Sunday, June 1, 2014

Go to your room, Mother - a play by Sanjiv Desai

When I got word a month or so back that two of my class-mates (from undergraduate in BITS, Pilani) were involved in a play, I had to get tickets in a show of support. I had seen an earlier play, Noor, from the same production unit a year or so back and had enjoyed it thoroughly - particularly the acting of Sanjiv Desai who did a fabulous job in the role of a eunuch (in whose eyes the story unfolds).

This time, Sanjiv Desai had written the play. I learned that he was not making the trip from Delhi this time around. Another friend, Amit Sheth, had designed the sets and the sound.

The play was at Montgomery Theater in downtown San Jose. It was being done as a benefit for Maitri - a non-profit organization helping families from South Asia facing domestic violence.

The play starts with us learning of the demise of a successful businessman, Mr. Dalmia and how his widow, Purnima Dalmia (played by Seema Karnik) is suddenly faced with the realities of having to deal with finances, bills, etc. In a moment of weakness, her daughter-in-law, Rita Mansingh (played by Sindhu Singh) asks her to move in with them. The next, delightful, sequence is played out between Rita Mansingh and her husband, Rajiv Dalmia (played by Basab Pradhan) - where she tells him that (since they are empty nesters), she invited his mother to stay with them. She leaves the task of informing her own mother, Sheela Mansingh (played by Rashmi Rustagi) to her husband, Rajiv. By the time Rajiv informs his mother-in-law, Purnima has already gloated about her "status" to Sheela. Rajiv is left with no choice but to ask Sheela to move in with them as well.

The rest of the play is the adjustments that the one-big-happy-family need to make. Some scenes seemed a bit long drawn (such as the one where Purnima and Sheela decide which room they will take), while the others were witty and had some very clever dialogs - "If God has any sense, he will stay away from this place". Overall, the play was fast paced and the plot was well developed. The acting by the four main characters - Basab, Sindhu, Seema and Rashmi was simply awesome. Given that the entire play is set in the kitchen and bedroom of Rajiv and Rita's house, the set change between scenes was minimalist. Yet, it was quite amazing to see how quickly the actors changed clothes between scenes.

I noticed that the audience was mostly South Asian. At the intermission, I asked some of the ushers (who seemed to be the only caucasians watching) if they were liking the play. She said, "It is nice to see that the issues are the same across cultures. I am enjoying every bit of the play."

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Some of the dialog was risque with double entendre. However, it was never "out of place". The characters were definitely believable in a modern day context. Congratulations, Sanjiv. Wishing more successes to this play and look forward to your next one.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Panel on "Is Analytics the Killer App for Big Data"

TiE Silicon Valley hosted a panel on "Is Analytics the 'Killer App' for Big Data" on Wednesday, April 2, 2014.

The panel was moderated by IBM's Piyush Malik. Piyush started the meeting by setting the stage and providing context. Enterprises have been using analytical technique and statistical modeling for quite some time. A typical path has been  Reporting -> Discovery -> Analysis -> Alerting -> Forecasting -> Simulation ->Modeling -> Optimization -> Stochastic Optimization -> Cognitive Analytics.

The democratization of Data (due to the "Big Data" phenomenon) has allowed the application of analytics to take this leap forward. In the 1990s the data was on premise and technologies like Terradata were used to provide Descriptive Analytics. The cost for this was a prohibitive $1m / TB. In the 2000s, companies like Neteeza (acquired by IBM in 2010), Greenplum, asterData (acquired by Terradata in 2011) and Informatica used massively parallel architectures to bring this cost down to $100k / TB. Today, using Hadoop and Cassandra stacks with NoSQL and Cloud platforms, companies like MapR and Datastax and able to deliver Predictive Analytics moving towards Cognitive Analytics for a mere $1000 / TB.

While answering the question, "Why BigData?", Piyush said, "1 in 2 business leaders do not have access to the data that they need".

I was reminded of a talk (in the late 90s) by Bill Perry that I had attended (while I was at Sun Microsystems). He was recounting his experience when he was Secretary of Defense. He said that often times, he was asked to make decisions when he did not have all the required data. Yet, the impact of his decision could mean life or death for the soldier. "You have to trust your gut," he said. "Don't always lean towards what will make you 'popular'".

Arif Janmohamed, Partner at Lightspeed Ventures spoke next. He spoke to LSVP's investments in MapR and Datastax affirming their commitment to BigData and the opportunity that the VC community saw in BigData.

