Friday, May 30, 2008

The Long Weekend

Since the US has so few public holidays (compared to India) most people try to make the most of the few that are around. Public holidays in the US are usually structured in such a manner as to make every holiday count. The Long weekend is a concept that is the most popular. It happens such that the Federal Government schedules a holiday on a Friday or a Monday. Thus with the Saturday, Sunday coming in between it makes for a solid 3 day vacation. Flight prices soar, hotels are booked to capacity and popular tourist destinations are packed.

Planning for these weekends takes quite a bit of patience and enthu as well. The list of places to go and people to visit was always endless. Ultimately it used to come down to cheaper flight tickets.(invariably) I have scoured around on travel sites for just that one exclusive flight deal which could make/break the trip. This process is somewhat akin to the hunting techniques of the Cromagnon dudes of old. You basically look up the deal on several dozen travel sites and initially gauge an estimate of how much it would cost you and then once you have set your upper limit on this then try hunting for something 'better' over the next couple of days. Also planning meant ensuring that you dug up your old contact list and sometimes even renewed friendships with old lost buddies.

There a ton of long weekends coming by end of the year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's are all available and I have no doubt that people will travel too (thanks to lower gas prices) but I for one have absolutely no plans for these holidays (which is weird because usually I was among the first people to have my travel plans all sorted out.) I am planning for a trip to India soon in the next year and thus thought it best to avoid any outings this year and go for the biggie next year. :)

(It feels great to get back to blogging after a break).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Borg

Bluetooth technology is something great. I used to own an Ngage (The Classic one and NOT QD) back in India. The Bluetooth feature was one of the most favorite features in it. It was sometimes damn slow but then it was probably one of the easiest ways to transfer data during that time. Primarily I had used it to transfer some pix, ringtones, etc from others.

I got myself a bluetooth headset a couple of days back from Radioshack. I was previousy using one of those cheap handsfree connectors for talking. I finally relented and got myself one of these devices which could be worn on the ear. (Also my handsfree cable got snapped somewhere so it didn't help matters.) I got a pretty pricey headset, the Plantronics Voyager 520.

I had done some decent amount of research into these headsets and also have tons of friends who use them regularly. I was looking for something comfortable and loud and clear. My friends who use them had often complained that comfort was the primary point. Most headsets will have decent enough reception and clarity.

The headset is also sometimes a cool accessory if you want people to think that you are actually talking to someone else while in public, you can jabber endlessly on it and no one would be the wiser. It also brings back very futuristic images of a Cyborg from some Hollywood action movie.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Data Dump

My first thanksgiving shopping experience in the US and I got for myself an external HDD. I didn't even have a laptop at that time but I just couldn't resist a deal like 25$ for a 200gb external drive. (Dhake being the oversmart guy that he is got two of those.) Subsequent thanksgivings never had that sort of a deal.

Now why is storage capacity more important than a laptop you may ask. Well for one, laptops and desktops were available in plenty in the university and almost everyone (except us, new guys) owned one. HDD's were a lot cheaper too than a laptop for a first time purchase. Also this was the time of the infamous Seek42. Seek42 more than anything else was famous for a search tool on the university LAN network. It had a ton of other stuff but as far as we desis were concerned we were just into it for the wealth of data out there. Now it wasn't always possible to get movies, mp3's, games from seek42 too as there were restrictions as well on various HDD's and to avoid a burnout due to a ton of people logging into the same directories and basically just clogging and taking up all the traffic. The amount of movies especially was huge. It was a paradise for a movie aficionado. (A special mention over here goes to Abhinay for being the "imdb of Rolla" for several generations.)

My good old HDD has survived a lot of bashing in Rolla. Since it was a total dump of movies most people borrowed it dozens of times. (Also because the dump was directly from Abhinay's server with top notch stuff) I myself had to hunt for it several times and finally found it in some totally random location than it was at previously.(Several times at Dave's place. :)) Thankfully it is still working fine even though it does make a ton of noise now.

I have never felt a need to get more and more storage capacity. But I think I will have to get myself a new HDD soon sometime as my current one has been abused so much that it may die out on me anytime now. The next thing thus I am targeting for thanksgiving is a 1 TB+ external HDD.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wholesome food

Its been quite sometime for me in LA now. Initially, Yatin and myself had pretty much frequented almost all the food joints in the vicinity. Then after we finally moved into the apt we started cooking. Its been about a week now since we started on home cooked meals and for a change we went out to a normal American diner yesterday.

