Buddha Da

I'd just boarded the plane and pulled out my book and headphones. I cracked the book open and was faced with this paragraph:

MA DA's a nutter. Radio rental. He'd dae anythin for a laugh so he wid; went doon the shops wi a perra knickers on his heid, tellt the wifie next door we'd won the lottery and were flittin tae Barbados, but that wis daft stuff compared tae whit he's went and done noo. He's turnt intae a Buddhist.

"Oh, no," I thought to myself. Surely the author was not going to go in this vein for much longer? I flipped the pages to the middle of the book.  The dialect was still in full force.  I glanced to my right, hoping to quickly grab another book from my backpack, but there was a well-built person already sitting down in the aisle seat. I didn't feel like asking him to move just so I could get a more amenable book.

So, with nothing else to read on the plane journey, I did end up reading Buddha Da.  The dialect that was initially so off-putting turns out to be crucial. You never lose track of the fact that this was a working class father who upped and decided to become a Buddhist.  It turned out to be a wonderfully observed, funny book.

Look who's running for a third term!

This showed up in my email box just as I was ready to head out to the gym:

OU students, faculty and staff and the public are invited to a forum with former President Bill Clinton speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign for President ... the University has extended an invitation to all Republican and Democratic candidates for President or leaders in their campaign to speak on campus. Earlier Gov. Mitt Romney spoke on the OU Health Sciences Center campus and General Jerry Curry spoke on the Norman campus on Jan. 23.

Now, Mitt Romney is running. I don't know who Jerry Curry is, but a Google search brings me to a website that says he's a candidate for president too. The university has weasel wording in place ("or leaders in their campaign"), but you can draw the inference yourself.

I've pointed out before that Hillary Clinton is not like Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher or even Angela Merkel. She's more like Ma Ferguson.

Witty department store

A witty Dutch department store site.  Click on the link and wait a few seconds:


The younger generation gets it

While the New York Times ties itself in knots trying to endorse Clinton, the Harvard Crimson lays out a concise and positive case for Obama:
From starting as a community organizer, to working as a constitutional lawyer and law professor, to serving as a Ill. State Senator, and, finally, as an United States Senator, Obama has achieved before the age of fifty what many would aspire to do in a lifetime. The judgment and perspective he has acquired in these roles are qualities that are necessary in a leader, particularly at the highest levels of government

And, then horror of horrors, they actually endorse him issue-by-issue. For example, on health-care:
Obama's healthcare program, for instance, guarantees universal healthcare for minors but allows adults to choose whether they are covered ... Its significant efforts to subsidize and provide and universal access to all Americans is unparalleled in the Democratic field, and, perhaps, represents the most pragmatic solution
climate change:
To help reduce carbon emissions and help fight climate change, Obama proposes a cap-and-trade system and the corresponding reduction of emissions to 80 percent below the 1990 levels by 2050. Vaulting the U.S. into a leadership position on climate change is a goal that should figure prominently in any presidential candidate's decision-making. Obama has shown that he cares about the issue and will take it to the White House as a high priority if elected
and education:
he has a holistic plan to reform the entire system, from infant healthcare through higher education. Highlights of his plan include reforming No Child Left Behind, addressing the high rate of dropouts, and quadrupling funding for Early Head Start programs that form the youngest generation of students

Read the whole thing.

Update: Found out after I posted this that Obama had won the S. Carolina primary and caught his acceptance speech online. It's a beaut, even better than the 2007 one I was raving about earlier:

How to remember where you parked and other uses of a cell phone camera

So if my cell phone pictures are so lousy, what's the point of a cell-phone camera? I've found several uses so far:

(1) It's an easy way to remember where I'm parked at the airport. Three, four days later, it can be very helpful to simply browse the phone images and find out the lot my car is in. I used to write the information down on slips of paper and put it into my wallet, but this is a lot more convenient and a lot quicker.

(2) A way to quickly take photos when there's nothing else on hand -- a bad photo is better than no photo. For example, this weird cemetery in New Orleans that we were driving past -- the graves are above ground! Turns out it's an old Spanish custom that works well in areas where the water table is high.

