Homemade (DIY) Rustic Dining Table

Table EdgeI am intrigued by how taken I am by the idea of a dining table. Perhaps the fact that I grew up in a house with a formal along with an informal dining table has to add to my love for dining tables. We are presently living in a villa which took over a year to build and over 2 years to plan. The dining area is the central facet of the open plan living area. Inspired by industrial design, our new home had to reflect a little bit of us and what we like – tons of whim, a rustic and eclectic appeal, and absolutely no gloss. Continue reading Homemade (DIY) Rustic Dining Table

What I have Learned at 35

Giving is good. If I could just live my life with two words, they would be “love” and “giving”. When all else fails, its love and what you have given to the world that keeps you going. When all else is going good, love and giving make you happier and sleep peacefully at night. At peace with yourself and the world around you. Don’t believe me? Think I am exaggerating goodness, keep reading and you might change your mind.

There is nothing more powerful than personal experience so here goes. I lost a few library books at a University where I served for 8 years with my heart and soul. I asked around for the books and everybody seemed clueless. Sadly I didn’t even get to read anything from some of the books that I borrowed because I didn’t find the material to be worth reading. As I have now left the University, I am going through a clearance process and the lost books acted as a liability – a hindrance standing in the way of me walking away with a big fat cheque.



I have accumulated too many books (if there is one such thing in an era that is largely digital) over the years for two reasons: the sight of books makes me content (having a library of sorts at home has been a dream from my teens); secondly buying books became a much needed sanity trip in a country where bombs blew off so often that many started avoiding local news. The former was done to save one from depression and the dreadful feeling of helplessness. As I looked at the heaps of books on the floor of my study now, I felt I had spent way too much money on books that I didn’t get time to read and nobody else benefitted from them either. What a waste, I thought. We all know how valuable a free text book is for a student. I had so many text books because of being in the academia that I felt a responsibility to share and donate.

So I resolved to attempt an Operation Cleanup and decided on giving away books. I kept a large pile of books as reference for my book that I am working on these days and I decided to give away and share a large part of the remaining collection with the world. What better place to give than the library of the very institution where I served for a significant portion of my life. I went from being committed to engaged to married to a mom of two – all while serving at the same institution. So I filled up 2 cartons with books and headed off to the University. While I was willing myself to feel good about the donation that I was going to make to the library of a 140+ year old University, I also felt pangs of pain in my stomach at the thought of spending another few hundred dollars on books, that too, the ones I had lost by trusting people to return them. It was my fault but how did I manage to goof up – again?!

The Library folks accepted the donation graciously but did not have the power to call for a compensation for the loss of books. I wrote to someone who had more power and voila! I received inarguably one of the sweetest emails I have in my inbox; recognising my contribution and good work, thanking me for my donation, and considering my donation to be a compensation for the lost books. Could I ask for more? I was not expecting my donation to do more good than what it was – a donation. Could I have imagined that my donation and commitment would pay off in such amazing ways if I had lived my life with a self-centered, everything-for-me ethos?

When you give your heart to your work and to those who deserve it, love finds a way of coming back to you in ways that can overwhelm you with joy. When you give, the world conspires to give more back to you. Unfortunately many think that selfishness, sometimes even at the cost of harming the welfare and happiness of others, is the way that leads to professional and personal success. I think people who live with the belief that they are entitled to more in every facet of their life and refuse to be thankful for what they get are entirely at a loss. It is important that your purpose in life is anchored in the right place. Your definition of ‘right’ makes all the difference here. But do give a little, give anything that you can. Someone living somewhere can benefit through an act of giving – from old clothes and other things you might not need to teaching someone a skill that you master and can help a person make some money. I am reminded of the famous quote by a Spanish philosopher from ages ago: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Giving away your birthday

Happy birthday to Seth Godin! Giving away your birthday sounds fantastic. Personally I feel that as you grow older, its more fun doing something for someone else and what is better than improving lives by safe water, education or whatever cause it maybe. Time to put on the thinking cap and consider what will we ask our loved ones to pledge to.

