Olympics – The battles of the few

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Every four years we are subject to the grand Olympics – a contest between all nations; democratic, communist, monarchies and even those who don’t have a country to call of their own for now. Truly, a contest between “equals”.

Or that is what they would want us to believe.

But is it really so? As this NYTimes article lays down the facts in a very neutral tone, the 2016 medals share are clearly skewed towards the few

  • Top 5 countries claim nearly 40% of all the medals till date
  • Top 10 countries are at 54% of all the medals till date
  • Top 20 countries nearly cover 70% of all the medals till date

And trust me, these percentages are only to go up.

For London 2012 Olympics, the final numbers were as such

  • Top 5 countries : 361 / 960 medals (38%)
  • Top 10 countries : 520 / 960 medals (54%)
  • Top 20 countries : 678 / 960 medals (71%)

The medals list has a long tail with more than 50% of the participating countries going back empty

  • Countries with 0 medals : 119 / 204 countries (58%)
  • Countries with 1 or less medals : 136 / 204 countries (67%)

 Look at the top 20 nations of any Olympics and you’ll see a near majority of developed countries (Jamaica, Kenya, Cuba & Croatia are the only non-developed countries in the top 20). Or rather countries that have the budget and financials, and the vision to have the infrastructure at the grass root levels.

Look deeper at the athletes from any other developing or poor country, and you only get to hear stories of how the athletes have had to fight hard, sometimes even against the system to be able to participate in these games and have had very less support and training for the games. And probably a few that were lucky to have got some level of support.

The reasons for these are aplenty : corruption, poverty, lack of infrastructure, economic & political issues, war, and what not.

Lack of good athletes is never the reason.

Then how exactly is it a fight of the equals?

The “great” US Healthcare system

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I recently had a broken jaw injury. I am still undergoing treatment while I have my jaw all locked up with wires and screws to let it heal up. While I am at the end of the recuperation period, it did give me some time to ponder as the net amount of bills and insurance claims are now upon me. So here are the numbers:

  • Total Charges inclusive of ER, surgery & other services: ~$22,000
  • Total Charges after Insurance adjustments :  ~$15,000
  • Total Payments from Insurance : ~$12,000
  • Total Payments to be done by me : $3,000 (and that is because $3000 is the maximum I should pay out of pocket)

The above doesn’t include medication expenses that were borne by me, as well as dental bills I will soon incur in coming weeks once the wires and screws come out.

Coming from a family that has a fair share of doctors based out of India, and especially one cousin who deals with the kind of surgery I had, on a daily basis; I was curious to know what would have been the costs if I had the same operations and recovery done back in India. Her answer was short

  • A top-end premier chain hospital in any of the metros : ~$1,100 – $1,300
  • A smaller hospital or a local specialty clinic : $400 – $500 at max

So in retrospect, for the amount of money I pay out of my pocket for the treatment at US, I could have taken a flight back to India by BUSINESS CLASS, get my jaw treated with medical services at par with what I received out here, have a month long holiday at home (my company allows extended sick leave for medical emergencies), and return back to US with still some money in my bank account.

It’s a pity that I had to be operated immediately after the accident.

And so much for US medical healthcare.

The weird addictions runners have

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Strava Image

I have seen a few folks wear this t-shirt during marathons or at popular running/cycling events, and every single time I find this quote extremely amusing and it always brings a grin to my face. Trust me, it is not a joke – Strava literally makes us addicts of the app.

But never in my wildest dreams did I ever dream how ironic and true this would turn out in my life.

So, I had an accident. Shit happens. I went for a run on an extremely hot afternoon. I was stupid enough not to carry liquids on me as I was running on a paved trail and had planned the route in such a manner that I had a water fountain every two miles. But life had different plans for me; and as I reached the 2nd mile mark (and the water fountain), my dehydrated body started failing me and I lost consciousness and fell straight on my face right over the paved trail. Had I fallen towards either side, my face would have been saved by the grass. But no, I went down full frontal, with my low jaw taking the brunt of the fall.

No, that’s not what I am here to talk about. What was ridiculous and yet in a strange manner amusing, is that during the last few seconds of consciousness I had just before I fainted; my subconscious mind was able to unlock my phone, head to the Strava app and END MY RUN!

!!!

Freakin’ amazing, no! Yes, I had halted my run, stopped and saved it AND THEN fainted!!!

Retrospectively, this seems impossible. But yet it happened. I remember doing it.

Why? I have absolutely no fucking idea!

