Thursday, May 31, 2007

With a long weekend gone by...

... can a travelogue be far behind?

Before you start groaning, two posts ago was post number 200 :-). Since I had said I would honor every 50 posts, here is the belated marker meant for that post.

Okay, you can start groaning now :-P.

So my friend S and me were planning on a vacation outside of the US for the Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, the plan got grounded even before it took off. So S asked me if I wanted to go to Utah instead. Some other undergrad classmates of mine and a bunch of their (and S's) friends were planning to visit Utah's national parks.

Now, though I have heard a lot about most of the "other" friends, I have never met them. S assured me that they were very nice people and that they would be absolutely okay with my gate-crashing. Deciding to be more sociable and all, I decided to go. Spending a good chunk of money got me a ticket to Salt Lake City (sheesh, that darn place is 2 hours away by plane from where I live - darn these expensive long weekend flights).

Thursday, May 24, was the D-day. As with all other pre-trip nights, I had gotten minimal amount of sleep on Wednesday night - what with all the last minute packing and getting "ready". As an aside, while I love summers, it is a lot more difficult to choose and pack clothes for summer. In winter you could choose almost anything (including pyjama tops or that t-shirt with the huge stain or the comfy one with the not-so-gaping hole) as tops - the winter jacket is going to cover it anyways.

Anyways, on Thursday, V dropped me off at the airport late noon. I was well ahead of time. Given that, of course, the inevitable happened. My flight got delayed. By an hour. Thus ensuring that I would *certainly* miss my connecting flight at Las Vegas (LV). Ugh, ugh, ugh! Fortunately, before all my panic alarms could go off, they announced that the connecting flight would be held till we got to LV - phew!

Both my flights were of short duration and went off quickly enough. Once I reached Salt Lake City, I called S. My "welcome party" was waiting for me :-).

**Before I go further, there were nine of us totally - the girls S, G, K, B and me and the guys R, P, V and T.**

Back to the story. Due to terrible hunger, R, G, V and T had gone on ahead to have dinner while the rest were waiting for me at the airport. Quick introductions took place and we were on our way. Yippee, my vacation had begun :-D.

Dinner was at Denny's - why does every vacation include at least one meal at Dennys? There I met the rest of the folks. Dinner was spent in general talk and chatter. It was then time to set off to our hotel for the night.

All of us were too tired to talk much - so we all crashed almost as soon as we reached. We had a long day ahead of us.

To be continued ....

Note 1: To the best of my knowledge, this travelogue should be not be too long. Given that we did so many things over the course of four days, I don't remember too much :-).

Note 2: I did not know that Utah time was one hour ahead of California time. In retrospect, I shouldn't have sounded quite so confident when I went, "Hey, my plane arrived half an early inspite of starting off late" . Obviously (and more logically), my flight had landed half an hour late.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Castle Rock

This past weekend, I went hiking after ages. I usually like hiking and now, as added motivation, I am "training" to become more fit. This week's training turned out to be a whole lot of fun :-)!

The weather on the day of the hike was super awesome. This is no exaggeration. How else can you describe weather where the sun is shining brightly, yet it is not hot - only pleasantly warm. In fact, so pleasant that you could go on a 6-mile moderately difficult hike without sweating (even without tying up your shoulder-length hair). These are the times I really don't mind California's absurdly high cost of living :-).

Six of us, the male-folk C, E and V and the female-folk, L, A and me had planned to go on the hike. The destination was Castle Rock State Park near Saratoga. The hiking trail by itself was very pretty. But I think the best part of the trip was all the "rock-climbing" we did. This post is mostly about that.

Though rock-climbing hadn't really been a part of our original plans, since the trail we went on offered plenty of opportunities for amateur rock-climbing, we decided to try our hands (and feet :-)) at it.

The first rock we tried seemed too smooth at its base to climb. But further investigation showed that there were some handholds and footholds. I have an irrational fear of heights (especially when climbing) but I did manage to scramble up the rock successfully with instructions from C, E and V. Once I got to the top, I was so scared of falling down that I stuck like a lizard to one of the depressions on the rock and refused to even lift my head to see the view from the top. Finally, I did manage to stand up - ah, lovely view :-)!

