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Welcome to Flora's occasional cooking blog.  Most of my journal is friends-only.  The public portion is mostly a way to share recipes (or cooking misadventures), along with "ooh, shiny, must share!" (mostly SCA) stuff. 

If you're looking for my India travels, see the public blog on DreamWidth at .

I have special friends filters set up for SCA, Techies, Women, Masons and Eastern Stars, and Local (living in the greater Washington-Baltimore metro region).  Let me know if you want added to any of those. 

As always, please feel free to drop me a note here.  All comments on this entry are screened.

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My company is hiring for a System Administrator position in Arlington, VA.  This is for the senior IT person at a ~75-person software company.  The job description is posted at:
It's currently a Microsoft / Active Directory environment, though we're moving toward more open-source. 

Reason for the opening: The current person decided he couldn't take the traffic anymore. He's moving to California in early March, so we're scrambling for a replacement.  We're at the Courthouse metro stop on the Orange line.

I'm happy to pass along resumes. Please drop a line here if you are interested, email me directly, or contact via LJ.  Comments on this entry are screened.  EDIT: It isn't screening when I comment via LJ, so if you're worried about that, please comment anonymously - anon screening is working properly.

Feel free to share with others.
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Short notice, but the U.S. government is rewriting the ADA and Section 508 regulations for Information and Communications Technology.  These are the laws that describe how American companies and government websites need to be accessible to people with disabilities.  

The US Access Board (the agency writing this) is especially looking for ideas on making government websites accessible to people with cognitive disabilities. They also want input on what should and should not be reasonable exceptions to the law.

The ADA revision is very short, but far-reaching.  A new section now covers walk-up kiosk interfaces, not just ATMs.  For example, if you've ever ordered food in a restaurant or cafeteria using a touch-screen, the new ADA law would apply there.

The first public comment period ends today (Monday) June 21 at midnight Eastern time. 

Press release:

Draft Regulations for comment:
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Since some of my friends or friends-of-friends might be looking... Feel free to pass on (this entry is public).

Java Developer, Stafford VA - My company is hiring for a lead developer position. It needs experience in software development, and able to get a Secret clearance.

Proposal/Technical writer - A friend from the DC area is looking. I don't know the exact location but she really likes her company; they do sustainability/engineering work. I will be happy to put you in contact with her.

You can send me a message via LJ or respond on this comment with your email address. All comments are screened.
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Five million people named Patel came together for a six-day festival at the nearby temple and town of Unjha. We joined them in celebrating Patel progress and culture.

Every few decades, the Patidar caste has a huge gathering. The last one was in 1976. Patels are historically businessmen and farmers. In Gujarat, well over half the population are members of the various Patel sub-castes. The festival helps raise money for various educational foundations. But mainly, it's about religion and Patel pride.

Seven of us--Hiren and Chandrika and their kids--piled into Alkesh's car and braved the crazy traffic around the fair. Dozens of jam-packed buses zoomed around us, shuttling people back and forth from the surrunding towns. Many additional people rode on the roofs of the buses, holding on and cheering. The festival-goers needed all the transportation they could get; most people here don't have private cars. Those people who are lucky enough to own their own vehicles usually have motorcycles instead. The parking lots were filled with motorbikes as far as we could see; Michael said the number of motorcycles was more than the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in North Dakota. Alkesh parked in one of the relatively few automobile lots and we joined the throngs of people.
Photo of a huge motorcycle parking lot, lit up with carnival lights

The sheer numbers were daunting, but the festival had good logistical management. Barriers herded people into queues, with artfully decorated solid walls to stop people ducking under. Brightly colored cloth covered the ground everywhere, keeping the dust down. For once, manure was not a problem; guards and fences kept the cows out of the main areas. Litter control was rather lacking, however.  We shuffled our way through mini-snowdrifts of discarded plastic cups around the overflowing dust-bins.

Superficially, the festival is similar to a big state fair. There's a combination of amusement-park rides and educational exhibitions. There's also a lot of shopping; all the various industries are represented. Everyone who is anyone is there. So Toyota and Tata motors showed off their gleaming new cars. Energy companies displayed new CFL light-bulbs. We even saw a vendor selling cotton candy (pure-veg, of course).  I wanted to see the agricultural exhibits, but it was late and most of the exhibits had closed. One of the few open booths was sponsoring a campaign against the worldwide eating of beef. They tried to single us out and ask us to sign a petition. We declined.

Unlike US fairs, this festival had a very strong underlying religious aspect. The temple at the center of the fair is a major part of the devotions. Chandrika, Hiren's wife, had joined the tens of thousands who walked 25 kilometers to the temple at Unjha, leaving at moonrise and arriving in the early morning.

