Friday, June 29, 2007

Busy week into busy weekend

Gosh things have been busy! A couple of updates.

  • Last weekend I reserved my copy of Harry Potter Book 7. I get it at 5 AM July 21st, which is to say 4.5 hours before it will be available for you Eastern Daylight Time suckers.

  • I'm heading to Hampi this weekend with Prasad, Nels, and Jason - Christian got sick and Pavol got busy.

  • My mentor, Aditya, has a new son! His wife had a baby a week ago, sorry I didn't blog about that!

  • I got the Harry Potter reservation (pictured above) last weekend when we went down to the main drag (M-G Road). M-G stands for "Mahatma Gandhi," and some of us Americans think it's strange that it's not called "Ghandi Road," but coming from a city where Ponce is a road I suppose I have little room to complain. My Misc. India album now has pictures of us bowling, and of the aftermath of an apparently fatal windstorm near M-G road.

Friday, June 22, 2007

See Rock City

A delayed post about my trip to Mysore - work is pretty intense right now, and will be at least for the next week or so, so I have had less time to blog. I mentioned pictures of the trip two posts ago, but I will try to tell some stories now. No travel this weekend, but we have tickets to Hampi next weekend. Mysore was fun, though it seems to be more of a tourist destination for people who live in India - Pavol, Jason, Nels, and I may have been half the white guys some people saw all day there. It's not the place you need to spend more than a day at, according to everyone we've talked to (and I agree) - in short, I'd declare Mysore the Rock City of the metro-Bangalore region. That said, for a day trip, it was quite nice.

We saw the palace, which was interesting, and Jason and Pavol rode an elephant while Nels and I stridently did not ride an elephant. After that we took an autorickshaw up to the temple atop Chamundi hills, which was kind of a mistake in retrospect. See, these autorickshaw things, mechanically, are are like a cross between a decent motorcycle and a really awesome lawnmower, not the kind of thing you necessarily want to use to get three people up a large (say, Stone Mountain-sized) hill. Our lawnmower barely, barely made it up the mountain - we were getting passed by everything, including large farm equipment. It made me glad that we didn't haggle down the price (which was less than $5 equivalent already), as this driver probably melted his engine in the process of getting us up the mountain.

In general, and especially at the top of the hill, poverty was more evident than it usually is in Bangalore... it was at times quite striking, there were definitely a number of begging children that followed us around for some distances on occasion. However, the increased amount of obvious poverty in Mysore when compared to Bangalore was offset by a curious effect that in Mysore, everyone was following us around for some distance - people selling flutes would follow us playing the flute, kids would start up conversations any way possible and then try to direct us to particular markets or sell us drugs (one young guy just shouted "Marijuana!" out of nowhere). In this environment you quickly train yourself to ignore everyone that you're not explicitly interested in facilitating a commercial transaction with (say, an autorickshaw driver), and as a result of this effect you notice beggars less - you've already had to turn off your instinct to engage with people to avoid getting anywhere without being sold things. I was trying to get Pavol to teach me Slovak so that I could respond to people asking me questions/trying to sell me stuff in Slovak and they would go away - a similar strategy actually worked for me in France.

When we walked down the mountain, we were so in ignore-everyone mode that we (or at least I) had to consciously think about the need to re-engage with people, that the people we were encountering on the big staircase were either being friendly or wanted to practice English (or perhaps wanted to take a picture with us.)

That's all for Mysore, at least for now. Tonight I was invited randomly by Kentaro to go to dinner with a young full-time employee and a visiting professor from NYU at the Windsor Hotel, which is right next to my apartment. The food was north Indian - it was supposedly Lucknow cuisine but I was told it seemed more typical of Hyderabad. Whatever, it was wonderful, a much nicer restaurant than I'd been to since I got here, the food all smelled like perfume and tasted fantastic.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I finally stopped by an ATM today. It was a slightly alarming experience, because I got the (equivalent) to an amount that I would usually get in the United States, all in 100 Rs. bills, which are equivalent to about $3. However, I'm used to seeing $20 bills come out of an ATM, so it seemed like I had withdrawn an absurd amount of money.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


It's Afternoon in America and Really Crazy Early In The Morning in India. I'm taking a day trip by rail to Mysore, and if you read that page on Wikipedia you will know more about Mysore than I do.

