All posts by Anantha

.: My Indian Grand Prix Diary

My first experience witnessing a Formula One race was pretty exhilarating. It was a lifelong dream to be able to do it, ever since I started following Formula One since 1992 as a 10 year old. I have no idea what got me hooked on to it, but the more I watched the more I wanted to watch. Unfortunately, there were only a few races in a year. There was something magical about it, with drivers pushing their cars and themselves to almost-over-the-cliff, but never over it.

2011 was the first time India hosted a Grand Prix and I was in India at the right time to watch it, almost. I couldn’t as it was around Diwali and I was away in Kerala visiting my parents. But this time around, I was not going to miss it for anything because I would never see Schumacher race again. I have been following him since his Benetton days and this is his last season, in his second stint as an F1 driver. Tickets were booked well in advance after thoroughly scouting the track for best vantage points. I figured that Turn 4, at the end of the DRS zone, was the best place to be since the cars would be slowing down from 310+ kmph to under a 100, and then accelerate away. One huge caveat with booking online through bookmyshow.com is that they only let you pick the stand and block, but not the seats, which is just bull-crap. If you book early, you are going to be right up against the barricading fence on the lower most seat with non-existent views. I decided to live with it, but things would take an unexpected turn. So read on.

FRIDAY [26 October]
This is the day with two practice sessions, each 90 minutes long where the cars do their dry runs to understand the track and work on car setups and balance. I don’t think I have been as excited post turning 25+. I was up at 5 am, all my gear packed and ready to go. I knew this would be the best day to capture some good photos since the stands would be pretty empty. My trusty D200 and 80-200mm f2.8 lens would be my friends for the day.

The Buddh International Circuit is about 80 kms away from Gurgaon, which meant we had a 3+ hour commute each way to get to the track. The first day had many unknowns, which included travel times and frequency of buses to the circuit. Our trip was planned such that we would take the Metro from Gurgaon to Delhi and then to Noida and hop on a shuttle bus to the circuit. We left home at 7 am, in anticipation to be track-side at 10 am for the start of Free Practice 1 (FP-1). As luck would have it, the Metro line had some issues and the train to Delhi was delayed by 40 minutes. We managed to get to Noida around 9 am, hoping we would still make it to the track on time. However, the fine print in the bus ticket read that the buses would depart only when they are full. It was Friday and the crowd was small, which meant a lot of coaxing and cajoling to get the bus going and it finally did.

I overheard from co-passengers that the standard of service had dropped dramatically since last year, apparently they had air-conditioned buses and more volunteers to guide the fans. This year we were in a rickety old bus, like the ones you hear in stories told by foreigners and to go along we also had a sleepyhead driver. After taking the wrong exits a couple of times, we finally made it to the track 20 minutes before the end of FP-1. We were guided by clueless volunteers to a wrong stand, but did not argue as we wanted to catch a glimpse of the cars and savor the sound. As the session ended, we walked over to nice young lady to find out why we were not seated in the stands we had paid the money for. Her answer was pretty simple, “Sir, the Star East Stand 2 has been closed due to a construction safety issue”. Being a structural engineer, that did not go down too well with me; I was not too impressed and walked over to the ticketing booth to see if I could speak to a manager. It so turned out that the manager was as clueless as the nice young lady before and his answer was “Sir, it is a management decision not to seat people there, as a result we have given you an upgrade”. An upgrade??!!

That is when yours truly totally lost it because he knew very well that the stand they seated us was actually a big downgrade because you were sitting perpendicular to cars whizzing past at 300+ kmph. Imagine watching a tennis match from the sidelines and then fast forward that 8x. Totally out of the blue, I went ballistic and the poor *manager* had no chance or choice. My co-BIL also joined in and they finally conceded that we could walk over to that stand but the downside was that there were no toilet facilities there. We politely told him that we came here to watch F1 and if need be, we will use a bottle. Well, we did not say it. As we walked over to our stand, we found the stand was actually close to two restrooms, in fact, the only ones for the East Stand. Now you can understand why I said the manager was clueless.

The stand was sparsely occupied, with only a few people who knew the *right* place to watch the action. This also included Mr. Austin, a nice Englishman from near Bolton, who was on his first trip to India. We had 2.5 hours to kill before the next Free Practice sesson started and we were treated to Formula One’s poor cousin, the MRF Challenge series. The sound from these engines were like flies buzzing, compared to the thunderous roar from the F1 engines revving at 18,000 rpm.

