Showing posts from 2012

Book Review: The Life of Pi

When we were roommates, my friend developed this habit of buying Booker Prize winning books.    It started with The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997.  It was followed by Amsterdam, Disgrace and the Blind Assassin - the winners in subsequent years.

We moved to our own homes in 2000.  I guess my friend still buys Booker Prize winners.
The Life of Pi won the Booker Prize in 2002.  It would not have received any attention but for the release of a movie based on it a few weeks back.  With the movie winning critical acclaim for its director Ang Lee and being tauted as Oscar contender, I was keen to read the book, before I saw the movie.  No matter, how faithful a movie director is to the book that his movie is based, there are many things that written words can portray that cannot be done in a movie!

I have not seen The Life of Pi movie yet, so the review is only about the book.

The plot is simple.  There is the protagonist, whose nick name is Pi.  His father runs a…

Book Review: Waking Hours

As a registered user of Booksneeze, I end up occasionally picking up and reviewing one of their books.   Waking Hours is the third novel of Lis Wiehl that I have had the chance to read.

Waking Hours is co-authored with Pete Nelson and is the first of the three East Salem trilogy.

The novel describes a chilling murder of a teenage girl which occurs in a quiet town in East Salem. A bunch of teenagers who were with her are the prime suspects of the murder.  Dani Harris, a forensic psychiatrist is called to help law enforcement in the case.

Tommy Gundersen is a retired football star who runs a fitness center in the same town.  He is involved in the case because one of the suspects is a member of the center.  Tommy and Dani go back a long way - from High School days, though their paths had not crossed after school.

While on the one hand, there is the attempt to solve the murder mystery, on the other hand, the protagonists have their personal issues too.  Dani wakes up each morning at 2.1…

Of newspapers

Last week, I finally decided to switch from The Times of India (ToI) to The Hindu, after a fair bit of procrastination.  But really, why did I want to continue with ToI?

Considering almost all their pages are nothing but advertisements or advertorials, I don't see why we should pay any money for the paper at all. Fine, I do get to know that 5 kg of atta is given a Rs.5/- discount at Big Bazaar on a Wednesday, but really, do I ever go by these ads?

As for the news, the less said about ToI, the better. What they lack in contents, they make up in Page 3 gossip or photos.  They do take up "burning issues", but most of the time, you are not sure if they are not just stoking the embers.

They have perfected the art (or whatever you want to call it) of mixing news and advertisements so that often you don't realise you had just read an advertisement and not a news item.

As for The Hindu, I admit that it does take a fair bit of time to read. But hey, you can't fault the…

And the speed breaks are back...

If any further proof is needed that the traffic management system in Bangalore is quixotic, you just need to look at the reintroducing of speed humps or speed bumps (both seems valid english phrases) on the Inner Ring Road that connects Indira Nagar to Koramangala.
Depending on who is in charge, the speed breakers make their appearance or disappear.  The latter leaves such a mark that one would think having the speed breaker was better than the mark left by its removal. To know what I mean just pass one of the "removed" speed breakers in Jeevan Bhima Nagar.
So, to come back to the Inner Ring Road, there used to be a speed breaker in the U-turn junction just before the bridge.  This was removed in the direction from Indira Nagar to Koramangala.  There is still enough remnants of the speed breaker that you need to slow down or have your vehicle toss you up.  There are two boards to warn of the impending speed breaker despite it having been removed.
That was the past.  Sometim…

Credit cards and double-swiping

I had written about Credit Card experiences - tips and tricks a few months back.  It is only fair that I write about an incident which indicates what can go wrong as well.

I frequent a Grocery shop in Vignan Nagar called Fair Choice Super Market.  They have all the items I need and usually new stocks.  They take credit cards.  They are close to my home.

Late last month, I made my usual purchase and gave my card to be swiped.  The person at the cash counter did this.  For some reason, the charge slip did not come out from the machine.  I got an SMS alerting that the transaction had happened.

The cashier restarted the machine and generated the charge slip.  He also punched a few keys and generated a report which seemed to indicate the transaction did not go through.  I told him that I had received the SMS, which contradicted him.  He said he will swipe again and in case there is double debit, he will let me know.  He said usually the failed transaction gets automatically reversed and …

Face to face meeting - a farce?

