Heartsy - Daily deals on fabulous handmade items, at least 50% off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

You are not going to believe this!

So its an ordinary February morning in Northern California. I decided that I had had enough of junk food it was time for some Kashmiri food. So I was heading to my maasi's place in San Jose. After only 4.5 hours of sleep I got up to get ready and catch the 10:02 South Bound to San Jose. I reached the California Avenue CalTrain station about 15 minutes before the train time and there was no one on the station except this guy i saw as i was turning the corner into the ticket vending machine area. And as I got near, i realized my dream had suddenly turned into reality - I was marooned on the platform with none other than my main man - the great Donald Knuth

The first thing that struck me was that this guy was tall - man he was really tall! And he was wearing this black overcoat looking more like a CIA agent than a computer scientist! He asked me the time. I was like Oh My God - the Great Don himself is asking me for the time - it was 10 minutes to 10. "There are still 30 minutes for the train", assuming that even i was heading North toward San Francisco where he was going. "Oh my train is gonna be here in 10 minutes, I am going to San Jose". "Oh..!", he said. Anyways, he had a small folder with him and sat down
on a bench at the platform. The sun was bright without a cloud in sky - the typical sunny California weather. Now, I didn't feel like bothering him as he had opened a set of papers and was going about his business of being a computer scientist - even on the bench - but I still had to talk him. I couldn't give up this once in a lifetime opportunity.

So I walked up to the bench, and started - "So Don, can I ask you something? Why did you give up email so early on?". I know it was dumb questions given he has the answer on his website but still i needed a pick-up line! "Oh i have it on my web page, and the thing is that I couldn't even get started with work before 1pm as I was so busy answering people's email - and so i decided to give it up. Plus I had used 15-19 nears of email and that i thought was enough for a life time. Plus sometimes people would send me problems who's solutions they would expect and if i couldn't come up with one they liked, I would have to hear lots of unpleasant words". Me said - "So how much money did you end up giving as part of your books claim of giving money to people who pointed out errors in your book?" - Another dumb question I think - "Oh I think i have given out around 25K dollars as rewards! But people are nice and then don't en cash the checks, I just filed my income tax returns but i saw that none of the people had en cashed the checks - I saw to them - take a xerox of the check and keep that and en cash the original". Another question - "So how did you get started on La TeX? I mean we have a rumor going on in India at least in my school that you had a graduate student who had problems and in order to solve those problems you guys ended up creating LaTeX". "Well", he said, "that is not true about TeX( i felt like a fool calling it LaTeX!), the thing was that i wrote books and the publishers at that time printed them out in such a manner that made me cry! So decided to do something about it - and then I had a graduate student who was very smart - but you know the thing is that PhD is kinda weird a degree - in the sense that its not like BS or MS that you dont have exam to pass to get the degree - so therefore, a good student is not necessarily a good PhD student, and a good PhD student is not necessarily a good BS/MS student. Like my father, a wonderful man God Bless him, could never be a good PhD, but he was an excellent student. So I told this student of mine to try a couple of problems as warm up problems and see where it goes. And so he worked on it a bit. Plus I in a class that I was taking at that time - we were working on how some tools we used could help music researchers in their work - the thing with music is that their notes, when written on paper, cannot be half on one life and half on the other - and someone pointed out in class, we can use a similar structure for text formatting as well!".

In the middle of the conversation, Don asked me where i was from and what my background was. He wrote my name on his paper in his folder!!! That was exciting! He told me he had heard about the trouble in Kashmir. He knew a bit of Bengali - he said. I asked him where he was going in SFO, he said there was an invitation from some Stanford Society and then there was an Opera Premier that he really wanted to go to! And he showed me his tickets for that too. Then I told him what Jeff Ullman had mentioned to us in his Data Mining class - "In Computer Science, these days, you don't need to solve an NP hard problem to make money, all you need to do is make a video uploading site, what us your take on that? - Too bad my train just pulled into the Cal Ave station - and I had to leave - but without a smile - Don said - "He is a pragmatist! Goodbye" in the same breath!

Never in my life have I wished the train to be late as last Saturday. And thank God it was late that day by 7-8 minutes.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mighty Indians

So lots of things happened in the last few days but before some important announcements, I thought I would address another issue first. Two things happened which sort of increased the priority of this post prior to some other posts just waiting to be published. One took place in the Global Entrepreneurial Marketing (GEM) class that I am taking and the other took place while reading Gaurav's (my ex-boss!) blog which had an article from Forbes bullshitting India.

