So You Want to Be a Storyteller?

Sam S. Mullins: a blog about anything

Really? Even if people won’t want to date you ever again for fear that you’ll one day talk about them on stage? You’re sure?

Okay. Welcome aboard.

Here’s a cheap glass of wine. Where we’re going, you’ll need it.

I’ve got to tell you – I think you’ve picked a great time to get into the story game. I mean, with the success of storytelling podcasts like The Moth, RISK!, Definitely Not the Opera, Snap Judgement and This American Life millions of people are now aware of the phenomenon of modern storytelling. Just about every city in North America now has a regular storytelling event, and there seems to be more opportunities for storytellers than ever before. For raconteurs like us, the getting has never been good-er.

But before you start speaking your heart into the crackly microphone at the local roti place’s storytelling event (at which no one is there to actually hear stories [they’re just there…

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Safe Travels.

Long time, no see.

Brother where art thou be?

A lot happened during this year (just like every other year). Quite incredible then that I write this 360 days after my last update. The world has been up to its mad usual self, and I’ve marched on like Hercule Poirot on an icy Tuesday night. (I just coined that reference. I might not be legit at all). I got a job, moved into a nice house and bought a Honda. However, the highlight has to be travel.

  • 2014 started in NYC (which is not my current abode, since I’m now based out of Boston)
  • I traveled to India in the summer. In India, there were trips between Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore
  • Later in May, my travels took me to Istanbul in Turkey and Athens in Greece
  • Countless trips to New Hampshire
  • Heck, even work is a 25 mile one-way commute every day

In the spirit then, the next twenty odd days will see me making trips to South Florida and DC. I’m especially excited about my first Florida vacation – as a single explorer – where I’ll be staying with an extremely nice couple I found on airbnb, near Hollywood beach. In addition to the Ft. Lauderdale area, I’ll be visiting Miami, and at least the Palm Beach or the Keys. The trip to DC arises out of enrollment in the “Washington Seminar Program” – which is (hopefully just) a conference structured administrative program. The reason I signed up was that it’s basically 3 credits at the price of one-and-half.

Re. Florida: At first slightly apprehensive about traveling alone, someone remarked last night that I was twenty-six now (unbelievable) and needed to do this. I absolutely agree. Here’s my plan – I’ll be just like one of those backpacking tourists, ready to immerse in the surroundings, sprawled on the beach with a book and a drink, hitting random bars and partying with strangers. I should be okay, right? Anyway, I’ll be making a chronicle of how it goes, either here or on tumblr. Vines, videos, pictures. They’re all coming. Should I buy a monopod?

Books have been ordered by the way –

  • The wind-up bird chronicle, Haruki Murakami (I could never finish Kafka. Maybe I’ll find this more interesting)
  • Fodor’s South Florida 2015 travel guide (I did mention being “very” touristy?)

I’ll carry my copy of Animal Farm, just in case I magically get through those above within the five days. There’s also going to be a lot of planning (starting tomorrow). Maybe I should learn a language. A language would be fun.

Awesomeness comes naturally to those who’re too busy ignoring it

Until later then.


To be perceived super-cool, I’ll add some pictures from the summer now.

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Istanbul – Blue Mosque, Bosphorus and Baklava (lots)

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Athens – History, Beaches and Women 

Thoughts on American healthcare

For lunch on November the 20th, I was trying to struggling with a can of refried beans. This was one of those difficult cans without a pull tab, and we had no openers at home. The frustration led to a moment of madness where I just decided to stab the can top with a large meat knife. Pop-pop-pop and stab! Yup, I looked down to find I had stabbed the webbing of my left hand. Only a moment later there was blood oozing out left and right. Perturbed by all the blood, I decided to stop everything else and run to the Northeastern student health center.

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Before we begin here, its important to share that this was my first experience with any American medical facility. Now healthcare is not too bad back home in India either. In a similar situation in an Indian college, I would have gone to a dispensary, possibly gotten roughed up by a couple of nurses and “compounders” over the unavailability of the correct doctor, but eventually stitched up with a pair of sterilized scissors and new tapes.

