Winter Up Ahead :)

At George Mason Univeristy

At George Mason University


Ravings and Ranting about the Land of Opportunities

So its been 2 months since I landed in America. Time flies!

I have had some great times, even though lifestyle hasn’t changed much from the college life we led in India. There are various aspects of living in America that took time to get used to. I worked at the bookstore for a month, and it was hard to maintain punctuality. Keeping time was not something we made a significant effort to do in India. 8:00 AM is not the same as 8:05 AM here. I learned that the hard way!

The biggest shocker was, however, the telephone services here. We are so used to “incoming free” and “free local SMS” in India, that when AT&T charged me heavily for incoming calls I felt outraged! As if it wasn’t enough that they do not let anyone buy a postpaid connection without credit history and SSN, they had to fleece me on prepaid!

The cost of books is also astonishing here! Its usually at least 10 times its cost in my country! It is as if the American leaders are trying to discourage their kids to use books! What ever happened to paperbag, all books here have to look like a beautiful hardbound Worldbook encyclopaedia! No student ever asked for that!

Food was said to be cheap here. Unfortunately of all places, I chose to be at Fairfax, which ranks among the most expensive county in America. Apart from a heafty rent, I felt the pinch spending on food. I haven’t even had many cuisines here, like I used to have in India. No Chinese, Mongolian or Italian (save the pizzas) for 2 whole months now! Thanks to Patel Bros however, we have access to a lot of Indian food and groceries. I found my beloved Maggi hot and sweet tomato chili sauce! – the secret ingredient in all my cooking.

I managed to squeeze in some DotA nights here too! Thanks to a few friends I made here, who are Warcraft 3 crazy, I never had to renounce my religion from my MNIT days!

I have a teaching assistantship now, at Computer Resources Department (so no more customer service at the bookstore)! I am assistant to a Unix Administrator, not a professor. That basically means I have to do the same linux support job and server management that I volunteered for at my undergraduate university in India, and whats more, I get great pay for it!

Weather is getting cold here. We have started to consisteantly hit the 50 degree fahrenheit at nights. I am looking forward to my first winter in USA. I have seen cold winters at Jaipur in India, so I am not nervous, though I have never been to subzero cetigrade places.

Fridays are a practical holiday here. No classes or appointments on Fridays. Infact the office hours are shorter on Fridays than even Saturdays in many places at the University. So I consistantly get a 3 day weekend. That helps me keepup with my various non-academic interests like computer gaming, surfing the internet, catching up on friends blogs, watching movies and taking part in flamewars on mailing lists. Not that doing 2 subjects a semester is any kind of a load worth mentioning, it is however taxing to sit in 3 hour long lectures with just one 10 minute break in between.

I constantly get to travel to Washinton DC. Went there last Thursday too, to attend the Linux Day 2008 organized by Novell and HP. Their target audience was the industry, but I learned about many new technologies, and got a wind of whats coming up in the Linux domain in near future!

Seems like a decently long update, so I will stop raving now. I am yet to cover many more interesting events. Hope I get other nights like tonight soon.


Another meme has begun:

1. Take a picture of yourself right now.
2. Don’t change your clothes, don’t fix your hair… just take a picture.
3. Post that picture with NO editing.
4. Post these instructions with your picture.

P.S.: And yes, I am alive. Good interesting posts coming up 🙂

My Lufthansa trip!

I am in Fairfax, Virginia, and am having fun! I got here on the 3rd of August by Lufthansa. The flight journey from India was physically very taxing. I have never been on flight for 19 hours and this was a new experience. I enjoyed a lot on the Lufthansa flight. I had mixed reviews from friends about Lufthansa, some said the seats are crammed and the service is poor while a few others told me Lufthansa’s service is even better than British Airways! So it was for me to see. It turns out, I got lucky again. I had a good journey! The seats were awesome, and the service was good. Food was nice. I saw Speed Racer (again), and Kung-fu Panda on the LCD Monitor.

I landed on Frankfurt airport, and it was just what I expected it to be. Massive! Took a train to reach the departure gate of my connecting flight. I was disappointed however, because I was unable to call home. The phone kiosks had all their instructions in German! Most airport authorities only understood German! I actually felt confused, because in India, English is such a common language, and telephone booths operated by a human is such a common sight! So much for a developed economy! I made a few American friends on the airport though. They were waiting for the same flight, and were kind enough to help me contact home.

