Dec 14, 2012

Did you watch the meteor showers?

Yesterday I came across an article about the Geminid meteor shower that was predicted to peak on the 13th and 14th of December. So when my alarm chirped in the morning at 4 am as usual, I brushed my teeth, informed a groggy DH of my whereabouts, made a scalding cuppa tea and made my way to our terrace. The article had warned me of the visibility sapping effects of "visual pollution", which would mean man-made light in this context. I spied some bright light in the northwestern and southern quarters (from a KSEB substation and power grid respectively), but since the Geminids were predicted to appear in the eastern sky, I put down my cuppa and sat down resolutely facing the east.

How many of us deliberately look up at the night sky and how often do we do it? The maximum I notice is the full moon at times, but it mostly happens when it accidentally pops in front of my eyes while we are driving in the night time. One of my fondest childhood memories is "chasing" the moon by roaming all over the backseat of my parents' car as the moon changed its position during our drive over the mostly desert area of the road stretch between Dammam and Al-Khobar. In 2008, I happened upon a curious formation of   two stars and the crescent moon that looked exactly like a slightly lop-sided smiley. It kinda looked like this:

We were returning from hospital fetching my Mom who had just sacrificed a toe on the altar of diabetes and I took the astronomical phenomenon as sign for me to cheer up again. I remember drawing the same in my diary that night. That my vision was not a chimera was proved by pictures in the next day's newspaper.

To return to this morning, I was struck all of a heap to see the literally star -studded sky. I could make out Ursa Major and Ursa Minor pretty well. Now before your mind boggles at my astronomical knowledge, let me tell you that those are the ONLY constellations I know and that too just because they look like sauce pans! I think I can also recognize the Pole star, but it could be quite a different one in a true star-gazer's opinion. So there I was, my tea cooling rapidly in the chilly morning - I had fortunately had the foresight to wear a woolen hat and wrap up my throat with a thorthu - while I gaped at the marvelous show above me. 

I sat there for five minutes and started feeling slightly foolish because I hadn't noticed anything yet. And that is when I saw something dart in my right peripheral vision. Yes!!!!! It was my first real shooting star!! (The only shooting star I've seen before this was in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). And then when I gazed at that spot, there went one on my left!

After counting about five shooting stars, I spotted a sixth one approaching from the north. Compared to the previous ones, this was quite slower and was traveling almost horizontally with a brighter light. I went, "What a super meteor!" when a faint rumble reached my ears. I guess it must have been an early flight from Mumbai coming in to land. Oh well! As time slowly passed and my count increased, I noticed that the meteorites were shifting position to directly above me. So I stretched out on my back on the chilly terrace with my arms under my head. 

In the meanwhile I noticed the world waking up. A neighbor's speaking clock chimed five and then informed its family of the hour. A few seconds later, MS Subbalakshmi exhorted Venkatesa and all around us to "Wake up and get up" from our Maruppancode temple speakers. I could have lain there for ever and ever. But right after my twelfth shooting star an almighty sneeze bolted me upright. I also began to feel the discomforts of certain effects that my morning cuppa had put into motion (get the pun?). So I cut short my astronomical observations for the time being and groped my way down the steep iron stairs. A little visual pollution or at least a torch would have been handy at that moment, but I made it down in one piece. I hope I can catch another meteor shower soon!!!

Dec 12, 2012

Elephants Can Remember (Apologies to Agatha Christie)

First of all, an apology in advance to all my techno-savvy readers ... please look the other way while I gloat over my new technological "discovery"!

The name of my latest technological friend is Evernote. Yup, the green elephant head that you see down below is a real boon to me. 

One of my main activities while surfing is copying and saving articles I want to read again, or craft projects that I want to try. And most probably it will be in the middle of these activities that I will remember something that needs to be done @home, @shopping etc. But I would be so engrossed in surfing that the item would inevitably be forgotten by the time I got up from my chair. Now let me tell you in what ways Evernote has made life a lot easier for me.

1. Evernote has this lovely interface with my "notebooks" listed on the far left side. I have notebooks called craft, decorative ideas, braindump, home and garden and so on and so forth. I can choose whether the notebooks should be private (in which case it is saved only on my comp) or whether it can be shared by others. 

2. Which leads to the loveliness that allows me to access my notes on my android phone. So whatever I enter into my comp gets synced on to my phone that goes with me everywhere. My notes are always accessible! So now I can tell you some of the uses I put it to:

3. Evernote has a web-clipper with the elephant-head icon that appears in one corner of my browser window. When I find something that needs more than cursory attention, I just click the elephant and he asks me whether I need the whole page, just the article or even just an image. I tell him what to select and which notebook to put it in and voila!