Chris Jones, Director of Analytics at AAA was the next speaker. He spoke of his experiences as a consumer and producer of Big Data through his career that spanned Intuit, Adobe, Zynga and AAA.

Sai Devulapalli, Director of Analytics at Ericsson spoke about how they use BigData at Ericsson to make predictions about:

  • Customers - Behavior, Experience, Churn
  • Devices - Uptake, Performance, Failure
  • Networks - Performance, Failure
  • Campaigns - Uptake, Network Impact
  • Services - Uptake, Performance, Failure, Network Impact
Janet George, Managing Director of Accenture Technology Labs spoke next. Previously, Janet worked at eBay and on Hadoop while at Yahoo. She spoke about life events for Small and Medium Businesses and the importance of data in the stages of Expansion, Consolidation and Change in Ownership.

The panel provided an overarching viewpoint on the impact of BigData in enterprises today. However, I felt that some of the bigger questions were left unanswered. No one was willing to talk about solving "Grand Challenge" problems. How about using Big Data to:
  • Find a cure for Cancer
  • Predict the next Earthquake
  • Drug Discovery
If, at the end of the day, Enterprises are able to use "Big Data" to predict which brand of toothpaste I am likely to purchase next, we should be pooling our collective resources elsewhere.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Modest Proposal to the SF Giants Management

Unless you have been living under a rock, we are all familiar with the 12th Man in Football. SuperBowl winners, Seattle Seahawks, have a page dedicated to the 12th Man on their web site. Pete Carroll, in fact, specifically mentioned appreciation to the 12th Man in his interview after winning SuperBowl XLVIII.

If the 12th Man in Seattle was "instrumental" in their winning the ultimate trophy, the same should apply to other sports as well. Here in the Bay Area, we have an ardent fan following of the MLB team SF Giants. How about we anoint these fans as the "10th Man" in Baseball. My proposal to the SF Giants Management is to have an entire campaign around this - with a flag, hashtag (#sfgiants10), shirts, mugs, etc. A suggested design for a banner is included here.

Who knows, this may bring the World Series trophy back to the Giants!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why can't we all just get along without prejudices?

Last week I was out grocery shopping at the local Safeway. As I was walking out, I noticed a young (probably in her late 20s, early 30s) Vietnamese woman, carrying a young (2 to 3 year old) child in one arm and negotiating a (rather full) grocery cart with the other hand. Now, this grocery cart was equipped with a "locking wheel" - which prevents the user to take the cart outside a certain boundary. (The mechanism used by these carts is explained here). So, this hapless lady was trying to take the cart to her car and the cart would not budge! (I learned later that she had given her car for an Oil Change at the nearby Service Station - which is the reason why she had to push the cart so far).

My immediate reaction was to explain to her that the cart has a locking wheel and help her with moving her groceries. Just as I was doing this, I heard a loud voice bellowing, "This is the reason they have locks on these carts. To prevent trash like you from moving the carts outside the store premises". I turned around and saw this short, portly, elderly, caucasian gentleman with grey hair, a grey stubble and glasses. His face was flush with anger and his eyes were almost popping out of his glasses. I suspect that the lady did not even comprehend what he was saying. She seemed quite flustered and was desperately trying to empty her cart and move the grocery bags inside to the sidewalk. I walked up to the gentleman and told him, "Come on, back off. She did not know that the cart wheels have locks." He then turned his anger towards me saying, "Why should I back off. I live in this neighborhood and regularly find these carts inside my complex. These people should go back to their country and trash it anyway they want." I determined that I could not "reason" with his. So I just said, "I don't think you are being fair. She genuinely did not know. So just back off, OK." I then turned towards the lady, helped her empty the cart and then moved the locked cart back to the grocery store. The lady picked up the bags that I had helped her move to the sidewalk and quickly walked towards her car after mumbling her thanks to me.

Luckily, everything ended well in this situation. However, I could not help thinking later about the choice of words used by the gentleman and his initial reaction. It rankled me that his first reaction was to refer to her as "trash like you". Should I have given him the "If you prick us, do we not bleed" speech (from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice)? Are people truly walking around with such prejudices? Whatever happened to the "melting pot" and living in a "cosmopolitan" society. If this the case in California, what would be the "plight" of the immigrant population in the Southern Bible Belt states?

Am I reading too much into this (possibly isolated) incident? Share your thoughts as comments to this post.

