Monday, 25 October 2010


A month or so ago, I shifted to a new blog. You know, with all the new lifestyle and change and lifestyle-change and in general shifting places, we thought that why not move to something new. As I am a humble, modest person, I have chosen to call the blog "A Class Apart." If you didn't understand, it's a pun on my awesomeness and the fact that I'm in a class which is far far away from home (thus "apart" .... get it, get it?).

So update your RSS feeds and bookmarks, you don't want to miss this.

To change (clinks glass)!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

One Last Day

Early morning tomorrow, I would have left India. To undertake a journey which will keep me away from my country for the longest period till date. And although I am typing this, I realize that it has still not sunk in ... I am going away.

Yesterday night, when I was returning after a evening filled with beer-drinking and merry-making, sitting in Harman's car with all my friends; listening to Punjabi songs; driving the roads of Delhi in the night when it had just stopped raining. That's when I realized that I was going to miss all of it -- all of India. I was part of India and India was a part of me. Beer makes you philosophical, I guess.

So I flip the page of my life's book and begin a new chapter ... wish me luck!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hypocrisy of Welfare

I want to help the poor, but I won't. 
I will not give money to the charity-worker; he might be swindling me.
I will not give alms to the beggar; he looks fit and could work.
I will not buy from the poor person selling balloons; I don't need balloons.
I want to help the poor, but I won't. 

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Return of the Passport Ordeal -- Success

To recap, I had a short term validity passport which was expiring in December 2010. I had to get it renewed, before I left for the US. 

Yesterday, after 3 months of tension, running around government offices, standing in queues, bribing people (also known as: helping others help me; chai-paani; fees; mithai ke paise), I finally got the passport in my hands. It's now valid till 2015.

In most cases any government process (sarkaari kaam) is slow. It has always been slow. And it always will be slow. People, including me, never want to realize that. We are still living in a dream that India has gotten technologically advanced, and all that advancement has trickled into the place known as the government office. Making it a fast, streamlined, well-oiled organization. Not so.

The government office is a part of the Indian Experience, but something which can very easily get you frustrated.

The frustration is especially evident in the queues. These long, slow moving lines are filled with tension, anger, and a ton of ideas on improving productivity. Of course, the ideas only apply to people on the other side of the counter -- the government officials. Few of the ideas which I have noted:
  1. Everything should computerized! -- People say this even if a major portion of the task is in fact computerized. 
  2. There should be more counters! -- Evidently, so that there can be more queues and more ideas.
  3. Wow this guy is so slow, he should learn typing -- Something which I always think when I'm in a queue.
The other frustrating aspect of the queue, other than the endless wait, are the queue jumpers. These people will innocently meander near the front of the queue, their honest intention being only to ask a question or talk to a non-existing friend. Very soon, they are ahead of you. You ask them, to go back. And they say, that they have always been there in front; also, you are a liar and are creating a ruckus.

In my experience, women jump queues more often than men. Maybe these women feel that there is no explicit women's line, and are just correcting that mistake. But I guess the reason, men don't jump queues that often is because they will get beaten up. Women, not so.

But after dealing with all the queues, the people, the wait, the heat and humidity, the dripping AC, the rude security guard, when you finally get what you want, it's some feeling. Till 2015. Bye bye passport office.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Routine Post

Days have been passing by with nothing much happening. I have settled down to a new routine. In which most of the day is spent between browsing the internet and reading from a number of books which I have purchased. My current taste of literature is mostly modern history non-fiction and anti-war or dystopian fiction.

After lunch, I usually sleep for an hour or two. I wake up in excitement to check the status of my visa. It's always excitement, followed by disappointment and then frustration. My visa is always "pending process" where others' are "issued." I hate this wait. Yeah, "Don't worry, it will come through."

Late in the evenings I try to go for a run. Mostly this ends up being short 5Ks, with average times. It's been a long time since I did a run longer than 10KM. There has been a slight but bothersome pain in my left knee which has been there for 2-3 weeks. It gives me another excuse for my poor mileage. I should probably get it checked out.

Not being at work is not as bad as it seems. In fact it's quite pleasurable. But the only thing frustrating me right now is not knowing where things are headed.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

US/Israel war against Iran imminent?

Iran is a country which has had cultural ties with India for a long time. It's also the 3rd largest oil reserve in the world.

Of late there have been a number of articles being written on the possibility of a US/Israel war against Iran. The bone of contention is Iran's nuclear program, which Iran concedes is for energy purposes. US, Israel and other countries think not. They feel that Iran is in the process of building a nuclear bomb. 

Other than to maintain the dominant position in the middle east and some strategic reasons, the articles give reasons to justify a preemptive strike on Iran. These are:
  1. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then that will be a blow to the nuclear nonproliferation effort.
  2. The U.N and International Law will be undermined, because Iran has signed the NPT. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, that would be a violation of the treaty.
Both of the reasons are valid only if Iran does have or acquires nuclear weapons. There is no proof that Iran has any. Iran has claimed that all its uranium enrichment needs are for civil purposes.

When Turkey and Brazil brokered a deal with Iran which met the requirements of the UN security council to prevent sanctions, it was greeted with skepticism. The weeks following that saw sanctions from the US, UN and the European Union.

While all this was going on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, talks of which have been going on for decades (since 1990), was caught in the crossfire. Pakistan signed the deal with Iran in June. The US first said that it was OK with  Pakistan's deal on the pipeline and then changed its statement, saying "new sanctions on Iran can impact Pakistan." India is currently not talking about the pipeline.

But coming back to the arguments presented in the articles. Regarding non proliferation. Who has the majority of the nuclear weapons in the world and in the middle east region? Which countries are not part of the NPT but possess nuclear weapons? Where is the effort to disarm these states?

As far as violating International Law and undermining UN is concerned, a preemptive strike itself is against International Law (under Article 2 of the UN charter) and would undermine UN (which ostensibly doesn't want war).

The articles fail to assess the impact such a war will have on the people of Iran and the soldiers who will fight. Another war will only lead to more innocent losing their lives. More suffering. More tragedies.

We can just hope that it doesn't happen.
"War is Peace" - 1984, George Orwell

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Change of Perspective

Ever since I can remember the Indian common people have had a great admiration for USA.

I remember when American President Bill Clinton and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates first arrived in India. Both of them were greeted with great fervour. Bill Clinton was mobbed wherever he went (all out of admiration). They had never done any wrong and they could do no wrong. Mostly that was the attitude.

When I used to think of America, the picture would be that of a rich, developed nation. Which had some problems in the past, but most of them were solved. 

Who hasn't the heard the line "This is India not America", when you complained about the roads, the traffic; when you had to wait 3 months for your passport to get issued; when there was a power-cut or water shortage, etc? Or the fact that in a lot of our advertisements, the word of the American expert is taken to be the truth. Or when we see American expert teams come to India, to coach Indians about Indian problems. Or when students go to America to gain a better education. American superiority is taken for granted in all fields.

But at the same time, some men (I have never heard women say this) feel that there are some problems being in America. You lose some freedom, they say. The loss being that one can't urinate, spit and dump garbage in the open. A great loss indeed.

But what is the USA? Is it a piece of land in Northern America? Is it the people living there? Is it the government of that land mass? Or is it a combination of all of the above?

And why is America admired? Does it truly have no problems?

Over the past months I have read multiple books and documentaries on America, its history. The books, the movies have all been made by dissenting voices. They don't paint a rosy picture.

