Friday, September 30, 2005

Crazy Frog

I had heard this song on radio in Maui, couldn't find it in the stores in the US or in India, but finally found it here in Australia. It's funky and though I haven't heard the original Alex F, I like this version.

On my way to Brisbane this evening I heard an incredibly funny recording of a guy in the US, who calls his boss while he is driving, and happens to see a road accident in front of him. The RJ said that the conversation is available on the internet as a podcast and an MP3, but I haven't found it yet. If I do, I'll post a link. It was a rare gem. If someone does have access to it, please send me a link!

Surfing's been great. Little by little I'm getting the hang of it. It get damn tiring after a couple of hours out in the water. But when i catch a wave, it's just sweet!

I checked out the local Carrumbin wildlife sanctuary yesterday, and spent some time up close with kangaroos and koalas. Koalas are incredibly cute little things. I saw a few sleeping in the trees -- all rolled up into a ball, wedged between two branches.

This weekend I'm planning to check out Byron Bay area, and more of Brisbane. I had dinner there at a restaurant/bar called 1 degree, and a drink at the Jade Buddha, both at the Eagle St pier. It was Friday evening, and almost everyone seemed to be out and about. The central area is littered with hip restaurants, coffee shops and bars everywhere -- and all of them seemed to be packed today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


This morning was great. I surfed for some 3 hours and the conditions were just about perfect. On the Rainbow beach here, waves were glass-like and the Sun on the sky made everything even better. My third day into surfing here and I think I am getting a lot better -- it may have just been the conditions, but today felt great. The conditions gave me a lot of rights (the waves coming in from the right) that I caught all the way in. Awesome, awesome.

In the afternoon, I took a train to Brisbane. I had bought the Brisbane Sunday Mail, and I was overjoyed to find that Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is playing here. And in Japanese version with English subtitles too! It wasn't something I could pass up on. I had written a long time back about the movie, and I knew there was no way I could catch it in India. It's a shame that there is no mainstream audience for international cinema, even in metropolis, in India. There are all kinds of small cliquish clubs that watch old cinema classics, but that's about it.

The latest from Miyazaki was beautiful as ever. Miyazaki's world is so enchanting. This time around, however, the movie itself wasn't as impressive as his earlier works. The story did not seem very well put together, and the characters seemed to be almost rip-offs from Spirited Away. Nevertheless, it was worth the afternoon.

The rest of the time, I roamed around in Brisbane, mostly around South Bank. Whatever little I saw of the city, I liked. I've always believed that a river, and to a slightly lesser extent an ocean, gives a city more character. Cities that have neither aren't worth living. Brisbane has both! In just the small area I spent time in was littered with several restaurants, coffee shops, and art galleries. Over the next week I am thinking of checking out several more parts of Brisbane.

Some thing I learned about this area: signs of "XXXX" mark bars or beer shops. I am not sure if this is widespread across Australia, I believe it is something specific to the Queensland area. Apparently a joke goes that the sign says this because Australians can't spell beer. Also, the shops that sell liquor are called, very aptly, "bottle shops."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Gold Coast, Australia

I finally got an Internet (dialup) connection at home here in Coolangatta, Australia, and am logging on. I've been here for two days now, have taken my first sufing lesson, have bought groceries for the next month I am here, have a prepaid SIM card in my tri-band phone and... well, I am just about as settled as I was in Seattle or in Bangalore.

I don't have a rental car yet, but I soon will. That will just about complete whatever's missing.

It is becoming such a small, and simple, world all over. Staying connected is universally similar and downright easy (and cheap). It cost me, what, A$15 for the pin converter, A$30 for the SIM card and A$20 for the internet connection. Credit cards, what an ancient invention now, are of course everywhere accepted. Not to worry about the bills, you can pay them online, using the internet connection you just purchased. Of course, I am not exactly in the outback or in the "middle of nowhere," but nevertheless these things make it really simple to travel and still not be too far. (Does it defeat the purpose? Maybe.)

The place itself is quite nice. It is a bit slow, but the beaches are beautiful, the ocean is everywhere, and just about everyone seems to surf. The apartment I am renting for a month is very sexy, very elegant. It overlooks the Coolangatta beach, is very nicely done, something I wouldn't mind spending a much longer time in.

