Tastes and sights- Washington DC

Disclaimer- Opinions expressed below are solely mine, none of the places are fictional and resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional. For most part, no mammals were harmed but cannot claim the same for birds.

Its been a while since I actually sat down to pen down something meaningful. Having been overcome by distractions like travelogue-ing, Project management and self inflicted racism, I figured a wind swept Sunday morning in suburban Maryland was a decent indicator.

What and where all have I been out chasing international cuisines?

1- Asia Nine – This place at Crown, Gaithersburg, a real find. Excellent service, non-existent wait times with some superlative service. The Eggplant Gai Sub is worth dying for ! This is where I would go to to get a sumptuous Asian meal without the hassles of travel or commute

Sr Lucia Trip Apr 2012 002

2- Rasika, Penn Quarter- A fancy top of the line Indian. Pricy but unlike most neighborhood Indian curry houses, the selection is different, not too westernized and highly palatable. A place to take your out-of-country Indian friends and non Indian colleagues. A great dining experience by all standards.

3- &Pizza, Gaithersburg- A fad, not all that novel inspite of what they claim. And one thing you never want to do- Order online. They find ways to screw it your order and you end up with toppings you detest and not getting the toppings you were craving after a 5 miles run

4- Food carts, 13th & F, NW DC- Watch where you stop. Certainly not all of them are what they advertise. Especially the kabobs, shawarmas or Mediterranean , they can get as soggy as sponges left out in a drizzle. The Indonesian cart is something though  and it seems they actually make a good meal of it. And Gourmet is a term that may be used liberally so its more mediocre than deletable.

Must-do’s – Nasi Goreng, Indonesian, Philli cheese steaks, Asian veggie fried rice

Stay away from – Fried chickens, Masala foods, Shawarmas, kabobs

The good news is nothing will cost you more than $10 so if you hit the motherlode, you’re in for a treat

5- Sweetgreen- Anywhere in DC. Well I happen to be an old fashioned warm/hot food connoisseur. Cold foods just don’t cut  it for me, I don’t even consider a salad as lunch. God knows, I have tried several times but just cannot seem to say anything positive about this place. If you’re out meeting me for lunch, you can bet on me not taking you there! Perhaps I am just not “cool” enough for this place.

6- Choolah BBQ, Sterling, Northern VA- After being told it was the Indian Choptle, I did venture out and savored the offerings. Not disappointing, in fact it was rather refreshing for a change. Certainly not a place I’d frequent unless I had a craving for Sodium overload. Worth paying a visit but only if you’re in the neighborhood!

Now on to trails for a good evening’s run- For rookies like me!

1- A good 4 mile loop around Muddy Branch- Lake Winds Way onto Travilah is as good as it gets especially if you can make it before dark and get to take in the visual delights of the fall foliage

Great Falls

2- Seneca State Creek park- A hidden treasure and I only wish I had discovered it sooner. Rolling hills, tranquil ambience and a trail that makes you want more

PS- As I write I am clutching my left calf in pain since I underestimated the power of warm ups and cool downs.

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D-I-Y- A four letter word

So what’s this DIY again? Seems as mythical to me as the Unicorn, Santa Claus or tax cuts. Did you grow up in India? Well, if you didn’t you probably have no clue what I am talking about do you?

I actually grew up in a quaint little town called Bhopal; Bhopal known world over for all the wrong reasons- The 1984 Union Carbide gas leak accident that left thousands dead. It used to be an erstwhile Kingdom and it was actually one of the most fun places to be in. I lived in a huge converted palace with god knows how many relatives. So big that it gave me plenty of secret alleys to hide in and it took me 6 months to realize who my brother was. That’s the thing about joint families, no one bothers and you basically get away with anything.

And then of course , being India, everything was done by someone else. D-I-Y? Well the only DIY we did was to pick up the phone ourselves and ask for someone to come over to fix a broken piece of furniture or wash the vehicles. And before anyone gets any ideas, we eventually moved out of that gigantic joint family and spent the rest of my formative years in a 200 sq feet tenement. So of course the only vehicles we saw were the ones driven by others and owned by the others. And how about laying floors, fixing a broken fence or assemble a bed? Now that is really pushing it because as simple as it sounds to you, its still rocket science to me. It just simply does not happen in India. We never got to do do anything ourselves. Someone else was always called upon!

