Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fatherhood

These are a few of my memories from when I was quite small which have somehow remained with me pretty clearly.

The one that is the farthest is of me wanting to go with my father wherever he was going. I don't remember the details but I do remember him dressing up after lunch, putting on his helmet (a half face one with the peak which can be fitted on with studs which he used to wear with his photosensitive riding glasses) and me wanting very badly to go with him. I do remember realizing vaguely that it was absurd (or maybe not) but still crying my heart out to go with him. I still remember quite clearly, me standing at the door bawling and he getting on his scooter and riding by. The front door led to a partly open garage and you can see the road that leads off to outside the colony and I still remember seeing him ride by without looking back. Thinking back, he probably did feel bad or maybe he was just irritated.

The second one is a memory of one of my school days. School used to get over around 1:30PM and we used to go back home for lunch. Lots of kids in my colony went to the same school and there used to be auto-rikshaw men who ran shifts just for getting kids to school and back. So my sister and I used to take an autorikshaw to school too. Well so most days, after school, we had to wait for our autorikshaw to show up and so a bunch of us usually ran around and play ed during the wait. Well so this day that I remember, I come running down from my class and as usual swing my bag over a small parapet which separates the class rooms from a small playground in the front. I swing it right over my head, over the parapet and bang it against the wall and then let go so that it stays there waiting for me to pick it up when the autorikshaw comes. But then I see a man who has been watching me do all that from maybe 4 feet away and realize that its my father with some guilt. And he goes so thats why your bags don't last or something to that effect. I don't remember the riding home part but I do remember the look on his face. It had the pleasure of catching me in the act, a bit of sternness but also affection.

The third memory I have is when I had gone with my father on the scooter to a shop. I don't remember what shop but I do remember there was someone else with us. So I guess I was riding in the front, standing on the foot boards of the scooter with my head just below my fathers (later years had me have to lean down so that he could see). The scooter was a Bajaj Chetak and it is a pretty durable decent scooter (I had a friend of mine in college who had one and it still rocked). Well so he goes into the shop leaving me on the scooter and I remember playing with the break pedal on the foot board. Then I remember playing with the accelerator on the handle bar and I found that it got stuck sometimes at maybe quarter throttle. Most of the times I couldn't get it to stay stuck at that position - it would snap back, but finally I did manage to keep it that way. I wanted to know what would happen when he finally came back and started it up. I had no idea that it needs to be started in neutral (and so would cause no harm) and had a vague notion that it was a bad idea to have the throttle open. So yeah, I was evil even then. So he comes out and of course the first thing he does is hold the accelerator open before cranking the kick start and he realizes what I have done. So he looks at me and tells his friend what I have been up to and I feel the guilt rise up again and he has that same look on his face - but I see a trace of puzzlement too - like he is thinking how did I end up creating this?

:-D

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Motorcycling in Vancouver

I have been asked by more than a couple of people on how to go about getting a motorcycle and on the road here in Vancouver. I came here in August 2006 – my first journey abroad, and have been riding around quite a bit in the one year I have been here. So it’s not hard to get one and not that hard to ride one either, in spite of the change in lane directions and some traffic rules. In fact, the first automobile that I drove here was a motorcycle – which is definitely more interesting than a riding in a ‘cage’ as motorcyclists call a car – and boo you if your car has automatic transmission :-D. So in this write up, I will go into the stuff that you need to do to get that motorcycle and start riding around beautiful Vancouver without being ‘caged’ in, weather permitting! :-D.

So the first step – getting a motorcycle. I bought both my motorcycles through craigslist (http://vancouver.craigslist.org/mcy). You just have to keep looking for that affordable, durable, not too bad looking motorcycle – and I am speaking about those of you who are just scraping by with the money that you make RAing, TAing, working on-campus shifts and not the people who have cash to splurge. So for the tight budgeted, there IS hope. You just have to start cooking food at home and stop clubbing :-D. Both my motorcycles were sub $1500. But the problem is not just the actual price of the bike, it’s the insurance and the parking, the gas and maybe maintenance expenses that you might entail. Insurance is in slabs – less than 125CC, 125CC to 400CC, 400CC to 750CC. The premium also depends on how long you have been riding, your age, your insurance history (if you crashed or you were in an accident – it goes up) – it’s more personal here than in India. For a 750CC motorcycle, for the most basic insurance scheme, it will cost you about $120 per month. Parking at Thunderbird on campus residence will cost you $25 per month. And 1 hour at a motorcycle workshop would cost you about $80. So I wasn’t joking about the skipping dinner and working 3 shifts to ride a motorcycle part.

That said, once you have decided it’s worth it, and you really do want to smell the wind as it rushes past you at 140kmph, here are some rules of buying a motorcycle. Mostly the sellers let you test drive it if you give them a token amount (maybe $200) and some trusting/foolhardy people (like me) let you test ride for free. For the first purchase, I would advice taking a friend with you who does know something about motorcycles. Don’t worry about the humungous engine sizes – the basics of motorcycling are the same – if it’s a 100CC Indian motorcycle or a 750CC Japanese one. It’s heavier and quicker and it needs more care when handling – but don’t be intimidated. Once you are satisfied with its condition (and cross your fingers that its not glued together with gum and tape), you get it transferred to your name by going to an Auto Insurance broker. In BC, insurance is government-run by the ICBC and they have Auto Insurance brokers all around the place. The closest one on campus is University Insurance Brokers near the Village. I would strongly advice you to go down to the broker with the seller before you give him/her the money rather than him/her giving you the necessary papers with signature (you need the transfer of ownership form and the vehicle registration). Woes entailed by me for not following this procedure can be read at http://mindslice.blogspot.com/2007/04/possession-and-ownership-aka-idiots.html

