Saturday, December 29, 2007

Travelogue: Getting popular

One question a lot of people asked after reading the previous blog was whether it was my mobile; the mobile was not mine, it was my colleague’s mobile who was on vacation for his marriage! I never applied for a new mobile because my stay was going to be really short and it wasn’t really required.

I ransacked my bag once again in the bus but was unable to find the mobile. When I reached home my roommate said, “What happened? We were thinking of taking the car to come in search of you when we heard some Spanish guy answer the mobile”.Wow; a Spanish guy!
I recollected my story; we tried calling the mobile a few times but it was switched off now. The good thing here was the CDMA system – there was nothing like replacing a SIM card and using the mobile with some other provider. If the guy who had my mobile wanted to use it he would have to use it as such – he couldn’t change anything. My roommate said we could block the number once my colleague returned.

And that was the end of the day.

Next day I searched online for the telephone number of the theatre and finally found it. They directed me to another office which registers complaints for lost items; they informed that they would get back in case they found something.

Everyday morning was a rush - I would wake up at 6 or 6:30am; have some cornflakes at home and then rush to the bus stop. The 7am bus was ideal – anything at 8am would mean traffic jams while entering New York city. But still the rides were comfortable – you didn’t feel tired after an hour of traveling. No jerks and no sweat. We would have breakfast at office – something I really looked forward to everyday! Double omlette sandwich, two pancakes, a banana and a glass of milk (and their average glass size is pretty large). The first time I took all of that (it was self service style – you go to each counter and pick up whatever you want; certain things like omlette you would order and pick it up once the cook has finished), the cook said, “heavy breakfast”.
“Well, not really but I am quite hungry”, I replied.
I guess Americans didn’t really have a heavy breakfast because whoever I saw in the canteen ate light in the morning. And so did my colleagues. My reputation slowly grew due to my appetite (though I didn’t feel I was eating too much) – a lady saw my plate in the morning and asked, “Is that all for you?”
“Oh; you eat well”.
Maybe yes; but my mom would still have said that I eat much less than what I should be eating! Whatever it was I simply loved the breakfast in US :-)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Travelogue: The Phantom strikes!

Once the play was over, the actors and actresses showed up one by one on stage as their names were announced. Each actor drew a larger applause than the previous one; the crowd was on their feet and the best appreciation was held for the last – the introduction of the actor who played the lead role. A boisterous crowd sent flying kisses to appreciate his performance.

It was good to see such encouragement for the actors – acting live in front of an audience is no easy task and they surely deserved all of that applause. I don’t know how much of that encouragement we see in India; maybe it’s there sometimes and sometimes it’s not.

Perhaps if there were some way of projecting sub titles it might be really good – or maybe that would spoil the atmosphere. The music by Andrew Webber Llyod was great – especially the title song “Phantom of the Opera” had a nice tune.

On the whole it was an enjoyable experience; my colleague and I rounded up the day with the standard junk food for dinner at a food joint which had four vendors in one place. Back in the main bus terminus we parted ways – he was off to catch the metro while I went upstairs to catch my bus. A few minutes later when I put my hand in my left pant pocket I realized that something was missing – I checked my jersey pockets but it was no where to be found. I ransacked my bag but it wasn’t there either. I had lost the mobile phone!

First thought was to run down to the metro and see if my colleague was still there below. But I decided against the idea since it was already a few minutes since we departed and it would be difficult searching for him below. Next idea that popped up was to give a ring to his mobile and check where he was – but from where to ring? Fortunately I had a list of mobile numbers written on a sheet of paper within my bag. I found a coin box phone and read through the instructions. I tried numerous times but it always ended in a dead line with my quarter getting refunded. I tried another coinbox telephone booth but the result was the same.

Next idea was to go back to the theatre and check – I was sure of having my mobile in the theatre because I remember putting the mobile in silent mode while in the theater. It must have slipped out of my pant pocket; I usually never sit anywhere with the mobile in my pant pocket just because of this reason – but I probably did do it this time. To my good luck the theatre was abandoned – there was no one in sight and all lights were switched off with the main entrance locked.

What next? I hurried to the food joint where we had our dinner though I didn’t have much hopes of finding it there. I enquired in the counters but everyone said they hadn’t seen the mobile. Exhausted with running up and down I returned back to the bus terminus to catch the next bus.

As I sat in the bus I had to accept the fact that the phantom had succeeded in getting my mobile!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Travelogue: The Phantom of the Opera

(Many people thought that the last edition was the end of the US travelogue – misled by the title; that was just the end of the bus adventure).

The first room we entered was the memorabilia area along with a mini bar. We took a snap before proceeding to the seating area. Just as we stepped off the stairs a lady employee looked at our ticket and said, “Ah; I don’t need to move. This is your seat”. Our seats were in the rightmost corner but it was in a much better position than what we expected; the stage was clearly visible and there was no visual obstruction.

We browsed through the booklet to get an idea of the story; I had already read a few reviews about this musical on the Net. I was able to follow most of the dialogues to start with – the dialogues spoken by the men were clear but those by the female cast were of much higher frequency and harder to comprehend fully. Basically in musicals, most of the dialogues are delivered through songs and poems; you will have very little of the drama style dialogues. As we neared the end of the first half it was harder to grasp words delivered at such high frequencies. But from the context you could make out most of it. The story was simple; centered on an opera house where there is supposed to be a phantom – whose voice alone is heard. He takes liking to one of the girls working in the opera house whom he has trained by giving lessons through the walls. He insists that she should be the lead voice in the opera’s performance (else he would wreck havoc in the opera house). She impresses the audience with her first performance. And then the love triangle begins – there is another guy who likes her; our phantom grows jealous and appears before her; he takes her to his place underground – all along his face is covered by a mask. The heroine manages to remove the mask and sees the most hideous face; this enrages the phantom who finally releases the heroine. She is in fear and fright when she returns back.
After a few more incidents (and some humor along the way), the end of the first half is brought about by a huge chandelier sent crashing by the Phantom when he is enraged with the heroine moving towards the hero.

The second half was about hero and heroine’s engagement, the phantom warning against destruction and demanding that the opera perform his composition with heroine in the lead role. Our hero contrives a plan to capture the phantom and as expected the final scene has the phantom, hero and heroine in the phantom’s lair. But here the phantom realizes that the heroine does have sympathy for him and lets the couple escape. A mob arrives but by then the phantom has disappeared save for his mask.

Now that I think over the story I wonder if the film “Kadhal Kondaein” was to some extent inspired by this musical.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Travelogue: The drama ends happily!

My roommate gave me a ring and asked where I was; I calmly replied that I was on my way back! I don’t know how come I was that calm when attending the call – perhaps I was dreaming about another large bus terminus like the one we have in New York but was surprised to find that this bus terminus hardly had any building. Maybe there was something but in the middle of the night I couldn’t make out anything. It seemed more like a cluster of bus stops rather than a bus terminus. There were hardly any buses at present and as I got off I asked the driver about where to take the return bus. He told me to wait for a while. It was past 10pm and as I stepped on to the pavement I noticed that there were just a few people around; three adult men and a couple of children running around each of the bus stops. The sight of the kids relieved me a little; the men were burly and shared some jokes with the driver which I couldn’t hear. The area was completely deserted with nothing in sight except for the seven of us. It was chilly and it was frightening to be stranded in an unknown land at night – and in such situations the mind recollects all unpleasant news and movies which are set in similar conditions (highway robberies, Texas chainsaw murders, horror stories)! I stood there gazing around, with all my senses on high alert, waiting for what seemed like eternity (though in reality it was just five minutes) for the bus to start.

This time around I was wide awake in the bus eyeing each and every stop. There were a few people who boarded the bus in bus stops even at this hour of the night – it was 10:15 pm – maybe they were working in night shift. After 15 minutes I began wondering whether I had missed my stop again; somehow the surrounding seemed as if it was after our house – had I slept off unknowingly? My fears were laid to rest when Walmart came in sight; I was delighted and immediately got off in the next stop – in fact there were many people who got off in that stop. It was great to be back in familiar territory.

