Sunday, December 18, 2005

Getting Rid of Poverty

Time selected Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono as their people of the year. I read a book by Jeffery Sachs recently. My cynicism just melted away while reading the Time article and the book.

Undeniably, America (at least private American citizens) is at the forefront of this battle against poverty. Their approach is based on sound economics (with Jeffery Sachs, you certainly can bet that the economics is going to be sound), business genius (Bill Gates - the richest man in the world - a better businessman probably does not exist ) and perhaps the biggest phenomenon in HR ever. (Bono, perhaps the most influential rocker on the planet).

I believe that it is time I leave my trademark cynicism behind and actually appreciate the work done by charitable organizations headed by these people. They know where the problem lies, they know how to tackle it and they have the money to tackle it.

To see such amazing charitable work done by rich and lucky human beings like the aforementioned goes a long way in restoring one's faith in Humanity as a whole, which had been lost due to rampant corruption and, among other things, gross environmental negligence.

It also assures me that the only way I can make even an iota of difference to the developing world is by becoming a motivated expert. A jack of all trades will not do. As an engineer, I do know that opportunities abound for effective social work. I do intend to do vast charitable work in the future in areas that I am an expert in. I need to become an expert first.

Bono, Gates and Sachs are inspirational people. Reading about their lives and their intellegent acts of kindness cannot but egg me on to complete my PhD ASAP, become an expert and then do my bit for humanity.

Perhaps until then all I can do to help charitable causes is to buy microsoft software, knowing that at least a bit of that money is going to help charitable causes in the third world. A benevolent monopolist in the rich world is like a respectable Robin Hood. I really do not feel bad spending money on Microsoft anymore. For within that economics text - book triangular box that I see labelled as "loss to society due to monopoly", I see resources being transferred to the third world from the first world. One way to address God's big injustice: the inequitable distribution of natural resources around the world. However, I just wish this were a sustainable model, not just the benevolence of a kind rich man and his wife.

Friday, December 16, 2005

What am I?

I have scrutinized my character with the most powerful magnifying glass that I could find. Here are my findings. I did not like what I found. Quite frankly, the findings appall me to a degree I have seldom been appalled to.

What am I?

A Hypoctrite

This is blatant. Did you know that I was against settling abroad all throughout my life until that final year at IIT? Guess where I am right now. As abroad as I can be. And guess what? I convince myself saying "I love engineering research. They don't do that in India.". A saving grace, of course, is that I want to go back home after the PhD. But how much value can I give to the word of a confirmed hypocrite?

I don't eat meat because I don't want to be cruel to the animal. I don't want it to suffer because of me. I don't want it to die because of me. So far so good. But lots of cows have laid down their lives for me. I have leather jackets, gloves and belts. And I have the gall to wince when I go to taco bell or something and see meat all over. Shame on me.

A Pain in the a$*

I have this postively irksome tendency of launching into sudden flurries of very very mediore humor (if you can call it humor). [Observe how the hypocrite has Americanized his spelling]. I have been at the receiving end of distressful looks from members of all ages and sexes. Damsels become Damsels in distress when I inflict my company on them and start speaking of chickens, roads and the like. They await their knight in shining armor (yet another Americanism in spelling?) to come and rescue them from utter disgust and ennui. And really unfortunately for some, the tormentor is the knight.

An Idiot

Of course. A forgetful idiot. Keys have been lost at all places (and good samaritans have existed at all places), right from the Space Center in Houston to the Rec-center at Tamu. Girls have been stuttered to and blushed about. Minuses have been occasionally replaced by plusses, causing a ten billionfold errors in order of magnitude estimates. (This happened last year when I read the viscosity of a praffin as 4.0 E+6 instead of 4.0 E-6)

A pompous fool

This of course can be established by reading some of the posts in this mostly self aggrandizing blog. Vomit bags are a necessity while doing so.

A Person with an inflated ego

Have you ever heard me talk to people? To quote on of my strongest critics (Mihir Mysore), I have this tendency to "put people down". Yup. I do. Oft inadvertent. Though, I have been trying to contain this rather disgusting habit. I am (was) often rude to auto - drivers in India. I even showed some the finger just because they were "rude" to me. * I am always sure I am right and that the world is wrong. I'm not a nice person to know.

A bundle of contradictions

No. On the contrary, I am not.

STUPID Files: The Bomb Hoax

An email purpotedly from a terrorist requested India to cut off all links with the USA, failing which a bomb would explode in the parliament as well as in US consulates.

What was the Idiot thinking? That India would break ties with the US on seeing this message? India might bribe Saddam Hussein, be in love with Iran (for its oil), not send troops to Iraq, but it will never break ties with the U.S just just because a terrorist told it to. The only way that the parliament will actually consider breaking up ties with US is perhaps, if the US is found to have a role in Saurav Ganguly's being dropped from the cricket team. Unlikely, since Cricket is something that people have never heard about the the U.S of A.

Did the terrorist really think he was going to succeed? Was this his "moment of glory"? His 15 seconds of annonymous fame? Or was it some disgruntled visa applicant who was denied a Visa into the US in the Chennai consulate? We can but speculate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

God's Gift to Humanity

2005, like every other year before it was perfectly foul. Mother nature was just being a bitch throughout. Right from the Tsunami (okay, that was last year. But that does not change her being a bitch) to that tremblor that flattened Kashmir. Not to mention the complete innundation of Mumbai, the obliteration of New Orleans.

It looked like she was going to be a bitch forever. But thankfully, people had faith. God, then responsed to the prayers of billions - Muslims, Hindus, Christians and even Scientologists. The Great Green Arckleseizure and the Flying Sphaghetti Monster also relented. God had reached a decision. A decision that was so subtle; that in its subtleness lay its profoundity. A decision that would touch more lives than anyone could ever imagine. Yet simple and beautiful.

For God announced one happy morning "I hereby abolish the non-linear terms on the left hand side of the Navier-Stokes Equation". The reason that He gave (by email to this author) " I tried to see if I could stop the flooding, the rain, the cyclones (also known as hurricanes and typhoons) and the tornadoes by trying to predict where and when they would occur. But I just wasn't able to solve the god-damn governing equations. I would always make a small mistake in the boundary conditions; I would forget a butterfly or something here or there - and every time, the result would look totally different. So I was left with no option but to abolish the Non Linear term. Now I will have to watch an implementation of Conway's game of life for kicks. Woe is me."

Not that this move did not have its opponents. Metereologists went on strike. But since the weather became so predictable that an infant with a slide rule could forecast what would happen centuries later exactly, those jobs were immediately taken up by infants with slide rules. The metereologists died grisly deaths. Chaos theorists went on a strike too: they died. No one cared enough to replace them.

Life in the linear era wasn't without its shortcomings though. Utlility prices started going up first: they needed longer heat exchangers since turbulence was abolished by an act of God. People who wanted to drink coffee and tea had to wait hours for their coffee and tea to mix; it was after all, up to the forces of diffusivity alone to mix them with absolutely no help from the fluid motion. And it would get cold by then. People did not like cold coffee.

God had unwittingly put the whole world to sleep by abolishing the Non - Linearity in the Navier-Stokes. He did not see this coming. Needless to say everyone died: vultures feasted on asleep people in certain areas: trains rammed into cars; pets bit their asleep owners and gave them rabies. Planes ran on auto pilot till the fuel ran out ...

Humanity was done in by unpredictability yet again.

Moral of story: Don't wish for anything when you pray. It just might come true.

Monday, December 12, 2005


In the sixty odd years of independence that India has experienced, never has there been so much hope for a good future. The electronic media and the internet have changed all that. People will think twice before demanding a bribe.

The all - powerful mass media (it's not just an elitist phenomenon) of India is at it right now. And when the masses of India go into something in a big way, there is little that can stop it. Look at Hindi movies that the masses love. Bollywood is the biggest movie maker in the world! Nothing can stop it right now. Neither can anything stop the Tamil movies in the south.

For now, news broadcasting is almost equalling Bollywood in popularity. The man on the street right now is has one more weapon - information. He knows what is happening in the world. No longer is he fed by state run propagandist Door-Darshan. He is greeted by handsome men and pretty women on the twenty odd news channels that Indian cable has to offer.

And the media stings every now and then. It started with that Tehelka scandal (more or less). It embarassed Bollywood by showing an actor bedding aspiring actresses; and now it has exposed something that was gnawing away at the very fabric of democracy. Corruption. The recent stings on "bribe-takers" (for just doing their job) have got every political party jittery (perhaps except RJD, where they would have probably given the guy a medal or something).

College principals, politicians and other people in"power" shall now think twice before demanding that customary "wad" of money.