So going up turned out to be okay after all. However, coming down was a whole new ball game. Remember the smooth base? Well, I managed to get till there fine. Then I realized that I had run out of leg holds and was hanging like a bat (upright though) with my hands only. So I cried out "I am falling - help!" to C and V who had already climbed down.

C and V asked me to hold on with my hands while they held my ankles. And then, I started to slowly slide down the rock face, maneuvering with my hands while C and V guided my feet. So far so good. At that point, I decided that I ought say my thanks to C and V. So I went "Thank you so much."

Unfortunately, C and V took my thank-you as a sign that I was done with their help and that I could manage on my own from that point and let go of my ankles. Of course, since I had been heavily relying on their support, the next moment, I slid down all the rest of the way with about as much grace as a sack of coals being dumped into a coal-chute. And with a big thump, landed my behind on the ground in front of the rock :-(.

But the whole situation was so funny that I promptly burst out laughing. In spite of my smarting behind, there was one good side effect: from that point, I stopped being over-cautious about climbing and instead just got into the spirit of the thing and was clambering wherever I could :-)!

The actual Castle Rock destination (which was a detour from the trial we had taken) had tons of climbable rocks filled with nooks and caves. I felt like a character in an Enid Blyton story as we explored the various caves and holes. We could not spend as much time as we would have liked there though - it was getting dark even for a long summer evening and it was time to leave.

At the end of the day, the climbing rankings stood as follows:

First place: Without doubt, E! He seriously needs to consider applying for the post of the next spiderman. He ran up the first rock. Yes, even up the smooth base. The jaws of all people who were watching him hit the ground after seeing that performance.

Second place: V. He would have given E some more competition if he had had proper shoes.

Third place: C. He was not as adventurous as E and V but whatever he did climb, he climbed with all the ease of taking a walk in the park.

Consolation prize: Me :-)! I was actually the baseline. If I climbed any place before C,V and E, they would not even do any kind of study before climbing it too. The motto being "If Archana can do it, of course we all can" :-(! Oh well, I at least tried :-)!

*E and A did not do as much climbing as the rest.

p.s.1 I realized how much of a boon a good pair of hiking shoes can be, even for climbing. The grip they offered was simply unbelievable.

p.s.2 This place is a must-see. If you are interested, this website has the directions on how to get there as well as how to navigate the trail that we took. From any of the cities in the south bay, it should not take more than 30-45 minutes to get to the trail-head.

p.s.3 Surprisingly, I was not too sore post-hiking. Only my ankles complained with noticeable vigour.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Archana's fables - 1

Who said only Aesop could come up with moral-worthy fables? I can too! At any rate, I claim I can :-P.

Haste makes waste.

Two days ago, I was in a rush to get out of the house and on to work. In case you are wondering, no, I am not one of those "Wheee, I LOVE going to work" types - just that I prefer to get going as soon as I am ready. Before leaving, as per my usual routine, I picked up my cup of turmeric milk*, all warm and ready, from the microwave. Impatiently, I started to drink it. Or at least, that's what I wanted to do. Instead, in my haste, I managed to spill some of the contents onto my shirt.

Now, my most favoritest white shirt in the world had two smudges of bright yellow right on the front. Oh CRAP! There was no way I could let this wait for later. The stain would set in - besides, turmeric is well known for its limpet-like properties when it comes to staining. So I had to rush to the restroom, find the stain remover, spray it on, wait for it to work, then wash off the stain with warm water and then use the hair dryer to dry my shirt - yeah, I was still wearing it. And THEN head to work. In the process of trying to save myself 10 seconds, I had managed to add an additonal 10 minutes :-((!

Think before you buy

After my good experience with "gardening" last year, I decided to buy some plants this year too. So the past weekend, I went plant shopping and chose my usual zinnias. Then I noticed that organic tomato plants were on sale too. Immediately, my head filled with visions of plump, ripe, red tomatoes growing in my patio. And visions me making tomato rasam, tomato kurma, tomato sandwiches.... all with tomatoes from my own "garden". Ah, nice!

