Lesions from Cooking

[Now cross posted on Desicritics]

For just under one week now, I have been the proud owner of a gas cylinder, a stove and a refrigerator, and I daresay my life has been completely revolutionized. That I have learnt oodles of nuances about cooking is sadly a statement I can not make as yet. However, as one interminably perseveres along the solitary and arduous path of cooking (thankfully I have a roommate for company!) for one’s survival, one gradually begins to realize that there are probably more lessons about life in the culinary arts than Deepak Chopra can possibly pontificate. It is a journey beset both with teething problems for the tongue.

To start off, one begins learning to make choices and trade-offs. With the limited knowledge and experience of the lead protagonists, it is evident that trade-offs have to be a part of the equation right from the beginning. One learns to accept reality and live with it. Self-appraisal teaches us that one should not bite more than one should eat, or cook. It’s best to get your fundamentals right — eg., how to roast a toast, and toast the occasion.

One learns early in the journey that things are not going to be easy. One is neither born nor can cook with a silver spoon. It requires tremendous foresight to make sure that the kitchen is well-stocked, and one can only acquire such perspective through experience. Not a virtue one can expect to find in bachelor housing. The absence of the most innocuous of objects can be a sore point when you need it. Small, dark, black balls can be infinitely useful especially if they happen to be called cumin seeds (jeera). Rains may bring down the mercury, but they certainly don’t help the cause of the amateur cook. He (especially if it’s a lazy he) feels beleagured, cheated by the rain gods, with fast finishing supplies has to battle hunger, and finally does the obvious — drops the item from the recipe.

One learns to persevere — just slug it out. When its a matter of life and death (Ok! Hospitalization), one cares not for the simple pleasures in life — for instance, dinner can consist of more than mere omelettes. Half burnt omelettes. Half-burnt omelettes that look like a perfect equilateral triangles (for want of a better shape). Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande – the words ring in your ears, tear your ear-drums apart, test your tenacity, humiliate you, try to break your back and upset your stomach, but like a Spartan warrior you doggedly keep fighting all instincts, all temptations. Like a sanyasi, one has to resist the apsara’s smile, with a toll-free number promising home delivery. If one has to achieve nirvana, however, one has to eat rock, metal and egg.

Hardships are, of course, part of any journey. Small cuts and bruises are passe, there is danger of getting burnt. The weapons one has to resort to are deadly — the can cut even the holder of the weapon. Salt is always at hand and on the burns. What’s all the brouhaha about nuclear weapons?

There is the ecstasy of the omelette actually turning out to be eatable especially when the bread also got toasted the right red — a feeling unparalleled in the dictionary of human emotions. At the same time, there is enough crying, running noses and sneezing (onions and chilly powder) to fill a full season of Ekta Kapoor’s. I am sure Indian satellite television head honchos haven’t yet got hint of the melodramatic quotient of it all, else there would have been a flurry of Kaun Banega Captain Cook with King B and Big Khan both compering it together. And not to forget people sms’ing their favorite garnishing to 8888 and winning exciting prizes. Or perhaps a Kitchen Idol, whom millions of Indians cheer and vote for from the comforts of their living rooms (thankfully smell is a sensation that has not yet been televised).

Finally, as the denouement draws near (and the omelette gets made) one has a sobering realization under the Bodhi tree, err. Chimney. One realizes that one is responsible for one’s actions. Passing the blame around is not an easy task when you have volunteered willingly for such calamity (though one can certainly pass the plate around). It is all our doing — we have to take responsibility for our actions, and suffer on our own account (next morning with a knotted stomach). Cooking is the ultimate leveler, with immediate feedback loop and completely ownership, division of labour and accountability for actions — a manager’s dream, an epicurean’s nightmare.

