Friday, December 29, 2006

Analyze This

For the past year I have repeatedly dreamt I was to take a graduate level mathematics exam but on appearing for the exam, I realize I have no idea what the course is about. I wonder why I had never attended a class, and fret over how I could be stuck in this predicament. Each time I experience the dream, I repeatedly chastise myself for not paying more attention ahead of time; I go ahead and take the exam, but the results are ambiguous.

So last night, for the first time in over a year, the dream has a different ending, and feels sort of conclusive. Last night, I decide I'm going to drop the course, instead of taking the exam like usual. So I go off to see me graduate adviser. He is a bright Russian professor who wears a red cardigan with Clark-Kent glasses. I start off explaining the situation. He asks me which course it is. I try to think of the name, and I have no clue. I say I don't know. He then asks something like "well, what's it about." I think for a while, and finally say, "I really have no idea. I can't remember a thing. I don't remember signing up for the class. I can't recall ever going to the class, and in fact, I don't even recall how I ever got started on my PhD in mathematics."

He scratches his head, consults his star grad student who is seated next to me. Then he leans over and whispers cryptically, "Deep, if you walk to the edge of the ocean, and put your finger in it, the water will ripple all over the planet." I get frustrated, my voice starts shaking, and say, "I don't understand what you are saying. Are you saying I am where I am because of a chain of events that is out of my control, and I should just drop the course and not worry about it?" He says, "yes." I say, "But it's not that easy. I don't sign up for something, and then just drop it because of a challenge. That's just not the way I am. " He says, "But you don't even know what the class is about." I say, "You're right. I'll drop it." And apparently I do, and it really is no big deal.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book Review of Mark Haddon's Novel: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This is one of the best novel's I've read all year. The book is narrated by a 15 year old autistic child, Christopher Boone, who is mathematically brilliant, and processes the world like a piece of software might. The writing reminds me of Faulkner's style while describing Benji from the Sound and the Fury. Haddon really dives into Boone's character and sucks you into his world. I highly recommend this book. Its a very quick read. I finished it in a long morning. I give it 4 stars out of 4. I love experimental writing techniques -- especially one's that tell a strong story well. Here's a snippet from

Mark Haddon, who has worked with autistic children, has created a unique narrator to tell this story. At first glance, an autistic child whose fantasy is to wake one day and find he's the only living person left on earth would seem to be an unlikely narrator. We quickly come to understand Christopher Boone and his understandings and misunderstandings of how the world works. We sympathize with the adults who must suffer his fits and practice extreme patience with the minute details with which he orders his life. Christopher's father is the most patient with him, even if his manner is gruff at times. He quickly forbids Christopher to ask anyone questions about Wellington's death and to promise to let the matter die, which Christopher does, within the specifics of his promise. The questions he's already asked, though, and the people he's already met have put events into motion that will eventually send him on an adventure that will challenge all of his skills to cope with the world that he is especially challenged to understand.

Because Christopher understands even less of the world than most 15-year olds, the result is that seeing the effects of emotions, lies, and intrigue of the adult world through his eyes lets them hit even more powerfully. Since he sees all this in his non-judgmental perspective and only how they affect the careful order in his world, the flaws of the adults are heightened by their disregard for the effect they have on Christopher while also being tempered by the fact that his autism has placed incredible stresses on all their lives. Christopher is more than just a different medium for seeing the world. In Mark Haddon's capable hands, he quickly becomes all too real, and while he can be incredibly frustrating, he explains his world in a way that makes perfect sense. When events unfold that threaten his carefully maintained world, his quest to solve the problem is as adventurous and dangerous as any literary character. To Christopher, it's something he just must do.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Photos from Zipolite, Oaxaca in Mexico

Its been a busy, chaotic, stressful and in most ways, rather annoying week since we returned from Oaxaca. This week was a stark contrast to the 3 calm, relaxing, and stress free weeks we spent on the beach. I'm starting to understand why so many people in Zipolite have chosen to drop out of their home worlds.

Well I've finally gotten our photos uploaded, so you can now view them in 2 slide shows by clicking on slide show 1 and slide show 2.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Review of Google's Blogger Beta

I recently started using Google's new Blogger beta. Its definitely a big step up from the previous version of Blogger.

One no brainer new feature is the introduction of tags. Perhaps a couple years late, but a welcomed new feature nonetheless. I was getting quite tired of loading my entries with keywords, and then relying on the search capability to "kind of" get tags to work. Another thing they seemed to have done a decent job on is the introduction of a UI builder to design and edit your blog templates. You no longer have to hack your way through convoluted HTML to introduce simple UI elements like a linked list. In general the UI builder seems to work, and not crash. But it does have its problems, the biggest being the confused state it winds up in if you do edit the HTML; unfortunately, this is innevitible if you upgraded your old blog as opposed to creating a new one from scratch. I still recommend rebuilding your UI template from scratch using the UI builder; of course, make sure to keep a back up of your original.

There are also some nice widgets in the UI builder. One of my favorites is the RSS summary display; it allows you to put in an RSS feed, and then drag the element onto the blog display. The result is all the titles of the RSS feed show up so your users can click off onto this other blog. You can see an example on the new site I created at - if you scroll down a bit, you'll see an RSS feed called Chalo Bolo. Chalo Bolo is my main blog, so this element allows me to pull users interested in more general topics I write about. In general, the new Blogger is a big step up from the old, and better than other server side blogging all inclusive tools I've used. Nonetheless, I have a few items on my wish list for the next release:

* More customization ability on the RSS viewer. For example, I would like an option to include a couple lines of text from each article in addition to just the title. I would also like to be able to customize the number of articles displayed.

* Clean separation of content from blogs. Currently I have about 4 different blogs on Blogger. It is a real pain to post articles to different blogs, especially when I need to cross post. I would far prefer it if I could simply choose, for a given blog, which tags to automatically show in that blog. For example, my general blog Chalo Bolo, would show any articles regardless of tag, where as my art blog, would only show articles with the tag "art."

* Future dated posts. I often write a number of blog posts at once. I would like to have these posts automatically posted over the next few days. It would be great if I could simply select a date in the future for a given post, and then have the post go live automatically on that date.

* Frequent Commenter Widget. Many people who post comments on the web, do so out of a self interest to drive traffic back to their site through an active link on their name. I would like to encourage this (minus the spammers of course), since it increases interest and traffic in my own site. It would be nice if I could have a widget that ranks in inverse order the most frequent commenter. Another idea is to enable users to vote on comments, so there could be a featured comment of the day.

* Ability to buy a domain name. Many of us are too addicted to leave Blogger, but would prefer to have our own domain name, and would prefer to do without the generic tool bar at the top of each blog. I would like to be able to pay a small amount, and have the DNS registration, migration, etc. all handled for me.

That's it for now. I give the new Blogger 3 stars out of 4. Unless you want to go the next level and highly customize your blog locally using client side software, I recommend going w/ Blogger.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A 5 year old Seattleite's take on Zipolite, Oaxaca

Here's a letter my 5 year old son Nayan wrote (actually my wife took dictation) to his friend from Oaxaca:

Hi Issey,

We are in Mexico and its really hot where we are and Issey there are cactuses growing they are really cool because they have prickles on them and they are really big cactuses bigger than people and and white stuff comes on them that makes them smaller I think its some kind of bug that eats the cactus the white stuff I`ve seen on big cactuses each day I look and the cactus gets smaller and smaller. Issey there is a museum of sea turtles and they are really big. One turtle can lay 100 eggs. Its like India here because you don`t have to wear seat belts.

Issey its really hot. The ocean water is really warm and there are waves at the beach. Really big ones and really strong. Big and strong enough for people to go surfing. People can do snorkling here and my dad is snorkling right now. They speak Spanish here and a lot of Italian! The roofs of the houses are made of palm leaves, the houses are open -- they have no doors or walls, there's no glass for the windows just wood that opens all the way up. And there is no hot water but you don´t need it because its really hot.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Big Investments in Biodiesel

The Seattle Times is running an interesting article called Can Biodiesel Compete on Price about Imperium Renewables, a bio-diesel startup. What's interesting to me in the article, are the many references to big $ being invested in the alternative fuels market, both in the form of start up dollars, and big agri-business dollars. It seems gas prices are really starting to have a positive impact. Here's a snippet from the article:

What no one has demonstrated yet is whether biodiesel, as a business, can compete on the key factor for many consumers — price.

