# Turtle Soup

Some write-downable thoughts about infinity, noise and entropy

## Saying Hello in the United States

As a part of my interests in languages, this is the outcome of a small research project. Below is a list of indigenous languages and the phrase “hello” in them, that belonged to Native American peoples that occupied areas in and around the present 50 most populous cities in the United States.

The motivation to do this study arises from a simple, but profound statistic:

Of the 175 Native languages that survived the 20th century, only 55 are spoken by 10 individuals or more. This discounts the fact that at the time of European contact, the number of languages spoken in California alone was 80 of which none remain in the present day. Navajo is the only Native language with more than 100,000 speakers [cite: Wade Davis, Light at the Edge of the World, Feb. 2007].

The choice of the 50 most populous cities will hardly cover the vast reaches of North America that the Natives once used to occupy. However, due to the technology and consumerism driven diaspora of the United States, 79% of the current population is urban and is likely to stay or visit in and around these cities [cite: U.S. Department of Transportation, Census 2000 Population Statistics, May 2011].

Furthermore, the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, made a critical and progressive decision to not limit immigration based on Western European ethnicity, but rather based primarily on the immigrant skills [cite: Wikipedia]. If immigrant skills are an incentive, it is highly probable that most post-1965 modern immigrants live in and around urban incorporated areas, with a large population. For example, as a part of my visit to the United States to pursue my PhD., I have primarily stayed in Los Angeles, the second-most populous city in the United States.

Given these factors, I am optimistic that anyone who reads this list and who currently is in, or wants to visit the United States, will most likely immediately know how to say “Hello” in a language which ran through local peoples’ bloods 500 years ago as much as English for instance, run’s in ours today. Of these individuals, some may be inspired to study these languages further, or be inspired to pursue learning their own native language, at which point, the purpose of this article can be considered fulfilled.

This list was compiled in a very simple manner, following mostly three steps:

1. Obtain a List of U.S. cities by population: Wikipedia is an excellent source.
2. Read the indigenous history of the place and obtain the name of the languages used in the area from Wikipedia or other sources.
3. Use Jennifer Runner’s excellent compilation or other sources as a cross-reference and to obtain phrases.

Using only free resources available on the internet and electronic academic material available for students from the University of Southern California Libraries, details for each city in the list took on average, about 15 minutes to compile. I have tried to make the list as accurate as possible, however, I will be grateful for any mistakes pointed out.

Language loss is one of the greatest threats to the progress of human knowledge. When a language no longer has speakers, a unique wealth of information, inferences and intuitions passed through ages are lost; a flame in the human spirit is extinguished. Languages evolve with time giving rise to new ones, but in the present world, due to the pressures of political power, and the assimilation of peoples with few conscious choices, they are becoming extinct with little chance to naturally develop and flourish.

There are many ways to know about the world’s languages; a simple search on the internet can tell a lot. For example, a project that is particularly interesting and well organized is the Endangered Languages Project.

Written by sushilsub

April 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Blog Entries

For various reasons, I do not maintain music playlists. This is the first and probably last music playlist I will ever make. It consists of all the music I shared with my online-friends on Facebook since I signed up on around September 2008.

The playlist is in chronological order. Also, only mentioned are musical performances and pieces where I am not a performer or I am not personally associated with.

(1) Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUkSqqwU1LU

(2) Elton John – Friends Never Say Goodbye – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23RAuHyZS2o

(3) Fryderyk Chopin – Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTGhwgW-s58

(4) Queen – The Millionaire Waltz – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHhdVPLN-Aw

(5) Yann Tiersen – Soir De Fete – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H30VTDds9S8

(6) Chakravarti Rajagopalachari – May The Lord Forgive – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duCO-TT6Cys

(7) David Bowie – Cat People (Putting Out Fire) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo-Z6s7YR9A

(9) Salyu – Kaifuku Suru Kizu – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOOUQXVzeSk

(10) Ennio Morricone – Death Rides a Horse – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q53CNvFg9Fw

(11) Bobby Womack – Across the 110th Street – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmc9tDky9B4

(12) Harry Nillson – Coconut – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LxC3M-Yngs

(13) Shivaree – Goodnight Moon – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRqUONe_aAI

(14) Queen – The Prophet’s Song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK-U1nZtRRE