On another weekday my colleague and I decided to go for one of the Broadway theatre musicals. There were plenty of them concentrated in that area – maybe 10 to 15 theatres each one running a different show. There was Lion King, Les Miserables, the phantom of the Opera and many more. The Lion King was sold out and having done some research we thought of trying out “The Phantom of the Opera” since I had already read the book on “Les Miserables”. My colleague had doubts as to whether we had to be dressed in formals but I remember seeing people enter the theatres in casual wear. The cheapest tickets were $27 while the costliest was $111 (the closer to the stage the higher the price). As we debated over what ticket to go buy, the cashier said that there were a couple of seats in the front available at a reduced price – the $100 ticket available for half the price. Looking at the seating chart those two seats were in the rightmost corner but we decided to go for it. My friend bought an illustrated booklet about the Opera to get an idea about the story.

We were really hungry but didn’t have more than 20 minutes to spare for the show – to our utter disappointment we couldn’t locate even a single fast food joint nearby; it was probably the first time that I couldn’t find a McDonalds or Burger King in New York! We settled for a bakery where we had a quick snack before returning to the Majestic Theatre.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Travelogue: Modern art and failure of biological clock

Time flies at express speed when you are engrossed in something interesting; the Museum staff were informing people that it was closing time. I had skimmed through almost everything in the museum but didn’t have time to read what was written on the slides near the exhibits. The counter where I was given the headset had closed earlier and only now did I realize that they told me to return the headset by 3pm! I lost twenty minutes trying to locate someone to hand it over to and collect my passport copy.

I was back out in the streets by 4:30pm and decided to stroll over to the Guggenheim Art Museum – Dad told me that it was a famous museum. I had never ever been to an art museum before and having nothing else to do I hopped in. They were closing in about 40 minutes but I didn’t feel that I would need more than 20 minutes to rush through the museum. The place was under renovation and a couple of halls were closed. The halls were arranged on a corridor which went upwards in spiral fashion. The structure of the place was good. Photography was strictly prohibited in the museum.

What I first saw was exactly what I had expected to see – art that I couldn’t comprehend. Some lines, circles and geometric shapes which they call abstract art; I really couldn’t appreciate it; the good thing in the museum was that here also there were some guided tours at particular timings. There were also a few guides available in each hall to answer queries. I asked a guide as to what all these paintings meant and he curtly answered that this is abstract art; the artist draws something that they visualize mentally and try to convey it symbolically. It is hard to arrive at a particular meaning.

Ah well; I strolled over to the next hall which was marked as Italian paintings hoping to see some similar shapes. But the paintings here were simply breathtaking – easy to comprehend and beautiful. Nature, the common man working, protests and revolutions – everything looked realistic. There was a variety of paintings on each topic and every piece looked awesome – the shades, the choice of colours, portrayal of reality etc.
There were two halls with these paintings – I liked many of them and even took a second look at them. I wanted to spend more time in these two halls with the guides to learn more about the techniques used but unfortunately the museum was about to close. If you’ve never been to an art museum before then do check it out at least once; you might just discover that you like the place!

I was back in Times square for dinner – had a burger and milkshake. I took the 9pm bus. The most fascinating clock which somehow almost always used to wake me up before my bus stop failed this time. It has happened very rarely in the past and this was the first time in US. I woke up to see an unfamiliar surrounding. I had absolutely no clue as to where I was and there were hardly any passengers in the bus. The darkness outside didn’t help either – but I spotted a highway board which said “To Patterson”; Patterson was the last stop for the bus and I remember Wreet telling me once that it is miles away from our home! I frantically pulled out the bus route I had in my bag and tried to assess my options; there was a bus from Patterson back to New York at 10pm. I could get down in one of the intermediate bus stops and wait for that bus or I could go in this bus till the other bus terminal and then board the return bus. The thought of waiting in the roadside bus stops while it was pitch dark wasn’t comforting. I decided to hang on till the bus terminus.

And oh boy; a shocking surprise was awaiting me…

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Travelogue: Planetarium in AMNH

It had to happen. It has happened very rarely in the past but it had to happen someday. And what a day it was!
It was a weekend and I was off in search of the Planetarium in New York – Hayden Planetarium which is part of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). I didn’t have any problem with identifying which metro train to take – had got used to the layout of New York city as well as the subway system.
The museum was within another park that was just as beautiful as the other parks I had seen in the city – lush green grass, clearly demarcated footpaths, tall trees and benches scattered in many places. I bought a ticket which covered everything – right from the regular exhibitions to the special exhibition on gold. I soon realized that even a full day might not be sufficient to go through everything in that building; it was just too much to cover – you can run through the exhibits but if you wanted to read interesting facts and improve knowledge, one day was just not enough unless you come when the museum opens.

Before I had even glanced through the section on space travel it was time for the first Imax show – it was about exploring Mars; about the development and deployment of two rovers – Spirit and Opportunity; about some challenges faces, stiff deadlines and eventual success. The two machines are still alive in Mars – which is way beyond their expectations; even the designers weren’t sure how long they would last. The most fascinating thing was watching college students contribute to the project along with their professors. It was inspiring and for a while I wished that I had pursued an MS; could have been part of something special. I hope that someday such opportunities will arise for students in Indian colleges.

It wasn’t long before it was time for lunch; I went for a pizza slice and a burger with a banana for lunch. The planetarium show was awesome; you feel just as if you are in the middle of the sky with nothing around you.

Then there was a special exhibition on gold; there were a lot of gold specimens inside and only there did I learn that the gold standard for regulating foreign exchange was abandoned in favour of the fiat system (wondering what is the gold standard? – any body issuing currency in that system has to redeem equivalent amount of gold for money – so if you had a dollar then you are actually entitled to claim gold equivalent to 1 dollar; foreign exchange was pretty straight forward in this system – everything is mapped to gold).

I also learnt about the karat system – it denotes the percentage of gold; 22 karat means there are 22 parts in weight of gold in a total of 24 parts (the remaining 2 parts will be some other metal). 24 karat means 100% gold composition. Why is jewellery not made of pure gold? Pure gold is too soft and so gold alloys are used in jewellery.

There was so much to learn in that museum but time didn’t permit – there were some interesting facts about volcanoes, the earth, atmosphere and just about everything. The museum wasn’t filled with static slides alone. There were also some practical models where you could see or feel a particular phenomenon. There was an earthquake alert system which was connected to an international earthquake monitoring system. There was also a audio headset available for free which one could use throughout the trip – each exhibit had a number – press the number in the audio remote and you could hear some expert views on the exhibit. There were also some scheduled guided tours in each of the galleries were museum personnel would guide you through each exhibit.
It was a fun place to be in – and if you could spend two days there then you can digest everything. Everyone was bound to find something or the other interesting.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Travelogue: How much for a smile?

The days raced by as they usually do. I chatted with one of my mechanical stream college mates who completed his MS recently and is now working in: (surprise) solar energy technology. Surprise because now almost everyone is into IT – be it mechanical, civil, commerce etc.

We talked for a little over an hour and I couldn’t help but smile each time I thought about the incidents he narrated that happened recently. After spending three years in the US, he went back home to India on vacation. He was happy with few things and upset with many. An amusing incident was when he smiled or wished strangers “good morning” and they returned a blank (or even angry) stare in acknowledgement. It was a nice habit that you pick up in the US – wishing people you see in the bus stop, in shops, the waiters, drivers, colleagues and just about everyone you cross; bare minimum was a smile. But back home you would get long stares in return as if you had committed a sin in public. Here passengers thanked the bus driver while departing the bus and the bus driver would reciprocate with a smile. It kind of lifts your day when a stranger smiles or wishes you – it has the power to make you forget bad thoughts. In the first few days I was circumspect; wondering why people in the bus stop were wishing good morning; a couple of times I even turned around to check if there was someone standing behind me to whom the wish was intended!

