Monday, January 28, 2008


I have been waiting at La Guardia for the same amount of time, it took my travel from Detroit to La Guardia. I approached the ground transportation help desk to see if I have any options if the shuttle I booked doesn't show up.

The previous day, it took me a few hours to research on the transportation options from New York La Guardia Airport to Raritan in New Jersey. I won't have much time as the flight's scheduled arrival is at 8:15 AM and I am supposed to meet my business contact by 10 AM. I have less than two hours to cover some 65 miles that includes New York traffic. Considering how bad a driver I am and my difficulty in switching near vision to far vision to keep track of maps and road signs, I chose to take a taxi or a shuttle. I searched for limo services, taxi rates etc and finally booked a shuttle. I wouldn't say my decision to go with that shuttle service can be backed up by good research, but at some point I just booked it without delaying further.

Back to La Guardia. I called the shuttle service for the fourth time to check whether I can cancel the booking as they are so delayed. The meeting that was going to be delayed was important one for me and my company. I'm surprised that I wasn't angry or anxious but was just following up. The operator apologized that the shuttle is stuck in traffic and the delay was inevitable. I promptly emailed my contact at Raritan that I'd be delayed - one of the nice things we learn in client interaction, called "setting expectation".

The van finally showed up at about 9:15, the driver apologizing repeatedly. Shuttle drivers are usually friendly and they tried to get into a conversation. He talked about New York traffic and accidents and gave a glimpse of his knowledge about New York geography to get onto less traffic route to get to my destination on time. One street in Brooklyn had a lot of camera wielding people moving on all directions.

"News guys!" - I said.
"Oh here is the place where the actor who died yesterday used to live...", said the driver. He continued, "Don't you think the news feeding on someone's sorrow is a bad thing?"
"Yes, but it is the same all over the world. There are people who are disgusted by such attitude and there are people who want to make a news out of every event."
"Sir, the dress, food and lifestyle can be different across nations, but the values of people are the same across the world. By the way, my name is Arnie, as in the Governer of California, so that you can relate the name."
I introduced myself.

"Sir, do you believe in rebirth?" He didn't wait for my answer and took it for granted that people from my part of the world accept rebirth as a fact of life and continued. "The west and the books of Jews, Christians and Muslims do not talk about rebirth. I think it is a natural phenomenon that answers all the question about our sufferings. The church and other central organizations want to control the beliefs and so they don't allow room for discussions on rebirth."

I just smiled, I have no on this. Arnie continued, "I think on rebirth gives us chance to improve and win over fear, anger and hatred."

Now I have a comment. "You can't win over these, because you are these. The very identity you have - that of an Anglo Saxon living in New York will create a fear of things - things that are not you. Fear of the terrorists, fear of gangs in the city will be natural as long as you hold the identity. Realizing this will free you from the perception of fear."

The conversation went on and on till we reached NJ. To me, my visit did not serve the purpose until after 3-4 months when I got a chance to work with the client I met on that day. I hope my visit served some purpose for Arnie - more than the salary he earned on that day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Google's transliteration application for Indic languages

Compared what Microsoft offered through, Google's transliteration application much better. Considering the IME runs on the client, it could have been a lot better in detecting Tamil (though the IME is available for many Indic languages, Tamil happens to be a bit difficult one). For example, to get ன, you have to type the letter n followed by _ (underscore) within a second or so. With a small rule set and /or a dictionary, it could have detected the letter based on the context as Google does.

Google does even better. To differentiate between kuril and nedil, most IME expected the users to use upper case. It has been a fair expectation. But it is also the users' common practice to begin a sentence in English with upper case. On transliteration, this caused a needless error and correction. With Google, typing 'Oru' or 'oru' results in a transliteration to 'ஒரு', which is a common word. Google also shows a context menu with other possibilities like 'ஓரு' and 'ஒறு'.

More to come as I explore.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My association with associations

I haven't been associated with any association for most part of my life. I had no option but to take active role in the association of the residents of my building. Reasons: I was the first one to move in and so had more contexts and an office 5 minutes away from home. So, I became an obvious choice to be one of the office bearers. The association is more of an administrative one to handle receipts from residents and payments to service providers like water supply, security etc., It is no more than a clerical job for the office bearers. Most importantly, the association would never involve in activities like petition to various government bodies or demonstrations or some such things associations are usually known for.

I stayed away from any other associations as I do not believe in collective bargaining. We have so many caste based associations; religion based ones, political party affiliations and social networks to choose from. My strong opinion about such groups is - they are more interested in their rights than in their fulfilling their responsibilities. There is this caste based association run by businessmen of the caste I was born in. Every year they meet and demand reservations for their undeserving caste. Thankfully they haven't managed to find a political leader who would do something about this demand.

The recent association I came across was started by the residents of the area I live in. They had a news item in the local newspaper about traffic changes. I had some reservation about their plan and decided to attend the meeting on Sunday to voice my opinions. The meeting was scheduled to start at 9:30 AM but didn't start till 10:30. Until then, it was some socializing and introductions. When the meeting started it was clear to me that this is another association for collective bargaining and has nothing to do with integrity or reason.

About a month ago, more street lights started showing up near my building. It was clearly in excess of the needs. It is true that we can use some light, but sodium vapour lights at every 50 feet are a bit too much. In the pre-meeting introduction, I came to know that the area association was responsible for getting this done. I thanked the association guys, but I thought it was a bit unfair to have so many lights when the rest of the state is suffering from frequent power cuts. So, here is a clear sign of collective bargaining working to the advantage of the residents and to the disadvantage of the rest of the state.

A few months ago, Chennai traffic police decided to restrict the number of exit points from our area to the main road. The reason was, with more vehicles entering the main road from our area, it was choking one of the important junctions. The association wanted to open up more exit points to the main road. My point was - the residents are responsible for more traffic and their demand is not fair if we do nothing to reduce the traffic from within the society. My view was clearly ignored as it needed some introspection and adjustment, which are difficult.

I can live with opposing views and can understand how democracy works. But I can't be associated with groups exhibiting hypocrisy. So, yesterday's first meeting is probably the last one I attended.