Sunday, August 12, 2007

A year in the USA

Aug 7th was the anniversary of my landing in the United States. It was a year that was quick.

A year of staying away from home. A year of tasting my own broth, cooking Cauliflowers, Tomatoes or Capsicums in a one-method-for-all manner, with obviously mixed results. A year of dollars, quarters, dimes and cents. A year of watching some great movies, courtesy the university library and Netflix. A year of making the transition from studying Computer Science to studying Human Computer Interaction Design. Consequently, a year of design projects and group meetings, a year of romanticizing the idea of being a “Designer” (a wonderful notion that really made my days at times) and sometimes living it. And as with other years, a year of some hopes dashed, and some made.

I had the idea that at the end of the year I would write about the changes that I underwent in the year, and have been thinking about what might have changed in the way I see or do things. Here they are.

One. I have an opinion about everything, or at least I can form one quickly enough. And more importantly, I am more prone to say it now than I was a year back. I was at the contemporary art museum in Denver, trying to tell myself I was more than a philistine. The woman at the counter asked me friendly, “So what did you think about the exhibit?”. “I didn’t make much of it myself, the brochure helped though”, I said rather haughtily, to my own surprise and embarrassment.

I guess it takes longer than a year to shed off your philistine-ness. I’ve been trying hard though, having been at two art fairs, two times to the Denver Art Museum and once to the contemporary art museum (which had only that one exhibit) all in this summer. And considering that I finished the book I was reading on my flight to the USA, J.M.Coetzee’s Youth, on my flight to Denver (that’s over a period of nine months), I have to be more focused if I am indeed to progress beyond philistine-ness (Is that a proper word? To my credit, I finished Arundhati Roy’s The God of small things within a month this Summer, and consequently I have taken a fascination for made-up words, which she makes use of to great effect). Interestingly, Youth is about a young South African who thinks about being a poet, but doesn't make the effort to write. There might be a lesson to take there.

Two. I can talk a little more about myself in conversations. Looking at all the “I”s here, I guess that’s a little more than obvious.

Three. I am less shy to ask for help. “They’ll think I am being nice since I want help”, I would say to myself usually. Now I deliberate a little lesser, I just call or ask.

Four. I might have a better sense of humor. Thinking back, if it were now, my response would have been a little different to the stupid joke one of my classmates at the IIIT played on me. He drew a woman’s breast and asked me what it was. I said “a W with two dots in it”, appalled. I guess I would take it as a joke now, and smile. Probably.

Five. I have no qualms about eating food while walking on the road, or drinking Coca Cola in the classroom. A year ago, I had the now strange seeming idea that either was inappropriate.

And Six. I might have an accent. I guess making fun of people who can’t speak their mother tongue properly after a stint abroad, has some side effects.

But when you meet me, if I come across as having exaggerated these changes, attribute it to my effort to make my writing interesting, or to having put on an act to have you say the rather nice “You haven’t changed”.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Denver Diary

It's been a month and ten days since I set foot in Denver. It's definitely been an interesting experience. I must say life when you're working full time, is very different.

The company I work for has five employees, including myself. We're all Indian, and that has meant that I've had very few conversations with Americans. My little rendezvous (I just learnt the word has its plural spelled the same way, but pronounced differently, interesting.) with people behind the counters at shops, has left me, undeservedly so for Denverites, with mixed feelings about their friendliness. Sometimes they were rude, sometimes they were very friendly. Undeservedly, because I guess people behind the counters can't be real people: at Starbucks they'll always be warm because I hear they can lose their jobs if they aren't (but I wouldn't discount that it's difficult being so).

On my street for over a mile, there're many automobile related shops: car parts, car washes and the like, but no supermarkets, which is wonderful considering that I can't drive, and don't have a car. There's a grocery shop opposite my apartment run by a family from Pakistan , where I get some things, but not all (another reduced opportunity to talk with an American, but the family is friendly and helpful).

It's a little strange to be living in the United States, and interacting only with Indians for the most part. Not that that's bad, but I think part of the interesting thing about being in another country is to interact and make friends with the people there. So my interactions, being in the workplace, concern javascript, html and the like. Some other interactions happen on the way to work and back home also with people from the office. The company is only a ten minute walk away, so these conversations are short, but thankfully about other things, and I must admit I do look forward to these conversations.

