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Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash For Clunkers: Now The Program Seems To Be A Clunker!

I mentioned in an earlier post how my van needs expensive repairs to its air conditioning system. Given the age of the van and its general condition, I decided it was not worth it. I started seriously considering trading it in for a new vehicle.

And then, I got side-tracked because more pressing problems had to be tackled. The first of these was a replacement for my dead dishwasher. That was taken care of by Tuesday, giving me more time to look into replacing my van.

I had not done much research into the CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) program before now (yes, the cash for clunkers program, as it is popularly known has that official name. It is obvious that the acronym for the name came before the name, which is a meaningless combination of words chosen only to make up the acronym!). I believed that it probably would not cover my van anyways because my van is a reasonably efficient Japanese model, not some huge, inefficient American gas-guzzler. I did not believe that the government would give me any incentives given that I had not been entirely stupid when I bought the vehicle. My experience with government is that they give money to you only if you are completely stupid and get yourself into trouble because you are too idiotic to know better. If you are reasonably intelligent and make somewhat responsible choices, good luck getting government to give you the time of day!

But I did go to the CARS website to read up on the program rules. Essentially, you need to own a vehicle that gets less than 18 mpg in combined city/highway gas mileage. The vehicle has to be less than 25 years old. The vehicle has to be in driveable condition. It has to have been registered in your name for the past year, and insured according to state rules for the past one year. You need a clean title in your name. If you then trade in such a vehicle for a vehicle that gives at least 4 mpg higher gas mileage, you get $3,500 credit on the purchase. If the new vehicle gives at least 10 mpg higher gas mileage, you get $4,500 credit on the purchase. The dealer that completes the transaction is supposed to then junk the vehicle (crush it so that at least its engine and drive-train are not reusable), give you the required credit on the purchase of your new vehicle, and turn around and get cash from the government to compensate them. The program only works with a trade-in for new vehicles, not used vehicles. And the new vehicle has have an MSRP of less than $45,000. This is just the gist of the rules as are relevant to me. The article below explains the rules in greater detail:


Cash for Clunkers rules and tips

There's been a lot of confusion surrounding Cash for Clunkers. Here's a guide to help readers make the most of the government's program.

The federal government's new Cash for Clunkers program has caused a lot of excitement for consumers. It's also caused plenty of confusion.

Buying a new car is a major financial commitment and you don't want to get so carried away playing the Clunkers game that you lose sight of other big financial benefits you could stand to gain, with or without the government's incentive.
Clunkers: Do I qualify?

Fuel economy: Your car must have an EPA-estimated combined fuel economy of 18 miles per gallon or less. The only number that counts is the one reported, as of July 24 on the EPA's Web site. Your own personal experience with your car's fuel economy doesn't count.

Age: Your car must be under 25 years old, and they mean that literally. In other words, looking at the model year alone doesn't cut it. If you have a 1984 car, check the month it was manufactured. You can find it on a sticker inside your driver's side door. If your car was built in June or July, you'd better hurry. If it was built before June, you're out of luck.

Not on blocks: It would defeat the program's environmental purpose if all people did was drag out rusting "parts cars" to trade them in. Cars that aren't being driven don't pollute much.

So you have to prove that car has been continuously insured for the past year, which implies you've been driving it. Second, you have to show that it's been registered to you for at least a year. That shows it really was "your car" and not just something you picked up for a song just to cash in.

Cars vs. trucks

The rules differ depending on whether you're trading in a car or a truck. In either case, the vehicle you're buying cannot have a base price higher than $45,000.

Cars: If you're trading in a car -- as opposed to a truck or van -- and it meets all the qualifications, you're eligible to receive a credit.

If the car you're purchasing has EPA-rated fuel economy -- again, this is combined city and highway mileage -- of 10 mpg better than your trade-in, you're eligible for a $4,500 credit. If gets 4 to 9 mpg better, you're eligible for a $3,500 credit.

You could also trade in your car to get a new truck or SUV. In this case, with only a 2 mpg improvement, you would get the $3,500 rebate. With a 5 mpg improvement you'd get $4,500.

Trucks (Category 1): If you're trading in an SUV, van or pickup, things are even easier. The fuel economy requirements aren't as strict.

If you're trading in a basic truck, van or SUV -- in other words, not a heavy-duty truck or big passenger van -- you can get a $4,500 credit for purchasing a new truck or van with fuel economy that's better by 5 mpg or more. You can get a $3,500 credit for a 2 to 4 mpg improvement.

You can also trade your truck in for a new car, but if you do that you'll have to meet the stricter fuel economy requirements for cars.

Big trucks (Category 2): If you're trading in a bigger truck -- a truck with a wheelbase of 115 inches or a van with a wheelbase of 124 inches -- you're eligible for a $4,500 credit for buying a similar vehicle with a 2 mpg improvement or a $3,500 credit for buying one with a 1 mpg improvement.

Really big trucks (Category 3): If you're trading in a truck with Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 8,500 to 10,000 pounds, all you have to do is buy a new one. Fuel economy doesn't even factor into it.

Vehicles like this don't get their fuel economy rated by the EPA, so a rebate based on fuel economy wouldn't work. Trucks like these are eligible if they were manufactured before 2001 and are less than 25 years old. They're eligible for a $3,500 credit if traded in for a new Category 2 or 3 -- meaning a big or really big -- truck, van or SUV.

GVWR is the combined total of the vehicle's weight and it's maximum load capacity. Basically, it's how you much the vehicle could conceivably weigh if you loaded it down with as much stuff as it's designed to carry. To find out your vehicle's GVWR, look for a sticker inside the driver's door frame.

Category 3 truck owners are only allowed to trade for another Category 2 or 3 trucks. Plus, there's only a limited amount of money available -- $ 7.5 million -- for Category 3 truck owners.
More than just Clunker money

If you take the government rebate, what you give up is the ordinary trade-in value for your car. You are entitled to the car's scrap value minus $50 the dealer is allowed to keep, but don't expect to get much from that.

Beyond that, you are still eligible for all the usual customer rebates that would apply whenever you're buying a car. Don't forget, you're also entitled to negotiate the price of the new car you're purchasing, as always. Also, the Cash for Clunkers program applies whether you're buying or leasing your new vehicle.

Before you take advantage of the program, be sure to check the value of your vehicle. It may be worth more than the rebate amount. Even if it's worth less, keep in mind that your actual benefit isn't $4,500 or $3,500, it's the difference between your car's real value -- what you would ordinarily get for your car -- and what the government will give you for it. That difference may not be worth factoring into your car-buying decision.

After considering quality, resale value and your own personal preferences, a car that doesn't get you the clunker cash may be the better deal.

The CARS website also has a very poorly put together FAQ on all of these points. I have no idea why every question is repeated multiple times and so on. As I said, it is poorly put together and I did not put it together! But it does clarify what you need to do to qualify for and take advantage of the program. They also have a site that actually allows you to put in details of your current vehicle and proposed new vehicle, and it tells you how much of a CARS credit you can get.

It turns out that my van does actually get exactly 18 mpg in gas mileage, so my van qualifies for the program. I was shocked that I could have actually made such a stupid decision in my life as to qualify for government assistance down the road! I guess there is a first time for everything. I wanted to trade it in for a car that gets 28 mpg in gas mileage, so I could actually get $4,500 in credits from the CARS program to make the trade.

I then went to the Kelley's Blue Book website and put in the details of my van to figure out what I could actually get for it if I did not want to junk it under the CARS program. Given its age, mileage, condition and mechanical defects (primarily the problem with the air-conditioner), I found that my van was worth only about $3,800. So, I was looking at a very good deal with this government program. The government was willing to give me $700 more than what my van was worth, give it to me with no haggling, etc., and I did not have to go through the trouble of running ads in the classifieds and waiting for people to call me and so on. If I traded it in with a dealer, the trade-in value was closer to $3,000, so I stood to gain $1,500 over that with this program.

I have never actually sold a vehicle so far in my life. The first car I had got totalled in an accident. The second car I had was 18 years old, and I bought it from a friend for $250. When I was done with it, I gave it to a friend of mine for no money, just the promise that it would have a loving home till it died. It ran till it was 25 years old and had over 200,000 miles on it before it did finally die! The car I bought when I got my job and moved to where I live currently was a lemon that developed problem after problem throughout its entire life. Finally, I got fed up with it, and instead of selling it and saddling someone else with intractable problems, I donated it to a charity and took the tax deduction. I still own my 4th and 5th vehicles (which are the van, and the car my wife drives).

I also found out that the CARS program was supposed to run until November 1st or when the program gave out credits of $1 billion, whichever occurred earlier. So, I decided I would research this deal in more detail in the next few days. In the meantime, my friend, who was supposed to visit me from the west coast, landed up, so I did not have much time to do a lot of further research.