[Update: Oh my goodness need to write about the trip; in the meantime here is a link to one of the picture albums. The other picture album from the trip is just 70 pictures of Jason and Pavol riding an elephant.]


I've seen three traffic accidents in the past two days. Yesterday I walked to work with Kurtis, who was briefly my apartment-mate before shipping out north to set up probably legal community radio stations with former Princeton professor Randy Wang. We heard a terrible screech as we approached the Windsor Manor Road Bridge, which I cross to get to work, and when we approached the the left-hand lane there was a guy laying down in front of an autorickshaw with his motorcycle a good fifteen feet out in front of him; people were helping him up already, though, so I'm hoping he was okay.

Windsor Manor Road Bridge Accident
The second accident was way more hilarious. Right next to the Windsor Manor Road Bridge is the Windsor Manor Rail Bridge, and today as I walked over the road bridge I noticed that a bus was stuck under the rail bridge! As a train went over the bridge full-speed, I recalled again the difference between tort law in America and India - when I was on the train to Princeton from NY Penn Station, we had had to slow to a crawl for several miles because a truck had hit a bridge and that bridge been subsequently cleared by enough engineers that we could go over it, but not enough engineers that we could go over it fast.

The third accident was minor, and I would have gotten a picture but it was essentially right underneath me and because it all gone quite quickly. Rubbernecking is serious business when driving basically takes the skill of a Blue Angel pilot, and a curious motorcyclist fell off his bike, causing a couple of cars behind him to collide slightly with each other. No one seemed particularly bent out of shape about this, mind you.

This is a good time to point out two things - whenever I have a tiny thumbnail picture in this blog it is a link to a Picasa web album, so you should click on it and see all the other pictures in the album! Also, I've updated most of the links so far: the miscellaneous album, which I will continue adding bits of things to, now has some pictures from the bus ride back from the retreat, the retreat album has better pictures of the pool, and this google map now has the correct location of my office, as well as the route I take to work.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


My friend Rahul from Princeton who is now an paramedic in Pittsburgh sent me an instant message asking "How is my motherland," referring to India. I replied that it was good, but that I either have a nasty cold or my body is unhappy with me breathing here. If you ever have a choice between living in urban India and smoking a pack a day and your only goal is keeping your lungs healthy, I'd have trouble making a recommendation.

I had been thinking about "motherland" on the walk home from Quiz Night at a bar/restaurant called Opus with Nels and Jason, particularly after I nearly got run over in an intersection. For some reason I connect the idea of "motherland" with Great Britain, and it is often amusing to the Americans how, well, unexpectedly British certain things are here. The assumption I started working from was that India had really broken ties with its colonial past, but a number of things - from the way they say "dots" and "dashes" in Morse code (this came up during the trivia) to the whole bit about driving on the left side of the road - remind me that such as one of many reminders that that is not entirely true, nor could it possibly be entirely true.

The left-hand-side thing was, if you hadn't guessed, why I nearly got run over at the intersection, but there was also a quirk about a traffic light there. The bigger problem comes in everyday interactions - when you walk towards someone else, you may not even think about it but you will both "defer to the right" and therefore stay out of each others way. When I pass someone - in a hallway or particularly in a staircase - I tend to defer to the right as I have learned to do for over a decade, but they will naturally defer to the left, which means we step in front of each other. In recent days I have frequently continued up a staircase after such an encounter muttering "defer to the left, Rob, defer to the left."

The Dream

I want to write something about how Micosoft Research, India got started, and I wasn't sure I wanted to write this story because I didn't hear the whole conversation. But a conversation with a friend made me want to write this down. I apologize if this is rushed, I'm trying to get to work. Anandan is the driving force behind the creation of this lab, and he was talking with another researcher during the retreat when I walked up. The conversation was along the lines of Anandan recalling having had a dream (as in hope, not as in I-was-sleeping) at some indeterminate time in the past - the dream basically was that someday there would be international students - American and Eurpoean students - studying in a lab in India under the mentorship of Indian researchers. Which is, of course, what I am doing.