A humbling experience. Of course, it’s easy to succumb, to eat out, to order pizza, to resort to maggi. But then, one has to remember, that as Rudyard Kipling Robert Frost once rightly said:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

[Many thanks to Dipika for proofreading this]

2 Talks at BCB4

Gave two talks at BarcampBangalore4:

  1. 5W – Widgets, What, Why, Where and hoW: This introduced people to widgets and included a small demo of adding a widget to your site using the Minekey Content Recommendation Widget (login required) as an example. A word about the Minekey widget again — it provides content recommendations on your blog based on both the content of the current page as well as the user’s past browsing history (and thus his/her interests). [I have put the presentation up as a PDF]
  2. Automatic Verification of Software – Past, Present and Future: This talked about why we need verification at all, what is the current state of the art and some pointers as to what might be coming in the future. [Using Sriram's slides]

I felt that this edition of Barcamp became quite chaotic because of last minute room changes, and it was really difficult to find out what was going on in which room.

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Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra + Dr L Subramaniam

I went to listen to the Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra perform with Dr. L. Subramaniam today at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall. The event had received a lot of media coverage (here, here and here etc.) and no doubt the hall was completely full (with  disproportionate number of expatriates). The event was probably the most talked-about western classical concert in Bangalore for the whole year.

It was good listening to the music — I could imagine how much effort and practice western classical orchestra takes. There was perfect synchronization between all the artists. Towards the end, Dr. Subramaniam came on stage and we saw a little jugalbandi. What I found very interesting was that the sounds used in Western Classical and Hindustani Classical are very different. The Hindustany Classical is very nuanced with small variations (but lot of them), it’s extremely versatile since the artist is allowed to improvise within their own raga. Western, on the other hand, has more harmonious, smoother, almost like a cat and mouse chase. The best contrast is that Western made me think of old Charlie Chaplin movies (background score) while Hindustani made me think of old Raj Kapoor numbers. I understood that even more when the Orchestra was trying to play a composition of Dr. Subramaniam (Spring Rhapsody) and I felt they could not reproduce the original sounds that the maestro must have intended. At the same time, I am sure the discipline and the team-effort would have been impossible for Indians, I felt.

Going to Barcamp tomorrow and day after. Might be speaking in a few sessions. Let’s see how it goes!

Poetry in Kernel Documentation

And indeed, it has happened. Poetry has finally infiltrated the bastion of the uber-geek — the Linux Kernel. Rusty Russell, who contributes as lguest, likes to submit patches with verse in their documentation. Wordsworth would definitely approve, though Linus thinks otherwise. Sample these:

There once was a virtualization coder,
Whose patches kept getting older,
Each time upstream would drop,
His documentation would slightly rot…

The ballads were hard to stay/ And Alan Cox jumped into the fray:

There once was a man they called rusty
Who patches were terribly crusty…

Perhaps there should be a programming language written in verse. With the poetic license, semantics would be hard to freeze, wot say?

[Via Linux Today]

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In the midst of a heated discussion with Mohit about The Long Tail (I think Chris Anderson gets unnecessary credit — It really was the monkey-god Hanuman who taught us what a long and potent tail could do, but that’s another story):

I: The Internet is a classic example of the Long Tail. So, is Google because they are able to monetize all those keywords which will never earn a penny if published in a magazine.

M: I wonder who clicks on the Sponsored Ads in Google.

I: I never do. Do you?

M: I don’t either. I can’t count having clicked more than 5-6 times all my life (that includes clicks by mistake). I think it’s all click-fraud.

I: I don’t know. But that would need to be a big scam!

M: But then, somebody has to be dumb enough to click all those ads.

I: I think it’s the Americans.

Hi-fives.

PS: If you are an American, please replace the word ‘Americans’ by ‘Commies’. Or should I say: s/Americans/Commies/g?

PPS: This is meant completely as a joke, inspired by their President. Most Americans I have met are very smart people, and continue to wow me.

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Don Dodge on my Blog!

Ok. Here’s this guy whose blog you read. He leads a rather big organization in one of the largest software companies in this world, and you feel that his is one voice in all the commotion that makes some sense. For that reason, you might miss TechCrunch, but you try not to miss his blogs. And then one day, you get up, and see that he had recently visited your blog.

don_dodge

Oh, it feels good. Thank you Don Dodge. I know I don’t write the kind of content that you do, but rest assured that I read every one of your posts. And what I like about them is that instead of giving news, they give insights.

Oh, and not to mention that a common employer also makes me more of your fan!

UPDATE: And Don actually came back and commented on my blog! Wow.

Five Point Someone by Madras Players

A review of the play on July 21 posted on my Spaces blog.

