Monday, December 7, 2009

Favorite books this year

This year was a pretty good year for me with regard to reading books. I like to think that I love reading. But in the past I stayed way from it because I felt that it would eat into my work hours. I abandoned reading for so many years that I began doubt the veracity of my love. Anyway, in keeping with trying to live the life I love, I have gone back to some bedtime reading. I try to get my hands on books that I "should" have read when I was younger, just so that I don't go through life not knowing them. Also, trying to read about things that I am interested in. Here are a few thoughts about the books I read this year.

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
A magical story about achieving your personal legend. About not being afraid to embark on the journey towards achieving your dreams due to fear of failure. Speaks of how if you want something bad enough the universe works to make it happen. Its a story about the importance of the journey and not the destination.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach

It is an inspiring story about a bird that learns that his body is only limited in his thoughts. If you free your thoughts there is no limit. Also, perfection is not in speed or numbers because they are nothing but limits. Perfection is in being there.

What I talk about when I talk about running - Haruki Murakami
The writer talks about running as an exercise and a metaphor --- that's the way he puts it and that is exactly what the book is about. It is written by a Japanese novelist who is also a serious marathon runner. He talks about how he needs to run to survive and how it has made him the writer that he is today. Some of my favorite lines are
* Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional
* I'm struck by how when you are young you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you need to divide your time and energy. If you don't get that sort of system set by an early age, you'll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.
* It is precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling through this process, of really being alive - or atleast a partial sense of it.
*Quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.

I'd love to live the kind of life the writer lives - living and writing in Hawaii while training for marathons and triathlons. I have always been curious about why people run marathons. This book walked me through the experiences of a marathon runner and I got my answer.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

The book revolves around the life of two people a woman Anna and a man Levin. Both very different in nature, one at first thriving in and then falling out of high society, and the other consumed with finding his purpose for life in the countryside. The drama surrounding the characters could almost distract, even dissuade the reader from the underlying wisdom that was infused into the thoughts and actions of the characters. I love the way Tolstoy incorporates philosophical discussions into the story, about almost every topic that is of any importance to the average person. He talks about work ethic, religion, politics, marriage, family, wealth, relationships, education, death, birth, betrayal, hatred, love, and everything conceivable. His descriptions of emotions and scenic beauty, both are mind-blowing and intense, making you feel and see like you are actually sensing them yourself.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life in Jerusalem

Found this article very interesting--it is about life within the walls of the city of three faiths. The picture painted by the correspondent is brilliant. I hope to travel to this place someday...

Friday, October 9, 2009

How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve

Do you shy away from getting goals because you can see that it is going to take a lot of time and work to reach there? You know it would be good for you but then you envision how bad it would be if you fail? I know I do that all the time.

I came across this article on understanding the nature of time and how it relates to goal setting. It talks about not worrying about time commitment cause the time will pass whether we set a goal or not. Who knows if we will live to fulfill our goals? Just do it if it helps you today! Why take on the imagined burdens of tomorrow?

Definitely worth a read: How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve

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Nobel Peace Prize for a few months of effort?

Don't get me wrong - I am a huge Obama fan. Even so, I think this is nothing but Obama mania. I agree he is putting in great effort towards achieving Peace. But a Nobel peace prize for 8 months of effort?

Here is a list of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Notice the others who share the title and some of the controversial winners.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

To be able to laugh at oneself!

For the uninitiated, Ph.D. comics is a comic strip about the desperately funny lives of Ph.D. students. Anyone who has been along this path will vouch for the absolute veracity of the stories. Check this link out...vacation vs stress graph and this Ph.D. qualifying examinations.

Procrastination is .... blogging?

Neat animation -

Friday, August 28, 2009

Serious funny movies

You know the type of movie in which you feel mixed emotions that are poles apart. I watched Little Miss Sunshine again. My all time favorite serious funny movie that takes me from laughing out loud to fighting back tears all at the same time.

Recently I also watched this 1988 movie - The Accidental Tourist. It is a slow and quiet movie about a guy who writes travel books for business travelers on how to feel as if they have never left home even when they are miles from it.