Most of the interns here are undergraduates - this was a surprise to me, partially because I would never have thought to do this as an undergraduate. I didn't have the research focus at the time, and even if I had... well, at this point in my life going to MSR India only seemed a bit more unusual than going to MSR Cambridge (England) - but two years ago I wouldn't have been interested in eating Indian food, for instance, which I now love. I suppose in the past two years I've grown in ways that made the simple fact of traveling to India seem less unusual.

And then it occurs to me that two years ago, this lab didn't exist yet. Oh right. That dream of Anandan was only realized in the time since I've graduated from Princeton. It seems like two years ago we were only just getting worried about sending unskilled tech jobs to India. And while I realized, in the process of applying for this job, that it was a little odd for me to go to India just in terms of demographics (see the tagline for this blog), it was the partially overheard comment about Ananadan's dream that made me realize what didn't seem odd - it didn't seem strange to think of MSR in Bangalore, India as a place where research on par with other academic institutions around the world is done.

But while that is a truth, I suppose it's a recent truth. And that is wild. My world moves fast.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Visual Studio

I am at work waiting for Visual Studio to install so I can hopefully get some work done - today is a process of being very excited about starting and getting into the project, and being very frustrated and annoyed at the random hurdles needed to get there.

MSRI Angsana Retreat
However, the retreat was amazing - I have some pictures up on Picasa. I was pretty jet lagged, but I still managed to stay up until midnight Sunday night - some of the interns and a lot of the employees sat in a circle and sang beautiful songs in a wide array of beautiful Indian languages. I started learning about the various languages that existed in India before the English this weekend, but that is a post for the future.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Living in the Future

It is 9:30 PM here, and jet-lagged Rob is exhausted. Dad asked me to explain who Nels was and what "living in the future" meant, and this fits nicely with saying what I did today. The only order of business today was connecting with Nels, which I finally managed (Peerappa smiled knowingly and showed me I had to press "0" twice). There are three interesting things about Nels.
  • Nels is one of a few American interns here this summer - there will be four or five total.
  • We are working on the same project for the first half of the summer
  • He happens to work two offices down from me at Carnegie Mellon
Nels decided to work for MSR India a few weeks before I did - his research interests are more directly aligned with this project - and knowing I would have a friend here was a contributing factor in me deciding to come as well. I got in touch with Nels through his cell phone, and it looks like I'll probably get one too. That will be convenient, because my internet connection isn't quite good enough to consistently do Skype well.

Nels also coined a phrase "living in the future" to describe the effect of the time difference between India and the United States. The idea is that, while it is 9:30 on Saturday here, it is only noon Saturday there. My day is done, and yours is only halfway over (or perhaps just beginning, if you sleep late). When you wake up Sunday morning, don't bother living Sunday - just call me. I'm already finished with Sunday, I'll let you know how it went. This thought is the basis of the joke that I'm "living in the future."

I went to a busy shopping district with Nels and Jason, another intern who is a rising senior at Harvey Mudd, to look around, buy a surge protector so I can plug in my laptop more conveniently, and eat dinner. It was busy but fun - there are lots of street vendors and more than a couple of beggars, but if you disregard the fact that they get right up in your face (Indians have a somewhat different idea of "personal space") they seemed friendlier and more polite than ones in most American cities.

Tomorrow I go on a two-day retreat with all the people I'm working with before actually starting any work. It's a pretty good deal!

Where I Am

Where am I? I realized pretty quickly that I didn't know much of anything about how to answer this question beyond "In Bangalore, India." Luckily, I have the internet and an unusual landmark right outside my window: a golf course! Google Maps only located two of these in the city - a golf course in the middle of an urban area is already kind of unusual, so this didn't surprise me.

After I found me, I speculated that I might be able to find Microsoft's offices, based on a fuzzy memory of how I was driven here from there last night, so I took a walk, which was thwarted by a wrong turn and the fact that I need to break in these new shoes.

Here is a map of the walk which includes my apartment and where I currently believe I would be, were I Microsoft Research India.

I also think that my address may involve 28/1 Cunningham Road, 560 052, but that is not yet enough information to do anything with. I'll see.


Miscellaneous India
Here are pictures of my apartment. My apartment is one of four in a kind of suite-like setup - those four, and possibly others, are managed by Peerappa (possibly Peeyappa). I've realized I need to keep the door out to the suite closed; otherwise Peerappa thinks I need something. This will make it harder to meet my suitemates by chance - I don't even know if they exist, and if they exist if they are Microsoft people.

