Like Duck to Water, thats how I have taken to life :). This blog is the saga of love and adventures of a small duck in a large water body called LIFE....

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Here comes the thunder!!

Its been a week since my last post. I started writing this one sometime last Tuesday, but somehow was too lazy to complete it. Anyways here I am now.

I haven't ever been to an airshow until last saturday 21 April 2007. I mean, Bangalore is home to a good airshow, but the crowds really are a turn-off. Though we have been here in Kentucky for 2 years now, we never went to the Thunder of Louisville air show until this year. The first year, I hadn't even joined Sri and was still in Bangalore. Last year, we were planning our India trip by this time, so weren't able to.

Finally this year we made it :). And I am impressed. I can't say it was one of the best I've seen, as I haven't seen any at all :-p. But it certainly did feel like the best. We didn't find out it was on that saturday until that afternoon. Which wasn't that big a problem as Louisville is only an hour's drive away. The show actually started at 3 PM, but we didn't really didn't want to sit too long in the sun. So we left home at around 4:30 PM and reached the Louisville downtown around 5:40 PM.

The air show takes place across Ohio river. The best part is that there is no ticket (except for the parking fee and the goodies you end up drinking/eating ;-) :-D) and also that its a prelude to one of the most fabulous firework shows in the US. Tens of thousands of people attend the show yearly from all over the US. While we were on one of the flyovers near the Ohio river, we saw our first helicopter formation for the day. We had to move further away to park. We had gotten camp chairs of our own to sit in, so while we were walking to the show carrying all the stuff, we saw the amazing B-2 Stealth bomber flying over us. Sadly we were still amidst buildings and I couldn't capture a photo. But it was a wonderful sight to say the least. I've seen a B-2 before in the National Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio, but seeing it fly was something else :).

The people were thronging every place, but we still managed to find some space and settled down on the camp chairs. The next set of helicopters to make an appearance were the UH-60 Black Hawks. There were 3 of them and they did some maneuvers :). Only 2 are seen in the following snap though:

Next in line was the CH-47 Chinook. It did only one pass but looked cool nevertheless.

Following the Chinnok were 2 SH-60B choppers :).

Then the US coast guard helicopter showed a few of its capabilities after which 4 advertisement planes flew to display the sponsor names :). The ad planes are very small planes that carry a banner in the sky..

Next to make their appearance were the C-130 Kentucky Air National Guard planes:

It seems they are used for U.S. military and humanitarian operations. The next plane was the C-17 Globemaster and it is used for cargo and troop transport.

One fun fact is that one such plane is also used to transport the Limos of the president of US anywhere he goes in the world!! It seems this flight heads out before the Air Force One leaves anywhere.

Next were the F-16s. Man! Were they fast. Also they made only one pass, so I am glad I was able to capture them :).

Following them were the US army sky soldiers. These were a set of 4 helicopters:

The next were the best of all helicopters. The AH-64 Apaches from Ft Knox gave a demonstration on how they fly and it was truly spectacular :). It seems they are attack helicopters and supposed are "quick-reacting, airborne weapon systems that can fight close and deep to destroy, disrupt, or delay enemy forces".

They stayed for about 10 minutes performing all sorts of maneuvers and flying up and down, while I captured several amazing photos :).

Next were the amazing F-18s. I thought F-16s were fast, but these were faster and I somehow hastened and managed to get a good snap :).

They stayed for sometime flying in circles, but they were too fast for me to capture a zoomed photo :(. The most fascinating thing was that they flew upwards and vanished in a matter of seconds!!

There was a collective gasp from the crowd ;-) :).

Thereafter, it was the turn of the A-10. These flights are specially designed for close air support of ground forces..

Subsequently, another set of F-18s made an appearance, but these didn't stay for too long and made only one pass..

It had already crossed 8 PM by then and the fireworks barges moved into position.

There were actually 2 barges and they stood in such a way that a bridge separated them. We were only able to see one barge and the bridge. The bridge was also supposed to have some fireworks show, so we were glad :).

Next in line were the Trojan Horsemen Aerobatic formation demo team. They were really good. First they formed something which looked like a big UFO in the night :). People (us too :-D) really ooh-ed and aah-ed. Later they made a cross formation:

I was really impressed. Man, it must be so difficult to maintain all the flights at the same speed and moving in the same direction so as to keep the formation intact! Imagine how much practice it'd take! And imagine, even if one loses control, all the others are in trouble :-O!