There were certainly some good things one could pick up in the US even though most people back home would usually only talk of the bad things in the US. Life here is 'interesting' is the only word that comes to mind; some good things, good money, luxury life and all but you felt alien in this foreign land. It must be pretty tough for those living away from the heart of the city in US since you get sucked into boredom and loneliness very easily. And even stepping outside home is the same as being inside because there is nothing except highways and deserted streets. And the more you think of it the more lonely you'll start feeling especially if you are alone at home!

Just as I was lost in my thoughts another college mate rang up; he was in IT and posted onsite in some remote rural location in US. He spoke about the same boredom and loneliness I was thinking about – and why was he still here? Money. “Make some money now and then go back home and settle down” was his reply. And there was lots of money to be made – Indian IT was booming and the best money to be made was by working at the client location onsite. His time pass was movies and TV – and there was enough on TV to keep you busy – hundreds of channels, many movies playing on them, option of ordering a movie on demand etc.

Sadly enough when I arrived in the US, I thought I could play in the Indian stock markets but the time zone differences meant that the markets opened when it was midnight in New York! I did try to keep up a few days but found it really tough – at least luck was on my side; a few things which I bought and later thought would cause a loss took a U-turn; as the month end approached my profit was increasing. The markets were one of the ways to break the monotonous daily routine and was proving fruitful!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Travelogue: Promise broken!

Since I didn’t have a camera I didn’t really take too long to complete the trip past all the wax figures; I was soon out on the streets having busted $30 within an hour and without any pictures to treasure later in life! I kept up my promise and walked to Central Park – it was a good 25 plus streets away but I didn’t have any choice. I really wanted to take the metro but didn’t want to break my promise. I was fatigued when I reached the entrance to Central Park and I knew there was no way I could complete a stroll inside the Park – it was just too huge an area to cover. The place was crowded and this was another area for public display of affection and love! Since it was a little sunny today some people used the park like a beach to tan themselves. Skating, walking, jogging, bicycling, etc. were all to be seen in this Park. There was also an ice rink somewhere inside but I decided to come back another day. One thing I really admired in New York was the availability of so much of green space in the heart of the city. Even with all the bustling around it was a beautiful atmosphere to work in – or even study in one of the parks. And all the parks were very well maintained. People might say this is a hectic bustling city but if you wanted to spend some quality time then the city did provide you with ample space for it. I wished our house were closer to the city – I would have spent most of my time in these parks!

It was almost 5pm and I was far away from the bus terminus – my legs became very stiff just thinking of walking all the way back. I had to take the metro; I had to break my promise; my body just wouldn’t be able to walk back – the mind is willing but the flesh is weak!

When you enter the metro (subway), you need to swipe an electronic pass in which $2 would be deducted. Each entry into the subway costs $2. I had to go downtown but found all directions leading uptown. For a minute I was worried that probably for downtown I had to get into some other subway entry – but walking a few yards further in the tiny subway station I found a board which read “downtown”. What a relief!

My first metro ride alone was pleasant and enjoyable. It hardly took 5 minutes to return back to Times Square. I spent some time in the huge Toys R US shop before heading back home. It was a three storey shop with some fascinating lego structures as well as a small Ferris wheel. Toys are always fun irrespective of age!

Though I was alone in the bus ride back home I still couldn’t prevent myself from dozing off! But fortunately it was for just a few minutes. What a day – I had traveled alone by walk, by bus and by train. Yipee…

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Travelogue: In Madame Tussads

I strolled around in the bus terminal trying to get a feel of how the place was set up. I discovered a shop “Hudson news” which was present in every nook and corner of the terminal and was staffed with Indians (almost every outlet of this store was run by Indians!). I flipped through a few city maps and picked one which had a huge blow up of the New York city roads. Armed with a map I had a lot of confidence to explore the city. First stop was Bryant park which was filled with people, singles, couples and kids. I found a vacant chair in one corner of the park. After spending five minutes studying the map I was in a dilemma.

I had promised not to use the metro and so my radius of coverage would be severely limited today. I could go to Madame Tussads as planned or stroll over a few streets to Central Park – it was a huge park even on the map. All other areas in my sightseeing list were not within walking distance. It was bad being in a dilemma because I ended up doing nothing – I loitered around Times Square with no purpose and finally when I discovered that I had wasted an hour I decided to at least finish off my visit to Madame Tussads.

And I had committed a big blunder in not carrying a camera with me – not exactly my blunder because I was yet to buy a camera and my roomie didn’t have one. But in Madame Tussads the thrill lies in taking snaps with celebrities and I was probably the only person in those four floors who didn’t have a camera! Ah well; a few years down the line perhaps people would be clicking snaps standing next to my wax figure!

The wax figures were awesome; very realistic be it man or lady – so real and so life like each and every one. There were film celebrities, music stars, politicians and scientists. Gandhiji was the only representative from India (‘don’t worry Gandhiji; I’ll soon give you company here’). In between there was a horror area which the weak hearted could bypass. Thinking myself as not belonging to that category I boldly stepped into the dark room. Most of the setup was from the “Texas chainsaw massacre” movie – I vividly remember watching this movie alone at night (if you haven’t then try it!). The horror room had a few rooms from where real people jumped at you screaming with a chainsaw in hand – just like in the movie. And boy it was really frightening when you are alone in a dark room and someone jumps out from nowhere screaming like mad. I was amused to think of what would happen if someone were to panic and punch one of those models (or were they just dummy robots?).

The tour basically starts right from the top floor and you keep working your way down the building. The cost is roughly $30 for one person. And as usual there was the memorabilia shop to signal the end of the trip. I’m sure all these tourist attractions make much more money from the memorabilia merchandise than from the entry tickets – a nice way to boost income and something that we Indians had to learn. The marketing and packaging of things was awesome.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Travelogue: All on my own...

I learnt some basic cooking from my roommates. A couple of days I got dressed up to go outside with Wreet in the evening but just as we were about to step outside my mobile would start ringing – another production support; there were no major issues but still it meant that I had to monitor the batch jobs and it meant I needed my laptop and that meant I had to stay at home :-(

I enjoyed the ride to office and back everyday – the subway was crowded; hard to get a seat but that was just a 10 minute ride. The bus was quite comfortable, peaceful and quiet. Days sped by quickly and soon it was time for Wreet to bid adieu. We were packing pretty much upto the last minute till the cab arrived! He had a good amount to carry back including two laptops. There were some weird rules in travel – you can carry two cabin bags from US to UK but from UK to India we can carry only one – same airline but different rules for different sectors! Check-in baggage weight limit was more than sufficient – two bags each upto a maximum of 20kg.

After Wreet’s departure I didn’t have a partner to hang out in the city with. My two colleagues were different in nature – one spent most of his time with his friends while the other wasn’t that keen on traveling around the city; and also both of them were long timers in US; we rarely explore areas where we spend most of our time – it is only when we make short trips to places that we really explore places. So I was pretty much on my own from now onwards.

I was eagerly awaiting the weekend to explore the city. Saturday night I researched into areas of interest – made a list of what all I wanted to see and also checked on timings, reviews, ticket rates etc. My colleague wasn’t interested in any of the places on the list except for Atlantic city (the city of casinos!). And I was determined to visit something on Sunday – I didn’t want a weekend to go waste.

Sunday morning he told me not to take the subway. He told me to take the bus, get off at the terminal, visit Madame Tussads (which was just a few minutes walk from the terminal) and return back. No subways today! Ah well, I had to give him my word because otherwise he wouldn’t let me venture out alone in the city. And off I went – having some company would have been good (a girl would have been perfect!) but I had to be content with roaming alone. In a way it was fun; you don’t need to worry about anything, can do whatever you feel like, no one to keep a watch on you, absolute freedom. Sit where you want, go where you feel like, eat what you want. First thing I did was to observe the bus route but I didn’t succeed much in my endeavor – I dozed off as usual!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Travelogue: When at your wits' end have a shower! nIghT becomes day...

