Wednesday, November 28, 2007


On my way to the department this morning, walking past the Shands building, reading about Tim Tebow's Heisman chances in the Alligator, I looked up and saw the man himself. Right infront of me, sitting in a bench, talking on his cellphone. He looked like, oh well, just like Tim Tebow!

They have a whole website on Tim Tebow facts. Here is what I would add. Other quarterbacks fake the hand off and throw the play action pass. Tim Tebow is so good that he fakes the run to himself and throws!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Baltimore Get together!

First it was planned to be on Thanksgiving. Then we realized that is too costly a time to fly. So we had our undergraduate friends, accompanied by their significant others (me being the sole exception, still holding on to my freedom!) getting together at Baltimore the weekend before.

Time flies so fast. I still remember the days at my Calcutta home with these folks, getting drunk and talking nonsense. And waking up next morning with a bad hangover. Those never felt like any special occasions. Now, to spend a weekend together, some of us have to fly halfway across the country, worried about missing work, shaky finances and flight delays. And unlike those days, speaking Bengali is a luxury for a few, as their better halves are from different parts of the globe. So the simple pleasure of talking in Bengali probably is a big enough attraction for them. And then there are those favourite stories about how one guy was thrown out of a pub at Miami or another got almost molested by an eunuch at an Indian train, which would be repeated and repeated at every gathering and never be old. Those old jokes. Calling each other names. Remembering the old crushes. Thinking what could have been. And looking ahead to mostly uncertain futures.

Back in JU days, during our trip to Lava, a scenic, mostly unexplored hill station near Siliguri, I remember a couple of these guys playing cards sitting inside, too lazy to venture out. So I would think for us, waking up to hit the road early in chilly mornings, after understandably not much sleep, was an achievement. We drove through Shenandoah National Park, explored Luray caverns and landed up in Washington DC. And on a personal note, I took an afternoon off, drove down to Silverspring Maryland, met a good old friend, and got my picture taken in front of the Hospital where I was born.

This is all of us in different moods. (Opens in the same window)

And these are my random clicks-

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My newest adventure!

As they say, its never too late to learn anything new, Which is of course a damn lie. When I thought it would be good idea to learn swimming being in Florida, I was told I would have to put my whole head underwater for a significant amount of time. That may sound trivial, but for someone who almost got drowned in a five foot pool in a water theme park, it is a deal breaker. Then I know of someone who tried to learn cycling at a ripe old age, and started riding into one disaster to another - and lucky to be surviving without breaking anything. (Other than the cycle perhaps!)

So it came as a surprise to me when I enrolled for this rock climbing course. May be I remember missing out on a similar opportunity at my undergrad days or may be I wanted to find a easy way to lose weight. Whichever it was, it did not take long me to find out that climbing is not for me. That was in-spite of the instructor being impossibly encouraging and friendly, most of the classmates trying to make me feel I am just a little away from succeeding, and the presence of this really attractive girl in the class. And she was a powerful climber too - should I say a joy to watch? But there was also this never married lady of my mother's age, passionately putting much more effort than I was and this unrelated gentleman of a similar age who was once a gymnast. Others were, if nothing else much more athletic than me, and even with all the emphasis on technique and stuff, at the end of the day raw strength matters. And that is not one of my forte, since primary use of my fingers are for tapping computer keys, not balancing my entire body from the edges.

It was fun though. We started of with climbing walls with lots of footholds everywhere and being held by a rope - which I know now is technically called rappelling. As days progressed, the walls tended to have less footholds, and the alignment of them made life more and more difficult. Then we tried what they call bouldering, where one moves almost horizontally across the walls, balancing on uncomfortably spaced out grips and edges. Then there were roof climbing, resembling Spiderman like traits, which needless to say, I did not even try.

I am better off running at treadmill. If I do anything at all, that is.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Simply bad english?

"Hw z lyf?" wrote my not so little cousin in my Orkut scrapbook. It took me a while to realize what exactly is she asking. I see someone wishing everybody "vry hpy pjo". Someone else says she will "tlk 2 me tmrw". What the hell is going on?

I can see everyone is very busy and working their backside off. However, I do not see how they cant be so busy to spare a few moments to write down the vowels. Oh wait, all these comes from sms language, which I am told the main form of communication nowadays. I was trying to explain to someone over there in Calcutta that the primary use of a cell phone is talking. She vehemently protested, pointing to the menu of her handset, and sure enough, messaging was above talk there. I have to give it to them, as punching those tiny keys at breakneck speed to compose a message sure requires a special skill set, and that possibly needs getting rid of those vowels. However, I would tend to think big enough computer keyboards should make the language slightly more respectable, but alas, its not so. Using acronyms have been part of instant messaging lingo from time immemorial, as we all grew up with LOL and BRB. However, dropping vowels randomly and condensing words arbitrarily is not exactly the same thing and I would argue that makes it look ugly.

When I first started chatting, way back in 2000, I refused to use Bengali in English script. I felt it looked ugly. Over the years, mostly due to peer pressure, I have reluctantly started using it. Sure it makes things more informal - but it also results in funny misinterpretations, like "Ashole" (actually) like Asshole or as my YM prompts me to search for Kobe Bryant when I type "Kobe" (when). I very much doubt if I will start using vowel-less non-english for communicating though!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Best of times, worst of times...

Blogging is a habit. And like all habits - the trick is to keep doing it - even when life is too mundane or too hectic. I tend to stop scribbling in either of these two scenarios - which makes me lose whatever regular readers I have - and then it is doubly difficult to get their attention back.