Next 2 helicopters flew with the American flag, while patriotic songs were played :).

Before the fireworks began, the last show for the night was the Bill Leff night show :). I couldn't really capture good photos of the show as it was dark already, but you can see some in the link. The show consists of a flight which throws fireworks from its ends! I hadn't even heard of such a thing before. The flight moved like a fast comet, showering fire and fireworks wayyy above in the sky in tune to some loud music :).

Finally, the barges got ready and the fireworks began exactly at 9:30 PM. And it was nothing like I've seen before in US and believe me, I have seen quite a few.

They exploded from the barges and the bridge..

All sorts of wonderful colours which made all of us clap and cheer :).

The best being the "rainfall" from the bridge :).

They lasted for half an hour and ended at 10 PM. We later packed up our chairs and headed back to the parking lot.

We started driving and the traffic was jammed for a long time. We almost stayed in the same area for more than 1.5 hours!! I felt they could have organized the traffic movement a bit better (they do know so many people attend this), but maybe they did their best. Anyways by the time we got home, it was almost 1 AM, so were pretty tired..

All in all, if you forget the last traffic jam (:-D), it was truly a delightful experience. Next year, we plan to go earlier so that we don't miss anything :).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Shooting saga continued..

Much discussion has been going on about the shooting a few days ago. First of all, Cho Seung-hui sent a tape/pictures of himself to a NBC (he's supposed to have posted the package between the shootings!). So there has been much talking on whether the news channels should show the videos or not (well, all of the channels played them non-stop the first day they were released and the next day declared that they were sympathetic to the victims' families and stopped playing them). One point of view being that people should know why he did it while the opposite saying that showing the video might influence other people into following in his footsteps. God! Its TV for heaven's sake. If you don't want to watch, there is a power-off button, in case you didn't know!

Secondly, people have been saying how mentally ill Cho was. How mentally, he was a boiling cauldron ready to explode. And what we can do to recognize such mental illness in some kids and stop them from harming other people. Gimme a break! How do you determine somebody's mental health? Just because somebody is depressed, can you lock them up? Everybody is a bit crazy in their own way. What's the measure of this "craziness"?? What if a very decent person, behaving normally, suddenly heads off into a shooting rampage? What'll be the explanation of that then?? The kids play violent video games and watch more violence on TV and in movies. Why don't you discuss about that? Why don't you say they are corrupting the children and make a move to stop those?

Thirdly it seems now there is a paranoia about Oriental men. They are being looked at suspiciously just like Middle eastern people were after 9/11 (they are still being looked at like that at present). People are nuts! What happened to the fact that it was Americans who did all the shooting and raping in the Katrina incident? So will you be scared of your neighbour eh? Won't get out of the house? What about yourself? How can you trust "you"?? Again, the media is having a field day interviewing Oriental men on whether they are being discriminated against. They try to exploit every fear a person can ever have and actually succeed in spreading more panic!

What people don't seem to be discussing a lot is about Gun control. Do you know how easy it is to get a gun in the state of Virginia? All that is needed is a driver's licence and no criminal record! Can you believe that! I can go and get a gun without being asked any questions! And I haven't even seen a real gun (except some in museums and movies :-\) and have no clue how to operate one! But I can buy one if I feel like it! A 16-year old gets a DL here. So if he/she has no past criminal record, they can walk into a gun shop and walk out with a gun. Its totally unbelievable! But nobody wants to talk about changing that. Why? Is that because all these gun manufacturers "feed" the Government?

The media can talk, talk and talk more but end up accomplishing nothing. I really feel irritated whenever they say "Oh the police had arrested him before but they never realized..." or interview a roommate to ask "And you never thought this guy could be like this?". The roommates are not psychics, nor are the police miracle workers! I know some introverted people, doesn't mean they are killers! Tomorrow even if one of them turns out to be a killer, how am I supposed to know? Guess work? The worse part is none of this talk is going to change the fact for the 32 people who died and their grieving families. Philosophically you can say their time was up or whatever. But the pain of a loved one taken away, is only felt by the one who has lost them...

