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2008 roundup – part une 9

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I am back with a long awaited attempt at getting back to the “Drid Nishchaya” of being regular at the blog (though I am sufficiently active on the photoblog, the microblog and to some extent the Delhi Bloggers‘ Blog). Here’s a roundup of the salient features of the 2008 chapter of my life, most of which was intended to appear on this blog but did not turn up for various reasons.

The year 2008 started on quite a bad note. Right after the 12am gong struck 1st Jan 2008, and I was holidaying at Sonapani, I discovered a “virtual” can of worms in my online social circle and had to perform the virtual equivalent of chemotherapy on a virtual entity I had started. All that done, it was surely a relief. I was very glad and also pleasantly surprised to see the support this ‘act’ garnered for me. It was one of the times where one could clearly differentiate between friends and foes, commitment and shallow words, sincerity and selfish, plain greed. On the whole though it was unpleasant, it was also a great learning. Human nature has many a fascinating avenue to explore and observe. And realise.

On 13th Jan 2008, the Delhi Bloggers group celebrated its 4th anniversary in Blues, CP. We all had great fun. It was a simple fun affair. For a change we had no agenda, sponsors or planning. Just a night with online friends who have been together since 4 years and liked to be together.  The common thread tying them – Delhi & blogging.

In late february last year, 23rd Feb to be precise, we bade farewell to our dearest doggie, as he left for the doggie heaven above, after giving us a glorious 17 years & 2 months of his affectionate company. I had planned to write about it on the blog to express the pain and I even put some other posts on hold because of that. But I never could. The loss of a pet may not be understood by those who have never owned one. But believe me, it’s like the loss of any family member or rather that of a child. 17 is teenage in human years and abt a 120 in doggie years. My sister and I have spent the bigger part of our lives in his company than without it, so it’s a loss that is unforgettable for life alright. The pain of the separation apart, it was a most unfortunate time we had, while looking for a decent burial spot (crematoriums have been stopped by the govt). It would have been better if we had thought out the horrendous details earlier, even though painful. I continue to miss him every single moment that I breathe. God bless him for the unconditional love he gave us.

In early March, I organised Delhi’s first tweetup (Twitter meet) along with @mojosanjay. It was great fun and we had a huge attendance even though organised in a jiffy. There were out station members as well and I even shot a video of most members. Got to still work on that to share it :P. It was a meet in a cafe, we explained twitter to those who didnt know it and also explained some mashups to those who did.

In late March, I “aged” another year. The least said the better :).

In April, we helped organise Blogathon India and had a partner meet in Delhi for that. This meet was sponsored by Alootechie. It was a nice cosy affair at “The Attic” in CP – a place to fall in love with. The participation in blogathon was good and had a great potential if done regularly. The sponsorship was based on verbal commitment. It was just 4K to cover the rent & snacks charges. However, getting a reimbursement of that money probably cost me at least 1/4th the amount in just persuing them for it and took 5 months of continuous pressure. A harassing experience, but I made sure I at least got my money back. I am told (via other bloggers) that this isn’t a one off thing, it’s a consistent one with this organisation.

In April again, Dinesh Khanna (who I co-administer “Delhi Photographers” with) drew my attention to the fact that my picture was there all over in Canon’s brochures in every camera box! Well, it still is. And unfortunately there’s not much I can do about it. It had been clicked by photographer friend Sanjay when he & I were trying out our brand new Canon 400D’s and the various features of our new “toys”. This pic as it turned out, suited a particular contest of Canon very well. We discussed the pros/cons of participation & Sanjay decided to send it in hoping to win the first prize – a cool camera lense (which we were quite sure of winning given the quality of the picture demonstrating every aspect of a camera). Later he got a notification that his pic would be used for some Canon related stuff. No news about the competition. Till date. In return he got nothing but a silly camera manual. The modified picture that is there in every Canon Camera’s box now, is so botched up that it literally looks mutilated. The worst treatment to subject someone’s creation to. The contest fine print allows them to publish the picture, however the whole episode reeks of unethical practices on Canon’s part. If the picture was that good that it can go out as part of a brochure of every single Canon EOS series camera now (and has been so since past 1 year plus), then it definitely deserved first prize. What better certification was required than the very fact that Canon decided to save on agency costs & used a picture clicked by a Canon user! However we never heard anything from Canon till date. Bad Canon.

