< July 2006 >
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Thu, 27 Jul 2006:

Words fail me. To explain the grandeur of this lake, I find my vocabulary lacking and my prose insufficent. To compare it with anything else I have seen would be in vain. But to do justice to this travelogue, I should at least make an attempt. The Pangong Tsu is one of the must-see sights in all of Ladakh.

All six of us, headed out of Leh towards Pangong Tsu sometime around nine. After a good hours's drive out, we passed Shey palace and through the familiar roads we had passed yesterday. We stopped at Karu to buy provisions and stock up on food. After leaving behind Karu, we speeded up and made good time on the valley floor while the going was good. We passed through some interesting country, past a few military camps (Chusul Warriors and Eagles), on our way up to the high passes. This region, being so close to China, is a highly militarized zone. The army presence however is hardly obstrusive and caused no hassles for us. We, of course, had an inner line permit for travel this close to the border.

Sometime near noon, we started climbing up to Chang La, which after Khardung La and Taglang la, is the third highest motorable road in the world. But this time around, we were properly acclimatized, properly clothed and the sun was shining bright. After a couple of half-hearted snow fights (yes, I had bought gloves for this trip) and a hot cup of cinnamon tea, we descended into the greener valleys beyond.

The valley was beautiful, green and had wild horses grazing all over. We even saw a small herd of domesticated yaks. After passing through a few streams and past muddy plains, we reached a valley unlike any other we'd seen so far. The valley floor was covered in sand, looking not quite unlike a beach, but without an ocean to match. We really wanted to go down and investigate, but we were eager to reach the lake and find accomodation.

But we soon found the missing ocean. The Pangong lake is salty, though not in a sea salt way. This lake tasted more of potassium salts than the usual sodium chloride. The lake has no drainage and has fresh glacial water flowing into it. There are hardly any fish in this lake and even fewer algae. All this results in a crystal clear, blue lake of picture perfection.

The place we had landed up was called Lukung and there was a guesthouse there with three rooms. And due to all our hurrying on the way (oh, I kid) we were the first ones to get there. Our guesthouse was hardly half a kilometre away from the lake, though you wouldn't feel the distance because there are no trees to give you a sense of scale. Basically it felt like you were next door to the lake.

To complete the illusion of the sea, there were sea gulls here, which feed on the crustaceans who seem to be thriving in the shallows. We wasted some time skimming stones on the flat surface of the lake. After sending enough stones skimming through the lake's flat surface, three of us took off our shoes and stepped into the water. There is a bay formation around the corner where we were and the water was shallow for as far as I could see. The first few minutes felt cold, then it was as if my body had adjusted to the fact that I was going to go ankle deep into cold water.

Having wet our feet and generally enjoying the water, we climed out and decided to get higher before the sunset. We climbed the nearby hillock and got to a higher view point to watch the entire curve of the bay from above. As we watched the sun set behind us, what we were seeing turned into a moonscape of sorts. The salt deposited by the lake on the flood plain turned the ground into this bright white surface while the dark blue of the lake made for contrast.

There are no power lines in Lukung. We couldn't charge our cameras, nor could we transfer the photos out of our cameras. The dinner consisted of maggi instant noodles, cooked watery and omlettes. We at that in the dim candle light and decided to call it a day. But one step outside and we were stunned by what we saw in the sky.

Whole sky was lit and in the clear air of the high altitude, I could see more stars than I have ever done before. As we tried to identify the stars, we were unable to find the Orion in the night sky. There were too many stars to actually spot the characteristic three star belt of orion. But as we were hunting for Orion, we saw something move very quickly across the sky. The reddish spot moving from South east to North west was probably a sattelite. And in a few minutes, we spotted a couple more of the sattelites moving in polar orbits. As we were scanning the skies for more, a shooting star passed by in the N.W sky. We spent the good part of the next thirty minutes watching the meteors expend themselves in the atmosphere. It was a star gazer's dream and I shall not forget that sky for a while.

The guesthouse was sheltered behind a hillock and safely out of the cold wind. Without any heating of any sort, by midnight all of us were feeling hot inside our blankets. But generally I had a good night's sleep. We had planned to wake up really early to see the sunrise and I had my alarms set for quarter past five.

