Thursday, December 06, 2012


Recently, we moved apartments.  It neither looks simple nor is it.  As we packed the different, unwanted items that we have accumulated over the years, my wife and I had different solutions for the same problem.  For each and every box that gets added to the list, I had, rather have, a simple solution,

 "Let's chuck it.  Why do we need this?", which, unfortunately, is diametrically opposite to the position held by her - "Oh, we can buy a small shelf to offset this problem?" It doesn't require an Einstein to figure out who wins these arguments.

For me, the whole process of discarding is pretty simple.  If you don't use something over a period of time, just discard the item.  The philosophy is straightforward and I explained this to her, "See, when we move to the new apartment, let's not unpack some of the boxes.  It's okay if the apartment is a mess for some days.  At least, we will know the items that we are using and those that we don't.  So, if we don't unpack something for a month or two, it means we should never ever be needing that box.  One of my ex-colleagues did exactly that(I think I have mentioned this in one of my earlier posts).  He told me that when he was moving from Colorado to Kansas, he saw some boxes in the basement of his house.  "Praveen, I just dumped these boxes in the trash.  If I did not need these boxes for ten years, there's no way in the world I would be needing them now.  So, I just put them in trash."  Sounded like an absolutely logical thing to do.  And, one of the other things we differ is, when it comes to home decor.  I just want to keep things plain and simple.  I still don't get what's the idea behind wall hangings.  Why can't you just leave the walls plain?

"We need to get some paintings", my wife said.

The monologue would continue further.  "This will certainly refresh the living room decor.  Why in the world would you want to keep the walls plain?"

There lies the fundamental difference between a man and a woman, I thought.  First of all, men are lazy, and don't want additional responsibility to manage extra items in a cramped apartment.  I don't know how women get that extra energy to maintain what I would consider them to be unwanted items. As my friend put it recently, "It doesn't matter what they buy man.  It hurts the most, when they place the painting at two different positions in the living room and expect you to opine which of the two places is the most favorable to hang the painting.  I just can't take that."

For me, over the years, one of the things I have found most difficult to throw out is the collection of books.  In the Kindle age, it is not hard, space consuming to maintain an e-library.  But, what about those books which you have bought over a period of time? There is this emotional attachment that has developed along with the dust and cobwebs.  I certainly don't regret taking my RK Narayan collection or The Complete Collection of Sherlock Holmes among the many others, because these are books that I have read multiple times over a period of time.  But, there are some books that I have not even opened. The smudges of the fingers on the title page may exist because of the transfer of location, but beyond that, it is a brand new book on the inside.  I haven't opened them in years, and I am pretty confident that I will not read them ever.  But, as soon as I make a mental note of taking the book out of my book shelf, emotionally, I feel like a criminal for even having thought about it.  In the end, the books remain and follow us from one location to the other, yearning and begging to be read some day.  But, then, I know, human mind is changing constantly.  You never know when you need something until you actually need them (thankfully, I apply this logic only to books).  I reassure myself superficially, and with extra care (whatever that means in the world of dust and cobwebs), preserve these books.

I look at some of the boxes she has packed.  I look at my wardrobe collection stuffed into a box, and then her collection stuffed into boxes.  I look at her.  She looks at me.  I do what any sane man will do in these times.  I keep my mouth shut and move on to the next box.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Navarathri - Golu, Sundal and Geometry

Navarathri Golu
It's not unusual for people to get excited about Oktoberfest, the annual beer fest held in Bavaria, Germany.  In the other part of the world, in the month of October, falls the annual Navarathri festival that lasts for 10 days.  Even though the Hindu calendar takes precedence in deciding the date on which Navarathri falls, as far as I can remember, it somehow coincides with the month of October.  Of course, as with every festival in the Indian community, there are many theories as to why we celebrate Navarathri.  One of the Hindu traditions during this period is the exhibition of dolls and clay figurines at home.  This display of dolls is called as Golu.

Kondapalli Dasavatharam
This year, Hema and I wanted to keep a simple Golu at our California apartment.  Now, moving from Kansas to California is a huge step, simply because of the difference in culture between the mid-west and the far west.  For us, some of the greatest differences we observed were the steep rental prices here and the massive crowd that followed in any shopping complex.  In Kansas, we have always obtained parking spots as soon as we entered a shopping complex, but in California, you literally had to fight for the spots.  I digress.  All that I wanted to say is the living room space here is a lot lesser compared to our Kansas apartment.  But, one of the greatest perks of living in California that overrides everything else in Kansas is the festive atmosphere here.  Just the day before Navarathri, we walked into Komala Vilas to buy a couple of dolls, and it was like a mini-Malleswaram or a mini-Mylapore. There was such a huge crowd in there, with a swarm of maamis and families fighting for the dolls of their choice.  It is a common experience in India, but in the US, it is a unique experience.  We had to walk into another Indian store to realize that it is a common experience in the bay area as well.  It is easy to get carried away by the festive spirit here.  We felt that living in a big city, and especially in the bay area, truly has its perks.
Kondapalli Hanuman

The best thing about Navarathri is the Sundal.  When I was in India, since I was in an apartment housing, I would visit a number of apartments just to get a packet of sundal from every maami's place.  The taste and flavor of sundal is different and variegated in every home.  And when you visited a temple, you would again be getting sundal as prasadam (temple offering).  That beats any sundal prepared by any maami.  The temple offering adds a unique flavor to the sundal.