Here are a few points which I gleaned from them:

  1. America has the largest military budget in the world. It has got military bases all over the world. It has been involved in numerous wars. A number of which have been fought for reasons which were later proven to be untrue. It has also been pointed out that on repeated occasions the American governments have preferred military intervention over diplomatic settlement. 
  2. In spite of being the richest country in the world, USA still has 13.2 percent (39.8 million people) of its population living in poverty. The top 1% of the population own 33% of America's wealth. In fact some believe that both the Democratic and Republican parties largely represent US corporate power (top 1%) than people's interests.
  3. The US health care industry is largely privatized and quite expensive. Unlike other developed countries (Canda, UK, France) it doesn't have universal health care. India, by the way, does have universal health care. Even the private medical expenses are far cheaper here than the USA.
  4. The US food industry is in control of a few corporations. Most of the food industry is corn based. A number of food products are genetically engineered and patented. This includes seed and livestock. There have been cases when regular farmers have been prosecuted for patent infringement. The corporation, Monsanto, which was behind the farmers' prosecution in the US also has a branch in India. If you remember the BT-Brinjal case -- that was Monsanto.
  5. USA is a large consumer of plastics. Petroleum based plastics are not bio-degradable, which means that unless they are recycled they either end up in a landfill or end up polluting the land and the seas. The rate of recycling plastics in the US is 28%, whereas that in India is estimated to be 60%
My latest fascination with America has got less to do with the fact that I might end up going there in a month's time, but more with the increasing pervasiveness of American corporations and the influence of the US government on India.

Picture a person working in Bangalore, wearing a Levi's jeans, sipping on diet Coke, eating at McDonald's, working for a US based corporation. That's what we all want to become when we graduate from college. It's approved by everyone and is equated with success and well-being. 

Well actually the pervasiveness and the influence of American corporations and governments on India has been there for quite some time now. It's just that my eyes have opened up and the perspective has been changed.

From admirer, I have become an observer, maybe even a critic.


If you are interested in the literature which will help you understand this, here are some references. The list includes books and movies.
  1. Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky.
  2. Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky.
  3. Hopes and Prospects, Noam Chomsky.
  4. A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn.
  5. The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky
  6. Food Inc, Robert Kenner
  7. Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore
  8. Addicted to Plastic, Ian Connacher
  9. Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore
  10. Sicko, Michael Moore
  11. Capitalism: A love story, Michael Moore
  12. Taxi Ride to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney
  13. The Corporation, Mark Achbar

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Visa Interview

I had my Visa Interview in the Chennai Consulate today. The interview was scheduled at 8:30 AM, but by the time my turn came it was already 10:30 AM.

The interview consisted of the standard questions ("Why are you going  for MS?", "Who is paying for you?", "What have you been doing since your under graduation?", "What was your aggregate percentage?") and I
gave satisfactory answers. There weren't any awkward questions or moments. And just when I thought I was through, I was told that my visa is going to be held up for administrative processing.

For the administrative pre-processing -- done in counter F -- they took my passport and other documents. When I told the person behind counter F, that my classes start in  September, she said that I had enough time. Though she also said that the processing will take 4-8 weeks (the 221 G slip says 12 weeks).

Let's see what happens.

Meanwhile mom and dad think that I'm down in the dumps -- I'm not. At the same time my friends and fellow UCLA batch-mates (?) are consoling me saying "everything will be all right", "all 221 Gs go through", etc. I appreciate, and am grateful for, the concern and care.

As I see it, either things will come through but the timing will be extremely tight. Or they won't. Either way I'm fine.

The big problem which I'm facing right now is in deciding. Deciding which marathon to register for. My plan was to register for the LA Marathon if the interview went through and if not the Mumbai Marathon. The interview result is stuck in between and so am I.

Hell ... I will go register for Mumbai.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Inception: Thoughts and Questions

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen "Inception" and want to, stop reading now. 

I saw Inception yesterday. It was a decent movie, but I didn't find it as amazing as people are claiming it to be.

Of course, it's a crime if you don't like a movie which is extremely popular and which everyone else around you likes. The movie's faithful army will try to defend it ferociously. Questioning your intelligence or giving arguments why you must be wrong. I have experienced this, when I said I didn't like "The Dark Knight" and "3 Idiots."

But I'm not saying I don't like "Inception." In fact I'm saying it's all right. Though that apparently is not sufficient -- I should love the movie!

That aside (and this is where the spoiler warning kicks in), I do have some questions from the movie:

  1. Why should a dream end because you die in the dream? What stops you from being a part of the dream, but not be alive? I mean, after all, it's a dream.
  2. Why does Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) trust Ariadne (Ellen Page) with so many of his secrets so quickly?
  3. When Cobb's wife, Mal, kills Fischer Jr, why does he (Fischer Jr) end up in the next level of the dream and not go into "limbo"? Same for Saito.
  4. During the final sequence, what's the kick for the 1st level of the dream? How do they wake up at end of the flight journey to LA? As the ending is a bit fuzzy and you are forced to question if everyone even does wake up, this might be hard to answer. 
Update: Certain theories which answer the questions above and a few more can be found here

    Friday, 16 July 2010

    The 3 month priniciple

    I wrote this in August 2008. Left it unpublished. Don't know why?

    I come back after many a day with few words of wisdom. Long time ago in our very own Bangalore, I had gotten bored and frustrated of the daily routine. Looking for a change and a hobby I decided to take up the guitar. Being a cheapskate and a cynic, I decided not to invest in one but borrow an orphaned guitar form a friend. Also, I decided not to join a class but learn from the wise internet.

    After two days of dissonant sounds, finger-pain, rewinding and playing of instructional videos, I called it quits. Guitar playing was not for me. The guitar was orphaned again and it lay in a corner, accumulating dust and providing shelter to plenty of cockroach families.

    Later that year, I went to the United States on official work. A colleague of mine invited me and few other colleagues of mine for an evening of video games. It was there that I first played guitar hero. And was it fun!

    When I returned back to India, I found out that guitar hero was not available in India (well, I don't own a television or a X-Box 360 but those are trivial details). Sadly I slumped back into my cubicle and office work. In one of the following days, I was narrating the tale about my encounter with guitar hero to Naveen and my consequent disappointment, when he introduced to the wonderful frets on fire. The open-source guitar hero clone which works for the P.C. I was hooked.

    I spent the next two months mastering the game and I could play it at the highest level and ace all the notes. Riding on this high, I thought how difficult could playing the real guitar be. So, I uncovered the layers of dust and cobwebs and took out the guitar. I saw the same instructional videos again, and to my surprise I still sucked as badly as I had.

    But then this time around I was determined. I used to practice daily for an hour or so and after couple of weeks the pain reduced a bit (not completely, mind you). I had plenty of encouragement from my guitar advisers (comprising of my brother, Rakesh, Rajesh and of course Justin Sandercoe) and I plodded on relentlessly.

    Now, though still a beginner, I'm not that bad. I can play songs, figure out strumming patterns on my own. Which now brings me to the point of the post.

    Around two months ago I joined a guitar class. Being Bangalore it was heavy on the pockets and completely full of software engineers and yes all guys. The class, according to the instructor, was the most populous one till date. We had the classes once a week on Sunday afternoons. The classes went on and one by one the people started dropping. In the final two classes there were only three students left. At the beginning of the class there were twelve. I'm sure that they, like me, got awed by the task ahead and gave up. None of them were ready to be committed to the art for three months (approximate time when you stop sucking at guitar).

    I think most people only commit a few days to a particular skill/endeavour. They don't get instant gratification and give it up (what was your last longest gym/morning walk/jog stint/musical instrument?). We have studied in engineering colleges where you study the last few days (hours?) before the exam and still manage to pull through. I think we are applying the same attitude to other things as well. And the truth is it just doesn't work.

    Every skill/endeavour takes time (If you think about it, see how long it took you to learn English, learn to drive etc.) and the toughest part is the beginning: the time when you are not that good and it is so easy to give up. But once your past this stage, you will find that you start to actually enjoy the activity. And the key to this is nothing but plain simple discipline for the first three months.

    On Leaving Bangalore

    Sometimes the really tough decisions are the ones which are easy to make. Usually the right choice is the tough one and you pick that.