With the insurance card in my pocket, I entered the health center. First impressions – it was nothing like any dispensaries back home. There were four booths and students in small queues in front of those. I went up to one of them when it was my turn. The lady at the booth asked for my college ID, and pulled up my record. They already knew I had had a tetanus within the last year (yeah I keep doing these things). She pulled up a number from my insurance card, gave me an appointment number and asked me to wait in the spacious waiting area. She added I could use one of the self check-in terminals (placed on the sides of this first room) next time.

I had barely waited for 5 minutes when a nurse came out of the clinic door looking for me. I followed her in an entered one of the rooms. She asked me to place all the stuff in my pockets on a table, and stand on a weighing scale. To me, this was frivolous. Why would anyone take my weight for fixing a knife cut? It only got weirder when she next placed a blood pressure clip on my finger and took my temperature! Seriously, what was going on? In fact at this point, I went ahead and insisted once again that I was only here to get a cut fixed, pointing at my broken webbing. She replied she knew, but wants to go through procedure to see if anything else was wrong. She left once she had taken my vitals and asked me to wait for the doctor.

Next up – the doctor. She was probably no older than 30 and beautiful, I must confess. My next interrogation began with a series of questions about the injury, followed by my history of bruises, allergies and reactions. She looked at the wound for a bit and decided that we would need a couple of stitches. Next, she pulled out a square box case – about 6 inches side – broke open a seal,  pulled out a syringe and a small bottle of numbing anesthesia and began with the, by now seemingly mandatory, disclosure about anesthesia and its effects. I declared I was okay with all that and just wanted to get the procedure done with. She cleaned the wound, numbed the wound and pulled out a brand new pair of surgical scissors and cut a small piece of the surgical thread for stitches. Diligently, she applied two stitches and rubbed a small gash of disinfectant on the now closed tear.

While all the care by this moment had been overwhelming enough for me to actually bring up the differences with the Indian procedures, what happened next flummoxed me completely! She trashed the entire kit with at least 15 other medical supplies such as unopened packs of tapes, bandages, scissors, ointments, etc in it. Unbelievable! Totally new, those could have been used by another patient bringing healthcare costs of the system down, or even sent for medical relief to another country. Additionally, it would have saved all that extra medical waste to be dumped. Anyway, albeit stupefied, I thanked her, fixed the followup appointment on her computer and asked if I had to pay anything. To my surprise, the expenses (apart from the care, wonder what that kit had cost) were covered by my insurance. So I left the health center, fixed up and not a penny lighter.

Since then, while I commended the excellent care received, I’ve asked my friends about the wasteful medical policy of dumping the entire supplies kit. Matter-of-factly, they replied it was routine procedure and pointed that the kit “wasted” in my little procedure was nothing compared to the ones thrown away during complex orthopedic or internal surgeries. The inefficiency it seems, is because of the supplier-hospital contracts in this capitalist economy which stipulate the hospital to use an tool kit only once after its seal has been broken! An unbelievable and inhuman requirement at so many levels, only in place to maximize supplier profits. Hospitals don’t care because in the end its the doctors who receive royalties for the products developed.

So while America contemplates the pros and cons of Obamacare, deep rooted capitalism kicks humanity hard.

 

Why innovation is critical to success?

The following was a short essay I had prepared for one of my b-school applications. Sounds pretty right in the end, doesn’t it?

“Let me get straight to my line of work in telecommunications consulting. With every passing day, telecom companies face huge challenges of meeting the exponentially increasing data and service demands and the consumer expectation of receiving these services at all touch points, whether it is at home, office, while travelling or on holiday, at all times at competitive pricing across all their devices. This data “explosion” means huge investments on operations, network and storage for the companies facing little revenue growth. How can such a business model of continuously providing more at the same prices be sustainable? How can competitors compete on quality when the basic business requirements are increasingly difficult to catch up with? This is why innovation becomes critical –- the need for new efficient network technologies which can transfer data faster than ever, and meet coverage and quality challenges at minimum cost; for innovative personalized price plans to squeeze maximum value; for innovative storage models which not only handle larger data but also provide value from the data via high-tech analytic solutions and in turn create additional monitory opportunities. Simply put, today, telecom companies have the choice to either innovate constantly or perish.