The face to face meeting of the Chief Ministers of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu  [TN] in Bangalore yesterday in Leela Palace meant inconvenience to office-goers, besides a loss of tax-payers money (I am assuming Tamil Nadu Chief Minister did not spend out of her pocket for her visit).

Then there was the expense for all the cut-outs of Amma  [as TN CM is respectfully called] which adorned the Airport Road from Leela Palace to Old Airport Departure - on every lamp-post and other vantage points. I had a fleeting glance and hence am not sure, if they are reusable and can be used for subsequent visits.

That is besides the point.  The more important thing is what was the meeting for.  It was to discuss water sharing.

In today's world of audio-video conferencing, what was the purpose of face-to-face meeting?   What was it that they hoped to achieve that they could not do over phone or video?   Essentially they should have been brainstorming, thinking out of the box and coming up with some …

End of CBeebies in India

It was only when Tatasky began running the scrolling text in the bottom of CBeebies channel the other day, that I realized CBeebies was going out of air on 30th Nov.

As the staple channel for my little one during food-time, we have got used to watching some enjoyable programs in this channel.  There are quite a few things that I liked about this channel:

Ads-free:  All the other kids channels like Pogo have ads, many of them targeted at children.  At that age, these ads can badly influence them.

Clean entertainment:  None of the programs depict violence, rage and similar things.  Watch a Chotta Bheem episode or a Tom and Jerry cartoon and you will know what I am saying.

Creative:  The programs are very creative in nature.  How else can you explain a Mister Maker, who
makes interesting things in a minute and works with children to create things?  Or a "We can cook" show where children learn to cook, as well as learn more about some of the ingredients that they use?   There…

Blue screen @ irctc

I thought the dreaded blue screen associated with Windoz was a thing of the past with the release of newer and stabler versions of the OS.   Blue is now more popular as the facebook color.

So it was quite amusing when I tried to login to the infamous irctc to check about a train ticket availability.  Here is what I got after I specified my username and password.

Looks like an error a novice learning jsp and servlets might get.  But blue background and stacktrace central aligned?  Hilarious!

Update (a few minutes later):  Looks like a transient issue. I could login successfully.  But I saw something more interesting...

Was it a browser issue (Chrome on OSX) or are the pages indeed in "Malay" and not "English"?

When apes will rule the earth

Star Movies premiered the Rise of the Planet of the Apes on the weekend.   Having watched the classic  Planet of the Apes the previous day, I was looking forward to this.

While not in the same league as the classic, Rise of the... is a stunning portrayal of what is possible when science tries to control nature.  In the name of medical research, an ape is subjected to drugs which make it as smart as, or even smarter than man.   Before it goes mad and is killed, it gives birth to Caesar.  Caesar exhibits the same traits as its parent and is content to be a pet in the home of the scientist.  But not for long.  Once it is sent to live with other apes and subject to various atrocities and abuses, it undergoes a transformation.

Caesar rallies all the apes around him and then it is time for revenge.

What was pleasantly surprising about the movie was the location it was shot.  Since I had been to SFO barely a month back, I could recall some of the landmarks.  Muir Woods where Caesar is init…

BSNL Landline - RIP

On Sat, 15th Sep 2012, I surrendered my BSNL landline (and broadband) connection bringing to end a 12 year relationship with BSNL.

I still remember early 2000 when I got a landline within a few months of having applied for the same.  (Those were the days when there was a waiting time).   I had to pay an initial deposit of Rs.1000/- when booking and another Rs.2000/- in the first bill.

I took broadband when it became popular in Bangalore.  By and large, I had trouble-free telephone and internet access.

Then came the telecom privatisation and entry of Airtel, Reliance, Tata and so on.  These did not cause any effect on me, since I had no issues with my landline or broadband.  Also, BSNL rates were one of the lowest in the market.

I had set up an Electronics Clearance System (ECS) mandate so that my monthly bills were directly debited from my Bank account.  I had also opted for the annual plan, which entailed me to a two-month discount in the rental.