    Last Friday (9th July), after four years, I left Bangalore. I had a comfortable job, great friends, enough of interesting activities to do. When people ask me, how do I feel leaving Bangalore? I don't really know what to say. Frankly, I don't feel much. It just hasn't sunk in yet, I guess. There is much that I have learnt from the city, the people, and the experiences. But I left not too sad.

    It's been a great four years. And this blog is a testimony to that.

    Thursday, 15 July 2010

    Wanna heat train? Come to Delhi.

    Runners planning on taking part in KTM '10 or SCMM '11, come to Delhi. The weather here is superbly awful.

    All my last 3 runs here were not too satisfactory. And I would like to believe that it was the weather.

    Monday - 5KM (Pace: 5:20/KM)
    Wednesday - 7KM (Pace: 5:18/KM)
    Thursday - 6KM (Pace: 5:14/KM)

    Granted that my mileage in the last 2 weeks prior to this one was ridiculously low (12KM and 5KM respectively ... for each week!), but I don't think I have lost conditioning.

    In every single run of this week, my target had been a 10K, which used to get negotiated, while running, to 8K and then it would finally settle to the nearest whole number. Near the 3K mark of each run, I would feel overheated. I also felt my shoes burning up.

    Another factor could be that I never drank water. This is just me being a spoilt Bangalorean. This is one thing which I can change.

    So the goals for the coming run (please don't laugh at me). Break 10K; carry water; drop the pace.

    Wednesday, 30 June 2010

    Typing: The Next Level

    1. Touch-Typing or Hunt-and-Peck

    Though it has been often stressed that as programmers you should know how to touch-type, I hardly find that in practice. In my experience, the number of touch-typists around me has always been less. The majority use the hunt-and-peck method of typing -- which is slower than touch-typing. Something even slower than hunt-and-peck is using just two fingers to type (two-finger-typing). In my observation girls who like to grow their finger nails often are two-finger-typists.

    It's not that people don't want to type faster. They do. It's just that they don't want to put any effort into it. Or if they do start to learn, they soon give up. This is because when you first start to learn touch-typing, your speed and accuracy will be lower than hunt-and-peck. The short-term productivity gain of hunt-and-peck usually wins over the long term benefits of touch-typing.

    2. Me: A touch-typist.

    I learnt touch-typing around 7 years ago, while I was in college. A senior of mine -- James -- was a touch-typist and inspired by him I started learning. It took me around 3 months to be both reasonably fast and accurate. Since then I have always been touch-typing.

    Right now, I average around 85 WPM (Word Per Minute). Which is pretty good and I usually beat people on type racer.

    Which leads me to the question:

    "Being a fairly good touch-typist, is there anyway I can further improve my keyboard productivity?"

    Yes, I believe so. But before I talk about that, let me present some background.

    3. Mouse Hand Switches

    While interacting with any application I usually use:
    1. Only the keyboard.
    2. Only the mouse.
    3. Both keyboard and mouse. 
    I'm quite productive in cases 1 and 2, but when it comes to case 3 (using both keyboard and mouse) my right hand is forced to perform a lot of switches from keyboard to mouse and vice-versa.

    To given an example, say I'm reviewing a word document. The mouse is being used by the right hand to navigate through the document. The left hand rests on the keyboard. Now if I want to insert a comment:
    1. First, I will use the mouse to select the insert-command from the menu. 
    2. Then I will have to move my right hand back to the keyboard to start typing. 
    3. Finally, once I'm finished with the comment, I will move my right hand back to the mouse.
    If the comments are short in length and plenty in number, this leads to a wastage of time because of frequent right hand switches.

    4. Keyboard Shortcuts

    The traditional alternative to avoid mouse hand switches, is to learn keyboard shortcuts. This is so that you avoid using the mouse as much as possible.

    This still leads to problems:
    1. Not all commands have keyboard shortcuts; these commands can only be accessed through the mouse.
    2. It's hard to remember all the shortcuts of a particular application.
    3. Shortcuts change from application to application.
    4. Sometimes navigation is faster with a mouse.
    The solution ...

    5. One Handed Typing!

    While using the mouse, your other hand is usually free and I would expect it to be on the keyboard. Now if you are a conventional touch-typist, you can type on the keyboard with your free hand, but that is restricted only to one half of the keyboard.

    The reason is pretty simple. The touch typing method is so structured that the keys are divided between your two hands. When you become a proficient touch-typist, your right hand knows only the right side of the keyboard and the left hand knows only the left.

    So to avoid mouse hand switches, you need to be able to type all over the keyboard with your one free hand!

    6. One Hand Keyboard Layouts

    One handed keyboard layouts have been around for quite some time. They have been designed for physically handicapped people or people who have lost function of one hand temporarily.

    The prominent layouts are:
    1. Dvorak: There are layouts for both left and right hands. The key mappings are completely different from a standard QWERTY keyboard. All major operating systems support it and a QWERTY keyboard can be converted to Dvorak through software mapping. 
    2. Half-QWERTY: This layout is specifically for people who already know QWERTY based touch-typing. The keyboard uses standard QWERTY halves. Your hand rests on its natural QWERTY half. To type characters from the other half, you hold down the spacebar, which causes the characters from the other half to remap onto your hand's half, and type the characters.
    3. One-Hand-QWERTY: Your one hand types on the standard QWERTY layout. No hardware or software remapping is done.
    Off the lot, I find the One-Hand-QWERTY method the most promising because the keyboard doesn't need to be remapped. So when you switch from one hand back to two hands, the remapping happens in your brain and not on the keyboard.

    I want to learn the One-Hand-QWERTY method over the coming weeks. By doing so, I hope to cut down on the frequent right hand mouse-keyboard-mouse switches. It remains to be seen whether this experiment succeeds.

      Monday, 21 June 2010

      Mid-Year Resolution Review

      It's somewhere in the middle of the year and a good time to review the goals which I set out to achieve in January.
      1. Watch Avatar 3-D. Done. I first watched it in Fame, Shankarnag. The 3-D experience there was pathetic and thus was forced to watch it again in Fame, Lido. By the 3rd time the movie's charm had worn off.
      2. Take up drinking again. Done. Not really a tough thing to do. I got back to it soon after I finished the Mumbai Marathon. I celebrated the successful completion of the race with Shantanu, Ankita and Rajaram at the Mumbai airport, with a beer.
      3. Do a sub-20-min 5K. In Progress. At the outset itself I had realized that this is going to be a really tough goal. Till now I haven't even managed to do a sub-23-min 5K. One of the reasons being that for the past 2 months I haven't been focusing on this goal. A realistic goal at this stage might be to aim for a sub-22-min 5K by year-end instead.
      4. Lose weight. In Progress. I had put on a bit of extra weight after the Mumbai Marathon. Mainly due to the pre-race "carb-loading", where I went totally berserk with food, and the post-race celebrations. I'm happy to say that I have cut down on all the extra kilos gained. There is still some more fat which I can lose though. 
      5. Learn to swim properly. Not Done. I haven't put any planning or action into this. 
      6. Learn a new skill. Done (partial). OK there is no way anyone can claim to put a "Done" against a skill. There's always scope for more. I still mark it as done, as I pursued Latin Dance classes for 4 months which culminated in a performance in Kyra (a theater-restaurant in Bangalore). 
      7. Decrease unproductive time, while increasing productive time. In Progress. Again, this is something which I can't really mark as "Done" ever. But at the current stage I will mark this as "In Progress." Till now, I have read David Allen's "Getting Things Done."and am implementing its teachings with the help of my smart-phone and a really useful website called Todoist.

      Sunday, 13 June 2010

      The DF Dudes

      Yesterday my good friend Rakesh told me about the 'DF Dudes.' He was in BITS Pilani, to write an exam where he first discovered these guys, although I'm sure everyone knows people like these.