Painting of Krishna coming down from heaven to the farmers below

A series of life-size dioramas and paintings showed how Patels had progressed through the centuries, from small farming villages to modern times. Mixing history with religion, many scenes showed scenes from the Mahabharata and (I think) how Lord Krishna had ridden down from heaven on an elephant and blessed the Patel clan. With the gods' help, the farmers evolved, using better technology, and Patels moved into other industries. The last panel featured the modern, global Patel businessman, standing by the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower to symbolize the worldwide Indian disapora.
Several old pictures, showing an elderly woman in tribal dress, and village life

Our favorite part was a display of old black-and-white photographs. They showed historic Gujarati life in villages, with traditional farming methods and ethnic costumes. We couldn't read the dates, but it was nice to see those windows into Gujarat's past. That was a very small part of the festival. The recurring theme showed the past as an afterthought, to contrast with how far they've come and how modern they are now. America is such a young country; we have so little history when compared to India. It's great that Indians are proud of their progress, but they have such a rich heritage, too.
(Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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Lovebirds and elephants are romantic. But it's great to discover a city with new friends.

We explored the sights, smells, touches, and tastes of Pondicherry--with other Americans! The Fulbright conference wisely gave us some free time in the evenings.  We spent some of the time with another Computer Science lecturer, Clif, and Clif's family--his wife Lane, and their two children. It was delightful to get to know them.  We had an early dinner together with them at a delicious, Italian-style wood fired pizzeria (justly recommended by their guidebook).  We tasted real cheese pizza with tangy tomato sauce and Italian spices. Lane and I commiserated with each other. Lane isn't working; she's been busy being a mom and studying a bit of programming. Their family had originally thought of applying for South Korea, but they're managing okay in Kerala. They're also in an urban area, so it's a bit more exciting there than in rural Gujarat.

Pondicherry was French colonial, unlike most of the rest of India which was British.  The street signs are still bilingual, in French and Tamil. There are little touches of France here and there, like the painted ceramic tiles giving address numbers. The people are definitely Indian though.
An antique store with a sand painting on its doorstep
We admired an elegant sand painting on a doorstep, and followed over the threshold into a lovely little antique store. Michael bought an inexpensive bell that had once hung in a temple.
We also wandered the major city park. The kids played in the playgrounds. Michael and I explored the tropical flowers in the elaborately planted flowerbeds. I picked up a fragrant white temple-flower blossom that had fallen on the sidewalk and put it in my hair temporarily until I could find some jasmine.

We strolled along the promenade, by the rocky beach on the Indian ocean. On the beach, I made out with a parrot.
Lane holding the parrot
The green "fortune-telling" lovebirds, and their handlers, cater to tourists. They normally pick out a little rolled-up scroll with the customer's future, like an interactive fortune cookie. This time, the bird's trainer invited me to let it perch on my finger. From there, the parrot clambered all over me, chirruping and squawking. It climbed all around my shoulders and head and hair, lightly nibbling and tasting me with its tongue the whole time. It probably enjoyed the dried salt from my sweaty walk on the beach. It tickled me as it nibbled its way up my neck and over my face to my mouth. And there it just stayed, chirping and lightly chewing at my lips and teeth. This lovebird was kissing me!  French kissing!  The bird was evidently enjoying it too. I couldn't stop laughing, and it wouldn't stop kissing me. So I kissed back, with my husband looking on and grinning as he snapped pictures [he hasn't uploaded his pictures of me, so here's one of Lane instead; I'll replace it when I can]. We quickly attracted a crowd. After maybe five minutes of parrot mouth-to-mouth, I coaxed it back on my fingers and handed it back to the trainer. Still laughing, we thanked him and gave him a 100-rupee note.  That was totally worth it.

Michael and I also embraced an elephant. The major Hindu temple there has its own elephant. People buy the elephant grass or a length of sugar-cane and feed it, and the elephant blesses them in return by tapping them on the head with its trunk. Lane and Clif had been the night before, and they watched our bags while we fed the elephant. It grabbed the food straight out of our hands; I don't think it actually patted our heads, but we definitely patted it. The prehensile trunk is surprisingly strong and muscular. It snatched the food before we could get many pictures. It was friendly, though, so I hugged its legs: sort of like a big, dry, rubbery tree trunk.
Women at the Puducherry fish market

On Wednesday, we toured the large fish-market and flower-market.  The fish market smells of fresh fish. Unlike Visnagar's open-air markets, the Pondicherry bazaar is indoors and open well past sunset. We ducked in between a couple shops, and found ourselves in a warren of little market-stalls underneath the buildings. The area is well-illuminated with big fluorescent lights. Our new friend, Lane, had been there the night before. She navigated us through the maze of sellers with ease, steering her children (and us) in the right direction. There were women hacking heads off fresh fish, merchants and carts with vegetable-wallahs, and smaller shops selling kids clothing or saris. There were more vendors in a single room in that market than the whole street full of vegetable-sellers in Visnagar. And that wasn't the half of it.\
Flower market
Our ultimate destination was the huge flower-market, on the other side of the bazaar.  We smelled the giant garlands of marigolds and roses before we saw them. They're used for weddings, and for decorating temples and shrines. I wanted some jasmine, the fragrant white flowers that South Indian women wear in their hair. There were numerous vendors; I bought a long strand of fresh jasmine from a woman who strung them while I watched. I clipped them to my barrette. Our friends needed to get back and put their kids to bed, so all six of us crammed into a single auto-rickshaw and held on all the way back to the hotel. I stashed my jasmine flowers in the mini-bar fridge, where they kept nice and fresh for the Thanksgiving banquet the next night. Jasmine is a wonderful smell. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )


