Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Haunted house

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She hated the world. The results of her interview had come. And she hadn't gotten through. What could she do? Was the recession her fault? She had slogged for four years and had gotten her Computer Science degree. Now, all of it seemed a waste. She had applied for scores of jobs and had attended so many interviews. At the start of every interview, she would be hopeful only to see her hopes dashed when the rejection letter came. Her mom kept scolding her for no reason. Her father looked at her with pity. She ran to the Haunted house.

The Haunted house was actually an old bungalow in the corner of their street. Their house was on a side street and closest to the main street. Then came two houses that were being constructed followed by a few plots of land. Finally, there was the old bungalow. It had trees in the garden and was not used by anyone. It looked eerie from the outside. It was said that some great evil occurred in it when it was constructed. Anyone living there can never be happy. She loved going there whenever she was unhappy. The house seemed to welcome her and take her unhappiness into it. Everytime, she returned back home after spending hours in the house. But she never told anyone about it. She was sure her mom would scold her for that too.

As she neared the haunted house, she slowed down. The house had some rooms in the ground floor and first floor. The stairs to the first floor went from the center of the ground floor. The stairs were made of wood and led to a big ball room upstairs. The upstairs ball room and the small powder room and balcony were her favorite places in the entire house. From her teenage, she imagined that she was a princess waiting for her prince. The powder room was hers and after dressing up, she would wait for her prince at the balcony. He would come up the polished wooden stairs and sweep her away into a dance in the big ballroom. Her skirts would swish the cool red floor. This imagination always brought her a smile. She also imagined going up the stairs one day to find her prince playing the piano kept in the ball room. And her forgetting the world in his music.

This time, too, she imagined the same. But this time, she was frustrated with the world and didn't like anything. So she gave a wry smile thinking about her imagination. She was about to go up the stairs. Suddenly she heard piano music. She thought it was her imagination and went up the stairs. But it became louder as she went up. And there was a guy playing sheet music on the piano. When he saw her, he came near. "Sorry, I just happened to see this house and thought no one was there. I've always loved to play the piano and tried out some exercises. Ah! its been so long...". She gaped open mouthed. Remembering her imagination, she was embarrassed and turned red. Then, she came back to real world and asked about him. They started talking and one thing led to another and time flew away. "Man! I have to go home!" She got up after three hours. He was disappointed but said he'll walk her to her place. She thought "How charming!". This happened for a week and every day she felt he was becoming a close friend and started confiding her worries and frustrations to him. She felt that she became happier as she shared her story with him. He seemed an odd addition to the Haunted house. He said he was very unhappy and got attracted to the Haunted house. Coming there, he finally found some happiness in the piano music. Looked like the haunted house was a happy place for someone other than her as well. She smiled wryly thinking about their similarity. But, she also realized, with a start, that he seemed more a part of the Haunted house than her. That is strange, she thought. She had been coming here for the past ten years and he was here only for a week.

That morning, her cousins from Kolkata had come. She badly wanted to go to the Haunted house but also wanted to spend time with her cousins. She didn't want to take them to the haunted house for some unexplained reason. Her cousins stayed for a week's time. In that time, she also attended another interview. The day her cousins left, she went online to check her mails and clear all the spam mail that had come in for the week. She also got her offer letter. She was so happy and went to tell her mom. Though she wanted to go to the Haunted house and tell him, she couldn't imagine herself saying happy words in that house. Somehow, the house looked more and more ominous and uninviting as the days went by. She decided to take him to Cafe Coffee Day for a treat. But she had to join work in two days and had to get ready for it. So, she had to go shopping and then to the temple.

Her mom asked her to get jaggery from the corner shop to make sweets for her job offer. She went and brought them and was about to turn back when a photo stared at her from the newspaper. She took it with shivering hands. That... that was the photo of him. The guy at haunted house. It said that he had died two weeks ago in a car accident. The obituary was given by the company where she had got an offer letter. She didn't know what to make of it but couldn't get herself to go to the Haunted house. Finally, she willed herself to go but a big tree had fallen on the gate of the haunted house. She couldn't move the gate even an inch. Silently, she turned back to see the Haunted house and give it a farewell. She thought of all her imaginations in that Haunted house. But then, she realized that she always had a tear in her eye in those imaginations. She had earlier thought that those tears were tears of joy. But they were, in truth, tears of sorrow. No prince would sweep her to the ball room. She wouldn't listen to anyone's music.... A music sheet fluttered near her toes. She picked it up to see a message in it. She understood that the Haunted house can never hold happiness, it can only hold sorrow. The only time she tried to be happy there was the week with the guy. And, since she found happiness, she no longer had access to the haunted house.

