Sunday, July 19, 2015

Rediscovering the joy of playing a sport - it's tennis this time!

Squash kept me sane. It gave me an outlet for all the negative, pent-up energy. I played it at least four-times a week for about 11-years of my life. And then, I had to stop. New job, new coast, and the opportunities to play squash disappeared. Some of it was an excuse, more of it was my broken finger, but the rest of it was about having to start afresh in a new place and building a new community. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to do that and balance everything else that was going on around me. I focused on getting my new life on track. It now is...

I moved to Norfolk two-years ago. These years have been some of the hardest of my adult life. When I moved to a new city in the past, I worked in that same city. Making friends at work is easy; playing sports at a local gym facilitates the finding of people with common interests too. Unfortunately, there is no work for me in Norfolk. The people I met were mostly colleagues of Puneet's, and I realized quickly that I had less in common with them than the tree outside my apartment building!! All conversations somehow devolved into a treatise on the practice of medicine, the day's patients or criticisms / parodies of the doctors at the hospital. I couldn't partake in the conversations, and being thoroughly bored is not something I like to repeat too often.

Another thing dawned on me - I struggled to get along with these people because they were anywhere from 8-10 years younger than I am. Their interests - basketball, video games, gangster rap, smoking hookah or just talking up their achievements - were so different from my own, but not so different from their contemporaries, that I started to think that the disconnect was more due to how, where and when we were raised. I have often wondered when this same issue will become an issue between Puneet and I. As of right now, I don't have much to worry though - she is an older soul than I am, more of a mature adult than I am. For now, I have nothing to worry on this front.

This winter though, a confluence of events changed the status quo. The last time I was in Mumbai, Nikhil and I started playing tennis at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. His game was weaker than mine, his strokes rusty, his consistency almost non-existent. The 2-weeks of playing in the sun galvanized his passion for the sport, and he found a way to get regular lessons from the pro at the gymkhana. I was to go back to Mumbai in April, and the trash talking had been on since December - "Manoj, you better watch out because I am going to whoop your ass!" If the fear of losing to your younger brother isn't a motivator in life, I don't know what is!

Southern Virginia, the Hampton Roads area, is very tennis-friendly. There are 10-courts within driving distance of my apartment. Additionally, this area is known for balmy winters. Not this past winter - we had one of the coldest winters on record this year. I couldn't get anyone to come out and hit on the courts. I had to figure something out, and fast. It was January already, and no respite from the cold weather was in sight. It's about then that I found a winning formula.

The YMCA has racquetball courts - a concealed space with high ceilings and great hardwood floors. I went back to my days growing up in Mumbai; we competed against one another by hitting a ball against the wall because we didn't have a tennis court outside the summer months. I started slow and built up to adjust to the faster pace off the polished hardwood floor. It took me a week to glide instead of stomp on the court, and my strokes started finding their range. The enclosed space allowed me to get more repetitions on my backhand, build my confidence up, work on my timing. The wooden courts, while great when I started, were not true to what I would have to deal with in Mumbai. I needed a concrete surface. I walked out of the Y after one of my "tennis-ball" sessions, and my next playground was staring at me in the face - the enclosed parking lot of my apartment building!

Every weekend this past winter, my favorite pass-time was stepping out of my apartment door, walking 200-feet and hitting balls against the parking lot wall. A steady soundtrack of hip-hop and EDM played off my Jambox, and Yaser often drove past me as I hit intently against the wall. People stopped and asked me what I was doing, and most drivers-by thought I was crazy. But I didn't care; I was getting more consistent every week, and my play in Mumbai was going to benefit from the disciplined hitting.

The two-weeks in Mumbai were memorable for a number of reasons, tennis at 10am in the 100-degree heat was definitely one of them. Nikhil and I had about 10-sessions over 16-days, and both him and I were officially hooked. When I returned to Norfolk, I decided to give building a community of tennis friends another chance. Piece by piece, I now have 5-folks with whom I can play every weekend. Funnily enough, they are all J's - June, Jay, Jamie, Jason and Joe. Most of them are new to Norfolk too, and were struggling to find a hitting partner. The last 6-weeks have been blissful again. I feel sane, motivated to do work, my relationship with Puneet is flying high, and I am fitter than I have ever been since I left Seattle. I am unencumbered to the point that I have started writing again. If I stay on this path, I might actually get Puneet to start writing too. No I won't; who am I kidding?!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Risen from the ashes

It has been a long time that I have put the proverbial pen to paper. I am a strange person - I eschew social networking when I am at work. I have been at work a lot, so I am cut off from the rest of the world. Except the small slice of it with which I interact on a daily basis - my colleagues and my wife. Whatsapp has brought me closer to my parents, and iMessage means I can get a hold of Nikhil whenever I want to hear his voice. But that's it...