My first major issue came when I mo…

Nursery rhymes and absurd lyrics

Our son was exposed to the world of nursery rhymes when he was about 8 months or so through Infobells3D Nursery Rhymes.  Once he started developing interest, it became a "carrot" to make him have his food or sit in a place.

As he started watching the rhymes (yes - this was a video CD and not just audio), we got to see them as well.  Some of them were familiar (like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and evokes memories of childhood days.  But there were others, which were quite unfamiliar.   The lyrics of some of them were surprisingly shocking.  Take Piggy on a railway for instance.   It goes...

Piggy on the Railway
Picking up stones;
Down came an engine,
And broke Piggy’s bones. ‘Ah !’ said Piggy,
“That’s not fair,”
“Oh !” said the engine driver,
“I don’t care !”

I can see so many things wrong with this rhyme.  For one, why on earth would a pig be interested in picking up stones and that too from a railway track?  Even if so, should it not be watching out for the train?   And …

Of ice cold water and piping hot coffee

If you are like me and like drinks at room temperature especially in cold weather, then you will have a tough time in US.  All water dispensers dispense cold water.  To add to it, in restaurants they add ice to water before serving.  
My office had a water dispenser which could serve both hot and cold water, but the hot part of it did not work.  I used to take a glass of ice-cold water, wait for it to "warm up" to room temperature before being able to drink.  In India, having been used to drinking  a glass or two in a gulp, it was a weird experience to do one sip at a time.
It is possible that Americans have better teeth than me, which can withstand the freezing temperature of water.   But I don't think they gulp down their ice-cold water.  So then why the ice?
In discussions with my friends, we came up with a theory that Americans are warm-bodied and needed cold water to cool them down.  This didn't make much sense, of course!
I took recourse to google to help me o…

A fortnight without cellphone calls

Can you imagine a day without getting a cell phone call or SMS?  Difficult, right?

I had a chance to experience a fortnight without this when I made a business trip to US for two weeks.  My company did give me a choice - a local cell phone or a calling card.  I chose the later.

I took my cell phone with me to US. Of course, it had no signal once I landed in US.  I saw the battery running out rapidly, as it tried to get a signal in vain. After a day or two, I realized I could do one thing that stopped it from doing that - turn the "Flight Mode on".

You will ask me why did I have the phone running. Ah, it was a smartphone. Besides the call, it did a few other things - alarm, music, camera to name a few. And internet (through wi-fi).  Since both my office and hotel had wi-fi, I could use the phone to do stuff on the 'Net!

In fact, the phone saved the day on my first day at work, when I reached my office at 8 AM and found myself facing a locked door.  My phone picked up my …

The queue to rival tirupathi

I was going to San Francisco, US - my first US trip in 3 years.  My last one was to LA in Jan 2009.  I was also flying Emirates for the first time - transiting via Dubai.

My flight was at 4.15 AM on Sun, 19 Aug, which meant, my Saturday sleep was screwed.  I had reached Bangalore Airport by 12.15 AM and managed to keep myself awake - first 45 min courtesy free Airport wi-fi and another 45 reading.   This meant, by the time, the flight left, I was zapped.

The flight to Dubai was quite short and included a meal, which I could barely recall eating.  The transit time was short and this meant I was in another flight in less than two hours.   By the way, Dubai Airport did not have a free wi-fi.  The Dubai-SFO flight duration was 15 hours - can you imagine!   Economy class tickets meant you could just about lean back.  Luckily my travel agent managed to get me an aisle seat and my fellow passengers did not get too many calls from nature.

The Emirates flight is good - the in-flight entertain…

My first Mac

I finally got to have Macintosh as my official laptop.

I started out with HP-UX desktop when I joined Hewlett-Packard fresh out of College.  Windows box was used only by the Managers then - who did not have to run any decent applications.  I remember using elm to check emails and Netscape Navigator to browse the net.  I did not have superuser account, which meant I could not install applications at my whims and fancies.  Also, not all software ran on HP-UX (despite it being a Unix variant).  It was a real thrill getting to build some of the open source libraries and getting them to run on HP-UX - for instance, apache with its various modules and openssl.