Soon I was busy chatting with my offshore team – it was 7am, I had woken up three hours earlier but was yet to brush my teeth or have my breakfast. Ah; the pains of being onsite – the pains of offshoring! I was discovering the downside of working from home; you think that you can work as you please but the reality was like Wreet said, “We end up working for a longer time when we work from home”. And to top it all your eating habits go for a toss – you have a late and hurried breakfast, you don’t have time to make lunch because you will be glued to the laptop screen, and till around 10/11 am the offshore team will be present online and you will spend most of the time discussing the project with them. When we are in offshore we think it is fun to work from home!

The restarted job ran for three hours but never completed; the database administrator came up with the idea or running some jobs on the database to ensure that database access is optimized. That meant pulling down the online regions for a while – it was 9am and the online users were active. But fortunately the lead for the online team was okay with bringing down the region for 10 minutes – he sent a note to all users to log out of the system immediately. Fortunately our online system wasn’t that critical to the business and we could afford a 10 minute halt in operations. Try, try, try again - we reran the same program but again it ran for another three hours without success.

It was now lunch time and there was only one option – skip that particular program and continue with the rest of the jobs (and hope that no other program gets stuck like this again). The rest of the programs completed quickly – much to my relief and the relief of the production support team. But we still had to rerun that particular program to generate the reports before the next end of day (EOD) jobs started. And that meant a gap of roughly four hours – 5pm the batch jobs would get triggered. I had to find the problem, fix it and generate the reports. Fortunately (looking back I think I have been fortunate on a number of things today), I didn’t have any other major tasks for the day and could concentrate fully on this problem. It was 12:30pm and I had just one bowl of cornflakes in the morning, was feeling a bit tired due to lack of sleep (for almost 5 days now), really hungry and had to solve a problem to which I didn’t have any clue in the last eight hours.

I wanted to get out somewhere to forget about everything for a while and relax; the weather wasn’t great with rains lashing the entire state. The only option left was to take a bath! It was one of the longest baths I’ve had – I stayed under the shower for around 40 minutes; felt refreshed and energized. I didn’t succeed in totally forgetting the problem but I felt much better mentally and physically.

With renewed enthusiasm I took a second look at the problem; I analyzed the database, analyzed the queries in the code and the bulb flashed in my head. There are times when you get into a flow where your mind just keeps coming up with ideas and suggestions one after the other; and invariably when in this mood you tend to crack the problem. “Eureka”! The index wasn’t used properly and the SQL query caused each and every record in the database to be read instead of limiting the search using the index. I tried some code snippets to confirm my theory and it was perfect. Now all I had to do was correct the code and get it rerun.

I completed everything with one hour to spare; after you solve the problem life definitely becomes a lot better!

And the moral of the story is “when you are at your wits end to solve a problem, relax and have a long shower”!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Travelogue: production nIghT support!


I didn’t want to touch upon anything official in this travelogue but this is one episode that I can’t skip – and I’m sure a lot of IT techies would relate to this easily.

Ever since I took over the onsite support for the application there was some issue or the other every night in the batch jobs – not because of anything I caused but I guess destiny wanted me to be present in the middle of a storm. Or perhaps the application didn’t like the idea of Sini deserting it on vacation. Except for the Saturday and Sunday the three working days so far had problems every night (thankfully we didn’t have programs running on the weekend). On Thursday and Friday Sini was there with me but Monday I was all alone in the battlefield.

It all began with a call at around 3:30am in the night; I had conveniently placed Sini’s mobile phone at night within arm’s reach and in the dark was able to pick it up in one go. The calls come from production jobs monitoring group – if any job fails they would ring up the respective application support person to check on the issue. Our application was fairly stable and before my arrival there was relatively less night support required. But all that would change now. Wreet didn’t stir from his slumber even when I switched on the light for a short while.

It took me a while to get accustomed to the voice at the other end – every night it is a different set of people who monitor the jobs and each person had a different accent. This time it wasn’t a failure – a job was running for too long – for 4 hours or so and they were worried about it. As usual I told them that I’d login within a few minutes to check on the job. We had our own internal messenger application – everyone working in the company used it – something like a private Yahoo messenger service; ah the pains of modern technology - the mobile phone, the laptop, the messenger, virtual private networks, the internet – ah the bane of modern technology; the world was becoming a very small place to live in; I’m sure most people in the IT field would have cursed these technological advances at some point in their career!

There was nothing much I could figure out from the job statistics – the job was running but instead of having completed in 30 minutes it was running for 4 hours tonight! There was no way to determine how long it would take to complete and so we were kind of stuck. The production support team was quite helpful – they did their best to pull up whoever I needed online; database support, database administrator etc. But till 5am we had no clues – the job was running – it wasn’t stuck; it was reading records from a database was the best clue we got. Apparently all my worries began because for the first time our application had a few million records in three or four tables – they were loaded just a few days or so before my arrival and the application had never been tested on large amount of data till now. The main database admin wasn’t available early in the morning – we only had an assistant on call. He checked on a few things but we didn’t figure out the issue. Finally we decided to cancel the job; the call was mine – I didn’t really have any choice – it was just a hope. I checked some intermediate files and came close enough to identify the program where it was stuck. I asked production support to restart from that particular program – hoping that perhaps it was just a case of database being locked during the earlier run. What a wonderful start to the day!

And the worst was yet to come…what do you do when you are at your wits' end?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Travelogue: End of another day...

Saturday night - return from Bronx:

We had some junk food on our return – somehow you kind of liked to have burgers and sip a little coke while in the US. We spent a short while strolling through Bryant park (a decent park) – it was really nice to see a spacious park in the heart of crowded New York. I wish Chennai had such spacious and clean parks. We took a few snaps; saw a few ‘sights’ and strolled over to the famous Times Square. I noticed that a good number of couples displayed their affection towards each other in public places – something that surprised me initially but now I was getting used to it; be it the metro, the streets, the zoo – just about anywhere I would catch a glimpse of them. Was a little irritating at times but you get used to it slowly – perhaps jealousy? :-)

It was rush hour in Times Square and you could catch people of varying nationalities there – a lot of tourists and a fair amount of Indians as well; a square that was bustling with energy.
Since we had our bus timetable we arrived at the right time in the bus terminal to catch our bus. The terminal was different and took some time to get used to – inside it was like a shopping mall – filled with stores and restaurants. And there were a lot of door numbers – with each door number corresponding to a particular bus number. You wait in the queue near the door number and when the bus arrives you can step outside the door and into the bus. It was organized and ensured that the ones who came first got in first into the bus.

The bus ride was great – Wreet was there to wake me up as I dozed away (which I always do!). My body clock needs to get used to the bus ride to automatically alert me when I reach our bus stop. It was chilly at night but fortunately the rain God was away. It was an awesome feeling to stand on top of the overhead bridge used for crossing the highway road; cars flying at high speeds below you and the cool breeze sending shivers through your body even though you are covered by a large leather jacket.

At home we learnt from Anish that bacon was pork and not ham – wow; what a relief – so I had tasted turkey and pork today. Did it taste good? When in hunger anything edible tastes good!
Wreet was instantly onto his laptop to upload the pictures he had taken in the zoo – and there were plenty of them. And another eventful US day came to an end. Would the rain God stay away on Sunday as well? said that the rain God will be in action throughout most of tomorrow!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Travelogue: in Bronx zoo...

The visit started out with a disappointment; the “Bengali express” - a monorail ride would open only on 28th April. We hoped that the rest of the zoo would compensate for the loss.
I was impressed by the way everything was presented - the zoo was clean, workers were always at work either feeding the animals, cleaning the glasses and ensuring everything was in order. We saw all the animals which were present in the zoo.
The indoor settings were awesome; there was a tropical zone area - an enclosure within a building where the humidity felt much like South India! The design was fascinating - it was as if a building were constructed around a tropical forest. I almost removed my leather jacket but was struck by reality (struck by the cold breeze actually) once I stepped outside the tropical zone.
The building of birds was also interesting - in many place there was no glass enclosure but the birds still remained inside their area - the corridors were kept dark while the area of the birds was well lit; and the birds didn’t venture outside because it was dark outside their area.
There were a few canteens within the zoo. And just like in the morning there was no chicken available - all chicken sandwiches and burgers were sold out! We settled for turkey sandwich!
The tigers and gorillas were separated from spectators by a strong sheet of glass. It was nice to catch close sight of them.