I am sharing with readers Seth Godin’s message posted on July 10, 2015 on his blog http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/07/happy-birthday.html?fb_ref=Default

Happy birthday
When I was fifteen, I wanted a bike for my birthday. I dropped a few hints, and about a week before the day, I asked my mom for a hint as to what I could expect. “Well,” she said, “it has feathers.”

I was getting a parrot.

What could be cooler than a parrot? Alas, I got a down blanket. Can’t win them all.

Today’s my 55th, and it would be great if you wouldn’t send me a gift, a card or even an email. Not because I have birthday issues, but because I think we might be able to plant the seed for a very significant culture change, something bigger than a bike.

Is it possible for your birthday to change the world?

Instead of dropping me a note, I’m hoping you’ll join 5,000 other blog readers and give your birthday to charity:water. (Note: I’m not asking you to make a donation, at least not at first. Something more difficult but important: I want you to start a change in our culture with just a few clicks. Read on…)

This might sound a bit familiar. Five years ago, I gave away my birthday and asked you, my astonishingly generous readers, to make a donation. We ended up raising nearly $40,000 (and it’s gone up since then) and ten villages, families with children, now have water as a result (try to imagine going just two days without clean water…)

The donations made a difference, but let’s go further and establish a pattern, a standard where lots and lots of people give away their birthdays. What if it becomes normal for everyone over 22 years old to ask for donations instead of presents or cards?

So far, 65,000 people have given their birthdays. But with just three generations of friends telling friends can take that up by a factor of ten. 5,000 people telling ten people telling ten people, and we’d change the world.

5,000 people pledging to give their birthdays to charity:water would mean that when your birthday rolls around, you’d ask the people in your life to give their birthdays to charity:water as well. And then a few months later, they’d ask the people in their lives… In just a few cycles, perhaps we could change the expectation of birthdays from, “I’d like a bike,” to, “Can we save someone’s life?”

The mechanics are simple: go to this page and sign up to donate your birthday. While you’re there, I hope you’ll consider donating $10 (I’ll match the $10 donation from each reader who pitches in). Done.

One more bonus, in case changing the culture and saving lives isn’t enough: if 1,000 people sign up to share their birthdays today, I’ll update this post tomorrow and release the audio from a speech about bravery (a recent gig I did for Endeavor) on the bottom of this post…

Change the culture, change the world.

Thanks. And happy birthday. Even better than a parrot.

Fraudulent Case of Expired Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn from Jalal Sons

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We regularly get our bread from Jalal Sons and do most of our shopping at its DHA Phase 5 outlet. This is the first time I have come across such a horrible experience with the store in the years of being their loyal customer. My husband and I got a little used to eating good quality bread in the UK and in Pakistan we found Jalal Sons to be doing a reasonable job at making bread. Just that my experience on June 26th 2015 of buying the famous Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn from Jalal Sons makes me want to question so much. Different expiry dates were displayed on the popcorn box containing three bags of popcorn, the outside flaps of the individual popcorn bags and the inside flaps of the popcorn bags. How is that even possible with a brand of ConAgra Foods? I opened up the packaging in the kitchen and told my daughter that the popcorn is bad so she wouldn’t be able to eat it. She didn’t question me because she saw the condition of the butter soaked packaging of the popcorn. We like to eat healthy food in our house and popcorn is an occasional treat for the kids. Why opt for Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn? Because it is healthier than the other popcorn brands available in local stores.

The popcorn box has a printed label of ‘Best by June 13 2016’ displayed on it. Sounds safe to eat. The popcorn bags inside the box tell a different story with a label of ‘Best by March 2016’. Still safe to eat but how come the stamps are all placed in different positions on the bags? How come the bags have a different expiry date from the box? Hmmmm. Upon opening the bags, the moment of truth happens. The stamp of one of the three inside flaps is smudged ((B) – Gosh! its the expired butter I tell you), another inside flap is stamped ‘Best by July 2014’ (A) and the third one is stamped ‘Best by August 2014’ (C). Does it sound like a world famous brand of popcorn to you? The inconsistency is uncanny and frightening.