As the world goes on about its business, I have grown older and don't know if I have anything to show for it. That's not entirely true, I know that. But when it's late at night and I cannot sleep, the feeling gnaws at me, further delaying the eventual shut eye. I feel like there is a void, and no it's not because I don't have children or am unhappily married. It's something else. I think it is something that every person feels, because my friends have alluded to it in different terms. I am choosing to write about it, is all.

This feeling that there is a void can be pretty consuming. I constantly look for intellectual stimulation and I am easily bored. When I read more and wrote more in the past, I used to be full of ideas. My mind was free to think. The consulting lifestyle has taken this away from me, among so many other things I loved to do. So now even when the synapses fire, the mental passageways congested with vagrant thoughts block the ideas from making their way to their destination. This blog will now house the vagrant thoughts...

At the root of my insecurities is this feeling that I am mediocre. Maybe that's a harsh term - a more accurate term is average. There was a time when I was vain and thought very highly of myself. In fact, multiple people have told me that I come across as vain and cocky. Professionally though, I have spent most of my corporate life in the shadows of my higher performing peers. I have consistently heard that I am smart and sharp, and that is very quickly followed up by a pejorative of some sort. Here are some examples:
  • You're in the wrong role - you need to be a PM
  • You take too long
  • You need to be in a team environment
Truthfully speaking, I was never really into any of mt roles prior to joining Deloitte. Well, except when I was building Elasticfox - that was the best role in the Development world. Designing something that made customers happy made my world go round. That I was not into any of my roles translated into me always doing what I needed to get done, but never having new ideas about how to make things better. No innovative ideas, no extra time spent building reusable frameworks or fixing age old bugs. I just wanted to do my job and get out. Maybe that's because I have always had a life outside of work, a life that mattered to me more than what I did at work. Work was to pay the bills. Then I joined Deloitte...

After my first year at Deloitte, I thought this was going to be just another stepping stone. Another place where I made connections but was always part of the pack that "just did their job". That changed after the first 6-months, and I have never looked back. Knocks never stopped me - I bounced back stronger and found a niche for myself that I can now call my own. A badge that no one else can take from me and something no one else is as good at. And I work hard at staying at the top of my field. I should be happy.

I am not. The void has grown wider. I spent numerous hours absently browsing the Internet. I want to do something else. I want to be someone else. I want to have an idea, execute the idea, no matter the costs. I want to take a risk. Not having done it makes me chase after the elusive dream. That's what's causing the void - it's the feeling that I have missed out on something in life and time is running out.
The sun is the same, in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death
What is my dream? Can I chase it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Seven ways @RafaelNadal can speed up between points and games

It is an open secret that Rafael Nadal flouts the rule pertaining to the time between points. The rule clearly states that players can only take 25-seconds between points, but Rafa routinely takes about 30. That number goes up significantly after a long, grueling point, such as the 30-some shot exchanges with Novak Djokovic.

It is also no secret whatsoever that I love Rafa. I tend to lose interest in tournaments in which Rafa isn't playing. He brings something to the game, an ethereal quality, a pulse even, that players like Novak just cannot conjure up. In fact, watching Novak play is downright boring!

With this established, let me be clear that I have been vocal about the time between points. Instead of just criticizing though, I have come up with 8-ways in which Rafa can reduce the time he takes between points. Here goes:

1. Between games, towel off while walking to the ball-boys instead of toweling off while handing towels to them.

2. Have the nearest towel-bearer walk over to him at the end of a point instead of walking over to them.

3. Bounce the ball half the number of times than he does today. How about a total of 7-times, because that number is both prime and auspicious in a lot of cultures.