We went on a carousel ride as well since it was part of the package we bought. Wreet didn’t want to take the ride since he said it was for kids but I pulled him along. There’s a kid in all of us anyway. And there were a few adults as well in the ride (but most of them were accompanying their children!). There was a special zone with only butterflies - it was like a greenhouse with warmth inside to suit the butterflies and boy there were plenty of them.

At 5pm the zoo was closing down and the animals also went back into their hideouts - I guess they knew that showtime was over for the day!
We did our first time shopping in Bronx itself - just bought a bottle of water from a supermarket - a pretty large supermarket it was.
More pics coming soon...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Travelogue - the journey to a zoo...

14 April (Sat) - The journey to Bronx:...

Shorts; yikes!

The weather looked kind of okay and predictions said rains weren’t expected - at least not until evening. One website that you end up logging into often in US is; probably second most popular after was!
No downpour meant great news and so Wreet and me were off on our journey; we didn’t plan much; it was just kind of a run-time decision; the weather was good and we weren’t going to stay indoors - make hay while the sun shines, who knows whether tomorrow would be the same.
We hurried to reach the bus stop in time. There was a 7:40am bus - buses weren’t exactly on time but I did like the time table system which was adopted; at least you had a rough idea of when a bus would come to your stop. But then the number of bus travellers and routes were much limited compared to what we have in India. There was a little sunlight – something that we were really looking forward to but the chilly breeze still persisted; and boy it was really chilly – I kept my hands warm hidden within my jacket’s pockets. I wondered how most people walked without a jacket and even in short skirts and pants when there was such a cool breeze. Even with my jacket on I was feeling the cold!


We were really hungry when we reached the New York bus terminal. Both of us were desperately in search of a place to eat. I was tempted to have the American style fast food for breakfast. As we walked towards the subway station we dropped into a McDonalds (supposedly one of the largest outlets but on a Saturday early morning it certainly wasn‘t doing much business).
“Do you have any chicken burgers?”
“No sir. We don’t have that now”, came back the reply.
Everything on the menu had ham (beef) except for a McMuffin burger – which was listed as having egg.
“We’ll go for McMuffin?”, Wreet asked me.
We didn’t have any choice and went for two of the same. Wreet also ordered a couple of medium Cokes which turned out to be really huge cups – that is kind of the normal size that you find here in US; people love to drink a lot of soft drinks, tea and coffee and even the smallest size is often large for us. There must’ve been nearly half a litre of fluid in the cup! Use of water seems to be a rarity.
As I munched on the burger I discovered a slice of something other than egg - a slice of something pinkish – from the pictures in the restaurant I guessed that it was a slice of bacon.
“Did you see this? It’s bacon”.
“Bacon is ham right?”
“I’m not sure”.
“Ya; it is”.
“Great - so we finally ended up eating what we tried our best to avoid”.
Now it was too late – when hunger strikes and you don’t have a choice you really can’t help it.


We studied the city map that Wreet had to locate our destination. Bronx zoo was reachable by the subway (also called the metro) and there was a subway station nearby according to the map. I finally figured out the layout of the city - there were streets and avenues. Streets are horizontal while avenues are vertical. And every street had a number - 72nd st, 73rd st., 74th st. and so on. The street numbers were in descending order as we go down south. So if I wanted to go from 4th street to 81st street I actually wanted to go upwards or uptown as they say. Downtown meant the reverse direction. Now the directions in the subway stations made more sense to me - we had to go to Bronx and so needed to catch a train which went uptown.
The subway ride was good - it was different from the regular office ride because the subway spent half the time underground and half the time above ground level. It took us around 10 minutes to reach the Bronx stop. There were signs on the traffic posts which led us to the Bronx zoo.
I had read that this was one of the biggest metropolitan parks in the world - I had been to Vandalur zoo which was also a large zoo and was curious to see what the differences between the two would be.
Entry fee was $15 but there were some other additional rides which cost extra dollars. A complete package was available at a price of $30 per adult.
Price wise definitely this was costlier than Vandalur zoo - it was less than Rs. 30 per head in Vandalur!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Travelogue: An auspicious start!

Thursday (day 1 continued):

I was welcomed into the office and was happy at the sight of our work areas. They were large cubicles with ample personal space. I had heard that Americans liked having more personal space and office certainly seemed comfortable. We had breakfast in the office canteen within the same building and being the first day I just followed what my colleagues took – a couple of bread slices, butter and some milk. The cups in US were large (even the smallest cup was probably 300+ml or so). People were polite and courteous everywhere in office – irrespective of what position they were working in. Being my first day I was introduced to a few of the client team members and most of the day I spent in setting up my workplace.

Lunch we were forced to have in office itself since the Rain God was in delightful mood. Again I followed what my colleagues took for lunch – some chicken pieces, some rice and some vegetable. I hadn’t tasted chicken for the past three years or so. The fried pieces tasted good and out of the three items I had on my plate the chicken tasted the best. The vegetables were not completely raw but not cooked either – it was in some salad form and the rice was different from what we are used to having.

Evening we left office by around 5:30pm. Sini (the person I would replace during his vacation) was forced to come over to our place for the night because I had hardly learnt any of the work he was doing – he showed me the tasks he was doing but there was still a lot more to learn. At night we went to a restaurant called “Chillys” – five of us but I didn’t order anything. Didn’t feel like eating but still took a couple of chicken pieces from my colleague’s plate. Maybe my tummy wasn’t prepared for the chicken I had during lunch – it hadn’t processed chicken for a few years and suddenly having four/five pieces must have made it hard. It wasn’t really a stomach upset but I just didn’t feel normal either. Couldn’t really enjoy the meal with all of them.

Friday we all worked from home with the rains still pouring. Though I should’ve slept early on the first couple of days, I ended up losing a lot of sleep; I had to learn what all work Sini was doing for the past couple of years within a couple of days and substitute him for three weeks. I tried to upload as much data as I could but a lot of things I just couldn’t keep track of (it went like “overhead transmission” as they say!). Friday was hectic – it was like an internship period being exposed to the real world; Sini would pass on his work to me and I would try to solve the problems and answer queries. Fortunately or unfortunately there weren’t many things left in the day. The problem was that on both nights we had issues with our daily batch jobs – which meant that we ended up sleeping at around 2am. It was interesting in the sense that this system is generally stable and we don’t have issues on the night jobs usually – but now it seemed like every night could turn into a nightmare! I guess the moment I stepped into US soil was very auspicious – even the rains were a surprise because two days back the place was dry and ever since I came it was raining almost non-stop!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Travelogue - First day in the US of A

I didn't feel much of a jet lag the night I arrived. We headed straight to their home in the city of Lodi. And on the way Anish received a call from offshore; it was 11 pm but hey this is one of the drawbacks of working in a foreign land and having to coordinate with a team that is many time zones ahead of you.

The area was not the typical city of sky scrapers that one usually expects US to be; instead it was filled with plenty of two storey bungalows spread out near the highway with lost of empty space. Same was the case within our house as well - there was ample space and it could easily accommodate five or siz people - but it was occupied by only three. I shared the room with Wreet and I was quite active till around 1am unpacking some of my stuff and chatting with Wreet. He was busy with two laptops - an official one and a personal one. I put up a couple of sleeping bags together and went to bed.

Morning it was a kind of a dash to catch the bus to New York city. Buses had time tables and we had a bus every 20 minutes or so from our place. Surprise of the day was the weather - it was raining and temperatures were low (when you come from a land of 45 degrees centigrade anything below 20 is cold and now it was somewhere below 10). I put on the huge leather jacket and grabbed Wreet's umbrella as I stepped out of the house. Anish was leading the way. I was welcomed to the street with increasing rain and stronger winds - hardly had we walked for a minute when I felt the biting cold on my right hand which was exposed because it was gripping the umbrella. Every twenty seconds I would alternate hands to hold the umbrella but still felt very cold in my fingers - the word 'biting' cold made more sense to me now! I was walking head down with rain cap and umbrella blindly following Anish's footsteps.

