Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

Memorable Memorial Day at Boston

After this kind of trip, the long weekend of Memorial day was to be spent relaxing – and boy, were we relaxed at the end of the long weekend!

If the last trip was ‘heights of planning’ where we planned almost every half day, this trip was one of spontaneity and uncertainty. I had booked tickets to Boston probably a month before the long weekend, while S and Sre dropped out of the long weekend plans due to unavoidable circumstances. The long weekend was vague at the start of every day, not knowing what to do in the next 6 hrs but slowly and surely gaining momentum as the day progressed – it was ‘living in the present’ taken to the extreme. It was fantastic fun – did many things that I never thought I would do, talked about so many topics that I lost count and spent time talking (actually, talking and talking and talking) to one of my best friends for the best part of 4 days.

I landed in Boston on Friday at P’s place. Work-from-home was the order of the day. Little work done and lot of time spent sleeping; it was work-from-home at its best. P and I have been going through quite a busy schedule on the professional front and we decided to explicitly not make this trip strenuous. We decided to put up at Boston itself and roam around to see what we could do best. I met one of P’s friends, T – a very interesting chap and became a very good friend of mine in a short period of time. Friday passed without a whimper but loads of discussion, points and counter-points on infinite topics ranging from physics to engineering to religion and politics (and the discussions continued pretty much for the next 4 days).

As I said, the unspoken theme of the trip was ‘living in the present’. Saturday, we suddenly out-of-the-blue decided, we had to do rafting and if possible, sky-diving. And for this, we had to drive down to Maine since the places near Boston to do such activities were booked for the long weekend. Maine, they say is a very beautiful state in the US, but it was a 5 hr drive from Boston. We decided to ditch Maine. Instead, T played a movie at his place ‘Dan in real life’, which probably would go down as one of the most illogical and insane romantic stories I have ever watched till date. T and P were intensely grossed in the movie, seemingly taken in by the emotions and feelings of the different characters. For me, it was a movie whose only goal was to attain unsurpassed stupidity. We subsequently embarked on our tour of Boston downtown where we took long walks on different bridges and had dinner at the Quincy center (if you are by any chance at the Quincy center, do not have Japanese veg food – ‘pathetic’ is probably a praise for the food. It was rice and tomato ketchup that we had, along with some fried cabbage!) Boston downtown is beautiful at night, especially with the reflection of its skyline on the Charles River. Traffic and noise level were down to a minimum and it was time well spent in the midst of all the chatter and banter.

Sunday was the day of glorious uncertainties. As was the case, we woke up with nothing to do. We suddenly hit upon the idea of playing Golf on a hot Sunday afternoon. The idea sounded exciting, but there was one problem. We didn’t even know the G of Golf. I, for one have never watched nor tried to understood the seemingly boring game of Golf. As Mark Twain said, ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled’. I had agreed to that statement, before I stepped onto the Golf course. We called into one of the beginners Golf courses and learnt the terminology of Golf clubs, balls, tees and pars. The perception that Golf was a costly game was broken when we rented Golf clubs and played a 9-hole course for just $17. With a few important pointers from a good samaritan, we started on our Golf journey which was thoroughly refreshing and exciting although we were playing in 80F heat. I and P matched shot for shot and we got a score of 54, which on a 9-hole course is not bad at all by some standards for absolute beginners. We subsequently proceeded to a Chinese restaurant, had our lunch and decided to go karting. As was the case again, the plan was dropped in favor of another game of golf, this time at a more challenging course (yes, we are totally over-confident 😛 ) We played another 9-hole till it got dark, and in the process lost 10 balls and our stamina. It is a tiring game if you have to walk for around 5 miles in the hot sun, learn the game and shoot the ball into a hole (sounds too much of work, but believe me, its an experience to cherish). To round off another day, we watched ‘What Women Want’ and needless to say, Helen Hunt made my day 😉 (yes, better than the golf 😛 )

The final day of the trip was no different and this time we decided to proceed to the Hopkinton State Park to do kayaking. Hopkinton State Park was about 20 minutes from P’s place. It was a beautiful drive and the Park was slightly crowded. The lake in the Park was vast and there was a strong wind blowing. (I digress, but there were a group of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans who had come along to Kayak in their little-little dresses. My friend said ‘Oh boy! Aren’t they hot? I replied, ‘Not just hot, they are sluuuurrppp, sluuuurpppp hot’ 😀 ) Kayaking in the face of strong winds and quirky changing currents was a lot of fun and 3 miles of kayaking had drained us out totally. We went back home and just crashed for 2 hrs. We subsequently proceeded to the Harvard square where we visited the famed Harvard university (which included visiting the Harvard Arts and Science center and Harvard Business school, and touching the toe of John Harvard (which sounded silly to me, considering American traditions!)). P owed me a drink (not really owed, but yeah, I would take pride in calling it that!) and he took us to this place called ‘Top of the Hub’ in the evening. ‘Top of the Hub’ is a bar and restaurant, on the 52nd floor in Prudential towers, essentially overlooking entire Boston. It was a breathtaking sight at night and a good Italian dinner of Sphagetti and Lasagna made our day.