Now this place had the best lemonade I have had so far in the US. Seriously its just like the tangy sort that you get in India. (Most other places the lemonade is just not done.) We had been to this joint before and remembered only the lemonade part of the previous meal. Yesterday we ordered almost the same items off the menu. But for some reason neither of us could finish the meal. We both were quite hungry and the food seemed exactly like the previous time but for whatever reason we just couldn't eat beyond a few scraps.

Finally we attributed this to the fact that we were getting so used to home cooked food and thus couldn't get ourselves to feast on normal American fare which now seemed way too bland. We then decided that Chipotle (Mexican), SUBWAY, IHOP, Dominos would probably be the only set of joints we could eat out at and that too in the worst case scenarios. Otherwise it doesn't matter how low our culinary skills stooped to but we would still prefer to eat ghar kaa khana.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Aye Hitch Hiker

How many of us have taken random rides from people. ( i.e. lifts) I have taken quite a few from some strangers during my undergrad days. Usually the trick involves to have a chick sticking a finger out (especially for flagging down a Sumo, Qualis) and then after the vehicle has stopped the rest of the junta used to pileup as well into the SUV.

Now regular drivers do regard hitchhikers as dangerous and even the vice versa where the hitchhiker needs to be careful about whom hes taking the ride with. Hitchhiking especially for the fairer sex is a lot different than it is for the guys. I remember taking a ride in a truck alone about 4 in the morning while coming back from a college fest. Now most people would probably consider this sheer lunacy but then again the only vehicles out at 4 in the morning are trucks ferrying the day's morning paper or vegetables, so I really didn't have much of a choice.

Hitchhiking is also a subject thats treated in a very negative role in most movies. Hollywood/Bollywood have a very stereotyped notion. Most often either the driver or the passenger turns out to be the evil dude.

In the US hitch hikers are a rare breed. First of all on no one walks on the roads, other than in the cities. However there is definitely a unique form of hitching a ride also known as "slugging" over here. This is pretty much specific to the Washington D.C. area (for now).

There is the concept of the HOV (Heavily Occupied Vehicle) lane on the freeways over here but for that in DC there is a 3 person HOV so many a times a car may have only the driver who cannot use the HOV as he does not have the specific capacity in his car. Thus the driver pickups passengers (slugs) from the bus stops and thus it is mutually beneficial for all people involved. The driver gets to his destination faster because he can now use the HOV and the slugs save on traveling time, parking and gas.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the tube

The television is something that means different things to different people. Guys usually watch TV to catch up on a game or two. I have hardly ever seen a guy sitting and watching a serial (and am not talking about the K crap here.) Watching a game is something that takes precedence over most other matters. While in India it was cricket. (as probably this was the only sport that had the highest media coverage of all) but in the US its a whole different thing. TV rules the average joe's life over here. Its no wonder that the Superbowl is among the most watched events ever. The World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Conference Playoffs aren't far behind either.

Also people watch all kinds of programming over here. Sometimes seriously the amount of crap out there on the TV is huge. I mean how many people need to see late night reruns of bad 80's acting.( or even Flavor of Love on VH1). TV was always a luxury in Rolla, not many apts had TV's and there were even fewer with cable installed. Most of the time though we hooked up our laptops to watch a movie or watch a cricket match.

Southpark will be of the most remembered shows. We are still so hooked up to it that "Timmmy", "Lick my b****" , "Screw you guys, am going home" are like golden words.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blackjack !!!

I have never been fond of playing cards. Actually I'll probably be the last person you would associate with cards. Don't get me wrong I have played these games before but I would invariably forget most of these games once they were over. The next time that someone would ask me to join in for rummy etc., I would need a crash course again in the basic rules before I could actually play.

Also I fumble a lot if there are more than a few cards in my hand. I couldn't produce a highly stylish 'fan' shape even if all my money depended on it. Also I tend to get bored after sometime of playing card games. (Its probably because I lose concentration on the current set of cards and look for something else to do :))

However this post is about blackjack, one of the most popular card games in the world. I had recently gone to see 21, it deals with a bunch of MIT students who could beat the big time casinos and take them at their own game. I felt the movie was quite over the top as I highly respect Kevin Spacey and wanted to see him in a meatier role.