Borrowing Dickens classic quote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" around here. A colleague of ours killed himself and a stranger I barely knew died . Let me not go into details of any of these - at least not yet. May be with time the it will be be easier for me to come in terms of those.

And then this couple I know here had their first child. He looks incredibly small, and he mostly sleeps, frowns, cries and sleeps again. It is amazing the range of emotions he expresses with one single action, crying.

Now we lose to unranked Auburn at home. What a stunning upset. That is one loss too many - as for the repeat national championship aspirations. I hope we can salvage the season, which in all probabilty would be my last one here in Florida.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The mandatory "Football" post!

The best thing about fall is undoubtedly football. And for a school like ours, the defending national champions, the expectations are immense. On a day which saw that historic upset loss of Michigan, our offence looked mostly sharp, Tebow showed that he can throw, and pretty accurately too. The young defense needs more work to be ready for the gruelling SEC schedule, but after losing almost all the starters, we always knew that would be the area of concern.

This would probably my last football season as a Gator. Amazing how fast time flies.

And still staying with football, for those who does not appreciate how big its down here. Quoting one of the ESPN (or was it SI) columnist - I loved these lines.

The quality of life in the South is dependent upon good college football. Local economies, race relations and collective psychological health all would suffer without it. Sweet tea would not be as sweet. Fried chicken would not be as crispy. Country songs would be even sadder. If SEC football were mediocre, the South might as well be back in Reconstruction.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Different Physics-views!

I still remember that day. There was this conference organized by our department at Jadavpur University and it featured talks by some big name Physicists, none perhaps more famous than Ashoke Sen. We were in our undergraduate days then - all dreamy eyed budding Physicists, and of course we attended all the talks, no matter how much we got out from them. And then we got hold of the famous man himself, asking him mostly naive and inane questions, which he patiently answered. Then we wanted a group photo taken with him - he was slightly embarrassed, but still obliged. That made our day - and for a long time that remained, and perhaps still remains a prized snap for us.

Kolkata Physics was mostly like that - all sweet, no sweat. At least for us. The only method of solving problems was to stare at them for a while and then writing out the solution - working out pages full of algebra was not "elegant". We honestly believed that every problem should have a simple and intelligent solution - others are not worth bothering about. The best way of doing Physics labs was to do the experiments without touching the apparatus once. And picking and choosing what we think we should read. Quantum Mechanics and Special Theory of Relativity were exciting - Optics and Acoustics were not. Electronics was simply not Physics, and instrumentation was below our dignity to talk about. Any self respecting Physicists should work on Theory - at least we all wanted to. Well, may be all that is a slight exaggeration - but one gets the picture. Physics was supposed to be elegant and big Physicists to be worshiped.

It did not take long after coming to United States to realize that attitude would not really work. While real Physics still may be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, to reach there one has to do a lot of dirty work. Working and reworking through obnoxiously long and ugly calculations and learning stuff which have very little Physics in them. And somewhere in the process - we lost that respect for the big and famous. Its not that I would not appreciate someone who is a great teacher or gotten some good results - but they would still remain mere mortals, as fallible as the guy next door, when they are not talking about Physics. I would not go to a colloquium just because some big name Physicist is talking, unless I have some amount of interest in what he is talking about. I would not go and talk to him just because he is so and so, unless I actually have something worthwhile to discuss.

I do not want to make a value judgement here. This summer, when I was in CERN, there was this bright kid from my undergraduate school, and he is working for his Ph.D over there in India. And I was almost feeling nostalgic - looking at him getting overwhelmed by the big shots - clicking photos, dying to talk to them, hanging onto every word they said. I could see how we did the same thing years back - and I could also see how we have cultivated this attitude of casual irreverence. The sense of wonder is still there - but it has been mostly replaced by what for the lack of a better word I would call professionalism. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is that what "America" did to me or was bound to happen anyway? I do not know.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Travelling southbound on Interstate 91, just crossing into Connecticut from Massachusetts, came across this not so inviting town.

Monday, July 30, 2007

You know you are in Princeton when ...

... the security guard talks about Physics, Philosophy and (Satyajit) Ray, and asserts that he is ready to bet a thousand bucks that Higgs would not be found at LHC.

For the uninitiated, Higgs Boson is the till date elusive, theoretically predicted absolutely essential particle that Physicists are hoping to discover at LHC (large hadron Collider), world's highest energy particle collider being built at CERN at a cost of multi billion dollars.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Claim to fame of APJ?

Amidst this Pratibha Patil bashing, I read this piece of news where her predecessor, APJ Abdul Kalam, asked him to be referred as Professor, not Ex-President and was wholeheartedly applauded. Please not be mistaken, I am equally disgraced by, as other conscientious citizens, to see a complete stranger (Yes, I do follow Indian politics pretty well, and no, I have never heard of her before) getting to occupy the highest constitutional post in our country. However, I am slightly surprised by the attention and reverence "Prof. Kalam" is receiving - so I tried to dig a little bit deeper. As for his academic career, he specialized in Aeronautical Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology - which basically tells me that he was an engineer.

Then, Dr. Kalam made significant contribution as Project Director to develop India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India an exclusive member of Space Club. He was responsible for the evolution of ISRO's launch vehicle programme, particularly the PSLV configuration. After working for two decades in ISRO and mastering launch vehicle technologies, Dr. Kalam took up the responsibility of developing Indigenous Guided Missiles at Defence Research and Development Organisation as the Chief Executive of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). He was responsible for the development and operationalisation of AGNI and PRITHVI Missiles and for building indigenous capability in critical technologies through networking of multiple institutions. Anyone who knows a bit about big scientific or engineering projects, would tell you that individual achievements are minimum in these endeavours. It cant be "he" who actually "built" anything - he was most probably in the supervising group. Good job, Mr. Kalam - but I don't see what is so special in these.

