Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Cultural Difference

After grad life, now working in a company most of time with Americans, staying with an American family, using public transport daily has brought me more close to the American culture, the western way of thinking. There are still many things to imbibe, but some cultural differences between us and these western people are prominent.

Independence, thanks to technology, is what is seen in every American. And now I realize it has many shades. Every person, be a man or a woman, a kid or an old one, a fit or a disabled, can live his entire life on his own. Buses have ramps for disabled to get in, traffic light ped crossings have radio records for blind to help cross, every house has a garage and tools to fix their own vehicle, and internet is everywhere; these people hardly feel a need to interact. Every person has an i-gadget in his ear, a kindle in his hands and a smart phone with data plan activated. They hardly care to come out of their world.

Good thing is you are independent. You don't need anyone to help you do your daily chores. You are free. No one would care if you do stupid dancing on roads or if you kiss your girlfriend at the train station. You don't need to ask around if you are lost, you will have a GPS or an i-phone to see directions. But.. it disconnects people. This disconnects families. A father thinks his son has to leave his house when he is 16 as he thinks "his mother still feeds his a** and after he leaves my house I would spend that money to buy a Porsche" And a kid thinks "I don't have to stay with them, I earn, I have money, and a girlfriend, I can afford to rent a place. So why should I rely on them!" As a result, kids stay with their girlfriend(s), and old people are transferred to old age homes. But there is no regret as nothing changes in their lives, they have all the tools to live their life independently and happily (?).

In contrast, we have grown in a culture where we stay together. We are emotionally attached and kids feel a sense of responsibility towards their parents. The culture in which we are brought up, we tend to take care of our parents when they grow old. When I communicated these thoughts with a fellow American, he was surprised, and felt great about the culture in which people are brought up a few thousand miles far.

I am surprised when I see that every American can fix his car in his house, and does not have to go to a garage. Come to think of it, it’s due to high labor charges here. If they quote me $50 to fix brakes on my $80 bike, I would refer to google and fix it myself. On the other hand, I will easily give Rs5 to a Puncturewala in Pune and get my punctured tire fixed. These guys are surprised when I tell them we have a doodhwala that brings us milk every morning, we have a maid that daily comes and cleans the house and even when I tell that we get the newspaper in hardcopy. They are used to read e-versions.

Within a family everything is "ours" in India whereas here, its "mine" or "yours". The other day I was talking to a collogue during lunch and said "in my house back in India.....". He was surprised and asked me if I owned a house! People here always distinguish between "my house" and "my dad's house". Similarly, within a house, its "my car" and "my dad's car" where as in India its "our car". These people respect privacy to such an extent that my landlady asks her mom for permission to use her car, or to put a couple of her clothes in a washing machine with her mom's.

There are so many more things. But the bottom line is, is it solely the technology and infrastructure that has facilitated this upbringing? With technological advances in India, will we see an Americanized India in a few decades? I hope we consciously imbibe all the positive aspects of technological advances, keeping our emotional attachment, and our strong cultural values intact.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My first bike accident and the amazing Walmart

This was a pretty eventful day. Right from my Puneri maaj to American customer service, today I went through everything. The beginning was not that great. Generally I bike up to my shuttle stop where I board the shuttle to Tesla. I was at an intersection traffic light in my left lane. The light went green and I raced my bike to turn left. A car, directly in front, facing me, was in her left lane supposed to turn to her left. I don’t know what the driver was thinking he started taking a wrong right turn.

Seeing me he stopped in between. But… I kept looking at him, my eyes fixed on him, and giving all Puneri khunnas I had in me! :D My expressions were clear enough that I didn’t have to utter any word. The next thing I saw when I turned my head was the curb that I was going to hit! I slammed my brakes hard, my rear wheel skid through a 90 deg rotation and it had a rough interaction with the curb. The brakes were awesome and I came to a dead stop within seconds. Realizing I was completely in an awesome condition, I forced my bike pedal to cruise ahead, but it refused to go. Curious, I looked at my rear wheel and it was totally warped and distorted, like a circular rim of metal heated in a furnace!!!!

I couldn’t go home as I would then miss my last shuttle, and the stop was still far enough to drag the bike there and reach in time. I had no option but to opt for the second choice. Lifting my rear wheel dragging the bike all way along and cursing myself for the unnecessary khunnas I gave to him, I finally made to the stop just in time! All the way to Tesla I was thinking what should be done next! At Tesla, I was a star attraction and I had to narrate the story at least 4 to 5 times before I reached the lab

During the day I called some bike shops to check if there was any possibility to straighten the wheel. They suggested me to bring the bike to the shop to inspect. In case it was not possible to straighten (which I think was the case!) it was going to cost me about $70 to fix it. Instead I would as well get a new bike!!

