Saturday, December 23, 2006

My India Travelogue: Part 1 of 5

I have planned a five part description of my ongoing India trip. Here is the first part.

Part 1: Gators in the National Championship game, me missing Gainesville!


When I boarded the flight to Milan from John F Kennedy airport in New York City, UCLA held a surprising lead over USC late in their game. The implication were pretty clear - if Florida beats Arkansas in SEC Championship game, they would have a reasonable chance of climbing up to number two in B.C.S rankings to be released next day and face an unbeaten Ohio State for the National Championship game. The stakes could not have been any higher, and me after following the college football so
passionately for the entire season, was I devastated to miss the game. There were no live TV in the Al Italia flight, and so I had to wait till reaching Milan to know that we played probably our best game of the year to beat Arkansas, and UCLA has indeed knocked off USC. I tried calling me friend in Gainesville, he never picked up the phone, since he was out in the streets partying late night. And I was already missing Gainesville.

Next day, it happened. Florida sneaked past Michigan in the final ranking and we were Glendale, Az bound. Our first national championship game in ten long years. After all the frustrations and heartbreaks of Ron Zook era,the tough wins and the never say die attitude which symbolized this team over the gruelling SEC season- it seems this team is destiny bound for greater glory. I wonder how many teams have both the basketball and football national championships at the same year?

Go Gators.

Still to come -
Part 2: A tourist in my own country, exploring Agra, Jaipur and Jaisalmeer.
Part 3: Reached Kolkata, home sweet home.
Part 4: Siliguri, A frantic trip down the memory lane.
Part 5: Kolkata, fantastic food, old friends.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Buying a Digital Camera

I must admit I am no expert on this. However since I have extensively used two different models in last three years, and did decent amount of online "research" before buying each of those, I can certainly give a few helpful suggestions in layman's terms. And no, I am not going to talk about digital SLR's, restricting myself to non-SLR digital cameras.

The most common question I hear,
I want to buy a good camera. Which one should I go for?
This question, to be very honest makes no sense. There is no absolute "good" camera, it all comes down to one's budget and intended usage. There are point and shoot cameras from maybe a hundred or so dollars to digital SLR's costing thousands of dollars with all accessories.

And the most common "mistake",
Choosing a camera based on mega pixels. I agree that they increase the "resolution". However, whats the point of an increased "resolution" if one never "sees" it? Again, I am no expert on this, but to the best of my knowledge, most computer screens have a resolution of hardly 1-2 mega pixels, and that's where most of the photos are viewed anyway. The small percentage of the photos do end up getting printed, and for the postcard size prints, again 3 mega pixel comes out extremely well. Unless one is printing out larger size photos at regular intervals, anything more than 5 mega pixel is virtually useless. Just to throw in some numbers, to print 10 inch by 14 inch photo in 200 dpi resolution, which apparently is professional quality, a 6 mega pixel camera is good enough.

So what does one need?
Optical zoom. That is what brings far away objects in closer focus, which is so essential in outdoor photos. However, high optical zoom almost always affects the image stability, and unless they come equipped with some sort of internal image stabilization mechanism, one should avoid them. Last seen, a few Kodak and Nikon models did not have that.

Other not so trivial factors,
Different cameras store images differently. Sony and Fuji uses extremely expensive memory cards, while most others use Secure Digital (SD) or Compact Flash (CF) type memory cards, which are getting cheaper by the day. Just to throw in some numbers again, today I saw a 1 gigabyte Sony memory card in Bestbuy for $50, while a same size SD card (which my Panasonic Lumix uses) cost me $4. When going for a long trip, the savings in memory do add up to a significant amount.

On a similar note, Panasonic uses their own battery, and consequently their own charger for it, which costs significantly more than standard rechargeable batteries you get off the shelf from Walmart.

So which one is indeed a good camera?
For beginners, or who are just interested in capturing those fun moments with their friends and family and may be occasional getaways, within a couple of hundred dollars they can get cameras with 4-6x optical zoom and 3-4 mega pixel. At this level, most good brands like Canon, Nikon, Panasonic or even Kodak have fairly "good" models.

For mostly outdoor photographers or those who have overgrown those point and shoot cameras, high optical zoom cameras are the solution. Among the 12x models, I would vote for Canon S3 1S or the Panasonic Lumix latest model. They are both very similar performance wise and do not have any major flaws. Being a Panasonic user, I'm slightly biased towards them, and should point out that Panasonic uses Leica lense, and the reaction time to save one photo and be ready for the next is incredibly small, compared to most other cameras. I am sure Cannon would have its strong points too. Last time I saw, they were available for $300-$350 range.

And for those people who wants very sleek cameras, and are ready to shell out more, I believe Sony and Casio have those.

Only those who want to have large print quality images should go for high mega pixel cameras, as I mentioned before.

And finally, when is the best time to buy?
Now. The price of most digital cameras, at least the ones I keep checking, are always decreasing, averaged over any long enough time period.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A "Thank You" Note

We all love to claim academics is a solitary pursuit, Ph.D is something you do only for yourself. While that is absolutely true, its the small and not so small things along the way which helps one move along. It is kind of like that snake and ladder game, one lucky break here, a mini disaster there and always that little something away from being "done". I have seen incredibly motivated people losing it all, quitting in frustration or living a miserable existence. On the other hand there are people who enjoy each and every moment of their research career, doing what they love and loving what they do. And then there are people who just treat it like just another job and keep on surviving.

Which category I belong to? I don't think I can answer that question unbiasedly, but I would feel I oscillate between all three phases randomly. However I am fortunate to have a wonderful advisor, have settled down pretty well in this place over the years and mostly like my work. And add to all that, so far the biggest support in my workplace was my senior student. Anytime I got stuck or was looking for ideas, help was just across the room. He had solution for every problem, answer for every question, fix for every error and a "script" for getting every job done. And most importantly, he always had time to answer my stupid and not so stupid questions.

Once he suggested me to get rid of the Windows in my laptop and get Linux instead. I knew, like all of his advices, this one made sense too. However, I tried to point out to him that I use my laptop for non-Physics activities too, namely chatting or music or movie. His answer was prompt. I do not do either, he said.

So I am sure he would not read this, but here is congratulating him for graduating today. People said his was one of the better defences they have seen in a while.

All the best Craig. And thanks for getting me started.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An unforgettable moment



This is the view of the blocked field goal securing our win in the last seconds of the game from North Endzone, just where we were seating. And trust me, it was order of magnitude louder there at Swamp when that happened. That sure played a part.

With a potential National Championship run in the line, we came up with an improable third blocked kick attempt of the night. This team may not be winning pretty, but its showing that champion's heart. We have not lost in Swamp in two years. And thats what Florida football is all about.

Steve Spurrier said, "This could be the year of the Gators".

We sure hope it is. Go Gators.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Random Events

Reiterating for the hundredth time, I am lazy. There were a hundred things I wanted to write about, and may be I'll end up talking about a few of them. In totally random order.

Those stupid do-not-put-your-photo-in-orkut emails. I know people are dumb, but I tend to give them benefit of doubt. This, however is beyond that. The story is, some frustrated guy made a fake profile of a girl he was slightly more than interested in, putting her real photo and phone number and some not so innocent details. Naturally she ended up getting some obscene phone calls and emails. While I fully sympathize with the poor girl, I simply do not understand whats wrong with Orkut per se. Ohh well, there are actually, the major ones being its too addictive and a also a major source of spam, but certainly not this. Its impossibly easy to get a photo of you nowadays, specially if I know you directly or indirectly, and if I do not know you at all, I wont really care about making all the effort of maligning you. Its incredibly easy to harass someone online, but its almost never a complete stranger stalking you, and vague acquaintances have a hundred other ways to harass you if they are that determined apart from a few social networking websites. We always have this habit of blaming a higher being for our perils (like blaming the central government for all of our states troubles or castrating America for all the troubles in the world) and this is just a small example of that mentality.

Sharad Pawar getting the nudge. Ahh, how I loved it.


Democrats winning it all. It sure was an exciting night. It was just six years back when Al Gore came tantalisingly close and they still make fun of Florida for that. It was just two years back that Kerry lost Ohio and consequently the presidency. And the red-blue divide could not have been deeper. Now seeing big shot republicans from almost every corner of the country going down, do give hopes for the future. And few people noticed this, but a big reason for Republican Sen.Allen's downfall in the decisive Virginia Senate race was him calling a campaign volunteer of Indian descent from his opponents camp by a racsict slur.


