Saturday, October 13, 2007
Suburban Panhandling 2007 style
Friday, September 28, 2007
On the way home today, I felt nostalgic.
At the exit for 202 on 520E, There was a nicely dressed guy, running from car to car with a gas container in his hand. As cars pulled up off the free way waiting, he would talk to the one nearest to him.
Well, if you wonder whats so special about the guy, I have to tell you about an incident a few months ago.
I was pulling out of a shopping center parking lot, when I saw a guy like this standing near the parking lot exit, with a gas container in his hand, drenched in the falling rain. I felt really bad for him, stopped the car, rolled down my window and asked him if I could give him a ride. No, he said, he has a car here that has run out of gas, and he needs some money to fill it up. I gave him a couple of dollars, and he said that will be enough. I felt good about my deed, and moved on.
Many days went by, and I had kind of forgotten about this incident.
Till, a few weeks ago, I saw a guy like that at the 520 and 202 junction, dressed and standing in a corner with a empty gas can in his hand, looking for money.
While I do believe in coincidences, this was too much. The old incident played in my mind - who keeps an empty gas container in their car to use in case of emergency? And who says that $2 is enough money to buy gas - atleast in this day and age?
This was suburban panhandling... no more, "hungry, need food" cardboard signs. When panhandling in suburban white collar neighborhoods, better connect with them, and exploit a situation one of those think they might themselves be in some day.
The question of course is, why did I feel nostalgic. Well, when I was growing up in India, the same thing used to happen... people would bring their starving babies to your car window at stop lights, and ask for money. In America, cars are our babies, and a guy with an empty gas can, is indeed asking for money to feed his starving baby.
Whats in a name
Thursday, September 13, 2007
One of the cool things we have at work are these weekly notices that are put up in the toilets, where you spend your downtime reading through some fun tidbits. If you have not seen one of those, all you need to do is visit our Google office in Kirkland and go to the restroom.
But something there caught my eye today.
It said that Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones used to be roommates in Harvard. Made me wonder if Tommy Lee Jones met Al Gore while Gore was vice president, would he refer to him as Mr. Vice President.
Probably not. As we all know, the names our parents give us, and tell to all who care the the various reasons behind the choice, only stay with us till we go to high school - or college, if one is really unlucky.
This reminds me that one time, I was at PanIIT 2007, a conference of IIT alums, where distinguished gentleman from all walks of life, most of them very successful technical and marketing leaders, met after decades.
As I walked by another group of those suited gentlemen I overheard "Mirchi is coming tomorrow". Mirchi, the hindi word for a thin long green or red chili, usually a nickname given to a thin or tall guy by his friends. Surely, that christening act was not the parents, but a friend or classmate who managed to capture the metaphor in one simple word.
Similarly, Al Gore's parents could have researched their entire family trees, and come up with the greatest name that could pay homage to the forefathers, and the very first day in college Tommy Lee Jones would have spotted the real talent in Al, and anointed him Al Bore.
Numerology, Indian style
Sunday, August 26, 2007
A long while ago, while flying from Bangalore to New Delhi, unlike most real life situations, a cute girl came and sat next to me. Looked a little like Mahima Chaudhary.
Like any other guy, I pretty soon found a reason to engage her in a conversation. And unlike many other girls who had been next to me before, she did not pretend to sleep through the flight.
Turned out she worked for a travel agency, and since I was looking for cheap tickets to India (was part of a startup that outsourced work to India), I asked her for her company website, so I could see if pricing for tickets to India were cheaper if purchased over there.
LovelyTravells.com, it said.
"What happened? Was LovelyTravels.com taken?", I asked, noticing two Ls in the 'travells' in the address.
"No, not really - it was advised by the numerologists that we do it". Looking at the incredulous expression on my face, she continued, "This is from Bansilal Jumaani, the same numerologist who helped Ekta Kapoor".
