Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Leavenworth is an interesting tourist spot. Situated in the Cascade mountains close to the Stevens Pass ski resort, it is a Bavarian-themed village where everything from the local Starbucks to Bank of America have Bavarian/German-themed signs and architecture. The village is full of shops and restaurants with the same theme. Summer sees Bavarian-themed dances in the village square, and Winter sees elaborate lighting for Christmas with a full choir accompanying a town crier on a full-fledged "Lighting the Christmas Lights" ceremony.

So, what's with the Bavarian theme? Is it that a group of people moved here from Bavaria some generations back and decided to re-create their homeland here?

Actually, no. From the official history of the town...

"For more than thirty years, Leavenworth lived on the brink of extinction.

But in the early 1960’s, everything changed. In a last-chance effort to turn their precarious situation around, the leaders of the community decided to change Leavenworth’s appearance, hoping to bring tourism into the area. Using the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding Alpine hills to their advantage, the town agreed to remodel their hamlet in the form of a Bavarian village.

Hoping to create more than a mere facelift, the entire community rallied to create the illusion of Bavaria in the middle of Washington state. Besides the complete renovation of the downtown area, community members worked to begin a series of festivals. The Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest and the extremely popular Christmas Lighting Ceremony were the first of many attractions Leavenworth offered to passers-by.

It worked. Since the change to a Bavarian motif, Leavenworth has become a pillar of the tourism industry in the Pacific Northwest. Today, more than a million tourists come to Leavenworth each year, each visitor finding their own individual love affair with the community. The story is a landmark case of the human spirit: Not only did the people of Leavenworth survive their most critical hour, but they endured."

I doff my hat to the ingenuity and chutzpah of the fine folks of this town. What amazes me is not just their spirit, but the fact that they are able to pull this off without having *any* historical links to the German province. While the food items and such may be authentic (as is the architecture), I did not find many things in the souvenir stores with serious German provenance. In a restaurant, a few friends interested in trying German beer found that they had only one variety in stock.

I think more than the place itself, the idea of such a place was more interesting. I must say there is something to this American spirit that so many people keep talking about. More than in rhetoric and jingoistic country songs, this is where the never-say-die spirit of the American settlers shows itself.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"

Monday, December 19, 2005

TOI RSS Goodness

Lalit IMed me about the re-layout of the TOI a few months back. The feature I gravitated to immediately was the RSS feeds section. I must say I'm impressed. Some of the things on my wishlist have been granted - a feed dedicated to columns, and one dedicated to the editorial page.

Some grouses remain which I hope will be addressed in future re-iterations.

1. The columnist section feed still does not indicate who the author is. For instance, I'd be interested in any article by Swaminathan Aiyar or Gurcharan Das. Jug Suraiya, occasionally. I still have to go through each article to see the author. The name of the author in the feed itself would be so much more useful and time-saving. That's the point of RSS, isn't it?

2. What is it with the multi-page layout? We scared of reading more than two paragraphs on a page now? Our attention-deficit-addled minds not capable of much more? It's time they give the reader a bit more respect. Clicking 'next' after reading so less text is irritating, as is the fact that even short articles have something like 5 pages dedicated to them.

3.Nice font color. I like the subdued grey used for the text. However, on-screen real estate shows exactly where the priorities of the newspaper lie. A total of less than 25% of the page layour is dedicated to actual newspaper text.

The RSS feed is a blessing. I haven't read the TOI for over a year. Didn't miss it a single bit. I did miss some of the columnists I enjoyed earlier - unless they were linked to by other blogs. This gives me a chance to keep up with the better editorials.

Some of the rest is pure drivel, but some choice is better than the joke that other Indian newspapers (except the Indian Express, which is slightly better) call 'websites'. No RSS feeds, no concept of permanent links, nonexistent cross-browser compliance.

I sometimes wonder about whether it is really worth it for a site to go into the effort of adding RSS to their site. It is likely to be a lot of expense for them to do it, and the number of readers added may not be huge. But Robert Scoble makes a point for RSS in his usual in-your-face style.

The surprising fact is that even though I work among early adopters in terms of technology, I know very few people who actually use RSS. The number of people who have tunnel vision in terms of the work they do is disturbingly high. I remember a conversation where someone didn't know what Wikipedia was, and I've had more than one conversation with people to explain to them what RSS is (and this is among tech professionals) .

But maybe it's also that I am nerdier than is good for me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

If you listen to people too much, your thoughts are colored by their perceptions.

