Note: The contents of this blog may not be suitable for small children, so if you are a small child, then just make sure that your parents aren't around.
June 26, 2004
No TV and No Beer Make Bolin Something Something
Posted at 17:52 in | Comments (0)
Return to America? Don't mind if I do!
That's right, I am at home in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the arrangement that I had in India wasn't helping me achieve anything that I really want to achieve, and therefore I decided that it would be better for me to be at home so I can pursue some personal projects that I'm pumped about. If this all seems a bit vague, well, it is -- deciding whether to stay was complicated and I really don't want to get into it. Although spending the summer India may be an incredible opportunity, it isn't an incredible opportunity for me, at least not right now.
And that's all I have to say about that.
June 24, 2004
Some of you have been wondering what ever happened with me playing badminton. Well, I actually went to the gym on Monday to play badminton, and I had my ass handed to me by the members of the IITK badminton team (they didn't tell me that they were on the team until after we finished playing). I haven't played since then because my right wrist (the one I broke in April) was really hurting afterwards, so unfortunately, it seems like it still isn't quite healed and so I've decided to rest it. But still, "How are these guys so good at badminton?" I wondered. And then it dawned on me:
These guys have a had a lot of practice.
June 23, 2004
You Call That a Salad?
Today I went to the Campus Restaurant where I usually take my meals because the food at the Visitor's Hostel is pretty unhealthy and is often runs 30 minutes late. Anyway, in my never-ending quest to eat healthy in India, I decided to order the half salad. I was expecting something, you know, green, leafy, something on which you could put salad dressing, but no. Instead, I got a plate with 11 (yes, I counted) slices of red onion, two things that may or may not have been string beans before they were desiccated beyond recognition, and a slice of lemon (the lemon was a really nice touch). Unfortunately, the waiter didn't speak English, and more unfortunately, I didn't know how to say "Are you fucking kidding me?" in Hindi. I think that this could be a phrase worth learning, as I would have already found it valuable in a number of situations. On one hand, it doesn't seem worth arguing about because the "half salad" only cost 30 cents, but on the other hand, I have this funny feeling that the guys in the back were messing with me because that was not what my labmates got when they ordered salads from the Restaurant (Maybe they ordered the full salad?):
"Hey Sanjay, the pudgy white kid is here again."
"Oh yeah, what does he want this time?"
"Get this -- he wants the half salad."
"Oh yeah? We'll he's going to get the one-sixteenth salad! That'll make him lose some weight."
Seriously, when I go to the Restaurant midday, I often get poor service. For example, the other day, the waiter pushed the bill towards me three times as if I didn't notice it or wasn't going to pay it. Then he stood over me and watched me while I calculated his tip. In the evening, I always have the same waiter (who doesn't get there until 4pm or so) and he treats me well, but I really feel like the lunch staff has it in for me.
June 22, 2004
Dabbling as an Indian Mallrat
Today I decided that I could stay on campus no longer -- after spending two weeks shuttling back and forth between the Visitor's Hostel and the lab, it was time to break from the familiarity of a path well-trodden and venture outside the walls of IITK.
So I decided to go to the mall.
I emailed the people in my lab to see if they wanted to get off campus as well, but they were busy, so they recommended that I get a taxi to take me to Rave-3, the shopping center in Kanpur. I wondered if I would be able to find a taxi to take me home later, but that didn't turn out to be a problem because apparently the taxi drivers just wait around for you until you're done with whatever place they take you to.
At first, I thought this was great since it would save me the ordeal of finding another taxi later. Unfortunately, it turned out to be really annoying because my two drivers just followed me around the mall. The feeling of liberation that I had acquired from leaving campus was dwarfed by the feeling of being chaperoned, and I found this impossible to communicate this to my new sidekicks.
Though the mall looked really big from the outside, it only had about ten stores inside (I think that most of the volume of the place was taken up by movie theaters.) So when I thought that I had run out of stores to explore, I asked what else there was, and the driver with the broken English (who was actually the same person who drove me from Lucknow to Kanpur) pointed upstairs and said "bar." Since it had been over two weeks since I had had a drop of alcohol, and since I was really curious to see what Indian beer tasted like, I decided to check it out.
The place turned out to be more of a restaurant than a bar, so I sat down at a table and ordered a bottle of Kingfisher, as it was the only beer they had (there was also a list of Cocktails as well as virgin "Mocktails," in which I had no interest). I assumed that my drivers would wander off somewhere when I entered the restaurant, but nope, they didn't. They just sat down at the table with me and watched me drink my beer.
