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.