      The DF Dudes are categorized by their frequent usage of the words 'Dude' and 'F*ck'. Where the word 'Dude' is used to express disbelief. 'F*ck' is used to denote astonishment, as the prior object of disbelief turned out to be true. Each word is used in an elongated manner and should take at least 3 seconds to say. So 'Dude' is actually 'Doooooood' and 'F*ck' is 'Faaaaaack.'

      This shall become much clearer with examples:

      Example 1 --
      Guy 1: 'My flight is delayed by 2 hours.'
      DF Dude: 'Dooooood?!!'

      Guy 1: 'Seriously.'
      DF Dude: 'Faaaaaaack!'

      Example 2 --
      Guy 2: 'India won against Zimbabwe.'
      DF Dude: 'Doooooooood?!'

      Guy2: 'Seriously.'
      DF Dude: 'Faaaaaack!'

      So watch out for these DF dudes. Maybe you are one of them.

      P.S: Rakesh, sorry if you were planning to write a post on them.

      Saturday, 12 June 2010

      Two Statements

      I bring to your consideration two statements. The first from Ezra Klein in a Newsweek article, titled "How much Does a Gallon of Gas Cost?"

      One of the reasons we [referring to the U.S] drill wells far offshore and in countries with poor safety and environmental records is that we don't want oil companies mucking about in shallow waters near us.

      The second by U.S. state department spokesman P. J. Crowley in an article by the Hindu.
      Mr. Crowley today also noted that it was hard to draw a comparison between the Bhopal gas tragedy that left over 15,000 dead and the BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico now, saying the American companies were “very mindful and respectful” of the rules of the land when they operated overseas.

      Thursday, 10 June 2010

      Facebook Privacy Concerns

      Few days ago there was a lot of hullabaloo about Facebook's privacy settings. A number of newspapers and online media reported this. In my findings, there were 4 items which were targeted, namely:
      1. Articles questioned the way Facebook originated, highlighting the charges presented in a lawsuit which said that Mark Zuckerberg had stolen Facebook's idea from three of his seniors. 
      2. Later there were reports of some IM conversations between Zuckerberg and a college friend, which apparently highlighted Facebook's "cavalier attitude toward user privacy."
      3. There were also concerns regarding the complexity of Facebook's privacy settings. NYTimes calling it a "A bewildering tangle of options." One of the points presented in the NYTimes infographic being the length of Facebook's privacy policy, which is longer than the constitution of America, without amendments (a number of articles and tweets left out the "without amendments" part). 
      4. Then there were those who claimed that deleting a Facebook account is a "complex process" and as  Facebook didn't "provide an interface to delete your account" they had "crossed the border of unethical behavior."
      The privacy concerns debate also started online activist movements, couple of which I personally noted:
      1. Quit Facebook Day. A movement aimed at making Facebook users delete their accounts by May 31st 2010.
      2. Diaspora. Which calls itself an "open source social network" which is "privacy aware." It's being developed by 4 college students. NYTimes did an article on them in which the time needed to write the code for the social network system is given as "three or four months."
      To all these Facebook responded through:
      1. Elliot Schrage, vice president for public policy at Facebook, who answered privacy related questions on NYTimes.
      2. At a later stage, towards the end of May, Facebook updated their privacy settings UI aimed to "simplify the controls."
      Although the debate has more or less died down, I felt it worthwhile to investigate the news articles and the online activist movements. I have listed below my opinions regarding each.

      1. Questions regarding the origins of Facebook. There is no denying the fact that there was a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg. The judge presiding over the case said that the allegations were "tissue thin" and both the parties eventually agreed to settle. Most of the article seems to be based on speculation and story-telling. 
      2. Zuckerberg's IM conversations. The article says that in the IM conversation Zuckerberg was joking and also the conversation was presented out of context: "Could Mark have been completely joking? Sure." As far as I'm concerned drawing conclusions from anything presented out of context is wrong. I don't see how something like this could show "Facebook's aggressive attitude towards privacy." 
      3. Complexity of Privacy Settings and Length of Privacy Policy. I agree that the earlier privacy settings UI was quite deep and a novice user must have found it difficult. But for an advanced user, it did provide a greater amount of granularity. The privacy policy is lengthy, but it was compared against the American Constitution (without amendments). Most people, and many other articles which I read, tended to ignore the "without amendments" part and started believing that the privacy policy is lengthier than the American Constitution -- which is false. 
      4. Difficulty in deleting a Facebook account. I didn't find the procedure to delete a Facebook account difficult. Searching for "delete account" in the Facebook help center pulls up the link which guides you how to delete your account permanently. I don't think the process is complex and Facebook does provide an interface to delete your account. Facebook's decision to first deactivate your account before deleting it makes sense for three reasons. First, Facebook wants to retain you as a user. Second, if you mistakenly delete your account you have a means to revert your action. Third, if someone else hacks into your account and deletes it, you can recover.
      5. Quit Facebook Day. I would call this movement a failure. According to this PCWorld article only 26000 people committed to delete their accounts. Note that they only "committed" to delete their account. It doesn't mean that they actually did. 26000 is not a large number if you think about the total number of users in Facebook. The number of people committed to quit is only 0.005 percent.
      6. Diaspora. I find no point in speculating over how great a new online social networking site is going to be without it even having a sign-up page. 
      7. Facebook's UI Change. The recent UI change, I feel, does give novice users an easier interface to control their privacy settings while allowing advanced ones to achieve more granular control. That seems to have quietened the skeptics, at least for now. 
      I don't believe that Facebook is a company which doesn't do any evil. Just like Microsoft, Apple or Google, I'm sure that Facebook has skeletons in its closet. The point which I'm trying to make is that the media has been trying to concoct stories by wrongly interpreting facts or by paying no attention to facts.

          Wednesday, 9 June 2010

          The Return of the Passport Ordeal -I

          I'm in Delhi again and this time around it's not a vacation or illness. The reason I'm here is to get my passport renewed. Renewed, mind you, not reissued ... read on.

          Five years ago, after a lot of struggle, I was issued a passport. That passport was issued under the Tatkaal scheme. A scheme which allows people to obtain fresh passports within a week's time by paying an extra amount. The only catch being that these passports might only be valid for 5 years and not the whole 10 years. Such passports are called short term validity passports and mine is one of them.

          The problem with short term validity passports is that you can't, in passport terminology, get them reissued but only renewed. Reissue means that you get a fresh passport, provided your previous passport is nearing expiration. Renewal, on the other hand, means an extension of the validity period, from under 10 years, to the whole 10 years. For example, in my case the 5 years' validity will be extended to 10 years.

          Knowing all this, with complete forms, I went to the passport office. I reached there early enough to be the 6th or 7th person in the queue for the miscellaneous services (renewal is a miscellaneous service, unlike reissue). When I came to the front, I was told that renewal is going to take time ... 25 days (his exact words were "इसमें टाइम लगेगा; पचीस दिन"). He also gave me a bunch of other forms to fill. Now 25 days in babudom-speak can be an eternity. Also it requires another round of police verification.

          Hoping that there will be another faster route to get it done, I didn't submit the forms. After a lot of investigation and talking to people, it turns out there isn't any faster way.

          Given that I need to go for a US visa interview for my further studies, the delay in this passport renewal formality could become a disaster. My future hangs precariously.

          Thursday, 27 May 2010

          Predicting Race Times Through Curve Fitting

          You will find many race time calculators on the web, which will ask you to enter your time for a specific distance and you will get back the predicted race times for various distances. More often than not, the race times predicted are either too high or too low than what you observe in real life.