I woke up sometime past five and discovered that the sky was too cloudy for a good sunrise. Vinayak and Rishi were already out on the bay, scaring birds (*heh*) and trying to photograph the rising sun. After a few more minutes of procrastination, I walked up to the bay and watched the light reflect off the lake surface. It was brilliant - to watch a lake turn into pure silver and slowly darken into a brilliant azure.

I took a walk along the length of the bay. It was a really windy day and the lake ripples were becoming nearly full-fledged waves. I took an hour long walk towards Pangmik, though turned back because I had no idea of when we would be leaving camp. My only lasting regret is that I didn't climb the zig zag trail up on the mountain nearby.

After a bit more time of non-commital wandering, I had breakfast and finished catching up on my journal. We headed back to Tang-Tse and passed by those sand drifts. But this time around, we went down and I even took a small bag back for Premshree. At Tang-Tse, we ran into an archery competition. After watching the archers for a while and having had lunch, we headed back up Chang La. Except for running into a Himalayan Marmot sunning itself on a rock, the rest of the journey was uneventful.

On the way to Leh, we had an amazing idea. Why not stop at Thiksey and enjoy the hospitality of the Chamba restaurant. I had honey pancakes and they were just awesome. After all that, we finally got back to the guesthouse. And we had a few laughs on the way thanks to the B.R.O's sense of humour.

We had gotten to the hotel a bit early and were not quite ready to turn in yet. So we sat out there in the courtyard talking to the other guests. There was a french dude and a british dude playing the guitar and an irish couple. There were some quite interesting conversations about a lot of things. Then something weird happened. The irish couple were smoking something and quite out of nowhere, started passing around the cigarrete. The blonde girl sitting next me offered me a drag and I said NO. The french guy shrugged, the brit said good for you ! and *then* the girl said "When I saw your hair, I thought you smoked pot". And somebody said that right now I looked like a pot plant. Anyway, the dinner had arrived, which I promptly bolted and called it a day (because a day it had been).

You can't judge a book by the way it wears its hair.

posted at: 18:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

How many times have you run into a CD which would let you play a file off the disk, but wouldn't let you copy it out ? It is one of those irritating problems, which should really have a simple solution. Most AVI files are fairly error tolerant, they wouldn't really care if a few KB are missing from the video stream, as long as they can locate the next key-frame, it will keep playing forward. So playing an AVI off scratched media will often work without much disturbance, but it would be near impossible for a normal copy program to create a copy of the file.

Even though you can accomplish the same task with dd noerror, it tries to recover every bit of data possible which is not something that you require when you are trying to copy a large number of files off a DVD. So I basically hacked up a small program which would leave zero-padded 4k holes wherever the disk area wasn't readable. The program accomplishes this by the easiest way possible - by running the following in a loop.

if(i < len) 
        i += BLOCK_SIZE;
        copyblock(dest, src, i, BLOCK_SIZE, len);

Now, that'd obviously result in a very near fork-bomb of your machine while copying a 700Mb file. So I added code so that a fixed number of processes are spawned to start off while the next process is started off only after one of the processes die off. Also, to improve the copying efficency I increased the BLOCK_SIZE to 64k but still wanted to make sure that the size of the errored blocks weren't more than 4k. So I added a retry section, which would spawn 16 processes each handling a 4k block of the errored 64k.

deadproc = wait(&status);

if(WIFSIGNALED(status) && WTERMSIG(status) == SIGBUS)
    /* retry */

Now the awesome part of this program is not how it works. The really cool thing is to attach strace to this and watch the fork() in operation as well as the SIGCHILD return back. Also it is a very simple example of how something like APC shares memory between all the apache children with mmap (though without any locks). There might just be a better approach for this particular problem, using signal(SIGBUS), but that is left as an exercise to the reader.

Here's the code for the curious. And remember, if you are still running on x86 32 bit, memory mapping big files might cause your OS to run out of address space.

(1) Never draw what you can copy.
(2) Never copy what you can trace.
(3) Never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

posted at: 11:44 | path: /hacks | permalink | Tags: ,

Wed, 19 Jul 2006:

By the 22nd, we had our plans straightened out and fully booked for. Our local monastery (gonpa) tour started out an hour late, by about 9 in the morning. After picking up Amol and Vinod, we headed out of Leh. The sightseeing circuit in Leh is heavily controlled by a sort of guild which operates on a fixed rate and is completely protectionist. So all operators basically charge the same rate and there are unofficial checkposts to prevent other taxis from doing tours. Anyway, we had got a pretty decent Toyota Qualis to travel in, but the driver only spoke broken hindi.

