Let’s face it: I’m not Narendra Modi’s biggest fan. And I am not even going to hide it. Yes, we are a country that doesn’t really have a credible political alternative but what has been unfathomable is to see the millions and millions of Indians who seem to be brainwashed by his charisma.

As I woke up today, I received the recycled version of a picture message from a friend’s mother:

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This aunty, clearly, did neither need a second invitation nor a cursory fact-check before she hit the “send” button to all of her WhatsApp friends. Turns out, she had received it on one of those WhatsApp groups. When I tried to tell her that this was fake and that UNESCO did not do such bullshit awards, she told me that I was saying that because of my stance against the man. For her, the validation of this news came from the many people who had shared it on WhatsApp and other social media. She also advised me (as is customary in our culture) to “come out of this feeling”.

Yeah!

This is just a sample, really. I understand that ordinary citizens could be gullible for various reasons. But this exercise is not restricted to these random aunts and uncles on social media. Not long ago, Babul Supriyo, one of his ministers recycled some WhatsApp junk before blocking everyone who mocked him for his really intelligent, fact-filled tweet.

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Including yours truly! ­čśÇ

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One of those long-standing items in the Florida travel wishlist finally happened a couple of weeks ago – largely to commemorate the PhD defense.┬áThe Everglades is perhaps best avoided during this time of the year. Insect bites and a lost-wallet episode aside, I had a pretty uneventful trip. Gators, crocodiles, panthers (they say!), hundreds of species of birds (I missed the lion’s share though!), lot of interesting (and sad) stories on the Burmese pythons in the park, the mangroves – all made for an interesting couple of days. Remind me to hit the park in the winters though!

Oh! And I highly recommend Hotel Redland at Homestead, FL for stay. Really interesting place at a decent distance from the park.

Some pictures:

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The Anhinga Trail. Gators, lots of them (none in this photo though)

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One of the most predominant sightings during the Anhinga Trail. Bites deadly.

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Stilt roots to support the tree as it grows both vertically and horizontally. How cool!

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Coot Bay

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Whitewater Bay

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Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout. Was supposed to find more than fish here.

So I got this wonderful update from one of the recent campaigns I was fortunate to be part of – something that has become very close to my heart. It concerns the lives of one of the most backward of regions (Elavanchery) in my home state (Kerala) – on an aspect that is very close to my heart owing to my past involvement and experiences (education). Everything about the intent and the expected outcomes of this was so beautiful that I remember getting sold into this by line 3 of the campaign brief. Now, I may have my biases considering that the person behind it has been someone I have admired for a while – from a distance, for various reasons. This woman (in her mid-20s) had quit her very comfortable desk job in one of the Big 4s in the consulting world because she “wanted to do things that she really wanted to do”. Things like this. Wow!

It’s almost an unexplainable feeling when some things (or people) turn out right – I guess this was one such moment. The update read as follows:

A big thank you to everyone who supported my small initiative to help the kids in my village.
Due to the amazing response, we exceeded the goal amount and were able to buy essentials for all the students in the school. 180 upper primary students and 230 lower primary students were given school bags, notebooks and other stationery.
The kids are really, really thrilled and send their love to each of you for your kind gesture ­čÖé
Thanks!
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What Athira and her parents are managing to do there is pretty amazing and I wish them all the luck in their endeavors. Just look at those┬ásmiles! ­čÖé Best thing that happened this week, hands down. How’s everybody doing so far this year?

By the time this is on air, we may have passed 2016 and let me just stop with how glad I am to see the back of it. 2017 comes with a lot of promises – graduation, employment, travel and let’s just stop short of saying that I’m really chuffed about it too. How was everyone’s 2016? Did you make any resolutions that you were able to keep at whole through the year? Do you believe in resolutions? Why so, if not? And finally, what are you looking for, in 2017? Let me know! ­čÖé

Anyways, first up in 2017 is the 96th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board┬á(TRB 2017)- the yearly pilgrimage for every transportation enthusiast out there. This year, like the past years, I will be focussing my energies on the connected/autonomous events at TRB. TRB presents a logistical nightmare (the good kind) which makes it almost imperative to challenge the time manager in you to get the best out of the conference. Most of the “good stuff” on the AV/CV section is focussed around Monday and Tuesday, although I am already regretting that I shall miss event 868 on Wednesday afternoon as I am due to fly back to Tampa. There are also a few career events and other receptions in additions to the sessions that would feature in my plans. In addition to that, we (CUTR/USF) are also hosting out first ever TRB Reception & Alumni Reunion on Sunday (Jan 8) – something that I’m looking forward to, immensely.

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Once TRB is finished, my┬áfocus will go back to the dissertation and the final leap towards the graduation process. We are long overdue an update about my work here┬áso I will be updating this space time and again with little tidbits on the dissertation and my overall findings as we move along this year. I am also in the job market for an industry position in the transportation planning/modeling realms, so that is an┬áadditional area of focus for the first part of 2017. Finally, I was catching up with the weather in D.C. with an eye on my baggage – doesn’t look for good reading especially since Florida kinda missed the winter this time.

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┬á ┬á ┬áSo not looking forward to 16 degrees on Sunday! ­čśŽ

So, Columbus won the $50 million grant from USDOT Smart City Challenge. A city that proposed to bridge the gap between job accessibility, income disparities, and healthcare with the application of intelligent transportation systems (a much more sophisticated solution to tackle its problems in comparison to the other finalists), Columbus will now be getting a grand total of $140 million to herald a transportation-led revolution to bring positive changes into the city’s economy.┬áCongratulations!

In the offing from a transportation systems point of view are AV fleets that would carry people into the various job zones, a multi-platform smartphone app for all their travel needs (including ride-sharing and ride-hailing services), more electric vehicles and charging stations and a plethora of tech services to aid the systems in place. What really stood out was the way in which Columbus convincingly built its story around its infant mortality rate and showed how the said grant would alleviate some of it – something which was not really the focus from its competitors, in hindsight. The USDOT also strongly urged the losing cities to focus on continuing their projects with the help of outside funding sources including philanthropists.

This is now a good time to go back to assess Tampa’s Smart City Proposal┬áthat was submitted in February 2016. I feel the city can take inspiration from the exercise to see what we had missed in our focus, and how we could positively contribute and impact on future exercises of such nature.