Monday, March 16, 2009

Continued at

I'm switching to WordPress. I still haven't got my own domain, so my new URL is Now and then I'll throw a new image in the header of that site. See if you can guess what it is or where it was taken. See you there!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dev Patel and Me

Many movies make it to my wishlist but no further. My quota is only three to four movies a year. And this year, after Slumdog Millionaire had its coup at the Oscars, it rose easily to the top of my list. Several people told me that Dev Patel reminded them of me. But when Hema sent me this Annie Leibovitz picture of Patel juxtaposed with a picture she (Hema) had taken of me in 2002, I had no choice.

I finally saw Slumdog this weekend with S who was in Austin with her family.

Its depiction of slum life and the exploitation of children certainly puts the "Dickens" back in "Dickensian". Slumdog made many of my Indian friends cringe. Partly at the exploitation bit, and partly at the image of India that it projected to a world audience.

I for one definitely loved it. The fighting spirit and liveliness of the slum kids kept the exploitation part from getting depressing or dreary. The romance interest wasn't too cheesy. (Compared to Bollywood, at least; are my standards too low?) They told a good story in two hours without dreamy song-n-dance interludes.

I loved the free-flowing English-Hindi dialogues. Most Bollywood movie dialogues stick rabidly to Hindi in a way that's not natural in urban India any more. Everyone speaks a good mix of both languages at home and at work.

And the Jai Ho number at the closing titles was a surprising bonus. Everyone in the hall sat through the titles and the song. I suppose no movie depicting India is complete without a song-n-dance number. Though I'm not complaining too loudly... Bollywood has given us some timeless classics through its song-n-dance obsession.

From a social perspective, I think Slumdog did just fine. As my friend Mark pointed out to me, exploitation of children is not unique to India; many countries suffer from it. The movie merely exposes this weakness of Indian society. Such exposure is a necessary prelude to its elimination. The Times of India ran an article today that said Chinese activists are using Slumdog as an indirect press for greater freedom of expression in China to expose their own societal ills.

The biggest bonus of all? I may not look like Shah Rukh or Saif, but finally I've found a movie hero that I can claim to resemble! I can finally be proud of my movie star looks...

Here's the John Stewart interview with Dev Patel on The Daily Show:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Day 6: The Journey Continues

The course ended today with a potluck lunch celebration. The Art of Living journey continues...

Couple of pictures of Nancie Di:

Day 5: Satsang

The part 1 course session on day 5 was a short 3 hours since there was another group using the chapel after us. Yoga and kriya today were very deep.

The real treat was the evening satsang with Nancie Di, where she told us more stories of her times and travels with Guruji. After the potluck dinner, most people left and only a few die-hard satsangees remained. Young maestro Vishaal played the Chitraveena for us.

Some pictures are below. The first one was a challenge to get, since we were doing satsang by candle-light, and I didn't want to flood the room with light from my flash. This pic was at ISO 3200 at f/2.8 with 1-stop underexposure. Last pic taken by Ganesh.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Day 4: Q&A and Nancie Di's Story

All participants have settled beautifully into the rhythm of the course, especially the yoga and the breathing techniques. Questions are being asked, and knowledge is beginning to flow.

One participant asked a question about consciousness, I think she asked "What is consciousness?" Nancie spoke for a few minutes about this. It is very difficult to capture the gist of what she said... She explained that even when cells are cloned in the lab, there's a little spark of electricity that has to be fed before their metabolism gets going. Consciousness is like that spark, that force by which the union of a single male cell and a single female cell grows into this complete organism with such a diversity of features: eyes, face, hands, etc. that function so beautifully together.

Q: How does consciousness happen?

A: It doesn't happen. It just is.

Perception is very different from existence. Consciousness is already there in all of us. Do you remember that space after kriya when we were not quite asleep, not quite awake? That state is very close to the fully conscious state.

Q: Have you ever been one with pure consciousness?

A: Yes.

Q: What happens then? What do you think about?

A: There is no thinking. Everything goes away.

Q: Can you be there for long? How long?

A: Oh, some people can stay in that state for days, even months. I haven't gone that far yet!

Q: Why do you need to go there?

A: There is no need. It just happens. See, in order to understand the mechanics of the mind, you have to witness the mind. For this you have to go beyond the mind. Do you get it?

I can't believe I'm talking about this on a Part 1 course!

The capacity to go to that place at will and experience it again creates that ability, that clarity of perception, where you can see the mechanics of the mind clearly and rise above it. The vast majority of people have this experience frequently, but they just don't know what it is. And they have no capacity to experience it at will.

Q: How often do you feel the need to go there?