Imperium Renewables, a Seattle-based startup, has been obsessing over a business model it believes can beat regular diesel at the pump. The company says biodiesel can win at what it calls the "triple bottom line" of environmental, political and economic benefits.

The strategy relies on economies of scale. Imperium is building the nation's largest biodiesel refinery at the Port of Grays Harbor on the Washington coast, capable of supplying 100 million gallons a year — one-tenth of all the diesel burned in the state.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Insane Bush Buddy Freaks All

So a couple nights ago, I was lounging in the restaurant of our place. Its a very relaxing atmosphere. There are virtually no tourists anywhere in town, and few people of any sort. So I've gotten used to having spaces to myself. We´re on a long lonely dirt road, with a few distant human neighbors, but mostly just buzzing critters in the jungle. Its in this serenity, that I started to hear some very loud American-ese. I say American-ese, since its not just english, which is very rare to hear down here, but that obnoxious type of '-ese' that the rest of the world makes fun of, much louder than anything around, and spoken with the air of absolute security that everyone in ear shot is surely interested in all that the source is spouting.

Well, it might not have been so harsh, if it wasn´t for the very short moments of respite between the abundant trails of profanity. So Luna, one of our resident doobers, starts barking like mad. I was of course a bit thrilled, and didn't bother to shush her like normal, since clearly she could recognize an unwanted guest. Well, of course, Sexualos, my nick name for her 3o something sultry self, was arriving to dine at our place. Between the loud profanity spewing, was the 2 person sexual tension type of dynamic that makes most well adjusted people a bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, we (myself and some of the Italian regulars) tried to tune them out for a while. The spewing went through ebbs and lulls, peaked for a while in an odd eye´s filled with tears weeping outburst saying something like: ¨I can´t believe I haven't painted in 18 years, its so terrible. What? Stop harrassing me about it ok? I've known you for almost a month now, why do you have to harrass me about it.¨ The harrassment consisted of a rather innocent statement something like a ¨so why do you think that is.¨ Immediately after the outburst, a hand on leg type of ¨affectionate¨ pseudo-apology.

Since I couldn't get away from the scene, and there is little to do for entertainment around here, I figured I'd do the next best thing, and pay more attention, so I'd atleast get a good blog entry out of it. Well eventually, they started talking about the Iraq war. I should say, her friend, seemed like a decent fellow, a rastafarian type of guy with a thick British accent and a sweet demeanor. Anyway, she started screaming pretty loudly, ¨well someone had to do it! Someone had to deal with Saddam. I´m sick of %&%&$$%$ everyone hating America. I´ve never felt as *?%&/$· patriotic as I do now! We need to bomb the hell out of folks so we can save the world.¨ Similar statements in reaction to pretty mild ¨well I don't think that's quite the full story¨ type of comments. The regular Italians and our lovely hosts were all doing that thing people do when they can't say anything, and are a bit frightened, raise their eyebrows, pretend they don't understand english, and smile in a I'm scared and embarassed for her type of way.

So last night, we´re down at the beach at another restaurant, and sure enough, Sexualos shows up w/ a different guy, and of the 30 or so empty tables, sat down next to Ameen, the kids and I. Once is a novelty, twice is a bit much, and the profanity is something I shield my kids from.

In any event, I blame the US government for just willy nilly handing out passports. I mean really, we spend millions on ad campaigns trying to convince the world we aren't jerks, and then one woman goes off and convinces an entire town that we're all really insane. I've started putting the pressure on my friend to run around telling everyone he's American as the opening to every conversation so the local's only image of us isn´t so frightening. Another option is to team up with the local drug dealers and get some lithium swapped into her weekly prescription.

Mo Critters Buggin'

So the other day, I woke up, wandered outside, well we're always outside here, there really is no such thing as inside, but anyway, I wandered across our outside kitchen to our outside bathroom. I should note here, we, in our naivete, assumed since everything is outside, there really is no point in closing doors. Well it turns out, volleyball sized frogs, can´t jump up through the always wide open windows. So to my surprise, in my sleepy and glasses-less morning haze, a big lump on the wall started to wiggle about. I ran back in our room, put on my glasses, and returned. The largest frog I've ever seen was happily lazing in the shower. I ran to get Ameen and the kids so they could come check him out. Along the way, Ameen noticed a nice black scorpion the size of a silver dollar sitting happily in Ananya´s orange bucket she plays in all day. Turns out, after some investigation, the scorpion, while poisonous, can't really kill you, just cause a volleyball sized swelling. And the frog, is a known resident of Las Casitas - perhaps he realizes he´s safer with the Italians since their diet is not as hip to the amphibious hoppers as the native neighbors.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Art post

I'm not sure how long this idea of having a separate art blog is going to last, as its a pain to cross post. In any event, I just posted to my art blog at an article titled: The Quest for Subject Matter in Zipolite. Here is a snippet:

We sort of slacked off in packing supplies, bringing only the most basic of items. In part, this was due to the blur of activity that led us to the airport, and in part it was because we assumed we'd be able to dig up some local materials, which we are usually able to, but here, this has proven a more difficult task. In addition, it seems our little one, Ananya, has gotten much larger, and more importantly, faster, since our last art/trip. We're staying at a place which is not exactly a toddler sanctuary - lots of rock drops, few guard rails, no closed walls in our cabin, etc, which means Ameen and I spend a fair amount of time simply helping Ananya avoid collisions. We did manage to find a local village girl who will serve in the collision avoidance role so that should free up some time.

In any event, there is much to look at here, and be inspired by. It is called a jungle desert, and they've just come off the rainy season, which means it is very lush. While the greenery is visually stunning, the colors are even more so. Lots of exotic flowers in bloom, crazy colored birds, gigantic black lizards, and of course, bugs galore. I've been snapping a fair amount of pictures on a hunt for subject matter; there's a lot to capture: ram shackle huts, trucks hauling crowds of people, bright clothing, flowers, shattered Italian mosaics, the list goes on. I tend to paint from assemblages of photos, atleast for my more representational work, so it is always nice to have stacks of photos and sketches to work from when I get back into the studio.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Freedom to Roost and Roam

In the states there is a lot of talk about all of these freedoms we have. Often it's in the context of freedom to start a business and make a fortune, freedom to own a gun, freedom to undue search and seizure, etc. Whenever I'm in another country with supposedly a lot less freedoms than we have back home, I always find it ironic how free I feel. I think there are so many little freedoms that we don't realize have long since been discarded in the US.

My wife and kids and I typically hop onto the backs of these little trucks to get wherever we want to go here in Oaxaca. Its an incredibly cheap and simple system. You stand virtually anywhere on the side of the road, and a little Datsun pickup truck picks you up. There's usually a bunch of people in the back that are very happy to see us. They all make sure not to wake the baby if she's asleep in her stroller. They lift the stroller up into the back. We all hop in, and off we go. The wind blows through our hair, the sun is shining, we can go anywhere we want to, and all for about 5 pesos (50 cents), and thats for the whole family. This little piece of freedom could never happen in the states. The truck doesn't have seat belts, its rarely loaded within its weight capacity, and there is no official access for the disabled, though I'm sure anyone in a wheelchair would be treated as well as us with our stroller.

Here's another case: my friend Mateo leaves his house to go to the local pub. A few hours later his dog randomly shows up in the bar, happy to see Matt, but clearly here at the bar for his own social or snack-induced reasons. Obviously, another no go - few dogs in the states live life as free as Paco. Perhaps due to myriad lawsuit driven laws - things like health code violations, the fear of rabies, roaming deranged Pit Bulls, etc. etc.

At the same pub, there is no roof in certain places, the chairs are delapidated, wires are all strewn about, and clearly the owner got this business off the ground with a pretty small up front investment. Nonetheless, the place is packed, everyone knows everyone, and its a real charmer of a place to hang out. In addition, the bar owner's wife and 2 year old son are lounging about, many bar goers are playing with the baby, and there's even a basonnette for the baby to sleep in when he gets tired. There is no oppression against the baby - he obviously loves the attention, no one is stammering drunk, its more like a dinner party type of atmosphere. Obviously here's another notch against freedom in the states. The freedom of the bar owner to start this place up on an incredibly low budget, the freedom of the bar owner and his family to run a business without spending a fortune on day care. The freedom of the baby to roam at will, and see his parents all day and night long. And my freedom, as a patron, to hang out, enjoy the atmosphere in a NON age segregated environment.