And I also take issues with why he would be referred as "Dr. Kalam" then. Because, apparently Dr. Kalam is one of the most distinguished scientists of India with the unique honour of receiving honorary doctorates from 30 universities and institutions. Now someone please tell me why getting honorary doctorate from a zillion places would make one a "distinguished scientist". Should not it be other way around? Aerospace engineering is not some exotic subject, nor I can see him doing any ground breaking scientific work, that he deserves an honorary doctorate, and then being famous because of that. His teaching experiences are minimal too, and so he being recruited as professor directly at Anna University is somewhat odd too.

Rest of his achievements before becoming the president? He was the Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development from July 1992 to December 1999. During this period he led to the weaponisation of strategic missile systems and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in collaboration with Department of Atomic Energy, which made India a nuclear weapon State. He also gave thrust to self-reliance in defence systems by progressing multiple development tasks and mission projects such as Light Combat Aircraft.s Chairman of Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and as an eminent scientist, he led the country with the help of 500 experts to arrive at Technology Vision 2020 giving a road map for transforming India from the present developing status to a developed nation. Dr. Kalam has served as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, in the rank of Cabinet Minister, from November 1999 to November 2001 and was responsible for evolving policies, strategies and missions for many development applications. Dr. Kalam was also the Chairman, Ex-officio, of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C) and piloted India Millennium Mission 2020.
If ones notices, all of them are administrative positions, mostly political appointment. I simply do not see how and when he becomes an eminent scientist. It seems like he is more an example of a person being at the right time at right place than the icon he is made out to be.

(All of the facts are quoted from the the Abdul Kalam official page.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Hundred and fifty posts in a couple of years - thats just under one and half posts per week. When I started off blogging exactly two years back, I could not trust me enough that I would keep blogging for a while, leave alone for two years. Although not a lot of people read it regularly, and even less actually leave comments, some do, and my thanks to all the visible and invisible readers. This blog turns two tonight, and I now I have grown quite addicted to the concept of blogging. As for the birthday gift, I already got it one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

To Be (In Europe) or Not To Be!

Since coming back from CERN last month, this is one question I have been asked too many times - and like every other "important" question I face, this one has no clear answer. And the choice is not mine anyway. I will probably land up wherever people are kind enough to offer me to work with them. Just for argument's sake though, here are my thoughts.

The short answer would be Europe is scenic, but US feels like home. I do not know whether this is what four years of America did to me, but that is exactly how I felt after coming back. May be its the language. Or just the familiarity with everything so weirdly American. Probably a combination of both.

In Europe, I was a tourist. Everything felt alien to me. And as a tourist, that is precisely what you want. US is mostly predictable for me now - even when I go to someplace totally new here, I pretty much know what to expect, and the overall scheme of things. Exploring a new culture is definitely a learning experience, but to be a part of it may be a little too demanding. Funnily, I have heard people presenting the same argument while moving back to India from here, and I now get the point. Familiarity does not always breed contempt.

Growing up in India, where aping 70's US culture was the coolest thing for the teenagers, and now eating at MacDonald's is the idea of a family dinner, and then coming straight to US, I never saw a worldview where US is so insignificant, people are so nonchalant about USA, as I saw in Europe. And that was a welcome change. In India, we go overboard to cater to the needs of the American tourists, and at a very superficial level. The first class coach in the intercity express from Agra to Jaipur had 110 volts American plug points only. While that was helpful for me, I still think its a disgrace. In Europe, there are hoards of America tourists everywhere, but none really cares, and they struggle to find their way around, like everyone else. Of course people are in general helpful, but that's true in general, not like in Rajasthan, where "Foreign" tourists were always given a warmer reception, to put it mildly.

While these things are what I liked about Europe, precisely these make the idea of staying long term there a bit uncomfortable. The center of gravity of world science has not yet shifted back to Europe, consequently getting a job is still easier in USA. And the general perception in the community mirrors the old saying - out of sight is out of mind - it is easier to get American jobs ( "jobs" in the very broad sense of the term, anything from a post doctoral position to an appointment in a research lab, or even in industry) if one applies from US.

Academically, CERN presents an incredible opportunity roughly at at the same time when I think I would graduate. The much anticipated LHC, world's highest energy particle collider starts taking data, and for anyone in the field, that is the time to be there. However, since I am an absolute non expert of hardware, and pretty much what I need to do can be done remotely, there is no acute need for me to be there physically, although people do that all the time.

So I guess the ideal "job" would be one where I would be still based in US, but would get to travel to CERN often. The best of both worlds.

P. S - I must acknowledge one of my "blogger friends", for suggesting that I come up with a post on this.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Physical" Traveling

There are not too many perks for a graduate student here. Traveling on academic purposes is one of those rare ones - and I am having an excellent summer by that yardstick. First was the now well documented Europe trip - and it was primarily a summer school in CERN. Within a couple of weeks after coming back, I rushed to Fermilab Chicago, for a presentation our internal collaboration group meeting. After spending the weekend in Chicago, and catching up with some old friends, now I am at Princeton, NJ for another summer school.

I have been here before. But now as a pseudo-insider, Princeton does look classy, and the Institute of Advanced Studies (made famous by Einstein, among others) classier. Among the speakers there are some really big names of the field, and its not too hard to see legends around. This is really isolated from the rest of the world though - nearest civilizations is half an hour walk away, with virtually non existent public transportation.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Magnetic Attraction!

