Saturday, August 11, 2012

Maelstrom 2

A paper tear across the sky
Betrays the ragged edge of summer
In patient stillness unfurls the quiet
shimmer of an evening constellation
pulsing over drooping heads at close of day
ensconced in dreams of sullen warmth
That as a mother to a sleeping child
pulls me to its breast to breathe
a sweaty fever to my brow
Bestilled in tropic dreams of burnished seas;
Raving in a jungle of delirium

Oh, if I were by the lake tonight
The frogs would sing summer carols
Of godlike storks that left
Vees and other letters trailing
Wakes; the vortices spin noiselessly.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where I am and what I've been up to

This is not the next semi philosophical or literary tour-de-force piece I was looking for, but it is what I've been up to. I guess I have come to accept that I will never have the time nor inclination to produce a blog that is either extremely good reading or widely read, so I'll settle for it functioning as a diary (an unfortunately public one) that keeps track of my state of mind and life at various points.

To that end, what follows below is what is new in my life. It's basically an extract from an email I sent my family, edited for the public domain. Unpolished and strewn with boring rants, it is nevertheless an update. Here it is:

Here's the longer email I had promised.

I have now (partially) settled in to my new place. It is, as I have mentioned before, further away from the office, taking about 40 minutes walking. The route I usually take runs through a somewhat residential area, and is a nice quiet walk. Whether it will remain so after school starts and the undergrads are back is to be seen :) .

There's still some furniture I have to buy - a couple more shelves, perhaps. I inherited a couple of bookshelves (and some lamps) from the previous tenants, and what I have now fits them snugly, but considering that I am likely to accumulate more, I'd best plan ahead. A chair - of the wheeling, swiveling, height changing AND tilting variety, WITH armrests - an office chair, in short - is probably my top priority.

My roommates are Shivakumar *****, who is in the same Physics PhD batch here in Penn State as me, and Nitin ****, who is in Industrial Engineering. To my great fortune, both of them are quite comfortable with cooking - in fact, Nitin actually enjoys cooking; his dream is to open an Indian restaurant here in the States. We have a dishwasher, but a lot of Indian dishes require a bit more effort in scrubbing and cleaning the utensils, so I chip in by washing the dishes, and helping out with the cooking if I'm home on time. Nitin's away for a few days right now, so it's just me and Shiva, who I am happy to report is also a pretty good cook. Yes, Appa, I'll see if I can pick up something from them.

We've been doing a bit of shopping at Walmart and the local Goodwill store - luckily on the first day I went there, Goodwill (which is within walking distance) was having a 50% off sale. We picked up an excellent dining table for $20 - it has two extra segments that can be easily slotted in to increase the length to seat I think 8 comfortably. Shiva doesn't have a car right now - a friend totaled his while they were in Canada - but using a friend's car we shipped the disassembled table home. Reassembling it was not quite as easy - it doesn't quite have the feel of a mass-produced item, and lining up all the various screw holes at the same time wasn't easy. I'm still not sure I got it perfectly right, but it's functional and hasn't given us any trouble, though I did ruin my cheap screwdriver set in the process. I recently bought myself a more 'fundu' set - a 10 bit screwdriver with six of the bits actually stored inside the screwdriver. This was occasioned by the purchase of my desk.

I went to the university salvage store (walking all the way from the office in the cold, relentless rain) to pick out a desk, and found one quickly enough, and at a great price - just $25. I bought it and arranged with Artur for him to help me shift it the next day. Artur borrowed Josh's truck, and this part went smoothly enough. Our apartment is on the ground floor, and we have a sliding window that opens on to the lawn, so getting it in was not a problem. Once it was in the living room, Artur left, and I decided to have preliminary go at shifting it into my room. After turning it on its side and dragging it to the corridor, I suddenly realised that the door to my room was a bit small. Keeping in mind that the length (not the width or height, but still) of the desk is of the order of 5 feet, you can see that this presented a bit of a problem. In retrospect, with two (or three) people and a lot of ingenuity in manoeuvring, perhaps it could have been brought in in one piece; as it was, I was considering getting the window panes removed so that I could get it in that way. I made a quick trip to Walmart where I bought my marvelous screwdriver, and then went to the department where we were greeting the new PhD students with a free pizza lunch. The new batch has about 10 Americans, 2 or 3 South East Asians (Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan), 10 Chinese and 2 Indians. One of them - Murali - is joining the AMO (Atomic, Molecular and Optical) Physics division, and the other - Sreejith - who is actually an engineering graduate - is planning to join one of the gravity groups. They're from IIT Roorkee and IIT Madras, and in fact both are Malayalis. We (the current batches) said hi and gorged ourselves on not terribly good pizza. Afterwards I went home and decided to take on the desk.

The only set of screws (square headed, as opposed to cross or flat) I could see were on the bottom and seemed to affix the legs (the desk is wooden, with the legs and various parts of the drawers being metal), but I couldn't believe that it was that simple. I was right. After removing them, I found out that the legs were also attached on top, by screws whose heads were below the table top. Which meant I had to take that off too. So I removed the drawers, and then worked out the 12 screws inside the drawer compartments, and then tried the 3 screws in the central portion. But then the last screw defied me. It was up against an edge, so I couldn't grip the screwdriver comfortably to get at it. I tried various things, including Shiva's power tool (screws and unscrews, but can destroy your bits if you aren't careful), but it didn't work. If I didn't get it out, I wouldn't be able to take the top off, and thus wouldn't be able to get the legs off. So then I thought - I may not be able to turn the screw, but given that it's the last one, I can turn the table top instead. So I heaved the desk back on to its feet, and then started to rotate the top. My original plan had been to rotate the top all the way off the screw, but I soon realised that that was unnecessary - a 90 degree turn gave me access to the screw tops. But if I took the legs off what would keep the table standing? So I improvised supports using boxes and books, and took the legs off. Then I temporarily secured the top, slid the desk into my room, and then reversed most of the steps until it was finally reassembled, and clean, and miraculously standing inside my room. If I've made it sound epic, it's because it was - I did all of this singlehandedly. Which probably explains why my back is still giving me twinges.

After that I re-organised the room, and took the long overdue step of throwing away the reams of papers and documents I had collected in two years. I also organised most of my coin collection. The US Mint is currently putting out Statehood quarters - every state is honoured with a 25 cents coin that commemorates the year it joined the Union. They started issuing them in 1999, and every year 5 are released. 43 are already out, and I've been collecting them. Complicating the matter is the fact that there are actually two mints, and the coins are accordingly marked 'P' or 'D'. This makes for a hundred coins to be collected. With the help of Anjuchechi and Eduardo and some of my friends, I've been filling in the gaps in my collection. Now thanks to Anjuchechi and Eduardo I have a better idea of where I stand - they sent me a special coin album meant for the Statehood quarters, already labelled and with two spots for each state. Some of my older coins have gotten a bit dirty or even tarnished, so I may hunt for replacements once the set is complete. And since each slot is just slightly smaller than the coins, they can fit snugly in their spots, but sometimes t's hard getting them in - or getting them to stay there, so I've resorted to using little tape loops on their backs to keep them in place. But that's hardly noticeable, and so the collection looks quite impressive against the dark blue background of the album. Thank you, Anjuchechi and Eduardo.