So innovation is definitely necessary, but does one apply blind faith to it then? It can all go wrong if you just keep jumping from one idea to another for the sake of it without really implementing any. It should also be seen differently from “imitation -– just because a competitor became successful with an idea, doesn’’t mean you will too! (Google‘’s obsession with Google+ after the success of Facebook is a classic example) Also, while constant product “improvement” is definitely innovation in its own way, it should be contrasted from “re-packaging” which doesn’’t really add any value. Innovation, therefore, is one of the most critical success tools, but it is to be implemented with great discretion for the risks involved can just as easily lead to failure.”

From the wine connoisseur – Seagram’s Nine Hills

I was never a wine guy. Domestic whiskey and the frequent flirting with an assortment of beer from all over the world has been my weekend drink. There was this one time I brought wine home, and even though I don’t have very clear memory of how that went, it sure wasn’t good enough to take me back to it. But that has all changed off late – especially, I must mention, due to the excellent range of  in-flight wines served by Air France during my recent trip to the US. I will confess I’m now hopelessly in love with wine, and especially with the red variety. This love blossomed every Monday through Thursday, during the evening complements, throughout my month-long stay at Marriott’s Residence Inn in Atlanta and the final weekend I spent at my uncle’s beautiful house in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, and as I now realize, very foolishly, I never kept track of the I wine was having; the names to go along with those elegant bouquets and those absorbed-on-the-tongue flavours have been lost into nothingness. There still exists a slim chance that I may have saved the Menu offered by the airline, but I’ll never be able to give name to the intoxication I enjoyed during my hotel stay. Therefore, in order to make up for my inexcusable sins, I decided to make a detailed account of every wine I savour henceforth. I begin tonight with an Indian red variety I decided to pick this weekend – Seagram’s  Nine Hills.

Harvested and fermented in the wine capital of India – Nashik; Nine Hills, a Cabernet Sauvignon has a rich terracotta colour. The bouquet, albeit nothing like those of the varieties I savoured during my trip, is still one that will invite you to take a healthy first gulp. Once served, the Nine Hills takes a deep texture at the bottom with a hint of thin purple on view at the brim – possibly the expected lack of quality showing up – nevertheless it is one that does not disappoint the slightest. Time a for a little shake and the wine swirls and twirls delightfully for the connoisseur,  softening  only very slightly. Here we go then – the first gulp, and umm.. I must say the Nine Hills is definitely not bad wine, on the contrary it has a nice palate with a few inexplicably, yet enchanting, flavours throwing little hints all over your tongue. The grapes that went into this wine were definitely of the highest quality and there has been an obvious effort to achieve perfection in the blend of flavours.  Next comes the aftertaste, and here’s where it leaves a little to be desired – its basically more of a wash-down variety – in ways compatible with the Indian wash-down drinking style. But there is a little bit of lingering .. was that a bit of vanilla there ?

Everything said, Seagram’s Nine Hills is premium domestic wine, keeping Nashik’s reputation very healthy. For INR 565 or $10.49 ( in Maharashtra ), it is real value for money and would easily place in the mid-shelf of any common western wine store. Try it for its rich taste and texture, and obviously for the sweet-mild intoxication that comes along. The bouquet and the after-taste is where it could probably have been better, but hey ! what do I know, I’m only just getting started !

I’d give it a nice 3.5/5 on my wine chart. The Nine Hills is a good glass.

Enjoy Responsibly.

