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The tatkal experience - the manual way

I had managed to get tatkal tickets - from Bangalore to Coimbatore and Coimbatore to Cochin - both during peak travel dates, but my luck ran out when it came to getting a return ticket from Cochin to Bangalore.  But, then there were some learnings from the experience.

I wanted tickets for the trains on the night of Sun, 29 Dec.  This meant, I needed to try tatkal tickets at 10 AM on Sat, 28 Dec.

The Reservation Center in Ernakulam is a 5 minute walk from my home.  I thought I could try booking in person, as logging into the irctc website at 10 AM is next to impossible, especially for Fridays and Sundays.

I reached the reservation center at 8.05 AM. There was a separate Tatkal queue - not to buy the ticket, but to get a token which determined the position at 10 AM in various tatkal queues.  The Reservation Center had earmarked 5 counters for tatkal reservation from 10 AM to 11 AM each day and the tokens were issued for each of the counters.  When my turn came, it was the 21st token in…

Watching Dhoom 3 in Kochi

It was a dark winter evening.  In Kochi, winter is about 22 degrees in the night, if not warmer. It has been ages since I went for a nigh show movie in my hometown. I decided to check out the latest Bollywood superhit movie Dhoom 3.

Shenoys was my theatre of choice for many reasons.

One of the oldest theatres in Kochi, with a vistarma projection.  Walking distance from my home (about 1.5km). 
I caught a Volvo bus from the bus stop near my home at 8.40 PM (I know - an indulgence).  Ideally it would have been a 5 minute ride to the theatre, but traffic jam due to Metro work on M.G.Road meant I had to alight, a few metres before the theatre.  Hey, did I mention a third reason for the choice of theatre - the cost?  A Balcony ticket cost me Rs.70/- - I would have paid that much for parking in Phoenix Market City.

The movie started on time, at 9 PM.

It is 1990. We see the Great Indian Circus in Chicago going through a financial crunch.  The lenders are unwilling to bail them out. So the pro…

What Singham 2 teaches us

When you see the same movie thrice (once in theatre and twice in TV), you are likely to perceive a lot more than what the film offers

That is what happened with me on Singham 2.  So, without further ado, here are the learnings...

a) You need to shout to be heard.  It pays to be loud. The language doesn't matter - you can shout in English if your listener can't understand tamil.

b) Keralites are skilled tree-climbers.  If you knock down their vehicles, they can easily hang-on to available pole.

c) Getting a South African visa for a Tamil Nadu police man is a piece of cake.  Possibly, you don't even need a visa.

d) When applying for your passport, it is good to give your occupation like "International Drug Dealer"

e) Bright female students from affluent families steal question papers from school, for the heck of it.

f) Wearing helmet or not speaking on cellphone through bluetooth headset while driving is not applicable to DSP or such ranks of policemen

g) Thou sh…

Health insurance for senior citizens

Ever since my employment (and after my dad's retirement), my parents have been covered by the group medical insurance in the companies that I worked for.  I never had to worry about either my personal health insurance or my parents'.  When my dad was hospitalized a few years back, the insurance covered (most of) the charges (though the claim process was laborious and the time it took, protracted).

I realized a couple of things too late:

a) It is good to have a personal medical insurance, even if you have company provided insurance.  This helps when you change companies and/or if your company does not provide (adequate) insurance
b) In the absence of a), if you have a company provided group medical insurance, it is good to convert it to an individual/family medical insurance when you leave the company by paying the relevant (additional) premium.  This ensures continuity (which is required to cover pre-existing illnesses) and avoids the need to do any check-up.  This is especia…

The KYC experience at Citibank and SBI

It all started when I received an email from Citibank with the following subject "Action Required: Update your Know Your Customer (KYC) documents on your Citibank Account No.xxyy"

The email asked me to visit the branch with a passport photo and a proof of identity and address.  The email also mentioned the list of acceptable documents for proof.  Among those which served both purpose were passport/voter id/aadhaar/drivers license.

