Monday, November 05, 2007
Nothing much has changed at least in the villages in Kerala other than the impact of Harthals. There were many Harthals in the recent days and surprisingly people are cooperating with it no matter which party called for it and for what cause. Looks like all are enjoying the total stoppage of life by taking rest at home doing nothing. Soon there will be Harthal special TV shows and movies!
Bangalore is still the same with pollution and traffic chaos. The short walk from the room to office across the street is enough to start hating Bangalore. Let us see what is waiting for me here.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The last few weeks in US were eventful. The same frustration and troubles I had faced while settling down here was repeated when I had to get myself detached from here. Starting from vacating the apartment, ending electricity, internet and phone connections to selling my car and house hold items was another kind of experience. Nobody was willing to give me back my deposit in time and I am keeping my bank account open and fingers crossed while waiting for their checks. When the person who is supposed to replace me at work here didn’t get the visa in time, I had to extend my stay for two more weeks in the last minute and stay in a hotel near by the office.
During the farewell lunch given by colleagues I was asked what I will be missing most in America once I go back. It will be the good long roads here. I thoroughly enjoyed driving nice vehicles on nice roads without any hassles (and without any Police tickets). Then it will be the varieties of food ranging from the Sirloin burger at ‘Jack in the Box’ to Asiago Chicken at ‘Apple Bees’.
Did I enjoy my one year stint in US? Yes… very much. Actually this has now become my longest stint abroad and the only place where I felt like settling down for a longer time. Good money, best infrastructure, clean environment, friendly people … reasons are many for falling in love with this country. The only problem I see is the longer waiting periods for getting the residency/citizenship or even visas for that matter. If our folks from home have to come here urgently, we will be helpless if the visa gets rejected. And it takes more than a day to reach home from here in case of emergencies.
I may come back again… but for now… good bye America!
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
We started the trip at Morning and had a relaxed two hour plus drive enjoying the greenery of pine trees that dotted the sides of interstate highway I-20.
My friend was busy at his gas station and we spent few hours there waiting for his staff to turn up to replace him. While waiting there, I tried to understand the details of how these gas station plus 'you get everything here' shop is run.
The 5 security cameras inside the shop were covering all the areas and he was able to watch every nook and corner of the shop from his office room or even from his home through the connected portal using internet. It was possible to zoom in/out and pan the camera through mouse clicks enabling him to read even the numbers of an invoice!
We headed for a lunch buffet at a Chinese restaurant there and had a heavy meal. By then it was already evening and was getting late to see what Tyler is famous for.
The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden was supposed to have acres of roses of different colors and varieties. But it was the season of pruning, and we ended up enjoying the garden with few roses left here and there. Nevertheless, the garden was beautiful and there were bridal parties busy with photo sessions.
While returning, drove some miles off the highway to see the scenic country side and it was worth the time.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Photo from http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/home.htm
The mug shot of Oswald from http://jfk.ci.dallas.tx.us/We spent this weekend day at Dallas City visiting those historic places. The road where JFK was assassinated was ‘X’ marked at the points where he was hit.
The sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository now houses the museum dedicated to JFK. We spent hours there going through all the exhibits and photos and other audiovisuals that explained in all detail on what happened that day here.
The sixth floor corner window was kept open as it was on the day of assassination, and the corner where the sniper fired his shot was recreated and kept intact. The museum also showcased all the investigations and ruled out the popular conspiracy theories.
Few blocks away from the spot stood the uniquely simple memorial for JFK. It was a concrete roofless room, symbolizing an empty tomb, 30 feet high and 50 by 50 feet wide with two narrow openings facing north and south.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
We decided to celebrate it at one of the signature building of Dallas, Reunion Towers of Hyatt Regency Hotel. It is an easily recognizable landmark for Dallas and a dramatic addition to the evening skyline with its lighted dome and flashing light show.
