Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Chicago Marathon, ASHA and me

This has been a long time coming. I thought long and hard about using my personal blog as a fund-raising medium. But then I said "what the heck, its my blog!". And anyways, maybe after providing some decent entertainment over the last few months, my readers might be inclined to help me out with a noble cause.

So here goes...

I'll be running the Chicago marathon on Oct 22nd in an effort to raise funds for ASHA, a non profit organization that works towards improving the lives of underprivileged children in India.

I've been interested in distance-running for a couple of years now, and I did complete the Chicago half-marathon last year. But a full marathon has always appeared to be an extreme task, almost a test of character, to me. But this fundraising opportunity has given me that little extra push and motivation to give this a shot. I have been running with a local group that ASHA has tied up with and its been a lot of fun.

Check out these links for more information about ASHA and this fund raising program

and check out my page at

I understand that you might already be familiar with this wonderful organization, but might have commitments to other charities. I would encourage you to take a look at the web-sites and learn about ASHA's work and projects. Feel free to contribute to my run if you wish (you can pay with your credit card via paypal). Also you're welcome to pass this info on to others who might be interested. My goal is to raise $2620 ($100 per mile), and I hope you will help me get there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Roger Federer Experience

I watched a tennis match after a long long time yesterday. It was the US Open men's finals between defending champ Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. And what a game it was! I've heard and read many things about Federer the last few years, but none of that prepared me for what I saw. The man is sheer brilliance, and I couldn't take my eyes off him. Chicago bears were annihilating Green Bay Packers on another channel. I admit I'm not the biggest football fan, but normally I would've switched between the games. No, not this one.

Federer is good looking in that sleek Russian mafia hit man sort of way. This is accentuated by the fact that he never gets riled up. He has this cool about him. And his game! What can I say. I've seen Boris Becker and John McEnroe serving and volleying. I've seen Ivanisevic serves and Andrew Agassi returns. I've seen Pete Sampras' athleticism and Michael Chang's speed. But I've never seen all this in one person.

It all starts with the serve. He can pull out aces when he's cornered. After the serve, he mixes up his game. The opponent never knows if he's going to approach the net or battle it out from the baseline. And he moves with a sort of lithe grace, like a ballet dancer. He never seems hurried. He just gets to the spot a microsecond before the ball is on him. the ball seems to hang in the air, while he goes through a list of possibilities of where to hit the ball, at what speed and at what angle. Once he's eliminated all human possibilities, he comes up with that shot that no one else can replicate. It could be his signature whipped forehand shot that rips out an opponent's will to live, or his heavy topspinned backhand that could travel just as fast or float and drop on the baseline. And the audience gasps in that Federer moment.

Roddick is no dummy. He showed a lot of spirit and put up a fair fight. And for a while in the third set when he had Federer 1 set all and 0-40 down, it looked like this might go down to the wire. But Federer has this aura of invincibility about him. You just know he's not going to let this match go on for too long, much less lose it. You just know its only a matter of time before he elevates his game. And elevate, he did! For the next 20 or so minutes, Roddick did'nt know what hit him. Federer moved to the next plane of existence and forgot to inform Roddick about it.

Ahhh! The pure joy of watching a perfect tennis player... In your mind, you see your man approach the shot. With your camera view, you think you know where he needs to hit it to turn it into a winner. And those few times when you are right and when you see Federer hit that shot better than you had imagined it, you let out a slight gasp, hold your breath and stare bewildered at the screen.

He'll probably go on to be come the greatest tennis player of all time. He'll probably beat the record for most number of grand slams held by Sampras. But to me, all this is besides the point. When I watch Sachin Tendulkar, I'm not thinking about the runs and records he's amassed. I am only interested in the moment. When he rises up on his toes and punches a perfect outswinger through the cover, the feeling is hard to describe. That's genius. And Roger Federer, to me, is a genius. The one that comes along once in a generation. And watching him is pure entertainment and elevation from reality. A whiff of the impossible in our everyday mediocre lives.

