Airplane Mode

Last few days have been hectic and I have been forced to work a lot of on the planes. And I think I like the entire concept, except my motion sickness and a 3 second long attention span. Its surprising that how much work gets done on a plane. I wish I could duplicate the airplane mode while I am on ground.

Thing with working on the flights is that there are no distractions. You don’t have internet, there is no phone and there is no one to bug you with odd requests of booking tickets for them, making a presentation, getting an approval from a client etc. You get all the time you want. You can concentrate on the task at hand. There is nothing that can distract you. Not even music!

Except that the flights are full of kids and the airlines keep paddling things and try and squeeze every penny out of your pocket. These are minor aberrations and tolerable since these are not your kids and you can ofcourse yell obscenities at them. 

Anyways, can you create an airplane mode in your daily routine? A time of the day when you switch off the wifi and turn off the urge to check twitter and facebook every second minute? A place where no one can disturb/distract you?

Originally posted at Sandbox.

Project 1000. Day 4.

After a five day hiatus, I am back. Blame it on my travel and general laziness. But I am back nonetheless. And now that I am back, lets get 1000 words rolling. This post is specifically intended for Project 1000. As I am typing this, I have no clue what would I write about but I am sure I would use at least 1000 words. I am sitting at a studio floor and we are in between shifts. Everyone gone for their lunch and I have this entire floor with the set and cameras and everything to me. I am using this time to play my favorite music and typing this text. And no, I am not the director or the producer of the manager or even an extra. I am a silent and meek spectator.

This is the second time I am writing this post (last time I wrote something), I hit the refresh button and the entire thing disappeared. The damned auto save did not work!

So cutting the long story short, last time I wrote this, somehow, the conversation diverted towards difference between a rant and a post. In bullet points, I said that a rant is personal, meant for individual consumption, is short lived as it is a temporary outburst and does not move an iota in the scheme of things in the universe. A post on the other hand needs to go beyond an individual, is meant for consumption for a large audience, can live for long and is aimed at changing things, big or small.

Then I said that most of things that I write about are more in the territory of rants, rather than being posts and thus I am not really improving the craft!

And finally I said that I would write about the upcoming posts on aspirations and dreams of being a travel writer, life of a spot boy, poker and why is India poor. Do watch out for those.

Project 1000. Day 3. Joe Nobody.

So today, I dont have anything specific to talk about. So rather than wasting time trying to find a plot to write about, I would try and create something. A character map! When I say I'd create a character, I mean that I would think of a man and try to create a world around him. Most movies, novels and other such things make these character maps to ensure that character and his behavior is consistent in different situations while he is in the plot. After from helping me reach the 1000 word a day goal, this would help me create characters and use them, as and when that elusive book happens.

I'd start with the most cliched character of them all, a computer hacker. 

So we start with the basics. Facts. 
Name: Joe Nobody
Age: 32
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 11"
Body type: Athletic, fit
Education: Dropout from college but very good with computers

Family, Friends and Key People in Life
He is the only son of a single mother. His mother stays in a different city with her sister and both of them work in a hospital. The mother is perpetually worried about his health and marriage but Joe pays no heed. Joe meets the mother once every month or when he drives down to meet her. Joe also has a cousin from the aunt. She lives in the same city as Joe and they get along well. The cousin works with a bank and has no clue about Joe's personal life. This last Sunday of the month is a routine that has been around for more than three years now. All four get together and goto a movie and have dinner. Its as definite as the sun rising in the east. In last three years, Joe has never missed this meeting with his mother and aunt.

Till about a year back, Joe was seeing a woman from work. The woman was two years older to Joe and worked with the marketing team. Now, she has moved onto a different man and a different job. They are no longer in touch. He sorely misses having that female company and is on the active lookout for someone.

His best friends are friends from work. He gets along really well with A, B and C. A and B are managers with electronics and gaming sections respectively. C works in B's team. All 4 are very close friends and hang out together after work and all. Their common interests include hiking, biking, gaming and pub hopping. Apart from that all four are huge fans of the local cricket team, especially when the cricket season is on.

While in school he was very quiet and kept mostly to himself. He had only a couple of friends back then and he has lost touch with them. He has fond memories of the school but he often quips that if he was to get back to school with his friends, it would be so boring.

