sandwich - 2006.09.03: crystal river, fl

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Spicy Fluffy BirthdaySat, 4th Oct '14, 6:50 pm::

I had a very exciting and eventful birthday. We had a late breakfast at the Vinoy and lazily walked over to the International Curry Festival where we had delicious Indian and Thai food over the course of a few hours. Then we went antiquing, followed by an hour at the SPCA, petting kittens and rabbits. We got home and Juliet and my parents had cake ready for me. Lots of people I know complain about getting older but I love it. Here's looking forward to another year!

How about Mowgli? No? Tarzan? Simba? George-of-the-jungle?Mon, 22nd Sep '14, 11:00 pm::

Today we found out that we're going to have a baby boy!!! Juliet is doing well and so is the future baby boy. We took my parents to dinner, along with our friends Rebecca and Carlos and revealed the baby's "blue" theme via a delicious cake.

While Juliet has been super cheerful all day, my parents and I are admittedly speechless. Juliet asked me why I didn't seem as excited as her and all I could say was that I don't know how to express a lifetime's worth of prospective happiness in a single day. I'm used to being happy about a toy here and a kitten there. How does one express the sheer infinite joy of everything that awaits us in a singular emotion?

My parents are staying with us for 6 weeks, then leaving for India, and returning back in January 2015. My grandma will be here in a month and stay with us for 2 weeks. I would love for her to return back in January with my parents but at her age, I don't know if 32 hours of travel each way is doable. Here's hoping she gets to meet her great-grandson someday soon. In the meantime, I'm going to make sure Juliet stays relaxed, stress-free, and healthy.

Six years!Sun, 27th Jul '14, 11:35 pm::

We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary by having a nice relaxing day and a scrumptious dinner at Spoto's Grill 131. Yesterday, we unexpectedly ended up at a petting zoo in North Tampa where Juliet got to feed a baby possum. Now that I think about it, in the last six years, we've ended up at a lot of places unexpectedly. Restaurants, antique shops, flea markets, parks. Usually I plan almost everything in advance so it's fun to get a bit of unexpectedness every now and then.

For posterity and beyondMon, 14th Jul '14, 10:35 pm::

Earlier today, Juliet and I were trying to remember the exact date something happened last year. We narrowed it down to a specific week and then figured out the specific date because we knew it was a Friday. It takes a lot of effort to remember past events, mundane or momentous, from just a year ago, let alone a decade. That's part of the reason I love writing this 'blog. Once I say "Today I went to the animal shelter and got two kittens" or "My car hit 33,333 miles yesterday at 1:23pm", it is remembered forever. This Saturday, Juliet took my car to go shopping with her friend and hit 111,111 miles. Thanks to technology, I can store irrelevant bits of information like this until the end of time. But not all bits are so trivial.

Four years ago, today was a day of mourning for my family when my paternal grandpa passed away. I wrote a few words about how I felt and have re-read them every year on this day. Almost a decade ago I wrote about the death of my maternal grandpa and the memories I had of visiting him during summer vacations. Sad or happy, exciting or dull, all I'm doing is writing down memories before I forget them.

Sometimes I don't write important details because I may not be ready to share it with anyone but I still like to write a bit so maybe later I can refer to it. The day I met Juliet, I wrote "Today turned out to be yet another unusual day" without even mentioning her. Eight months later, when she flew off to London to meet my parents, I harkened back to that unusual day when we crossed paths and set in motion the Universe's plans to create the cuddliest home zoo ever. Who knows what's going to happen in the future but it feels good to write things down so that some day, we can look back on a particular day and re-live it, even for a brief moment.

A sunny decade laterMon, 23rd Jun '14, 12:25 am::

What a busy weekend we had! Juliet and I are both halfway between introverted and extroverted. We love entertaining friends and family but we can only do that comfortably in small groups for a few hours at a time. We have been trying to plan a 50-60 people party at our house for three months now but have not made any progress yet. While we haven't been able to pick a date due to circumstances beyond our control (landscaping guys took too long, house projects got delayed because of damaged shipments etc.), I think even if everything was lined up perfectly, we would still be hesitant to get started because we're just not the big-party-for-no-reason kind of people.

In the meantime, we have been inviting all of our friends to come visit us any time they want. Coincidentally, a dozen folks visited us this weekend and it was awesome. It felt like Diwali back in India! My godson Jackson, his mom, and his cousin visited us Saturday morning so they could play with our home zoo. Then my buddy Brian came over for some serious table-tennis time, followed by Juliet's friend Karen and her three kids. Sunday morning my friend from Philadelphia Megan and her husband Chris dropped by to spend an idle day by the pool. In the evening, our friends Cary and Laura stopped by to bid us farewell before they move to Arizona this coming week.

Ten years and a week ago, I moved to Florida with the help of my buddy Arthur. For the past week, I have been trying to come up with something meaningful to write about the whole decade that passed by - words of wisdom, lessons learned, top 10 most embarrassing moments - anything to summarize the ten years of life I have built here. But now I realize that is pointless because it doesn't matter if I'm still driving the same car I bought in 2004 (I am!) or gained weight (15lbs/7kgs, mostly due to my awesome beard) or have lost friends or made new ones (who hasn't?). Life happens to all of us and while I made mistakes and learned or didn't learn from them, so did everyone else in their own respective lives. All I know is that ten years ago I was alone in the whole state of Florida and this weekend I couldn't find one minute of alone time to write this entry.

Just one ticket pleaseSat, 24th May '14, 12:00 am::

In 2008, Iron Man I came out. I really wanted to go see it. I asked a few friends and nobody could make it. I asked coworkers and nobody could make it. I got bold and asked out a cute girl I knew and she couldn't go either. I went home and went to sleep early because I was so distraught. Over 7 billion people on this planet, a million of them in my own town, and not a single person wanted to go watch a movie with me.

But then suddenly out of nowhere, I thought, "Hey I can just go by myself. It's 10pm, late enough that chances of any embarrassing run-ins will be low, but not so late that I'll be late for work tomorrow." So I go out of bed, dressed up like I was going out with friends, bought a single ticket, and enjoyed the movie thoroughly. As I drove home, I called my best friend to say how great the movie was and that he should definitely see it. Next day I talked about the movie with my other friends and coworkers. I was constantly scared of them asking me "Who did you go see it with?" but surprisingly, nobody asked me.

Without realizing it, I had overcome my fear of rejection. The next day I told the same cute girl that I was going to the local mall and she should meet me there. She liked how confident I was and said why not. We had a great time at the mall and met up more often later. Soon she moved in with me, then we got engaged, then we got married. It's been the happiest six years of my life and I don't think any of that would have happened without that single ticket to Iron Man I.

I decided to write this down because I came across someone else online who didn't have a friend to go to the movies with.

Building an awesome home surveillance systemTue, 1st Apr '14, 12:10 am::

During the first year of moving into our house, we focused on function: fix what's broken, replace what can't be fixed, and make everything work as best as possible. The second year we focused on necessary furnishing and organization: bedroom sets, dining table, floor mats and so on. The third year we're splitting the upgrades - Juliet's in charge of paintings and decor and I'm geeking out on home automation and surveillance. I'm quite happy with the technical decisions I've made so far and would like to share what's worked for me:

Home Network: The cheapest, easiest, and most reliable way of controlling all the different systems in your home is over the good ol' LAN. Since every system in my house was going to be controlled via the LAN, the first thing I did was buy a powerful router: Netgear WNDR4500. In addition to having 4 Gigabit ports, the WNDR4500 supports dual band WiFi at 2.4ghz (usually 802.11g - good: long range, every WiFi device supports it; bad: all your neighbors use it, microwaves interfere with it) and 5ghz (usually 802.11n - good: better speed, less noise; bad: shorter range, only supported on latest devices). Connected to the router is my cable modem, couple of TP-LINK Gigabit switches and a TP-LINK Gigabit Power-Over-Ethernet (PoE) switch. If you want a solid home network, make sure all your core switches support 10/100/1000mbps and only use CAT5e or CAT6 cables. All my wired devices are connected to the TP-LINK Gigabit switches. The TP-LINK Gigabit PoE switch is connected to all of my wireless access points.

Wireless Access Points: Even though my router has very good WiFi connectivity, it does not cover my entire house and definitely not the yard. We installed four EnGenius EAP600 units around the house and porch so that almost every corner of my house gets blanketed with perfect signal strength. The EAP600 gets power from the Ethernet so mounting it on the ceiling is a very simple step if you have easy attic access. The best thing about EAP600 is that in addition to supporting dual-band WiFi at 2.4ghz and 5ghz, it supports band steering, "a technology that detects whether or not the wireless client is dual-band capable, and if it is, it will push the client to connect to the less congested 5GHz network." This means my iPad and laptops that support 5ghz automatically connect on that frequency while my older devices continue to work on 2.4ghz. The best part is that there is a single wireless network (SSID) to connect to. Having a good wireless network is necessary if you want to view the surveillance videos from anywhere in the house on any device.

Devices: Speaking of devices, I am absolutely in love with my iPad Mini Retina and highly recommend it as the remote control for your entire house. I find the regular iPad too bulky and the iPhone/iPod too small to operate. I can't speak for or against any Android or Windows tablets as I don't know if the software I use is available on those platforms. As for the hardware to record my 12 camera feeds, I went with something unconventional - an Acer Travelmate P6 laptop that was on sale! I set it up to never go to sleep, operate with the lid closed, and removed all unnecessary software since it was going to use a lot of CPU/RAM 24/7. Believe it or not, a modern laptop with Core i3 and Gigabit Ethernet is more than capable of recording 12+ cameras. Best part is I can hide the laptop somewhere inconspicuous for added security and not worry about it being a target itself. Only problem with a laptop is storage. While 500 GB ought to be enough for a week's worth of video for 4 cameras, it barely records two days worth from my 12 cameras.

Storage: I attached the Acer laptop to my Synology DS211J NAS. I cannot profess my love for the Synology brand enough. I've bought, setup, maintained, and troubleshooted probably 30 different brands of network-attached-storage devices in the last decade and absolutely NOTHING comes even close in performance, price, quality, and robustness to Synology - not even products 3-5x more expensive. Even the low-end DS211J version is very reliable and works great for home backups, media sharing, and in this case, recording video footage. Pop-in a couple of 2TB drives, create a shared folder, map the shared folder in Windows, and drive S: is now ready to store two weeks of videos!

Software: Before I arrived at the current laptop, storage, and software solution, I spent months trying out various software (both free and commercial) and hardware (plug PCs, mini PCs, even VMs). My requirements were pretty fixed from the start: (1) Must work on iPad and iPhone (2) Must work from inside and outside the house (3) Must support at least 12 cameras (4) Cost under $500 in software/device licenses (5) Must allow real-time video and easy playback of recorded footage. While I came across many different solutions, the one that worked best is the free-for-personal-use video monitoring software Genius Vision NVR. It only took minutes to install on the Acer laptop and barely 30 minutes to configure to record all footage from all 12 cameras. It has companion apps for the iPad and iPhone and has decent security to make sure nobody can access my cameras without the right credentials. When adding the cameras to Genius, make sure you name each camera channel properly because there's no way to change them later and the iOS apps automatically sort the cameras based on the channel name. Since you cannot rearrange the cameras on the iOS apps, you really want to get the order correct beforehand. I prefixed my camera channels with 01, 02 etc. to get my desired sort order. Once Genius was configured properly, I opened a random port on my WNDR4500 firewall and made it point to the laptop's IP and Genius port 3557. On the iPad and our iPhones, I added two NVRs (a) At Home (b) Away from Home. The At Home connection points to the internal LAN IP of the Acer and Away from Home points to my WAN IP. Since my ISP rarely changes that, it is not a big deal for me to update that if necessary. I could've used a dynamic DNS service but oddly enough, most of the popular ones are no longer free and the ones that are, I don't know well enough to trust.

Video Surveillance - IP Cameras: Having used many different IP cameras in the past, I knew this was going to be difficult. I wanted 12 identical cameras that worked perfectly in day and night, in full brightness and pitch dark. Nearly all of my cameras face East or West and so it was critical that as daylight fades away the infrared mode kick in automatically and vice versa at sunrise. Additionally I wanted outdoor PoE cameras that could handle moderate rain, high humidity and temperature changes. Weeks of research led me to try out Dahua IPC-HFW2100 (IP66) and I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised at how well they work and meet all of my requirements. I must add that configuring them was a pain times twelve and that without this Amazon review, I would not have been able to setup the RTSP stream necessary for Genius Vision NVR. Make sure you get an IP camera that supports NTP and point it to pool.ntp.org or another NTP server so that you never have to worry about the camera's internal clock, which is usually displayed on every stream. If you setup the camera to overlay the current time on the stream, you can immediately tell if any camera stream is frozen by just looking at the on-screen clock.

PoE Switch: I highly recommend getting PoE cameras so that you only need a single cable to the camera instead of power adapter and electric sockets everywhere. In terms of performance and reliability, PoE will always beat WiFi + power adapter. Problem with PoE is that the switches are usually expensive. Most PoE switches with 8 ports only have 4 PoE ports. I did not want to buy 3-4 PoE switches and instead got a BV Tech 16 port / 100Mb PoE switch. I was originally quiet worried about having just a single 100 Megabit cable connect all of my 12 cameras but believe it or not, it has worked quiet well. Even if all of my cameras are streaming at 4Mb/s, that is still under 50Mb/s, well below the theoretical capacity of a 100Mb switch. The best part is that since this device has individual switches to turn on/off the power to each port, I can use it to reboot any camera without unplugging the Ethernet cable.

It has taken me a good six months to plan, budget, purchase, test, and deploy all of the above and finally I feel content with it. I would like to setup Genius Vision NVR to record on motion detection instead of bulk 24/7 recording but that will take a lot of tweaking for each camera. Regardless, we now have a system that we can access from anywhere in the world and it works as well as any professionally installed solution that would cost 4x as much.

Other than the surveillance project, I've also replaced all of our regular A/C thermostats with CyberStat WiFi thermostats that Juliet and I can control from our phones. No more wondering if we left the bedroom heating on while we go on a weekend trip - we can check it and change it from anywhere with Internet access! Next up, I'm thinking of installing electric switches that can be controlled from the Internet and of course in person. And then some day, I plan on writing an algorithm to control colored LED lights in our living room based on a variety of factors.

Enjoying the boringTue, 14th Jan '14, 4:00 pm::

I am taking a break from coding (because one of my meds is giving me very painful migraines) and instead of watching a funny movie or exciting TV show, I found myself transfixed on month-old recorded videos of the local "Code Enforcement Board" proceedings on St. Pete TV.

The mission of the Codes Compliance Assistance Department of St. Petersburg is to maintain the quality and extend the life of existing housing, to stabilize neighborhoods and to protect the public. As I understand, the Code Enforcement Board rules on violations of building codes and gives fines when the violations are not rectified in the allotted time.

Word for word, the above paragraph qualifies as the top candidate for the most boring thing I have ever written on my 'blog and I've written some seriously bland material on the housing-bubble and financial crisis. Yet here I sit, completely captivated by video of a board room with seven administrators, hearing one case of violation after another. For each case, a code enforcement officer takes the stand under oath and reads out a case number, name of the accused, and the violations. The violations are everything from shattered windows and broken fences to operating unlicensed restaurants in residential zones.

What impressed me was that everyone from the enforcement officers and board members right down to the accused homeowners were so rational, logical, and frank. Unlike the fake TV judges with over the top stories about domestic skirmishes, this is real life and even though no major crimes are committed, there is so much at stake for the homeowners and community. And unlike courtroom cases where there is a lot of he-said-she-said interpersonal conflict and drama, homeowners end up facing the Code Enforcement Board when for some reason or other, they fail to take care of property, paperwork, and procedures. In simpler terms, instead of resolving playground fights, this is the grownup version of why Johnny didn't do his homework.

In one instance, a homeowner did not take care of a fallen tree that was partially blocking the road. One of the neighbors filed a complaint with the city, and rightly so. The city did an investigation and sent a notice to the homeowner, giving him a month to fix it - a pretty fair action. The homeowner ends up in the board room because he did not take care of the tree after a month. Now we hear his side of the story. He said a large section of the tree was touching live electric cables. The electric company was scheduled to take care of that but they haven't. The board then unanimously gave him another 60 days to take care of the tree, more than enough time to resolve the issue with the electric company. While this sounds fairly routine, the homeowner sounded pretty frustrated because all of this was beyond his control. He didn't cause the tree to fall, he cannot clear it because it is touching electric cables, he had a hard time getting in touch with the electric company, and here he was, being dragged into board room on a regular work day.

Unlike the hundred "This can happen to you!!!" stories we hear about in the media, this is the one that can most likely happen to me. And it is hard to find someone to blame in this. The electric company probably has thousands of such cases to deal with after every thunderstorm, the neighbors don't want to hit the tree while driving, the homeowner isn't going to risk getting electrocuted cutting the tree himself. The city officers did the right thing in investigating it and the board did the right thing in extending the period. While I have no background information on the board members, each of them who asked a question or made a statement, did it politely, clearly, and without any prejudice. This is not some all-powerful "board" who's judging the poor citizenry. This is just regular people making rational decisions and hard choices for the good of the community.

However, sometimes you do feel bad for the accused. This guy (actual screenshot below) was being charged with operating an unlicensed barbeque grill in a commercial zone. Come on guys! Let the man cook in peace!

On my own scheduleThu, 9th Jan '14, 8:10 am::

I am currently running an unintentional experiment with my sleep cycle that very few grownups with responsibilities have the luxury of attempting. Since I've had a bad cough for more than a few weeks now, I've stopped worrying about anything except getting better. As a result, I stopped trying to go to bed at a set time or waking up with an alarm. I stay up as long as I want, I sleep as much as I want, I take as many naps as I need, and I code whenever I feel like.

Yesterday I woke up at noon, ate my first and only meal at 6pm, fell asleep at 7.30pm, woke up at 1.30am, and coded until 7am. I am a bit sleepy now and will fall asleep soon but I am in no hurry to do any work, chores, or sleep. Since physical exertion makes me cough, I've been pretty lethargic. Here's some interesting things I realized:

1) Freedom from guilt is refreshing! Not feeling guilty for sleeping in until 2pm or watching cartoons from 3pm until 1am is elating. Far too often we live our lives in a certain way because that's how we are supposed to. As long as I am not dropping the ball on my responsibilities (bills, social commitments, work projects etc.), there is no reason for me to feel guilty.

2) 24-hour cycle is definitely not for me. In fact, my sleep cycle isn't even periodic. It's very random. Some days I've stayed up 20 hours without feeling tired and some days I've slept 16 hours. My only concern has been feeling good. Obviously being sick and taking cough medicine skews how I feel and how often I want to sleep/stay-up but even on the days I barely took medications, I would fall asleep at 4pm only to wake up at 9pm for absolutely no reason.

3) I am procrastinating less! Technically, I am not procrastinating at all since I have no schedule so whenever I do anything, it is done on time. I do have some self-imposed deadlines but they are not stringent. Being able to meet them while still living on a completely carefree schedule feels wonderful.

4) I am listening to my body - more so than ever. I am not fighting my urge to sleep or eat or stretch. While this means I don't have to eat my meals at a set time, it also means not ignoring that I am hungry at 4am. Instead of forcing myself to do things because it's time, I'm waiting to feel hungry or thirsty before I eat or drink. The revelation to me is that this hunger feels very different from the "it's 12pm so it's lunch time" hunger. This is definitely a sample size of one issue but I feel like I am eating the proper amount I need instead of over- or under-eating like I generally end up doing when I wait too long to eat or have to eat much sooner than I want to.

I'm not trying to hack my body into doing anything fancy. I just want to stop being miserable and my condition has improved considerably over the last week. I don't plan on living like this forever though I have to admit, the psychological benefit of this carefree-ness during a typical grouchy period of sickness has kept my spirits high throughout. Next time I'm sick, I'm going to do this for sure.

Our duck & tortoise preserveTue, 26th Nov '13, 12:50 pm::

I've spent almost the entire year planning, designing, and repeatedly modifying the duck and tortoise area you see in the photo below. I worked with my wonderful neighbor Bevv (who did the initial design), my handyman Dan and my lawn expert Chris to build it all.

We have a large Sulcata tortoise (Lola) who lives with the two ducks (Peek & Poke). Here are the major structures:

Fence: The back portion is just a typical fence with a stained wooden 1" trim on the top, everything held up straight by 8ft 4x4s. The side and front edges are 4x4s piled on top of each other, with 6ft iron rods drilled straight down through them with concrete at the base. Then we piled up dirt on the outside and planted a variety of greens. Since the ducks kept jumping out and chased our small Chihuahuas around the whole yard, I added the wooden criss-crossed trellis around the front. A primary reason for making the fence solid is that it prevents the tortoise from trying to scale it.

Enclosure: They all sleep in together in the wood enclosure built by Dan (towards the bottom left of the picture). The enclosure is heated by infrared bulbs on thermostat set to turn on at 70F. The enclosure has a front-flap that can be raised up with a simple pulley and hooked on the side to keep it open during the day. At night I just lower it. There is also a back flap that you can open up like the trunk of a typical sedan and we use that to fill up water/food. Also very useful when I want to hose out everything. There is a small mesh on one side of the enclosure to make sure it doesn't get too hot in the summer. If it gets too cold, I can put a small blanket on it to keep the warmth in.

Pond: This was the most difficult thing to get right and I spent more time, money, and effort on it than anything else. Initially we had one of those pretty koi-style ponds with a big pump and filter as you can . I was prepared to deal with duck poop but I had no idea what the tortoise had in store for me. The tortoise ate grass all day and clogged the pump, filter, and pipes so bad we had to scrape the entire pond and rebuild. The pond you see now has a simple gravity drain. It is a large stagnant pond which gently slopes to the back. There is a 4" PVC pipe that drains everything out towards the back of the yard. There is a single heavy-duty valve that I can access without getting into the duck area which empties the pond within 30 seconds. I hose off any messes on the pond, close the valve, and refill. Takes about 10 minutes. The ducks and tortoises get fresh water and I barely have to do any work to keep it clean. I'm pretty sure I can use the drained material as fertilizer around the yard.

Plants/ground-cover: These I left up to Chris. We tried typical sod in the middle but the tortoise kept eating that instead of her food. Also the ducks made a mess everywhere. So we opted for pine-straws and lots of small shrubs. We planted Jasmine on the outside of the front fence and bunch of other flowering plants like Lily of the Nile. The planters will hopefully grow long enough to cover the back fence soon.

We got the ducks last Christmas and I have spent the entire year getting this area setup just right. The ducks are SO happy and the tortoise is very active too. While I may not have done much work with my own hands, I came up with all the little solutions for each tiny problem and trust me there were many. We wanted our critters to live as close to their natural habitats as possible and I think we got it pretty close.

Fri, 22nd Nov '13, 3:40 pm::

Life's been pretty busy and eventful lately. I passed the United States citizenship interview last week and will soon be able to vote in elections (though not run for the President of United States position). I rented a tuxedo for the first time in my life yesterday and will be wearing it for our friends Billy & Lisa's wedding tomorrow. I went to his bachelor party this weekend in St. Augustine and had a great time. We're hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner next week with friends and family. We've spent the past two years fixing up our house and finally after a new air conditioner and pool pump/motor, I feel we're about done. We even bought a long carpet for our hallway and a replacement oven for our kitchen last week. I think it's about time we had a big house party!

Fri, 25th Oct '13, 2:45 am::

It's finally getting cold here in Florida. Past few winters, I spent a lot of time bringing the tortoises and other critters indoors during cold nights and taking them out on sunny days. Each time I brought them in, I spent a lot of time cleaning their indoor enclosures daily. After getting tired of that earlier this year, I decided to modernize my zoo and bought four infrared heat lamps with reflectors and two thermostats. Though it was hooked up months ago, today is the first time I turned the system on and I'm ecstatic to say it's working perfectly!

The tortoises and ducks are being kept warm at 70F-80F (20-25C) in their outdoor enclosures and I don't have to wake up at odd hours in the night and early morning to check up on them. I made sure that the lamps were installed at a safe height and the circuitry was completely sheltered from rain. Additionally, since these are infrared lamps, they don't shine bright or interfere with the animals' sleeping cycles.

In the large scale of things, putting a couple of lamps is not a big deal but the relief I get from not having to worry about the temperature each night is worth it. Of course, tonight I've been behaving like a kid and keep checking the heat lamps every few hours just so I can feel giddy whenever I sense the warmth on my hands.

Fast-food analogy for the US Government ShutdownTue, 1st Oct '13, 11:40 am::

If you have been confused about the US Government Shutdown, here's an overly simplified fast-food analogy of the situation courtesy of reddit:

  • "Alright so to confirm, we'll be getting one party size pepperoni and mushroom pizza with olives, right?"
  • "WAIT NO! I DON'T WANT OLIVES!"
  • "But we all agreed that we wanted olives."
  • "WELL NOT US!"

And so the U.S. shut down every Pizza Hut until an agreement could be made. Those who shutdown the Pizza Huts still get pizza. Note that olives were voted on as something that should go on the pizza three years ago, but then some new guys showed up to the party and decided to be stubborn about the olives and refused to accept the olives unless you took the cheese, sauce and bread off the pizza.

Fri, 13th Sep '13, 2:40 pm::

Life's going on as usual down here in Florida. I've been keeping myself busy with a variety of computer, house, and home zoo projects. Now that Juliet has a predictable work schedule, we've been spending a lot more time together doing typical married-couple things. We went to the farmer's market on Saturday and bought fresh fruits and vegetables. We're cooking more at home and living a pretty healthy lifestyle (except for my late night programming sessions).

I've already written about not writing more often before so no point in repeating myself but it's not the lack of time that has kept me from updating my 'blog - it's my state of mind. There are just too many things I can write about but don't know if I should even bother. Had Snowden, Syria, or Sequester happened a decade ago, I would've written numerous passages elucidating my thoughts and expressing my cynicism on every topic. But now it feels pointless to write about things I have no direct involvement in. Everyone is getting their news from the Internet today, no point in being one more source of textual drivel.

Even though we are all affected by the news indirectly, my opinion on each matter no longer compels me to stand up on a pulpit and yell them out loud for everyone to hear. My opinions have not gotten any milder, just my desire to voice them publicly. I wonder if this has anything to do with age/maturity or rather my current lifestyle, which is very laid back and full of non-stressful creative outlets. Do I (a) spend an hour writing about what the morality of doing X is, (b) go out for an evening walk with the missus, or (c) build a gravity-drain for the duck pond so it is easier to clean up? I used to choose (a) but now I'm choosing (b) and (c) a lot more often.

In a way, I am happy I don't have much to write about lately. It means everything is alright within and without my head. And if I really feel like typing furiously at the keyboard, I'll avoid online debates and channel that energy into writing something positive on my 'blog. Till next time!

This week at the home zooSun, 7th Jul '13, 9:50 pm::

Last week, my friend Brian brought his African Grey parrot Marley to our house. We are taking care of Marley until Brian returns from vacation. Marley is staying in our porch and keeping the dogs, cats, and me thoroughly entertained. Throughout the day, he whistles and I whistle back. He has even tricked me a few times by reproducing my phone's ring tone and the home security alarm's door-open beeps.

Speaking of birds, the ducks are getting quite devious. Despite being flightless ducks, they have managed to escape their habitat almost every day this week to chase the dogs. Yes, our ducks routinely glide out of their enclosure in order to scare the living daylights out of our Chihuahuas. While they do not actually hurt the dogs and just chase them playfully, it scares the dogs and we had to put a stop to it. Sunday before last I raised the height of their enclosure fence to three feet and after a week of no trouble, they figured out that if they took a running start and flapped their wings hard enough, they could just about clear the fence. So today I finally did what I have been trying my best to avoid - trim their flight feathers a.k.a. wing clipping. This makes them unable to gain altitude while still allowing them to glide down safely from a perch.

The problem with having animals as pets is you face moral dilemmas on a nearly daily basis. From the very question of whether we should even "own" animals and keep them locked up in our domiciles to how much money should you spend to prolong the life of a loved pet, a pet owner constantly has to walk the fine line between what is humane and what is not. I thought that with time, my views about pet ownership would change but surprisingly have remained the same despite the 18 critters we have (19 until Marley goes back home).

I do not believe in caging any free, wild creature, whether it is a common duck or a rare chameleon. Nature belongs in nature. I am vehemently against private ownership of exotic animals solely for entertainment purposes. However, I am perfectly ok with some exceptions - well cared for animals in nature preserves, rescue habitats, and limited number of good quality zoos. The three simple reasons for the exceptions are education, rehabilitation, and rehoming. Since our babies are re-homed from local animal shelters or pet-owners who could not take care of them, I have no qualms about giving rent-free residence to 3 cats, 2 dogs, 4 tortoises, 2 prairie dogs, 5 rabbits, and 2 ducks.

Now that we have a veritable collection of mostly-tame wildlings, it is imperative that we take care of them to the best of our abilities even if appears unnatural at first glance. Sometimes that means separating the two boy bunnies because they keep fighting and sometimes that means trimming the feathers of ducks to prevent them from hurting themselves and our other pets. Don't worry, trimming the feathers is painless for the ducks and they grow back just like our nails.

One thing we never try to do is change their nature. Prairie dogs like to dig. Ducks like to swim. Dogs like to bark. Cats like to scratch. And Marley likes to whistle. It would be inhumane to force an animal to go against their natural instinct just because it is inconvenient for us humans. We have worked hard to ensure that each of our pets has the perfect habitat to best suit their natural environment. And every now and then, they surprise us. Herbert and Phyllis the tortoises love eating purple flowers from the Petunia plants that we planted for shade. Prairie dogs love climbing high up on the metal mesh we used to build their enclosure. And Lola the tortoise loves swimming in the duck pond.

Every day is a zoo day. Here's a photo of Marley & Me:

Fri, 28th Jun '13, 12:15 pm::

I have been pretty quiet lately, not just on my 'blog but also socially. While things have been quite busy between research, work projects, and house projects, my silence has not been for a want of time. Over the years, I've scheduled my life so that I have ample time to relax and unwind every day. I think my recent taciturn attitude has more to do with a gradual but noticeable change in my mindset about life, legacy, and lore.

When I started this 'blog over a decade ago, I had an exuberant desire to share, contribute, talk, discuss, and vent. I don't think my enthusiasm has waned but rather my definition of what it means to share. Sharing no longer means uploading photos, videos, and stories online. Sharing means giving someone a wonderful memory. Whether it is a small gift or a fun-filled weekend driving around Florida, I am just happy to be there with my loved ones.

I think the only reason I still continue to write my 'blog is because I've never forced myself to write. I write when I want to and because I want to. It is not an obligation to the world but an outlet for me. Today, after over a month, I felt the urge to spew some drivel and here you are, sportingly bearing every word of it. Here's hoping the fodder for my next update will be genuine excitement and not ennui.

My new heroesSun, 19th May '13, 6:35 pm::

Over time my heroes have changed. My heroes are no longer the Einstein or Buffetts of the world. While my younger self was forever in awe of larger-than-life personas of famous scientists, entrepreneurs, and sportsmen, I nevertheless found it uncomfortable and disingenuous to try to be like them. Instead, the people who most inspire me now are the ones who are at peace with themselves and continue to improve the world in their own unique way. I don't aspire to be famous or wealthy, not because I feel like I can't, but because I'm not willing to pay the price for them.

So it warms my heart when I come across a new hero. Meet Prof. Yitang Zhang. Toiling away for years on his own, he recently made a significant breakthrough towards solving one of the most unyielding prime number conjectures:

    "As details of his work have emerged, it has become clear that Zhang achieved his result not via a radically new approach to the problem, but by applying existing methods with great perseverance... Zhang said he feels no resentment about the relative obscurity of his career thus far. “My mind is very peaceful. I don’t care so much about the money, or the honor,” he said. “I like to be very quiet and keep working by myself.”

Thu, 4th Apr '13, 4:35 pm::

The #1 reason I love playing table tennis is that my perception of time slows down drastically. I thought I just practiced for about 5 minutes playing against my table tennis robot but turns out it was 20 minutes. When I exercise on the elliptical or lift weights, it's the opposite - working out for 5 minutes feels like 20 minutes. This past weekend a few of our friends stayed over and we played table tennis all night and it felt barely an hour had passed. We estimated it was over five hours of play combined.

How to make life easierTue, 19th Mar '13, 12:35 pm::

I took me a long time to realize that all of us live the same life. No matter what happens to us on the outside, on the inside, all of us have dreams, fears, and emotions. Even the grumpy teacher who was always giving you a hard time and never showed a sign of empathy. Even your grandma and your annoying coworker. Even Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. On the outside, people may be good or bad, famous or unknown, rich or poor, beautiful or homely, entertaining or boring. But on the inside, we're more or less wired to experience the same types of feelings to varying degrees of amplitude - happiness, sorrow, self-doubt, ecstasy, and countless others that make us feel 'human.' My fear of failure is no different than yours, your aspirations to do good are same as mine, and our desire to be fondly remembered is why many of us hope to be grandparents some day.

In general, how well we do on the outside, determines how we feel on the inside. Promotion at work makes us happy and being sick makes us sad. If you have the determination and courage, you'll work hard to make the outside better so you can feel good on the inside. That's why we work hard enough to afford our own place and not have to deal with loud roommates. That's why we get an education, move to a new city, get a job, and buy a house. We're all just trying to improve our lives on the outside so that we can have peace and satisfaction on the inside.

The problem is that inside all of us lives a very greedy being with a never-ending appetite for more. There are two ways to feed this beast. One is what most people typically do - feed it with 'more' from the outside. Buy a bigger house, get a second doctorate degree, strive to be famous, or seek public office. All of these are perfectly acceptable ambitions but they require a lot of sacrifices and tend to make life pretty difficult for a long period of time. But there is another way to feed the beast within and it can be a never-ending source of happiness, patience, encouragement, and dedication: Passion.

If you are passionate about something, and I mean genuinely passionate, things like career, hobbies, and goals become a lot simpler. You don't have to worry if college A is better than college B or employer X is better than employer Y because as long as you get to indulge in your passions, you'll be happy, you'll keep learning, and you'll keep getting better. Having a passion does not necessarily make you happier or more successful than those without, but it does give you an edge. Not everyone can have rich parents, right connections, good looks, or affable personality. But anyone can be passionate about anything.

You don't have to be passionate about your career or field of study but it certainly helps. I wouldn't be a programmer if I did not thoroughly enjoy programming. I've been programming for two decades and I'm just as excited about building something new today as I was before the web was invented. I've been fortunate enough to not have too many personal disasters and calamities but I can say that throughout the years, no matter how good or bad things have been, I could always get lost in my world of programming and forget about the world, at least temporarily. My escapes gave me the strength and tools I needed to push myself in the real world and make my outside and inside life better without having to rely solely on external input. Some have defined that as introversion. Others have said that I was lucky to have found my passion so early in life. I don't like to assign labels or attribute to fortune the choices we make naturally. All I know is that being truly passionate about something makes life easier and a lot of fun.

KType is now RocketKeys!Thu, 31st Jan '13, 3:35 pm::

Little over three years ago, I took a long walk and came back determined to build KType - a tool to help people with speech disabilities. It took over a year of intense independent research and development but I finally released KType Pro in late 2011. I went to India in early 2012 and beta-tested it with the inspiration behind KType - my cousin Keval - who took mere minutes to start typing full words and sentences. Eight-months later, I released KType Free to help spread the word. Throughout the process, I received unbelievable amount of support from my wife, family, friends, and even complete strangers. Best of all, I regularly received words of encouragement from actual users and their families.

In October 2012, I was contacted by a brilliant researcher-turned-CEO, Alex Levy, whose company MyVoice develops "life-changing aids for people with speech and language disabilities." Over the years I met numerous developers, speech-therapy experts, and families of people with speech disabilities and I always had a difficult time explaining to them what KType really was. Yet from the very first minute of our conversation, it was clear to me that Alex truly understood what I was trying to do with KType and he could explain the app better than I ever could. Wasting no time, I flew up to Canada the next weekend to plan the future of KType and to attend my first Halloween party.

Since my return from Canada, I worked with Alex and his team on releasing the new version of KType. I am so happy to say that KType is now RocketKeys, part of the MyVoice family of apps, and available in the Apple App Store. Tomorrow, I'm driving up to Orlando, where Alex and his team are exhibiting RocketKeys at the Assistive Technology Industry Association 2013 Conference. From what Alex tells me, we have a very popular booth in a prime location, so I should be prepared to talk to attendees all day non-stop. I can't wait!

Three years ago when I decided to change my entire life around and take such a huge career, financial, and social risk, I asked my wife what her thoughts were. Without a blink, she replied "Do it." I told her to take some time to think clearly about it because it could mean lots of personal stress and financial difficulties. She immediately said "You'll figure it out. I'm not worried." For a while, I thought she was just being nice or didn't want to discourage me by saying anything negative but now I realize, she was just being honest. She truly did believe that I would figure it all out even though at that time, I had no experience in the assistive technology industry, had never built an Apple iPhone/iPad app, had never done multi-year independent research, had no experience in building prediction engines, and had absolutely no support from anyone in the field.

It took a few years but she was right, I slowly figured it all out. And she supported me the whole time in the most-likely-to-make-Chirag-succeed-way, by telling me that "it doesn't sound too difficult for you." There are two surefire ways to encourage someone: (1) tell them it is impossible (2) tell them it is trivial. The latter works better on me because when everyone tells me it is impossible, at least I have an excuse when I fail, like when I ran just 50 miles instead of the 100 miles that I signed up for. But when someone says it is too easy for me, my ego won't let me quit, no matter how difficult it really is.

I have no idea what the future holds but I know I couldn't have gotten here without my wife's support. Juliet, I love you and hope you're ready for my next big project after this :)

Looking aroundTue, 15th Jan '13, 1:10 am::

2013 is off to a pretty crappy start. It started with lots of computer issues and sleepless nights, followed by the tragic death of a brilliant hacker. Then while I was in the middle of a bureaucratic paperwork hell, I got the shocking news of the untimely death of a close family friend in India.

In situations like these, you can't help but reevaluate your life's priorities. Should you work hard and save for a better future or should you make the best of today because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? Even if you believe that it should be a balanced mix of both short-term and long-term goals, should you give up some of your long-term principles to make your loved ones slightly happier in the short-term? The problem isn't that these are hard questions to answer. The problem is that no matter what answer you come up with, life has a way of shaking the foundations of all of your assumptions, bringing you back to square one all over again.

Philosophical musings of such existential nature essentially boil down to the eternal question, "What's the point of it all?" While the question is communal, the answer is deeply personal. A few years ago, I resolved to answer this question for myself with the stipulation that no matter what happens in life, my answer shouldn't have to change. After all, if there is a point to life, it can't change just because I gained weight or lost my savings. I pondered over what makes me happy, what makes me excited, and what motivates me the most. No matter what "purpose of my life" I came up with, it seemed temporary. "Computer programming?" Who knows what's going to happen in a decade. "Raising a family?" Certainly, but it seems too generic and more of a commandment than an ultimate purpose. "Be the best at X?" Seems too selfish and if I lose my ability to do X for any reason, not a long-term answer.

After thinking about this question for days on end, I finally came up with a very simple answer that initially seems vague and pretentious but in fact has stood the test of time quite well. My purpose in life is to help others. That's it. I'll join you in saying that on the surface, it reeks of platitude and sounds patronizing. But the more I live through good times and bad, the more my resolve to fulfill this purpose strengthens. And it answers the hardest questions in life so beautifully. What's the point of it all? To help others. How do I handle tragedies? By helping others. Why do bad things happen to good people? Who knows, let's help them first!

While I can say I have found my calling, I haven't found the best means to achieve it yet. I can't afford to make generous donations to charities and I'm not the kind of person who feeds the homeless in soup kitchens. There are a million people who are more passionate about helping others directly like that than I am. What I am passionate about is building tools to help others. KType was my first serious attempt at that but it is far from my last.

Every time I hear something that makes me sad and start to question the meaning of life, I tell myself that the answer for me, is to help others. It seems like a feedback loop of perverse incentives but the sadder I get, the more determined I become to help others. My newfound defense mechanism against problems without solutions (tragedies, trauma, grief) is not to look inward but around. I don't know if that is a good thing or not but so far it's working - instead of being morose, I'm learning to be more empathic.

With condolences to the family of the recently departed Sudhakar Bhai Sampat, I remain hopeful that his memories will live on for years to come.

My first HalloweenWed, 31st Oct '12, 12:10 am::

I went to Canada for the first-time in my life this past Friday. I would have loved to take Juliet with me along for the ride but she was on-call all weekend and couldn't change her schedule. I went to Toronto to plan the future of KType and figure out a way to reach significantly more people. It's too early to say anything now but I'm very optimistic about the long-term impact of the research I put into creating KType.

I also went to my first Halloween Party this weekend and more importantly, I dressed up in a costume for the first-time in my adult life. I went as (Ultimate) Nick Fury from the Marvel comics. Please excuse the poor lighting but here I am hanging out with Iron Man and Captain America:

Surgery and ProgrammingFri, 14th Sep '12, 1:10 pm::

If you've ever wondered what life is like in the Mehta household, it is sort of like this video: Doctor and Ice Cream Tester.

After watching the video, Juliet immediately changed her daily "Honey! I'm home!" greeting. Now she comes home after a long day of hard-work doing surgeries and asks me, "How was your day at the ice-cream factory?" Cracks me up each time, especially since it's mostly true. I sit on my sofa with my legs up, typing code away all day - sometimes making things red and green in Excel, sometimes making rectangles more rounded. And yet every other day she'll hear me complain about everything from restrictive software licenses and DRM to crappy Internet connection and the never-ending torrent of user errors.

She just pats me on the head and says "Wow! They ran out of Strawberry flavor? That must be torture..."

Theoretical Math! What is it good for? Absolutely everything!Thu, 23rd Aug '12, 3:15 pm::

We are all accustomed to electronics getting cheaper and smaller over time, as if companies magically shrink down their components. We just assume that smart folks in white coats inside R&D labs turn on their supercomputers and swipe away on their 4D neural network interfaces really really hard and suddenly the bulky, costly components within all electronic devices can be replaced with a cheaper, smaller parts. In reality, each and every change from a larger part to smaller part is made possible by scientific breakthroughs in physics, material science, and sometimes even math.

Do you remember cellphones from a decade ago? With their pointy antennas and bulky size? What happened to that antenna? Math happened! Or in this case, space-filling curves. Most people have seen fractals - they are shapes that can be subdivided into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a smaller copy of the whole - the more you zoom in, the more complex the design gets. While they make cool desktop wallpapers, most people don't think much about them. Turns out, their intrinsic self-similar design makes some of them (called space-filling curves) a perfect shape to capture electromagnetic signals, specifically wideband and multiband radio signals.

So instead of pointy antennas, cellphones now have tiny, embedded fractal antennas in them. These antennas can operate with good-to-excellent performance at many different frequencies simultaneously due to their fractal shape. Instead of inventing a brand new material or industrial process to shrink down the size of the antenna, scientists applied math to figure out the best shape for a really tiny antenna that can still get good reception.

The best part? The specific space-filling curve used in fractal antennas is called a Minkowski Island, named after the 19th century German mathematician Hermann Minkowski, one of Albert Einstein's teachers. Minkowski realized that the special theory of relativity, introduced by Einstein in 1905, could be best understood in a four dimensional space, now known as "Minkowski spacetime", in which time and space are not separated entities but intermingled in a four dimensional space-time. So not only did Minkowski help make GPS, in-car navigation, and science fiction about breaking the space-time continuum possible, application of his theoretical studies in fractals now makes it possible for people to have good cellphone reception without pointy antennas. Take that Edison!

While it is easy to understand why applied sciences and engineering disciplines need to be funded and studied, it is harder to justify the study of abstract theories because practical applications can take decades or even centuries! After all, why should you care that topologically speaking, a coffee mug is the same thing as a donut (or a ring)? Today, you may not. In twenty years, application of topology in 3D printing could revolutionize the entire manufacturing industry around the world.

Thu, 2nd Aug '12, 11:10 am::

In a little over three days, NASA's one-ton Curiosity rover will land on Mars. Though the world is pretty blasé about machines landing on other worlds and trotting about year after year, Curiosity's risky maneuver during the final seven minutes of landing is so extraordinary, it seems utterly impossible. Here's a video explanation of what the final "seven minutes of terror" of the Mars Curiosity landing will be.

Wed, 18th Jul '12, 10:20 pm::

I'm getting a health checkup tomorrow morning for insurance purposes. They have asked me to not eat anything during the 12 hours prior to the checkup. Usually, I get so caught up with programming that I forget to eat all day. Last week I unintentionally fasted for two days straight when I was busy trying to learn a new programming language.

And yet all I can think about for the past three hours is food. I'm not even hungry! I had a large bowl of mixed vegetable stir-fry just four hours ago and still feel full. But knowing that I am not allowed to eat anything makes me want to eat everything. I can't wait till the checkup is over. Then I'll probably eat something to celebrate the end of my forced fast and then forget about food because I'll be busy programming all day.

Dietary adviceTue, 12th Jun '12, 11:10 am::

Nutrition science or the study of diet, has the biggest bikeshedding problem that I know of. To paraphrase, if you go before the Board of Directors and ask for 1.5 Billion dollars to build a Nuclear Reactor, no one will review or discuss the details of the plant. They will assume that experts have been over every inch of the plans, and not want to look foolish by asking a silly question. However, if you ask the same group to approve a 30 dollar expenditure for lumber with which to build a bikeshed, then be prepared for a 45 minute discussion about all aspects of the Bikeshed, including the color of the paint.

Nobody tries to argue with a cardiologist about the workings of the heart. Nobody tries to debate a neuroscientist on the function of the hippocampus. But everybody and their mom has an opinion on what a healthy, balanced diet is just because they own a stove and have been eating all their lives. Over the past century, scientists around the world have identified the following foods as both good and bad: coffee, oil, butter, sugar, salt, wine, beer, carbs, cheese, dry fruits, eggs, meat, seafood, and almost everything in your fridge right now. Consequently, nobody can be certain what is healthy to eat, especially when each individual's needs are taken into consideration. This confusion makes it possible for entirely new industries to flourish - diet advice, dietary supplements, nutrition media (books, documentaries, web sites, apps), ready-to-eat meals, weight-loss, and organic food.

Take a step back and realize that if people actually knew what was healthy for them, none of those industries would be booming now. The problem is that everyone involved in these industries is ready to dispense dietary advice along with the purchase of their product. Everyone has an opinion on whether cheese is good for you or bad. The reason scientific research seems to be conflicting is because of poor journalism. No scientist in their right mind would come out and say "Don't eat butter!" What they do say is "In a study of 125 middle-age men with sedentary lifestyles and a history of hypertension, we found that reducing daily consumption of butter for 3 months, lowers blood pressure by 10%." Media gets hold of this research and suddenly we get "Butter is bad for you!" and "Is there something on your toast that will kill you?"

The vague definition of healthy diet that I prescribe to, comes from MichaelPollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I avoid almost all discussions about diet beyond that because the specifics vary for every single person. A newborn baby with a genetic disorder might not be able to handle plant fiber. A young adult on the rowing team will need more food, including eggs, salts, and sugar than someone of equal body size and metabolism rate who spends all day relaxing indoors. Sugar has different effect on different people and so does fat, cheese, wine, and every other food stuff. We are all slightly different and so maybe your body needs more potassium than mine. That does not mean the effects are entirely different. If you and I both eat four large pizzas a day for three months, we will both be pretty similarly unhealthy with increased weight, higher cholesterol, and possibly scurvy.

So should you put olive oil in your vegetables or go without? Your wish. Just don't listen to anyone who claims to know the exact answer for your specific needs because they don't. Would you ask someone "should I buy a new sofa?" when they don't know your home layout, existing seating arrangement, bank balance, or lifestyle? Then what gives them the authority to tell you what goes into your belly?

Jungle Book HomeWed, 16th May '12, 4:00 pm::

Today I learned that Rabbits and Prairie Dogs are extremely territorial. Sit back and read the tale of how I found that out first-hand.

A little over a week ago, we got two adult Prairie Dogs. Having taken care of them for some time now, I know one of them is very friendly (named Willy) while the other one is very shy (named Nilly). Nilly can get a bit bitey if you try to play with her so Juliet and I are very careful around her. As I was making my afternoon arounds in the backyard, feeding and tending to our home zoo, I notice the friendlier one, Willy was on his feet, barking loudly and biting the cage wires. I walked up to his cage and he started rubbing his head under my fingers. I opened up his cage to pet him and he gently walked over my arm, moving towards my shoulder. Since I haven't played with him outside of his cage much, I thought now might be a good time to let him feel comfortable around me.

I locked him back in his cage, walked over to the big walk-in bunny cage, made sure Buttercup the bunny was sitting quietly in her little bunny hutch, out of the view, and brought Willy into the bunny cage. Willy suddenly got all excited at finding dirt under his feet and started sniffing around. I was starting to feel quite pleased with myself when suddenly, he stood up on his two feet like Prairie Dogs often do and started barking and yelping at me. I tried to pet him but he kept lunging at my hands. Now Buttercup, hearing all the commotion, got out and pounced towards Willy. Picture me, a grown-ass man on a Wednesday afternoon, trying to separate a rabbit from biting a Prairie Dog and vice-versa. Now I know why people sit in front of computers in cozy offices all day - no hissing animals trying to bite everything around them!

I kept separating them, then tried to calm Willy down, when all of a sudden he would bark, and Buttercup would rush out of her hutch again. This went on for about fifteen minutes, by which time I ran out of breath and my back started hurting from bending up and down constantly. I knew there was no way Willy was going to let me pick him up and put him back in his cage.

So I devised a plan. I would bring a little sleeping bed from his cage and put it in the bunny cage to make him feel at home. I carefully got Buttercup to go hide in her hutch, while I nudged Willy into the furthest corner away from Buttercup. Now that there was some distance between the two, I opened the bunny cage door, rushed to the Prairie Dog cage, got Willy's bed, and hurried back into the bunny cage before the two started something again. Fortunately, upon seeing his bed, Willy calmed down, but not enough to let me get near him. Now I had to find a way to pick him up along with the bed without being torn into shreds.

I know! Thick plastic gloves! Once again I put the bunny in her hutch, and moved Willy and his sleeping bed to the corner. Then I darted across the backyard at full speed, jumping over the cats relaxing by the pool, into the back porch, where I struggled to unclasp the bungee cord securing the doors of the cat food cabinet, inside which I keep a spare pair of thick plastic gloves. I pulled those out of the cabinet, ran straight across the yard yelling "NOOOOOO" at the top of my lungs to Buttercup, who was now inching cautiously towards Willy. Just a second before Buttercup was ready to leap, I swung the door open into the cage, effectively barricading her from Willy. Now began my yellow-gloved dance of calming Willy down.

I didn't wear the gloves fully, leaving a good two-to-three inches of finger-tips hanging empty so if Willy bit it, I wouldn't get hurt. Oddly enough, he did not mind being petted by the soft empty glove tips but anytime I tried to hold him in my grasp, he fought back. After about ten minutes, he got used to the glove enough that I could pet him. Then before he noticed, I quickly picked his bed up, four feet high above the ground - high enough that he wouldn't jump. So naturally, he tried to jump right into my face but having learned my lessons when handling sugar gliders and even small kittens in the past, I managed to maintain a safe distance between Willy and my face. With my other hand, I slowly opened the bunny cage, walked out, gently closed the bunny cage (without being able to lock it shut), and rushed over to the Prairie Dog cage, opened it up and let Willy in.

Within five seconds, he was rubbing his head against my hand, and kept doing that even after I took the gloves off. He was back to being the sweetest thing ever. Meanwhile, Giga the boy cat was readying himself to get into the cat-attack mode at Buttercup because she was trying to get out of the bunny cage. I immediately closed the Prairie Dog cage, ran towards Giga to chase him away, and locked the bunny cage. I walked back to the Prairie Dog cage, tightened the lock to make sure it was secure and then finally trudged my way into the back porch.

And there she was, my girl kitty Tera - sitting on the floor, hastily chomping down days worth of cat food, having pushed down the sealed container from the cabinet on to the ground, scattering food pellets all over the floor. Within seconds, Cookie and Giga joined her in the unexpected feast. I'm living Jungle Book meets Night at the Museum!

New mission in lifeThu, 29th Mar '12, 2:50 pm::

I have a new mission in life - spread the word about KType to the whole world. One would think that being technical, I would use some sort of affiliate-marketing search-engine funnel-optimizing analytics-dashboard to let everyone know how useful and accessible KType is but after much consideration, I have taken the old over-exuberant-salesman route - I'm making phone calls! Instead of getting better search-engine placements to directly attract end-users, I want doctors, speech-therapists, and non-profit organizations to recommend KType to users who might benefit from it.

One of the best ways for me to do that is to contact the Assistive Technology Device Loan Programs for all the US States and offer them fully-functional copies of KType at no cost. Users with speech/motor disabilities can borrow iPads preloaded with KType from their state organizations and try the app out for up to 30 days. I'm also offering to train (over the phone at present) any potential users and their caretakers at no charge. Since most organizations already have funds preallocated for iPads, there is no additional cost to them to offer KType.

It is a very time-consuming process but I think it will ensure long-term growth of KType. While I would like to take out magazine ads and rent trade-show booths someday, for now I just want to find potential users and work with them to improve the app. I know it worked for my cousin Keval (the K in KType) but I don't certifiably know if it works for individuals with stroke, cerebral palsy, or ALS.

If you would like to help, suggest Assistive Technology organizations, speech-therapists, and medical caregivers that I can directly contact. Or better yet, ask them to check out the KType Demo.

Amazon.com - A Programmer's RantFri, 16th Mar '12, 4:07 pm::

Amazon.com, we need to talk. I love your service. I happily pay $79/year for Amazon Prime to get free shipping and on-demand video rentals. I buy something from you every week and spend thousands each year on Prime Eligible products. I even used your EC2 AWS service when I had to crunch through a lot of data during my research for KType. So it hurts me to tell you that you have the worst product sort and filter interface that I have ever used. Not because you do not have enough features or the interface is confusing or bland, but because you do it wrong. Here's what's wrong with a typical search on Amazon.com:

1) Incorrect sort order: I searched for 'cat food', filtered for only Prime-Eligible items, and sorted it by Price: High to Low as you can see in the first screenshot. I don't think $34.89 > $38.99 > $39.74. I understand that behind-the-scene, you are trying to calculate the lowest price offered either by you or a 3rd-party vendor and applying lots of complex calculations based on item characteristics, bulk quantity, and other parameters to make sure each item price is calculated correctly but that is not what I asked for. I said Prime-Eligible for a reason - I want to buy directly from you and I don't want to pay for shipping. Most of your 3rd-party vendors charge slightly lower than you but charge a lot for shipping. You need to ignore their prices when I choose "filter for prime-eligible, sort by price"

2) Broken filters: Why is the second item in the first screenshot even shown? At first glance, it doesn't have a price, it is not prime eligible, and it doesn't even seem to be sold directly by you. When I dug in, I found out that Amazon.com does sell this item directly, with free shipping for $42.84. If that is the case, then it should have said Prime-Eligible and shown up higher up in the sort order. Look at the second screenshot. I searched for new, Prime-Eligible 'tv remote' under $25. Why is the first item you show me priced at $69.95? What about the second and third item that are missing prices?

3) Unavailable sort: Why do I have to "Choose a Department to enable sorting"? Why do I have to decide if "disposable nitrile gloves" are categorized under "Health & Personal Care", "Home & Kitchen", "Automotive", "Industrial & Scientific", or "Patio, Lawn & Garden" by you or other 3rd-party vendors before I can sort by price or customer review? Especially since the same products show up in most of the departments. If external sites can do this using your API, why can't you?

It's 2012. Sorting and filtering at the most basic database operations. You created A9.com - a product search engine. You enable programmers around the world to use your servers at low-prices so they can build complex websites backed by your RDS and SimpleDB database services. You have some of the smartest developers around the world working for you. And yet I get frustrated every time I try to find something on your site. I can't be the only person who has a problem with the aforementioned issues. Can you please fix them so my cats don't go hungry? Think of the kittens!

Sun, 19th Feb '12, 7:45 am::

Flying back to Florida tonight after spending an exciting, family-fun filled three weeks in India. Should be home in about 31-32 hours from now.

Indian GPSThu, 2nd Feb '12, 6:07 pm::

We're driving 250 miles from Varca, Goa to Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra today and really need a GPS to navigate. It will take about 8 hours to drive over the hilly, back-country roads and writing down the 94 steps of directions won't help. I have my iPhone but the data plan is exorbitantly expensive so I can't use Maps on it normally. My parents have a USB mobile internet device but it doesn't work with my Macbook Air or iPhone. Thankfully, it does work with the new Windows 7 laptop I bought for my mom. So after some jury rigging, here's my Indian GPS solution:

Connect the USB mobile internet device to the Windows 7 laptop, share the connection using Ad-Hoc wifi, and turn off the screen to save battery. Connect a USB power cable from my iPhone to Macbook Air, that also has the screen off. This should hopefully ensure a day's worth of uninterrupted power and internet access to my phone. Then use the iPhone Maps app to navigate till we reach destination. In case of failure, stop and ask any trucker or motorcyclist for directions. They usually know the way to the next town over, if not more. *fingers crossed*

Wed, 1st Feb '12, 5:58 pm::

Yours truly and KType got a mention in this Slate article about improving the computer keyboard.

    Caps lock has to go...
    Perhaps it should have occurred to me years ago, but it wasn't until recently that I fully realized that everybody hates something about their computer keyboard. I was in the company of several family...

Trivial Jibber-jabberSat, 28th Jan '12, 7:49 am::

I can't wait to see my family again. It's been over a year and a half since I last saw them. Since then we've all personally gone through many major life changes - from my grandpa passing away and my dad's significant health improvements to my sister moving to Mumbai and Juliet becoming a Surgical PA. We talk on the phone and Skype almost daily so I don't think we missed any major events but it's the small things that I look forward to hearing about in person.

On a day-to-day basis, I feel time passes really, really slowly. We're still getting work done in the new house and so many things remain for us to fix and deal with. But in aggregate, it flies and stops for nobody. I feel like I just moved to the US, just graduated, just moved to Florida, just started working at my first real job, just got married, just adopted a zoo-full of pets, just bought two houses, and just started working on KType.

Funny how summarizing a decade-worth of life lived into a single sentence makes me realize how often I deal with things that will never make it into the summary for the next decade. Does it really matter if I spend an extra $50 for low-sone, high CFM exhaust fans for the new house or should I just get the run-of-the-mill model? In the long term, who cares! But when I see my family, that is exactly the kind of conversations I hope to have with them. I'm tired of discussing life-changing events with them on the phone. It's time for trivial jibber-jabber.

Email is homeworkMon, 16th Jan '12, 11:38 pm::

People who know me well, know that I am not a big fan of email. Email is people from all over the world assigning me homework. I rarely get emails saying "Hey Chirag... Nice Abs!" Most of the emails that I receive, add tasks to my never-ending todo list, even if it's something as simple as me having to respond with "No, thanks." I think email is great for automated messages (shipping notifications, e-bills, invoices etc.) and business communication (gotta have timestamped proof!). But for personal messages longer than 10 words, I prefer a phone call because it is so much more direct, thoughtful, near-impossible to misinterpret, and best of all, conclusive. I'm a big fan of instant messaging too because of the immediate two-way communication.

Lots of people these days avoid phone calls as they consider them to be imposing - after all, someone from across the world is causing you to pause the movie, get up from the sofa, and pick up the phone to say "I'll call you later." Instead, they prefer to send an email or text/sms because then you can respond at your convenience. Problem is, the backlog of email and text/sms puts the onus on to you to respond back. Unread emails continuously accumulate and stare at you every single day until you hit reply. Missed phone calls simply mean the caller has to try calling you again, at a later time.

I know most everyone will defend emails saying "You just have to follow Getting-Things-Done management" or "Only check emails twice a day." But just think about it. How many times have you said "Man, I have so many emails to deal with!" vs. "Man, I have so many missed phone calls that others might call me about in the future!" I guess if you are running away from bill collectors, the latter is a real problem but otherwise, most everyone I know laments about the hundreds to even thousands of unread and un-responded emails. Nobody complains about the phone calls they didn't pick up and were not obliged to call back (unless the caller left an important voicemail).

I'm an osmotic learnerWed, 4th Jan '12, 1:31 am::

I often encounter people who say "I am a visual person" and hence need to see things (like user interface, photographs, videos) in order to understand what I'm trying to explain. They usually say this when I ask them to "imagine the left 25% of the screen has a list of people and the right 75% contains the list of email subjects."

I'm not asking them to imagine something unfamiliar like riding into equatorial sunset of Mars on a goliath slug-whale wearing a sombrero. I'm not asking them to visualize something complex like a 4D hypercube intersecting a torus. Everyone I talk to has seen what a list of people looks like and a list of email subjects looks like. I'm simply asking them to imagine what they would look like when displayed side-by-side on a screen.

And it's not just visualizing computer interfaces. I receive similar responses when I ask people to visualize furniture being rearranged, building dimensions being altered, colors being changed, and even instructions being followed in a different order. The fact that people have a hard time imagining is unimaginable to me!

I don't know why others can't visualize. But I can try to explain why I've never had difficulty in visualizing almost anything, including a Martian sunset.

  1. I read lots of books as a kid, mostly about things that I could not possible see in person - fictional lands, foreign countries, distant galaxies, superhuman beings, impenetrable forests, and tons of magic. While I love watching sci-fi and fantasy movies, they do not help you imagine or expand your mind. Reading a book does.
  2. Nobody told me I was a visual learner, aural learner, textual learner, active learner, passive learner, or anything but a typical human adolescent. I read text, deciphered diagrams, and listened to lectures. There was no 3D animation of the solar system on a computer to help me visualize how the planets revolved around the Sun while still rotating on their axes. If I didn't understand something, I was not given academic labels as crutches to hold on to for the rest of my life. I was told to try again. Moreover, research shows that catering to "learning styles" is not helpful i.e. dividing students into visual-learners and aural-learners and showing presentations and visual demonstrations to the former and giving audio lectures to the latter does not improve learning.
  3. I always thought that being able to quickly understand what people were trying to explain was a very positive trait and something I should actively try to do in all situations. If someone says they got into a car accident because as they pulled out of a parking lot, a vehicle coming up the road changed lanes and side-swiped their car, it is best not to ask them to draw a diagram for visual clarification.

I think the biggest reason why even grown-ups I encounter continue to have a hard time visualizing concepts, models, and strategies is because nobody has told them that everyone should be able to do that. If you're in a meeting and the boss says "I can't add 3 to 7 because I am a numeric person", everyone will gasp. But if they say "I can't picture 3 more icons to the right of the seven icons already in the toolbar because I am a visual person", nobody will flinch. In fact, the helpful ones among us will offer to do a mockup immediately after the meeting, thus reinforcing the belief that it is ok to not have the ability to imagine. Let's stop doing that.

Buying our dream homeWed, 21st Dec '11, 11:59 pm::

After over a year of searching and two long months of waiting, we finally closed on our new house today. Over the next few weeks, we'll get the leaky roof fixed, carpet replaced with tiles, wallpaper replaced with fresh paint, and most of the old electric fixtures upgraded. I'm super excited about the screened back-porch as I'll probably sit there all day and code.

Sat, 12th Nov '11, 12:18 pm::

I don't know why but I could watch two robots playing ping-pong all day. I can't wait for the International Robot Ping-Ping Championship 2020.

    Robot plays table tennis (vs Robot, vs Human)
    A humanoid robot system for table tennis playing developed by Zhejiang University, China was recently reported by Chinese media. The system consists of two humanoid robots. Each robot is 55kg in weight, 160cm in height and has 30 Degrees of freedom. This demo shows a rally between these two robots which last 176 strokes(about 2.5 minutes). This video also shows that one humanoid robot can rally with a human player with various ball speed and can strike the ball using either forehand or backhand.

Fri, 23rd Sep '11, 11:31 am::

"We cannot explain the observed effect in terms of known systematic uncertainties. There, the measurement indicates a neutrino velocity higher than the speed of light."

I just watched the live webcast by CERN discussing the years of research that lead to the conclusion that neutrinos travel slightly faster than photons i.e. faster-than-light travel (BBC article). This is why I love science. The scientists aren't saying they broke the light-speed barrier. They're showing all of their work to the world and inviting everyone to pick it apart and prove them wrong.

They measured the time it took neutrinos to cover a distance of 500 miles and it turned out to be about 60 nano-seconds less than it would take light to cover the same distance. To make sure that they didn't have any measurement errors, they took into account the rotation of the Earth, change in curvature of the surface of Earth due to the position of the Moon, continental drift due to earthquakes or other natural events, and movement of Earth through space. They also took into account all equipment and experimental delays and possible systematic uncertainties. They made sure no outliers were affecting the sampling average. After considering everything that could cause incorrect measurement, they conclude that the neutrinos are moving faster than the speed of light.

If a flaw is found in their research or experiments, it will further strengthen the speed-of-light as the ultimate barrier to speed. If other scientists can validate the research and conclude that it is indeed true, then it will be a major discovery. Unfortunately, it does not mean warp-drives from Star Trek.

Weekend in the Garden of Good and EvilTue, 6th Sep '11, 12:54 am::

Juliet and I went to Savannah, Georgia this Labor Day Weekend with our friend Sandra and her daughter (our goddaughter) and here are the photos. I had visited Savannah twice before to see my friend Vu but it wasn't until this weekend that I took the time to fully appreciate the city's cultural and socio-political origins.

After a wonderful walk through the Oatland Island Wildlife Center on Sunday, the girls went shopping around Ellis Square while I decided to read some short stories and poetry by the fountains. I came across one of the most haunting poems I've ever read - Seven Twilights by Conrad Aiken and felt compelled to dig deeper into his life. He was born in Savannah in 1889 and when he was a small boy, his father killed his mother and committed suicide himself. This tragedy had a profound impact on his development and writings. Saturday night we took a "ghost tour" around the city during which our guide told us about numerous Savannah residents who had tragically died of malaria or spousal-abuse centuries ago and haunt the old houses to this day. The Aiken name was missing from the roster, though the writing thoroughly conveyed the message.

With a huge immigrant population of Haitians and Irish during the 18th and 19th centuries, Savannah developed its own flavor of Americana literature, art, and architecture, much like New Orleans in Louisiana and St. Augustine in Florida. The city was founded in 1733 by Gen. Oglethorpe and laid out around four open squares intended to provide space for military exercises. The layout was also a reaction against the cramped conditions that fueled the Great Fire of London in 1666. By 1851 there were twenty four squares in the city.

The house we rented was next to Forsyth Park, which was featured heavily in the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Sunday evening we watched the haunting movie version, starring Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, and Jude Law. The story was set against a backdrop of the traditional Southern social elites in the early 1980s and portrayed elements from voodoo beliefs and alternative lifestyles that are as much a part of Savannah's culture as the ghost tours and historic church congregations.

While there is no single incident during the entire trip that I can point out as haunting, I left the city with a feeling of tragic nostalgia. It didn't matter that the city today is a vibrant port-city or is just one of the many cities around the country with a rich history. In the course of a few days, I had witnessed the birth and death of generations. Time had either wiped clean or set in stone the dreams and nightmares of men and beasts alike. As I reflected upon my own mortality and unfulfilled dreams by the fountains of Ellis Square, Juliet walked up to me and gave me a tight hug. She said "I missed you" and I replied "I missed you too. Now let's go home."

Wed, 31st Aug '11, 3:54 am::

It has been almost a year since I took a long walk to determine the course for the rest of my life and I feel it's time for some retrospection. Last year, I decided to leave my promising job as the Director of IT at a fast-growing pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Florida so I could work on KType full-time. KType is my independent and self-funded research project to improve communication for people with speech & motor disabilities by creating low-cost, customizable software and hardware tools.

Giving up a rising career at a growing company was no easy decision for me and a part of me will always wonder what if I hadn't taken the road-less-traveled-by. When I started working on KType, Juliet was studying hard for her final semester at graduate school, we had tons of debt and barely any savings, and I had absolutely no idea if KType could even be built with the requirements I had in mind. A year later, Juliet is now a surgical PA having graduated at the top of her class, we have paid down our debt considerably and even saved a little, and I have a fully-functional KType prototype that I'm excited to have potential users try out very soon.

Though I am constantly making progress, I know I still have a long way to go. The primary goal of the KType project is to help others communicate and I feel disappointed in myself to say that despite a year's worth of R&D, I still haven't helped improve anyone's life yet. But that's going to change now. Over the next few weeks, I will reach out to local hospitals, special-needs schools, and nursing homes to find potential users for KType. Last year I resolved to make KType. This year I resolve to share KType.

To say that I am extremely nervous about all of this is an understatement. But if I can help even one person, I will consider KType to be a success. If you know someone who cannot speak nor type because of paralysis, injuries, ALS, cerebral palsy, muscle spasms, or other neurological causes, please feel free to contact me.

Tue, 16th Aug '11, 12:23 am::

My little sister has an impressive photography portfolio. And she just started about a year ago! I'm so proud of her :)

Fri, 5th Aug '11, 11:49 am::

Last night I was telling Juliet about the stories of Vikram & Vaital that I grew up reading and watching on TV as a kid in India. Feeling that I didn't give her a good enough summary of the collection, I decided to look online and found something I didn't expect.

This is the part I knew: According to the stories, King Vikram promised a sorcerer that he would capture a vampire spirit, Vaital, who hangs from a tree in a desolate forest. Each time Vikram tries to capture the spirit, it tells a story that ends with a riddle. If the king knows the answer, he must answer and if he answers it correctly, the spirit would escape and return to his tree. If Vikram cannot answer the question correctly, the spirit consents to remain in captivity. King Vikram guessed the answer 24 times and the spirit flew away each time.

This is the part I learned today: On the twenty-fifth attempt, the spirit tells the story of a father and a son in the after-math of a devastating war. They find the queen and the princess alive in the chaos, and decide to take them home. In due time, the son marries the queen and the father marries the princess. Eventually, the son and the queen have a son, and the father and the princess have a daughter. The spirit asks what the relation between the two newborn children is. The question stumps Vikram. Satisfied, the spirit allows himself to be taken to the sorcerer.

In summary, the "I am my own grandpa" story is over a thousand years old and has roots in ancient Indian tales. And the Ray Stevens song based on the story is hilarious.

More science, not lessFri, 22nd Jul '11, 1:32 pm::

I went to bed late last night and woke up to the sound of loud beeping alarms. Having survived an electrical fire that shook me up from peaceful slumber in 2005, I still panic a bit whenever I detect loud continuous beeps in my sleep. To my relief, I discovered that there was no fire - it was just a power failure and my security system and computer UPS were beeping to alert me that the battery backup had kicked in. Not knowing if it was just me or the whole neighborhood, I walked over to my neighbor's house to check and he said the whole neighborhood was without power because of a transformer malfunction. He called the electric company and was told the power would be back in two hours.

With no power to go back to, I ended up just hanging out with my neighbor and we talked about "The World". It's been a long time since I had a good, friendly argument offline and frankly I was surprised at how different the world appears to him than it does to me. To me, NASA, space exploration, and particle physics research are a necessity. Pushing the boundaries of science, regardless of how soon the research can have practical applications, is imperative. To him, all government-sponsored research was taking away money from hard-working people and giving it to lazy scientists so they could put shrimps on treadmill (depressing link below). In his view, all research should be funded privately and not at the taxpayers expense.

I argued that yes, while 1 out of 1,000 grants involves putting shrimps on treadmills, scientific discovery is not like running a factory. You cannot just say "cure cancer", expect a bunch of researchers to go into a laboratory, and come out with a single cure. That's only possible in Spiderman comics. In real-life, people from all over the world pour their hearts and souls into one single tiny aspect of the entire problem and tirelessly work on it for decades, and if they are fortunate, discover something meaningful. My neighbor has chronic back pain and I asked how would he feel if scientists discovered a special protein that gets released into the shrimp's bloodstream whenever it starts to develop signs of chronic fatigue and that we can create medicine that have the same beneficial effect on humans with chronic back pain? After a few moments of silence, I could sense his mind-gears turning.

Being cynical as I am, I expected him to quote yet another talking-point from some news article but surprisingly he said "You know, that's not so bad. What's half a million bucks when you can get rid of life-long pain for millions of people?" I exclaimed, "And that's exactly what science is! We don't know what is going to work and what's not but we have to keep moving forward. Going to Mars and beyond may seem like a waste of taxpayers money when you could be building more schools but without promotic scientific research, you will never be able to break out of the problems we have in the world today."

We argued back and forth for the next couple of hours about everything from drug legalization to policing of the Internet but before we parted ways, he thanked me for changing his views on scientific research. He said "You know, I never looked at it that way." That made me feel genuinely happy. I expect others to disagree with me on socioeconomic matters as it is quite often not a matter of black and white but rather infinite shades of grey. However, science is a matter of black and white to me. Science good, not-science bad. Of course there are shades of grey within scientific research itself but overall, the world will be a better place with more science, not less.

Thu, 21st Jul '11, 10:21 am::

"Nobody is dreaming about tomorrow anymore..."

"How much would you pay for the Universe?"

Sat, 18th Jun '11, 11:50 am::

People ask me all the time about the status of KType. I had a demo running in February and since then I've spent hundreds of hours coding with nothing to show so people wonder what is it that I'm really doing. I'm doing SCIENCE! And that's the problem. While I can code up a whole new menu system in a day, doing actual research takes a lot of time. But I do have something interesting to share.

KType suggestions are coming along great. When a user types "wy so srs", KType can now suggest "why so serious". KType will run on the iPad and cannot rely on an internet connection to make suggestions. So I have to come up with these suggestions in real-time as the user is typing, based on the data already stored within the KType iPad app. My goal is to make 5 good suggestions within 0.5 seconds of the user pressing a letter. With a dictionary of over 600,000 words and phrases saved on the relatively slow iPad storage, it is no easy task to pick the best 5 choices in under a second. Just reading the 600,000 phrases takes over 8 seconds! So I have to be as clever as I can be and only search within words that I can predict might match.

To put in more bluntly, I have been spending months just to save milliseconds. Because in the end, the user's experience matters more than anything.

Figure out how to be happyThu, 9th Jun '11, 11:50 pm::

The end goal of every single human pursuit is happiness. We work hard so we can earn money so we can buy things so we can have fun so we can experience a slice of happiness. We fight wars so we can bring peace so we can live freely so we can experience a slice of happiness. We take revenge so we can bring justice so we can feel righted so we can experience a slice of happiness. We tell lies so we can deflect blame so we can save our face so we can live proudly so we can experience a slice of happiness. If you repeatedly ask "why" someone does anything, good or bad, the answer will invariably lead to their idea of happiness. Everyone just wants to be happy. And that's why it's one of my favorite things to think about.

Publicly, most everyone will say "I'm happy" but privately they might tell their confidantes "my life is miserable." And that's perfectly alright. Happiness is not a destination but rather a fleeting moment of "huh, everything is working out" while we go about our lives. I love the notion of happiness because like birth, age, and death it affects everyone. Everyone is born, grows old, and dies and throughout the entire ride we're all chasing happiness. Certainly the romantics among us claim to quest for love instead but what is love if not a path to happiness (and plenty of sorrow)?

If you can figure out how to be happy, you don't have to be healthy, wealthy, or wise. Those qualities can certainly help but they can also blind us from finding out what truly makes us happy. I make a concerted effort to identify things that make me happy and I partake in them as often as I safely can. But I've realized that there is more to happiness than doing things that make you happy. Regrets, guilt, jealousy, and rage can pierce through five layers of entertainment sandwiched between six layers of accomplishments. Life just gets you down sometimes, no matter how much of a fight you put up.

And that's when I find solace in being ephemeral and inconsequential. I am not invincible and I am not infallible. I am not eternal and I am not immemorial. I don't have to succeed and I don't have to win. Every decision I make is based on the wisdom and experience I have accumulated up to that particular moment in time. I cannot predict the future and I cannot control the outcome. All I can do is do my best, do the right thing, and continue my pursuit of happiness. Just like everyone else.

Nice thingsThu, 2nd Jun '11, 10:45 am::

Happy B'day Mom! Today is also the first anniversary of our Indian Wedding! I can't believe it's already a year since we went to India. I can't wait to go back. I'm pretty sure this time we'll go in the winter season so we can travel around the country comfortably.

Last night I got back from a short vacation to see our relatives in Houston, TX. Juliet and I drove a thousand miles to Texas last Thursday and stopped by New Orleans en route for some delicious beignets. Juliet flew back home on Monday and I drove back yesterday, rocking out to 90's music for 15 straight hours. In Houston, we met my dad's maternal cousins and their ever-so-boisterous kids. It was a great experience hanging out with them, especially since none of them had met Juliet before. In the mornings and afternoons, we chilled in the pool and in the evenings, we sat around the kitchen table snacking on Indian junk food and recollecting stories and experiences.

One of my favorite things in life is to hear people say nice things about others. I don't do drama and don't much care for negativity. It is very easy to spew petty complaints but it takes a big heart to genuinely appreciate and admit how wonderful others are. Like Thumper said in Bambi, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." So I get teary-eyed whenever I hear people praise others. It was such a wonderful feeling to hear my relatives say things like how nice my mom is, how creative my sister is, or how lucky I am to have found a wife as sweet as Juliet. I live for days like this.

Now it's back to regular life. Juliet has been working as a surgical PA for a few weeks and is getting accustomed to her busy schedule. I have been making slow but steady progress with my research project over the past few months and now that Juliet is busy all day, I can kick things into overdrive and get some serious work done. I can't wait!

Kayaking on a Tuesday morningTue, 17th May '11, 12:20 pm::

I wish I could blog while kayaking. Some of my best thoughts come to me when I'm zipping through the water in my kayak. When picking kayaking locations, I always fall into the trap of grass is greener on the other side - the further away the destination, the more beautiful and fun I think it will be. Alas it is not always so. I went paddling down the Alafia River on Friday, about a 90-minute drive each way. The median water-depth was barely six inches and the eight-mile trip over numerous rocky rapids took about three gruesome hours. While it was pretty, it did not rank among my best paddles.

Last night I made plans to paddle three miles out to an island in the Gulf, about two hours away from my home, but this morning I didn't feel like driving that much. So I went to Lake Seminole Park, where Juliet and I take our puppies all the time, hardly something I consider a great kayaking destination. But this morning I was surprisingly proven wrong. I had a great time paddling five miles in about 80 minutes. It made me realize that to have a great time, you don't always need the best views, the perfect weather, or the optimal gear but rather a good-enough mix of all of them. While Lake Seminole is littered with houses on the western flank, the eastern shoreline is a nature preserve with lots of shady trees, seagrass, and wading birds. While early-morning (6-7am) is often my favorite time to paddle, 10am can still be fun.

With the cool sea breeze blowing over the lake, I paddled by seagrass that rose 10 feet over the water. The wind picked up and nudged my kayak towards the waterfowl habitat. I skimmed over water-lilies and sent many a wood-ducks fluttering away. I paddled past dilapidated wooden docks and under the 102nd Avenue bridge that rumbled when cars raced across, a hundred feet above me. I saw, heard, and felt everything distinctly and consciously. A fish jumped out of water here and a pelican splashed into the water there. You could call this a typical Florida paddling trip but for reasons I can't explain, it was akin to meditation for me.

Officially releasing ZetaBee.comThu, 17th Mar '11, 12:40 pm::

I have been working on my side-project ZetaBee.com for slightly over a year now. Over the years I've made a lot of websites and software but they were all built from scratch each time. The idea behind ZetaBee was that I would make lots of small but useful apps under a single site so I don't have to recreate features like user management, shopping cart, billing, and secure access over and over again. So far, I've made three apps in ZetaBee and yesterday I shared them online.

I received tons of useful feedback but more importantly, I got a lot of encouragement to keep working on these in the future. I'm working on KType full-time but whenever I need a break, I add a feature or two on ZetaBee. Working independently on any project for months on end isn't easy and certainly makes you wonder if what you're doing is actually useful to others or just a waste of time. I'm really happy that others found ZetaBee useful.