So, without having any hope, I thought of calling Walmart to see if they can help me out (I had got my bike from Walmart). I had heard about Walmart’s return policy, but it was all fantasy to me until I experienced it. My bike was just 3 weeks old and hence I called Walmart for replacement. My shuttle driver was kind enough to give me a ride to Walmart in the evening. There I asked them if I can get a new wheel. Looking at the bikes condition (everything being in awesome condition except a really screwed rear wheel) the manager asked the sports section to see if it can be fixed. The answer was no.

Supposedly, you cannot replace items that you order online from Walmart, so the manager herself suggested me to return the bike for a full refund. I was awestruck! “What.. that means I would get a full refund??” I asked her three times to double check if what I was hearing was correct. “Yes, absolutely”, she said, “one can return anything for a full refund until it’s within the return policy guideline period”.

Apparently, there were many customers in the “return items” line at Walmart. Come to think of it, has this policy made Walmart grow? No wonder Walmart is leading everyone with its annual turnover of $421.849 billion! Being in retailing sector, customer service and customer satisfaction are kept on highest priority. This may be the reason why despite of giving full refunds on so many products still they make huge profits.

I was amazed. It kept me thinking. The very night I ordered the same bike, obviously from Walmart.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Midwest and the Valley

It was a leap from Midwest to West. After two fun filled years at Michigan, it’s now time to experience what they call as the valley of startups aka Silicon Valley.

I joined Tesla Motors which is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, very next to Stanford University. California is a huge state, but Silicon Valley spans from I guess San Jose to San Francisco and it is altogether different than The Auto State: Michigan!

They have their own standings. Where the Big 3 rule (GM, Ford, Chrysler) in Michigan, they are nonexistent here in the valley. Here it’s all about Google, Apple and Facebook. In Michigan every person has to have a Ford (F150 is favorite amongst teens! :P..mereko abhi tak nahi samjha kyu?!) whereas here.. every person has to have a i-gadget. Here you will see all Hondas and
Toyotas unlike GMs and Fords in Michigan. Some people say that here there are more young and educated people that don’t blindly go for American models.. but cmon.. Sikkim la bakarwadi milnara dukan kasa milel! :P. Big 3 has a dominance on their home ground. They have created living for millions of people for over more than half a century! (and also ‘politically’ made sure that no public transport will ever bud in Michigan).

I saw apartments in California! Seriously! This is worth mentioning. Two long years after I saw apartments having parking below, tube lights in the parking, small children playing with their tri-cycles, grandparents sitting on benches and couples going for a post dinner walk. You know what I am saying. Nothing else in US can get more close to India. There is this road called El Camino Real, can be portrayed analogous to Karve road in Pune or ‘main road’ in any other city. This El Camino has shops on both sides. Right from groceries, restaurants, salons…. To Gadgil Jewelers!!! Awraaa! Chitale bandhu ch yayche rahilet.. rather te pan astil kuthetari!

Bike! Valley is very green, eco friendly. People use public transport, people bike to work. There are bike lanes on majority of the roads. Companies have monetary incentives for people who will not drive their car to work. This is not the story in Michigan. Firstly, the distances up there are huge.. you just cannot bike from your home to your work place. People drive for nearly half hour daily to reach their office in Michigan.. One cannot imagine anyone “wasting” so much time here! Secondly, you cannot bike when its below 0F!!

Michigan is more laid back. No startup culture. Whereas here its all about a budding idea and fast paced efforts for its implementation. I am amazed seeing the enthusiasm people here have. Everyone is bubbling with ideas, willing to help, willing to sponsor, willing to guide. People are young and so are the companies. The enthusiasm for innovation is spectacular which I doubt could be experienced in the Midwest. And hence there is not a person who will, after listening to your idea, say.. “40 saal se kaam kar raha hu.. nahi ho sakta ye! Time waste mat kar!”

California is a different ball game, and I am all excited to play this neatly! :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mechie Cabbie

This happened in a cab I hired to go to the airport for my trip to India. Within first few minutes of interaction with the cab driver I understood that he is a mechanical engineer having 9 years of experience in Ford. (Every person in US has some experience in Ford!!). He asked me about myself and realized I am from his area of interest.. powertrains!

