Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The most common complaint that one might hear about this movie is how predictable the story is. How the good are essentially good, the bad are bad and how the main characters never die, how the last person to die is the main villain and until that moment nothing seems to faze him and nothing can kill him before that time.

I enjoyed the movie in spite of these cliches. And this blog post is sorta a defense, sorta analysis of the movie. Its too easy trash the movie without looking at how bad it could have been. I know that the most common complaint will be that he should have spent it less on special effects. But look at the trailer of the movie. It basically says this: "New planet, hero has to infiltrate, he does it, falls in love with local and then turns around and defends locals finishing with big battle". If you expect anything else, you should probably not go to watch.

So why is this better than Transformers, Star Wars (the new ones), Spiderman 3, Daredevil,Terminator 3 & 4, the Aliens vs Predators and so on. Its because this one knows that you will care about the visuals if shown the right way. I'm not the best authority to talk and defend movies. Check out Roger Ebert's blog for a much better defense. Or maybe Ram Gopal Verma's post. (Ok, he may not be much of an authority in a way, but considering that he makes movies, and sometimes good ones, we should believe him with a pinch of salt.)

The point is, you get movies like the Matrix very rarely. And on the surface of it, The Matrix is pretty much a similar template. The trick they employed in that movie was to take this template and layer it additional significance and more scientific (and philosophical) language. LOTR is essentially a good versus evil tale. A very basic adventure story enriched by the detail of this world. And this is what Avatar does: it takes a standard story and layers it with the detail of the world. Much of the details are visual.

But James Cameron started of on this movie with the "mind-blowing visual experience" in mind. He delivers on that. The camera always pauses to show everything. Roger Ebert and Eric Snider (two film critics whose opinions I love to read) talk about how action movies use quick cuts and confusing shots that make it hard to decipher whats happening. This movie takes a lot of time to show that action. One style of shots I loved was the one which is used in recent war movies: a long shot which shows the general formation, overall view and then camera moves, as if handheld, and zooms in one detail to call our attention to it. You know that Cameron wants to show you his technology because he uses this zoom thing show those weird animals, birds, geological formations, armies, machines and so on.

Script deconstruction (well.. my attempt at it anyway) SPOILER ALERT

From what I understand, the movie seems to be 4 acts, most movies are 3 acts. James Cameron seems to love making 4 act movies (read Todd Alcott's post on this). First act ends when Sully gets stuck on Pandora and is saved by Neytri. Act 2 is his discovery of Pandora and falling for it. It ends when he decides to go against his bosses. Act 3 is the scenario where things go haywire, Pandora gets hammered and it ends with the humans escaping to side with the natives. Act 4 is the final battle.

The movie introduces the humans and their motivationsin the first act, and spends the second act on Pandora. Act 3 is mostly action with characters not fully committing to their decisions and choices and Act 4 is where all things come together; the choices made by the characters give us the result and things resolve. The movie earns points on making the planet Pandora seem real, and fully developed. There seems to be a lot of back story that is hinted at.

The funny thing is, how some dialogues used in tons of war movies by the generals of the good side, when used almost similarly here by humans, seemed to evocate a negative reaction from me. The humans are the bad guys in this movie and those dialogues highlighted that in this movie. In all other war movies, such dialogues, a little padded up, lead the men to victory.

(I secretly hope that film experts and film buffs discover my blog and trash me for this post and show me where and how wrong I am. Pradeep, you start first)

Monday, December 21, 2009


When talking to a friend once, I was amazed to know that he actually remembered the first time he saw the sea. I have relatives in Mumbai and I was born there, so the image of the sea has always been in my head. I don't remember the first time I saw the sea, or the mountains. My friend lived in the mountains, and he came to the beach the first time when he was 19-20 years old. I guess when you have waited that long (not that he was waiting for it!), the memory stays with you.

Based on this "fable", I had conjured up images of seeing snow the first time. I imagined myself getting off the train or the bus in the Swiss Alps, seeing a foot of snow, not knowing what to do but just staring at the whole scene and taking it in. When I saw the snow-capped mountains in the distance from my house, this "image" intensified. But funnily enough that is not how it happened. I was on my way to a party in Nice and while in the bus, we saw what we thought was rain. Now, Nice does not get snowfall generally and there was nothing to suggest that it would snow. Well, the forecast said it might snow in Sophia Antipolis, which is higher up and farther from the sea.

As the bus slowed down, we realised that the "water drops" hitting the windows were tiny white were tiny white snowflakes. I was searching for the "OMG the first snowfall!" feeling in me, but I was mostly wondering why the heck it is snowing. We got out at the bus stop, and it slowly dawned on me. It was snowing! I think the movies and books hype up the situation too much. It was a cool feeling, I admit. But my jaw did not drop.

Later on in the night, we looked through the window of the apartment and saw the snowfall. It had gotten heavier, so to say. Compared to most other places, the quantity was still miserly but it does look beautiful. We looked out of the window and could see the car tops covered with snow. The temperature wasn't low enough, so snow on the ground melted away. When we left the place for home, the cars still had snow over them. We made a couple of snowballs and threw them. We were too cold to keep playing, so the game did not last much. I don't know if I will remember this memory like my friend does, but it was a bit special. It was definitely something I did not expect, but thats generally how things go...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

TSF videos

Videos from one performance with the Theatre Strike Force. This was from the end of semester show, called "T-Group Showdown". I was in two games - Party Quirks, where the host has to guess who his guests are, and Radio, where each of us is a Radio station and the proctor selectively tunes in and out to our station.

Party Quirks


Friday, November 27, 2009



Notes taken at a meeting: "Everyone is equally lost..."
"मीटिंग मध्ये काहीच होत नाही."
I start getting increasingly frustrated with reading a biology paper on knee motion. Decide to talk to a friend in the room.
Me: This biology stuff is so damn boring.
Him: Yeah, you look totally uninterested in it.
Me: This paper describes the motion of the knee in text, no pictures. And it uses all the technical words for body parts. I have to look up wikipedia all the time.  
(Note: I loved the fact that until now I had nothing to do with biology. I had never read a bio paper until now. So my ignorance should be excused).
Him: Why are you reading it? Is it useful?