          Take me, for example. My best 10KM time is 48:48. If I enter this into the race predictor, the predicted race times which I get are:

          5 KM - 23:26
          Half Marathon - 01:47:35
          Full Marathon - 03:46:58

          Whereas my best times for these distances are

          5 KM - 23:06 (predicted race time higher)
          Half Marathon - 01:51:23 (predicted race time lower)
          Full Marathon - 04:50:26 (predicted race time significantly lower)

          These race predictors take one race time and apply a formula to get all race times.

          Taking the same race times which I had:

          Distance Hours Minutes Seconds Equivalent Minutes
          5 0 23 6 23.1
          10 0 48 47 48.78
          21.1 1 51 23 111.38
          42.2 4 50 26 290.43

          Table 1: Race Distances and Times

           Now if I take that data and plot it, here's what I get:

          Figure 1: Distance Vs Time According To Race Times

          The blue curve which you see in the above chart, is a polynomial curve which has been fitted onto the data points (race times). The curve is in fact almost a perfect fit, the R-Squared value being 0.99.  

          The formula for the polynomial curve is:

           y = 0.0799x2 + 3.3858x + 5.2075

          Armed with this perfect formula, I thought I could predict race times for any distance. So I fired up IDLE and started putting in values:

          >>> def CalculateTime(distance):
              time = .0799 * (distance**2) + (3.3858*distance) + 5.2075
              hours = math.floor(time/60)
              mins = math.floor(time%60)
              sec = int((time - math.floor(time)) * 60)
              print str(hours) + " hours " + str(mins) + " minutes " + str(sec) + " seconds"

          >>> CalculateTime(10)
          0.0 hours 47.0 minutes 3 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(12)
          0.0 hours 57.0 minutes 20 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(21.1)
          1.0 hours 52.0 minutes 13 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(42.2)
          4.0 hours 50.0 minutes 22 seconds

          Everything looks as expected. So I thought, let's predict other times, say for a 50K...

           >>> CalculateTime(50)
          6.0 hours 14.0 minutes 14 seconds

          That seemed reasonable. So what about shorter distances?

          >>> CalculateTime(5)
          0.0 hours 24.0 minutes 8 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(3)
          0.0 hours 16.0 minutes 5 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(2)
          0.0 hours 12.0 minutes 17 seconds
          >>> CalculateTime(1)
          0.0 hours 8.0 minutes 40 seconds

          Woah! According to this model, I will be doing my 5K at a slower pace than my 10K and if I were running a 1K, I would be walking?!!

          Not satisfied, I tried fitting other curves -- exponential, power, linear. But none actually gave me reasonable predictions across distances.

          The polynomial curve was the only one which gave the relatively better predictions, but only for distances greater than 10KM.

          The only place where I can use the polynomial formula, would be to define a lower limit of performance in a race or, in other words, the least expected time.

          Which leads me to the conclusion that you can't reliably predict race times through mathematical formula. What a waste of time!

          Monday, 24 May 2010

          Sunfeast 10K 2010: Race Report

          The Sunfeast 10K 2010 went mostly according to plan. I finished the race in 48:48 which translates to an average pace of 4:51/KM.

          My goals were as follows:
          1. Finish -- Pass
          2. Get a personal best (beat 50:36) -- Pass
          3. Finish Sub-50 min -- Pass
          4. Finish Sub-48 min -- Fail
          I was there at the race venue (Kanteerava Stadium) at around 7:30 AM. The Open 10K was scheduled to start at 8:10 AM, shortly after the elite women's start. By that time I had managed to get myself very close to the holding area gate. This was essential because last time I was far back in the holding area and it took me quite a bit of time to get to the start line, due to which I was dodging the crowd for most of the run.

          When the gate opened there was a lot of pushing and shoving. Like last year, people did jump the fencing and come on to the track. When the race was officially started, there were a bunch of people who, with the pushing and shoving going on, fell on the track. Although, I don't think any of them got seriously hurt.

          The weather was cloudy before the start of the race. It seemed that we will be racing in ideal conditions. But as soon as the gates were opened and the race started, the sun came out and it remained hot for the entire duration of the race.

          I stuck to my target pace for the initial stage of the race and didn't take water for the first 5 KM. Things started getting a bit tough between the 5 and 6 K mark, where we had to deal with a slight gradual incline. When I started getting side-stitches, I decided to try what Paula Radcliffe does when the pain starts: count backwards from 100. 

          I kept the counting going till the last stretch. I was pretty drained out towards the end and couldn't manage a final sprint.

          Regardless, a good race.

          Thursday, 20 May 2010

          Obtaining Transcripts from Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) -- How-TO

          Update  September 18 2014: The original blog-post was written close to four years back. Things have changed since then. However, a lot of you have provided vital knowledge in the comments. Please look at the comments for the latest information.

          This post contains details regarding the procedure for obtaining OTs from CUSAT (the college from where I did my engineering). I had a tough time getting my OTs done. This is to help others so that they don't face the same difficulties which I did.

          Disclaimer: I have tried to be as accurate with the details, but there could be discrepancies as things change and memories fade. As with all things, rely on your personal judgment. If you mess things up after reading something listed below, don't blame me. I claim no responsibility. That said, if you do find something which could be corrected, let me know.

          For those who don't know transcripts or Original Transcripts or OTs are official documents which you will need for higher studies. OTs will contain all your degree marksheets in a sealed envelope, with each marksheet signed and sealed by the university. You will need to mail the OTs to the (foreign) university where you want to pursue higher studies. OTs are something which you absolutely need for pursuing an MS in U.S.A.

          So without further ado, here is the procedure.

          1. Getting Into Administrative Block

          The OTs are made by a collaboration of people, all of whom sit in the Administrative Block (from hereon referred to as ADM). The people concerned are the examination controller, the accounts department, registrar, and a host of other people.

          In order to gain audience with said people, you need to first enter the ADM. If you have never entered ADM, know that you first need to get something called a gate pass. The gate pass is issued to you by the security personnel present at the room to the right of the ADM gate.

          Note: You need to carry a valid proof of Identity to obtain the gate pass.

          Once you get the gate pass, you will sign in a register and be allowed to go inside.

          2. Meeting the Examination Controller

          Once inside your first course of action should be to meet the examination controller (EC). The examination controller's office is on the 1st floor of ADM, towards the right. You will need to carry an application, requesting for OTs. The application should contain the list of universities, where you are applying to, and their respective addresses. Some universities require you to send 2 sets of OTs. If so mention both addresses.

          You should show this application to the EC. Let the EC review the application. Once done, the EC will ask you to pay the required amount of cash.

          Note: If you are requesting the OTs on behalf of somebody else, you will need to carry an authorization letter and the application for OTs. 

          3. Paying Cash

          CUSAT only accepts cash for OTs (I'm not sure about DDs). No cheques. No online transfer. So carry the required amount and a little more. The cash required when I got my OTs done in November 2009 was

          1. Single OT - Rs 1200
          2. Two sets of OTs to the same address - Rs 1200 + Rs 600
          Note: If the two sets of OTs requested by the foreign university are to be sent to different addresses, then the cost is Rs 2400 and not Rs 1800. 

          The cash counter is on the ground floor. Give the application, which you showed to the EC, to the person at the cash counter. (S)He will go through it and calculate the amount which needs to be paid. Ensure that this is the same amount which you calculated. If it's less than what you calculated, be wary and check again.

          Once you pay the amount, you will be given a receipt. Safeguard this receipt. Scan it.

          4. Meeting the Examination Controller, once again.

          After getting the receipt, you should go to the examination controller (on the 1st floor if you remember). Show the EC the application and the receipt once again. Let the EC review it once again. If it's up to the EC's satisfaction, (s)he will stamp it and ask you to proceed towards J-Block.

          5. J-Block

          The J-Block is on the same floor and is a room which will remind you of the stereotypical government office. You will not see a single computer in sight and the whole room is full of files, files, and more files. You should find out the people who are responsible for your branch's transcripts and hand over the stamped application to them. They will take it from here and get your OTs ready. Be sure to get their phone number and an expected date when the OTs will be done.