The bus stop was around five minutes away from our place. The bus was quite comfortable - there was no conductor; the bus driver was conductor plus driver. People stepped into the bus in an orderly manner - no fight to step inside and grab a seat. There was an electronic display board above the driver's head which had some counter on it; I initially thought that each stop had a number but later I learnt that my theory was wrong - it was a count of the number of people who had stepped into the bus. Above every seat there was a little bulb and an overhead tray for baggage (just like airplanes) and there was also a stop button. You press the button and the driver would stop at the next bus stop. Wow - the first thing that struck me was how organized everything was; there was hardly any noise in the bus, no one was moving about up and down (no one needed to since everyone was seated) and it was an air conditioned bus. We travelled for an hour to reach New York city - the bus terminal was huge with some mysterious concept of a 'gate' for every bus. I didn't understand much of it and just followed Anish down a couple of escalators to enter the famed New York subways.

Anish explained about downtown and uptown and how to know which train to take but most of what he said flew overhead; it would take me sometime to understand how the subways worked - which train should we take and how do we know whether we are heading towards our destination or away from it. Trains had names A, B and C! Anish said we take the A or C trains and we hopped onto one. The train would stop and the door would open for maybe 30 or 40 seconds in which time people would get off and on the train. Again there was no fighting to get in - people were allowed to get off first and then people got inside. So organized. And I also saw a variety of faces in the crowds - asians, europeans, americans - a mixture of faces and ages; a lot of cultural diversity.

As we walked from underground onto the open I felt the weather had only got worser. Guess I had carried the Indian monsoons with me! It wasn't long before my umbrella bent in the reverse direction but the umbrella was designed with this in mind since the framework inside was kind of flexible - it wasn't rigid and so you could easily restore the umbrella back to its original state even when it got upturned. The winds grew really strong making it harder to even walk. Added to that was the low temperatures - hands getting frozen, avoiding getting drenched in the rain, fighting with a succumbing umbrella and mustering strength to walk against the wind. Anish said, "We're almost there" and he made a dash by unfolding the umbrella. I did the same as if we were in an Olympics race running the final mile. We were soon in the reception area of a huge sky scraper - some 30 or 40 storey building which was our office. Mission accomplished!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Travelogue: Welcome to the US of A

For some reason (which was announced on the loud speaker and I couldn’t follow) the flight was delayed. The temperature within the airport seemed to have dropped suddenly or was it just my feeling? Felt chilly but tried my best to bare the cold – sometimes you just kind of challenge yourself to see the extreme limits and test yourself. Finally I had to give in and pull on my favourite red school sweater. I saw a few Indian faces near the boarding area – a couple of elderly ladies with their grandchildren; some single guys (probably traveling like me), a pretty north Indian couple buried reading books; there was a group of French people and the rest were either British or Americans.

Half an hour later we were on our way; thankfully this time my seat was on the aisle; yippee I needn’t depend on two other people for taking a walk! The flight was good but the veggie food was not good – I could hardly eat the main dish – was some form of mashed food which had a weird sweetish taste that tickled by vomit sensors. The good part of the meal was that there was a kitkat chocolate! The non veg chicken meal that my two neigbours were relishing on tempted me. The guy to my immediate right, a chap with signs on Chinese origin, enjoyed whatever food was given throughout the flight – he enjoyed every morsel of food and every drop of drink. I was quite amazed – very rarely can you find someone like that who enjoys all their meals on flight.

Though the flight departed 30 minutes late we reached Newark on time. We had a couple of forms to fill up during the flight – customs form and I94 card. The cards were relatively simple to complete; the only issue I had was that there was a severe constraint on length of name! It was around 10pm when we stepped out of the flight and on to US soil (or rather stepped on to the airport concrete). There was a long queue at the immigration counter. During the flight I had weird thoughts running in my mind – what if I didn’t have some document that they asked for? – would they send me back? Would they pay for my ticket? What would my company do then? It was interesting to conjecture some situations! After about 45 minutes in line I was just one person away from the immigration officer – but alas – the guy before me got into some problems; perhaps nonchalant way of answering the questions aroused suspicion – he wasn’t even able to say how long he would stay in the US; he was most likely a student but his interview went for 15 minutes. And then the officer took him to a backroom where he would probably be questioned by some other superior officer to ensure that he was no threat. The officer returned and called me over – fortunately or unfortunately nothing of what I imagined happened; things went straightforward and my I94 was stapled to the passport and returned back. My colleagues were kept waiting for an hour now! People had told me to check the date stamped on the I94 before leaving the immigration counter – oh; I almost forgot about that and started hunting for a date on the card but could find none. Just when I thought I’d go back and ask I found a hand scrawled date which suited me perfectly.

They charged $3 for a trolley – nice way to make money; I wonder why they didn’t start this policy in other airports as well. $3 per trolley was certainly a lot of money! It was optional to take a trolley but invariably everyone would need one. Since I was held up for an hour I didn’t have to wait for my check-in baggage to arrive – it was already there on the floor.

Customs didn’t take any time and in a couple of minutes I located my colleagues who were waiting for me. A gentle cool breeze welcomed me to the US.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How did he make 15k in two days?

Puzzle we left off with in the last edition:

A colleague made a whopping Rs. 15,000 in one day by trading in options. He did so without exercising the option. Any guess as to how he did it?

Before answering that we missed one term in the last edition.

Strike price: In our example of land, the strike price was Rs. 5 lakhs - we told the seller that we are paying this premium to buy the land for Rs. 5 lakh at a later date.

So how did my colleague do it?

Let's say we have a stock which trades at Rs. 3800. My friend feels that this price is surely going to rise in a month - possibly to somwhere around Rs. 4100 and so he checks on what options are available for that stock.

He finds one with a 1 month duration with strike price of Rs.4000.

There are people who are willing to take a risk and sell options - they feel the opposite - that the stock price will go down further - so they want to make some money through premiums. Now there are a group of potential buyers - and they would kind of bid against one another to buy the option. It is all based on supply and demand - many people want to buy means that many feel the price will go up - and since demand is more the premium price will also go high.
Let's say the premium was Rs.50 per share (not many people expect that it will go up by 200).

Options are sold in lots (i.e. in bulk amounts of 100 or 200 shares). So my friend buys the option for 200 shares at a premium of Rs. 50 per share. Total money he pays is Rs. 10,000.
So he has bought options for a stock at a strike price of Rs. 4000 with a premium for Rs. 50 - which means he expects the stock price within one month to rise above Rs.4050 (only then will he make some profit).

On Monday due to some positive news in the market the stock price climbs up to Rs.3900 ?(up by Rs.100). Now more people start realizing that this stock could well cross the 4000 mark and so they scamper to buy the option at strike price of 4000. Since buyers are more the premium goes up. It might have gone up from 50 to 150 per stock since people now feel it might really shoot up.

My friend now has two options - wait till the price crosses the 4000 mark and then exercise the option. So if at the end of the option duration the stock price is 4001 then he makes a profit of Rs.1 per stock. Total profit = Rs.1 * 200 = Rs.200

Or he could square off his position - meaning that he now sells the option to someone else; since the premium is now 150 (while he gave a premium of only 50) he makes a profit of 100 per stock. Total money made = Rs.100 * 200 = Rs. 20,000.

Wow you say; that's a quick way to make huge amount of money. Everything is not rosy of course - on the downside; suppose my friend sells his option and at the end of the duration of the option the markey price might have become 4500.
Now the person who bought the option from my friend will think, "I paid 150 as premium for a strike price of Rs. 4000. So effectively I will make profit when the market price crosses 4150 mark. Now it is 4500 which meanuls I make a profit of 350 per option for a total of Rs.350 * 200 = Rs. 70,000". So the guy sees that he can make a huge profit and will enforce (exercise) the option. Since my friend was the seller of the option he has to either buy 200 stocks from the market and give it to the buyer at the rate of 4000 or he has to pay the Rs. 70,000 difference between current market price and strike price.

