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Alaska Seward Highway landscapeKite Surfing near Turnagain Arm on Seward Highway

It is very difficult to keep your eyes on the road. You can see why from the above photograph, a few guys Kite surfing right next to the Seward highway. Running through the scenic Kenai mountains, Turnagain Arm and Kenai Peninsula, Seward highway from Anchorage to Seward has to be one of best places to drive in the world. I pulled over many a times to appreciate the beauty of the picturesque landscape as I drove on a bright and clear sunny day.

After flying back from Katmai photographing Bears, I Couchsurfed at Brian’s place in Anchorage for a night. I had rented a car from the Anchorage airport. The following day, I drove towards Seward. The weather was incredible, with clear skies and bright sun. I was lucky since most of the summer days are drought with rain. July is a very busy time of the year in Alaska. Salmons, Halibuts, Trouts and other fish attract anglers from all parts of the world. This means getting a place to stay would be quite a challenge if you don’t book in advance. I decided to stay at Moose Pass for a night, a short distance from Seward.

Whale watching and glacier cruise was on my plan. After reading up on reviews for cruise on into the Kenai Fjords National Park, I was more than sold to take the cruise. However, I had not booked until I get to know the weather forecast for that week/day, as suggested by some. Rain and rough sea could not only make wildlife sightings rare, it would also make my cruise very uncomfortable. This proved a costly miss as I couldn’t get on the smaller ‘photographers boat’. I instead choose the Northwestern Fjords cruise, covering almost the same route lasting from 8:30am to 5pm. I missed sighting an incredibly rare mammal, Wolverine, that Dario and Max saw on the other boat. However, my consolation was to watch a humpback whale mom and calf for a good 30min.

Cruise in Alaska Seward Resurruction Bay

Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-Humpback-Whale-Calf-8116Cruise on a clear sunny day was great and the Humpback whale breathing with her playful calf at Resurrection Bay made it even better

The cruise is as much for wildlife as it is for the glaciers at the Kenai Fjords National Park. There are many glaciers on slightly different routes near Seward. Exit Glacier is one that can be reached on road by car. Although the glacier itself was not as impressive as some of the others I saw while on cruise, there is access to Harding icefield. It was an all day hike to the icefield and I had not planned for it. May be next time! Another place I was considering for wildlife and glacier cruise was Prince William Sound. Seward, however, is the more popular one with at least two cruise companies operating from Seward harbor on a variety of cruises, lasting a few hours to all day cruises. I chooses the all day cruise to the Northwestern Glacier, named after the university. It was an incredible experience. The chill in the wind and the sound of the glacier caving as you watch it from up close is an experience that is to be felt. No words, images or videos can make justice to that experience.

Northwestern Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Glacier-calving-Alaska-7975NortheWestern Glacier. Glacial calving is a natural phenomenon. However, the rate at which glaciers are retrieving is effect of climate change.

The captain of the boat did a 360 of the view from a certain location. The beauty of the place is to be experienced. Here is an unedited video with the 360 degree view of the glaciers in the Kenai Fjords national park:

The challenge of photographing wildlife on a boat is something totally different. First, it is hard to anticipate where and when do the creatures breach or come to the surface. Second, the rocking boat makes it even harder to compose and focus. Fortunately, the sea was calm. It still was quite a challenge. Sea Otters, Harbor seals, Loons, Sea Cormorants, a variety of Terns, Tufted and horned Puffins, Dall Propoises, and Humpback Whales were all a treat to watch. Towards the end of the cruise, we chanced upon a pod of Orcas. Orcas are the Elephants of the oceans, with a matriarchal society with a strong social and communication structure. The dubious reputation of ‘killer whales’ where they kill humans is the fictional creation of hollywood. ‘Blackfish‘ is an excellent documentary on how these beautiful creatures are tortured and confined into small pools for entertainment at SeaWorld and similar places. Please do watch Blackfish on Netflix.