A: After a point, there is no more here or there. It just effortlessly happens. Twenty minutes twice a day of deep meditation is enough. That's what Sri Sri recommends.

When you get done pondering the nature of the mind, then you fall in love. Or some people are so engaged in the mind, they have to fall in love to get past it!

Q: Fall in love with what?

A: Everything. The present moment, the people around you, the bad mood, the policeman giving you a ticket, the nature, the city, everything without exception...

Q: How did you come to the Art of Living?

A: In 1988 Sri Sri visited Santa Barbara, and after He left someone called me and told me about Him. As they were speaking, I was directly getting an experience of Him. I was taken aback. I was having a profound experience just hearing about Him. This person ended the call by asking me, "Can he really be enlightened?" Somehow I said, "I'll do whatever He tells me to do." I shocked myself with that statement. I had no idea why I was saying that.

The next time He was in the US, I got three calls from people telling me to go meet Him. I gave the usual excuses - time, money, etc. And the time after that, it was 8 to 10 calls, saying I should go and meet this man. I thought I was being stalked, and I made up my mind never to go. I was quite resistant.

In the meantime, a very challenging client I was working with stopped coming to me. I felt relieved, since the sessions weren't doing her any good anyway. Six months later, she came back to me, and wow! She was not even the same human being anymore. The change in her was off the charts. She could access and address things about herself that I couldn't have dreamt of. I asked her what had brought about the change, and she said she had done the Art of Living course and traveled to India with Sri Sri.

Now I was intrigued. It would be irresponsible of me not to take this course and find out what it was. I had so many people I could recommend it to. This was in 1990. Sri Sri at that point decided not to return to the US for the next three years, but fortunately for me He changed his mind and came during Christmas. But a family emergency pulled me away to Europe, and I couldn't meet Him. Throughout 1991 there was no course in Europe or the US that I could take. In 1992 He came back to the US, and the organizers called me. I arranged to take a course with another teacher, but Sri Sri later told that teacher not to teach that course. That's when I knew, He was coming to teach me himself. He came to Canada, and I went there. He taught me my first Art of Living course. I was sitting at His feet just a few feet away. And He hadn't taught a Part 1 course in years! At that point He was only teaching the advanced courses.

That was the beginning of the end of my mind. About a year later I was full time.

After our course session was over, some of us volunteers sat for an hour with her in the hall. Her intuition was able to pull out something about each one of us. The advice that she was able to give us was just... amazing. Words cannot do it justice, so I won't even try.

Day 3: Q&A Snippet

A brief snippet from Q&A with Nancie Di (paraphrased, not verbatim):

Q: How did Sri Sri come up with Sudarshan Kriya?

A: Once in a blue moon Sri Sri talks about it, and even then only a few brief sentences. I've only been around Him twice when He has spoken on the topic. He used to be a meditation teacher, and He realized that some people were not able to meditate, and some who were meditating were in fact not getting the benefits that have been enunciated for meditation. This age is so full of activity for the mind, isn't it? Our daily lives have become so hectic, and the mind is just not able to go deep at all. He realized that something more was needed. So He went into a period of silence for 10 days. During that silence, what came to Him was the kriya. This was in 1982.

He has said that the knowledge of kriya was there on this planet in the past, and it had been lost. So He revived it.

Kriya is not just a precursor to meditation. A lot of deep cleansing happens during kriya. The word kriya itself means "purifying action". A lot of rebalancing happens in all the levels of existence we talked about earlier.

Outside of the course session, Nancie Di also pointed to a specific story in Vasistha's Yoga that enunciates kriya as well as the hollow and empty meditation (taught on the Art of Living Part 2 Course). I do not remember that story at all; time to go back to reading Vasistha! Last week, I watched (again) the fifth tape of Sri Sri's commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali also talks about kriya. Of course, the experience completely trumps the explanation!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day 2: Happy Birthday Nancie Di

What a day! Participants in our course got their first experience of sudarshan kriya.

After the session Nancie Di led us in a beautiful Guru Pooja followed by a short meditation. While we were thus engrossed, the rest of the gang was waiting for us at Mozart - where we had arranged a surprise celebration for Nancie Di for her birthday.

Nancie later shared with us that she thought she would have a quiet birthday this time without anyone in Austin knowing. As a traveling Art of Living teacher, she has been in this situation before. She has also had surprise parties before, but her intuition would always tell her it was coming. Not this time! Until we took her to Mozart's, she hadn't a clue.

Happy Birthday Nancie Di!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 1 of Art of Living National Week

Yesterday was Day 1 of our Art of Living National Week. All over the US, Art of Living Part 1 courses are being conducted at the same time this week (Feb 17-24).

