National Geographic Photo of the Day

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Lights and New Beginnings

It's December. The Holidays. Not as cheerful as one might imagine what with all these exams, assignments and projects to lose sleep over. However, with a great guy for a roommate who is set upon celebrating the Christmas season the way it should be celebrated, we went about decking out the apartment as best we (cash-strapped grad students :P ) could. The blog's been taking care of itself in the meanwhile with 47,000+ pageviews but I thought it was time I freshened it up with a new post.

Christmas lights, a little tree and plenty of cheer brought to this otherwise gloomy exam season. With a DSLR, a cooperative roommate and no tripod (a roll of cleaning paper would be my best replacement) I took to the task of taking a bunch of photos that I could hopefully compile into a veritable high resolution panorama.

Took me 23 pictures at 24 megapixels each using a brand-new Nikon D3200. Following that I mucked around with a bunch of Panorama-making programs that would either run out of memory or threaten to blow my laptop up. Hugin finally worked (though it did take a good amount of time when it finally did), but then Facebook wouldn't accept a panorama that's 21719 pixels wide and 4149 pixels high. Surprisingly, Google+ does take such large pictures. Strike 1 for Google, I guess.

Still, the only way to create a panorama that you could spin 360 degrees around was to put this picture on 360cities. And here's the result:

Now that Christmas is taken care of, there's a few more days before the end of my formal academic studies for the near future. The words "insanely hard" would be understatement when used to describe engineering grad school at Georgia Tech, but I'm better off for it. Less than 2 weeks to graduation with just a few exams in my way and I'm off into the 'real world' to work. Of course, there's a bit of travel involved before the latter happens.

After Tech's been through with me, I doubt anything else will be too hard to handle. 2 years of ups and downs, the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, through which the closest of family and a few friends have been my best source of support - both moral and material - and in 2 weeks when I walk - literally on that stage to receive my graduate degree and figuratively to a new beginning - I'll have those people to thank, to different extents, for helping me get through this.

Hope everyone reading this has a wonderful holiday season!

Friday, June 29, 2012

An Evening of Music

Québécois music is something I've never heard before. So I went in with no expectations when a friend of mine from work invited me to an open-air concert in the neighboring city of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Genticorum (pronounced Jean-tee-corum, Jean as in Jean-Luc Picard for you geeks) is a Quebecois band with three members:
1. Pascal Gemme - whose feet simply work magic to provide the beat the band plays to, plus his skill with the fiddle
2. Yann Falquet - who works wonders with the guitar and jaw-harp.
3. Alexandre - whose skills are aplenty with the bass, fiddle and wooden flute.

The trio do indeed shine on the stage with their music which, to me, sounded a lot like Irish folk music. In any case, it was an evening well worth the long drive to see the concert.

The videos below are from my cellphone (surprisingly they came out pretty well - both audio and video). Take a chance and listen, it's safe to assume you won't be disappointed.

We had an emergency storm warning earlier on during the day but it didn't deter us heading out here. The skies were pretty clear too. The band's name, by the way, means "Of The National Men" in Latin. The venue you see here is Lowell's National Historic Park which had all the old mills from centuries ago - some of which run to this day while the rest have been converted into different buildings.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Words of Wisdom (No, not really)

I'm not quite sure these are words of wisdom. But these not-so-zen teachings can lighten your day ;)  There are a few gems within.

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me for the path is narrow. In fact, just leave me the Hell alone.

2. Sex is like air. It's not that important unless you aren't getting any.

3. No one is listening until you fart.

4. Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.

5. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

6. If you think nobody cares whether you're alive or dead, try missing a couple of payments.

7. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

8. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

9. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

10. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably well worth it.

11. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

12. Some days you are the dog, some days you are the tree.

13. Don't worry, it only seems kinky the first time.

14. Good judgment comes from bad experience ... and most of that comes from bad judgment.

15. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

16. There are two excellent theories for arguing with women. Neither one works.

17. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

18. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

19. We are born naked, wet and hungry, and get slapped on our ass... then things just keep getting worse.

20. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Jolly Jaunt around Boston

After last week's misadventure, I'd understood the need to plan stuff out a bit better. The weekend before this one, I'd decided to take a walk into history.

Now, as most of you know, Boston and its inhabitants played a significant role in the American Revolution. The Boston 'Massacre' (more on this later) and the Boston Tea Party were both important events in spurring on the start of the Revolutionary War. So I took a bus and then a train (the red line) to Boston Commons (the big garden right in the middle) - the starting point for the "Walk into History" tour. Now this tour takes a route known as the "Freedom Trail" - stopping at sites where events significant to the revolution occurred.