And yet another: we go to the beach, sit at a restaurant, and the kids can just roam free. Ananya hops up onto the swing at the bar - swinging back and forth blissfully, Nayan is kicking his beach ball in between all the tables and chairs, the bartender's daughter is playing with Ananya. There is no wall separating those priveleged to drink alchohol, and those not. There is no traffic to be concerned about. There are no social faux pas' causing us to worry about our kids annoying people. Everyone loves kids here, and if they don't, they have the freedom to leave.

Not all freedoms involve the government, and not all are those the news thinks matter. As many freedoms are lost in the states, or virtually any western nation, due to social pressure. In Ballard, maybe I do have the freedom to keep a rooster at home, but I'm sure my neighbors would hate me if I did. Okay, this is dragging on too long, and its unbelievably hot in here. My sweat is dripping into the keyboard.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blood and Bugs

This morning, while preparing breakfast, the innevitable happened. Ananya fell off the rickety stairs to our loft and bit all the way through her lip. Blood was gushing everywhere. Fortunately we were able to quickly stop the bleeding with a diaper (a clean cloth one), and Ananya was anxious to return to her maniacal roaming ways.

Bruno, our lovely Italian host, drove us, all disheveled in our early morning state, to the "hospital" - well actually it was a bunch of huts for the disabled who were instructed by a sign to "live life free and happily"; anyway the place does have a doctor on call. We got there and did what one normally does at the doctors office -- we waited. Fortunately Ananya's teeth were so sharp they made a nice "perfect" clean incision. The doctor said there was no need for stitches and that it should heal quickly.

While we're on the topic of medical issues, the mosquitos here are hardcore, and for some reason the kids' bites get all huge and puss filled. Innevitably they scratch at them until they pop and gush goo all about. We have been obsessively applying lotions and spray like neurotic western parents do when newly arrived to the tropics from a bug free zone. Last night a Swedish couple arrived at our place with their 3 year old daughter. They have been here for 2 months -- both Ameen and I were horrified yet slightly comforted (since our kids look totally tame by comparison) by the sight of their daughter's arms and legs -- completely covered in huge red bites. This reminds me, I've never quite understood why westerners so idealize the tropics. I can count the number of bug bites I've received in Seattle in the past 25 years of life on 1 hand -- a number that's an order of magnitude larger here in less than a week. Ah well, our days in Kerala, and nights huddled in the mosquito net, are coming back to us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Evil Eyes

If I ever drop out of life and go back to grad school, I think it will be to study cultural anthropology with a dissertation having something to do with the nearly universal presence of the "evil eye." For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, I wrote a bit about the evil eye and its presence in India.

In Punjab we do things like put little black marks behind our kids ears so "nazar na lug ja ve" (they look doesn`t get them). We have some Greek friends, who will spit (well sort of a fake spit) if anyone says something like "wow what a beautiful child you have." The theory goes, in Punjab and I suppose in Greece as well, that you have to do or mark something ugly to ward off the presence of the eye whenever the temptation of vanity is near. Well interestingly, here in Oaxaca, they seem to have an almost opposite tradition. Instead of protecting a child from the eye, the "looker" has to be protected.

We were lounging at a local cafe on the beach when a nice gentleman from Oaxaca city remarked on how cute our kids were. I was waiting for Ameen to spit, or one of us to grab a black pen. Neither of us moved due to the heat and comfortable positions we were in. I did manage to mutter something in my mind (I don`t realy believe in all this, but I figure the cost of complying is so low, and the even remotely hypothetical cost of not complying is, well, so high). Anyway, this man went on to explain that in the local tradition, if they see a cute child, they have to touch the child, otherwise, they need to go to a local witch doctor, and have him swirl some eggs (I think thats what I heard) around in circles and do something else I couldn`t understand but I think it involved smoke. Of course we granted him permission to touch the kids so as to spare him all the witch doctor effort.

Nayan played along well enough, but Ananya started screaming and ran under the table. We all laughed. Since then, I´ve noticed a lot of roaming beach seller types smile at me and tap the kids non chalantly on the head.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yoga Man Sensations, Positive Vibrations, Yeah

Well its a big day in blog-land. It seems Blogger has finally upgraded me to the new Beta. I have no idea if it will work, since everything in this computer is in Spanish, and as everyone may know by now, my Spanish is non existent. Nonetheless, my blind clicking seems to have lead me to a new interface.

Today was an interesting day. I woke up, wandered down the beach a few miles, in search of ¨The Yoga Place.¨ I should mention some qualifiers. I´m not much of a yoga guy. 7 years ago, my wife dragged me to a drop in yoga place in the U-District. We were waiting in the sweaty-feet-stenched hallway with a naked, except for a leopord skin speedo, yoga man with a big afro stairing at me from his safe paper poster home. The site of this poster freaked me out. Fortunately I was able to concince Ameen that proceeding with the whole yoga thing was clearly a bad idea in light of this horrific oppressive image. Ever since that day, I´ve been leary of yoga types, with their tight stretchy pants, and perfect posture. So anyway, after Ameen booted me out the door, to ¨go fix my back¨ (I´ve been whining about it for years) while wandering down the beach, I realized I had no idea where this place was. In my early morning wisdom, I started to follow stretchy-pant-perfect-posture people that arrived out of no where. Sure enough I made it there.
So to the uninitiated, yoga pretty much sucks. It involves all the pain of climbing your mountain bike to the top of a peak without the added bonus of an hour plus lush single track adrenaline rush filled descent. Not only do you have all this pain, but it´s in particularly bizarre parts of your body. Apparently the woman here is some sort of Dutch yoga-God that attracts foreigners from all over the planet. Sadly for me, this meant I was the only clueless one in severe pain. I was determined to never come back, but alas, yoga-woman walked over to me and by simply looking at me for 10 seconds, proceeded to detail the location, cause and solution for my back pain, hand pain, neck pain, and every other geek-posture induced problem from the past 10 plus years of my life. She also ordered me to come back every day I´m here so she can correct the wrongs the modern-evil-computer-life has given me. Between her and my wife, I´m afraid I´ll probably be back.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cabanas in Zipolite

Life: After an all night plane ride with stops through Thanksgiving-crowd filled airports, we finally touched down in lovely, inviting, and most importantly -- sunny and warm -- Huatulco airport. We left Seattle in the cold dark of night with snow in the forecast, and arrived here with sweat-on-brow and many layers of clothing to peel off.

My friend Matt (locally referred to as Mateo) picked us up at the airport. Its a very rustic town with the distinct Bohemian hippy vibe of places I´ve travelled to like Dahab in Egypt, Arambala in Goa - most traveller types have seen similar towns. There are no ¨normal¨ tourist types or infrastructure anywhere, in fact, with all the tension in the capital of Oaxaca city, there are very few travellers of any type. Nonetheless things are peaceful here, and we´re settling into a daily routine of meeting Matt´s many friends, playing at the beach, sipping local beverages, and most deliciously, savoring the very fine Italian cuisine here.

There are many Italians who have settled in Zipolite, and hence, there are many tasty wood fired pizzas to savor. According to a woman that hangs out at our hotel place, this (the presence of many Italians in Latin America) is because Italians grow up getting sent to the beach with their relatives as children and they identify with a Catholic country. Not sure exactly how all that stitches together, or whether I understood it all through my reliance on 8th grade Latin and 12th grade French to understand the blend of English, Spanish and Italian communicating it, but it sounds like the basis for an interesting theory.

