Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ignore Arrogance? Arrow Ignorance?

I was talking to a certain Mr. Igno-Arrogant, a distant friend of a friend’s friend. We started talking about what we do for a living. I told him that I work towards developing the scientific workforce, more specifically, a PhD in Science Education. Now I am not totally new to confused looks when someone hears about my subject of interest. I am more than happy most of the time to explain what that means. Some even ask if this means I educate people or teach science. It is neither. Broadly speaking, I just research on how to motivate more people to study science, how to reach out to those at the risk of losing interest, I research on how to teach teachers to teach science better, and so on. Many ask me is this real science, since they perceive science to be something done mixing chemicals or running instruments, even writing codes, but something that either involves a computer or a grim-looking laboratory straight out of science fiction. Most people do not regard the practice of any other forms of science as real science. I would attribute it to a little shortsightedness and a lot of difference in philosophy, but I digress here.

This gentleman, and of course it had to be a man, gentle or not, listened to me explain what I do for my PhD. Then he arched his eyebrows, almost convincing me he was impressed, and told me what a great plan it was. On hearing the word “plan”, I got a little confused. I’ll paraphrase what he explained to me.

He was all praises, genuinely, without sarcasm. He told me that instead of doing a PhD in something challenging, and more demanding, like engineering or nuclear science, it is great that I choose to do a PhD in something not many people know about, let alone choose it as a career option. According to him, this means I would face less competition, less struggle, and would establish myself faster than any of my peers studying something more in demand, like medicine or computer engineering. It would take me less time, lesser number of publications, and lesser efforts to have a scintillating career. He was all praises for me, earnestly, honestly.

Honestly, I did not what to tell this dude. That just because he doesn’t know about a field doesn’t make it any less demanding or easier to establish oneself in, like he thought. He had an offensive tone to his voice, just like we used to look down on someone in school who studied home science or gardening compared to say, computer science or electronics. That was in school of course, and I have huge issues with establishing a hierarchy in education where certain subjects are meant for intelligent people, and certain subjects are meant for the brainless lot to ensure they can still have some job and not die of starvation. Science is not just the phenomenon of studying atoms and molecules, it is the phenomenon of studying anything, be it human psychology, workings of a political system, or the way certain spices and vegetables go well together when you cook them. Now certain professions have a greater demand in the society than others, and as we have witnessed it, things evolve around a certain pattern. My parents told me that when they were in college, engineering or medicine weren’t the most coveted things to do, and the better students did a B.Sc and M.Sc in “pure sciences” (another term I have issues with. Why pure sciences? Is there anything impure?). Things changed, the engineering subjects came more in demand, computer sciences became somewhat a “hot” field, followed by biotechnology. Now do you choose to study something just because it is in vogue, or do you study it because it aligns to your interests? The society needs as much of engineers as it needs teachers, scientists, economists, geologists, historians, writers, and political scientists. The society even needs "logists" less heard of- rheologists, nematologists, and orthodontists; and I am not throwing random terms to emphasize its importance. Anyway, I have digressed here. My main issue was the fact that this dude actually thought it is better to study something “haabi-jaabi” (Bengali word for “anything not of much worth”) and face less competition than study something high in demand. I couldn’t decide if I should have ignored his arrogance or arrowed his ignorance in the right direction. I did neither. I just smiled at him and told him, “You are so right. Hope not many people discover this secret”. I think my sarcasm was wasted on him.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Of death and killings

Before I forget I promised I would write about any good movies I watch, and watch more movies and forget what I watched, I ought to tell you that I watched two movies last week, but the upcoming exams kept me away from writing about them. Sweet November, I watched again, just out of impulse, and because I didn’t want to go to bed at 9 pm with nothing better to do. I both like and dislike the movie for various reasons. I love movies based in big cities I have been to, and San Francisco is always a favorite. Keanu Reeves is amazing in the movie, the workaholic, somewhat lost, overtly ambitious person. My favorite line from the movie is when he turns down the big offer saying, “It’s not about the offer, it is about you”. Watch it (free streaming on Netflix) and you will know what I mean.

However, there are questions in the movie I have no answer to. How did Sara know of Nelson? Why did she decide to help him? Why him at all? The way Nelson eventually succumbed to Sara’s demands of helping him did not make sense to me. However, Sara is a very unconventional character, and I did like her most of the time in the movie. Most of them time because as she approached senility, she really got, umm… weird.