In spite of being in India, known for the Indian Stretchable Time (IST), the second session started on the dot at 2 pm. I cannot put in words what I felt watching these cars zoom by. And this time I wasn’t straining my neck. We were sitting facing the long back straight, 1.2 km long, watching the cars reach top speeds and brake on a dime and accelerate away from Turn 4. Pat on the back for a wonderful seat choice, but we quickly realized that the stand next to ours had a slightly better view. We spent close to 40 minutes on Star East 2 before moving on to Star East 3.

Star East 2 gives a head on view of the straight, which Star East 3 gives you a diagonal view of Turn 4. Since the crowd was almost non-existent and there was no one to check the tickets once you made it past the main entry point, we decided to hop over to the other stand. And I must tell you that although I thought I had made a good choice with my original seat selection, our adopted seats were way better. We began to wonder of ways to sneak into this stand for Saturday and Sunday as well. The day had gotten better so much that we forgot the miseries of the morning, which included terrible food stands with overpriced options and no cutlery, until we had to raise another sh*t storm there. And this time, we were not alone.

The day ended with me taking off my ear plugs for the last 15 minutes and letting the vibrations through to my eardrums. The ride back home was less eventful and we made it home around 7.30 pm. I was extremely exhausted, eyes red and dazed from capturing over 6+ GB of photos (around 700), almost all of which were captured with me hand-holding my 1.275 kg 80-200 lens for more than 3 hours that day. I was kicking myself for not bringing over my monopod from the US in April.

As tired as I was, I could not help but transfer my photos to see how they turned out. I had deliberately set my shutter speed very high 1/1250s or higher since it was my first time shooting extremely fast moving objects (read F1 cars). This high shutter speed did capture sharp images, but unfortunately did not capture the speed. The images looked static, and something had to be done about it on Saturday and Sunday. I decided to carry my lighter 18-105mm VR lens and try “panning” in order to capture the speed.

SATURDAY [27 October]

We decided to skip Free Practice 3 (10.00 am – 11.30 am). The 90 minute, 3 session Qualifying for the main race on Sunday was to start at 2 pm. We left home at 10 am to allow for some buffer based on Friday’s experience. This trip was extremely smooth and it appeared that the kinks in the organization were ironed out. There were quite a few more people and everything was on time. We tried out luck with stand hopping and it was easier than Friday as there was no one to check the tickets once we made it past the main entry. We walked right away to the nice stands and made ourselves comfortable at the top of the bleachers.

With my shutter speeds set to between 1/250s and 1/320s, I fired away focusing on the car as it entered the frame and following it as it exited the frame. I was giving my waist and torso a good workout, a much needed one. I need to do more of this even otherwise to lose the love handles. The results were far better than I anticipated for my first try. However, the hit rate was not as high as I would have hoped for.

I had downloaded an Android Live F1 timing app to keep track of the sector and lap times. As expected the Red Bulls were the team to beat, followed closely by the McLarens. The qualifying ended with a Red Bull front row lock out followed by the McLarens on Row 2, the Ferraris on Row 3 and the Loti on Row 4. Alonso has a big race ahead trying to catch up Vettel and keep his Championship hopes alive.

The day ended with a nice family outing at Connaught Place where Anu and her sister joined us and pigged out at Saravanaa Bhavan.

SUNDAY [28 October]

Two days of traveling long distances, which I had forgotten how to, meant it was a struggle to get our a**es out of the door on RaceDay. We did get out of the door at 10 am, having read about horrific traffic jams in last years race as 80,000+ fans tried to get in at the last minute. I think the bad experiences of Friday had prepped us enough that anything less worse actually seemed great.

We made it track-side and after being frisked thoroughly, we followed our usual routine. The crowds had gathered, but surprisingly on the East Stand 1, which is where we had hated to be. We right-royally walked to the stand with the best views, perched ourselves on the top-most row, and waited for the action to begin. We barely got in time to see the Driver’s parade, but I could not catch a photo as *stupid* me had the camera set to click on a timer. And it did, but after the truck had gone by. Bummer!

Thanks to my successful outing from Saturday and the good results, I had the same camera setup (D200 + 18-105 VR). There were a lot more people in our stands and with it a lot of nice camera and ultrazooms. After quite a bit of drooling, I settled down and reminded myself that I was a Structural Engineer and not an Investment Banker.

