Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good Riddance, 2016

 

And so it comes to an end. Probably the worst year of our times. Or worst year so far. Although it started off well, this year was marked with long standing political turmoil. There were those terrorist attacks, shootings,and natural calamities. And a higher number of celebrity deaths. But what really marked the year was Brexit,and the unpredicted Trump victory in the USA. Sign of things to come. Back home, the central government attacked the common man by issuing a cruel note demonitization.

Its good to see this year finally end. Good riddance. Lets not talk about 2016 ever again.

Heres hoping for a better one. Got big hopes pinned on 2017.

Happy New Year !

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Digitally Weary Users Switch To ‘Dumb’ Phones

 

This is the reason why I don’t use a smartphone.

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Unplugged: Eddie Redmayne was tired of being ‘glued’ to his iPhone

In January, British actor Eddie Redmayne made headlines around the world as he became the latest in a growing band of smartphone refuseniks.

“It was a reaction against being glued permanently to my iPhone during waking hours,” he explained, turning instead to an old-fashioned “dumb phone” handset that could only make and take calls.

He is not alone. There is a small but busy market for phones that are simple and cheap at a time when smartphones are becoming ever more complex and expensive.

Feature phones — handsets with some basic functions such as playing music and accessing the internet — are gradually being replaced by low cost smartphones, according to Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at IDC, the research group. But there is still a significant demand for older-style phones.

Strategy Analytics, a research group, estimates that 44m basic phones were sold in 2015, accounting for 2 per cent of the global market.

Some phonemakers, such as Sony and LG, have already turned their back on the market. But others like Microsoft and Samsung are still producing devices every year aimed at the feature market.

Many smartphone users bemoan having to buy devices that are easily broken, require daily recharging and which will be superseded by a new, better version within a year. Even basic smartphones offer computing power that not many people need.

Some users buy phones with limited or no internet connections in a conscious attempt to decouple from the modern digital world. Light Phone founder Joe Hollier falls into this camp. The 25-year-old former skater has developed a credit card-sized phone without a data connection and no extra functions other than to make calls. He describes a feeling of huge relief when the ability to check emails or status updates is removed.

Analysts say that there is a growing number of “second phoneys” who use an expensive smartphone or “phablet” during the day, but turn to cheaper, pocket-sized devices when they go out in the evening.

The Light Phone functions as a companion device to a smartphone but Mr Hollier hopes it will also encourage people to unplug from the modern internet world.

There are also practical reasons why some are turning their backs on smartphones. The short battery life of devices is a source of constant complaint and many travellers are still attracted to the reliability and long battery life of older phones.

This market is still being served by Microsoft, which now owns the Nokia brand. The US group last year launched the Nokia 215, for example, a simple, robust device that has a standby battery life of 29 days. The Nokia 515 has a massive 38 days standby time.

The phone has a simple layer of apps and basic data connectivity, but the main attraction is the $30 price tag. As Microsoft boasts: “Exceptional battery life and impressive durability are standard features. When you own a Nokia, you own a phone that’s built to last.”

Dumb phones have more specific uses, however, for example being given to children for calling home. They are simple, robust and cheap if lost.

Likewise, there are simple phones for the elderly, such as those made by Doro, which prioritise large buttons and the amplification of volume rather than how quickly they can access the internet.

Mr Jeronimo says that such products are becoming a niche opportunity for companies. Doro has grown to become the third-largest feature phonemaker in western Europe after Microsoft and Samsung, he adds.

Feature phones are also more popular in developing markets because of the combination of low prices and long battery life.

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The NoPhone

“Using a smartphone in some countries in Africa, for instance, is not an option for many users, as it would require to charge it on a daily basis,” says Mr Jeronimo.

“On the other hand using a smartphone means little for users who cannot connect to a 3G network, either because they are not available or because the connectivity is extremely expensive.”

And, for those that find even basic phones are too much, there is a solution: the $5 NoPhone Zero. It claims to be the least advanced phone ever created, has no buttons or components and is just a plastic rectangle. It is a joke, but one that says much about our modern anxiety about technology.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Snapdeal’s express delivery is a joke

 

I sometimes wonder why Snapdeal is still the third , struggling e-commerce starup in India. But then they answer the question themselves. This is the third time they have delayed my delivery, even when they promise express delivery.

The company promises the fastest delivery in Tier-1 cities. But the truth is that its a big joke. They can never do a next day delivery in the city.

Third time in a row. That is amazing consistency. Remind me never to shop there again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't click on every Gmail alert you receive

The months-long espionage campaign against US political targets allegedly orchestrated by hackers working for the Russian government hinged on a simple, yet effective, hacker trick: booby-trapped emails.

In some cases, such as with the hack on John Podesta or Colin Powell, the phishing emails were designed to look like Gmail alerts containing a Bitly link that led to a fake webpage to harvest the victim’s password. Podesta and Powell were fooled, but don’t think only baby boomers aren’t good at spotting malicious emails.

