Six Times Seven?
What is six times seven? The answer would be simple, but not when you are trying to use that to stay calm on the world's tallest roller coaster that shoots you up 420 feet vertically and then down, twisting back. That was a relaxation technique.The whole ride was 17.5 seconds and we waited in line for about 2 hours. This was more because I wanted to sit up front, in the drivers seat so to say. It's totally worth it. Theoretically speaking 99.99% there is nothing that can happen and you could be actually read a book or conduct a conversation while on a roller coaster. I forgot to try this. Keep you eyes closed and think you are on a really jerky bus. You might rationalise all you want before you start your ride but then when you are ON you are ON.. Some people say life is roller coaster. It's not and I am sure they have not been on a real one. If it was it would be unbearable for more than the few seconds that most rides last. (Some have maintained that sitting behind me on a bike is 'an experience'. None has died so far and I have not had any accidents. Honest!). Back on terra firma I realised the answer is
Standing in Line
Thankfully yesterday was a Friday and there was not much of a rush. The waits though for the latest and greatest were long. There is lots to do when you are standing in line. I reached a conclusion that despite what is advertised. Speed is nothing, atleast for the thrills. Its all about acceleration. Perhaps that's why the much touted Cedar Point attraction the 'Dragster' was not as exciting as the Millenium Force. It was fun working out the G's and all kind of other stuff with stopwatch and the equations of motion.
Then of course you can people watch. Watch some psyching themselves up, making heroic victory signs, looking cool, big smiles and sweating profusely below the neck. I noticed that they have an 'EXIT' at the point of boarding. Was thinking of suggesting 'Chicken Gate'.

Folk Music
I am plugged into Alison Krauss and reading an excerpt from a book. The book is a classic. A classic is a work that is often cited but never read.How true that is! Alison Krauss is the First Lady of Bluegrass Music (FLBM), which may not be true, though she brought bluegrass to mainstream America, always filled with its current 'idols'. There is something very appealing about folk music. Last night someone was playing the Gypsy Kings in the lab, it was wonderful. All my Gypsy Kings CDs are back home with all the others. There is an odd 'aha' feeling in hearing an old tune, something familiar in an unfamiliar place. Funny how French gypsies singing Spanish flamenco could change the complete atmosphere in a few minutes. The lyrics are simple usually ( unless you are talking of Bob Dylan, who is something else!) and so is the tune. A hummable, singable tune. The more I hear different fold music, its easy to see the common thread in all of them. Folk Music can be sad, lively, funny, satirical but it's never full of anger. The relatively fewer electronic, synthetic sounds make it more natural, more soothing. I became a major fan of the Hungarian folk musicians Musikas ( MOO-she-KASH) featuring Marta Sebestyen ( they are on the OST of the English Patient), which sounds at times so much like Indian music. Apart of the extremely talented Indian band Indian Ocean, I see very little of folk in Indian bands. We do have a rich classical tradition but also an incredibly rich folk music tradition. There was much of it in the 40s and 50s, but not anymore.
In the meanwhile, Alison Kraus and Union Station are twanging away on their banjos and mandolins. I have my earphones plugged on. Life is perfect!