Hopefully I´ll be able to upload some photos soon. Unfortunately we have no electricity at our cabinas, with the exception of a few solar powered bulbs, and my laptop battery is now dead since we stayed up watching Shrek last night all cuddled under the shelter of our mosquito net.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mr. Macaca's Thumped. Democrats take Senate

Politics: Yesterday's news got even better today. Mr. Macaca, also known as George Allen, according to the New York Times, will be conceding sometime today. This means, the Democrats have a senate majority, and are now totally in charge of Congress. Here's a snippet:

Many election analysts concluded that Senator Allen was unlikely to close the roughly 7,000 vote margin separating him from Mr. Webb, who has already claimed victory. And the Associated Press, a widely accepted authority for calling elections, agreed on Wednesday with Mr. Webb, declaring Mr. Allen, a Republican, the loser. A Webb victory gives the Democrats control of the Senate, with 51 seats.

A senior Allen adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Wednesday that if the margin did not narrow significantly, Mr. Allen would not challenge the result.

“He has no intention of dragging this out,” the adviser said.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Well the Sun is out, and its a bright day for Democrats

Politics: I remember the crisp November day vividly, it was 1994, I had recently finished graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, and I was driving straight to work in Chicago after a weekend of visiting friends in Madison. It was a long empty highway at 7AM, just me, NPR, and a few meandering cows in the Wisconsin countryside. For a hard core Democrat like myself at the time, the news was truly depressing. Newt Gingrich and his cohorts were giddy after having swept Democrats off the map nearly everywhere. I was shocked and revolted at the thought of Newt and his gang decimating the country.

Well after 12 long years of tiresome, frustrating, and downright skanky GOP incompetance, the Congress is back in more sane hands. While I can't say I love Democrats anymore, and in fact, I even hate the GOP less now than before, it still feels pretty good to actually win. Finally, we Dems can hold our heads up, and not be scared at the mere mention of the words: Karl Rove, and most importantly, the word Democrat today, is no longer synonymous with the word loser. Its indeed a time to celebrate. One of my hardcore lefty friends (the kind that just starts swearing up a storm if you even mention the word Bush) said he spent all night standing on his couch singing the Star Spangled Banner. I too am feeling so patriotic today.

While writing this, I also just got word that we took Montana, and are leading in Virginia. Looks like Dems are going to have it all! And to top it off, Donnie Rumschmuck just checked out. Oh yes, the sun is out in Seattle today, the sky is popping through, and even if the election machines are tampered, we still won!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rain Rain Rain Rainy Darkness

Life: Well its raining again here in Seattle. Its been raining a lot. Its starting to flood out along the riverbanks, as it does every year this time of year. Its also dark. As I stare out my window, I see dark clouds hanging over the city, unyielding rain, cars rumbling by with their head lights on, and the sound of pools of water shooshed away momentarily by each passing car. Its that time of year when the weather drives people to jump off the Aurora bridge. Which reminds me, the other day a friend of mine told me a bizarre, sad, and macabre story.

He has a little boat that he tools around Lake Union with. He was under the Aurora bridge, relaxing, when he heard a huge explosion only a few feet away from him. Startled, he scanned around, and saw a number of people gathering on the shore, all crouching and pointing next to him. He looked over, and saw a big bloated woman. A police boat showed up, the two of them hauled the woman's body on board. The cop informed him that this is a known phenomenon here in suicidal Seattle. An unsettling tidbit of knowledge imparted to my friend by the policeman: apparently women always jump into the water, whereas men always jump onto the land.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy Birthday Nayan

I remember mountain biking at Tiger Mountain with my wife. It was a warm, sunny, midsummer day -- the day after a crisp rain. We had just started our ride, and uncharacteristically, Ameen said she didn't feel like riding that day. I smiled, nodded, and cruised off into the woods with Maya (our chocolate lab).

A couple days later, with my dear wife grinning and watching, I opened a little card informing me that one of the 3 greatest joys in my life (my wife and daughter being the others) was to be born in a mere 6 months.

My amazing son is 5 today. 5 years ago I was holding a tiny little baby and so amazed by the miracle of life God gifted me. The moment I first held Nayan, I assumed my son would stay tiny and in my arms forever. Well now my jaan is tough and tall; I struggle to haul him up to his bed when he's fallen asleep in the car. Nayan is strong willed, articulate, creative (like his mother), loving, intellectually curious, a great listener (when it matters), and an all around energetic ball of joy. Needless to say, I am the proudest father in the world today.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Soldier's Thoughts

I ran across a truly spectacular blog called A Soldier's Thoughts which really deserves to be published in a book. It's Marine Sgt Zachary Scott-Singley's first hand accounts of his life in Iraq as an arabic translator. His writing is powerful; I wish every politician would read this daily. Here's a snippet from one of the best months in his archive; I can't bear to break up his post, so I've posted it in its entirety here. I hope he doesn't mind. Its a post titled: It was still dark...

It was still dark. I got dressed in that darkness. When I was ready I grabbed an MRE (meal ready to eat) and got in the truck. I was going to go line the truck up in preparation for the raid we were about to go on. The targets were three houses where RPG attacks had come from a few days prior. Sitting there in that darkness listening to the briefing on how we were to execute the mission, I let my mind wander from the briefing and said a prayer. "Just one more day God, let me live one more day and we will go from there..." It was the same prayer I said every day because every day I did the same thing. I left the base. With a small team I would go out each day on different missions. I was their translator.

There were different people to meet each day. There were some who would kill you if they could. They would look at you and you could see the hate in their eyes. I also met with people who would have given me everything they owned. People, that were so thankful to us because we had rid them of Saddam. Well, this day was not really much different from all those other days so far. After the briefing we all got into our assigned seats and convoyed out to the raid site. I was to go in directly after the military police that would clear the building.

The raid began without a hitch. Inside one of the courtyards of one of the houses, talking to an Iraqi woman checking to see if her story correlated with what the detained men had said), I heard gunfire. It was automatic gunfire. Ducking next to the stone wall I yelled at the woman to get inside her house, and when the gunfire stopped I peeked my head around the front gate. I saw a soldier amongst the others who was pulling rear security by our vehicles. This soldier I saw was still aiming his M249 (a fully automatic belt fed machine gun) at a black truck off in the distance. His was the weapon I had heard.

I ran up near his position and overheard the Captain in charge of the raid asking what had happened and why had this soldier opened fire. The soldier kept his weapon aimed and answered that he was sure he had seen a man holding an AK-47 in the back of the black truck. I was amongst the four (along with the soldier who had fired on the black truck) who had been selected to go and see what was up with that truck.

We were out of breath when we got to the gun-truck nearest to the black civilian truck(a gun-truck is a HUMMWV or sometimes called a Hummer by civilians, with a .50 caliber machine gun on its roof). There was a group of four Iraqis walking towards us from the black truck. They were carrying a body. When I saw this I ran forward and began to speak (in Arabic) to the man holding the body but I couldn't say a word.

There right in front of me in the arms of one of the men I saw a small boy (no more than 3 years old). His head was cocked back at the wrong angle and there was blood. So much blood. How could all that blood be from that small boy? I heard crying too. All of the Iraqi men standing there were crying and sobbing and asking me WHY? Someone behind me started screaming for a medic, it was the young soldier (around my age) who had fired his weapon. He screamed and screamed for a medic until his voice was hoarse and a medic came just to tell us what I already knew. The boy was dead. I was so numb.

I stood there looking at that little child, someone's child (just like mine) and seeing how red the clean white shirt of the man holding the boy was turning. It was then that I realized that I had been speaking to them; speaking in a voice that sounded so very far away. I heard my voice telling them (in Arabic) how sorry we were. My mouth was saying this but all my mind could focus on was the hole in the child's head. The white shirt covered in bright red blood. Every color was so bright. There were other colors too. The glistening white pieces of the child's skull still splattered on that so very white shirt. I couldn't stop looking at them even as I continued telling them how sorry we were.

I can still see it all to this very day. The raid was over there were no weapons to be found and we had accomplished nothing except killing a child of some unknowing mother. Not wanting to leave yet, I stayed as long as I could, talking to the man holding the child. I couldn't leave because I needed to know who they were. I wanted to remember. The man was the brother of the child's father. He was the boy's uncle, and he was watching him for his father who had gone to the market. They were carpenters and the soldier who had fired upon the truck had seen someone holding a piece of wood and standing in the truck bed.

Before I left to go back to our base I saw the young soldier who had killed the boy. His eyes were unfocused and he was just standing there, staring off into the distance. My hand went to my canteen and I took a drink of water. That soldier looked so lost, so I offered him a drink from my canteen. In a hoarse voice he quietly thanked me and then gave me such a thankful look; like I had given him gold.

