Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gazzag can suck my balls

Why is everyone and his grandmother clogging my inbox with invites to join the latest social network -- "Gazzag"1? Now, I know social networks are the latest fad -- hell, I am on Facebook and Orkut -- but seriously, a network named Gazzag? Who would name anything2 that? "Gazzag" sounds like the gurgling noise a serial killer's choking victim might make as he is strangled to death. The name is as appealing as catfood.

I don't care if Gazzag is giving away a bullion of gold to each member everyday -- its horrendous, unimaginative name is enough to keep me from ever trying it out. So, friends, with all due respect, please stop sending me invites to join Gazzag. I want to be in a social network named Gazzag as much as I need another asshole on my forehead.

1 Usually, I link to websites I talk about. Gazzag doesn't deserve one. A link to the Wikipedia article on Gazzag is enough.
2 Apparently, Gazzag originated in Brazil, so it might mean something in Portugese. Well, Brazilians, sorry, but better luck next time with names.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Smart Keywords for Google Maps in Firefox

In this article, I will describe how to utilize the Smart Keywords feature (also referred to as Quick Search) in Mozilla's Firefox browser to quicken the tasks of finding directions, or simply going on a virtual snooping expedition with Google Maps. You can, of course, apply this technique to your favorite web-based mapping service.

Figure 1, showing directions from Boston to Providence on Google Maps using a Firefox Smart Keyword, "map":

A Smart Keyword in Firefox gives you a shortcut for executing a search form on almost any webpage. Consider, for instance, how you search the web using Google: normally, you would navigate to, and then enter your search terms into the search form. But because Firefox has the Smart Keyword "google" bound to this search form, you can simply enter this keyword along with your search terms into Firefox's address bar.

For example, if you want to see all the movies playing near the zip code 02145, you can type the following at the address bar:
google movies:02145

This is the equivalent of entering the following at the address bar:

Go ahead, Firefox users, try it!

Define your own Smart Keywords for Google Maps in Firefox

Firefox also allows you to define your own Smart Keywords. Because I like its interface, I frequently use Google Maps for driving directions, or to simply see the vicinity of some location I might want to visit. So, I made a Smart Keyword for Google Maps. I can now type in the following at the address bar in Firefox to get directions to drive from Boston's Logan Airport to Providence's T F Green Airport (see Figure 1):
map from:BOS to:PVD

Here's how you too can do this:
1.Go to Google Maps (
Right click on the search form; select 'Add a keyword for this search...'.
Browser  menu that appears when right-clicking in a search box
Enter a name for this keyword (mine: "[map] Google Maps"), and your desired key binding (mine: "map"). Select which bookmarks folder you want to save your keyword in (I chose 'Quick Searches' under 'Bookmarks'). Your new key binding should be available for use, with a bit more tweaking.
Dialog box for keyword addition in Firefox
Browse to the Bookmarks folder in Firefox. This is available in the menu item 'Manage Bookmarks' under the Bookmarks toolbar ('Organize Bookmarks', if you are using Firefox 2.0, or later).
Menu item under the 'Bookmarks' toolbar in Firefox
Browse to the folder that contains your new Smart Keyword binding (I saved mine in the 'Quick Searches' folder under 'Bookmarks'). Select it, and then click on the 'Properties' button in the menubar (this will open a panel where you can edit this new binding).
Contents of the 'Bookmarks' folder in Firefox
Modify the 'Location' value, to this:
This figure shows the modified value:
Modified 'Location' for the maps keyword

That's it! Try the search I demonstrated earlier on in the post (Figure 1).

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fun with cats (involves catnip)

I live with three cats. Yesterday night, we got them stoned on catnip. Blackie, one of them, chases after a laser pointer in this video. Not exactly a scorcher, but more of an experiment:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How to paint a room

Whoever said painting a room is an easy job had no idea what they were talking about. Take it from me, its hard. How do I know? Well, I am painting my room. My room was formerly occupied by a 7-year old kid, who fancied pink for the walls. Fearful of the effect of staying in a pink room for too long, I finally decided to take action and color it pastel. Yes, pastel. A lime greenish tint. Its a step up.

I am chronicling, with pictures, my experience of painting the four walls of my room. I hope the pictures and step-by-step descriptions will be of help to anyone who should wish to paint their room.

Here's the album (I will keep updating it as I progress with the job):

Painting my room
Sep 24, 2006 - 26 Photos

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hiking the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains, NH

On Sunday (September 17, 2006), I bagged two peaks in the Sandwich Range: Mt. Whiteface and Mt. Passaconaway. Both are just over 4,000ft. and our loop around the two peaks was about 11.6mi. Here are some pictures:
Sandwich Range
Sep 19, 2006 - 15 Photos

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mencken on America

H. L. Mencken is one of my favorite American intellectuals. I, like many others, was shocked by his ability to put into searing words some of our darkest suspicions, and our most cynical opinions. I lived and studied in northern Italy for a period of six months before I came to America. Naturally, I compared, and still compare, the two experiences. I found America somewhat crass, and sometimes downright vulgar in sensibility, in comparison to Trento. I used to find it difficult to articulate the difference until I read this passage in Mencken's essay, "On Being an American":

And [in America], more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.