Orca-Killer-Whale-Pod-Alaska-Seward-Resurruction-Bay-8047Orca or more popularly known as Killer Whale Pod in Resurruction Bay, Seward, Alaska

After the cruise, I started towards my stay for the next day – Ninilchik. The drive didn’t yield much exciting except  a pullover for speeding. Fortunately, I was let off with a warning – respect for Alaskan troopers. Ninilchik is a small Russian village. Yes, Russian.  It is a fishing village on the banks of Cook inlet. The place I had booked to stay in Ninilchik village was one of the most beautiful places you can have your vacation homes. Perched atop a small ridge cliff, the house overlooks the Cook inlet bay and the two volcanoes, Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt, on the other side. Mt. Redbout erupted as recently as 2009! Watching the sunset from there was one of the most spectacular views. Brain had told me visiting the beach at Ninilchik for the spectacular views of sunset behind the volcanoes and I didn’t know if will have time. To view it from the backyard of my stay was truly special.

Cook inlet is another great location for Halibut fishing. The beach at Ninilchik is the starting point. I saw numerous fishing boats early in the morning set out. I, on the other hand, was there for a different reason. Bald Eagles. Though I had good views of the eagles fishing at Katmai, I had not got a closer portrait photograph that I wished for. This was the place. The beach also serves as a dumping yard for halibut remains after cleaning the fish. This attracts the eagles, terns and many other birds. I saw at least 50-60 Bald Eagles on the mile long beach shore in the morning. The cliffs on the edge of the beach provides a good roosting spot for the eagles – higher and out of reach from the beach and inaccessible from the road on the other side. I spent the entire morning without much success as they would fly away despite my cautious approach. The open beach meant no cover for me to sneak up close. Until, I found a few rocks on the shore.

Juvenile-Bald-Eagle-Alaska-8347A perspective to show how I photographed the bird – Using rock as cover, crawl as close as possible

Bald Eagle Juvenile at AlaskaThe result – A juvenile Bald Eagle

Bald-Eagle-PortraitPortrait of the Bald Eagle that eluded me at Katmai was challenging but a success at Ninilchik

On my last evening in Alaska, I went looking for another popular mammal and bird to Kenai – Caribou and Sandhill crane. I was driving around in the areas I had researched before without much luck. I pulled over to a viewing area. Time was running out. I was 3 hours away from Anchorage airport. Then, I saw a Crane. I was excited. Though I couldn’t get close for lack of time and restrictions placed for the birds’ comfort. Soon, I saw a herd of Caribou far across the horizon. It was such a awesome feeling as I were to wrap up my trip and head to Anchorage for my flight back to LA. I photographed as late as I could. However, Caribou still remains on my list for a better photograph. Here are few more images.

Mount-Redoubt-Iliamna-Cook-Inlet-view-Ninilchik-beachView of the volcano across Cook Inlet from Ninilchik beach as a boat gets underway for Halibut fishing

Chamerion angustifolium or Fireweed, AlaskaChamerion angustifolium or Fireweed is one of the most common wildflower in Alaska

Arctic Tern FlightArctic Tern nesting at Potter Marsh on Seward Highway. Artic Tern migrates longest in the world, an astonishing 44,000 miles from pole to pole

Halibut Fishing, Seward Harbor, AlaskaCleaning Halibuts at Seward Harbor. July is a very popular time for fishing in Alaska.

Swan-Tundra-Trumpter-Alaska-HomerA Swan at Homer. Views of mountains never go away in Alaska.

Mallard-Female-Wing-flapA pretty Mallard female – lands right in front of me as I was photographing the Swan above.

Greater Yellowlegs Greater Yellowlegs – very shy birds and proved quite a challenge to photograph

Harbor Seals, AlaskaHarbor Seals resting on glacial ice to conserve energy – Don’t they get cold?

That’s all folks! Please drop me a note if you wish to visit any of the places and get some tips on photographing the species in the Alaskan peninsula. Although not an expert of the location, I have spent considerable hours researching on times to visit, roads to take and locations to wait at to photograph the many of the species in the region.

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Space missions and research showcases the cutting edge technology capabilities of a intellectually capable nation. We know Indian scientists are gifted, and they are at least as good as their western counterparts. Space systems are the backbone of broadcasting, communication, remote sensing and meteorological services. The add value, and make life easier for the citizens of a country. But why would a developing country want to explore Moon?

