December 21, 2008

Knee story continued

3 weeks after I broke my knee, I realised I couldn't bend my leg at all.  The physiotherapist said that it was because I hadn't moved my leg or used my knee for 3 weeks continuously.  The knee just won't move or bend and I have to do some physiotherapy exercises to slowly make the knee functional again.  It's kinda funny -- A joint that had been functional for about 9450 days was kept idle for just 21 days and it became completely dysfunctional!

My mom used to work as a nurse.  I have seen people being so affectionate to her.  Some patients, when they leave the hospital after being treated for a few weeks, would gift her something.  "You took care of my son so well.  Today he is doing good and we are going home.  Please accept this as a token of our appreciation and love," they would say.  Now, I see this physiotherapist perform his magic on my leg.  Every day my leg gets better -- it bends a little further or my leg can do something it wasn't able to do.  I can't express that happiness in words -- seeing your body starting to work again is an experience of its own kind.  Now I think I can completely empathize with all those people who loved my mom.  Guess I love this physiotherapist like they all loved my mom! :)

December 15, 2008

Blind bird

Love is a dark forest.
Walking the woods in dark,
I tried to find the boundaries.

One wise man said
The forest was like our mind.
As vast or as little as we think.

I saw a blind bird pecking grains.
It knows wheat from rice -- but
Can it spell out the difference?

When this fine woman woke me up
I realised I had been sleeping.
And she fed me ripe fruits.

I saw the most beautiful flower.
It was her face.
She spoke words of honey.

I can't leave her ever, I knew.
I gave up my quest, and
Surrendered between her bosoms.

Now I understood the wise man.
And I saw how the blind bird sees.
And I knew love!

December 13, 2008

Freedom

The police put handcuffs around my hands. And the handcuff was on for 3 days. Then they let me go. I went home and chose the next handcuffs. I am a free man now.  I can choose my own handcuffs!

December 11, 2008

Lessons learned

This accident has taught me a few things:
  • At least in India, you can't live alone at all.  When some incident like this happens, everyone asks you "who is with you?"  Hospitals may not even admit you to be hospitalized, if you are alone (I think).
  • Even if you are asking someone in your immediate family, it's not easy to ask "Will you give me your blood for my surgery?"
  • You put load on any of your bone for more than a few days continuously, that bone gets weaker and weaker.  I was lying down on the bed for 4 days and my back hurt.  I used to support myself with my elbows.  In a few days I couldn't even keep my elbows on the bed!
  • Human body is a very complex system.  Each part performs so many other things than what meets eyes.
  • When old people (and sick people) say the food you cooked tastes terrible, don't take it as a complaint.  Due to their physical conditions, they cannot find the real taste of any food.  Be kind to them.
  • As I always use to think, people are good, in general.
  • There is a reason behind having "visiting hours" in hospitals.
  • People visiting you at the hospital make you feel very good.  Especially when they are joking and laughing with you.
  • Don't try to surprise a bed-ridden patient by surprise visits; the patient might surprise you instead.  And it may not be a pleasant experience for the patient.
  • If you are bed-ridden for a month or more, everyone would tell you to "use the break to its fullest" by watching movies and reading books.  It sounds nice to hear all that you can do with the time you have.  But the doctors ask you to be on bed for a reason -- mostly you will be spending time taking care of your body and you'll hardly find time for other activities.
  • My English professor once said that nature is slow and hence learning is also a slow process.  So is healing, I think.  When you are a patient, you have to have lots of patience.  No disease or wound heals overnight.
  • Even if you are an adult, in your mother's eyes you are still a kid.  This is one such time when you realise it and be thankful for it.
  • It's better to have insurance but not need it, than to need insurance but not have it.  (I must thank my company for my medical insurace.)

Steering control is no rocket science

I remember the day I got my first car driving training.  Before I sat on the driver seat, I was thinking "No big deal man.  You hold the steering wheel straight.  You look at the road and the car, you very well know if the car is on the correct lane going straight.  It's not rocket science."  So I thought, until the trainer asked me to sit behind the steering wheel.