          But wait, this is not all. There is more, much more, to do.

          6. Follow up

          Just because you wrote an application and paid money, doesn't mean that your OTs will get done automatically. No. You have to follow-up. Call the university at least weekly once to get the status of your OTs.

          7. Mailing the OTs

          Most Indian universities which I know of, hand over the OTs directly to you. And you are expected to post the OTs to the respective foreign universities. Not so in the case of CUSAT.

          CUSAT chooses to mail the OTs using regular Indian post! If you choose this method, there is no way to track the status of your OT package when it is in transit. There is a high chance of it getting lost as well. Instead I would suggest you courier it. CUSAT does provide an option to courier the OTs. But that too has its intricacies.

          You can only courier your OTs through DHL.

          So once the OTs are ready, you or your authorized representative has to go inside ADM and go to the people who have your OTs. Carry the cash receipt (section 3). Then you call the DHL courier chap and ask him to come to ADM.

          Once he has come in, you can ask the ADM folks to hand over the OTs to the courier. Each package will cost you around Rs 1000/-

          Only once you have handed over the OTs to the courier, is your job done.

          8. Other Tips
          1. Apply for the OTs as early as possible. Expect the university to take 2 months to process your OTs. 
          2. Be polite and courteous to the people in ADM. Shouting at them is not going to get your job done any faster.
          3. Get in touch with someone who has gotten their OTs done recently and get details from them.
          9. Conclusion

          Getting your OTs done from CUSAT is a character building experience. I hope this how-to helps you and makes your experience smoother. Although be prepared for surprises. The world would be a much duller place without them.

          Update: 18 Novermber 2010.
          A commenter (Rahul) has provided more information regarding this process. I have listed down the points presented by him.

          1. You need to write a letter to the examination controller, stating your intent to apply for OTs. Please write all relevant details (including your Name , Registration no, University name and address and your own address) in this letter.

          2. Get a xerox of your s7 and s8 mark list (applicable for B-Tech students).

          3. As soon as you enter the main building, on the left, there will be a cash section. Deposit the money (Rs 1200 per OT). Collect the challan.

          4. Climb up the stairs and come to 1st floor. On the right, you will find examination controller's cabin where a couple of people sit.

          5. Submit :
          a. s7 and s8 mark list.
          b. Application letter.
          c. chalan.

          Examination controller will verify the said documents, staple them and place a stamp on these documents. Remember to keep a copy of chalan for yourself (the cash counter should have given you two copies; so you don't have to worry).

          6. Insist the examination controller you want to personally hand over these docs to the J-section. Take the stamped documents and submit them to the staff in the J-section.

          7. Call the J-section once a week and follow up. Please email  rahulilr05 [at] Google's Mail Site [dot] com if you need the contact number of the J-section.

          Update: 10 October 2011.

          A commenter (Thomas) added this useful piece of information on getting transcripts directly in your hand.

          To get the sealed envelopes in your hand rather than sending them directly, you need to fill up the following form.

          Thomas: "I need to call the university to verify the exact procedure for this though."


          Sunfeast 10K 2010: Prologue

          Another edition of Sunfeast 10K is staring at us. This might very well be my last Sunfeast 10K for a long time to come.

          1. Race Details

          Like last year, the open 10K is scheduled to start at 8:10 AM. The route has been changed a bit.

          Figure 1: Sunfeast Open 10K 2010 Race Route

          Also, the race cut-off time is 2 hours --10:10 AM.

          This year the race organizers have made the timing chip compulsory and due to that the registration costs were more. This means that everyone will be in one big holding area. Last year the people with the timing chips were allowed first on the course. I hope we don't see last year's chaos and commotion, when people started jumping the fence.

          2. Controversy

          A controversy regarding the Indian elite runners participating in Sunfeast 10K and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) seems to be brewing. The AFI looks to be discouraging the Indian athletes from participating. An IAF official states:

          “All affiliated units, boards, clubs, athletes and officials taking part or associating themselves in any manner with the event will be liable to face disciplinary action, including suspension, as provided for in the AFI constitution.”

          Of course, the fact that the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) has recognized and given Sunfeast 10K the gold label doesn't seem to hold much value for the AFI people.

          To know more read this article from RunInfinity.

          3. Goals

          Unlike last year, I haven't been training specifically for the Sunfeast 10K. The training plan which I have been following (Jack Daniel's Blue Plan), is something which is not specifically for the 10K. Regardless, I do have goals. 

          1. Finish
          2. Get a personal best (beat 50:36)
          3. Finish Sub-50 min
          4. Finish Sub-48 min
          These goals, I'm ashamed to say, look exactly like my last year's. But at the same time I feel that I'm in better shape than last year to achieve them. In fact the IISc SNT run proves that.

          I'm planning to maintain a hard 4:50/KM pace from the very beginning. One thing which is certainly a deterrent to my goals is the huge crowd. I can only hope that I don't have to zig-zag too much.

          Let's RUN!

            Sunday, 11 April 2010

            IISc Science and Technology Run (SNT run) -- Race Report

            Today I ran the 2nd edition of the IISc Science and Technology run or the SNT run, as it's being called. The event had a 10K, 5K, a corporate relay and bunch of other events which I didn't pay attention to. This report is for the 10K.

            1. Course Profile

            Figure 1: SNT Run 10K Map

            The 10K run was a single loop within the IISc campus. The loop was mostly road, with a little bit of trail in the 1st half. It was not a flat course and had enough ups and downs. If you look at the map, you will see that the route crisscrosses itself at multiple places. In spite of that, I don't know of anyone who got lost.

            2. Race Report

            I decided to run this race on Friday (9/4/2010). It was a last minute thing. My goal for the race was to maintain a sub 5:00/KM pace and get a personal best (my 10K personal best is 50:36). Given that I have been running at paces faster than that, though for shorter distances, I thought the goal to be achievable. 

            The 10K was supposed to start at 7:30 AM, but then it was announced that it will start at 8 AM. Given the recent increase in heat and humidity in Bangalore, that was not good news. The runners started assembling near the start line at around about 7:40 AM. The race got flagged off 10 minutes from then, at 7:50 AM -- 10 minutes before the announced start time. 

            Given that I was at the head of the pack, I didn't have to jostle through the crowd too much. I consistently kept a pace between 4:30-5:00/KM. At the 3 KM, the heat started coming down and I had to utilize the water stops.

            When my Garmin showed 8.4 KM, I saw a huge crowd under a banner cheering the runners on. My first instinct was, "Ah! Crowd support. Nice!" But then a couple of people, whom I had passed a few minutes back, were sprinting by me. And I wondered "Could the banner possibly be the finish line?" So, I asked the next runner, a woman, who was sprinting past me, "Is that the finish line?" She didn't seem to be in a mood to answer and by that time I was already under the banner. Yes, it was the finish line!

            The 10K was only 8.7KM (42:19). Disappointing! I was on track for a personal best -- my average pace was 4:51 -- but it wasn't to be for no fault of my own. 

            3. Pros and Cons

            1. The registration process was pretty straightforward and they had the registrations open till the start of the race. 
            2. There was no registration fee.
            3. Even though there was no registration fee, all the runners got a t-shirt and a cap.
            4. Adequate water stops.
            1. This is a major one: the 10K run was 1.3 KM short! 
            2. The race didn't start on time. Yes, it was only a 20 minute delay. But as runners we demand punctuality from ourselves and others. 
            3. There were no distance markers anywhere in the course.
            4. Conclusion

            The race course was nice and challenging and if it weren't for the course being short, it would have been a really nice run.