What is slightly unsettling about this passage is the fact that America's penchant for crass is not recent. This essay was written in 1922.

Another passage from an article written in 1920 in the Baltimore Sun is almost seer-like in its foresight, and certainly topical. Mencken speaks thus about candidates campaigning for national office:

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

That great and glorious day, obviously, is upon us. It has been, since 2000. (Some would say it first dawned in 1980, when Reagan took office.) Note also, in the passage, the damning assessment of the "plain folk". To their credit, the "plain folk" of the time suffered Mencken's aspersions with a fair degree of tolerance, even wreathed him in laurels. It is doubtful they would, today. And that is a tragedy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sleepless in Somerville

Its 1.30am. I get into bed. Every bone in my body screams out in relief. I am surprised. I didn't know I was tired. But now I feel weary as all get out. Must get sleep.

Its around 2.15am. I know because my notebook's screensaver came on sometime ago. Its set to start after a half hour of inactivity. It makes dull, pink patterns on the walls, and on the ceiling. I am still trying to sleep. But my mind is still too active. Its that new gaming rig I want to buy. I spent all evening researching it, and I am stoked.

2.30am. I had almost crossed over into sleep, but I am roused back up. A car alarm just went off. That is just great. Exactly what I need for sound sleep.

2.35am. The car alarm is still going off. It seems to be coming from a side street a couple of apartments down the street from mine. Its monotonous wail has not only snatched away what sleep I was slipping into, but now I am irritated. Irritation is not good for sleep.

Suddenly, I hear what sounds like a gunshot, accompanied by a flash of light. My heart starts pounding. Irritation has been replaced by fear. Someone shouts, "Get in the house!". A female voice responds, indistinct to me. "Get in the fucking house", the first voice screams again. I want to lean out the window and see what's happening, but I am afraid I will catch a stray bullet to the head. Sleep is a distant memory now. Second gunshot rings out. "Holy shit!", I am thinking. I hear my roommate stir in the other room.

A cop car, and some fire trucks are approaching the scene, as is evident from the flashing red and blue lights, and the distinctive sirens. Now, I am a bit emboldened. I lean out the window, and I can see smoke rising from that side street. I see a fireman standing nearby. From my partially obstructed view, I can also make out shadows of men moving about on the street. More activity.

I hear my roommate going out to investigate. He comes back, and I find out that a car parked on that street caught on fire. Each "gunshot" was apparently the sound of a tire popping from the heat. And the neighbor wanted his son to stay in the house, while he tried to make sense of what the hell was going on. That accounted for the shouting. But why the fuck did the car catch fire? I don't know. Arson, maybe? Faulty electricals?

Whatever the fuck it was, it made sure I am not getting any more sleep for a few more hours. At least I have a reason to get up late tomorrow. And yeah, its 3am now. Wish me good night.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

BUDA Ultimate Disc Tournament

I played in an Ultimate league organized by the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance (BUDA). The flying disc used in the game is better known as Frisbee, which actually is a trademark. I have to say that Ultimate is, without exception, the sweetest sport I have played. Today was the tournament capping a season of league games, and Lava Mouse (my team) made it to the semi-finals. I didn't play because of an injury, the cause for which is too embarassing to mention here.

Pictures from the tournament are here:

BUDA Frisbee tournament
Aug 12, 2006 - 25 Photos

UPDATE: While browsing the Ultimate page on Wikipedia, I saw a picture of my team captain in the article! Gareth was the captain of Lava Mouse, and he is also the captain of Contra, the Ultimate team at Washington U. in St. Louis. The picture shows him making a layout over another guy in a bid for the disc. Neat!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Berkshire Camping Trip

I haven't posted in a while. I have been out most weekends, and last weekend was a particularly sweet one. I was out camping in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, and I went tubing for the first time. Tubing is pretty fucking sweet. I also saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in concert in Tanglewood (Lenox, MA). Check out pictures from the camping trip here:
Berkshire Camping Trip
Aug 8, 2006 - 17 Photos

Monday, July 03, 2006

W. T. F. ?

Look at the spike in traffic to my blog over the last week (25 June 2006 - 1 July 2006):

Image modified from one supplied by Statcounter (

All of that spike has been caused by Australians, who seem to be looking for information on "the big brother incident", and the various search engines are sending them to my post about my encounter with the FBI.