I had a roommate, for the first 30 days or so before he left to India, and during that time, I would have some conversation with him. He always took about two minutes to respond to what I said, so my patience meant that the conversation was mostly short. But these conversations were a respite, allowing me to vent any apprehensions and fears about my new workplace as he seemed to listen, and then there were Telugu movies and cooking for the day (we took turns) to talk about. Now I am all by myself in a two bedroom apartment, and need to move to another place in the middle of next month, when the lease expires.

It's my theory that people need to talk about things that make them happy, not just do them, to be happy. So my experience watching a movie, walking a street in a new city or eating at a good restaurant, are seldom complete until I tell people about them, and have them tell me back what a wonderful time I was having! I don't know if that's true for most people. It might be something worth investigating and might hold the answer to what motivates people to write blogs, share photos, set status messages and the like. So my theory leaves me looking for places to start conversations, and that's how I've been spending most of my time in the evenings: chatting online and ocassionally on the phone. Once or twice a week I get a movie from Netflix, having taken the one-DVD-at-a-time subscription. And last week when I received a damaged DVD, for lack of anything else to do, I fell prey to Youtube. For almost a week, I've been watching bits and pieces of David Letterman's and Ellen Degeneres' chat shows all evening. It's left me feeling a little shallow at the end of the week, and I should be changing course. Not that they're not entertaining, but I guess I was taking in too much at a time.

So that's how I live. At the workplace from 9.30-6.30, and then at home spending time as mentioned. I must say it can be very lonely if not for the chats online and on the phone. Weekends add colour to the week, as I get to do something else, thus get something to talk about, and then get to have to find somebody to tell it to. Thanks for reading and being that somebody.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Inspired by Paris je t'aime

I went to see the film Paris je t'aime (Paris, I love you) yesterday. It has about 20 short stories about love, set in different locations in Paris. I loved the film, as it has like 20 different directors for each of the short films, and a host of brilliant actors. I particularly liked the ones by Wes Craven, Gurindher Chadha, The Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer and Gus Van Sant.

Inspired by Paris je t'aime, I set out to write a script for a story set in Hyderabad. A husband and wife on their way to buy a necklace.


Raju and Sunitha are driving to a jewellery shop on their motorbike. They halt at the traffic light near Sarathi studios. Sunitha has her arms clasped on Raju's chest, and her head over his shoulder.

Sunitha: How much do I have to buy the necklace ?
Raju: They don't sell necklaces for Queen Victoria there, I am sure I'll have enough for you.
Sunitha: Alright then, I'll have the best one.
Raju: Yeah you should get something enough to keep you quiet for five years.
Sunitha: I never asked you for one, you said it was a gift for our first anniversary.
Raju: Yeah, like that is indeed some reason to set me off by a lakh.
Sunitha: Is it then because you love me so much.

Sunitha is laughing. Raju is smiling.

Sunitha: A lakh is something, I thought you would buy me something to the order of 10, 000.
Raju: Okay then, we'll make it 10, 000.

The traffic moves. Raju and Sunitha drive through to get to Ameerpet, the traffic moves at snail's pace. They move past the footwear store Bata.

Sunitha: Can I get new footwear too ?
Raju: Anything for madam. It will be closed by the time we get back, we'll go another day.
Sunitha: Okay.

They move on again only to come to a halt after a short distance.

Sunitha: There is a lot of traffic today.
Raju: Yeah, maybe all husbands are buying things for their wives.
Raju: You should learn driving. I also don't use the car often, it's always at home.
Sunitha: Yeah good idea, you should get me a credit card too, in that case.
Raju: I take back my idea. Anyways, isn't my driving you around, oh so romantic ?
Sunitha: It just seems hectic to me, with all the traffic.
Raju: I should have listened when my aunts cautioned me about marrying an intelligent woman.

The traffic moves on and they reach the building where the jewellery shop is located. They enter the jewellery shop, and the owner of the shop, on seeing them approaches to welcome them. They exchange hellos. Sunitha is looking around to see where necklaces are located. The owner and Raju smile at each other.

