Friday, July 17, 2015

Spring break Part 1 -- Mountain View

Spring break is a vacation time between March and April for a week in many countries around the world - According to Wikipedia. I had never heard nor knew of it until it came upon the event calendar of my college. There was no way I would be spending such a lengthy time in a university town like Commerce. With my brother helping me pay for the trip, I decided to spend the week at my friend's home in Mountain View. The idea was to explore the place as well as to go visit San Fransisco. I decided to stay at Garick's place because they have been hosting travelers at their place through the Couch surfing platform which I think is an act of pure goodwill. I've also known Garick through the Lenovo Insiders group where we both were invited when it was formed in 2010. To reach mountain view, I had to take a plane from Dallas to Oakland in the early morning hour, take the BART train from Oakland to Milbrae via Sanfransisco and then hop on to the Caltrain to reach my destination. If you ever plan to go to mountain view another option would to be fly into San Jose and take the caltrain from there. My travel option cost me approximately 7 hours of additional travel from Oakland.

My first impression of Mountain View? It was dreamland with people going around on Bicycles, lush green trees all around with a bit of Orange tinge here and there , Travelling on the caltrain from milbrae in the midst of the sceanic setting was itself an amazing experience! 

Garick and Stephine took me to have a look of the Google campus immediatly upon arrival. To me it looked like a large playground for adults. They were even breeding honeybees on campus so yes if you ever become a googler, there  are lot of things you can explore while coding away your stuff. The bright coloured google bikes were omnipresent in the town. To me it also looked like there were as many Indians and Chinese in town. Well Well, I was definitely in Silicon  Valley now! 

Who would go to Google and not spare time to see those Android statues on the lawn? I've been using Android since donut was released and this was the best photo-op for me to go spend some time with the 'droids'. During my stay, there were kept insider somewhere from the public view . Luckily Stephenie knew where they would be and voila! I was trying to have a bite into the droid statues as soon as I got there. Rumor has it that they are edible - all of them. It's just a rumor though ;) . Of all the droids, the  kitkat looked edible but well,it was not! 

While at Mountain View, I was also suggested to go visit the computer Science museum. For geeks who would not want to miss a part of history, there is LOT to explore. I am not sure if there is another place which chronicles 2000 years of computing history!. First stop was the IBM section . I've never been an IBM fan nor have known much about it's history myself.So this was an opportunity to explore its history and achievements.  This is definitely a company which was a force to reckon with back then, replacing punch cards with magnetic disks and propelling computing speeds to improve industrial productivity with number crunching power. 

When we started learning about computers, all of us must have heard about Charles Babbage engine. Probably the worlds first computer designed to calculate polynomial  values. It is amazing to see that people were into computing in the early 1800's and the Charles  engine is only proof of that. This is definitely a geeky thing! 

I was never an electronics guy, but it was also interesting to have a look at the evolution of the microprocessor from where it was to where it is now. Big behemoths like Intel have played a major role and still do to bring raw computing power into the hands of the common man and the transition of this invention is more than evident in the processing capacity of a modern day CPU from Intel. There were possibly other players in the game, but since the founding fathers were from silicon valley and they had their vision of CPU processing, it is adept to share a piece of that history on the blog. These are the silicon valley documents - where it all began. 

To warp it up, I went inside a section which wad dedicated to Google. One exhibit of particular interest was the Google self driving car which does not require any driver. The model is a modified Lexus SUV and has been going around the google campus for a while, storing telemetry data on its performance. It still does not have a permit to go out on public roads though. Getting to see all of this stuff, one can only marvel at the extent of how intelligent a human mind can be and has the ability to make anything to a reality with compassion and determination. Without my knowledge I spent close to 7 hours in the place and still had time left to go visit other sections from Microsoft and Apple. All of that in another part.

This amazing and fun filling trip would not have been possible without Garick and Stephanie. So thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for your hospitality and goodwill. One day I wish you will come visit India and I can take you around places myself!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

7 years of Lenovo Community Collaboration - 'DO' happens right here

7 years ago, I was just another ordinary user,  searching the internet to check for a solution of my PC problems. What I found on this very day is something which will cherish for a long time to come, not only because I was able to expand my technical horizons with the broader set of global audience, it also presented with a perfect opportunity to work with a number of customers like me around the world. Some of them who later became "Super users" . People who had a lot of passion, to reach out and help others in need.

This experience also gives you the opportunity to know about new cultures, build relationships with returning customers for help, who in turn are inspired to help others. The flow of knowledge in this way is only possible because, Lenovo has built the community from ground up, envisioned by Mark Hopkins, and with the help of other seasoned super users from various communities.

