Archive for November, 2002

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It’s snowing! I miss proper winter so much. My winter in Montréal was exactly as it should have been: cold, but not too cold, with 4 metres of snow. Last year was a disgrace, and I know that we’ll never get a proper amount of snowfall in Boston.

I bought shoes on the way to the office–winter is no time for shoes with holes in them, as Zach will tell you–and I met the portion of the Velocet gang who had not already made my acquaintance. Ken swears that we’ve never met, but I’m certain that I met he and Kathy at Mike and Tyla’s a couple of years ago.

After work, Mike and I went climbing at an excellent gym. I’ve only been to a handful of gyms, but this is one of the nicest, although it makes me even more depressed about the Boston situation. The closest climbing gym to Boston is a half hour out of town, with shredded tires on the floor, grimy unwashed holds, mostly unmarked routes, and no teaching staff. Not that I’m bitter.

We’re at the office again way, way too late, and I stopped being productive 30 minutes ago. Mike sounds like he’s making progress, at least.

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In a show of gluttony that compares favourably with the time that we spent living together in Montréal, Mike and I prepared dinner for Tyla, Madhava, and Emily using only what we found in an ordinary, everyday Whole Foods store. We also found time to watch the Maple Leafs lose again, and eventually to watch some Buffy.

I didn’t get a ton of work done today, to say the least.

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Late-morning climbing (I did much better than on Friday, leading me to believe that the I-haven’t-climbed-in-a-while learning curve is pretty short) led to early afternoon dim sum, led to working for a while, led to a huge mountain of candy, led to getting a fair amount done (and diabetes). Once I discovered that our UUIDs weren’t exactly unique, things went a lot more smoothly.

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I flew home today. I miss the fair city of Toronto already.

In other news, Google ranks this page (when it has the title “strong enough for a man, but made for a woman”) higher than the actual Secret deodorant site. I think that’s neat.

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Another depressing day.

On the bright side, Joe and Jacob came over to eat dinner and distract me. After a while we started playing Halo, which has some outrageously good multi-player modes. It is the Perfect Dark of the new millennium.

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Today I used 886 threads on 443 nodes to write and read back 1 TB of data in a little over an hour. Not nearly fast enough yet, but the simple fact that it completed is enough for me right now.

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xbox + Halo + xboxgw = phik kicking your asses at Halo over the internet.

I can’t believe it’s the end of July already.

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Simon likes to help me receive faxes.

“And Dana, things that I say in my office stay in my office!”
“Natalie’s my second in command, she’s the only one I told.”
“Jeremy’s my boyfriend, he’s the only one I told.”
“I told many, many people.”

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I’m back in Baltimore–it seems like I was just here, although it was over a month ago–for some meetings with our partners and customers. Mike was supposed to be here too but, well, you know.

Baltimore is not my kind of place, at least not the parts of Baltimore that I’ve been to, which is to say the suburbs. Typical US car-topia, strip malls, military-industrial complex, blah blah blah.

One more thing–what on earth are we doing in a Hilton that, in the year 2002, doesn’t have high-speed internet access in the rooms? My hotel in India has high-speed internet access in the rooms.

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It’s a lovely morning in Frankfurt, although we arrived over an hour ahead of schedule, so I have four hours to kill before my next flight leaves. Frankfurt has this nice feature that, for most transit connections, you never have to clear German customs and immigration. Most of the international terminal areas are linked and there are passport control booths at all of the exits.

A middle-aged woman looking extremely confused turned out to be another Mumbai-bound passenger, so I helped her to the gate. Given that you had to look up the flight on a kiosk, then take a train, then follow a handful of not-entirely-informative signs, her relief at locating a fellow passenger was palpable.

If I sleep in the airport for two hours, then sleep all the way to Mumbai, I might not be horribly, horribly jet lagged by Friday.

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Welcome to the haven’t slept in years version of my life.

I did manage to execute my sleeping plan flawlessly, combined with an hour or so of sleep in the car on the way to Pune, and another two hours at the hotel before work. But I’m still pretty beat, somewhat off my game, and very much looking forward to going to bed early tonight.

After I cleared customs and immigration in Mumbai, I met someone for the three hour (described as two to six hour) drive to Pune. Pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about driving in India is true, except that most vehicles do use head lights–which is to say that the high-beams are always on, except when they flash them in a fashion which appears to mean “I am an oncoming vehicle taking your lane, please take evasive action.” They don’t, however, tend to have working rear or brake lights.