When I was driving the car, I had no control over the car's direction.  I was looking at the road and said to myself "Oh, the car is going towards left" and I turned the vehicle to right-hand side.  The instructor promptly set the steering wheel back to its original angle and said "Why are you turning to right on a straight road?"  It was surprising how such an easy and obvious thing can be so hard!  Of course, steering control is no rocket science and I learned it in a few days.  But it took a few days to get used to.

Last week my doctor said, "You have to sit near the bed's edge as if you are sitting on a chair and move your leg like this".  And he showed me how to move my leg.  It involved a slight movement of my broken knee.  Today I am supposed to start that exercise.  So I went to the edge of the bed and let my leg hang on the edge.  Awww... sudden shock of pain.  I lay down on the bed and rested for a few minutes.

This time, I said I'd do it slowly.  After moving every few inches of my leg I stopped and relaxed for a second.  And finally, there I was, with my whole leg off the bed!  Now I am supposed to move my leg up-and-down using my knee joint.  I try and try and try.  My knee and my leg both don't move at all.  After a few attempts, I could move my leg one inch!  Wow!  Before I could do it again, I became super-tired and went back to rest.  I had never thought moving my own leg could be this hard!

Hmm... Everything in life needs practice it seems.  What all other things I practiced when I was a kid, I don't know.  But for now, like people say, patience is a virtue I guess :)

December 07, 2008

Pain can sometimes be maddening

When you are in intolerable pain and you have no way to cure or reduce it, your mind thinks all sorts of crap:
  • I will never do a hit-and-run.  Ever!
  • Would that van driver even know that he hit me?
  • Can he imagine I'm going through this hell?
  • Why can't I just sleep tonight and wake up completely alright tomorrow?
  • Why some wounds take so much time to cure?  Why can't they cure fast?
I was thinking all this on the 4th night from my accident.

Traffic!

Umm, well.  I am gonna complain in this post.  Complain others for something that happened.

Exactly two weeks back I had a road accident, in which, a van driver who is not skilled enough to overtake, hit me and I broke my leg.  I know it's lame to blame only the van driver for the accident, but anyways...

For those who can't possibly imagine what kind of traffic is in my city, here is a sample.  Enjoy! :)

December 03, 2008

Purpose of life

From an old chat conversation between me and a friend:

me: I have one big question in front of me
  I need an answer
  that's all I am searching for right now
  the question is: "what am I supposed to with this life?"


From Alan Watts' Out of Your Mind (Disc 3):
There was a great Zen master, I knew once, in New York.  He was giving a lecture one evening.  He was lecturing on a sutra and he said "Fundamental principle in Buddhism is 'no purpose'.  When you drop fart, you don't say, at 9 o' clock I dropped fart.  It happened of itself."
Maybe I got my answer? :)

November 21, 2008

Mirror

I like looking at myself.
Sometimes I like my image in the mirror.
Sometimes I don't.
Some parts of me, I like.
Some parts I don't.
A mirror can only reflect light, they say.
Had it not been for that reflected light,
I'd still remain in dark!
Oh my mirror!
God only must have sent you my way.

Despair

Right now I am thinking...

Being desperate is not a "bad thing".  Despair doesn't help.  Being desperate alone doesn't get us what we want.  But seeing that we are desperate and admitting it to ourselves at least helps us understand ourselves.

This reminds me of these lines of Shakespeare:
This above all,--to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

November 13, 2008

Dawn

"What's up with you?" I heard my goddess's voice.

Astonished, I got up and sat on my bed.  Even in the semi-darkness of night I could see that it was her.  Gazing at her face, I was wondering where she came from and what she was doing in my room and I couldn't remember what she asked me.

She spoke again, "So what's with all these tears?  You haven't slept in 3 days.  Now you are wetting the pillow.  What is your problem anyway?"

I exhaled deeply to prepare myself for speaking.  In low voice I said "Well, you know what my problem is."

"No, I don't.  You have to tell me."

"I think I love you so much."

"Oh you just think now?  I thought you knew," she said with a smile on her face.  "I know you love me.  But that doesn't explain why you have to sit up all night crying."

"But you don't like me, no?"

"What does it have to do with your love for me?  And, who said I don't like you?"

"Yeah, I know.  You like me.  But still..."

"But still what?"

