Friday, June 30, 2006

Day 7 - Madame Tussauds

Day 7 started with breakfast in the hostel, and then I was off with my map walking towards Madame Tussauds - Museum of Wax. The wax museum opens only at 10 am, and I was there at 9:45 am, expecting to go to the Sherlocks Holmes museum first, but when I was crossing the museum, I realized they are letting people in, so went in and found a 20 minute line (!!), and was told by the 2 ladies in front of me that by 11 am, the line will be more than 1.5 hours long !!

Went in, took LOTS of snaps, and then took some more snaps and then some more, and some more as well... around 200 of them ! There wasn't much else to do anyways, and I wanted to spend enough time to justify the 25 Pound ticket. So when I realized that I had reached the end of the gallery, I went back and guess what - took some more snaps. The one cool thing about the Wax museum that I hadn't known was that they now have a "Horror Display", which basically has a dark corridor with dull lighting, and a prison like look, with live actors (in prison clothes, and dried blood) that jump out from corners and try to freak you out, shouting at you, and a few others that pretend to be in a LOT of pain, screaming and writhing ... Besides that, there wasn't much to see, and by 12, I was out.

I then started walking towards the British museum, and on the way made a stopover at Regent's Park, which was mindblowing. Calling it huge would be an understatement, and I could see all these couples having romantic picnics in the grass, and groups of people playing ball, and kids running around - reminded me of the last scene in Notting Hill where Julia Roberts is lying on Hugh Grant's lap, reading a novel, with people all around enjoying themselves....

After walking in the park for around 20 minutes, I came out to realize that I have no clue where I am (had walked along 5% of the perimeter of the park). Was in some part of London where there were lots of apartment buildings, very beautiful, asked for directions, and then went off to the British Museum. The British Museum India display is supposed to be very impressive, but somehow, it wasn't. Looked around for 2-3 hours at the India, China, World displays, but couldn't get time to cover the rest(including America, Japan, Taiwan, Britain ...) They also had a gorgeous display of superstitions held by cultures around the world, which was quite informative.

One of their most impressive displays was one in which the life of a man and a woman had been chronicled using the medicines that they had through their life. So for the woman it started with vitamins for the first 2 years of her life, sick with Typhoid at age 10, chicken pox at age 13, pill for periods for 7 years till 20, birth control pills for 35 years, and pills during 2 pregnancies, pills for postpartum depression, pills for arthritis, and so on...
All these pills had been stitched into a beautiful bedspread (1 for the man, and another for the woman), and all the pills made very pretty patterns into it, especially the ones that were taken regularly (no surprises then that the woman's bedspread was significantly longer and prettier with much more obvious patterns) Along with that, there were snaps of people during that time of life, which showed them doing various things. Very touching, and thought-provoking.

By this time it was 6 pm, the museum was closing, went back to the hostel, slept for 30 minutes, had a v early dinner, and was off to Covent Garden. Covent Garden is this huge market square kind of place, but almost all the shops close at 6 pm, and after that it seems more like a hangout place for the "younger generation".

There were a few guitarists at various corners of the square singing songs, and collecting money, and people were just hanging around with friends, chatting, drinking beer, laughing. It was a beautiful sight indeed. One of the guitarists started playing Imagine by John Lennon, which fit my mood then perfectly. While I was singing along, getting all senti, a French guy tried to ask me out for a drink, which was quite hilarious, cause I freaked out a little :). Walked back to my hostel at around 10:30 pm, crossing Trafalgar square again, and again struck by how beautiful it was, and was off to sleep thinking very happy thoughts indeed...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Day 6 - 1st Day at London

If you have been paying attention so far, you would know that I am talking about my UK trip for the WWW conference. Earlier posts are here, here, here, and here.

So I reached London at 10:45 am, and travelled by tube to my hostel. I had stayed at the Indian YMCA, which is right at Warren Street. Given the size of the London underground, I thought it would be a little tough to figure out how to get there. But their maps are so clear and simple to read that I studied it for 2 minutes and realized that I had to take the Victoria Line which would take me there in 6 minutes, and I was soon at my hostel.

