Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Couch potato

I think the Americans invented the term. or the concept at any rate.

Sure enough, cable has a vast variety of channels. I liked the music channels here the most. They don't force you to be couch potatoes - no flashy music videos.
There's a vast variety of music channels, one for every genre you can imagine -- music sans videos.

The channels themselves seem to be using a broadcasting software that stores, for each song, tidbits of information on the artistes, which appear inconspicuously on the screen while the song is playing. And of course a picture or two of the artistes themselves. So you're not forced to stare at your TV all the time.
But whenever you choose to look, you find interesting info on the song/artiste you like.
Pretty cool. Pretty not couch potato. I like it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

UPS...

The amazing thing about courier service in America. You know you can track the progress of your shipment, cos of the barcode scanning they use at every step, from receiving the order to shipment from warehouse and all the stops and checkouts enroute to the final delivery.

Anyway, so i was tracking my shipment, as it originated on 1st Feb from TigerDirect.com's warehouse in Hodgkins, IL to San Pablo, CA, and finally this morning to Sunnyvale, CA, where it was signed out for delivery.

I was thinking to myself (the expected delivery date was tomorrow), no courier service delivers before the expected date, one day later maybe but never one day before.
And lo and behold, this morning, a sweet UPS lady, comes up with the package and asks me to sign on their electronic monitor.
What I didn't realise when she asked me my last name, is that the same machine, also has a mic, that records your name, and automatically stores it as the person who took delivery, in the UPS tracking system.
Admittedly its not foolproof though, as it broke down my name as... uh... shudder...

Type: Package
Status: Delivered
Delivered On: 02/06/2008
10:20 A.M.
Delivered To: LOS ALTOS, CA, US
Signed By: SULVIA
Service: GROUND

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

food tips

My initial days here were a little nervous. never cooked before, never bothered with grocery shopping, and now I've gotta do everything for myself rather than have everything done for me.

My client Cyril, and another colleague from India, took me grocery shopping and I would have found it hard to survive without their help.

Well, for the benefit of any lost souls like me who come to the bay area, and fret in search of food:

India cash and curry in Sunnyvale: good for:
- Pavel's Lowfat Russian yogurt -- equivalent to our Indian curd -- almost the same really.
though personally i prefer, Yoplait's fruit yogurt - my favorite comfort food.
- vegetables and apples (cheaper here according to her, as they don't charge for the 'presentation effects' of Safeway) - carry small sachets of haldi, mirchi, jeera/ajwain, salt from home, chop and dice, slapdash with spice and cook. worked for me.
- Parampara chicken / fish masala mixes (buy the meats from Safeway, cut, and follow the instructions on the masala packs) -- worked well for me, both fish n chicken
- comfort foods : maggi soups and noodles
- Roti packs (quite thick, but they tend to fluff up like 'foolkas' if you do it right, though i only managed it with one or two :P )
- berkeley farms milk (vitamin d)
- Grimmway Farms cut & Peeled Baby Carrot packs (1$ each)

Safeways (miramonte and everywhere really): good for:
- deals on hershey's kisses and nuggets (chox)
- breakfast cereal (Post - Honey bunches of oats : delicately flavored), though I also liked a berry flavored mix from Trader Joe's
- eggs
- nestle nesquik chocolate flavored milk (Very good)
- Safeway's butter top bread
- frozen meats (chicken breasts and fish)
- fruits (bananas, apples, purple grapes -- really yum)
- veggies (quite a range)

Trader Joe's: good for organic produce (non genetically enhanced stuff)
- milk
- juices, etc...

Costcos:
good for all stuff in bulk and cheap,

I found (confirmed by cousin lancy), the cost of groceries for two weeks, per person comes to roughly about 100 USD... that's if you don't want to starve yourself.

And yea, Safeway's has something called a Safeway card, that earns you fair discounts on shopping (some products not all). So on a bill of 103 USD, I saved about 18 USD. not bad... Apparently, filling out a form gets you the card for free. I just used my colleague's card though.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Easy living...

