Is Early Rising a Problem for you?

I hope school adminstrators see this. I should forward this to the Registrar at the U of M. I don't think it will be hard to prove that:
No graduate student can perform useful work before 11 am; perhaps he/she can do some 'work' before 3pm, if supplied with enough coffee.

From the latest Nature Editorial:
That's not to say that scientific advances can't already help to inform educational policy. For instance, there is now a solid body of evidence that sleep patterns change significantly with age — and that, as a result, it makes little sense to wake teenagers up early to go to school, when their attention will be low as a natural consequence of their daily rhythms. Education authorities and schools are starting to hear this message, and some are adjusting their schedules accordingly.

The report on the NSF funded studies. I agree with Dr. Bauer in being skeptical about applying scientific methods too soon - except the one quoted above.


"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame."
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Last time I went back to India I smuggled The Satanic Verses. This time I will smuggle James Laine's Shivaji. I wish to extend this smuggling operation to all of you back home who wish to read books 'others' have decided that you shouldn't. Luckily, books banned in India are not banned in the US and Amazon has most of them available. Let me know the title and send me the URL. US-India shipping is free.

This IE List is a good place to start, but is woefully incomplete. It left out The Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasrin's Dwikhandito!

The Book Tag Virus Spreads

My Spiel
The Book Tag Virus has reached here. It is indeed a great concept and has spread like a wildfire in the last few months. I still feel that the first two items were rather lame. What's the point? What difference does it make if you own 2 or 2 thousand books? What has the buying of books got to do with the reading of them? I must give credit to the second last item - A dose of guilt can be healthy for you sometimes.

Can anyone point me to the originator of this meme? It is quite possible that I got a distorted iteration of this meme, or perhaps I missed the point. The Scientific American had an interesting article on the genetics of chain letters (You might need access to read the whole article).

Total Number of Books I Own: I have not really counted, but should be close to about 500 books back home (this is not counting the other books in the family library.) After moving to the States, I have not bought many books: to keep some breathing space in my tiny room; and more importantly, to keep my wallet full. I am now convinced that buying books is a futile exercise. (More on this later.)

Last Book I Bought: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. It was for two reasons: One, because it is the book of the month for June on the Lit. Blog and second, there is an amusing anecdote involving The Wicked Witch of the West, the Ford Theater in Chicago, Borders and Probability. Buying seems contradictory to my previous assertion, but I am an addict on the mend.

Last Book I Read: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, who incidentally introduced the word 'meme'- if not the concept - in this book. Also, read the other book of the month - Hesse's Siddhartha this weekend.

One Book I Couldn't Finish:- Arms and the Man by Shaw seems to be perpetually on my reading list. I keep starting other books and this play always gets neglected. The ease of online renewal has really spoilt me.

Five Great Books??
Such questions are so tricky. It's often not who you include, rather who you exclude.
Can't really pin the top five or ten books: it seems unfair. At times there are authors whose body of work is more remarkable than one particular piece of work, e.g. - P.G. Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Steinbeck, etc. Then there are the one-hit wonders - Margaret Mitchell, Arundhati Roy, Harper Lee, and others who have said much in one beautiful book but then no more. Seems unfair to pick them over the others with a more substantial body of work. Such arguments can be endless, however I realised that these three were definitely unforgettable.

* Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera - A novel about all shades of love, marriage and relationships. Less magic and more realism as compared to his other books.
* Salman Rushdie's Ground Beneath Her Feet - One of the most fantastic books that I have ever read. His best work. A longish review was posted here.
* Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy - Not much of a story, but Seth is all about the writing. Seth writes prose that reads like poetry. The alternative index of chapters is proof enough.

This meme was inflicted on me by Paddy and though I can end the violence here, I have decided to pass the virus to the yet uninfected(?) -
Ashutosh, Javed, Anand Sivashankar and Anirudh.

There be changes made

"There'll be a change in the weather and a change in the scene
How is that?
I'm gonna start wearin' leather and change my routine
I'll wear dark glasses maybe a toupee
I'll get down and boogie and become risque
I'll start wearin' make-up like jackson and prince
You'll see me ridin' in my mercedes benz
Nobody wants you when you just play guitar
There'll be some changes made tomorrow
There'll be some changes made"
Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins
Neck and Neck

There has been a template change. New wine in an old bottle. The old commenting system using Enetation proved to be the last straw. The Enetation commenting system has completely conked out and I was spurred into action.
The old blogger templates used tables (which were quite lame) and outdated HTML standards. The new templates use stylesheets which are infinitely better for making edits painlessly (once you set things up) and there have been a lot of improvements by blogger, e.g. Each blog has its own page. Not wanting to be a Luddite I have made the changes.