My room is now by and large complete - the shelves (and perhaps a small bookshelf on top of the desk, if I can find one) and chair should take it further, and then I may decide to do some interior decorating. But for the most part I'm satisfied. As soon as the chair comes in, I'll steal someone's digital camera and send you some pics. Speaking of which, are there any more of baby Daniel? (Daniel is my latest nephew, born to my oldest sister, Anuchechi, on August 2, 2007.)

My friend (and classmate) Artur had been in a bit of a stew - he's Estonian, and Estonia has a national service requirement. Normally this is during your undergrad period, but since he did his degree in the UK, he got it postponed. This year though it came back to haunt him. If he had had to go, he would have been away for about 9 months, but somehow he was able to defer it again - even if only by a year. I think we may have a 'Welcome back' party soon.

Contact: I've gotten myself a SkypeIn number with a free voice mail account. The number is 1-814-***-****, so if you ever need to call me while you're away from the computer and don't have access to Skype, that's the number you want. (This being in the public domain I had to remove the numbers, but ask nicely and I'll tell you. :) )

However, sometimes I'm away from the computer and need to be reached, or to reach someone, so I have finally gotten myself a cell phone. It's a prepaid "Pay as you Go" plan with AT&T/Cingular. It costs 10 cents a minute and has a Daily Access Fee of $1 - that is, on days that I use my phone, I have to pay an additional one dollar. Obviously I would like to avoid using my phone as much as possible, so that number (1-814-***-****) is only for emergency contact/last minute instructions, and the phone will be off when I'm at home or in the office (1-814-***-****). The main reason I got it now, after all this time, is the 40 minute walk from home to the office (and even longer to my friends' places) - I'd hate to get there and then be told that I'd forgotten something.

There's not much else to report. My new check card arrived around the same time that I was starting to shift, so that caused some confusion when the old one stopped working. My laptop - oh, well, that's a long story, and I really don't want to get into it right now; the short version is:

My laptop's built-in speakers stopped working.
I took it to Best Buy which is where I had bought. My warranty had expired, and they didn't know what was wrong, so they sent it out to have it looked at. I paid $85.
They said something was wrong with my motherboard's audio controller, and that I would need a new motherboard at a cost of $700+. I thought about this and said no, since if I plugged in my headphones they worked fine, so all I would need to do is plug in some external speakers.
I had trouble getting through and telling them no, but eventually told one of the Customer Service people, who for some reason were unable to relay it to the relevant parties. Luckily the default policy was that if no response was got, they would send it back.
I called up and asked if my laptop was back, they said that it was on its way.
A few days later I tried calling up again, several times, to find out if it was back. All the Geek Squad people were busy helping customers in the store, and I was asked to leave my name and number. I did so, but no one got back to me. I did it again, and this time the Customer Service person assured me that someone would get back to me, but no one did. I only had two questions - was my laptop back, and if not, when would it be? But no one called.
I got frustrated and decided to be one of the customers who was being helped in the store. I went, and long story short, finally got my (as far as anyone knew) unrepaired laptop back. Unexpectedly though, the speakers have started to work again. They're still a little unreliable, so I am getting those external speakers, but it was an unexpected plus.

Okay, that wasn't really a short version, but it was very frustrating, which I guess shows. The desk incident at least had a sense of accomplishment and of difficulties overcome; this was more of a just "I'm glad it's over and I hope it never happens again, and as far as I can I will never interact with this company again."

I'm currently free duty-wise, at least until the term starts, so I'm just chipping away at the review paper and various books. I've kind of run out of Physics courses to take, so I'll probably get all 9 credits from an independent study course. The prof I want to work with is out of town (again) so I've emailed him. Failing that I may take some Math department courses, or independent study with another prof. (The prof I wanted agreed to take me on for 9 credits. He's also taken Artur on. Coincidentally, it appears that he (the prof) may also live at the same Apartments that I do - though I'm reasonably sure it's not in the same building. :))

What news from everyone else?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Double strength/New and improved/Bonus features

After a terribly long hiatus, Ramble in the Jungle returns with a few new entries. One of these - Flight - is actually new, while the other entries in the Poetry and Short story sections are just old compositions that I dug up. My personal favourites among the new poetry & fiction entries are Maelstrom and Teleology Take 2. Anyhow, just below this you can find Flight, and below that you'll find the The Overhang, which is a sort of Contents page for this whole blog. Hopefully you'll find something you like - to get a flavour of my preferences, check out the stars beside each title.

And now, as, the MTV voice says, "Enjoy..."


Just at the start of your flight, the small propeller airplane does a little bob, and you get that stomach turning feeling one gets when an elevator drops too quickly, or a roller coaster goes over a hump. It will take about twenty minutes to reach the top, and if it's to be that bumpy all the way it's going to be mighty unpleasant. But amazingly, after that initial hiccup the ride is incredibly smooth, leaving you with one thing less to think about instead of the approaching experience.

The angle of ascent is steady, and with your legs stretched out in front of you, and nothing in easy grasping distance, it's hard to hold your position. So you take the instructor's advice and lean back on to him, occasionally glancing at the plastic yellow ducky in front of you, watching it tilt as the plane banks. The ground below is receding, taking on the appearance of a map, with the neighbouring town laid out in neat squares.

"How high do we go?" you ask over the steady drone of the engine. "10,000 feet."
You nod and lapse into silence again. You're trying to find the altimeter on the dashboard. "At what height does the parachute open?" He has an altimeter on the back of his hand. "About 5000 feet: that's about this height." You glance out the window again, and ask whether it's time to put the goggles on, but he advises you against it - they'd only fog up. You finally spot the altimeter - it's on the far left, with the appearance of a clock face, right down to the two hands turning in steady circles as you climb higher.

Somewhere above 9000 feet, he tells you to start getting ready. You get on your knees, next to the door on your right and just behind the white knee line on the floor. Passing the straps backward, you can hear and feel him fastening and tightening them. Four points of attachment - two on the shoulders, two on the hips, and any one of them strong enough to hold you, they'd said. He's just behind you, and your feet are feeling squashed. "Ow," you say, but he either doesn't hear you or realizes that there's little point to making any adjustments - this won't last long. He tells you it's time for the goggles, and sometime around then the plane levels off, above 10,000 feet.

It's time. You feel amazingly calm, and wonder at that, but shy away from introspection; you can feel a frisson of fear lying beneath that calm, ready to surface and engulf you if you only consider the situation, that you are about to fall out of a perfectly functional airplane for no other reason than you want to see what it feels like.

The door slides open, upward and above. You note the wheel strut - you had thought that it would fold away under the plane after take off, but it's still there. As you wait for the man behind you to put his foot outside, you idly wonder how you are supposed to avoid hitting the wheel, and what would happen if you got entangled in it. You tuck your thumbs under the harness straps and grab the straps firmly, arms tight to your sides. "Knees out," he calls, and you swing - first the right, then the left - until your folded legs are partly out the door, the knees pointing almost perpendicular to the sill. "Head up," he says, and at the same time he's pushing upward and outward - are you going to hit your head on the wing? - and then you're out.

A tumble, and for a moment you are on your back, watching the plane recede and the blue sky fall about you - and then he rolls, and you remember where you are falling to.

He tugs at your arms - belatedly you recall that it's okay to let go of the harness now, and you spread your arms. Fall belly first they had said on the ground - bend your knees and trail your arms and legs, it gives stability. You arch into position. You cast a look above your glasses and see an infinity of blue and white - but then your eyes return to the ground. But the ground is merely a distant concern - the wind embraces you at a hundred and twenty miles per hour. The view from that height is incredible, but you almost close your eyes. You are falling down - you are going nowhere. You are moving fast - you are absolutely still. In the wind's rough embrace, you surrender yourself.

