Of Pickup Trucks

One ubiquitous symbol of American modes of transport are pickup trucks. I’ve always struggled to understand their enduring appeal. The most ridiculous thing of course is the open cargo area. Why the fuck is this a thing ? Any one can reach in and steal your stuff of course. Secondly, no weather protection. No one is bothered by their stuff getting exposed to rain, snow, wind or getting bleached by the sun ? So, of course we have ugly hacks like the covers and caps. Also, I’ve seen plenty of custom fabrication in the form of specialized boxes and storage areas which of course removes any appeal of an open cargo space.

Third, there is so much of wasted passenger space. Are there any advantages to this thing at all ? Perhaps easier cargo loading e.g. a bulky item being loaded vertically from a crane. But I would say the lack of security and weather protection is simply too large of a trade-off. Maybe aesthetics are an important factor with most pickup trucks being used as passenger vehicles. Well, get an SUV equivalent of the truck instead ? The SUV has good road presence and serves as a great hauler and mover. Maybe the pickup truck is a truly cultural mainstream phenomena that its practicality is not called into question.


I’ve noticed a bizarre phenomenon recently when I’m on flights. Usually folks fiddle with their phones like anywhere else and being in close confines one can sometimes inadvertently get a look at what’s on their screens. Now of course, many flights don’t have WiFi and for the most part you are essentially offline. What do people then do on their phones ? Watch or listen to downloaded movies or podcasts ? No ! It’s mind boggling to see many constantly flipping through their (cached!) content – mostly pics from their social media or going through tired old messages.

There are countless ridiculously easy ways in which to consume offline content on phones – movies, music, reading materials, games etc. Or you could pack a fucking paper book or read the damn in-flight magazine right in front of you! Are you not entertained ? What is this a symptom of ? A total capitulation of the senses that one continues to mindlessly mimic online behavior when offline ? Note this behavior is not restricted to someone who’s “grown up” with smartphones, but is across generations. I guess this is indicative of a general lack of curiosity beyond their closed worlds. This is somewhat depressing, but hey when flights soon get that cheap Wifi…

ICSE 2019 – Reflections

I attended the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) 2019 edition hosted in Montreal, Canada. For someone who attended the conference for the first time, here are my thoughts. In software engineering academic circles, ICSE is considered a top-tier/premier conference and is generally regarded as a sort of holy grail publication venue. My expectations were therefore suitably high. My overall feeling can be summed up in one word: underwhelming.

ICSE 2019 had about 100 papers accepted in the main technical track. I tried to attend a variety of talks that I was interested in. (The talks happen in parallel sessions). This was somewhat disappointing. Most of the talks were quite mechanical boiling down to a rereading of the paper. I dont blame the presenters – most of them were students and the primary intention is not to dazzle, but to invite the audience to read the actual paper later. This is where I feel the purpose of a conference can be questioned. There was zero value in one being physically present to hear a talk. I found it much more convenient – to glance at the proceedings, pick papers of interest by looking at the abstract and then doing a deep dive if interested. If any questions arise – the authors are but an email away. This can be done entirely offline ! What about live interaction you ask ? At the conference, the 20 minutes timeslot is quite small to sink ones teeth into any topic anyway, so most of the post-talk questions can only be superficial.  I also had a paper of my own which I presented in a workshop.  Given the smaller nature of a workshop, I thought that this could result in some engaging discussion, but time constraints seemed to have gained the better hand.

Well anyway, coming back to the actual content in ICSE – there were few “interesting” topics. But nothing really that got me excited. For a few papers – I want to channel Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park – “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should ! However, I will be charitable and attribute this to the general nature of research.  One always hopes that some of these ideas will somehow germinate into something meaningful later.

The other much touted aspect of any conference is the chance to “network”. This I must frankly say is bullshit. Most of the ice-breaker/mixer events devolve into two minute conversations about ones work and perhaps some polite small talk. I highly doubt if any sort of meaningful connection can be made in a crowd of 1000’s where most of the folks were worried about trying to find food. The amount of time and money I spent – applying for visas, organizing travel and accommodation and actually traveling was absolutely not worth it. Not to mention the staggering carbon costs incurred by a ton of people flying in and out. Watching slickly produced videos online would have made life much easier for everyone. I think it’s time for the research community to seriously rethink conferences.


Language is a huge component of self identity. How about accents though ? I’ve seen a lot of Indians having acquired somewhat of an American accent while speaking English in the US. This is somewhat interesting to observe. The accent mainly crops up during communication with non-Indians (although to be fair I have seen some who don’t distinguish). The accent itself is somewhat bizarre – neither here nor there. Some rolling of the r’s and e.g. saying “tack” instead of “talk” ?!  Well anyway it’s fucking annoying. Adopting an accent makes one sound stilted and unnatural – if one is able to communicate clearly, then why the need to change pronunciation style ?  I can speculate – the need to be better understood or perhaps the feeling of not standing out. For the record – I’ve never seen non-Indians adopting an Indian English accent while in India.  I would argue that an  accent is also a strong component of identity – try not to lose it !

