Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Wishing you all a happy new year!

Happy New Year!!

May you stay safe from all the spam and viruses of the season. (As for me, I'm still recovering from a cold.)

And here's the mandatory multimedia link: a merry song for the holidays (via Luca).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Absent-minded Professor

"You've not fallen in love, have you?" asked my friend and colleague. I wish there was some such simple explanation. But unfortunately the best explanation I can come up with is that I've become utterly careless. I'm back from LA, and while the workshop itself transpired fairly smoothly, the travelling was a comedy of errors. And I have no one to blame but myself.

The first incident was on my way to Sujit and Rajani's place (where I stayed on the first and last nights of this trip, as well as in the last one). When I reached Union Station from the airport, I forgot to collect my big bag from the FlyAway shuttle. Not until I was well on my way in the train did I notice the reduced burden. The problem was solved after a couple of phone calls and a trip back to the FlyAway terminal later in the evening. Sujit came along and we spent some time trying to take photos at the Union Station. No damage done.

Next day, I omitted to collect my not entirely inexpensive jacket from the city bus. I wasn't able to contact the lost-and-found folks during my stay in LA.

At the end of the week, on my way to the airport, I almost left behind my camera at my friends' place, but thanks to a delayed train, there was just enough time to retrieve it. No damage done.

At the airport I had a most surreal experience: I forgot that the first leg in my trip was with United and not American Airlines. So having waited through a long line at the AA terminal before making my way to the United terminal, I was too late to check in for my flight. Anyway, after another half an hour in a slow moving line (but not entirely wasted, thanks to a friendly conversation with a man returning to his homeland in Ethiopia for the holidays: at some point he wanted to ask me about a "math genius" whose name he couldn't recall; so he took out an iPod and went through a list of BBC radio programmes, and I noticed one on the Poincaré conjecture), United graciously resolved the problem: they put me on a direct flight to Chicago, in "economy plus" seating, and waived the ticket price difference (my original ticket with them was only till Las Vegas). I got into Chicago well in time to connect with my AA flight to Champaign (which had got delayed). No damage done.

Overall, it wasn't too bad (i.e., it could have been much worse). But next time I bet I'll be more careful. If not, I'll probably have more stories to share.

Friday, December 08, 2006

LA, again.

Three times in as many months: going to LA again! Saturday to Saturday. And you would think I have no classes to teach here. Well, this time that's true. Today was the last lecture for the semester.

According to the forecast, it's going to be relatively warm here in Urbana-Champaign next week, with the temperatures climbing back to above freezing. I guess I won't miss that in LA.

In other news, brother went back (again), dodging a snowstorm. So I'm left to handle the winter by myself. When I get back from LA, that is.

Food for thought: this is real,

"Two percent of adults command more than half of the world's wealth, while the bottom 50 percent possesses just 1 percent."

and this is surreal:

“Few Bahrainis have not surfed over the contours of their kingdom, comparing vast royal palaces, marinas and golf courses with crowded Shia villages nearby ... Some of the palaces take up more space than three or four villages nearby and block access to the sea for fishermen. People knew this already. But they never saw it. All they saw were the surrounding walls.”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Back

An evening by the sea, the sky

Back from LA and a vacation in the Bay Area. Quite a reunion it was: seems like much of my Princeton neighbourhood has now moved to Berkeley.



Among other things, went for a play on Gandhi.

Mahatma and Mohandas

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Travelling, again

Again, to LA. And then staying in the west-coast for a few more days, during the Thanksgiving break here. Poor brother will be left to take care of himself in these short, dark, and rather cold days. (So, any one in town, feel free to call him up for anything fun :-) There, I have done my brotherly duty.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Trip

Warmer weather for about a week. Leaving in a minute or two. Incidentally to Berkeley, and in the same flight as my brother. Then to LA, and then back.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Brother

Brother is visiting (that is, staying at my place), and the weather here, for a change, is probably nicer than in Berkeley. At least today. He'll be around for a few weeks, but of course, I'm not the only attraction in town.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back home, away from home

Back in Urbana. Met the cats. We'll be seeing more of each other for the next couple of weeks.

The Chennai trip went well. Took a few pictures, from the flight back from Chennai, and later at the Shankhumugham beach in Trivandrum.


Update: Here's a cats-pic: Mia in the foreground, and in the background, Maple lounging (the furry blurry thing in the top-right corner) on the blue covers which will hopefully keep all her hair away from the cushions.

Update 2: The cats are gone. They won't miss me, I believe. Anyway, so far I felt like I was a guest (of the cats?) here. But now it's just me, and I have to take care of the garbage... And happy Onam!

