Friday, December 29, 2006

Hats off to Mr. Murphy

  • Murphy’s First Law: If something can go wrong, it will.
  • Murphy’s Second Law: Where nothing can go wrong, something will.

I have studied so many laws of science since my childhood days, starting from Newton’s Laws of Motion to Moore’s Law. But I have never seen Laws which are truer than Murphy’s Laws stated above.

How else do you explain my predicament? Let me start the story from the beginning.

About six months ago, I noticed a slight change in the whirring of my 40 GB hard drive. Being the overcautious person that I am, I immediately bought an 80 GB drive and fitted it to my PC. I partitioned it into four partitions for OS, music, movies and data. Then I carefully moved all my data from the old drive to the new one, and also added a lot of new data to it. I only kept my OS and programs running from the old drive because reinstalling Windows and all the applications would take a lot of time, and if I had to do it, I’d rather wait till the old drive crashes.

Well, it did crash last weekend. There were two loud clicks from the drive and my Windows froze. I tried rebooting but the drive kept failing. So I decided to boot from the Windows XP CD and install Windows in the new drive now. Only problem was, Windows XP installer said my new hard drive contained 80 GB of unpartitioned space. I tried Windows 98, but it said the same.

So I decided to pat the crashed hard drive on the head, and try to boot from it again. And this time it started. And then I got the shock of my life.

My 80 GB hard drive containing a lifetime’s worth of data, music, movies and whatnot had been reduced to 80 GB of unpartitioned space and was completely unreadable!

At that instant I literally felt sick. I felt everything was gone… I would never be able to get those things back again. My years of hard work and carefully collected stuff, a lot of which I was stupid enough not to have burnt on CDs. Just imagine, preparing for that disk crash for six months in advance, and when it comes, it strikes the very place where I have been storing away my data.

However, as I said, Murphy’s Laws are infallible; which means they apply to themselves as well. I soon realized that although I had moved most of the data to the new drive, I had kept a copy of my most important directory on my old drive as well. That was a backup six months old, it is true (as I had not updated the file there after I made the new copy), but half a loaf is anytime better than none. The first job I did after finding this out was to get some blank CDs and taking a backup of everything in sight. Then I made a list of everything that I had lost forever. The most important things among them seemed to be:

· All Flash greetings I had made in the last six months

· Some photos that I had taken in the last two months

· My blog related stuff… the photos, the backups, the template changes, and most importantly, the banners that I had made.

· Some presentations and other documents that I had made in the last six months.

· Some programs that I had written.

Apart from these there were numerous movies, songs, videos, audio books, applications and heaven knows what else. I went to sleep sadly at one in the night.

But strangely, a change had come over my mood by the time I woke up the next morning. The sadness over the loss of data was there, but I had discovered a positive side to the whole thing as well. What was gone was gone, but here I had an 80 GB hard drive good as new, for me to fill up again. And the best part was, there was a lot of junk in it earlier, which I was never finding the time to organize. There was at least several GB of such unnecessary data. All that had been cleaned away by Mr. Murphy. Now I can start life afresh. I have a lot of stuff backed up at office. I’ll start by carrying them home somehow. Then I’ll reformat my hard drive and start storing data afresh in the New Year. This time I’ll have a lot more space to store the data.

Until the next time Murphy’s Laws manifest themselves, that is.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Memories of a disaster

It was this very day two years ago. The time was around quarter to seven in the morning. I was sleeping in the ground floor bedroom in our Hooghly house. It was still a bit too early for me to wake up, but my grandma and the maid were up and about for quite some time.

I was drifting in and out of sleep. It was that state of sleep where your senses take inputs from the outside world, and your brain tries to accommodate those inputs into a dream. In my case, I heard someone shouting something about the pond water. A very prominent sound that I heard was a dog yelping… no, whining or crying would be a better word. I can’t describe that sound now, but I felt that the dog was very scared. There was sound of water, and I heard my grandma shouting that she hadn’t seen anything like that in her life. Somehow I was sure that a dog, probably a puppy had fallen into the pond behind our house and it was crying as it was unable to get out. All the people were shouting about that. Then my grandma told the maid to wake me up as I should also see such a thing. There was a banging on the door and I jumped out of bed and opened the door.

