Friday, July 20, 2007


And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my 100th post on Chennai to Chicago. Thank you! thank you! Now if you can all sit down and hold your applause till the end, I would like to say a few words.

First off, I would like to thank my mom and dad for not drowning me as a kid despite the obvious temptations to do so. To this day, they remain blissfully unaware of the existence of this blog. This will be very closely followed by my gratitude to my wife, who has managed to neglect 99% of my blog posts so that she might be able to maintain a semblance of respect for me as an intelligent and mature human being. I applaud her for her inner strength.

I would also like to thank my grand parents who had to put up with me during my annual summer vacations in Sathanur. To document those wonderful childhood memories was one of the main reasons I decided to start and maintain this blog. Many thanks also goes to my immediate friends' gang in Chicago, who - disturbingly - call themselves 'baguth'. They have continued to discourage me, diss me, dissuade me, disillusion me... The number of 'dis' things they've done to me is pretty long. I firmly believe that when I die they'll spit on my grave. I thank them for their moral support and understanding. I am also indebted to 2 other people. My brother Chandru started a blog first and inspired me to follow suit. And my good friend SpiceTooth who, as usual, put enormous enthu for his blog in the beginning only to see it fizz out in a few days. To those who know him well, he specializes at this.

I am very grateful to those anonymous readers of my blog who give arcane search terms on google like "chennai aunties" or "vietnam wedding" and end up on my blog. They take one look and flee from my site. But my site counter still adds them to my list of visitors and makes me feel good at the end of the day.

And finally, last but not the least (allow me to use my cliches please), if there are any regular readers of my blog, I bow to you and your mighty heart. And I wonder what is wrong with you. I realize that you are the lucky few who get paid to browse the net. I still feel sorry for you and would suggest you get some serious psychiatric help.

I know what you are wondering! What has kept me motivated to write a 100 posts on this blog despite serious misgivings form the general public? My motivations are 3 fold.

1. This serves as a vent for my creative energies while also providing me with a forum to express my thoughts and opinions on a variety of subjects.

2. To rant and rave about anything I want to without fear of criticism or backlash. This also includes doling out unwarranted and unsolicited advice.

3. I forget.

I do have to admit that when I started this blog, I had no idea I'd last for a 100 posts. To think that I now stand on par with legends such as Tendulkar (100+ test matches), Rajnikanth (100+ movies) and Lata Mangeshkar (100+ bad songs. Actually make that 1000+) is mind-boggling, to say the least. When I type this, I can actually feel goose bumps on my hand. Oh sorry, that was just bad static!

There have been times when the ideas have disappeared and the imagination has run dry. But I kept plodding on with some of my worst posts. You can dig them up from the 'Rants and Raves' list on the right hand side, like this one. Eventually, material would present itself. Like my cousin Arun's wedding to Cindy, a Vietnamese-American. To this day, this is one of the most widely read and commented posts on my blog. Then there was my marathon which certainly deserved 1 post. But I wrote 3 (1, 2 and 3). When I got my Kellogg MBA admit, I turned into a drama queen with mushy posts like this. And then ofcourse was the highlight of my life so far - my wedding to W. This was fun to write. But I knew I was walking a tight rope because I had to write about everybody without offending anybody. I decided to stay superficial. It always works. Speaking of superficial, you just have to turn to my book/movie reviews. They contain a lot of words which eventually do not amount to anything. I like to play it safe. I am fond of writing something about technology once in a while, and my favorite in this section would be this post about my dream device Alamelu. However, my all-time favorite posts are, and will continue to be, my 'Sathanur Day' series. Here's one for starters. When you are passionate about something, it reflects in your writing.

As you can see, the road to my 100th post has been filled with a lot of challenges. But the key is to enjoy them and never give up. Even when you end up having to work 4-6 hours in an entire day and come back home dead tired. Where there is a will there is a way.

So what is my advice to budding and future bloggers, you ask? Just go out there and enjoy yourself. The best thing about blogging is that noone has to read what you write. You can still call yourself a blogger, and when noone is listening, a writer. Think about what you want to say and then find a way to say it in simple uncomplicated words. Does my advice sound superficial to you? Ofcourse it does. Didn't I tell you I like superficial?

