Traffic

Bangalore’s streets exist in a sort of perpetual traffic jam, where there seems to be little attention paid to official rules of the road, but rather some unwritten rules that boil down to this: if you are a centimeter ahead of me, you have right of way.

You really have to experience traffic in Bangalore to appreciate it. The sights, sounds, and smells are a powerful mixture, and sometimes you just have to close your eyes and pray that things will all go safely. (Sometimes you have to close your eyes because of the dust and pollution, too.) Indeed, most vehicles seem to have some token of protection on the front dashboard – usually Ganesh, the elephant god, but sometimes Jesus or an Indian flag. On several autos I have seen a dangling string of chili peppers and a fruit.

In this city of over 6 million people, double what it was about 10 years ago, there are virtually no highways, overpasses, or tunnels, that one might expect to see in a large city – although some are under construction.  The roads are extremely congested, and one spends most of the time stopped.  It is about 10 miles from the main shopping street (M.G. Road) to our apartment, but the trip takes about an hour; more at rush hour. (On the other hand, it only costs $3.)

With the prosperity brought by the IT industry and outsourcing, there are hundreds of new cars added to the roads every day. They compete with  motorcycles and scooters used by commuting couples, the occasional ox-drawn cart, and thousands of the yellow-topped “auto-rickshaws”.

An “auto-rickshaw”, or just “auto”, is a three-wheeled open-sided taxi built on a two-cycle motorcycle engine.  They are cheap and easy to find, and generally reliable, but they are loud and emit clouds of noxious smoke. [Apparently some drivers add kerosene to their gas tank, to save money, but it makes a lot of smoke.]

It’s truly impressive how the auto drivers jockey for position at a stop light, squeezing between scooters and buses and cars to crowd up at the front. A driver must be aggressive to make progress, but it always seems to be courteous and, in a way, cooperative. Lane markers mean nothing to Bangalore drivers; even the dividing line is subject to interpretation.  Today, as we approached an intersection, our auto driver used the oncoming lane because it was empty, but as we passed a bus the light changed and a truck came barreling toward us. No problem, we squeezed in between. Whew.

So you’re driving through the streets, surrounded by honking (which means “I’m here” rather than “get out of my way”) and the high-pitched whine of 2-cycle motors, surrounded by a delirious mixture of smells: food cooking by sidewalk vendors, smoke from their fires, rotting trash, and exhaust.  You wince when you see pedestrians – including children – weaving through the traffic to cross the street. You marvel at the elegant woman in a sari, riding side-saddle on the back of a motorcycle (most carry two people), oblivious to the traffic while she texts on her cellphone. You smile as the few traffic cops attempt to bring some order to the chaos. You decline, repeatedly, the driver’s request that you stop by their favorite gift shop (“it’s on the way, sir”) where, no doubt, he receives some commission for bringing tourists in the door. You meet poverty face to face as beggars ask for handouts as they weave through stopped traffic. 

And yet, in these open-sided autos, you get the full experience of Bangalore, and a great view of the many beautiful temples, flowers, people, and other sights of the city.

This auto has an advertisement for school that teaches all sorts of software skills.  These ads are very common.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Our apartment

We chose to live in faculty housing on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science, where I am spending my time as Fulbright Scholar and my sabbatical year.

The early morning sounds woke me today, our first morning in the apartment on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). There were the sounds of many tropical (and thus unfamiliar) birds, the distant whistle of trains, and just a few neighborhood noises. Traffic, so noisy in Bangalore, was just a faint and distant hum,  I’ll take birds over traffic any day.  Once again, I decided that we had made the right choice.

We have apartment E8, at upper right.

I am extremely grateful to the IISc-ECE staff who have been helping to coordinate our housing on campus, and working with the housing staff to clean, repaint, and improve our apartment (when Andy and I arrived yesterday, they were replacing all the light fixtures).  Although the outside is not much to look at (photo above), we have a second-story space with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, a small kitchen and a comfortable living room.

The apartment is nice, but will take some adjustments on our part.  There are few electrical outlets – one per room, for the most part (tricky for me and my many gadgets!).  There are two showers, each with a water heater, but those are the only hot water.  Want to wash your hands? cold water. Shave? cold water. Wash dishes? cold water. Wash clothes? cold water. It’s a bit like camping: heating water to make some dish water, and brushing teeth using a cup and bottled water since we can’t trust the tap water.

