Sunday, August 17, 2008

Unfair fairness

I was walking down one of Bangalore's railway stations with my sister to see her friend off, a night more than 2 years ago. So we were waiting for the train to pull in and idly chatting when we noticed a couple of stray dogs playing about on the platform. Well one of them was playing about while the other was more or less ignoring the playful one, lying on its chest sometimes with its head on its paws with a slightly condescending air. The playful one was running around, poking the other with its nose, biting playfully at a ear and generally making a fool of itself. Kindly note the words that I used at the end. Its probably one of the reasons why one remains single. So my sister's friend asks a question. She somehow seemed to figure that what was going on was the beginning of a puppyful relationship and she wanted to know which my sister thought was the female dog (I will call it doggess to stop people from getting ideas). So my sister without batting an eyelid says the one lying down of course. It was when I heard that that a realization slowly (and I mean slow - its going to take maybe a year more) started dawning. I respect my sister's opinion on most things and so if she says something, I do give it thought. So her effortless divining of the sex of the doggess, implied the unshakeable truth that thats how it goes. For people who got lost around there, I believe we can learn a lot from animals as we are maybe atmost twice removed from them. So its the dog who nibbles, bites, romps around and is all enthusiastic about getting it going while the doggess, well waits. What the doggess waits for is one of the deepest secrets that none have been able to reveal. Its just how it is. I believe its a sadistic trait in doggesses but that would be unfair. It could be that doggesses don't want to be just one more notch. Well anyway, if the dog isn't persistent, and doesn't keep going on blind faith, in his possibly pumped up belief in the awesomness of the doggess, and pauses to consider why the hell he seems to be the only one interested in getting things going, well, he isn't getting any.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Free will

Ever since I knew about the international post graduate work permit being extended to 3 years and the removal of the necessity that the work that you do is connected to your degree, I have been thinking about the freedom that gives me. If I do want to stay here, I don't need to work as a software engineer. Not that I don't want to, but thats what I have been doing till now and it probably would be what I end up doing till I dodder and die. So maybe this is an opportunity to exercise my freedom.

A couple of things that came to mind which I would like to do is to be a cross country truck driver and to be a deck hand or something on one of the ships that are anchored in the Burrad Inlet. I actually ran these ideas by a few friends over lunch and they were almost unanimously met with ridicule. Yeah I probably won't have the guts to actually do something like that, but I definitely do think it would be a fresh experience. Fresh is the key word. A deck hand's job is hard labour and truck driving will get boring. But then I have never sailed before and I would definitely love it if I could drive across Canada. Maybe for 6 months. Doesn't require much qualification, a minimum commitment and quite an experience for sure. And I guess right now would be the time I do it, before I start having other commitments.

Free will is definitely something to be exercised. I haven't done that much till now. Did my high school, did my engineering and got a job. The next thing would have been working for a while, saving money, and getting settled. Like a buffalo in a herd, money being grass. Every buffalo mostly does what the other buffaloes do (yeah, yeah - Jonathan Livingstone Seagull spin off). The first good thing I did is decide to do my Masters here. It opens you up a lot, living in a different country. And I do think the choices that students have here are much more than back in India. I know a guy who researches the relation between old people and their gardening practices as his Masters or this other guy who is trying to find out patterns in duck movement - he researches duck swarming in water. Choices and free will go together and are two sides of a baboon's red bottom.

The choices that I had in my high school were Computer Science, Biology and Commerce. You could probably get the gardening practices Masters as an off shoot of Biology and maybe the duckies too. The fact is I hadn't even tried to find out if there are other options that I might have liked - I do believe I wasn't exposed enough to the things that I could do. Not that I have regrets in choosing Computer Science. In fact, I think if I hadn't liked what I have been learning for the past 6 years, I would have explored other stuff. But there is so much else! Maybe I should have done a dual major or something - Forestry and Computer Science? A park ranger who can write a program to track down say each and every squirrel in the park. More features would be to also track when squirrels mate (when two squirrelly markers intersect for say X minutes - X being set after researching how long and hard the critters can keep at it), to tag the female and automatically tag the babies when they are born - yes this definitely has scope. So maybe I made a good choice, but maybe I also could have done better.

Exercising free will comes at a cost. I vaguely remember something I read/heard about free will existing only when you are at peace and when you can actually pay (and have the courage to pay) that cost, say with money or with time or with your social life. For e.g. we all need money, some of us to a greater extent than others. Money to send back home to family, money for medical treatment, money for food, for housing. You probably can't make much money out of tracking squirrels. But suppose you have enough money and have no other commitments, then you are quite lucky and probably at peace to get down to some free willing.