India’s best supported English football club

I had been thinking of doing this poll for quite some time. Here’s my motivation behind it. India, with its massive population power (~1.2 billion) is a largely untapped market when it comes to European football. Only perhaps German side Bayern Munich have played a few games in India, and they have always been watched by audiences in excess of a 100,000 at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. Sadly, one of the biggest reason of this absence is the lack of quality in the Indian local sides, and hence the inability to provide reasonable pre-season fixtures. This though, doesn’t in any way imply a lack of fan-following for the major European sides. On the contrary, there are huge fan groups for almost all top English clubs.

The percentages might comparatively come out smaller when compared to the support for say, the national cricket side or any of the IPL sides, but it should be noticed here that even small percentage numbers mean huge real population numbers with a market of the size of India. So is it your club that stands to gain the largest from this untapped market? Lets find out who you support –

Multiple votes don’t work 🙂

Football on Tele tonight


Not much to scribble on here tonight. The thing about major tournaments, and I will include –
1. FIFA World Cup
2. European Championships
3. Cricket World Cup
4. T20 World Cup
5. Indian Premier League
is that once they are underway, they do make for excellent entertainment for the evenings. The even better thing about them is that they all generally show up in successive years (of course the IPL is an annual competition). Hence, the European Championships in Poland & Ukraine have been occupying most of my evenings lately. I’m backing the fantastic German team to go on and win it, although defending champions Spain and France will surely have different ideas. Who are you supporting ?

Says Yoda, he does – With you, the force shall be

Bring to you news, I do tonight. Not any exciting news, that is. About my tiring day, this news is. Just getting better from a flu, I was, when as usual, to office, I had to venture. Decided for a team lunch today, my boss had. Traditional, the food at this restaurant called ‘The Village’ was.

Back to the office it was then, an hour later. Free lunch in the tummy, loaded with work I was. Won’t let me keep my eyes open, the food inside of me; but on my head all the time, the boss was. Slogging for hours, then I was, when eventually finished the all that work was. Looked up and 10 on the clock it was. Skipped the dinner was. Tonight, the lunch it shall be, happy that keeps the tummy.

Finally, home I was. Had decided to study, I had; but taken its toll, the day had. On the tele, played football they did; and rather gave up studying to watch I did. Time to write the blog it was then, when Master Yoda, came to me he did. Said to me he did – Enjoy life shall you, you geezer. Share my message, you will. With you, the force shall be then.

Not bash me for this post, you shall. Came out of a tired mind, it did. Make more sense, I shall tomorrow.

Welcome home Robbie !

Roberto de Matteo has been appointed the permanent manager of Chelsea in a 2 year deal. Finally, common sense has prevailed. The guy won both the trophies that he could have with us during his short 11 week role last season; and it was outrageous that the club were considering the out-going manager of one of those he had defeated during the Champions League run – Guardiola, for the full-time job.

Robbie, as he’s fondly called by the fans, may not have a glorious history in football management, but he’s a Chelsea man through & through, having played for the club for more that  seasons before eventually retiring. In those five seasons, he was part of a team which sowed seeds for the unparalleled success of the next generation. He won 2 FA Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and a League Cup as a player, to add to his recent FA Cup & Champions League triumph. On twitter, I came across this very interesting tweet –

On a personal note, the thing I like best about Di Matteo is that he gets it. He understands Chelsea Football Club, the players, the fans.

This is exactly how I felt about Robbie too. Yes, we could have landed another high-profile, supposedly world-beating manager from across the continent, but no one could have had that link with Chelsea as Robbie has. He is a fan himself, has spent long hours in that Stamford Bridge dressing room, knows about the pressures of facing each different opposition and how much more the fans want triumph on a particular day than another (not to say we don’t want victory everyday). But most importantly, he is connected to those players, because he was once one of them. Of course, only probably JT was around when he was a player, but over the course of years, he’s got to know most of them pretty well.