I had to take leave very early the next day and P and I had little time to say goodbyes. I, for one, enjoyed the trip so thoroughly amidst all the chaos of ‘what to do’ every morning. It was relaxing yet exciting. P was, is and will be an enjoyable company always. The highlight however was meeting T, who was funny, talkative and great company. I do hope he would be a part of many more trips that I and P would be a part of. The long weekend of Memorial day was indeed very memorable.

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Incentives, Apathy and Mathematics -> Bomb Blasts!

Another city, another set of bomb blasts – same set of statements repeated by politicians, police and the media alike; it is seeming more and more like the good ol’ Doordarshan repeat of movies/serials. Hyderabad then, Jaipur now – concurrent blasts, same set of devices, same kind of networking and probably similar number of people killed. How often do we hear that ‘History repeats itself’; I have seen history repeat itself twice over now.

Terrorists (jihadis) who are paid/motivated to cause such disruptions aside, let us look at three fundamental angles to this issue –

1) Politicians: What do we call a bunch of politicians? I say, let’s start calling them ‘A swarm of incompetence’. We often had the same dialogues repeated over and over, irrespective of which party is in power (seems like they have had a common scriptwriter in the Parliament)

‘The terrorists will be firmly dealt with’ (with what, chocolates?)

‘The intent of the terrorists was to cause maximum damage to human life. We will not tolerate such acts of cruelty’ (how surprising!)

Let’s not try to blame them for a moment, shall we? I mean why blame them, if they are not the ones who had/have perpetrated the crime? They cannot leave their all-important job of taking bribes (oops, gifts!) and go after these blood-sucking criminals, can they?

Let’s try to look at it from their perspective. Why at all should they be driven to protect their citizens in a zealous manner from bomb blasts and terrorists? Was a political party ever voted out of power because they did not provide proper safety to their citizens? Or were they voted out of power because the price of onions/rice/wheat rose dramatically? [FYI, BJP was voted out for rise in price of onions in a state]. The incentives are very clear to the politicians too. Every human being is driven by incentives, and the politicians, more so. Let’s not try to get into the moral argument of ‘they were voted into power to secure the lives of citizens’. They were voted into power to do many other things, but they don’t. Police and intelligence were recruited to do this kind of job, not the politicians. Blaming them recklessly would not lead to any fruitful results. What we need to do however – is find a way to incentivise saving of lives, incentivise preventing bomb blasts and then observe positive results automatically. Until that happens, we are going to hear many such similar statements, irrespective of the number of bomb blasts that happen.

[I am deliberately avoiding commenting on the Media. As such, nowadays, two monkeys taking care of each other on a tree in a remote village, Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding drama got more coverage than these bomb blasts; not to mention the frenzy over IPL. Ignorance is total bliss in such a scenario. Fools of the infiniteth order!]

2) ‘We’ the People: One word, Apathy! We have grown apathetic to killing, to terrorism and all related carnages. Sad, but true. What is the first thing you do when you hear of bomb blasts? I, for one, watch the news, call up home to check if everything and everyone known to us is Ok and then switch to more interesting channels. Indifference to death, not in the spiritual sense but materially – we hear about deaths in Kashmir, deaths in the North-Eastern (NE) states so regularly, that it has totally dropped out of the news radar. Heck, the daily number of deaths in Kashmir and NE states might be more than the deaths in Jaipur and Hyderabad put to-gether. Do we express a concern? Oh yeah, words of condolences in Jaipur and Hyderabad’s cases, and silence in other scenarios. And, why is apathy bad? Because, this apathy precisely translates into politicians not having to deal with terrorism ‘with a strong hand’ in literal sense, this same apathy doesn’t make us considerate towards ‘curbing terrorism’ while we vote. Alas, we hope to avoid every bomb blast that happens, and pray every day that a bomb doesn’t go somewhere in the world which may affect any of our family members. I sincerely hope we don’t get into a situation where bomb blasts become the order of the day, just like Kashmir and NE states. As preposterous and terribly pessimistic it may sound, if the scenario does come into play, we have only ourselves to blame.