Me: ... (thinking hard)... I don't know...
I really don't know....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tough Questions

Some questions I've been asked which I always find it tough to answer:
1) How is France/USA? / How does it feel to be in India?
2) What next? / Do you want to work in academia? / Do you want to be a professor?
3) Why don't you like dancing?
4) Where will you settle? / I guess you don't want to stay in India, isn't it?
5) Why don't you eat beef?
6) Is it like this [insert some common stereotype] in India?
Actually, I now know one answer to this question. In his review of Dogville, Roger Ebert writes (about America)
All of these things are true, and all of these things are untrue. It's a big country, and it has a lot of different kinds of people.
I think this answer is good enough.
7) How can you not want to listen to songs all the time!
8) What type of robots are you building?
The answer begins with: "No. I'm not building robots for my PhD." But explaining what I really am working on puts most people who are not technically inclined to sleep.
Some of these, I am not sure if I can answer myself.

A loong looong hike

Day - 12th May, 2009.
When you like to take photographs and write (sometimes), its really helpful that they complement each other. I can associate stuff I have written about with the photos I took, and the photos I took help me remember stuff that I might have forgotten. I have been procrastinating writing this for a long time, but I know I'll be mad at myself if I don't. Right now, I remember stuff that happened, I have time and I also have the photos to help me remember stuff. 
To know what I'm talking about in this post, read Day One of the trip to the Smokies.

So I woke up a couple of times in the night, because I thought that the night was over. But it wasn't. Each time I felt fresh and then got mad at myself for waking up so early. I finally woke up at 5-ish (the common wake up time was 6 I believe) and got ready. When you wake up an hour early, its extremely peaceful. You can sleepwalk and take your own sweet time going through the motions, if you get my drift. Also, the darkness and lack of any sounds makes it a little eerie too. I realised that since I was up, awake and ready, I could sleep again until others got ready. :) (I absolutely adore my ability to sleep any amounts of time. The more the merrier is what my brain believes, in regard to sleep).

Judging by weather forecasts, we had decided the previous night that we should re-schedule our hike to Mt. Le Conte from 13th May to today. The chances of rain-free days later in the week were smaller. This is why there has to be a trip leader. Rick and Dana were calling the shots on this trip, which streamlined everything. No arguments, no bickering and no "alternative plans that will be better". Its nice to follow sensible directions and instructions. (If you are in Gainesville and Rick and Dana have planned a trip and invited you, go! Don't miss it!)

We got going soon, pretty much on time. Had breakfast at the Holiday Inn. Omlettes with cheese and meat (chicken preferably) or spinach florentineare awesome. Try them some time. We took our time with breakfast, and finally reached the start of the Alums Cave Bluffs Trail at around 11 am. The thing that I loved was how unlike Florida the whole place is: the twisting roads, huge mountains, tall trees and gushing streams close to the road. We began our hike. Rick warned us that the best parts are at the top and we shouldn't spend too much time at the bottom. After all, we had 2853 feet to climb, and 5.5 miles to walk.

But the waterfalls near the start are so pretty, we couldn't stop ourselves from trying to get the right pictures. None that I took seemed to do enough justice. We spent a good 20 minutes at the first half mile. We weren't holding the group up (We = Taran, Subrat, Me) but were pretty much making sure that we wouldn't get enough time at the top. Rick had to issue a stern warning again. The second time, it worked. For me, the warning served to remind me that it was 11.30 am, we needed 3 hours to reach top, 3 to get down and about an hour at least at the top. If we spent more time down, we'd have to get down in the dark. Funny how simple, logical arguments need so much time for our brain to register.

Taran and I pretty much decided to implement the blitzkreig strategy. We would run up some distance and stop when we felt that the spot was picturesque. Then we would spend all time we could taking the best pic and then start running up again. We left most of the group behind. We did occassionally catch up with Jim, Alok and his friends, but since they did not spend so much time taking photographs, they managed to get quite ahead of us. Us taking photographs was quite complicated. First, it involved scouting the scenery. Then, the location for positioning the camera was selected, followed by setting up the tripod, adjusting the camera settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO). Auto-focus is way easier than using manual focus on a non-dslr camera.

I have done hikes which have entailed climbing 2800 feet or more. The Sinhagad Fort near Pune is about the same height. But, the distance that we traverse in to climb that height is much less. 5.5 miles of slow, uphill trail is a tough challenge. Rick, Dana and Jim need to be commended on their physical fitness for doing this hike. Rick and Jim surely would have been faster than us if there was a "race", and they are more than twice my age!

As we neared the top, I started getting mad at how large a distance of 5.5 miles is. It doesn't seem to ever end! We finally reached the top - the Mt. Le Conte Lodge. This place is so popular, that the rooms get booked around a year in advance. And there is no cancellation policy. If you are stuck with bad weather, tough luck. When we reached the place, all we wanted to do was unpack our lunches and eat in silence. The lunch served at the lodge is mostly sandwiches and stuff, since all groceries and supplies are carried up (on mules, I think). This makes it that much more expensive and so we had decided earlier to just carry our lunch with us. The lodge has an office where they sell souvenirs and we all knew we wanted something. The first thing I heard Dana say when she got there was: I want my shirt before I go anywhere else. The lodge sells great souvenir shirts with the map and height printed on it, and a line saying: "I hiked it in 2009".

We had our lunches and our share of photos and went to the topmost point on the mountain. It is officially 6593 feet above sea level at this point and it offers an almost panaromic view of the area. We had another photo session here and goofed off a bit. We came back to Lodge and we saw the sign that we had been searching for. The sign at the Dining Room reads the elevation (6593 feet), location (LeConte Lodge) and the date (12 May 2009). ALL of us posed with that sign in the background.

