Saturday, December 27, 2008
The skating rink has been around downtown for awhile, but I didn't have the courage and company to attempt something I never have. So finally today with exceptionally warm weather(18 degC, would you believe it, a swing of 28 degC!) and enticing Ch to accompany me, I tried it out.
After the walk to the rink via East Exchange, we(I) took out two pairs of skates for a rent of $2. The blades are as thick as the hardbound cover of a notebook(in India) and distinguising left from right took some trying on. The size I picked was too tight, so I had to come out of the rink, change to my shoes, go back and exchange them for a looser size. The left-right conundrum was even worse for this pair, being confirmed only after stepping into the rink and checking standing on one foot if I was wearing the right one.
Being a beginner, both of us were sidelined to the barriers hanging on for dear life. Walking outside on the special rubber matting(so that the blades don't blunt) was easy but not comfortable; skating on ice was beyond that. 'Walking' by landing on the back of the blade and pushing forward with the tip wasn't working; so by observation and credit to TV, the trick is to push sideways - and keep a forward centre of gravity. If it falls back you will be swinging your arms struggling to regain control.
If you somehow fall forward and you get your hands on the ice -it's the ultimate fall. Recovering from that pose, with hands on the ice, is very very difficult for the simple fact that friction doesn't give a damn. Thank goodness for the volunteer who got me back on my feet.
And then Ch was banged into by a tiny kid, which led to her moving to the barriers where she sadly lost her footing and slightly sprained her knee. She was fine, no problems there, but it took some time traversing the barrier all the way to the exit excusing ourselves through the non-starters clung to the barrier. After a 5 min break where she removed her skates for good and felt walkable again, I felt I hadn't had enough and headed back to the rink.
It was better now; I could accelerate well; I did have to head to the barriers occasionally to gather my confidence and do a few more circles.
A couple of circles later I was done and moved to the exit, where I fell and nearly twisted my knee. On the rubber. It's embarrasing enough to fall, but moreso on the rubber rather than the ice. Blame it all on the gentle slope-step out from the rink. Nothing more than pain for a few minutes.
And that was the end of a memorable first time trip to the skating rink. A few photos around the German market, carousel and Christmas lights later we took the walk back home... with a smile.
I can skate on ice!!
PS. The ice is maintained by a refrigerating unit with pipes running under the ice, not by natural formation.
I would say that the evil Vikram took over the softer personality - in order to be released from prison - because that was the only way he could continue to fulfill his goals. It makes sense, a non-resurgence of the evil side would have him released and then he would be a free man. This, is a very sinister and hair raising plot.
Another opinion is that he still wasn't fully cured, and he is still in his old state, with the occasional recurring disorder. In my opinion this does not seem to make a fit ending, but the discussion continues....
Edit1: In response to Blany's comment I will detail my first suggestion.
All through the film the Anniyan appears when something bad is happening. In the end, the guy who was drinking is missing and Sada sees Vikram smiling, in good character standing by the door. When she hugs him, Vikram suddenly becomes the Anniyan and throws the drunkard off the train. So there is a sudden change in character, with the intent of not revealing to other persons the goings on. Hence the evil Vikram has taken over the good Vikram and appears at the evil character's own willing.
Though, if Blany is right, this may not be psychologically possible, I would love to believe it could happen. It makes a fantastic ending.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
However, there is a solution. When using Google News (Google homepage ---->News), clicking on links from these sites do not present login screens. I had observed this, when WSJ articles would open when clicked from Google News but would demand login when clicked from any other sites.
The logic here is that the sites want to increase page views; but they also want to show increased subscribers(or paid subscription in case of WSJ). Also, presenting logins to the Google News bot means that Google News will not know the contents of the page, hence leading to not being displayed on Google News.
NYTimes pages can be accessed by Googling the title. But this presents a problem: You cannot access the second page or view the print page to see the entire article.(I think an already-logged in-link from NYTimes works because of the appended 'oref?=slogin' I guess it is a similar script..)
Talking about FT, it seems to have a very very simple html check. FT thought I wouldn't figure it out. View these images for the fun I had in reasoning and hacking:
Friday, August 8, 2008
That brings me to a forward I sent to her. I wanted to summarise the email, but for fun' sake I will reproduce it verbatim(please bear with me).
I forwarded it to her and she loved it. She taunts me every time we talk. I love it. I love it that she loves it and likes to talk about it. The forward is, in a lighter vein, a poster of relationships outside the knowing of a close knit family. This 'love marriage' vs 'arranged marriage' will be dealt upon, later.INDIAN MOM
A Mom comes to visit her son Kumar for dinner.....who lives with a girl room mate Sunita. During the course of the meal, his mother couldn't help but notice how pretty Kumar's roommate was.
She had long been suspicious of a relationship between the two, and this had only made her more curious. Over the course of the evening, while watching the two interact, she started to wonder if there was more between Kumar and his roommate than met the eye.
Reading his mom's thoughts, Kumar volunteered, "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you, Sunita and I are just roommates."
About a week later, Sunita came to Kumar saying, "Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the silver chutney jar. You don't suppose she took it, do you?" Kumar said, “Well, I doubt it, but I'll email her, just to be sure."
So he sat down and wrote:
I'm not saying that you 'did' take the chutney jar from my house, I'm not saying that you 'did not' take the chutney jar. But the fact remains that it has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.
Several days later, Kumar received an email from his mother which read,
I'm not saying that you 'do' sleep with Sunita, and I'm not saying that you do not' sleep with Sunita. But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her OWN bed, she would have found the chutney jar by now under the pillow...
Saturday, June 28, 2008
----Possible spoilers included------
The outline of the story is this: Earth has become a garbage dump largely due to a monopolistic company which is the new government; they decide to go on a five year space voyage while earth is rejuvenated by robots doing the cleanup; this doesn't go well, the 5 year voyage becomes one of 700 years with humans becoming largely incompetent. Meanwhile this lonely robot goes about his chores and meets a probe(robot) sent to detect regrowth of life. Wall-E falls in love with 'her', who when detects a plant goes into hibernation mode and is taken back to the mother ship to prove life is possible again on earth. Wall-E follows her. And then the rest is about the adventures on board while deciding whether to return to earth or not, entangled with the love story.