(3) Use the camera phone for candid shots. Useful for subjects (usually my kids ...) who change their behavior when they spy a camera. To protect their privacy, I'm not posting any examples.

New Orleans, in pictures

These pictures are all from Wednesday. They're not great quality, since they were taken with my cell phone.

T. and I sneaked out of the official banquet (an aside: how overcautious and fearful of causing offense do you have to be to serve chicken breast and caesar salad at a reception in New Orleans?) and took a cab to a Hornets game. We got to see the second half. The Hornets played in Oklahoma City for a couple of years after Katrina and even played one game in Norman. But it took a trip to NOLA to see my first pro basketball game. The game was a blowout, but the thing that stands out was how every second of breaks in the game (commercial breaks, timeouts, etc.) was filled with on-court antics.

We took a stroll down Bourbon street. Bourbon street was very much alive, but mostly with middle-aged tourists. Mardi Gras is next week, maybe it'll be a younger crowd then.

We also spent some time in a jazz club. They were playing blues. Quite well, too. Although T. spoiled it a bit by pointing out how many times the singer said "baa-by". And then all I could do was to wait for the singer to say the word again. He seemed to be averaging 5 babies a song.

Football crazy town

I'm in New Orleans for an American Meteorological Society meeting.  The first billboard I noticed on the way from the airport yesterday was for Louisiana State University: "A Championship Experience" it proclaimed, with a triptych  that had the LSU football team prominently in the middle.  Isn't Baton Rouge a hundred miles up north? Why proclaim the college spirit in New Orleans?  I've studied at two football-crazy universities (Ohio State in Columbus and Oklahoma in Norman), but neither Cincinnati nor Tulsa carries Buckeye or Sooner billboards.

Of course, the reason I'm offended may have more to do with the fact that two of LSU's championships came against OU and OSU.

Museum of Science, pictures

As promised, a couple of pictures from my Museum of Science (Boston) visit.

(1) The van de Graff generator with D. and me in a cage as it is struck by "lightning". You can see Franklin's kite in the lower-left part of the picture:

(2) One of the weather radar exhibits, explained by J.

An after-hours tour of the Boston Museum of Science

A couple of years ago, I helped the Boston Museum of Science with a nowcasting exhibit they were putting together. They used our system of algorithms to process radar data, and to page tour leaders when there was significant weather in the Boston area.

When I realized that I was going to be in Boston this week, I sent my contact at the museum an email asking if we could meet some evening. "The museum closes at 5pm on weekdays, but we can give you an after-hours tour," he emailed back, "You could play with our van de Graaf generator and then we'll show you around the WeatherWise exhibit."

That is how I ended up getting a very personal tour of a darkened museum. What I didn't realize was that the Boston museum didn't have a van de Graaf generator -- they had the van de Graaf generator, as in the same machine that Robert van de Graaf built to be a particle accelerator! I got to get into a cage being struck by "lightning" and see a show consisting of corona and a simulation of Franklin's key-and-kite experiment.

And of course, it was quite cool and gratifying to see my work (my work!) featured in a museum exhibit.

We took a bunch of pictures. I'll post them later.

Arguing like a 20-year old

This is Ezra Levant, a Canadian magazine publisher, telling off the Canadian Human Rights Commission when they asked him why he republished the Danish cartoons that set off riots in the Muslim world:

His argumentative style reminds me of several fellows I went to college with. But I would have thought this is an argument that no one over 20 would make. Obviously I was wrong.

The riots, by the way, came about several months after the cartoons were published. And they came out only because some Danish imams (talk about a fifth column!) had extensively shopped the Danish cartoons in several Muslim countries. When the original cartoons didn't raise any hackles, the imams added a couple of really offensive forgeries to make sure the whole issue got some traction.

UPDATE: The friend from college days who I had in mind emails to report: i've now discovered that a good conversation with my wife involves me listening all the time and keeping my goddammed opinions to myself. that's the road to marital bliss :-)

Yeah, Maggi!

As recently as a few months ago, the kids would mope around on Sunday when they saw me packing my dress shirts for a trip. Not any more.