I use all three ZetaBee apps myself and only created them because nobody else had made something similar that I could have used instead. My personal favorite is Text because I use it to plan every single thing in my life. It's also pretty secure so I don't have to worry about anyone getting a hold of my personal notes and world-domination-plans. I recommend you check out the demo and play around it with yourself to see if it would work for you or not.

Mon, 14th Mar '11, 11:55 pm::

This past weekend Juliet and I drove up to Atlanta to attend a traditional Vietnamese wedding of my Rutgers buddy Vu. We had a great time there and I got to hang out with a lot of Rutgers grads, including my friend Tony Yang. Saturday morning we took a tour of the awesome Tanglewood Miniature Farm in Atlanta where we got to feed and play with lots of little animals like goats, sheep, and alpacas.

On Sunday, we visited a wonderful couple we met earlier this year on our cruise to Mexico, Brian and Caroline. Brian cooked a delicious veggie sandwich for us while Caroline gave us some real-life parenting tips. We're hoping to see them again soon when they visit Florida with their kids.

We're planning on doing some more traveling before Juliet starts working in May. I have a lot of interesting places mapped out. I'll write about and post photos as we make these little trips.

Thu, 10th Mar '11, 8:55 pm::

I saw a good pulmonologist last week and have been taking a lot of different medications for my cough. I'm feeling better and in a few weeks, I should be back to my healthy self. I can't wait to start kayaking again. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities.

I'm starting to work on my research project again after a couple of weeks of sick-break. I've posted some articles about my progress on KType.net and will be adding more soon. The problem I'm currently working on is predictive typing i.e. auto-suggestion. Since this will be the core of KType, I want to make sure I build it right.

Fri, 11th Feb '11, 12:35 pm::

Tomorrow I'm going camping with Juliet. This will be our first camping trip together. If she's enjoy this trip, I'll take her kayak-camping on the many islands around Florida. I booked a tent-site at Highlands Hammock park, about two hours away from our home. We'll take lots of pics and I'll post them when we get back. Tonight we're going to a comedy show. It'll be a fun-filled weekend.

What next?Wed, 19th Jan '11, 8:15 pm::

Last year was pretty stressful and around December I decided to slow things down for a bit. So after Juliet graduated, we did some traveling, caught up on missed TV shows, and partied like it was 1899. Suffice to say, I can't handle so much happiness and have thus decided to put an end to my carefree existence immediately!

I have two personal goals for 2011: (1) Make KType work and (2) Kayak 52 miles in the Suwannee River Challenge. I haven't worked on KType in over 3 weeks and am dying to get it up and running. The kayak ultramarathon is in October and I've started training for it. Though I prefer not to blabber about things I haven't done yet, I can't resist mentioning that I'm very excited about both of these because I feel they will complement each other very well. Kayaking will be a healthy break from multi-day programming sessions and I'll have plenty of time to think about KType when I'm out on a river for six straight hours.

Earlier today Juliet mentioned that she has one goal right now and that is to get a good job as a Physician Assistant in St. Petersburg / Clearwater / Tampa Bay area, preferably in the areas of Dermatology, OB/GYN, or Oncology. But she wondered what her next goal would be. I'm just as curious to find out. Like me, she is fueled by challenges and always wants to do something new, exciting, and unexpected. I told her that's the best part of my life - the uncertainty of it all.

Unlike most people I know, I will never be content with knowing exactly how my life will play out in 5-10-15 years. The world offers far too many adventures that keep me from sticking to decade-long plans. I like one-year plans because those I can make a schedule for. KType is different because it's more of an academic pursuit than a software project. I'm completely uncertain of what lies ahead for me career-wise and haven't given much thought to it. And that's the way I like it.

I love TV ShowsMon, 3rd Jan '11, 9:40 pm::

When I was a wee-little kid, I used to love TV shows, mostly cartoons and children shows. Movies were for grownups. And I never figured how some guy who died in one movie was alive in another. Then as I grew older, I came to love movies a lot more. Everything about movies was perfect. They have a definite start and end, a storyline with a definite plot, and tons of excitement packed into a few hours. As I started to go through some of the great films, I learnt how to recognize and appreciate good direction, screenplay, and editing. In contrast to these amazing movies, television was dull, slow-paced, and frankly unprofessional. TV shows were for old, boring people.

Now that I'm on my way to be one of those old, boring people, I'm finding myself falling in love with TV shows all over again and for very different reasons. TV shows characters stay with me for a long time. I can identify with the people, relate to them, and see them mature over time. Two-hour movies (except for series like Harry Potter) just can't capture years of character development. I don't watch reality shows and prefer to watch shows with adventurous and humorous themes.

When I was in my movies-are-better years, I used to make fun of my parents and grandparents because they loved watching melodramatic TV shows that went on for years and years. In the last few years, I've seen many TV shows completely and loved every moment of it. It actually makes me a bit worried when I think about the amount of time I've spent in front of the TV and that's why I decided to write this 'blog entry.

Off the top of my head and in no specific order, the shows I've watched every single episode of: Avatar: The Last Airbender, South Park, Futurama, Dexter, House, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development, Doctor Who (New Series), Torchwood, X-Files, Mad Men, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, The IT Crowd, Eureka, The Riches, Louie, The Office (US version), Seinfeld, Friends, Penn & Teller BS, 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Big Bang Theory, Dilbert, Ally McBeal, Mad About You, and SATC. I've also watched almost all episodes of The Simpsons, Frasier, Family Guy, American Dad, Monk, This American Life, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Whose Line Is It Anyway, SpongeBob Squarepants, Two and a Half Men, Spin City, That 70's Show, The Wonder Years, and Doogie Howser. Lately, Juliet and I are watching 30 Rock together and I'm going through the first season of Merlin (she's not much into scifi/adventure shows).

It does sound like I watch an awful lot of television and I haven't even mentioned documentaries like Cosmos, Understanding, The Universe, Modern Marvels, Planet Earth, and Attenborough classics. Time and again I've considered watching less TV and reading more but somehow I just keep finding new shows that I end up loving. I don't feel guilty for watching TV because I know it helps relax my busy-bee of a mind and gives me a much needed break from programming. And since my programming productivity hasn't gone down and in fact has risen lately, I find no reason to stop my television watching activities. I've been mixing TV with programming and it has been working pretty well for me. I code for 4-5 hours in front of the TV, then get tired of coding and play with my cats and bunny while watching TV for a couple of hours. Then I get bored of TV while the pets get tired of me, so I turn off the TV and program for 5-6 hours in absolute silence.

For me, the end goal is sustainable productivity, while being healthy in mind and body. Also, keeping my wife, family, friends, and pets happy. So far so good! However, I've learnt to be careful whenever I start to like something too much, in this instance, TV. Hence I decided to pause Merlin for an hour and write this 'blog entry, just to get my thoughts out on the whole subject for me and you to decide. Now that I've written it up, I feel pretty good that I'm not going down the path of addiction, be it to TV, internet, programming, or pets. Of course, you may think otherwise so feel free to speak your mind and let me have it.

Four fantastic moviesSat, 25th Dec '10, 7:15 pm::

Juliet and I watched four fantastic movies today. We started with the classic Planet of the Apes. The next movie we saw was Freezer Burn. It was hilarious partly because we serendipitously saw it right after Apes and partly because the dialogs were all too real-life like. Then we caught the BBC premier of the Doctor Who Christmas Special: A Christmas Carol. Juliet's not a big fan of the Doctor and even she liked it. I, of course, loved it.

Finally we saw one of the most uncomfortably funny movies I've ever seen, Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by the guerrilla artist Banksy. The film is presented as a documentary but it seems all too comical to be real. To me it looks like yet another elaborate hoax by Banksy. The documentary is about the life of an artist called Mr. Brainwash but seems too much like an embarrassing comedy by Wes Anderson.

It's raining outside and we were bundled up in front of the TV all day. Here's hoping tomorrow will be sunny.

Thu, 2nd Dec '10, 6:40 am::

I just bought my sixth monitor, an HP 24" LCD with a resolution of 1920x1200. I already have five LCDs (1050x1680 each) and have placed them next to each other like this. Last month, I hooked the 5th one to my Mac Mini. However, programming in XCode on a small monitor like this is a pain, especially with the iPad Simulator shrinking to 50% scale by default on lower resolutions. So now I'll have a sixth monitor. I was going to put the fifth one away in storage but Juliet insists I should have all six on my desk because it makes me look like a total nerd.

Last few weeks I haven't written much code for KType because I realized there some more important material that I need to learn. So I'll be studying for the next week or two using online lectures. Sometimes I feel bad about "wasting" time watching lectures instead of just jumping into the code and hacking it on my own. But experience has taught me that one day spent learning often saves me ten days in coding.

KType & LifeTue, 16th Nov '10, 7:05 pm::

I have been working nearly full-time on KType for a couple of weeks now and things are finally starting to take shape. If you're unfamiliar, KType is my research project to build software/hardware tools for improving communication for people with disabilities. For the past 6-8 months, I've been talking about it to everyone I know and I'm glad that things are coming together now. I bought a Mac Mini two weeks ago, spent the past week learning how to program iPads, and finally created the initial design of the KType iPad app. Check out the screenshots. I am nowhere close to being done but I know I'm slowly getting there.

As part of my research project, I'm maintaining a wiki at ktype.net and updating it with anything useful that I come across. I have a basic reference page with links to news articles and products about assistive technologies. Over the next few months, I will be post detailed case notes as I work with my potential end-users. Now that things are moving at a good pace, I will post regular updates.

I know I've barely started working on KType but just getting to this point in my life where I can put a good 40-50 hours a week into such a project has been a challenge. People thought I was stupid when I told them that I was planning to quit my job so I could work full-time on a multi-year research project that will not get me a degree, money, or fame. And when I explained that I intended to drop out of a prestigious MBA program so I could work on this 8-10 hours a day out of my house, they thought I had gone insane. Of course, once I talked about the project goals, applications, and end-users, I got a lot of support from everyone.

The real difficulty about KType is everything that is NOT KType. Programming and computers are easy. Life is hard. Just because I'm working on KType doesn't mean I don't have to worry about family, pets, house, cars, mortgage, bills, and taxes anymore. In fact, my money-related nightmares have quadrupled since July. I have been using my cashflow application diligently to plan our spending and thankfully so far, things look good. Giving up my job meant giving up on a stable middle-class lifestyle in exchange for financial uncertainty. Once Juliet gets a job next year, I will worry less, though I doubt I'll ever stop.

Not knowing our future financial situation means not being able to plan the big changes in life, something that I love doing. We want to buy a bigger house so my parents can come stay with us whenever they want, for as long as they want. In the current housing market, I doubt I'll be able to sell my house easily so we might end up renting it out for a few years, which comes with its own set of responsibilities. Juliet and I want to start our own family and while I am ready for it personally, I don't know if and when we'll be able to afford her student loans, two houses, and a baby or two on top of everything else.

What I'm trying to say here is that life's going on as usual. I'm working on something I truly love while doing my best to take care of everything else. It's tough but worth it. I have a wonderful partner who understands my dreams and supports my decisions even if it means postponing someone of our plans. As my favorite Doctor says, allons-y!

Signs They Just Want Your MoneyFri, 5th Nov '10, 3:05 pm::

I'm skeptical of people who talk for a living. If you wrote a self-help book and now give lectures around the world talking about your book, chances are I want nothing to do with you unless everything you say is grounded on hard science. If what you say cannot be proven or disproven, I'm not interested, even if all of it might be true. This includes alternative medicine advocates, nutritionists, personality coaches, most business / leadership coaches, NLP counsellors, and definitely the followers of pseudosciences like astrology, faith / spiritual healing, dowsing, ghost hunting, homeopathy, magnet therapy, and ESP. I know many people in my personal life believe in some of the above but it doesn't bother me. After all, I'm a fan of a time-travelling Doctor from the extraterrestrial planet Gallifrey so who am I judge what someone else believes in.

I came across an interesting video yesterday titled Your Brain At Work by a business coach. While the title, presentation format, and mention of a business coach set off red-flags, I gave the video a shot because it was presented in the Google Tech Talk series. I was pleasantly surprised to find it had many moments of insight with the presenter constantly citing case studies and medical research to back up his claims. What he said obviously seemed very true. The brain indeed has a prefrontal cortex and certainly studies have shown it is important for complex thought processes and critical analysis. And personal experience tells me that humans certainly get affected by negative stimuli much more intensely than positive stimuli. The presenter certainly knows what he's talking about.

His words reinforced my understanding of the brain's functions and capabilities and I even mentioned it to my wife that she should watch this sometime. I was so impressed with the presentation's logical reasoning, structured format, and reliance on actual reason that I let my skeptical guard down and completely ignored all the subsequent red-flags that I always watch out for. This morning I decided to go back and review some of the research he cited before I shared the video with some of my friends and that's when the house of cards came falling down. None of the original research has been published in any well-known journal in the fields of neuroscience, brain, medicine, or even psychiatry. The presenter made substantial references to studies but they were conducted by him and most of them were published in a journal founded by him. He coauthored many of these studies with researchers with impressive CVs but some of these researchers were not even in the fields they conducted the research in. None of these are deal-breakers individually but when I spot a series of them, I step back and question a validity of the primary author.

While there is an easy way to sniff out bogus science, there is no tutorial on how to spot a life coach who wants a lot of money to teach you how to live better. So having failed to identify the lack of hard science last night in the presentation, I decided to make up a list of my own. This list is not a critical analysis of the video I watched yesterday but is just a model to help me and hopefully others.

Five Easy Signs They Just Want Your Money:

  • Bold, dynamic speaker: You need two things for someone to pay you to talk: (1) Have something worthwhile to say and (2) Be an awesome speaker. Most life coaches I've seen only have the second part and they do their very best to hide the lack of actual, original content in their presentations. But that is an art in itself as you'll see below.
  • Obvious facts get repeated: This is an easy one to spot. If you catch yourself agreeing with someone talk, that's a big red flag. Knowledge doesn't work like that. You have to work hard to understand scientific methods like path integral formulation. I'm learning a new programming language using online documentation and video presentations and I keep going back and forth every few minutes to make sure I really "get" it. If something as mundane as a programming language is that difficult, what makes you think someone can explain "how the human mind works" in 45 minutes? Asking 1,000 people whether they like red or blue after seeing green and concluding that the human mind prefers red is not science, despite gratuitous use of fMRI images. At best, it is a well-designed survey. The goal here is to make you feel like they know what they're talking about so you can feel like you're learning something. If I show you that I know something, then I talk about it, instantly you'll feel like you now know it too, especially if I ask easy to answer questions that cement your beliefs.
  • Generalizations abound: Real science is very, very specific. Generalization in science is very difficult, if not impossible in some fields. For almost a century now, many scientists including Einstein have tried and failed to come up with a unified theory of how everything works in the universe and so far, this remains an open line of research. Yet the guy on stage who wrote a book on herbs can explain everything about everything? Usually, speakers with a good grasp of one field will try to apply it to every problem that the audience presents. So a guy on stage selling vitamins will say there is a vitamin tablet for every single problem in your life, including your son who keeps getting into trouble at school, your boss who doesn't appreciate your hard work, and your business partner who keeps trying to steal your share. Another guy selling meditation tapes will tell you that meditation is the solution to all of the above problems and the guy selling "mind-body control" or "neuro-linguistic programming" will say his tools will fix everything. Beware of generalizations.
  • Unique perspective on the common: This one's a doozy. I said above that most speakers don't have anything new to say yet now I say having a unique perspective on a common phenomenon is a gotcha. The reason is that this is their big sell and how they managed to get on the stage. If there is absolutely nothing new in someone's talk, it is easy to call their bluff despite their dynamic hand-waving abilities. But if during all the hand-waving, the speaker makes you wonder "huh, I never thought of it that way" even once, then you've fallen hook, line, and sinker for their act. And every act needs a setup. The speaker's unique perspective is their thesis statement, their angle, their bait. "Have you ever felt like A, B, C? Believe it or not, but A, B, and C are all because of W, which is just an upside-down M!" Surely you never thought W being an upside-down M had anything to do with A, B, and C. So this person on stage must have some insight that you don't. Right?
  • Special acronyms & mnemonics: I saved the best one for the last because it is something EVERY SINGLE life coach does. They make up really cool, action-word-laden acronyms to help you remember the bad and the good. Often they'll put up a slide saying "The real cause of stress in life is DONKEY: D for Dishes, O for Office, N for Naggers, K for Karma, E for Enemies, and Y for YOU!" Hey, that sounds about right. This guy sure is insightful. And then they say "The solution to DONKEY is NOPANTS: N for Never giving up", O for Onomatopoeia, P for Palindromes, A for Ants, N for Nts, T for Ts, and S for Seriously, I'm done making this stuff up." There. Easy as pie. Making lame acronyms doesn't make anyone deep or insightful. It simply gives them more practice at making stuff up, something they're already doing when writing the rest of their speech. Instead of cheap acronyms, I prefer Steganography, "the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message." You want an example? Scroll up and read the first-letter of all five of these paragraphs :)

I really don't have a problem with experienced people teaching others how to do anything, including living a good life. Most of what I've learned is from others. However, I do have a problem with people who claim to have done SCIENCE and then when you dig in, turn out to have done no such thing. I don't expect a hair-dresser teaching an apprentice on how to curl hair to cite a dermatological journal. But if you talk about neuroscience, quantum mechanics, nanotechnology, or any hard science, you better be standing on firm ground. Quantum Thermodynamics is a wonderful field but you can't use it to explain why sometimes you feel like aliens are watching your every move.

Wed, 3rd Nov '10, 1:05 am::

It took me almost six hours today but I finally sorted through 4,000+ photos from our Out-West Voyage. Here are the photos from the trip, organized in ten small albums. I haven't added the captions yet but I plan on doing that over the next few days.

Sorting through a thousand photos isn't difficult when only one camera is used. In our case, we had Chris' Droid, Arthur's iPhone, my iPhone, and Arthur's DSLR. We all took pictures at different times in different places, though Arthur took the bulk of the hi-res pictures on his DSLR. Since we crossed back and forth many state lines and time zones, it is practically impossible to just sort the photos by date and time to get them all in the right order. I wanted to break up the photos into ten albums and put about 30 photos per album. So I imported all of the photos in iPhoto on my new Mac Mini and organized them manually. I do not retouch or edit any photos except for resizing them automatically for faster downloads.

This reminds me - I bought a used Mac Mini last week. I hooked it up to my 5th LCD and setup Synergy so that I can control my main PC and the Mac Mini using a single keyboard/mouse. I certainly have way too many computers and electronic devices in my house now. I have my main 8-core PC, an Acer laptop, the new Mac Mini, Juliet's HP laptop, a tiny laptop permanently connected to my TV, two iPhone 4s, an iPad 3G, an iTouch, a Nokia N800, and 2-3 old PCs locked in my closet. I'm planning on giving away the old PCs soon so it's not too bad. My main PC is now 3.5 years old but is just as fast as the day I bought it.

In other news, today my 'blog turns 9. When I started it in 2001, I had no idea I would still be updating it on a regular basis. Next year I might do something creative for my 'blog's 10 year birthday.

Wed, 27th Oct '10, 11:30 pm::

Home sweet home at last. I arrived home a few hours ago, safe and sound. I drove about 6,000 miles in the last two weeks, 2,500 of them since Monday. Zero tickets, no damage to my car or gear. I had a wonderful time driving back from Salt Lake City, Utah and am so glad to be home. My fingers hurt from holding on to the steering wheel for 15 hours today so I can't type much. I'll write more about the trip in the next few days. In nutshell, it was amazing and I can't wait to go on another one next year.

Presenting Cakesy.comSun, 3rd Oct '10, 11:10 pm::

I'm turning 30 tomorrow. Instead of getting emotional about the event, I made a cute little website called Cakesy.com that lets you write messages using fake-frosting on cakes. You can finally send a cake like this to your friends to tell them how you truly feel. My friend Tamara came up with the original idea for Cakesy and helped pick the different cake designs. She was also the inspiration behind the Team Maker app I wrote earlier this year. I don't know how she comes up with ideas that have such a high popularity to effort ratio.

Earlier today, Juliet and I went to play mini-golf with her family. We had a great time, had some yummy birthday dinner, and now we're watching Doctor Who on Netflix. Happy 30th to me in just under an hour :)

Success MatrixWed, 29th Sep '10, 6:30 pm::

I spent a considerable time this past month learning new systems, platforms, and tools to improve my skills in programming. Choosing what to learn is often quite a difficult task of its own because you never know how the 200 hours you spent learning a new technology will impact your skills, creativity, and the very way you think. One important thing I learnt while learning to learn is how to distinguish between tools and raw materials, and more importantly, why.

Tools are what you build the product with. Raw materials are what the product is built of. The fable of The Chicken and the Pig would be quiet appropriate here: No matter what you build, tools are involved but raw materials are committed. I used to spend a lot of time picking the right tools for the right job because that's what you're supposed to do. Yet I saw lots of examples of really crappy tools being used improperly in very successful products. On the other hand, I also saw very good tools being used properly in products that failed miserably. How could there be no correlation between the input and output? Turns out I was only looking at part of the input. What I should have been concentrating on, was the combination of the raw materials and tools:

Success MatrixStrong MaterialsPoor Materials
Strong ToolsDesigned to succeedAwaiting disaster
Poor ToolsAwaiting sweat & bloodDesigned to fail

Having a successful product certainly requires a lot more than strong raw materials and tools but having those two right gives you a strong foundation. That buildings and bridges built with poor materials fall is no shocker. What does surprise people every now and then is seeing something built with poor tools succeed. These products require a lot more sweat and blood to succeed but they can succeed indeed. I don't have first-hand knowledge working with the following tech sites but based on the information I've gathered from articles, interviews, and online postings, I would classify them in the success matrix as:

Success MatrixStrong MaterialsPoor Materials
Strong ToolsDropBoxXmarks
Poor ToolsOrkutCuil

The problem with technology (and the primary reason I decided to write this post) is that it is difficult to decide what is a tool and what is a raw material when in the end, it's just a bunch of 1s and 0s. If you're building a shed, wood and nails are raw material, axe and hammer are tools - no ambiguity at all. But for a web project, is the back-end database a tool or a raw material? What about the platform, the programming language, the framework, the client-end scripting library, the graphics engine, or the server host?

Since the difference is hard to spot, the question is if it even matters or not. I'd say it does, for one simple reason - raw materials cannot be changed after you've started building the product whereas tools can be, albeit at a minor cost. You can't switch from wood to cement half-way through a building project but you can certainly upgrade to a nail-gun from a hammer when your arms get tired. Using the ability-to-be-swapped as the primary condition, it can be easy to decide if something is a raw material or a tool in a tech project. Hosting? Usually a tool, unless you build your project solely for AWS. Programming language and framework? Usually a raw material unless the back-end is what's doing the bulk of the hard work and the front-end is simply a pretty proxy. Database engine? Could be a swappable tool if you abstract away all database-specific calls from your code.

Programmers often get into long arguments about which technology is right for the job and why you should use X and never use Y. Fact of the matter is, if something is a raw material for your product, take the time and do the research to make an educated guess. It will always be a guess because you never know what will happen in the future. If something is a tool, just pick something that gets you going quickly because if it doesn't work, you can always switch to something else later.

The walk of my lifeFri, 3rd Sep '10, 12:40 pm::

I took a long walk by myself today. I had been waiting for this walk all my life and it was everything I ever thought it would be. Most people plan for success, many plan for happiness, and the rest plan for difficult-to-achieve goals. I took a long walk to plan for balance and self-actualization. Now that I'm not working full-time, there are too many things I can make myself busy with. Most of the things I want to do are computer-related and if my past-experience is any indication, they will bring me temporary excitement, momentary fame, and years of bug-fixes, feature-requests, and unpaid tech-support emails. In short, every new project I pick up comes with life-long baggage and even though I love these little things, they prevent me from doing the big things I really want.

I began my walk with the goal of simplifying my life while still enabling me to do everything I want guilt-free. This includes lots of computer things, family-time, exercise, kayaking, self-improvement, and social commitments. After an hour of pondering, I came up with a weekly schedule that will be nearly identical every day:

My daily chores would fit between 6am-7am and 7pm-11pm. All my interesting projects would be during 8am-6pm. Once a month, I will reevaluate my open projects and make changes to my schedule as needed. As of right now, I have prior commitments for Monday and Wednesday, at least till the end of this year. This leaves five days where I can do anything I want during the day. These five days were the most difficult to allocate. While I'd love to spend all of my time working on cool web apps like most of my projects or ZetaBee, I came to a realization that this is a never-ending, never-finished list. These projects have brought me immense joy and experience but have also taken up a lot of my free time in the past.

Additionally, these projects also conflict with my nature adventures. I want to go kayaking all day or hike a long swampy trail without feeling guilty that I'm not working on x-y-z. Then there is a big issue of getting in The Zone, "a phrase used by software developers to mean the ultimate level of mental focus." Working on six different projects in the same week basically means you don't get in the zone for any of them - too much distraction and shallow focus. I want the ability to get in the zone so I can do something with absolute concentration and utmost dedication.

My solution is to split the projects into (a) ONE-BIG-PROJECT and (b) everything else. The one-big-project is what I'll work on during Thursday-Sunday so I can get in the zone. Everything else goes to my "Too-Much Tuesdays" bucket. Every Tuesday, I will get to pick what I want to do that day. If I need to work extra on a project because of prior commitments, I can do that. If I want to go kayaking, hiking, or just have a Star-Trek movie marathon, I can do that. If I want to take a day-trip with Juliet, I can do that.

My goal is to stick to my weekly schedule without fail and push anything that would prevent me from staying on track to the Tuesday bucket. This will free me from guilt, distractions, and unnecessary busy-work so that I can work on my one-big-project for days on end. For the foreseeable future, my one-big-project will be KType. KType will be a mix of software & hardware to help people with disabilities communicate better. I'm certain that I will be writing a lot more about it in the coming days.

To make sure I stick to my schedule, I'm now tracking my time using Toggl.com. If it works well for me, I will write about my experience and methodology. Personally, I've never been too obsessive about following a routine and as long as I stick to my general schedule, I'll be more than happy. The goal here is to not stick to schedules but to create new, useful tools that help others. The weekly schedule, time tracking tool, and all these plans are just to make sure I don't go off-track, broke, or lazy.

Our 2nd wedding anniversaryTue, 27th Jul '10, 7:00 am::

Today is our second wedding anniversary. For the past ten minutes, I have been trying to come up with something heartfelt to say about the past two years that does not sound cheesy, sappy, or copy-pasted from the last page of a romantic novel. Nobody can stand those annoying "happily-ever-after" couples in perfect relationships who rarely disagree, barely quarrel, and never leave each other's sides! No points for guessing, we are that couple.

I can't speak for Juliet's side of the story (because I am certain that I am a very difficult person to deal with 24/7) but from my end, these two years of marriage have been pretty much like living a dream. Our longest fight probably lasted 60 minutes and it was all my fault (according to her of course). Could I have predicted 2-3 years ago that I would be in such a healthy, loving relationship today? Absolutely not. Can I predict that things will always be this perfect in the future? Unfortunately not.

Then what's the point of writing about any of this instead of describing our dinner plans for tonight? The point is to capture a snapshot of my life as it is now, so no matter how the future turns out, someday I can look back at today and be nostalgic. The point is to admit that things are indeed good, even though I'm always scared of jinxing myself. The point is to confess that two years ago when she walked into my life, I was nervous as flip about our future, not because I didn't know her well but because I knew myself all too well.

While it would be sweet and romantic of me to describe how beautiful, wonderful, and smart she is, I really just want to congratulate myself for NOT SCREWING IT UP! While she deserves accolades for being the perfect-little Indian bride two months ago, I deserve the "Average Guy's Award for Making It Work With a Hottie." On a day to day basis, I don't think of her as anything other than my wife - the lovely woman who does my laundry, feeds our animals, and bugs me to fix this or clean that. It is only when I begin to write my 'blog or talk about her to a close friend that I realize how fortunate I am. And in addition to being lucky, I must be pretty damn awesome to have kept her interested in me all this time. I probably deserve an award for that too. At this rate, I'll soon need a new room just to store all my awards.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention this: Happy 2nd Anniversary hon!

Goodbye dear grandpaWed, 14th Jul '10, 7:00 am::

My grandfather (paternal) passed away about 8 hours ago. He was a very kind man and made friends everywhere he went. He helped anyone in need and always remembered to ask you about your family. He grew up in pre-Independence India and was the youngest of 11 siblings. My grandparents have been married for 55+ years, persevering through financial struggles, numerous family crises, and life & death traumas.

I just reviewed news from my dad that they cremated my grandfather and distributed his ashes in the Ganges. We've all known for a while that this day would come sooner or later and were mentally prepared to accept the fate. Even when the doctors had diagnosed him as brain-dead, it did not affect me; at least he was physically present in his bed in his room in his house in Kolkata, surrounded by his family. Maybe I was subconsciously hoping that he would wake up and get better. But now that he is physically no more, I can't stop crying.

As per the tradition, my family will be in mourning for the next 13 days.

Wed, 7th Jul '10, 7:45 pm::

July has been tough. My grandpa (Dad's dad in India) has been on life-support for almost a week now. He's 77 years old and has suffered from multiple strokes and diabetes for years now. The doctors issued a "Do not resuscitate" order for him yesterday. I talk to my family in India a couple of times a day but there has not been any change in his condition. There's not much to talk about. I'm so glad that Juliet and I met both my grandparents last month.

I've been pretty busy with work and things are only going to get tougher over the next 3-6 months. Juliet is working hard to graduate in December and in the meantime, I'm planning on paying off all of my student loans. I'm on the path to change my life such that starting 2011, I can concentrate on research. Not much else to say except wish me luck.

We went to the beach an hour ago. The water is warm yet soothing. I'm afraid the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is going to ruin the ecosystem here. A single hurricane that hits the Florida panhandle and pulls in the oil eastward, would be enough to destroy the hundreds of beaches, mangrove forests, and marine and plant life along the entire west coast of Florida for years to come. Here's hoping that doesn't happen.

Wed, 30th Jun '10, 11:05 pm::

Salman Khan is a famous Indian actor with over two decades of box office success. Recently, another Salman Khan is gaining fame because of a different kind of audience he holds captive. This Salman Khan, or "Sal" as he likes to call himself, is an educator unlike any other you've heard before. Sal runs one of the most popular and prolific online universities in the world, Khan Academy, from his home. Khan Academy is an ever-growing collection of YouTube videos that aim to teach a variety of subjects from math to history and biology to physics.

Sal scribbles down math equations on a digital blackboard and narrates each step of the equation in a very soothing but not boring tone. These lectures last 10-15 minutes and cover a small part of a subject. Currently there are about 140 videos spanning the subject of "Linear Algebra" and I've reviewed the sixth video in the series so far. I am in the process of reviewing a lot of math that I haven't touched since graduating from college six years ago. I plan on doing a lot of independent research over the next 6-12 months and I need to learn a lot of math behind digital signal processing, computer vision, and audio synthesis. That means hundreds of hours of learning calculus, linear algebra, physics, and complex numbers.

I've known about the Khan Academy for many years but didn't bother checking out any videos because I felt it was meant for middle and high school students. Indeed, that is how Sal started making these videos - to help his nieces and nephews with their school work. However, now that I actually want to relearn a lot of stuff I've learnt in the past but forgotten over time, I find Sal's videos to be perfect for me. They are very straightforward, he explains almost every detail, and since it's YouTube, you can rewind or skip sections easily. I watch a 15 minute video in about 8-9 minutes. However, there are some parts I watch 2-3 times if I don't understand them the first time around.

I've been listening to Sal's voice for three days now and I'm certain I will continue to do so daily for the next six months. I looked at a lot of other OpenCourseWare, including free classes by MIT and nothing comes even close in terms of quality to Sal's videos. I think the real reason is that while all the large universities are trying to upload videos of in-class lectures by professors and making books, notes, and exams available online, Sal is concentrating on what matters most - simple and clear instructions in small, digestible doses. An MIT OpenCourseWare lecture on Computer Algorithms is daunting. Each lecture is between 60 and 90 minutes long and contains slides, related content, assignments, exams, projects, multiple downloadable formats, and group discussions. Sal's videos run full-screen and have no distractions, interruptions, or extra work. If you want to truly learn a subject, Sal's videos are what you need. If you want to get the in-school experience of doing homework, assignments, and exams, then get started with OpenCourseWare from any number of universities.

My goal is to learn many different subjects in a short span of time. So in addition to Sal's videos, I'm reading books, writing programs to solve some of the new problems I encounter, and reviewing any scientific papers that interest me. 2011 will be an exciting year for sure. I can't wait to catch up on everything I missed.

One of my favorite comedians - George CarlinSat, 26th Jun '10, 10:05 am::

Every now and then, I'll come across someone who does not understand or appreciate standup comedy by the likes of George Carlin and Bill Hicks. Someone on reddit.com commented that they don't see why people love Carlin, after all every quote of his sounds like any angry-old man could have said it. That is indeed true; there is no lack of bitter old men making wise-ass comments like "Stop whining. Be a man. Screw the world." In fact, any single quote by Carlin could be mistaken as having been authored by Lewis Black, Ron White, Dennis Leary, or even a Twitter account.

However, the reason people love Carlin quotes is because they have also heard the other thousands of sentences that make up his entire standup act. His standup acts were brilliant and sliced through the world to show you every little piece of BS like an MRI machine. A single sentence just serves to remind us of Carlin's ideologies, which till the day he died were original and untainted. He also had a way with words.

People love Carlin because he influenced the way they think. It is because of Carlin that I don't worry about "Saving the Planet." It is because of Carlin that I "love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to." Carlin is one of the hundred people whose words, wisdom, and wit have made me who I am today. Penn & Teller have influenced my thinking and views on the world in a similar way. My wife and I have rescued over 10 pets and I say Screw PETA! Add to this list comedians like Bill Hicks, Louis CK, and Woody Allen.

I aspire to have original ideas and always seek to make my own decisions based on the facts and relevant opinions. Listening to comedians like Carlin improved my skills in critical thinking and my ability to discern facts from opinions and biases from agendas. It took my thinking to a whole new level and taught me to question everything. I would say it is because of Carlin that I know I will NEVER stand in line 6 hours for a new iPhone. His standup on "Stuff" has certainly influenced my real life. I live in a 800 sq. ft. house when I can easily afford a 3,000 sq. ft one. I don't buy and hoard stuff because his act sliced through my life and made me realize stuff is just stuff. Now I'd rather spend $100 to spend a whole day at a theme-park doing stupid things with my wife and friends than buy the latest gizmo.

Pick a day when you have nothing to do for 6 hours and listen to some old and some new Carlin material. You'll realize the man was a true genuis. If nothing, your BS-detector will get a good workout next time you watch the news.

Sinister MeThu, 17th Jun '10, 7:10 pm::

People usually forget how sinister I can be on a day to day basis. Juliet lost her car/home keys while shopping at Walmart yesterday and almost had a nervous breakdown this morning when she couldn't find them after searching through her purse, dresser, book-bag, and every nook and cranny of the house for a solid 30 minutes. I gave her spare keys (I always keep all of our spares in a very clearly marked area just for instances like this) and she left for work on time. She called me while on her way and asked if I could go to Walmart and look for her keys. I said "Sorry hun, I have a lot of work to do and I'm not sure if I'll be able to get to Walmart today." She sighed "Alright... I'll search our home once again and go there myself tomorrow."

I called Toyota on my way to work and asked how much a new set of keys would cost. They said it would be about $50 so it's not really a big deal. I called Home Depot and asked how much to make a new set of keys for our house and it's pretty cheap too. I called Juliet and left her a message saying not to worry about her keys because we can get replacements for everything at under $75. She called me back and said I am awesome because I'm so understanding and helpful.

After work, I went to Walmart, found her keys in the lost-and-found bin, and just got home. I put her keys inside the purse that she already searched three different times. She has been freaking out all day about these keys, been feeling guilty for losing them, been feeling guiltier that I have been so understanding and not mad at all. She'll be home in a few hours and find the keys in her purse. She'll immediately say I went to Walmart and put them in her purse. For the subsequent 10 minutes, I'll deny going to Walmart and express my shock at how she can't find her own keys in her own purse! Then after she accepts that maybe she didn't look hard enough this morning, I will show her this blog entry.

I expect to sleep on the sofa tonight but I think it'll be totally worth it.

Update: I received a lot of punches and kicks between 9pm and 10pm last night for my shenanigans. Totally worth it though.

Sun, 13th Jun '10, 10:00 pm::

I know it took forever but I finally uploaded the 600 pictures from our Indian Vacation & Wedding. It took me about 7 hours to go through thousands of photographs from many different cameras and I haven't even begun to check out the videos (there's probably 5-6 hours of HD video footage). I will also write a detailed log of our entire trip very soon. For now, it's time to watch the season finale of Breaking Bad.

Types of MoneyWed, 5th May '10, 8:15 am::

I wish I could 'blog in my sleep. Last night as I was falling asleep, I made an epiphanic observation about money, or at least it seemed so to me. I don't know one person whose life hasn't been tremendously influenced by the amount of money they have or don't have. People have too little, too much, or in case of the wise few, just the right amount of money. They work too hard, not at all, or just the right amount. They spend too much, too little, or just the right amount. How we feel about money depends on whether it's coming in, going out, owed, borrowed, found, or lost. We measure the worth of time and things in money and we measure the worth of money in time and things.

Having studied the economics of money and banking, I can describe how governments, corporations, and banking institutions are supposed to quantify and measure money, growth, and investment in theory. But in practice, what it all really comes down to is how individuals truly "feel" about money, regardless of how large the sum of money is. How we feel about money comes from our intuition and understanding of the situation. Intuition and understanding are important because there is no proven method of minimizing the risk in any financial decision. If there was a scientifically provable formula for making money without any risk, not only would the owner become the richest person in a very short time but public disclosure of such a formula would bring down every economy because nobody would invest in stock market, small companies, or even their own self when there is a certified way to make money elsewhere without any risk whatsoever. To make a lot of money, just apply the formula more often, to a larger sum of money. It would be no different from grinding in a multi-player video game.

What our entire financial future boils down to is how we feel about different kinds of money. Money you earn by working really hard is different from money you inherited. Money you pay to send your child to school is really different from the money you pay to get them out of jail. Money you have in the bank is different from the money I have in the bank. $100 means a lot to you, it means less to me, and nothing to someone else. This is the force that runs the world economy. If we all felt the same about money, then there would be no luxury goods - they'd either be staples or non-existent. If everything is a staple good then nobody would want to invest in such a competitive market. So it is a very good thing that we all feel differently about money.

The following is my attempt to classify income/earned money as I know, feel, and observe. By no means is it a comprehensive list so feel free to share your "money types".

1. Sweat-Blood money: You worked hard for this money. It didn't come to you easily. You can proclaim loudly that you got it legally, honestly, and justly. You made a tremendous effort and large sacrifices to obtain this chunk of change and you deserve every penny of it. This is often the most satisfying money to earn and save. It is tough to spend this money on frivolous expenses but very satisfying to spend on things that helps yourself and others.

2. Guilt money: You feel guilty that you got this money, regardless of whether you deserve it or not. You will accept this money because you have bills to pay but something inside of you keeps nagging you about how you shouldn't have gotten this money. But you won't return it because you need it. You may have borrowed money from a friend and now that they don't speak to you anymore, it feels like guilt money. You may have done some work you are not too proud of and made some guilt money to pay the rent. The only good thing about guilt money is that it is spent almost immediately, unlike "Give-it-back money."

3. Give-it-back money: This is the money you would give back immediately if you could go back in the past and change something. Life-insurance money falls into this. If you'd rather have someone not die, then the inheritance is give-it-back money. Also if you truly hurt someone in the process of making this money and regret it every day, it's give-it-back money. There is nothing good about give-it-back money except it is usually a large sum.

4. Bank-error money: Someone in the bureaucracy screwed up and now you find yourself marginally richer. Congrats! Keep it in the bank and earn interest on it. DO NOT SPEND IT immediately! If you got an extra paycheck because of data-entry error in the payroll system, chances are that after 6 months, nobody will notice it. Keep mum and enjoy the tiny fortune. A million dollar error will be fixed (and someone is getting fired). $250 error will be ignored. Bank-error money is like finding an extra cookie in the 6-cookie packet. It won't change your life but it will brighten your day. So smile!

5. Found money: The problem with found money is that it is also "Lost money" for someone. If it's less than $20, it is no different from "Bank-error money." The person who lost it will curse but get over themselves. But anything above $20 could quite possibly be a significant loss to an average person. Imagine a single-mother of two with bills to pay who loses $75? Try to return it if at all possible. Donate it if you can't. Keep it if you are really poor. But realize that it could turn into "Guilt money" very easily.

6. Networked money: This is the money you make because you know someone who knows someone. This is the money rich old guys make because they all know each other and can make a lot of money for each other by playing nice, at the expense of a thousand others. There is nothing inherently wrong with networked money as long as it doesn't screw others. However, the big problem with it is that it often masquerades as "Sweat-Blood money." So the guys who really made millions because they knew the right people now think they earned it by being smart, hard-working, and innovative. Hello Wall Street!

7. Me-too money: This is a very dangerous yet prevalent variant of "Networked money." Only reason you make this money is because all your peers make this money. You don't really care about this money, you don't even know how to spend this kind of money, but you earn it because you're supposed to. You have a PhD in an engineering field? You gotta make 150k by age 45. Your cousins are all making $100k as mid-level managers? So must you. This is the worst reason to make money because you're exchanging something you value, your time, for something you don't need. When you realize what you've spent a decade or two of your life chasing money, you might think it's all "Guilt money" but there's a slight difference - you needed the "Guilt money", you didn't need "Me-too money."

8. Lottery money: Almost everyone wants this, even those who swear by "Sweat-Blood money". This money brings the promise of getting anything you want. It is the shortcut that bypasses "Networked money" and "Me-too money." In addition to actual lottery winners, major sport-stars and celebrities also earn this money. If the money you make is disproportionately higher than the effort you make, it is no different from a lottery. You could be the great musician in the world but if you make more money than the GDP of the 150th country in the world, you ran into some lottery money. The best part about lottery money is that there is no guilt, no need to give-it-back, and nobody lost anything for you to obtain this money. It is a no-strings-attached manna from heaven. What could possibly go wrong? Except... reality. Unless you have extreme self-control and are smart with finances, you will lose this money. You will buy things you don't need to impress people you don't care about. In that respect it is not much different from "Me-too money." The primary difference is the number of zeros at the end. You can put this money to very good use but most probably you'll throw your wife or daughter a huge birthday party on an exotic island. Then you will give it to the "Networked money" or "Loop-hole money" guys and lose it all.

9. Minted money: Though often confused with "Lottery money", money made via very successful and smart ventures is minted money. It is often a combination of "Sweat-Blood money" and "Networked money" though the main difference lies in the immense scale of the operations. Founders of Google, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and PayPal minted money. They created entire markets around their products and not only grew themselves but also made everyone who worked with them rich. These people created products that filled specific needs and provided value to the users. A lot of technology startups hope to mint money in their steps, though most of them are really just hoping for "Crapshoot money." Minted money is often denounced as "Loop-hope money" and the latter often presents itself as minted money.

10. Crapshoot money: If you are a smart, creative person and saw your parents work themselves to death to make some "Sweat-Blood money", you know there has to be a better way to make it in the world. You've figured out that lottery, networked, or me-too money is for schmucks with poor statistical skills and no vision. You have skills, raw talent, and the drive to live on nothing but dreams, vision, and sheer hope. You are in this to mint money! Sorry. You're just aiming for crapshoot money. Like the YouTube guys. And Facebook, Twitter, and BroadCast.com. You have a good product, you certainly do. It's unique, interesting, and usable. You have the eyeballs, PR, and smart people. What you don't have is something that people will pay money for over and over again. You're hoping to either be bought out, sell ads, or sell data. You are betting on luck and a lot of it. There is a silver-lining to this cloud. Even if you do not completely succeed in your goals of changing the world, you could make more than enough money to buy a Château or two. There's nothing really wrong with crapshoot money. It is well-deserved, requires just as much sweat and blood as any hard-earned money. It just relies on getting tremendously lucky. And the biggest problem is that when you do succeed, you're going to deny luck was even involved. Nope, it was sweat and blood the whole way.

11. Loop-hole money: What do you do if you are exceedingly smart yet too impatient to wait a decade or two till you mint money? You find a loop-hole. You seek arbitrage opportunities. You create structured investment vehicles to invest in asset-backed securities without providing investors any transparency. You are far above the "Networked money" guys. You are the genius in the Ivory Tower who consistently grows money. You are the brain-child behind Enron. You run Goldman Sachs. You bring down commodities markets in Asian countries so you can efficiently conduct a hostile takeover. Those "Minted money" guys may be wealthier and smarter than you but your shrewdness gives them nightmares. "Networked money" guys want to be you. "Lottery money" makers think they are you. And "Sweat-Blood money" guys would loathe you if they knew you existed. Fortunately for you, they're busy blaming the "Networked money" folks.

12. No money: You don't want money or things. Money is just to provide the bare essentials of food, clothing, and shelter. You don't want a car, boat, or even a cake on your birthday. Somehow money just never caught your eye. You may or may not have passions and aspirations. As satisfied as you may be with your situation, unfortunately people think you're poor, hippie, or just plain unambitious. But it's alright. You go write that book or song. Go ahead and make that website or a widget to make cars use less fuel. You might succeed and end up with some "Crapshoot money" or you may not. Who cares? You have nothing to lose. Carpe diem, baby.

13. Old money, dirty money, blood money, FU money: You have so much money you don't even know what to do with it. You don't care how you got it. Maybe your dad is a billionaire. Maybe he sold guns to both sides in a war. Maybe you overthrew the democratically elected leader and proclaimed yourself the dictator-for-life. Maybe you took bribes, commission, or whatever dirty money you could get your hands on. After all, you worked hard for this money! The world's a dirty place and you're just a small town rube trying to make it in the big bad city. Money is money. Those holier-than-thou "Sweat-Blood money" types should just fess up and admit they don't have the drive and ambition to compete in this world. There is not much good that can come out of old or dirty money. The only good thing is that it slowly dwindles down to "Networked money" and then disappears in a generation or two.

There are many other kinds of income/earned money I can list but I'd say most everything fits into one or at most two of the slots above. There is a whole another side to money when it comes to spending it. Maybe I'll write about it some other day. In the meantime, which income/earned money type do you think you are?

Wed, 28th Apr '10, 9:45 pm::

This past weekend I went kayaking and camping with a group of other kayakers in the Chassahowitzka National Park. We kayaked a total of 22 miles over two days and camped out on different uninhabited islands. Check out the pics here.

I am typing this from my new iPad that I purchased for my parents. It is pretty slick and easy to use. Thankfully they will no longer have to worry about viruses and spyware. If I like using this myself then I will buy a 3G-enabled version once I come back from India. Our trip is less then a month away and I can't wait.

Sat, 10th Apr '10, 5:00 pm::

I just got back from kayaking with Juliet at Chassahowitzka. Last week I went kayaking around Dunedin Spoil Islands, Three Rooker Bar, and Honeymoon Island. Tomorrow I'm going to Caladesi Island. It's finally beautiful weather and I don't want to stay a minute indoors. We had a really rainy, gloomy winter this year and I have been dying to go kayaking for months now.

I did get a little sunburn from 8 unplanned hours in the sun last weekend but it's all ok now. Next weekend, my friend Arthur from New Jersey is visiting us and we plan on going kayaking too. And I'm going kayaking/camping with a bunch of other local kayakers on April 23. It will be a 35-mile kayak trail over three days and we will camp out in different places along the way. I'm pretty excited about it. Tonight, we're going to a comedy club with Sandra and Matt.

Meanwhile, my parents are planning our Indian-style wedding in India. We're so excited. Less than 45 days before we fly off to India!

Religious tolerance in IndiaMon, 29th Mar '10, 7:25 am::

I came across this article about Hindu pilgrims celebrating a Muslim warrior in Kerela. The article talks about how Hindus visit various temples and also a specific mosque as part of the pilgrimage. Most people outside of India don't know how much Indians truly respect and accept the religions of others in day to day life. Despite the frequent news stories of religious-hate-fueled riots, most Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Jains all coexist very peacefully. It doesn't matter if you are a Sikh or not, you get used to saying "Sat Sri Akal" whenever you come across an elderly Sikh person. You say "Eid Mubarak" to Muslims on their holy days. You say "Merry Christmas" (not happy holidays) to a Christian and you learn to say "Jai Jinendra" to Jains.

It is understood that everyone has a religion and you are not only supposed to tolerate it but accept and respect it. Sayings like "Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai; Aapas mein hai bhai-bhai" (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians are brothers) are taught to children from early age. The truth is, teaching people to respect others' religions reinforces one's belief that their own religion has to be equally respected. On the other hand, atheists get no respect in India. "Nastik" meaning atheist is considered a dirty word. It is ok to be any religion, just not no religion.

Fri, 26th Mar '10, 8:20 am::

Now that the weather is warm and the mornings are back to being beautiful, I started running this week. I take our puppy Jack with me and we walk, jog, and run about 2 miles each morning. I'm running for fun and health, not preparing for a race. Even if I decide to race, I plan on maintaining my 2-miles/day routine. I'm planning on a kayak trip next month with a bunch of other local kayakers. It'll be a weekend-long paddle and camping trip. I'm pretty damned excited and can't wait.

Sat, 20th Mar '10, 10:55 pm::

I finally have a few photos of our house now that we have new tiles and fresh paint. We're still in the process of setting up furniture and decorations and will be done in about 2 more weeks. Today was a pretty busy day. We spent most of the day assembling wooden file cabinets for my home-office. While cleaning out my office, Juliet mentioned to me that she had never built a campfire. So we built one in the backyard. We had some marshmallows and destroyed miscellaneous incriminating evidence. Having a backyard rocks.

Trypophobia sucksFri, 12th Mar '10, 8:15 am::

For as long as I can remember, I've been a trypophobe. Trypophobia is the irrational fear of clusters of holes, pods, circles, cracks, cuts, and other asymmetrical shapes especially those found in nature. When I look at these things, I get very uneasy, grossed out, and sometimes even nauseous. Some of the things that have this effect on me include lotus seed pods, pumice, holes in concrete, bug tunnels in wood, enlarged pores of the skin, bone marrow, Wasps' nest, and bubbles in dough.

My phobia extends not only to that but also to some textures and patterns that are irregular and not symmetrical. However, not all irregular patterns gross me out, nor do all clusters of holes make me feel uneasy. I used to think I was the only one till I came across an online discussion about textures and their effects. This blog post by another trypophobe definitely rang true to me.

Juliet is pretty good at identifying what kind of textures might gross me out and warns me beforehand, usually she's correct. I don't think I'll ever get over this fear but then I don't really care enough to. It's just one of those little things that makes me, me.

Violated by Chat RouletteWed, 10th Feb '10, 10:45 pm::

Juliet and I just spent about 30 minutes on Chat Roulette and I swear I never want to visit that website ever again. Chat Roulette lets you chat using a webcam with strangers from around the world. At first glance, it looks like a great idea - harnessing the power and diversity of the Internet to see and talk to people from around the world. But in reality, we talked to at most five decent people for about five minutes total during the half-hour. The rest of the time we ended up being shocked by how insulting, racist, idiotic, and just plain rude everyone was. I have a pretty strong stomach for criticism and insults but I seriously felt violated at times because people were saying things to our face that you only see in prison movies. My faith in humanity just took a nose-dive tonight.

In slightly more civil news, I started reading In Defense of Food. I will write more about it once I've read it. Till then it's work, college, and regular home life.

Fri, 29th Jan '10, 7:30 am::

In 2001, I bought my first LCD, a 19" Princeton Graphics monitor for $1200. In 2004, I bought two Dell 19" for $600 each to replace the original LCD. In 2007, three Dell 19" LCDs for $400 each to replace the two Dells. Now, I can buy six 23" LCDs for approx. $200 each for a total cost of about $1200. It's funny how the number of monitors continues to increase while the total nominal investment remains constant.

I had been talking on and on for years about getting a 6-LCD setup and I'd even predetermined what I'd do with each LCD in a 3x2 layout (top1: IM/Chat, 2: Graphics Editor, 3: Putty/Shell, bottom 4: FTP/Explorer, 5: Text Editor, 6: Browsers). My techie friends laughed at me but at a resolution of about 2048x1152/LCD, I would have ample resolution for just about everything and I wouldn't have to alt-tab at all. My productivity in web-development would absolutely sky-rocket. And since could rig my own stand to hold the 6 LCDs in place instead of buying one for $600, I could get my dream-setup for about $1500. I had built my workstation in 2007 to easily handle 6 DVI ports when the time was right. Now all I needed was an excuse to splurge.

Last month, two of my Dell 19" LCDs died, leaving me with just one monitor. My wife joked that I needed new monitors because she didn't wanna be married to some one-LCD guy. She practically kicked me out of bed and told me to find my 6-LCD X-Mas gift. I spent three hours surfing Newegg, Dell Outlet etc. and finally found my dream setup. Right before I clicked 'Place Order' I yelled out "Honey if I click this button, I'm never leaving my computer room." I don't think she heard me but I clearly did and for some weird reason I didn't like it. I cleared my cart and started looking for a laptop instead.

I've always been anti-laptops because come on, how can you even compare a 3 or 6-LCD setup to a laptop with a tiny screen, tiny keyboard, and crappy batteries. However, something went off in my head at that point and I realized I didn't want my perfect 6-LCD setup even though it was right there in front of me. I have wanted 6-LCDs every single day for the past decade - ever since I started making websites. But it was when I yelled that I don't want to leave my room that I realized that I actually do want to leave my room.

Now I take my laptop with me everywhere I go and program whenever/wherever I want to. It's a very big change for me and my productivity has definitely taken a hit. However, my desire to code has risen and that is important. Who cares if I'm capable of being highly productive if I don't feel like it most of the time? I guess the take-home lesson here is that it is not the specs but the environment and experience the setup fosters. I still might buy my 6-LCDs someday, if I ever have a crazy do-or-die idea, but for now I'm just happier with a laptop.

Tue, 12th Jan '10, 11:55 pm::

I grew up playing with Lego and similar building-block toys but once I fell in love with software, I pretty much forgot that I could tinker with hardware too. For about two decades now I've been writing code to make computers do whatever I want them to do. Meanwhile my opinion of hardware has been that it is a failure-prone black-box that my beloved software needs to run on. If I could program tomatoes and watermelons to send email, share photos, and add numbers, I would throw away all my personal computers and go grocery shopping immediately. But since I am unable to do that as of yet, I will do the next best thing and start playing with building-blocks and hardware again.

A lot has changed in the past decade in the world of hobbyist hardware. There is a whole ecosystem now surrounding a tiny computer called Arduino that costs only $30. Arduino lets anyone write small programs that can interact with the world using sensors and motors to make things happen in rea-life. No matter how smart my code is on a regular computer, the most effect it can have on the real-world is to send an automated text-message or make a loud noise unless I buy some expensive hardware. Arduino can let me turn on/off LED lights, measure room temperature, detect infrared light, turn on/off motors, and much more. Basically, now my Lego toys can cheaply become tiny machines or robots and the best part is that I still get to write software to make it all work together.

I'm still waiting for my Arduino to arrive and already have an idea for my first, second, and third projects. The good thing is that being a beginner in this field, I get to learn a lot of new things in a very short span of time. After you have been working in a field for a decade or more, coming across new things becomes a rare event. It's not everyday that I hear about a revolutionary programming language or database system. But a tiny $30 PC that can inform me when my cats enter the kitchen? That's revolutionary!

Sat, 2nd Jan '10, 1:00 am::

Of all the ways I could have imagined starting the year 2010, I highly doubt "working 16 hours straight on New Year's Day" would have been on the list. At any manufacturing or warehousing company, year-end financials are always a big deal and since I maintain the core database, I have to make sure all the transactions are done properly. In addition to that, long weekends are perfect time for me to make upgrades to our computing infrastructure. So this means I've had a boatload of things to do between Dec 31, 2009 and Jan 4, 2010. I'm about half-way done and as of yet, no major catastrophes.

Oh ya... Happy New Year!

Sun, 20th Dec '09, 12:55 pm::

This is how you MUST watch the new movie Avatar by diretor James Cameron of the Titanic, Terminator, and Aliens fame: Buy tickets to Avatar in 3D at an IMAX theater and sit in the center, middle section. Anything less will not deliver the true visual experience. While the storyline itself is not completely novel, the presentation and experience is. If movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter talk about magical lands, Avatar takes you to them. All I can say is that at the end of the movie, everyone wants to leave Earth and be in Pandora, the world this movie is set in.

Sat, 19th Dec '09, 12:45 am::

We went to our company's Christmas party tonight and had such a blast. The party began with the company president Eric Dann (my boss) taking the stage and announcing that there were prizes hidden under some of the chairs! A frantic ruckus ensued immediately and only calmed down after the prizes were found. Having grabbed everyone's attention, Eric talked about how Formulated Solutions has grown from just three partners to almost a hundred employees in the past ten years. His joke about how he sees all of us more than his own family made everyone laugh but it rang true for many of us who have spent countless evenings and late nights making things work.

Starting a manufacturing company in the US and growing steadily in the face of economic downturns, outsourcing, and tremendous competition is the very definition of entrepreneurship and perseverance. Having been a part of the company for almost six years, I feel very proud of how far we have come along through all the ups and downs. It has been a constant challenge for me to support this growth and no matter how stressful the work days get, it feels good to be a part of a company that continues to move forward.

After a wonderful dinner, the free "casino" opened and we got fake $1,000 coins each to bet on Black Jack, Craps, Poker, and my favorite, Roulette. Juliet had an amazing streak of luck throughout the night at the Roulette table and in the final round of play, bet on the number 32 and won! This put us into the lead with combined winnings of (fake) $68,300. While we didn't get to cash those coins (alas), we still came home with a nice prize. We have a busy week ahead of us and then we get to vacation in the Keys. I can't wait...

Tue, 15th Dec '09, 12:05 am::

2010 is just two weeks away and life is moving along swimmingly. School is almost over, work is going well, and the pets are healthy and cuddly at home. 2009 was a very stressful year for both Juliet and I because of school, work, travel, and immigration. We hope to end the year with a relaxing weekend down in the Florida Keys. I can't wait.

One of the things occupying my free time these days is independent research. I've been researching about computer vision for some time now and have started to learn about various algorithms that enable computers to detect faces, eyes, cars, and other objects. I've always been fascinated by image recognition and have lately been spending a few hours every other evening reading research papers on the subject. I don't have much to share at the moment but I'm fairly certain that I will be talking more about this topic in the coming months. My goal for 2010 is to dedicate a significant portion of my free time to independent research so that I will be well-prepared when I get into a PhD program.

Wed, 25th Nov '09, 10:40 pm::

Yesterday evening we ripped off all the carpet in our house and earlier this morning I dumped off all the smelly carpet pieces in the landfill. Under the carpet was a pretty decent layer of laminate wood. It is much cleaner than carpet but still not decent enough. We will be getting tiles in our entire house pretty soon. I've been saving for new tiles for a while now and it's about time to get them installed. I also moved around the furniture in the living room and my computer room and the house now has a lot more open space.

We're going to Juliet's grandma's house tomorrow for Thanksgiving Dinner. I have an exam and a presentation due on Monday so this weekend will be study-time once again. Tonight, Juliet and I are watching a bunch of movies.

Don't blackmail yourselfSun, 15th Nov '09, 10:25 am::

I came across a post on Hacker News this morning on "how to be successful by blackmailing yourself." The basic idea is that if you really don't want to do something then you should tell everyone how you will do it, thereby forcing yourself to do it by way of guilt and emotional blackmail. The author suggests that you should "use the power of blackmail whenever you feel that urge to avoid a certain piece of work (you know, the one you really should be working on right now)." It's the last fragment within parentheses that I want to talk about.

Don't compel yourself to do anything you don't want to. Don't guilt yourself into thinking that you should be doing something else instead of what you really want to do. People need to stop doing this in the name of productivity, efficiency, ambition, or goals. Instead, focus your energy on making yourself realize why something must be done, if it needs to be done at all. If you can convince yourself that it needs to be done, then you will have no problem doing it and will in fact do it willingly. If you can't convince yourself why it needs to be done, then you should do something to make sure you don't have to do it.

E.g., writing a school paper for a class you don't much care for. That is something that happens to me because some of my required Masters classes are a bit too easy (in fact my undergrad courses in the same subjects were much more advanced). I tell myself that life is a learning experience and writing well is an art that I must continually practice to remain proficient, regardless of the subject matter or specific task at hand. Knowing that this one 10-page assignment is a small piece of the bigger jigsaw puzzle of my life as student makes me want to work on it. Not because I love the class but because I see how this particular assignment fits into the big plan I have previously made. I always try to stick with my big plans unless there is a true reason not to. Is a 10-page assignment a true reason not to stick with my Masters degree and my academic plans? No. Then it is something that will take me one step closer to my final goal. Who doesn't want to take one more step in the right direction?

I don't play tricks with my brain or try to excite myself by small goals or high-scores (try to get an A+ in a 10-page paper I wrote in 2 hours). I see a lot of advice in such motivational posts that are mostly tricks and advice on lying to yourself. I don't set my clocks 10 minutes ahead. I try to understand why it must be so instead of fooling myself and hoping that a safety-net for my follies will somehow help me.

Why do I work on the really boring project at work that nobody else wants to help me on? Because I understand that this is something that helps with the bigger picture of my career. If it doesn't, then I will make sure I don't have to do it. I don't want to live a life avoiding things that must be done or playing tricks on myself just so I do things I don't want to do. If I sit back and truly don't want to do something, I make sure I don't have to do it.

This doesn't mean I look forward to doing the dishes. Wife and I both hate doing the dishes and we avoid using too many pots and pans while cooking. However, I do the dishes whenever I can because it makes the misses happy and that is my bigger goal. Doing the dishes gets me one step closer to marital bliss and who doesn't want that? Do I really want to claim "honey I will do the dishes" and do them reluctantly only because I claimed that publicly? Or do I do the dishes willingly because it makes my wife happy and thus me happy?

Waiting to change my life aroundSat, 31st Oct '09, 11:25 pm::

I haven't written much here lately and I thought that it was because of my busy schedule. Earlier today Juliet and I took a stroll along the beach and we came across hundreds of women and men running for breast-cancer awareness and cure. As we cheered all the runners on, my mind went back to my months of training this summer and I realized why I have not felt like writing much in a while. I love writing when I am making big plans or in the process of changing myself or my situations. At this point in my life, I am not in a planning phase but a doing phase. I am going to graduate school, working hard at my job, and taking care of my zoo at home. This is a period in my life where I don't pick up new things every week but instead stick with the boring but important plans I made previously and push through with my best efforts.

Most people either plan a lot or work a lot but not both. This means they either end up hoping for great things but don't do anything or they do a lot without much forethought. I can't say I'm not guilty of that myself but I've got better at doing both planning and hard work in succession over time. In the past when I got into my work-hard phase, I used to fear that I've lost my aptitude for thinking big but now I know that is not so. It's very enticing to take up a fun project on the side and concentrate so hard on it that the rest of my life gets ignored. While I love that kind of excitement, it takes me away from the bigger goals in my life.

I want to finish my Masters and then in a few years, get into a Doctoral Program. I want to change my life around so research and invention play a bigger role than web design and programming. However, I cannot do that today without making a lot of people around me miserable and hurt. The time is not right. I cannot drop everything right now and instantly do whatever I want, no matter how badly I want it. So till then, I'm making the best of my present life and working hard in school and my job.

The way I see it, the planning phase is when I apply the knowledge I've gained over time to shape the course of my life. That is when I am open to new ideas and find out what excites and motivates me. The doing phase is when I don't waver from my plans no matter what and learn the skills I will need for the rest of my life. Right now I'm learning about project management at school and at work. I'm also learning about business processes, what happens in their absence, and how to make them work so people don't have to. While this may have nothing directly to do with my eventual PhD, I know these skills with help me throughout the course of my life. Things are pretty mundane lately but I know that every night I go to bed slightly more knowledgeable than when I woke up. This lets me sleep better because I know I'm slowly but steadily moving forward.

Two-spaces at the end of sentencesSun, 11th Oct '09, 11:55 pm::

I have been working on a group assignment for my class all evening. I would just like to tell all those people who use two spaces at the end of every sentence in a document to kindly take their respective posteriors down to the fiery domain of Beelzebub. It's 2009. We have proportionally-spaced fonts instead of mono-spaced text. Everything written online is automatically converted to single space because web-browsers treat one or more space characters as a single space. You may have experienced this yourself when trying to make a 'blog post or comment online. You actually have to use a special code to force web-browsers to render multiple space characters in a row.

Since we have charts and graphs in our paper that use a series of space characters for formatting, I cannot do a global search-and-replace for two space characters without messing up. We've all written different sections of the paper so each person has formatted and spaced it differently. The formatting I can remedy easily by using Word's style bar. However, I have to manually search through forty pages of text to find double-spaced sentence endings and fix them because the text looks pretty inconsistent otherwise.

Other than this, things are going well. I'm so glad to have Juliet back home. Since she missed my birthday, she got me lots of gifts and a nice big cake upon her return this Tuesday. I thought I had cleaned the house thoroughly before she got home. Then yesterday she went around every room and actually cleaned it. The house looks so much cleaner and makes me wonder if I even cleaned anything last weekend or just had a dream about it. I have my finals this week and two projects due so I'm busy studying day and night now. I have no classes next week but after that another half-semester starts. I feel like these classes are just never going to end.

Sun, 4th Oct '09, 1:15 am::

It's my 29th birthday today and I'm doing homework four days before it is due. I think for the first time in my life, I am nonchalant about my birthday. Any other year, I would be complaining about having to do homework and chores but I guess after 28 of these, it's getting a little repetitive. Plus 29 is such a non-milestone age. Maybe next year I will do something fun for my birthday. Also, I'm sorta sick with a bad cough so I'd rather not go out and celebrate. I plan on drinking lots of orange juice and cleaning the house tomorrow. I should also get some laundry done as I've run out of clean t-shirts and have resorted to business shirts.

Everything else is going well. School is a lot of work and will get much tougher next year when I sign up for tons of classes. I'm not working on any interesting projects at home right now and just concentrating on school and work. I'm looking for a good research field for my eventual PhD. I'm not sure if I want to spend 5-7 years in computer theory, systems, AI, media, economics, mathematics, or a mix of all of these. I still have a few years to figure that out so I'm not rushing.

Running 50 Miles in the UltramarathonMon, 7th Sep '09, 3:00 pm::

I am 39,000 feet high up in a plane connected to the Internet. I couldn't wait to get online so I could write a few words about my race and I'm glad American Airlines has Wi-Fi now. As my track sheet says, I stopped after running 50 miles out of the 100 miles that I signed up for. After four months of intense training and considerable preparation, I ended up with a DNF - Did Not Finish. Ever since I ran my first mile in April, I had been dreading the acronym DNF. To me that sounded like failure and lack of preparation. Till the day before the race, I was terrified of ending up with an embarrassing DNF - oh the shame! And then I ran 50 miles for about 24 hours in 10,000 feet altitude and 35F temperature through mountains, jungles, and canyons paved with loose rocks, tree roots, and extremely steep slopes.

One of the greatest feelings in your life is completely and absolutely surprising yourself about your own abilities. The fear of DNF is gone and replaced by the sheer excitement of what I was able to accomplish when the odds were so severely stacked up against me. I live at sea-level in Florida, run on absolutely flat, paved, marked trail in 100F temperature with high humidity. The Grand Teton Race trail was the complete opposite and I was in no way prepared for such rocky trails and high altitude. I knew I was not training appropriately but till I actually saw the mountain trails in person, I had no idea how unprepared I was. But I couldn't give up. I was here to run an ultramarathon and I was not going to stop until I did. After 50 miles (80 kms), my feet couldn't take it anymore and I happily DNF'ed.

I have blisters on all of my ten toes, both heels, and sides of both feet. This sounds bad but the best thing is that other than my soles, I have absolutely no fatigue, muscle pain, or weakness in my entire body. This makes me extremely excited because that means my body can take 50 miles and a lot more without any engine troubles - I just need better tires. I was glad to feel completely healthy (except for my feet) because that means my exercise regimen in Florida was good. During the race I managed my food, electrolyte, and fluid intake well, I was in full control over my mind and actions, and even after 24 hours, I could have kept going.

I know I did not get a medal for finishing this time but I got more than enough encouragement to keep on running from the tons of wonderful athletes, ultramarathoners, volunteers, and race organizers. They pushed me throughout the course and kept my spirits and energy high. My friend Arthur was my pacer and flew up from NJ to make sure I kept moving forward and helped me with everything from gear, nutrition, and medical assistance. At the same time, my friend Vishal in India, Tamara in NJ, my boss Eric in Florida, and my parents and sister in India kept tracking my progress and sending me encouraging words. My family, friends, and coworkers encouraged me before, during, and after the race and that is more than I can ever ask for.

The one person who probably suffered more than me during my entire training was Juliet. For the past four months, I refused to do anything fun on Friday nights because I had to wake up early on Saturdays. Every Saturday morning I would go out running and leave her alone at home with all of the house and pet chores. Every Sunday I would sit around and be lazy so I could "recover from my long run." She encouraged me to keep training no matter how little progress I seemed to make early on. She bought most of my gear, set up the food and drinks for my runs, and even came out a few times to train with me on some of my shorter runs. And during my race, every time I returned to the base aid station after a loop, Arthur would tell me Juliet called up and said she sends me her love.

After the race, everyone asked me what my next ultra will be. Ultrarunners are serious addicts! They made lots of suggestions, especially races that I can train for while living in Florida. I would absolutely love to do more races but I don't know if I can anytime soon because of the huge time and money commitment that even short races take up. I'm taking a break from running for at least a week or two so my feet can heal up. After that, who knows. I want to get back into kayaking again and probably build something fun like our aviary in the backyard. My school starts tomorrow and I have a pretty big project at work that I need to concentrate on. I don't know how the other ultramarathoners do it but it is definitely not easy to train for one race after other. One thing I know for certain is that I loved the wonderful experience I had during this race and would most definitely do something like this again in the future when I have ample time to train. Thanks everyone for the love and support. Next time I'll bring home a medal.

Wed, 19th Aug '09, 7:25 pm::

I've been busy at work lately, setting up some powerful new servers. I'll be leaving for my 100 mile race in about ten days. My name's already on the list of competitors. I've tapered off my training and am just counting days till I go. I'm very excited and just as anxious.

Feeling like a kidFri, 24th Jul '09, 12:30 am::

For the first time in many years, I feel like a kid discovering how a computer works. I had been so busy with making websites, software, and applications for others that I forgot what it was like to just learn and explore like I once used to. I've spent the past decade worrying so much about clients, projects, and deadlines that whenever I had to learn something new, I rushed in, learned the bare essentials, and then got back to finishing the project. I never took a day or a week to just fiddle with new things. All I cared about was building something useful that did whatever the users wanted. While that seems quite productive initially, over time I started to lose the passion I had for computers, mainly because everything felt dull and boring because everything had predetermined specifications and deadlines. In a way, it limited the scope of my knowledge and skills by pushing me towards familiar, proven tracks.

I haven't been working on any major computer projects at home for a few months now and was having a hard time NOT working on something. The habit of constantly building something for others has become a chronic addiction. How can I sit around watching TV or spend 12 hours a Saturday training for my marathon instead of writing code? The feeling of "I should be doing X instead of Y" is one of the most guilt-ridden, debilitating experiences that an ambitious person can face. However, I also believe that all work and no play makes even the most interesting activities suck. How can I make something useful when all I care about is making something useful?

When I look back to see all the fun things I've made, I either made them when someone either asked me directly or when I was sitting around fiddling with something else. It's been a while since I've made random little things while playing around. Tonight I spent some time toying with Processing.js. It looks quite interesting. There are a million other neat projects that people around the world are working on. From a new database system to programmable art, there are so many things I want to learn about for the sake of learning instead of using them as tools for specific work-orders or turning them into full-blown business proposals. I'm excited!

Running alongside the Flip-Flop ManSat, 18th Jul '09, 10:15 pm::

I ran 36 miles today. I jogged the last 8 of those miles with the famous 64-year-old Flip-Flop Man of Florida, Larry Perrier. I had pretty much given up at the 28-mile mark because of the heat and swollen feet and called Juliet to come pick me up. Out of nowhere, Larry showed up next to me and guessed that I was training for an ultra-marathon, probably my first 100. He said it looked like I had been running since 6-7am and had covered about 30 miles or so miles. I told Juliet that I'll get home on my own. For the next 8 miles he talked about everything from running to macroeconomics. We discussed the joys of running in the rain, the annoyance of noisy lawnmowers, and the bargaining power of Russia in the international oil market.

He is certainly a man who follows nobody rules. It was amusing that there I was, with all my running gear, hydration pack with electrolyte solution, gel packs, heart-rate monitor, and expensive shoes talking to someone in flip-flops, carrying nothing except for a cane and some food in a plastic bag. I have been doing my best to follow all the guidelines to safely and properly train for my race and there he was, just walking as if 40 miles is no big deal. Here's a short film that a couple of students from University of Florida made about Larry.

He asked me about my running experiences and issues. I mentioned about the recurring pain on the bottom of my soles and he said it's probably Plantar Fasciitis. That's why I was about to give up at the 28-mile mark today - my feet hurt so bad I was trudging along at a 3 mile per hour pace. "It's just pain" he said, "It won't go away but you'll get used to it." Just hearing that made me feel better and I ran 8 miles with him. He said I look like the kinda guy who will do a 100 miles one or twice just to prove it to myself and then I would switch to some other equally strenuous physical activity. I was floored by his ability to read me so accurately.

We parted ways when we got near my neighborhood. He said he runs into a lot of people on a regular basis and hopes that we cross paths some day again, maybe tomorrow, maybe 2011. I hope so too.

Permanent Residence a.k.a. Green CardMon, 13th Jul '09, 7:55 pm::

After being in the US for nine years, as of today I am a permanent resident alien a.k.a. a green card holder. Juliet and I had our interview in Tampa and other than a long wait, everything went pretty smoothly. We had memorized so many little things about each other because the USCIS (previously known as INS) interviewers do whatever it takes to find out if the marriage is bona fide or not. If they suspect that the marriage is not real, they separate the couple and ask them questions independently, like "What was the last movie you saw together?" or "When did you last go out to a restaurant together?" However in our case, we weren't interviewed separately and the interviewer didn't ask any difficult questions because it was pretty easy to prove using our existing documents that our marriage is indeed real.

We have joint bank and stock accounts, we bought a car together, we have spent our holidays with each other's families, we filed joint income taxes, and we refinanced our house together. The view of the INS is that real couples do all these things because it makes better financial and social sense for couples that intend to stay together for the long haul to plan their finances and social lives together. Fraudulent green card marriages usually have tell-tale signs like separate bank accounts, separate assets, spending holidays away from each other etc. The other thing that made our case easy was that neither of us has ever been arrested or been in legal troubles aside from a parking ticket or two.

I am very thankful to all the people who helped us with this entire process. My coworkers Kelly & Vinnie, my boss Eric, and most of all, my friend Arthur who agreed to be the co-sponsor along with Juliet because she is in school and does not have a full-time job at the moment. Arthur was more than willing to help us in any way he could and unlike me, did not procrastinate on preparing any paperwork. INS requires that the sponsor of the green card via marriage (i.e. the US Citizen spouse) hold a full-time job to support the applicant (i.e. the immigrant spouse). If the Citizen spouse does not have a full-time job, the couple needs to find a co-sponsor with a job who is willing to spend a LOT of time preparing documents and mailing paperwork.

We hired an immigration lawyer, Mr. Creighton Shafer from Diaz Shafer in Tampa, because I did not want to get into problems because of technicalities like above. Had we not hired an immigration lawyer, I would not have known about the requirement of a co-sponsor in our specific case and would definitely have been in some trouble because of it. I'm sure eventually everything would have worked out but missing or incorrect paperwork often causes months to years of delays, during which I couldn't leave the country easily. Fortunately, our lawyer told us the right way to go and we got Arthur involved as a co-sponsor from day one.

Mr. Shafer was with us all day today and had made sure beforehand that we had every single document in order. Originally I had planned on going through this process on my own but later realized that there are so many gotchas when it comes to US Immigration laws that the best thing to do is revert to a professional. Since our case was pretty straightforward, it would have been possible for us to be fine without a lawyer and Mr. Shafer himself assured us of that, in case we could not afford his services. However, we went ahead and hired his services because honestly, I did not want to take any chances with the INS in case there were any issues. Thankfully there weren't any.

After the interview, Juliet and I celebrated by having a big lunch at P. F. Chang's in Tampa. We had the biggest dessert they offered and as usual, I ate 90% of it. We got home, napped for a few hours, and here I am.

Tue, 7th Jul '09, 9:55 pm::

I'm having a pretty crappy week. My boy kitty Giga has been sick for past few days with high fever. We have been dropping him off at the vet hospital in the morning and picking him up in the evening for two days now and the same goes for tomorrow. They don't know what's making him sick but today after getting some fluids, he seems to be acting healthier. His blood sugar is extremely high and all signs point to feline diabetes. He is under five years old and in a pretty healthy shape overall so I'm hoping it's not diabetes but just the stress of having a fever.

Our electric bill for last month was a shocking $340! Normally it is about $200 in summer and $125 in winter. At under 800 sq. ft., our house is tiny and the air-conditioner doesn't have to be on all day. The refrigerator is working fine and we just got new washer/dryer that are much more efficient than the old ones we had. Only thing I can think of is that the air-conditioner might have a leak or an electrical problem that makes it very inefficient and so keeps it running constantly.

We have been trying our best to save as much as possible for those dreaded rainy days but it seems like they are here already. $325 for vet, $150 overage for electricity, $250 for medical bills that insurance won't cover, and who knows how much for a technician to come out and inspect our a/c unit. It all adds up. *sigh*

Why I want to run a HUNDRED MILESSun, 21st Jun '09, 1:15 pm::

Yesterday, I ran the longest distance I ever have in my entire life - 35 miles (56 kms) in a little under 11 hours. To train for the 100 mile Grand Teton Ultramarathon in September, I have been running 20+ miles every Saturday for over a month now. Most people I know run considerably faster than me though they can only run 3-10 miles at most. While millions of people run marathons each year, very few run distances beyond 50 miles. Ultrarunning, or running further than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, is a whole different experience and requires a unique set of training, capabilities, and strategies. Since many of my friends and family have been asking me about the experience, I'll post an FAQ of everything I've learned in the past few months.

Q: Um, why are you trying to run ONE HUNDRED MILES?!

Because I suck at running. In fact, I run so slow that last weekend during a 3.3 mile Adventure Run, I finished 321st out of 331 runners. I was slower than 97% of the Marine Corps Marathon finishers in 2004 and the fastest mile I've ever ran was a little over 10 minutes. Most people who can run a mile, can run it in under 8 minutes easily. I can't. However, just because you suck at something doesn't mean you give up. Instead, you do it as much as you can. So while I can't run faster, I try to run further. Three months ago when I thought about running 100 miles, it seemed like an impossible goal and it seems even harder today because now I actually know how difficult it is to run for half a day non-stop. I want to run because I feel it's something I just can't do and wasn't made to do. Proving myself wrong is my favorite hobby. Running, kayaking, or sailing are just the means.

Q: Can anyone run 100 miles? Don't you need to be in peak physical condition to run that far?

If you can run 10 miles, you can run 10 miles, 10 times. However, you can only run 100 miles if you train right. You don't have to be in great physical condition and I'll be the first one to confess that I'm not. You do have to spend a lot of hours actually running though. Most people don't have that kind of time, energy, or desire.

Q: Do you think you will run 100 miles successfully?

I don't know. I try not to think about the result. I believe there are three steps to every bold ambition. First, is to have the drive and courage to dream big. Second, is preparation - putting in the time and effort to reach the goal. And third is the result - crossing the finishing line. No matter what the goal, we have control over the first two. I signed up for a 100 mile race and I am putting myself through the gruelling training. I don't know if I will finish or not because anything can happen before or during the race. I want to start the race knowing that I prepared to the best of my abilities.

Q: How long will you take to run 100 miles?