Wall-E's is the only robot left on earth after 700 years, along with a single cockroach. He watches a '60s clip on tape via an iPod, imagining how it would be to hold hands with someone else, dancing. He collects interesting things from the dump he is designed to compact, like lighters, bulbs, and so comes across a single plant in a toolbox. The cockroach is his 'pet', feeding it, cajoling it.
He feels very sad at not having a companion like himself.
Then one day this probe lands, ejecting another robot, Eva, supposed to test for life. 'She' is very apprehensive about this guy, avoiding him, misunderstanding him.
But Wall-E is attracted to her at first sight. He want to keep her company, hold her hand, share things with her.... After all, after such a long time of just watching holding of hands on screen, he wants to do it for real.... Only if... She would agree....
But then she is shown the plant which Wall-E had discovered - she automatically stores the plant within herself and hibernates - waiting for the probe to return and pick her up. Wall-E is confused by this sudden shut down and cares for her even then - placing her outside of his small cabin hoping sunlight would do her good or her probe comes back to pick her up - and bring her back to 'life'.
The probe comes back, he hangs on as the probe docks with the mother ship - the one on which the humans are still on a voyage.
Wall-E is still very devoted to Eva. As she is being repaired he mistakes it as she being dismantled, and tries to save her but ends up sabotaging the repair section releasing all the rogue robots.
The plant is a threat to the robots who control the ship because they will be irrelevant if the humans return to earth, so they try to remove the plant whereas Wall-E, Eva and the captain of the ship want to save it. Thence lies some action.
The movie is wonderful because with almost no dialogue and just actions, the sad, desolate life of a robot have been sketched beautifully. Even in the very end, when Wall-E for a moment does not seem to remember his past, you can feel a touch of compassion for the two.. It shows that true, undying relationships are effective if and only if both are aware of how special they are.. Initially it is all Wall-E, later Eva realises that Wall-E truly liked her, taking care of her even when he knew she wouldn't feel it... Happy ending anyway.
The second half of the movie, toward the end is bogged down by trying to include humans, the ending seems to be somehow out of shape in the movie. Humans who've never walked before do so with no effort, the captain's knowledge seems to be amusing.. the first half is so much better and they could've kept it that way.
The cockroach seems indestructible; the other robots have questionable behaviour differences(Mo the cleaner helps in saving the plant, autopilot is not as intelligent as would be wished for... on that note, the robots seem to have been programmed with different levels of intelligence) as the movie progresses. The movie casts the robots as being very very intelligent.
Animation, by Pixar is amazing. It's just too good. The eyes zoom in/out like human eyes, the dust scattering, controlling of zillions of objects to react to a tremor.... Phew...
Should you watch the film? mmmmm... Maybe not.. No hurry to watch it.
The inseparable love of one for another..... Wall-E.
Friday, June 20, 2008
However the wider messages intended are very subtle - and as with movies of the past, there are many stories and sub-plots embedded.
The first Rajni(Johnny), shown stealing a car, swindling a jeweller, duping a sale, is actually looking to repay his father's losses in business caused by the 'other' wife's family, notwithstanding the fact that his mother, i.e. his father's second wife, did not give as much attention to them. Johnny explains this benevolence to his mother's love for her husband, even though his father didn't reciprocate it.
This relationship with his father had a deep mental effect on Johnny, making him behave with indifference to women. Enter Sridevi - with a voice of a nightingale, with Johnny going to her concert with deception in mind, only to be smitten by her performance, captivating him, making him listen to her songs on a recorder. Their relationship slowly goes beyond friendship, atleast for Sridevi. She makes advances, asking him to marry her.
The scenes between Johnny and Sridevi are amongst my favourite of all time, because of their wonderful acting. The beach scene, where she chances upon him listening to her songs. Then they walk along, talking to each other. I believe it is to the director's credit that Rajni and Sridevi delivered their dialogues as though they were in a real life conversation. This is attested by Sridevi tripping yet continuing, hands in pockets, flying hair... This unique style continues in all the scenes featuring Rajni and Sridevi, like when Sridevi discovers its Rajni1's birthday and the outing(when the lilting music plays). The highlight of the film is when Sridevi tells him to marry her.
This scene draws out the dramatic best of the two performers. Johnny, vary of any commitment, tries his best to gauge Sridevi's intentions, while she, assuming his innocence, pushes to make the relationship permanent. Ultimately, the intimate emotions of a woman break him down, not after he deliberates and realises he must come clean on his actions. The slow, one-to-one dialogues adds to the suspense with Sridevi turning from happy and expectant to sad and Johnny from being defensive to grudgingly accepting.
On the other side is the character of Vidyashankar, a stingy, lonely, introverted barber living his own life. Maintaining a house 'in harmony with nature' and a wonderfully 'audited' garden, he seems to enjoy his lacklustre clockwork job at a star hotel. Until, that is, a car crash sets him up with a life-changing opposite. She, Bama, a casual worker, finds her way into his life, after rescuing him from the crash, by appealing emotionally to him. She slowly becomes part of his life, doing his chores, cooking, rearranging his house... The degree of intimacy(Vidyashankar's involvement rather) is such that he buys her clothes, in the belief that she would be his partner.. forever.
This is another example shown, of the effect of women on men, how men are at the recieving end(hey, it happens in the film, don't frown at me!). Vidyashankar's relationship is soon on the rocks, when he realises that the woman who he thought would be with him ditched him for a guy with a seemingly higher status in society. She says, having their children recollect their father to be a barber would be such an embarassment, she wouldn't like to live with it. Vidyashankar is deeply disturbed at this rebuttal, all he has are words of advice, very true ones too. He advises that it was a barber who paid for her clothes, and even reminds her that she too 'was' a labourer. These hold good for us too, because we have to remember that we cannot deny who we are, we have to accept who we are, never speak ill of others.
And so when Vidyashankar sees his love going away with the other guy, his once solitary life, made solitary again, although with so much pain, he kills Bama and the other guy.
The rest of the movie follows the path of the two men, with Vidyashankar being mistaken for Johnny by Sridevi, and the former, courtesy the treatment he recieves, comes to change his recent opinions that all women cannot be trusted. Seeing Sridevi's true love, he decides to give himself up for the sake of Johnny, taking up all his sins.