In Austin we started our course last night, with between 15 and 20 participants (I don't remember the exact count). The class has some apprehensive new faces, some veteran volunteers, and some who are re-discovering the joys of the course by repeating it.

Austin has been fortunate to get Nancie Di as a teacher for this course. She has been with Guruji since the early 1990s, and has taught in many places in many countries. She is very articulate and specific with instructions she gives to students. She has many stories to tell to illustrate the points she makes in class - stories about her own life and her experiences with Guruji. Her style is simple and disarming.

I'm on this course after an 8-month gap without a Part 1 course. And it's my first time with Nancie Di, which is great, since we have something new to learn from every teacher. Before the night was over, I realized how high the prana was in that chapel as we were going into our first pranayamas. During the brief guided meditation, I experienced very deep stillness. It was almost like being on a Part 2 course.

More to come, as we continue the course and learn the sudarshan kriya.

PS: We will have satsang with Nancie Di this Saturday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Made It In Good Shape!

It's oficial -- I've made it to the big three-oh. My birthday was celebrated with a small party hosted by Madhu.

PS: February post!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hunt-n-peck on Dvorak

Once again I've taken up the Dvorak keyboard layout. I've switched to Dvorak on my primary workstation and my laptops. After years of touch-typing on qwerty, I'm back to hunt-n-peck and learning the new layout.

The last time I tried this, it didn't last very long. Wish me better luck this time.

Why do it?

As a learning test. How long does it take to memorize new key positions? Both brain and muscle memory are involved.

Supposedly Dvorak is easier on the hands — though this is a subject of dispute.

In the half-day that I've used it, I've drawn the new layout on a beige keyboard with a Sharpie, unlearned the vim keys, taken tutorials online, appreciated the Windows on-screen keyboard, and realized the difference between an English mix of letters and an engineering / coding mix.

Let's see how this goes!

Update at end of day 1: 15 to 20 wpm without looking at the keyboard!

Update at end of day 2: 20 to 25 wpm. The switch is going well!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I recently set up OpenVPN at home. It’s a pilot for someone who runs a business, and needs remote access to a samba file server located at the office.

There are several pieces to the puzzle, so I’ll list them all below.

Ubuntu: The first step was to buy a used Athlon 64 desktop system with 1.5 GB of memory and upgrade it with a 500 GB Seagate Barracuda hard disk. I installed 64-bit Ubuntu 8.10 on it, desktop edition. Using the Synaptic package manager I installed Samba and OpenVPN from Ubuntu repositories. Simple enough. I also threw in openssh-server for ease of administration and file transfer, and proprietary graphics drivers for getting a decent display.

Port forwarding: On my Belkin router I enabled forwarding of port 1194 (default port for OpenVPN) to my Ubuntu machine. However the IP address of my Ubuntu machine was a DHCP address assigned by the router, so that posed a problem, solved by the next piece of the puzzle.

Static IP: I had to set the Ubuntu machine to a static IP on my home network to enable port forwarding. (For some absurd reason this worked on one Ubuntu machine but not on another… I’m still investigating why.)

DynDNS: I had to access this system from outside my home network, and I have a typical DSL connection with a dynamic IP address. So I signed up for a free account. My Belkin wireless router has built-in support for DynDNS, and I decided to use it instead of a standalone client.

OpenVPN Client: On a laptop I installed the OpenVPN client. Since the Ubuntu repository had given me a release candidate version of 2.1, I chose to install the latest 2.1 release candidate rather than the stable 2.0.9 version. The 2.1 series comes with the OpenVPN GUI integrated, which is a big plus.

Key Generation: I read the steps on the OpenVPN HOWTO and generated the required certificates and keys on the Ubuntu server. Then I copied over the required keys and certificates to the client laptop.

Configuration: From the HOWTO, creating a config file for a tun configuration proved easy enough for both client and server, with lzo compression enabled. I did not need bridging since Samba was on running the same server as OpenVPN.

So did it all work together? Of course not... read on!

First, my router's DynDNS update didn’t work as expected. When I had restarted my router and DSL modem for some reason, the DynDNS client on the router recorded a bogus non-routable IP address before the DSL modem could get an IP address from upstream. And then the DynDNS client on the router promptly proceeded to update my DNS record globally with this bogus non-routable address. What’s worse, even after I corrected the situation with a manual update, my router refused to give up its earlier cached DNS lookup that pointed to the bogus IP. As a result, I couldn’t refer to my VPN server by name at all.

The alternative I considered was a Perl program called ddclient. It worked for a first update but did not run successfully in daemon mode... haven't yet figured out why.