As per the race rules, the 100 miles must be completed within a span of 36 hours. That's a pace of 2.8 miles per hour or 21 minutes per mile. I am hoping to finish in about 30 hours, with an average of 18 minutes per mile. I don't intend to sleep and hopefully will not stop for more than a few minutes per aid station. My comfortable long-distance pace is 15 minutes per mile so an upper limit of 18 minutes per mile is quite conservative.

Q: How does a person run non-stop for so long?

Running for 30+ hours non-stop means your body has to be able to do its normal functions without any interruptions. So breathing, digesting, growing hair and beard, healing wounds, fighting diseases and allergies, everything must go on continuously the whole time. The goal for me is to make my body feel relaxed like it is sitting on the sofa watching TV the whole time I am running up and down mountains. And there is only one way to do that - run long distances without stressing my body out and get my body used to it. If I am exhausted after running 25 miles, I cannot run the other 75 miles easily. But if I ran 25 miles as if it was just a minor jog, I will be much more capable of running another 25 and then another 25.

Marathon runners train very differently than ultramarathoners. They aim for speed and strength. They push their body to the limit from the first mile right until they cross the finishing line. Ultramarathoners are in no hurry to get anywhere. The saying goes that "the secret to running an ultramarathon is to start slow and then slow down." Often many good marathoners fail to finish ultras because they push themselves too hard early on.

I am incapable of running fast so I don't have much of a problem with this. I just have to make sure I don't slow down too much. I jog at a speed that feels natural and comfortable to me though it's such a slow pace that people walk right past me! However, it is a pace that I have learned to maintain. I can keep moving at that pace as if I am sitting on the sofa watching TV. When most people want to get in shape and start running, they try to run too fast too soon and end up getting side stitch (sharp pain on the sides) or worse, injure themselves. The trick is to just run slower and further. You will burn a lot more calories if you can run three more miles a day than run 10% faster.

Q: How fit are you?

Not that fit. At 5'8" tall, currently weighing 177 lbs (80 kgs), I am technically overweight with a BMI of 27. I still have a relatively high body-fat ratio (18%) and don't look muscular or skinny. I am just like your average computer programmer in every shape and form.

I did lose about 15 lbs (7 kgs) in the first two months of training but haven't lost any weight since. I actually gain a few pounds every weekend because I like to eat a lot during my long runs. I can't bench-press much nor can I lift a lot of weight. Truth be told, I don't act, look, or feel like a guy who just ran 35 miles.

Q: So then how did you run 35 miles?

By not stopping when I wanted to and stopping when I had to. Ultrarunning is 99% mental and 1% MENTAL. The body is never in control and the mind must never lose control. I had been mentally preparing myself for a 40 mile run for over two weeks. I expected to run 40 miles in 12 hours after running 20 miles in 6 hours multiple times. This is the same pace I expect to maintain for my race. From the first mile early yesterday morning till the last mile at sunset, I kept a running inventory of all of my body parts and the condition they were in. It's like a video game where you keep an eye on all your soldiers, ammo, and equipment and make sure they are all taken care of for optimal performance.

Just because my feet hurt, doesn't mean I stop. Barely into the second mile, my left foot sent a message to the brain, "I'm in pain! Stop!" Had my brain listened to it, I would have run a total of 1.2 miles yesterday. Instead, my brain ran an analysis on the left foot's real-time condition and came to the conclusion that though the left foot is indeed in pain, it is stable, not on the verge of breakdown, and in no way severely in pain. So I kept running.

Over the course of the next 23 miles (8 hours), the temperature (feels like) rose from 83F (28C) to over 108F (42C) with humidity hovering at 65%. My feet, legs, arms, shoulders were all in pain but it was bearable. However, my brain decided it was too hot to continue at a good pace in this heat so I went home and relaxed for two hours in the shade. Once the temperature outside fell, I ran another 12 miles in 3 hours. At the slow pace I was going right before I stopped, I couldn't have completed 12 miles in 5 hours. My body was completely cool with pushing forward but my brain thought better. Stopping actually made me go faster. Had it not been for the high temperature earlier in the day, I could have easily gone 40 miles non-stop but there is no point in running 40 this week in blistering weather and being sick for the next month because of it.

Q: All of the above sounds horrible! Will your race be like this?

Trust me, the above felt much more horrible in person. Hopefully, the race will be quite different. I live in Florida at an altitude of 20 feet and this has been an excruciatingly hot summer. The race is in the Grand Teton area in Wyoming at 8,000 feet altitude with average daytime high of 70F (21C) and nighttime low of 40F (4C). Instead of this heat, I will actually be bundling up for most of the run. However, that also means running with more gear and dealing with low-oxygen at high altitudes.

I am planning to arrive at the race venue 4-5 days ahead of the race so my body can get acclimated to the altitude. After I donated blood a month ago, I had a first-hand experience of trying to run with 20% lower oxygen in my bloodstream. It's not going to be easy but I think I can manage, especially if I can stand to run in 108F heat. The other challenge is that the race will go up mountain peaks and down canyons while Florida is pretty flat. That's where gym training helps. I've been doing Stair Master and Elliptical machines at the gym for 2-3 hour durations at moderate speed to build my leg muscles up. Also I cross a lot of pedestrian bridges during my long runs and that gives me some training with steep inclines.

In reality, nothing can prepare me for the race as well as training on the actual race course. Since I work and live in Florida and Wyoming is a four-hour flight away from me, I just have to do whatever I can.

Q: What do you eat/drink these days? What about during the runs?

I have a pretty healthy vegetarian diet and have started to eat a little more protein than I am used to. I've been a vegetarian since birth in India and don't see any reason to change. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, drink tons of V8 V-Fusion, and avoid fatty or high-carb foods. Unlike runners who bulk up on high-carb foods right before a marathon, ultrarunners eat steadily throughout the runs.

Yesterday, I ate two foot-long veggie sub-sandwiches over the course of 11 hours. I eat one Powerbar Gel every 30-45 minutes. I drink water constantly (one sip every 15-60 seconds). I have a hydration pack that I fill up with Gatorade and sip it every 2-3 minutes. Sometimes I feel like I run solely to justify my hedonistic appetite for sugar. Of course, eating and drinking so much also means I have to take more bathroom breaks than normal but that is a good thing because it is clear evidence that my body is functioning properly and not shutting down or falling into starvation mode.

Q: Aren't you afraid of collapsing from heat strokes or worse?

Of course, I'm worried about heat strokes and thousands of other things that can go wrong during a long run. That's why I constantly check my heart rate, temperature, vision, balance, breathing, sweat-rate/salt-loss, fluid-intake, and skin irritation. One of the key lessons I have learned from my training is that nearly every bad condition is avoidable if detected early enough. A stitch in time saves nine is nowhere truer than in endurance activities like ultra-races.

If I so much as feel a pinch in any of my toes, I stop, adjust my shoes, socks, and insoles till everything feels right, and then continue. The mindset during a marathon is to continue non-stop at any cost. That's great when you have to run for another 2-3 hours but completely breaks down when you have 28 hours to go. It was actually pretty tough for me to change my mind about this because I constantly feel like I am slowing down my pace if I stop. Turns out, over the course of 11 hours, I only stopped for about 14 minutes total for the various adjustments to my shoes, socks, hydration pack, shorts, hat, headband, and water bottle. Failing to adjust any of these could have caused me to lose balance and fall, get blisters or skin abrasions, or in case of hat, headband, and water bottle, get a heat-stroke and pass out.

The most fun I had yesterday was stopping at every mile or so, filling up my bottle at a water fountain, and drenching my entire body in cool water over and over. It took only about 45-60 seconds but I gained that by running considerably faster. As a side-benefit, I avoided heat strokes and didn't collapse from exhaustion.

Q: Does the kind of gear you have matter? Won't any pair of shoes and water-bottle do?

The right gear is extremely critical! Every little piece of gear on your body will rub up against your skin constantly and drive you crazy. On some of my runs, I have desperately longed for a piece of string or rubber-band so I could keep some part of my shoe lace or hydration pack strap from moving in an annoying way. Whatever you choose, it has to be extremely comfortable and durable. This doesn't mean I spent $500 for a water-bottle but it does mean that I tried four $7 bottles till I found one that I liked and that worked well. Same with shoes, headband, and I'm afraid hydration pack. The one I have leaked during my run, causing a liter of Gatorade to flow down my shirt, shorts, and feet into my shoes and socks, making my blisters worse. I didn't even realize it till I got home for my break because my entire body was drenched by water and sweat. These are the kind of things that happen 7.5 hours into a run.

Q: Other than your long runs, what else do you need to do?

I have a pretty busy work week and have classes/homework couple of weeknights so my exercise regimen during the week isn't too intense. I try to mix in different activities to make sure I don't just exercise my feet. I swim an hour or two a week and train on Stair Master and Elliptical. I don't like running on the treadmill and prefer to train my calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads with targeted exercises. I do some weight training with low weights and sets of 100-300 lifts. I also stretch a lot on days I feel too lazy to go to the gym. And at least twice a week I go running in the morning for 2-6 miles. The funny thing is that my long runs have trained me so well that I can recover from two hours of Stair Master within minutes.

Q: What does your wife have to say about all of this?

She knew I was a determined guy with odd ambitions before she married me so she has learned to just live with all of this. She fully supports me in all of my goals, as non-conventional they may be. She is in medical school to be a PA and studies take up most of her weekend hours. I use the same hours to train for my long runs so it works out quite well. She also makes my life much easier by buying most of my running gear and supplies for me. Oh and she picks me up when I decide that 108F is too hot to run and I'm four miles away from home. I don't think I give her enough credit for it but she's extremely supportive of my training though she keeps mentioning every now and then that I'm stupid for putting myself through this mess. Due to her school schedule, I doubt she'll be able to come to Wyoming for my race but if my weekend runs are any indication, I know I will be thinking of her every mile (mostly hoping that she'll come pick me up and take me home already.)

Sun, 7th Jun '09, 7:00 pm::

I feel like I keep hopping back and forth between the mundanity of regular life and the excitement of impossible goals. Yesterday I spent about ten hours in the sun running and walking across five different towns along the Pinellas Trail. I ran 28 miles in under eight hours - my first (barely) successful attempt at an ultramarathon distance. I spent all of today dealing with house chores and pet stuff. Among other things, we're getting new washer/dryer delivered this week and the pets got shiny new water bowls.

The 28 miles yesterday really shook me up. I have run 16-22 miles many times in the past but have never experienced the amount of pain in my feet as I did yesterday. My big mistake was wearing the wrong socks which gave me blisters after about five hours. I am doing pretty well now and will be back to my usual self in a day or two. I knew that having the proper gear is extremely important for long runs and this little mistake only reinforced this notion. I also realized that I need better shoes because once my feet swell, my ankles can no longer support the high arch of my foot and pain sets in. If I am to succeed in my goal of running 100 miles in under 36 hours, I have to learn all of these issues about myself and fix them well-in-advance. In the meantime, I have enough things at back to work, school, and home to keep my occupied.

I want to run a hundred milesThu, 30th Apr '09, 8:35 am::

For the past three weeks, I have been running six miles or more almost daily and have lost about 12 lbs (5kgs). I'm training for the Grand Teton 100-mile Ultramarathon in September. This is a 100-mile (161 km) race through mountains, canyons, and forests in Wyoming and has to be completed within 36 hours. Regular marathons are 26.2 miles (42 km) and most people finish in 4-6 hours. Ultramarathons are races longer than marathons and most ultramarathoners run the 100 miles non-stop. At the pace I am training, this would mean running, jogging, and walking for over 24 hours non-stop. By no means is this a minor challenge for me, physically and mentally.

I am crazy not stupid so I understand that in order to even attempt to run 100 miles, proper training is a must. Training includes running, walking, proper eating, and lots of cross-training. Since I live in Florida at sea-level, my body will have to work much harder to persevere at the high altitudes. Additionally, the terrain here is mostly flat whereas the actual trail requires runners to go up and down thousands of feet every few miles. This means lots of StairMaster training at the gym. Personally I am not interested in going to a gym and would much rather run outdoors but the lack of steep hills in Florida means I have to train my quads indoors.

Running an ultra is different from running a 10K or even a marathon. After all, a 100-mile ultra is like four back-to-back marathons. When training for a regular marathon, speed and timing matters. In an ultra, the pace and endurance matter the most. The saying goes, "to run an ultramarathon, start slow and then slow down." I can't run fast but I can run slow forever, which is why I have been very excited for the past few weeks. Ultramarathon seems to fit my style of running a lot better than regular marathons.

When training for ultras, long runs make or break your race. The only way my body can run 100 miles in 36 hours is if it is used to running 50 miles in 16-17 hours or 25 miles in 6-7 hours. This means, before I run for 100 miles, I have to try running 30-50 mile distances on weekends, on top of running 5-10 miles per weekday. If I just run four miles a day, no matter how fast, I won't be able to run the ultra because my body will not learn how to adjust to 6-12 hours of continuous running. The key is to make your body feel as comfortable as possible when running or jogging. A big part of my training is to learn to eat, drink, and relax while running slowly but steadily.

Work, school, and life at home keeps me busy enough and now I am planning to run 70-100 miles a week for the next four months. This will seriously reduce the time I spend goofing off online. However, it will give me a lot of time to listen to good music and audio books, especially on Saturdays when I go for my long runs. Maybe I can blog while running.

Google Narratives Series - InterviewSat, 11th Apr '09, 9:00 pm::

A couple of weeks ago, a wonderful lady from Google, Christine interviewed me for their "Google Narratives Series." She is seeking out developers who make novel use of Google technology and is writing about them on the Google Code blog. A few months ago, I used their programming tools to create Wiki Search app and tons of people use it now daily. Yesterday, her brief Q&A-style interview with me went live on their Code blog. It's a pretty nerdy interview unlike the meant-for-general-public WSJ interview from a couple of years ago. Right now, the Google interview is also displayed on the Google Code website.

Sat, 21st Mar '09, 6:10 pm::

I spent about seven hours outside in the backyard today digging holes, leveling the ground, and laying down stones. We're building an aviary. According to my estimate, it will take about five consecutive Saturdays to complete the project. Once it's ready, our three turtles, Koi, two sugar-gliders, and the soon to arrive bunny will all live in there together. Maybe a couple of lovebirds some day too. I'm so excited! I'll keep adding more pictures to this gallery as we make more progress.

Forget about itFri, 13th Mar '09, 8:55 am::

I was talking to my friend Tony about a minor programming feature and he said "yeah, forget about it" to which I quipped "good, I like forgetting." About ten seconds later, I realized how true that statement was for me and how rarely we think of forgetting as a positive. Being able to forget means being able to let go of that which does not truly matter to you in the present and future. Having lived by myself in different places for most of the past decade, I met a lot of interesting people and had tons of wonderful and some not-so wonderful experiences. I do my best to remember the good experiences and actively try to forget the bad ones. It's pretty easy to remember the good stuff, you just have to recollect it every now and then.

Consciously forgetting information that you vividly remember is a whole different exercise. It is a process of self-control requiring continuous practice and goes completely against the body's psychological defenses. Remembering bad things is the body's way of protecting you against the same events in the future. "Fire hot. Fire burn. No touch fire." The people who learn from their mistakes, usually do not repeat them again. It is the people who do not learn from their mistakes that suffer repeatedly and you just need to glance over the local police blotter page to see a proof of that. The people who do not learn from their mistakes, basically "forget" the series of events that led them into trouble. Next time they are in a similar situation, none of the red flags go up to warn them of the impending catastrophe. But that's because they just "forgot" not "consciously chose to forget" and that's where the difference lies.

My method of consciously choosing to forget is so simple it seems completely ineffective and not even a method at all. But the very fact that I don't go to bed crying every night or wake up with regrets tells me that it is working for me. This is how I forget: Once I am over the initial shock of an unfortunate experience, I think honestly about what caused it. I accept all of my faults and those of others and tell myself that since I am still alive and in control of my thoughts and actions, no permanent damage was done. I may not forgive and forget everyone (I'm human after all) but I make sure that I do not hold grudges. After that, I recollect some of the good past experiences and then promise myself to never think about this particular unfortunate event negatively because in the end I learnt something out of it. And then I stick to that promise, forever. Hey, I never said it was easy, I just said it was simple.

No matter where you are from, all of us have our share of good and bad experiences. Everyone has loved ones who passed away and everyone can share a tale or two (or twenty seven) of unrequited love. Who in the world hasn't had friendships fade away or trust being shattered? Our experiences are personal but collectively the same. What makes us unique is how we reacted to them and how much we learn from them. You can keep mulling over an unfortunate series of events from the past and feel bad about them without actually trying to squeeze any lessons from it or you can completely ignore they even occurred. There are many ways to forget and each of us has an innate style of forgetting that we seldom think consciously about. My point here is that the very act and method of forgetting can affect your present and future so it is something we should not consider lightly. Or if you're like me, actually try to enjoy it. After all, the more garbage you forget, the more space you have to remember something worthwhile. Right?

Thu, 12th Mar '09, 8:15 am::

Yesterday our super-helpful immigration lawyer in Tampa filed the paperwork for my US residency. It took months to get all the documents in order but finally it's done. It will be months before I get a travel permit to go to India. Till then, it's life as usual. School's going well, work is pretty exciting, and Juliet and I are planning on a small backyard project over the next few weeks. I think the biggest news of all is that I've decided that I want to get a haircut today after work.

We had a lot of fun last week when I took Thursday and Friday off from work. Early in the morning on Thursday, we went to the lawyer's office in Tampa to sign the documents. Then after a quick lunch at Cicis, Juliet took me on a surprise canoe trip down the Hillsborough River. It was such a gorgeous day too. We went to Busch Gardens after that and saw tons of birds and animals. We spent over an hour in the aviary with lories and lorikeets. She went on two rollarcoasters and I accompanied her on one. I find my fear of heights getting worse as I grow older. We had dinner at a nice sushi place near my work and then for the first time in months, I went shopping with Juliet and bought her a pretty pair of shoes for school.

Next up, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire and immediately after that, caught the midnight premiere of Watchmen. That was a long day from 9am till 4am. Rest of the weekend we took walks on the beach and relaxed around our house watching tons of movies on cable or chilling in the backyard on the hammock. That's when we both got antsy and decided that our backyard needs a special something. Once our little project is done, I will write more about it.

I have school projects to work on all weekend and then some. I haven't had a real vacation in a long time (no, wedding in Yellowstone doesn't count as a vacation and driving to NJ/NY in winter doesn't count either) so it felt good to just take things slow for a few days. I think I'm going to take a few more Fridays off while the weather is still nice. Till then, it's life as usual.

The American Dream and meMon, 23rd Feb '09, 1:45 am::

Tonight I worked on my business school project while the Oscar ceremonies were on. I set my DVR to record the whole show and went back to working on my assignment nonchalantly. It was only when my dad called me from India and exclaimed "Jai Ho!" that I realized that my favorite musician A. R. Rahman had won the Oscars for the best original score and the best original song for Slumdog Millionaire. I said "That's so awesome" to my dad and went back to studying. Maybe I was just stressed about the project or maybe it was something else but I felt quite uneasy after that phone call. That was quite a stereotypical American hipster response coming from me, as if I have become so unfazed by media, splendor, and glitter that Oscars are passé and winning awards is dull.

Once I completed my assignment, I watched the entire Oscar ceremony in about an hour, with the gratuitous use of the fast-forward button. In true Oscar-audience fashion, I laughed and I cried, I cheered and I clapped. When it was over, I went online to read more about the Oscars and hear what others were saying. I often do that after major events, just to feel like I'm part of a global community at 1 am. To my dismay, other than the big media outlets like CNN and BBC, none of the sites I frequent cared much about the Oscars. One or two even mocked them and the winners. It was the consequent feeling of cognitive dissonance that prompted me to stay up well past my bedtime and write my thoughts down.

Americans just don't get the American Dream. They read about it in books and think it is a house in the 'burbs with a white picket-fence and a big dog. They think immigrants from all over the world come here just to buy a big house and watch the Super Bowl. I know this is what they think because I've been living here for the past eight years and by all accounts I'm living proof of having achieved it. But that's not what THE American Dream is. The American Dream that millions upon millions of people around the world aspire to achieve someday is not a mediocre life of relative stability with a two-car garage and automated bill payment.

The American Dream is being born as the youngest of eight children, failing medical entrance exam, dropping out of law college, joining film institute against family's wishes, and fourteen long years later winning a god-damned Oscar in front of the whole world. The American Dream is not the glory but the never ending struggle that one must go through while everyone around you has become complacent and already accepted the status quo as their fate. The American Dream is daring to dream that despite the millions before you who tried and failed, you have something within you that sets you apart and ever-so-slightly shifts the odds in your favor.

The saddest part about the American Dream is that for most people, it stops the moment they set foot in the country. I vividly recall my first flight to the US. I was nervous but determined. As the plane reached cruising altitude, I managed to calm my emotions down. After all, I had just bid my family, friends, and home for twenty years good bye. I told myself that I will make my parents proud and my friends will someday say "he used to sit right here next to me in class." I did not have a specific goal in mind and especially did not care about money or riches. As boring as it sounds, I just wanted to be "somebody." I just wanted my piece of the American Dream.

Eight years later, here I am. I've assimilated quite well. I have a gorgeous loving wife, lots of pets, a wonderful job, a nice house, two cars, and for the first time in my life, a real savings account. Having all of my wishes come true wasn't the American Dream. Arguing with my dad for two years to let me come to the US against his wishes, was. Having my sister determine the fate of my life because my dad asked her if I should be allowed to go to the US, was. Living alone for six of the past eight years and managing to remain optimistic about my future life, was. And yet, I haven't struggled even one-percent as much as most of the other immigrants who come here. By most standards, I've had it pretty easy. My American Dream delivered above and beyond my expectations. For most, it doesn't. It stops being a dream when the bills pile up and discrimination begins. The only glint of hope is that the kids will have a better shot at life someday.

I don't care to watch the Oscars because Meryl Streep has been nominated for the fifteenth time. I watch them because I want to see a grown man cry like a baby when he realizes that this very moment is the culmination of forty years of hard work. I watch them because I want to see lives changed and careers validated. There are no triumphant awards for programming web services or coding warehouse systems. Watching others get rewarded for their hard work is the closest that I can get to feeling like there is still some fairness in this world; that tireless efforts are eventually rewarded and perseverance pays off in the end. Watching others achieve their dreams helps me keep my dreams alive, however incomparable they might be.

The American Dream is not about money, fame, or power but about beating the insurmountable odds. The American Dream is never accepting that the best part is already over. The American Dream is achieving it and starting it all over again.

Sun, 22nd Feb '09, 11:05 pm::

My dad just called me to say A. R. Rahman won the Oscar for the best original score and original song. It's about time! He was and will remain my favorite musician in the whole world. For every song I like by any other musician, there are two songs by Rahman that I love.

Tue, 10th Feb '09, 8:25 am::

I value leisure more than almost any important activity or task. My inner-lazy would rather not do something than do it. I would rather sit around and think about cheaper ways to make a GPS locator for missing cats than to actually go out and do it. I would rather spend all Saturday laying down in the hammock, watching birds fly across the sky above me, than work on even the most interesting projects.

And so that is exactly what I haven't been doing for the past eight months. Currently, the things that occupy my time are: My full-time job (45-50 hours per week), Masters college (16-24 hours per week), SCHED (12-16 hours per week). That's an average of 80 hours of work and school per week. I started working on a new hardware/software project last month to help my cousin Keval communicate better using a data glove. While I only spend 8-12 hours per week on this project, I need to spend closer to 16-20 hours per week to make significant progress and hopefully in a month, I will be able to. Add to that about 10 hours per week of house chores, pet care, paying bills, and immigration paperwork. Did I mention I have a wife who I love to spend time with? So add about 2-4 hours of wifey time on weeknights and 12-16 hours on weekends, and I'm at about 30 hours per week. This brings me to 90 work/study/projects + 10 chores + 30 wifey hours = 130 hours per week of doing stuff.

There are 7 * 24 = 168 hours per week and I'm booked for 125-130 of them. This leaves me with about 40 hours to sleep, shave, and shower or in other words, less than six hours per day to rest and take care of myself. I would rather just chill and do nothing for all 24 but then that would be too easy. My life's probably going to be like this for the next two years after which I will take a few years easy to reprioritize my goals and ambitions. Until then, it's slaving away all day with barely any sleep.

Of course, I love all of the things I do on a daily basis in the big-picture sense. School is tough but I am learning so much. Work is just as demanding but I'm building cool new tools to help manage and grow the business. SCHED is growing faster than anyone anticipated and we're getting a lot of good feedback so it's wonderful to make new features that users love. Juliet's very understanding and supportive of all of my commitments so the few hours each day we do get to spend together, I get to just sit back and relax. I really have nothing to complain other than the fact that I miss having time to go kayaking.

Sat, 24th Jan '09, 11:45 pm::

If Giga had a diary, today's entry would say "Dear diary, today for the first time I explored our backyard and climbed a tree on my own. My new friend Cookie and the puppy Jack were running around and I had a great time chewing on some fresh grass while my daddy and mommy relaxed in the hammock all afternoon." Good thing Giga doesn't have a diary because most of the entries for past two weeks would say "I hate my daddy and mommy because twice a day, right before my meals, they hold me down by the scruff of my neck and force feed me some yucky banana-tasting medicine!" Giga has been a little sick lately and so the vet put him on antibiotics. It was good to see him up and about today in the yard.

The weather was finally warm enough today to sit outside and relax. We've been quite busy now that school has started. I have two classes on Monday and Tuesday till March and then two classes on Tuesday and Wednesday till May. I don't know about my summer classes yet. I doubt I will be able to blog as freely and passionately as I did last year. There's always next year :)

Mon, 12th Jan '09, 12:05 am::

I was reading the Serendipity page on Wikipedia and by mistake I clicked on the 'Pileated Woodpecker' link under the main image on the right. Suddenly I realized that this is exactly the type of bird that I took a photo of yesterday when I went to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve with Juliet. I was not able to identify the bird till just now. Serendipitous indeed.

This weekend we watched three light-hearted comedic films. Friday night we saw Yes Man, Saturday night we caught Bedtime Stories with Sandra and her daughter Madison, and tonight we rented Forgetting Sarah Marshall from a local Redbox kiosk for $1/night. I love the concept of Redbox - a vending machine that rents out DVDs and you can reserve them online in advance. I just wish there was one within walking distance of my house.

It's about two months from SXSW 2009 and I can't wait. I'm taking Juliet with me this time even though we'll only be there for 3-4 days. I hope we get to see lots of unreleased and unknown films like I did last year. The amazing movie-going experience was definitely one of my favorite things about SXSW. Hope there's a repeat this year.

Sat, 3rd Jan '09, 1:50 pm::

It's been about a week since we returned from our 2,900 mile-long road-trip from Florida to New York via Atlanta, Virginia, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. I don't have all the pictures of the trip yet but here are some of the photos from my camera. Everyone we spent time with took photos with their own cams so it will take some time for me to collect them all.

After hitting New Jersey, we went to New York to see the family of my maternal uncle Kaushik Mama. I hadn't seen them for over four years and it was wonderful talking to Priyanka and Jenesha about our pets and my kayaking trips. We stopped by Arthur's house for the night on the way back from New York and saw my friends Tim and Michele the next morning. Right after that we left for Florida and I drove non-stop for twenty-seven hours with only three hours of stops in between. Surprisingly, I was not much tired after the drive and wouldn't mind doing long road-trips like this again.

We listened to a bunch of audio books during the long drives and I think that is what really kept me awake. Listening to music, no matter how loud and upbeat, makes me lose focus after a while even if I try to sing-along. Listening to interesting stories on audio books kept me awake and eager to hear the next sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Before I knew it, I had driven 400 miles across three states. Overall, this was a wonderful trip and I hope to have tons more all across the US with Juliet in the future.

Our classes will resume in a week or two. We have a few more days to relax before things get chaotic and stressful. Neither of us has a spring or summer break so that means we'll pretty much be studying non-stop from January to December with at most a 2-3 day break in between. The only rest we'll have is one evening here and another Saturday morning there when we can spend some time away from studies and with each other. Hopefully sxsw 2009 will be a fun get away for us. We're going out tonight to hang out with a few people and then I'm working on some of my projects tomorrow. And so begins 2009.

Wed, 17th Dec '08, 10:55 pm::

I have an awesome superpower that most people don't know about. It is my amazing ability to trim kitty nails without any sort of violence or bloodshed. I just trimmed the nails of our three cats in under five minutes total - 12 paws, 54 nails - 0 meows, 0 scratches, 0 angry cats. Up next are the sugar gliders. I know they'll be pretty violent but I think we'll all survive to see a brighter day, a day without scratches on our hands and feet, a day when all animals live together in harmony and sing carols and feed the homeless... Either that or I'm going to be bleeding out of every inch of my skin. We'll find out soon.

Fri, 5th Dec '08, 10:45 pm::

We just got back from my company's Christmas party and it was a LOT of fun. This was the first time Juliet and I went out to a social event together and it felt so nice to finally introduce her to all my coworkers and their significant others. We sat at the dinner table with my boss Eric, his wonderful wife Amy (who always makes sure that there is enough vegetarian food for me), and his brother Brian. After some yummy desserts, the casino tables opened up for all employees and each of us got $1,000 of fake chips. Juliet and I mostly stuck to the Blackjack tables and grew our combined $2,000 to over $20,000 in fake money at one point. In fact, we wanted to get back home and kept trying to lose it all but as luck would have it, we just couldn't lose! We bet everything on a single round over and over but kept winning. After almost twenty minutes, we finally lost our chips and having nothing left, bid our good nights and drove home.

This weekend is going to be tough for both of us. She has five exams this week and I have two. So it's pretty much non-stop studies for both of us till late next week. Then we have one weekend to go shopping for supplies and on December 19th, we plan to drive off to New Jersey via Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I'm excited about our long road-trip. More details once the plans are finalized. Till then, it's lots of studies and tons of work.

Phases and QuirksSun, 23rd Nov '08, 10:45 pm::

I had a pretty busy weekend. On Friday, wifey and I saw Broken Social Scene and had some nice dinner. Yesterday I setup an old computer, learnt a new language, and watched a classic. Today I worked on some code and we watched a couple of movies. I didn't get much school work done but I have all of this week to get on it. Holidays are coming up and I'm getting exciting about our long road-trip to New Jersey during Christmas.

Juliet and I have been living together for about six months now and we have a pretty good grasp of each other's quirks. However, we're still discovering each other's phases. Quirks are little things like her habit of leaving paper towels all over the house when she has a cold or my obsessiveness about turning off the lights in any unoccupied room. Quirks are relatively easy to notice and remember. Most pieces of romantic text highlight the beloved's quirks fondly, even the negative ones. Phases are slightly long-term behavioral tendencies that expose new insights into a person and are generally hard to identify. We change into a different person during a critical phase and act quite unlike our usual selves. The Juliet I know in our daily life is not the same Juliet who has four exams and three labs over the next five days. It is much easier for me to understand her during the hectic school weeks when I realize that this is simply her trying to be a good, hardworking student. Recognizing the start and end of a phase is critical to avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise during the period.

I went through my periodic coding frenzy this weekend. I told her earlier today, "Honey, once a month, I will go completely bonkers over some arcane computer system. I will not shower, shave, or eat during those 48-72 hours. I love you forever and ever but during those hours, please do not expect me to engage in discussions about our travel plans or even what you should cook for dinner because my mind will not be anywhere close to reality. However, after the coding marathon, I will be a better, more educated, more skilled developer with a stronger understanding of the subject matter and that will help us in the long-term. So even though you might fear that I have gone completely psychotic, I am just going through a mini metamorphosis and will turn out alright in the end."

Even though she cares and understands my passion for code and all things cryptic, I chose to explicitly say all of the above for a number of reasons. In addition to recognizing my phases and understanding my lack of attention, she can help keep my frenzies under control. Looking back to the development of Chime.TV a couple of years ago, I now realize that I spent way too much time cocooned in my house writing some pretty nifty code and not enough time socializing with friends. After six month of near-constant coding, when I finally emerged, I felt I had lost the ability to speak to people about anything other than streaming videos. I certainly do not want to go through that again. On the flip side, once she sees how beneficial my coding frenzies are to my morale, ambition, and general outlook on life, she can encourage me to work harder on my projects and motivate me to take some bigger risks.

When we see behavioral changes in the people we love, we aren't always sure if they are temporary or permanent. If we are know they are temporary, we can learn to cope with them better without putting extraneous pressure on them. If we find out they are permanent, we can adapt, confront, or intervene based on our best judgment. In my case, she understood my point of view and supplied me with lots of yummy food throughout the weekend.

Sun, 16th Nov '08, 10:15 pm::

What part of "follow your dreams" do people not understand? So many talented people around me purposely shackle themselves in mediocrity, boredom, and fear when they could be challenging themselves with brave new exciting adventures. Yes, for the most part, life is tough and there's not much change we can bring about in our daily routines. But every once in a while, we come across a fork in the road when we can take a new uncharted path instead of going on the same dull path that leads us to nowhere. Sure, it can be risky and careless. I'm certain the fear of failure and embarrassment can be daunting. But that's not my problem. That's your problem. Show me the results. Or at least prove to yourself that you truly persevered.

Everyone can come up with a list of problems and excuses on why not to do something. Before you come up with yet another excuse, think about how lucky you are that you can actually afford to sit back and think objectively about your options instead of being denied the opportunity. Not everyone has the privilege of chasing their own dreams, most just do whatever is necessary to live a decent life. If you have the chance to take a risk, I'd say go for it. Let a close friend or a loved one be in charge of watching out for the potential pitfalls while you take the optimistic, bold route. Good luck!

What we really doFri, 7th Nov '08, 6:20 am::

I am a firm believer in humanity and thoroughly believe that most people want to be good people and do the right things. Though my belief in humanity is challenged on a daily basis by people all around me, I try to remain positive and do my best to identify the core causes of why people act in negative manners. I live a modestly typical modern life with a job, studies, and a wife. I have my own unique talents and skills but so does everyone else. We are all just trying to live our lives and do the right things. But we often don't. Why we don't do the right things all the time is a question that has intrigued me forever and I feel I am closer to the answer today than I have ever been and hence feel the compulsion to share it.

We all have problems, tons and tons of them. Thankfully, I've had very few problems related to money, academics, job performance, or health. But just like everyone else I know, I've had more than my fill of people problems. A fair share of the problems are because of certain, specific people in our lives that we just cannot get rid of. From neighbors that annoy us to coworkers that bother us, from classmates that harass us to relatives that humiliate us, these are problems that could be solved if those imbeciles would just listen to us! But until very recently, they never listened to me no matter how well I argued my case from all points of views, including theirs. This used to frustrate and stress me out to no ends.

I feel things are different now because over the past year or so, I've had fewer and fewer long-term problems with people. I've been able to resolve a lot of conflicts without making any major sacrifices or compromises. The key was to change my entire problem-solving system that I had been clutching on to since the day I was born. No biggie.

While it may seem strange, solving real life people problems is not very different from solving math equations. If x + 3 = 10, we can solve for x and arrive at the correct answer of 7 by calculating what 10 - 3 is. We were given one piece of fact and we had to determine the missing piece of information. We did this by looking at the problem and making some judgments on how to get to the answer. Had we done 3 - 10 or 10 + 3, we would have arrived at an incorrect answer. The problems we face in our daily life are closer to solving the more complex variety of simultaneous equations and linear algebra. We are given a bunch of facts, with many missing pieces, and we have to identify every missing piece of fact before we can make a proper judgment.

Say you start a new job, every person in your department seems like an absolute disaster, and you are supposed to fix it all. That's real life. But it's not much different from a math problem - you are given a lot of facts but not all of them are explicitly mentioned and now you have to make up your mind to do the right thing. Unfortunately, despite your best attempts, in the end it turns out that you royally screwed it up. What happened there? Here's how I see our judgment-making, acting-taking system:

We will never have all the facts on any situation or person. You can never know everything about the teammate who yelled at you even though you did all your work because even the teammate doesn't know himself that well. What you can do, is find out more about the person and where their point-of-view originates. The more we know the facts behind someone's action, the easier it is for us to form a rational judgment that does not frustrate or stress us out. In this case, we might learn that the teammate has anger issues, lack of self-confidence, and a fear of failure that makes him extremely stressed when things don't go as planned. Upon realizing this, we are not supposed to form an opinion of him as an angry, scared person and then become emotionally defensive to everything he says but rather, form a rational judgment that lets us deal with this person without exacerbating the conflict any further. We will never have an easy time dealing with this person and it will always take extra work from our end. However, if we make our judgment based on facts and not our opinions, feelings, or emotions on this person, it will be easier for us in the long-run.

In addition to judging others, we judge ourselves. A LOT. If something goes wrong, the first person that most everyone blames is themselves. And we are often our worst and harshest critics. Once again, we do it because we have formed opinions of ourselves and attached a lot of emotions to our personalities, quirks, and deficiencies. If you said something ridiculously stupid during a company meeting or even a dinner date, you cannot blame yourself forever as being a stupid person. What you should do is realize the fact that you were extremely nervous, you were not prepared, and you had a lot of things going on in your mind when you said all that. If that is the case, there's a fix for it. Do something to calm yourself down, prepare in advance, and work on blocking out everything other than what you are concentrating on. It's not easy but it's possible. So there's hope for you. Don't go about blaming yourself for days, weeks, and months for one trifling incident.

Next time you realize you are in a problem ask yourself is this is a people-problem and if so, stop yourself from thinking any further about your opinions or feelings towards the persons involved. Instead, try to honestly find out their personality, background, and situation. Then try to make your decisions. It is not easy. The person could be your mother or wife. It could be your boss who can fire you on a whim. Or it could be someone you truly respect but are also very scared of. Regardless of who the person is, you have to get more facts on their story before you decide how to act. If your final courage of action involves walking into the CEO's office and spouting off 10 things on why the new manager needs to be fired, you are doing it wrong and should go back to the "Get Facts" section again. I'm sure the new manager needs to be fired but the course of action you decided on is not the calm, rational method that will help the CEO see your point-of-view.

In the end, if your final judgment frustrates you instead of encouraging you to take appropriate action, you need to get more facts and revise your judgment. Nobody else will do this for you, except you. So get on it already.

Mon, 3rd Nov '08, 7:45 am::

Today marks my seventh year of regular 'blogging. I began with posting links to websites I thought were cool and progressed to writing journals of my day-to-day activities. I gradually stopped posting random links and begin experimenting with science and technology posts. I continued to write about my regular life but I found my true balance once I started writing about my views on the world - personal, social, and cultural. I no longer feel it necessary to write about every major crisis in the news or every time I get a new gadget. I will continue to write about any interesting real-life events and when something moves me. What this means is, fewer updates pertaining to the mundane like project deadlines, upcoming exams, and laundry status.

Oh and my comic Calm Down is back.

Sun, 26th Oct '08, 9:20 am::

I'm sitting outside in our Florida room next to Juliet, huddled in a blanket, studying on my laptop. I can see our three turtles, Loch, Ness, and Wolf swim around in the two aquariums along with the fishes and Giga keeps looking for ways to escape back into the house. The gliders Paxil and Rita are asleep and so is Herbert the tortoise. Jack, Tera, and Cookie are inside the house, probably asleep.

We went to Treasure Island beach yesterday for a stroll and had wonderful Thai food for lunch. We watched The Score last night. A two-hour movie is pretty much all the time we can spare to sit in front of a TV without starting to worry about projects, papers, and exams these days. She keeps glancing over to read what I'm typing and I keep hiding it from her. The sounds one hears in this room are soothing - the pitter-patter of the water in both the aquariums, chirping of morning birds perched on eaves and evergreen boughs, wind-chimes swaying in the winter breeze, and leaves rustling in the wind - it's quite a relaxing environment if you can tune out the infrequent automobile noises.

I have to write a six-page paper by noon and have more school assignments after that. I also have to work on a website with Tay whenever he hops online. Juliet has two exams this week. I got 97/100 in my Accounting exam last week. I cared tremendously about my grades back in undergraduate college but now I don't give much value to grades. The new things I am learning are valuable enough without me fretting over grades. It's back to reality for me now, i.e. the six-page paper that I have to write in a little over two hours.

Don't do muchThu, 16th Oct '08, 11:15 pm::

I had my first real in-class exam today after a break of four and a half years from college. I think I did well for someone who barely had the time to sit down and study. I have been pressed for time lately and this very lack of time is gradually teaching me how to better manage my todos, stress, expectations, and goals in quite an unorthodox way. I know my thoughts below will initially seem to be going all over the place but just hang on a bit because I will eventually reach the focal point that I intend to discuss.

The problem with life is that for most people, it really is the same story day-in and day-out. Even if you have an exciting work or social life, the excitement has the same flavor on a day-to-day basis. Then one day something changes and it starts to get more stressful. You can't change your life around immediately to counteract the increased stress, so it builds up. Pretty soon you fall way behind on your todo list and your goals and hopes are nowhere in sight. A few years later you ask yourself how did I end up here and whatever happened to my dreams and all those plans.

At the same time, you see successful people in every walk of life around you. The gym instructor is in better shape than you'll ever be, your coworker knows more about Excel than you thought was possible, your sixty year old neighbor can run faster and further than you can, the mechanic knows more about your car than you ever will, your friend has read more books than you can imagine, and even the stupid guy who interrupts movies on cable TV seems to cook better than you can ever hope for. It is as if we are being told we suck at life by being encouraged to be good at everything and we are going crazy trying to deal with it all.

Then New Year's Day comes around and the go-getters among us make resolutions and promises. Time to join gyms, lose weight, start reading, help the community, sign up for a music class, and take a course in web designing. All of this is supposed to make us a better person and help us grow. And I am all for it too, regardless of when and how you start. Knowledge, skill, and art makes one a well-rounded person so go for it by all means. The problem isn't that these things don't help us in the long run. The problem is that they displace the honest, self-actuating goals we had on our list and have forgotten over time. What was once a list of unique, personal goals, goals that truly mattered to you, is now a list telling you to sign up for pilates, swing dancing, and pottery classes just like eighty million others.

The trick is to not buy into it. I don't want to run faster than anyone and I don't need to be an awesome cook. I will not be jealous of my well-read friend's library and I will not try to be the best Excel number-cruncher (though I'm pretty damn good at it already.) What I will be, is the best me. I no longer want to be the best at anything and everything. If that means I get a B in Accounting while making more time for my wife and pets because that's what matters more, that is how it shall be. If it means my website gets fewer hits because I'd rather be sitting outside staring at the moon instead of computer code, so be it.

Throughout our lives we have been taught that it is a great thing to be good at something and success is what we should strive for. Society puts a great deal of value on the champions in every field. You cannot fight these uncontrollable urges to be better at everything unless you are consciously aware of your true desires in a given field. From the bottom of my heart, I do not care about running a mile in under six minutes. I never have and never will. However, the moment I see someone dart past me at a park, an annoying little bulb lights up in my head and commands me to "wake up early every morning and start running again so you can be fast like this runner." So I wake up the next morning, run for a few days or weeks if I'm lucky, and then give up. Why? Not because I hate waking up early or despise running, but because running is not something I genuinely want to do at this point in my life.

The simple reason most of our resolutions fail is because we don't want to do them. And on top of that, we are told that we are utter failures if we don't stick to our resolutions and plans - plans that we never even wanted to make to begin with. So this is where we are right now. We make our own dreams but get sidetracked when we get stressed in our day-to-day life and see others succeeding at their own goals. So instead of working on our goals, we pick up their goals because self-help books and self-titled gurus said so. We try hard but fail after we realize we don't really like bending over backwards in yoga or rock-climbing. Then finally we ask ourselves what happened to our goals and why life seems so stressful and joyless despite our every effort at improving things.

I learnt all of this over time after trying to do too many things too fervently and failing miserably at almost all of them. I still hope to do a lot of things but only ones that I really, really want to do and without trying too hard to succeed in most of them. The handful of things that I am passionate about and dedicated to, will still get my full attention but the rest of the things on my todo list will get sort-of done, whenever, if ever. By not caring too much about everything, I am able to care a lot more about some specific things and that I feel is the key to reducing stress and reaching one's personal goals.

Tue, 7th Oct '08, 8:25 am::

It's been a stressful week so far. Too many work to-dos, studies, projects, and general chores. I hope it gets better soon. Juliet is just as stressed with her classes and exams. I want to punch the next person who says we're still in the honeymoon phase. The good thing is that each day I feel more confident that we're a very strong team and can stand together against all odds. It's been over four months and we haven't even had a single fight or a major argument. I guess neither of us is the fighting type. Of course there's been tons of disagreements but we worked it all out in the end without yelling or bickering. So that makes me very happy.

The pets are all healthy and wonderful. Last week Juliet rescued another little turtle, a baby Cumberland Slider. We haven't named him yet but I like the name Wolf. Mainly because I've always thought about having a pet wolf but I don't think that's possible anytime soon.

About that financial crisisFri, 3rd Oct '08, 6:15 pm::

A lot of people have been asking me what this whole "economy in crisis" situation really is. How can banks in the world's most prosperous countries run out of money? Is it because the houses were overvalued? Is it because the people aren't saving? Or is it because of a variety of reasons like health-costs, unemployment, inflation, gas prices, or political instability? On the surface, it would seem prudent to say that it is a deadly combination of all of the above that's causing the financial crisis. We hear statistics being quoted on the news constantly that inflation rose, unemployment rose, new-home sales fell, auto-sales fell, and stock prices crashed. As I see it, these are the effects of the financial crisis not the causes. The causes are far too murky and boring in details for the average person to identify and enumerate. Luckily for you, I have all the time in the world and I love talking in metaphors instead of confusing finance terms when explaining something, so here it goes.

We have to remember that at every level of business and economy, different people are looking at different pieces of information. What you and I hear in the news is what the media has decided is the information most relevant to us. So unemployment, foreclosures, inflation, and most importantly gas prices are the things we hear as the cause of the crisis. This is the same information that the industry leaders, lobbyists, and politicians use to tell us why the bailout was necessary. However, this is not the information they are all personally looking at. Warren Buffet has sailed steady through enough business cycles to not flinch at above-average foreclosures or rising oil prices. What he sees and bases his decisions on, is an entirely different zoo of numbers.

One of the most seemingly benign creatures that is and will considerably affect the economy of the entire world is "Credit Default Swap" (CDS). Economists and some smart people (pdf) have been warning against CDS for a while but nobody seemed to care. After all, what is CDS and why would it ever affect anyone not involved in big-business? Here's how I explained CDS to a friend. The names and figures are merely for illustration and not accurate.

A few years ago, Lehman Brothers bought certified poop for $10,000 dollars and asked American International Group (AIG) to insure them for up to $10,000 in case the poop starts to stink. AIG took $100/year in insurance premium and said "Sure! Why not? This $100/year premium sounds wonderful." Thereafter the executives at Lehman and AIG proceeded to pay themselves $50 because man, this is an awesome deal! Now you have to remember that the folks at AIG were a smart bunch and didn't really want to ever pay $10,000 to Lehman or the ten others like Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley that they had similar contracts with. So, they got Bank of America (BoA) to insure them for up to $100,000 for only $500/year in case they ever had to pay off anyone. Bank of America obviously said "Sure! Why not? This $500/year premium sounds wonderful. " Thereafter the executives at AIG and BoA proceeded to pay themselves $250 because man, this is an awesome deal! And just like AIG, BoA bundled up 10 of these $100,000 contracts and found themselves yet another insurer. Sometimes, they would even go back to AIG to get them to insure $1,000,000 for $1,000/year!

Now a few years later, Lehman's poop surprisingly starts to stink. So does the poop that Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley bought. AIG has to pay up now. So AIG goes to BoA for the money, which goes to Barclays which goes to a subsidiary of AIG and that's when AIG puts its hands up in the air and says "OMG! I have no money! Somebody help me!" Lehman and Merrill Lynch go belly up. All the companies start to freak out because everyone's certified poop starts to stink, they cannot resell the poop to anyone, and nobody can pay them for the stinky poop even though they had insurance in the form of CDS against it.

Now multiply all the above numbers by something like a billion and that's where we are at currently. The total amount of money currently outstanding in CDS is over $54 TRILLION. To give a slight perspective on that, the amount of money that the entire nation of US spends on buying everything from food to houses to electronics to airplanes to space telescopes to rebuilding Iraq is $13 trillion a year a.k.a. the US GDP. The entire world GDP is $54 trillion and the CDS is currently slightly more than that. And this CDS is outstanding against just a handful of financial companies around the world.

The top-level executives see this figure and realize that a pretty big chunk of $54 trillion worth of CDS would have to be paid if every piece of certified poop starts to stink. If that ever happens, every company even remotely involved in CDS will go belly up just like Lehman Brothers. So they get the daddy governments to fix this mess they have gotten themselves into. The bailout that Wall Street has now won is nothing more than a $2 can of air-freshener they hope will mask the stench for a little longer. While $850 billion is a huge number, it is still only 0.17% of the entire CDS. This means if even 1% of CDS has to be paid, the companies will bleed money. If you have 100 pieces of certified poop, guess what percent will eventually start to stink? The executives at all these companies know that answer and are justifiably worried.

Now I have to add a big disclaimer that not all companies were as mind-numbingly dimwitted as those that have already gone belly up or are on the verge of. Some were instead pretty smart and actually bought CDS against these companies so in case these companies went belly up, they actually got money! Then there were companies that bought CDS against dirty socks and used towels which may not stink as bad as poop but still aren't sweet-smelling roses from the fertile lands of Bulgaria. And obviously there were many companies that bought CDS against those sweet-smelling roses in the rare case that the smell went away. So in reality the $54 trillion CDS is a mix of the good, the bad, and the despicably smelly. While nobody really knows the exact breakdown of the good vs. bad CDS currently, it can be easily understood that the bad chunk must be large enough for the entire financial sector to lose sleep and shirts.

Failing CDSs are just one part of this financial train-wreck. The larger part is of course the certified poop, known in more respectable circles as Collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and Mortgage-backed security (MBS), often backing some arcane Structured investment vehicle (SIV). MBS is the part that involves housing market, mortgages, and foreclosures. CDO is what magnifies the problems of faulty MBS exponentially. And SIV is what banks did to enable them to continue lending beyond their legal limits. So when I said above that Lehman Brothers bought $10,000 of poop, what I really meant is that they bought share in a bundle of house mortgages for a lump-sum of $10,000 in the form of a CDO, a CDO of a CDO, or a SIV backed by a CDO of a CDO backed by MBS. Even to me all of this sounds like a bunch of random letters thrown in without making much sense.

When I bought my house in 2005, I borrowed about $150,000 from a local bank here in Florida. They checked my credit history and determined that I was financially responsible enough to pay my loan for the next 30 years. However, dealing with all my payments is a chore because sometimes I want to pay extra, sometimes I want to pay a little early, and sometimes I want them to give me a detail of why my insurance and taxes requirements were increased. The local bank really doesn't want to deal with me and tens of others like me so they bundled up my mortgage with those of others and called up Citibank. Citibank did not care much about the quality of the mortgages it was buying from my bank because the executives who arranged these deals got paid on the potential revenues from this deal without taking into consideration the risk involved. Now Citibank bought ten mortgages from my bank, ten from another, and ten from another. Soon enough, they had a hundred mortgages that they expected to make a lot of money from over the course of three to thirty years. Now being smart like all these financial wizards are, they decided to do something productive with this money. Enter the insidious SIV, the infamous MBS, and the inscrutable CDO.

Thanks to the few remaining decent banking regulations, Citibank cannot loan out a lot of money if it does not have enough deposits. When Citibank bought my mortgage, it basically loaned out money to me and since I don't have any deposit in Citibank, I reduced their ability to loan more people more money. So the Citibank wizards decided to create a separate company, say CitiSIV which bought all the mortgages from Citibank. CitiSIV being a brand new company had no money so it borrowed a ton of money from the open market at low interest rates to pay Citibank for the mortgages. The lenders in the open market gave money to CitiSIV because after all, it's Citibank and everybody knows they are AAA rated. CitiSIV borrows money at low market rates but collects higher interest from the home mortgage payments. So CitiSIV make money. Then Citibank charges CitiSIV for loan origination and transaction fees so the money ends up back with Citibank. Not surprisingly, all of this is perfectly legal.

Now Citibank has a lot of money and none of the loans on its files. This means it can loan out a lot of money now and start the SIV cycle all over again by creating CitiSIV2. And there is where certified poop comes in. Lehman Brothers gave $10,000 to CitiSIV so CitiSIV could buy mortgages from Citibank and pay interest to Lehman Brothers. These mortgages that CitiSIV bought are now certified poop because the homeowners can no longer pay the mortgage. Why can't they pay the mortgage? Because most people, unlike me, bought houses much bigger than what they could afford and at variable interest rates that have now sky-rocketed, making it impossible to justify home-ownership with respect to renting. So there are a lot more foreclosures now. The mortgages that CitiSIV holds are not going to be all paid back and are effectively worthless. Why did people buy homes they couldn't afford? Because the local mortgage banks let them and even preyed on them.

While I know a bit about complex financial transactions from my background in Economics, most people don't and shouldn't be expected to. School teachers, research scientists, and office workers may know everything about their own fields but not much about ARMs, LIBOR, or HELOC. Most people can be expected to be moderately smart about their finances but that doesn't mean they know everything. What these borrowers weren't informed three to five years ago is that adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) and interest-only mortgages are only for those who know exactly how to invest their money. Selling ARM to an office manager was like selling drag-racing car to a soccer mom - both can only end in disasters. This means, the local mortgage companies loaned money to people who couldn't afford it after a couple of years. Why? Because they made money on sales and not on long-term payments. Real-estate agents and mortgage brokers got hefty commissions every time a house was sold so why should they care if the person who bought the house couldn't afford it?

Here is the wonderful game of hot-potato that has resulted in the current crisis. The home-owner didn't risk much when they bought the house because they got to "own" a fancy house without any down payment and could now potentially borrow money against this house. The mortgage broker did not risk his money, the mortgage bank did. The bank did risk money but only for a short time because it bundled up a bunch of these mortgages and sold them to Citibank. Citibank didn't worry about the risk because it sold SIVs against the mortgages. The people who bought the SIVs, say Lehman Brothers, didn't worry about the risky SIVs because they had AIG write CDS against these risky purchases. AIG didn't have to worry because BoA has insured them against all of these risky CDSs. BoA has no worries because Barclays has them insured. Barclays has nothing to worry about because AIG has them covered. So in the end, we have more money involved than most minds can fathom, resting on transfer of risk from one entity to another, all of it relying on the promise of the music-teacher who makes $25,000 a year that starting 2009 when his mortgage readjusts, he can pay $2,000 in mortgage payments a month.

This is how screwed up things are. And apparently $850 billion can help make things better. The politicians claim that $850 billion will be used to buy the bad mortgages from companies like CitiSIV/Citibank, sit on them for a few years, and then once the financial crisis is over, sell them back to companies like Citibank for a profit to the taxpayers. You would have to be brain-dead to even for a second think that somehow the bad mortgages will become valuable in a few years once the crisis is over. The music-teacher is not going to make $115,000 in a few years and will not be able to afford $2,000 a month in mortgage anytime soon. The bad mortgages will remain bad and significant portions of them will not be bought back from the US Government at a cost to taxpayers.

The solution to all of this? Suck it up. Let bad companies go bankrupt. Let bad investors lose all their money. Let investment bankers, mortgage brokers, and insurance underwriters be fired. And unfortunately, let people lose the houses they cannot realistically afford. If the government wants to help, they should first help those in dire need.

There is no painless way to heal a gaping wound but to stitch it up and bear the pain once. The sad thing about good economic policy is that it takes a while to take lasting effects and it makes a lot of people miserable in the short-term. Bad economic policy tries to help a few people immediately while making everyone else miserable in the long-term. $850 billion is nothing compared to how much it will cost to try to "fix" this crisis by throwing money at it. A lot can be done to improve the situation by giving direct help to the homeowners and small business owners who actually need it. Not much will be done by giving money to the same exact banks that took foolish risks, lost money, and begged the government for handouts. The bailout will infuse the markets with additional cash, reduce the value of the dollar, and once again, encourage bad investments because no investment is risky if the government is willing to bail companies out with taxpayer money.

Just think about it. You pay taxes. The government is taking that money and giving it to the banks. Now the banks will lend you money to buy a car. You will pay interest on that money, a part of which is actually your own money that you paid in taxes. You will pay interest to use some of your own money! This isn't some exaggerated doomsday scenario. This is right now. The bailout bill has passed and next month when I want to go buy a car, I will pay interest to borrow some of my own money. Meanwhile, the CEOs of all these companies will continue to get stock options, unlimited perks, and golden parachutes. Who said life is fair?

My kind of problemSat, 20th Sep '08, 11:00 am::

I love tackling problems whose solutions appear to be the opposite of their true complexity. In other words, I love solving problems whose solutions appear to be very simple but are actually quite complex. And I love solving problems whose solutions appear to be very complex but are actually quite simple. A problem of the first type is automated image/video recognition. It seems so simple, after all, babies can recognize their parents within months of birth and yet the most powerful computers have trouble recognizing individual people and objects in a video footage. On the other hand, untangling a ball of strings seems like an impossible task but if you are patient, it's actually quite simple. What I don't much care for are problems that seem simple and are simple, like solving most of the newspaper quizzes and mind-puzzles, and problems that seem complex and are complex, like nuclear physics, banking regulations, and e-commerce websites. The problems themselves are neutral and have no good or bad values associated with them, it's just that they don't interest me personally or worse yet stifle my creativity.

Earlier this morning, Juliet entangled one of her necklaces and handed it over to me while making one of those cute girlie-pout faces. She didn't realize that she had just jumped started my morning. It took me under five minutes to untangle the necklace and that made her happy and me sad. I was kind of hoping it would keep my mind busy for at least twenty minutes. I remember a couple of years ago my sister showed me her Newton's Cradle with fine threads that were mangled beyond recognition. It took me over an hour to slowly resolve the mess and in the end, the cradle was completely functional and I felt extremely satisfied.

What's the point of me writing all of this today? The point is that if you recognize and identify the kind of problems you like to tackle, then you can selectively work on things that excite you instead of draining the life out of you. I don't want to work on yet another YouTube, Facebook or E-Trade. I don't want to fix a broken car engine. I don't want to take IQ tests or play memory games. I want to work on problems that fool me into thinking they are too easy when they are not because I like challenges that aren't clear-cut from the beginning. And I think I have a couple of them lined up for me right now. How about you?

Mon, 8th Sep '08, 7:45 am::

I had a pretty busy weekend. On Friday, Juliet and I went to see Tropic Thunder (one word review: hilarious) and then went to Tampa to hang out with her school friends at a bar/nightclub. Early morning Saturday (that would be about 11am), we signed up for a joint bank account. I can't believe I procrastinated so long to get that done. That brings me to the main activity of my weekend, a new application I'm still working on called untodos that learns about your personality and helps you manage your todo list based on your quirks. If every person is unique and quirky, then why does every task planning software treat us all the same? untodos learns about your personality and tries to assist you in better managing your life todos. It won't replace Outlook and complex calendaring software for everyone but I know it will help me sort out the tons of things I have to do in life. It's not fully done yet but do let me know what you think of it so far. It's completely functional and usable, just doesn't have the "smart" features yet. You are welcome to check it out for yourself and sign up for a free account.

Amidst all the programming, we also watched Spiderman 3, played with the gliders, had lots of yummy foods, and just sat in the Florida room for hours watching the turtles, and talked about life in general. Our lives are exhausting but good. I just have to make sure I don't lose sight of the good things while chasing the important ones. Hopefully, untodos will help me with that.

I'm not famousWed, 3rd Sep '08, 7:05 am::

Someone on reddit asked, "How are you famous?" As I expected, most people started listing their best accomplishments or personal anecdotes of importance. I thought I'd chime in with some of the cool things I've done over the years that got some media attention. It was while listing my accomplishments did I realize how trifling they were in the grand scheme of things.

I've had an article written solely about me on WSJ.com last year and was on the front-page of wired.com (with my pic) for about three days earlier this year. I've had newspaper and magazine articles written about me since age 16. One of my websites was reviewed on G4TV. My apps have been showcased in magazines all over the world, from Germany to Philippines.

Yet I don't consider myself famous, because I'm really not. Internet-fame is different from real fame. Internet-famous people have their own Wiki pages. Famous people have their own villas in France. We often forget there is a distinction between the two, especially when discussing it online. It has less to do with the amount of money you make and more to do with long-term personal relationships you build.

People with a website and an audience often forget that their audience is in a constant state of flux, just yearning to stumble upon something interesting and entertaining, be it via unconventional 'blog posts, established news outlets, or even email forwards. The fact that you have a daily readership of 20,000 or even 350,000 means nothing if the relationships stop at the keyboard. Of the millions who have downloaded my software over the past decade, there is exactly one person I consider a real friend. The rest were users who sent me valuable feedback.

Instead of making applications and websites that millions come across, I could have volunteered at a local charity and touched the hearts of just two people. That would be twice the number of real, long-lasting connections I've made in a decade spent writing code online. However, this doesn't mean I regret any of this. I will continue to make useful and useless applications for all to see and click around. I will try harder to come up with more interesting ideas to waste people's time in the hope that my little website makes someone's day. What I will stop doing is assuming that just because I am internet-famous, I am indeed famous or have done anything significant to impact the lives of many. Linus and Guido have, I haven't. I still have a lot to accomplish. As Shakespeare wrote, "Why, then the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open."

Mon, 25th Aug '08, 10:05 pm::

We finally got our sugar gliders! Here are some pictures of little Paxil & Rita Lynn (both girls). Paxil is the younger one, very calm, loves to cuddle, and jumps into your shirt pockets. Rita Lynn (or Ritalin) is very hyper and jumps around like crazy, especially on your back. Juliet loves Paxil and Rita Lynn is my baby. What can I say... I like crazy girls! Here's a video of Rita Lynn climbing all over me:

Sugar Gliders are similar to flying squirrels in that they can glide from one tree branch to another and are native to Australia and other Oceanic countries. Personally, I am very much against keeping exotic pets because I believe all creatures should roam free in their natural habitats and putting them in cages is cruel. However, I also believe in rescuing animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild or ones that would be a threat to native species if let outside their natural habitats. A coworker of mine gave me Paxil and Rita Lynn because her sugar gliders bred and she couldn't take care of six little flying possums. Juliet and I love animals and we had some extra space in the Florida room to setup a nice cage. The gliders have a lifespan of about fifteen years and we hope to give them a nice caring home.

This brings the total number of creatures in our house to eleven. Starting from the oldest to youngest: me, Juliet, Cookie (Juliet's boy cat), Giga (my boy cat), Tera (my girl cat), Jack (Juliet's boy puppy), Herbert (Juliet's tortoise), Loch & Ness (Juliet's musk turtles), and Rita Lynn & Paxil (our sugar gliders).

Tue, 19th Aug '08, 6:00 pm::

I've been pretty busy past 10 days. My MBA program is starting this Friday and Juliet's MS program already started last Thursday. I just bought all of the books for my program from Amazon and some other sites. I've been busy last seven days moving over twenty websites from my old host to a new one as part of my financial organization plans. I will be so busy with my work and school that I won't have much time for web designing or much else.

I don't know what it is about getting married that makes a guy want to setup a kickass home-theater system but finally I have a nice setup. My 51" HD TV is now connected to Pinnacle ShowCenter 250HD that plays all the music, videos, and movies I have on my computer wirelessly without any special setup or software purchase. I now have an HD-DVR with 200+ channels on FiOS TV. And then there's Juliet's DVD/VCR player too. I realize I am doing almost everything I made fun of when others did it but somehow this all feels pretty good.

We bought a nice cage for the sugar gliders. The sugar gliders will be arriving pretty soon too. Once they're settled in, I will take lots of pics and share. I have a lot more website stuff to finish now. Next update will hopefully be from my new server. If it all works as planned, nobody will notice anything.

Wed, 6th Aug '08, 6:30 pm::

I've been busy last few days with tons of paperwork and the overall reorganization of our finances. Combining my auto insurance policy with Juliet saved us over $600/year but adding her to my health insurance policy is going to cost much more than that. I signed up for a new credit card with 1% cashback and set it up to automatically pay most of my monthly bills like internet, phone, house utilities etc. She's busy finalizing the paperwork for her graduate school. I sent in the documents so I can get my student ID and parking permit. We still have to buy our textbooks and her loan certification is still in process.

The next three years are going to be quite tough for us as we're both attending graduate school. She is in the Master of Clinical Medical Science - Physician Assistant program at Barry University (St. Pete campus) and I'm going for an MBA in Technology & Innovation Management at University of Tampa. Hopefully both of us will be done with our studies by 2010 or at the latest 2011. We plan to stay put till then in the same house that I've lived in since 2005 and I hope to drive the same car for as long as it runs. She will need a new car sometime next year and we will get two more pets sometime this month. I have to build a storage rack for my kayaks so there's more space in our house. I love my job as I always have and hope to be here for as long as possible. She will be able to find a job nearly anywhere as a PA and that will be important when eventually I go for my PhD in 5-6-7 years.

Yeah, lots of plans. It's fun to make them. Nobody knows which of these plans we will be able to stick by but it's comforting to know we can make them. On top of all this, are my babies Sched and Chime, both of which still have tons of potential that I need to put my efforts into. Tonight I start building my kayak rack. Tomorrow, a bookcase for our school books. Day after, I get my glasses repaired (just some minor scratches), and then I get FiOS on Saturday. Even though, I have so many things to do, it seems considerably less work than before. I hardly have to worry about groceries, laundry, house chores, cooking, or writing thank-you cards anymore :) Having a good wifey is wonderful!

No drama, no cryFri, 11th Jul '08, 7:30 am::

Drama is wonderful on the stage and screen. It is destructive in personal life. On stage, drama is an emotional, expressive story played out by characters stuck in unfortunate situations. In real life, it is a back-stabbing, nagging, he-said-she-said tale that holds back everyone involved from enjoying their lives. I used to crave drama in my personal life. Not a day went by when I didn't suspect a "friend" talking behind my back about me. I would be passive-aggressive for months and finally confront them when I couldn't hold it in anymore. How could they have said that about me or done that to me despite everything I did for them all these years? They would fight back with some harsh words and I would retaliate with "No, that was NOT what I meant when I said..." Seven phone calls involving four people, five nasty emails and replies forwarded to six others, and numerous text messages later, I realized the friendship was over. The signs had been there all along, I just couldn't accept it. It took me years to learn that the sooner you accept it and move on, the easier it is.

When you gain "the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide," you no longer have petty drama in your life. We don't like to admit that we create the drama that burdens our lives. It's easier to simply claim bad things happen to me or "drama is attracted to me." No, it's not. You can learn to ignore it and get back to your life. It wasn't until I made some really, really good friends that I understood how drama had impacted my past friendships and relationships. I would let others affect me - I allowed people who mattered not an ounce to me, to completely ruin my day, week, month by something as trifling as a snide remark. It wasn't them who were the source of my troubles, it was my penchant for taking things personally.

Now it's pretty much second-nature for me to ignore pettiness, meanness, shallowness, and other such negativity from people who aren't near and dear to me. If someone wants to impart wisdom and friendliness, I welcome it with open mind and open arms. Otherwise, I just smile and say "Good day, Sir." There are too many wonderful things in life I still have to experience and have no time for pettiness. So how do I avoid drama when it's staring me right in the face? I smile (albeit uncomfortably), maintain my composure, and politely end the conversation. In my head, it's all over already and quite painlessly if you think about it. No yelling, no breaking stuff, no vengeful acts. It's like looking at a crazy monkey in a cage at zoo and just walking past it instead of standing there for hours trying to imitate it.

Years ago I was told, "Never fight with a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it." It took me a long time to see the brilliance in those words and even longer to actually live up to them. Now that I do, life's much easier and stress-free. Drama belongs on the stage, not in my life.

How I fell in loveSat, 21st Jun '08, 9:15 pm::

As I sit here online on a typical Saturday evening, the woman of my dreams is on a flight to meet my parents vacationing in London, UK. Four weeks ago, Juliet moved into my house and life without much fanfare. Three weeks ago, we got engaged. Two weeks ago our new bedroom furniture arrived and we went kayaking to my favorite beach, Caladesi Island. A week ago I met her family. This week she met my friends Taylor, Kaela, Sandra, Arthur, Taylor's parents, and many of my coworkers. Now she is en route to meet my parents and family members for the first time. In this past month, my life has changed so much I find it hard to answer greetings such as "So what's new?"

I clearly remember the day I met this wonderful lady named Ms. Juliet Summers. In the evening of Saturday, October 27th 2007, I duly noted that "Today turned out to be yet another unusual day." Earlier that day, I had gone to my friend Jessica's baby shower despite feeling quite glum and unkempt. As the official godfather of the soon to be born Jackson Adams, it was my duty to present the father with some good beer. As I sat there observing the excited couple opening baby gifts, I saw the most beautiful woman walk into the room, her eyes as if trying to find a friendly face. My immediate thought was "You are so in the wrong place." Turns out it was the right place indeed after Jessica smiled and motioned her to take a seat a few feet across from me.

I distinctly recall the pervading thought that captured my mind throughout the rest of the baby shower. I know this will sound very cheesy and shallow but I actually asked myself, "Have I ever seen a woman as beautiful in my entire life?" I had a prolonged flashback that took me through all the college parties, math classes, music shows, and checkout lines at grocery stores and the answer was a resounding "Hell no!" Unbeknownst to me, she too felt that there was something special here. Being the guy who stereotypes people all too quickly, especially the prettier ones, I didn't bother trying to get her contact information. I figured I don't need to be yet another guy trying to ask her out. Furthermore, I had more important things to do, like play with my cats. So as the ceremonies and chats ended, I bid my farewell and walked over to my car, amused that today wasn't such a bad day after all as I had just talked to the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Just as I was about to drive off, Juliet walked up to my car and said "I'd invite you over to a party that I'm going to but I don't know if I can bring any guests, so how about I give you my number? I can introduce you to many of my friends who live around this area." I smiled, we exchanged contact information, and drove off our separate ways.

Over the past eight months, Juliet and I became good friends. She tried to introduce me to some of her local friends but to no avail as I hate being setup on dates. During this time, I slowly got to know the kind-hearted, excitable, ambitious, and sensitive woman that she truly was. Despite her girlie-girl persona, one of the things about her that stood out was her blunt and direct attitude. There was no beating around the bushes and no passive-aggressive drama with Juliet. Though we were just friends, I knew there was a connection here that I had never felt before. I don't know how we went from being friendly to falling in love but last month, I asked her to move in with me and before I knew it, my home turned into a menagerie. We now have a combined four cats, two musk turtles, one tortoise, and one playful little Chihuahua. I love animals and couldn't be happier with our little zoo here.

If you just read all of the above and frowned because we completely skipped the requisite months and years of dating, you are welcome to join the club of skeptics. I understand all of this sounds haphazard and foolishly rushed because everyone knows it takes years of commitment and compromises to nurture true love. How can you be so certain if the person is right for you or not? I hope I never have to eat my words but all I can say is that once you've met the one, you know. You know it when she hands you her paycheck and bank account and says "You do all this crap from now on." You know it when she paints the bedrooms, grouts the tiles, vacuums the carpets, cleans the bathroom, scrubs the bathtub, and rearranges your kitchen utensils. You know it when she's terrified of flying alone yet decides to fly half-way across the world by herself to meet your parents just to get their blessings. You just know it. I know I do.

Don't give it your best shotWed, 18th Jun '08, 7:35 am::

I like to give everything my good 95%. I used to try to be a perfectionist and give my best 100% and it never worked out well for me or others in the end. When you try to give your absolute 100%, you feel like you deserve twice, thrice, or even more than others who only put in their 50% or 75% effort. In reality, even if you do twice the work others do, the net increase in revenue or savings in expenses to your company is marginal. The way businesses work, if you increase the company's total sales revenue by 10%, the best you can possibly get is a 10% raise. If you manage to increase the sales by a million dollars, you will not get a million dollars, even if it was all due to you.

If your slacker coworker handles only 50 calls a day while you easily handle 100, that doesn't mean you will get twice the salary. It may seem like you are doing the work of two people easily however, in the larger scheme of things, your dedication and hard work only increased your company's customer service ability by 2%. Here's a nine dollar a week raise after taxes. Go celebrate! Unless you are contractually paid commission, wages and salary seldom have anything to do with measurable performance and everything to do with negotiation and social-networking skills. If you can get a better raise, go for it! Buy me lunch when you do.

However, chances are you will not be satisfied with the raise. So what is a wage-slave to do? Slack off? No. Just slow down. Stop being a perfectionist. Realize that you are working to pay the bills and that's it. It's wonderful if you love your job, I sure do. However, do not try to give your 100% thinking your company is going to return the favor. It does not make business sense for them. If you are a star-employee with unique skills, it makes sense for any business to hold on to you but only up to a certain price point and only in certain industries. So what's a good target to hit? I prefer 95% because it's pretty comfortable for me to give anything my 90% and just a little more effort and I'm at 95%. The magic 95% doesn't give me stress, lets me sleep at night, and in general, allows me to be much more productive. For you, that number might be just 80% or 90%. Put in as much effort as you can as long as you don't start to stress out with "but I work so hard."

If you work so hard and people don't care, stop working so hard. This rule doesn't apply just to office work. Take cleaning your home for instance. Maybe you are one of those people who keeps the house psychotically clean and starts yelling at everyone the moment a speck of dust lands on the floor because nobody other than you cleans the house... You work so hard! Yeah, stop. Clean enough to be comfortable, hygienic, and neat. Don't be a clean-freak and stress yourself and everyone else with it. I've lived with people who were clean-freaks and I've lived with people who were complete slobs. Somewhere in between, closer to the clean-freaks, is a spot where it's stress-free and comfortable.

In addition to office work and house chores, most charity and volunteer workers also get this "but I do so much" syndrome. I am certain you put in 30 hours per week towards your favorite volunteer organization for no pay and will get extremely sad when they don't mention your name in the monthly newsletter with the prominence you had expected. Well, think about it. Do you want to give your 100% and feel depressed when things don't turn out exactly like you want OR do you want to give your 90% and be ecstatic that they wrote a whole paragraph describing your charity project on the 3rd page?

On a different stream, a few years ago, my boss Eric gave me a wonderful book to read to help deal with office clashes and while it was not immediately obvious, I learnt a great deal from it and have pretty much incorporated the lessons into my daily life, well beyond the work environment. I highly recommend it: The Four Agreements.

Sat, 31st May '08, 9:25 pm::

Have you ever truly believed that you were right yet everyone who cares about you thought you weren't? All you want is for people to be happy for you yet all you get is rebuke and dire warnings. You've taken a big risk, made a gutsy call, and understand the consequences yet your loved ones treat you like a reckless dolt. The ones you relied on for support and advice make you feel guilty for doing what you honestly feel is the right thing. Have you ever felt like that? It's debilitating. Why can't my loved ones just be happy for me for once and stop with the negativity? I am well aware of what can go wrong. If you can't be happy for me, then stop trying to make me feel sad. That is all.

Wed, 28th May '08, 7:50 am::

Last week has been pretty crazy so I haven't had much time to get online for my mundane updates. I had a blast at Ginnie Springs with Tay and his family but the campgrounds were so crowded and full of drunk college kids that both Tay and I went back home a day earlier than planned. I know I'm getting old when drunk college girls start to annoy me instead of getting me excited.

I'm getting more and more fired up about my Pacific North-West camping trip in less than two months and have made pretty much all the reservations well in advance. My neck's feeling much better but the pain returns if I rest at any awkward angles. Life's good and there's not much I can complain about.

Sun, 18th May '08, 3:00 pm::

This has been another relaxing weekend. I just watched Annapolis and just started to watch Pitch Black. I'm going camping at Ginnie Springs next weekend with Taylor and his family. Hopefully my new kayak will arrive by then and my neck will be better. If not, it'll be an interesting lesson in survival.

My neck has definitely been getting better though there's still considerable pain when I move around. I cleaned my house a bit yesterday but didn't have the strength to do five loads of laundry that I have been avoiding for about 6 weeks now. So I dropped off my dirty clothes at Gardens Laundromats and will pick up the clean clothes later today. My total bill was $43 for 46lbs of clothes. It seems pretty high but that's about 6 hours of work if I have to do it myself. Add to that the electricity usage for running the washer for 3 hours and the dryer for 5 hours and it sounds like a sweet deal. They hang the clothes on my own hangers and put them in my car too. So all I have to do is drive over, collect the clothes, and hang them in my closet. If this works out well, I think I'll go for it once a month. I can drop off the clothes before work and collect them on the way home.

Fri, 16th May '08, 7:35 am::

I feel much better today. Yesterday I had a 30-minute physical therapy session early in the morning that helped loosen the tension in my neck and shoulders. I was prescribed a moderately strong pain-killer that helped ease off the pain. My boss referred me to his chiropractor who adjusted my neck and made me feel much better almost immediately. Whatever concerns I ever had about chiropractors are now gone because the relief was instantaneous and precisely targeted. I didn't sleep too well once again but I can already feel a marked improvement.

I should be all better within a few days, just in time for the delivery of my new kayak, Cobra Eliminator! I custom-ordered this super-fast kayak earlier this week and can't wait till it arrives. I picked the color "Mango" because it's the easiest color to spot against the backdrop of the ocean water so that motorboats don't run me over. I'm so excited! Now I'll have two kayaks. Who wants to go paddling with me?

Do you deserve anything?Fri, 9th May '08, 7:35 am::

Lately, I have been mulling over the concepts of deservedness and what is "meant to be" and "ought to be." The reason I give any consideration to this stream of thought is because anytime you are trying to overcome a major event in life, it is your outlook on how the outcomes ought to be, that determines which course of action you take. By deservedness, I mean a lot more than the notion of karma or "as you sow, so shall you reap." Why do we even think that anyone deserves anything, good or bad? Nature doesn't care if you deserve a bigger house or a more caring family. And yet, we all walk around everyday, certain that we deserve better and should get more.

Intricately linked to deservedness is our understanding and acceptance of what is "meant to be." I went to college and worked hard. I am meant to be financially stable and capable of sustaining myself. Since I was a good student, I "ought to" have a high salary. You and your girlfriend have been dating for three years now and despite all the tiffs, you both still love each other. You are meant to be together. We have formulated rules on how we think our future should materialize. Hard science works like that. Take water, add few minutes of heat, and the water is meant to be vaporized. Same way, meet a girl, take her out to dinner, be a wonderful companion, be romantic, and since you deserve a marvelous girlfriend, you both are meant to be in a relationship soon. Errr... not exactly.

If you take care of a person for years and they leave you for someone else, your world will come crashing down. You spent your entire 20's to work hard and make their life better. And now they've left you. YOU DESERVE BETTER! That's what everyone will tell you and that's what you will start to tell yourself. We put in effort, wait for a while, and expect results. When results aren't what we expected, we lose sleep and hope. Why? Because we just can't accept that maybe there is no such thing as deservedness. We can't accept that what is now, is all there is. You don't have complete control over what happens in future. Nobody does, including the richest and most powerful of the men. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The ones who are undaunted by unexpected outcomes are the ones who do not base their happiness on reaching the intended destination, but rather the lessons learnt en route.

If you think life ought to be a certain specific way, you will have a hard time accepting when it does not turn out so. Worked hard, married young, raised kids with love and care, and now the kids don't even call you except when they need money? Life ought to have turned out better, don't you think? I wish it had. In the heat of the moment, I will readily point it out that you deserve more in life. But later, when I sit back and think about it, I don't see why you deserve anything. Nobody does. I don't either.

So if we don't deserve anything in the end, why even bother to put in the effort on long-term goals? Because the experience is usually worth the effort. The outcome is often a random flip of a coin but you can't replace the experience gained with a billion coin flips.

Sun, 4th May '08, 2:10 pm::

I had a pretty good weekend so far. Went to the beach yesterday, then later to my friend Juliet's birthday party. The weather is beautiful and it's nice just being outside in the sun. My new glasses will arrive on Tuesday (hopefully) so till then, I'm avoiding computers and TV as much as I can. I do have a lot of things I want to write about but the eye-strain is a little too much to bear right now. I am going to go sit in my backyard and just chill for a few hours.