Black August(?)
Thursday we had the nation's worst blackout in decades and was a little eerie that the radio announcers kept saying that this was not a terrorist attack. It appears that the ghosts of 9/11 have not yet been exorcised.The US also finds itself deep in shit in Iraq already, for an unjustified,uncalled, "UN-less", pointless war.
Thursday night was fun in many ways as people had 'block parties' and some enthusiasts revelled in seeing the night sky and the current flavour of the month "Mars". I think the Mars hoopla is a little insane as relatively Mars is still just as far away as it was 20 years ago. The only upside of this is that I can get access to a telescope more easily. Most people, however decided to get more down to earth and got drunk a day early and the next day( thank God it was Friday) and was an off. A fe stupid people cursed the darkness. Those with more sense enjoyed the outdoor experience. ( I am not talking about the looters in Detroit). I was thinking how prepared we are in modern India with hurricane lanterns, candles and torches all the time. With apologies to the Old Testament
On the 7th day MSEB said, "Let there be light", and there was light.
Independence Day
The next day was also the Indian Independence Day. I made it to the Independence Day event on the "Diag" on my bicycle wearing a kurta. The chief guest was some 'desi' proff., who mercifully gave a small, though platitudinous, cliche-filled speech. His saving grace was that neither Gandhi nor Nehru figured in his speech, which for amateur Independence Day chief guests is quite an achievement. All the shops were closed thanks to the blackout of the previous night. My stomach was rumbling for some nice hot sambhar and idlis. I had to make do with a banana and slightly smashed kiwi fruit.
A Full Circle
It's now been exactly a year and a day since I got here in Ann Arbor. Here in US of A. "Here in the land of the free, home of the brave"(sic). It now seems fun to see the new students with crew-cuts and maps in their hand looking lost on the Michigan campus. Was not long ago that I too was getting on the wrong buses. Much water under the bridge since then. I never really doubted my cooking abilities. Though now I really have a chance to prove it. I tried to learn how to Tango and I quickly realise that its not for nothing that they say 'it takes two to tango'. If I still have two left feet its thanks to that fact. I and many others like me share the joker's view below.

Madras Masala
Yesterday afternoon me and Jeykumar took our lab-mates to the Madras Masala. Tuesday afternoon is not a good time to eat(pig out on) Indian food. Makes you feel heavy and sleepy. Yet, I avoided letting practical considerations getting in the way of their enthusiasm of eating an Indian meal.
It is almost mandatory for all Indian restaurants who call themselves Indian restaurants to server 'Tandoori chicken'. It is universal to confirm to certain stereotypes that are associated with your country.
My American friend was surprised that we actually make 'okra'. In fact I was surprised that Americans actually have food in which these use 'bhendi'.
Only in America, would you eat dosa,wada, rasam, chinese hakka noodles, Indian-Chinese 'Manchurian', tandoori chicken, lemon rice, bhendi, gulab jamun,malai mutter and kulfi. After all that mix of North, South, East and West, I wonder how many people survive the 'Indian food' experience. It was not great food which I would have had in maybe 'Shraavan' or the great Mughlai at the Blue Nile. I was reminded eating the 'bondas' of the humble wada pav.
We all go there despite the okayish food. Like my friend said, " It's like Mac Donalds in Europe. You'll always find Americans there. Makes you feel at home." He was right. Feeling heavy and sleepy after the meal. Good or bad and despite having seen much better, I felt at home!

The Art of Maintenance
"Between the internet and all the do-it-yourself books and being an engineer, there is nothing that you cannot do..."
-John Seymour, lab colleague
This guy has all the damn tools in the world. Typical of human nature though, he said that he did not have half the tools he wanted. His dream list was to have some really fancy saws and planing tools and ....
My aims were simpler though. I had this busted tire and I had(wanted) to fix it (myself). I went and got all the stuff. The tire, tube (which was of the wrong specs). Which reminds me to share the

Cardinal Rule of Shopping for Spares:
Make sure you have the right specs AND the salesman gives you the right specs.

After all that and having John's really snazzy toolbox (one of a hundred that he owns),making my own measly collection of tools insignificant in the TOOL- OWNERS FIRMAMENT. This is what happened.
I figure things out, remove the tire, get my hands all greased, fix it and then I realise that the wheel was 'out of true'. Damn!! I cannot ride the bike and I have to trudge back. I hate walking-trudging.
Then the next day after checking the "RIGHT WAY to TRUE a wheel" on the internet, I trued the wheel. Truing wheels is great fun. "It's like learning to draw a straight line"-Jerry. More about Jerry some other day. It was a great experience. I am proud of my own trued wheel even if no one notices. Among the many unfinished books I have to read is Robert T Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance. He mentions in the book that, most people want to ride bikes and not bother about maintaining them or even bothering to learn how.
I echo his sentiment. I am long ways off but I can understand the Joy and Pride of Living in the House that YOU built..Riding the bike YOU constructed from scrap.. and things like that.

Caveat to John's Quote (as above)
"... we can do all these things, but the question is that as engineers is it worth our TIME?
- John Seymour