Shey Palace: Our first stop was Shey palace which sits on a hill facing a green valley. The green of the valley contrasted heavily against the barren hills that surround them. Where there is water and shelter from the north winds, mankind has made its niche in ladakh. The palace had a buddha statue, but I was more interested in the view outside.

Thiksey Gonpa: Next up, we went to visit the gonpa at Thiksey. An amazing monastery and school, bang on the leeward side of a hill almost covering the entire hill. We stopped for breakfast (a second one) at the foot of the hill, in the Chamba restaurant, owned and operated by the monastery itself. The food was good and the ambience was calming. Thanks to a customer endorsement for metrogyl, we were all in good spirits before we went up to the monastery.

We went uphill by the road. The monastery was a relatively big one, with an entire wall full of murals. The view from the monastery was amazing and so was the monastery itself. The central courtyard walls were covered in murals and so were the inner walls. I was quite surprised to see a candy bowl near the deities, full of chocolates and biscuits. We hung around there for a while, looking at the various message scrolls hung up there. After nearly a good hour spent there, we headed out.

Hemis Gonpa: After Thiksey, we headed towards the hidden monastery of Hemis. The monastery is completely hidden away amidst the hills and is not visible till you take the last turn. The monastery was relatively inactive and cold like a fridge. You can literally sense the past being preserved in this half-frozen temple.

Matho: We moved on from Hemis on to the village of Matho and into the monastery. The monastery stands as before, on top of a hill overlooking the village. The gonpa is famous for its oracles, who are possessed by the spirits of good and demonstrate their other sight by running on the walls blind folded. But by the time we arrived, we were possessed by the spirits of photography and all of us were more interested in clicking away than actually seeing the sights.

Stok Palace: The last stop was Stok palace, which is still inhabited by the royal family. Only five rooms were open for visitors in the palace and photography is prohibited inside the palace. The display cases are full of preserved jewelery, especially turquoise and jade. The one thing that caught my attention was a Damascus steel sword, tied into a neat knot. Legend has it that some king grew so strong and powerful that he had no regard for the holy men of the land, so one of them put the king in his place by performing the simple task of tying the king's sharp steel sword into the knot. But other than that curio, I found the palace quite boring.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant day's outing. The roads were good, flat and generally straight, the sky clear and we passed through some very interesting countryside. And I learned my first word of ladakhi - Julley !.

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some don't have film.

posted at: 00:47 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Tue, 18 Jul 2006:

The problem with taking photos in a moving car is that it is very hard to get the baseline of the photo on the horizontal. So eventually to get a decent pic, you need to rotate the photo. But after rotation, you need to crop it back to a square. All operations which take time and is relatively annoying. So, I wrote a gimp script.

  r = math.sqrt(x*x + y*y)/2
  # as calculated for top left corner
  theta = math.radians(45)
  phi = math.radians(45 + angle)
  dx = r * math.cos(phi) - r * math.cos(theta)
  # -1 * because as the angle comes down, our y decreases
  dy = -1 * (r * math.sin(phi) - r * math.cos(theta))

Basically, this python-fu script (rot-crop.py) does both operations together and gives you a cropped rectangular image.

rotated 6 odd degrees

Script-Fu is esoteric stuff, but the python plugins can actually be read, understood and written by mere mortals like me.

My geometry teacher was sometimes acute, and sometimes obtuse, but always,
always, he was right.
       [That's an interesting angle.  I wonder if there are any parallels?]

posted at: 02:22 | path: /hacks | permalink | Tags: , ,

'Ti's a tale of original sin. Is mankind selfish and evil by nature and that civilization has tamed them or did the noble savage become corrupted by the evil influence of society ? The debate is not a new one, with Hobbes holding fort for one side and Rousseau cheering on the other. Matt Ridley rides both paths deep into the subject, but to realize that neither can explain our actions completely. For the fans of Dawkins and Selfish Gene, this book will serve as a good second volume of the story, devoted to the human animal.