In fact, one in two people click on phishing links, according to some estimates. And, of course, some look more credible than others.

For example, you probably wouldn’t click on this email I got a few weeks ago, even if it contained the name of your mother, as it’s the case here.

Last week, the journalists who work for the independent investigative project Bellingcat received a series of messages that looked like legit Google security alert emails. They didn’t click on them, but would you have been able to spot that they were malicious?

This one used Google’s own style and look for a security alert. To a distracted or untrained eye, there would be no difference between this and the real thing. Imagine you get this in the middle of the day, while you’re stressed at work. Would you have clicked on it? Would have spotted that the hackers misspelled “Montain View” and “Amphithaetre”?

The hackers actually used three different types of phishing attempts, in an attempt to fool the targets. All of them prompted the would-be victims to change their passwords, and enter them in a website under the control of the hackers.

Ask yourself: would you have clicked on these emails?

Luckily, if you’re worried about phishing emails like that, and you don’t trust yourself, there’s an easy way to make these attacks much harder to pull off. Turn on two-factor authentication on Gmail or your webmail provider of choice (and do it for your social media accounts too).

With two-factor or two-step authentication, even if you click on a booby-trapped link and then give up your password to the hackers, they still can’t get in, unless they have hacked your phone too or have control of the phone network—something not all hackers can do.

 

 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who is a Project Manager ? Webinar

 

An good, but a little long, video about the roles of a project manager. Indian Project Managers should surely watch this, maybe they will learn something for once.

 

Friday, December 2, 2016

They destroyed Inferno




Been very busy nowadays, at a new job in a new role. So it was after a long time I got the time to watch a movie. Inferno. Yep, based on the novel by Dan Brown. Tom Hanks returns as Langdon. And Ron Howard as director. Which is why I was confused as to why they made this movie. This is the same team which made Apollo 13.

To be honest, the source material wasn't that strong to justify this movie. I was unimpressed with the book when I came out, and remember feeling Brown has lost his touch. In Inferno, the subject matter is not mainstream, the legends and history is not something which would attract public attention. The Lost Symbol, which had some American history conspiracy in it, would have been a better choice. Not many know about the importance of Florence, or have heard of Dante.

I think they should now stop making these movies. Brown's plots just gets clumsier , and clumsier. And now its totally predictable. Every novel has Langdon waking up in a hotel/hospital/room , being chased by police/secret service/FBI/CIA and bad guys/mafia/crazy cult. He is helped by a young , attractive and super-smart female, and the whole story gets over in like..24 hours. And I still don't buy the fact that Langdon is able to keep all those details of symbology in his head, he practically knows every work of literature created by the great artists.

In addition, they changed the story. Which was the biggest disappointment for me. In the book, Zobrist does not create a plague, but a virus which renders half of the human population infertile, so that there is some population control in the coming generation. But the movie version paints him as a foolish genius, who wants to kill people.

So right when I thought they could not go wrong with making Inferno, they have managed to mess it up completely.

Monday, November 28, 2016

All of Westworld’s secret was out, thanks to the internet

 

The Internet is amazing. Ever since the first episode of Westworld came out, people have been discussing, and sharing ideas, hunches and numerous clues which appeared on the show. Thanks to some very sharp eyed viewers armed with magnifying glasses, nearly every secret on the show was leaked. By episode 2, fans had worked out that William is the younger version of Man in Black in an ealier timeline, and that Bernard Lowe is Arnold Weber. A redditor called it out as early as episode 4. There are still other secrets they had called out, but I guess these two are the grandest of them all. Reddit is really a curious place, full of spoilers.  When today’s episode reveled that Bernard is actually build in Arnold’s image by Ford, I guess it really didn’t surprise most fans. Now the only secret remaining is what is Dolore’s role in this whole time.

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The creators of Westworld had already revealed that they have written enough of the story for five seasons. I had assumed that their plan was to expand this whole storyline across 5 seasons. But now that they plan to reveal most of the secret in this first season itself, I wonder what more they have in store for us.

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Dolores' scenes from episode nine were spread across three different time frames in the "Westworld" universe. In chronological order, the scenes with her in a blue dress were the earliest - likely about 35 years ago.

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I am sure Maeve will escape from the facility, along with some more of the hosts. But still not sure what Dolores plans to do. She still has no idea she is a host…just that she keeps on confusing her memories with her real life in the park.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Bad day

 

I had a bad day today. I was wondering where I could write about it, and decided the best place is here. Cause nobody else would read it. Maybe.

But today was a bad day for a lot of people. First, it has been 8 years since 26/11, the most devastating terrorist attack on this country in this century.

Then, the trending news of today is the death of Fidel Castro.

But I had a big fight today. And it was mostly my fault. I was trying to achieve multiple things at the same time, and prioritized in the wrong order.

But the package on route. Should be delivered to Kalahandi this week.

I hope I will get another chance.