Two different interactions with women, with stark results. One woman attracted by character, another by the lure of big money. A cheat is ready to surrender for love, another surrenders to love and takes things into his own hands.
The experience of the movie is exemplified by the music, not only the songs, but also the bg score, by the maestro Ilayaraja. Nattu noted that after watching 7/G he was left wondering where he had heard that film's theme somewhere, then noting that it was in this film which kindled his memories. Of course, Nattu is so passionate about Rajni. There are especially two pieces of music which linger in your ears, both also are played in the climax, which a good samaritan has uploaded to YouTube(along with the Johnny-Sridevi drama scene mentioned above). Who can forget the infamous scintillating dance routine in Aasaiya Kathule... Ooooh...
The comedy relief is nice, and I must say, though there aren't too many supporting actors, they do a great role - supplementing the storyline with a convincing presence. I specially refer to Sridevi's helper, Johnny's sidekick and the rich Gulti guy.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie because it was a throwback to the days when Rajni actually did drama roles before he did his present day flambouyant characters. Johnny is the original Rajni in play, Vidyashankar is a cautious role, expecting order and always critical of his surroundings. Sridevi did awesome, such a perfect portrayal.
Thinking of it, making a movie like this will be difficult today, least of all because such a down-to-earth script will not be accepted by anyone, also because finding the right cast will be very very tough. I am pretty sure remaking this movie today will not be possible simply because finding actors who can deliver a powerful performance despite being modest, is easier said than done.
A rare classic from Rajni.
Gaffes.. a few here and there. Ooty and Madras are a couple of kilometres away, the recorder disappears from Rajni's pocket after the beach scene, the moustache on Vidyashankar seems to be a paintjob, Rajni briefly enters the frame after his scene when he is selling the house to the Gulti. I loved the dog on Vidyashankar's bed, it sits there motionless, which is a great feat since that dog didn't seem to be a trained dog. It was so cute.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Here it is for Colombian, Italian and French women. The technique is effective to an extent.
I am ready to go on record, and say that, if ever there was such a list composed for an Indian city, I will faint halfway through the list.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Such conversion tactics never work. The value of goods is skewed if converted for every small thing, so the best is to compare value with goods from the same country. Then it works out perfectly.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
It is not good manners, in fact some might consider offensive if you sit occupy an empty seat at a stranger's table at an eatery/other public place. Usually there is always space, you will find a place to sit.
Tip graciously to the waiter. That means about 13-15%. This includes pizza delivery guys too. Interestingly, tipping barbers is also a must(i.e. if the barber charges $7 for a haircut, it is good manners to give him $7 + $1 or $2 as a tip. I really don't understand why, even when the barber is the sole owner of the shop, but you have to do it. By the way, haircuts are not always $7, my friends have to take an appointment and pay $15 at the place they go to).
Most of the fast food chains have their kitchens open to the public - as in they are not barricaded or hidden away from the public. This might be intentional to keep the workers from adding unwanted ingredients and maintaining 'open' standards in cleanliness.
Education in America, vs India: Another Nittian wrote a post on that, including many details, but I will say that most have the freedom to choose whatever they want, so the chance that they will excel in that field is high.
This might be catching up elsewhere too, but from what I have seen, almost every other smoker is female. And most consider it their 'right', citing the First Amendment where they have the freedom to almost everything. Hence banning it on campus is more tricky than an official order.
The biggest consumer of salt in the world is... USA. They use it to clear the snow/ice during winter(depression in freezing point), so you will find huge salt tents along main highways then.
Greeting anyone you are going to talk to, be it a salesman or a desk attendant with a Hello and thanking him is customary. Else its too rude.
The f word, fcuk, is just another common word. No special oops for it.
As a matter of fact, on television, 'bctih' is not censored, but 'shit', is. I don't understand why.
For all the informal clothing worn in classrooms and campuses, corporate wear is a level on its own. It is very, very formal.
Claiming, as a joke, in your blog or scrap or comment that you will cause harm to someone(e.g. if you don't delete that picture, I will kill you!) WILL land you in deep trouble(read: Police, jail, psychiatrist, etc.) if anyone decides to tip the authorities off. On the other hand, slander could result in a lawsuit..... You just have to be careful of what you say. What's more, I have read of a case where a Judge ordered a restaurant to pay damages to a customer for serving coffee "too hot".
Interested? Read previous parts here:
AAA - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Jeeva seems to enjoy psycho-based movies, given that he has found success with Raam and this one. I enjoyed Tamizh MA a lot, simply because it had a different storyline and wonderful performances. The director seems to be split between whether to make a film decrying the software industry or the downside of getting a Bachelor's in Tamil or a psycho movie, and settled for a mix of all these.
I found it very obvious that the story writer was pointing to the negative side of the IT industry in Madras all through the movie. That aside, the idea is good; I'd rather write in points.
- I was wondering... Which University offers both Bachelor's in Tamil and Engineering? Jeeva's roommate was for Engineering, though it may be possible that they were in a hostel outside the university. University of Madras used to once upon a time, but I think this movie is not from that era.
- I liked how Jeeva's wise saying in the classroom backfired on him when he was arrested by the police.
- The newcomer Anjali is wonderful; she not only looks beautiful but has done a great job.
- She looks a bit like Shrin(Azhagiya Asura song).
- The twists of fate through which Jeeva loses his dog, family and teacher are... indicative of the strain the story writer wanted to put on the character, driving him further into madness.
- His infatuation towards Anjali, throughout, sending her gifts, tracking her down indicate his deep love for her, which he finds difficult to sever after meeting her in Maharashtra. I wonder why she changed her character towards avoiding Jeeva when she was in interior Maharashtra with her uncle. Maybe she was looking forward to a fresh start in life.
- The background music is apt for each scene and camera angles with the locations have a realistic touch about them.
- The 'mystical' journey undertaken by Jeeva is like a path taken by many to find the 'truth in life' or the 'substance of life', crossing roads with hallucination and discovering the inner self.
- I thought the confrontation in the software company was a bit too much, but I laughed when he teased his friend because he had taught him English for his placements. It happens.
