i bought a saree!

i bought a saree!

Originally uploaded by maximolly.

i bought a saree today. it is so beautiful. it’s a kancheepuram saree designed by my friend archana’s mother and produced where the sarees are woven, in kancheepuram. her mother’s business is in its second generation and is called kafya. the beauty of these fabrics. so lovely.

now if only someone in new haven knows how to drape a saree. i have no idea.

Me, Hamish and Lakshmi at the Hampi temple

I brought Hamish to Hampi in large part because I knew that Lakshmi the elephant would be there. I’ve never met an elephant in person (believe it or not) and Hamish hasn’t met his ancestors. At this temple, you put 1 rupee in Lakshmi’s trunk. She gives it to her handler, and bonks you on the head with her trunk, thus blessing you. I did it twice. This picture is from the first time. I was completely charmed.

Caitlin, Jonathan’s wife, paid the camera fee and took this picture. When we went for my going-away dinner last week, this was the group gift. As mentioned, the frame is also wonderful: it is made of the glass bangles many Indian women wear.

Dealing with travel disruptions

My last full weekday in Bangalore is today. On Monday very early, I fly to London on British Airways, something I was looking forward to doing, but now I’m thinking it’s not going to be a fun trip. I also am planning to be in both Düsseldorf and Amsterdam next week, something I now want to do by train. That might not make things much better. I’d been looking forward to my first Eurostar trip, and I’m thinking it might be annoying and not interesting.

So this morning, I’ll head to the travel agent to sort out the train. At 9:30 on the nose (in a half hour), I’ll call BA and find out what’s going on with flights to London out of Bangalore. My assumption, at least, is that in the wake of foiling a plot, it’s probably less likely something would happen on the flight. My Indian friends here, citing their experience with spending time or living in places like Mumbai and London, say that all one can do is remain stoic. Minnesotans (maybe not me, but many of them) are good at stoicism. It’s not like it was, flying right after September 11… which I did on September 17.

More on saying goodbye to India later today.

Make love, not travel? (and my upcoming schedule)

Between the foiled liquid bomb plot and the US Embassy announcing a terrorism alert in Mumbai and Delhi (please note, I will be in neither city, I will only be in Bangalore), my usual excitement for travel is instead tense and stressed. My last day at MSR was happy, but I’m spun up in a way I don’t usually get before I go somewhere.
Is that enough to keep me home? No, not entirely. Not quite like what Bill Threkeld said in the New York Times

“I really do not understand why anybody would want to go anywhere,” Bill Threlkeld wrote. “Stay home. Read a book. Tend your garden. Make love. Drink wine. But most of all — stay home.”

Hm. That’s not quite my world view.
But just to make it clear here, this is my itinerary for the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t usually put this information out there, but I figure this might answer questions if something happens. I have no plans to deviate from this schedule as organized.
Monday, August 14: morning flight on BA, Bangalore to London
Wednesday, August 16: train from London to Dusseldorf
Friday, August 18: train from Dusseldorf to Amsterdam
Sunday, August 20: train from Amsterdam to London
Monday, August 21: morning flight on BA to JFK
-> change airports to LGA, fly to Minneapolis
Sunday, August 27: return to LGA and get car back to New Haven

New shoes from Grasshopper in Bangalore!

my really great new shoes!

Originally uploaded by maximolly.

If only I could say the same for my pedicure… but I’ve loved these crazy sandals since my first trip to Grasshopper. Last night, the MSR contingent I’ve worked with most closely took me for a magical dinner there. It’s one of the best meals I’ve had in years–so delectable.

Grasshopper also has a boutique with shoes and clothing from Indian designers. By American standards, the prices are very reasonable; by any standards, the clothing is beautiful and unusual.

all watched over by machines of loving grace

Last night, I gave a talk at CKS on Constant, Cedric Price and Archigram (at the last minute, I decided to leave out Superstudio–it was a little outside the direction the talk took). It was a really nice audience. After the fact, I learned about half the people were architects. I’m still trying to find the right balance between being too journalisty (says my advisor at Yale) and too architecty (which made it so the talk wasn’t as accessible to some of my friends in the audience). But still: very nice to be a guest of CKS and to present to 40 people about something I love–something different than what I’ve researched this summer at Microsoft Research India.