As she turned back home, she heard the piano music and her heart lightened. The guy in the haunted house was there, playing his piano music for the world's heart to lighten. It is said that one can hear the piano music on some nights and that lightens the heart of anyone. But it is also said that one cannot go near the haunted house unless one has sorrow within them and have no way out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Practice makes perfect

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I've seen so many grad students and friends who think that they need to be perfect in everything they do. For some non-understandable reason, this is more apparent in girls than guys. I've known girls who are so much of a "perfect home" freak that I really don't want to go to their houses for partying. We try not to have their houses as party venues simply because those friends(yeah, the neat freaks) would never completely relax and would be surreptitiously glancing at all that the guests do. If someone spills some juice or food, even before the person who split it realizes it and gets a paper towel(most of my friends are humanly clean - and that is a BIG statement for grad students), they'd be there with the paper roll. At best, it doesn't let us relax too. At worst, it creates unnecessary friction. Anyways, there are also others who just don't turn in papers or projects till the last minute simply because they are perfecting the draft. There are some extreme cases where people think about doing something perfectly but are afraid of turning in a good work; they want their work to be perfect with every i dotted and every t crossed. The sad thing is they finally don't get to do even moderate work. Lots of sophomores and juniors would attest to this fact.

I'm not sure if people start becoming complacent once they leave school for I've not heard about many people at work bothering so much about perfection. But one of my friends says that there is a guy in her office who never gives presentations to his group about his work because he wants to give the 'perfect' presentation. His manager is tired of asking him to do the presentation and finally went around to assign him work with another person as a smaller team. My friend says that being in that smaller team is hard because that guy expects perfection in every step and would never let the project complete at the right time. It would inevitably get delayed and they'd rush through in the last minute producing a poorer quality work. But the irony of it all is that the guy would blame the teammate saying that the poor quality work was because they didn't concentrate on perfection in every step. Working with him is a sure stress-inducer! My friend had the misfortune of being his teammate last year for one of the projects and she went from being a calm person finishing work at the correct time to someone highly stressed. Thankfully, she is out of the project now. Her lessons from it were to factor in extra time and to clearly demarcate the responsibilities even inside a two member team. When she recounted this experience, I was reminded of the following story.

"The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."

So, practice makes perfect is a true adage. Stop theorizing your ideas and start "doing" it. I recently spoke to a friend and he said that he always want to do something. That is a good attitude. Do well or do moderately ok or even do badly, but do it. Like the tamil adage
"Chithiramum kai pazhakkam,
senthamizhum naapazhakam"
(The picture becomes perfect as you keep drawing it,
your tamil becomes perfect as you keep speaking it),
as you do something, you'll become more confident, you'll know how things are done and finally will achieve that excellence that you are aiming for. Just remember this: no one came into this world knowing everything that they do today. Everyone learned things only after being born. When someone else can do it, you can too! So, why wait? Do that project that you've been procrastinating for the past few months now. As time goes by, you'll see that you do more and more in your life; You'll be more satisfied with the entire outcome. And you'll finally reach that "perfect" thing, presentation, pottery and anything else!

Friday, February 20, 2009

UMPC

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I so would love something just for me. Really cool, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some interesting articles

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Some interesting links I came across this week:

Going to extremes to land a jobI've heard of a story during internship about a guy who sent a life-sized cutout with his resume to grab the attention of the recruiters. How far and how unconventional will you go to get back the job?

Automakers seek $14 billion more in aidChrysler was one of my favorite companies, simply due to Lee Iacocca. His books, Talking Straight and Where have all the readers gone?, are really good. But now, seeing the mess that the automakers are in and their under-estimation of their competitors is making me sick of it all. But that argument is for a later day. Now is the Government doing the right thing or throwing away good money after bad?

The TV bubble is readying to burstI've not watched much TV since my childhood(well, excepting Cartoon Network,Sun TV and Sun Music - a weird combination). And now, I've switched to the internet totally. But I see that there are only a few channels that are watched by people(among Indians) again and again. Not many new channels are being watched. But new channels keep getting started and live on a hype for a few months. Is the bubble going to burst?

H1-B visa holders: Alberta,Canada need you!Finally, some good news for the H1-B visa holders. Alberta, Canada is implementing a fast track immigration program. Interesting to see the different effects of recession. I sure didn't expect this one, though! :)

Fate = DecisionsShared by one of my friends, this falls into oh-so-true category!

Starbucks - rise and fall and rise again!