Overall, an okay watch. Except if you like to watch Keanu Reeves, in which case, it is a must watch. The movie is called “Sweet November”.

The other one I watched, that everyone is talking about these days is “No One Killed Jessica”. I will spare you the review about how the movie is made, of course it is a well-made movie. More than that, I don’t see it as a movie made to pass judgment. For me, it is the story of a person who existed, and who was killed. I don’t care how the movie is made. All I know is it left me with a deep sense of sadness. I imagined what Jessica’s day would have been that day- she would have left for work, have made plans for the weekend, would have called her friends. And then someone with more power than brains decided to shoot her point blank because he wanted a drink. Why is there no justice, and why are people like him not killed in accidents, or are murdered themselves by more powerful guys with even lesser brains? Why don’t people feel pure rage and anger in these situations? Why is it so easy to be killed?

The one line I really liked in the movie was, “Mujhe ek karod rupaye nahi chahiye then. Par mujhe ek goli bhi nahi khaani thi” (I didn’t want money. But I didn’t want to be shot as an alternative).

Now that the exam season is almost here, I’ll look forward to more netflixing when they are over. For me, netflixing has almost become a verb these days.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sparks Fly

With watching “The Last Song” amidst a crazy preliminary exam schedule, I finally finished all the six movies of the Nicholas Sparks series. By this time, I had (partly) known what the story would be like, even without having read the storyline. I was sure that the story would be a love story located in a beach town, there would be love followed by temporary separation, the locales would be picturesque, with birds flying and the sunlight shimmering on the waves of the Atlantic, there would be an amazing house (possibly overlooking the sea), and someone important would eventually die. Death could be due to an unexpected illness like cancer (I was right). The movie would be shot in North Carolina (I was almost right, it was shot near the NC-GA border, in a place called Tybee Island). There might be unread letters and messages exchanged (I was right again). I know all this because the movies based on Nicholas Sparks’s novels are made in a mixer using a common formula. Add a teenager couple in love or a middle-aged couple with broken relationships, looking for love. Mix some drama in their loveless lives. Ensure that the woman is an annoying character while the man is an absolutely “unable-to-take-my-eyes-off-your-body”, brawny, gorgeous hunk you would drool over. The house would be more gorgeous than the man, and the beach locales would be more gorgeous than the house. As predictable as a Suraj Barjatya or a Yash Chopra movie in Bollywood, that is the formula for these movies.

The only movie that was somewhat different was “The Notebook”. As usual, one of the characters suffer here, but from senility and Alzheimer’s disease and not from cancer and untimed death at a young age. Of all the six movies, “The Notebook” is the one I liked the most (I have already watched it five times). From there, the journey went downhill and the other movies turned out to be a little disappointing. You can always read the story and the review, so I will spare you that. When you have watched all of them, you will identify a common theme that binds all the movies, despite them all coming from different directors. All of them have been tearjerkers, and nothing extraordinarily brilliant, but I still wanted to watch them all, one after the other, and the end of each one, I cried buckets.

The Notebook: Nice way of storytelling, partly in flashback. Dude looks great. Chick is annoying. The house is great. The scene were they boat amidst a swarm of birds is a visual treat. The scene where Noah says, “It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over” and kisses Allie still makes my stomach flutter, given the passionate way it is done. The locales, the rains, and the sun are amazing. The old Noah in no way resembles the youthful Noah. Overall, highly recommended.

A Walk to Remember: Landon made me feel like a teenager again. Jamie was not just boring, she is lifeless. I wonder what was her point of wearing such ill-fitting clothes. I am madly in love with the song “Only Hope” from the movie, and still listen to it half a dozen times every day (the male version by Switchfoot is better than the female version). I didn’t like the way when everything was going right, Jamie had to die of cancer. Nice houses and great locations. Cried buckets for Landon. Overall, quite a watchable movie.

Nights in Rodanthe: The house and the beach are enough reasons for you to watch the movie. Paul is good, Adrienne is so-so. Nothing much to recommend. Wonder why Paul dies once again when they both fell in love and decided to reunite. If nothing, watch the movie for the house. Overall, didn’t mind watching it once.

Message in a Bottle: I wonder why Garrett is so old, slow, and grumpy. Frankly, I fail to see the chemistry between Garrett and Theresa (who herself is pretty unglamorous in the role). I loved the concept of finding letters in bottles. The scenes from the sea and the boat on sail are absolutely gorgeous. Once again, when everything gets going, Garrett drowns in the sea and dies. Overall, somehow sat through it once.