So you have the motorcycle, next you might need motorcycling gear. Apart from the legally necessary helmets (which you might also trying buying off your motorcycle seller) for both you and your significant other/close friend (if you do take a close friend of the same sex with you, people on the streets smile knowingly), you might also want to buy a motorcycle jacket and gloves. In India, you could just buy a bike and ride it around, even without a helmet. But here, if you are riding early or late in the season (Summer), you would need a good jacket and a pair of gloves because of the cold. You could wear leather if it isn’t raining or invest in a good armored motorcycle jacket and gloves. Again, cragslist is the place to search for. There is also a forum at http://www.bcsportbikes.com/ which you might want to check out too. In the Summer I bought a leather jacket and wore leather gloves ($100), but now I have a Joe Rocket armored jacket and gloves (for around $150) – it does make you feel more safe – potentially dangerous :-D

About legalities and adapting to new traffic rules – if you are a student, you can drive in BC with your Indian license, your student card and your study permit. I have driven to Seattle and I know a friend who got pulled over in Seattle, showed his Indian license and that worked fine. So as long as you are a student and you have a motorcycle license from India, you are good to go. About traffic rules, you have to get used to riding on the right side of the road but you learn fast that you orient yourself with other traffic mostly – so it’s easy to get used to. Other major changes include the left turn – most intersections don’t have a green signal explicitly for a left turn. For learning about the rules and more, go here: http://www.icbc.com/licensing/lic_utility_resman_drivers.asp Chapter 4 explains what to do at intersections without explicit left green signal. Go through the rules numerous times because you don’t know when you are in a situation that you definitely would need to know the rules to handle.

Most of my motorcycling routes have been set by my ex-roomie – who taught me quite a bit of the ropes. If weather allows, I usually take daily trips to Jericho via the Marine drive – once you take the left fork from lower mall, there is a good curvy stretch on Marine drive, where you can learn the fine art of counter-steering. If you have more time, you could go to Cypress – it is an amazing ride after you are past Downtown traffic. The road is wide, clear of traffic mostly and has long straights and more than a couple good curves. You could also go to Iona beach near the airport which is another beautiful spot for an evening walk. You take the first right onto Templeton street after getting off Arthur Laing bridge (on the way to the airport from UBC via Granville street). The sea to sky highway to Whistler was another great route – but the construction work for the Winter Olympics has messed it up for motorcycles. Another route that my ex-roomie did was the Duffy Lake loop – search for it on Google. I haven’t done this yet but its on my to-do list for the Summer :-D

So that’s it! Hope I have motivated at least a few of you to buy a motorcycle and start riding. Its fun riding in a group too! Do mail me if you have any questions at anoop.karollil@gmail.com


This is taken from the UBC Indian students' association annual newsletter, which can be found here: Geetanjali 2007 -Roobaroo

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Green goo that made me stronger

I had gone to the Indian consulate yesterday to get a message from the Consul General for the UBC Indian Students' Association annual newsletter. Motorcycled to Downtown and back after successfully meeting up with the Consul General himself and a promise from him for the message. The motorcycle is good and strong and I love her. I thanked the sunny day which saved me a bus commute and went back to work trying to figure out how to manipulate page tables to make OS migration a bit faster. The sun taunted me again at around 4:30PM and even though I had taken her out already that day, I decided I have to be more thankful for sunshine and also make my insurance worthwhile. So I headed down to the basement, got on her, turned the ignition, engaged the choke, pulled in the clutch lever and hit the starter button. Nothing.

Its always a bit disheartening when you just don't hear the engine turn over at the press of the button. I did have electrical problems with my previous motorcycle, but it was my stupidity rather than an actual electrical problem - I didn't notice that after locking the motorcycle, suppose I turned the key a bit more, it switched on the parking lights which overnight drained the battery, leading me to believe there was a short somewhere and even buying a new battery. But before I resigned myself to the fate of owning motorcycles with electrical problems (pseudo or otherwise), I did what the previous owner had told me to do if it did exhibit this behavior - turn the handlebar all the way to the left with the clutch pulled in and hit the starter again. And this had worked until now without fail, if with repeated, more desperate attempts. But no, all kinds of angles of handlebar and all kinds of tilts - she staunchly refused.

So I gave up temporarily - I had to get back to my page tables as I had a meeting the next day. I didn't hold a grudge against her, she did stand by me in my time of need in the morning. Conking out in the basement of one's home is the best any motorcycle can do! But it kept nagging me. So I went down again a bit later and checked the wiring diagram from the manual that the previous owner had given me. The ignition has to be in 'ON', the clutch lever has to be pulled in (to prevent total morons from hitting the starter in gear) and then the circuit completed with the starter switch. I decided to begin with the starter button on the right of the handlebar. Got it off only to feel something give from within and realized that the throttle cable was intimately entwined with the assembly I had taken off. The starter switch was solid and I was certain that wasn't the problem - the tilt to the left before hitting the starter button technique indicated a loose contact somewhere and the starter switch was like I said pretty solid - no tension on the wires leading out at all. So I screwed it back on after I managed to figure how the throttle cable fit the assembly - only to find that I had maybe a quarter of the play in throttle that I had before. So I took it apart again and this time managed to thread the end of the throttle cable in its proper notch (there were two - maybe for slack - but I have no idea) and thankfully it fit snugly like before but with the original play. And so ended that days work with despondence. The next thing to try would be the clutch switch - but the initial failure made me lose heart.

I posted on www.bcsportsbikes.com/forum asking advice on how to remove the tank so that I could trace the wires to the battery (which I had traced earlier - or I thought so - to below the tank and leading away to the rear) and suggestions in general on how to find a short. So I get a reply almost immediately from someone who says I need to study the wiring diagram and about this library which has old motorcycle manuals (mine is a 1984 Suzuki GS750E) but I had already looked at it. But then comes the heartening post from another Suzuki GS owner about an almost similar problem he had faced which he finally traced to a mossy clutch switch. So I had something to try again - and that in itself is something to look forward to after a good day of work.