On the other hand, the neighborhood is green and lush with tropical trees and flowers, children play in the parking lot, and I can walk to my office 100 yards away.  Want to see where we are?  Check it out on this Google Map. [Later, on Sept.28, I made a short video of the walk down our street and up to the apartment.]

We have ceiling fans but no A/C (or heat). The temperature this time of year is pleasant – highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s – and so we keep most windows cracked open to let in some air.  Yesterday, staff were repairing some of the screens – although it’s nice that the IISc campus is wooded, it means that there are more mosquitos than in other parts of the city.  Although malaria is not a big problem here, we still take some precautions. We purchased “Good Knight” devices – small nightlights that include a mosquito-repellant solution, and installed one in each bedroom.  We’re looking for some bed nets. 

Last night, the kids argued about which bedroom to use, and who gets what bed, but what else is new.  The mattresses are thin, but somehow the new sheets barely fit over them.  We have no blankets, so our first night was rather chilly.

We need to learn how to hire a housecleaner, who apparently is also the person who washes the laundry – there is a stone in the courtyard where they beat and scrub the clothes and then a clothesline for drying. We have a small washing machine, with a basin for washing and rinsing on the left and another basin for spinning on the right, a hose that connects to the sink and another that goes to the drain in the floor.  Awkward, but workable.

We have cable TV and telephone but we need to arrange Internet (DSL) next week.

We have a sizable porch, which would be nice if we had some plants or maybe a table and chairs.

Overall, it’s starting to feel like a home.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Kids’ school: CISB

Andy and I took a trip out to the kids’ school.

Andy and I took a taxi out to the Canadian International School, where John, Mara, and Andy will soon start school.  This school is a 45-60 minute drive from IISc, out the highway toward the airport. A small sign marks the turn off the highway.  First, you get onto a parallel access road, though; unfortunately, our driver tried to short-cut across the dirt median and whump! one wheel landed in a freshly dug hole. Fortunately, a passing motorcycle stopped to help immediately. The two gents on the cycle (and most motorcycles seem to have two riders) jumped off, and lifted and pushed until our taxi was back on the road. I was impressed at how willing they were to help.

A dirt road leads to CIS.  It passes some farm fields, and some ramshackle huts made of sticks, plastic tarps, and corrugated metal.  Once you pass through the security gate to CIS, however, you find a brand-new school facility, spacious and well-appointed, with surrounding playing fields and a swimming pool.  The contrast between the poverty of the shacks and the wealthy school is stunning.

Andy was interested in the natural world, however.  The road passes banana fields, with ripening bananas – a new sight for him – and mountainous anthills taller than Andy.  In the middle of the road lay a cow, with just enough room for us to go around it.

Next week we all return to CIS for orientation day.  After that the kids will take the bus to and from school, hopefully from right at the edge of campus.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

First day

Our first day was focused on key logistics; checking our apartment and doing some basic shopping.

After resting in the hotel for the night we had breakfast at the hotel.  The kids were faced with their first meal in India, a traditional breakfast with idlees and sambar and other treats.  Andy and John tasted everything but Mara mostly nibbled at the corn flakes.  I thought it was good, though I’ve had better. (Our hotel, the Woodlands, is 2-stars and leaves a lot to be desired.)

Everyone was buzzing with excitement because today India won its first-ever Gold medal in the Olympics, in the shooting competition.  It was headline news in all the papers.

We met up with our Fulbright-provided facilitator. Professor M.K. Sridhar at National College (Bangalore) is a former Fulbright Scholar himself. (He visited U. South Carolina in 2000, I think, to teach sanskrit.) He has been extremely helpful, explaining how things work and taking us around the city as needed.  On this day we visited our apartment at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). I am extremely grateful to the IISc-ECE staff who have been helping to coordinate our housing on campus, and working with the housing staff to clean, repaint, and improve our apartment.  

Street view of our apartment, at top.

Later, we went to M.G. Road, the busy upscale shopping strip.  Although touristy and somewhat expensive, one can find most things here.  We bought sheets and towels from a Bombay Dyeing outlet, nice quality at a reasonable price.

