Sunday, August 31, 2008

Madhubani in Acrylic

I love the Madhubani style of painting, and want to take a class in it one of these times I'm in India. I've been impatient to try it out though and so decided I'd go ahead and make one with acrylic. It lacks the delicate, transparent beauty of original Madhubani, but I think of mine as a variation to this style. Here's my first experiment, of Goddess Kali.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Flickr photostream!

I spent some time uploading my photos to Flickr and then figuring out how to create this link to my photostream. It's still not set up quite how I'd like it, but I decided enough was enough. There's a lot more to do than this, so I'll stop here.

Take a look - and add your comments to my photos!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Vethalai Chellam

In South India, it was customary for most homes to have a vethalai chellam or a betel nut box, in which various aromatic materials used to make fresh betel nut quids (paan) were stored. Paan is a palate cleanser, and it is customary to chew this after a meal to aid in digestion.

Betel leaves and Areca nuts, the main ingredients of the preparation, together form the misnomer Betel Nut, since the betel vine itself produces no nuts. Various aromatic spices such as cardamom, fennel, saffron and lime powder also add flavor to the preparation.

Fresh betel leaves, sliced areca nuts, and the different spices would be stored in separate compartments in the vethalai chellam. After a meal, especially when guests would visit, the different ingredients would be folded within a fresh betel leaf to form the triangular paan. The ending of a meal with a tasty betel chew is customary and enjoyable even today.

Rustic, antique betel nut boxes such as this one are harder to find these days. My mother gave me the one we had at home and I just love its artful fretwork.

obsession with spider continues ...

Look at the size of that web! After some days of not caring what her web looks like, our spider has spun a neat and huge web - looks like the new mother is hungry, or she's preparing for more. They can produce up to 4 egg sacs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spider Milestone

Update on the life of our spider - over the past week or so, she had spun herself a gigantic web and would often catch small roaches or beetles for a meal. She must've been eating for two (thousand).

As of this morning she has moved to a small corner where she's spun herself a tiny web. Alongside is suspended her first egg sac.

Wiki says:

"She lays her eggs at night on a sheet of silken material, then covers them with another layer of silk, then a protective brownish silk. She then uses her legs to form the sheet into a ball with an upturned neck. Egg sacs range from 5/8" to 1" in diameter. She often suspends the egg sac right on her web, near the center where she spends most of her time. Each spider produces from one to four sacs with perhaps over a thousand eggs inside each. She guards the eggs against predation as long as she is able. However, as the weather cools, she becomes more frail, and dies around the time of the first hard frost."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Kerala on my mind

On a trip to India two years ago, I went on a trip to Kerala with my parents to see the places where they were born and grew up, and to share in their memories. I feel a connection to Kerala like to no other place, though I've never lived there. Maybe it's an ancestral thing!

We went on a backwater boat ride in Cochi, visited cousins and small, serene temples in Alapuzha and some relatives in Trivandrum as well. It was a lovely trip and I can totally see myself living there.

This picture of a water lily was taken on the backwater boat ride.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

rain drop

Staying with the rain theme ... played around with sepia tones and some other settings on picasa to modify the original picture - thought it was pretty cool.

Monday, August 18, 2008

gray skies

Happy to report gray skies and more rain in Austin. It's pleasant and cool, there is actually a breeze, the grass has come back to life, air-conditioning has been turned off and windows have been opened. Snails are crawling around in the back yard in rain puddles and the cats look decidedly less grumpy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

And then there was rain

Summer Rain
by Raymond A. Foss

A break in the heat
away from the front
no thunder, no lightning,
just rain, warm rain
falling near dusk
falling on eager ground
steaming blacktop
hungry plants
turning toward the clouds
cooling, soothing rain
splashing in sudden puddles
catching in open screens
that certain smell
of summer rain.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The heat - my God! The heat!

The title is how Elaine of Seinfeld describes Hell. Texas feels close to that these days.

When we first moved to Texas, a friend sent us this joke about the heat here. I found it funny then - because our past two summers were quite bearable. This summer I don't find it funny - because it's too close to the truth!

I played around with the shutter speed to get some direct shots of the sun. I couldn't spend too long out there because I was slowly cooking. Would love to have suggestions on how to get better direct photos.

Anyway, here's the joke about Texas' heat:

May 30th:

Just moved to Austin. Now this is a city that knows how to live!! Beautiful sunny days and warm balmy evenings. What a place! I watched the sunset from a park lying on a blanket. It was beautiful. I've finally found my home. I love it here.