(15) Lole y Manuel – Alquivira – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDmE2kLlRPk

(16) Gerardo Matos Rodríguez – La cumparsita – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUOJi5YkJlI

(18) John Myung – Solar Groove – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87UVbOIYT_k

(20) Fryderyk Chopin - Waltz Op.69 No.2 in B Minor – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxG-kOTMgaA

(21) Queen – ’39 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjuyXR5by2s

(22) Vanessa Mae and A.R. Rahman – Raaga’s Dance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrdvg6oqmWM

(23) Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Movement 3 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LErQfuDFGuI

(24) Rachel Portman – Vienne Sets up Shop – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r4NC0eB3cY

(25) Astor Piazzolla -Primavera portena (Spring) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJzogioRx6A

(27) Walter Afanasieff and Claudia Brant – Miramae Bailar – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlsAw8zXzG4

(28) Sa Ding Ding – Alive – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HP1FoZpdNtM

(29) Astor Piazzolla – Violetas Populares – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7c2LUDt9Sg

(30) Shyama Sastri – Kanaka Saila Viharini – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q85HiAGg1Ro

(32) George Gershwin and Liquid Tension Experiment – Rhapsody in Blue – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afZcCPfvq0g

(33) A.R. Rahman – Liberation – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGiInE1-fZw

(34) Fryderyk Chopin – Rondo No. 1 in C Minor – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkv35btR42I

(36) Fryderyk Chopin - Nocturne Op.27 No.1 in C# Minor – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtZokkiSxBM

(37) Alexandre Desplat – River Waltz – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urci4i9zX6M

(38) John Williams – The Chairman’s Waltz – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yT1-Uo5eUJk

(39) Robert Schumann – Hör ich das Liedchen Klingen – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfL5D_MN5bE

(40) France Gall and April March – Cet air là – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaqEoHXriSk

Now those were forty good pieces and songs worth listening!

Written by sushilsub

March 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Blog Entries

Tagged with , , , , ,

## The Annoying Proud Vegetarian

Written on a flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles while savoring a specially ordered Hindu vegetarian meal, this is a relatively short essay on why it’s alright to be vegetarian but not alright to be proud of it.

Vegetarians usually come in two major forms: the traditionally religious (usually Dharmic) vegetarians and the modern vegetarians. The main reason to remain vegetarian for both classes however, is the same: nonviolence, or as the Indian texts would say, ahimsa. There are many reasons why one should consider a lifetime meatless diet and not surprisingly, there are many more that counter. See for instance this TED lecture by Graham Hill or the Wikipedia article on vegetarianism.

These days however, one notices a growing amount of pride in vegetarians for what they are. Organizations such as PETA and the Vegan Society often use the combination of pride and fame of an individual vegetarian for advertisement. Although this certainly promotes the concept, here are some arguments as to why proud vegetarians are just plain annoying:

1) Vegetarianism is not normal: Most countries hardly have vegetarians. This article claims that India leads the race with about 40% and Israel comes a distant second with 8.5%. The rest of the world contributes next to nothing. This suggests that statistically, vegetarianism is not normal, and probably, humans are biologically meant to eat meat. Thus, when vegetarians become proud in societies that are so clearly flesh eating, there is only room for ridicule, and with mathematically sound evidence for it.

2) Being vegetarian is not an achievement: Control required to be vegetarian is not too much. There are various articles explaining physiological dependence on food in general (such as those on bulimia or anorexia); however, craving for a certain food (such as meat), is purely psychological. Since there is no physical dependency involved, avoiding meat is certainly not as difficult as avoiding nicotine or alcohol where physiological dependence has been shown. Thus, proud vegetarians are annoying as they have not really achieved anything in being one.

3) Vegetarianism is natural: Although vegetarianism is not normal (statistically), it is certainly natural. The American Dietetic Association has shown that vegetarians diets are indeed natural and nutritious and if properly planned can be better than diets with meat. There are billions of examples of people who have shunned meat and have lived up to their late nineties with properly functioning body parts. Thus, vegetarians are just being natural and therefore don’t really need to be proud of it.