So I decided to make an impulse buy and put a tomato plant in my shopping cart. And then added additional soil and a big pot to grow my tomatoes. Once I got back home at noon, I got busy potting all my plants. In the evening, I spoke to two different friends on the phone and I excitedly told them about my new tomato plant. The first question I got from both was: "Really? Tomatoes can be grown in pots? Isn't it supposed to be a vine?"

Uh-huh! Good question! I was so super confident of my gardening abilities that I had not even bothered to find out the requirements for growing a tomato plant :-(. Now, I have decided to see how well the plant thrives on my patio. Else I am planning to donate it to a friend who has a proper backyard. Of course, I plan to make sure that I get at least half the harvest tomatoes.

p.s. 1: I just read that blogger has started auto-saving drafts. Woohoo! No more lost posts. Yaaay :-D!

p.s. 2: This post title is numbered. After all, Aesop too did tell more than two fables :-P!

* In case you didn't know, turmeric milk is very good at warding off colds. Recipe: Mix one cup milk + 1/4 tsp turmeric + 1/2 tsp black pepper + sugar to taste and heat for a minute and a half in microwave oven. Tip: Put it as much pepper and turmeric as you can stand.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Living and learning

A couple of days ago, my cousin sent me pictures of her apartment in a mid-west city. Her company has sent her "on-site" and this is her visit to the USA. As I looked at the pictures, a total feeling of deja-vu stole over me.

Circa 2001., my very first trip to the US. Only, back then, paper photos were very common. Within a week of landing in the US, I had bought a disposable camera, clicked pictures of my apartment as well as Davis from all possible angles, developed prints and dispatched them off home to India.

Based on my own experience, I bet within the next two weeks I am going to get more pictures from my cousin with captions like "Us in front of blah-blah building", "Me doing thingummyjig in Watsizname place" and so on :-)! Ah, been there, done that :-D!

Anyways, that got me thinking about a few of the interesting things that my friends and I did as first timers during the long process of adapting to a new country:
  • Get totally into the spirit of cleaning. Pour water all over the bathroom floor. Only to realize that there is no outlet for the water to drain. Spend the next couple of hours manually mopping all the water up.
  • Put aluminium foil inside microwave. And see a mini diwali take place inside the microwave.
  • Have a bath in a bath-tub by just splashing water because couldn't figure out how to turn the darn shower on (turned out there was a ring around the water spout which needed to be pulled downward - seriously, does the average bather need to have a PhD in plumbing systems?)
  • See a totally flat-topped cooking range in the kitchen while considering an apartment for rent. Anxiously ask apartment manager in concerned voice, "Oh, there is no stove! Do I need to buy my own stove?" And have the apartment manager say, "This is the stove!"
  • Try to boil an egg in microwave. And see unboiled egg crack open in less than 10 seconds and ooze all the yolk out.
  • Stand in the bus-stop, staring down the right side of the road, waiting for the bus to show up. And get startled when it arrives behind you, from the left side.
  • Cook merrily in the kitchen for the first time and suddenly hear a strange continuous beeping sound. Have more experienced people in the house tell you that it is the smoke detector going off and that fanning the area beneath the detector would stop the beeps (having experienced people in the house when you hear the smoke alarm for the first time was a bonus. Otherwise copious blinking and confusion was guaranteed).
How many of these have you done and do you have more to add :-)?

Sign-off anecdote:

In Davis, a bunch of us had once gone for dinner to an Italian restaurant. All of us chose pasta entrees. These entrees came with a side. When the waitress came to take our orders, she asked each one of us "Soup or Salad?". Now, the waitress had a thick American accent and spoke pretty fast. When she got to R, this is how the conversation went.

Waitress (W): Soup or salad?

R (confidently): Yes, super salad.

W (confused): Would that be soup or salad?

R (confused too): Yes, I would like the super salad.

By then, the rest of us had grasped the situation. Evidently, R was hearing the options as either a yes or a no to having "Super Salad". While the waitress was hearing the menu options being repeated back to her. One of us could have helped out, but at that point, we were too busy clutching our stomachs and laughing. Finally, my friend S recovered enough to tell R, "She is asking you if you want a side of soup OR a side of salad." R then sheepishly told the waitress that he would take the soup.