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I do NOT like coffee. Period! Some reasons being 1)Its not good for health for it contains caffeine, a drug. 2)I like the smell but have always wondered if I can find out if something falls into my coffee(I know, stupid worry, but...) My family loves coffee. My grand dad, aunt and sis would love to drink coffee at all times of the day. Even others would love to have a cup of coffee than any other drink. Same with my friends. There are more coffee drinkers than non-coffee drinkers in my circle. So, I'm always on the lookout for special and gourmet coffee to gift my family and friends. This is a habit right from B days to now. But my stint in S led me to one of the holiest places of corporate coffee world, the Starbucks' first store. I didn't know how holy it was until I saw the look of pure joy on the face of one of my friends(an avid coffee drinker). He had the same look as any cricket fan would have for Lords or any tennis fan would have for Wimbledon. And all this in a market that was similar to the Koyambedu market of C in India. Among all that, he was looking as if angels descended from heaven and were showering him with coffee of the best kind. But I'm digressing....

When I started my finance class, I was also trying out to find more about a few companies in my daily life and their growth over the years. Starbucks was part of the list. It was interesting to see that their stock price increased till 2007. Since I wasn't in the US at that time, I'm only guessing that it was because it was more and more cool to drink coffee from Starbucks and they synonimized the word for coffee. It was classier yet ordinary enough for a normal man. I know of friends who took Starbucks coffee just 'coz it delivered some pizzazz in life and changed an otherwise boring day into something better. So, people went in for the experience of drinking coffee(not unlike the Annapoorna coffee or MTR coffee on a chilly morning) than the taste of it. Then, as the economy went into recession(hey! we officially started the recession in Dec 2007), more and more people started cutting costs. One of the firsts to get out of their lifestyles was Starbucks coffee. Every personal finance guru said "Cut that $3+ latte that you take in Starbucks every morning. You'll save ~$100 per month ~=$1200 a year." Now $1200 a year is really tempting and people were more keen on putting food on table and paying bills than getting some snazz into life. Since 2008, the stock price has steadily decreased and bottomed out in December 2008(Compare the Dec 2008 price of $9+ to max price of $38+ dollars). And, sales reports from Starbucks all over USA weren't really cheerful. Further, Starbucks announced layoffs to cut costs.

Now, there is something about seeing a corporation in trouble that reminds me of an elephant in pain. Its so big and powerful, yet in pain. Small steps can't help it to recover. Sweeping steps are needed. But its hard to think in terms of millions of dollars, affecting millions of lives with our action.(Frankly, I've not thought so so far and that keeps me interested in the companies and their stories). So, I started wondering if this was the end of Starbucks that weathered recessions since 1971. And, offers by competitors like Dunkin' Donuts reduced the sales further. I am interested to see the fight put up by Starbucks. I guess they've taken the first steps towards it. The instant coffee!!
Yeah, the makers of European style coffee for $3 a cup are now jumping on to instant coffee with their "Via Ready" brew. I personally don't know the difference between normal coffee and instant coffee. But I've heard family and friends say that normal coffee(or filter kaapi) is way way better than instant coffee. Now, Starbucks is promising instant coffee that is equivalent to normal coffee. The packing is snazzy enough for the modern consumer and looks appealing. Its also offering samples to entice customers to try the new brew. Will it succeed? Will it stop the descending stock price and start going up again? Or would the consumers shun this instant coffee and stick to the more established ones? Only time should tell if its a success or not. Sometimes, hindsight is the best sight possible. As of now, the dance in corporate world is at the same time, alluring and frightening. Lets see how it goes!

If you've tasted the new Via Ready Brew, do share your comments on it and if it gives the same taste as that of the original Starbucks coffee. I'd love to hear about it.

Who is writing this blog?

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I post anonymously at this blog and except for a handful of readers, not many know who I really am. There are a number of reasons for it but I'll keep it for another post. One of my friends recently shared a site that uses artificial neural networks to find out the identity of a blogger based on the posts written in it. The site is GenderAnalyzer and here are the results:

Results

Silhouette of a womanWe think http://www.myalpinepath.blogspot.com is written by a woman (65%).

Is this correct?   


Since my research involves quite a bit of neural networks and their applications, I am really curious to see all the attributes that the NN behind this site used. Also, I plugged in some of the blogs of my friends and it gave an accuracy of 85%(among 15 to 20 people) and that's not bad! (Ok! Getting out of the report writing mode...). Try it out, its fun!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Results tarried

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She was tired
She was frustrated
She was angry

Tired at the work
Frustrated at the result
Angry at the state

The Voice was worried
The Voice was concerned
The Voice was quiet

Worried at her thoughts
Concerned at her feelings
Quiet at her anger

She lashed out
There was desperation
And she was at the center

The Voice caught it
There was courage
And it was at the center

She wasn't sure
She couldn't believe
She couldn't not believe

The Voice wasn't sure
It couldn't understand
It couldn't not understand

She thought of past
A smile played on her lips
She decided to believe
Completely!

The Voice thought of future
A smile played in its tone
It promised to understand
Totally!

The Universe laughed
The Universe played
The Universe tarried (but)

The Universe pushed
The Universe pulled
The Universe gave results

The Voice understood
The Voice sighed a relief
The Voice was happy

The Voice encouraged
The Voice showed
What it understood

She was excited
She took heart
In what she believed

She was confident
She was ready for battle
She went to work

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's day!