Hey, Australia, what's with the sudden interest in the works of Orwell? Or is this just a sign of the times we live in, where the government snoops on everything from your phone conversations, to your financial records?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Adventures with Brian Dean

Brian and I visited his parents' in upstate New York over the weekend. Upstate New York knows - Saratoga Springs in particular - knows how to party, let me tell you. Not many pictures from that time, sorry, since I was pretty hammered myself. But it was also a nice holiday, with a backyard pool, barbecue, and badminton games.

A week before that, I visited Brian's place in New Bedford, where he hosted a party. The next day, over very pleasant rum smoothies, I ripped some music from Brian's unterminably huge CD collection ...

Update: It appears that pictures of Brian that
I posted here and on my Tabblo webpage are being misused. So, I am taking down all pictures of Brian and his family that I posted online. Brian, I really apologize for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Earthfest (May 2006)

Tabblo: Earthfest (May 2006)

Earthfest happened on May 28, 2006 at the Esplanade in Boston.  It was a good time ... See my Tabblo>

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Support the troops?

Many Americans are very patriotic. While I think patriotism is an overrated virtue, I can live with it. But some Americans are too much so. If you live in the US, you can't escape one of the most visible expressions of empty nationalism, the "Support The Troops" bumper sticker. On a daily basis, I see people driving SUV's -- each as big as a house and probably guzzling enough gas to light up Baghdad for a day -- with these bumper stickers on the back. I can not think of a more vacuous expression of support.

Does the army deserve unconditional support? Even when they massacre innocent civilians by the dozens? Granted that the civilians in this case were from Haditha, Iraq, who don't count (About 3000 American soldiers are dead. The most conservative estimate for the number of Iraqi deaths since the "liberation" of Iraq is upwards of 60,000). It is undeniable that at the lowest level, it is self-interest that motivates people to voice their "support" for the poor troops, who do their fighting for them, while they go on watching American Idol.

It is this same self-serving and nationalistic sentiment that is being exploited by those in power to malign critics (witness the Valerie Plame leak), introduce fascist legislation like wiretapping people's conversations, spying on journalists, and so on, all in the name of national security.

One of the most disturbing instances of this came recently when a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, filed a lawsuit in the US for being mistakenly held by the CIA in Afghanistan for almost half a year, and "renditioned" ("beaten, sodomized and repeatedly questioned about alleged terrorist ties"). A federal judge acknowledged that he was wrongfully held, and "has suffered injuries" and "deserves remedies". But the Justice Department invoked a "state-secrets" clause to force the judge to throw out the lawsuit because of the "grave danger" it posed. When individual safety begins to be compromised in the name of a larger interest--national security is only a mask it wears--we know we are entering a totalitarian atmosphere. As a libertarian, I find this revolting and scary.

A less grave, yet equally stupid instance of what I call language nationalism is the call for making English the national and official language of the US. George Will, a columnist for the Washington Post, wants legislation to stop ballots in heavily Hispanic areas from being bilingual. He argues in his column "A Vote for English" that the "civic conversation" in America can only be understood if you speak English.

Hey, genius George, although it is debatable (civilly, of course), let me take for granted the existence of the nation's civic conversation. But you do know there is such a thing as translation, don't you? I am pretty sure that Spanish (for instance) can accomodate equally well any idea that can be expressed in English, if not better. As for your typically conservative paranoia about "the national identity becoming attenuated" due to immigration, Spanish is the fastest growing language in the United States. In a few decades, if not sooner, it will be as widely spoken as English. In other words, Spanish will very soon be a part of the national identity of the United States, if not already. Not recognizing this reality, and imposing your idiotic views on everyone else is symptomatic of the jingoism I am talking about.

Winner of award for biggest tool of May, 2006: George Will. Runners-up: people who think its cool to use IM-type English ("u r so hot lol!!!") in all written communication.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Visit to Needham Appraisal, Cambridge, MA

I mentioned previously that my car was involved in a collision -- guy on a motorbike rear-ended me. My insurance company recommended a place where I could get an appraisal for the damages to my car. So I go to this place on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge: Needham Appraisal.

Needham Appraisal is run by two aged Italian men, who I will call Vinny and Tony. They were the kind who apply more olive oil to their hair than you need to run an Asian massage parlor. Mind you, they were nice guys. Vinny was sitting at a computer, playing hangman, and Tony was smoking. In fact, Tony didn't stop smoking for the whole duration I was there (about half an hour), not even to talk.