Taylor's coming to town soon and we had some major work stuff to talk about. So let's see how it goes :)

Quit it alreadyThu, 24th Apr '08, 9:30 pm::

I like breakups. I encourage resignations. I highly recommend divorces. I love it when a miserable situation comes to an end. If things are not going well, despite everything you try, there is no shame in saying goodbye amicably and moving on. Almost everyone I know hates all of the above and dreads the uncomfortable feeling of the final, awkward farewell. Be it your job, relationship, or academic career, if you are absolutely certain that things will not change for the better, I will always be the first person to tell you to quit. I will also tell you repeatedly not to burn bridges on your way out.

Quitting is not for losers. Quitting is for those who are pragmatic enough to realize that it is ridiculous to be in a situation where you have no control and have no way to improve your conditions. It is a show of strength to terminate successfully, not a sign of weakness. Quitting amicably is a sign of wisdom and prudence. Hurting the other person should not be the ultimate goal when culminating a sombre saga. Walking away unscathed so you can move on to bigger, better, happier things is what quitting is all about.

Nobody says give up at the first, second, or even the nineteenth hurdle you stumble upon. Everything worth doing takes a lot of work from all the persons involved. However, at some point, you will know that you have reached your limit. Staying in the situation any longer just means you are losing your chance to try something else. The opportunity cost of being stuck in a rut is incomprehensible until you realize that you consciously chose not to take some simple actions like picking up the phone or writing a short letter, and instead left yourself be subjected to continued stress, turmoil, and the gradual demise of hope.

Certainly, major changes in life take time, effort, and planning. Not everyone can deal with abrupt changes or easily let go of people and places they once loved dearly. But you have to get the ball rolling. I genuinely admire a person who gives her or his very best to make things work but is not afraid to walk away if the situation is verily hopeless. There are some things you can change with persistence and diligence, there are some you cannot. Staying in an abusive marriage is worse than the worst divorce. Working for a manager who contemptuously derides you despite your best efforts is worse than the worst resignations. "I Quit" is the most powerful two-word phrase you can utter when someone is ruthlessly abusing your selflessness.

What I am really saying is that all my friends should quit their jobs, break up with their significant others, sell their domiciles, and move to St. Petersburg, Florida so I have more people to kayak with on weekends :)

Maturity is for kidsMon, 21st Apr '08, 11:50 pm::

I often like to think that inside me beats the heart of an adventurous young boy, fascinated by the world around him. I don't even realize how much my way of thinking has changed till I cross paths with someone who still sees the world the way I did ten years ago. That's when it hits me that I am not a kid anymore. And fortunately, that's a wonderful feeling. Growing up, I had noticed that most adults were cynical, jaded, and bitter. I never wanted to end up as one of them. So I tried to hold on to my childishness for as long as I could, always careful of not becoming too mature for my own good. Thankfully, over time I have let my fear of maturity go and have gradually changed my point of view to see the world as it is, instead of how I want it to be.

Insecurity was probably my biggest personality flaw for most of my life. I was confident in my abilities but not my personality. I wasn't sure if people really liked me for who I was and so being loved by all was one of my primary concerns at all times. When you're trying to impress every person who walks by you, you rarely get a chance to be yourself. I even dreaded the phrase "be yourself" because I still don't know who myself really is. The difference today is that I am not afraid of trying to be myself, regardless of what people think of me. I don't know when it happened but I simply stopped caring what strangers and infrequent acquaintances thought of me. At the same time, I started noticing people as they were instead of as I wanted them to be.

All of this came about only when I acquired the ability to detach myself from tense situations I would be involved in and analyze the issue as a neutral third-party. Learning not to take anything personally is one of the most difficult things to grasp but once you do, life becomes much easier. If a friend or coworker said something hurtful to me, I would take it to my heart and mull over it for days till I made up my own theory on exactly why the incident took place, unmindful of what the actual cause was. I used to deal with breakups, personal loss, and failure in a similar way - drastically. Now, I just brush it off with nary a frown. I always hoped that someday I would grow up to be stable and staunch in my principles but I never knew how that would actually happen. Turns out, it was really quite simple.

I just had to figure out who I truly wanted to be. Did I want to be the guy who knew all the movers and shakers? Or the guy with six-pack abs? Or the guy who lit up the dinner table with witty remarks? Or the guy who walked into a room and took every girl's breath away? Or the guy who knew the temperature at which Molybdenum boils? I know now that I didn't ever want to be any of these guys but that didn't stop me from trying for all of these roles for well over a decade. I was trying to live someone else's dream. The day I decided to make my own dreams and goals, the image of the person I wanted to be became much clearer. The person I want to be doesn't worry about bad hair days because proper follicle care is pretty low on the priority list. The person I want to be doesn't think life is over because some girl reacted unexpectedly. The person I want to be doesn't worry that someone else is making more money, getting more attention, or receiving more accolades while doing less work. If the person I want to be doesn't care about petty, superficial trivialities, then why should I waste my time on those?

There is a fine but nontrivial distinction between not taking things personally and not giving a damn about what others think of you. I still care about how my actions impact others and try not to be loose with my words. As long as I am honest to the best of my abilities, I have a firm ground to stand on when others judge me. In turn, what this form of disassociation from my own self gives me, is a certain kind of power you only see in martial arts movies from the 1970's, when the old master would stand calmly and just move slightly from side to side while four angry youths jumped all around him, trying their very best but failing to even land a single punch. That's pretty much how I feel around angry, frustrated, stressed out, and disrespectful people now. I no longer have to say anything in retaliation or attempt to prove my righteousness. I simply just move along and leave them to their own dramatic selves.

I feel like I am a work in progress and will be for the rest of my life. It's pretty gratifying to think that despite all my flaws and failures today, as long as I learn something from it, I will be a better person tomorrow. That's the wonderful thing about maturity - you can't lose it. So now when someone tells me that they are worried about their physical appearance in public or how a coworker doesn't act respectfully towards them or how selfish their cousin is, I ask them to think carefully if any of that really, truly matters in the big picture of their lives; is the loss of sleep fretting over minor nuisances really worth the fleeting sense of righteousness? I don't expect anyone to see things the way I do, after all I was caught up in the blame-games myself not too long ago. Yet I hope that they take a little part of what I say and let it soak in. Maturity has a way of slowly creeping up on you unannounced, not unlike dandruff and termites. Alas, there is no remedy for maturity though spreading it around does bring some transient relief.

Fri, 18th Apr '08, 10:55 pm::

I have an awesome idea in my head right now and not one person I can bounce it off of to ascertain if it worthwhile or not. I feel so frustrated. Why do these ideas get into my head only when nobody's around? Maybe I'll just do it on my own without telling anyone about it.

Wed, 16th Apr '08, 9:20 pm::

Things have been pretty good lately. On Sunday, I finally got to hold my godson Jackson when I visited Jessica & Andrew in Gainesville. I spent most of the day with Tay and Kaela and played with Jackson in the evening. He's under four-months old but already over 18lbs! Nothing much going on these days but I'm keeping myself busy with lots of little interesting things. I'll write about them as I make good progress.

Thu, 10th Apr '08, 12:10 am::

I don't know what it was but I started to feel a bit nostalgic tonight and put on some of my favorite Hindi music. Contrary to the cliched songs involving trees, mountains, and fancy clothes, most of the Indian music I cherish is sombre, soothing, and has beautiful lyrics. I couldn't listen to more than five songs without feeling extremely homesick so I decided to get on reddit and read a funny story or two. As luck would have it, the top story was "At a Loss" by columnist Dan Savage. Instead of his regular hilarious columns on relationships, this one had him say "My mother died on Monday." Forget getting a chuckle or two, I ended up with a stream of tears. And things only got worse when I foolishly clicked on a similar article mentioned by a fellow redditor: Dave Barry's column about his final good-bye with his father.

I could use a hug right about now.

Sun, 6th Apr '08, 5:50 pm::

I'm in Gainesville at Taylor's place, listening to Kaela and him talk about her work advertisement project.

Fri, 4th Apr '08, 5:05 pm::

The worst part about being a grownup is that when you're alone in a room with a box full of donuts, you are supposed to control yourself and take only one or two. Screw being a grownup! Donuts for dinner at work :)

Sun, 23rd Mar '08, 6:05 pm::

I think all the problems of my life would be solved if human teleportation became a reality. The only thing about my life that isn't awesome is that nearly every person I love and cherish, is far away from me. Some people are a few hours away, some are across the country, and some are across the world. Often I have dreams wherein distances don't matter. So I could be having lunch with my friends in New Jersey and then walk into my room in India to say something to my mom and then walk out to my aunt's backyard in Utah. I woke up yesterday morning, forgetting that SXSW is over, and almost group-texted "Where's everyone, let's get lunch..." Everyone's too damned far.

Fri, 14th Mar '08, 7:30 pm::

Every day, a new theory pervades my mind and connects all the random musings into a unified outlook on life. After being here in Austin for a full week now, I feel overwhelmed by the number of interesting experiences that I was able to have in such a short span of time. I was able to compress the events of an entire year into seven days and that basically means, I have two 2008's - the regular 2008 and the SXSW 2008. In 2007, I saw about 6-7 movies, went to 3-4 music shows, met 6-7 interesting people, went to 3-4 parties, and got famous 2-3 times. Hmmm, that's less than one week here in Austin! So I already hit my personal entertainment goals for the year 2008. Now I have ten more months to live it up.

Yesterday I went to see musicians Robyn, Sia, Jens Lekman, Islands, and my favorite Asylum Street Spankers. Today I watched part one of the trilogy: Mongol and a documentary series about Punk Rock band NOFX's World Tour. Also saw Lykke Li today and now we're off to dinner!

Wed, 12th Mar '08, 1:45 pm::

Everything Taylor told me about SXSW has either proven to be exactly true or beyond my wildest expectations. He told me how initially you meet a lot of really neat people and parties get crazier each night. Then you start to lose physical energy, wake up later each day, stay up later each night, till the last day when you can't even get out of bed. He said how friendly everyone is and how carefree the atmosphere is. So far, it's been pretty damn awesome being here. Having people thank and congratulate us for Sched.org is icing on top of the already sweet cake. The music festival started today and although I didn't get the pass to attend official music events, there are still many unofficial shows I might go to. I'm going to watch a few more films and continue to meet more people, preferably while sober. Quite a few folks are following me on Twitter and I think I finally see the utility of the site. If you want to know what I'm doing during my stay here, sign up for Twitter and click 'follow' on my profile.

Having so much choice in what to do around here has had an interesting impact on the way I see things. Regular life is seeing and working with the same set of people day in, day out. So you get to learn who they are and can react based on how they have acted in the past. Here, I don't know anyone and nobody knows me (at least not on a personal level). The only person I know is me and the more people I meet, the more I hear this 'me' person talking about himself. I'm not on some mission to "find" my true self but my voice is clearly establishing an identity for itself.

I have often wondered where I fall on the introvert/extrovert divide. I can be social and meet 20 new people within an hour any given evening if I so desire. Or I can sit in the lounge (like I am right now), not talking to anyone and just minding my own business. I could be an extrovert and confidently call the girl I met last night without a single misspoken word or I can sit here hoping nervously that she calls me. I am beginning to feel that I am really a typical introvert who simply has a lot of experience faking extrovertedness. Who knows. All I know is that it's just wonderful being here and having the time of my life. And I have my buddy Taylor to thank for all this and more.

Sched.org on front-page of WiredMon, 10th Mar '08, 12:35 pm::

Wonderful Wired.com article about Sched.org. As of right now, we're the front-page story.

Yesterday, I met the guy who made one of my favorite pieces of coder-libraries, jQuery. Then the insanely cool Alexis from reddit bought us dinner. The entire group chilled at the Gawker party. Tay and I ended up on Wired.com frontpage. We also met Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook party. I saw only one movie, Beautiful Losers, and it didn't disappoint. I don't know what I can do today to top all of that off. I'll try to watch some more movies and attend a few more panels. I'm so hungry.

Sun, 9th Mar '08, 11:30 am::

Austin has been non-stop fun so far. During the day I watch movies and attend interactive panels and after the sun sets, we go to parties where I lose my inhibitions. The daytime-me is a calm, collected individual who loves documentaries and engaging discussions. The nighttime-me has drinks in both his hands and dances with any girl he fancies. Of course, the morning-me is a tired, worn-out fellow cursing at nighttime-me for partying too much.

In other news, our little website Sched.org has 2,000 users! People are recognizing me through the website and coming up to me to thank me for making it. Taylor and I got interviewed by Wired about Sched.org - let's see if they write something neat. A lot of the panelists and industry leaders are using and promoting Sched.org themselves. The site was mentioned in both the 'How to Rock at SXSW' panels and Taylor even got a big hand from everyone at one of them.

I have a lot of cool things to watch today so it's time to shower and get ready. This is day 3/10. I am so excited to see what happens next.

Living as if tomorrow is your last day?Sun, 2nd Mar '08, 12:35 am::

It always bothers me when people say you have to live your life as if tomorrow is your last day. That's because if tomorrow is my last day, there are many things I will do that I would certainly regret if I'm alive on the day after tomorrow. Given just twenty-four hours to live, most people including yours truly, will just party non-stop for as long as they can and then retreat into delirious seclusion because of the immediate threat of death. Living your life as if you're going to be dead before the next mortgage payment comes up is pretty irresponsible and not a good motto to live by. On the flip side, living as if you have all the time in the world to do everything you want just makes you lazy and procrastinate without ever accomplishing anything.

People are bad at making 5-10-15 year life-plans and except for a very few people (like med-school students and retirees), nobody knows where they'll be in a couple of years. What made me think about the appropriate length of the ticking-death-clock is a mention of Prof. Randy Pausch online. About six months ago I watched his moving "Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon" online. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September 2006 and given three to six months to live. His last lecture was in September 2007 and thankfully, he is still vigorous and active till date. Here's a brilliant, energetic family man who has lived the last 18 months thinking he'll die within the next three months. And to top it off, he has went on to accomplish his childhood dreams (like practicing with his favorite sports team and getting a talking role in the next Star Trek movie) as well as ensuring his wife and kids have wonderful memories of him.

In a span of three to six months, you can do a lot. Travel across a continent, write a book, build a swimming pool for the kids, and go on a long road trip with your best friend. You can live each day to the fullest while not driving the people you leave behind crazy. This is quite achievable and exciting if you think about it. Today is March 2nd. If everything you ever wanted to do, had to be done by September 2nd, what would you do and when? No, you can't wait till Christmas. You can't put off going skiing till November. You don't have infinite money and your savings aren't enough to support six months of bills on top of all the fun you want to have. That means, you have to keep your job, you have to continue to pay auto insurance, and you have to be responsible about your actions. All this, while the six-month clock is ticking.

I can't imagine what Prof. Pausch is going through, especially with the chemotherapy treatments and tremendous media exposure, but I know it in my heart that whenever he hugs his wife and kids, he does it like a man who has three months to live and wants to make every moment of it memorable for the ones he leaves behind.

Working as a teamFri, 29th Feb '08, 11:55 pm::

Last Sunday when I woke up lazily around noon after a long kayaking trip the previous day, my partner-in-chime-and-crime, Tay showed me a new site he was working on. He has been going to the South-by-South-West (SXSW) Music & Film festival in Austin, Texas for a number of years now and has managed to make a name for himself by making easy-to-use-and-print calendars for the event. SXSW features over three thousand music shows and hundreds of film premiers, along with hundreds of interactive conferences and panels over the span of ten short days. For the twenty-five thousand people that go to SXSW each year, deciding where to go is a hectic process because so many interesting events are taking place at the same time in downtown Austin. The last thing you want to do is miss your favorite band or a book-reading by your favorite author because you were stuck at a boring party and didn't know what else was going on just around the block.

This year, I'm going to SXSW with Tay - March 7th - 16th. I saw the new design for his schedule and immediately wanted to help turn it into a wonderful, easy-to-use, auto-updating event-planner. Thus Sched.org was born. Every evening after work this past week, Tay and I worked on refining the design, layout, features, and content of Sched.org. We launched the site early this morning and already have over 200 users signed up for 4000 events. Frankly, all we wanted to do was make a neat way to find what events (films, music shows, discussion panels, and parties) were worth going to. So it's pretty amusing that not even 12 hours after launch, we're being considered among the SXSW Breakout App of 2008 contenders and getting some props.

The way I see it, I hopped on to Sched.org (I picked the name by the way - go me!) was to accomplish two things. First, make sure my ten days in Austin will be exciting and memorable (here's my incomplete sxsw schedule). Second, and more importantly, get in the groove of working in a fast-paced project development mode with Tay. I've worked on many projects online with a lot of people but over the last four years, my professional rapport with Tay has continued to improve and strengthen like no other. It's not all bunnies and butterflies because we disagree on a lot of fundamental design and business points of view. However, the fact that we always come to an agreement that actually works better than our own personal choices, is why it's always a pleasure to work with him. Simply put, I want red and he wants green. We yell at each other for 10 minutes and in the end one of us picks yellow and we both immediately say "That's perfect!"

Just like Chime.TV, our newer projects aren't about making yet-another-typical-website. Both of us are too lazy to make something that already exists, even if it's not free. Consequently, it doesn't matter to me personally whether every tiny app we build goes gold and garners publicity, though positive feedback is always wonderful. What does matter is that in the end, we feel proud of what we made and manage to help a bunch of people in tiny little ways. Here's to Sched.org and a hundred more creative deviances in the future!

Sun, 24th Feb '08, 12:55 pm::

Last night at 11:30pm, I got home from a superb kayaking trip with 60 paddlers down in the Florida Everglades. I found out about the trip on the Green Wave forum and immediately decided I'm going. Friday evening after work, I got home, strapped my kayak on to my car, packed some food and clothes, and headed South. I never have to pack anything other than food and clothes because everything I could never need for camping and kayaking is already in my car at all times - US/Florida Atlas, tent, sleeping bag, pillow, beach chairs, beach umbrella (eh eh eh), kayak paddle, seat, straps, paper towels, and a plastic bucket for wet clothes and trash.

I passed Everglades City at about 11pm and found my camping site in a few minutes. I setup my tent and went to sleep. I could hear frogs croaking all night in the wilderness. I woke up at around 6:20am and drove over to the Everglades Park Range Station kayak ramp near the south tip of Everglades City and met a bunch of people putting in at the same time. We paddled about 6 miles to Indian Key out in the Gulf. We meandered to many a coves along the way, catching glimpses of porpoises, herons, and ospreys. Linzy, Lindsay, and I walked around the island and saw an amazing number of whelks, conchs, tulip shells, and dried corals. There was a big lunch grill but I don't like to eat much during long hauls. After lunch, we paddled for a few miles, found a small strip of sand on a mangrove island, and shored our kayaks. A quick dip in the water cooled us three down for the rest of the paddle. We got back to the put-in at about 3:30pm. I went back to my camping site, showered, checked out, and headed back to Triad's in Everglades City for dinner.

It was pretty neat talking to a bunch of young and old kayakers about their favorites places to paddle to. I sat across from a retired captain and his daughter Jen. Many of the older kayakers are into paddle-fishing and while that's something I don't do, it was still interesting to hear them talk passionately about it. I met a few guys that actually designed these kayaks and write articles for kayak magazines. The funny thing was that I've been to more places than many of the seasoned pros mainly because I like going to a new place every time. Oh and the old captain paid for my dinner and I didn't even know or got a chance to thank him! They left early so later when I asked for my check, the waitress said "oh you're paid for."

I drove home, threw the trash, hung out the wet clothes to dry, and went to bed. Today will be yet another lazy Sunday.

Mon, 18th Feb '08, 12:05 am::

My first HD video is finally online after hours of editing: Kayaking down the Chassahowitzka River. Click on the 'Full' button for the highest resolution. I'd say even after just one video, I have learnt a lot of things that will make my next video better.

Ten things I learnt after my first nature/documentary-style video:

  1. Dont talk about useless stuff i.e. keep mumbling to a minimum.
  2. Take slow, long shots. Preferably move instead of just panning.
  3. Don't zoom. Instead, take a clip, stop, zoom, take another clip.
  4. If you said something wrong, retake entire clip.
  5. Make sure there are no annoying noises in the background. Dubbing takes a lot more effort.
  6. Feel free to take multiple shots of the same thing.
  7. Don't even bother to shoot scenes you will edit out anyway, like four blurry minutes of sea gulls flying around.
  8. Don't turn 180 degrees unless it is shaded in all directions because the sun will mess with the lighting.
  9. Dont make girly motions with hands no matter how secure you are in your manliness.
  10. Speak more clearly, slowly, and do not start EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE with "So..."

I'd say my next video will definitely be more interesting. I am more than satisfied with the quality and performance of my new $200 Kodak Z812IS. I believe in upgrading my equipment when I truly outgrow it. For now, there is no camera in the world that can improve my video editing skills. Nor will any video editing software help me with impromptu dialog delivery. I used a trial version of Sony Vegas to edit the 70+ Quicktime H.264 movie clips that my camera shoots to natively and if my next video editing session goes well, I will certainly buy the software. Video editing is fun!

Sat, 16th Feb '08, 7:20 pm::

I swam with four Manatees in the wild today at Chassahowitzka River while kayaking. Here are my Chassahowitzka River photos, though none of me and the manatees - yet. A nice lady kayaking nearby saw me in the water and took some snaps. She said she'll email them to me by Monday. I have my fingers crossed.

I knew manatees were friendly but I had grossly underestimated their cuteness. Without me doing anything, one of the manatees approached me and started sniffing my legs underwater with his snout. Then he held my left hand between both his flippers and started nuzzling my hand! Another one came up and put his neck over my hand so I could pet it and then turned over so I could rub his belly. I swam around in the water for almost twenty minutes and one of them kept following me wherever I went. He was like a huge kitty just looking for some cuddles. I've heard of people swimming with captive manatees at places like Sea World but today when I put in my kayak at 7:45am, I had no clue I would get to swim with these gigantic lovable creatures out in the wild. Their skin feels just like an elephant's and they have a soft snout that they lift just an inch above the water surface to breathe.

One thing to always remember is that because of the Endangered Species Act, you are not allowed to touch manatees with both your hands at the same time and neither are you allowed to chase after them. The best thing to do is just stand in one place like I did initially and let them come to you. Then after a while you can move about slowly and let them chase you if they are interested. While inside my head I was extremely excited about the experience, when I was in the water, I did my best to be gentle and calm. Nature isn't like a staged show with trained dolphins jumping around. Wild manatees cannot become too tame or else they will suffer out in the ocean so human contact should be minimal and infrequent for their own sake.

Last time I kayaked was in September - 26 miles on the Suwannee - and when I went back into the water today, I really wasn't expecting much. I was hoping to take some good pictures and maybe a couple of short videos in HD. But the whole swimming-with-manatees experience was completely out of this world. I've kayaked and surfed with dolphins before but today's swim tops all of that. Now I'm going to try to edit the 73 HD clips (almost 45 minutes) I filmed today into one short video.

Anti-Green BandwagonSat, 9th Feb '08, 1:25 am::

Green-Green-Green: Who doesn't like saving the environment? We humans have the audacity to pretend like we can "save" a planet with mass of 6 trillion-trillion kgs (that is six followed by twenty-four zeros) while we cannot even figure out an affordable way to harness solar power. Yet every company is now trying to be green. When a company goes "green" what they are really saying is that "from now on, as we continue to plunder the natural resources of a geological area like we have been for the past two centuries, we will print lots of pamphlets and brochures to show you exactly what used to be here so you can feel less guilty about buying our products."

Behind the brilliant feel-good marketing strategy is the plain and simple truth that production of any kind requires resources and despite every attempt to use renewable resources, in the end the environment is worse off. The only way to absolutely not harm the environment is to not live in a civilized society and wander around in small herds picking berries and hunting wild boars. I tried that once and while I would not recommend it, it was still better than my trip to Disney. So where is the happy, sustainable medium between blowing up the coral reefs and foraging for wild fruits? It is somewhere nobody wants to be. It is the no-electricity, no-Internet, no-running-water, no-healthcare, no-mass-production world that over half the population of the world wants to rise up from. The drought-ridden populace of Africa is sustainable, the flourishing Scandinavian or Latin American world is not, let alone United States, Australia, and continental Europe. As long as every single person in the planet strives to achieve a decent standard of living, there is absolutely no way to save the environment.

When the dear old grandma in the heartland of China wants to get running water, someone has to make the water pipes, tap, electric pump, power lines, and a billing system to measure how much water she uses. No matter how green each of the companies that produce these items are, they are magnitudes away from an earthen-pot filled with water from the nearby stream. Nobody wants elderly women to break their backs and suffer due to the lack of clean water but that is the cost of actually going green.

Driving bicycles instead of monster trucks is a good start but it still requires metal foundries, plastic fabricators, heavy machineries, and electricity and fuel to drive it all. Add to this the physical buildings that employees work in and the entire construction industry that built it all up. You can go from a truck to a cycle but you cannot go from consumption to no-consumption. If the companies truly want to go green, they should say "stop buying out products, and if you do, use them for as long as you can even if that kills our growth."

Despite every attempt to save the environment for the children of the 6.5 billion people on this planet today, we cannot do so while promising everyone a good standard of living. Even if we magically get a free never-ending renewable source of energy tomorrow, we will still have to dig up mountains and cut-down forests to supply the entire world with rocks, minerals, metals, wood, and habitable lands. That was fine when there were 10 million people on the planet but for 1000 times that population, there will be no green way out. There is no green solution to this problem because civilization and nature by their very definition are completely opposite. If we go too far in favor of civilization, we ruin nature. If we go too far towards saving nature, we ruin people's lives.

Pretending like we can achieve a healthy balance, which is what most companies going green seem to claim, is like saying "despite every single thing we do that inadvertently ruins the environment, let us cut back marginally in some instances and thump our chests loudly, proclaiming that it is a big deal." The entire movement of going green is a band-aid to the systemic cancer that is central to this whole issue - too many people wanting too many things. If every single means of production today went perfectly green, it would not achieve even a small percentage of what a moderate decrease in demand would.

So without running off into the wild, what can an environmentally-friend person do? Firstly, realize that no matter what you do, you are absolutely positively harming the environment by simply existing. The very fact that you breathe out carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, adds a tiny tiny bit to the problem of global warming. Secondly, accept that since you are part of the environment and have chosen to live a civilized life, there is no point in pretending that you can in any way, save the environment. No, don't even think about it. You are killing it just like I am, so please stop acting like you are in any way better than an SUV driver who eats baby pandas for breakfast. You and he use magnitudes more resources than the dear old lady in China as you both drive on the same roads, live in houses made of same materials, and shop in the same kind of big box grocery stores.

Even if you consume one-third of the fuel an average person uses, that is still infinitely more than not using any resources at all. Moreover, the fuel and resources you use may not be directly visible to you. For instance, the pain-relief medication you take that the SUV driver does not have to, was brought to mass-production at a cost of over a billion dollars, millions of which were spent on manufacturing equipment, printer paper for documentation and promotional purposes, a decade of clinical trials combined with laboratory testing on cute fuzzy lab rats, and intensive medical, quality, and safety training for all personnel involved in the entire chain. So stop trying to think that you are saving the environment while not doing anything substantially different from any other around you. Third, and this is the only one you have some control over, stop buying things you do not need and can live without. Replace real-life versions with online-versions. Loading a web-page of a news-article uses less resources than the same article in a printed magazine. Be careful here as this is the part that exemplifies the primary trade-offs between civilized and hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Should you read books printed on paper or idle away all night watching the stars? Should you stay at home and brush your hair all day or travel 1400 miles away to attend a film festival? A well-traveled, well-read, well-dressed person is bad for the environment by the very acts that defines them. So pick wisely. And most importantly, stop buying the "we love the bunnies and rainbows" marketing spiels by every company that is just trying to raise their quarterly sales figures.

Say a company sells 100 widgets at a cost of five dead penguins to the environment. Now they go green with 40% improvements in efficiency and only choke three penguins for the 100 widgets. If their green marketing strategy works and sales double from 100 to 200 widgets, they are now offing six penguins as opposed to five before. It does not matter if percentage-wise they are doing much better - environment works in absolute terms. They have one additional dead penguin AFTER going green because of a rise in the demand for their product. If they stole business from other non-green companies that desecrated seven penguins for each 100 widgets, it is indeed a net absolute-gain for the penguin population however, with a marginal rise in demand for their widgets over time as a result of their effective sales campaigns, they will be back to the old pre-green dead penguin total. The only thing going green can do is slow down the damage for a very short term. And that is basically what everything from the carbon-offsetting scam to food-as-fuel is all about - making negligible environmentally-friendly advances in the near-term so as to downplay the inherent crisis of incessant resource abuse that is paramount to our way of life outside self-sustaining hamlets.

Cities like those in Europe can plan better public transportation systems and encourage bicycle use but they cannot promote negative growth. No municipality organization wants people to move out of their city to go live in villages because that would mean lower tax-revenues and negative local GDP. Every public or private planning commission in-charge of saving the local flora-fauna has the primary goal of infusing growth while ensuring minimal direct damage to the natural landscape. That is akin to a doctor who rubs alcohol on a death-row inmate before emptying a syringe full of lethal chemicals. There is no balance that can be achieved in the long-term if the axiomatic goal is to favor the destructive course of action over the non-destructive one.

The brightest, most-compassionate minds of today are striving to achieve this balance between standard of living and preventing environmental abuse. Try as they might, the only real solution will come about naturally and at a tremendous cost to humanity sometime in the future. Recurring episodes of the traditional Malthusian Catastrophe have forever ensured that whenever the population grows beyond their own ability to feed and fend for themselves, there is a sharp rises in mortality rates that in the end, bring down the numbers to sustainable levels. Bluntly put, nature takes care of over-population by killing a large number of people. It could be the starving kids in Sudan or an infectious pandemic in a densely populated metropolis; advances in technology can go far in delaying this eventual catastrophe but they can never prevent it forever.

Prof. Albert Bartlett, a modern-day Malthusian or in other words a cynical, practical economist like me, often explains how the term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. He is the true genius that famously stated one of my favorite quotes of all time, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." I wrote all of the above before reading his thoughts on long-term energy supplies (pdf). From the very beginning, I was quite careful about what I wrote as the last thing I want to do is sound like a pessimistic doomsday fearmongerer. But having read his article now, I feel oddly vindicated that my line of thinking was pretty much similar to his - too many people needing too many resources. He has a garnered lot of criticism, especially for voicing that over-population is to blame for depletion of resources. I usually try to stay away from the same claim mainly because the moment you mention "population control," people think of communist regimes mandating abortions on women with more than one child.

On the two sides of every debate, is a realist and an idealist. The realist sees how things are and calls a spade, a spade. The idealist reads the numbers and has a gut feeling that things are wonderful and will get better regardless of all the glaringly obvious problems. Idealists are great for leading daring expeditions in uncharted waters. Realists are great for making policies that minimize the gap between the number of single males and the number of single females in a country, so as not to cause a major uprising by the male denizens who cannot find a wife. Similarly, people can observe the status of the world as it is today, exponentially growing population with an arithmetically growing energy supply, and come to their own conclusions as to what will eventually happen. Will the go-green fad actually prove its effectiveness or will we continue down the road of oil wars and deforestation-related droughts and famines? You are welcome to let me know what you think.

Advertising AnnoyancesFri, 8th Feb '08, 10:20 pm::

There are a lot of things about advertising that annoy me but usually I shrug them off as necessary evils in a consumption-centric society. Advertising increases sales, ramps up production volumes, helps industries benefit from economies of scale, and usually raises the standard of living for everyone involved in the supply chain. However, there are more than a few products and marketing shticks that solely exist to insult and infuriate me and every person smarter than a potato. The fact that people actually buy these products in droves only reinforces my pet theory that humans evolved from dodos. Here are a few of my advertising annoyances, with my biggest one at the last:

  • Water with low-calories: Let's get this straight. Water has ZERO calories. If water has calories, it's not water - it's either juice, lemonade, or really dirty water. So those Propel ads promising healthier water are as much a load of junk as the spam emails for v1Agr@. Either drink water or drink fresh juice. There is no "healthy" water.
  • Seasonal Marketing: This is one of those absolutely necessary evils because you can't really sell diamonds on Halloween or snow shovels in summer but there is nothing more annoying than seeing one jewelry ad after another, each trying to prove that there is no love without diamonds and gold. Similarly, this being the season for filing taxes, every tax software ad claims that by using their service, I will get a refund check so big my friends will stand by in amazement as if I won a lottery. Stop treating me like I am stupid.
  • Prepaid cards: Paying companies 100% of your own money in advance for a debit card that you or someone else can use in only a select few places, while being subject to transaction fees, monthly fees, and expiration dates is one of the stupidest things you can do with your money. It's not a "gift card." It's an "I don't know what to buy you so instead of giving you cash that you can readily use to buy what you want, I'm going to force you to go to Macy's within next 30 days" card. As if this wasn't stupid enough, the tax preparation companies this year have come out with the "novel" concept of offering you the option to get your tax refund not as a check, bank deposit, or cash but as a debit card issued by them.
  • Non-native accents for local products: If you're selling chocolate made in Switzerland, I can see how a narrator with a European accent would lend credibility to the sales pitch. What I loathe is the use of a British accent to give an aura of elegance to a bottle of shampoo made in Tennessee. Conversely, stop trying to overdo the native accents for local products to show how American your products are. I'm looking at you every-Ford-GM-truck-ad-ever-made.
  • Green-Green-Green: Who doesn't like saving the environment? We humans have the audacity to pretend like we can "save" a planet with mass of 6 trillion-trillion kgs (that is six followed by twenty-four zeros) while we cannot even figure out an affordable way to harness solar power. Yet every company is now trying to be green. When a company goes "green" what they are really saying is that "from now on, as we continue to plunder the natural resources of a geological area like we have been for the past two centuries, we will print lots of pamphlets and brochures to show you exactly what used to be here so you can feel less guilty about buying our products." Read the rest of my anti-green-bandwagon diatribe.

Sat, 26th Jan '08, 12:15 pm::

The next James Bond movie is titled "Quantum of Solace." The name is derived from a short story titled the same. This is the excerpt:

    The Governor paused and looked reflectively over at Bond. He said: "You're not married, but I think it's the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn't care if the other is alive or dead, then it's just no good. That particular insult to the ego - worse, to the instinct of self-preservation - can never be forgiven. I've noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I've seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I've seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster - all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I've thought about this and I've invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace."

    Bond said: "That's a splendid name for it. It's certainly impressive enough. And of course I see what you mean. I should say you're absolutely right. Quantum of Solace - the amount of comfort. Yes, I suppose you could say that all love and friendship is based in the end on that. Human beings are very insecure. When the other person not only makes you feel insecure but actually seems to want to destroy you, it's obviously the end. The Quantum of Solace stands at zero. You've got to get away to save yourself.

Tue, 15th Jan '08, 9:55 pm::

I just paid my $300 registration fees to University of Tampa for the Masters of Science in Innovation Management program - Fall 2008. Classes start in late August. I'm pretty certain I'll have at least two classes, Mondays/Tuesdays 6-9pm, and probably more. It will be a part-time graduate study lasting about two years and shouldn't interfere with my day job.

Before school starts I have two vacation plans. First one is coming up soon and I'm very excited. March 7-16 in Austin, TX at South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festival with Tay and other cool peeps. We already have a hotel and week long passes. I need to buy my plane tickets and hopefully a decent digital camera as my six year old relic is now broken beyond repair.

Sometime around late summer, a few weeks before school starts I want to resign from my carefree life with one final act of defiant recklessness. I want to go camping, kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing, back-packing, and what-not in the North-West for at least two weeks. My heart truly aches for unspoilt wilderness.

Fri, 11th Jan '08, 8:05 am::

I have so many random little things I want to write about. I don't want to sit on my computer for hours editing and pontificating so here's a summary of what could have been a series of 'blog entries.

I don't multitask. I have a one-track mind and find it way more efficient and productive to do one thing at one time. Multitasking is important for people who manage schedules, projects, and other people. For people that create something new that wasn't before, multitasking hampers concentration.

I don't have writers' block. Even if nothing is happening in my life, I can always find something that interests me enough to write about. Often I organize the thoughts in my head and just as I'm about to start writing, I close the window and go do something else. I don't lack motivation to write but sometimes I can't justify my time being spent sitting on a computer instead of playing with my spiffy new mini toy-helicopter (thanks Tay).

My showers used to take about four minutes. Thanks to Sandra's wonderful Christmas gift pack, now instead of using Head & Shoulders as shampoo/conditioner/body wash, I have three separate bottles from American Crew that do the same independently. It takes about 14 minutes to shower now. Also news to me was the capacity of my hot water heater - 7 minutes when shower is turned on full.

The ERP system at work has been in operation for well over a week now and everything is moving along as smoothly as I could have imagined. I still have lots of work to do but hopefully no more crazy hours.

I'm eating much better lately now that I don't come home at 11pm. I've started cooking every night and hope to do so from now on. I don't eat any meals other than dinner and yes, while that is very unhealthy for most people, it has always worked for me (and my mom). I understand how eating a big meal before you go to sleep doesn't burn all the calories efficiently and blah blah, but I don't care. This whole eating-once-a-day thing works for me well. I feel lazy and tired if I eat 2-3 meals a day.

The way I see it, eating multiple meals a day is a relatively modern norm just like the myth about drinking 8 glasses of water a day. I drink water when I'm thirsty. I drink enough to quench my thirst. Don't make this process any more complex. Early humans ate once a day or at most twice a day. I eat just as many calories, vitamins, and different food groups as I'm supposed to eat - I just eat all of it in one meal. I guess I have my own diet style because I'm pretty sure I have an eating disorder. I know it seems hard to believe but I can almost never tell when I'm hungry or when I'm full. So if I eat 3 meals a day, I usually end up overeating at each meal. Then I'll get busy with something and forget to eat for two days straight. I have actually asked my friends when we went out for dinner because that was the last time I ate. Relying on my stomach to gurgle and burp is not healthy. Now I eat once a day. So far so good.

I'm going to Tay's for the weekend. It's been a while since I had some social time. I'm excited.

Sat, 5th Jan '08, 4:00 pm::

I just saw a surprisingly wonderful movie "The Perfect You" a.k.a. Crazy Little Thing (2002). The storyline is a bit like When Harry Met Sally but without the stereotypical men-vs-women generalizations. I like watching movies without any sort of prior expectations or ideas on how the story is about to develop. That's also a reason I've nearly stopped watching movie trailers or discussing movies before I actually see them. I just want to know that a movie X is good and interesting. I don't want to know the storyline, the cast, the reviews, or that the cinematography is unique and refreshing. Just tell me it's good enough to watch and then I'll let the movie do the storytelling.

Sat, 15th Dec '07, 12:55 pm::

People have out-of-body experiences. Hallucinogenics and spirits give you out-of-mind experiences. I just had an out-of-place experience. As I stood in the parking lot at Toyota, waiting for my car to get the 35,000 mile service, a feeling of unanticipated displacement overtook me. The weather felt like Mumbai whilst the brightness compelled me to believe I was in the snow covered mountains of Utah. The couple from Lebanon bickering over auto-parts expenses reminded me of Premchand's tales from the heart of rural India while the tattooed Asian guy in a tow-truck resembled a frame from a Jet Li flick. I was there, inside my mind and body, but I wasn't sure where "there" was.

Maybe I shouldn't have stayed up late last night; certainly this is due to my uneven sleep schedule. I walked inside the waiting room hoping for the feeling to subside. Instead, I started to notice obvious things to such a detached extent that they became peculiarities to be mused over. An elderly couple exchanged a few words among themselves and the only thing that I could think of was "We used to be two separate individuals minding our own business. One day we decided to hang around each other more often. It felt good so we signed official documents to make sure we hang around each other even more. Now we consult with each other about every single thing regardless of its long-term impact and importance. Sometimes we wish we had picked someone else to hang around with but too bad we signed those documents."

A service rep. walked up to an amusingly rotund woman to let her know that her car was ready for pick-up. He commented that her screaming little boy was so well-behaved. All I heard was "This is the path I have chosen in life. I end up here on a Saturday, telling morbidly corpulent women that their noisy rascals are anything but. Why? Because if I don't get three more A+ service check marks on my customer satisfaction survey forms this month then I will have to find another place to carry on this shtick. I should have been a boat captain."

The voice on the speakers announced "Mr. Mayta, your car is ready." B+ on the pronunciation. I picked up my car and left.

Wed, 21st Nov '07, 9:30 pm::

Laura and I went to some gorgeous places last couple of days. Yesterday afternoon we walked through the Florida Botanical Gardens and spent all of today on Sanibel & Captiva Islands - about four hours walking along the nature trails through J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Tomorrow we're going to Tay's parents' house for Thanksgiving Dinner. It's movie time now.

Wed, 14th Nov '07, 8:15 am::

This week's going to be a lot of fun. Scott and Anthony (of HypeMachine fame) are coming to town. Tay is picking them up from Tampa and they'll probably barge into my work around 4pm tomorrow. I'm pretty excited about the weekend too - my friend from Washington is flying in. Hopefully lots of fun will ensue in the upcoming days.

I don't want to believeSat, 27th Oct '07, 8:15 pm::

People that know me well, know well enough that I am completely devoid of any beliefs, faith, superstitions, and paranormal inclinations. I don't believe in ESP, ghosts, mythical creatures, or UFOs. I don't "believe" in science, rather I have a good foundation in scientific theory and principles with a pretty decent understanding of the universe we live in. I don't claim to know or understand everything and so even if I don't know what caused the Big Bang, I'm perfectly fine with my lack of scientific explanation for it. Regardless of all of this, my entire past week has been pretty damn weird.

I woke up last weekend and sent this to Tay online: "I had a dream that I was vacationing in Gujarat (a state in India) in the Gir Forest lodge house, surrounded by tigers and lions. My family was there, so were you, Anthony..." I didn't get into detail since he was leaving but the dream wasn't about the lions attacking us. They were trying to get inside the lodge to get away from something. Two days later, I came across this tragic article online: "Five Lions electrocuted by poachers in India." I hadn't seen any documentaries about Gir in a long time. I hadn't watched any Animal Planet or Discovery shows about big cats nor read any Nature articles. This was completely out of the blue. Color me spooked.

The rest of the week was full of little coincidences, too many to list. Today turned out to be yet another unusual day. I don't know what's in the air but for some reason, I was treated extremely nicely when I went to the grocery store, deli, and then later at a Chinese food place. I know everyone has days when people seem extra nice (or extra mean) but I'm talking double free food from a fast-food chain run by Pepsi. People were so nice today that I kept wondering if something was wrong with me.

A few minutes ago, I finished my food and started reviewing the stats for Chime.TV. I was about to lament that the growth is not accelerating at the expected pace when I popped open a fortune cookie to find these words: "They will be grateful that you cared enough to make it."

Like I said, I don't believe in anything. I don't believe I am here for a purpose, I don't believe everything happens for a reason. I do know that I have managed to overcome some pretty tough hurdles with support from my loved ones and a ton of luck. Lots of strange things happen in my life that I can't seem to explain. However, the fact that I don't understand why something happens, doesn't mean I am going to believe it happened because of some mystical miraculous reason. Life is just plain weird.

Little stories we tellMon, 22nd Oct '07, 12:25 am::

There doesn't seem to be anything similar between the two movies I watched today, I Heart Huckabees and Reservoir Dogs. Both are awesome movies that I highly recommend watching more than once. One little bit in both films that I never noticed before, caught my attention today - personal anecdotes. "An anecdote is a short tale narrating an interesting or amusing biographical incident."

Personal anecdotes are the little stories we tell others to give them a glimpse into the world as we experience it from our point of view. I would not be the same person today without my teeth-gnashing story about how I nearly lost my opportunity to come to the US in 2000 because I clicked the stupid "Reply" button in an email instead of "Forward." My dad would not be the same person without his story of how he ran away from home in this teens but was caught by an employee at my grandpa's company. We repeat our stories to every new crowd. We talk about that one time we got so drunk in Europe that we had to be taken to a hospital and almost missed our flight. When stories are really embarrassing, we only tell them to four people - one coworker that won't tell others, one friend from school who is already privy to a lot worse, one ex-girlfriend who is still amazed by our antics, and one stranger we're standing next to in a pub because hey, who is he gonna tell?

I blog my stories. I call up people and tell them myself. I wait for the right topic to come up at lunch before I can unleash my harrowing accounts from times begone. I tailor my narrations to best suit each particular audience. When repeating the same story to my mom, the girl with no clothes is nowhere in the tale. When reiterating it to my buddy, she is the center of discussion for a good 30 minutes. Stories change over time and usually get larger than life. The little computer nuisances I caused for my internet provider in 1999 can become incidents of nation-wide system meltdown brought about by yours truly after a drink or two today. I exaggerate and if you think you don't, you're full of crap.

This doesn't mean we're all habitual liars. Life doesn't always happen the way we want it to. That girl didn't give me her number, just her email. That guy didn't tell you that you were the best singer he's ever heard, just that you were pretty good. What we wanted to happen was a little more than what did happen. So my damned stories are going to end with the girl giving me her number and you can tell your grandkids that the guy thought you were an opera singer. Why? Two words: Big Fish. This is the next movie on my list. If you've seen this movie, you'd know the power of good story-telling.

Wed, 17th Oct '07, 12:05 am::

I'm so proud of my partner-in-chime/crime Tay. Here's an interview where he talks about everything from web design to Chime.TV, from his music sites to his idea of the future of the web. It's so weird knowing someone personally with all their little flaws and habits and then seeing how super cool they really are when someone else points it out. Tay recently helped redesign/relaunch the popular music site Hype Machine with the ever-so-brilliant Anthony. Here's a wonderful article about the relaunch. I absolutely love the new design and I did my part by coding up some Flash stuff for it.

I'm definitely biased when I say this but one of the best features about the new Hype Machine is the sidebar video player. If you search for any music artist, say The Beatles on Hype, it loads 50 Beatles videos via Chime.TV. The songs play non-stop in the usual Chime.TV style and you can hit full-screen too. Like I said, I'm biased about this feature because it's my little embedded player getting some love from a wider audience. Overall, I love how wonderfully Hype has integrated so many different music blogs, mp3s, artist pages, and music video search.

It's good to know my buddies made something so useful and beautiful.

Sat, 13th Oct '07, 4:00 pm::

Sometimes I forget how awesome I am. I'm going to sit in my chair all day, recollecting all the wonderful things about me. It's not just me, lots and lots of people I know are really awesome. I think everyone should take some time off from their busy lives and have a little introspection-retrospection session to realize how cool they all are. Go ahead. Take an hour off from whatever you're doing. Sit back and reminisce away.

Top Ten Kickass Things about Growing OlderThu, 4th Oct '07, 12:05 am::

Today I turn 27 years old. Last year when I hit 26, I "hit" 26. I was no longer a young kid and wasn't looking forward to growing old. Now, I turn 27 and I couldn't be more optimistic. What's not to love about growing older anyway? Here's my...

Top Ten Kickass Things about Growing Older

  1. Wine keeps getting finer

  2. Loans to repay keep getting smaller

  3. Hairstyle keeps getting less critical

  4. Music collection keeps getting larger

  5. Embarrassments keep turning into good memories

  6. Good memories keep getting fonder

  7. Bad memories keep fading away

  8. Being cool keeps becoming less important

  9. Weight keeps becoming a useless number

  10. Bonds of love and friendship keep getting stronger

I'm smiling that I'm 27 now. I can't wait till I'm 35.

Sun, 23rd Sep '07, 9:10 pm::

It's 2007 and computer hardware is still the bane of my existence. Like a good little nerd, I spent the entire Friday night and most of Saturday setting up a computer to hook up to my TV. I had the whole setup ready and was about to sit back and watch the latest episode of IT Crowd when the computer crashed. I spent two hours trying to isolate the problem and turns out the motherboard is dead. It's an old server motherboard that can't be replaced for cheap so now I have to find another computer. I love software but I truly hate the hardware it has to run on. It's like loving the brains but being repulsed by the body. Kinda like online dating.

Thu, 20th Sep '07, 12:05 am::

I went to my first ice hockey game tonight with coworkers. Our local team, Tampa Bay Lightning won! I had a great time yelling and screaming. I'm pretty certain I enjoy the cheering more than the game play. I barely know the rules of most games yet love watching games in person and even playing them. What I don't do is keep score and follow games and matches religiously. I love the pumped-up environment more than the life stories of the players. I feel the same with music concerts. I don't care much about the life, history, inspiration of the bands. I just want them to put on a good show so I can rock out.

I'm all rocked out for tonight. I'm going to a baseball game Friday so I need to make some more rock-juice.

Kayaking a MarathonSat, 8th Sep '07, 11:25 pm::

I kayaked a distance of 26.2 miles today on the Suwannee River at Manatee Springs. Add to that five hours of driving and not enough sleep and you'll see why I'm about to pass out. The "not enough sleep" bit was thanks to Tay and his gang for some random drunken swimming pool fun last night in Gainesville. I didn't want to drive over three hours to Manatee Springs early in the morning so I drove to Gainesville last night and stayed over at Tay's. The Springs are a little over an hour west of Gainesville. The source of the Suwannee River is the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and it flows down into the Gulf of Mexico. "Instead of palm-fringed beaches, life here is defined by swamp forests, wetlands, and the clean freshwater of the 197 springs that flow into the Suwannee along its 245 miles journey to the Gulf of Mexico" - Florida Springs.

I still can't believe I kayaked the entire length of a marathon. Took me eight hours of paddling and I stopped in between for another 30 minutes. It was very windy during my up-river trip and that slowed me down considerably. On flat-water without wind, I was doing 4 mph easily on my kayak that is pretty wide and not really meant for speed. Here's a rough map of the river section that I paddled up and back.

My entire body hurts but I'm guessing it's the "good" kind of pain. I have no plans for tomorrow except chilling at home. It's bed time for me now.

On building leak-proof systemsSun, 19th Aug '07, 6:35 am::

I am an ardent follower of world news. Be it politics, science, business, or pop culture, I am keen to hear and understand the situation regardless of the scale or my distance from the incident. I could be reading the tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America, the hostility of environmental groups towards nuclear power stations, or the Chinese threats to liquidate their US currency holdings, I have noticed certain human elements at play in every locale. To name a few, (1) greed, (2) ignorance, (3) inflexibility, and (4) irrationality are commonly at play in the prime issues of local and global conflicts.

As residents of a civilized society that is at most a single crisis away from savagery and barbarism, we have constructed innumerable social systems to keep all of us functional and urbane. As we have a justice system in place to ensure murder and theft is discouraged, we have banking systems to regulate the institutions that promote growth by enabling mass savings and investments, namely banks. Then we have school systems that dictate what a student of age nine should read and which math problems the student should be able to solve by age twelve. Add to that the laws on aviation, the rules of alpine skiing, the regulations on equipment sterilization for medical purposes, the age of consent laws that are different in every geographic region, and the code of ethics for international journalists in war zones, and we come to a very complex world to legally function in. While all of us break a few rules, most of us follow most of the rules. We stick to the rules quite well indeed. After all, who wants to be hauled away to prison, get fired from the job, be disqualified from the race, or be banned from the Saturday morning gardening club? That's the stuff news is made out of.

News is but a glorified portrayal of the leaks in the system. From stories about school shootings in suburban communities to suicide bombings in the Middle East, from stock market crashes in Europe to polar bear habitat loss in the Arctic, the purpose of news is to highlight the cracks in the long-standing systems we have in place, thereby making all of us think "somebody needs to fix this!" Your local station will cover the story of the bottling plant near your house that is dumping industrial waste into your scenic lake. Similarly, the national news networks will break the story of accidents happening across the country as long as a hole in the system can be pinpointed. Story of a bridge collapse is about the breakdown of construction regulation, infrastructure budgeting, and political earmarks. News of a molested child is to decry the deviation from moral conduct, social decency, and parental expectations. Watching the news is like watching a beautiful painting being ripped to shreds, one knife-slash at a time.

The keen observers of news notice that when the news isn't broadcasting the leaks in the system, that in itself is a sign of the larger leak in the system, whereby the fourth estate is found to be in bed with the governing bodies. It doesn't take long before the traditionally free, uncensored media becomes an extension of the ruling party and helps dictate the edicts of the rulers by publicizing propaganda as facts. Regardless of when the common man realizes the system is breaking down, every system we have designed thus far will eventually break down; an overbearing side-effect of the human element at play.

Without getting into personal characteristics of specific individuals, we know that humans are morally sound and unsound, sharing and selfish, considerate and rude, amicable and violent. Depending on the situation, these characteristics could be found in the same individual or entire organizations and even countries. We also know that most people would do whatever is necessary to benefit themselves and their groups. However, doing so often inconveniences other groups and breaks the rules of the system. Keep in mind, the system could be foreign exchange markets or the restaurant tip jar where some people are bound to twist the rules to help themselves while others are compelled to help others by giving up some of their own share.

The study of Game theory discusses possible outcomes of conflicts that occur between different agents. "In strategic games, agents choose strategies which will maximize their return, given the strategies the other agents choose." While each situation needs a specific application of game theory to work well and give appropriate results, there are more underlying assumptions in real-life than the simple "maximize personal return" hypothesis that traditional game theory considers.

If our goal is to design a leak-proof system, we have to know the foundation on which it will be built. Considering that a leak-proof solution to a specific system involving humans could be reduced to any other system involving humans and thus have the ability to eliminate world hunger, poverty, environmental disasters, territorial wars, road rage, and long lines at the grocery store, I presume that the desire to come up with such a solution is global and intimately human. Once we have a list of the human flaws, our eventual goal should be to recreate everything such that the most amount of good comes out, despite everything bad that will certainly happen. In other words, we wish to devise a solution to every problem in the guaranteed presence of Murphy's Law.

The strongest of human characteristics is greed or the desire to maximize personal benefit. We all want good things to happen to us. Be it money, praise, passion, or enlightenment, we want more of what we feel is good. Some of us, very rarely all of us, will break the rules to help ourselves at the expense of others. The harm caused to others, be it publicly visible or remain anonymous, some percentage of the population will abuse the trust put upon their shoulders. A system that expects every person to be completely faithful and trustworthy will thus certainly fail. This is why billions of dollars in monetary aid go missing as soon as they hit African governments' bank accounts. Our entire concept of charity expects the kind, altruistic people to trust strangers in power to help strangers in need. The amount of charity that reaches the ones in need is thus inversely proportional to the amount of human greed. We cannot easily reduce the amount of greed so what we should do, is minimize our reliance on honesty for a system to work.

How would one change a system to reduce dishonesty? Take the example of construction contract bids, i.e. tenders. If a local government wants a bridge built and wants to maximize public benefit, it can appear to do so by asking for anonymous bids from construction companies and selecting the bid with the lowest cost. However, that will not maximize public benefit as a construction company can drastically undercut their asking price by using inferior material that can cause the entire bridge to fail in years. So a better solution is to stipulate that the contract will be awarded to the second lowest bid. Now the company cannot quote a price so low that they will assuredly win, thus encouraging all the bidders to give more realistic cost estimates. There is certainly a loophole in this system too, as a company can simply put in a very low bid as before and have another sister company bid even lower. Thus they can ensure the lowest bid and the second lowest bid. The real-life solution to this has been mired in volumes of government regulations preventing this exact scenario, along with millions of possible underhanded tricks. Nevertheless, this entire system is built upon the citizens entrusting the local government to trust a construction company, and thus is subject to every single bit of greed faced by the aforementioned charity donations by altruistic individuals to African nations. The true solution is to minimize the reliance on greed. For the local government, it might be in the best public interest, even though more expensive, to award the contract to the median bidder as that value is much more difficult to game. To help the developing nations, developed nations can make larger contributions in the form of education, access to better healthcare, enabling free trade, and building infrastructure instead of simply wiring billions to unmonitored bank accounts.

This brings us to another powerful human lacking, inadequate knowledge. Call it ignorance, lack of education, or just plain stupidity, a system will succumb to idiocy without relent. Thus any system that expects all parties to be educated and fully understand the consequences of their actions, will be prone to failure. Information Economics deals with information asymmetry where one party has more information than the other and tries to devise "fair" solutions to such problems. However, there are numerous problems where having more information is not always as large of a benefit as one might assume. Take driving on the highways for instance. If people would just stop driving like idiots, there would be far fewer fatalities. In spite of the many experienced drivers, the few poor drivers can ruin it for every single driver on the road in a matter of seconds. To minimize fatalities, we have numerous laws in place to minimize idiocy - from limits on alcohol content within the blood stream to minimum age rules for various driving privileges. Note that while all attempts are made to discourage bad drivers from driving, the system still relies on people being good drivers and hence prone to accidents. A futuristic solution to this problem could be automated driving where you would punch in your destination and the car would drive itself. What amazes me is that such a system, which can cost a lot initially but completely eliminate accidents by inebriated or inexperienced drivers, is possible to put into place in the near future yet very few care about it. Though the automated driving software itself would never be perfect, it would improve with time, as most automated systems do. Put in a backup system with fail-safe mechanism and personal transportation can be a thousand-fold safer. So why is it not in place yet? That's the third deep-seated human defect, aversion to change or inflexibility.

Most working systems are designed with the foresight that they are not immune to abuse and hence expect timely changes to be incorporated to ensure consistent functioning. A good example is the US Constitution that was adopted over two hundred years ago and has had twenty-seven amendments to date. Even though constitutional amendments seek to maximize public benefit and limit abuse of power, nearly every amendment was met with vehement opposition, be it the 13th amendment that abolished slavery or the 19th amendment that gave equal voting rights to women - people just don't want things to change, even if it is for the greater good. While such an important set of rules supported by a strong central government can indeed work, it is nevertheless difficult to bring about changes because various segments of population have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. The ones in power strive to remain in power. Any system that requires new rules to be created in order to prevent abuse will fail when the new rules have to be approved and enforced by the same bodies that are abusing the system or benefiting from the underlying asymmetries. The US Constitution thus defined three branches, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, each of which had specific and limited powers. The system would work as long as all the branches worked independently of each other and maintained a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch abused its powers. The entire system will be prone to failure if the executive branch manages to incapacitate the judicial branch by planting personnel in key positions who refuse to prosecute members of the executive branch under any circumstances, especially if at least half the legislative branch is under the influence of executive branch. Alas, I can offer no instantaneous solution to such a dilemma, primarily because of the tremendously powerful vested interests that are averse to any changes away from the status quo.

In addition to greed, lack of information, and aversion to change, in almost all clashes, there are ingrained human emotions at play, often irrational at face-value and based more on belief and less on logic. How do you create a better healthcare system if religious beliefs dictate surgery is immoral and therefore to be avoided? While this may seem like a minor, inconsequential blemish in the human psyche, a system that requires everyone to make rational decisions will indeed fail when a considerable percentage of the population does not make the rational decision. The fundamental basis of microeconomics, political science, as well as sociology is rational choice theory, which assumes that "individuals choose the best action according to stable preference functions and constraints facing them," that is, people will weigh the different options and pick the ones that they can afford to derive the most benefit from. While "proponents of rational choice models do not claim that a model's assumptions are a full description of reality," when trying to construct and deploy actual systems in real life, we need the assumption to be true, otherwise the system that relies on rational choices, will fail. In theory, rational choice is easier to describe. If I get a less strenuous job with more pay and higher level of job satisfaction, it would be a rational choice for me to switch, unless I had other reasons to stay in my current position, like better scope of advancement in the future. Irrationality can also be rationalized in this sense by noting that if the new job was in Colorado and I love all states that begin with the letter C and end with the letter O, I can derive a higher level of satisfaction by moving there. Realistically speaking, that's a pretty irrational reason to move, but it can still be supported by a loose application of rational choice theory. In practice though, the very definition of rational is subject to debate. What is rational and obvious to one set of people may seem irrational and delirious to another. Who are we to legislate whether someone's belief in surgery being immoral is rational or not, they certainly think it's rational.

Think of any problem in your life, family, company, community, society, country, or even the entire world. Our solution to solve problems has always been to put carefully crafted systems in place. Remember that all systems will be met with (1) human greed, (2) ignorance, (3) inflexibility, and (4) irrationality. Now try to solve your problem WITHOUT requiring any of these four human conditions to be solved first. The perfect solution would be one that bypasses these limitations i.e. does not rely on solving any of them first. The scale of the problem is inconsequential for I believe that if you can solve the problem of neighbors with loud, booming speakers without giving them anything in exchange, without educating them on the virtues of silence, without providing them with headphones, or without making them truly understand how their careless behavior is affecting your emotional well-being, I can expand your solution to bring about world peace. Calling the cops on them won't be a good solution as they are already aware of their loudness and ignore it, thereby proving they are selfish and ignorant of others' concerns. It is possible to bring about world peace by enriching the needy, educating the masses, encouraging development growth and change, and eliminating aspects of fundamentalism and irrationality from the human personality. We can reduce and minimize pollution the same way, by discouraging corporate greed that favors cheaper dumping methods instead of costlier waste-management, explaining the long-term ill-effects of pollution, replacing fossil-fuels by renewable sources of energy, and minimizing the spread of extravagantly polluting devices like oversized vehicles for personal use.

The bright side to this dismal discourse is that not every problem requires all four aspects of human condition to be solved. Bringing about gender and racial equality required changes to social norms and eradication of irrational intolerance but barely had anything to do with human greed. Consequently, even if we can't eliminate human greed or educate every person, we can still solve a lot of problems. Education in itself is a problem, and the education system can be improved by social changes that promote intellectualism instead of wealth or power. Problems in education cannot be fixed by trying to provide more rigorous education or making promises of monetary or political grandeur.

If you see a problem, identify which of the four human deficiencies you are up against and try to tackle each of them individually, instead of calling for a patchwork of remedies that is akin to putting a bandage on an organ failure. If you ever feel ambitious and philosophical enough, go ahead and try to come up with a leak-proof system for resolving human struggles that does not rely on any of the four human shortcomings to be solved first. A Nobel peace prize would be the least you would deserve.

Tue, 7th Aug '07, 3:55 pm::

I hope my 'blog text is now easier to read because lately I've been itching to write a lot more. All these years I tried to have a unique design, often at the expense of readability. I guess that was because I considered my 'blog to be the best piece of my work for so long and I felt no qualms about taking any amount of artistic freedom as long as it looked pretty. Well, there's something prettier now so I feel more comfortable taking my 'blog into a more functional and readable stream, even if it doesn't look as colorful as I want it to.

I showed Derek a preview before I finalized the design and he remarked that it's quite a neutral site. I'm glad it is. I want my words to bring out the true colors of my being instead of a bunch of jpegs.

Chase your own dreamsSun, 5th Aug '07, 1:20 am::

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my low-consumption lifestyle i.e. I rarely buy something unless I actually need it (food, shelter) or it actually improves the quality of my life (kayak, night out with friends). I feel vindicated that New York Times just published an article titled "In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich." It begins with the story of a couple living in the fabled Silicon Valley (where we went/won) and have a net worth of $3.5m yet feel they are not well off enough. Their house is worth $1.3m but just because they are surrounded by people much wealthier than them (it's California after all), they feel poor. And people ask me why I don't move to the Valley.

Here's my favorite quote from the article: "I ask myself all the time," Ms. Baranski confessed, "why I do this." They go on to explain "that she must stick with it if they are to continue to live the life they enjoy here." On the surface, it's so easy to diagnose the problem here as greed, keeping up with the neighbors, or just mere pride and ostentation. But these are not stupid people we're talking about. These are self-made entrepreneurs, hard-working middle and upper management types with a Masters degree and contacts in every industry. These are the smart kids of 70's and early 80's who left their little homes in the country and moved to California for a bright future. Therein lies the problem.

They're no longer chasing their own dreams. They're just trudging along the path they're told leads to the American Dream. The desire to make it big and having the drive to do whatever it takes, is indeed the prerequisite for living the American Dream. I have nothing but praise for creative individuals who'll take a big risk to make something wonderful. However, there's a difference between "try try till you succeed" and eking a miserable living till some day you luckily hit it big.

To me, these once-promising people are just the more hard-working version of the lottery addicts who buy a $10 ticket every single day hoping to hit that $65m jackpot. I guess when I see things this way, I don't feel so bad for them. It's hard to. They're 20-50-100x wealthier than me and yet they whine and worry about whether $5m will be enough money for them to retire. It will be enough if they decide to move to Cape Coral, Florida and buy a $1m house right on the beach with their own dock. It won't be enough if they find out that their neighbor's house is worth $2m. And it will never be enough if they think that another $5m on top of their $5m is what will make them truly secure financially.

Buy less stuffWed, 25th Jul '07, 12:15 am::

I'm not a big fan of productivity advice and lifestyle tips so when I casually glanced at the headline "The seven habits of highly subversive people" on reddit, I expected nothing more than a rehash of every other "Work Smart" Top 10 list. I imagine it was my disdain for this genre of articles that caused me to misread "subversive" as "productive." Now that I read the article without any preconceived notions, I can't help but pontificate about my own personal and lifestyle habits.

I'm not certain how this change came about in my personality but over the last couple of years, I have stopped buying things unless I absolutely need them. I don't go "shopping" anymore and don't order t-shirts, gifts, or cool gadgets online. I have no new collectible items to adorn my showcase and the only products I buy regularly are food and household items. I haven't even bought new clothes in years (sadly, it's starting to show.)

However, I realize now that contrary to my claim just half a year ago, I am not a bad consumer; I just spend my money differently. I've minimized buying things and maximized buying experiences. Instead of $250 to get a better cellphone, I got $150 wind-surfing lessons. Rather than spend $600 on a bigger TV, I'm spending $50/month so I can chat with my family in India every day on my drive to work for 25 minutes. The only major purchase I've made this year is a $2500 server/workstation to code Chime.TV on but that's strictly a development decision and given the expected four-year life of the PC, quite economical in the long run.

I remember asking my dad to take me to Fancy Market in Kolkata, India so he could buy cool wristwatches for me. It was a lot of fun to find a unique designs before others discovered them. Since then, a significant change in my thought process has occurred. You know how you love that one shirt or that book or that wristwatch or your lovely car? I don't. I barely care about objects anymore. My car is a mechanical device with a simple purpose to transport me around and requires regular maintenance. My computer is replaceable as long as the backups are current and my wristwatch costs $9. Stuff is merely stuff. And I refuse to allow my purchases to represent my inner-self.

I know this sounds pretty Fight-Club-esque and maybe I am going through the same disconnect with reality, after already having procured every minor item I thought would make me happier and not finding the satisfaction. It might also be that I have realized I don't have what it takes to afford a $12m house with heated pools and tennis courts and hence have opted to get out of the rat race altogether. Or my minimalism somehow makes me feel superior to the mass consumers out there and is just an elitist act to maintain my smugness. Or maybe I've woken up one morning to a fire in my apartment and realized that in times of life and death, the stuff you so gleefully bought is what gets in your way as you try to save your loved ones.

I often get caught up in long debates with my environmentally-conscious friends who think that I am single-handedly killing the planet because I am vehemently against most methods of recycling, use paper plates instead of washing dishes, and think purchasing carbon offsets is completely idiotic. While I can defend my position at length on all those issues, I would much rather explain that the best way to be green, save the planet, and be environmentally conscious, is to BUY LESS STUFF. Live in a smaller house with a bigger yard. Drive the smallest car you can manage with. Don't throw away things unless they break - upgrading for the sake of upgrading is sickeningly wasteful.

Learn to manage with less. Instead of a $600 GPS, buy a $15 Atlas. I did, and discovered that Okefenokee was only four hours away. You don't need a 650 DVD movie collection. You don't need a 32-piece set of steak knives. And despite your intellectual ambitions, you don't need a 3,200 book library. Manage with less, manage with alternatives, and manage with compromises. And with the money you saved by not buying the entire audio CD collection of Songs from the 80's, take Salsa & Merengue lessons.

I'm not the first person to say all of this either. Eradicating materialism has been the tenet of many a religion like Buddhism and Jainism. However, it's pretty difficult to give up all the things you're used to and care about. I can't give up computers and I rather fancy my kayak. Loving your pair of black shoes isn't going to destroy Earth so keep on dancing. All I'm saying is don't get in the cycle of desiring more objects, getting a more strenuous job to afford those objects, and then realizing you need more objects because your new peers have them, and working 70 hour weeks to afford these objects that you didn't even know you needed, only to find out that while you're working and buying and working and spending, you imprisoned yourself in a cage of debt, stress, and complete lack of direction.

So I say be less productive, less materialistic, and less successful and be more adventurous, more leisurely, and more content.

Sun, 22nd Jul '07, 11:25 am::

Earlier this week Tay and I went to Silicon Valley, California to participate in Mashup Camp 4 (pics here). A mashup is a website or application that combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience.

We showed off Chime.TV (as a video mashup that combines top 10 video websites) and people loved it so much, we were voted the Best Mashup and won 1st prize (wearing my reddit t-shirt)! Here's ZDNet interviewing Taylor to show off our mashup entry (video here). Our kickass webhost for Chime.TV, SingleHop also interviewed us earlier this week. Highly recommend them for the great 24/7 dedicated support and an awesome performance/price ratio.

It was a great experience to visit Silicon Valley for my first time ever and meet so many brilliant people. I met some pretty smart folks from the development teams of AOL, Google, HP, Microsoft, Yahoo, YouTube, and more. My super-crazy-smart college buddy Tim dropped by too. I had a lot of fun hanging out with Tay's friends at eventful - Chris & Nate and also John & Liz.

I haven't been online much after we got back. Yesterday I went to Busch Gardens with my friend Heather and her roomie Bonnie. We saw a lot of cool birds and animals but it rained soooo hard that all rides were canceled. We ended up returning home early and just watched a couple of movies instead. Good thing about Busch Gardens is that Florida residents can come in multiple times for free once they buy an annual pass for just $5 more that of course I did.

It's my lazy Sunday afternoon now and I'm just relaxing and unwinding after a pretty exciting week. Time to sit back and just enjoy Chime.TV now.

Tue, 3rd Jul '07, 11:30 pm::

On the way home from work today, I stopped by Michaels (arts & crafts store) and bought about $55 worth of small wooden boxes, black and white pebbles, wood finish spray paint, sandpaper, and some black and white markers. Took me a while to find it all but I think I'm now ready to build my own set of Go board game. Originally I had planned to create the set from scratch but I found just the right-sized wooden box for me to turn into the Go board with minimal effort.

While watching Falling Down starring Michael Douglas, I sanded down the rough edges of all the wooden boxes and have it primed for spray painting tomorrow. I highly recommend the movie and sanding things down before you apply varnish. A Go set similar to what I'm making costs over $200. With just a few lazy hours of work, I can soon start learning this ancient Asian game.

As faster computers repeatedly beat humans at Chess, two games where even novice level humans still win over the fastest computers are Bridge (card game) and Go (board game). The game play of Go is very deep and the number of possible moves far exceeds those of chess, Scrabble, and Othello. The same brute-force and systematic methods that work for computer chess, disastrously fail at Go. Go requires the player to look at patterns and understand what they mean and how they can relate to each other, as opposed to simply running through 4 billion possible moves within seconds. In Go, there are trillions of quadrillions of possible moves and we won't be getting computers that fast any time soon.

The study of Pattern recognition is of particular interest to me because I think that's pretty much what human intelligence is - the ability to recognize a pattern and make judgments based on them. The day computers can learn to recognize patterns on their own without being fed everything directly, is the day we'll have truly intelligent computers. If you're interested in what the game is about, you can learn it here just like me.

Sun, 1st Jul '07, 6:15 pm::

I just got back from over three hours of windsurfing or just sailing as everyone calls it. It is definitely one of the most exciting things I've ever done. I was already going faster than 10mph today and the wind hadn't even picked up. Here's a good picture of what windsurfing is in case you don't recall. I can't believe how quickly I picked it up and how comfortable I already feel. Thanks to John & Britt at North Beach Windsurfing, I went from the beginner board and 4 (meter-square) sail to intermediate board and 5.5 sail. I'll probably rent out a few more times and then save some money so I can buy my own gear. I hope to get up to 6.5 sail. The larger the sail, the faster you can go on it, but it also gets difficult to handle.

I still have to learn how to get in the harness and to tack (complete rotation) in high winds. I don't think I can go next weekend because of my oral-surgery (wisdom teeth removal) but I'm hoping to go soon after. I'm so excited about sailing!

Sat, 30th Jun '07, 2:30 pm::

I just got back from my friend Jessica's wedding reception lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, definitely one of my most favorite places to eat. One of her younger cousins, a fifteen year old kid, sat next to me and upon realizing that I coded up Chime, started asking me about different things like video games, hacking, programming. I forgot how great it was to talk to someone genuinely interested in a subject and tell them the things you've learnt over the year. I should talk to more kids and students. Maybe someday I will give some informal lectures.

In other news, my bottom-right jaw hurts like hell; see the x-ray for the scary details. So this Thursday, July 5th, I'm going to an oral surgeon to get all four of my wisdom teeth removed and probably get a root canal on a 5th adjoining tooth. This pretty much ruins the 4th of July weekend for me.

I doubt I'll get to windsurf tomorrow as the weather's supposed to be crappy. I gotta do laundry now and later hang out with my friend Nathaniel and go to his company party. Life's ok, except for the whole pain-in-my-mouth part.

Quote for the weekend: "I think the greatest feeling in the world is putting my leg down from my desk and landing on a furry kitty's back as it purrs and then clings to my foot and starts rubbing it's head all over it." - Chirag

Nostalgia is overratedSat, 23rd Jun '07, 11:55 pm::

It amuses me to no end when people talk about the good ol' days as if they once bore witness to a bygone Utopian era when the neighbors were friendly, the music was heavenly, and every evening families huddled around a mulberry bush to sing hymns. These days the kids are rude, the music is filthy, the news is horrible, and of course, the world is going down the tubes. The topics of comparison are generalized and static - family, society, youth, culture, entertainment, politics, business, and so on. Since the day humans could carve stone tablets, they've written about the same exact good things and the same set of bad deeds, from love, peace, and harmony to war, hatred, and murder. It may seem that technology has made us much more efficient in the bad-deeds department but it has had a bigger impact in helping us do more good for more people.

As the world population grows, the total count of crimes and selfish acts naturally increases. But what is it that the kids do today that didn't exist 10, 100, or even 1000 years ago? The Romans and Greeks had the same problem with the youth disrespecting their elders as people complain about today. The music was just as filthy in Shakespeare's time as it is now with Hip-Hop.

Three thousand years ago, entire civilizations were slaughtered by foreign invaders. A thousand years ago, religious crusaders killed millions. A hundred years ago, entire nations were enslaved. And in the good ol' days of your grandpa, they dropped the bomb and got frisky swing dancing. You can write four-hundred page novels decrying the grind dance that kids these days are into and compare it with the clean-cut rock and roll of your days, but in reality, nothing has really changed. Instead of school shootings, there were armed robberies and pillaging of entire villages. Instead of politicians stealing public funds, there were monarchs that seized the peasants' crops. Where you have selfish, ignorant, lazy youths today, you had selfish, ignorant, lazy youths yesterday but you didn't know that because you just called them "friends." Your parents did call them selfish, ignorant, and lazy but what did they know!

I don't know what people hope to accomplish by playing the good ol' days card in the face of every bad news. The youth of today didn't invent violence, debauchery, obscenity, or corruption. They're just learning it from those that walked the same path before them - you, your friends, your parents, their parents, and so on. So lay off the incessantly vague whining and go live a little. Go sin a little.

Chime.TV is bornWed, 13th Jun '07, 12:15 am::

I'm very excited to finally talk about the big project that I've been working on with Tay for 6 months now! It's called Chime.TV and it has replaced the old site I used to have at www.chime.tv. Chime.TV is a website where you can watch non-stop videos for hours with almost no effort, pretty much like cable TV. We have made tons of channels and you can make the videos full-screen, adjust color/brightness, make your own channel, send videos to your friends, and search all the big video sites. It's a lot of fun so give it a whirl. Be sure to check out Tay's girlfriend Kaela's sweet Welcome-to-Chime.TV video.

We released mere days ago and the hits have started rolling in. After a spotlight on Mefi courtesy of Nathaniel, turns out TechCrunch finally picked up Tay's email and ran a little feature on us. Now I get to see if my servers hold up and how long before I have to upgrade.

You complete meThu, 7th Jun '07, 10:55 pm::

I often hear people saying "Why do you care what others think of you?" Usually, they are just trying to console someone who recently faced public embarrassment or has a moral dilemma that may not be well accepted by their family, friends, or even coworkers. However, more often than not, that question is merely a disguised insult to make the person feel self-conscious and even more vulnerable. So the next time someone asks why you care what your friends and family will think of your decision to quit your job, move out of state, change your official name, and get a sex-change operation, here's a handy reply by yours truly:

I am not perfect. My thoughts, ideas, and emotions are not permanent. My opinions and views change over time as I learn and grow. I've learnt that in general, what others think of me is directly related to how I think and thus act. Sometimes, it teaches me to stand by my words strongly for I'm certain that my ideas, though novel, are worthy. Other times it shows me that I was wrong and would benefit from taking a look at things from a different perspective.

I am not cocooned and disconnected from the rest of the world and have much to gain by caring about what others think of me and why. Reading someone's productivity tips isn't self-improvement. Self-improvement is welcoming criticism with an open-mind and a good anti-troll filter.

Things are changing, I can feel itMon, 4th Jun '07, 8:15 pm::

The first time I sat in a canoe and tried to steer it across a river, I nearly ran aground. I wanted to go straight but I kept over-correcting and so instead of slight left, I'd turn the canoe 90-degrees to the left. It was difficult for me because a kayak, while more strenuous than a canoe, is much easier to keep straight. It was only after much exasperation did I realize the simple Newtonian physics in play here - the bigger the boat, the longer it takes to turn, but once it begins to turn, it's much more difficult to change direction. If you may pardon the pun, nothing really "ground"-breaking here.

The problem is that it takes about 4-5 seconds for the canoe to change direction once you start paddling. If all you needed were two or three strokes to straighten the canoe but seeing nothing happen for 4-5 seconds, you kept paddling harder, the canoe will not only turn, it will turn much more than you intended. And now seeing it turn too much, you start paddling on the other side and keep paddling till you can see the canoe turn. Too late, now it's going to swing all the way in the opposite direction. You just can't seem to keep it going straight.

Often when I'm reading news stories, I notice how much this simple rule of momentum applies to the world in general. Most people want things to go straight and steady with only a few misguided outliers that want everything to go either far left or far right. Yet we see everywhere people trying to skew things too much to one side or the other. Why can't people realize that if they keep moving to one side, they will indeed end up at an extremity that nobody really wants? Same reason I kept running the canoe aground - I couldn't feel the slight nudges and kept thrashing till I could actually see the canoe turn. Too late.

Anytime you see something in the news about citizen's rights being abused, journalists silenced, or failed economic and academic policies being implemented and wonder why everyone can't see where this is going, it's because the system is too big to instantly react and gives no immediate visual feedback to the one's manning the rudder. By the time the system actually reacts, people are already jumping overboard. We think the world today moves at dizzying speeds and sure, in most communication-oriented aspects, it does. However, society, economy, education, politics, and all things global take years to truly show their new direction. The key is to finely hone your feelers and sense when things are brimming under the surface.

Take for instance the gradual devaluation of the dollar. Nobody I interact with on a daily basis, cares one bit about it. After all, except for gasoline, things still cost nearly the same as they did five years ago and inflation rate is within the traditional bounds. Nothing has changed. Right? In 2002, I sent about $500 to my family in India. That was nearly Indian Rs. 25,000. Recently I sent $600 and it was less than Rs. 24,500. You may say the 16% devaluation in US currency over the last five years doesn't mean much to anyone, except for a few people like me.

Brimming under the surface, is the slowly increasing US debt to the rest of the world. Nobody cares about the debt because nobody sees any direct effects. By the time you see the effects though, it would be too late. If things don't start changing soon, then within the next two decades the Euro will have replaced USD as the preferred international currency of trade, the USD will be devalued to the point where imports cost drastically more, import shortages will create underground markets for knock-offs and counterfeits, insufficient supply will cause surge in prices bringing in 1930's era scarcity in this land of plenty, lack of international faith in US stocks will "correct" the stock market resulting in massive layoffs, and economic recession will finally solve the pesky immigration problem.