There is a tap on your shoulder and he's moving your arms - a sudden jerk and you move from the horizontal to the vertical; you're suddenly moving upward. All too soon the parachute has opened. The rush of the wind has been replaced by a low steady flutter - you are still descending, but the pace is more sedate. Your arm hurts a little from the suddenness, and you feel queasy - for the next few minutes you will regret this jump, and have no desire to come back. Should you tell him that you feel - no, keep calm, deep breaths, deep breaths. And it quietens.

It is surprisingly quiet. "How was it?" he asks. You can sense that he wants an ecstatic "Oh-My-God" response, or a "Woo-hoo!" or a cheer. But you're still recovering from that feeling in your stomach, and besides, you are not much given to wordy expressions of excitement. "Wow," you say, because you know he'd be disappointed otherwise, "Wow. That was incredible." And then, "I'm basically speechless. Wow," hoping that that will explain your silence and satisfy him. How do you explain that it was a moment of calm, almost holy, of nothingness, of silent exhilaration? That to try to describe it, to quantify it with merely an exclamation fails so miserably; is demeaning to it?

He's handed you the controls to the chute now, and is showing you how to steer, and explaining the landing procedure - "Legs up, and ... flare." And on 'flare' you pull down on both the straps and the descent slows even further, the silence magnifying into another ocean of quiet. You practise a few more times. Your stomach has settled, and you suddenly realize that the ground is closer, too close - your previous regrets have all vanished, and now you merely wish to prolong your flight, to wish the ground away. You drift downward, the landscape a pretty postcard beneath you, but the world and all its reality is drawing closer, all too soon. You're holding the straps but he's the one doing all the real steering - a few turns and you're heading to the airfield. He points out your fellow jumper - despite jumping after you, she's going to touch ground first. A tight curve; the ground comes closer; it's almost over - "Legs up, and.... flare," - you hit the ground, your heels dragging a little infront of you. Not a textbook landing, but sufficient. As he unstraps himself, you tell him about your earlier queasiness. It's not something you're proud of, and you wish it hadn't happened, but the whole experience was so... pure, that you feel compelled to confess that one failing of yours. It demands your honesty. But you thank him, repeatedly, trying in those few words to convey how grateful you are for those few moments in the sky, that utter calm.

Helene is on the ground - you walk over. She was a little hyper on the drive over - and now that the deed is done, she is again. She is the kind of person who cheers and 'woohoo's - the jumpy cheery kind. "How was it?" she asks and you tell her it was great. And it was. "Woohoo! I want to do it again! I want to go skydiving again!" You smile at her. You are not a jumpy kind of person.

Slowly you make your way back to the building and the others waiting. There is a smile fixed on your face, but inside, behind the facade, you are desperately scrambling. What were you doing? Were you sleeping up there? Were your eyes closed? What were you feeling? For the moment is receding, the memory fading - you can remember in an abstract way how incredible it felt, but it was like nothing on this earth; and now, in the stranglehold of the reality around you, you cannot tell even yourself how it felt - only abstractions and trite cliches remain. Like a black hole, that moment in space and time has enclosed itself into nonexistence - it lived only in the experience, and left nothing of itself to remembrance. You will never recall it; it will never leave you.

You were not falling.

The Overhang

I've reorganised the pseudoblog so that you, Dear Reader, can find things more easily. I've started States of Mind, which should hopefully contain semiregular entries about my life in the US of A. I've also introduced ELITIST(OR), having been partially inspired by R&R (see link on the side) who used his blog as a kinda bookmark page.

Feel free to ramble.

States of Mind

  • Learning to Walk (Log 1)

  • To Belong (Log 2)

  • *
  • Flight (Log 3)

  • E.L.I.T.I.S.T. (O.R.)

    E-List of Interesting Things I Saw Today (Or Recently)

  • Vol. 1

  • Posts and Rants

  • The Post

  • The speech of dusty pages

  • Stories

  • Teleology Take 1

  • **
  • Teleology Take 2

  • Fate will not be cheated...

  • Creative Pieces and explications

  • The Wisdom of Solomon

  • ***
  • Second Coming

  • Ice candyman: creative rewrite

  • Poems

    Updated 06 August 2006

  • Maelstrom

  • Unnamed Composition 1

  • Touch

  • ***
  • Poetry

  • **
  • The Traveller's Song

  • The Atheist's Prayer

  • ***
  • With Apologies to WS

  • Quickie

  • Tiger Trilogy Part 1: A Flame in the forest

  • Tiger Trilogy Part 2: A shadow in the forest

  • Tiger Trilogy Part 3: Who made you Tiger?

  • Poem/Anti-poem Part 1

  • Independence

  • Random stuff

  • Quotable Quotes
  • Maelstrom

    The stillness of the room*
    Is like an empty womb*
    Waiting for me to vomit into it*
    The monotone of the fan*
    Stirring in a cup of air*
    Perhaps pure silence would be more poetic*
    But away the crickets chirp*
    If I were by the lake tonight*
    The frogs would sing summer carols*
    Of godlike storks that left*
    Vees and other letters trailing*
    Wakes; the vortices spin noiseless.****

    Unnamed Composition 1

    I can sense myself dying*
    Each day I live passes into a past I cannot return to*
    Nor should I - I desire only its flavour*
    Each hour turned to sand *
    Falls in piles that collapse under themselves*
    Bring sights I feel and wish to share*
    But no one ever can*
    The thought could break my heart*
    It does, pieces fall*
    Too large to drop through time's glass grasp*
    They lie trapped, imprisoning memories*
    As the sand of me slips by.*
    But yet still I cannot feel*
    Each moment congeals around me*
    A skin that dulls my senses*
    Removes them one further step from reality*
    Or life; one further grain*
    What tested my palate before*
    My nose, my eyes*
    Lies jaded; like drugs*
    I must go farther*
    To speak to heaven through carved circles of white*
    One further grain, one thousand cups*
    To be as high*
    Before I fell myself*
    What I feel I cannot trap*
    Cannot enjoy, for now no illusion*
    Binds me to the eternity of youth*
    I know time passes*
    What I see will fade*
    I cannot share it*
    Make it live by passing on*
    And so I cry*
    I never knew drops could fall like sand.***


    Covered by hair like down
    Coarse, fine
    A light touch disturbs them
    My skin is soft
    The feeling pleasure
    Delight, sinful.

    Discontinuous, I
    Find my skin by parts
    You can judge a hide
    Though not what it furs

    Tickled, as my hairs move slowly
    To some gentle intelligence
    Let me discover
    What discovers me

    Some pleasures
    Are best not disturbed
    Are best cut
    Pleasure clothing darkness

    A fly returns
    To its state of being
    My loss.