I noticed the hangman game that Vinny was deeply engrossed in. He wore thick glasses, with thicker frames, and was peering into a thick dictionary open in front of him. The partially completed word in the game was:

_ A _ A I S T

I knew immediately what the word was, but he apparently didn't. He was down to two chances, and he still had about half the alphabet unused. Sweat was pouring down his forehead. Shit was tense. I said, "Try 'D'". He looked up from the computer at me with a mixture of hope and suspicion. He wiped the sweat off his brow, and entered "D" in, not having a better option. After about a good second, the computer said, "You Win! DADAIST is the correct answer!" At that, Vinny jumped up, exultant, took my hands in his, and pumped them in gratitude, shouting repeatedly, "Thank you! You saved my life!" I was bemused. I was thinking, "Dude, its only a game of hangman!"

Tony was apparently the appraiser. I led him out to my car, and he came, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and a camera from his neck. He walked around my car and took pictures. Tony was not only old, he also looked so frail he could be on the endangered species list. I was afraid the flash from the camera might shock him into a stroke, and indeed make him extinct. Somehow, that didn't come to pass, and I drove away with my car appraised.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Birthday blues, again

I turned 25 this week. I previously wrote about how birthdays are not exactly a time for celebration as I see them. This one is particularly not. Turning 25 is depressing. You'll start putting on weight even if you eat just a carrot a day, you'll start losing hair where you want them, and gaining hair where you don't. You are not exactly "young" anymore. If you're Indian, your parents might greet you on arrival with a "suitable girl", whom you've never met before, but whom you're supposed to marry anyway. Not to mention your relatives, who, you suddenly find out, number in the millions.

Recently, I had the distinctly painful experience of calling 911 again -- the second time in less than a month. The reason this time: a guy on a Suzuki motorbike rear-ended my car. I had taken my bike (bicycle) out to get to work that day, but it had a flat tire (yes, again). So, I put the bike back in the garage, and drove the car. According to my insurance agency, since I was not liable, I don't need to pay "anything". But the pain of getting the car appraised, filing police reports, talking to insurance agents, and getting the actual damage fixed is payment enough. And my parking ticket count stands at 7, since March. It feels like my life is an object lesson in how everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Shashank's tech speculation for the month: Google Photo from Google (gPhoto is already taken) -- an easy to use web application for hosting photos ala flickr -- that ties in with Picasa (which Google acquired) and the rest of Google's growing suite of web applications. This is hope, more than speculation, brought on by my frustration with the upload limits on flickr's free accounts, which flickr treats like an anemic stepchild. I uploaded about 8 photos (each about 2 Mb) at the beginning of this month, and I can't upload anymore for this month! That is ridiculous, considering that with Google's Gmail (and many other email providers), you can send potentially unlimited numbers of emails of size 10Mb each. Bad, bad, flickr.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Viva la France!

Updated with better layout.

I finally got my fix of France. I visited Paris from May 10 through May 14. I stayed at a youth hostel in the Montmartrelively Montmartre district. A few blocks from my hostel is the seedy red light district of Pigalle, with the legendary cabaret: Moulin Rouge, and about a thousand sex shops. With some guys I met at the hostel, I ventured out to Pigalle every night of my stay, and took in the sights, smells and sounds, among them a million hookers, and the Museum of the Erotic -- which turned out to simply be a very, very big sex shop, with inhouse hookers. If nothing else, I had some fine pastry in one of the boulangeries, which are inexplicably numerous in Pigalle. Sex and pastry go well together, apparently...

Arun at Arc de TriompheArun (seen here at the Arc de Triomphe), who goes to school close to Stuttgart, kindly flew out to Paris for the duration of my visit, so I had good company. Arun and I went to Versailles, which turned out to be a pretty unremarkable visit.

I was initially a bit intimidated as I had heard of how Parisians are famously derisive of people who don't speak French. Dom had told me of his French experience: he was in Paris for a total of 10 minutes and he managed to get punched in the face by a Frenchman, apparently for cutting a line at the airport. After the first two nights, I was beginning to feel right at home in Paris, riding the Metro like a pro, ordering at restaurants, and using my French vocabulary of about 5 words (fromage, merde, parlay, vous, anglais) with great flourish; it was all cool. Then, I stepped on this guy's toes in a crowded Metro train, and bam--he punched me in the back. So much for the friendliness. Luckily he got off soon enough, and it didn't turn any uglier.

Shashanka and others at the Eiffel towerShashanka (seen here at the Eiffel tower with others from the hostel), who was also in Paris for a conference, connected with us in the evenings. We visited the usual tourist destinations: the Eiffel tower (spectacular), the Arc de Triomphe (imagine Delhi's India Gate, only bigger), the Notre Dame (yet another church), the Louvre (more art than you want, notwithstanding the Mona Lisa), among them. We also tried the local cuisine (French Onion Soup, roast duck, poulet roti etc.), although it was virtually impossible to get any service from the highly incompetent waiters at the cafes in Paris. The lazy bastards know they have crazy job security, and they work as little as possible.