Sorry, M. i apologize. I am truly sorry.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Winter is not coming...soon

 

 

 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Westworld Clue

This image is from a trailer for an upcoming episode of Westworld. It shows William removing knife from its sheath on his belt. Notice the design of the hilt.
 
 
 
 
 
Now this is from an already aired episode, showing Ford handling a knife belonging to the Man in Black. Notice the same hilt.
 
 
 
Swarms of Westworld fans are debating on both sides of the theory that William becomes the Man in Black. I am just wondering when will the writers reveal the last secret they have to offer. Apparently, they have written the stories for at least 5 seasons of the show. Surely they would not reveal all their secrets right in the first season ?
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Please wait, you are in Queue

It has been a week since the chaos began, when the Government of India ‘demonetized’ currency notes of Rs 500 and 1000 denominations. And the rush is in no hurry to calm down. The majority of the country is still waiting in queues, lines to the bank, lines to the ATMs.  Most of the cash dispensing machines ran out of cash within hours after being stocked, while thousands of ATMs are still not functional. Adding to the customer woes, there have been reports of bank servers facing technical glitches.

 

The techies of the country have now rushed in to help, creating apps and sites to search for nearby working ATMs. And new age e-cash startups have descended to ‘cash-in’ (pardon the pun) on the serious lack of cash in the economy. And after sleeping for an entire week, both the courts and the government is now discussing the legality of the ban in their respective houses.

 

Seriously ? They are discussing it only now ?

 

 

And in an attempt to bring down the rush, they are going to now implement an indelible ink system, like that in our elections.

 

Like most things in our country, passing the law was easy. Implementation if totally faulty.

 

India does still live in her villages. And one would be surprised how many of them still are not digitally connected.  They are the ones most affected by this demonetization. Media reports now that 33 people have died as a direct or indirect result of this demonetization rule.

 

On the flip side, the gamble  seems to have paid off in the cities, and better towns. Humungous amounts have been collected in bank deposits now, more than the amounts declared during the actual black money declaration window.

 

Anyway, there is no denying the fact that business has definitely gone down across the country. Everyone from small shops to large multiplexes are seeing lesser transactions. Simply because people have run out of spare cash. Or are too busy withdrawing money from ATMs. Or at least waiting for that in a queue somewhere.

 

I for one support this initiative, as it will weed out the filthy cash from the hands of hoarders, smugglers and the mafia. But it is disheartening to see the vast majority of honest, law abiding citizens having to face this otherwise unnecessary hardship.

 

Hope it ends fast. The country needs to get back on its feet.

 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Chaos for Cash

 

In its effort to bring out black money, the government overestimated  the efficiency of banks, and underestimated the time it will take to deliver new notes. Its now day 3 of the ban on high value currenty notes, and banks and ATMs have gone dry in the nation.

Meanwhile new generation plastic and e-cash startups have upped their ante, pushing new ads to market their services. And people are still converting cash into gold paying inflated rates.

The only good thing which happened to me was that Bangalore elevated tollway stopped charging their entry fees. So the tollways were free for all. And that lead to reduced traffic too.

I guess it will take at least a month to get fresh cash in circulation again.

Thankfully, cities like Bangalore had already gone majority cash-less. All supermarkets and most restuarants already accepted plastic money. In the wake of cash scarcity, they have reduced the minimum amounts required to make the transaction, and are letting people swipe cards for even Rs 50/-. Cab services which accepted cards and e-cash services had brisk business. But auto-drivers were left in the dark. There are talks of black marketeers charging upto 40% commission to exchange out the older notes in the system. There is also news of a person contacting the beggars-mafia to arrange for hard cash !

Somebody even made an Unboxing video of the new 2000 Rs/- note !

Sometime back I had read an article on gloomberg arguing why a cashless society cannot exist. I guess its author needs to take a second look at India.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Its a whole new world

 

I hate the open office configuration, what’s designed to facilitate communication sometimes leads to communication mayhem. Like today. The whole office floor was buzzing with bad news. The dual attack of bad news in the day. The biggest breaking news of this year.

One was the fact that Trump is leading in the US election results. And the other big bang was the Indian Government's decision to discontinue high denomination currency notes. And the third news was that the stock market was under attack , and the sensex was headed down.

When Election Day dawned, almost all the pollsters, analytics nerds and political insiders in the country had Hillary Clinton waltzing into the White House. Headed into Election Day, polling evangelist Nate Silver’s 538 website put Clinton’s odds at winning the White House at about 72 percent. By midnight, the site had more than flipped its odds making, giving Trump an 84 percent chance of winning.

This was the biggest 'error' statisticians had committed in centuries. It’s amazing how with all the latest analytics systems and big data and social media..and all those nonsense..they still got it wrong. By a huge margin.

I feel so bad for Stephen Colbert. And John Oliver. And Jimmy Fallon. And James Corden. And Trevor Noah. Even Bill Maher. And Jimmy Kimmel. The past many months, I have devoured their sketches and news and bits whole heartedly, knowing and trusting their hints that the Democrats would win. Here's hoping they are around for a lot more time.