This was too much for me, so again I tried to explain to them that they should just go and explore the mall and that I would meet them at the car at 10pm as planned. Again, this failed, but then a waiter (or maybe he was the maitre d') was kind enough to come over and translate for me, so I was finally able to dine alone.
The beer itself looked like it could have come from DAD's garage. By that, I mean that it had some unfamiliar label on it that was sliding off, as the bottle had probably been sitting in an ice chest for 5-6 months. Also, the beer tasted like bark.
Nevertheless, it was refreshing.
June 21, 2004
Locks Hide Nothing in India
User interfaces are one of my main areas of interest, so I cannot help but comment on the usability of locks in India. Below, you see a picture of the lock on my door which is representative of every door lock that I've seen in India. There are two parts to the lock: there is the bolt that slides to the left and fits into a hole in the left doorframe, and then there is the padlock that holds it in place so you can't slide the bolt back. "Hmm, that's different," I thought when I first saw it. "I wonder why they chose to do it that way?" Try to figure out the answer to that question before you continue reading.
In my evaluation, there is no good reason to make locks like this for people's rooms! The first issue is security. When I'm in my room, my door is obviously unlocked on the outside. Thus, anyone walking by could slide the bolt across, or if they were even more malicious, put their own padlock on my door! How would I be able to get out of my room? I've looked over the edge of my balcony, and looks like a long way down...
The second issue is privacy. If I'm in my room, then there must not be a padlock on my door, and if I'm not in my room, then my door is probably (though not necessarily) padlocked. This means that if a Jehovah's Witness comes to my door and I want to pretend like I'm not home, I can't because he sees no lock on my door, so he knows I must be in here. Therefore, he can just lean on my doorbell (which sounds like I just lost my turn while playing Operation) until he forces me to the surface.
So are there any advantages to this system? Perhaps these locks are cheaper, but I can't think of any other reason to use them. When I pointed out my lock concerns to someone here, he said that people here trust each other enough that they don't worry about things like that. I guess that as a computer science person, that isn't a good enough answer for me.
June 20, 2004
Shout Out to My Old Man
The point is that today is your day. Yeah, I know you're doing the South Beach Diet thing, but you should go and treat yourself to a beer, because it looks like that Dr. Agatston guy didn't do his homework, anyway. You've always been a great dad, and I really appreciate the fact that you've made it clear that I can always come home if I need to. I'm sorry that the DVD that I ordered you for Father's Day hasn't arrived yet, but I hope that you enjoy it when it comes. It's the least I can do after all that you've done for me, and it makes me happy that you take an interest in everything I do -- because of that, I don't even get mad when you leave horribly formatted comments on my blog.
I'm just going to write a program that reformats them, and I swear to God I'm going to rip the caps lock key of the keyboard as soon as I get home -- Happy Father's Day!Love,
June 19, 2004
So the bug situation in my room is getting intolerable. I imagine that it wouldn't be so bad were someone to have designed a door to my balcony that didn't have a one inch gap beneath it. Unfortunately, no one was kind enough to do that, so there is really no boundary where nature ends and my room begins. Yes, I have tried to create my own boundary several times, but all of my efforts have been in vain.
Some of you would probably like to know what I mean by intolerable. Well, lucky for you we live in the 21st century, so I can show you what my wall and pillow looked like after I came back from dinner tonight:
Honestly, I have half a mind to leave this place. There is really no reason why I couldn't do this job in the states. In fact, if I didn't have to spend so much time killing bugs and walking back and forth between my lab and the hostel just to use the toilet, I could be much more productive.
It's only 8:45 here, but I pretty much have to go to bed now because having a light or the computer screen on just makes things worse.
June 17, 2004
I Leave Fake India
So today was by far and away my most exciting day yet in India for the following three reasons:
(1) I left campus for the first time today. After spending two days getting my IITK id card (which required the help of 4 IITK students to communicate between the administrative staff and me -- thanks guys!), I found out that I needed to get an id photo taken for my id for the gym. Apparently I could get my picture taken someplace just outside the gates of IITK, so I figured that I would just walk over there, get the photo, and come back.
However all of my senses were set to DEFCON 1 once I hit the streets of Kanpur. Seriously, I it was like I was Judy Garland and I had just stepped into Technicolor for the first time (except it didn't go nearly as well with The Dark Side of the Moon). Cows, carts -- just craziness everywhere! I only had to travel about 50 meters from the gate to get to the photo place, but those 50 meters were something else, let me tell you. I wanted to explore more, but it was raining and I was in my gym clothes, so I decided to defer the full exploration until this weekend. So if you want details of Kanpur, stay tuned.