Our fall color viewing trip. Last year I went to New England. Sometime i want to go to Colorado. But the usual suspects, lack of time and money restricted me to a road trip in Northern Georgia and Tennessee-North Carolina border in Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. I know people up north are proud of their colors and understandably so, but we did get to see pretty good colors here, and fortunately we went right at the time of peak colors. It was fun to drive at those mountainous, sometimes incredibly curvy roads and surrounded by blooming colors and at times dense fog.
Here are the photos.

And finally, some football. After that heartbreaking, potentially season ending loss to Auburn, we are again knocking on the door. First SEC Championship game after 2000, and with some luck, onward to Glendale, AZ. But the saddest part is, after following the whole season so passionately and intensely, I'll be flying out at the exact same time of the championship game in Atlanta. Damn.

P.S - Did anyone notice that the protagonist from the "The Devil's Advocate", the bright young lawyer Kevin is from our Gainesville!?

Birthday wishes for Suchismita (5th october), Arpita (31st october), Satabdi (2nd november), Ranjani (2nd november).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Six and oh, baby!

So the first time since 1996, our football team has started the season with six consecutive wins and no losses. How big is that? We don't know yet. But if history is offers any pointer, the last time, ten years back, we won the national championship. It can be that big.

They are saying it was as loud here as they have seen it ever in the swamp on last Saturday. I was a part of that ninety thousand plus impossibly intense crowd, which surely played a part in softening up a very good LSU football team. It was a a scrappy game at best, but we would any day take an ugly win in this conference. And that's what I like about the this team, they are finding a way to win even when things are not exactly going their way. We missed that in last few years with a string of demoralising last minute losses. Florida football is back, and this time its for real.

Somehow the four game deadly stretch, which everyone felt would be impossible for us to get out alive from, is not looking that lethal. Auburn with its one dimensional running game would be perfect for out defense and Tennessee clearly showed Georgia has no defence. The road to Tempe,AZ ( for the national championship game)would have to pass through Atlanta (for the SEC championship game) though.

Go Gators!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Murphy's Law of Telephone Calls

When you are absolutely bored, none is going to call you and whoever you call wont pick up the phone.

When you are busy or trying to sleep, you will receive calls in equally spaced intervals enough to ruin your concentration or sleep (or both).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The 2006 Pujo for Me

So it is that time of the year again, when every alternate email or scrapbook entry in Orkut I get asks me about my Pujo plans. And if that is not bad enough, once I reply that Pujo does not really mean anything here, they start making funny noises like how a Bengali can live without a Pujo holiday.

Now I am not exactly right about Pujo here. The Benagli Associations in most big cities do organize Pujo's, albeit often just for a day on a convenient weekend. Our Gainesville is just a small college town, but we do get to go to the Pujo's in Orlando or Tampa and those are just a couple of hours drive. I must appreciate the tremendous effort put in my the organizers at all these places, after all it is no trivial thing to put together the events. However, its just not possible under the given constraints to make it feel like the Pujo's back home and none even pretends that they are.

These are more like a social get together to most people here, where they meet up, discuss about their kid's achievement and show off their latest acquired saree or jewellery, while letting their kids recite Bengali poems with a hugely American Bengali accent. Nothing wrong with that per se, except that I don't really enjoy it as a Pujo. Rather it is kind of like a day out for me with semi-authentic Bengali food and long drives with saree clad Bengali girls! (Too bad, rarely any of them to "look at" in the Pujo venue, that robs half the charm of Pujo!)

Anyway here is some moments of the Pujo at Tampa yesterday.
http://picasaweb.google.com/deepak.kar/DurgaPujo2006TampaFL

However, all said and done, I do miss Pujo back home. But I do take issues with people suggesting that I should leave everything I am doing and rush back to Kolkata during Pujo to reinforce my Bengali credentials. Apart from Kolkata, nowhere in the world Pujo is a holiday and for those of us outside Kolkata, there is realistically a very little chance of landing up there during these days. And when when you are actually away from Pujo-land, you do not miss Pujo unless you are reminded everyday!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Not the nicest post!

A few weeks back, among those inane forwards, I received this heart wrenching story.


ONE BEDROOM FLAT... AN INDIAN SOFTWARE ENGINEER'S LIFE...- A Bitter Reality

As the dream of most parents I had acquired a degree in Software Engineerand joined a company based in USA, the land of braves and opportunity. When I arrived in the USA, it was as if a dream had come true.
Here at last I was in the place where I want to be. I decided I would bestaying in this country for about Five years in which time I would haveearned enough money to settle down in India.
My father was a government employee and after his retirement, the onlyasset he could acquire was a decent one bedroom flat.
I wanted to do some thing more than him. I started feeling homesick andlonely as the time passed. I used to call home and speak to my parents every week using cheap international phone cards. Two years passed, twoyears of Burgers at McDonald's and pizzas and discos and 2 years watchingthe foreign exchange rate getting happy whenever the Rupee value went down.
Finally I decided to get married. Told my parents that I have only 10 daysof holidays and everything must be done within these 10 days. I got myticket booked in the cheapest flight. Was jubilant and was actually enjoying hopping for gifts for all my friends back home. If I miss anyonethen there will be talks. After reaching home I spent home one week goingthrough all the photographs of girls and as the time was getting shorter I was forced to select one candidate.
In-laws told me, to my surprise, that I would have to get married in 2-3days, as I will not get anymore holidays. After the marriage, it was timeto return to USA, after giving some money to my parents and telling the neighbors to look after them, we returned to USA.
My wife enjoyed this country for about two months and then she startedfeeling lonely. The frequency of calling India increased to twice in a weeksometimes 3 times a week. Our savings started diminishing. After two more years we started to have kids. Two lovely kids, a boy and a girl, weregifted to us by the almighty. Every time I spoke to my parents, they askedme to come to India so that they can see their grand-children.
Every year I decide to go to India. But part work part monetary conditionsprevented it. Years went by and visiting India was a distant dream. Thensuddenly one day I got a message that my parents were seriously sick. I tried but I couldn't get any holidays and thus could not go to India. Thenext message I got was my parents had passed away and as there was no oneto do the last rights the society members had done whatever they could. I was depressed. My parents had passed away without seeing their grandchildren.
After couple more years passed away, much to my children's dislike and mywife's joy we returned to India to settle down. I started to look for a suitable property, but to my dismay my savings were short and the propertyprices had gone up during all these years. I had to return to the USA.
My wife refused to come back with me and my children refused to stay in India. My 2 children and I returned to USA after promising my wifeI would be back for good after two years.
Time passed by, my daughter decided to get married to an American and myson was happy living in USA. I decided that had enough and wound-up every thing and returned to India. I had just enough money to buy a decent 2bedroom flat in a well-developed locality.
Now I am 60 years old and the only time I go out of the flat is for theroutine visit to the nearby temple. My faithful wife has also left me and gone to the holy abode.
Sometimes I wondered was it worth all this? My father, even after stayingin India, had a house to his name and I too have the same nothing more.
I lost my parents and children for just ONE EXTRA BEDROOM.
Looking out from the window I see a lot of children dancing. This damnedcable TV has spoiled our new generation and these children are losing theirvalues and culture because of it. I get occasional cards from my children asking I am alright. Well at least they remember me.
Now perhaps after I die it will be the neighbors again who will beperforming my last rights, God Bless them. But the question still remains'was all this worth it?'
I am still searching for an answer................!!!!


One is not supposed to reply to these emails, these are for forwarding and trying to make people feel guilty for no reason.

But as someone in "US of A", I could not help but make some observations.

When you are coming to an alien land to live, you have to have a life. Sharing an apartment with 5 other deshis, having no social life other than occasional deshi parties at home (which are no different from the gatherings one used to have back "home") might save you a bunch of money - but that's hardly a life. Unless you get to know the country and enjoy the American way of life, which includes but not limited to having a drink on Friday,watching football on Saturday, eating turkey on Thanksgiving and traveling on long weekends, you are not "living" in here.
That is the basic problem these software people have.They come here physically, but mentally they are still in India. They detest everything American, except the color green. They would send truckloads of those green stuff back home, to invest in property or to tuck away in a bank,robbing themselves pleasures of life. And then would marry a girl their parents would choose and would ship her here to do the cooking and cleaning. And then their kids would go to school here and contrary to "our" portrayal of them as "ABCD", wont at all be confused. They would be Americans in all sense of the term and their heart wont exactly be where the "home" is.

