Book Reviews from Three Indie Authors

My “Office Humour” book gets a second wind, thanks to support from Jacqui Murray, my longtime e-friend, established writer, school teacher, columnist, and lots more. Thank you Jacqui.

‘ve been reading a lot of Indie writers lately. Many I found in the blogosphere, have enjoyed our back-and-forth conversations, and now call efriends.  I’m going to spend a few weeks reviewing my favorites, three at a time. I’ll kick it off with a varied collection from bloggers I’ve been following for several years.

  • What Happens in Office Stays in Office is a light-hearted peek into the white-collar life of a manager in India.
  • Not By Design is a fascinating story about a woman who’s life is turned upside down just as she thinks she’s settling into adulthood.
  • Bequia Mysteries is a three-book series set on the Caribbean island of Bequia, chronicling the escapades of a man who decides to lose his past in this remote corner of the planet

What happens in office, stays in officeWhat Happens in Office Stays in Office: An Insider’s Account of What Really Happens at the Workplace

by Ankur Mithal

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Cover Reveal: To Hunt a Sub

Sharing my longtime Blog-friend Jacqui Murray’s post revealing the cover of her novel “To Hunt a Sub”. Details about the book can be found in her post. Jacqui is an endless source of knowledge and guidance for budding writers and she makes available lots of resources through her blogs. Putting out a book in the “marketplace” is a moment fraught with nervous anxiety, even for a veteran writer which she is, and I wish her all the best with her book.

I’ve been preparing for this day for… years… Maybe longer. Simple words don’t seem enough to share the emotion of the event. Maybe a drumroll (as efriend Rebecca Bradley used to launch her latest book):

Or would Pomp and Circumstance be better, as I prepare for my future as a world-acclaimed breakout author:

Or maybe, Ride of the Valkyries, with its energetic march into the unknown, head up, spirit brave:

I hope this cover embraces the risk-taker spirit of my characters, their noble goal, and the danger that floats just below the surface as they try everything in their power to save a world they believe in:
to hunt a sub

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

A brilliant Ph.D. candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky experimental robot team up against terrorists intent on stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. By all measures, they are an unlikely trio–one believes

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Free Basics

Big business is at it again. Doing what they are best at. Making the world a better place. By telling us what is good for us.

According to some reports, Facebook has spent close to a hundred million US dollars in promoting Free Basics in India. How’s that for a start to altruism?

Free Basics, for the uninitiated, is a concept being promoted by Facebook, alongwith Reliance, one of India’s largest business houses, who are about to launch their 4G enabled mobile telephony services, whereby a certain set of websites will be made available for free to all users. Accessing websites beyond this permitted list will attract charges.

As is always the case in India, the lesser the understanding about an issue, the more the number of people offering knowledgeable opinions, including yours truly. While some of the debate has been on the role of Telcos in a society, whether they should merely be the conduits of Voice and Data, charging on the basis of volume, or whether they should have a say, and interest, in what passes through their network, most of the uninformed knowledgeable voices have been on the role and interest of Facebook and its founder and primary shareholder, who we will refer to as MZ, which, clearly, is everyone’s business.

In order to cut through the dross of uninformed debate, and present the real picture to the public, MZ agreed to an interview with a prominent reporter of a leading daily. Here are some extracts from the freewheeling interaction.

Reporter: Thank you for joining us today MZ. I know you are a busy man. Let me come straight to the point. Why are you promoting Free Basics?

MZ: After creating a successful business, a lot of responsibility is thrust upon you. People look up to you. It becomes your responsibility to decide what others should do. We have decided that others should follow Free Basics.

Reporter: Thank you. That is very eloquently explained. Tell me, why is Free Basics important?

MZ: That is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is “what will happen if there is no Free Basics?”

Reporter, sheepishly: OK, what will happen if there is no Free Basics?

MZ: Nothing. Absolutely nothing will happen if there is no Free Basics. Hence all the more reason we introduce it without any delay. Before this realisation becomes common knowledge.

Reporter, mentally clicking another “Like” for the answer: You have decided on a Free Basics model where you define the websites that a User will get access to. How did you decide on these websites?

MZ: All our decisions are guided by one mission; of helping people. The websites included are the ones which people really need for their day to day activities. Like Facebook. Isn’t that what a poor farmer in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, praying for rain while sowing seeds in the searing heat, really need? Isn’t that what a hard-working miner in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand, while working underground in the peat mines, where he cannot even access the net, really need?

Reporter, clearly impressed with MZ’s passion for helping people: What about the other sites?

MZ, without noticing the interruption by the Reporter: …and the list has been rounded off by adding other popular websites in each category, which nobody has heard of; like Jagran Josh for Career and Jobs, instead of Naukri and Monster. It was a lot of hard work, unearthing sites that nobody has ever used. But I am thankful to our dedicated team that we have filled all categories.