            Wednesday, 31 March 2010

            Routine Post

            Because the last time when I tried to switch on my computer, there was something burning ... and I don't know what.
            • First things first. After getting rejected left, right and center last year, I finally managed to secure an admit for my MS in Computer Science. That too in UCLA. People tell me that it's a good school, but I'm more like "Hey it's in LA, so GREAT!" (Note: I am still awaiting more results).
            • On to running. My sub-20-minute-5KM goal still exists and I'm training as much as I can (maybe I can do more, but then I won't be able to do all the other things which I do). I may not be able to make it in a 6 month time-frame, but it still seems possible within the end of the year. 
            • For people who didn't know, I had joined Latin Dance Classes couple of months back and I'm still continuing. It's good fun and would to recommend to everyone.
            • I have registered for the Sunfeast 10k which is slated to happen on May 23rd. I don't have any solid goals. I hope to do a sub-50 minute, but then that goal kind of sucks because that's the same which I had last year (I failed last year).
            • I'm back to playing basketball. In fact I had been practicing all of last week for a corporate tournament which happened last weekend. We faced 3 teams (Bosch, Wipro and Repucom) and lost to each one of them, but I had a great time playing. It was almost 4 years since I had played a match. 
            • Cooking has taken a back seat. I don't find it too interesting to just cook for myself. Although, if there are other people, I like to cook. 

            Monday, 15 February 2010

            Auroville Marathon: Post Race

            The Auroville Half-Marathon would be my 2nd half-marathon which was executed flawlessly -- the first one being the Bangalore Midnight Marathon. I finished the race in 1:51:23. Which translates to an average pace of 5:20/KM. What more I even did a decent sprint in the last 400m. Everything went according to plan. My goals were as follows:
            1. Get a personal best (beat 1:55:02) -- Pass (shaved off approximately 4 minutes)
            2. Run a sub-2 hour race-- Pass
            3. Finish -- Pass
            I ran the race with quite a lot of focus (I believe that running without music has helped me in this). So much so that at the end, it didn't feel like I had been running for almost 2 hours. I stuck to my target-pace from the very start. Having the experience of many races, I managed to contain the feelings of going fast in the beginning. Many people who overtook me in the first half, were returned the favour by yours truly in the second half.

            The conditions were hot and humid. The humidity was there from the beginning and I had a wet shirt within the 2 KM mark. Because of this, I made it a point to have electrolytes and water at each and every aid station. The heat didn't come into picture till around 7:30 AM (the race started at 6 AM), which was around the 17 KM mark. Wearing a cap helped.

            As promised, in the last 400m, I sprinted. I had another runner in front of me, who, realizing that I was about to cross him, shifted into another gear. We were having a really competitive last minute sprint, when he managed to lose way in the last corner -- the finish line was after a left turn; the poor chappy ran straight -- and was left behind. I felt sorry for him, but I continued my dash and finished really strong.

            And when I say strong, I mean I had enough energy left after the run to play a game of basketball with few kids.

             Figure 1: The author playing basketball with few kids. Notice the dangling finisher's medal. Sports is about participation.

            Note 1: Well the kids beat my team in basketball, but let's not concentrate on who won and lost ... It's all about participation. Right?
            Note 2: I have been advised, by my PR consultant (who was also my basketball team-mate, and because of whom we lost), to show-off in a more subtle and agreeable manner. This is so that people appreciate my achievements rather than label me as a braggart. I find that boring.

            A good run!

            Friday, 12 February 2010

            Auroville Marathon: Race Preview, Controversy and Race Plan

            The Auroville marathon is upon us. This time again it's on Sunday, Valentine's Day. Being a single-lonely-heart, I will be running the half-marathon there rather than visit expensive restaurants with bouquets.

            On to the race related details, controversies and my race-plan (I always have one, even if I don't).

            1. Race Preview

             The Auroville Marathon has 4 events: the full marathon, the half marathon, the quarter marathon and a 5K. I'm only going to talk about the full and the half marathons -- not because I don't respect the quarter marathon distance (10.5 KM) or the 5K, but because I don't know much about those events.

            Figure 1: Auroville Map for Full and Half Marathons

            Most of the Auroville marathon (approximately 83% of it) is a nice and easy flat trail. The full marathon is two loops of the trail and the half is one loop. There are aid stations at 4 KM intervals -- which is correctly placed for distance runners who have trained properly. These stations, at least last time, had water, electrolytes and things to eat. The trail has enough shade and it's pretty even as compared to other trails which I have run on -- RFL's Bellandur track, Bangalore Ultra, etc. Some parts of the trail are pretty narrow which make them really enjoyable to run, but hard to overtake (and you know ... I'm always ... like overtaking people and shit). Parts of the trail have loose red dirt, so get ready to get dirty. Also it's very easy to get lost in the trail, so be careful and watch out for the markers.

            The full marathon starts at 5 AM and the half marathon folks start at 6 AM. The full marathon participants are provided with torches, but from what I have heard is that the torches won't be of too much help and you will be forced to run carefully -- which might not be too bad during the start of a full-marathon, where flying away early could be detrimental to your goals.

            2. Controversy

            The Auroville Marathon was announced publicly some time in November or December (I forget), with the deadline for registrations being set as January 20th. As it would happen, a number of runners didn't register till the deadline was past. Also, there were a number of runners who were dropping out of the race. So two things happened:
            1. The late-to-register runners approached the organizers, wondering if there was any chance of getting into the race.
            2. The drop-outs started to put up their bib numbers on the RFL Google Group, so that people who wanted to run the race could run on their behalf. 
             In the 1st case, the late-to-register runners were told by the organizers that late registration was not possible. Unfortunately, the email exchanges between the organizers and the runners weren't too pleasant.

            In the 2nd case, the organizers decided not to allow any other person to run with somebody else's bib. They have announced that, during bib collection, the runners need to bring a government issued identity proof. Only if the ID proof is provided, will the bibs be given. The bib controversy is not new and it happened last year as well.

            3. Race Plan

            This is going to be my first half marathon this year. The last race which I ran was the Mumbai Marathon. The last half-marathon which I ran was the Bangalore Midnight Marathon, where I got a PB.

            Although I haven't trained specifically for a half marathon, I have done decent distances over the past 3 weeks. I might be a bit ambitious here, but here are my race goals:

            1. Get a personal best (beat 1:55:02). 
            2. Run a sub-2 hour race.
            3. Finish. 
            Unlike the midnight marathon, I'm planning to set a hard (hard for me), even pace of around 5:20/KM and retain it till the end (well, I will hopefully sprint the last 200 m). 

            To more personal bests, we run.

            Sunday, 7 February 2010

            Routine Post

            • We rode to Nandi Hills and back on our cycles last Sunday. The whole journey of 130 KM was done in 9 hours, including breaks. It was a fun trip and I won't rate it as too tough. The climb up Nandi and the ride down was the highlight of the journey. The ride up took me around 45 minutes (covering a little over 7 KM), but downhill was lightning fast and was finished in 12 minutes. 
            • I made Mysore Pak the other day. It's supposed to be hard to get right the first time, but I seem to have done a decent job -- at least I didn't have anybody say that they didn't like it. I followed this video to make the sweet-dish (the guy has a pronounced Indian American accent. Don't we all love those?).
            • Lately the same old "Shoes are a waste of money and you should run bare-feet" debate has started again. Rather than believing what journalists write, I would like people to read what scientists and running-coaches believe. To summarize, the studies (which the journalists are using to say barefoot running is good) were done on professional athletes, not amateur runners. If you are already habituated to running with shoes, getting to run without them is going to take time and is prone to injury. Shoes protect your feet from the glass on the road -- and if you are in India, also excreta of various animals

            Friday, 29 January 2010

            Run To Work

            Run to work: I had been planning to do this for months together, but never executing. My office is 10 KM from my home and I have cycled, motorbiked, taken the bus, but never run. And being a runner first and all those other things later, I had to ... well ... run to my office.