Overall he is content with having a few people in life. He has largely been independent and likes to be alone. And yet he misses that female company

Joe has been working at BestBuy for more than 5 years now. He started as a sales rep and has grown through the ranks to become the highest level an employee can reach  on the shop floor. The next promotion, due in another 6 months will see him become the lowest "suit". Right now, he is the supervisor of the computer hardware section. Has about 15 retail employees reporting into him. His key responsibilities are to train and supervise the on floor employees. His job requires him to stay up to date with latest happenings in the computer hardware. He knows more than he speaks and most people around him know this and thus treat him with respect. He is known as a true geek that knows everything about hardware. However when it comes to software, he seems to know nothing and relies on his team for help. At times he even calls his team from home and asks them how to fix Internet.

On the other hand, the 8 hours that he is not working at the BestBuy, he is a very active member of the underground hacking community. And he is considered as an authority here as well. He does all these things from a van parked in his garage. If someone comes and looks at his home, there is only one desktop in the living room where he checks his email. In his van, however, there are two row fulls of computers and electrical equipment. There are times when he goes to the BYOC hacker conventions. He prefers to keep things in the van as he loves to work in solitude and space in the van is really limited and thus there cant be anyone else around when hes working.

Like most geeks he likes to hang out with his kinds. He thus gets along very well with his team. He is good natured and always has a smile on his face. He is always willing to help and actually goes an extra mile to ensure that he is liked by everyone. At times people do take him for granted. And he knows that people take him for granted but he still lets go.

He lives by the maxim of "live and let live". Though he does things that arent really on the right side of the law, he has had no brush with the criminals as yet. 

He does not believe in showing off. In fact he wants to keep as low a profile as possible. At times he gets himself called stupid because of how he acts to conceal his secret identity.

What made him what he is?
While growing up, he has heard stories of people living in fancy mansions and access to clubs and lounges that reek of money. He wants all those things. And he wants them bad. He is very happy go lucky and very content with his life, except for a woman. He like living and he ensures that he has a lot of fun. He has no major hangups in life. He has no dark secrets. The darkest is the fact that he got his first girlfriend when he was 31 and despite that he could not keep the relationship going.

What keeps him awake at night?
At the job front, he is worried about his promotion. He realy likes it on the floor and does not want to move away from there. And on the side project, he wants to win the upcoming hackerCon. He knows that he can easily win it but he still needs to practice and beat competition. And since he has been doing it for some time now, he doesnt really get kicks out getting secrets or winning a competition but its like the trophy that everyone wants!

What is his role in the story? Why is he important?
Depends on the story. If my life was fiction, I would use Joe to help me hack into the banks and get all the money from all the places.

That's about it. And here is a humble request to more established writers and authors, what did I miss in this character map? What are best practises in the same? How can I improve this? Thanks a ton!  

The pursuit of 2K followers on twitter

Lately, I have restarted using twitter, after a brief hiatus. The reasons for the hiatus would be reflected upon in a later post, but for the time being, I have a bigger and more perplexing problem to tackle. The problem of finding those elusive 36 more followers.

You see, at the time of writing this, I am followed by 1964 people on twitter. And I want to reach the magical number of 2000. The chase of 2k as a number looks very scary. A brief brain soul searching tells me that there are a few reasons why I could never get all those followers. Am making a list here...
  • I am not a wedding/event/fashion/animal/amateur/etc photographer. Am dont even talk about my flickr stream and I dont have a Facebook page where people can "fan" or "like" me. And since I have a Blackberry, I cant use Path or Instagram or Pinterest or one of those fancy services and talk about them.
  • I am not an entrepreneur and thus I cant ask all my employees and friends and relatives and neighbors to follow me and help me get more clients. And then once I get those clients, talk about how I made a difference to the life of the goldfish of client's wife's sister.
  • I am not funny. Not even remotely. Period.
  • I am not a social media expert. And that means that I have no opinion on anything. And that means that I cant pass fleeting comments encompassing everything from the beginning of time and then relate those to why I should be tweeting this or that. And I cant thus take a jab at folly of brands and businesses.
  • I refuse to engage in various gimmicks that brand manager plan and throw out as bait to the unsuspecting twitter users so that they could report that their brand is followed by a million people etc.   
  • I am not interested in IPL. Its just too much for my peanut sized brain to be honest. There is overload of everything. Information, excitement, jealousy, anger, confusion etc. Name an emotion and IPL has that in abundance. And I cant process that. And that means that since I dont tweet about how IPL is causing a war in my family because everyone supports a different team, I wont be featured by a TV channel and I wont become famous and I wont have new followers.
  • I refuse to participate in trolls. Ofcourse I use a million hashtags but I dont think I have participated in #whenIWasYoung, #itHappensInIndia, #IPL, #kfBeerUp etc. And as a result I dont make friends on twitter and otherwise. (note to self, talk about Kingfisher in a separate post)
  • I am not a journalist. Yet. And as a result I dont have people trying to make friends with me, hoping to get free passes to IPL and other such dos. 
  • I dont booze and thus I dont have my timeline full of drunk tweets abusing everyone for everything. 
  • And finally, I am not a celeb. I am not a film actor (not even an extra), I am not a cricketer (even of yesteryears), I am not a CEO of a large business group (not even a startup), I am not a VC. And as a result I am stuck at 1964!
So if I dont do any of those, why my friend, why am I on twitter? Because I like to post things that I am upto. Irrespective of what people think about them. Irrespective of what opinion or comment they illicit.