Anyway, back to my office, it was clear there was cause for concern. A lot of Indian IT companies depend on US enterprises as clients for outsourced work. Trump and the republicans in power would mean its the end of it all. This could be end of Indian IT as we know it.

And back home, the incumbent government's struggle to contain blackmoney took a new turn when they announced the de-monetization of high value currency notes. Indian citizens now had 50 days to deposit all their de-monetized currency with banks. Keeping in mind there are over a billion citizens in the country, 50 days seems like too little time to get through it. But this short window is definitely required, to prevent people from converting all their ill-earned wealth to legal, 'white-money'. Its amazing how a decision of such high importance was kep top-secret till the Prime Minister got to personally announce it on an unscheduled address to the nation.

Kudos to the government for this ultra-quiet, sneaky, 'surgical strike'. This time, nobody is asking for proof.

Now just to be clear, no-one in the IT industry will have to worry about their wealth. It is probably the only industry to pay correct taxes upfront, with tax deducted right at the source. All IT employees are paid online, and they have their Form-16s and TANs and PANs to show. For once it turned out honesty indeed is the right policy to live by.

Historians are going to remember November 8th, 2016 as the day everything changed. The most unpredictable happened right in front of our eyes.

And no one saw it coming.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

India’s bold move to stop BlackMoney

 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that the currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 denominations will not be legal tender beginning November 9. Prime Minister also added that all banks will remain closed for public work tomorrow. ‘Terror strikes at the innocent. Who funds these terrorists’ Across the border, our enemy uses fake currency and dodgy funds to sponsor terror - this has been proven repeatedly. The process of cash circulation is directly related to corruption in our country impacting the lower classes of our society. From midnight November 8 today, Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes are no longer legal tender,’ Prime Minister Modi said while addressing the nation.

‘You have 50 days (From November 10 to December 30) to deposit notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 in any bank or post office. Respite for people for the initial 72 hours. The government hospitals will accept old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes till November 11 midnight,’ he added. Prime Minister Modi said notes of Rs. 2000 and Rs. 500 will be circulated soon.

‘The RBI has decided to limit the notes with higher value. There will be more purification the more we get support from you. Let’s continue the process of cleanliness and work together for successful completion of this initiative. We want to take this fight against corruption even ahead,’ he added. The Prime Minister further said that on November 9 and in some places on November 10, ATMs will not work.

Here are some imporant takeaways:

Less bang for your black bucks: Those with large amounts of large-denomination black money in cash will be hit hardest, since offloading this cash will become extremely difficult. Exchanging crores of rupees at banks will likely attract the attention of the taxman.

Less counterfeiting: These denominations were the most easily and widely counterfeited notes. Taking them out of circulation will eliminate a big source of fake notes.

Terrorism funding: A significant amount of terrorism was funded using counterfeit and/or high-denomination notes. This will also be hit badly.

Election funding: It is an open secret that elections in India are largely bankrolled by massive amounts of black money, typically in cash that are often used as direct bribes to voters. This spigot will now be shut off, disrupting the electoral system. The UP and Punjab elections will the first to face the brunt of this move.

Corruption: Most bribes across the system are typically paid in cash. While smaller amounts will not be affected, large amounts of bribes will now be limited, at least until the new denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 2000 are introduced in large numbers. But again, those will already accumulated cash will be hit hard.

Watching America vote was eye opening

 

I was watching Beme’s Exit Poll Live today, and it was awesome. Eye opening.

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I was expecting something like this for this year’s election. But surprise, surprise. The app came from the most unlikely place. Casey Neistat’s Beme is the brainchild behind this one-day-only app.

 

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Every user had a different perspective, the one reason why they based the decision on whom to vote for. It was amazing to see how this election has really skewed American’s thoughts this year.

A surprising number of people voted for neither of the two party candidates. Many voted for Garry Johnson and Jill Stein.

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A whole lot of people voted for Trump because “he is not a politician”. Again a lot of small business owners voted for Trump, expecting relaxed taxation.

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Most women and parents voted for Clinton. A lot of younger ones too where going with her.  And eveyone else just voted for her because they wanted the lesser of two evils.

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This black guy voted for Trump !

