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There are three big uncertainties in the US, that are very dependable in India: weather, women, and work. One of Michael's Indian colleagues pointed this out, and it's worth writing about.

Weather. The weather doesn't change much from day to day here; it mainly depends on the season.  It rained in Visnagar last night, the first time in over a month. Last night's rain was unusual enough for our driver's family to call him and tell him about it.  Most of the time, the days are always sunny and hot (90s to 100s Fahrenheit). I've stopped my US habit of carrying an umbrella in my purse, since I haven't needed it.

Women. When an Indian man needs a wife, his relatives arrange the marriage. The relatives investigate prospective families, their wealth, land holdings, family background, and education.  Most families handle all the details and background checks, then have their children meet each other well in advance of the wedding. There's often an extended one to two year engagement period, where the couple gets to know each other through telephone calls, movies, etc. in nonthreatening settings. Engagements can be broken without much social stigma. School crushes still happen, but most do not turn into marriage. If two friends want to marry, they will ask their families to arrange the marriage, and generally abide by their parents wishes if the families think it's unsuitable.

Indians view arranged marriages as good ways to promote stability and happiness; they pity Americans with our high divorce rate. There are hundreds of people involved in arranging a single Indian marriage.  In the US, we're entirely do-it-yourself, with elaborate dating rituals and the full spectrum of relationship ups and downs. We often wait to introduce our significant others to our parents until we're getting serious about our intentions. It's still fairly common in the southern US for a man to formally ask a father for his daughter's hand in marriage, but he doesn't need to have met the family beforehand. 

Work. In India, people don't change careers the way we do in the US. You do the same type of work for most of your life and then you retire.  It's not just caste. Most jobs have minimum education qualifications and if you don't meet them, you can't work there.  College admissions are competitive, with room for less than ten percent of all Indian high-school graduates. For college-educated people, their degrees often determine their work for the rest of their lives.  People can still branch out and start their own businesses, but it's not as common. Esteemed job holders like lecturers/professors and software engineers earn bragging rights in the Times of India matrimonials section, right next to the MBAs and medical doctors. 

The major exception to education? Housewives. All the engineering faculty we've met have wives who also have engineering degrees. In Visnagar, one (male) professor estimated that about 70 percent of the wives stay home instead of working.  I gather that for housewives, their status is based largely on their husband's job. That's why I've been the guest of honor at several functions along with Michael. There are a handful of female faculty too, but neither Michael nor I have had a chance to talk with them yet (we've both asked to, repeatedly). Kind of a double standard.
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A couple people have asked me what I'm doing when Michael is out teaching. I'm still working full time as a requirements analyst for the most awesome software company ever. I already liked my job, my company and co-workers. But the company is letting me telecommute from India for three months, and that is utterly awesome.  And they read this blog too. (Hello over there!)

Most of my online time the past couple weeks has been mostly reserved for work tasks. I was finishing some sample reports for our clients to critique, and coming up with questions for my colleagues to ask for me "by proxy". The customers finally reviewed them and they poked relatively few holes in the reports, and I'm revising them this week.  I did as much work as possible locally using OpenOffice.org, but had to finish them in Word (via remote desktop) just to squeeze all the data onto the pages.

I'm also going through innumerable flowcharts. Months ago, I put the requirements documentation into "functional requirements", flow-charts describing the more minor business logic of the application. We expected a few of the minor details would change, which is why I had held off on double-checking the flowcharts until now. But the developers are finally getting around to coding those parts now, and it's time to get 'er done. I'm using Borland DefineIT, which is slow, unreliable, and its main redeeming feature is it links to Caliber, the requirements-repository tool for this project. The problem is, DefineIT's license doesn't let me install it on my laptop and work offline. So I remote-desktop into my machine at the office.  The connection speed isn't lightning-fast but it's not bad, probably comparable to DSL.  The VPN does disconnect randomly, but it did that back home too.

Telecommuting requires discipline. My current situation reminds me of when I was taking online classes. I have to pace myself and stick tightly to my to-do list; there's nobody checking up on me in person. I do communicate with my boss and team-lead regularly, but mostly I'm on my own.  The communication has been getting better and the internet is more reliable in the apartment and I've been working more in the evenings.