When I did get time, I went to the CarsDirect website to look for good prices for the vehicle I wanted to buy. I had used their service in 2003 to buy the car my wife drives. It had been an absolute pleasure as the deal had been totally hassle-free. They gave me a price-quote that was better than any local dealer was willing to come close to. So, I completed the purchase through them. All I had to do was then print out their confirmation along with the information about the dealer I would have to pick the car up from. I got there, gave them a check for the CarsDirect price, and drove out in the new car. No fuss, no muss, no haggling, no bargaining, no unnecessary stress of any sort. When I bought my van also, I used their service to research prices. The only reason I did not go with them was because I walked into a local dealership, and offered them $500 less than what CarsDirect was willing to sell me the van for, fully expecting to be laughed at, but instead they agreed to my offer and sold me the van (it was the end of a bitterly cold winter and the weather seemed to have had a depressing effect on their monthly and/or quarterly sales. I walked in around the 25th of the month and the sales staff was desperate to make any deal they could)!

Unfortunately, CarsDirect did not have any dealers in my area for the car make and model I had picked out, so they could not offer to sell me the car themselves. I was offered the option of sending email out to various area dealers and they would respond with price quotes. I was not happy with it, but at least I got a good idea what the invoice price was, what incentives are being offered, what the prices for the various options were, etc.

Only one dealer actually got back with a price quote by email. The price was very decent, so I was happy that I would probably not need to haggle with the dealer. I asked them about the CARS program and they said I had to bring in my title and keys, and proof that I had insured the vehicle for the past 1 year. They would take care of proving that it had been registered for the past year. I immediately called my insurance company and they were kind enough to fax me a letter confirming continuous insurance coverage for the past year right away.

I put all this aside, thinking I would drive over to the dealer and settle the details in person after my friends had left. Now, it looks like I should have acted right away. The CARS program has itself become a clunker. In 4 days of program operation, it has burned through the $1 billion allocated to it originally, throwing the whole program into massive confusion starting Thursday evening. Then, the house got involved and passed a bill approving another $2 billion for the program. The senate is expected to act on the bill in the next week or so. Assuming that the bill becomes law, it looks like more deals are possible in the coming weeks. This is outlined in the news item below:

Popularity, Web snafus nearly broke 'clunkers'

This was one government stimulus plan that yielded quick results. Maybe too quick.

Far more drivers signed up for the "cash for clunkers" program than anyone thought, overwhelming showrooms, blowing through the initial $1 billion set aside by Congress and leaving dealers panicked over when or if the government would make good on the hefty rebates.

Confusion reigned, even as dollars flowed into dealerships starved for business for months.

The government Web site set up to process rebates of up to $4,500 per new car could not keep up with demand. Washington scrambled to come up with more cash and sent mixed signals about how the program would unfold.

"A borderline train wreck," said Charlie Swenson, general manager at Walser Toyota in Bloomington, Minn. In Glen Burnie, Md., Bob Bell, who owns Ford, Kia and Hyundai dealerships, said his employees were overwhelmed filing for reimbursement from the government's clunky system.

He compared the program to a military operation: "It is a disaster," Bell said. "We met our objective, but the losses were terrible."

The House voted Friday to replenish the program with $2 billion, setting up likely Senate action next week. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the administration assured lawmakers that "deals will be honored until otherwise noted by the White House."

Like a car salesman beckoning from the lot, Levin said "people ought to get in and buy their cars" while the hot deals last. The White House joined in the pitch, telling consumers the program is solid through "this weekend." That left unclear what happens after that, until more money is approved for it.

The Car Allowance Rebate System offers owners of old cars and trucks $3,500 or $4,500 toward a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle, in exchange for scrapping their old vehicle. Congress last month approved the plan to boost auto sales and remove some inefficient cars and trucks from the roads.

It was unclear how many cars had been sold under the program on Friday, but the number was far higher than anyone had expected. About 40,000 vehicle sales were done through the program but dealers estimated they were trying to complete transactions on an additional 200,000 vehicles, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

"I think the general public right now is looking for a bargain in any way to spend their money," said Kitty Van Bortel, who owns Ford and Subaru dealerships in Victor, N.Y., "and this was perceived as an incredible bargain and people took advantage of it."

The backlog had been building for weeks. Auto dealers could begin offering the rebate at the beginning of the month, and many began doing so over the July 4 weekend. But it was not until a week ago that dealers could begin filing for reimbursement, leaving them on the hook for as much as $4,500 per car until they get the federal money.

That's when they ran into difficulties with a federal Web site ill equipped to handle the volume of claims and the multiple documents each submission requires. Some dealers said the process took upward of an hour for each transaction, caused repeated rejections and consumed many hours submitting and resubmitting data.

At Walser Toyota in Bloomington, customers began lining up on Monday before doors opened at 7:30 a.m.. Swenson said. By that afternoon, his dealership had done 150 trade-ins under the program. His salesmen worked overnight to scan and submit forms.

But of the 150, he said, only 30 received responses and all of those were rejections.

Dennis and Marcia Strom hurried into that dealership Friday, fearing the rebates might not last, and filled out paperwork for a new car.

"I might have waited until the truck died," Dennis Strom said of his 14-year-old Dodge Dakota. "It's a good vehicle that suits our needs. But it's not worth $3,500."

About 100 people were looking to sign deals there but were holding off because of uncertainty over the rebates.

It took three hours Thursday for employees at one of Sam Pack's Dallas-area Ford dealerships to submit just eight documents. Pack said he feared that many deals made under the program wouldn't be properly reimbursed.

"The details of processing this is beyond what anybody would think is reasonable," he said.

Federal officials said they have increased the capacity of the submission system and added staff to work hot lines and process voucher applications.

In Victor, Van Bortel considered pulling the plug on rebates at the Ford and Subaru dealerships she owns, even though her ads promoting the rebates were locked in for the weekend.

"Honestly, in all my years in the car business, I have never seen such a mess," she said.

Still, it was a mess created by too much action, instead of not enough.

Officials hoped that when the dust cleared from the confusion, the program would be a tonic for the beleaguered auto industry and a benefit for the environment, with many inefficient cars taken off the road.

President Barack Obama said the program has "succeeded well beyond our expectations" and praised the House for moving quickly to establish new financing.

"This is a test drive," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said of the program, "and people bought it big time."

Bell, in Glen Burnie, said the rebates have "pulled forward a tremendous market."

"It's wonderful to sell them," he said. "But if you have to pay off a vehicle immediately, you're going to have a severe cash flow deficit."

Dealers are used to working with similar incentive programs offered by auto manufacturers, said John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. But the rules are much less stringent under those programs, and automakers generally don't require nearly as much documentation, he said.

His group surveyed dealer franchises using the program and realized the money for it might be getting short. One survey finding: Consumers were opting to use the higher $4,500 rebate over the $3,500 amount by a margin of 2-to-1, eating through the money faster.

"It has been very problematic," McEleney said. "I don't believe that anyone anticipated the volume would be this great."


But in the meantime, car dealers are being warned not to make deals over this weekend:


Dealers warned off Cash for Clunkers

Auto dealers' association advises members to play it safe and avoid Cash for Clunkers deals this weekend.

Despite the Obama administration's promises that any Clunker deals written this weekend would be honored, the National Automobile Dealers Association is advising its members to play it safe and not close any more deals until the program's fate is clearer.

"Regarding auto sales this weekend, one possible alternative is for dealers to take deposits in lieu of consummated sales with an eye toward legislative success next week," NADA spokesman Charles Cyrill wrote in an e-mail.

The House of Representatives allocated $2 billion more on Friday to continue the program after it apparently burned through its original $1 billion budget in the week since its official July 24 start date. The measure faces opposition in the Senate, however.

"We could have a legislative conclusion very quickly with the promise of more money for the program," Cyrill said later by telephone. Until that's settled, he said, the dealers' organization is recommending that dealers proceed with caution.

Since the rules of the program require dealers to render traded-in vehicles permanently inoperable before applying for their rebates, dealers whose applications are not honored could be left with no money and no vehicle to sell.

Under the plan as enacted, vehicles purchased after July 1 will be eligible for refund vouchers worth $3,500 to $4,500 on traded-in gas guzzlers. The trade-in vehicle has to get a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon or less.

The program aims to help the struggling auto industry by taking inefficient cars off the road and spurring new sales.


So, where does all this leave me? I guess that will be known only in the coming days as I try to actually make the deal I want to. Or maybe it will never happen. It may have been a bad idea to rely on a government program in the first place to make this whole swap take place. I guess it is entirely unsurprising that the government would wait for a bunch of people to get on the rug before pulling it out from under them. Only time will tell whether I will land on my feet or on my head. Hey, after all the van still runs perfectly fine. I can survive without an air conditioner and a little rust is not going to kill me!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First Impression Review Of Bosch SHE33M02UC Dishwasher

The new dishwasher I had ordered on Monday was delivered and installed at home yesterday. I got a chance to load it up and run it yesterday night, so I thought I would record my first impressions about the dishwasher.

