Grant Muller

Instagram Gets Surreal

A year ago on a trip to NYC I had the chance to view a piece of art by Jason Salavon that averaged portraits together into one portrait. The results are uncanny. A portrait is so predictable that the shape of the objects and negative space of the painting are so obviously a portrait that even expressed as the average of several it still reads as a portrait. Its as though you took off your glasses and stood far enough away that the face simply became blurred. Salavon has similar works, such as the average of Every Playboy Centerfold, and 100 Special Moments. Kids with Santa is particularly cool:

Kids With Santa

Salavon’s work inspired me to create something similar.

Instagram receives thousands of photographs a day. They’re liked, and some become very popular. Enough so that they hit the ‘most popular’ page on Instagram. I asked, what does the average ‘most popular’ Instagram photo look like? I started by using my client key to download a group of them and average it up with ImageJ. I quickly realized that the most popular list changes. Frequently.

To truly capture what the average most popular photograph on instagram looks like it must be done realtime, at the request of the user and in the moment. I wanted to try some client-side image-processing with Javascript so I set out to create a beautiful time-waster that would allow a user to get the most recent popular photographs on instagram, choose a blend mode, and see the average photo right now. The result was Surrealgram:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.48.40 PM

Surrealgram uses my forks of some existing software, like Pixastic and connect-image-proxy, along with a jquery-mobile and backbone interface, with a super-slim node.js backend to handle proxied image requests (until Instagram supports CORS). Technology selection followed the sacred rule of “this is what I want to play with right now”. Using it is simple:

Go to surrealgram.com

The latest ‘most popular’ photos will load automatically. Check out the result.

To get the latest photographs, click ‘Refresh’

To change the blend options, click the toolbar in the top right-hand corner.

optionsbutton

You can adjust the blend mode, amount, and number of pictures.

options

16 is currently the max, but I’m working to get that up without angering the instagram infrastructure.

Save your photo. This can unfortunately only be done on a desktop browser for now.

It was a few hours of work, but its become and addiction to play with. Check out some of my surrealgrams:

DogBridge

Flight

Sunglasses

I have some additional features planned if I can find the time to implement them:

  1. Share to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blah blah blah.
  2. Allow users to search by hashtag
  3. More pictures!

The code is under active revision, you can find it here

Coffee Sack Sound Baffles

Several years ago I began acoustically treating my studio for recording drums and mixing. I did some research and pricing; it didn’t take a spreadsheet to discover that acoustic paneling was both overpriced and hideous. I searched some more and devised a solution that was both economical and classy.

Acoustic paneling is simple stuff. You get some kind of absorbent material, optionally covered with sonically neutral fabric, and hang it on a surface. You can use spacers to increase the gap between the wall and the panel to increase the amount of absorbency, and of course your choice in material will affect the frequency range, amount of reduction, and all that. Let’s skip the science though and get right into the implementation.

You will need:

  • An Absorbent Material
  • 1″ x 3″ boards
  • 1″ x 2″ boards
  • Fabric (see below)
  • Nail or screw gun
  • Stapler
  • Dry wall fasteners (wing nut style)

First, select an absorbent material. You could go simple and use the pink stuff. You know, the insulation they sell at Home Depot with the panther on it. Good ‘ol R-30. This material is fine and all, but from the perspective of space it is far from ideal. It’s bulky, and in a space as confined as mine I wanted something that wasn’t going to shrink my studio by more than a few square feet. I went with Owens-Corning 703 but you’ve got some other options, like Roxul RHT 80, which is much cheaper. 

The material I bought comes in 24″ x 48″ x 2″ by default, but can be cut smaller using a razor blade. Wear gloves and long sleeves if you decide to cut it, unless you like that itchy feeling. I went the lazy route and planned my room sans cutting.

