Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Every year, I wonder what Thanksgiving is all about.  I take a look at Wikipedia, understand what it's all about and then the following year, take a look at the same article again.  This year, I did the same.  But, at the start of every year, when the list of holidays is released by the HR department, you will find it hard to miss that you're getting four days off in the last week of November.  The Friday that follows the Thanksgiving Thursday is referred to as the Black Friday, which is a massive day for shopping.  This is the day when the retailers give you a big discount by bumping up the prices beforehand.  OK, some of the items are actually dirt cheap, but most of them are such that they can be purchased at any time of the year.  

The US is filled with deals and promotions almost all year round.  Thanksgiving weekend is just another excuse to shell out money for products that you actually did not know you required.  Before the Thanksgiving weekend, you have promos saying why you should buy something.  During the Thanksgiving weekend, you have more promos saying why you should buy something that you already have purchased before and the reason offered being that the products are available at so called throwaway prices.  After Thanksgiving, you will have more promos asking you to buy more stuff that can be obtained at Thanksgiving prices.  So, basically, the whole US market is running in some kind of a chain reaction.  If the sales are down at any given point, Wall street guys shout out that consumer confidence is shrinking and the US economy is headed for a recession.  Phew!

Anyway, my wife, who was relatively new to the Thanksgiving experience, wanted to experience first hand the pleasure of shopping on a Black Friday.  So, last year, we made extensive plans to target specific stores and wait in front of the big stores well before midnight.  That was the year we made our foray into gaming thanks to the Xbox and Kinect Experience.  We were looking at some of the Kinect games.  There was a Black Friday offer from Old Navy that the first few customers will be given a free copy of the Dance Central DVD (normal price is around 40$) with the purchase of anything from the store.  So, we went and stood at about 10:30 or 11:00 PM in front of the Old Navy store at virtually sub zero temperatures.  It was freezing.  It was like hell.  But, you know, all this is a part of the experience.  We counted the number of guys who were ahead of us.  Almost everybody was there to get the free DVD.  There were about 20 guys in front of us.  So, we waited patiently, and as the store opened at midnight, everyone who entered the store were given the free copy of Dance Central.  We were really excited.  But, somehow, as our turn came by, we were told that the guy ahead of us had got the last copy.  We were absolutely gutted.  What Sachin Tendulkar felt today after missing out his 100th century is nothing compared to what we felt when we couldn't get that free DVD.  Anyway, we walked in and my wife picked up a jacket, rather, half-heartedly.  We headed back home and explained our misfortune to our friends.  Also, we didn't feel too good about the jacket.

There was an offer from Target with a special price for Xbox.  Also, Target was offering a lot of discounts on toasters, mixers, blenders and what not.  We thought that the Xbox was a pretty good deal.  But, since we had already ordered ours online, we didn't deem it a good idea to stay in overnight lines at freezing temperatures(thankfully!).  So, the next morning, after checking out a mall, as we were heading home, we entered one of the Target stores.  We went to the aisle where the Xbox boxes were kept.  I was surprised to find plenty of them.  Then, we walked to the aisle where the toasters that were sold for 5$ were kept.  There was not even a single toaster.  We asked the store attendant who was passing by as to whether the store had any toasters left.  He had a huge grin, "Oh, sorry sir.  You know these toasters were sold out in like five minutes at 5 AM in the morning." He was filled with pride.  We thought they must have been some extraordinary toasters to have sold out so quickly.  We didn't find anything useful.  We went back home and had a sound sleep.

After the Thanksgiving mania had died down, we went to Target for our weekly shopping.  This time, we were able to find the toaster.  There were plenty of them.  We saw the price.  We couldn't suppress our laughter.  The toasters were marked at a price point of 6.99$.  We wondered how people could stay overnight braving freezing temperatures to save 1.99$ on a toaster.  Life can be totally mysterious.

