Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sachs Quote from The End of Poverty

I recently started reading an insightful book by Jeffrey Sachs called The End of Poverty. Here's Sachs (paraphrasing a parable) on the IMF: The local priest gives one remedy after another [to a farmer with dying chickens] -- prayers, potions, oaths -- until all the chickens are dead. "Too bad," says the priest, "I had so many other good ideas."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Farewell to Eartha Kitt

One of my favorite singers, Eartha Kitt, passed away today. She will certainly live on through all her recorded works. For those of my readers who don't know her, here's a clip from Wikipedia:

Eartha Mae Kitt (born on January 17 1927) s an American actress, singer, and cabaret star. She is known for her role as Catwoman in the 1960s TV series Batman, and for her 1953 Christmas song "Santa Baby." Orson Welles once called her "the most exciting woman in the world."

And here's a video of Eartha performing one of my favorite tunes, C'est Si Bon:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is Blue, Blue, or Blue Right for You?

I recently published Is Blue, Blue, or Blue Right for You? at I am reposting it here on ChaloBolo in its entirety.


Historically, machines have faired poorly at understanding ambiguous terms and their meaning. For example, it is easy for you to look at the following sentences:
  • Blue is a forthcoming Indian film starring Sunjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Lara Dutta and Zayed Khan.
  • Blue are an English pop boy band consisting of four members: Lee Ryan, Duncan James, Antony Costa, and Simon Webbe.
  • Blue is the 1971 album of Canadian-born singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
and realise each sentence is referring to a different Blue. This, and related disambiguation tasks are not so easy for machines to perform well. Perhaps because of the difficulty of the task, most modern applications have simply shied away from the problem and relied on you, the human, to do more work. For example, if you go to your favorite search engine and search for the keyword Blue, you get results like these, or these.

If you are really after articles, images or video about the Bollywood film Blue, then it is up to you, the human, to add the disambiguating information and formulate your queries in a more exacting way. For example, you might search for Bollywood Blue, or if you remember the film stars Akshay Kumar you might search for Akshay Kumar Blue. In addition, you often need to execute these more refined queries in multiple places like your image, video, web and news search engine.

Here at Evri, we are busy getting machines to search more, so you don't have to. At Evri, if you go to the Bollywood film Blue page, you'll note the articles, videos, and images are all in reference to the correct film. Same thing if you go to the English pop boy band Blue page, or Joni Mitchell's album Blue page.

Let's take a look and compare the Evri found images when I took the screenshots:

And here is a snapshot of the video media bar taken from the Evri pages shown in the same order as above:

And just for fun, here are the top images for Blue from a favorite image search engine:

So how do we do it? Well our approach is multi-pronged, but core to our activities is teaching machines to read documents similar to the way humans do; unlike most search engines, we don't just treat documents like a bag of keywords with no understood inter-word meaning. So, for example, for a sentence like:

Chief Seattle spoke to his people.

our system recognizes the base subject>verb>object grammatical clause to be Seattle>speak>people. In addition, our system knows that cities do not typically speak to people whereas people do. Our system also recognizes Chief to be the prefix modifier of Seattle, as well as a title used to address a human. This understanding enables our system to recognize Seattle, in this sentence, as a person.

In addition to building a deep NLP based grammatical understanding of text, we are busy building a very large knowledgebase of entities (people, places, or things); this knowledgebase contains structured information about each entity. For example, we know that the boy band Blue is a band, and more generally, an organization. We know the band originated in London, England, and was active between 2001 and 2005. We also know the active members of the band were: Lee Ryan, Antony Costa, Duncan James and Simon Webbe. This structured information is used in multiple aspects of our system to disambiguate between this Blue and the many others present in the world at large.

We also regularly leverage our NLP based text understanding in conjunction with our structured knowledgebase understanding. Here is a diagram depicting the data flow of our knowledgebase and its use at indexing and search time.

Finally, while we believe we've made great strides toward proving that machines can disambiguate well and help alleviate the burden from us humans, there is still a long way to go. While we have many examples of pages that work amazingly well, you will no doubt encounter those where we could use improvement. Please send us these examples and we will do our best to fix them.

I will leave you with a screen shot of a page whose accuracy I find compelling. When I think of the sheer number of pages on the web containing the word ten (more than 600 million in Google's index) that are not about this album by Pearl Jam, it is a true feat to hone in on just the right stuff.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

At Nani's

I had some time on my hands yesterday, was without an Internet connection, and started playing around with my Mac. I stumbled across iMovie and thought I'd try to make my first video using the built in camera. So here you have it, starring ChaloBolo's very own Nayan and Ananya.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Evri's Garden Sprouts Some Search

I just published a blog post titled Evri's Garden Sprouts Some Search @ Here is a snippet:

We thought about launching a labs site where we could showcase our latest gadgetry, but decided none of us really fancy wearing lab coats. Many of us have gardens, however, and a few of us wear overalls, so we figured we'd instead start a garden to sprout new ideas. So, voila: we have a new section of our site called Evri's Garden where we'll be showcasing our fresh but not fully farmed veggies. Our first garden sprout is Evri Search, which I'll spend some time chatting about.