Friday, August 11, 2006

More visits

A few days back I visted an organization called Asraya in Thiruvananthapuram. It is remarkable in many ways, yet seemed very ordinary and almost natural. They describe themselves as an organization of "service minded ladies, mainly housewives and retired career women, motivated by concern, sympathy and love for the poor and suffering." There are about 260 of them now! They take turns to visit the Regional Cancer Center in the city, and provide a variety of services for the poor patients. Apart from palliative care, serving health drinks to the patients, giving guidance to the confused and traumatised new comers etc. they provide essential monetary help towards medicines, food and sometimes even education for the children of some of the deceased. Last year, apparently, they gathered about Rs. 24 lakhs (Rs 2.4 million), and disbursed almost all of it to the needy in money and kind. The founders of the organization were motivated by personal tragedies, and were inspired by similar organizations in some hospitals in USA that they learned about. Since then it has evolved with active support of the doctors and hospital authorities, participation from the increasing number of volunteers and donations from their friends and relatives.

I went there wondering what drive these women to do something so unconventional. But seeing them there it seemed like the most natural thing to do. I asked many of them about how they got involved, and their answers were nothing incredible: they heard about it from someone already involved, thought it was a good idea, started coming and would continue as long as they can do so without much trouble. After all it gives them a chance to make a difference in the lives of many people, as well as a greater sense of purpose for themselves.

It was curious to watch them complain about how the patients' relatives harass them for help. They talked to the invading crowd firmly, but kindly. Clearly they couldn't take care of everyone's needs, and had to make hard and subjective decisions about whom to help, how and how much.

While I was in their office, a couple of young girls approached them. They had lost their father a few days back, and were directed to Asraya for potential help with college fees for one of them. She had enrolled herself for a B.A. program. As soon as she mentioned this, came the questions. Would she get a job after her B.A.? Why would she want to do a B.A.? Asraya helps only with "professional courses." Anyway, she could leave an application behind, and Asraya will consider it.

On the way back, I went with a couple of Asraya volunteers to a nearby building housing the "Devaki Warrier Memorial" centre. It's in fact a small place which can accommodate about a dozen people. Since they don't have a website, I'll quote from the brochure I was given:

The organisation started functioning in 2002 under the auspices of Kerala Working Women's Association, in memory of its founder president Devaki Warrier. She was a veteran freedom fighter and dedicated woman activist till her last breath. Since Devaki Warrier left us in December 2001 due to cancer, one of the main objectives of the Centre is extending a helping hand to poor cancer patients. Free accommodation and food is being provided to cancer patients who are under O.P. treatment in the Regional Cancer Centre at Thiruvananthapuram.


Today, I visited a place called "Balavihar." Here's a photo:
Balavihar
It was as part of evaluating a project proposal from the organization to Asha St. Louis (not that I'm part of the St. Louis chapter, but being an Asha volunteer currently on vacation in the city was compelling enough reason). I guess I'll stay in the loop and post here updates on the project proposal.

Coming up is a visit to Chennai. This is more of a professional trip, visiting SETS and giving a talk on my research at IMSc and all that. Assuming of course that at the airport they let me take my laptop along.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In Trivandrum

Today I happened to meet with Paulson who runs a small business producing "mathematics lab kits" for schools. Apparently his business is looking a little more promising than a few years back, when I met him for the first time. Here's a newspaper report.

Yesterday I visited Chilla. More about that later.

Cat
And here's a random photo from last weekend's trip to grandma's house in the village: a cat atop the roof of what used to be a cowshed. Stay tuned for more (more photos that is, though apparently, I'll have more encounters with cats as well when I get back to Champaign).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Moving, moved, and to move

So I have moved, again. For the last seven years, I have been moving every year. And I have to move again next year, when fellow blogger Sariel returns from an extensive globe trotting, to reclaim his house.

For now it's onwards to India. Interestingly, the two questions I get when I tell anyone about my oncoming trip are, "For how long? Three weeks?" (well, four weeks), and "Are you getting married?" (no, not yet). You can't blame me if it makes me wonder whether three weeks is all it takes...

ps: My new address is in Indiana now. That is, on Indiana Ave, Urbana, Illinois. Nevada, Washington and even Illinois are all walking distance from here.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Summer

If I'm not complaining about the hot afternoons, it's because Summer has brought with it amazingly long days. Sure they are not as long as in St. Petersburg, but I do gleefully notice the precious sunlight in the late evenings. It -- my noticing, that is -- must have something to do with my recently acquiring a new camera. (Not that I'm particularly eager to add to my ever growing collection of photos. Isn't it said, sweet indeed are the photos taken, but those not taken are sweeter still?)