As I mentioned before, since our living area is small, we had to dismantle our dining set first and place it in the room.  Since all the items from the living room had to make their way to the bedroom, it meant that we had to clean up the room.  Since the room had to look clean, we had to move a ton of stuff to the storage area.  In short, we had to clean the entire apartment.  This was also our best chance to remove all the unwanted junk that was lying in many hidden corners.  So, as we set out to create our Golu for this year, we were posed with a number of unique challenges.  You basically have to create raised platforms or steps of different levels to place the dolls.  So, this is how we went about creating the steps.

First Step - Kamakshi Amman and Gayatri Devi with the Marapachi dolls
We have a moving trolley on which we place our day to day items like a big plastic box of wheat and a big box of rice.  We also have the mixer and grinder in place there.

"Why don't we use this as the topmost step?", Hema asked me.

I was like, Use whatever you want.  Why ask me?

I acted as if I was pondering carefully.

I said, "Sure, why not? That seems like a good idea!" This is one of the things I realized from marriage.  Once the idea comes from the wife, it always is a good idea.  Period.

So, I placed it carefully at the instructed place.  She told me to move the trolley by an inch.   You guessed it right.  I moved it by an inch.

"Haan, this looks better." 

Honest to God, I could not see the difference.

We pulled out a couple of cartons, and big flat box to place it on the couple of cartons to create the next step.  For the last step, we placed a couple of plastic boxes containing rice and wheat flour, and placed a flat box to create the third step.

Second Step - Dasavatharam, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Hanuman
"You know what.  We have a problem", she said.  The second box does not subtend an angle of 180 degrees.  She could as well have said that the box is not in a straight line.  Or maybe that's what she said, and I understood the former.  This is how elaborate it feels when somebody asks you to do some household work.

I mean, I made sure it was on a straight line.

Then the boxes.  We placed the box of wheat and rice and then placed the cardboard on top of them.  Luckily, we had bought a new pack of rice which wasn't emptied on to this box.  If not, we would have  had to remove the rice out and put it in a separate cover.

What about the wheat flour? Take it out and place it in a bag, otherwise, we won't be able to have chapathis for two weeks.

I said, "No problem.  I will skip chapathis for two weeks.  Absolutely no problem for me."

That problem of pouring the wheat flour to the bag and making a complete mess of the carpet (since it would have been me emptying the box, I can assure you that the carpet would have been messed up) was thankfully circumvented.
Third Step - Aachi and Chettiar selling their wares
We then covered the entire arrangement with a brand new dhoti.  I thought it looked good.  For me, even placing the dolls on just the carton boxes would have been fine.  But then, it's not me who gets to decide on these things.

But the dhoti did not cover the sides properly.  It exposed the cartons and the wooden stand from the side.

What's my reaction?

Oh, wow, this looks awesome.  This is really good.

No.  We need to cover the sides.  We need to place one more dhoti.

Then, we examined the three steps.  Everything looked good.  To Me.

We need to move it to the right by a few centimeters.

I wanted to wiggle out of this.

Sugarcane in Kamakshi Amman's hand
We followed the whole process again.  Then, we started to place the dolls.  After several permutations and combinations, we arrived at what we figured was the best arrangement.

She observed the setup.

We did not place the dhotis like the way we placed them the first time.  Can we(read I) remove the dhotis and place them back again, exactly like the way they were before?

I didn't even try to figure out what she was saying.  These artistic patterns go over my head.  I nodded and placed them like the way she expected them to be.

See, the borders now line up exactly at the corners.  That's how I wanted.

I was happy that she was happy.  She was still examining like a surgeon.

You know what, the height from the first step to the second step is not the same as the height from the second step to the third.

I couldn't believe this was happening.

So, what do you propose to do? 

Let us rearrange everything, and swap the second and third steps.

In the end, whatever keeps her happy.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


Grizzly bear - The symbol of Alaska
Warning: A really, long post.  So, if you want to catch some good sleep, you can start here. 
Note: I keep updating this post as and when I remember details from the trip.  

