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Skeletons, Cupboards and the re-morse code December 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in people, reminisces-1990s.
3 comments

Kinda funny sentence today from Alan Greenspan’s recent book which I found surprisingly un-putdownable :

I remember where I was on the day the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor: in my room practicising the clarinet. I turned on the radio and there was the announcement. I didn’t know where the Pearl harbor was – nobody did. I didn’t immediately think, Oh, we’re going to war. Instead, I hoped the calamity would just go away. When you’re a fifteen year old, you blank out a lot of things. You just focus on what you’re doing.

Greenspan also mentions his adolescent fascination for the morse code, which brought back in a flash long forgotten memories from over a decade ago.

The only time I ever maintained a diary of personal reflections was for a short period in the mid-90s. And in order to make the contents almost inaccessible to anyone who lays a quick hand on it, the entire diary was written in morse code !! To give you a sample, here is what it would have looked like – commas that separated letters and forward slash separating the words ( and two forward slashes between consecutive sentences )

// . , . _ _ . , . . , . . . , _ , . _ . . , _ , . . . / . . _ . , _ _ _ , . _ . / _ , . . . . , . / . _ . . , _ _ _ , . . . _ , . / _ _ _ , . . _ . / . _ . . , . , _ , _ , . , . _ . , . . . //

( “Epistles – For the love of letters ” )

Now imagine 109 pages of this 😀 .

Thinking back it was rather crazy, maybe the craziest thing I ever did. No, actually what was even more crazy of me was to destroy that diary in a fit of desperation – too many skeletons of too many people in one cupboard it was. Looking back though, it remains one of my bigger regrets.

I realize I have forgotten some of the confusing and infrequent letters like J and B, but am otherwise quite okay. But the memory refresh that followed looking at this, I am almost ready to start another one, save for the absence of skeletons and abundance of cupboards 😉

Stars R us December 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, people, reminisces-1990s.
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What will Madhuri Dixit think when she reads this sentence ?

“Moreover, to the new generation of cinegoers, Madhuri’s name does not mean anything so all the talk of a comeback did not make much sense. There was curiosity among the people for Madhuri but when they saw the promos and got to hear about the script, the curiosity was killed,” Mirani added.

One way of thinking about this is to go back to what you were doing when Madhuri just came on the scene. When was the first time you heard of her, if you remember at all (I don’t). Quite the same with Tendulkar, except that his arrival on the scene was such that many more would have good recollections. He is still of course still around.

Ask someone who grew up in the 50s and 60s of who his favorite stars were ? Ask the same of the 70s crowd, the 80s and the 90s. Isn’t our “favorite star” most likely to be from the time when we were in our teens and 20s ? Probably. Surprising ? Probably not. Will this continue to be so ?

Which famous person do you feel you have grown with – your careers growing parallel ? Who you remember from a time from which your recollections are reliable ? To go a step further, is there anyone whose lean patches and purple patches have coincided with yours ? Or so you have thought for reasons I won’t ask you to explain ?

My previous Madhuri post was almost an year ago.

Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance November 18, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, life, reminisces-1990s.
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For the last 2 weeks my bicycle tires deflated on their own (volition??) and that made for depressing days 😦 . The front tire would deflate in about 18 hours and the back in 3-4 hours. The simple solution would be to just replace the tubes for a not-at-all princely sum of $16 for 2 tubes. Or else you can buy yourself a patch kit – a little box with glue, patches and sandpaper and then patch the tube by yourself. What did I do ? Surprisingly this time I turned to the latter option.

And there is a reason I choose the word ‘surprisingly’. Over the years things have turned out such that given a choice between working with my hands versus the mind, would prefer the latter (exception being my love of cooking (an earlier konfession). It was not always like this – my free time as a young teenager was spent in the garden digging pits, watering plants, climbing coconut trees, painting something (not art, maybe furniture, walls etc.) or cleaning something else.

This was until about 1996. Starting class XI (1997) though I got busy with books and learning – of all kinds , including of course academic. Most of my vacations were spent doing something to further career interests and general curiosity. If they weren’t spent on the IISc campus, they were spent in the MIT (Manipal) library catching up with (what were then) obscure periodicals like the HBR, IEEE Spectrum , Potentials etc. If one of those (vacations) was indeed spent partly at my native place, it was spent either online or at an old public library (where I first laid my hands on this disgusting book).

The long term optimization was heavily geared towards saving time, being efficient and quickly washing my hands off anything that uuh… required washing hands ! Lazy weekend meant lazily lying on the bed with the laptop. Anything physical that is broken would lay broken until it became life threatening and anything digital/virtual that were broken would be fixed as if it were (life threatening) when it almost never was. Reality became little more than a really really good simulation and the comfort of algorithmic certainty was too much to let go of in favor of something more nuanced that life’s realities tend to be.

Today 10 years after that phase of life began and after completing what might turn out to be all of my formal education, life seems to have come a full circle ellipsoid ! There is an incredible urge to open up those old cupboards of life-skills, hone them just a little bit and get my hands dirty.

So I sat down on the kitchen floor and before me was the ‘ungainly’ sight of my cycle on the floor (not this bad !), the tubes ripped out of the tire as if it were an accident spot. With some effort that involved dipping the tubes in water to see where the leak is, finding it, gluing in a patch, rediscovering practical physics 101 on the way and then putting it all back, blowing air into the tubes and leaving my cycle overnight (to recuperate (!)) to make sure its all okay. And it was !!

When drunk poets wrote about experiencing the joy of little things in life, it wasn’t the alcohol. 🙂

That must-ache November 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, reminisces-1990s.
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From this weird website.

November (the month formally known as November) is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year. At the start of Movember guys register with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants known as Mo Bros then have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their moustache and along the way raise as much money and awareness about male health issues, in particular prostate cancer as possible. Movember culminates at the end of the month at the gala partés.

Should I take the bait ? After all, I recently told a friend that I don’t know anyone in the world who will look better with a mustache (women included). To get some insight, I looked up as usual this entry from my favorite encyclopedia.

Mustache is a contraction of must and ache; something that most probably hurts. This may be a reference to how a bad mustache hurts the eyes, or how much it may hurt to kiss someone with an uwieldy [sic] mustache, or how much it hurts to get stuff stick in one. The similarity in pronunciation to mistake is no coincidence: many mustaches result from mistakes. In fact, even if someone intentionally wears a mustache it is often considered a mistake.

I have not had a mush for a while. The last time I did was out of sheer paranoia. For an exam to be held in May 2000, I sent in a picture (for the hallticket) shown in Sep 1998. My looks had changed so much in the interim (mostly because I had no mush since mid 1999), that just a month before the exam I began to grow a mush to match my looks of the year before yester-year. I was successful – not in clearning the exam itself but in getting entry to the exam hall without any problems. This rates among the most paranoid I have been knowing that I was being paranoid.

Actually they must have had some evolutionary reasons to hang around so long. I just don’t know. As for my friend, she thought for a while and said -“No, what about Mammoty”. Okay, I leave that to a counterfactual historian.

(HT: Amit Verma.)

Moving about moving September 30, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
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Excerpts from a mail I received wrote today.

There is something moving about moving, about relocating, about transferring all your material possessions from one house to another. You first sit down to sort them all out into suitcases, cartons and bags and them sit down again with these boxes in a new house to find new places for them. They won’t always find a place that suits them, something they enjoyed in their previous house. If the house were really small, they may never even find a place and hence spend years in the basement.

Each time I pick up something, whether a business card, a cash voucher or a book, it sits there in my hand and tells me its story – where I bought it or got it, when and for what end. It also brings to light the larger context – was that a struggling me or an apprehensive one, a pensive self or a smug and accomplished one (ever??). And the best part is that often times these stories are about other people in my life and stories of their own. One after another these things take me to places I have spent time a fair time preparing for tomorrow (growing up, in other words 🙂 ) – Manipal, Guwahati, Bangalore, Boston and Pittsburgh. Some of these are from several years ago – like the bill from a phone call I made home from a PCO in the Suratkal bus stand on the evening of May 29th, 2000. And then there is a badge given to me at my orientation at Carnegie Mellon from August 2005 that said – “Sharath Rao K., 1st year Masters Student”.

This whole process to me is another kind of resume – materialistic resume if you will, as opposed to a professional resume. You can pull out your professional resume created at regular intervals over the years to see all the places you have been and what you accomplished there. Similarly, each process of moving brings you face to face with all that you have accumulated in life, chronicling everything from the trivial to the momentous times. The difference of course is that each of us have such a resume, no matter how unknown and obscure we are, or how uninspiring our stories are or how insignificant an impact we have had on the wider world (something that is true of most of us).

People talk about how they lost that old pen the last time their family moved. Yes, we lose things when we move. But then we find things too, things we thought we had lost. Sometimes it is that old photo, but often its ourselves – our people and places, our mistakes and misgivings, our apprehensions and anticipation, our gambles and gratification.

I am in Santa Clara, CA. Moved into a new house and it is day one at work tomorrow. 🙂

Criteria for IIMs July 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in education, india, reminisces-1990s.
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I like it when an independent body or the judiciary is able to arm twist a government body into doing what it would otherwise have never done. Here is an example

But how well you do in CAT — after you have been shortlisted which means you have made it to at least the top 10% of all applicants — makes up only a fifth of your final score when it comes to securing an IIM admission. In fact, it’s your Class X and Class XII results that account for more — 25% of the final score; your Bachelor’s degree 15%. The factor with the maximum weightage is your performance in group discussion (GD), GD summary and personal interview — 35%. The balance 5% depends on work experience and whether you have taken a “professional course”.

Such details have been revealed for the first time by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore which conducted the CAT last year after it was forced by the Central Information Commission to do so last fortnight. This direction came after 22-year-old visually challenged woman Vaishnavi Kasturi, was first refused information by IIMB. The institute declined to give details until the CIC intervened.