We started our way down at around 4.30 pm. Again, Jim and Alok's friends (Abhijeet and Jin) led the way. Taran and I started our mad dash down, with frequent stops to take pictures. There was a time when I was daunting by hikes - not because I couldn't climb the heights, but because getting down was harder; your feet slip, knees hurt and you always seem to be heading towards a fall. Over a period of time, I learnt how to "run" down without it being too risky. Running down makes it so much easy! The 5.5 miles breezed through on the way down. Of course, we still took around 2 & half hours to get down but it seemed much faster. On the way down, at Alum Cave Bluffs we caught up with Abhijeet playing the flute. Jim, Jin and he were taking a rest stop and Abhijeet decided to unwind by playing the flute.

I always hate it when people play music in the wild because it always seems incongruous with the surroundings. But I was wrong about the flute. It seems magical to listen to it. The only other sound in such areas is the wind through the trees and the flute seems to support that melody. I cannot express it well, but if you happen to have a flautist on your hike, make sure he plays. :P

Everyone walked down at their own pace. Finally by 8 pm everyone was at the car park. Alok, Jin, Abhijeet, Jim, Rick and Dana decided to head back to camp to rest. The rest of us were hungry. Rick warned us that we might not find anything in the town, since most places close early. In case we found nothing, we could head back to camp and eat there. Luckily about 30 mins of driving around got us to a Wendy's (or Burger King, I forget). Everyone ate at least 1 burger. I shocked the whole lot by gulping down 3. Honestly, I don't know where they disappeared.

We got back to camp where we stayed up only for a short while. Nothing had been planned for the next day. We debated about going to Clingman's Dome the next day, or just hiking around the other nearby waterfalls. No one was inclined to rise early and watch the sunrise from Clingman's Dome (something which one shouldn't miss, according to Vikas). We slept off still undecided about the next day...
Judging by the time lag between posts about this trip, I'm not sure when I'll write about the next two days. Pray that it happens soon...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lost in Translation

I was talking to this guy from Morocco, and I asked him when he had come to France. He says. "On half of March." This seems easy to understand, but when conversing, its not easy to realise that half of March means 15th of March.


At lunch time, I'm surrounded by French speakers. They all can speak English, but speaking in French comes more naturally to them. And in a raging discussion, halting English does not have the same effect. I'm let in on the topic from time to time. Someone realises that I don't understand French yet and am offered a translation and an opportunity to contribute. But when the details and the flow of thought is not clearly understood, the whole thing appears confusing. And sometimes also very funny. Getting only small glimpses of the entire conversation makes you wonder how the thoughts were connected. Unfortunately, I can only share what I was translated for my benefit.

The first topic I heard was about a love story that everyone in France is expected to read in school. To which I commented having read works of some French authors. This turned to a discussion of French writers and philosophers. And how many people have no idea about Indian writers. I was told about this author who wrote an essay on how people should deal with each other and something about Corsica (I am guessing it was Rousseau, thanks to help from Wikipedia.)

The conversation returns to French and I am left to my own thoughts. After some time, I am told the they are discussing about how the tax on fuel might increase. In order to regulate the greenhouse effect. They ask me about fuel prices in India. I respond and slowly the conversation moves back to French. I'm left to my thoughts again. Then I realise that they are talking about colors. And their gesturing and pointing suggests that they are talking about hair.

My inquisitive look elicits a response: One of them says that he is explaining how his hair is not exactly black, but is a different shade. They remark about me having some gray hair. I smile, saying I know about it.

I wonder how all these thoughts were connected.


For my birthday, on 5th Sept, we went to Cannes to watch Inglourious Basterds. In France, only some places show the movie in its original form ("Version Originale") with French subtitles. They rest show the movies dubbed in French. We did not know that the movie features dialogue in English, French and German (and Italian too!) So when we did go see the movie, we thought that the first scene in French was just Tarantino's brilliant ploy to keep the audience confused before he reveals his ideas. Once the dialogue shifted to English, the subtitles in French began. We realised things were wrong only when the dialogue shifted to German.

The subtitles were still in French!

Its an interesting experience to figure out a movie in an unknown language with no subtitles. Only bits of the dialogue is in English, and you have to rely on your meagre translating skills to figure what certain French words might mean. I still enjoyed the movie, because Tarantino still manages to make viewing it interesting. But I so wish I had seen the "good" version.

I managed to see a decent copy later, with English subtitles, and the movie is amazing. I noticed one thing about Tarantino's movies. They are more than 2 hours long, and have very little things happening in them. And yet, what the characters say and do while those few things happen is what makes up the movie. Its needs great skill to still keep us enthralled and he has mastered that art.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Culture Shock - France

I initially began to think that with all the warnings and stuff, I would be immune to culture shock. In a sense, its true. I was told stuff by the French, I read (/am reading) a book called "Culture Shock - France" - written specifically for helping adjust to this new country. So, there are many things that did not surprise me as much as they should have. But I just darn well can't help wanting to note them down.

The previous time I wrote a Culture shock post, I think I was a bit too early in writing it. I had landed in India after a year, and saw things differently. But in the first 5 days, I did not notice many things. Rather I didn't experience them. So this time, I waited. And it has been good to wait, because there is more to write. The initial feeling of not having any "shock" to write about has gone. So here goes nothing:

1: Food: one word - awesome. That is if you are a meat eater. For me, non-beef products are okay. So, I think I have gained a few pounds in the last two weeks. USA, take note: Even non-fried meat can be made to taste good. And an excellent meal is comprised of a salad, a meat product, fruits, dessert, cheese and wine. Heaven... with a few additional pounds of course.

2: Roads are narrow. In general, they are two lanes or maybe 4. The lanes are narrower. The buildings are much much closer to the road. And parallel parking is a necessary art you HAVE to master. Forget straight roads and be prepared for round-abouts, curving roads and probably pedestrians on the street.