The trudge towards real democracy in India is well underway. What an exciting time to be alive.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

All Ice on Me?

If I ever heard a crunching noise while walking on grass back in India, I would have felt a wee bit upset. I would probably have had stepped over a snail or something - perhaps an insect, rendering the same lifeless. But today, in the morning, when I did my walk to the university, I heard crunching sounds whenever I walked on grass.

SPCA need not worry. Gandhi can rest easy. My policy of Ahimsa has not been breached. It was only the ice. The ice that had formed over the blades of grass and made them brittle.

It was as if I was walking on glass inside a freezer today. Temperatures fell below that psycological 0 degrees C mark, which meant that my blood could freeze. I could feel the blood in my ear contemplate freezing. I must thank my heart for pumping the blood amply fast enough to avoid any such exigiency. Thank you, O convective acceleration. (For the ear is probably in hydrodynamic steady state).

The traditional Texas heat is probably vacationing somewhere in the southern hemisphere. This place has become cold after yesterday's freezing rain. Frigid. The trees and the plants have got a lusturous coating of ice. Quite ugly, actually. Iccicles have formed on cars and bicycles. (My cycle was badly formed ice upon, rendering it phenomenally useless in the short term). I had to walk.

I am told that this place will bear a barren look throughout the winter. If any birds are flying south for winter, they shall certainly not be in for a treat in College Station. If they land here, the silly things will be in for the shock of their lives. They will fly all the way to Chile in order to overcompensate for the biggest mistake of their lives. Oscar Wilde would probably have put a dead swallow on the foot of that oil-digger's statue here.

Fearing the ice, the university has shut down today. So, quite obviously no student has turned up for my office hours. (Duh!). Not that they would have turned up if the university were open.

What the hell am I doing here? I think I'll go back soon. More crunching the grass on the way. Perhaps a warm drink too. A coffee sounds real enticing. When I get home.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

He should die

If there is an iota of truth in what Witness A says in Iraq, Saddam Hussein deserves to die. Not a painless death by lethal injection, not with the luxury of hanging unto death, not with the enjoyment of an electric chair, but with the misery of having every hair plucked slowly from his body continuously for more than a month.

A little extreme? Perhaps. But genocide is something that people should think twice about before comitting. Hitler too. Pol pot. Idi Amin. For they are not humans, but monsters. They deserve no better.

Witness A, we are told, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are people everywhere in Iraq who have suffered in Saddam's Hands. Their sordid tales will be told as the tiresome trudge towards justice continues. Saddam's dreams will be haunted by his misdeeds. He shall beg for death.

He shall also feel jealous. And stupid. There are people who have done worse and got away with it. Joseph Stalin's misdeeds never caught up with him. Laloo Yadhav roams a free man endangering India all the more as the railway minister. Osama bin laden exists, albeit a probably miserable existence (though a lot happier than Saddam in Captivity) in the harsh mountains of Afghanistan. Why did Bush have to catch Saddam?

Saddam isn't behaving like king Puru either. King Puru was the epitomy of dignity, when captuted by Alexander. But Saddam is more like a baby who has dirtied his diapers. Cranky.

I still question the American war in Iraq. If the war was to liberate Iraq from a tyrant, then it has succeeded. If the war was to humiliate the tyrant, then it has succeeded too. If the war was to punnish a father's enemy, it has succeeded. If the war was to end terror, it has backfired to an amazing extent. There was almost no terror in the proximity of Iraq before the war. Now, that place has become something of a minefield. Iraqis keep dying by the dozen daily. American troops, for absolutely no fault of theirs also keep dying on a regular basis.

I think the war is primarily democratic appeasement. Bush knew he had to do something to look as if he was doing something. Or else he was out. So, he used to oldest trick in the book. Emotion. Get people involved. Put their troops in Iraq. They will have to support them. If the war was to get Bush re-elected, it has succeeded. After all, the ultimate goal of politics is to stay in power. And the ultimate goal of weapon makers is to sell their weapons. If the war was to increase the weapon demand all over the world, it surely has succeeded.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

American Blues: A little white box


Ernie was a robber in New York. I say was, because he is a robber no more. And it isn't a sudden dose of religion that got him straight. Neither is it a sudden moral awakening. It is just that his line of work ceased to be profitable anymore.

For but yesterday, Ernie used to prowl the steets seeking unsuspecting victims armed with his trusty fingers and a twig. He would trail unsuspecting affluent men and women in abandoned alleys. (Why they would be in such alleys is beyond the scope of this article). He would then use the cliche "Stick 'em up!" thrusting the twig in the small of the back of the victim, making it feel a little like a gun. He would then request in the politest terms possible a rather strong percentage of the cash that the victim had on him or her. Usually to the tune of a few tens of dollars.

But recently business started drying up. And Ernie can blame Steve Jobs for this. Ernie would trail the unsuspecting victim, he would shout "Stick 'em up". If that did not work, then he would resort to the equally effective "Your money or your life!", thrusting the same twig. But all he would get from the prospective robbee, would be a shrug very similar to the shrug that people use to get rid of a fly on the back.

For almost overnight, Steve Jobs put IPods in the hands of almost everyone in America, rendering them utterly useless to Ernie as potential donors. Ernie would put his heart and soul and toil in this expedition. But what would he get in return? Not even minimum wage. Just plain ignorance from ipod listeners who would be listening to their Missy or Tchaikovsky instead.

These big corporations are ruining livelihoods of hard(ly?)-working Americans like Ernie. Mr Jobs, aren't you ashamed of yourself?


Having procured a Chinese imitation of Mr. Jobs' little crime stopper in response to a few 'crime alert' e-mails sent by the University police department, I decided to use the little box of wonders in the Gym. The motivation behind the gym expedition has been mentioned in a previous blog and shall not be explored in detail here. Suffice it to say that some felt that there were two of me.

But that is not germane to the issue. What is germane to the issue is that addicted to the music, self usually cycles back from the recreation center in a state of daze, with either Robert Plant going " .... to be a rock and not to roll" or Bruce Dickinson exclaiming "666". With such noise, who has time to hear any trucks honking away to glory?

It is not entirely imperceptible that my life be cut short by one of these vehicles. My perishing is Mr Jobs' fault again. Mr. Jobs can't get anything right, can he?

This gets us to the poll section.

How will I die?

  • Get Trampled by a truck while coming back from rec-center
  • Get Hit by a car while returning from rec-center
  • Starvation
  • Old age
No multiple answers, please. One is not a masochist. And remember, I will give you an all expenses paid trip to Siberia if you are right.

You are disqualified if you

1. Starve me
2. Drive a truck/car over me
3. Don't kill me [because you would intentionally be letting old age attack me then].

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Keys and how to lose them

I went through a harrowing experience today, a description of which, though redundant, will probably make interesting reading. So, read on.

I'm an all or nothing guy since I keep all my keys in the same bunch. (It's much easier to take care of). That makes sense, provided, of course, that the keys are not lost. If you lose the bunch, then all the advantages disappear. You're locked out of your apartment, you mail box, your safe and your office.

I'll start at the beginning, usually a decent place to start. This approach causes minimum obfuscation.

Noticing a certain blobbiness and rotundity in my general aspect, I decided to shed a few kilos in the recreation center. So, I went in attired in those exercise trousers which have shallow pockets that, when loaded with keys, act like springs. So, when I was making a fool of myself by sweating on the exercise machines (for no-one plays any game with me yet), the spring sprung to life, so to speak, sending the key tumbling Nor' Nor' West, presumably. I continued the toil blisfully unaware of this bereavement.

After switching to another type of machine (I like to delude myself into thinking that I am exercising all the parts of my body), suddenly, a feeling dawned on me. There was no jingling feeling in my pocket. (My mp3 player made sure that I was deaf to the outside world for all practical purposes, so the lack of a jingling sound would not be expected to register.) It was a feeling of icy emptiness. No keys.

I haunted the library a few minutes before this expedition to the rec-center. I reckoned the keys could have been dropped in the library. But the weather gods decided to do exacerbate the situation. They sent a cold front accompanied by a squall line over me. Rain was raining. A few more agonizing mintues were spent (eating cookies that tasted like, well, radish) in the rec-center. Finally, a trip was made back to the library. A thorough search was conduted within the library. No keys. And the female at the counter said "Sorry. No one turned in any key". She did not sound as if she was really sorry.

A disappointed me found my way back home. I rode my cycle back slowly. I stopped by anything shiny on the way, thinking it was my key. No luck. No key. I was tense. Worried. I had one of those headaches. I had had lofty plans of completing homework. That wasn't going to happen.

Luckily, my roomie was at home, so I did not have to sleep outside the house, I reckoned. I found my way in, had some dinner and turned on my laptop (worried about that too, since I had walked in the rain with the laptop on by mack).