In the old Blogger days they had no commenting system. I guess even Blogger did not realise what blogging was going to turn into. Their initial commenting system was quite poor. Thanks to Google's cash and some really irate users, Blogger completely revamped their commenting system over the past few months. I think it is currently among the better commenting systems out there. The switch has resulted in a loss of the old comments and I have not yet figured out how to support both systems. In the past it has been quite irksome to read blogs that have two sets of commenting systems and you don't know which to really use. I don't want to add to that sort of ugliness that is already quite pervasive but I am looking for some ideas to fix this problem (obviously, in a painless way).

Indian Buffet

The quirky taste of Indian restaurants in the US

1. There will always be a knife and a fork, but never a spoon.
How do the others get by without a spoon? It is hilarious to watch some Indian nut struggle with simply a knife and a fork.

2. Despite knowing that you are Indian, the waiters will always talk in English or worse, with an American accent.
You have to persist in the native tongue for quite some time before the waiter agrees to drop talking in English in his thinly-disguised North or South Indian accent.

3. All finger food, but never any finger-bowls.
It can be argued that if you get by the limited cutlery in 1., you will never get to this point. If you do manage to wield the knife and fork, thanks to the sheer effort involved, you will end up hungrier at the end of the meal than before. Indian food should be eaten with your fingers because it always tastes better that way.

Any more?

Half Knowing myself

0.5 Self Knowledge

The great thing about blogging is that you can always brag about yourself. I have often bragged about stuff on this blog over the past two years; this Sunday for the first time, I felt that I did something that was really worth bragging about. Sometimes, when you look back upon past achievements - even if you still are proud of them - they don't seem as wonderful as they did at that time.
This Sunday, I completed the annual Dexter-Ann Arbor Half-Marathon. Long ago, I read a tagline for a Boston Marathon poster that said:
"You will know everything about yourself in 26.1 miles"
It inspired me - the economy of it - imagine getting to know everything about yourself in just a little over 4 hours. So a logical step would be to try the distance with a 50% discount. The curious aspect of running marathons is that you never run the full distance while training. You go up and then down, slowly building stamina but never test yourself till D-Day.
On a bright sunny Sunday morning, I found myself at the starting line in Dexter. All I had to do was to run home to Ann Arbor. Unlike other runs, you get the specially designed Dexter-Ann Arbor Run T-shirt only if you complete the half-marathon. Only in homo sapiens would observe 2000 of its members running around and almost getting themselves killed just to get a T-shirt. This year's T-shirt was a panel of comics designed by a local artist which poked fun at some aspects of running (one panel below).
tshirtIt was definitely fun, but far from pointless. There were people recovering from cancer. People who gave up smoking. People who gave up drinking. A man on a wheelchair. A women running with a prosthetic leg. Like most other people, I was running for fun, but also to prove to myself that I could do it (and have something unique to brag about!). After the 21 km or 13.1 mile run, the tagline from Boston was right. Marathons teach you a lot about yourself. Running for 2+ hours with an elevated heart rate makes your body think it is in mortal danger. It's just your mind (whatever it is) that makes you keep going. You can't help but think about the obvious metaphors for Life - pacing, preventing burnout, saving up for the final burst of speed, sticking to the job, the uphills and downhills, the people you meet on the way and those that fall behind, and the importance of training. I ran ten miles at a great pace, but the last 3 miles were the real test. The sun felt hotter than ever before and my legs seemed to be as heavy as lead. Then you begin to get slightly delerious.

Arms (to each other): Is this torture worth it? Hell! Let's stop!
Legs: Next year, man!'
Brain: Banish those thoughts! It's not worth giving up when you have finished 75% of the race.
(A few minutes pass and then the body wants to revolt against the brain's dictates.)
Feet: I think I'm cramped. These feet are not rated for running more than 5 miles at a stretch and we are at 10 miles right now.
Lower Back: This is killing me. Can't we stop now?
Brain: No! You are a bunch of losers.
Legs: Brain, what do you do anyway? All you do is sit there and give orders!
Brain: Look, I am making a sacrifice too! I am ensuring that you guys get most of the blood. Can't you hang on for a few more minutes? I promise that you will get a lot of rest once we are done. Toughen up, guys!
Arms, Lower Back, Butt, Feet, Legs (in unison): Aw! Shut up!

Finally, you see the finish line loom in the distance and almost automatically you seem to be running faster and faster. Your legs hit the timing mat and you have FINISHED your first Half Marathon!