This above is, of course, just far-fetched fear-mongering from yours truly and I'm hoping it never happens. However, my feelers have yet to sense the boat change course and get on the path straight ahead. Most people though, are blissfully unaware and apathetic. It's ok. They have the luxury to be apathetic. For now.

Things are gonna change, I can feel itSun, 3rd Jun '07, 9:20 pm::

After nearly six sleepless months, fourteen-hundred finger-crunching hours, and countless arguments (that always ended in mutual agreements) with Tay, earlier today I typed up the final few lines of code to bring our big awesome pet project to Version 0.99 RC (release candidate). We're hoping to launch sometime within the next few weeks, once all the little tweaks are made. The cake is baked, the icing already on, it's time for the little cherry on top.

Without disclosing the details of the project, it's hard to talk about it but I'll try. I don't think I can ever explain what today's milestone means. Everything I've thought of for months is finally done and ready for the world to see and use. I can't speak for Tay but I'm hoping for a gradual, steady adoption rate as opposed to going big in one day. I'd rather have slow, predictable growth than crash and burn within the first 6 hours of launch. Here's hoping!

I know nobody will believe me for saying this but we're not doing this for fortune and fame. We're doing this because it needs to be done and because nobody has even come close to doing it right. It won't be long before my words are proven right or wrong.

Now that my mind is clear, I finally did something today that I've been wanting to do for well, six months - clean my damn house! Took me about 3 hours but I have a pretty clean house now and am doing laundry as I write this.

I don't think people can understand HOW eager I am to stop programming every night and weekend and get back to entertaining you with my dirty laundry details, kayaking shoots, and photos of cats :)

Tue, 29th May '07, 8:35 am::

My pet project is very close to completion and merely weeks away from release. I'm pretty excited about it. I had a pretty productive weekend working on it and now I'm all pumped up to get back to work so I can continue working on the big ERP project.

Sun, 29th Apr '07, 7:25 pm::

We often get so caught up by the daily rut 'n rigmarole that we forget to relish life's little pleasures. Here's a few little things that make me smile.

Turning on the TV to unexpectedly catch the happy-ending of an underrated movie. Getting that little piece of pop-corn finally out of your gums. Having your fingernails grow just the right length to peel off a sticker but not too long to make typing difficult. Finding an extra slice of cheese in the fridge. Not having a single junk email make it into in your inbox. Realizing that in case you run out of toothpaste, there's an extra tube in the linen cabinet. Hearing the air-conditioner automatically kick-in the moment you feel a little warm but are too lazy to get up to lower the temperature yourself. Getting rid of the little piece of pebble caught inside your shoe. Coming across a word years after you last saw it in print - minstrels. Finishing item #10 on your little To Do list just in time for ice-cream. Making item #11 on your To Do list "eat ice-cream" no matter what the list is about.

Lament not, fellow IndianWed, 25th Apr '07, 12:35 pm::

I am at work right now, on hold with Dell, trying to renew the warranty on some servers we purchased last year. I can easily whine about how awful the overall support nightmare is, having talked to over twelve people in the last two hours. But right now, I want to sadly talk about something that has been bugging me for years now - the pitiful tone and the lamenting language of the average Indian call center employee.

Having lived in India for the first twenty years of me life, I am well-aware of the social constructs, language barriers, and job market woes. So I have nothing but utter respect for the hundreds of thousands of hard-working, honest call center employees. I have a few friends in Delhi that work for outsourcing firms and many of these kids are brilliant. I am hurt every time I hear anyone stereotyping and insulting them online and offline, just for being different and hard to comprehend. I had a strong Indian-accent when I first came here and I still have problems being understood sometimes. Being packed in a cubicle with 3 others, stuck on a phone with irate customers for ten hours a day is not an easy way to feed your kids. So I understand how difficult things can be.

However, what drives me crazy is the pathetic "Sorry Sir," "Thank you very much Sir," "Please wait Sir" language that these folks are forced to use. It makes me ashamed to think that my people, even after sixty years of Independence from the British, still have to portray a public image of servitude, inferiority, and desperation when interacting with non-Indians.

The blame lies not with the workers. It lies with the management, often-times Indian, that enforces these scripted rituals of verbal enslavement. The employees maybe humble yet proud Indians but since their paycheck relies on them using these "Sir, Sorry Sir, Please Sir" interjections, they have to behave like dismal Third-World outcasts. What angers me the most is that these are well-educated, highly-skilled, respected people forced to behave like servants for some mythical foreigner 8,000 miles away. When I interact with people here in US, this is they behavior they expect of me. I'm sorry but if anyone expects me to be a sorry little Indian boy, you can bet they'll be my personal dartboard for a long, long time.

If you have ever called customer support and have been frustrated because it is hard to understand the person at the other end, realize that they have the same problem understanding you. All I can say is speak clearly and respectfully. It's not their fault your cellphone battery doesn't charge. What right do you have to insult a complete stranger solely because they sound different? You certainly wouldn't pull that on a cop with a different accent, so why are these hard-working individuals fair game for insolence? If you truly want to retaliate against the company, stop buying their crappy phones.

Now if this message ever reaches a call center employee, I have just one single request for you. Please Sir/Ma'am, be proud of yourself Sir, and boldly refuse to use the Sorry lines that your Respected Boss Sir Kindly Requested you to use Sir, Thank You Sir.

Thu, 12th Apr '07, 8:25 am::

I'm pretty certain I'm having a writer's itch, the opposite of a writer's block. This morning before I woke up, I dreamt about writing something from the bottom of my heart and debating it with friends. Then I woke up and realized Kurt Vonnegut passed away last night. I have a sinking feeling in my heart just thinking about it. Hope he enjoys his stay in the big Slaughterhouse above. Hi ho.

I win, so I am better than youThu, 8th Mar '07, 8:15 am::

A funny contradiction has been happening to me over time and only now am I starting to realize it. I find that the older I get, the more time I feel I have. One would think that as you grow older, you have less and less time to achieve what you want, yet I feel quite the opposite. When I was fifteen, I was always running out of time. Everything had to happen NOW. There was no time to waste. It's now or never! At twenty-six, other than committed deadlines, time doesn't really bother me. There are so many things I want to do and I feel I'm on the right path. I've found some sort of balance between impatience and procrastination. Even when I wrote about patience, I did not know how that came about, other than inheriting my mother's patient attitude.

While reading The Future of Leisure That Never Arrived, I realized what is missing from my life today that overwhelmed my being ten years ago - competition. I don't compete. There is absolutely no competition in my life. At age fifteen, I competed in more activities than I can remember, from soccer, volleyball, athletics, to violin, theater, and aero-modeling (that's making model planes that can fly, not mile-high modeling). Today, I create. I sit back, take my time, and make whatever I want. I build things I want and at my pace. Nobody else is doing what I'm doing any more. There are no standards to measure my worth by.

The void of competition is not some happenstance. It is completely intentional, albeit indirect. I have chosen to not involve myself in activities where the sole purpose is to win by being better than others. While competition in kids fosters development and personal growth, I find that competition among adults simply regresses communal advancement. I learnt a lot about my strengths and weaknesses when I practiced months on end for music competitions as a teenager. However, by spending three hours a day on my yard to make my lawn greener than my neighbor's, I'd pretty much be wasting my time. My time would be better spent making new things instead of proving I AM BETTER!

What makes the world a better place: A bunch of adults that study for months to get the highest score in mySAP-ERP certification so the winner gets a new laptop and a bonus, or the bunch of them working together or on their own projects to actually make software that help others? Having decided that I'd rather build things than run rat-races, my life has become quite different. I know many people that are winning their selective rat-races, and not just eking out a living. Yet they find their lives miserable and often whine about having no leisure. I know many folks that instead build things and they are generally the most interesting people because despite having twenty-six ongoing projects, they are always interested in learning new things and figuring out how to make something else.

Exceptions to the competition rule is when competing professionally is all you do, i.e. sports professionals, athletes, and the ilk. These are the people that, by doing their very best, actually push the human boundaries on what can be done. If I could run a mile under 3:50, I would and my respect goes to those that can. However, this kind of competition is different from forcing your daughter to get better grades than your brother-in-law's kid. People think that by pushing kids to compete non-stop, the kids will learn to win in life. No, they will learn to win in competitions. Then they will compete for that promotion and then that client account. Next thing they know, they have no time for anything, except of course, pushing their own kids to be the best basketball player and the best pianist in their class.

Thankfully, I competed out of my own volition and not parental or peer pressure. Consequently, I found it easy to get out of the competitions without a loss of self-worth. I never measured how good I am by how many people I'm better than. I do measure how good I am by what I make and how does it make the world slightly better.

Of course, everything has side-effects and my lack of competitiveness has its own repercussions. The fact that I refuse to compete in anything seeps into my private life, especially dating habits. I simply won't compete with other guys for a girl's attention. I won't. I don't care how great you are but if you expect me to prove myself better than the four other guys you're eying, have a nice day and a good life. I'm pretty sure if I wanted to compete and win, I could. But I won't. I'd rather be valued on my absolute merits than some relative edge I might gain over others momentarily.

So who's up for a little kayaking this weekend? I'll race you across the Bay to Tampa and back!

Sat, 3rd Mar '07, 11:05 pm::

I haven't been writing regularly lately because I'm pretty much putting every minute I have into my new pet project. We're still about a month or two away from releasing it and I don't want to promise anything yet but I'm getting some confidence that this is going to be good. I guess only time will tell. I can't wait till the project goes live so I can talk about my experiences with the whole thing. Till then, it's life as usual.

Oh here's something neat I put up: Weather Map. I didn't make the map, just put it on my site so I can check out the local weather instantly from anywhere.

Who in the where said what now?Sat, 17th Feb '07, 7:40 pm::

One of the things I love about a kayaking trip is the long drive to and from the water. I often pick a single real-life incident and slowly generalize the matter, as if back-tracking to its source. On my drive to the Oscar Scherer Park in Osprey, Florida to kayak earlier today, I wondered why a close friend of mine gets offended whenever I ask her how some plan will work out. It was irritating me because she loves to answer why something happened yet doesn't like it when I ask how something will function. It occurred to me that depending on your personality, you fit into one or maybe two of the following types:

  • Why Personality: The Why people want to know the reason for every incident and everyone's action. These are the psychologists and philosophers. They love to delve deep into the root cause of events to determine whether there exist logical bases for the same. Generally smart and inquisitive by nature.
  • How Personality: The How's are the engineers, the scientists, the mechanics of the world. They could care less WHY the Universe exists, all they want to know is how did the Big Bang happen? And how does white light break into the colors of rainbow when it passes through a prism. You may think that many of the scientific questions are Why's, like "Why does an apple fall down and not up?" instead of How's. However, for a scientist, "Why" doesn't really say anything unless you can describe "How." We know "Why" the apple falls down: Due to Gravity. But till date, we don't know "How" gravity works and hence this area of Physics still has ample room for discovery. The How's are just as smart as the Why's and much more practical in nature.
  • What/Where/When Personality: These are the folks that are living it up. They don't care Why or How, and instead just want to know what's going on, where's it going on, and when do they show up with a 6-pack of beer. The world is full of them and it's a good thing - they live in the moment and get things done. Most of the people you know fit into this personality. Next time you hang out with them, don't try to talk philosophy or calculus. Just raise the glass and have a drink.
  • Who Personality: Of all the people I despise, I'd say the one thing most of them have in common is that they are always looking to put the blame on someone else. Who ate my cake? Who stole my ideas? Who told you that you can use my computer? If you know someone that begins half of their questions with "Who," I'd advice you to stay away from them. "Who" knows how they'll get you in trouble some day.

I'm mostly "How" and a little bit of "Why." I become the "What/Where/When" type every now and then though I do my best to never become a "Who." I'm pretty certain my friend is "Why" and hence loves to explain "Why" something happened. However, she just doesn't understand that other people may want to know specifically "How" she intends to make her plans work. I think that now that I've realized this, it will be easier now for me to deal with persons of different types.

So which one are you?

Wait for itSun, 28th Jan '07, 3:35 pm::

Often I look into myself and try to pick apart my personality for flaws and issues. While talking to a friend today I realized that I have one very good characteristic that very few people I know have, patience. Of all the people I know, my mother is probably the only one more patient than me, so I'm pretty sure that's where I got it from.

Why care about patience when you have instantaneous alerts on latest sports events via text-messaging? If everything is immediate in this world today, isn't asking for patience just showing that you cannot deliver smoothly? When it comes to systems, projects, products, services, and technology, yes, everything should indeed be immediate and instant. There is no reason your check-deposit should take 45 days. However, when it comes to people, personality, emotions, and society, patience is a virtue.

I want my bank-transfer to happen NOW but I will wait two months while a friend sorts out their job situation before calling me. I want to watch the latest news NOW but I will wait a year before I ask my sister about her future plans. I will also wait three years for my Masters and six years for my Post-Graduate degree some day. I am also in no hurry to get rich enough to buy some mansion on the beach or kayak down the Amazon.

This doesn't mean I'm giving up on whatever goals I have in life. I'm just enjoying today while preparing for a better tomorrow, instead of stressing out today with the hope that tomorrow might be marginally better. Patience is realizing that not everything will happen immediately, especially things that you have absolutely no control over. Once a week my family asks me the same question and my reply is "at least five-six years." If there is nothing you can do to speed things up, why waste your time wondering when it will finally happen?

One thing people have to learn about patience is that you need patience to learn. We don't have fancy DVD-to-Brain devices like the Matrix so we pretty much have to slowly learn things over time. I didn't learn programming in one night and you didn't learn playing piano in a week. Why shouldn't I wait a year before I can play a musical instrument well and why can't you wait four months before you get used to that new computer software?

Somewhere among all the rapid global communications via Transatlantic cables and real-time GPS-based shipment tracking information sent directly to your Palm Pilot and Blackberry, the lesson of "slow and steady wins the race" is being forgotten.

Wall Street Journal article on my Tag CloudTue, 23rd Jan '07, 12:35 am::

Last week I received an email from journalist Aaron Rutkoff at The Wall Street Journal Online for a phone interview to discuss my US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud app. We had a good chat over the weekend and for a limited-time, you can read his article about my work at: Web Site Tracks a History Of Presidential Buzzwords. If the link doesn't work anymore (since WSJ is a subscription-site), let me know.

I'm quite pleased at how clearly and sincerely Aaron wrote about this project and my motivation for developing it. Having had a few "interesting" experiences with media folks in the past, I honestly have so much respect for the WSJ because of how friendly and genuinely interested in my work he was. I think I showed off a bit too much about my kayaking while we chatted, him being in the freezing New York City and me living in sunny Florida :)

It's way past my bed-time now but here's hoping the link stays up free for a few days so my family and friends can read it all, since it's not available in print.

Sat, 20th Jan '07, 10:45 am::

After almost four years of daily use, I finally decided to replace my ConAir electric-shaver. I wanted an electric-shaver that was affordable, easy to clean, and cordless yet worked with a cord when not charged. The last part was the most important because I don't want to wait for 20 minutes while the shaver charges up before I can shave, especially when I'm in a hurry. I found Braun 1775 on Amazon for only $30 with shipping! I just shaved with it and wow, I'm sold for life. The shaver is light-weight and does not hurt your skin regardless of how roughly you use it. I just got the smoothest shave in years and now feel like I should be dressing up for a formal dinner at the Governor's House while a tall hot chick in black dress brushes the back of her hand against my smooth-smooth cheek and smiles coyly.

Man, I should be paid for that free advertising! The fact is, despite being a "computer guy," I'm not a big fan of gadgets and gizmos. I don't replace my toaster or cellphone till it drowns in water or catches fire, respectively. I guess I'm old-school in the sense that, if it's not broken, I don't replace it. My old shaver is in my linen-closet now, in case the new one breaks or has problems. My main computer is about four years old too and works pretty well. I'm just hoping I don't have to replace it anytime soon. I even bought my car hoping I'll be able to drive it for a decade at least.

I'm bad for the economy.

Indian SplendorSun, 24th Dec '06, 11:50 pm::

I took a break from my holiday coding session tonight and watched a surprisingly delightful film, American Splendor. It's a biography of an underground comic book writer (not artist) Harvey Pekar, an everyman super hero. Says Harvey, "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," and it's not difficult to agree with him on that. What was difficult for me was to realize that the movie is fact and not fiction. We're so accustomed to seeing larger than life characters in films that we become immune to their charms. Then when a real life character comes along, it's hard to suspend belief and play along, after all, THIS character can't be real! He's too real to be real.

One aspect of the film that enticed me was Harvey Pekar's 25-year long autobiographical comic book series that lends its name to the film, American Splendor. While I loved comic books as a kid, my interest slowly waned as I discovered that real life is more raw than kryptonite and adamantium claws. When I started writing my comic strip Calm Down! a few months ago, I had a general idea of what it was going to be about - me and my splendorous* life. At that time, I didn't know why I decided to do that but I think I do now.

Towards the end of the movie, Harvey's wife asked him to write a comic book about his struggle with lymphoma/cancer, saying once he makes himself a character in yet another comic book, he'll be detached from his illness and thus from his own life and problems. It was more than slightly unnerving to grasp that I probably did the same. Well, no point in stopping now. More Calm Down's coming up in the months and hopefully years ahead.

* Of course there is fine print.

Baby, don't hurt meFri, 15th Dec '06, 8:15 am::

I think my favorite aspect of keeping this personal 'blog entirely public, is that often I have to say how I feel without disclosing the precise details. I don't say "XYZ bad things happened and it's ABC's fault so I'm doing 123 things to fix it." Specific issues, advice, and words are short-lived and don't apply to others beyond myself. Hence I generalize and try to look at how and why things happen instead of trying to figure out what exactly to do in this one instance. I have my friends and family for that; how unfortunate of them.

When faced with problems beyond our control, each of us reacts and deals with them in our own unique ways. How we confront a negative force depends on our personality and understanding of the world. While it is very difficult to change our innate personalities, it is relatively easy to adapt our philosophical views over time to help us deal with life better. Regardless of how aware we are of our own views on life, everything in this world is shaped by what we think about abstract terms like good, right, justice, karma, greed, equality, success, friendship, and love.

A person's notion of success might make their views on greed benign. That is to say, in order to achieve success, that person will not consider greed as a strongly negative trait. We have people that take solace in karma and think that good things will happen to good people. We have people that think justice is only what they themselves agree with. I know people that equate friendship with networking for potential personal gain. How you think of these few words is what you think of the world. What you think of the world is how you will act and react throughout your life. Some think that what is good is right and some believe equality should have limits.

It is the difference between our personal understandings of these words that causes all the problems in the world. If we had a standard definition for abstract terms like this, life would be quite easy. Socrates questioned what justice was and everyone from cheesy POP musicians to scientists ask what love is.

It is not possible for us to agree on what something is but it's quite easy to agree on what it isn't. Love isn't selfish, abusive, or conditional. Justice doesn't necessarily have to make every side happy. Right doesn't mean that it must feel good. We all make mistakes and we all make short-sighted decisions. True test of your abilities is how you recover from your failures. For some, it's as simple as fessing up and saying "Oops! I screwed up." And for others, it is unleashing yet another round of lies upon lies to cover up past acts of deceit. You can't waste your time on them; their definition of love, greed, and good is completely screwed up.

Mon, 11th Dec '06, 9:25 pm::

Sometimes coincidences freak me out. I was just checking my email while watching a video on Chinese history. I got a confirmation email about something and as I read the phrase "Powered by Movable Type" within it, the narrator on the show said "and by that time, Movable Type was invented in China." My heart literally thumped and it's been beating really fast for the last three minutes. Freaky.

Cats out of the cradleFri, 8th Dec '06, 6:00 pm::

As it often goes, I was talking to a good friend of mine online and she mentioned how her mother kept expecting too much out of her and despite whatever my friend did, it was never enough for the mother. The parental pressure was not just infuriating my friend but also slowly depressing her. About a year ago when she was living with her parents and going through similar situations while selecting a graduate school, I suggested that she pick a school outside of her hometown and learn to live on her own. And she did.

So far, she's loved the freedom it has brought to her after 27 years of being told exactly what to do every single moment. I never expected her mom to stop nagging after she moved out. But I did hope that my friend wouldn't feel so emotionally tortured. That hasn't happened. It hasn't happened to my buddy who moved to Colorado and still hasn't happened to my friend who got married and moved with her husband to Boston two years ago. Yet, it happened to me. Despite being very close to parents who expect the world out of me, I don't feel emotionally tense anymore because of what they say or think of me. It took years for me to figure out why and how.

I want my parents' love, not their approval. I love my parents more than anyone else in the world but I have learnt that what I should be seeking in return is their love, not their agreement with everything I do. Moreover, not wanting approval doesn't mean I don't care about their opinion or that I don't care when I hurt them. I'm just saying, when I do something that I think is right but they don't, I understand it is a difference of opinions and carry on.

Oddly enough, it was my mom that taught me this lesson. Like every good son, for two decades I did everything I could, to get my dad's approval. Many times I succeeded but more often than not, I failed. Part of me knows that my dad held back many well-deserved congratulations so I would try even harder and go further. He wanted me to be a true winner. However, after seemingly failing over and over again, I would feel dejected and go to my mom asking for advice. She said simple things like "don't worry" and "just try harder."

I don't know when it struck me but one fine day, I stopped craving for my dad's approval. Everything changed instantly. I'm no longer living my life hoping he'll rubber-stamp my big ticket purchases, career path, new friends, or potential soul mates. I no longer expect my parents to like everything I like or appreciate the things I care for. I feel wonderful when they tell me they love me and my decisions but I'm not hurt or disappointed when they express their disdain for my unorthodox ways.

This is not a criticism of my parents but rather of my past self. Parents seldom change. But the kids can. And have to. I would love it if both my parents approve of everything I do but the world is not perfect and I would be foolish to expect the same. My dad and I can't agree on the same sport to watch together (cricket vs. soccer) yet for twenty years I hoped he would approve of every new friend I made. He is perfectly right in his mind to judge, like, and dislike whoever he wants in the same way that I have the right to talk, befriend, and love whomever I want. He does his best to prevent me from destroying my life and I do my best to explain the reasons behind my choices. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we agree to disagree. In the end, we remain close without any bottled up frustrations; at least I try my best to.

The day I realized I want my parents to love me and not wholeheartedly approve of me, is the day I truly became an "adult." Since then, I've expanded this rule to encompass my family, relatives, friends, and even coworkers. I'm glad if you appreciate what I do and am thankful that you care to offer criticism but if someone tells me I HAVE TO DO things their way without sufficient logical reasoning, that'll be the last day I talk to them.

So let goMon, 20th Nov '06, 7:15 pm::

Casually talking to a friend today I realized how one of the personality traits that I've acquired over time has changed my life so drastically and mostly for the better - the ability to let go. Letting go of someone or something is different than forgiving or giving up. I mean let go in the same sense as Chuck Palahniuk's Narrator in Fight Club remarked, "The ability to let, that which does not matter, truly slide."

For a species that is free to move around, we are remarkably predisposed to hanging on. As toddlers, we hold on to our blankets and teddy bears. As kids we latch on to our toys and mommies. In youth, we hold on to our music and friends. And as we grow older, we cling to our families, jobs, cars, houses, and every person that we've ever cared for. We just can't seem to let go of anything. Hanging on is what we do!

It is not a secret that people change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The friend that cared about you so much last year doesn't even think about you anymore. The little boy down the street you liked saying hello to, doesn't seem all that respectful anymore. When a person changes, we all notice it. You knew it the moment your cousin got married that she turned into a whole new person. When a person changes, we also know if they changed for the better or worse. Your friend for the worse and your cousin for the better.

The problem is that we ourselves aren't willing to incorporate this change into our world view. We don't want to admit that now that this person has changed and is suddenly treating us like crap, that we should just let go of them. We keep trying to get their attention, to show them that we are still worthy of their affection. We need to let go. You need to let go. The relationship is over. The friendship is over. Just let go.

Letting go doesn't mean you stop talking to family or friends when they're in trouble and are more work for you to put up with. Letting go means when someone clearly no longer wants to include you in the next episode of their life, you gracefully accept that your character was killed off and go back to starring in the remaining forty-seven other shows. If that's not enough, find new people and become a guest star in their lives.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that many people no longer want me to be an active part of their life; some very close friends in the years bygone. Often I blamed myself for the turn of events, thinking I must have done something to push them away. Turns out, it wasn't me or anyone else. It wasn't even them sometimes. Life changed them. They moved on and were hoping I would too; the sooner the better.

When it takes more effort to maintain a connection with someone than the mutual benefit and support we obtain, it is not worth trying to make things work anymore. While we shared some good times in the past, if you don't have enough time for me anymore, it is in my best interest to let go and find someone else. The longer we hang on to after the bond's broken, the more it hurts when we finally let go.

Letting go doesn't have to be painful or sad. It can be a wonderful culmination of good times had. I let go of my angel after she helped me finish my first marathon. I said bye, smiled, and never looked back. I still think fondly about her and I'm certain it's because I let go of her before she started ignoring my phone calls and emails. If someone is meant to come back to your life, they will. Otherwise, just let go.

Girls don't have cootiesFri, 17th Nov '06, 6:15 pm::

Common sense would dictate that when one is heavily medicated on pain-relief drugs, making public statements is the last thing they should do. Since I've been known to lack common sense, I'm gonna go ahead and say what I truly feel right now. Bear in mind that while my fingers are able to correctly hit the keyboard, I'm still overwhelmed by and under the control of the emotions welled up by 10mg of Hydrocodone tablets taken every four hours as prescribed by my doctor. Don't worry, it's nothing to worry about. So I'll make the best of this blissful state by shamelessly showing my heartfelt gratitude to the ones that truly deserve it the most - the beautiful members of the fairer sex who have made my life so much more meaningful.

Weird as it sounds, at this moment I want to thank every girl and woman that I've ever encountered. Starting of course with my dear mother and then my loving sister. Equally loving are my grandma, my aunts, and my sweet little cousins. I would be but a heartless machine without the lessons in humanity, kindness, and morality that they've inculcated into my personality. I cannot even begin to thank my wonderful pretty female friends that have helped me overcome some of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in my personal and social life. While most of the time, my guy friends - the buddies are all I need for company and adventure, I cannot deny how much of a difference my friends like Megan, Tamara, Teresa, Becky, Lanie, Jen, Avani, Michele, Laura, Halley, Amy, Heather, Elyse, Kelly, Kellie, and so many others have made in my life.

I would never say that my social life has been a bed of roses with only happy, wonderful memories. I've faced more rejections and heartbreaks than most people can survive without complete psychological breakdowns. Throughout the good days and especially the bad, the wonderful girls in my life supported me with encouraging words and lots of hugs. Without them, I might have ended up a jaded despicable male-chauvinistic misogynist. But because of them, I love, respect, and value the wonderment that is the human female.

If you're wondering what made me say all this, it's probably the pain killers. Or rather, the loss of inhibition brought about by them that's giving me the strength to let the world know how much I love each and every woman that I've met. This 'blog entry isn't about women's liberation or praise of their physical beauty. It is my deepest thank you to them for being the wonderful neurotic yet emotionally intelligent persons they are. I love you, girl. All of you. No matter where you are.

Say something newSat, 11th Nov '06, 6:40 pm::

On an average day, I read about 10-12 personal blogs of people I know and read news, articles, and journals on anywhere from 50 to 200 websites I find linked online. While there is much to be said about online news media outlets and commercial blogs, my gripe is with personal blogs. Regardless of how easy it is to start a free online journal and how many people sign up for new ones everyday, the problem lies not with the technology or the low barrier to entry, but rather with the utter lack of fresh content.

While this would be a good opportunity for me to make a list of the "Top 10 things I don't want to read on your blog," I'd rather spend the time elaborating on what I DO want to read. Admittedly, I'm not above my own criticism either as I've written many a word in the last five years that nobody including me wants to read anymore. However, with time, I've learnt what people do want to read and what they usually skip over.

All I want you to do is to say something new. Tell me something that I didn't know about - you, your life, your friends, your job, your love, your passion, your dirty secrets, and most importantly, your thoughts. I've already read everything newsworthy on all the meta news sites. So you don't have to tell me that some new movie is in the theaters now. What you do have to tell me is that you have started playing the violin or are practicing public speaking. Tell me why you think people should be married before age 23 or how one should go about organizing their personal schedules. I don't care if you're right or wrong, convincing or contriving, I just want to read something I couldn't have on any other website except yours. Be fresh!

You don't necessarily have to write about your personal life a la "What-I-had-for-lunch-today." In fact, writing about your personal life without being severely sleep-inducing is one of the most difficult things. While I started with writing about my cool programming scripts, I've slowly moved away from day-to-day activity logs (that I'm sure my family still cares more about) to more persistent topics that might be somewhat interesting four years after the weather has changed. Event descriptions are momentary, ideas are timeless.

Creating new content requires time and effort, thankfully rarely any money. It is very easy to say "Movie X sucked" or "OMG! Check out this site!" It is not so easy to spend an hour putting your ideas in words and telling the world how you think you can make something better, faster, smaller, bigger, easier, cheaper, funnier. You don't have to be a fantastic writer but it helps. And once you stop saying "I hate event X, object Y, and person Z" and instead write about how the little children that you talk to everyday finally have come to terms with the truth about Santa Claus, you'll notice your writing skills improve. Tell me something I don't know.

I'm pretty neutral about personal blogs that consist solely of links to other interesting sites. To me, that says nothing really about you. So you found a cool link that you want to share with anyone that might end up on your blog. Big deal. Sometimes the links are interesting and sometimes they're crap. Thanks but I want more.

Tell me about the new project you're working on or your retirement plans. What are you going to do next month? How can first-time homeowners get equity loans? Why do you think people should drop out of college and start your own companies? I don't care if what you're thinking of is smart or stupid, spill the beans already.

I hope next time you click 'New Entry', you'll say something I couldn't find on CNN.com, Google News, or Fark.com.

Fri, 10th Nov '06, 8:15 am::

Things not to do when you're in India: List of faux pas. I'm smiling while reading the list because it never occurred to me how much of this is so embedded in me that I do it without realizing. Nobody's allowed to enter my house with their shoes on. If my feet ever touch books or money, I stop for a second as if apologizing to the gods above. I still open all the gifts I get in private. I feel VERY odd opening them up in front of the person that just gave it to me. However, since I'm left-hand I usually don't think twice about any of the left-handed faux pas. Here's two I can think of:

  • The appropriate response to "Thank You" is not "You're welcome" but rather "Mention Not." Similarly, it is perfectly normal to respond to "How are you?" with "I'm fine" unlike in the Western Countries where "I'm fine" is usually said sarcastically.
  • Use of subtle sarcasm should be avoided initially since the barriers of language and cultural differences often make the humor harder to detect and your host may end up interpreting the words as displeasure or even insult.

I recommend that if you're going to visit India anytime soon and have never been there before, you read the entire list.

Sun, 5th Nov '06, 9:25 pm::

I can't even begin to express how tired I am from the looooong day of kayaking today. I went down to Pine Island near Fort Myers and kayaked over 13 miles in EXTREMELY windy weather to Cape Haze. The waves started at two and three feet but after about four hours, they rose to nearly five feet! My kayak floats 8 inches above the water and my head stands barely three feet high when I'm paddling. I had to look UP two feet as the crazy waves crashed into me one after another. This wasn't a typical ocean kayaking trip - this was as close to whitewater kayaking as I can experience in Florida. I had to continuously negotiate the waves in order to stay afloat and not be drenched.

All in all, one of the best kayaking days ever. I don't think I can take this much physical stress regularly but once in a while, I'd love to be in waters this rough. Hopefully not for six-seven hours non-stop like today. Oh and here are the Pine Island - Cape Haze kayaking pictures.

Calm Down!Tue, 24th Oct '06, 9:00 pm::

It's finally getting cold here in Florida. I went to Myakka River on Saturday and here's my pics from a nice 4-hour morning paddle.

On Sunday I started an online web-comic: Calm Down! I'd always wanted to write my own comic strip but never felt talented or funny enough. I always thought it's really difficult and needs a lot of creativity and artistic effort to get started. Having been a fan of xkcd for a few months now, I figured if he can do it, so can I! Though in reality, I just wanted to do something for myself. It doesn't really matter to me if most people don't find my stuff funny or give a damn about it. For me it's just a learning process. Maybe if I keep at it, it might actually become funnier and poignant.

The Calm Down! comic strip has a male and female character and the layout/format is pretty much fixed, with only the title and captions for the three frames changing. I drew the initial stick-figure characters and later my friend Tony drew me two very cute characters. The language is quite informal and the subject matter is just about anything that pops into my head - from stupid boy-girl jokes to linguistic paradoxes. I think the comic's audience is pretty limited and definitely doesn't have a mass family-values-type appeal. Even some of my good friends don't find it funny so I'm aware of it's niche appeal.

I'd say the male is bookish-smart yet childish while the female is matured, rational, and grounded in reality. I will probably write a new strip every other day and as time goes by, I hope to develop the characters into ones you could relate to and somewhat take a liking to. It will be a slow but hopefully fun journey.

Monday night, I went to The Castle in Ybor City, Tampa to chill with Sandra. I wasn't prepared to dance and neither was I dressed in the night-club-black, but she coaxed me into dancing for almost three hours! I got home, went to bed, worked all day, and here I am finally turning on the heater in my house.

Imagination SchmaginationSun, 15th Oct '06, 7:55 pm::

If you know me personally, you could use the adjectives 'practical' and 'realistic' to describe me. I'm not shy about the fact that I have my feet solidly grounded in reality with a near-absolute lack of fantasy in my life. Every thought in my head has something to do with things I've done, things I want to do, and things I want to understand. It can be math problems, computer algorithms, process-flow diagrams, kayak trips, how-to-build-X guides, or even socio-political disagreements. Every single thought is based on something real and concrete. In my life, there are no video games, no role-playing, no fiction novels, no drawings, no story-telling, no fantasy, and certainly no imagination-beyond-what-is-actually-possible.

Yet that doesn't mean I don't have ideas or creative thoughts. I do. Tons of them! But every idea is about something that I can do realistically. Every creative thought is about something I can make possible given my skill set and abilities. Over the course of years, I have become so practical that there is no room for flying llamas and unachievable goals in my life. Now, despite shaking my head at Anne McCaffrey readers for so long, I'm beginning to think my way of thinking is just not right.

While each person has those "special and different" qualities in themselves, I think most people have a unique blend of realistic and idealistic tendencies i.e. to say, some people are more grounded in their acts and thoughts while some others are just "out there." Like everything else in life, balance is the key. Just a decade ago I used to love reading fiction. I loved making up my own stories or rather, extending the ones my dad so enchantingly spun. My earliest memories of playing with my toys consist of kingdoms and wonderlands I had imagined. Gradually though, I migrated towards function, away from form. Who cares about a magical land with funny-looking creatures anymore? I have to build something that's actually useful! And I did. Lots of little useful things I built up.

Then one day I could build no more. I don't know why but my true desire to create just vanished. Nevertheless, out of sheer habit I kept going on, a piffle made here and a trifle made there; always wondering whatever happened to that fire in my belly that had forever made me stay up late at nights working on something fantastic. I had some idea but couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't until I was spellbound by the 2005 film Mirror Mask earlier today that I realized the true span of my impasse. I have forgotten how to imagine the extraordinary.

The emphasis on the extraordinary points to the crux of the matter. My imagination engine is working fine, it's just not working right. I can imagine a pretty backyard and greener grass. I can imagine a week long vacation driving through the curvy cliff-hanging roads of Washington and Oregon in Fall. I can imagine performing Eskimo rolls while white-water kayaking in Colorado. My imagination engine is allowed to imagine this because my Reality-Sentry has analyzed the activities and approved them based on their high probability of success. What I haven't imagined is curing cancer. What I haven't imagined is becoming a Best-Seller author. What I haven't imagined is inventing the Anti-gravity shield. I haven't thought of these things because, come on, what's the chance of me actually doing any of that?

Big deal. I don't think of what is almost certainly impossible. What's the problem there? The problem is that with time, the Reality-Sentry becomes stricter and stricter. It starts with classifying world peace and flying flip-flops as impossible and then slowly starts to include robotic vacuum cleaners and online video-publishing websites into the impossible-to-do list. After all, I don't know much about robots to make an automatic vacuum cleaner and where am I gonna get the bandwidth, time, and publicity to actually make my own video-publishing website worthwhile?

What you just witnessed was my brain putting anti-gravity shields of science fiction and video-sharing websites of reality into the same impossible-to-do category simply because it tried to answer "what's the chances of ME doing THAT?" without actually letting my imagination and hands have a shot at it. While this certainly saves me from wasting my time and energy on every foolish idea, in the end the ideas that I'm left with are so dull and easy to accomplish that I don't even feel motivated enough get started with them. The other day when I was sick of tailgaters, I wanted to make a device that measures the distance between your car and the one behind you and flashes a warning when get too close. A practical idea indeed. Certainly not impossible to do with some proximity sensor chips, a MIPS processor, and a few LED lights. It's so simple a fool could do it! Which is precisely why I didn't.

This is not to say that every simple idea is worthless. The world definitely needs more Ron Popeils to make our lives easier. But for me, easy and possible just doesn't do it. If I'm embarking on a personal project, it has to be something outrageous enough for me to get excited over. However, with such a starved imagination engine, I'll never really get much fodder to be excited over.

Of the few things I'm proud of myself about, the willingness to find my own flaws and make amends under any circumstances is something I truly feel good about. I may suck but at least I fess up to it and do something about it. I need to dream again. And dream big. Not for success, not for fame, and not for fortunes glorious. But for myself; to help me create that which is truly fantastic.

My worst enemyThu, 12th Oct '06, 10:45 pm::

I've noticed that I am at my clearest when I'm the most confused. I fear.

On days when everything makes sense and scheduled events transpire with clockwork precision, a part of me isn't even awake. It happens every now and then. You wake up one morning after a good night's sleep, your clothes fit well, your hair looks presentable, the drive to work isn't bad, lots of little things align just in place so as to make your afternoon go by smoothly, and the evening ends with a relaxed sense of pride at your own accomplishments, however minor. Wonderful as such a day sounds, I might as well be in a deep slumber dreaming of perfect little citadels of blissful existence, oblivious to the discord that is real life. Ergo, I patiently await the hours when I feel alive, prickled by the dilemmas faced by many a person as I; nervous, for the outcomes shall determine the banal course of actions that I must undertake over the consequent fortnight. Anguish is such sweet sentiment.

Crisis is but the true test of one's mettle. My youth was adorned with hypothetical advice on overcoming life's predicaments from persons grayer than me, sadly, mostly on the outside. But I was trained well. I learnt which battles to pick, when to hold my ground, and whom to kindly forgive. I was warned of hurdles I might face and how I would have to conquer every obstacle life threw at me. They told me everything I needed to know about dealing with life's adversities, sadly, mostly on the outside.

Today my mortgage is paid, my car's filled, my bills are dealt with, and I have food on my plate. I achieved everything I was told would be difficult to achieve and I'm only twenty-six. I still don't feel like I'm done. Now what? More meaningless goals that need to be accomplished in the outside world so as to somehow satisfy my mind? That's not going to help much.

It took a while but I've finally realized what they didn't tell me growing up - I am but my fiercest foe. Nobody intimated me on the disagreements I would vehemently vent against myself betwixt my own ears. I grew up under the misguided impression that as long as I was strong and courageous, I could sail straight through the rough seas of life's tumultuous ocean. How naive was I to presume that my most crushing challenges lay without me. Unsurprisingly, being unmindful of the confusion that lay within me, I attributed my gut discontent to fabricated external failures, unfounded as they might have been.

I stand now at the union of confusion and clarity. Here the stream of inner conundrum that pulled me down, mocking my flailing hands, meets the river of clarity that lifts me up and carries me on towards a destiny I have yet to make. My eyes glow in the light of understanding, knowing slightly more about myself today than I did yesterday. Yesterday when everything was perfect and I was asleep. And today when perfection is a bankrupt tale and my eyes are wide open.

I've noticed that I am at my clearest when I'm the most confused. I smile.

Wed, 4th Oct '06, 7:30 am::

I got tons of phone calls, emails, and e-cards already from so many people that wuv me!!! How does half the world know that it's my b'day today? My 'blog doesn't even have the old 'this day last year' feature anymore. Hehe. Thanks everyone!

I guess I've developed some sort of a party-image because everyone keeps asking where I'm gonna party tonight. Honestly, twenty-six is a no-milestone-zone and comes with absolutely no age-related benefits. At 18 you become an adult, 21 you get to drink (in US), 25 you get a big discount on your car insurance, 30 you can finally get started with a mid-life crisis and buy a sportscar and leather pants. But at 26? You find out your wee-little cousins are 17 years old and that's about it! Creepy :)

Anyways, I'm off to work in a few.

On writing formal lettersSun, 1st Oct '06, 1:40 pm::

One of the most underappreciated things in our litigation-happy casual-khakis modern existence, is a strongly-worded letter. Over the last few generations, with trained lawyers purporting to do all the "dirty" work, the practice of regular people writing formal letters for their personal objectives has become nearly obsolete. Did some company do something terribly wrong to you? Find a lawyer & sue them! What? No lawyer wants to take your case because it's not really worth over $1,000? Well, then stop whining! Suck it up and move on.

Often in our daily lives, we come across instances where we feel wronged and defenseless though not legally victimized. We give up, thinking if it's not worth a lawsuit then we should forget about it. When in fact, we do have a recourse. A little determination and a few hours of text-editing can do what weeks and months of complaints and nagging via phone calls and meetings cannot.

Last year, I had a lot of problems at my old apartment complex before I moved to my new house. So many little things had been going wrong that I just wanted to say screw you to the apartment people and get out as fast as I could. However, I had signed a letter earlier saying I'll clean up the entire apartment before I leave, failing which, they'll charge me ridiculous amounts of cash for pesky little things - $25 for failing to defrost the fridge, $2 per bag of trash I leave. With a new house that still needed setting up and lots of cleaning, I was in no mood to clean an old apartment after I had tons of problems with it. So I did what any text-loving person would do. Wrote them a strongly-worded letter and asked for stamped confirmation of their receipt of the letter and their signed & time-stamped follow-up decision.

In the end, I didn't have to go back and spend 10-12 hours cleaning the apartment. They didn't charge me anything for cleanup or maintenance. Cost me less than 2 hours of my idle-time sitting on a computer and typing away like I do anyway. If you're curious and not afraid of the dreaded PDF format, here's the ass-kicking letter to my apartment complex, the real name replaced with [Del Boca Vista]: Letter to Del Boca Vista.

In case you're wondering, I exaggerated a LOT in the letter. Things weren't half as bad as I claimed they were. But hey, I didn't wanna clean up! And I shouldn't have had to after going through all of that!

Fri, 29th Sep '06, 7:50 pm::

Just got back from an hour of kayaking at Lake Seminole, about a three minute drive from my house. I figure I could go to places around my house 2-3 times a week for quick workouts and check out the pretty places across Florida 2-3 times a month for my little nature adventure trips. One hour of stringent paddling every other day will improve my technique. Longer trips I take across the state will help boost my stamina and let me take pretty pictures.

Now, I cook something up and relax. Not going anywhere tomorrow or day after. This is my stay-at-home-and-do-chores weekend. Lots of little things to do - laundry, lawn mowing, cleaning etc.

In other news, I got a replacement cellphone and everything is working again. I lost only a handful of contact numbers and it's not really a big deal.

Sat, 23rd Sep '06, 10:05 pm::

I went to Wekiwa River today for what was supposed to be a relaxing kayaking trip after my intense 10mile one last week. Long story short, I ended up kayaking over 11 miles today and the trail was not easy at all, mostly due to the tons of trees that blocked the path downstream. In numerous instances, I had to get out of the kayak, climp atop a log, carry/pull the kayak over the log, then get back in without overturning the kayak. Not a walk in the park by any means. Divine, nevertheless.

Wekiwa was definitely the wildest trail I've been to so far, I guess mostly because nature had truly taken over most of the trail. Unless the path is cleared, I don't think I want to go there again. It's just not much fun trying to cross over dead trees. I got a few minor cuts & bruises too. But I finally got someone to take a picture of me in my kayak :)

For today's adventure, I woke up at 4.45am, left home by 5.45am, got into the water at King's Landing (in Kelly's Park, Apopka, Florida) by 8.15am, got out at 2.15pm after 11 miles, and reached home around 6.45pm. So about six hours of driving and six hours of kayaking - I got more exercise today than the day I ran my marathon. That makes for a very tired Chirag. If I go out next week, I really want it to be relaxing and not as physically intensive.

My IQ is -i^infinitySun, 17th Sep '06, 7:55 pm::

While talking to a friend, the topic of games and intellect came up. She asked if I'd played Brain Age, an edutainment video game that boosts your IQ. I've never really been a gamer and unless it's a boardgame involving other people and lots of words, I'm generally not interested. I don't even know what games my cellphone comes with.

However the issue of boosting IQ is something I've previously given some thought to. Despite the numerous arguments by IQ elitists, IQ basically measures your ability to think fast. With a high IQ and good memory, you too can win a million dollars on one of those TV game shows. Problem is, that kind of intelligence isn't really benefitial to anyone other than you. People with high IQ's and decent social skills can get great jobs and impress everyone around them. But they don't prove conjectures or spend seven years solving theorems. Or researching cures. Or explaining causes of economic slumps and methods to minimize the severity.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule, but the kind of intelligence that really benefits humanity and the world as a whole, is something that just cannot be measured by correctly identifying the pattern of shapes that comes next in the series. Personally, when I last measured my own IQ upon a friend's nagging, I was surprised to see it was higher than I expected. However, that is something I just don't care about. So big deal that I knew whether two of the following numbers added up to 13 or not: 1, 6, 3, 5, 11. Not. Does my ability to think fast and add a few numbers off the top of my head really help me "understand" complex schemata that describe the inner workings of network protocols at the lowest level? No. For that, I have to spend hours reading, analyzing, and understanding.

I cannot claim that having a high IQ doesn't help me. It does. Personally. When it comes to understanding how to undo void transactions from past periods in a double-entry accounting system, it's great to be able to think quick and learn just enough to get the job done and done well. But it doesn't give me any tools to make a difference to one other person. I've yet to invent a programming language that changes the lives of millions. It's not that I seek some sort of fame and glory. It's just that IQ is not the tool to measure the positive impact a person can have on the society by the virtue of their brainpower.

If more people stopped worshipping the high IQ folks while doing everything under the sun to become "smarter" and instead realized that dedication and selflessness is what's truly needed to make this world a better place, the world indeed would be a better place.

Sat, 16th Sep '06, 9:35 pm::

Here's the pics from my kayak trip today to Silver River - Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida. I woke up this morning at 5am, left house by 6.10am, got to the kayak launch around 8.10am, kayaked 10 miles from 8.30am - 1.30pm, drove back to my town by 3.45pm, bought some groceries, went to Home Depot to buy grass seeds, got home around 5.15pm, cleaned & rinsed my carport, washed my kayak, washed my car, cleaned my backporch, showered at around 7.45pm, folded my laundry, uploaded and captioned the pics from today's trip, had dinner, and here I am posting this 'blog entry. I can't even begin to explain how tired I am right now. I have so much to say about today, but no energy. In short, this was the most beautiful nature trip I've ever taken. Hopefully more details tomorrow when I regain some strength.

Mon, 4th Sep '06, 10:55 pm::

Since my arms were kinda sore from kayaking for 5 hours yesterday, I figured I could use a little more stretching to feel better. So I decided to check out Caladesi Island today. Caladesi was voted #1 Most Beautiful Natural Beach in Continental US for Year 2006 and is about 15 miles from my house. The island is not connected to the mainland by bridges so the only way to get there is by boats or kayaks. Fortunately, I happen to have a kayak. Here's the pics of Caladesi Island Sunset trip I took this evening.

I just wanted to go for a short, two-hour ride so Caladesi was a perfect choice. As you can see from the gallery, there were tons of birds as usual and the weather was perfect. It had cooled down and there was a slight breeze from the ocean. The water was very shallow, less than two feet deep in many places. It's actually much harder to kayak in shallow waters because you cannot get a complete stroke and have to be careful not to get your oar caught in the sea weeds and corals. Good thing about shallow waters is that you get to see a lot of birds up-close because there are no big dangerous creatures lurking below.

All in all, this is a trail I want to explore more, especially since it's so close to me. I didn't even go around the island completely so there's a lot of things I can see. The fact that it's very beautiful and so quiet almost makes me want to go there again.

Lucky daddy for sureSat, 26th Aug '06, 4:10 pm::

While talking to Lanie about her visit to an animal shelter today, I recollected the day I got my little kitties. I guess I'm just lucky as hell.

I remember walking into the first animal shelter I've ever seen. I went into the first room on my left that had some animals, saw two little black kittens in the first cage right in front of me. For a second I thought, "hmm black cats..." The lady picked up Giga and handed him to me. Giga purred. Tera was purring in my friend's arms. I said "Alright, let's get the paperwork done..." and the lady was surprised, "Already? You sure?"

I couldn't control my smile when I said "Yes, I am." And I still am. And I'm still smiling.

Sun, 20th Aug '06, 12:05 pm::

I got back home from my 2 hour kayaking trip to Weedon Island. It's about 25 minutes away from my house and so I left at around 6:30am. I was in the water by 7:15am and here's my Weedon Island kayaking pictures. It was simply gorgeous. There was a triathlon (run, cycle, kayak) scheduled around 8am so I wanted to get out of the water by 9:30am. I kayaked the 4-mile trail in just over 2 hours. Of course I wasn't doing it for speed but for the photographs and natural beauty. I did practice rowing fast to see how well my kayak handles - beautifully. I can't wait till I explore more places like this. Next week or weekend after - Crystal River :)

Sat, 19th Aug '06, 10:35 pm::

It's been a pretty relaxing weekend so far. Last night I took an unspecting Brian to see Snakes on a Plane movie party in Channelside, Tampa organized by Tampa Bay Farkers. If you don't know much about a movie, here's a brief summary without any spoilers. Basically, it's a very VERY cheesy B-grade movie starring Samuel L. Jackson stuck on a plane with thousands and thousands of snakes! The reason why this movie became a cult-classic with a huge fan-following even before it was released was because the movie accepted the fact that it was a really bad movie and didn't attempt to pretend like it was Jurassic Park or something. I like honesty. Sitting in the movie theater with tons of other screaming and cheering fans made me feel like I was watching a Rajnikanth movie in Calcutta. I absolutely enjoyed it.

Today, I've been just chilling around the house. I cooked dinner and worked on some computer-ish. Here's some pics I took of my kitties being lazy as usual. They love just sleeping at my feet when I'm on the computer.

I'm pretty excited about tomorrow. I hope to wake up real early and take my kayak out for it's maiden voyage on a 4-mile long kayak trail in the Weedon Island, about 15 miles from my house. I tested my kayak earlier this week to see the balance, speed etc. but it was only for 10 minutes. So tomorrow's gonna be real fun, especially since the island is known for some beautiful wildlife views, historic Native American settlement, and a 50-ft high lookout tower. Around 7am when I get into the water, the tide's going to be slowly rising. It's supposed to be best around high tide while will happen around noon. I'm hoping to take my camera with me. Let's see if I capture anything pretty.

Different parameters of relationshipsFri, 18th Aug '06, 12:25 am::

On the surface, this has been a relatively normal week for me, with the usual deal of work, bills, home, chores etc. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Well almost nothing. The two read-but-unreplied emails waiting in my mailbox, sent by the two strongest humans I personally know - my dad and my uncle, keep staring at me every time I check my email, as if mutely yelling at me to hit 'reply' and type away something beautiful and worthy of their dignity. Alas, it's not easy.

My dad sent me an email last week telling me he missed me. It was so loving and sincere that when I showed it to a friend of mine, she wanted him to adopt her. Few days later, his brother, my Paresh uncle, emailed me to tell me how my cousin Keval is slowly getting better. While mentioning that he was pleased to read my views about life on my 'blog, my uncle wrote about his thoughts on life, knowledge, and relationships. It didn't occur to me until now that while millions of people live their entire lives without even saying "hello" to their parents and elders, I take for granted all the support and love in the world that I get from my family without even asking for it once. And then when someone tells me they love me or miss me, I find it extremely difficult to respond to them. Woody Allen's America does that to you.

I wouldn't even have begun writing this 'blog entry tonight had I not clicked on this video of father & son unknowingly. Team Hoyt is a father-son team of Dick & Rick Hoyt, "from Massachusetts who together compete just about continuously in marathon races. And if they're not in a marathon they are in a triathlon - that daunting, almost superhuman, combination of 26.2 miles of running, 112 miles of bicycling, and 2.4 miles of swimming. Together they have climbed mountains, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America." It sounds like typical father-son adventurous duo till you realize the son, Rick, can't walk or talk. The father pushes, carries, lifts, and pulls him from the start till the end. Every year at the Boston Marathon, this team gets the loudest, most-cheerful standing ovation. I know this particular video has some typical-cheesy music but that didn't stop me from sobbing for 4 minutes and 14 seconds, and then again for 4:14 when I hit replay. Last time I was in India, Google Videos weren't accessible from there. I think it's a good thing because I don't think either my dad or uncle will be able to control their tears if they saw this video. I mean it made me so weak in the knees that I decided to shed my fake outer-shell of "I'm so awesome and my life is so great" and admit that I sobbed and cried uncontrollably when I saw the video.

Like my dad always says, I rarely propose concrete well thought-out arguments on my 'blog entries, and usually ramble aimlessly. Today is no different. Yet, almost always, I have underlying themes. I guess tonight, it's the latent energy to persevere. By latent energy, I mean the hidden strength that these two stalwarts in my family seem to possess since birth. Ever since I was a kid, they were the two strong brothers I could always look up to for help, advice, and guidance. To me, they were and are now more than ever, the resolute pillars of persistence. In my eyes, nothing has changed, rather they both have shown time and again that they're getting wiser and more down-to-Earth by the day.

But in their eyes, something has changed. They now think of me as a mature grown-up man that they can share their views with, as equals, instead of just teaching me like I'm a student and they're teachers. That is something new to me. Suddenly, I'm seeing them in light I've never expected, as real humans with strengths AND weaknesses. While my dad and his elder brother have always tried to be my best friends, I'm new to this aspect of theirs - the side in which they stop being perfect figures of authority and become my friends with unhindered emotions and honest feelings - no pretense of being the bigger man.

But I'm so used to them being the head, the father-figure, the authority, that this closeness is leaving me speechless. The weirdness is of course that I feel completely comfortable in writing about it here in public, I guess, because I am so used to being honest and open here. Writing becomes difficult as soon as I have a specific audience.

On my 'blog, I write for everyone and no one. I write for me and for you. But in an email or phone conversation, I have to talk direct with one person and then depending on who that person is, it's either casual or formal, easy or difficult. For now, it's a new experience for me to get to know my dad and uncle on a man-to-man level. It sounds so generic and mundane when it happens to other people but like my uncle said, "as you go in deeper into life, you will open new horizons of knowledge and see different parameters of relationships."

Tue, 8th Aug '06, 11:10 pm::

Just got back home from watching Talladega Nights with my buddy Brian. It's about Nascar and most people probably won't like it but it was hilarious.

Oh and I got the kitties a box for their birthday. Here's Giga-in-a-box livin' it up. And here's both of them wondering what mysteries it holds.

Sun, 6th Aug '06, 5:00 pm::

Everyone has heard the phrase "living on the edge," mostly used to denote a risky, adventurous lifestyle. There are so many sayings like that we use on a daily basis but rarely think twice about their origins. Living on the edge is used to describe the animals that feed and graze on the fringes or outlines of a large herd. In a herd of a million zebras or a shoal of billion sardines, the creatures that live on the edge get the best food and cleanest water. They also get eaten first. Living on the edge is a natural example of the risks vs rewards principle that we're all familiar with - the higher the risk, the greater the rewards. I always knew what living on the edge meant, just never realized where it came from. I just presumed it meant something along the lines of living by the sword or the edge of knife. Animal Planet opened my eyes.

Thu, 13th Jul '06, 11:45 pm::

Nominative Determinism or Aptonyms are "apt names" of people because of their occupation. Like Raymond Strike, the President of the National Health and Welfare Worker's Union in Canada. Or Robin Banks, who specializes in handling internet fraud for British Telecom. My dirty favorite: Dr. Alden G. Cockburn, a Urologist in Tampa, FL - about a 30 minute drive from me. If you like these, here's more.

This 'blog entry SUCKSSun, 9th Jul '06, 10:05 pm::

I have come to the sad realization that I apparently have the worst choice in everything. Every single thing. Ever. If I like it, then it sucks. It can be anything - music, movies, actors, actresses, sports, books, or food. If I so much as mention it to my friends that "Hey! This 'x' is good..." it is met with the juggernaut punch of "Ewwwwww! 'X' SUCKS!"

The list of things that I like and for some reason the people I know don't, is pretty damn long. From Jon Stewart and Johnny Depp to Scarlett Johansson and Uma Thurman, from Annie Hall and 007 series to Zoolander and Sin City, from Aerosmith and Cake to Queen and Coldplay. It does not matter whether Annie Hall is Woody Allen's greatest cinematic achievement till date, the very fact that I casually mentioned it a friend online, means it stinks. Who cares if Sin City is quite possibly the best rendition of a comic to a movie that still maintains the comic-book aura, the mere fact that Chirag Mehta in Florida, USA uttered the phrase "Wow! Sin City is superb!" means people have to absolutely bring it down.

The statistical odds of me unknowingly liking everything that is critically "bad" are very very low. If indeed I can like the suckiest of the sucky out there, I can make a lot of money by immediately betting on my dislikes. No. I don't think I have a case of bad taste in all there is to be. The problem is you. Yes, you. You pretend to hate every single thing that's popular because it's so much easier to say "'X' is an over-rated hack' and "'X' is too long and boring." It's ok though. Not your fault completely. Here's what really happened.

As a society, we've been trained well to listen to the view of the elite few and shape our views and likings according to theirs. So when Roger Ebert praises a film, we walk in expecting it to be good. Nothing wrong so far. His film reviews are unbiased and quite accurate and his words are in fact worth their weight in gold. The problem is not whether Ebert does and does not like something. The problem is our innate desire to be elite. After all, our society has been structured to respect and revere the elite.

It so happens unfortunately, our peers identify us by the choices we make, not why we make them. Consequently, if we want our fellow beings to respect us and be in awe of our choices, it is paramount that we pick everything that a commoner wouldn't. It is cool to be different. Corollary, it is uncool to choose like a plebeian. Instead of doing what the elite do to become an elite ourselves, we start liking things that we think the real elites like. We form a mirage of what the elites might like and start liking those things. You know, that raw-sounding underground band that only you know of? Oh and that foreign film with blue blood instead of red?

Now that you have wedged yourself between the layers of unique-taste and appreciating-the-underrated, it's time to start defending your high and mighty position. A friend mentions Sin City is great and you have to mention that Frank Miller doesn't know how to bring life to his characters, "They're so two-dimensional." Well no sheetrock Sherlock, it's a comic on paper! While I understand that everyone has the right to critique everything that they know nothing about, that doesn't mean you start hating anything that doesn't meet your precise definition of what might be good.

Having read a million online profiles and met tons of people, I've come to the conclusion that while everyone is different and has different tastes, once they fit in with a certain clique or stereotype, they choose pretty much just like everyone else in the group. In their view, the stereotype they're trying to fit into is the coolest, the most elite. So they have to like what other people with that stereotype like. Even the people that do not want to fit into a stereotype have similar choices. Odds are, if you like Fight Club, you also like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you like Futurama, you also like Amelie. Odds, not certainly. Odds are fairly good that if you hate They Might Be Giants, you also hate Monty Python.

I don't need to hear your excuse for hating anything. I doubt Monty Python will get any funnier because you have a different idea of how they should have acted out their skits. Truth is, most people hate things because it is cool to hate them. And what's cooler to hate than the popular? If it's popular, it means the commoners like it. If the stupid common people like it, you certainly don't want anything to do with it.

Try mentioning to anyone with even a slight pride, that you listen to the Billboard Top 40 songs and they'll frown upon you. "Ewww! How can you listen to that crap?! I only listen to the classic Beatles songs." Guess what? Beatles topped all those Top charts. You may or may not have better taste than me, but you certainly are trying hard to pretend like you do.

I doubt that I'm ever going to get people to appreciate the genius of Peter Sellers or the wonders of Tom Waits, so I'm going to do the only thing I can to avenge the insults I bore. From now on, everything anyone says is good, I'm gonna hate it. For absolutely no reason other than the fact that YOU like it. Once I've made it clear I hate it, I'll make up intelligent-sounding bourgeoisie-denigrating reasons to prove my point. You may now walk away in awe of me and leave me plum full of my elitist self.

The Top 5 Myths about the Life of Chir.agWed, 28th Jun '06, 7:55 am::

A lot of people read my 'blog and I am thankful for that. Now it is a known fact that everyone that reads my 'blog is awesome but what isn't known is that there are some that read it with more than a few misconceptions on their mind. There's not much I can do to make people see the reality except, I guess, explicitly write it out as one last attempt. So let's get right ahead to it.

The Top 5 Myths about the Life of Chir.ag:

  1. You're just too lucky: No, I am not. I've actually been pretty unlucky in the last year or so. Who else do you know that contracted Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, Pulmonary Pneumonia, Conjunctivitis (twice!), ruptured Condyloid ligaments, multiple radial socket damage, and Scabies in just one year?! Trust me, it sucks to be me. You just don't hear me whine about it much anymore.
  2. You exaggerate (a lot): Coming from the other end of the spectrum are people that think I make up stuff or turn a mole into a supermole with frickin' laser beams on its frickin' head. Well, a lot of the stuff I can prove with pictures. Anything beyond that, you have a choice to believe my words or not. I don't lie though sometimes I do follow the Mahabharata tactic of "Narova Kunjarova" - hiding the truth. Sometimes I don't want people to know why/when/if I do things. I don't lie; I just never mention it. Call it selective canting but this being a very public 'blog, there are things I'd rather not write here. Give me a call if you think there's more to a story and want more details. I'll probably spend 3 hours whining to you, especially if you're paying for the phone call :)
  3. You've changed/lost-your-mind/become-selfish etc.: One-sided criticisms. You read something on this 'blog and you decide Chirag is now a useless drunk. You read something else and decide Chirag no longer cares about the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever. You read something else I wrote and sigh that Chirag is never going back to college. What can I say to that? You've made up your mind to judge who I am based on the words I consciously choose to write on here. I am well aware of what I'm writing and how people can take it. If it's something I don't want people to read and judge, I won't write it. So the fact that you noticed I party a lot or work too much, is probably true but also just as apparent to myself. Big deal. I'm a human with desires, expectations, and imperfections just like everyone else, including you.
  4. You're amazing/perfect/great/smart: Praise, most of it putting me up high on a pedastal as if I am some larger-than-life symbol of hope, adventure, and gravitas combined into one hot-looking package of 100% Indian-goodness. Of course, I love the priase and the kind words. But come on, I'm a human. I screw up things small and big. I win and lose. People are people. And I'm the most peoplest of all peoples. So don't expect me to be some sort of beacon of righteousness or emblem of goodwill. It won't take me too long to shatter your vision of this perfect moral boy next time I do bodyshots off a dead hooker (just kiddin!).
  5. You're hiding the real you: This is by far the most troubling response I get and is especially worrisome when the person knows me in real life. As mentioned above, I sometimes hide stories/news about me that I don't want everyone to know. Plus do you REALLY want to read about the disgusting nightmare that is scabies? However, that doesn't mean I'm pretending to be someone else all the time. I know at least one person that thinks I'm actually a sad little puppy and am playing opposite-day everyday on this 'blog. Sometimes a Chirag's just a Chirag! While every person has their skeleton-in-the-closet issues, that doesn't mean they are being pretentious all the time. I am like this in person when you meet me (probably a little more dorky and hopefully much less serious). I am what I am. And I like it that way.

Wed, 28th Jun '06, 6:45 am::

Yet another weekend I spent having too much fun. Went to camp out on the Carolina Beach with my cousin Priya and a bunch of her friends. Lots of little stories and many more memorable incidents. On the drive back, I stopped by the historic city of Savannah, Georgia and had dinner with my friend Vu, whom I hadn't seen in a couple of years. He still looks exactly 19 years old though he's closer to 25. Thanks for the dinner!

The drive was pretty long and that's what this 'blog entry today is about. No, not long automotive drives, but "drive" - the drive to do what you always wanted. To me, it is more of an ongoing realization than an instantaneous epiphany. I've learnt over time that the cheesy Nike slogan is really true, "Just do it." No matter what it is, don't overthink, don't overanalyze. If it looks fun and interesting, go for it. Yes, everything has its fair share of positives and negatives. You can spend an entire lifetime meticulously weighing-in whether Grad School A is better than Grad School B or Grad School C (just for future reference, C is better, ALWAYS.) At the end of it all, it doesn't really matter a big deal.

Take a cosmic look at it. There are black holes, quasars, white dwarfs, spiral galaxies, and planetary nebulae. There are asteroids hurtling down space at a hundred thousand miles an hour. There are thunderstorms on Jupiter large than the entire Earth. There's the Andromeda galaxy slowly (relatively speaking (no pun intended)) entwining with the Milky Way. And then there's you, wondering if you should pretend to work for two more hours instead of going to see the standup comedian you always wanted to see. I speak from personal experience here. I don't know or care anymore which exam I was really studying for but I know I gave away tickets to Dave Chapelle's standup at my college back in Jersey. The worst experience in life is the one you didn't have.

I wouldn't say that I'm an active participant in the cult of Hedonism but I've learnt over the course of years that I cannot give up on the things I've always wanted to do just because "real" life is getting in the way. I have to make time. I have to give up some of my future to ensure my past continues to be free of regrets. Like they say, on the death-bed, nobody wishes they had spent more time at their desk job. We will wish that we had "lived" a little more. The unit of measurement of life is "This one time in...", not years.

With that desire in mind, earlier this summer I planned that I wanted to visit Taylor in Gainesville, Megan in Philly, Priya in North Carolina, Vu in Savannah, Chris in Tennessee, and Becky + Laura in Seattle. I'm over half way done, having had more than a few drinks with Taylor, dancing more than a mongoose with Megan, driving more than a trucker to see Priya, and talking more than a wacky morning DJ with Vu. Due to some change of plans, I'm not sure if I'm going to see Chris this year or whether Seattle is possible this summer, but you can bet your house on the fact that if there is even a slight chance, I'll take it. I'll take it and I'll write about it.

Sat, 10th Jun '06, 10:30 pm::

It's good to be a beach bum. I wallowed in the ocean for over an hour today, warm water, gentle breeze, and good company. Chilled with my friend Gem who drove up from Manatee County. We laid out in the sun (technically in the shade under my beach umbrella) for a while, drinking soda, and talking about different things. I love talking to people that actually have something to say beyond what People and Cosmo tell them to. Gem moved to Florida from New Orleans last year after Hurricane Katrina. While I talked about Katrina as a national disaster last year, I never thought I'd actually meet someone directly affected by it.

It was human nature and common sense for me to think that every single person who went through Katrina would be deeply affected by it. It was, however, a big mistake on my part to automatically assume that every single person affected, would be devastated by it. She moved here while every single person she knew scattered all over the country. It's hard enough losing a friend or two, so one would think that a change this big would destroy a person's sanity. I don't recall her exact words but she said something along the lines of "Change is not a big deal when everything changes."

In a twisted way, that is so true. If you have a strict routine and even a minor step changes, you get disturbed and have to undo the change or try hard to adapt to it. Yet when the routine no longer exists or changes to drastically you cannot change it, you have to create a new routine or evolve to embrace the new. In a way, my move from India to New Jersey and then from NJ to Florida is kinda like that. Things changed so drastically I barely had time to realize how much impact the new surroundings were having on me.

Well, for dinner, we had some Pad Thai at Thai AM-2 restaurant on the beach, though I missed the taste of Siam Garden in downtown St. Pete. I can't wait to go there again sometime. Just relaxing now watching Comedy Central with Giga passed out on my lap.

New - Music & PeopleWed, 31st May '06, 10:45 pm::

Yesterday evening my new friend Teresa came over to chill with me. She introduced me to Violent Femmes. Been a while since I found a new band that I liked. I'm very apprehensive about listening to new music. I don't know why but I don't like it when people burn CD's for me and tell me to listen to them. It's not any odd music though. It's complete works of a particular singer/band. Now I feel like I have to sit through every song some guy ever sang and pick out the ones I might like. Since I don't really care how great the band is and am only interested in particular songs, I have to listen to 14 crappy ones to get to the two good songs. Only rarely do I find bands like Cake that have a lot of good songs that I like. From the last few songs I've heard, VF appears to be the same. One distinction here is mixed CD's. Since mixed CD's mostly have tons of songs by different artists, if I don't like someone's voice, I still have 9 other songs to pick from :)

Unlike new music, I am very open to meet new people. Be it coworkers, friends-of-friends, or people I've been talking to online, meeting someone you've never met before can range from a dull boring chore to thrilling experience. The thrill to me lies not only in how exciting the person is by themselves, but also how unexpected their being there is. Most of the times, you already know the kinda person you will meet in a given situation. If I go to association meetings from work, I already know that I'll probably meet people who're into X/Y/Z. And then someone stands out from it all, a peculiarly unique person with different way of looking at things. You didn't expect this guy or girl to come up with such a non-traditional way to look at the mundane, like the economist from Freakonomics. Otherwise, I already know 53 girls who like to "have fun" and want to "have a good time!" *choke* So once in a while, it's refreshing to meet new people with more personality than a sheet of paper.

Sat, 27th May '06, 7:25 pm::

Yesterday evening with Lanie was absolutely awesome. We went down to Gulfport and walked around for hours. I had pasta cooked in white wine! We drew colorful designs with chalk on the sidewalk just like the tens of kids with their parents. Of course, we had a "few" spirits during the course of the evening (Bailey's, some sorta white wine, Tequila, Goldschlager, and best of all Frozen Pina Colada with Attitude & Jello shots). Later we went to see X-Men 3 - The Last Stand. The movie kicked ass and I liked it so much, I went to see it today with my friend Brian from work.

Anyways, I'm just sitting here relaxing. Don't have any plans this weekend other than reading a book my boss gave me: Freakonomics. I've heard about it so many times online that I am totally excited to finally read it.

Mama Cass makes an appearanceWed, 24th May '06, 11:15 pm::

Since I don't have any form of commenting on my 'blog, I get a good number of emails each week, many anonymous. Most of them write for/against about my 'blog entries. Yet every once in a while, I get something interesting. Presenting tonight's chilling poem sent to me by someone with an evidently eerie sense of humor and a wanton disconnect with restraint:

"You look better when you're wet.
Body bloated by water, floating out to sea.
Fish food, sleeping under worms, rotting in into the sun...
" - Mama Cass

Mama Cass was a famous blues singer and I'm pretty sure she's not back from the grave emailing me. Interesting pseudonym nevertheless. Creepy as it sounds, I like the flow of words. From lifeless to neverending, from eventuality to oblivion. A mere handful of words convey the message of balance, of settlement, and of the final dissipation of everything we were and are into the primodial soup whence we came from. Beautiful.

Megan's Wedding in PhillyMon, 22nd May '06, 12:20 am::

Just got back from my friend Megan's wedding in Pennsylvania! CONGRATS MEGS AND CHRIS!!!!! Such an eventful and packed weekend that I am still not over the excitement. First of all, this was my first time ever seeing Megan in person and yet we felt like we'd been friends forever. Well, technically we have; known her online via Fark.com for over five years now. Chris turned out to be even cooler and much more fun than I thought. I mean I didn't know much about him to expect anything. I kept thinking he reminded me very strongly of someone famous and then it hit me... Abhishek Bachchan - famous Indian actor. I mean it's weird to be reminded of movie stars when you meet real people but the resemblance, especially the walk and body language, was uncanny. Megan was definitely the life of the entire party... laughing and dancing every other minute.

The party for me started at the Tampa Airport on Friday afternoon. Having gone to work early on Friday and leaving early, I was already tired by the time I passed through the dreadded airport security. I sit down at this Mexican food place and ask the waiter for the biggest margarita and the biggest bowl of nachos they have. Next thing I know I'm in Philadelphia. I freshened up at my hotel (which did NOT look as polished as the picture makes it out to be) and decided to take a walk around Center City, Philadelphia. I took a few pictures and just kept noticing the little unique identity marks of the city. I noticed rows of houses sharing common walls, kinda like San Fran, but with buckets of flowers hanging from the front windows.

At 9:30pm, I finally got to meet Megan! First time I see her in person and she's looking gorgeous in a bridal dress. It's kinda cooler than meeting someone at Walmart. Also met her friend Wade & Lisa, and of course, the groom Chris. We had wine and vodka, talked for a few hours, and parted ways. Next morning, i.e. Saturday, I had some continental breakfast, Meg/Chris picked me up, and we drove to Chris' Aunt Kathy's house in the middle of the beautiful rolling hills of Pennsylvania Country. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful landscaping I've ever seen in my life with waterfall, and all sorts of trees and plants, which of course is easily explained by the fact that Chris' uncle, Tom, runs a landscaping business. Oh and their neighbors had ostriches. Yes, OSTRICHES!

I met their families as they slowly arrived and we started setting up the tables under the big (30ft x 60ft) tent in the backyard. Good thing everything was pretty much setup by the time we got there and all we had to do was put up the lights and set up the bar. Gee, I wonder who took it upon himself to make sure the bar was setup right :-P Around 4pm, the guests started pouring in. The most relaxing aspect of this party was the attire - casual - jeans 'n shirt! It was more like a big bar-b-que party than some formal wedding occasion. As the sun set, it started getting cold, and Tom got his son Luke to build a HUGE campfire. I think the fire lasted from 8pm to 3am! And I made sure it kept me warm - I mean I've so gotten used to the warm Florida weather now...

As the evening progressed, most of the older guests left, leaving us kids behind. The music was on, the fire was warm, and the drinksa' floweth. I made my special California Sunset mixed drink for Chris and got two more orders for it. As I tell everyone, I'm a computer guy by mind but a bartender by heart. Around midnight, we setup our tents under the big tent - to keep us warm and protected from the harsh winds. Oh yeah, I took a tent on the plane! It was hilarious because the airport people kept looking at me funny when they saw I'm getting on a plane so I can camp out.

Sunday morning was the familiar post-party lazy-wake up chore. Got up, folded my tent, and showed all my mad sleeping-bag folding trickzzz to Megan & Chris. We had some pancakes for breakfast, packed up our stuff, said good-bye to the twenty new people I met, and drove to Chris' grandfather's house. And that is where I think I saw the most memorable country-side - in the little town of Embreeville Mill near the historic Brandywine River. I don't know much about American history but from what I learnt, every other house in this area was built sometime in 1700's and Chris' ancestors owned acres and acres of land. They were one of the first few canners in the country - canned the mushrooms that rural Pennsylvania is so famous for. It kinda reminds me of my ancestors in India because my grandparents and their parents grew up in the same family house in the village that their parents did. It doesn't matter where in the world you were three hundred years ago, life wasn't too different.

As I walked around Chris' grandpa's house, I noticed the exterior walls were TWO FEET THICK! Chris' dad (harbor-master of Longboat Key Marina in Sarasota, FL and the only other Floridian) said it took four years to actually build this house sometime in 1770's. The construction was rock-solid and the design was rustic yet timeless. The cold-as-ice wine-cellar was probably my favorite part of the house. We saw wild goats right outside their front-door and I was told by everyone to NEVER mess with a male goat - as if that was on my list of 50-things I wanna do or something :)

One of the guests at the wedding was Richard Chalfont, a famous painter. I talked to him at the party and later learnt his gift to the newly-wed couple was a beautiful painting of houses previously owned by Chris' family. Pretty amazing stuff.

After about an hour or so, we left to drop me off at a nearby train-station so I could get to the airport on time. Neat thing how the Philly airport is so well-connected to the local trains. Didn't have a problem at all. But man... the good-bye to Meg & Chris was sad... I told them normally this is the moment I say "alright guys, see you next weekend..." or "give me a call if you wanna hang out sometime..." but I doubt that's possible. It's amazing how close I felt to them as friends, even though it was my first time seeing both of them. Anyways, my train arrived on time, I got to the airport on time, and landed at Tampa after two flights, almost on time. I won't say the return trip was uneventful because there were far too many annoying people, unbearable noises, and frustrating incidents for it to be uneventful. However, I'm home now, safe and sound, and more excited than ever to get back to work tomorrow after my mini-weekend-get-away-to-Philly.

Sun, 14th May '06, 10:45 pm::

I had a kickass time with Taylor this weekend. We went to eat at random places, went to bars, played pool, went to Univ. of Florida campus, chilled all Saturday at a coffee place playing Scrabble, watched Greg the Bunny episodes for hours, drove around the city of Gainesville stopping at junk yards and antique places, and also did some brainstorming about computers and technology. The drive to Gainesville from St. Pete and back was gorgeous too. The weather's beautiful, and I-75 is actually nice for an Interstate Highway. Takes only about two hours each way.

When I got home, Tera jumped into my lap and rubbed her head all over my face and neck. Then Giga walked over from my livin room, put his head on my foot, and started purring. All in all a great weekend. And next weekend's gonna be amazingly fun too - going to visit my soon-to-be-married-friend Megan in Philly! Can't wait!

So far this year, I've been to India (for my sister's wedding), Houston - Texas, Plant City - Florida Strawberry Festival, kayaking in Fort De Soto, camping in Lake Okeechobee, and now Gainesville. On my plate for the upcoming months is Philadelphia - Pennsylvania, Raleigh - North Carolina, Savannah - Georgia, Chattanooga - Tennessee, and Seattle - Washington. Let's see which ones I get to actually visit.

I also want to drive down to beaches in South Florida. Only problem is that I don't know anyone down there. I guess it's time I made some new friends :)

Sun, 7th May '06, 1:35 am::

Just got back from the St Pete/Tampa Fark Party at Derby Lane! Met a lot of cool people, including THE MAN: Drew Curtis himself! Drew's the guy who made Fark and still runs it. Here's a pic of both of us: Chirag & Drew (more pics). Met a couple of people my age and had some food later with them. It was Nathaniel, Melissa, Nathan, and Jasmine. They live about an hour or two away from my house so I don't know how often I can go up to chill with them. Seemed like a buncha cool people - both Daniel and Nathan are into computers too. Their poor girlfriends! Haha... Aynways, g'nite for now.

Mon, 1st May '06, 9:25 pm::

I found a good electrician last month and finally this weekend, he came over to complete all the projects I had for him. Initially, he was going to charge $350 for just a few things, primarily a new circuit to power my computers, fixing of my backyard lights, and fixing my old water pump. During this past Saturday, Sunday, and tonight, he spent about 15-hours inside and outside my house, as it usually happens, fixing a lot more things than originally planned.

In the end, for a grand-total of $700 I got a new 4-point circuit with its own breaker to my PCs, a pump with pressure gauge, pressure tank, pressure cut-off switch and main switch connected to my underground well, two twin-halogen 90w motion-sensing lights in my backyard, 2-point outlet in the backyard to plug tools into, a lightening arrestor to protect the electric devices inside my house in case of a direct lightening hit, a fresh new ground/Earth line for the main circuit, and pretty much all the wires on the main board reattached. It just feels so "clean" now that my main computer is connected to a strong 20-amp line with decent grounding instead of multiple UPSs split from one tiny plug without ground.

Now that my roof and electric circuits are done, I can get the 4-point inspection my insurance company wants me to get - roof, electric, plumbing, heating/airconditioning. Hopefully there's not going to be any issues with the latter two. Cost of inspection is probably about $300. In these three months, I've spent about $5,000 to fix up the house. Of course, a house almost exactly similar to mine down the street is selling for $185,000 - I bought mine last year for less than $150,000. So it'll be worth every penny spent when it's time to sell. But till then, it makes for some tight financial planning.

I'm also thinking of getting a sprinkler system installed before my lawn is fixed up. It's much better to dig trenches and install the pipes on barren land. It all depends on how much money I can save up for these projects.