3: Cars are almost always small. The narrow streets and smaller space necessitate it. Its nice to see small cars that you see in India - the Swift, Punto, Zen (?), an Indica variant. Its a little odd to see a big ass truck or mini-van. Almost all cars are manual transmission (hooray!). My hands are itching to drive cars here. Good roads and manual transmission is great combination.

4: Language: Its a scary realisation that the languages you are most comfortable with don't work. Sign language, phrase books and blank looks are a way of communicating. Its an interesting contrast to India, where everyone is trying to switch to English. France decides to preserve its language, and make people who want to stay here adapt. Of course, its made sure its in a position to force this.

5: Metric system!!!! Say hello to kilograms, kilometers and litres! Things make sense again. You don't have to worry about how many ounces make a quart or a gallon. Or how many ounces (again!) make a pound. But its time to remember what you learnt in school - mili-litre, centi-litre, litre. :)

6: Fuel: It seems only the US and the Arab countries have access to cheap fuel. And for some reason, India is getting it cheap too. In France, diesel costs 1 Euro per litre! Almost twice as much as in India. And petrol is even more expensive. I'm confused about this. India apparently gets fuel cheap, but taxes it a lot. US gets the fuel cheap and capitalism drives the cost down. Whats the deal in France? And Europe in general?

7: People say US is multicultural. Maybe it is. But its much easier to find your own community there and settle into it. And then not worry about interacting with others. France has been an awesome place to meet new people. In this small area where I am, I've already met people from about 7 different countries, excluding France. On a recent trip, all 5 of us were from different countries, each with different mother tongue. Its interesting that broken English is the only way of communication.

8: Motorcycles! They are a viable mode of transport. Thanks to the short distances. And you can rent them too. I am currently in a dilemma. Buy a motorcycle? or a car. * sigh *

Maybe I sound harsh on US in this. Its because right now, the concept of foreign land to me included only US. And this new addition is quite different. I've accepted the fact that I should not compare this place to India.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


For some reason, I was reminded of the day I got internet. I guess its because I have been spending so much time on it lately, that I realized that there was this time when I wasn't dependent on it.

I don't remember why my dad decided to get internet at home. We didn't need it. Nobody else in the neighbourhood had it. Few people in my school or my neighbourhood had personal computers. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember knowing about the internet. Being curious about chat. In those days (1998-99) there was only one company that provided internet. And getting it wasn't easy. As with most things in the 90s, VSNL was a government owned company which handled the international communications side (BSNL was the only phone company then) and which provided internet. The VSNL office was far out of town. Applying for internet (yes, you had to apply for it, and wait till your application was approved) involved stuffing into the car with my cousin and dad and driving for maybe 30 mins or so and submitting those documents. I don't know what documents they wanted, I was too young to know what they were.

Once the application was approved, we had to contact this other office. VSNL had authorized a few local vendors and computer dealers to provide modems and what-not. Sorta like franchisees I guess. Since my dad used to work out of town, I had to be the man and call the office and fix up a date when they would install it. We had a local electrician fix up additional phone lines in the house so that we could get a phone next to the computer. Since this was during the age of dial-up, my dad had gotten a second phone line. He knew that us kids would be spending loads of time hogging up the internet.

The day arrived. My house used to be considered outside town. (Now, the same location is the hub of all activities fun.) In those days, getting anything down for the computer involved calling in a technician. He would call, get directions to our house, exclaim that it was soo far, we would agree, he would turn up 40 minutes later, exclaim again that it was far out, we would give him a glass of water, direct him to the computer, he would start opening up the computer, we would give him a cup of tea with biscuits, he would continue working and eventually fix the comp. The distance remark would be made once again before leaving. We would nod in agreement again.

That day, the technician came. He had the modem and I-dont-remember-what-else. He spent a good 30-40 minutes fixing things. Changing settings. He was sorta surprised that we still had a 486 computer and that it was running Windows 95. (We put our computer through a lot). Finally he proclaimed that everything is ready. I was thrilled. He then switched the modem on and dialled on the VSNL number. After a lot of screeching sounds, the modem went silent and the screen showed that it had connected. I waited for something to happen. Nothing did. The guy then proceeded to explain what to do. He started Internet Explorer and opened Yahoo (or some other search engine.)

He explained how we could find information, like for example for my school project. He typed in Taj Mahal and pressed enter. Explained what the results page showed and opened a random one. After that small tutorial, he started packing up to leave. Thats when I asked him, "How do you chat?" He gave one of the most amazing smiles as I asked that. I think he found it funny that a 13 year old would want to know about chat. (It was 1998 and it was India, remember). By then, the computer was already switched off. So he told me that the Yahoo site he had shown had a link called Chat in it. When I started it next, I could have a go, though I will have to create a login for it.

I bet he used some other words. I don't think I would have understood "link" or "login" then. Over time, I understood all these things. My first email address was on Hotmail, since it was developed by an Indian. I really started using internet later on. After about 3-4 months. I hooked on to sites like Neopets.com, had email on Myownemail.com and I think I played a lot of Yahoo games. Dail-up internet meant that even I spent a lot of time on the net, I actually visited only 2-3 sites. Slowly, Yahoo caught up with me. Friends around me also discovered the wonders of the internets. Chatting became the new way of communicating.

I remember this one year, I was still in school and so I wasn't allowed to be out alone for the New Year's eve. And we generally used to all sit at home and watch all those specials on tv. In my family, the new year has never been a big deal. That year, all of us friends welcomed the new year online. Woohoo! Over the years, internet has taken over my life. Yahoo gave way to Google. I was desparate for the Gmail invite and when I got it, I became this important guy who had spare invites to distribute among friends. I joined Orkut just on the basis that it was owned by Google. It didn't strike me that I was allowed to dislike stuff that Google made.