What are the possible reasons for not having done this earlier ? Or more generally under what circumstances should an education institution not lay down the criterion on which they admit students ? It would make sense if it is possible to ‘game’ the system by doing well on their criterion and nothing else.

For example, the IITs have been forced to change their exam patterns over the years because they believed that coaching is playing too much of a role and that selection procedure does not throw up the right pool of candidates. For the record, I have not followed this issue well enough to say if the current pattern has gone any distance towards solving the problem.

But in this particular case, it is unforgivable that they were not willing to reveal even the various factors that do matter. (perhaps even without stating the relative importance of each – much like US college/grad school admissions). This matters if a candidate who for some reason did not do well in Class X wants to improve his chances by focusing his energies accordingly. I know one might argue that a good candidate is good anyday and so one must always try to do his/her best irrespective of which factor is more important. But that would only be an artificial system because in the real world we are always faced with having to prioritize and fill gaps when we encounter them. By the way, I now have a feeling this might even deter some who did not do well in X, XII and their Bachelors to not even attempt the CAT ( with an eye on the IIMs at least).

I remember preparing for the IITJEE in the late 90s and not ever knowing what was the likely cut off – what mattered, what did not, whether one of the papers was more important, whether the number of attempts were a factor, there was no information about what branches you are likely to get at what rank and which IIT. Thinking back it might seem silly and its always silly for us ‘somewhat’ grown ups to sermonize on how one must not study with the end in mind and just enjoy the process. It is also not funny for 17 year old planning out his time it really is not. And this only encouraged rumors and these rumor-monger flourished.

Also I don’t think its fair to weigh one’s Class X marks on similar footing as Bachelor’s degree scores. Further, how do they reconcile the not-so-standard grading systems across different colleges/schools/levels ?

Of course, I don’t want the IIT/IIM system to end up like this. Not everything should be laid out to such level of detail that you can game the system. But I am glad we are seeing what we are.

P.S : Prof. Abinandanan, a faculty member at IISc has been covering these and other higher education related issues on nanopolitan. I would be keen to hear his views on this.

Advice to a 15 something year old July 23, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, reminisces-1990s.
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….and just about everyone else.

Somewhere sometime about 10 or so years ago I gave myself a some kind of a suggestion ! As you see I remember nothing else about the suggestion ( “metadata” – data about data ) other than the content of it (which of course arguably matters most )

The suggestion belongs to the class of those that are extremely simple but rather hard to follow. It went along similar lines –

“Give yourself one year and one topic. And for the rest of the year, read on that topic, watch documentaries on that, visit museums if and when applicable, try to meet relevant people who know stuff, listen to people talk about it, talk about it, encourage other people to take it up. And maybe you will become an expert on it. Or maybe you won’t. But do it as long as it does not disrupt your day job/day school and other commitments.”

When I say spend a year reading about it, its not like you give everything else up. And then it need not be something academic alone, it maybe something more hands on – carpentry, running, restaurants in Bangalore are good examples – essentially something that is vast and exciting enough to hold you for an year. ( Don’t ask me how do I know its interesting enough to take it up unless I take it up ? 🙂 )

Now imagine I had blogged about it 10 years ago and an idealistic 15 year old somewhere picked it up and religiously followed it. Imagine what kind of polymath she/he would be by the time she/he was 25 ? or 30 ? What would her/his breadth and depth of knowledge/skills/experiences be ?

I dig into my quote collection to find this quote attributed to Mark Twain –

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Of course, I will not read too much into the above quote – there is an inherent bias in the way we judge results of events that happened versus results of alternate scenarios. But that will not stop me from giving this advice to every 15 year old.

P.S : Then again, nothing sacred about 15, its never too late (only some things harder) to consider the suggestion. In fact, the closest I have come to following my own advice has been the past year. Surely, no points for guessing the topic though. 🙂

Computer Science – reflections July 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, education, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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2 sentences that baffled me today :

1. Web search engines have become fixtures in our society, but few people realize that they are actually publicly accessible supercomputing systems, where a single query can unleash the power of several hundred processors operating on a data set of over 200 terabytes.

Thats coming from Randy Bryant, Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University

2. The year 2004 was the first year that human beings produced more transistors than grains of rice (~10 quintillion).

From Ed Lazowska, University of Washington and Chair, Computing Community Consortium

Reading more such facts and looking through the abstracts of the talks here you get feel for something that computer science is about and where it is going. And there is nothing like having an idea about the history of the field as well where it is going and where the medium term challenges lay (something to which I cannot make a claim). And then of course there is a need to make a distinction between Computer Science and Software Engineering (I am not talking about new programming languages).

 

 

 

 

Consider our Chemistry class in Class XI back in Little Rock, Brahmavar. We were taught Dalton’s model of the atom and then the next class we would told something was wrong with it and then Rutherford came along whom Bohr proved wrong and then great Max Planc along with other quantum physicists (which included Bohr himself) proved it all wrong or incomplete. It was amusing to see that much of the quantum theory developed even before the neutron was discovered (in 1934). I remember thinking what was point of learning about everything that was already proven wrong and incorrect. That science is a thought process rather than a mere set of facts or theories was something that missed me.

I am interested in education and make no secret of it. No, not just in the process of educating myself, but in looking back critically at my own education from primary school in early 90s. As a Computer Science student in high school and secondary school, our idea of the field of the Computer Science was rather limited – the science was often confused with programing and technology. I don’t know if things are too different today.

In fact I don’t consider myself much of a CS person, nor infact an EE person. Hence for those who still don’t know what I am talking about, this entry will be useful. (Try finding the word “C++”/”Java” on that page 🙂 )

Science and the humanities April 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in reminisces-1990s, science.
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Physicist Brian Green on the Science-Humanities debate :

Mathematical equations were a completely different story. I loved their precision, their unwavering certainty, and the way they just plain worked.
..

As I got a little older, my tastes became more nuanced. It’s not that my devotion to the exactitude of mathematics diminished. Rather, I began to better appreciate the gray areas of life and literature. The gray areas of ambiguity, the gray areas of human paradox. The gray areas where, search as you might, you will never find a solution. I spent increasing amounts of time wrapped up with Balzac, Gorky, Faulkner, Orwell, Sartre, and Camus. A messy and wonderful world opened up for me, and the burden of words lifted.

Even so, the two realms — the humanities and the sciences — seemed thoroughly separate, a view that remains widely held. In fact, the divide between the “two cultures” runs even deeper now. As Nicholas Kristof emphasized in a recent New York Times op-ed, the “hubris of the humanities” is extensive. There is an implicit agreement in “educated circles” that
it’s “barbaric to be unfamiliar with Plato or Monet or Dickens, but quite natural to be oblivious of quarks and chi-squares.”

He later on goes on to answer this and suggests remedies. Read on.

I relate to these ideas, not because I am on one side or the other. I feel quite at home with the humanities and the sciences. I think if all computers and computer science disappeared, I would still be able to earn a living being a history or political science teacher/journalist/writer/news-anchor perhaps. I relate to these ideas because I spend a lot of time thinking about how life would have been if my education was very different from what it was – emphasis on norms, rules, on theory, with emphasis being more on classroom discipline than creativity, where going to the lab gave us no joy beyond the marks/grades we earned. In other words, for much of my life, the education was stereotypically Indian/South-Asian/Eastern.

Some of this was redeemed by days of IIT-JEE preparation – solving ( at least sometimes ) problems from Russian physics/math books was a joy. But even that was so because it was more of a confidence booster for your exam preparation than like being in a movie you hope never ended. Today ofcourse things have changed to some extent, but maybe I am failing to realize that for most of us, science and mathematics is more so the means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

Yet, I go back to thinking about kids in high school and see how their lives are being ruined with all that they are fed. Perhaps a strong statement, but we are in danger of living with millions perhaps way below their potential. But as a quote that Dr.Nandini (last name unknown), a co-passenger on a Manipal-Bangalore bus on July 22nd, 1999 told her 18-year old co-passenger, goes : “What you never had, you never miss.” ( the other two of her favorites were – “what you have is not enough, what you can’t have, you can’t resist.” We don’t know what progress we haven’t had ( or what destruction we have averted ) by not accelerating/starting earlier the process of educating humanity.

Differential love April 12, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in reminisces-1990s.
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This post makes me extremely nostalgic…when was the last time I used differential equations, one of my favorite topics. Abhinav links to a page where they model romantic love using a simple differential equation model. You should probably visit that and return. Solution to the problem ? Well, abhinav gives a qualitative explanation, here is the math.

Ofcourse, what you do is differentiate both sides, that will help you express it as a single variable. So lets say it becomes,

dG-squared/dt-squared=n*m*G ; dG-squared/dt-squared-n*m*G =0

If n*m less than 0, then we can write that as :
dG-squared/dt-squared+kG =0 where k=n*m.

This is the famous mass spring oscillation system equation and has a complex form solution. G is a sinosoid with a frequency of squared root of -k, and since B is a derivative of the sinosoid, its also a sinosoid but with a phase difference of 90 degrees. That is what Abhinav means by one follows another but never quite in sync.

Now, if n*m > 0, then it becomes unstable because the solution has an exponential form ( which is what Abhinav means by unstable – you love each other so much that you have no more love left to give OR you love each other so little that you love each other even lesser, eventually reaching zero).

And for the trivial case of n*m=0, ofcourse there is no love at all.

Irrespective of the utter simplicity of the modeling and somewhat hopeless domain to apply it to, I think it is useful to explain teenagers about differential equations 😉

In some sense I feel sad because of my inability to solve without some sort of reference any common differential equation which would be solvable less than a minute about 4 years back. Ofcourse I can brush up techniques and get back in normal in less than a day, but still having differential equations as second nature, those days are gone. There used to be a thrill in seeing an equation and knowing almost immediately how it would unravel. Aaaah, applied calculus !! only now I realize how much I have forgotten so much that so absolutely loved !!