SoundBaffles 1

The next step was to build a frame to contain the panel. Sure, you could just duct tape it to the wall, but a frame gives it a cleaner look and allows you to space the panel away from the wall. The frame also gives you something to attach the fabric to. I used 1″ x 3″ cedar boards because they’re extremely light and inexpensive, and the panels fit perfectly in them. No need to get fancy with dovetail joints and wood glue, just cut some straight boards and join them together with a nail gun, stapler, screws, or whatever you have laying around. You’re dog might casually sniff your frame:

SoundBaffles 7


After your frame is built, you’ll want to attach your fabric. You have a lot of freedom here to dress these panels up, so long as you choose a fabric that will allow most or all sound through. Many tight weave fabrics will reflect frequencies preventing them from even reaching your absorbent material, which kind of defeats the purpose. I went with coffee sacks since I had a ready supply of them, they’re sonically neutral, and I think they look cool. Your dog might question your selection:

SoundBaffles 3

Using a staple gun or a fastener of some kind, stretch the fabric across the front of the frame and staple each side. You’re probably not going to learn to be an upholsterer here, but try to get a drum-tight frame across the front of the panel, leaving the back open. After you’ve stapled the fabric around the frame, stuff the panel into the it. Eventually your dog will get tired of whatever it is you’re doing an leave.

SoundBaffles 11

Your panel should look something like this:

SoundBaffles 15

And it probably looks something like this from the front:

SoundBaffles 17

Technically you could build a stand or mount of some kind and move this around wherever you wanted, but I opted to hang mine from the walls (and ceiling). I used 1″ x 2″ boards to hang all of my panels. A 1″ x 2″ attached flat to the wall provides a 3/4″ standoff between the wall and your panel when you hang it. First, I cut 2 1″ x 2″ boards just long enough to fit inside the back of my frames. Then, I drilled two holes and inserted a bolt appropriately sized for these wing nuts:

SoundBaffles 19

From there it is a simple matter of hanging the standoff wherever you want your panels to hang. Mark your holes on the wall, drill where the marks are, press the bolts (already attached to the 1″ x 2″), then tighten:

SoundBaffles 21

Take your panel and hang it on the 1″ x 2″. You can attach, with screws or nails, the panel to the 1″ x 2″, but I find it unnecessary. Plus if you leave them free hanging you can move them around if you get bored with the way they look.

SoundBaffles 25

That’s pretty much it. I realized that this wasn’t particularly novel when I realized that this guy did almost the same thing independently, but I think the coffee sacks were a nice touch.

Oh…and ATS Acoustics offers their own coffee sack acoustic panels…for a price…

Another Schwinn Prelude?

After a leisurely lunch on the Marietta Square yesterday, I came across this:

SchwinnPrelude-79

Another Schwinn Prelude!

It seems I’m not the only one who was unimpressed with the original rusted gunmetal gray look.

The owner of this Prelude painted theirs similarly to mine. A base coat of cream with an accent color for the lugs and forks. Observe:

SchwinnPrelude-75

 

This Prelude owner went with green, no doubt as an accent to the sexy leather Brooks seat and handlebar tape. I also like the fork paint:

SchwinnPrelude-76

 

No detail was left:

SchwinnPrelude-77SchwinnPrelude-78

 

All in all a very impressive redux! Anyone else have a Schwinn Prelude Redux to Share?

Todo-CL 2.0.0

A while back I created a simple command line tool that allowed me to create tasks from Launchy and send them directly to Toodledo. My process was simple. I’d create a bunch of tasks throughout the day while doing other stuff, then sometime that night (or the next morning) I’d go through all those tasks and put them in the right container, assign due dates, and make projects out of them if necessary. This works great for tasks that can wait a day.

But what about tasks that can’t wait a day?

I realized that what I needed was a way to add a due date of ‘today’ inline with the task. I played with the code and in about 10 minutes or so I had the feature added.

That was easy, why not take it further?