The dishwasher is in white, with a full stainless steel interior. The official description of the dishwasher lists these features:


  • Two-Pump Motor System
    By using two small pumps to individually wash and drain instead of a single large one, vibration and noise are dramatically reduced. Smaller parts and a more contained motion contribute an important part to our sound-reduction system, leaving you amazed that the dishwasher is even on
  • Suspension Motor
    The more isolated a motor is, the less its vibrations can be transferred. So we've suspended our two-pump motor to help absorb and minimize any vibration and noise to the housing, as it is absorbed by rubber hammocks, letting you enjoy your time in the kitchen whether the dishwasher is running or not
  • Solid Molded Base
    Preventing noise and leaks are what makes a good dishwasher a great one. That's why we're the only U.S. manufacturer to give all of our dishwashers a solid molded base. The single-piece base effectively contains sound, and prevents leaks by automatically shutting down if water is detected in the base
  • Insulation
    Noise is also buried beneath the three layers of insulation inside our near-silent dishwashers. Metal, cotton fiber and heavy-duty bitumen sheets capture and dampen sound to create a decibel level no louder than raindrops. (Insulation package varies by model.)


    An advanced sensor system determines the soil level in the wash water and automatically deletes fresh water fills if they're not needed, saving you time and money while cutting energy usage by 20%
  • Flow Through Water Heater
    In conventional dishwashers, water falls randomly onto an exposed heating element. And since not all the water touches the heating element, this results in slower and less energy-efficient heating. Bosch dishwashers, on the other hand, channel 100% of the water through tighter coils in a confined heating chamber, which heats the water quickly and efficiently up to 161 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Condensation Drying
    Built with a solid stainless steel tub, Bosch dishwashers utilize condensation drying to save you money on your energy bills. Condensation drying works by heating the dishes with hot water from the final rinse. Moisture condenses on the cool stainless steel tub and is drained, so your clean dishes dry without an energy-wasting active drying element
  • ENERGY STAR Qualified
    Proving once again that Bosch is committed to efficiency, all of our dishwashers are ENERGY STAR qualified
  • NSF Certified Units and Cycles


  • AQUASTOP Leak Protection
    Bosch is the only U.S. manufacturer to offer a high-tech leak protection system like AQUASTOP in their whole line of dishwashers. A precisely engineered tub and sensor system detects leaks in the solid molded base of the dishwasher, shuts down operation and automatically pumps out water before contact with floors. This eliminates the risk of costly water and mold damage
    Falling dishwasher doors are a thing of the past. Bosch specially engineered PERFECTDOOR to stay in a fixed position when it is open more than 10 degrees. This increases safety by eliminating the possibility of the door dropping open or springing closed suddenly
  • No Exposed Heating Element
    Because our Flow Through Water Heater is not located in the tub and has no exposed heating element, it prevents plastic items on the bottom rack from melting. It has the added benefit of protecting you from accidental burns during unloading


  • Extra Capacity
    More capacity means more convenience. So Bosch dishwashers have extra-large interior space, allowing you to fit 14 place settings rather than the industry standard of 12
  • Stainless Steel TALLTUB
    The specially engineered Bosch TALLTUB is not only space efficient, but energy efficient. Allowing up to an incredible 22" of usable space when you remove the top rack, its high-quality stainless steel construction retains heat better than plastic tubs, which helps dry dishes faster and more efficiently



  • Stainless Steel TALLTUB
  • Two-Pump Motor System
  • Suspension Motor
  • Triple Filtration System
  • Flow Through Water Heater
  • Five Level Wash
  • Condensation Drying
  • Nylon Coated Racks
  • NSF Certified
  • Electronic Controls
  • ENERGY STAR� Qualified


  • dBA: 57 dB


  • kWH: 259

Wash Cycles

  • Wash Cycles: 3
  • Power Scrub Plus (160�) (NSF Certified Cycle)
  • Regular Wash (140�)
  • Rinse & Hold

Wash Sensor

  • Turbidity

Upper Rack

  • Upper Rack: Standard
  • Adjustability: Manual
  • Place Setting Capacity: 14
  • Flip Tines: 1 Half Flip-Down Row
  • Cup Shelf: 2
The looks of the dishwasher are quite pleasing. It is very minimalist with an on/off button on the left (this is a feature that seems to be unique to Bosch dishwashers. Every other brand I have seen, the dishwasher turns on when you choose any of the wash or other options and turns off when it is done, but Bosch has a separate on/off button that you have to press before the dishwasher will acknowledge presses of any of the button on the front panel). On the right are three buttons labeled "Power Scrub Plus", "Regular Wash", and "Rinse and Hold". There are no other controls on the dishwasher.

Dishwashers in this price range (I got mine for $559) made by US manufacturers are usually packed full of options like 6 different wash cycles (how many actually use any of these is questionable. My old dishwasher had 5 wash cycles and I used only 2 in its entire life), different options for wash temperature, rinse temperature, air drying/heated drying, etc., etc. In addition they usually have a delay start option that allows you to delay the start by up to 10 hours. This dishwasher does not have any of those fancy features. It is a disappointment that way.

The tub was very clean with a dull grey stainless steel finish. The dishwasher is supposed to be able to hold 14 place settings rather than the standard 12. But, it looks as if the racks are slightly smaller than the ones on my old dishwasher. Since I don't have the old dishwasher anymore, I can not do an objective comparison, and looks could be deceiving. The user manual has detailed instructions on where to load different kinds of dishes. The racks themselves have various different kinds of tines and other features to hold dishes in place. They are different from what I am used to with the old dishwasher, so I am sure there will be a learning curve while I learn how best to load the new dishwasher.

The upper rack is adjustable in height because it has two sets of rollers. By placing the rack guide either between the lower and middle rollers or between the middle and upper rollers, you can adjust the height of the upper rack by about 3 inches. There is a silverware basket in the lower rack that is removable.

One of the striking features about the interior of the dishwasher is the lack of a heating element at the bottom of the tub. This dishwasher has what is called through a pass-through heater that uses a concealed heating element instead of an exposed one at the bottom of the tub. This is supposed to prevent the melting of plastics loaded in the lower rack.

I loaded the dishwasher with what I would consider a moderate load for my household. Once switched on, you had to put your ear to the dishwasher door to hear any noise at all. It was really that quiet. I could hear my old dishwasher, however faintly, pretty much throughout the house, but this one could not be heard even in the kitchen. The main indication that the dishwasher is on and working is in the LED lights on the control panel. The dishwasher does not tell you whether it is washing or rinsing or drying. The same light is on throughout the entire cycle. When it is all done, an LED lights up to indicate that the dishes are clean. Very minimalist, as I mentioned before.

My wife took the dishes out today morning and was highly impressed with the cleaning ability of the dishwasher. She was absolutely certain that this dishwasher did a better job of cleaning than the old dishwasher had, even when it was new. A few more days of varied loads will have to pass through the dishwasher before I am convinced, but the first impression is that this dishwasher does as good a job at cleaning as it does at being quiet and looking good!

The main disadvantage I find with this dishwasher is the lack of a feature I used a lot on my old dishwasher. My old dishwasher had a cycle called "Soak and Scour". Essentially, with this cycle, the dishwasher comes on for about 30 seconds every 15 minutes or so for the first 4 hours of the cycle. This is the soak part. After 4 hours, it drains and refills with new water and starts the washing in full swing. The advantage this gave me was that I could load the dishwasher and switch it on right after dinner, around 7 PM. But I could continue loading it up with glasses and dishes as and when we were done with them as we snacked our way through the rest of the evening, all the way until we went to bed at 10 PM or so. All the dishes got washed because the actual wash cycle did not start until about 11 PM.

With the new dishwasher, we either have to switch on the dishwasher after loading all the dishes just before going to bed at 10 PM (this is a problem because I might forget to do this, especially on days when I think I might snack and then end up not doing so). Or I could switch it on as usual around 7 PM and let the later dishes accumulate in the sink for the next day's wash. This is also inconvenient because it restricts the amount of space available in the sink and my wife likes a clean, empty sink when she enters the kitchen in the morning.

What is the bottomline? There are lots of things to like about the new dishwasher. It seems to be good at cleaning dishes, first and foremost. It also looks pretty good. The interior is very hygienic, low maintenance and reasonably spacious. The quietness of the dishwasher is truly surprising. It is also very water and energy-efficient. But it is not as feature rich as you would expect from a dishwasher in its price-range. If you can live with that, then I would recommend this dishwasher without any reservations.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Life Picks Up The Pace . . . Too Soon!