I have also submitted it to DesiCritics, will post the link here once those guys accept it. And here it is.

Five Point Someone by Madras Players

Chowdiah Hall was brimming with youngsters yesterday (Sat, July 21) when Evam presented the Madras Players’ production of Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone. The theatre group is based out of Chennai and the book was adapted and directed by Nikhila Kesavan.

At the outset, I must confess that it can never be easy to adapt a book like Five Point Someone to stage, and I was pleasantly surprised. Five Point Someone is the story of Alok Gupta, Ryan Oberoi and Hari Kumar, three freshers who make it to the hallowed Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi, from completely different backgrounds and vastly different takes on life. Alok has a family to look after — he is the only hope for his paralyzed father, school-teacher mother and a simpering sister. Ryan is ubercool, with parents earning a dollar salary, but indifferent to the needs of their child, and as a result, the son has turned into a cynic, a brilliant cynic. Hari is a rolling stone, and most of the moss he gathers is what Ryan feeds him. The three who become friends right in the first few days of their stay during a ragging incident, decide to take life light, enjoy the ‘best’ years, and end up as five-pointers, and barely make through the semesters, who are supposed to be scorned at, humiliated in class, and as a result spend most of their time outside of it rather than in it. They however, find time to fight with each other, make up, fall in love, lay inebriated on the institute terrace, get caught stealing question papers, and finally make it out of IIT. The story is well known — the book having sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but capturing the magic on stage was not an easy task.

It is at this point that one needs to commend the director and the actors. If I said that the audience was in splits, I would be undermining the amount of noise the auditorium generated. The book is in first-person narrative style, and the director stuck to it, introducing the author who was recounting his story as a fellow actor while we saw the actors on stage. The play was full of punch lines — about how students lived their life at ‘Sassies’ (the all night eating joint), the inability to understand the female species, the altercations with the professors — and the audience raised the hall with their claps at each of them. The directory was also able to portray the emotional parts well especially the dichotomy in Alok’s mind. The sets were minimalist and most of the action was limited to a single room. The lights were well-handled except for a lapse or two in the entire play, which really commendable since they were used very heavily since the two likenesses of Hari were together on stage a lot of times. I am afraid I didn’t much notice the music except for Floyd’s ‘Brick in the Wall’ before the beginning and after the end.

Sarvesh Sridhar as Alok was the pick of the actors. This monologue about being a ‘loser’ was really well done since at no point the audience felt that it was dragged. Also, little things like always running when he got on stage (and near perfect cueing) made it a treat to watch him perform. Abhijeet Mohanty as Hari was faltering, as the character demanded. However, his movements felt a little too unnatural and forced at times. Praveen Bharatwaj as Ryan was blase, but one hoped to see something more exciting — and the maverick didn’t come out that well. S Vidyuth as the author was detached and the high-point was when after Hari and Neha have sex, and the author comes on stage and blushes! Uttara Krishnadas as Neha handled the romantic scenes quite well (which were well applauded), but the emotional scenes became a little drab. The other professors did their small roles quite well, esp. Shankar Sundaram as Prof. Dubey.

While he play was very well adapted and very well presented, I personally felt that two of the scenes they had left out should have been there — the initial ragging scene, and the scene where Hari goes to give his Viva having had a few rather large shots of Vodka. Those two scenes would have been superb, and I was silently wishing that they would be there. The little things which as a hostelite I have lived and experienced, and the (perhaps not so much) pressure at another such institute that I have seen, really made it a personal journey.

 What I also really appreciated was that the organizers were kind enough to give me (and my friends) tickets to see the show (divine intervention) and one was able to establish a personal rapport with a few members of Evam. And I came back with a bag full of chocolates as a prize for being super-insistent for the tickets! Thanks guys! I wanted to give a tempo shout (a celebration of victory) of my college after the play but sadly my friends were not willing.

A great show — and I am sure everybody who saw it absolutely loved it — and went back feeling much lighter and happier. And the intense stomach pain after the play due to all the laughing — as they say hanste hanste mera pet phat gaya. A must watch!