Some of my friends who have visited Alaska say it's a life changing experience, and we wanted to find out what that really meant.  My wife and I are really interested in places that's away from the crowd, and that which gives us a chance to be as close to nature as possible, in the most pristine state.  Alaska was on our mind, at least, for the last two years.  Ever since we saw some of the pics taken by our friends, our interests were only amplified.  Since our previous summers were occupied, we really had no chance to plan a proper Alaskan vacation.  It should also be noted that the Alaska visiting experience window is open for only about 100 days in a year, if you want to experience the pleasant summer experience.  And unless you are interested in cross-country skiing or other winter sports, it doesn't leave you with much option other than to pick your visit in this tiny window.  As we packed our sweaters, cold jackets and rain jackets, we were thrilled by the prospect of visiting, possibly, the greatest landscape of America.

Day 0 - Alaska Railroad and the six hour cruise to Kenai Fjords

Alaska Railroad - Coastal Train to Seward
We reached Anchorage, the largest city of Alaska with a population of close to 350,000 people (the total population of Alaska is about 750,000), at about 2:00 in the morning.  Since our early morning coastal train to Seward was at 6:45 in the morning, we decided to spend the night(early dawn) at the airport lounge.  It was pretty fascinating to see the airport packed with so many people, since a lot of them were put up there waiting for early morning flights or waiting to catch the early morning train to Seward.  So, we took at taxi at about 5:45 and headed to the Alaska Railroad depot located in downtown Anchorage.  The air just felt fresh.
Some breathtaking views along the way
Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic is actually a classic way of heading to Seward from Anchorage.  It leaves at 6:45 in the morning and reaches Seward at 11:30 just before noon.  It takes twice the time than normal if you  decide to drive.  The extra two hours on the train is actually worth it as you're exposed to stunning views of the scenery, with a multitude of glaciers lining up the coast, and you have the driver stopping at various intervals to help you capture some amazing views and wildlife on the camera.  To say that the view is breathtaking is a gross understatement.  Once we reached the small town of Seward, we were picked up by the day cruise folks to takes us to the Kenai Fjords National Park.  This is one of the few national parks in the US which has been created keeping in mind the abundance of glaciers in the area.  The six hour cruise wowed us with sea otters, seals, humpback whales, dall porpoises, eagles and puffin birds.  The views from the cruise were simply breathtaking, and we were taken to Holgate glacier, which was totally spell binding.  Since the weather was postcard perfect, we could witness what's known as calving of glaciers.  Glacier calving is a phenomenon where the ice from the glacier rumbles as though simulating the sound of thunder before landing on the water.  The lunch offered on the cruise was heavily sea food oriented because of which we had to survive on meal bars and potato chips.

Holgate glacier - the largest we saw on the cruise
We got back to the city in the evening to spend the night at Hotel Seward, which is located right in the heart of downtown.  Now, when I say downtown, it's not a fancy place.  Seward hosts about 4000 people during the holiday season from May to September, after which the population dwindles to about 2000 for the rest of the year.    We met a lot of folks who were in Seward only for the summer.  The receptionist at the hotel, Cynthia, was from Texas.  She said that she wanted a place where she could beat the heat and so once when she came on a vacation to Alaska decided that that's where she wanted to spend; a place where she could get a break from the heat.  We definitely didn't fault her for the location.

Seward is a beautiful town
Seward is such a beautiful town that the backdrop of the city is filled with mountains and ocean.  Whether you are in the downtown or in the outskirts, you have the view of water and the snow capped mountains.  A walk along the waterfront in the evening is a wonderful experience.

Day 1 - Exit Glacier and the tryst with the bear cub
Exit Glacier
The next day, we set out to Exit Glacier.  It is the most popular glacier in Southwest Alaska, since it is easily accessible and has a number of trails around the glacier.  We took a shuttle to get to the Kenai Fjords National Park (costs just 10$ for a round trip), and the drive to the park was simply breathtaking.  You know what, after a point, the term breathtaking just loses its meaning, because that's the description that fits almost anything in Alaska.  By this time, I was taken in by the people, the small town feel of the place, the natural beauty, the water and the mountains.  I wanted to find out more and more about the place.  I also have a tendency to strike a conversation with anyone I see.  Travel is a fascinating aspect of life, because it gives us a chance to interact and meet people from all walks of life.  And, in a place like Alaska, everybody is bound by the common passion towards nature and wildlife.  The guy who drove us to Exit Glacier was there only for the summer.  He was visiting the city from Montana.  There was a fellow passenger who drove with us; she had not even booked her return ticket to Boston.  She said she wanted to spend as much time as possible in Alaska before she decided to make up her mind on the return trip.  She shared her travel experiences with us, and she said that she had been to various parts of India, including Madurai.

