Thursday, February 28, 2008

Using Mingle

While Mingle is marketed as an Agile Project Management tool, the beauty of the beast is its flexibility. I kinda like Mingle for the fact that you can use it even if you're nowhere close to being a techie. You could use it as a private tool to manage tasks off your desktop or to view recruitment pipelines or to plan courses (the screenshot above) or simply as a wiki. 2.0 seems to be a really hot release. I'm really looking forward to that one.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Baked Prawns

Training apart, one of my passions is cooking. What I create turns out to be fusion food because I am just bad at sticking to time tested recipes. Yesterday I made baked prawns in potatoes and cheese. This is quite a funny dish, but tastes just awesome. I'm horrible at giving out recipes, but here goes. Remember, the proportions you use are completely your judgment: I haven't added any proportions to the recipe here.
  • Clean and behead the prawns
  • Marinate the prawns in a pinch of turmeric and a bit of red chilly powder. Add salt to taste and a sprinkling of sugar. Keep them aside for 20 mins
  • Chop onions, chillies, capsicum and some garlic
  • Par-boil a few potatoes, peel 'em and make sure they aren't too soft. Chop them into little cubes once you peel them.
  • Heat some olive oil in a pan and throw in some mustard seeds, the garlic (let em brown before you throw anything else), followed by the chillies, then the onions (till they brown), some turmeric, as much chilly powder as you can tolerate and the capsicum and finally the potatoes.
  • Lightly cook the mix for a few mins ensuring that the potatoes remain firm. Dont do this for any more than 4 mins, before you throw the prawns in.
  • Switch off the flame and mix the prawns in the concoction and transfer the contents of the pan to a baking dish.
  • Grate some mozarella over the contents of the dish and place this in a microwave pre-heated to 220 degrees centigrade.
  • Bake for 4 mins (no more please!) and watch the cheese melt.
  • When you take this dish out, make sure that the prawns have turned reddish. If that has happened shout "Yaay!!"
  • Garnish and serve.
Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any losses, damages, illnesses, food poisoning, hatred, criticisms that this dish brings to you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

At the Angel's Orphanage

Yesterday a group of new Thoughtworkers demonstrated what "Social Responsibility" truly means. For the first time in my life I was able to visit an orphanage. I always wanted to, but I never had the courage. I thank my students from TWU for getting me to a place amongst God's own children. I dont know where this started; if it was Roy who inspired them or a calling of their own, but it happened, and the experience has been fulfilling.At the same time, there's a part of me that feels sad and may be disappointed with my ownself. I realise what Roy means when he says we're privileged. When I was a kid, I had the privilege of a good home, excellent education, parents whom I could crib to, play with. To see 40 children in a home as small as the one we were at was heart wrenching. To see them play in a dusty yard, with little access to fresh running water; to know that they have one common toilet (donated by a social service outfit) makes me realise how little my contribution to society has been.

To think that with small contributions from every privleged individual, these kids could live a better life and yet see them in what I'd call a far from ideal atmosphere, pains me. I'd like to go to this place more often and carry out my responsibility towards society. I am a bit carried away with my emotions at this point-- stuck between thanking my good fortune to have parents; and understanding my place in this world. All I can say is that yesterday was a great learning experience, and I am extremely proud to have learnt this lesson from my students at TWU.
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Friday, February 22, 2008

Force - field exercise

Sometimes retrospectives could lose their effectiveness when they become too repetitive. I generally like to mix things up and enjoy keeping distinct themes around the retro; such as gauging mood, generating insights, setting goals and closures. Today I tried a forcefield exercise in the retrospective. I like the metaphor of a speedboat/ hot air balloon and I used that instead of a plain jane force field.

This is quite a simple activity to conduct:
  • On a whiteboard, draw a (speed)boat and draw an arrow forward (Fuel) and an arrow backward (Anchors)
  • Ask participants to reflect on the goal at hand in light of the week gone by and imagine it to be a speedboat.
  • Ask participants to think of the anchors that hold them back from achieving that goal and the fuel thats driving them. Let them write a thought each on stickies (Green/ Yellow for Fuel; Pink/Orange for Anchors)of different colours and have them stick these up in the appropriate areas. Timebox the activity.
  • Once they're done, group similar thoughts together and place them open for voting (5/10 dots per person)
  • Go through all items voted for, allowing progressively less time for discussion for items with lesser votes.
The result of this activity, when I ran this with my group, was quite positive and we ended up with a very focussed discussion that stayed within the scope of what we wished to achieve. Its a reasonable deviation from the retrospective starfish that we use commonly and yet doesn't lose on effectiveness because of the strong metaphor depicted.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Defying Theories of Management

In an era when most managers believe in blame, in the assumption that employees dont care for business success, with an outrageously pessimistic view of employees: essentially Theory X), Thoughtworks seems to be following what I read of many years back, as Theory Y of management. As I look around more and more, in addition to being Roy's social experiment, TW assumes that employees are ambitious and self-motivated. As days have gone by, I have learnt to believe that Thoughtworkers anxious to accept greater responsibility, and be self-directed.

Something lets me believe that when Roy founded TW along with others, they thought of setting the precedent by being creative and forward thinking. We have rules, but they aren't meant to bog you down and I have generally observed that the freedom to perform to the best of your ability is valued more than sticking to a plan or following rules.