Now that is a name I knew. Ekta Kapoor. She is daughter of an old Indian Bollywood movie star, and she has become the most prolific TV show producer in the country. It all started with her first show, "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" (Because the mother-in-law was a daughter-in-law at one point in time). That show was such a big hit, that it was followed by 35 other similar shows, each one of them highly popular. And all 35 started with the letter K. And all 35 were run past the numerologist our travel agent had also consulted.
Today in India, it is all too common to see a yy cramped in a place where just a y would do. 'Kahani Teri Meri' (Your and my story) becomes 'Kahani Terrii Merrii'.
And the obsession does not stop right there. Major television channels have made 'numerological sanitization' of their production names part of the process, as per an interview with the numerologists. They have recommended that movie actresses like Karishma change their names to solve domestic problems and even that India rename Kashmir to Kashmier, to settle the dispute with Pakistan.
And if one thought this obsession with numbers stopped at the borders, think again.
I was at a picnic this Sunday where Indian immigrants from the neighborhood got together and decided to introduce themselves to each other. There were name tags available for people to wear, and I went to get one too. The person handing those out looked at my name tag and said, "double-e, is that due to numerology?".
It had never crossed my mind that the other way to spell my name, Piyush, would be consider the norm, and mine would be an adaptation. Oh well. Good thing is that even with this name, I consider myself pretty lucky so far in life. Knock on wood.
So, if you thought Indian names were a breeze for you to spell, dust up that old phrase, "how do you spell that", and be ready to use it now.
Sandwich by the sea
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Not much happened over the weekend, as I was working my gluteal region off at work. But there was one interesting moment, when I almost became a cannibal.
Turns out Saturday was an unexpectedly sunny day, and I was expectedly tenderizing our new couch with my old butt. But just like sunny days in Seattle, it did not last. My wife came, saw and decided to conquer.
Ten minutes later we were all packing up and ready to go to the beach... nearby, in Idylwood park.
Forty minutes later, ten of which were spent driving, and thirty finding food to go for our picnic, we arrived. If you have seen the initial theme song part of the sitcom, you will know what we looked like walking over to the beach with two kids, but if you have not, imagine a stroller, with a kid inside, another kid running outside, a mat to spread, a diaper bag, a floatie for the little one, a frisby for the older one, sunglasses, water, two 32oz diet pepsi cups, and a variety of sandwiches, including my veggie club - which looked so delicious in the picture at the sandwich shop.
Soon, we were all spread out in front of the lake with a nice spot of shade. As I was getting ready to unwrap my sandwich, my wife asked: "Ankit has already gone into the water. Do you want to go in?".
"Not really", I replied. I do not know how to swim, and understandably then, I feel scared of getting into water of any kind.
In other words, I am a real chicken when it comes to over 4 feet of uncontrolled water. Seas, Oceans, Lakes - they all look good to me from a distance. So, I said no and unwrapped the sandwich.
As I looked at yummy multi layer veggie sandwich, with a nice layer of hummus, my stomach expanded in anticipation. But as I took my very first bite, I realized there was something seriously wrong! I took the sandwich out and examined it closely.
"Can you taste this and tell me what it is?", I gave a little bit of the hummus to my wife.
"Tuna", she said, "this is tuna salad".
"Damn", I said, as I started removing the layer of tuna salad, also sacrificing the sprouts above and the cheese below. It was going to be a cucumber and tomato day, I guess.
"But why are you removing tuna, you eat seafood, and even though it is not a veggie sandwich, it is seafood", my wife asked, very puzzled.
"Don't you get it? It is tuna, chicken of the sea. I am not a cannibal.", I said, still recovering from what could have happened.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
India 60 years
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
As I was driving to work, I realized something. Today is Aug 15th in India, and it marks 60 years of independence. In case you did not know, India was a British colony till 1947. Just like US was till 1776. So today, Indians must be feeling like what Americans felt in 1836.
