Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Joys (and Sorrows) of High Flying

Genre: Travel

First a confession. Reading about this envy-worthy achievement of one of my best friends was the inspiration for this piece of long pointless writing that follows.

It is a common complaint among normal people that air travel is a long boring annoying task with nothing interesting to look frward to, but I am among those abnormal people who beg to differ- yes, the class of geeks called aviation enthusiasts. Although a recent obsession, my interest in metal birds and the stuff that controls them, in the air and on the ground, has taken off quite steeply. For 21 years of my life, I had never been on an airplane, not even inside an airport, partially due to my deep love for trains and partially due to economic considerations, and now in the last 18 months, I have been on 20 flights, including 10 in the last two months taking me through some of the world's biggest and busiest airports- Heathrow (London), Brussels, JFK, Newark Liberty, La Guardia (New York), Hartsfield Jackson (Atlanta), Logan (Boston) to medium sized ones like Charlotte, Mumbai, Kuwait to the tiny ones like Roanoke in Virginia, USA. 

So, what is it about planes and flying that is interesting? Everything, well, almost. The fun starts before the actual flight. I love airports, the big ones with multiple terminals and hundreds of check-in counters. Although functionally similar, all of them have a unique flavour and character to them, if you observe carefully. While Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International with its swanky renovated concourses but staff with outdated equipments truly reflects 21st century India- developing but not fully developed yet, London Heathrow is typical British- stylish but toned down while JFK International is completely what New York City is- huge, glamorous, shiny, confusing, crowded, chaotic and full of life. What is boring is that whatever be the character of the airport, you have to do the same boring ritual everywhere- stand in long queues for check-in, hand over your bags into the mouths of conveyer belts running into unknown worlds, take off your shoes, coat, laptop, cell phone, camera, wallet, coins and everything else that a terrorist would NOT use to blow off a plane and walk through a metal detector, and head to the gate area.  

The wait at the gate area is one of my favorite parts of air travel, but only if there is a clear view of the apron, taxiways and runways, which is almost always the case, except at some brilliantly designed terminals like Mumbai's International T2 where you have to sit staring at empty walls and LCD TVs playing Rakhi ka Insaaf. For the curious souls like me, the view from the gate area has always had something interesting to offer- like my first sight of the Airbus A380 Superjumbo at JFK or a glimpse of a plane from rare airline like Royal Brunei at London. Once the flight is announced for boarding, it is a sight worth seeing. If you are at any Indian airport (or New Jersey for that matter), the scene resembles a fish market. Even before the staff fnishes announcing "Flight XXX is ready for boarding", over hundred passengers, sitting scattered across the hall will arrive in lightning speed to form a huge queue, knowing fully well that all airlines board their passengers by row numbers and no plane ever departs without taking the last passenger aboard. My most memorable experience here has been at JFK where a queue of almost 150 people (yes, no kidding!) had formed at the gate and the lady asked passengers in Rows 31 to 37 ONLY to start boarding. I got up from my seat, calmly looked at the queue, and entered the aerobridge first while all the impatient junta, none of whom had seats in Rows 31 to 37 kept waiting!

On all my 20 flights, I have had window seats in the rear half of the plane, which means boarding first and waiting till all the impatient passengers eventually board at the slow rate a single aerobridge allows. Once that is done and the customary safety instructions announced, starts my most interesting part of air travel- the stage from pushback from the gate to takeoff. If you have a little knowledge of runway numbering, air traffic control and a keen observation, the sight from the window is fun to watch, especially at big airports with multiple runways. If you observe carefully, the manner in which ATC manages takeoffs and landings is simply amazing at super-busy hubs, something I have loved admiring. At London Heathrow, it was best use of two parallel runways on display- on Runway 09R, landings were scheduled so optimally that the moment one plane lands and slows down out from the runway onto the taxiway, another one touches down at other end of runway, and this goes on and on. At the same time on Runway 09L, its rapid takeoffs. The moment one plane lifts off the ground, another one is asked to line up on the runway and the line continues. At Boston, it was best use of crossing runways on display- all landings lined up towards Runway 33 while all takeoffs schedule from Runway 27, with both runways intersecting midway. The moment one plane lands on Runway 33, one plane is lined up at end of Runway 27, immediately as the landing plane crosses the intersection point, the plane ready to takeoff is given clearance, and this sequence went on continously. And how can I forget the joy of seeing parallel landings and parallel takeoffs at Atlanta- stuff you can do when you have five parellel runways! Needless to say, after seeing this, I am totally addicted to trying it out myself on Airport Madness. And how do I know all these layouts and runway number etc? Well, the curious cat that I am, I check out the Google Maps image of the airports I am flying out of! (By the way, check out the current Google Maps image of Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson International Airport- there are 144 planes lined up at the gates at the same time, incredible by any means!) 