Tom Kosnik, who by the way i just admire - part of the faculty team for GEM, posed a question in class - "Name a few companies you would want to work for?" - Of course everyone named companies like:
  • McKinsey
  • Google
  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • a few startups
  • IDEO
  • Sequoia Capital
  • Benchmark
  • IBM Research
  • Kleiner Perkins
  • Meebo

And then I heard two names - Infosys Consulting and Biocon. Ok - it was me who said Infosys consulting - but man the moment I heard Biocon from someone who was not an Indian and probably never lived in India - i couldnt believe my ears. I mean this is a really really sought after class and that too in Stanford - a class of 86 people - some of them - the smartest people on the planet - and they want to work in Biocon! Man this is just fantastic. Anyways, thought I would tell all you guys out there that we are really building companies which people want to work in - not just people living in India - but people across the globe - has mighty India arrived?

About Gaurav's blog and the Forbes article, well, the thing that someone took time out to bullshit us, well that in itself sorta says something! I think the comment on Gaurav's blog rebutting the arguments was really cool. I somehow agree with the view that complacency is really not requrired, we need ever more Ratan Tatas, Narayan Murthys, Kiran Majumdar Shaws et al - and need to do something about the living standards, the infrastructure, but we are getting there - and the point about solving all those problems first and then going forward with rest of the things is at best an idiotic thought. The article sort of smack of a veritable rebuke if anything, the author had facts to back it - but i did not see any reason to use language which would come off as offensive to people like me and you(perhaps). Khair, take home message I think is that it (the article) was a good reality check - and we need to keep reminding ourselves not to slow down - as the sang in Lagaan - "chale chalo chale chalo!"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

ABCDs and Racism

So me and my friend Gaurav were discussing the other day - why ABCD girls will not allow Indian men near them. I mean its as if they have this preconceived notion that we will smell like curry or something. And this is a fact - ABCD girl come off as the most racist of anyone, i meant i guess they are the only racist gang on campus - no one else will behave the way they do. And take my word for it - I am yet to find an ABCD who does not conform to this fact. Anyways, to hell with them and their preconceived notions and idiotic stereotypes about us - call us FOBs if you may - but bottom line - I am not impressed.

Then on the other hand I think - I may well be that frustrated grad student on campus!! Trust me I am not - but something is surely amiss here.

Which brings me to another related topic - why are the American born kids of Indian parents called ACBD - i think i know coz i was something close to that - born in India but grew up outside for a significant portion of the time. The reason is that when they are out of their homes the culture around their American friends is really different from what they are taught in their homes by their parents - parents born and brought up in India. So, its really not their fault. And probably unfair to call them ABCD, its really not their fault.

BTW - for the uninitiated - ABCD = American Born Confused Desi

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ambassador Ronen Sen

Yup, met the man himself today. He is on the west coast for some business, and he paid a visit to the farm. He met President Hennessy prior to his talk at the Encina Hall. I had an interview( about which I am going to blog next) so I could not attend his talk. But since I had to meet the topmost diplomat of the Great Republic of India - the Indian Ambassador to United States - I literally rode my bike like a horse and reached just in time for the last 2 questions - he was done with his talk - was just taking audience questions. I loved the way he answered a question on Hindu extremism in India:

Q: So Ambassador, are you people in India worried about Hindu extremism?

A: Yes! Yes - period! So the I was taking to someone yesterday and i told them what makes us Indian - its not a piece of territory - its not our flag, its not even out national anthem - its our tolerance and respect for diversity, diversity in religion, races, cultures, languages, even culinary diversity! We are not just tolerant, but are respectful of someone else's cultures and beliefs. India was a civilization first, then a nation, then a state.......and he continued......

Anyways, so I went up to him and he was really very approachable - even though he was surrounded by the top ranking government people. So I said to him - sir i am rahul thathoo and i belong to Kashmir. Now a while back there was a talk on campus about how India and its alliance with Israel was a terrible thing. Sir, what do people think that Muslims of the valley are the only sufferers, what doesn't India make it a point to highlight the pain and suffering of the Kashmiri Hindus. I mean we are refugees in our own country - and what is the government doing for us. People think that there are only Kashmiri Muslims who are the sufferers, I mean who will think of us. Just because we are fewer than them doesn't mean that we would be thrown to the dustbin.

His answer was more of a soothing reply - I know what you are taking about and I feel your pain, believe me I have visited those parts of Kashmir. And I know the exodus was so fast and you guys were really made to leave faster than what happened to people in the Balkans. But we are doing ....... someone else interrupted him then.....leaving much to be said (and done!).

We ended on a good note, he shook hands with me and my roommate who was also there, and gave his business card to both of us and left in his luxury (small) limo.

Hopefully he will remember the Kashmiri Pandit plight and will let the international community know about us and our plight.