(2) I went to the gym for the first time today. The guy who I was supposed to give all of the paperwork to wasn't there, but that also meant that there was no one to stop me from going in and using the equipment, either. As expected, the gym wasn't very fancy (the benches are mostly wooden without any padding), but I'm not a hardcore gym guy, so it's more than enough for me. But the exciting parts of the gym were:
(2a) After a semester of some dedicated imbibing, I'm back down to my normal weight (at least according to the scale at the gym, which is the only scale I've got here). Looking in the mirror, I didn't think that I looked much thinner, but then I remembered that even at my normal weight, I'm not really what you'd call "slim." (FYI, you can convert from kilograms to pounds by googling "N kg to pounds" where N is the number of kilos you want to convert.)
(2b) I found two indoor badminton courts with people playing on them! Everyone seemed pretty into his game, so I didn't have a chance to jump in, but I'm going to ask around and see if I can find a group of people who will let me play with them. Since the rain and the traffic around here don't make running the safest form of aerobic exercise, I'm really excited about playing badminton. The people I saw playing were pretty good, but I'm pretty sure that I could hold my own with them after playing for a week or so -- I'm sure my high school phys ed teacher Mrs. Florek would be proud!
(3) When I got back from the gym to take a shower, I swear a cricket jumped out of my bellybutton. (Come on, you knew that at least one of the three things would have to do with crickets. Or bellybuttons.)
June 16, 2004
What I Do Here (Besides Complain)
Some of you have probably been wondering what I do here, so I will hold you in suspsense no longer. Basically, the group for whom I am working has this large piece of software that they have written that is extremely useful in doing artificial intelligence (AI) research; however, the user interface for the software leaves a lot to be desired. Thus, I have been officially tasked with "making it more marketable," as the group would like to market their software to interested parties.
Surprisingly, I am not writing a lot of code; on the contrary, I'm trying to write as little code as possible myself. You see, they have been extremely helpful here in providing me with the resources I need, and in my case, "people" count as a resource. In addition to the laptop they have loaned me for the summer, they have also given me two trainees to indoctrinate.
So what is a trainee? I know what you're picturing: some spry young kid wearing suspenders, 37 pieces of flair, and a large yellow button that says "TRAINEE" in big, block letters who wants to know if I'm interested in hearing today's specials, but that is not the case. Trainees are younger students from other schools in India (lower tier than the IITs, I suppose) who are just here for the summer to learn whatever they can.
So my two trainees are Sumeet and Rakhi. Basically, I've been designing the software, writing a skeletal implementation, and then passing it off to them to fill in the rest -- outsourcing at its best, I suppose. I've never really had a "staff" before, so I'm learning a little about managing people. Ideally, this will free up my time to think more about the design and perform user tests on my interface.
Overall, this project seems like a good fit for me since it forces me to draw heavily on the tools in my skillset: teaching, software engineering, and designing and implementing user interfaces. Most of the time, I walk around the campus with this confused look on my face, but in the lab, I feel right at home.
June 15, 2004
I have three Gmail invitations that I can extend. Whoever starts adding decent comments to my blog will get one! And if no one starts commenting, well, then I guess I'll just have to sell them on EBay... (I find it funny how Gmail accounts have replaced iPods as the latest technological status symbol.)
Slippery When Wet
Here at IITK, they put a lot of effort into making sure the campus looks prim. Every day, I see people mopping the walkways, trimming the grass, pruning the hedges, etc. Coming from a place like MIT where there is little greenery at all and aesthetics are a low priority, this is a rather nice change.
However, one of the side effects of all this cleaning is the most advanced piece of technology that I have seen at IITK to date: the frictionless sidewalk. I don't know how they do it, but when it rains and the walk gets wet here, it's nearly impossible to walk on -- you can't help but glide back and forth across it. While I was stumbling along this pedestrian rodeo yesterday, bicycles and mopeds drove by, and I was just waiting for one of them to wipe out right into me.
I haven't tested this yet, but I'm pretty sure that if I got my heading set correctly, stood flatfooted with my feet shoulder width apart on the wet sidewalk, and let out one decently sized fart, I could propel myself all the way from my lab to the visitor's hostel. Guess I'll have to find some beans...
June 14, 2004
For those of you who check my blog regularly, you may have noticed the new link to Kanpur weather on the right sidebar. As you can see, this looks to be an exciting ten days of unbearable heat in the forms of both sun and lightning:
What I Eat
So some of you may be wondering what I've been eating. Well, so have I. I take all of my meals at the "mess" for the guest hostel where I'm staying. It's always buffet-style, so there are two or three trays of different things, but they are never labelled with what they are. Originally, I thought that this was because I was the only moron who couldn't identify the food, but I asked one of the guys working there what the stuff was once, and he didn't know, either.