I had been booked into a ladies dormitory, but it turned out to be a 2 bed room, with a bathroom right opposite with 2 baths, so that was quite nice. My roommate was not in, so I took a quick bath, had lunch at the Subway right outside, slept till 7pm, had a early dinner in my hostel, and went off walking. I started walking with my map in my hand, with the intentions of going to Oxford Street, but kept on walking, and reached Trafalgar square instead. Trafalgar Square at twilight is gorgeous ! It basically has the Nelson's column (which is closed for repairs now), facing the National Art Gallery - which is a beautiful sandstone building, with huge pillars, and steps to sit on, and also 2 water fountains. A lot of people hang out there, from groups of guys drinking beer, to couples, to families with small kids playing around....

I sat there just taking in the atmosphere for almost 30 minutes, very happy to be all alone in the beautiful place, free to just "be", no work, no friends, just me. I was so happy that I smiled at random strangers (who surprisingly all smiled back), and on my way back started running and singing on the streets (not that many people around so its ok). On my way, I heard this amazing guitar(an electric one at that) being played by a guy sitting outside a club, who after the song got over said "Man, anyone not drunk here is wasting their time !! Go drink, be happy !" And I felt like I was drunk on the place, on just being here ! Passed Soho on the way, so went around and saw the sights, and then went to Chinatown, with all its Chinese people and Chinese restaurants with Chinese menus (didn't seem like London at all !!). It was great!

Came back to find my roommate Hannah was back. Found out that she is an American doing her PhD in Princeton on history, and she was in London to do some research for her thesis in the British Library. She was a very interesting person, and we spoke for quite sometime, about her life and mine... For each of the 4 days in London, I went back to my room at around 10:30-11 pm, and invariably Hannah and I ended up talking about life, future plans, philosophy, culture etc etc for an hour or 2. She was a lot of fun, and I was pretty lucky to have such a cool roommate !

Went to sleep all happy and excited, wondering what the next 3 days in Lodnon would bring ...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Day 5 - Edinburgh

Woke up early in the morning, had a huge breakfast at my hotel, and checked out. My hotel had the most amazing breakfast btw - a full Scottish breakfast that served haggis, fried bacon, fried sausages, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, toast, mushrooms, tomato, baked beans, cornflakes, porridge, orange juice, apple juice, yoghurt, milk, and fruits, and maybe some other stuff that I don't remember. I stayed there for 4 breakfasts, and tried to eat something different everyday, but even then I couldn't try all of it :))
Oh and some wheat cereal packet thing that I never even saw properly. And also coffee and tea. And butter and jam and marmalade.

Anyways, after that Satish and I went to Jenners which is a beautiful store at Edinburgh. They compare themselves to Harrods at London, but they aren't quite that big of course. From there I also did my first bit of shopping - dinosaur chocolates for my sis, and Belgian truffles for my mom :)

We then walked around for quite sometime, and eventually reached the Royal Museum of Scotland. It was not huge, but it was sooo beautiful, it will remain etched in my memories as the best part of my trip to Edinburgh. The highlights of the museum were the Millenium clock, which has this beautiful mechanical structure representing our millenium, the display on extinct and endangered animals, the Great Ape display (where Satish and I wore big Gorilla hands and walked on all fours), and their modern world display where we got photographs taken in space-suits.

At 5 pm Satish left to catch a train back to Edinburgh, and I walked around in the city, aimlessly for 4 hours and then went back to my hotel to collect my suitcase. By this time, I was cold, tired and hungry. And for reasons unknown, I started worrying about spending 400 Rs on dinner, and decided not to eat. Bad idea. It then got worse when I missed my bus to the bus station (where I was going to take a bus to London) by standing on the wrong side of the road, so I had to walk till the bus-station.

Unfortunately when we were walking through the city, I had never really noticed how much we used to walk, and how far away everything was. But when I had walked for 40 minutes with my suitcase, I realized that its not as small a city as I thought. Luckily, I then got a lift from a Pakistani couple who drove me in their car till the bus-station (which was another 5 minutes by car, so I was lucky I got the lift). By the time I reached the bus-station, the tiredness had left me feeling depressed and lonely and poor for the first and only time in my trip. But when I reached there, I realized that Nilesh and his junior friend were there waiting for me :), just to say a good-bye. That was very sweet of them, waiting there for me, and I got myself a coffee and ate some food from my bag, and felt all better. Life is good after all.