    Teleology Take 1

    'I had a very strange dream last night', he said as he
    sat down with the group.They were seated around a
    table, the light seemingly coming from nowhere, mild
    daylight shadows lurking.*

    'Well first, I had a dream about a friend of mine. One
    I haven't seen in some time. When I saw him - in the
    dream - he threw earthworms at me.'*

    He leaned back in his chair, smiling at how curious
    his statement had been. Most of them - there were only
    five or six - sat on the chairs, but one was sitting
    on the edge of the table, casually.*

    'Now I - well I don't hate earthworms, but I don't
    like to have them an closer than I can help. They're
    slimy creatures, but I have a grisly fascination with
    their .... worminess, and the way they move.'*

    They were listening in silence, hardly moving except
    for occasional shifts in posture. He wasn't certain if
    he was pleased or not by that - but atleast none of
    them had left. Or had they? He wsn't quite sure how
    many of them were there - he didn't bother to turn his
    head to count.*

    'Now I didn't like that and got away, and after
    removing all the earthworms, went about again. Then I
    saw him again - we were in a lawn or garden and he was
    picking an earthworm from somewhere - from a plant I
    think, atleast not from the ground. I went up to him
    to ask him why he had thrown earthworms at me, and not
    to do it again.'*

    They lounged like lizards. Well, he would provoke a
    discussion - when he had finished the story. The whole

    'And then, before I could say much, without saying a
    word, he started throwing them at me again. And I was
    repulsed and disgusted and withdrew. And the thing was
    - there was his attitude too, half smiling as if he
    was teasing me, but half in contempt, as if he despised

    He paused. They sat in reptilian silence which spoke,
    'Is that all?'*

    'Well, after that I woke up and went to the bathroom.*

    Now I would normally have expected, a dream of rain or
    oceans and waterfalls, and that would explain my
    waking with a need to go to the bathroom. But

    Why that friend - perhaps because I hadn't written to
    him in many months, and had recently though about him
    in passing.*

    Why earthworms? Well it was the rainy season, and the
    earthworms were crawling up into the bathrooms.
    Perhaps they were symbolic of the rains and of
    bathrooms. Perhaps the throwing reflected my disgust
    with them and with leeches, which are also annelids.'*

    'But - let that pass - the strange part was when I
    went back to sleep, for then I dreamed that I had was
    telling my dream to a group of .... well, friends,
    though I didn't really know who was there. And I
    eventually realized it, and then....'*

    He paused because he suddenly realised that if he
    looked at anyone's face, he saw rather bland
    undistinguished features, which shifted, so he could
    never identify - he realized he didn't know anyone's

    At that point a young man stood up, and his features
    were shifting quickly, like the reflections off
    ripples in a pond, and you could see that he was
    greatly disturbed.*

    'Excuse me,' said the young man, 'but do I know any of

    Then he knew what was happening, and he felt himself
    fade into nothingness as the young man rippled out of
    existence. The rest sat with the faces of forgotten
    gods, bored, stone, uncaring.*

    Teleology Take 2

    Above a small village in the green part of the
    mountains there lay a shrine. To whom none could say,
    for the forest had claimed it and nothing recognizable
    remained, except for the ruined statue of a man, the
    God, standing.*

    The statue stood crumbling slowly above an altar of
    fallen leaves and creepers; vines had clambered up the
    walls to frame it, and and fallen timbers from the
    ceiling lay in the mud on the floor which had come as
    the earth slowly came and reclaimed its own - except
    for a small clear stripe where a stream ran in the
    spring and when it rained.*

    The shrine had been built facing east, so that in the
    morning the sun cast its rays on the face of the
    statue; now the stone was featureless, worn to
    indistinction by the water dropping through the broken
    skylight above. At noon the sun shone through the
    skylight, so that the statue stood in a beam of light,
    as if descended from the heavens. And in the afternoon
    the face of the statue was dark, lit from behind, but
    if one knelt at the altar one would see a halo above
    its head. The skill of the builder had been great, and
    the shrine was as much one to his skill as to the God.
    But now all lay in ruins, neither lasting more than
    the other. What the builder had believed none knew.*

    Now into the village came a man, and his progress was
    like that of the wind - for none saw him, yet all felt
    him as he came, and the trees rustled as he left. He
    drank of the water in the well around which the
    village had been built; he bathed in the river that
    ran by its side. And then he walked up the bank of the
    river. And as he walked the river became smaller, and
    then became many streams. But he followed one stream
    without hesitation, and eventually he reached the
    shrine; for it was spring, and a stream flowed through

    Whether the other streams reached other shrines no one
    knew, for none had followed them - or if any had, they
    had never returned. but the man entered the shrine and
    went to the altar.*

    And then with a rock he scratched at the base of the
    statue 'We are the breath of God'. And then he left,
    and he was the third man.*

    Then two men came from the village to the altar, and
    they read what had been carved into the stone.*

    And the first said, 'We are the breath of God, for we
    were naught but clay till God breathed life into us.'*

    And the second said, 'We are the breath of God, for it
    is we who breathe life into God, we who created him.'*

    And they stood in disagreement while the sun shone
    overhead, but neither would change his mind. Then they

    The the third man, who believed he was God, came and
    lay down at the altar, and died.*

    And a wind blew through the mountains.*

    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    To Belong

    Your first school and university are always important. The friends you make, the lessons you learn - most of those will last you for a lifetime. It is in those times that your character is set, your die-hard habits forged. Love them or hate them, those times will always be with you.

    What about your second coll?

    Starting life in a different country is bad enough. Doing it in a new coll makes it stranger. Grad students come into a university with a rich and detailed past which has already shaped them. Can they ever really belong? Feel like a part of the university? When they leave, how much will they miss it? The place, the people, the culture?

    Well, first you have to know them.

    So what have I learned about Penn State? What drives them, what brings them together, what are the people like, what is this place?

    There are many answers, many points to be raised, but one has to start somewhere.


    I'm talking off American Football, of course. That mad sport where big undergrads pad themselves up into intimidating giants and hurl themselves at each other. Somewhere along the line, a ball which is not a ball gets passed for a touchdown.

    I'm sorry, but my knowledge of the sport is currently limited to the bits I picked up from movies. I dare say though that before the year is done, I'll know a lot more. Over here it's inevitable. Penn State loves football.

    Love? That's a pretty strong word, isn't it? After all, all that they're playing is Amateur league. The Big Ten universities of the East coast play each other. Sure, some of these kids may go on to make pro, but how big a deal is the whole show?


    Football games here are held in a stadium with a seating of over a 100,000. On match days, the stadium is filled to overflowing. University Park temporarily becomes one of the top 4 most populated areas of Pennsylvania.

    Think about that.

    Old students come back to watch. Current ones rent out their apartments for a day. Scalpers sell tickets at ginormous prices. Considering that the team has had a less than 50% win record over the last two years, it's funny that spirit still runs this strong. What's funnier is that most of it is because of one man.

    He studied English at an Ivy League school. He listens to opera while planning football strategies. He and his family donated 3.5 million dollars to the university (he is rumoured to be the highest paid university employee). He's taken the PSU team to the heights of College Football glory, yet insists that his players are in Penn State for an education, not just for football, and requires them to take proper, and not fraud courses. He's nearly 80 years old. He worked as assistant coach for 16 years, and has been head coach since 1966.

    Meet Joe Pa.

    The university, in honour of the Paternos' philanthropy, named an extension of the Pattee Library after them. So now we have the Pattee and Paterno libraries. Personally I think it's a bad idea to name something after a living person, especially if he is still in the university's employ. But that's the way it works here.

    The Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library is housed in Davey Lab (Davey and Osmond Labs house the Physics department.). Such a change from the brown bound rows of books at Kelkar. What's really nice is their check out policy.