Later that day those of us who had been selected to go inspect the black truck were filling reports out about what we had witnessed for the investigation. The Captain who had led the raid entered the room we were in and you could see that he was angry. He said, "Well this is just great! Now we have to go and give that family bags of money to shut them up..." I wanted to kill him. I sat there trembling with my rage. Some family had just lost their beautiful baby boy and this man, this COMMISSIONED OFFICER in the United States Army is worried about trying to pay off the family's grief and sorrow. He must not have been a father, otherwise he would know that money doesn't even come close... I wanted to use my bare hands to kill him, but instead I just sat there and waited until the investigating officer called me into his office.

To this day I still think about that raid, that family, that boy. I wonder if they are making attacks on us now. I would be. If someone took the life of my son or my daughter nothing other than my own death would stop me from killing that person. I still cry too. I cry when the memory hits me. I cry when I think of how very far away I am from my family who needs me. I am not there just like the boy's father wasn't there. I pray every day for my family's safety and just that I was with them. I have served my time, I have my nightmares, I have enough blood on my hands. My contract with the Army has been involuntarily extended. I am not asking for medicine to help with the nightmares or for anything else, only that the Army would have held true to the contract I signed and let me be a father, a husband, a daddy again.


Sgt Zachary Scott-Singley

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Candy, Candy, Candy -- I Can't Let You Go

Life: The morning after Halloween, and I see my two littl'ns hiding underneath the desk in the office, quitely shoveling candy into their mouths as fast as they can. Normally very protective of his "stuff", I asked Nayan, my 4 year old son, why he let Ananya (our 1.5 year old daughter) in on the action. The answer: "So she wouldn't scream." Of course -- how I could I miss that.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Birth and Death and Post-Mortem Evolution -- MusicID, Gracenote, MySpace and My World

It always amazes me how long technology can live after its been created, and the creators have since nearly forgotten about it, and completely moved on.

I started a company back in 1999 with some colleagues. We created an audio fingerprinting system to identify sound recordings irrespective of audio compression type, bit rate, codec, etc. If you're interested, you can read all about in a paper I co-wrote HERE or from one of the key patents available HERE. In any event, at the time I was filled with all these dreams of how far our technology would go, how it would be used all over the world; I was so convinced of our success, that I was even concerned about how my friends would see me when I was filthy rich. Well we sold the company to another company; at the time it wasn't exactly a price or situation to be thrilled about - the market was crashing all around us, our VCs were tapped out, everyone was running to survive, and we all had to get new jobs. My biggest concern was whether we'd have health insurance since my wife was pregnant with our first child. My next biggest concern was whether the technology would see the light of day.

After working like mad to realize technology whose base algorithms you once naively flirted with on a napkin in a restaurant, its truly depressing to know there is a very real chance of it going absolutely no where. I distinctly remember a moment -- standing in the shower sobbing -- distraught that all these good ideas could simply die. I then emotionally unplugged, got a job with some health insurance, and moved on; I had more important things to worry about, like the birth of my first child.

Well surprisingly it turned out the technology lived on. Gracenote started shipping it with a fancy new name and marketing schpeal. And now, after more than 5 years have passed, good old MusicDNA (our buzz word), now called MusicID, is still quite alive and thriving on this Halloween day with thousands of geeks buzzing about it on Slashdot, and making major news headlines like:

Social networking giant MySpace has inked a deal with GraceNote to use the company's MusicID audio fingerprinting technology to review audio users upload to their profiles to make sure it doesn't violate copyright. Using the technology, MySpace intends to block uploads of copyrighted music recordings; users who repeatedly attempt to upload copyrighted material will have their accounts suspended.

I might have thought it'd feel good having something I played a significant role in building from scratch take off. Mostly it just feels odd, maybe even bittersweet -- perhaps something like a tragic relationship that never worked out -- one with lots of screaming and yelling and hair tossing that finally ends in an abrupt departure -- many years later, through some random friend in a random grapevine, you hear that this ex is doing well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I've forked off all posts related to my artwork and poetry onto a new site dedicated to these topics: If you are interested in these topics, make sure to update your RSS readers (I highly recommend Google Reader if you don't have one). The RSS feed is HERE and the atom feed is HERE. I may occasionally cross post for things like show announcements, etc. All other topics will stay here on good old Chalo Bolo.

I made this change mostly because I need a site dedicated to only artwork; I'm often handing out cards and pointing people interested in my artwork to a website - they seem to get confused at Chalo Bolo, perhaps due in part to the myriad topics. Also, I was excited to try out the new Blogger beta. One day I'll be migrating Chalo Bolo to the new Blogger beta, but so far, the G-folks haven't made it easy. The new site takes advantage of some great new features like labels, template based design, and inlined RSS feeds.

Have a look and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Show at Glow Natural Health Center

Art: A few days ago I hung a show at Glow Natural Health Center. I hung about 15 of my recent paintings. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera along so I could shoot some photos for you all. Anyway, its always exciting for me to see work hanging in a new place, especially a space with great lighting. What was particularly cool, is my friend Lindsie, who's acupuncture practice is there, ordered this very excellent wire-art-hanging system. It took me less than 45 minutes to hang the whole show, a process that usually takes a couple hours of hammering, wall destruction, and tense hair pulling. Because of these cute little efficient German made hooks that slide up and down picture wire, I was able to quickly adjust height, and hang, in an uncharacteristically calm, Zen-like fashion. I'd buy them for our house if it wasn't for the 100$ per hook price!

This painting is one of those hanging in the show. I recently shot it, along with some other paintings and have moved them to my Flickr site, so you can now see them in the splash photos and slide shows shown above.

Monday, October 23, 2006

William Utermohlen: Documenting his Descent into Alzheimers

Art: Rarely does a painter make it to the front page of a major paper in the US. Today is an exception. The New York Times is running a piece on William Utermohlen documenting his descent into Alzheimers. Its a rather goofy article in some ways - trying to almost linearly equate the resulting images w/ the progression of neurological changes. Nonetheless, the images are interesting. I hope I get a chance to check out the show one day, though I have no trips to NYC planned in the next few weeks. Here's a snippet:

The paintings starkly reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away. His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.

“The spatial sense kept slipping, and I think he knew,” Professor Utermohlen said. A psychoanalyst wrote that the paintings depicted sadness, anxiety, resignation and feelings of feebleness and shame.

Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies artistic creativity in people with brain diseases, said some patients could still produce powerful work.

“Alzheimer’s affects the right parietal lobe in particular, which is important for visualizing something internally and then putting it onto a canvas,” Dr. Miller said. “The art becomes more abstract, the images are blurrier and vague, more surrealistic. Sometimes there’s use of beautiful, subtle color.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the Tractor in Mohalon

Art: I recently finished this painting called On the Tractor in Mohalon. Its based on some photos I took last December in Punjab on our farm. My nieces from California and Nayan were running wild on the farm. I was busy giving scooter rides and coaxing the kids into posing for photos I knew I'd painting in the not so distant future. It was a glorious sunny day with bright yellow mustard fields in full bloom. HERE's a mini slide show of the painting with some detail shots.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What is Web 2.0?

Tech, Search: I've been thinking a lot lately about this whole web 2.0 business. The phrase is everywhere, as are evidence of 2.0'ness. I thought I'd re-read Tim Oreilly's classic paper called: What is Web 2.0. Its still amazingly relevant, and seems very prescient these 13 months or so since it was published. Here are some snippets I find revealing:

It is a truism that the greatest internet success stories don't advertise their products. Their adoption is driven by "viral marketing"--that is, recommendations propagating directly from one user to another. You can almost make the case that if a site or product relies on advertising to get the word out, it isn't Web 2.0.

One of my favorite quotes of this piece:

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of constant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of conscious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful effect.

