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Ah, the simple innocence of a geek child

The interwebs were all abuzz last weekend, when Volkswagen released their "The Force" commercial in time for the Superbowl. The ad was an unqualified hit, but it also reminded me a number of pretty geeky things I got upto as a kid.

My geekiness counter swung wildly over the years - I was quite a geek until the age of .. ooh, let's say 12, at which point I sadly fell victim to the Dork Side (heh). My geek level were kicked up a notch only after I moved to New York, and started earning enough to indulge my JLA habit. Until then, I was the stereotypical kid with braces who loved Star Wars, and was too shy to work up a conversation with a girl more than 2 branches away on the ol' family tree. 


Seriously, if I were Jewish, that childhood would have gauranteed me a lifetime as a successful stand-up comic. But I digress ...


As I was saying, the ad, definitely reminded me of my childhood, and I thought I'd come out of the (geek) closet and share some memories with you.


Memorising Star Wars: A New Hope by the age of six


Yes, that's right. Before the interwebs came about and offered unfettered access to geek materials & scripts, I knew every word of every line in Star Wars: A New Hope. Mostly because it was one of the few video tapes I had to watch growing up in Nigeria, but let's face it, when you're six, there's very little that can top the coolness of watching Luke kicking Empire butt. I still belive that no other sci-fi/ fantasy movie has topped the thrill of the Death Star battle sequence.



The Bucket-on-the-Head Vader


I never had access to costumes as a kid, but necessity is the mother of all invention, as they say. I found that an empty bucket on the head made for the perfect echo chamber to recreate Vader's heavy breathing sound effect. Of course, I couldn't see anything, which is why after more than a few bumps, I limited myelf to standing still and recreating scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope.


I sometimes wonder if I'd have been such an ardent Star Wars fan as a kid if I'd known how Lucas was going to rape my childhood with Parts I-III, and that turd-fest called Indiana Jones & The Crytal Skull.



A Love of Max Fleisher Superman cartoons


As my darling wife will tell you, until a few years ago, I LOVED Superman. I wasn't quite at the level of Jerry Sienfeld, but I was up there in loving all things Supes. And the reason for it all was a video tape of the amazingly gorgeous Superman cartoons from Max Fleisher studios in the 1940s. These cartoons were short, packing a ton of action into a few minutes, had humour, superhero moves, and a bit of horror (hey, I was six ... some of those scenes are quite scary). Gods, I used to feel a little tingle down my spine hearing the words, "This looks like a job for Superman!", and watching Clark Kent's silhouette change into Superman against a soaring score!. I'm pretty sure I used to run around with a towel tied around my neck, because to me, these cartoons defined how Superman looked and moved while saving the day from rogue giant gorillas or the dastardly gang of theives that kidnapped Lois Lane. When my nephew turns five, I know what his birthday present is going to be!


Little known fact that I just read from Wikipedia: these cartoons were responsible for giving Superman his flying powers. Superman orginally could "leap tall buildings with a single bound" but not actually fly. That apparently looked a bit silly when animated, and so the powers that be decided to give Supes the ability to fly. (Of course, this is from Wikipedia, so hopeully some ardent fact-checker/ quizzer like Fing can verify this!)

I was thrilled to find out that these cartoons have gone public domain now - you can watch a lot of them online now. Here's one of my favourites.



My firm belief that Spock was the coolest Star Trek character ever


I religiously watched Star Trek (TOS) on DD every Sunday morning. Let's face it, there was little else to watch. Regardless, I thought Spock was the best character of the show. Never mind Bones' preacher-fiery humanity. Never mind Kirk's cocky swagger, cocky attitude (especially with the female aliens, am I right?!)  & command abilities. Spock had it all.


Spock could cooly analyse a situation and figure out a way to save the day. He had super-human strength. He could kick-ass in a fight, and could render people unconcious with the Vulcan neck-pinch. Dammit Jim, the pointy-eared hobgoblin had green blood! Kirk had to fake his death to get out of an ass-whooping by Spock!



This was in the mid-80s, long before Star Trek: TNG came on the air. These days, I'm convinced that Picard could have kicked Kirk's butt (let's face it, at the end of Generations, Picard was still alive)!


A Quick Guide To Moving To The UK

Moving to the UK can be a trying experience. It certainly feels like banging your head against a brick wall at times - you end up with a headache, and probably didn't make more than a tiny dent in the problem. So let me break down this guide into 5 areas:


1. Before You Move


Before you move, try to open a bank account with a bank that has branches in the UK. Banks like HSBC, Citibank (although to be fair, I've never seen a Citi retail banking office here), and so on come to mind. They will serve as good references to help open a bank account, or even help transfer existing or set up new accounts. In my case, I had banked with Chase, and Bank of America, neither of which were of any use as a reference.