In the first chapter of the book, the concept of the Greater Good is dissected and laid bare. The selfishness of the individual is not a direct consequence of selfish genes and yet an individual becomes less of a well oiled machine aimed at survival and reproduction. Then we examine the myth of self-sufficiency, and the advantages division of labour brings, which can serve for the maintenance of societies. More accurately, trade and skilled labour.

But before we get too much into the territory of hawks and doves, the semantics of benevolence is put to the test. Sympathetic responses carry with them an obvious emotional reward on satisfaction. If helping somebody did make you feel better, was that an act of true altruism ? But before we destroy the whole concept of altruism, we head back towards understanding why it feels good to do good.

Duty and the Feast: Why would a hunter hunt when most of his catch is shared out to males who didn't participate in the hunt ? The sharing of meat is prevalent while plant produce is hardly ever shared out. The answer seems to be that mankind were poor hunters to start with. We were completely unequipped to be carnivores and meat was mostly a matter of luck and providence. So sharing the meat meant that the risk of going hungry was spread out among more people. It is a very good way of reducing the risk without reducing overall supply. But what's to stop the idler from exploiting the hunter and not having to work for the meat ? In other words, who'll pay for the lighthouse when everybody gets light for free ?

There's the point to redefine yet another human concept - Prestige. No man can eat a whole mammoth, but by giving it out he can exchange the perishable good into something more durable - social status. The hunter who regularly brings in meat for the tribe is likely to end up with the best women (directly or indirectly) than the idler who sat by the trail picking his nose. The social marketplace repays meat with other favours, in some sort of indirect reciprocity.

But there are other more compelling reasons to give. Hunter gatherer societies seem to have achieved the zen of comfortable living. To live comfortably, aspire for moderate means and achieve them. Rather than go further into luxury and risk jealousy, they stop. In most of these societies, to be rich is to refuse to share. An eskimo caught hoarding can be killed. The taboo paves way for equality and eliminates the class struggle, which has been the cause of economic strife for most of the modern era (count the revolutions).

Morality is drawn into the equation in the next chapter, with the rationality of most of our behaviour questioned. Often we are turned away from the rational alternative of say, taking a bribe, embezzling money or murdering your neighbour, by simple fact that we have evolved a sense of Right and Wrong. Unconsciously or even sub-consciously, we are aware that trust in us by the rest is worth preserving. Trust is the coin of trade and we are eager to prove our capacity for altruism in order to gain it.

Hypocrite's Oath: We admire selflessness. We love the Mother Theresas of the world. But we do not let altruism rule our life directly. We simply do not practise what we preach. The more other people people practise altruism, the better for us. The more we follow self-interest, the better for us. So realistically, we should follow self-interest in private, yet encourage altruism in public. And that we do.

You and what army ? : Ridley, then goes on into the root of human conflict. The group warfare of mankind is not unique among species, but only we take it to a scale of complete destruction. The extreme nature of the armies of mankind rise from the built-in conformism which lends itself well to the organization of relatively homogeneous armies of vast numbers. Face it, we're not very strong individualists.

There were wars, trade and laws before civilization took root. So what did exactly civilization bring in ? The first man who fenced off a part of pasture and said 'Mine' and found people simple enough to accept it was its true founder. If only someone had realized how much misery and horror mankind would have been spared if not for that ...

Property is one of the corner stones of civilization. Without the concept of ownership, the common turns into what is known as the Tragedy of Commons. Give a man a desert to own, it shall become a garden in nine years, but give him lease of a garden for nine, it shall become a desert. Arthur Young was spot on in saying that the magic of property turns sand into gold. But as in the fable of the man running, property meant that you could always want more and indeed own more. With that crucial step, we had broken through the taboo of hoarding and the first steps into civilization had taken mankind away from the true and narrow path of contentment.

So all in all, we were built by selfish genes who found it more convenient to make us social, trustworthy and co-operative beings. The essential paradox contained in Man remains unresolved. We are not the blank slate on which civilization has written and yet we are no more our past selves than you were the kid in your baby pictures. We have changed, but we are yet the same.

We do good and we do bad, but truly we are neither.

In Nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences.
               -- R.G. Ingersoll

posted at: 02:13 | path: /books | permalink | Tags: ,

Thu, 13 Jul 2006:

It has always been Us vs Them, only the definitions of either group have varied for mankind. The fact that we are "We" isn't due to "Me", it has always been because of "Them". The phenomena is not restricted to the world outside, but into the air conditioned world of the software industry. Rather than just poke the sordid underbelly of my chosen profession, I wanted to understand how exactly this came to be.