So where do I see myself going from here? I plan to keep this blog running hopefully for another 100 posts and more. I know the first year of my MBA is going to provide me with serious obstacles. But before any of you starts heaving your sigh of relief, let me assure you that I'm going to try my very best to update this blog regularly. There is no respite yet for you my friends. And if you are a regular blog reader, I have some advice for you as well. Please step into Web 2.0 and use an RSS blog reader/scubscriber such as Bloglines or Google Reader. They bring the content to you and you won't miss any of your favorite bloggers' posts. wink! wink!

And with that, I'll conclude my little speech and let you get back to the applause.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Texas hold 'em and choke 'em!

I've finally been introduced to the parallel universe called poker, expecially the planet that calls itself Texas hold 'em. For years, I've resisted the advance of many poker-loving friends and relatives. Its not that I don't gamble. Ask the Vegas casino owners, and they'll assure you that c2c can brighten up a pretty ordinary day on the strip. I have donated plenty of money to the Blackjack table owers, dealers and waiters association of Vegas. However, poker is one card game I've always shied away from. It sounded unnaturally complicated for a cards game. To start with, you have to remember what all the piss pots, flushes, straights, full houses and royal flushes meant. On top of that, you have to get the order right. Granted, you can always have a cheat sheet and refer to it or ask your fellow poker players. But come on! Who's gonna respect a poker player who constantly keeps nagging you if a straight is better than a pair and a triplet?

Anyways, last weekend, my wife and I went camping with 3 friends from our gang. Unfortunately, one of them decided to bring along his poker set, and informed us that he was not going to let us sleep in peace in our tents unless we consent to learn and play poker with him. That's how it all started. As we picked up the nuances (read 'basic rules') of this game, we started getting into the spirit. Pairs elicited contented sighs while occasional straights were met with unabashed joy. As the sun disappeared and the camping ground was slowly getting enveloped in darkness, the stakes were getting upped at our table under a gas lantern. Fifty dollar chips were being thrown in nonchalantly. Granted, we just called the red chips 'fifty dollar chips', and we weren't really going to bring out any cash. But still, you could feel the sense of anticipation and thrill in the air. People started experimenting and finalizing on their poker expressions. I perfected the art of not letting away anything. When I got a good hand, I frowned. When I got a bad hand, I smiled. I was so unpredictable that it was enough to throw even experienced professionals off my scent. I'm not sure how I still lost so consistently. It was probably because I decided to show some style. Haven't you seen all those great poker scenes in moves where the protagonist is on his last dime and decides to bet everything he has on that last hand? The way the hero pushes the pile of chips saying "all in" must've made a serious impression on me. I've always wanted to do that. And here was my chance. Agreed, I only had a 5 pair, and there were bigger cards on the table. But the chance to be part of a 'movie moment' was too hard to resist and I did go all in. Unfortunately, my wife and poker-destroyer-in-chief was having an incredible run that night. She called my bluff pretty easily and added my measly donation to her considerable pile of chips. I would not want to get in the bad books of that woman when I' m sitting across from her on a poker table. She killed the competition that night, including that of our tutor ET.

When we came back from camping to resume our normal suburbian lives, I realized that the poker mania was here to stay. When we gathered at Ram's place on the eve of his b'day, we again decided to get a game of poker going. This time, my wife was in even better form. She was producing Aces and triplets like it was nobody's business. As for me, I couldn't seem to catch a break. I went maybe like 10 games without a half-decent hand. The only redeeming thing was that Ram went 'all in' this time and lost everything before me. On his b'day, no less. However, without the influence of alcohol (unlike the camping night), I actually got most of the rules straight. Like when I can 'check', how the bet matching works, what's a 'small blind' and a 'big blind' etc. (didn't I tell you its a complicated game?).