And then the protagonist would think if it was worth it! Buddy, you brought it onto yourself.

P.S - Birthday wishes for Saswati (8th September) and Debashree (20th September).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What's going on since summer?

Nothing really. Immensely predictable life of a graduate student. Only silver lining is I'll get to eat Kolkata food for a month in winter. After two years, got myself an India ticket. And a pretty good deal too on Al Italia. That's the good news, The bad new is I have to do a hell lot of work before I take off.

Summer in Fermilab was really up and down.it was a tough learning experience to start off with, but in the later stages as we started taking real data, thing became somewhat exciting. Then spent a drove up to Detroit, flew to Baltimore, ate great seafood, caught up with old friends in Philadelphia, Delaware and NYC. The drive back to Florida was through St.Louis, Memphis and Alabama. All the pictures are in here - http://picasaweb.google.com/deepak.kar/SummerTravel

I must have been missing Florida beaches, so after coming back travelled around a bit. The photos are in http://picasaweb.google.com/deepak.kar/StAugustine and in http://picasaweb.google.com/deepak.kar/Florida

Next post coming soon!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Happy Birthday" to My Blog

It was this time of last year when I was feeling pretty depressed for a lot of reasons. The work was not going so well, summer in Gainesville was extremely boring and a few of my good friends were leaving Gainesville for different reasons, not all very pleasant. I did have a blogger account before and wrote a couple of meaningless posts months back, but was too lazy to update it on a regular basis and felt it lacked focus. I was content with reading other people's blogs and admiring their writings and wondering how they have became so popular! Anyway, to cut a long story short, I revived my blog exactly a year back in the present form, partly to let the steam out initially, and so far managed to update it reasonably often, with all the the work pressure and travelling around. I would have loved to talk about more serious issues and my often radical perspectives on them but with the people kind enough to read my blog mostly showing an extreme reluctance to comment, I think it would be kind of meaningless. So it has drifted more towards a travel/photo blog with occasional personal posts and might stay that way in near future.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Along the Mississippi and Beyond

Getting absolutely bored of Batavia, I decided to do some travelling around. If I was in Florida, it is not a problem - you can always grab some people and land up in a nearby beach, I remember doing that in the middle of the night too. However it is a completely different story here - miles and miles of cornfields with nothing remotely exciting to do. I like Chicago as a city - but after a while you run of ideas to do things in downtown. So I started the trip by driving north-eastward to Indiana border. In the blinding rain I crossed over to Indiana and soon I was near the Indiana Dunes. However looking for the largest dune there, Mt.Baldy I ended up going too far east and crossed over to Michigan border (one more state for me!I would be in Detroit in a couple of weeks though). After retracing my way back, finally found the way to it and climbed up the hundred something feet up to get a majestic view of the lake Michigan.

Photos: Looking up Mt.Baldy on an rainy day and view from the other side.

It was an overcast day - but could not resist the temptation of driving by the lake for a nice little stretch, making little stops on the way trying to take photos - eventually all of them came up almost similar.

Photos: Driving towards and by the lake!


It was down to West Lafayette from there - meeting an old friend and making a few new ones at Purdue. Stayed there for a couple of days - generally being lazy and trying out restaurants. By now I am sure all the campus towns look unfailingly similar - mostly red brick buildings, a tall tower commemorating something and a small downtown with coffee shops and pubs.

Photos: River Wabash beside Purdue and the tower and the fountain in the campus.



On the way to Urbana-Champaign, I passed through Indianapolis, did not feel a huge urge to head to downtown, rather went to the Indianapolis Speedway. Its funny how rest of the world
follows Formula One while that is relegated to the background here. Nascar and Indy 500 grab all the headlines and that was pretty evident in the Hall of Fame Museum. I did a track tour in the bus and was told that the Formula One race race actually goes in the opposite direction with respect to all other. But going down the empty race track in a slow bus is not really fun ...

Photo: The Speedway and the track.


Next morning we started out on our grand Mississippi road trip. We did not plan much, rather wanted to explore the small town USA a bit. Almost running out of gas, heading westward to Iowa border, we stopped at a small town called Knoxville. Without any expectation whatsoever, ordered friedrice in a little roadside restaurant claiming to serve American-Chinese Food. And ended up probably having the best friedrice in USA. It was just like our own Chinese food, where fried rices are tasty enough to be eaten by itself. So after the unexpectedly satisfying lunch, we crossed over to Iowa and found ourselves in a little town called Burlington just by the Mississippi. It claimed to have the world's crookedest street, but to find that we realized this can almost be called poor man's San Francisco! The streets go up and down pretty steeply without any warning and then that little stretch of alley connecting two bigger streets is really winding.

Photo: The little streetside restaurant and the crookedest street.


Just outside Burlington, travelling up north we passed by Toolseboro Indian Mounds. Sounds kind of historical, may be they are, but they look just like, well - just mounds!

Photo: Indian Mounds.

We were trying to follow the "Great River Road", which is an official scenic byway after that point - and we had to wade through a stretch of unpaved road leaving a trail of white dust behind. It was a while we could actually see the river, but the view was indeed gorgeous at some points.

Photo: Grand view of Mississippi.

We stopped at at place called Davenport, which seemed to be popular for casinos on the river and then at a much smaller but cuter city named LeClaire, which apparently was the hometown of "Buffalo Bill". While all these small towns are critically dependent upon the river for everything and have the streets lined up with antique shops, they are not too touristy. The coffee shops still don't accept credit cards and the people around would still be pleasantly surprised to see people from India.


Then we passed through another of those towns named Clinton and which literally stank. And then we were immensely surprised to find that Iowa (unlike the neighboring Illinois) is not just flat land. To reach Dubuque, which was supposed to be our final stop for the night, we had to drive by narrow winding roads through jungles on either side, going up and down the hills. Finally we reached Dubuque, which is apparently the number one tourist destination in Iowa! It looked confusing and appeared a big city at first, but getting hopelessly lost and coming back to the same major intersection every time without any help made us realize its just not that big, just the roads are uselessly confusing and complicated. The major attraction was the Fenelon place elevator, which is basically a cable car going up a hill. It looks very primitive, and unstable. Long back it was actually used by people for their daily commute, now its more of a tourist attraction. After riding that next morning, we went to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It was fun seeing all the turtles and fishes and the giant size lazy alligator. Upstairs they had a special "Catfish Planet",which has led me to believe that any fish, no matter how it looks can be eventually classified as a catfish! Looking for places to eat, some local people hanging out in the streets directed us to the "Brickyard". It was a restaurant cum a brewery and we were tempted enough to taste their beer sampler. I am a generally strong beer hater - but even I loved the way how they served it in miniature mugs and actually liked some of them. A variety called the "Laughing Ass" was pretty good and my friends ended up getting half a gallon for their home. And did I mention the food was good too?

Photo: The elevator!

We planned to travel straight up to Mcgregor after that, but ended up crossing over to Wisconsin and losing our way. Finally found the scenic route on that side, but instead of the river, it passed through green valleys and more small towns. Stopping for gas in one of those nondescript towns, we learned we can cross the Mississippi with with our car in a ferry. We were so excited about the novel experience we can have, but sadly realized that we are short of cash. So kept driving, till we passed this in Mcgregor.

Photo: The pink elephant!


The last attraction we wanted to visit was the Spook Cave there. It is an underground half an hour boat ride in this cave. The formations are nothing spectacular compared to the other caves I have seen, but the ride is a lot of fun. At some points you have to duck really hard to avoid getting hit in the head by low ceiling or push the boat off from hitting narrow walls in the dark cave.


Photo: Inside the dark cave.



And then it was time to get back. Before getting on to the highways, we passed through local Wisconsin highway, stopping to buy some fresh local cheese at one time and to pass slow moving horse drawn carriages carrying weirdly dressed Amish county people a few other times. And once we hit the freeway in Illinois border - it was just one long drive back home in late night.