This Saturday, when I mentioned that I'd be leaving for Boston, S1 got all excited. "Yeah!" he said with a little jig, "we get to eat Maggi noodles". They don't get to eat it when I'm at home, so my trips are his only opportunity to gorge on the stuff. The younger one is not such a fan of boxed stuff -- she much prefers the stuff I cook when we're really short on time (steamed salmon or linguine and pesto both take less than 20 minutes) -- but she too followed her brother's lead: "yeah, Maggi noodles," she said. And they both ran off to tell Mom.

But now it's Tuesday, I've been gone two days, the Maggi craving has been quenched ... "So when are you coming back?," they want to know. Good to feel wanted, but the cynic in me wonders how long that's going to last ...

The taxi driver and his GPS

The taxi driver in Boston asked me, "Do you live here?" when I told him the hotel in Burlington that I wanted to go to. If I lived here, why would I be going from the airport direct to a hotel? I bit my tongue and simply said that no, I didn't.

He then pulled out a book and tried to find the hotel, but it wasn't listed.  Not his or the book's fault -- I later learned that the hotel was recently bought out by Hyatt and used to have a different name a couple months ago.

"It's near the Burlington Mall," I told him.

"Do you know how to get there?", he asked.

The last time I was in Boston was more than two years ago, and that's when the Big Dig was in its crazy phase. So, no, I didn't remember how to get there, but I did have the address. I pulled out the travel itinerary and started to read out the street address to him.

"Oh, you have the address," he said with a sigh of relief.  He then pulled out a pocket GPS and proceeded to enter the address into it as he continued to drive out of the airport.

The car started to swerve quite a bit, and I was getting a bit concerned.  Maybe there would be elephants soon, if the New York Times has anything to say about it.

"Do you know how to use this thing?", he asked me when the swerving got a bit too much even for his Bostonian tolerance for haphazard driving.

"I'm sure I can manage," I said, and pecked out the address on his GPS.  He then followed its directions slowing down to 10 miles per hour a half-mile before every turn, even on the highway.

Something tells me Boston cabbies don't have to take tests like the London guys.  He was, however, pleased as punch to inform me that there would be a foot of snow by tomorrow morning.

Stereotypes die hard

Tata Motors (the same company I wrote about as buying Jaguar) has unveiled a new $2500 car. This is the least expensive car in the world and is controversial, even in India, because it means that cars are now cheap enough that you can expect a huge increase in the number of cars. It does bring the apocalypse closer -- if every one consumes like an American, all the IPCC estimates about global warming will prove to be too conservative -- we may be looking at a drastically warmer world in a couple of decades.

The New York Times has an article about this.  They focus on the poor state of Indian roads and the even poorer skills of Indian drivers. Which is quite true: one of the memories that stands out from a recent visit to Delhi was my attempt to cross a busy road at a pedestrian (zebra) crossing.  There was no button to push, and no signal to make the cars stop. And when I ventured on to the street, all the vehicles would simply gun right at me, and at the last possible moment, swerve to miss me by inches.  It was a scary experience, so yes, the $2500 car is going to increase the chaos on the streets.

But my point is about the title of that article:  Indians Hit the Road Amid Elephants.  There was no mention of elephants in that story. Where's the elephant reference coming from?

Real-time weather for your mobile phone

Most weather sites show you the current radar image, and maybe a loop of the last hour's worth of data. But what of where the severe weather is expected to be in a half-hour? We've been creating such short-term forecasts for several years now but you could look at them only with Google Earth or a custom weather display.

Some folks in Wisconsin have incorporated our algorithm product into their site which provides high-resolution images for PDAs -- all you need is a phone or PDA with a web browser. That site is not limited to the US; it carries data for all over the world. To see the forecast radar image loop, go to http://www.ssec.wisc.edu/data/paw/usus_usa_frad_anim_none.html

Remember though that our forecast product and the web application from Wisconsin are research experiments. For an operational (i.e. somewhat guaranteed) product, see the NWS web pages. But, naturally, those are not as cutting-edge (there is no radar forecast, for example).