I guess Windows XP was my first Windows system.  Fortunately I escaped the older buggier versions of the Microsoft OS.

Once I left HP, HP-UX gave way to Redhat linux.  The open source version of Redhat got rechristened to  Fedora. I was fortunate to have access to a linux desktop in each of the subsequent companies that I worked in.…

The passports arrive

After all the hullabaloo of Passport Seva Portal and passport application experiences, I received an SMS on Fri, 6 July - exactly 6 working days from the date of application - intimating the despatch of the passport that I had applied for my son.   My wife got an identical SMS on the same day for hers as well.

She also got an SMS from the police station near our home, asking us to visit in person with some documents.   Hers was in the second mode of Police verification - verification required on a post-passport issuance basis.  This was surprising since our address had changed from the previous passport.  Perhaps it was because the previous passport was also issued from Bangalore office.  Or perhaps they felt we had been undergone our fair share of travails.

We were out of station.  The postman from India Post SpeedPost was kind enough to leave a note with his cell number.  He was kinder enough to re-deliver both the passports on Monday.  The same evening, we visited the Police Stat…

Another trip to Palani - money gets you closer to God

I had written about the last time we were in Palani.  We had to make another trip - this time for the ceremonial tonsure of my one year old.   It was a Saturday.  Unlike the last time when we drove ourselves, we rented a mini van this time.   Based on our experience with food, we also took with us breakfast and lunch.

We started at 7 AM and were in Palani by 8.45 AM.  We found the place much less crowded than our previous visit.  After having breakfast, we sought out the place where we had done the tonsure the last time.  We had to walk about 500m from where we had parked.  In hindsight this was a bad decision for two reasons - this was quite a distance from the winch station.  Also, the bath facility did not have hot water.  We could have simply gone to the place near to where we were parked.

The tonsurers lamented their plight of not being paid (which obviously must be untrue).  The wailing little fellow did nothing to help the emotional blackmail and a Rs.100/- parted hands as tip…

Passport application experiences

A few days back I wrote about Passport Seva Portal woes.    Here I want to share my experiences for the benefit of others.

How to get an online appointment for Passport Seva Kendra

Login to the portal at 5.45 PM (or even earlier if you are idle)Navigate the various links and click on "Manage appointments"Choose the Seva Kendra of your choice, enter the Capcha.You will get a message saying appointments will start at 6 PM.Continue doing this once a minute as the clock ticks.  This is to ensure that your session does not time outEnsure you are clicking on it at exactly 6 PM.  You will probably see a Timout or similar error. Simply reload the page.  If you are lucky, you will suddenly see a bunch of entries in the screen - appointment slots of 45 minutes duration.  I lost 5 seconds of precious time since I had never seen this screen earlier.  Just click on one of the links - do not spend time looking for a convenient slot based on your office, traffic, etc. Beggars can't be c…

Worst Government websites...

This Times of India article on 8 'worst' Indian government websites made interesting reading.  I have had the pleasure (if one may call it) of using the Top 3 entrants there, which are
irctc - for train bookingbsnl - the source of all my landline woespassport - recent necessity  I am not surprised that they figure in this list, having written about all of them at various points of time.  What makes these sites suck?

Is it because they are developed by Indian IT companies?  (I believe TCS maintains the first and the third - not sure about the second)    This can't be true since these companies do services for most organizations.

I believe it is because the above companies have not engaged professionals to do their user interface based on usability analysis.   As Government organizations, they have probably refined some high-level requirements, invited bidders and given the project to the selected bidder.   Perhaps, the bidder himself has decided on the user interface based …

Joining date in next century

Imagine a Fresher out of college with a job offer in Infosys seeing this moneycontrol link.  (Screenshot below in case the news item is corrected) The news goes like this...

Infosys is delaying taking on board some of its planned 28,000 new recruits until mid-2103, underlining the slowdown faced by India's No 2 software services company, a newspaper reported on Monday.

Despite increasing life expectancy, it is doubtful if he/she would want to wait to take up the offer.  Who knows what is beyond 2012, forget a century later!