The tower has a public observation deck as well as a restaurant and the Dome that rotate at the rate of one revolution every 55 minutes.
A less than two minute elevator ride propelled us 55 stories to the top of the Tower for a breathtaking 360-degree view of Dallas, while enjoying delicious food.
We reached there before the sunset and experienced the changing views of cityscape from day to night.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
We started the journey from Kochi 23-Jul-2007 early morning and landed at Bahrain before 9 AM. The procedures were quick and in no time we were out of the airport with a transit visa and the agent took all of us to the hotel in Manama.
The connection flight to Frankfurt was on the next day early morning 01:15 AM and hence we had a whole day to enjoy Bahrain. I knew it was the smallest country in gulf and was possible to cover the whole area in few hours. What I didn’t think of was the fierceness of desert summer sun. After taking some rest and having lunch, we attempted to go out to see some nearby places. But the scorching heat pushed us back and we limited our visits to some shops and souks.
I had been to gulf few times before and was quiet familiar with the culture here. This time I had my wife with me and Bahrain proved to be a better cross section of the gulf culture for her to experience in first hand. It was no different from countries like Saudi and Qatar in the way streets and buildings looked like. But it looked like there are more Malayalis than any where else. All the shops we walked into were having a Malayali guy, be it a cool drink parlor, dress shop or souvenir shop. We also noticed most of the shop boards are having their names in Malayalam too besides Arabic and English. There were lots of notices and posters in pure Malayalam all over the building walls on some inside streets.
Another specialty I noticed was the large number of bars and clubs all over the place. Later I learnt that Bahrain’s major income is not just from pearls or petrol or financial institutions but also from this pleasure business which attracts lots of crowd from the neighbor Saudi where religious rules forbids all this enjoyment.
We roamed around the streets for some time and bought a souvenir (the typical one – a frame containing seven different colored sands of the gulf). Bahrain Dinar is having a higher value (1 BD = 3 US$) and I paid 3 BD for this.
At evening, we made a deal with the hotel chauffeur (who is again a Malayali) to take us around the places in Bahrain. He came with his own car and for $60 took us for a three hour sight seeing drive. First we visited Bahrain Fort, located at Karbabad village. The first dwellings on this site are believed to have been constructed around 2800 BC. (I never knew gulf had such old history!) The last was built in the early 16th century by Portuguese. It was an elegant structure and the highlighting lights in the night made it more attractive. Even though it was night, the temperature outside was still not comfortable.
Next, we headed to King Fahad Causeway listening to the stories of our chauffeur which was not any different from the typical Malayali living an expatriate life in gulf. This time my wife was more convincing why I decided to move away from gulf leaving my first major job and why I am still reluctant to seek out any opportunities in gulf.
Opened in 1986, King Fahad Causeway is a remarkable 15.5 miles (25km) feat of engineering linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It is one of the most expensive bridges in the world. The causeway traverses Umm Nasan Island, which is a sanctuary for wildlife, and at halfway point there is a facility area, with a big viewpoint tower and restaurant. The view of illuminated bridge all the way from Bahrain to Saudi over the sea was interesting. We could see the long line of cars coming from Saudi waiting at the border for clearances. I was told, this line will extend to kilometers during weekends with Saudis crossing the border to enjoy the forbidden fruits.
We ended our trip with a short visit to one of the mega shopping malls in Manama city and said good bye to Bahrain. Though it’s a small country I realized that I have missed many other attractions like beaches and small islands besides some old age remnants like Burial Mounds and modern age wonders like F1 racing circuit. But Bahrain is still very much accessible and I may get a chance again.
The season was busy with air travelers and I had to pay dearly for the last minute tickets. Started from Dallas on Monday (9-Jul-2007) after noon and reached Kochi through Frankfurt and Bahrain on Wednesday (11-Jul-2007) early morning. Another four hour drive from there to reach home at Manjeri was really tiring after this entire air trip.