Exploring exit glacier - Bear instructions
By the time we reached the park entrance, we had heard quite a lot of tales about the black bears in the area.  The brown bears are not as prevalent in this region as in Denali.  My wife, Hema,  now was very apprehensive about the hikes in the area.  We spoke to the park rangers as well.  They said that there are bears in the area but that there is nothing to fear.  There were some general precautions mentioned.
  1. Firstly, if you see a bear, keep a good distance.
  2. If the bear is on the trail, change the hike path.
  3. If the bear comes close to you, fall to the ground and act dead.
  4. If the bear starts to eat you, you should fight back.
The first two were okay.  The third one was barely manageable, but the fourth point! I mean, wait for the bear to eat you and then you fight back.  Now, that was something.  Anyway, we didn't even have a hiking pole with us to fight back.  There are different instructions for brown and black bears.  But, we discarded all the fears (that's what I thought) and headed to the 8 mile round trip Harding Ice field trail.  The trail straightaway took us into a thicket, with dense vegetation on both sides of the trail, coupled with very steep elevation.  Hema was very concerned that a bear could easily jump from either side of the trail.  I laughed her off.  

"What are you talking about? If we see a bear, let us just give a bear hug.  After all, they are huge creatures, but are very cute."

She replied, "What are you talking? Have you seen its paws? If it gives us one slap, we are dead." 

Harding Ice Field Trail
We saw a couple who were coming to us from the opposite side.  We asked them how come they were back early.  They told us they had just seen a bear cub, and that they did not have the intention to go further.  In spite of that, we thought we'll move on and see what happens.  So, we continued further, with each of us saying something like "Hey bear" and moving on trying to keep a conversation to let the bears know that we were in their vicinity.   So, as we passed by a bush, I could here a distinct rustling of the leaves and a disturbance from a bush.  We walked passed it dismissing the sound.  I told my wife that I had heard a noise.    And then, after walking a few feet further, I looked behind to see a small, cute bear cub walking in our direction on the trail.  That was it.  Hema and I literally freaked out.  We started walking hurriedly and tried to maintain as much distance as possible from the bear.  In fact, I wanted to take a shot of the bear, but Hema prevented me from taking a snap so as not to distract the bear with the shutter click sound.  Also, she warned that the mama bear could be around.  We lost sight of the bear after about five minutes.  So, after going further, we were caught in confusion.  Should we continue hiking in the wilderness or head back? But, if we head back, then there was that little bear cub on the trail.  And this is when, I had to listen to my wife preach for a few minutes the importance of precaution and safety.  Anyway, I convinced her that we should be heading down.  We walked with trepidation watching every step, in every direction.  We breathed a sigh of relief when we heard voices in the opposite direction.  We saw a park ranger guiding a couple.  Even they had seen the bear cub.  We now had a new found energy.  We continued our hike with them.  The ranger was there to repair a bridge across the water.  My wife returned back with him, while I continued a further two miles with people who I met on the way.  It was truly an adventurous experience.  The Harding ice field trail was truly worth it.  I didn't finish the last half of a mile, as I had to return back to the visitor center to try out a less strenuous hike with my wife on the "Edge of the Glacier view" trail.  The views were just breathtaking.  There was rain in the air, but then, the locals told me that once you are in Alaska, you should stop caring about the weather.

We headed back to Anchorage by the Alaska Railroad and spent the night there.

Days 2 and 3 - Denali and more encounters with the bears

We had our breakfast at Snow City Cafe, supposedly the best breakfast place in town, in Anchorage.  The breakfast was truly fantastic.  We then headed to Denali, which was about four hours away.  We passed through Sarah Palin's town, Wasilla, and continued on 3N.  As we approached the George Parks Highway Scenic Byway, we were treated to some scintillating colors.  It felt as though we were on a different planet.  The basic colors had been sprayed across Denali.  The backdrop of the mountains along with the beautiful vegetation made us forget that we were on planet Earth.  It was surreal.
On the way to Savage river
On the savage river loop trail
We checked in at McKinley Village Lodge (a fantastic place to stay) about 6 miles from the park entrance, and then headed to Savage River about 15 miles into the park, the last point allowed for private vehicles.  Beyond this point, you had to depend on the park vehicles to ply in the area.  The drive to Savage River is just fantastic.  The place is just colorful, literally.  At least, we had never seen something like that.  The area had a 2 mile round trip hike with almost zero elevation.

Bear on the Tundra Alpine Trail
The next day, we got up early in the morning to take the bus to Eielson visitor center.  We saw some fantastic wildlife on the way - bears and moose.  We decided to take the Tundra Alpine trail from the visitor center.  Now, my wife tried to dissuade me as much as possible from the hike saying that we should take the ranger led hike instead of going on our own.  As usual, I let out some stupid jokes saying why we should not be scared of the bears and reasoned that it won't be a problem now since we have prior experience.  I don't know how being followed by a bear cub would qualify as good experience, but I had to convince her somehow.  So, we hiked to the top amidst some steep elevation.  It was a brutal hike, but the views along the way were simply superb.  As we were coming down, we realized some folks shouting from below.  "Back up" and "Stay off trail" were some of the calls we heard.  So, we spent a few minutes contemplating whether to stay there or come down.  And at this point, I also had to listen to my wife's "I told you so" taunts.  The weather was really foggy, and even if there was a bear nearby, we wouldn't have figured out.  And then, I zoomed my camera to see where the bear was.  We were able to walk off trail and reach the visitor center without any issues.