Obviously, there are some things that I can recognize, such as hard-boiled eggs and Corn Flakes. When I got my first bowl of Corn Flakes, some guy offered to pour milk on them which I thought was very nice until I discovered that the milk was hot and it dissolved most of my Corn Flakes.
"Hey buddy, thanks a lot, it's 9am and it's already 90 degrees outside, so some hot Corn Flakes were really just what I needed." Similarly, "room service" also thought that it was worth waking me up at 6:30 in the morning to ask if I wanted tea. "Jesus Christ, I've never woken up at 6:30am for a beer, why the hell do you think I would want to get up this early for a cup of tea?" (Seriously, people are always trying to get me to drink tea here, and sometimes I capitulate since boiled water is the only non-bottled water that I trust.)
Also, it looks like I'm a de facto vegetarian for the summer since the mess doesn't serve any meat. (I did go to the campus restaurant for mutton once, but it wasn't all that great, and I'm a little suspicious of the meat here, anyway.) I was hoping to lose a lot of weight here this summer, and you'd think that by restricting myself to veggies and bottled water that I would, but I'm not so sure.
You see, before I left for India, the rest of the Bolin family decided to embrace the South Beach Diet™ which forced me to start thinking about how many carbs I consume. Here in India, carbs are tough to avoid since almost everything has potatoes in it and comes with a side of naan. Now I'm half-Irish, but even I can recognize too much of a good thing -- this morning's breakfast was mashed potatoes and Corn Flakes. How about another food group, people? The potatoes are really starchy, and from what I've read online, naan seems about as healthy as white bread.
So what to do? Well, I've been trying to eat smaller portions and of course, exercise. Eating less is a little tough in that it takes some self-restraint, but exercise is even tougher since it gets hot so soon in the day. I've been going running at 6am since it's not too hot then and there is little motor traffic on the road at that hour; however, me knee has started to bother me, so it looks like I'm going to have to do something else for a little while. There is a pool where I could swim laps; however, it's an outdoor pool which means that it's also open to the neighborhood dogs, peacocks, monkeys, etc., so I'm a little apprehensive about getting in (apparently Stanley's girlfriend at home has forbidden him from using the pool since she's so paranoid). Thus, today I'm going to try to get my IITK id card so I can use the gym here. Who knows what surprises it will hold?
June 13, 2004
Yesterday I met Stanley. Stanley is special as he is the first and only person who I've met here so far who isn't Indian -- he's Chinese. Actually, Stanley goes to school in Singapore and his PhD thesis has two advisers: one in Singapore and one here at IITK. Clearly, Stanley is quite the traveller. Or so I thought.
Stanley has been here since March, but he has only left campus once for sightseeing at the Taj Mahal. This leaves me to wonder how much there is to see outside of campus around here. "Maybe Stanley is just lame," you're thinking, but I'm not so sure -- he showed me all of the videos that he's taken while he's here and he seems to enjoy sightseeing quite a bit.
Stanely also told me that if I drink the filtered water here, I'll go crazy. "Maybe for one or two days if it's an emergency," he said. Hmm...the IITK students told me that the water on campus is purified and it's okay. Who to trust? Since a one liter bottle of water (made by Coca-Cola!) only costs about a quarter, I think I'm going to go with Stanley for the time being.
June 11, 2004
Crickets Lay Siege to My Room
So last night the crickets laid siege to my room. Because I still haven't recovered from jet lag, I woke up from my 2pm nap around midnight. When I tried to leave my room to get some purified water, I discovered a swarm of crickets knocking at my door, trying to get in. I slammed the door shut, and the few who got through were quickly introduced to the IITK directory book which has now registered at least twenty kills since I arrived here on Tuesday. (To quote Jack Handy, "Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.")
I tried turning the lights out for awhile to see if the crickets would lose interest in my room, but they refused to relent. I decided that they needed to be introduced to my good friend, Mr. Bucket, which I filled with water and then used to douse the little buggers. Thus, I was now free to leave my room; however, apparently they also made an affront on my left flank, invading the bathroom.
Due to the nature of random walks, a couple of them decided to drown themselves in the toilet (the little bastards don't flush, either) whereas the others decided to do a little song and dance where I shower. Feeling defeated, I decided to lock the door to my bathroom and wait until they adopted the kamikaze tendencies of their erstwhile brethren.
Anybody want to come and visit me?