Ah, hostel food!

“Yuck… brinjal curry.”
“Dude, it’s tomato.”
“Tomato?! Why is the gravy blue?”

Most of you have had this conversation if you have stayed in a hostel. Or heard it from friends who have stayed in hostels. The best years – undergrad life – was flanked by the most atrocious food ever. Everyone has a hostel food story. It’s the only kind of story everyone will believe an outrageous exaggeration too! My hostel had the most exquisite food menu ever – we had biryani on Sundays, saambaar rice on Mondays, puri-chhole on Wednesdays, paneer dishes on Fridays, rawa dosa on Saturdays etc. Every semester started with brand new promise of the chef’s love – but soon after the first week, we could only tell these apart because we knew what was being cooked that day. Such was life. Then one day, a new caterer came. The cook showed promise – he was a beacon of light, a ray of hope, the sun through the clouds, rain on the desert sand, a bowl of soup. He brought together the best of spices, and the freshest of vegetables, the sweetest of aromas… but God only knows what he did with them, because nothing changed for us. We used to lovingly call our hostel food – grub.

Among the things that we found in our food across the years of undergraduate study – small branch in sambaar, spider in daal, unknown insect in rice, stapler pin in dosa, cockroach in baingan bharta,ย  aloo in aloo parantha and a cat. Ok, I am kidding about the last two. Some guy said that there were regular sticks instead of drumsticks in his food – but no one else was sticking to the story of the sticks. It did turn pretty sticky towards the end.

Here’s the latest from The Occasional Doodle – when doodling suddenly makes sense. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hostel food[Left click for larger size]

In search of a new name

Late last night I thought I should change the name of my blog. No no, I absolutely adore the name “Mostly Pointless“, but this is what happened. In the ongoing efforts for gathering donations to the relief work for Cyclone Aila, my blog comes up in the top 5 results whenever someone searches for the cyclone relief work. But thanks to the name of my blog, it appears as this:

Search Results

Now it appears as if the cyclone Aila relief work is mostly pointless. I know, it’s laughable! But I felt bad. After all, I am an advocate of the contrary.

Anyway, it drove me to change the name of my blog to ‘Logophilia‘ – meaning love of words and word games – and it was like that for less than 24 hours. Because it was not the same as Mostly Pointless. Over the years (since 2006) I have grown to love the name ‘Mostly Pointless’ so much that Logophilia, though a beautiful word, didn’t have that zing. Mostly Pointless stays.

Aila cyclone relief widget

Aila Cyclone Relief Widget

I have programmed the Aila Cyclone Relief Widget (see above image or sidebar on the right) to be added to your blogspot blog or self hosted website (wordpress or other). Due to javascript security restrictions, free wordpress blogs have a compromise that the widget is not so cool looking.
Click this button to add to your Blogspot blog

In order to spread the word thru other media and blog hosts, please add this widget (see how to) so more and more people donate! Encourage your friends to put it up in their blogs! All help will be greatly appreciated! A little thing as this can go a long way. ๐Ÿ™‚ We at AID will greatly appreciate you forwarding this link:

http://www.themattefinish.com/blog/2009/06/aila-cyclone-relief-widget/

Harmless office pranks

Ok. So today is another somewhat-partially-semi-productive day at work. It is at these times that it is absolutely essential that I tug at my brain cells that are designed for pranks. Ok, tugged. I am not going to play any pranks on you, my reader (or am I? :D) because I love you so much. Here are a few harmless pranks you could play in your office, and whom you should make your target. Now, I have played some of these before – but I must warn you – make sure your target is a good sport – so that a fun war starts between the two of you. Or try your level best to be completely anonymous, so that NOTHING is traced back to you. That’s your call. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just make a judgment call before you do anything – you don’t want to get fired, right?

This feature might be a two-part post – the first is computer related pranks and the other might be cubicle related. If I work on the latter, it will be out sometime later this year. My colleagues are great sports and it is great fun playing pranks on them. It always starts a playful war which we remember for years to come.