Here comes the clincher.  Then, we went to the Old Navy store.  My wife was somehow not too happy with her jacket.  She felt that it would have been a great purchase had we got the game DVD.  I seemed to agree with her.  What else choice did a married man have, but to agree to his wife.  We walked into the store to see if we could find other jackets to her liking.  We saw the exact jacket that we were holding in our hand.  The price had dropped by a further 15$.  There was no way in the world that we would be keeping that jacket with us now.  We spoke to the lady at the counter and told her how we didn't like the jacket.  We also told her about how the price was lesser than the Black Friday price.  Thanks to the US store policies, we got a refund on our purchase.  But, standing in front of the Old Navy store on a cold wintry night to get a jacket at a price that would go down by 15$ in the subsequent week was totally, totally not cool.

And, that's our awesome Thanksgiving experience.

It is ten minutes to midnight.  The Black Friday fever is gripping the town.  I am going to bed.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

An engineer's conundrum

Engineering degree is at a premium in India.  At the same time, every other guy is an engineer.  I don't know whether it's the job market or the social status, everybody wants to be an engineer.  Put everything aside.  First become an engineer and then you can worry about the other stuff later.

There is nothing like brimming with pride when you go home and tell your folks, "I hit a century in the local cricket match."

"Okay, okay, all that's fine.  What about your exams in the coming week? Are you prepared for that?"

It may be wrong to say that this is applicable only for engineers; I think it is true that this holds for medicine as well.

It is a matter of pride to say, "illa ree nammaga doctor alla engineeringay odhbekuantha iddhane (My son wants to study doctor or engineering only)." I used to secretly wonder What is meant by studying for doctor? Isn't it medicine?

So, as I pursued my passion for engineering, and completed four years of slogging and cramming right before the exams, I ended up being an Engineer.  I think the next step was predefined as I took up one of the many available jobs in one of the many companies.  Life went on, as usual.  I had not broken the norms of the society.

During my Engineering days, one day, on a weekend, one of the taps in the bathroom of my house had a leak, and the washer had to be replaced.  As usual, my mother was ready to call the plumber to get this fixed, and the plumber gave the necessary appointment to come over and get the washer replaced.  Just then, that evening, an elderly gentleman in the neighborhood dropped by.  He would have a brief conversation if my father was around and exchange the usual pleasantries.  He had worked a major part of his life in the army and was very meticulous in his daily needs and activities.  He was a man who was very disciplined, and always expected the exact things he wanted from life, and so, you can say that he was a stickler for perfection.  Obviously, all of us had a huge respect towards him, and I have played a lot with his grandchildren during my growing up days.  He was eighty years old and seeing him, you could never say so.  During the conversation, my father mentioned that we were waiting for the plumber before heading out for the evening.  The elderly gentleman was very very surprised.

Mr. Krishnan, Isn't your son an engineer? He asked.

Yes, sir.  He is.  Why do you ask so? asked my father rather inquiringly.

Then, why do you want to call a plumber.  Just ask him to repair the tap.

I did not have a good vibe about this conversation.  Immediately, I went on the defensive.  "Sir, but I am an Electronics & Communications engineer." The kind of situation I was in, I was no doubt not too proud of my degree at this point.

In a typical South Indian Andhra accent, the elderly gentleman replied with an authority that shook me out of my reverie.

So what, I say.  An Engineer is a person who should know everything.  What do you mean by saying you don't know how to repair a tap?

I looked at him sheepishly.  There was an eerie silence for a few seconds.  This is the sort of silence that feels as though it has extended for light years.

My father quickly butted in, and as he spoke, I realized, what he said would in no way save my butt.  Sir, today's engineers are useless.  All of them have only bookish knowledge.

The elderly gentleman again asked me.  So, what will you do, if, let's say, the wiring of your house has got messed up and the electrical lines are not working the way it is supposed to?

Sir, I am an Electronics Engineer and not an Electrical Engineer, I said.  If, at that point, I had sought an IPO for my self esteem, it would have ranked at an abysmal low value.

Oh my God.  What is the point in getting a good rank and joining an Engineering college if you cannot do the basic things at home.  Do you know something? I have never called a plumber or electrician to my house till date.  I have fixed all the plumbing and electrical issues by myself.  I have imparted the same knowledge to my son as well.  And as usual, he had to say this.  I am not too happy with the standard of engineers in our society today.

To save me from further embarrassment, there was a knock on the door.  The plumber walked in with his tools.  The elderly gentleman started inquiring him about the nature of the parts he was using for repair.

I was happy, for it was the plumber's turn to face the music.