The countdown began and the roar of 24 F1 engines in unison was just incredible. We could hear the noise from grandstands and the start-finish straight. Turn 1 was incident free for the top runners but Vergne and Schumi collided, puncturing Schumi’s right and damaging Vergnes’ front wing. Schumi’s last race in India ended in a disaster, but in spite of it, the stands would erupt every lap he whizzed by. Alonso had a very good start and he ate up the McLarens of Button and Hamilton pretty fast. Vettel was untouchable and drove a perfect race.

We did see a lot of action in the middle of the pack, especially between the Saubers and the Williams, fighting it on Turns 4 and 5. We did not see much collision from ambitious overtaking maneuvers at Turn 4, but did see Pedro De La Rosa spin out after a brake failure. Overall, in terms of action, it was pretty boring except when Alonso was chasing down Webber lap after lap and finally pulled off a DRS-move on him at Turn 4. Later we learnt that Webber had suffered a KERS failure, which meant he had to fight to stave off Hamilton who was reeling him in.

The race ended with Vettel taking top honors followed by Alonso, Webber and Hamilton. We had a lot of Ferrari/Alonso fans and it provided a lot of cheer, as he did keep his Championship hopes alive going into Abu Dhabi. We did not wait for the post-race festivities and hopped on to the shuttle bus to take us back home. En route, I was thinking of the perfect timing of all the events that led me to being in India to witness a Grand Prix, which was pretty surreal.

So there you have it….exactly 7 days after watching the race, I have my blog written up. Not too bad for the procrastinator in me. I have about 1400+ photos that I am trying to process and upload.

PHOTO UPDATES
You can access them here.

.: Ductile Frame R = 8

This past Friday, I had my friend and fellow structural engineer over for dinner. The conversations somehow veered to how destructive toddlers can be. I was telling the story of how Arya managed to almost break my spectacle frame when we were at Rajiv Chowk Metro station. Arya likes to sit on my shoulders and this time he did not want to be brought down. As I was lifting him higher to bring him down, he used his trump card. He squeezed his knees hard against my glasses, causing it to bend inwards at the nose bridge, popping one of the lenses which promptly dropped to the floor. With a toddler in one hand, the remains of the glasses in the other and partially blind, I managed to find the lens. Luckily I was also able to find Anu who was waiting in the line to buy tickets. While Arya in Anu’s custody, I got time to mend my frame. Essentially, I had to bend the nose bridging back around 60+ degrees to straighten it and fit the lens.

With the story was complete the following exchange happened over dinner, which I think is more fascinating than the story itself.
All you non-structural engineers can stop reading now.

Anantha : I am still wearing the same glasses now.
Dan : You were lucky to salvage the glasses, these must be strong.
Anantha : Yes, I think the frame is pretty ductile.
Dan : Ha ha, yes, a ductile frame *.

Being structural engineers, Dan and I laughed for a little while as the “ductile” frame sank in. It was followed by an even more hilarious discussion.

Dan : What’s do you think the R value might be?
Anantha : I would think pretty close to 8.

At this point, we were both on the floor laughing (well, almost).

* A ductile (moment) frame is a special type of structural framing to resist seismic loads, which has additional steel reinforcement detailing in order to mitigate the amount of damage it suffers during an earthquake.

.: Picking your battles

One of the important traits to being a successful manager (/negotiator) is to know which battles to pick and which to concede. Once you are able to make that judgment, you have half the battle won.

You don’t have to always prove you are right, especially when it does not matter in the grand scheme of things. If you are able to achieve the final goal without fighting tooth and nail, you have come out victorious. That is what is referred to as a win-win situation. You concede things that don’t matter, but gives your opponent a sense of victory. The importance being on the word ‘sense’ and not ‘victory’.

You are all probably wondering why I am posting this, but I will explain this in a week or two, depending on how things turn out.

.: Marlins Ballpark – A Tribute

With Opening Day for the brand new Marlins Ballpark round the corner, I thought it would be only fitting to do a small write-up on one of the most interesting projects that I have worked on. The project is extremely dear to my heart and I should thank everyone at Bliss and Nyitray for providing me with an opportunity to work on this project and enough latitude to get creative, both in terms of the structural analysis and detailing.