So, I get back to the US on Saturday morning, about 36 hours after leaving from back home. I am thinking I need a vacation to recover from this "vacation" given the state of my stomach, but it is not to be. My friend from San Diego is visiting me with his family starting Wednesday, so it is time to get to work doing chores around the house.

Even on the way home from the airport, my wife set me to work, buying groceries. Once I get home, there is no time to relax and take it easy. I call my brother and parents to tell them I have reached home safely. Then, I start unpacking. Everything has to be put away right away because we can't have stuff lying around when my friend shows up in a couple of days.

Then, I went through 15 days of accumulated mail and decided what needed followup and what could be junked. After that, I finally get some time to get on the internet to check my email. I had about 320 unread emails in my account and I had barely made a dent in this during my short internet sessions at my parents' neighbor's place. I also start posting all the blog posts I had worked on as text files on my computer, one by one. Getting the formatting right, making sure I had links to other posts and outside links, all pointing to the right places and then posting them online takes a lot of time. I had about 20 posts ready to go, and it took me about 4 hours of working on the computer on and off to get them all posted finally.

Then, I put together a quick blog post relating my wonderful adventure getting back to the US. At this point, I have not even worked on my travel log yet (usually it takes priority over everything else after any kind of trip, but I guess I was too eager to get rid of the blogging backlog before getting to other things). Right when I thought things were finally settling down, my wife called me from the kitchen and told me that the dishwasher had stopped working.

This is a Whirlpool dishwasher that we have had for just over 5 years now. It stopped working about 3 months back. No symptoms, no warnings, no nothing. It just up and decided not to work. The electronic control panel on the door has these lights that are supposed to light up based on the buttons you press. Instead, a couple of lights flash on and off, but nothing else happened when I pressed any button. I went online and did some research, found technician manuals that talked about diagnostic cycles and whatnot, but nothing worked. I called an appliance repair place, and they sent over a technician. He dismantled the control panel from the dishwasher and told me that it needed to be replaced. He also said it would cost me $300 or so.

Now, the dishwasher had been bought for only about $450. I decided that $300 was too much to spend on an aging dishwasher, so I just paid him his diagnostic fee of close of $100, asked him to put the dishwasher back together as he had found it, and sent him on his way. That weekend was then spent on research into dishwashers, ultimately culminating in the purchase of a brand-new one for about $600. The store was going to deliver and install it the middle of the next week. In the meantime, we were going to do the dishes by hand.

While we were waiting for the new dishwasher to be delivered though, the old dishwasher suddenly came alive and started working fine again. This was most inconvenient. We thought it would die again, so even though we used it, we did not do anything about the order for the new dishwasher. I was hoping in one corner of my mind for the dishwasher to die again sometime soon every time I switched it on over the next couple of days. But the thing just refused to die, so I reluctantly called up the store and canceled my order for the new dishwasher the day before they were supposed to deliver and install it. I just couldn't bear the thought of junking a working dishwasher!

Fast forward 3 months to the day I come back from vacation, and the dishwasher again decides to pack up. The symptoms are the same as before. Flashing lights, random activity that can not be controlled from the control panel, etc. We decided to see if the dishwasher would rise from the dead again overnight, so we did not do the dishes by hand on Saturday.

On Sunday, there were more chores to do. I had to wash and dry 4 loads of laundry. Then came the vacuum-cleaning of the entire house, including using various attachments to clean the corners of the walls with the ceilings, etc. After lunch, we had to go shopping to pick up gifts for my visiting friend and his family. We returned home late in the evening. After waiting for the dishwasher to start behaving itself, I found that the dishwasher had still not started working. So, I spent the next hour or so washing all the dishes by hand. Washing dishes by hand is so unusual in my house that we don't even have a proper drainer for washed dishes. So, the process involved taking all the dishes out of the dishwasher and stacking them in the sink, washing and rinsing them in the sink, then loading them back in the dishwasher to drain and dry.

And through all of this, I was not feeling 100% alright because my stomach was still not entirely normal. It was not that it was impossible to get everything done in my physical condition, but it was just not very comfortable. There was always a vague sense of discomfort in my stomach that would not go away regardless of whether I sat down, walked around, stood in one place or lay down. It was best to just ignore the discomfort, but it was always there, reminding me that parts of my body were starting to conspire against me in my old age!

Finally, Sunday was over. Luckily, I got a pretty decent night's sleep. I woke up early on Monday morning because on the way to work, I had to stop at an auto mechanic's place about a problem with my van. Now, this van is about 10 years old and it is starting to show its age. It has rust spots on the bottom that are spreading up the sides. That is more of an image issue than a substance issue, but it did have a substance issue also: its air conditioner had stopped working a month or so back. I am not really sure when it stopped working, but I noticed it only when I switched it on for the first time on the first hot day of the year and got nothing but hot air out of the vents.

The mechanic I took it to at that time could not find any leaks during the inspection, so he filled the system with refrigerant and added a dye to it so that he could examine the system in the future and locate the leak based on where the dye had leached out. Ended up costing me about $300. At least the air conditioner put out cold air when I switched it on. When I drove back from the airport on my return home, I found that the air conditioner was not effective once again, so this stop at the mechanic's was to ask him to locate the leak and fix it if possible.

I got to the mechanic right when he opened at 7:30 AM. It took them about 15 minutes, but they found out where the leak was and presented me with a bill of $800 to fix it. I told them to give me the estimate and I would think about it and get it done soon, but truth be told, my mind was already made up when I heard that number: the van was not going to get its air conditioner fixed. I had already wasted $300 on the diagnosis and I was not going to start throwing good money after bad. In fact, I started seriously considering getting rid of the van and getting a different vehicle.

But, that would involve a lot more research too. First things first though. As soon as I got to work, I started working on my options for getting the dishwasher replaced. I settled on a nice Bosch dishwasher that had good reviews online, then located a local store that had it on sale. I called them up and asked them when they would be able to deliver and install it. They promised next day delivery and installation, and as far as I was concerned, if it was before my friends and his family showed up, it was fine with me. I placed the order right away, thinking there goes another $750!

Work was a whirlwind of catching up with emails, attending myriad meetings, etc. I hardly had time to think about a replacement vehicle, leave alone start doing research on it. Finally, I was ready to leave work around 6 PM, and made my way back home through the maddening traffic. I was booked into all kinds of meetings for the next couple of days also, and then my friend shows up and I am sure I will be sucked into all kinds of activities with them until the weekend.

This is a friend who hasn't visited me in several years, so I was ecstatic that he was finally visiting. But life sometimes makes fun of you by screwing with the timing of things in weird ways. I am sure my dishwasher conking out, my van's air conditioner conking out, my father needing a bypass (necessitating my trip back home in the first place), and my friend visiting me within a week of my return from that trip, are all just a coincidence, but I can't help wondering if it really was. Maybe there is a cosmic conspiracy afoot to drive me insane by throwing more things at me than I can handle at the same time!

As they say, when it rains, it pours! Part of it could have been avoided if I hadn't succumbed to the temptation of saving some money, and had actually replaced the dishwasher when it had first broken down. My problem was that I thought it was just a fluke that the dishwasher had broken down at that time. I fully expect an appliance like a dishwasher to work for about 10 years at least, so when it came back to life, I thought its breakdown was just a cosmic conspiracy to get me to waste money by replacing it unnecessarily. I thought I had gotten the better of that conspiracy by not falling for it. Little did I realize that it was just a precursor to a much bigger conspiracy that involves a bunch more things happening at the same inconvenient time! Now, I have the dishwasher to deal with, my friend's visit to handle and my vehicle replacement to worry about. In the middle of August, my brother-in-law and family plan to visit for a week. In September, another relative of my wife's wants me to take her to Peru to visit Macchu Picchu. And I have no clue what is getting ready to blindside me at work while all this is happening!

Just when you get used to a slow and steady pace in life, life decides to throw some fastballs your way. I am sure once this is all over and I am looking forward to something exciting, life will become slow and boring once again. Life never fails to disappoint me, though only a masochist could get excited about that, I guess!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Traveling Back To The US

Air travel sometimes becomes quite an adventure for me, and this was one of those times again. It has become a feature of late, and a feature that is sometimes not too bad, but sometimes makes things very inconvenient and annoying.

Basically, because of the delay in confirming my return arrangements, because of the lack of internet connectivity, I could not get a seat assignment on the first leg of my flight back home. When I reached the airport, the check-in agent asked me to wait while he finished checking in everyone who already had a seat assignment. Unfortunately, by the time that was done, there were no seats left on the flight.

