Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Leaving Meerut - Academic Edition

My time in Meerut, India has come to a close, and so I thought I'd post some pictures from the classroom over the last month. Hopefully I'll have time for a non-academic "Leaving Meerut" post as well.

First off, I've finished my time as science teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th class here at Chiragh Grammar School. I've written a roughly one-month syllabus for each class, to teach Electricity and Magnetism, using loads of hands-on experiments, at varying levels of complexity. Of course the experiments require only very simple, inexpensive, easily obtainable materials! I'm currently not sure where the syllabus/report will be posted, but It will probably be in conjunction with our friends over at Iridescent Inc. and have some sort of a free-to-use Creative Commons license.

I'm glad that I got the chance to be a teacher, and I really learned more than I had thought I would. I was surprised to hear the exact same questions that I used to pose to teachers before a test, and this time around they seem like such silly questions. "Will there be multiple choice? Will there be true/false?" It doesn't matter! Study the content! :-)

Most positive realization: Students look up (metaphorically) at the content of the course as a series of facts that are hard to understand, and thus must be memorized. Teachers look down (metaphorically) at the content of the course as one, completely related string of interdependent ideas. Thus, the teachers job is to (sure, why not. once again, metaphorically) weld the links of steel into a chain of knowledge that can be relied upon for strength in later courses. It just blew me away when I realized the way I used to see content, and the way I see it now, after teaching it.

Second, I've finished my time as a science teacher who was using the OLPC laptops in an unofficial deployment! Very related in that the initial hope was to use the OLPCs as the platform for the hands-on experiments. Unfortunately, there were limited opportunities for this. But to turn a negative into a positive, the laptops will stay here for the students to learn computer skills, and are available for all teachers at the school to use in their curriculum. Additionally, I've written another document which outlines what it was like and the hurdles to using these OLPCs in an unofficial deployment. More to come on where that will be posted later as well. (Psst! One of my recent blog postings was covered by someone else! Check me out!)

Just a regular day at the office.
Theme in the last 5 pictures? We're not exactly a One Laptop Per Child deployment.
More like a One Laptop Per Multiple Children deployment! OLPMC!
6th Class happily showing the XOs they use.
8th Class is a bit more stoic, although equally appreciative!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monday Movies from India

The title shouldn't mislead you into thinking that there will be a set of movies each week simply reposted on this blog (even though it seems 90% of the internet is simply re-postings of other content -- I try to keep it mostly original).

Judging from emails and votes, you people, the readers (aren't we democratic) are interested in "life in India." And so I thought you'd get a kick out of three videos that really showcase just that.

The first is a quick, hilarious commercial about something fairly serious in the business world: McDelivery. Here in India, you can get your McDonalds delivered to your home. Among the choices, I'd get 2 burgers (McVeggie, Crispy Chinese, or McChicken) and 2 fries, all for the low, low price of Rs.109 (about $2.75). The marketing is much better than my no-frills description. Enjoy (and good luck getting the song out of your head; hence it's the first video):

The second video is an official tourism ad that really sums up some of the better parts of Incredible India (from my novice viewpoint):

Finally, a trailer for a new film coming out that I'd very much like to see. It showcases the ins-and-outs of international business (and some romance, I guess). "Outsourced" is an American film:

This all comes on the heels of my embrace of globalization: outsourcing my own ideas and work to smart, efficient laborers in India. More on this in an upcoming blog post!

(psst. Ba Da Bap Ba Baa!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No, I did *not* send you spam email.

I just found out that for the past three months my emails have not been delivered due to my email signature containing my blog URL. Turns out that lots of spam email have links in them to websites that end in "" as my blog has, and as a result, spam filters have been throwing me in with all the good herbal male enhancement ads. Wonderful.

The following antispam rules were triggered by this message:
BLOGSPOT_URL 0.500 Blogspot URL found
X-GT-Spam-Rating: ###### (61%)

So if you like, pull up your spam folder, and do a search for hbonwit, and see if there's any emails in there from me. Cause now I'm generally curious if I really am that un-email-reply-worthy.

Of course you don't have to change anything to view this blog in the future, I've just created another way for you to view it. You can visit the redirection website:

(At least I didn't suffer a broken marriage because of this problem, like these folks! More onthe issue here, if you're interested.)

And here's some cow dung for you, don't spend it all in one place:
That will be all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Agra, India

This past weekend I took a trip down to Agra! I took the train down, and the -km ride took about 5 hours. Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train car marked "S2" (they have an S2 in each class of service). After 3 hours someone pointed out to me that I'd spent too much to be riding back there and I found my way to the proper car.