Electricity is funny in the apartment - a piece of plastic is attached to my door key so that removing my door key kills *all* the power to the apartment. Furthermore, every plug has a light switch next to it, allowing power to to the socket to be cut off. This seems awesome and obvious, once it has occurred to you that, say, your TV or cell phone charger drains power when plugged in, so you should be able to turn it off your charger without unplugging it, and turn off your TV when you leave the apartment. I'm not sure how this interacts with the fridge, however...

[Update 6:30 AM June 10] There are four switches in the apartment with red lights on them. One is the master power switch, and the other three control the air conditioner, the hot water heater, and the fridge. None of these turn off when the master power switch turns off. The fridge is off (nothing in it!) and the air conditioner is off (really, now) but I was very happy when Jason mentioned the whole hot water heater being on a circuit thing, because the first shower was rather cold...

Friday, June 8, 2007


In airport time a day and a half has passed, but during the process of that I went 9 and a half hours into the future (I adopted this term for flying east from Nels) so that it's really been just over a day.

I had a croissant at McDonald's in Frankfurt because it was 9 AM. Then I went ahead and switched to India time on my laptop, which made it 1:30 PM. I contemplated eating lunch...

The plane ride was uneventful, unless you count me sticking out like a sore thumb, which has happened frequently enough in my life that I actually don't consider it eventful. I thought of Thomas Friedman watching a Bollywood production in which the hero kind of seemed, to me anyway, like a Ken Lay style brilliant businessman slash scumbag; he was redeemed/redeemable only because it was more the government than the middle-class shareholders that were ultimately screwed over. The government was played by a judicial panel of white guys that spoke middling Hindi.

Upon arrival, I managed through the zoo of the airport (it took me 45 minutes to get my bag - customs took about 15 minutes...) and found Suresh, who had a sign with my name (correctly spelled) and who got me to my apartment.

Now I'm going to take a malaria pill, a Benadryl or two, and pass out for a few hours.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


At the request of a number of friends and especially family members, I decided to try to keep an online journal during my 12+ weeks in India; I think it is more convenient than emailing lots of people, in any case. As a warning, this whole journal it is likely to go away after the summer is over, I am not sure I approve of leaving dead journals floating around everywhere.

I'm writing this on a laptop flying from Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina. I walked the entire length of Hartsfield today - I had time, so I took the moving walkways from the atrium to Terminal D, and then took the moving walkways from Terminal D to Terminal E to get a smoothie because the food selection in Terminal D is a little lacking. From Charlotte I will fly to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there I will fly directly to the Bangalore airport, where I was instructed to walk outside the airport and look for someone holding my name, "possibly slightly misspelled." I am to introduce myself to this person; he (I presume he) will take me to the Microsoft-provided housing I will have for the summer.

Why The Heck Are You Going To India?

First, while I plan to mostly talk about my impressions of Bangalore and India on this blog, I wanted to start with why I'm having these impressions in the first place:

My role this summer is in the Rigorous Software Engineering group at Microsoft Research in Bangalore. If nothing else, I find it exciting that for the first time I can explain to even non-computer-scientists what I'm doing. The first thing I can explain to people is that I'm trying to make Windows crash less in the future. If their eyes haven't glazed over already, then I can explain that one of the reasons Windows locks up and becomes completely unresponsive is that a driver, one of the little pieces of software that helps all the hardware (iPod, printer, camera card reader, video recorder, hard drive, mouse...) work. Drivers are usually written by people and companies that really want to create hardware, not write drivers, so the drivers are often badly written and get stuck in loops that they can't get out of - when this happens, Windows will stop responding. If people are glazing over at this point, I explain that I'm trying to make that happen less. Otherwise, I can explain a little bit about how this is relates to software property checking, which is what I'm doing - the above is just my take on why Microsoft is particularly interested. That's the idea, anyway.

So in large part of why I am going to India because that is where I was able to find the most interesting internship. It is a risk, because my background is different than that of the project I'm working on - not to mention that, at this point in my career, it isn't like I have *that* much background period - but I hope it is a risk that will pay off.