Archive for the ‘Extra Posts’ Category

The Starbucks Experience

I’ve had my share of grumpy Starbucks baristas who bark orders across the store, refuse to translate the foreign language they call a menu, and God forbid, I ask for extra whipped cream with whole milk, and they look at me like I’ve committed blasphemy.

So when my classmate blogged about their poor customer service, I was tempted to agree. Except a friendly barista at the Starbucks cafe on the corner of 15th & K proved otherwise. starbucks_logo_01

After having a particularly awful day last December, I entered the Starbucks cafe opposite the Washington Post office, hoping to seek refuge in a mocha and a chocolate marble cake. I placed my order and reached for my wallet — only to find that I had left it at home. Embarrassed, I slowly whispered to the barista across the counter, asking him to cancel my order, half expecting him to reprimand me for wasting his time.

So I was completely taken aback when, instead of admonishing me in front of the serpentine queue of restless, caffeine-deprived customers, he smiled and handed me the mocha — insisting I take it.

“It’s alright,” he said. “You make sure you have a good day.”

A hot beverage and a random act of kindness? He just made sure I did.

Redefining Beauty

There has been an interesting discussion brewing among my classmates about the distorted perception of beauty, and I was reminded of a video that — for me — had served as a reality check.

Constantly barraged with ads that hold us to an impossible standard of  beauty, it’s no wonder that we never feel satisfied with the way we look. According to Newsweek, eight- to 12-year-olds in this country already spend more than $40 million a month on beauty products, and teens spend another $100 million.

“Body dissatisfaction can lead to very real consequences—and a hefty debt. A lifetime of manis and pedis could cover four years at a public university; hair and face treatments would pay for a private college.”

That’s serious money. For impossible standards.

There is a growing need to redefine beauty, which is why the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty came as a refreshing change amidst the airbrushed faces and photoshopped bodies.

dove-grey-gorgeouspreview1The Dove campaign challenged stereotypes and inspired women to embrace their own beauty. Using real women to promote its products and intent on widening the definition of beauty, the Dove Campaign distinguished itself from its competition.

Their efforts were met with an overwhelming response because it was more than just about selling beauty products. It was about stimulating debate and inspiring action. It persuaded opinion leaders to rethink stereotypes, positioned the campaign as a dialogue and used real people as brand ambassadors.

The campaign worked. For it challenged the norm. Redefined beauty.

And proved that grey can be gorgeous.

Battling The Daily Commute — Mumbai Style

I came across a post about Metro Etiquette, written by my classmate Shayla. While she loves the district’s public transportation, she does have a few issues — issues that, perhaps, DC commuters are all too familiar with.

Take the people who insist on “sharing” their music with the rest of the coach, for instance. Or those who catch up on their sleep, rather noisily, during the morning commute and, as Shayla puts it, the “dry and uninterested tone” of the metro operators.

“The metro is a very public space and filling it with these annoying things really make the ride less enjoyable.”

Maybe that metro rider manual isn’t such a bad idea, Shayla.

But in all honesty, traveling in DC is a breeze compared to traveling in my city, Mumbai. I love my city but its public transportation has some catching up to do. While Mumbai would probably collapse without its trains – the dependable suburban train system ferries some seven million people each day – traveling in the city is a completely different story.

No one can call themselves a true Mumbaiite without having traveled the buses and trains of the city. It’s a privilege – earned only after you have weathered the city’s public transport system.

You know you’re a seasoned commuter in Mumbai when:

ob-aj418_mumbai_20070417131124You travel three stops in the direction opposite to your destination so that you actually find the space to board your train — a routine struggle, with many forced to precariously hang out the doors.

You’re armed and ready – bags slung across shoulders – while boarding the bus that will leave, with or without you, after halting for precisely two seconds at the designated bus stop.

You have the exact fare in your hand before you board the bus. Reach for it once you’re inside the bus amidst the sweaty, irate passengers all fighting for the same square inch of space – while warding off wandering hands – and you’ll know why it is bad idea.

You head for the exit – two stops before your destination — skillfully navigating the swarming crowds. You’re lucky if you make it to the exit in time. You’re even luckier if you can actually get off.

You know the lame beggar sweeping the floors of the coach may “miraculously” make a dash for the exit just as the train pulls out of the station – your handbag in tow.

You know it is routine for women to shop for vegetables, peel them then dice them – all while inside the local train.

You are not surprised when you’re stuck in an overcrowded bus for over five hours because the city is flooded – again.

You don’t flinch when you find your bus fitted with wire meshes to protect its glass windows — and the people inside. Another day of expected political unrest. Nothing the city hasn’t seen before.

You take the train to work less than eight hours after bombs across the city blow up local trains in vicious terrorist attacks. Just how many times can you stay home in fear?

You do it.

Because you’ve done it before.

Because you’ll do it again.

Riding The Stock Market — On Your iPhone

Roller coasters are not for the faint-hearted. Neither are stock markets.