The polarization evolves from a geographical split. An indian wing of a US MNC or an offshore ODC of one could serve as a sufficient model. The cultural and timezone differences aside, the system functions smoothly when the wing is small, yet doing really important things. But somewhere during the latter phase of its growth, things start to go wrong. Work that could have been done by "Us" (yes, it begins...) is kept for "Them", even though they are understaffed or overworked. Suddenly a log jam starts to appear in the smooth flow and you can literally feel the disparity in treatment.

The problem has its roots in communication. While the communication channels remain person to person, as is common with a small outpost of a company elsewhere, the problems, if any, remain purely personal and has none of the communal hatred of the Us vs Them. Then arrives the manager who, for lack of other tasks, takes up the job of communication. Well intentioned maybe, but the moment an engineer has to send a mail to a manager who has to communicate it elsewhere, the seeds of disparity are sown. Information shouldn't need to go up levels to traverse teams. Hierarchies get in the way of information and the barriers start to rise as growth pushes the pyramid upwards.

But there are some managers who seem to have avoided this problem by being so transparent that they seem to be hardly there. My career so far has been short and uneventful (mostly), but it has been my pleasure to work with two individuals who, in my opinion, have discovered the zen of management. To be completely frank with their reportees and extremely diplomatic with their superiors is how they function. Compared to the fold like umbrellas attitudes others have shown towards authority, I have found the other strategy to be better at motivating me. Transparency means that you know why you have to work harder and what's on the line here. Consequences of a boss's displeasure isn't enough to make me work hard, but a real failure of the project is.

But back to the original problem, beyond communication and onto competition. The moment a manager starts collating his bug reports and TPS sheets, it becomes a game of numbers. Now, if you haven't read How to lie with statistics, you should. So some team will have done a bit more or a bit less and the obvious comparisons between the two teams will be made. Unwanted parallels drawn to the disadvantage of the team lagging behind. Once this has been dragged out into the open by somebody, it becomes an open contest for next year.

Competition works. Margaret Thatcher was a great fan of the concept. But a software firm is more of a non-zero sum game than the free market, especially since the customer (who wins) isn't playing the game at all. Like the old game of prisoner's dilemma, the teams draw up their perceived benefits of co-operation or defection (more accurately, delaying or denying help). But as the game suggests, it should easily fall into a cycle of co-operation, if communication was open and clear.

That is where the next tragedy of the software industry comes in. Attrition rates and job hopping essentially means that the shadow of the future is rather short. For the average employee, he'll not be here to play the next round. So as in the one-off version of the game, his obvious choice is to always defect.

In this race to be the one first up with a product, to make the most money, to get the most kudos for their product, a silo of thinking develops. People start reinventing the wheels merely because the other team doing the same thing elsewhere is not co-operating (also because they stand to lose a chunk of the credit). Time and money wasted. Important products slip merely because a manager doesn't want to ask for help.

The lack of communication explodes into a cycle of non-productivity and credit grabbing which are short term benefits paid for by somebody else in the long term. But in reality, you merely end up paying for somebody else's mistakes of the past and merely passing on new burdens to your successors. Unburdened by any past sins, the first generation which indulges in these seem to come out winning.

What could have been a peaceful working environment is now wracked by underground politics which cuts through the basic helplines of the employees - other employees. The command structures demand no creativity, a task which is solidly obeyed in levels below ("the easiest thing to do is to never have good ideas"). Thus a hierarchy has divided and ruled for its own benefit and paved way for its ultimate downfall, merely by replacing the individual with a collective Us in constant conflict with Them ("We'd always been at war with Eurasia").

I've seen the disease and I haven't found a cure yet. Prevention yes, but a cure no.

"Don't worry about the mule. Just load the wagon."
                                -- Project Management Simplified

posted at: 04:01 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: ,

Wed, 12 Jul 2006:

June 20th: The day long journey to Leh was really tiring and I had planned to sleep till it was late afternoon to compensate. But 'twas not to be, Vinayak's cellphone woke me up around ten. None of our phones were working in Leh. Only BSNL and Airtel have a presence in the valley, but even Airtel allows only post-paid phones to roam inside Jammu & Kashmir. So I asked the hotel guy for directions and headed out towards the town to make some calls.