(I paid 140 Rupees, I was riding in a car that cost only 70 Rupees (US$2) for the 5 hour trip.)

Once in Agra I checked into a hotel and wandered around before finding my way to an empty rooftop restaurant that would serve me a beer. I felt bad guzzling the beer after a hot, long day of traveling as I then heard the Muslim adhan (call to prayer) from the minarets around town.

Its interesting being in India where half the population is Hindu and half is Muslim.
When it comes to artwork, the Hindu people celebrate many gods, and do so with many representations of them. See artwork such as floats, pictures, and music in last week's Rama post. The Muslims, however, never use any artwork containing images or representations of faces, which might be misconstrued as idol worship! (Hence, calligraphy and colorful symmetrical designs is about as ornate as you get.) Similarly, in some places (like Agra), its almost impossible to track down a beer, and in other places beer can be found in every corner shop.

Saturday morning I got up early and visited the Taj Mahal up close. It's hard to describe the experience, but here are some thoughts:
  • It's a mausoleum to a queen who died giving birth to the her 14th child for the king.
  • It took only 22 years to build. But a veritable army of 20,000 workers were employed.
  • Twenty-eight types of precious stones used, from all over the eastern hemisphere.
  • It's base was built up 150 feet above the surrounding area & river, so that when you look at it, you ALWAYS have a nice plain background. Way to think ahead!
  • It's huge. I stood on the highest rooftop (okay, only 6 stories) town, and stared directly across at the middle of the Taj Mahal.
  • It's nice and symmetrical. All four faces are exactly the same. Minarets on the corners, ditto. However, there are gates on three sides, and a river skirts the fourth.
  • The marble used is from Rajasthan, India. This marble is translucent, hence the lighting at the Taj Mahal changes from sunrise, to mid-day, to sunset, and in moonlight.
[facts from Wikipedia ]

There's some amazing photos of the Taj Mahal here.

Some signs were really confusing for me:

After enjoying the Taj Mahal at sunrise, I got a shower and breakfast before meeting up with an autorickshaw driver who took me around Agra for the afternoon.

Here's a reasonable video of what the streets of Agra look like. Very standard.
Videos take a long time to upload, hence I'm poaching this one someone else posted.

First we stopped at Agra Fort. This massive fort was built over one thousand years ago and at one point contained over 500 buildings. Unfortunately, throughout the years they have been destroyed and now there are only 30 left.

This picture looks down on the massive, once-crocodile-infested moat. If you wanted to capture the fort, you had to go through 4 gates, separated by 90 degree turns, all uphill, after crossing the moat. Pretty tough.

Maybe there aren't many building left, but there are some monkeys, thankfully. (And bats.) Everybody likes cute baby monkeys. But don't touch. :-)

The fort is a major part of Indian political history, as all kinds of Rajputs and Mughal kings held it. Akbar the Great (no kidding) realized its central location and importance and decided to rebuild the fort, over 8 years with 1,444,000 bricklayers. That's a lot of people working on one project. That's about the same as the current largest commercial employer in the world: Indian Railways!
(info from Wikipedia )

One design element that I really like in all these buildings is the stone latticework. This allows cross-ventilation to occur, replacing hot air with fresh, cool air, continuously. Plus it's artistic.

Also artistic is the inlaid stone work visible in the 3 photos that follow (zooming in on the same spot):

These three photos are from the "Baby Taj Mahal," a tomb finished around the time the Taj Mahal was started, as a final resting place for the grandfather of the queen buried in the Taj Mahal. There are many similar design elements, as you can see:

My last night in Agra I was able to appreciate the Taj Mahal and some monkeys:
(Click to see it larger)

Finally, I wanted to share some gun-safety advice. Here's how to properly tote your weapon on the very busy and hectic streets in India:
Ride on the back of a bike with no helmet, and don't hold on to the bike. Also don't look where you're going. Make sure you're riding on a "Pulsar" bike so it's really jerky acceleration.

Ended up taking a public bus home, which was a good experience. A good experience I don't really need to repeat. :-) It was 250 kilometers in over 7 hours... let's see. That comes out to about 20 miles per hour. Not bad.

I underwent a new record, for my body on that trip as well! 7 hours of extreme heat: At one point, my thermometer read 105.6 degrees F! I'm sure I'll see hotter this summer.