The big female moose

Day 4 - Anchorage
We spent the next day doing some biking on the coastal trail of Anchorage and headed back to California.

Some Additional Information
It's very tricky to plan how many days you want to stay in Alaska.  Ideally, even a year is not enough, so it's important to understand what you exactly want to do in a week's time or ten days.  So, if you plan to spend about a week in Alaska, you can spend a couple of days in South West Alaska (Seward, Girdwood, Homer or one of these places), a couple of days in Denali and maybe a day at Anchorage.  Denali is just overwhelming.

Dealing with bears
We have ended up seeing a lot of documentaries on bears after we got back.  We still don't know the right way to understand them.  One thing to be noted is, we are entering their territory.  So, we are the ones who should learn to behave in front of them.  Another thing, they can attack us and not vice versa.

Alaska is a tourism spot for about 100 days.  The season extends from mid-May to mid-September, and this is the only time where hotel folks, tour people and the main cities make money.  So, the cost of touring Alaska is at least one and a half times more expensive than other places.

One of the ways you can save money is to buy the Alaska Tour Saver book from here for about a 100$.  You can also get it from eBay at a lesser price depending on the travel vouchers you are looking for.  If you are going as a couple, then you get a lot of Buy one, get one free deals.  The savings can be immense, be it for booking the Kenai Fjords tour or even booking a hotel in Denali.  It is very important to plan your trip at least six weeks in advance.

Everything is interconnected
All the folks we met in Alaska were just fantastic.  Since everything in Alaska is so tourism oriented, everything is interconnected.  For example, when you take the Alaska Railroad to Seward, the luggage is taken care by the Railroad authorities itself.  Your luggage is automatically taken to the appropriate hotel. If your hotel is not in the list of serviced ones, then you can have the luggage delivered to the hotel from the Marine Tours service.  You can get the luggage when you go back to the hotel after the Tours.

Early to bed
From our experience, be it Seward or Anchorage, the city goes to sleep pretty early.  We were taking a walk at about 7 in the night at Seward, and the downtown was pretty much deserted.  We could understand the reason later.  Even though the sun stays up till about 9, people are used to getting to bed early, thanks to the short days during winters.  So, that practice continues even in the summers.  At Denali, the town was buzzing with activity at 6 in the morning, as people were getting ready to catch the 6:30 am bus to Eielson visitor center.

To sum it up, Alaska is an awesome place.  The nature and wildlife here is like nowhere else we have seen before.  The time we spent in Alaska is an experience that is just not forgettable.  Ever since our return, we have been guzzling as much info as possible about Alaska and its bears.  No photo or video can do justice to the wonderful landscape of Alaska, and it's an experience of a lifetime, really.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No spoiler alert

As The Dark Knight Rises movie mades it way into the theaters, I stayed away from Twitter and Facebook, and the grim prospect of knowing the spoilers before watching the movie put me on high alert.  Even if I opened Facebook by mistake or by habit (both are the same now), the news feed was getting filled with how epic the movie was, and how it bettered the prequel in all aspect.

Talking about spoilers, I am really scared of spoiler alerts, for it just alters the movie watching experience.  And, if it's a suspense or a mystery movie, you're in for big trouble.  Most of the Hindi movies at the time I grew up had a pretty straightforward formula - the hero and the heroine fall in love, there is a villain lurking in somewhere, the hero bashes up the bad guys and finally walks away with the girl.  There was nothing unpredictable with the movies.  Everything was laid out perfectly, and as a viewer, you knew exactly the sequence, albeit in different settings.  There was no scope for any suspense whatsoever.

Things changed a bit in the late nineties and the early 2000s.  When I had finished my tenth grade, there was this Hindi movie, titled Gupt, doing the rounds.  It was a murder mystery, and since it was different from the usual Hindi movie, a lot of people were flocking to the theaters and were trying their level best to not hear the killer's name.  You go to the men's room, you literally had to close your eyes and relieve lest you notice the names scribbled on the walls, school and college compound walls had the names, bills and posters were not spared as well, and of course, you abhorred socializing until you watched the movie.  And those days, social media was not as prevalent as what it is today.  In spite of that, there were so many barriers to cross to go watch the movie without knowing the ending.  Anyway, this Hindi movie had one of my favorite actors, Kajol, the versatile beauty from Bollywood.  

Whenever I see people pleading with their friends not to reveal the spoilers, I get reminded of an incident that happened to one of my friends when he went to watch this movie.  He told me he was going for the evening show one of the days.  He was pretty excited about it.  He had also taken elaborate pains to not participate in any conversation that was centered on the movie.  I told him to enjoy the movie whole heartedly.