The following friday, we decided to have a formal poker night at my place. So we set the dining table up with enough seating space, stocked the fridge with enough alcohol to feed an army and opened the poker set for a night of gambling. We also had new arrivals, and we passed on our new-found knowledge of the game. There were a few hiccups before the game started. I was sitting on the floor with a bottle of beer talking to someone, and then I realized that our dog Oreo had spilled my beer bottle on the rug and had proceeded to lap up the contents with relish. And in a few minutes, the OH seemed to hit him. He looked totally out of it, roamed around drunk for a little bit and eventually just curled up under the poker table and went to sleep. We had to literally whack him over his head to wake him up next day morning. Not sure if he had a bad hangover, but he was not anywhere near his best the whole day. It goes without saying that my wife wasn't very happy with me. But the whole episode was hilarious, like something straight out of a comic book. Secretly, I was proud that Oreo infact liked beer. He was my boy after all :-)

Getting back to the game, there were experts and newbies fighting it out on the table. We decided to play with some money to make things interesting. Apparently, that's when people actually start using their brains, calculating odds etc. My wife, unfortunately, decided not to participate. My plans of getting back my $5 investment went down the drain. I played it safe knowing that every hand involved pennies, nickels, dimes and even a quarter or two. I didn't do anything flashy like going all in. It didn't matter. I got my ass whooped pretty quick. And before I knew it, I was the first one out of the game. Others followed. But the last 3 guys fought it out till 4AM despite my best attempts to kick them out of the house and get some sleep. Finally, the last 2 ended up splitting the handsome $30 pot.

That was last weekend. We haven't played poker since. I'm not sure where our gang will go from here as far as poker is concerned. Will we get bored of it and give it up just like we did other card/board games? Or will we get completely hooked on to it and make it a regular feature? I'm not sure. But I do know that we can't let the game can go on like that for hours. It becomes a torture especially for those who get kicked out early on in the game (ok, me). I'll probably vote to put in some sort of time limit, to make it fast and interesting. Also, I probably need to work on my poker expression and body language, seeing that whaterever I've done so far has not worked.

Ofcourse, the main thing to remember is this. Listen carefully because this is pretty deep. Poker is just like life. The wife is the boss and you are better off not messing with her.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Personalized maps on Google

Looks like google has done it again. They've given you a small key to one of their very small rooms. You can go in, rummage and come out with something shiny, smelly and interesting. If any of you are avid google followers or use google maps often, you would have noticed a new tab called 'My Maps' on the google maps page. This is the small key to a whole new world.

Google Inc. will introduce on Wednesday a new feature that lets users create personalized maps which plot the locations of everything from cheap gas locally to the latest earthquakes worldwide.

MyMaps, as the new feature is known, allows consumers to select from more than one hundred mini-applications created by independent software developers. These allow users to overlay data on top of Google's popular online map service.

Visitors to after Wednesday at 6 a.m. PDT (1300 GMT) will find a new tab that contains links to dozens of the mini-applications, which Google calls Maplets.

The service is simple, but surprisingly useful, efficient and a lot of fun. You could go in and check gas prices in every gas station in your area, combine this with a restaurant trip or measure the distance of one lap around the park across your house where you usually run (472 m). Now that google has given the keys, there will be be hundreds of new applications to satisfy every need.

One map application allows users to watch YouTube videos based on the locations where they are uploaded. One could switch from the video confessions of a teenager in Ohio to tourist videos shot in the Andes mountains of South America.

Among the applications created by software developers over the past month are programs that allow users to link famous photos taken in locations around the world to Google Maps.

Alternately, photos that have location information on the Flickr photo sharing service can be found on a Flickr Maps application. Users can map local real estate prices, plot hotels or locate the cheapest gas station nearby.

Putting geography as an extra dimension in everything has been one of google's mantras all along. For example, even picassa web allows you to tag photos with the location information. In a world that's become increasingly small but cluttered with information and chaos, getting location-specific information has become something of a priority. For example, I don't care how many people get mugged in downtown Chicago, but I'm certainly interested in crime statistics in my suburb. Now, I can access that. And with the ability to overlay maps on top of each other, you can come up with some interesting stuff.

"We are putting the Web into maps," said John Hanke, a product manager for Google Maps, said of the diversity of information users now will be able to locate geographically.