Now my amazing cab journey started with he saying whether he can ask me some questions to judge my knowledge! Yes those were his words! J I was surprised.. replied assertively. What is a HEGO (oxygen) sensor.. his first question. Well, now by questions I felt he would ask some generic questions and not directly the technical details of the operation of an oxygen sensor. My ME 569 days flashed in front of me and I started “storytelling”. Now he interrupted me asking me to answer in exact words.. short and to the point. Aw! Before I completed my explanation, he himself started describing how exactly the switching takes place in the sensor and its other technical details.

How does a crankshaft sensor work, what does it measure? What is engine coolant temperature sensor? How does it control the engine idling operation? Then a couple of solid works and proE questions were followed…… and today this Ann Arbor to Airport journey looked endless! Then he spoke about himself, how he used to interview students like me and what are the current trends in the industry. He spoke about the importance of experience and gave me couple of words of wisdom as he realized that I will be soon making a transition from academic life to industry. He made me appreciate that the real learning starts when one gets into the industry, when one has to learn by himself to keep up with the pace, when there is no set syllabi or pre determined annual examinations to judge you, still there is a need to perform for continuous assessment from peers and bosses and a need to absorb knowledge at twice or thrice the rate of academia to keep up with the competition.

The airport arrived. He did not ask for a tip, neither took any. He urged to remain in touch and waved me saying .. “My friend.. once you step in the industry world, in whichever department you go, make sure to show your extremely accurate engineering knowledge. Your success will depend on how good an (technical) engineer you are!”

Friday, May 20, 2011

The People of America!

It was a great experience to travel more than 8000 miles in 15 days covering the entire east coast and southern America. Starting from Chicago the adventure included NYC, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Rhodes Island, Niagara, 1000 Island (1840 to be precise!), Virginia, Tennessee and then Florida! During these days I got a chance to interact with all kinds of people, from different backgrounds, different ethnicities and different cultures.

Although America looks the same everywhere with freeways going either N-S or E-W, fast food restaurants wherever you see, smiling people greeting “hello, how are you doing!” just to acknowledge your presence, STOP signs everywhere, Jogging people at odd times of the day or dancing on the rhythm of the music plugged into their ears…. There are different shades to them if one looks closer!

Unlike people in and around 42nd Street 7th Avenue NYC (Times Square) who are “upscale” neatly dressed with suit and tie and polished shoes, rushing to their office places in the morning time or sitting on some 83rd floor in a glass cabin with a mac in front of them and a personal secretary (lady) on their right… the countryside men and completely laid back… Chillaxed!! :P Its simple.. nothing as Grandeur or glittering as you will see on the east coast or silicon valley.

By countryside I mean the people I observed in Virginia, Tennessee provinces. These are the people who tame horses, pigs and cattle, wear hats and 6 pocket jeans, have acres and acres of farm lands and probably a gun. I will call them close to cowboys! These people seem to be more attached to the family. Wherever I went I observed entire family.. a married couple, the in laws and the children.. together (living happily).

Great people with great hospitality! I happened to visit one of their shows (The Dixie Stampede Dining Show) where they portrayed their “cattle skills”, narrated the development

of the race around Tennessee State and enacted the war that took place between the North and South Tennessee. The show was jaw dropping and to add to the flavor the dinner was mind-blowing. We were served one FULL roasted hen!! Along with vegetable soup, boiled corn, slice of pork, a potato and then desert… with NO silverware!! Great experience to eat a full roasted chicken with hands! J The show concluded with countryside music and people dancing happily.

Chinatown is one more shade. Not only people, but everything is in Chinese.. shop names, billboards, prices everything. Its a totally different world when one enters the Chinatown. The buildings have stairs on the outside..The lodges are disgusting with common toilets, there is garbage on the streets.. and also the following sign can be seen in Chinatown NYC.