Eiffel towerThe Eiffel Tower, in black and white. Quite easily the single most spectacular thing I have seen. Courtesy my Canon Powershot S2 IS.

Finally, my hostel. The most favorable thing I can say about it is that it had character. I booked a 3-bed dorm online, but I was assigned to a 6-bed dorm, which was about the size of a matchbox. The shower was basically a hole up in the wall from which water trickled, if it felt like it. The upper bunk beds were so creaky and loosely made that just breathing while lying down on them made them swing like Frankie Manning. Room service lost my towel on the first day. Lesson learned: never take a towel the same color as the hotel towels. In summary, if you are going to stay in Paris, the pompously named le Village is not the best option for you. On the upside, the other 5 occupants of my room were these winsome British girls who didn't think anything of changing in front of me. Not that I complained.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


So, I can bet that most of you didn't have half as exciting a weekend as I had. After all, how many of you almost got arrested for driving a 250-pound, drunk Goth woman on Saturday, and then biked 50 exhausting miles on Sunday?

It all started on Saturday evening. I met my friend Brian and Kara, his friend from church, at Christopher's -- a rather good restaurant/bar in Somerville. Kara is middle-aged, a former Goth, and a born-again Christian. She seemed to be clinging to her Gothic roots, in costume at least. When I shook hands with her, I was pricked in at least 50 different places because of all the spiky ornamentation she had covering every square inch of her hands.

Kara was pretty smashed by the time I joined them. She claimed she could drink anybody under the table. "I'm half Irish, and half Scottish", she claimed. However, within the hour, we were asked to leave Toad (next door to Christopher's), because Kara passed out near the restrooms. So much for her illustrously capacious heritage, I thought. It was decided by all gathered, that she should be taken home, before further damage to public property could occur. It took five grown men to finally put her in the backseat of my car. It was about midnight then.

At this point, Brian and I just wanted to get her home, and go back to Toad, where the music was pretty good, although our exit from Toad was quite embarassing. But Fate deemed otherwise. Kara had had at least 10 drinks that night (some Sex on the Beach, many Dirty Bastards). Halfway to her place, however, what I had been dreading all along transpired. She started getting sick. Real bad. She puked all over herself. And then on my backseat. Brian and I groaned. I decided I couldn't let her vandalize my car anymore, her wellbeing be damned. Did I mention that I am a heartless son of a bitch? So, I pulled up to the curb, and asked her to finish her business outside the car. In retrospect, that was a bad idea.

Kara managed to open the car door, but instead of stepping on to the curb, she just fell out of the car. Afraid to see what actually happened to her, we stepped out too, and went around curbside. Kara, all 250-pounds of her, was stuck in between the rear wheel of the car and the curb. If I moved the car front, she would be crushed. I couldn't move the car back either, because the backdoor, which was open, would then smash her face. And she was still going strong with the puking. I can only imagine what it looked like to passersby: A stopped car with its hazard lights on. A rather sick, obese woman dressed in black, stuck beneath the rear wheel, and two men trying to pull her out of there.

This went on for some time, after which Brian and I realized the futility of trying to move our very drunk Gothika. I decided to call 911. A trooper showed up soon enough, and first thing he did: give me a sobriety test. I had to walk in a straight line, follow his fingers with my eyes, stand on one foot, and count up to an unspecified number. He actually let me go after I got to 55. I had just had a couple beers, so I was sufficiently sober. But the irony of possibly being arrested for drunken driving while trying to help another drunk didn't escape me.

Mr. Trooper had also called for an ambulance, so help was on the way. But the stupid ambulances kept missing the exit ramp just past us, and the nearest exits in either direction were about 3 miles. So, I saw two ambulances go past us on the adjacent highway, only to get to us about a half hour later. In the meanwhile, our drunk lady companion had regained a semblance of consciousness. Not coherence, though. She started flipping the finger at the trooper, and his car, and asked him to "shut those blinding fucking lights off". To his credit, the cop retained his composure. I am not sure I would be so kind to her if I were him.

Finally, one ambulance arrived. Another cop car actually had to "escort" this ambulance to the right exit, to get to us. Fantastic. By this time, Kara was actually able to move, and hallelujah... she rolled over to the curb, leaving my car free! I had half a mind then to just drive the fuck away from all of this. The EMT team had one look at her, and knew she was good to go. Considerately enough, they gave me some sheets, and a towel, to spread over my backseat, in case of further spillage. But it was too late. My car was already smelling like Calcutta after the rains.

The two cops, the two EMT guys, Brian and me lifted Kara back into my car. I thanked the cops, and the EMT guys, and then wasted no time in driving Kara to her place. Brian and I drove to my place in silence. At my place, we got some Lysol and some cloth, and tried to clean the puke on the backseat. This was at 2.30am. A cop car doing the rounds slowed down past us, twice. I am sure they were nonplussed by two guys wiping the stains of something off the backseat of a car late at night. Fortunately, they didn't stop to ask. I won't bother you with the nightmares I had while I slept that night.