Nov. 22nd, 2009 01:28 am
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Kerala is a green paradise in South India.  We flew down to Cochi (Kochin) before the fall Fulbright India conference.  More pictures are here:

We'd booked a custom tour package through Ebenezer Holiday.  I would highly recommend them to anyone traveling through South India. Everything was prepaid and ready for us in advance.  The travel agent personally picked us up at the airport, with his driver. The car was clean and had working safety belts, even in the back seat--the first car in India we've seen with all seat belts working! 

The first day was sightseeing around Cochin, a port city.  The Chinese fishing nets were very interesting, and surrounded by flotsam. 
Kerala fisherman with the chinese fishing nets

We saw the seventeenth-century Dutch church. About one-third of the population of Kerala is Christian, especially Roman Catholic. Michael, dressed in his all-white kurta lungi, could even pass for a priest (one shopkeeper thought he was "a Father.")

Michael in front of the Jewish synagogue grounds in Jew-Town, Kerala

We also stopped by the local Jewish cemetery and synagogue in "Jew-Town," now an antiques district. The merchants lining the street to the synagogue were on the lookout for rich tourists.  We had to shoo them away constantly.  We decided we didn't want to go back for Shabbat services. We had a fantastic dinner at the Grand Hotel instead--delicious fish and chicken.

The next day, we traveled up to the Kerala backwaters. There are dozens of converted rice barges that now act as luxurious houseboats. We scrambled up the gangplank and spent a leisurely afternoon boating down the river, through palm tree forests and dense floating knots of water hyacinths.  We floated past muddy green fields of rice paddies, which oddly enough are lower than the water level.  Our boat pulled over to a local fisherwoman's hut, and we bought some fish and giant prawns for dinner.  We watched the birds swooping around, and the occasional boat-bus or boat-schoolbus zipping by.  The local people waved at us as they looked up from scrubbing their laundry or bathing in the river.  No nudity inhibitions there.

For the afternoon, the boat pulled over and we relaxed. We dined on succulent ginger-curried fish for lunch, served on banana leaves, of course.  There was a several-hour break for the crew's lunch break.  Michael lounged around and studied Hindi vocabulary, comfortable in his traditional South Indian blue-checked lungi. My husband is so handsome when he dresses up Indian!  I took a little nap. It was so peaceful.

There were many birds, swooping everywhere--and I mean everywhere!  The numerous crows have adapted to living with the people; they followed the women around to filch food scraps from their dishwater.  Three crows even invited themselves to our breakfast the next morning, swooping in as soon as we stood up, and grabbing the toast and eggs while they were still warm. There were plenty of semi-wild ducks and domestic chickens too.  We also saw a kingfisher perching and diving into the water, and some other seabirds that might be terns. I heard lots of frogs, too--bullfrogs, even--but I didn't see them.

Dinner was challenging.  After a picture-perfect sunset, the crew lowered the thick liners to shut the windows (never mind the wide-open doorways).  Michael noticed a little gecko snapping up clouds of flies next to the overhead lights. On closer look, he saw they were mosquitoes. Thousands of mosquitoes.  We don't want to get malaria; however, we didn't want to stink up our bedroom with curry either.  At first I tried duct-taping our mosquito netting to the boat's ceiling, but it was dusty and the tape wouldn't stick.  So I grabbed a couple of the chairs and set them up on the table, then draped our mosquito netting over them to form a canopy.  So under our improvised mosquito-tent, we ate our dinner in the main cabin of the boat.  They cooked us some delicious prawns in a curry coconut sauce.  We retired to our well-sealed bedroom.  The air conditioner drowned out the night noises, but the tightly-shut windows kept out the mosquitoes.

The next day, we traveled up to Wayanad, Kerala.  We passed through tea plantations, and spent the night in the Green Gates Hotel.  Rather, we slept in a bamboo treehouse made into a hotel room.  Green Gates was by far the cleanest, most comfortable room out of all the hotels we have ever stayed in throughout India.  Never mind that we could see through the cracks between the floorboards to the ground far below; that treehouse was a two-story luxury hotel room, with hot water and a comfy down comforter. After a tasty dinner, we snuggled in for a comfortable night's sleep. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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The ancient Indus Valley "cradle of civilization" is today an island in a dry sea of salt. Hundreds of miles of salt flats stretch across to Pakistan. It's a barren wasteland that looks eerily similar to snow. We saw it, and tasted it too.