There was no dog anywhere. My grandma told me to go and see the enormous waves that were rising and falling in the pond. I rushed out to the garden. My first impression was that the water was receding from the end next to our garden. Frogs, snakes and crabs that were taken by surprise and left high and dry tried to clamber down to the water level again. And then the water came back with a sudden force and jumped around three feet high. The poor creatures were again carried back higher than ever. But the intensity of the waves was decreasing, and they soon subsided. I heard that before I woke up there were waves around five feet high. Strange thing is, I was the first person to suggest that it was an earthquake. A little later we heard on the news that slight tremors were recorded in Chennai and Bhubaneswar. There was no damage to life and property.

Hooghly is a town full of ponds and when I went out to the market after some time, I saw that all the ponds had been stirred up. It was easy to see that, as the floating weeds and water hyacinth had broken up their smooth cover and lay in tatters across the surface of the ponds. People said that in some ponds the fish had jumped out on the streets. Some self-declared experts were explaining, “It’s not an earthquake, you know! It’s a waterquake. It occurs very rarely. Old Mr. Ray of our colony had witnessed another one in his childhood.” I didn’t say anything. A small Japanese word had come into my memory. I had read it for the first time in a short story in our class sixth literature book. It was a story where a village chief in a small Japanese island had seen the sea receding from his house atop a hill and set his granary on fire so that the villagers would come rushing to put it out and would thus be out of harm’s way when the sea returned with a renewed force. I didn’t know that foreign word was going to be a part of everyone’s vocabulary in another hour or so.


The rest, as they say, is history.

And yes, I forgot all about the dog. It was our neighbours’ Alsatian Poppy. He cried for a few minutes when the actual earthquake hit, although nobody else felt anything. I heard him in my sleep, but other people were too concerned about the pond to hear.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

Christmas always brings back memories of home with it. Christmas was never exactly 'celebrated' at my home, but there was a definite feel of festival time. For one thing, it came about midway through our month long winter vacations in Allahabad. Anybody who has spent a winter in North India knows that a holiday is nothing short of a festival, especially if you have to cycle to school at seven in the morning on working days. Then usually we were at Hooghly during this time, or at Salt Lake with my maternal relatives. That also meant a lot of enjoyment.

Sometimes we chose this day (or another day in the same week, what's in a date?) for a picnic. If in Salt Lake, the likely destinations would be the Alipore zoo or the Jheel Meel. The Jheel Meel had not become the 'Nicco Park' yet and so it was not crowded all the time. If in Hooghly, the likely destinations were the Bandel Church and Imambara. In some of the years my great-uncle would visit us from Delhi with his family. He made elaborate plans like hiring and entire ferry for our extended joint family and going for a cruise up the Hooghly River. The kind of fun that we had on these trips is really indescribable.

As we grew older and our school studies became much more important, I spent quite a few Christmases in Allahabad. Christmas in Allahabad meant more or less staying indoors as the dense fog gave it a feel of a white Christmas. If the weather was sunny we would go out in the afternoon, maybe to a park, or to see the Kumbh Mela preparations if it was the Mela year. My mother would probably bake a cake just for the fun of calling it a Christmas cake. She bakes cakes from time to time anyway.

One thing without which my Christmas would never be complete is the voice of Jim Reeves. Just as it was my job to fix up the radio before Durga Puja so that we could listen to Mahalaya, similarly it was my job to fix up our old Philips record player so that we could listen to the LP "Twelve Songs of Christmas" by Jim Reeves. During my engineering days in Kolkata, I would spend the evenings with the FM radio in hope of catching "Dear Senor Santa Claus" or "A Merry Christmas Polka" in Jim Reeve's booming baritone.

The record player has outlived its time. But last year I hunted out a CD collection of Jim Reeves' Christmas songs, so I won't have to live without those songs. And now, as I type this blog post in office, those songs are playing in my headphones.

This Christmas is going to be a bit boring probably, with most of my friends having left for their homes. I don't have any plans for the next three days. My boss wanted me to come and work here, but I lied that I'm going to Bangalore for three days. I worked on the Rakhi holiday, I worked on Dussehra/ Gandhi Jayanti. At least I'm not going to work on Christmas. Half the fun of Christmas, that is the cold weather, is not available here in Hyderabad. I'm not letting go of the other half, the holiday, so easily.

I wish my readers a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Of Quizzes, Spies and Buddha Statues

“The 6th Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Khan, bought the Jacob diamond around 1887. It has a rectangular cushion-cut with 58 facets, measures 39.5 mm long, 29.25 mm wide and 22.5 mm deep. The diamond weighs around 184 carats. What use was this diamond later put to?”