ERRATA (21 August 2007): There's a catch; in the above case my friend will not have to pay the other guy - instead it will be the first guy who sold the option who will be held liable. Whenever one does a buy and sell of an option (square off) then you are not considered as being the creator of the option. If you sell an option without having bought it then you are the initiator of the option - this is possible and this is how options originate. How can you sell without buying? An option just means that you are telling a person "give me an advance now and I shall guarantee to give you the stock in future at the strike price irrespective of the market price at that time". So you can sell an option without ever buying one but in this case you end up with unlimited liability. If my friend had sold the option without having bought it he would've been exposed to unlimited liability and will need to pay the 70k.

So you can see that the losses are unlimited for the seller of options but for the buyer the worst case would be losing his premium if he finds that the prices are going in an unfavourable direction.

And that is similar to what my friend did to earn a large sum in 2 days.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Day 1 contd - a few hours in one of the largest airports

At Heathrow:

People had forewarned me that the security check at Heathrow will be lengthy. The landing was just as smooth as the take off - felt just a very slight jerk and nothing else. People had forewarned me that the terminals very huge and traversing through them will be time consuming. But I was looking forward to it - stepping out in the open air felt great and I was eager to stretch my legs. The legroom in economy class was not good - my knees were brushing against the seat in front most of the time. And I thought "hey, I'm flying to a land of tall people - why is the legroom so less".

I soon reached the security check area where we had to remove our shoes and let that pass through the scanner in a separate tray (the security check turned out to be a refreshing time for me). I had three hours for my connecting flight and wouldn't know the boarding gate till one hour before departure. The main terminal area was huge - it resembled a shopping mall with a series of shops packed one beside the other. I wandered around in search of a cosy place to sit and write my diary - a board read "Quiet area" and I followed the directions which led me to the extreme end of the terminal where there were plenty of vacant seats and a couple of television sets - aptly named "quiet area"! Just as I was about to sit down near a table I noticed a man seated in a corner facing the window with his back towards me. He made surreptitious glances every minute after flipping through a few pages of a magazine he held. With my height advantage (and filled with curiosity) I managed to catch a glimpse of the magazine - it was an A-magazine. After a couple of minutes (after he had quickly flipped through all the pages), he left the place.

Window shopping:

Ten minutes later I strolled around window shopping - the terminal was huge - it was like a long corridor which didn't have an end in sight. The A-magazine guy was now lying stretched out on the empty seats with his briefcase as a pillow. The terminal was impressive - and this was just one of the many terminals in Heathrow - wow! There was a wide variety of shops selling just about anything you could think of - from napkins to laptops. And along the way I also saw an elegant looking Ferrari (prize for a lottery). I had lost my appetite towards the end of the journey but the fresh bakery smell and arousing smell of fish tempted me. My appetite was back but I didn't want to take a risk during travel - perhaps on my return I would indulge in a few of the restaurants there. There were sandwiches, lobsters, a range of wines, plenty of chocolates - oooh - so very tempting.

I noticed that 1 in every 20 was working on a laptop and probably 1 in every 15 carried one. Technology is certainly becoming cheaper aned more accessible to everyone now. Window shopping was fun and many of the shops were staffed by pretty and handsome Indians who by now were probably holding British passports.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Day 1 - Fying overseas after 7 years...

11 April 2007

Pre flight:

Slept at 11pm and woke by 3am; cab was delayed - stuffed some things at the last minute into my two bags and in the pitch black darkness we were off to the airport.

7:10am IST:

Everything was smooth as of now - helpful British airways staff everywhere (helpful and pretty I might add!) who ensure that you can't take a wrong step or land up in the wrong queue. I also The only place there really was a queue was at the immigration area. It was nice to hear a couple of typical Engish voices behind me discussing a gamut of topics ranging from the Bush administration to Afghanistan to carrying vodka! After immigration was the security check and that was a snap - you look in awe at the cabin crew and pilots who walk past queues without any prompts.

There was a good amount of time for the flight - spent my time loitering around the departure area reading a John Grisham book "The Broker". Also overheard a couple of middle aged ladies chatting about their fights to the Gulf. Time sped quickly and soon there was a call "The BA flight is ready for boarding - passengers needing assistance on wheelchairs will board first followed by the elderly, passengers with infants and then passengers on rows 26-40 followed by rows 21-25. Exclusive club travellers can board at any time. Please remain seated till further notice".
No sooner had the announcement finished when a huge queue formed - actually a double queue and the people in the queue didn't seem to require any assistance or carrying infants. The next announcement came, "those needing wheelchair assitance can now start boarding. Other passengers are requested to remain seated till further notice". Not many were seated - the queue was there to stay and it appeared as if people were very enthusiastic to sit in the airplane than in the departure lounge. Everyone seemed to have the attitude of "early worm catches the bird" in situations where it didn't matter much. We are anyway going to get our seats and there will surely be space on board for everyone's cabin baggage - so why hurry; we could just follow the airline instructions rather than forming long queues and waiting for longer times.


When I entered the flight I almost immediately realized the disadvantage of having a window seat (something that I had asked for while getting the boarding pass). Beside the window seat where two more seats - so to get to the aisle or to even get out from the seat I would have to disturb two fellow passengers to stand up as well; and my fellow passengers were a couple of elderly ladies - one English and one Indian. I struggled with finding overhead space for my cabin baggage - and realized that the smaller bag you carry the more easier it is to find space. Eventually just as they announce please take your seats I found a vacant overhead cabin.

And off we went in the morning; departing the shores of my homeland - first time in seven years. Was a nice feeling - the takeoff was really smooth and my ears didn't even get blocked during the takeoff. I kept the novel in hand thinking I would read it but for most of the time was engrossed with the inflight entertainment system (you have a mini TV on the back of every seat for which you have your own remote control and on each channel a specific movie is played). I saw the movie "Incredibles" completely and slept off for a couple of hours. I didn't want to disturb the two ladies to the right and timed my walking/toilet breaks such that I had only 3 during the 10 hour flight. I usually hate the food on flights when I was small but used to love them when I came home and ate it. This time the breakfast and lunch was pretty decent and I ate most of it. Towards the last couple of hours of the trip is started feeling miseable - flight sick I guess where that flight food smell was nauseating; mentally I probably felt tired due to lack of sleep (slept only 4 hours before the night of the travel and then during the flight only for a couple of hours), felt my head throbbing a litte and felt simply miserable. I wandered into philosophical mood and wondered "What are we doing in this world? Why are we here? How would it be if there were no earth at all - where would we be?" "Why are we so obsessed with money, matter and looks when everything is just temporary? Where is the world heading to? Does everyone know their purpose in life?"

The flight began its descent and somehow my philosophical mood kind of made me feel better.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ramblings of 8th April...

I've been spending my time learning about semaphores and processes and threads - probably something that I should've learnt by now; but as they say 'better late than never'. It is quite a fascinating topic.

It was nice to watch a supposedly weak team topple the number one team in the cricket world cup. The passion and enthusiasm in the players is something that stirs even a passive spectator. Bangladesh batted beautifully in the last ten overs playing some cheeky shots and scoring runs at will. South Africa was at the receiving end and a total of 250 against any team isn't a cakewalk. And so Bangladesh have done their second killer act in this world cup; who knows, they might have more in store!

I read an interesting news article about a research being conducted somewhere in Europe regarding "what women want". The results are really depressing news for highly ambitious guys; it seems girls don't prefer the highly ambitious, high life bachelor since these hi fi guys might not spend enough time with family and won't help sustain the relationship. What a pity :-(

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What is the option in options? How options work?

Just thought of writing a series on the stock markets, finance and related concepts - hope you enjoy the series...Stock market terminologies are bolded

What is the option in options? How options work?

