26 June 2008

Week 42: Starting to get some results, starting to collect new data

42nd-1st in Dhaka 6/18

We had a few losses of power at BUET today, more than we had the last two days. Really was disruptive to what work we were trying to get done. Another hiccup today was that Shegufta somehow erased half of her work. She’ll have to redo it now, and I’m sure it upset her more than it did me.

I’ve had to figure out how much to pay her for her help. I’d offered a few months back, and at the time she’d said no need, that experience was enough. But I brought it up again this time, and she accepted. I’ve used advice from Jen who is paying several assistants doing transcription work at Dhaka University. I also took into account the starting salary of a civil engineering graduate in Bangladesh (Tk15,000-Tk20,000 per month.)
This whole experience is me giving first time experience in managing personnel in civil engineering, as opposed to the rowing team, and making managerial decisions. Choosing work for an employee’s skill level is a neat challenge.

Tonight was a Fulbright get-together. It was my “turn” to organize it, so in the past week I’d sent out emails to everyone, trying to get a date set. Six students, two scholars, and Shaheen all were willing to come, so I set the date as today, and made a reservation at Red Tomato, the same restaurant I enjoyed with my parents when they were in Dhaka. Well by this evening two students had cancelled and one scholar didn’t show up, so it was a much smaller get-together than I had hoped. In fact, Jen and I were the only current Fulbrighters there. Kristin was a Fulbright last year, Julia is affiliated through an English-teaching grant, but not officially a Fulbright, and Dr. Haque had already had finished his grant, but just happened to be back in town. (pics: Julia/Dr. Haque/Jen/Ben at Red Tomato for Fulbright get-together, myself/Dr. Haque/Shaheen Khan at Fulbright get-together)

Bad part of the evening was that some people who ordered a pizza disliked it. Apparently it was way too saucy, with a bad sauce. I’ll put this as the second worst pizza in Dhaka, the worst being American Burger’s (who think it’s acceptable to put American Cheese on their pizza.

42nd-2nd in Dhaka 6/19

Today I got up early. I had planned to have three data collections today, one during the AM peak hour, one during the midday lull, and one during the PM peak, at the Elephant Road bus stop. I got there for the first data collection and decided the Trans Silva bus counter, in the middle and without any obstructions from the ticket seller’s bench, would be good to station myself. I asked the ticket seller if I could sit next to him while he worked, and he said sure. I collected data for one hour on the buses that passed about how crowded they were and how long they stayed at the stop. From this, and future data collections like this, I hope to arrive at a value which I can say represents the amount of crowded buses running in Dhaka every day.
While sitting there in the morning, I heard someone say my name. It was Altaf on his commute to work. He was buying a ticket for Trans Silva to go to his job (although I would advise him to take one of the six other buses which go to his job because they are all cheaper and of equal quality, Trans Silva tries to encourage people not to get on the bus at this stop for Motijheel/Gulistan by keeping its fares high for those stops.) He did quickly invite me to come visit at his office today before he boarded, so I told him I would.

The ticket seller I was sitting next to was great to talk to. I got to ask him questions about the buses, getting his take on things. Also found out, clearly from him, why some buses don’t come down this stretch of road at certain times. That was very valuable information that I’ve been wondering about for a long time! Because seven of the buses that come by here have to reach it by pulling a U-turn on a perpendicular road, during the 8:30-9pm period when offices are opening, the police want those buses to take an alternate route. However this alternate route still requires that U-turn, so I’m not sure what the benefits. It does, however, force passenger to have to cross a 4-lane divided road to get to board the bus on the perpendicular road: unsafe!

I went home just in time for Moweena to arrive. In fact she was waiting outside my gate because she was about to leave! If I tell her to come at a certain time, she likes to come a little bit early and then leave since I’m obviously not there yet. Despite how much I tell her I will always get back on time. This morning I was planning on showing her how to make French toast, as I really wanted it, and it’d be cool if she could make it sometimes. As I was about to explain, eggs and bread in hands, she guessed what I wanted to eat, just the Bangladeshi version. Well I asked her if that is the one with onions and chilies on it, and she responded in the affirmative…so I asked her to please make it without that, and she looked at me strange. But she did, and it was delicious!

Went to Motijheel to visit Altaf. He showed me photos of his new wife, they got married just recently. He also showed me photos from when Anwar was in town with Sanjana, and a neat photo of the two married brothers and their wives. We then got lunch next door and hung out at his office for a bit after. It’s been since March that I’ve seen him, every time I called earlier he was always busy. We remarked how everyone always feels busy in Bangladesh, always running someplace, but no one gets that much done. I’m going to blame the traffic.