My favorite line from the movie is...
"I'm beginning to think that maybe it's not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you're with them."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gmail's auto-pilot feature

Need help answering your emails...let Gmail do it for you. All it needs is a training set of about 100 emails.

Check this out! Gmail's new auto-pilot feature

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What does OK stand for?

OK = oll korrect
Learned about the origin of OK on the radio.
Read more about it here

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blue Jays and Robins

Spring is near. This morning, there was a congregation of robins singing in the woods beyond my studio apartment. I watched as they flew excitedly from one tree to another chasing each other or just hopping around from branch to branch. There were atleast a 100 orange breasted birds and also a blue jay. I was left wondering, what was a blue jay doing with these robins? Don't birds of a feather flock together? So I looked for clues online and I now have a story of my own.

This article by Ann Hingas speaks about blue jays being raiders of other birds' nests. They are known to especially like the nests of robins and take them up for nesting. So my theory is that a blue jay left her egg in a robin's nest. And the robin later returned to the nest, hatched the egg, and continued to look after the blue jay as her own, possibly, along with her own baby robins. Now the blue jay lives as a robin and migrates along with this flock, stopping once in while at some woods in Baltimore.

Well, I know its a long shot. You could have many reasons to disapprove of my theory. Quite a silly discussion but I learned something about blue jays today and won't forget it because of this story. And wouldn't it be awesome, if the robins did not judge the blue jay for having a different color?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Shape shifting material

Caught this on CNN, coincidentally on the morning after I watched Transformers. Researchers at Intel have collaborated with Academia to invent shape changing material or programmable matter.

Intel's Andrew Chien says that someday we will be able to morph objects to fit our needs. Check out the video.

Too bizarre for Zimmern

This evening, I caught Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods in Delhi on the Travel channel. The guy eats everything under the sun- strange animals, all sorts of body parts- brain, eyes etc. don't want to go into the details. Anyway, he refused to eat Pani Puri that was being sold by the hawkers in Delhi!

He said not drinking water in such countries is what keeps him safe. Even though I know he would probably get terribly sick if he did eat it, I can't get over the fact that a guy who eats unbelievably bizarre stuff was beaten by Pani Puri. Can't wait to see Tony defy Zimmern's reservations by trying Pani Puri.

Even so, recently I have been enjoying Zimmern's shows. Especially the one on Bolivia- the women wrestlers were a sight. Also, the other stuff in the episode on Delhi - the Bengali food with banana flower and stem, the Kashmiri food (thirty-six-course traditional Wazwan meal which he had with Rohit Bal), and the Gurudwa Bangla Sahib were all quite intriguing.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Memorable retreat moments

Last weekend, I went with the the PROMISE group to a fantastic retreat and outward bound experience at the Rocky Gap state park in Western Maryland. This is the post I put up on the PROMISE blog.

The PROMISE retreat was an amazing experience for me- awesome new friends, the great outdoors, and time for introspection. Quick countdown of my most memorable moments of this weekend.

1. The hilarious and most interesting introductions in the ballroom on Friday evening. I thought it was a great idea to not give us name tags and have us learn names. Initially, all I could remember was the interesting bit of information people added to their introductions but soon I got to know their names.

2. Taboo!! It got us all together. We could forget about our grad school worries while we immersed ourselves in the game.
3. At the fire station. (I already shared this at the retreat) Denise Ashman said something that I will take along with me into my everyday life. When I couldn't get a fire started, I was upset. Denise mentioned how some times there are things greater than we are. Like fire, that has been around much longer than we have. So when we try our best and things don't work out, we should be humble and accept it. I am going to remember this when my research experiments fail and instead of getting angry with myself and feeling dejected, I will accept the situation, humbly and keep trying.
4. Olympic moment at the water station. Daryl asked each of us about our Olympic moment- a moment in our lives when we achieved something for ourselves. It was a great question- we got to hear about every ones special moments and it made me realize what mine was.

5. The team building experience with the Polar Bears at the Shelter station. It was empowering to see that we could build a shelter together out of twigs, and leaves. Also, later on when we were asked to think about our team dynamics, I realized how wonderfully we worked together and how much I learned from the experience. I now know where I fit in a team situation and what I need to work on. It was an eye opening experience for me.