4) Palatability is personal: Most meat eaters consider poultry and beef  to be delicacies, however, do not eat other animals, such as insects or reptiles. Indeed, religions are filled with examples of haraam and kosher. There is also a TED lecture by Marcel Dicke on why insects are the right way to go in meat eating, and many are already doing it around the world. In other words, disgust or inability to eat certain kinds of food exist in all human beings (including meat eaters) and there is no particular reason why vegetarians should be especially proud of there palatability.

5) Being a hypocrite: Although ahimsa forms a central theme, modern day vegetarians do not seem to portray it in their acts. Besides vegans, the 400 million mostly Dharmic vegetarians in India also consume milk and leather/skin products without regard to the animals that are affected by it. A lacto or ovo-lacto vegetarian in the western world is indirectly contributing to the deaths of millions of cows and chicken that are eventually sold for meat. Thus, being an indirect hypocrite is another reason to subdue vegetarian pride.

6) Vegetarianism involves no penance: This point is the last as its probably the most subtle. Most vegetarians (especially the modern vegetarians) have an overwhelming feeling of sacrifice or penance as a result of this lifestyle. However, vegetarianism involves no such penance in the modern world for two reasons. Firstly, there are abundant vegetarian dishes that make satisfying meals. In fact, there also exist many meat mimicking vegetarian foods, such as Tofurkey for example, that gives the converts a pleasure of eating meat, which goes against the very reason they converted in the first place. Secondly, Dharmic vegetarians do not realize, that if they weren’t born vegetarians, they would probably be eating animals. Thus, its religion and usually social obligations that make them remain vegetarians and there are many examples of people (including greats like Mahatma Gandhi (read this book)) who have strayed. Therefore, most vegetarians do not possess a natural subconscious to be proud about it.

In conclusion, vegetarianism is good, but keep it personal!

Update (09/01/2011): To all those who think this post is an anti-vegetarian rant, I have been vegetarian since birth, first due to religious reasons, and now also by principle. I didn’t want to steal the essence of the essay by mentioning this personal fact about me. I hope you get the point in my article. See the comments below for a better understanding.

Written by sushilsub

January 9, 2011 at 9:58 pm

## Other Stories that Books Tell

with one comment

One advantage of the Great American Consumerism for an international graduate student like me is the wide variety of used items I can buy on the internet. And obviously, my first choice was to satiate the need to read. Since the Kharagpur days, things have gotten more monotonous and the need for books is larger now than ever.

Fortunately, unlike India, used books are very easy to find in the United States courtesy of dedicated websites like Amazon, AbeBooks and Alibris; and free shipping for almost all purchases. And considering how much people here are in love with buying things and throwing them away the next day, almost every book from Øksendal’s must have “Stochastic Differential Equations” to the less important “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is available for reasonable used-prices.

Being an aspiring academic, I usually buy used popular books and textbooks. Popular books are generally bought and discarded in bulk, so they are often “like-new” when I get them. Used textbooks are very specific to the field I conduct research in, and are quite rare, old and correspondingly more expensive than their popular counterparts. The list of popular books I recently bought are:

1) “Chocolat” by Joanne Harris
2) “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” by Douglas Hofstadter
3) “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown

And, the list of academic books I recently bought are:

1) “Phaselock Techniques” by Floyd M. Gardner
2) “Elements of Information Theory” by Cover and Thomas
3) “An Introduction to the Theory of Random Signals and Noise” by Davenport and Root

All the books were bought used from the three websites I mentioned before, and all of them for less than $15, which is usually at least five times lesser than the original price. The smell of an old book is not quite as invigorating as new ones. However, used books carry many surprises that new books don’t offer. There are markings, quotations and references in old books which are very intriguing and usually tell a lot about the reader and his or her thought process. And sometimes, things pop out which, in a Holmes-ian moment, keeps you wondering who the previous owner of the book was. The privilege of such ramblings of curiousity is most for the used book store owners themselves. For instance, a search on the internet revealed that people find amazing things inside used books ranging from the rare$1000 dollar bills issued between 1928 and 1934, to notes from a child depressed about how no one likes him. An updated blog by a used-book store owner who finds things in books everyday is available here. Abebooks has a special forum where they encourage booksellers to share their findings.

Nevertheless, I assume that the volume of books that arrive in a used-book store is large, and sorting out “forgotten bookmarks” is probably a tedious task for storekeepers. As a result, enthusiasts like me are often given a chance to get to know their bibliophilic ancestors. Allow me to describe some of my findings.