As I said, shit happens🙂

Footnote: I ended with a broken jaw, two broken teeth and was bleeding all over the place. An ambulance had to be called for, and I was taken into ER where after a CT-scan and X-ray confirmed the broken jaw, I was operated immediately. And here I am, with a wired shut jaw (for healing) drinking out of a straw for six weeks before the wires and screws are removed from my jaw.

Consistency

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I currently am in the unfortunate situation of working on three different laptops – a Windows Dell laptop, a Lenevo Thinkpad, and a Mac Air.

When I shift from the Mac to the Dell, I need to remember the Ctrl key lies on the left bottom end corner and stop selecting the Alt key (where the command key lies)

When I shift from the Dell to the Thinkpad, I need to remember the Ctrl key now lies on the 2nd left bottom end corner and stop selecting the Fn key.

One key and it’s varying position – can be such a pain in the ***! So much for Jobs and his focus on customer experience!

 

The Dell Customer Service Fiasco!

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For the last two years all my online purchases have been mostly limited to one website – Amazon. Anything from consumer durables to electronics to even pet accessories – my search would always begin at Amazon and most of the time, would end at Amazon.

A lot of the times it was mostly due to the extremely competitive and affordable prices, and the fact that I had the unbeatable 2 Business Day Prime service kind of made other options obsolete.

Coming to the current situation, a recent decision to upgrade my laptop and purchase a new gaming laptop threw a lot of open deal options across Amazon and a mix of retail websites and multiple brand manufacturer websites. I finally narrowed down the options to a particular Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (7559) model and I primarily had two options

  • Amazon.com: Go for a relatively costlier model (by about ~$50) with a confirmed shipping date of 1st Aug (Monday) and an assured 2 Business Days delivery on Wednesday
  • Dell.com: Source the laptop directly from Dell and save ~$50 using a coupon while delaying the delivery by an additional 1-3 Business Days but with a confirmed shipping date of 1st Aug (Monday)

I went ahead with the Dell option. And so started the dive down the Dell rabbit hole.

  1. Early Monday morning, I see the status as ‘Confirmed‘ but with no shipping details. Also the shipping delivery timelines says 7 Day Delivery.
  2. I decide to check with their customer care and connect with their live chat service. After a wait of about 15 minutes, and a short conversation of 2 minutes, I’m told to reach out to the Call Center (1-800-247-2076) for details. Why have a ‘Live Chat Service’ if you can’t help I wonder!
  3. I then try the call center and am put on hold for about 30 minutes. Finally I get connected and after a minute of conversation, the rep hangs up on me. Incredible!
  4. Meanwhile I drop a tweet to @dellCares on Twitter commenting about my ridiculous experience.
  5. I try again and this time I’m luckier; I get connected to a rep in about 10 minutes; he informs me that the order is on ‘Hold’ status; and apparently some verification check didn’t go through. He suggests that I didn’t mention if the laptop was to be used in US or outside US, and probably they put the order on hold!!!
  6. I ask him to cancel the order immediately as the Amazon option comes back to my mind. Do note I could still avail the Wednesday delivery timeline if I order before lunch. He cancels the order and I get the confirmation immediately.
  7. Meanwhile @dellCares tweets back to me asking me to DM them the order number
  8. Then I discover that there is a 10% discount and free 2 Business Days shipping offer for registered Dell Advantage members. The registration is free.
  9. Again I ignore Amazon and go for the Dell option, registering myself as a member and going for a similar order. The website gives me a shipping date of 1st Aug and a 2 Business Days delivery service. I make sure to check if there is any verification check I need to validate – no such thing. I go ahead and submit the order.
  10. A short while later I check the order status – same result. Status as ‘Confirmed‘ but with no shipping details and 7 Day Delivery timelines.
  11. I call up the customer care again. This time I get a better rep who assures me that he will send a request to the concerned team to remove the hold and informs that he’s upgrading my order to Next Day Delivery at no cost. True to his word, I get a service request number on my email.
  12. I check my order status – unfortunately it still reflects the 7 Day Delivery status.
  13. I also DM @dellCares  my order number, my service request number and info on my ‘Hold’ status
  14. @dellCares DMs back to me with a different Customer Care number (1-866-383-4713) for ‘Order Verification Team’. Seriously Dell, do I need to go through your entire organization to get my order shipped? And what’s the use of having a twitter handle if you can’t help resolve the issue right there?
  15. I call that number; and after a 10 minute wait time, I reach a different rep. He takes down my order number and informs me that the order is on ‘Hold’ till the payment happens. I tell him it’s a credit card payment and that I can already see the pending transaction on my credit card statement. He curtly cuts me and says until the transaction is confirmed they can’t do anything, and cuts the call.
  16. My order status still says ‘Confirmed‘. My shipping date is still blank, and my shipping method still says 7 Day Delivery. I have spent almost the entire morning on calls and discussions with no clear resolution.
  17. I realize that the quickest response I can get is to cancel the order – no questions asked, and the confirmation is immediate! All other alternatives seem to have long wait times with no clear resolution. How ironic!