Kerala (and also other parts of India) was hit by a rare form of viral fever known as Chikungunya causing many people to die. Besides there was the worst monsoon ever had, flooding most of the areas and affecting power distribution and transportation. Thankfully none we know were affected by this rare fever though many were sick with other kinds of fever common in monsoon. All this with the limited days for planning a not so small wedding event, made our vacation really hectic. But still, it was fun to gather will all family members again. I didn’t even notify many of my friends about my vacation as I knew there won’t be enough quality time to catch up with everyone.
Finally, the wedding event happened on 21-Jul-2007 without much hassles and the day was full of sunshine. Next day, we started our return trip completing our 15 day vacation out of which 5 days were spent for travel.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Over all... it was a cool break in the middle of a week... :)
Saturday, June 16, 2007
When I was going through my detailed bank account statement, I noticed $10 Debit with the description 'wli*shopperdiscount'. I didn't have any clue on how I spent that money on that day, but thought may be it is just my memory issue. Later I saw this repeating every month and I decided to investigate it immediately. But as usual kept postponing till it was 5 months. A simple Google search with 'wli*shopperdiscount' pointed me to a blog post which informed that it is from a company named Web Loyalty and it is possible to get refund by contacting them.
They refunded me $50 they had taken from my account and also explained me how the whole thing happened. Those who are interested in reading this long story, go ahead...
There were hundreds of comments to that blog post, from various people explaining how they got ripped off without their knowledge. Many however mentioned that, they got their money refunded. One comment was from a VP of Web Loyalty asking everyone to contact him for an explanation.
So I wrote the following email to him:
" In my bank statement, I noticed $10 charged every month with a description WLI*SHOPPERDISCOUNT 800. One blog site (http://leblog.exuberance.com/2006/03/why_does_wlisho.html) pointed out that this is from your organization and I saw your comment saying that you will help us identify the issue and refund the money I lost.
As far as I remember I have not subscribed for this service. Like others noticed, may be some of the web site I transacted must have sold my CC info to you or must have made me click on an offer without disclosing that I will be charged every month for something that I do not want or know.
My credit card ends at XXXX and I request your immediate action to refund all the money taken from my account. I also request you to provide more information on how this happened, so that I can post those details in blogs and let my friends and families know. I am very much interested and eager to know that how you are going to explain this action as hundreds of people are complaining about this and your web site still claims that its a good business model. As evident from the blog posts, your business model has made many of us to take the decision of not shopping online from the web site from where we got trapped (may be since we didn't read all the fine prints!). "
I got an immediate response as below:
" Thank you for contacting us so that we can address your concerns.
We are sorry if there was any misunderstanding regarding the membership as we strive to make our offers as clear as possible. As you requested, we've cancelled the membership and issued you refunds for the 5 monthly membership charges that you incurred. These refunds should appear shortly in your credit card account depending upon how frequently your credit card issuer posts transactions.
I will be happy to provide you with details on how the membership was initiated so that your concerns are fully addressed. I am in the process of collecting those details and will send them to you tomorrow in a separate email. "
And few days later another email with attachments showing their offer and email templates:
" As you requested, I am providing you background information on how the Shopper Discounts & Rewards membership was initiated.
On December 25, 2006, when you completed an online transaction with www.wirefly.com, you enrolled in Shoppers Discount & Rewards by clicking on a $10 cash back award, entering your email address twice and clicking “YES” on an enrollment button. I've attached the actual page through which you joined. Please note that directly above the section for entering email addresses, the text advises that you are authorizing the secure transfer of your name, address and credit or debit card information to Shoppers Discount & Rewards for billing and benefit processing. Immediately after accepting the membership offer you were presented with a membership acknowledgement page and within 10 minutes a membership confirmation email with details on how to use the membership was sent to your email address. These are also attached for your review.
We sent you seven more emails from January 2, 2007 through May 24, 2007 with details of the membership. The one that was sent to you on January 11, 2007 informed you that your 30-day free trial would end in 14 days and that you would be billed unless you cancelled your membership. If you would like me to send you copies of these emails, just let me know.
