he was no crow ordinary
Really, he was some pundit!

And then went flying did the crow.
There was nothing left to do
But to bid goodbye
and jot those immortal thoughts down.

For these crass words
I am not to blame.
(Though the excuse is lame)
These were but the crow’s words!

- Thomas Jay Cubb

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tender Resignation

Yesterday was my last day in my office, where I had worked for nearly 4 years. My tenure there was just like how that Mastercard ad of some time ago went: times that were more better than worse. And thankfully, it was an amicable split (in fact, I had been reading many "How To Handle A Breakup" stories on the Web of late): it was just a case of time to move on.

By a strange and unfortunate stroke of misfortune, I was not well on this last day and was extremely tired throughout. This had to do with my eggscapade of Sunday of course, had caught a bug or a curse on that caper. A major reason for my quit was the realization that there were too many eggs in the fridge of my life - stacks of unread magazines, unexpanded ideas, and many other undone things! But I do hope that this creative-exploration reasoning for my quit holds water when I'm ready to find another job!

I struggled to complete my exit formalities because of exhaustion and was forced to spend most of the day resting at my desk. Hence I was not able to bid cheerful enough adieus to people who came there to my desk and probably decided not to trouble me too much. Guys, it was just that I was ill and exhausted, not sick and tired! :)

PS Yeah, this is the explanation for the recent, increased blogging activity.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Unvital Statistics (TPS Reports)

Have you ever prepared a report at work that you felt was pointless to prepare and was based on useless data?

A couple of posts ago, I'd mentioned TPS reports in passing. Here's some info. From Wikipedia: "TPS report" has come to denote pointless mindless paperwork after its use in the comedy film Office Space. In the story, a primary character is reprimanded by several of his superiors for forgetting to put the new cover sheet on his TPS report. Mike Judge, who wrote and directed the movie, said that it meant "Toilet Paper Sheet" in the movie.

TPS reports typically gather and formalize unvital statistics. Is there a correlation between the length/number of breaks and productivity? How much time is spent by the typical employee not working - blinking, walking, could be anything - how can we capture and utilize that time? Typically, these questions have common-sense answers but they need to be backed up with evidence, don't they?

What's behind the gathering of these unvital statistics? Why does it happen? Why is it so prevalent?

1. Information loss happens at each level of hierarchy. These reports are an attempt at mitigating the resultant damage.

a) Bosses get insecure because of this inevitable information loss. Already, they are losing touch with field-work and they don't want lose their utility completely. They want to take "informed' decisions and who can say for sure that these stats are, in fact not vital? Hence they want to capture as much data as possible, data being the basis for information.

b) There are TPS reports at all levels. Your TPS report is what forms the basis for your boss's TPS report!

2. It gives you, as an employee, something to do. It helps in boosting your PUF. It gives you an easy opportunity to prove your uniqueness and utility. You know what, my TPS report is the best, packs the most punch!

Data if collected has to be processed into information, interpreted and assimilated. Otherwise the effort expended on collecting the data is a waste. The time spent for interpretation and analysis of the data at each level is an acceptable transmission-loss.

My colleague (who of his own volition neither reads nor writes, hence I am obliged to document!) termed it "statistical masturbation" - because it is useful to none and, in most cases, provides satisfaction to just one! :)

- Thomas Jay Cubb

Asides (Analysis/expansion later)
1. In information theory, entropy is a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable . Work is a random variable. Corporate hierarchies are based on information. The second law of thermodynamics, states that the entropy of the universe always increases.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Eggs In The Fridge

Recently, I discovered 4 eggs in a forgotten corner of my fridge at home. I was shocked, to say the least, because I realized then that I had bought those eggs nearly one-and-a-half years ago...15 months, no kidding!

Of course, they had gone bad. I tried keeping them on a plane surface and saw that they wobbled - this way, then that, sort of like a pendulum. This, I guess (and recalling my high-school science lessons and of course Google), was due to the build-up of hydrogen sulfide gas within. So the affair of the eggs in the fridge had become a real stinker- both literally and figuratively.

I had robbed those unborn chickens of their utility and denied them the purpose of even their non-existence! Omelets, French toast, cakes... perfectly modest aspirations for eggs, these had not become even those! I decided that these eggs, if nothing, at least deserved to go out with a bang; I owed them a decent funeral.

The thing about funerals is that they are pointless unless there is a release of emotion, any emotion. No funeral is better than a nondescript funeral. How would I give them what I owed?

Now, there is something about watching the eggs go SPLAT against a wall. I don't know why exactly, but I have always been fascinated with this splatting of eggs. I think it has to do with the letting out of pent-up energy, matter which has hitherto been concealed. I figured that this would be the easiest and the best thing to do.

But there was a problem. In the urban maze that our neighborhood was, there was no suitable wall on which to throw these eggs! :( If I did what I planned to near my house, there could be trouble... there were 4 eggs, not just one or two! Daytime: He's throwing rotten eggs! At my wall! Night-time: Who's throwing stuff at my wall, and at this unearthly hour! There was also the risk of other sorts of tensions (communal?) as well...and, in any case, who knew what 15-month old eggs could contain!!!