Now, after two years in the US, I am dependent on the internet. Of course, I like those days when I get shut off from it. Its a welcome change. But I depend on it for so many things that I have no clue how I would survive without it. Today, I did a google search to find out what movie was playing on the TV. I find it natural to contact someone by email first and then call.

And I am waiting for Google Wave. Send me an invite if you get it before me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Culture shock part 3

I initially started writing this out while leaving Gainesville, at the Charlotte airport, where free internet lies. So part me wanted to make it sad about leaving the town, while part of me wanted to make this post a little upbeat about coming home. I eventually did not write anything, except for the title, which I changed.

I had expected myself to be surprised, happy, sad and amused about being back in India. But the thing that I remember is that, on the way back, I did not feel anything. I miss the people and the place, but I know that I will be in touch with the people. The place is changing. Heck, I was surprised to see that new sports facility being built next to Philips Centre near SW Rec Centre! I totally did not see it coming.

So, after reaching India here's a few things that happened:

1: Say hello to that damp smell at the airport. Yes, Russell Peters made a good joke out of it but its sorta true. Its not as bad as he makes it to be, and I didn't notice it after 10 minutes.

2: Bribes! They operate at all levels. I was reminded that my bags could be opened for customs valuation. A little money could spare me all the trouble. Conversing in Marathi helps. Also, a sad fake story of how I decided to return from the US since I could not find a job also helps. They asked me for $200. My stories and the fact that I said I had no US currency but only Indian rupees helped me get off with only a bribe of Rs 1000 ($20).

3: Traffic is not that bad. OK ok... last year I had freaked out. It was 3 am and with that little traffic too I was scared. This time around, I was fine with everything. I guess I expected the madness and had mentally prepared for it. I felt comfortable in that mess. I already started riding the scooter we have at home and I haven't had troubles mingling with the crowd.

4: Crowded means a whole different thing. The number of vehicles and pedestrians I saw on the Sunday afternoon in Mumbai beat the Archer road traffic rush at 5 pm by a huge margin. And after about 30 mins of driving, my dad says: Its good we decided to travel on a Sunday, we missed all that traffic. !!

5: Change and technology are not all that popular. This probably is true everywhere. And also, I think I saw a shitty example of technology. I'd gone to this bank where they had implemented a new system. You have to use a machine to get a token slip with a number on it. No matter what work you have, you wait until your number is called out and then you go to the counter where you have been called from. The point was to prevent crowding near the counters, so that people can sit and relax until its their time. But bad planning means there isn't enough room to sit and the people who stand, stand near the counters any way. So, there is all that crowding and people just complain how it was simpler without any machines printing out tokens. All they had to do was go to the right counter and be out in a jiffy.

6: Food!! :D :D its great to be back to the land of tasty vegetarian foods. I do eat meat but there is little that beats tasty Indian vegetarian food.

7: Malls: They try to imitate the malls that are there in the US, but you still don't get everything under one roof. I like that, but its frustrating to spend 3 hours looking for S-video cable that I would find easily in a Walmart. But then again, if there weren't those small shops selling speciality items, things wouldn't be so cheap. I still don't know where I could find a dozen different things in Gainesville. Luckily, I did not need them. :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

An evening...

Picture yourself at a great beach, with some of your closest friends. You know that you will not be here again for a long time. Even if you do end up there sometime later, it is almost impossible to have all of them in the same state as now.

Its evening, and the sand is warm from the heat of the day. It soothes your feet. Kinda like a warm foot massage. The sun is setting, but you don't see it. The beach looks out to the east. You remember that one time when you had camped somewhere close by, and had seen the sun rise over the ocean. All you want to do is lay down in the sand, look at the sky and talk.

And thats exactly what you do. The warm sand is one of the most comfortable things to lay on. You know that you are now closer to those around you. The details of the conversation will be forgotten soon. But it has got you back to the same terms with others as before. Maybe better.

As you walk back to your car, you start thinking of the things that you always promise to do. And the things that you did. You smile when you remember all the madness that went with it. You try to dismiss the things that you did not do as something that wasn't important anyway. You are in the car and on the road already. You notice fireworks. Perfect!

You notice the city skyline ahead in front of you. Its dark, and the buildings are lit. The bridges, piers, boats and signboards, all are lit for the night. It will be a long time before you go to this city again, at this time of the day. Its a great parting sight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009



If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
--Rudyard Kipling

Monday, May 25, 2009

A loong looong drive

It took another long drive and another trip to make me start writing this one. I had thought about writing a log for my camping trip to the Smoky Mountains. But I inadvertently mentioned it to Dana on Facebook, and then suddenly half the world knew about it. And expected me to write this brilliant piece. And this put me off from writing it. Until, I had to go to Jupiter, Florida for a conference. The trip there, with my advisor and lab-mates, reminded me how I had made notes to myself while going to the Smokies and got me back to wanting to write about it. I almost was gonna write it at the hotel the night before I was supposed to present my paper.

So, the grand plan was that 17 of us (initially there were 24, but many chickened out... they missed out on something real cool) would camp out in the Smokies, at the Deep Creek Campground in Bryson City, NC, hike around to the nearby waterfalls and hike up to Mt LeConte, one of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi. I have camped 3 times previously and I know that a large group does not necessarily mean a fun group while camping. I was extremely wary of this trip. But, I realised that the one time when I did not enjoy the experience, the people in the group had been forced to come since they had been told that camping is fun. All of them did not want to camp, but since it was supposed to be fun, and since the others were doing it, they trudged along. And complained.

This time around everyone had come in on their own volition. Also, Dana had taken the role of the trip-mom. Well, she calls us her kids anyway and does a heck of a job doing that. Vikas and I were gonna drive the bunch up and I decided to not involve in the decision and planning process too much. Well, too many cooks... you know the rest. Dana almost single-handedly got all the stuff needed, and Sanketh helped her quite a bit.