The next day, Sunday, was infinitely less fucked up, although it was tiring. I biked to Lake Cochituate with my roommate Yves. It was a good 25-mile ride each way. Confirming that my life is basically an illustration of Murphy's Law, my bike's rear tire punctured about 2 miles from the lake. And this after I had changed the tube just two days previously. Fortunately, there was a bike shop not far from the lake where Yves found a patch kit, and we patched the bike up. Somehow, the patch held on the bike ride home. Strange.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Little Grey: Big pussy

Little Grey: Big pussy, originally uploaded by shashankr.

I live with three cats; three cats with the most unimaginative names ever: Blackie, Little Grey, and Big Grey.

Funnily enough, Little Grey is the biggest pussy of the three, figuratively speaking of course. The slightest disturbance will send her flying to hide in the basement.

Notice in the picture how she is trying to blend into the grey carpet, as I try to get her picture with my new camera.

Little Grey has gotten friendlier with me over time, though. She now deigns to let me pet her head on occasion. I love her, too.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

On America: 5 Likes, 5 Dislikes

I have been back in the US two weeks now, and I have had four parking tickets issued, including two in the span of an hour and a half, and the last one on a Monday morning, right in front of my house--because I didn't move the car for street cleaning. At this rate, I will be penniless in a year. As if that isn't bad enough, I locked my sorry ass out my car, and had to pay some stranger (okay, a locksmith) close to 200 bucks to break into my car for me.

Now that I poured me heart out, laddies, its time for lighter matters. I have been in the US for close to three years now. Understandably, I have formed some likes and dislikes during my stay here. I list them here.

5 things I like about America

  1. Free speech: The President of the US is mocked almost routinely by the people, without fear of retribution (and with good reason, in my opinion). In North Korea, you could get killed for farting in the general direction of Kim Jong-il (or whatever the fuck his name is). These days, this fundamental right is being eroded in various fashions, but by and large, this country is still pretty "free".

  2. Innovation: It took me a while to get used to the "can-do" attitude of Americans. I have never seen a people as practical as the Americans. Not the dull theory of books for the American, but rather, a box of tools with which to build cars, cities, and highways.

  3. Great TV shows: The Sopranos (HBO), Deadwood (HBO), The Wire (HBO) and The West Wing (NBC). If you want non-sensational yet engaging, nuanced TV, watch these shows for endless hours of TV bliss.

  4. Apple Computer: I <3 Mac. Thoughtful design, willingness to take risks, innovation, and superb aesthetics are hallmarks of my favorite computer maker. Or, should I say media giant now?

  5. New York City: An ode to the Big Apple is a post by itself, but suffice it to say that I like everything about it. Listen to Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York".

  6. Mary-Louise Parker: The Counting Crows wrote "Butterfly in Reverse" for this woman. I am currently Head Priest of the Church of Mary-Louise. Her performance as Amy Gardner in West Wing is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent portrayals of any woman on screen, in my humble opinion. Strike that, I am pretty darn sure it is.
I know that's six things I like about America, but so what? Sue me.

Bonus: 50 Cent, Slate Magazine, Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Connelly, and mutant army dolphins with frickin' lasers attached to their head.

5 Things I dislike about America

  1. US foreign policy: Vietnam is still Communist (Not that that is a bad thing; I only seek to indicate the futility of US intervention in that country). So is North Korea. Iraq has been shocked and awed out of existence, almost (33,814 civilian deaths, and counting). Parts of Afghanistan are slowly sliding into Taliban control. Fidel Castro is still around, while 8 US Presidents have come and gone.

  2. Dick Cheney (and company): In my opinion, Vice President Dick Cheney is the face of evil. The man exudes nastiness. Not only is the man evil, he enjoys being so. After Cheney shot him, his hunting partner apologized to Cheney for his troubles with the media. I almost expected Cheney to say, "It was the right thing to do". I wonder if that guy's human.

  3. Fads: The excessive obsession with pill popping, health foods, yoga, tai-chi, and countless others I haven't even heard of. I made my clear my opinion on one of these fads in another post. Can't sleep? Can't shit? Have a hangover? Can't get it on? Pop a pill, man. I am sick of people calculating how many calories, carbs, vitamins and protiens their dish contains. Everything I see in stores is advertised to be organic, low-cal and low-carb. Why then, is it that Americans are the most obese people in the world?

  4. Microsoft. Period.

  5. The lack of fresh fruit juice: In Bangalore, on pretty much every street corner, and in most restaurants, you can find shops that sell fresh fruit juice. And by that, I mean its made right in front of you. Here, "fresh" juice is at least a week old. I concede its refrigerated, etc. But its simply not the same.