We left very late. Kutch is a five hour drive from our home in north Gujarat. We planned to leave at 8 in the morning. Our driver came by 9. However, his jeep was out of town; it didn't arrive until after 10:30. We ended up leaving at 11. We submitted a ShmooCon abstract to fill the time.

The Great Rann of Kuch looks exactly like a frozen Great Lake in the midwestern USA. But it's *salt*, not snow. This was a great, shallow sea as recently as the time of Alexander the Great. Even now, when it rains in monsoon season, the sea briefly returns and fills with shrimp. Flamingos flock here by the thousands for the shrimp feast, turning pink from the shells. But in the dry winter months, when we visited, the Great Rann is a silent, barren landscape of solid white. Neither plants nor animals nor people live there. We saw only a handful of vehicles - mostly construction equipment. And mostly heading the other way. There aren't any gas stations out there; people mostly use camels or the rare, precious tractor.

If you've ever walked on a snow-covered lake, you have an idea of what Kutch is like. When Lake Michigan freezes over, it's a vast expanse of flat, sparkling white stretching beyond the horizon. Not completely flat; the wind sculpts the snowdrifts into long, horizontal white dunes. With sun or freezing rain, the formations develop a hard, brittle crust that crunches underfoot. Walking on the crust makes footprint craters that break through to the soft snow below. Now imagine that same landscape, but with a 90-degree temperature and absolute still silence. Add a briny ocean smell, and substitute salt for snow. That's Kutch.
View of the Great Rann of Kutch salt flats

We stopped the car and walked on the salt plains. The surface cracked under our feet exactly like frozen snow. We broke off a little bit of the crust and tasted it; natural sea salt. I stayed near the relative stability of the road.
Michael on the Great Rann of Kutch - before he fell in
My husband wandered over to a pretty, open pool of water, with Yellowstone-like colors from the minerals. The salt crust was thin at the water's edge, and Michael fell in!  He didn't go far, but he sank past his ankles in brine. When he extracted himself, his feet and sandals were completely covered in salt.

We needed the jeep. The sturdy, national highway ended 40 kilometers before Dholavira. The Indian Government was actively doing construction on the lengths on over the salt flats, with a strangely solid, single raised bed. On land, it was another story. We took two hours to travel the last 40 kilometers. After an hour of barely-road travel, our driver suddenly realized he'd passed the last gas station for 200 kilometers and we wouldn't have enough to get back. So he stopped at one of the villages and they poured a can of diesel fuel into the jeep. Whew!

We finally pulled into the Harrapan ruins at about 4:30, the only car in the parking lot. A handful of workers were still sifting through the archeological site with drum-shaped screens.  Other workers were coating the ancient bricks with a slurry of cow manure and mud.  There are huge, elaborate systems of reservoirs created to capture the monsoon rains for use in the dry seasons. Photography was prohibited, since it's an active archeological site.

There's a tiny, year-old museum there too. The workers followed around us, switching on and off the displays of the millenia-old artifacts.  They have found many toys, including carved marble chessmen-like figures and toy carts; pottery; stone and shell beads; and beautifully detailed seals for stamping designs into wax. The seals included several intricate, recognizable designs startling in their lifelike quality. Several seals showed a multi-headed water buffalo--like a bovine Cerberus. Their mundane, single-headed buffalo are today outnumbered by camels and goats in this part of India. The climate changed, and the area became deserted. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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We now have Indian clothing.  We went shopping in our town, Visnagar. We're both much more comfortable in Indian dress.

We first went to a salwar kameez shop. The salwar kameez is a very common outfit worn by South Asian women. It has three parts. The salwar is a loose-fitting gathered pants. The kameez is a short tunic that has a solid shirt-like body to the waist, then the panels divide at the hips to allow free movement. It's normally topped with a dupatta, a long scarf draped around the neck. Salwar Kameez outfits are more common than saris for northern Indian everyday wear, but they're common throughout India and Pakistan. The female faculty at the engineering school wear salwar kameezes, and so do the female students when they're not in jeans and T-shirts. I frequently see girls in salwar kameez school uniforms too.

Indian women love decoration and bling; my tastes are simpler. The salwar kameezes in the shop were all super-fancy by American standards. They were all spangled with sequins and/or heavily embroidered. I asked repeatedly and finally they found a few that weren't too gaudy for my tastes. One is turquoise with embroidered fabric. Another is a light peach-pink with white embroidery all over ("chikan work"). A third is a simple weave, possibly handloom. It has a dark pink over blue, embroidered with gold and blue accents of stylized flowers.