I then headed straight to my second data collection at the same bus counter. No issues, a few more people talked to me asking what I was doing since it wasn’t early in the morning and they were more awake. The bus counter shift change occurred, and the guy from the morning introduced to the guy I’d be sitting next to again later in the evening.
For the third data collection it was raining when I arrived. That made it a bit more difficult, but I still managed somehow. It slowed down after the first ten minutes. It was a bit harder to see the buses in the dark, but it was only one hour, and I quickly acclimated. This day was more exhausting than I had expected.

42nd-3rd in Dhaka 6/20

Watched two movies today, one right after waking up and just while lying in bed, and one later during lunch. It was a great day at home. My last to spend all day at home for three weeks, so I wasn’t going to let it go.

I posted my blog, applied for jobs, read lots of online articles, relaxed all day. It felt great. Needed a day of recovery mentally and physically. Moweena made French toast again and it was delicious. Also getting good news about travel partners. And lots of emails back from professors and students for potential graduate schools.

In the evening, after relaxing all day, I attended a dinner at Jamal Ahmed’s home, where he was hosting this summer’s AIBS program for a meal. I was invited by the director Tony Stewart as an AIBS alumnus. The students were great to talk to, and Jamal’s home/studio (he is a famous artist) was clean with his latest work all around, and the food his wife made was great. Had some long conversations with several students about transportation. One particular student Jeremy, Ben, and I talked for a long time about different regions of the US and how they’re responding to their transportation issues, particularly Arizona where Jeremy is from (and I recently read a report about,) and then moved on to talking about ITS solutions and other fun transportation topics. I stayed until about 10:30, then grabbed a rickshaw home. (pics: summer AIBS students James and Luke along with Ben at AIBS dinner at Jamal Ahmed's home, paintings in Jamal Ahmed's studio (sorry blurry))

42nd-4th in Dhaka 6/21

It’s always very humid in the house now. The rains are coming each day, but nothing heavy yet, at least not in Dhaka. The problem with the humidity is that it gets into everything. My towels don’t dry anymore between showers. And I noticed that my favorite hat hanging on the wall for a few months is now moldy! Very upset about that. I need to make sure all cloth items are staying locked up or I’m going to have a lot of ruined clothing. I checked some of the clothes I have in bags under my bed, and those seem ok. I don’t have space to store them.

Working with Shegufta at BUET today was productive. I did more writing than I usually do, wrote some Visual Basic code, and crunched some numbers on my data sheets. She processed three buses.

Moweena came in the evening because she came too late in the morning to do anything productive. I had her wash clothes, including my sidebag, which has gotten really gross. In fact a lot of the things I use a lot get this layer of grime that I can feel. Its sweat, just built up on the fabric.

Today I also met a guy who worked on Dhaka’s Strategic Transportation Plan, the document I spent about a month browsing through when I first started reading up on Dhaka. He was telling me how he did a lot of technical work under the guys running the project from Louis Berger. I bombarded him with questions, and I think I wore him out! I asked them how many people were on the team who collected the data, how much time it all took, what were his direct responsibilities, what the management structure was like. I was very interested to know what goes into such a large project of studying solutions for a city with horrible traffic.

42nd-5th in Dhaka 6/22

Went to BUET at the usual time, but Shegufta called me to tell me she won’t be coming in today. So I spent the whole day coding one small part in Visual Basic. Somehow the computer isn’t blocking me, don’t know what changed. But I was able to run it and test it for errors. It works now and I’m very proud to have written my first visual basic program.
Simply, it’s a program which takes my alights and my boardings from two different sections of my sheet, and analyzes them as they would’ve actually happened in real life. This involved a lot of IF-THEN and DO WHILE statements, but I got it to logically work out the order of the alights and boards. Even got to play with an array! Was fun to figure it out. Then fun to have the data automatically reentered back into the sheets.

After, I met up with Farabi in Dhanmondi. Hadn’t seem him since January when he came to visit family for a few weeks. He’s here for the summer now, and is trying to do some social volunteering work. Always tough it seems, the project he joined basically gave him office work, so he left, and will be going to Grameen Bank now to work with them.

Farabi and I tried going to play some billiards, but the place we went was packed. We stood around for half an hour hoping one of the table’s would clear up, but all of them just got more packed as more and more university students came by to meet up with their friends who were already playing. Realizing we’ll likely never play, we walked down to Rifles Square to go bowling. We bought socks since we both were in sandals, and played on their 4-lane alley. Of those 4 lanes, we were to find out two don’t work at all, one lane is only able to handle one bowler, and the other can only handle two. We had to wait for a couple to finish on the two-person lane. When we finally got to bowl, we bowled two games each. I got 116 and 112, about 30 points less than my average at home, but the difference mostly came because I was not completing any of my spares. My accuracy was very poor today.