- The one-on-one with the Call centre guy was hilarious, but over the limit again, in an effort to show the disturbed mind of the hero.
- Overall, its a different film; highlighting an 'issue' in Madras city and making an off beat storyline work.
The director along with the screenplay-writer and story-writer seemed to have decided to make a completely new film, notwithstanding the success of Chithiram Pesuthadi(which I have not seen).
A free flowing camera, rather than a fixed one, brings an effect seen mostly in Hollywood, like the opening scene, the blank sky and then the actor. The story on the outset might seem normal - bad guy becomes cop and good guy becomes villain. It's how the characters have been handled, the scenes in between and the acting that make the movie stand out.
Similarly, the director wasn't afraid to play with shadows and zooming in and zooming out. He clearly wants to break free from the norm. But, this is where Shankar/Mani Ratnam stand out - it is very difficult to shoot real closeups of the actors- that involves familiar actors and exceptional camera.
I loved it when all the language used in the film was completely natural - Madras dialect, the IG speaking mostly in perfect English - an effort to maintain the flow.
The casting, if it had big heroes - like Vijay/Surya, would have made the film a sure blockbuster. Definitely. The current cast did have shortcomings - Satya(Narain, the cop) and Kiruba(Ajmal, the cop aspirant) at times show that they need to improve their skills - but its not bad either. You know they aren't great as yet. Casting physically challenged and physically disabled persons in the movie is a nice ploy - it not only plays on your heart, it also gives a special flavour. As an example, the physically challenged guy couldn't run, whereas Prasanna(villain) leaves him behind only to shoot him dead. As with the physically disabled guy, who tries to point with his amputated arm, waving it around... some of the subtle factors.
Vijayalakshmi as the sister, does well, keeping her acting straightforward. She is as beautiful as a wild flower in a field, i.e. of the local crowd yet stands out.
I didn't expect Kiruba not to clear the exam, I was pleasantly surprised. Kiruba's character is interesting, because it neither embraces evil completely, nor leaves it behind. Fate, as it would have it, transformed him into a society-changing guy. It was weird to note that Satya cleared the exam/interview by malpractice, rather than by the ardent-studying we see in other films.
I took a while to confirm that the villain was Prasanna. He could have done slightly better.
The kidnappings were novel, I am curious if they actually take place in real life in that manner.
The final climax was not seamless, it was mainly like a wild goose chase, you keep wondering what will happen from which direction. Not that it was not good.
I believe that a movie is successful not because of the first tier of actors, but because of the supporting ones. All of them have done a great job. They seem to be picked off a stage show, because rarely do supporting actors support so well. It greatly shows that the director aims for an as real-to-life-as-possible film as possible.
I found a couple of gaffes in the movie.. In the scene when the kidnappers call the IG's home, and they listen in on headphones, Satya seems to hear the kidnapper's voice and discovers it's Kiruba's, which means it should have been quite loud, so even though they were in another room, Kiruba should have heard his own voice. A long shot, though.
The background music reminded me of Jaws a lot, the director clearly wanted music matching his scenes, so its unusual to cycle between 'tragedy', 'racy' and 'soft' in a matter of minutes. I grant 100 on 100 for effort, 75 for the actual performance in the background music.
The final scene, when I discovered Kiruba had been restrained by his sister to keep him from running away with the handcuffs, plucked on my sympathy strings, because, it said a lot.. the sister didn't want to let go of her brother to evil... the brother wanted to escape to keep his 'loyalty' to the one who had given him money... yet the brother didn't want to harm his sister.. and in the ensuing melee, it is shown that you will be punished for being a criminal, regardless of your love for your sister/allegiance to friendship.
No wonder this film was a box office hit... I only hope, pray, to the director, that he not screw his next film by signing on Captain/Sharath Kumar/Jayam Ravi, instead he continue his current thought process of casting interesting, new faces with a radical script.
It is such rich movies which keep the industry from buckling under the heavy weight actors and producers. I feel so nice after watching them. Hats off.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Now why I did that, instead of carrying it along in a separate paper bag, I don't know. It so happened that in my room as I was undressing I lost my footing and fell onto the jacket. I didn't realise anything because those packs seemed to be sealed well.
Fast forward to a few days later. Warmer weather meant I didn't wear that winter jacket, instead opting for a lighter jacket. I was in outside my lab, on a cold day wearing that jacket searching for my keys. I put my hand inside one of the pockets, there is a sticky feeling. Damn! Some of the honey had leaked and there was a sticky feeling inside that pocket. I kicked myself for keeping the honey there and took the packs out.
Fast forward a couple of days. Over the weekend I was mainly at home; didn't wear too much to wander around. I decided to head to the university for some work to be done, I put on the shirt, jeans, put my mob in one pocket of the jeans and the wallet in the other... wait a minute.. what's that sticky feeling?
Turns out I'd transferred the honey packs from my jacket pocket to my jeans pocket.
On the other hand, it reminded me to write that review I always wanted to before someone else does. Lucky me.
Seven Samurai, most of us will know as the movie which influenced Sholay. I picked up the DVD at the County Library only because of that.
Hardly 10 minutes into the film, I knew this wasn't an ordinary film - there was a magical touch to the direction and the screenplay. I promptly Wikipedia'ed it - and lo - it features in many Top Ten lists as an all time great. I was really excited. Here was a film worthy of watching and an acclaimed one.
The first half is wonderful - the villagers convincing the samurais, their antics, Toshiro Munife's monkey-acting are so natural. The best of all is Takashi Shimura, the leader of the pack. His performance is par excellence, it flows so well taking the movie along with it.
The second half, like most movies, is slower than the first half. Nevertheless it makes for great viewing; the love story between the young samurai and the boy-like farmer's daughter is subtle; the night-scenes, very difficult to shoot in those days, are awesome. The ending is slightly tragic, like Sholay, and the final scenes with the mounds for the samurai brought tears to my eyes(no, not crocodile tears).
Overall, it is a film I would recommend to any movie buff. I did so to my friends, who reprimanded me for hyping it up - it so happened they got together and didn't progress beyondn the 30 minute mark. They don't have the taste of Shichinin no samurai.
Bottom line: Ultimate classic.