Indian driving is very fluid and tightly packed, much like walking down a crowded New York sidewalk. Cars navigate and stop within inches of each other, and of pedestrians. They have only a passing interest in concepts such as lanes, including the centre divide and what little shoulder accompanies the road; everyone just weaves in and out, sometimes with two vehicles passing each other on opposite sides of the centre divide, in a beautiful and suicidal dance. Many cars have one or no side mirrors, which is fortunate, because they’d be immediately torn off by virtue of striking pedestrians or other vehicles. Native drivers describe side mirrors as “optional, to be found on luxury cars” and “annoying”. Nobody tends to care about any traffic that isn’t directly in front of them. Drivers appear to align themselves mostly by echolocation, and the vast majority of trucks have hand-painted requests on their bumpers that you please honk. Stop lights are, of course, merely advisory.

All of these factors conspire to make 40 kph feel really quite fast. I’ve also come to the relatively uninformed conclusion that my driver is actually quite a good Indian driver: assertive and totally in control, while not seeming to be a danger to himself or (more importantly, as I am in this category) others.

I am pretty familiar with the concept of middle class guilt, and I tell you that it pales in comparison to the sort of rich white man’s guilt that you experience driving through Mumbai at 02h00. Children huddled around small piles of burning trash; so much garbage in some streets that it takes up an entire lane or more; packs of no-doubt-diseased dogs sleeping in and feasting on the trash; emaciated elderly men living on the sidewalk eating whatever falls nearby.

The vast income disparity makes me uneasy about taking pictures. As Deb points out, it makes me very self-conscious to whip out a camera that is three months of the average Indian’s income–and probably more than the entire yearly income for some of these poor families. I pay more in rent in six weeks than the average Indian makes in an entire year.

The majority of the houses (and roadside businesses, for that matter) that I’ve seen have been in the form of small shacks. This one, found beneath my hotel window, is one of the rather nice ones. Most are packed tightly together near the side of the road, and are made entirely of corrugated steel or simply rough planks. Most have nothing in the way of front wall or door, most lack floors and whatever material they have that covers their corrugated steel roof..

It makes me think.


Among their complaints, senior bureau officials have said they are unhappy that some field offices are not moving aggressively enough to use secret terrorism warrants.

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Today Amey, Kedar, Alok, and Roy took me out to see some of the touristy sights around Pune. Anupam was telling me that India does a pretty poor job of advertising and maintaining its historical attractions, which was reflected in the fact that we only saw maybe 3 other westerners the entire day.

Early in our trip, as we passed through parts of downtown Pune, I saw one of the electronic pollution meters on a street corner, although we were past it before I could take a photograph. I will summarize it for you:

Max. respirable: 50
Max. measured: 210

So if you notice some unfortunate reflections caused by my taking pictures through a closed car window, now you know why. Even the tiny rickshaws sometimes emit huge clouds of grey or black smoke, and on my brief drive to the office during rush hour, the air is choking, dense, and in places somewhat opaque. I’m not talking about the black smoke that some trucks in the US emit from their pipes 15 feet in the air, I’m talking about every vehicle on the road doing it at ground level. I can’t wait for us to start rolling back the Clean Air Act, let me tell you.

We drove to Lonavala, a small city between here and Mumbai, to have a traditional breakfast and to purchase an Indian candy called chikki. Pune is on a plateau, and our travel route was surrounded by the Western Ghat mountains. During the rainy season these would be all green. I’ll have to go back some day to take decent pictures with the sun at my back, but for now we’ll all have to settled for those washed out craps.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Indian trucks have a wide assortment of decoration and signage. Whereas in the West most commercial trucks would have precise, machine-painted lettering or decals, almost all of the trucks that I’ve seen here have been hand-painted. This truck is about average, and it ranges from just a couple of words to somewhat more ornate.

Buses are apparently a major mode of transportation within India, and almost all of them look like they’re about ready to fall apart. Buses and trucks are just as reckless as everyone else, as demonstrated by the fact that we saw one overturned and one completely burned-out husk of a truck by the side of the road just on our drive back from Lonavala.

Safely back in Pune we visited a Shivaji-era temple built on a large hill in the northwest region of the city.. No photographs may be taken inside the temple, but the entire city is visible from up top.

Random photographs: of Newton in the courtyard of Pune University’s physics department. Its status as a major religious symbol in India leads the swastika to be used to market a number of products.

Lookit the donkeys! This brings the animal-sighting list to cows, roosters, donkeys, pigs, buffalo, dogs, chickens, oxen, goats, and camels. Sorry Deb, no monkeys, but there was the annual monkey festival yesterday in a small city in Thailand, where the residents put out thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables for the thousands of local monkeys to feast upon. The news report showed one little monkey drinking from a can of Coke; it was, to be honest, the cutest thing on this entire planet.

