C’est La Vie

John Lennon once remarked, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I, for one, couldn’t agree more.  For the last one year or so, this has been the story of my Life…

It all started in February of last year, when we were scheduled to go on our annual vacation.  That trip was of course, cancelled on account of my needing spinal decompression surgery for my prolapsed lumbar discs.  The weeks and months that followed, involved a slow and painful process of getting back on my feet again, which I was determined to do.

BossLady – my wife – was already pregnant with our second child, at the time.  We did not know, however, that only a few months later, we would be facing a difficult time with the pregnancy thanks to the increased probability seen in the triple marker test, warranting a risky procedure called amniocentesis to rule it out completely.  Just like we did not know that, a few months after that, the pregnancy would unfold yet another exciting chapter with an “incompetent os” that would need surgical intervention and complete bed rest for several months!

Finally, after an eventful term, a healthy baby boy was born to us in Oct 2007. Life was beginning to take a turn for the positive… Or was it?

A few months after that, Mom developed a sinus-bronchial infection that would take several months to treat, at the minimum.  According to the ENT specialist, we were lucky to have caught it in time!  The treatment had not yet been completed, but she was making good progress.  The baby was also a healthy four-month-old now.  So it would be a good time to take a much-needed holiday, we thought.

Once again, we planned our annual leave – this time to an exotic coffee estate in South India.  I’d applied for leave well in time, and planned for all my projects to be managed in my absence.  BossLady was already on leave, so that was not a problem.  A week before departure, however, she developed a fever – one that would go from 100 to 104 in just a few days!

I was actually out-of-town on an official trip and had to rush home to attend to that.  Naturally, the annual vacation was cancelled, once again.  In fact, an entire course of antibiotic and antimalarial medication hardly had any effect on the ailment.  A plethora of tests followed, but the fever remained undiagnosed.  Finally, a consulting specialist diagnosed it as Typhoid.

The hardest part of it all was communicating to an innocent four-year-old that we will not be going on the much-awaited vacation.  We always prepare Pumpkin for what’s coming, and had spent quite a few days building up hype for the upcoming trip.  Naturally, she was looking forward to the entire experience of going to a coffee estate, especially since she’s not even permitted to drink coffee!  Alas, her vacation would have to wait for another day…

Even today, 11 days after the first bout of fever, the recovery has only just begun.  She still gets a fever every 5-6 hours, but is slowly… very slowly… gaining back some of her strength.  A microorganism that’s one millionth our size is presently controlling how we live.  And, if what I understand is correct, typhoid is an ailment that can take 4-5 weeks to recover from.

We are, of course, hopeful of a full recovery.  And, can only hope that things take a different turn, this March onwards.  Only, I won’t be making any plans to that effect.

Heaven on Earth?

A link from Atanu’s blog led me to some fascinating facts about a place I’d known of for quite a while…

  • World’s first democracy: the first in which all women joined men in having the vote for Government: 1893.
  • Has long since virtually eliminated poverty.
  • One of the world pioneers (since mid-1930s) of the welfare state, along with Sweden and Norway.
  • From about 1938 to early 1970s, 100 per cent full employment. Even now, national unemployment well under 4 per cent.
  • (Has a) robust grassroots democracy. Every school, public and private, is elected by the school’s parents, with minority board-posts elected by teachers, and, in high schools, by students too… General election turnouts for most of the last half century have regularly topped 90 per cent, although have dropped slightly below that in some recent years.
  • In the mid-part of the 20th century, consistently in the world’s top five countries to lead the world in productivity.
  • Among the world’s top-book-buying and reading nations.

What an impressive set of indicators for an outstanding quality of Life, wouldn’t you agree?  No wonder, I’ve been wanting to move to New Zealand, for as long as I’ve known of it!  (Thanks for the reinforcement, Atanu)

Read the complete list here.

Nano Reality

The last few days have been nothing short of historic, for the great nation of India: At the biggest Auto Expo of the country, Tata Motors finally unveiled the much-awaited “one-lakh” car – the Nano.

As promised, the Tata Nano is priced at Rs. 100,000… or, as some folks in the media have so eloquently noted, a car that costs the equivalent of a DVD player in a Lexus or the side mirrors of an E class Mercedes!

According to the Times of India, on prices adjusted to 2007 US$, this is how the Nano fares, as compared to other legendary advances in the world of affordable automobiles:

1. Model-T Ford | 1908 | $ 19,700
2. VW Beetle | 1956 | $ 11,333
3. Mini Cooper | 1961 | $ 11,700 and
4. Tata Nano | 2008 | $ 2,500  (approx. Rs. 100,000)

The car was always intended to provide a safe, comfortable and elegant means of transport for the masses of India.  According to Ratan Tata, his inspiration behind the project was the vision of “a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads — a family in potential danger.”  Even when he first announced the ambitious goal, there was no shortage of those who said it couldn’t be done… it shouldn’t be done!

Today, and in spite of all the odds faced throughout its development, that dream has turned into a reality.  It does not compromise on quality or style or engineering.  It does not cost the earth in running costs or maintenance.  It’s not an apology, it’s a car.