Personally, I was pretty amazed at how far we as Indians have come over the past 60 years. From signs outside restaurants reading 'No dogs or Indians allowed', in their own homeland, to leading worlds largest industries like steel (Sunil Mittal of Mittal Steel) and telecom (Arun Sarin of Vodafone).
I felt I had seen a lot of these changes happen right in front of my eyes. And then I realized that I have been living for more than half the time India was independent. What a way to make you feel old when you are barely in your thirties.
But to celebrate this event, here is something I have for you. If you are like me, and grew up in India watching Doordarshan, you will probably enjoy this.
The ek anek video (The "one and many" video)
The mile sur mera tumhara video (The "lets sing in harmony" video).
Hamara Bajaj (our Bajaj - a popular scooter)
Ae mere watan ke logon, one of my favorite patriotic songs, sung by Lata. You might want to skip the video to the 2:00 minute mark to listen the video. I do not think this was ever part of a movie, so there is no other video available.
British soldiers leaving India
Indian takes over India
Mahabharat opening credits, remind me of those Sunday mornings
And, a more recent one
Video by Amitabh, talking about two Indias... and no, he is not running for president.
Those were the times
Monday, August 13, 2007
"Papa, can I use this to take pictures", my son asks pointing at one of the disposable cameras we have.
"Sure, go ahead"
After a while, he comes running.
"Can I use your main camera?"
"Why, what happened?"
"This camera is broken. You cannot take a picture."
"But I thought you were taking pictures."
"Yeah, but after you take a picture, it stays on '3' and you cannot take any more."
I show him how you manually wind the film to the next spot so you can take the next picture. But the fact that he assumed it should just happen was not lost on me, esp because I very well remember my first camera being such a manual wind up. And I still remember the day I got a camera that automatically moved the film to the next slot after you took a picture and completely rewinds when you use up all the film.
My son on the other hand expects all pictures to be digital, and the counter to auto increment and show many pictures are stored on the memory card.
The camera adds ten pounds. The kid adds a whole generation.
How to gamble in Vegas - Part III, the games
Sunday, August 12, 2007
If you read my first two posts, the rules of gambling and the rules of the casino, you must be awaiting this final post about how to play each of the games. Either that, or you thought 'What an idiot', and decided to fly down to Vegas by yourself and use your own tricks.
For those of you who waited, here you go.
Roulette: I will not go into details of the game but you can find them here. The key thing about roulette in my view is that you must never ever bet on a specific number, or a small set of numbers. See rule #3 for the reason why. Specific bets have a 1/38 odd of success, and pay out 36x the money. However, this risk is too huge to sustain. However, try this. Always bet your minimum on either red or black. The red or black odds are 18/38 (there are 18 reds, 18 blacks and 2 greens). But the payout is 2x. So, bet on red or black, and always double your previous bet if you lose. This doubling comes from the 1+2/N formula given in the previous post. N = 2 (twice the returns) makes the bet 1+2/2 = 2x. As for which one to choose between red or black, you can do one of the two things: if the previous spin was a red, bet on a black. If the previous spin was black, bet on a red. This is my favorite. However, you can also modify it and make it: always bet on red, or always bet on black. I believe the outcome would be the same. The key things to note here are that you should have a deep pool of money to bet from, you should double your money everytime you lose, and place minimum bet whenever you win. Also, remember to ask the dealer about the limit on the outside bet, and make sure it is more than half your pool. By the time you are betting half your pool, you are likely to run out of money anyway if you lose.
Craps: Again, not going into details of the game, which you can find here, craps is a lot of fun to play whether you want to make money, or just get drunk, so long you can keep the two desires separate.