Of late (after my BSNL disconnection), I use aadhaar for my address proof.  It also saves me the trouble of having multiple proofs for id and address.  (The address in my passport and drivers' license is not current and as for voter id, it is kind of incomplete)

Armed with the original aadhaar and a photocopy (and along with a passport photo), I boarded the empty Metro on a week day and alighted at Trinity on M.G. Road, from where Citibank is walkable.

The lady who was kind-of the Receptionist asked me to fill a form.  She asked me if I had t…

Solving a programming exercise

One of the practices that we follow to select an intern (in fact, even developers) in our start-up is to administer a programming exercise.  It is a fairly simple problem, sent over email and the candidate has a week to solve it in a programming language of his/her choice.

Besides the fact that the program has to work, there are two additional criteria that are specified

 it should meet coding standards  it should have unit tests These are not elaborated, allowing the candidate to figure out and do what he/she feels is appropriate.
Here are the kind of responses that we have got.
Word document: Some of the candidates sent across programs in Word format.  I believe this could be the effect of writing programs as part of their exam papers. (Write a program to illustrate the "for" loop, for example)   The exercise to copy the content from the Word format to a text format and compile and get it to work was left to us.
Netbeans project:  Another set of candidates sent across a zip…

LPG subsidy and aadhaar

On December 1, Phase V of Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG will commence.  Phase V districts include Bangalore.

My parents in Ernakulam are already "beneficiaries" (if one may put it that way) of the scheme, being part of the Phase 2 districts.

The amount of knowledge (or lack of it) that a layman has about this is reflected in the conversation that I had with my dad a couple of weeks back.

"Hey, I just got this LPG cylinder at home and had to pay Rs.1000/- odd.  I believe I should have got the subsidy amount in the Bank.  Now I am not sure to which Bank the subsidy has gone. I remember giving it in Dena Bank as well as SBI.  I checked Dena Bank and there is no credit.  Can you check SBI online so that I can spare the travel to the Branch?"

I checked online and found the credit - not one, but two - one for 400-odd rupees and another for 500-odd, in a space of a week.  I was clueless why there was no credits and will varying amounts.  That is when I decided to under…

Updating Indian stock exchange data in gnucash

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I had written a few months back that updates to Indian stock exchange data from gnucash had broken thanks to yahoo stopping its service.

A couple of days back, an email came to Finance-Quote project mailing list with an attachment, which had scripts to retrieve data using BSE and ICICI Direct sources.   The list did not allow the attachment to be downloaded - perhaps because it was html content or due to the mail client used.  So I emailed the author Manoj Kumar, who was kind enough to share that over email.

As mentioned in his email (if you figure out how to read it from the mailing list), the steps to set up the scripts are straightforward.  There were a couple of other things that I did and I thought that warranted this post.

I did an update the Quote.pm to include the additional scripts and thereby avoided the needed to set/update the environment variable.

The other was to edit each of the security and make two changes.


a) Change the symbol name.  The name varies based on the sou…

Shared hosting and php app deployment

We were doing a turnkey project for one of our customers, which involved developing a mobile application with a php backend.   The development environment was Windows with the WAMP stack.  We had a dedicated linux system (RHEL) on the cloud running the LAMP stack for testing.

There was the initial hiccup while starting the project, with differences in the component versions on development and the testing environment.  The version of apache didn't matter, but the case was different for php and mysql.  
For instance, we could not use a specific feature of mysql (ON UPDATE CURRENT_TIMESTAMP), which was available only from 5.4.x.  Similarly, we started with php-5.2.   We were using yii framework.  Everything worked fine till we used restfullyii yii extension, which needed php-5.3.  
As we wrapped up the project and prepared to deploy to production, we thought we had covered everything. 
The production was a shared linux hosting environment of godaddy.  All we had was ftp access.  Th…

King, queen and God

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On one hand, we have the God of cricket playing his 200th and last test match in his Wankhade Stadium, Mumbai, his home ground.  On the other, we have the World Chess Championship matches between Anand and Carlsen in Chennai, the home town of Anand.