Then, as an afterthought, I decided to call up the rec- center and see if they had my keys.

They did. Some good samaritan probably turned them in. A relieved self will collect the keys from them tomorrow.

Some measures have to be taken to make sure the keys don't lose themselves again. Should I swallow them and vomit them whenever required? Better suggestions are sought.

Deforestation and its discontents

A rather disturbing trend has started to emerge of late. Professors who teach a course repetitively become so proficient in that subject that they believe that text books would just flow out of them. So, they spend a lot of time (putting research on the back-burner) on their masterpiece. After years of toil they come up with a book, and spring it on their unsuspecting students in class.

Now, here comes the sad part. They work their heart out for their book, they spend a lot of midnight oil and portable hard disks on it. They treat their manuscript like their child. And they refer to it extensively in class. As a matter of fact, once they’ve written the book, they just stop preparing for class and just copy what the book contains onto the board. If you challenge them, they are very likely to say, “Don’t talk to me like that! I wrote the book on Mechanics!”

The sad part with professors who write the books is that

  1. Their exams become very predictable. Problems very similar to those on the last few pages of the book have this uncanny tendency of ending up on the exam question paper. This means that the average student (the unromantic meticulous grade-craving low life that we all associate the term student with) follows the path of least effort: works out only the problems behind the textbook.

  1. In my opinion, course work is all about referring the different textbooks and comparing ideas. But when the teacher imposes his (or her) book on the student, the necessity to research just dies.

  1. Often the books would not have been published. Which means, the students become guinea pigs. The professor just says “Refer to Section 12.3”. And the student has to labour through the section (provided as “lecture notes”) in a .pdf format. Needless to say, it’s filled with typos. And when there’s typos in differential equations, confusion furthers its foray into the life of the unfortunate student.

At IIT, I can cite a couple of potentially decent courses ruined by textbooks. We did a course on Measurements. The professor used to parrot his book in class. The book, though a very decent treatise, assumed biblical status for the course. Which meant, of course, that it was the be all and end all of everything the course had to do with. And as a result, the exams became one of those recital sessions that we tend to associate Hollywood with. Self, taking a principled (a fancy word for lazy?) stand secured self’s only non-drawing D in this course.

And then there’s Fluid Mechanics. Back at IIT, the person in charge of the course wrote a book.



At any rate, it had pages and some printed characters, which made sense to some optimists. Needless to say the course was ruined – the book was mediocre, the class was worse. And the professor would keep harping about work he did half a century ago. A pity, for Fluid Mechanics, when taught appropriately is a spiritual experience.

I have taken a few years to recover from the ill-effects of that Fluid Mechanics course. I think I am fine now. The FM course here at A&M is fantastic, though the professor in charge of this course has also written a book, proving beyond reasonable doubt that there are exceptions to every rule.

Why deforestation? I must clarify here. The title has been inspired by one Mr. Kartik Srivatsa, who is currently confusing his clients as a Business Analyst with McKinsey&Co in India. He used to use the term “deforestation” as a euphemism for “publishing”. (He viewed the tendency to publish with cynicsm). Apparently, the paper you publish on comes from some rain forest, which has been deforested.

Monday, November 21, 2005

A proud day for India

Let's celebrate.

This is one of the happiest days for India as a nation.

The US had to remove Saddam Hussein from power by force. Wars had to be fought to get rid of Hitler and Mussolini. Kim Jong it just won't budge. The Mughals and other kings raped the common man for centuries on end. Repressive regimes usually plant themselves and refuse to go. But things are different in India now.

We got rid of Indira Gandhi when she was throwing her weight around. And now we get rid of Laloo Yadhav. Laloo Yadhav sat on one of the most resource rich, potentially prosperous, fertile lands on earth, and personally reduced it to a rubble. Bihar is now akin to sub-Saharan Africa despite the fact that the Ganga flows through it. Corruption runs rampant. Casteism is taken for granted. If there is hell on earth, Bihar is it. Or, was it! The people have spoken. The tyrant is OUT.

We're not what Russia was. We won't kill the Laloo clan. Their skeletons won't be found in a cave a century later. We will let them exist their hedonistic existences. We just won't let them run the country again. We're a mature democracy. We are tyrant proof. Thus proven.

We still have to contend with him in the Railway ministry. But we figure, we can altogether avoid him by flying more often. Did you ever wonder why the aviation industry was doing so well all of a sudden? Because of Praful Patel's panache? Or because of that aura of disgust that anything to do with Laloo carries with it?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Strange Weather

For an Indian who is used to sweltering heat, deluges in the Rainy season and relatively balmy winters, the climate of the USA has come as a shock. It's not the the cold that surprises me. It's not the heat in summer either. It's not the occasional heavy rain. That was expected.

But what surprises me is the severe weather here. The weekly tornadoes, the monthly hurricanes, the lightning strikes, the flooding, the blizzard type conditions up north and the wind. All these conditions are alien to me. India by comparison has it easy - save a few really heavy downpours and a extremely hot summers, we really don't experience too much harsh weather in India. Not too many tornadoes, no extreme wind, relatively less hurricanes. Floods, though common are relatively rare in comparison with the US.

But what I find really impressive is the weather information system here. The weather channel does an excellent job of forecasting; its forecast of a cold front hitting College Station was off just by 15 minutes! And the tornado and lightning warning systems are excellent. Hurricanes are forecast with accuracy by experts. For instance, the Paths of Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Wilma were estimated with accuracy. Houston was advised to evacuate in time for Rita: and the hurricane came really close.

Thunderstorms are tracked on the TV. People know about storms and tornadoes very well here. US does have severe weather, and as a result, Americans are probably the best prepared in the world to tackle it.

Another questions pops up. Does US really have more severe weather than India? Or is it because of lack of proper monitoring systems in India? (For proof of this, visit and and compare.). We, after all, back in India do keep losing fishermen to the sea and cities keep flooding. Cyclones come once in a few years. And Bengal gets tornadoes. Extreme heat is common.

But I don't think the Indian market, as of now, is sophisticated enough to justify launching a weather channel type enterprise in India. Firstly, if it's the monsoon, it'll probably rain. If not, it'll probably be hot. The only forecast needed is the intensity of the monsoon and the advent of the monsoon. These are somewhat long term predicitions, and I am sure that they are fraught with more error than immemdiate forecasts such as those made by the weather channel.

So, a caterpillar might be as accuate as any weatherman when it comes to making a long-tem perdiction such as how cold the winter will be, or how many hurricanes are expected next hurricane season. After all, it would know the best, for caterpillars are baby butterflies. And almost everyone knows of the proclivity of the average butterfly towards producing hurricanes. That's what I love about weather. Chaos. Long live, O' non-linearity in Navier-Stokes! You makes life worth living.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

They've read my blog in Japan

Remember my post about a cool blanket that you can sleep under after you put it in the fridge during the day? (You can find that post here). They apparenlty loved it in the land of the rising Sun. They've extrapolated this ingeneous idea. Actually, they've taken the mirror image of this idea, if I may.

The Japanese government is urging women to consider wearing a thermal bra; an undergarment that should be placed in the microwave instead of the fridge that I wanted to stuff my blanket into. Apparently the motivation is as eco-friendly as I had originally envisaged: saving energy. The bra uses a 'gel', which one can interpret as a layman term for a phase change material.

It feels nice to see one's idea put to use. But alas, I put the idea up on a blog, which makes it as public domain as, say, a - well, I can't think of anything offhand, everything being so copyrighted and all, but you get the gist! I should have patented it and made my millions of dollars by selling it to the Japanese.

[The author is under the delusion that he has something do to with the aforementioned under-garment. Let us humour the poor guy. He's got nothing much else going on for him, anyway.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

What I like about America

I have been quite guilty of badmouthing my host nation until now. I understand that it is only a matter of time before some so called "redneck" spots my blog and tries to get me deported. So I'd better come clean. There are some things I like about the USA, and I shall proceed to enumerate them.

The Colbert Report:

Stephen Colbert is a self proclaimed National Treasure in here. And you can't get him on TV legally in India. Watching bootlegged versions is possible, but one can enjoy it only with some background in current affairs. To really understand the depth of this man's analysis, one needs to see the news first.

How Cheap Everything Is:

Compared to India, everything is cheap in these supermarkets. Especially food and consumer durables. Anything that does not involve labour, I guess. A large bottle of Garnier Fructis is only $3 here! It used to be 100 rupees in India. And even gas (petrol, back in India) is way cheaper here. Though the Average American will have a tough time believing it.

Wireless Phone Deals

India might have the cheapest wireless in the world, but India does not have free calls after 9 at night. And it does not have free calls from Mobile to Mobile.