The salwar kameez tailor took my measurements. The end result was disappointing. I bought mine made-to-order instead of ready-made. They were cut too small in the bust, especially after they were washed once and shrank in the hospital laundry's heat. (Laundry here is piled together in a tub and boiled, then hung on a clothesline.) Chandrika and I found another tailor a week later and we got them altered. I wanted some saris too, but it was getting late and Michael also wanted some Indian attire.

Michael first tried a dhoti. My sweetie sweats, and he's had a lot of trouble with restless legs here. He's been literally itching to get out of his standard khaki pants, which are much too hot for him in this heat. He first wanted to try the dhoti, the traditional, wrapped white loincloth/toga-like garment Gandhi made famous. Nowadays in North Gujarat, dhotis are mainly worn by retirement-age people; the younger generation wears jeans or trousers. The tailor, who was our age, called in an expert who was walking down the street in a dhoti. He tried to teach Michael how to wrap it. Turns out it's a complicated wrap, going between the legs. Michael said later the shape made him feel like he was wearing a big diaper. So the dhoti wasn't good.

Michael had much better luck with a lungi. Lungis are long sarongs, like a long, plain wraparound skirt. Unlike a skirt, they're straight tubes of fabric, not shaped. Lungis are extremely common in south India. Despite their non-bifurcated shape, they're a manly garment (much more masculine than a Scottish kilt). They're often just tied, but the faculty member with us thought adding a drawstring would be a good idea--especially for a novice at lungi-tying. In the professor's words, it would help avoid a "wardrobe malfunction." My modest sweetie quickly agreed. He ordered several kurta lungi and kurta pajama sets. Kurtas are a tunic like an extended button-down shirt; they can reach to the knees, or lower for some more traditional styles. Pajamas have more fabric than pants, but they still give his legs the ventilation and "breathing room" he needs for comfort. He still will wear his khaki pants/trousers for teaching, but like me, he prefers to wear Indian clothing.

Now we're wearing Indian clothes every day. It's so much more comfortable and suitable to the hot climate here. I might pack away my Western clothes until we go back. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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Forget the pied piper of Hamelin.  Nothing lures a crowd of homeless children faster than an American with an iPhone.

Whenever we walk into town, we pass through a neighborhood of several blocks of improvised dwellings. This is where the poorer people of Visnagar live; the not-quite-homeless. The structures are not really houses, either, just lattices of wooden sticks, with tarps or blankets stretched over them to provide some shade against the sun.  They're at least semi-permanent structures, and families live there year-round.  We see women doing laundry in basins in their yards behind the lashed-stick fences. Despite the poverty, they're all genuinely friendly. The adults smile and wave at us; the kids stare and smile and follow us like puppies. These aren't beggar children living off tourists and wanting Western money. They're just normal kids wanting attention from the only non-Indians they've ever seen; they look at us like movie stars.

Michael takes his iPhone with him, snapping photos of everything and everyone. The kids (and adults) see, and want their pictures taken too.  All the people are delighted to see their picture on an iPhone. The kids run up to us, wanting us to take their picture with them and show it on the digital screen. They're aware the technology exists (cell phones are plentiful), but it's a novelty to pose with a westerner. Apple iPhones are in kind of a gray-market status in this country. Jailbroken phones work for voice (albeit unsupported) with a local Vodafone SIM card, though not the data connection.
Michael with the kids.
The attention is fine, even cute, for the first couple kids. But once the crowd gets to be over a dozen it's unmanageable. The children all followed us as we continued walking through their neighborhood. Even the kids we had photographed didn't stop, they just kept following, and called to their friends to come running out to join them. There must have been fifty or sixty kids, or maybe more. We ended up running out of the block and into town. They didn't follow us across the busy road into Visnagar proper.
Indian mother holding her child
We probably can't post many more of the pictures, since so many people are missing clothing. It's not just the kids. One woman insisted we take her family's picture, and only afterward remembered to pull up her choli. More problematic are the children who run around bottomless or completely without clothes.  And there are lots of those kids.  The ones who do wear clothes might never have seen Americans, or even met anyone who traveled there, but many wear American castoffs from  "Boys and Girls Club of the Monroe Area" or similar giveaway items. It could indicate real abject poverty, since textiles are so inexpensive in India. But it's also possible the kids enjoy wearing shirts with English words on them; certainly most of the college students do. It's probably some of both.  But these kids aren't beggars like Slumdog Millionaire; they're living with their families. They didn't look malnutritioned. And none of these children asked us for money. One kid even bicycled up to us and wanted to give us a rupee coin (we refused). What a change from Delhi!

I don't know how many of these kids are in school.  Friday was a national holiday (Gandhi's birthday), and the schools were closed. India reportedly offers free primary-school education through age 14, though I don't know how widely it's enforced or effective; it is a developing country.  Most of the college's faculty send their upper-middle-class kids to "English medium" private schools.  Whenever we ask the ages of the professors' kids, the answer is always given in their "standard" (grade level), not their age in years. That may also reflect the academics' bias toward schooling.