I hope this helps to clarify how the membership was initiated and why you were charged the membership fees. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions for improving our service or to further discuss this matter. "
I verified my email archives and found this claim to be true. Now I remembered that I had clicked on some offer that appeared as harmless without actually reading the details.
By this time they had refunded my $50 as 5 different transactions of $10.
So now you know the whole story! And one of the comment to another blog post with this issue from a person claimed to be WebLoyalty employee says it all...
"WebLoyalty depends on idiots like you to NOT notice this stuff. To be blinded by the idea that you are getting something for “free”. To not look at your credit card statement so charges go through every month. Its unbelievable the amount of dummies out there that fall for this stuff. Even if you do catch the charges eventually, and get a refund they still made money off of you by collecting interest on your money when they had possession of it."
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Another new Malayalam movie release here in US. Watching Vinodayathra from Fun Asia theater in Dallas this weekend was fun. Though it does not meet the earlier standards of Sathyan Anthikkad movies, it surely was entertaining and to some extend thought provoking. Sathyan throws pieces of all prevalent social issues in Kerala with an incredible humor sense. I liked Dileep in his innocent irresponsible youth who is trying to avoid the bigger responsibilities of life. Like most of us, until there is a compelling reason, we tend to live the easy life trying to turn a blind eye on issues we face daily, while discussing in detail about Iraq war and Bush Administration. Mukesh reminds us of his role in Godfather genre movies. Meera Jasmine is at her best always, but this particular role looked so repetitive.
The theater was almost full when we watched this movie. Obviously all of them must be Mallus as there was no subtitles for the movie. There was this family sitting just behind me and one of the kids (obviously born in America and speaks only English) kept on asking his dad every now and then what the characters were talking. Dad patiently translated all Malayalam dialogues for his kid to understand the movie better. It was funny, and at the same time pity to hear him say things like "She is asking him what is the cost of one pound of rice?".
Sunday, June 03, 2007
I was reading a TIME article on how Professor Stephen Hawking experienced the Freedom of Weightlessness by flying in a special aircraft 'G-Force One'. That's when I knew that there are ways to experience zero gravity without going to space.
Earlier I had read news about 'Virgin Galactic'. They are the the world’s first spaceline, which is on track to offer commercial spaceflight for the public. Then there was this article in Malayalam news papers that confirmed that one of the few selected for their first flight is a Mallu (The 'Sancharam' travel TV show host).
I read all the related news then and found the idea too much tempting. A trip to the space to watch earth from top and experience zero gravity will be surely the ultimate of all trips. But the cost of $200,000 (almost 80 Laks Indian Rupees) is too high for me!
Now here is 'G-Force One' from 'Zero G'. Its a normal Boeing aircraft modified to fly a parabolic flight maneuvers that will create temporary weightlessness. And the total cost is only $3,500. Now this is really tempting!
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Even though many of my friends and their families had committed earlier to join us for this vacation, they all changed their plans as expected J leaving me and my wife alone to enjoy the vacation in peace.
On Saturday, we started very early in the morning to catch Flight 101 of US Airways to Las Vegas from Dallas Fort Worth airport. We reached there by 07:30 AM after a two hour flight and headed straight to the McCarran Airport car rental center to pick up our compact Mazda car from Hertz. Our hotel (Riviera) was not very far (on Last Vegas Blvd, known as The Strip), but they didn’t allow us to check in early. So we headed for Red Rock Canyon which was just half an hour drive from Vegas.