Carpeting on Floor and Room without Dust

Since the house is air conditioned, there's not too much of a chance of dust accumulating. The wooden shelves in my room have only a 2mm cover of dust now. In India, that wold have been 6mm. (But there would be a servant maid to clean it).

No Servants

Labour being so prohibitively expensive, you might as well pay yourself to clean your house. Or not do it at all. Guess what I chose? There will be no irksome servant maid knocking at the door early morning to do the dishes.

Privacy, Safety

Save a rougly weekly racism incident in this college town of 60,000 there are very few safety issues here. Houses do not have grills on windows. The only things that get stolen on a daily basis are the cycles.

Really speaking, one of the most impressive things I find about America is respect. Everyone commands respect here. You are taken seriously if you have something important to say. You are given all the opportunities that you might ever need to succeed in reseach, from massive libraries to wireless internet on the campus.

I hope Indians too start respecting each other in India in the near future. That's one thing we should learn from these Americans. Though, of course, it might be a socio-economic problem, which can only be adressed when the standard of living of Indians improves in India. Well, basically, I hope that happens soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

American Pragmatism?

Americans are obsessed with how "pragmatic" they are. How easy everything is. And how difficult and complicated every other place in the world is.

But in my opinion, there are certain things in America that seem to have been designed by the most confused minds on earth.

People have ten fingers; ten toes. So, they like the decimal system. They usually rate things on a scale of 10. Alas, not all people. Americans are still obsessed with amazingly arbitrary units. Twelve inches make a foot. The person who dreamed that up probably had twelve fingers. And then, there's a yard. The only entities that they seem to rate on a scale of ten is their women.

While we're talking about units, certainly, the farenheit scale comes to mind. Water freezes at 32F. Boils at 212F. Why? It seems like Farenheit just selected a scale while blindfolded. And America follows it like rats follow the pied piper. People who use to Celcius scale are looked at the way worms are looked at. (i.e. frowned upon)

We just won't talk of ounces, fluid ounces, cups, british thermal units. But let's talk about horse power. Did the person who came up with this term think that all horses are identical? I mean, sure, food in all Subways and McDonaldses taste identical everywhere ..... standardization .... but do all horses have the same power? Come on!

Now. Foot ball. I really haven't seen anyone kick a ball in that game till now. All they do is bash each other up silly. Should it not be called wrestling instead? But no, wrestling in America is all about skimpily clad women introducing ghastly individuals who fake pain and insult each other (as well as the spectator's intellegence) on the stage. It's more of a soap opera than "wrestling".

And what about calculating CGPA on a scale of 4? Why 4? Why now pi or e, while we're at it, making things as complex as possible? Wonder why America is still so much at the "cutting edge" of technology. Wonder why the rest of the world lags behing so much. I mean, with so much inherent obfuscation here, shouldn't there be lots of accidents? But yet, this is the only nation that sends rockets to Mars.

The Americans think they are "pragmatic" when they are actually more confused than, say, the Indians or the Russians or the Chinese or the Japanese.

We don't care about the Britishers any way. They are more or less another state in the USA, as are the Canadians. The French are busy burning their country up, and the Germans are busy doing something absolutely trivial the roundabout way with utter precision and elegance. And there's almost no Australians around in this world.

This post is not to be interpreted as racism. It's just humour. I'm just trying to vent my frustration, having looked at inches, feet and BTUs while grading the Thermodynamics course here at A&M. I respect Americans, Germans and Britishers. I haven't seen any Australian yet. I'm not sure they exist. So, I'll probably respect them once I confirm their existence. I think there's just Kangaroos down there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Awaiting a Perfectly Normal Beast

This post isn't going to make sense to many. It requires you to have read Douglas Adams' fifth hitch-hiker's guide story, Mostly Harmless. The story is relatively rare, but nonetheless a gem. Read it, you won't regret it. For the less fortunate, I have tried to summarize the pertinent parts of the plot.

I feel like Arthur Philip Dent did when he was stuck on a deserted planet (whose name escapes me for the time being) making sandwitches for a nomadic tribe - after having saved the universe. He became quite an expert at making the sandwitches. Nothing to feel proud about, of course. Obvioulsy, he was feeling depressed and under-utilized. And he got out of there only by riding the annual stampede of the perfectly normal beast.

Life here seems to be like in a hole. I have no social life worth the mention. Work is not challenging at all. And I am getting fat, eating and watching TV. Walks are rare. Recreation is rarer. Friends are scarce. Life seems to be running low on excitement. And for a person like me, that is the worst it can get. At 23, wasting away in this hell-hole. No car. No mobility. And that snobbery that being in IIT inculcated in me. The only meaningful conversations I have now-a-days are with Radha when she calls and we do not fight!

A silver lining, perhaps like a herd of the perfectly normal beat approaching, is the fact that Research seems to be around the corner. Once I get started on research, which I anticipate I shall in the next month or so, ennui shall be, hopefully, replaced by a hectic schedule.

So, I await the herd of the perfectly normal beast. Or the armadillo, considering that I'm in Texas. Riding an armadillo will probably not be as unattractive a proposition as riding a bull or a rhino. That's how I pictured the perfectly normal beast to be im the magical moments that I was reading the book.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Math Miseries

The most agonizing moments of my life have been spent pondering over frivolous mathematical nuances. I have this tendency of complexifying the simplest of mathematical axioms - and this leads to extremely long hours on a table trying to comprehend math.

What my friends at IIT could solve in a five minute sitting, it takes me days to do. This always scares me a lot. Why am I so incompetent when it comes to algebra? It's not just algebra. If I am bad at Algebra, then I am a disaster at number crunching. If an exam contains a problem that requires the use of a calculator, then my heart literally sinks. I might as well forget about the points. In my long history of exams, I would not have got more than 5% of the answers right. Uncannily, my method is almost always correct. I am thankful that almost all the exams that I have written have had partial grading. If they had no partial grading, I would probably be repeating almost all the courses at IIT.

I would surely have lost a few grades due to this rather irksome habit of mine. This has impacted my life more than anything. Courses in which I was performing real well have ended up as Bs and Cs because of this pathetic tendency of mine.

But this is not my only anti-academic tendency. There's this extremely steep learning curve. I am one of those students who likes to "guess" what the teacher is about to teach in class by intuition. As long as I am able to do that, I do really well in the class. But if that fails, then I might as well as forget about it. If I don't understand something in class, then that information is never going to enter my head.

This used to be a bother early at IIT, where half the information used to dissipate. I remember miserable hours staring at Elecrtromagnetics in my first year at IIT. Just because the teacher was no good, I still am very mediocre in the subject. And that certainly is not due to lack of trying. I failed to get a fundamental philosophical understanding of the subject. And when I don't get a feel of the subject, I just don't do well.

I am far from the perfect student. As a matter of fact, I am perfectly foul. Actually, that's exactly how I feel when I am not getting something right. When I make mistakes in these things, my blood starts to boil by default. I usually try to avoid people when I am in this mood. But that does not always work out.

Radha called up today when I was in one of my worst ever personal crises. I was unable to do something absolutely trivial. Suffice it to say that the conversation did not go too well. Looks like I will have to pay for my incompetence in more ways than one tomorrow morning. But what am I to do? I would like to paraphrase one of my fellow idiots: "Stupid is as stupid does".

[The author is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M.]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Idiots Run the Net

I'm no programming expert, but common sense tells me that spammers are not a particularly intellegent lot. The reasoning being, that if they were, then they would be working on String theory or something. So, it defies all logic to do what Yahoo mail has been doing of late.

After you labour over a message and click send, you cannot rest easy. You don't get that oh-so-pleasing "your message is sent" page anymore. You get something which looks a lot like a nag-screen. It shows you a distorted jpeg (or gif?) of a word and then asks you to enter it. Quite a good idea to keep spammers out, it reckons.

I'm not disputing that this will keep spammers out. It surely will. But I am not so sure about the distortion. When the words are in an image format (jpg), the spammer will have to employ OCR or other edge detection techniques in order to enter the word automatically. If he has the time, resources and in the intellegence to conjure up a code to do that online, then his abilities could be better used in helping realize Einsiten's dream of unifying relativity and quantum mechanics.

So, for yahoo to use distorted alpabets in the jpeg, according to me is inexplicably stupid. Or we wonder, is Yahoo! in cahoots with eye doctors? I had to strain my eyes to no end in reading the "distorted" alphabets. Next time onwards, Yahoo will probably ask us to evaluate an integral analytically and enter the solution before it lets us send mail. Talk about pains in the rear.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Negative Absolute Pressure

Fantastically improbable as the name does sound, this is not the realm of science fiction. It does exist. I have it from a usually unimpeachable source. It must be true. And true in a world where negative absolute temperatures don't need to be true.