Eating at US Restaurants

I do a fair bit of eating out. Here are some weirdly annoying things and nice things about eating out at US restaurants. Here I refer to the sit-down restaurants with service.

First the annoying bits:

  • One has to wait to be seated. I understand if there is a crowd, then somebody manages the seating, but even in empty restaurants one has to wait for someone to come and escort you to a table. The weird thing is that some random table is usually picked out and asking for a specific table usually gets a reaction as if one is asking for VIP treatment.
  • The US is a large and spacious country and restaurants in turn tend to be large and spacious, but many of them cram tables right next to each other. You can usually overhear conversations from around you. It can get super loud and on your nerves. (The Diner style of restaurants usually have comfortably spaced out seating and don’t have this problem.)
  • There seems to be no established convention to get the attention of your waiter. In India, “Boss” usually works, but here you have to awkwardly wait for the waiter to meet your eye. In busy restaurants, this is quite difficult and one usually end up playing a bizarre waiting game

There are some nice things too of course !

  • Water and soft drinks are usually served with ice. They usually serve a straw as well for easy drinking !
  • Portion sizes tend to be large. Plan to share 🙂
  • It is completely normal to get the leftovers packed. Restaurants usually do a great job of nicely packing stuff
  • Probably linked to the whole tipping culture, but in general waiters take the time to explain the menu and do a decent job of recommending items when you are lost

Beauty and the Beast

We recognize the idea of beauty easily. A good looking person, a nice house or even something as simple as a well manicured lawn. However, I am concerned that this notion of beauty and aesthetics is rapidly disappearing from the Indian mindset. There is a very narrow minded approach to brute force functionality – if it works, what else do you need ? For instance, take TV cables – cable operators run wiring between houses in a haphazard manner. Bunches of ugly cable dangling from junction boxes placed between trees. Telephone wires running from the pole to the house.
Ugly cell phone towers marring the city skyline – why don’t we see them abroad ? This is because pains are taken to ensure that they are well concealed and inconspicuous. Civil work is another case in point. If an old building needs to be retrofitted, it is done in the most ghastly manner. External plumbing with pipes sticking out of the exterior. If you want to drill outlets for AC’s – usually someone just hammers out a hole in the wall and pushes a pipe through it. What the fuck. Public gardens have wild grass growing everywhere. Mow the lawn damn it !
None of our public spaces have simple things such as flower beds or just a patch of grass. These are just small things that go a long way.

Shitennoj honbo garden06s3200.jpg
More Zen Gardens Please ! (Image courtesy : Wikipedia)

What is the problem ? Is it laziness or is it a deeper cultural thing ? I would really argue that it is more of a mindset problem. The Japanese for example have a famously strong sense of aesthetics. It is ingrained in their culture and is very much a part of their daily life. I remember reading somewhere that at the beginning of the century, potential Japanese civil servants had to write an essay on beauty as part of their selection critiera. No doubt, India has a rich tradition of the arts – we have some of the greatest monuments, glorious sculptures, handicrafts and art forms, but this I think has remained largely silo-ed. The general public today has no time for them and does not care for them.

I think this is a worrying trend. The lack of understanding or appreciation of aesthetics will reflect poorly elsewhere. In our buildings, in the things we produce and yes even in the software we write. How can this be remedied ? Education as always is the answer. More focus on the arts and exposure to good design in professional courses should at least plant the right ideas. Point in case, nobody demands more NID‘s, but there is a strong demand for IIT‘s. It’s time we combine the two.

Shatabdi Travel Experience

Currently, the best way to travel Bangalore/Chennai is via the Shatabdi train.   The other alternatives all lack in some way. Road travel is a pain because of getting in/out of the cities and can get expensive.  Flying is not practical for a distance of ~350 kms.  The Shatabdi beats the bus both in journey time and cost.  Now, while the Shatabdi is good, there is a lot of room for improvement.

