Thursday, April 30, 2009

2 in, 2 out

If this was fiction, I’d been critical of the writer for reaching too far for symmetry. But the truth is that many years ago I came to the US with two suitcases, and this week I headed back to India, also with two suitcases.

Almost two decades ago, fresh with my Bachelor’s degree I headed off to the US for grad studies. In my two suitcases were some clothes, cooking utensils, Indian music audio cassettes which I thought might be difficult to get in the US, and several textbooks and notes for my studies. In equal parts there was anticipation of what awaited and a sense of loss at all that I was leaving behind.

Fast forward two decades. This time, in my two suitcases again there are clothes. One sleek device holds more than a 100 times the music that those audio-cassettes had. And an external hard drive memory, the size of a cigarette packet (our most prized possession) all of our photos, notes and documents with room to spare.

This symmetry is somewhat disingenuous, since we have left boxes of stuff in long term storage. But those are mostly things like extra clothes, vacuum cleaner and microwave oven, things to help jump-start our stay in the US when we get back there. It has nothing that we can’t afford to lose.

Meanwhile, here I am in India (with two suitcases) eager to experience this vast country, and to reacquaint myself with its quirks and ways.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another source of data

We went to the I-90 toll way Oasis to return our I-pass transponder. This was just one of the dozens of small things that have to be taken care of when you are moving. The guy at the booth there was processing our refund to give us our deposit back.
“Did it already deduct the tolls that we just paid?” we asked him. We had just crossed the toll point at O’Hare minutes ago.
He said yes and added, "Don’t worry, they are not going to come after you in India for 40 cents,” he said.
“How did you know that we are going back to India?” I asked him.
“Why else would you be returning the transponder?” he asked. “Just last week, I had 5 returns from Indians. Three of them are going back to New Delhi. The economy here is not so good. I think the Indian economy must be doing okay. People are going back.”

I was surprised at how, from his vantage point, he was piecing things together. Yes, it is all anecdotal and the sample size is tiny. But it was another small reminder to me that if you are willing to look, there are always unexpected sources to learn what’s going on.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A “marketplace” for Volunteers - VolunteerInfo.Net

This post is just to share information about a website that I recently found and have personally used. Extremely impressive service.

This is yet another case of me coming up with what I thought was a good idea, only to find out that it already existed. I've always felt the need for a web-based organization – an EBay- or Craigslist-like marketplace for volunteers. It would be a place where volunteers could indicate their time commitment willingness, their skills and task preferences; and where organizations looking for volunteers could list what exactly they are looking for.

In the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, VolunteerInfo does exactly that – with a neat web application that does all this and a lot more besides. It is quite likely that there are similar organizations in your area too. It is a shame that I find out about Volunteerinfo just as I am leaving the area.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Things had gone awry and we didn’t even know it. My wife and I, reasonably proud that we hadn’t acquired too many things were, it seemed, quite deluded. We live in a 2-bedroom apartment, and only as we get ready to move are we realizing the sheer volume of things we have squirreled away. (This is what happens when you can’t throw away things in working condition.) But we are moving countries, and so pretty much everything needs to be disposed off one way or another.

One very efficient resource, it turns out, is One example: A few years back, I bought a good amount of art materials (acrylic paints, watercolors, papers, sketch pads and brushes) but I hadn’t used them in years. They were very much usable, and rather than throwing them away, my wife decided to offer it on Freecycle.

One night the posting went out past 11.30pm, and within an hour there were 2 takers. All in all, we had close to a dozen people asking for it. Many genuinely needed it, but we could only give it to one. We ended up giving it to an arts program that a local hospital ran.

Freecyle truly leverages the power of the Web in getting demand and supply met, with the variation that there is no money exchanged. If you have things you want to give away, definitely consider posting it on this site in your area and watch the demand rush. Or maybe you can pick up something that is on offer. But be careful. You don’t want to end up with stuff that you didn’t really need. Check it out, though.