Friday, April 4, 2008
It so happens that unlike in college I wear tshirts and jeans, so that means no front pockets and I have to keep my pen and click pencil in my jeans pocket. Hence, every time I sit and cross my legs the pen and pencil are under tremendous stress, which may cause the pencil to penetrate the pocket and make a hole at the 'sharp' end of the pocket.
One fine morning (I happened to leave early) I got ready, put the pen and pencil in my pockets and walked off to college. Halfway through I put my hands into my pocket and find the pencil missing. Conclusion ----> it has fallen through the hole. So I switch the pen to the other pocket and decide to retrace my path to find that pencil. Now that pencil is special because it is a Reynolds side-click thin lead pencil, and though click pencils are available here I didn't want to go shopping for a side-click one. Off I go retracing my steps, crossing the road, right back home. No avail. Assumption---> someone must have kept it for themselves. With a heavy heart I head back to college.
Then I start thinking, if it had passed through a miniscule hole, it had to go down my pants, made its presence felt around my socks and then made a clunk noise when it fell to the ground. Nothing of that sort happened. Guess----> it must be at the bottom of my pants, just above my shoes. And that is where it was. The point is, since these are jeans, they make a closed tight fit around my shoes, so there was no way they would have fallen through. Thank God.
Now for the missing pen. Couple of days later, my pen went missing: I put my hands into my pocket, but the pen isn't there. It wasn't there at the bottom of my pants, I didn't want to go back all the way looking for the damn pen, so I let it go and managed the day with just the pencil. Turns out I had left the pen at home.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I love it when it snows real hard. I love walking through the calf-deep snow, plodding your feet. If you want to imagine what it seems to stomp your way, recollect images of Rocky training in Siberia, in Rocky 4.
I love the summer dog days, when all there is during the day is sun, sun, sun. I love it either in the hills where the cool sunshine brightly lights up all that is around, with the occasional breeze albeit of lower density - or in the plains where it gets all sultry leaving you feeling like in heaven when coming back home after playing or roaming around mid-day. To experience this, you have to be in India. There's nothing like the Indian summer. You like it too? I have a community in Orkut, I'm the only member though.
I hate it when I have to switch on the lights prematurely because of cloud cover/dark clouds. It gives an eerie feeling, caught in two minds, because it isn't yet time for the lights yet its darker than usual.
I hate it, in the summer time when the indoor temperature is something like 20 deg C lower, because of the air conditioning. Especially some buildings in America, where you have to wear a jacket inside the building during summer. That is one of the worst things ever, feeling cold when all you wanted was to feel cool. It is ironical to come out of a building and be relieved to be back in the warm air again. The textile showrooms, in particular, advertise a chilly temperature to attract crowds, who do turn out to beat the heat. Count me out. I'm not game.
I hate it when the weather is in two minds. It should either be too cold, freezing, or should be real warm. Anything like 12-15 deg C is uncomfortable because its just not possible to wear proper clothes.
I don't like it when it half-drizzles, not being able use an umbrella or put it away.
I love it when it's cold at night, but you have a real cozy room and a cozy blanket.. the same feeling when you feel lazy to get up on a cold morning.
Mother Nature, I love you.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Almost all of us reading this would have experienced Minesweeper, the game which comes free with the Windows operating system.
What makes me ponder hard and reason for lengthy periods of time is that no matter where you click, your first square will not be a mine. You may argue that it is obviously designed: a mine on a first click will make you less interested in the game. But, isn't it a strange outlook in life? Every time you play Minesweeper, you are always given a chance to prove yourself on the first try - shouldn't life also be like that? For your first try you should be forgiven; the latter steps shall determine if you have learnt from that first step - very much like Minesweeper.
From a game design point of view it means that the outlay of the mines on the field is undetermined till your first click, but life can't be like that, swaying to your fancies.
Your first 'click'... Always reprieved, no matter how bad a guess it may be..... Minesweeper is conveying a thought provoking message....
Saturday, March 1, 2008
"When you go to an American university, you don't get a culture shock, you get a GULTI shock"Unless you are Gulti yourself, that is
Thursday, February 21, 2008
If you haven't heard about http://www.itwofs.com site as yet, do it now; it is a growing collection of 'copy cats' in the Indian music industry. It is updated by one Karthik; so new tunes are continually under scrutiny. You'll be surprised by the songs which are lifted from around the world. Check it out now. And you thought Pritam was a wonderful composer. Pritam is a sham for all the fame he gets.
The clips are in Real format, so you'll need to have Real Player to listen to them. Be ready to hang your head in shame.
Friday, February 8, 2008
- Most buildings usually have two doors at an entrance - with a buffer zone - to stop the outside weather from infuencing the conditions indoor. So you will have to open two doors.
- Almost all areas, 99%, are accessible by the physically challenged. That means all stairs can be by-passed by lifts indoors and ramps outdoors. That means you can take the lift to any floor of the building. This also implies that you can take a roller bag or a huge box on a carrier anywhere, just rolling it along.
- In any restroom(toilets) in a commercial building, you will find in the vicinity of the sink a liquid soap dispenser and a paper-roll/air drier. You are expected to wash your hands with soap and dry your hands with the paper that you roll out of the paper dispenser.
- In an apartment/house, in the bathroom, you will not find an open tap. The only outlets of water are the sink and usually the bathtub tap and the shower right above it. That means there is no proper place to keep a bucket and fill water; so filling a mug is not that easy because that bathtub tap is far from the potty. Paper is the only option. One of my friends from Blore was describing how he connected a pipe to the sink and used that. I get sick even imagining that. If you haven't used paper before, you got to do something about it.
- The amount of paper they use is phenomenal. Paper is also used as mini towels, in fast food chains and restaurants. Also for cleaning around the house. That is why the per-capita consumption of paper is so high for USA.
- Fast food chains are as common as tea shops for us. Almost every street corner has one.
- I have noticed that all of them do not prepare the meals behind closed environments -you can, to some extent see your meal being prepared. Probably to let the workers know that customers are always looking - maybe this leads them to be work faster and makes sure they don't add 'un'edible stuff in the meals.
- All buildings have centralised air conditioning; that means heating as well. So in summer you feel cold, in winter you feel warm. That's a major area of energy usage.