I found the game quite interesting though as for one I didn't have to hold cards in a 'fan' shape and just plain maths was involved over here. 21 is blackjack period. You didn't have to take into account for colors, shapes or anything else. It was just numbers, and that too basic math i.e. addition, subtraction. Most housewives in India could probably play good blackjack as this is what they did daily. (Compute regularly the rates of the veggies, assorted household products.)

I did go back home and try it though and I have been hooked since then I must say. (and No I don't play with real money as frankly I don't have that much to gamble away. If I did have a bundle I would probably spend it on a trip to India or visit friends elsewhere)

I still play blackjack online as and when I get time for it. And maybe I will play with real money when I go to Vegas, but for now am quite content with learning the game and becoming a better player at it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


After I had moved to Rolla one of the first things to do was hunt for an apartment. 1300 was the desi apt complex and with a ton of people coming in for the fall semester it wasn't going to be easy to secure an apt.

Shetty and me had decided to book an apt from India itself. (Shetty will probably remember our garam sessions near Thane station.) After spending a night or two at apt 5 we made our way to the nearby Investment Realty (IR). Now IR is the agency which has under it most of the buildings near campus and as mostly desis stay near campus its quite used to seeing desi junta coming in regularly to get an apt. The unit we were getting was a brand new unit as previously due to a heating problem it had been completely renovated.

We both were among the first bunch of people to finalize an apt and a grand housewarming ceremony was held as well within as much as our meager $$'s could afford. It was the first sem and Bud was pretty much the staple diet initially. The apt was quite big and was the most expensive one in the entire complex during that period.

Moving into your own house however empty it is, is always a different thing than staying in temp accommodation at some other place. Setting up a house is something I also got pretty much used to now. There are a ton things to be done when you move into a new place. Also this was a lot more than just a new apt. It was an apt in a different continent altogether.

We did prepare some food and pretty much most of the guys who came for Fall 06 were present. It wasn't like it was a 4 course spread but then it was our first home cooked meal.

I will probably move in and out of several places in some span of time but moving for the first time into 'My first home in the US' will always be in a different league.

Cuban Connectivity

Cuba is primarily known for its cigars. I came across an article that said Cuba was finally selling PC's to the general public. (Mind you, legal internet access is still a long way away.) The new prez has finally opened up a lot of stuff that were previously not available thanks to sanctions etc.

In the 21st century we have got so used to being connected all the time that it sometimes is difficult to even imagine that a country so close by to the US is still in the dark about IT.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Need for MORE Speed

We had been looking forward to the Red Bull Air Race since quite some time. The RBAR is a basically an aerobatics event where pilots have to complete a complex course in the shortest possible time. It's popularly known as the F1 of flying.

We decided to attend the qualifying event on Saturday instead of the final race on Sunday as crowd would be a bit less, hence parking wouldn't have been a major issue. Yatin, Raajan and myself setout from LA to meet Deepak and his friend at San Diego. Tickets had been already booked online and we had an idea about what we were in for. The good thing though was since this is a relatively new event the ticket prices were kept decently priced. (15$ each)

The only way you ensure that an event becomes a big name is by making sure first that the event becomes popular and this can only be possible if you get the maximum amount of people to attend it. Thus the crowd turnout was quite sizeable at the event and since it was on the weekend with some excellent sunny weather, people were out to have a good time in the sun.

Food,drinks and merchandise however were a different story and were quite pricey. Then again this was being held in the San Diego bay area where I don't think that you can do something like this regularly. Restrooms were also easily accessible which was a good thing as the entire bay area was pretty much cordoned off. We initially drove a bit off path and were almost at the Mexico border. Soon though we were back on track and reached the South Embarcadero Island which was one of the two viewing points for the race.

We then met up with Deepak and took some good spots to view the race. Initially there was a show put up by the Navy the highlight of which was a F-18 Hornet roaring past us on full afterburner. The sound was HUGE and the entire bay reverberated with it. Soon the actual qualifiers started and it was treat to watch highly honed skills being put through razor edge tests. The pilots had to complete a highly intricate course with chicanes in the least amount of time. This was very similar to F1 where skills are put to the test a lot more than strength. Soon we were cheering for passes being completed successfully and for even shorter lap times.

In the end it was a highly successful event and everyone returned back tired but entirely satisfied. This was a very different outdoor experience akin probably to going to a Lakers game. (Probably I'll think about catching a Lakers game sometime now.)


My travels in linux land