A mini Statute of Liberty. Five dancing Korean dolls. A miniature Gondola. Two colorful Venetian masks. One showing the Declaration of Independence, another the first draft of the Constitution. A half coffee mug from Minneapolis. A beautifully hand crafted shell from "She Sells Seashells" in some Florida beach. A little one looking exactly like a piece of Swiss Chocolate. A moose head from Massachusetts. A maple leaf from Vermont (or was in New Hampshire?). A Cuckoo clock from Geneva. A miniature wooden guitar from Nashville. Ones depicting Grand Canyon, Smokey Mountains, Amish Country and much more.

These are among the over hundred refrigerator magnets I bought from pretty much all the places I travelled to in last few years. Some people buy shot glasses, some by tee shirts as souvenirs. I collect magnets. One side of my fridge is so crowded now, that I have to think of some other place to put them. Any suggestions?

And then there are the humorous ones. I picked up one from Charlotte airport years back, which said, "I had a life once...Now I have a computer and modem! ". When I started blogging later, it seemed the ideal description. Another proclaims, "Being organized interferes with my creativity" - if you visit me once, you would know how true is that. And today, stopping at a nondescript gas station on my way to Tallahassee, I just could not resist picking up this. (With all due apologies to the creative people at Verizon...)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Europe Travelogue Part 7: Paris

I have been to so many American cities in these years, but Paris was so impressive - the whole city has an aura associated with it. And different neighborhoods are so diverse, but never out of sync, and they fit in gloriously to give an unique character to the city.

One can call it the city of museums. Apart from the better known Louvre or d'Orsay, there are innumerable ones spread all over the place. I could only spare half a day for Louvre, and a couple of hours for d'Orsay. Everyone now knows about Louvre thanks to that book and the movie, and it indeed is as glorious, if not more. Mona Lisa is surprisingly small, and the center of attraction. Taking photos is not allowed in the room, but people click on incessantly, while guards try their best to refrain people from doing that. Each section can take hours to explore fully, if one wants to even glance through the details - which was not obviously possible for frantic trip like mine. The all to famous glass pyramid at the entrance, to be very frank, looks kind of gimmicky, but at night, it glows softly, resulting in a nice ambiance. D'Orsay is a treasure trove for impressionist paintings, and a local artist suggested me to visit it even before Louvre. He was probably right. It is much smaller, built in a old railways station - and the settings reflect that fact. The galleries are lined up with creation of modern masters - and gradually it doesn't seem that small after all. Another museum I hurried through was Center Pompidou, which is a weird building with a weirder front facade and weirdest objects of art inside, like a glowing red rhinoceros.

And then Paris is also a city of magnificent architectural landmarks, from quite old to not so old, from the grand Notre Dame to the chic Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel tower glows at dark - brightening up the entire skyline. The view of the thriving Champs-Élysées and the city beyond that from the top of the majestic Arc de Triomphe is an experience by itself. There are huge palatial buildings, often with golden domes. There are sculptures on the streets, St. Micheal's statue at Latin Quarters was one of the more interesting ones I saw. And the infamous red windmill at the not so inviting night club district is a landmark in its own right.

And finally, Paris is also a city of culture. There are used book stores on the sidewalk, artists at work in the open air at Montmartre, which is little hill inside the city. There artists offer to get your portrait done, and after a while I could not refuse. The proud painter pointed out that even Picasso started off with making portraits on these streets, so with some luck, he too can get there. The people in general was very helpful, the old couple at the overnight train from Venice, was very enthusiastic about making me well acquainted with their beloved city. On the streets, I could always find someone to give me directions, and once I did not even had to ask. An old lady, seeing that I am struggling with the map, stepped up and asked if I need any help in crisp English. The metro network is really helpful too, the trains are very frequent - the only awkward part sometime is the connection between different lines, often I had to walk miles through the underground maze, going up and down multiple times, just to go from one line to another in the same station, shown by just a dot on the map. One of the lines, the newest one is fully automated, with no human driver on the train - one can stand right in front and see the train speeding through the dark tunnels!

Switzerland was all about enjoying the stunningly scenic vistas, Italy was about getting a feel of history - Paris was just soaking in the sights and sounds of wonderful city, a perfect blend of past, present and future!

The photos are in my picasaweb page, as always.

(This concludes my weeklong frantic Europe backpacking trip experience. However, I was in CERN for a couple of weeks, and ended up going to Geneva all too often. I should post my CERN and Geneva experiences sometime soon.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Europe Travelogue Part 6: Chamonix

This was a day trip from Geneva even before I started out for this week long trip of mine - but somehow never got around to post it before. So this slight anachronism, and a break from cityscape.

Chamonix is a little village in the valley just under French Alps, and the Aiguille du midi cable car takes one upto a height of over 3800 meters, from where snow covered peaks seem just so close. Just to give a perspective of that height, Mont Blanc, standing next to it, with all its majestic glory, is only around 4800 meters tall, and Mount Everest is 8848 meters, so the cable car (and a little elevator ride) indeed takes one at significant high altitude. And from there, its completely a new world, with pure white snow all around and peaks rising up from everywhere.

The other exciting ride is the Montenvers train to Mer de Glace glacier. Initially the train, climbing up through narrow winding tracks took one right upto the glacier. Then the glacier receded a bit, so they built a cable car to take one down to the glacier. However, the glacier receded further, and now one has to walk a while to get to it. This is probably the cleanest signature of global warming I have ever seen!