And then why would you want to chase 2K followers? Well, its a good number and I want to put that on my CV. And more people who follow you, more opportunities to know new things!  And who knows, I may even get famous some day?

Guess this is it for a Sunday rant! I just hope that this post helps me reach the magic number. And if not that, at least does not make some of those 1964 unfollow me! 

And no, this post is not part of Project 1000. Not yet. 

Confessions of a Failed Ad Man

So today is day 2 of the Project 1000. Yesterday I managed 1000 words. I think 500 odd here and the other 500 on the secret blog to sgMS. And I felt awesome about it. Of course it would have been perfect if I could manage some more words for Serai. Thats what I am calling the book, for the time being. 

So today's day 2. Let me today talk about something that is really close to my heart. And I have worked on it and failed. And failed how. I'd talk about advertising. Some other day, this post could have been called Confessions of a failed adman. Hang on. Why wait another day. Let me change the title right away. So people who read the blog often (all 3 of you) would know that I worked for an advertising agency at some point in time. I had joined that place hoping that I would churn out things like Jalebi and Cadburys. Only to realize that process is far more complex than merely coming up with scripts and shooting them.

Coming to the post, I shall talk about few recent ads that have caught my attention. And I would talk like a typical Indian customer, rather than an ex-planner.

So, the fabled summer season is on and that means that all the soft drink companies are going to bombard us with commercials celebrating their favorite time of the year. I would talk about Frooti, Appy Fizz (because I have worked on these brands), Coke (because I love the brand and wish to work on it some day) and some more. And I would talk about something that has nothing to do with India or with summers or with drinks. Its just an awesome piece of communication.

And again, these are unbiased perspectives of a common man rather than an ex-adman (or even an ex-planner on two of the above mentioned brands).

Frooti (and Slice)
Love the brand, love the positioning, love the legacy, love the drink. Frooti has everything going right for them. Except the competition. In the market, Frooti competes directly with Pepsi's Slice and Coke's Maaza. Slice has this really cool ad featuring Katrina Kaif. Apart from amazing production quality, great music and striking visuals, the ad is brilliant in the sense that at a subconscious level it places Katrina Kaif and Slice at the same place. So every time a guy desires for Katrina, something in him would crave for Slice as well. And once you have the share of mind, rest is easy.

Frooti on the other hand loses out. This season for some reason (which I havent been able to figure out), they are using Siddharth (who Siddharth? exactly my point!) in their ad. And mind it, in their entire 30 odd years history, they've never had a brand ambassador ever. So the ad is a story of a guy who cant gather enough balls to talk to her object of desire and everyone eggs him to try and talk to that girl. And finally he does speaks. And he does it be saying, "would you have a Frooti with me?". And this is where the entire disconnected is. Let me phrase them as questions. A. Is Siddharth being used as the actor Siddharth (doesnt look like) or as the boy next door? And it if he is the boy next door, why call him Sid? B. Is Frooti trying to make itself synonymous with love? Or with the feeling of togetherness? Or what? My peanut sized brain cant really comprehend. But then I am sure, brains better than I are on it and they have figured the puzzle out!

I dont even recall seeing Mazaa on tv yet. And if I have seen, if I cant recall the ad, it has to be really boring! So in the battle of mango drinks, for the time being, the winner, in my humble opinion is Slice.