My friend was going to Chennai in his car today; I decided to tag along. There are some outback pockets on the highway, with lots of ovoid boulders. I wanted to throw the eggs against some of those boulders on the way. Eggs on egg-shaped rocks, one with the elements. He also supported the plan; I guess his interest was piqued by the prospective splat!

On our way to Chennai, we identified the spot for the ceremony (there was a nice boulder at a turning) ; but we were in kind of a hurry, so we decided to do the honors on the way back (we were returning the same day) .

However, during a stop-over on the highway, I took one of the eggs and threw it on the road. It cracked open. I saw that the white of the egg was all gone and only the yellow remained. The yolk looked funny, it becomes sort of a gel after 15 months, you see. And the stench of it, aaarghh!

Our business of the day dragged on till evening and when we set back it was already dusk. We reached our chosen "funeral-spot" only much later. It was dark and there was heavy traffic, we could not stop! Well, when we got back to Bangalore, it was night and it was still unfinished business :(

I ended up throwing the two of the remaining eggs into Ulsoor Lake. They made a splash when they landed in the water. Then I remembered that it was a splat that I had planned. I spotted a tree on the road and I threw the last remaining against the tree. And..I missed!

Those eggs were definitely not well-done.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

BeneMal Classification Of Games

I think our subconscious identification with the inherent symbolism in a game is an important factor in how much we enjoy watching it. Like George Orwell said, "Sport is war, minus the shooting". Somebody else dies, so you watch?

Today I was watching a game of carroms in the recreational area during the lunch-break, and I was reminded of what a snooker commentator had said on TV a few months ago, when the player had pocketed a ball, "The ball has been released into gravity!"

The free fall of the ball symbolizes a release from suffering, liberation. The ball proceeds into a different plane and we feel happy for it. This is also true when we watch a 100m sprint for example. While the sprint is on, the runners have to keep running (suffering)... up until they cross the finish line and they are released from the forced suffering.

In games, as in life, there are rules and there are constraints. However, there is also an end to a game and we survive to reap the harvest, unlike in life. Sport is life, plus a view into the aftermath. This is what enchants us.

If you look at a game from the perspective of a ball/piece, then games can be classified as:

1) Benevolent Games
In games like snooker and carroms, we try to release the balls from the forces of friction and collisions and boundaries of space. The balls are confined to the table/board and are subjected to forceful collisions (ouch!) and ultimately, whoever liberates the board from the pain of the rolling balls is the winner.

2) Malevolent Games
In games like tennis and badminton, we try to keep the ball within the boundaries of the court for as long as possible. And while the ball is still in the court, we keep walloping it. It's almost as if we hate the ball, as soon it comes near us we hit it to the other side. Otherwise, if we allow the ball to continue in its trajectory and it is still in the boundary, we are penalized. Pure evil!

A redeeming fact though, is that if we hit the ball such that the opponent can't return it, thereby becoming agents of liberation for the ball, we are rewarded with points!

3) BeneMal Games
These are games which symbolize the fight between Good And Evil.

In a game like cricket, the batting side tries to put the ball outside the boundary while the fielding side aims to keep it in. Batting good, fielding evil? Well, Good and Evil are both subjective and relative. If you look at the game from a different perspective, the fielding side can be viewed as trying to put the batting side out of their suffering, caused by their desire to liberate the ball! :)

Football too, both teams aim to liberate the ball from the confines of the field in their own way and believes the other team's way is evil. In the midst of this conflict though, the ball keeps getting kicked around! :)

- Thomas Jay Cubb

Friday, July 03, 2009

Super Chef In Shantisagar

I generally have my breakfast from the ShantiSagar near my office; on most days I have rice-bath. (For non-Bangaloreans, ShantiSagar is a chain of vegetarian joints and rice-bath is a generic term for any savoury boiled rice preparation mixed with a variety of vegetables/seasoning that can be had as breakfast; Bangaloreans, excuse my poor ignorant definitions :)

Where I come from, we don't normally eat rice for breakfast. But what made me transcend my gastronomic upbringing was the tastiness and sheer variety that seemed to be on offer. Each day, there were two different types of rice-bath on offer - coconut-rice, tomato-rice, ghee-rice, vegetable-rice, aubergine-rice, pongal, biriyani, pulao, cabbage-rice, capsicum-rice...

Some of these varieties like, for example, capsicum- and cabbage-rice I had not seen in other breakfast-joint elsewhere and hence I believed this to be innovation at work. Plus, whoever was making it was enjoying his work too; the preparation was sure to be tasty without being generic, satisfaction guaranteed!