Evri Search exposes our text analysis infrastructure that automatically identifies and makes available linguistic links connecting people, places and things found on the web. To provide this enhanced search capability, Evri Search performs an exhaustive deep natural language processing based analysis of every sentence in our corpus. This search interface allows you to directly interact with the same back end system our scientists and engineers use everyday to fine tune the algorithms used in our applications to search on your behalf. The help section on the search page is pretty exhaustive, so I thought it would be more entertaining to just walk through some interesting queries.

One of my favorite queries is to find corporate acquisitions. To do so using the Evri query language (EQL), I can construct a query like:


In this query, I am asking the system for all sentences containing a grammatical clause where the source of an action is a named organization (usually companies but also non profits and government agencies), the action is the verb buy (or similar verbs), and the target of the action is also a company.

The full post is @

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Evri is Public and on Chalo Bolo

I am excited to announce we have opened up Evri to the public today. You can see what is new in the Evri blog post titled: The Beta is Open. You can also install the Evri widget on your blog or website by following instructions at

I've installed the widget here on Chalo Bolo, so if you take a look at the bottom of any post, you can click on the Evri icon to launch the widget. I'll spend a few minutes explaining what the widget is, and how it works.

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article titled: The Twittering Ecstasy of Communication. Here is a view of the Evri widget as activated from this article:

Our technology took the text of my blog post, sent it up to, and in essence, applied machines to read the post similar to the way a human might; the system then generated a media recommendation experience enabling you, my readers, to find out more about topics discussed within the post.

In the view above, we see the user has chosen to focus on the social networking site Facebook. Evri recommended articles that are based on the essence of my post, but with a focus on Facebook. As we can see from the recommendation titled "Facebook, a narcissists haven..." the recommendation was pretty appropriate given my statement: "I've always had this nagging sense that these activities have an innate element of narcissistic junior highschoolness about them." regarding Twitter and similar applications.

Also note, that the graph in the lower right corner enables you to get recommendations for articles and videos given a pair of entities. For example, clicking on LinkedIn shows recommendations based, again on the essence of my post, with an emphasis on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

As illustrated in the screenshot below, note that you can click on any recommended videos and watch them without ever having to leave Chalo Bolo.

Finally, if you discover you are really interested in discovering more about an entity like Jean Baudrillard, the post modernist philosopher from France, you can follow his link to our detailed page all about him. And once on the detail page for Jean Baudrillard, you may discover that, for example, Richard Wolin accused Baudrillard of "all but celebrating the terrorist attacks, essentially claiming that the United States of America received what it deserved" in the terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda on 9/11.

Please let me know if you have any problems installing the widget, and as always, I would love to get any feedback on ways to improve the product.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Twittering Ecstasy of Communication

About a decade ago a good friend of mine and I were discussing the on coming evolution of humanity toward a more united, more immediate, interconnected borgification-like thought process. He recommended I read Jean Baudrillard's Ecstasy of Communication. The French philosopher, as I recall, was arguing that communication is basically without meaning, that it is the communication itself that is communicated -- Baudrillard saw humanity as becoming all consumed, "orgiastically," by its ever increasingly sophisticated ability to communicate.

It is an interesting point, and one that I've been sensitive to. On deciding to blog, adopting social networking apps, etc. I've always had this nagging sense that these activities have an innate element of narcissistic junior highschoolness about them. At the same time, I've always felt this instinctive need to broadcast communicate -- from late in my teen years when I studied creative writing, to subsequent technical publications, to more recent blogging efforts.

Many reactionaries to the "Twitterification of the Web" tend toward a Baudrillard-esque take. By the "Twitterification of the Web," I mean the increasing emergence and dominance of the "What am I doing now" type functionality that Twitter introduced and social networking sites like Facebook extended through automatic status update broadcasting. I often hear the argument that this "crap is just a giant waste of time" -- certainly there is some truth in this, but recently I ran across an article by HorsePigCow that discusses some direct benefits of Twitter in particular. I was struck by the one line, that Twitter is a "serendipity enabler" -- its an interesting idea, that broadcasting snapshots of life minutia provides entry points for the interested listener to latch on and react to -- and perhaps, this one I'm really holding out for, we can create a rural-like social encounter experience in the urban world, i.e. just run into our friends instead of planning a priori encounters. The author provides the example of her tweet of arrival at an airport that led to a serendipitously present friend to hear the tweet, and arrange to meet.