The agent apologized to me and started exploring alternative ways of getting me back to the US. I could go back home and come back the next day. It would cost me money back and forth between home and the airport and also 24 hours in extra time. Instead, we decided that it would be better if I could get out of the airport on some other flight. There was an alternative that would get me out within the next 2 hours, but involved a long connection. Luckily, the long connection was where my brother was living, so I decided to opt for it. Instead of being in the US 24 hours later than originally planned, I would be in the US 18 hours later than planned. And the agent arranged for an upgrade to first class on the long flight from my brother's place to the US (about 14 hours), so I was reasonably happy with that arrangement.

The first flight was a mediocre experience. It was in coach class. Coach was cramped as usual, and leg-room was further compromised because of the presence of some electronics, for the entertainment system, under the seat in front of mine. But it was only a 4 hour flight, so I tolerated it. I remember I used to travel back and forth between home and the US in coach class all the way when I was a graduate student. It used to be 20 hours of flying hell each way, which for some reason did not seem like flying hell at that time, because I just did not know any better. Now that I have traveled in business and first classes on long flights more frequently, my tolerance for coach class has gone down very seriously.

The more serious problem with this flight was that the seat was extremely uncomfortable for some reason. In addition to the normal reclining controls, the seat had another set of controls for some kind of lumbar support, and this thing just wouldn't get adjusted right for my comfort. My back was bent backwards at an unnatural angle throughout this flight whenever I leaned back in the seat, making life miserable.

And then I made the worst mistake of all. Instead of skipping the meal offered on this flight (which was not at a regular meal-time anyway), I decided to go ahead and have it. I should not blame the airline for the quality of the meal, because taste-wise, it was not too bad. What ended up happening though, was that my stomach became seriously upset because of this meal at an odd time.

At one time, when I was younger, I used to have what people could rightly refer to as a cast-iron stomach. All hell could be breaking loose as far as the rest of my body was concerned, but my appetite never failed me. My stomach never complained about taking in food whenever it was offered. And it almost never complained about the quantity of food that I pushed into it either. In fact, in graduate school, I once finished a whole large pizza almost entirely by myself, earning me the nickname of "bottom-less pit" from my professors and friends. And this was when I was all of 125 pounds in weight! I am 10 lbs heavier now, but the quantity of food I eat nowadays is probably about half to three-fourths of what I used to eat then.

I started noticing that my stomach was getting more prone to upsets about 5 or 6 years back. I was in Europe, attending a conference, when I started noticing that I could not eat what I wanted, when I wanted, because my stomach was starting to protest about what it considered as abuse. Since then, I have been more careful about what I eat, when I eat and how much I eat. But, it is certainly an unwelcome reminder of the fact that I was growing older. It is also inconvenient when something you have taken for granted all your life starts giving you unexpected problems, because you have to change ingrained habits to work around the new problems.

I have read somewhere that you lose about one-third of your gastric juice output (and I am guessing, one-third of your digestive power) by the time you hit forty years of age. I guess with one-third of my digestive power gone, my days of taking my stomach and its digestive power for granted are long gone.

In any case, nothing much happened immediately after I had the meal. The flight ended uneventfully and my brother picked me up at the airport and took me to his place. My next flight was 16 hours later, so I was going to spend my entire day with him and his family. But my stomach was feeling heavy and I could not eat anything. I did try to have lunch, but I ended up throwing up most of it about 10 minutes later. This was certainly unusual for me, so I decided the situation was desperate enough to call for desperate measures: I decided to starve for as long as necessary to get my stomach back to near normal.

Fasting, or starving, has always been effective at setting my stomach right on the rare occasions when things have gone wrong with it in the past. It has been vindication to me of the truth of an ancient saying we have that says fasting is the best medicine. And I have never been much affected by fasting as far as my energy levels and other aspects of my day to day activities are concerned. I seem to have enough reserves so that I can go for a couple of days with no food intake whatsoever and still function quite close to normally all the way through.

It may be a by-product of my enthusiasm for hiking and trekking. I have no problem with going on all-day hikes with nothing more than a few pieces of fruit along the way for nourishment. So, I would guess that my energy reserves amount to something like 6000 to 8000 calories. So, given that I am not expending more than 1800 or so calories a day when I am not actually hiking or trekking, going for a couple of days without food seems to be absolutely no problem for me.

In the evening, my brother dropped me off at the airport again. I was given a first-class seat on the flight, as promised. Once I got on the flight, I told the flight attendants that I did not want any food during the flight because I had an upset stomach. I asked them to just keep my water glass refilled in case I woke up and drank water. Once the flight took off, I lay down on the flat-bed seat and went to sleep.

One more aspect of my long-distance travels that I have always taken for granted is the fact that I almost never suffer from jet-lag. I never realized it at that time, but I think it is because I sleep soundly during flights regardless of what the flight timings are. I go to sleep once I get on and wake up only for brief periods to use the bathroom, or to eat meals, etc. I always used to arrive at my destination fresh and never suffered even a day of jet-lag because of my travels. In fact, I used to make fun of people by saying that jet-lag is just an excuse for lazy people to sleep at all times of day and night. Some of my relatives used to suffer for days or weeks from jet-lag after making the trip between home and the US, and they were not amused by my jokes!

But in the last couple of years, instead of just sleeping on flights, I have tried to stay awake and sleep according to the time-zone of the destination (I read that this was effective at preventing jet-lag. Why I would heed some dubious advice about avoiding jet-lag when I don't even suffer from it is quite beyond me, now that I think back about it). Sometimes, I have forced myself to stay awake even when I felt sleepy just because the time-zone was not right at the destination. I never associated it with this behavior, but I have suffered from some symptoms of jet-lag in the past couple of years after long trips. I have felt very sleepy suddenly in the middle of the day sometimes, and felt it difficult to keep my eyes open. I have even fallen asleep at odd times of day when I had nothing else to keep me awake.

So, I decided on this flight that I was going to go back to my original policy of just sleeping on flights regardless of the flight timings. Not having to wake up even for eating meals suited me just fine on this flight. I was probably awake only for about 3 hours out of the 13-hour duration of the flight. And in spite of not having eaten now for almost 20 hours straight, I felt fine when I finally got off the flight. A couple more days of watching what I eat, and letting my stomach recuperate, would probably get things back to normal.

Other aspects of the trip worked out just fine. My luggage made it with me all the way through without getting lost or damaged. I reached home safe and sound only about 18 hours delayed. And the diversion to my brother's place had given me an opportunity to meet his wife and daughter and spend some time with them. The long flight in first class restored my faith in air travel, so that I will not be scared the next time I have to fly for that long to get somewhere (as long as it is in business or first class, of course)! I guess this is one adventure with a reasonably happy outcome, so I will take it without complaining too much!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vedic Mathematics Lesson 14: Subtraction

One would think that subtraction is a basic enough application that there is no need for any shortcuts. But there are several pitfalls in subtraction that can cause problems, as we will see, for learners as well as seasoned calculators.

You can find all the previous posts about Vedic Mathematics below:

Introduction to Vedic Mathematics
A Spectacular Illustration of Vedic Mathematics
10's Complements
Multiplication Part 1
Multiplication Part 2
Multiplication Part 3
Multiplication Part 4
Multiplication Part 5
Multiplication Special Case 1
Multiplication Special Case 2
Multiplication Special Case 3
Vertically And Crosswise I
Vertically And Crosswise II
Squaring, Cubing, Etc.

The most obvious problem that confronts one when performing subtraction is the concept of borrowing numbers from the left to perform subtraction. This is particularly confusing for learners, and the procedure is very error-prone since repeated borrowings result in so many numbers struck off and rewritten that it becomes difficult to be sure what was written and what the final number to be subtracted from should be.

This difficulty can be easily illustrated when dealing with a subtraction problem like the following:


Following the classic procedures, we see that the top line becomes a mess of strikeouts and rewrites as we are repeatedly forced to borrow from the left as we try to subtract each digit. It requires a lot of concentration, and it is easy to see how the procedure can be error-prone. As for teaching it to young children, it could become an exercise in frustration both for them and for the teacher.

The second type of problem with subtraction is the problem of multiple subtractions. Consider the problem below:


It is not easy to figure out how to perform this kind of subtraction straight-away. The simplest solution seems to be to add up the numbers to be subtracted separately, then substitute that sum in this problem and do a single subtraction. It is either that or we have to perform 3 separate subtractions. The problem is compounded when multiple subtractions and additions are combined in a single problem. Consider this:


This type of problem is more common than one imagines. Take the simple task of balancing a checkbook for instance. You are immediately confronted with multiple credits and debits interspersed with each other, making the problem very similar to the one above.

Luckily, Vedic Mathematics has a very simple solution that converts all subtraction problems into simple addition problems. It is an application of the Nikhilam Sutra which, if you recall from the lesson on 10's complements, reads Nikhilam Navatascaramam Dasatah, which means All From 9 And The Last From 10. Yes, it involves the use of 10's complements. To illustrate, let us tackle a simple problem: 112 - 98.