Let me elaborate. Just a few blogs ago I was discussing the mind-boggling simple mindedness of some of the classes here. So, after deriving the Navier Stokes, we decide to work on hydrostatics. If learning the Navier Stokes were like learning the alphabet, then hydrostatics is like the parents having sex to have the baby. I just cannot emphasize how preliminary this is.

I won't take any names now. I don't want to single out anyone here - that would be politically incorrect. But I will have to quote this incident in order to rid myself at the frustration that the instructor usually develops within me. (especially when he says "I am giving a very high level talk here!". High level for kindergardeners, I suppose.)

So, we're doing hydrostatics today. I was going through the motions, with the help of a Starbucks. A certain inscription on the board caught my attention in the duration of the class. P = Patm - rho g z. When informed of this disaster on the board, the instructor quickly pooh - poohed it by saying "Energy is a scalar. Its sign does not matter". So, temperature is a scalar too. We're at 295K right now. Or -295K, after all sign does not matter. No wonder, it's been getting cold of late.

Back to the talk in class. In essence the deeper you go under water, the lower the pressure if the class were to be believed. Nobel price material?

This is a hitherto unknown fact. Surely, there are applications. Instead of spending millions on vaccuum pumps, all researchers need to do is go for a swim and perform experiments. And what about getting one of those air - turbines in a pipe communicating with the bottom of the sea? We'll get elecricity forever.


But let's be honest. The instuctor is a very good teacher and he is indeed doing a very thorough job in the class. The class is quite high level: he is talking in terms of tensors - and cetainly not undergraduate level. And though I don't see eye to eye with him teaching hydrostatics after deriving the N-S, he surely has a very coherent idea of what to teach. I have a lot of respect for his classes. I only wish his assignments were more challenging.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

One city at a time

For a change, humans are not their own biggest pains in the neck. God has become the number one pain in the neck for humans of all races and nationalities all over the world. God has become the ultimate equal opportunity offender.

Not content with killing people through means such as diseases and accidents, he (or she or it) has decided to take out cities as a whole, one by one. I can remember how be destroyed Acheh in Indonesia recently by means of an Earthquake. And then the conscequent Tsunami killed millions in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India.

Then came Mumbai, with 100 cm of rain in one day. Yer another city that GOD destroyed. And then he decided that he had enough of Jazz and obliterated New Orleans. As if that was not enough, he took out Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. And now he is destroying Bangalore and Chennai.

And of course, he kept on destroying Florida before it had time to rebuild.

If got were a nation, he would be one filled with craters created by Nuclear bombs. Thank god, god does not exist. Or else humanity would have destoryed him (or her or it?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Death of Imagination

When I was in India, I thought that the American University system would be fabulous. I thought that an American university would celebrate intuition. Would celebrate creativity. Would celebrate imagination.

Of course, I was in for a rude shock. I was raised in an atmosphere at IIT where asking challenging questions was considered good. Professors (bar a few unqualified ones) were in general enthusiastic about answering these questions.

I'm taking three graduate courses here at A&M. The classes here, in comparison to those at IIT are, well, pathetic. Students are spoon-fed by professors; challenging questions are answered in such a way that I get the feeling that they are frowned upon. Everything is worked out in class. Assignments are so mind numbingly simple minded that the ennui of solving them forces mistakes out of you.

I am really surprised that this mediocrity culminates in 'cutting edge' science. I have now become extremely cynical. I am sure that if cutting edge comes out of this place, then it must be a joke.

I worked on a term paper back in IIT on buoyant turbulent flows. And here, I am doing a course on how to derive the Navier-Stokes. To the non-initiated, it's like learning to write like James Joyce and then re-learning the alphabet. So far the only creativity that I have been upto in the USA is blogging. And if you've read my recent plots, you'll realize that I must have lost my creativity somewhere. Lost and buried it.

There is no challenge anywhere here. Everything is spelt out in class. The only challenge is organizing oneself!

I saw a Simpsons episode long ago when Lisa Simpson thinks that a sudden dumbening [sic] process has beset her. It would not be too far from the truth to say that something similar is happening to me. Only, Lisa discovered, to her delight, that she was okay towards the end of the episode. Is there a happy ending for me?

Thank God for the fact that I will probably opt for research hours next semester. Hope that will be better. Life is unliveable without challenges. And of course, there's always the Catch 22 silver lining: living this challenge-less existence will be quite a challenge.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Light and Dark

If ignorance were darkness, there is none of that here in the USA. The land is bright, even at night. Lights are on even when no one is in the room. Not just lights. Even air conditioners. Pretty ironic that darkness symbolizes ignorance.

Is the American not aware that his cheap electricity is not actually due to his own hard work, but due to him living on a large and rich land? If the American believes that everyone is born equal in the eyes of God, then he should either allow the poor to enter his country and shear its resources - or allow himself to be taxed in order to provide the third world with some of his resources.

But who said the world is fair? The rich are more powerful even in this modern era of democracy. The rich control the money; they fund canditates. All the poor can do is vote. The rich control the media. They help the poor man in making up his mind.

The rich man thus formulates policy such that the poor man pays him his hard earned money as some sort of implict tax. He achieves this by a mechanism called monopoly. The rich corparations team up and capture the market either by cartelization or by blatant monopoly.

Is there any incentive to believe that modern trade is based on principles of actual justice that everyone seems to claim to follow? Does any of the negotiating sides have any incentive to actually argue for the poor? The poor are the weak, the impotent. Their political clout is minimal.

Why should the American stop consuming resources? This is not a moral question. Though he claims to believe that the world is equal - he knows at the back of his head that he is superior. He has more resources at his disposal. And there's nothing anyone can do about it. The American Way is entirely unsustainable for the entire planet ... you'd need more than 4 planet earths for its entire 6 billion people to live like America is doing now.

Common sense tells us that the American is lucky. (And if anyone tells me that America is where it is only because of Hard Work, then I would surely compare their IQ to that of a chimpanzee to the advantage of the latter). It is not his fault that he is so well off .... and, actually America is quite a geneorous nation - come to think of it! I am not criticizing America. I am not criticizing anything here. I'm just trying to answer these age-old questions to myself: why is America so rich. Why is India so poor?.

But the future holds hope. Some of the American resources are coming to India, incidentally. And they are doing so over the internet. I'm not talking of the credit card theft. I'm talking about BPO. American money is coming to hard working Indians all around the world.

And of course, this resource scarcity means that a little more resource independence can be perfected in India. If sunlight ever becomes an economic resource, then India could easily become a superpower. Solar energy. Suppose biomass is an answer to the energy crisis. India wins again.

India faces a bright future. Soon shall come a time when we in India shall not care about turning off the light - nay - the solar A/C!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Vending Machine Mafia

You can't throw a stone without hitting a vending machine in America. And in this connection, I would encourage you to throw stones. The more vending machines you hit and destroy, the better. Throwing stones at them is not an act of violence like the authorities would have you believe. Let's look at it this way. Suppose some robber came by and tried to abstract your hard earned cash from your pocket, would you or would you not give him one where it hurts? Extrapolate that logic to the vending machine.

For the vending machine is nothing but a lowly crook. What it might lack in the terms of a rough voice or a firearm it makes up in finesse. Not only does it charge astronomical rates, but it just usurps your cash. As plain as that. No one knows whether you got your grub or not. But it's got the cash. A thief is always in danger of getting caught. If you start bashing up a thief, the strong arm of the law would come by and give you a pat on the back. But if you start bashing up a vending machine, the strong arm of the law will consign you into one of those dingy rooms they call 'cells'. Talk of double standards.

People in search of the perfect crime need not look any further. The vending machine is pure evil. It is excellence in crime; something gangsters like Al Capone in the old days here in the USA and Dawood Ebrahim back in India used to strive for. For the only one in danger of arrest is the victim.

Just the other day, a tired self decided to get a Coke in the Rec-Center, after pretending to play badminton. A dollar was inserted into the machine only to see a robotic arm travel up (oh, so elegant), try to drop a bottle into a carrier - but there was only air, and come back. I was supposed to get a drink. But I was one dollar poorer. Daylight robbery.

And what of the vending machine that took $1, realized that it was sold out, returned only $0.95? And I thought coke made its money only through sales! And what about the time I tried to get a chewing gum, only to see yet another robotic arm carry air? Surely, I have every right to feel upset. Quarters do not come cheap in the USA.

I know what I'll be in life. I'll be a vending machine operator. I also pledge to donate generously to the tune of a few billion dollars in case a natural disaster hits any part of the world.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Turbulent Times

Fall is more or less here. I almost froze on the way back home from college. Quite a difference from those miseries at Chennai. Now I know what martensite feels like. These sudden changes in climate surely harden you.