    First of all, aside from journals which can only be taken out for two hours at a time, standard books can be issued by graduate students for.... the semester. Semester loan. Now, I wish I had had that at Kanpur. And second, the limit on the number of books you can check out per person is.... no, guess. Go ahead. Give it a shot.


    200 books per person.


    Continuing on the subject of books, there is a very nice cafe - cum - bookstore downtown called Webster's. It looks really good. Lots of second hand stuff, shelves filled to near overflowing, and what seems to be a rather nice collection of old and new SF&F. I could probably just sit there and read. I guess I'll save that for the occasional weekend.

    Of course, man does not live on words alone. He's got to have grub. I haven't yet signed up for the meal plan, so I'm still eating out. Except for breakfast - I go for cereal then.

    On campus there exist a few eating places in the HUB - which is actually the Hetzel Union Building, but which actually is the HUB of student events. On weekends they show movies there and have board games that you can borrow for a few hours and play. More about that later. Downtown, however, offers much more variety - there are Chinese restaurants, Indian ones (The India Pavilion serves an all you can eat Buffet for about $7.00), Austrian, American - and if you wander a little further afield, you can find Viet-Thai and Korean restaurants too. In Pennsylvania the law is that you can smoke if you are over 18, and you can drink if you're over 21. But you have to prove your age with a state issued ID (like a driver's license) or your passport. As we're not too fond of carrying my passport around, the other international students and I usually can't join our American friends when they enter bars. We did do it a couple of times while we were carrying our passports, but for me, since I don't drink, it's just not worth the hassle. There is, however, a nice band at Zeno's, one of the downtown bars. The Department of Motor Vehicles does issue a non-Driver's License proof-of-age ID - I'll have to get one sometime.

    Most places close by 8pm, so if you're feeling peckish late at night, you can either go to the local supermarket which closes at midnight, or one of the places that serve alcohol after 9pm, or like me, you can visit Ye Old College Diner. The Diner is something which I sorely missed at IITK - it's open 24 hours. Well, most days. It has hiccups in its service schedule occasionally. Now that my eating schedule has changed I haven't visited it in sometime - but I rather like it. I have a favourite waitress who actually remembered me, at least in the days when I was semi-regular, if only because I'd ask her each time if they had tuna. They usually didn't, which was a pity, since the tuna and the BLT (bacon-lettuce-tomato) sandwiches were among the best on their menu. Another place I've visited a couple of times is Baby's .... something and Shakes. I can't remember. It's a kinda retro-diner, with a 1950's (?) ridiculous red and white decor. They serve marvellous milkshakes.

    At home, in the apartment, I eat cereal in the morning - occasionally I make myself peanut butter - jam sandwiches.

    Ah. Home. I forgot about that.

    On the 22nd of August I finally left the flies of Sproul Hall behind, and moved (a day late) into my accomodation at White Course apartments. For some reason the name had made me think that the buildings would be white - actually, they're brick. The name possibly comes from the sand in the adjacent golf course.

    Moving took a little longer than expected. First I had to wait for transportation to shift my stuff - the International Student Services (ISS) dept kindly took care of that. After reaching White Course, I had to wait again while a slight glitch was sorted out. It turned out that they had given the key to my room to a maintenance person for repairs and cleaning, and he hadn't returned it. Unwilling to send me into a room which might not be clean and the key to which was in somebody else's possession, they shifted me to another room in the same flat. So I shifted from the B bedroom to the C bedroom. This has caused me slight inconveniences as I have had to change to my address on all the forms that I had filled. However, problem sorted, I shifted into my new room.

    The flat is already furnished, and comes complete with:
    In each bedroom:
    telephone and net connections, a bed, a wardrobe, a chair, a desk with an inbuilt light, two sets of drawers, a mirror on the back of the door and blinds on the windows.
    In the flat in general:
    a sofa, chairs, a dining table with chairs, a washing machine, a dryer, a fridge, an oven, a microwave, kitchen cabinets....

    My roommates are Josh, who is in Chemistry and work with RNA, and Masaki, who is Japanese, and works in Communication and Interpersonal Dynamics, or something similar. Interestingly, the third roommate, who was supposed to occupy the C bedroom, and who would now occupy my old B bedroom, has not, to the best of my knowledge, arrived. Today was the first day of fall term - maybe he's come. I'll have to check.

    All in all, the flat's a good deal, and though a little expensive, since it already has everything and I don't have to arrange for extra facilities, and since I don't spend much time there, I'm inclined to think that I'll stick with it next year. I'll have to see how it feels through the year. There is a campus bus that runs quite close by, and it's only a short walk/cycle away from my department.

    Oh. Right. The cycle.


    I've got wheels!

    After Shivakumar told us about the cheap cycles available at Walmart, I stopped looking for a cheap secondhand bicycle, and Arthur and I went to Walmart to shop for bikes. There are two Walmarts nearby - we somehow missed catching a bus to the first, so we ended up going to the second one. I ended up buying a cycle for about $54 - but the accessories - helmet (which doesn't fit properly and which I hardly wear), front and back lights (mandatory for night cycling), pump, lock - came to more than the cycle, I think. The final total was around $115-125. Arthur bought a more expensive bike for $98, but it had better gears.

    Then came the fun part. We cycled back.

    Our timing had gotten a little messed up, so Arthur was running late for an appointment with a prof. It's been about a year since I rode a cycle for any slightly prolonged period of time. I was (and still am) terribly out of shape, so Arthur quickly left me behind as we cycled off. It didn't help that there were uphill rides, and that I was still not used to changing gears (it is my first multi-speed bike, after all). But Arthur was very kind/considerate/thoughtful, since he checked back on me every now and then, and once when he had left me out of sight, and I had slowed down to the point that I found it easier to get off and walk the cycle, he came back to check that everything was okay. Which was fortunate, considering that I didn't know the way back as well as he did. Arthur still managed to meet the prof, and I completed my first ride on the edge of a major roadyway, with traffic whizzing past. The fun was in the downslopes - the speed you build is amazing, as well as scary, considering that you're cycling on the hard shoulder of the road, which isn't that wide, and you have traffic whizzing past you from behind at who-knows-how-many miles per hour. Since then I have confined myself to the campus and downtown. More road warrior adventures will have to wait for another day. I still tire very easily while cycling - in contrast, my walking has improved to near old levels. But with a cycle, I can explore the campus more quickly, and discover new places.

    Of course, with people, you still have to do it the old-fashioned way. My circle of acquaintances has grown, but of course, a lot depends on how frequently you meet. Getting to know people is not easy. I have always been a little reticent about getting acquainted with people in situations where our roles are not predefined. Even when the introductions happen smoothly and quickly, I can often find myself alone in a crowded room, sometimes tired of the niceties that one must spout to keep a conversation going. But a new place is a fresh start, where people don't know you. That works both ways - while you may not have a friend who understands you completely, with whom you can be perfectly casual and at ease, you also have no prior reputation, you are free to make a fool of yourself. Which is what I proceeded to do with abandon during the International Students Orientation.

    One trick for getting to know people is getting involved in a group activity. So, despite my reservations, during Orientation I signed up for a game of broomball.

    Broomball is ice hockey - only there are no skates, only your sneakers; there is no puck, only a blue ball; and there are not hockey sticks, only .... sticks called brooms, though they really aren't. Otherwise it's pretty much the usual field game - offense, defense, goalie. Try to score. Try to save. Try to block.