To solve the problem, write 112 on one line and the 10's complement of 98 on the second line as below:


Now add them up to get 114. From this, subtract the power of 10 with respect to which the 10's complement was taken. In this case, that is 100, and 114 - 100 is easy to derive mentally to be 14. And that is all there is to it.

The algebraic basis of the method should be obvious to everyone immediately. What we are doing is rewriting a number as the difference between a power of 10 and the number's 10's complement. Thus a - b becomes a - (10^n - d), where d is the 10's complement of b with respect to 10^n. This is obviously the same as a + d - 10^n (^ denotes raising to the power, or exponentiation). Difficult subtraction problems become easy addition problems followed by the subtraction of powers of 10, which is child's play.

Let us now solve the problem we started with as an illustration of the problems with multiple borrowings of numbers on the top row and see how the problem becomes much more pleasant:



+0101011 (10's complement of 9898989 with respect to 10000000)

From this, we subtract out 10000000. This gives us 8801065, which can be verified to be the correct answer.

How do we apply this method to multiple subtractions or combined additions and subtractions? The answer should be obvious from the algebraic explanation of the method: we replace all the numbers to be subtracted by their 10's complements, add them all up, then subtract out all the powers of 10 with respect to which the 10's complements were taken. To illustrate this, we will deal with the two problems we used to illustrate the difficulties encountered with these types of problems:



+5016507 (10's complement of 4983493 with respect fo 10000000)
+8061202 (10's complement of 1938798 with respect fo 10000000)
+3626736 (10's complement of 6373264 with respect fo 10000000)

From this, we subtract out 10000000 thrice, giving us 1687920 right away.




+54554148 (10's complement of 45445852 with respect to 100000000)
+61231152 (10's complement of 38768848 with respect to 100000000)
+62426447 (10's complement of 37573553 with respect to 100000000)

From this, we subtract 100000000 thrice, and get 417138359 immediately and easily.

What happens when we use this method and the final answer is less than the power of 10 to be subtracted from it? To illustrate this case, consider the simple case of 110 - 988. We can easily write that as below:

+012 (10's complement of 988 with respect to 1000)

Now, we need to subtract 1000 from 122, but find immediately, that this is not as simple as it seems because 122 is much smaller than 1000. But the Nikhilam sutra again comes to our rescue. 122 - 1000 is the same as -(1000 - 122). The figure inside the parentheses can immediately be identified as the 10's complement of 122 with respect to 1000. Thus the answer becomes -878, which can be verified to be the correct answer. Thus, the simple rule is that if the final answer of our additions results in a number smaller than the power of 10 to be subtracted to give the final answer, then prepend a "-" sign in front and put down the 10's complement of the number as the rest of the answer. To illustrate this further, let us work out a few more examples:



+652171 (10's complement of 347829 with respect to 1000000)

Since this answer is less than 1000000, the final answer becomes -308354 (negative of the 10's complement of 691646)




+61242 (10's complement of 38758 with respect to 100000)
+65020 (10's complement of 34980 with respect to 100000)
+45196 (10's complement of 54804 with respect to 100000)

This answer is less than the 300000 we need to subtract. So, we first subtract 200000 to get 44931. Then we take the negative of the 10's complement of this number with respect to the third 100000 to get the final answer. It becomes -55069, which can be verified to be correct.

Note that there is nothing special about this method except its antiquity. Computer scientists the world over know that computers perform subtraction by using the 1's complements of numbers (since computers use binary numbers, 1's complement in the world of computers is equivalent to 10's complement in our decimal world) or a slight modification of it, called a 2's complement. But using complements to perform subtraction did not start with the computer age. Instead we see that Vedic sutras have documented this method for millenia before the first electronic computers were invented! As always practice will make one proficient at using this technique to tackle pesky subtraction problems without performing pesky subtractions. Happy computing, and good luck!

Recovery From Cardiac Bypass Surgery: Day 17

Got up early today to accommodate our plans of going to the hospital in the morning. We left the house by 8 AM and got to the hospital by 8:30 AM. We asked a clerk there about the tests we had been asked to get done, and he quickly directed us to the appropriate places. The blood-draw was quite quick, but they said the results would be available only around 2:30 PM. Next we went to get the ECG done. Once again, this was also quite quick, and they produced the results in a single-page printout right-away. We were done by 9 AM.

What followed was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. The cardiologist could not be contacted because his cell phone was switched off. So, we waited, and we waited. Finally around 9:45, the cardiologist was reached. He told us that he would not be making it to this hospital today, we were asked to meet him at his clinic the next day. That was a bit of a let-down. Then my mother went and met the personal assistant of the head surgeon (the one she had called up three days back to find out the procedure for the follow-up visit). But she told us that my father would not be able to meet any of the doctors at the hospital at that time because he was the patient of none of them.

Essentially, as far as this hospital was concerned, once the patient came out of the ICU after surgery, the surgical team's responsibility to him was pretty much over. After that, we had been visited by our cardiologist a couple of times in his private room. The surgeon paid him a visit only once in the private ward outside of the ICU. So, there was really nothing we could do at the hospital at this point. But we could collect the blood test results only in the afternoon, so we couldn't go back home either (it was just too inconvenient to come all the way back from home just to collect the results). So, we decided to leave the hospital and go stay at my cousin's place while we waited for the blood test results to be prepared for pick-up.

Once again, I told my mother we should have just gotten the tests performed closer to home, and met the doctor at his clinic instead of wasting our time, effort and money making this long trip between home and the hospital. Once my mother makes up her mind, it is very difficult to convince her that she is wrong and somebody else was right. This has led to several arguments between her and other people, including me. My mother made a feeble attempt to justify our visit to the hospital this time also, but I could see that she admitted, at least to herself, that it had been a mistake. At the very least, I told her she should have gotten explicit instructions during her conversation with the surgeon's personal assistant whether a visit to the hospital was necessary or not if we could make other arrangements to meet my father's cardiologist. Hopefully, this episode will save my parents some trouble during follow-up visits in the future.

When I reached my cousin's place, I found these weird insects running around near the entrance to their apartment building. I have no idea what these insects are and why some of them are attached to each other back to back. Perhaps, some entomologist can look at these pictures and decipher what is going on!

We had lunch at my cousin's place and rested for a while. Only my cousin's mother was home. His children were in school and college, his wife was at work and he himself was out of town on business. Finally, at 3 PM, we left my cousin's home and stopped by the hospital to collect the blood test results. We went to a counter labeled Reports, but were asked to go to a nearby counter labeled Billing. After playing musical counters for a few minutes, we managed to get the results at last. The blood test results were quite normal in pretty much all parameters. My father's iron was a little low, but that is a common condition for him, and it was only marginally below normal levels. In particular, his urea, creatinine and other parameters that reflect on kidney function were normal. So, we all breathed a big sigh of relief as we headed back home.

Even though we could not meet the doctor today, I decided to stick with my plan of leaving tonight because the blood test results were so benign. Obviously, I did not know how to interpret the ECG, but most of the numbers on it (such as the phases, QT, QTc, QRS duration, etc.) were very similar to those on an ECG taken on the 12th of July, about a week after the surgery. If those numbers had not prevented my father from being discharged a few days later, I did not see any reason why those same numbers would cause much alarm to the cardiologist now. My mother was also quite confident that the visit to the doctor would be quite uneventful and did not want me to disrupt my plans just to get that taken care of.

I spent the rest of the evening and night calling up and wishing many of my relatives goodbye. All of them were nice enough to at least say that they would support my parents in case of any problems after I left!

After dinner, my parents and I sat and chatted for a while. My flight was just after midnight, and I had already called a taxi to pick me up at around 11 PM to take me to the airport. The taxi arrived a little early, around 10:45 PM. I bid goodbye to my parents and asked them to stay brave and confident. The taxi driver drove quite adventurously and got me to the airport quite early. I could have asked him to slow down a little bit, but I was just fascinated by the way he swerved in and around traffic to maintain his high speed! I guess I should be glad I reached the airport safely rather than becoming a statistic in the next day's newspapers!

And the adventure was only just beginning as far as my trip back to the US was concerned. I guess my luck with air travel of late deserves its own post. I consider it all part of the grand adventure that life is. When people around me (such as my wife and kids) have their travel plans disrupted because of my luck, though, it does not feel much like an adventure. Unfortunately, such is life...

Recovery From Cardiac Bypass Surgery: Day 16

This turned out to be a fun day! After getting up, taking a shower and having my breakfast, I had to accompany my mother to the local bank. There was a very old savings account at this bank which had my mother's and my name on it. This was from the days before I left for the US. Since I was not a citizen of the country anymore, it was not legal for me to hold ordinary savings accounts in this country, so my name had to be removed from this account. Of course, the bank had no clue about my citizenship status or whether I was eligible to hold this account in my name, but my parents were law-abiding citizens and did not want any trouble later because of this.