Weak esoteric puns aside, life is chugging along rather rapidly. This post is being posted on my own brand new Dell Laptop with music out of my brand new Bose music system. And when I think of my 'job' here as a TA, I just get the feeling that I am ripping off the university and doing so in a grand way - all I do is 'grade' and here I am floating in material goodies that I could only fantasize about a few months ago.

I am mediocre when it comes to course work. My performances here are inexcusable. I have no right to make so many mistakes here. There is no reason why I should get only 75% in assignments here. I am sure I will screw up even if all I have to do is to reproduce the alphabet.

Now that I have my laptop, the public (which, I surely hope consists of others besides penis enlargement specialists and insurance salesmen) may expect posts more often. And thanks to the trusty wireless card, you can expect posts from airplanes and other modes of transport. There's always some unsecured wireless internet connection. And I might just be unscrupulous enough to exploit it.

A conclusion shall be effected now; for yonder lies a bed that needs to be lied upon. The sandman is awaited - to take red eyes where they belong.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Andhra's New Capital?

I was down at the NASA center in Houston, Texas. (Obviously, in the public area). And guess what the first words I heard there were. Behen Chod! And a little while later, all I could hear were Entira Babu and Alage. I never really believed that there were so many Indians in America. But this little field trip into the heart of the US of A was proof of the fact that the Indian infestation here was not only complete, but all-pervasive.

For in the space station, there were more saris than shorts and more bindis than Tatoos. The space center resembled not a symbol of American prowess in science and technology - but a Hindu temple. People speaking in some Indian language or the other: but usually Telugu.

Such is the case not only in Houston - but even in the serene town of college station - which houses, yet again a sizable proportion of Indians (who are students here at A&M). Like me. Hindi expletives are more likely to be encountered on the road than English expletives. As a matter of fact, I've heard more Hindi expletives than English!

Almost 20% of the instructors here are Indian: and more than 25% of the graduate students (especially in Engineering) are Indian. Some of the biggest names here an Indian: deans, professors, professionals, you name it! And almost all the convenience store clerks (who peddle porn!) are of south Asian Origin. All pervasive indeed.

Perhaps, when they decide to change the captial of Andhra Pradesh, they could think of a city in Texas. Perhaps Houston.

I've begun to realize that brain drain from India is as real as you and me. But surely, it cannot be emotion that stops people from leaving India. Emotion can be overcome - I know, because I did it. Human selfishness does it. But in the future, things will be different. After all, if prosperity can be had in India, why would anyone want to come here! Certainly not the climate, India (especially Nasik where my parents are) is a gazillion times better. Brain drain will stop only if the excessive government controls stop in India.

Take this for instance. When we complain about low internet speeds in IIT, the Dean says "You're here to study!". When we try to organize some relief work (for, say, and earthquake), they shout at us. But here: they have internet connections even in classrooms. Access to labs is easy. And yahoo messenger (an enemy of Indian authorities) is pre-installed. Class rooms are air conditioned.

Overcoming the emotional barrier to working seems all the more easy - given the excessive controls in India. As a matter of face, it often is a frustration with Indian red tape (I've posted about that before!) that leads people away from India.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A tennis ball

I'll hate to break the unofficial rule that I have been attempting to observe throughout the blog. I had declared a moratorium on posting personal matters on the blog: no point in putting the readers to sleep, I said. After all, this blog isn't intended as a substitute for valium. But you will understand that the current circumstances are indeed extenuating: I've got a couple of hours to kill right now - and If I don't keep myself occupied by blogging, the ennui would force me to commit suicide. (More fodder for an insurance related comment?)

I don't know if you've seen a tennis match. It's a match in which two well built people keep smashing a yellow ball at each other using netted sticks (like the ones we see people swat flies with). I always wondered what the ball felt like. I mean - hit here, hit there - surely can't be too good for the morale of the ball. But I believe that I am beginning to appreciate the sentiments of the ball - and I am beginning to empathize with it - the way my course and my assignments are being swapped around.

You see, personally, I am stuck in a rather ridiculous quagmire. But I'm not worried. I know the ending is happy. I was supposed to work as a lab instructor here. And, (I can see Peter smiling somewhere), the department overlooked the fact that people had a Fluid Mechanics course coincident on the same time slot. So, they moved the Fluid Mechanics class so that it coincided with my lab. Since I do not have some of the more desirable qualities that people associate Scrodinger's feline with - I was withdrawn as a TA from the lab. So, here I am - stuck literally - with no lab to go to. The professor who was supposed to assign me to someone. He said I'd grade. Ah, well. Less work - more time for courses. Can't be all that bad.

So, the upshot of the whole thing is that I have in excess of an hour to kill and I am running low on inspiration on how to. I reckoned I'd spend the time on blogging - but I type way too fast. I killed just ten minutes. Ideas to kill time would be appreciated: Ideas, anyone? (Now, I don't want any insurance related comments, mind you.)

So, in conclusion, you know I'm a tennis ball right now. Neither here not there. I'll tell you one person who'll agree whole heartedly. Dad. He was always quite emphatic that I was getting rotund (FAT) to the extent of getting spherical. Well, I am a sphere now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On cooking for oneself

Good morining. This will be a quick course on how to cook for yourselves without getting that strong urge to commit suicide that most male self-sufficient people are accustomed to. It's not as difficult to do as it sounds; but just to be on the safe side, discard your knives and ensure that ceiling fans which are convenient to hang yourself from are removed from your house.
Now that you have discarded you knives, you would think that the choice of vegetables that you can consume has drastically gone down. Not really! A simple procedure is outlined here: follow it and you won't regret it!
BITE THE RAW VEGETABLES! Bite them and spit them into the container! That's as good as cutting them - and you don't risk the tetanus from a rusted knife! You might experience some issues in biting some more exotic vegetables which are harder: and meat. But the only solution is to drink more milk. Milk has calcium and is good for the teeth.
Cleaning dishes is a pain. So, we'll make it a lot easier for the person who does the washing! We'll put the detergent in the food. What we cook will suck anyway, so the average person will be unable to make out the difference! So, take some vim or whatever it is that you use to clean the plates and put them in the food. You could fry it in oil if you want or just season your food with it. A welcome benifit, of course, is that it helps keep your stomach clean too! Plus, after eating think you won't want to commit suicide - you'll probably be dead already.
Here's a recipie that you might be interested in. Take some bread - put it in the blender - take some raw carrots and some honey - take some indian spices - put them in the blender too - what the hell - take some olive oil while you're at it. Now, I give you the opportunity to choose any food item - that goes in the blender too - then heat the blender in the oven. Pray that it does not melt - and then run it.
Try eating the cockaroaches in your bathroom. It gets your food bill down - and it sure as hell reduces the cost of exterminating the damn things. They can either be boiled and eaten - or just crunched. It depends. If you like potato chips, you'll like the latter. If you like french fries, you'll like the former. People accustomed to eating mangoes - like those in India can scoop the insides of the roach - leaving only the exoskeleton. The latter can be pickled. Ants can be made a meal of too.
Just remember, you don't have to eat this. There's the other option to. In other words, do or die.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Post from the Western Hemisphere

There's three kinds of people that others make fun of. Blondes, Sardars and Aggies. When I was born, I checked the color of my hair. I wasn't blond. I checked to see whether my dad wore a turban. I wasn't a Sardar. Just when I thought I'd never really be made fun of, I found myself in Texas A&M university, pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I'm an aggie now. So, if you catch me looking at orange juice, it's only because it says 'concentrate' on it.
I'm in the heart of Aggieland right now: and it is impressive. My life has been some sort of gradient since sixth grade: I went to something only optimists would call a school; then to a hut they called 'junior college'. And then I went t0 IIT Madras - a place which is as impressive as they come in India. IIT Madras is awesome in its own right - and I fell in love with the library there. And now, in Texas A&M, things are just double the size of what they were in IIT! The library is MASSIVE, to say the least. And if I am not wrong, I'll probably find some playboys stacked under the 'culture' section somewhere.
One thing that struck me as mighty impressive about the USA, is how polite everyone is. Everybody, from the customs officials to the librarians have been nothing by polite and helpful. It's amazing what a good salary can do to people! Everyone's friendly here: howdys are interchanged almost all the time - especially in the university.
As of now, I'm on foot and that's a negative. Distances here are large. Period. If I need to get to class from my room, I'll need to walk for half an hour. Cycles have to be procured. And procured ASAP. Riding a bike to a grocery store will still be an issue: some sort of parasitic existence will have to be envisaged. I could piggyback on my aunt!
That's a posting about life here in College station. An impressive place. I have no Idea why they make fun of us Aggies. Maybe I'll wait and find out.