"You won't be with me no? like forever!"  I was on the verge of tears as I said this.

"Why do you have to think so much about future?  I am with you now.  But you are crying because you want to be with me!  Can't you even see your foolishness?"

I sighed.  I was very confused.  I said, "I don't know."

"Your problem is that you think too much.  Stop thinking and start living.  You will do much better.  I will see you tomorrow."  She started to walk away.

"Can I take this as a Yes from you?  Will you be with me?"

"I just answered the same question.  Take care, good night!"  And she left.

November 11, 2008

Lost gift

I loved it when it was night. I said to myself, "God has gifted this night to me. And he created nights with me in mind." I was full and overflowing with joy.

As it dawned slowly, as I saw light, everything darkened in me. As it got brighter outside, darker it became inside me. My god's gift was slipping away right in front of my eyes.

Stuck between reality and dream, I pressed my face against the pillow.  I think I wept, and then somehow slept.  I woke up when the sun was hot on my face.  Now I only wish I were asleep that one night!

November 09, 2008

The Free Dictionary

I have been using The Free Dictionary for quite some time now and I thought I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good English-to-English dictionary.  In addition to an excellent dictionary they have RSS feeds, langauge tools, and games that help in learning English.  They also have an iGoogle gadget.  You can add the site to your browser's search box for easy dictionary lookup.

I think it's well worth linking this dictionary from my blog, so I am adding it to the list of links in my blog :)

Miles to go

Second gear slips a lot. I make quite a jump from the first to third. Twenty minutes wasted in fixing the tyre puncture. Damaged roads and sleeping men. I can't help running late. I slow down to 15 and pull into the dhaba. Waking up irritatedly someone curses aloud. "Asshole!" I know it's me. But right now, I need a tea.
You are my sun.
Be here every morning by my bed.

You are my water.
I never get over my thirst.

You are my sky.
I'll be seeing you wherever I go.

You are my air.
You just don't let me kiss.

You are my fire.
Burn me alive to bliss.

You are my earth.
Bury me after I am dead.

Be my goddess

Hundreds of thoughts.
Dreams of idealism and
Desires of practicality.
Trapped in a web of conflicts,
A drop of tear sprout off my eye.
Dropping everything down,
I long to surrender at your lap.
Will you be my goddess?

November 03, 2008

Acceptance

Certain things are just plain hard. You think you know and understand it. It looks so simple. But when you actually try to do it and give it a deep thought you realise how hard it is. Surrender is one such thing. "Only if you have absolute freedom you can surrender," I read in an Osho's book and then only I realised surrender is not an easy joke. For a few months now, I have been kinda going crazy about "acceptance". Fat people should accept what they are and shouldn't be always worried about their weight. Poor people shouldn't worry about money and they should accept to live with what they have. So I thought. And said to myself that I will not worry for whatever I am or whatever I am not. I was with my family last week, and my father took me with him to a temple. I was fighting with myself then -- something I didn't like had happened and I was unable to stand the pain. A few years back I had stopped praying, so I just stood in the temple without praying. And the pain was too much to bear. At one point, I lost my grip and involuntarily asked god "why don't you give me the strength and courage to accept myself as I am?" I said this twice or thrice without thinking and walked to the next deity. This is when something dawned inside me -- when I want to become courageous and strong enough to accept the truth, I don't really remain what I am! Accepting the truth is just accepting everything. Including pains. Now I was just complaining about the pains of being myself. Then I stopped praying. Now that I am aware of my ignorance about acceptance, I won't anymore try to accept what I am. Maybe this awareness will motivate to me understand acceptance better.

October 21, 2008

Maslow must be wrong

I was so hungry as I stopped working and went to get some food.  Before even I could reach the cafe, I started missing you.  And I couldn't eat anymore.

Maslow must be wrong! :)

October 20, 2008

Love, sacrifice, and purpose

I read this Tamil novel பின்தொடரும் நிழலின் குரல் (literally translates to Voice of the dogging shadow) sometime back.  One of the best novels I have ever read.  One thing that I took from the novel is the idea that we do things just for the sake doing them -- nothing has to be expected as a result.