Soon in May, I got an article published in Hindustan Times. It was on blogging and the community of Delhi Bloggers that exists – their meets, the events, the fervour. Felt great :). I have had many interviews (print/visual/audio) taken earlier, but in terms of writing something (not creative work that incidentally got published too) specifically for publishing in a leading publication, this was a first.

In late May, I left my organisation of 8.5 years to join another for the kind of role I wanted. It was a moment I expected to be “impacting” me in a very large way. Surprisingly it didn’t. Not quite. A smooth transition emotionally I guess is due to the disillusionment of many years. It was a long journey with many nuggets worth sharing here. I got a short break of 3 weeks in between both jobs. I tried to get a longer one but the IT industry is just not kind to people who want to take a sabbatical.

Just after I left my prev orgn, 104.8 Meow FM interviewed me in their studio. I had a great time with Ginnie Mahajan who was the host of the show – Tu Tu Meow Meow. It was supposed to be a live chat show where callers call and asked me questions about blogging and then there were random songs that played as well. During the songs part I got to know Ginnie and during the chat part, the callers got to know me. There were some rather hilarious moments where I just could NOT control my laughter while we were live and Ginnie had a lot of fun at my expense in a LIVE show! My family, extended family, some friends & ex-colleagues were all tuned in. Couple of bloggers who knew me called in and some others called me after the show because they had happened to hear me on air! All in all it was a great experience. I had been interviewed by BBC radio in Apr 2006, but a live show in a studio is a different ball game altogether. I had asked a friend to record the show on my mp3 player so I have some sort of a recording but it has a lot of noise in various places. Unfortunately when Meow FM sent me a much needed recording of my show it turned out to be someone elses. Probably someone, somewhere else is laughing off at the chat show that we all are supposed to laugh at! I am yet to edit the recording I have and share it for your hilarious listening pleasure.

On June 7th, I happened to organise India’s first social media camp. Note – there may have been many blogcamps earlier, but there were no camps at all which catered to social media or the various commercial uses of it or social media marketing. I realised this when I tried planning for this particular camp. I could not find any precedent for any sort of guideline. Eventually I shortlisted some areas where social media is used in todays Web2.0 world and tried to invite speakers from that very domain to talk about how they used social media. In the end we had speakers from the Print media, Travel industry, Corporate blogging arena, Social media marketing, a leading newschannel, developers who create social networks, a humour blogger talking abt his social media experience, a blogger presenting a debatable topic – “protecting” social media, a session on our evergreen twitter, social media in the mobile network and a lawyer talking on the much needed legal aspect of social media and of course monetisation. It was a very interesting affair. Our prime sponsor was Indiatimes and we were also assisted by IBM, WordPress and Tyroo. The event was very well appreciated. We got great feedback and accolades. It could not have been possible without Sanjay and Garima. The perfect team to work with. Thanks Guys!

On 16th June, I joined my new organisation, with a new role – the kind that I wanted for long but could not get in the ex-orgn. Later, within 6 months I would get an award at excellence in work and I would wonder why I did not leave my ex-organisation earlier.

I’ll follow up the next 6 months (part deux) in a separate post. Since it’s already been 6 months into 2009 too, perhaps those 6 months (part trois) in another post as well :\.


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The million dollar question

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It literally is about a million dollars. When I started with my career, the personal questions that interviewers would ask were not many. They were all the usual ones with typical answers. Positive points, negative points, strengths and weaknesses. Typical HR speak. Now that I have worked for several years and after an era of inertia, I have *finally* managed to push myself in the ‘assessment of my market value’ whirpool, the questions are again typical. But somehow I have still not been able to conclude what the best answer should be. One should always be prepared not to be caught unawares. I thought, with practice, I’ll be able to conclude the answer to that million dollar question – why do you want to leave your current job? But time and again, the reactions of the interviewers perplex me.

You should not appear as a flyer – changing jobs as quick as maybe clothes.. well ok, maybe not, maybe as quick as toothbrushes. So at least no flimsy reasons. The first approach I decided was to be honest. ‘More money’, I would state blatantly along with the usual, by now rattled-off-my-tongue kinda practiced sentences. After all, we all know that, that *is* the main reason. I soon realised. One of the companies had an HR interview with me. They asked me the reason why I wanted to shift and I stated the above, though of course coupled with a lot of other stuff about challenges at the workplace, growth, work culture and the usual yada yada. They never got back to me. In discussion with one of the consultants, who happened to know the philosophy behind the elimination process of this particular company, I was made aware of the fact that ‘money should not be the main reason’. In fact you should not sound ‘greedy’. ‘But that’s a major reason why we all seek change, isnt it?’, I asked. Still. That’s what he told me. Well, dunno why I shouldn’t demand what I think I am worth. If its too high, may be we can negotiate, but at least I should be made aware.