Seattle is fairly notorious among non-Seattle vasis for being a rainy and depressing place. Right. This is my first winter here, and it isn’t half as bad as people say it is. Of course, there are the days when it is very cloudy and dull, and there is light, incessant rain. But that happens maybe 10 days out of 30 in a month. The rest of the time, it is tolerable (think of Pune in August, only much colder and with 4 PM sunsets).

However, the few days when the sun does come out (like it did most of last week, and part of yesterday), are the most gorgeous days of the year. There’s of course the cold, but the sight of the snow-covered Cascades (or the Olympics, depending on where you are and which direction you are looking) make for the most awe-inspiring sight.

I've never lived this close to tall mountains, and it gets a tad overwhelming at times. For some reason, turning on to 51st street during my morning drive, when I get this awesome view of the Cascades, U2's "Beautiful day" runs through my mind.

"See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out "

Yeah, it's a beautiful day.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Growing on a fungus

There's no escaping "Kajra re", is there? Two different music shows by amateur musical groups and a dandiya later, the results are in. Kajra re is a phenomenon. Even among en-aar-aai people who don't watch many Hindi films or are clued in to what the latest and greatest in Bollywood is.

Bunty to me is still a friend from back in COEP, and Babli was the nickname of a neighbor's daughter (yes, real people do have that nickname) but Kajra re has completely taken over. Infectious, catchy...words fail to describe the viral nature of the song. Gulzar's actually done a pretty good job with the lyrics as well.

So, sing it...

Mera chain vain sab ujra...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kafi ho gaya yeh abhi!

I chanced upon this post which kind of epitomizes what is wrong with corporate America, and what is wrong with the attitude of 'bleeding-heart-liberals' (in Sumeet's words) all around.

The problems I have with this post:

1. Like complete idiots, the fine folks over at Starbucks decided to sue a mom-and-pop coffee store for a name sounding similar to theirs, though the logo is different, and it is legitimately based on the name of the proprietor. So much for the warm and fuzzy image they try to convey. Lawsuit-happy companies are making a mockery of copyright and other laws. Suing each other out of existence was never easier, was it? "Poor Sam Bucks" is all I can say.

2. This blogger says that "Starbucks has been known to enter into neighborhoods, and destroy mom and pop coffeeshops, all over the country. The coffee is priced at the higher end of the spectrum and at the end of the day, you get the same few flavours everywhere you go."

It's not like Starbucks points guns at people's heads asking them to drink their coffee. Standardized flavors, higher prices and yet higher sales? Where do I sign up for that business model?

So, they serve average coffee in a comforting yet bland ambience. Which means that they do a limited set of things and they do it well. They are pricey, but they are comforting to people who aren't up for a change in the coffee they drink anywhere in the US. I drink Starbucks fairly often - especially since it is the brew of choice in the company café, and it's present at most airports.

The funny thing is, I don't want to.

Nothing against the "corporate soul-sucking machine", but I like the ambience provided by local, non-chain coffee-shops a lot. Sometimes they are proprietor-owned, and many of these places have a quirky style all their own. The servers are hospitable in a non-sanitized, non-corporate kind of way with less plastic smiles. The coffee is different, and better most of the time.

However, it isn't easy to find one open late. I sometimes like taking a book after dinner and sit in a corner of a coffee-shop, reading and observing people around. Sometimes, I'm with friends and we need to find a place to hang out and chat. (No, I'm not really into the pub scene all that much).

Slight problem: the only coffee shop open in my area after 8 PM is the local Starbucks (open till 11, drive-through is open 24/7). On Fridays and Saturdays, Victor's is, but they have a nice sign saying that people with laptops and such shouldn't linger for more than an hour in the case of it being crowded. Thanks for being so nice to your customers.

See, Starbucks is trying to serve a need. Your friendly neighborhood coffee shop will definitely get people coming in, but they need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves. Better and more varieties of coffee is one thing. Live music, like at Kiva Han in Pittsburgh or Victor's here is another. Craig Street Coffee in Pittsburgh IMO was the best. They had a great deli with amazing sandwiches, and you should have seen the rush there at lunch-time. The hot chocolate there was to die for.

Of course, longer hours for night-owls like me will help.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lessons In Geography...

are obviously lost on the wonderful bunch of so-called administrators at the BCCI. Even your average fifth-grader could have told you that the North-Easterly winds which blow over the south of India this season of the year cause rains as they pick up moisture over the Bay of Bengal. Even though this isn’t as stupid as having a match in Mumbai in August, it comes close. After losing the final day of an exciting test against Australia (maybe the Final Frontier wouldn’t have fallen…sigh), and an ODI (which would have decided the series either way), it is time for another match in a nice ground to go (literally) down the drain. When will they learn…

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Silent Killer

In commemoration of World AIDS Day.