The photos are here.

(I would be wrapping up this trip with Paris next)

Europe Travelogue Part 5: Venice

Venice would not have been much different from any other Italian city, if not for the canals and life along them. The city is almost entirely dependent upon them for transportation - there are water buses which ply in fixed routes, water taxis which can be hauled to go wherever one wants, and then there are the Gondolas. While prohibitively expensive, they look very inviting in their glamorous decor and royal ambiance. They take one around a tour of Venice, starting from the main Grand Canal to the narrow lanes and bylanes - passing under little bridges connecting big old houses and palatial buildings. Somewhere on the way, one passes under the bridge made famous as the "Bridge of Sighs" by Lord Byron - passing from the courthouse to the prison, apparently the prisoners last time saw daylight from that bridge. Rialto bridge, giving a pretty good view of the Grand Canal is another well known landmark.

The centre of Venice is undoubtedly the St. Mark's Square. The impressive basilica is the major attraction, and one can get a birds eye view of the square and the city and the little islands from climbing up the bell tower. The square itself is full of pigeons, and they don't hesitate to sit on people's palms if tempted with food.

Venice wrapped up the Italy part of my trip - and it was onward to Paris then. The Venice pictures, like all others, are in my picasaweb album.

(French Chamonix, a beautiful little village, in the foothills of Mont Blanc, is next)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Europe Travelogue Part 4: Rome

Rome reminded me a lot of Kolkata, but its unquestionably more gorgeous. This was one of the few cities where I stayed for more than a day, and that meant I could do more that just rushing from one attraction to another.

Like any other Italian cities, the skyline is dominated by cathedral domes. But unlike most, Rome has much more than that. The all too famous Colosseum and the ruins of the old city around it it probably leaves the most lasting impression. The Colosseum itself is huge, standing right in front of it you realize no photos or videos have quite prepared you for the experience. Sadly most of it is ruins, or looks like going to crumble any moment, and the repairs look horribly out of sync. And it is, like every attraction in Rome, is overrun with tourists. To really appreciate Colosseum, I guess one needs to step back, stand still for a while and let the mind wander around to past - the time when Roman empire was in its full glory, but the jostling and posing-everywhere-for-photo crowd would hardly allow you the serenity to do that.

The other most known symbol of Rome is obviously the Vatican. While the basilica is impressive no doubt, I was fortunate enough to land up on a Wednesday, when the Pope holds his weekly mass. So it was incredibly crowded, and had to wait an hour or so in that expectant crowd to catch glimpse of him for a few minutes far down the hallway. Then I had to rush to the Vatican museums, partly to beat that crowd and partly to spend a good amount of time there before it closes in late afternoon. I would not even try to describe sheer grandeur or the intricate artworks which fill up the place, and the masterpiece is Sistine Chapel, where you reach at the very end. They say taking photos is not allowed inside, and people keep shooting anyway - but I guess world would have been a better place if people stopped thinking about photos (they do a very poor job anyway) and just stared at the ceiling. Standing there, it seems almost surreal - and unbelievably difficult to believe that one man could ever create something like that.

There were other cathedrals of course, often with exquisite artwork, Pantheon is one which immediately comes to mind. There was a castle which offered pretty good view of Rome skyline from the top. There were the countless Piazzas, which are the squares, bursting with people and shops selling "gelato" (pretty much our soft ice cream). And there was the made-famous-by-the-movies Trevi mountain, among other interestingly shaped fountains.

The flavour of the city is distinctly historical. It is so historical, as I am told, that whenever they try to dig up tunnels for extending the underground metro (the network is pretty limited, to put it mildly), they end up discovering another archaeological site! And walking around the narrow brick lanes and bylanes, you realize how insignificant our all too beloved "America" is - a hundred or so years does not even compare with a few thousand years of history and a thriving early civilization. The whole Rome is a vivid souvenir of those bygone days.

My pale efforts to capture that feeling is here.

( A different kind of city, Venice is up next)

Friday, June 29, 2007

End of an "era"!

I interrupt the scheduled programming (the travelogues and the photos) for a moment to salute perhaps the greatest "team" in college basketball history ever. They won two straight national championships, the second one forsaking the money and glamour of the NBA to stay back in college, which is rarity in this day and age. And three of them got picked in top ten of the NBA draft last night, which never happened before. Two more got picked in second round later, making five players drafted from same college only second time in history. Making history was something they thrived upon, and we were fortunate to witness that happen right in front of our very eyes in University of Florida. I, along with the entire gator nation wish them all the success in their professional careers, but their legacy in Gainesville would remain intact no matter how much they achieve later.

Thank you guys. It had been a fun ride.

Europe Travelogue Part 3: Pisa and Florence

I initially planned on spending a full day in Florence (which incidentally is called Firenze there, slightly confusing if one does not know it beforehand!), but a train strike in Italy disrupted my plans a bit, and I ended up doing Pisa and Florence on a single day. That of course did not do justice to Florence (Pisa just has the leaning tower, so an hour was more than enough), but at least something was better than nothing!

Italy does not feel like a typical European country in many ways, rather reminded me of india, not only for the history part - the train strike for a day, too many people everywhere and not at all organized, long lines for train reservations or entering any muesum, hugely overpriced stuff near tourist attractions. In fact too long a line prevented me from going atop the leaning tower in PIsa, and resulted in me hurrying through the world famous Uffizi gallery in Florence a couple of hours. Like any other Italian city, Florence skyline is dominated by cathdrals. Walking through narrow roads, suddenly the enormous Duomo cathedral opens up in front of you, and the sheer size of it is almost unbelievable. There are others too, some of them are equally impressive - but somehow the first sight of Duomo left me awestruck.