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A friend of mine sent this picture. Isn't it exquisite? So perfect yet so cool and calm? Hope all of you have a great valentine's day and weekend with your loved ones. After all, this is the strawberry weekend. :)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A circular dream

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Do you think we can predict the future by our dreams? I'm not sure but I keep getting really interesting dreams. Yesterday, I had a weird circular dream. A circular dream is one where you seem stuck in the dream, that is, the events in the dream seem to keep happening again and again. Though you know its a dream, its even tiring to think that the dream will go on and on and there is nothing more interesting in the dream and that it would be better if you wake up. 'Stuck in a rut' would be a good phrase to use :) I've inserted my rational mind's comments. Now, on to my dream!

I keep going in a car(right now my favorite is a stylish, sexy car the color of golden gray(I'm not sure if there exists even such a color, but that color totally excites me!) So I'm assuming the car in the dream is that one) on a mountain road at high speed. I'm alone in the car, have no music playing and don't even have a cellphone(which is really really weird because I can't live without hearing another person's voice all the time). Then I see big kites being flown in the valley below and wish how nice it would be if I could be in a kite. I can see all the interesting things going on in the villages and cities. It would be awesome. Suddenly, the mountain that I'm on changes into a big kit and I and the car are in it. We are soaring in the sky. Big, soft, white clouds enter the car through one window and leave through the other. But I feel that being a kite is boring because everything looks so tiny from the top and want to land somewhere.

I remember feeling thirsty and wish for some strawberry milkshake. Suddenly the mountain settles down and my car stops near a milkshake tree. The tree gives milkshake fruit, all in a satchel. I'm so tempted to run towards that tree for having even one of those trees would ensure that I drank strawberry milkshake all through my life(Ah! bliss!!). Then I try to get down from the car but suddenly realize that I'm safer inside the car(I'm not sure why I felt that but I sense the car is safer than any other place). I feel that the car is magical and that's why things are always good. So, feeling very clever, I wish for strawberry milkshake inside the car so that I don't have to get down from the car. But, immediately, strawberry milkshake starts sprouting from every opening in the dashboard. Even the AC vents spew strawberry milkshake. Then it starts hitting on my clothes and they become sticky with strawberry milkshake (Imagine if you had dropped milkshake on yourself and multiply it fifty times over!).

I say "Yuck!!" and wish that I should have a good bath and wear clean well pressed clothes, all sitting inside the car. Suddenly, there is water pouring from the top of the car and after sometime, there is so much wind that I can't see anything at all and my eyes hurt. Finally I realize I can smell the daisies and see that I'm wearing clean clothes again. I'm all happy and decide that its the car definitely doing its trick. But now I'm really hungry and thirsty and wish I had a plate of chicken Lowmein(one of my favorite dishes) 'Indian spicy'. That is on my lap the next minute and it looks so delicious. I start eating it and totally love it. When I'm halfway through, I see a big dog standing outside the car. He looks so pitiful and eyes the food. I feel sad and open the window to offer him food. But, he catches hold of my hand. I throw the food at him with my other hand and he runs to catch that. In the meanwhile, I try to raise the window of the car. But it doesn't work.(I'm not sure why I didn't decide to start the car and drive away or even think about it! For after all, by logic, the car should've started as soon as I think about it.)

I realize, to my horror, that my little finger is inside the dog's stomach and not on my hand where it should be!(I don't remember seeing the blood or feeling the pain at all, does dreamland have no pains? It seems to have been a clean cut). But, having eaten the food, the dog starts coming at me. So I get down from the car and start running for life. My bad luck, the cliff ends there. I see a big size kite and tell the kite "please take me to safety". But the kite says "No I won't because you think being a kite is boring". Damn! I curse myself for it all and turn back to see the dog at my heels and the car nowhere to be seen. So I jump off the cliff and while falling down, think how much I'll b hurt. Then I remember that this cliff goes down to 10000 ft and no one has survived a fall. It takes a good few minutes to actually hit the ground and that's why I'm still falling. (some of the stupidest facts come to your mind when you are dying. I didn't dream of my loved ones faces but was analyzing why I've not yet reached the bottom! Oh man!)

I plan to change into a feather or snow flake so that I don't get hurt at all. Since the snow flake can melt, I become a white feather and fall on a moving car's bonnet and get stuck in the design stick on top of the bonnet and I see me in the driver's seat driving the car thinking of how good it would be to be a kite. Then, I woke up!