Well, to make a long story short, I thought I'd finally dive in and give Twittering a try. So as an experiment, I'm now tweeting. You'll find my last few tweets available on the ChaloBolo website in the right column below the post topics section. You can follow any of the links should you be a fellow tweeter interested in subscribing.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chameli to Rahul Bose to Shantaram: More Meandering through the Entity Web

One of my favorite movies of all time is Chameli. So I decided to check out our Chameli page. Once there, I recalled really liking the male lead performance by Rahul Bose. So I quickly wound up on the Evri Rahul Bose page. I then was curious about the videos -- one was about an interview with Rahul Bose and a guy named Gregory Roberts -- the name Gregory Roberts sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't remember why. I started watching the video below, and quickly realized it was the author of the book Shantaram, that my wife just bought and is sitting right next to me on our night stand. A couple weeks ago, I had read the jacket of the book -- the amazing story of an Australian philosopher turned druggie turned Mumbai mobster turned into redeemed author -- it seemed a little too amazing, so I wasn't motivated enough to crack it open. Needless to say, after watching this interview, I am pretty intrigued. Warning: the host is a bit annoying, and the interview is in Hinglish. And a final warning: the links above require you to have a beta account with us which you can get HERE.

And here are links for the remaining interview parts: 2, 3, 4, 5

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Last Days of The Raj - The end of British rule in India

I just watched an interesting dramatized documentary on the last days of the British in India. The documentary starts with the arrival of the emergence of independent Pakistan and India. Viceroy Mountbatten, sent to India to formulate and execute a plan to end British rule in India and transfer power. The film tracks the violent events through till the birth of independent Pakistan and India. The film is available HERE.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Flaming Conch Shell

My good friend Matt, now known as Mateo, dropped his life as a Seattle software geek, packed up his trailer, and drove down to the lovely beaches of Zipolite, Oaxaca. He has set up a new life down there. Occasionally I post some of his letters, with his permission of course, to remind us all that there is a world out there away from mortgages and 9 to 5 gigs. Here are some snippets from the latest in the Continued Adventures of Mateo series:

I'm swamped with work doing web design stuff. Everybody here suddenly wants websites and I'm the only person who does them. You can see my latest one at, not bad eh? The hardest part is working with the people here who have lived in a fishing village their whole lives and have shall we say a different aesthetic that needs to be pleased. And they want me to use the logos their best friend since fourth grade made for them, like the flaming conch shell in the Septimo Sol site which I could not persuade them to let go of. Still, its fun working with people and making a difference in their lives and work.

Also I was thinking today this is ending up being a really good professional experience, as both a designer and programmer, and general systems administrator (because people are now starting to ask me to do all sorts of IT stuff), in kind of a roundabout way... I have been used to doing my thing and getting help in areas that I never had any experience in from other friends or co-workers. Here I'm completely on my own, so I have been forced to learn a ton of stuff that I never would have otherwise and become good at stuff I have always sucked at. Like at the moment I'm having to do a lot of research on how different search engines work so that I can get my clients rankings improved. It looks like I'm going to end up being kind of a jack of all trades computer guy down here. Tell that to Carsten when you feel like seeing a good belly laugh! Make sure he's not in the middle of drinking a beer or something.

Well, I've been thinking of you because today was another deep-should-have-been-here day. It has been raining for 3 days straight and everything is a mess. My house is full of piles of wet clothes and there is not much I can do about it. My road is washed out and I can't leave in my truck, everyone else has been hunkered down as well. Today I had to clean a nasty virus off both of my computers, and the online sync and backup service I'm using... a version of the Brontok virus. Its indonesian but it might be hitting mostly Spanish sites at the moment because a lot of the web documentation is in spanish. So anyway I got mostly through it all and everything backed up, and my registry cleaned up, and I decided to walk down to town to grab a piece of zuchini pie at Francos. Jody was there; my Australian friend who traveled through here last year, never left, stayed long past her visa, lost her passport, and most recently became impregnated by an entertaining mexican hippy called Rasta who hangs out at a local hotel and busses tables in exchange for free room, board, and [mystery substance X]. When either of them need any cash they have to go to the owner and ask for some like he's their father or something. However he is like the coolest guy in Zipol and the place is exactly what they want although it doesn't seem to me to be very conducive to family upbringing. Anyway despite what it sounds like she has a very solid head on her shoulders and is in a great space so she is great fun to talk to. It reminds you that intelligent people choose all different paths. So I spent about an hour there talking to her and my friend Paco, Franco's son, who is training to be a marabarista which is sort of an all purpose juggler type dude. Currently he is practicing all the time with twirly gyro things that seem to stay stuck on string connecting two wands. If you have seen it you will know exactly what I'm talking about, and if not I'll never be able to explain it. We are both supposed to be featured in a Mexican beer commercial being shot here at the end of the month, the rep showed up yesterday and took pictures of both of us without our shirts on and then scribbled down our phone numbers and raced off. Then Andrew the ex programmer nudist also from Australia wandered by, and we went off to go see the lagoon, which broke today. We say the lagoon breaks when the sand barrier between the sea and the seasonal river breaks and the water in the lagoon starts rushing out into the ocean. Its very dramatic because it starts with a tiny trickle and then as it excavates sand away it turns into a raging current and then carves out a big wide (20 meter) opening, and then the water becomes kind of a lake, but an estuary really. Its fun to watch. Plus we almost got to see Armando's little beach bar completely get taken out, but alas, it only took part of the roof and a palapa hut, so we'll have to wait for the big rains in October to make the lagoon break again. Ha ha, I'm becoming Mexican, laughing at the misfortune of others.