Foreign hand and your permanent age April 8, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, india, life, reminisces-1990s.
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Funny but evocative sentence today :

MY three-dimensional husband, Scott, became a Flat Daddy this spring, when his frequent absences (he is an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for deployment) made me worry that our two young children were forgetting him.

~~~

What timing for the latest article from Shekhar Gupta ! Only the day before I was engaged in a debate with my colleague Sanjika about how there was a time when everything in India was being blamed on the “foreign hand” – a non-Adam-Smith kinda invisible hand. That hand was always the cause of our problems, it was never something about ourselves, whether as individuals or as a society. Now Gupta writes :

So if, on the one hand, the Congress thinks the Muslims hate it because its prime minister loves the Americans, and the Marxists, who hate both, think their Muslims are conspiring with the same Americans to thwart their new global revolution, you can put it down to one more inevitable contradiction between the leader of this coalition and its biggest ally.

Or, on the other hand, you can figure it for what it is, a very Indian trait, typical of our lazy, self-indulgent, smug hypocrisy, which stretches from our fascination for everything foreign, from brands to money and education for our children, to our perpetual suspicion of everything foreign and, therefore, our perpetual search for the foreign scapegoat. Every time you see this hypocrisy, it reminds you of Jairam Ramesh’s unforgettable line on how we Indians love to hate to love to hate America: Yankee go home, but take me with you.

THE corporate world and financial markets are also not immune to this virus. Every time the Sensex goes up 600 points, it is because the world is finally coming to its senses and acknowledging the Indian growth story. But the moment it falls, it underlines the perils of allowing the unbridled entry of global predators, the greedy, immoral, slash-and-burn-and-grab-your-money-and-run FIIs and, worst of all, hedge funds.

This again reminds me of how when we talk of the British colonial take-over in the 1700s, we never talk about how we as a some loose geo-political entity( well, not quite a nation but anyway ) only aided the takeover, rather than put up a united resistance. Even given that colonialism cannot be justified on these or any other grounds, in the end it was about fighting a war in order to win. Yet, no part of the blame is laid on the strategic myopia and the greed of the rulers of that era. It is on this grounds that an article I read a few years ago ( that I now cant find nor remember the author ) talked about how the idea of celebrating India’s independence in addition to honoring the efforts of the dead and living freedom fighters, also includes a part that shamefully accepts that we were incompetent enough to get into that situation in the first place.

Article link here.