Bonus: Fox News, Jesus-freaks, RIAA, MPAA, baseball, Hummers, campy cinema from Hollywood.

Now that I have dissed the Veep, can I expect some FBI thugs on my ass again?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

If You're Thinking of Flying (Economy), Think Again

Judging from the last few posts, it seems like my blogging instincts are best triggered when I travel. I am starting to write this on my flight to India. Just a few hours back, I stepped onto the plane in Boston and took one of the cramped seats in economy with no legroom, with armrests that wouldn't move. As I strapped my seat belt on, I had ominous visions of being strapped on to an electric chair. Why, it soon became clear.

I had developed a cold yesterday. Now, this cold was the kind that gives you a running nose: a nose that runs more copiously than the Nile. I purchased three Kleenex packs, and sure enough, by half the flight, I had run through two of them. This cold was also the kind that gives you headaches and body-aches. Add that type of thing when you are trapped in a seat and can barely move, and the results are lethal: in fact, Guantanamo would be a breeze after this. If you want your terrorist to talk, expose him to common cold, strap him onto one of the economy seats on an international flight, and let him fly for, may be, two days. See if he doesn't spill his guts out.

I started feeling feverish after a while. I feared I might have contracted the bird-flu. As I fitfully slept, I had nightmares of waking up and coughing and spraying blood and viruses all over the other passengers, and then being quarantined in Amsterdam. I also realized I had to take a crap. Blame it on my stern upbringing, or call me stuck-up (as it were), but I am one of those squeamish folks who simply can't go in an airplane. So, in addition to my already nightmarish situation, I was now constipated. Just peachy.

Flying to India is like the journey of Moses and his people to the land of Canaan. Its long, arduous, and a great test of resilience. The Jews at least had their manna from heaven. All I got was undercooked schezuan chicken. My flight schedule looked like this: 8-hr flight to Amsterdam from Boston, 3-hr stopover; an 8-hr flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai, and then a stopover for 6.5-hrs; finally, a 2-hr flight to Bangalore. That's over 26 hours in transit.

Having reached Amsterdam without actually dying, or killing other people with my bird-flu virus, I was feeling a tiny bit better. Optimistic even, that with the worst behind me, I would make it. But my heart sank to the floor as I entered the KLM flight to Mumbai. The legions of seats were even more cramped than those on my earlier flight, if that were possible. It's like KLM decided to treat people flying to India (which translates to: Indians, mostly) a bit differently on their flights. The earlier flight at least had individual TV screens. The "in-flight entertainment" on this plane, however, consisted of images beamed onto the wall in front of the first rows of seats from a projector. What are we, in the 70's? Why this disparity, I ask the airlines.

I was feeling slighted (by the conditions on the plane), and debilitated (by the cold). Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, my ear, which was acting up because of the cold, started hurting as the plane changed altitudes. This was not the dull, throbbing pain I very rarely get when I have problems with air pressure at higher altitudes. This was like someone took a screwdriver and inserted it into my right ear to see how far it would go. Within minutes, involuntary tears were running down my face. I felt this urge to unbuckle myself, and storm out of the plane. Just as I reached the limits of my tolerance to pain, the hurting stopped. I collapsed, as much as that was possible, back into my seat, and almost passed out. I then slept -- long and hard. I woke up and was deaf in the right ear. As I write this, hearing has still not returned to my right ear.

As we approached Mumbai, I suddenly started feeling a sense of camaraderie with my fellow travelers: we had made it together! Then, I realized: it was not all over yet. I had the return journey in a couple of weeks. Best not to think of it until I had to experience yet. If I have my way, I will never again fly. At least, not economy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Oh, Canada

Its been a while since I last blogged. Not that I have a dedicated readership that's waiting with bated breath for my next post. It seems like my posting frequency has somehow found a happy equilibrium: a post a month. That suits me fine.

I am currently sitting at Boston's Logan International Airport, waiting to go to Ottawa, Canada, where I have my visa interview on Monday. The plan is to hang in Montreal, Canada over the weekend. By all accounts, Montreal is the bomb. An airline attendant at Logan said its a "Paris of sorts... except for the Eiffel Tower". Well, I'm going to find out first hand. I am looking forward to have fun in Montreal, but the weather up there is not exactly balmy. Its going to stay around -18C all through my stay.

If you have been following the news at all, you have heard about Muslims getting up in arms about cartoons that don't exactly depict the Prophet Muhammed as the Messaiah. Now, being an atheist who hates religions in general, that doesn't bother me in the slightest bit. The way I see it, free speech means exactly that: Freedom to criticize another religion. This criticism can be expressed in any manner: satire, performance art, or whatever else, as long as you don't hurt another person physically.