As soon as I got up, I first didn't know what was it that woke me up for I had planned on sleeping a good few hours more. Then I remembered the dream and tried to go through it all again. But most of what I remember from this dream sequence is my belief in the safety of the car, my fear of the dog, my decision to change to a feather and finally my horror in seeing myself in the driver's seat like a third person. The last emotion was so strong that I felt that there can be no end to that dream for I would always be back on the bonnet of my car and I would drive thinking how nice it would be to be a kite.

One of my friends said that dreams can predict the future of a person. I'm only hoping that this circular dream doesn't have anything to do with my research. For I can't afford to get back to square one(as in the dream) and start my research again. Safety, fear, quick thinking and horror about never-ending sameness are all applicable to my research as well. I'm safe as long as I'm treading on known ground(read,something already discovered by others and implemented by me). I'm fearing the unknown and that research might consume a part of me(like how I lost my little finger!). I'm capable of taking good and quick decisions(not sure how this factors with research. Does my good and quick decision about my research lead me to square one again?). And finally my horror in starting again and finding no way out(I DON'T want this one to happen at all! Damn! Life would certainly become very very boring)

Do you believe in dreams? And do you believe in their predictions about future? Do share your thoughts and favorite dreams. And if anyone can predict this dream of mine, do so. I'm all ears! :)

To-do lists in a green way

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I've been running around getting things going for my research work. Its hard to be really patient and remember the thousand and one things that you have to do when you are getting 10 or more users to try out your software for a week's time. And its harder still when you have mounds of data to go through and not mix up last week's data with this one. For, after all, they look the same. Enter to-do lists!

But the problem with to-do list is that I keep remembering things one by one and I write it down on any piece of paper that I get. Finally I end up with 20 to-do lists of various sizes and 'combining all the to-do lists' becomes another task on my latest to-do list. This resulted in my forgetting half the tasks(despite writing them down) and getting myself in a fix. I recently forgot to attend a University Budget Board meeting and got some flak for this one for we are working hard on a budget for the coming academic year. Thankfully, I set up an alert to myself the next time round(Sigh!).

And the other problem is that I see my bag filled with so many pieces of paper all with some important(and some not-so-important) stuff written on it. One of my goals for 2009(yeah! letting one secret out!) is to live a much more greener life by using minimal amount of paper. I'm trying to reduce the amount of paper that I, as a person, use. I've changed all my statements to online ones, I've started taking notes with my laptop(with the exception of one course where there are too many graphs) and I've also opted out of all possible catalogs. So, last week, when cleaning the room, I found that this habit of mine seemed to take more paper than anything else. But I need a to-do list! Wham!! Enter the internet.

I scoured for a simple to-do list software that didn't need me to install a part of their software into my machine(my machine is already loaded with software!),something that didn't require me to pay money or just give trial versions, something that I can use on any computer that I use(this last one is important for I log onto four different machines every day - mine, my lab machine, my server machine, my research machine - and I don't want one more piece of software to float around in all of them) and something that lets me print the list to a paper if needed(I know! I just loving putting a tick against completed tasks! Gives me sooooo much pleasure! Guess its a case of having played too many teacher-student games when I was young. I still dream to be a teacher who only has to teach kids and put tick marks on their homeworks. Well...).

Finally, after an hour of searching and asking some friends(this set of friends' hobby is to try out new software. So, all I have to do is to tell them my requirements and they'd suggest me some really good software. Most of my firefox plugins are a result of such discussions. And they've made life infinitely easier!), I found printable checklists. I went to the site looking for some instructions. But it opened up with just a place for me to type my to-do list in and keep adding to it. It also has some cute boxes on the side for me to tick it off!(I know, my hands are already raring to go on a ticking spree!). Right now, I just keep it on the browser of my lab machine and whenever I remember something, I just remote log in there and put the task on it. By afternoon, I have a pretty good to-do list and all the stuff already on it. So, I just print it to a pdf(saving paper, you know :)) and take the pdf everywhere with me. Since I always have it with me and I'm rarely without computer access, I just highlight all the tasks I've done and the ones remaining. This shows what's still left out.

At the end of the day, I come back to the browser(I never switch off my lab machine and the browser in it - yet another reason to choose that machine) and delete all the tasks that I have done and do another brain storming to make a fresh to-do list. Two advantages: One, I don't have to remember all the tasks I completed each day (sometimes, even eating has been on my to-do list on some really busy days - otherwise, there are days when I've been feeling hungry at 11 am only to realize that I skipped breakfast :() and second, I don't have to rewrite all the tasks from my old to-do list to my new one(one of the main culprits when I used a paper to-do list - I'll have 10 tasks left in the old one and 10 new in the new one. I'd be too lazy to copy the 10 old ones into the new one. So, I'd decide to hold onto the old one too. But I usually don't go through it and would eventually forget it :P) Despite the fact that I always have something on my to-do list, now I know for sure that I can trust my to-do list to remind me of things to do. After all, when you have a busy and fun-filled grad life and want to do so many interesting things, to-do lists become all the more important to keep a sane life.