A great trip through small towns and local attractions - a refreshing change from the big cities which we visit all too often. My next trip would be just like that.

P.S - This is the first time I am trying to post some photos inside the travelogue, rather than linking it to webshots. I am not sure if I like the idea though, primarily because I can only upload a small number of them.

Birthday wishes for Saswati (17th July), Sayantani (19th July) and of course for my mother (2nd July).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

An Untimely Obituary

He was not my classmate at any stage. Not at school. Not at undergraduate days. He was merely a student from across the campus in the same year. We did not travel together anywhere, if I disregard the coincidental bumping into each other in Las Vegas last winter. There were no reason for me to know Subhankar Nag. And then he would have remained the faceless software engineer who died suddenly in his sleep of a cardiac arrest in an alien land.

However, I did know him reasonably well. In that dingy room over the A.C.Canteen in J.U Campus, every week we used to meet for informal quizzing sessions, which laid the foundation for the revival of JU Quiz club (later named Enquiry) and the now established yearly JU-Open quiz. And I can almost certainly say - without his effort and enthusiasm - the quiz club would not have seen the light of the day. Right from fighting for a room to coaxing juniors to come - he was everywhere. And he was an integral part of the J.U team which left its mark on college and open quizzes for over a year.

Unfortunately we all graduated from JU - but I hear even after that - he was active to make sure the quizzing tradition of J.U continued. After he came here in Columbus,Ohio working for TCS - he kept in touch, even though a lot of times I was too lazy to call back. Any other people would be offended, but not Subho. He would call at regular intervals, often to tell me that his cellphone number has changed and often without any apparent reason. We would talk about the places we have been to (he was especially proud about being at the Indianapolis GP last year - he deserved to see this years full race) and he would suggest I come to Columbus one of these weekends. I asked him once what his plans about settling down (read: marriage) and in his typical voice he said, "arey boss tara kiser, ei toh masti korar somoy". (roughly translated, whats the hurry - this is the time to enjoy life). I guess thats the last time I spoke to him. Irony? You bet.

This was no way to die.

P.S - A humble suggestion - can we name the J.U.Open quiz in his name?

Here are two old dusty pictures - the first reminding me of those fun evenings and the second one is the Science Sanskriti quiz which Arpita and me conducted.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Long delayed post on World Cup

So we are well into the stage where pretenders are getting separated from the contenders, and like many I too believe that real world cup would only begin from the knock out stage. My usual favourite is Holland - and so far I have not found them too impressive - but at least they are getting the job done so far. Brazil looks far from promising in spite of all these big names, Argentina and Spain are brilliant in flashes, Italy and England look suspect, Germany is steady but dull. May be this can turn out be the most open cup ever.

However that does not matter to my fellow Calcuttans. Most of them are intense Brazil supporters - which I actually find a little amusing. ( I remember reading this in orkut - a Brazilian guy randomly landed in a Calcutta community and quite innocently asked, is there any Brazilian around in here? This was a month or so before the world cup, and a Bengali gentleman came out and replied in crisp Bengali, roughly translated which would mean, there are none right now - but you would find them popping out of everywhere once the world cup begins!). That's what I don't exactly find amusing - the pride associated with supporting a different country. Lets get this clear folks - "our" football team failed to qualify for the world cup. And "we" are not exactly Brazilians (or Argentines) for that matter. I feel ashamed when someone asks me where is India in the football map. Its disgraceful that we are simply not there. If Countries like Ivory Coast or Serbia-Montenegro, torn by civil wars or a country like Trinidad and Tobago, just a dot on the atlas can make it there, just to cite a few examples - our perennial excuse of lack of infrastructure and all sound plain hollow.

I also hear comments about Americans not understanding soccer- they not having the passion like "us" and all that. Screw the passion - the Americans have a team playing in the world cup - so they are actually cheering for their team - not empty supporters like you and me. "We" don't even understand how ridiculous this is - claiming ourselves to be the biggest supporters of another country!

P.S - A long list of birthday wishes - Somraj (31st May), Shalini (4th june), Nabanita (5th June), Munmun (10th June), Nabamita (10th June), Nabanita (13th June), Debipriya (21st June).
And Father's Day and my fathers birthday was on the the same day this year (June 18th), and in case you forgot - I had my birthday on June 13th.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Random disgruntled notes

For past few years I have been hearing about a "scientist" president, apparently whom we all should try to emulate. Never mind that he is only a technocrat, however he did at least look qualified, a bit different from the run of the mill politicians. However his passive support of the government means he loses my respect. He is just another guy interested in power and all the perks associated with it. Please stop putting him on a high pedestal, would you?

I also hear about how wonderful work ASHA and all these NGO's are doing - express even slightest doubt about them and you are labeled a heartless creature with only your own interests in mind. Now I have a question, why would we even donate a penny for imparting basic education to kids in some remote villages over there, when our government is so concerned about them getting almost automatic higher education? Did these folks even speak up against it?


I am not just being sarcastic. I know in our system president has minimum say - but so far we have not heard anything from him. I would have expected something more from a president, whose claim to fame was not dirty politics. To put it bluntly - he has failed us. About NGO's in general and ASHA in particular (since I am most aware of its activities), I never doubt the commitments of the individuals - but as a whole they are doing too little, too late. I don't want to sound too critical but doing something which should basically be government's job and hoping to do that by asking us, the poor graduate students to spend their resources hardly sounds logical to me.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Arjun speak and some thoughts!

Here is a much publicized interview of Arjun Singh by Karan Thapar.

http://www.ibnlive.com/news/devils-advocate-arjun-singh/11063-4-single.html

It makes for interesting reading and makes the minister appear(?) stupid. He mostly has no coherent answers to any of the questions put forward by Karan, and worse he ends up doubting cold numbers, often coming from credible sources, when he cant defend his or the government's stand. That's expected though - considering our politicians are hardly the most qualified people - but even then, some of the comments actually are pretty hilarious.

He starts off with -
Arjun Singh: I wouldn't like to say much more on this because these are decisions that are taken not by individuals alone. And in this case, the entire Parliament of this country - almost with rare anonymity - has decided to take this decision.
A quick check verifies, anonymity : n- the state of being anonymous.
So we have to believe, as implied by the senior minister that the Parliament secretly decided to implement this? Who were they hiding from? And why they needed to be surreptitious? I always thought you needed to be anonymous when you are afraid to come out with your name, like those offensive postings on the discussion forums!

Defends his actions with -
Arjun Singh: Because as I said, that was the 'will and desire of the Parliament'.
Now only if that meant the wish of the majority of the people!

And finally admits -
Karan Thapar: I want very much to talk about that formula, but before we come to talk about how you are going to address concerns, let me point one other corollary - Reservations also gives preference and favour to caste over merit. Is that acceptable in a modern society?
Arjun Singh: I don't think the perceptions of modern society fit India entirely.

Now that he acknowledges it, and I read somewhere that his grandson studies in Harvard, it all makes sense. Does not it?

And as someone pointed it out to me , the idea of increasing the percentage of quota and then compensating the general students by increasing total number of seats is almost a mathematical impossibilty. Lets think of an oversimplified example, where the total number of seats is 100 and the prevelant SC/ST etc quota adds upto 30%. So we had 70 seats for us - now if the total quota in increased to 50% - that means we lose 20 seats. If now the idea is to increase 20 seats for us - that pushes back the quota to 50/120 or 41%. So the only way to give back 70 seats to us is make the number of total seats 140, which is almost and one and half fold increase - and effectively adding new 40 seats to quota, while our seats stay the same. I wonder how many institutes have the infrastructure to absorb that many new students without letting the quality of education drop - and at the end we would be the victims again!

Gearing Up!

(From CNN)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Celebrate" June 2nd!

So I just figured out that June 2nd is the national "Breakup Day" . An excellent concept from Budweiser, countering all those feel good type occasions promoted by Archie's and Hallmark. So after you befriend her on the Friendship Day (or was that an entire week you had?), and celebrate your love on Valentine's Day - there has to be a way to get rid of her sweetly, and then what is the best way to drown your sorrows than plunging into Budweiser? Marketed efficiently - you can soon end up with breakup cards and breakup gifts.