Thursdays are regularly scheduled electrical blackout days here, when the power company turns off electricity to the campus during business hours. Contrast that to when we were in Delhi five years ago, where the power went out 20 minutes each day. The college has a backup power supply that they use, so I go over to Michael's office and work from there. Our apartment goes for about six hours without power on Thursdays, never mind it being right next to a hospital. Water is pumped via a local pump in the apartment building, so no power means no water either.  The water outages are particularly annoying when one of us is starting to take a shower; we shower twice a day in this heat.  But the water still usually runs out around midnight, even when there is electricity.

The first week or two of work was a real struggle to adjust. I was jet-laggged and sick (GI), sleeping several additional hours each day. A 20-minute walk across campus in this heat was exhausting and made me want to collapse into a nap. Now, I still get completely soaked from sweat if I walk across campus during midday, but I'm fine once I'm drinking water in an air-conditioned rooms.  I'm extremely glad I'm not doing my original plan of going back and forth, spending a few weeks here and then a few weeks back in the US. I don't think my body could've handled the shifting jet-lag. I still randomly wake up in the middle of the night for an hour or two at a time, wide awake and unable to sleep. That's partly a good thing, since that's when I've been writing most of these blog entries.

Now, I'm settling in and my work has been pretty productive here, despite being ten and a half hours ahead of East Coast time. And in spite of the connectivity. The internet availability has improved, but I still operate like the connection might die at any moment.  When I do have internet available, I grab all the emails and copy them to my laptop to respond to offline. Then if the internet or power dies, I can still keep working and just send them when it returns. And the time zone kinda works in my favor, since a couple of the developers are early birds and start their work around 6:30 AM.

Conference calls have been more challenging, not just on my end. My boss had a department meeting, which she very kindly scheduled for 9 AM their time (just before my suppertime here). I tried using Skype, but the connection died. So I called via my cell phone at 6 rupees (12 cents) a minute, which is fine. That worked okay to get the main number, but the conference room where the meeting didn't have a working telephone. So my colleagues gathered around some kind of microphone (or maybe somebody's personal cell phone?) and had the meeting. Wasn't as good as in person, but I heard most of it. And it was nice to hear their voices again. Every organization has politics and good and bad aspects, but my company has really great people. I miss my co-workers.
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The new apartment's internet connection has been super-flaky, going out about once or twice a day for no apparent reason whatsoever.  Now  maybe we know why. 

It's probably a loose connection. Jagat showed us how he fixes it.  Just go up on the roof, to the edge where the antenna is, and wiggle around the cable going into the connection box.  (Apparently the ISP won't come out and fix it, even though it's their faulty installation.)  But if we just move the wire around a bit, it often mysteriously starts working again.

The trouble is, it's precarious. The connection box is about 7 feet above the edge of the roof, mounted on an antenna, and it's directly over empty space and a four-story drop to the ground below.  So we grabbed a spare length of plastic pipe from the construction, and put it nearby. We'll use that to poke and prod it in the future; maybe that will help.

Beating it with a stick! If only all computer problems could be solved like that!
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We move to rural India in two weeks. Or less. Or maybe more? We still don't have definite dates; the bureaucrats are still ordering the one-way plane tickets. We've asked to leave August 28 or later and have a two-day layover in Paris. Then hopefully we'll have a day or so of in-country orientation in Delhi before moving to the host university's guest house. Michael starts teaching around the first of September. Indian school-year semesters vary by region, and they don't line up with the traditional US school year. Overall, it seems like they're much more flexible about class schedules or just dates in general.

Speaking of flexible, my amazing company is letting me telecommute! We can keep paying our mortgage and I don't neglect my teammates. I will be keeping busy, helping finish the major software project I've been working on for a year. It's work that can mostly be done offline if needed, so if a stray cow knocks out the internet for half a day, it'll be OK. Our CTO also gave approval to start writing a company standard-requirements document for usability and best practices. So that'll give me a fun back-burner project to work on when the acronyms are driving me buggy.

I have precious little time to pack. My second summer class ends this week. My final presentation (50 minutes long) on how to evaluate Business Intelligence software is on Saturday. Sunday is our take-home final exam. The final project report is due Monday. I'm still almost a week behind, since I didn't have much internet access on my recent business trip. So tonight I will be working hard (the prof gave me an extension, but I don't want to push it). The class has still been great; terrific, practical information on usability engineering. I already applied some of it at the users' group meeting a couple weeks ago.

Enough procrastinating. Must go do work. Ack!

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