What do you do to keep your life together and remember all the small stuff "to be done"? Do you use hand-written list, keep it in your head or use technology's help? And how do you manage information overload? Do share your secrets to a sane and fun-filled life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's your credit age?

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One of my friends sent me this interesting link after she saw my nerd score up. She is a finance major and that figures! Check out this link for your credit age. Its interesting to do but not really relevant to me at this point in life. Maybe, after 10 years....
But I'm happy to 'know' that I'm credit capable. Takes a load off my mind in this credit crisis(pun intended!) What's your credit age?
I am 38
in credit years!
Credit Curious
Credit Age Quiz by SpendOnLife.com


PS: The same rule as nerd test. I don't want to litter the side panel of my blog with these labels. So making it a post.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Free Hugs, anyone?

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A R Rahman rocks, as ever!

Budget Making - the whys

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I'm a grad student. That amounts to someone who does not have enough money to satisfy their every whim and fancy. Oh wait! That amounts to someone who does not have enough money to satisfy a bit more than their whims and fancies. Though I'm covered for food, shelter, clothing and of course studies, I can't really go out for a night and buy things off my mind. Or even if I charge it to my credit card, I can't pay it back in full and would start a horrible debt cycle. So, the only recourse to that is to make sure that the dollars I have stretch to their best and give me enough cushion to do that one-day-shopping-bling-thing.

To tell the truth, I was brought up in a family where I can have any amount of money in my hand provided I gave the right reason for it. Being a kid(and an obedient kid at that ;)), I didn't have much necessity for money to spend on my own. Further, in India, you didn't have that many opportunities to spend too(esp when I was in school). In college, though, I could spend the money I had and could just ask my mom for more. But, I was overloaded with courses and projects and organizations that I didn't have much time for other things. So, all this left me with little or no experience with handling cash within a set limit.

When I went to do my internship, I got a good amount of money but the days were very set and we didn't get many opportunities to really spend a lot. And, I always hung around with friends and we made sure that the things we did were inside everyone's budget. Funny, but that was the first time I really thought about budgets. However, since my scale of comparison was my friends and since one of my friends' budget was inside mine, I really didn't have to do a budget for myself. I just went along with what she said and that worked well for me(didn't have to rack my brains - she did the number crunching) and my wallet(I didn't see any big dents here). So, there too, I didn't have to do anything with a budget.

Fast forward to my grad days. The first year and my second internship period was a repeat of my first internship period. So I really didn't have to care about it. But my second year was different in that I changed jobs inside campus(went from a relatively high paying one to a low paying one) and changed my apartment. And a few friends graduated. Some went for internships, all of us left back here started becoming serious about finishing our degrees. Slowly, that led to changes in my lifestyle as well. I had to look for different ways of having fun. Its not something fancy but I had a goal as to not ask my family or others for money. And it was not a hard thing to do. Rather, it was fun. I learned a lot out of the process too.

Now I have a simple budget that works for me and helps me live a satisfied and fun filled grad life(yeah, with that one-day-shopping-bling-thing). But I know that a number of my friends and readers don't do it often. So, here is a short series of posts about budgets. This would also help me revise mine and see if there are any changes I can make into mine.

Five simple reasons to have a budget:
1) It tells you where exactly your money goes. Whether you a Wall street banker or a sweeper, you earn money in exchange for your time. Time that can never be earned again. So, it makes sense to know what you do with the money you got.

2) It tells you how close you are to your goals. You can be a poor grad student(like me!) and dream of going on a world tour before you turn 50. Or you can dream of getting that penthouse with an awesome view on top of a 50-storey building in NY without any strings attached(mortgage, for example) before you turn 35. Or, you can even dream to have your honeymoon trip to space. For all that, it is important to know what exactly do you have now to get to where you want to go.

3) It reminds you of the resources that you have and consciously tries to make you spend within it. For example, if you have an income of $1000 and an expense of $800, then you live a way better life even with lesser stuff than with an expense of $1200 and more stuff. (yeah, you can charge it to your credit card but that brings my next point!)

4) It tells you the amount of debt you still have. Debt is like shackles and chain, it comes with you wherever you go. So, the higher the debt, the more constrained you are from living life as you want to. The lesser the debt you have, the more risks you can actively take in your life and gain more returns. Suppose if I get into my head to go to Bahamas tomorrow, I can do so if I don't have any debt and wouldn't be setting any legal action against me. But if I had $10000 as debt with me, then I'd have to settle that first before making my move to Bahamas. So I can't live life as I wish it to.

