The Aladdin's Cave

Hi, thanks for stopping by! The dictionary defines the idiom “The Aladdin’s Cave” as “a collection of interesting and beautiful objects”. Likewise, my website is a potpourri where you can browse and read from a variegated collection of articles on sundry subjects. Be prepared to stumble upon pieces ranging from noodles to analytics and from novels to friendships. Like what you read? Thanks a ton for being such a sweetheart. Don’t find it up to the mark? Well, blame it on back-breaking expectations ;) Jolly Reading!

Category: Let’s Learn

Washed Your Credit Card?

You know how they say you never know what life’s going to teach you next? Please don’t ask me who says that; I just know that many people do. Yeah, and they are quite right about it too. Here’s what life chose to teach me this past weekend – you can put your credit card (CC) through a wash cycle, and it will (probably) live to continue paying your bills. If you have read my blog before, I know exactly why your super-critical mind is telling me off at this very moment – ‘Huh, first she drowns her Nexus phone, and now she bathes her credit card’. Well, let me tell you that I took a good two-years-eight-months break between these two unlucky washouts. Now allow me to get back to my informative story because I think this one is going to take a while.

Like all of you, I have my usual pick of alibis (been traveling/busy/sick/lazy) for ‘not been able’ to have done my laundry when I should have. And then, ‘really not been able to have done it’ much later after this ‘should have’ date. As a result, there had been bucket-loads and bagsful of clothes demanding immediate attention for a while.

And then it happened this Saturday night: Gunjan officially ran out of clothes (another good reason to not be allergic to shopping). It was one of those ‘laundry today or naked tomorrow’ kind of situations, you know. It was then that we finally decided to wash anything that says machine washable, and then some others too. Armed with a generously loaded laundry card, detergents and fabric softeners, we hauled bags full of rags (and some fineries too – because we are too lazy to wash them by hands) to the laundry room. Gunjan and I started dumping the clothes in the machines (er, took three of them), and by the end of this activity, we realized that the last machine was quite unsatisfactorily filled. You know, it was one of those annoying situations when you just hate the asymmetry caused by this one under-loaded machine. Not getting a wash worth a dollar and seventy-five suddenly seemed to be a really big deal, and we simply could not ignore the pesky imbalance. To remedy this situation, I rushed back to our apartment upstairs to see if there was any washable linen lying around that had slyly escaped us earlier. Even after putting together a little pile of semi-dirty stuff, it seemed that my imaginary scale (mentally weighing the three washing machines now) would still be a little off and I was having this compulsive need to correct this misalignment. I reckoned that the trousers that I was wearing wouldn’t mind an early wash, so I changed in a flash and threw my trousers in the pile too. With this newly acquired somewhat-filthy plunder, I reached the laundry room again, and we hugged and celebrated the much-awaited gurgling and rumbling of the (perfectly-loaded) machines in action. (Judge me all you want until I find out your crazy idiosyncrasy and judge you back!)

Two episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. later, we rushed down to transfer the freshly clean clothes to the dryers. Now, imagine my shock when I saw my American Express Credit Card and my Discover Card sitting helplessly amongst the wet clothes. Oh, how I rued hastily stuffing these two cards in my pocket two hours ago when we had stepped out for a bite. I really don’t know why I can’t simply carry my wallet for these quick things (or at the very least, carry just one of these cards). And Gunjan – oh, he who is such a devotee to all things bearing magnetic disks and magnetic strips – oh, poor thing – I really must stop doing this to him. I don’t have the heart to describe his horror on witnessing this sight. Let me just say that at this point, I would have gladly accepted the vexation caused by a trio of unevenly-loaded machines than that caused by a pair of freshly-washed CCs.

Washed Your Credit Card?

Accidentally in Machine

It’s not like procuring a new copy of a CC is particularly challenging. But this blatant display of such shockingly irresponsible behavior did cast a pall over the joyful laundry session. Gunjan was too disturbed by the treatment meted out to the cards to say much – more so, after I pulled out a $20 bill from the pocket of the trouser that I had hastily added to the load. Even though I should kick myself for this third unintentionally-washed item, I will admit that it contributed in making his consternation complete and rendering him totally speechless. Hence, I had mixed feelings about this uber-hygienic albeit heedlessly-laundered bill. With dented spirits, we completed the drying part of the laundry session and ended the day with clean clothes but no hopes (for our cards).