The next day, when I met him, I asked him "Dude, how did it go? Did you enjoy the movie?"

"Oh, it was awesome.  I really enjoyed the movie.  Kajol is awesome."

But, noticing his glum look, I couldn't resist interrogating him further.

"Why are you looking as though you didn't get the tickets for the movie? What happened?"

"My friend and I were late to catch up at the bus stop.  So, we decided to take the auto rickshaw to go to the theater."

"So, you are upset that your net cost of the movie watching experience was more than expected?" I interrupted.

"Wait, you idiot.  Just listen", and he continued.  "We reached the theater with at least ten minutes in advance.  The auto rickshaw guy was a very pesky guy.  He wanted twenty bucks more for the ride.  And, we refused."

I already had an inkling of things to come, and was ready to burst into laughter.

"As we paid the actual amount and got out of the auto rickshaw, he shouted at us."

If that wasn't enough, he also screamed "You guys go and have a good time in the theater.  Kajol is the killer."

"That kind of ruined our whole experience."

When I heard this, I was in splits.  I didn't care that I knew the killer, but the auto rickshaw driver had certainly exacted his revenge.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Explaining iPad

Yeah, the new iPad is out, and of course, there are tons of guys(including me) who want to get their hands on the new gadget from Apple.  My father-in-law, who knows as much about technology as I know about fashion and style, remarked that he had heard about the new iPad.  He had not even seen an iPhone, nor an iPod and of course, none of the previous iPads.  But, looking at the way the Apple brand is gaining traction among the crowd, I was least surprised.

So, today, as the rains lashed Sunnyvale, we thought the best option would be to explore the malls.  Once we entered the mall, obviously, we entered the Apple store.  We wanted to introduce him to the iPad.  We compared the iPad 2 and the new iPad, and tried to ascertain differences other than the ones listed on the Apple website.  After he had the initial feel for the device, and impressed by the touch sensitivity of the screen, he set it aside.

I was still not finished with the introduction.

Oh, you don't even need to connect to the computer? Now, Apple has taken care so well that you can just activate the device without connecting to the computer.  Look at the form factor.  Isn't it wonderful?  No wonder people are so enamored by this gadget.  Apple has come up with the perfect tablet.  So easy to use!

If somebody was listening to me, they would have thought that I was an Apple salesperson.

I was pretty much happy with the way I had explained the various features of the iPad.  I was now waiting for the questions.

USB connect panlaama? So, can I connect my USB to this device? My father-in-law asked me.

adhu edhukku? ungalukku USB kavaleye irukkadhu.
I replied, "Oh, why would you want to do that? There is absolutely no need to worry about USB connectivity."

Appo, songsellam eppadi transfer panradhu? Engitta naraiya paatu irukkey.
Then, how will I transfer the songs? I have a collection of songs that I need to transfer.  How will I do that?

Adhu romba simple.  iTunesnu oru software irukku.  Adha vechchu use panlam.
"That's pretty simple.  You just connect it to iTunes on the computer." Now, iTunes is not the easiest way to transfer songs for a person who is not comfortable with computers.

Aana, ippodhan sonnel computer vendaamnu? (Just now you told me that you don't require a computer.)

"Yeah, for some things, you still need to connect the iPad to the computer."

What's the total storage? he asked.

Oh, don't worry.  This is 16 GB, but if you pay a couple hundred more, you can get 64 GB.

What if I want more? Can I connect an external hard disk?

I hesitated.  No, that's the maximum.  The idea of iPad is to be portable, I said sheepishly.

Not sure whether he was appeased.

Appo, naa eppadi padam paappen.  iTunes vechchu transfer panlaama?
Then, how will I see movies.  Can I transfer it through iTunes?

The word Netflix almost popped out of my mouth.  Then, I remembered the use case.  He is going to use it in India, and again, he needs to transfer the movies from hard disk to iPad.  So, Netflix is out of the question.

My friend's words were ringing in my ears.  "Maga, neenu ondhu movie transfer maado iPad ge." (Maga, try transferring one movie to the iPad.)

My wife and I looked at each other.  We had no answers.

Then, my mother-in-law who was listening to all this asked us,

Internetku easyaa connect panlaama? (Can we connect easily to the net?)

Aama mami, this is very simple.  Wifi option irukku.  (Sure, there is a Wifi option)

Appona, wifiku naamba enna pannanum?  Aathula DSL connection dhane irukku? (What should we do to enable Wifi? We just have a DSL connection.)

I told her that it can easily be done by connecting a router.

What about printing something from the iPad? Is there an option?

I was quick to retort.  Oh yes! I pulled up one of the pages on Safari and showed her how easy it is to print something.

Aana, printer connection enga? she asked.  (Where is the printer connection?)

