New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 4 - Saturday
It seemed liked the same grandparents, parents and toddlers in tow frolicking in Boston Commons the day before, had climbed on the New Haven - New York train that morning. This time, I did not have the most original travel plans. New Haven, home of the famous Yale University, was nothing much to speak of, except for the fact that it was the first place in the US after Chicago, that I saw a train station with more than one platform. Soon after we left I was gently rocked to sleep. When I woke up, I was in Harlem. Soon after that we went underground and I felt I was in the opening scene of In America. We arrived at the Grand Central Station and walked upto the crowded (nothing like V.T. or Churchgate) Great Hall. The US flag hung down, looking out of place with the figures and stars painted in gold on the immense green dome. It wanted to assert 'America - the Land of the Free, the Home of Brave'. For me, it epitomized the psyche of New York and country as a whole; the fear has subsided but not quite gone. The WTC site which went later, was still a mass of rubble but is treated like some shrine. The Americans had quite a reverential attitude appearing as if they were walking in some church. Contrastingly, foreigners gawked and took photographs, the fence and the rubble beyond it a famous background. They treated it one more stop on a cliched itinerary of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and Times Square.
Yesterday Boston was mrely comparable to Pune in some respects, New York was not comparable to Bombay but IT WAS Bombay. Not because they are both on a bunch of islands, or financial centres, or their countries most preeminent cities, or founded by European colonizers (Dutch, Portuguese resp.), or the tall buildings. It had the same vitality, vibrancy and always people trying to make it. Just outside the Staten Island Ferry pier, a Hispanic was swiftly selling pirated DVDs, 5$ a piece all spread on cloth. Though he was dwarfed by the skyscraper a hundred feet away, you could sense that each time he made a sale and money changed hands, he climbed up one step. One step of an imaginary skyscraper. The city is full of them, full of climbers from Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Almost every subway-station newspaper stand was being run by Gujarati Patels. In a few years, it might not feel like Bombay, it might just become Bombay!
To me it seemed quite poignant that right across the place where George Washington first took the oath stands the NYSE. In God we Trust and Mammon we believe. Everywhere they were tourists and more cameras. Where were the New Yorkers among all these migrants, vendors and tourists? Maybe they did not have time for all this. It reminds me of a joke,
How do you define a New Yorker?
- Someone who has not been up the Statue of Liberty.
Seeing the sights of New York is to see nothing. Being my first time in New York , I like everybody else was checking off the locations like it was a shopping list. It useless everyone has seen New York of the attractions. I realised that to see the real New York you have to step underground and take the subway. That's where New York lives. Hear the musicians strum guitars for a few bucks. Hear evangelists talk about Christ the savior. Read, sleep.
We walked into a compartment and it was stinking. There was man huddled up, asleep (or dead?) on a seat.'Let's move to the next one', a man told us. After we reached the next compartment he said, 'I feel bad for that guy, but ...', he shrugged and started reading. A little later, a man with a bandage on his arm stepped in and made a impassioned speech,
'Excuse me, I have just been released from hospital diagnosed with AIDS. I have no food and no money, if any of you kind people could spare some ... '. He twitched continued and then stopped, looked for some sympathetic listeners. 'Thank you and may God bless you!', with that benediction he moved to the next compartment. The train tumbled along and I took photographs. From Wall Street, we went to Times Square. As I walked out through the turnstile, a woman caught my arm and asked me swipe my subway day-pass, so that she could get a free ride. In a landing, I saw lots of people taking photographs of a statue. As we walked closer we realised that this was ballerina painted white all over standing motionless in a pose. After a few minutes she bowed, the crowd cheered and dropped money in the hat in front of her.
I walked around Times Square, bought T-shirts made in El Salvador with 'New York' and 'I love New York' written on them from a Bangladeshi salesman who was operating in the front of a souvenir shop owned by a Chinese couple. A few weeks later, my brother would be wearing one of them and travelling the local trains of Mumbai. What a wonderful world.
The next day was as boring as boring can be. It was all driving through an endless Pennsylvania. We hit more rain and worse traffic backups. My travelling companion, Sumedha who started the trip nervous of the high speeds, who had to be reminded to switch on the headlights and not forget to buckle up had transformed into a seasoned veteran of the Interstate. Why so? She drove half of an arduous journey back to Ann Arbor and was not afraid to honk. A honk which is like a friendly greeting to others in Pune, is an extreme step from an American driving etiquette perspective. When she honked the third time, I knew she had arrived.