~~~

By the way, whats your permanent age ?

~~~

Pleading ignorance again March 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, media, reminisces-1990s.
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Tananananananaaaah … Tananananananaaaah…. from the 90s. So much about this guy I never knew !

“Ask not what the budget can do for you” March 2, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, india, politics, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
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[ Arjun, my LittleRock buddy who inconspicuously hangs around on this blog once a while wrote in asking what I thought about the Budget 2007; what started off that way ended up like this. Although I am almost as good as a layperson and not anywhere like being an expert of budget matters, I hope to atleast reveal my ignorance in a later post. What embarrassment ! Sorry man Arjun, but I am glad you at least made me write a long post on something ]

….and ofcourse, don’t even ask what you can do for the budget !

I remember sitting down before the TV every last week of February for several years in the late 90s and early this decade. For several years since independence it used to happen in the evenings but suddenly earlier this decade it was shifted to the early afternoon. There was a certain excitement about the budget at home partly because my dad and mom have been avid investors and then because every middle-class tax paying family hopes that the taxes are coming down (or at least not going up)

 

I think I just summarized it – the main concern was just that – are the taxes coming down at least this time? Are any new taxes going to be introduced? How will the market react to this tomorrow? Should I be prepared to sell/buy something? The questions that interested my mom would again be similar to the above in addition to whether LPG prices are going to rise/fall ( they almost always never fell). Once a while if a major purchase ( PC/TV etc. ) was due there would some interest as to which way consumer goods prices went (they almost always never fell).

 

These were the questions that interested my father and after this part of the budget he would generally walk off much to my surprise while I would sit there trying to absorb that piece of text with large numbers and complicated jargon. This is no urban legend but I think India’s economic situation must be assessed by the number of digits one gets when one expands every large number in that humongous document. I don’t obviously think I got much of what I read and my understanding today is improved, the budget is still a document which very few people understand (or are even interested ) in the whole.

 

Every person has a limited interest in the budget – limited both in time and space. That is, after a while people adjust their spending patterns such that they are back to square one ; thus the budget having lesser impact over time. And most are interested in a part of the document that concerns them. For example, my dad couldn’t care less about how much is allocated to fighting HIV in the north-east (which certain NGOs might) or some tax relief to the steel industry to start a plant in a backward district of Orissa. This of course is true of the corporates as well though to a lesser extent since they might be interested in overall growth of the economy.

 

Looking back, the middle class had a point and their point was that people in the middle class don’t get SOPs that others do (like “Govt to provide 1 lakh jobs for physically disabled with a salary limit of Rs 25,000 a month” or “Backward Regions Grant Fund to be raised to Rs 5800 crore” ) and so there is not a whole lot that budget can do. The least they could ask is that if you don’t give me anything (through SOPs), at least don’t take away (through tax). Overall macroeconomic growth figures were less of a concern although they do realize that these have a bearing on the stock market and certainly on the overall quality of life. I hope I am not generalizing from just one example of my household but I remember discussions at home with visitors etc. where the talk of budget would be restricted to the taxes and excise/customs duties (which have an impact on the prices) It would help if you have gotten reading till here to relate (in the comments section) how things have been at your home to see if my observations extend beyond the biases sample of middle-class bankers I am talking about.

 

Well, atleast people knew such a thing as the budget exists, when its presented and followed selective sections. What about here in the US ? I don’t know – in the past 2.5 years I haven’t come across anything like a day when the budget being presented in the congress and a few million people switch on their TV sets, get their popcorn (!), watch it, call friends to talk about it, follow it in the newspaper the next day and call friends again ! There is obviously a budget but not eagerly anticipated by the middle-class or so. They would rather watch something of no economic consequence and essentially political like the “State of the Union Address” delivered end of every January and count the number of times the speech was interrupted by applause (!) or contained the word “Iraq” compared to last year.

 

I don’t want to speculate but a possible reason for the above might be just this – Americans hate government. Republicans hate government because they think the government is doing too much – collecting too much taxes and engaging in income redistribution (generally helping minorities ) ; and democrats hate it because they think the government is not doing enough – not taxing the ( generally richer ) republicans enough and in the process increasing equality. On one hand, there is an inherent belief especially among the middle class that the government can’t really do anything for them – it’s just got to be done by ourselves. On the other, there is a deep suspicion of the government that runs in their blood – the idea that government takes “their” money so that it can give it to “others”.

 

People argue that the Indian middle class is going this way too – perhaps not for reasons of individual freedoms that form the basis in America – at least for cynical reasons – that the Indian government/bureaucracy is no good because it is essentially corrupt. Either way, I am glad if this is true. In fact, the government is corrupt because we have given it way too much power. I agree with Amit Varma when he says :

The mistake some of us made when we talk about the budget is in assuming that government spending can solve all our problems. The government may spend more on education, but that doesn’t mean that Indian kids will get anywhere near the education they should, or that the education system will become better. Our mai-baap sarkar may announce a safety net for workers, but that doesn’t mean that workers will benefit. It may extend the REGB, but that doesn’t mean that it is doing anything to enable the growth of employment in this country. In some cases, it might actually be harming the cause of those it claims to benefit, by spending money inefficiently that, had it never been taxed in the first place, would have done more good for the economy.

Its high time we realize that the government (with the bureaucracy) is not the panacea, not an entity that is magically endowed with powers ( and intentions ) of upliftment. Think about it. It is merely a bunch of people who spend others’ (read yours) money for sometimes dubious ends of their political masters as a part of their full-time day job.

Its likely your dad had figured it all long ago without watching this or reading this.

A little high school reunion February 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, CMU, image, india, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
9 comments

The past weekend produced one of the more memorable occasions ( and good pictures) in a long time. (The same period produced no blog posts.) Here is one.

img_0228.jpg

[ Clockwise from top : Aneesh, Prakash, Sharath, PC, Joyas, Ashith ; Supreeth behind the camera]

That 3 of them have worked or are still working for the company that these guys founded might explain some similarity with the photograph.

Here is another set of pictures – one shot on Feb 24th, 2007 and another on March 30th, 1999. How many subjects are common to these pictures is left as an exercise to the reader. 🙂

img_0224.jpgon-urmilas-bed-march-30-1999-last-day-of-xii.JPG

One of those is in my lab at CMU ( shot thanks to my (hardworking) colleague Sanjika who was in the lab during a weekend ) and another is in Manipal, on the sets of the Bollywood movie – “Hum Tum Pe Marte Hai” ( roughly translated “I am head over heels in love with you” and literally translated as “I die upon you” ). ( That is as close as anyone would ever get to actress Urmila Matondkar’s residence 😀 ) The story of one boy’s patently unsuccessful struggle (in the latter picture) to control his laughter deserves telling. But another day.

Modern electronic technology has meant that :

– There was no need to carry around a second camera with a black and white role to shoot the first of the 3 pictures. It was shot with Supreeth’s digital SLR – a Canon EOS-Rebel TX.

– We are not stuck with a color image if that is how it was shot ( second image). It takes 2 clicks in an image processing software to grayscale what was originally a color image and mistakenly so.

– We are not stuck with a paper version of an image merely because it was shot with a film camera ( Last image shot with Ashith’s 1983 model Canon AE-1 ).

– And finally, India’s IT prowess, American graduate schools and a little luck somewhere has meant that I have been able to shoot pictures with almost 8% of my high school class in my graduate school lab 10 years later, 15000 kms away 🙂 .

When I was just a little boy…. February 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, KREC, life, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, reminisces-2000.
6 comments

He and his wife, Deborah, have two boys and a girl (her favorite subjects are history and math—“a good recipe for what an economist does”).

Linked from here.

That thing in the bracket caught my eye. The small-town/sub-urban ( not in the American sense ) India of the day I grow up in the mid-90s, that would be odd – history and math was impossible to study together after Class X. ( Economics is more mathematical than not, even if there is a fair bit of economic history involved. ) Thinking about it today, its strange – is it true that it is hard to have good aptitude for both ?

Its heartening then that when I asked my 14 year old cousin what she wanted to do after the class X exams, she said – “I don’t know what I want to do, instead I know what I won’t. Medical and Engineering is out of the way.” A few years ago only those who sincerely thought or were made to think that their education upto Class X had not revealed any math or science aptitude would venture to say that. But this girl is somewhere in the top of her class and has been so, for as long as she can remember. While I do not advocate that one be opposed to something out of the commonplace nature of it or merely for the heck of it even if one has excellent aptitude, it is still a positive development. But then I am not sure it has changed that much today, atleast outside of metropolis.

It is not like the only advice I got was to take up Engineering. Here is what I can recall looking back – sitting in the staffroom visiting my teachers during the holiday in April 1996, my chemistry teacher of Class IX asked me if ever thought of taking up writing as a full-time career. Neeta Kishore, English teacher of Class VIII told my mom in July 1996 that I should consider taking up the IFS ( Indian Foreign Service ) because I am argumentative but diplomatic and hence would likely have good negotiation skills. End of 1999 at KREC in the Technical English class after I read an essay out aloud, the teacher said – “3 years from now when you have your placements, if you don’t get an Engineering job, you can consider a news reader’s position.” And finally there is no count of number of recommendations about doing an MBA.

And what did I end up doing – Electrical Engineering for 4 years studying primarily electric circuits, control systems, power systems and moved into signal processing – speech and image processing for 2 years – an year at IISc Bangalore and then at Boston. And now moved into statistics and language/information processing. While these changes have come completely out of choice, I have become an ‘outsider’ every 2 years. Ofcourse, this change is more marginal than others I have seen and I am only a student, beginner among beginners. There are scores of those whose current work has nothing whatsoever to do with their Masters/Ph.D work from the 1970s – these people have continuously moved on from one thing to another ( without writing blog entries about it 🙂 ).

Thinking about it then, becoming an Engineer is the only advice I did not get. And that is probably so because one suggests something mostly when they think the option might not otherwise occur to someone. And Engineering happened to be ( and perhaps continues to be ) a default choice for someone with my background – middle class, good schooling and such, so it was not something to be recommended I guess.

Coming back to the stuff within parenthesis in the extract above, had I attempted to try another combination of History, Economics, Math, Physics and English, what would things be like today ? Likely very different. I believe that baring a few, there might not be such a thing as one’s call. Our comparative advantages build much later in life ( 11+ years ) and a majority of us can develop skills to take up a range of professions. And I believe that admitting this is not an insult to your current occupation/employer/alma-maters.

In other words, “I was born to be <insert a practitioner of your favorite profession> ” might be an exaggeration more often than not.

“When I was growing up…” February 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, reminisces-1990s, technology.
1 comment so far

Likely* conversation circa 1999.

Hey, want to go check mail ?

Where do we go ?

There is a cybercafe about 5 minutes walk from my uncle’s place.

How much per hour ?

75 bucks.

Thats good yaar. Near my house he charges 90.