The Last Song: Both Ronnie and Will were very painful to watch in the movie, especially Ronnie, with her husky voice and her man-like, rebellious acting. A nice house and a great beach. Even a bad observer for details like me found a few flaws in the movie. In one of the scenes, Will and Ronnie hug each other by the setting sun and night follows. Just that it is the Atlantic Ocean and it was the dawning sun, not the setting sun. I wonder why someone as rich and as influential as Will would drive a truck, volunteer at the local aquarium, and play volleyball with a bunch of local boys. A lot of things just didn’t make sense in the movie. Thankfully, neither Will nor Ronnie die, but Steve dies of lung cancer. Overall, painfully sat through the movie once.

Dear John: John is great to watch, but Savannah is unbearable. John’s father is an interesting character in the movie. I haven’t read the book, and I have heard that it is somewhat different from the movie. I could barely sit through the movie. I have no idea why Savannah had to terminate their relationship and marry someone else, why her husband had to suffer from cancer, and why did John leave all his money for the treatment of her husband. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me in the movie, and if I knew better, I would not watch it.

So there goes my short synopsis of all the six movies. Wonder which book the next movie would be based on.


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Resolutions than won’t see dissolution

It is that time of the year when resolution lists show up more on blogs and on facebook than they do on personal diaries. I do not know what is it about the new year that makes people start making promises to themselves that they seldom keep. Even if you do not want to make a list of resolutions, peer pressure or a hike in your blood sugar levels force you to join the rat race. It might be due to the guilt-high that follows the sugar-high, gorging on all those cookies in the name of Christmas and other festivities. Although to be fair, any good intention however small, should be commended, and since one needs some push to start, let the timing of the new year provide that auspicious push.

I have decided not to make those shallow resolutions I make every year that I have no intention to follow. Resolutions like losing weight, cooking more, not snapping at my mother when she diplomatically asks me to move back to India, not panicking at the thought of turning old thirty, not counting grey hairs in front of the mirror every morning, not stalking people on facebook, and trying to be a good girl are the lamest resolutions I promised myself over the years, thanks to all the social pressure. Trust me, they do not work. By Indian republic day, you have gorged on those laddoos, weight watching be darned. By Valentine’s day, you have consumed thousands of calories in the name of love. By March, celebrating Holi ensured you ate more junk. So no lame promises to myself that will soon not see the light of the day. However, I do want to bring changes in my attitude and actions that will have a lasting impact in my life, not just for this year, but for the rest of the years I live.

More Recycling

I am consciously beginning to use no more than the resources I need, and to recycle whatever I can. Guests I am expecting for dinner will eat in dinner plates and not in plastic plates using plastic cutlery. I feel something prick me somewhere deep in my guilt bone every time the lady at the grocery store gives me 8 plastic bags full of my weekly grocery. So I am beginning to use the shabby not so great looking but highly functional grocery bags (also called “bajarer tholi” or “bazaar ki thaili”) someone got me from India. It is a different story that every time I look at those “tholis”, I am reminded of a potbellied and bespectacled Bengali uncle moving slowly, following his paunch and nose, smelling and sniffing every variety of fish, inspecting vegetables, and putting it inside the rarely washed grocery bags reeking of the smell of fish. Childhood associations, you see. I am using the white side of the printed papers I no longer need to do calculations, write grocery lists, and play tic-tac-toe. I don’t use the printer that often, but read the scientific papers from the big screen in the lab. I have “gone paperless” for my bank statements and car insurance bills. Anything else you suggest?

More of the print and the media

I have resolved to read more. I have resolved to watch more movies. And, I have resolved to write a review, even a short one, every time I read a book or watch a movie worth recommending. I have read so less and seen so few movies that I need to make a start somewhere.

Living minimalistic

I am culling down the clutter in my room, and in my life. There are too many things I have that I do not need. My bathroom vanity will vouch for that. Although I am not infamous for delaying trips in the morning because I spend too much time in the bathroom wearing makeup, I still have too much stuff that I will not need. Similarly, I have too many “superficial contacts” in my life, people who should not really matter to me, but people whose opinions immensely matters at the subconscious level. Sometimes, I get carried away with what others think I should do, but it is my life, and what I choose to do with it is my business.