The second issue came up when I had connected successfully and was in the testing phase. I was able to see my Samba share from my client, but my connection was unstable. I decided to switch from UDP to TCP, and then it started to work reliably. To make this switch, I had to edit the server config file and restart the service, edit the client config file, and change the port forwarding setting in the router.

How well does it perform?

Going strictly through my own internal wiring, I was able to push or pull about 2 to 3 Mbps from my laptop to my Samba server, each way. The laptop was connected using wireless 802.11g. From a friend's home, I got about 300 to 350 Kbps for reads; I didn't test writes.

I suppose setting up an OpenSSH server and using SSH tunneling would have worked just as well, with the addition of a virtual NIC. But this was cooler. :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Are Diamonds Forever?

Another in the “for you” reading series. There’s an old article from a 1982 issue of the Atlantic Monthly titled Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? It’s a long but fascinating read. And it’s not just about what the title says. It chronicles the growth and consolidation of diamond mining and more importantly, marketing.

In times past, a woman’s jewelry used to be her financial safety net, at least in cultures like India. Gold makes up the bulk of a typical collection, followed by silver. Diamonds are a relatively recent addition. Read on to find out why a diamond may not be a woman’s best friend after all.

From the website of Atlantic Monthly: Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Superinvestors of Graham and Doddsville

With this post, I’m starting a series on investing, targeted towards one specific reader – you know who you are. :)  The first thing I’d like you to read is a speech by Warren Buffett, titled The Superinvestors of Graham and Doddsville. In it Buffett explains the basic principle of value investing and the negative risk-reward correlation that value investors enjoy. About the principle, Buffett says:

“I've never seen anyone who became a gradual convert over a ten-year period to this approach. It doesn't seem to be a matter of IQ or academic training. It's instant recognition, or it is nothing.”

Soon to follow, an article from Buffett in the NY Times, which argues that now may be the perfect time to apply this principle, and he certainly is doing so.

With that, onward to the article. It’s best to download the PDF and read it along with the tables and illustrations.

Superinvestors: PDF
Superinvestors: HTML

Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Year, New Writing

Resolution time. I will post at least one item every month on this blog. Here goes the January post.

Looking back just a bit: Fall 2008 was crazy as well as blissful, thanks to Guruji’s visit to Texas and especially right here to Austin. We’ve heard before that the work of a Guru is done at a very subtle level, and this time it has been reinforced manifold for me. He was full of praise for the public talk we had organized, though it was far from being perfect. I learnt first hand what it takes to organize an event with a $20,000 budget, 700 attendees, 40 volunteers, and a Guru. (Hint: having the latter makes all the difference… everything else becomes easy to handle.) After our day with Guruji was past, I traveled with Guruji to Dallas and onward to Houston where I was volunteering for the Art of Living Part 2 course for five days. The short span of a day when Guruji was in Austin, and the bus ride to Dallas, and the time we got with Him in Houston – nothing can come close, and it still feels like it wasn’t enough! (Is it ever enough?) Here are some pictures on Picasa from Ravi R, our official photographer for the Austin event.

I got some good rest in November and December and restarted some reading. I completed The Audacity of Hope, the second book by President-elect Barack Obama who at the moment seems to be the beloved of the whole world (except for the Republican half of the US).

I am amazed at how well this book lays out the whole platform for the presidential campaign. Once he had written out his thoughts in the form of this book, I don’t think there was much new by way of ideas or rhetoric that he had to come up with for the campaign. Foreign affairs, race relations, economics, family values – it’s all there in the book. Another impression I carried away from the book was how well Obama can see both sides of an argument. I’m betting we’ll see less of the black-and-white “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” presidential world-view we’ve become used to in the last eight years in the US.

Here’s another book I’ve started reading: The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey Liker.

My own employer, AMD, has rolled out our LEAN initiative a while ago, starting with our manufacturing where it has apparently done wonders. We haven’t yet changed our ways in the engineering organization though, as far as I can tell. I haven’t reached the part in the book where he talks about LEAN for engineering and service organizations. Let’s see what comes up. Based on what I’ve read so far, I recommend this book highly.

Part of this new year break has been spent reorganizing my computing environment at home, migrating from a mostly desktop-based environment to having a laptop and a home server. More updates later on this front. And for the first time, my photography arsenal is seeing the addition of a compact, the Canon A590 IS, which I’ve decided to use as a walk-about camera at all times and especially for low-light and B&W shooting. Quality is nowhere near my Canon DSLR but here’s what I like about it that the DSLR and my 24-70/2.8L can never provide: it’s human-sized. It’s been fun so far!