Eating at US Restaurants

I do a fair bit of eating out. Here are some weirdly annoying things and nice things about eating out at US restaurants. Here I refer to the sit-down restaurants with service.

First the annoying bits:

  • One has to wait to be seated. I understand if there is a crowd, then somebody manages the seating, but even in empty restaurants one has to wait for someone to come and escort you to a table. The weird thing is that some random table is usually picked out and asking for a specific table usually gets a reaction as if one is asking for VIP treatment.
  • The US is a large and spacious country and restaurants in turn tend to be large and spacious, but many of them cram tables right next to each other. You can usually overhear conversations from around you. It can get super loud and on your nerves. (The Diner style of restaurants usually have comfortably spaced out seating and don’t have this problem.)
  • There seems to be no established convention to get the attention of your waiter. In India, “Boss” usually works, but here you have to awkwardly wait for the waiter to meet your eye. In busy restaurants, this is quite difficult and one usually end up playing a bizarre waiting game

There are some nice things too of course !

  • Water and soft drinks are usually served with ice. They usually serve a straw as well for easy drinking !
  • Portion sizes tend to be large. Plan to share ūüôā
  • It is completely normal to get the leftovers packed. Restaurants usually do a great job of nicely packing stuff
  • Probably linked to the whole tipping culture, but in general waiters take the time to explain the menu and do a decent job of recommending items when you are lost

Beauty and the Beast

We recognize the idea of beauty easily. A good looking person, a nice house or even something as simple as a well manicured lawn. However, I am concerned that this notion of beauty and aesthetics is rapidly disappearing from the Indian mindset. There is a very narrow minded approach to brute force functionality – if it works, what else do you need ? For instance, take TV cables – cable operators run wiring between houses in a haphazard manner. Bunches of ugly cable dangling from junction boxes placed between trees. Telephone wires running from the pole to the house.
Ugly cell phone towers marring the city skyline – why don’t we see them abroad ? This is because pains are taken to ensure that they are well concealed and inconspicuous. Civil work is another case in point. If an old building needs to be retrofitted, it is done in the most ghastly manner. External plumbing with pipes sticking out of the exterior. If you want to drill outlets for AC’s – usually someone just hammers out a hole in the wall and pushes a pipe through it. What the fuck. Public gardens have wild grass growing everywhere. Mow the lawn damn it !
None of our public spaces have simple things such as flower beds or just a patch of grass. These are just small things that go a long way.

Shitennoj honbo garden06s3200.jpg
More Zen Gardens Please ! (Image courtesy : Wikipedia)

What is the problem ? Is it laziness or is it a deeper cultural thing ? I would really argue that it is more of a mindset problem. The Japanese for example have a famously strong sense of aesthetics. It is ingrained in their culture and is very much a part of their daily life. I remember reading somewhere that at the beginning of the century, potential Japanese civil servants had to write an essay on beauty as part of their selection critiera. No doubt, India has a rich tradition of the arts – we have some of the greatest monuments, glorious sculptures, handicrafts and art forms, but this I think has remained largely silo-ed. The general public today has no time for them and does not care for them.

I think this is a worrying trend. The lack of understanding or appreciation of aesthetics will reflect poorly elsewhere. In our buildings, in the things we produce and yes even in the software we write. How can this be remedied ? Education as always is the answer. More focus on the arts and exposure to good design in professional courses should at least plant the right ideas. Point in case, nobody demands more NID‘s, but there is a strong demand for IIT‘s. It’s time we combine the two.

Shatabdi Travel Experience

Currently, the best way to travel Bangalore/Chennai is via the Shatabdi train.   The other alternatives all lack in some way. Road travel is a pain because of getting in/out of the cities and can get expensive.  Flying is not practical for a distance of ~350 kms.  The Shatabdi beats the bus both in journey time and cost.  Now, while the Shatabdi is good, there is a lot of room for improvement.

  • Make catering optional.¬† Not everybody relishes the “gourmet” food – and the catering charge is close to Rs. 200, so making this optional would be a great move.
  • While the food quality leaves a lot to be desired, the menu planning itself is ridiculous. Why serve messy options such as dal and curry which is difficult to package and is liable to spill on a train ?
  • The forced “entertainment”.¬† This is completely ill-conceived.¬† There are two TV’s that are mounted on one side in the centre of the coach that broadcast welcome messages, random fillers like “candid camera” and cut scenes from movies.¬† The audio is played out loudly through the TV speakers.¬† Why inflict this torture ?¬† Even for those who want to watch, not all the seats offer optimum viewing angles and the audio is too loud for some and not audible to others. Either provide seat mounted screens like aircraft or provide headphone jacks.
  • Reduce journey time. Currently Shatabdi takes 5 hours.¬† Why so long for a journey of 350km’s ?¬† Shatabdi’s are supposed to be a super-fast train (for which the railways levy a surcharge). The journey time must be reduced to atleast four hours.