The road rules - Part 1

In this series of write-ups, I write about the tips and tricks when being on Indian roads. I use Bangalore as reference considering this is where I get constant experience.  This one is for and about pedestrians.

God forbid if you need to walk to reach your destination - work, shop or any other.  Tread with caution - literally.  Indian roads are not designed with pedestrians in mind. Most of the roads - especially where people need to walk (shopping and office areas) do not have footpaths.  If they do, they are occupied by vendors, beggars or garbage.  Since footpaths are usually concerte slabs covering stormwater drains, I am referring here to those rare areas which are covered.  You do get to see occasional stretch of unhabited footpath. I see one when I drive through a road connecting Old Airport Road to Outer Ring Road. Both sides of the road are covered by uninhabited Government property. In other words, the footpath is used by none.  Then again, if you happen to be in high traf…

Credit card experiences - tips and tricks

How many credit cards should YOU own?  This rediff write-up prompted to look at my own experience.

I got a credit card the same year that I started working.  That was a Visa card from the same Bank that I had my salary account.  Those were the days before debit cards were popular.  There were ATM cards which could not be used for credit purchases. Citibank had come up with a Suvidha account with a card, which was probably one of the earliest such card.

I used the Bank's Credit Card drop box in their ATM or other drop box facility to make the payments before the due date.  I always paid the entire amount being very particular not to be charged late-payment fee or interest on outstanding balance.

After a few months, I did a standing instruction with the Bank so that on the due date, the due amount got debited from my Bank account.  I no longer needed to track the payment date.  Of course, I diligently went through the Credit card statements. I even preserved the charge-slip so that …

Bleeding edge of technology

Living on the bleeding edge of technology is exciting but can sometimes give you worries.

I run the continuous integration software jenkins in our group to build some of our components.  I had configured it to run 6-7 jobs.  I manually kept it upgraded to the latest and the greatest version each time it was released. I never faced any issue with the upgrades.

jenkins-1.467 came out and as usual I did the upgrade with not a care in the world.  Imagine my shock when I came this morning and found missing jobs in the jenins page?

I logged in and tried to see what could be wrong.  I could not find anything. I checked the jenkins installation and work folders and found that the all the job folders existed.

Something was indeed amiss.  Two jobs were missing and both were jobs which triggered sonar analysis.  I googled for jenkins upgrade to 1.467  and there it was - [JIRA] (JENKINS-14036) Sonar jobs not appering after upgrade.  This in turn led to Jenkins Sonar Plugin incompatible with lates…

How to find your BSNL landline bill online

As detailed in my earlier write-up, BSNL has upgraded its portal services.   There is now a separate portal for selfcare (whatever that means) and another to pay bills.   
One would think that the portal to pay the bills would be the place to view/download them as well.  That is wishful thinking.
After multiple trial and error attempts, I finally found out where the landline bills are available online for viewing.    Follow the steps outlined below.
1. Register in the BSNL self care portal if you have not. 2. Login 3. You will see two tabs Home and Service 4. Click on Service 5. You will find a bunch of links with some description.  Choose Check My Bills. (See image below)

6. This will take you to My Billing Details 7. Click on the Billing Account Number 8. You will find a list of Bills 9. Choose the bill from May 2012.  (Other links give error since the previous bills are not available in the portal)
If you want to pay the bills online, register in the other portal and pay the bill …

Yet another BSNL rant

I have resisted myself from making yet another write-up on BSNL.  But how long can I?  Things have now come to a state that I now wonder if BSNL itself knows what is happening.

It all started when Bengaluru Telephone District migrated to a new IT platform called CDR-Based Billing platform  - in their continuous endeavour to server their customers better (paraphrasing from their email dated 22nd April).

For about two weeks during this migration - their complaint system was inaccessible - both web-based and IVRS-based.  Calling the direct Exchange numbers listed in their website resulted in such hilarious responses as "We are migrating to a new system and hence cannot take your complaint".

Bottom-line was about three weeks outage in April and a similar one in May. Perhaps the digging around our apartment (a case for another write-up) was a possible root cause. But I understand that the phone was working for some people in the apartment and not others.  This seems to indicate…