I started concentrating on other issues. Like growth for example. Role enhancement for another. If I say I am not getting these at the current workplace, the next question automatically is whether I ever raised this issue with my supervisors and what was done about it. If I say that I did and nothing was done about it, that perhaps give a wrong idea again. May be about my performance. May be about my relationships with my seniors. May be about my competency or my persistence. Whatever. To say that I never talked to my supervisors regarding my problems would be foolishness. I give different answers based on how I perceive the interviewer to react.

Another point is work culture. If I say that there were some things that I didnt like, the interviewer tries to probe into what kind of things. Ultimately it boils down to the same things happening in all companies. Does that imply that I’ll never be able to adjust to the work culture of any job? If I give a slightly positive picture of the work culture then we come back to square one. Why on earth would I state work culture as a reason for my shifting if it’s quite commendable!

There’s a fixed trend according to which ppl’s priorities change. When one’s a fresher, one is very enthusiastic and is ever willing to take on all the menial tasks and even do it for free if asked! But as you grow, things start getting to you. People realise that the company shouldn’t get to have its cake and eat it too, all the time. Priorities change.

But the million dollar question still remains unanswered. If I ask for a hefty (ok, not so hefty) pay package, is it ‘bad’? Negotiation or feasibility are other things. But mentioning that I am in this thing for money, is it really the wrong move? I don’t think so. Not all ppl survive on the usual idealistic criteria for a dream job. Good work, good work culture are all passe. What matters today is the big bucks and the time that you get for yourself. Good work and hence work culture are also very important, but I have seen ppl reach a compromise with them, as long as the other two criteria are getting satisfied. Is that approach wrong?


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Access denied

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Ever come across this all-pervasive message on your computer screen? Well I have, coz I access the net mostly from office and of course Big Brother always has eyes on my activities. Gone are the days, when barring porno sites nothing else was ‘access denied’. Gone are the days when Yahoo, MSN, ICQ all used to be ‘accessible’ all the time to everyone. Gone are the days when all greeting card sites were a quick means for anyone to wish someone. It was perfectly fine to be downloading MP3’s, checking your web mail and surfing the net for whatever you can imagine (ok, don’t imagine too much now). It was perfectly fine to be receiving and forwarding huge attachments (at times MP3’s and MPEGs too) and everyone had infinite space in their mail account. The bandwidth of the company network was able to take all this load and still survive.

But then comes a day, in every organization’s network-congested-life, when it grows larger and as that happens, the top mgmt, finally realises that “Khulee Chhooot”..umm err.. i dont know how to spell it now..this gives it a very ‘access denied’ meaning.. ok “Full freedom” for its employees is certainly not beneficial for the organization. Moreover in this era of the post-IT-boom-gone-bust-days, one needs to cut down all kinds of unnecessary costs. Obviously all these things classify as luxury for a normal employee.. so the ‘normal’ employee is imposed with certain restrictions whereas the top mgmt, still has Khullee..ok Full freedom.

The new rules are defined in such a way, so that the employee is able to take in the shocks bit by bit.
Round 1 – the chat clients are blocked..but wait, all is not lost, only for certain hours..the working hours. Then greeting card sites are blocked, but again, they are accessible after working hours. Then MP3’s are blocked and of course the same time limitations. (How can they block them totally, after all they also listen to the same music that we download, on the intranet!). Then size limitations are put in for mail accounts. All popular sites like cricket sites, joke of the day sites are blocked.
Round 2 – Restrict the kind of attachments one can receive or send. All mp3’s, mpegs, exes, jpgs, gifs are blocked. Non office hours? Does that mean all hours out of the 24 except the working hours? No, from now on they mean only 6-9 in the evening.
Chat? Cards? oh everything is ok only from 6-9 and no not even on sunday is this timing changed.
Round 3 – No chat at all. New proxy mechanisms make sure that URLs are blocked on basis of the words entered. Now almost the whole internet gets blocked, except for good old google of course. Size of mail box reduced to an iota.
Round 4 – Impose policies of all kinds, which bar the employees from any recreation on the net. Did I mention that the top mgmt has different policies and even different internet links?