The objective of Chandrayaan-1 according to ISRO is:

The Chandrayaan-1 mission is aimed at high-resolution remote sensing of the moon in visible, near infrared(NIR), low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions.

Why do they want to do this? What do we achieve from such a mission costing 386 crore rupees? Mapping of the moon surface and research on water on its surface. I totally agree to the point that we learn a lot in harnessing the payload, space craft or rather lunar craft with ground support systems. There is a lot of learning, no doubt. But the question is whether such a learning worth the cost? ISRO says 386 crore is not a big sum. May be it is not when you compare it to the kind of money NASA blows on space missions, but for a developing country it sure is a big amount.

India is a country which still imports outdated fighter jets to fight the enemies, lacks good intelligence services to curb the terrorist activities, lacks the funds to provide good education, lacks funds to help the flood and other natural calamity affected citizens, fails to defend its border from infiltrating and encroaching neighbors, doesn’t pay enough for the jawans guarding it’s borders day and night without caring for their life. Amidst all these issues, that never gets addressed, a mission to Moon to showcase the capabilities of ISRO and Indian space technology is considered more important.

Why don’t we build better defense systems than build Satellite Launch Vehicles? Why don’t we spend money in teaching geography to underprivileged children than shell out millions on mapping the surface of Moon? Why don’t we pay better salaries to army jawans than handling bigger payloads?

Let’s leave the space research to the American organizations, there is no need for our Indian organizations to take up such missions. Brilliant Indian scientists can go to a rich and developed nation like USA or France or Russia for flexing their brain muscles for research in space. For the love of our motherland, lets solve problems at grass root levels if possible. There is no need for India to compete for pride in space missions with communistic principled China, where citizens’ opinions are no better than that of animals, as US did with USSR a few decades ago. US can afford to look for water in Mars or a spec of dirt on any heavenly body, contentious to be called a planet, but not a country like India where bare minimum essentials are not met.

I wish the Chandrayaan-1 mission is a success, and hope our government does not encourage any future endeavors with such magnanimity.

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High price of crude oil, touching nearly $150 a barrel, has alarmed every nation across the world but the ones producing. Is it really the excess usage of non-renewable source of energy causing its depletion or a mere speculation using the threat of depleting resources for their ulterior motives? Really hard to say, but i tend to go with the latter.

We know, for ages, that western countries have higher energy usage per person. USA consumed 340.5 million Btu of primary energy per capita in 2005, which was roughly the same in 1980 (343 mBtu). Interesting to note is the rise in per capita energy consumption of Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and China. The middle eastern countries have a very high per capita consumption, probably needed for the continuously running air conditioners. Saudi Arabia’s consumption has increased from 166.3 mBtu in 1980 to 252 mBtu in 2005, an 85% increase. U.A.E has increased its consumption from 267.2 to 563.6 mBtu, a whooping 110% increase!

In South-East Asia, China has topped India by a significant margin. From 17.8 mBtu to 51.4 mBtu in China as against 5.9mBtu to 14.8 mBtu in India. Though the percentage increase of India is high, the per capita consumption is minuscule when compared to western, middle eastern or Chinese counter parts. Per capita consumption of oil, barrel per person per year is 2.18 for India, one of the lowest in the world (world avg: 12.52) whereas it is 78 in Saudi Arabia.

Oil consumption per capita across the world

Oil consumption per capita across the world.

These are the stats in 2005. The increase by 2010 or 2015 would be phenomenally more for reasons obvious below. Why has the consumption in middle eastern countries increased so much over the years? I’d say because of whimsical spending.