No man, this guy just started off. So first week its 75. Some promotion offer. So we have to go before this Sunday.

Okay, I will come over to your house saturday evening.

Likely one afternoon in 2007.

Hey, did you see that video I sent ?

No, when did you send it ?

I just sent it like 10 minutes back.

Oh, I just came in a couple of minutes back, didn’t check mail yet. No wonder I didn’t see your mail when I left from home.

1 second today is as long as 1 second used to be 100 years ago. It is just busier doing more things now than it used to. Maybe this is what Ray Kurzweil means when he talks of the Law of accelerating returns that might ultimately lead to a technological singularity. ( Although there are skeptics out there. )

All of the above apart, I have grown old enough to be able to construct sentences that start with “When I was growing up, ” ( and still say something interesting ).

* – Very close approximations to both the above conversations have taken place. No exaggeration, only modified to facilitate succint expression

Self-experimentation February 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, ideas, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, weird.
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Now this is interesting – self-experimentation stuff. More commendable than my own gimmicks 🙂 about life sans google.

Anyway, this is the deal :

John D. Freyer decided to sell everything he owns — yes everything — on ebay. Stage two is to visit those objects in people’s homes around the country and record their tales. Stage three is to publish this book.

I will not tell you where I read this because I promised not to link to economics blogs ! 😀 On the other hand, I will do so in the interest of providing intellectual stimulation to my readers. Here you go – read the whole post. This man is the pioneer of self-experimentation.

Reminds me of my earliest experience of having deprived myself of something – sort of self-experimentation. Apparently, I used to be so talkative about 11 years ago that my friend Dr. Shaimaa Munir ( I want to link to her on Orkut, but I can’t – you know why ) placed a bet on Aug 25th, 1996 that I can’t go without 2 minutes of keeping my mouth shut. More than accepting the challenge, I offered to do so for one whole day in class, i.e. inside the classroom.

The terms were that I can only shout out my attendance – once in the morning and then in the afternoon. Within the classroom, I should not even speak out to tell people why I was not supposed to talk. No, I was not even supposed to write or convey in any way that this was a bet. Ofcourse she could not monitor me all the time or even half the time, but we were reasonable and had an understanding that I would be honest. We exchanged several glances – mostly her effort to tease me about my sorry state etc. But it turned out I managed to do keep my mouth shut and didn’t lose the bet. Now, I don’t remember what the bet was about – i.e. if I got something for the immense sacrifice. I am not sure though if my classmates remember this event – another indication that I wasn’t as talkative in the first place. ( as some of you are given to think I was ).

A balancing act is in order – time for a failed mission to temper the above :

In Class XI, late 1997, my classmate Supreeth and I decided that for one whole day, we would exchange our names !! I would respond if someone called him out and vice-versa. The idea was not just to get ourselves used to each others’ names but also to get others to address us by our new names. The exception again was the when the teacher is involved. Yeah, I know this is chickening out but it added an extra layer of complexity to the whole thing. The person who blinked first lost the bet.

This didnt last any more than an hour. We agreed to call it off. I dont know if he remembers it, but he is coming over this weekend and I am going to have a discussion of this on our agenda :-).

[ And may I ask what is one of weird things you did 😀 ]

Why hearing is not believing ? January 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, life, reminisces-1990s.
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What is the earliest picture of yours ever shot ? Probably the day you were born or maybe a month old. If you are among the poorest in the world ( in which case you wouldn’t be reading this ), maybe you live an entire life without a picture of yours ever shot.

Now, what is the earlier dated recording of your own voice that you have access to ? That you or someone else recorded, that exists, maybe not with you, but exists nevertheless ? Most certainly the earliest picture is older than the earliest recording.

Keeping aside the possibility of video recording that makes available both visual and audio memories, why do we choose visual ( photograph ) over audio media to store our special moments ? Is it just about accessibility ? Cost ? Or thats just how we are – evolutionary reasons for prefering human faces over human voices, if at all such a comparison can be meaningfully made. Or is it because visual imprint is stronger owing to how hard it is to impersonate – its harder to look like another but relatively easier to sound like someone else ? Or even that its harder to change the way one looks than to change one’s voice and diction ? Why when friends and family get together you have elaborate photo sessions but rarely a session where you record the conversations ? Is it because we process images near instantaneously but sounds sequentially and hence less exciting ? When prospective alliances are sought, why do people exchange photographs, why not ( even in addition to photographs ), audio recordings ? 🙂

If you had to preserve a person’s memory and had to choose between a picture versus an hour’s recording of the person’s speech, what would you choose ? Why ?

P.S : My earlier picture would be within a week of being born in Oct 1981. It took over 15 years before a recording of my voice is available. To the best of the knowledge, the earliest recording of anything I said comes from this month 11 years ago – Jan 24th, 1996. It was enacting a ‘radio show’ at Little Rock – a recording of which I have a copy of.

15 years ago, 7700 miles away January 9, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, reminisces-1990s.
3 comments

News from Guwahati :

The violence in Assam is continuing unabated. Even as the Centre says that it would deploy more troops to intensify operations in the state, the ULFA has changed tactics and tried to attack an Army camp late on Monday evening. At least seven persons were injured when two bombs exploded near the cantonment in Satgaon on Monday evening.

I travelled to the Satgoan Cantonment every day for two years in 1991-93, my school – Army School, Narangi – is located in the heart of the cantonment area. I thought it was the safest area in the city ( though a likely target ). I remember when Babri Masjib demolition took place on Dec 6th, 1992, the last thing my parents had to worry about if we were safe at school – the cantonment was the last place you would expect a communal riot to break out. I went to one of my friends’ ( Pankaj Chauhan) dad’s office ( an army colonel ) and played computer games till the evening while the mosque was coming down. ( I hope a 11 year old is not held guilty of indifference/apathy ).

Its been about 14 years, since May 28, 1993 when I left Guwahati for the last time and I haven’t been there since. I am not in touch with anyone but one classmate from those days – inspite of best efforts. I wish they had an alumni association. As I wrote to my Little Rock friends in July 2005 :

I studied at an Army School in Assam for 2 years like you studied in Little Rock Indian School for 3 years. I left 12 years ago like you did 13 years ago. And I am not perhaps as lucky as you to one day crash into over 100 batchmates of mine !! I have not been in touch with a SINGLE classmate of mine. Only last June I caught up with a batchmate � infact a real buddy back then and to my utter dismay, he too has never been in touch with anyone ! So, here we are now, 2 people who are each in touch with 1 person i.e. each other � thermodynamic analog of a closed system ….

House no 21, Jogen Barua Lane,
Jorphukri,
Uzan Bazaar,
Guwahati – 781001
Assam

Thats the place. Courtesy : Wikimapia. The word “Jorphukri” in my address splits up as “Jod” ( joined ) + Phukri ( lake ). It comes from the 2 adjacent lakes that you see in the picture.

I love the city – Guwahati. The early 90s were the peak of millitancy in Assam. Yet, as a 11 year old, I roamed the city, much of it by foot – on walks, shopping, just going around, walking home from dad’s bank or the other way around – either with my parents/family friends/Bharath and so often, just alone. I knew Guwahati, every inch of the city, when I left her in 1993 ;perhaps better than I knew Bangalore when I left in 2004 or Mangalore when I left KREC in 2003. I dont think I have ever felt so liberated in any other city before. Maybe Boston. But then I didnt explore Boston too much either.
When I visit India next, perhaps in mid 2008, I want to make a trip to Guwahati. That will be 15 years from 1993 !

I searched for Army School Narangi and this is one of the pages that showed up. I believe thats a competition being held in the basketball court near the huge Tamarind tree in the middle of the ground ! This single picture brings back an interesting recollection. About 15 years ago I awaited my turn to pick my topic for the English extempore. For someone who was considered ( not at all incorrectly ) extremely unruly and mischievous in class, it turned out that my topic was “The naughty student” and the audience went up in a roar. It wasnt ofcourse my first time on stage , but my talk, as I recall now, was incoherent and by the standards I would choose to measure upto now, an unmitigated disaster. [ As a matter of fact, my entire time on stage right up till 1995 was less than mediocre. ]

Unfortunately though, I dont have a single photograph of myself in the school campus, though several elsewhere in Guwahati.

Exchange rates n all January 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, reminisces-1990s.
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Here is something I understand on the surface of it because it is written in plain terms. But I want to understand this better.

[ Emphasis mine ]

When Americans buy foreign-made goods and services, foreigners earn dollars. The only way America would run no trade deficit is if foreigners spent all of these dollars buying goods and services from Americans. Instead, though, foreigners invest some of their dollars in America. They buy American corporate stock, they build their own factories and retail outlets in the US, they lend dollars to Uncle Sam, and they hold some dollars in reserve as cash.

Aren’t you proud that so many people the world over eagerly invest their hard-earned wealth in America?

As an American, I’m proud and optimistic. Foreigners invest in the US so readily because its economy is so strong. And even better, these investments strengthen the economy by creating more capital for American workers. These investments raise workers’ productivity and wages.

Remember: A trade deficit is not synonymous with debt.

I’m writing this letter on a new Sony computer that I bought with cash. I owe Sony nothing. If Sony holds the dollars it earned from this sale, or if it uses these dollars to buy stock in General Electric or land in Arizona – that is, as long as Sony invests its dollars in America in ways other than lending it to Americans – the US trade deficit rises without raising Americans’ indebtedness.

Americans go more deeply into debt to foreigners only when Americans borrow money from foreigners. Uncle Sam, of course, borrows a lot of money, from both Americans and from non-Americans. I share your concern about the reckless spending and borrowing practiced by politicians in Washington.

The other thing I want to learn about is how exactly exchange rates work. I have a rough idea but thats not sufficient :). Not necessarily because of a personal stake in it, but just curiosity. My earliest memory of an exchange rate is in mid-1996 in Class X when Gilbert Sir asked how many Rs. is equivalent to a dollar, I remember saying Rs. 35.18.

I do remember a time when it was Rs. 32 though I dont know when exactly it was. Yep, here I found some historical trends. The earliest they have is from 1990, Jan 4st. It was Rs. 16.94. I remember my dad saying it was about Rs. 4 when he was in high school.

What is your earliest memory of the use of money by yourself ? Hmm…I cant remember anything significant really.

International trade/finance/economics is indeed interesting.

Past and present December 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in reminisces-1990s.
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Then

Now

Now

Then

A student and a teacher December 20, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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I was in Chicago visiting Asha teacher. That little girl in that picture in the post before the last one is Rishelle, Asha’s 4 year old.

Chicago, Dec 16th, 2006 with Asha, Ritvik, Rishelle and Sadiq

Asha taught us English at Little Rock, Class VII ( 1993-94 ). Towards the end of Class VII just as we used to ask for people’s autographs ( kinda slam books), I got her autograph as well in addition to that of a few other classmates. During the summer vacations that followed in April 1994, on seeing her address in my autograph book I wrote to Asha. Quite surprisingly, she wrote back a long long letter in which she mentioned that she might be teaching us poetry in Class VIII. Wrote back again. This time she got back with her marriage invitation card. She was to be moving to Chicago after marriage. A teacher no more.
I attended her reception on May 23, 1994 to her utter surprise. I happened to be the only student who was invited in addition to 2 other teachers and I showed up there with my mom. I remember the exact events of that day at the Vimlesh international in Mangalore. I guess I still have, as a part of ‘my trivia collection’, that thankyou note with an Eclairs chocolate stapled that was given to all the guests. And not knowing what to do with the glass of wine that was served as a part of the wedding toast.