So imagine the shock of it all when I started living in America. So the guy at IKEA hands me a compact box and says that’s my bed. If jumping out of one’s skin is possible, it actually happened to me then. So I am supposed to put this together? I am supposed to look at that sketch of that Apollo 13 and use the screws, nuts and bolts and assemble a bed? Sure enough being hard up for money, I attempted it. And of course after a sweaty, on-the-knees session on the bedroom floor, I thought it was mission accomplished. Then my eyes go and I see 21 screws quietly ensconced in a corner. May be the Swedes were generous and gave me that extra helping of screws? You can run your mind on what the bed looked like? Well it wasn’t exactly a square. If I call it pathetic it would be highly unfair since that is a superlative for the piece of wood that stood on three and half legs!Bad Assembly

And then there was this instance when I had to fix a couple of floor boards which of course involved some rather mule like adamant adhesive. After having smartly spread that adhesive on the floor board, somehow in a fit of extreme enthusiasm I ended up kneeling down promptly on the part where the adhesive was generously spread.So here I am in this position, stuck to the floor and by myself in my kitchen. I managed to slither and reach for my phone while still having my knees stuck to the floor. Voice recognition or Siri doesn’t recognize an Indian accent if you knew that. So 911 and here comes the guy a few minutes later and guess what he does? He laughs until he cries! He couldn’t stop and for him it was the most ludicrous thing he’s ever seen. And being at the receiving end, it was very unfunny to me. I am sure he must have thought- What’s Apu doing on the floor? Isn’t he supposed to be running the cash register at  7-11?

Since then I have vowed not to get too adventurous with DIY.  I will skip a meal a day, I will walk to work, I’ll try to live off one kidney so I can afford to pay those handymen that have absolutely no compunctions about charging me $50 for a 15 minutes check in. Of course if not for me, their families will die of starvation and I’d be accused of stealing those American jobs!

So much for D-I-Y! It is truly a four letter word!

A-Shock! 8.2…

A Shock!

That got your attention, right? That’s just one of the ways I’ve been called! My parents, from a modest middle class family did their due diligence and named me “Ashok”..An Indian name as common as say “John” or “Mohammad” or “Chang”! While they thought they had a special gifted child, I was one of 500 million, so as special as they get!

Things only get better from here..I show up at the engineering school and turns out we have an “Ashok” as the mess boy, an “Ashok” as the neighborhood cobbler and the janitor as “Ashok”. While I hold every trade in high esteem you’d have to in India in the late 70’s/mid 80’s in India to be able to appreciate what these mean. If you didn’t become an engineer or a Doctor, you were an abysmal failure, a loser who would struggle to meet ends meet (including aspiring gymnasts if you get my drift)

So here I am the “special” child getting out to making a career outside of India and then “Ashok” gets butchered, mutilated and any form of disembowelment possible. My parents in all their infinite wisdom thought “Ashok” was easily palatable but wait ! They named me during the times, when Russia used to be Soviet Union, we loved “Different Strokes”, Bjorn used to win Wimbledons and it was actually fashionable to be seen in Momma jeans! And then reality strikes- I get called in as many names possible!

 

EQ

“A-shock” like I am an after tremor, “A-shook” like I am the guy who shakes in the past with a double “O”, then perhaps the more innovative “A- shoock”. I mean I just cannot win!  I have to borrow Mr McEnroe to say – “You cannot be serious”!!

After all of 20 years in America, I wonder, why I never considered something more pronounceable to the Western tongue- Ash, Ashk or may be a just a KO. Then I see my fellow “brownies” with names like Steve (short for Srinivasan), Chuck (short for Chakravarthy), Aaron, really? (short for Arun) , Vince (short for Vinod).. Now at almost 50, I start to contemplate why I didn’t change my name. It would have been brutal, it would been unfair and it would be downright stupid.

Hey if you cannot pronounce me correctly, do not feel offended if I refer to you as “Jos” (instead of Ho-say) or “Tat-Jana” (instead of Ta-Yaana) or refer to Grosvenor as “Grows-Wennor” or  “Illionoi” as Illi-noise”. Fair trade right?

So when I hear the cliché “What’s in a name” I cannot agree more. My friends and colleagues know me as the brown knucklehead who never feels any compunctions or for that matter offense . The A-SHOCKS shall continue!

 

PS- Everytime I wrote “Ashok” spell check suggests something that will be deemed highly inappropriate for this site. I presume this site is rated “G”

The Indian stereotype- We do it to ourselves!

This is work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional

This is work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional and no animals were harmed during the writing

And just when I thought stereotypes were going extinct, there it comes back! Some races are targetted by others for most part and with the newly arrived Indians they tend to raise their middle finger to others and proclaim-How dare others stereotype us! We are gonna stereotype ourselves and before you spell Naan, I am going to do it to myself! The saga continues!