The first few minutes after takeoff and the last few minutes before landing are my favorite times for photography. Whether day or night, there are always spectacular views to cherish. Be it spotting the Verrazano Narrows Bridge before landing in to LaGuardia New York or the flypast over illuminated Manhattan or stunning views of desert at Kuwait or the priceless glimpse of my own Mumbai from the air, I have enjoyed all of it and more. The landing, they say, is a real test of the pilot's skills, and in spite of knowing it is safer than driving, it still gives me goosebumps. The only saving grace is when there are friendly pilots who talk to the passengers before landing, like on my recent trip to Boston, the captain gave all details that normal passengers would not want- "In thirteen minutes we will be landing at Boston Logan International Airport. Currently we are heading west, soon we will take a full U-turn and land from the east on Runway 27. Wind gusts near the ground measure 24 knots, so we will have a bumpy landing. Be prepared." 

Once airborne, the only thing to look forward to, or maybe not, is the food. Although I have got everything from Pav Bhaji to Kanda Pohe on international flights, I will not go into the details and rather point out that the "poore-India-mein-world-famous" blogger Krishashok has summed up the plane food experience perfectly. And, what about the period when you are actually in air, cruising between takeoff and landing? How is it? Extremely boring and annoying. Period.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Checklist

Genre: Random

Today as couples around the world celebrate their love (never figured out why they don't celebrate it all year round), I spend the day in the same fashion as I have done for the last 23 years- doing nothing, being single. Fortunately, I have been blessed with some extremely concerned and caring friends who keep on asking me what kind of girl I would like to have in my life (although none of them have ever introduced me to one, but thats a different story). So for the benefit for everyone, once and for all, I present the type of girl I am looking for. 

If you are female, Indian (ABCD aka American Born Cute Desi girls are allowed), single (or in a relationship but looking for greener pastures) and aged between 20 and 24 years as on today, here is a checklist (along with my reasons for each point). Tick all that applies to you-

(If you are either male, or a female who does not satisfy the above criteria, still you can continue to read. There is something for you at the end)

[ ] You have an active Facebook account.
Come on, how technology-alienated and boring life you'd be living if you don't have one

[ ] You can cook, and like cooking decently good vegetarian food
They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, to mine it certainly is.

[ ] You can speak two or more of the following languages- English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi.
What? Would we talk in sign language?

[ ] You love, or at least don't hate train travel.
Well, if you don't satisfy this condition, we are likely to have a lot of fights!

[ ] Your wardrobe contains at least 10% and at the most 25% pink clothes.
Any less is impossible to imagine for any normal girl, and any more is overdose of cuteness.

[ ] Your skin tone is any shade between Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif.
I believe they are the ideal thresholds. Anyone out of these limits doesn't look Indian anymore.

[ ] You have at least a basic knowledge of what's going on in the world around you.
I don't want you to know by-heart all news daily but if I talk to you today and you say "Egypt? Why, what happened there?" sorry, you are out of contention. 

[ ] You have at least some interest in cricket.
We are Indians, cricket is our religion, so if you cannot tell names of at least five current Indian cricketers and two IPL teams, you are out!

Math has never been my favorite subject, so I don't care about figures.

Also, there are some knock-out conditions. If you satisfy any of these, you are out of the competition-

[ ] You smoke. 
Smokers are people who have no interest to live but no balls to kill themselves at once. 

[ ] You religiously follow all saas-bahu TV serials.
Get a life. Seriously.

[ ] You are a fan of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga's fashion sense or Twilight movies 
Get yourself checked by a psychiatrist dear.

On the other hand, there are some criteria that can earn you significant amount of positive Brownie Points. Don't ask me reasons for these, just be happy if you can tick off few or all of these-

[ ] You love The Big Bang Theory.

[ ] You love Star Wars, or sci-fi movies in general

[ ] You have an active well-maintained blog 

[ ] You have an active Twitter account

[ ] You love travelling/driving/nature

[ ] You love photography

[ ] You like Hindi music

[ ] You are from Mithibai / Agrawal Classes / VJTI / Virginia Tech

If you satisfy 7 or more criteria from the first list and any from the last list, congratulations! You know what your next step should be.