So, we had to go to the bank to get my name removed from this account. In addition, my parents also wanted to get a couple of other things accomplished at the bank. Pretty simple things, really. They wanted a couple of term deposits renewed and needed an interest statement on another account for income-tax filing purposes (yes, banks here provide interest statements only on demand, not as a matter of course, even though everyone is supposed to file income tax returns as a matter of course, not on demand!).

My mother and I reached the bank around 9 AM, as soon as the bank opened for business. This branch of the bank has about 100 employees, believe it or not. Even though everything is supposed to be computerized, there were stacks of paperwork on everyone's desk. Computerization had made a difference though: the stacks of paperwork were taller than before, because the papers had to be piled onto a smaller area of the desk, with a big CRT monitor and dot-matrix printer occupying the rest of the desk! Different employees had different jobs at the bank. No two employees did the exact same things, so everyone was indispensable! It also meant that no one at the bank could take care of all your banking needs in one stop. Every type of service and/or transaction required you to go to a different employee, and some transactions needed stops in front of multiple employees!

Most of the employees sat in front of computers, seemingly doing nothing (actually, to be entirely fair to them, they did stare at their CRT monitors quite intently from time to time. All the writing on the computer screens was mon0-space white, yellow, green or blue characters on black screens. I am sure the software had advanced user options to enable the users to adjust the colors of the characters according to their preference!). There was a special class of employees who acted as gatekeepers, keeping customers away from these idle employees so that they could enjoy their free time without having to fend off customers themselves.

Since my mother knew one of the employees from previous dealings, we managed to get in front of him right away. When we explained why we were there, he asked me to write a letter requesting that the bank remove my name from the joint account. The bank could do nothing about the situation (even though it was against the rules) without explicit written instructions from the customer. You see, the government here passes rules about every conceivable situation under the sun (I am sure I am in violation of some rule because I blink too fast or too slowly, for instance), but there is no enforcement of any of the rules. It is only law-abiding people who hear about the rules and request changes to comply with the rules. I am sure there are many others who simply couldn't care less.

And they did not have a simple form I could fill out to make my request known to them. It turns out changing ownership of accounts was sufficiently rare that there was no standard form for accomplishing it. So, I had to write a formal letter to make my request. The first letter I wrote did not pass muster because I just requested what I wanted done: the bank wanted my reasons for requesting what I was requesting! I was incredulous, but I had to write another letter explaining why I wanted my name removed from the account in question, then my mother and I had to sign it and hand it over to the bank. And letters in the land of bureaucracy don't just mean a few scratches of the pen on a piece of paper. These were formal, grammatically and stylistically correct, letters that reminded me of my English composition classes in school, and that would have made a lawyer filing a brief before the Supreme Court proud!

After that, the bank wanted documents to verify my mother's identity and address. They could not act on our letter or renew their term deposits without that documentation either. Luckily, my mother had anticipated the need for this verification and had taken her passport and proof of address with her. But the bank wanted copies of the documentation. No problem, right? Wrong. The bank needs copies of these documents from every customer, but the bank did not have any facilities for making photocopies of documents. So, I had to take the documents and find a photocopying shop to get copies. By the time I came back to the bank, we had already spent about 45 minutes there. My mother told me to get the rest of the transactions taken care of and come home by myself, while she went on ahead to prepare lunch.

I waited while the employee then started making entries in his computer to accomplish the seemingly simple tasks of renewing two term deposits and printing out an interest statement for another. One would think that banking software would have the requisite functionality to do these tasks with a few keystrokes each. But, I was apparently badly mistaken. The seconds stretched to minutes and the minutes stretched to just over 2 hours as I sat and watched in mute disbelief. I would have suspected the employee of writing a novel if the computers had been advanced enough for him to do something like that. As it is, I have no idea what the employee could have been doing on that yellow-on-black screen for so long, but take that long he did. Finally, he did produce an interest statement (it had several lines of interest, by quarter I think, but no total, for some reason!). He also renewed the two term deposits and gave me two new term deposit certificates. As for the letter, he took it and told me that it would be taken care of. I had my doubts, but I was beyond caring by now. I thanked him and left the bank, three hours after I had gotten there! At least, the bank was air-conditioned, so I had sat there comfortably, and I was not really missing anything else that I had planned.

We had expected the new internet service provider to install the new equipment either yesterday or today, but so far it had not happened (and no, I was not surprised. As I keep repeating, the more things change, the more they stay the same). It looked like I was not going to get internet access even to confirm my return itinerary. I hated doing it, but I had to make a trek down to our neighbor's place once again for about 15 minutes to take care of confirming my return itinerary and checking to make sure there were no emails that required my immediate attention. While I was at it, I also sent a mail to my manager back in the US apologizing for the silence and explaining to him my lack of internet access. I wrote to him about the progress my father was making, concluded by letting him know I would update him in person once I made it back to the US.

In the evening, the tailor to whom I had given cloth to be stitched into shirts and slacks stopped by with the stitched clothes. I wore one of the pants to check it for fit, and was satisfied, so we paid him and thanked him profusely for stopping by the house to deliver the clothes rather than forcing me to make another trip to his store to pick them up. As a sign of my gratitude, I paid him the equivalent of 50 cents extra over what he had billed me originally, and he was very happy with my generosity. If I had known how to contact him, I might have had him come home to measure me and collect the cloth also instead of making a trip out to his store. I collected his business card, with details about his personal cellular phone number, etc., so that I could do that if the need arose in the future.

All the stuff I needed to take back to the US was fully assembled, so I packed up all the stuff, leaving outside only the clothes I would wear the next day. As expected, all the stuff fit neatly in the two boxes, and their weights came to within a few pounds of the free baggage allowance, so I was good to go. Now, all I had to worry about was whether the luggage would reach the US with me without the airline losing track of it, and whether all the stuff in the baggage would get there without damage. And obviously, I have to cross that bridge only if and when I reach it!

Vedic Mathematics Lesson 13: Squaring, Cubing, etc.

Squaring is a special case of multiplication, and as such any technique that has been covered for multiplication can be used for squaring also with no problems. Also, in a previous lesson, we have dealt with the technique for squaring numbers close to a power of 10 using the Yavadunam sutra (Yavadhunam Thavadhunikritya Varga Cha Yojayetu: Whatever The Extent Of The Deficiency, Lessen It Further To That Extent; And Also Set Up The Square Of That Deficiency). Examples of using that method were also dealt with in that lesson.

You can find all the previous posts about Vedic Mathematics below:

Introduction to Vedic Mathematics
A Spectacular Illustration of Vedic Mathematics
10's Complements
Multiplication Part 1
Multiplication Part 2
Multiplication Part 3
Multiplication Part 4
Multiplication Part 5
Multiplication Special Case 1
Multiplication Special Case 2

Multiplication Special Case 3

Vertically And Crosswise I

Vertically And Crosswise II

Squaring can also be performed using the Urdhva-Tiryak (vertically and cross-wise) method. It can be set up as a regular multiplication with the same number on two lines, or the vertical and cross-products can be performed mentally with the number to be squared on just one line. Also, some simplifications are possible because of the performance of squaring rather than general multiplication. For instance, since the cross-products involve the same numbers, the sum of the cross products is just double of the single cross-product. This property is referred to as Duplex, or in the Vedas as Dvandva Yoga. Some examples of this approach are dealt with below:



••49 (vertical multiplication, 7 x 7)

•56• (Duplex of 47, 2 x 4 x 7. In normal multiplication, we would use 4 x7 + 4 x 7 rather than the duplex)

16•• (vertical multiplication, 4 x 4)





••64 (vertical multiplication, 8 x 8)

112• (duplex of 78, 2 x 7 x 8. In normal multiplication, we would use 7 x 8 + 7 x 8 rather than the duplex)

49•• (vertical multiplication, 7 x 7)





•••••1 (vertical multiplication, 1 x 1)

••••4• (Duplex of 21, 2 x 2 x 1)

••10•• (Duplex of 321, 2 x 3 x 1 + 2 x 2. Note that the product of the middle numbers is not doubled)

•12••• (Duplex of 32, 2 x 3 x 2)

•9•••• (vertical multiplication, 3 x 3)



That should make the use of the duplex clear.

The Yavadunam sutra can be used for cubing numbers also. Obviously, this works only when the numbers are close to a power of 10. And there are some minor differences between the application of the sutra to squaring and the application of the sutra to cubing. The procedure is explained as below for numbers that have a small excess with respect to the base:

  • Find the excess of the number to be cubed with respect to the base. Let this be E
  • Add 2 x E to the number to be cubed and set as the left hand part of the answer. Calculate the excess of this number with respect to the base. Let this be F (note that F will be 3 x E)
  • Calculate F x E and set as the middle part of the answer
  • Now calculate the cube of E, and set this as the right hand part of the answer.