So I did. Todo-CL has a slew of new options for creating tasks from the command line, or in my case, from Launchy. Here is a snapshot of the README file, which includes the new context switches for adding tasks on the fly:

Additional Options

  • -t –tags comma delimited list of tags

    todo.exe a task with tags -t work,play,tag3

  • -f –folder folder to insert the task into

    todo.exe a task with a folder -f Inbox

  • -c –context context to use

    todo.exe a task with a context -c Home

  • -l –length length of the task in minutes

    todo.exe a task with a length -l 20

  • -s –set set a default property

    Format = PROPERTY:VALUE (ex: folder:Actions)

    todo.exe set default folder -s folder:Inbox todo.ext set default context -s context:Home

    If set all new tasks will go to the default folder or context

  • -h –help display this help screen

To download version 2.0.0 visit the project page on github.

Is it Avant Jazz Industrial Noise? No, It’s STFUnity.

2933683006-1

Its not jazz. It’s not fusion. It’s not electronic. It’s not industrial. I don’t have a word to describe what happened when musicians of very different backgrounds got together virtually to create music.

I can only call it STFUnity.

Finished while I was on holiday in India, STFUnity is what happens when an anarchist saxophonist blasts over the work of a precision drum programmer. Its what happens when an algorithmic composer high-fives his drum kit, then asks for someone to play a solo over it. Its what happens when a keyboardist demands that the entire album be mixed into one of the tracks…indeterminately. Its alternately gentle and violent instrumental frosting spread over an electronic layer cake that got up and triple-lindyed off a countertop.

I haven’t listened to many of the the tracks since their early completion some time ago, and I find myself remembering fondly the process of creating them as much as the result. Built almost entirely over the web, the project was initiated by Bill Graham and Jason Blain early in 2010. My contributions came primarily in the form of sound design and algorithmic control, though a few tracks I laid the base for, leaving Jason and Bill to render further. You can read about that here and here.

One track I haven’t mentioned is BitBlit. Written in 25/8 time, I played the drums live, then sliced what can liberally be called a “pattern” into constituent parts varying in length between 8th and half notes. Then, using GOLSequencer I changed the entry point and various effects, mangling the once straightforward 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8 sequence into something unrecognizable.

That ‘straightforward’ part is supposed to be a joke.

It’s worthwhile to listen to a before and after, so you can see how much different the tracks are once other members of the group get a hold of them. Notice how BitBlit as I rendered it graduates to full-fledged song from cheesy video game interstitial.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

BitBlit Before

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

BitBlit After

So, what are you waiting for? Download it. It’ll crush your bones at no cost (that means it’s free). Click here.

In Defense of Shoes

Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But think about where your eyes aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now, and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, it gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet, and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have "watchdog" routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding, the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s ok.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking its the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

Image courtesy of matthetube. Article first published as In Defense of Shoes on Blogcritics.

JTTE: A Final Word on India

210601_10150511011125160_595550159_18180009_3882883_o“So how was India?”

Next to ‘how ya doin?’, this is the most common question I’ve had in the past week from relatives, family, friends and co-workers. I don’t mind actually; every time the question is posed I get to reminisce about the trip.

“It was awesome. It’s an amazing place”

India will teach you things. You’ll learn how different we all are, and how foreign a culture can be. You’ll also learn how similar we are, even half a world apart. You’ll see what a country transitioning between ancient custom and modern convenience looks like. You’ll see a country that has managed to respect those customs while still adopting western technology, or refusing to adopt it because its just doesn’t work for them. You’ll see what real poverty looks like, and you’ll see people getting by just the same. You’ll see people who have woven work and life together in such a way that they occur at the same time, without making them burned out or in danger of going postal. Sure, it’s dirty, but it’s a raw dirt, like a gravel country road that hasn’t been paved. It feels lived in, like an old house, endearing and warm.