I have bought about 12 used books in a span of 6 months of which 3 had items inserted in them.

The least interesting of these was found in Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”. The book itself was not as “un-put-down-able” as its predecessors by the author, and I would say is not worth a read if you were fascinated by the pseudo-real revelations of the “The DaVinci Code“. I found a Metro North ticket receipt in this book, dated 18th September, 2009, bought at Grand Central Terminal New York at 3:28 PM. The Metro North train connects New York and Connecticut and various stations in between, and since The Lost Symbol was released on 15th September, 2009, the owner was probably a popular book fan who had to read this bestseller on the weekend after its release. I am guessing he or she works in New York and lives in a New York suburb.

The second item was found in Davenport and Root’s book on Random Signals and Noise. Davenport and Root have just one edition of this very useful book, published first in 1965. This book is one of few that describes random processes subject to nonlinear devices and is a must have for anyone working in communication systems. Since only one edition of this book is available, consequently the copy I bought is very old and all brown with aging. In this book I found two slips of paper, both of them rich with oxidation induced yellowing. One of these slips contains notes in pencil; with markings similar to “$R_{xy} (\tau)$” and some basic math identities along with a drawing of a digital signal. Obviously the owner was stuck with a concept related to cross-correlations.

The other slip in this book is a table of Fourier Transform pairs cut out straight from another book. It leads me to conclude that the previous owner of this book studied this subject well before printers and computers were in rampant use, and therefore, is probably atleast 35-40 years of age now. Since this page has nothing printed on its back, I am guessing that the table was a part of an appendix. However, most interestingly, the blank back of the page with the table has two words written in bold English – “GERSHIN FERMIN”. The two words are both names and Fermin specifically refers to a Roman saint of the 3rd Century. Gershin is a surname. Unfortunately, Googling the names together gave no results.

The third and most fascinating of all three finds was in Thomas and Cover’s book on Information Theory. This classic book, although not directly relevant to the research I perform, is a useful have, as its a standard for anyone trying to learn elementary Information Theory. It isn’t unusual to spot this book in the shelf of any academic working in communication theory and systems. I bought a good copy of this book, published in 1998. The book was fairly unused and had an intact dust-jacket (which is usually never available with used books).

What popped out of this book was a cut out photograph. The photograph is black-and-white and is printed on Kodak Paper. The photo is also brown with aging, contains sporadic yellow stains in the back and front and is cut out as a strip from a larger photograph. It shows a young woman of East-Asian features (which Americans usually just refer to as “Asian”). This woman is sitting on a wooden staircase in front of what looks like a house or building door. On her side is the staircase railing.

The woman has her elbows on her knees (although I can’t see her knees – it is probably part of the larger photograph from which this one is cut), and her chin and cheeks rest in her palms. She is looking away from the camera with a sly, uninterested smile, typical of someone who is photographed often by a specific significant person, and is bored but yet excited of his or her constant requests to pose.

I am not sure what the specific ethnicity of this woman is. She is wearing a checked shirt and an undershirt with a white collar. Her hair is stretched back into either a pony tail or a braid (which I cannot make out). She is wearing a metal watch with a classic dial. From my observation of native East-Asians at USC this attire and style is not typical of Chinese, Koreans and Japanese women of this era. I am therefore guessing that this woman is an American-Asian or a South-east Asian. Since she is wearing a shirt and a watch and the photograph is old with stains, and black and white, I am also inclined to think that she was youthful in the 80′s or 90′s. Her pose suggests that the person behind the camera is a friend, boyfriend or a husband who studies Information Theory and likes to be remembered of her even when he or she is working, as the photograph is cut to a bookmark size, just enough to include her face.

It was a sweet surprise finding little things in the used books. The experience has propelled me to buy and read more. I was also energetic enough to go to the bookstore and buy a laminated envelope in which I can store and collect the bookmarks. I also now maintain a document on my computer with details of all items.

These random discoveries takes me back to the 11th grade when my classmates and I were crazy about Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and his unique techniques to detect and conclude. Further, the slips of paper bring fantastic and surreal images to the mind of the lives of people I have no connections with.

It is true; a book can tell more than one story.