So the thing to do is be the buffalo who had a shot at flying off a cliff. Maybe there was a lake down below, maybe there were rocks. Maybe around half way through, the wind shot up the buffalo's ass and it ballooned and floated away into the blue yonder. In the end it would be a buffalo that exercised its free will.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stress

I have 4 months. Writing that down and thinking about how each week goes away so quick with seemingly only a bit of my thesis work getting done each week doesn't help the stress. Added to that is the job hunt which I have to begin in maybe 2 months. That and the impending continuing days of slogging required to get it done, really buoys up one's spirit. But then I say, its not that bad. Or if it is, fuck it! Its not worth screwing up into a ball for if thats what it does to you. Stress is a funny thing. Its probably the only way you can get work done but if its not controlled, it can make you quite unhappy indeed. One way to go about it is living the moment. Living each day. Work hard, get stuff done, motorcycle, have almost zero social life and still be at peace. This place really, really helps. Especially if you have a motorcycle and love nature. There is so much freedom when you have a vehicle. You can go anywhere the road leads you, and here it usually leads to somewhere pretty and isolated so that you can just be with absolutely no one around.

Today I realized how antisocial I am when I was told so. Apparently I am the guy in the lab who just keeps working and doesn't talk much. Well I go to lab to work and no I don't like talk much when I have work to do. But I guess its true. I am quite antisocial. I mean I did go over the last weekend with talking to only 2 people for less than 5 minutes over the phone. Thats the nice thing about having a room mate who lives in the lab and comes home maybe once in 2 weeks. But it also was by choice. All the things that I wanted and made me happy, I could do by myself. But yes, though I am quite antisocial, and in some ways I do value my time alone very much, I realize that I do need to socialize. As a friend once said, its what people do. It does make me happy to cook for someone else once in a while or watch a movie with a friend. Or to talk to someone about how he was once in a jail in Turkey or how people can get so attached to a mound of grass that they had been sitting on for years. Occasionally.

This is something I can meet half way:

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more."
-Lord Byron

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Running

I had never run for more than a minute until the last month. I was not too keen on sports in school, which was partly due to a school which sucked at physical education and partly because I just wasn't interested in football or even cricket for that matter. And I don't remember any volleyball. So all the running I did was when the occasion called for it - dropping my bicycle and running behind someone for a thumping or running and timing myself to grab the door rails and get a foot on the foot-board of a moving bus are times that I remember - no sprint races or marathons - and no I haven't been chased by a dog yet. But I always wanted to run, not like the wind, just run and keep running, naturally. So I signed up for the Vancouver Sun Run.

I have run for more than 10 minutes 6 times during the past month and today I ran about 10KM with less than 10 minutes of walking in between. So I am getting the hang of it. The training schedule lays it out in weeks before the run - you start a run with 5 minutes walking, then 3 minutes running, then 3 minutes walking and repeat for an hour for maybe 2 days in the first week and in subsequent weeks you bring the walking down and the running up until you can just keep running. Well I haven't been following that precisely. But yes I have been alternating between running and walking - mostly because some of the leg muscles that one uses for running are just non-existent in me and secondly because I get winded - which is not that often because I do go to the gym occasionally. So stamina is not up to mark but okay, but my legs, they are just not used to running long distance yet. There is (or should be) this muscle that runs up from the inner side of the ball of one's ankle sideways in a line to the knee cap, over the shin bone - not in the fleshy part of one's leg where you expect muscles to be - or maybe its just the bone that needs strengthening - anyway right now that is the only problem I have. With that in shape and a bit more stamina, I can run 10KM in under 55 minutes easily. And I have to get there before April 20th.

Rhythm definitely plays a part. I take 4 steps when breathing in and 4 more when I am breathing out and I did read somewhere you have to breath in deep to avoid side stitches and cramps. A problem is nose drip. My respiratory system is still trying to figure out what happened to all the warm humid air and so I have to blow my nose every 10 minutes or so. I am rather skilled at nose blowing now - to get all the drip out with one quick parp and let in much needed air through a clean nostril is quite satisfying - I did puzzle a few dogs though.

You might find it hard to keep running when you are starting off, I did find it quite hard because of my paltry legs - but if you persist through the pain (and think about the pain being stuff breaking down and healing with muscle), after a while it goes away and you can just keep going.

Good music definitely helps.

My midsection doesn't seem to be affected. It seems to be a muscle of its own. Crunches strengthen it and running makes it healthier.

Smoking restricted to beaches and other pretty places or when people keep me waiting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Grandpa's memories

So children, did I ever tell you about the time I went to court? No? Well it was 50 years ago. I was in Vancouver then, in my later twenties and studying at the University of British Columbia. I wasn't like this then, I had quite a bit more hair, loved climbing trees, chased girls in skirts and red boots and drove a motorcycle. That is where the story begins. With a motorcycle.