210289_10150511012020160_595550159_18180036_6636474_oI find myself missing it. I’m happy to be home to my clean air, my vast expanses of open living space, and orderly street traffic, but where is the nearest kulfi stand? I miss the barber on the corner with a line of men waiting in patient conversation to have their whiskers trimmed. I miss the smell of the corner tea shop, masala chai on the boil over an open flame. I miss the street bazaars. I miss the cows. I can understand how many Indian expatriates yearn to return to their home, there is a lot to miss.

India is going to be a different place in 10 years. Hell, as fast as they got the Delhi airport up, maybe 5. I have it on good authority from the world’s biggest Tata fan that it will be even less. The Indians are proving that they can make a new world quicker than we can take the old one in, if you want to see it the way it is, you had better get out there before it happens.

So did we have a good time? I’d say so, we’re already planning our next trip.

Cary, who took the lion’s share of the pictures, has been uploading edited pictures. I’ll be returning to the old posts day by day and adding links to them as she posts them.

With that said, I compiled a list of most humorous, but still applicable do’s and don’t if you find yourself making a trip in the near future. Feel free to add to it in the comments!

Do’s and Don’ts
  • Stay away from the water. Don’t brush your teeth with it. Shower with your mouth tightly closed. Ingesting the water is the quickest way to get sick in India. Are you likely to get deathly ill? No, I know from experience that it’s not that bad, but it’s still something to be avoided if you want to enjoy your trip.
  • If you do get a stomach bug, eat the local curd. Even if you don’t get sick, it’s tasty stuff. Lassi. Yogurt. Etc. Obviously I’m not a doctor and my advice is only empirical, but this worked like a dream for me. I found I was better capable of handling the water if I had been drinking lassi’s all day.  Make sure that they aren’t adding ice or water to the curd though…
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Why? They wash them with the water. And if they didn’t wash them with anything, then you really don’t want to eat them.
  • You’ll get a better deal if you pay in cash.
  • Try not to pay more than 50% of the asking price, unless the price is so low that you don’t feel like haggling. Especially in tourist towns like Agra, bargain your way down to half the asking at the very minimum.
  • Don’t give money to beggars. Even children. Ever see Slum dog Millionaire? Seriously, don’t do it.
  • Get over the smell. You can’t escape it anyway.
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Bring camping toilet paper with you. You will not find toilet paper in public restrooms. Hell, you may not even find a toilet. Plan to poop like you would on a camping trip, and you’ll do fine.
  • Learn to use that little sprayer next to the toilet. Its better than paper anyway.
  • Don’t even think of renting a car. Rent a driver. You will kill someone or something if you try to take your terrible western driving skills on to the road in India.
  • Don’t be freaked out or homophobic about dudes holding hands, hugging, or lounging together. They develop different relationships than we do, it doesn’t make them homosexual.
  • It would not be prudent to say “Whatchoo lookin’ at?” to someone staring at you. You are weird looking. Get over it. They are a fairly pacifist group of folks, they aren’t sizing you up for a confrontation like we on the western side of the world do. People are staring at you because you stand out. It’s ok.

JTTE: Coming Home

India-2386There is nothing exciting about waking up at 4:00 in the morning to start a 12 hour car ride from Udaipur to Delhi. Suffice it to say that that is what we did.

There isn’t much exciting about a 12 hour car ride either. We did that too.

Upon arriving in Delhi we had far less time than we would have had we taken the train, which cut out a lot of the last minute sightseeing we had planned on. We shrugged and agreed that since we’d have to come through Delhi on our way to virtually any other location in India, that we’d have the chance to see the Lodi Gardens, Lotus Temple, and Gandhi House next time.

We did have time to grab dinner with my long-time friend and co-worker at one of the top restaurants in Delhi, R.E.D. (Rare Eastern Dining). It was nice meal, certainly for the food, but more so for the opportunity to have a drink with an old friend, relate the details of our trip, get clarification on some of the customs, and have an intelligent conversation about the future of India. It was a nice time and I’m glad I got to treat him to a meal, since he greased the tracks for our successful vacation.