Storm classification, now in real-time

Last summer, I blogged about a storm classification algorithm that we were developing. We have now implemented it in real-time and one of my colleagues has added its output to our publicly available set of experimental products.

You can view the storm classification product in real-time with Google Earth -- the images are from moments ago, over the ocean, off the North Carolina coast. The four categories you'll see are N for not-organized, P for pulse storms, S for isolated supercells and L for quasi-linear convective storms. With each storm, you also get a few diagnostic parameters:
Here's are the links (you need Google Earth in order to view these):
Storm Classification: http://wdssii.nssl.noaa.gov/geotiff_new/StormType.kmz
Reflectivity: http://wdssii.nssl.noaa.gov/geotiff_new/conus_full.kmz

Why Obama may lose

Came back from the library (story time for the kids) to find that Obama was trailing Clinton by 3. Why? I can come up with two reasons:

1. Hillary cried.
2. In the privacy of the voting booth, many Americans will not vote for a black man.

Neither explanation reflects well on us as a nation. A less plausible reason, but what I would rather believe, is that with the polls putting Obama comfortably ahead, many independents chose to cast their vote for McCain, and that effect snowballed.

Impact of sub-prime crisis

What all the articles about the sub-prime crisis ignore is that the crisis impacts much more than real estate and hedge funds.

For example, the technology training business in the North-East caters rather heavily to the financial industry. Many online banking and bill payment systems are built using Java, and one of the ways that financial companies demonstrate their fiduciary responsibility is to keep their technology workers abreast of the best practices in their fields.

This fiscal year, many financial companies have cut down on their training budget.  So, for my technology training business, 2008 will be worse than 2007.

Lost to Les Miles!

So, Ohio State lost a bowl game again.  As did Oklahoma this year.  Other teams (LSU, USC) seem to be able to win multiple national championships in the BCS era, but neither Ohio State nor Oklahoma can manage to repeat their feat.

And Les Miles won.  Les Miles!

My Hillary Moment

My only brush with any of the candidates for president came indirectly. This was, maybe, two years ago when I was teaching an event in upstate New York.

The way these courses work is that all the equipment is shipped to the hotel where I'll be teaching. I fly to the site separately, and then I set up the machines, projectors, course material, etc.. We book a hotel conference room the day before the event, so that the shippers can unload the heavy crates and I have the time to do the set up which can take 4-6 hours.

When I arrived at the hotel on Monday morning, I found that the shippers had come in on time and already delivered the computers. Only problem -- the shipping crates were not in the room. They were in the hotel's receiving area. It was going to be difficult to move them into the room (I'm alone, remember, and you need two people to lift a crate). Furious, I called the shipping company and was told that the hotel had requested that the boxes not be delivered to the conference room.

"Why?," I asked the hotel manager, "we gave you specific instructions when we booked the conference room."

"Well," said the hotel manager hesitantly, "the senator's staff is using the conference room, and they can not be disturbed."

"But ... we have the room."

"Yes, but they are not leaving"

"Could you tell them that the next group needs the room?"

The hotel manager managed to get an audience with one of Mrs. Clinton's staffers. Didn't help. They continued to occupy the room until around 7pm. They should have been out at 10am.

The hotel manager was sheepish about it all -- he didn't dare to throw them out, he told me, but the hotel staff would try to make up for it. And they did. They cleaned up the room, and helped me move the heavy crates into it.

It was midnight by the time I finished the set up. This incident is my primary gut feeling about Mrs. Clinton.

My Sunday

Rajendran, one of my classmates from college, runs/co-founded Jambav which makes an online cartooning program; he asked me to try it out ...

This was my Sunday:

Bleeding heart liberal

What does it mean if the only political book on this graph that I recall reading (Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal) is on the very very blue extreme, way off to the left?

Probably this: Everyone thinks they're centrist and independent (just as every one thinks they're a safe driver). This graph is my wake-up call. So ... how much off the mainstream are YOU? Are you a wing-nut too?

India-envy in Japan?

Perhaps this article was meant to come out on April 1, and they published it 4 months in advance by mistake?