And so I went down, took off the cover to the clutch switch and found green goo just like this other guy. Cleaned the goo, placed my screwdriver across the contacts, hit the starter switch and she roared! Aaah the happiness, the sweetness in that sound. JOY! The power of the Internet and the helpfulness of a bunch of motorcyclists who gave me all kinds of suggestions. So much heartache by just some green goo! The green goo that taught me a lesson in persistence, community spirit, problem solving and faith :-D

Tomorrow, I wait for sunshine!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Loneliness

The sunshine stays. I don't know for how long, but I am enjoying it while it lasts. Taking out the bike whenever I can. Route laid out by my ex-roomie. I follow the procedure - choke, pull in clutch, hit the button, give it a few revs to squirt the gas in and she catches on well most of the time. A thing I learnt is the bigger the engine, the more it doesn't like breaking from routine. With the 500CC Interceptor, I could get away with choke, startup and cut choke after a few seconds. But the 750GS is more demanding - you do have to let her idle for a minute or she chokes and dies on you.

So on to West Mall, left on to Agronomy road, right onto North West Marine drive and then all the way to the beaches and the trees. Park in the first parking lot and walk to the beach. My roomie tells me when the tide is high and its the start or end of season (Summer), there aren't many people and you can just be, which I crave once in a while. There are a few stragglers. The sun does draw people to the beach. The fitness freaks, the dog walkers, the beauty lovers. All of them stick mostly to the trail and I go down close to the water, partly hidden by the trees and with logs that you can perch on. The view is breathtaking. Even if you see it a hundred times, you can still just be there and be full of life just looking out. A cigarette and the lapping, lapping waves. So much peace and beauty.

I miss my roomie - maybe its the nicotine and the cold - but yeah he was good company - the strong silent type - a guy you don't need to converse with to enjoy the company of.

Sometimes the beauty is too much for me alone. I need companionship - the affectionate, physical kind.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The idiots guide to digital camera data recovery

I guess two idiot's guides as blogs does say something about me, but in helping others like me, I am willing to bear dents to my self-esteem. I am in India for a month. In fact its almost the end of the trip and I am leaving day after. I really enjoyed the month - did see most of my friends in Bangalore, went on a wonderful trip to Indore and am having a swell time with my family here in Mumbai.

It was during the trip to Indore that the series of events took place that has led me to write this. My parents and me (my sis was busy preparing for her trip to Glasgow) had planned a trip to Indore, Madhya Pradesh for 4 days and it was during the second day that we all went to a place called Mandu near Indore which had a lot of forts and other ancient buildings - remnants from the 15th century. On the way to Mandu from Indore was also a beautiful canyon which we some time taking in and this was followed by visits to two famous forts. Well long story short, I filled up the 1GB SD card in my father's new Canon A570 IS. This happened at the last fort we were seeing and it was then that I thought, quite innocently, of exploring the menu system of the digital camera. I am not sure why I did it or how I ended up at the dialog in the digital camera. But it was simple - "Format card. OK - Cancel". I am telling you quite frankly, there is no other dialog more emotion invoking than this - and I am sure lots of people will agree on this.
Be that, your pen drive, your SD card, your floppy disk or even your hard disk, there would be this moment in a huge lot of people's lives where they would want to turn back time for the millisecond that it takes to accidentally press that OK button and then stare stupidly at anothe dialog with a parched mouth and a bottomless stomach. For people who are Lord of the Ring fans, maybe you could relate it to the feeling that Frodo would have got when he put on the ring and saw the eye of the Dark Lord. A feeling of doom and of immense pain/frustration in store.
But I didn't lose hope. I am a computer science grad student :-D. I know about file systems and have recovered deleted files before (after the above mentioned doomy feeling) successfully. The formatting had taken a blink of an eye and one GB data cannot be lost for ever in the blink of an eye (some may disagree :-D). Besides, I saw that there was a low level format option. For anyone who has read up till now and who has broken all new records in idiocy by accidentally doing a low level format (I am not even sure how you can accidentally do a low level format), stop reading now and start seeking counsel. So my hopes rose. I told my father feeling like a 6 year old having done something really needing a spanking and with a wretched feeling of having let him down (that too goes with the feelings of a 6 year old - I am too sure of myself now - guess I shouldn't have said that - people who are sure of themselves needn't say they are sure of themselves - :-D) that I had formatted the card but that I would recover the photos.

So here is the process that I had to go through which you might find useful to read through:

Firstly and most importantly, if you formatted your card, you MUST make sure you don't use it again before running recovery software on it (that means DON'T TAKE ANY MORE PHOTOS!). If you urgently need to take photos before you can actually get down to recovering, then you can use a tool called DriveImage to make an image (in RAW mode) of your seemingly empty card, and continue to use the card. Then when you are done and you have transferred your new photos to wherever, run DriveImage again and choose the restore option (it will ask you for an XML file which would have been created when you had created the drive (card) image earlier - so look for it under the folder that you used to save the image) to restore the card into the state it was after you had just formatted it - or in other words, ready for running the recovery software on it.