Furthermore, users can overlay multiple applications on top of Google Maps to find interesting geographical correlations.

Before buying a house, a potential property owner could overlay local crime statistics on their new neighborhood.

Tourists could check out photos posted by other tourists to sites such as Yahoo's Flickr to figure out what the hotel or the surrounding region looks like before they book a reservation.

Consumers who have signed up for a Google Gmail account can save personalized maps. Users who choose not to sign into Google services can remain anonymous but use the service, Hanke said.

This might seem like just another small step in google's world of innovation hyper-activity. But I really feel that this has the ability to add a whole new perspective to tourism, travel and sharing location-specific information. For example, I've started creating a personalized map of all the local restaurants we frequent in my area (like this). I can probably share it with my friends and get them to add their picks as well. And when someone visits me, I could just give them the link to this map and let them decide where they want to go and how to get there. This saves me the trouble of maintaining a list of all restaurants somewhere along with their web-sites/addresses, phone nos etc. and then having to find driving directions when I have to get there. Also, when I hear about some new restaurant in town, I plan to immediately add it to my map. It'll fester there till I have to visit that particular neighborhood sometime. Then I could incorporate a visit to the eatery as well. The possibilities are endless.

I'll probably create additional maps with other local attractions, pubs, bars, clubs, movie theaters etc. Visitors can overlay a combination of these maps. Say you are free on a saturday evening and feel like doing something fun. Say you wanna go try out a new restaurant and then maybe go shake it in a club. You could overlay my restaurant map on top of my club map, and find a restaurant and club not too far from each other. You could click on it, access the web-sites, phone nos. etc, make your reservations and share the plan and the map with your friends.

That sounds like a good saturday evening, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


This blog is not about the cookie. Its about a dog. I've never made a secret of my contempt for animals, and intense dislike for all licking, biting, barking and growling. Infact, it was not long ago when I ranted on this very blog about how I've always been scared of most animals, and have spent half my teen years chasing dogs or being chased by dogs. So how was it that someone like me came to own a dog and learn to love him (yes, its a "him" now, not an "it"). How did the unthinkable happen?

Its no secret that my wife has been pestering me to get her a dog, and I'd been successfully postponing this citing our impending Europe trip. To my intense dismay, she then graduated to looking up 'Dog for adoption' postings on Craigs list. Everyday, she would make me sit next to her and show me innumerable photos of canines of various sizes, shapes, colors and dispositions. Some of them don't even look like dogs (I hate poodles more than any other living being!). Eventually, I had to promise her that I'd let her get a dog after I move to Evanston and start my Kellogg MBA. It made good sense. The dog would keep her company and would hopefully bark if there were any intruders. My wife would also give me a break and stop guilt-tripping me about moving away so soon after the marriage. Also, I'll never have to play any part in raising the dog. After my MBA, I thought, I'd hopefully get a consulting job which will keep me out of town on most days. Although I would certainly miss my wife, I wouldn't have to be as involved in the daily upkeeping of the dog.

Ah! how the best kept plans of men self-implode. About 2 months ago, I was off at a conference in Kellogg when I got an urgent call from my wife. She'd seen a cute shih-tzu puppy up for adoption very close to our home. And hear this - she "knew" he was the ONE. This was news to me. I'd never looked upon dogs as matches made in heaven. And I certainly had not considered for a second that there was a dog somewhere on this planet that had been created specially for my wife. But what did I know! Apparently, there it was. In goddamned Hanover Park. Just to appease her, I promised to come with her and take a look. when I got back home that evening, my wife was all dressed and ready to get going. She'd already seen the pup and had - I realized with a sinking feeling - fallen in love with him. So we both drove over. The pup was playing with the kids in the backyard. He was the smallest thing and pretty cute. For a dog. He came to us instantly and started licking our hands and feet. I saw the joy on my wife's face as she played with the dog and something inside me melted. Despite my severe misgivings and ignoring the flash alerts in my brain, I told her "let's take him home". She couldn't believe her good fortune. Later, she told me that she didn't expect me to give in so easily and that my confidence had given her the courage to adopt the dog.