The mind set behind Web 2.0 companies is so different. These build and deployment time descriptions seem so outrageous to software folks, but if you consider that 2.0 developers are in many ways marketers, but on a deeper application level, amongst other activities -- making widgets, and hooks that draw in users, it makes sense. Here's some more:

Cal Henderson, the lead developer of Flickr, recently revealed that they deploy new builds up to every half hour. This is clearly a radically different development model! While not all web applications are developed in as extreme a style as Flickr, almost all web applications have a development cycle that is radically unlike anything from the PC or client-server era. It is for this reason that a recent ZDnet editorial concluded that Microsoft won't be able to beat Google: "Microsoft's business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google's depends on everyone exploring what's new in their computing environment every day."

And finally, what is a 2.0 company:
  • Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
  • Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

Friday, October 06, 2006

Book Review of Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

Book Review: I recently finished Suketu Mehta's fantastic book called Maximum City. I couldn't put the book down for many nights. If you have ever spent time in Bombay, or want to, you must read this book. While Suketu can be pretty dark at times, you have to trudge through to the end to get a little light. Sure Mumbai is a mess, but its also amazingly interesting. I don't think I have ever read such an intimate portrait of a city. Here's a snippet from Seriously Sandeep, a more patient blogger than I:

The book is divided into several major sections, each focussing on distinct and unique aspects of Bombay: Shiv Sena, Bollywood, the Mumbai police, the Underworld, Prostitution, and Spirituality. These exist in any big city but what distinguishes them from other cities is their uniqueness found only in Bombay.

I agree. It was fascinating reading about the Bar-Girl scenes. I had no idea this world existed - my many trips to Mumbai typically involve the relatively benign hanging out with relatives, the obligatory trip to Elephantus Island, and some tourist wanderings. For the uninitiated, apparently there are all these dancer bar places, where woman act sort of like Bollywood Geishas (i.e. not prostitutes, but the male idealized image of a young Bollywood sari thrusting heart throb) - they master this art of getting rather sketchy but often wealthy fellows to fall in love with them; the men throw tons of money their way, and if they're lucky, eventually get a continuously challenged pseudo-relationship. Equally intriguing were the Bollywood chapters and the gangster interviews; I found the author's following of the pious Jain family perhaps the most interesting.

On the whole, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. Extremely well written, very captivating, and very original. If I had to bash anything, it was this very dark overall perspective the author seems to have - I would be concerned if this were your only exposure to India.

For those still reading, here's more from Seriously Sandeep:

Suketu Mehta both confirms certain widely-held myths and shatters certain others. For example, I didn’t know that one of the major contributing factors to Bombay’s urban crowdedness is the result of the misdeeds of a handful of powerful builders–the Rahejas are just one of them–who thwarted a well-thought plan to improve Bombay by expanding housing settlements to the West. Also the fact that several “sharp shooters” of the underworld often change allegiances from this don to that only for cash, and not out of loyalty or conviction. Or the fact that Sanjay Dutt’s character comes across as nothing more than a frightened school boy who likes to identify with the “tough guys” in the hope that they’ll protect him from other tough guys/bullies. Mehta traces this attribute to Dutt’s experiences as a school-going boy who used to routinely get beaten by teachers and bullied by his classmates. Hence his fascination with the dons, his passion for guns, and his obsession with bodybuilding, as the author remarks, Sanjay “was built like a brontosaurus.”

His soujourn with Ajay Lal (most names are changed in the book) a high-ranking cop makes for interesting reading. I however, found it hard to believe when Ajay Lal says he has not touched a single paisa as bribe. Blame it on my cynicism or plain mistrust. Yet, it is believable on several counts: Ajay Lal was prominent in unearthing the D-hand in the Bombay serial blasts, and instrumental in solving sensational crimes. His humiliation at the hands of his own department–transfers, inquires, etc–is the price he pays for his honesty. Mehta also exposes the murky details of “criminals in uniform” aka cops who went on a shooting spree, killing even innocent people merely on unfounded grounds of suspicion, shakes you. Overall, the picture you get is that the efficiency of Bombay cops is top class given the severe constraints under which they are forced to work. The author has titled this section as Second best to Scotland Yard, but the characters in this section say it is far superior to Scotland Yard. It is definitely believable.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Seattle South Asian Film Festival (ISAFF) - Opening Night

Life, Art: We had a good time last night at the south asian film festival's opening night. For anyone at all interested, I recommend checking out the festival this weekend. More information is available at: Ameen did a great job hanging our paintings. As you enter the festival, all of my work is off to the right, and Ameen's is off to the left. The work looked nice hanging in such a large open area. Its the first time I've shown this work from which is largely based on our last trip to India. Special thanks to Gogi and Monu for watching the kids!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ah, We're Smiling Again

Life: While my car repair bill is racking up, the statistical joys of my daily bus ride continue to entertain me. Today I was prepared - I sat at the front of the bus and was determined to find more clues to explain the new Seattle malaise. I had no idea this little blog of mine was so influential -- thanks to all for ensuring that todays stats on my bus ride in were markedly better than yesterdays! Fully 17 out of 21 smiled back today and gave an appropriate equivalent of "I'm doing fine. Thank you." when asked how they were doing by our lovely bus driver.

This reminds me, Mark Twain once said "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Be Nice, Say Hi, and Smile

Life: I took the bus in today from my sunny little neighborhood in what I always thought of as "relatively polite" Seattle. My bus driver was this very happy jovial fellow, who always gave a hearty "Hello, how are you today?" welcome to each bus passenger. I decided to take statistics of how often people responded. Around Nickerson and 15th (about a mile since I started my count), only 2 people had responded pleasantly. Many people said absolutely nothing, some grunted something unitelligable, a few had a focused floor-stairing look with bulging headphones, and a mere 2 out of 14 responded pleasantly and politely with something akin to a "I'm doing fine. Thank you." I was totally shocked. That's a pathetically low number. Fortunately the next 4 people in a row were nice, to eventually leave the stat at a pathetic, but not horrific, 6 out of 19. What's wrong with people? Someone looks you in the eye, performs a service for you, says an unequivocally nice thing to you - smile back and say hello.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

InFact Book Search - Search, explore and download free ebooks online

Search, Tech - We just made public a demonstration book search site. You can have a look at: I'd love to get any feedback from you all. Here's a blurb from our FAQ:

InFact® Book Search is a publicly available demonstration of searchable, free ebooks powered by the InFact vertical search infrastructure. InFact Book Search includes an automatically generated book index, similar to that found in a standard physical book, which allows you to quickly navigate directly to everywhere a character, place, organization, or other term occurs in the book. In addition, InFact, offers tips for any term you search for. For example, if you search for Robin Hood, you will see tips which include other characters Robin Hood interacts with. If you click on Little John, you will be led to all the merry adventures Robin Hood and Little John shared together. In addition, InFact Book Search allows you to quickly find out about things you encounter in a book. For example, if you run across the Sherwood Forest, but are not sure where it is, you can follow the information link for an explanation.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Seattle South Asian Film Festival (ISAFF) - Opening Night

Life: There's an opening night celebration for the upcoming Seattle South Asian Film Festival. If its even half as good as the fundraiser we went to, it'll be a blast. More info including the ability to buy tickets is available at Ticket Window Online. Here's an excerpted blurb:

September 27, 2006
Wednesday at 7pm
at Broadway Performance Hall
1625 Broadway at Pine Street

ISAFF kicks off with an evening of film and performance art. Dynamic host and performer D’Lo makes her first appearance in Seattle.

Shorts including:

All Roads Lead to Here (Richie Mehta & Stuart A. McIntyre, Canada, 2005, 6min) In this visually and acoustically fascinating video, a tabla player and a beat-boxer face off.

Right Here, Right Now (Anand Gandhi, India, 2005, 29min)
In life everything is about PRESENT. What happens NOW is what matters. 17 locations, 7 languages, 25 characters covered in just 2 shots.

Lucky (Avie Luthra, South Africa, 2005, 20min, 35mm)
Veteran UK director Avie Luthra makes a sensitive short film about Lucky, a South African AIDS orphan who learns about life through an unlikely bond with a racist Indian woman. Award winning short film screened at over 50 international festivals.