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This incident takes place just when I thought that I have had enough with food quality and related marketing issues in Pakistan. Last year I coauthored a business case study on the removal of McDonald’s breakfast tagline of “the world’s best breakfast” from their marketing campaigns. Speaking at the seminar on World Competition Day 2014 on the topic of “Unfair trade practices and loss to consumer welfare”, arranged by the Competition Commission of Pakistan, I spoke about how the consumer in Pakistan is undoubtedly at a loss by malpractices of big players and small ones. I want to be proven wrong but I am still looking for evidence against my argument.

Who is responsible for printing the conflicting expiry dates on the outside and inside of this popcorn box? Is there a factory somewhere in some obscure part of Punjab that prints millions by faking expiry dates? Even the glue on the packaged box of popcorn was anything but original. Branded packaged boxes open in a user friendly way. You don’t have to fight with the box in order to open it well. The entire experience makes me feel like not eating anything – bread, popcorn – anything.

I question as a Pakistani customer about my rights to safety and getting the value that I pay for. Sometimes people have referred to me as a consumer rights activist and I do feel that brands have an obligation to deliver on the brand promise. I am willing to pay more money to Jalal Sons only for getting better quality. The equation makes perfect sense if price premium actually comes with better quality. Its a call for action for everyone to check the expiry dates on every product and in every layer of the packaging vigilantly. Who wants to put poison in a bowl for their loved ones? No sane parent for sure! I would urge everyone who reads this to share the message so that more people are aware of malpractices. I thought of writing this as an open letter to the CEO of Jalal Sons but much to my dismay all the links in the “About Us” section on the website of Jalal Sons are in Latin! (http://www.jalalsons.com.pk/index.php?_a=viewDoc&docId=15). The website also has western models only!

If you have come across similar malpractices, please share your experiences. Lets help more people make better decisions about what they eat.

The “One Day I Will” Trap

Heard this phrase too often “one day I will…” What stops us from living that one day (which seems so far away) today? One day I will live in a gorgeous little studio apartment overlooking a beach. One day I will find time to read that book which has been catching dust in my study. One day when I will have enough in my savings, I’ll take my family on a dream vacation. One day when I am old enough I will make my own decisions even if everyone hates me. One day I will write the article that I have written in my head a hundred times. One day I will be an entrepreneur and be my own boss. As dreamy as this notion of doing everything important or meaningful on this “one day” sounds, it makes a boring life. Why not make that one day today? Why are you not living the life you want to live? Why are you not the person you want to be? Why can you not find the right words to say to the person that means that world to you today?

Life is worth living when you are closer to that one day or when you are actually living and loving that day. Make the distance to that one day shorter. One doesn’t have to be rich, stable, and old to be living in that perfect place that you would like to call home. Many things worth doing are more fun when we are young – romance, love, money, vacations, a place you call home, kids, spirituality, giving, work, fitness – so why wait for that one day when you should be living life to the fullest today. So read that book, smile some more, do a little something that brings you realistically closer to that one perfect day dream. Its easy to throw the burden around and make the challenge appear bigger than it really is … “If I didn’t have my parents to take care of”, “If I had some more money,” “If I wasn’t so scared”, “If my spouse supported me more”, “If my boss wasn’t a maniac”, “If my kids didn’t drive me up the wall”, “If I was born in America”, “If I had more guts”, the list goes on.

Most of the time the only person standing between you and your one day dream is your own self, your inner demons and boogiemen. There is something so innately empowering about living your dream life without complains, unnecessary drama, and a perfect plan for the future that makes your life so miserable today. Some of us are diehard masochists who enjoy a bit of misery. Gosh I don’t deserve to be living the dream. How dare I? What will people think? After all I am so inspired by all those heroes in history who shined like diamonds after hard times. I deserve to live through those miserable years too. Well maybe you can live a happier life today. Maybe tragedy just sounds glamorous and something worth writing a book about but it makes getting out of the bed every morning difficult for you. Living a happy life today requires giving up a few wrong romantic notions that we might have. Maybe you will never be that rich, or that thin, or that famous, or maybe you will be. Living a happy and meaningful life will help you in achieving your goals faster and more effectively and the journey to shangrilla just might be less painful too.