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

Taxed Out



I was recently on holiday in Australia. While we stayed with AirBnb for most of the trip, and cooked up our own food, occasionally, we did eat from out. There was a tonne of Asian cuisine restuarants sprinkled all over the country. But what surprised me more than the range of the food available, was the cost. It was not that expensive. Sure,it was all dollars,  and we Indians tend to convert everything to rupees…  but there were lot of options for low cost meals too. And I think the main reason the cost was low was because of low taxing.
I repeatedly kept noticing that whatever we bought, wherver we ate, the tax calculated on the service was never more than 10% ! That’s it. It was just under 10% for clothing, at restuarants, and even domestic plane tickets. Amazing !
If you eat out in India at any restuarant, the taxes will come to 20% ! The bill will nicely break up this into three different taxes. There is the 14.5 % VAT. Then 5.6 % service tax. Then the government’s swach barath and kissan cess, each of .2%.  Now the new amount is 20% more than the original bill !  For a dinner for four people, you will have to pay for an absent fifth !  Then the restuarant may charge you a service charge of 10%, and they can charge whatever they want.  And if there is any alcohol, there will be an additional 20% tax on only that.
What the hell is happening ? If a country like Australia can run itself with a 10% VAT/GST, why does India need to charge 20% tax ? This might go up to 30% too. And we have more people, and therefore more people eating out on any given day. The same goes for purchases and online services .
Surely the country has no shortage of income. What they need to fix is what they are doing with all that income.
Bon Apetit ! And Happy Diwali !

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

India Flying

 

 

I didn't believe it, when Air India got into "Breaking News" announcing they made a profit. Because that is unbelievable. But then they did it again when they set a supposed "world record" for flying the longest non-stop flight. The news was first reported on Flightradar, and everyone else has simply copied over the content and reported it verbatim. And with the Indian government's new plan to make flying cheaper and affordable to Indians under their Udaan program, the focus is back on flying and planes.

Apparently, the government plans to cap the cost of 1-hour domestic flights to a certain amount. This will make it more affordable to the commonfolk (mango-men). But then I recalled reading another article which said that India already has the lowest prices for flying domestic !

Research by Kiwi.com, an online flight comparison site, states that the average cost per 100km to fly domestic in India is 3.25 USD !! And the low cost rate is actually lesser at 2.27 USD. And yes, currently that is the cheapest in the world. The most expensive country to fly is...UAE, with a rate of 105 USD per 100 kms. That’s about 50 times costlier.

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Well this news changes everything we thought about flying in India. On one side, flyers kept complaining of hidden charges and 'convenience' fees on their flight tickets. On the other side, the airline companies complained that the cost of aviation fuel was extremely high, and that they were simply passing over that cost to the end customer, the passenger. So airline companies in India have been already providing the cheapest flights in the world in spite of these huge costs.

I hope this trend continues. India already has the cheapest telephone rates in the world, which is a mainstay of today’s living. Flying is still a distant dream for most Indians and I hope a few more of them can take to the skies, before all the Indian Airline companies get taxed to the ground.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lounge Benefits

 

I have always seen these signs to Airport Lounges at domestic and international airports, and often heard reviews about these ‘exclusive’ places , and assumed these were for business and first class travellers. Imagine my surprise , when I figured out even coach travellers can access these lounges, if you have the right credit card. I don’t travel often, and always travel light and prepared. Airports in India are purposefully designed to confuse and make travellers wait in lines. So when I recently had to fly international, I decided to try out and airport lounge using my Priority Plus card I got from a new credit card. And I must say, it took a few problems off my plate rightaway.

There are only two lounges out of Bangalore airport, and the same service providers operate them in the domestic and international side of the airport. It is after security check (and immigration, for international flights) , and the entrances to both are next to each other. I decided to walk into the Plaza Premium lounge for my first time. They accept Mastercard, Visa , and a few other cards as well, providing complimentary service. Did not take any photos while I was there, as it was almost crowded, and felt the other patrons would not like it. And I could see why places like these are coveted.

Free Wifi, free food and soft drinks, lots of space to lounge around, and for  an additional price, alchohol, showers and spa ! For long distance and frequent travellers, its the last place to find some comfort. There was no long style buffet there, but enough food to choose from. And deserts , snacks and tea/coffee as well. I spent almost 2 hours in there without realizing how fast time went.

Ok, rant time. The usual complains about Indian Airports is that they let you in only if you bring a printout of your ticket and an Id card to be let in. Or the fact thay they let you board the plane only if they see that your carry in baggage has a security screened tag.  However, my number one complaint about airports in India is the lack of affordable food options. All the food and beverage stalls on the airside price their products exorbitantly high. There are cases where those suckers charge three digit rupee values for something as simple as idli vada. Even the basic water bottle is charged in that range. During my international travels, I have never seen such a practice anywhere else: Europe, Malaysia, Australia…everywhere the prices they charge airside is the same they charge anywhere else.  But in India, it is truly extortion.  And the flights too now charge extra for f&b onboard, and even check in luggage. In most countries, passengers are allowed to bring in some kinds of home prepared meals for consumption on the plane, but this too is not allowed in India. Only exception if it is baby food.

In such a suffocated travel space, these lounges come as a breath of fresh air. I really enjoyed my meal at the lounge. During my transfer at Kuala Lumpur, again I got into Plaza Lounge there. It was a relaxing experience, and with free breakfast.

Well now that I have bitten this bait, I am hooked. Looking forward to somemore such lounge experiences in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bigger batteries pose bigger problems

 

Samsung’s PR disaster after recalling and replacing their Galaxy Note 7’s is all over the news. The blocking of the phone by the company is going to cost it money and users. But bigger batteries have always caused these kind of issues.