Relax and socialize with hors d’oeuvres, wine, and music.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Review of Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh

Book Review: One of the things that happens since I have no TV, is that I get desperate for reading material. I'll read anything, and unfortunately, I can be pretty lazy about seeking my reading material. Often this means chit lit from my wife's book club lingering on a night stand. Sometimes friends visit and leave books lying about. The latter is how I stumbled across this Beverly Hills 90210 like book called Goddess for Hire by Sonia Singh. Its kind of cute though, in an after school special sort of way (I wasn't always TV-less). On the whole, I'll say I was mildly entertained during my first exposure to the world of rich spoiled Indian girls in southern California. I think the plot's almost clever. Re: the book, here's a little factual blurb from the author's site:

"A hip chick from Newport Beach, California, who's just turned thirty, discovered she's the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali, and happens to be unemployed and still living with her parents. Saving the world, though, may prove to be a curry-scented breeze compared to dealing with her extended Indian family. In their eyes she isn't just the black sheep -- she's low-grade mutton.

To make matters worse, despite frequent and therapeutic bouts of shopping and Starbucks, and the mentoring of a Taco Bell-loving, Coca Cola-guzzling swami, Maya has trouble just surviving, thanks to the attentions of a Kali-hating fanatic and a matchmaking aunt hell-bent on finding her a nice Indian boy. Maya has no interest in boys. She wants a man and she may have found one.

On the whole, I'd give Goddess for Hire 2 1/2 stars out of 4. I grew tired of the formulaic writing, the contrived metaphors, and all the vacuous details, but alas, not enough to put it down. For those with alternate entertainment opportunities, perhaps you should drop a star, and read this much harsher critique. Here's a snippet:

Perhaps this is the stuff teens and 20-somethings love to read or maybe it’s the kind of book the Sex in the City crowd seeks out, full of ‘intelligent’ dialogue (usually taking place in the heroine’s head) and bed-hopping, alcohol-guzzling females who want it all (but only if the rich guy pays for it). For them, Singh has come up with a 300-page caricature of NRI and ABCD life - the sit-com version. The novel is even full of commercials for practically every commodity available on the market. This may have made sense if Goddess for Hire actually were a television show in which characters conspicuously work in sponsors’ products, a Coke here, a BMW there or a bag of Doritos lying on the table. But, why is this necessary in a book? Take the publisher’s blurb on the back cover - Starbucks, Taco Bell and Coca-Cola mentioned in just one sentence alone. Read the book and it’s hard to find a page that doesn’t sound like a commercial - Carl’s Jr., Budweiser, Tommy Bahama, IKEA, California Pizza Kitchen, Manolo, Pashmina, Dolce Gabbana, TiVo and Pepsi. To name just a few. It doesn’t stop with products- if an item has a earned a spot in the American popular culture hall of fame, it’s mentioned, from movie stars (of course, Julia Roberts) and famous LA streets to Hollywood blockbusters and syndicated TV shows. One can only guess at the purpose of this name-dropping or why it’s essential to the plot.

Review of Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland

Book Review: I recently finished a fantastic novel by Douglas Coupland called Hey Nostradamus. On the whole, I give this 4 stars. Its extremely well written. The novel's structure, writing technique, tone, perspective, etc. are innovative, yet well done. I need to read more Coupland given the critic consensus indicates this is not one of his great books. For my Vancouver, BC readers, the setting on the North Shore reads familiar and adds an engaging intimacy to the reading experience.

I ran across an excellent review by Rick Kleffel that pretty much jives with my take. Here's a snippet:

Coupland displays some serious storytelling skill in this novel. It's told in four sections, reads for the most part like lightning, and covers a wide range of human emotions with genuine empathy and more than few laughs. Getting those laughs is a pretty big deal because the kind of horror Coupland uses as the inception of his novel is all-too-real and all-too-tragic. 'Hey Nostradamus!' begins in 1988 with a Columbine-style high-school massacre. That's the un-smooth stone dropped in the choppy lake of a typical suburban community.

Coupland follows four victims of the massacre, each at an increasing distance from the event itself. The horror is described first-hand by one of the deceased victims, Cheryl Anway. She's writing in the immediate aftermath from a very vague afterlife, addressing her thoughts to God. Coupland then jumps eleven years into the future to 1999, telling the story of Jason, who was secretly married to Cheryl shortly before the killings. Rootless, cast adrift, Jason has never really left Cheryl or the murders far behind. Coupland skips forward again, to 2002, to tell the story of Heather, who has tried to love Jason but is having a hard time of it. He finishes the story in 2003 with Reg, Jason's strictly religious father. Along the way faiths and lives are shattered and rebuilt, or simply dissolved into the next hesitant steps in a world that refuses to offer a helpful user's manual.

Keep that manual in mind. Coupland takes us on this tragic journey with perfectly pitched prose. He's funny when he wants to make the reader laugh and poignant when he wants to make the reader weep. Fortunately, he finds more room for laughter than for crying. For those who might find events of this nature too upsetting, his "post-crime" orientation is an excellent approach. While not playing down the horror, he doesn't focus on it. This is not the story of killers and cops. It's the story of victims and survivors, inherently positive though tinged with great tragedy. He manages the delicate and rather amazing feat of keeping the ugliness and tear-jerking aspects of the story off-screen rather handily. He's not quite dispassionate. It's more of a wry focus on the nitty-gritty of living ever after. Happiness is optional, but it's not an easy option to attain.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Singing with the Birds

Life, Bike: We spent this lovely sunny weekend camped out in my friend Timothy's tree house up in Bellingham. The kids had a blast being up high in the cedar tree. We also had a hoot splashing around in Camp Cody's new pond. Our friend made a cool filter system by taking some Home Depot PVC tubing and routing water through some rain barrels filled with gradually increasing sizes of rock. The water stays amazingly clean with no chlorine or chemicals whatsoever. I also had a blast riding up at Galbraith. This used to be my regular ride when I was living up in Bellingham. Wow, has it ever been upgraded for the "new" mountain biking. The climb is burlier than I remember - perhaps my city slack ways are the culprit, but the top now has tons of tricks and free ride planked and jumpy fun. I was a bit bummed I didn't bring any armor and had to "settle" for some tight perfect single track.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Amazing Efficiency of the Washington State DMV

Life: Many of you might assume, based on the title of this post, that I'm going to proceed sarcastically discussing the many pitfalls of the DMV. The truth is quite the opposite. Like many Americans, I'm at times swayed by the stereotype of an all pervasive beauracratic and bumbling government sluggishness. Today, I must say, is the first day in as long as I can remember, that I have been absolutely stunned by government efficiency.

I went this morning to renew my drivers license. I brought with me a good book, and left early so I could make it to work at a reasonable hour. I assumed I would be one of many trapped in a kafka-esque process, so I figured I'd entertain myself with some great reading. On entering the building, the hundred or so people I saw immediately re-enforced my fears.

I followed a very small line; I pressed a little button that said what I was there for. A piece of paper shot out with my number. I sat down, and proceeded to read. I was annoyed by the continuous announcement of the next number being called. What kind of bumbling beauracracy can rip through customers at the rate of 1 every 30 seconds or so? Within a couple minutes my number was called. Less then 2 minutes later I was told my name would be called for my picture. And a couple minutes later it was, my snapshot was taken, and I was shushed out the door, new license in hand.

So I've been told this is all due to Gary Locke and his obsession with things not so controversial. Apparently, he took it upon himself to make the DMV efficient. Wow! It truly is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tasveer Fund Raiser - Seattle South Asian Film Festival

Life, Art, Movie Review: Saturday night we went to a lovely fundraiser for Tasveer. Ameen and I both hung artwork at the event to help raise funds for the upcoming South Asian Film Festival Tasveer is hosting here in Seattle. It was a fantastic event, and Tasveer is a very sweet and dedicated group.

They showed The Little Terrorist, a short film by Ashvin Kumar. This was such a beautiful film about a little boy who wanders across the India/Pakistan border while chasing his cricket ball. Another film was also shown, which was equally , if not more amazing than Kumar's film. Unfortunately I can't remember the title. But it was shot in Mumbai, and basically follows this chain of events; some events are negative, and spawn a negative chain across multiple characters, others are positive, and spawn a moving chain of positive events. And there was some intersection of the events. The film also had great high tempo music, bouncing camera freneticness (if that's a word), and interestingly -- I'm told the whole film was put together from two long shots. After writing this, a bit more is coming to me, I think the title is something about a red cherry blossom.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ameen Dhillon at Gallery 6311 Tomorrow

Art: For those who missed Ameen's opening reception, she will be at Gallery 6311 tomorrow, Saturday August 26th, from 11AM to 5PM to answer any questions regarding her work. If you want to read a bit about how wonderful the opening was, you can go HERE.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Photos of Artwork from 2005 and 2006

Art: I finally got around to updating photos of my art for the past 8 months or so. You'll notice each time you come to the website the thumbnails in the header have a lot more variety. I've also prepared some slideshows for all my work; you can see them by clicking HERE for 2005 and HERE for 2006. Much of the work for 2005 was created while we were in India in November and December of last year. If you are interested, and haven't done so already, you can read more about this trip HERE.