    I won't go into the details of the match, except to say that my team lost (twice). Personally I think it's because our offensive lacked punch. Naturally, I was playing defensive ;). Nevertheless, in other respects it was a success - I met quite a few people, some of whom I still run into now and then. There was Rayos, originally from Nigeria but who has lived a lot in the UK. There was Valentina from Columbia. There was 'Charlie' from South Korea, and Philip, and Mathai (a Keralite settled in UK). Most of the UK people are just exchange students who've come over for a year. There was also an undergrad from Hong Kong called Yan Tze (well, that's my guess as to how her name is spelt).

    Another night, the ISS people took us out bowling. This was my first time (in my life) out bowling, so I sucked colossally. Actually that's not a valid excuse. Venkat was bowling for the first time too, and he won both his games. Venkat is the talkative Madrasi Bombay chap I mentioned last time. He likes to tease me, and unfortunately I tend to respond, but I'm learning to dampen my responses. For some reason he seems to gets a kick out of my being a physicist. Whazzever. He's an Antenna Engineer. Or will be.

    I still managed to meet a couple of people, including my first Egyptian - a girl called Passant. Everytime I say her name I think of the chess move 'en passant' - in passing. I met her again later when a group gathered to play board games. One group played Monopoly, but I watched the group that was playing Risk.

    I arrived too late to join the game, and I have never played Risk on a board - I've played it on a computer, but that was different. Actually the others hadn't played it either, so they made up some of the rules on the way. That made it more chaotic, but way fun. I just stood outside and kibitzed, passing comments that provoked the occasional burst of laughter. The game never really finished - we called it quits around three in the morning. I didn't learn any names, but I would later meet Passant and one of the players again - an African guy called Selom. Again, my approximation.

    Besides games, social gatherings are a good time to meet people. There was an International Coffee Hour, where I finally met Shivakumar. Shiv is one of my new physics batchmates - he did Electrical Engg in B'lore, then a Masters in Physics at Texas A&M University. He knows Vishwesha quite well.

    I suppose I'd better introduce the rest of my batch. I described some of them last time, but now the batch is pretty complete. First off let me add Chune Yang Lum, the Singaporean wunderkind, who did 2.5 years National Service. If you've ever filled out a visa form, you know that there's a section where you have to say whether you've had

    a) any Military Service
    b) any training with explosives
    c) any training with Chemical weapons/warfare
    d) any training with Biological weapons/warfare
    e) any training with Nuclear weapons/warfare.

    Chune Yung had to tick yes for a,b,c and e. His training didn't actually involve using nuclear or chemical weapons, but he did train in defense against them. He's also climbed some 6,000 m peak. Scary chap, he hardly looks his 26 years.

    Secondly we have Joel. Well, that's the easy name he gave himself - his Chinese name is something else. He's from Taiwan, and had a lot of visa problems, so he arrived late.

    Then we have Edward Wilson-Ewing. He's from Canada, and plays Ultimate. Ultimate is Ultimate Frisbee, which I like to say is like touch rugby without the touching, and without the rugby. He's trying out for the PSU team.

    Then we have the Americans. There's Ronald Stites, whom I mentioned last time, and David Caven, and Aaron Miller, who's from Pennsylvania but studied in Cornell, and Adam Henderson, and Seth Timpano (who studied here in PSU in Astrophysiics but then switched over), and Gerardo Giordano (who's married, like Ronald), and Joshua West, who worked here in the summer, as did Maria Dahlberg, who's the only girl.

    That covers the 18 of us.

    The other community that I've slowly been getting to know is the White Course one. It turns out that Venkat is Zhongyao's flatmate. Philip stays in the same hall as me. So does Anushree, an Indian girl who's in Integrated Biosciences. India-wise, there's Smita, who's very sparky despite being confined to a wheelchair, and who is studying Special Ed; there's Uma (that is in fact, just Uma. She's dropped her last name, I don't know why) who's doing Industrial Labour; Nilesh who is in Aerospace if I'm not mistaken, Ashish, an Indian family whose names slip my mind, and Kripali, who's lived in the States for a few years. I've also met other people, like Andrea, Kripali's flatmate, but only time will show how often I run into the same people.

    Of course, getting to know people aside, I made a fool of myself on general principles too, like the time during Orientation when I took a one-time introductory class in .....


    Heheh. I was horrible, but it was fun, and I may join the classes, after I figure out how busy my schedule here is. Fall term started today, and we had two classes. Tomorrow will tell me more. For now, I had better stop, or this entry will never get finished. Adios, amigos.

    Monday, August 15, 2005

    Learning to Walk

    I often like to characterize myself as a misfit - perhaps in a lame attempt at coolness, most often as a whiney excuse. I lived in India from age 6.5 to 22.5. That's 16 years. The two languages that should have been mine - Malayalam and Hindi - I never tried properly to pick up. Consequently, a large part of Indian culture has always been off limits to me. Another consequence is that I never grew up. I hated talking on the phone, I wasn't too fond of meeting people, or dealing with shopkeepers, or asking for directions. Why? The language barrier. That was what I told myself. Sooner or later they would notice my lack of proficiency in the language, and then the questions would start, and I would be embarrassed/mortified, and have no good reply. That was the crutch I provided myself, and I could always take refuge in that.

    Until now.

    Now, for the first time in my life, I am in a country where the predominant language is the one language I speak fluently. English.

    That means no more excuses. If I want something, I have to go and ask people if I don't know how to do it. I have to communicate - interact. I'm standing free.

    For years I've traded one ivory tower for another. This last move was really no different. I went from the isolation of school to the seclusion of IIT Kanpur. From there I moved to PSU. But now in Penn State, I have to look after myself.

    No more dhobi - I've got to do my own laundry. No problems there, though I still have to get the hang of ironing properly.

    No more mess hall. Well, that's not quite right. I'm likely to be busy, so I'll probably sign up for a meal plan and eat meals in the dining commons. Even otherwise I usually just stop at a restaurant or deli and order stuff. But I can expect to spend the occasional weekend morning cooking something for myself. That is, once I shift into my new apartment. Which should happen on the 22nd or so.

    So basically, I have to figure out what my needs are and then go buy the stuff I need. Nobody's spoonfeeding me any more. A few days ago my roommate and I were hit by an infestation of houseflies. They just started with about 3 or 4 one night and then multiplied by the next morning. It was horrible. I must have killed atleast 16 flies by now. I'm getting quite good at it - but there are still atleast 5 left. It's like the Hydra - whenever I kill one, another takes its place. Plus what worries me is that if the survving ones mate and breed, I'll end up with uber-flies. Temporary solution - I bought a table fan. For $20.

    See that's the other thing about the States. Everything is expensive. When you convert it into rupees, at least. The important thing is to be economical, but not to get frightened by the money you're spending - if it's on essentials. Still 20 dollars was actually a bad bargain, considering I could have perhaps got a secondhand one for $10, or a smaller one for less at Walmart.

    Walmart. I visited it for the first time yesterday night, and I didn't get much time to really wander round, but yeah, things are usually cheaper there. It's a busride away from the campus, and there are few other big stores nearby that I'll have to visit. Once I shift and figure out what I need, that is. And after seeing what my roommates bring.

    Still no idea who they're going to be. I checked a site here that gives your roommate assignment, and it lists me alone in a four bedroom apartment. The ridiculous part is that there is a (metaphorical) line of people waiting to get an apartment at White Course. I know, because one of my Physics batchmates is one of them.