Cannanore, Aug 11th, 1999

Thinking about it today it seems weird. A 12 year old insists that he attend and drags his mom all the way to Mangalore for the event. We corresponded regularly via letters between Chicago and Manipal for several years, 19 of them between June 1994 and Jan 2000. On her visit to Mangalore in April-May 1996, she came visiting home in Manipal. I again went visiting her in Mangalore on May 14, 1996. Her visit an year later, I visited her again on May 13, 1997. Ofcourse I was 14/15 by then and was travelling alone.

By 1998 her parents had retired and moved to Cannanore. When she came down in August 1999, I went down to Cannanore from Manipal, changing 4 buses – at Udupi, Mangalore, Kasargod and Kanjangad. Stayed over at their place and took the train back the next day. Exhilarating, thinking about it now.

Manipal, April 16th, 1996.

She had a baby, May 4, 2000. Bringing up kids meant communication wasnt really that regular. When on Dec 12, 2000 I heard from someone that Y! messenger allows free calls to landlines in the US ( which they discontinued soon after), I went to a Cyber Cafe in Suratkal, talked to Asha and Mani, her husband for over an hour. Our next conversation was to be in Dec 2004. They had their second girl Rishelle on April 11, 2002. Remaining in touch was even more harder.

Cut to 2004. Since I came to the US in Aug 2004, I was in reasonably regular touch with the family, mostly talking to Mani 3-4 times a year. Over 2.5 years after coming here, the trip to Chicago finally happened. 3 great days with the family – the kids were so much fun. Mani was great in that he spent a whole Saturday with Sadiq and me taking us around Chicago. Infact I last met Mani at the reception in Mangalore in May 1994 !! Meeting the family here is like coming a full circle.

With Mani and Sadiq at a suburbian railway station

This isnt really an exception. I have visited and spent hours at the houses of several of my school teachers, know their kids’ by names and faces, written letters to ( and heard from ) a few of them, probably have more photographs with them than with some of family as well. Its probably got to do something with the fact that while I feel very endeared to them, I dont respect authority and hierarchy to the extent that inhibits communication. Depending on how the teachers in question took this attitude of mine, this has got me into trouble in the past. But then its also earned me teachers as friends.

As I wrote this I just think to myself that teachers are in some senses our confidants – because they are the only ones who read our answer sheets :), they know pretty well how good or bad we are at what we do. And isnt one of those tried and tested ways of making friends telling them your secrets :).

Readings from 1990s and a lone inspiration November 23, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in media, reminisces-1990s.
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This is something completely trivial. I was in Class VIII, IX, X and XI then. An isolated memory from Manipal in the mid-1990s goes thus.

I would rush to pick up the newspapers- Indian Express and the Economic Times – when dad got home from work. And here is what I read.

Mondays : Investor’s guide in the Economic Times ( was crazy about the stock markets for a while in the 1990s ).

Tuesdays : La Creme de La Creme ( meaning “The Cream of the Cream” in French) in the Economic Times which contained mostly job classifieds. I remember wanting to see what jobs were there, what people who were looking to hire, where, the remuneration and other articles about the job market. I have no idea why I did this – I was in Class VIII-X then and now even 11 years later, I havent yet had my first job !!

Wednesdays : Brand Equity in the Economic Times and the Op-ed editorials from Mishirul Hassan in the Indian Express.

I have always found Hassan to be one of the best writers on Indian history. A Cambridge education professional historian, his commentaries on Indian political and social history have immensely contributed to my interest in this subject. Infact I remember no other columnist I read regularly by name. Yeah, its unlikely that any of the readers would know him or have known him from as early as 1990s for he is no celebrity scholar. Infact his claim to fame ( and controversy ) is opining that the Satanic Verses should not be banned on grounds of Freedom of Expression.

It was finding this article by him in the Outlook where he reviews Stanley Wolpert’s ( another India Expert ) book on the Indian partition that spurred me into writing this post. Over the years I have grown to disagree with some of his politics – but that really doesnt mean I have ceased to be enthralled by his commentaries. I guess some things never change. I looked online for archives of his articles from 90s but could not find any. I think reading some of these will likely bring back several states of mind from the 90s.

Thursday : Science and Technology section in the Economic Times

Friday : Corporate Dossier in the Economic Times meant reading stuff on Indian CEOs and happenings in the corporate scene – management gurus visiting India, some new socio-economic trend or some corporate party.

Sunday : Economic Times was great. So was Indian Express. I guess this is pretty much true today. In particular the ET had a special edition called Financial Times with mostly international content and corporate news, some columns with (or without) permission from Western Business dailies.

The Last time …. October 31, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in reminisces-1990s.
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I get some kick by keeping track of some of these statistics that somehow point to the way I brought myself up ( the usage is deliberate) and circumstances that were sometimes the causes and at others, consequences of my upbringing. This is just for the sake of record.

Last watched a Hindi movie – Jan 2006 ( 15, Park Avenue – prior to that Aug 2005 – Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi )

Last watched a movie in a theater – May 2004 ( last before that – Oct 1999 !! )

Last visited native place – July 2001

Last birthday celebrated ( bash/dinner/cake etc. ) – Oct 1994

Last gone out with family – May 1993

Last sob – Before June 1993

Last burst Diwali crackers – Oct 1992

and ‘inspite’ of it all, life has been interesting, exciting and worth living. I am no short of stories to tell you and your grandchildren. :).

I dedicate this post to those who have a hard time believing there is more than just one way.

Stunned ! October 29, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, sport.
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I was so stunned by a recent statistic I just read that I left everything aside to pen this post down. This post comes with all the usual disclaimers, in other words – not for the faint hearted. If you have a weak heart, please dont read.

The last time India beat Australia chasing was on April 25th, 1998.

Yeah, that was the Coca Cola cup final – the match after the famous ‘sandstorm match’ ( entire match up here !). I saw that on Cricinfo a while ago but cant find the link :(.

Anyway, lets put that in perspective. In April 1998, I was just about to enter Class XII working towards my JEE exams. I hadnt sent my first email, ever gotten online. None of my classmates were married. My dad was working. India wasnt a nuclear power, Vajpayee was the prime minsiter. Saddam was around, Musharaff was not. The state of Chattisgarh didnt exist but Iraq did !

And finally, Tendulkar was as old when it last happened as old as I am today !!

( A somewhat less shocking statistic is that its been nearly 3 years since India beat Australia at all. It last happened on Jan 18, 2004 – I remember I watched the match at Sadiq’s house in Bangalore – was on the phone with my schoolmate Deepa and Rajaram simultaneously ! )

Lets see when this will be broken ! On a lighter note, I hope India keep losing to Australia chasing atleast until April 25th, 2008, the 10th anniversary ( and Tendulkar’s 35th birthday). 10 is a beautiful number – both in base 10 and base 2. 😉

This raises a few questions – does this fact make that Tendulkar’s innings even more special ? Also does the Indian team itself know this ? Who would care though – only 2 people from that team of April 1998 are still around. Wait a minute – actually that must be reason the others should care isnt it. Because it also means that 9 out of 11 players have no idea what it means to successfully chase an Australian target !

Sigh.

More than just songs October 18, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in india, life, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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I have been spending sometime on Youtube offlate – doesnt have anything to do with Google’s latest acquisition ofcourse, I am talking about in the past month or so. I am scrounging around for Old Hindi movie songs and building lists for myself and others who care – people I know and others I never will. A few things of note :

Old songs to me means those before 1980, mostly concentrated in 1960s with a whole lot in 1950s and the 70s. Very few from the 80s – except for a few from Ek Duje Ke Liye, Bazaar, Masoom and a few others. Okay, nearly none from the 1990s – if Bollywood for no particularly reason ( or perhaps because they ran out of new storylines/plots ) stopped making movies since 1985, it would make no difference to my Bollywood experience. Yeah, I wouldnt feel a thing !

So here they are, few playlists sorted by decade –

Songs from 1950-59

Songs from 1960-69

Songs from 1970-79

Songs from 1980-89

The graph shows the number of songs by decades for the Youtube favorites and laptop collection ( local machine ).

Its rather inconvenient for most I know – for how often do we associate a song with a time period. We possibly associate them with the singers, name of the movie, actors its been picturized on, perhaps even the movie theatre/channel you watched it, who you had for company, maybe even the music director but unlikely the decade in which the movie was made. Infact I would love to see a poll of which are the most closely associated attributes with a song.

I see three reasons for this preference which I put on record here in order of their decreasing influence.

The mental map :

Somehow I find it rather trivial to store dates and numbers – its strange that it took over 125 posts for this strange trait to come up. Although I havent sat down to count, its likely that there is currently in storage over 2000 dates – not just birthdays or anniversaries but trivial things, stupid things, unimaginable patterns of what happened today last year or the year before or 6 years back. For example, a memory of what happened on 27th of June in 1997, 98, 99, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004. Or state where I was on any particular day in say, the last 10 years. Or write down the dates of, if you give me 5 minutes, every single overnight bus journey I have ever taken since March 1998. Or just world events from history.

They arent already noted anywhere, no diary nothing, no conscious effort to try and remember, these are just there, present, stored somewhere in the mind and they come out in images when I seek to retrieve them. I have no idea how its happens, but I know beyond a point, it can annoy the hell out of peopl e around you. If I cant explain and havent worked hard for it, so its hard to take credit for it. Nevertheless you mostly feel good and never really regret it because its quite an extraordinary gift.

Actually, my own song collection on my machine follows this pattern – of sorting by decades. And I guess Rajaram is the perhaps the only other person who can manage this collection. Think about it – its not easy – if you want to locate a song and dont have a search facility, you have to know which decade the movie was made. If you know the movie, you can locate it faster than typing your query and searching for it !

Dad and Vividh Bharathi :

I am clubbing the other two reasons into just one because they are closely related. Most of these songs that I have listened to, I havent watched. I have just listened – either on CD/cassette or on radio. So if you play a video from the 60s or the 70s on mute mode, its unlikely I can identify most of these songs. But if you play the song on the radio, I could possibly tell you the movie, the decade, the music director and the lyricist with reasonable accuracy. ( Dad gets it right over 90% of the time )

Much of this is heriditary – whatever I could do, dad could do better and be more accurate at it. His database is far vaster than mine is. Infact, many a time when the prelude music starts playing on Vividh Bharathi, he would rattle the song name, movie, director, when and where he watched it, producer and some trivia related to the song. Often even the actor and the actress. And since many of these songs repeated or atleast movies repeated, I would listen to many of his predictions and pronouncements over and over again. Now listening to a song, I can do much the same myself, almost as I were just repeating his words.

The fact that it was Vividh Bharathi, an obsession from 1996 to 2004 when I left India, and not TV meant that I was left with the knowledge of the song and the decade ( but not often the movie name/actors etc. ) simply because the numbers were easier to remember. Somehow though music director and lyricist were easier.

The above factors have conspired to ensure that my memory of Old Hindi songs has a rather idiosyncratic representation. Hopefully, Youtube and the great guys who put up these videos up there will do something to rectify the situation !!

P. S: A lasting memory from the recent years brings together these songs, the radio, dad’s pronouncements and Rajaram’s visit home. That is worth an entire separate post. And very soon.

Above influence October 14, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in ideas, life, reminisces-1990s.
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This advertisement here speaks so much for me, that I was perhaps 10 years back. I have the transcript of the ad down here, but to watch the ad, you will have to go here and click on “Awakenings” ( mid-left coloumn)