Photographs from the Trip
New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 4 - Saturday
New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 3 - Friday
I love Boston. It has an old-world feel about it, some say a European one. Can't comment on that since I have not been to Europe. It sure is quite different from any other place in America. It also feels very close to my home-town Pune in some respects. It shares the narrow streets in the city-centre and has totally crazy drivers and nasty traffic jams. Traffic jams as opposed to traffic snarls elsewhere. Perhaps one of the few cities that can truly claim be 'historic'. In America, any town that is pre-World War is classified as 'historic'. Boston like Pune is a University Town. Also, like Mumbai and Pune separated by a few hours, Boston has its evil neighbour- New York. The 'Culture' of the smaller, older city versus the 'Financial Might' of the bigger, brasher city. The uppity Boston Brahmins though not in the league of our Sadashiv Peth Konkanasthas, do maintain a feeling of cultural superiority to the rest of America. The attitude has not been better put than this little ditty.
I come from good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where Cabots speak only to Lowells,
And the Lowells speak only to God.
- Samuel Clarke Bushnell
As we drove into the city through the now almost completed white elephant of all road projects the Big Dig, I asked my cousin, Vivek about the famous Cape Cod area.
'It's quite a boring place and nothing remarkable. It's the type of people that hang out there that have made it famous AND thus expensive.'
Cape Cod - An expensive-but not-so-scenic-as-you-would-expect vacation spot. Hah!
It has been a big year for Boston. The Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees and also ended the most famous curse of sport. If you want a display of sport fundamentalism then you need to come to Boston in October. It's Red everywhere and more people watched the games than the Democratic National Convention which was also held in Boston. 2004 will remembered more for that than the failed Kerry-Edwards campaign.
At the JFK Memorial library on the waterfront I had a feeling of deja vu. It took some time to realise that, the architect, I.M. Pei seems to have reprised the idea for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The same imposing glass atrium on the waterfront supported by tall white pillars. Losing not the view and the light.
Light is everything, when it comes to taking good photographs and this time the elements cooperated and I managed to get some great shots of the Christian Science Centre, coincidentally another Pei structure but very different. A nasty wind kicked up later and threated to frost bite my fingers. Right before the Holocaust Memorial, my batteries decided to conk out which actually saved them. The Holocaust Memorial is simple but very powerful conceptually. A sequence of pillars made of glass panels with only numbers etched in white. Numbers that were once tatooed onto arms and smoke steaming up from the grate below. Powerful imagery.
Despite the cold weather, I was quite ironically buying a Red Sox baseball cap when I should have bought some ear-muffs. The whole city was out in the city's park - The Boston Commons (like most things in Boston much much smaller than you would expect), grandparents, parents and toddlers in tow. We survived a homicial taxi-driver overtaking which would give the best 6-seater rickshawalla in Pune a run for his money. An incident which strangely made me feel more at home.
View of the Big Dig bridge and the Christian Science Centre
New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 2 - Thursday
After the crazy drive, I found myself pretty dead for the next day till about 11 am. Often, I have tried (especially on a Saturday) to try and stay in bed till noon. I have rarely succeeded. Somehow by 11 am I am up, regardless of how late I slept.
I got up and played with my 4-year old nephew. By 1 pm, I realised that there is something distinctly immoral about lounging about in my PJs so late in the day. I showered and changed into fresh clothes. Glancing into the mirror I saw, that I already had a stubble. Guys would share my irritation in having to shave AFTER having had a bath AND getting dressed! Humph! I have learned it the hard way - Never try to shave while wearing a shirt. As I castigated myself and applied generou amounts of foam to get ready for pogonotomy, my 4 year old nephew who I had abandoned a while ago walked in. He saw the foam told me that he wanted to shave too. I looked at him and laughed at his temerity. I brandished my Gilette MACH 3 razor at him in a effort to scare him off. It was in vain he reached over the sink and groped for what had looked to me like a can of cream with Disney characters. It was actually a can of shaving cream. Then he brought out a little shaving brush and a plastic toy razor (with no blade)! Toys seem to have come a long way in the past two decades!