I plugged the camera into a PC with the USB cable that came with the camera - in Windows XP/Vista a camera gets detected as a camera, which is a problem - that sounds idiotic - but people who have done data recovery before would know that you really need the thing that you want data to be recovered from, as a disk drive rather than a friendly 'camera folder' in Windows Explorer. This is because most of the data recovery software initially show you the drives on your computer and ask you which drive to scan and recover data from. So there I ran into my first hurdle. I knew the solution to this - I needed a SD/MMC card reader. What you do is, you take the memory card (SD/MMC) out of your camera, plug it into a suitable SD/MMC card reader attached to your PC/laptop and the card shows up as a disk drive (removable disk drive to be precise - with a drive letter like E: and everything). Then you can go ahead and use one of those data recovery software on it.
So I had to get back to Mumbai to grab my sister's laptop which had an SD/MMC card reader in-built to try what I could to recover the photos and videos that I had taken. I recommend PC Inspector File Recovery software (google for it) for all your recovery needs (hard disk, thumb drive, SD/MMC card). Its free and very easy to use (well maybe not very - but you can follow this guide and you should be okay).

PC Inspector File Recovery

The first dialog is to choose the language - and I chose English. The second dialog gives you three options - recover deleted files, find lost data and find a lost drive. The recover deleted files option does a 'regular' scan and failed to turn up anything - you have to do a Find Lost Data scan. If you choose that, the next dialog lets you choose the drive that you want to recover data from (the dialog actually shows 2 drives for each drive on your system - just choose any). When you click the green tick mark, it leads to a dialog which lets you choose a starting cluster number and an ending cluster number of the drive/card file system. So I did that (with the minimum starting and maximum ending cluster number - that is selected by default) and clicked on the green tick mark (before you do this - do read the rest of this guide - because it probably won't work) that starts the scan and to my delight, the number of lost files found just kept increasing. It went to about 140 files and when it was done I found a lot of JPG files and a few AVI files. The JPG files are image files and AVI files are video for those who didn't know. But when I did get over my initial jubilation and relief of having recovered everything, I saw that I had ended up with a lot of images that were half good and half gray garbage and the video files wouldn't open because they were only about a megabyte in size. A point to note here is that the thumbnails for the images show up full, leading you to believe that it is some minor error in the files some where in the middle that is then decoded wrong and hence showing up as garbage when you try to view the entire file. This then led me to search for other software for data recovery from SD cards, maybe something specific for image files. Lots of them out there - but none freeware - so I still recommend PC Inspector File Recovery - as yes, I was successfully able to recover ALL the photos and videos using it.

This is how I fixed the 'cropping' of the image files and the non-playing video files:

On further examination (that is make it sound techy and scientific - it went more like glancing despondently at all those files which just somehow messed up) I saw that all the files were about 1.4MB in size. This should have triggered in my head that I am not doing something right from the very beginning, but again, this IS the idiot's guide. So I started exploring more features in PC File Inspector software. So to cut it short again, there is an option in it that lets you specify the default size for each file you recover using the 'Find Lost Data' mode. My guess to what the software does in the find lost files mode is that it scans every cluster and then identifies the headers for known file types like JPG, AVI etc, reads up till the default size specified, truncates the file to that size and shows it as recovered. The truncation is the thing that leads to the messed up files. The default size is 1.4MB and most of my image files were about 2.8MB thus leading to all files being half corrupt and the video files just not playable. So before you start the cluster scan, go to the menu bar on the top, click on Object and then Options, choose the Files tab. In the Lost files section, the Find lost files check box should be checked by default, but the default file size like I said is 1474560 bytes, which is about 1.4MB. You need to change this to the largest file size you think might be taken up by your image files. An easy way to do this is to go through previous photos taken by your camera, sort the directory listing by size and see the largest one. I chose 3MB because I took shots at 3072x2304 resolution and that comes to file sizes from 1.5 to 2.8 MB.

So after choosing 3MB as the default file size, I ran the cluster scan again and voila! all image files in all their glory! True jubilation! Now for the video files. They need to be treated different. You can just delete all the video files that you recovered with your image files (or intelligently choose only JPG files to save to disk after the cluster scan with 3MB default file size) because they also will be 3MB in size. Then you need to again choose a default file size which should be the maximum file size of the different sizes of your video files. This is trickier but you can take 1800KB for each second of video as an estimate (so a minute is about 100 MB), if you do remember approximately the length of the longest video that you shot. I chose 300MB, did a scan again, and saved only the AVI files (the JPGs found during this run will also have file sizes of 300MB :-D - so don't save them).

I did run into a glitch in Windows Vista after I had saved the video files - probably because of the wrong file sizes (some of my videos where just 15 seconds but still were 300MB in size). Explorer (explorer.exe), starts using up the entire CPU(s) and the system becomes awfully slow. So to fix that, or for those of you who want those video files in their right sizes, you can do the following:

Download virtualdub (google for it)
Open the video file
Under the video menu on the menu bar, choose direct stream copy
Under the audio menu on the menu bar, choose direct stream copy
Under the File menu on the menu bar, choose save as AVI and save it with a name you like
Voila! Right file size.

So there I had it, all the photos and videos I had taken that day all restored. I have a new found respect for the saying, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger!" :-D

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

All in a day's work

I am going to India! What does that entail in the light of the good difference in price in India and the Americas for electronic goods? Yes, shopping time. Then came the damping truth - Canada is quite expensive when compared to the US for electronic stuff. My list included a laptop and 2 cameras for my father and my sister. And the cost difference between USA and Canada did warrant a trip to Seattle, the closest US city to Vancouver, Canada - just 2.5 hours if you disregard the wait at the border. Plus my friends in Microsoft made the deal even sweeter for the laptop with a 12% discount for Microsoft employee purchases of Dell laptops. So the decision was made - I would get it all through Dell through Microsoft. The problem with Dell laptops is that they are built on demand - you specify a configuration and they build it and ship it. The problem being the length of time from when you confirm your configuration to when it gets delivered - this can be excerberated if you decide to go with a Dell laptop about 3 weeks before your trip to India. So I had to pay $70 extra just to get it delivered 5 days before the usual delivery date after shipping - even then I had been pushing it because as per schedule it was supposed to get delivered in Seattle the day that my flight left to India from Vancouver. But the Dell people factor in test failures in their shipping estimate - and so the laptop got delivered a week before the day of scheduled delivery - my friend keeps reminding me the $70 I could have saved - he converts it into Indian rupees to just make me feel worse. Well anyway 10 days before my flight to India, the laptops and the cameras where in the hands of my two generous friends who ordered them for me.