Computer pranks are fairly simple to execute – I have played these pranks myself. For most of these you need your target’s computer at a time when he/she is not around and has left it unlocked. It is more fun if you are around to see it happening – depending on the level ofย  ‘sinisterness’, get more people involved. Also, some of them will make them think their computer has been hit by a virus. Make sure you are around to tell them that they have been pranked upon – and to undo the prank too! ๐Ÿ˜€ You don’t want the computer administrators to come over and reprimand you when they figure out YOU did it!

1. The shutdown prank
This is a not-so-famous prank and it’s really unnerving for whoever’s sitting at the computer. It configures the icon to shutdown the computer with a given time limit and a message. Warning: This does not quite work as expected in Windows Vista. It works great with XP.
Target:
Someone who plays games on their work computer. Too much.
> Pick an icon on the desktop or the start button (wherever the game is)
> Right click on it and go to properties, go to the Shortcut tab on top.
> In the Target field, remove the existing one and type in [shutdown -s -t 90 -c “Your message here”] without the parentheses. The number 90 is a 90 seconds timeout. Try it once on your own computer before going ahead with it.
> To abort the shutdown, go to Start>Run and type “shutdown -a” without quotes.
> Get creative with “Your message here” – you could write an official like message that “This computer has shown increased activity in facebook/orkut/sleazy websites and is shutting down to prevent further misuse” or “This computer has shown increased activity in games and is shutting down to prevent further misuse”
Variation: You can also modify the IE/Firefox buttons and watch that person freak out whenever he/she tries to open the browser! Make sure you are around to savor the panic! ๐Ÿ™‚

2. The keyboard/mouse swap
This one is hilarious if it happens right. It requires two coworkers who sit close by. Wait till your coworkers have left office after shutting down their machines. Swap the keyboards and/or mice. Enjoy your day the next day.
Variation: Add a USB mouse to your one coworker’s desk and have access to that mouse at your desk. Works with USB mice. At the oppportune moment, nudge it or close a harmless window!

3. The sluggish mouse
If an optical mouse, take a small piece of clear tape and stick it over the laser. The results are hilarious!

4. The Microsoft Word AutoCorrect prank
This is my all time favorite and I have done it so many times! What you need is an unlocked computer. Open Microsoft Word and go to Tools > AutoCorrect options. Select the AutoCorrect tab and towards the bottom, you will see Replace and With.
Under Replace, type “the” and under With, type “that damn”. For example, “the fiscal year” becomes “that damn fiscal year”
Every instance of “the” will be replaced with “that damn” as and when your target types it. You can obviously make so many variations – parallel to pyarelal, someone’s name like mine – Kokonad to coconut etc.

5. The frozen desktop
Target:
Anyone who has been dumb enough to leave their computer unlocked in a workplace!
Probably the oldest prank. But fun nevertheless.
> Close ALL open windows.
> Take a screenshot of the desktop (hit PrintScreen button on keyboard).
> Open MS Paint and hit CTRL+V (to paste). Save the file.
> Now change the wallpaper of your target to this saved image.
> To make it more fun, hide all icons so there are only images remaining. Right click on desktop and go to “Arrange icons by” and uncheck “Show desktop items”. Your target is going to think the icons are supposed to work, but they never do!
Optional: Auto-hide the taskbar as well. To do this, right click on the taskbar, go to properties, check the option for “Auto-hide the taskbar”

6. Mousing around
Go to mouse settings in control panel and make the cursor speed very fast or very slow. Watching someone drag their mouse across the office to move it an inch on screen is funny! Or you could go to pointer settings and make the default one an hourglass, so they will be left wondering what is keeping the computer busy.

7. Remap the keyboard
This is extreme fun because the keyboard no longer types what is written on the key. All keyboards are typically QWERTY keyboards – there is another standard – called the DVORAK keyboard. Change the keyboard layout to DVORAK and sit back to enjoy all the fun.

You must practise these at home a couple of times to make sure you know how to undo them, and also to be fast at it when you are actually executing them. Again, it is important to make a judgment call – you DO NOT want to get fired for this!

