Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Babel: A Review

I recently watched the movie Babel which was nominated for a slew of Oscars including the best supporting actress for two people in the movie as well as the best picture. I think it won for music. I cannot say that I noticed the music much, but the technique and the story was really good as was the acting all round. The story involved people in four countries and three continents. In the way it was interwoven, it seemed a lot like Crash, the winner of 2006 Oscar for the best picture.

A two and a half hour long film, that I did not realize was this long! The story is original and all deal with a breakdown of communication between people -- for some reason or the other. The tag line of the movie says it all: "If You Want to be Understood...Listen". The movie is not so much about any one person per se and so no one is a star of this movie. The only thing that we wish when the movie ends, is that the some of the loose ends had been tied up better. The Japanese angle in the story was not very well developed, I thought. It was only loosely connected with everything else. Still, a very well directed, acted, thought out movie.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Cliff-Hanging Academician

Who says academics lead a boring life?

For years I used to wonder why I did not choose a more interesting profession, say acting or reporting etc. Then I used to imagine how it would be if every time I wrote a paper I would have to face a camera. Every mistake would be documented. Every time I wrote something that did not sound right, I would have to yell at myself "CUT!!" before I went ahead and changed the wording. Then I realized that it was just as well that I did not have to be in the public eye every time I worked!

However, every time you have a grant, your granting agency comes to visit you and you get to present all that wonderful stuff that you and your students/post-docs have accomplished. Today was one such event. This was the mid-term review of the project. It turned out that two people from the sponsoring agency (here-to-fore referred to as Sponsors) were supposed to make it to this meeting one month ago. Only one of them did. So we now get to do the show and tell all over again because both of them are able to show up today.

They could not have picked a worse day or even a worse week. This meeting comes sandwiched between a meeting with a venture capitalist (we are starting a company..) and a proposal deadline in a couple of days. So, I did not even look at the slides I had prepared for the last month's presentation. Once in the car, my husband (M, who is also my colleague, and as it happens in this particular case, also a Co-PI on this project) and I just go over some points to review our progress in the project. The meeting was supposed to start with lunch and general discussion, and then each project PI does a one on one with the sponsors and the Co-PI. The meeting starts off late, so I decide that rather than waste the time, I will work on the proposal that is due in a couple of days. M calls from his office to tell me that he will need the slides that I made last time to help him describe effectively, his part of the project. We agree that I will give him my laptop so he can do his presentation from that.

So, when the meeting did get started I walked in to the room about 5 minutes before I was scheduled to begin my presentation. I pick up some lunch (this time they actually had some good stuff and remembered that I am vegetarian). So, I was beaming with happiness as I turned on the laptop and waited patiently as it lumbered through its boot up procedure.

The speaker before me is on his 5th slide out of 7. I open the explorer and go to the folder in question and open the presentation. At least, I thought that was my presentation. Going through the presentation, I sense something odd. Midway through the presentation, I click "next" for the next slide and lo and behold "end of slide show". I realize that this was not the slide show I used last time. This was a truncated version. Perhaps a first cut? I look up -- speaker-before-me is on slide number 6/7. I frantically open each of the presentation in the folder. Down to the last one ... and.. the speaker before me says "In conclusion....". No slides! Alarm bells jangle in my mind as I carefully arrange every line, every muscle in my face to remain exactly where it was before I realized the crisis I was in. Then, I get out of the rear door. I dashed across to my office to call M to tell him " the slides are in your laptop, not mine!". He agreed to bring it down immediately.

I get back in the room, Speaker-before-me is in the question answer session. Good. So, I run up and get a show and tell piece on which I hope to demo some of my results later on. The question answer session is winding down and no M.
Q&A done. All eyes on me. I take the show and tell piece and start talking about it. Someone asks if M will be coming. Perfect chance. Yes, he will be here any minute. One of the Sponsors says he needs a small break. Couldn't be better! So, I graciously accept to go call M. I make the call, "What happened?!!!!".
M: How many times do I have to knock on your office door. Where were you?
I: Well, I was in the conference room ??!
M: The slides are not in my laptop. They must be in yours.
Deafening silence from both sides of the telephone line. I don't know what M is thinking, but I am thinking "where on Earth is that stupid slide?!"
M: Last time we sent a copy to X. See if you can get it from him.

So, I get back to the conference room and ask X. He puts it in my USB stick. I get to the projector, connect my laptop and look for the slides and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I have to get back to pounding on my laptop for my next proposal, so that a year later I can be in a similar crisis with some other sponsors. Hopefully. The sponsors part, I mean!