Grandpa was pretty poor then, much as I am now, but quite happy. All grad students are poor by definition, and so was I. But I loved motorcycling and so with the little money that I had I had bought this motorcycle which was almost as old as I was. But it wasn't a piece of junk from the 80s, it could go like the wind and I loved it.

Well in Vancouver, which is in Canada, on the other side of the world, you have months of Winter were you can't really ride a motorcycle and so poor people cancel their insurance and once in a while go down to where they keep their motorcycles, pet them and run a hand over them and go back up. They wait for the summer when it isn't that cold to buy insurance and ride again. Eh? What is insurance? Insurance is money that you pay the government so that if something bad happens, and you don't have enough money, the government pays for you and the people that you might have hurt.

Well one day, grandpa wanted to fill up the motorcycle's tank with gas. I had read somewhere that if I leave the motorcycle without it being ridden for long, its better with a full tank of gas. Otherwise the insides of the tank could get rusty. So grandpa had been taking a can to a petrol pump nearby to fill up the motorcycle bit by bit. But the second time I did that it leaked pretty bad, and I was even kicked out of my lab by my friends for reeking the place up with the gasoline smell from my backpack. Have you smelt gasoline? Some people like it, some people don't. Well most of my friends didn't.

Well so grandpa thought hard and long for a few days. I was a law abiding young man, as you should all be when you grow up. So I didn't want to break the law and drive the motorcycle to a petrol pump without insurance. But the day was too beautiful and the petrol pump was a small distance away. So grandpa stuck an old number plate onto the motorcycle, crossed fingers, and with a vary eye out for the police, drove down to the gas station close by.

Thankfully the police didn't catch grandpa and I filled my bike full of petrol. I started it up and was a few blocks away when it died. A motorcycle not ridden for a while tends to act weird. Its like when you have been sleeping for a few months at a stretch (like say Kumbhakarna or Snow White) and made suddenly to run. You mostly fall pretty soon. That was the case with grandpa's motorcycle. And I couldn't start it up again. So grandpa called a friend of his, who though sick, brought his truck down to help grandpa. Using the truck, grandpa could get his motorcycle started but it died again soon after and to make matters worse, the truck too wouldn't start anymore. So this friend and grandpa pushed the truck to a place close to the friend's home and was planning to do the same with the motorcycle.

So, grandpa and his friend, went back to the motorcycle where the friend advised him to try starting it up again. So I gave it one more shot and Vroooom! it roared but with coughs in between. Then grandpa decided to make a run for it to home with the hope it wouldn't die in between. I was doing that, and because I was trying my best to keep it from dying again, I didn't notice I was going too fast. So the police caught grandpa. And fined him 740 dollars for speeding and having no insurance, and took his motorcycle away! Grandpa was devastated. 740 dollars was a big amount back then, especially being a grad student. Well grandpa got the bike back after running around and paying 110 dollars more! But the fine had still to be paid. To try to make it lesser, granpa went to court to plead his case of stupidity and poverty to a sympathetic judge. What grandpa did in court is another story.

So it was a very expensive day for grandpa and all because he was foolish to risk breaking the law. So children, when taking calculated risks, always remember that things could fcuk up big time.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fatherhood II

I just sold my old motherboard and processor. I had posted it on Craigslist and I get this call around 10PM. He says he is calling from Coquitlam and that he might take an hour to get to UBC but he has to do it tonight. I tell him I can wait and give him directions.

He calls around 11:15PM and I can see him in a white station wagon. I get down from my apartment to wave him in and I see a kid sitting right next to him in the passenger seat. I take him up to my place and on the way I ask him if its for his son. He says yes and that its the kid's 16th birthday. He had bought a graphics card for his son but the card unfortunately was a PCI-E card rather than an AGP card. His son's system had a motherboard that had an AGP slot and so he couldn't plug in his brand new 7600GT into his motherboard.

I give him the motherboard and all the stuff that came with it. Wondering if he knows how to put it together, I ask him whether his son's motherboard has a SATA or IDE cable and surprisingly he knows. I didn't know why it surprised me but maybe it was the rough looking station wagon or his appearance in general. He seemed an outdoorsy, non-geeky guy who would not know the difference between SATA and IDE. I mean SATA is relatively new. I ask him what he does and he tells me he is a bus driver. So I tell him he is pretty knowledgeable about computer hardware and he says he has 4 kids from 7 to 17 and they have 4 computers among them and that if whenever one of them failed, he called in a technician, it would have been expensive.

And the guy pays me and leaves. At the door I tell him that I have the same graphics card he bought for his son and it would work fine for most games. He says the kid was pretty disappointed when he found that the new card wouldn't work. So he drives late night, probably after his shift, from Coquitlam to UBC.

Some people spoil their kids :-)