Craps, when playing seriously: In craps, the best way to play is to place a pass line bet when the puck is off, and place odds bet at 1+2/N times the pass bet when the puck is on, where N is the ratio of odds bet to money back in hand for the current count. For example, for 6 or 8, which pays 6 to 5, N is 11/5. So, the odds bet should be 1+2*5/11 = 1+10/11 = almost 2x. Usually casinos limit how much the odds bet can be with many allowing a max of 2x, but you can find casinos which allow odds to be as high as 10x. This is because odds bets in craps are the only fair bets in the whole casino. And if you are wondering what a fair bet is, please see my previous post. When you win in craps, remember to always reset your bet to the minimum. When you lose in craps, you might want to place the next bet at 2x the amount, because N for the pass line bet is 2. There are more sophisticated strategies for craps, but you might want to avoid them, except one that I am about to mention, and one that allows you to get free drinks. A more sophisticated strategy for a fairer bet requires deeper pool of money. But you should be aware of the fact that a single roll of 7 can wipe you completely out, so if you want this strategy, you should probably have 3x the pool of money. In this method, after the puck comes on, you also place a come bet. This come bet should be the same amount as your pass line bet. The come bet should be followed by its own odds bet, and a simultaneous new come bet, which should then have its own odds bet. This allows you to hedge against a roll of 7 for a few subsequent rolls, but it does expose you to a risk of major loss, which requires a deeper pool of money to place the next higher bet.
Craps, when you just want free drinks: This is the most fun of any games in the casino, if you are in a mood to enjoy passion of people around you, but not really risk your money. You should probably take a friend along to make this work, though dealers can easily spot that you are there just to get free drinks. However, since this strategy also gives the casino a very small edge of 1/36 chance that you will lose half your bet, there is no reason for them to throw you out. Here is how it goes. Take the minimum bet, and ask your friend to do the same, and when the puck is off, place that bet on the pass line, and ask your friend to place it on the don't pass line. Now, when you win, he or she will lose, and when you lose he or she will win. You can even place odds bets after the puck is on, so long your friend places the opposite bet. For example, if you are playing the pass line, the count is 6, and you will get back $21 for a $18 bet you have made, make sure your friend on the dont pass line places a $21 odds bet, since that is what will come to you. The more interesting part of this twist is that you can both place the same bet, of $21, and see where luck takes you. You would only be putting the $3 at risk, while the waitress takes your order. The one thing to remember is that if the shooter rolls a 12 when the puck is off, the pass line loses, but the don't pass line does not win - it just gets its money back, or a push. This puts half the money on the table a risk for that 1/36th of the time when the puck is off. And since puck is more often on than off, even that time window is small enough to let you enjoy your drink while the game continues in your favor.
Blackjack: You can learn rules of blackjack from here. I am not a blackjack player, and I will say this much about this game. Do not go to a table that does not have single deck game. Actually, I would rather not go to a table at all, and instead play video blackjack, because those tend to have much lower minimums. The key thing in single deck blackjack is to make the best bet at a given time. To make sure you are doing that, memorize the table that tells you when to hit, stand, split or double down. In addition, learn some techniques to figure out what the probability of a high card vs a low card is - also known as card counting. Do not use any tools however, otherwise you will get into trouble, but feel free to use your brain - Gambling Under Influence is evil when playing blackjack. A point to note about video poker. While I think gaming commissions are probably doing a good job auditing, I do not trust the programmers that the casinos hired to say that the odds are fair and that the dealer getting a bunch of blackjacks in a row is just pure coincidence. So, I would be wary of the video blackjack if I can find a low limit table. As for bets, the same strategy applies. Put double the money when you lose, however beware when you come across splits and double downs.