Then I went to go buy some roast chicken to take home for dinner, and along the way I lost Paca, so I went to Jody's beach bar where Paca always goes when she runs away, because she likes hanging out with Jody. She wasn't there, but Daniele was... a thoroughly delectable Brazilian girl with whom I have struck up a purposeful acquaintance. Try to guess what the purpose is. I had to think quick on my feet and make up a plan to invite her on the following day. So tomorrow a bunch of us are going to Estacahuite to go swimming in the rain and eat Shrimp al Diablo at my favorite Shrimp al Diablo restuarant. Actually every Mexican restaurant is a Shrimp al Diablo restaurant, since that is one of the three dishes that by Zipolite law must be included on every menu, along with Filete al mojo de ajo and Filete Empanado. Anyway hopefully I will be able to snuggle up with her a bit tomorrow.

So I watched the boys play soccer on the beach for a while, and talked to my friend Pedro from Oaxaca city who was trying to steal a little time away from his in-laws on the beach, then I headed home, but I got sidetracked at Geogione's new little cafe, where my Oaxacan friend Alexis who builds cob homes was having a nice toasted foccacia sandwich. I had a bite and it was so good I had to order a couple foccacias for myself to take home, and while you are at Georgione my friend why don't stuff one of those nice italian salamis in the bag, say Alexis why don't you come over for a little glass of wine before heading off on your motercycle? Alexis and I split most of a bottle, and he invited me to his birthday party on friday, we are going to have sushi. I told him I wanted to bring the Brazilian, which was fine, and suggested he also invite our friend English Sarah from Mazunte, the former rock star who made her real fortune in North Carolina selling little ice creams to construction workers in tight shorts. He said, sure she's coming, but the problem is, so is her boyfriend, and her boyfriends wife has also suddenly turned up from wherever she went and is also coming, so he's expecting fireworks. Just another day in Zipolite...

Enjoy the summer in seattle!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Grammar Students Guide to Radiohead

Below is an article that I wrote and originally published on the Evri blog. I included it here in its entirety.


Here at Evri, we talk a lot about searching less. When we say searching less, we are talking about you, our users with precious time -- we want you to search less -- we aren't talking about our machines, because they do an awful lot of searching so you don't have to. So how are they, our racks and racks of computers, searching so you can understand more?

Well it comes down to teaching our machines to read documents more similar to the way humans do - to basically understand more of the meaning of the documents they index. This is very different from what traditional keyword based search technology does. Typical search engines, when they encounter a document, treat the document like a bag of words -- associations between the words, how they interconnect, and form actual meaning is lost. Consider the following text snippet from a Starpulse article:

Howard insists they won't be copying Radiohead's idea and making their disc only available on the internet. [...] He tells BBC Radio 1, "We won't be doing the same thing as Radiohead, no." [...] Last year, Radiohead released In Rainbows as an Internet download and allowed fans to name their own price for the album.

Now from this snippet of text, your favorite search engine will store this data something like:

Radiohead - 3
Howard - 1
Rainbows - 1
released - 1
Internet - 1

and so on. I'm simplifying things a lot for the sake of discussion, but basically, your favorite search engine is maintaining a list of words, and keeping track of how many times those words appear in a given document. This approach works quite well for finding websites, but not very well for discovering facts, or relationships describing how people, places and things interconnect.