After dinner we jumped on our 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. The plan was to sleep as much as possible on this flight, then arrive in Amsterdam well-rested and ready for the day there, our 12 hour bonus day iIndia-2409n the Netherlands. The plan worked, and we dozed through almost all of the trip. We spent an hour in the airport sipping a real coffee (not instant!) and planning our day. Early morning on Tuesday, we set out for the city by train.

We took a walking tour of Amsterdam, occasionally stopping into a coffee shop to warm-up and have a cafe crème before moving on. It was too early for much of the city to be open for business, but that didn’t keep us from wandering around the streets, viewing the canals and seeing some sights.

To be honest there wasn’t much to see in Amsterdam. Not really in the mood for museums, we took the opportunity to unwindIndia-2449, eat some chocolate, and otherwise get back into "Western" mode. The contrast between New Delhi and Amsterdam was stark, the density of Delhi making Amsterdam feel like a ghost town. Amsterdam is also one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever visited, making the transition from east to west even harder to fathom.

As the day wore on, we made the rounds at the Albert Cuyp market. I sampled some raw herring with pickle, which was so fantastic I kept sampling it. I hadn’t had a raw anything in almost three weeks, and just to get a few uncooked onions was deeply satisfying. I had a few beers; Heineken tastes the same everywhere, La Chouffe doesn’t. We walked the surprisingly tame red light district, though it was only just after lunch and I assume things "heat up" after dark arIndia-2459ound there. I got some vlames frites, and will forever refer to mayonnaise as "Dutch sauce" as a result.

In the end our tiny taste of Amsterdam was bittersweet. I missed some of the constant action of India, the din of people everywhere replaced by the solitude of the Netherlands was too much, too soon. Amsterdam is certainly a beautiful city, and I plan to return, but perhaps not so soon after a trip to the far east.

We hopped on our last plane ride. I fidgeted through most of it, got grumpy during customs, then fell asleep a few times on our way home. With only one recovery day to follow this long trip up with, we hit the pillow hard that night. The trip was finally over. It was good to be home to my city, my home, my dogs, and my own bed.

One thing I’ve failed to mention is that Cary takes all of the pictures you see here. I know how to use a camera, but she has a way with it. I do some editing and throw this stuff together, and that’s about it. Cary makes these trips, and forces me out of my comfort zone (though she probably says the same of me). I wouldn’t have had half as much fun on this trip, or any trip without her. To be honest, I probably would have come home after the first week. Thanks Cary, you make life worth living.

JTTE: The Hell with the Train

India-1925We got an early start on our first full day in Udaipur as their was much to see and do. Our first stop was the Jagdish Temple, very much a working Hindu temple near to our haveli. We proceeded clockwise around the grounds to each of the small shrines, examining the elephant plinth and the representations of the gods around the base of the temple. We had arrived early and several people were performing their morning prayers; we did our best not to disturb them.

After traversing the outer temple we proceeded inside. The temple was constructed of carved, unpainted stone with a central shrine where several worshipers with giving offerings. Speaking of offerings, a man dressed in typical Indian security garb, beret and all, tried to insist that we pay him 50 rupees to enter the temple. I sensed a shady deal, especially as the false guard skulked behind the columns of the temple while rubbing two grubby fingers together like a bellboy begging for a tip. I cocked an eyebrow and shook my head. No chance buddy. We wandered the temple, trying hard to keep ourselves from taking pictures inside out of respect for those worshipping quietly. I also had to try very hard not to drag my new bellboy out by his goofy beret and beat the hell out of him; you know, respect.

Breathe deep, my friend. Calm as a Hindu cow.

India-1951We left the tranquility of the temple for the hustle of the narrow streets and headed up towards the City Palace where a crowd of tour buses had gathered. When you’re on vacation you don’t realize when the week begins and ends, and we hadn’t realized it was Sunday until we encountered the huge crowd at the palace.