4. I have a notebook called monthly shopping in Evernote. Till now I used a master grocery list (made, I think, back in 2002 and updated occasionally thereafter) carefully preserved in a sheet protector. Once a month I took the list around the kitchen and pantry with a notepad and checked for the items in the list, then noted down what I needed. Then I took the paper list for shopping (Or forgot it,  which happened very often) What do I do now? Evernote has a checklist feature that can be used to insert "tickable" boxes. I have three notes in my monthly shopping notebook - each corresponding to a floor of our favorite grocery shop with a list of the items available on that floor. Whenever I run out of something, I just take my phone, find the item and put a tick against it  and note the quantity I need to buy next month. So I just have to carry the phone to the store and uncheck the boxes as I put the items in my basket. So easy, huh! Saving paper is a bonus too!

5. I have another notebook named Someday. In it there are items like Books I want to read, Movies I want to watch, etc. I note down the names of interesting books and movies. The next time I go to the library or the bookstore, I have a ready list of things I need to look for.

6. This can be done even without Evernote, but since it is already there, I make use of it. I use my diary to plan the activities for the weekend (Isn't there something so satisfying about writing it down than just using keys or tapping/swyping on a tiny screen?) When we go out on Saturday morning, I just take a snapshot of it on my phone and my errand list is so handy from there on.  

7. The best thing about Evernote is when I get some free time, I can go through all the articles that I have collected and read them at my leisure.

I know that Evernote can be put to greater and more varied uses than what I have listed. A few videos at their site can give you some ideas if you haven't tried Evernote. 

I guess Microsoft One Note too has the same features and they have a site called where the notes are uploaded. I use One Note on my comp too, but I put only those things there that I need only when I access my computer. OneNote app's interface looks much more colorful, but I am happy with my little green elephant. What is it with me and cute icons????

Speaking of cute icons, you may remember my post about Astrid tasks. I recently became bold enough to sync my phone with an online Astrid account, so I can type to my heart's content when I get tired of using my touch phone screen. Do u know that Astrid has activity-specific icons there? For instance, when I click on my "Write" list of tasks, a bespectacled Astrid complete with pencil and paper appears! I just wish they would come to my phone too!

Dec 6, 2012

Two Books from My Bookshelf!

Hi everyone!

It's so easy to delve deep into blog-world to the extent that one forgets that one's own little blog is languishing from want of attentionYep, that's what happened to me. Susan Branch is one huge addiction nowadays. Rest easy, I've almost caught up with her archived pages and will soon be in real time!

Meanwhile I have not neglected my paperback friends either. One small thing that was preventing me from writing about them was the thought of photographing the covers and adding them to my posts. The procedure was enough to make me procrastinate - take digicamera, put in batteries, take pics, find connecting cable, connect, copy, paste etc. etc. Sheesh. So I took the easy route today. Took pics on my phone, transferred with bluetooth to my comp. Tada!!! So now don't go complaining the pics aren't very good or clear, I don't have an iPhone!

The first book was this: a thin volume that lasted me the length of a train journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Kottayam with lots of pauses between each essay to savor the flavors and think about a bit.

It has all the charm and wholesomeness of Sathyan's movies themselves. Each reminiscence is filled with truth, humor and candor.  I couldn't help but relate to several things that this people's director has to say - especially about the lost art of letter writing. Yes, we can communicate with a wider audience within a teeny tiny fraction of the time now. But no email or social website can reproduce the qualities of a handwritten letter. I tried reviving my letter-writing habit a while ago, but was stumped when I couldn't find anyone to send them to! Now I can only thank the stars that I have had the lovely experience of sending and receiving letters in the past. If anyone's interested in writing letters just for the sake of writing and receiving them, please let me know! We'll  indulge our craziness together and keep our postmen busy! 

If you can read Malayalam, do get yourself a copy of  Ormakalude Kudamaattam, savor it on a leisurely afternoon and share with your family and friends.

The second book was Monisha Rajesh's Around India in 80 Trains -  a travelogue or rather a trainologue.

On a not-so-subtle take on Verne's book, Monisha even names her Norwegian photographer companion Passepartout. His real name as well as the photographs he took are missing from the book. Or were the photographs meant for some other project? I don't know. The book has some wit and some touching moments. But what stands out throughout the book is the author's confusion about her own identity and nationality - she says that she roots for the English cricket team when it plays against India, but she also feels the need to defend India against foreigners who would look down upon the country as a whole. This confusion makes for some tiring reading, but I guess Monisha was only being true to herself. To add some drama and continuity to the book instead of making it simply a string of train journeys connected by stations, the author introduces an acrimonious theological debate with Passepartout and a blustering Railway employee Anusha.  Like any Westerner offended by pantheistic Hinduism, she storms out of Puri Jagannath Temple after her religious affliation was doubted and falls for Vipassana meditation. Her moments of "resentment release" reads like a chapter straight out of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  In short, Monisha is not sure she wants to be labeled an Indian but is very angry when someone refuses to see her as Indian. Funny! 

Personally I find writers like William Dalrymple much more in tune with the culture he is writing about, notwithstanding his enthusiastic comment splashed straight across the cover of Around India...
Good points: The lady has a wonderful power of observation and eye for detail that makes her word portraits truly marvelous, though they are mostly in a sarcastic and censorious vein. And her book is very informative and is never dull for a moment.

Certainly worth a read.

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