Al Burj, Dubai

Al Burj, Dubai is growing on what you pay for fuel

Nearly 25% of the construction cranes in the world are in Dubai. Wonder why? Two of the world’s largest sky scrapers, one under construction, Burj Dubai, and other, Al Burj, in proposal, are coming up in Dubai along with numerous other multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects. Artificial Palm islands, three man-made islands in Dubai, is the largest land reclamation projects in the world, and would be the world’s largest artificial islands. Besides this, there are several other highly ambitious projects to shell out billions of dollars like Hydropolis – world’s first underwater luxury resort, The World islands – artificial islands shaped like world map, and Dubailand – under-construction entertainment complex bettering Orlando’s Disney world. There are several high rise super luxury residential properties, and malls coming up along with Dubai Metro system, and world’s largest international airport.

The construction of transportation network, good shopping malls, and residential properties are, no doubt, ‘necessities’ of prosperous nations but projects like Ski Dubai, to ski in desert, is a whimsical idea, i would say, to splurge money made by selling oil to other countries. So are the projects like Al Burj, Palm islands, and Hydropolis. I remember another project to grow corals in the unnatural corrosive habitat in the coast of gulf by modifying the sea to assist coral growth. What next? May be they want to have Alps or Mount Everest artificially made!

About 80% of the world’s readily accessible reserves are located in the Middle East with 62.5% coming from 5 Arab countries: Saudi Arabia (12.5%), UAE, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait. Such huge spending can result in ever increasing price of oil as they have no other source of income. The concept of income tax does not exist as they are already making too much money by selling oil.

Supposedly there are more construction workers than citizens in UAE! What will happen to these people once these projects are completed in, say, another 10 years? Thousands of civil engineers, electrical engineers, and laborers would be jobless. Some of them might settle with hospitality sector for running and maintenance of these super luxury palaces of the rich, but the fate of rest is scary. Most of the workers are from developing countries like India. They would promptly be sent back home, and the unemployment would be rampant along with sky-rocketing fuel price.

The current increase of fuel price is funding these crazy spending spree of some of the oil rich countries. The effects of the completion of these projects would be felt all over the world, the cost of maintenance of these would sky-rocket the already high oil prices. Global warming might not reduce if the non-producing nations limit their usage when these oil rich nations are blowing up non-renewable energy sources for maintaining snow in desert or having underwater resort!

Source: EIA (Energy Information Administration) – Official energy statistics from the U.S. government for statistics on per capita primary energy consumption.

P.S.: I’m back!

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Disclaimer 1: This is a sarcastic and humorous interpretation of the dowry related marriages and their acceptance. This is in no way to hurt the sentiments of anyone, anywhere, living or dead.

What is Dowry?

According to The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 – Dowry means any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly-

  1. by one party to a marriage to the other party to the marriage; or
  2. by the parents of either party to a marriage or by any other person, to either party to the marriage or to any other person at of before or any time after the marriage.

Most of the times, this is given to the groom/husband of the bride/wife by her Father.

To get to the point as to how dowry is good for India, let us begin by asking the question, Who gets more dowry?

There is a price tag attached to every commodity in the market, and the potential bridegrooms are no exception. The value of the man goes up according to the status of his or his family in the society. A well educated guy is obviously high up in this ladder. So is the guy who’s family is well known or has enough fortune from forefathers at their disposal. The latter kind of men have it easier, and a college degree would be enough to get a ‘pretty bride’ along with substantial fortune as dowry. The former kinds have to ‘earn’ it by getting more degrees, from abroad may be, and by working in US or other parts of the world.

IAS officers, men in civil services or other government service (‘earning well’, not just from their salary) fetch the highest bid (read dowry) in certain parts of India(where dowry is prevalent, that is in AP, Bihar and few other parts). Others living in India(software engineers et al) are not even considered for bidding, at least in the first round (you’ll come to know about the rounds later). They have to be in USA, preferably in New York region to fetch the highest bids in the first round.

So, it is the people with the best of education and job fetch the highest bid.

Since we now know who gets the highest bids, let me tell you how this is good for India. Before that, what are these rounds of bidding?

A prospective bridegroom, gets more proposals if he happens to work in NYC, and hence more dowry than others in other parts of US and the world. The order of preference is like this: first NYC, then CA region, then any other part of US, and then London or UK. The first round ends here. This means, the parents of girl stop looking for a match, for their daughter, if they can’t get any guy from these regions at the first try. They would wait for some time, before trying again. In the subsequent attempts more regions in the world are covered, including Australia and India in that order.