The photos are here.

(I expect to post the "eternal city", Rome tomorrow)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Europe Travelogue Part 2: Zurich

Geneva was just a half an hour bus ride (An aside, buses are wonderful in Switzerland. They run perfectly on time, very frequent, they have dedicated bus lanes in every major streets and nobody ever checked my tickets!) from CERN, and as a result I ended exploring Geneva quite well. After landing in Zurich, and walking around a bit, it felt strangely similar. Geneva is built on the either side of river Rhone, which opens up in huge lake Geneva, while in Zurich, the main city is on either banks of river Limmat, which empties into, guess what, in lake Zurich. Both of them have a charming old city part, with narrow winding cobblestone paths and grand old churches. Climbing up the church towers gives a pretty nice bird's eye views of the cities - and for a better view there are nearby mountains, a cable car ride to La Salève in Geneva and a short train ride to Uetliberg in Zurich. The significant difference is while Geneva is mostly French speaking, Zurich is completely German.

The main street of Zurich is Bahnhofstrasse, which runs from the station to the lakefront, and its lined with tempting shops, both big name brands and local variety and bank buildings. Walking towards the lake, I crossed the famous Cafe Odeon, where apparently Lenin spent a lot of time plotting the Russian revolution. Going the other way, I pass those churches and enter the old city part - which seemed a world apart from the modern part. I sat by the lake for a while, watching the sun going down - and came back to the station for my overnight train to Rome.

The pictures are here.

(And do keep checking back for more. Next up is Italy)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Europe Travelogue Part 1: Golden Pass Express

When it became clear that I would spend a few weeks in and around Geneva in summer, I knew I would have to explore Switzerland beyond the cities - after all those Hindi movies have built up an image of incredibly scenic country for years. The easiest way seemed to take a scenic train ride - and the Golden Pass Express appeared like the logical choice, in terms of the route and time.

Staying in US for last few years, I was actually a bit sceptical of the freedom of exploration offered by a train ride - but it did not take long to realize that sheer futility of that. Almost each place the train passed through can constitute an entire vacation destination - and to cram it all in a day, the train does a wonderful job. It starts from the side of Lake Geneva in Montreux, slowly climbs up passing lush green valleys. And all of a sudden, almost from nowhere, snow covered mountains appear in sight. It stops for a while at Interlaken, where one can take a cable car up to the top of a little mountain and get even more stunning views of snow capped peaks. Switzerland is full of lakes, and they just keep passing by. There are tiny villages, dotted with little houses and tall churches. We stop briefly at a station, where the other side of the platform ends in the lake - where else you would see a train station which is also the lake access? The huge panoramic windows of the train is a photographers delight - but after a while I started getting a feel that it is impossible to capture the sheer magnitude of the unfolding panorama in little frames.

So the pictures barely tell the story, and I am afraid they do not do justice to the stunningly scenic vistas we passed through. But they are here anyway.

(The plan is to post the travelogues/photos by parts, not always chronologically though. So keep watching this space for frequent updates for a week or so.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Back home in USA

It feels more like "Back home in heartbreak USA", as the song goes. After three frantic but exciting weeks in Europe, one of them spent entirely travelling through incredibly scenic Switzerland, unbelievably historic Italy and undeniably magnificent Paris, America does seem pale in comparison. While how attractive a proposition it would be for me to move there eventually is still an open question, at this point I am simply in love with Europe!

Pictures (have to sort 5 gigs worth of photos!) and stories (before all cities get mixed up in my head) coming soon.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Just an update

I had a wonderful day at French Chamonix today, seeing Alps (Mont Blanc) from up close and personal. I apologize for not posting those stunning snow capped mountain photos or a detailed travelogue today. I am beginning my grand Europe tour by taking the scenic Golden Pass Express from Geneva (Geneva-Zurich-Rome-Pisa-Florence-Venice-Paris-Geneva, thats the plan for now) tomorrow. I do not expect to be online at all before 25th June.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I just realized that I am going to spend my birthday in the birthplace of internet.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The most visible Indian contribution to CERN!

... Or at least thats what the standing joke is. This big Nataraja statue stands right between the main building and our hostel.

Another view at night.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Random Observations

This place is almost surrounded by mountains, reminds me so much of Siliguri, a little town on the foothills of Himalaya, where I grew up.

Its almost 10 pm now, and its not completely dark outside yet. Its kind of eerie to go to sleep when its not "night" yet.

Public transit system is excellent here. And so far, in no train or bus, my ticket has been checked. I am not sure if this is usual(and people are indeed so honest) or its just a streak of coincidences.

A six hour jetlag is infinitely worse than an eleven and half hour one. Any clue why?

Its really difficult to survive here without knowing French. My ultra limited vocabulary of "bon jour" and "merci" is hardly of any real help.

Despite being the land of banks, this place is amazingly cash friendly. I have not carried around and used so much cash in ages.

Buying Swiss Chocolate or Knife is more complicated than it should be.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Switzerland is ...

... in the first approximation, scenic, friendly and costly.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

First Glance of Europe: Picturesque Geneva

The famous "flower clock".

The giant "water-jet" rising from lake Geneva.

City Streets.

And city artwork!

Bird's eye view from an old church tower.

Mountains on the other side.

A game of Chess!

Modern side of Geneva.

Food served with "patriotism".

And the all familiar suggestion.

Monday, June 04, 2007

On my way to Europe!