Now consider how Evri's approach is different. For this same snippet of text, our machines will break the snippet out into multiple sentences. For each sentence, our machines will, in essence, diagram the sentence similar to what you did back in 7th grade grammar class. So, for every grammatical clause in a sentence, our system creates a data structure like that shown below.
In the last sentence of the snippet above, our system will store a relationship like:

Radiohead > released > In Rainbows

In addition, our system knows that Radiohead is a band, released is a verb, and In Rainbows is an album. If a sentence said: Radiohead of Oxfordshire may release an album called In Rainbows, our system will store Oxfordshire as the suffix modifer of Radiohead, and will store the verb release as being conditional; knowing that a verb is conditional or negated is important as this information can be used to determine where in a list of results this relationship should appear. In addition, if a subsequent sentence says something like: The band's experiment proved successful., our system will know that The band refers to Radiohead; this is because our system attempts to resolve anaphora similar to the way humans do. Finally, this triplet style data structure is searchable at web scale and web speed by searches expressible in a query language; this query language is quite flexible, but basically allows our recommendation and information navigation applications to formulate effective queries in a precise manner. For example, a query like:

[musical_artist] OR [band] > praise > Radiohead

is being used to render the right column in the entity detail page shown in the screen shot below.
When you actually click on a person or organization, like Billy Corgan, the system will execute a more refined query like:

Billy Corgan > praise > Radiohead

One of the challenges our scientists and engineers face is how to formulate these types of queries in clever ways so you, the user, do not have to; I'll save this discussion for another day, however.

Finally, we published a book chapter last year that does a more thorough job explaining our approach, and additional grammatical treatments our system performs. So if you're interested, see the Natural Language Processing and Text Mining book chapter titled A Case Study in Natural Language Based Web Search.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Evri Exposes the Web that Always Was

There are moments in my life that are incredibly vivid -- just thinking of them draws out a swirl of colors and sights and sounds in my mind. I recall being lost, at the age of 3, and escorted by a policeman to our home. I recall flying through the air for what felt like hours, until my shoulder smacked into a thick fir tree -- the sound of my bike crashing behind me - the pain and angst during the many hours it took to hike out. I remember huddling over a workstation in the basement of the University of Wisconsin engineering computer lab - mouth wide open, staring at Mosaic, while watching a fellow graduate student click through the first few web sites I ever saw. I remember the first time my brilliant former boss showed me an early prototype of an NLP based search tool about 7 years ago -- I saw for the first time a world of information, an intriguing world of information, connecting things, or entities, in a direct, and revealing way I had never seen before. Seeing a CNN video play in that first web browser, and wandering through the interconnectedness of the web, I knew the world as I had thought of it had changed. Seeing the web of entities for the first time, I knew the world as I had thought of it had changed again.

If you're like most people, when you think of the web, you think of a bunch of websites connected via hyperlinks to other websites. Indeed this web's incredible value we simply take for granted now. But another web exists, and I believe its value is equally incredible though untapped -- it's a web that has existed since humans first wrote down a sentence -- it's the web of things, connected via language itself. It's this web that we humans use to understand and make sense of the world. So if the world wide web consisted of 1 website with 1 document containing 1 sentence -- the sentence being: "Evri launches its Beta," -- this web, the entity web, or as my CEO Neil calls it, the "data graph of the web," would consist of 2 nodes: Evri and Beta, with grammatical clause level linkage: launch. One of Noam Chomsky's great contributions of the non political flavor, was carving out a theory showing all humans communicate in languages representable by a common basic grammatical structure. At a most basic level, humans define a source of some action, the action itself, and then the object of that action. For example, a caveman points at himself, then points at his stomach, then points at some meat on a rock -- message is clear: me want meat. Of course most of us use a more complex form of language that transcends caveman-speak.

Dealing with the complexities of language is one of the things that keeps many of us Evri-ites busy -- doing things like getting machines to learn how to resolve pronouns such as he/she/it and other anaphora like the lawyer, the president, or the company. A human can read a body of text about OJ Simpson and understand that "the lawyer" referred to throughout the article, actually refers to Johnny Cochran -- any system that tries to expose the entity web needs to do the same. Humans easily perform other tasks that are difficult for machines, but essential to the entity web - for example, if you're talking about Will Smith, most humans can easily figure out whether you're referring to Will Smith the actor, entertainer, and musician or Will Smith the football player of the New Orleans Saints. Humans are pretty good at using the context of language to assist in this type of disambiguation task. We've made good strides at getting machines to perform this task pretty well by following the general approach humans follow, that is, paying attention to the surrounding context and by leveraging our language model. For example, we know actors tend to perform actions like: act, perform in, star in, against objects like: movies, shows or events. We know football players perform very different actions like: scoring, tackling, or passing against objects like field goals, players or footballs. In addition to all the excitement with language, there's the great fun that has kept me busy for many a long day and late night -- whacking through the vast ocean of human communication fast and efficiently -- as many companies have shown with the world wide web, its not enough to know a web exists, its essential to bring order and the efficient ability to navigate.