The novel is based on a historical incident in which thousands of people were killed and millions were locked up in jails and tortured.  All these people had a dream.  They all worked and sacrificed everything they had for a noble cause.  Much later, after so many people had died, people realised that their leaders were purely selfish and cunning.  The leaders were only interested in gratifying their ego and getting unlimited power.

After explaining the incident and facts, the novel explores the mental state and feelings of people who suffered because of their sacrifices.  Reading the novel was a tremendous experience which I won't try to explain here.  But my most important learning was that we sacrifice only because we want to sacrifice.  There is no point in looking for a purpose or meaning.  One chapter of the novel explains how these people realise the fact that there is no meaning or purpose for their sacrifice in the external world.  A sacrifice, like many other things in the world, is complete in itself; it doesn't need to get its purpose from the external world.
----------

Sapnay is one of my all-time favourite movies.  When I saw it for the first time, I was a school kid and I didn't understand the movie much.  After a few years, I happened to see it again and fell in love with the movie.  I am very much amused by Kajol's love and Arvind Swamy's love.  Kajol falls in love with Prabhu Deva who is completely incompatible with her values and views about life.  This is an odd truth that has been disturbing me all my life.  How can it be so illogical, I never understand.

Arvind Swamy's love is something I can personally empathize with.  His love was never understood by anyone.  His parents, his friends, the girl herself.  Not a single person understood what Arvind Swamy meant by the word "love".  Then what did he love for?  His love just stayed with him like an unsaid dream -- fuzzy inside his own mind and inexplicable to anyone else.  I wonder how heavy his heart felt with his unrequited love.  Was he ever able to drop it all and live peacefully?  So many questions arise inside me.
----------

After reading this novel, whenever I think about unrequited love and all its pain, my mind comes up with a readymade answer: purpose of love is loving itself.  We don't love to get someone.  This idea seems logical and my brain accepts it; but the mind is purely illogical and it never accepts it.  Maybe it will, sometime in the future.

October 16, 2008

Forget your perfect offering

Osho says that perfection is death. Anything that is perfect cannot improve any more (because it's already perfect and there is no room for improvement) and it is as good as being dead. Leonard Cohen writes in his song Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There's a crack, a crack in everything. That's how light gets in.
We hear people saying things. We understand the meaning. But there are moments when we see the meaning with your own eyes. I always get such revelation in the mornings -- as soon as I wake up. Today morning I kinda found out something about perfectionism. Yesterday was one of those painful mornings for me. While I was riding to work, I was thinking of so many different things; but they were all centered around one thing -- perfection I wanted to attain. I have always wanted to do and have The Best things in the world. When I used to play cricket, I wanted to be a great bowler whose typical one-day score would look like 10-3-19-4. When I learned to write programs, I wanted to become one of the best programmers about whom kids learn in their "history of computers" lesson. When I was in love, I thought my girl was the best of the bests in the world and that I would once become another Majnun. Yesterday, as I was riding, I thought about the things I have been doing recently. I am not doing my best at work. I myself don't know if my love for that girl was real. I don't know if I ever was/still remain a good friend. At one point I somehow convinced myself that I was just another piece of crap lying on Earth. And it was painful to think that way. Later in the day, work and friends [oh, I have some awesome friends here] made me forget all my idealistic worries and the day was productive. Now, when I think about it, this shirt I bought a year or so ago comes to my mind. I think the shirt kinda reflects who I am -- wannabe perfect, but understands and accepts to fail with a smile.

September 24, 2008

Online Bookshops in India

Buying books has not been all that convenient for me mostly.  I almost always find about new books or authors online.  Doing a Google search would give me more than enough information about the books I might want to buy.  But actually buying them is kinda hard.  I have never liked to go to 3 or 4 physical (conventional) bookshops just to see if they have the book I am looking for.

Until some time back, I used to buy books from Amazon because that's the easiest, although a bit expensive (because of currency exchange, international shipping, etc).  Recently I found that Google Book Search provides links to online bookshops.  For example, Google Books page for Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing provides links for at least 4 Indian online bookshops.

A friend of mine today told me that IndiaPlaza also sells books.  I used to visit IndiaPlaza only for buying electronics.  I never knew they had such a good collection of books.  They have almost all the books of Leonard Cohen, which is quite impressive.