Our guesthouse was called Tse-Mo View and somehow seemed stuck between a pun for See More and Same 'Ol. It was stuck on the westward side of the palace, in between the Tse-Mo monastery and the Santhi Gonpa. The market was hardly a kilometre away, but the getting used to the alitude is more of a gradual thing.

But it was a bright day, with blue skies like I've never seen before. We spent most of the day just sitting around in the hotel. There is an SBI ATM in Leh which is a boon to travellers and I headed there to withdraw some much needed cash. After an attempted lunch at the La Terrase, we stuck around in the guesthouse, waiting for Amol and planning the trip ahead.

After meeting up with Amol, sometime around 7:45, we went to a pizzeria where a TV set was attracting football fans. After a pleasant half-hour of discussions, we got back to the guesthouse. My dinner consisted of a flattened noodle like preparation called the Thupka.

June 21st: We had plans to do some sightseeing today, to visit some nearby monasteries and local sights. But the obvious communication gap caused by the lack of cellphones prevented us from co-ordinating this with the other group. But we woke up early, nonetheless. Eventually we decided to take it as another day off to acclimatise.

But we managed to meet up with the rest of the gang by lunch and planned to trek up to the Tse Mo monastery and the Namgyal palace. The palace and the monastery sit up on a crumbling gravel sided hill. There is a motorable road which goes up to the palace, but you could see a shorter foot trail on the north face of the hill. We decided to get our body into gear with a climb up. Rishi however was experiencing a full download, if you know what I mean, and did not accompany us.

So, equipped with a water bottle full of honey lemon water and morale high, we ended up behind the masjid trying to find our way out of the twisting lanes. The lanes finally gave way to steps up to the palace.

The palace overlooks the entire town and is under restoration. It has the smell of fresh varnish and drying soft-woods. Considering the traditional architecture, the palace does indeed look like it is fit for a king. But to the naive traveller, it looks like a dive suitable for somebody with an aversion for windows. The central courtyard on the roof was quite interesting, as was the wood carvings on the pillars. But we still had the foot trail up to climb and did not waste too much time inside the palace.

The trail up was really scary. Until I got some confidence and my second wind, I was really not sure I'd get to the top. Our shoes weren't made for the terrain and neither was our minds. Every slight slip you made, every time you looked downwards on what awaits on a fall, the message was hammered in by your brain. We took about forty full minutes to climb the three kilometres of the gravel trail.

We got to the bottom of the monastery and then the next challenge awaited. The monastery was on top of a few more rocks which seemed like a bad idea to try. But given the success we'd so far had, we went for it and climbed to the very top. And the view was definitely worth the effort.

After spending twenty odd minutes on the top, we started to walk down by the road. Soon we realized that the road would take us far out of Leh, before it took us home. Despite my objections on climbing down in the dark, we took the first downhill path we found. The path got a little tricky further down, but we literally crawled on all limbs to get across to the safe path down. The it was all downhill and we literally ran down the slope.

Took a long look backwards and ended up at the hotel. But instead of heading to the town for dinner, Vinayak decided to eat at the guesthouse. I headed out to the Ibex restaurant for a completely horrible dinner. Thanks to a crowd of american tourists, our orders got pushed back for nearly an hour and eventually we got something we didn't order. Anyway, after a few complaints to the manager and a 20% discount, we headed back unsatisfied with the food.

I was extremely tired, but still slightly excited from the trip up. I slept like a log.

Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
               -- Sir Walter Raleigh

posted at: 21:09 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 10 Jul 2006:

There are times when all things come together. Yesterday was one of those days, when we all piled onto spo0nman's balcony to watch the football on a big screen. After pulling together sabiokap's TV, a cable connection and a projector on rent, we had our own party at midnight.

Despite premshree preparing various cocktails (ok, it had coffee, kiwi fruit, watermelons, vodka, rum, wine and beer in it), we all managed to have a lot of fun. We watched the match, into extra time and till Cannavaro lifted up the cup. The absolute shocker was of course Zi Zou's head butt, but apparently Materrazi should've seen it coming. What ever goes around, comes around.

But lots of fun and sugar (*giggle*).