But if you are used to navigating the ups and downs of the volatile markets, you may appreciate this iPhone application, which – among other things – lets you take a virtual roller coaster ride of your favorite stock charts.

AirCoaster Online, a 3D high-speed roller coaster simulator developed by Ziconic, allows you to ride auto-generated tracks or create you own using their multi-touch track editor. Spice up your ride by adding sound effects or changing your viewing angle.

Experiencing the stock market on a roller coaster lends an interesting perspective on market volatility.

Definitely innovative.

Here’s what the Dow Jones Industrial Average feels like on a roller coaster. I’m told you may need a brown paper bag for the Apple stock track.

Marketing Arms, Bollywood Style

Israeli arms dealer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems LTD, apparently decided to court the Indian government — Bollywood style — at the recent Aero India 2009 event in Bangalore, India.

The tacky song-and-dance number even won a nomination for Wired magazine’s Iron Eagle film fest — “a celebration of the awesomely bad videos of the military-industrial complex.”

Stephen Trimble of The DEW Line calls it a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry.”

In an interview with Saurabh Joshi of StratPost, Assy Josephy, Director of Exhibitions for Rafael, says: “The video is to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael.”

Apparently, he’s dead serious.

In an “innovative” effort to market its arms, the video has hip-swaying women — together with a swashbuckling, leather-clad man — dance around garlanded missiles singing:

“Together, Forever, We Will Always Be

Dinga Dinga Dee.”

Need I say more?

Mumbai, You’re Not Forgotten

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

It’s been three months since the Mumbai attack and it feels like the incident has already slipped into the amnesiac conscience of society.

Not for those who lost their loved ones. Not for those who lost their city.

I think about the fear that paralyzed many of us as we watched Mumbai fall prey to vicious minds. About those mind-numbing three days.

My city had been under siege for sixty agonizing hours. Sitting at my computer, 8,700 miles away in the US, I watched in horror — helpless — as Mumbai was ravaged and scarred beyond recognition.

A friend had been shot. Brave friends risked their lives and made their way towards the terror scene to ensure his safety. I stared disbelievingly at my computer screen trying to make sense of the chaos. Where were all my family and friends? Were they okay?

Almost mechanically, I started dialing. I had done this before. On numerous occasions. The riots, the floods, the curfews… I was a seasoned Mumbaiite.

How many times had I visited Cafe Leopold for lazy conversations over greasy food and cheap beer? How many times had I walked by the Taj hotel, marveling at its majesty and grandeur each time I saw the iconic structure? How many times had I frequented South Mumbai for a reunion with friends, a good bargain and even a quick getaway? It let you disappear into the anonymity of the busy, carefree streets of Colaba — and emerge, rejuvenated. How could anyone think of destroying Mumbai? A million questions ran through my head — and I had no answers.

My city was being held hostage and I was helpless. Television channels in the US had just begun to cover the news but it wasn’t enough. I knew there was more going on because I was getting frantic text messages and calls from friends back in Mumbai. It was then that I turned to the Social Web — and never looked back.

I sat glued to Twitter and Monitter for those sixty gruelling hours, clicking every link, every news story, every picture — and every list of the injured and the dead — praying fervently as I scanned the names. Photographers like Vinukumar Ranganathan from Mumbai constantly updated Flickr with photographs of what was happening on the ground. Websites and blogs like Global Voices and Mumbai MetBlogs were putting up real-time information with helpline numbers, emergency contact information and even providing a forum for people to reach their loved ones with news of their safety. Twitter was an excellent source of real-time information that night.

Dina Mehta, a Mumbai-based blogger and social media consultant says: “We had a list of injured people — an illegible fax — and after tweeting that we needed help transcribing it, we were flooded with offers to help from all over the world.”

It was reaffirmation. Of hope. Of humanity.

The voices that emerged that night were real.

Of fear:

“Sirens outside my window. Can hear blasts and gun shots. Please make it a safe night.”

Of mind-numbing truths:

“Bomb blasts in Bombay as we speak.
Phones jammed. Can’t reach my family.
I’ve gone through this before.
Not panicking.”

Of hope:

“We didn’t feel alone anymore or scared. Fellow tweeters worldwide were experiencing and sharing in our pain and our anger during the prolonged siege.”

Of strength:

“And the firing still goes on outside, in batches of 4-5 rounds. As I am writing this, there are sirens of vehicles, police vehicles echoing in my ear… Only unity can fight this.”

Thousands of miles away, I held on to each voice of hope, tenaciously, for three gruelling days, praying for the safety of Mumbai.

I had never felt closer to my city.

Thank you to each one of you who tweeted, posted pictures and blogged amidst the terror, confusion and pain.

Social media, networking and citizen journalism were terms I use often as a social media advocate. But on the night of November 26, 2008, the social web had turned into something far more important for me:

A lifeline.

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