So, how is this good for India?

Few decades earlier, even a 10th pass was valued as there were very few men having cleared 10th. These men got more proposals for marriage, and more dowry, than others. Then, men realized they could get more dowry if they clear 10th and they started doing that, setting the new bar as 12th, and this went on progressively. A college degree, a Masters, and then a foreign degree. The bidding for a guy abroad, say USA, was more than any guy in India.

Dowry has made men from certain states (read Andhra Pradesh) ‘value education’, and US degrees. They would cram for their GRE, even if they have barely managed to clear their undergraduate degrees, and fly to US. Read my previous post about US frenzy guys, dominated by guys from AP. If dowry was more prevalent in other parts of India, there would be female foeticide no doubt, but there would be more men ‘valuing education’ and getting in to US tech and b- schools, IITs, and IIScs. The literacy levels in India would increase.

Government of India could provide interest free loans (and may be loan wavier) for dowry. This would encourage more Indian men to strive hard and get the pinnacle of degrees available in India and abroad, in hope of fetching highest bid in a marriage proposal. All men(of course women too) work for incentives, and dowry is an incentive for men making them work hard in life.

One more interesting thing i would like to mention, if any guy does not want dowry and will show interest to marry a girl without dowry the guy is not given the girl’s hand because the parents (and/or whoever involved) of the girl think something seriously wrong with the guy. This shows the prevalence of dowry, and assures that the guy getting dowry would be right in every possible way the dowry amount could get. :)

Source: This is based on my knowledge on the happenings around me, and from few confidential sources i know.

Disclaimer 2: This post in based only on the views of the individual author, and is not to hurt the sentiments of anyone, as mentioned earlier. This is only a humorous interpretation, and the author is aware of the dowry related deaths and harassment women face, and solemnly condemns anyone involved in such heinous acts.

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The decline in the US dollars in the past few months, and increase in the cost of a barrel of crude oil to nearly $100 has given glimpses of the US dollar decline on it’s stronghold.

Dollar and euro

It is not just the Indian rupee that has gained in the recent past, but the currencies of many Asian countries including China, Indonesia, and Philippines. The exporters in India are struggling to keep up with the profit margins, the suffers are mostly the small scale exporters. The bigger IT companies are somehow keeping it up, and are trying to diversify their markets and also planning of making future deals in other currencies like Euro.

Oil is the key, with dollar declining the reserves of billions of dollars in the oil rich countries of the Gulf are feeling the heat, not just due to the desert temperature. Their billions of dollars reserves are losing their value. So they are in a way pushing towards neutral currency, you can say, Euro. The biggest fear could be Chinese converting their trillions of dollars reserve to Euro. That could propel the Euro to exchange rates as that of pound sterling. Good news for the ones waiting with forex reserves of Euro, here i’m talking about the retail investors. The ones would have gone to EU for an on-site trip, and have some Euros saved from their trip.

The rise in Rupee or decline of dollar is affecting Indian IT companies, which earlier had the edge over US Multinationals with cost effective solutions. Now, IBM and Accenture are giving stiff competition to the likes of Infy, Wipro, TCS and others. How are these tackling the dollar debacle?

Near-shore offices instead of on-site travel, more freshers, and hiring from relatively less explored or untouched regions like Czech, Bulgaria, Argentina and Mexico. The Indian IT companies stock prices are declining like never before, and the IT Mutual funds have -38% growth in the last one year.

The fall in dollar is affecting the lives of millions in a variety of ways, eroding stock prices, lower profits, depreciating forex reserves and in many uncomprehensible ways. The weaker-dollar has a few positives as well, for importers. Buying Bose QC3 at a cheaper price was possible due to a dollar at 39.8 rupees. My plans of buying a DSLR also seems viable. But the negative impact comes in the form of a lesser hike i get the next year as the business in dollars gets lesser rupees for my company. Effectively buying my QC3 would be at the same rate, isn’t it? But the psychological factor helps.