It was exciting to watch Sachin bat in (most likely) his last innings.  If he did not make a century, then he alone was at fault, since it didn't look like West Indies were in a position to get him out.

Now, the chess matches are a different story.  There is no fun watching the live telecast.  For one, it is Doordarshan and trust them to screw up by showing a half-chess board for most of the first match.


And then the commentary.  The commentators keep moving the pieces so that you do not know what is the current position.

I also can't understand why should the photo of the Chief Minister be in the background of the players' seat.
The chess matches are best watched in internet since all you are interested in is the board po…

Ten tips for driving on Indian roads

I cannot resist writing about roads and driving, since I spend at least an hour on this every week day (and most weekends as well).

So in no particular order, 10 tips for driving in Indian roads.  Anything to make our commute exciting.

1. Drive where there is a road (if not a path). It does not matter if it is the wrong side of the road, No Entry or One way.  Just like water tries to seek its own level, vehicles should fill the space available.  Do this, especially when there is a traffic jam.  When you are blocked, there is no reason why someone else should go.

2. The bigger the vehicle you have, the faster you should drive.  Size does matter.  If you disagree, try blocking an elephant when it charges.

3. Honk as much as possible. Honk when idling, honk when speeding.  Honk to show frustration, honk to relieve frustration.  If you ride a two-wheeler or auto, fit a horn, which sounds like car or truck.

4. Drive always in high-beam, however bright the street lights are, or even in bro…

A visit to Cubbon Park

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It was Mon, 4 Nov - a holiday on account of Bali Padyami.  We decided to go to Cubbon Park. Our little one keeps talking about "going to park" and we thought why not indulge him.  I don't remember when I last visited Cubbon Park - it must have been a dozen years back (or more).

I had done some googling the previous day to check what I can expect there.  For one, I could not find an official page - the closest was this. I wanted to check if it was a holiday - this site seemed to indicate it was not.

To make our trip interesting, we decided to take Namma Metro.  Parking the car near CMH Road Metro Station, we got tickets for the M G Road Station.  The signboards said we needed to take tickets for those who were 3 feet or more.  Thus our little one came free - but the Security stopped us and asked for the "Baby pass".  This, as it turned out, was a much-worn-out card which indicated a "Free Baby Pass" which needed to be carried during the ride and give…

Skyfall - Bollywoodisation of Bond?

I got around to watching Skyfall, the "latest" Bond movie (that was released a year back - in November 2012), courtesy it being shown in Sony Pix channel.

7.8 in IMDB.  Seriously?  For that movie?  What did people find so good about the movie?  The reasons I enjoyed Bond movies were the eccentric villains who plotted global supremacy or destruction, countries pitted against each other, cold war or otherwise, pretty girls who turned villains and so on, breathtaking technologies, far ahead of their times.

But what about Skyfall?  A villain disgruntled with M, because she turned him over in exchange for a few other agents. Ok, and then?  He bombs MI6, gets caught in an island somewhere off Macaw, is imprisoned in MI6 headquarters and then escapes thanks to his computer/hacking wizardry, which betters Q's!   He attacks British Parliament(?) (where M is deposing), then chases M all the way to Skyfall, Bond's ancestral property.  When this happens, the entire might of Brit…

A few things that I learnt from Chennai Express

For the uninitiated, Chennai Express is a recent hit movie starring Shah Rukh Khan, directed by Rohit Shetty.  Having spent a torturous time over the last few nights watching the recorded movie, I have put together some "lessons learnt".