So we're opening up some early glimpses into this web connecting all things; I'd love for you to tell us what you think. You can sign up at And on a final note: I recently watched a great film called Heavy Metal In Baghdad that features the amazing story of Acrassicauda, a group of war weary kids from Baghdad that simply want to rock out; here's a screenshot from their page on our new Beta:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bye Bye Stealth, Hello World, Evri's Coming Out

After many months of intense focus, late nights and long weekends, we are finally on our way out of stealth. You can read more HERE, HERE and HERE.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Photos from India Trip

You can see my photos from our recent to trip to India HERE.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More Wonder in Wonderland

We returned to Wonderland, and things have indeed changed since our 2005 trip; there is now a water park -- the perfect place to cool off and listen to bhangra.

Ameen modelling Jalandhar's latest swim wear fashion...

And the kids 5 minutes after returning home...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Progress of Safety - Indian Style

So for any of you who may have recollections of 70s travel on India's famed GT road, things are much different, generally for the better. My childhood trips to India virtually always involved an accident of some form or another. Once my father, grandfather and I got ran off the road by a bus overtaking another -- our motorcycle went down, and we all suffered some serious breakage. I can't recall a single trip to India during that period where at least someone we knew was not in a serious accident.

Now things are very different. The road from Delhi to Amritsar in general segregates traffic moving to Delhi, from that moving away from Delhi. I'm no traffic engineer, but in general, this seems a good thing. In addition, the moon crater size pot holes, while by no means an endangered species, generally have dwindled on main thoroughfares. Things get even more amazing -- many cities now have very strict helmet and seat belt laws. When you look out onto the streets, it really looks like the laws are being enforced, and folks are following them. But on closer inspection, I realize this is not quite the case.

Upon entering a taxi, virtually every one of them tells you to put on your seat belt. So I reach for my belt, and realize there is no buckle on the end -- its been cut off. The driver usually smiles and says something like, "just lay it across your lap, so the police won't notice." I was wandering the bazaar and noticed a man selling helmets - they looked like hard baseball caps. He had a pair of scissors and was busy cutting off the straps. I asked him what good a helmet was with no straps -- he looked at me like I was completely daft, "so the police don't bother you, obviously."

I also realize that woman don't wear helmets. So I ask my driver why that's the case -- he says, "oh the ladies were furious that their hair was being messed up. Woman have many rights you know. Men in the goverment also realized that so much of life's beauty is gone if one can no longer see woman and their long flowing hair on the back of a motorcycle." All I could think was, ok, here's a country with an out of control infanticide rate driving a major gender imbalance, and the government decides to start favoring women by allowing them the option to die in statistically larger numbers. After thinking about it for a while, I realize I'm wrong -- after all, the straps are cut off the mens helmets, and there is no functioning Snell helmet approval organization, so virtually anyone can manufacture helmets; they can even make them out of tupperware if they want to.

The best part, of course, is that if you have 500 rupees on you, you can totally ignore the laws, since a little palm grease goes a long way. And I must say, all cynicism aside, it really is liberating knowing that virtually every law out there is easily skirted, leaving one completely free to do what they want. Our kids love romping around seat belt free in the car. And in general I let them, not just since the belts are broken, but back in 70s America, that's how I grew up.

A Trip to Manikaran Sahib

We recently returned from a few days up in the mountains with my cousin and family. We went to Manikaran Sahib, a Gurdwara that is located in the Parvati valley near Kulu and Manali in Himachal Pradesh.

The ride up was pretty twisty and turny. We had multiple vomit related pit stops. We've driven around the Cascades quite a bit without incident, but apparently the Himalayan mountain roads were too much for Nayan's stomach. Nonetheless, the drive was just spectacular. One of the things that is so different here, is that people, lots of people, actually live way up the mountain sides. Often there are no roads, just little trails; folks hike up many thousands of vertical feet to get to their houses. There's also an interesting network of rather sketchy cables and baskets to help people and goods traverse major valleys. Pictured below is me standing on one of many jerry rigged rafts that folks use to cross rivers.

The Gurdwara is built around natural hot springs; there are multiple baths where you can soak. The Gurdwara itself has a very universalist bent -- virtually every religious prophet is pictured throughout the Gurdwara; each time I went into the hot spring I had a different experience -- once with a group of Hindu priests, again w/ a number of Buddhist monks, more with Sikh pilgrims.
Here are a few snippets from on the history of the site: Guru Nanak Dev ji was with his Sikhs in the Himalaya mountains of India. His sikhs were hungry and there was no food. Guru Nanak sent his good friend Bhai Mardana to collect food for langar (the community kitchen). Many people donated rice and flour(atta)to make parsadas(bread). The one problem was that there was no fire to cook the food. Guru Nanak than lifted a rock and a hot spring appeared. The sikhs were able to make rice and beans.