Nature and meSun, 23rd Apr '06, 8:15 pm::

Nature elicits the deepest, most innate thoughts in my mind. Beautiful ideas, primal awareness. Sitting five minutes on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, peering into the restless flora sprouting from 'neath ethereal freshwater, I realized my place in the world. I was at one with my environment. I was breathing, living, being. An earth-shaking wave of overconfidence swept me off my feet when I thought I figured out the answer to a question that has plagued and challenged mankind for eons: "Why are we here?" My answer: "To embrace nature." Took me a few minutes to consider that there must have been tons of people before me that thought the same. Turns out Einstein said, among other things, "... to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Hmmm, he said embrace too. I wonder if he ever went to Lake O.

We drove down to the Okeechobee KOA early Saturday morning. While it didn't faze my friends, to me, it seemed the drive was beautiful. I guess my senses heighten whenever I am outside my daily routine. Things just seem more alive. We setup the tents and that's when we met our camp-neighbors and their big cuddly Wolf! Yup, a real-life pet wolf, not in the least bit wild - perfectly tame. He stood up on his hind legs, put his paws on my shoulders, and licked my face when his owner told him to 'kissy.' I know my dad isn't into dogs, so I figure someday I can get a wolf instead. Right? Hehe. Apparently it's a tough job to take care of wolves. Nevertheless, I think I'm up to the challenge; probably 10-15 years from now when I have half-an-acre of chain-fenced enclosure to keep my canines in safely.

While there were a lot of fun activities to do within Koa grounds, I was more interested in driving around the big lake. I took a some pics during my 2.5 hour drive around the lake. It was definitely the most scenic drive I've ever taken. This whole area has some pretty interesting names for roads and places. Hooker Highway, a town called FrostProof, Lake Buffom, and many more. I drove counter-clockwise around the lake and saw a lot of farms full of cows and horses. Since I was driving full-speed, I could only take pics when I stopped. Passing through miles and miles of orange groves, I heartily breathed in the fresh air of the lovely countryside.

As I was crossing over the neverending concrete expressway through downtown Tampa towards St. Petersburg on my drive back home, I couldn't help but be amazed at how I was so close to the rural life just a few hours ago and how stiff and obstinate these tall buildings look compared to throngs swinging palm trees that line the big lake. I know my thoughts weren't too enlightening and neither were they revolutionary or brilliant. What made me smile was the fact that I was thinking about things other than materialistic goals. During the whole weekend, I didn't think about anything that I think of on a daily basis - no computers, no systems, no processes, no TV, no bars, no Home Depot. Just nature and me. And it felt good.

I think next time I want to take a diary and jot my thoughts down. Like I remember, I wanted to make a list of things that we think are really necessary, and then try to narrow down the list as much as we can. Say, if you were asked what all do you need this whole month, what would the list look like? What are the things you absolutely need during a typical month, without which you cannot survive? In addition to food, water, clothing, and shelter, I bet cellphones, cars, computers, and cable TV channels are on most people's list. Let's not forget toothbrush & paste, soap/shampoo, wallet full of cash, and above all, other people. What if it was just a week? Could you live without your money? How about a few days without soap or seeing any other human? What if you have 24-hours and absolutely nobody around and nothing other than water and the clothes you wear? No food, no car, no phone, no people. Just you and 86,400 seconds in which you try to keep your sanity. And what's the longest you can go like this? A few days? A week? Forever?!

Sometimes it's refreshing to think about these things instead of how many miles my car will go before I need to fill the tank again. Or how many people will show up at the next party I throw. Who cares if 100 people show up at your party if you can't even live without a toothbrush for a day?! Nature makes everyone feel so insignificant that they realize their true worth is not determined by petty measures of money, status, or beauty, but rather by their ability to survive and embrace nature.

Unsurprisingly, I do not have much respect for people who are incapable of enjoying nature in its most serene form. It's quite easy to be in awe of and be entertained by nature at its wildest, but if you cannot appreciate life just sitting idly by the beach or walking through a little trail between thick bushes, you're not my kinda person. I don't want to be a hermit in the Himalayas but I do know I want to spend a lot more time outside than inside as I grow older.

Sometimes that means fixing my lawn and other times it means going to the beach, skiing down a slope, or kayaking up a creek. If I'm lucky, it'll mean going to more places like Lake O in the near future. For now, the hum-drum of daily life beckons - the dryer is ready for the next load of laundry. I'll do that, you check out my Lake Okeechobee photos.

Sat, 22nd Apr '06, 5:15 am::

Hellooo Okeechobee! I'm going to Lake O with some friends (Liz, Dave...) We'll camp out for a day and a half somewhere near it. It's about a 4-hr drive and will officially be the longest drive for me (i.e. me driving with passengers, instead of me being the passenger). So I'm pretty excited. Someday I'll sail down the O Waterway. Coincidentally today is Earth Day. Ironically, I'll do more damage to the Earth today (driving 4-hrs + camping etc.) than I do on a daily basis. Time to head out for the Big O. See ya!

Inspiration SchmispirationWed, 12th Apr '06, 11:20 pm::

While chatting online today, Tay mentioned something about inspiration. A lot of people love to be inspired. After all, nothing pumps more energy into your youthful ambitious bloodstream than the words of a "successful" achiever in your field. You can see what the pro has accomplished and as a rising star you want to get there faster and shine brighter. Or maybe you're not the alpha-male type. You just want to encapsulate yourself in the glowing warmth of inspiration and ascend towards the apex with a Buddhist sense of omniscient calm. After all, if they did it, so can you! And they said that repeatedly in their hour long self-realization speeches.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I don't like to be inspired. I'm not saying inspiration is good or bad, just saying if given the choice, I prefer not to be inspired. Just like wealth, hardwork, and genius, inspiration appears to be a very good measure of the potentiality of success. Clearly a person inspired to change the world has more chance of achieving that than someone who cares not one bit and has no inspiration to leave a mark on the planet. Just like how everyone who is rich is successful, how every person who works hard always wins, and how every genius is recognized for his or her intellect by the masses. Right? No, you say? I guess then inspiration isn't that good of a barometer either, is it?

Other than a momentary appreciation of self-worth and an inflated sense of personal capabilities, inspiration doesn't really do much, especially in the long term. Great, so you just watched an amazing play or read a touching autobiography. Or you went to see a famous CEO talk about how he grew his company from his garage to over 100 countries in under five years. Wow! Nobody can deny that such growth is anything short of impressive. But is it inspirational? Will you go home and realize "if he can do it, so can I?!"

Like this sarcastic Despair poster says, "If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon." Inspiration is just motivation to dream big. Shame on you if you did not automatically think you could turn your 5-person company to a 500-people multi-national and instead needed some guy to come in for an hour and teach you how to dream.

If going to a 30-minute seminar on financial planning inspires me to change my lifestyle entirely, I'd say I'm ashamed of how I was spending and planning money before. I should've realized it on my own that I was bad with finances instead of having someone tell me I've been wrong all my life in just half-an-hour. What I AM in favor of, is of course, education. If going to this financial planning seminar taught me how to better plan my retirement, more power to me. But if I need to go to a "Retirement-Planning Info-Meet" to realize that hey, someday I'm going to be 65 and I just might need money for food, then well, I'm a pretty stupid person to begin with.

Most people get inspired from momentary experiences. A speech, a book, a movie, a play. While I love change and always welcome something small changing my entire outlook on everything, I think if an intro-book about bio-genetics is all I need to inspire me to give up computers forever and take up bio-genetics as my new career path, then wow, where was I last ten years while the Human Genome Project sequenced the DNA?

Maybe, people will not feel the need to be inspired if they just keep their eyes open and see what's happening every single day. In today's world, you only get inspired if [a] some amazingly major breakthrough occurs (very very rarely) or [b] you have been living in a cave for years (most probably) and just realized that you can draw pictures on back of business cards and actually make money selling them!

I guess I feel the need to not be inspired for two reasons. Firstly, as I hinted above, the state of being inspired isn't very productive. There is a state of feeling excited and ambitious that IS indeed productive. If I realize I can connect my old and new database systems using a simple tool, I am not inspired, I'm simply excited and well, feeling quite ambitious about accurate data migration, because now I know I can. When I was inspired, I wanted to make the world a better place by writing an email client that worked in different Indian languages; currently nobody I know uses this software that took me months to code. When I was not-inspired, but rather just indifferent and in need of a small simple music player, I wrote one within days that well, just played music; over 2 million downloads in last six years and counting. Inspiration, big dreams, and castles in the sky haven't made me famous yet. Creating tools that make others' lives easy, help me though.

Secondly, and primarily, I like to dream my own dreams and I like to dream big. You cannot quite possibly insert your dreams into my head and somehow show me that I didn't dream big enough. That is just not possible. I've already thought of every single thing that I can quite possibly do as a human, rather as a super human. I've calculated what I need physically, mentally, and financially to climb Mt. Everest and definitely looked into forming my own Antarctic sub-station. I've thought about giving up everything I have so I can save the baby seals and I've considered spending my life travelling throug the villages of India teaching young and old about computers, math, and science. However, I'm not rushing to start work on my online digital-life-management suite or take up International Relationships to get a seat on a UN sub-committee for Economic Development of South-East Asia.

I guess you can call me uninspired and unmotivated. After all, I could potentially be doing any of the above yet I'm spending my spare time filling a big hole in my backyard every day so it stops looking like the surface of Mars. Lack of inspiration alright. I believe short of a few physical/mental limitations, pretty much anyone can do anything. Inspiration is basically you realizing that "HEY! I can do it too!" Well guess what? I've already realized that I can do anything I have my mind set on. And so can you! The sooner you realize that, the better it is. Inspiration is just a stage you have to go through to come to the best part of your life - actually doing things that you really want to do! Creating, molding, finishing. Above all, choosing. I choose to fix my backyard myself instead of helping cute little kitties at the pet shelter get their vaccines and medicines.

Right now, you too could be doing any particular thing from a selection of thousands of things that you have been inspired to do - writing songs, sketching meadows and hills, planning marketing campaigns to overthrow your competition, or joining a sports club. But instead, you chose to be here and read my blog. Why? Not because you've never had the inspiration to do something bigger, better, and nobler. But rather because given your particular situation in life, reading this 'blog entry is something you want to do. Inspiration can only tell you what you can potentially do. Freewill and choice is what actually determines what you do in life.

None of these inspiration-arousing speakers were talking about being inspired when they were struggling like you and I. They did not do whatever they did solely because someone inspired them or because they wanted to change the world. They did it and then realized, "Hey, maybe I can help inspire others to change the world like I did." I'm not the one to doubt anyone's intentions but it's like saying, "Hey! Now that I have completed this one particular crossword, let me give you all the words that I used so you can try to jam them into your own unique crossword puzzle and see if you can solve it." Then you go home all inspired because now you have words like seamlessness, fluidity, and ideation that you try to jam into every open row and column. Not gonna work. Get a dictionary and you'll have every word. The only way to win is to figure out which words you need, not which word you can force in.

In short, don't do something because you're blindly inspired to do it. Do it because that is the thing you want to do the most out of a list of million other things you can potentially do. And if that leads to success, more power to you. If it doesn't lead to success, at least you did something you wanted to do of your own volition.

On maintaining 'blogsMon, 10th Apr '06, 12:05 am::

I often ask my friends if they have a 'blog that they update regularly. I love reading people's journals/online-diaries on my own spare time. A lot of people just say "well, just ask me what you want to know about me." The point isn't that I have unanswered questions about someone. But rather I want to know your thoughts, without me having to pick a topic for you to talk about.

When I ask you a question, I only find out about the question. Great, so now I know about your favorite movies & music, and that you don't like something the government is doing. But how will I ever know you think college is a waste of time or that Jelly-monster Aliens from Sepoocha Nebula invaded Earth and mated with the Tibetians to give rise to strong war-hungry Mongolians?

By having a 'blog that other people can read, you tell a lot about yourself to the world, without them having to ask for it specifically. Sure, a lot of people don't like to talk about themselves or attract unnecessary attention. However, it's still a great way to get your thoughts out - no matter how weird, confusing, or dull they are - trust me, some of my posts on this 'blog are merely polluting the Internet. Yet, I love to write whenever I can. Not because someone asked me to write but because I feel like sharing part of me. I guess it's a very personal thing and not many people are comfortable doing it. I still encourage everyone to do it though! It's awesome to go back in time and see how you looked at things just a few months or years ago.

Sat, 1st Apr '06, 12:05 am::

Welcome to the redecorated chir.ag 'blog! Last month I installed some pretty intelligent UI-Phase Analysis software on this 'blog that was meant to show me statistics about the type of people that read my blog - which country they are from, which brand of toothpaste they prefer, and how many times they wear a pair of socks before they wash them. One thing that surprised me was finding that the chir.ag 'blog readers are predominately male in gender with a male-to-female ratio of 98%! To correct this unbalance and to attract readers of the feminine persuasion, I've decided that I need to take major action to attract more female visitors like some famous sites are already doing it. As a first step, I'm changing the colors of this site to shades of pink. The whole site is pretty much totally pink and includes a cute-as-a-button main image! Enjoy.

Sun, 19th Mar '06, 8:35 pm::

Today has been a pretty lazy day for me. Sundays I like to sit around the house or yard and do nothing. Last night we went to a Greek Night Club with Natalia & Lanie that we've been to before. It was pretty awesome and got pretty wild. Lanie bit my back! After the club I took Natalia to the St. Pete Diner on Route 19 that I always go to whenever I stay out late. Dropped her off around 4 am and passed out soon after.

Woke up this morning around noon, went into my backyard with a pillow and laid down on my new bench. Talked to my parents and a few friends as I relaxed. Saw my neighbor Mike and talked to him for a while about stuff. Around 5pm, got inside, watched a little TV, had some breakfast, and passed out on my loveseat. I just woke up. I got all the sleep I needed.

Sat, 18th Mar '06, 7:55 pm::

Wow... what a day. Woke up at 8:30 and went straight into my backyard. Cleaned up the plant beds and did some digging for about three hours. Also trimmed a few plants in the frontyard. I sat on my back porch for a short break and felt kinda unaccomplished. No matter what I do, this whole backyard project is so big, I barely see any progress. So I decided I need a mini-project that's gonna make me happy and proud.

So presenting... the Log Lounge Bench! I found a picture of this lounge chair and decided I wanted to make something like that without the back-rest. I had the perfect place for it too - under my tree. Took me two trips to the Home Depot, $50 of wood & screws, and four hours from start to finish to complete the project.

First I had to cut-to-size the two large, roundish logs that form the main body. I used the extra wood as legs. The flat planks that form the top also had to be cut from two 12-foot planks. Once I screwed the legs into the two logs, I knew this was gonna come out sweet. Of course it wasn't as easy as it sounds because I had to first drill 3 holes for each leg into the big logs, then widen each hole upto half the depth, then use another drill-bit to drill through the big log to the leg, and then finally push in the screw into the leg using another bit. I love automatic screw guns.

Once I firmly attached two flat planks to the far ends of the logs, it was pretty much cakewalk after that. I used countersink to make sure the screws don't pop out from the planks. After all the flat planks were screwed on the top, I turned the bench over and attached the side-tray for holding my drinks :) Took about 2.5 hours to get it all together.

Now since the wood had a lot of splinters, I wanted to smoothen it. Sandpapering the edges is easy and cheap but it's a very slow process, so I ended up getting me a nice electric sander in addition to the wood & screws. Other than that, I had pretty much all the tools. Took about 1.5 hours to smoothen out every little edge and surface. I ran my hand over pretty much the entire bench - inch-by-inch - to make sure that there are no sharp edges or splinters that'll hurt me or someone else tomorrow. It looks very smooth now.

Now 4 hours and $50 later, I have a kickass log lounge bench that can easily seat 3 people comfortably or one person VERY happily and proudly. Altogether, I spent about 10 hours outside today! I'm kinda tired from all the hard work and pretty hungry too. Also, looks like I might be going out with friends later tonight.

Tomorrow is my day of relaxation. And laundry.

Paddle like your kayak's on fireThu, 16th Mar '06, 8:40 pm::

Today is a special evening for me. For the first time in my life, I've cooked a meal that I can't stop eating. I made some veggie biryani using my own recipe and it turned out so good I'm jealous of my own cooking skills. I got chick peas, green beans, green peas, jalapenos, mushrooms, corn, tomatoes, onion, and garlic mixed in rice with lots of different spices, from cinnamon to Indian masalas. I'm glad I made enough to last me for two more days :)

Anyways, so OMG! Tuesday night kayaking camping trip was AWESOME!!! I don't remember ever having THAT much fun within such a short amount of time. I left from work at around 4:30pm on Tuesday and drove down to Univ. of South Florida in downtown St. Pete. Including me, there were 11 people (6 guys/ 5 girls) and the only one I knew was Mike. The folks at USF Marina already had the kayaks and camping gear loaded on to Mike's truck. Night before, I had my car packed for the camping - two sleeping bags, extra pair of clothes, lots of supplies, Pop Tarts, and Robitussin 151 ;-) We drove down to this point right above Fort De Soto, parked our vehicles, and unloaded the kayaks. We loaded the kayaks with camping stuff and pushed the kayaks into the ocean around sunset. And that was just the beginning of the good times.

It got dark in a matter of minutes and behind us we saw the full moon rising up in the sky, almost yellow like turmeric. The water was pretty shallow and pretty calm. Imagine being in the middle of nowhere, pitch dark, save for the glow of the moon, leaving behind a trail of wispy moonbeams in your wake, as you gently paddle towards invisible shores. And then getting stuck in a sandbar! OUCH! Pretty much all of us hit the sandbars about 1.5 miles into the ocean. We got out of our kayaks and dragged them for well over a hundred yards till the water was 18 inches deep again. If you want to feel the pain, try dragging your sofa from one corner of the room to the other. Now do it a hundred times over, in darkness, in the middle of the ocean, with seaweeds wrapping around your legs, uphill, both ways. Yeah.

So we finally got to the island and man was I tired. Two miles is a far enough distance to row in itself, let alone on a weeknight when you worked all day, had almost no sleep the night before due to the excitement from the anticipation of the trip, and had no clue where you were going. Once on the shore, we unpacked, set up the tents, and Mike lit a bonfire :) Pretty soon there were smores, burnt Pop Tarts, and lots of spirits going around. I tell you, ten shots of 151 can really hit you like a rock. I've forgotten more crazy things I've done after inebriating myself than most people can even remember doing. Next up, were dirty camp-fire games. Let's say I was cow, some girl was TT, Mike was ex, some other girl was [censored], this cool guy Chris was sloppy, and more [censored] [censored] [censored]. A few more games later we sat around the fire just talking and doing stupid stuff. I think I kinda remember pushing Mike and some girl (?) into the ocean and thereby drenching myself completely (no wonder I woke up next morning missing my t-shirt.) I sat by the fire discussing random stuff with Chris and a few others then went into my tent, which I had to share with some cute girl whose name I can't remember and who kept kicking me allllll night.

Well not all night because I'd only been asleep for four hours when I heard the bastardly spawns of Satan circling over our tents. Apparently the birds on the beach love food and will shriek noisily till they scavenge off every last little morsel of leftovers strewed about on the beach by drunk kids the night before. Basically, I couldn't sleep anymore because they were too loud and it got too bright too soon. Oh yeah, the best part - a cold front moved in from the ocean at around 1am, so it got really cold really fast - cold and windy. Joy joy. We remained huddled in our tents till about 7am when I finally got out and started hunting for all my stuff missing from the night before - like my t-shirt and garden shovel (which by the way was very helpful for fishing out food from the fire, thank you very much Ms. Teresa.)

We packed the tents, loaded the kayaks up and sailed into the ocean, only this time, against winds gusting at over 30mph. The only thing on our side was light, so we could actually see where we were going. What took a mere 45mins the night before, took well over an hour because the wind kept turning around the kayaks as we (or at least I) paddled into it. One neat thing that Mike screamed at me from over in his kayak was that if I rode directly in the direction of the wind, it would turn my kayak around less. Makes sense too. Except I had to keep paddling 3x as more with my right hand; me being unsymmetrically lefty strength-wise. I got the workout I'd been needing for the past year and a half.

I had trouble believeing it but we actually made it to the shore, though a quarter of a mile away from where we parked our cars, as I didn't have the time nor the energy to kayak further. Mike and I went to get our cars, leaving Chris and Natalia in-charge of the kayaks with all our stuff on it. And like stupid boys usually do stupid things, Mike and I decided to sprint the last hundred or so yards up to the car, on wild grass, barefoot. It was only later in the day that we both independently noticed the damage done to our soles. Anyways, loading the kayaks up was another chore and we had to drive down to Fort De Soto to pick up camping stuff from another guy with us who kayaked to a different beach. Finally, Teresa, Zach, and I were on the way back to civilization!

I dropped them off at USF, cleaned up and changed there, spotted Mike on the road, and drove up to my work. Yeah, what did you think? I was gonna take a day off? Hell no! Real men do ALL of the above after eight straight hours of work and then get back to another eight straight hours of finger-breaking manual labor of pushing buttons, on an empty stomach no less. Oddly enough, since I wasn't tired mentally despite being dead physically, I actually managed to complete the final section of a new system I was building at work. I had been toiling away at this one piece of programming puzzle for well over three and a half days because no matter what I tried, I couldn't come up with a simple and easy way to show what I wanted. Turns out ten-shots of 151 later, I think like Buddha.

In the book of my life, this trip is definitely under the "Painfully Fun" chapter. I lost 2lbs in one night and feel so much more back in shape. My muscles hurt, my upper-body feels raw, and I've never felt this optimistic about finally acquiring some chiseled abs. Oh yeah, that was my New Year's resolution - gotta get me some abs! I do good things when I drink. That night I was sitting in some shady parking lot downtown with Tay, Kaela, and friends, gulping Champagne from a plastic cup. We asked each other what our NY resolutions were. Everyone said something deep and meaningful like "I want to see the world" or "I want to be more spontaneous," whereas I said "Abs! I want abs. This year, before December 31. I need some of those abs everyone's showing off." Everyone laughed and said "Ha! Good goal. Best of luck."

I've lost 11lbs since then, mostly from my spare-tire. My goal is to lose the tire entirely by end of June. Then come six months of freestyle exercises of all sorts - my revolutionary workout system: SH Ovelling, ab workouts, kayaking, and probably swimming. As long as I can spend 5-6 hours a week outside, I think I'll be good. Oh I know, too many plans, not enough time and energy.

I have a lot of time though, mostly past sundown. Those I spend relaxing around the house, torturing my evil kids, cooking up yummy biryani dishes. And with that I conclude this unnecessarily lengthy prattle of nothingness that pours heaps of salty drivel atop the sweet Chocolate Souffle of scintillating knowledge that is the Internet.

Sun, 12th Mar '06, 8:50 am::

Happy B'day Vishal! I'm pretty sure I called him last night all wasted and don't remember much other than the shouting and Lanie saying something too... Hmm. So, this weekend's been great so far. Friday night Liz, Dave, Vance, and Rodrick came over. We watched Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and just chilled. Early Saturday morning, Liz and I went to Perkins for some good ol' hearty American breakfast. We picked up Vance from the Super WalMart parking lot and drove up to Plant City for the Florida Strawberry Festival. It's basically a big fair with rides, games, food, and music.

Instead of $9 entrance fees, we all donated blood and got in for free. I donate blood normally anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. I'm just one more donation away from becoming a Gallon Donor! That's 3.78 liters! Now once inside the fair, we started going on different rides. After getting on what was quite possibly the scariest ride of my life, I ended up drinking a LOT of root beer and got a mad sugar rush. I got home around 3pm and passed out till about 7pm.

Mike called me around 8pm and said he's coming over. He brought over his computer so I could install a bigger hard drive on it. Meanwhile Lanie called and we told her to get some food on her way to my house. An hour later, we were baking veggie pizza and making iced-drinks in my kitchen. While consuming lots of yummy drinks, we watched what's quite possibly the most messed up math movie ever, Pi - story of a paranoid mathematician who sees patterns in the world, is chased by stockbrokers and religious leaders, and ends up resorting to Trepanation by drilling a hole in his head. Yeah.

I woke up early this morning and Mike & Lanie left a little while ago. I just mentioned to my friend that after donating blood, getting into crazy rides, imbibing lots of sugar, followed by copious amounts of liquor, "I think there's some blood in my alcohol stream." Good times. Now, I rest for a little while before I hope to go Kayaking with Mike & Lanie.

Sun, 19th Feb '06, 9:55 am::

Yesterday totally kicked ass. My friend Avni picked me up at around 11am and we went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. We watched an hour-long IMax documentary titled "The Mystery of the Nile" (or was it the Monsters of the Nile?). The film was about a group of researchers who, for the first time in the world, successfully sailed from the source of the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean Sea in about 114 days.

Next up was the butterfly/rainforest display where you could walk through three levels of indoors rainforest environment, surrounded by the most colorful butterflies you've ever seen. One even landed on me! I think there's pictures but who cares about pictures when you're having a good time. We got a little hungry after that so she took me to Maggiano's in The Galleria area for lunch. We drove through downtown (and saw the Enron buildings!) then back to the museum for another IMax movie - Roar, story of wild Kalahari lions. After that we hung around the museum and saw a lot of interesting collections.

I had dinner with my cousin/uncle Rajan Bhai and his wife. We just chilled and talked about India and later called my dad and mom too. Went to bed around midnight and just woke up a bit ago. It is pretty damn cold here. I can't wait till it gets nice and warm in Florida, so I can finally go out into the ocean.

Wed, 15th Feb '06, 4:10 am::

The Valentine's Day party at my house just ended with Lanie and Natalia being the final guests. You know the party is fun when it starts at 6 pm and lasts till 4am! Here's a few clean pics :) There's a LOT of pics that I doubt will ever be made public. Let's just say it was one hell of a Valentine's Day celebration. I'd say a total of eleven guests including me - Liz, Dave, Jess, Kelly, Carlos, Mike, Roderick, Vance, Lanie, Natalia, and myself. I didn't catch everyone in the pics but most are in a few pics at least. I'm very tired right now but I feel so refreshed in a way, knowing that I have once again managed to make a enough friends who're with me during my good times and bad. It's not easy making good friends but time and again, I run into awesome people that make life wonderful. And the best part about the parties now? I'm the host and it's fun to be one. Liz is very good at organizing everything so she helps a lot.

On balancing work & playSat, 11th Feb '06, 1:20 am::

Almost a week since I posted. Turns out there were some big issues with my cable Internet at home and as a result, I wasn't able to get online for most of this week. Everything's fixed, for now.

On Sunday Feb 5th, I went up to Orlando to see my friends Jeff and Wes. Chilled with them all day and watched the Superbowl in the evening. While I'm not a big sports fan I love chilling with people and eating/drinking for free :) Orlando's about a 2.5hour drive for me. Disney is about two hours.

Wednesday night I to see standup comedian Chris "Boom Boom" Johnson at the Tampa Improv with Lanie, Natalie, and Mike. I laughed so hard my head was hurting. Literally. Had some good food too, courtesy of Lanie & friends.

Work's going great and I'm excited about the projects I'm working on right now. Things are definitely getting busy for me and as I spend more time in my office, I'm also consciously making sure that I don't end up becoming a workaholic with no social life. It's too easy to concentrate only on one thing in life at the cost of everything else. I know too many people who never learnt the quote "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It's hard to believe that some of my friends who are much older don't know how to balance work and fun. Sure, if you love your job even half as much as I do, work IS fun. But nevertheless, you still need time off from everything and let your mind relax.

I have a lot of friends in college who don't go out to party/movies/relax because they have so much homework to do and so many projects to complete. Sure, I understand, I went through that, in fact, much MUCH more just a few years ago. However, every time they decide to give up on the fun activities in order to study, they sit at home and do EVERYTHING except study. How can they concentrate anyway?! They're fatigued and stressed because they haven't had a laugh and a good night's sleep in weeks & months.

Here's what I used to do and it worked great for me: When I had three exams & two projects due, and only one weekend to study, I'd map out the work hours and the fun hours. If I had 60 hours before chaos broke out, I'd decide, ok, I'll sleep for a total of 20 hours in 3-4 naps, and of the 40 waking hours, I'll devote 30 to study and 10 to relaxation. Then I'd begin by using some of my 10-hours by watching a movie. Having just spent some time partaking in guilt-free fun gave me the energy and motivation to actually study honestly without any distractions. Once I studied for 5 hours, I'd take a well-deserved break and then get back to studies. Rinse repeat for 60 hours with short but adequate periods of sleep.

What everyone does is instead of sleeping 20 out of 60 hours, they sleep less than 10. Now that you're lacking sleep, you can barely study well during the remaining 50 hours. Of the 50 hours, you spend 20 wondering if college is REALLY what you want to do in life, whether this is the purpose of your existence, and if there is anyone whose life is harder than yours. Of the remaining 30 hours, another 20 are spent pretty much staring at books and notes while you wait for friends to sign on AIM or call you so that you can tell them how stressed you are and how badly you want to go to some house party but can't because of studies. Another five hours are spent looking for food, coffee, pills, and whatever it's gonna take to keep yourself awake like a zombie. And I guess if you try really hard, you can manage to study something in the final 5 hours. Of course, then once you've been through a weekend like this, you realize that even 60 hours aren't enough so you start acting like this 90 hours before the deadlines.

I know I'm being extremely judgemental and critical but the sad truth is, I haven't made any of this up. I actually know people who do exactly what I mentioned above and no matter how hard I try to explain, they never learn. What people don't realize is that motivation isn't always inherent - you have to actively reward yourself and keep monitoring your progress if you want to gather the energy to reach your goals. Unless you have serious external reasons to do something (need money for kid's operation) it's very hard to motivate yourself in the long-term. That's where discipline comes in. You decide beforehand how you want to split your work/study and fun times and stick to that. It's all about discipline. True disciprine... come from within.

Anyways, I have a lot of little chores to complete before I can start doing the things I really want to do, like visit national/state parks, go on road trips, take up a few more hobbies. I'm waiting for the weather to get warmer so that I can start fixing my backyard. I have so many plans for it. I want to go to the beach more often too. I went to the Treasure Island beach today after work to watch the sunset. It's so soothing. One of these days I'm going to drive five hours across the state to the East Coast just to watch the sunrise. I miss those.

Fri, 3rd Feb '06, 6:35 pm::

Hurricane season isn't here yet but that doesn't mean the rains will stop. It rained in my city so bad today that the roof of a major store caved in with many people under it. Good thing nobody got seriously hurt. I was very anxious about my home as the roof above my Florida room (sun room) needs fixing. I got home and discovered that it leaked a little but nothing major. I received my new mailbox but I doubt the rain's gonna clear by tomorrow for me to set it up. I'm so excited about it though - it's my first slightly big project in my house!

At work we kept getting major power fluctuations and I had to turn off all the computers and electronic devices. So I didn't get much computer work done today and instead used the time to organize my office. After we moved in early January, my priority was to get everyone else up and running. Then right afterwards, I went to India for two weeks so my office was still unorganized. Finally today I set things straight, opened all the boxes, located all my computer stuff, and put them in my desk/shelves/drawers. Anyways, the joke of the day is that I've never been so tired by NOT working all day :)

Tue, 31st Jan '06, 8:05 pm::

Late last year I realized I was gaining weight and decided to do something about it. So starting November 1, 2005 I gave up pizza, cheese, all fatty foods, excess bread, and started eating only healthy foods like vegetables, fruits etc. Today at exactly the end of 3 months, I have gone from 187lbs to 167lbs - 20lbs lost in 3 months with bare minimum exercising/running! I'd say I lost 90% of the weight due to eating right and the rest because of life-style changes (walk/run more, prefer manual labor over machines) I'm sure my metabolism is fast enough for me to lose this much weight this easily but I still think anyone can do what I did as long as they stick to their diet.

I'm not starving myself under any conditions. I eat a lot more than anyone I know. But I only eat a balanced meal - I take 100% of my daily requirement of calories, vitamins, proteins, fat, carbs, sugar etc. and get most of that from vegetables, fruits, milk, wheat bread, dry fruits & nuts etc. I don't snack on junk food anymore and I rarely eat foods that taste great but make you fat (cakes etc.) I know, it sounds like my life's not worth living now that I only eat grass and shoots but seriously, this is absolutely the easiest way for anyone to get back in good health. Now I'll start running on the beach more once the weather gets better.

Sun, 29th Jan '06, 10:05 pm::

My friends came over tonight. First, Lanie came over and instantly both my kitties ran up to her, after all she took care of them for two weeks. She is absolutely the nicest "kitty-sitter" I could've ever found. She even left me a cute little 'welcome-home' greeting card with drawings of my kitties along with an X-mas sock with the phrase "I love my cat..." We sat down for about an hour and I showed all the pictures and videos I shot in India during my sister's wedding. An hour after Lanie left, my friend Liz came over with Dave, Josh, and Jessie. We chilled for a few and I showed Liz the pics & videos too. Now they all just left and I'm gonna relax for a few before going to bed.

Tomorrow, work starts. And I couldn't be more impatient - I want to get back to work so much :)

Sat, 28th Jan '06, 3:45 pm::

I was dusting my baker's rack when I heard a loud noise. I looked outside my window but didn't see anything. Five minutes later a guy rings my doorbell and tells me that he ran over my mailbox with his pickup truck! He's willing to pay for it all so at least it's not a hit-and-run. He lives just a few houses down so once I buy and install a new mailbox, I'm gonna hit him with the bill. I could've been mad at him and he totally expected it but he's a neighbor and an honest one at that. So I just smiled and said, "No probs man. Thanks for being honest. I'll get a similar mailbox soon and give you the bill." Since mailboxes similar to mine run about $75-100 I can't let him go for free. Anyways, I'm afraid I got a little termite problem with my roof too. That's gonna be a big expense if it's true. Ahhhh the joys of homeownership.

Sat, 21st Jan '06, 9:05 pm::

My dad, his brother Paresh Uncle, Rita Aunty, my grandma, and I were up till 3:30am in my room just talking about things. These are the things I miss the most. We were talking about everything, from how my uncle envies my dad because his loving & faithful friends will give my dad all the time and energy in the world, to how handsome my grandpa looked during the Quiz Show in his cream suit with dark red shirt. He was quite a looker in his day.

Not having slept much tonight, I'm still kinda groggy but there's something else too. This morning my mom didn't sit by my side for half-an-hour to slowly wake me up. Nor did my dad snap his fingers twice to ensure I went from Dead-Asleep to Wide-Awake instantneously. The last two times I came to visit my family, I was the center of attention. Now, I'm just another guest in the wedding among hundreds of guests. My dad is quite possibly the most just person I've ever met and true to his nature, he is providing exactly the necessary amount of attention to everyone; no partiality. He has a lot to organize and plan, so barely has any free time. Also my mom is busy. From dawn till midnight, she is arranging food & refreshments for guests and making my sister looks pretty, so I haven't had much time to sit down and talk to her either.

Last night was funny. Around midnight while many of the guests were still in our rental flat #107, my mom called me to her room because she wanted to talk. I was sitting next to her and in 30 seconds she was sleeping. I stood up to leave but she held my hand and told me not to go because she wanted to talk. 15 seconds later, she's asleep. Rinse-repeat 5 times :) I waited 5 minutes to make sure she was definitely asleep before I joined my dad/uncle etc. in my room where we talked till past 3am.

Today is the Mehendi Rasam Ceremony - application of Henna. Imma get a temp tattoo! Tonight is the Disco Nite at Cloud 9 :-P Imma get my groove on!

Fri, 20th Jan '06, 11:35 pm::

Event 1 of 4 successful! Tonight was the Zara Hat Ke Quiz Show at The Regency Terrace and went on without a single flaw. The show was hosted by Shobhit Desai, invited specially from Mumbai, and the computer aspect of it was designed and presented by my sister. My sis controlled a little laptop and the image was projected on a 15ft silk screen. The Quiz Show consisted of eight unique rounds, mostly based on Indian Movies or our family pictures. E.g. Round 1 was "Jodi #1" (meaning Couple #1). Kinda like the game of 3-cups, you would see pictures of four members of my family (grandparens, uncle, aunt) on the screen, then they'd be covered with small discs, and after the discs move around all over the screen, the audience members would guess which two discs hid which couples - quite an interactive exercise. That was just round 1. There were 7 other rounds, each more engaging than the other - all designed by my sister with my dad's suggestions. Here's a cute pic of my mom & sis after the show.

About thirty more guests from around the country came in today and we had over three hundred guests tonight at the show. I was supposed to pick up a few guests myself but I wasn't feeling too well early in the morning. The change of weather has had some effect on me so I'm taking things easy - there's three more days of non-stop activities.

My buddy Vishal came in from Gujarat today. It's been over three years since I saw him. Glad to see that he's still the same. I'm very tired so I'm gonna go relax now.

Thu, 19th Jan '06, 12:25 pm::

Word of the day: Hectic! Fifteen more guests flew in today. The guest houses are now being occupied and we have twenty or so guests coming in tomorrow by train. My dad has tabulated the arrival dates, room allocation etc. for all the guests so it's quite well organized. My Alpesh Mama (mom's cousin) will be coming in too! It's been years since I saw him.

Yesterday we didn't do much except go out for dinner to a Rajasthani Restaurant: Teej. The decoration was simply unbelievable. All the walls and ceilings were finely hand-painted - took them six months to complete the paint job! The food was exactly what I was craving for - tasty, spicy, and very filling! It was so heavy that today I'm not gonna eat anything, maybe fruits at most.

Tomorrow is the first official day of ceremonies - Grah-Shanti in the morning and Zara Hat Ke Quiz Show & Dance Floor in the evening. My dad's working so hard it makes me wonder where he's getting all his energy from. As for me, it's very different than what I was once used to. He had trained me to organize activities & events, deal with different types of guests, salesmen, workers, and of course put forth the best show possible. Now though, I feel quite incapable of executing everything up to his standards. I think the synchronicity of event planning and execution between him and myself peaked about six years ago when we organized the Yagna. Ever since I moved to US, I've slowly lost my people-skills, I guess because I'm no longer working daily in the market face-to-face with all sorts of people.

Ok back to present. My dad & cousin are setting aside the gifts for tomorrow. Every time a guest arrives from outside the city of Kolkata, they get presented with real leather wallets and purses with their names etched in golden ink. The initial few guests also received flower bouquets. As my dad is getting the gifts ready, I'm making multiple copies of the important phone numbers list - from the cell#s of all the six chauffeurs to the contact numbers for the five venues, guest houses etc. I didn't really expect my little sister's wedding to be on such a huge scale. So it's quite overwhelming.

One thing I realized amongst all this chaos (especially when you sleep in a different bed every night and shower in a different bathroom each morning) is that little things you never thought much about previously, now make you feel at "home." Like the Woody's HeadWax Web that I've been using for months now (no, this isn't paid product placement, I just LOVE it that much). Or the familiar menu system of any Nokia cellphone that I use in US, also extremely popular here in India. Little things like this, make me feel comfortable when so many unfamiliar things happen at the same time.

In addition to all the fun things, a lot of things obviously happen that make me go what the $^$#%?! For instance, I don't know or remember many of the guests that are arriving because I probably met them when I was 12, but they know everything about me. So of course, they force me to play the guess-game. You know, they come up to me in front of five people and asked "Guess who am I?" And I stare at the 70-yr old grandma point-blank and do my best to not say "Laquisha?" It's tough holding back sarcasm and substituting it with respect when you know for sure that they know you're not gonna recognize them and are doing it just to make you feel embarrassed in public. Of course, it's just harmless fun but sometimes I really want to speak my mind. But then I have to stop myself because I'm not in Florida right now. And in India, you NEVER speak your mind to elders, especially if they're older than your parents.

Lunch time now, fruits for me. I really can't eat any more Indian food. I want milk and cereal!

Tue, 17th Jan '06, 9:40 am::

I'm being called. It's like people actually love me here and WANT to talk to me in person instead of online or on the phone. I'm so not used to this much attention. Rather, I was used to this much attention but over the course of 5-6 years, totally forgot how much everyone cares about everyone else.

Tue, 17th Jan '06, 8:45 am::

After a heavy lunch yesterday, my dad decided to show us all the venues & guest houses. I'm pretty sure that he had already planned the tour 2 months earlier, as with everything else during this entire wedding event. The initial marriage ceremonies have just started; the marriage is on 22nd. Here is what we saw yesterday:

  1. Rabindra Guest House: This one is a stone-throw's away from our house and all the elderly guests and close family will be staying here. In addition to our own apartment (Flat #204) and an additional vacant apartment (#107) in our own building, we have two floors in this guest house. All the meals are prepared by the Maharaj (Chef-on-hire) and served in Flat #107 at least four times a day.
  2. Fanindra Guest House: This one has three times more rooms than Rabindra Guest House and our extended family and out-of-station friends will stay here. It is closer to the event venues than our house, which makes sense because most relatives & friends will just join us at the events than our house.
  3. The Regency Terrace - 20th Jan, Evening: The 'Zara Hat Ke' (Something Different) programme will be conducted here. It's the 30th and the last quiz show that my sister has designed and will present as a Mehta. I'm sure she will continue to create and present more shows in her new married life too. With a capacity of about 250 guests, the venue is a beautiful garden constructed above the 5th floor of The Regency building, which real trees, grass, and even a waterfall fountain. You gotta have fountains! In all honesty, the only way I can do justice to the breath-taking beauty of this location and others, is by showing the pictures of our ceremonies when they are held there. That'll have to wait till I get the entire wedding-site up.
  4. Rangoli Banquet Hall - 21st Jan, Morning: The Mehendi (Henna) ceremony will take place here. There's space for about 300 guests in this beautiful marble hall. The hall will be decorated Rajasthani-style with Chunris & Dupattas (silk-thin shawls worn by Indian females).
  5. The Cloud 9 Nite Club at Astor - 21st Jan, Evening: We drove past this and didn't see it from the inside. My dad said it's a pretty decent nite club with the same DJ/music/dance-floor setup that everyone is familiar with. The Disco Nite guests will be served by full-time bartenders.
  6. Maharaja Banquet Hall - 22nd Jan, all day: Here be the marriage. I've been told that instead of the traditional square-block design, the mandap (traditional marriage booth/stall) will have a curved top, kinda like a dome. The bride, groom, parents/siblings, and the priest will sit inside the mandap for the 3 hour long wedding ritual. Hopefully I will not be required to sit down with my legs folded yoga-style for the entire time. I think this hall seats about 500 people.
  7. Moksh Banquet Halls - 23rd Jan, Evening: The reception venue with three connected halls, can hold about 700-800 at most. The theme for the decorations is floral design and ice-sculptures. We have arranged for a mocktail bar in an adjacent hall with the dinner being served in another hall. This is the last function of the wedding; the first one that my sister will attend as a Sheth.

How to Dress Appropriately by a Straight GuySun, 8th Jan '06, 3:00 pm::

How to Dress Appropriately by a Straight Guy:

I've noticed that a lot of my buddies don't really know how to dress appropriately for different occasions. It's not that they're too dumb to dress well; it's just that every single fashion tip that comes out of any reputable media concentrates on turning straight guys into castrated metrosexuals. There is something weird about a guy that spends over $250/month on nasal-care products. However, that doesn't mean straight guys shouldn't take care of how they look. Instead of specific fashion tips, here's a few general things that every guy should know:

  1. Dress for the occasion: Sounds simple but way too many guys chose to ignore it. I know you're an elite hacker but please, unless you own the company, put on at least business casual (ironed shirt & khakis) for occasions that demand formal attire. If you don't own a pair of khakis because you're always in an informal environment, perfectly fine. But if you are going to be interacting in formal business atmospheres, buy yourself a pair or two. Next, don't wear a suit to a fishing trip. Wear jeans to friends' house parties but not to their weddings. And if there's going to be photographs, shave. If you don't know what to wear for a formal occasion, don't feel embarassed. Just call the organizers up and ask for the proper 'Dress Code' for the event.
  2. Dress for the looks: Yes, wearing good clothes will not suddenly make you more smart, responsible, handsome, or trustworthy than you really are. But "it's not a sin for a guy to want to look good or wear nice clothes" says SMH. Wearing nice clothes is not vanity and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
  3. Dress for the weather: Dark clothes in winter and light clothes in summer. Pretty simple. Don't get drenched in rain if you're going to be at an indoors event for long. Exception to light clothes in summer: Late night events.
  4. Late night events: Once again, if you don't know what to wear, call the night club up and ask for the proper dress code. Don't be shy or hesitant. It would REALLY suck if the bouncers don't let you in because you wore sneakers. A dark full-sleeves shirt, light beige khakis, and matching leather/suede shoes will work pretty much anywhere. If it's a country music club, jeans it is. If you like to be the center of attention, nothing wrong with being slightly gaudy. Wear that Hawaiian shirt as long as you're not going to be kicked out.
  5. Proper Grooming: Very basic stuff you should stick to whether you're going to be around people or not: Make sure your breath doesn't stink. If going to a formal event, shower, wash your hair. Wear deodorant no matter what. If you sweat profusely, try stronger deodorants. Use cologne if you're going to be indoors. Wear a good wrist watch if you can.
  6. Matching Clothes: This is a tricky one and any random girl is better at this than the most sophisticated guys. From my experience, stick to similar shades. Beige/khakis/browns go well with white and black. Blue, white, and gray go well together. Red/yellow/orange go well with blue. Avoid pink unless you can carry it off confidently.
  7. Dress in layers: If it's not too warm, wear a jacket or shirt over your t-shirt. It's like getting a second LCD - tremendous performance boost with minimal input.
  8. Cross-Cultural Dressing: No, not CROSS-DRESSING but rather wearing clothes from different cultures. This is an important one and very rarely discussed. If you're an American, trying on Indian Dhoti for the first time will be quite an experience. If you've never tried on a Japanese Haori, it'll feel quite different from shorts and tees. First you have to decide whether or not to even wear them for occasions that demand it. In most cases you do have a choice and if you aren't comfortable, feel free to pass on the golden opportunity to accidentally expose yourself to the entire wedding party. However, if you don't have a choice (you're the groom or very close to the couple), take hints from other guys. Let a pretty lady dress you up but ask the guys on how to carry yourself. Sitting, especially on the floor, will take some practice. And most probably there's no easy to unzip fly. Take a few minutes and learn how to walk, sit, stand-up, and of course, unzip - however that might be. Remember: By dressing up in the customary attire, you are in a way, showing your respect for the culture. Exception: Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, Mr. Bean, and anybody catastrophically clumsy.
  9. Don't be fabulous: Last but not the least, don't overdo it. Know your limits and learn what you can 'carry off'. The key to dressing well is not just buying and wearing good clothes but also feeling and looking comfortable in them. If you can't be comfortable in a tie, don't wear one. For guys, dressing up has ALWAYS been about being comfortable. Corsets were for Medieval Damsels. Khakis with stretchable waistbands for Modern Men.

Sand grains keep falling on my serverFri, 30th Dec '05, 10:50 pm::

The Falling Sand Game I am hosting on my server is attracting over 30,000 different people each day to my website. Kinda interesting. Till Dec 25, about 200 people a day visited different pages of "chir.ag". Now in just 4 days I've had over 9,000 people check out my maps and over 25,000 people check out this page (my blog). The good news though is that my server's able to handle all this amazing amount of traffic without showing any signs of slowing down. After being linked on Digg, Reddit, Delicious, MSNBC and tons of other popular websites, I'm kinda proud of my little server holding up just fine. Head over to my /tech blog to read more about Little Servers, Big Performance.

Thu, 22nd Dec '05, 5:00 pm::

I am glad that I'm not flying Air India when I go to my sister's wedding in January. These people had a 45-hour delay and it's all over the news. Earlier this year I had to endure pretty much the same situation with over 48-hour delay on my flight back to Tampa.As one passenger joked about this recent debacle, "Air India is going to give out infrequent flier miles."

Futurama: See you on some other 'blogSat, 17th Dec '05, 4:00 am::

The first DVD series that I put on my rental queue the minute I signed up for NetFlix was the entire collection of Futurama. Futurama is an animated cartoon series about a pizza delivery boy Philip J. Fry, accidentally frozen in a cryogenic facility for a thousand years and revived in 2999. Signing on with Planet Express, a space courier service, he befriends a one-eyed mutant, Leela, an alcohol-powered robot, Bender, office manager Hermes Conrad and Dr Zoidberg (my favorite character), a lobster-like alien.

While it seems like any other children's cartoon show, I've always known that Futurama is much more... it's humorous and clever on the surface but beneath the nerdy jokes are all sorts of weird characters and creatures that have one thing in common - they embody the innate human emotions, beliefs, and flaws, no matter how much titanium and dark matter they are composed of. In addition to the spontaneous bouts of random craziness, there's a distinct level of timelessless to the entire series, clearly evident from the numerous underrated nuggets of profound wisdom like: "When you do something right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." - God Nebula

Of course, everytime I mentioned that Futurama is more than some funny cartoon about aliens and future, everyone would just stare at me as if I'm an 8-year old awestruck by an escalator. So I felt vindicated when I found this article tonight about the creators of Futurama, Matt Groening (also created The Simpsons) and David Cohen.

In the article, Cohen says, they hoped to "incorporate all the craziest ideas from science fiction, but we also wanted to have a point and reflect on life today." Groening says. "We had this show that looked goofy, with robots and aliens, but was actually very sophisticated. Having people overcome the hurdle of taking us seriously was something we didn't anticipate... What I love about the reaction to Futurama these days is that people who did give it a chance and fell in love with it are still ardent fans." Both Futurama and The Simpsons, Groening says, share an ambition to tell timeless jokes. "Both shows are trying to do something which will knock people out the first time they watch it, but will also hold up years later," he says. "Jokes that make sense now, and will also make sense 10 or 20 years from now."

It's refreshing to hear that the creators of the show share the exact same thoughts as I do as a regular viewer. I mentioned the timelessness of Futurama to my friend Art just the other day but wasn't really able to back up my views with better explanations as to why. When I mentioned how moving some episodes of Futurama to my coworkers I got a mere chuckle. While I understand that South Park and Family Guy are not everyone's cup of tea, I don't see why Futurama is so undervalued and ignored by everyone except the hardcore-fans.

All I can say is that if you're not in tears by the end of Episode 4-07: Jurassic Bark then you don't have this little thing called a "heart." Or try Episode 4-12: The Sting. Or Episode 4-03: Love and Rocket. Or Episode 3-01: Parasites Lost. I can go on but I got a few more episodes to watch now before I go to bed. G'morning!

A Tribute to my Kandivali DadaSun, 27th Nov '05, 12:05 am::

A Tribute to my Kandivali Dada: I just received the unfortunate news that my mom's father, Navnitlal Modi (Kandivali Dada) passed away earlier today. He was over 74yrs old and had been of weak health for a while. Lately it had gotten worse and he was admitted to the hospital a few days ago. However, before he passed away, he blessed my cousin Khushboo and her new groom Nirav on the occasion of their marriage ceremony. And he was present when my cousin Kunal was engaged to be married. His four sons and one daughter (my mom) loved him dearly and had been with him throughout his long, eventful life.

I remember my summer vacation days as a naughty little scoundrel causing trouble every moment when I stayed with my mother's side of the family in the Kandivali suburbs of Mumbai, India. After his wife (my mom's mom) passed away due to cancer in early 1990's, I saw Dadaji as the quintessential Indian Sage. With his decades and decades of experiences living around the Indian sub-continent, Dadaji could discuss and debate on just about every topic one could imagine, from politics to science, from religion to mysticism. While I loved him as a kid, I began to fully appreciate his wisdom as I turned into a confused teenager.

It would be wrong of me to say that just one person influenced me primarily as I was growing up. Whatever I am today is a result of many many people who love me and still want to bring out the best in me by doing their little bit. I consider my Kandivali Dada to be among the respected few that I had the honor of learning from, in addition to of course, my parents. I have learnt so many things about life, so many little lessons that make me who I am, that I cannot thank my family enough. And add to that list my friends, my dad's friends (seriously! all of his awesome friends & their families), my boss Eric & his entire family, my past and current coworkers, and the numerous school teachers (like Mr. Sesh from RKC) that I had the fortune of learning from in the past two and a half decades.

The odd thing about learning lessons of life is that you don't always learn what people are trying to teach you. Kandivali Dadaji tried to teach me about astrology, alternative health/medicines, and ancient Vedic texts. I never learnt anything about that. Frankly, being a student of science, I couldn't swallow half the theories that astrology is based on. So inadvertently he taught me, one of my strongest skill today: critical analysis. Many times I would feel bad that I just spent four hours debating with him the ridiculousness of non-conventional forms of treatments like Electropathy. He would patiently explain his theories to me and give me a chance to counter them with my arguments. As a 15-yr old kid it was great because here I was, learning about the world, but in my own way. I was being given a chance to learn and believe what I wanted to.

It doesn't matter which part of the world you're in, most of the kids are forced to accept staunch orthodox beliefs and live up to pre-conceived notions of what's right and what's not, with no valid explanations or a chance to argue otherwise. If your parents think you need religion, you have no choice but to believe in God, Allah, or Krishna. If your grandparents think caste-system or racism is perfectly acceptable, you will grow up to be proud to hate others not like you. If everyone else around you tells you that men should go out and earn money while women stay at home and bear children, that's what you end up believing in. It doesn't even have to be this extreme. If the people you respect and look up to as a teenager tell you that lying every now and then to save your own face is perfectly normal, then guess what, you're gonna have issues with being honest. While I realize that every person is free to choose whatever they want to believe it, most of the kids just stick to trusting whatever they're taught during the early years of their life. Of course, exceptions exist but the norm is that you don't get much choice to pick your own beliefs.

Thankfully, I was given the chance to be an exception. And my Kandivali Dadaji was one of the few who supported my criticism and encouraged my curiousity. It would be so much easier to pay tribute to the man had he been a simple one-dimensional personality. I wish I could just say that "he was great fun to be with and brought my lots of candy." But I can't. For like the saying goes, he didn't just give me a free meal, he taught me how to fish. No matter how hard I try to remember him as the awesome grandpa who gave me free-stuff, I can't. My earliest memories of him have been overwritten by the long debates we had sitting cross-legged on the floor, in front of a little mandir and his wife's photo. With some people, you remember the hundreds of little incidents. But with some people, it's just one clear memory, so strong that, that is pretty much how you're going to remember them forever.

It's very easy to talk about someone that helped you at a bad time. In fact it feels so comforting to pay homage to someone who took direct actions to improve your immediate life situtation. However, it's not as easy to thank someone when the words they spoke six years ago suddenly impact the way you think of life today.

He was a very kind and disciplined man. He loved his children and grandchildren. I can't even imagine what my little cousins Ria & Yashika in Kandivali must feel right now. During the last few years of his life, I know both the kids had become very fond of him. And today I feel lucky and privileged to have known him not just as a loved-kid but more so as a growing up teenager who had too many unanswered questions.

I'm really out of words right now as his death didn't really come as a surprise to anyone in our family. We all knew his health was failing and it was only a matter of time before he left us. I guess I myself had come to a closure this April when I visited him. I was sad that I didn't spend more than a few hours with him but seeing how weak he was, I couldn't really expect him to talk for more than an hour or two anyway. Not knowing when I would be back in India, I pretty much bid my last adieu. I was kinda hoping that I would see him once more when I go back to India in January '06 but oh well...

He had a long, fruitful life. While I want to mourn his death, I also want to celebrate his life. Good bye Dadaji. Farewell.

Sat, 26th Nov '05, 3:40 pm::

The chores for the day are done. Change kitty litter, wash car, look hot :) In fact, this is the first time I washed my car myself since I got it in June '04. I got it washed once early this year when I got it serviced. Since I mostly drive on paved roads and it rains to much in Florida, my car gets nature-washes quite often. Been a while since it rained heavily here so it was about time I cleaned it. It was kinda cool. Washing my car on my own driveway. It's a special type of feeling.

And now for some R&R.

Thu, 24th Nov '05, 11:45 pm::

Ok I'm done with my database stuff now. Basically, I just made an automated tag cloud for my site. A tag cloud shows you the most frequently used words. The more a word is used, the larger its font size, the less it is used, the smaller its size. Just see it for yourself to get an idea of what I'm talking about. With just one glance, it gives you a pretty good overview of what things I often mention on my 'blog, or in turn, what matters to me. Just look at my friend Tay's tag cloud for a contrast. It doesn't take a genius to notice the "music" is quite important to him and "computer" is just as important to me.

Wed, 23rd Nov '05, 11:15 am::

As part of the management team of a local social club, one of my dad's friends often said a quote that I find myself saying very often these days: "All suggestions are welcome as long as accompanied by a check." It's pretty brilliant when you think about it. Everyone wants you to do things without giving any thought to resources required to accomplish it. "How about we get 10 new computers and set up a sales team?" "Wow Harry, that sounds great! Did you come up with all of that yourself?"

Big Picture vs. Small PictureWed, 16th Nov '05, 8:00 pm::

Disclaimer: It saddens me to write this 'blog entry because I know my family will read it and won't like many parts of it. Sorry but you won't be able to use this 'blog entry to show off my success to everyone. I haven't run a marathon today and I haven't written any software this week that'll change the Internet. But it makes me happy to write this because I think it's time for a reality check for myself and for everyone that I love.

The Game: It's a little game I call Big Picture vs. Small Picture. This is not about truth vs. false. In this game everything is true for only true facts are admissible. I can testify that nothing in the following statements is even remotely false. So let's get started.

The Small Picture: Even though I have a great job in US, I hardly have any savings. I can't send any monetary gifts back home to India for my only sister's wedding in January 2006, even though my cousin in UK pretty much paid for his sister's wedding and more. In fact, I spend more money on my cats than I send back to India. Any time my relatives in US ask me to come visit them for holidays, I decline saying I'm saving up to buy tickets to India for my sister's wedding. I admit to them that if I don't save each month, I won't be able to pay for the India trip. Whenever someone suggests that I get arranged married like my sister, one of my first excuses is that I can't afford to marry. Word gets around and now, I'm officially broke in the eyes of my family & relatives.

I wasn't always "broke". In fact, three years ago back in college, I was supposed to be doing pretty well with my high-paying student job. Just earlier this year when I went to India I was even seen as what you might say... "rich!" But for some reason, not anymore.

Immediate Analysis: If you just look at the small picture, and it is in fact quite true, clearly then it would seem that I must be bad at managing money and/or I don't care enough about my family in India to chip in for even a small part of my loving sister's wedding expenses. Somewhere in the last few months I went from being pretty "well off" to living "paycheck to paycheck" and since I am in full control of my fiscal habits, I'm the one to blame. Thankfully, my parents are very understanding and have never demanded anything from me. Never ever. For this and more, I love them more than any son can. Nevertheless, it appears to all that I'm reckless and failing. Hmm. Let's look at this scenario from a different altitude.

The Big Picture: In this round, we forget all the pesky details of day-to-day life and think BIG. A little over five years ago I came to US with a dream... the ever-so-romanticized American Dream. After years of reluctance, my dad finally, at the behest of my lovely sis, told me to go forth and conquer the world. I'm sure he didn't expect me to wage military wars on the entire world, but instead wished me best of luck to achieve everything I wanted in my life. I flew in to the magical land of the United States of America all cheery-eyed and dreamy. My mom and grandma were glad that their kid was finally going to get good higher education - after all who doesn't want an esteemed PhD dork in their family?

I spent four years in Rutgers New Jersey, half of them living with my aunt and uncle who still do their best to support me whenever they can. Two bachelor degrees with highest honors later, I moved to sunny Florida for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to head the IT department of a small-but-rapidly-growing company. Now that I was finally living on my own, I could do things I've always wanted! A three-pc home-network? Check. True bachelor-style bean bags? Check. Cute little pets that my sister and I have wanted since childhood? Check! Everything's great. I go to India in April '05 and everyone is happy for me. I'm a success!

I notice real-estate prices in my area go through the roof, especially the properties near the Gulf. It's either buy now or be priced out of the housing market for decades. Having realized that without physical assets, creditors in US don't care about you at all, I pooled all my resources together for the big buy. In two short months, I bought a cute little house near the beach. Now next year when I try to consolidate my three variable-interest (eeek) student loans, banks will not reject me outright because I shall be in possession of the revered home equity.

Immediate Analysis: Big dreams necessitate disciplined efforts and uncompromising patience. It took some time but it appears to anyone that I've managed to fulfill quite a number of academic, economic, and personal goals. Overall, things are great if you ask me. No bad marriage, no expulsion from college, no criminal charges, no pending lawsuits, no housing troubles, no bad debts, no employment issues, and no chronic illnesses. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping things stay just as good. I'm one lucky son of a gun. So... if everything is this peachy, what's with the pesky details I mentioned in the small picture above? It's all about the proper focus.

a. Focus - Adjustable: You need a telescope to look at distant planets. You need an electron microscope to research how to better fabricate the carbon-nanotube fibers that strengthen the structure of the spacecraft that will get you to these distant planets. Notice the complexities between the two sentences. Dreaming, big-picture satellite viewing is simple. Even though it requires planning, experience, and wisdom, it won't get your hands messy. On the other hand, doing it, living in the nitty-gritties of actually implementing something is a dirty job. We dream in big screen but alas we live in the small picture. And the day you stop adjusting your focus is when you're stuck living a life you cannot take control of.

Very often, people, including yours truly, get so entrenched in one view, that they fail to see things for what they really are. While immediate events have immediate consequences, they also have long-term effects. How we handle situations in the short term impacts what will happen in the long term. My dad once told me that intelligence is the measure of how long does it take a person to walk into a room and understand everything that went on, is going on, and will go on. I propose a corollary that intelligence is the measure of how long it takes a person to switch from small picture to big picture and vice versa. What does this have to do with me you ask? Let's see.

b. Focus - Sticky: The problem with changing focus is that it doesn't want to change. We don't like to see things differently than we already do. It goes outside our comfort zone. You can get a new pair of running shoes today but it's so much more comfortable to spend that money on junk food and sit back & watch TV all evening instead of months of persistent training for a marathon. Notwithstanding my trifling excuses, I can buy a plane ticket to anywhere in the US today and have a great time with my family & relatives. It is so much better than putting $150/month extra towards the principal on my home mortgage. I used to be so free with my money; back in college when my primary goal was getting a degree. But I have to constantly get into the big picture view and remind myself that now I'm in the hardwork and struggle phase of life - these are the years I need to be saving up for the next phase of my life - graduate studies.

Selective Sacrifices: Nobody's saying that I need to give up on enjoying my life in order to maybe some day achieve my ambitions. If you saw me at the BBQ party at my house this weekend, you'd very well know I'm not giving up on any fun. However, I have given up on the extravagant lifestyle that I so lavishly savored during my pre-mortgage era. No more $500 impulse shopping bills and no more $100 on martinis. Just like no more cheese and pizzas till my health is back to my doctor's approved standards.

You cannot sacrifice today for tomorrow and you cannot spend everything today and have nothing for tomorrow. It's a delicate balance between the two and the sooner a person realizes this, the better. For me, a house is an investment. I was more than happy living in the 100 sq.ft. bunker in New Jersey. I don't need a mansion to keep me happy. To me, my house means that instead of spending and giving away like the young grasshoppa, I'm saving like the ant. Adhering to ancient wisdom is a GOOD™ thing.

Consequences for me: It's great that I have a house because when I decide to go for my PhD years from now and devote 5-6 years of my life to science, I will have a pool of savings I can rely on, without having to worry about food and next month's rent. Many people pursue PhDs right after their Bachelors, mostly living like poor college students throughout the course. I didn't want to. I wanted a break between BSc and PhD. I want real-world experience. I want to know that some day my research and inventions will actually make a difference. Hence, I'm glad to have a job where I face production scenarios every single day that demand novel theoretical solutions.

I've said this over a hundred times already that if I cared about money, I'd be selling plastic granules in Kolkata right now. It is a very respectful trade and many people I know back home live happily every after with their families by engaging in wholesale businesses. However, it is just... NOT ME. I'm a student of science, always was, always will be. Till the day I died I would regret the 8-10 hours a day I spent trading because that is not what I wanted to do. My problem is that while I can remind myself this on a regular basis, everyone around me forgets it. Then I get compared to my cousin in UK, whom I love dearly, but have entirely different ambitions in life from. His noble ambition, from my personal knowledge, was to provide the best standard of living for his family. He woke up each day knowing that he needs to make ends meet for his family and that it is up to him now. He is my personal hero because on an absolute scale, what he does requires a lot more dedication and perseverance than what I do.

Consequences for my family: If my parents wanted the same thing from me as my cousin, they would have made it very clear from day one that my aim in life should be to send $x to India every single month. But they didn't. They told me to get the best education I could and fulfill all of my dreams. They supported me throughout and I'm happy that they did. Yet, every now and then, people question if they did the right thing, if I am doing the right thing, if I still love my own family, if Brazil is going to win the next World Cup Soccer. People question, people talk, people raise unfounded doubts, and above all, people make mountains out of mole hills. That's what people do. And that is when things go sour. And that is why I feel so compelled to write a pretty revealing personal 'blog entry like this one to make things perfectly clear.

I feel like I've always been lucid and honest to my family and relatives, in fact, to pretty much everyone that asks me a question upfront. I never lie about serious issues though I may lie about how many girls I've kissed ;)

Honest Ramblings: I feel excited to tell my family every other day that OMG I LOVE YOU. There is nobody else in the world I love more than you guys. If something unfortunate happened tomorrow and my family needed anything, I would take the next flight to India to help out (after notifying my work of course; not gonna run away boss man! Don't worry). But I wonder, since when did I become a BAD son? I thought I was doing everything right in life - in the big picture sense. I never said I was perfect and I was pretty much pathetic during the months of August-October this year when I was down with god knows every illness known to pirates in the 1700s.

Penultimate Moanings & Whinings: It's no surprise that a single person living alone, far away from all family and friends, will get pretty down and depressive when faced with prolonged chronic illnesses that prohibit all forms of social interactions. In English, that means hell ya, I was sick, alone, and did I mention sick?! Of course, I was sad and weak. I couldn't even hang out with my friends! I'd have to be pretty crazy in the head to actually enjoy any of that. Worst of all, I spent all my savings on medical bills and ended up breaking my promise to my sister that I'll do my best to send her a small gift soon. I'm sad that I broke a promise but I'm crushed that people treat me like it's my fault that I had all these medical expenses. Ok... so I don't have an extra $1000 lying around anymore. Does that mean I'm a loser or a weak person altogether and need support from every person who walks by just to hold myself together in life? HELL NO!

The Winner: Life's a game. It's a balancing act - between truth and false, good and evil, right and wrong, big picture and small picture. Who's the winner in the match Big Picture vs. Small Picture? Neither side exactly. Only the ones who can juggle the two fluently will "win" the so-called game of life.

Sometimes, people stop juggling. If the people who love me the most, don't stand back and take a look but instead suspect my intentions, capabilities, and strength, it's gonna be an uphill climb. I can never stop loving them but I'm kind of disheartened that the ones closest to me assumed that I've somehow forgotten what's important. I don't think at this age and stage in life I have to give any explanations on why I spent $300 treating my cat's bleeding foot. I don't expect anyone to understand WHY I like my cats, but I do expect them to not to criticize me for the day to day decisions I make in my life.

It comes down to the classic "I'm old enough" debate now. I'm old enough to know what I'm doing so please stop judging, taunting, and sneaking in remarks about what I do or not do. If I'm about to make a major decision, I will always ask the people I look up to. For instance, I had a long chat with my dad late last year about buying a house. Taking his advice, I didn't buy a house then. However, I revisited the issue a few months later when my situation had changed and ended up buying a house that I realize is an even better fit for me. I'm not saying I made absolutely the most perfect decision ever (man... my roof still needs repairs). I just like to think that I made the most sensible decision given the circumstances and stood firmly by it after weighing in the positive and negative consequences. The positive consequences being that I'll build equity that will help me later in life and the negative being that I won't have lot of free money lying around every month anymore.

If you've read this far then it's only natural that I thank you for paying attention and listening to what I had to say. Know in your heart that I love you more than anything in the world and that I will do anything possible when the need be. But if there is no crisis, then why not let me pursue my dreams and have some fun on the way? And for flying spaghetti monster's sake, stop worrying about me! I'm doing pretty damn well.

PS: Please send me money. I've been eating cat food for two weeks and have no money to feed myself or my cats now.

PPS: Just kidding about the cat food. I'm still a vegetarian :)

PPPS: Don't forget the money!

Mon, 31st Oct '05, 10:05 pm::

Tonight was fun. I had so many kids come to my house for trick-or-treating. It was awesome. I still have a lot of candy left over, but I did give away a hell lot of candy too. And I gave the nice expensive stuff so the kids were like 'ooooooo this is good candy!' I even had a glowing pumpkin sitting on the tree stumps outside my Florida room so everyone could see I had candy. I think about 35-40 kids came over trick-or-treating between 7pm and 9pm. Fun stuff. Anyways, time to hit the sack.

Housing-bubble and real-estateSun, 30th Oct '05, 12:25 pm::

Anyone who cares whether or not there is a Housing Bubble in the US real-estate market right now should read The Fool. There's a big discussion over at Fark with many saying there is no bubble outside of a few places and many saying it is nation-wide.

A housing-bubble is when everyone is buying homes at prices higher than what they're really worth. Now obviously, the physical price of construction a house is pretty much the same anywhere in a large country like US except in remote locations like mountains because shipping and construction is more expensive there. So if a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house in middle of Kansas is $50,000 then it should be the same in New York, California, and Florida. Of course it is not, mostly because of the L-word - location, location, location. The location the house is built in, determines how expensive the house will be and if the location happens to be in a rich-neighborhood in Hamptons or Beverly Hills, even a moderate 6,000 sq. ft. house will be close to millions. The same house in rural Indiana would be way below, and with probably ten times more acreage.

I bought my house in June for around $150k on a 30-year fixed mortgage. This means that for the next 30-years, I will pay a fixed monthly amount to the bank and at the end of 30-years, I will own this house fully and won't have to pay anything to live here, other than taxes etc. Now suppose I pay $1,000 a month in mortgage in year 2005. That means even in year 2015 when my salary will be hopefully much higher because of inflation and job promotion, I will still be paying a fixed $1,000 per month. Due to the fixed nature of monthly mortgage payment and rising salary, paying monthly mortgage should become easier and easier every year. This happens when you get a 30-year fixed mortgage. Of course, I could still sell the house anytime and move to a different neighborhood and choose to rent or own property again. But if nothing changes, I pay a fixed mortgage a month and gradually build equity.

Equity is my share of the house mortgage that I've paid up, added to the increase in house value since I bought it. Suppose I bought a house 10 years ago for $100,000 and have paid $40,000 towards the mortgage principal. Now suppose I can sell the same house today for $250,000. Then my equity is $40,000 + ($250,000 - $100,000) = $190,000.

Notice how I said "mortgage principal" and not "mortgage." There's a difference. These fixed x-year loan mortgages work on an amortization basis. Amortization is when you borrow some money (called principal) and instead of just paying interest each month/year, you also pay part of the original principal. So suppose you borrow $100,000 from a bank to buy a house at fixed 6% annual interest, then each month, you have to pay $100,000 x 6% / 12 = $500 interest. This is just the interest. If you pay $600 each month, then the $100 above your $500 interest goes towards paying off your principal. So if after the first month, you paid $600, then $500 goes towards interest on $100,000, while the $100 goes towards reducing $100,000 to $99,900. Now in the second month, you only have to pay interest on the principal of $99,900. This means if you still pay $600, your interest will be LESS than $500 and your payment towards the principal will be MORE than $100. Each month you will be paying less interest and more principal. Your last payment will go 100% towards the principal and no more interest. Then you will have paid off the loan.

However, if each month you only pay $500, that is your exact interest, then you still owe the bank exactly $100,000 at the end of every month, year, or decade. And when your loan term ends, you have to somehow find $100,000 to return to the bank! And THAT is the mistake everyone is making right now, buying expensive houses on short-term interest-only loans.

Interest-only loans are great if you KNOW what the hell you're doing with every last penny you have. If you are a common person who is better at welding cast-iron or programming in PHP, you most probably aren't too good with making the most out of your interest-only loan. However, the problem is that when you were thinking of buying a house and realized that every house you want is out of your price-range, your mortgage-lender/bank suggested that you go with interest-only loans. At that time, you wanted a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house in a nice neighborhood but could only afford $1200 a month. Since every house was $200,000 or above, your monthly mortgage on 30-year fixed would be over $2,000. However, if you went with interest-only loans, then you could in fact pay just the interest on $200,000 and live in your dream house! The mortgage broker said "Don't worry! After 3/5/10 years when you have to pay the full principal of $200,000 in ONE day, you can just sell this house for way over $200,000 and buy another one that's even bigger with the extra money you make. Or you can just refinance when the interest-rate falls lower and get an even better deal."

Except that, interest rates right now are about the lowest they're gonna get unless US economy changes drastically. And that you will only be able to pay off the interest-only loan if in fact your house will be worth more than $200,000 after 3/5/10 years. So what happens if three years after you bought the house on a variable interest-only ARM 3/1 loan, the real-estate market crashes and the interest rates shoot up? You get totally screwed. And that is what everyone is afraid of right now.

If there is in fact a housing bubble, then at some point in the near future, it will pop. When the housing bubble pops, nobody will be able to sell a house for a profit. Normally, that would be fine because if you don't make a profit, you don't get screwed - you just don't get the extra money you were hoping to get. However, if you were RELYING on that profit to not be screwed, because you had an interest-only loan, then well, when there's no profit, you are royally screwed. Bankruptcy and foreclosures will abound. And that's what everyone is afraid of. The realtors selling houses will try to maintain face, saying there is no bubble. They say it is localized to only specific places and not nation-wide.

I honestly hope they are right. Because if they're not, many people are going to be, literally, homeless.

Wed, 26th Oct '05, 11:55 pm::

Dave & Liz came over for dinner and made some tasty beans 'n rice :) Even though I can't cook for my life, I have friends who can, so it all works out. Plus I have all the kitchen utensils, spices, and the food stuff. Watched some Comedy Central after that and just about to go to bed. Things are getting chilly here in Florida. It's all good :)

Sun, 16th Oct '05, 8:15 pm::

When I came here five years ago, I had to learn the "American" word for pretty much everything. Mostly it was something trivial like it's called a "Trash Can" here and not a "Dust Bin."

One phrase that got me a lot of weird looks was "Long Distance." Everytime I wanted to make a Long Distance phone call on someone's phone/cellphone, and asked them about it, they would give me some VERY WEIRD LOOKS! Most just said "WHAT THE #$%#" and went back to doing whatever they were doing.

I remember this one incident back in Jersey when I was on the campus bus and needed to make an urgent Long Distance call to a family member in Texas. I asked the girl sitting next to me if I could borrow her cell and she smiled and said "Sure" as she handed it to me. I politely asked her if she has Long Distance and she said "WHAT THE HELL YOU FREAK?!!!" and snatched back the phone. It was a long bus ride that day.

Of course, I wasn't really using the exact phrase "Long Distance" but another substitute that I thought meant "Long Distance." You see, in India, for "Long Distance" phone calls, we use the term "Subscriber Trunk Dialling," or the acronym STD. Incidentally, STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease in US. Oops!

No wonder the girl snatched back her cell when I asked her "Do you have STD?"

Sat, 8th Oct '05, 7:00 pm::

I just found out that the one of the two lime trees in my backyard is orange! I think the one is key-lime but my friend Lynn says it's tangerine. Wikipedia says, "Lime is actually an ambiguous term in the context of fruit, referring to a number of different citruses with typically round, green to yellow fruits.. generally containing sour pulp, and frequently associated with the lemon." The fruits are not ripe yet but once they are, I'll pick them and probably make something good with them. Who knows, maybe Key Lime Pie!

I think I have a pretty interesting set of vegetation around my house - three Mexican Fan Palm Trees, Orange Tree, Key-Lime/Tangerine Tree, Aloe Vera, and a few other trees I don't know much about. I need to start taking more care of the yard. Now that my health's getting better, I will be able to. Plus soon it's going to get cooler and much more pleasant. Here's to another Florida "Fall" and "Winter."

Sat, 1st Oct '05, 8:05 pm::

I'm feeling soooo much better it's amazing. Since Thursday, I have been on a new antibiotic Ketek that is different from other antibacterial agents and since 6pm yesterday I've been feeling so much better. I had a good night's sleep and since I woke up, I've only coughed once about every 20-25 minutes. Compare this to just Wednesday when I was coughing non-stop for 30-60 seconds once every 2-3 minutes. I totally feel like this medicine is fixing whatever respiratory bacteria I had and hopefully in a few days I might get better. Of course, minor coughing will still last for a few weeks but I already feel like a new man.

Wed, 28th Sep '05, 8:10 pm::

The doctor called me today and said my blood test came clean with absolutely no sign of any common disease. While I have all the symptoms of Whooping Cough, the Pertussis bacteria isn't showing up on the tests. This means either I have a very nasty case of whooping cough or I have something similar which they can't identify. It's funny that the doctor said that just looking at my blood test results, anyone would give me a clean bill of health. But of course, the coughing is totally ruining my work and personal life for past few months.

Oh and last week I tried the whole "say screw it to sickness and go run a mile" thing. It didn't work. I ended up coughing for over an hour after running just two blocks. I can't believe just one year ago I was preparing to run the marathon and now I can't even run two blocks.

I think that I've been very strong ever since I got sick and have done my best to stay strong to get better. But now I'm really losing my strength and patience. I don't care about anything anymore. I'm so sick of being sick. I'm gonna rest a lot in the next few days and most probably won't be on my computer much, unless I have to.

Sat, 24th Sep '05, 6:35 pm::

Wow today turned out much better than I thought it would. Despite feeling sick as hell, I took a shower, cleaned up, and went all the way to Sweet Tomatoes in Tampa to have lunch with my new friend Jenny. It was awesome. I love the food there (and trust me it felt good to eat something healthy) and I just had a great time with Jen. Hopefully I'll be seeing her more often. It just sucks that I still cough so much and I can't really do much about it. She was so nice about it and didn't care much that I was coughing like a steam engine. Anyways, I'm really tired right now and need some rest.

Fri, 23rd Sep '05, 9:20 pm::

Beware: Another boring blog entry on my health ahead. Proceed at your own peril.

I never thought in my life that I would ever use the word "hacking" to refer to anything else other than breaking into computers. On the phone with a buddy today, I caught myself saying "I have hacking cough and it's so bad that my head feels like exploding every time I get into a bout of coughing." This morning I went to the doctor again and he joked how I've become his best customer. I know, funny but not really. I gave some blood for lab tests so hopefully I'll soon know what's the matter with me. He said he's got some suspicion that it might be Pertussis - a highly contagious bacteria, more commonly known as... hold your breath (pun intended)... Whooping Cough!

Now Whooping Cough is a disease that mostly infects children but lately cases of new strain of Pertussis bacteria have been found worldwide, especially in US. People who have been infected by Pertussis in the past or have been vaccinated against it are relatively safe but of course I never had any shots for that. Talking to the doctor about my health in the last 7 weeks, I think I've a good idea of what happened.

During my plane trip back from Utah in July end, I got infected with two different strains of bacteria - Streptococcus and Pertussis. The strain of strep I infected my inner-ear and caused fever, dizziness, and a rash. This combination is more commonly called Scarlet Fever or Scarlatina. It takes about 24-48 hours for the strep bacteria to cause full blown Scarlet Fever symptoms. I was on the plane on Sunday and I first felt sick on Tuesday. No coughing. Just dizzy, slightly feverish, and a bit weak. Went to the doctor the same week and got some antibiotics to treat the strep bacteria.

It was after about 10 days since my plane ride that I started coughing. It started slow but gradually intensified. I thought it was just a side-effect of Scarlet Fever and didn't put much thought into it. About a week later, the coughing hadn't subsided and I knew something was up. Went back to the doctor and it turns out, my inner-ear strep infection is worse than ever, as the antibiotics hadn't worked fully. I continue on the antibiotics to treat the strep and the doctor prescribed me some cough suppressants. He told me the coughing could be the result of something other than Scarlet Fever, like Whooping Cough.

The coughing didn't stop and got worse. Went to the doctor this morning again and he said it looks more and more like Pertussis i.e. Whooping Cough now. The problem with the Pertussis bacteria is that it is very difficult to detect. The cough is very dry and there is absolutely no other symptom. Another problem with Whooping Cough is that while antibiotics work, they work very slowly. The doctor said I should be prepared to be sick for another 6-8 weeks, although things will get better in a few weeks.