- Americans like really weird tastes(at least that's my impression). Cinnamon buns have too much cinnamon in them, Dr. Pepper, which is a very very popular drink, tastes like cough syrup(it really does, I'm not joking), pop(e.g. Coke, Pepsi) have flavours like cherry.
- Tea is a popular drink, not hot, but as Ice Tea and Lemon Tea.
- Gas for cooking and indoor heating purposes is delivered via underground pipelines. Same with water.
- My relative told me that most don't build their own houses - they just move into a house already built by an agency or an existing one. I don't know whether you can't build your own house or if it is legally better to get it built by a construction company. But there are all sort of rules to be followed in construction, fire safety rules to be adhered to, so it makes sense to just move into a house instead of taking the pain of building your own.
- I don't know how far this is true, but in posh areas, you need to get permission from authorities to keep pets, so that they know the pet has sufficient space and you are sane enough to treat it well.
- There seem to be medicines and pills for each and every ailment -right from depression to kicking the smoking habit to weight reduction.
- The ads on TV are really good - almost all the tricks in the textbook are used - cartoons, comedy, direct speech, truth telling, interviews, cute animals, cute kids... I was really impressed with the pharmaceutical ads - like those for heartburn or some allergies - they have a story running in the background while the voiceover continues talking about the pill, it's side effects, who should not take it, so on. But all say - ask your doctor. Its also obvious that all the effects of a pill must be revealed in the ad - i.e. the ad shouldn't mislead anyone.
- The Superbowl(sort of all-America American football finals) is a major event with the highest viewership of the year. Ads are created specially for this even - search on YouTube for 'Superbowl ads'. A thirty second slot sold for around $3 million for this Superbowl, held on Feb 3.
- An undergrad classroom is pretty much like as though they don't care if the prof even cares about them - they laugh loudly, make jokes, pull the prof's leg, pretty much being themselves. The profs don't seem to mind too.
- How it works is, since the students pay money for the credits they take, they are sort of superior, and they expect value for money.
- I haven't exactly understood undergrad college, but you can take any course anywhere in the college - so history one semester, psychology the next - that is while applying for higher studies one of the minimum requisite clauses states "minimum xx credits" in whichever field you're applying.
- People wear anything they want to to class - shorts, caps, t-shirts.
- Dignity of labour exists here - there's nothing wrong in being a Spanish teacher or a History teacher.
- Spanish is the a de-facto second language, with signs and labels including Spanish.
- In any University, the de-facto second language is easily Telugu.
- School, job and college are just a mixed set - you can finish them in any order you like. School, then college, or job, or both.
- Many undergrads work part-time to offset their tuition fees, I guess they are on their own after school, their decide their own life.
- Similarly, children, engagement and marriage are another mixed bag - it seems you can have children, then get engaged and then married - or the other possibility.
- It is pretty difficult to understand a common American's language(accent) - I have asked a Subway 'Sandwich Artist'(the person behind the counter) to tell me the different kinds of meat they have around 3 times, and they say it so fast and with the accent I still don't know what they are.
- It's the same the other way around - they have difficulty in understanding what you say. You have to be ready to say each word slowly, carefully, and spell it out if necessary.
- At fast food chains you will be asked, "For here, or to go?" 'For here' means you want to eat in there itself, your meal will be presented on a plate; 'To go' means you want to take it home and eat it. 'To go' is cheaper by a few cents.
- The thing that is really special about America is the bureaucracy - everyone does their job, they take their job seriously, work efficiently - getting a Social Security Number was so straight forward. No bribes, no lines, no hassles.
- Another nice thing is the companies take customer service seriously - so the employees try to be at their best.
- The common 'culture' is also nice - holding doors open for the people behind you, saying excuse me when you have to pass close by a person, saying sorry if you are suddenly on the same path, saying hello to start off a conversation - even with an employee across the counter - you just don't start off 'I want a drink' - you say - 'Hi, I'd like a drink, please' or 'Hi! How're you doing.. I'd like a drink, please'. You are on your best manners even if you don't mean it.
- Americans drive on the right side of the road, drive left-hand-drive cars.
- The floor we call Ground floor is the First floor. So the Second floor is the First floor for us.
- Everyone follows the law - while driving, noone jumps red lights, no sudden overtaking, in fact, not many even use their horns.
- Americans have ultimate faith in the law and justice. Not even the President is above law. Only if that were also the case for India.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
- Most food items contain some form of 'meat' content - e.g. animal fat. Since Americans have meat as a main dish and rice/others as side dishes unlike us, it doesn't matter to them. So this means if you are a pure vegetarian eating a packaged product isn't easy. Most items will have meat; if not then they will have it in other forms such as '..... and/or processed animal fat....'. You'd want to check the labels for the complete list if you really want to avoid all forms of meat. Also, everytime you order any food, it's always better make sure with the person behind the counter what you're going to have doesn't have anything you don't want to eat. However if, like me, you don't like cheese and cream and mayo, that pretty much rules out everything from the fast food chains.
- American food is very bland. I once tried to make ready-to-eat soup, but it was just too awful. People here like sweet things a lot, and someone told me the Coke here is sweeter than what we have in India. Even if you order spicy-hot food, chances are it will just be mildly hot to our tongues.
- Folklore has it that a desi (what we call our brethren outside our country. e.g. 'There's a desi!') told his parents, who were not-so-urban, and were concerned with his drinking habits, that when you open a tap in America, only Soda and Beer flow. His parents, who did not have reason to believe otherwise, kept cajoling him to go it slow on alcohol... This is true to some extent, because you will find soda-vending machines almost everywhere, either in bottles or cans or the soda itself. And beer is also very popular, associated with American football, although you need a state id to buy some - because rules are enforced strictly and underage drinking is prohibited(either 18 or 21, varying from state to state)
- Americans like their drinks ice-cold. Everything, coke, pepsi, milk, tea, coffee, water, they will drink ice-cold. This means it is available ice-cold. Ice cubes are available in the vending machines itself, if they dispense the soda directly, and one lady filled her cup with ice cubes, and put a little bit soda. In the middle of winter. Water, is dispensed from water fountains, is free, and will spurt out when you keep a button depressed, and you have to catch it in midair. I took a while to drink all the water that spurted out, but water fountains usually result in wastage of a lot of water. And that too is ice-cold. This means you really can't get room-temperature water to drink from a decent source.