  • Make catering optional.  Not everybody relishes the “gourmet” food – and the catering charge is close to Rs. 200, so making this optional would be a great move.
  • While the food quality leaves a lot to be desired, the menu planning itself is ridiculous. Why serve messy options such as dal and curry which is difficult to package and is liable to spill on a train ?
  • The forced “entertainment”.  This is completely ill-conceived.  There are two TV’s that are mounted on one side in the centre of the coach that broadcast welcome messages, random fillers like “candid camera” and cut scenes from movies.  The audio is played out loudly through the TV speakers.  Why inflict this torture ?  Even for those who want to watch, not all the seats offer optimum viewing angles and the audio is too loud for some and not audible to others. Either provide seat mounted screens like aircraft or provide headphone jacks.
  • Reduce journey time. Currently Shatabdi takes 5 hours.  Why so long for a journey of 350km’s ?  Shatabdi’s are supposed to be a super-fast train (for which the railways levy a surcharge). The journey time must be reduced to atleast four hours.

Shatabdi is supposed to be the premier passenger experience on Indian Railways.  Hopefully it improves.



Spaced Out In Bangalore

Ok, Bangalore’s population is close to ten million now and the city is bursting at its seams. There is a huge space crisis in Bangalore, I am not talking about realty, property etc,  but about living space.  There is no escape to be found from the maddening crowds.  Parks, restaurants, markets, malls – literally every public space is choked with people at all times.  I think to have a sense of space is very essential for general well being.  I am not sure that is appreciated enough.  With the city becoming increasingly claustrophobic, stress levels are bound to rise – traffic jams, parking problems, road rage just to name a few.  Also, this implies that going out to relax and unwind is not a good idea.  With crowds everywhere, one will only end up getting more stressed.  Restaurants where an average meal for two would be upwards of Rs. 2000 are packed to the brim !

Would you want to shop here ?

The importance of living space was recognized pretty early on, Lebensraum was an ideology introduced more than 100 years ago, but was perversely misused by the Nazis to justify their crimes.

I know that it is hypcritical to complain about crowds, when one is part of the crowd themselves.  We know the solutions like better urban planning is just an illusion given the state of things in India.  So what are the alternatives ? Moving to the countryside will not work, since there is a lack of basic infrastructure. Moving to other second tier cities, Mysore, Kolhapur and working remotely from there is probably a better idea.


Bangalore’s Garbage Crisis

It’s an absolutely ridiculous problem – one that shouldn’t even exist. But yet it does. Bangalore has a stinking Garbage problem. There are all kinds of solutions proposed – ranging from an overkill solution of gps monitored truck with camera , to a more reasonable intention of inculcating citizens with better habits. But, the fundamental problem is that the concept of dustbins do not exist in the city.  The BBMP in all its wisdom has officially made Bangalore a dustbin free city, hoping that everyone will use the door to door garbage collection system. This is a seriously WTF policy. If you do not have dustbins, you will have a garbage problem. The current solution involves a worker with a pushcart collecting trash from door to door. The collected trash is then transferred to a three wheeler. It then goes from a three wheeler into a truck and then is finally unloaded into a landfill. The solution is unworkable from so many angles:

  • What if the worker doesn’t turn up on certain days ?  (People do take vacations, fall sick)
  • What if they don’t turn up at the same time everyday ?
  • What if that time is not convenient for everyone ?
  • What if the kind of trash you have does not fit into a push cart ? e.g. A mattress or garden waste ?

So there is a very real requirement of having a place to dump garbage. Since, this is not there trash piles up in road corners and other miscellaneous spots.

Trash on road side

A simple google search, presents a truly horrifying sense of the problem.  So obviously keeping the city free of dustbins is a failed idea, but the BBMP refuses to change.

Other negative aspects :
– Huge amount of manpower turning up in every street of the city, every day of the year without fail. This is obviously impractical.
– Treating sanitary workers in an inhuman way by making them manually transfer garbage from push cart to three wheeler to truck. This is a backbreaking hell of a job that has to be done every day.

With huge trashcans at every street corner, you can have trucks that come once in a couple of days and lift the garbage without any human intervention at all. This solves all existing problems mentioned above. No one is dependent on someone to pick up garbage, an ubiquitous drop off place for trash now exists, nobody has to manually lift trash and a massive reduction in manpower can be achieved.

Surely, this is not difficult to implement. Chennai seems to have done it successfully and it definitely is cleaner than Bangalore – no trash in street corners or in electric transformer boxes.

Chennai Garbage Bin – A better solution

Anyway, the (dim) light at the end of the tunnel is that BBMP is supposedly realizing that they need to provide dustbins after all. Here’s hoping for the best.

Car key lock status idea

I’m always worrying whether i’ve locked the car using the remote electronic key crap.  I’ve had to walk back many times to the car after parking to check if I’ve remembered to lock it.  I was thinking why not have an indicator on the key itself which says whether the car is locked or not.  Well I’m pretty sure someone’s thought of this earlier, but why don’t we have something like that ? I badly need a key like that for in fact anything that needs to be locked. The constant worrying about whether I’ve locked something is starting to annoy the crap out of me.  How fucking hard can it be, lock and key industry ?