After my visit to the cellphone store I walked back to the hotel in a drizzle, after dark.  [Here in the tropics and in this part of the timezone it gets dark at about 6:30.]  The streets were busy with a meleé of honking “autos” (three-wheeled motorized rickshaws), cars, and pedestrians trying to weave through the traffic.  The sidewalks were packed with people, many who stop at little hole-in-the-wall (literally) shops that sell all manner of cooked food for a few rupees. It’s hard to describe the powerful blend of noises and smells that come from the traffic, people, and cooking.  Exciting, overwhelming, interesting, stimulating, all at once.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

First impressions

I am spending the 2008-09 academic year at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, India.

I am spending the 2008-09 academic year at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, India. My wife and I are both Fulbright Scholars, a program that enables teachers and researchers to visit foreign countries for academic exchange and to encourage international understanding.

We arrived just past midnight on August 12, 2008, after a flight from Paris. We landed at the brand new Bengaluru International Airport, opened just two months ago.  This spacious, gleaming structure is a far cry from the cramped and dingy airport we used last year, where the exit from the airport left you in an utter chaos of hundreds of taxis and small streets. 

The signs around the airport  highlight the new name for this city of 6.5m people: Bengaluru.  As with other cities, such as Mumbai (Bombay) and Chennai (Madras), Bangalore decided last year that it was time to revert to a more traditional (pre-British) name.  Apparently, Bengaluru means “city of beans”.

The downside to the new airport is that it is 30km drive, albeit on a new 4- or 6-lane highway, into the city.  I was amazed that our taxi driver could fit five of us, 10 suitcases, and 8 carry-on bags.  On the other hand, some of these were tied on a roofrack with a rather flimsy-looking rope.  When it started to sprinkle, I winced… fortunately, it never rained hard and our luggage was fine.

The highway itself demonstrates some of the contrasts you see in Bangalore. New and well-built, it highlights the new Bangalore, booming with IT jobs and prosperity. But in the darkness of midnight one may be surprised to see donkeys resting on the median strip, untended and untied; or an overloaded agricultural truck, with no lights or warning markers, broken down in the traveling lane.  Not that lanes mean anything to a Bangalore driver – in the city, where streets are perpetually jammed, drivers jostle for position wherever possible.

The air is cool, even chilly, as we depart the airport and drive into town.  This is the monsoon season, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 60s.  It rains nearly every day, sometimes heavily. 

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

MobiSys in Colorado

Some hiking and sightseeing around a conference in Colorado.

At the MobiSys 2008 conference, which was held at Breckenridge resort in Colorado, a group of us met to celebrate the retirement of Carla Ellis by taking a hike in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.  See the trail description and review.

Surendar Chandra, David Kotz, Carla Ellis, and Rick LaRowe.

On the way back, I drove over Loveland Pass to stand on the Continental Divide. Gorgeous!

See the photo gallery.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Skiing Mount Cardigan

Skiing the east side of Mount Cardigan.

In early January 2008 I met with some friends to ski up (and down) the east side of Mount Cardigan.  After a big dump of new snow, it was a popular destination that day.

David Metsky, near the summit

See the photo gallery.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is truly a spectacular place, particularly for some of the many waterfalls that plunge into the river from the steep mountains alongside.

While at SOSP 2007 I visited a few neat places in the Columbia River Gorge, in Oregon. The Columbia River Gorge is truly a spectacular place, particularly for some of the many waterfalls that plunge into the river from the steep mountains alongside. Below, Multnomah Falls.

See my SmugMug photo gallery.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Exploratory trip to India

We visited Bangalore in August 2007, after filing our Fulbright applications but long before we knew whether we would be accepted. This was my first trip to India!

Pam and I went to Bangalore, India, for a week in August 2007. [Saturday August 18 – Friday August 24]

I was speaking at Intel, Infosys, Microsoft, and IISc, and we were scouting the city in advance of our plans to live in Bangalore for a 2008-09 sabbatical.  My goal was to make professional connections, find a place for us to live, and to identify which school would be best for the kids.

We also toured the Canadian International School, just before its new campus opened for the first day.

See the photo gallery.

Another major temple in Bangalore. India. Bangalore.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington.

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington state, June 2, 2006. I was there for a Microsoft Research workshop, and the falls were a short stroll from the hotel.

This stunning waterfall is in western Washington state, and includes a hydro-power facility by diverting some water around the falls, through pipes.

See my SmugMug photo gallery, including video.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.