We didn't know it, but our driver's rental-car business is right downtown. So we ran right by the little shop where our driver, Alkesh, does business. His father was minding the desk, and he sent Alkesh after us. They invited us in and treated us to some cold Thums-Up [sic], a popular cola here.  Alkesh has a little house that belonged to his grandfather. The front room has his black-and-white photo in his policeman's uniform, next to a half-dozen large, elaborate portraits of the goddess Lakshmi. The whole house sits behind a little front office with a rope bed/bench and a desk with a Gujarat map and mileage chart. His whole business office is about half the size of my cubicle at work. 

In addition to Alkesh's father, we met his wife and their children, two seven-year-old twins (a son and daughter).  Alkesh's kids are learning English at school, and they said hello to us. Mostly they were shy and hid behind their mother.
Alkesh's wife, Abiditi, and her children Rasviti and Rasvitya
Alkesh's wife is a mechanical engineer by training and housewife by choice. These days her mechanical devices are limited to her treadle-powered sewing machine (for private use, not like the many men in the tailor shops).  She invited me to try it; they were surprised that I knew how to operate it.  She doesn't know English. She learned ME in the Gujarati language. She chose to stay home and raise the kids and teach them good values. Visnagar is a small town with a very low cost of living, even by Indian standards, and single-income households are the norm here.  I get the impression that dual-income couples are considered one of those things that city people have to do to afford living, but it's strongly preferred to have the wife stay home and raise the kids properly. And here, running a household is a lot like running a full-time business. The wives manage the servants, and do all the shopping and cooking and cleaning for their households, which often are large families spanning multiple generations.

Housing is not very expensive, but that doesn't mean everyone has a proper house.  Some of the college students choose to pay $20 per month and rent a whole house, instead of staying in the college hostels (dormitories). One of the professors, driving us around in our first week, pointed out what he called the slum areas.  Those have enormous trash heaps and big stinky cesspools next to shacks constructed of whatever was handy at the time. It's common there to build a temple in front of the illegal houses that don't meet building codes. The temple blocks people from trying to tear down the building. Apparently there are between ten and twelve thousand homeless people in Visnagar, and hundreds of temples. The town's total population is about 50 or 60 thousand, a small town by Indian standards. That professor is of the opinion that people who want work can find it, and people who are homeless are probably that way by choice. I don't know if our stick-house neighbors are included in the "homeless" figure, but I would expect so. They probably don't consider themselves homeless; they're with their families.

We have seen the truly homeless. There's a family of at least three adults and several kids, who all sleep on the sidewalk right outside the gate to the college. We've stepped over them several times or walked around them when we go walking at nights.  Click to read the rest of this entry; it's disgusting. ) (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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Visiting Vadnagar

The old city of Vadnagar, Gujarat, is nearby and has several historic attractions.  One of the professors, Jagat, grew up there, so on Saturday he showed us around his hometown.  We took an auto-rickshaw there, since the streets of Vadnagar are too small to navigate by car.

Our first stop was an 800-year-old temple. There were carved oxen and a turtle, guarding the god. 
Cow sculptures gaze in awe at the idols of the gods.

The temple's stonework was reminiscent of the Notre Dame cathedral, with chimeras and carved dancing girls.
Exterior view of the temple, showing stonework

The actual city of Vadnagar is pretty neat. The current structurdates at least from the medieval era, and has walls all around it. There are five impressive gates.  When we were taking pictures of one of the gates, one of the nearby citizens invited us over to pet his baby goats and take our picture with them and his family. They were adorable goats. We wouldn't mind having a pet goat or two.
Vadnagar people

Vadnagar family with their goats

We visited a lake Sfiartha(sp?). Legend has it that the lake went dry, and to get the water back, a local girl had to give up her life. In honor of her sacrifice, the lake is named for her.  They also fly a white flag from the center of the lake, symbolizing her innocence and virtue.  There is now a park there, built just in the last two years.  The chief minister of Gujarat is from Vadnagar, so he has an interest in promoting tourism there.

There was a massive Well - a huge, incredibly deep well.  It's so deep we couldn't see the bottom.  We dropped in a stone, and took about six seconds to hit the bottom.  It's dry. It gives new meaning to the term, "when the well runs dry."  At the driveway back to the well, there's a little farm with a camel (who let us pet it, then spit) and water buffalo (who snuffed at Michael and also spit at him).
Me petting a camel

Michael's favorite was a large open-roof bath, with water, with columns stretching down from ground level. We'd seen similar structures to Fatapur Sikri, but this one had water.  Looking from the steps at one end had a gorgeous effect, a hallway of water.  With the carved stonework and the greenery hanging down, it felt like something from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 
View down the well
As part of the malaria-control program of the Gujarati government, the bath was stocked with tiny mosquito fish - little fish that eat mosquito larvae.  They were schooling about.  Michael also spotted a tiny little frog, the size of a fingernail.  We snapped its picture with the cell phone.