So now here's the deal. I've been sick for 7 weeks now and there's just as long to go before I feel healthy. I can't run, work-out, kayak, or even climb up the stairs without breaking out into bouts of coughing. I can't talk for more than two minutes without coughing and I can't sit still for five minutes without coughing. The only times I don't cough is when I'm eating or drinking and sadly, I've been doing a lot of eating in the last two months. I've tried to eat healthy but just eating so much without any form of exercise is bad but I can't help it.

Hopefully once I get better, I will exercise and get back in shape again but till then, I feel so lazy and lethargic. I'm trying hard to keep my spirits up but it's hard when there's nothing you can do about it. When I used to feel sad, I would go running or jetskiing or just go catch a movie with a friend, none of which I can do. It's bad enough that I disrupt all the meetings at my work and I don't think strangers in a movie theater or restaurant will bear with me.

I swear I'm going to have some sort of a social anxiety disorder if this keeps up for long. I'm so ashamed of going into public places anymore because everyone looks at me like I have some contagious disease like tuberculosis. I went to Walmart and people walked away from me as I started coughing, even though I was covering my mouth. If something like this happens for a week or two, it's ok. But I've been going through this for a month and I don't know how I'll be able to bear this for two more.

The only thing I can do is sit at home and watch TV while eating - NOT at all a healthy thing to do. But right now, it's the only thing that feels good. I tried reading but I just don't feel like it anymore. I don't know... this really really sucks.

Wed, 21st Sep '05, 12:05 pm::

Just taking a little break from work now. Too many things happening today - some very good and some very bad. It's amazing how some days absolutely nothing happens and some days, everything happens at the same time. Today's not a good day if I look at the short-term implications, but whatever happened today will benefit me in the long-term. You know, just one of those days that sets the course for the rest of your life. We don't actively make decisions everyday that affect the rest of our lives. Most days we just worry about small things like groceries and haircuts. Today is definitely not one of those.

I love being all indirect :)

Sat, 17th Sep '05, 6:55 pm::

Had an eventful day so far. Woke up at 11, went to Walmart to get my meds, food, gas, and a nice haircut. Got home, ate some food, and now just chilling. I just took my new anti-biotics and my head's spinning like crazy. I hope it's temporary.

Oh another weird thing I found out yesterday when I went to the doctor. Apparently I have a Deviated Septum, which could've been the result of a childhood fight/fall or something. Basically, my nose is broken on the inside even though it's not visible from the outside. This could be why I often suffer from blocked nose etc.

I'm not at all a hypochondriac, in fact I'm the opposite most of the times, thinking I'm perfectly healthy. And yet I'm finding random stuff about my health lately. Well at least the water in my diaphragm was temporary and is gone now. I know, I sound like an anatomy book.

Fri, 9th Sep '05, 10:55 am::

Just taking 2-mins from work to inform my family about my recent sickness. As you probably know, I had Scarlet Fever about a month ago and took medications to cure it. All the symptoms went away after three weeks except minor coughing. Now it seems the coughing has resumed and it is worse than ever. I went to the doctor and turns out my middle-ear has some major infection. I don't have any dizziness or pain but the doctor said if untreated, this could damage part of my hearing so I'm gonna make sure it's treated. Hopefully the anti-biotics will fix everything this time; they didn't fully work last time. Scarlet Fever with all its numerous symptoms was a result of this ear-infection. I don't have any visible symptoms right now other than some pretty bad coughing. I had my chest x-rayed this morning and from the initial preview it looks like my diaphragm has some fluid build-up. I guess the doctor will tell me what that's about.

All I know is that I can't talk at all without breaking into bouts of non-stop coughing. Things haven't been that great lately and coughing has just made everything worse. A part of the treatment is covered by my insurance but there's stuff not covered, so I guess lotsa medical expenses coming my way soon. The doctor said it'll probably go away by itself in 45-60 days, whether I take medicine or not. I am gonna continue some medication but it's just gonna suck for a long time.

I don't feel like calling up my family or friends anymore simply because my coughing makes everyone feel bad about me. Even talking to coworkers is tough but I gotta do that no matter what.

Good thing I'm not contagious.

Mon, 5th Sep '05, 11:55 am::

I read about 10-12 blogs of different friends regularly and it just amazes me that people who are so much like me, have such different lives and lifestyle. Here are some random excerpts from my friends' blogs, just to show how different their lives are compared to mine. I hope none of my friends mind me putting these on here as they are all publicly available on their blogs anyway. Also, I'd love to read what friends/family of my friends write on their blogs, just to get a different perspective.

Kelly:

WRX with some nice mods. I HAD to go from a dig with him 0-120mph. He got owned. 5.0 mustang. Roll and Dig. Roll he was owned. On the dig I remembered how to drive the first time. Second time I forgot how to drive so he took the kill. LT1 TA with a few mods. We were a dead even match till top end. Then I wanted to walk... but he always cut out before giving me that change. We ran a few times just for fun. 1g DSM with a Super 16g was 3+ cars behind.

Taylor:

As a late college graduation gift, my mother and I will be traveling to a few great cities over the next 2 weeks. Here is my approximate schedule: ... I will be seeing most of the touristy stuff, catching a few concerts (the BBC Proms!!), and taking in some overpriced dining.

Liz:

I'm definitely on the search for an engagement ring--of course i'm not planning on getting married, but if i'm going to have to freakin lie every single day about my marital status, then i might as well rock the ice just for the fun of it I haven't decided if i really want to drop some big money for a nice one, or just buy a really cheap one off of ebay....okay, so the practical side of me is saying to go cheap, but that wont stop me from looking at Tiffany's website, hehehehehe. It's really bizarre, too, my infatuation with engagement rings. I kinda wish they didnt carry the meaning that they do, cuz i would really like a simple diamond ring for my birthday--hell, let's be honest, for ANY day, do i really need a holiday to justify it?

Vu:

Currently, the FIA has rules in place to actually give inferior tire performance, although aerodynamic considerations are much more flexible. Current tires have a mandatory high profile and have four channels cut into the tread to reduce grip and increase slip angles. Aerodynamics helps increase the mechanical grip otherwise possible with a static tire load. For the rules changes, the FIA hopes to increase mechanical tire performance while reducing aerodynamic effects.

Lisa:

There's shooting outside, and one of the new volunteers looks nervous, but we tell her it's "happy shooting". That means the gunfire from a wedding or a high school graduation party- celebratory. It's an ironic phrase, and we say it with a twist in our mouths, but it's the best way to explain. There's been more random shooting during the day in Nablus, since perhaps the past month. We don't really know what it's from, but this is a new volunteer, fresh and a bit impressionable, so we might as well say that it's happy. Let's be happy.

Megan:

pop (grandpa) passed away quite suddenly on wednesday. he was 85. he was one of my favorite people in the whole entire world. i just can't believe he's gone and i'll never see him again. every single memory i have of him is a fond one. when i was born, my parents lived in an old farmhouse - my grandparents on one side and my parents on the other. apparently i would wake up at around 2am every night. pop would get up and take me out of the crib and walk around with me and talk to me until i fell asleep. he was the only one who could get me to stop crying. he was my bud when i was growing up. we'd take long walks in the woods, he'd fix whatever i needed fixing, he'd come to my basketball games, he'd give me lots of hugs and "great to see ya, hun"'s. every holiday dinner, gram would ask me what vegetable i wanted, and i'd always say 'carrots', because i have an abnormal love of carrots. well, pop HATED carrots, and when dinnertime would come, i would tell him to pass his plate, and i'd load them up with carrots, and he'd laugh and put half of them back and then the rest of them on my plate. i'm making carrots for dinner tonight. i miss him so much already.

Tony:

Long veils are beautiful to photograph, but torture for the bride.

Lynn:

I have to be honest, if I were in LA, I would be looting too. I would steal food and shoes and clothing, dog food, water, and if I had a child, diapers and formula for my child. The fact that the governor of LA has enforced a "shoot to kill" policy is sickening. When someone is taking diapers or food, basic NECESSATIES, they should NOT be shot to death. This is ludicrous. And I must say something about the civilians who are shooting at the "help" - this is what happens when people panic. When people panic, it creates chaos. Who wants to be in such disastrous conditions? No one...

Sat, 3rd Sep '05, 1:30 am::

Pictures of Katrina's Aftermath.

Talking to random people online and offline in last few days I've realized that are there are lot of people who say "Oh I'm not watchin the TV or any news because it's too depressing." What they really mean is that "I am burying my head in the sand to ignore what's going on in this country because I am a coward." I think if something like this, i.e. the largest natural disaster in almost a century, doesn't move you, then you are a heartless monster. This is a time to help, to donate whatever you can, to show support - NOT to ignore and hope that this goes away and the news media can finally go back to reporting important things, like missing white teenage girls on Springbreak-Islands.

These same people today who are blocking all news and instead watching re-runs of "Everybody loves Raymond on TV are the ones who were glued to their TV-sets on Sept 11, 2001. Why? Because what if the terrorists attacked their little town in the middle of nowhere?! So they studied the news, read everything there was to know about Osama Bin Laden, and after extensive research miraculously concluded that waging a war on Iraq would stop all future acts of terrorism on the American soil. I'm sorry but the sheer stupidity of the common man is something that always amazes me.

Everyone was so up-in-arms about everything going on after 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, the "War" on Iraq. And now? Nobody cares! Why? Because well, we don't get hurricanes in Maine. Or Wisconsin. Or wherever these people happen to be. It is a sad day when apathy rules. From the common man to the Federal Govt.

The disaster that was KatrinaThu, 1st Sep '05, 8:20 pm::

Exactly a week ago I casually mentioned that there was another hurricane on the horizon and wondered how it would shape up. Not even in my worst nightmares could I have witnessed the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has caused in the last five days. It was a Category Four hurricane when it hit the coast of the state of Louisiana on the gulf coast above the Gulf of Mexico.

Before it hit Louisiana, it passed through South-Eastern Florida as a Category One hurricane and it slowly gained strength sitting above the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexco. By last Thursday, everyone knew this was going to be a major hurricane with wind speeds of above 150 mph. My friend Kathleen called it the classic book case - the perfect example of a storm - something students decades from now will be learning in classrooms, on how it formed, how it gained strength, how it moved with tremendous force, and finally, how is destroyed every shred of civilization on half the gulf coast.

As many are already saying, this is going to effect pretty much every person in the US in a very short period of time. Katrina was not a typical storm or minor hurricane that ruined a few neighborhoods and took a few lives. Katrina is absolutely one of the largest natural disasters US has ever faced and the aftermath of this on society, politics, and the economy will be very horrendous.

Let's begin with the area most affected by Katrina - the City of New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). Majority of the city of NOLA lies about ten feet below sea-level. And as you can see in this map, NOLA is bordered by two major lakes, a river, and the Gulf of Mexico. On top of it, the city is literally shaped like a bowl. It was no surprise to anyone that if the city was hit by a major hurricane, the bowl would fill up with water and there would be no way of draining the water because the sea-level is actually higher than the city.

And then it happened. Katrina hit slightly east of NOLA, barely missing the city, but the damage was done. The levees and barriers that block the river, lake, and sea-waters from flooding the city neighborhoods broke from the sheer water pressure. When a hurricane makes landfall, the ocean swells upwards and sea-water rushes inland. This is different from the kind of tsunami that hit South East-Asia late last year. Tsunamis travel very very fast, hundreds of mile an hour, and shock the coast with their impact, kinda like slapping someone really hard, sometimes multiple times, but then pulling away instantly. Storm surge is when the sea-water floods inland because of the suction created by winds on the water-body, as a result of which, the water does not recede back into the ocean as long as the winds persist. A storm surge is like sitting on someone's chest and gradually applying more and more pressure till their ribs burst and getting up slowly afterwards. Of course, both are just as ravaging to human livelihood.

So now you have a bowl-shaped city of over 1.3 million (13 lac) residents that got filled with water. There just isn't any way out other than physically pumping all the water back into the ocean and lakes - a process which will take months and months. For the first time since the San Fransisco Earthquake & Fire of 1906 has a major city been absolutely ruined like this. Eighty-percent of NOLA is still underwater and it will continue to remain so.

NOLA isn't the only city affected by Katrina. Hundreds of cities and small towns were affected. From the looks of it, Waveland, Mississippi, located north-east of NOLA was affected the worst as pretty much every house in the town is levelled. The town is no more. There are no houses or buildings standing, no electric poles upright, the trees have been uprooted or snapped into pieces, and for all intensive purposes, zipcode 39576 is non-existant henceforth. And this is but one of the hundreds of towns directly affected. WalMart has closed 123 stores and UPS has suspended shipment to 900 zipcodes indefinitely. This is about three to four percent of the entire country of US.

The immediate economic impact is something people always feared - rising price of gasoline - petrol & diesel. I purchased gas at $2.599/gallon yesterday and it's above $3/gallon today in my city. Elsewhere, people are paying upgrades of $5/gallon and many small towns in states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and even Wisconsin have run out of gas. It is no secret that the entire economy of US relies very heavily on gas and rising prices could mean economic depression. The Port of Southern Louisiana is the largest port in the US, fifth-largest in the world.

Here is something that has blown my wits away. Back in June of this year, FX Network aired a mock-umentary titled "Oil Storm" (thanks Eric!) The synopsis of the story is that sometime around the Labor Day weekend (that is the coming weekend), a Category 6 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico slams into Louisiana, crushing the city of New Orleans and crippling the vital pipleline for refined oil that is Port Fourchon (more details). The movie "examines the ripple effect of that event and the ensuing cascade of disasters associated with it..." Basically, the first part of the movie about the hurricane has already come true and the next part, about oil prices is already coming true. You can read the synopsis yourself to see how the story unfolds and ends, but the scary thing is, back when the movie aired, everyone was mocking, insulting, and criticizing it. Now, not so much. Nobody believed that a hurricane could drown NOLA, cut off the nation's oil pipeline, or set the oil rigs afloat. Yet that is what happened. This time truth is eerily exactly like fiction.

The damage to public and private infrastructure is only overshadowed by the utter senseless degradation of human lives. Right now, hundreds of thousands of people in NOLA area are thirsty, hungry, have no shelter, and are being terrorized by street gangs. Reporter Anya Kamenetz writes, "the city of New Orleans has a 34 percent poverty rate, triple the national average. It's about 70 percent black. White flight, first to Jefferson Parish and then across Lake Pontchartrain, to the North Shore, has accomplished the desired aim of de facto segregation in the public schools, which are 93 percent black in Orleans Parish and some of the worst in the country." Now, the aftermath of the hurricane is not only a humanitarian issue but also a racial one. Right-and-left people are debating whether the US Federal Govt. is doing enough or not, whether the National Guard would have been moved to NOLA for support any faster if there was a higher percentage of white citizens.

Yahoo! has managed to stir up some controvery regarding two pictures captioned slightly differently. They even issued a public statement and removed one of the pictures. Apparently, the caption under the very dark skinned person said " A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans" while a picture of two light skinned persons was captioned, "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store..." So dark people "loot" while fair people "find" right? The photographer of the second picture disagrees but for now, the issue has raised many a question.

Since eighty-percent of NOLA is currently underwater, some places as deep as twenty-feet, the only pictures and videos available of most areas are from helicopters. While thousands of people are being bussed from the drier areas in NOLA to nearby cities like Houston, Texas, there are thousands of people still stuck in their houses. Hundreds of dead bodies are floating on the streets and rescue workers can't do anything because they first have to help the victims who are still alive.

Any attempt to compare Katrina with the tsunami of 2004 is looked down upon right now because there was a tremendous loss of life in the latter. Additionally, tsunami was unpredictable while the weather channels along with the National Hurricane Center were blasting warnings for days before Katrina made landfall, giving people enough time to evacuate. Moreover, damages from tsunamis were not preventable while majority of the infrastructure destruction of Katrina could have been prevented as everyone knew the geography of NOLA and the nearby regions. And yet, I think there is a similarity despite what people say. The similarity is that poor people suffered. While they all knew about Katrina, there was little most of them could do. Many of the inner-city poor renters didn't have a car and the city of NOLA failed to provide public transporation to evacuate. So for no fault of their own, they were stuck. Sure, many of them might have intentionally chosen to hunker down and stay at home instead of going away, but now, they're all homeless.

NOLA has had near-hits many-a-time but this was the final blow. There is no City of New Orleans, Louisiana anymore. They will have to rebuild, almost from scratch. And so will the hundreds of towns with millions of people. It's hard to imagine that over a million people now have no homes, no jobs, no schools, and no life whatsoever. Everything will have to start from scratch. For the young it's not impossible but for people who have worked their entire lives to finally own a house, it's all gone. Sure, insurance will pay but what about the neighborhood. It's not there anymore. I'd love to see NOLA back on it's feet again but I highly doubt the Mardi Gras celebrations in 2006 (if at all) will be as carefree as this year's.

(I had written about seven more detailed paragraphs after this but due to a stupid mistake, I lost everything below this, hence rewriting it major parts of it. It always bums me out when I'm writing a long 'blog entry and lose part of it. I will fix the blog to not do this tomorrow but for now, I have to live with it. And since I'm too tired to rewrite everything, here's a summary of what I had written before.)

The political aspect of this entire disaster is no less complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had to halt all rescue operations in NOLA because of the danger to the lives of the rescuers. Violence has erupted in parts of the city with random acts of looting, rape, street-shooting, and sniper attacks. It's hard to believe but this is US and it seems like the Dark Ages. FEMA is not without controversy itself with two inexperienced directors, demotion from cabinet status, and refusal of funds to NOLA to strengthen the levees.

Louisiana is also holds half the world's supply of zinc and is a major manufacturer of industrial chemicals. There will be inflation in the short-term and dollar will fall in the ForEx markets. Oil will continue to rise for some time and a big part of US trade will be impacted, as LA is the primary port for US. Things aren't going to be pretty for the next few months and rebuilding will take a lot of time. People are dying on the streets, children are waddling through chest-high water, covered in feces, and dead bodies are floating everywhere. The biggest fear is the possibility of a pandemic of water-borne diseases.

I'm sure if anyone wants to learn more about the disaster there are a million places online to read from and hundreds of TV shows to watch. This was just a review of what I've heard, remotely seen, and learnt about Katrina and its aftermath. And here's hoping I never have to write such an entry again, though I think that's impossible. Nature is wild and very very powerful.

Life's like an analog clockSun, 28th Aug '05, 9:45 pm::

I don't 'blog everyday, not because I'm too busy or have nothing to say, but rather I like saving up the energy to write slightly longer posts and to say things I normally don't in course of everyday life. In everyday life, people just execute their daily duties. You wake up, go to school and/or office, get home, do the chores, entertain yourself a bit, and go to bed. Next day, lather, rinse, repeat. And the cycle goes on.

Life's like an analog clock that you have to wind-up every 24 hours. And more often than not, the clock gains or loses a few minutes every day. In a month, you could be as much as half-an-hour off the correct time unless you synchronize your clock with some official time keeper. Similarly, if you just live your life without any form of introspection and retrospection, sooner or later, you're gonna be out of sync with your own life and the rest of the world.

In other words, if you never take some time to stop everything you're doing and take a 36,000 mile big-picture overview of yourself, your life's path, your goals and dreams, then things are just gonna get tougher. If you're lost in a maze, you can forever run around every corner to find a way out but the most optimal way to get out is just look at the maze from above and find the shortest path to the exit. Everybody knows that is the best way but nobody wants to do it.

We're all in a rat race. Life has become a rat race because we're all materialistic - chasing objects that money and only money can buy, running after goals that solely bolster our egos. So now even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat. The trick is not to win the race but to stop being a rat. How can you do that? It's easy and sounds so very cliched. Take control of your own mind. Stop letting yourself be led by others. Realize that you and only you make your own destiny unless you unfortunately happen to be living under some ruthless dictator or corrupt communist government. But even then, there's a lot you can do to control your own mind. Sure you may not be able to control the fact that your dad's not a rich industrialist but you can sure control the emotional turmoil your mind goes into after the love of your life rejects you.

Control of your own mind is quite possibly the easiest and the hardest thing to ever do. It's hard because throughout our lives we have been force-fed the notion that we are all emotional by our very human nature and we are but the victims of our moods. We have adapted to feeling sad when our mind decides it's time to feel sad and we are trained to feel happy when our mind tells us so. But it's not at all hard to decide to tell our mind that shut the hell up and stop being so moody. And after that, it's all easy. Once you realize that you can tell your brain to feel calm in the most adverse of life's circumstances, you suddenly find yourself equipped with the world's greatest arsenal of strength and power - emotional maturity. Most people get stuck in life because their emotions overpower every rational thought.

I know, everyone says you gotta think straight and do right but so many people just can't. Why? Because saying is one thing and doing is another. It's very easy to say "never lie to yourself" but very hard to do. It's the wide gap between saying the nice wise quote and explaining HOW to do it, that prevents people from actually doing it. So I said above, take control of your mind. Well great quote but how does one go about doing it. What's the first step?

The first step is to stop all negative thoughts. That's it. It's a very easy thing to do once you start doing it. No matter what you're doing, something is going on in your head and if that thought happpens to be laden with negativity of any kind, be it sadness, guilt, remorse, angst, revenge, stress, worry, or anything else, just let it go. Tell your brain "hey that's a negative thought and I'm not gonna have any of that in my brain." And stop. Change the topic and focus on something else. Keep doing it every single moment, every day and every night. Very soon you're realize yourself that things just seem so much easier. Life will suddenly be easy, much more clear.

I know, all of this sounds so pseudo-wise psycho-babble but from personal expeirence, I can say it's very true. College years were quite tough on my mental stability, especially the stress of multiple degrees and multiple jobs and I always felt so lost. Lately, things have got so much better since I started following the aforementioned guidelines. None of the stuff I said above is something I pulled out of thin air. Most of this 'wisdom' stuff is from ancient Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Too many people apply the practical rituals of religion in daily life instead of following the wise teachings.

Nah, I've not suddenly become overtly religious or anything. I'm just saying, the day you take control of your mind is the day life stops being difficult. The grass really is greener on the other side because you have a lot more time to tend to your lawn as you're not stressing all day about meaningless objects.

Wed, 24th Aug '05, 10:45 pm::

Just got back from my second baseball game ever, thanks once again to Ken from my work. This time I went with him and we saw Tampa Bay Devil Rays plays with the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field. Once again, the Rays won :) I had a great time and got to learn a lot of things about the sport. It's kinda like cricket but only 100 times more weird. Cricket is more fun to play but I think baseball is more fun to watch because it's not too long, just a few hours. Volleyball of course (especially the Brazilian Women's Team) is the most fun to watch, followed by Soccer.

The Joys of Living AloneFri, 19th Aug '05, 7:45 am::

"The strange new truth, according to census figures, is that the single largest chunk of American households now consists of people who live alone. No spouse or partner, no kids or other relatives, no roommate or boarder. Alone." Thus reports the Wall Street Journal. I am a statistic now. Here's the original Census Report in PDF.

The report goes on to say "Yet a list-topping surge to 27 million separate little cocoons is still disconcerting. Among other things, it suggests a demographic bulge of lonely souls. Even if you discount the college graduates who paint the town every night before crashing happily at their first pad, you're left with a huge number of people who have found companionship and lost it or are still looking for someone to share their life with. They may not be miserable or call themselves lonely, although many senior citizens do use those words. But most probably are missing something, and we don't mean the better health and the longevity boost that scientists have associated with marriage and other forms of intimate living."

The author of the article goes on, "27 million lonely grown-ups probably isn't great for society either." So that's one side of the story. The other side of the story is what random people are saying here on Fark: "Living alone is the greatest thing in the world." "People are choosing to stay single. I'm single by choice." "I wish I lived alone."

I can pretty much attest to the awesomeness that is living alone. I love the fact that I have a house I can go to every day without having someone nag me to depression on when I'm gonna cut the lawn or paint the backyard door. I love the fact that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want - nobody bothers me, nobody annoys me. If I feel alone or bored, I can either stay at home and entertain/educate myself or I can go out and hang out at my friends' places. I really don't see how living alone could be such a bad thing. I don't have to worry about anyone's dirty laundry and nobody leaves dirty dishes in my kitchen sink. It's awesome! Sure, I miss hanging out with someone 24/7 and that's why I have my friends come once in a while for sleepovers etc. We can watch TV and play boardgames all evening till late night and then have breakfast together. No force, no compulsion. So very stress free.

I think the biggest mistake this author made is assuming that living alone means being alone. Repeat after me: Alone does NOT mean lonely. I live alone, by myself, no other person in my house. However, that doesn't mean I am lonely or sad or feel neglected or unloved. This is just a different way of life than previous generations were used to. And as long as I'm comfortable with it, why should anyone care?

However, there's the economic side to this issue. Be it one person or two living in the same house, you're pretty much gonna use the same amount of electricity, phone, gas, and other utilities. If everyone lives alone in their own house, a lot of resources are wasted. By living together, people can save a lot and split the bills. Maybe that's what I will look into down the line - converting my computer room to a bedroom and renting it out to a friend. I'll be able to save on my bills and my friend will have low rent. But till that day, I think my kids are enough for me to take care of :)

Thu, 18th Aug '05, 8:50 pm::

Ever loved something so much that you wanted to tell the entire world about it? Well now you can! Hop over to this silly little new site that I designed along with my buddy Tony and tell the world that "I wanna marry ___ and have its babies."

Tue, 2nd Aug '05, 9:50 pm::

Went kayaking today for the second time. Spent about an hour in Lake Seminole just learning how to move forward without zig-zagging. It was so beautiful and didn't really feel like an hour, more like 25 minutes. Tomorrow I'll go for an hour and a half. I got home tonight and my upper-body felt so pumped up even though I wasn't tired at all. I'm beginning to love this kayaking thing :)

Mon, 1st Aug '05, 11:55 pm::

A few weeks ago I mentioned that my car has a permanent space for two beach chairs, one beach umbrella, an ice cooler, and a beach towel. As of tonight, it also has a Sevylor Tahiti Classic Inflatable Kayak, a lifevest, a dual-sided aluminum/plastic paddle, and a hand pump. For about $300+tax, I purchased all the kayaking equipment from the West Marine store near my work. I went kayaking at Lake Seminole that's about six minutes from my house. The plan is that I will kayak every weekday for one hour at least. The water is beautiful and since there's no cost of fuel every time I go, it's a pretty cheap hobby. As long as I don't puncture the kayak somehow, though it's easy to patch a small hole or two.

The reason I went for an inflatable one instead of a typical rigid hull is that I didn't wanna buy an expensive rack for the roof on my car. Inflatable kayaks are good for beginners like me and when I get more experienced, I can look for a good fibre-glass model or something. Till then, I'm going to paddle hard and learn how to steer it straight. Trust me it's not easy! But I'm sure with practise, I'll get there.

Fri, 22nd Jul '05, 8:20 pm::

I had a pretty good experience just now. Went to Blue Fugu (about 20 mins from my house) and had some veggie sushi. Also met Lanie there. I didn't know what sushi tastes like but I loved whatever I had tonight - of course no fish, seafood, or meat in it - just normal vegetables and stuff. I don't think I've ever had so much raw ginger in one meal. And oh man, wasabi is spicy but damn good. I wouldn't mind trying it out again.

I'm feeling kinda lazy now. Just gonna lay back and watch some TV. I know I know, so boring and uninteresting, but things have been busy at work so I wanna get some rest.

Sat, 16th Jul '05, 4:20 pm::

Homeownership is lotta work man. I woke up at 7:30am because the security system guy came a bit too early. Now Brinks guards my home 24/7/365 :) I got free installation with glass break monitor, fire alarm, carbon monoxide monitor, motion detector, and three door monitors. Not that I feel unsafe in my house without this security system, but it's just that if I'm not here and something bad happens again, I don't want my kitties to be in danger.

It took the guy about 6 hours to set it all up and then I decided to finally clean my laundry washer and dryer. The previous owner of this house was nice enough to leave me both for free but oh man, were they nasty! There was soooo much grime and filth inside the washer that it took me over two hours to clean it up! But now, I'll have clean clothes once again :)

Homeownership is a lotta fun too. I'm a kid when it comes to playing with water hoses. I bought a flat and a coil hose last week and finally got to use it today. I'm all drenched right now because it's so hot outside and I ended up spraying water all over myself.

Anyways, yesterday I also bought two beach/sand chairs, a beach umbrella, and an ice cooler. I'm gonna go watch the sunset at Treasure Island Beach in about an hour - the sunset is at 8:30pm but I wanna just kick back and relax for a few hours. When you live 2 miles from the beach, every weekend is a mini-vacation.

Jetskiin' in a hurricaneSat, 9th Jul '05, 3:15 pm::

OH HELL THAT WAS STUPID! I just got back from jetskiing with Brian and I gotta admit, this was THE MOST STUPIDESTESTEST thing I've EVER done! Let me take you on a long journey, deep into the mind of someone as retarded as myself.

So we get into the Tampa Bay around noon and the winds gusts were easily around 40-50 mph. It was very hard to get the jetskis into the water as they kept being blown off on to the sandy shore. We looked around and there were about 2-3 other cars on the beach and just one windsurfer guy in the ocean. The water was amazingly choppy and the waves were about 3 feet in height. Quite frankly the first hour of jetskiing was simply awesome. The weather was rough but it was so exciting.

Things got more fun after about an hour and a half when the waves suddenly got twice as high! I was jumping the jetski from one six-foot wave crest to the next constantly. I don't think it is possible to explain in words how much fun that was. Brian and I kept going back-and-forth right next to the Courtney Campbell Causeway - Rt. 60 when I noticed in the distance, a big black wall of feeder band coming right at us. It was gonna hit it soon so we decided to get out of the water. We turned the jetskis around and all of a sudden, BAM! The rain pallets hit us so bad that my scalp still hurts after over 2 hours! It was absolutely impossible to stand out in the open and visibility was reduced to less than 50 feet.

We rushed towards the shore and put the jetskis on the trailer behind his huge SUV. The rain got stronger and the wind gusts were almost ripping the road signs off their poles. And that's when his truck got stuck in the sand! The back tire kept spinning and dug deeper into the sand. We got big pieces of stones and tried to jam them under the wheel but no luck. Guess it was time to call a towing company.

We called over ten local towing companies and each of them had a waiting period of over an hour, some as much as three hours! And it was gonna cost us a pretty penny to - at least $250! Just to get his stuck truck out of the sand! $250! Guess the demand's high during a hurricane and supply is low. We kept calling one towing company after another but then after no luck, we decided to do something ourselves. The reason why his truck was stuck was because the jetski trailer was filled with water and pulling 700-800 lbs out of the ocean was too much. So we went out and unhooked the jetski trailer which by itself was a major feat. All of a sudden, a Good Samaritan drove up in his huge construction truck. He asked us if we needed help and we looked at each other and said "HELL YEAH!"

It took him about 20 minutes to pull Brian's truck out of the sand and considering the fact that the back wheels of the truck were under almost two feet of ocean water, it was quite an accomplishment. We got out and we got stuck again! Since the chain from his truck to Brian's was still in place, it took only a few minutes and some pretty big jerks and pulls to get his truck out again. And then just as quickly as he had appeared, the guy took off and disappeared from our sight. All we know is that he was from some local construction company whose name probably starts with the letter "T" - it was raining too bad to actually keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds.

Back on the road and finally breathing normally, Brian and I just couldn't stop laughing. Oh my God! This was absolutely the stupidest thing to do in such a weather! But thanks to some kind-hearted random soul, we got off without any injuries or monetary losses. At one point, we were sitting in his truck just wondering how long it'll take for his truck to be pulled into the ocean, because it was certainly possible.

Obviously, throughout the ordeal, we both made sure that our personal safety was still the #1 priority. I even had my life-jacket on during the whole time. We weren't really worried about ourselves, but mostly his expensive and tricked out truck along with two jetskis on a trailer - all of that could've very very easily been sucked into the Tampa Bay within a matter of seconds. All we could've done at that point is stood on the shore and sighed. But, nothing bad happened :) Brian is at his home and I'm at mine with Giga playing with my toes. I even picked up a large pie of pizza on the way home and just finished eating it.

I think while we were going through all of this there was something else that was going in the back of my mind - something about how we take our secure lives for granted. During bad weather like a hurricane or a thunderstorm, we sit sheltered under our roofs, watching TV and eating warm foods, oblivious to the fact that the distance between everything and nothing is just 6 inches of wood or cement. Out in the ocean, pushing and pulling my hardest to unhook the jetski trailer from Brian's truck I realized how close to the raw power of nature we really were. One big gust of wind and a few waves and everything would be pulled into the ocean. One minute we were having the time of our lives riding one huge wave after another and the next minute we were shouting in horror as his truck kept sinking down into the sand by the second. And just like that, a few minutes later we were back on the road, on our way home - safe 'n sound and it didn't cost us a thing.

You know I always wondered why those retarded dare-devil skiers went down the most dangerous snow-covered peaks because they inadvertently cause avalanches and have to be rescued. Same goes for almost every outdoor sport that often result in emergency 911 calls. I used to think that these people must be REALLY stupid to not know the dangers and risks that lay ahead of them. Today I think I understood why. We didn't go out thinking this was going to be just another day in the ocean. We absolutely knew of the risks and decided that the fun we could have in four foot waves would be totally worth it. We got more than we expected when we faced waves taller than me! The thrill of jetskiing in a hurricane was absolutely worth every risk we faced. And if we had a video camera, it would look someting like this but instead of a surfboard, it'd be jetski. Thankfully, Tampa Bay is not a big ocean but just a small bay with land on three sides. Hence there wasn't much danger to ourselves of being pulled into the ocean and ending up in say, Cuba.

Well, I don't think I can ever forget an experience like this. I'm hugging my kitties a bit more tightly today.

Wed, 6th Jul '05, 7:25 am::

I'm going to Springerize my 'blog more often. So instead of saying that I went jetskiing and had a great time, I will say something like, "Often in life we get bogged down by chronic rituals we perform with little or no desire and it is during these times that breaking out of our boring schedule teaches us who we really are. Jetskiing is more than going fast on a petrol engine for it brings out my inner child by overcoming the fears and conquering what I am scared of most - stagnation in the middle of nowhere. While dangerous and sometimes deadly, jetskiing is an activity that can enrich one's life as long as one adheres to the rules of safety." See! So much more insightful :) Ha...

Well I guess sometimes I am this confusing, though more often than not, I am direct and to the point. I used to Rube Goldberg my real points while ranting in detail about everything but lately, I think I've been prompt and quite lucid in my explanations.

Oh and if you don't understand what any of the above meant or what it was in reference to, I was describing how it is possible for authors to write confusing material in order to somehow appear more insightful than they really are. Basically, I used to write pretty confusing 'blog entries thinking they provided some insight into my personality but I've long since learnt that simplicity is much harder to achieve and that is what I strive for now.

Tue, 21st Jun '05, 11:40 pm::

Exactly one year ago I started my full-time job at Formulated Solutions and I'm even more excited today than I was before I knew what life held for me. I can't believe it's already a year since I came here. Guess time flies when you're having fun. I love my little work family :)

Oh and tomorrow just might be the coolest day ever! Looks like somebody's about to buy a house...

Feels likeThu, 16th Jun '05, 9:15 pm::

If you hear me talk about the weather, specificially the temperature, I'll almost always quote some figure other than the exact temperature. If the thermometer says 83F I'll probably say "Oh man it's so hot.... 90F!" Sometimes when it's 70F, I'll say "Wow never thought it'd be 60F in March..." I'm not incapable of reading the temperature from a thermometer or off the Weather Channel website. It's just that I absolutely ignore the real measurable temperature and instead quote the feels-like temperature. The "feels-like" temperature is an index that describes what the temperature really feels like, taking into effect the temperature, wind, humidity, sunshine intensity, cloudiness, precipitation and elevation on the human body - everything that affects how warm or cold a person feels. The exact temperature is for inanimate objects. The "feels-like" temperature reflects how hot or cold it would normally feel to be in some place at some point in time. So yeah, next time I say it's 95F, trust me, that's what it feels like, no matter what the thermometer says.

Fri, 10th Jun '05, 6:15 pm::

Looks like the hurricane season is back. Tropical Storm Arlene is heading for the Florida panhandle / Alabama area and hopefully will miss us by hundreds of miles. However, considering it's still huge and moving very slowly, my entire weekend is pretty much hosed. It's raining outside and doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon. Guess I can sit back and just eat something hot.

Things are pretty dull otherwise. Dull isn't bad necessarily, in fact, I happen to like it quite a bit. I like the fact that I don't have to work or study all weekends. I like how I don't have any major chores or big personal projects to complete. It's the ease and lack of tension that I absolutely love. I come home, play with the kitties, watch a little TV, read stuff online, go to bed, and sleep pretty peacefully. I guess I'll never really get rid of my constant nightmares but otherwise, things are good. I know my daily schedule seems pretty dull and I realize that it actually is, but it's a stress-free dull and not a stretch of depressive doldrums where I find myself stuck in life or something.

Hopefully life will get pretty interesting once I get a house. I don't want to jinx anything so I'm not going to show pictures or write a lot about the house that I'm going to buy soon. Let's see how it goes.

Sun, 5th Jun '05, 7:00 pm::

As I mentioned before, I realized that I need to separate my personal and my tech 'blogs; so here it is - the chir.ag /tech blog :) Hopefully I'll keep it interesting and not too monotonous. And even better, people who don't really care about my computer stuff won't find it in here anymore.

Fri, 3rd Jun '05, 8:20 pm::

I just started using Sajax and JSON today at work. I already made my own functions and have figured out how to use it in the easiest possible way. Looks like I will be making a lot more use of it for internal applications because it makes round-trips to the web server a lot less.

Also I think I need a personal and a tech-blog - two separate places where I jot down the appropriate stuff. A lot of people do it but I don't know, it just might end up being too much work. There is a lot I want to talk about when it comes to computers science and there's obviously a lot when I want to talk about how my life is. Maybe I'll feel inspired one of these days and design a chir.ag/tech 'blog :)

Fri, 3rd Jun '05, 8:00 am::

And as if the St. Petes Times story about the upcoming Fark party in Tampa (which I am definitely going to) wasn't enough, I also found a Tampa Bay Times story regarding the same. Now I'm going to a highly publicized party! w00t!

Thu, 2nd Jun '05, 9:45 pm::

HOLY MOLY! So I'm going to this Fark party in Tampa on Saturday to meet about 30-35 people who visit Fark/TotalFark. Now the surprising thing is, my local newspaper, actually ran a story about the party! So I'm now technically going to a party that was publicized in a newspaper :)

Story of my work lifeWed, 25th May '05, 8:30 pm::

Here's the story of my work-life. Some guy explains it from his point-of-view, which is quite similar to mine. This is what happens to me, and pretty much everyone else in the world involved with making enterprise software.

Every project I take up, starts with a tiny minor requirement, "Chirag, we need you to make something that'll help us pay our bills on time." Sounds so simple that a middle-school kid can do it in Excel for Mac between soccer practice and karate lessons! Just put a list of all the current bills in one sheet and type in 'Paid' next to it when you pay. It's as simple as that. But who enters the list of bills? Obviously some from the Purchasing Department. However, they don't want to make a purchase order in paper and have to maintain the list of incoming bills on computer, so obviously, the solution is to computerize the Purchase Order system also. But wait, now that we have the POs in the database, we can easily use the data to help with taking the stock of our inventory because we know what's coming in.

Now all the system needs is something that lets you deduct the stock when we make a sale. Fast-forward tons of meetings with the heads of Production, QA, Regulatory, Accounting, Sales, and of course, Management, and where do you end up at? A full-fledged inventory control system with MRP features that integrate with a live e-commerce website and provides real-time stock figures. It took a while to make but everyone's happy with the system, right? Well almost. The system does everything it promised except one thing - help us with paying our bills on time! Due to some communication gap that occured in the initial stages of design, nobody realized that we do not get billed for each Purchase Order individually, and any bill can be towards a partial PO, full PO, or multiple POs. Sorry guys, if only you had told me this before... oops!

The guy in the link above explains this all quite well. I just wanted to share my experience. And it'll only get more complex 'n confusing as our company grows. Funny thing is that I love it :) Keeps my brain sharp. Of course, just like the guy above, I am not complaining about my job. I'm just saying how and why things take so long and how the simplest thing can and often does end up being so complex. Truth is, there really isn't any ERP Zen in the world. If you ever find it, lemme know! One thing I that I do often is to understand the user needs and find out a way to simplify them instead of just doing exactly what the user wants. Kinda like this guy.

Sun, 22nd May '05, 9:25 pm::

After this morning's fiery awakening, my plans for today pretty much changed. Instead of laundry and cleaning, I ended up just playing with the kitties. At about 6pm, I went to the Clearwater Beach to pick up Jessica from her dad's and went to this cute little restaurant called Frenchy's. The food was pretty good actually. We walked on the beach and just chilled till the sun set. I really needed some break from my apartment and thankfully the ocean was just 20-30 minutes away. And if everything works out as planned, the ocean will be just 4 minutes away from my new home.

A little bit of fireSun, 22nd May '05, 8:35 am::

So I had a small fire in my apartment just about an hour ago. It's all ok now but man was it scary. At 7:27am I heard the alarm go off and realized I hadn't put on my alarm last night because it was afterall a Sunday. Turns out the sound of the alarm was coming from the bathroom and I looked in to find the exhaust fan on fire, spewing out smoke and burning down the wall. Flames were falling on the floor and burnt the tiles. Realizing it was an electrical fire, I just turned off the main power circuit in my apartment. Next I moved all flammable stuff outta the bathroom like mats and towels.

Right after that I called 911 and gave them my address, apartment number, and the type and severity of the fire (small). Next up I took out the two kitty boxes and put Tera in one of them. Giga was no where to be found :( I opened all my apartment windows and the main door and put Tera's box outside the apartment while I kept searching for Giga.

I scraped my shoulders running around the house and have bad carpet burns on my knees as I bent down looking for Giga under the sofa, tables etc. It was less than 3 minutes before the firefighters came and I walked out of the apartment directing them where the fire was. Took about 10 minutes before they extinguished the fire fully. My apartment was so full of smoke that I could barely look in and that made me worried more and more about Giga. I couldn't find him in the living room, computer room, kitchen, or my bedroom. That just leaves the bathroom which was in flames.

At some point while the awesome Pinellas County firefighters were in my bathroom, I realized Giga was in my bed all night so he HAD to be under the blankets. I put my t-shirt over my nose and told the nice firefighter lady that I'm just gonna get my cat from my bedroom and since this wasn't a life-or-death situation, she said ok and came with me. And lo and behold! There was Giga, right where I left him... under my blanket but quite scared and crying :( I took him out and put him in his box and took both the kitty boxes all the way at the end of my building to get a breath of fresh air.

I called up Brian and my family just to let them know of the incident. The firefighters seemed to be done and came out to ask me what happened and what I did. Apparently I did exactly what they would've done themselves so I guess I get full points for having the presence of mind to do the intelligent thing. Especially after last night when I came home @ 3am and was in the bed for less than 5 hours! The building maintenance guy is already here, cleaning up the bathroom etc. Hopefully it'll all be fixed in a few hours.

This could've been something extremely bad but thankfully it turned out minor. The only thing I lost is one roll of toilet paper :) Everything else was building's property, not my problem.

Sat, 21st May '05, 12:35 am::

I just told Tamara that I think when I'm 72, this week will be "the good old days" that I will keep talking about.

Sat, 14th May '05, 11:40 pm::

My friend read the above and said "If she's cheating on her boyfriend in FRONT of him, she's messed up to begin with." Well I'd have thought so too had I not impolitely overheard their long boring conversation. Basically he was just whining about her doing this and her doing that and she kept giving valid reasons why. She sounded pretty intelligent and instead of a cheater, seemed more like someone dying to get out of a bad relationship. Anyways, I got no reason to defend her now. Not like I'm gonna see her ever again...

Yet another golden chanceSat, 14th May '05, 10:45 pm::

They say you only get a golden chance once. Don't turn away opportunity when it knocks on your door. You only get one shot! It's probably true for almost everyone but in my case, it's pretty much a recurring event. If you haven't guessed it already, I mean girls :) It's kinda funny how everyone around me just assumes that I randomly meet new girls and surprisingly I think they just might be correct. No, I haven't met anyone but I do have an interesting story to share.

I went jetskiing with Brian today and man am I bruised! I fell off the jetski 3 more times today and hurt my head, neck, arms, wrists, knees, and back. I'm a walking whine-lab. Thereafter, soaked and hungry, we went to Sweet Tomatoes. So I'm just sitting in front of Brian, eating some good food when this CUTE girl comes and sits on the table next to us. For some reason, Sweet Tomatoes caters to an amazingly high number of hot/cute girls and may God Bless their sweet little hearts for that. Now this girl wasn't alone and her boyfriend sat in front of her. Brian left to get some food and I was just sitting relishing the Garlic Focaccia bread. Her boyfriend was talking to her when she smiled at me and said 'Hey...' Ignoring how awkward this was, I said 'Hi...' back and smiled back. The boyfriend stopped mid-sentence and just gave me the evilest look in the world. I kept smiling at her till Brian came back and got back to my food.

A few minutes later, I went to the pasta bar to get some more food when she walked up next to me and started talking. All this time, her boyfriend kept staring at us like crazy. We made some small talk about the food being good at this place and went back to our individual tables. Brian noticed the little tête-à-tête and asked what's going on. I told him we just made some small talk and that it was nothing big. He was like but man she was checking you out! I laughed and said, well yeah but she IS with some guy and I just can't randomly get the number/email or something. That's not cool.

When were done eating, Brian asked me "Ok ready to leave?" and the girl looked at us and replied "Sure..." We just smiled and walked back to our car and got home.

Now I know the question on your mind is "IS THIS CHIRAG PERSON STUPID OR WHAT?! What kinda sissy boy would let this kinda opportunity go especially when the girl looked a real-life cute version of Scarlett Johansson?!!!"

I got nothing to say to that. I wish I did. I wish I could come up with a valid reason to justify why I didn't ask her for her number or figure out some way to contact her again. I mean everyone knows I'm single and sure, I would love to meet someone nice 'n good etc. but I don't know. I keep doing this over and over and over again. From the gorgeous blonde to the cute marathoner, from the spicy Bengali girl to whom I owe my success on getting the US Visa to this pretty lady strangely interested in me... I don't know why I never actually try to get close to the ones who are nice to me yet keep dating crazy psychotic retards.

I'm pretty sure a shrink would give my condition some cool medical sounding title but personally I don't know what my problem is. I know for sure that I'm not afraid of talking to a girl or afraid of rejection. I've had my share of being turned down and frankly stuff like that doesn't phase me anymore. If I want to ask someone out, I figure out a way to do that. But for some reason, I just don't feel like asking the nice ones out, only the crazies. And I know it's the same way with girls; they keep going for the bad biker guys while ignoring the nice good friendly-type guys.

Oh well, I've always been told I'm the confused-type so it's not like I HAVE to be rational all the time. I try my best to be rational and logical at my work so I have the right to be illogical and confused in my personal life. And hey, who really cares about stuff like this anyway! I got checked out by a cutie in my most ragged outfit and I got a friend to prove it :-P Life is certainly good. Oh and all this attention can only mean one thing... and that is my new healthy fruit/vegetables diet-plan is working and I'm shedding the extra weight :)

Sun, 8th May '05, 2:15 pm::

Yet another lazy Sunday afternoon. Had a long good night's sleep and just getting some work done around the house. I saw Scent of a Woman last night which was quite an amazing movie about blind Lt. Colonel Al Pacino and a young boy who was taking care of him for a weekend. After tons of Oscar nominations from The Godfather to Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino finally got the Oscar for this film. If you can, then you should see it.

Gotta get back to playing with the kitties now. I hope they adjust well to their soon-to-be-new home :)

Sat, 7th May '05, 7:25 pm::

OH MY GOD!!!!! JETSKIING IS SOOOOOOO MUCH FUN!!! Thanks a lot Brian for introducing me to the best thing I've ever done. We took both his jetskis to a fresh water lake up near Oldsmar, lowered it from a dock at this beautiful park, and off we went! After about an hour, Linda joined us too. I was on the faster jetski and after I got the hang of it, I was going above 45mph (72km/hr) most of the time. As much fun as this sport is, it requires some amazing amount of physical strength and stamina. As the jetski goes faster, the ride becomes more and more bumpy and you gotta stand up from the seat and balance with the strength of your thigh and knee muscles. After a few minutes, this becomes so painful that you just slow down and sit back on the seat.

Right now I feel like I just ran over 10 miles. We were in the lake for over two hours so it's pretty much the same as running or jogging fast. But while running too much harms your knees, soles, and bones, jetskiing is pretty much harmless unless of course, like me, you decide to turn around 180 degrees while going 40 mph and end up flying 20 feet away into the water! I fell into the water twice only and thankfully there are no alligators in the middle of the lake. Everyone says it's even more fun to jetski in the ocean because of the force of the waves so I guess we'll try that sometime too. For now, I'm gonna go relax with the kitties and maybe later chill with a friend.

Sat, 7th May '05, 1:30 pm::

The last few days have been pretty interesting. Friday, instead of working all day, my entire company, from shipping guy to production planner, from the owners to the newest employees, all went for a one-day meeting/seminar/thinktank to this place run by the St. Petersburg College. There we spent the day learning about what we do, what every person in our company does, and most importantly, what do we do as a company - where we stand in the market, what our core competencies are etc, and how to brand our company. We formed small teams and worked on similar projects for 30 minutes and made charts, designs, and collages on whiteboards. Everything was documented and by Monday, we'll be able to see it all online. All in all, a pretty fun day where a lot of the employees, including myself, learnt a lot more about the company, especially what everyone else in the company thinks about the company.

Last night at 11:45pm I was about to head to bed when Linda 'n Brian called me. We went to AppleBees and two hours later I had downed six Long Island Ice Teas (my favorite drink ever) and pretty much passed out on Brian's couch. Alcohol is good for you once in a while. I woke up @ 11am feeling pretty normal and came home to get clean.

I'm going over back to Brian's now and then we're gonna go jetskiing :) It'll be my first time ever. God I love Florida! The weather is gorgeous and every other car has a boat towing behind it. Looks like I'll 99% get the house I like and hopefully I'll move in by June end unless some major problems occur. Crossing my fingers that everything goes well, in two months you'll be seeing a lotta pics of the new chir.ag bunker, well it's more like a tiki. Yeah, that sounds corny enough for it to be cool - The chir.ag tiki :-P

Wed, 4th May '05, 7:45 am::

This 'blog's slowly turning into a rant journal because all I want to do is keep complaining. Here's my top complaint for today - How the hell can you say you "LOOOOOOOOOOVE MUSIC" if the only thing you ever listen to is punk rock?! If you only like a few genres of music, then you don't love music, you just love a few types of music. The only people who have the right to say "I love music" are the ones who can appreciate music in it's different forms from Classical to Country, from Hip-Hop to World music.

Just like you cannot say "I love all humans" and only care about your own race, you cannot say "I love music" if you can't appreciate Mozart AND Black Eyed Peas. Sure, you cannot express the appreciation in the same tone and mode for different kinds of music, but if you really love music, you cannot outright discredit entire genres like Jazz or World music (which by itself is magnitudes richer than the handful of genres one would find in the Western music scene).

In essence, if you don't have at least one moderately favorite song/artist/album in each of the following then please stop saying you love music: Alternative, Classical, Country, Hip-Hop/R&B, Jazz, Oldies, Rock, and above all World Music, which includes every Indian song ever made on top of Arabic, Asian, African, Caribbean, and South American music.

Music is a world of it's own and you cannot "LOVE THE WORLD*" and put an asterisk (*) that disclaims "Applies only to Canada."

Sun, 1st May '05, 11:00 pm::

My sister's been in the hospital for two days now. The doctors think it's an internal lower spinal-cord infection. She isn't feeling well at all but my family says it'll be ok soon. I'm very sad about this whole thing. Why does someone in my family get sick every damn day :(

Sat, 30th Apr '05, 3:45 pm::

You know what I'm sick of? Family/relatives/friends who treat me solely like a free computer help desk! Sure, I know computers and work with them and don't mind offering important advice every now and then, but if the only time you EVER call me is when you need computer help, guess what... stop calling/emailing/IM'ing me because I don't want to hear about your broken software or hardware - especially since when you bought your crappy computer, I advised you against it and asked you to go get a good Dell with 24/7/365 tech support but you chose to save $50 instead. I AM NOT YOUR FREE HELPDESK. MOVE ON! Or maybe, once in a while, drop in and ask me how my life is going or if my trip to India was good or not. I DO NOT WANT TO TEACH YOU HOW TO BACKUP YOUR DVD DRIVES FOR THE SIXTH TIME.

Let me be clear. If I am a part of your family/friendship then I will do my best to help you out in any way I can - be it computers, helping you paint your apartment, or helping you move to your new house. I am not a bad lazy person. If you need help, feel free to call me anytime. But if 100% of your communication ONLY pertains to asking for computer help and never once have you asked me about my day, family, job, kitties, or what's new in my life, then PLEASE STOP IT. I DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO YOU EVER AGAIN. And I don't care how closely related you are to me. Thanks. That will be all.

Sat, 30th Apr '05, 3:30 pm::

So I put down an offer on one of the four houses that I saw today. I instantly liked it and it had a lot of what I was looking for. Let's see what the sellers say about my offer.

Fri, 22nd Apr '05, 7:05 am::

I'm at a cybercafe in the Mumbai/Bombay Airport where access to the net is pretty cheap Rs. 60/hour ($1.25/hour). It's quite fast too - hope my dad could get a connection like this at home. It'll take some time but I'm sure they'll get it. Once my home in Calcutta/Kolkata has broadband connection then I can use something like Vonage to call them everyday at local phone charges and not international. Can't wait till that day.

So my flight was delayed as I expected. Had it been on time, I'd be in the plane already. Now I fly off at 11:20am. I checked in all my luggage and will hopefully disembark at the Newark, NJ Airport at 8:25pm tonight via Paris. Kinda sucks that I don't get to check out the Paris airport as the plane just sits on the runway for refuelling. My plane lands at 8:25pm and my connecting flight departs at 8:10pm. So unless I pull off some James Bond 007 moves and transfer from one plane to another mid-air, I'm definitely going to miss my connecting flights to Tampa via Atlanta. AirIndia here in Mumbai said that since it's their fault that the flight's being delayed, they will make sure that I get a decent accomodation and proper connecting flights to my destination.

For some stupendous reason there is no flight from Newark NJ to Tampa FL airports after 10pm tonight till 8am tomorrow. I was ready to get on a 11pm flight if available but they could only reserve me for two 8am flights. My reservation isn't confirmed either but hopefully by the time I'm in Newark tonight, they'll have it partially figured out. The journey that was supposed to take less than 24 hours is now gonna be longer than 36 hours but I'll get to sleep in a hotel overnight in NJ now.

I'll call my aunt/uncle in NJ to see if they wanna visit but I wonder if they can make it all the way to Newark airport on such a short notice. Anyways, I'll prolly be so tired after two long flights and the immigration checks etc. that I'll want to sleep till 6am tomorrow. I have my US Visa on my passport and I'm crossing my fingers that there are no problems.

I had a great time here with my family after almost three years of separation. Now I'm ready to face the new challenges at my work and career. While it's great living in US, there is one major drawback - you slowly forget everything you aspired to be; India reinforces your primal aspirations. Life in US is like slowly dissolving in a warm feel-good quicksand of acid - you don't know you're melting away molecule-by-molecule. India is a quick slap on the back that reminds you that you need to hold your breath, flap your arms, and get the hell out of the quicksand. In other words, before I left India for the US, I had a very keen interest in furthering my academic career and studying till my hair is grey. After getting a job, getting a car, finding a nice apartment, the fire within slowly dies down. One becomes lax about fulfilling the original dreams.

And just one 15-day trip to India drilled the whole academic-career thing back into my head. And not just the academic, the desire to work harder and smarter is stronger now more than ever. I want to make the systems my company needs and I want to make them smart, robust (I know, cliched), and scalable (I know, very much cliched). I want to be twice or thrice as productive as I was in the last few months. Hell I was barely productive in the last two weeks before I left for India because I was soooooooooooo stressed out about the outcome of my visa interview. But thankfully, I got the visa and now I have to accomplish what I desperately need to. There's new ideas to be thought of, there's new systems to be created, and there's a lot more effort to be put into every segment of my life.

One thing I would have regretted had I not got my visa is that I did not travel enough. I sit at home on weekends doing minor chores or idling away in front of the TV when I could be out, seeing the country. Seeing the world's not an easy thing on an Indian passport but I can damn well go around the US at least once a month. Off the top of my head, I need to go to Boston, Washington, NY, California, Vegas, and once again to Salt Lake City. I have a friend or two in each of these places that I need to visit. I think now I'll try to save up each month and look out for specials and cheap tickets online from Tampa to all of these places and god knows where else - after all there's a Fark party somewhere every weekend.

Having the thoughts about India vs. US fresh in my mind, I want to write a long 'blog entry or essay about the differences and similarities in the economy, culture, and the social environment in both the places. I know, there's probably a thousand books on this subject but I bet each of them mentions that every Indian has an elephant/cow/snake in his house and every couple in US fights till they divorce. Both are gross generalizations though hold some amount of truth. Indians do worship the cow and Americans do divorce a lot more than rest of the world. But we don't have a family cow in Kolkata and over 75% of my US friends' parents are still together or were very close till one of them passed away. What I mean by the differences are minor but relevant things on how they see the same events/things differently - divorce is a sad event in US but it's a traumatic and often life-ending event in India. Divorcees get to remarry in US but rarely in India. At restaurants, 5% is a big tip in India and 15% is a small or mediocre one in US.

And yet, the people are the same. My friends in US love me as much as the ones in India. That is something I find very hard to believe. I still can't believe my friends Vishal & Chetan stood out in the rain/sun for hours in 2000 when I first went to the US Consulate in Kolkata to get my student visa. And I still can't believe Arthur drove all the way from NJ to FL with me to help me settle down in Florida with almost all of my luggage from NJ. People amaze me sometimes.

Oh and on a closing note, CONGRATSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS to my sister for her TV Interview on Tazaa TV Kolkata last week! I don't know why she kept attributing her success and knowledge to me - I didn't teach her anything - she learnt it all herself! And yet on TV she kept saying I was her idol and taught her everything. I'd say the major credit goes to my parents and only partially to me.

Thu, 31st Mar '05, 8:40 pm::

The other side of the news:

As I was coming home, I made a slight detour into the street where Terri's Hospice is. On the way in, I read about 20 signs that had pro-life messages like "God please forgive the murderers" etc. Well no surprise there. That's what we've been seeing on the news all week. I passed the crowd and found out it was a dead-end street and had to turn around. On the way out, I was surprised to see, 15-20 signs that supported removing the feeding tube. Many of them had messages like "Bill Maher was right" and "Thank God she passed away gracefully..." Gee I wonder why I've never seen any of these people on any news coverage? They were standing just a few feet away from the pro-feeding-tube folks but like a bastard child got no attention. What are the networks like CNN/Fox/MSNBC/ABC etc. trying to prove?

Thu, 24th Mar '05, 6:45 pm::

It has been a long time since I had an awfully bad day, so I guess it was about time. Today started like any other day - wake up, play with kitties, talk to my family in India (yes, I pretty much call them every morning now). But then things took a turn for the unexplainable. Having a tough/rough day at work (when computers/systems break down) is different from having a day filled with angst and bickering.

Of course, nothing beats a day without problems but if I have to choose between computer issues and human resource issues, I'd rather have my servers crash on me every month - because I know that I can fix and at worst, replace them. Can't do much about people except shrug and move on. But I don't really understand people sometimes. I'd like to think that I'm a very logical person and I guess that's why I fail to comprehend why people behave so irrationally. Who knows maybe in their eyes, I'm the irrational one whose actions just don't add up.

So after a long day at work, I get home and find out that my kitties have absolutely trashed my living room. They somehow managed to get to the kitchen drawer I keep paper towels in and strewed tiny bits of paper towel all over my carpet, sofa, chairs, and even under the coffee table. Took me 30 minutes to clean it all up.

But how can I blame my precious kitties? It's just paper after all and they didn't do any physical damage. They haven't damaged even ONE thing in my apartment ever! Every once in a while, they'll chew on bits of paper or aluminum foil but that's about it. They splash a little water out of their bowl but only because they're clumsy. They are absolutely the sweetest kitties in the world. I think it's time I gave them some nice kitty treats :)

*Sigh* Yes, today was what I'd consider a bad day until about 5 minutes ago when Tera jumped into my lap as I was typing this 'blog entry and started kneading 'n purring. Life is good. Once in a while, the equilibrium is disturbed by external forces but things balance out soon enough. Especially when the purr machines kick into action.

Wed, 9th Mar '05, 11:45 pm::

Wow! The new Napster rocks! For months, they kept showing ads on tv about it and I thought it was just gonna be a crappy way to make money by charging too much for music. Tonight I gave it a shot and am absolutely hooked. For $10/month, I can listen and download any of the million or so songs - and that includes thousands of Indian songs, Comedy Central-type standup acts, and of course, every song I can think of! First two weeks are free and then the $10/month starts. I think the days of me looking for random music online are over. It's all soooo easy now! I think I can even burn CDs at no extra charge! God bless the new Napster :)

Fingerprint Matching 101Sun, 13th Feb '05, 12:30 pm::

I spent yet another weekend pouring over computer algorithms. This time, it's fingerprint extraction and identification. The whole topic came up from my discussion at work. I foolishly boasted that I could design a system that will let any of the 10-15 people use any of the 10-15 computers to log on to their user account by pressing any of their 10 fingers against a little Fingerprint Scanner. So in theory, if my boss's computer was busy, he could walk up to my computer, press his finger against the fingerprint scanner and it will automatically log him into the new business software that I'm gonna make.

So of course, now that I've told everyone it's possible, it's time to figure out how. The lazy computer programmer in me wants to spend a little money, buy something like the VeriFinger Standard SDK, hook it up to one of the cheap fingerprint scanners, let it do the scanning and recognition, write a small application to manage it all, and call it a day. It won't be cheap but it'll work pretty realiably. A lot of companies around the world have done it. The mathematician in me wants to do it all myself. It's not just the thrill of writing it on my own, it's the additional features that I can add on to it. So, if you are given the task of writing a software to do all of this from scratch, how would you go about it?

It's a known fact that every individual has absolutely unique fingerprints on each of their ten (or so) digits. If you want to design something that can let anyone use any finger to log on from any computer, you need (1) software + scanner on every computer, (2) a server that has the database of every person's every finger, and (3) some way of reliably matching a finger with the correct person no matter what computer they are on. So now we can break this whole operation into two phases. The first phase is the setup phase when we add each users's fingerprint to the database. And the second phase is application phase in which we recognize the user when they press their finger against a scanner. In either phase, a fingerprint has to be read, converted to a form that can be understood by a computer, and transferred to the server. Only difference is that in the first phase it is stored on the server and in the second, it is matched against every existing fingerprint on the server.

What we have are two different operations: Extraction and Identification/Recognition/Matching. Extraction is the process by which a fingerprint is read from the scanner and specific unique qualities about the fingerprint are extracted from the image. Identification/Recognition/Matching is simply looking up the server for other fingerprints with similar unique qualities. So how and what do we extract from the scan of a fingerprint? Look at your own index finger right now or if you don't have any fingers or fingerprints, look at this image. The first thing we notice and actually don't even realize is that the lines are actually ridges and valleys. The ridges are the thick bright protruding highs and the valleys are the thin dark low-lying crevasses. It is this pattern of ridges/valleys that is different for each person's each finger.

The first thought that comes to mind is that, if this pattern is different for everyone, just store a picture of their fingerprint and match it up against the database. Storing a picture to a database is easy. But matching up a picture of a fingerprint against a database is not. How do you match? Based on what? One idea is to just overlay the scanned fingerprint on to each of the 1000 fingerprints in the database and compare each pixel - if 95% of the pixels match, we have a match. That is how the older fingerprint matching systems worked. It works decently in identifying criminals, especially if you can wait 2 hours for it to match with 1000 fingerprints. But it's not fast enough for instant identification and poses a lot of problems, like what happens if your finger is positioned slightly to the left and/or at a 5% degree angle. It wouldn't even match against your own finger with 5% margin of error. So people have moved from the picture (raster) matching techniques on to the marker (vector) matching.

Instead of matching the whole fingerprint against 1000 others, why not extract unique characteristics of each finger and store them. This is called Minutiae Matching. Look at your finger again. If you notice carefully, you can identify many types of markers where ridges end, ridges bifurcate into two ridges, three ridges form a delta etc. If we can somehow chart this information like a graph or a map, then we can store this in a database much more easily. The information stored in the database, if read in English would seem something like this - "At the center of the fingerprint is a 'delta' and 5mm away on the right is a 'bifurcation.' 7mm below the bifurcation is an 'island' and 3mm to left of the island is another bifurcation." If this information is stored in the database for my right index finger, then when I press my right index finger against a scanner, the software asks the server to match my finger against all others who have a delta near a bifurcation and must have an island. This instantly narrows down the search only to those fingers which have deltas, islands, and bifurcations. Then it looks to see if they are positioned similar to my finger.

So now the extraction problem is just to find where the ridges end, bifurcate, or form deltas and map them on a graph. It's like saying plot Singapore, Mexico City, and Cape Town on a map. Not very difficult when you look at the big picture. The algorithm to extract markers looks at every pixel and it's neighborhood pixels. If they satisfy some special characteristics then it assigns it a marker type (delta, island etc.) and stores it in the database, relative to the position of other markers on the same finger.

Now comes the hard part - matching a finger's markers against that of the 10,000 in the database. If you think about it, it's actually an age-old problem that the ancient Greeks like Ptolemy busied themselves with - finding constellations. You must've heard of the constellation Ursa Major (The Big Dipper) or my favorite Ursa Minor (The Little Dipper). Astronomers and astrologers for centuries have stood under the night sky and identified tons of constellations simply by looking up and observing. They didn't need no fancy computers or telescopes to find The Libra in the night sky. We humans have built-in pattern-matching and pattern-recognition abilities that seem so natural to us but it is near impossible to replicate these on a computer.

Given a night sky full of stars, how do you find a constellation you are looking for? You can start by looking for small groups within the constellation. Maybe two of the stars in the constellation you are looking for, are really close to each other. So scan the whole sky for two stars very close to each other. If you find such a pair of stars then look for further signs - like is there a third star directly above or below one of them but at twice the distance. Stuff like this is what we humans are really REALLY good at. You don't even realize that you are performing one of the most difficult patterm-recognition operations right now - reading text from a computer screen. After all, OCR is big business. So is recognizing sounds (especially voice), handwriting, images, and videos - things that we so easily discern and detect.

Anyways, back to recognizing fingerprints. After the extraction process, the software will have to form a constellation with all the markings on the fingerprint. In the setup phase, this is stored on the server and in the matching phase this is what is searched for in the server. Searching a constellation of markers within each of the 1000 fingerprints in the database can be done in the following way. One of the things we need to realize is that due to the randomness of the physical act of positioning a finger on a scanner, you will almost never get two exact readings. However, the marker data in the middle of the finger will be much more accurately readable than the markings on the fringes or towards the sides of the finger. So give more importance to a bifurcation in the middle of the finger than an island at the far left - after all, it could be just a normal fully-connected ridge but the person might not have pressed the finger fully on the scanner.

My extraction method would be to start towards the middle, spiral out in a clockwise direction and note the position of every marker. Note the distance between each marker and nearby ones and store it in a cyclic data format. Now search the database for only those fingers which have similar markings in the center as there is a very high probability that center readings are accurate. Then narrow down the list to only those with similar markings near the immediate area surrounding the center. Keep narrowing down the search till you have at most 5-10 fingerprints. Then just cycle through each of them and compare each of them to the reading. Leave some margin for error, take into account the rotation and position of the markers and we should have a pretty damn reliable match. If you don't account for rotation or slight movement in position, you will almost always get an incorrect reading.

Note that throughout this discussion, we have concentrated mostly on the 1:N and not the 1:1 matching. 1:N matching means that one fingerprint is compared against N (10 or 10,000 or 10 million) fingerprints to identify the person. This is mainly used for easy identification, say to let people into a Government building. 1:1 matching is used for secure authentication - that is to verify that a person really is who they say they are, say to allow you access to your own safety deposit box in your bank. The 1:N method is geared towards faster searching and the 1:1 method is geared towards more reliable matching. It is quite difficult to design an algorithm that performs equally well in both situations for you can either do it fast or do it accurately, rarely both.

Anyways, I'm still writing algorithm for the pre-extraction phase right now. Before you extract markers, you gotta convert the true-color ridges and valleys to two color lines and gaps. Using a very simple algorithm, this is what I've come up with so far. In the next few days, I should get my own fingerprint reader and then I'll improve upon this code and do more cool things with it :) If I'm successful, then maybe I'll open-source the code for scanner and recognition and make it easy for others to use it in their applications. While I'm almost positive I won't be able to make it as good as these guys, if I make it sufficiently workable, it'll certainly make them review their pricing. These people have been doing this for years and have received national awards so I don't think I'm gonna be much of a competition (neither do I care to be). After all, I've only known about fingerprint techniques for less than 24 hours now :) But it seems like the whole scientific world has been at it for ages.

I still dunno what/how I'm gonna be setting this up for my work but all I know is that I really want to. Good thing is that I can add this feature to my work software anytime so even if it takes me months that's perfectly fine. Let's see what happens first once I have a fingerprint scanner sitting on my desk.

Solving World's Greatest Mathematical ProblemsSun, 6th Feb '05, 3:05 pm::

So I spent this entire weekend trying to discover the world's first 30-digit Keith Number with no luck. It's kinda like Fibonacci Numbers. Basically, take any number and write out it's digits. Say we pick the number "123" and then write out 1,2,3. Now add all the digits up and put the sum at the end of the list. 1+2+3 = 6, so now the new list is 1,2,3,6. Now drop the first number and add the rest and put it at the end of the list again. Drop "1" and add 2+3+6 = 11. So now we have 2,3,6,11. Of course, you can keep doing this till infinity. Now the fun part happens when you pick a number like 197. Let's see: 1,9,7. Then 1+9+7 = 17. So we get 1,9,7,17. Dropping "1" and adding the rest we get 9+7+17 = 33. Drop 9 and adding 7+17+33, we get 57. Then next we get 17+33+57 = 107. Next we get 33+57+107 = 197 -> The same number we started with!

So if we get the same number as we started with, then it is a Keith Number. There are only two 3-digit Keith Numbers - 197 and 742. There are six 2-digit KNs - 14, 19, 28, 47, 61, 75. Try it for 47 -> 4,7,11,18,29,47! But it doesn't work for any other numbers. 48 -> 4,8,12,20,32,52... No "48" in this list. A few 4-digit KNs are: 1104, 1537, 2208, 2580 etc.

Keith Numbers are very rare and only about 90 of them are known. The largest known Keith Number is 988242310393860390066911414 (27-digits long). We don't even know if there are infinitely many Keith Numbers (though it seems so). There is no award or anything for finding new large Keith Numbers but there is a huge prize (and worldwide glory) for finding out a simple method for generating all Keith Numbers easily. Basically, the problem of finding Keith Numbers can be likened to solving the Knapsack Problem. Of course, if you solve the Knapsack Problem with a simple method, then you've just discovered a method for solving the P=NP problem which has a $1million award from Clay Mathematics Institute.

While I don't understand the whole P=NP problem as clearly as I want, I do understand it enough to be amazed by it. The biggest mystery in computer science right now is whether P is equal to NP or not. So what is P and NP? First of all, Computer Science (my primary major in college) is not about how to make PowerPoint presentations or write financial database software for the stock exchange. In the simplest terms, Computer Science is very much like pure Mathematics - studying problems and solving them using simple equations. Of course, if it was just solving math problems, then it would be called Math and not CompSci.

Computer Science normally deals with a different type of problems, that which involve a lot of calculation and especially estimating the time it takes to calculate. E.g., if someone gives you 10 different business cards, how do you sort them alphabetically by a person's name? Well one simple way is to put all the cards on a table and go through the list and pick out the ones that begin with A, then B, then C till you are done. You basically went through a list of 10 cards, 26 times (A to Z - 26 letters). Of course, you'd be a lot less than that, since everytime you pick a card, there's one less left in the pile. Anyways, this is a very simple sorting algorithm. Computer Science deals with sorting algorithms a lot.

Another thing is searching. If someone gives you 10 business cards and says find "Chirag Mehta." Well, you'll have to go through 10 cards at most to find mine. If it's a one-time thing then it's fine but if you often have to find a business card from a bunch of business cards, you're much better off alphabetizing them once, so that next time someone asks for "Steve Buscemi", you can directly jump to the "S" pile instead of going through all the cards. Computer Science also deals with searching and inventing better methods to find stuff from a bunch of stuff. This is why people love Google so much - it makes easy to find stuff, using their own special search methods. You just type in "flying pigs" and it looks through billions upon billions of documents to find pages which have the phrase "flying pigs" in it and returns those pages within milliseconds. Amazing isn't it!

So what does all of this have to do with P=NP problem and the million-dollar award? Well, after decades of research, computer scientists have found out that there are some problems like searching, sorting etc. whose answers can be solved within a fixed amount of time - seconds, hours, days, centuries whatever. Basically, if someone tells you to find "Chirag Mehta" from 1000 business cards, and you can read 10 a minute, it'll take you 100 minutes at most to find the card. If it was 1000 billion cards, it would take you 100 billion minutes. So the problem of searching has a fixed execution time and it can be very accurately estimated. Same goes with sorting.

However, there are tons of other problems out there, where we can't even estimate how long it's going to take to solve the problem, let alone solve the problem itself. For example, let's look at the Travelling Salesman Problem. Suppose you have to go on a business trip to 3 cities and you can go from any city to any city, what is the cheapest round-trip route that visits each city once and returns to your home city? In other words, if you live in Mumbai, and have to go to London, Beijing, and Los Angeles, what is the cheapest round-trip route that will visit each city once and end up at Mumbai? Of course, you'd need a list of all the airfares, say Mumbai to London (or back) = $100, Mumbai to Beijing = $50, Mumbai to Los Angeles = $200, London to Beijing = $50, London to Los Angeles = $100, Beijing to Los Angeles = $150. Let's assume the reverse fare is same in all the cases, so London to Mumbai equals Mumbai to London equals $100. Currently there is no way accurately find the cheapest route without going through all the combinations (Mumbai-London-Beijing-LA-Mumbai, Mumbai-Beijing-LA-London-Mumbai, Mumbai-LA-London-Beijing-Mumbai etc.)

So you think what's the big deal about having a simple computer go through all the 20-25 combinations and finding the best? Actually no big deal, until you increase the cities from 5 to 50. Or 50 to 5000. Then even the largest supercomputers in the world combined would take centuries to find the solution. Basically, there exists no way to predetermine how long it will take to solve the travelling salesman problem for x cities. We can't say if x = 5, then it'll take 5 seconds and if x = 10, it'll take 10 seconds. We can't even say if x = 5, then it'll take 25 seconds and if x = 10, it will take 100 seconds. Truth is, we don't know. Of course, if you are British Airways, you do want to know, otherwise how else are you going to schedule the flight route of 500 airplanes around 200 airports around the world? Even though the perfect solution doesn't exist, computers can do a pretty good job of going through a billion or so combinations and finding out the best routes. Yes, they cannot go through all the possible combinations, but in practical cases, going through a few million combinations results is pretty good, say as opposed to the 1950s when all the flight pattern/routing was done manually! Without the special flight-routing computers, the whole airline industry would be in chaos because nobody would be able to schedule flights between cities where there is most demand, most people, highest airfare etc.

While the airlines are using computers to plan flight routes, they are doing it as best as they possibly can, not absolutely the best. It's like me going out and asking 100 girls on a date and deciding to marry the one I think is the best. This doesn't mean she is "the one" because I did not ask the other 3 billion girls. It just means she's the best of the ones I asked. Similarly, airlines plan their flights out of the 10 billion combinations instead of the 10000000 trillion possible options. Still 10 billion is better than 100,000. And yet, it is not as good as 10000000 trillion. So there is absolutely a LOT of room for improvement.

Another similar problem called the Bin-Packing Problem, which is closely related to the Cookie-Cutter Problem. If you have 10 items and you need to pack them into 3 bins, such that no bin weighs more than 100lbs, what is the best way to do it? Of course, trial-and-error might work with 10 items and 3 bins, but what if you are the world's largest steel manufacturing company and want to make sure that you can ship the most amount of steel bars of different sizes into trucks while never putting more than 10 tons per truck and of course not overflowing any truck's container. Or if you are my mom and are making cookies. You make a big rectangle piece of dough and then use a cutter to cut fancy cookie shapes. How do you make sure you use as much of the dough as possible and not waste any? Or if you are the world's biggest cookie company and have the same problem. How do you solve it?

Turns out, there is no exact "optimal" way to solve this problem in a fixed or predictable amount of time. In other words, there is no polynomial time method to solve any of these problems. And now comes the beauty of computer science -> all of these problems, from finding Keith Numbers to Knapsack Problem, to Travelling Salesman Problem to Cookie-Cutter Problem can all be solved if even one of them is solved! Oh and the game of Minesweeper also falls into this list. So if you can find a perfect way to beat Minesweeper each time, guess what... you've just solved the world's greatest computer science problem and would most likely get the $1mllion award.

Well I've still not explained what P=NP really means. P means that the problem is easy to solve. Easy doesn't mean you can do it in your head. Easy means it is possible to do it in a fixed time, like searching, sorting etc. NP means that a solution to a problem is easy to verify. That is, if someone gives you a Keith Number, you can easily check in a specific amount of time whether it is a Keith Number or not. Or whether the flight-route from Mumbai-London-Los-Angeles-Beijing-Mumbai covers all the 3 cities and starts/ends at Mumbai. So what we don't know, is whether problems that are easy to verify can be solved easily or not. That is whether NP = P. Currently there is no known method for solving any of the problems I stated above in a fixed/predetermined amount of time.

Most scientists believe that P is not equal to NP and a lot of them believe that given the current state of knowledge in computer science and mathematics, we can't really answer this question. We need to learn a lot more and look at this P=NP problem from the different angle in order to solve it. Maybe that's where computers that work using Quantum Mechanics could help. I don't know much about Quantum Computing so I guess that I can take care of next weekend :)

Hope you enjoyed my little computer science introduction course. Oh and according to my calculations, looking for a 30-digit Keith Number involves going through about 10^30 (10 followed by 30 zeroes) numbers. Currently, I can verify over a hundred 30-digit numbers per second, about 10 million a day. That's 10^7. So it will take me 10^30/10^7 = 10^23 days to find all the 30-digit Keith Numbers. Suppose a million people join me in finding the 30-digit KNs, and 1 million computers run my software, it'll still take 10^23/10^7 = 10^16 days. Which is about twice the age of the Universe! Of course, if we involve all the 1 billion computers on this planet, and instead of doing 10 million a day, find a way to speed it up to 100 billion a day on each computer, then it'll take 10^30/10^11/10^9 = 10^10 days, which is still approximately 27 million years.

So how the hell am I gonna find a 30-digit Keith Number (if it even exists)? By pure luck :) My program just randomly generates 30 digit numbers and tests to see if they are KN or not. It has gone through about 8 million 30-digit numbers already. Of course that's like looking into a bucket of seawater from the Florida coast order to find the pearl necklace you threw into the Indian Ocean a million years ago. There's a VERY high probability that you won't find anything, but hey... who knows, you just might!

Oh and also I think there's more chance of me winning the World's Largest Powerball Lottery than finding a 30-digit Keith Number, even though I haven't even purchased a lottery ticket! But I guess it's good for my computer since it's getting some good exercise now :)

Walt Disney Travel Company Sucks Monkey AssWed, 2nd Feb '05, 7:15 pm::

After my friends Art 'n Michele left Florida in mid January, I thought my problems with Disney were over. Turns out, I couldn't be more wrong. I said it once and I would like to repeat this again: Walt Disney Travel Company Sucks Monkey Ass! They have absolutely the WORST customer service that I've experienced in US ever. Everytime I've talked to them, they have been completely arrogant, extremely uncooperative, and overall a bunch of jerks.

