Friday, November 30, 2012

On boring, fixing, etc

Boring conference

Just finished reading this report from the 2012 Boring conference that was held in London recently. Apparently, this is held in November each year and delegates turn up to listen to ‘boring’ speeches and presentations. 

Why would people turn up at such a conference to listen to presentations on topics such as supermarket self-service check-outs,  post-boxes and “the confusing, non-regulated series of toaster settings on the market”?  Because people enjoy boring things.  Yes, banality has a certain appeal. 

I used to follow a blog post called “the dullest blog in the world” that, sadly, went quiet from July last year. Here are some samples:

“I had a towel in my hands. It was a bit damp. I hung it over the bannister so that it would dry off.”

“I saw that there was a small piece of rubbish on the ground. I stooped over and picked it up. Seeing a litter bin nearby I carried the item a short distance and deposited it in the bin.”

“I logged onto the internet in order to check my e-mails. I clicked the ’send and receive’ button and downloaded one or two messages. A minute or two later I logged off the internet.” 

The blog was tremendously popular and some of the posts received more than 200 comments. Boring stuff can be that appealing. 

If it’s broke, fix it. 

I remember the first suitcase I bought when I became a salesman. It took quite a beating as I travelled extensively every week by bus on bad roads. Every now and then a screw would unloosen or a hinge would get rusted or the cloth lining get torn. I simply had to take it to some roadside repairer and fix it by spending a few rupees. 

I used that suitcase for more than 10 years and abandoned it not because it was not good enough, but because I had by then progressed to travelling by air and felt compelled to buy one that was more stylish and elegant. None of the suitcases that I’ve bought after that has lasted that long, although I travel mostly by air and treat the luggage quite delicately. Also, if a zip gets stuck or a wheel drops off, it is quite painful to find a good repair shop. Might as well throw it off and buy a new one.

The ‘repair’ culture is slipping away, in any case. None of the devices are designed for durability and replacing them every few years is considered a better option as repair charges are often quite close to the cost of a new one. Mobile phones, washing machines, microwave ovens, etc fall in this category. At least, this is what we are led to believe.

I was happy to read about the “Fixer’s manifesto’ that’s been written by a designer. Some of the statements in that manifesto: 

“Fixing’ is the most beautiful form of creativity”

“A small clever tweak can improve how things work for years to come”.

“Resist trends and needless updates. Don’t be a passive consumer”

“If we double the life of a product, we send only half of them to the landfill every year”

Makes one think, doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Raj's Random Ramblings- 4

Artist’s image of suspects.

Whenever the police release an artist’s impression of a murder suspect or a terrorist who got away, I make a mental note that I should compare it with the real photo of the person if and when he/she is really arrested. I always suspect that the artist’s images based on description by people who saw the suspect would be quite far off the mark.  Here’s a pair of pictures that strengthened my suspicion.  It’s a police sketch of Salvatore Perrone who was recently arrested in Staten Island as a suspect in a murder and his real photo when he was arrested. (link). The huge difference is possibly because no two people can provide the same description to the artist. There will be another gap when the artist transfers what he has understood on to his sketch. 

Some months back, the Daily Mail of UK carried an article on one of the great practitioners of the art, Ms Gibson, whose sketches have helped solve over a 1000 crimes. Some examples have been provided in that article of the artist’s sketch and the actual photo. Though the writer lavishes praise on the accuracy of the sketches, I am not very impressed (except for one pair). Are you?

The coming Apocalypse.

Are you preparing for the Apocalypse on December 21, 2012 as predicted by the Mayans? Well, a Russian company has been marketing survival kits. For a mere 890 rubles (Rs 1400), you get a med kit (complete with heart medication), soap, some candles and matches, a can of fish, a pack of buckwheat, a bottle of vodka, a notepad and pencil, and a rope. (source). Meanwhile, a Chinese man is not taking any chances. He’s building a Noah’s Ark for himself, using his entire life savings. 

This reminds me of a Jewish story which starts with God announcing that the entire world would be deluged under water in two weeks. Panic-stricken Christians rushed to the Church and begged the Lord for mercy. Muslims all over the world thronged the mosques and pleaded with Allah.  Hindus offered special prayers in thousands of temples. At a Jewish synagogue in Tel Aviv, a Rabbi got on to the podium and addressed his people, “Brothers and sisters, we have exactly two weeks to learn to live under water”. 

So, if the world is about to be destroyed on December 21st, you have exactly 23 days ( counting from the time I am writing this) to learn how to survive in the destroyed planet. Good luck.

Crimeless day:

Apparently, November 26, 2012 was a very special day in New York. For the first time in memory, there was no reported incident of shooting, nabbing or slashing. The Police couldn’t believe it and couldn’t recall a single day when this had happened before. (source). The Police must be worried too. If the crime rate keeps dropping in this manner, they’ll soon become redundant and lose their jobs. 

The cliché goes that ‘ dog biting man is not news, man biting dog is’. Perhaps one day we’ll see news reported that our Parliament functioned the entire day without a single incident of disruption, hooliganism or a walk-out.That will be reported as sensational news.