So I booked a round trip ticket - Vancouver-Seattle-Vancouver - departing at 6AM from Vancouver and 7:30PM from Seattle the same day.

The day before the bus trip - I realize - one of my many late realizations - that there are no buses from the university to the boarding point of the bus at 6AM. So I had two options - cycle 10.4 km at around 4:30AM to get to one of the closer boarding points - or take the last bus from the university - at 2:40AM to Downtown and sleep on the street till 6AM. I took option two - firstly because I really didn't know where I could put the cycle at the other boarding point (also I had threats from my roomie, whose the cycle is) and secondly because I was worried the bus wouldn't stop at one of the boarding points or not see me or something. So I slept around 2 hours, bathed shaved, had the earliest breakfast I have ever had (in fact I don't think it qualifies as a break FAST) - at around 2:00AM and took the bus. The boarding point was in front of a Holiday Inn hotel - and I got there at 3AM. So I went in and asked about where the bus would be picking people up from, at the reception of the hotel and was fortunate enough to find a Punjabi called Rick doing the 11PM to 7AM night reception shift. He said I was welcome to use the lounge - and so I caught some shut eye. 6AM on the bus and 10:30AM I am in Seattle. I had been to Seattle just once before - and that was on my motorcycle - which I would have almost died for to have then.

The power of the Internet - First there is maps.google.com - I knew exactly where the shuttle would drop me off in Downtown Seattle and I also knew exactly where I should go from there to catch a bus to Microsoft, Redmond. The bus schedules I pulled off from the Seattle bus service website which I googled for.

I met up with friend number one at her home where I picked up the laptop. She kind of makes the 'power of the Internet' awesomeness moot as she told me where I could catch the bus from and even walked me part way to the bus stop. Then I was in Microsoft. Yes it is thrilling to be at the place which makes the software that is used by all those billions of people. What was surprising was the number of Indian people you could see on the roads on the campus. Every 5 minutes or so, when I looked at the road, I could see a salwar kameez. I am not kidding! I met up with my second friend there and he treated me to lunch and then gave me the 2 cameras. I religiously ripped off the packaging (Canada customs preparation - the story being - both the cameras and the laptop are/were for some time definitely greater than 5 hours mine - more details being I bought the Canon A560 because it was cheaper but then found that the Image Stabilization feature of the Canon A570IS was to die for and hence bought that recently. For the laptop, I had thoughts of even putting up a picture of myself as the wallpaper - but that was taking it to ridiculous extents.) On the way back, at the US-Canada border, I was asked if I had bought anything from the US and I said NO vehemently with the slight consolation that I hadn't bought the stuff, my friends had :-D.

And I was back in Vancouver around midnight feeling quite content - a good days work :-D

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sanyaasi

I was going on the bus today to downtown Vancouver. On the bus I was sitting on the right side next to the window and I was watching people waiting to get on at the next stop when I saw this woman. She had her hair cut short. I somehow like women with their hair short and so I took notice. But that wasn't all that had piqued my interest. She seemed to have this aura around her that I just found irresistible to ignore. She wasn't that pretty, had a weathered look but this aura made me smile just looking at her. I had had the same feeling when I had once looked into the face of a Tibetan monk dressed in the traditional red robe. They look so at peace and somehow very pleasant. You can feel it when you look into their faces. They have wide open faces which when I see makes me smile on impulse and given a chance, I would trust them with my life. That might sound adolescent but its the gut feeling that I get - an urge to trust completely. Of course all Tibetan monks needn't be saints, but most of them have this saintliness in their faces that is hard to describe. The same with this woman. The weathered un-aging face and the at-peace-with-the-world look about her.
So she is carrying this huge sleeping bag kind of thing and a backpack and then I notice that she is barefoot. She asks the driver if the bus goes where ever she wanted to go and then comes in without paying anything. I guess the driver kind of got the same feeling that I got. The same feeling of goodness and the sudden urge to let them take care of you or something. It is very weird. So she comes in and even though I am sitting in a corner, she looks at me and I can't help smiling. So she smiles back and then sits nearby. Then she goes back to the driver, pays her fare and starts talking to him. Something about how she had gone to Burma and how cold it is there. She asks something to the woman sitting next to her and in return, the woman asks her where she wants to go. She points in a direction and says that-a-way. My skeptical side comes to fore and tells me that she is just homeless. She looks totally free but with none of the aimlessness/lifelessness of the truly homeless. She was full of life.
I had sudden insane thoughts of just letting it all go and joining her wherever she was going. I had a gut feeling again that she would take me along with her. Forget about my degree, forget about making some money; just travel freely with just a good sturdy sleeping bag and feed on the good-naturedness of people on the way. I guess for that, you have to totally give up desire. The desire to see your parents, the desire to have children, the desire to own that spanky motorcyle, the desire for anything worldly or non-worldly and to live in the moment all the time. And be happy without the fulfillment or the expectation of the fulfillment of desire. Like a sanyaasi or a saint.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Possession and Ownership aka The idiot's motorcycle buyer's guide

The following can be considered as an idiot's guide to purchasing a used motorcycle. The writer does not take responsibility for idiocy greater than his.