6. The skits were so creative- I don't think any of us will forget any of the air crashes, the girl rabbit, and poor Sanjit who caught on 'fire' (the fire act was hilarious) and was eaten by the polar bear.

7. The campfire- the campers, the marshmallows catching fire, sticks without marshmallows poking the fire, and songs in different languages.

8. Word Blur- in the game room :D
9. Hike in the snow. Newly equipped with outdoor survival skills, five of us set out for a walk to the dam and bridge on the other side of the Lake.

10. And last all the amazing new friends. They share the same graduate life I do, with its highs and lows. It was great meeting them all and I hope we keep in touch.

A very huge thank you to the PROMISE team for organizing this special weekend. I hope this event will continue in the coming years.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How do we pick our friends?

Do you find yourself friends with people who have ideologies that are poles apart from your own? It is difficult to find people who think in the same way as you about most things. I guess that is the reason people find it hard to make friends. Picking the right friends is important as we trust our friends with our thoughts and dreams, which makes us extremely vulnerable.

So how do we pick? Every person brings along a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight. The more unlike you they are the more their friendship enriches your life and you grow as a person. Often, I find that I have the most incredible conversations with people whose view points contradict my own. My mother has mentioned, more than once, that she finds it strange that I can get along with people that seem so different. And sometimes my friends and me wonder together, how is it that we are so close when we hardly agree about anything?

Well, today during such a "wonder full" conversation, my friend who is diametrically opposite me said that she has been thinking about it and she said "the only thing that is absolutely essential to agree on are the most important principles- and the rest is peripheral stuff that does not matter". It is so true!

So what are these important principles? For me, it ultimately does not matter what their political or social ideologies are. It does not matter whether they hate or love to exercise, the color blue, or President Obama (;-D). I am most comfortable with people who are honest, dependable, caring, earnest, and lend me a listening ear.

How do you pick your friends? Are there principles you can't compromise on? I'd say give it a thought- it helps to know what matters to you. And when someone who is very different comes along it will be easier to be friends with them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anger Management

Everyday we are faced with people and situations that cause us to get angry. Sometimes it is an acquaintance that makes a hurtful comment to get back at you or maybe it is something that you misconstrue to be directed at you. At other times, it may something as trivial as an external event that is causing your well planned day to go out of whack making you irritated and angry, e.g., traffic.

Well, I don't know about you but I have trouble controlling my temper. You don't want to be a passenger in my car when I am stuck in traffic. I let anger take control of me. I behave ignorantly- stop making sense, become spiteful, say things that could cause pain to the person on the receiving end, inadvertently ruining my piece of mind. Once the harm is done, I can do nothing to take it back. What is the difference between an angry person and a bear? Why haven't we as a race evolved in this area?

Anger is a defensive mechanism against hurt. We are wired to protect ourselves, but instead of letting it control us we can take steps to harness it productively. In an effort to evolve beyond my baser instincts, I looked online for help and came across this interesting article on anger management. It discusses reasons why some people get more angry than others and suggests effective ways to deal with it in a healthy manner. Thought I'd share it with you, in case like me you too are having trouble in this area.

Technology you just hate

Does a piece of technology cause you to hyperventilate? Do you wonder why was it ever invented? And who are the fools that use it?

Today a friend told me that she heard this being discussed on the radio. People called in to list things like - bluetooth headsets for mobile phones, facebook, and someone even called in to say they hate cable television. Personally, I like all of the above. I guess everyone has their own personal war with a particular piece of technology.

I am curious to know, what piece of technology do you find infuriating? Is it social networks like twitter, orkut, facebook, or the PC or is it the Mac, Vista or Leopard? or maybe it is SMS or email, mobile phones or iPods? Whatever it is, leave me a comment that way my readers (I like the sound of that) will know too.

For me it is the Apple iMac's mouse- it has just one large button (which physically is one button but is in fact two buttons which are touch sensitive), a clickable scroll ball and two side squeeze buttons. I don't see why they had to reinvent the mouse. The regular mouse with two buttons and clickable scroll was just fine. I understand when a new technology makes a difference but not for this particular one.