The Ghastly Alfatah Flyer

Alfatah Shopping MarketingA few years ago we thought of running a blog which would be called www.whataneyesore.com. The idea originated from the poor aesthetics in general and design sense (graphic, visual and UX) in particular that Pakistani marketing collateral suffers from. Most of the creative works are an eyesore. They hurt your senses, your mood, and sometimes make you angry somewhere deep inside. While we maybe doing somewhat decent work in TV advertising and print materials in terms of creativity and skill, the story of digital marketing in Pakistan is a dark one with websites that are shabbily designed and basic information like contact numbers (common sense anyone?) are hard to find. Eventually we decided to pursue more constructive things than this blog as eyesores were too many which would have resulted in content overload. There was so much wonderful stuff that we could create at Obscure UX and that is just what we did.

Who is paying so much to agencies of all sizes to create such eyesores?! We have too many companies suffering at the hands of agencies who do not care about reputation, lack a belief system, and would sell their soul for making a quick buck. I thought of visiting the grand mall that Alfatah launched in Lahore only recently near the all famous Hussain Chowk of Gulberg. The Mall has it all from a Pakistani standard – groceries, imported and local brands, various floors that are categorised thoughtfully, but this flyer was something worth sharing. This is what happens to a brand with a reasonable size in retail but limited experience in marketing communications.

The Gift from The Other Side

Interpret death however you want but at a certain level the event of death unites us. We bury our differences, hatred, distances to reach out and be there for the one who has died by being there in person, supporting the family who just lost someone dear, or a message that might cheer someone up however little but sometimes that matters so much. Death comes as a strong reminder that as humans we might have many different aspirations and unique journeys but in the end we have a common destination. Death reminds us the importance of people who are living and they love or support us no matter how we mess things up, or dislike us so that we can make much needed amends, and most importantly (for the believers) it reminds us of God. It makes you question your strategies and plans. How rich are our relationships with the creator and those we consider friends and family, how much have we done for humanity, how much money did we make and what did we do with it. If one has children, how would they remember us when we are gone. One might be tempted to write a will that might change a thousand times, over the years, but what if one never sees those many years that one anticipated to live. Its said that “the good ones die early”. I think it’s not merely that they are good so they die early. The reality is that because they were so good to you and appeared so amazing in the stories narrated about them that we miss them endlessly. Isn’t it amazing how we tend to look back and hunt for any negative events that happened or words that were exchanged that we cannot remember them in their harsh reality. Everything is clouded with mostly positive emotions painting our memory of the departed.

So many questions arise endlessly in our heads that wouldn’t be muted no matter how hard we try. What if we could spend more time with them? What if I could hug them again? What if I could wake them up from their eternally peaceful sleep and say a few words of kindness of love that would make them happy? What if I could have stopped it? What if I could have stopped time, all important meetings and generic things to do, and spent a moment just looking at them smile as they talked to me about something completely ordinary? Alas we cannot turn back time. So what do we do? We learn to love harder, work harder, make sure that people who matter know our sentiments exactly. While doing so we prepare ourselves for the final destination where we will stand alone and at that time we are not scared of what awaits us. Because time flies by and before we know it we are already in that unknown dimension.

RIP Dave Goldberg

The story of Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg has inspired many in the tech world in the US and beyond. Seldom do women cheer their husbands as much as Sheryl does in her powerful book “Lean In”. I consider Lean In to be a must read for women. Rest in peace Dave Goldberg. Anyone who has read the book has amazing memories of you.

Discussion Topic: Advertising & Brand Building

According to Christensen, Cook & Hall (2005), “Much advertising is wasted in the mistaken belief that it alone can build brands. Advertising cannot build brands, but it can tell people about an existing branded product’s ability to do a job well.” Discuss.

Source: Christensen, C. M. & Cook, S. & Hall, T. (2005), Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure”, Harvard Business Review.