Of course, after that incident, the rest of us always made it a point to solicitously ask R if he wanted to have "super salad" whenever we went out to eat :-)!

Friday, May 11, 2007


I created a new gmail account sometime back (four months ago, I guess). Now I need to remember the account name. No, my life does not depend on it. No one else's life depends on it either. But I am obsessed. I need to remember it RIGHT NOW. Fifteen minutes of hard-core thinking and trying has gotten me nowhere. I don't want to spend any more time on this. But I don't think I will find peace till I do remember.

Any help, anyone? Or is it high time I booked an appointment at the OCD-treatment clinic :-(?

Update, 4.27pm, Friday, May 11 2k7: Yaaaay! Yes, yes, yes! I remembered. Now my soul will be able to rest in peace :-P!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pride comes ...

This afternoon, about an hour after lunch, my eyes were threatening to close on their own. It was time for a coffee break. So I repaired forth to the kitchen. There was no fresh coffee - so I enterprisingly made some.

About the time I finished getting my freshly brewed coffee, my colleague P also came in to get coffee. He was busy mixing coffee, creamer and sugar when he muttered, "Oh darn - I did it again." It turned out that after he had emptied the contents, he had inadvertently dropped the empty packet of Splenda also into his coffee. So there on the top of the coffee in his mug, floated an yellow Splenda cover.

As he fished out the cover with a stirrer, P said, "I just did that this morning and there I go and do it again now." I laughed and then acting all prim and proper said, "That's so careless of you. I am not careless you know. I have never done something like that."

And then walked back to my cubicle. I was feeling very thirsty. As soon as I settled into my chair, staring at something on the monitor, I reached for my almost-full water bottle. Reach it I did - only thing, instead of grasping it, I knocked it over.

The next moment, a pool of water rapidly started spreading across my desk and started dripping down. Onto my chair. And onto my skirt. As I leapt away from my desk, I stared in dismay at some soaked papers and more distressingly, at the huge water stain on my skirt.

Of course, the next half an hour or so saw me glued to my seat till the water could dry off. That also gave me plenty of time to think about why I should not try to act holier than thou when pointing out other people's shortcomings. Sigh :-(!

p.s. I spotted the silver lining soon enough. It could have so easily been the coffee instead of water. Thank God for small mercies!

Sunday, May 06, 2007


I used to be a super active baby. Apparently, during babyhood, I used to be up at 5.30am sharp every day and effectively ruin my mom's morning sleep too. In kindergarden, we kiddies used to have a noon nap-time forced upon us. While most of the kids went off into slumberland without protest, yours truly used to poke her head up every so frequently to check if the sign to get up had been give yet. Since the time I stopped being a baby and hence lost the privilege of napping at any time, there have been quite a few days I have rued wasting my free childhood sleep-time.

Anyways, all through childhood, I preferred being up and about to sleeping. Noon-time siestas are extremely common in both my immediate and extended family. All noon-time meals used to conclude with the adults settling down for a short nap. I remained umoved as to its charms though.

The first time I found the joys of napping at noon was when I joined a school which got over at 1.30p sharp instead of the usual 4.30p schedule. By that time, I was way past junior school and no longer very keen on running out to play in the hot afternoon sun. And 1.30p seemed to early to even contemplate doing anything worthwhile. Without any other choice, I took to noon-time naps. And boy, did I like them!

So much so that, other than the brief period when I was in another school which went on till 4.30p everyday, naps became a much-loved part of my life. Once I got to undergrad college, I still tried to sneak in a nap with varying levels of success. Then it was on to grad school. Here, apart from deadline times, the schedule was much more flexible and accomodating to noon-time naps. But this was the first time people looked askance at this (what seemed to me a very natural) habit of mine. "You sleep in the afternoons", they went. "But why?"

Oh hmm. Then, I read an article about how sleeping after lunch greatly increases your chances of developing a nice pot belly. As if my belly needed any kind of extra attention to develop pot like features :-(. So I decided to wean myself away from the habit. It was difficult at first. But a judicious mix of piling onto friends' places, going shopping, going to the library and other such activities soon cured me.