(Thought someone some day might find this page via Google search and maybe it will be useful for them :)

September 23, 2008

IE 8 Beta 2

Just for the heck of it, I started using IE8 second beta today.  The UI is improved and it feels nice.  It has a new feature which groups related tabs together.

I started IE8 and opened YouTube to search for some videos.  From the search results I opened two videos in their own tabs.  I came across a poetic and romantic line in a video, so opened Google Notebook in a new tab to note that down.  After a while I wanted to know more about Leonard Cohen and his works.  Opened a new tab and did a Google search.  From the results, I opened Cohen's home page in a new tab.  Now my tab-bar looked like this:


All YouTube videos are in one group.  Google search results page and Leonard Cohen's site are in one group. Google Notebook is in a separate independent group.  When I am done with watching videos, I can close the entire group with a single click.  That's a cool feature I'd say.

I will try IE 8 for some more time I guess.  It's much slower than both Firefox 3 and Chrome.  But Microsoft has done a lot of improvements to the UI.  Browser war has begun again.  Winner of the previous battle is a bit late to the field now; but I am sure it's gonna get more interesting :)

Does Chrome stop responding occasionally?

Does Chrome take a while to respond when you click your mouse or type something?

Short Answer: Close tabs that have Flash content.  (For example, YouTube or any video site, Flickr slideshow, etc.)

Long Answer: I have a habit of keeping so many tabs open always.  I just don't feel like closing my tabs.  For the past few days I had about 3 or 4 tabs with some YouTube videos loaded.  Whenever I close and re-open the browser, my tabs are restored so these pages were always loaded for a few days.  This caused Chrome to become sluggish.  Every now and then Chrome wouldn't respond to my actions for a few seconds.  Suddenly Chrome would freeze and I couldn't click on anything.  I will be typing something on some page and suddenly Chrome would stop taking my text input.  It always comes back in a second or two, but that's enough distraction to hate Chrome.

Today I found that closing all YouTube tabs does really solves this problem.  Maybe some issues with the Flash plugin.  I hope Adobe or Chrome, whosoever is responsible, would fix this problem soon.

September 16, 2008

Blog.co.in -- looks interesting; but don't use it :)

Heard about new blogging service Blog.co.in from a friend, and the first thing I liked about it was its short domain name.  I thought I'll check that out and opened their site.  UI layout was pretty decent and they have some good looking themes to choose from.  Looking at their site for a while, I was convinced that I could try.  Even if I don't end up moving this blog to the new provider I could check it out, I thought.

Registration includes activating the account by visiting the URL they send through email.  I opened the link from their email and it says "Your account is now active" in big red font.  Nice.  Oh wait!  Right below that message there is my username and my password!  In addition, they are sending an email to me with my password.

As a rule of thumb, I don't trust anyone who stores passwords as plaintext in their databases.  Given that they make a blunder in such a common task, I can't believe the rest of their system would be secure.  No one may really attack their site; but I am kinda conservative in choosing who runs my blogs.

If you're thinking whether to use Blog.co.in for your blog, my advice would be to stay away from it.

September 15, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Watched Kung Fu Panda over the weekend and loved it. Some of my favourite dialogues from the movie:
  • There is no charge for awesomeness, or attractiveness.
  • One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
  • Your mind is like this water, my friend. When it is agitated it becomes difficult to see. But if you allow it to settle, the answer becomes clear.
  • There are no accidents.
  • There is no level zero.
  • But a real warrior never quits; don't worry master, I will never quit.
  • To make something special, you just have to believe it's special.
  • There is no secret ingredient.

September 13, 2008

Another night

I wanted to talk about
My love for Sandhya,
Cohen's songs and life's pain,
Our lustful honeymoon days.

You wanted to talk about
Your uncomfortable office chair,
Why I should stop smoking,
A coworker's interest in you.

We didn't speak a word;
Did what we usually do
Me, thinking of some other girl,
And you, chewing your worries.

I wake up to the sound of grinder.
As much as this is all bitter,
As much as I feel empty,
I just let this marriage go.

