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.

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 -

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!