As I promised, if you are a male, or a female not satisfying initial criteria, here is what you can do- if have a sister, friend, ex-girlfriend who you believe fulfils these criteria, it would be a great service to humanity if you introduce her to this piece of writing. 

P.S.: There is a trump card too- if you are female, Indian (ABCD aka American Born Cute Desi girls are allowed), single (or in a relationship but looking for greener pastures) and aged between 20 and 24 years as on today and already like me for what I am (highly unlikely scenario), it can help in your favor to override some of the above criteria that you may not be satisfying. 

P.P.S.: Even if you are not interested in that sense, be sporty and copy the checklist in Comments and tick the categories you qualify in, just for fun :)

Finally, the reason for publishing this today-

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tweet, Don't Just Face the Book

Genre: Technology

It can be made official- since the last six months or so, I was cheating on Facebook. Instead of giving her my undivided attention, I had started hanging out at another equally seductive beauty of social networking- Twitter, and by now I can safely say she has replaced Facebook as my Number 1 source of entertainment, time waste, and in general procrastination. This led to another question- if Twitter is mo much fun, why haven't my friends fallen for it? I have close to 400 "friends" on Facebook, out of which at least 100 are fairly active users- posting status updates, uploading photos, sharing videos, taking pointless quizzes such as 'Which Carbon Atom of Di-chloro-ethylene Are You?' or playing retarded games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars on an almost daily basis, and what about Twitter? Looking at my list, I see close to 50-odd of these friends have Twitter accounts but no more than 4 (yes, FOUR) are active Twitter users! I am no social media or human psychology expert and there are probably 100,000 websites out there comparing Facebook and Twitter (out of which I have read none), but since I have been smitten, I will do the noble duty of convincing as many of my friends to get active on Twitter and waste even more time than they are doing now on Facebook. Here are five reasons why Twitter-shy junta should start tweeting-

1. It's Not About What You Are Doing Now

When Twitter was launched, general impression was that it is a creepy site where creepy people with no better thing to do in life keep writing what they are doing all day, giving other creepy people opportunity to virtually stalk them. This fact is further proved by the fact that every now and then I see a newbie join the Twitter bandwagon and tweet stuff like "Going to meet the professor now" or "Had a sandwich. It was awesome!" This is no longer the case. Why? Because nobody freaking cares! Even if you are as popular as Sachin Tendulkar or Justin Bieber, nobody really is interested in knowing what you are eating or wearing or seeing. Twitter is not about being creepy, but being creative. How? See Reason 2.

2. It's Hilarious and Witty

I must confess, there have been hundreds of moments when I have smiled, LOLed or ROFLed over creative one-liners, witty puns and sarcastic comments on Twitter over the last six months, although I can't say the same about Facebook. The 140 character limit leaves no scope for long boring posts and all it takes to unleash the creativity is one "trending topic" may it be Rajinikanth or Super Bowl or IPL. In fact, I have realized over a period of time, the best one-liners originate on Twitter, pass on to Facebook, percolate to SMS forwards and die a slow painful death via Orkut and BBMs. Of course a prerequisite to getting this dose of entertainment is that you need to follow the right kind of people. If you just follow your real life/Facebook friends, it may not be that entertaining. Expand your scope. As they say, on Facebook you stalk people you know, on Twitter, people you DON'T know. So, who are these people to follow? The list appears at the end. Please be patient. 

3. News Break on Twitter Before Anywhere Else

If you are the one who cares for whats happening in your country and the world but are too lazy to read newspapers or watch news, look no further. Twitter is your source of everything you need to know, and then some you don't need to know. From 26/11 terrorist attacks to the recent Russia airport blast, from Saina's gold medal to Rahman's Oscar, news stories from myriad sources come to your Twitter timeline faster than it comes on mainstream media, thanks to a nifty feature called Retweet or in Twitter lingo, RT. If someone you are not following but one of your followers is following (like Friends of Friends option on Facebook) writes something interesting, your follower just RTs the tweet and it appears on your timeline too. This effectively forms a virtually infinite network by which you get the most interesting feed from random people you have never heard of. So, that means a lot of spam isn't it? No! Because only things that are really interesting or important gets RTed around enough to reach you! 

4. Interesting Links to Keep You Hooked

If you are one of those people who love seeing videos and reading links that your friends share on Facebook, Twitter is a goldmine for you. Every day I spend considerable time of the day reading some interesting, some humorous and a whole lot of just weird, quirky news, articles, photos, videos, cartoons, comics and what not, from sites I would have never gone on my own, because I did not even know they exist! One might argue that why do I even need to know all these stuff? Well, I don't. But it serves as a great refreshment in between boring sessions of assignments or work.