Expenses for the weekend (excluding gift-purchases):

Rs. 140 Train
Rs. 60 Rickshaw from airport
Rs. 180 Dinner
Rs. 250 Hotel #1 (smelly)
Rs. 60 Snack
Rs. 25 Breakfast
Rs. 225 Lunch
Rs. 750 Taj Mahal Entry Fee
Rs. 300 Rickshaw all day
Rs. 250 Agra Fort Entry Fee
Rs. 100 Mini Taj Entry Fee
Rs. 140 Dinner
Rs. 150 Hotel #2 (better)
Rs. 60 Breakfast
Rs. 55 Water x 2
Rs. 142 Bus

Total is Rs. 2887 or about $72.18 (it's about Rs. 40 to $1)

More random sites for information:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rama Festival & random Meerut pics

Hanuman Chowk is of the main intersections in town, near the market area. It's meant to be around-about, but you can pretty much drive whichever way you want around it. You just have to have the loudest horn, or biggest vehicle.

The scene gives you an idea of the importance of religion around here. The figure is Hanuman, an ape-like humanoid, one of the main characters in epic Indian poetry. You can basically read any paragraph on this wikipedia page to understand how awesome these stories are!

Here's a short snippet:
Hanuman appeared as a small talking monkey before Arjuna at Rameshwaram, where Sri Rama had built the great bridge to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Upon Arjuna's wondering out aloud at Sri Rama's taking the help of monkeys rather than building a bridge of arrows, Hanuman (in the form of the little monkey) challenged him to build one capable of bearing him alone, and Arjuna, unaware of the monkey's true identity accepted. Hanuman then proceeded to repeatedly destroy the bridges made by Arjuna who became depressed and suicidal, and decided to take his own life.
[from ]

Something tells me that this generator has been here for a few weeks -- maybe it's that the wheels are almost fully submersed in the sludgy ground? And that it's chained up?

Best way to transport your propane tanks along a "major" highway? Obviously to strap them on a bicycle! (The max that I saw was 9 on one bicycle rickshaw!)

A monkey movie that I shot during the Mussoorie weekend, posted by request!

It's Rama's Birthday!
(It's kinda a big deal, as Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, a god very central to Hindu beliefs.)

This is a very typical (modest) float for the front of the parade that took place last weekend. It was Rama's birthday, so there were floats for lots of the various gods that Hindus celebrate. In this particular parade, Rama's float was the biggest & most important, and at the end.

Some floats were more traditional...
others were more... loud. :-)

walked up the street against the flow of the parade, working my way towards Rama's float. I really dig the tunes! The mix of traditional sounds + electronic enhancement seems to make all the folks around to dance.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Weekend trip to the Mountains!

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This past weekend Nikhil and I went up to the mountains north of us, to a town called Mussoorie, India. It's a town of 20k people with a few very good, internationally renowned schools. It's also got some really awesome views of the plains of India as well as the mountains to the north (it is on the southern edge of the Himalayan mountain range).

It took us about 7 hours to make our way the 209 kilometers (yep, that's an average of 18 per hour) from Meerut to the mountains. The road is said to have been improved, and we could definitely see signs of public works going on... but the speed attests to it's quality. Here's what a normal part of the trip might look like:

As we made our way into the mountains on Friday afternoon, the views were quite nice, although I didn't snap any pictures, banking on the weather report: Perfect all weekend.

It turned out to be raining quite a bit and because of the elevation we were in clouds the rest of the time. Bummer.

Some good news is that they have some really awesome omelet shops! Some are quite tiny, as you'll see in the video below, while others can be up to twice as big. Very tiny shops. Another one we went in, twice as big, seats about 5 people, and goes through up to 600 eggs in one day. Wow.

On Saturday, despite the rain, we decided to walk to the very top of the hill outside Mussoorie, in the hopes that the weather would clear. No dice. At least the rain was refreshing (I was about 50 degrees out and we were soaked and cold all weekend. Okay, now I won't mention that any more.).

That night, Nikhil introduced me to an after-dinner snack called paan. It's a digestive, and there's a great picture of a shopkeeper selling some at this wikipedia page. It was basically a green thick leaf, wrapped up with sugar and other "spices" (sometimes, but not in this case, tobacco), and then finally wrapped in a a thin leaf of some shiny metal. Which you put in your mouth. And it's kinda like chewing tobacco. But in a leaf. But its sugary. Fascinating.

Sunday we took our time coming home and drove through Dehra Dun to see the old clock tower.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Contents Lost: Blog Deleted

Well, this blog wasn't deleted, but to make sure that I preserve its content in case of some emergency, I thought it was a good idea to make a backup of everything! Turns out there's lots of options in this realm, but my favorite is a newcomer to the party: BlogBackupr.