And that was that. From that time onwards, I hardly ever sleep in the afternoons even if I am at home. If the sleep Gods start tempting me, I get myself out of the house pronto. It usually works well. Other than days like today. The past week had been hectic at work. Combined with other stuff, I was not quite getting my eight hours of beauty sleep every night. With the result of an exhausted me. So I decided to force myself to sleep in the afternoon to make up for the deficit.

Which was all a hunky-dory plan. But then, so many years of no-sleep training is hard to get over. But at some point, I did fall asleep. Then I woke up and was very surprised to see my aunt. What's more, she was accompanied by an undergrad friend of mine. My aunt pulled out a big picture of me with my 10th grade classmates. I proceeded to point out a girl in the picture (who, I later realized, never studied with me in 10th grade) to my undergrad friend as the girl studied in the same grad school as the undergrad friend.

At this point, my cell phone started to ring loudly and I gave a huge jump. Okay, where did I put that darned thing? I did not even remember having my cell phone when my aunt woke me up. Then I realized that the phone was ringing somewhere close to my ear. Hmm, I was sitting on a chair - did the cell phone somehow get suspended in mid-air to be ringing so close to my ear?

Which was when I realized, I was still lying flat on my bed. Uh? Did my aunt not just wake me up? As my mind whirled, it came back to me. I had "woken up" from my sleep in my dream only and was actually still sleeping when the cell phone rang in reality. Aunt and friend, who both currently live in India, had come in my dream. By this time, my heart rate had increased to some wondrous level and as I took deep breaths to calm myself down, the phone went off to voice mail. I groggily looked at the clock - it was about an hour and a half since i had started trying to fall asleep. Phew! What an *exciting* way to wake up!

I *knew* there were reasons besides not getting a pot belly to avoid noon-time naps!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Sound of Silence

As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I am a hard-core music listener. I generally like listening to music playing in the background, in parallel with other activities like eating, reading, cooking, working, cleaning etc. etc. Given that, when I joined grad school, the first technical thing I did on my Linux machine (meant for research) was to configure its sound card and then download a player to play my CDs :-).

Similarly, when I joined my first job (as an intern), on the first day, to give an impression of being "serious" about my job, I dressed up in semi-formal clothes and tried to maintain a "serious" attitude. BUT - I took my head phones to work and plonked them right onto my head as soon as the orientation was over. It never even occured to me that there might be some policy against listening to music at work or that my manager might not appreciate it. As it turned out, no one cared and I happily continued my "listen to music while working" policy.

At work, usually it is when I particularly want to concentrate on something that I make a point of wearing my headphones and tuning in to music. This morning, I worked away to glory to the background of "Dhill" songs.

Then we had a meeting. When I got back to my cubicle, I put on my head phones and clicked on "play" on the monitor. No sound. Not even static. Nothing at all. Oh no! Maybe my headphones had given up on me finally - but they are new. Then I borrowed by colleague's headphones to check my theory. Nopes, still no sound. I then had to go out for lunch and so abandoned my debugging.

When I got back, I settled down to work and clicked on "play" again. Only to hear the deafening sound of silence. Then I remembered. Oh no :-(! The next ten minutes saw me sprawled on the floor under my desk testing various inputs and outputs. Still no sound. I had too much to do and couldn't spare any more time to debug sound sources. With a sad sigh, I climbed back onto my chair.

Then I remembered. My ipod! I recharged it only last night and had remembered to bring it to work too. Yes, yes, yes :-D! So I pulled it out of my bag and turned on my ipod. To my horror, I could not hear any sound from it either. For one scary moment, I concluded that I had gone stone deaf.

Then it struck me, I had been able to hear my colleagues' conversation quite normally during lunch and hence couldn't have gone deaf. Phew! A little more patience and I realized that my regular headphones were still on my head - not the ipod ones. Phew again! I soon corrected that.

As the music started to stream, I gave a blissful smile and got back to work.

p.s. I have yet not figured out why my computer has stopped singing. Any suggestions? Before anyone asks, yes, I double, triple and quintuple checked that the "mute" button was not on and that all the right connections were in place.