    Guess I better introduce them. Zhongyao Sun is the guy waiting to get into White Course. He's from Beijing, and it's his first trip out of China - he has been to Hong Kong though. His English is pretty good, and we're reasonably friendly now. But he's a bit too liberal, which is why Arthur and I suspect him of being an agent of the Chinese secret police.

    Arthur Tsobanjan is from Estonia, a little republic that broke away from the old USSR, and that is pretty close to Finland. His father is Armenian, his mother Ukrainian, so his first language is Russian. But he spent the last 6 years studying in the UK (2 in school, 4 getting a Masters in Imperial College, London) so he speaks with a British accent. Like me, he to hopes to get into Gravity. Most of the others want to do Condensed Matter, I think.

    Xinyuan Dou is probably the biggest of us, sizewise, but he's also very quite. He's also from China, and I'm pretty sure he has a paper or two to his name, on carbon nanotubes, I think.

    The only person who is as quiet is Young-Moo Byun. Luckily that's pronounced just as it's written. He's from South Korea, and is 28 years old, which makes him the oldest of us. He's shocked that I'm going for PhD at age 22.5 - he thinks I'm smart, which is a common error people make. He worked in computer programming before, and true to form will probably go into computational Condensed Matter Theory. His English is actually alright, he just has a couple of pronunciation problems which he is already correcting, and a confidence problem, which needs a lot more work.

    The fifth international Physics student I met is Cheng-Ing C. I forget the surname. He's a Chinese Malaysian, and he did his undergrad in Taiwan. There is supposed to be another guy from Taiwan joining us in a couple of weeks - he's been having visa problems.

    We also met Ronald Stites - he's one of the Americans who will be joining us. At last, a person who has lost more hair than me. Friendly chap, though.

    Yesterday was the International Students' picnic, where I met a few other people - including quite a few Indians. I better write down their names before I forget them - my temporary roommate, Nilendra Joshi, from Nainital. He's a Ford Foundation scholar, is joining the Entomology department, has about 5-6 years work experience, tends to sleep a lot, and is sometimes prone to bursts of talkativeness. Arjun, from Bangalore, also with plenty of work ex, worked in Infosys and IISc, going for a Master's in Computer Science, and still remembers some Russian from the time when he studied there. He and Arthur started chatting away, and I just kept laughing. I couldn't help it, it was just funny listening to them speak. I felt like Russell Peters in the elevator with those Africans.

    Akshay - don't remember much else about him. There was also Radhesh (?) - again, I can't recall any details. And of course, there was a Southey - Venkat (short for Venkataraman), Tamil origin but settled in Bombay for the last so many years. He's going in for EE, and he's going to be in White Course Apartments too, though in a different hall. Apparently there were also a few IITM guys, but I didn't run into them. And then there was Mithun, again from Bombay I think, who's come to join the MBA programme.

    There were a few Indian girls hanging around, but the only one I met was Holika. No, actually, that was Venkat and I heard at first, her name's actually Kolika, and she's a Bong.

    Probably the worst thing you can do after travelling thousands of miles to study in a different country is to end up hanging out with only your fellow countrymen (and women, but you know Indian guys ;) ). I vowed to myself that I wouldn't do it, but it seems that I'm no better than the rest. I did meet a Bangladeshi guy while hanging out with the Indian crowd, but eventually I broke free, and then was miserably alone for a little while until I ran into Arthur. So now I was hanging out with my Dept mates.

    That actually didn't go too badly. Zhongyao (or Yao, as he now asks everyone to call him before they murder his name) had earlier introduced me to an old universitymate of his called Carol - like many Chinese, she had opted to take an English name for convenience. Now Arthur and I started talking with some of the student volunteers - they were taking names for a few sports teams, and Artthur was signing up for soccer. They weren't taking names for tennis, but the volunteer - a nice Malaysian girl called Nadia, who's a 3rd year undergrad doing biotech - introduced Arthur to a Chinese Chemistry student who also played tennis. I was actually able to pronounce her Chinese name, but she goes by the handle of Sherry in the States. Unfortunately she wasn't so fluent in English, so our conversation quickly meandered and died.

    It was a little funny (and sad) seeing the Chinese split into two groups sitting on the grass - mainland and Taiwan, but no one was making any trouble. Yao was excited to see so many Chinese students - and he ended up noting down all their names (40 of them) in a little notepad. More proof he's with the secret police. Still, it was nice for him to find people to speak his native tongue to.

    Native tongues, of course, are the slightly ironic reason we ended up in the States so early. Arthur and I found it a little ridiculous that we were being asked to report for an Intensive English course before orientation. Thankfully, though, the class turned out to be a lot more than that. Mind you, we did cover some English problems - it appears I tend to mispronouce the 'v' sound. But a lot of the class time (which was 10.00am -12.00 noon, and 1.30pm - 3.30pm) was taken up with the American classroom, the difficulties of being an international Teaching Assistant, and American culture. In the first class this involved watching an episode of Friends (mphah!); another time we watched a very interesting clip from a movie called Stand and Deliver, based on a true story. Check it out.

    It was planned rather smartly - the first instructor was Alina, from Romania, who has been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) for 8 years, has been in the States for five, and who has been in Penn State for nearly 3 years. So yes, start off with an instructor who is herself a foreigner, ease the students into their new setting with somebody who underwent the same process herself. Now back her up with an American who has a significant amount of experience abroad too - this was Danielle. A fierce Democrat (who recognizes that the party is not doing too great, but argues that Bush is hopeless; we spent at least half an hour discussing Bush, USA foreign policy and our respective countries), she used to train in modern historical fencing. Basically it's fencing which is more freestyle than collegiate (Olympic) fencing, with less rules. She talked about it while giving a demo on how to give a presentation - and she brought the swords (foils, really) to class! It was pretty cool. She has a tendency to say 'you know' a lot, but does not scare us as much as Alina, who accidentally keeps telling us things about TAship that frighten us. Like all the legal disclaimers we have to include when we announce a syllabus, and how occasionally a student may sue a TA.

    Today the course ended, and after her morning session, Alina took us out to an Austrian resaurant caled Herwig's. I had a lunch that was so filling that I'm still not really hungry - and it's now 9.30pm. I had a bratwurst. It's a lovely little place, run by a family, and nearly everything is homemade. Bring your sense of humour is what they say - and they are quite a hilarious family. Check this out: a small notice on the table asks you to eat all the food you are served, or else you will be forced to choose between:

    1. Scrubbing dishes
    2. Being beaten with a large wooden stick (which is red, and hangs rather prominently on the wall)
    3. Asking for a box and being charged $35 for it
    4. Warning them in advance, so that they can give you smaller servings and charge twice as much.

    Heh. :) .

    I have more news to tell, of America in general and Penn State in particular, but that will have to wait for later.

    Until we meet again, Dear Readers.

    Au revoir.

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    E.L.I.T.I.S.T. (O.R.) E-List of Interesting Things I Saw Today (Or Recently)| Vol. 1

    Hello, and welcome to ELITIST(OR). I realized that I was coming across a whole lot of interesting things that I wanted to share with other people, but didn't want to write mails about continuously, and which I might not like enough to put on the sidebar. So I've put together a list of things that caught my eye, and have provided, when possible, the links. The list will be updated at random intervals, and things which I like a lot will eventually make their way to my sidebar. Other things will be discarded, so it's important that you check regularly to find out what's new (That another way of saying, "Read, darn you!"). Feel free to comment (Yet another way of saying the same thing, but more obliquely).