3) ‘What can I do?”: Actually, nothing. I, as an individual cannot make a difference other than write blogs like this, or support a peace rally which probably will not even get noticed/written about. I cringed, while I wrote the above lines – but I do have some cold logic to support my statement (as awful as it may sound, this is probability!).

Consider this – Police and intelligence agencies might have foiled probably 100 attempts of bomb blasts before this became successful. If not 100, it may be 1000. Considering the breadth of India’s geographical boundaries and its porous borders, the probability of success of bomb blasts increases dramatically day by day. This is because we have more ‘probable’ terrorists coming in through the porous borders for almost the same number of field force in police and intelligence agencies. Hence, by default, the police and intelligence are bound to miss on a tip or two – which might lead to blasts like Jaipur and Hyderabad (and as scientists say, there is usually one success for every 1000 failures]. So much for my optimism, agenda, ‘curbing terrorism’ et al, the mathematics is seemingly true. Please feel free to dispute the logic in the comments section. [And please, hope my mathematical argument doesn’t lead you to question ‘Are you asking us to stop working on curbing terrorism because probability (mathematics) says so? Are you nuts?’ – No, I am not suggesting to stop working on ‘curbing terrorism’. In fact, I am only suggesting to increase vigilance dramatically to stop such incidents].

Advertising in IPL

‘Advertising during IPL matches is over the top – the ads start as soon as the 6th ball of one over is bowled and end only during the 1st ball of the next over. It is killing cricket’ – I have heard this over and over for the past many days. But hey, they paid big bucks for putting up their advertisements and they need to get a good return out of it – don’t you think that is fair? The answers might be yes, no and maybe – but this article is not about the authenticity of the advertising in-between overs; rather it is about advertising within the overs. Let’s look at some of the options –

1) Advertising on ‘ball boys’: I find this slightly shocking – how couldn’t marketers look at such an attractive market for grabbing eyeballs of the viewers (considering the golden rule of marketing/advertising is to grab ‘eyeballs’ and hence brand recall)? ‘Ball boys’ are the ones who throw back the ball to the fielders after the ball reaches the boundary. Considering the number of times the ball reaches the boundary in T20 matches, doesn’t it make logical sense to grab eyeballs of all viewers when the camera is focused on the ball reaching the boundary, the ball boy picking it up and throwing back to the bowler? Let’s take the minimum amount of time that one such event happens – let’s say 5 seconds. The average number of times the ball hits the boundary during the course of the match (two innings) is say, 70 times – which implies 350 seconds on/close to the ball boy. That is almost 6 minutes of advertising in prime time of the match – where almost 30-35 ads of approx 10 secs each can fit in. The cost? What would be the cost of sponsoring the dress for ball boys with company’s (or companies) logo imprinted on it? Get them in bulk – and the cost would be next to nothing. The eyeballs it can grab – plenty.

2) Britannia ‘single’ and a MRF ‘two’: We have also heard about ‘DLF sixer’ and a ‘Citibank four’ etc. Make no mistake – it’s a very important innovation that has come through, probably only because of T20. Irritating – you bet! But what about ‘brand recall’? Marketers must be rubbing their hands in glee looking at such an innovation. Let’s take this a bit far – how about a ‘Britannia single’, ‘MRF two’ and a ‘Cheetos three’. How about naming some of the bowling/batting ends as ‘Reliance end’ and ‘Birla Sun Life end’? A sample of the commentary would flow something like this –

Daredevils Sehwag has nudged Royals Warne towards the Reliance end – is it going to be a Britannia single, ohh…it is going to be a MRF two…ohh noo, the fielder has misplaced it, probably a Cheetos three…the ball has finally reached the boundary…it is a Citibank four.

The example above is slightly exaggerated, but you get the idea. Advertising during the match (instead of between overs) is much more effective in grabbing eyeballs. You might say ‘Hey, that is irritating advertising’. Oh yeah! Rule number one in Advertising: There is no such thing as good advertising or bad advertising as long as it grabs attention. Rule number two: In case of doubt, refer rule number one.