So what have I observed since the past 7 years?

1) When ever I login here, there is a sense of happening, be it the super users working together to keep spam away, looking out for major technical issues that could impact a broad range of customers or banning socket  puppets.

2) It is a privilege to be a part of this  group, which has industry leading experts on subjects like Security and Malware. I can't imagine if I could have gotten the opportunity to interact and learn from such folks, had I not been here.

3) The community runs 24x7 ,365 days of the year.  The moderator group is so diverse, that I can always find at least some of them online, making sure that things work like a well oiled machine. Folks from US,Australia,Turkey,India,Europe, Russia and other Spanish countries make the core group of superusers.

Newly Launched Russian Community 

4)What started as an English community in 2007 has now being expanded to help customers from non english speaking geographies. This only shows that Lenovo is serious about reaching out to its customers.There is also a sense of commitment from the employees and the super user group - something which inturn keeps me inspired to 'DO'  things.

5) There were only a bunch of Moderators and Gurus when I first joined the forums, what I see now is another super set of users jumping in.Be it Microsoft MVP's, technology partners and others. This indicates that the  folks who started the community are always looking for newer vistas which could benefit the customers in one form or another.

6) I also feel lucky to be a part of various Advocacy groups in Lenovo since 2009 apart from the community, which has helped me to have hand's on experience the latest and the greatest . Run by the marketing,I have been invited to international platforms like the CES in LasVegas and the Mobile World congress in Barcelona. This is also another channel for funneling feedback to the company because you get the opportunity to meet top level executives from the company.

One of Lenovo's advocacy groups circa 2011

It has a been a wild ride so far, and I heartily   thank Mark Hopkins for keeping his faith in me, and mentoring me for all these years along with other amazing people like Jane,Andreas,Erik,Dave,Aryeh, Linda,Andy ,Cleo,Serene and many others. You guys are just amazing and I only hope we 'DO' more good things together in the forthcoming future. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Virginia Diaries -- Close encounter with aerospace marvels

I've been watching them on the Discovery channel since my childhood. Their very sight on the TV made to me to get glued to the TV untill the show was finished and I wouldn't hesitate the to watch the show again and again.

I went to National aerospace museum in Virginia last week.. Initially it was only the SR 71 black bird in my mind which led me to go there, but there were other things in store which brought a sense of inspiration and amazement of how far the human mind would go to build such complex machines.

As I entered the museum, far in the front there was the space shuttle - majestically resting in the hangar. . It is one thing to watch these go skywards and another thing to see them in real. Even after trying a number of times, I could not capture the whole thing! Can only imagine how bigger the rockets would have been which took it into space.

It is amazing to see such complex piece of machinery on close quarters. One cannot stop admiring the reach and technical competency of the human mind which has taken us by leaps and bounds into the sky and beyond. 

The SR 71 Black bird, my all time favorite plane was right before  the shuttle in another hanger. This sexy black beauty made by Lockheed Martin is a feast  to aero enthusiasts. One plane after another my close observations with these wonders make me feel, if we as humans could achieve so much in the past 40 years , there is a lot of potential in store for the future. I spent almost 50 minutes around the jet trying to take photographs. I just wanted that perfect moment to be captured. 

That  such a spy plane used for reconnaissance could deflect and hide radar was beyond my imagination. Now I keep hearing rumors if the US used any alien technology in this? have they? we might never know. Kudos to Lockheed  for conceiving such an idea and for always being on the edge. No wonder this baby is still the fastest plane in the world at Mach 3+ speeds. 

If SR 71 has been the fastest ever airplane, it might only be applicable for the military side of things. But what when ordinary humans wanted to travel faster? This is where the Concorde  comes in. Many people might already know about it, This is another plane which I wanted to see in real some day. I was always curious about it's operational mechanism and how it would fit into the passenger market. Cruising at Mach 2.04 this has been the fastest passenger jet so far taking people from New york  to London in just 3 hours. To compare things - It takes 6 hours for a Boeing 747 and 1 hour 45 mins for the blackbird to travel the same distance. But we have to take note here that the SR 71 travels at 80,000 feet which is an altitude where even conventional oxygen masks wont work. Hence Concorde in all it's glory is the only passenger supersonic aircraft. 

Before I windup, there are 2 other planes which I want to mention. One is the F35 Stealth fighter and the other one is the B 29 Bomber which was used to drop the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima during Word War 2. Both of the planes have served or have bee serving for their unique purpose for what they were created. Heck I even was thinking to get a glimpse of the F22 but my bad.. it was too much to take in for a 5 hour trip. 