One of the best articles about sports I've read a long time is this one by David Foster Wallace.
I leave you with an interesting excerpt:

It’s the finals of the 2005 U.S. Open, Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set. There’s a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today’s power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner...until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer’s scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi’s moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer’s still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball’s heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there’s no time to turn his body around, and Agassi’s following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side...and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball’s past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner — Federer’s still dancing backward as it lands. And there’s that familiar little second of shocked silence from the New York crowd before it erupts, and John McEnroe with his color man’s headset on TV says (mostly to himself, it sounds like), “How do you hit a winner from that position?” And he’s right: given Agassi’s position and world-class quickness, Federer had to send that ball down a two-inch pipe of space in order to pass him, which he did, moving backwards, with no setup time and none of his weight behind the shot. It was impossible. It was like something out of “The Matrix.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

Of crocodile hunters, elephants and dog chasers

By now, the news of Steve Irwin's (a la Crocodile hunter) untimely death have been reported and analyzed by every known news channel on earth. I admit I've not seen much of him except for a few minutes of curiosity spent on his show while flipping though channels. But what I saw ofSteve would make me pause for a minute with my jaw wide open, shake my head incredulously and mutter to myself "These crazy Aussies!". What Stevie boy could do with crocodiles, snakes and other ferocious animals was just too much for me to take. Here is a wonderful article on what he meant to small boys all over the world who dream of a world of marvellous adventures.

Personally, I've never been a big fan of animals. Infact, I've always been downright animal-unfriendly. This, despite me being a vegetarian. And animals somehow seem to sense this quality in me. Growing up, there were numerous instances of being chased by dogs while on foot, bicycle or scooter. My problem has always been their unpredictability. You never know if a dog is gonna lick you, bite you, or worse, pee on you. I've seen my brother playing with cats and getting scratched and bloodied all over. Its another thing that he threw them around. And animals, especially cats, don't let that sort of thing go unnoticed. I'm also probably the only kid who has grown up in Chennai without riding horses on the Marina beach.

My summers spent in my village brought me closer to animals in a way. There were all those cows and calves in our cowshed. We would feed our favorite ones, pet them and pamper them. But boys being boys, we could be cruel as well. My cousins and I would let small calves run around and then try to catch them like Spanish bullfighters. The fact that they did not have horns made this task a little frustrating.

One of the things that I constantly get needled about is my fear of elephants. Yes, I know! They are the most benign of creatures, everyone has told me. While I was a kid, I heard the story about how the great Tamil poet and freedom fighter Subramanya Bharathi got trampled by an elephant and died. This somehow has left a lasting impact on me at an impressionable age. Ever since I heard that story, I've sworn off elephants, even the well-trained ones you see in temples and doing rounds on the streets in Chennai. When an elephant comes to the street, all the kids will be cheering it on and running towards it to offer sweets, and in turn, get blessed by its trunk. I would be the only kid on the block moving from the ground floor of my house to the terrace in record time. And I would refuse to come down till the elephant has disappeared into the distance and the crowd had dispersed. Later, I learnt that Bharathi infact did not die from the elephant attack. His health just deteriorated soon after. Nevertheless, even now, when I come across elephants in South Indian temples, I avoid them at all costs. People sometimes mistake it for a sign of maturity and lack of superstition. Its not. Its just plain fear!

Dogs are another of my pet peeves. Having never been around pet dogs, I don't know how to react to them. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that my fiancee is a sworn dog lover. Any time she sees someone walking a dog, even the ugliest one, she would stop chit chat, pet the dog and leave with a happy smile and some dog saliva on her face. And now she's training me to pet dogs. So if I'm with her during a dog encounter, I gingerly step near the dog touch the fur and appear to be ecstatic. I know the dog can smell my uneasiness and its probably rolling around laughing on the inside knowing my plight. After marriage, there are talks of adopting a dog. I'll probably have to pretend that I have dog allergies or something like that.

Be that as it may, Steve Irwin has been a great example of what an animal-lover could do to popularize environmental conservation even without formal training. Its amazing to watch how easy and comfortable he is around all kinds of creatures. And despite all my shortcomings in the art of animal-handling, I hope to be able to go on a horse ride or be touched (only on the head ofcourse!) by an elephant one day. Or maybe I might adopt a dog, play with it, take it for walks and clean its poop when noone's looking.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Zidane episode update

This is a follow up to my old post on the Zidane episode.

So I was watching some news segment yessterday, and the Zidane headbutting incident again got a mention. I started wondering why they were recycling such old news and whether the American media has run out of material. Just then, it became clear why. The details of the conversation between Zidane and Materazzi have been made public.

