Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Naavu bandEva amErikakke

Greetings! Let's cut straight to the chase: I'm far too lazy to try to sum up my experiences in nice, coherent paragraphs, so I'm going to employ a ruse that's been refined and perfected so much that it is now an art form. (Seriously now, that confounded *!@)^@ defies all my attempts at understanding it :X)

[The story till now: Yours Truly was one of the lucky ones who managed to get both himself and his grades an intern at Purdue University for the summer. (Please ignore that statement if it sounded weird). Clothes were bought and monies exchanged and bags were filled and supernatural Packing Fractions achieved in autorickshaws and goodbyes bid, and then, ...

  • I had flown only once before when I was a kid, and was surprised to see that most of the speed gained before takeoff was in the final 15-20 seconds. Interesting!
  • It seems to be that a large part of bearing His Mild Yoke is in having all those dreams of cute young females as co-travelers being shattered repeatedly and ruthlessly. Accordingly, mine happened to be very old, very sleepy and very big gents, thereby effectively eliminating all forms of visual, communicative and ambulatory comfort. Wonderful.
  • Lufthansa's idea of in-flight entertainment is no doubt an expression of the famed Teutonic Precision and Endurance. There was this TV set that showed the trajectory of the plane and the current position, updated by a GPS every 2-3 seconds, and the most exciting thing happening ( the kind that causes the audience jump up from their seats ) was the dot representing our plane actually moving a pixel! Most entertaining! The trajectory was interesting though, we'd fly over Bangalore, Bombay, Lahore, Tashkent, the Black Sea, most of Belgium and then land at Frankfurt.
  • I can't believe I'm saying this, but the in-flight food was actually tolerable. I may even venture so far as to say it was good ! Gone are the halcyon days when grumpy old aunties masquerading as air hostesses would throw you a packet ostensibly containing idlis, and it would make a loud clink! and chip away the edge when it hit the plastic table.. sigh!
  • Day broke, and we were over the Black Sea. Most of it seemed frozen, and the sight was awesome! I noticed that the TV I mentioned above also occasionally showed the outside temperature, and shiver me timbers, it was -55 degrees Celsius, in broad daylight ! Wow, I had never thought of that! Steel, which is one of the best materials available that can withstand tension, will crumble like chalk when cooled below -10 degrees! -55 degrees is amazing! Nearly all our SOM fundaes are shaken!
  • Frankfurt looks queer from above; nearly every building seemed to have a steeply gabled (triangular) roof! Like those quaint postcard towns! The roads look lovely, too!
  • Frankfurt airport is insane! Between the time we landed and taxied to a halt, three other planes had landed on the same runway! It's mighty scary if you see it happen, trust me!
  • The airport is HUGE, and I generally followed the directions to my other plane's bay. A second round of security checks, they checked my laptop for explosives and all. Oh, and finally, some visual delights at long last!
  • This time it was two very old, very big ladies, but thankfully they were rather talkative and friendly, so there was something to do. Very soon we flew over London and over the Atlantic ocean. A strange flight trajectory again, we'd fly very high north, pass over Greenland, over Canada, and head almost directly southward to Chicago.
  • The cloud cover was pretty thick in the beginning, but when it broke, it was the most wonderful sight I had seen! The ocean is exactly the same color as the sky, and for a moment, you won't know which is which! Awesome !
  • I landed in Chicago and thankfully the customs didn't bother to check anything. I caught an almost empty bus to West Lafayette, but happily the driver was rather talkative too, so there was some company.
  • People have noticed many lovely and romantic and sexy `first things' in the USA, but the first thing I noticed, gentle reader, was Rivets. ( Utters assorted maledictions upon that thinly-veiled conspiracy to thwart any morsel of Engineering talent in students, that terrorizing exercise in tyranny euphemistically known as (furtively looks around) (low voice) Machine drawing ). Rivets, rivets and more rivets! On trailers and roads and trucks and buses and signs and billboards! Everywhere!
  • I thought that the vague depressing colors in the film Mystic River were entirely artificial. Not so, I see. The first impression I had of Chicago was that the whole place looked a lot less colorful and pale. The highways are made of concrete, and are a vague gray, the sky isn't as blue, the trees are a rather pale green, too.
  • Talking of Highways, I was on an Interstate : Interstates are these countrywide network of huge 12-lane North-South and East-West roads, and the normal speed in the slower lanes was some 120 kmph! I later learned that these Interstates were inspired by the German Autobahns, and more than 70% of the German Autobahns don't have speed limits! The wiki article tells me that the `recommended' speed is 130 kmph, which means people usually go at 180 kmph :)
    Many modern cars are capable of speeds of over 200 km/h (124 mph), and most large manufacturers of luxury cars follow a gentlemen's agreement by technically limiting the top speed of their cars to 250 km/h (155 mph) for safety reasons
  • 250 kmph, that is insane!
  • I also saw this nice neat way of collecting tolls, called the I-Pass system. Your car has a magnetic strip on its top, and toll gates have readers that deduct a certain sum from your account when you pass through them!
  • Purdue is pronounced `Puh-doo' ( I was saying something closer `Purrr-dew' ) is located in all around a town called West Lafayette. No in-gate or out-gate, that was interesting :) The labs are spread everywhere, right from the airport to the river bank ( There's loong river called the Wabash that flows through the town ).
  • The place looks and feels exactly like vintage Bangalore! The just-cold weather, the nip in the air, lots and lots of trees, no bustle, sunlight through the foliage, even sparrows! The works!
    I was all the more surprised when I met my Prof. He told me he was from Bangalore, from IITM and from Tapti Hostel! Talk about coincidences! Sometime in the conversation,
    Me: I have done a first course in linear optimization under Prof. `T.T.Narendran'
    Prof: Uhhh (eyes searching) ... (brightening up) Oh, you mean Mama ! How is he doing?
    That totally broke the ice :-)
  • I'm still not very comfortable drinking water right off the tap, but my roomie insists that it's ok. The days are VERY long, the sun is up by 6 AM and sets only by 9 PM. I remarked that these guys had all the luck, and my roomie told it was the other way in the winter, with the sun up by only 7 AM and setting by 4 PM. I still don't think it makes up, though, reminds me of this joke about statisticians:
    Three statisticians go duck hunting. Their dog chases out a duck and it starts to fly. The first statistician aims and takes his shot, it misses a foot too high. The second statistician aims and takes his shot, it misses a foot too low. The third statistician says, "We got him!"
  • Another thing I noticed was that everything here, right from squirrels to soda cans to chocolates to rabbits to sandwiches, is BIG ! BIG BIG BIG! And the chocolates I've had here till now suck big time! After plowing through a `Milky Bar' yesterday the only thing on my mind was this C&H cartoon:

    MFFPBTH!! S-SW-SW SWEET!!I never thought that could actually happen!
  • I seriously think that the town here is designed to be navigable by maps, more than the other way round! I mean, without a map you can hardly make out one building from the other, while with one, you are almost as good as a native.
  • In related news, I realized I know more about the topography, locations and roads of West Lafayette than I do of Chennai or even Bangalore. This happy circumstance came about because of a Quest for a Plug Adapter, and some maps that made me realize the necessity of each clause, and sufficiency as a whole, of the phrase ``The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth''. One map didn't tell the Truth, no, there was no Radioshack on Happy Hollow road, another didn't tell the whole truth, it omitted the fact that its scaling was non-linear, and I had to trudge for 2 hours up and down unfriendly terrain to figure it out, and another told a little more than just The Truth, no, Sagamore Packway does not have sidewalks, and you might even get run over, trying to walk on a State highway :X
  • I'm courting a new muse, cooking ! I had originally believed there existed only three gastronomical singularities known to mankind : home food, Pani Puri at one of those roadside stores with kerosene lamps, and Benne Masala Dosa at a Darshini. (By Gastronomical Singularity, I mean food that you will like no matter what, no matter when. Of course, a necessary prerequisite to fully understanding gastronomical singularities is to undergo rigorous training at an IITM mess, preferably Sakthi Kitchen.) By these exertions, and by the wise counsel of my roomie, I have come to realize one more startling addition: Food cooked by you! Believe me, you will definitely like the food you cook!
  • Remember all those big wise grownups debunking the existence of the all-powerful, life-giving Elixir ? They even went so far as to tell me that it was a figment of someone's imagination! Phooey! My good man, Elixir verily exists, and is currently being sold under the brand name `Hershey's Chocolate Syrup', for only $3.99 ! If you would prefer a less liquid form, fear not, Ferrero's Nutella will save the day!
  • In a related insight, I came to realize just how anyone could come to be interested in a topic as esoteric as measuring the coastline of Britain, or in devising elaborate set-theoretic constructs to get absurd conclusions. The study of my first Chapati's boundary is a fascinating excursion into fields and ideas including but not limited to: Lebesgue measure, the Zermelo-Frankel set theory, the Banach-Tarski Paradox, Fractal Theory, Chaos, and Cellular automata.

Phew, and that, gentle Reader, is the story of my first few days in the US of A, and I'd quite agree: Amerika really ist Wunderbar!


Friday, May 04, 2007

Liberation !!

I fart in your general direction, all you positive real numbers < 10 truncated to two decimal places! Vive la libération !