The City Palace in Udaipur is much like the one in Jaipur. Formerly the home of the Maharana of the city, the royalty has quietly sequestered themselves into a much smaller segment of the palace and opened the majority to the public as a museum. Several of the halls, including the now familiar Moti Mahal have been opened to view the fine glass work and fixtures. Several segments of the palace have been devoted to museums of Mughal art portraying tiger hunts, battles, and games featuring the Maharana and his sortie. You get the impression that in Udaipur, there is still a great amount of respect paid to their royalty. We would find out later that he is still drawn by horse and carriage, in full regalia, during a procession through the streets of Udaipur on Holi. We had just missed it by a few days.

India-2230After the tour of the City Palace museum, we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola and onto Jag Mandir. Formerly a prince’s pleasure palace, now a luxury hotel and spa, the accommodations of the manmade island that aren’t open to tourists are available starting at around $899 per night. Cary and I checked our wallets and decided we might consider booking here after a few years of saving. On the other hand the spa did smell nice, and the gardens were well maintained. I don’t usually dig on spas, but I would certainly consider taking a day to indulge here; if it was good enough for a Rajput prince, it’s good enough for me.

We left the island by boat and meandered back to our hotel. Our intention was to grab a bite to eat, and do some last minute shopping for family before heading off to the railway station to catch our train.

"Waitlist 1 and 2? I’m sure you’ll get on the train, I have been waitlisted as far back as 14 and still gotten. You have nothing to worry about."

We heard this same story at least a dozen times on our second day in Udaipur, intended to put us at ease as our seats had not yet been confirmed on the train back to Delhi. We still checked our ticket status constantly to be sure, but at least in our minds and the local’s, we were as good as home. Our local Tata connoisseur looked up our ticket info. "Oh no, you’ve made a blunder!" he said. I apparently didn’t know the ins and outs of the India rail system when I booked the ticket, and had inadvertently booked the most difficult seats to get. He gave us a ton of useful information and urged us to rush to the train station as soon as possible to try and get our tickets modified.

Only a certain number of seats are actually reserved on the trains in India, the rest are put into statuses such as "reserved against cancellation" and "waitlist". We were in the latter group. Additionally there are several other mechanisms like "foreign tourist quotas" and "emergency seats" and something called Taktal that are held in case any last minute travelers must get on the train. Our strategy was to get into one of these quotas, and we were equipped with some pretty decent information regarding how to do it. Then the reality of the Indian Railway bureaucracy set in.

If any of the above information looks like a lot of nonsense, that’s because it is.

India-1991We arrived at the train station and found out that our tickets had effectively been cancelled; even the highest ranking waitlist ticket is still a waitlist ticket, thus we could not board. Furthermore a very surly ticket collector poring over a huge paper chart took one look at our ticket and waved us off, saying in some kind of broken English "train is full". I spoke with the superintendent as well as the tourist office manager. Apparently there was nothing anyone could do. We would not be getting on the train.

We left the train station with mixed emotions. Bewildered at the silliness of the bureaucracy, I no longer desired to take a train in India, and we were both having a great time in Udaipur anyway. Staying another night and riding back with Mashtan was our backup plan, and executing it didn’t bother us at all. We shrugged our India rail experience off, went back to our inviting haveli (the owner’s of which were incredulous that we couldn’t get on the train), and took up residence in our former room.

India-2294This gave us time to take a rickshaw to another tourist destination in Udaipur, the Classic Cars Museum. Over the years, the Maharana of the city have gathered a collection of cars, on display in what is essentially his garage. It was an experience. The guard at the gate took us by each individual garage, unlocked it and threw open the doors, describing the vehicle inside and what it was used for. There was a Rolls-Royce for everything; one that was hacked up to look like a jeep for royal hunts, another opened up like a truck to transport the cricket team. There were a few ancient Chevrolet trucks and buses, as well as cars whose manufacturers I had never heard of, like Morris and Nash. It was here that we had a look at the Maharana’s official carriage as well. It turned out to be a fascinating side trip, and well worth the rickshaw ride.