Written by sushilsub

October 17, 2010 at 1:44 am

## A Crisis

I’ll start by throwing in the following links:

I found this on my friend and wing-mate, Shrey Modi’s Facebook Wall:  The illustrated guide to a PhD.
This was posted by Jorge Cham on his eternal PhD. Comics: Your Math Skills

It is a fascinating phenomenon; the slow decay of the graduate student’s mind. Unfortunately, it is also difficult to realize and accept this fact. And it hurts the most when it is mathematics.

As often mentioned and universally accepted, mathematics is the closest one can come to realizing the truth. It is also said that creating mathematics is like creating a system with zero entropy, which I am inclined to strongly agree with, for it is the definition of finding absolute certainty. This philosophy is the main reason why I am still more excited by rigor than by intuition, although the latter trait is more required for the engineer that I claim to be.

Unfortunately, there comes a time as a graduate student when you able to handle Bessel Functions, but unable to tackle the simplest of high school mathematics problems. And that’s when you realize that entropy, that mysterious physical quantity which defines the arrow of time, has gotten the better of you. The godforsaken problem that enlightened me of this painful truth is as follows (This question was asked by my friend and office-mate Run Chen, who in turn was asked a simpler version of the problem by his mother, who in turn was asked by one of her students, a middle school mathematics student.):

As shown in the figure below, let a complex quadrilateral (Computer Graphics terminology) $ACBD$ describe the angles $\theta_{1}, \theta_{2}, \theta_{3}, \theta_{4}$.

It is clear that when $C$ and $D$, and $A$ and $B$ are joined, the resulting shape is a regular quadrilateral $ABCD$, with $AC$ and $BD$ as diagonals. The objective of the problem is that given $\theta_{1}, \theta_{2}, \theta_{3}, \theta_{4}$, find the angles $BAC, ABD, ACD, BDC$ as functions of  $\theta_{1}, \theta_{2}, \theta_{3}, \theta_{4}$.

At first glance, the problem did seem quite simple. However, it sure was a hair-tearing experience (and an agonizing four hours of torture consisting mainly of crumpled paper)  to realize that I am indeed incapable of solving it beautifully. First, it is possible to show that for a combination of $\theta_{1}, \theta_{2}, \theta_{3}, \theta_{4}$, only a unique shape $ABCD$ exists.  Further, Run and I came to a consensus that an arbitrary co-ordinate system can be created in order to place the quadrilateral in it and lengths can be defined to describe trigonometric functions, in order to obtain closed form formulae. However, this solution we think, is brute force and does not solve the problem beautifully, as I emphasized earlier.

What remains intriguing is whether there exists a beautiful solution that avoids the use of lengths and trigonometric definitions. If not a proof that the brute force solution is the only solution will also be equally satisfactory.

If you have read this post, I encourage you to try solving the above problem (more so, if you are PhD. student in engineering!). A comment would be a good way to tell me that you have managed to do it.  However, I do hope, and in this case I still see a chance  that I can knock entropy out; so do not tell me the solution. But for now, I am stupid.

Update (21/08/2010): Based on (and thanks to) a comment below by my friend Vinayak, I am forced to agree that indeed the quadrilateral is not fixed by just  $\theta_{1}, \theta_{2}, \theta_{3}, \theta_{4}$. This proves that the brute force solution is the best solution. Or in other words, lengths are required to solve the problem (since they are not unique in the first place)!

Written by sushilsub

August 20, 2010 at 10:32 am

## The Valley of Death

I have noticed that one of the common characteristics my parents share is their overwhelming enthusiasm to discover new places when they travel. I still perfectly remember how in 2006, Amma planned meticulously in Port Louis to get a day off to visit Gris Gris and explore the desolate caves of Southern Mauritius.  Appa was equally uber-excited in 2009 about a little-known temple in the middle of the forest in Arasinamakki which we did finally discover after an Amazonian adventure!

And what better to do than to pass on this trait to my sister and I. Personally, I make sure I am guide-less in most of my travel ventures, which makes things awesomer than ever! The true excitement in travel is probably the rediscovery of the unknown; but unfortunately the geographic expanse of the Earth is limited. And with the limited monetary and hence information resources I possess, it is not easy to rediscover places of interest which people have forgotten. Its kinda like research, for after all if we knew about it, why is it exciting anymore? Thus, I plan little, and resort to luck for the most part. Amma and Appa will agree that Gris Gris and the ancient forest-temple adventure were the best parts of the respective trips, but they were completely unintentional and never existed in the itinerary .