Making the sunshine blog more interactive

Till date, I have posted very few links and videos. Most of my posts are about what is happening in my own selfish world, and how I feel about things. Henceforth, I will post whatever I read and find interesting, asking you for your opinions (please provide your feedback). Further, if you read a good book, watched a good movie, came across an interesting blog, or went to a good place, please mention that to me in my blog or in my mailbox. I want to know more of what the world does, what it reads, what it sees, and how it revolves.

Doing something better to improve myself everyday

No matter how clichéd it sounds, this is what I will hope to do. Even if it means little, I will try to do at least one thing right every day. That might be as insignificant as waking up early, not skipping breakfast, or not procrastinating that report the advisor wants until the last moment. That might also mean learning a few words every day, reading the news for a change, or skipping that ice cream I don’t need to eat. I have my fair share of a few small and big dreams for me, and if I hope to attain even a tenth of them, I need to embark on the journey sometime to be more disciplined.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Of tours and detours

It was a perfect idea for the road trip back to San Francisco from San Diego. We would start as early as possible, visit the old town in San Diego, stop at Los Angeles for lunch, and drive the rest of the way to reach by evening. This way I would ensure I drove on I-5 as long as there was sunshine, and then snooze in the navigator’s seat while my friend drove.
Things went as planned, only somewhat. Old town in San Diego was great. The sunny drive till Los Angeles was fine too. Lunch was not that great though. It was past 3 pm, and we still had six and a half hours of driving. This meant we could still make it back to a favorite chaat place for dinner on time.
Little did we know that the trip was planned differently.
At a few miles north of Los Angeles, ironically called Santa Clarita (where things should be clear), it started snowing. We saw the signs of a certain detour on I-5 a few miles away, but happily driving at 85 mph, I did not take it seriously. I thought I would be smart and drive on I-5 as much as I could. We started on a warm, sunny morning, admiring the blueness of the water and the reflection of the sun shimmering on the Pacific Ocean. It seemed so out of place when it started snowing.
The 90 mile stretch of road that was closed had a 170 mile detour. It was Sunday, and people returning home from their new year’s vacation were all on the road driving. It was the worst time of the year to snow. It was beginning to snow more, traffic was getting worse, and moving at a snail’s pace, it took us six hours to cover the stretch of the detour alone. For hours, we drove in the snow slower than the pace of a walking person. Slow traffic is bad. Slow traffic due to snow is worse. Slow traffic due to snow at the end of a holiday is worst. There were times when we just wanted to take an exit and spend the night at a nearby hotel. There were times when we were afraid we would run out of gas by the sheer act of braking, waiting, and driving at 5 mph. Chaat for dinner was long forgotten. Instead of reaching at 9 pm, we reached at 3 am. However, there was more to come.
We had to return the rental car at the airport. So my friend (who lives about 10 miles away) decided to reach home, drive his car while I drove the rental car, wait until I returned the rental car, and drive back together in his car. It made perfect sense. We both entered into the parking garage of the rental car company at the airport. I locked the rental car, bid it goodbye, and dropped the keys in the box. My friend started to drive his car, looking for an exit. Only this time, there was no exit.
A car had been stolen from the airport rental company a few days ago. So while they were closed, they blocked the entrance with a huge, fat SUV. We were trapped until the rental company opened at 6 am. Which was almost two and a half hours more.
I had never missed the comforts of home more. The simple comfort of dropping dead asleep on the bed, snuggling into the comforter, seemed like a heavenly thought. If a 6 hour detour and driving in bad weather wasn’t bad enough, the exit to the garage was closed and we were trapped in the parking lot for a couple of hours. I reclined the car seat and eventually fell into a somewhat interrupted sleep. My friend went out to see if there were more souls trapped like us.
That is how we spent the second day of the new year. While I saw no logic behind this unnecessary harassment caused by mother nature and Mr. Car Stealer, the delay and the wait caused some profound enlightenment for my friend. He had that thoughtful expression on his face while he told me that a memorable and good trip should be such that at the end of it, one longs to come back home and promises not to travel or plan the next trip for the next few months. If this was a workable logic, surely this was a memorable and good trip. For after all that I went through, driving half-asleep in the snow and bad weather, waiting for hours in traffic, and missing the comforts of home, I don’t think I am planning another trip soon. Let us say I am just glad to be back home.
Anything interesting happened to you this new year?