His critics have pointed to his mediocre league form towards the end of the season. But its important to remember here, that of his 3 league defeats, the 2 against City (away) & Liverpool (away) were largely inconsequential since the team were heavily involved in its Cup double winning run. The only game where we probably should have played better was against Newcastle at home, when Papiss Cisse’s 2 moments of brilliance won the game for the visitors. But, then again, a victory on that night, with the results that followed, would have still only meant a 5th place finish, meaning Europa League football next season. Robbie, by winning the Champions League, ensured we play in the competition next season. If you had asked me, I would have happily taken that Premier League run-in to the end, knowing we were going to do the FA Cup & CL double.

We started the 2011-12 season with a new, young manager who had been appointed on the back of his Europa League and Portuguese League success, with an aim to build a new generation of players at the club. We all know how that worked out, but in 2012, we will start with another new, young manager appointed on the back of his Champions League success, only this time one who had won it for us !

Welcome home Robbie.

Sickly

I think I’ve caught a bug tonight (I hope it means no office tomorrow). Not much to put on here tonight, so I’ll just try catching some sleep.

Good night readers 

Looking beyond the AIEEE

Tonight I share an article where my father expresses his views on a situation many Indian parents end up facing  –
9th June, 2012 11:44pm
 
I was half sleep when a text message woke me up. It read – ‘AIEEE 4111′. It was from one of my ex-colleagues whose son was aspiring for an admission to one of the top engineering institutes in the country. The rank, 4111, was a really excellent one  in the AIEEE exam, considering especially that more than a million candidates appeared for the exam in May. In fact, what makes this rank even more remarkable is the fact that the first 3000 – 3500 students may not even join any of the institutes available through the exam as they would be most probably be joining one of the IITs or dropping an year to improve their JEE ranks the next year.
 
The message made me wonder about 2 other students, whose parents I knew.  I informed them immediately that the AIEEE results were out. On calling them the next day, I found out that one of them had secured a rank of 45,000 while other had ranked around 2,35,000. Creditable as they were, such is the cut-throat level of competition for the limited number of seats, that they would normally not be enough to make it to one of the  nationally reputed top engineering colleges.
 
The first question that came to my mind was – What should be the next step for these two students ? What if one of them was my own son or daughter? Would I consider this a failure on my child’s part? Sadly, in India, most parents do. What they need to realize is that this is definitely not the end of the road; but rather a great chance to explore other exciting education and career opportunities. We have, over the years ended up building a regime of expectations from our children, where the two most direct routes are –
 
Engineer -> MBA
 or
Doctor
 
In my view, only if a student is really interested in the various engineering courses offered, has appeared for other entrance exams like the BITSAT or State entrance exams and scored well, should he/she opt for pursuing the engineering route. To me, it makes no sense what so ever, in both settling for a mediocre institute or in bluntly keeping on banging for an engineering birth by dropping an year (and possibly more). I would rather sit with my son; discuss our options; take a hard, long look at his interests; and pursue a field that would play to his confidence.
 
I would not really go into great detail, but here are some of the opportunities (assuming a science background in the +2 years of school) you might want to explore if you find yourself in a similar situation –
 
-A direct officer level entry to the Indian Navy (Logistics Branch) or a Marine engineering degree through the navy or otherwise.
-Look for an esteemed career with the Indian Army beginning at the NDA
-If you have a penchant to sketching or design, try for an admission to one of the top architecture or fashion design institutes.
-Take up an under-graduate course in Hotel Management or Business.
-Take up a course in sciences if your child has a dream for it. Remember, there are always excellent opportunities available in R&D, especially in bio-sciences, pharmaceuticals, space, etc.
-There are several courses very similar in structure and opportunities to engineering like BSc (IT), BSc (Computer Sciences). One could always pursue them even whilst preparing for another attempt at the engineering exams, instead of entirely wasting an year.
The list is of course long, and great success always follows wherever passion and hard-work are. I can only advise and eventual success depends upon the individual’s drive. In the end, it is of utmost importance to understand the psyche of each individual student and providing the right counsel.
– Sudhir Kumar Pant
With over 30 years of experience in IT & Telecommunication, Sudhir is one of the founder members of the safalmantra initiative and the prime visionary behind the idea. Over the years, his counsel and initiative has been helpful to many young students looking for the best career option.