From there we went to Mirpur Rd. to find a place for some food. We ended up stumbling upon a place called Shanghai. Farabi had said he didn’t want Chinese food, but I told him I had a hunch that this place didn’t serve it, despite the name. Well we went in and the place was themed in Chinese d├ęcor, but the menu was everything but! In fact the menu was full of neat items, and I was excited we’d found the place, I will definitely come back. While there, I looked again at the sign, and realized that it said “Out of Shanghai”, surely that is the reason the menu is intentionally not Chinese.

42nd-6th in Dhaka 6/23

A few things in the Gulshan area to get done. One was to go by the Best Air office and buy a ticket for Dhaka to Bangkok in late September. They are having specials right now, but not on one-way tickets. So I tried to buy the ticket, but uh oh, problem as always with buying tickets. I can’t buy for September yet! They have only set their summer schedule, which runs to the end of August. So their fall schedule is not made yet, so no one knows when they’ll fly, if the route will even exist, or at what price!! So I was told I have to wait until the end of July to buy a ticket for September, because they won’t have the schedule ready until then.

Also, while I waited to hang out with Farabi, dropped by a few jewelry making stores and looked into making cuff links with the pearls I had. Only one or two even knew what cuff links were. Gathered prices from those who could identify a cuff link.
Farabi and I finally met up after he finished hanging out with someone else, and debated what to do. We didn’t want to hang out around food, but that’s all we could think of. We tried going to the Western Grill which is inside an old airplane, but they were closed. We ended up just going back to his family’s place where he’s staying and played cards and had snacks.

I then headed over to Gulshan 1 for data collection. I stood at the Gulshan 1 west side ticket counter and recorded the buses passing at their peak hour. When I stand at these data collections, a lot of people come up to me and ask me which bus to get on for certain destinations, and also ask where certain bus counters are. I guess I look professional, or rather I don’t look busy. Sure it’s a mixture of both. Data collection went fine. Left my bag with the Winner ticket counter, but the guy kept leaving since the bus has such long headways at night. So I kept staying at the counter to watch my bag. Three guys talked to me so long I swear they missed the buses they wanted.

42nd-7th in Dhaka 6/24

Morning started at home, a breakfast of egg, roti, and honey. Headed to BUET, and got there around 10:30. Shegufta and I set to work. She had three more buses to process until we were all caught up. I had some graphs I wanted to make in my analysis that I could show to Dr. Rahman in a meeting the afternoon. I also worked to make my spreadsheets easier to use. I’ve created a lot of data and I can’t let it get out of hand. I also tried starting an abstract for this conference, but didn’t get far, wanting to wait to talk to Dr. Rahman instead.

Trying to get some graphs printed out for Dr. Rahman for our meeting turned out to be quite an adventure. BUET doesn’t have ANY printers for use of the students, says Shegufta. She blames it on the fact that they only pay Tk22 a semester for tuition, but I said that’s silly since they are a public school, and their tuition is of Tk22 doesn’t go to anything useful, so using that logic they wouldn’t even have teachers. Anyway, no printer at BUET.
So I went to Nilkhet, where all BUET students go to print things. But it was Tuesday, so the entire place was closed. Not a single place I could print. Meeting time was getting close, so I rushed over to Azimpur to try and find someone to print from. Found a computer place, with three dusty computers. The guy said they could print. This was the slowest computer and slowest printer I’ve seen in this decade. But it got printed and I rushed back to BUET in time for my meeting, total time used to print out four pages, 55 minutes!

Meeting went fine. Showed Dr. Rahman my graphs, and was glad to be finally showing him some results. We talked about the conference I want to go to in Chennai in September, that Dr. Stone at NC State told me about. Talked about writing the abstract and the draft paper, and what types of things I should focus. What I took away from the meeting is that I need to focus on making graphs and charts readable for users. Any graph not understandable is a bad graph.

Working with Shegufta has been good. She spends all day listening to my voice, which I will applaud her for, I’m sure that can get frustrating. She does get a real kick out of certain recordings in which the recorder has picked up a conversation of someone asking me things about my work in Bengali. She starts giggling.

In the evening I spent some time looking at flights in Southeast Asia from Singapore to Bangkok. It is cheap, about 62 dollars. The plethora of low cost carriers in Southeast Asia is driving down prices to absurd levels.

Emily warned me that there are problems happening in Darjeeling. I hadn’t looked at the news at all. It looks like we’ll be canceling that part of the trip. The Gorkha people, who originate from Nepal, are striking, wanting their own state in India, called Gorkhaland. They told all tourists to leave. Thus, we will likely drive straight to Nepal after reaching Siliguri.