1. Girls from Chennai who are based in Mumbai talk in accented Tamil.  (This is similar to many Indians, who switch to a peculiar accent when talking to foreigners)
2. Chennai is pretty much a village (at least from what I could make out of the movie).   I am not surprised here. My Mumbai cousins used to tell their friends "hum gaav ja rahe hain" (we are going to our village), when they used to visit us in Cochin.
3. Ladies in Chennai wear only six or nine-yard sarees.
4. Chennai folks have a tradition where the newly married bridegroom carries the bridge to a temple situated on top of a hill ascended by 300 or so steps.
5. Chennai folks do not go by Mangalsutra to determine if a woman is married.  It is the "maang mein sindo…

Notice for responding to Rectification Proposal

If you received an email with the same subject line as this blog post from Income Tax department, then like me, chances are that, you will be worried.

This extremely legal sounding request was backed by an encrypted attachment, which had equally legal sounding lines starting with "Notice under Section 154 of the Income Tax, 1961".

The Order passed under Sec 143(1) dated dd/mm/2013 in your case is required to be amended as there is a mistake apparent from the records within the meaning of section 154/155 of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The rectification of the mistake, as per details given below will have the effect of enhancing the assessment/reducing the refund/increasing your liability. In case you have any objections to the same, your written reply on the attached Response Sheet should reach this office within 15 days from the date of receipt of this notice. Response Sheet is attached to this notice. Particulars of the mistake proposed to be rectified. IN ACCURATE ACCOUNT…

Rats in trains, open air theatre - a fun-filled trip

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Thanks to the bookings done the day it opened - 60 days back - we had train tickets to Ernakulam and back for the navarathri weekend.  
We had a 7 PM train to catch. We took at taxi at 6 and were comfortably in K R Puram Station by 6.30.  Our little one was excited by train travel and kept asking when our train would came.  Trains did come - one after another - passenger trains to Marikkuppam, Kolar and so on... Ours was late and finally came around 7.45.  It made up for lost time and we were in Ernakulam Junction at 6.15 PM next day.
As we unpacked, we found a portion of one of the boxes missing!  A rat had invaded the A/c coach of the train and tunnelled its way through one of our bags.  We had left the zipper of one of the side pouches open and it had used it to bye-pass the hard outer cover of the bag.   Lesson learnt - carry food items in backpacks which can be hung.  And zip up - the bags as well!
The kolu is an exciting time for the ladies - an occasion to socialize, visit each…

Valmiki Jayanthi - an enjoyable day for Bangalore Bankers

It is a Bank holiday today (18 Oct 2013).  Why?  Valmiki Jayanthi.  Is it that same Valmiki who wrote Ramayana?  Yes, indeed.  Now why are we observing his birthday as a holiday every year? On probing further, I realize it is not a holiday all over India, but in select States.  Karnataka is one of them.

It is a holiday under Negotiable Instruments Act.  This is an Act passed by British India in 1881 - imagine we are using this to declare our Government public holidays.  Here is the IBA notification for Karnataka.

When you look at the holidays, you realize that there is a bunch of them related to individuals.

Mahaveer Jayanthi (hey, I already wrote about this one)Mahatma Gandhi JayanthiMaharishi Valmiki JayanthiKanakadasa JayanthiAmbedkar Jayanthi (oh so sad - it is on a Sunday this time)
These are not religious holidays.  If we exclude Gandhi Jayanthi, it is evident that the other holidays have been declared just to appease certain communities.   In this particular case, from Wikiped…

Upgrading to Windows 8.1

It was by accident that I checked the internet to see if Windows 8.1 was ready yet and saw that it is "now" ready for download (6 PM on 17th Oct).   The interesting thing was, the "update" was available on Windows Store.  Seeing that the download size was 3.62 GB, I decided to skip it on my office laptop.

However, I could not resist the temptation to do it in our home laptop (the bleeding edge of technology, you see)!  I could not find the "update" in the "Store" of my laptop!  I tried clicking on the link from the Microsoft site to see if that helped - but Windows 8.1 update didn't show up.

Then the most typical thing that one would do in such cases stuck me - restart.  As I clicked on the "Power" icon - I saw "update and restart" - implying a bunch of Windows update was pending installation.