Oh, Adhuvum Wifi printer (You need a Wifi printer).

Aana, aathula Wifi printer illaiye.  Normal printer dhane irukku.  USB port illaiya?
Oh, but at home, we don't have a Wifi printer.  We just have a normal printer.  Is there no USB port?

"Oh, appona adhu problem dhaan", I said.
(Then, that's a problem!)

Appona, computeray vaangalamay, she said.  In that case, we can buy a computer itself, right?

In the middle of all this, the Apple salesperson butt in, "Sir, we also have the new iPad with 4G connectivity which is a major improvement compared to the previous iPad."

I was muttering to myself, "Ada paavi, indha nerathula ippadi oru gunda podriyeda" (Why do you have to bring this up now?)

I think they realized that there was no use asking me tech questions anymore.

And, at the end, they added, "Maybe, we'll understand and be able to appreciate better when we start using the device."

And, I concluded, "Exactly."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The stock market expert

I am currently reading Michael Lewis's Boomerang: Travels in the new third world, a hilarious account of the events that led to the economic meltdown in Iceland, Greece and Ireland, and of course, eventually, the rest of the world.  Iceland's situation was due to the fact that every fisherman wanted to be a financial investor, Greece's was due to inflated accounts and Ireland's was due to the collapse of the banking structure.

Iceland was especially funny, because I could exactly relate to what happened.  I am not a fisherman, but I did turn a financial investor with fantastic results.  So, let me tell you three stories; these stories changed the way I invest.

The first story was pretty devastating as an early investor.  After making tons of mistakes by investing in worthless companies, I thought it was time I took on the big guns.  I realized that if you actually want to make money, it should be done not by volume but by the quality of the stock.  I felt that buying 1000 shares worth 5$ was not as good as let's say buying 40 shares worth 120$ each.  So, that's exactly what I did by buying the latter.  In about a week after I bought the highly valued 40 shares, the stock price tanked to about 90$.  And as was(even is is applicable here) my trait, I panicked, ending up in massive losses worth 1200$.  That's like losing many months of savings.  I think I must be one of the very few investors who made a loss after having shares of the company that has the ticker AAPL.  Sigh!

The second story also involves the AAPL ticker.  I thought I had learnt my lesson, and I felt everything was a good learning experience.  I bought ten shares of AAPL at 240$ or so, the figures I don't remember exactly.  Those days, I was car pooling with my colleague at work.  Both of us, as a practice, used to discuss our acts of bravado in the financial world.     

"Dude, I always have a problem with the stock market.  Whenever I invest in a company, that company tanks." I said, frustrated with myself.

He was cool.  "So, what did you do now? Let me know which company.  At least, I'll short it."

"No way man.  This time, I have invested in Apple.  The stock is only heading north.  Nothing can bring it down."

After some time, the same day, during work, I received a mail from him.  The email had the derogatory Hahahaha.  Even, before I could open the mail, he walks into my office and lets out a massive laugh.  

"Did you read the news man?" he asked.

"Why? What happened?", I shot back.

"Check out the news", he said.

I opened Google news and the Wall Street Journal screamed out "Apple's Jobs to take medical leave."

That was Steve Jobs's first medical leave of absence and I know the stock lost 10 to 15% in a single day.  I have no idea how much I sold it for.  I don't want to remember such things.  

The third story is a bit more complicated.  I generally did not deal with stocks in the banking sector.  It's a different matter that I do not deal with any right now.  My under-graduate pal was praising the adventures of his friend, who had made a lot of money in the stock market.  

"Dude, he has invested in a lot of steel companies, but majority of his investments are in the banking sector.  He has already made 25,000$."

He continued further.

"You know what? He bought C (Citibank) when it was at 1$ and BAC (Bank of America) at 2$, and he is reaping the rewards now.  C was trading at about 4$ and BAC at about 8 or 9$."

I was overawed.  "Wow, that's pretty cool, man"

"What's your friend saying? What should we do now?"

"We should invest in banking stocks man.  No doubt about that.  Banks can never collapse.  The government always protects them."

"So, what are you thinking about? What do you have in mind?"

"Let's invest in AIB (Allied Irish Bank) man." He said pretty confidently.  "I have already purchased 600 shares at 8$."  

"I don't have so much.  Let me buy about 300."

I think that was the only day in our lives, we saw that stock at 8$.  

Then started the onset of the Ireland banking system collapse.  The Irish Banks were issuing loans to real estate developers massively, and after a point, as the real estate market collapsed, there was no way for the Banks to recover the money.   
The stock only went downhill.  We sold the shares at 2 or 3$ incurring a massive loss.

Both of us turned philosophical.  We came to the conclusion that the stock market was a pretty hard learning ground and it wasn't good for amateurs like us to enter the fray.  

We had to blame someone.