Appy Fizz
Next up is Appy Fizz. I absolutely adore this guy. I sincerely wish I had the wit and presence of the mind that this dude has! Wait, hes not a dude, hes actually a drink. A drink with an attitude. And thats the best part. The latest line of commercials with Saif Ali Khan is actually far better than all the previous ones. The jokes are simple to understand (to someone like even I who is as desi as men in India get). Plus when they are using Saif Ali Khan, Saif is not being used as a model to peddle paint or dates or whatever. He is being used as himself. As a super hero. And he is in conversation with Appy Fizz. And Appy Fizz goes one up on him in all the commercials. Not like a battle battle but like in friendly banter than you may have with a friend. It does not pull down Saif's reputation and yet it definitely establishes Appy Fizz as a cool guy to hang out with. Or a cool drink to hang out with in this case. +1 on this one to the team. Here is the commercial. I am sure you can find more on youtube and all of them are as good (atleast the two that I have seen).

CocaCola Coke
Even before I start writing, I know that I would talk highly of coke. They cant seem to get anything wrong with their commercials. The latest ummedon wali ruh, sunshine wali aasha is super brilliant. Instead of using a celebrity to endorse the brand, they have simply used interesting and nice visuals to communicate different ways they open happiness. Open happiness is their global positioning that I think is slowly being brought to India. The latest ad, that they are playing with IPL, has just a couple of young kids, sipping coke out of the same coke bottle with the jingle playing in background. Too bad I cant find it online. I would have showcased it here. A very very simple idea, executed really well. A story that tells you everything and yet leaves so much room for imagination that makes you feel good about seeing a commercial. Coke wins it hands down.

Finally, I want to talk about Nike. A friend sent this to me. And I was literally blown away by it. Yet again, a simple idea, done very well and more importantly had all the peripheral things around it, to ensure that it does well. The story of a long distance couple, trying to cross the country and come together. Nike as a footwear company enables the two to meet. And to top it all, a catchy song/jingle to narrate the story. Finally, things like free download of the track, ability to share it with people easily, comment on a global website and stuff like that is the peripheral things that make is reach more and more people.

And I guess this is it for this edition of confessions of a failed ad man. The key takeaway for me has to be the realization that best ads are about telling simple stories well and the fact that the product being advertising has to stay in the background and be a mere enabler. (Nike as footwear enables a couple to run to each other, coke as a medium allows you to share happiness, Frooti allows you to say the most difficult words ever etc.) Will add this lesson to my repertoire of marketing and advertising lessons!

End note. So writing does not really take a lot of time. It just requires some patience and some peace of mind. Ofcourse advertising takes a lot more. No wonder :D

Project 1000. Day 1

Today, I officially start work on the Project 1000. Read about it here. Right now, at about 10 in the morning, rather than being at work, I am home and trying to desperately figure out what could capture my imagination and make the interest last for 1000 words. Here are a few things that I think I can write about...
  • Things that I know and I want other people to know. Like why is it important to use formatting palettes while you are working on Word and Powerpoint. But then these would be academic at best and dont really know if someone would even read these. Like I could even talk about the importance of ensuring that you strictly put the left ear plug in your left ear and not otherwise. The question remains, would it help me become a better writer? Would it help me structure my thoughts better? Would it help me dig deeper into the topic and learn more about it?
  • Yet another love letter to sgMS. Come to think of it, I can write one every day. But most days the stories would be repetitive and since sgMS is history, I am not sure if she would ever read those letters. But then, thats the point of the letters no? The other person may not be around but you keep them close to you, in your thoughts and in your dreams. Letters are yet another manifestation of those dreams. Right? So may be one letter each day. Even if its a small letter that talks about nothing important or love like!
  • The book that I have been trying to write since last 29 and half years. But then I either had a lot of plot ideas. Or I dint have a single one. Now, through some magic, I have identified a couple of plot ideas. But I dont really have an interesting story to tell as yet. I know I am not great with the language and unless I have a very compelling story to tell, there is no point in writing one. And they say that a decent sized book has about 70000 words in it. So maybe, I can write a book in 70 chapters and I can take the arduous task of writing one chapter each day? At 1000 word per chapter, it would be easy to read for the end reader (if I manage to find some readers that it).
  • Random motivational jazz, the kinds Seth Godin and other write. But then the trouble is that Seth and other people have seen the world and are credible voices in the otherwise riff raff online world. People actually pay to listen to what they have to say. And on the other hand, if I paid someone the biggest fortune ever, they may not want to sit through a single reading of my best pieces.
  • Thats about it I guess. 
So without further ado, here is the decision. Every day, for next 100 days at least, I would write the following.
  1. A letter to sgMS. Not on the public domain obviously.
  2. One chapter of a book. Not necessarily the same book.
And I would obviously write my regular blog posts. Like today, I am tempted to write about the advantages of working in a secluded corner, the way I am writing right now. I am all for working out of open spaces and gardens and parks and coffee shops but to be honest, most of that work is catching up on email and doing things that dont really add any value to your personality. The real deep work, where you actually create something, can only happen when you are in the zone and the fingers are flying on the keyboard. And at least for me, its really tough to get there when I am outside. The inherent curiosity that I was born with, makes my head wander to all the places in the world, but to the task at hand. And hence the advocacy of sitting in a secluded corner.