The point is, on 11th May 2009, 13 of us managed to wake up and get ready by 5 am and leave for the Smokies. We left an hour late, at 6 am but that wasn't too terrible. Early morning driving is difficult. There are still very few people on the road, the ones in the car, including me, are sleepy. Add to that the fact that the occupants in the car have to warm up to each other. If its close friends, you hit the right note quickly, but otherwise you just poke around for sometime till you figure out what to talk. An 8 hour drive is a long one, and you better have common things of interest.

Our first stop was at Waffle House, just a few miles into Georgia on the I-75. I needed coffee. And coke... Turns out that if you take coffee and Coca Cola, the sugar-caffeine blast kicks in fast. Varun decided that he was hungrier than us and got a to-go breakfast that he ate in the car. The coffe-coke worked and I was back to driving safely. The first music cd had done its loop once and we had decided that it sucked. All boring, sad songs. The second CD had a couple of good songs, but we soon realised that every alternate song was "Mitva" from the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Its a good song.. but not when you hear it so many times. And when the CD starts to skip tracks.

Thats when we started slowly getting tipped over to the crazy side. Though we were still a bit too hungry to do anything. So around 11ish, after a series of phone calls between the three different cars, we decided to take the first exit where we could find a Subway. Exit 187 it was, and there we say Waffle House again. So except for a few, who went to Subway as decided, all of us trudged into Waffle house. In between the general banter about how boring driving on the interstate is, we decided to take a scenic route. The exit 187 is the exit to highway US 83 (or SR 83, I'm not sure), which goes up to Athens, GA (home of the Georgia Bulldogs). This road goes via towns like Monticello and others with funny names like Shady Dale (Trust me, a sign that says Bank of Shady Dale is eerily similar to Bank of Shady Deal).

The road is a bit narrow, winding and has beautiful houses on both sides. The maps shows me that all that greenery and scenic views are because the road goes through Oconee National Forest and is next to Piedmont Wildlife Refuge. Just before starting this leg of the journey, we had got some more CDs from the other car. And with food in our bellies, awesome scenic views, and a new CD with all songs supporting Obama, we just went crazy. Singing, dancing, screaming, clapping, random photo-clicking, hitting the cushions of the driver's seat, beat-boxing - all those things happened. And that kept me awake. Somewhere before Athens, we joined on to US 441, which goes all the way into Smokies, and beyond. I think I have a love-hate relationship with that road. On almost all trips I have been on, except the one to California, I have driven past or on that road. Its like everwhere! This angers and pleases me simultaneously.

Anyway, we stopped at a mall/ store called Ingles.. something like Walgreens or Publix or similar for a small break. We knew that the "Destination" was about an hour away. With everyone in high spirits, munching on popcorn and other snacks bought at Ingles, we drove ahead. We played catch up with the other car, occasionally breaking our "Follow the white car" rule. We reached Deep Creek Campground at around 5 or 6 pm, I do not recall. But we had enough sunlight and time to set up tent and plan for a small hike to a nearby waterfall. I discovered here that I have been setting up a tent the wrong way for the past 1.5 years. Interestingly, none of the other times did we have a problem. So its not all that bad.

We went to the Juney Whank Waterfalls. Its less than a mile for the campground and is pretty beautiful. There is a small bridge that goes over the stream and a trail takes you ahead to the other waterfalls and points of interest. We did not go ahead. An extended photo session commenced with some of us going to extreme spots to get that perfect photo. As light started fading, we walked back to camp, and prepared dinner. Beans, rice (cooked the previous night), tortillas, carrots with hummus, salsa and such came to the rescue. The long drive had me exhausted, and by 9.30 pm I was ready to fall down. The others were setting up a campfire as I crashed. I do not know how many stayed up that night and for how long.

All I know was that it was getting chilly, and I was awake enough to decide to wear layers, a beanie and slip into my nice, warm cozy sleeping bag for a night that was gonna have temperatures of around 5 Celsius (41 F).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Graduation, and crossroads

Almost two years later, and I am 2 days away from graduation. These two years have probably been the most amazing of my life. I have changed a lot in many ways (weight being one) and have re-affirmed my ideas and beliefs in certain other things.

When I came here to the US in Fall 07, I knew only 3 other people well enough in the city. The fourth, was my future roommate, whom I had spoken to and met before in India. And the fifth was introduced by a common friend. Though, none of them is one my best friends. And I thought making good friends was difficult. Getting to know people and travelling within Florida is probably what I'll remember most about these two years. I had a TA in my first semester, which made me a reckless spender. And impulsive rent-car-to-go-to-some-random-place guy.

I probably have a keen sense of easy courses. All four of my semesters here have been light on course load. Only two courses were challenging enough. I found one of them simple, due a fortunate coincidence of having had a similar kind of professor in high school and because I have been kind of a nerd :P. The other was a subject I detest and do not understand (or the other way round - i do not understand and hence detest). Unfortunately, the professor who taught it at UF wasn't the best and I couldn't master this subject :(.

Working at Einstein Bagels has been another fun journey. I started working there because I had lost my funding. My hope always was that I would not need to work the "next" semester because I would get funding. Hasn't happened yet. Fall 08 was a terrible time though. My schedule clashed with my training for the Gate River Run with Gators for ASHA, and I worked really less. And my finances went for a toss. Work was also not fun then. But now, after almost 13 months here, its fun. I'm one of the guys who knows stuff :P.