We brought him home. And ofcourse, he wasn't completely potty trained. He would pee and poop all over our carpets. I could see the value of our house deteriorating right in front of my eyes. Add to this, the chewing. He constantly chewed, and still chews, everything he can lay his eyes on. Door edges, cable wires and even my cell phone charger (yes, its gone!). We spent many a sleepless night, trying to pacify him while he missed his previous abode. I was rudely woken up by my wife in the middle of the night and asked to take him outside for a pee. Suffice to say, I repented my decision. How could I have been so stupid? I never realized the responsibilities that came with raising a pup. Even my wife was tired. We were both at our wit's end, and even considered putting him up for adoption.

And then, after a few weeks, something changed. The pup got completely potty trained, and consistently signalled to us when he needed to "go". He became a lot more playful and social. He started displaying his personality, and cute funny mannerisms. For example, when he was tired, he would walk slowly and then just flop on his side, as if he were shot. He slept upside down most times, and looked more like a bunny than a dog. There were other curious things we realized. One moment, he would be curling up at our feet and sleeping. But if my wife or I moved to another place/room in the house, he would rouse himself, sleepwalk and flop exactly halfway between us. I mean, if you were to draw a straight line from me to my wife, our dog would be the midpoint.

The previous owners had named him "Oreo", after the cookie, since he was black and white. The wife and I tried to think of a better name. My suggestions of "subramani" or "mani" for short were met with severe looks of disapproval. Finally, we decided to stick with "Oreo" because it had grown on us, and because he had started responding to the name. In the US, the pet owners are called the mom and dad of the pet. If you are new to this pet world, this can be quite unnerving. But you soon get used to this.

To our close friends - a raggety group of sworn bachelors - Oreo was a shock. Most of them had never owned dogs, and a few - like me - were sworn enemies. But it was fun to watch them slowly warm up to Oreo. I read this about shih-tzus somewhere - "your shih-tzu will probably bark when there is an intruder or a thief in the house. But once the intruder breaks in, your dog will proceed to give him a full tour of the house". So very true. Oreo is very social, and quite hard to resist. Whenever any of our friends walk into the house, Oreo is right there on top of the stairs, waving his tail, and restless for them to come and acknowledge him. He has charmed them so much that even the worst anti-dogger is seen these days posing for photos with Oreo in his arms. In our neighborhood, he's already a mini celebrity, atleast with all the kids. My wife and I take him walking every evening in the park across the road, and very soon he's surrounded by kids wanting to pet him and play with him. He's already made more friends on my street in 4 weeks than I've made in the 3 years I've lived here.

Oreo is a very quiet dog. He never barks, nor whines. Even when he has to go very urgently, he just sits quietly by the stairs hoping we would throw a glance in his direction and make the connection. But the only time he barks is when he sees other dogs. He's completely transformed.There's a heavenly glow on his face. He sits down and keep staring at the other dog. Then he starts whining, and very soon, he's trying make the dog's acquaintance. All this is not limited to just female dogs. He reacts exactly the same way to male dogs as well. My wife and I are still not very sure about his sexual orientation. And I've told my my wife that she has to steel herself for the possibility of never having a grandchild (Oreo being the son as mentioned before)...

There are downsides to having a dog. Our social life has been severely affected. No more late night parties, clubs, pubs and coming back at unearthly hours. Even eating out has been drastically reduced. Our friends think twice before calling us or stopping by. Whenever we plan any kind of outing, we have to think of Oreo first. We already feel guilty about leaving him alone at home for 8 hrs a day when we are at work. When he looks at you with those big sad doleful eyes, you won't think straight or be practical. He has guilt-tripped us into believing that any more lone time would be a severe injustice to him.

Yes, you can say I've warmed up to Oreo. Its probably because of the way he stretches himself in the morning and tries to snuggle between me and the wife while licking our faces clean. Or maybe its the way he rolls onto his back when he wants to be tickled. Or maybe its the way he looks up to us, leaving us in no doubt that we are the center of his universe. Whatever it is, its tough for me to hate dogs anymore. There, I said it.