It was December 14th I guess, and my friends, Subhankar, Sivaditya, Chiranjib and I were on our way back from Death Valley, California. Truly, it was a remarkable journey to one of the most intriguing points on earth, and as a first of my trips as a student in USA, it was totally worth it.  The company of my three seniors was the best I had had in a while, and I was so glad they agreed to take a driver’s-license-less, “PhD. fachcha”,  three years junior, with them. After a series of silly mishaps we did make it back to LA safe!

Death Valley is in itself a vast desert district in Central California with the strangest of climatic and geographic features that can be offered. Its popular for its isolation and uniqueness, and is very well known for having salt plains, sand dunes, corroded sediments, sharp cliffs, deep caves, wide rifts, barren mountains and even snow within a 100 mile radius; besides being the lowest point in North America. Credits to the States for keeping the landscape absolutely untouched: Death Valley has but only a few roads to ride on, absolutely no cell phone coverage and 2-3 towns 50-60 miles apart, adding to the “stranded in the desert” feeling which I often got when we moved around.

I would certainly rate Death Valley as a first and must visit one must make when on a trip to California. December is probably the best time, as being a desert it is extremely hot in all other seasons. I will make sure to go there again!

But, in the spirit of this essay, Death Valley is still not an unknown. Luck prevailed, and surprisingly, I experienced the rediscovery on the way back from Death Valley.

Another popular landmark near Death Valley is the ghost town of Rhyolite, a quaint town of the Gold Rush days now a United States protected site. We decided to visit Rhyolite and after a series of Spaghetti-Western photographs, we decided that we were hungry. There were two options: return to Death Valley, eat and head back on the freeway we came from. The other option, naive travelers that we were, was to trust the all-American Global Positioning System or GPS to take us to the nearest eatery.

We voted to bet on the path/time-minimizing algorithm of the GPS and it took us to Beatty, a town on the border of California and Nevada; which was apparently on the shortest route to LA. We ate in the Mexican Grill the GPS suggested (in spite of a series of misunderstandings with the waitress about the linguistically challenging Spanish descriptions on the menu), a weird but tasty meal consisting of what I could make out only the black beans, half baked eggs, cheese and brown rice.

With the dry winter desert sun at 3 PM hanging on us, we headed back to LA with hopes of reaching home by nighttime. Of-course,  we were too far away from the CA-127 freeway which we had taken to get to Death Valley, and now a new route was being suggested by the sweet sounding “b\$@ch” that was the GPS. What was not astonishing was we had to get out of the valley, and the route took us through a series of mountain ranges which reminded me of our 1990′s trip to Ooty, Tamilnadu; only now with desert cacti and not coffee plantations flanking the road.

Now, here’s for the juice of the story. The four of us were virtually sitting on needles, as although the mighty GPS compressed all the routes in the world to a 4-inch by 4-inch display, but besides the road, there was not a  sign of civilization around us. Every 15 minutes or so a truck whizzed passed us, moving faster than usual giving us the impression that the path was less taken. The nearest petrol station was atleast 80 miles away and worse, we were entering another valley with no signs of the sun (and absolutely no indications of us driving toward the coast).

Obviously, we eventually got out of the valley and faced the sun all the way back to Downtown LA. But the rediscovery occurred in that valley. We were on the Trona Highway, a strange name we thought given all major roads in the region were number-letter names. And as if in the middle of a horror movie, we smelt sulphur all around us suddenly. Then emerged a wooden haze of settlement. It was not a ghost town, but felt like one. A broken black and white sign greeted us, suggesting must-visit churches in the neighborhood. Uncertain we were, but we still decided to pass through, and were amazed by the sight.

All the houses were dilapidated and stank of chemicals. In the distance we could see a few factories spewing out white smoke in the air. The people mostly wore gray jackets and dirty jeans and sparse as they were, all walked with weary eyes. Some children played outside broken wooden trailers which hardly qualified as homes. The inhabitants were clearly quite poor and the dwindling population drew quite a fantastic picture of the town’s history in my head; of prosperous miners of the 19th century and calamities reducing them to the current state.  As we passed through the center of the town, a train chugged past in the nearby desert, probably carrying minerals to or from the factory which could be easily identified as the only employer of this eerie town.