To be fair, I am sure some incredible technology lies within Apple's mouse or they wouldn't call it the Mighty Mouse, would they? But then, they do call their tech support guys geniuses. Have you been to the' genius bar' ( in other words the tech support desk) at your local Apple store? They greet you by saying, "a genius will be right with you". Anyway, I should end confessing I am one of those who use the mighty mouse

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gmail link to starred emails

Finally, Gmail has a link to access only starred emails. It was frustrating for the longest time and I had worked a way around it by selecting my starred emails and then labeling them as 'action tasks' and then selecting that label to list them For those of you who were missing this feature, just thought I'd let you know that now it is just one click away.


As much as I love Anne Hatheway, I dislike Angelina Jolie. And for no apparent reason. So even though the story seemed interesting, I was not compelled to watch Changeling. Anyway, the story triumphed over my dislike and I watched it this weekend. All I am going to say is I had goose bumps throughout the second half of the movie. Whether you are Jolie fan or hater, go watch it. You're not gonna forget this one.

Time to step up

Right now, I am enjoying an endorphin high from my step aerobic session. If you know me well enough you'd say, "nothing new!" And if you know me long enough, you'd know one of my dreams is to become a fitness instructor. Yeah, someday. So what makes today special is that I choreographed one hour of step aerobics myself.

I have always dreamed of being fit but for most of my life spent more time just dreaming and complaining of the lack of it. I used my studies as an excuse. Lack of time and opportunity..more excuses. But in the last few years, I have taken actual steps to incorporate exercise into my daily life. I have still not attained the fitness level of my dreams but inch closer to it everyday.

Among other factors, attending the group fitness classes in the school gym has been helping me get fit. Previously, I never found these classes appealing but am a believer now. It is fun to exercise in a group and the instructors just know how to make us get our muscles moving- even ones that we never flexed before. My favorite is step aerobics class by Katie.

Unfortunately, this semester, I have another commitment at the same time as the step class and so will be missing it for four months. My other big problem with making group fitness classes a major part of my exercise routing is that when the gym closes during the holidays I have no where to go.

So last weekend, I purchased an used aerobic step and four risers for $25 from a 'Play it again' store. And today I tried it out for the first time. I tuned into Pandora's Club/Dance genre station and stepped away. I used the reflection in my window as a mirror to feel like I was in the gym's studio. It was one hour of sweat and happiness.

I have come to the conclusion that while doing research you need something to let your steam out on and also, a sort of addiction to take away the pain of it all. I have become addicted to the endorphins from my workouts and get quite depressed if I don't exercise for a couple of days. Well now, I can rest assured of getting my fix whenever I need it :D

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rachel getting married - the movie

I watched this movie because I am a Anne Hatheway fan and was expecting a feel good movie of the likes of 'Devil wears Prada'. But I was in for a surprise. Don't worry, no spoilers her for any of you who are planning to watch it.

A few things about the movie... The movie is different from mainstream Hollywood productions -it has a documentary style to it. The wedding is not your traditional American wedding. To tell the truth, I began to get impatient at the start of the movie. But then the movie slowly takes you through heart wrenching emotions-the performances are brilliant to a point where you can deeply feel the emotions being portrayed. Needless to say it made me cry. Hatheway deserves an Oscar nomination for the role.

If you have watched it or do so in the future, I am eager to know how you felt about it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'Andey ka funda'

In the past 5 years, I have considerably cut down eating eggs because I learned that they are high in cholesterol. I have been limiting my diet to an average of one egg a week. So the reason I am blabbering about my egg consumptions is because I found an interesting article on BBC Health that promotes higher inclusion of eggs in a balanced diet. It may be interesting for those among you who love eating eggs and are worried about your cholesterol. Below, I have listed the key points from this article-

While elevated blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease, only around a third of the cholesterol in the body comes from the diet.

Other factors such as smoking, being overweight and physical activity can influence blood fat and cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.