Awakenings Ad Transcript

(Scene opens with individual teens doing various things. Teenage girl staring into mirror, teen boy turning in bed, teen boy standing in front of refrigerator, teen girl staring out window.)

There comes a point in you life when you realize,
You’re not a kid anymore.

(Clips of teens doing everyday things like brushing hair, getting dressed, and eating breakfast; All staring with concerned looks on their faces)

Suddenly, you have to make decisions.
You have to make choices everyday.
This is the time when you define yourself or you let others define you.

(Teens are now leaving their homes on their way to school. Their faces express confidence and decisiveness)

You quickly learn that there are two ways to go…
Under the influence or above the influence.
I am above the influence.

This ad ofcourse is about saying no to drugs, but when I say that it spoke for the 15 year old that I was, I am talking about its utility as being beyond just drugs, its about very forming one’s unique identity. This is something every teenager and young adult must watch. Some of the other ads up there are good too – particularly “transformations”, the one in the middle of the 3×3 matrix.

I talked about Ads before here. And several other ads reviewed here.

Looking back at 25 October 12, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in landmark-post, life, reminisces-1990s.
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I received this birthday note from Vineeta Rao, a schoolmate, the actuary I referred to in my earlier post ! A quote she mentioned goes :

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.

Amazing, isnt it. How so true ! Recent weeks have brought some truly unprecedented perspectives that, I believe, come with growing up. There is no better occasion to put this on record than now as I turn 25. There is no worse occasion than now to attempt it though, its going to take a while and I am tired ; I hope to have something put up here by the end of the month.

For now, a short little note will substitute.

I have now been a student ( in a literal sense of the term ) for 21 years now, but dont consider myself good enough at any single or more subject to single-handedly author and maintain a blog dedicated to it. There has been dabling with different things – deep academic passions – physics (1997-2000), Electronics (2000-01), Signal processing (2001-04) and mathematics and statistics ( 2004-present) and there have been deep non-academic passions – self-improvement (1994-1998), philosophy and psychology (1996-2000), popular science and culture (2001-present), Politics and international diplomacy ( 1995-present), Old Hindi music (1993-present), writing ( 1994-present ) , and economics (2005-present).

There is a problem however. Firstly, the durations I mention in the context of non-academic pursuits can be misleading for they dont refer to periods of dedicated study. They havent been intellectual hot pursuits with an eye on becoming an expert. Instead, these refer to periods when there was a honest and often a flippant interest in reading material on these subjects. So nothing really special, we are all involved in a bunch of things we dont mind reading stuff about. Secondly, as I was telling Kavya, a friend of mine from school, there has been no formal recognition whatsoever and for a good reason – there is nothing definitely solid about many of these indulgences – there are just bits of facts, opinions ( prejudices ??) and perspectives strewn around the mind like a things in a room that has just been burgled. And for this reason, there are so many occasions when I am in a position to say – “I am not an expert on the subject but this is what I read….”.

Maybe “being good enough to write a blog on a subject” is too high a standard to judge one’s knowledge. Maybe depth is just one of the criterions out there and the economist in me reminds me of the tradeoffs between depth and breath that are invariably involved. What is important is whether the process of flirtation with varied interests has been enjoyable at all. No question about it.

In the line of fire, literally September 27, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, humor, india, reminisces-1990s.
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Yes, we can do with some humor in our news reports.

Going by the tensions and the rhetoric that keeps exacerbating, President Bush will certainly have his work cut out in refereeing this contest on Thursday over dinner and one wonders whether instead of breaking the Ramadan fast with the traditional dates, which precedes the Ifthar dinner, Musharraf and Karzai may end up flinging them at one another!

Humor, potshots and subtle sarcasm is something I regularly find in western media but unfortunately rarely back in India, which if not bland tends to border on polemics and/or lengthy tirades. The reporter in this case is a Srilankan-American reporter, Aziz Hannifa who happens to one of the editors at India Abroad, a North American daily owned by the folks over at rediff.

Here is ‘Musharaff’s lie nailed’ – again by Aziz Hannifa.

In the context of the above and the below (!), I wonder if naming the book as “In the line of fire” is prophetic or reminiscent on the part of Gen. Mushraff !

In a related article and excellently article written at that by Indian Defence expert K. Subrahmanyam, Musharaff comes out as a joker. For a military general/politician/head of state, Musharaff actually speaks so much that he might soon be at risk of being ignored. Subrahmanyam asks :

If India was preparing for an offensive action and this move was undertaken as a countermeasure, why was this charge not made earlier when the then Pakistani foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, visited India in June 1999? Why did it not feature in the conversations of the director-generals of military operations? Why did not Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif raise the issue in his conversations with Atal Bihari Vajpayee? The general claims it was a great victory for his army. Why then is it that the officers and men of the Pakistan army who fought valiantly and got killed did not get the decent burial that was their due? Why were their bodies abandoned on Indian territory? There is no precedent in the history of warfare of a victorious army behaving this way. Why did Pakistan not own up to this victory? Why was it not advertised to the great pride of the Pakistani people till this book was published?

For those who have followed Subrahmanyam’s writings ( like my schoolmate and friend of nearly 2 decades Rajaram ) will know that he never really lets you down. More on him here and here.

Update : A related memory now that I mentioned Subrahmanyam and Rajaram in the same breath is from May 27th, 1998. We along with a few ( or rather most ) of our classmates were waiting at the Brahmavar busstand to take the bus to school. As we were standing there, we were going through a cutout from a recent Times of India op-ed article from Subrahmanyam that Rajaram had gotten along that discussed the implications of the Indian nuclear tests in the sub-continent. The next day Pakistan tested its nuclear device.

This is ridiculous ! September 25, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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A poem from Vikram Seth that goes was supposed to be talking about himself.

Some men like Jack and some like Jill
I’m glad I like them both but still
I wonder if this freewheeling
Really is an enlightened thing,
Or is its greater scope a sign
Of deviance from some party line?
In the strict ranks of Gay and Straight
What is my status: Stray? Or Great?

That Seth is bisexual is apparently common knowledge for over 3 years now, only something I didnt know until I read this.

Okay, so what ?

Well, so nothing. It just reminds me of another serious lapse in my knowledge from another era. Until I was 15 , I had no idea that Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle were sisters. Beat that !

How then I wonder did my schoolmate Poornachandra and I win those several quiz contests ! Guess you can never know enough.

She’s got the look ! September 24, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in KREC, reminisces-1990s.
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Ofcourse, you probably note the changes in the format and the look of this blog. Blogger has brought out an improved version of its blogger tool ( the one this blog is hosted on). Apart from being fast and other flexible layout facilities, we can have labels/tags attached to the posts – ironically something that should ideally be the first thing a blogging tool must have. (Google is over-rated 🙂 ). To the left corner of this page, the labels attached to my posts are being added. It will take me a while to go back to each of the 99 posts and add labels to them.

Do you like the way the blog looks ?

That question reminds me of one of the quotations I read years ago – precisely in November 1996 :

You may not like the way I look. But I look the way I am like. Now would you like to know me, or like me to know that you only like me for my looks ? – Brock Tully

There were several such from him that I found in my school library at Little Rock. Brock Tully had this knack of playing with words and often putting quite a lot of meaning in them. His little quotes would probably have a significantly small no. of words to no. of unique words ratio !

Those were days when I maintained a diary where I noted down quotations from sources I came across, often I went after these sources only to look for quotations in them. In over 6 years starting Jan 1996, I wrote these quotations in 2 diary books, taking care to write only what I understood, ones I agreed with and those that appealed to me in some way.

One of the major sources was the “points to ponder” section of the Readers’ Digest. I am reminded of days when I frequented Haseena Traders – the “gujri shop” in the Udupi City busstand where old copies of the Readers’ Digest were available for Rs. 2. With a fixed budget I would ensure that I buy only copies that had a “points to ponder” section – which was generally one-third of those. Nehru memorial library, a local library was another source of RDs – especially ones from the 1970s and early 80s.

At college in Suratkal, one of my batchmates – Basavraj – who was also pretty much into this quotations ‘business’ borrowed my diaries and made electronic copies of them – i.e. literally typed out every single of the 1300 odd quotations. Thanks to Basavaraj, you may download them here.

Kitchen konfession ! August 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in life, reminisces-1990s.
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Natasha writes about her experiences in the kitchen..or perhaps the lack of it. I have a completely different story to relate. I put it here because its rather unusual and I know very few boys who can relate to this.

For those who dont know me, we are 4 at home – my brother (+3 yrs), dad and mom and myself.

I have a confession to make.

I have been cooking rice, dal, 2 different types of rasam, 2 different of sambhar, several different flavored curries, Puri and Chapatis, Bhaji, Dosas, bhel puri in addition to the usual salad, omlettes, tea, coffee, fruit juices etc. all (except dosas) from scratch without ever reading out from a written recipe ! I have helped mom roll papads, swept the house and mopped the floor when my parents have been away/maid servant wasnt aroud or just because I felt like. I have helped my father in gardening – digging pits of different dimensions, planting and caring for plants, climbing shorter coconut trees, peeling coconuts with the axe (at a peak rate of over 1 per min and 300 per month in 1994), painting window bars, varnishing furniture and even tried my hand at using the sewing machine and helped my father in painting the house using the Vacuum cleaner!

 

And I started doing some of these at a “ripe old age” of 9 years ( Class III ) and by age 12 yrs, I could do all of the above. And whatever I could do, my brother could do, would do, at times only better ! Ditto for my dad (he makes better chapatis than anyone else at home ). Everything was completely voluntary and untrained, no child labor this (!!) and learnt just by observation and experimentation. There was but one slightly more than minor accident when I spilt hot water on my body in 1990 when my parents were away at Bhatkal – the gas stove was too high for me.

 

First cooked a lunch and dinner for my friends – Ashith and Prakash in Oct, 1996 – Class X at age 15; next day was Rajaram – and since then several times for different sets of people. Have since visited friends and cooked lunches for them at their house, on a couple of occasions for their entire family; helped my friend’s mom with a recipe. I guess I am comfortable in any Indian kitchen – to find my way around, know what is what, what might be kept where (Da kitchen code if you might call it ) and cook a good lunch. Some of my best memories of childhood are of buying and bargaining for vegetables (mostly in Manipal and in Guwahati, Assam (pre 1993)). Even today, I love shopping for vegetables. The only thing in this class of ‘domestic work’ I loathed (and still do) was washing clothes.

 

I am a boy ofcourse who grew up in a town. I don’t ever remember my parents discouraging me from doing any of this. The only thing I remember being prevented from doing was helping the mason mix cement ( I still managed to do it at times ! ). One of the reasons for this level of interest is that we didn’t like traveling to different places, relatives, functions etc. and so it would be my brother and me managing the house for 2-7 days at a stretch all on our own as my parents attended functions elsewhere. So, it was partly a necessity !

 

In spite of all this I still was doing everything else that my peers did – playing outdoors (mostly badminton, occasionally cricket and football), not doing bad at school, not being a social outcaste or ridiculed by friends and did some voracious reading of newspapers and other non-fiction material. In fact I haven’t learnt any new such skill in the last 12 years baring some new and not dramatically different recipes. Too bad !

 