Yet another loss to Cancer

We learned of yet another tragic loss to Cancer earlier this evening when we were informed of the passing of cousin Mohan's spouse, Radhika. I certainly hope this is the last time I will have to write about losing a close relative / friend to Cancer. Radhika's battle with cancer was long and protracted. Each time there was hope that she was going into remission, the doctors would discover a recurrence in an altogether new area. Yet, through all of this, Radhika would stay positive. Many times, during our phone conversations, she would be the one offering words of encouragement - saying, "Arre, Yeh Kuch nahin hai. Sab teek ho jayega" (This is nothing. Soon, it will all become good)

Radhika was so full of life in everything that she undertook - whether it was getting the children of Chicago to perform in a dance program that she choreographed or participating in a dance program herself. Her smiling countenance would fill every room that she walked into. She would somehow find a way to uplift you with her vibrant conversation and bright smile. Radhika would find something positive in every situation. You will be missed, Radhika - not just by your young children and spouse, but by larger group of family and friends that you have left behind. Most certainly, your passing has relieved you of the pain and suffering caused by this deadly disease. However, there is a huge void that you have left behind which will be hard to fill. May your soul rest in peace.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A couple of dazzling Concerts

Bay Area residents were treated to a couple of dazzling Carnatic music concerts over the last month. There were several other Indian Classical / Light Music concerts in the Bay Area in this period. However, these were the two that I attended.

The first was a concert by Sanjay Subrahmanyan on September 28th at newly constructed Livermore Temple Lakkireddy auditorium. In fact, Sanjay's was the inaugural concert in this 700-seat auditorium. Sanjay's popularity among rasikAs was apparent as this concert was sold out! Sanjay was accompanied on the violin by S. Varadarajan and on the mridangam by Neyveli Venkatesh. Sanjay started the kutchErI with the bEgaDa varNam. This was followed by the Thyagaraja kritI "srI gaNapathini" in sowrAshtram. Sanjay then sang an exquisite pUrvi kalyANi alApanaI. In his previous concert in the Bay Area, I had mentioned how Sanjay held the gAndhAra swaram in kalyAni for over a minute without pausing to breathe.  This time he accomplished the same feat while rendering the pUrvi kalyANi alApanaI. This time, however, no one clapped in the middle! Sanjay sang the Ramalinga Swamigal composition "appA nAn vEnduthal". He performed a neraval around "tappEdu nAn seyinum nI poruttal vEnDum"
As is customary with Sanjay, he follows a heavy piece with a quick, light song. This time, he sang the Swaati TirunaaL composition "vandE sadhaa padmanAbham" in navarasa kAnnaDa. He followed this with a bhairavI alApanaI and the compositiion "mahA tripurasundarI". The short piece that followed this time was "nanda gOpAla mukunda gOkula" in yamunA kalyANi. The central composition of the kutchErI was Pooci Sreenivasa Aiyangar's "saraguna pAlimpa samayamurA" in kEdAra gowLai, which included an intricate thaniAvarthanam by Neyveli Venkatesh. I noticed people (sitting in the front row) walking out of the concert during the thaniAvarthanam. This was not the customary (sic!) bio-break while the percussionist played. They had collected their bags and were leaving. I felt like rushing out and telling them, "The best is yet to come".

This time, the short piece was "ozhukkam uyirinum ombapadUm" in kuntAla varALi composed by Tiruvalluvar. At this stage, Sanjay had already sung songs in Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit and Malayalam. Sanjay performed a divine RTP in cArukEshi next. The pallavi was, "ellAm sivan seyal illaI. kavalaI inrI iruppAi manamE". He performed the rAgamAlikA while singing the pallavi (normally, I have heard it done during the swaraprasthAram). He included kalyAninaLinakAnti, varALisahAnA and hamsAnandI in the rAgamAlikA. He followed this with a Sanskrit Shloka. At the end of this song he announced, "This Sholka was composed by a Sanskrit student some 10 years ago - who happens to be none other than my sister. She happens to be living in the Bay Area right now." The audience wanted to acknowledge her. Aarthi Natarajan stood up to receive an ovation. I notice that her spouse, Bala, tweeted this fact.

Sanjay sang as many as six tukkada's after this including, Purandara Dasa's "lAlisidaLu magana"in dEsh; Doraiswami Kavi's "solla solla" in behAg; Bharatiyaar's "ninnaiyE rathi inru ninaikirEn" in bAgeshreE; Gopalakrishna Bharati's "chidambaram pOgAmal" in chencuruttI; Bharati Dasan's "kundrin meedhu nindru kandEn" in kamAs; Muthiah Bhagavatar's "kAlino harismarana" in kApI. Finally, after almost four hours, he concluded the concert with a thillAna in sindhu bhairavI.