Park Street Church
Boston Commons, across from New State House
Don't be fooled by the Boston Commons' placid appearance though, this place is where they hung folks from trees around the Frog Pond for their supposed crimes. Witchcraft was a crime too and, mind you, they hung even animals for witchcraft. 

The Frog Pond (currently drained)
The view from Boston Commons

Our tour guide for the day was Barzillai Lew. "Zeal" - that's what we called him. Of course, that's an assumed name from the 1800s. As you can see, he's all decked out in the attire of two centuries ago. So too the way he spoke, peppered of course by a few present-day political jokes and satire.

New State House
Our first stop was the New State House on Beacon Hill. It isn't really new, but it was back at the time that they built it. The dome is actually gold plated (with 23K gold leaf) and takes a lot to maintain it.

Park Street Church
The Park Street Church, during the War of 1812, served as a storage for gunpowder. This is why it's called "Brimstone Corner". I bet the pastors there have had fires in their hearts alongside the ones that might possibly have erupted under their bottoms for quite a long time.

Granary Burying Ground
The next stop was the Granary Burying Ground. This place has seen several patriots buried here. Among them, there are three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Robert Paine, John Hancock, Samuel Adams). These three were brave men, in their time signing such a declaration was tantamount to treason - a sure way to get yourself executed back in the time when all Americans were Englishmen and expected to swear allegiance to the King of England. In addition, you'll also find the graves of several other notable statesmen of the time, the victims of the Boston Massacre and Paul Revere here.

James Otis's grave

John Hancock's grave
John Hancock (no, not the lame Will Smith superhero character) was one of the wealthiest men in the Thirteen Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War. He could have been content with all he had, but the man was willing to put his neck out and sign the Declaration of Independence. He even had a grave assigned (pictured below) for his faithful slave. This was at a time when colored people were slaves (until freed at the payment of a large sum or by their masters) and slaves weren't given graves or headstones. Thing is, he kinda forgot to put Frank's last name on there.

Frank's grave

Below you'll see the tomb of one Samuel Adams. Yes, that beer you may have had in his name is indeed inspired by the beer he used to make. Apparently his beer was so terrible that it ran him out of business a few times. Still, a signer of the Declaration, staunch opponent of "Taxation without representation", and a patriot. 

Now, this bar above (it's an old bar) - right across the street from the burial ground - serves Sam Adams' beer. So, it's the only place where you can have a cold Sam Adams in front of a cold Sam Adams. See what I did there :P 

King's Chapel
What you see here is King's Chapel. It was a non-Puritan church (still following the old British ways) built atop a burial ground. The building looks bigger from the side, and the reason it doesn't have a steeple on it is that they allegedly ran out of money during construction.

The Omni Parker House is a fully functioning hotel to this day. It was the place where Boston's dessert "The Boston Cream Pie" was invented. Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh worked here at one time or the other, so ye with revolutionary intent, you folks know where to start. This institution has also seen guests like Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
The infamous John Wilkes Booth (yes, the guy that shot Abraham Lincoln) also stayed at this acclaimed hotel.

A statue of Benjamin Franklin
This was the site of the oldest public school in the US, the Boston Latin School. Ben Franklin (along with the three aforementioned signers of the declaration) were students here. Ben though had to drop out without graduating for lack of funds. The inventor actually ran off to Philadelphia to escape a tricky situation he was caught in.

Old State House
Old State House is where the Royal Governor and the representatives here would have their war of words. It's about 300 years old and was also witness to the Boston "Massacre" happen right in front of its doors. Now, the massacre itself wasn't really a massacre. Only five people were killed in the event and a large part of it was the fault of a huge mob that amassed and attacked a small bunch of soldiers who were frankly so scared that they'd die in the hands of said mob that one of them let loose a round escalating the situation. The symbols of the British throne (the lion and the unicorn) adorn the top of the building's facade. These were thrown down back when the Declaration of Independence was first read but much has been faithfully restored since then.

The last stop on the tour is Faneuil Hall. Peter Faneuil was a wealthy man whose wealth was sourced from his uncle. The uncle left one condition for the benefactor of his wealth though - "never get married". So Peter, took it upon himself to enjoy his uncle's fortune and practically ate and drank himself to death while enjoying the finer pleasures of life. The man was quite charitable though and the result of his generosity to the town is what you see below. On top of the building is a weather-vane in the shape of a grasshopper. Tradition has it that the question "What's on top of Faneuil Hall?" was used to spot spies during the War of 1812. Englishmen would say "Why of course that's a locust!". 