There are no words to describes when you get to see such engineering marvels. You walk around them in awe and all I can do is salute the geniuses behind machines which have challenged the technological limits humans. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Since my arrival to the US, I always wanted to have an experience of the local festivities here be it Halloween or Thanksgiving. Most of the times, missing Indian festivities back home used to bring back fond memories of delicious food and the family unions. While Halloween finished off in a blink, thanksgiving was another thing all together. 

It was Wednesday afternoon when I noticed both the college staff and non teaching folks wanting to go home soon. workers at  Starbucks in our college library were already getting upset since they were the only ones working on thanksgiving eve. I wondered, why would people be so excited about a one day festival? I was wrong. 

It was thanksgiving on Thursday alright, apart from that long weekend was also the reason. Now, we Indians might have plenty of festivals throughout the year,giving us the excuse to stay back home have awesome food, pray and have a good time. But what about the folks here? I guess they also look upon the festival times to get some time off and when weekend is upon them anyone would want to get away from their hectic life. (Reminds me of my  days at Google where I had 3 days week off. Those days were fun) 

Many of my friends who had cars drove off to places to hang out or do shopping while those "exciting deals" where still there. But me being me, was all  alone in the apartment for 4 days. Sheesh. I had my fun time too. An american friend of mine happens to be a Music major in my college. He also like me,signed up for the cousins program, and since then we have been hanging out with a couple of other folks around places. He invited me to his home for dinner along with two other folks from Russia. Now isn't this exciting? hmmm..  

I was a vegetarian and was really getting on my nerves on how I would manage and get though this "american dinner" experience. Thankfully, my friend's  mom was very thoughtful and made some rice for me, which was the only thing I had apart from the delicious rice crisps and the pie. More than the food, the dinner was a perfect opportunity for great conversation between my hosts and myself and of course the bloke from Russia. They were a family of musicians and I myself had musicians in my ancestors. Loads of instrument playing, singing and playing poker and they made me to sing a couple of classical verses too lol. The pie was fabulous and it was an evening well spent(even though I had finals coming up). 

Where ever we go, the importance of festivals is the same, since the concept of vacations never existed before, people needed some time off from their regular life and here they -  are be it Thanksgiving or Diwali. 

Celebrating life... 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who are your real friends?

Sometime in our life we face people who come in the mask of friendship. After many days, don't we understand what their true intention would be.

Some come to you when they need you as their crying shoulder .

Some only when they need your help

Some stay for a long time with you, are patient until they get what they want and become oblivious of your presence.

But... there are those few  who are with you whether you ask them to or not, they might be your best buddies,family  or acquaintances as well. you never know. God brings people in your life for a reason. Some come in as blessings and some come as lessons.

And this is to those who have been a blessing in my life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The idea of "fitting in" and maintaining necessary cultural balance

It's almost  75 days since I arrived in the states, and something which I wanted ever since was not to be an alien to the culture here. What do I do?There were  some opportunities on campus,  for which I signed up .

The first one was the active cultural exchange program. This gathering of 8 people has been a blessing in disguise for a person like me. Who was right there ,trying not to be a "foreigner" . I had to move with the flow . But it wouldn't mean that I could compromise  on the cultural and ethical values on which I grew up back in India. The ACE program has been very helpful in sharing what cultural barriers we have , the  social customs and religious beliefs. I was amazed to see the  way in which there are so many similarities  and some not so similar customs in  the diverse group. Folks from India,China,Nigeria,Indonesia, Hungary and Taiwan have been participating in the program since week 1.

Another program which I've been actively participating is the "Lion's cousins" group. Here, each international student who signed up for the program is assigned an american cousin , we are allowed to meet and exchange our  way of life and invite each other for festivals or occasions . When I first met my cousin, we never expected that we would chat for a long time . But curiosity about each other's countries got us talking for 3 hours. Oh and I did have the opportunity to taste cheese macroni and learn the game of Texas hold 'em poker. So it was fun!