The system took its time to restart after applying the update (the five dots going around in circles can make you mad if you keep…

When parking cost more than the movie ticket

It all started when I got an SMS from the Bank which has issued my credit card.   The SMS had two Winpin coupons each work Rs.250/- for movie tickets from bookmyshow.   I had done a high value transaction for my company and there was some promotion, which resulted in this.

The coupons had an expiry (one month from SMS date), so I thought why not use it for a movie this weekend.  After some deliberations , we chose Raja Rani, a Tamil movie which had released that Friday.

So I logged into bookmyshow. My first theatre preference would have been the Cinemax in Total Mall, Outer Ring Road, but their show timings did not suit me.  The next one was Phoenix Market City, which had a 2.45 PM show.  I found that they had a booking category whose price was Rs.240/- -  That works for me, I thought.

I chose 2 seats (they were "filling fast") - and then found that they had added about Rs.20 odd rupees towards internet charges and so on per ticket - so the total cost came down to Rs.536.18…

Tatasky and Star World Premier HD channel

A new TV channel Star World Premier HD has been advertising in Star channels the last few days. Today (24 Sep) is the launch date.

I switched on my TV and Tatasky HD set top box and tuned into the specified channel - only to be greeted with the message.  "Send an SMS to subscribe.  Rs.60/- per month".

Hmm!  I thought I had taken an annual Tatasky package "Mega South HD" which entitled me to any channels in Tatasky for a year (plus a few Showcase movies to boot).   I logged into their website to find that this new channel is now part of "Special Services" (along with another channel called Topper).   Not only that, the subscription plans have changed.  There isno longer an "HD fee" of Rs.100/- and so on.  In short, by doing some manipulations, Tatasky has successfully ensured that despite having chosen the highest subscription, I end up needing to "pay more".  I am not the only disgruntled guy here.

Now, I could argue that the day I su…

Rules of the road regulations

Each time we have a discussion about bad driving on Indian roads, a question gets asked, "What are the road rules?  Where is it available?"  We tell how comprehensive the rules are in US and how easy it is to access the rules.  We talk about "the right of way", "the right way to turn right", "high beams", "overtaking" and so on.

The last time I checked, I could not find any such rules on the Net.  I decided to give another shot at it today.

Searching for "Indian Driving rules" brought up Indian Driving Schools as the top result. The Traffic Rules link in that is just giving some funda - good for nothing!

Moving down the search results, I found a link to Delhi Traffic Police. "Ah, this is what I want", thought I.  Learn Traffic Rules, said a link and hovering over it revealed the true picture - Traffic Police Hand signals, Traffic Light signals and so on.  Not road rules.

I then changed my search and hit upon the we…

Upgrading to ios7

It is that time of the year when apple launches a new phone models as well as new version of their OS.  (Interestingly no more iPad versions?  I don't recall seeing news items, if any)

So iOS 7 update came at 10.30 PM IST (I think - I didnot check after 9 PM) yesterday (Wed, 18th Sep).  As a person, who aspires to live in the bleeding edge of technology (and often bleed because of that), I itched to update my iPhone.  One decision by Apple, which allows them to sell their iPhone 4 even today in India (a colleague of mine picked one a couple of days back), is to allow OS upgrades even on that model. When we contrast it with the plethora of android phones, which are stuck in older versions because the decision to offer upgrade rests with the vendor and not Google, we realize this is one area where Apple scores.

Considering it is a 600 odd MB upgrade, the question was - to do the update in office or home.  In recent past, our office internet has been a bit of an issue (one of the ma…

Bangalore roads after rains

I had no intention to write this, but the other day, I met up with a friend after a long time and he asked, "how come you are not writing about the state of the roads?"

My response was, "I thought I had written enough - about riding with cows, poster menace, comparing Bangalore roads with software, speed breakers and road rules (partially defined). There is nothing new I can add...".

Nevertheless, this is as good a way to vent my frustrations as any.