I remember in my school and college days some of my male friends became invisible on Rakhi days - fearing some girl would try to tie them into brotherhood. This can produce a similar effect - the people having a troubled relationship would probably try to stay away from each other - although in this Internet age - that becomes almost impossible. Budweiser even suggests some nice (or not so nice, depending on your perspective) breakup lines, in case one is too shy to find their own and still want to "celebrate"!

And in case you did not know - there is a "Singles Awareness Day" too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An Insane Question

When popping open my can of lemonade this morning - suddenly a weird thought came into my mind. A lemonade is a lemonade because it has lemon flavour - even if its not natural lemon. Now consider a scenario where by some accident we never had lemon in nature. Then we would not have known how a lemon tastes. Would we still have lemonade then - I mean the flavour - by some other name?

Searching for flavors not directly inspired by natural ingredients - the most common example I came across is cola - be it Coke or Pepsi. I don't not know if "sweetness" is a flavour - but if its not - then the whole gamut of Sprite to 7 Up to Mountain Dew wont count. All the others I see are inspired by natural ones. So the question boils down to whether we would have discovered the "lemon taste". Chemically that's citric acid - so would we have tasted citric acid from some other non edible natural source? Or accidentally synthesized it and ended up tasting it?

Ponder over that over a glass of lemonade!

The states I have been to ...

Florida: Major cities - Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona, Tampa, Sarasota, Clearwater, Miami, Key West,Jacksonville etc.
Georgia: Major Cities - Atlanta, Athens.
North Carolina: Smokey Mountain National Park.
Tennessee: Smoky Mountain National Park.Major cities - Nashville, Knoxville, Maryville, Gatlinburg, Chattanooga.
Kentucky: Drive through
Illinois: Major cities - Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, Places around Fermilab in southwest suburb ( Naperville, Aurora, Batavia)
Indiana: Drive through
Ohio: Cuyahoga National Park.Major cities - Columbus, Cleaveland, Akron.
Wisconsin: Drive through
Minnesota: Major cities - Minneapolis, St.Paul, Mankato
California: Major cities - Los Angeles, Riverside, Monetery, San Francisco. (Drive through Pacific Coast Highway)
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park.
Nevada: Major cities - Las Vegas.
Massachusetts: Major cities - Boston, Amherst.
New Hampshire: Kankamagus Byway. Major cities - North Conway
Vermont: Major cities - St.Johnsbury, Bennington, Brattleboro.
Delaware: Major cities - Wilmington.
New York: Major cities - New York, Buffalo/Niagara Falls.
New Jersey: Drive through.
Washington D.C
Virginia: Drive through.
Maryland: Was born! Drive though.
Pennsylvania: Major cities - Pittsburgh.
West Virgina: Drive through

Makes it 24/48 mainland states until now, with a defintely a few more coming up before the end of the summer.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My mostly Minneapolis travelogue

Since I spent a significant amount of time in this sleepy college town an hour or so away from twin cities, I wont say I completely "did" twin cities. However - a couple of days were enough to give me a good overall feel of the windy streets, warm skyways and diverse cuisines.

They say Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. I have to read more on that later, but you do notice waterbodies every so often once you drive away from downtown. And you cant miss the Mississippi river separating east and west sides of Minneapolis and also Saint.Paul. The unique feature is the skyways - never seen them in such an extensive scale before. Effectively the whole downtown Minneapolis, be it shopping malls, business offices or big hotels, is connected by elevated and glass-enclosed walkways - a way to keep the city moving in winters I guess. However for a casual traveller like me, it gave me an opportunity to literally walk through ultra swank lobbies of poshest downtown hotels! The real downtown part is pretty dense - even smaller compared to compact Chicago downtown.

For me the most interesting thing was the diverse cuisines the twin cities offered - and I have not seen such a concentration of different African speciality restaurants anywhere. For breakfast I had momo after such a long time at an authentic Nepali place - and forget the Chinese dumplings, this was the real stuff. For lunch I found a tempting Afghan cafe closed - but landed up in a Ghanaian place in the midst of a strange locality in Saint Paul. The goat stew I ordered with plain rice looked almost like our deshi vareity, albeit a little sweeter. Dinner was heavenly at this Somalian restaurant at the south end of Nicolette mall, I would rate "Safari" among the best places I had food in last few years and worth going back to Minneapolis again. The "goat cutlet" was succulent goat meat with gravy cooked with just enough spices to make it so perfect. And they had a creamy soup as a starter - and my waiter said that as well as two huge glasses of mango juice are all on the house! He must have made mistake somewhere - its just impossible to have such an amazing dinner at single digit price. And I absolutely do not regret passing "New Delhi - Food and Drinks" while entering Safari.

The drive along the Mississippi is scenic but nothing spectacular. We visited the beautiful Cathedral at Saint Paul and I always like the absolute quietness inside the churches. The mall of America is apparently the biggest tourist attraction - but we found it rather uninteresting - just another mall with all the big brand names lined up.

The downtown came alive on Friday night - with people on the streets and crowded bars. The IDS tower glowed with what seemed like an halo right at the top - my photos do not quite do the justice to that. In fact photography wise this was a let down trip - since urban photography demands a lot of time and patience and an overcast day robed me of that scope.

Here is the link for the photos still - http://community.webshots.com/album/550344400sWIlhh

And since I don't like much of them - here are my top three!

This looked heavenly with the halo at the top -


View from far - notice the "skyway" -


Me with Minneapolis skyline behind across the river Mississippi -




Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Five steps to become a "computer expert" over the phone

1. Listen to the problem in a dead serious face and make comments like "windows suck" or "seems like a Trojan".
2. Ask them to restart it.Normally solves half of the problems.
3. If it has something to do with Internet explorer - ask them to clear the cache and cookies. Works like wonders.
4. Go through the steps of running a virus checker and a spyware detector.
5. If none of them works - politely suggest contacting the tech support.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

So Long - Pramod Mahajan.

Lets go back to the torrid mid nineties for a moment. When those fiery speeches by Vajpayee made BJP fashionable and almost everyone a fan of his - even if they did not agree with him. The way he spoke, the way he rebutted oppositions argument with deft logic and sound facts. If you noticed carefully - he mostly spoke impromptu. But at some crucial points - he would look down on some scribblings on his desk and lash out at Congress with a new argument. If you wondered where those little notes came from - look no farther than Pramod Mahajan. That was his job. Mostly invisible, but indispensable. That's why he was my kind of politician.

Politics, contrary to popular belief, not only involves spreading your ideology to people who most likely is going to vote for you. You have to optimally identify those people. And you would need huge amount of money for that and so many things. That's where backroom leaders like Mahajan come in. You need bright people who would be able to sit down and devise strategies. And as much as you would hate to admit - you need people with connections to industry bosses with money. Not everyone can do it. If one looks at every big BJP election victory in last decade - you will invariably see his involvement on these fronts. He camped out to states - not as much as for active campaigning - but to mobilize the organization. And as everyone, especially my Bengali friends know so well, how much important is that one aspect in electoral politics.

Sure he suffered reverses. The BJP's losing grip over Mumbai in particular and Maharashtra in general, stunning setbacks in UP, unexpected loss in last general elections and his name being dragged into controversies. But the man was not God. He worked within the system. And at a time when BJP is suffering its biggest identity crisis in years.

After Vajpayee, Few leaders in BJP can hold their own in public speaking or in a debate. Arun Jaitley is suave, Sushma Swaraj is articulate - but Mahajan was both. His loss will hurt BJP in almost every sphere of the organization.

I always thought if someday I join politics by some rare turn of events - he is someone I would have modeled myself on. That's my ultimate tribute to the Pramod Mahajan.

This was no way to die.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Its a lovely day ...

For a person who grew up in Siliguri and Kolkata and now stays in Florida - abundant sunshine has never been a rarity. So inspite of my friends from the other parts of the country making noises on the contrary - I always thought snow all around makes landscapes more photogenic and living more fun. I could never think sunshine is something to get excited about.

So when I arrived at Illinois - and saw at slightest hint of sunshine , my friends screaming out its a lovely day, I was perplexed. They just all went out, had their lunches outside and kept talking about how great this is. However it did not take me long to to figure out what the fuss was all about. Next few days were bereft of any sun, raining inconsistently and generally overcast. And that kind of weather is so depressing. So seeing the sun peeping through my blinds this morning - I could not help but exclaim - its going to be a lovely day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Its My Work!