- However, since all water supplied is potable, you can drink from a tap too. So, say you are in the shower and are thirsty, just open your mouth and quench your thirst.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Prof: So we can use this to find out that
Me: But the problem is it becomes bloated, something like thermocol... So I don't think this will work
Prof: Thermocol? What's that?
Me: :-8 (wondering if I would be technically correct to say if it was polystyrene, I was unsure, which it was as I later discovered)
Prof: Do you mean styrofoam?
Me: Yes, yes, styrofoam(correctly guessing it was something similar)... We call it thermocol in India
Prof: (chuckle chuckle)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
- It is said America revolves around credit - I read somewhere that if all the debts in the world were settled, there would be no money in circulation.
- In America there is something called 'credit history' which every single American is obsessed about. It is basically a record(score or number to be exact) which shows how well you are willing to borrow money(credit) and repay it on time. The more, the better. The highest you can get is 850(FICO), and this is determined by how perfectly you repay your loans, how much risk you are willing to take(for e.g. how many credit cards you have), how often you take it(uniform usage of credit cards), variety of credit you have taken(mortgage, car loan, etc) and many others. FICO,or Fair Isaac(Vetti Suresh is in that company), is one such company which calculates the score. Three other agencies also calculate this score.
- What the basis of credit history is shown by a simple story I read on some financial site: A lender lends $100 to a beggar who has zero bank balance for a month. He also lends $100 to a millionaire with millions in his name for a month. Suppose, the beggar repays that $100 on time, and the millionaire does not, the beggar will have a 'good' credit history and the rich man will have a 'bad' credit history. So the money you have does not matter, it is your ability to repay in the future which counts.
- Why this is so important in America is because buying almost everything which will need a monthly maintenance - your car, your house, even your cell phone - is affected by your credit history. A good history will get you a lower rate of interest and a bad one means your ROI will be higher. It applies to cars and housing if you take it on a loan, not outright buying. When buying a car or renting a car or applying for a housing loan the agency will check on your history and accordingly grant or deny the loan.
- This forms the basis for the famous sub-prime mortgage crisis. Some time back, when the interest rates were as low as 1%, banks started lending out mortgages to families with bad credit history - mostly African-Americans - but soon rates started increasing, and since many couldn't repay their loans, there were many foreclosures - repossession of property - and soon the lenders started shutting shop. The problem didn't stop there - the banks had sold these mortgages as financial packages overseas - basically these were investments funding the mortgage - so when their value started declining, they were cashed in, reducing the value further. As of now most of the major banks have posted losses in their earnings including Morgan Stanley which posted it's first ever loss last year.
- To help with identifying each individual there is an SSN - Social Security Number - which is issued to every born citizen when they are children and to non-immigrants like me when we start earning in some form. This SSN is unique and is sufficient, with your other personal details, to check your credit history. It also helps during tax payment and pension, known as Social Security(I am not sure about this; please help yourselves).
- This leads us to identity theft - divulging your SSN and personal details or discovery of these to or by some crook - is a major problem in this land and in UK. With these details, anyone can open an account, apply for a credit card and spend as they like - bothering never to pay, because the bills will come to you.
- An SSN is essential to get a credit card - mostly an unsecured credit card(unlimited spending) will need you to have a good credit history.
- I mentioned earlier that a cell phone will need a credit history. The 'wireless' industry as it is called here is pretty funny and damned compared to ours. Most of the cellular connections are post-paid(contract) and few are pre-paid('Pay-as-you-go). Many plans exist where you can get a phone free with a post-paid connection - if you have a good credit history that is - but usually these are not the latest in the market. So since businessmen aren't running charities to give away everything for free, it can be safely assumed that the cost of the phone is included in the monthly charges you will be paying. These charges consist of a fixed charge(rental) and a charge depending on how much you speak/message/browse. Even then, there are a lot of 'free minutes', so if you talk within those minutes, you would be paying only the minimum charges. Again, we can assume these are factored into the charges we already pay.
- You will mostly enter into a contract for a period of time - usually two years - when you take up a service with a wireless provider. The cell phone he provides is 'locked' - and cannot be used with any other sim card. The cell phone is 'unlocked' only when you the contract ends or you break it, paying a hefty fine, usually roughly 4 months-worth rent.
- I think you can bring your own cell phones and buy a sim from the service provider, as my U of Florida friends have done, and I guess post-paid works out cheaper than pre-paid.
- It also has interesting situations for the mobile phone-manufacturing companies - since switching phones is unviable because of the contract, mobile phone companies have to approach the wireless companies to release their phones - so the wireless companies dominate the proceedings. This means sometimes you can't have your choice of phone and network - because either will be from rival networks.
- Hence some phones are exclusively part of one network, like the iPhone from Apple, Inc. If you want an iPhone, you will have to buy the phone for $399(as of date of this post) and take a 2-year contract with AT&T with a minimum of $59 monthly charges. Apple allegedly arm-twisted AT&T into an agreement skewed in favour of themselves, but that is a story worth of another blog post altogether. This why some predict this business model to fail in India - but they will simply do what they did in France - sell it for regular price bundled with a post paid connection and sell it for a much higher price for use on any other network. Let's see how this 'prediction' ends up.
- Most Americans love flip-phones(just an observation), the Motorola Razr is a very popular model.
- Of course, the Apple range of products are very popular here, almost every fifth person will have his ears plugged with an iPod. The Apple enthusiasts seem to be a bunch of ultra-loyal people, they look to have such undying faith and hope in Steve Jobs they would be ready to hunt down the other bad boy Bill if needed. It's also a wonder, how, Apple has maintained such a large 'fan base'.
- I got to know that Americans don't save money as much as we do - they spend for today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow, which works hand in hand with the logic of credit history. I believe that is the strength of the American economy - instead of stashing away the money earned, they spend it - they buy today and repay it slowly later. So while we have black money, in America that money circulates within the economy, and this has 'a feel good' factor about it, as economists bank on it to make predictions and project sales. Americans just keep spending - new, in-fashion clothes for Christmas which are dumped by next Christmas, electronics, cars..... We don't care much about branding, but that is seen as a status symbol in business circles - you have to have branded, in-fashion gear and clothes on yourself or else you end up at the sidelines.
