Sunday, September 20, 2009

The biography of a rag, a scrap piece of silicon, and a holey pocket

It is enlightening when I discover traits that I used to tease my mother about are the same set of traits that I cannot seem to shake off from myself anymore.

The basic philosphy carries in from my grandmother who told this little parable in Marathi, which roughly goes like this:
My mother had a sari which she wore for many years. When it became a little too worn to be worn, then she cut it up into two, and used them as light sun-curtains for two windows in the bedroom. When the curtains became a bit faded, she took them off, and used them as hair-drying towels, as they were soft cotton. When they got a little threadbare, they became dish-rags. The dish-rags turned into a floor mop, and finally when only strips of stringy cloth remained, they got thrown into the ragpicker's bag.

As is to be expected, the little story when told in its original colloquial Marathi, sounds much better than this dry version.

This is not as much of frugality as about innovation. Of finding multiple uses for a single item before its life is considered to have ended. Not use once and throw. But, use, reuse, use, reuse, recycle, use, reuse. My grandma and mom were using environmentally sustainable practices much before it was the new in-thing to do.

At least a fraction of it got retained into my generation. In the unavoidably resource-intensive field of semiconductor fabrication, I grin to myself when I use a single cleanroom wipe through a 6 hour process, use smaller pieces of silicon saving the scrap pieces for other dummy/test runs, reuse pieces when I can, and wonder what the heck is wrong with me since this is not even coming out of my pocket. Which reminds me, that I have a hole in this pocket I need to fix before I get too lazy and just go out and buy a new pair of jeans instead.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Books = $2.50, Enjoyment = priceless.

Reader's Digest's The Last Two Million Years : $1
Rodale's No-Fail Flower Garden: $1
Steinbeck's The Short Reign of Pippin IV: $0.50

Okay, so it is not like I found a rare book, and will make a million off it later, but there is nothing like spending only $2.50 on three books, and the pleasant anticipation of spending many quiet hours reading history and gawking over photographs of man-made artifacts of the last two millenia, contemplating new approaches towards sowing the perfect flower bed (once I have that perfect house!), and chuckling at the sad state of affairs M. Pippin finds himself in.

Life is good with a book in hand.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What were you doing on September 11, 2001?

The morning the political landscape and our lives in the US changed, I was getting ready to go to school. Driving from my house to my classmate's who was carpooling with me, I turned on the radio to my favorite music channel, 100.7, The River, I think...or was it NPR? No music. Two radio hosts were talking about a major attack on the WTC in New York. "The jet plane got flown into the twin towers, and while were thinking it was an accident, a second plane has hit the towers. This seems to be a terrorist attack." Picked up my friend and told her something major was up in New York.

School: Dr. H's VLSI design class. She started the class with saying, "I hope you are aware of the ghastly terrorist attack that has occurred in New York this morning. Please pray for the victims."

Came down to the student commons after class. The small place was very very crowded, with gray haired faculty, freckled freshmen...the whole lot. All looking up at the wall mounted television sets replaying the disaster. The room was, and continued to be very quiet, as the actual magnitude of the attack became clearer.

Went to my lab, and my labmate SD was trying to reach his mom on her cell phone. She went to work every morning taking the subway that passes underneath the WTC. We all sat and brooded and worried, while he kept trying to call her every 10 minutes or so. He didn't get through to her till the evening. She was safe but had walked most of the day to get back home after the subway and other public transport grinded to a halt.

How panic can spread, is evident by all the phone calls my parents in India fielded from concerned friends, asking if I was alright. Heck, I am in the midwest, and even they knew that. But they panicked with all the phone calls and kept trying to call me all day not getting through till the evening as well.

Gas prices hit the roof (went above $2) that night, we came up with strategies for car pooling.
The next day the city mayor ordered gas pump owners to keep prices under control, and we went back to our convenient single-car-occupant selves again.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I made history today

That was easy.