5. Interact With Your Favorite Stars

Several dozen Bollywood stars, Hollywood stars, cricketers, footballers, pop stars and anyone who is a celebrity of any kind has a Twitter account where he/she posts updates about their work and life and occasionally shamelessly indulging in an overdose of publicity for their upcoming movies etc. Unlike their websites and Facebook fan pages that are professionally maintained, I have noticed many celebrities actually maintain their Twitter accounts personally, evident from not-so-politically-correct messages and unglamorous un-photoshopped photos that wouldn't make it to the magazines and newspapers that they occasionally post on Twitter. This also means, Twitter is probably your best probability of getting a one-on-one conversation with a celebrity, may it be as short as one line reply. My high point so far has been getting a personal reply from Sonakshi Sinha (if she can considered a celebrity, that is!). 

So, now that you are probably convinced into wasting more of your time by getting active on Twitter, here is a short Beginner's Guide of few people you should start following for some interesting entertainment. This is just a small starter, from an Indian point of view, and there are several interesting people around whom I don't follow yet. These people are Tw-elibrities, or Twitter Celebrities- people who are common folk like us, students, IT professionals, businessmen/women etc who have carved fame for themselves simply by being a great source of Twitter entertainment. 

@gkhamba - A part-time stand-up comedian from Delhi, this guy is a laugh riot. Not always using family-friendly language, but his sense of humor and impromptu witty takes on everything from current affairs to movies will leave you in splits.   

@fakingnews - As the name suggests, this guy maintains the popular website Faking News, which in my opinion is the best parody news site I have ever come across, and his tweets are equally hilarious

@eyepeeyell - If you like cricket, especially IPL, even one bit, this is one person (nobody knows real identity of this account) you just can't afford to miss. Using extremely expletive-filled language at times, he generates humor like no other from cricket matches and cricketers' lives. And with IPL just round the corner, he is gonna get super active!

@krishashok @greatbong and @thecomicproject - Popular bloggers and not as hilarious as the guy above, but these men have some really interesting stuff to share and witty takes on several topics under the sun.

@sunainak - If you thought comedy is mainly a male-domain, think again. This Punjabi kudi can be sweet and girly at times and at other times crack some extremely good (read: bad!) PJs and one-liners. 

@HelloMeHippo - The cutest 'animal' on Twitter. Doesn't tweet much, but when he does, in his inimitable kiddy broken-English, it is just too adorable.

 So, if you are wondering, "where are the celebrities? They are the ones I want to follow". There are way too many out there to enlist, but some I follow are-

@chetan_bhagat - The Five Point Someone guy. Many Twitter celebrities generate their humor by screwing case of this man, but he himself has interesting stuff to say too.

@sachin_rt - Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Enough said. Why do I follow him? Because he is The God. Period. 

If you are male, just for the eye-candy factor you probably want to follow @priyankachopra (Priyanka Chopra), @bipsluvurself (Bipasha Basu), @realpreityzinta (Preity Zinta) and ONLY if you are a guy, you probably would like to follow @SherlynChopra too, just for the pics she uploads! :P

Apart from real celebrities, there are fake celebrities- parody accounts, who are more hilarious than the real celebrities. Some I follow are-

@sheldoncooper - Bazingga! You know what to expect!

@DepressedDarth - For Star Wars fans- imagine Darth Vader hitting a period of depression, bored of the dark side, venting out his frustration. Get the idea what to expect!

And then, there is one rather interesting "person" to follow - @kweezzz - This is not a person. This account is created simply to host interesting quizzes. Anyone who wants to host a quiz on any topic under the sun from American History to Identify Actresses From Their Legs can contact the admins and get access to this account for a certain time slot in which he/she posts a series of quiz questions that anybody around the world is free to answer by just replying. Quizzes are held almost daily and usually the first three people to reply with correct answers score points. The prize is no money, just recognition and a sense of accomplishment. I shall humbly announce that I have finished on the podium in two kweezzz so far- one on India Travel and another on American Eateries!

I think this is enough to get you started. Of course, there is one more guy you probably want to follow- the one who wrote all this crap. Yes, my Twitter handle is the same as the title of my blog. Easy to search. 

PS: Twitter has neither paid me anything nor offered me a job for writing this.
Creative Commons License
My World...My Views by The Blue Indian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.