    So, first up on the list: ....

    ....(roll of drums, sound of trumpets).....

    .....web comics!

    Once again, thanks to Adi, who brought Questionable Content to my notice. Apurva has described it as similar to Garfield - I see his point, but Marten is a bit better off than Jon, in my opinion :). Also, despite the strip criticising Friends, the artist himself acknowledges that the comic does seems like a sitcom at times. Anyhow, Questionable Content follows the life and adventures (?) of Marten Reed, his AnthroPC PintSize (kinda like a robot) and his various friends. One nice thing about web comics is that if a comic lasts long enough, you get to see the artist's style and art change and (hopefully) improve. Questionable Content is updated 3 times a week, so it's fairly regular.

    Incidentally, can anyone fill me in on the meaning of the slang word 'emo' ? It's used quite a lot in QC, but I recently saw it used by a kid to describe Harry Potter!

    But hold on, QC was just the tip of the iceberg! Following the links provided at the QC sidebars led me to other great artists and web comics. One of my favourites, which unfortunately is not being updated very regularly at the moment, is Fallen. This fantasy manga is set in a different world, and revolves around an extremely fascinating and diverse set of characters, including a Fallen Angel, a talking scythe and a Boa Constrictor (or is it a Coastal Carpet Python?). Though not too much has happened storywise, the artist (a Japanese female named Aido) has sketched out the characters really well (meaning she's fleshing them out, making them intriguing by dropping background info bit by bit) and has created an interesting mythology for her world. I wish she would update it more frequently, but she apparently broke her right hand recently. Ouch.

    For those who are confused, like I was a few days ago, anime is Japanese style animation - think Robotech, Samurai X, Inu Yasha - and a manga is basically a Japanese comic - the different is animation vs still pics. For a list of apparently interesting anime, check out the discussion on the forums at Fallen. I haven't even heard of most of the stuff they mention. However, I have recently got hooked on to Animax, and whenever possible I watch these anime.

    On with the web comics.

    Little Gamers: This 'minimalist' comic is apparently accused of being a rip-off - I'm not sure of what, though there are a few South Park references (Check out the ninjas!). Regardless, I enjoy it, and I've collected here a few strips which I really liked, though you should really try reading the whole lot.

  • Kickass Intro

  • Lan-party in a nutshell

  • People

  • Truth of Life

  • Freak 2001

  • Computer Style

  • Hungry

  • Ninjas!, entrance stage right

  • Computer Style #3

  • Computer Style #4

  • Internet-less (mr.Madsen special)

  • Subtitled kung-fu style #2

  • Madsen Month #11

  • Phone home

  • Hopefully you enjoyed those. Now, take a look at Ctrl-Alt-Del:

  • Nice Melon

  • Bad call

  • Cool people stand


  • Stop yelling at me!

  • Heheh.

    Back to Fantasy web comics. Now that Fallen is currently in limbo, my current favourite fantasy manga is Wish 3. Thankfully, it is currently being updated regularly. A spin on the old idea of 3 wishes, the artwork is above average and improving, and the storyline is promising. The characters are slowly being fleshed out: over all, it's quite good.

    For a rather well-drawn and extremely well-coloured fantasy comic, read Cascadia. However, I must confess that I haven't read this particular one very far as I wasn't particularly hooked on to it. Still, check out the graphics.

    Semi-decent, and with a somewhat intriguing storyline, Nine Swords involves humans, vampires, and these wolfy type chaps who are not werewolves, but do have bushy tails.....

    You could check out Arcana, but my gripe about this is that despite being called Arcana, we only find that (Arcana) mentioned in the comic after about 50-70 strips.... and I still don't know what it is. Maybe I wasn't paying attention. Also, it features gay vampires, so... well, whatever. Not my thing :).

    Demonology 101 as far as I have read it, seems quite decent, and one BIG thing in its favour is that the main story is apparently complete, and there is currently a spin-off going on.

    One nutty but extremely imaginative comic is 9th Elsewhere. In its own words, "Since Jan '03, the webcomic '9th Elsewhere' has shared the story of an unhappy girl and her oddball muses trapped together in a dream. The entire comic is free to read online; updates on Monday and Wednesday."

    That about covers it. For a lot of links to some pretty decent web comics, check out the links page at .

    And finally, for those of you who despair at your artistic ability, check out White Ninja. Beware though.... the humour is .... a leeettle strange.

  • White Ninja finds a severed head

  • White Ninja and the bucket of eyes

  • White Ninja and the growling pirate

  • White Ninja and the spiders that got him at last

  • White Ninja to the rescue

  • Salut!

    Rare Hand Axe.

    Sunday, July 10, 2005


    For those who are confused, like I was a few days ago, anime is Japanese style animation think Robotech, Samurai X, Inu Yasha, and a manga is basically a Japanese comic - the different is animation vs still pics. For a list of apparently interesting anime, check out the discussion on the forums at Fallen. I haven't even heard of most of the stuff they mention. However, I have recently got hooked on to Animax, and whenever possible I watch these anime:

    The Vision of Escaflowne: Fantasy, swords, machines, kings and princes, Atlantis - aaaaah (sigh of content). Do not be deceived by the first episode - it simply provides a little background on one of the main characters, but after that the action shifts to a different world. Whopee!

    Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Having enjoyed the movie greatly, I was extremely eager to catch this series once Issac told me about it. I was not disappointed. GitShell looks at a future where man and machine are integrated to an incredible level. Very few people are 100% natural - most have cyber implants of one kind or another. The series has great action and plots, but also deals with philosophical questions about the mind and soul and what it means to be human. Most (though not all) of the episodes are stand alone in the sense that they can be viewed independently. Those of you who have seen the movie will notice that the Major is different: she's still hot, though not as much :). And she is still very cool :).

    Inu Yasha: Fantasy again, with a motley group of characters (once again including a girl from the modern world, though in this case, she can return home nearly whenever she wants) who include a schoolgirl, a woman with a giant boomerang, a half-dog-half-demon title character, a little demon with a bushy tail, and a lecherous monk, who are currently searching for a big evil thingy. Characters aren't very deep, but are very funny.

    Samurai X: Possibly my favourite. Set in the Meiji Restoration after the Tokugawa regime, the story follows the adventures of Kenchi/Batusai Himora, the greatest swordsman of that time. Having discarded the life of extreme violence that he lived when he was the slasher Batusai, the most deadly and famous assassin who worked for the Royalists, Kenchi now stays with a group of friends and tries to protect his community from villains who try to harass people or upset the Restoration. He has sworn never to kill again, and whenever possible tries to resolve matters by talking, but thankfully for the viewers, every now and then he has to draw his sword. And when he does! Amazing action. Check it out: now showing Monday to Friday at 8.30pm and again at 11.30pm on Animax.

    Now and then I also watch Clamp School and Alien 9 (which is very weird). More about those later.

    Back to the web comics!

    The Traveller's Song (1992)

    I am a traveller, on my own,
    I have no companions; I'm all alone
    Except for my cane and faithful dog,
    My only other friend is God.

    I walk on and on on roads unknwon to ye
    Until I spy a shady tree.
    And beneath the shade, while I rest,
    I think of the home which I have left,
    But I cannot stop! It must be.
    for a lone traveller - that is me.