Most part of the evening was spent in a vociferous debate over how the furniture should be arranged in the living room. Some wanted a cosier feel, others did not want to make the room look small. After two vigorous hours of debating and opinons being recorded on the camcorder an accord was reached. My vote for removing the chair was defeated.
The debate made everyone really hungry and everyone attacked the food. You can go to any restaurant you want, but no one can ever serve food that tastes like home(anybody's home). After having severely over eaten I settled to watch Choker Bali, but not before my nephew, Sohum had had his daily Diwali celebration of sparklers in the porch.
My Impressionistic view
New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 1 - Wednesday
Yes, I was part of that mob, that throng, that mad melee bent on murder, on the Day Before Thanksgiving. I was one of the 38 million Americans that set out on foot, boat, plane and car to meet friends, family and partake some turkey and apple-pie. I attempted to drive in one evening from Cleveland to sleepy Glastonbury in CT across OH, PA and NY. Not a bad drive otherwise, but contending with a thousand others with the same opinion on the same day, did not turn out to be so much fun. It really became crowded when the elements - Relentless Pouring Rain, Roaring Thunder and the Nasty North Wind decided to take to the road to meet more of their own.
If you are smart you leave early, a whole day and a half early, like my boss. The next best alternative is to leave as early as you can. Smart as I am, I left early at 3pm and found a like-minded million others also on the road. We wanted to honk each other out of the interstate. Had it been 30 degrees warmer I could have set up a picnic table on the roof of my car and played cards. The traffic did not move. The usually ignored 'Minimum speed limit 40 mph' sign looked smugly at me. Boy! That really hurt! Finally we did move, not after taking an exit to a wrong highway. I am often gripped by the long distance driver's worst nightmare -
The right interstate, but the wrong direction. I turned to my travelling companion, Sumedha,
'Are we on the right road?'.
She studies the MapQuest directions and scans the AAA map of PA/NJ and answers nonchalantly,
'I am not sure, but at least we are somewhere in Pennsylvania.'
After 5 hours of driving in some direction, it wasn't a very helpful answer but it quite reassuring. At least, we had not misnavigated to Arizona given the circumstances. Driving circumstances that would lead to me to drink.
We stopped at a Subway which seemed to be held hostage taken by Indian folk. Without a doubt, it had been a very interesting night for Mr. Joe Schmoe in rural Penn. He might never ever again make so many Veggie Delights in one evening.
If it wasn't the traffic then it was the rain at the end of journey that I had to contend with. I felt I was in the belly of a huge washing machine that was in the 'rinse' part of the cycle. Finally at 2 am we made it, in one piece. Frazzled and comatose with bed sores, but we made it. At the end of this harrowing 9 hour after-work journey there would be 3 days of great Indian food ( sans the turkey or the apple pie). I was totally looking forward to the total laziness and lounging about. For that I was prepared to go great distances.
(to be continued)
For I must be travelling on, now,
There's too many places I haven't seen
And if I stayed here with you, now
Things just wouldn't be the same
Well I'm as free as a bird now,
This is something you absolutely must try!
Keyhole was recently acquired by Google, which is mainly gobbling companies these days. Keyhole looks at satellite data and allows you to zoom down like an eagle to any place in the world. Though it does not do a great job of looking up places in India, it's great to zip around the whole world. Liked the neat interface and functionality of remembering places as you see them. Great buttons not only to get the aerial view but also the ground-level view. Right now the 7-day Trial is free !!(w/o having enter credit card info)
Looked at NYC, London and Chicago from the ground and top-down. Man it was awesome!
Will park my car outside tomorrow to see it on satellite. Hell! This is great! Shall get it while I can.
Could be addictive and might waste a lot of your time to no real purpose!
Posted by hirak on Thursday, November 18, 2004
Use Technology That Makes Sense
(By Pushing Down your Throat)
The easy part ..
A few clicks, a few weeks ago and I had FireFox and its various great extensions ( Adbock, Gmail Notifier, etc) making browsing a totally new experience. FireFox is catching up on IE. (Currently just 4% of the marketshare but growing!). I have already become a zealous Firefox proselytizer. I have added a not-so-subtle graphic on the top-left of this blog and have been imploring people to switch. Not that I particularly hate MS or anything of that sort, but FireFox just makes so much more browsing sense. (See Ramanand for a more passionate plea of a rather sensible idea). Gmail makes so much more email sense, especially the 'label' idea (instead of dumb 'folders'), the PINE-style keyboard shortcuts, the Google Search, etc. More space isn't the real USP of Gmail. (I still have a few GMAIL invites left. Anyone?)