The most interesting thing of this past year has been the Gate River Run. Its a 15km run in Jacksonville, and some volunteers of the Gators for ASHA group at UF run in it to raise awareness about their organization. I decided to run with them, and raise money, primarily for my fitness. I couldn't run more than 500m before and aiming for 15 km was something daunting. I wanted to aim for something high and achieve it. So starting October, Tuesdays and Thursday evenings were booked for the 3 mile runs. In order to do the long runs on Saturdays, I reduced my shifts at Einstein's. Tough decision, but I had decided my priorities. For some reason, I got also involved with the HSC and their staging of the Ramayana. It was supposed to be a musical, and I had initially volunteered to be the first-sage-that-gets-killed. But things happened, I got more involved and ended up being the Sound-tech guy. It was 3 nights of cobbled up songs from various movies and the internets that played during the show. :D It also got me some of the best friends I have in Gainesville- old friends got closer, and new great friends.

By January, I was broke, finished with research, had no courses to take for the last semester, finished with my Phd applications, had seen another TSF Gator Nights show (I had been watching most of the Gator nights' ones since probably November 07). In that particular show, they said that a new academy was being started and that anyone could join for free. :D This was my last sem, I had nothing to lose and had loads of free time. Tada!
I can never loosen up easily, especially when its a bunch of non-Indians. I get tongue-tied, hide in my shell, and so I did not get up to perform in the games for a long time. Probably for a 3-4 weeks. Also, my practice runs on Thursday gave me reasons to not go to the thursday jams. But one day, it finally hit me, that I wasn't making use of a good opportunity. So I first started going to the thursday jams after my run. I used to be there only for an hour, but a smaller group helped me start off. I remember my first performance was for 12 Hours of Improv and I was cast into Radio - a game I do not like because - I'm an introvert, I can't sing and I don't follow music much. But I guess people found this combination funny.

I haven't been involved with everything that TSF does, but it has come to influence my decisions. I'm about to graduate with my Master's degree and I plan to do Phd. A year ago, I wanted to get out of UF and go to a "better" school. Now I'm only waiting to hear from UPenn and INRIA. I basically rejected an offer from Stony Brook. The project and money was decent, but I dont think it matched the independence, comfort levels and general atmosphere that I have available here at UF. The chance for another Gate River Run, more TSF and Florida itself have biased me. :D

Though, if I do hear from INRIA, I will probably want to move to France. But I know I'll miss a tonne of stuff about UF.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


hmm.... alligators, manatees, hippopotamus, red fox, jackal, bobcat, (almost mermaids), fish, turtles, snakes, wheat fields, doctor, x-ray, car ride, cows grazing, boat ride, photos, ketchup-on-face, Indian store, samosas (?), photography, wendy's.... and soon, dinner, improv and midnight run.. :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009


A few days back I was talking to Nitant and he said that he "absolutely loves to run". Given the fact that I had just done a 9 mile (15 km to be precise) run, I guess the answer expected out of me was the same.

However, I do not like to run. Probably, I hate it. But, I still did it. My reasons for doing that were hazy initially. And it wasn't until after the run and after the conversation with Nitant that I realised why it felt good to run (or good after running). I was reading some articles where one person had written, "Its not about beating a million other people by running faster, its about finishing what you started."

I don't think I can express that better. Running, to me, means a lot of boredom. And a lot of will power. That is why I don't like it. Just the same reason as to why I do it. Because, when I've done running, it feels awesome. Its a little tricky as why I would do it. But it makes me feel real good about myself. (Side note: it makes me healthier too!)

I have tried to do many things - math olympiad, iit jee, robotics projects, some events in college probably and my BE project. After each one was abandoned by me, unfinished, I felt horrible. I knew I could have done better, but I had given up. Either I had been too overconfident, tried something real hard, or just not attempted it because of "the competition" (and sometimes a combination of those reasons). The 9 mile run was the probably the first one that was challenging, and something that I had managed to finish.

Its a great feeling, and has helped me do other stuff. Improv comedy. If you don't know what that means, watch "Whose Line is it Anyway". Improvisation! It rocks. I need time to get going, but I think I can handle it. And its fun. So a couple of great things have happened in the last 4-5 months. Running and improv (in that order) are some of them. Others, I'll talk about them later. Much later.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Books, blogs.... heck... Reading!

Mom asked me whats happening to my reading. Books and all... I had no answer. I don't read much these days. Novels and books I mean. I prefer going online and reading articles. Or reading blogs. These days I prefer reading blogs. I think its easier to read about people who are living right now, and experiencing some interesting things in the present. And what they write, are their experiences.

I generally like fiction. But when reading blogs, I don't think of it as something non-fiction. Or as something that really happened in some country and affected a gazillion people, caused global catastrophe or an economic boom, or saved a country from disaster. Its about little events that I can relate to.

I went to the library today to get some novels to read
. For an extremely stupid reason, I couldn't find any book I wanted. Even though I did not know which one I wanted. So, I used that reason, and just browsed through the DVD section. And got two movies.

I miss reading books and novels. I really want to get back to it. I wonder why I find it difficult to do so these days. :(

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gate River Run

Somehow, waking up at 4.00 am for something that you have been aiming for the last 4 months is extremely easy. And then, having breakfast at that time feels natural.

The good thing about there being 15,000 (or more) people for the race is that you cannot see all of them. Unless you crane your neck/ jump up high. Even then, you see a few thousand and the rest just disappear into the horizon, or are around the corner. All you can figure out is that there are just a lot of people.

I was there in line fairly on time. But it took me 2 minutes to reach the starting line once the cannon went off. I know some of my friends took around 7 minutes to reach the starting line just from where they started. (How it works is that you are given a chip that you put in your shoe, and when it passes by the start line, they record your time. So, even if you started at the back and reached later, you could have been faster than tonnes of others).

The cannon went off, with the theme song from "Chariots of Fire" playing. The first 3 minutes were basically run-walking trying to get past slower people and making way for those who were faster. At the end of the first mile, I was worrying about my left foot, which had been injured just 2 weeks back.

At the end of the second and into the third, I was already in two minds whether I could do it or not. I felt as if I wasn't mentally prepared to run. And doubted if I had done enough stretching. What kept me going was the awesome locales through which the race takes you, the people standing outside their homes cheering the runners, and the sight of around 200 - 300 people within 50 feet of you, running. The end of mile 3 brings the second round of water, and also the 5km marker. My time for 5km was 30 mins 21 sec, which was slower than my regular pace, but good enough since this was the FIRST time I was gonna run more than 8 miles.