Red Rock Canyon conservation area has large red sandstone peaks popular for hiking and rock climbing. We started from the Visitors Center picking up the brochures and maps and drinking plenty of water. It has a one-way loop road, 13 miles (21 km) long, providing vehicle access to many of the view points and hiking trails in the canyon. We stopped at the first view point named Calico and hit the hiking trails to get a closer look of those strange red rock formations. Climbing those rocks was not tough and was interesting except for the scorching sun. By the time we were back from the rocks, we were out of water supply and thirst was killing us. Nevertheless we continued enjoying the vistas and completed the scenic loop drive looking for water and not finding it anywhere, and stopping at all view points (but not hiking any more). We should have carried enough water!
The most significant geologic feature of Red Rock Canyon is the Keystone Thrust Fault. A thrust fault is a fracture in the earth's crust where one rock plate is thrust horizontally over another. About 65 million years ago, it is believed that two of the earth's crustal plates collided with such force that part of one plate was shoved up and over younger sandstones. This thrust contact is clearly defined by the sharp contrast between the grey limestones and the red sandstones.
Why are the rocks RED? Here is the explanation from Keystone Visitor Guide:
More than 600 million years ago, the land that would become Red Rock Canyon was the bottom of a deep ocean basin. Over time, changing land and sea levels resulted in the deposition of both ocean and continental sediments that became the gray limestone found at Red Rock Canyon today. About 180 million years ago, a giant sand dune field formed over what became the Western United States. Powerful winds shifted the sands back and forth, forming angled lines in the sand. Over time, the sheer weight of the layers of sand compressed into stone. This formation, locally known as Aztec Sandstone, is quite hard and forms the cliffs of Red Rock Canyon. Exposure to the elements caused some of the iron-bearing minerals to oxidize. This oxidizing process can be more easily thought of as a "rusting of the sand," which resulted in red, orange and tan colored rocks.
By the time we reached our hotel room back from Red Rock Canyon we knew well how exhausting the desert sun can make you after a day trip. So for the next day’s trip to Grand Canyon, we carried lots of water and snacks.
On Sunday morning, we started the road drive from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon and covered a distance of about 300 miles (482 kilometers) in more than 5 hours. The drive was really thrilling with straight roads (US-93 and I-40) cutting across vast deserts with changing landscapes and I was able to hit the 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour mark at times.
We stopped at Lake Mead and Hoover Dam at the border of Nevada and Arizona states. By the time we reached Grand Canyon, it was almost noon. It was over crowded with long weekend tourists and finding a parking place was really difficult.
Though I had seen many photos and videos of Grand Canyon, I never had an idea how it will be to feel and experience one of the world’s premier natural attractions and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon is a very colorful, steep-sided gorge or chasm (a deep valley), carved by the Colorado River cutting a channel over about 6 million years through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. It is 277 miles (446 km) long, ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles (0.4 to 24 kilometers), and attains a depth of more than a mile (1.6 km). Nearly two billion years of the Earth's history has been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut through layer after layer of sediment as the Colorado Plateaus have uplifted.
We landed on the south side (known as South Rim) of this deep cut on earth’s face and the views from there were breath taking. There were many activities possible other than sight seeing, like helicopter rides, water rafting in the river, hiking down to the bottom of canyon and camping there a night, etc which demanded more time and planning besides money. So we limited our experience to hiking through the rim taking time to enjoy the wonders of nature. Also we spent considerable time at the visitors centre learning the historical and geographical details of canyon.
Sun set and sun rise were special in Grand Canyon as it will cast a magical effect of lights and shadows on the canyon walls. So we waited until sun set and watched this magical play from Hopi Point.
The return trip was not that nice and we were totally exhausted when we reached back to our hotel room in Vegas at around 3 AM in the night.
So the next day, we spent most of the time sleeping as anyway it didn’t make much sense to explore Vegas in the day light as the city has all its activities rolling in the night. We started exploring the attractions in the city by evening, and soon realized that there were too many man made wonders along the Vegas streets, than we could cover in a whole night.
The last day in Vegas was again needed for taking rest rather than adding more places to our ‘To See’ list. We went to airport early and were back in Dallas by 9 PM, ending our longest vacation in America.