There seemed to be a virtuoso chef at work right in my neighbourhood ShantiSagar! And it seemed here, you could have your cake and eat it as well, it was cheap as well! Whether he really was a chef extraordinaire is moot, but for me the proof was in the pudding. :)

I thought a little more about this SuperChef and the life he was leading. Somebody so talented and obviously good at what he did, working at a generic food joint chain! His innovation and creativity would mostly be stifled here. Hey, this is really good mate! Exquisite! But this is not rice-bath man, could you please make some rice-bath now please?

The supervisor's perspective was logical as well: what was the point anyway? People came to ShantiSagar expecting rice-bath and not ratatouille or paella. A good ratatouille is a bad bisibelebath, and a paella is probably taboo for most of the customers. So SuperChef, his ultimate duty being to feed the clientele, would willingly submit and decide to be satisfied making innovative rice-baths.

If his creativity was to be bottled, why was he hired then? Because the supervisor only checked for the minimum qualification - "does he make good rice-bath?" - and took any added skills as a bonus freebie thrown in for him. Maybe he will invent a new kind of rice-bath and that will give us a competitive advantage! Who knows!

Surely, SuperChef was not getting paid much either. (A plate of rice-bath is priced at Rs.16 at the restaurant.) Factor in (the mandatory and natural) capitalistic measures and other hierarchical/operational constraints. Probably peanuts, kind of like minimum wage.

Why was my virtual hero doing it then? Why was he not running his own fine-dining restaurant or at least working at a five-star hotel? Probably he enjoyed what he was doing - making good food and people happy. Perhaps that's all he cared about. Or, maybe it could have been that he didn't know too much about other opportunities that existed elsewhere and was not convinced about his suitability/skills.

If you decide to check out the rice-bath in the ShantiSagar near my office after reading this and find that it's not up to scratch, maybe it's because the SuperChef got bored with the "routine innovation" or he got peer-pressured in to normalcy. But I hope it's because he saw the light and quit!

- Thomas Jay Cubb

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Perceived Utility Factor

Why do we do the work we do? The answer is simple, isn't it? What we are doing is useful to somebody or for something.

1. Everybody is always doing some thing or the other. (I'm busy now, later man!)
2. These things are useful. (Aw, come on! Why would I do it otherwise?)
3. Why isn't the world a better place than it is? (Wait a minute, I didn't say anything about the world, did I?)

The simple answer was wrong, 2 is a lie. Not all work is useful; some lines of work can even be called destructive!...and damping forces (intrinsic inefficiency) are always in operation. But assuming that you are not evil and are not satisfied by the answers Just for a living/I don't care/Because I have to, why do you do it?

We do things because of their Utility Factor - we think it is/will be useful for somebody or for something. The Perceived Utility Factor (PUF) of what you do gives you a sense of significance and purpose; it puffs your ego up, so to say.

The higher the PUF, the happier you are.
So they tell you how every job has its own dignity and also how important what you are doing is (remember TPS reports!), and you are happy... to have made a difference but...

There exists a RUF (Real Utility Factor) as well! No matter how significant you think your work is (and by extension, you), ultimately it is worth only so much in the real world! The RUF can be a real motivation dampener! Reality, reality go away/Little Johnny wants to work.

The disparity between the RUF and the PUF is what leads to dissatisfaction.

The RUF will always be significantly smaller than the PUF. And that is the answer to why the world is not already a better place! :)

- Thomas Jay Cubb

1. The dual measure for this is the Futility Index (Thanks to my friend Ashish Chaterji for putting this succinctly). There are two variants for this as well - Real and Perceived. Frustration is caused when the Perceived Futility Index exceeds or equals the Real Futility Index.

2. Satisfaction is a number! It is directly proportional to the ratio of the RUF to the PUF
The Satisfaction Index, SI = k* (RUF/PUF)
Employers need to ensure that SI never approaches k (that RUF/PUF always less than 1) because otherwise the employee will lose motivation. Sometimes they do this through promotions :)!

More on these later.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Capture To Free

When I was in school, every day during the morning assembly, there used to be a section called "Thought For The Day" where somebody would read out a famous saying/proverb/thought. The attempt was to stimulate thinking on those lines (though nobody ever did!) among the students, at least for that day.

If you subscribe to one of the many Quote For The Day or Word Of The Day mailers and then archive them for later reference (I'll read them later) you know what I am talking about. As we chug along down the tracks of life that have been laid down ahead of us, it would be good if we don't have just thoughts for the day, we should also try to have thoughts of the day.

Thoughts are fleeting; they come and go, and thoughts occur to everybody. Often you will be doing something else when they come and you will put them off till later. I'm doing this now, I can't act on that, not now. Later. And then you forget. The thought is lost to you, and you will be left searching for it!

If you are lucky, the thought will come back to you, and then what? Same story.

It is important to that thoughts don't always need to be acted on fully. Like a ghost haunts you till it is avenged, the thought floats around till you express it. Thoughts find an end in expression. Write it down or at least share it with a few friends. It does not matter even if it is not really significant or momentous; treat it like a child of your brain. An unexpressed thought is like an aborted foetus - you never know what it could grow into.

Give it a chance.

Capture the thought and set it free.