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And thus they met: The BlogaLoreans

Anand had called me and told me about the previous bloggers’ meet, but sadly I was not in town. So, I decided to make it this time. The first thing I found amusing was the location – BrewHaHa. No, the place was fine – the coffee wasn’t too bad, the space was peaceful. But what got me chuckling was pronouncing the name in different ways – Brew-hehe, Brew-hihi, Brew-huhu, Brew-(Ravana’s laughter), Brew-(demure bride laughter), and the one that took the cake (and all the cookies) – Brew-(Vinay Pathak style)!

And as soon as I got there, the long string of introductions – strangers connected by this phenomenon called blogging. Some loud, some naughty, some subdued, some serious — everyman of every colour. The introductions were long and stretched — after all there were a lot of people — and often interrupted by the waiters trying to take orders. The poor waiter — taking orders from a bunch of 45 odd rambunctious kids can be difficult, and I am quite sure he is going to insist on taking his weekly off on the day of the next bloggers’ meet. That the fact that most of us keep changing orders and talking tough (Is the tea made in milk or with tea bags? — Like heck, I care!), did not make things easy for him. To top it all off, he was serving coffee (or was it hot chocolate? Since I found more chocolate than coffee in my drink) and suddenly an apparition vapourized out of nowhere holding a camera in his hand, and asking him to pose for a photo. He looked stupefied as if somebody had read a new dark spell in the new Happy Rotter book (more about that later), and decided to give it a try on the hapless muggle.

Two events had almost hijacked the agenda — the release of the Happy Rotter and the Deathly Hallows and Proto.in. While somebody had already tried to hijack the agenda there as well by painstakingly taking pictures, transcribing text and forwarding it to friends. Why waste so much time when the book was going to be released in two days time anyway? I am very sure that it was not for getting the book cheap because cunning entrepreneurs in the Indian book industry will soon have it lining all the pavements of the country with cheaper editions. Anyway, coming back, I had been half hoping that some fans would turn up dressed in Happy Rotter costumes — here a Hagrid, there a Dumbledore, everywhere a Voldemort. To my sorrow, there were only a few (countable on your little finger) who had braved the early Saturday morning (how?) and managed to purchase copies. Proto.in was in far-away Chennai, where startups were talking about start-up experience in their start-up language and showing their start-up powerpoints.

As the meet progressed, we realized how we were a microcosm of India – everybody had an opinion, and rightly so! We were bloggers, after all. Chaos reigned and kept reigning. The silver lining of order sometimes peeked from behind the clouds and went back to hide as soon as it saw us. But then, chaos is fun isn’t it? Too much order limits our thinking, inhibits creativity. People shot off ideas (a few ‘tossed’ them around like in a party game) at each others. We were (after a lot of shouting by Samjukta) able to establish the agenda of the Bloggers Collective at the BarCamp Bangalore, due next weekend. The conversation then veered towards social issues and setting up Web NGOs — I am sure there is a lot of social evil on the web otherwise the downtrodden like us would not get hit so many times a day. We further talked about something else, to which by that time I had stopped paying attention to (sorry, getting up on Saturday morning was bad enough).

The good thing is that bloggers in Bangalore are interested in getting together more often, perhaps setting up a collective blog and make a noise which can be heard (we can even play Bhojpuri songs aloud on MG Road — I am sure that will make enough noise), and build a community that talks about issues more relevant to Bangalore.

The day progressed quite well – I saw Evam Theatre‘s performance of Five Point Someone. If I said that was hilarious, it would be undermining them so more in another post.

All in all — a great meet, lots of new interesting faces (which I hope to add to my Blogroll the day I stop being so lazy) and great conversations.

Keep rockin’ Blog’a’Loreans!

PS: I must add that I do not endorse piracy and my roommate bought an original copy yesterday.

Update: Fixed a bunch of typos.

Making your blog (and websites) scale

Making web-sites scale is a non-trivial thing to do. It requires a lot of knowledge of the operating system, the web servers, databases, using php scripts and so on. However, a very simple technique is to use add a lot of caching, and wring out as much productivity and efficiency as you can out of the hardware/software.

This article describes some of these techniques and I know for sure that a bunch of them work quite well (such as the PHP-accelerator which caches compiled php files). Give it a try!

Another simpler option which lazy bums like me would prefer is to use a managed hosting solution like that of WordPress.

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