I have been asked by many persons what am I exactly doing here. So at the risk of making this post technical ( hence boring) let me try to describe that.

But even before that - let my try to explain in what I do for my research in ordinary language. Particle accelerators collide particles with high enough energies and we are looking for "New Physics" to come out from that. But if we try to look at a specific process - the signal for that is buried under a host of other associated physical processes, which we collectively refer to as "underlying events". Now we need to understand and model these so called underlying events to dig out the actual process of interest. This is often done by simulation studies and comparing them with real data. In my own research, I am looking at a particular physical process which would hop fully prove to be a good tool to model the underlying events.

As I mentioned - we need to use real data coming from the particle accelerators. Right now Tevatron in Fermi National Accelerator laboratory is world's highest energy running accelerator - and Collider Detector in Fermilab (or the CDF) is one of the two detectors looking at the data coming from the collisions. Since we get our data ( and a lot of cases simulation and analysis tools) from the CDF collaboration and I gather they (rather the Department of Energy) do not have enough money and manpower, we have to help out the collaboration in different ways, which are termed as "service work". Right now my job involves sitting in there main control room and look at the all monitors telling about different aspects. If things go wrong - normally characterized by some part of some screen turning red or an audible alarm (or both) , we are supposed to contact the relevant technical expert to fix it. Its by no means doing Physics, and nobody even pretends so. I hear its a lot of fun and excitement while there are actual data coming on, but right now we are in the midst of a "shutdown period", no actual particle collisions are going on, we are just looking at cosmic rays and technical people are trying to fine tune the detector for next set of real runs.

P.S - Technically I am called an "Ace" - which sounds more glamourous than the work actually is!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Travelogue - Day Three

Urbana,Il to Batavia, Il (Fermilab)

Starting Mileage 91956
Ending Mileage 92097
Total distance travelled 141

Today I took the road less travelled - instead of taking the freeway, I decided to travel straight up north via Illinois-47. Its slightly less distance, almost equal time, no tolls and I thought would be a lazier drive. But what I did not realize that one lane state highways are often clogged by slow traffic and the only way to pass them is to move into the opposite lane - which any time is a precarious maneuver. State highways do have a tendency to take weird turns and this was no exception. Central Illinois is pretty boring landscape wise, mostly barren land and occasional factory like structures. Anyway after two days of hectic driving and one day of rest, this two and half hour drive was like a stroll in the park!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Travelogue - Day Two

From Nashville, Tn to Urbana-Champaign, Il.
I-24W over Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois to I-57N. (St.Louis was oh so near!)

Starting Mileage 91578
Ending Mileage 91956
Total distance travelled 378

Nashville is a nice city - I got the chance to explore the downtown quite a bit after just catching a gimpse of Vanderbilt University. The country music hall of fame museum gives you a nice perspective about the how it all begun - and there are innumerable shops selling pretty much everything you can think of related to country music. After the museum, I walked around downtown - going into those old record stores and looking at the typical southern architecture. The imposing Gaylord centre reminded me of our Southeastern Conference Basketball Champonship this year. Unfortunately I could not spend the evening there to see the pubs come alive with music.

I got back on the road at around 2 pm. Yesterday was a display of patient driving - never going more than 10 above. And I actually saw cops pulling people over near Atlanta area in the old fashioned way - standing on the shoulders with radar guns and then jumping on to the cars to chase the vehicles down. Today it was sheer madness. I always found a bunch of cars ready to barrel down the highway - and it feels much safer to speed when you have company. Kentucky did not seem to have enforcement of any kind - and I was trying hard to restrain myself in Illinois - since I have a speeding warning here from almost a year back. So including all the stops and the breaks - reached here in less than 6 hours. It should be a lazy day tomorrow - with a just couple of hours drive to Fermilab later in the evening.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Travelogue - Day One

Gainesville, Fl to Nashville,Tn.
Mostly I-75N to Chattanooga over Florida and Georgia, then I-24W over Tennessee. (Birmingham, Al was oh so near!)

Starting Mileage 90966
Ending Mileage 91568
Total distance travelled 602

Started just before eleven in the morning. The drive was largely uneventful till Macon, Ga where I found a Chinese buffet for lunch. Typical American-Chinese food with lots to choose from at a very affordable price. Atlanta downtown traffic, even with six lanes in either direction was crazily congested. Took me long to reach Chattanooga, Tn. I heard a lot about Chattanooga but my half an hour there was frankly a disappointment. There are nice views from the hill but I could not find a single overlook area where I could park my car and take a few pictures. Downtown seemed kind of dead - did not have enough time to explore the Tennessee Aquarium - but could not find even an open souvenir or gift shop. There were typical southern type big buildings - but all looked deserted. Its a small city - potentially scenic - but can do with better promotion and directions. It was a couple of hours from there to Nashville - the drive was scenic through mountains and valleys of Tennessee river. Its terrible weather here today - let me see how much can I explore "Music City".

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

T +1 day

Normally after such a big occasion all you feel is emptiness. The expectation and the tension being built over for months is just gone in minutes. Nothing immediate to look forward to and nothing more to get excited about now. Utter peace proved to be so boring at times like this before.

But not this time. Even if I temporarily forget the irate Fermilab collaborator's email for the moment, today was hardly a lazy day. Since I am leaving for Fermilab sometime tomorrow morning and that too driving all the way up there - there were hundreds of stuff screaming for attention. The car repair shop inevitably came up with and incredible "estimate", and finally addressing just the immediate "safety concerns" was enough to push me harder into imminent bankruptcy. I had to grab some national championship memorabilia (read tees,caps etc) and like the national championship itself - they don't come cheap! I had to pay all the bills and plan how would I pay the next ones. I still have to redirect my mail to my temporary Fermilab address. And I have a pile of unanswered emails - I should get back to all these nice people sometime.

I found out a couple of our Jadavpur Physics seniors in Nashville. So thats probably going to be my first stop after long 9 hours. From Nashville, Urbana-Champaign is around 6 hours more - should be spending the weekend with my ex Jadavpur classmate and his his wonderful girlfriend. Fermilab is just a couple of hours from there - I am sure there will be too much to do even before I settle down!

(And all that means I would be online very erratically in next few days.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Something which just matters to me...

Just three words. "Admitted to candidacy".

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Interestingly enough...

"Good Friday" is a national holiday in India, while its not in USA.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Not the "New Year"

I remember long back someone replying me with "the concept of new year is just an arbitrary choice of initial phase" when I sent him an oh so standard "Happy New Year" greeting. I loved his response and even today I look for chances to recycle it. However that was at least about the "proper" new year.

I just don't get the concept of Bangla new year. I can seeing people fervently wishing each other. I suspect that has got more to deal with finding an excuse to "wish" people (which is a nice way to remind people that I have not forgotten you yet!) rather than celebrating the actual occasion. Because for Bangla new year - its trying to celebrate the start of a calendar which is extinct for all practical purposes. On the other 364 days a year - we never use that calendar. Most people ( at least the ones who would be reading this, including yours truly have to think a few minutes to remember what Bangla month it is - leave alone the date). And there is nothing to get upset about that - the only dates we care for are the ones we use. Even in the supposedly biggest Bangla festival, Durga Pujo - the Bangla dates appear mostly in small prints.

So to get all excited about the new year of a dead calendar just does not make any sense to me. I am sure a lot of people would would try to say I am being too cold to our culture ( you know the type) and this is actually an emotional occasion. I beg to disagree - I am absolutely okay with celebrating for example "Jhulon" (which has got to deal with full moon rather than pertaining to the Calendar), but New Year is something entirely calendar centric - hence meaningless in the current context.