Day 0:
Craig's list, Motorcycle, Vancouver - tab always open in Firefox. Price range $500 - $2000. Refresh every 20 minutes. Phone potentials. Fix up appointments. The urge to go for engine CC greater than 400 must be curbed (insurance premium slab is from 125CC to 400CC and from 400CC to 750CC). Sub 400CC bikes hard to be found. Found one, fixed appointment, saw bike - old and pretty rusty - wobbly too - ditch. Urge to go for >400CC bike bites again - Honda Interceptor - 500CC - V4 engine - liquid cooled - 70bhp - urge overpowering - checked out - fell in love - decision made.

Day 1 Friday:
Postponed purchase two days due to student deadlines - urge of possession high - Friday the 13th - bought the bike from a blue eyed dude called Roman - signed a transfer of ownership, paid $1100, inquired about why the papers were not in his name (owner was a Jordan Froese) - got the answer that he wanted to save on the transfer of ownership charge - was assured about smooth transfer of ownership to my name - he had called up ICBC, the regional vehicle registration authority and confirmed with them - trust - every idiot's failing - in my defense he was a blue eyed dude with an innocent baby face. Hopped on the beast to the insurance agent - found two problems - a) the vehicle registration is missing (quite an important document to miss I must say - more proof that this is the idiot's guide to not messing up) and b)The transfer of ownership copy that I had was the sellers and not the buyers. Panic! Call back Roman - no pick up. More panic - $1100 puff of smoke - returned to last known meeting place - desperation - ask people around for a Roman - made decision to drive home - problem - parking - on campus residence parking needs bike in my name - public parking @ $12 per day! 5 calls to Roman - last one threatening. He calls back - doesn't have it on him - I should have asked him if I wanted it before paying him - "You are so naive!" - says he. True, very true, but the nerve! Keep cool - need to get original of the transfer of ownership - my copy - from the bastard. Fix up a place to meet up - vivid images of blue eyed angel's nose being broken with my knuckles flash. Meet up Saturday. Blue eyed bastard hands over form - no registration - offers to try tracking down previous seller. He says 'bikes are meant to be ridden! not insured!' - for a moment all I can see is his nose and slowly moving lips - no sound - except a vague drone - closest I have come to physical violence in a very long time.

Day 2 Saturday:
Parking is priority one. Wished I were in India - find nearest alley to home and push it in there. Weekend parking @ $3.5 per day - mild relief. First decision - try selling it off without papers - over ruled suggestions of 'you got screwed - you might as well screw someone else' - put up Interceptor with incomplete papers in Craigslist ad - first ray of sunlight - lots of interested people - Dan - offers $500 for stripping into parts - provides the consoling remark - No papers? Might as well be stolen. Guy with a Filipino accent - talks about leaving country and hence need no papers - jackpot! Sees bike and says will call back - never does.

Day 3 Sunday:
More calls, voice mails - talked to a few - everyone deterred by no registration.

Day 4 Monday:
Off to ICBC, North Vancouver. My first sea bus ride - what a joy! Walk off sea bus and right into ICBC - that was pleasant - show transfer of ownership with just a name, driver's license number and postal code and put in a request for previous owner trace - very, very lucky break - owner is as listed in transfer of ownership form! Address found. Procedure for transfer to my name:
a) Send registered mail to previous owner informing him about missing registration document
b) Wait for
i) 30 days with no reply or
ii) Returned unopened registered mail or
iii) Kind previous owner sending me the registration document

Day 5 Tuesday:
Sent registered mail. Found a generous mallu friend with a free parking slot on campus - lucky break number 2.

Day 6 Wednesday:
Early morning call from Jordan Froese! Lucky break number 3. He is in Texas, his good old grandmother opened the registered mail, called his mother. Mother mails him and he generously calls me up! Faith in humanity being restored. Says he is going to England and will be back August - the end of summer. Offers to do whatever he can - the archetypal good Samaritan. Tells him thankfully that I will let him know. Hop to insurance agent - tells him the story - he calls up ICBC and repeats story - I have to get my story notarized. He gives me a document which I fill up with my story and I get it notarized. Return back to agent - 30 minutes of elevator music from a busy ICBC office - $68 and the bike is truly mine - possession AND ownership.

Recap - actual guide:
1) Check this out before you see the bike you are interested in buying:
http://www.clarity.net/~adam/buying-bike.html
I am serious - read through it and run through it with the bike. At least to some level.
2) Take the seller down to the insurance broker - DO THIS! - This is the easiest solution to avoid all this. My roomie had been with me when I went to get the bike and even though he had bought 2 bikes, he didn't know about the registration - and neither did my bike's
previous owner - because they went down with the sellers to the insurance broker. Get it
transferred into your name and then pay!
3) If you can't do that - and again it is really better if you did - you need to check for the transfer of ownership and the vehicle registration. You might also want to run the VIN (vehicle id number - found on the bike chassis) through this site
http://www.cpic-cipc.ca/English/search.cfm - to check if its stolen. That is all that is needed to save yourself the 4-5 days of torture (with lucky breaks - it might have taken a month or two - or maybe never) that I had to go through - with my dreams of riding around in a sports bike being stomped on by a blue eyed bastard.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sex drive