Blogging from Jacksonville Airport waiting for my flight to New York and eventually to Geneva ...

It has been a frantic last couple of weeks. After spending a better part of my time being on hold and trying to get hold of some live person to talk to in national passport information center telephone helpline about my ten week old American passport application, (yes, I was born here) and being assured that it would be in my mail soon, nothing happened. Then got in touch with my local congressman's office, they tried their best to help, but nothing happened still. With only a few days left before my travel date, I had no choice but to drive down six hours to Miami office.

Due to a change in travel regulations, there is a huge rush for passports now and the agencies are just not equipped to handle this overwhelming demand. There were hundreds of people lined up outside the office, around the block from early morning and just getting to talk to someone ressponsible was taking hours. Having gone through a similar experience in Passport office in India, it did not feel much different. And it almost seemed hopeless after first day - there was some complications with my application, but they worked with me next day to get my passport just in time in my hand. That part was indeed impressive, in spite of the general incompetence of a typical government agency, when I could get to deal with a real person face to face, she went out of her way to help me out. I doubt if that would have happened in India!

Next post will be from Geneva, hopefully.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Yes, for eleven weeks. It better end soon.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The "Dream" Act

There are a few ways to be a part of the great American dream if you are not born an American. You can study hard, go through the the incredibly uncertain procedure of applying to the American universities from abroad, get through with some luck, get financial support from the school with some more luck, and land up in the land of opportunities. Then struggle in an unfamiliar land to successfully finish you degree and hopefully get a job - which would eventually help you to become a citizen after lengthy intermediate phases. The other way would be to get a job here, or at least pretend to, and then hope to get lucky in the "great h1b visa giveaway lottery".

Or you can just immigrate illegally. At least that is what the "Dream Act" (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, in short, coming up in Congress soon) named so appropriately tells you to do. In a nutshell, it says if your parents immigrated illegally, but you do not have any criminal record (immigrating illegally is certainly not criminal any more) and if you went to high school for a certain period here, you would be considered legal resident. No luck factor involved. You can then join the army - I am sure they need more people to maintain world peace. Not just that, you would be paying discounted in-state tuition if you go to college. What is so bad about that? Most of the Americans from different states or "legal" non-American students do not get to pay in-state tuition automatically. So moral of the story is, immigrating illegally is not so bad after all - in fact it may lead to some "dream" rewards later.

Somehow, just a year before the presidential elections, the theme sounds all to familiar for us, used to seeing politicians hell bent on handing out preferential treatments to certain sections of the people arbitrarily. No points for guessing where the eerie similarity is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Alabama:1250 miles in 4 days

Sleeping at home during the weekends is always a fantastic idea, and I never seem to get enough of it. However, this being the summer break week, and a desolate town tempted me enough to hit open roads and drive to Birmingham in Alabama. Now I must agree that Alabama is not a really enticing place overall, in the middle of deep south it feels more like midwest, with sheer nothingness for miles and miles.

The rapidly spreading forest fires made northbound freeways smokey. In fact while coming back, I could not use them at all and drive all the back using obscure state roads. I decided to make my pit stop at the quiet little town called Eufaula in Alabama, just across the Georgia border. This is one of the few towns in the these parts which were left alone by union troops during civil war, so this still town is home to an unbelievable number of grand old mansions and walking past them is a different experience altogether. Travelling northwest from Eufaula, I came upto Montgomery, the state capital and drove a little while on the highway 80, which goes upto Selma, the town better known for the civil rights movement demonstration and marches.

Driving further north, a part of it in blinding rain, I reached Birmingham, the biggest city in the state. Like most of southern cities I have seen, it is unevenly parsed with magnificent architectures and not so inviting areas. And it kind of has an identity of its own - the industrial revolution which made it the so called "magic city", the tumultuous civil right movements in the sixties which shaped the city's character and later came the University. The civil rights institute in downtown should be a must visit attraction for anyone interested in that part of of American history and the adjacent Kelly Ingram park houses often disturbing sculptures depicting the violence from the movement. A giant statue of Vulcan towers over the city atop the hill, and a view of the downtown from high up there is pretty neat. The restaurant scene (well, good food is a must in any of my trips!) is pretty vibrant and diverse too, specially the "Fish Market" was awesome.

After exploring the city, it was time for some outdoor activities. Little river canyon and De Soto state park was an hour or so up northeast and provided some nice scenic views and hiking trails in the forest. Nothing extraordinary, but a pleasant nevertheless. The drive back to "home" was pretty uneventful, passing through little sleepy towns with perhaps more churches than shops, and sometimes with funny names like Ty Ty.

The photos tell the story, and they are at, as always,

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A couple of gems from Indian media

I was pleasantly surprised to see Indian mainstream media covering NFL draft - since just a few months back I was frustrated looking for college national championship game live telecast. For the uninitiated, draft is where the professional teams select players from college teams. Here is the screenshot from NDTV's website. Looks all good, but wait! What is with that black and white soccer ball?

If that sounds too American-ish to you, here is one from our own Telegraph. This is a a letter to the editor in today's edition, right at the top.