June 14th:

Really heating up. Got to 100 today. Not a problem. Live in an air-conditioned home, drive an air-conditioned car. What a pleasure to see the sun everyday like this. I'm turning into a sun worshiper.

June 30th:

Had the backyard landscaped with western plants today. Lots of cactus and rocks. What a breeze to maintain. No more mowing lawn for me. Another scorcher today, but I love it here.

July 10th:

The temperature hasn't been below 100 all week. How do people get used to this kind of heat? At least it's kind of windy though. But getting used to the heat and humidity is taking longer than I expected.

July 15th:

Fell asleep by the pool. (Got 3rd degree burns over 60% of my body). Missed 3 days of work. What a dumb thing to do. I learned my lesson though. Got to respect the ol' sun in a climate like this.

July 20th:

I missed Morgan (our cat) sneaking into the car when I left this morning. By the time I got to the hot car for lunch, Morgan had died and swollen up to the size of a shopping bag and stank up the $2,000 leather upholstery. I told the kids that she ran away. The car now smells like Kibbles and shits. I learned my lesson though. No more pets in this heat.

July 25th:

The wind sucks. It feels like a giant freaking blow dryer!! And it's hot as hell the home air-conditioner is not working and the A/C repairman charged $200 just to drive by and tell me he needed to order parts.

Juy 30th:

Been sleeping outside by the pool for 3 nights now. $1,500 in damn house payments and we can't even go inside. Why did I ever come here?

Aug. 4th:

It's 115 degrees. Finally got the air-conditioner fixed today. It cost $500 and gets the temperature down to 85, but this freaking humidity makes the house feel like it's about 105. Stupid repairman. I hate this stupid city.

Aug. 8th:

If another wise ass asks, "Hot enough for you today?" I'm going to strangle him...Damn heat. By the time I get to work the radiator is boiling over, my clothes are soaking wet, and I smell like baked cat!!

Aug. 9th:

Tried to run some errands after work. Wore shorts, and sat on the black leather seats in the ol' car. I thought my ass was on fire. I lost 2 layers of flesh and all the hair on the back of my legs and ass. Now my car smells like burnt hair, fried ass, and baked cat.

Aug. 10th:

The weather report might as well be a damn recording. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny. It's been too hot to do shit for 2 damn months and the weatherman says it might really warm up next week. Doesn't it ever rain in this damn desert? Water rationing now, so my $1,700 worth of cactus just dried up and blew into the damn pool. Even the cactus can't live in this damn heat.

Aug. 14th:

Welcome to HELL!!! Temperature got to 115 today. Forgot to crack the window and blew the damn windshield out of the car. The installer came to fix it and said, "Hot enough for you today?" My wife had to spend the $1,500 house payment to bail me out of jail. Freaking Texas. What kind of a sick demented idiot would want to live here?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Time for another spider post

Our resident spider has been growing in size. Her web has been getting bigger and bigger, and she spent most of the morning yesterday eating a small cockroach! I think she's loading up to produce some eggs. :)

Anyway, all this time I've been photographing her underside because I didn't have access to the top side of her web - since she's spun it along the outside of one of our windows and sits between the web and the wall. But now she's moved the web higher and so I can clearly see her through the window of the living room.

This morning was cloudy outside and so there was nice even light. Plus, I wanted to play around with some of the light settings on my camera and decided to photograph her through the glass window. This is what I got.

I used the "cloudy" setting for the white balance - so the picture colours are more natural - and not blue as in the earlier spider pictures (though I also kinda like the blue). I also set the sharpness to high and set the color setting to vivid.

Monday, August 11, 2008


They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

- Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


More pictures from our photographing excursion downtown.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Last weekend we had our photography "field trip" - we woke up early on Saturday morning and went over to downtown Austin to take some photos.

We'd been out with friends Friday night and got to bed only at 4am, so it was really hard to wake up and get going at 7am for this class. Plus, I normally don't enjoy photographing in the city, so I wasn't too excited. But once I got started, it was actually fun and I got some interesting shots.

Here's one of the Austin Scarborough Building which was built around 1910, reflected on the shiny surface of a more modern building across the street.

It was interesting to observe how as in most cities, the older, more ornate buildings compete for space here too, among the newer, streamlined-looking buildings.