You must've heard of derivatives with respect to te stock market; Futures and Options (F&O as they are called) are a form of derivative. We'll take a look at that later.

So let's say there is a piece of land up for sale. Owner demands 5 Lakhs. You really want to own that property but can't afford it right now. You want to buy it after a couple of months. But the owner is bound to sell it to someone else by then - after all, everyone is into real estate business now. So you talk to the owner and tell him, "I really want to buy this land in a couple of months".
Owner: I can't keep waiting for two months; what guarantee do I have that you will buy it after 2 months. Two months is a long way away.
After a long pause the owner says, "Ok, we'll do one thing. You pay me an advance amount now - like a reservation fee to block the land for you. If you don't buy it then at least I would get the reservation fee".

"And if you do buy the land, then I'll give it to you for the same price of Rs. 5 lakhs itself irrespective of the market price at the end of two months".

This sounds a fair enough deal. We pay a non-refundable advance to the owner and at the end of the second month we have the option to buy the land at the current price. We have a gut feeling that the price of the land will most likely shoot up by 2 months.

Note: It is an option given to us by the owner and not a compulsion for us to buy the land at the end of two months. Let's say the advance amount is 10% of the total value = Rs. 50,000

This amount is the the premium.

Now at the end of the second month two scenarios can arise because of various factors:
1.) Price of land shoots up (say to Rs. 6 lakhs).
2.) Price drops to Rs. 3 lakhs.

Case I: If case 1 happens, then we will gladly buy the land at the promised rate of Rs. 5 lakhs - we don't need to pay the current market price because the owner promised to give it to us at the old rate of Rs. 5 lakhs.

So now we can buy the land at the old rate and resell it to make a profit of Rs. 50,000.

Profit = Selling price - (premium paid + price of land)
= 6,00,000 - (50,000 + 5,00,000) = Rs. 50, 000

The owner who gave us the option has actually suffered a loss. If he hadn't sold us the option, or if he had charged a higher premium he could have made more money because the land price now has shot up.

Case II: Now if we buy the land then we stand to lose Rs. 2,50,000.
Loss = 3,00,000 - (50,000 + 5,00,000) = Rs. 2,50,000.
Here the owner actually make a good profit while we suffer a loss. But wait; we never promised the owner that we will surely buy the land after 2 months - it was just an option. So now we will decide not to enforce the option in which case we won't buy the land and we will lose the premium we paid for the option - a loss of Rs. 50,000 only. Land owner earns Rs. 50,000 because the land price went down.

So we were the buyer of the option and the land owner was the seller of the option (called the writer). The buyer of the option has limited liability (maximum loss is the premium paid) but the seller has unlimited liability (the higher the land price goes at the end of the second month the greater the loss the seller suffers).
At the end of the second month we had the choice to either enforce the option (called exercising the option - in which case we buy the land at the promised rate) or ignore the option (in which case we lose the premium).

Apply the same concept to stocks and you'll understand what are "options" in terms of stocks. Instead of the land here the underlying asset is the stock of a company. Typically stock options are traded in lots - one lot is usually 100 stocks but it could vary depending on the price of the stock (sometimes a lot is 3000 stocks).

Note: Seller of the option feels the price will go down while the buyer feels the price will go up.

We'll end with a puzzle:

A colleague made a whopping Rs. 15,000 in one day by trading in options. He did so without exercising the option. Any guess as to how he did it?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Heights of stupidity...

It was shocking to hear a person calling up a TV channel during one of the post-match analysis shows and say, "He is a stupid captain".
And on another news channel a well educated person (with a baby in hand) comments, "He doesn't even know how to hold the bat".

Wondering who they are talking about? None other than a couple of cricketers from our world cup squad after the shock defeat the team suffered at the hands of Bangladesh. I am no great fan of the Indian team but I felt sorry for the players and disgusted with the way 'the so called fans' voice their opinion; and that too saying such words on public television is crossing the limits.

What aroused me was the fact that there are so many people who criticize Indian cricketers and pass comments saying they can do this, they can practice on their weakness, they are mentally weak, they don't have aggression, they don't have the will to win, they are playing rash shots and getting out etcetera etcetera. How many of these 'fans' do any introspection into their own lives; how many of them have told themselves 'never give up', how many of them have fought in adversity, how many of them have tried to change things around them, how many of them have been in pressure cooker situations, how many of them have been perfect in life never committing a mistake, how many of them have the strength to resist temptation, how many of them have the energy to motivate others?

Just any X, Y or Z throws comments in public as if they are Mr. Perfect or as if they have represented India at the national level. Why don't they get into the national side and prove themselves instead of passing such comments in public. Freedom of speech is good but it should't be used to mock someone. Fans might get emotional over the way their team performs and if they do badly there is limit to the kind of words used. Feeling disappointed is fine, but getting angry and personally attacking someone is downright horrible. I really wish the same people would look into their own lives and change themselves; I wish people would become more critical of themselves, scrutinize their lives and change rather than keep pointing finger at someone else. It is so easy to point fingers at someone and say "they are doing wrong", but it is so difficult to do the same to ourselves. It hurt seeing educated people talk like that in public - you learn subjects like moral science but what use is all that if you don't have basic respect for another fellow human being.

To end on a lighter note, it was a really spirited performance by the minnows Ireland and Bangladesh in the world cup - I enjoyed the way they played; especially the effort and commitment showed in their fielding and on the day they played better and deserved to win.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

We'll have some major updates soon...

Well, it's been a while since anything major happened. I'm planning to put up something new on the website new; have bits and pieces of ideas - shall string them up before I post them here on the website! So please be patient and in the mean time you can enjoy the rest of the website...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fun with soldering!

Republic day - an auspicious day to try out something new...

Finally after all those years of doing engineering I tried my hand at soldering. Believe it or not most of the engineering students these days have hardly held a soldering iron in their hands! The iron was smoking the first time I plugged it in just as they had mentioned in the back cover of the soldering iron box.

My victim was the computer speaker which wasn't working any longer. I pried open the speaker to reveal its internals which was nothing more than a medium size speaker along with a small circuit board. While investigating with my new multimeter I discovered that the power supply was reaching the upper half of the circuit board - there was a connector between the two halves and there was no voltage on the upper half. I jumped to the conclusion that there must be some loose connection. After researching on how to use a soldering iron I came to one conclusion - many people have burnt their fingers during soldering and I wouldn't repeat their mistakes.
By the way, a soldering iron is nothing but a metal rod with a pencil like tip which when given power supply will become smoking hot. A solder is used to make electrical connections on circuit boards between two components.

I placed the iron pencil on the connection I believed had problem and almost immediately the pin sent up a few puffs of smoke! It seemed like I had burnt the pin. The soldering iron turned bluish golden and I could feel the volcanic heat under the plastic handle. I plugged off the power supply and decided that this was enough for one day. Just out of curiosity I checked whether power supply was coming to the upper half of the circuit board and voila: the meter read 16V. But the speaker was still not working and renewed with enthusiasm I thought that perhaps there was some other loose connection in the circuit board (I got this idea after seeing a guy repair my monitor by just reapplying solder on the entire circuit board - and the monitor worked after that!); and so off I went with the iron pencil (this time not smoking), trying to apply solder wherever I wanted to.

I knew I wasn't doing the soldering proper because I made 2 or 3 tiny metallic balls of solder which I had to push out off the circuit board! Still it was fun to burn some connections and see some smoke arising out of the board and the second time around I was worried of the smoke. Worst case scenario would be burning out the circuit board itself - I wasn't worried about damage because the speaker had served us faithfully for nearly 8 years; it was anyway due for replacement.

And if there are any would-be engineers reading this then I'd advise them to learn the art of soldering in college itself; you needn't rely on teachers - there is a good chance that someone from your own batch will have good experience in soldering.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Verdict delivered

Well, the verdict is delivered; "my database is gone kaboom"! They said they are unable to recover the tables; and with it goes all my wonderful pieces of literature as well :-(