Poker: You can learn rules of Texas Hold'em, the most commonly played poker, from here. Poker is an odd game at the casino, where you are not playing against the casino, but against other players. The house just keeps a percentage of the pot for every hand dealt, thereby making it really a game of your skills as much as your luck. Since the wins and losses at a poker table are a zero sum game - or more accurately, a -10% sum game - all the money you want to win has to come from the other players. Also, the tables tend to limit how much can you put initially down, and what you get does not depend on how good your hand is vs how good your opponent thinks his or her hand is compared to yours. All this makes the 1+2/N betting strategy impossible. So the only strategy that works for poker is to find people less skilled than you. For this, here are two methods you can employ. First, all good casinos provide free poker tutorials to new players. Just go and sit in on these intro sessions, and make a mental record of all the people who showed up. They are most likely new poker players, so all you need to do now is join the tables they play in, and it improves your chance of doing better at your game. The second thing to note is the timing of playing poker. Not all days in a casino are the same, esp in Vegas. So, watch for the more touristy kind of players and when they start showing up in hoards, it is time to go play poker. Esp watch out for those really ridiculous touristy things which people with a lot of money to throw away engage in. For example, if you suddenly are unable to find a seat at the bar in Venetian that serves oxygen to patrons, the time is ripe. Either way, maximize your chance to play with others with less practice and skill, and you are more likely to win.
Slots: The only thing I will say about slots is that find the lowest per play bet that you can find. Slot machines are sure shot way of losing money, so the only thing you can do is play slowly. Find yourself a nickel slot near an area with live music, play one credit bet at a time, and enjoy that free drink. For this purpose, remember to always play slots in an upscale casino. They are likely to have better music, and for sure will serve better liquor.
What ever you play, remember that the gambling at casinos is not a fair bet. So, the odds of getting paid at a bet are always lower than the odds of winning, making the 'do not gamble' the best bet in the casino.
That said, there is some value to the entertainment you get when the stress hormone Cortisol - also the hormone related to gambling addiction - surges and you feel really excited.
So keep that value in mind, and do not overpay at the table.
How to gamble in Vegas - Part II, The casino
Friday, August 10, 2007
Now that you have had some time to sleep over - or stay up in excitement over - the basics of gambling I posted the other day, here are nuggets of my recently found wisdom. Some habitual gamblers may say they taste like chicken - but I don't care, since I do not eat meat.
- When gambling in a casino, never go with just your own money. Always find four or more like minded friends, and form a pool from their money as well. There are many benefits of doing so. The primary benefit is that you are less likely to be undercapitalized in a losing streak. See my previous post for why it is important to have enough money to bet when gambling. If you have $5 in your pocket, and are betting tails on a coin toss, four heads and a tail leave you only with $2. Where as if you had $31 in your pocket, four heads and a tail would get you $32. Since your chance of winning a single hand are slim, it is important to recover the one time you win. And that takes money. When there is everyone's money on the line, there is a group of people cheering you on, making gambling more fun. And since you are more likely to lose in a casino than win, why not have fun doing it. And lastly, if you lose your cash, you will atleast not be the only one feeling like a loser :)
- Try to find bets that allow for a higher maximum than the money you have. It is important to remember that there is a very good reason why casinos place a Maximum per table. However, it should be easy to find tables where you can use your pool if needed.
- Do not place high risk bets when a low risk one will do. This is very important. High risk bets have a lower probability of getting you a return, albeit the returns are huge. Therefore, in order to win, you will need to use a much larger bet after losing multiple times, which may run afoul of Rule 2.
- Always find out the rules of the game that you are about to play. Even if you have not played it before, take a few minutes, get away from the tables and learn the rules of the game. Casinos are designed to get money from the above average players, so being a novice is a bad start. Once you know the game, you will see that fundamentally lot of rules in gambling are alike.
- Do not drink at the casino, with few exceptions noted below. Drink water if you are thirsty. If you have to, drink coffee or something similar that keeps you alert. Enjoy the cups and jugs the cocktail waitress is carrying, but stay away from the glasses. There is a very good reason why the same pour of Macallan 12 is $10 at the bar, but free for you at the blackjack table. So, among your friends who pitched into the pool, always have a designated gambler - do not become a GUI victim.
- When you want to drink, do not go to the bar - go and gamble. This might sound quite contrary to #4, but see my next post on why. In short, there is a way you can lose less than what it will cost to buy a drink, in the time it takes for you to enjoy one.
But enough playing for now... back to work, so may be in the next post.