Charging things to your credit card is easy to do at first but then, you pay more than the price you see. For example, say you see a cute valentine's gift for $500. You decide to charge it to your credit card with 10% interest(there are very less cards with this rate now). And you decide to pay it in terms of $100. At the end, you would have paid close to $730 - An increase of $230 over the price. Naturally, the actual price of the gift goes up by $230. For that, you could've paid cash for $730 and bought a better gift. Or, used cash to pay for $500 and kept that $230 for some other purpose. If you decide to pay $200 each month, that comes to a little over $600. So, you get to pay only $100 more. So, try not to carry a balance in your credit card/debt. Or if you do, try to maximize your payments to it so that you have to pay only a slightly higher amount.

5) It shows you how much more your resources(income, savings, etc) should increase to make your life more satisfactory. Suppose you decide that you want to blow away $100 a weekend. So, that comes to $400 a month. And, assume you are already spending the money you get and don't have money to spend for your weekend flings. You can look to raise your income by $400 a month so that you can spend them without any worries of getting into debt.

I had read about budgets earlier. But then, I had thought that budgets were a bore and kept you inside a particular boundary. You can't do as you wish. However, I found that it wasn't true. Rather, budgets liberated you from boundaries like credit card debt and helped you achieve whatever was your dream. My goal is to finish grad school without any debt. I went close to getting into debt and my budget was the tool that pulled me out of it. So, I'm relying on it to keep my goal going till this May(hopefully I don't have to stay another semester at school).

Do you see any other reasons for doing a budget? Or do you see any reasons for not doing the budget? What are your experiences with the B-word?

Stock markets - good music!

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Are you worried about the recent recession that's hitting the US, Europe, India and the world in general? Worry not! The stocks that caused misery to you are now providing entertainment as well. Check this link!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Two runs and a cause!

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One of my fellow bloggers, Dream Chaser, is an avid runner and has been inspiring me to do my training. He is passionate about one of his projects, 2-for-4. For more details, check here and here.

He did a run last year and is all set to do another this February. His aim is to collect 4 lakhs from these two runs and give them to schools and kids for education. As this is a cause that is close to my heart, I'm so happy to see such efforts and take part in them in my own way.

I feel education is the best gift one can give to another and giving it to a kid makes their entire life better. Deepam has been doing an awesome job out of it. Do check their website for more details.

And show your support in all the ways you can!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Re: Is India in need of moral policing?

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[Disclaimer: The contents of this post, as always, are my views on the topic. Anyone is welcome to have alternate views and can express them in the comment section. But no derogatory remarks, please! Any comment that is inappropriate will be removed.]

This is in reply to one of my friend's posts. He had discussed about the recent attacks on women in Mangalore and other places in India for going to pubs and consuming alcohol, not because it was not good for health but because it eroded the Hindu culture. His take was that in a deeper sense, those attacks were not wrong.
I read the post and started writing a comment on it but quickly realized that my comment went quite a bit longer than is usual and hence I thought it would be easier to write it as a post so that others can participate in it as well.

First things first: I totally condemn these attacks! This is not a politically correct answer but an answer that I would stand by even in places where I don't have to be politically correct.

Reasons behind my take:
Fist, it makes us hypocrites if we want to do something and do its exact opposite. We are not true to ourselves. That, according to me, takes away the essence of life. You might not be true to the world. But its very important to be true to what you are, what you want and what you believe in. Cheating oneself is the most foolish thing in this world. In the comments section, King Vishy had said(quoting him):"Why should one do things he loves with that guilt?? if one likes it, why shdnt he enjoy it as long as it does not affect others? Am very much a traditionalist, mind you.. But I also agree with Kushwanth Singh when he says that Indians are very big hypocrites. Every man has sex on his mind, but we only wouldn't talk about it openly."
I totally agree with Vishy, if you want to do something AND do it in secret, why not do it in a non-secret manner? Does doing a wrong in secret make it right? Or if you think something is not wrong, then what stops you from doing it in a non-secret manner?

Second, every individual has the right to do something if they want to as long as it doesn't harm the society. Quoting vox populi,"Wont it affect us, if there comes a day when father and son sit and have a drink side by side?" There are fathers and sons and families who've been doing this for ages. So, I don't think that it is a result of the recent influence on culture. Further, can anyone stop a family that wants to do so? Will the Government and other groups go into each family and check this out? That is totally ridiculous. And suppose if your neighbor and his son drinks together, does it mean you and your son should do too? What happened to your rational mind that decides what is good for you and what is not? If there are such concerns about drinking spoiling the culture, shouldn't the Government ban alcohols totally? For if the problem is alcohol, its better to ban it and stop the above said situation from rising at all than making alcohol freely available and asking people to stop drinking. This is like keeping a bar of chocolate before a kid and asking him not to eat it. Won't you agree that parents would be better off not buying the chocolate in the first place if they think its bad for the kid? Or, does the Hindu culture allow the guys to destroy themselves while the girls are saved? Kyaa logic yaar!