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this question on the screen at the quiz I participated in yesterday. It was odd facing this question barely a couple of weeks after I blogged about this very diamond and the use it was put to. The team that was asked this question didn't know the answer of course, and it came to us.
But this was not the only time we were lucky yesterday. Just before the quiz as I was telling my friend Abhijit that the latest James Bond uses all Sony gadgets, he replied, "And Don uses all Motorola". Later we did get a question where a Motorola phone, a stylish car and a painting were shown and we were told to find out the connection. I almost blindly said that the connection was the recent movie "Don" (as I haven't seen the movie), and it was the right answer. Several other guesses fell into place and Lo! We were the winners! Now only if the luck stays with us till the Finals in February... well, one of my long-cherished dreams can be fulfilled.
Click to enlarge
And talking of James Bond, I saw Casino Royale on Sunday and simply loved it. Daniel Craig is definitely not as good looking as Pierce Brosnan, but he is handsome in a different way. In fact, he reminded me of my favourite Bond Sean Connery more than any of the other Bonds (Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan) that I have seen. The movie is different in a number of ways, which includes the credit sequence. The beautifully animated sequence does not contain dancing girls like the older movies but is entirely made up of playing cards, the four suits, fractal patterns and silhouette figures fighting in red and black.
I also visited the Buddha statue in the middle of the Hussain Sagar Lake that same evening. It was beautifully lit by floodlights and looked greenish in colour. Previously, I could only see the statue from the shore; I never knew it had such a beautifully carved base as well.
The last week was horrible with respect to workload. I returned home after 10:00 PM almost every night. Hopefully there will be some respite this week, and consequently, my next post will follow soon.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Festival of Faith

Do you know what faith is? Do you have any idea what people can do for their faith? I thought I did, until I was proven wrong by an event I witnessed in 2001.

I'm not talking about 9/11. I'm talking about the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad - the largest gathering of people in the world.

Visualise people around 70 years old, making overnight journeys on open goods train carriages in January in North India, wearing minimum or no warm clothing for the simple reason that they can't afford them. After they reach Allahabad, they will have to walk 6 km to the Mela grounds, then another 8 odd to reach the Ganga, carrying sacks full of firewood and a few edibles on their heads. There, in the early hours of morning in that chilly, windy riverbank, they take a dip in the Ganga to wash away their sins. Then they spend a night or two on the sandy river bed, lighting a small fire and cooking something to eat, before returning to their homes all over India again the next day.

Not a few people. Not a few dozen. Not even a few hundred or thousand. They come in crores. Most of them can't read or write. Many of them live in villages where there's no television or electricity. Who informs them? Who tells them the route? Who gives them the courage and confidence to come to an unknown city far away from their homes spending a large portion of their savings? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing: faith can do wonders.

But the Kumbh Mela is not just a festival of faith; it’s a management marvel as well. It’s an event of astronomical proportions, something that would make an Olympic Games or World Cup hosting look like child’s play. And this last sentence was not an exaggeration. To understand how, read on.

Allahabad is a city with a population of about 10 lakhs (one million) situated at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The Yamuna is a 1 km wide river with a stable course round the year. However, the Ganga occupies a 4.5 km wide bed in the rainy season and dries up to a narrower stretch of water during the drier months. The exact position of this stretch of water in the vast sandy riverbed varies from year to year and cannot be predicted until the water subsides in late October. After the water recedes, the Mela preparations begin on the drying riverbed: preparations to build a temporary city with a population of around 50 lakhs (5 million), and the potential to hold around 2.5 crores (25 million) of people for a day. A city built in just over two months, yet having most modern facilities like electricity, telephone, Internet, fully equipped hospitals, a fire service. You name a thing and it’s there.

This beautiful satellite photo I found on WikiPedia shows the result. In 2001, this temporary city (Kumbh Nagari, as it is called in Hindi) consisted of 77 km of roads made up of chequered steel plates (each of these heavy plates has to be laid by 12 people), 150 km of electrical lines strung over 70,000 poles, 80,000 telephone connections, 1100 fire hydrants, 26 deep tube wells and a hospital with 100 beds and telemedicine facility. 15 floating pontoon bridges were made- 13 over the Ganga and 2 over the Yamuna. Apart from this there were shops (selling everything from trinkets to tractors), public toilets, air-conditioned tent-hotels, petrol pumps and a state-of-the-art media centre with a round the clock satellite link for press briefings. Hundreds of small makeshift toilets and dustbins were installed all over the city of Allahabad. The roads were repaired and lighting improved. About 50 lakh (5 million) people stayed here for just over a month, from mid-January to mid-February. On particularly auspicious days, the number of people in the city reached crores, crossing 2.5 crores (25 million) on Mauni Amavasya, the day most special for a holy dip. The total number of people bathing in the rivers during this time was over 7.5 crores (75 million). These photos were taken by my father on some of the ‘less crowded’ days of the Mela. (Click on them to enlarge)
People who have not witnessed this crowd will have some problem visualizing these figures. Just as a comparison, the total population of Australia is 20.7 million and that of United Kingdom is 60.2 million. Managing such a crowd is not easy, especially when most of them are illiterate village folk. On an average, 50,000 people lost themselves each day. Among them are old people who are unable to remember anything, children who are too young to name their parents, handicapped and retarded people who can’t speak at all. Then there are people who have come from far corners of India and don’t know a word of Hindi or English, and scores of people who have the same name. But everyone finds their relatives in the end.