Pretty much all the roads in our neighbourhood were tarred ahead of the Assembly elections, as part of the last-ditch effort to woo the voters.  As it turned out, the sitting MLA was trounced.  In hindsight, that was the best thing to happen, considering the plight of the same roads today.

The roads, which looked swanky have all but disappeared giving place to potholes, pits and craters.  The reason is not far to see.  The tarring was so superficial that the first wave of rains exposed them for what they really were -…

Strike - the modern day Poirot?

The Cuckoo's Calling is a detective novel by Robert Galbraith - the first novel by an author with this name.   The author sold about 1500 hard copies and 7000 e-copies and would have been yet another novel, but for a revelation on 14th July 2013 that Robert Galbraith was J K Rowling, the author of the popular Harry Potter series.
Anyway, I got around to reading the novel primarily because of the author.  
You can find the plot in any book review site.  Here it is in short.
Lula Landry is a supermodel who fell to her death three months back.  After extensive investigations, her death is concluded as suicide. Her brother, John Bristow approaches a detective Cormoran Strike to investigate the matter since he believes it is not suicide, but murder.  John's brother Charlie and Cormoran were friends.  Though Strike is reluctant to take up the work, he does it due to his recent financial and personal crises.
Cormoran is ex-Army, who lost a leg in Afghan war.  Through a series of inte…

Inferno - travellogue and Jason Bourne combined

As someone who has read all of Dan Brown's novels, I could not help check out Inferno, his latest work.

Inferno brings back Robert Langdon epitomized by The Da Vinci Code - the book and the movie.  Thanks to the movie, most of us visualize Langdon as Tom Hanks!  
Inferno finds Langdon in a hospital bed - not able to remember how he landed there.  An inspiration from Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity?  Needless to say, there are killers after him.  And like in other adventures of Langdon, there is a pretty lady for company. 
The action this time starts in Florence.  After an exhaustive (if not exhausting) narrative of the various landmarks in Florence (relevant to the novel), with a lot of Italian dialogues to boot, we are transported by a large boat - where else - to Venice!  The bad guys (are they indeed bad?) are not too far behind, but our hero is always one step ahead. 
There is always a clue to solve and this time it is Dante's Inferno which is the reference point …

The weekend drive to Coimbatore

It was a long weekend on account of Independence Day and Varamahalakshmi.   The original plan was to rent an Innova and go to Coimbatore along with a friend and his family.  That plan did not materialize. I spent 45 minutes trying to get a tatkal ticket in vain.  Since we had committed to the trip and didn't want to disappoint our relatives, we decided to drive down.  We had done this multiple times, but always had some company to share the driving.

It was a 380km from home to home.   We decided to start early by 5 AM to avoid the weekend traffic.  It was close to 5.30 AM when we actually started.  Once we crossed Hosur, we could see a lot of road work happening - mostly flyovers in junctions.   In the process, we missed the A2B, which comes before Krishnagiri.  In any case, it was too early to stop, with our little one fast asleep.  It was close to Salem that we finally stopped - around 8.30 AM.  Past Salem, more signs of road work - it appeared that nothing had changed in 3 yea…

Thalaiva and the ban

When I saw the news this morning "Thalaiva runs into controversy", my first thought was about one of the songs in the recent Hindi release of Shah Rukh Khan, Chennai Express.   I saw the song Lungi dance in one of the music channels the other day.  The song hero-worshipped Rajnikanth, calling him "Thalaivar" ( and then broke into the typical bump-and-grind routine.  The lyrics referred to lifting the lungi and dancing.. yet another instance of nonsensical lyrics.

Anyway, so I thought the song ran into controversy in Tamil Nadu and got banned.  But no, wait, that was not the case.  This was about the movie Thalaiva starring Vijay, a popular Tamil actor.  Apparently, many theatres had received bomb threats due to which the movie was released everywhere but in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.  The news report claimed that there was a political angle to it, with a particular line in the movie being against the current Government.

Coming on the heels of the ban on Vishwaroo…