(my) HISTORY:
My first opportunity to work on the ballpark was way back in September 2005, when I was about 4 months into my chosen profession as a Structural Engineer. Sadly, I worked only for a couple of months on the project before it got shelved. The project revived again towards the end of 2008, but I was busy working on another cool project [link in another post]. It was in March 2009 that I started working on the ballpark again. The design was substantially underway, but a lot of items pertaining to the support system for the retractable roof were in the process of being finalized. My first task was to study and optimize the track beams that carry the operable roof and design the monster SuperColumns, twelve in total (8 elliptical and 4 “tree” shaped ones).

I will digress a little to thanks the wonderful team members on the project and will apologize for not being able to single out all contributions, or else I will never finish. The design team comprised of a number of individuals (both young in age and young at heart). The significant credits list is below (and, in no particular order):

Bart Wallis (“Bartman”): Principal-In-Charge, man behind many of the wonderful structural solutions and responsible for guiding the overall design. Enough said!

Jim Ordija (“Jimb0”): Responsible for overall structural model, designed all stadia columns, point man for every day activity on the project both during construction.

Christian Martos (“Machine”): Designed/detailed every single beam on the project, often till dawn. “Not too bad” was/is his favorite line.

Anantha Chittur (“Big A”): Responsible for all items pertaining to the track beam, super column, analytical modeling issues, shear walls, miscellaneous East canopy connections to track beam.

George Khoury (“Are we done yet?”): Singlehandedly designed all the complicated foundation elements, responsible for the structural scheme and design of the complicated façade.

≡ Adam Rixey: Designed a lot of the foundations, beams, miscellaneous steel. Led the field team of inspectors and kept the contractors in check.

Neal Benish (“Neal the Deal”): Along with Christian, spent the nights in the office designing the raker beams, North Ramp and other complex connections.

Adriana Jaegerman (“Patchika”): Designed many of the complicated elements of the façade system.

≡ Sam Darrah: Led the field team after Adam decided that Hawaii was better than Miami. Formed a double-threat with partner-in-crime Matt P.

Matt Poling (“Matty Matteo”): Designed miscellaneous elements on the stadium and chief rope-walker while inspecting the roof trusses at 200+ feet in the air.

Jeff Peters: Primarily responsible for inspections on the SuperColumns and Track Beams, ensured that the contractors were kept in a tight leash. No-nonsense inspections and known to have tie-wire, other tools in his waist belt to help errant ironworkers.

Lazaro Alfonso (“Laz”): Responsible for designing all plate girders supporting the canopies and other miscellaneous details.

William Caycedo: Responsible for designing all the masonry elements, crazy slab on grade details, ramps etc.

≡ Pablo Garcia (“Matador”): Primary role was to generate presentable calculations for Bart’s design, which was often “back of the napkin”. Designed many of the masonry elements within the bowl.

Raul Martinez: CAD/REVIT manager, the cog in the wheel for making sure that the drawings were drafted and sent for every single deadline.

Jasond Lorio, Spencer Whitehead, Jose Matallana, Florencia Braga: Thanks for the countless hours (days and nights) of drafting/modeling to pull together this project.

Other individuals that had significant role in the project:
Suhendi “Ken” Widjaja and Jason Linton (Inspections, shop drawing review)
Marilyn Rojas (keeping track of paperwork and answering countless phone calls for us.

A great team of engineers/architects/builders were also part of this monument. Thanks to all the members of the teams from Populous Architects, Hunt Construction Group, Baker Concrete, VSL Heavy Lifts, Uni-Systems, Walter P. Moore, RWDI Wind Enginers,ME Engineers, Schuff Steel, Canam Steel and to every single person who has worked on this project.

With the credits out of the way, here is a rundown of the interesting/challenging facets of the ballpark. Any large, complicated project will have a few memorable items. In fact, the complexity of the Marlins ballpark led to many unforgettable items.

Marlins Ballpark

3D Analysis model of the Ballpark

TRACK BEAMS:
Several schemes/options were studied to effectively support a *heavy* roof. My mentor, Bart Wallis, had a system figured out that would work: A concrete box girder on steroids. So massive was the void inside it that I could easily fit my cubicle across its width. The retractable roof structure would ride on rails supported by the track beams. Massive 36 inch diameter wheels, each powered by an individual motor provides traction for the roof. Each roof truss is supported by transporters which are then linked together.