Carry plenty of cash (securely, of course), as ATM withdrawls from accounts outside the UK will be costly. It'll take time to open a bank account, and some more time to get a wire transfer or cheque cleared. Be prepared to go a month (or more) without easy access to funds. Make sure you have some way of paying the apartment application fees & getting bankers cheques for the apartment security deposit & 1st month's rent. My agents didn't accept cash, and I'm pretty sure others wouldn't either.


2. When You Arrive


The first thing to do is get a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) mobile phone. Or get a SIM if you're married to your old handset. You need a local number to give out to everyone until you can get a contract-based number, or home phone provisioned. You may have to do some research into what provider has the best coverage in your home & office neighborhoods. For example, I would have thought that ALL providers would have had good service in a place like Isle of Dogs (it's only Zone 2), but I've definitely had better experience with Vodafone than with O2 (not to say O2 is bad, just that Vodafone is better for my needs).


Luckily, I'd found estate agents to be a bit more flexible than other organizations I've dealt with. Although they technically state that they cannot release your keys until they have proof of a standing order with your bank*, they will work with you to resolve any issues. Once you get the lease signed, gather all the phone numbers you'll need - the local council, utilities providers (gas, electricity, phone, internet, cable/ satellite). Now some companies will need a land line to activate services (internet & cable, specifically), so do the research into how to go about setting things up.


Most importantly, stop by the bank with which you want to set up an account, and schedule an account opening appointment. It might not be as easy as you think. I had to wait almost a week to get mine. That's because opening an account can take an hour to fill out all the forms and questionnaires. I'm not sure why they need all that information. I suspect my bank manager needs to know as much as he can about me. Either that, or the UK has some serious Big Brother issues to work out.


Also buy a PAYG mobile broadband stick for your laptop or computer. I've used Vodafone, since they had better network coverage where I stay, and seemed to have better commercials than other providers (30-day, 3GB data transfer for £15). You'll need it to check personal email, Facebook, etc. until you get your residential service set up.


3. Just Before Moving In


A couple of days before moving in, contact the local council and let them know you're going to be the new resident at your address. That will trigger them to send you a breakdown of local council taxes payable monthly. That bill schedule is going to serve as proof of address until you get regular bank statements. Generally speaking, mobile phone bills, and out-of-country bank statements are not accepted as proofs of address, which makes things very, very difficult.


Also call the phone, internet, and cable companies (if you're lucky, you'll be speaking to just one provider) to schedule an installation/ activation date. This could be a week or two out, and if you need to provision the phone line before you can provision anything else, you may be looking at a month before everything's set up to your satisfaction.


Another important thing to do would be to look up local NHS practices to see which ones are registering new patients, deciding which one looks the best, and giving them a call.


4. The Day You Move In


As part of the move-in inspection, conducted by a 3rd party, make note of your gas & electricity meter readings. Give these utility providers a call, and set up your account. They will need your meter readings as part of the process. Chase up with any other utility companies to give them updated information, as needed.


5. A Few Notes About Opening A Bank Account


Pay attention to what documentation the bank will require before they allow you to open an account. I had to wait to move in, and get my council bills. I also had a bank statement from a small private UK bank as a backup, but I never used it.


There are special bank accounts available to those moving to the UK for the first time. My bank, HSBC, offers something called a Passport account. It charges you £8 per month, and gives you access to a debit card. It does not require the more onerous proofs of local address as a regular account would. However, it will NOT allow you to apply for a credit card. This seems to be idiotic, since essentially, you could wait till you get your first bank statement, and then take that to another bank to open a regular account. Yes, there is a sunk cost of £96, and that might be an issue if finances are tight. Regardless, it's as if HSBC is essentially telling folks it doesn't need their business, and would they please go to another bank.


In any case, once you open your bank account, the bank will automatically send you a debit card and cheque book. You might not be eligible to apply for a credit card right away, and may need to wait a few months.


Obviously, this rough guide only scratches the surface of the topic. I've used my experiences, and help from a good friend, to form the basis of this post. If you have any other tips or hints to share, please do leave them in the comments below.


* A paradox that would stump the best logical thinker. Essentially, you won't have a mailing address (get keys by providing bank instructions) until you have a bank account, and you can't get a bank account unless you have a mailing address.

Goodbye, Bangalore. I hardly knew you! ... Or, "Hello, Goodbye"

As you may have heard, I'm moving to London to start a new job. It's been an interesting year: losing jobs, moving from one coast of the US to another, moving to India, and now (finally) moving back to the UK. Given the anguish of the last several months, it's incredible that the situation managed to resolve itself in a matter of a few months!