We were in Trona, California. We made it in and out in 10 minutes, but our unknowing adventure into Trona cast a lasting impression on me. It was surprising that there existed such a bizarre and solitary and nevertheless fascinating  township within the United States and especially California. A background check in the warmth of my apartment made things a bit more clear.

Like other abandoned towns nearby, Trona was established primarily to extract things from the ground, and in this case,  Trona, a mineral rich in sodium carbonate. It experienced its own boom and was prosperous with numerous libraries and churches and schools (often metrics of prosperity in the early days). The railway track built to move the minerals to the coast still carries the ancient train we saw. Today, Trona is still a mining town, with a frustrated population mostly moving out because of the rising crime rate and the unsuitable highly exploited land around. The smell of sulphur hangs on Trona like a memorabilia of its legacy, and there have been many failed attempts  to revive its past glory. Most employees of the Searles Valley Mineral’s Inc. (the chemical factory in the town), drive into work from other larger cities nearby. Interestingly, Searles Valley Mineral’s Inc. is owned today by Nirma, a popular maker of soaps in India. The school in Trona has the only dirt football field in all of USA, with only 8 high school kids for the team. A simple search on the internet and I found dozens of bloggers as enchanted by Trona as I was.

We didn’t take pictures of Trona, or even stop and explore around. But for me, it was the pinnacle of the whole trip; as Jack Black would say “the hard-rocking cherry on the top of the mountain“. For it brought out the rediscoverer in me. That night was pleasant, with a overwhelming feeling of knowing something that not many know, of chancing something that not many chance. It was truly a brush with the unknown. In this instance, the valley of death.

Written by sushilsub

May 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Blog Entries

Tagged with , ,

## Variations on a Theme by Russell Peters

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The title is inspired by Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini which happens to be one of the piano’s more tougher pieces; but this is not the first time. For the information theorist in you, please check out Martin Vetterli’s excellent lecture, Variations on a Theme by Shannon and Robert Gallager’s well known paper, Variations on a Theme by Huffman. More on this – probably later.

“That’s true folks, brown is in!” If you haven’t watched Russell Peters, there are thousands of videos on Youtube of him. Russell Peters capitalizes on the theme of racial stereotypes  to create comedy (he is a stand-up comic). For us “Indians” (?) he his probably just plain funny or a plain dumb ass (This I base on an informal survey of close friends at IIT Kharagpur). But I am sure some of those confused souls that others call ABCs or ABIs or whatever think he is some liberator giving them a hope of bonding with the homeland.

Interestingly though, some points that Russell Peters raises are to an extent true. He says “People are defined by culture and race separately. Racially, I may be Indian, but culturally I am Canadian”. There is no way for one to experience this, unless you actually travel to your homeland.

Recently, I was on a trip with my parents to Tiruchirappalli (or Anglicized, Trichy). For my parents, it was essentially the joy of homecoming, you know, pointing out the streets where they used to walk around and go to school etc. I enjoyed the trip myself with the beautiful temples, but often it got me thinking “What am I doing here?” and later “Its sad that I feel I don’t belong among my own people”. All in all, it was terrific seeing our little household Tamizh culture in Bangalore being followed by an entire city.

Its true; Bangalore is the coolest city in the world. We have an unmatched climate, the most cosmopolitan culture you can expect in the third world, and a grasp over English that gives you a not-so-politically-right superiority feeling when you travel North. But just maybe, we are India’s little community of ABCs.

Random KGP mate:  “So you speak English at home right?”

Me: “No way dude… I live in Bangalore, but obviously Tamil’s my language at home”.

How true is that? While you ponder, I would like to mention that I took a photo of every temple we visited in Trichy. Here is a beautiful picture of the Thiruvanaikaval temple in Srirangam, Trichy.

Its magnificent when you look at it! And trust me, if you must go to Trichy, its way better than KGP. Not very humid at all.

Written by sushilsub

August 2, 2009 at 9:47 am

Posted in Blog Entries

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