Reporter: There is some research you have quoted that in 50% of the cases, after a User has tasted the Internet, within 30 days he starts accessing it on a paid basis. Does that not defeat the purpose of providing Internet for free?

MZ: Don’t you want to see development in this country? If the poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh, or the hard-working miner in Jharkhand, cannot contribute to making Facebook shares rise year after year, how will you call them developed?

Reporter: Would it not have been better to give a certain amount of data free of cost? That way, they could visit the sites that are useful to them, and also limit the time spent on surfing.

MZ, displaying signs of exasperation: Did you grow up in a socialist state? Looks like you don’t understand the meaning of freedom and democracy. In a democratic society, freedom is the right to choose from the list that big business and government have dished up for your own good. Do you want to create anarchy? Everyone accessing websites that are useful to them. Unthinkable!

MZ, while waiting for the Reporter to recover from this outburst: Besides, if he got what he wanted for free, why would he ever graduate to become a paying user of the Net and become developed?

Reporter, a little defensively, having no words to counter that iron-clad logic: One hears that none among what we call developed countries have opted for Free Basics. The only countries which have permitted some form of Free Basics are Uganda, Tanzania and Philippines and a few others.

MZ: There are many reasonable nations in the world. They see reason as soon as I offer to buy out their country with Facebook shares.

Reporter: You have spent a hundred million dollars in promoting FB. Would the money not have been better spent if you had used it to create Internet accounts for a million people.

MZ: You need to get your facts right. We have not spent a single cent on promoting Free Basics. We have run a campaign to educate people so that they understand what is good for them. Are you questioning the value of education?

Reporter, side-stepping the question: It appears that you are trying to bring about a change in the functioning of Telcos. Though run by private corporations in many countries, Telcos are still primarily viewed as utilities providing a basic service.

MZ: Look, you can only do so much. If Telcos don’t understand that complicating an existing, working model, without adding any value to the ecosystem, is what is good for them, there is not much that I can do.

MZ, suddenly becoming agitated: Your Prime Minister promised unfettered access to the Indian market when he hugged me in Menlo Park a couple of months back. Indian Telcos better agree!

And, on that conciliatory note, the interview ended.

We are all better informed and better placed to decide what big business and government have decided for us.

Dilbert’s one liners

These quips came to me as “Dilbert’s one liners” on a WhatApp message. Some of these don’t sound Dilbertian. I am a fairly avid follower of Dilbert and could not imagine a context in which some of them might have been voiced. But then, you never can say. Dilbert also has off days!

Nos. 3 and 30 are the ones I liked best. Hope you will be able to laugh at least at some of them.

1. I say no to alcohol, it just doesn’t listen.

2. A friend in need is a pest indeed.

3. Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.

4. Work is fine if it doesn’t take too much of your time.

5. When everything comes in your way you’re in the wrong lane.

6. The light at the end of the tunnel may be an incoming train..

7. Born free, taxed to death.

8. Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don’t have film.

9. Life is unsure; always eat your dessert first.

10. Smile, it makes people wonder what you are thinking.

11. If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you’ll have trouble putting on your pants.

12. It’s not hard to meet expenses, they are everywhere.

13. I love being a writer… what I can’t stand is the paperwork..

14. A printer consists of 3 main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.

15. The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius.

16. The trouble with being punctual is that no one is there to appreciate it.

17. In a country of free speech, why are there phone bills?

18. If you cannot change your mind, are you sure you have one?

19. Beat the 5 O’clock rush, leave work at noon!

20. If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

21. It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.

22. I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

23. Hot glass looks same as cold glass. – Cunino’s Law of Burnt Fingers

24. The cigarette does the smoking you are just the sucker.

25. Someday is not a day of the week

26. Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock.

27. To Err is human, to forgive is not a Company policy.

28. The road to success…. Is always under construction.

29. Alcohol doesn’t solve any problems, but if you think again, neither does Milk.

30. In order to get a Loan, you first need to prove that you don’t need it.

PSA-150706-Useless Info

Grumpa Joe's Place

These are very interesting…Don’t see how anyone could go a day longer, without this enlightment….

I have to try the one with the champaign and the raisin.

A rat can last longer without water than a camel.

Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks or it will digest itself.

The dot over the letter “i” is called a tittle.

A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and
down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.

A female ferret will die if it goes into heat and cannot find a mate.

Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying.

A 2 X 4 is really 1-1/2″ by 3-1/2″.

During the chariot scene in “Ben Hur,” a small red car can be seen
in the distance (and Heston’s wearing a watch).

On average, 12 newborns will…

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Being published

I feel happy to share with you that the last two issues of Friday Gurgaon, a weekly newspaper in Gurgaon, have featured my articles. Here are the links to the two articles in the online version of the paper:

Regular readers of this blog will recognise these two as modified (and edited) versions of articles published on the blog.