Over the years I realized the ‘advantage’ I had over my peers – advantage towards what end was something I was not sure of, other than perhaps of embarassing my girl-friends and girl-cousins. Or maybe I just felt good about all these sets of skills in my repertoire that would enable me right from my early teens to lead an independent existence. (although I would not rationalize it as a drive for independence – its more of a consequence than a motivation I think ). But then I would think much of this is pretty normal among Americans and Europeans (except American and much of European food is not that complicated.) It is just that in a largely feudal India, division of labor in this sphere of life is rather fine and walls are high. Boys would not do something because they are not expected to and other boys don’t – how lame ! Girls, because they are expected to, will either do something or simply rebel so that they can be rebellious like all their other friends. (does that still make them a rebel ?)

As you realize, it wasn’t about stereotyping or counter-stereotyping/anti-stereotyping ; it was just being able to do so many things and getting a certain high doing them, even if on several occasions because most others you knew couldn’t.

Class acts – XI and XII in Little Rock June 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.
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This post is inspired by the previous post. Infact it was in a single post until I decided to break it into two. So maybe you should read this short post before you go ahead.

So here goes :

Our computer science class in XI and XII (1997-99) were probably the best times we had in Little Rock. We were all of just 11 students in the class and had a whole class with a capacity for about 30 all to ourselves. But somehow we seemed to have naturally split up into about 5 groups that lived a rather communal existence. This post is about that existence.

Group 1 : Joyas and Supreeth

They usually sat together. Their topic of discussion was probably computer science, but not quite what the teacher talked about. They were ahead of their time – Joyas perhaps would be discussing something rather advanced like pointer to a pointer to a pointer or something even more low level stuff. ( and top-scored computer science in Class XII boards with 99 ). Supreeth is a bag of tricks – he had ( and still has ) the eye for the obscure – something he found somewhere about a trick to get around a common problem – I presume, theirs was a symbiotic existence.

Group 2 : Nitin and Arjun.

This group sat in a corner and had their own syllabus to cover. Nitin stayed in the hostel and didnt have access to Cable TV and Arjun stayed in Manipal and did. So you know what I mean. Every day Arjun seemed to tell him stories from some movies ( possibly rated ) and sitcoms from Star Plus – which was predominantly English then. Their conversations were occasionally puntuated with laughter (Arjun’s laughter is hard to forget.) – so I presume they may have discussed some comedies too. What Nitin had to share with Arjun is quite a mystery to me – possibly some quirks in the English language and some lessons in poetry/prose interpretation – which if true was probably a mystery to Arjun as well. No wonder, Arjun was talking most of time. 😉

 

Group 3: Joyson, Rohan and Sreejith

This group sat in the first row and had their head towards the teacher. So we presume they occasionally listened in the class. But Rohan and Joyson were project mates and they did a good job with Tic-tac-toe and other stuff. I remember them having a notebook open and scribbling something into it occasionally. The teacher at times seems annoyed by them and Srijeeth, the kid he was, would say something (remotely) funny or ask an elementary question. When it would not further infuriate the teacher, this was effective cooling her down.

Group 4 : Rajaram,Ashith and myself

We (thought we) were future technocrats, diplomats, sports columnists or perhaps even statesmen ! That time in history ( yeah, I am making it sound important ! ) coincided with some significant (non-computer science related ) developments and some of these developments formed our syllabus, our topics of conversation and study –

– India had 2 general elections in that period that threw out Vajpayee and brought him in again
– India and Pakistan becoming nuclear powers – May 1998
– France 1998 – World Cup football
– India played Pakistan in the Sahara Cup in Toronto and Rajaram was the only one who had cable TV access in our group
– Clinton had a particularly good time in office that culminated with his impeachment in Dec 1998.
– The Balkans were heating up and eventually NATO had to bomb Serbia to ground

Everyday for atleast an hour, Ashith, Rajaram and me would discuss these things as if our deliberations would make any difference on the ground.

To beat it all, we regularly had our own football and/or cricket matches in the afternoons – teams for which would be formed in the computer science class. We once even made our Sona Fernandes pick the chits with names written on it to form 2 cricket teams for that afternoon and then decide the toss about who would bat first by dropping a pen and deciding which side of a line ( drawn on the desk with her chalk ) it would fall ! On knowing that our team ( Ashith and me ) were in the same team and that we would field first, we then took another paper and plotted the fielding positions. So you see, atleast some of these discussions did make a difference on the ground !

Group 5 : Sowmya Kamath

It would be wrong to call this a ‘group’ – this ‘group’ consisted of 1 student – Sowmya Kamath. She invariably sat on the first bench and was the only one who ever listened to the teacher on a regular basis. I would like to think it was more out of courtesy than a need to learn the content. The irony is that although she was the only one in the class whose behavior was more akin to that of a student, she was clearly the one ( and probably the only one ) who felt out of place ( for doing the right thing ! ).

Lets look at where all these people as today, about 7 years since Little Rock.

5 of these became computer engineers/scientists

– Joyas in Force10 networks, Madras.

– Supreeth with TCS, Bangalore, Jersey city, now in Chicago

– Sreejith now with Infosys in New Jersey.

– Sowmya married, now in Mysore, had been working until recently. Now back in the job market again.

– myself, now in grad school here at Carnegie Mellon

 

4 of these Mechanical Engineers ( by training atleast.)

– Ashith, now in grad school doing Engineering Management, SUNY at Buffalo

– Rajaram, post L&T, joining NMIMS Bombay for his MBA shortly

– Arjun with Lehman Brothers, Bombay ( switched to software )

– Rohan Barnes, now MBA from SDM Mysore

 

1 of them a biomedical engineer

– Joyson – B.E and M.Tech in Biomed – working in Bangalore

and Nitin Kamath completely changed line and after his BBM is joining the Hospitality industry after his 1 year program in Bangalore

Sona teacher who taught us Computer Science in Class XII was amazingly tolerant and friendly, more like one of us. ( I hope this article wont cost her the job !! ).

On Feb 16, 2003, about 4 years after we left Little Rock, Sona teacher was at KREC. I took her around our campus, we had Masala Dosa for lunch at the SNP canteen and then walked to the KREC beach. It was a hot afternoon – sat down under the tent on the beach for about 5 hours in the hot afternoon and talked about life, my plans for future, her current students and Little Rock is general. Among the many other things she said something like this – “Your batch is special – it was my first ever batch in Little Rock and first ever set of students I ever taught. I really liked your class but I have to admit one thing – I think I had only one student in that class – Sowmya Kamath. If she was not there to listen to me, maybe I would have given up teaching!”

If you had been a teacher to us, you probably wouldnt have been a friend !

Coming back (to) Hingis June 4, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in littlerockers, reminisces-1990s, sport.
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Here is an article on the latest comeback queen – Martina Hingis. Its about how the author once couldn’t stand her in the late 90s and how its all changed now – that he likes her for the same reasons that he once hated her for.

Well, my opinion on Hingis hasnt changed at all. She started winning in 1997 and was at her best when we were in Class XI and XII ( okay..okay..that is a coincidence 😉 ). Her tennis ( and her charming looks ) remained a topic of discussion in our computer science class – Ashith, Rajaram and myself. She was in her mid-teens then, just as we were. So she was really like one of us – well, yeah yeah…I know she may not acknowledge that, but so what !

Rajaram had this grand crush on her. Now, (I thought) I didnt know how to have a crush on remote, inaccessible celebrities, so I thought I was just too fond of her – calling it a crush would amount to a certain commitment ;). Another way of saying the same thing ?


Bad old days ! May 19, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in numbers-in-my-life, reminisces-1990s, statistics, technology.
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Some dates and numbers here 🙂

First phonecall made – Feb 1990

First STD call – sometime in 1993

First use of pager – Never !

First telegram received – Jun 1995

First telegram sent – Never !

First use of cordless phone – Oct 1995

First computer to own – May 9, 1997 – Pentium-1, 133 Mhz, 8 MB RAM, 1 GB HDD, Monochrome

First internet site visited – TimesofIndia ( bad choice I know ) in Jan 1999 – with Rajaram and Supreeth

First email ID created – March 1999 – sharrahs@usa.net ( never used it ) – with Ashith Hegde

First fax sent – Nov 2003

First cellphone used – Sometime in 2002 at KREC

First use of wireless internet – Aug 2004 at CMU

Time and again I come back to wonder at the some things, same things – one of them being how life has changed in the past say 10 years thanks to our exposure to technology, more specifically communication technologies. I just posted 2 elaborate posts on thelittlerocker and that got me thinking – how a bunch of people spread across distances have weaved a network of their classmates from school.

Let me take a closer look.

Okay, today is May 18, 2006 – 10 years back – May 18, 1996 – we were at the summer camp at Little Rock – the starting of Class X. We were barely 15. I had made my first solo night journey to Bangalore. How many STD calls had I made then ? Email ? Net ? I am sure I had heard of the words – email and internet – although I hadnt a precise idea what they were. I know I knew these words because there was my senior at Little Rock Abhishek Arora who apparently had email at home – that was a big thing then. Also he had a Pentium machine while a couple other I knew had a 80286 ! Skip next paragraph – wont hurt.

( That reminds me of something else – and let me digress – when we had a computer exhibition in Little Rock in Aug 1995 – I was demonstrating games for the visitors and was in charge of a 8088 machine most of the time showing people how to play “Dave” – once in a while I got to demonstrate the “Prince of Persia” which would run only on a 80286. A step backward, the first machine I programmed ( in BASIC ) in 1992 at the Army School, it was a 8086 machine !! )

In 1998, I remember seeing several KMC doctors with pagers fixed to their belts when our school bus stopped to pick up students. Today, pagers are obsolete – I have never used one and its unlikely I will ever get to use either.

When we first saw the color monitors at Little Rock, it was a big thing – it was the only machine with a Pentium (66 Mhz) with a color monitor and a CD ROM drive – Sajji Sir would lock it with a password and we would hate him for that ! Are you reading Sir by any chance !!

Cellphones first came in 1997-98 and a single phone call would cost Rs. 16 and that too for both parties ! Internet parlor that opened in Manipal in 1998 – the Cyberlogin near Manipal Drug house – costed Rs. 90 per hour !! Infact, by those standards Manipal is still expensive – we had access at Rs. 15 per hour in Suratkal in 2002 – I hear Manipal its still Rs. 30 and above.

What about the times when the email storage was 2 MB, 5 MB !! I remember when I was in Sirsi in July 2000 ( just before Rajkumar was kidnapped !! ), my then 13 year old cousin asked me to open an account with sawaal.com because at that time we got 10 MB storage which was a big deal since Yahoo and Hotmail gave 2 MB at that time. ( Its a different thing that sawaal.com, a product of the dotcom boom went bust without a question !! )

When we started the alumni group, most of us had 2-10 MB and this was one of the reasons we banned attachments – should you return on Monday without checking mail over the weekend, so many mails would have bounced !!

Well, today I have 5 email accounts with a combined capacity of 10 GB and I have atleast 10% of that full. When was the last time you wrote a letter ? If we dont receive a reply to an email within a day we grumble – thats true irrespective of distance – my expectations from my friend in Bangalore is the same ( or above ) the expectations of his friends in other parts of Bangalore.
This connectivity is insane – sometimes counter-productive or unproductive !!

Thats all okay. Now answer this – what have I done to enjoy all this ? Did I work hard to be able to enjoy any of these comforts ? Thats the beauty of the market !!

I quote Donald J. Boudreaux from here.

“I love this market process. People such as me — people who lack even a whiff of creativity, people who are terribly risk-averse, people who lazily prefer to read novels and work at secure jobs and spend our evenings at home dining and drinking with family and friends — just sit back and wait for profit-hungry hard-working anxiety-ridden creative entrepreneurs, each in competition with others, to find new ways to improve our lives. And we don’t even have to accept what they devise. If we like it, we buy it. If not, we don’t buy it.”

I was somewhat inspired by the two books I am currently reading.

The Naked Economist

The undercover economist

Both highly recommended – okay, if you are not a math geek, must remind you – both of them dont contain a single graph, curve or an equation.