A sneak preview on cubicle related pranks: Use sticky labels for everything on your colleague’s desk – pen, mug, monitor, mouse, book, board etc. It’s amusing to see reactions! Or, wrap everything in aluminum foil. Everything.

Cyclone Aila Relief work

I work for the Penn State Chapter of Association for India’s Development (AID) and we are accepting donations for any kind of help for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Aila cyclone that struck West Bengal earlier this week.

Bangladesh Cyclone

AP Photo by Pavel Rehman

Cyclone Aila struck the coasts of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India killing more than 200 people and destroying 180,000 homes. Over 3 million people have been displaced as per the estimates.

The govt help is as always not adequate. Association for India’s Development (AID) is partnering with local NGO partners to provide food, water and shelter. AID has already disbursed $21,000 to one of the partner NGO Baikanthapur Tarun Sangha (BTS) for this work.

pleasedonateIf you would like to help the relief work please donate to AID All India Relief Fund.

Click here if you would like to follow the regular updates (from people working right in the middle of it and not from seasoned journalists)

Cyclone Aila in the press : BBC | The Daily Star | CNN | ToI | The Hindu

Also awaiting Ankur’s photos from the cyclone affected areas.

Update:
Please visit this link – Cyclone Aila Updates – for the latest updates on the cyclone relief work, by Amit Arora, the new president of AID Penn State chapter.

An autorickshaw accolade

Aaah, the autorickshaw. Lovingly called ‘auto’ across the whole of India. You will not meet even a single Indian who does not know what it is. The one solution that is cheaper than a taxi and classier than the bus. The lone vehicle that can shake your very bones – which leave indelible impressions of the vibrant contours that form Indian road surfaces. Just look at it… I mean just look at it. The unique design of Indian autorickshaws: The pinnacle of “auto-save” – if it ever overturns… it has just the right “curves” to get itself back on its wheels. Whoever designed this thing obviously had in mind that if it ever turns around on it’s side, it will roll on to the upright position. Here’s a demonstration.

The auto autosave[Left click for a larger size]

Moving on to my experiences with autos and autowaalas around the country.

Chennai
Chennai remains on the top of the list because auto-related experiences are an excellent conversation opener. Weather does not work as much for a conversation opener, because in Chennai the weather is pretty much the same all round the year: hot and very hot. So, for conversing with autowaalas in Chennai, you need to know a new kind of English – a broken one. You cannot use conjuctions, conditional clauses etc. Simple sentences, for example:
120 rupees aaa? Adyar to Besantnagar I go every week. 35 rupees I will give.
In this regard, I have had hilarious experiences with Chennai autowaalas. Firstly, if you are a non-Tamizh speaking person, you will be asked double just for being there. Then a random number is generated between Rs 80 and Rs 400 depending on the location of the pickup and the way you are dressed. It does not matter where you want to be dropped off. You do not want to commit to using the meter because that might be rigged to check how many times you breathe. Finally when you settle on a price e.g. Rs 40, your friend and you get off and proceed to give him Rs 40 and he stares at you as if you stole the tyre of his auto.
Yenna saar?“, waving the two 20 rupee notes at you.
What?“, you ask, genuinely out of curiosity.
Single person, 40 rupees saar… two people, 80 rupees kudunga saar
Now dodge that. If you are a male and have taken a girl out on a date, you cannot afford to lose a heckling argument with an autowaala. There will be no brownie points for you.

Next stop, Kolkata.
Now there are no long distance autos in Kolkata – they have a short distance shared auto system, operating between points. The catch? You share it big time. In the back seat, you share it with two people clutching on to their handbags and cigarettes/beedis like there is no tomorrow. I wonder what will upset them more – losing the handbag or the beedi. I never tested that. In the front you have two full grown men sharing the driver’s seat. Along with the driver. They are clutching on to whatever will prevent them from falling off the auto. Every time the auto turns, I look to see if anyone has fallen off. If one of them does fall off, he gets into the next auto coming up. And when the “front loaders” need to get off, the driver, out of goodwill slows down so they can get off without getting hurt.