May the victims' souls rest in peace..

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Land of dreams??????

  • Gunman slaughters more than 30

  • More than 30 people were killed Monday in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, according to university officials -- making it the deadliest school shooting incident in U.S. history. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger called the killings "a tragedy of monumental proportions."

  • Gunman identified as Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old English major from South Korea.

  • Ballistics tests show one of the guns found was used in the dorm and classroom building shootings

Taken from CNN.

Land of dreams, land of opportunities, became a land of tragedy yesterday for so many students. The main question on most of the people's minds is "Why?". Why does a young student want to kill same-aged students? Why? Why so much rage? Why make innocents the victims of this rage?

It seems it all started yesterday April 16th 2007 morning at about 7:15 AM when police recieved a call about 2 shootings at the West Ambler Johnston Hall at Virginia Tech University. They barricaded that hall, but based on the initial information decided that it was something related to domestic shooting. Hence the campus wasn't closed and the students weren't informed, so that campus life could go on as normal. But later at 9:15 AM, again shootings were heard at Norris Hall (the engineering department). Police stormed in to discover the shooter had shot many students (31 of them died, others have multiple injuries) and himself in the end. Though there have been shootings at schools in the past, this is the bloodiest and highest in body count.

It seems there wasn't a shooting victim that didn't have less than three bullet wounds in them. God!! I still don't understand the rage that could have caused such a terrible tragedy. I mean, how can anyone do such a thing! I don't "get" it!

Imagine the situation of the parents. The victims were all mostly young students (some were professors), dreaming so many dreams for the future and building the required foundation for a wonderful life. Its always difficult when a young life is taken. Not that the old aren't important. But the young people hadn't even "lived" their lives. Two people, one a professor and the other a student of Indian origin passed away in this incident (yesterday according to an Indian newspaper, no Indians died and hence this is an update..). Its even more difficult for the parents of international students. First of all, most of these students are on financial aid, so their parents may not be that strong financially. Moreover there are hassles of visa. Though there is an emergency visa available, imagine going to the consulate for visa stamping at a time when your child is dead on the other side of the world!All in all what a waste of lives!

The media, as usual, is having a field day! They are interviewing students, police and have even brought in their security analysts to "analyse" the situation. They are also repeatedly playing videos of the campus and interivewing family members of the victims again and again! The Don Imus racial slur controversy, the Anna Nicole's baby's father identity and the Iraq war tragedy, that were overwhelmingly overpoweringly present all over the TV just 2 days ago, are not to be seen at all now. Just shows how the media use a tragedy to increase their own ratings. Its outrageous! I'm sure next they'll interview a pschychologist to determine the mind-state of the killer, some other University president who'll probably talk about what they are doing to protect the students, another police superintendent for tips on how to protect yourself if a killer is out in the hall and so on. Heck! They'll probably even get a gun specialist to show how easy it is to buy and use a gun, in the process influence other young future killers! They'll milk it for all its worth and I'm sort of disgusted with the whole thing right now.

This is not the first time a shooting has happened in the school. In this particular case, the shooter was a South Korean. But there have been other cases where twelve students and a teacher were killed because of 2 American teenagers shooting them (Columbine High School Massacre, Colorado). There was even another story where a 12-year old kid shot another 12-year old friend accidentally! Why are the guns so "accessible"?? Why the heck? How can a young 12-year old get his/her hands on a gun and even know how to operate it??? Aren't the parents looking at what their kids are doing? Or are the kids so sneaky that they are fooling their parents into thinking that they are innocent??

I don't understand it. The government schools here are the best, providing all sorts of facilities to the kids (unlike the Indian government schools which are practically sheds). Free education is given to kids until the age of 16. Free transportation is provided in the form of buses. There are even road rules around these buses to protect the kids from traffic hazards. The private schools are strictly for the elite rich. Despite all sort of convenience, why do the children move towards drugs and violence? Is it a case of too much good? There are children struggling to come up in other parts of the world, but here, though they have everything, why do they get into all things "bad"??