4. Have all racquets in his bag be ready to go, complete with vibration dampener, so that he doesn't have to remove it from his current frame to position into the new one.

5. Carry two racquets with him on the change-over prior to the balls being changed. This will cut down the time he takes to walk over to his bag and pull out a new racquet.

6. Get a haircut so he doesn't have to wear a headband.

7. Combine his drinks so he has to drink out of just one bottle instead of two. Maybe drink some Red Bull to give him wings!

8. Looser shorts; boxer briefs. 'Nuff said!

It is unlikely that he will implement even 1 of these. Wait, it is actually really unlikely that he will even read this blog post. So let me say this - if he implements even one of these ideas, you read it here first! :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How Rafael Nadal can beat Novak Djokovic on Clay

Update: Changed point #5

For those of you who have not been following the happenings of the 2014 Men's Tennis Clay court season, here are the highlights:
  1. Rafael Nadal lost in the quarter-finals of two tournaments that he has dominated since anyone can last remember (he has won each of the tournaments 8-times)
  2. He is being pushed around the court by players outside of the top-10 routinely (e.g., Giles Simon, Mikhail Youzhny). These are players whom Rafa used to crush on Clay in years past.
  3. The French Open is coming to a TV screen near you soon!
So how can Rafa get back on track? After looking at footage from previous years of utter Clay court domination, here is my 5-step proposal:
  1. Stop running around his backhand so often - he is giving up too much court on the next ball because his forehand isn't what it used to be (point 2)

  2. Find the lines, or the area closer to the lines, a little more often with his forehand. For instance, Nadal needs to hit the down the line a lot more.

  3. Come to net more and finish points earlier

  4. Protect his service games -> 1), 2) and 3) will help with that significantly

  5. Return second serves from the baseline with flatter shots, increasing pressure on his opponents

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Microsoft resurgence

Background

The last few months have seen Microsoft take several leaps on the path of re-establishing itself as a relevant force in the technology industry. It's not the driving force that it used to be, but it is becoming relevant again. Mind you, Microsoft has gone to hell and back in the last 9-months or so:

1. Ballmer announced a huge shake-up as part of his One Microsoft Strategy (the stock price tanked)
2. Ballmer promptly announced his resignation immediately after (the stock price started to tick up)
3. Microsoft stayed in the news for all the wrong reasons - Mulally vs. Nadella vs. Insert-Name-Here - the world's preeminent software company cannot find a CEO?
4. Ballmer ushered in Nadella (hallelujah - he quit!)

Everyone worried that Nadella would be a figurehead. They couldn't be more wrong! In the last week alone (to the day), Microsoft has made some groundbreaking announcements that align very closely with Nadella, not Ballmer. Here are the ones that stick out for me:

1. Office for iPad
2. Windows is free for devices smaller than 9-inches
3. Open sourcing the C# compiler
4. Package Manager for Windows Power Shell (a la apt-get)
5. Gorgeous Lumia 930

Stock Price as of this writing: $41.39, a level unseen in the last 10-years.

The Renaissance

Let's be clear about one thing: All these products were not developed in the few months since Nadella took on the office of CEO. The more plausible hypothesis is that these have been in development for a long time or were ready to go but were being held back like water is held back by a dam. Nadella is the force that helped tear that dam down, an event that has triggered a metamorphosis of Microsoft's DNA. It is finally starting to act on the realization that it cannot monopolize and dominate every market/category in which it chooses to compete. It has also become comfortable with not foisting Microsoft Windows on everyone that wants to use their world class applications and tools, especially on desktops and on mobile devices. This particular shift might hurt Windows sales in the long term, but let's break down the impact on sectors impacted by this shift.

Consumer

Windows sales have been tanking for a while in this arena. Windows 8 has been to consumer sales what climate change/global warming have been to the ice caps. Microsoft's moves indicate that they are okay with ceding some of this space in lieu of lost sales.