Florida was all together a different story. Orlando is full of children, tourists.. Thanks Walt! I hardly saw any “Americans” as I descended to south. The Orlando-Miami journey gave a flavor of our good old ST bus (rest is now self explanatory! which includes the driver, passengers, bus, lay over restaurants etc…!). Miami is full of people either from Cuba or Mexico.. I don’t know how to differentiate.. but my point is.. Here I met natives who can’t speak English. Inner parts of Miami had more old people busy in their diurnal activities.. Similar kind of people like you can see when you travel from Panjim to Vasco in the morning. Miami reminded me of Goa except the tourists.. tourists are more “bold” here!! :P

That was my journey.. Next is the west coast… which is one more different flavor of the America… the “Desi America”!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

India v/s Pakistan

(Clarification based on a response: The "cheering against the two teams" was in good spirit as all the people knew each other. It was not due to the animosity but for teasing the opponents! It was not taken srsly by any team)

No doubt it had to be the most nail biting match of World cup 2011, it was also a lifetime experience for me. India v/s Pakistan: it is always thrilling, full of tension, fervor, and enthusiasm.. “Get used to it!” But you just cannot describe the feeling when you are watching the match with a bunch of Pakistanis in the same room.

The match was going to be screened live at central campus. We first headed the library and printed out some “4”s and “6”s placards to show the Pakistanis who would be present in the hall. Everyone was ready to head to central campus and we shared a cab to go there. The venue was already packed. With lots and lots of Indians, the Pakistanis were still seen prominently seen with their green jersey’s and painted flags on their faces. We sneaked inside the room and squeezed onto a table to rest our seats.

The room (which had a capacity of 70) was packed with around 300 people. Noises, cheers, slogans everything was heard except the commentary. Every ball had to be cheered.. either by the blue guys or by the green. We clearly outnumbered the opponents. “Sachiiiiiin sachin..” “jitega bhai jitega.. india jitega.. harega bhai harega Pakistan harega” was shouted on the faces of the Pakistanis but at the same time pin drop silence was seen when Wahab struck Yuvraj and Dhoni bored the audience with his front foot defenses. There was some exchange of uncensored words which ignited the pak ego, but it was nothing more than a blip on the radar!

A blasting inning by Sehwag reminded me the 2003 India-Pak match and watching Shoaib sitting in the pavilion really made me say.. “soch raha hoga.. chalo bach gaya!” The Indian inning was full of enthusiasm and slowly the night outers went for a short nap during the second half. The room was again full during the last few overs and the catch of Misbah sent everyone yelling and cheering loudly. On the other hand the opponents were quietly sneaking out from the room lowering there heads with all sorts of emotions. The celebration followed by “Chakh de”, group photographs and then the presentation ceremony.

It was an awesome experience!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Amreeki Rail

Departure was scheduled at 7:30am from Lafayette and it was supposed to arrive at Chicago at 10am. My intuition was right! Lafayette-Chicago ho ya Gorakhpur-Dadar... trains have to be late! Good that I booked a connecting bus at 2 and not 10:30 believing on the western efficiency!

We reached the station at 7 and saw no one! Not even an attendant. The entire station looked deserted. Then we realized where the waiting area was and to our surprise it was completely filled with people and supposedly we were the last to enter! The TC greeted us warmly and then told us that due to flood warnings (where we failed to see even a drop of rain anywhere!) the train had to reduce its speed by 10mph. With the American GPS technology, we instantly realized that the train was half an hour late. Finally it came at around 8:15 and I boarded!

Unlike what I had imagined (as shown in classics of 60s!) this train turned out to be a chair car. But it was spacious and comfortable. It started from Lafayette; I waved to Neeraj and fell asleep instantly. I woke up in around an hour and found the train was not moving. I heard an announcement that there is some switch failure and two people are working on it. Listening to this I dozed off. Another hour and I opened my eyes to realize that it’s still at halt. What was new to me that the train had a running commentary, where all they told us was that they didn't know anything, but these two people repairing a failed switch. What was this **** switch!!!! Nobody knew. Everyone was clueless. One more announcement told that there was a goods train over that switch, which is now moved and those two guys can now reach the switch! This made me realize that this so called switch.. is something which is outside, probably on the tracks... and not in our train!!! :P. A couple of more announcements acknowledged their efforts of fixing that switch on a Sunday morning!

What was different was this American manner of alleviating the restlessness by telling "Don't worry... everything gonna be fine... we are together gonna fix this honey!!" (Only the kissing part that usually follows was not seen)

Aisa hote hote finally it got fixed and the train moved. It was some 15 miles from Chicago and we heard one more announcement! "A second switch has failed! But don't worry, this time the people working on it exactly know what the failure is and they will fix it in couple of minutes!" WTH!!! That means previously they were clueless!!! But they did fix it in couple of minutes and we reached Chicago at 1:30.