Friday, August 05, 2005


I'm off to Texas A&M university on a fellowship to the department of Mechanical Engineering next week. Here's what I am thinking right now. It's getting too much to handle.

I had always looked down upon those who leave India in search of greener pastures abroad. I had always held that their attitude was mercenary; and it was just the lust for wealth and the good life that led them abroad. It is therefore very ironic that I shall be flying into the US of A for a very selfish reason - personal gratification. I tell myself that it is the research I crave; I tell myself there are no comparable facilities in India. I tell myself that there is no other option for me but to board that Airbus and be off to come back (for good) only after a few years have gone by.

But it does me great shame to glance out my window; I see the poor beside the street battle the incessant downpours that Maharashtra has to offer; I see a country languishing in filth, poverty and degradation. A country that needs all the brains that it can get; a country that can ill-afford to educate people like yours truly to ditch it in its hours of need. But yet I choose the Airbus. It is a feeling of deep rooted guilt in my heart: a feeling that I have done the Indian taxpayers a big wrong. I feel a pang of guilt whenever I look at a poor man in India. A sense of shame. I have failed them. And there is NOTHING I can do about it.

I tell myself that India will take time, but it will surely get there. I tell myself, the forces of capiatlism will convert India into a large wealth generator. I tell myself India has a future. I tell myself that I'll be back - to work in India, for India as a professional. I tell myself that India is surely the land of opportunity; it shall be a rational economic choice to come back to India for anyone in a few years. I love India after all. Another bonus, of course, is that I will be close to my parents.

But it's a little more than emotion to that right now. The best job I can get with all the coaching that IIT has given me right now is with GE. GE does not solve any of India's problems. It just solves outsourced problems. Just a glorified call center. I could get into MNCs with their operations in India such as KPMG (I had an offer from them); but that's not my core competence. I am a Mechanical Engineer who has done work in Heat and Fluids. Where can I use that knowledge? Defence is out; I am a pacifist. I convince myself sordidly; the only way out is to go out.

Five years ago, I vowed never to leave India. I vowed to stay; brave the conditions and still emerge successful. I have failed myself. Will I fail myself again? If I do so, I'll lose all faith in myself. And I also know that if I fail myself later, I'll have a good reason for it. They all do.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Indian Cricket: A new Business Model

We're a country of hundred crores. That's 1, followed by nine zeros. And we lose to countries such as Australia (2 crores), and Sri Lanka (also 2 crores). And we lose convincingly. That too, in a game which is some sort of religion in India.

Let's extrapolate this a bit. If each state in India had its own team, then they could, with ample coaching become world class teams. Don't ridicule this; Sri Lanka did it, with a population which is only a mere fraction of that of any large Indian state. Bihar, Maharashtra, U.P., Tamil Nadu; they all could have world class teams if they really tried.

But they won't try right now. Why? Though cricket is a passion in India, it is still not compact enough for a family to watch in the evening. A match takes a full day to happen. It has to be on a holiday. And even one day cricket - frankly speaking - is quite a drag for most of the time. Though it is exciting in bits, it is not watchable entirely, especially domestic cricket. So, a match between Mumbai and Delhi attracts a handful of spectators. Lesser people watch it on Television.

It is not as if people in India do not like entertainment. Our standard of living might be low but the Indian likes his or her leisure. Rajani's movies are sold out in the south; Hindi movies are a religion in the north and the west. Cinema halls are always house-full. It does not take an upper middle class lifestyle to enjoy. The man on the street likes, nay, is passionate about, his entertainment. Surely, he can digest more cricket - even domestic cricket - if it were spiced up appropriately.

Suppose a cricket match lasted only three hours - the size of an average movie - or that of an American Baseball game. Suppose there was a lot of hitting .... lots of FAST bowling ... lots of excellent television coverage. Suppose Twenty20 cricket were played between states (and cities) in India. It would no more be the colossal bore that Ranji Trophy matches are. People would pour in to watch in the thousands. There could be a match every weekend in every town - there could be a national tournament. With people interested, advertising revenues would start picking up. Television rights would start fetching money.

Indian cricket would get a shot in the arm. More money would flow into rural India: into smaller towns. Talent would start showing from the villages: before you know it, India would have a dozen of Sachin Tendulkars.

India winning the world cup (perhaps still in the 50 over form)would be as simple as the American basketball 'Dream Team' winning the world series. India would probably continue to dominate the world scene - facing competition only from populous nations such as Pakistan. Perhaps cricket could become truly international: maybe USA and China. Once the game becomes more interesting, why not?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Missing the Convocation.

There’s no more tension anymore. I'm just not going, that's it!

After watching torrential rain destroy Mumbai, close down the highway and delay flights indefinitely, the decision to go to Chennai for the convocation was not a decision anymore. There was no way to go to Mumbai from Nasik; there was no way to go from Mumbai to Chennai. I couldn’t sneak into Chennai via Hyderabad either: the Godaviri river flooded, canceling all trains in that direction (from Nasik). I’ve cancelled my tickets of Chennai ….. and Jet Airways was kind enough to give me a complete refund.

So, I shall languish at home. I won’t be able to give Chennai one last look before pushing off to the U.S of A. Lots of people hold that not seeing Chennai again is quite a good thing… I mean, this place is burning hot when the rest of the country is in a deluge; Jayalalithaa begs for water when the rest of the country doesn’t know what to do with it. I can’t say I disagree. The worst part of IIT Madras was the climate of Chennai.

I won’t see most of my friends ever again. I won’t see my guide for quite some time. I won’t be able to go to the library one last time. I won’t be able to see the new hostel and the mega mess (which they should have finished constructing by now). I won’t be staying at the old hostel ever again. No more Gurunath coffee…..

But let that go, shall we? My inconvenience is nothing compared to that of others in this country right now. A look at the rivers in Mumbai shall certainly show you a lot of people who shall deserve sympathy a lot more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Missing a convocation?

West India wears a particularly wet look now. The clouds are descending to the land - and trains as well as planes refuse to do their job. Conscequently, my degree shall go unaccepted; an embarassed silence shall prevail when my name is announced in the convocation hall. Unless, of course, the clouds behave better.

My television screen is tuned to one of the umpteen news channels that are showcasing the natural disaster in the making - Mumbai - and it is a dreary sight. Intrepid correspondents (who seem to be the order of the day, of late) wade into the water armed with a trusty camera man, and a trustier umbrella and convince me that going to Mumbai will be a challenge akin to going to Iraq or any other battlezone. Therefore, I see an empty seat (two actually, Mum won't be there either!) flying in Jet Airways on the 28th. If it ever does fly.

But not all hope is lost. It could be a sunny day tomorrow; after all the Met Department does predict a lot of rain, and I don't trust them an inch! But jesting apart, there's always a chance that Mumbai could crawl back to normalcy by day-after. Such disturbances are quite commonplace in India's financial capital. Mumbai has this knack of bouncing back. All it needs is a little repreive from the weather Gods. A little slackening of the rain.

It could have been worse: I could have been flying to the U.S today! The lounge in Sahar air port would have to be my home for a very long time. Me and my co-passengers would be a bunch of Tom Hankses stuck in Sahar. And now that it has rained its heart out a fortnight before the aforementioned U.S. trip, it seems additionally unlikely that extremely wet weather shall cause problems then.

Be that as it may, it is quite a disappointing thing - the notion of missing a convocation. It's not as if it's the convocation I'll be missing. I'll be missing all the friends to whom I said "See you at convo.". I'll never see them again, probably. I'll be missing my guide, with whom I'll have to discuss something I have been avoiding for quite some time. And I'll be missing the abundant sunshine of Chennai, especially since I live near the west coast.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Utter Penury Awaits

I'm soon going to be a graduate student in the US of A. I have my Visa ready; and my airline tickets have been blocked. All hope of a financially rewarding next-four-years has thus faded away. I would have to choose to live a spartan life in the US of A, after all the material deprivation I went through at IIT!

All of us are going to be PIGS in the US. That's not something to feed good about; PIGS does not stand for Pretty Indian Girls here. It stands for Poor Indian Graduate Student. How I wish it were the former, for I shall definitely room in with PIGS!

People from all around the world have told me that drastic measures are to be taken if one has to survive in the US. Belts have to be tightened, cornflakes have to be eaten and jewellery has to be pawned. Enligtened by abundant advise, I have come up with some plans. I hope this checklist will help other graduate students.

1. Skip a meal a day. Who says we need lunch? We're all too fat anyway. The loss in nourishment can be made up for by eating biscuits in department stores before they are billed. Some additional money can be made by pointing out to the clerk that the packets are open. This approach saves some water and some detergent powder which is used to wash plates.