Then, instead of resting on the seventh day (Sunday), I stepped out with two spotless but potentially dysfunctional cards (to test them out) and one not-so-spotless but functional card (as a backup). I picked a few random stuff (say ‘n’ of them) in Jewel-Osco, pretended to forget one of these n items in the cart and proceeded to pay for the (n-1) goods with one of the speckless CCs. As the sales assistant requested me to swipe my card, I was already fingering the backup CC in my other hand. The ‘payment approved’ message alleviated most of the nervousness that I was feeling, and gave me high hopes for the other unlucky CC. Not choosing to celebrate too soon, I duly acted out my part of forgetting the nth item in the cart, and now presented the second CC to make this payment. It suffices to say that this transaction elicited distinctly different reactions from the payer (who switched from a gloomy to a remarkably celebratory mode) and the sales assistant (who could hardly comprehend the reason for the payer’s joyfulness, relief and sense of achievement over this most mundane chore).

Thanks a lot, if you have stuck with me and my CCs through this rather long post and I sincerely hope that you never have the misfortune of laundering your bill-paying instruments. But in case you do, remember my story and stay hopeful. Even though I do not have the evidence to make a blanket statement like ‘Voila! Credit cards are waterproof’, I can say from experience that all may not be lost, and visiting a store to use a squeaky clean CC is definitely worth a shot!

Oh, in case you are wondering, the $20 bill managed to survive the wash too! 🙂

Take care!

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Best Practices in Communicating Complexity

Preface:

Hello Friends!

I beseech you all to give me one more chance to explain my disappearing act. It has been around five months since I joined the 12-month MISM (Master of Information Systems Management) program at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh) and believe me, it has really killed me! Yes, it has killed me but I have lived to tell the tale. However, I will tell that tale some other time – the wounds are too fresh to prod. 😀

So even when being smothered with assignments, quizzes and all other components packed in the grad-school parcel, I’ve been battling this guilt of ignoring my dear blog. And then this thought flashed – to share something that I had already penned down but not posted. I wrote this academic article as a part of a coursework here and I hope it will be of some use to some of you.

Here it goes:

Let me begin this post by analyzing the title of this write-up. As soon as we read the topic, the first questions that come to the mind is – “Do I really need to know about these best practices?” or “Can I imagine myself in a situation where I would be required to convey complex and intricate data to an audience?”. The answer to these questions is a firm and truthful “Yes”. In fact, as future managers, we will be required to do this all the more frequently and we could lose out on significant success in our careers if we don’t master this skill.

No matter what professions we are in, a major part of our job responsibilities comprises explaining our work/data/results to an audience who is unfamiliar with our domain. In these situations, we must recognize that it’s not the right place to show off our knowledge and command on the subject by employing the usage of unnecessary jargons and numbers. If we are the presenter, it’s understood that we are experts on the subject. Or else, we would not be relied upon by our company to be the presenter. What the audience trusts and expects us to do is to relate our data-heavy story in a simple manner so that they can really understand the subject.

According to Charles Whaley (1999), the usage of complex phrases only makes the communication less efficient, thus defeating the whole purpose of the exchange of information. In his paper (Charles Whaley, 1999), he cites a simple example of the usage of the word “disintermediation” in place of the phrase “cutting out the middleman”. By using such ‘biz-speak’, we risk losing a major part of our audience to whom the phrase “disintermediation” might be nothing more than gibberish. As a result of such convoluted phrasing, the audience simply loses interest in the subject and stops participating.

To be an effective communicator, there are some key factors that we must keep in mind. First, we must always target the audience we are presenting to and should only present relevant information. Also, the information must be communicated in a different manner while presenting to audiences belonging to different age groups or categories so that they can relate to it. The second thing to remember is that pictorial representations always win over textual representations. The chances of us remembering or understanding a pie chart or a histogram are much higher compared to that of retaining figures and numbers. Use of multimedia is very helpful in detangling intricate information and in keeping the audience interested. The third important principle is to sequence the flow of the information. This technique ensures that we adopt a step-by-step approach and not bombard the audience with an overwhelming amount of information. The last point is that we must never undermine the importance of feedback from the audience. This can be done by simply asking questions to the audience to ensure that they are with us in the communication process. Receiving responses from the audience keeps a check on our tendency to ramble through the presentation by just dumping all the data without providing the interpretation.

In the end, we must remember that it really is a challenge to adhere to the best practices in communicating complexity and it does not come naturally to everyone. This thought has been beautifully summed up by E. F. Schumacher in his quote – “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Hence, we all must put in a conscious effort and discipline ourselves to follow these practices and become a better communicator of ideas, data and stories.