Loo and behold
Sir — Even if every Indian household was to be provided with plush toilets and running water, it is doubtful if Indians would ever stop urinating and defecating in the open (“After trillion, target No. 2”, April 28). The reasons are historical and biological. The high fibre-content in Indian meals and the water intake, owing to the hot and humid climate, make Indians defecate more frequently than their Western counterparts. Indians also suffer from perpetual stomach ailments because of the inferior quality of potable water. As they cannot live in the comfort of their homes throughout the day, nor use public toilets as and when required, they often need to relieve themselves in the open. The sight of people defecating along railway tracks in the morning is distasteful no doubt. But one should remember that most occurrences of cracks in the railway track (caused by contractions in the metal because of changes in temperature) are reported by these people, thus saving lives and railway property.
Yours faithfully, Tapan Pal, Batanagar

Here is the link, for those who actually think I can create a masterpiece like that.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A box of Sardines and all that

Looking back now, I realize my family was a lot different from the others around us. May be it is because of their stay in United States and Britain. May be because they were actually different. Or perhaps, it was a combination of both. I had no way of knowing that then. Life in Siliguri back in eighties was very unlike what we see around us now. No store in out local market had a refrigerator - we had to travel an hour to the city proper to get such "basic necessities" like butter and cheese. And while there, we used to pick up other not so necessary stuff too. Like a pack of sausages or a can of baked beans. Or a box or two of Sardines.

Few people in the neighborhood had much idea about those non conventional food items, leave alone actually having them for lunch. But those lunches were really kind of like special occasions for my family, at least for my sister and me. We prodded our mother for weeks to open up that box of Sardine, and when that day finally came we would wait impatiently till the lunch hour and then fight bitterly to grab the slightly bigger piece. And when all that left were those empty tin boxes, we would wonder why we would not get more. The reason was simple though - they cost a fortune compared to regular foodstuff. They were a luxury in those days, and probably that is why we enjoyed those occasional special lunches so much.

How things have changed. I can grab those boxes of Sardines from local supermarket shelf so easily now. And it hardly takes five minutes to finish up a box and carelessly toss it away to trash. And it costs under a dollar, much less than most of other stuff. And, funnily, it hardly feels like anything special.

A monumental difference in living standards? A gradual change of mentality? Both perhaps. Or neither.

Epilogue: I am sure it sounds oh so nostalgic, is not it? However, someone gave me an entirely different perspective. Mutton was so easily available there - which is almost like a luxury here. So it has got to do as much with general food habit as much with the standard of living. Sounds pretty logical, I must admit. However, to me, those boxes still rekindle old memories, memories from those days, when it was so much easier to be happy. All that needed was a box of Sardines. Or two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It could have been any university in any town...

As America reacted in stunned disbelief, and we tried to come in terms with this useless tragedy - I was already hearing jarring notes. Fox focused too much on the "Asian" part, conservative politicians sprang on to the defence of the second amendment (that's the section which gives Americans the right to carry guns) and I heard someone talking about why we are not equally upset over hundred times more American deaths in Iraq. Then, later in the day, people from India expressed surprise that why it is such a big deal, when America has such an easy access to guns and just stopped short of calling me a hypocrite for being so upset, when I apparently did not care for poor people dying over there.

Well folks, people losing lives anywhere is sad. However, one has to understand the perspective. We may or may not support the war in Iraq - but the brave soldiers sent there had little say in that matter. And when they are in a war ravaged (again, its immaterial for the present context whose creation this war is) area, they are faced with the inherent danger of getting hit by a gunshot. It is almost a part of their jobs. Unfortunately, in an academic institution , students and faculty are not expecting that. That's why people were more shocked by this, which doesn't translate into any disrespect for anyone else. It was just a coincidence the guy was indeed Asian - his racial identity has as little to do with the entire episode as its settings - it could easily have been any campus town any where in the country. That is the real scary part - we all in academia can identify with the settings, and that's why the grief is so personal. Faceless strangers die everyday around the world, and as long as we can not identify with them, they remain just a sad piece of statistics in news stories. This was so real - we go to similar classrooms everyday, in similar surroundings - and now we would always be scared that some frustrated soul may just empty a gun at us. After all, those are embarrassingly easy to get - and I do not see that changing in near future.

Such a wastage. So meaningless.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Predictable Life

We are in the last week of March already. Where have these months gone? But a lot have happened in last few months, and a lot more promises to happen in coming months. And considering the predictably unpredictable life I have. that is indeed exciting.

Florida Gators won yet another SEC championship in basketball moving close to yet another national championship. History will tell us that we were fortunate to see one of the greatest college basketball teams in our campus. (And after India's pathetic show in the cricket world cup, "tournament" in my vocabulary means the "March Madness", thank you).

I almost stayed in Gainesville during the spring break, which is almost blasphemous in my standards. Partly because I could not find any companion for that dream cross country road trip of mine and partly because I was hoping to save some money for the yet uncertain summer trips. Oh well, I did went to Savannah, GA for a couple of days and enjoyed the St.Patrick's day festivities (this small sleepy so southern town claims to have the second largest parade, and which may be true!). Some of those photos are in my Picasa album. (And although I never got a chance to sit down and write about my India trip, those photos are there too).

Speaking of photos, I cannot resist another opportunity to blow my own trumpet. Two of my photos ended up getting recognized in photo contests, the first one got an "honorable mention" at the "Global Culture Photography Contest" organized by University of Florida International Center and the second one got a $20 cash prize in a more informal one hosted by the Department of Housing.

Otherwise, it has been a pretty predictable life.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Nothing can compare with this. Nothing even comes close. Battling a horrible dialup connection and incredibly intermittant streaming audio commentary, sitting thousands of miles away where none cares about American football, I stayed awake from early morning to follow this impossibly dominating Gator performance. Few gave us a chance. But once UCLA stunned USC and we won all the tough games and gatecrashed into the big game, it all seemed like destiny. I just wish I were in Gainesville and would not have to miss all the celebrations on my way back to Florida.