Shatabdi is supposed to be the premier passenger experience on Indian Railways.  Hopefully it improves.



Spaced Out In Bangalore

Ok, Bangalore’s population is close to ten million now and the city is bursting at its seams. There is a huge space crisis in Bangalore, I am not talking about realty, property etc, ¬†but about living space. ¬†There is no escape to be found from the maddening crowds. ¬†Parks, restaurants, markets, malls – literally every public space is choked with people at all times. ¬†I think to have a sense of space is very essential for general well being. ¬†I am not sure that is appreciated enough. ¬†With the city becoming increasingly claustrophobic, stress levels are bound to rise – traffic jams, parking problems, road rage just to name a few. ¬†Also, this implies that going out to relax and unwind is not a good idea. ¬†With crowds everywhere, one will only end up getting more stressed. ¬†Restaurants where an average meal for two would be upwards of Rs. 2000 are packed to the brim !

Would you want to shop here ?

The importance of living space was recognized pretty early on, Lebensraum was an ideology introduced more than 100 years ago, but was perversely misused by the Nazis to justify their crimes.

I know that it is hypcritical to complain about crowds, when one is part of the crowd themselves.  We know the solutions like better urban planning is just an illusion given the state of things in India.  So what are the alternatives ? Moving to the countryside will not work, since there is a lack of basic infrastructure. Moving to other second tier cities, Mysore, Kolhapur and working remotely from there is probably a better idea.


Bangalore’s Garbage Crisis

It’s an absolutely ridiculous problem – one that shouldn’t even exist. But yet it does. Bangalore has a stinking Garbage problem. There are all kinds of solutions proposed – ranging from an overkill solution of gps monitored truck with camera , to a more reasonable intention of inculcating citizens with better habits. But, the fundamental problem is that the concept of dustbins do not exist in the city.¬† The BBMP in all its wisdom has officially made Bangalore a dustbin free city, hoping that everyone will use the door to door garbage collection system. This is a seriously WTF policy. If you do not have dustbins, you will have a garbage problem. The current solution involves a worker with a pushcart collecting trash from door to door. The collected trash is then transferred to a three wheeler. It then goes from a three wheeler into a truck and then is finally unloaded into a landfill. The solution is unworkable from so many angles:

  • What if the worker doesn’t turn up on certain days ?¬† (People do take vacations, fall sick)
  • What if they don’t turn up at the same time everyday ?
  • What if that time is not convenient for everyone ?
  • What if the kind of trash you have does not fit into a push cart ? e.g. A mattress or garden waste ?

So there is a very real requirement of having a place to dump garbage. Since, this is not there trash piles up in road corners and other miscellaneous spots.

Trash on road side

A simple google search, presents a truly horrifying sense of the problem.  So obviously keeping the city free of dustbins is a failed idea, but the BBMP refuses to change.

Other negative aspects :
– Huge amount of manpower turning up in every street of the city, every day of the year without fail. This is obviously impractical.
– Treating sanitary workers in an inhuman way by making them manually transfer garbage from push cart to three wheeler to truck. This is a backbreaking hell of a job that has to be done every day.

With huge trashcans at every street corner, you can have trucks that come once in a couple of days and lift the garbage without any human intervention at all. This solves all existing problems mentioned above. No one is dependent on someone to pick up garbage, an ubiquitous drop off place for trash now exists, nobody has to manually lift trash and a massive reduction in manpower can be achieved.

Surely, this is not difficult to implement. Chennai seems to have done it successfully and it definitely is cleaner than Bangalore – no trash in street corners or in electric transformer boxes.

Chennai Garbage Bin – A better solution

Anyway, the (dim) light at the end of the tunnel is that BBMP is supposedly realizing that they need to provide dustbins after all. Here’s hoping for the best.

Car key lock status idea

I’m always worrying whether i’ve locked the car using the remote electronic key crap. ¬†I’ve had to walk back many times to the car after parking to check if I’ve remembered to lock it. ¬†I was thinking why not have an indicator on the key itself which says whether the car is locked or not. ¬†Well I’m pretty sure someone’s thought of this earlier, but why don’t we have something like that ? I badly need a key like that for in fact anything that needs to be locked. The constant worrying about whether I’ve locked something is starting to annoy the crap out of me. ¬†How fucking hard can it be, lock and key industry ?

Diwali Insanity

Yes, today is Diwali. The worst fucking day of the year. This is when shit-heads all over the country burst crackers the whole freaking day and night. The crackers are ear-drum-puncture loud. OK, it may make sense to light a few symbolic crackers/fireworks to celebrate the festival of light and all that pile of horseshit. But why in God’s name do you have to fucking do it every second of the day you sick retards ?