Legend has it that once Lord Shiva and his divine consort Parvati were wandering in this sublime environment. Shiva liked the place and started meditating. Meanwhile, Parvati started taking a bath in the blue waters. While she was playing in the water she lost her earring. Shiva was enraged when he could not get back the earring, he started doing Tandav, the dance of destruction. The atmosphere got tense and Shiva threatened the serpent, the probable thief. The serpent fished the jewel out from the waters. Thus the river came to be known as Parvati and the place was called Mani(ring)Karan(ear).

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Delightful Delhi Day

We had a blast cruising around Delhi today. Since we're all jet lagged, we experienced the very unusual act of getting the Dhillon family out and about at a crisp 7:30 AM. This is the first time in my life I have actually enjoyed Delhi. Perhaps its the stunning Le Meridien hotel that is coloring my take, but I could swear this city is so much cleaner and greener than I remember it. We especially enjoyed Humayun's Tomb -- mostly, the first, more minor tomb pictured here. Something about the lines and rawness of its shape; I also love how nothing is cordoned off or protected by railings -- we happily climbed up and around and all over the structures.

Love, Escalators, and Fishing Nets

So we got out off the plane @ the airport yesterday, and I was totally shocked. For the 36 years of my life, and the many many times I have been to the Delhi airport, I have not once seen the escalator working. In 96, when I flew in from Boston, I saw a college girl fall on her knees before the escalator and start crying tears of joy, "oh my broken India! I have missed you so much." While riding down the escalator I contemplate the thrill of progress reaching even the arcane corners of government. Upon stepping off the escalator, I look up and smile, realizing the girl's broken love is still there to welcome her. Right above the customs agents that stamp your passport is a massive gaping hole in the ceiling where you can see piping and ducting exposed through shattered pieces of grease stained 70s ceiling tiles. Below the 30 foot round hole hangs a massive fishing net; it is tied with twine to rusty bent electrical poles sticking down from the ceiling at various angles. The net keeps new arrivals and customs agents safe from falling debris.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Illiterate Iraqi Men in Ballard

I just got back from a work out. While working out, the following conversation occurred between the following people:
  • Large white rather awkward 50 year old man w/ beard, I'll refer to him as LWAYOMB for short.
  • Typical white normal middle aged Seattle-ite woman, I'll refer to her as SeattleWoman
  • And me.
I'm working out on a machine, about 10 feet away LWAYOMB says to SeattleWoman, "excuse me, excuse me, miss, uh hum, do you know if we are supposed to clean up after we use the machines. I mean, uh hum, today is my first day and I, uh hum, am not sure."

SeattleWoman: "well yes technically you are, but I'd say about 40% of the people don't and about 60% do."

LWAYOMB: "oh, uh hum, yes, I see. Well you know, I see that man over there, uh hum, he didn't clean off his machines, and, uh hum, perhaps he can't read English."

SeattleWoman: "well you know some people do, and some don't."

LWAYOMB: "yes well he looks like an Iraqi, so you know, perhaps he can't read. You know, these Iraqi's don't read English very well."

SeattleWoman kind of drifts away passively.

So at this point I'm really annoyed. I walk over and say to LWAYOMB, "Sir, I speak English just fine. You really shouldn't assume that a man merely due to his skin color is illiterate. Also, I'm not from Iraq, but if I were, why would that matter? You could simply have asked me to wipe off the machines instead of proceeding with this elaborate passive aggressive dialog."

LWAYOMB huffs and says, "oh well yeah, uh hum, I've tried that before, uh hum and it didn't get me anywhere." LWAYOMB getting red and flustered, repeats over and over again, "can you read, I mean, can you read. Can't you read?"

I shake my head and go back to working out. Later, after LWAYOMB leaves, SeattleWoman says to me, "I'm really sorry about that. I thought he was asking a straightforward question, and I was trying to say, yeah some people do wipe down the machines, some don't, it's not really a big deal either way. But after he started on the racist angle, I was shocked and sort of speechless."

I said, "yeah that was pretty bizarre. I've spent my entire life in the states, and I must say, that was the first clearly racist incident I've ever encountered directed at me. And of all places, this is Seattle, where on earth is this guy from?"

So, to all my friends over the years who have argued to prove the point to me that racism is alive and well even in lefty Seattle, perhaps you are right. But I must say, while its certainly annoying, this man is clearly in the minority, and his behavior is not socially acceptable. Afterward, when I was checking out, I chatted w/ the receptionist about the incident. Coincidentally, the man walked by at the same time. She was apologetic, clearly bothered, and said she'd chat w/ him.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Remembering Paul Yeskel: 1951--2007

One of my good and very inspiring friends recently lost a dear friend of his. He sent me the eulogy he made to his friend. I found it so moving I asked him if I could post it here; to my request, John said, "Please post away. My prayer is that everyone who gets this email will forward it." Please have a read and realize that life is precious, and there truly are amazing people who make this world a better place.

