Monday, May 28, 2012

Steering and I

As soon as I was successful in saving up enough money, I started nagging my parents to let me buy a car. Though convincing the elders in my household wasn’t much difficult, buying a car was. Starting with 2 lac (in the beginning of the year 2010) we ended up buying a car of about 5 lacs (and that too months later).

But what I had not anticipated was driving won’t be a piece of cake. Had I known driving would be so difficult, I would have decided to spend this money elsewhere and I am sure I would have found various interesting ways to spend this handsome amount. But no, at that time; one thing and one thing alone ruled my thoughts and that was buying a dazzling car.
It was AFTER I bought the car and started my driving classes that I realized how utterly and completely inane I had been. How stupidly I had judged (read misjudged) my own skills. I have never been a confident person. I have always been scared of driving. I have always imagined myself running someone over. Then how come I forgot this all during the months I was looking for a car.
The knowledge, the fear, came crashing on me during my first lesson. I don’t think I’ve ever been rebuked this severely by anyone else as I was by my driving instructor.
I, who earlier was a strong advocate of hard work and dedication, one who strongly believed that one can achieve anything if one puts his heart to it and works hard with complete dedication and undaunting will power, I who have set up rules for myself to never give up and never admit that there was something I couldn’t do if I wanted to. The rules I had lived up to for 24 years of my life, shattered in the two weeks of my driving classes.
“Was driving really that difficult?” I kept on wondering.
I stared with awe at the drivers of big, shining cars (especially if the driver happened to be a lady). I would go up to my friends and with a voice laced with hopefulness and brimming with expectation, I would inquire;
“How long did it take you to become an expert driver?”
Bracing myself for the answer I had come to abhor and one which never ceased to amaze me or evoke feeling of envy;
“Oh it took me about three days, and then I started going everywhere in my car.”

Every time such replies would inspire me. If they could do it, then so can I. But every time I sat behind the wheel, all the inspiration went up with a phoof. I was overcome by stupidity and a lack of self-confidence so complete that all I wanted to do was give up. I was barely able to control my despondency and had come to doubt my skills. Like Hermoine Granger (of Harry Potter) I wondered why driving couldn’t be learnt from books? (The former shared my sentiments but hers were the result of trying to ride a broomstick.) I knew that I would never be able to drive. And there was nothing in the whole wide world that could convince me otherwise.
Every person learning to drive has problem in at least one area, either it’s keeping the car straight or it’s shifting gears. It’s always one thing or the other. But in my case, it was EVERYTHING. For the life of me I could not understand why I was unable to keep the car in a straight line. During those days I was also trying to sew a dress for my niece and I realized, with much despair to follow that I couldn’t even put a straight line of stitch. It seemed like everything I tried to pull off ended in a complete disaster.
Such was the state of my depression that during those six months (yes it took me six whole months to learn driving) that I seriously considered reselling my car and even started making a list of things I will buy with the money thus received.
Did I mention I lost the one ounce of self confidence that I did possess thanks to driving. I would clutch the steering wheel tightly and would look straight ahead, not bothering to glance sideways in fear of what I’ll see. I expected everyone to move away from my lane so I won’t need to turn right or left in order to avoid a head-on collision. I would honk at anything and everything that came in my way. Once, with my brother sitting by my side, I spotted a crow, who, although he had spotted me, refused to fly away. What are you supposed to do in such a situation? You honk! And so I did, without waiting to consider if such an act was deemed inane by the masses. It was a matter of life and death – for the crow, I mean.
“You are not supposed to honk at a crow.” was my brother’s flat response to my intuitive and insightful decision.
Coincidentally, a few miles down the road, a dog decided to come in my way as well. Seriously, don’t they ever learn! And if I hit them, the blame will fall on the LADY driver, NOT the dog, NOT the crow, but the LADY driver!
This time I shrewdly decided to consult my brother, rather than letting my scared-to-death intuition take over.
“Am I allowed to honk at the doggie?”
“Yes!! And please do that before you kill him.”
Now I know all the in-aptly called ‘gentle’ men reading this would think;
“So this is what goes on in the tiny heads of all belonging to the fairer sex.”
Concluding, immaturely and no doubt incorrectly, that this gender cannot drive. But let me tell you of all the things we have to go through in a 20 minutes drive: 
  • They would stare, like we are an extinct species, with a smile not quite short of devilish. 
  • They would make it a point to somehow block our way. 
  • They would make sure that you hear, even with all windows up, “Ohhhh, a lady’s driving.” And then “make way, make way”.
  •  And if you are really lucky, you’ll even hear a girlie scream.(And they think they’ll scare you with it.)
I remember a friend of mine whose car was showered with eggs from a car full of guys who thought it appropriate to give background music of hooting along with throwing eggs. I wonder if the same has ever happened to any of the chaps out there.
The ‘GENTLE’ men, in general, fail to understand, that everyone, no matter belonging to which sex, who has never had experience of driving “anything” (read bike) on the road would face the same kind of calamities as stated above. It’s difficult enough learning how the car works, add to it the traffic, the buses that try to fly, the bikes that choose to make their own way, the stares and the expectations that you are bound to bump into something sooner or later.

