Monday, May 17, 2010

The rise and rise of Mr Spock

He looked like Mr Spock, he had the same mannerism and the same strong relationship with the captains. Sure, he looked like the man from outer space, especially to people from inner space, who looked up to him not unlike a pimpled teen at the Miss Universe.

Cornerd Cheese (CC) was the technical master of all he surveyed – both wide and deep. The captains would always take his word as the last on all things nerdy. Believe me, there are a lot of things nerdy in the world of idiot boxes. But lets not take credit away from CC for making so many things look nerdy…so nerdy that only he understood it best.

And understand, he did. He could look at picture quality and point to motion artifacts, even if the screen showed a dull faced reporter reading dull news about dull weather in dull England. Yes, he could spot jerks (not the human kind) in every picture that adorned the CRT.. and then the Plasma. While lecturing on the scaling round-off errors his technicians couldn’t fathom, he would mull over the possibility of tv-anytime ironing out those stupid subtitle truncations with one smooth XML schema. Midway, he would switch gears seamlessly to the user interface. He would wonder how simple life would be if the design dogs could be leashed. (He’d occasionally throw a bone at them, but he knew there was no easy way to make them stop barking). For, nothing was worse than letting the designers go all crazy. Neither did they (he’d claim) understand what the market needs, nor were they capable of appreciating the technology constraints. Clearly, the tarty Michel Adams doesn’t sell on the high streets, at least not where CC went shopping.

What did sell on those high streets was innovation. And who better than CC to lay claim to all of it, and then some? To be fair, CC was amongst the first to discover the value of innovation within the grand company. He went about it with a combination of strong passion and humble advertisement.

For a while, he toyed with the idea of small is beautiful, to have a small team delivering innovation for the grand company. Innovation was about breaking rules, he’d say. The Belgians, with all their bureaucracy, were, ahem, less than ideal for innovation. It had to happen on the libertine side of the border. A place where people could envision the TVs that hoi-polloi would lust after. Yes, the goal was to seduce people into buying the best TVs that the grand company would make. And so was born the box which “seduced by light”. In the hallowed corridors of BeerDam, the sweet talkers grudgingly admitted to the value of this proposition. And how, if this box hadn’t happened, they could as well have closed shop and moved on to selling shavers instead, or, (as the newly converted marketing types would pitch in, with a none-too-hidden grin), “water cookers”.

You are as good as your most recent success. But times change, and then you have to prove yourself all over again. Cornerd Cheese knew this. The seduction-by-light would last him a couple of years. But then, what next? He knew he had to run faster than he currently did, just to retain his position. And to get ahead, he had to take the game to the next level.

In the coming years, Cornerd Cheese would go about doing just that. He started by defining the ground rules of innovation, then to patronizing a process of “ideation to productization”, to building up a group of believers, to spreading the gospel of innovation within the higher echelons of the grand company, to recruiting “social and human factors” engineers…all the way to hiring marketing folks to market the ideas from his “idea factory” to the business bozos in BeerDam. No, it was not his intention to build an empire. He had had his share of empire building during his younger days, and now was a lot more mature. Was he to blame if gaining in numbers was a consequence of the enormous burden of innovation he carried? Could anyone deliver as much innovation with any fewer people? He had an answer for the skeptics. Twice yearly, he’d organize a jamboorie, an event where tones of technical and market topics would be thrashed to pulp by all the experts. The result – a neatly bound folder containing amazingly well made (though short on details) technology and market roadmap. This, he would proclaim, is the future of TV. Beaten by technical mumbo-jumbo and eager to get on with life, the sweet talkers would nod their heads. The captain would nod in appreciation and the cheesers in complacency. God was in heaven and all was well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The rigmarole of Pint Vader

Pint Vader believed he wasn't paid to smile. Not that he didn't smile, nor that he didn't want to, but he would want people to figure out that his was a job where smiling was a rare luxury.

He was always a man in a hurry. No, let me correct that. He was a man in a hurry to be in a hurry. Whether he would win the race was not the question. Whether he would be the first to reach the stadium to start the race ..that was his concern.

While Pint is entitled to his concerns, would being first at the stadium, ever help him? There would be several others who wouldn't bother where the stadia are, but would end up winning all the races. Pint Vader, would have run the long race, all alone, and when he would reach the end, inevitably dead tired, there would be the bozos of BeerDam ..with their faux cheering. Those smartly dressed, smooth operators, kidding him for being late as usual. "What", they would ask in seeming amusement - didn't you know this was a relay, and we are the same team ? Come on, hand me the baton. It's my turn now. See how I will win the race for us, even though you dear Pint are late.