The whole incident ran out like this. Materazzi kept pulling on Zidane's jersey throughout the game. So Zidane told him "Why do you keep pulling on my shirt? I'll give it to you once the game is over". To this, came what could be one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Materrazi replied "I prefer your sister". Something inside Zidane went awry, he turned around and the rest, as they say, is headbutting history.

I was quite surprised. Zidane, with his years of European league experience, must've seen far worse than this. He should've just come back with something clever like "But she prefers guys" or "Are you done with yours?". Instead, he went off his rocker and spoilt an incredible opportunity to go out in a blaze.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Product Management and MBA

Product management seems to be probably one of the most important, and concurrently one of the least understood, job responsibilities in any industry. Depending on the industry and company, any and all of the following responsibilities could be performed by a Product Manager.

1. Envisioning a product - consumer research, user profile etc.
2. Product lifecycle management - this would include managing a product from conception to delivery. This could comprise project management duties as well since you'll probably be running a cross-functional team
3. Marketing - create product awareness, brand management, targeted advertising, sales etc.

As you can see, this is truly a cross-functional job that includes both strategic planning and tactical acumen. Okay, before I start firing MBA jargon randomly, I should clarify this statement. 'Strategy' mainly deals with the big picture. It is about having a long-term vision for the company and working towards it. 'Tactical' on the other hand is concerned with the details, implementation and getting stuff done.

So a complete Product manager should have the following skills/talents in my opinion.
1. Industry experience - If you want to be a Product manager, say for a telecom product, experience in the industry and a good technical background will definitely help.
2. Marketing skills - A good amount of a PM's time will be spent on this. So strong marketing and analytical skills, ability to work with numbers as well as people, communication etc.
3. Cross-funcitonal skills - A working knowledge of Finance, Sales, Engineering etc. since you will have to lead a mish mash team and will be involved in every aspect of product development.

So how do you get into such a role? From what I hear, there are 2 ways - put in years of field work or get an MBA from a top school. An MBA would provide you with a complete skill set for this challenging role. You would be equally adept at putting a finance proposal or understanding and working with numbers. It would also improve your communication and problem-solving abilities. and most importantly, your cross-functional team-based projects and internships will be a stepping board.

Some top MBA programs for product management and marketing are Kelloggs, Michigan and Wharton. If you want a strong emphasis on technology as well, you should also consider Stanford, Berkeley and MIT Sloan.

One of the best articles about Product Management I've come across is this. Wikipedia as usual has some good stuff on the topic.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Life of Pi

I read Life of Pi, a defining book by Yann Martel, a while ago on my trip to Yellowstone. How appropriate, considering both the book and my destination are filled with wild animals and their interaction with humans?

The story starts off with the author Yann Martel travelling all over the world to get over his writer's block, and he stumbles upon an old man in India. This man tells him he knows of a story which will make Yann "believe in God", and directs him to another man in Canada. This man is Pi Patel, or Piscine Molitor Patel. If you really want to know the reason behind the unfortunate name, you should read the book. Pi Patel then narrates an unbelievable and extraordinary adventure from his childhood.

Pi Patel is an unusual boy. He grows up in Pondichery, India. He's the son of a zookeeper, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior. He's also seemingly touched by God, and is drawn towards Christianity and Islam in addition to his native Hinduism, from a young age. The scene where the priests from the neighborhood temple, church and mosque meet his parents and start arguing about his religious background and where he belongs is simply hilarious.

When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates to north America along with the zoo animals. The ship flounders and he finds himself in a lifeboat with a few animals and Richard Parker. So what's the big deal, you ask? Well, Richard Parker is a 450-pound Bengal tiger! Other animals on the boat include a hyena, a orangutan and a wounded zebra. What happens aboard the boat? How did the animals react to each other and to Pi? How did Pi survive 227 days in the middle of the Pacific with a Bengal tiger for company?

If you want to get these questions answered, pick up a copy. A fantastical journey into the depths of the human mind, faith and the limits of endurance, it combines philosophy, animal behavior and the selective transformation of reality. The whole story is told in Pi's own voice, and the author approaches it like a biography or a work of non-fiction. But is this story real or is it not? Does Pi exist, or has the author cleverly manipulated you? If you think you'll find out when you finish the story, think again.

This book is funny, deeply philosophical and inspiring in equal parts. A must read.