I guess, the fact that I got my second glass of water and was past 3 miles changed the way I started looking at the race. I started enjoying it. The left foot wasn't hurting any more. I wasn't panting or gasping for breath. You run along the river, past some of the richest houses in Jacksonville. There are live bands playing to cheer you. People standing outside their homes playing loud music. This is also where I got passed by two runners dressed as bananas.

Mile 4, 5, 6 are where the brain stopped thinking, and I just focussed on running. With Nelly and I running at the same pace, it didn't get boring. And each mile marker brought the awesome feeling that you get when you realize that you are running consistently, and faster than what you ran while training. This was the first time I ran 10 mins per mile right up to mile 7. Between miles 5 and 6, Elvis Presley went past us. A runner in full costume, with the same hairstyle. A few minutes later, 4 men in traditional Hawaiian costumes, shouting "Aloha!" went past.

As you approach the mile marker 7, you start getting glimpses of the Hart Bridge. I had heard a lot about this bridge. It really steep. The brochure says its 186 feet in half a mile. Damn! I didn't sign up for rock climbing. At the 7th mile marker, thankfully they gave me a glass of water which was filled full. This is where I stopped running to drink water peacefully. I walked-drank and started running again. The stretch is slightly uphill. And this is where all I did was looked down, and jogged. I think I picked up my speed here and gained quite some distance. And that showed when I reached mile marker 8.

Mile marker 8 is right on the bridge. I just stopped running and started walking. I had a Powerbar and I finished it coolly as I walked to the top. Somewhere there, the song "Eye of the Tiger" was playing. Just too good! And then I started running. It really helps to be tall. I just have to take long strides and I can get ahead of people. At the 9 mile mark, I realized that my brain had stopped working, since I thought that I had one more mile to go. And that almost made me give up.

But then something clicked in my brain and reminded me that only 0.3 miles were left. The watch said that I had run all the 9 miles at around 10 mins per mile. Even though I walked up half the bridge! The last 0.3 miles are also all downhill, down the bridge. And the final 200 yards was a mad dash. I didn't know I had that much juice left for a sprint. But I managed a semi-sprint.

After the race, it was just fun times! We hung around at the runner's expo and took photos. Lunch was had at 5th Element Restaurant on Baymeadows Road. Do visit that place for an awesome Indian lunch buffet. Hot chai kept me from falling asleep while driving back. And now, I am just resting. Preparations for graduating this semester begin asap.

FYI: I had raised $315 before starting the race. And now some more people have donated. You can still go ahead and donate at http://www.ashanet.org/uflorida/TeamAshaRunnerProfile09/Mandar.html . Click on the red button at the bottom to donate. All the money goes for a good cause. ASHA has a zero overhead policy, so all the money that you donate is spent on projects. And nobody in ASHA is salaried. Its all voluntary efforts!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The problem with moving on is not that I cannot. It is the fact that I can.

I guess its the natural fear of being forgotten. Or forgetting someone

Sunday, January 25, 2009


An article on Feynman, or by Feynman, always puts me in a good mood. Its titled, 'Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine', by W. Daniel Hillis
Nobel prize winner physicist Richard Feynman played a critical role in developing the first parallel-processing computer and finding innovative uses for it in numerical computing and building neural networks as well as physical simulation with cellular-automata (such as turbulent fluid flow), working with Stephen Wolfram.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


It is what happens to your feet when you walk out of your house into a 4 C cold breezy night in shorts, turn back and run into your house again where the has been set to 24 C.

Friday, January 2, 2009


1) Ask a policeman if it is alright to go on the beach at midnight, and when he says that you cannot stay there after 1 am, you proceed to the beach and play volleyball until a strange drunk man comes to watch you play. Then you pack off and have "breakfast" at Waffle House that tops off the awesome Udipi dinner you had.

2) Drive through a fog that almost results in zero visibility at 3 am since you want to reach the Florida Keys early next morning. Later, watch the sun rise over the Atlantic as you drive along US highway 1, somewhere between Homestead, Fl and Key Largo. In the west, you see mist and fog over the small ponds around which awesome expensive houses have been built, and over the marshes that make up the Everglades.

3) Stroll along the beach, play volleyball and then take a 90 min nap in the blazing sun while the guys who didn't drive swim and play frisbee in the water.

4) Lunch at IHOP, nap in the motel room that you booked, dine at Burger King, and head to Key West to check the party scene at Duval Street. After an awesome time there, head back and stop at the 7 mile bridge to look at the sky. Top off another day by sighting some shooting stars.

5) Head to Key West, stop again at the 7 mile bridge to take some photos in daylight. Reach Key West, find an awesome free parking spot right next to the pier, walk around, take the sunset snorkeling cruise, snorkel around 7 miles away from the shore (drink some seawater in the process and see some awesome fish). Sea food for dinner on Duval Street, and hang around to see people partying.

6) Laze around the Bahia Beach while Onkar and Nikhil kayak. Go to Miami, reach South Beach, park the car and walk around Ocean Drive. Take a cab to the Bayside Market Area to watch the live music concert and fireworks. Enjoy the kick that beer gives you, roam around and enjoy the fireworks. Take a cab back to South Beach and hang around. Watch the ppl. A couple of guys are already high and out, so enjoy their pearls of wisdom.

7) Leave Miami at 4:30 am on the 1st of January 2009. Drive for about 2 hours and have breakfast, which makes you drowsy. Some scary 40 minutes of drowsy driving later, you pull over at the next service plaza and just plain go to sleep. Reach Gainesville, have lunch and go to sleep again!

Happy New Year.

Last year started off sucky and ended up being awesome. I guess this one should end up awesomer.