There were stringent deflection limits on the track beam. If it deflected too much, then it would cause an overload on the giant transporters that carries the 8000 ton roof. Initial design was based such that it deflected no more than 1.5 inches at mid-span over spans as large as 150 feet. The structural design for the operable roof was done by Walter P. Moore (WPM) and the mechanization by Uni-Systems (UNI). There was constant exchange of information/analysis models between all parties in order to make sure everyone was within the tight design parameters. It was tough at times due to the fast-track nature of the project, but every step we moved forward was a step closer to having a brand new ballpark.

Elliptical SuperColumn

The track beam during construction

SUPER COLUMNS:
A monster track beam needs an able ally, one who can carry its weight down all the way to the ground. That’s where the Super Columns come in. Each of these interior columns were elliptical in shape, measuring 15 feet long and 8 feet wide and towering 125+ feet above the ground (for a layman, that’s an equivalent of a 10 story building). Reinforcing details were worked out to ensure maximum efficiency and ease of construction. In order to simplify construction, the contractor (Baker Concrete) had built a template to fit the reinforcing bars.

There are four “tree” or “inverted tripod” columns at the entry plaza that carry the entire weight of the roof when it is in open position. Modeling them for analysis was just as complicated as building it right. Well, it was probably easier to model :). These tree columns went through several rounds of fine tuning, with each one requiring re-analysis between us, WPM and UNI. The columns were so massive that they *each* needed about 85-100 trucks of concrete (900 cubic yards).

Tree SuperColumn

The “tree” columns during construction [North Track], Photo Credit: Casey Luaces

Elliptical SuperColumn

A picture of Ken and the elliptical SuperColumn, a flavor of the size

Erection/Construction Sequencing:
The original design was for a cast-in-place box girder. However, the logistics/construction sequencing meant that the super columns and track beams had to be built prior to the stadium construction. These columns towered above the neighborhood, prompting Brent Musburger to question if they were building an overpass at the old Orange Bowl site. He was right in some ways, except it was overpass for the moving roof and not cars/trucks.
Building the track beams on shoring/scaffolding was not viable from a timing/logistics standpoint. It was decided that these beams would be precast on the ground and then lifted into place using a strand-jacking system. Some of the track beams weighed as much as 1400 tons. It was a balancing act…..the load of each beam lifted was balanced by two others sitting on the ground. The days/nights prior to the beams being lifted into place were one of the most nervous moments in my life. VSL Heavy Lifting and their wonderful team of engineers pulled it off without too many issues.

Track Lift

The Balancing Act, VSL’s Heavy Lift of the Track Beams

EAST CANOPY:
A lot of people will believe that there are only twelve super long-span trusses on this project, ones that carry the roof. But there is a 13th. This truss spans between the North and South Track beams, across the width of the ballpark, enabling the East Canopy to look as glorious as it does with breathtaking views of Downtown Miami. There are three large operable doors, which run on tracks.

The beauty of this truss, conceived by Bart, is that it provides the lateral stability for the roof system allowing slender 36 inch diameter columns, 80 feet tall to work structurally. Conventional designs would have required massive columns, thereby killing the architect’s visions of minimal impact to the views. The trusses are connected to the ends of each track beam with connections that carry forces in all imaginable directions. Designing the connection was extremely tricky, even more trickier was detailing it so that everything fitted perfectly 130 feet up in the air. I had a lot of fun designing it. It was hard getting used to the order of magnitude of forces that we was dealing with. If ever you get a chance to walk on the East Concourse level, take a moment to look up and you will see what I have been describing.

East Canopy

The East Canopy with stunning views of Downtown Miami

NORTH RAMP:
This is a masterpiece. It is a cantilevered slab that is supported on ellipitical columns, almost giving a feeling of being free-standing. My buddy, Neal Benish, really deserves all the credit for designing and detailing a Bart Wallis special. The key to being able to build it was the attention to detail given, working closely with the contractor to ensure that there was a synergy between how he wanted to build it and how we wanted it to behave once completed.

Main Ramp

Main ramp in its cantilevering glory

RAKER BEAMS:
These are essential parts of any stadium structure. These beams cantilever enormous distances, helping to support the seating units and providing the views needed. This stadium is very unique in the sense that there is hardly a 90 degree corner or a typical detail. Each raker beam differed from the other, albeit slightly that every single one had to be designed and detailed. Some of them had really odd shapes due to architectural constraints. There is one that is famous among the team, the Pterodactyl. Once you see the shape of this beam, located in right field, you will know what I am talking about.