Friday Gurgaon is also open to continue assessing future submissions for publishing 🙂

Another article was published in Unhinged, an online satire magazine, a few days back. Here is the link:

An interesting thing I have noted is that both Friday Gurgaon and Unhinged have embellished the article/s with images. My articles are always only prose, except, where the article is about an image of some sort, like traffic signs. Perhaps time to consider including suitable images, though I think addition of images limits imagination. Not sure if that last sentence made any sense. Will welcome views on inclusion of images with articles.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS. This post originally 4/12/13. Let’s have fun today and add yours. Interactive smiling day

Deviating from the cartoons he usually posts, here is a delightful collection of “Famous Last Words” from one of my oldest blogging friends that I enjoyed reading and that, I think, my readers might also like. I must add, though, that I could not place a few of the “famous” people.

I Know I Made You Smile

Napoleon Napoleon

Socrates Socrates

3 words4 words

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Call Control

Last week, I published Call Flow, a post about a real recent conversation with the Contact Centre of a big bank. An interaction that left me none-the-wiser and frustrated.

In order that more customers are not left dis-satisfied, I have made an attempt to modify the interaction to look like one that I would have enjoyed. I hope you enjoy reading it as well.

Voice on phone (VOP): Hello, am I talking to AM?

Me: Yes you are.

VOP: May I know your Date of Birth (DOB) please?

Me: Why do you need my DOB? Are you writing up my horoscope?

VOP: I am calling from TownBank. You called in a few days back and lodged a complaint.

This is the point at which the call segues into a delightful experience for the customer…

Me, in a cheerful tone: Now that you mention it, I did indeed. Thank you for reminding me. I hope you guys are spending hours of fruitless labour trying to dig-up irrelevant details about the transaction and some senior person is spending sleepless nights worrying about possible ramifications in case the issue becomes public.

VOP: (Silence. Possibly looking hither thither for supervisory support on the call. Or, feverishly churning the pages of the Training Manual to look for guidance on a suitable response.)

Me: Before I forget, can you please give me your DOB.

VOP, after a brief pause: DOB? Why do you need my DOB?

Me: It is a part of my verification process.

VOP, in a cautious, hesitant tone: What verification process?

Me: Shame on you. Does the bank not train you on the importance of verification for the purpose of security. Don’t you know I need to validate who you are and if, indeed, you are calling from, and representing Townbank. After all, you called me.

VOP: Bbbbut, I cannot tell you my DOB.

Me: Permit me the insolence to ask “Why not?” Is this the respect you have for verification processes of your customers?

VOP, slowly, separating each word out: Because this has not been covered in our process training. In fact, I have opened our Training Manual on the screen. Nowhere does it talk about what to do when a customer asks for your DOB.

Me, in a tone dripping with condescension : I sympathise with you. You may have been taught the difference between Current and Fixed Deposit accounts. You have perhaps been taught how to calculate interest. You have certainly been taught how to sell insurance policies not needed by a customer. But you have been not taught what to do when you are asked for your DOB. Tch Tch. But never mind. I can teach you that.

VOP, perking up: You can?

Me: Of course I can. Who do you think I am, anyway? I am a veteran customer of Townbank who has lived through hundreds of interrogations about his DOB, Dog’s name, Make of car, and many other pertinent questions for no apparent valid reason.

VOP, now sounding impatient: Then please do. I want to learn how to tell you my DOB.

Me: Of course you do. It is an essential life-skill in today’s world. Listen to me carefully now. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Slowly exhale. Open your eyes (this is a critical step before moving onto the next). Then get up and walk to the nearest coffee machine. Don’t pour yourself a cup of hot coffee. Now walk back to your workstation. Settle down and try to forget the aroma of coffee in the pantry. Then, shake yourself out of the stupor and tell me your DOB.

VOP, still cautious, and after a moment’s consideration: Thank you. That seems to be a simple enough process. I think I can handle it. Bbbbut, nobody has ever asked me for my DOB earlier.

Me, indignantly: You still have the impudence to tell me that? I cannot be held accountable for weak security practices of other customers of Townbank. You need to choose your customers with greater care.

VOP, grasping the lifeline: Yes sir, most certainly. I will convey this message to my seniors.

Me: Will you now tell me your DOB or do you leave me with no option but reporting you to your manager for failing to perform your assigned duties in a satisfactory manner?

VOP: Please don’t. I will do what you say.

Me: Tell me the name of your Manager, alongwith email ID and mobile no. please.

VOP: Sure sir.

Me: Why don’t you email it to me? And, while you are at it, please also send me a scanned copy of your appointment letter issued by Townbank.

VOP: Appointment letter?

Me: How the hell do you expect me to know that you are employed by Townbank?

VOP: Of course sir. I did not see that.

Me: And a letter signed by the HR Manager stating that you are still in the employ of Townbank.

VOP: Sure sir. I understand the need for that as well.

Me: Good. I am glad you are finally talking sense. Once you have sent me all that, you can call me back and tell me why you had called me in the first place.

Of course, we would not get to discuss my complaint about which he had presumably called. But I would be a more satisfied customer. What about you?