So thats about it for the time being. Next up on the agenda is the letter and the chapter. Godspeed to me. And just in case someone is taking a note, I am about to reach 1000 posts on this blog. Over the period of last 7 odd years. Way to go Mr. Garg! No mean feat! 

1000 words a day!

Today, after a lot of days, I was feeling good about being myself. Yes, call me a depressed fucker but thats how things have been in the past few days months.

But then somehow, as I woke up in the morning, I was feeling super good about myself. It felt awesome to be alive. And it sucked to know that I am whiling away my time life like that. While I was on my way to work (paradox?), I made a promise to myself to change things. And change them for good.

To start with, taking inspiration from Chris, I hereby promise myself to write 1000 words each day. Most of it would be noise but then its ok, at least with all the noise that I make, some of it would sound like an intricate symphony to someone. Just like the infinite monkey theorem :) There would be days when the creatives juices would flow freely and there would be times when I would face the writer's block. I would have time and I would be busy. I would be mind fucked and I would be elated. Whatever it may be, I would ensure that I write a 1000 words everyday. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Project 1000.

This also reflects the larger goal that I want to chase in life. I want to write and talk. Not talk in a vacuum but talk and help people. Inspire them. May be make a difference to other people's lives. I have been lucky to have the opportunity to speak to a few people and give them some advice (call it gyaan) and it has apparently helped them. I want to grow into someone who helps individuals and businesses with things. And if I want to do that, I need to know how to express myself well. Writing is a very small and yet important part of the same. And with the advantage of time on my side, I need to improve on the art. Project 1000 is one such step in the direction.

So coming back, I would ensure that each day I write something or the other. From critiques to reviews to opinions, reports, fiction, I would write it all. I know I am not intelligent or something and as a result, most days the output would be substandard and I would end up losing all the three readers that read my blog. But then, as they say, you win some, you lose some! The three of you, I know you guys are ardent supporters, you wont go anywhere. And the other one who stumble on here from random places, if you stick, nothing like it, if you dont, I'd try harder.

And oh, by the way, most of the things that I would write, I would post them on the sandbox. At least the ones that make sense.

I hope I can do this. Calls for a lot of discipline and a lot of focus. Two things that I lack. Lemme try and see how things go. Just wish me luck and help me along the way!

Dear sgMS

Dear sgMS,

Please come back. Please...

Regards, SG

The Wonder Years

So I met this TV anchor from the yesteryears that I used to have a huge crush on, while I was growing up in the 90s. At that time I could have happily given one arm and probably a leg as well to just see her once in real life. She had the most awesome smile ever and although the show she hosted was about English music, I did not understand a single thing she said but I still tuned into the channel religiously to see her come up and smile. It was one of those useless wonder year things that I dint even remember, till I realized that I would be meeting her.

So I went ahead with a twinkle in my eyes, my almost bald head neatly combed (took me all of 30 seconds), my beard neatly trimmed and in my favorite green shirt. And there she was, the lady of my wonder year dreams. And that is when I got the jolt and the dream got shattered into million little pieces of glass and ivory.

Now, when I am almost a man, she is on the wrong side of the thirties. And unlike some women who develop a charming grace when they grow old, this one hadnt. This one just looked like an older and "fuller" version of herself from the TV show. And that meant that the awesome smile was intact, apart from lines and blemishes on the skin that she has been trying to hide using all those beauty products that Sonam Kapoor and the likes peddle on TV.

It was like seeing the rude side of the concept called life. I realized that time is the mother of all sorrows that a human being can face. Take this woman for example. Despite all the money and fame, she cant do shit about how she looks despite she being the apple of the eye of the entire nation in her yesteryear. And then once I reazlied that shes been using beauty products to stay "young", I felt sorry for her. She has to resort to things like her beauty to actually make a living now. Thankfully I would have a sane head and hopefully I would not have to resort to things like that when I am old. And come to think of it, I would never be old! I can be watever age and in whatever physical condition, I would still be in demand!

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?