The water was a little cold today, and is expected to stay that way for the time I am here. The time I spent in the water today was great though. I am excited about the next few weeks of surfing. :-)

Thursday, September 22, 2005


I just posted some photos on Flickr. If you subscribe to the feedburner feed, you would have already seen them show up. If not, check them here:

Leaving for Australia

Bangalore is still the same, probably only a little bit more congested. One night I was driving to the Forum mall in Koramangala, to catch a movie that started at 10. Naturally I left my home, close to Cunningham road, an hour earlier. Since I had the tickets already, it seemed a safe enough gap. All of us in the car were amazed to find ourselves at the mall in about 15 minutes. The roads seemed to be very much devoid of traffic that particular day, though I don't know whom or what to thank for the good fortune. I repeated the drive a few days earlier, and still gave ourselves an hour, and it did take us close to 45 minutes to get there. So whatever happened on Tuesday must have been quite a rare fluke.

I had an interesting conversation with the folks in the Australian embassy this morning. The gist of it was that they promised to try send me my passport today though they couldn't commit to it, but the interesting part was that they wanted me to call in two days to find out if they had actually sent the passport. This was after I had told them I had a flight reservation for tomorrow. It was even more frustrating because whoever I was speaking to was acting as a relay device between me and someone else on the other side. Nevertheless, they thankfully despatched my passport today and I am going to board my flight to Brisbane tomorrow night. Next post will be from down under!

If the blogging is light for the next few weeks, it is probably because I am having too much fun. :-)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lugging books on treks has its rewards

On the trek to Chandertal, that I had to give up on due to bad weather, I carried 3 books with me. One of them was a trekking guide to the area, a novel and the third one was a collection of papers by Knuth. I had to think about carrying these -- I did not want to lug around extra weight unless I was pretty sure I was going to need it. And surely enough, on the last mile before Hampta pass, I felt the weight of every single ounce (that seemed to become heavier with every step). What clinched the argument was the fact that I was getting horses to carry most of the stuff, so they could easily carry these books too.

However, when I had to stop hours at end waiting for the storm to go away, these books came in very handy. I devoured the trekking guide book many times over, and every time I found it lacking the detail I was looking for. The novel was the next to go. For the last two days, I went through the book by Knuth and spent quite a bit of time trying to solve some of the problems I encountered in it. All said, I was very, very happy to have got those books with me -- they kept me good company in an otherwise lonely tent. :-)

The trekking guide I used was Trekking in the Indian Himalaya by Harish Kapadia. When I first leafed through it I found the book quite good. It helped me choose the trek and plan for the number of days. But that's where the usefulness of the book ended. Once I started on the trek, I realized that the plan that the author laid out, similar to the one charted by my guides, was for a lazy stroll and not a trek. I mean, we started around 9am the first day, and we had already put up tents by 1pm. So I pushed the guide into squeezing two days' worth of trekking into the second day, and things looked much better. The book was full of errors, had the order of campsites wrong, had elevations wrong (surprisingly, the text didn't match the figures as well). I think the author probably spent some time in the town of Manali, sat down with some guides and in a week had slapped some stuff together and sent it for publishing. Quite a letdown.

The novel I was carrying with me was the very fat Cryptonomicon. And fat, of course, also means heavy. But this book was what made passing time real easy. It's a very geeky book, what with encryption algorithms and perl scripts in the middle, talk of Riemann zeta functions and an appendix by Bruce Schneier. It was a blast, though. I thought it turned into a bit too much of fantasy towards the end, but till then it was a great ride. It did make me more curious about some of the Maths involved.

Once I was done with Cryptonomicon, I turned to Selected Papers on Computer Science by Knuth. Knuth is sometimes really difficult to read, just because of the sheer density of material in his text. These papers were at times much easier (some of them were almost like stories), and at times just as difficult to follow. But they were almost always interesting. In one of his papers, he discusses whether toy problems are useful. After recapping some older mathematicians' point of view, he jumps into some actual problems. One of the problems was given by a Stanford professor to his class in 1975 (or some such year): Write a program to divide the square roots of numbers 1 through 50 into two sets such that the sum of numbers in the one set is as equal as possible to the second set. Further the program should not take more than 10 seconds of computing time. Of course ten seconds of computing time was a lot less than what it is today, but the problem was interesting. I didn't have a computer at hand, but I tried solving it without the use of one. The result was a good amount of time doing simple algebra and some simple insights. I had a solution but I knew it was not the best. It did help me spend some time sitting in a dhaba, consuming glasses of milk tea and scribbling on a letter pad, while a snow storm brewed outside. Didn't someone say mathematicians are a machine for convertng coffee into theorems? The other interesting problem that I remember is the discussion about the hash tables and average cost of insertion with open hashing -- just the mathematics parts were interesting and sometimes difficult to follow.