Why dirty the already filthy streets ? Why turn the chaos into a cacophony ?

I was dreaming up the horrific abuses that, given the chance, I could mete out to these vile bastards. I was typing it here, but then realized that these particular sentiments could cause me to be branded as  a social psychopath.

But I think we know who the real psychopaths are. Happy Diwali.

India – Noisy and Nosy

We Indians are the world’s noisiest (and nosiest people). Let me get done with the nosy part first.¬† We have a twisted and perverse interest in the affairs of other people.¬† I will concede that folks world wide have an ear for gossip which explains the whole paparazzi and the tabloid business. However, the point where things get so annoying is that people here make concerted efforts to get private information out – directly or indirectly.¬† Everyone right from the security guard, the maid, colleagues, neighbours take a keen interest in every stupid little thing. Where did you go ? How come you are late today ? Who is that friend of yours ?¬† All right, What the fuck ? Yes, you may have these thoughts inside your sick mind, but why ask directly ? What is your fucking business asshole ? Anyway, I have now resigned myself to this and now answer in monosyllables rather than asking the offenders to fuck off.

OK, now to the noisy part. This is probably the most exasperating, frustrating part of daily life in India. There’s noise everywhere – every fucking where. It’s unimaginable.¬†¬† Loud music/TV, traffic honking, shouting while talking, construction noise and not to mention dogs. ¬† The worst criminals are these “organizers” of local celebrations of all kinds of religious festivals.¬† Of course complaining against loud noise will only hurt religious sentiments. What a load of bullshit.¬† Is that how you celebrate a religious festival ? It is an occasion to sincerely thank the almighty for his blessings¬† and for quiet reflection and prayer. Can there be even an ounce of devotion that is possible with loud blaring music from cheap speakers ? The situation is of course compounded when there are competing local celebrations each attempting to outdo each other in the “who can play the loudest music” game. Do not these morons realize that there can be infants, old people, sick patients who can be severely affected by noise ?

The next bunch of assholes are those who play the fucking TV and radio loudly. What the fuck is their problem ?¬† Behenchod! There is some thing called headphones for fuck’s sake. What’s really incredible is complaints are met with blank faces – oh my god, how can that even disturb you ?¬† In general, Indians tend to have a high noise tolerance.¬† I am frequently surprised to find people not upset by high levels of noise.

It is impossible to find peace, quite and solitude in this country. At home, you are besieged by neighbours and other assholes. At work by co-worker retards who are compelled to loudly discuss everything. While commuting, traffic noise. You cant think straight! You go to a resort in the wilderness and some bastard is chopping wood or playing something obscene on his cellphone.

So, what’s the solution ? Unfortunately none that works. Legislation exists but is rarely enforced and you might get into trouble for complaining.¬† I have tried noise isolating earphones with limited success.¬† At home, you can try fitting noise insulating windows and maybe at work you can ask your colleagues to shut the fuck up.

If all else fails, pray. (Quietly of course).

Delicious New Bookmark

I have been using delicious (the bookmarking website) off and on for quite a while.¬† I used the Firefox plug in which had a nice big button on the toolbar to create a new bookmark. Now I was using Firefox which didn’t have the delicious plug in installed and I wanted to save a bookmark, so I had to use the website.¬† For the life of me, I couldn’t find the new bookmark link anywhere. Finally I found it – hidden away in the top-right (just below the search box). What the fuck ?¬† For a bookmarking website, the add new bookmark button should be the biggest, most conspicuous button on the page – screaming for attention! I dont get it at all – I mean who okays these usability decisions ?

Where is it, goddamit ?
Dammit, where is the submit new bookmark button ?

Too easy unsubscription ?

I hate it when websites and corporations send you email but don’t offer an easy way to unsubscribe from the shit-loads of unsolicited junk. Sometimes the unsubscribe link is buried away in size 0.1 font somewhere at the bottom of the email, sometimes they don’t’ work, sometimes they seemingly work only for you to horribly realize later that you’re getting even more email. Understandably people make it intentionally harder to unsubscribe because well getting people to read your mail in the first place is tough. All I ask is make sure you have an unsubscription process that is relatively accessible and painless.¬† So I was shocked when I got this email from a mailing list that I was on.

Too easy unsubscribe
Oh, we just thought you might not want us...

It’s like the folks at Notre Dame MBA did all the hard work in getting my email address – either interested me enough to sign up for their email or got it from a database.¬† (Both of which Im sure cost them in some way).¬† Then they decide to send me an email saying that oh well we’ve been sending you mail and newsletters about our program¬† but here’s an email which we have specially sent you so that you can undo all we’ve done so far in a single click. Thanks!

I clicked the link and was unsubscribed instantaneously.

Why would any seller of products/services want to do this ? It beats me.   The irony of it is that this comes from an MBA program.