There are no winners, only survivors.

posted at: 19:16 | path: /parties | permalink | Tags: ,

Sat, 08 Jul 2006:

We had hired a Sumo to travel from Manil to Leh. The travels guy had said that the journey would get us to Leh by late evening on the same day (16 hours). But when we were woken up by the driver at 2 AM, we realized that the journey according to him would take 22-odd hours instead of the barely bearable sixteen. After just two hours sleep, three of us packed ourselves into the back of the Sumo.

The initial two hours of the journey was in nearly complete darkness to reach Rohtang La by day break. During the descent from the pass, we could see the east skies slowly brighten up. After stopping in Khoksar for tea and snacks, we headed towards the chenab valley.

Past Keylong, the roads got really bad. This can hardly be called a highway. After passing keylong, we ended up at Darcha, near a bridge across some river. We stopped there for breakfast and had an excellent stuffed paranthas. I'd been eating the cheese slices with anything I get and this was no exception.

At Baralacha la, we all got out and had our first contact with snow. It was probably a mistake to pick up snow without wearing gloves, but I didn't have any gloves at all. But I did pick up some snow and ended up with my hands looking rather blue.

The whole journey was made even rougher because of the climbs and the descents. The various passes we went up and the further climb down was playing havoc with my breathing. To climb, six thousand feet in less than two hours and to climb down immediately is not my idea of fun. Somewhere in the descent to Keylong, I had thrown up.

Sometime near two, we passed on from Himachal into Jammu, into what passes for plains in this country of hills. The Sarchu plains would be more approriately called a plateau and is one of the first high alitude camps we ran into. We stopped there for lunch and as usual had the parathas, dal & rice. While we were in Sarchu, the wind picked up speed and it started to snow. As much as I'd have loved to see the snow flakes float down, I was more afraid of the road ahead.

We had to make it to Pang before five or we'd be forced to stay out of Taglang La till the next morning. The pace picked up and the driver literally drove through the road and the potholes at break neck speed. We eventually made it to the TCP at Pang minutes before five and were let through ahead. And we finally entered Ladakh district.

At this point, I was so high on adrenaline that I could hardly sit still inside the jeep. But Vinayak was looking very sick and tired. While we passed near all the eroded mountains of Pang, which looked very much like somebody had carved out a temple on the hills and up into the plateau (yet again plains) of Moray. Since I couldn't open a window without Vinayak complaining, there are no photos of that brilliant thousand foot (or more) canyon cutting through the edges of the plateau.

We went off-road from this point to cut across the plains directly instead of the taking the winding road that goes around the highest points. The experience was like something completely out of a hummer ad. That stretch of around forty kilometres was the most exhilirating drive of the trip, driven with the pedal to the metal.

Then we slowly descended to a much milder pasture country and joined back into the road. All those chocolates were working their magic and I was still in the best of my moods, though filtering out water through my body like a sieve. But we were faced with the final climb of the trip, the heights of Taglang La.

Taglang la is the world's third highest pass in the world. More accurately it is the 3rd highest motorable road at 17,582 feet up. We reached the top of the pass sometime nearer to 7 P.M with the sun setting in the background. I ran through the snow which turned out to be quite thick and soft. I broke through the top and ended up ankle deep in freezing slush. My other companions preferred to sit around in the shelter of the jeep, a wise choice as I was soon to find out.

While on the descent, I kept drinking water out of Vinayak's water bottle. But the constant stream of cold water into my body core, finally made me throw up (again). So here's a lesson for you - carry insulated water bottles. Anyway, I remember asking Rishi chocolates !!, to which he replied that it is in his bag. Drowsy as I was, I thought he was holding his bag when he was only sitting there with his hands in the jacket pocket. After stopping at Upshi for dinner, where I just had as much hot tea as I could, we headed on to Leh.

Closer to midnight and much closer to Leh, I had started having day dreams. I mean it was totally weird, I had my eyes open and I was seeing what was happening, but my interpretations were radically different from what was. I mistook the starry sky for some skyscraper and even tried to find a remote to change the channel (no, that's not a TV ... that's the windscreen of the jeep). Calorie deprivation, sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation - is a very bad combination.

But by midnight, we were at Leh and driver dumped us at a guesthouse (previously arranged, I suppose). We pulled all our junk into the room, got an extra bed and were asleep before our heads touched the pillow. We wouldn't wake up till the next day for lunch and that plan, we stuck to.