Got into the bus, and fell asleep instantly, only to be woken up at 2 am by the driver cause the headlights of the bus had failed, and the repairman had just got there, who wanted to see the wiring next to my seat. So I had to get out of my seat half-asleep and wait while they tinkered with the wiring. They kept trying for a full 2 hours, while a very cute guy from Spain tried to chat me up :), eventually they managed to find the problem and fix it and we were on our way.

We were supposed to reach London at 7 am in the morning, but thanks to the 2.5 hour break in between, we had to again stop at some coffee shop outside London (drivers in the UK cannot drive for more than XYZ hours at a stretch, so we had to let our driver take a break), and I finally reached London at 10:45 am.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Love

She loved the guy.
She did it for him.
She would've done anything for him.

Some women are like that.
Some lovers are like that.
Some loves are like that.
Most loves are like that, from what I can see.

Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out - your friends, everyone you used to know.

And it's still not enough.
The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know its going to take you down with it.

--Shantaram
page 63

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Days 1 to 4 - The Conference - Fun

This post talks about my "tech" experience in the 4 days of the WWW conference, now lets talk about the fun parts :)

First of all, I met a lot of interesting people during WWW. There was Nilesh who is a DD student at IIT Kanpur, and Prasad, a grad student from IIIT Hyderabad, and also Amit from some US university. I also met this v cool Prof. from The University of Georgia and his grad students, and a lot of other grad students from various places. Then there was my room-mate Preethi who is at Delaware, who sadly I didn't interact with much, cause we both were too busy meeting other people, but I could tell that she is a interesting person. I also met a lot of people from a lot of cooL places including IBM India Research Labs, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft Live Labs, and Ask. And Satish was there of course as a volunteer, so life was good....

Every evening after the conference, we went out exploring Edinburgh. On the first day, we went to Princess street, and had unlimited dinner at a Chinese Buffet place for 10 Pounds. Thats 870 rs BTW for me, the second most expensive dinner I have had to date. (The most expensive dinner ever was 1400 Rs at Grand Hyatt sponsored by Induslogic, since I was the placement rep handling them)

The second day we went to the conference reception at Edinburgh castle, beautiful view of Edinburgh from there, and also the crown jewels of Edinburgh are displayed there. But unfortunately, they served only drinks, so after the reception, we went to Burger King to have dinner. The fun part of the reception was that Nilesh drank for the first time in his life (3 glasses of wine, and 2 glasses of beer), and got drunk(supposedly) and started behaving hilariously, laughing all the time etc. - that was brilliant ! Satish was around of course, which was the reason why I didn't freak out, and instead enjoyed watching a drunk guy talk funny for the first time in my life.

The third day was the Microsoft party at the Jam House, which was a pub with live music, and again unlimited drinks but no dinner. Nilesh decided to take advantage of this opportunity to try out champagne. But the bartender told him that she cannot give him a glass of champagne, so he should find 4 people who are interested, and she will give him a bottle. Now the rest of the people who we were with didn't drink either, so Nilesh didn't really have company, but he told the bartender that "we" will drink, and got the bottle anyways. So we finally ended up sitting on this table - 5 people who don't drink - with a bottle of champagne kept in a bucket of ice in front of us. It looked pretty cooL, so random people walking by decided to fill their glasses, so the bottle got over finally, and we met a lot of new people in the process.

The third day also had a single malt whiskey tasting session organized by WWW, where I ended up trying 2 of the 4 single malt whiskeys available. I am not a "drinker" though, so didn't really appreciate what was so great about these whiskeys, but I managed to get my friends who drink pretty jealous about trying out single malts :P

On the final day I was v tired thanks to all the hectic conference attending and roaming around, so we again went back to Princess Street, and had a dinner at Pizza Hut and was back in the hotel room sleeping pretty early.

1 cooL thing about the UK which I haven't mentioned so far was that even though it was spring, it was v v cold, temperatures in the 5-10 degree range in Edinburgh, but the sun didn't set until as late as 10:30 pm. So you could stay out till 11 pm without feeling like it was too late.

Days 1 to 4 - The Conference - Work

I hope you already know that I am writing about my visit to Edinburgh for WWW - a description of Day 0 is here.