And if the survival of our "Bengali-ness" is dependent on "this" - I pity us!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thinking Loudly

Q. What makes you oppose the reservation so strongly?
A. One word - its unfair.
Q. Which part of it is unfair? There are people who suffered long for being born in the wrong caste...
A. Sure they did. But you and me neither created nor propagated the discrimination.
Q. Well - but may be our forefathers did...
A. How can I be accountable for the action of someone else?
Q. But something needs to be done. See how many of these people are in the big posts?
A. I guess that is because they did not do as well in academics.
Q. You can not compare them with us. They had so less infrastructure to show off their true merit.
A. Its impossible to define merit I guess. Every kid wont be born or raised equal. But when you have a system in place to judge something ( whether you call it merit or zebra is not the point), you got to respect the system.
Q.But the system is flawed...
A. Change the system then. Don't bother conducting farces in name of entrance tests. Hold a lottery may be?
Q. Now you are being sarcastic. This is the only way they can make progress.
A Looking around - I mostly see progress made by kids who are equally affluent.
Q. Every system has loopholes - that does not mean its not working.
A. If it was working - you would not have needed to have it after fifty years. And make sure a kid does not get the benefits if his parents availed them. Dont let someone use this multiple times.
Q. You can not rectify the hundreds years of abuse In fifty years.
A. The answer to abuse can not be more abuse. Giving a special treatment once should ensure realistically level playing fields. It should be a priviledge, not a right.
Q. So what other suggestions do you have?
A. If a kid gets through via reservation - mark his or her degree likewise.
Q. What? that's separating them from mainstream.
A. Precisely. If you have two separate intake modes - that's what makes sense. If you are getting advantage for having a last name - you can not ignore it conveniently later.
Q. You are making it sound like reservation is a bad thing.
A. Now you get the point huh!
Q. Be realistic. There has to be a way to improve their status.
A. None is doubting that. That's what governments are for. Rather than taking the easy way out - when they are going to do some real social welfare?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Those Magical Moments!

[Note for those who are not familar with college sports here - These are big things unlike anything you see in India in terms of popularity, money and national prominance. And you have to refer back to the previous post to make sense of it all.]

Inside the O'Dome - the game is in progress on big screen

We win and its flags soaring high

Crowd getting wild with "gatorchomps"

Celebration Time!

Delirious with joy!

To the rest of the basketball world - here we come!

Our turn to be in the spotlight!


Me happy!

(I do apologize for the crappy photos. This is the best I could do in a raucous crowd with very low light.)

"Its a Fairytale"

Thus screamed an young lady. It was an hour past midnight in this normally sleepy university town. And with a regular working day coming up tomorrow with end of the semester almost in the sight - you would expect a quiet night here.

Except that something unthinkable has just happened. We had just destroyed a supposedly very good UCLA team in faraway Indianapolis to win our first national basketball championship. A five thousand strong crowd watched the game on this giant screen in the indoor stadium and double that number crowded the university avenue. It was unlike any other night you would see here.

The crowd started pouring in hours before the game was supposed to start. They waited patiently till they got in. They cheered every gator point, roared at every defensive block and clapped at each UCLA turnover. It was the ambience of a regular game - with the bands and cheerleaders and the gator chomps And as it became clearer and clearer that we are going all the way - the noise level just increased to an unbelievable level.

And finally the win came pretty easily. We were never really pushed. It looked all too simple. And unreal. Within minutes the university avenue was full of fans clad in orange and blue. They came from every directions - running around delirious with joy. Complete strangers hugged, kissed and highfived each other. They sang "Its great to be a Florida Gator" in unison. Some scenes can be described - others you need to be part of to realize. This was one of those occasions. A guy climbed up the traffic lights and started waving a Florida flag while precariously balancing himself up there. Beer flew wildly. Grown men were getting overcome with emotions. They screamed and wept. It was sheer magic. There is a reason they call it March Madness. Finally Florida had their moment in sun. This is a team nobody gave any chance at the end of the season. This is a team made almost entirely of underclassmen. They were not supposed to win. They did not get any respect from the columnists. UCLA was the team with all the basketball tradition. But they did not care. And on the biggest stage - they just did what they could do - play with lots of heart. And play as a team. I don't care if they come back a stronger team a year later. This was their defining moment. This is what they will be remembered for.

And I am just so glad to be a part of something this amazing. It just can't get any better.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

18th April at 12:00 pm

One of the things you can not just evade in graduate school. The much dreaded "quals". And this little snippet from phdcomics says it all.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blogging is fun: No more!

After looking at them disdainfully initially - I now kind of like them. The little, occasionally interesting web clips appearing just above my google mailbox. And clicking on one of those, I came across this rather disturbing article - which basically says people in positions who can influence your career might be reading your blog and judging you by that.

This is not entirely surprising - only last week I was reading about how kids are being warned not too put anything non-conforming in their facebook profiles by schools. We all love to see abundance of information online. Sometime googling a persons name turns out more information (s)he can imagine or may even like to have available. However it definitely assumes another dimension when these information can be against them. It can be as simple as an online stalker finding your mail address or phone number or as they mention in that article - your current employer seeing you whining about your job. And this second aspect actually worries me. A while back one of my friends here wrote something in his blog about the unfair pay structure in our department and he was kind of reprimanded for doing that. Since he hosted his blog on departmental webspace - so that was kind of a grey area and can not really fault the department for being unhappy. But most of us use third party sites like blogspot or livejournal - and would love to believe we can get away with anything as long it "solely expresses the opinion of the author". Apparently not so and if the personal opinions end up messing up our personal life - that certainly does not sound like fun. Should that be happening? I would say no. But is there is not much we can do - I would want to express my politically incorrect opinions here - that's what a blog is for - and keep my fingers crossed!

P.S - Birthday wishes for Soumita (24th March), Rajarshi ( 25th March).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Damn!

Its over just like that. This is the first time I did not travel anywhere in my spring break (impending qualifiers and all that) and thought I would have a full week of time to do the stuff I hate do normally. Like cleaning up my apartment or doing laundry. But with a hectic next month staring at my face after the break is all but over - I realised my house is as messy as before and I am barely left with any wear-able clothes for the week. *Sigh*

I have not really written this post to wash my dirty linen in public though. I am more worried about a lot of other things - one of them is the assembly elections in West Bengal. I am slightly more politically aware than a lot of other people would expect - and I am disappointed to see the two Congress factions bickering among themselves - which would result in left parties sweeping the elections once again. I did a bit of "research" after the last general elections and here are the results. They clearly show how the CPI(M) could have been given a run for their money even in the past scenario - when the opposition had insignificant presence in rural areas resulting in CPI(M) polling almost hundred percent ( or more!) votes. Now the voter lists apparently have been cleaned up a bit and the observation would be stricter. A fragmented opposition would lose their best chance in years to do any damage the ruling combine just by squabbling among themselves and not looking at the bigger picture.

P.S - If someone has the email address of Mamata Bannerjee - please forward her this post!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"March"ing Ahead

For a change Florida won their second round game convincingly - that's the first time since the magical 2000 season we have survived the first weekend. Go Gators!

Attempting resurrection

Trust me folks - this was in my mind throughout - just that hundreds of other distractions kept me away from this wonderful blog world. And immediately I see its changed. Arnab has moved to his own site - and I find his layout kind of repulsive for no obvious reasons. Some of the people whose blogs I used to read has become somewhat erratic and I found myself reading some other "new" blogs ( not always for their writing though!) occasionally. And I am sure I have lost whatever invisible readership I had!

So looking back I found I wrote my last meaningful post a month or half back - which is not exactly an eternity. However its not that nothing of note has happened since.On the contray I could have written at least one post trashing Valentines day (and the associated hassles of "growing" up), may be one on our young basketball team coming within a jumpshot of being the number one in the country riding on an amazing undefeated run to open the season (but its all forgotten now - all comes down to tomorrow's game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the "March Madness") or even about how I am ( finally!) getting bogged down by work.

But let me rather talk about my first experience of driving in the snow. I have been driving around for a quite a while now and one of the advantages of driving in Florida is you get used to rain. But as I figured out almost in the hard way - snow is a different animal altogether. I was up there in Fermilab a couple of weeks back - and was spending the weekend in Chicago. I have been to that city so many times that we decided to try out something new - so we landed up in Chinatown. Which was pretty nice by the way - but as it started snowing kind of heavily (at least for me that is!) - we abandoned any plans of exploring the neighborhood - rather settled for a roasted duck and fried Pomfret inside one of the numerous restaurants dotting the area. The real fun began on our way back - not only it was snowing but also there was a thick layer of snow on the roads. First we got mildly bumped from behind while waiting at a light - with almost no damages to ourselves or the car. Even before the the "snow settled " on that - taking a sharp left turn - I skidded , completely lost control and came inches within ramming into a parked car. Somehow I managed not to panic and steer it to safety without braking. That was close! And that told me the vital difference between rain and snow. While driving in rain - you are aware that its raining - so in a sense you are alert. But even when the snowfall stops - there are those layers of ice on the road - which makes the roads dangerous - and me being a total stranger to those conditions - almost ended up with an out of control car.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those Cartoons!