A few weeks ago, I switched the key bindings on MATLAB to the EMACS style. It was a painful learning process, especially the new keyboard shortcuts and I often yearn for the familiar CTRL+ X,C,V bindings. Yet, learning the EMACS shortcuts is going to payoff on the long run. It will integrate all editing that I need for disparate tasks such as Perl, TEX, writing blogs, doing diffs. Also managed to find a LISP mode for MATLAB in EMACS.
For no particular reason, I had continued to use IE even after seeing FireFox in action months ago. After having made the switch, I am wondering why did I not do it earlier? Perhaps most of us are reluctant to change, even if it is for the better. Adopting anything new has too many teething troubles. Yet somethings make so much more sense and are well-worth the investment of time and effort in learning them.
The painful part ...
Easily the most painful of all of these has been changing my keyboard layout to Dvorak. Learning something is painful enough. Worse still is having to unlearn something and then learn again. Despite the painful process, the Dvorak layout makes so much more typewriting sense (Why?). Every quizzer worth his salt knows that the popular QWERTY layout was made to slow typists down and to avoid the jamming of the keys. Definitely not a scientific or ergonomic choice. I had been assuming that the insane QWERTY layout was,
One of those 'things' in life that make no sense, but that's just the way they are.
This May, I was introduced to the Dvorak keyboard. I tried it out and I managed to learn the keyboard in an hour. Not that I am gifted or anything, but because the keyboard makes so more sense.
All vowels and the most frequently used consonants D,H,T,N,S are on the home (middle row).
(Remember Holmes' ETAOINSHRLDU?)This facilitates the use of alternating hands and fingers for most words. You can actually make sensible words using just the home row. This reduces the fatiguing travel all over the place. Have a look and see if it makes sense. Not surprising that the world's fastest typists are DVORAK typists.
Though I have yet to reach my QWERTY speeds in Dvorak, I am getting there and much faster than I thought I would. This is one of the things that you have to really try and find out(Unlike Amway!). The whole story of Dvorak and its failure to be adopted despite making more sense has become a management Case Study classic. I leave you to decide.
It does not take any time to switch in Windows using Control Panel > Date, Time & Language Settings > Language & Regional Settings > Languages Tab > Details ..> Default Input Language
No program or tutor is as good as this one:Mastermind Tutor
O,cyjd yr Ekrpat br, w x.urp. cy-o yr nay.!
Posted by hirak on Wednesday, November 17, 2004
More on the subject of Library fines and Me (link to old post)
I was informed by the librarian that the sum of my fines was now $12.50. To which I asked,
"What's the limit?"
"When it reaches 15$ you will have to pay them"
This leaves me with two options.
a) Pay up now and avoid the ignominy of not being able to check out a book cause I have exceeded the limit and find myself without any cash and bunch of plastic cards which they won't accept
b) Or treat this as a Last Warning and reform myself starting this moment.
Fearing the worst in myself, choosing option 'a' there is a high likelihood of a relapse and believing the best in myself, choosing option 'b' will cure this bad habit.
The target: Not to exceed the 2.49$ that remain a safety in the next two months of my sojourn in Cleveland.
Posted by hirak on Wednesday, November 10, 2004
S.O.B.(Save Our Blogs)
Avoid sobs and don't allow the SOBs to steal your material!
I wrote a cheesy, little Perl program (save_blog.pl) to save my archived blogs in case, this blog is taken hostage. I hope others will find it equally useful. Since this program was initially written for selfish, personal reasons, the current version only supports blogs that are archived monthly and which are on blogspot.com. Shall try to make other improvements based on suggestions, hopefully by this weekend (when I have time to do this!)
If you use a Windows machine that has Perl installed, you are ready to rock 'n roll. Unix/Linux users need not bother since Perl is usually bundled in. This link might be useful for others who might have to download one.PERL for Windows
For usage and other notes please refer to SOB - The Complete Documentation Please alert me ASAP in case of any errors.
Posted by hirak on Tuesday, November 02, 2004