The World Wide Web conference was hosted in the EICC - a beautiful sandstone building situated in the middle of Edinburgh. My hotel was only a 5 minute walk, which was pretty lucky for me. The first day had a welcome by traditional bagpiper players wearing the kilt and all the necessary accessories, and there were also 2 dancers doing a Scottish dance wearing the female version of the kilt. (Not too sure if thats a skirt, cause it was the same colour, texture, pattern as of the kilt).

I attended a lot of interesting talks, but it was a little difficult to understand the accents of the researchers from Microsoft Research, Asia (which I felt very bad about). I also attended a tutorial on Web advertising by Yahoo! researchers Ricardo Baeza Yates, Andrei Broder, and Prabhakar Raghavan, which was pretty interesting and almost like a guest lecture in CS610 (the IIT web mining course conducted by Soumen). Thanks to parallelism in talks, tutorials and workshops, I could attend only 1 workshop which was on data logging, which was also pretty interesting.

Thanks to the popularity of WWW, it is now also pretty popular with the corporate world, due to which I got to attend some "non-tech" talks by the Ask.com Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President Tao Yang, and also a panel on "Creating successful Web based Business", and another one on "The Next Wave of the Web", which also had Tim Berner Lee as a part of the panel.

A major crib that I had was that thanks to a packed schedule, I didn't get any time to see a single poster :(, which I felt v bad about later.

I gave a talk as well on my paper, which was reasonably well received, thanks to all the advice that Soumen gave me, and all the practice talks which I gave to my friends @ IIT who gave me some pretty good advice.

A second major crib was the bad food that they served during the conference. Thanks to the fact that the English are not exactly well-known for their culinery skills, the conference had other cuisines instead for lunch. First day was Italian(pasta and some gravy), the second was Mexican(Chili corn and Mexican rice), the third was Chinese(macroni and some gravy), and the final day had traditional Scottish food (boiled potatoes and gravy). The common denominator was that the food was bad on all 4 days. Luckily, my hotel served breakfast so I could eat a heavy breakfast, and not mind eating a little bad food for lunch, but people who skipped breakfast due to budget constraints has a bad time. In spite of this, by the fourth day, I was frustrated enough to treat myself to some good food outside for lunch. However, I stupidly assumed that my lunch bills would not be refunded(since the conference people are providing lunch), so I didn't take a bill, only to find out later that of course, any expenses that I had made would have been refunded. :(

Even worse, the conference reception didn't have food - only drinks !! Now thats a dinner that only the Scottish can serve !

I had a friend once...

I had a friend once in IIT who was a v close friend. We used to hang out together, lots of laughing, lots of jokes, but also sharing secrets, and doing projects together. It almost felt to me like we were siblings, we were that close.

But then one day, I did something to piss my friend off, I don't know what. Cause my friend never told me, just got angry and stopped being friends. Now my friend doesn't talk to me, doesn't tell me whats wrong, doesn't dance with me anymore, and come and hang out with me in my lab, doesn't even pop in to say a hi when I return from a 11 day holiday, and leave chocolates on the lab desk ...

I have many other friends, but each one is special, and losing one hurts. Especially when you don't even know what you did wrong. I would go and say a "Sorry boss, I didn't mean it, and please forgive me - your friendship is more valuable to me than my ego", but I don't know what to apologise for cause my friend never told me. Not knowing hurts even more.

I had a friend in IIT once, who isn't friends anymore - just a classmate now, who says hi and bye and no more.

And trust me when I say it hurts.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Happy Birthday ??

The tradition in my class is that after the birthday guy has cut cake, they lift him up, and give him birthday bumps. And for 5 minutes, you can hear the birthday boy screaming in pain. I am very sensitive to pain, so I make sure that I go in the lab before the hitting starts, so I don't have to hear the screaming...

I remember seeing a friend crying cause someone had hit him too hard on his spinal cord...
Today, I saw the birthday bumps after a long time, and they went on for a long time as well... almost 8 minutes... (I think its a measure of your popularity, but I'm not sure) until I had tears in my eyes feeling bad for the birthday boy... and even now, the guys in my lab are discussing how it doesn't hurt too much with chappals, only makes a lot of noise, its all "instantaneous pain that goes away in a day", while kicks to the spinal cord can hurt for 8 days ... Today's screams might actually give me nightmares....