            All my previous plans involved carrying fresh clothes the previous day to work, dumping them in my drawer, and then running the next day (carrying just my access card and keys in my pockets). For some reason, it never panned out.

            Yesterday, for no particular reason it suddenly struck me that I could actually carry my change of clothes in the small Wildcraft bag, which I got as part of the Bangalore Cyclothon. I had run with it before and found it to be quite comfortable -- it doesn't bob up and down while running. Just that the choice of clothes had to be thin. So I packed a cotton pant, a dri-fit t-shirt, my wallet, towel, comb, cell-phone, and keys into the bag. Next morning (today), I took the bag and ran to work. Period. It's that simple.

            I finished the 10K in 53:22. Now that I have done it and know how it's done, I'm sure I will be doing it again.

            Monday, 25 January 2010

            Going Forward

            In which we look at what lies ahead.
            • It's been 1 week since Mumbai marathon and I have recovered. It took 5 days for the pain in my legs to go and for me to walk without a limp. With the pain gone I did couple of runs over the weekend and they went pretty well. The next race which I'm running is going to be the half-marathon at Auroville. I'm going to be trying for another sub 2 hour timing.
            • The 3 weeks of tapering and 1 week of recovery has left me with more poundage than what I would have liked (which though expected is not welcome). Hopefully I can lose all that before I run Auroville.
            • One of my goals for 2010 is to do a sub-20 minute 5K. I plan to start training from next week. I don't have a concrete plan defined, but the goal is to systematically and progressively shave off 30 seconds (at least) from my best 5K time (23:52) every month.
            • There is a plan in progress to cycle all the way till Nandi Hills on Sunday (31st Jan) and then back. The ride will be around 120 KM long (or more). Let's see how that goes.

            Monday, 18 January 2010

            Mumbai Marathon 2010: Race Report

            ... And that number once made will be with me for the rest of my life. Maybe it should go on my tombstone. After all, two sets of numbers designating birth and death dates say little about a person. It is the in-between that matters. The number I am making now is pure. It will define the limits of my animal nature -- it will be the measure of my imagination, achieved by gut and spirit. It can't be bought, traded or achieved through leverage. All other honors are paltry in comparison.
            -- Bernd Heinrich, "Why We Run"

            Figure 1: Mumbai Marathon 2010 Timings

            Yes, I finished it! It was a tough race, but I enjoyed every bit of it. It was my first full marathon and I ran it according to plan. My goals were as follows:

            • Finish -- Pass
            • Finish in 4 hr 40 min -- Fail
            Although I ran for a 4 hr 40 min finish, I'm more than happy with my result of 4 hr 50 min -- off by 10 minutes.

            On race day, I woke up at 4 AM; got ready and reached the holding area at 6:20 AM. The temperature forecast for the day was 32 C, but the real feel, I was told, would be around 39 C due to the humidity. While nearing the start line itself, I had started to sweat. The past 3 days I was in Mumbai it wasn't this hot. Taking that into account, I was pretty sure that I had to go with the 6:40/KM pace or maybe slower.

            The race for the open category was flagged off sharp at 6:45 AM -- which you could see from the clock on the majestic gothic facade of CST. The starting 5 K was pretty uneventful, the pack of runners was going forward comfortably. When the inclines at Peddar Road came, at around the 7 KM mark, I slowed down, but was able to overcome them comfortably. It was at this point that the half marathon leaders crossed us -- the half marathon runners were running in the opposite direction; their start-point was Bandra and end-point CST.

            Following Peddar road we reached the stretch along side Haji Ali. The sun had just started coming out, and its faint rays streamed through some gaps between buildings. More half marathon runners crossed us, amongst them was Gul Panag.

            At around the 12 KM mark or so, a pack of elite male runners -- all from Africa -- crossed us. The elite runners had started 1 hour later than us.

            Everything was going well till the 20 KM mark. The real test started after that -- when the sun started coming out. The first place where the sun really started to make its mark was near Bandra fire brigade. There was no cover, but there was crowd cheering us on. There were slum children who stood at the sides, asking for high-fives -- which I duly gave. The road from Bandra Fire Brigade lead us to the much awaited highlight of the race -- the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

            During the race, I had made a policy of carrying two bottles always with me. One bottle would be plain water -- which I would sip or pour on myself -- the other was electrolyte. At the starting of the sea-link, both my water bottles had run out. Fortunately there were some people (Note: People, not race-volunteers) who were giving out electrolyte solutions. I grabbed one and ran. A few paces on, there was a water-stop from where I picked up a water bottle. And thank god I did!

            The sea-link is a magnificent, imposing, majestic structure. It's huge, it's long and it's beautiful. When you run on it, towards your left you can see the entire Mumbai skyline. When you look down, you see fish trawlers and sparkling water. Ahead of you, there is the endless engineering marvel.

            Unfortunately the sea-link ended up being a killer for most people.

            The entire stretch from there to the end of the sea-link, around 4 KM or more, didn't have a single water-point. And imagine this was at a point when we were past the half-way mark and the sun was bearing all its energy on us. It was no surprise that from the very beginning of the sea-link, I started seeing people cramping, stretching, walking. Fortunately, I didn't.

            The sea link ended somewhere near the 28 KM mark. The heat was still relentless. A helpful temperature gauge told me that it was somewhere near 31 C -- at least the weather forecast was right. The stretch of road from the end of the sea link, till Haji Ali was mostly without cover. It was not only physically exhausting but also a psychological damper. I took multiple walk breaks between the 30 - 35 KM mark.

            The crowd was really helpful at this point. Cheering us, giving us water, feeding us fruits and biscuits. I'm so grateful to all those people who came out and helped us crazy runners.

            Nearing the 35 KM mark, came the dreaded incline of Peddar road. But interestingly, I didn't really feel too bad. Peddar road was one stretch which had shade and I guess I was energized by eating all those oranges. I walked-jogged the first incline, but ran the whole of the second. I was really feeling good at this point.

            That was until I reached the starting of Chowpatty beach. I was running comfortably in the shade provided by the buildings, when I hit a turn and lo behold in front of me was a near endless road bathed in the sun. A deep psychological blow. I muttered an expletive and strode on. It was getting really hard at this point -- the mind repeatedly asking me to start walking; to take a break. I had to fool myself telling me to run till the next signal and when I would hit that to run some more, and then some more.

            Multiple milestones went by. People on both sides saying that it's only a little more. 3 KM to go, 2 KM to go and then finally 1 KM to go. That final 1 KM was the longest. 600 meters left and I see the finish line.

            I had always dreamt of a sprint finish. I was physically exhausted. Both my head and feet were on fire -- something which I had only experienced in Delhi before, while playing basketball in peak summers. But I managed to dig something from deep within and increased my pace. Garmin read 4:00/KM (~ 15 KM/H).

            I crossed the finish line.

            Pain in the purest form is what you experience at the end of a marathon. Tim Noakes, of Lore or Running fame, says that it's just below child-birth. I was feeling all of that. At that moment I just wanted to get out of the heat.

            When I didn't see any of my running buddies at the finish line, I just rushed into some shade. My logical brain wasn't working; it was all animal instinct taking over (you know, the Limbic System).  I was in need of water and food. I was more or less in a daze -- there was a guy munching something and I asked him for food. That kind-hearted soul offered me part of his sandwich. Sandwich-guy if you are reading this, if you ever come to Bangalore I owe you a treat. Following that I went into CST station and ended up finishing 4 bottles of flavoured milk, 1 500 ml slice. It took me around an hour or so to regain normalcy.

            And being true to Mumbai, I took the local train back home.

            Looking back it took me around an year and half to train and run my first full marathon. It would not have been possible without the support of my family and friends (includes my running circle, school and college circle, and work circle -- not taking names for the fear of missing someone) and most importantly all Mumbaikars!

            P.S: Rakesh, I forgive you.