John Silliman Dodge
From Radio & Records Jan 18, 2008

I recall a scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Huck have staged their own deaths. The whole town is packed into the church and there’s much sobbing and lamentation. The two boys, hiding upstairs in the organ loft, are having the experience many of us fantasize about: attending our own funeral and seeing just how many people loved us and how upset they are that we’re gone.

On the afternoon of December 27, 2007 at a chapel in New Jersey, I spoke by thought to my dearest friend, Paul Yeskel who died suddenly and unexpectedly four days before. “Pauley, wherever you are I hope you can see this room filled with people all here to honor you, to declare how much they loved you and how much richer you made their lives.” We don’t know why he went to sleep the evening of December 22 and simply never woke up, but when the news finally comes, it won’t matter how it happened. Paul is gone and his wife, his daughters, his brother and sister, his world family will never be the same.

Let me tell you a few things about this wonderful man I knew for 35 years. He was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and came of age during the golden age of New York Top 40 AM radio. Cousin Brucie, Murray the K, Dan Ingram and the rest were like family members to him. The summer of ‘69 before his first year of college, Paul went to Woodstock. And if that didn't clinch his career path, I don’t know what did.

He started in radio but soon moved over to records. Promotion was Paul’s special calling and his effectiveness was demonstrated by the gold records which covered his office walls. There were stints with Ariola, ATCO (where he was instrumental in signing my band, Cooper-Dodge), and Arista Records. Then came his marketing and promotion firm, Aim Strategies. Many firsts there, including the first company to promote the (then) new Triple A format, first company to develop radio play and retail sales tracking software, first company to focus on the current side of Classic Rock with the website Besides the amazing set of rock-hall-of-fame pictures that rolls when you visit, I like this quote best:

“We have had the privilege to work with artists like The Beatles (Love), Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Heart, Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Queen, CSNY, John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Steely Dan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Journey, Kiss, John Mellencamp, Sammy Hager, REO Speedwagon, ZZ Top and The Allman Brothers. I get paid for this. Life is good.”

Family was important to Paul. He married the girl of his dreams and together they produced two beautiful daughters. His fine family was a great source of emotional support when in 1998 Paul developed a rare and potentially fatal kidney disease. Younger brother David Yeskel (also a successful record exec) was to be the designated organ donor, but when Paul’s system started to crash in 2004 and they began the pre-transplant process, Dave’s candidacy was suddenly ruled out due to a family history of diabetes. Without a feasible Plan B, Paul was seriously worried. He knew that people died waiting for kidneys which came too late.

He shared these mounting concerns with me over dinner at The Learning Conclave conference in Minneapolis in July 2004. At one point I asked Paul, What’s your blood type? A-positive he says. Really, so is mine. I should just give you one of my kidneys. To which he responds, Don’t **** with me! But less than five months later at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that’s just what happened. After that life-altering experience, we called ourselves The Kidney Brothers. We nicknamed our co-project Billy, as in Billy the Kidney. Of all my life’s so-called achievements, that’s the one of which I am most humble and proud.

The next summer, the Conclave invited us back to tell our story. To a packed auditorium session, Paul described the major rejection episode he experienced immediately after the kidney transplant. In typical fashion, he made serious things light and funny. The crowd cracked up when Paul said, “But hey, I’m in record promotion. I can handle rejection.” He soon became active in the cause of organ donation. If youbd like to learn more about the organization he was involved with, visit the New Jersey Organ and Tissue Sharing Network at

Now our business is going through a fundamental revolution. But however things work out, the basics won’t change. We still need people with big hearts and big ideas to lead us into the future. We need honest people to offset the dishonest, visionaries to counterbalance the myopic, positivity to counteract the gloom and doomers. Paul was this kind of man. The kind of guy who puts a sign on his desk that says, “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

So if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, let us flatter Paul by imitating the better aspects of his character. He was honest to a fault, candid even in difficult situations. He was generous and genuinely caring. He was in touch with his feelings and their expression. He was one of a kind, a big, beautiful man whose warm spirit enriched the lives of everyone he touched. I’m not being sentimental here. He was the kind of guy you'd give your kidney to.

I’ll close with lines from an old Eagles song, the band that Paul Yeskel first booked in college back in 1972 and last promoted with Long Road Out of Eden in 2007:

“My man’s got it made, he’s gone far beyond the pain. And we who must remain go on living just the same. We who must remain go on laughing just the same.”

So long, Paul. We’ll miss you. In you, the world lost one of the good guys.
Related Posts with Thumbnails

Liked what you read? Tell your friends

More info about content in my post