And, already, it has received more than a fair share of criticism from all quarters… Large metropolitan cities do not have any roads on which to accomodate more cars.  Where will all the new cars be parked?  More cars on our roads will mean more pollution in the environment… Even its brand name is being touted as unsuitable for the target audience it is aimed at (semi urban, rural markets and two wheeler owners with a family of four)!

Sure, some of these arguments are valid.  But, so are the dreams of the common man.  I have experienced, first hand, the perils faced by two wheelers on our cities roads, and always wished there was a better alternative.  Now, there is.  And it’s called the Nano.

Doesn’t that count for something?  Not to mention the remarkable feat of engineering in ensuring such a project sees the light of day in a road-worthy automobile?!

Yet again, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous remark: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Good luck, Mr. Tata.  And, thank you!

Read More : | Tata Nano | Coverage: | NY Times | MSNBC | Reuters | Google Blog Search |

Platform Power

I am a big believer in going against the grain… standing out in a crowd… rocking the boat… being “different”… In fact, this entire blog has been dedicated to writing about the “other” point of view!  Lately, however, I have become increasingly aware of the benefits of staying with the crowd, at least where Technology is concerned.

Allow me to explain:  Buy a not-so-popular mobile phone, and you find yourself stranded in situations when you need a charger and no one else can lend you one.  Sign up for an obscure email service and your friends and family will find it difficult to remember your email address.  Got a no-name MP3/MP4 player?  I’m not sure if it will read your music files without needing conversion!

Many of us must have dealt with some or the other version of the above.  The bottom-line is that there is comfort in numbers.  Not to mention, the “Network Effect” that kicks in!

It’s not a problem that plagues individuals, alone.  Apple has historically lost the “PC” war on account of not making its hardware and OS “open” to developers.  The result?  Microsoft came and swept the desktop world, with millions of small and big developers writing applications for a platform they could easily work with.  Sony lost the video-cassette battle to the VHS standard.  As a result, its superior Betacam format was restricted to a niche place in the industry.  Most recently, a fierce war is being fought over DVD standards with entertainment majors like Sony and Toshiba on opposite sides of the BluRay and HD bandwagons.  In each such case, there is major money to be made by the organization that backs the right horse… its survival may just depend on that decision.

For an individual like myself, this “platform power” yields some very powerful and exciting benefits.

A good example is the iconic iPod which has now spawned a whole world of related technologies (e.g. podcasting?) because of its sheer popularity.  Some of the gadgets I own, or services I subscribe to, are no different.

The bluetooth device I own (Jabra BT250) has worked seamlessly with the last six mobile phones I purchased.  The MP3 player in my car (iPod Nano) is loaded with podcasts from Harvard Business School and the NY Times TechTalk.  My blogging service (WordPress) sports widgets that integrate beautifully with my other subscriptions from industry-standards like Feedburner.   And, it doesn’t stop there… Even my state-of-the-art Digital SLR (Nikon D40) is designed to work with any Nikkor lens manufactured by Nikon since the 1970s!!!

Once you begin reaping the benefits of the “platform”, it doesn’t make sense going back, does it?

Cross Word

A new website offered an interesting premise: Publish your book in 10 minutes, free! Naturally, I was intrigued. On further investigation, it turned out that ‘If I Were A Book’ did not actually turn your words into a real book, but the did the next best thing possible. It gave you an opportunity to showcase your work among some well-renowned publishers. The list of partner publishers was impressive…

A new website offered an interesting premise: Publish your book in 10 minutes, free!  Naturally, I was intrigued. 

On further investigation, it turned out that ‘If I Were A Book’ did not actually turn your words into a real book, but the did the next best thing possible.  It gave you an opportunity to showcase your work among some well-renowned publishers.  The list of partner publishers was impressive: RandomHouse, HarperCollins, Jaico, Hachette, etc. etc.

Post content which you feel is book worthy and watch it instantly take the shape of a book!  Get noticed by top international print publishers looking for talent like you… Read pre-printed books and voice your opinion to decide which books get printed…

Could this be true?  Could I really get a shot at a real-world publisher seeing my work and evaluating it on its merits?  Could it possibly work?

Having harboured the desire to write a book someday, I’d always been on the lookout for an opportunity like this.  I’d done my share of research, learning all about self-publishing options like Lulu and BookSurge, and visiting the “Submit your Manuscript” pages of most leading publishers’ websites.  It seemed like there was no downside to trying out this new platform.  After all, the worst case scenario was simply: No one would call.

So, I went ahead and hit the big green button that said “Publish My Book Now!”. 

My first book-concept is entitled “Bundle of Joy” and is intended to be a compilation of my blog posts on Fatherhood, charting the life of my first-born from conception to the time she was three… From the point of view of her father, of course. 

With that submission, the search for a publisher has moved up a notch.  It will help if you folks – the people who like my writing – rate the book on the site (registration required).  So, please take the time.

And, if there’s a author hidden inside any of you, I suggest you rush for that green button, now!

P.S. Interestingly, the past few weeks, I have been reading a fascinating book by Chris Anderson – The Long Tail.  And, this new platform seems to be yet another example of the Long Tail at work!  Must read, if you’re remotely interested in Science, Economics or the New Information Age…