Come all the way to Baroda.
Autos are primarily used for taking children from school and back. Students of all sizes and ages are skilfully put into the auto – and the drivers are really good at it. It’s Tetris in a whole new dimension.
Uncle, peechhe aur jagah nahin hai!
Arre su baat karechhe? Chhe ne! Tu apna taang uske kandhe pe rakh… haan, tu apna haath uske pair ke neeche rakh… le, ban gayi jagah!
(What are you saying? There is the space! You keep your leg on his shoulder… yes, you stick your hand under his foot… there, I made your space!)
I have myself been in one of these for a couple of months and I shared it with 10 others. Excluding the driver.
Now if you are trailing an auto and the driver needs to take a turn, what would he do? Will he
[a]
. use the indicator?
[b]
. show by indication of hand sticking out of the auto?
[c]
. show by sticking his leg out in all glory with a blue strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?
[d]
. show by sticking his leg out in all glory with a yellow strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?
If you answered [a] or [b], you clearly have not visited Baroda. The answer is [c] or [d], everyone, [c] or [d]. Depending on your luck that day, you may or may not be able to see some skin.

autorickshaw

Tall tales of woe

A freakin' giraffe

A freakin' giraffe

Being tall is no joke. No, really. It isn’t. I am 6’2″ and often stared at like I am the freakin’ Empire State Building or something. If a dog is not paying attention, I might very well be a lamppost for it to relieve itself. There are so many problems associated with being tall… sigh. Where do I even begin?

Being tall reduces your general awareness of what is going on at ground level. You stub your toe more often and miss doorsteps. Or in some cases, entire bicycles. (Don’t ask.) Every foot related response is late because it takes additional time for signals to reach the brain. The worst part is when you see a notice that says “Watch your step” – you look down to save your toe, but you bump your head against the very same notice that told you to watch your step. For the benefit of tall people, they should have a notice near the foot that says “Watch your head too“. In my parents hometown, I cannot stand up straight completely because the ceiling fan might take my head. And those fans are fairly dirty and they have spiders. Not only will I lose my head, I will also have spiders on me.

Then comes the package of woes that are travel related. In a bus/plane, your knees touch the seat in front of you and all the vibration/turbulence shakes you from deep within. After a point (about 5 minutes) you think you are part of the bus/plane and it is your duty to vibrate along with it. When you get off the bus/plane, you wonder why everything is so shaky. You don’t fit in train berths at all. Either your legs are sticking out to face the wrath of every dude who passes the aisle, or your head is sticking out and you can hear every conversation between the chai-waala and the customer who does not want to pay Rs 5 for a cup that small. At 7:00 AM in the morning. You don’t fit in small cars and in order to drive, you need to push the driver’s seat far away just so you can get in the car. Later when your friend wants to drive, he feels very laid-back.

What if you had acrophobia? Being tall adds a foot or so to normal viewing, and that, when accompanied by the fear of heights DOES NOT HELP. You are walking down the street minding your own business, you happen to look at your feet – aaaargh! Too much height! Well, I do not have acrophobia… but what if I did?

And of course, the eternal problem of finding clothes that fit. Every T-shirt on me looks like it was originally designed to playfully display waist line assets of pretty girls. No, I DO NOT buy those tees because I value my privacy and I don’t want accidental onlookers to go “Oh, my eyes! My eyes!”. Trousers don’t reach all the way to the bottom, showing off some glorious ankle. And shoes! Oh my god, shoes. Big height needs big foot. Big foot needs big shoe. More than size 10, actually. And you don’t get that size easily.

I don’t fit in photographs! You will never find me standing absolutely straight in a picture with someone else, or a group. It’s either me or the rest of the crowd. And since we go by democracy, I need to bend weird and awkward to fit into the frame, finally giving my illustrious look of constipation.

And finally, what I call “the hug wind”. When you hug someone tall, and talk at the same time, your words are directed at his torso and they find way into his clothes. And they exit from the shirt sleeves in gusts of wind. Seriously! As a tall person, when I am hugged, all I get to hear is some buzzing and well ventilated sleeves.

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