Pterodactyl

Pterodactyl, not-so-fancy outline work by yours truly

Rakers

Raker Beams during construction

FREE(ak)-STANDING STAIRS:
There are a few unsupported, floating stairs on this project, again near right field. The construction team was a little scared to build it and had our field representatives (Sam and Matt) drop their business cards on the stair landing during the concrete placement. This was in the event that if it collapsed, they would know who to call :). Thankfully, the cards are still in the landing.

Freak

Free standing Stair

CURTAIN WALLS and GLAZING:
Another striking aspect of this ballpark is its façade system. Populous Architects have often been criticized of designing “boring” stadiums. This one takes stadium architecture to a whole new level. This was a detailing exercise beyond compare, rather a nightmare, to two of my colleagues George Khoury and Adriana Jaegerman. A look at the façade and its simplicity from the exterior will hardly tell you volumes about how complex its supporting system is.

Facade

Facade supporting splines with a view of the Cafe Roof on the left

OPERABLE ROOF:
Last but not least, kudos to the WPM and UNI team of engineers who helped design and mechanize the massive roof structure over the ballpark which *only* weighs a mere 8000 tons. It is not easy to design a roof that spans over 550 feet in a hurricane-prone region with wind speeds in excess of 146 mph. A complex system of individual pieces was put together in a way that made it easy to build, pleasing to the eyes and extremely efficient. It is a real shame that people won’t be able to get up close to it like the design team did, to appreciate the minute details and the thousands of man hours that went into designing it. If it were up to me, I would have created a viewing gallery all the way up on my track beams to enable people to get a bird’s eye view.
It is never easy to put into words and describe every detail that has gone into this masterpiece. Only the design team knows the real effort and dedication that has gone into designing a stadium that will entertain the South Florida baseball fans for many, many years to come. A good coverage on the roof’s mechanization is here. In the video is a good friend Andrew “Drew” Agosto from UniSystems.

Operable Roof

A view of the East and West Roof Panels and East Canopy

On April 4th 2012, the world will get a glimpse of the stadium on prime time. As every single fan enjoys the game of baseball, we engineers will be counting down to the start of the hurricane season and waiting for a real-time test of our design.

.: A.R.R. and The Hindu

One of the good things that came out of being back in India is the habit of reading a newspaper every morning, a habit that was lost when I was in the US. As many South Indian Tambrahms (Tamil Brahmin), I was brought up in a household where ‘The Hindu‘ was the newspaper of choice, as it has been for generations.

Strangely, we opted to get Times of India when we subscribed to the printed media again. It was a heavy (rather light in news) newspaper, with newsworthy material sparsely strewn around ads. Time went by and we got used to the fun of scavenging for the news.

All of this changed radically when my parents were in town. One glance through the Times of India and my dad goes, “Neenga en Hindu vangarthuillai???” (Why aren’t you getting The Hindu). A couple of phone calls later, we switched newspapers. Since it was awkwardly in the middle of the month, we were getting both newspapers for a few days. Oh boy, it was a night and day difference.

Initially, I would glance at The Hindu and go back to the Times. Then in a few days, article by article, I was getting drawn into The Hindu. It was like finding a long-lost love. Now the Times has been completely replaced. It was around the same time that the controversial ad was doing the rounds.

For people that love and listen to A.R. Rahman’s music, you will agree that ARR’s music is one that you “grow into” and “fall in love”, just like The Hindu.

With my mom and dad visiting me, we went out to do some shopping in Delhi.

Time/Money spent getting there by metro : 1.5 hours/ &#8377 100
Cost of taking a return cab to Gurgaon : &#8377 750
Joy of watching the ladies bargain : PRICELESS

* For those who want to use the new Rupee symbol, the HTML for it is ₹

.: Bobblehead

The weekend was spent doing some sightseeing with my parents, Anu and Arya. I don’t need to tell anyone how bad traffic is in India, but I just realized how it gets compounded when you have a chauffeur that makes you feel like you are a bobblehead. Let me explain…

There are two kinds of drivers (excluding women drivers). The first kind is one that has spatial awareness, one who can sense an impending event and be prepared for his next move. Such a driver is able to anticipate what will happen next and smoothly steer/apply brakes/accelerate as required for optimum passenger safety and comfort.

The other kind is one that has “blinders” on, just like horses that pull carts. These drivers react to situations rather than anticipate, and sometimes rather abruptly. As a result, they apply brakes so frequently and so awkwardly that it feels like you are horseback riding. Or a bobblehead.