And I can vouch for this. I am not someone who had to do any kind of massive research to make this observation. An FOB (Fresh Off Boat) immigrant myself from the land of snakes and elephants (no, not the African grasslands) from almost 20 years ago, I have seen, I have observed, I have cringed and I have been known to utter the occasional four letter word (that has nothing to do with human anatomy or any of your close relatives)

Staring-

The other day I am on the treadmill running at just under 5 mph, this Indian sub-continental gentleman (Could be Indian, Pakistani or Bangladesi) walking on the adjacent treadmill starts to give me the famous stare  and keeps that on and doesn’t relent (Yes staring is a favorite pastime for Indians). Now we all have seen how Indians love walking, ambling, walking briskly but running?  Take a peek as you drive along suburban Washington DC and you can see quite a few. So if you run you are going to stared at by your fellow brownies. Accept that.

If you are reading this and you are not of Indian origin and have visited India, you know what I am talking about. You must have been stared to with rigour and felt 500,000 pairs of eyes digging you in the back and more if you happen to be female.

The H-1

So who are those H-1 Indians? Aspiring yuppies from certain parts of India that fly in armed with an IT degree, work as contractors and then absolutely refuse to assimilate with the mainstream. They tend to congregate, co-habit and collude with each other. You’d see them most likely drive a Toyota , Honda or other Asian cars (High resale value!!) and then you have the upper echelons that may have the Lexus or Merc. All said and done, they have got to be in the IT sector. Anyone in any other business may be considered a pariah I suspect!

H1B

Apparently they seem to have some kind of dress code – A short sleeved or full sleeved striped polo top, “sneakers” and tube socks and that is something you cannot miss. Don’t believe me? Take a walk in any middle class northern VA community and you will not miss any sightings!

IT-

A few weekends back, I was approached by this gentleman in a striped polo at a party and it too him all of 120 seconds to ask me if I was in IT. When I replied in the negative and told him I was in EPC Project Management, he didn’t give up. He followed me and promptly asked me again- Ok, EPC Project Management, but is that in IT? I had nothing to offer but to blabber gibberish and pour his drink over my head. I only hope for his sake and mine, we do not run into each other again.

The PJ’s-

And have you seen some women walking around into the friendly neighborhood grocery store, with utter disdain for norms, clad in nothing but fluffy flip flops, night PJ’s and looking like they just rolled out of bed and have taken the term “casual” to new depths? Well, hate to say it and if you happen to bump into them, you will see they are the feminine version of their H-1 spouses.

Call center-

And aren’t those just a way of life now? I was on the phone last week with a customer service associate “Steve” (We don’t really have Steves in India) from some one who was trying to sell me time shares for a holiday resort (Shame on me for having picked up the phone!). He starts with this rather nasal north eastern American accent and as he starts to realize my accent is fairly Indian, his accent I kid you not, is starting to transform. From the New Jersey accent to a regular IT guy from Hyderabad. I was on the floor, phone hanging on to my ear, banging my feet on the floor, rolling in laughter. Now I did not want to put the phone down. This guy, who originally introduced himself as “Steve” finally broke down and his name was Sudarshan. I paid him a rich compliment and hung up with an assurance of “Let me think it over”. So when you think of messing with your Indian colleague with the “Is the call center guy your cousin” , chances are, there truly a cousin of everyone of us that works in a call center.

And now for all you ignoramuses- We do have elephants in India, but no, we do not ride them to work. We do not have HOV lanes for people sharing an elephant and they are not part of the growing Uber population.

 

The Plannosaurus

I ask for nothing more, I ask for nothing else and I make no bones about being accused of being a Plannosaurus- an almost extinct species of the family of dinosaurs. Not only that I firmly believe there no substitute for experience.

Last 4 years I have been subjected to endless technology that has promised to solve world hunger by making it easier for my and my teams to do our jobs with high efficacy. I have attempted to humor them all and while I may not have been truly impressed by most of them, its given me an opportunity to network with some of the more relentless professionals and that is not to be ignored. But has this interface helped me do my job better? Has it enabled me to deliver as sold? Answer’s a resounding NO!

Having seen every aspect of the EPC business, what I now seek for is that elusive pot of gold. A process, an application that will enable me to grow better Planners (No- not schedulers, not “controllers”) and facilitate development of plans without spelling P6 at every turn. I must admit I have had an earful of proposed solutions, still trying to color me all over and if you can get me one solution that gets me to answer this simple question-

Will it help me deliver as-sold?

 

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If the technology that is so enthusiastically utilized for all matters can be utilized towards development and on-the-run change to Plans the Plannosaurus shall be eternally grateful on behalf of the industry.

Think about this- If I fed a recipe of a plan for building a combined cycle power plant or a coal plant, will you be able to create a plan for me ? Will technology help in collaboration between my experience and machine intelligence?

If I gave you the optimal performance and productivity criteria, will you utilize technology with a solution that enables addressing construction problems on the run?