To hold hands, to pull her in close with an arm around her waist, with palm on the rise of her hip, to look into her eyes, to kiss her on the neck below the ear and make her giggle and hold tighter, to kiss her on the lips with a smile, to undress, to run a hand over her back, to make love with abandon. A sexual fantasy.
I remember reading this article about thought patterns. The author classified thought patterns into age groups. The age group from 35-50 or so had job, debts, children etc as the major parts involved in their thought process (around 30% each) and around 10% for sex. In the age group 18-30, the author just divided the pie chart into sex 90% and other 10%. I am not sure if a gender split would have made a difference but I guess the sex drive is greater in men than in women (most single guys fantasize/masturbate more frequently than single girls).
At the risk of over generalization, in guys its more like a hump that piece of ass and maybe get to know after urge while in girls its kind of in reverse - get to know that piece of ass and then hump. Or in other words, the basis of a relationship is more physical in guys than in girls. Now that leads to a problem. If you are a guy, you will have to put in time and work for getting laid. If you are a girl, you have to be content that the guy just wants to get in your pants and maybe have a meaningful conversation later on.
I am basing the lower sex drive for girls on how a romantic relationship is usually initiated by the guy rather than the girl (but you can go here for a scientific treatment on sex drive gender split http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/baumeistercatanesevohs2001.pdf). I guess guys don't have as many things to weigh before they initiate romance while girls do. I read an article about causes of infidelity and why there could be an anthropological 'spreading the seed' reason for guys to go around, well, spreading their seed rather than sticking to a single partner. The author is smart enough to disclaim in the beginning that that is not an excuse to cheat, but I guess lots of guys do use that excuse now. If that is true, that is spreading the seed being one of the biological drives for men and not women, maybe thats the reason why men have a greater sex drive and not as much of a stringency in choosing a sexual partner. On the other hand, the risk/responsibility involved in sex is kind of skewed negatively toward women as they are the ones that carry the child. Hence they need to choose their partner carefully to share the responsibility. So getting to know that the piece of ass also earns a lot and is responsible is important for women. Of course it shouldn't matter now with contraceptives and more sexual freedom, but the thing is so deeply ingrained in us that we do follow the same pattern even now. Guys initiate; whether that be a ping on MSN or a date for dinner, the onus is usually on the male rather than the female. And the girls, they act pricey, test the waters carefully, study the guy over a long period and finally make a decision leading to a steady relationship - if the guy hasn't blown his head off or become a yogi foregoing all material attachments including that of the flesh.

The Sexometer - save yourself from priesthood

Tired of all the games that you need to play to get laid? Want to know how to effortlessly divine if the girl who checked you out just then is a potential relationship harbinger? Try the Sexometer 3000. By measuring the pheromone exchange between you and your potential mate, the Sexometer predicts with a 99.9% probability if your interests are mutual. Strap it onto your (no not there) wrist and place the accompanying transceiver in a line with the Sexometer with your potential mate in between and check the indicator. A solid green? You are in luck! A mild yellow? Worth a shot. A flashing red? Well, you know.
The Sexometer 3000 - the way to pain free relationship initiation!

Disclaimer - the device only testifies to great sex, building a good relationship is solely in the hands of the user.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Autobiography of a frog

My name is Verdi. I haven't had that name for a very long time since I came into existence but its the name that I will probably have for a very long time. My skin is dark green and I have a very red mouth which I always keep open in perpetual wonder. I am amazed at the world out there. I really don't remember where I was born or where I come from, but living with all these people have made me realise that I should have had something called a mom and a dad, at least thats what my general perception of coming into being tells me, but I don't know where they are. And I think I am from a place called China because I have this marking on my belly that says 'Made in China'. Kind of an unemotional phrase I might say talking about me being born as something being made. Or is it that I am a made frog? Maybe I have short term memory losses and I am really a respected member of one of the Chinese Triads. Well anyway my life truly began one day when I caught the eye of this young man who was accompanying a lady friend of his in shopping at the Birla temple in Hyderabad. What was I doing at a temple in Hyderabad, me a frog of Chinese origin? Who knows. As long as I can remember I have been staring out of the glass pane surrounded by a wide variety of trinkets that always get bought by girls like the one accompanying this young man. The man was a little bored and was just giving the woman company as was evident from his aimless loitering. So I opened my red mouth as wide as I could and gave him the best beseeching look I could muster. And he was interested. He seems to be pondering whether he should have me or not. He asked the guy who I vaguely remember as putting me in there to take me out so he could have a look at me. I liked his hands and the way they held me and he lifted me up and looked me in the eye and then smiled. And then I was free! I traveled with him a lot, and he poked me often and made me laugh very hard. All his friends found my laughter amusing too and I was quite happy with them. Then we traveled a long distance to a far away land, which I came to know was called Bangalore. It was not much different this new land but was cooler and I did like that. The man then took me to his work place, and I became a celebrity! Every once in a while a friend of his would come and poke me and make me laugh. He used to make me laugh when the place had quietened down in the afternoon when everybody was a little sleepy after lunch. He used to get pleasure in making me laugh out loud and then look around to see which of the other people were amused. I felt my laughter was kind of out of place but he didn't seem to care and he was satisfied with the few people who found it amusing. He shared me with friends, throwing me about sometimes, and I used to like it, giving out a chuckle when I landed on someone who, after getting over their initial scare, poked me and laughed with me. I became quite popular. It was sometime then that I got named. He hadn't really thought about a name but his friend said I have to have a name. So he named me Verdi, because I was so green. I loved him and his friend calling me that. I used to spend time with his friend too and he was a great guy. They were close friends the both of them and they loved me! I used to go with them to the canteen sometimes riding on his shoulder (and sometimes getting stuffed into his pocket when someone who didn't approve of me walked by). People would stare and he would sometimes look at them and then at me and then do a double take. He used to sometimes make me pray with my front legs clasped together or sometimes make me clap which I was always eager to do. But like they said, all good things come to an end and one day he left me. I am with his close friend though who takes good care of me but I miss him. Soooo much. Sniff.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Smile for smileys!