I read that Tony Blair (and other world readers) is (are) considering outlawing the criticism of all religions. Not only is that a kneejerk reaction, it is also plain wrong. What about people like me who are not only not religious, but also hate religion? I'd rather like to see people escape the clutches of what Karl Marx called the "opiate of the masses", what Rob Heinlein called an "outdated concept" (that's religion, for the slower ones among you). With this in mind, I fully support the Danish cartoonists' right to create those cartoons, although I might not agree with the content of those cartoons.

Religion is something I have always strongly felt about. I continue to be amazed by the irrationality of a mankind that believes in a concept that is utterly unprovable. Its quite a remarkable feat for religious institutions to have sustained, and even enhanced the power and influence of the god-machine. In my most virulent mood, I'd say that God is a weight tied around your neck, a ghost from the fog of ancient history, a bogeyman, if you will. In its existence, the burgeoning institution of religion has produced more book-burning Savonarolas 1 than Mendels; more Crusades and Inquisitions than Renaissances.

Update #1: I am at the Montreal train station, waiting to get back to Ottawa. I now realize why the airline attendant in Boston who I mentioned earlier called Montreal a "Paris of sorts". Its because everybody speaks French, and French only. Its like I was in fucking Europe. Which I don't mind so much, as the language barrier. And the Cold. Man, was it cold! After 10 min. out in -15 C, my finger tips went numb beneath the new gloves which I paid CAD $12 for. After half an hour, I couldn't feel my nose. My legs were frigid under my jeans long since.

Luckily, old Montreal had an underground "city" of sorts. There are shopping complexes, restaurants, and even a fountain that shoots up a spout of water 50 feet high, all underground. Pretty cool. I'd take any respite from the cold. The fountain was a bonus. And the girls were real pretty.

I am a bit tense about the visa interview tomorrow. Pretty much everyone I know has had no problems with it, and I have the required documentation. I even bought a pair of pants from Kenneth Cole for CAD $100. But if by any chance I don't get the visa, I can't get back to the US. I will have to return to India, book another interview, and enter the US only if that interview is successful. So, that's a bit heavy.

Update # 2: The visa interview turned out to be a fucking anticlimax. I got the visa, no problem. I am finally on my way back to the US, after what turned into a mini-vacation in Canada. While in Ottawa, I did another thing that I can add to a very short list of achievements I am proud of: I ice-skated on the world's longest ice-rink. This is an 8 km monster of an ice-rink right in the center of the city. I wanted to do some downhill skiing/snowboarding here, but with the recent snowstorm in Boston and the rest of the Northeast, I shouldn't have a problem doing it once I reach home. Yep, this weekend is for that. Come rain, snow or sunshine. Actually, sunshine would be good.

Update #3: I'm chilling at home.

The Orwellian Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had the balls to exhort people to use non-traditional media to fight terror. This, from a man who doesn't even use email. America, good luck with the already dubious "war" on terror, with this guy in charge.

1Regular readers note my obsession with Savonarola.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

On Florida. And some currents.

My words of wisdom to my cousin, who bought his first Macintosh, the 14" iBook: "Once you go Mac, you never go back".

My cousin and I are strolling down this seaside mall/entertainment center in Tampa, and we see a couple of men of Latino descent hauling a big stereo system by hand, across the road. What do we do? We get all suspicious that they stole it. And what do we call it? 'Stereo'-typing.

Later, I am waiting for my return flight to Boston from Tampa. I am pleasantly surprised to see Tampa International offer free wireless access to waiting passengers who otherwise sit in their multitudes at airports across the world, staring vacantly into space, like they're on a big hit.

But then, the homepage for Tampa International Airport opens up, and prominently displays the highly Orwellian Homeland Security threat level, which has constantly been set at Elevated -- like a pressure cooker that is on the edge of blowing up, but doesn't.

On the plane, I have the window seat. A lady from Madrid, Spain, is sitting next to me. She talks non-stop with me all through the flight -- 3 hours. By itself, this wouldn't be so bad (she was around 30, but kinda hot), if she wasn't also married, and if her husband wasn't also sitting in the middle row across the aisle. Said husband is worried I am making a move on the wife (I'd have tried to, if she wasn't married, or if the husband wasn't on the plane), so he keeps looking back at us every five minutes, making me uncomfortable. The wife is oblivious to this. Oh, and she is loud.

Our plane is flown by Captain Carlos. That cracks me up for some reason. Captain Carlos!

My two latest...
TV ShowsScrubs (NBC), Season 1
Entourage (HBO), Season 2
BooksSilmarillion (Tolkien)
Tales of Discworld (Pratchett)
SongsHey Nineteen (Steely Dan)
New York, New York (Frank Sinatra)
MoviesBonnie & Clyde (1967)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)