Next time onwards, I am definitely going to carry some books on treks with me. I might consider, however, tearing a novel the size of Cryptonomicon into 3 or 4 parts and dividing the load across the horses. ;-)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Serving up delicacies at 4000m

Yesterday I arrived back in Manali from the trek. Unfortunately we ran into lousy weather, almost from the 2nd day onwards. By the fifth day, we were in the middle of a storm that just refused to go away. After waiting for about 3 days at Chhatru -- the only place in its 80km radius with a phone connection -- we decided to end the trek and head back to Manali. And of course the weather opened up today. But by yesterday our tents were all wet, and we were more or less done with sticking it out in the relentless rain, and even snow at times.

The first four days, though, were good, despite bad weather. On the third day we reached Hampta pass, close to Deo Tibba, at an elevation of 4270m. I couldn't see a thing from there as the visibility was less than some 20 feet. That night we camped at Sheda Ghauru ("cold place"), and I spent almost the entire time in my tent waiting for the biting wind and rain to subside. It felt like North Pole. The analogy isn't far from true -- I met a couple of Swedes later who took pictures at Sheda Ghauru to show their friends that there are places in India that look like somewhere in Norway or Sweden.

One of the things that caught my attention on the trek -- and it doesn't require trememdous observation skills -- is the amount of shit that covers Himachal. Litterally. All through the trek I had to be careful to avoid stepping into something that came out of a four legged creature. It came in several variety too. There's the wide, circular buns of cows, brown lumps from horses and mules and the droppings from goats and sheep. The number of animals I saw didn't quite match up to the amount of shit everywhere, so it seems all the more amazing. The place we camped on the second day -- Balu Ghera (circle of sand) -- was entirely, I kid you not, covered with cow dung. You had to really step around carefully to find clean ground -- or really ground covered with dried up shit -- and there was absolutely no strolling around in the dark. And of course, half the place smells like the stuff covering the ground.

The trek covered beautiful meadows in Kullu valley in the first 4 days, and then descended into the Lahaul valley, all the way to Chandertal. We didn't go much into the Lahaul valley. We camped at Chhatru, close to some dhabas and a satellite phone operated out of a rest house some 15 minutes' hard walk away. At that elevation, devoid of vegetation for most part, that walk took much more than what seemed at first.

What was really amazing on the trek was the stuff that the cook churned out every evening. It may not sound that spectacular to think at first that he made banana pie one night (at Sheda Ghauru). I must remind you that this place was in the middle of nowhere. I had once heard this phrase applied to Columbus, Ohio. But that doesn't even come close. I mean, if you stepped out of the tent and looked around (if you dared the piercing wind), you would see... nothing! There's no sign of civilization around (if you can ignore the ground). You would have to hike about 5 hours to get somewhere. Then you will have to drive another 5 hours to get someplace that begins to get somewhat close to the middle of nowhere that Columbus is. So, when the ever surprising Om Raj, the cook, presented the banana pie, I was justfiable amazed. On other days he had made macaroni, momos, pooris and he had planned to cap it all in the end with pizza and cake on the last day (which didn't occur thanks to the weather).

I am headed back to Chandigarh tonight, and then to Bangalore soon. The trekking plan didn't work out as well as I had hoped, but it was great nevertheless. it is beautiful country here, and deserves many more trips. And yes, I'll put up some photos once I am back in Bangalore.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Trekking in Himalayas

I arrived in Manali this morning on a rickety bus from Chandigarh. Once I was done with everything I need to do to plan the trip to Australia, two days ago, I packed my bags and flew to Chandigarh yesterday morning. From Chandigarh I had reserved a "deluxe" bus to get me to Manali today morning. For those not in the know, a deluxe bus in India is slightly more expensive and promises more comfortable seating. However, when I arrived to board the bus a very different looking bus greeted me. I was told that the original bus had broken down and this was the replacement. It was not "deluxe."

This bus broke down about 2 hours before Manali, at 4 in the morning, and I hopped on to another bus passing by after about an hour of wait. These non-deluxe buses are exquisite pieces of minimality. Everything just barely works. Seats have cushions but they flatten to paper-thinkness once you sit on them. Almost every screw, bolt and frame creaks, rattles and sings if the speed of the bus is anywhere between 5 km per hour to 60 kph -- they are surprising happy and quiet beyond that.

Anyway, I arrived in Manali this morning and met up with my guide. I leave for the ten-day trek to Hampta pass and Chandertal tomorrow morning. It goes up to some 4200m elevation, lower than what I hoped to reach this time around, but promises good scenery. This time I will have an entourage going with me -- a guide, a cook, a porter and 3 ponies. It should be a walk in the park. :-)