References

Charles Whaley. (1999). Avoid Excessive Complexity In Communicating At Work. Retrieved on August 9, 2014 from

http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.cmu.edu/docview/225027308?pq-origsite=summon

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The Iron That Has Seen It All

This may seem an odd thing to write about but i am sure it’ll make perfect sense to the targeted group of readers viz. all my dearest hostel friends at my college VIT University, which will soon be my alma mater…(the very thought of this final goodbye is hurting like hell..)
And even if you’re not one of them, you can relate to it very well if you have been lucky enough to have spent 3-4 years of your life in a hostel and have made friends who make saying goodbye so so difficult…
So at a time like this, you can understand that there are so many people and things i want to write about. But words fall short to describe all that I’ve learnt and got in the last four years of my life. These unforgettable years have given me friends who make me feel as if I am the “Chosen One”. You don’t get luckier than this in friendship – I know this for sure!

This is a testimonial article about my iron, which has been an indispensable part of our hostel lives since the first year. It’s a simple, no-frills, elemental model from Philips. A steely base, a blue handle, a white knob, a red indicator and a white wire with a three-pin plug – that about sums it up. Told you, it’s pretty straightforward. So you might ask that what’s there in it to write about…
Well, i’ll answer that for you and then you can decide yourself if it deserves this token of thanks or not.

I am not an extrovert person and find it quite difficult to reach out to people. This simple appliance helped me during those initial days to make friends with people with whom i was later to develop a friendship for life. I used to lend it to the other girls in hostel and this got us talking. This simple need-based act paved the way for friendships that would later need no reason at all to sustain…

So all of us in our group shared this iron and everyone was fiercely protective about it too. You see, we weren’t allowed to keep these stuffs in hostel. Ask anyone who knows me really well and they’ll tell you that I am quite a law-abiding citizen but you can’t blame me for sneaking this one inside. I mean, how can you be expected to not have an iron in hostel?? It’s mindless to even think about that!
Well, so after availing its services, we used to hide it craftily under a heap of clothes or shove it in some corner or the other. It took a lot to keep it well-hidden from the watchful, scanning eyes of our wardens and supervisors who used to get a thrill out of seizing these so-called banned things. And we did quite a neat job out of it, given that it used to traverse rooms and even floors almost everyday and still managed to remain undetected!

It has been a testimony to the growth of our friendship…you could tell from the transition that took place in the way this sharing was carried out. Earlier, my friends use to message me sheepishly, asking if they could use it for a while. And after they were done, they would return it punctually, never forgetting to thank me for it.  As time passed by, it became “get the iron when you come”. Not very polite, but still, passable. The later years saw me rushing to their rooms with my rumpled clothes or meekly seeking their permission to borrow it for a while!

But most importantly, this iron of ours is entitled to this article (and much more) because it has been a participant of and a witness to the innumerable activities of the last four years which have made them so precious…the imperishable memories of our wonderful, cheerful, super-active, unimaginably enjoyable hostel life…

It saw us through the daily ironing for those killingly droning and some not so droning lectures…
It was there at our service when we got all dolled-up for those awesome treats – birthdays and anniversaries and results and commitments and siblings’ weddings and boyfriends’ accomplishments and friendships and no-reason treats…
It carefully and painstakingly ironed out each and every fold and crease and did its best to soothe our nerves on those dates, when we were oh-so-conscious…
It jumped out to us with frenzied speed (and heat) on those examination days, when our schedule used to be so over-stuffed that a mere minute or two was the max that this poor thing got to smoothen the crumpled garments…
It zealously celebrated the college-fest “Riviera” with us and helped us primp ourselves in trendy dresses, which further helped us to garner so many of those cherished pics!
It silently imparted its share of wishes and that much needed good luck charm to our formals during those anxious placement times and prayed for us…the way we did for each other…
It extended it’s ever-helpful hand (or should i say handle??) to us on our farewell day too, when we were all such a mess because we had to drape sarees and finally made us all look beautiful, gracious and lady-like…
It was there with us on those bad hair days when not a thing went right and helped us cheer up by donning some favorite t-shirt…

Ya, you got it right now!
Like my friends, who are there for me no matter what, this dear, devoted, vigilant and industrious tool has been with us through it all, seen us becoming the bestest of friends, sharing our joys and woes and never asking anything in return! Day after day, it proved itself to be a trusted friend…never betraying, never cranky, not even a bit demanding…It was just there!

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