About the title of the talk: it’s been popping up a number of places lately… it was quoted in a dissertation on Archigram, and I think Adam used it for a talk he gave at Design Engaged. My experience with “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” goes back 18 years. I first got to know the Richard Brautigan poem by this name when I was 16, thanks to a high school boyfriend who had taken all his dad’s Brautigan books. I particularly liked this galley of it.

With upcoming flights and such, I’m going to turn this presentation into a more academic paper. I already owe my advisor Emmanuel 20-30 pages on Cedric Price … this is the jumping-off point.

Cedric Price and an OC Fun Palace

As I wind up my research here at Microsoft Research, I’m shifting back toward the other part of my thesis research: Cedric Price and his characterization of mobile, social space. On that note, here are a few things for you. First, my position paper, “The O.C. Fun Palace,” accepted for Ubicomp 2006’s Exurban Noir workshop. Organized by Ken Anderson, Anthony Burke, Eric Paulos and Amanda Williams, the workshop promises to be an interesting few days.

I’m giving a talk on Monday night at the Center for Knowledge Societies on Cedric Price, Archigram and Superstudio, as architects who characterized mobile, social space. I’ve always enjoyed introducing more architecture back into the world and think it will be fun.

Then, back to my MSR research for the final stuff: what will likely be 40 interviews of people across class lines and their mobile phone sharing habits. It’s yielded different results than I’ve expected, which makes me even happier.

One week left! Then, I head to London, Düsseldorf, and Amsterdam from the 14th till the 21st. On the 21st, I go to Minneapolis for a week. Finally, on the 27th, it’s back to New Haven for the beginning of school on September 6.

bangalore, slums and people

so begins the last week of my time in india. for those of you not reading the other girlwonder, i've been in bangalore, india for the last 6 weeks, working with microsoft research india, though i never had expected to find myself working at microsoft (i am, after all, a former netscape person), it's been wonderful to be here. i have always wanted to go to india but began getting interested in it from a research perspective last spring.  a lucky conversation at the social computing symposium with someone from MSR india (and me being cheeky enough to ask if i could come to bangalore) had me on a plane a month later.

being here is having a pretty profound impact on how i see things. it's hard for that not to be the case. the picture here is from our visit to bangalore's largest slum, where 2000 families live in a tiny area. we visited and interviewed three families, sitting on the floor in rooms the size of a small walk-in closet (that were the homes of families of five to seven people). we talked to women who never really completed school and so are functionally non-literate. we talked about children and food and education and when exactly am i going to get married? despite india's segregating class system, muslim and hindu women mixed easily with each other, joking that the only contract is that they have three children (they each did). in the mornings, they are domestic workers (and members of the domestic workers' union). effectively, they are cooks or housemaids in middle class homes.

bangalore relies on its slums. many of the auto rickshaw drivers live in a slum; many of the domestic workers do. and yet these private parcels of land will be developed and the people sent away. they're fighting to stay. where would they go, when they've lived here their whole lives? yes, they want better housing, but what happens if the entires social fabric disintegrates? the women we visited weren't only friends–they rely on each other when things go wrong, when school fees need to be paid and there's a problem in a family. their children go to school together. to dismantle that seems a bad thing. the kind of help they need is systemic and massive. i want to help. but what and how?

slums don't exist the same way in the US–this is a developing world phenomenon. this week, i've been reading slum city, the new mike davis book.

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English curry!

English curry!

Originally uploaded by maximolly.

We made a visit to Bangalore’s biggest slum. There’s more to share about that whole experience and the conversations I had with the women we spoke to. But in the meantime, there’s this amusing picture. We had just finished visiting one family and were about to go to another family’s place. Gautam, my research assistant (you can see him way on the left hand side in navy blue) said, “Your appearance is causing a stir.”

All of a sudden, kids everywhere. We were all laughing. I asked if I could take a picture. More kids appeared. Then more. “English curry!” they yelled. We took a few pictures. Unlike tourist areas, where children demand pens and 10 rupees, here, we just took pictures and looked at the viewer together.

A few hours later, after visiting another group of women, more yelling. “English curry!”