TW pleases me because there's always someone thats helping you tap your unused creativity in the workplace. I enjoy having colleagues who are motivated by "doing a good job". And if TW is special its because it tries to keep processes light instead of creating bureaucratic structures that stop you from fuly actualizing yourself. As always, I believe in the present and I cant guarantee this is what I'd feel in 5 years time, but for the present moment TW makes me feel very special for all the things it does to make me work better.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughtworks Family Day


"A company should be recognised by its soul, and not by its intellect", said Roy. This statement defines what makes Thoughtworks special for me. I dont care about the past and I dont know what the future has in store for me. What I do know, is that where I work, makes a huge difference to me and my life and I am happy that place is Thoughtworks.

To be surrounded by people who are highly intelligent makes my work easier, but to know that most of them are people I'd love to call my family is what makes it all worthwhile.
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Thursday, February 14, 2008


Some foreigners come to India with the view that we have snake charmers at at traffic signals, tigers in our backyard and elephants in our garden. Today was just the day.

I woke up this morning to find an elephant tied to a truck on the playground just opposite my home. Sparky, my dog was terrified by its trumpet and all the swaying and head banging. That trashed my plans for the morning walk.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Training and Patience

My neighbour loves dogs. Unfortunately she doesnt know how to handle them. As a result she keeps them tied up because she doesnt have the patience to deal with unwelcome behavior. The key with all kinds of training is patience. The problem with the human and other mammal brains is that our existing cognizance is always at war with new information and hence the methods that we adopt to introduce new information is critical.

I've often met other trainers who feel an obligation to pack an overdose of subject matter into the space of 1 hour. The problem is that considering that the brain needs this information in a variety of formats, (visual, hearing and feeling) an overkill of information, presented without stimulation is often ineffective.

The secret of "learner centered" training is for the trainer to remove the hat of an SME and wear the hat of sensitive facilitator for a while. To be able to adjust to mixed ability and to recognize need to consider stimulation for visual, auditory and kinesthetic intelligences is key whether the training is for dogs or for human beings.

I have been extremely passionate about recognizing the need to create intrinsic motivation amongst students by first satisfying their extrinsic needs. A simple analogy I make is my method of training my dog. Sparky loves food and would do anything to get a treat. I keep giving him treats while training and he is quick to understand that if he learns a skill quickly enough, he'd get what he wants. His extrinsic motivation for food, drives his intrinsic motivation to learn. While that may be too generic an example to apply to adult learning, it still underscores some of my strong beliefs about training and education and my passion for being able to fuel training based on collective WIIFMs of participants.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The last few adventures at Goa

My last few days at Goa were an absolute blur. I havent had any time left for updating my blog considering how much I ate. Today's Times of India carries an article called Try some quantity control, which talks about how food freaks like me should keep a check on their weight. I've got to learn something from there.

Oh, well. My destination on Thursday was Sahakari farms; listed by Outlook Traveler as one of the "must do" food trips. The farm is one of Goa's oldest spice plantations and has in the last decade opened itself up to tourism, as have many of its counterparts/ competitors. A visit to the farm costs Rs 300/- which includes a tour of their demonstration plot and a buffet lunch. You can visit at any time between 9AM and 4PM but I'd advise that you plan the visit as close to lunchtime as possible; preferably at about 11AM. Once you enter, you're treated to some lemongrass tea/ or the traditional kokum sherbet, a handful of cashews and some homemade cake. Feel free to ask for more if you desire. With this safely tucked into you, the farm guides take you around the plot to show you where the spice in your food comes from. While I've seen stuff like this before, what particularly interested me was the elephant bath which I saw a few foreigners take. Now this is especially funny 'cuz it involves you climbing onto an elephant in the middle of a small pond. Once you do this, the elephant sprays water onto you with such vengeance, that you almost get knocked of your perch. Seeing is believing and this is really hilarious.

Once we'd been through the plantation, it was time for lunch which was a buffet consisting of the ubiquitous Goan pao, some dal, a prawn curry, rawa fried fish, a vegetable dish, chicken cooked Goan style, some kokum curry and a sweet. While I dont say that this is the best food you can sample, its an above average representation of what Goan village food is like. Eat your food off a plate made of dried banana leaves, and the experience is complete.

Goan cuisine is a mixed bag really and I cant really categorise the food as mild or spicy. While the Vindaloo and Recheado are spicy concoctions; the Caldine and Cafrial curries are a lot milder. I find Goan food extremely rich in balance and no dish is complete without the traditional, brown Goan rice. If you have a sweet tooth then the Goan bebinca (a 10 layered cake) is just the remedy. You cold try dodol too, which is another of those sweetmeats that Goa specializes in.

You really cant be short of places to eat in Goa. While these are really nice, big joints I wouldnt consider the next few places that I'm about to mention as excellent food "adventures". Having said that, these places are famous enough to merit the one visit at least. The first in line, is the famous, Martin's Corner. Purportedly one of Sachin Tendulkar's favorite places for food, this is an old time favorite restuarant for many Goan families, politicians and Bollywood celebrities. Situated at the Sunset beach at Betalbatim, this isnt too far from North Goa and easily accessible if you're in the South. I must say though, that despite all the hype, the food is average and the service, extremely slow.

Joecons is another seafood speciality restaurant, located near the beautiful Taj Exotica. Dont miss the lobster here. Its worth every penny that the joint charges you. Fisherman's Wharf at the Holiday Inn by River Mandovi and the Dune Shack at Club Mahindra are two other delightful restaurants serving the choicest of seafood. Be mindful that these restaurants are quite pricey, with the exception of Joecons which is quite reasonable.

Overall, Goa's a great place for food. Its a pity I had to leave before the Goa Carnival. Maybe the next time round, I can stay longer at Goa. As of now, its TWU time.
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