As for news, I'm back in Champaign, with almost everything during my trip having gone according to plan (not counting the last night I got stranded in Chicago). Everywhere -- Ottawa, Seattle, St. Petersburg and New York -- it rained, and I got myself thoroughly drenched (especially in Russia). But there also were the remarkably bright and long summer days.

There's a whole lot I would have liked to share (like I did when I returned from a previous Europe trip). But there isn't enough leisure just now (which still doesn't prevent me from lapsing to Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, and feeling that I understand it when he talks about the summer in Petersburg; btw, I picked up -- or rather, downloaded -- The Idiot, after dining in a vegetarian (!) restaurant in the city, named after the novel). I haven't yet gone through all the photos I brought back with me. Anyway, here's a small selection (some of them shot under an excellent sun, though you will find some overcast sky as well).

And finally, after more than two and a half years (so I'm told), I'll be in India -- for almost a full month -- some time in July-August. If sufficiently many things go according to plan.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Birthday

Of St. Petersburg. 303rd, I'm told. I didn't know when I landed up in the city centre and was pleasantly surprised by the festivities. Here are a few of the hundred odd photos I snapped.

The crowd was unbelievably huge, and thronging the length of Nevsky prospekt. I'm a little surprised that I can't find anything about it in any of the (English language) news websites, yet. Is this the Iron Curtain?

(I have so many more things to write about: like how the sun rises at 5 in the morning and sets at 11 at night. Maybe later...)

Friday, May 19, 2006

So far so good.

Or mission accomplished, I should say. A long process has culminated, somewhat anticlimactically, in a US visa stamp on my passport. So on I go in this trip, back to the US, tomorrow.

(Staying in a warm Bed & Breakfast place in Ottawa. Pretty cool place. Warm turbaned host and hostess, a dog and a cat, organic food for breakfast, and wireless connection for my powerbook. All very cheap.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Itinerary

If sufficiently many things go as planned, this is where I will be on the following days:

May 17-20: Ottawa (where I'd be trying to get my US visa)
May 20-24: Seattle (where I won't be if don't get my US visa)
May 25-June 3: St. Petersburg (well I have my Russian visa, but my flight is from Seattle)
June 4 - June 7: Princeton/New York (alma mater!)
June 7th: Back in Champaign (where, whenever I return, tonnes of work awaits me)

If they don't go as planned, well, we'll see...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spring is in the flowers...



It has started looking more and more like spring.

Meanwhile had a glimpse of Canada, but didn't want to use up the hard-earned Canadian visa right away. (OK, it wasn't that hard. Canadian visas have by far been the easiest to get, so far. Coming up are attempts to acquire Russian and US visas -- the latter from Canada!)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mon-not-so-soon

As further raising the height of the dam threatens to leave even more folks homeless this monsoon, instead of delaying the dam work, apparently, the Prime Minister has decided to delay the monsoon!

(Via AID.)

Meanwhile the Bhopalis -- who marched all the way to Delhi -- have been celebrating that they have been promised clean drinking water.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lost in Transit

Back. Last time it was the luggage arriving a day later; and this time the passenger. But it was great fun!

(50 e-mails to read...)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dilli Chalo!

If they should be marching all the way from Bhopal to Delhi, again, it must be something serious, mustn't it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

V-Day

V-Day wishes!

V-Day’s mission is simple. It demands that the violence must end. It proclaims Valentine’s Day as V-Day until the violence stops. When all women live in safety, no longer fearing violence or the threat of violence, then V-Day will be known as Victory Over Violence Day.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

week ends

Dinner, dessert, gossip and games. (If you guys are reading this, thanks -- for not lynching me!) Not a bad way to end a week.

(But of course not the best way to begin the weekend, if you're planning to get up in the morning for your sole source of weekly exercise and it's already too late.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

The new Google Earth

For one, it works in my mac. And then -- it must be that I haven't played video games for a long time -- it was quite exciting to see the 3D perspectives of the terrain. Google Earth Community and Google Globe sound interesting too. Unfortunately their resolution for the local neighbourhood is quite bad. (So also for my hometown.)

Maybe I should compare the photos I took from the satellite plane on my way back from LA with the perspective images in GE...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Home is where...

Home is where you get waken up by a cold-call.

Back in Champaign after weeks of warm (sometimes wet) Californian weather. (some photos.)

Hope they find my lost luggage...