The local people in Vadnagar don't see foreigners often - maybe once every month or two. They're very friendly and everybody wants us to take our picture with them.  Michael was interested in knowing how one of the men tied his dhoti and turban, and when Jagat asked (in Gujarati), he was happy to demonstrate. 
Tying a dhoti on Michael
All day, Jagat was walking up to complete strangers and striking up a conversation, and people were happy to talk with us.

There were some more remote sites.  We saw two 500-year-old arches, like Indian versions of the Arc de Triomphe.  Apparently they were excavated a few years ago, and erected for tourists to see.
Ancient carved stone arches in Vadnagar, Gujarat, India

There was also a garden with the graves of two sisters; I didn't catch the full story. It had a beautiful flower garden and some peacock topiaries.  It was out in the middle of nowhere but quite beautiful to see. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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We discovered we share our apartment with other creatures.  This is in our new "living quarters", the brand-new apartment building up on the third floor of the doctors' apartments.  We've seen far fewer ants than in the guest house and it's nicer overall.
Gecko (wall-lizard) on the window-frame An upside-down gecko under the furniture. It's in the center of the picture just above the table leg.
We have lizards!  There are at least two wild geckos in our apartment.  They're smaller than my pet gecko at home, and they scurry around up and down the walls and hide behind the furniture. 

One very unwelcome visitor was the five-inch-long centipede.  It was in our bedroom.  We were going to bed, then Michael almost stepped on it with bare feet.  After quite a shock, we trapped it under a throw rug and ran for our shoes and stomped on it through the rug.  It wouldn't die easily.  That was scary; the fangs were half an inch long.  After finally seeing it dead, we flushed it. No picture, we just wanted that thing AWAY.  I feel no guilt for its death, because it's suspiciously like a similar giant centipede from my high school biology (bottled in formaldehyde) and that one was poisonous. That startled us a bit and we didn't get to sleep for quite a while.

Not in our apartment, but just outside it on the stairway is also a large hornets nest on the ceiling of the stairway outside. There are numerous giant beetles, June-like bugs and smaller bugs. We've seen a praying mantis and a katydid that could be straight from our back yard. The crickets here look just like US black field crickets, but they can actually fly a couple feet if you startle them.

We haven't seen any mosquitoes or flying insects in our apartment yet. We have an All-Out plugged in (like a Glade plug-in, but with bug repellent). The window screens are intact.  A few beetles have crawled around the floor, but that's about it.  Guess the geckos have to eat something. (Cross-posted from my DreamWidth account, )
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Another post, continuing my notes from last week's Fulbright Orientation. These are mainly for my reference.
To expect for South and Central Asia )
visnagar_memories: (Default)
One in a series of Fulbright Orientation notes. Not all these are public yet. It's mainly for my reference when we're in India.

These are my notes from this morning's talk. I'm making this entry public since others might be interested. I will try to hide this behind a cut, but it's cross-posting from DreamWidth so I apologize to LJ friends if the cut doesn't work.

My notes from 26 June 2009 Fulbright Orientation speaker on Safety and Security - Michael O'Neill, former director of safety for Peace Corps, now at Save the Children.

Read more... )
Lots of interesting, practical advice for those going abroad.
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The Fulbright orientation has been the past few days in downtown DC. I went with my husband to several sessions before and after work. We've learned about all kinds of stuff - staying safe abroad, medical concerns, what to pack, what to expect, security, and how to dress and act to avoid looking like targets. There are hundreds of people at this training; people are going to south/central Asia, Middle east, and Africa. The vast majority of people there are students, very recent college graduates or PhD students, mostly in the social sciences. There are also quite a few medical and public health people. Of the 140 people going to India, only about 40 are scholars like my husband; and most of those are researchers.

The session panelists, Fulbright alumni, say it will be a life-changing experience. The people we will meet will show amazing hospitality and we'll gain a deep appreciation of their culture. And all the panelists have been saying nothing will go like we plan; there will be problems - mostly small - and we just have to deal with them and accept it. The reliability and follow-through you expect from American daily life and business, is just not there. It will be replaced by an emphasis on personal relationships, relaxing, and coping with discomfort.

We've run into one problem already - we know we're going, but not exactly *when*. My husband is applying for an entry visa, to allow him to teach. India normally requires research scholars to wait 4 weeks before entering country, holding their passports, to be sure researchers' plans have time to go through the approval process. Michael will be a lecturer, just teaching, so he theoretically shouldn't have that problem. The visa office has told him so. The host university has told him so. Everyone in any official capacity has told him it's fine. But. As of yesterday, the Indian official in charge of the Fulbright program over there is convinced that Michael must have a 4-week waiting period. I met the official yesterday, and he seems like a reasonable guy, but he's absolutely sticking on this 4-week waiting period. So it could be August 1, September 1, or anytime later.