Note that the number of digits of each part of the answer has to be the same as the number of zeroes in the base, as before. Any excess digits have to be carried over to the left. If the parts of the answers don’t have the requisite number of digits, they have to be padded with zeroes as necessary.

A few examples of this approach are worked out below for illustration:

1053 = 115|75|125

115 is 105 + 2 x 5 (5 is the excess of 105 over our base, 100. Thus, 5 is E. F becomes 15)

75 is F x E

125 is 53.

After carrying over the 1 from 125 to the left, we get the final answer as 1157625.

10043 = 1012|048|064

1012 is 1004 + 2 x 4 (4 is the excess of 1004 over out base, 1000. Thus, 4 is E. F becomes 12)

48 is F x E

64 is 43.

Note that the numbers have been padded with zeroes to make them 3 digits long, giving us the final answer of 1012048064.

Let us examine the algebraic basis for this method. This will clarify the method further and also help us tackle the case of deficits from the base, rather than excesses. Let the number to be cubed be expressed as (B + E), where B is our base and E is the excess with respect to the base.

(B + E)3 = B3 + 3B2E + 3BE2 + E3.

Adding twice the excess to the original number and setting it as the left hand side of the answer is the same as deriving B3 + 3B2E. Now, we calculate F as the new excess of this number with respect to the base, and note that F = 3 x E. So, by calculating F x E, we calculate 3 x E2. By setting this as the middle part of the answer, we compute 3BE2. Finally, we cube the excess and set it as the right hand part of the answer, giving us E3, the final part of the algebraic expression.

Now, let us examine the case of (B – D)3, where B is the base and D is a deficit with respect to the base. Expanding (B – D)3 gives us B3 – 3B2D + 3BD2 – D3. This algebraic expression gives us the necessary details to derive the exact steps needed to cube numbers that are just below a power of 10 mechanically and easily. In short, those steps are explained below:

  • Find the deficit of the number to be cubed with respect to the base. Let this be D
  • Subtract 2 x D from the number to be cubed and set as the left hand part of the answer. Calculate the deficit of this number with respect to the base. Let this be F (note that F will be 3 x D)
  • Calculate F x D and set as the middle part of the answer
  • Now calculate the cube of E. Rather than setting this as the right-hand part of the answer, note that this has to be subtracted from the answer. So, use the three-step procedure outlined in this lesson to calculate the final middle and right-hand parts of the answer.

This procedure will become clearer as we work out the following examples.

973 = 91|27|-27

91 is 97 – 2 x 3 (3 is the deficit of 97 with respect to our base, 100. Thus, D is 3 and F becomes 9)

27 is F x D

-27 is -33

Following the 3-step procedure of this lesson, we get the final answer as 912673.

9943 = 982|108|-216

982 is 994 – 2 x 6 (6 is the deficit of 994 with respect to the base, 1000. Thus D is 6 and F becomes 18)

108 is F x D

-216 is -63

The final answer, after application of the 3-step procedure from here is 982107784.

9903 = 970|300|-1000

970 is 990 – 2 x 10 (10 is the deficit of 990 with respect to the base, 1000. Thus D is 10 and F becomes 30)

300 is F x D

-1000 is -103

The final answer, after application of the 3-step procedure from here is 970299000.

Cubing of 2-digit numbers can also be performed using another sutra called the Anurupya Sutra. To use this, follow the procedure below:

  • Put down the cube of the left digit of the number to be cubed as the left most number in a row of 4 numbers
  • Put down the square of the left digit multiplied by the right digit as the second number in the same row of numbers
  • Put down the square of the right digit multiplied by the left digit as the third number in the same row of numbers
  • Put down the cube of the right digit as the right most number in this row of numbers
  • Under the second number in the row above, put down twice the second number
  • Similarly, under the third number in the first row, put down twice the third number
  • Add them up, making sure to carry over excess digits from right to left. That is the final answer.

Note that the first row can also be expressed as writing the numbers from the cube of the first digit to the cube of the second digit such that the numbers in between form the same ratio with respect to each other: in other words, the numbers in the first row are in geometric progression from the cube of the first digit to the cube of the second digit. In fact the constant ratio of the geometric progression is the same as the ratio between the first and second digits of the number to be cubed.

Also note that the procedure above is a direct result of the algebraic identity that (a + b)3 = a3 + 3a2b + 3ab2 + b3. The first line contains the terms a3, a2b, ab2 and b3. The second row contains the remaining 2a2b and 2ab2 (double of the middle two terms of the first row).

To illustrate, let us work through some simple examples:

113 = 1|1|1|1




Note that the top row consists of all 1’s because 1 is 1 cubed as well as the square of 1 multiplied by 1. The 2’s in the second row are twice of the numbers in the first row. Adding gives us the final answer of 1331.

253 = 8|20| 50|125




Note the carryovers carefully in the example above. From the right most column, 12 is carried over to the left. This gets added to 150, giving 162, of which 2 remains and 16 is carried over further to the left. This gets added to 60, giving 76. 6 remains and 7 is carried over to the left-most column, giving the final sum of 15. Each column should consist of one digit, with all the excess digits carried over to the left until the left-most column, which obviously will not have any carryover out of it.

A few more examples of cubing using this method are provided for further illustration:

323 = 27|18|12|8




473 = 64|112|196|343




183 = 1| 8| 64 |512




Expanding out (a + b)4 gives us a4 + 4a3b + 6a2b2 + 4ab3 + b4. Using this algebraic expansion, we can derive a similar method for finding the fourth powers of 2 digit numbers as below:

  • Put down the fourth power of the left digit of the number to be raised to the fourth power as the left most number in a row of 5 numbers
  • Put down the cube of the left digit multiplied by the right digit as the second number in the same row of numbers
  • Put down the square of the right digit multiplied by the square of the left digit as the third number in the same row of numbers
  • Put down the cube of the right digit multiplied by the left digit as the fourth number in this row of numbers
  • Put down the fourth power of the right digit as the last number in this row of numbers
  • Under the second number in the row above, put down thrice the second number
  • Similarly, under the third number in the first row, put down five times the third number
  • Under the fourth number in the first row, put down thrice the fourth number
  • Add them up, making sure to carry over excess digits from right to left. That is the final answer.

Let us illustrate by taking a simple example:

114 = 1|1|1|1|1




Note that just as in the case of calculating cubes, the numbers in the top row will be in geometric progression from the fourth power of the first digit to the fourth power of the second digit. A few more examples will illustrate this progression as well as give us insight into the method so that we can use it quickly and with ease.

214 = 16| 8| 4|2|1




Note the carryovers in this example carefully. The right most and the 4th columns do not generate any carryover. The 3rd column adds up to 24, leading to the retention of the 4 and the carryover of the 2, which makes the second column 34. Once again, the 4 is retained, and the 3 is carried over. Adding the 3 to 16 gives us 19 which is put down on the left since there are no more columns to carry numbers over to the left.

634 = 1296| 648| 324|162|81




Note how the knowledge that the numbers in the top row are in geometric progression leads to some facility in the calculation of the numbers. Since 3 (the second digit of the number to be raised to the fourth power) is half of 6 (the first digit of the number), we know that each number in the top row will be half of the previous number in that row, proceeding all the way from 1296 (64) to 81 (34). The carryovers are more complicated in this example, but keeping the column dividers enables us to work them out pretty easily (just in case you are confused, the numbers carried over to the left are 8, 65, 200 and 279).

We will conclude this lesson with a couple more examples to illustrate the method:

154 = 1| 5| 25|125|625




324 = 81| 54| 36|24|16




Extending this method further to find the fifth and higher powers of 2-digit numbers is quite trivial. Note that the coefficients of the binomial terms of higher and higher powers follow the Pascal triangle, so they are very easy to calculate (for instance, the coefficients for (a + b)5 are 1, 5, 10, 10, 5, 1, and those of (a + b)6 are 1, 6, 15, 20, 15, 6 and 1). Once the first row is written down in geometric progression using successively lower powers of a and higher powers of b, all we have left to do is to fill out the middle of the second row with one less than the coefficients in the expansion, and then add the columns up correctly, accounting for carryover.

Hope this lesson has been a useful extension of the principles of general multiplication to some special cases that are likely to be encountered somewhat frequently. Computing cubes, fourth powers, etc., is not easy to do mentally, even with the simplifications introduced by these methods, but hopefully it is better than performing long multiplication over and over again, with the attendant errors that is likely to bring along. Practice will make the application of these methods more a habit than a chore. So, happy computing, and good luck!

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