We left the car museum and slowly made our way back to our haveli. We had a restful evening planned; we couldn’t have picked a better city in India to be stuck. We took up residence in one of the best seats in the house on the terrace, had a lassi or two, then retired around midnight. About 4 hours from then we would be en route to Delhi by car. It was going to be a long ride.

JTTE: The Most Romantic City in All of India

India-1822The road to Udaipur began after a quick caffeine fix. This would be our shortest driving length of the trip, but owing to the terrain would be our longest. Leaving Jodhpur we encountered some of the most poorly maintained tracts of asphalt I’ve seen this side of Costa Rica. Couple that with the fact that we were on the main road from Jodhpur to Mumbai, the Indian shipping capital, and we had created a very stressful start to the day for Mashtan. After a few hours we turned off this one lane superhighway onto the road to Udaipur, and things quickly improved.

The terrain changes dramatically between the encroaching western desert and the city of Udaipur. On the horizon mountains appear, and rocky outcroppings poke up out of the scrub like monuments in the sand. I can only describe is as looking like the countryside of Greece sounds. Within an hour we were in the midst of the stony mountain pass, with terraced farms, stacked walls and rock huts dotting the landscape as we zoomed by. Mashtan was visibly happier with this portion of the drive. "This is like Himalaya" he said to us, as the road hair-pinned around an embankment, "This is not boring drive". We agreed, and when the opportunity to have a tea at a hotel nestled in the hills presented itself, we lingered long.

India-1832Udaipur is like an oasis in the mountains. The city surrounds a lake, and the transition between algae covered waters and concrete structures is immediate. There are several spots where stairs have been built right into the water, and I’m certain that all of the classic shots of people collectively bathing and doing their laundry in India come from Udaipur. The city is also quite small. We planned to have Mashtan drop us off at our lodgings and just walk everywhere from there, which is more conducive to the way Cary and I travel anyway. It also gave Mashtan a much needed break.

Speaking of lodgings. In Udaipur we stayed at another "guest house", or haveli that has been converted into an inn. I don’t know how to describe these guest houses to Americans other than comparing them to a bed and breakfast, which isn’t quite the same. At a guest house, there are usually few rooms, four to ten in our experience. With such a limited number of guests staying in the haveli, the staff can better accommodate your needs than a traditional hotel. Indeed, we found that when we stayed at a guest house in India, we were much India-1840happier with our lodgings than when we stayed in a hotel. Here is an example: whenever we had an early pick up at a guest house, well before the kitchen opened, the staff would usually offer to make use something that we could pack for breakfast. Another example: internet costs money here in India. At every hotel we went to we had these goofy scratch off cards with a password to get on their internet, which was finicky to use and required constant re-authentication. At the guest houses internet was free, or they charged on a per hour basis simply asking you to report to them about how much you used. I am much more likely to overpay in the latter scenario, simply because the bond of trust between guest and host has been created by the host’s faith in my honesty. Bottom line: Pick the guest house over the hotel if one is available.

India-1870After a quick check-in later than we expected, we wandered around the city in an effort to catch the boat tour. We got a little lost, but a few rickshaw rides later caught our bearings. The boat ride would have to wait for the morning, but we did wander the streets, conversed with the locals and perused the shops. We met some of the most memorable characters we had encountered so far in India. The most avid Tata connoisseur on the planet who ran Tata’s first retail endeavor. Jony and Sony, two brothers who had set up shop as tailors of fine suits. We also ran into several other residents who had spent time in other cities and ended up back in Udaipur. I don’t blame the latter of these; we found Udaipur to be the finest city we had the privilege to visit in India, and agree with the most common assessment of the it: "Udaipur is the most romantic city in all of India".

Taking it easy for the evening, we had a leisurely dinner on the terrace of our haveli, which overlooked the lake, the lit palaces, and the city. Tomorrow we would set out on foot again to visit the tourist attractions and catch our train back to Delhi.