While every opportunity which seemed interesting and knowledgeable were signed up by me, I was making sure that my Indian  roots. I listen to devotional songs every day in the morning, I make sure that I pray on every Saturday as I used to, only now there are no temples here in commerce. My spiritual sojourn has always there with me and will continue to do so. My family is not with me to celebrate our festivals. Luckily, we have a close knit and a vibrant Indian community at the college who organize various events and make sure that our cultural ethos are in place.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Life of a Indian Graduate Student -- My first month in Commerce,Texas

The Jet-lag was gone. The enjoyment in the weekends watching Prison break was over. Before I realised, the final orientation for the college had finished and everyone was taking the 3 days gap in between to decide on what subjects to take up. Before that, there were also other things which needed priority

I never imagined living with strangers before, but after coming here, I had to search for 3 other like minded people like me who are vegetarians, yes sounds crazy but what to do! I thought It is better to stay with vegans, as we all can cook in cycles. ( Yea cooking , my mum still can't believe that I cook).  

Apart from cooking which would only happen once we took an apartment, we had to search for one. Not having a car meant that, we four had to split up, go around places, get the best reasonable prices and decide to move in. There were more than a hundred students coming in this fall, so we had to make some quick decisions (What if all the apartments were booked! Where were we gonna stay? ) Thoughts like these gave us some tense moments. Commerce is not a big place after all, so empty spaces could fill out quickly. 

This guy actually stopped his truck  even while I was on the pavement.  

Corporate america and the clauses in between

The whole economic system in the United States is a complete reverse of India. While India follows a mix of both Socialistic and Corporate , the US is completely corporate. Want to take a new bank account? There are tons of clauses for everything. It will take some digging to figure out what kind of a bank account you would require. The apartment which we rented did not come with an electricity provider, so guess what? Search for the best reasonable rates in terms of KwH and reviews and sign a contract for one year. (What the heck! Welcome to corporate America ;D  ) 

One of the many power tarrif plans. It's so vast and confusing actually 

So I kept  skimming through this site called "power to choose". Hundreds of offers on board, lot of combinations between "Offers" and "Price" . Finally zeroed in on TXU power (They provide Free nights from 9 PM to 6 AM) .

Maintaining the monthly Budget :

Getting together was one thing , discussing and buying, sharing the rentals and groceries was new to me . I realised this  during my visit to Walmart. It is such a mammoth!  . At first, you would feel like buying what you wanted.But once you go there, careful fellas! The "Low Price" gimmick of their's kicks into action. You will end up buying more than what you wanted. Meanwhile, I was also searching for an efficient way to share the budget of the house. After two days, I found "Splitwise". The UI is clean and I find it to be an easy way to share the apartment expenses amongst my friends. 

Getting over the Cultural Shock : 

It took me a couple of days to get stock of things. Why? Because I was surrounded by people from the same country as I. The college did not start at that time, and I was with my seniors, going there quite often, enquiring about things, getting used to the dry Texas heat. Enjoying the outdoor walks where there would be no dust/smoke , or honking noises like India. The time spent at the library during the first ten days was also quite significant. I was loving my frequent visits to taco bell where I would munch upon bean burritos and  potato tacos. All was well until I shifted to the new apartment. We were only 4 now instead of the many seniors with whom I've lived.  It brought a sense of loneliness sometimes . Meanwhile, I thought it would be prudent to attend some/many of the on campus events for all the Fall students. This was my way of assimilating and adapting the good points in the american culture. 

Luckily, the counselling centre in the college sent an email regarding a cultural exchange program.Seats  were very limited to just 10 students, so what better opportunity than this to move along with the flow? My inner self advised me to do this because, I wouldn't want to stay as an alien in a far distant land. I wonder what will happen to me when my India visit happens next year. Dunno... 

Studying after a gap of 5 years : 

While I was still thinking to take about the subjects, people were already discussing about OPT'S and CPT'S and what not! . No worries, taking a deep breadth and staying calm was my way of reaching the "goal" . My short term target is to score good grades in the first semester. Travel to the east coast in December, come back and begin my second semester. 

Apart from all of these, some other things which I've realised till now : -

* No Chapatis to eat? Forget it, either get frozen one's or adjust with Tortillas
* No Vegan/ Limited options outside? thinking of going subway? that won't happen everyday ya know! Or better prepare your own food. 
* When will I learn the Texan accent? Is it really needed?  Ya gotta be kiddin me fella! 
*Crossing a road? Pedestrians are given more priority than cars. They actually stop their vehicles for us to cross over. Imagine what happens in India when you try to cross roads, lol 

* First day at college, went to USPS, the lady over the counter said "watcha want?" I was like huh?
*If you don't have a car, walking outside is quite dangerous. Sunscreen lotion,Shades,Cap are a must. Otherwise burn baby burn - literally! 
*Coke is more cheaper and free sometimes once you buy a glass of it. heck,what about water? 

The journey for me has just begun. I wait to see what's up next. Or should I say wassup man! :D