Monday, August 21, 2006

TrackMeNot - I Think Not

Search, Tech: Perhaps these guys who created TrackMeNot were at SIG IR and heard the presentation by Daniel Frankowski I mentioned HERE. Frankowski showed that its not that hard to link public anonymized users with a private users-not-anonymized data set. Basically, things boil down to our novel searches are far more revealing than our non-novel (ordinary) searches; in other words, the sheep are difficult to identify, but the "independent types" are not. In addition, Frankowski explored whether burying novel actions inside of ordinary actions would decrease the possibility of identification. Apparently it does, but not as much as one would hope, and nonetheless, identification is still very possible. TrackMeNot tries anyway, by periodically issuing random queries to the big search engines from a Firefox browser. Cute idea, helps a bit, but not really going to solve this problem for society at large. As security experts like to say: obfuscation is not a security strategy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

AOL data entertainment

Search, Misc: AOL released about 3 months of anonymized user traffic last week. They quickly retracted the data after facing a massive backlash, including, but not limited to significant hacker attacks. The data is still out there, and searchable at: . The data is fascinating from a sociological/psychological standpoint. A fun little game is to search for some keywords of interest, then click on a user id for any interesting results; you are presented with a list of all queries that user performed over the 3 month time horizon. If you find any interesting user ids, send them our way.

This seems to be a popular past time on the web. Slate is running an article titled
The records of AOL customer No. 16006693 - user 16006693. Here is the user trail:

16006693 nak
16006693 nack
16006693 sharona
16006693 knack
16006693 knack downloads
16006693 oakrige boys
16006693 oakridge boys
16006693 oakridge boys downloads free
16006693 jokes about dick cheney
16006693 jokes about dick cheney but not george bush
16006693 dick cheney creep
16006693 dick cheney dickhead
16006693 rummy dickhead
16006693 where is iraq
16006693 where is lebenon
16006693 his bullets
16006693 his bullies
16006693 shiits
16006693 shee-ites
16006693 bush appruval
16006693 bush approvel
16006693 bush drops below
16006693 dead reporters
16006693 dead reporters fotos
16006693 dead reporters pix
16006693 disembowled reporters pix
16006693 disembowled new york times
16006693 love thine enemas
16006693 love thine enemies
16006693 bible quote of the day
16006693 insperation from bible
16006693 george bush great president
16006693 george w bush great president
16006693 dream on
16006693 oakridge boys lyrics dream on
16006693 how to run country
16006693 how to run country when not really inerested
16006693 people to run country for you
16006693 over work
16006693 overwork
16006693 stress
16006693 best place to retire
16006693 places like crawford but without cindy sheehan
16006693 crawford the town not cindy crawford
16006693 crawford tx
16006693 like crawford tx but not so hot
16006693 best places to retire not hot
16006693 best places to retire global warming
16006693 global warming mith
16006693 global warming myth
16006693 crawford hot
16006693 cindy crawford hot
16006693 rice hot
16006693 rice hot not recipes
16006693 rice naked
16006693 rice nude
16006693 bible quotes resisting temptation
16006693 oakridge boys i'll be true to you
16006693 oakridge boys trying to love two women
16006693 rice and beans
16006693 tex mex
16006693 tex mex not music
16006693 tex mex takeout
16006693 tex mex takeout dc
16006693 heart burn
16006693 heartburn

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Lemonade for 50 Cents

Life: The other day Nayan set up a lemonade stand in front of the house. We all had a blast learning the basic tenets of capitalism. At the end of the day, courtesy of all our lovely neighbors that played along so well, Nayan earned 7.80$, just enough to buy himself a power rangers action figure.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ameen Dhillon - Opening at Gallery 6311

Art, Life: Last night we had a blast at Ameen's opening at Gallery 6311 in Ballard. There was a large steady stream of people throughout the show. Lots of folks milling about and asking all types of art and artist questions.

The feedback for Ameen's new work was extremely positive. Its also particularly exciting to hear from people who have never seen her work. And of course, its always nice when paintings sell. Both of us joke that we want to move this pile of art out of the studio -- we've got way too much art and need it out of our lives so we can make more. Fortunately, last night was a great step toward this vision. Ameen sold 9 pieces at the close of the reception!

The show is up till September 7th and Ameen will be in the gallery in a couple weeks for those who missed the opening but want to chat. Click HERE to see photos from the opening as well as many paintings that are in the show.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another Day at the Beach

Life: Here are a few pictures from the other day at the beach. I found a great little trail by our house that drops right down onto a beach between Carkeek Park and North Beach.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

SIG IR 2006

Search, Life, Tech: I just got back from a whirlwind few days at SIG IR. SIG IR is a rather academic conference on information retrieval that is renowned for having rejected PageRank. Here's a funny little tid bit:

"In a confirmation of what I had heard anecdotally, Brin and Page recount how their research paper on the link ranking feature now known as PageRank was rejected by the SIGIR conference as ‘‘disjointed’’ and ‘‘not IR’’ enough. (It would be interesting to find out who the reviewers were!) In hindsight, one can make a good case that the implementation of Web linking with anchor text was one of the major advances in Web search. Brin and Page’s subsequent paper describing this work (Brin & Page, 1998) has become one of the most cited papers in information retrieval. For those interested, see CiteSeer, ISI Web of Science, and Google Scholar for the citation counts. So, for the legions of researchers who have had papers rejected from SIGIR, take heart!"

Despite this, the sorely lacking keynote speakers, and the monotonous delivery of many a speaker (why oh why can't CS departments across our lovely planet make these PhD students take How-To-Give-A-Speach-101), I still had a great time, and heard some good talks. My favorite was at the closing session by
Daniel Frankowski titled You Are What You Say: Privacy Risks of Public Mentions. Basically he showed that its not that hard to link public anonymized users with a private users-not-anonymized data set. This is something especially timely given the AOL public search data release.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ameen's Artist Statement

Art: I mentioned Ameen's upcoming show at Gallery 6311 HERE. I've since been asked about where it is and a bit more about the show. I've included Ameen's artist statement below. The reception is Saturday, August 12, 6-10 P.M. at 6311 24th NW Seattle, WA - 98107 in Ballard. Hope to see you all there!

Ameen's Artist Statement:

At the end of 2005 my husband Deep and I packed up our 2 kids, Nayan and Ananya for a six week trip to Punjab, the north Indian state where both of our families originate. Deep was born in Madison, and I was born in Victoria. We’ve both travelled to India several times. The focus of this trip was to simply spend time with family, and for Deep and I to paint.

We lived with our cousins on their farm just outside the city of Jallandhar and went to town every day to our Masi’s (maternal aunt’s) house to draw, paint, photograph and absorb Jallandhar. Masi’s rooftop became our temporary studio.

When I begin a new body of work I am never sure what direction it will take. My previous paintings began with either colorful silk fabrics, family photos, or found papers randomly collaged. Perhaps the chaos of Jallandhar itself directed the calmness and loneliness in these paintings.

I have always been interested in everyday street scenes; our drive into the city every morning and the view from Masi’s roof are immedietly inspiring. The city itself and our families' ancestral villages are my focus -- the “raidee’s,” or street vendor’s carts, which offer everything from fruits and vegetables to parrot pundits that predict your future -- pastel painted concrete houses enclosed behind ornate iron gates and fences -- rooftops cluttered with water tanks, television antennae, electrical wires, drying laundry, folding cots and patio chairs -- fading yellow ochre walls with cerulean blue padlocked doors belonging to families long gone abroad -- fresh strings of peppers and a solitary lemon hung every saturday morning to protect against the evil eye. Welcome to Jallandhar.
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