While handling such a crowd, there is always a fear of stampede. In addition to that there was the added threat of terrorist activity in 2001 and 20,000 policemen had been brought from all over India to maintain law and order. Special commandos, ‘spotters’ (people who can see through disguise of terrorists) and sharp shooters were brought from the army to stop terrorists. Surveillance cameras were installed all over the city and the Kumbh Nagari and helicopters were often seen hovering overhead. Contrary to what we urban people might think, the rural population of India is extremely well-behaved, honest, obedient and disciplined and so law and order problems are quite unheard of. Last time the death toll was about 70, all natural deaths. 70 people dying out of 70 million in one month… that’s way below the normal rate.

On the Mauni Amavasya day, the people were made to walk over a long road bridge right across the river bed to the far bank, and then back over the riverbed to the river. This lengthening of route reduced the chance of stampede. Traffic restrictions were placed all over the city. We saw people going to bathe from our terrace (we are fortunate enough to have a house just next to the beginning of the aforementioned road bridge) and again, it is a crowd only seen to be believed. For a period of around 18 hours, we could see a steady unidirectional stream of people walking, and the surface of the road (which is the GT road by the way, and not some narrow lane) was not visible at all. NGOs organized camps to distribute free food to these people during that whole month.

The Kumbh Mela is a pilgrimage for the Hindus. But people from all over the world come to take a dip here. I have known Sikhs, Christians and Muslims bathing in the Sangam during this time. It’s the common thread of faith that unites them all. When you take a stroll around the Mela grounds in the evenings, the sound of hymns pouring out of tents all around, the smoke of wood fires, and the throng of pilgrims all around creates a magical atmosphere. People who stay there believe that they wash away their sins by spending a month there. At some places you’ll see small sand castle like things made on the riverbed. Those are made by people who have no house. It’s their way of asking mother Ganga for a house, in the next life in not in this one. If you want to see what India is really like, visit the Kumbh Mela once. I guarantee, you will want to revisit it the next time.

The Kumbh Mela takes place after every twelve years. Six years after the Kumbh there is a smaller version called the Ardha Kumbh. That will be held in January 2007. I’m booking my ticket to Allahabad. Are you?

Thundering Typhoons!!!

This is more of a warning to anybody who chances upon this blog than a proper post. You can call it a private rant if you wish. Just needed a way to vent my frustration.

Do not buy anything from Jaikishan Brothers, Mumbai. They are a bunch of thieves, thugs, pirates, ectoplasms, troglodytes, a bagful of bearded baboons, a plateful of periplanata americana.

They sold me this Sony MemoryStick Pro™ for my digital camera in January 2006 with one year warranty, and now when I go to change it because it is malfunctioning they spin up all kinds of stories. Some of them are worth hearing:
  1. Why did you bring it so late? Because, you nincompoops, it stopped functioning just now. And what do you mean by 'late' when I have a warranty for one year?
  2. It is physically damaged. It must have been opened. We can't replace that. A very good story, you could get that published. It has been opened along with your skulls and the material taken out from the insides of both. I don't see any difference in my Memory Stick and a new one apart from the normal wear and tear that results from ten moths of use. If it's damaged you must have sold it like that.
  3. Our shop's management has changed and we won't take any responsibility for anything the older owner has sold you. OK, that's a nice way of saying, "We will rob you in broad daylight, let's see what you can do about it."

To borrow a quote from someone (Mark Twain?), "Some people are alive only because it is illegal to kill them."

Anyway, here's a detailed address of the shop in case some guy wants to Google for this shop and find out stuff.

Jaikishan Brothers

Mobile Phones, Accessories & Photo Stores

191, Dr. D. N. Road, Ground Floor, Opposite Central Bank of India,

Fort, Mumbai - 400 001

Tel: 22678263, 22678264. Fax: 22625781