Mobile

Microsoft announced the elimination of OS license fees for devices smaller than 9" in size. Expect all Windows Mobile devices to be 8.99" or less over the course of the next few years! More importantly, Microsoft finally released Office for the iPad (something I have written about in the past) and is already the #1 application on the App Store. This is a devilish play if you ask me. The apps are free to download and free to consume content. Creating content requires a $100 Office365 subscription. Paying customers will have 5 additional licenses to leverage Office - the best productivity suite on the planet, hands down. It moves Office customers to consuming SaaS services, which further improves Microsoft's capabilities in this space. With Microsoft teams collaborating more and more these days, the increased user base can only have positive knock-on effects for current and future Microsoft SaaS services.

Enterprise

There is no viable alternative in the Enterprise space, and this has a lot to do with Nadella's leadership in the Server & Tools division. Under his stewardship, Microsoft has released some of the best management and automation tools in the industry.

The Multi-Platform Embrace

Microsoft finally seems unencumbered with the burden of pushing its operating systems on everyone on this planet. For observers and share-holders with my collaborate or be decimated bent of mind, this is a harbinger of a bright future. Cloud-delivered applications are a key part of the technology future, and Microsoft is for once leveraging its strengths without locking out customers on non-Microsoft platforms. I hope Microsoft continues to forge collaborations and partnerships that increase its market share of applications, tools and operating systems. This isn't a zero sum game; everyone needs to be touched by the greatness of Microsoft products. "For Microsoft to win, others don't need to lose"!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why you shouldn't buy from Staples, or how I learned to love Amazon

Amazon crushed brick and mortar stores in sales this holiday season, and there is a very good reason why they have risen to the top of the rankings: People trust Amazon to do the right thing! Customers swear by Amazon, which is in no small part due to their customer service. Their customer service folks go the extra mile, almost to a fault, to do everything in their power to delight their customers. Staples, not so much...

I bought a shredder from Staples on January 12, 2014. The shredder's price had been "shredded" to a low $19.99 for just one day, and I was quick to pull the trigger on the purchase. I received a receipt in email within a minute of clicking, "Buy", and was provided an assurance of a January 14 delivery.

On the 14th, I received a call from a toll free number. An automated voice asked me if I had received my order yet. I hadn't; I was put on hold for the next available customer service representative. 10-minutes of waiting paid its dividends; the representative came on the line and let me know that there was a slight delay in transporting the shredder to my apartment. I was told that the shredder would be delivered no later than the 15th.

I received another phone call last afternoon, the 17th, from Nova Scotia. When I didn't answer, the Staples representative kindly left me a message inquiring whether I had received the shredder or not. I couldn't call the number she left for me prior to the Customer Service desk closing for the night, so I called them this morning. Mind you, it is the 18th now.

The lady on the line informed me that the shredder was "Missing" somehow even though it had departed the warehouse, and that there were no other items in stock to ship my way. She then put me on hold for about 12 minutes so she could determine the next course of action given the circumstances. Upon returning, she told me that all she could do was:

1. Renege on the order and refund the amount I paid
2. Give me a "courtesy" $50 coupon

Shredders on Staples.com run North of $90. Even with her "courtesy" coupon, I wouldn't have enough to pay for a shredder equivalent in quality to the one I bought for $19.99. Ergo, Staples wanted me to shell out another $20-odd quid for a mistake that they made!! How is this good customer service? What kind of retailer doesn't honor a purchase after charging the credit card? A retailer like Staples, apparently.

There is a lesson in all of this: Don't shop at Staples if the item is available somewhere else. And trust me, it is sure to be available somewhere else!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Assertion headlines are better than statements

Assertion headlines, or "claims", backed up by evidence make for better headlines (and articles) than a statement. Let's take an example. I wrote a new post last night about Windows Update. The post morphed, like a typical post, but I made a cardinal mistake before publishing. I changed the title from,
"Windows Update is too obtrusive for tablet users!"

to

"Let's change Windows Update on tablets"
Here is the link: http://jhatax.blogspot.com/2013/10/windows-update-is-too-obtrusive-for.html

The problem with the new title is that it doesn't tell the reader why Windows Update needs to be changed. Change for change's sake is worthless. Ergo, the reader isn't drawn in. Maybe Windows Update doesn't need to be changed in their opinion. But the former title claims that Windows Update comes in the way of my computing tasks. Now that, I am sure, is something with which people can relate.

Net result: Instead of garnering thousands of page views, the post got a few hundred.

Barbara Minto and Sarah French must be proud right now. Their teachings are taking root.