My instructor spotted this reflection, and I couldn't resist getting this shot too. I have more - will post them later.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Why worry?!

There was this article on the NY Times' Science section recently, titled "10 things to scratch from your worry list".

A better title would've been "10 things that disappear when we bury our heads in the sand".

The article seems to have been written with the express purpose of creating reasons to not feel guilty about many of the things they discuss. This to me seems mostly irresponsible and cowardly.

If we do something that we know isn't good - good for the environment, or good for our own health (like smoking), we should at least be ready to say - "yeah, I know that's not good, but I do it anyway", rather than find a way to say "No - that's really actually good for you".

Let me go over specific points:

3. Forbidden fruits from afar. Do you dare to eat a kiwi? Sure, because more “food miles” do not equal more greenhouse emissions. Food from other countries is often produced and shipped much more efficiently than domestic food, particularly if the local producers are hauling their wares around in small trucks. One study showed that apples shipped from New Zealand to Britain had a smaller carbon footprint than apples grown and sold in Britain.

This isn't a good argument - while it may be true that apples produced in Britain are trucked around inefficiently, the way to reduce carbon footprint (if that's the goal) would be to make that transportation more efficient (eg- solar powered transport), rather than try to fly apples over from NZ! It's obvious that less energy is needed to transport things over smaller distances - can't refute that.

BUT, if the goal is to eat apples from NZ, that's a different issue. That's also perfectly fine, but these apples have to be more expensive. The true cost needs to be paid for it.

What do I mean by true cost?? At the moment, the "cost" that's factored in by the company that transports the fruit from NZ is just cost of production and cost of fuel to fly the whole thing over, and other misc costs - of labor, etc etc.

Who pays for the pollution?? Nobody. The health effects of that pollution? - The one with the health problem. If the company had to pay to clean up the environment for the amount that it pollutes with each flight, the cost of those apples would be higher.

This applies to everything else we consume. I'll go more in detail about this in another post. This is getting too long.

4. Carcinogenic cellphones.

I wouldn't want to gamble on my life and health. Remember thalidomide and vioxx? Better to be safe than a statistic. I will use my cell phone with an earphone extension cord.

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

Whatever happened to using a canvas bag and not depend on disposables at all?? From this you would think that our only options are "paper or plastic". This is really irresponsible.

I find it impossible to believe that plastic bags generate less pollution than paper bags. I read an entire book (one among several that have been written) on the issues related to pollution from plastics. Please read Our Stolen Future if you haven't already. It is very well-written, translating research from many, many labs all over the world for lay people, giving full citations if we want to explore further.

But strangely enough, I haven't come across even one book on "the dangers of paper bags". While it might be true that we do not dispose of them properly - or that we manufacture them in ways that make disposal difficult, we need to change that side of things, not irresponsibly use and throw plastic bags.

6. Toxic plastic bottles. For years panels of experts repeatedly approved the use of bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate bottles and many other plastic products. Yes, it could be harmful if given in huge doses to rodents, but so can the natural chemicals in countless foods we eat every day. Dose makes the poison.

Sure - dose makes the poison. But is this writer so naive (read - stupid) as to imagine that the only plastic bottle that he is exposed to is the one he owns??!! What about the cumulative effect of the billions of plastic bottles that float around in the world and are being churned out even as we breathe? We have one huge whopping dose of poison if we add it all up!

To his credit, this person realizes there are poisonous chemicals in foods we eat every day. This is a whole other problem that needs a solution. Not a validation for exposing ourselves to even more poison!

This writer needs to look up "the organic farming movement" in Wiki and familiarize himself with that concept.

Nalgene has already announced that it will take BPA out of its wonderfully sturdy water bottles. Given the publicity, the company probably had no choice. But my old blue-capped Nalgene bottle, the one with BPA that survived glaciers, jungles and deserts, is still sitting right next to me, filled with drinking water. If they ever try recalling it, they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Did this ignoramus realize that there is BPA and other harmful, but microscopic residue from plastics in those very same glaciers, jungles and deserts that he blissfully wanders in?! Or does it have to walk up to him and slap him awake to make him realize it??

8. The Arctic’s missing ice.

Now come on - it is not even cool anymore to deny that global warming is happening. How unscientific is this person that he sees a "trend" in comparing last year to this year?

This is irresponsible journalism at its worst (or should I say best?). That this got published in the Science section of the NY Times is even more disturbing.