2. Live in darkness. If the cave man could do it, why can't we? Any light (for emergencies, such as going to the bathroom) can be generated by procring a bag of light-worms. Alternatively, the roommate can be requested to bang flintstones together.

3. Don't use underclothes. If people can't see them, they'll assume you have them on. (Of course, the attire should be chosen tactfully, especially if the subject is a woman). This approach saves on the washing powder as well as the apparel bill. Stares from sexual predators (both male and female) might count as negatives for the finnicky.

4. Light your house up with the phoneline. You see that LED on the phone? The one that glows when someone tries to call you? Well, you could have someone call you when you're reading - and put your book under the light so that people can read. A method to use the phone-electricity that you don't pay for - to run the A/C eagerly awaits conception.

5. Wear only one shoe: After all shoes are there only to keep your feet warm. If your other foot feels cold, then you can change the foot the shoe is on, until this foot, in turn feels cold. This can halve your footwear bill.

6. Buy baggage that you can fit in: This way, you can Fed-Ex yourself to India for $30, roughly an $670 saving over a ticket to India. The catch, of course, is that good deals are not available on round trips in Fed Ex. And the $30 offer holds only if you weigh less than 1/2 kg. I'm not sure, but I think I overshoot that limit.

7. Drink Black sewage water: Coffee is costly. You just need to show others you're having black coffee, and nothing else. Sewage, when conditioned appropriately can look at taste like some cheap brands of coffee. And surely, you won't sleep after drinking it. Human disgust will see to that.

8. Use Animal Power: We could try using bullock carts to get us to class. In Texas, it would be prudent to replace the bullock with a road runner or something. It even goes beep-beep. If that's too disconcerting, an armadillo cart would be a nice change.

I hope that this list has helped enlighten my fellow students. It is important not to lose heart - a really good time can be had even when in utter penury, if the above tips are followed with sincerity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Fight Fire with Fire

Here's an essay I wrote a couple of years ago in the Sars Era. It isn't half bad!

Terrorism is getting quite irksome now a days. Some innocent people face the wrath of the gun in some obscure place. And before you know it, some plane gets hijacked, with the Hijackers demanding the release of some hardened criminal or the other. IC 814 comes to mind immediately.

The Indian government, with some reservations (which many hold were merely cosmetic) released a criminal whose name is just not worth mentioning (and remembering). This act of setting the criminals free, secured the release of the passengers. So, at least the passengers are free. So, there’s very little that a democratically elected government can do with such cases of terrorism. Governments like ours’ (who have the popular opinion to worry about) have to set the miserable terrorists free. As one my friends in a turban would definitely not fail to remark: “The Indians are like sitting ducks”!

The fact that they (the terrorists) hold the people hostage actually means that they think the venture profitable. One way to stop this hostage menace is to ensure that the transaction is not profitable. Surely, when terrorists realize that they cannot secure the safe release of their people, they will stop causing inconvenience to the general public by taking them hostage whenever they are short of activists.

I will go as far as recommend a few methods to ensure that the process does not result in the safe release of terrorist prisoners.

AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease that people think is threatening the world. People are, of course doing a lot to battle it. There is an entire school of thought (which includes myself) that reckons that more than AIDS, it’s the sex they are against (and consequently overpopulation). That’s a different story altogether.

The release of an imprisoned terrorist presents before the releasers an incredible opportunity of spreading AIDS to the entire terrorist network. The procedure is quite simple – it just involves the administration of a syringe of HIV positive blood into the bloodstream of one of the terrorists to be released while he or she (Lest the reader accuses me of male chauvinism) is not conscious.

If the government reckons that AIDS is too slow, there’s other ways out. The speculative reader would probably have taken the cue and realized that there are as many methods as there are fatal diseases. Diseases such as Small Pox, Ebola and Distemper among others present a vast array of opportunities to do away with the enemy. And with the Sars virus doing rounds today, one begins to wonder.

There are constraints, of course. Just like any real-life problem. Some of the important conditions are

  1. The disease should not ‘kick in’ during the process of release of the hostages
  2. The terrorist who is being released should not know about his (or her) impending fate.
  3. The only people who should know about this should be the people who are releasing the terrorist.

With the advent of nanotechnology and other such modern sciences, one can actually do better than kill just a mere terrorist. One can actually go ahead and wipe out an entire community of terrorists. Demands for the release of terrorist prisoners can actually be viewed as golden opportunities to rid the world of the plague that is terrorism. The following text shall attempt to elaborate the above claim.

It is just a matter of time before the geniuses that inhabit the labs in India start using their ingenuity and develop explosive devices capable of destroying a whole lot of people within small pills. ( They can always buy the technology from US if the geniuses fail). Everything has a price. The US will give it dirt cheap anyway, to ensure the Indian geniuses do not develop a comprehensive understanding of how the damn thing is made.

If ever, we acquire all of the following, we can, once in for all wipe out a large portion of the terrorist fraternity.

  1. A micro explosive that can be triggered by a remote control. This can be housed within a person. The remote control should have a few thousand kilometers as an operating radius.
  2. A method to house the device within the individual (the latter not having any knowledge of the plan) ( Food for thought for the geniuses at the Indian Medical Schools).
  3. A micro position sensor, as well as a video and audio transmitter. Four sensors in all – in different directions.

The method is quite obvious and does not need any further elaboration. But since I have time to spare, I shall elaborate, anyway. The device is exploded when subject is in a crowded area (with the tacit assumption that the crowd shall be that of fellow terrorists). Peace shall thus prevail.This does, as a matter of fact stress the urgent need to pursue research in vital fields such as nanotechnology.

There is of course, an ethical side to the story. Would it be ethical on our side to kill a cruel terrorist who almost caused the death of hundreds of people? Well, let’s put it this way- Would it be ethical on our side not to kill a cruel terrorist who almost caused the death of hundreds of people, when we could?

A distinction must be made with biological warfare. Biological warfare implies the usage of germs to get rid of innocent people. Here we are using our parasite collaborators to get rid of hardened criminals whom we would kill if we had the chance to. It’s time we kept one step ahead of the enemy.

However, one must bear the repercussions in mind. Just think how easy it is to acquire lethal poison and mix it in a city’s water reserve. The result shall be nothing short of a mass genocide. An aggravated terrorist could resort to such cowardly yet effective methods. Terrorists have no honor – if they do not stoop low, who shall?

If we were to anger our enemy to such an extent, then we would stand to lose. In my humble opinion, moderation is the only way out. I might as well have not written this essay.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Applications of Murphy's Laws

People tend to disregard Murphy's laws as mere frivolities, seldom taking them seriously. But the truth is that these laws are as fundamental to modern science as Newton's laws and the laws of thermodynamics.

The laws of thermodynanmics have played a pivotal role in designing everything from power plants to air conditioners and Newton's laws in the development of dynamic equipment. Murphy's laws are not to be scoffed at either. They find extensive application in metereology, economics (both macro and micro), as well as home science. We shall analyze this exciting new field of science.

This article shall hopefully convince governments to introduce Murphology as a subject in universities and colleges - as well as adopt it in five year plans. Corporate India can also use this exciting new science to build fitter, leaner and more profitable corporations.

Perhaps the most significant use of Murphy's law is in Metereology. Some drought relief measures are suggested.

Cricket matches have been used in eternally water starved cities as weapons against drought. Scheduling cricket matches (whose stands are usually full) in rain starved areas seldom fails to attract heavy downpours. This is such a well known fact that the city of Chennai gets its 1200mm of annual rainfall exclusively through the same.

Mathematically, it is proposed that a non dimensional number, M, called the Murphy pressure be defined - a positive value indicates favourable conditions to the outcome. For instance, composite Murphy pressure is the sum of the Rain and extreme heat during a cricket match. Since the sum is positive, rain shall occur.

Climate control is possible using other Murphy methods besides cricket: a mass purchase of umbrellas is indicative of an impending dry spell; large scale construction work of a cyclone, adequate earthquake warning a precursor to a long spell of zero-earth quakes. The Tsunami warning system is being thought of more as a preventative measure than a warning measure.

The easiest method to make money in a stock market is to do extensive market research; select a few companies to invest money in using all the scientific and intuitive techniques possible; and finally invest in everything but these companies. The same logic applies to Horse racing too - as well as Casinos.

If you want an irritating guest to never come to your house, best results can be obtained by inviting them over - and making all arrangements for their comfortable stay. If you want a child, then pop over to your neighbourhood drug store and procure the costliest condom.

If the world were really run like this, cars would fly, birds would swim and fishes would walk into clubs eating human fry. They don't do that.