- The consolidation of American companies has led to an unfavourable situation - a few market leaders manipulating and dominating the market. I seem to get the impression that the companies look not at serving the consumers but their stockholders, which is very dangerous, because the common man doesn't gain a thing from this.
- The highest denomination of the dollar is $100. But if you withdraw money from an atm, the highest denomination you will get is $20. This is because many many establishments do not accept $50 and $100 notes - change may be harder to get, but another reason I guess is to avoid possible burglary. Robbing shops and eateries is big business, guessing by the number of video seen around the world. Given the fact that guns are easily available, burglaries(hold-ups) seem to be common. Maybe due to the fact that shops are spread over a large area, far from one another, and also because they are open late and dotted with customers.
- Observing closely, you can notice various steps taken to catch burglars - video cameras in the establishment, notices saying : * "...we do not accept or keep $50 and $100 notes...."(which can thwart a potential robber because he will have to haul more), '... you are being watched on a video camera....', '...say cheese, you're on camera!', '......this keep more than $50 in our registers after 6pm..', in case of delivery boys, the pizza box has this printed: '... the delivery person has no more than $50 with him...' One other thing is that the exit doors will have a sticker indicating height in feet on their frames - obviously to guess the height of the robber as he exits the place.
- And most transactions are cashless - credit cards or through university id cards - which have a magnetic strip and can be loaded with money for sake of transactions.
- Internet banking is awesome - you can even set your ATM preferences via the your online account. Cheques(Checks, they are called in this crazy country) do not carry any charges, you get a certain number of check books free, they have multiple security features making forgery very difficult(as a result of years of experience at the receiving end of forgers...e.g. Catch Me If You Can)
- For this post's final fact, what we call a rubber in India should be called eraser here. Because, here, if you ask the person behind the counter for a rubber, he'd give you what you wanted if you and your partner wanted temporary bliss but not a 'bundle of joy'.
P.S.: I'm not a very good economist, please excuse my crude explanations. I'd be very happy for comments on any of the posts.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
- America, though may refer to the continent, is referred to USA within the country also.
- They drive on the right side of the road with left hand drive.
- Most of the cars have automatic gears - so no clutch. This also means they consume a lot of fuel (a lot of energy is used up in the automatic gears). This also means that slamming the accelerator will not immediately increase the speed.
- Public transport(inter-city) is almost non-existant(not that intra-city is great either, in major cities like NY & DC it's 'ok' but not every place else). The only pan-America means of 'public' transport are Greyhound(bus service) and Amtrak(rail). This is because almost everyone has cars(on average one household has 3 cars) and road services are excellent. Highways are awesome and you can get from point A to point B at an average speed of 50 miles an hour. Every city/town has a by-pass, and driving in a new area is just not possible. You have to plan which exits to take and where. This is aided by online maps like Google Maps, which will give you road-by-road distance, estimated times and exact locations as to where to take turns, etc. GPS handhelds are also very popular.
- Each state has its own set of laws and can vary very widely when just crossing borders. Due to the history of the US, each state has its own liberty to a large extent. In conversation with an American friend I found that it is the responsibility of the town to fund and maintain a police force. So if a town can't afford a police force, there is no effective police.
- Rugby as played here is called Football. Football as we know it is called Soccer. The irony is their Football doesn't involve the foot even as much as Rugby does. All the while, Americans are obsessed with sport. Football is most popular; Baseball is a favourite pastime; Basketball season starts when winter sets in, after the end of the Baseball season, mainly because it can be played indoors; Soccer has a good following too. They are very very loyal to their local teams. Local teams usually mean teams from a university and teams from major cities. eg: Cleveland Browns; University of Florida Gators, so almost all universities have their own team. Whichever sport, they don't mind spending some money to come out to support their teams.
- This in turn means there is atleast one football match at any given time all weekend; there are football matches on weekdays too; so you can keep yourself occupied with football all the time. Also every university has its own grounds for all the sports.
- There's lots of space in America, so instead of building to the sky, you might as well build on the ground itself. There are malls, some small(half a soccer field) to really big ones. Of course, this is the land of skyscrapers too... They stretch as far as the eye can see....
- Pricing is a bit funny: 99% of the items in malls do not have the price printed when procured from the manufacturer; so if you search for a price on the product, all you will find is the retailer's sticker. I.e. there is no price printed on the product, which means the retailer is free to charge how much ever he wants for that product. So a loaf of bread can cost $1.29 at one store and the same loaf can cost $2.39 in another store. The consumer has no clue about 'cost effectiveness' by looking at the cost from one store. The only items to have prices displayed on them are <$2, like peanuts for $0.99 and Lays also for $0.99. A similar discrepancy exists for items such as cameras, laptops and almost everything. An example is though the 'suggested retail price' on a jacket was $100, the selling price was just over $50. So it's up to the store to make money as it wants. The price between stores can vary as much as 40%, online. And yes, a lot of things are bought online. Generally things are cheaper on the internet (because they don't include dealership fees, I guess). With Google Checkout and PayPal and eBay and Amazon.com items can be bought cheaply and quickly. Courier services, namely US Postal Service, FedEx and UPS are very good in service, helping fuel online sales further.
- Malls, I noticed, have as much parking space as they have floorspace. I was later told there were laws requiring some ratio of area as parking space. Which means parking in these places isn't too much of a problem, but shows that there are so many cars around and land is aplenty.
- There is a legal right(fundamental right) to own guns. It's as simple as walking into a store, paying money and walking out with your own gun. It does fuel violence, but this right is backed by a powerful National Rifle Association, which said after the Virginia Tech massacre, "...this could have been avoided if everyone in the university had a gun of their own..." Ironically though, it is illegal to carry firearms into most buildings. So basically that means you can own keep a gun inside your house and vehicle.
- Going to jail is apparently no big deal: I once overheard a group of persons having this conversation: "... you ever been to jail?" "yeah, once, I was driving drunk..." "you know my brother was arrested for DUI(Driving Under Influence, i.e. drunken driving), and he cried the whole night!" Mind you, the first two were girls.
More in part 2.....