If I had known that the connecting flight, which was operated by United Airlines, was going to be bumpy, and without a good screen, I would have not slept at all on the first leg of my journey. I had new friends to talk to though, Indian and American, so I had a good time.

Even at Washington DC airport, making an international call was difficult. A word of advice for all those traveling to America for the first time, and without a phone… Please carry International calling cards, all the phone kiosks need one and there are no humans around to help. Its just you and the machine!  😀

The DC Airport is cute. It had a full black theme, the building’s walls were a new concept of black (I think asbestos, it was not cement for sure). I waited outside for an hour for my pickup to arrive, looking at the vast landscape with cars (even some awesome ones… Rolls Royce, Daimler, Hummer and Porche! ) dotting the circular highway road.

My first meal on American soil was at McDonalds! I enjoyed the food. It is better than the McDonalds burgers in India.

I am all set for this new phase. A lot happened since, I got an apartment, got a part-time job, registered for courses, met many new people, and visited many new places.

Its 5:14 PM here on August 20. Time for my department orientation. More (long overdue) updates coming up shortly.

30 days to DC… countdown begins! – My VISA stamping story…

Got my VISA stamping done today! All that amount of preparation turned out to be useless! Here’s the story:

I got my interview scheduled for today, the 3rd of July, at the Chennai consulate, and I got the 0730 Hrs slot 😦 ! Had to get up early… I had prepared my documents over the previous week – All the fee receipts, and father’s bank statements, balance sheets, IT returns, chartered accountant statements, affidavits – got it all arranged in a “harmonium file” as it is called, because of the way it looks 🙂 .

My father drove me to the venue in the morning. I got to the embassy at 7:00 AM and as I walked to the gates, an auto driver at the auto stand stopped me and showed a photo sample, said this is how a VISA photo should look like, 50mm x 50mm with a white background! It struck me just then.. what a business strategy! Catch the VISA appicants in the last hour, and tell them they need a new photo, and then tell them you know where it can be got in 5 min! He could demand a fortune for that favour! But I was having none of that, I had all my papers checked by my counsellor at Edwise International, and so these things were already covered. I was ready for my stamping.

We got to enter immediately, being in the first time slot. First up, there were counters for fingerprint. I just got reminded here, America is the epitome of Hypocrisy! They say it is for their security, what goes of my privacy?! Even before I land in the USA, they have my fingerprints, as though I am a criminal! Anyway, had to do this too, so went on with the procedure. The lady at the counter took my prints, and asked for some important documents like the appointment letter, the VISA fee receipt, the DS-156, 157 and 158 forms, my I-20, SEVIS Fee payment receipt, my passport, and my degree certificate (without my marksheet), and compiled it into a small file. I then walked with my Harmonium File and this new transparent file to the next building, into what was called the VISA lounge. It was still only 07:15 AM, so I sat there, watching the others constantly shuttle between the bubble-top water dispenser and their seats. The news channel TIMES NOW was put on, in silent, on a LCD screen. I just got informed, that India lost to Pakistan last night, in cricket that is. Pakistan could chase a mammoth total of 308 with ease!

The VISA Officers didnot come at 0730 hrs. No sight of them even at 0745 hrs. By the time they got started, it was almost 0810 hrs. I got my turn by 0820 hrs. My VO was an American, wore rimless glasses, and had brown hair, well most of it was gone, his forehead was bare, but anyway… Here’s how it went:

Me: Good Morning Sir!
VO: Good morning! Can I have the file
(I gave him the transparent file. Remember, I am still holding my Harmonium File, with my marksheets, bank statements, mutual fund papers, property sale papers, my father’s sponsoring letter, a CA Certificate, a loan sanction letter and a whole bunch of other stuff)
VO: So why have you chosen George Mason University?
Me: GMU is good at Computer Network Design. I wish to specialize in this field because it has good scope in India, and there aren’t any colleges offering this as a specialization degree.
(WOW! I knew that was it! All the points on his checklist must have been ‘tick’, with this one 2 line answer!)
VO: Ok, good. What do your parents do?
Me: They are both into business. My father is into… (And I explained my parent’s work)
VO: Ok. Your VISA will reach you by courier.
Me: (Huh! WTF! You dont even want to know who my sponsor is? Or if he has sufficient funds. You dont care if I return to India or not?) Thank you sir!