Bangalore's certainly changed though. The traffic is terrible, the people all the more desperate to get ahead - be it drivers trying to edge out others on the roads, autorickshaw drivers trying to fleece the pants off of hapless riders, or even HR recruitment agencies. It's a deplorable state, and seriously: patriotism aside, family ties aside, I am glad to be leaving Bangalore. It's the first time in my life I've ever said that, and it makes me extremely sad.

That said, the definite upside was hanging out with Malz & Omer almost every weekend. I had company that was always ready to watch a movie, catch a quick bite ... or in the case of Malz (and most definitely NOT Omer), watch Firefly, or debate the merits of Batman vs. Spider-man as a good role model for kids. They also introduced me to what good Indian non-vegetarian food was. I started regularly eating non-vegetarian food only after moving to NYC, and the Indian were the invariable chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, seafood stews, and so on. I HATED them - they were all single-flavored brute-force spice mixes. I've discovered just how much better - and spicier - the food can be here in India. I've tasted biryanis that were sublime in their mix of spices with meats that would melt in my mouth, slowly releasing spicy gravies that would bring me to tears (partly from the spice, to be perfectly honest).

I'm going to miss hanging out with them, just as much as I'm going to miss hanging out with friends in NYC, or with cousins in SF.


Ah well, time to make some new memories!


Well, This Sucks!

Some of you may know that I'm in India right now, but I'm pretty sure not many people know why.


It's like this ... in March, I lost my job at Keane. I won't go into the details here, since they're too long winded, and because frankly, it'd be pretty unprofessional. Unfortunately, my Green Card's Labor Certification has been in Audit since December 2008, and hasn't come out since. As a result, I couldn't apply for long enough extensions to my work permit to allow me to be employed by interested parties (and believe me, there were interested parties). The only way to get back into the US job market is to spend at least 12 months out of the country (and then come back, find a job, get sponsored for an H1B, etc.). Of course, I'm on the look out for jobs in other parts of the world - the UK, Australia, etc. 


The problem that I'm facing in India is that IT Management to most folks here tends to be "operational": network management, database management, and so on, and is also mostly performed by the established MSPs - Wipro, Cognizant, etc. There seems to be a fledgling "corporate" IT environment here, but I'm told that opportunities are either few & far between, or are for positions with no real authority. "Tactical" or "Strategic" IT Management seems to be rare: presumably, the domain of the Big 4 only. So if anyone has contacts that could help - please do drop me an email!


Equally frustrating is that any personal ambitions that we might have had - buying a car, a house, etc. - all got deferred by a minimum of a year.


So there you have it. I'm in India, while the Missus is in California for the foreseeable future.


Sucks, doesn't it?


Dinin' In The Dark


o·paque  [oh-peyk]: Adjective: 1. not transparent or translucent; impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through; 2. hard to understand; not clear or lucid; obscure


Last night, I had a truly unique dining experience - eating in a pitch black dining room at Opaque, in the . With the denial of one of the 5 senses, the other 4 senses are supposed to be heightened (Daredevil style!), and so the theory is that diners can truly experience unique flavors & textures in their food.

The concept's been around for more than a few years. It certainly caught my attention when it was featured in the CSI Season 8 episode "A La Cart" (of course, in the TV show, the dinner experience ended with the discovery of a dead body, which, in reflection, was probably more exciting than the molten chocolate cake I had).

Overall, it was a lovely evening of course (how can any evening with the Missus not be?). Conversing in the dark was a bit odd - I thought it would lead to people using either hushed tones, or overly loud ones. It was like carrying on an extended conversation in my head (c'mon, who amongst us has not had conversations in their head? I see a hand raised in the back ... yes, you there ... yes, I regret to inform you that you are clinically dead.)

Unfortunately, the part of the evening that underwhelmed was the food itself. The amuse bouche and the crudite platter were quite enjoyable - bite sized morsels of finger food that were easy to latch onto. The other dishes were bulky and hard to handle, and were surprisingly not very aromatic. To me, "flavor" is a combination of "smell" and "taste"; that is to say, flavorful foods are often either aromatic or react strongly on taste buds. Thus, with the deprivation of sight, I had rather expected heady aromas along with interesting flavors, the wines to have strong bouquets or long finishes ... a sustained assault on the remaining senses, if you will. But alas, the dishes were clearly lacking on both fronts. What made things more frustrating was the fact that the food stuffs would not stay on the fork. All too often, the Missus and I bit down on our fork prongs.

So, bottom line? I enjoyed the experience, and would seek it again, but only if the menu were better thought out.

Take me home, Bruce!