Moreover, if one thing comes naturally to one person or is easy for one person, it may not necessarily be the same for the other person, again not dependent on sex.
However, it is quite pleasing to realize that not all are lost cases. I am not really sure if the help from others is driven by sympathy towards the “weaker” sex, or the traditional heroism one is expected to deliver, or simply good enough character. Whatever it is, I am satisfied to know that half the people out there do not expect ladies to make a mistake always and they are aware of and admit that ladies can be quite good drivers as well.
I myself have failed miserably at driving. But so have a few belonging to the opposite gender. And there are a lot of women who drive expertly, everyday and everywhere. Bravo to all the ladies who, in spite of facing all this nonsense everyday do not give up and continue to strive.

I wonder when people will stop underestimating women in not only driving but in every field and give them the same level of opportunities.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Put a dent in the universe

Although I connected Steve Jobs and Apple, and used iPod touch profusely, I never took much of an interest in the story behind it all (albeit belonging to the computer industry). I am not much into reading anything that can be beneficial. Always a fan of novels; I ran away from biographies and such but the passing away of Steve Jobs and the way my colleagues fervently lamented his death made me feel a bit out of loop, well, a LOT out of loop.
How come I don’t know a thing about Jobs whereas everyone else seems to be an ardent fan and are actually moaning over his death?

So we can say that it’s a good thing that his biography by Walter Isaacson was released soon after. And I got my hands on it with the undaunting determination of completing it and I was able to do that because of the way it was written – brilliantly and simply. Walter Isaacson while narrating the story of Steve Jobs – the man behind Apple – was able to keep the reader’s interest intact. Hats off to Mr. Isaacson.

Walter Isaacson

“Put a dent in the universe” is the slogan Jobs went by. And a true depiction of this statement are the products he parented; Macintost, iPod, iPhone, iPad and many other ideas and concepts. This book is the account of a person who changed the path computer industry took, revolutionizing the way we perceive technology and raising consumer expectations to a level so that other companies had no choice but to follow the lead.

The book narrates the story of how Apple came into being, how and why he was ousted from Apple, how that led to the creation of an animation studio PIXAR, how he again got involved with Apple, how he blew life into this dying company, how till his own death he kept coming up with great products that changed history and how he set the culture of Apple; encoding innovation in its DNA.

Jobs was an ardent advocate of the belief; imparted by his father during his childhood; that the parts one cannot see should also be designed beautifully and with the same amount of care as you design the outside. All Apple products are proof of this philosophy.

Steve Jobs was not only the pioneer in introducing great products, but also his innovative ideas reinvigorated the products that other companies have already been designing. While reading the chronicle of how each of Apple’s product was invented – the thought process involved, the way each player paid attention to minute details especially the way Steve Jobs would fret over a small aberration which will be ignored by most, and how he and his team strived to perfect their products even if it meant to work extra hours, or even if meant to start again from the very beginning if they realized just before completion that they’ve ‘gotten it all wrong’ – one would too be compelled to put the same amount of dedication in their own products. Being a software engineer I was motivated (if only till I held the book in my hands) to aim to drive the softwares I write to perfectionism, the best in their league.

He did not restrict Apple to only producing computers. He revolutionized the music industry by inventing iPod, infiltrated the cell phone industry by bringing out iPhone. He came up with iPad which was initially deemed an unnecessary endeavor but later on embraced by the masses. He was a control-freak and detested anything that would mar the utmost beauty of his product and so Apple stared designing the cover of iPad as well.
The innovative ideas and dedication to perfectionism didn’t go as far as the creation of products only. In fact, the same amount of dazzling creativity constituted each of the product’s launch and advertisements. I have made it a point to watch all the launching ceremonies and ads just so that I can witness Steve Jobs’ style and presentation skills as they were described in the book. Although I have watched most of PIXAR’s movies, I would now like to rewatch them, EACH of them.

Reading Apple’s case studies would help companies in infusing spirit throughout their own organizations and instill strong believes in commitment, dedication and hard work. It takes a lot to build a company, bringing it back from ‘near-death’, taking it to new heights and keeping it there. Steve Jobs did it all. He too made mistakes but he also took the responsibility of rectifying them.

Walter Isaacson with this book has also brought Steve Jobs’ personality to light (along with his business skills). He was not devoid of faults. Readers will meet his darker side. He judged everything and everyone based on a binary system which dictated that either something is “insanely great” or it “completely sucked” (to put in his own words). He also did not refrain from voicing his opinion. He would loudly and clearly appreciate or insult (even fire) people. But he admired people who shared this trait of honesty (bordering on brutality). The story has been narrated till the very end, including his fight with cancer and finally his resignation from Apple.

I realized just now that this so called book review is sounding more like the character sketch we used to write for our intermediate examinations. But consider this as a teaser for what the book holds. It is a must read. So go on, grab yourself a copy

Some Steve Jobs quotes from the book:

 Curiosity is very important.
There's a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That's crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they're doing, you say 'Wow', and soon you're cooking up all sorts of ideas.
If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later. That's what other companies do.