The story of Boeing’s disaster with the batteries on the huge 787 planes come to mind. There was a series of battery explosions in 2013 on 787 Dreamliners . You can watch this documentary to know more.

 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sully soars

 

Finally got around to watching a really nice movie. Sully. Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the experienced pilot who successfully landed a doomed commercial airplane onto the hudson river and saved everyone onboard. Directed by Clint Eastwood. And since its based on a highly reported real life incident, there is enough material to make an enriching movie. And that’s what this movie is.

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First, Tom Hanks is excellent in the role. There is something about his calm, confident voice and demeanor that soothes anyone in crisis. You are happy that he is in control, anybody else would freak out. And he does not overshadow anybody else. There is enough screen time for everybody who was involved in the incident that day. And the screenplay is clever. The main Miracle on the Hudson is shown via three , overlapping flashbacks, telling the same story from different people’s perspective. We get to see what the passengers saw, what the air traffic controllers heard, what the first responders and citizens saw, and finally what the two pilots were going through. Some scenes really look over scripted, like how everyone talks to Sully as if he was God. But it could have really happened, having saved so many lives that day. New York got some good news after a long time, specially involving airplanes.

This is going on my re-watch list.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Auzzie Holiday

 

G’day to you ! Finally we did it. We took our first international holiday ! And it is to Australia. Yep, that large left-to-itself country near the south pole. After spending two whole weeks on this island-country, the thought of returning now breaks our hearts. For a change, it was a pleasure living in a properly planned city again. Melbourne, mostly. But we also visited the Gold Coast. Bangalore looks like a jungle and river of debris compared to this. A few years back if somebody had asked me, I would have said India can become a superpower in the future. But now I am convinced that dream is long lost. The level of development and ease of life in Melbourne astonished us. And the people are the freindliest people I have ever met in my life. So cheery, always ready to help.

Australia is truly a world apart. They seem to live in a parallel universe with no border disputes amond neihgbouring countries, no cross border violence, and no visible refugee crisis.  They don’t care about the US elections, or Brexit, or the geo-political turmoil of any other country. Here is a nation still focussed on developing itself and taking care of its people, and wildlife. Yep, we met the famous kangaroos and koalas in rea life. We also got a glimpse of its sunny weather and relaxed lifestyle.

Random Thoughts:

  1. The range of weather is as large as the country itself. While it is still chilly and raining in Melbourne, being in Gold Coast felt like Miami. It is much more sunny and warmer there, but without the humidity. And I have been told there are places here that still get snow !
  2. There are more chinese than auzzies in Australia. Specially in Melbourne. At first I thought they too were tourists like us. But then I saw them working and running their own shops. There were moments when we felt we were walking through Beijing instead of Melbourne. China is slowly taking over the country. But I am sure they comprise people from Korea, Japan and other Asian countries as well. And of course, Indians , Lankans and Banglas are also here, but not in that much numbers.
  3. Auzzies are always apoligizing. Most of the time, for no reason. If you run into them in a queue or step on their feet in a crowded tram, it is your fault. But always, they apoligize. “Sorry”, they say. I think this is too courteous. You don’t have to apologize if it is not your fault.  However, I like this culture. A few days of living among them has made me more courteous !
  4. Its raining Asian cousine all over the country. Seriously, I found more Asian themed restuarants than bars on the streets. Whatever be your preferred : Indian, Chinese, Korean, or just spicy Nando’s, you can find one in a two block radius from where you are standing in the city. And there are vegetarian and vegan options available too.
  5. This is the first time we are staying with AirBnb network.  We had some reservations about this in the beginning, but now we wonder why this idea did not take off earlier. It a fantastic way for budget consious travellers to stay and travel around new countries, while still being able to use the kitchen and make their own food. And did I mention it is much more cheaper ? But we did spoil ourselves a little by staying at a grander hotel for 3 days while in Gold Coast. We are thankful our hosts were very cool and trusted us completely, and we in turn tried not to mess up during our stay . Three cheers for AirBnB !
  6. There is free WiFi all over the city, beginning with the airport. Various establishments in the city have put up free to use Wifi which anyone can use to call, chat or check maps. I found it at muliple supermarkets, near restuarants, tram stations and even on the skybus. It was amazing how we were always able to get  an IP and the speed was fast too.
  7. Google has made travelling soooo much more easier ! Gone are the days of paying a travel agent to arrange and manage an itinerary for you. All the information you need to plan a trip is available on the internet. And the best way to get around in a city is via google maps. No more carrying a large foldeable mutlilayered paper map in the rain and sun. With google maps, you can navigate around the city via trams and buses, and it even points out restuarants in the area. We also found that google would read our e-mail and alert us about upcoming flights we are booked on, and our AirBnb bookings too ! Now ain’t that useful ? There wont’t be any travel agents in a decade from now.
  8. We Indians are addicted to selifes. But it looks like the selfie culture is yet to bite Auzzies. We looked everywhere we went in the city and gold coast, there were auzzies taking pictures of their friends and families, but no one was selfie hooked. In fact, while were trying to get a selfie ourselves, we go multiple offers of help from auzzies, offering to take our picture for us on our phone ! Again, respect. And courteous. We can learn something from them.