Time to get myself a Hans device. At least I will look cool like in an F1 car. Vroooooooooom.

.: “Did you GOOGLE it?” syndrome

With great power there must also come…..great responsibility

The advent of Google and its search algorithms have simplified life beyond imagination. The search result are so precise that you almost always find your answer within the first page of search results. Keywords do play an important part in tricky searches or to get targeted results, but for the most part Google searches have become easy even for the less technically-inclined. So much is Google used these days, that it has become a *verb* synonymous with searching for answers.

I am a *victim* of the syndrome. While it has definitely made getting answers quicker, I find myself not seeking the knowledge. In the past, you would be forced to read more extensively in order to find the answer. This was because keyword search was non-existent, e-books were not popular and finishing a term paper was harder. I am used to saying, “…..if the information exists in the public domain, I will find it”. I always knew the downsides, but did not do anything to rectify it. It is a slippery slope.

This is where responsibility comes in. You have be cognizant that although you are getting the information very easily, the onus is on you to make the effort to read the chapter or few paragraphs related to the subject to have the well-rounded knowledge.

If you agree/disagree with this, please share your views.

.: The Year that was…. 2011 [Part II]

Okay mame…..notes eduthuko, appadiye snacks eduthuko.

So here is what happens in the second half of 2011. Just like a movie usually takes an unexpected turn after the intermission, our lives were about to change as well. A major decision, which only time will tell as to being good or bad, was made towards the end of June/early July. Just as we thought we had settled down in our new home and lives, circumstances which I would rather not make too public [for privacy reasons] made us take a decision to head back to India. I took up a new job with Baldridge and Associates, a company based out of Hawaii with offices in Chicago and Delhi. The opportunity to be close to home and family was something difficult to pass up on. The job involved a stint in India helping out a large multinational contractor in their design-build ventures. A secondary role would be to help establish BASE’s presence in India, where there is a mini construction boom.

It was extremely difficult to bid goodbye to my close friends at BNI, with whom I had spent that first six years as a Structural Engineer. I have some amazing memories of the place, the days and the nights spent on projects dear to my heart. Your first [job] is always precious……and will be.

So there we were, two months after we moved into our brand new home, packing away and bidding adieu to beautiful Miami. July was a month where neither me or Anu had a good night’s sleep. Luckily for us, a lot of things fell into place magically, all in the last minute. We are blessed to have a lil’ one that is extremely non-fussy. Anu and I always discuss as to what must have been going through his head seeing us in disarray.

The long term goal was always to return back to the US, by God’s grace and some careful planning [well, mostly God’s grace]. All the winding down was done with that in mind. We were able to rent our house to a family that we knew in real short notice, move things to storage in Chicago and book tickets to India. Anu and Arya were packed off to her cousin’s place in Wisconsin and I undertook a 2 day road trip to get to Chicago. It was by far the most boring drive, since I had gotten used to having Anu in the front seat on most long drives, either awake or asleep. I showed up to work on August 8, worked for 5 days and took a flight to India on August 13. Most people who know me at BNI know my affinity to the number 13.
: All significant and large projects that I have worked on while at BNI had a 13 in the project number 08M13, 06M13, 09W13 just to name a few.

Anyone that knows Arya will tell you that the kid has trouble sitting still. He likes to constantly be on the move. Now imagine a kid like him in a confined pressurized cabin at 33000 ft above sea level on a 15 hour long flight to India [co-passenger’s nightmare?]. Anu and I were having panic attacks thinking about the flight. Luckily for us, Air India moved us to a different seat minutes before take off, giving Arya a seat as well. He was mostly asleep during the flight, kept his father out of major embarrassment. It was one of my only long haul flights to India/Dubai where I did not sleep for 90% of the flight duration. My old boss George and Anu can attest to my in-flight sleeping habit.

India……incredible India!!

It was a grand welcome in Delhi. We were literally mobbed, just like superstars. Except this was by taxi-drivers and porters who were more than glad to *help* us with our transportation needs in exchange for dollars. I was bad at keeping track of all the happenings in India when I was in the US, but I could have sworn that Rupee was still the currency in India. In typical India fashion, my accommodation arrangement had fallen through the cracks, but luckily there was still enough daylight and I had a working phone. We moved into the company guest house for the next 3 weeks as we figured out where to live. It was an interesting first few days. Things that I had missed were back……. great food, local TV channels [including 3 cricket channels], car horns, 8 lane traffic on a 4 lane, dust [and my allergies], bureaucracies just to name a few.