…And that was it! I returned home, with the 10 rupees I had hid inside my file. I hear many had problems getting their VISA. Orkut is full of accounts where VISAs were denied on grounds that “You sound like a potential immegrant” or “I dont believe your father can sustain after funding your education”, or simply, “I am not happy with your answers, come back for another interview later”…!!

Anyway, this was a good experience. This was the only thing in the entire procedure of applying for a master’s degree in the USA, the outcome of which was not in my hands. It seems I am good to go now! Exactly 1 month from now, I will be just a few meters away from Barak Obama!

At the moment, I am just gearing up for this next curb…

My A/c First Class trip on JC!

And so it ends… With a blissful journey on the train, from Jaipur to Chennai, I return once an for all with a B-Tech degree in hand!

Show pictures or a video, I would like to… but an appropriate camera I have not… Fancy this cabin is! A waiter turns up at my service, a bell once I ring !! (yes, I’ve been watching – and reading – Star Wars, more on it later, but I think I should end the Yoda speak, even though this is fun).

OH, there’s more BTW. I have an indicator on top my seats that shows whether the toilets are occupied or empty! The seats are 4 feet wide!!!! …and whats more, I got it all to myself! The 3 others in this box did not turn up! I have been online all day, and also saw Star Wars:Revenge of the Sith…again. I am planning to finish the Anime Series Basilisk now.

The train is running 4 hours late, so I get to be in here until 2 PM tomorrow! That’s awesome [:-)]

…and I connected my awesome Altec Lansing Sub-Woofer speaker system here too! Haven’t played anything loud though, they already cut the power once; when Adi and Riyu were here watching Star Wars. So they had to leave… I’ll keep it low from here on.. [:-)]

P.S.: Big thanks to Lalu and to Dheerubhai Ambani for making all this possible!

Ancient Astronauts: Could some of our Gods be E.T.?

I searched around for what God really means. Google define gave me an answer – “any supernatural being worshiped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force”.

So that brings us to a chicken and egg question – “Which came first, man or God?”. You would say the answer is God, but what if I put it this way – “Did God make man or man make God?”. Would your answer be the opposite? I had a discussion with a friend who writes:

To me the answer is simple. God is an idea. God is not a single living being who lives forever. That is just human representation of the elements, the forces, which created everything. Man is too egoistic to look up to a thing, so the visionaries of yesteryear created God, and gave it personalities, so lesser men could look up to someone universal and follow the rules of civilization. To me this is the greatest creative work of all humankind and I worship and believe in God for that reason.

Lets bring a new twist in the story. Eric von Däniken is an author made famous for his theory of space gods. In his popular book Chariots of the Gods he suggests that many years ago earth was visited by extra-terrestrials who bred with early humans (Do you smell the coming of Gods to live among mortal men?). He also supports the hypothesis that human evolution may have been manipulated through genetic engineering by these extra-terrestrial beings.

Von Däniken believes that these space aliens gave our ancestors the gift of thinking and ingrained us with the desire to return to space. He further gives evidence that most of the depictions of deities in old scriptures can be interpreted to illustrate astronauts, air and space vehicles, non-human but intelligent creatures, and artifacts of a high technology.

Many scholars have argumentatively nullified Von Däniken’s claim as fiction. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology is a book by Professor Kenneth L Feder, which extensively refers to Von Däniken’s works. A Danish writer, Willy Wegner observed in one of the depictions on a relief that Von Däniken claims is that of an alien astronaut, that the image could easily have depicted the chief of the tribe in the area because of certain physical features and dressing sense.

Whether we buy into this theory that Gods could be E.T. or not, one thing is common in all arguments. Gods were depicted by a handful brilliant humans and were glorified in a manner that generations later, it would give hope to billions. Therefore, man created God, and that is all there is to it.

As an extension of this view, it is apparent that personalities of today will be made divine 20,000 years later. Any guesses on what works of today might stand the test of time and create the next God?