Unlike other backup programs that I looked at, these guys provide:
  • free daily backups (and restoration) of the
  • text and media you post on your site
  • without installing anything on your home computer (good, cause I don't have one).
It was super simple to set up, and now I can see that everything is backed up! Really, I can't say enough about this (from the little experience I have). Perfect and simple, nice job, guys!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Electric Vehicle rant

[Click here for the whole cartoon,
Blogger cuts this one off]

Most of you know that I really like the idea of electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid vehicles. Thanks to my friend SP for pointing out Mike Adams' ( great cartoon about "GreenBoasting." Adams writes:

"Why did Ford, GM and most of the American car companies ridicule Toyota over the idea of hybrid cars, and then later jump on the bandwagon with half-hybrid vehicles that don't really qualify as full hybrids in the first place? ... The truth is that auto companies are into GREENBOASTING -- the practice of spouting off environmental-sounding nonsense in order to please customers and increase sales."

While I do think that Tesla Motors have a fantastic vehicle, I think there's a better solution for me. For those that don't know, Tesla can boast some serious numbers (from their website):
  • 0-60 in 3.9 seconds
  • 135 miles per gallon equivalent
  • 220 mile range
  • All electric, enabling a cost of 2 cents per mile!
  • Currently in production!
[Photo from (Design Gallery) ]

The "Better Solution" that's out there for someone that needs an everyday car, a daily driver, as opposed to a sports car, is the plug-in hybrid vehicle. This way, you can putz around town going to work and back on all electric power. When you do want to take a road trip, you can still fill up at the gas station.

There are the numbers from Aptera's plug-in hybrid (from their website):
  • 40+ miles on electric charge (enough for the great majority of Americans)
  • 130 MPG for road trips (anything greater than 120 miles)
  • 85+ mph top speed
  • a bit sluggish 0-60 in 10 seconds
  • $29,900 sticker price ($3k less if you want all electric)
  • "Production of the Aptera is slated for late 2008."

[Photo from ]

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bikes, the ultimate in personal transport!

So it's true. I've gone and done it. I went ahead and let the marketing propoganda (above) get the best of me, and I bought a bike. Now, I really couldn't justify getting the milk cart / bicycle rickshaw that is so popular here, but I DID get a sturdy, reliable hunk of steel from the Hercules company:
It's a beautiful ride, loaded with extras. Lemme run down it's feature list for all the bike junkies out there. It's got drum brakes on front and rear, an awesomely comfortable spring seat, flip up spring loaded kickstand (with lock for stand), built-in bicycle lock, spring loaded rack on the back (good for 1 American [2 Indians]), and a bell. I opted out for the generator and lights, as I'm not gonna ride at night for now. Maybe in a week or two once I know the area better.
More good news is that this is the model bike that the locals ride around, so besides the shiny paint, there's no reason to swipe it!
Finally, it sounds fairly authentic to say that I bought a "Fancy India" "Big Boss Action Product" steel bicycle from JD Gupta & Sons for a fair 2300 Rupees. (That's US$57, by the way.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Winner for third-world Skyping: OLPC!

New Picture: Me in my normal Skype environment (wireless!).

It occured to me the other day that at my fingertips were two options for wanting to talk to the US from over here in Asia:

Option 1: Desktop computer, external monitor, wireless receiver, Uninteruppted Power Supply (UPS) backup battery
Option 2: OLPC XO laptop (built in wireless, monitor, battery (UPS))

Option 1: Full desktop setup (UPS was faulty so it was removed [and I lost the first version of this blog posting due to a power outage!])

Option 2: OLPC XO Laptop (Cup of chai optional)

Now to either of the above lists I just add a standard headset with microphone and chat away! (In fact, if the conditions are perfect, don't even add the headset to the OLPC, just use the Built in microhphone, speakers, and webcam!)

For the audiophiles out there, it turns out that the XO laptop gives way better filtering of background noise (I'm in a 20' x 30' concrete room)! Way to go OLPC team! (I would have thought it would be standard due to both computers running Skype brand software, but there is a repeatable difference!)

The official page for installing Skype on the OLPC laptops can be found here, but I used an amalgamation of help forums, etc. because I installed it a while back (and/or didn't see the main page... :-) )

(Now looking into the status of Google Talk on the OLPC (Seems like might have to use a third-party for billing to call to non-computers at the other end). -- suggestions welcome!)