Someone once told me the American way of life is geared for speed. Appliances, food, everything is designed to save time... (with the notable exception of public transport, but we'll come that later).

Take the kitchen in my apartment (branded an essentials aptt, ie, includes kitchenware etc). As this is my first experience at living alone, without food cooked for me, it served me as a good instruction on things a home kitchen should have...

Oh btw, I made my first cup of coffee today. Yea I know a coffee maker is simple enough, esp if you're using a pre measured filter. Still its kinda fun the first time... :D But I digress...

Right, so I found these steel pans which have metal handles riveted on, but the key thing is the handles are heat resistant so you can hold them without burning your hand. Even the lids work that way, special riveted handles that don't burn you as you pull the lid off. That was neat...
Was kinda interesting to note though that the pans were made in Brazil or at least from their steel (Tramontina/Inox 24 cm). It looks like half of America is made in China (including the toaster in my aptt, and a very nice forged cutlery set -- 11 kitchen knives of all sizes, scissor, and a metal stick for stoking stuff in an oven - go figure... all housed in a neat wooden block with slots for each piece -- another essential). The other half is probably spread between America and the rest of the world. But I digress again...

Also found the electric stove interesting. i was kinda lost the first day, but figured it out quickly and contrary to my reservations, it works as well as a gas stove back home. the only problem being spills on the heating mat, which applies to gas as well...

The other neat thing, is this big roll of paper towels (12" wide, with perforations every 10"). Every American kitchen seems to have them, easy for wiping tables, washed dishes, whatever, its pretty cool... don't have to go hunting for dirty cotton rugs. Use and throw... Makes a lot of sense.
This might sound very funny to you, but I admire it cos of the little brainwaves of thought that go into making life so much simpler and faster here... You don't have to labour over minute details, cos products are so well thought out. Even if its a small thing like a big roll of paper towels, imagine how much hassle it saves ya in running after rugs that easily rot when wet... the comfort of using pans whose handles don't heat up with the rest of the pan... A knife set that's always at hand - no misplaced knives-- they always goes back to the wooden housing, like a sword in its sheathing... Liquid detergent that's not harsh on the hands... That's the point. Products designed with thought, minor things that make a lot of sense... and that we take for granted once we have them... but its hard to imagine how we could live without them in the first place.

Since we're on the kitchen, there's this habit that's new to me. Coffee after lunch! My sis-in-law tells me its just another course in the Western world. Well I must admit I'm getting used to it. Am just about to have... what would you know it... Coffee after Lunch!

The American mind...

One of the first things you notice when you start living here is the effect of lawsuits on society!

When I checked into my apartment, the guest representative at the reception talked me through a host of mandatory 'disclosures' - information that they are legally required to give to every new tenant.

So he runs me through this series (4 or 5) of disclosures and asks me to initial my name on a sheet, as acknowledgement that the apartment company has made the disclosures as it is legally bound to.

In the list:
- the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) brochure on lead based paint and how it can affect the health of people (esp young children). From the size of the brochure you can tell that the US State department has been a defendant in and lost at least one MAJOR multi-million dollar lawsuit, by a family claiming that lead-paint has damaged the health of their kids! So you have this brochure that warns you against all the possible effects, and how to guard against them (watch out for signs such as scraped paint, etc). On the potential defendant's side, it appears that the act of having informed you about the use of lead-based paint in their apartment, limits or absolves them of, further liabilities, in case somebody sues...
- there was also stuff on mold formation in apartments, asbestos used in construction, and something on sexual predator behavior against teenagers...

Its not all bad! The good side is, it serves to protect society against blasé, purely profit-oriented manufacturers, who left to themselves wouldn't care about the effects of harmful substances on people.

I think we need a little of that kind of awareness back home too. Plaintiffs being awarded BIG compensations against potentially damaging and irresponsibly applied materials. A kick in the behind, gets the government and industry moving like nothing else... Sad but true? dunno...