The very good news is that my job looks like it will work out. Did I mention I love my company? No details are settled yet, but it looks like I will be able to keep working and contributing, telecommuting. I'm taking the first week or so as vacation anyway, to give a few days to settle in and get the Internet and electricity hooked up. We'll see.
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Email systems don't handle non-ASCII characters well.  Even web-based XML parsers have problems with > greater-than and < less-than signs.

Today's sophisticated email programs often function as word processors. They can automatically change straight "double quotes" into different beginning/ending double quotes; Microsoft Word is notorious for this. Word also non-helpfully transforms 1/2 and 1/4 (one-half and one-fourth) to single characters. This is a big problem in trading recipes over email.

Many non-serif fonts still don't display l (lower-case letter L) and 1 (number one) and I (upper-case letter i) in a format easily distinguishable to a human eye .

This problem is not necessarily new.  For instance, Washington DC doesn't have a J street because, in the early maps for the city plan, the letters I and J looked nearly identical and the founders thought it would be confusing for people. (source: a National Parks expert on the DC city layout, at a talk I attended last year.)

The SCA College of Heralds have worked out a standard for writing foreign and special characters in email that accommodates names for a lot of Roman-based alphabetic characters.  It's worth looking at for anyone who needs to share non-standard character information.

Anyone have other references they have found helpful?
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My company is still hiring!  We have several open positions. Comments are screened.
  • Quality Control Analyst (1), Arlington VA
  • Requirements Analyst (3), Arlington VA
  • Jr. ASP .Net Developer (2), Arlington VA & Fairfax VA
  • Mid-level ASP .Net Developer (2), Arlington VA & Fairfax VA
  • Sr. ASP .Net Developer (2), Arlington VA & Fairfax
Details under the cuts.  You can send me a message through LJ or leave a comment here with your name/email. All comments are screened.

EDIT: Yes, you can pass this information to your friends who are looking for work. This is a public post.  They can also comment on this post anonymously (comments are screened unless the commenter specifically tells me it's OK to unhide).

EDIT: We're not really a Microsoft-only shop, it's that the current developer openings are for a certain client's particular needs. If you're good, apply anyway. 

Quality Control Analyst )
Requirements Analyst )

Junior ASP .NET Developer )
Mid-level ASP .NET Developer )
Senior ASP/.Net Developer and Architect )

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(public post - comments screened)

Yet another job opening!  My company is hiring an "Internet Technology Analyst." Basically, a "Web 2.0" social-networking expert. No clearance required, just a normal background check.

Details are posted on my boss's journal.
visnagar_memories: (Default)

(public post - comments screened)
My company is still hiring!  Right now, we're looking for 3 Requirements Engineers in Crystal City, Virginia. (Metro-accessible; near the Pentagon and Washington, DC.)  This is to help staff a contract by April 1.  If you or any of your friends are looking for work as requirements analysts, you can reply to this message, send me an email, or send a message through LJ.  Comments are screened.  Note, this job is not on our website yet, but our HR manager gave me permission to post this.  She's in the middle of interviews for other positions - did I mention my company is hiring like mad?

Brief description:

Provide system and system-of-systems requirements engineering for determining data interface, functional and operational needs for a Joint Services information processing application.

Interact with weapons platforms subject matter experts, program technical directors and system vendors to determine operational system needs, data and workflow requirements, CONOPs and use case diagrams.  Work with application architects, designers and test suite developers to ensure requirements are thoroughly documented and understood.

Support System Requirements Review (SRR) and System Functional Review (SFR) processes.


  • Secret clearance
  • Experience with DOORS and Enterprise Architect
  • Experience with requirements traceability through development, testing and defect tracking

Additional / Desired skills:

  • DoDAF knowledge (United States Department of Defense - Air Force)
  • Rhapsody knowledge
  • Prior experience with tactical radar systems
visnagar_memories: (taste-test)
The "Vegetarian 100" meme - how many of these vegetarian foods have I eaten?

This list was created by Barbara Fisher of Tigers and Strawberries:

If you want to play along, here’s how you do it: copy the list, including my instructions, and bold any items you have eaten and strike out any you would never eat, and then post it to your blog. If you want, you can leave a comment here, linking to your results, or you can link back to this post so I can try and keep tabs on what folks have eaten and not eaten. Finally, if you think something else should be on the list–feel free to add that to your post, and add any comments you like to your own posting of the list. I am just as curious to see what people have to say about food as whether or not they have eaten them.

I'm altering the rules slightly, striking out only things I have tried and do not want to eat again.  I'm also italicizing dishes that I have cooked myself or used in a recipe. 

The Vegetarian Hundred
100 vegetarian foods everyone should try )
Not bad - I've eaten all but 12 and cooked (or cooked with) over half.


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February 2011

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