 

If you can respond with a YES on either of the two, I will not only give up my technological apprehensions, I will create a conglomerate that fuses the Plannosaurus with machine and actually generates an unequivocal  YES! to – It will indeed help you deliver as-sold!

A journey through a sliver of the Bible

 A passage through a sliver of the Bible-

Israel – As a first timer, its been a revelation and teaches why I should not listen to the media and other know-alls. Beautiful country and for a population of just over 8 million, the young country but biblical land has so much to offer. If not for the searing temperatures, it could just have been anywhere when you are in Tel Aviv. Then you turn south and go to the ancient port city of Jaffa (or Yafo, as its called), you start the time travel to times of Abraham.

A history of building, invasions, carnage, then the rebuild, development, time and again proves just how resilient the folks are. Tel Aviv is just barely 100, while Jerusalem is well over 4000 years old. Tel Aviv is just like any other modern city and still yearns to grow with its subway under construction and skyscrapers dotting the horizon. For an avid hiker, it’s a dream come true since everything in the city that is worth visiting can be covered on foot while savoring the ambience of the outdoor cafes.

An overwhelming experience to walk through the Biblical history in Jerusalem has to be the highlight. The east part of Jerusalem (Jeru for City and Shalom for Peace) was founded by King David (Of the David vs Goliath fame). The temple mount stands in the middle of the walled city which by the way has just over 40,000 denizens, Armenians, Jews, Muslims and Christians; A perfect harmony of cultures in this microcosm. The city is divided into these four quarters and underneath it all, lies the pathway over which Jesus was crucified and walked to his final destination. I got to see the place where he died, the place where he was anointed and the monument over his tomb. That is truly awe-inspiring.

Another sub highlight is the famous Wailing wall, that used to be a retaining wall of the temple structure. As you turn left of the wall, you see the minaret of the mosque that was built by the Muslim conquestors on the 7th century. The Al-Aqsa mosque also stands proud in the temple courtyard. Everyone from King David, Babylonians, Romans, Muslims, Ottomans, the British, The Jordanians and now the state of Israel has had something to do with this Biblical city.

Then the drive from 3000 m above sea level to 400 m below sea level passing through yet another slice of history and political turmoil, The West Bank to the Dead Sea. The Dead sea, where absolutely no life exists. Wading through it feels like wading through a barrel of oil, such viscosity made worse by the sulphates, bromides , chlorides and other mineral salts that keep it saturated. You could see Jordan on the other side of the Sea and its no picnic being at the beach here except to make sure you could actually float on water.

Visitors and Tourists- Just make sure you pick a cooler time to visit Israel if you can but if you are a sun worshipper, then by all means go for it any time. The Mediterranean beaches are just gorgeous and super lively.

One thing for sure – Never else have I seen a people with a more fierce national pride than the Israelis. They all go to public schools until they are 18, at which point all boys and girls have to compulsorily serve a 2-3 year stint in the military. There is a deep sense of belonging that exudes pride and patriotism.

 

 

The anatomy of the Baseline

Much has been read and heard about projects losing their shirts due to the Customer. Really? Why does it this keep rearing its head over and over? That cliche, Change in a way of life and it is one of those things that is inevitable. Attempting to find a sorry excuse for your losses under the guise of change may be a subterfuge and in some cases a rookie mistake.

Understanding a few key aspects of what the deal is goes a long way in being cognizant of the details. Ask a few questions-

1- What is the technical scope?

2- What are the commercial Terms and Conditions?

3- Is the scope firm and prescriptive?

4- What exactly is the Division of Responsibility? Who does what?

5- Is there a firm price associated with the above scope?

6- Is there a specific time frame to execute the above scope?

7- Are you going to be penalized if you finish late or is there a bonus clause if you finish early?

Hardly a revelation, but if the Scope, Price and schedule are clearly specified by means of understanding the Contract are truly understood, you are in with a fighting chance. Thus, the understanding of the Baseline is what was just described above.

Now that the Baseline is established, any deviation to the Baseline will constitute a Change. How the Baseline scope is executed strictly depends on you, as long is delivers the product within the framework of quality and safety.  Now its time to execute.

IC-change-managment

 

Always always refer back to the Baseline and whenever you become aware of a Change either due to errors/ omissions or Customer directions, stop and evaluate. This is the point where you make a massive difference to your bottomline. A legitimate deviation from the Baseline must be addressed as you go. Do not wait until the end of project to do a “global settlement”.

This is a trap- Customer unwillingness to keep moving and not recognizing change is a sure sign that you may not get a fair return on efforts. And the global settlement more often than not may end up in disgruntlement all around and repeat business could be impacted. The optimal way manner is to understand the baseline, recognize deviations, address changes and agree on a fair settlement and move on.