Few years ago there was a huggge rise in number of deaths of kids due to Choking game. The game involves strangling one self to induce near unconsciousness by restriction of the supply of oxygen to the brain. The instructions (a step-by-step guide) for this particular dangerous game were freely available on the internet in non-child-restricted websites. The worse thing was that the parents were clueless about this particular game while it was a "hot" new trend at schools. It seems it gives a "high" like a drug. The parents usually found out about it only when their children ended up dead (most of the times this was thought to be suicide!!). Whats a parent to do in such a case? Again the children have everything here, yet it seems 250 to 1,000 young people die in the United States each year playing some variant of this choking game! Crazy, I tell you!

Recently there was another report of a 17 year old boy not only smoking pot (marijuana) himself, but giving it to his 2- year old and 5-year old nephews to smoke too. A 2 year old smoking pot!! Whats the world coming to? The little boys weren't even aware of what they were doing, but shouldn't a 17-year old know what the effects of smoking, moreover smoking marijuana are? The guy was not only guilty of handing it out to the little boys, but of taking a video of this for his obvious enjoyment! The young children were literally staggering due to the drug effects!

Also, there have been cases of child molesting by priests, how more horrible can it get? A man who you trust with the kids might be the one who ends up harming them, scarring them for life! If even a God's place like a church isn't safe then what place is? If a protector becomes a predator, whats a child to do? Whats a parent to do?

Land of dreams eh? Looke like its certainly not for the children! No place in the world is probably safe for kids, but this is literally scary! How can parents not be worried about their children in this kind of environment? Not that it happens everywhere in US, but the instances are so many, that its frightening. Even if you trust your child enough that he/she will not get involved with drugs and the choking game, whats the guarantee that he/she will not be shot by a classmate? Obviously all students cannot be made to wear bullet proof vests or the campus security can't be so serious as to check all the students for guns daily (well, maybe it will be after such a "massacre" as they are calling it). Yes, there have to be changes brought in terms of gun accessibility. Yes, there has to be education provided to the children on ill-effects of such trends.

Meanwhile, I guess all parents can do is to do their best to inform children of all hazards and leave the rest to fate and God..

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Emerald Coast Parasailing yeah! :-D

Yet another road-trip, yet another travelogue, yet another adventure. I can see my life as a series of travelogues and adventures :-D. Hey I am not complaining, not at all! On the contrary, thats exactly how I want it to be :). Before I get all teary-eyed (:-p), let me start off with a bit of history. We had the Easter long weekend coming up, and didn't really know where to go. You don't get good airline deals over long weekends, so well, that wasn't really an option. Last year we had been to Washington, D.C for the Cherry blossom festival, and Sri suggested going there again, but I wasn't in the mood at all. I wanted to go somewhere south and the lady of the house somehow always manages to get her wish ;-).

And so, after much humming and hawing, Pensacola, Florida turned out to be the place we'd go to. We'd move on from there to Destin, Florida. The weekend would be a bit cold there too, but staring at beaches is wayyyyy better than being cold sitting at home staring at nothing (yeah the cold has returned to Lexington in the form of a cold wave and my plants are withering again :( :-p). Here's the trip sketch :).

5th April 2007:

Since Friday was a holiday, we started off driving at about 6 PM on Thurday evening. I drove the first shift of 2 hours (yeah for me!!) and was really surprised. I mean, I thought it'd be diffcult, but it turns out city driving is more strenuous. In freeway, if traffic is less, all you have to do is switch on the cruise button and only worry about the steering :-D. I put on the new RD burman duets CD that I had burnt and enjoyed driving immensely. Sri took over from me later and though we did stop at an Indian restaurant ("Taste of India") for dinner at Nashville, TN (the spicy dinner took its toll later ;-) :-D), he drove through to our stop for the day at Cullman, AL. Meanwhile, we did gain an hour due to timezone change :).

6th April 2007:

Friday morning, I took the wheel again for a 2.5 hours drive and later Sri took over again. We had lunch on the way and reached Pensacola, FL around after 2PM in the noon. The first order of the day was to visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation there.

Compared to the huggggggggge National Museum of United States Air Force we had visited in Dayton, Ohio, this seemed a bit small. But still it had a pretty good collection.

There was a conference going on in the museum, so it was nice to see the naval officers/sailors stand in attention while the National anthem was sung :). But the best part was that there were some aircrafts with their hoods open, so we could actually see the cockpits of some of the fighter planes and even climb on to one :-D.