Faneuil Hall Marketplace, sometimes known as Quincy Market, lies just behind the Hall and is a nice place to walk around, what with all the street performers there.
Faneuil Hall

Once the tour itself was over, and I'd bid goodbye to our guide Zeal, I took a long walk to the Union Oyster House (apparently the oldest restaurant in the US) and then across the bridge to Charlestown, on the other side.

Charlestown Navy Yard houses a very significant vessel - the USS Constitution. The Constitution is the oldest surviving still-commissioned naval ship in the world. This frigate typically carried around 50 or 60 guns in her heyday rather than the 44 she was rated for. She was both faster and more deadly than other such frigates of her day. Some technological advances like diagonal riders running laterally towards the centerline enabled her to carry much heavier guns than other ships. She was one of the first six frigates constructed for what was then a fledgling American Navy.

Old Ironsides
Though made of wood, in several engagements with British ships, cannonballs would either lodge themselves in the sides or bounce off - leading to her name "Old Ironsides". This was supposedly a name that came about during a particular battle with HMS Gurrierre during the War of 1812.

I did so want to take her out for a drive but I'm sure the Navy sailors on duty there wouldn't have enjoyed my driving much. The ship actually has a full crew (of around 70 for a frigate of this era) seeing as it's a commissioned vessel. Unfortunately they also have to endure the annoying task of ferrying around a group of people on tour. Be sure to wait for the guided tour if you want to go below decks.

There's yet another ship here - the USS Cassin Young - a World War 2 destroyer. Though berthed here at one time, she is now in dry dock (never stops fascinating me how a ship looks when dry docked like this). It's a magnificent site this - from right in front of the stern going down all the way to that sharp keel.

A walk from the Navy yard found me at the final site of the Freedom Trail - the Bunker Hill Monument. The site of one of the first major battles of the Revolutionary War, a small Colonial Militia held out here until they ran out of ammo against a much larger force of 3000 Redcoats. This was supposedly the place where the words "Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes" was uttered when they noticed the shortage of ammunition. In any case, the actual site of the battle was Breed's Hill, not exactly Bunker Hill but the mix-up is one of those things you have to forgive in the midst of all that carnage. 

A joke from our guide earlier while on the tour : "There were a bunch of black people on the hill too, but they ran out of ammo even earlier. Apparently all they heard was 'Don't fire till you see the whites' ". Possible, quite possible.

And thus the red brick trail ends at the final stop on the Freedom Trail. A walk into history that you folks should definitely take if you're ever in Boston. 

From here, all that remained was a walk to the nearest T-Station to take the subway and then the bus (this time I got home minus any confusion or missed buses) back home. 

Until next week's adventure is posted then!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Memorable Memorial-Day Misadventure

When last I blogged proper, I was back in Atlanta, at Georgia Tech finishing up my second semester. Now that that's done with I'd chosen to move to Boston for my summer internship. I wasn't quite in love with Tea Parties but it's a place I've never been to, was significant in the American Revolution (yes, I'm a history buff) and thought I should have a look around when I had the chance.

It's only been a few weekends but the very first misadventure was on the very first weekend. Now, being that it was Memorial Day here in the US, we had the Monday off. Little did I expect that the bus drivers had the evening off too. But more on that later.

To get a printed subway+bus pass in Boston, you absolutely have to use a vending machine at an MBTA station, and my trip began with the singular goal of finding the same. I left my place in the one of Greater Boston's suburbs on the one (and only) bus that plods this route to the nearest station (that's Alewife Station) around 3.30pm having spent the whole of the morning on Skype with someone I'd missed talking to for quite a while. My plan was "get off the bus, run in, buy the ticket and run back out to hop on the same bus back home". Like they say, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Mine was no exception.

The moment I alighted and procured the pass, I headed back out to find that the bus had already left. With an hour to go until the next one, my only option (OK, I could have held my horses and waited) was to look at the subway map and figure out where to venture first. The name Harvard sprang out prominently on the same Red-line subway and I decided that was my first stop. So off I went to Harvard. Right outside the station, I found myself staring at - what I then assumed to be - a church campus of some sort with walls all around. It was only after I'd walked around the perimeter once that I headed in to find that this was indeed Harvard University's main campus! So I walked a while around the place, snapped a few pictures with good ol' John Harvard (his statue atleast), took in the beautiful scenery and headed back to the station. In all my infinite wisdom, I somehow concluded that I wouldn't make it back to Alewife in time for the next bus, and knowing full well that the last bus was at 6.50pm (thank you Memorial Day timetable) I headed on to MIT's T-stop (Kendall/MIT). For the uninitiated, the 'T' is how Boston's residents affectionately refer to their transport network - I'm sure that 'affection' is quite relative though.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a decent campus, but nothing quite that awe-inspiring as I'd come to expect, and it wasn't endowed with the same architectural wonder or natural beauty as possessed by Harvard either. The one saving grace though, was the location. Right across the road on one edge of campus, you'll find the Charles River waterfront. Not that Harvard is any different in that respect. With the breeze blowing and the sails fluttering in the wind, it's quite a wonderful place to spend an evening gazing upon the water. And entranced by the entire scene I stood, not quite keeping a track of the time I'd been spending. So I ran all the way back to Kendall station and took the red line back to Alewife all the while praying to make it in time for the final bus at 6.50pm.