Victoria Taylor, a senior BHF dietician, said: "We recommend that eggs can be eaten as part of a balanced diet. There is cholesterol present in eggs but this does not usually make a great contribution to your level of blood cholesterol.

"If you need to reduce your cholesterol level it is more important that you cut down on the amount of saturated fat in your diet from foods like fatty meat, full fat dairy products and cakes, biscuits and pastries."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pink 'chaddi' brigade!

Follow up on the Valentine's day celebrations in India in response to the Ram Sena's attempts to cause havoc on Feb 14th.....Pink chaddi brigade

Don't you just love the Consortium of Pub going, Loose and Forward Women?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meeting Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle

The Glass Castle is a memoir describing Walls memories of her troubled childhood, her eccentric parents, and the hard journey of her family from Southern Arizona to New York city. When I read the book last year, I had mixed feelings. Initially, I was envious of the adventurous life she led as a child, not confined to the norms of society yet receiving a great education; extraordinary, given her circumstances. As the story progressed, my feelings changed to dismay and then to disbelief. It was shocking to see that her parents failed to provide for her over and over again. There were moments in the book when I had a very tough time believing that parents could be so selfish. I would think as I read, "This is crazy, can this be true?"

Last week, Jeannette Walls visited UMBC to speak about her book. The book had been chosen for the student book experience last year and so many had read the book and like me came to hear her speak. So here goes an account of the evening...

She is a great orator, both funny and frank. She told us that she struggled for the longest time to hide her childhood from people- it was a source of shame for her. But now she says it is the best thing that happened to her. She talked about her favorite childhood memory- being gifted the planet Venus at Christmas. She told us that her worst memory with her dad was the one at the club, the worst one with her mom being the chocolate incident and the worst time of her life was when she was 13.

She told us that she loves to read the Amazon reviews on her book, which she does about twice a day! :D Also, she mentioned the varied reactions people have on reading her book: from getting troubled- to thinking she was lucky- to understanding that her life had good as well as bad times.

She gave us some beautiful advice while narrating anecdotes about her parents, siblings, and friends:

* About how we can change the way we think about our past by putting a positive spin on it (recalled her mom here).

* About how her Dad taught her to put a harness on her demons (like when they would search for monsters under her bed and then yell at them to come out).

* How there are two gifts parents ought to give their children:
1) Optimism
2) Love for learning

* She quoted some great mind saying- secrets are like vampires. They suck the life out of you but they can only survive in the dark. Once its bright ..poof!! they are gone!

* About how hardships in life teach us to navigate around obstacles.

* About what her husband John said to alleviate her fears about her scars "smooth is boring, you've got texture".

* How parents should have faith in their children's talents cause if you tell your kids they are bad, they may really turn out that way.

She told us what the rest of her family is doing now. Finally, while answering questions from the audience she announced that her next book is going to be about her Grand mom (mom's side). She wanted to write about her mom but then realized that the best way to understand someone is to understand their parents.

And finally as per my disbelief - meeting her quelled it when she quoted another person saying: "the best fiction reads like non-fiction, and the best non-fiction reads like fiction".

Anthony Bourdain - No reservations

I have been raving about Anthony Bourdain for sometime now - an acclaimed chef and author of many culinary books which include travel memoirs. I have not had a chance to read any of his books but I am a big fan of his show 'No Reservations', which airs on travel channel. If you find Samantha Brown of 'Passport to Europe' too sweet for your taste and Andrew Zimmern of 'Bizarre Foods' a little too bizarre for your palate, then you may very well enjoy Bourdain. What I enjoy most are his repeated declarations of love for hawker culture, his wit and sarcasm. And most importantly, he tells it as it is.

Judge for yourself. You can catch him almost all day on Mondays and also on the weekend sometimes. current show times

Friday, February 6, 2009

What is a lemma?

This question was posed to me. Since I was hazy about the difference between a lemma and a theorem, I went to Mathworld. It gave me the answer along with an inside joke among Mathematicians. Check it out.

Valentine's day = Wedding day in Bangalore

Check this out.

Dating couples to be married

Quite hilarious, huh?

I wonder if these marriages will be legally binding?