 

And this is my situation even before the laptop has reached me!!! God help how my experience is going to be once if there is any issue with the laptop! I’ll keep this post updated with how the rest of the experience goes.

Edit: Finally Dell shipped the laptop by late afternoon. It’s going to be a 2 Business Day delivery, so the Next Business Day upgrade wasn’t honored. Anyway I’m happy they didn’t screw it up any further.

Not a really happy experience, but I’ll take a happy ending nevertheless. All’s well that end’s well!

The under-belly of AirBnB

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Recently I did a trip to NY with a friend and I convinced him to opt for an Airbnb accommodation over other hotel options.

And so we opted for a medium priced accommodation with a minimal number of positive reviews. The place had a good location, and the 10-odd reviews mostly had neutral to good views. There was one negative experience but we decided to give the host the benefit of the doubt.

And when we landed we found out the one negative experience was 100% true. And true to that previous reviewer we had a pretty bad experience, to the extent that my friend decided to look for alternate accommodation after the first night.

When I tried to reach the host, she stopped replying to my message. Since it was only a short 2 day trip, I decided to grin and bear it.

Once back, I gave a honest review to the host with appropriate (negative) feedback. Clearly, the host being aware of my negative experience; hasn’t reviewed back on me as a guest. And since the system relies on the mutual feedback,  voila!

My review isn’t visible on the house. I was not looking for any compensation, but I wanted others to know about the house condition and prevent others making the same mistake as me.

How do I go about it? No idea.

Airbnb help pages give no inputs on this situation. I’m not sure if this is on purpose or just a gap they haven’t caught yet.

Clearly they are forgetting that the guest is, if not their main customer, atleast an equally important customer as much as the hosts are. And it can happen the other way too. If I ever become a bad guest, I could very well bypass the negative review by using this loophole.

 

Result: I’m going definitely think twice before opting for an Airbnb option over a hotel accommodation. And my friend who could have been a new user to the portal, is definitely a lost customer for now.

 

Edit: @airbnbHelp replied back to my tweet a few minutes back with this response.

After 14 days your review will be posted, even if your host doesn’t post a review. Let us know if you have other questions.

I guess I just need to wait out another week to see my review posted.

Problem solved! YaY!

Giving credit where it is due – full points for Airbnb twitter customer service. Their response was fast and they answered the questions immediately.

Beliefs

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Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty

That’s what Google throws back at me when I google the word. Coming from a community that has a long and rich history, there are thousands, no, millions of beliefs that are thrown at, and around me on a daily basis. By my immediate family, by my relatives, by friends – the few that are close and the many that aren’t; and in general everyone else.

Religious beliefs are aplenty – but that’s a topic for a different day. This post is about simple habitual, day-to-day activity based beliefs that every individual has.

Beliefs can be tagged to anything and everything. Beliefs could have sound arguments and a basis, or they could be simply something one has believed for a long time. For instance, my grandmother used to repeatedly remind me that I should NEVER cut my nails post sunset. I could never agree to that; and to this date, I have not been able to figure out a possible reason for that from her or anyone else in the family; the only remote one being she probably didn’t have a steady supply of electricity during her hey days.

I still cut my nails irrespective of the sun’s position; and ironically, most of the times at night.

As a stubborn child with relatively relenting parents, who repeatedly chose the option of advising and not forcing their advice on me (or maybe I was really thick-skinned), I became quite the opposer to family beliefs.

  • Eat your greens, they are good for you – nopes
  • Gargle your throat when you have a sore throat – nopes
  • Have milk with a teaspoon of turmeric before you go to sleep when you have cold – yuck!
  • Spend a few hours every week and give music (singing/instruments) a try for hobby and/or interest – nopes
  • Take an oil bath once every month (or on auspicious dates)  – no way!
  • Have curd rice or buttermilk at the end of every meal (lunch & dinner) – nopes
  • Have meals at regular time consistently – nopes
  • Go to sleep early and wake up early – nopes

I could go on and on. I wasn’t a tough child – just a stubborn one. And as most kids do, I’d do the exact opposite of what my parents would tell me to do – not listen to them. Sometimes I’d ask them for reasons, and when they couldn’t give a proper reason, I’d just shrug it off and ignore them.