In the meantime my mom was restless back in India and couldn’t sleep until that switch got fixed and I reached Chicago!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Fundamental Question

I have a fundamental question:

Q: Why, in first place, human race came and settled at a place where for half a dozen of months its -25 degC?
...and then gradually they have developed technology to counter it!!!

They use tons and tons of salt, infinite fuel to clean the roads, remove the snow, infinite energy to keep the heaters on so that the ducts are not blocked, backup generators if electricity fails, backup stored fuel barrels if the backup generator fuel is finished. :P
Not only this, cars cost more as they should be equipped with heaters, cold start technologies, intruments to clean/scrub the windshields. This white snow also raises the insurance cost! Houses have to have an additional floor..below the ground.. the basement.. where people will feel warm and hibernate in winters... house cost increases!....... and much more!

.....and when it comes, the snowtime, these same set of people fly to warmer places like florida!!!! WTH!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Equivalent MPG conundrum

Here's some Auto stuff..

This is the age of electric and hybrid electric vehicles. Every company is coming up with its HE (hybrid electric) versions of the cars claiming that they improve the fuel economy. Some numbers tell that the Prius has a fuel economy of 48 miles per gallon (mpg) on city cycle, Honda Civic hybrid was rated 40mpg whereas the latest hype is about Chevy Volt, claiming 60 mpg (combined mode) and 93 mpg (electric only mode).

The basic assumption lies in the fact that this equivalent fuel economy is higher because unlike normal vehicles, in HEVs or EVs less amount of gasoline is burnt. They had to find some way for comparing the fuel "burnt" as "electricity" (which produces no emissions) to the fuel that is burnt in conventional vehicles to come up with a number: miles per "gallons" (where there are really no "gallons" of fuel "burnt" in electric vehicles).

"To reach this number EPA created a conversion factor between quantity of electric energy (KWHr) and volume of gasoline (gallons). They did this by dividing the heating value of a gallon of gasoline by the energy in a KWHr of electricity to get a conversion factor of 33.7 gallons/KWhr." ..states the article below

But is this the right way to do it? Should they account for the energy losses in "preparing" that electricity? after all we should be concerned more towards reducing the fossil fuel usage rather than "increasing" the power train efficiency per se

..and if they do what are the new numbers? are they more realistic?

This is a very nice article which sheds light on this issue. One of our profs shared it with us. You guys will find it interesting

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Open to Interpretations!!

After having Pizza and Coke we headed to Central Campus for the midnight celebration. Me, Anish, Rohit, Vaibhav, Vineet and Yash with Yash having the control over the steering wheel reached central at around quarter to 12 (without taking any repetitive U turns or changing 2,3 lanes in one go). After having a tough time finding parking, we finally got one at some place which I don't know!!

As decided we headed to Grizlly's Peak Restaurant and Bar to see and be a part of the New Years celebrations. The restaurant was closed and bar was storming with people. Screens were put up which displayed live celebrations going at Times Square, NY. With a glass of beer in hand and chatting in a group of few, everyone was waiting for the stroke of 12, to see the famous ball drop, and to get insane in welcoming the new year.

It was going to be 1-1-11 within a minute and everyone including us started screaming the countdown. 5-4-3-2-1 and that was it! The ball dropped, couples kissed, singles danced, sane people became insane and drunk became the eye-catchers. The whole country and hence each and every single person at the bar welcomed the new year with immense enthusiasm! Music was put on, floor changed into a dance floor... and we, a group of 6.. stood in the corner and watched people!

And there she came, a blonde, not-so good looking, but.. guys.. a blonde! She approached us greeting.. "Strangers.. Happy new Year, Happy New year!!" We greeted the same adding to her enthu!. Then she directly approached one of us... aur uske balon se khelkar usko personally greet kiya... Happy New Year!!!! ...Wow!! Now that was unexpected.. we all were stunned and looking at that guy and imagining ALL what could have followed IF he had not jus stood there smiling! Bolta hai... "apna culture abhi tak bhoola nahi hu!"

This was not all. We came out. We were deciding.. Now where? She was there, that same gal, in a corner. And she approached us again.. Looking straight into the eyes of the same guy (I guess he is the most good looking amongst us!) she asked him if he had a lighter! He, along with one other guy.. smiled and said.. NO, we don smoke!!

She went away, opened her purse, pulled a lighter and lit her cigarette!!

We looked at each other, we looked at that guy, we smiled.. Happy New Year 2011.