Thus ends our journey uphill to Leh and what a journey !

The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate.
               -- Marcus Terentius Varro

posted at: 21:09 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Fri, 07 Jul 2006:
We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbour.

We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
But have less real communication;

We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits but shallow relationships.

It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.

              -- The X IVth Dalai Lama

There's much on the mind, but little in the heart.

A paradox is merely a wedge into reality's fractures

posted at: 20:12 | path: /philosophy | permalink | Tags: ,

Thu, 06 Jul 2006:

The Ladakh trip has given me a lot to think about. My notebook has over sixty pages of scrawls, as a poor substitute for blogging. But whatever goes up must come down and so has my morale. The weather hasn't been good for walking and personal problems, far from disappearing, have only gotten worse. But the ultimate refuge for me has been denied - I have hit another coder's block. I can't hack - not even the exiftools scripts which I need.

The Linux.conf.au 2007 call for papers are out. I have been trying to figure out what I've done in the period from the last which I could probably talk about. I have literally done nothing for dotgnu, most of my work on APC dates from last year and there is nothing else I have done that's even remotely worth talking about. I have wasted seven months of this year drinking coffee and playing pool.

Of course, I have sat and debugged over six hundred core-dumps in the period. But debugging isn't a really creative talent, it has more to do with analysis than synthesis. I know the entire codebase of APC line-by-line, but what use is that to the world. I've reported bugs to thunderbird, firefox extensions, amarok and a huge bunch of other things. I have hounded developers till they fixed a bunch of them. It is not like I haven't done anything useful, it's just I feel I have failed to fulfil my potential.

I have travelled to various places to talk about dotgnu. The GNUnify organizers might remember a weirdo carrying a rose - that was me. For all those talks, I have hardly made even an ounce of difference for the project or the students involved. For all those BoFs, I don't think I have influenced even the 2% that was targeted. To be more accurate, for all my skills I am still a guy who's broke. The real world measures talents according to what you can get in return for them - all my mad h4x0r skillz are worthless compared to the guy who's gone onsite and made a few lakhs. As much as I can pretend that it isn't true, it does hurt when the comparisons are made.

Knowledge grows when shared, and hoarding it is the crime elitism commits, this I believe. To share the things I learnt the hard way, I've tried writing articles. I have at least three half-done technical articles sitting on my disk - a gdb macros tutorial, function interposing hacks and ssh tips & tricks. I've always hit a wall trying to explain the new things my work lets me do. I've tried to teach things I had to learn, but the lesson is bitter-sweet.

I can't code, evaneglize or teach. Now what ???

If you didn't have to work so hard, you'd have more time to be depressed.

posted at: 17:48 | path: /me | permalink | Tags:

Wed, 05 Jul 2006:

Whenever you run into a pessimist claiming "It can't get any worse", you'll find three optimisits correcting - "Oh, yes it can. The journey to Delhi and further up to Manali belonged to the optimists. After reaching Delhi really early, we managed to find the travel agent and camp there for most of the day. Despite the rise in temperature and the associated philosophical discussions (of the psuedointellectual variety), we managed to pass time very easily.

The bus ride wasn't very comfortable. I find it difficult to find proper leg room in a good bus and this was beyond awful with the couple in front (quote un-quote) making it a little harder than normal. Eventually, I was sleeping on the aisle of the bus (does somebody remember the return from calicut ?). But the first views of Himachal Pradesh was of a peaceful, green and unpleasantly hilly (opinions of non-bus travellers differ). The weather was amazing, with a bright blue cloudless sky and bright sunshine.

After reaching manali, we were able to get in touch with the others (who were already in Leh). And finally in the evening, in an attempt to get used to the altitude, we took a long walk to the river Beas and then up till the Hidimba temple. The weather had turned a bit chilly, but we didn't mind it so much.

Finally, nearly at midnight, we all turned in to sleep. The car to Leh would pick us up sometime around two in the night.

It gets better, but only after getting a lot worse.

posted at: 19:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 03 Jul 2006:

Back from ladakh. Nearly two thousand photos to sort and upload. More updates on the trip as soon as I settle down.

Got back in one peice. Thank God :)

The world is a small place.
But travelling makes it bigger.

posted at: 21:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: ,