It’s ironic that life has come back a full circle and many of those beliefs are something that I have come to regard as very important and 100% valid. Some of them seem to be considered as vital by the educated community.

Ah well. Better late than never.

 

 

 

America’s gift to the global foodie

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America gives you a wide wide variety of food options – ranging from cheap food stalls & hole in the wall outlets to five Michelin star restaurants. Every city, be it a metro or a small town will have atleast one Italian, one Greek, one sushi place (Japanese), one Mexican and so on. The bigger the city, the more variety of restaurants for each cuisine you’ll find.

But none of these are actual American cuisine – the name of different cuisines itself give you the country from where they originate. So here’s the question I always pondered – what constitutes American cuisine? What has America given to the global foodie?

Burgers and fries it seems. Sugar coated cornflakes. And of course, the multitude of carbonated beverages.

Of course there is lot more to American cuisine. Look into any American household, and you’ll find a variety of food items – both meat based and vegetable based. Search for restaurants in any city across the country and you’ll find ‘American (traditional)‘, ‘Southern‘ and similar.

However you don’t find a restaurant outside the US offering these – the only ones you see are junk food that have the American tag.

So is that the only food America has given to the rest of the world? Pretty sad if that’s the case!

Disclaimer: The above post is based on my experiences and might not be completely true.

After the waters recede…

The guilt feeling that one (should, atleast subconsiously) has when s/he contributes to the bigger mess – buying that flat in an occupied area at a cheaper rate, misuse of plastics without a concern, wasting water and other resources and so on.
Baradwaj tries to put it out in his words – do give it a thought!

Baradwaj Rangan

What some of us are feeling now, it’s vague, hard to put into words. And at least part of it is a little existential. Why were we spared? You don’t think this when you hear of shootings in America or earthquakes in Nepal. You register the horror, and do what you can – sign a petition, write a cheque – and you move on. But this thing, it happened in our backyard. It could have been us. And while we still think we need to move on, there’s a little PTSD mixed in with all of it, which no amount of volunteering and cheque-writing and petition-signing can fix. America and Nepal aren’t home. Chennai is. And when we are attacked in our own homes – and when we know there’s nothing we can do about it – something’s going to get out of whack. It’s like being that one…

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Trust thy neighbour? Not anymore.

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Trust is a very funny emotion. We understand it very well with respect to relationships between two close/related individuals considering that trust makes or breaks their relationship; be it between two friends, a husband and a wife, a parent and his kid(s); and so on.

However clearly we underestimate trust as an emotion when it comes to local communities. Don’t comprehend? Let me give an example.

The other day I was heading back home, from an biking event some 100 miles away. Midway I stopped at a gas station to fuel up when I saw this guy on the side of the road, trying to get a lift from passing cars. I probably spent about 10 odd minutes in that gas station, during which he probably got ignored by more than 50 cars during that period; a lot of them moving out of the gas station, mostly empty with just one single rider.

He didn’t seem so dangerous; he had two luggage bags, and also he had a pair of crutches; on a scale of 1 to 10 (danger to me), I’d probably put him at 3 or 4. So I decided to give him a lift. And I did.

What followed was one of the most interesting conversations I ever had with anyone in US over the last 8 months; we discussed (in detail) about rock songs; Pink Floyd, Jon Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses; and so on. All starting from a Pink Floyd song running on FM when he boarded the car. Of course there was the small matter when he requested if he could have a look at my iPhone (apparently he never had one in his life), and I allowed him to go ahead; and the fact that in the span of 2-3 minutes he used it to look up porn on youtube (lol), which I guess is as weird as it is hilarious!

The fact of the matter is the ride ended just fine; he got down when I asked him to; and even thanked me as graciously as anyone can; considering I was the first one to give him a lift in nearly 8+ hours of standing outside the gas station!

And no matter whom I tell this story to, I always get gasps and dissapproving nods as if I just supported an act of terrorism or something of that kind. And always a rhetorical Q – “What if he turned out to be some nutcase?” or so.

What if he turned out to be a normal fellow who just needed a lift?

And that in short is the problem I see around me – increasingly we seem to lose trust in the world around us. When it comes to uncertaininty regarding a decision we need to make, we seem to give more importance to the negative outputs than the positive ones.

Trust thy neighbour? Not anymore.

Why? Just because some random unknown guy in some random city got screwed when he trusted another random unknown guy; you decide to not trust someone around you; even though you possibly have no concrete reason to distrust him.

And unfortunately, it’s only getting worse.

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