"All these things are controlled by the government."  And of course, my friend had to let out his trademark quote.  "Money earned through stock market is not hard earned money.  Anyway, it will go out of our hands.  So, forget it."

I had half a mind to reject the quote, but that would have only made things worse.  

So, these three stories thought me a severe lesson.   Never ever put money in the stock market.  It is like playing with fire.  So, today, as I saw the AAPL stock going up, I was tempted to buy 5 to 6 shares.  I almost placed the order, but then withdrew at the last moment.  The stock was trading at 525$.  An hour later, I checked up the value, and it had gone down to 508$, and it ended the day at 495$.

It felt good.  But, it also felt bad that I still hadn't learnt my lesson completely.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

New year resolutions

The first time my fifth or sixth grade school teacher asked me about my new year resolutions, I looked at her with a blank expression.  I had no idea what that meant.  And, I would have had no further idea for years to come if, I repeat, if she had not asked us to come up with essays on the topic.  That was also the year I was introduced to the concept of writing your own essays.  Till then, it was about cramming a few sentences in your head and spitting it out verbatim in the exam papers.

I asked a few blokes around me as to what resolutions meant.  All of them were as intelligent as I was, save for a few exceptions.  These guys were writing as if their whole lives were about to be shaped by this composition. They formed a kind of protective enclosure, with notebooks and text books surrounding the sheet on which they were writing, on three sides.  The fortress had an opening only for the pen or pencil to find its way through the gap.  And the eyes would stare in all directions as though about to kill anyone who stared in his direction.  The other buddies would nod at each other, as if to say, it's not worth the effort to look into the other guy's writing.

So, the rest would come up with their interpretation of what resolution meant and fill the pages.  Resolution, for the first time, would mean different to different people - dream, aspiration (not sure whether I knew the meaning of aspiration at that time), wish, goal, holiday, sport, game and so on.  My interpretation rested on hobby, and even though it's funny when you think about it, "My new year hobby" felt like a valid essay title.  So, I went on and on about how I would like to collect stamps from different countries, about how I would request stamps from different uncles and aunts, and friends in different places.  For the record, I had no uncle or aunt in other countries.  For that matter, I had no one living anywhere other than the southern part of the country.  I am not sure how it is now, but those days, the teachers had a habit of calling students near the board and read out their writings to the class.  As the handpicked students read out their essays, we would let out nervous guffaws when the teacher would say, "Are you sure resolution is a game?" or "Are you sure it means a holiday?" As the more knowledgeable read out their essay, the teacher would give out her sign of approval with a good or a nice.  They would bask in the glory while some looked at them in admiration and for the rest, would feel like kicking their butt.

Even though I did not make any new year resolutions, just thinking about it, I can do a dozen changes to my lifestyle.  For a start, I can spend less time on my iPhone and actually have a conversation with my wife in a restaurant.

Next, spend very little time reading.  If you have seen the Indian movies in the late nineties, you will always see a villain who shouts out dialogues like "Come on, tell me, where is the treasure located?" If the same question is put to me today, I will be in a position to point out the exact location of all the hidden treasures in the world.  Such is the information overload, I might choke to death with so much unwanted data.  Actually, knowing something about hidden treasure is not exactly a bad idea.

Next, eat healthy.  If given a plate of raw vegetables (salad) or a plate of Gobi Manchurian, I would want to pick the former.  That's almost impossible!

Moving on to my eternal goal next, which is to go to the gym regularly.  The gym going exercise is not to lose weight, but actually to gain some.  It has been a never ending exercise, and I think, this year too, it shall remain one.

Finally, the most important change would be to spend a little less time on cricket.  I realize how futile it is to waste precious hours of your life on a cricket match.  And, for a person who watches test cricket, it is like losing 40 hours a week for no good reason.  Considering that we had the world cup last year, along with test matches in South Africa, England and Australia, I must have easily lost about 375 hours (about 25 hours for the South Africa series, 100 hours for the England series, 30 hours for the Melbourne game, throw in about 100 hours for the six tests against the Windies, about 75 hours for the India games in the World Cup, about 50 hours watching highlights).  I have lost 50 days last year just watching cricket.  I can easily tell you that this is a very conservative estimate.  This does not include the amount of time I spend on cricinfo or the time spent discussing the game with friends.  I definitely want to reduce this time and bring it down to 25 days this year.

And, when I say read less, I meant the online information.  I really want to read at least 12 books (fiction/non-fiction/biographies/...) this year.  I think that's not too hard.  One book per month is a reasonable read, I suppose.  Let's see.

Since California is bestowed with a wonderful landscape, got to keep the weekend hiking plan going with friends.  Some of the places around are just breathtaking, and I would love to explore the area as much as possible.

But, for the time being, let me see if India can pull off a draw in the second test match at the SCG.  I can assure you that this will go in my quota of 25 days for this year.

Wishing everyone a very happy 2012.