The enclosure is pretty small and there are 1000s of gadgets! It was lots of fun :).

After being there for an hour or so, we set off driving to Destin. Destin is hardly an hour away from Pensacola and the Gulf of Mexico is the coastline to both these places. The whole coast is called the Emerald Coast, I am guessing its because of the green colour of the sea :). While driving, first we encountered a beautiful bridge connecting Pensacola to a place called Gulf Breeze :).

The following snap was taken while we were driving over the bridge :).

Later there was another bridge near Destin and here's the view from the bridge:

The Emerald coast has many apartments, mostly owned by (obviously) rich people who also own powerful speedboats. So its a common sight to see speedboats on the sea everywhere :).

After reaching the hotel and resting for a while, we turned back to a place where there were still backwaters from the sea and where a few people were kitesurfing (this term I found after some research on google :-D). The water was freezing (as I mentioned earlier, though the temperature was pretty nice there, the wind chill was high and hence it felt cold), so we just sat on the white sands for a while and watched the kitesurfers :).

It was fun watching them maneuver the kites in the wind. What was shocking was that sometimes the wind was powerful enough to make the surfers fly. Since they were falling onto the water, it was ok. But it was still shocking to say the least..

I also clicked away a couple of more shots of the back waters (as expected :-D).

Soon it was sunset time and we went to one of the beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico in hope of a chance that we'll glimpse a sunset. But sadly, all the beaches facing Gulf of Mexico, face south, so the sunset was a bit unsatisfactory. Well, the beaches certainly weren't :-D.

The green sea and the white sand made a pretty wonderful combination. I have seen a lots of beaches, but most of the time the water has kinda been muddy. So this was a really enjoyable and a very pretty sight :). Anyways, after strolling around in the beach for sometime, we headed back to have dinner at an Italian restaurant (no Indian restaurants at all in the region :-p) and retired for the day :).

7th April 2007:

The next morning, we woke up a bit late, had breakfast and headed to a Gilligan's watersports :). Our intention (well, more like my intention :-D), was to go para-sailing. But we were worried that we may get wet and this was a major factor as the water was freezing :-p.

But the people there assured us that we'd be getting off the boat and later land on the boat, so there would be no water involved (except that the boat went on water ofcourse :-p). Also we were told that high up the temperatures were further cold and it would be better to wear some jackets/sweaters :).

We had an hour's time to get prepared, so we went back to the hotel and dressed in considerably warm wear, we headed back. Once we were there, we had to wait for quite sometime as there were people coming in and they usually prefer to head out in a full boat. Meanwhile we saw the life jackets being prepared..

This boat carried us all the way forth and back :). You can also notice the parachute (green and white) all wrapped up.

We had paid for double parasailing which means the 2 of us go parasailing together and there were 4 more couples who joined us on the boat (1 young couple, 2 girls, one 5-membered family in which an young boy refused to go parasailing but joined us on the boat, while the dad went with one of the daughters and the mom with another :-D). The boat went slowly at first (in an area with restricted speed, so as to not create any waves for the people who were kayaking) and as soon as it reached the sea it started going in its maximum speed :-D.

After reaching an optimum point at the sea, one of the guys (there were 2 of them) got the parachute ready for the actual parasailing :).

Before that we were already given life jackets and we already had harnesses tied around to our waists. The first couple to go was the young couple. Their harnesses were bound to the parachute and like a kite the parachute was reeled out. The boat sped to push the parachute higher. Our guide told us that it'd go upto 600 feet and later would be stabilized around 350-400 feet in the air. The ride would last for upto 12 minutes. As soon as they came back, it was our turn. We handed out the camera to the guide and were tied to the parachute ourselves..

The first instance when you are reeled out of the boat and your feet leave the boat is scary because thats when you are trusting the parachute to hold your weight :-D!

From then on its all fun :-D.

As you go higher...



And more higher until you are stabilized.

And just like the functioning of a kite, if the chute starts coming down, the boat speeds up for the parachute to regain the height :).