Another positive aspect of the stronger rupee is for someone planning to do masters in the US. Obviously their reserves in rupees would be worth more than it was a year ago. Hence the tuition fees and other expenses would cost cheaper for them. There is also a flip side to this, after they graduate, if they work in US, the spending capacity in rupees would not be the same if dollars were worth more for a rupee.

In the short term, though it has more negative impact on India, i’m sure Indian IT companies have gained enough expertise in the domain to take on the giant multinationals like Accenture, IBM and others not just in IT services at low-cost but also in consultancy to take advantage in the long term. The India story is still good, as they say. :)

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For the sixth year in a row, Indian students have emerged as the largest group of international students in the US. In last couple of years, this has included many of my school and college friends, and also some relatives.

Why do all of you have to go to US? Is India so bad? Yes, i agree you get to have better standard of living over there, but doesn’t the place where you’ve grown up, the streets you’ve walked, learnt cycling with your dad/bro/sis holding your seat, the playgrounds you’ve played hours of cricket in the scorching summer sun, the footpaths you’ve walked on to your school/college make you nostalgic enough to hold you back? Is all that matters to you now is the money you will make? Doesn’t what you actually like to do bother anymore?

Don’t tell me so many of you actually ‘want to’ pursue graduate education for the love of the field, for i know most of you are neither aware of the intricacies of the field (as you were before taking up engineering) nor the on going research in those areas, Other than the job paying in dollars of course, and may be for more dowry you get being a techie in US over the Indian ones (ref.: AP guys). I’m sure many of you would not even want to be engineers given a choice.

Why can’t you be happy with the not-so-high paying ‘software engineer’ job in India? You wouldn’t anyway get to do earth shattering or noble-prize winning work even over there, if you aren’t already doing it over here. I think there is nothing you can do over there that you can’t do over here.

800px-usa_flag_mapsvg.png

still hot..

is US of A. I was wrong in the thought that it was the preferred and hyped “places to be” of the 80’s and early 90’s. Of late India has enormous growth in economy and is creating enough jobs in the BPO and IT sector. Who the heck wants to go to US!? Yeah, i know there are hundreds of thousands of them. US of A is still damn hot! No more doctors are seen to be migrating to hatch their eggs there, nor are many of the famed IITians. The guys who are thronging to US are the ones who have an engineering degree (i’m careful in not calling them engineers) from a ABCD, XYZ, alpha, beta, gamma, delta Institute of Technology, who either can’t get a “software engineer” job in here or consider themselves worth much more than the kind of work the IT industry offers. They are the ones cramming Barron’s wordlist these days.

Whew, even a guy who struggled to clear the university exams talks about Cornell and places! Only to end up doing a masters in a much lower ranked university, working part time as a dish washer or baby sitter. (which is better than not having a job here you say?!)

This year Indian students comprise about 14.4% of the total international students in the US beating Chinese! There has also been an increase by 9.6% since last year. Read this for more information.

Best chance is that you’d end up at Mountain View with the so called technology company which appears to be the best job an average techie could dream of. Most of you are not working on majors you took in your engineering or in any of those fields you choose your electives with so much zeal. What makes you think that you will be able to get the ‘earth-shattering-job’ a 2-year Masters in US would provide that 4-year bachelors didn’t, reading more or less the same what you crammed to clear your 6th, 7th, and 8th semester exams!? Is Google, Yahoo, TI et al hiring only MS? What i am trying to say is, what you are doing now is not all that bad.

My near-Swades experience, not just in watching the movie, by going out, and seeing the actual things happening around has made it more hard for me to leave this country. It’s not all that bad for you guys, it’s much worse for many people out here. The disparity, the divide between rich and poor, is showing up. You still can have a much better lifestyle than a majority with the not-so-sacrosanct-anymore ‘software engineer’ job.

I’ll miss you guys, that’s why i am writing this blog!

‘If you can’t be happy with what you have, you can’t be happy even with a million dollars.’

UPDATE (4th DEC ’07, 2:32 pm):

we are like this only

Read this.

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P.S.: Exceptions would be there for almost everything that i have mentioned above, i have written this on happenings around me in the recent past.

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