Why do not people smile? I am in touch with people from all around the world. Germans, Chinese, Canadians, Americans all of them with very few exceptions greet each other with a dead pan face. They are definitely not morose or depressed people who are feeling down and out. They do have their laughs and jokes. Its just the greeting that I am talking about. Saying 'Hi, how is it going?' with a smile is definitely cheerier than with a poker face isn't it? Sometimes I wonder if my smile is kind of a leery one or something, one which condescends and makes the recipient wary about their response. Or is it because they think that smiling makes them lose something? Like this one incident I had in a cafe. I was standing at the counter waiting for my order when I looked back at the queue and saw someone I knew. This guy is hefty, huge, looked like he hadn't slept well in a week and was looking at me pointedly. So in response to the recognition, and being a bit conscious of all the people looking ahead, I gave him a nod (instead of the shout of joy and crazy arm waving with a dazzling smile he needed as he let me know later on). He is again one of those guys who doesn't smile much. Laughs a lot, usually making fun of other people/pulling someone's leg but not the smile because you feel like it kind of guy. What I was getting at was the 'tough men don't smile - they just nod or ignore' syndrome. The thing I am talking about is meeting someone you know on the street or in the corridor, and the casual smile. Nope, that is very rare around here. Of course then there is the other side. The one wherein you keep running into the guy you said hi and exchanged smiles with a couple of minutes back. Or the situation where you see someone who is going away for long and exchange pleasantries and say tearful goodbyes to only to run into him again and again a few minutes apart. Then there is the embarrassed, strained smile. Well I have piddled enough, all I want to say is, smile people! It doesn't hurt and it lightens the air!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cypress Skiboarding!

The 21st of Jan, 21 days into the new year and 13 days into my second term. The work has started. Papers to read, assignments to correct, projects to think about. The first term was stressful, firstly because I didn't really know how much I had to do and how I would stand, but this term I can handle better I guess, the major fight as always will be with my laziness :-).
Nothing much happened during the last 2 weeks but yesterday all of us (my roomies and friends) went to another ski station called Cypress. It was a trip organised by the Graduate Student Society (GSS) and for $90, it included transportation, skiing/snowboarding instruction and equipment. We all had registered for snow boarding. So early morning we set out to the GSS office, half way through of which I realised I hadn't taken my new pair of ski gloves. We were late as it is but I decided to go back anyway and get it and then cycle to the office to save time. So I did that and reached there before the others. It is quite cold here now and it had snowed the last couple of days. The problem with it snowing the last couple of days is the thing with snow. Snow when it snows is this white powdery stuff that is quite visible on the ground. But supposed it had snowed for the last couple of days and there is one day without snow in between and with maybe some rain, there is this thin transparent but very very slippery layer of ice on the ground especially on the tarmac roads. The entrance to the GSS office leads off the tarmac road to the right and this augmented with the fact of the road being downhill, the cycle brakes not really gripping anything meant that I took the turn to the office at quite some speed. Now I am not stupid (some people might disagree), I knew about the possibility of the aforementioned slippery ice but there is a point in cycling (most people who have cycled might have experienced this or come close to it more than once) when you know there is a very good chance of those 2 thin tyres just giving up gripping the ground and deciding to go wherever they choose to. That point is reached just a moment before you think you should have not made the turn but just kept going straight, slowed down, got off the cycle and pushed it all the way back. So I fell. In front of a queue of people waiting to board the bus, I jumped up immediately with whatever dignity I could gather and pushed the cycle to a stand where I could lock it and then to add, well not insult, but frustration anyway to injury, I found that one of my gloves was missing! Well long story short, it was practice for a lot of falling I did on Cypress.
So we went snow boarding. You attach yourself by your feet to a 5 feet board and try to 'glide' on the snow. There was this instructor who first taught us how to walk with one foot attached onto the board and the other used to push yourself slowly forward to get around when you are not actually snow boarding. Then we went up this slope and he taught us how to go horizontal (its counter intuitive but you start off with the board horizontal to the direction you want to go in - then you kind of dip (move your body) one side and then the other and zig zag along the slope. Now this is NOT as easy as it sounds. The braking is done by using the heel or toe to tilt the board up or down to dig into the snow and thus slow down. That too is not easy when you go fast. We fall. That is how we stop. You slide, zig zag for a bit, gather up speed to a limit that you believe truly that if you don't slow down or fall right now, there is great great pain in store, and then you yell and tumble (I scared a kid quite badly with a blood curdling yell and full flat out fall on my chest with my ski cap flying off and me sliding another 10 feet - but that was after). The training was pretty tiring. You climb to the top of a slope with the board which is pretty heavy and unwieldy and then slide/zigzag/tumble very very quickly down (you try to stay up as long as you can to make up for all your effort) and then repeat. We did that for 2 hours after which we did have occasional impulses to just do the training and then sit back with hot chocolate and watch the mountains dotted with skiers skilfully weaving through. But we did endure! Then next thing was the bunny hill for beginners with a ski lift. The thing about ski lifts is they never stop. They just keep going round and round and they don't stop when you get on and when you get off. That coupled with a 5 feet board locked to one of your feet does make the lift an adventure thrill ride in itself. Getting on was okay - you just wait for the chair (seats 4 - so you stand in a line) to scoop you away. The getting off is the tricky part. Experienced people just jump off and ski/snowboard away to get out of reach of the oncoming chairs. We, on the other hand, mostly ended up in a clump of hands, feet and snowboards and then do a mad scramble on the ground to get out of the way of the oncoming chairs. For the first time, there was Sharath, Pooja, me with our boards dangling off one feet and a 6 year old Chinese kid on skis. I was not greatly troubled. There is this attendant who we could yell to slow the thing down (and we did each time - not to her liking) and she would probably stop the thing if the chair did open up one of our heads. The kid seems to know what to do and so Pooja asked him what we should do. So I told her that we jump and lie face down to let the chair pass over our heads and the kid found that funny. The next couple of times Pooja asked him, he said that we jump, lie face down and barf. Funny kid. But he just glided away while we scrambled on the snow. But yes, now I can snowboard a slope with say 4 falls in between and if I am really careful maybe just 1 :-). Every movement I make now gives me quite a lot of pain, but it was worth it :-)