It was a thrill from the time it started to the end. Its literally like swinging on a swing in the sky :-D. It was really cold up there, but it was not scary in any way. Unlike bungee jumping, there's no free fall at all. Also, even if something happens to the chute, and you fall into the sea, you have life-jackets and so its still safe :). Well, it was really a cool experience. I felt like I was floating and flying in the sky to my heart's content. The boat we got off from, looked like a toy boat from way up there. Plus the view of the emerald coast was fabulous. I almost wished I had another small camera to capture the sights from up there..

After about more than 10 minutes of cruising in the skies (:-D), which included some wavering of the parachute due to high winds + boat direction changes), we were slowly reeled back in.

Again, they reel you in to the deck of the boat and you need to stand up to land on the boat safely. Then your harnesses are removed and you are safe to go back to your seats. It was wonderful, but I did feel very cold and kind of dizzy after landing on the boat (maybe because I was "swept" off my feet :-D). Well, Sri was totally fine for a guy who didn't even want to go parasailing :-p. Basically, we both enjoyed it a lot and we were even speculating that it'd be worth repeating if we can go back to the Emerald coast during summer when it'd not be so cold :). There were actually a few other things we missed because of the cold - dolphin tours, swimming in the sea and maybe even scuba-diving :-D.

We were on the speed boat for quite a long time after that since we needed to wait for other couples to finish their turn. Meanwhile the camera was back in my hands and I clicked away :-D.

Notice how green the water is. There were even pelicans/seagulls and cranes in the water which made a very lovely sight :). After about total 2 hours in the sea, we returned back to the docks and headed to the hotel for recovery, rest and later some lunch in a Tacobell :).

After lunch, we decided to take a scenic highway from Destin towards Panama city. But well, the "scenic" factor was missing as the place was covered with condos and huge apartment buildings (yup rich people :-D). We did stop at a beach for sometime and I was amazed again at the transparency of the water!

Even the waves were transparent!

Notice the shades of green :). Absolutely fascinating! Still the water was not that cold, so were able to dip our feets into it and stroll along for a while.

We decided to head back to another so-called scenic road known as Gulf National seashore in between Destin and Pensacola and started driving. The Gulf seashore starts at Navarre beach and ends at Gulf breeze. This is the bridge that goes to Navarre beach.

Look at how tall the apartment buldings are. Sri wondered how they could construct such buildings when this area is prone to so many hurricanes (New Orleans is only 3 hours away + it seems Katrina hit this area also pretty badly).

The sidewalks in the picture above are not covered with snow but the white sands :). It looks so much like snow that its amazing!

Sadly, our drive got cut short as the road was closed at some point (the reason was that the sand had spread to the road due to winds and they hadn't cleared it up yet). We did stop at another beach for another lovely view though :).

All in all a beautiful journey. We headed back and my mini-golf loving eyes soon caught one on the way back and we both played mini-golf there for sometime :). The settings were beautiful and we had loads of fun. Once Sri even hit his golf ball into a pond and lost it (we had to share mine after that particular disaster :-D).

We later went on to some nurseries to look at a couple of Jasmine plants. I even bought 4 lovely ones (sadly, its been too cold in Lexington and 2 of them are rotting, I only hope they are able to make it :( :-\). And so ended the day..

8th April 2007:

The next day, we woke up pretty early, had breakfast in an IHOP (I had never eaten in one before, the breakfast of strawberry pancakes and omelette with capsicums, onions and tomatoes was wonderful) and set off driving back. The total drive would be 10 hours + we'd lose one hour due to Timezone change. Sri took the first shift of 2 hours until we reached the main freeway and later I drove for 2 hours. We stopped for veggie burgers at Burger King and again Sri took over. This time he drove for 2.5 hours and later again I drove for 2.5 more hours. We both were pretty strained and tired when we reached home, but the trip was worth it. Moreover it was wayyyyyy better that Sri driving alone :-D. I always would feel guilty when he had to drive all the time and this time I felt that there was some contribution from my side too and so was glad :).

So alls well that ends well :-D. And here's your moment of zen :-D.

This was taken while we were driving towards Florida. Looks like a price list, doesn't it? A garland for $8 and a mobile for $112 :-D. In fact, Garland and Mobile are both places in Alabama :). There were a couple more places - "Evergreen" (which reminded me of Dev Anand, the evergreen hero), Castleberry (what a weird combination :-p) etc. But too much of anything (even if it is humour) is not good :-D. So thats it folks, goodbye and have a great day :).