Basically, they billed me $61 more than they should have and are telling me to wait 2 months to get my money back! The only way I can get my money back sooner is if I return the original documentation they sent me. Of course, once I do that, I no longer have any proof that I should be getting my $61. Other than trying to sue them, the only sane thing I can do is just wait for 2 months. THIS is what happens when a company grows too big - they can afford to treat their customers like crap and actually get away with it.

I didn't go into the details of the whole nightmare before, but basically, I booked my Disney tickets + hotel via them around Jan 5-7th. It was gonna cost me $520-something. An absolutely horrible woman from the company called me a few days later to tell me that the hotel I had booked and paid for was overbooked and they were cancelling my reservation. After going through a LOT of convincing that I really needed a hotel, she finally moved my reservation to a hotel outside of Disney, that turned out to be awful. But fine, I didn't care. I'm gonna go have fun with my friends.

The lady told me my tickets will be at Disney when I get there. When we got to Magic Kingdom in Disney, of course my tickets weren't there. They were at the hotel where we were gonna sleep at night! Took us about 45 minutes of convincing the guys at the Disney entrance to let us in. They called the hotel, got some confirmation numbers, and finally gave us our tickets. Once inside Disney, we had a great time.

But of course, the hotel was run by a bunch of total retards. When we got to our hotel, they did not have our tickets to Disney for the next day. The room was stinky, the beds were uncomfortable, but whatever, I was with friends and even though it was waaaay overpriced, I didn't care. I was told that they will locate my Disney tickets by morning. I'm sure you can already guess that by morning, the tickets were still missing. I went to the hotel reservation desk and turns out, the genius lady who gave the ticket confirmation number to Disney the day before, decided to TEAR MY NEXT DAY'S TICKETS! According to her, now that the package was opened, it had to be destroyed by their policy. But she assured us to no extent, that our tickets could now be instantly issued at Disney. I didn't trust her at all, but well we had no choice.

After arriving at Epcot Center on Jan 16th (it was FREEZING cold that day), it came to me as no surprise that my tickets weren't there at Disney and they could not seem to re-issue them. I was not in their database. Well at least the lady at the counter from Casablanca, Morocco was very nice and helpful. So I think me and my friends waited for over an hour to get our tickets and finally get in. Well, so we finally got in and pretty much enjoyed the rest of the day.

My friends came here all the way from New Jersey and the whole point of the vacation was that we wanted to spend some time together and have fun. During the course of the whole mayhem, I did not whine or freak out about the absolute lack of service. I swear anyone in my position would have created a major scene. But once again, I was with friends and we were there to enjoy and not fight.

So as I stated above, after my friends left, I thought, phew, the nightmare with Disneyi s over, until an hour ago when I got my credit card statement by email. Turns out, Walt Disney Travel Company (which is a part of Disney) charged me $61 more than they should. They charged me for the original hotel instead of the hell hole they put us in. Now, they are not going to return me my own money for a whole month more.

I could technically dispute the charge on my credit card and make it harder on their part or I can just wait for a month or two till they return my money. I somehow think I have a lot better things to do than screw with them anymore. I'm sure if I had nothing to do all day, I'd fight with them and teach them a lesson but now I'm just so sick of them, I don't wanna deal with them anymore. I've already forgotten about my money so if they ever pay me back, it'll be like I found money in one of my old coat pockets. Though $61 can't even pay for my weekly grocery bills these days. Ha!

Sun, 30th Jan '05, 3:20 pm::

A very surprising (and unexpected) congratulations to my boss Eric and his wife Amy for the birth of their beautiful daughter: Katie Dann!!! I hope you read this Eric and realize how much everyone in our small but loving company cares about you. On a slightly serious note, the baby was born about 45 days prematurely but thankfully Amy and the baby are both in a healthy condition. Katie's not on a respirator and is breathing well on her own. Hopefully within a week, the hospital will let them bring the baby home.

On a less personal but more business front, I was supposed to leave for Texas on Monday night with Eric and Scott for an early Tuesday morning business meeting with a big company. In fact, until this past Tuesday, I wasn't even supposed to go because it was going to be mainly a management + branding sales meeting. Of course, now Eric will 99% not go and Scott & I will be throwing the sales pitch. Eric's dad might come with us but it won't be the same. The thing is, almost everyone in our company was working non-stop for a month to prepare for this meeting and now the main person, Eric, is probably not gonna go.

This means, a lot more work for me and Scott. Since I designed the presentation and structured the marketing/sales strategy, I guess I'll be doing a lot of the talking. Of course, I will try my best and all that jazz, however, it's hard to replace my boss's 15-20 years of chemical and cosmetic manufacturing experience with my big fancy words. I mean, it's physically impossible to learn in 20 hours the knowledge someone has accumulated in over a decade. Life's not a Matt Damon movie.

Work and LifeFri, 21st Jan '05, 10:25 pm::

My eye hurts a bit now but I'll survive. So anyways, I was reading Paul Graham's article What You'll Wish You'd Known from this Slashdot post and it got me thinking. Almost everyone I know has a life that's so closely related to their work. After all, most people spend 8-10 hours a day working. There's so many theories about the 'work' part of your life. Don't work so much that you don't enjoy your life. Don't give up on your ambitions (meaning spend all your free time working). Fight Club quote: "You are not your job. You are not the money in your bank account." And yet, all people talk about is where do you work? What do you do? Are you getting a promotion?

So where exactly does your 'work' fit into your 'life'? Of course, almost everyone will agree that your job is not your life. There's a lot to life than just working all the time. But think back to high-school, when everything you did was supposed to be towards your future job/business. We are taught from birth that work is work, play is play and work basically sucks. Unless you get a glamorous job, you're basically screwed. But is work really necessary? Do we really HAVE to work? There's some that say, we should abolish work. And then there's some that say, once we have progressed far enough, we can let the robots do the work. Well till we get to that stage, somebody's gotta clean the restrooms and somebody's gotta design the new system that'll run the manufacturing process. You gotta work to pay the bills. That's the reason why 99% of the people probably work.

And yet, at some point in everyone's life, they are told by someone wiser and older, that you gotta find what you love to do and find a way to make money out of it. I'm sure the guy who re-issues my driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles was told by his high-school counsellor that he must look deep within himself to find what he loves. And I'm even more sure that 're-issue driver's license' wasn't in his list. So I think most people just fall into the jobs they have, most of the times, not by choice but by the need. But it's those 1% that end up launching probes to Mars and Saturn's moon Titan, and building the world's tallest bridges. Of course, to love your job, you don't necessarily have to do something heroic, you could just as well be a happy tax accountant who loves helping out her clients.

Uh so what's my point? My point is, if you think you have a good job that you sincerely look forward to every morning, then you are by far amongst the luckiest people on this planet because hating something you do for 8 hours a day, 300+ days a year is not a good way to live. I, for one, am lucky as hell to have a job I love. But of course, there's strict rules about having a job you love. Do not under ANY circumstances, bring it home with you. Work is work, home is home, and the twain shall never meet. Ya, I think that's it from me. I should really go to bed. My eye still hurts...

Tue, 18th Jan '05, 11:10 pm::

Wow so much to say. First of all, my mother had a successful surgery to remove the metal-plate from her arm. She is healing well now. It was a year ago yesterday that Keval got into the accident in Goa. One year in coma... And what's amazing and heart-rendering is how much his parents are doing for him.

So on Thursday Jan 13th, my friends Arthur and Michele flew in from Jersey to Tampa. I waited at the airport, eating some good TGIFriday's when they landed. I got a call from Jessica that she was in O'Briens with her friend Terasita. So I took Arthur and Michele directly to the pub. Had a few drinks and then got back home to introduce them to my awesome kitties.

Woke up late next morning and went to Olive Garden for lunch. Next up, the Salvador Dali museum, followed by the Skyway Bridge. Had dinner at the Original Hooters later that night and went to bed early because we had to leave early for Disney the next morning.

Drove to Orlando the next morning and was at the doorsteps of Disneyworld's Magic Kingdom. After some ticket/reservation troubles, we went in. It was awesome! We took a lot of pictures and even one of me with Donald Duck :) Went on tons of rides and rollercoasters. Michele was chicken so she barely went on any fast rides. Arthur and I basically went on everything Magic Kingdom had to offer.

We got a decent 3 bed apartment for the night and didn't get to sleep much since we had to leave early for Epcot the next morning. Again at Epcot, we had some annoying ticket problems. Take my advice: DO NOT BOOK your Disney tickets through www.disney.com or their Walk Disney Travel Company. They SUCK monkey rumps!

So Epcot was a lot of fun too. We went on Test Track and Mission Space early on. Then spent some time at The Living Sea watching Dolphins poop and do stunts underwater. Next up, the World Showcase. Basically Disney has created 10+ countries themed sections that people can walk through to see what life is like in those countries. From Canada to Morocco they have a wide selection. I was kinda mad India is not there. But anyways, had a lot of fun touring that. Best of all was the Acrobats show in 'China' with 5-12 year old little kids jumping on top of each other and doing some amazing stunts. Loved every minute of it and glad that we didn't miss it.

After Epcot, we drove home and just sat in my living room, talking and watching stuff on TV. At 4am, I dropped them off at the Tampa airport. Work on Monday was a big blur to me since I was so exhausted. All in all, it was a great mini-vacation - my second in two weeks! And it was with two people I care so much about.

Anyways, I'm gonna head off to bed now. Long day ahead tomorrow. Lotsa cool things at work to do.

Wed, 12th Jan '05, 9:55 pm::

My mom is undergoing an operation to remove a metal-plate from her arm. She broke her arm last month and tonight is when the doctors remove the supporting metal plate. Hopefully the bone will have healed by now. I'm hoping she gets all well in a short time.

Anyways, went to University of Tampa tonight to see my coworker/friend Scott's advertisement submission to the Addy Awards: The MagicTan Gift Box. We're all hoping he wins :) Just as I was about to leave, I ran into my friends Heather and Michael. Chilled at the show with them for a while and got back home. Kinda tired now. Should go to bed soon.

Sat, 8th Jan '05, 1:50 pm::

I can't stop thinking about the new system I'm making at my work. It's gonna be awesome. I love my job :)

Sun, 26th Dec '04, 4:25 pm::

Talk about mission impossible. I just gave both of my kitties their first bath ever. They thought that I was trying to drown them and kept screaming and scratching as if calling for help. I kinda felt sad for them. But now, I have two nice-smelling clean kitties! So all is good :)

Last night was pretty good. Went to dinner with Brian and Linda. Then saw Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey. I liked the movie a lot. Then went to 420 Park Place Grill 'n Tavern with both of them to meet my friend Jessica and her sister Emily. Played pool, had a few drinks, you know, the typical stuff. Came home late night and went to bed. Woke up late today but did a lot of cleaning. Still have to do my laundry and a lil work. Life's good.

Sat, 27th Nov '04, 7:50 pm::

So today I saw a cute little beautiful townhouse in Clearwater, about 6 miles north of where I currently live. If things work out, I will buy it as soon as mid-December... I don't want to say anything more till I have some more information.

Tue, 23rd Nov '04, 9:40 pm::

You know nothing much happens in my life when I don't 'blog. Lately it's been the same routine. Wake up, go to work, come home, play with Giga and Tera, go to bed, wake up in the middle of the night because Tera is purring RIGHT NEXT TO MY EARS, try to sleep, wake up again because Giga is licking my hands, try to sleep, rinse, repeat. But no matter what, I love it. It's been so long since I was genuinely so happy. I look forward to coming home every single day.

Anyways, last night was pretty good. My friend Jessica was going to hit the bars in Tampa with her friend Dana from Kentucky. I drove up to O'Briens and waited as the crowd slowly poured in. Not a lot of casual drinkers on a Monday night - mostly the addicts stroll in ;) Anyways, we just talked about random stuff and had drinks for hours and hours. At two we decided it was time to eat something. Went to IHop next doors and had some good midnight snack. I went to bed around 3am. Woke up at 6am with the worst headache ever! I don't think it was the three Long-Island Ice-Teas though. It was just the total lack of sleep.

So all day at work I was walking around like a zombie. I got home today at 5:30pm and went straight to bed. I took a 4 hour nap and here I am now. My whole sleep pattern is so foobared. It's hard to party and be regular at the same time... It's either I grow up and be all matured and hit the bed exact time every night OR I just live my life and go out and do stuff whenever the opportunity presents itself. Tomorrow, work ends at 12pm for Thanksgiving Vacation and hopefully the coworkers and yours truly are going to sneak into multiple movies ;) Things are great overall. I don't remember last time I was so relaxed about life in general.

Only one major news - I'm making this REALLLLLLY big software for my work starting January. It will take me 6-9 months just to write the basic modules. However, once it's in place, it'll make a BIGGGGG difference to how we operate on a day-to-day basis. There's a lot of cool things I've planned for this software. Let's see if I can create all the features... And that's the news from St. Petersburg, Florida. Back to you Alex.

Tue, 16th Nov '04, 7:05 pm::

Work is going pretty good. One of my major projects is complete and today everyone started using the system I made. I am very excited about it - our new Inventory system. There are so many things I want to add to it and with time, I will. Had a long talk with my boss today about what my next few projects will be. I have a lot of work coming my way so I'll be busy for a while. But it's all good - I love my job.

Anyways I am quiet tired. I'll go to bed early tonight... Tomorrow is another long day...

Sat, 30th Oct '04, 12:15 pm::

Here I am in Virginia with my cuzin Purvi and her fiance Allen. Tomorrow is the big race. My friend Vishal emailed me to wish me best of luck. I miss him so much. This is your time to send me the last few best of luck wishes :)

Cool Stuff: If you wish to track my progress during the race, go to Marathon Tracking Page, enter your email, make up a password, and then enter my name: Mehta / Chirag. Then enter your email address (or if you're within US, your cellphone number) and you will be sent a message everytime I cross a timing point - about every 3miles/5kms. You can go to the tracking page right now to set it up and make sure you check the 'Test Now' box to give the system a test run.

Plans for today: Not much. Just gonna go to the Marathon Center (or whatever it's called) to pickup my runner's packet. Lotsa rest and some healthy food later in the night. That's about it. It feels good to be here, seeing Purvi after a while. Especially after the sad sad news my dad gave me last night. My great-grandmother passed away yesterday in Balasinor (my village-town) in Gujarat, India. She lived a very properous happy long life and as per the Indian custom, when someone lives such a fruitful life and passes away, instead of mourning their death, we celebrate their live achievements.

Last time I saw her was over two years ago. Everytime she would see me, she'd mention how she thinks of me as the most successful and talented person in our entire family. According to her, I was the incarnation of alpha-male with every good quality that a person could have. I regret the fact that I haven't called her in a long time and now it's too late. But she lived a long eventful life and saw her great-grand child, Nikita, get married to a wonderful man, Mehul. And that's what makes me smile everytime I think about her. I wish I can be so lucky so as to see my great-grandkids settle down.

I gotta take a shower now and get some food. Then we're off to get our packets :) I am sooooooooo excited right now. And come on, click on the little 'contact' button on the left and send me an email already!

Fri, 29th Oct '04, 12:17 pm::

Here's something I posted on Fark:

When I turned 10, I thought I was the God of Basic
When I turned 12, I thought I had to learn DBase III Plus
When I turned 14, I knew C and Pascal is what I need
When I turned 16, I wanted to make Win32 GUI Apps in Visual FoxPro, VB, and C++
When I turned 18, I realized I had to learn sockets, TCP/IP, APIs
When I turned 20, I felt dumb for not knowing Python, Perl, PHP
When I turned 22, I felt sad that I knew nothing about Oracle, DB/2, TCL, LISP, Compilers
When I turned 24, I cried for I knew nothing about Linux Programming, Handheld coding, .Net/Mono, Kernel compiles.

And just now I realized that I spent a lot of time learning about computers and not enough time learning about girls.

Thu, 28th Oct '04, 7:00 am::

I'm so nervous about the marathon. It's in 3 days!!!!!! Funny thing is every little feeling in my feet is amplified and intensified now. This morning when I woke up I felt like my legs were made of solid stone.

Fri, 22nd Oct '04, 7:15 pm::

Had a real long day at work. But loved every minute. The big project I've been working on is nearing completion. I am so excited about it's implementation. It's definitely gonna change the way we do business in our company. For now, I'm really tired and going to bed soon probably.

Fri, 15th Oct '04, 12:45 pm::

Work going on as usual. I'm soooooooooo sleepy. And tired. And hungry. Thankfully the weekend is just 4 hours away :) Tomorrow I gotta run 12 miles. I'm kinda nervous about it. Though I ran 21 last week, 12 is still a long way to go.

Wed, 6th Oct '04, 8:45 pm::

No matter what good things I say about my job, something happens right after that tops it all. So after taking me to lunch for my birthday, today my boss and buddies Brian 'n Scott at work, decided to take me out to dinner. We went to this cute little restaurant in downtown St. Petes near the ocean-front. It was a British-India style restaurant with a wide variety of dishes on the menu. For me, it was Chana Masala. For them it was Chicken Tikka, Pasta, Salad, and Chicken Burger. We talked and chilled for about two hours and topped it off with yummy deserts - Chocolate Volcano for me :)

One of the reasons I love this job is not just the atmosphere but the real work itself. Right now I have to setup our inventory with barcodes. So here's the plan. We purchased Symbol PPT 8846 barcode scanner. It's runs WinCE 4.1 on Pocket PC x86 hardware. This tiny little device has a built in scanner, wireless ethernet card, and support for Microsoft .Net Compact Framework. It used to be that if anyone wanted to program devices like barcode scanners, remote controls etc., they would need to interface directly at the low hardware levels with the devices. Not so anymore. I can write full-fledged Visual Basic.Net or Visual C# applications that will run in the tiny 32mb ram scanner and perform all the required functions smoothly.

So basically I'm gonna have to program it in VB.Net to talk to our internal web server running WAMP (Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP) over 802.11b network using XML. Here's what will happen: Anytime the scanner scans a barcode, it is sent to the web server that process the input and sends back an XML document which will be parsed by my VB.Net software and displayed to the user for further input. So basically, I can walk around with the device and scan random barcodes of all our inventory and simply enter the physical quantity of stock and all the computer systems will be automatically updated. This is by far one of the coolest things I've ever worked with. I can barely sleep at night because I'm thinking about what I want to program the next morning. Eight hours of coding a day is simply not enough. I want more!

Fri, 24th Sep '04, 9:05 pm::

I have never been this scared about running. I didn't run for a month due to hurricanes, heat, rains, and my injured right foot. Then on Monday I ran 1.5 miles. Wednesday almost 3 miles. And last night I ran 6 miles non-stop. But tomorrow is the real challenge - 18 miles! I don't know if I can do it but truth is, I HAVE to do it. No matter what I must keep running till I finish 18 miles. If I don't, I'll never be ready for the marathon's 26.1 miles. I'm going to bed soon tonight so that I can be up and running by 6am.

Sat, 18th Sep '04, 9:45 am::

I wanted to sleep more but for some reason I couldn't. I have become so accustomed to waking up early on weekdays that I can't sleep till noon on weekends. Anyways, it's been a long time since I had a little session of retrospection and introspection.

So what's going on with my life, you ask eh? Well my job's going great. I finished a major project last week and started working on another huge project this week. While I can't say too much, I can say it's basically the new Inventory System for my company that will handle purchasing, sales, formulation, batching and production. The frontend is MS Access and backend is MySQL. I know every other programmer out there is laughing at me for writing code in Access but truth is, if you saw how smooth, secure, and efficient my code is, you'd change your views about Access. Oh well, for me the only thing that matters is whether my company will benefit from my system or not. And from the looks of it, it will.

Something else that I've miserably put off for a long time is running - practicing for the marathon. I injured my foot playing soccer last week and can barely walk without limping :( As a result, months of training have come down to a screeching halt right now. The marathon is less than 45 days away and I can barely run a minute without crying out in pain. I really REALLY hope my foot gets better soon or else I'll be walking the marathon instead of running it. But something tells me it'll all be good. I have my hopes all set on finishing the marathon and you bet I will! Also, no more soccer for me. Don't wanna get any more hurt. Thankfully my boss and his brother are cool with my decision. They rock!

Today I'm driving up to Orlando to meet the guy that made Dilly. He's gonna explain to me how The Dilly works - the whole infrastructure. Once I know how everything works, I'll start coding :) Can't wait!

So there you have it. My simple life. Main job, a side gig, and lotsa soccer and running before I got hurt. In the meantime I made Chime Note and now I think I'm gonna buy me another computer! I wanna make a nice server I can use for learning new programming languages and databases. PostgreSQL is my target for now.

Wed, 15th Sep '04, 11:30 pm::

I'm so excited about the new project I'm working on @ my job. I go to bed thinking all the cool features I'm gonna make!

Thu, 9th Sep '04, 5:40 pm::

My boss forwarded this to me:

Subject: Letter to Ivan

Dear Ivan:

Hey, how's it going out there near Barbados?

Listen, lots of us here in Southwest Florida have been talking about your scheduled visit.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way. We like spectacular forces of nature as well as the next guy. We realize that Florida and hurricanes go together like country music and drunken driving. We don't want to mess with tradition.

And we know you hurricanes recharge the aquifers, provide an exhilarating break in the stifling heat of late summer, and give neighbors a chance to bond. The economic boost you give to Home Depot alone is enough to make up for whatever inconvenience is to be expected.

So normally you would be as welcome as a gang of Harley riders during Bike Week.

But may I say that this year the timing of your tentatively scheduled arrival seems less than ideal.

You know that visitors start to wear out their welcome after a few days. And too many visitors in a row can also wear down a host and hostess. That, I'm sorry to say, is pretty much the position we Floridians find ourselves in just now.

Your cousin Charley blew through a few weeks ago and, to be blunt, he was less than mannerly. He zoomed in like a hyperactive toddler, leaving the proverbial path of destruction, except that it was no proverb. And then he was gone without so much as a see-ya-later.

Charley was a leave-wet-towels-on-the-floor, never-pick-up-a-tab kind of guest. He inspired some grumbling, and picking up after him has been a real chore. You should have seen Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Arcadia and Wauchula.

At least Charley didn't stay long. But just when we were starting to get things almost back to normal, Frances sauntered in.

I don't mean to be crass, but she was HUGE. When she hung around the state, she hung around the state, you know what I mean?

And you know how some guests just don't leave? That's Frances. Even when we were looking at our watches and yawning and singing "The Party's Over" she just stayed and stayed.

Some of us who hadn't really rolled out the red carpet for Charley decided to prepare a lot more for Frances, and maybe we just tired ourselves out. And then she stalled and arrived late, which is always irritating.

She wasn't as wild as Charley, I'll admit. Those rumors about Frances possibly becoming a Category 5 turned out to be overblown hype. But she just sort of oozed through. I went to bed Sunday night and woke up thinking she'd be long gone at last, but she was still here Monday morning!

So a lot of us here are thinking that enough is enough for one year. Actually, the experience of almost back-to-back hurricanes has some people talking about canceling hurricane season entirely.

Don't worry. Floridians won't go that far. But we may consider moving hurricane season to a nicer time of year. I know hurricanes like it hot, but doing without air conditioning would be a lot nicer in November, or maybe March, so as not to interfere with football season.

I mean, did you see where Frances actually caused the postponement of a Gator football game? People will put up with a lot, but let's be reasonable here.

Some are saying we should limit the number of hurricanes allowed into Florida in one year. There might be some debate about whether the limit should be one or two, but there is wide agreement that three is too many.

So, Ivan, here's the point: Florida's famous hospitality is pretty much tapped out just now. Our enthusiasm for big winds and rains, and for TV reporters gushing forth with excited descriptions of it all, has bogged down like a riding lawnmower in the swamp that used to be my back yard.

As I said, it is nothing personal, Ivan, but what would you say to making alternate travel plans?

I understand that Bermuda is lovely this time of year.

Sun, 5th Sep '04, 6:15 pm::

HUNKER DOWN!!! I'm gonna teach you a nice drinking game. It's very simple. All you have to do is watch weather channels during a hurricane and everytime someone mentions the phrase: "Hunker Down" you take a shot! So after playing the game of "Hunker Down" all afternoon, I went out for a survey of structural damage.

In other words, after drinking enough alcohol to kill an elephant, I went outside in 60mph gusts to look for fun things! I was REALLY mad to see that they closed our swimming pool :( I walked around my whole apartment complex and not a soul was in sight. Every car that drove by slowed down as they saw a weird Indian in t-shirt and shorts running and jumping on the grass! Haha. So I walked about half a mile from my apartment in winds that had already uprooted lots of trees. I don't think I will be able to run on my regular sidewalk as I saw a lot of branches strewed all over. I called up a couple of my friends but they could barely here me as the winds were howling very loudly.

And then I stole an election sign (Vote for some hottie - Sonya March) because I'm cool like that when alcohol has overtaken my common sense :-P It's a miracle I got back home! I wish my digicam was waterproof :-/ The best part is everyone on TV is saying, "Don't go outside!" and "If you don't have to be outside, don't be!" MUHAHAHAHA :)

Wed, 1st Sep '04, 10:50 pm::

I bring bad luck to Florida. For the first time in the history of USA, there are gonna be two category 4 hurricanes within a duration of one month! We just dodged Hurricane Charley a few weeks ago and now the new threat is Hurricane Frances! While it's exact path is not known yet, we know it's going to hit Florida late Friday night. After that it's anybody's guess. Let's see what happens.

Quote for the night: "You know you're a nerd when you hear CAT5 Hurricane and can't stop thinking about Ethernet Cables." - Chirag

Wed, 25th Aug '04, 5:25 pm::

Ok so what do I look for in a girl, asked my good friend Tamara. Here's the list:

  • Likes computers, even if only slightly
  • Likes the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, and National Geographic Channel
  • Loves Standup Comedy
  • Goes to college or graduated
  • Has a job or is seriously looking for one
  • Independent - lives by herself or with friends
  • Loves her family and adjusts well with her parents
  • Decent looking and athletic - I hate girls who are lethargic
  • No smoking, no drugs. Drinks socially
  • Not a big religious fantatic
  • Extra points for being a vegetarian

As most of my friends know, I don't mind if she's not Indian, especially considering where I live, there's hardly any Indians. So that's about it I think. As my HotOrNot profile says, I've met enough crazies, psychos, and sluts. It's time I met a nice girl that my mom would be proud of :)

Thu, 19th Aug '04, 10:00 pm::

Another long day @ work. Attended the Bay Area Manufacturers Association meeting 6-9 pm. Learnt quite a bit about document managing in the corporate environment. Very tired right now. Going to bed soon.

Wed, 18th Aug '04, 10:15 pm::

Had a pretty decent day today. Work was good as usual. After work, Brian, Scott, and I went to Olive Garden for dinner. They came over to my apartment afterwards to check out my awesome new furniture. We watched some funny videos on my PC and just talked. It's great that we're all bonding as buddies. We're prolly gonna hang out more often in the weekends, hopefully at my place since it's equidistant from Brian and Scott's house.

I can't wait till this weekend. Tamara (my awesome friend/coworker from New Jersey) is visiting family in Clearwater, which is like 10-15 miles north of where I live. So if things go as planned, she's gonna come visit me :) I can't wait!

Life is good. I am quite excited about my work too. Too bad I can't write much detail because of confidentiality agreements.

When Dates AttackTue, 17th Aug '04, 7:15 pm::

Here's a 'blog entry that everyone other than me and the girl involved is going to laugh at. I don't know if she's ever going to talk to me again or not. So here's the background info. I've been talking to this really sweet, smart, and funny girl online for about a week now. For her privacy, I'm not gonna name her. We've talked from computer stuff to philosophy. After a week of chatting, we decided to meet up and get to know each other more. Tonight was supposed to be our first "date."

I was willing to drive up to where she lived but she insisted on meeting halfway. Since I've only been here two months and hardly know the cute little date places, I figured, we could just meet at the big Parkside Mall/Theater. So I gave her the directions, we chatted for a while on the cellphone, and she drove over. I left my apartment, talked to her one last time to make sure she got the directions correct. She was slightly ahead of me and reached Parkside before me. I called her up to confirm if she reached safely and that's when all hell broke lose.

Parkside mall was closed. The movie theater was shutdown. And the area was under construction. From her point of view, I had lured her into a desolate parking lot with construction trucks all around. I reached there and told her to follow me to the Olive Garden restaurant nearby. In the Olive Garden parking lot, I tried to explain to her that I was sooooooooo sorry and that I had NO idea that the goddamned Parkside was closed down! I just went there two weeks ago with Lynn!

Guess she was too mad at me to even talk. She told me we'll do this sometime again once she's in a better mood, possibly in Tampa, where she lives. I'd really like to believe her. I think she just added tonight to her list of "worst dating nightmares."

From my point of view though, it just stinks. She'll probably cool down in a day but I don't think my feelings are gonna heal anytime soon. It was NOT my fault at all! How the HELL am I supposed to know that a whole movie theater that I went to FOUR TIMES in the past two months had closed down for some reason? I think it's God's way of keeping me single forever. Here I was about to meet such a sweet girl and bam! Things blow up in my face, she leaves thinking I'm some creepy pervert, and I'm home by 7:10pm! What's funny is that she asked me why I'm single. I guess I can add this incident to my list of why I'm single...

Sun, 15th Aug '04, 9:15 am::

Yay!!!! My new furniture is here!!!! The guys are just loading it off the big Rooms-to-go truck. And I'm already 'blogging about it. What a dumbass!

Fri, 13th Aug '04, 5:35 pm::

So we survived :) The hurricane hit land about 100 miles south of us at Fort Myers. There's nothing to worry about anymore and hopefully all my stuff is safe. Now I gotta go home tomorrow and set up my computer back again. It's gonna take a lot of time. Oh well... there goes this weekend.

Wed, 11th Aug '04, 3:05 pm::

More boring computer statistics. At work I'm been working on a major e-commerce website for about 4 weeks now. That's about 21 business days. Of these I mostly program for 6 hours a day. So it comes to 126 hours of raw coding. In this time I did a lot of non-coding work, like setup the database, graphics, and consulting my co-workers. I say I've put at max 100 coding hours into this project. The total lines of code I wrote in the meantime is slightly above 7,000. So that's 70 lines per hour of debugged error-free (almost) code. Since I don't comment my code, there's not a lotta filler text in it to lengthen the code.

The code is about 285kb in size. That 48 characters per minute. My lines are on average 40 characters in length. While they say it's not about lines of code, they also say that productivity CAN be measured by the number of "clean, simple, correct, well-documented lines of code per day." While each programmer has his/her own style of coding, I'd say mine is very clean, simple, and easy to understand. Hence, un-documented :) Cuz everyone knows, real programmers don't comment.

Quote for the day: "Strong typing is for people with weak memories." (If you're a girl and you understand this quote, email me :))

Sat, 7th Aug '04, 8:05 pm::

This is going to be a very different 'blog entry than usual. For the first time in four years I'm regretting my decision to come to the United States of America. This isn't something that has been nagging me for weeks or months. This isn't something that is troubling me a lot. But it is something that I think differentiates what I think of myself and what people see me as. Right now everyone who knows me, thinks I am on the way to 'success,' whatever success is. They see me as standing on my own two feet, set in life with respect to career and education, and on my way to making it big. I'm not denying the fact that in four years I got two BS degrees, worked 3 different jobs, found an apartment and a car, and settled down in Florida. What I disagree with, is everyone's definition of "set-in-life."

Four years ago when I left India, I had the love of my family and friends right next to me 24/7. I had a pretty good job at my dad's friend's company (Rajda) and if I had stuck there, I'd prolly be "set" by now. Or maybe not. Who knows. But anyways, in this last four years, while I've gained a lot of material things, I've also lost a lot of important things. Right now I'm living in the middle of nowhere and know nobody. No family, no friends, no love. It's as if I suddenly woke up and everybody I knew had disappeared. I walk out of my house and I just see rows and rows of strangers. I smile at them and our interaction often ends after they smile back.

My work life is great. I can't believe I actually found such a homely loving company to work at. I think that has been my experience since I came to US. I find the greatest people to work with, those who truly appreciate my efforts, skills, and experience, while on the other hand, my social life has been full of disappointment and worst-nightmares-coming-true. When I finally made a bunch of great friends in Jersey, I moved on to Florida where I'm back to zero.

What I HATE right now is everyone from Jersey telling me to go out and make new friends. How exactly am I supposed to do that? It was easy in college, you just make friends talking in class or living in dorms. It's absolutely different out in the real world. I can't just walk upto a bunch of people and expect them to befriend me. So ya, things get kinda lonely on weekend here. I dunno why I'm so angry right now. I think it's most probably because I couldn't go running today.

So anyways, back to regretting coming to US. Yes I'm having doubts right now. Why? Because in four years, nothing has improved, rather gotten worse. I'm alone, single, and far away from everyone who loves me. Don't email me saying I should deal with it because I chose to take this step. I already know that everything I did, I did it consciously and with enough forethought. But what I'm realizing now, is that I over-estimated my capacity to deal with loneliness. I thought I blossom in solitude. Turns out, after a while being alone 24/7 gets kinda crazy.

Picture this, I came into my apartment at 6pm on Friday. Next time I get to go out of my apartment is 8am Monday. In that duration, I've seen no people. There's nothing to do when it's raining so bad outside. I'm literally house-arrested and it's one of the worst feelings ever. My dad's probably smiling right now, thinking I told you to stay in India. Maybe he really was right. America is a great country and I have nothing to say against it. But right now, I'm holding on to a shattered American Dream. I'm probably decades away from money, power, fame, and love. Isn't that what constitutes the American Dream? Somewhere in the middle of all this, is lost my desire to further my education. Maybe that's what is bothering me so much. I love the working man's life, the routine, the schedules, the meetings, but I also miss the learning, the new people, the well-versed teachers.

I know this 'blog entry is all over the place and I'm probably not thinking straight right now. But I dunno what to make of all this. Is this really what I came to US for? Sure, I have a great place to live, but I had it 4 years ago too. Sure I have a nice car, but I had it when I turned 18. So I work in a great place, hell I loved Rajda a lot too. I never complained. So why exactly did I leave India... I don't know... Somebody please remind me why I am here...

Maybe I'm just very homesick right now. It's been over two years since I saw my family. I think it's just that. I miss them a lot and there's nobody here to make me forget about them. Before I start crying I must end this 'blog right away.

Sat, 24th Jul '04, 10:20 am::

I just ran 9 miles (14.4 kms) in 1:50hrs! That's a little over 12mins/mile. I ran non-stop from 8am till 9:50am in 90F (32C) temperature without even one water break! I burnt 1162 Calories running at 5mph. That's about two small pies of pizza! Right now I can barely stand up and walk. Well I have nothing to do today other than relax and recover so all's good.

Anyways, yesterday was fun. Lynn came over @ 6 and I introduced her to the wonders of Scrabble Blast. We were supposed to go see The Bourne Supremacy at 7:40 but by the time we reached the theater, the tickets were sold out. We bought the next show, 10:10pm and decided to go chill somewhere for 3 hours.

Right outside the theater was the big Rooms To Go store. Lynn had promised me that she'll help me pick my furniture :) We walked in and within 15 minutes, we picked a beautiful living room and dining room collection. In another 20 minutes, I finalized the deal with the salesguy, put down the deposit, and signed the required paperwork. They will deliver the furniture around August 14th. Of course, lots of pictures to ensue once my living room is all setup.

So ya, that's me. Just like my dad. I walk in to a store not knowing whether I will even like what they have to offer and I walk out with a big dent in my bank balance and a huge smile :) Thanks a lot Lynn.

Sun, 18th Jul '04, 1:55 pm::

I've realized that often times I "find" myself while I do the most mundane chores. I was just ironing my work clothes, listening to songs on the radio, when suddenly something hit me. For a moment I was in sync with the world and the universe. As boring as ironing is, for a flick second I pressed the perfect crease and knew everything is going alright.

Why do I wonder if everything is going alright or not? I don't know. I guess I'm still confused about my life long goals. I told my boss that one of my goals was to keep learning throughout my life. I guess that goal will be fulfilled in time but in the meantime, I wonder if I'm going on the right track. Right now I have everything new - new job, new apartment, new car, new soocer cleats... but is this what I really want? I don't know. From the point of view of others I most probably have it "set" but I personally don't know. I love my work and try to spend as much time and energy as I can doing my bit to turn our company into a major success. But other than that, where am I going...

For some reason I don't feel like making new softwares and personal websites anymore. I guess it's cuz that's what I do at work for 8-9 hrs a day. What I do enjoy lately is cooking real simple stuff - from boiling potatoes to making pasta. I'm a miserably bad cook but I still find it pleasing to come home after a long day at work and cook up small meal. My running is going so-so. Last week was great but this week after the soccer practice on Monday, I've been too sore to run. This morning I ran 1.5 miles in 16 minutes. At 6:30 tonight I'm going to play some more soccer with Brian.

All in all, this is my life. Wake up, go to work, run/soccer, cook, chat with friends from Jersey, go to bed. Rinse, repeat. Weekends are slightly more relaxed. Yesterday I swam in the pool while I did my laundry. Then went to Walmart for some groceries (mostly fruits and vegetables). I guess I'm as settled as I could've been in just over a month.

But I do miss home. Hell I don't even know where is home - India or Jersey because I miss both equally. I don't think I'll make as many friends here in Florida as I made in Jersey simply because that was a college environment. But I'm hopeful. I met a buncha nice folks already, from Brian and Scott at work to Lynn, Heather, Ursula, and Dan. Who knows, someday I might even meet that special someone.

Till then I know what I have to do... You guessed it right - iron my frigging clothes! I still have 5 pants and 12 shorts to iron. So I better get back to it...

Sat, 10th Jul '04, 8:55 am::

I just ran 7.5 miles (12 kms) in 1 hr 27 mins. At this pace I can finish the marathon in just about 5 hours. So evidently I'm maintaining my speed as the distance increases. Next week I only have to run maximum of 5 miles but after that it's 9 miles! Oh well, I'll deal... somehow...

I miss my Dad. It's his b'day today :) Happy B'day Daddy!

Tue, 6th Jul '04, 8:40 am::

I ran 1.5 miles (2.4 kms) in 13:38 mins this morning. It's probably my best time ever for a mile - 9 minutes. You'll probably get bored reading my running times every day but that's all I care about in my personal life right now. I am running my first marathon and it's not an easy task at all. I'm on a strict regimen now so I eat well, sleep well, and train well. I like the discipline too. Makes time go by real fast.

Thu, 1st Jul '04, 8:30 pm::

My work environment is absolutely unbelievable. While it's very professional, it's also very homely. I leave home at 8am every morning and am usually there by 8:15 or 8:20. After wishing "good morning" to everyone I get on with my work. Around noon, Scott, Brian, Robin, and Tom start gathering in someone's office, just talking about work and stuff. I'm not much of a chatter (yet) but it's great listening to them talk. We pick up our lunch from a new restaurant or fast food place everyday. Thankfully they make sure something vegetarian and healthy is available for me. My lunch usually consists of salads, vegetarian sub sandwiches, and nachos :)

We all sit around a little round table and have our lunch together. Scott is the Creative Director, an altogether awesome buddy. Brian is my boss's younger brother and Tom is their dad. Robin is my boss' father-in-law who doesn't really work here but comes around every other day to help out with stuff. Then there's Guerry, the wise-old man with brilliant advice, kinda like my maternal grandpa (Kandivali Dada). Two others, Andy and Ken seem to have been with the company for a long time and are quiet experienced in their field of work. That leaves the three girls who actually run the business - Kelly, Linda, and Lisa. While the guys can pretend to manufacture this and manage that, it's Kelly and Linda who manage them all. Well everyone except my boss/ex-client Eric.

All my life I have wanted to see what my future-self might look like. I know it's kinda ambitious to say I see my future in my boss' persona, but I really do feel that way. He's a brilliant student, an avid reader, very cautious with his words, and extremely generous. While it'd be immodest of me to say that I already possess all these qualities, I would like to hope that a decade from now, I would.

So that's my new happy little family at work. When I left my job at Rutgers, I never thought I would meet so many great people to work with. But who knew... my luck has done wonders again and I landed a great job with some amazing people. Either I'm really easy-going or I'm really lucky. Either way, I'm happy where I am right now.

Thu, 24th Jun '04, 8:25 pm::

I can't believe I'm alive. It's 90F (about 32C) outside and I just ran... hold your breath... 4.5 miles (7.2 kms) in 50 minutes. This is the most I have EVER run in my life without stopping. I feel great right now, not too tired either. It's weird but I kinda feel proud of myself, breaking my own record :) The last time I ran so much was sometime in late 1999 during my rowing practice - 45 minutes. Well, this is nothing. I still need to run more and more.

Sun, 13th Jun '04, 5:25 am::

I'm in Cumming, Georgia right now at Arthur's aunt's gorgeous house. We're about 40 miles away from the capital city Atlanta. It's been a good ride so far - over 12 hours in the car. We got 8 more hours till we reach my new place down in St. Petes. Wish us a safe trip :)

Fri, 11th Jun '04, 2:00 pm::

A lot of last times happened in a very short span of time today. Last time I saw Rutgers. Last time I saw Tamara, Doug, Tine, Elaine, and Ed. Last time I saw Chris and Tim. And the last time I saw Michele :( I had lunch with her and we just chilled for a bit after that, talking about god knows what. I'm going to miss her a lot. I'm going to miss everything a lot.

Last night I saw Becky for the last time. She almost cried when I didn't give her a good enough hug. I remember how similar things happened when I left India four years ago. Last time I walked into my room and last time I went to my dad's office. Of course, I can visit any of these places and people again, but it'll never be the same.

Tonight I'm going to drop off my aunt at the airport and pack my stuff into Arthur's car. Tomorrow early morning we leave for Atlanta. We'll sleep over at his cousin's house and then drive to St. Petersburg the next morning. This is going to be one rough weekend, physically and emotionally. My current mood is nostalgic and sad but I'm sure as soon as we hit the road, it'll change to ecstatic and apprehensive.

Here's hoping to the last ever 'blog entry from New Jersey!!! Bubye New Brunswick! You were so good to me. Thank you everyone.

Thu, 10th Jun '04, 2:15 pm::

If you thought I haven't 'blogged in days, there's a perfectly addictive reason for it: Scrabble Blast. I am hooked. I can't stop playing it. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't stop telling everyone about it! My highest score for the demo version is 1940 within three levels. See if you can beat that.

In Memory Of The BunkerFri, 28th May '04, 11:05 am::

In Memory Of The Bunker: I'm getting sentimental thinking about tonight as the last night in my bunker. It's been just over a year living here and so much has happened. All those long nights I spent working or studying. All those movies and TV shows I saw alone. All those movies I saw with my friends. It's all coming to an end. People don't realize how comfortable the bunker makes me feel. It's my home away from home away from home :)

Of course, now that college has ended, life's gonna change drastically. No more midnight pizzas from La Familia and no more pasta at Gerlanda's. No more skipping classes to go back and sleep in the bunker. No more waking up late for a meeting at work (well hopefully). No more seeing my friends every day :( I didn't cry when my last class ended. I didn't cry when I graduated. But I'll definitely cry when I leave my bunker. Such sweet fond memories.

It's a tiny 10x8 sq. ft room that has taught me how to live independently. The bunker taught me how to enjoy my life when nobody's around to enjoy it with me. From movies and TV shows to little hobbies like paper-cutting. The bunker taught me how to be clean, organized, and prioritize my chores. The bunker taught me how to make baked potatoes and alfredo pasta in microwave. Those nights of drinking hot chocolate with Horlicks, they will be missed. So will those days when Arthur or Mason would come over to watch The Family Guy or South Park with me. Or the times when I studied for annoying computer exams with Linda. Or the Pulp Fiction movie with Jeannette. So many memorable days the bunker saw.

I learnt how to make my special Maggi-Macaroni mix in the bunker. I made great friends with my landlady - Sunny. And above all I realized it's not the size of the bunker but the space in my heart that matters. I know it's pretty childish to call my basement room a 'bunker' but now all my friends and even family members call it the same. To you I might sound like a blooming idiot referring to my place as the bunker, but my friends are so used to it, they ask me all the time if I'll be at work or at "the bunker?" Ha.

It's unusual to associate yourself with a place so simple and plain. But that's the beauty of it. I moved into a tiny room with no furniture and I made it my home. And tonight I leave it. Oh the sorrow...

Fri, 14th May '04, 2:10 pm::

I haven't 'blogged in a while because I don't have much to say. Today I feel an urge to share. A lot of changes are going to happen in my life now that I've completed my undergraduate studies. I'm graduating with BS in Comp Sci, BA in Econ, Math minor, Honors College. Hopefully my GPA's gonna be 3.9+ since I already got 3 A's and 1 B; the results of my Math class are not out yet. I don't have terribly high student loans and if my calculations are correct (thankfully they often are), they should be paid up within 12 months.

On June 12th I leave for Florida, an entirely new life. It's extremely scary and challenging. My client/boss called me up the other day telling me how excited he is that I am joining his firm. I have big plans for his company too and I know how to get them in place but I'm gonna be the only one doing all the IT work. So things are definitely going to be tough. I'm only 23 but the responsibilities are that of someone with 15 years of experience. Leaving all your friends, family, people at existing job, and going to a new place, new job, working with new people - honestly it's a big change. But, it only feels big when I think about it. If I don't think about how much of a change it is, it feels trifling - so I'm just moving to Florida to work for my client. No biggie. Hehe. From your point-of-view I'm sure it appears that way, Chirag making the big bucks and having a great job. From my point-of-view it is coming home everyday from a great day at work but having nobody to talk to.

Hopefully I'll make new friends in the kickass place that I'm moving to. Get this... it's a 1020 sq.ft. apartment with patio/balcony, two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, huge livingroom, walk-in closets for only $625/month! I'm paying over $500 for a TINY one-bedroom, bathroom apartment in Jersey. Gotta love Florida. And I'm getting a two-bedroom apartment because you can come and stay with me if you come to Florida. Yes you, whoever you are, you're welcome to my humble apartment :)

So I got an A in my research but still have a lot of work to complete. I hope to continue my work-relationship with my professor but I don't know if that's going to be easy long-distance. Oh and I'm not giving up my dreams of Masters (or MBA) and PhD. That is definitely coming in the next few years.

Right now I'm talking to my sister online. She's the best sister in the world and we all know it :)

Tue, 4th May '04, 7:30 pm::

Dey Dook Ar Jahbs!!! I made this mp3 file after watching the latest episode of South Park. Took about an hour to make. It's funny only if you know what "Goobacks" means.

Tue, 4th May '04, 7:25 pm::

I received a very prestigious award today: The Department of Economics Award for recognition of Outstanding Performance. Also received a mug and $125 money order. The ceremony was short and sweet. My friend Mihir received an award too, something about being even more awesomer than yours truly. He's a smart kid :)

Sun, 25th Apr '04, 11:30 pm::

I made a cool little Water Demo that plays the sound of water drops, tap, stream, river, waterfall, and even rain. Took me about an hour to fling in 500-600 lines of code to make this tiny 11kb demo. It works pretty decently too. I used multiple 1-30ms grains of sine waves that fade in and out pretty rapidly to give the audio a nice watery texture. You'll need Java plugin 1.4.2 to see it. If you don't have it, the applet will prompt you for it. It's a very useful plugin and you may find a lot of sites using it too, so you should probably install it.

Job, Career, New lifeTue, 13th Apr '04, 7:45 am::

Here comes the long overdue lengthy 'blog entry. Lately I've been busy with too many things in my "real" life. So as you must have heard it by now, I have a job offer in St. Petersburg, Florida. My client wants to hire me full-time and will take care of my work visa (H1B etc.) requirements. The salary is good and my responsibilities are managable (or so I think). Here's what I've been upto:

Took a JetBlue flight to Florida on Friday night at 6:55pm. My online friend Taylor picked me up from the airport and brought me to his home. Turns out, just like his online persona, Tay is a real cool guy and despite his warning that in two days we'd be hating each other, we're still great friends; REAL friends now, not ONLINE anymore. After all, once I move to Florida, he's probably going to be one of a handful of people I know. So it's in my best interest to be nice to him *grin*

Next morning was the main interview with my client. It's always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed said Tay's dad. So over-dressed in a suit I went to my client's office, courtesy of Tay and his white pickup (more on the pickup truck later). Now about my client and soon to be boss... He is one of those people that you can instantly see made his own wealth from scratch. Very well-spoken and big-heart, he welcomed me into his office building like I owned it. My quite casual interview went on for the next six hours! My uncle had told me managerial positions aren't given by short 'n stout IQ tests but rather by long active personal examinations. Basically my client wanted to see whether my personality would fit in with his company or not.

To my pleasure, he thought I would fit in great and wants me to start working as soon as I graduate. I have a couple of commitments in Jersey (my work, my new apartment lease etc.) due to which I might be slightly delayed. But otherwise I'm trying to relocate as soon as I can. After all, Florida is beautiful and the work environment was great. Having been brought up in an mini-entreprenueral environment, I feel more at home as a manager in a small firm than a widget in a behemoth corporation. My dad owns his business and while I never said I want to inherit his particular business or form some startup with VCs etc., I've always looked at my work as if I own it. There is a spectrum of mentalities when it comes to responsibilities and I lie on one end, treating my work as if the outcome affects my whole company directly. At the other end of the band are most people who would love to get a job in Microsoft and Morgan Stanley - their work affects their bonuses. In between are people who partly care about the company and partly care about their packages. It's not about which mentality is right or wrong, it's more about can you find a place where you can fit in. Given my entreprenueral mentality, I think I'd fit better into a small company with broader responsibilities than in a large company with extremely specific job requirements. The big companies are doing fine without me. It's the small company where I can actually make a difference as well as learn what hard work and sleepless nights are all about. So yes, I'm fully aware my new job isn't going to be a cakewalk by any standards. Unless I interpreted things wrongly, it's going to be very difficult and I have a lot of goals to achieve in a very short time. Oh well, I've managed before and can do it again. The only difference this time is that now I know I must take care of my health before anything else.

During the interview I met one of my client's coolest employees and we went to lunch to The Dish. Interesting concept - you collect any amount of vegetables, fruits, mushrooms etc. in a bowl and sauces in another bowl and hand it over to the cook. Right in front of you they heat it all up together on a HUGE stove and hand it back to you. It was one of the best things I've ever eaten! Who knew broccoli could ever taste this good. Just thinking about The Dish makes me hungry. After lunch the interview continued and my client's wife walked in sometime around 3pm.

Now here's the critical part. Since the beginning of the interview, I was also interviewing my client in my head. I wanted to be sure that I was going to work at a place where the atmosphere was professional, systematic, and yet had some amount of homeliness and familial values. While my client proved to me within the first hour that his company is strong and growing, I still wasn't sure whether the work environment would be comfortable enough. I don't mind strict suit and tie formalities but being alone in this country for years to come, I want to work in a place which I can call home, simply because after work I gotta go back to an empty nest, obviously not home. And then one question she asked got rid of every doubt I had: "How is your cousin?" I'm just amazed that my client told her about Keval and that she remembered. It meant a lot to me. That's when I realized I'd found a new home and moving to Florida would be just like moving from my home in Calcutta to my aunt's home in Jersey.

Interview ended at 4:30pm and Tay being the coolest guy ever picked me up. One phone call after next, I estimate I spent $50 just one phone calls in that one day to inform everyone close to me that I am "gainfully" employed now. Tay's stepmom cooked some awesome Fettuccine Alfredo with vegetables for us for dinner and suggested a good comedy club we could go to. She basically knows every nook 'n cranny of the state. I told Taylor that people like her are the duct-tape that hold our society together, like my grandma and aunt, they take care of everyone and everything simply because they feel like they must. This is what I did at the Coconut Comedy Club: One Margarita, two Margarita, Motorcyle, Floor! Just kidding! I wasn't drunk at all. Seriously. No really. Trust me. I swear!!!!!!

Anyways, next morning we left for Universal Studios early and enjoyed about 5 rides/shows in 5 hours. It had been a while since I had just let loose and got the hell scared out of me - Back to the Future was the best. And then after the rides I kicked some Tay-butt in Ice Hockey and he danced like a chicken while playing Dance Dance Extreme Revolution Version XVII or something like that. As funny as he looked while doing it, I gotta admit there's NO way I can move that fast - not even if there's a gun on my head. So props to him.

The last ride that scared the HELL outta me was in his pickup truck from Universal Studios to the airport - the gas tank was EMPTY!!! There were no gas stations in sight and inside my head I was literally going crazy. I tried to stay as calm as I can but I knew something was gonna go wrong - after all my trip had been so wonderful and nothing is perfect ever! I'm gonna miss the flight! I'm gonna miss the stupid flight! Urghhhhhhh! Thankfully we found a gas station before the tank ran out and the ride to the airport thereafter was pretty smooth.

The only sad part was saying bye to him at the airport and early that morning, to his family. But the good thing is I'm moving to Florida and will be seeing more of them. Then the sad part will be saying bye to EVERYONE IN JERSEY!!! I admit it already - I'm gonna cry. I'll cry when I leave my present work and cry when I leave my friends and most of all when I leave my aunt's home. This is gonna suck major. Oh well, I'm a cruel bastard who keeps doing this to people ALL the time!

Mon, 12th Apr '04, 10:00 pm::

I got the job in Florida! I will write everything about my visit to Florida in detail as soon as I have some time.

Fri, 9th Apr '04, 10:40 am::

I leave for the airport in a few hours. Without a car it's a long way to JFK Airport, NYC. Basically I gotta take the NJ Transit train from New Brunswick to Penn Station NYC. Then take Long Island Rail Road to Jamaica station. Finally take the AirTrain to JFK. Probably gonna cost me $50 just on the commute to and from airport. My flight's at 6:55 pm so I better leave by 1pm to be safe.

I have an exam on Monday that I haven't studied for at all. Will try to read on the flight or most probably on the return flight. Got my interview with my client on Saturday. Both of us are hoping that I join them so at the moment odds are in my favor. But let's not be too sure. His is a small but growing company that doesn't have a specific need for a software developer at the moment. However he's a forward-thinking man and told me he'll definitely have work for me in 6-7 months, just about the time I intend to join him. So everything looks good.

Wish me luck!

Sat, 3rd Apr '04, 8:00 am::

My major sites are down right now (Photo Gallery, Chime main etc.) because I'm moving all my websites to my new dedicated server. If that doesn't sound English, just ignore it. Basically things could be hectic and dysfunctional for a few days, including but not limited to all my websites, emails, blood pressure, cholestrol level, and tolerance to dumb "computer" people. Sorry about it.

Thu, 1st Apr '04, 7:15 am::

Waking up early morning and 'blogging seems too comfortable. I don't have to think about what I want to write or wonder if I really have the time for it. Yes I do. It's 7:15am and my world is just waking up so I have enough time. I hope I go to bed early everynight to wake up this time everyday. At least I had a night of peaceful sleep. Weird (but not bad) dreams though. Also the exam yesterday was quite bad. Let's see where my grades end up.

The main thing going on right now is my Florida trip. One of my clients asked me to work for him and he wants to sponsor me with a work permit etc. He has a small but growing company and is in the process of selecting his management team. If I join, I am hopefully going to become the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) when the company makes it big. After seeing his enthusiasm and hopefulness, I feel working independently for a small firm in Florida is better than slaving away under a behemoth in NYC. And to say the least, the beaches are hot! I am flying down to Florida on 9th April and returning back on 11th. I'll stay over at my buddy Taylor's place and we'll go to Universal Studios, time-permitting. The all-day interview will be on April 10th and if things go well, I will be joining them in early 2005.

If I do move to Florida, a lot of major changes will happen in my life. First of all, I'll be alone for the second time in my life. Here in Jersey I always have my family. The only three people I somewhat know in Florida (via the Web) are Tay, Derek, and my client. My non-work plans are pretty big once I'm there. Eventually I intend to live somewhere between work and University of Florida. I will try to get into a CS Grad program at UF and wi'll be driving 100's of miles each day from home to work and school. But within two years I should get my Masters. Also I might go for an MBA as it will definitely help out with my work. The time I will have for myself will be the weekends when I will take my car (of course) and drive all over everywhere. That is the thing I'm most excited about - freedom from a suffocating existence of being stuck in just one place (hint: 4 years in New Brunswick, New Jersey).

While Chime will never die, things will most probably slow down on the web-front, especially since I will be working for my largest client so that part of work will be moved into my 9-5 schedule. Best of all, once I get my work permit/visa, I can become the legal owner of Chime Softwares Ltd., instead of my aunt. As always, if things work out as planned, I could be making more than enough within two years and will be able to tell my dad to take a break even BEFORE July 10th 2007 (his predetermined date of retirement).

Another thing that'll happen is that I would be able to go to India at least twice a year! I could end up being one of those rich successful young entreprenuers! But then again, the 9-5 job I'm seeking isn't all that glamorous though it's in the glamour industry - making tanning products. Who said Indians can't do EVERYTHING! It'll be quite funny if I'm the only Indian guy in all of their gatherings. Everybody's gonna be like: What's HE doing here! He already HAS the perfect tan :) Go Desis!

Anyways, it will be a slow, slightly routine-ridden job I think but I hope to make it unböring somehow. I'll try NOT to postpone my graduate studies because everyone knows once you get on to the career path, it's impossilbe to get back into studies. So I'll make sure that doesn't happen to me. I want my PhD eventually as always.

I don't know where life's gonna take me next but I'm sure it'll be somewhere good. It might get lonely but then I'm always good at making new friends and since I'll have the time, I'll find some fun activities to do. Only bad thing about Florida is the heat. But I'll manage. Or not. But I'll deal I'm sure. Who knows, once I have a home, car, and a good job, I might want to settle down too! Nothing's sure though except that if I get this job, my 'blog entries will be slightly more interesting.

Wed, 31st Mar '04, 7:10 am::

I feel powerless everytime I realize that the major success and failures of my life rely on the performance of a $100 CPU chip. Months of hardwork end up eliciting nothing more than a few chuckles from the audience when things don't go as planned.

I feel extremely uncomfortable saying this but last night's presentation of my research to my professor didn't go well at all. To put it midly, Titanic was a success compared to my blasted Java code. For some reason, both the computers I tested my demo on couldn't play the sound. My professor wasn't impressed and neither were the 5-6 PhD students who he asked to review my research. Took me only a few seconds to realize what a miserable failure I was too.

Then I came home, instead of studying for the exam that I have in 4 hours, I spent a good amount of time just relaxing, trying not to think about proceedings of the night. I realized a lot of things often go wrong in life. Optimism and pessimism aside, failure is determined not only by the outcome of the event but also the amount of time we spend moping on the results. So yes, things absolutely blew up in my face with regards to my research and while my professor is not angry at me, he sure is extremely disappointed. However, he was very VERY encouraging and told me to continue on to the next step in my research: writing a thesis paper describing my algorithm. Despite the fact that my current model doesn't work, he wants me to sit down and clearly write what I did, so that he has a better understanding of my methods.

After some yummy dinner last night, I realized what exactly was screwing up my demo and removed that module from my code. I rewrote a few lines to realize there IS a way I can make my code work everywhere! I now know what I have to do and tonight I shall do it. By God I will do it :) And you will see it and play it even on the slowest of the computers!

Thu, 25th Mar '04, 11:00 pm::

Having a nice boring Thursday night at my bunker. Don't feel like going out or anything. Guess I got myself some "me-time" to relax and stop stressing about everything. Don't have any homeworks, projects, websites, exams, or any commitments. Never felt so relaxed :)

Mon, 22nd Mar '04, 11:55 pm::

The Chir.ag 'Blog now has RSS support: rss.xml. If you don't know what RSS is, you don't have to bother about this.

Mon, 22nd Mar '04, 10:30 pm::

Had a long day today. Got 3 exams back. Did ok in all of them (nothing great to be proud of though). It's my last semester and I don't really give a damn anymore to B+ or A's. I have a 3.9 and there's no way I can make it back to a 4.0. So screw grades :) I got better stuff to do, like my research.

Had dinner with the Mich and been working thereafter. Gotta do some homework. I had absolutely forgotten about studies during Spring Break. I can't wait till I'm out of college. Just two more months. And when I get into Masters, I hope I don't have to do stupid exams and stuff anymore. But I think I'll have to. I love learning for knowledge. I hate studying for exams. After Bachelors, exams should be optional. I'd rather write thesis papers at my own disposal.

Fri, 19th Mar '04, 10:35 pm::

Keval has been taken out of the ICU and put in a normal hostpital room. He is breathing on his own and we all know he is fighting hard. We love him a lot and yes I dream about him almost every other day. I don't know why all of a sudden so many dreams about him. Its over two months since he's in coma and I guess I've finally come to terms with the whole deal. One of the early stages of experiencing trauma is disbelief or disassociation. Next is realization and then comes acceptance. I guess I'm somewhere between the last two stages. I just hope I was close to my Paresh Uncle 'n Rita Aunty right now. I used to think my parents were loving. From what I hear both of them have been doing to save and recover their son, they are the best father and mother alive. And if you believe in God, pray for Keval.

Fri, 19th Mar '04, 10:20 pm::

I called my parents the other day and my dad joked that he had this dream about something. It's a joke because according to him, he never has dreams. I, on the other hand, have all the dreams, nightmares, lucid episodes, aural halucinations and every spooky sleep-related thing you can think of. While I wouldn't want to give him my nightmares, I sure wouldn't mind outsourcing a dream or two every now and then. I remember the days when I used to hit the bed and next thing I knew, 'twas morning.

My last theory about proper sleeping-habits to avoid nightmares certainly failed. No matter what time I go to bed, the last 4-5 hours of my sleep are without fail, elaborate reconstructions of some messed up world where everyone I know lives on the same block and talks in the same language. Everyone knows everyone and nobody is too busy for a chat. Basically every person in my dream just sits around yapping. Whoa that sounds great! Doesn't it? A happy-go-smiley world of loving and joy? Hardly so. It's a dysfunctional mix of Seinfeld meets Friends meets Sex and the City meeds Family Guy meets South Park meets The World's. Most. Stupidest. Conversations. Ever! You'd think I would love the free entertainment but after a long day of thinking and coding and studying and analysing and researching, the last thing I want is more mind-numbing thoughts. After all my brain still has to work on making these stupid dreams. Sometimes you just want to click the shut down button in your mind. And sorry no pills, alcohol, drugs, or anything of that sort for me. I thought working out and running would help but they don't.

Maybe you have a suggestion?

Fri, 19th Mar '04, 7:00 pm::

Michele called me up unexpectedly (I thought she was still in Canada on her spring break vacation) and took me to Taco Bell. And I insulted the free ride by deciding not to eat anything! Well it's not my fault that she called just two minutes after I finished my mmmm Subway Veggie Max (ugly website by the way). So I sat there while she hosed down one burrito after a nacho and some other meat-filled stuff. I tell you these Italians! Actually it had been quite a while since we sat down and just had a nice chat. We all get so busy during school that we barely have time to sit down and eat right, let alone idle it away with friends. It has been kinda eeire on this deserted campus the last few days. So it felt great seeing her out-of-the-blue. I guess the summer is going to be like this too. But hey, at least I'll have my awesome new place that I can't stop talking about! She's absolutely decided to decorate my new place. I'm so scared man (just kiddin!). After lunch with the Mich, I got back to work (which rocks as usual), and then been researching since.

Greatness, Honesty, and StrangersTue, 9th Mar '04, 11:55 am::

This entry is devoted to all my silent readers. Slowly and steadily, my 'blog is attracting readers from all over the world; just got an email from a sweet young lady from Singapore. I started this site (back when 'blogs had to be hand-coded) to basically write down what was on my mind from day to day and share it with my family and friends back in India. Turns out my friends here also found it interesting and now I find welcome strangers who send me an email every other day telling me how they agree or disagree with something I wrote. Some email me just to give a compliment or two.

To everyone who reads this 'blog: Thank you very much! I may not ever win The Bloggies but I've already won my share of cherished well-wishers. And trust me that's all that matters. No seriously. I swear. Trust me on this one! OK FINE! I admit. A bloggie would be cool. Even a nomination! Though I don't know what category? The cutest Indian ;)? Ha!

I guess the only thing I'd like to tell you is that my 'blog is just about as honest I can be to the outside world. While nobody wants to admit it, I think there are different levels of honesty - among friends, between couples, among co-workers, with the whole world, and within yourself. Most people's definition of honesty is restricted to just one of these. So if your definition of honesty means being as honest as if you are talking to yourself, then my whole 'blog is a big lie. Certainly, I can never tell EVERYTHING I think of or tell. There are incidents in everyone's life that nobody wants to talk about and for the most part, maybe they shouldn't unless the moment is right and can benefit both parties. Hence on my 'blog, I choose not to divulge past misexperiences unless there is something to be gleaned from.

Now if you think honest means being as honest as you are to your friends and family, then I think I come pretty close. I've never talked badly about anyone I know on my blog but this doesn't mean I don't hate anyone. There are people I absolutely despise but I don't think they deserve my time and attention; their faces shall fade away with time yet the lessons they inadvertently taught me will stay fresh in my mind forever.

So what's my definition of honesty? It is a measure of the distance between what you tell yourself and what you tell the world. For no average human is that distance zero. Honesty is the best policy they say. An old proverb says, "The first step toward greatness is to be honest." So what is the definition of greatness? While I'm sure it's hard to define and comprises of honesty, good deeds, morality etc., let us just look at the honesty part for now.

By my definition, Honesty = 1 / (Yourself - World). So the more the distance between yourself and the world, the lower your score of honesty and as the truth-level between yourself and world comes closer, your honesty score rises. Since greatness depends on honesty, when honesty rises so does greatness. Now here's my theory. I said above that for no average human is the distance zero. What if the distance is zero for someone then? Are they average? No, they are...

Greatness = Honesty + ... = 1 / (Yourself - World) + ... = 1 / 0 + ... = Infinity + ... = Infinity = Mahatma.

It's no wonder that he is known as the father of the Indian nation. While I'll never be able to make my 'blog as honest as his life, I do try to be natural and let inspiration take over my keyboard from time to time, instead of pretending to write pseudo-interesting flashy 'blog entries. When I don't feel like talking, I don't. When I want to discuss my laundry, I do. And anytime I hear from a stranger from Singapore, I drag on and on about honesty and what-not :) I give importance to honesty on my blog so much, because I am very easily influenced as you can probably tell. So while any small incident can prompt a long-drawn entry or a short-curt post, I do have to stop and think for a moment whether this is me doing the entry or someone trying to get me to. Often times in life we do things we just "think" we are doing but instead are just following unspoken orders. And once you get on the track, it's too late to go back.

But then sometimes there's no time to stop and think. Like right now. I have three exams tomorrow and I have absolutely no time to stop and think about anything. So I absolutely MUST get back to studying and leave 'blogging for another day.

Tue, 2nd Mar '04, 6:40 pm::

It's not everyday that you get a phone call from a sleazy spammer. I was just filling out some forms and this random guy (apparently) from Miami, Florida calls me up. He asked about my BotBlock service, or rather how to override it. Turns out he wants to pay me "any amount you want" to make a software that can bypass the image-verification (CAPTCHA) used by TicketMaster. He told me his "competition" was overtaking him and he was willing to pay me $5,000 to make such an application. Best of all, if I was feeling lonely, he could send me a hot woman any time of the day. I politely told him, "I'm sorry Sir but I think I'll have to hang up now. Please do not call again."

The world of mafia and money launderers of the yester years used to be a world of machismo, bravado, and to a certain extent glamour. While the neighborhood mobster is mostly a thing of the past, street-corner spammers are dime a dozen and each is trying every under-handed trick to oust the other. There is nothing smooth or sauve about trying to peddle cheap sexual aids or promote low-budget vacations to islands that don't exist. I think even the spammers themselves will agree that they are almost the scum of the planet, slightly above child molestors and rapists.

Tonight I had this guy asking me if I could write a ground-breaking software (image recognition is not cakewalk) so he can hoarde tickets illegally and spam mailboxes around the world with filth. Of course I said NO! I will never EVER on any conditions do anything to promote spam. Hell I wrote BotBlock to prevent it! Come to think of it, the genius asked me how to bypass BotBlock! I wanted to say, "What the hell do you think I am??? As dumb as you???" But then, last thing I want to do is piss off a spammer who will only enjoy harassing me. So I just acted polite and hung up.

I have a decent job and a bright career to look foward to so even the slightest dealings with these tarts will taint me forever. But what about the recently laid off, newly-married programmer who has bills, loans, and rent to pay? That's the guy to watch out for. I think the blame lies not only with these slimy spammers but also with smart programmers without jobs. It's no wonder so many hackers (well crackers) are from Russia, where the minds are young and bright but their future is bleak and dark. I'm pretty certain that the spammers are already working in tandem with programmers from all over the world but I wonder if there's anything anyone can do to stop them. Well other than making better blocking and filtering software. I think I'll stick to that for now.

Back to my forms and paperwork.

Fri, 27th Feb '04, 7:20 pm::

My new curfew rule seems to be working. I went to bed at midnight yesterday and woke up at 7:30. Felt pretty decent all day. Can't wait till bedtime (already sleepy!)

I gotta learn Digital Signal Processing for my research. So I guess my whole weekend is booked. I tested some sound models today and my early presumptions seem to be true. I'll write more about my research (in plain English) later, once I have a working model. Till then, it's lotsa reading and audio-modelling.

Thu, 26th Feb '04, 5:00 am::

Who am I kidding! Alright, all you elders and mature people who've been advising me for years now, can put that smug smile on your face and say it out loud in unison, "I told you so!" Yes, you were right. After a decade of all-nighters and irregular hours, my sleeping schedule has been absolutely messed up. I'm gonna be honest and finally admit that I am having some major sleep problems right now. It's 5 am and obviously, I'm up writing my blog! I always joked that I have insomnia but it stayed to levels of "You've insomnia? Oh I have it too! High-five!" But now, things have been messing up on a whole new level. No matter what time I go to bed, I wake up FRESH after just two hours. Why yes, my body has finally found that secret to instant rejuvination. There's no apparent physical problem and I feel great 24/7. But somewhere deep within me I know that this is not right.

Last night I went to bed at 10pm all tired and sleepy and woke up feeling fresh just two hours later. I couldn't sleep the whole night, went to bed at 7am, and woke up three hours later for class. Tonight I went to bed at 2am but woke up at 4am all fresh. I'd been trying to fall asleep for the past hour but just couldn't take it anymore. I figured posting a boring 'blog entry about my sleeping woes might make me sleepy. So far it hasn't been working. I feel just fine. For the last two weeks, I've been sleeping 2-5 hours on average per night by no choice of mine. I go to bed at 6am, wake up at 10am, work all day, go to classes, meet friends, and feel pretty much fine all day. I tried working out to exhaust myself and ate meals at regular hours but so far nothing has worked.

For the last 3.5 years, my course work had been so tough that I had to stay up till early morning hours. I also worked on my client sites most of the times. Right now, I have no client work and my four courses hardly take any time. I had planned that by having no extra work and less course material, I could concentrate easily on my research, the success of which is EXTREMELY important for my higher studies. But turns out, my body has absolutely forgottten how to sleep for 6-8 hours each night. My internal clock seems to only work under pressure and stress. While it's a great system for meeting deadlines and cramming for exams, I know it's not a natural thing and most definitely very harmful in the long run. All these years I had been dying to get rid of all the fluff work and finally get down to research. Right now I have the chance but can't concentrate because of my irregular sleeping patterns.

I am already delayed in my research process and can't waste any more time. From now on, I am going to bed at 12am no matter what and STAYING in bed till 7-8am even if I'm awake the whole night. I figure if it took me years and years to screw up my clock, it's gonna take some time to become NORMAL. And I sure hope once I get normal, I don't ever have to get back into the 4-hour a night nap ritual. Well don't worry about me though. I am getting enough sleep to function. I'm not falling asleep during work or passing out while walking down the street. It's just that I know 4 hours of sleep is not natural and since there is no reason for me to sleep less than 6-8 hours, I shouldn't have to.

I'm going to bed now. And I intend to lie in there till 7:30 am! I got work at 8:30am.

Relationship BreakersSat, 21st Feb '04, 12:20 am::

I've been chatting with my new friend Jyotsna for a while today and I discussed with her this new theory about relationships that I came up with sometime today. Even if you've never had a steady relationship (I know I haven't), you can easily associate with what follows. How is it that two absolutely different people with nothing in common fall in love? How is it that two perfectly compatible people with a lot of things in common hate each other? But then we also know so many people who love each other mainly because they share variety of things in common. And of course everyone knows couples who are so different that they can't even stand being in the same city as each other.

While obvious characteristics like personality, backgrounds, love, emotions, sense of humor, and physical appearances explain most of the attraction, there's always something missing from this picture. What's missing is "expectation of emotional depth." When a person meets someone, he/she has an expectation of how emotionally deep (or sensitive) their partner should be. Take a couple we normally deem emotionally shallow: a frat boy and a drunk sorority girl. They meet each other at a late night party, things seem to work out well, next thing we know they're deeply in love. It doesn't matter if neither of them know or even care how the other really feels. As long as things seem to work out well, they'll stay together. Moreover, just because their love isn't based on years of perseverance or suffering, it doesn't mean it is any less stronger than that of Romeo and Juliet. Love is love, as long as it is honest and both of them believe in it.

But maybe a few weeks later, she starts telling her best friend that he seems too involved in his own life and doesn't pay any attention to her. Maybe he tells his buddies that he wants to break up with her since she's too clingy. It could be a role reversal and she could be shocked at how "needy" he seems to be, while he mopes to his closest friend that she doesn't treat him well. Whatever the truth be, in the end both of them blame each other and they part ways. They may say that the other was not "right for me" and they're quite correct in that. But it's not because someone talks too fast or drives too slow that you break up with them. It's the emotional expectations. The girl subconsciously expected the boy to be emotionally carefree, like the typical cliched guy. He turned out too much of an emotional burden, with his love of classical literature or tragic operas. The guy could have expected the girl to be emotionally reciprocating whereas she turned out to be an emotional vagabond who just wanted to live life without getting too attached. Is either of them wrong in expecting some level of emotional depth in their mate? Of course not. And is either of them at fault for not being able to meet their partner's unspoken expectations? No way.

We see gorgeous, famous celebrities worth millions of dollars marry their attendants or makeup artists. Are they blind?! Don't they wonder if they "deserve" someone better? Well there's always someone better out there. But why do it? Because their attendant truly imparts them the emotional stability they seek. Love develops with time and may take a while before the couple realizes it. But it doesn't take too long to realize that wow I feel so comfortable around this person.

One major problem with subliminal expectations is that not being satisfied causes actions that do not relate to the emotions at all. Couples bicker over pesky faucet brands and indistinguishable tile colors without realizing that it's not just how the other is in bed or in front of guests, but more so the fact that they keep disappointing each other with their curt replies and lack of smiles. One of them just "doesn't understand" the other. We hear that on every whiny TV show. What does that mean anyway? It means that almost everyone unduly expects their partner to fulfill their emotional needs. But not just fulfill emotional needs, because sometimes a good movie can do that, they expect their partner to have some amount of emotional stability. If they don't find that foundation, comfort and familiarity give way to alienation and subconscious resentment. Think of it like our body's defense system. While the body is receptive to foreign substances like food and water, it launches a secret attack on any object it seems threatening or incompatible. Maybe our brain works like that too. Once we realize that someone is not as per our secret specifications, we launch a silent nagging attack to bug the hell out of them and soon get rid of them. Works most of the times too.

So in the end, we keep looking for people to fit into our preset molds of emotional anchors. What I have realized from all this? The fact that she doesn't like computers or loves Office Space doesn't really matter much. There is an unseen bond and it's either tied or broken and neither of us can do anything about it. Well I can try to seduce her with my moon-shining-hip-shaking-beer-belly-dancing moves but that's about it. Rest is upto the dendrites and axons.

Mega-Super-Giga WeddingsSun, 15th Feb '04, 2:25 am::

I was searching for something online and chanced upon this mega-wedding in Lucknow, India. Seems like the son of Sahara India corporation is getting married and for some reason every celebrity, VIP, politician is there. Hell even Bill Clinton was supposed to be there but couldn't make it! And that was followed by 101 couples tying knots in a group ceremony. I don't think I will ever even remotely understand our Indian fascination of big weddings.

Personally I hate ten days of ceremonies and events, even though almost EVERYONE I know loves them. I don't know when, where, and how I will get married, but I do know that it won't be as flashy as every other wedding. Well that is as long as my bride-to-be is ok with that. Haha. I think that's the real reason guys go along with these weddings. Because of the girls. Tomorrow every girl I know is going to beat me up for saying everything that follows, but oh well, bring it on! Girls love flashy weddings. And diamonds and gold and silver - but NOT because they are expensive, but because they're ooooooooh sooooo shiny! The guys just want to get over with it as painlessly as possible. I'm sure I make a gross generalized statement on behalf of all guys when I say this, but come on, which guy in here doesn't agree with me on this one: Men don't care about the little ribbons around every glass and chocolates wrapped in cute little silver foils. So why do men go through it?

Maybe the elusive "love" really makes a man blind. Maybe he thinks this will make the girl stop nagging him. Or maybe, just maybe, he realizes that the beautiful girl he wishes to marry absolutely deserves the grandest of the weddings for she is truly the love of his life and the bane of his existence. I don't know if that will ever happen to me. I'm not bitter or jaded; just not as naive as I was a few years ago.

I think you have to be at one of the three stages in life to decide that "Ok this is the woman I want to hear scream my name in hell-raising fury everytime I forget to put down the toilet seat." The first stage, as I said before, is of naivete, between the ages of post-puberty and early adulthood. This is when you are 19 and in "love" for the first time. You have met a pretty damsel with enchanting eyes and want to spend every silly second of your life with her though you barely know her last name. I have no qualms in admitting that I have felt like this before. And not just once, many many times. Now if only polygamy were allowed I'd be one happy chap. But alas it is not, so I must wait until I hit the second or the third stage.

The second stage is when you are moving from your late twenties into your early thirties. You have had a series of relationships and a fair share of thankful and regrettable breakups. You have seen everything the feminine gender has to offer and yet for some reason you choose not to stick to any of them. Then your best friend's kid goes into grade-school and gets an A in crayon-painting. You remember how great it felt two decades ago when you got that A in spelling class too. And that's when it hits you. You don't have too much time to spare if you plan on having a family of your own. Sure, for years you laughed it off as something suckers with no ambitions do but now that your job is stable (and boring), that marriage thing sure sounds sweet.

If you're in India, you'd get your parents to start searching a nice bride for you. Since you are 31, you aren't exactly going to meet a pretty 20 year old. You'll end up saying 'yes' to whoever is available. On the other hand, if you're an expendable sprocket at some mega-corp in New York City, you go back into your closet to find that blackbook and see if any of the homely girls you once liked are still single. Chances are they're not. And that's when you decide to get married to whoever says 'yes' first. In either case, the marriage will be however she wants it - flashy, extravagant, ostentatious - in other words, expensive. Well what else do you expect? You were too busy being a free little bird when you had the chance to propose to that nice girl but didn't since you thought she was too clingy. Now you don't have a choice my brother.

And then there's the third stage. This is more like the thirteenth hour that strikes once a blue moon. Not everyone enters the magical third stage for it is shrouded by mystical clouds of bad dates, stalking ex's, hopeless setups, and shameful hookups; visible only to ones truly in love. This is when you have known someone for half a decade but feel like it has been forever. You never really loved her as madly as that hot chic from choir but you never really lived your life without her either. She knows how many Advils you take everytime you have a headache. You know how many hours it means everytime she says "just two more minutes." Both of you know what the other likes in their subs and sandwiches and both of you know everyone in the other's family. Being good friends, you spent a lot of time together but never really thought about being a couple, since neither of you is a fantasy of the other. When all of a sudden, one day, love happens. Out of the blue and unexpectedly spontaneous. It doesn't make sense! You are friends not lovers. This is so wrong. But it feels so right. You are not made for each other yet you cannot be without each other. But this isn't love. Love is supposed to be all natural and at first sight. Love is supposed to be tingly with butterflies-in-tummy. Love is supposed to be what they show in the movies and car commercials and beer ads. Or is it?

I don't think I can say what it is at this moment. Maybe some day I will. I hope when I get married, it is in the mysterious third stage and not the dreaded second; chances of the naive first stage are pretty much nil. Till then, I'll just take whatever life has to offer me.