 

Thank you , Australia. We will be back soon.

Very soon.

 

 

 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bengaluru Is Worse Off Than Even China’s 13th Largest City

 

 

At the dawn of the millennium, when the IT revolution was scripting the dreams and aspirations of Bengalureans, the city was getting ready to enter the big league. Bengalureans were promised a city that would mirror some of China’s burgeoning metros, particularly, the glitzy Shanghai.

The reality, however, highlights the disparity between what was promised and what was delivered: When it comes to dependence on public transport and commuting, Bengaluru pales in comparison even with Xi’an, the 13th largest city in China. This is the finding of a research project by T.V. Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science, who co-ordinated with researchers in Chang’an University in Xi’an as well as from University of Melbourne, Australia.

Long commute

Xi’an and Bengaluru have much in common. Both are among the fastest-growing metros in their countries. Both started as research and development hubs and witnessed massive urbanisation. The car population is similar: Xi’an has one million cars while Bengaluru has 1.4 million light motor vehicles and a further 3 million two-wheelers. Travel within the Central Business District is painful, with average speeds lower than 15 kmph.

However, the similarities end there. Xi’an has a better developed public transport system while planning has ensured that it is a compact city. In contrast, Bengalureans continue to depend on personal vehicles while haphazard planning has put the average commute to work at 7.09 km, nearly twice that of Xi’an (3.8 km).

More importantly, in Xi’an, the top one-fifth of commuters (primarily, those who travel by car and long distances) contribute to 78 per cent of the emissions while in Bengaluru the top 20 per cent contribute 56 per cent. What this implies is that a majority of commuters rely on metro and buses at Xi’an while in Bengaluru, they depend on cars and two-wheelers.

“This is a bad sign, and will not improve until we make our public transport more attractive for commuting,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

Bengaluru buses far more polluting

Travelling by bus in Bengaluru contributes more than four times the carbon dioxide emissions than in Xi’an.

Though the Chinese city has 3,000 buses more than Bengaluru, the adoption of eco-friendly fuel (CNG, electric) as well as traffic decongestion methods have seen their emissions drop. The result is that an average trip in a bus in Xi’an results in emission of 0.087 kg of CO2 while it is nearly 0.3 kg in Bengaluru.

“In Xi’an, dedicated bus lanes see discipline and punctuality. Here, the bus system is unreliable in its timings while roads are so bad that emissions increase. Moreover, buses here run on profit. It becomes easier to travel in groups in autos and cabs rather than take a bus,” said Mr. Ramachandra.

While major investment had been made in the bus system there, BMTC’s grand plans of procuring CNG, electric buses or even use of bio-diesel fuels had hit financial roadblocks.

Science needed in planning

Research on commuting and transport systems in Bengaluru is aplenty. But is anyone listening?

T.V. Ramachandra, Associate Faculty at the Centre for infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) in IISc., says his Chinese collaborators will use the findings of the study for decision-making while the findings will remain unheard in Bengaluru.

“They have managed to get science into decisions about running a city. Here, our politicians don’t want science at all,” he said.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Someone has finally confessed to the death of Google Reader

 

I miss Google Reader. It used to be the first place I used to go to, once I completed my day’s work. Now I have switched to some other services not nearly as impressive in terms of features and speed, but that is the price you pay when you are using something for free. I used to use it with FeedDemon, another awesome RSS offline reader for Windows, allowing me to read stuff on the go. Never understood why Google would turn evil, and turn off such an awesome service.

Well today I see someone has confessed to being the reason of that death.

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I wonder how he is going to live with this for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Unforgettable Onam….

 

…In which we travel via Banaswadi and on Kochuvelly during the Water wars.

Happy Onam. It is easy to wish somebody in two words, but no true Malayalee can explain what Onam really means to us. For many of us, we stay away from our native, only so that we can come back to celebrate Onam. Which is usually easy, travelling is becoming easier and affordable every day. But this year, we had to overcome a different kind of adversity. The violent self-destruction of a state during its water wars.

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I will not explain what these water wars are, enough has been said of the matter by the media. We were supposed  to travel from Bangalore to Kerala on Monday, the 12th of September ,2016. The day started pretty well off in Bangalore city, with all its cheer and lovely climate. But shortly after noon, violent erupted when self-appointed 'protectors' of the state started putting public and private property on fire. A very ironical way to agitate against shortage of water. But that is what happened.

By evening, all public and private vehicles were being blocked from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu at their borders. And TN numbered vehicles were being targetted and burned in Bangalore. Our scheduled bus journey in the evening is cancelled by the operator. And we are stuck in the city. Section 144, and shorter version of  a curfew, is imposed very late in the day, after all the damage is already done.