From the temple we ventured a fair ways out of the city to a mountaintop fort that is some 400 years old. In a prime example of Indian historical attractions not well preserved, those few walls, a few arches, and this ammunition depot are almost all that remain. A few snack vendors, and the hastily thrown up shacks that shelter them, have cropped up to serve those that do manage to discover the place.

It’s not merely a tourist attraction, however; Pune residents are apparently rather fond of taking their Sundays to hike from the base of the hill to the fort. We drove most of the way, having quite an agenda to cover, and skipped straight to the stone stairway that leads to all I’ve described.

From the top you are rewarded with amazing views, both of the city of Pune as well as the surrounding peaks. The pollution basically ruined the photographs, but the magic of the Gimp brought them back from near uselessness.

On our way back into the city I took notice of a few sights that seem particularly adorable, such as all of the small children waving their little cricket bats around (India lost the final match of the series fairly spectacularly, despite the outpouring of miniature support). Not long thereafter we were waylaid by a herd of buffalo that appeared to have no owner, as they were wandering more or less aimlessly down the middle of the street.

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A couple of nights ago, some friends told me over dinner that ice hockey is basically unheard of in India, and of course, I believed them. This morning, however, I found powerful evidence to the contrary. If you don’t recognize that logo on the jacket, let me give you a hint.

Later that evening we had a little guest in the office.

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The pollution this afternoon was by far the worst since I arrived. The air was a gray haze throughout the city–and when I talk about haze, I’m not talking Toronto-style “Oh look, the sky has a bit of a smudge,” I’m talking about ground-level semi-opaque air.

After work today, four of us went to a nearby restaurant called Thousand Oaks which–in addition to being a very fine establishment for eating–has a pretty diverse selection of Indian (and other, but really) scotch. We sampled three Indian scotches, one just blended here, and they were in fact pretty good. Though to be honest, by that third sampling my palate was not the most sensitive instrument in the subcontinent.

One of the best parts about this trip has been, unsurprisingly, the food. Three Indian meals a day, every day for a week, with no repeats, and Roy tells me that it would take at least another three weeks before I would start to run out of choices. At each meal they’ve stuffed me to the point of, frankly, absurd gluttony, and then I return to the hotel to find dessert waiting for me. Crazy.

As delicious as the food is, of course it’s also cheap. A representative meal has five of us eating a full three courses, with more dessert than we can finish, totalling around 450 rupees–or nine dollars.

India++

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I want to point out, just for the record, that someone who whines a lot in his diary asked me for lock replay information by Wednesday. Do you know which day just started in my crazy land of GMT+5.5 — to say nothing of GMT-8 where he is? Good guess.

After I fulfilled my corporate duties, I ducked out for a couple of hours to a nearby tailor. My Indian hosts thought this was particularly clever; I guess they’ve never bought suits in the US. I left with 3 suits, 8 shirts, 5 pairs of trousers, 2 belts, and 5 ties. Grand total? 40,000 rupees, or about $800.

India++

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I’ve been travelling for the last 30 hours or so, and I feel like it, it’s very surreal. I remember bits and pieces of my journey, and they almost all look like this. My body has absolutely no idea what time it is, or whether it’s supposed to be awake or asleep, so I oscillate between being wired and exhausted. I was doing a pretty good job of keeping this white shirt presentable, but I guess I was a bit careless with that last Lufthansa chocolate bar. sigh.

The razor wire in the Frankfurt airport is, for the record, a nice touch.

I’m waiting to board my last flight of the day, to visit my folks in Ohio for the holiday, and I won’t arrive until just about dinner time. This probably means that I won’t be able to take a shower or iron a clean shirt, so I get to smell and look very much as if I haven’t washed in two full days, because I haven’t.

But you know, it’s cool.


I arrived to learn that there was a chimney fire at my aunt’s house, where we always have Thanksgiving dinner.

Luckily my uncle knew immediately what was going on, so the damage was minimal, all things considered. When the volunteer fire department showed up, they found him standing on the icy roof, with no jacket on, pointing a garden hose down the chimney. Incredibly, even after the fire department hosed it down, the water damage was much less than I expected. None of it made it to the bottom of the chimney, having apparently exited via a spillway, and the damage to the ceiling appeared minor.

After all that, dinner was almost ready when I arrived.

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In light of the continuing strife, I think United should have a very soothing message about how any bankruptcy filing will absolutely not disrupt my travel schedule. To date, very little soothing has taken place.

Although really, bankruptcy in this particular case will just mean that someone else will own it, not that anything drastic will happen. I suspect that I won’t even notice.

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