A lot of things that were pretty simple to get started in the US were rather difficult here. Opening a bank account needed an address proof, which could only be through “approved” paperwork. This meant a delay of at least a month. Thank god for Traveler’s Checks. International credit cards were not accepted universally and I had to get used to carrying cash in my wallet. No more easy swiping of plastic.

The new office is rather nice. We share space at the contractor’s main office in Gurgaon and the best thing is that there are two Coffee Day vending machines to get ummmm-limited supply of tea/coffee. A 15 minute walk to work is not bad either. I love the option of being able to walk back home during lunch and grab a hot meal.

Work was busy during the first couple of months as there were plenty of projects that were being worked on simultaneously. In addition, being in a contractor’s office only a few feet away from anxious people that want answers yesterday is not always fun. Thankfully, there are a really good bunch of people, expats and natives, with whom working has been a pleasure [mostly at least].

Sadly, in the end of September we had to say Goodbye to my dear paati [grandmother]. She had been living with us since I was a year old and I have fond memories of my childhood with her. She had lived a contended life and was also able to see her great-grandson and spend time with him. She will be missed by all of us. The rest of the year (October-December) was rather uneventful, for which we are grateful. Arya and Anu joined an interactive parent-toddler program and that keeps them busy.

November had beautiful weather and we did some sight seeing around Delhi, including a trip to Qutub Minar. December started getting really cold. Surprisingly for a place like Gurgaon where temperatures can drop significantly, the insulation in houses is non-existent. Coupled with brick walls and non-airtight rooms, the temperature inside the house is sometimes worse than outside. It should be good baptism for eventual relocation to the windy city.

2011 ended with us celebrating Anusha’s birthday and welcoming 2012 at Agra [photos]. How fitting that we were in a city filled with cemeteries and tombs…………isn’t 2012 the year the world is going to end?

.: The Year That Was ….2011 (Part I)

It is time for the obligatory year ending post. It is usually around this time of the year that my AMEX card gets charged with the domain hosting fee. Around the same time is when I regret not having posted enough. What started off as a very good way to spend extra time when I was a graduate student slowly became a step-child when more important things came up in life i.e. wife, child, TV, job etc.

2011 was a very exciting year in many respects. The year started off with me and Anusha spending available weekends trying to figure out if it was the right time to buy a house. The market was right in so many respects and it seemed like the best time to invest in a property. Countless time was spent in searching properties we liked and in the price range we could afford. One of key criteria was proximity to work and being in a good school zone for Arya. Many different permutations and combinations were made in picking that ideal spot and we thought we were “genius”, but as you keep reading, you will see how life throws curve balls at you.

All the math was done, along with contingencies. Getting qualified to get a house was rather simple, primarily because we did the homework on the price point we could afford. [Tip] Know what you can afford and strictly search in that price point. It is very easy to fall in love with homes you can’t afford. All in all, we saw 25 houses. There were some that were in very good neighborhoods and school districts but were slightly far from work. Houses close to work, in Coral Gables or nearby, were obviously too expensive. The one we settled on finally was the first house we ever saw. At one point in time, we were so overwhelmed that we almost called it off. But after a brief cooling down period, we decided to put in an offer. The house was in a very good neighborhood, not terribly far from work and in a very good school district. And so on a fine afternoon in March, we signed the loan documents and officially became proud owners of a house. Another to-do item ticked off in our long laundry list of things to do.

In the following weeks, we spent a lot of time figuring out how to furnish the house, what colors to paint the wall, what lighting fixtures to buy, what new appliances to get etc. Anusha always wanted a nice kitchen. The house we bought came with a lousy fridge, but brand new cooktop and microwave (or did at the time of putting in the offer). At the time of signing the contract, the microwave had disappeared. So the executive decision was made by yours truly to move the “white” cooktop to the garage (oh yes, one of the perks of not living in an apartment). We then picked up stainless steel appliances to spruce up the kitchen and it looked infinitely better than before.

All this was pleasantly stressful. With a lot of TLC, the house work was complete and we moved in. It seemed like we would never get done with all the things that needed to be done, but every weekend we managed to chisel away at it one piece at a time. Arya had his first birthday celebrations there and a month before that he took his first steps.
Arya Walking

Part 2 of this post will talk about the second half of 2011 (aka “Curve Ball”)