Sunitha: They're there, I'll go look.

Raju follows Sunitha, as the owner moves ahead of them to get ready to show them the necklaces. The owner opens up boxes and puts them before Sunitha for her to look. Sunitha looks at them, and immediately picks one up.

Sunitha: Look Raju, this one's similiar to the one Shobhana was wearing in what film was that, ..., and I said I loved it, remember ?

Raju is smiling.

Sunitha: How much is this ?
Owner: 95,000 madam.
Sunitha: Can I take this Raju, it's anyway 5,000 short of the budget you had in mind.
Raju: Yeah, take it.

Sunitha closes the box to hand it over to the owner, when on the box she glances at an engraving.

Sunitha: For Sunitha ?

Raju is smiling. Sunitha smiles back, overwhelmed.

Raju: Thank god, you didn't pick any of the other ones, I paid all that money to have this one made for you.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A night in Atlanta airport

A flight delayed and the connecting flight missed, I had to choose between paying 50$ for a hotel for the night and staying back in the airport. I decided to experience the airport at night. I was not the only one who made that decision and it was some time before I could secure my two seats. An overweight check-in baggage led me to transfer some things including a towel to my bag, and that served as my blanket. I slept for 4 hours, had Breakfast at Atlanta bread company before 6am (possibly the earliest breakfast of my life), looked at all the stores in the lobby area and I checked in 2.5 hours in advance, to roam the concourses of the huge airport.

I am just beginning to realize the powers of the cell phone camera to document things.

It's been a week since I landed in Denver now, and have finished the first week of my internship at alpha cube designs inc. I am beginning to experience what it's like to be working. 9am-6pm, back home, some internet, eat and sleep is not exactly an exciting itinerary. Work should turn out to be exciting I guess, and then I'll be looking at Netflix to spice things a bit. Weekends are definitely things to look forward to.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

San Francisco

My connecting flight from St.Louis to San Francisco, was delayed, and I wouldn't have made it in time to catch a bus to Santa Cruz, where I was planning to stay with a friend. So I called my cousin if he knew people in San Francisco, and got to stay with his friend in San Francisco for the night and the next day, during which I got to see San Francisco.

I took the bart train from Concord where my cousin's friend and his wife were staying, to the civic center near Downtown San Francisco. I walked around, till I reached the bay where I saw the bay bridge and from a distance the golden gate bridge covered in fog. The street bordering the bay is called Embarcadero street and it was my favourite part of what I saw. Public art, a farmer's market, the Fisherman's wharf, and views of the financial district, made it a very lively street. Two days before my visit, I was looking at the street as an example of good street design because of it's pedestrian friendliness, when working on our class project making a design plan to build a vibrant community for the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District.

While the pavements of the streets in Downtown San Francisco looked inviting to walk, there weren't many people walking. I was expecting to see a lot of people in downtown, like in New York, but it was not so. On the flight, I was looking at their magazine, and it had an interview of a television star about her favourite places in New York, and it was her impression that New York was all about people, as you run into people all the time, while in California it's all about home, driving and work. I didn't see a lot of people either, my impression of California is also of wide streets, tall palm trees, sunny weather and little traffic. The whole place had a relaxed air to it.

After walking along Embarcadero street for a while, I hopped on to a cablecar, seeking to go to Chinatown. The cablecar driver let me ride free and dropped me off at a nearby place for buses to Chinatown. I took the bus, and as I didnt have the required change, the driver let me ride with just the change I had. The cablecars add charm to the streets, and some of them are historic. I thought San Francisco had a fine public transit system. In Chinatown, I strolled along for sometime, nothing caught my interest, except that the entire street had little sign of being in California, it seemed like China. I was expecting to find cheap food, but seven dollars only fetched me four springrolls. Maybe, I should have looked harder for cheaper restaurants. The financial district was closeby, so I walked to San Francisco's tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid and made my way back to Embarcadero street, where I caught the train back to Concord.