It has taken about 3 days to completely recover from the aches and pain from the 2 and a quarter hour run, but hell it was worth it! Perhaps, the only reason why people like to run is chemical. I have never felt such an endo-morphine induced 'high' as I did on Sunday. Can't wait to get started for Chicago.
One T-shirt caption read: More and more women are running the country.

Save Maharashtra

Save what from whom?

Tom Friedman's last bestseller is: The World is Flat, in which he writes about a New World Order. He says that in the last decade, through the spread of the Internet, underwater high-speed cables and satellite communication - the playing field of the world is being levelled. He says that America and other Western countries HAVE NO CHOICE but to compete with an highly-educated class of people from India, China and Eastern Europe. There will be no borders and mediocrity is not going to be rewarded because your job could be easily done by someone else across the globe.

While the world is fearing Asian domination in the decades to come, we have people like Parimal Sondawale who still seem to be waging senseless battles. I agree that Maharashtra, and India as a whole, needs to be saved, but saved from parochial Parimal Sondawales and their like.


Standard Operating Procedure:

1. You are an Indian graduate student walking in a mall, or in a Walmart, or in a grocery store trying to buy stuff on sale; you see an Indian couple or a man in his late 20s from a distance.

2. A minute later, you are only a few feet away and the man smiles and says 'Hello'. Seeing an Indian face and given your good and friendly nature you respond.

3. Then his hand shoots out, "Hi, I am XYZ". The hand seems to beg for completing the handshake and you have to shake his hand and make the obvious reply, "Hi, I am Hirak".

4. 90% of the time they will say, "Wonderful! What a nice name! What does it mean..."

5. Then, you spend the next minute explaining what your name means and unknowingly open the gates to more questions.

6. Now, you are asked- where you are from and what you are studying - and five minutes have gone by in conversation you don't want to indulge in.

7. Then, he starts talking about himself and says that he graduated 2-3 years ago and this is wife - EFG and he is now working in ABC company.

8. He then slips in the fact that he also runs a 'small business'. He will NEVER mention what he exactly does.

9. After this ten minute conversation, it is assumed that both of you are now best buddies and he will a) give his card and b) try to exchange phone numbers.

10. End of conversation. He promises to call; you shrug and move to get the chips that are 1$ today instead of $1.39.

A few days later, you will get a call from the same guy. He will shoot the breeze for a few minutes (thus wasting precious minutes on your cell phone) and after while let the cat-out-of-the-bag. He is looking for 'talented, bright young people like yourself' for a 'fantastic limited-time only business opportunity' that he is already a part of. He wants to give you a chance to make 'easy side-income'. He then invites you to a meeting later in the week.

The fantastic limited-time only business opportunity is some variant of an Amway pyramid-scheme called Alticor, Quixtar, etc. A pyramid scheme involves you selling some household products and taking a percentage of the profit. If you get others in the scheme you will get a percentage of their percentage. Everyone is told that at first you will not make much but, after a few generations of such hookups the effect will multiply and soon you will be so high up in the pyramid that you can even afford to retire and relax. The money accumulates in your account as people below you get more and more people to join; raising you higher in the pyramid. All you need is drive and determination and a year of hard work. Not to mention a 100-300$ charge for 'membership' and the 'training' material.

You can't imagine how many people are sucked into such schemes on the promise of easy money. Once stuck, you automatically become an associate (read: accomplice) and the only way to get out is to suck more people into it. How the proponents of these schemes play on the psychology of people is worthy of admiration. To the people who want to quit, there is a whole array of tapes on 'being self-motivated' and 'how to avoid getting discouraged by people who don't know better' also at a cost.

It would not take more than a few minutes of thinking to see why such a scheme is flawed. But people still cannot shake off the idea that there is something to be made and with relative ease. I see more often than not that, it is a person recently married, who wants to make that little 'extra' or a person recently graduated and now is working who wants a little 'extra' perhaps to get married who get stuck in such schemes. If business was so simple why did everyone not take up this idea?

I wasted a few hours one evening listening to man rave about Quixtar after quitting his high-paying, extremely satisfying job so that he could take care of his kids and not have to work at all. I questioned their logic and then mine. What I was doing there in the first place? I was lured into going by this guy, who met me in the Mall with this wife. I was trusted him since he was from Pune, an engineer from COEP and spoke in Marathi. That evening when the 'great business opportunity' and its hare-brained plan was revealed, I felt sorry for him and thought of sending him this link: The truth about Amway! Who was I to tell him that anyway? To each his own.

Now, I can smell them off by a mile. The moment an unsolicited Indian hand shoots out, I say to myself, "It's the Amway folks again, it's time to go".