The second concert was by Bombay Jayashri on Saturday, October 26th at the San Jose Center For Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose. Jayashri was accompanied on the violin by HN Bhaskar, on the mridangam by P Satish Kumar and on the ghatam by Giridhar Udupa. The fact that Jayashri was an Oscar Award nominee, was probably a factor in having a "mainstream" auditorium for a Carnatic Music concert. Interestingly, the only sections that were sold out were the higher price tickets (for $150 and $50). The concert started 15 minutes late - perhaps due to the fact that there was still a long line at the "Will Call" window with the stragglers traipsing their way in. The first thing I noticed when the curtain raised was that there were two tamburAs. It is much harder for a singer to maintain her pitch against both instruments. Jayashri began her concert with the Narayana Theerthar composition, "jaya jaya swAmi" in nAtai. This was followed by a short, Thyagaraja kritI "teliyalEru rAma" in dhEnukaa

Next, Jayashri sang an alApanai in mOhanam. She brought in traces of Hindustani bhOpAli while rendering the alApanai. It was beautifully done. She sang another Thyagaraja kritI "nanu pAlimpa". The central composition of the kutchErI was Thyagaraja's "pakkala nilabaDi" in karaharapriya. She performed a neraval here around, "manasuna dalaci mE maraci". The 15+ minute thaniAvarthanam that followed was a treat. Satish Kumar and Giridhar Udupa delivered a very well orchestrated performance. Before the start of the thaniAvartanam, you could see that Satish Kumar was gesturing to desperately trying to catch the attention of the stage support folks. Then Jayashri announced, "Could you turn down the AirCon. It is freezing here." 

When Jayashri started singing an alApanai in yaman kalyAni, I assumed that she was singing a short piece. In fact, this turned out to be her RTP! The pallavi was, "bAla gOpAla sumadhura leelA. vEnu gAna lOla". Jayashri also performed the rAgamAlikA while singing the pallavi. She included cArukEshi, madhyamAvati and chencuruttI. She sang the Santhana Lakshmi stotram,"Aie khAga vAhini mohinI chakrinI rAga vivardhini gnanamayE" next. This was followed by a viruttam in kApi followed by the Purandara Dasa kritI "jagadO dhAranA". Jayashri concluded her concert with the Lalgudi G. Jayaraman thillAna in pahAdi.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Conversation between Gandhi and Boehner

[On the eve of Mohandas Gandhi's 144th. birthday, the following is a hypothetical conversation between Gandhiji (MG) and Boehner (JB). Note that Gandhiji was often endearingly referred to as Bapu or "Father"]

MG: You know John, I am going on a fast-until-death to protest against this move of yours to shut down the Government and hold the country ransom.

JB: Bapu, please don't do this. You are being swayed by Democratic propaganda in saying that we are holding the country ransom. Wait a minute, I thought your platform for non-violent protest was only in situations of war, terror and tyranny. None of these are applicable in our current situation.

MG: You obviously are unaware of the Dandi March to protest against Salt Tax by the British Government. There too, my goal was to drive sense into the British Government that they cannot levy high taxes on Salt. In a similar vein, you cannot shut down the Government just because you do not like the Affordable Health Care Act.

JB: Bapu, I am going to let you in on a secret. We (the GOP) cannot think of any other way to stop Obamacare. If we allow this to move forward, it will doom our party. You see, numerous Presidents in the past have tried to enact "Affordable Health Care" into law. They have all been foiled thanks to partisan politics. This one "slipped through".

MG: Why is that a bad thing. I was reading an article in NYT that this will benefit a large cross section of people.

JB: You are so wet behind the ears when it comes to politics, Bapu. If Obamacare becomes popular, that would shut the GOP from the White House for at least the next 12 years. We are grooming Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as candidates for the 2016 elections. We want them to have a fighting chance to win. We have to stop this one way or the other. It is unfortunate that it came down to our final option - to shutdown Government.

MG: Well! you have deal with me now and my fast-until-death if you do move forward with your I-will-because-I-can plan to shut down the Government.

JB: You are overestimating our sensitivity to your "threats", Bapu. Right now, all our focus is on the 2016 elections.

MG: Once again, you are demonstrating your short-sightedness, John. It is not "your sensitivity" that is  "under the gun" when I proceed with the fast. This fast is likely to gain the nationwide interest. I heard that CNN will be covering it live.