While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. In part, this reflects China's image in Japan as a cheap manufacturer and technological imitator. But India's success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy ... Indian education is a frequent topic in forums like talk shows. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers. Even Japan's conservative education ministry has begun discussing Indian methods ... Eager parents try to send their children to Japan's roughly half dozen Indian schools, hoping for an edge on the competitive college entrance exams.

In the 1980s, when I was in school in India, everything Japanese was to admired -- not surprisingly, since Japan was the only Asian country to give its citizens a high standard of living. And even now, in American cities, kids of Indian parents are almost expected to go to Kumon (we're not immune: we visited Kumon when one opened in Norman a couple of months ago, but finally decided to let our kids be kids for a few years longer).

On the other hand, my college in India was explicitly patterned on American ideals, with the emphasis on being to able to solve problems, not recite trivia. And these days, even elementary and high schools in India are starting to emphasize problem solving over mechanical drills (This doesn't mean that we are not involved in a tug-of-war with S1's teacher about assigning him more homework, though, but that's another post).

So, this reverse fad in Japan -- of schools going to the Japan-inspired model in India just when India is moving to an America-inspired one -- is pretty strange.

Big city fix

Dallas is our closest big city (about a three hour drive away); we try to go there about twice a year to get our big city fix. We have the best kind of friends in Dallas -- a couple with no kids, who cook like a dream but are so busy that they eat out quite often too. So, we get home-made paella and tiramisu when we land up at 10pm on Friday, then get restaurant recommendations close to all the places in the city we decide to go to.

Saturday, we went to an Indian fast food (!) place. S1 was quite astonished that you could actually get a dosa in a restaurant, and then was astonished again at the size of the dosa. He was so enthralled with restaurant dosas that he begged to go there again twice more -- the picture at the left is of an even bigger dosa that he got for lunch on Sunday -- the size of this one seems to have cured him (for now at least) of his dosa craze.

We also visited Kimbell, the Fort Worth museum. A few of the pieces that impressed: (1) The strength and agility that emanates from the foot-tall statue (part of their African collection); (2) the enlightenment-era bust whose sculptor, the museum claimed was the first artist in thousands of years of sculpting to figure out how to render eyes properly. The eyes were amazingly life-like, unlike the typical sculpture whose eyes are rendered blind if the busts are left unpainted (3) the baleful look of the mother in the scene when Agamemmon says that his daughter is to be sacrificed to the gods, not married off to Achilles.

We, of course, paid our pilgrimage to the stores we don't have in Oklahoma -- Ikea, Costco ... and just when I was thinking: wouldn't it be nice to have good ethnic restaurants and stores selling inexpensive and well-designed items? ... we got stuck in a big city traffic slow-down. It was not a traffic jam, and didn't last long, just 15 minutes or so. But that was all that was needed to remind us that we have it good with our 5 and 15-minute commutes. And though we don't have a museum of the caliber of Kimbell, the Sam Noble natural history and Fred Jones art museums are both intimate and family-friendly.

Happy New Year.

Bhutto's Oxford and Harvard chums

I was not going to say anything about Benazir Bhutto's assasination. Pakistan's a messed-up country and her death makes it no more and no less messed up. What's been interesting though is all the columnists that mention some meeting or the other with her at Harvard or at Oxford. Just when I thought I was the only one who'd noticed, comes this neat takeoff on the oxford-harvard fools:

The last time I saw her it was over drinks at the Pierre. I sipped a Tom Collins. She was feeling reckless, and downed three Jell-O shooters. "Oh, Pooh Bear," she said. "Pakistan has such a long and troubled history. Maybe I should have listened to Charlie Rose and taken that job at Google." Nonsense, I replied. The credit belongs to she who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat.

She was a corrupt, opportunistic leader who came to power through feudal politics. Once in power, she supported the Taliban and it was her government that was shopping nukes to everyone from Libya to North Korea.  Yet, all these idiots:

  Peter Galbraith, Roger Cohen, Robert Novak, David Ignatius, Arnaud deBorchgrave, and Mark Steyn.

 decide to relive their college encounters with her?