These are some of the strategies that organizations follow. Some of it is definitely needed but not to the dictatorial extent of every site being blocked without reason! Of course it’s not as drastic as having no internet connection at all at your desktop, so that the cause itself is done away with. I find it difficult to imagine how ppl in Infosys or ST Microelectronics survive! I mean block all you want, but you do need the net for official work also.

Anyhow, in situations like these, it’s always the employees vs the Big Brother. The BigB forgets that the employees are after all in the IT field and come what may, would find out alternate ways and means to access the ‘access denied’ stuff. So after some time, it really is no real saving of bandwidth or manhours coz those who have to, will do. And those who don’t, anyway won’t. But you know that the restrictions are way too wrong, when almost all employees are finding out new ways and means to access the denied.

So for all you bandwidth starved ppl out there, here are some tricks of the trade. Of course try them at your own risk coz Big B is *always* watching.
Anonymous proxies: you surf the net using these proxies. They act as a buffer between your proxy and the final site. There are various kinds. Ones which encrypt the URL, ones which dont, ones over SSL etc. Depending on the type, you can access sites without anyone (not even BigB) knowing which sites you visited. Of course you need to keep your database updated coz someday BigB is gonna realise that almost all employees seem to be visiting anonymizer.com for some reason.
Use software which sends your data over socks proxy or SSL – You can visit http-tunnel.com or htthost.com for more details. All you have to do is install the software, make some settings and voila! you can say bye to BigB’s ‘access denied’ web page. And did I mention that you can chat, download (music too) through this? But again, BigB is listening to all ports that you are using and before you know it, the ports for these softwares would be blocked.
There are a few sites which take the URL of the download you want, change its extension and give it back to you with a decent extension that the firewall won’t block. Or they offer you ways to access ftp via http, if your firewall blocks ftp.

Wonder why the corporate networks, still can’t control spam the way they impose these restrictions!

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My dreams (rather nightmares)

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im_snmp_cli.c:1348: warning: passing arg 2 of `im_retrieve_array_index_from_ip’ from incompatible pointer type
im_snmp_cli.c:1370: warning: passing arg 3 of `im_pack_snmp_param_tlv’ from incompatible pointer type
im_snmp_cli.c:1370: void value not ignored as it ought to be
im_snmp_cli.c: In function `im_cm_get_struct_ref’:
im_snmp_cli.c:2443: warning: integer overflow in expression
im_snmp_cli.c:2630: `INDEX_TBD’ undeclared (first use in this function)

Compilation errors are what I dream of nowadays.. I am a goner.. :-(.

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Rains Lash!

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One of the most interesting things happened last friday, something which could actually result in a lot of business loss for the company in which I happen to be employed. There was a complete power outage in one of the plots that we operate from. The generators and power cables etc are kept in the basement of this plot. The rains on thursday night had lashed out pretty strongly and Haryana being the way it is, with no proper drainage system in place, the water flooded our basement. It was 3 feet high with the major equipment completely soaked in water, resulting in emergency shutting off of the power supply. The UPS could also not last for long.

When I reached the office, most of the ppl were standing outside as nothing was working – no PC’s, no AC, no lighting. Everyone wondered for some time abt what to do next (of course the ppl handling the crisis were already at it). It was obvious that the power would not come back so soon and when it does it would take some time to stabilise things. The power was there in other plots but ppl cdn’t really work even there, since the central hub of the company was down. All unix servers, mail servers, proxy server were down, cutting us off from the entire world. It’s such a handicap in this age of electronic means!!
Anyhow strategies for making the best of the opportunity started pouring in. I was all for a Jaipur trip (provided we started on time) or a guitar session (have kept my guitar in office). Someone wanted to watch American Chai at DT Cinemas, Gurgaon. Have already seen that movie in a film festival last year. It’s another one of those where a typical NRI of Indian descent is confused about his “culture” and eventually realises sooner or later that it’s very much a part of him. Ultimately we watched Matrix Reloadedat PVR Gurgaon. The hall is superb, the movie is not. Various upcoming malls at Gurgaon add to the modernistic sheen of that place.
So we had a blast and came back to office, only to be told that the power outage is here to stay for some time. These guys were lucky all this happened on a Friday, with a weekend buffer otherwise imagine the number of wasted manhours!! I must have heard the term BCP (Business Continuity Process) umpteen no. of times that day! Lot of ppl went back home and attended to things they never get the time for on weekdays (that includes sleeping :-P).
In all, such things though in rarity, should happen .. it’s a good team building exercise as we all could make out :-).


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