The timing was actually perfect, but right before Alewife, the subway train pretty much stopped in the middle of nowhere for 5 whole minutes and I was greeted by (the rather distressing sight of) the rear end of the bus speeding away right when I arrived at Alewife's bus berths.

Seeing as how there was no other bus back home, the only way I was getting back was with help from my new house-mates (who proved rather unhelpful at that time of need), or taking a taxi. Now the reason I didn't take just any taxi here was because Georgia Tech (being in Downtown Atlanta) had trained me to be paranoid about safety and the taxi stand at Alewife looked rather shady to say the least. So, following directions from my supervisor/manager at work I actually took the tube back to Harvard station and got a bus that got me to Arlington center, which shaved off a few miles. In the meanwhile, my phone's battery was on its last legs, having started off at around 60% and having served me well throughout the day over 4G and GPS. Got a taxi cab to show up all the way from another suburb and the taxi driver showed up just in the nick of time before my phone finally died ("You couldn't get a taxi in Arlington? Seriously").

During my ordeal, somehow my manager and my apartment-mates had gotten in touch with neither knowing for sure where I was (remember I was not touching my phone for fear it would switch itself off). Fortunately I arrived back home ($40 poorer) just before both parties took to their cars and began searching for poor old me. The one thing I will never again do is venture out late in a new city when I know that public transit stops early that day!

Stay tuned for my second and third weekend's sightseeing in coming posts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Gamer and his poetry

So I was a little bored and decided to enter a giveaway for a game (Killing Floor) on a particular forum I frequent. Killing Floor is a co-op Zombie Survival First Person Shooter that places you in Great Britain in a fictional post-apocalyptic world where Zombies rule the roost. The giveaway was also for a modification of the game with a futuristic twist as hinted at by a part of the poem.

I made up a little poem in around 20 minutes (admittedly not my best effort) as an entry and I thought I'd post it here for all to read:

Cos I'm quite the FPS wh*re.
I'm tired of third person shooters,
or spending time at the local Hooters.

When I saw a zombie game in this thread,
I was thrilled at a chance to kill the undead.
I'd never really heard of this game until now;
Checked out a few videos, I was impressed and how!

I have an undying need to stop them eating my brains,
Hack the limbs off these moving remains.
Surrounded by the smell of sweet decay,
I'd stand sending out a cordite spray

I guess Britain's an undead haven,
Ragtag soldiers with beards unshaven.
Pouring lead into a Siren's spleen,
Singing God Save the Queen!

Doesn't hurt that you've sweetened the deal,
With a fight from the future to grease the wheel.
Who wouldn't like a total conversion,
what with England undergoing an undead subversion.

It all comes down to my love for the game,
For the joy of the fight, not for honor or fame.
I look down the scope, forever with hope...
That every zombie spawned....
Will be another enemy pwned.

Disclaimer: The first line was a requirement of an entry, and no I don't spend time at Hooters, that part was made up :P

I've been running around Boston lately and I hope to have some time later to make a post here about my recent (mis-)adventures. Till then, have a good one!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Year!

It's been 8 days since 2012 began and we can look forward to the world ending this December (if the Mayans are to be believed :P ). I've had a great time with my cousins in Phoenix, Arizona on New Year's Day, traveled with my parents and had much fun in 4 states of the Western United States, taken a jump off a 900ft tower, seen (and eaten ;) ) a great deal these past few weeks in Vegas, San Francisco, San Diego, The Hoover Dam, The Grand Canyon, Phoenix among other places and now I'm back at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

I've met fellow Yellow-Jackets in many of the places I've been to on the other side of the country. I look forward to another semester of torture/education and fun and hopefully an internship at the end of it. Still finding new ways to waste time, but I guess that's gonna end real soon. 

Not quite as worried as I was now that the first semester of grad school is done with (and 'done with' well if I my say so myself). Gotta start dieting to lose all the pounds I've gained from the past few weeks of binge-eating and learn a few other things too this year. I've got myself a part-time job on campus that should give me some management experience and help pay a small part of the bills. In the meanwhile, looks like my blog's crossed 26000 hits by the end of 2011.

That's me:

Wishing you all the best this new year!