Pint, while still catching his breath, would try to offer explanations. The train started late, he would begin. And then you guys asked for some unscheduled stops on the way. There wasn’t even enough fuel, and I had to manage. But, the smooth operators turned the deaf ear. And Pint knew exactly what that meant. He was condemned to run the race all over again. And again. And again.

Man, did he love to drive the train? It was his life, or even a bit more. He was "to the engine born". But "to the manor born" ? Well, don't you ask difficult questions unless you want to hear lies.

Coming back to the train journeys..every summer, he would rise and look at the horizon. His mind filled with the anticipation of the race. The exhilaration of cutting through wind at high speeds, the momentum generated by the huge number of speeding wagons, the boyish thrill of looking at those stupid cars, waiting at the the railway gates waving him along. Yes, he told himself, I love this job. I couldn't care if others won the race by taking the plane. I will drive the train. This is my model, the "V"ader model of life.

And so, every year, year after year, her herded a bunch of delinquent wagons from their prairies to the platform. He would line them up, with no real help from the line masters. Then he would go about buying fuel from BeerDam. This was no mean task, since the Bozos of BeerDam always played cheap. Each year, they would charge him more than the previous year while giving him less and less. "Faster, better cheaper - that is what you need to be" they told him. "Yes, just like those Asians; from the (fake) lion country", they added for emphasis. "Goodbye Pint, hope you do a better job next time" the head bozo would commiserate, and then they would all get up and leave and go to the coffee shop for their regular fix.

Pint, teetotaler that he was, consoled himself. Coffee was not his cuppa. No, coffee is sour, he told himself. And that bought a chuckle to his usual freckled face. He was, after all, a fox!

Tired, but never defeated, he walked back alone. Not the one to succumb to anger, he preferred to look at the brighter side. The coming race would be great fun, he told himself. So many more delinquents to pull-in, so much of learning to apply, so much of glory if we make the race. Yes, this time, I will claim the glory before the smooth operators come to the party. Heck, if it is up to me, I will not even invite them for a party. For sure there will be no coffee.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goodbye, Fake Lion Country

Fake Lion Country (FLC) does it to you, especially if you sport some cockiness, wear your expat badge on the sleeve and have a talent to pick the real bananas* amongst the chronically psychopath-etic locals.

Loose Screws, in FLC, lived the expat life with more than usual exuberance and aplomb. In all the years he spent there, he would nary have spared a thought of going back in going back for good. He probably suspected that it would not be for good. There was this lurking fear in the corner of his brain that reminded him at the most inopportune moments that “good”, like in that famous movie, is the first part of a trilogy, a triplet, a triptych, well..whatever. The other two parts, he unwittingly suspected, would eventually unfold. It was always only a matter of time.

And one hot sweaty day in April, it was time.            

As a young lad growing up in shroom country, he had once taken the back door out, on one of those Sinterklaas arrival days. He was of course in no mood to meet with any dressed up Santa. He was there for a night of fun. Unfortunately for him, it was not to be. As he escaped from the back-door, all excited about the forthcoming activities, he had forgotten to cover himself in layers of warm clothing. And worse, as he stepp
ed out, half in indecision about going back to pick up a jacket, the backdoor closed on him – and got latched from the inside. Well, well..what choices did that leave him with? Go back in, from the front door, and endure the consequences. Or, continue in the cold of the night and..endure the consequences. The latter came with hope of reward while the former came with hope of lower risk. Strong headed as he was, he chose the latter. The anticipation of the evening was good. Getting out without warm clothes was bad. And here’s when his heart skipped a beat. What would come next? Let’s not digress too much (or ingress too much into the eminently forgettable experience he had), suffice to say that, what followed the good and the bad, was no different than in the movie title. The triplet had happened. Embarrassed, bruised and cold, not to mention defeated, he came back home..and well, endured the consequences.

Now in FLC for eons, for over the past year or so, LS had the triplet nightmares all over again. Sometimes, it would be about the excitement with which he would run out to grab a new business, followed by the cold shouldering and then, inevitably, the bozos in BeerDam would unceremoniously pull the plug, leaving him to clean up their mess. At other times, it would be about the good expat life. And then the thought of all things good coming to an end. Bad, but bearable. But the bad would end too..and too soon for him, for he would wake up with cold sweat at the thought of trying to figure out what came next.

He told himself that he'd cross the dyke when it comes to him. Yes, he would never want to get there himself. But if he would be left with no other options than go back to shroom country, he would do it. And as usual, with much ado. So, it was with his usual flamboyance, that LS bid farewell to a humongous crowd of psychopaths to board the Royal Airlines Corporation's long long flight back home.

An era of making real TVs in Fake Lion Country, had, most certainly, come to an end.

* Bananas being yellow on the outside and white on the inside, are the predominant species of FLC