Third, would you stop doing something just because someone else told you not to do it? Then, you are giving up your right to think and act, the basic rights and requirements for a human being. Do you think saving the culture is so important that we all stop being human beings any more? No thanks! I prefer to be a human first and then be defined by any culture, be it East or West.

Fourth, this point is in direct answer to the post. Bravery is a part of Indian culture but I'm not sure when hitting helpless women came under the 'bravery' category. Rather, that is the ultimate form of cowardice - hitting someone who can't hit you back for you are sure that they can't hurt you at all. Further, the post says about beer parties in offices. No manager or subordinate would force someone who does not want to drink. So, if everyone in the office does not want to drink, there can be no beer parties. So, I still don't get what is the problem here. All that a person has to say is a emphatic "No!". Is it so hard to say it? Would you rather drink beer to saying a small two-letter word?? Totally incomprehensible logic! Further, I do agree respecting elders is part of Indian tradition. But does your grandmother know about your office presentation and the need for you to check your mails even when on vacation? If she tells you not to check mails during vacation and instead help her out, would you risk your work for her words? Won't you try to reason with her about your actions? Then, where does "giving respect to elders just because they are elders" come in? Taking a stance only because it supports you is plain cheating, yourself and the world. In short, there are a lot of things that are different between the present generation and the past. What is needed is clear and respectful communication and not mindless heeding of one's orders. Last, it was said that someone was given something based on their seniority. Would any person accept it if he was passed on for a promotion even though he is talented enough just because there is another senior-but-less-talented person in the team? I find it disgusting that people have two standards, one for themselves and one for the society. Be true to one standard and stick by it at all times. Be true to yourself!

Finally, I follow Hinduism. Hinduism is a way of life, it is not defined by any cultural boundaries. There are hundreds of thousands of people in US and other countries who do not wear dhoties and saris to work and class in their daily lives. Does that mean that they are less of Hindus than those who do wear them? There are millions of people, even in India, who don't go to the temple every day. Does that mean that they are less dedicated to Hinduism than those that go? There are hundreds of millions of people who don't follow all the fasts and prayers of Hinduism. Does that mean that they can't be true Hindus while those that follow are? Hinduism doesn't say one can't be a Hindu if he doesn't do something. That is like God telling us that He can't love us if we don't pray Him. He loves us, all said and done, whether we pray to him or not, whether we even believe him or not. That is His characteristic. If God says "I won't love you because you don't pray or believe in me", then that is not God.

The reason that Hinduism has a number of images of God is that it allows people to pray God in whatever form they want. That is the beauty of Hinduism, its all encompassing and inclusive. It includes people of all beliefs and even non-believers. When something is inclusive, it can't have boundaries right? Hinduism does not have any boundaries. Then, where does the question of doing something to keep Hinduism intact come into picture? Maybe, the girls attacked in Mangalore did not follow Hinduism as perceived by the attackers. But, then, half a billion people do not follow Hinduism as I perceive it. Does that give me the right to attack all the half billion? Or does that give the half billion people the right to attack me since I don't follow their perception of Hinduism? That is against the Constitution of every country in this world, including India.

In all, what I do in my personal life is none of anyone else's business. Others can suggest what can be done, but it should stop there, as a suggestion. I have a rational mind to differentiate what is right for me and what is not. For, if I choose a path, no one would be most affected than me, right? Can anyone in this world have more care about me than myself? Similarly, I do not have the right to say what others should do in their personal lives as long as it doesn't affect me or the society as a whole. So, telling that these attacks were done to protect Hinduism is total bull shit! Hinduism has been in this world for the past 5000 years(recorded) and many more(unrecorded). It has survived so many issues like Muslim conquests, British rule, etc without help from mere individuals. So can it survive the challenges of the 21st century. For after all, religion is what we make of it. If we decide to be Hindus and implement the changes in our families, then Hinduism would be present always. It doesn't need goondas to keep it alive. Our culture is stronger than that. Don't you think so?

Readers, what is your take on the entire issue? Do comment on the deeper points as well. And do let me know if there is something I missed or overlooked. Would love to hear it all!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Nerd test

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Took up a Nerd test online after one of my friends had done it. It was fun but I guess that would categorize 95% of the computer science/ECE students as nerds. If you didn't know your computer's configuration like the back of your hand, it was considered a sin in our class :P. Anyways, going along, here is my nerd test results:

I am nerdier than 96% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to take the Nerd Test, get geeky images and jokes, and talk on the nerd forum!


PS: I don't like it hanging on the side of my blog, hence the post.
PPS: This test is more geared towards US nerds, Indian nerds would be more in the middle. For God's sake, I've NEVER seen a biohazard sign in an Indian teen's room, if at all they have a separate room for themselves. And, dead rodents?? Yuck!