What kind of birthday wishes are these anyways?

Kinda makes me glad I am a girl...

Beauty And Symmetry

If someone's face is symmetrical, its supposed to look beautiful. And pimples don't look good cause they make your face asymmetrical of course.

Well, I have now been "blessed" with 2 pimples : 1 on my lower lip, and 1 right on my upper lip along the same vertical line - so symmetry is still maintained.



Does this mean I look :
(a). better than before - some more symmetry added, and along the X axis this time !
(b). the same
(c). worse since symmetry along the Y axis is not maintained.
(d). don't know
(e). can't say
(f). Others (write comment in comments section, since making a comment box is tough) :P

Friday, June 02, 2006

Trip to the United Kingdom - Day Zero

As many of you probably know, I went to Edinburgh to attend the World Wide Web conference WWW 2006 on 21st May, and just got back today.
This is going to be an account of these 11 days - the good, the bad and the rest is censored :P ...

Day 0 was of course the flight. As I haven't flown before, this was HUGE !!
Mom and Tejaswi had come to drop me to the airport - Megha wanted to come too, but I wanted her to come receive me instead...

Anyways, flying rocks !! You can see a 100 aeroplanes flying over your head every day, and you can study the physics behind the flying, but the feeling when you are looking out of the plane window watching as the ground goes further away, wondering how did this HUGE thing with 400 people sitting it it EVER get off the ground is another feeling altogether !!

I was flying Air India, with a stop at Delhi. The Air India hostess were v pretty (actually hot is a more accurate term), and v friendly as well. When I told her I am not hungry enough for a full breakfast, and want only fruit, she gave me 2 helpings instead of the usual 1 - not a big deal you might say, but she didn't have to do it, and she did, and that was appreciated.

Also, flying rocks ! I fell asleep of course once we were in the air, and when I woke up, it was 4:30 am - and there was the gentlest of light and I could see some small bumps on the ground before ... they didn't look like hills, and they didn't look like rough terrain - they literally looked like bumps .... Kept staring at them for 15 mins wondering what they could be when the light started getting better - and I realized that they were clouds !! They were sooo pretty !!

I reached London at 11 am London time, where I had to wait for 2 hours for my flight to Edinburgh. But the waiting lounge had the most amazing view of one of the runways, so I could see a plane taking off every few seconds, and it never got boring !

The British Midland flight to Edinburgh had air hostesses who were clearly more professional, and they were good looking as well. But they didn't serve any food at all, instead they were selling sandwiches and coffee on the flight - that was something I hadn't known about, and it made me thankful that when the Air India people were giving out packs of chips I had picked one even though I wasn't hungry then - so I ate that packet on the BMI flight.

My first view of Edinburgh was breath-taking - cause it was soo cold, and my warm jacket was in my suitcase - so it literally took my breath away ! :P

Edinburgh is very beautiful of course, very clean, my bus which took me till the hotel was very spacious. I met a Pakistani on the bus who was trying to make conversation, but I was just too tired. The bus driver was nice enough to stop the bus for almost 45 secs and give me exact directions from the bus-stop till my hotel - thats the kind of friendliness that people in the UK have that you will NEVER see in India.

My hotel looked exactly as it was shown in the snaps - Herald House - and soon I was in my room meeting my new room-mate, and checking out the room. I freshened up quickly, and went off to this party in the search for free food, and Satish. Found Satish, also found v bad free food :(

Anyways, it was fun meeting him after so long, and there was highland dancing !!
So the band guys told us how to dance in terms on steps (clap hands, guys move 1 step to the left, girls 1 step to the right, reverse, put hands on your partners shoulders, go round for a full circle, clap again, and count 4 steps of a quick trot or a fox trot), we practiced once without music and then danced with music - it was a lot of fun, since the later dances involved coordination between 6-8 people at a time, with the barn dance requiring 4 groups of 6 people each to coordinate into a single dance - where of course, some one will always screw up, so everyone was laughing continuously.

I was tired though, so left from there by 9:30 pm, had some dinner at a restaurant on the way, and was soon fast asleep.

And did I tell you flying rocks ??