All Pictures of San Francisco here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ACM-CHI 2007

I was in San Jose to attend the ACM-CHI conference. We didn't make it to the next round of the student design competition, but two teams from IU did, and they were placed third and fourth in the top four. It was a good experience. I was a student volunteer too, and I was around for 20 hours wearing the red volunteer T-shirt, and trying to smile all the time. For most of the 20 hours, I was at the doors to the exhibit hall and it was a nice feeling when some people said they were seeing me everywhere. It was nice meeting other student volunteers from different universities and talking with them about their programs and interests.

The conference was for me more of a lesson in networking, than an eye-opener to HCI research. I did attend some talks and exhibits, but not a major part considering the other things I had to do. Bill Moggridge's opening talk about intuition in design was not new, as we had his just released book, which was the content of his talk, as a recommended book for one of our courses. I attended a session in location-aware computing, experience reports in ethnography, a special interest group on designing interfaces for pleasure, a panel about industrial vs. interaction design and bits and pieces of multiple sessions on the final day. The conference was definitely a lesson in networking, though I still need to improve quite a bit at it. I tried my best to meet people and start a conversation. My most memorable moment, was at the Cooper reception where they were releasing Alan Cooper's interaction design book, "About Face 3.0". I'd love to work at Cooper, and was trying my best to understand what it takes to work there. So I walked up to a lady, and asked her if she was an interaction designer at Cooper, she said calmly "I am the founder of Cooper". "This is a pleasure", I said excited. "Will you give me a job?", I said trying to joke, and she asked me where I was from, and the conversation followed. Sue Cooper was kind, and it was nice talking to her. My other main exercise in networking happened at the job fair, and I walked up to the booth of most companies I was interested in, and tried talking with them. I was nervous, and at the end, it took me a while to recollect who I'd given my resumes and business cards to, but it was good that I got to engage in that activity. I now talk more about myself, than I did when I was in India. I guess it took me time to realize that there was definitely a distinction between making yourself interesting and beating the drum about yourself.

On the day after the conference, some companies were organising tours to their offices. I was on the Google, Intuit, frog design, SAP tour. I missed the bus for the tour, and called up Intuit which was organising the tour, and decided to go there myself. So I didn't get to see Google. I went to the San Jose State University Library which had free internet access to plan my trip on the bus. The bus trip from San Jose to the nearest spot to Intuit was an hour and a half long. I had to change buses once, and realized that the second bus which was suggested to me by the bus planner of the Valley Transport Authority, had actually taken me away from the way I was to get to Intuit (which I saw courtesy google maps). The bus planner told me that I would have to walk for an estimated 18 mins to get to the place, but I was walking for over a half hour, when I finally got there. I had my suitcase in hand, and I was walking the streets like I was in an airport concourse, stopping on the way to look at the map on my computer, to see if I was heading in the right direction. It was a strange experience, as there were no people walking, only the cars on the road. Mountain view where Intuit is located, was pretty desolate, only a place with offices scattered around. So was Palo Alto, where we went to see frog design and SAP. Intuit showed us their usability labs, frog design gave a presentation about their recent projects, and SAP had demonstrations of their projects.

The week was pretty hectic, as I had work to finish from school, my duties as a volunteer, and some preparations for the competition. I only got to sleep less than 5 hours a day, so much that I slept 17 hours the first day after my return.

More pictures from CHI and San Jose here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Twenty Two

Alright, I am another year older. Last week had been pretty dull, what with me being sick. I'm okay now, and the week ended in my birthday. My room mates and my neighbours made my day special by bringing me a cake to cut, and candles to blow. Thanks to them, and everybody who made it a point to wish me.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Website

I now have my website at You can see what I've been doing as a masters student in human computer interaction design in the Portfolio section. Do tell me what you think about the site!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Telugu film at Berlin

Vanaja, a Telugu film directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli, won the best first feature award at Berlin film festival. He happens to be an engineer who did his bachelors in IIT Bombay, and a Masters from SUNY, SB, and he had written the film while studying film at Columbia University.