3) Advertising on Commentators: This is slightly dicy, but it might pay off considering the lower costs associated with it. Instead of the bland plain dresses the commentators wear during the pre-match and post-match analysis, why not tag a ‘Nike’, ‘Reebok’ or any other company logo on their shirts? As long as it doesn’t conflict with the sports broadcaster’s and commentators agreements/commitments (and I don’t think anyone is so stupid to wear a Star shirt on a Sony broadcast – ah! I forget Sidhu!), all the parties involved would be happy (Advertisers for their eyeballs, Broadcasters and Commentators for the extra money that they rake in). Now, the only question is what percentage of match-viewing audience would also watch the pre-match and post-match analysis? I think very few – and hence the earlier logic of lower costs involved in putting up the logo on commentators’ shirts [Me says, get Mandira Bedi with her noodle straps – who in their right minds would miss the pre-match and post-match analysis? I wouldn’t 😉 ]

4) Rebirth of Super Selector: During my Engineering days, there was a wonderful programme called ‘Super Selector’. Summarily, it involved selecting a team across the whole bunch of players whom you think would score max runs/take wickets/effect run outs – and depending on that, points would be allocated. The top scorers used to win prizes from Fabmall. The programme was a raging success. I have no idea why this programme was discontinued – but I think it’s a great idea to rev up with this programme for the T20 championships. That would grab the attention of the younger audience (to whom you can pitch in/cross-sell more products, expensive products – and hence better margins], create advertising for the prize-givers and offer prime time slots to showcase the programme along with different advertisements. I did look at some ‘pseudo super selector’ contests on the Internet, but they tend create more junk in your mailbox rather than anything else. Any clue anyone why this programme isn’t yet on the air?

Those were my few thoughts on during-the-match-primetime advertising. Any other ideas?

Two weeks later…

The past two weeks were hectic, to say the least.

The most awaited movie of the year – Tashan got released. The metaphor in itself is probably the biggest awaited joke of the year. With the movie poster of Tashan looking eerily similar to Covenant, Yash Raj films indicated that this movie was not original even with the initial advertising. However, with the sole aim of watching Kareena Kapoor making a fool of herself, I watched the movie much to my bemusement and embarrassment. Terming the movie as a joke is an insult to the word ‘joke’. Attempting a Kill Bill+Ursula Andress in a bikini show, Kareena failed miserably and so did all the other co-stars (although some credit needs to go to Akshay Kumar). A shaven-bare-chested Anil Kapoor was probably the most shocking surprise of the movie – but his acting prowess (if I might call it that) has sunk from bad to worse with movies like ‘Race’ and ‘Tashan’. Spinning a yarn convincingly requires talent – and although I would accept that movies are no theorem-proof and are a mode of pure escapist entertainment, Tashan is exactly the sort of entertainment you want to escape from oh-so-desperately! A done-to-death childhood-friends-meeting-later concept and the seemingly meaningless run-around made ‘Race’ look much better in terms of quality and delivery. The prosperity of Yash Raj Films was due to their originality and dare – not cheap imitation, mimicry and mediocrity. Statutory Warning: Watching Tashan is injurious to health.

It was also a week where Sreesanth competed for ‘Award for the Biggest Sissie Drama of the Year’ and won it convincingly. A well-known dramatist-cum-patchy bowler to say the least (no, he still can’t compete with Ajit Agarkar for the Worst Bowler Award!! Ajit is miles ahead of him!) had a tete-a-tete with a bowler whose brains had been lent-on-lease indefinitely, with the result of a sweet punch on the jaw which resulted in Sreesanth bawling like…(no, let’s not insult kids like this!). With the way Indian cricket is played, don’t be surprised if you suddenly watch a soap called ‘Kyunki Sreesanth bhi kabhi Cricketer tha’! Sreesanth is the new gamma-male (alpha and beta are taken presumably!) representing India, a male who can cry on screen effortlessly and for no reason at all. He has probably opened up a whole new market for male actors who would also like to cry on screen. Soaps would be abound with the entire 138 members in a family which stays in one bungalow, dressed up in heavy bindis and kurtas sobbing and howling for 3 years straight. Sreesanth – you are just awesome; there will definitely be a role for you in each of these soaps where you can weep to your heart’s content and get paid for it.

And to round the two weeks off, this piece of news ticked me real bad. The summary of the article is that Singh has called for cut in corporate pay packets to eradicate poverty. Is this the same Singh that our economic textbooks extol of being the spearhead for liberalization in 1993? Is this the same Singh that called for extensive all inclusive-growth to eradicate poverty a while back? His call for “self-imposed ceiling on salaries and expenditure as a means to drive down demand and so ease pressure on supplies” is pure gibberish. Article after article in Markets/Economics/Finance demand that there be ‘incentives’ to growth, and here is our Prime Minister calling for a cut in incentives, thereby stunting growth inevitably. With rising prices of commodities every day across the world, a cut in incentives should have been least on Dr. Singh’s radar. Probably the functioning of Congress has got into the head of Dr. Singh – sadly, for a man I respected utmost, he has disappointed me terribly. Wretched is the situation for a man who was held in high-esteem for his forward-looking policies and global attitude to go on a pseudo-communist path – ah! It is such a shame!

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