Nobody cared about them before. They are not the greatest pieces of artwork you would see. Rather they are making headline news. Here is what CNN says about the Danish cartoons of "Prophet Mohammed" which enraged Muslims all over the place.

(defunct CNN link)

And thanks to the uproar they are everywhere now. And in case you are too lazy to find them, I have done the hard work of looking for them - and you can just have a glance and try to figure out what the hoopla is all about!


















Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Flight 93

I ended up watching this one quite accidentally last night. I am not sure if they are calling it a movie or a documentary - but its a in a way either. They never really go beyond the information available in the public domain - do not speculate on the conspiracy theories that abound (a la Fahrenheit 911) and still convey the intensity remarkable well.

Everyone knows how things went on a chilly Tuesday morning a few years ago in east coast. Hijacked air crafts were turned into actual weapons of mass destruction - which perhaps changed the modern history like no other event. And we all also came to know that while three flights managed to hit their apparent "targets", one - the "United Flight 93" crashed into a Pennsylvania field just minutes away from Washington D.C under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The flight was hijacked - and was probably headed towards some D.C landmark - when apparently the passengers, knowing what is going on all around tried to take back the control of the aircraft. That's is as much we know from the telephonic conversations some passengers had with their families back home. And then the plane went down in a blaze of smoke - leaving only charred debris. Some say it was the passengers who preemptied another suicidal mission. Some say military air crafts gunned it down to protect White House at any cost. And probably we will never know the truth.

I wished it would have gone somewhat into that. It never did. It just created the events of that fateful morning with dramatic visual effects. It never goes beyond the prepared script - but it never needed to. It replays the phone calls of the last minutes with minute details - letting the audience though a range of emotions - from anger to frustration to sheer helplessness. In that sense it succeeds in serving a grim reminder of the terror and showing how ordinary Americans, "united" by the circumstances, desperately tried to prevent another catastrophe. But whether they succeeded or not will remain an open question - but their heroic efforts are the stuff of which folklore's are made of.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tax Time!

It is that time of the year again. And I just saved a bunch of money in my tax returns !

Well, (with apologies to nice folks at Geico!) reading this for 5 minutes can actually help you to ear 5% or more in tax refund! Let me elaborate on that - and I must add that this is only for the poor Indian graduate students like me. First year students get all their taxes back anyway - so it is not relevant for them. I do not know if you can do this if you are filling your returns "offline", but I would be tempted to say that there should be a way. But anyway - if you have not tried filling up the tax forms online - should give it a try - its fast, easy and remarkably convenient. There are hundreds of free services ( as the IRS website would tell you) - I would personally recommend esmarttax.

So this is what you do. Apart from the W-2 form , you should have also got a 1098-T form - which is basically a record of the payments you made to the school for tutions and related stuff. And surprisingly - not too many people are aware of the fact that it is tax deductible. So at some stage of filling up 1040-EZ, you can subtract in that amount from the gross income - and effectively getting 10% or so of that amount back in addition to whatever refund you were getting. It is as simple! And it does not require that you recieve a 1042-S.

And it works. At least in my case it did. My tax return was "approved" by IRS within a couple of days and the refund is on its way to me! And for once, I did not do something in eleventh hour!

And just in case - if you need help in filling up those forms - here is an useful link.

Just Updating!

Again another long hiatus. That really shows how lazy I am.

Anyway the start of the term when I would in all probability face one of the toughest academic hurdles on my way to PhD. I definitely taking its toll. That is not to imply that I am burning midnight oil to read up every relevent book and paper - which I am not - although I guess I should in not too distant future.

And something else happened in past week which is truly amazing. I attended the Physics department colloquium for the first time last Thursday. Yeah , that is after two and half years of being in here. Now before you start frowning in utter disgust and start suspecting how complete my Physics education has been - stop. I did go to innumerable High Energy seminars, helped finish the pizza in journal club meetings, slept through the graduate student seminars, and even presented my stuff in some symposium. Just that I have never been to the department colloquium - which apparently is more important for the socializing bit than Physics! Either way - weirdly enough - I always ended up having one of my teaching classes at the same afternoon slot on Thursdays - never allowing me to venture to the colloquium!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cheap Information!

As they say, seeing is believing. When I saw the story on CNN this evening, I was almost tempted to believe, oh this cant be true! But looking over the website - it does not seem that improbable - although I am really clueless about how do they do it.

Okay, here is the deal. If you pay these guys a measly $110, they can apparently give you call log of any person. And if you don't know the person's cell phone number, its just another $95. That's how cheap your and mine privacy is. You wont worry if law enforcement agencies could do this - but seeing any random people getting access to that much data within a few mouse clicks is alarming enough.

I remember when I started chatting with random people, one surefire way to check authenticity of their information was to go to Calcutta Telephone's sites and quickly do a reverse look up - seeing if the address and the last name matches with the phone number given. It became all the more easy after I came in here , a simple people search in the university's portal was enough to convince me if that girl is not actually studying computer science in University of Nebraska or which is more probable, if she is faking her name. And it gave me an immense sense of power to see that I can access that kind of information without even moving from my desk. So I guess this is the next logical progress - only thing is it no longer remains child's play. One can spy on ones spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend , employees can track employer's every move , in short ones life becomes an open book. And all this without the person getting the slightest hint of suspicion!

And in case you are interested , here is locatecell.

P.S - Birthday wishes to my sister Nandini (11th January) and Saiti (17th January).

Monday, January 09, 2006

R.I.P Independence Air

I never flew Independence. But I am sure a lot of times I got cheaps flights because of the competition offered by them. I hate to see low cost airines going bust.
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=1476475

Snippets from the trip

Okay, I must admit this. I am still suffering from hangover and driving under the influence of my last trip. So here are some random bits in random order!

Raking up miles: I had a brand new Chrysler PT cruiser to drive. How new? The sticker on the windscreen said purchased on the morning of the day I rented it and it had no number plate. Remarkably we were not pulled over once. (Even when consistently doing 100 in Arizona desert)
When I returned it - the mileage was almost 2500. If I had driven along eastern seaboard, I would have gotten to Boston and came back and still would not have driven that much.

Bangladeshis at work? This one caught our attention at Williams, AZ. Not even funny.
(No offence meant to anyone.)







Were we in USA or some American tourists around us in India? We came across Indians, Indians and more Indians ( our variety - not American Indians) everywhere. In restaurants , in Grand Canyon scenic points and even in Las Vegas shows! Imagine salwar-kamiz clad ladies looking at shows celebrating the "art of nudity"! (Photo by S.G - excellent work)

Zzyzx: On our way to Las Vegas, you come across this place. Except its name , I did not find anything remotely attractive about this.
(Photo by S.G)

Best Directions: Reaching Riverside, CA well past midnight - road work forced us to deviate from mapquest directions. We called our friend from a prominent intersection and heaved a sigh of relief when she recognized the place we are in. But then came the most astounding reply - she can only direct us to her home from there only if we can take her there!

I actually don't get this: Why after reaching a place like Grand Canyon, the first thing girls do is to walk into the gift shop?

Rout 66: All of us got pretty excited seeing "Historic Route 66". As it turned out - the person who got the most excited also had the least idea about why it is so historic!

Welcome to AZ: The roadside motel we checked in at Kingman, AZ had among other thing in the room - a car windscreen cover. Well , what else you expect in Arizona! ( I once heard a joke about how the best parking spots there are determined not by the distance from the building - but by if they are under a tree!)

Analogy of the trip: Someone said the bright lights and the hotel-hopping in Las Vegas reminded her of Kolkata Pujo.

Useless Trivia: Why they did not make the Eiffel Tower in "Paris" a full size replica? Because of the proximity to the airport.

P.S - And I actually won in Slot machine, $17.50 playing $4.