In recent times, Telugu film makers who've won acclaim happen to be engineers turned film makers. Sekhar Kammula, Nagesh Kukunoor for example. And Telugu film makers have been winning acclaim for first films. Sekhar Kammula and Mohankrishna I. won their best first feature national awards for their first films Dollar dreams and Grahanam, but thereafter haven't been noticed much. It remains to be seen if the Telugu film will move beyond Andhra Pradesh, the state where the language is most spoken. There is a film industry that produces mostly insipid fare, as the directors aren't very inspired, and all the producers are after is money. This new crop of film makers has the distinction of having an education in film, unlike the others who came up the ladder beginning as nobodies in the film industry.

Sekhar Kammula and Mohankrishna I. have moved into the industry, and while they have made only a few films to comment on, the films are only a minor improvement over the insipid films of the industry in terms of their content. There's of course the issue of money. Who would fund films that do not find an audience among the people who're willing to pay to watch insipid fare, but would not watch a more seriously made film, dismissing it as an "art film". The issue is about finding an audience, and I am sure there is one for serious films even in Andhra Pradesh, leave alone the entire world (and that's not very unreasonable given how videos find a worldwide audience on Youtube). What must be done is to make a viable business plan for such films, and more than that convince the people involved in producing the films that these "art films" can work financially.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Last week I went to see the Broadway Musical "Hairspray". I loved it. It was the first time I saw something like that, and was amazed at the quality of the production. The music was great too. The story was about how a Baltimore girl in the 60s who's overweight and has unfashionable hair, or not good looking in the conventional sense, goes on to win a TV dance show, and how that leads her on to another adventure. The characters were all based on stereotypes and might not have made the audience think, but make us laugh they sure did. With a two and a half hour duration, a break between and plenty of song dances, it was more like the films back in India.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


The shortlist of the ACM Computer Human Interaction Conference (CHI) Student Design Competition has been announced and in the top 12 teams, 5 teams are from our program. Our team made it too ! The next round of the competition would be at the conference in April in San Jose.

The problem was to design a solution to encourage people to use public transit. We took the social networking route, linking transport options to the networking site Facebook, allowing people who plan events on Facebook, to also plan their transportation options. On Facebook, a person's activities are made available for all his friends to see, and when they know that their friend is taking the bus, our argument was that they would be inclined to do so too. Our studies on college students here suggested that people don't take public transit because there is a notion that public transit is for those who can't afford a car or because they didn't like traveling with strangers. Our solution with social networking would allow friends to plan their transport together, thus solving the problem of traveling with strangers, and since everybody is aware of who's traveling by public transport, any wrong notions are removed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Snow!

About two weeks back, we finally got to see what sense there was in living through a -20 degrees centigrade temperature. It Snowed. Pictures here.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Winter '06

Central Park, New York.

I was visiting my cousin in Groton, Connecticut for the winter. We traveled to Fords, NJ from there as my cousin's mother was to catch a flight to India in Newark. That afforded me a trip to New York City, undoubtedly the high point of my sightseeing. On day one in NJ, my cousin and I drove to Queen's in New York where he had some work and we went to Manhattan later. We drove through the Manhattan streets, looking at the high rises from our car. A two hour drive and we were only able to see the Empire state building and Times square. Unsatisifed and determined to get on the subway and the free Staten Island Ferry that gives a glimpse of the statue of liberty, I set out next day alone and traveled by train from Fords, NJ to NYC. I decided that my itinerary would cover the Central park and the staten island ferry. As I walked down from the Penn station where I got down towards Central Park, other landmarks greeted me. New York is like one big exhibition, and walking the streets is a great experience. A picture story of my day in NYC is here.

At Groton, I was at home for the most part, catching up on telugu movies, eating and surprising my relatives waking up after noon. My cousin drove me one night to a casino called the Mohegan Sun in Mystic town. I fed 10 dollars to the machines there. Groton is a small seaside town, and I visited the shore. I went there on a day when the sun was up and the weather was nice, and given that I had only seen the sea twice before in my life, it was an engrossing experience. At Fords too I was for the most part at home, save for the trips to New york city and malls nearby. For new year's eve I was at the same place with my relatives. We watched the crowds at Times square on TV and cut a cake. For the record, it was the first time I wasn't at home in Hyderabad for New Year. Pictures of Groton and Fords here.

From Monday, it's back to classes and I'm looking forward to it.