It was safer to stay back home that day. The next day, there was still no decision if vehicle movement has been restored at the border. So we wait. It was the first day of Onam, when back home in Kerala, Malayalees would throng the markets for purchases. Last minute groceries to clothes, to shopping for Onam discounts. We were supposed to be there, but instead, were stuck 500 kilometers away.

That evening, I began to check travel sites. All private buses had stopped operations, there was no need to take such a huge risk and endanger the lifes of the crew and travellers as well. But it seemed, the trains were still on track. Pun intended. None of the trains bound to Kerala had been stopped. Instead, the railways had arranged for special extra trains to carry people stuck in the city back home. It was probably the only positive action taken by somebody in power that day. But these special trains were unreserved, and  undoubtedly crowded. So I decided not to opt for them.
 
So I checked the IRCTC site, and found that the last train to leave from Bangalore to Kerala was at 9pm. A non-daily , all AC reserved train called the Kochuvelly garibh-rath. It was scheduled to start from a station on the north side of the city (Yeshwantpur), which was faar away from where we were staying. And it had only one other stop in the city, at a small station called Banaswadi. Although I had heard of the name of the place many times before, I had never known it had its own railway station. That place was still far away, but still commutable. There were no direct buses from our location. We had to rely either on radio-cabs, or take three different buses to get there. BMTC public transport buses were still plying, but not to all places. All the major taxi operators had closed their offices, but some cab drivers , who were willing to take the risk, were still driving around.

And so the first miracle. The train was still accepting reservations, and there were berths available ! Unbelievable. I booked confirmed berths for our travel. Now all we needed was to get to the station on time. So we started attempting to book cabs on Ola. We tried other radio cabs as well,but they were not available.

Due to the curfew like situation in the city, lights had been turned off everywhere to prevent people from grouping together. Street-lights were off.  And the shops were still shut down, so no lighting from there either. It was an eery feeling walking through the city in pitch darkness. I have only seen a fully lit metro-city in Bangalore during nights. All the traffic lights had defaulted to yellow, so it was a free-for-anyone on the junctions. The lesser number of vehicles helped, but those vehicles were driving all over the place.

And then the second miracle. We had been trying to get a cab to Banaswadi. Finally, after more than an hour of pushing buttons on the app, a cab responded. There was a shared cab available to travel to Banaswadi.

Things were back on track now. It took some time to find the Ola-cab, then a one hour journey to the destination. This is the first time that Ola actually sent a cab when we really really needed one.

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The Banaswadi station was shorter than the length of a train compartment. It was a small locality with secluded roads, and nicely tucked away. And it was crowded. The crowd was overflowing through the front steps into the yard. And I could hear a lot of Malayalam and Tamil being spoken. Clearly they were all from neighbouring states and were waiting to travel home. We had arrived an hour prior to the scheduled departure time of our train. So we waited, and watched, as trains chugged in and out and ferried off stranded passengers. More passengers arrived via autos and cabs, a family was dropped off by 5 youngsters on their bikes.

Our Kochuvelly express was the last train to Kerala that night. And we could see the whole train was booked and boarded by anxious Malayalees who were travelling home for their state's biggest festival.

Now after celebrating Onam, we still have not decided how we are going to get back. Its now TN's turn to agitate. A day-long bandh has been called in the state, and buses and trains will be stopped at the Karnataka-TN border.

I hope the journey back is less adventurous.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Online Shopping ? Stay smart.

 

Online shopping is a rage nowadays, I see people looking up prices of watches to motorcycles on computers and smartphones. Everyone is searching for that elusive deal. Its the online version of window shopping. You know, when you are just comparing prices, but not really buying anything.

Turns out , there are apps which will help you do this window shopping , compare prices, and even alert you to other price drops in the category. In India, the extension called Buyhatke is the leader and the best. They have chrome extensions, which will turn active if you are at a shopping site, and show you price trends from the past. It works on Flipkart, Amazon, eBay  and many other sites too.

The extension automatically adds a price trend graph in a simple line graph on the page. Also tries to predict if it is a good decision to buy the product today.

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Its amazing being able to see how they fluctuate the price of the same product over time. Here is a graph alerting me that the product on sale is actually  priced higher today than yesterday.

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Here is how crazily the price fluctuates on some products. Its almost as if there was an earthquake a few days ago.

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Also works on Amazon.

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But the best feature is that it alerts you if the same product is available at a lower price somewhere else.

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Now thats cool. It only calculates base price, and there might be an additional shipping charge.

Another extension you can use the Flipkart Advantage detector.  Flipkart does not metion on the grid view if the product has express shipping. This extension detects that and puts an icon on the product page if it can be delivered on the same day or next day. Here is has placed a red star on the first product.

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Things have not been good for shopping sites in India. With the festival season coming up, there will surely be many deals for the customers coming in.

Be smart. And happy shopping !