Hurricane

The hurricane shatters
My mind, my thoughts, my soul.
Everything swirls; loses identity.
Eye of the hurricane alone stands.
I see it all: hurricane's peaceful eye
And wrecked rest.
Helpless I am, I weep silently,
Gazing at your happy face
In the center of everything.

September 06, 2008

A crazy trip to Mahabalipuram

They say one has to go mad now and then to remain sane. I guess it was my time to go mad when I decided to leave for an unplanned vacation. We (me and a few friends) kept planning and replanning all the time. Bike trip to Hampi, car trip to Hampi, bike trip to Chennai are few of the plans. At some point I realised that we are not really doing anything apart from planning.

I am kind of weird, and I need a lot of personal space. The most irritating thing for me on a weekend morning is my mom asking me "what do you want to have for breakfast?" Almost every morning my mind is kind of restless and it's at its most vulnerable to get pissed off. When I am alone I don't plan my weekends. I can just sit at home doing nothing, and that is very refreshing. I'm fully charged to work on Mondays. Since my mom is with me now, I kind of feel like not having my own personal space. I have to eat at regular intervals and it just feels like just another day. If I am going out I have to know beforehand where all I am going and when I am returning. I can't take the bike and roam around the city aimlessly.

Weekend suffocation and constant planning and re-planning drove me nuts and I said "I am going somewhere somehow. No one is in the plan, it's just me." I didn't tell anyone about my plans, even my close friends didn't know. I left for Mahabalipuram and spent a couple days there, alone. I knew there wasn't enough things to do for two days, but who cares? I sat on the rocks and read Nakulan's Ninaivu Paadhai novel. Loved the beach and also the cucumber, mango, and watermelon sold in the beach. I have uploaded photos, if you are interested.

If you go to Mahabalipuram, try Moonrakers restaurant there. That was the only restaurant with people eating on Thursday night, and their food is okay. Other restaurants, well, with space for 40 people to dine and literally no one eating, I didn't have enough courage to try out :)

Throughout the trip, one thought was constant in my mind -- "I need a car." I hate to wait for buses. I was even thinking "it would have been much easier if I had taken my bike here." Sooner or later I'm buying a car that suits the taste of the traveler in me :)

Side story: This astrologer woman asked me "Do you have father, mother, family, and all?" I guess I look pathetic when I am sitting alone thinking of something. Similar thing happened a few years ago in Villupuram bus stand. I was waiting for my bus and this beggar woman asked me if I had eaten and I had enough money to go back home.

August 26, 2008

What are men and women looking for?

Google Suggest feature is now enabled by default on Google.com search page. Since now Google tries to complete our search query based on popular searches, this can be kinda used to find what people are usually looking for. I don't know what to infer from these popular searches; but I found it interesting enough to be shared :) Click on the images to zoom them to their actual sizes so that the text is big enough to be readable.

August 22, 2008

Unicorn vs Thunderbird

Last weekend I was in Bangalore.  I just love the city; spending a few days there was in itself good.  I met a few friends whom I hadn't seen for quite some time.  Had a lot of Corner House ice creams.  Got a chance to ride my Unicorn after a few months.

After using a Thunderbird for a few months I was riding my Unicorn for two days in Bangalore.  This helped me find out the differences between both the bikes.
  • Unicorn is a "modern bike" in the sense that it has been designed and built recently with new technology.  Thunderbird uses very old technology.  This doesn't make a big difference by itself; but this is the reason behind many other differences.
  • Differences that I noticed as soon as I sat on the Unicorn: brake and headlamp of the Unicorn really work.  Rear brake of Bullet doesn't stop the bike at all.  Headlamp of the Bullet shows you only up to about a few metre.  Any reasonable speed on the bike (above 40kmph) with this headlamp makes me nervous (especially because I once had an accident only due to this).
  • For city traffic both the bikes are good in different ways.  Unicorn is a bit smaller and lighter, so it's easy to navigate inside city traffic.  However, due to the power and pickup of Bullet, it's very easy to overtake.  That saves some time while commuting to work.
  • The main difference (at least in my opinion) is the way gears work.  Thunderbird's engine is almost always between 2500 to 4000rpm, no matter which gear we are riding in or the speed at which the bike is traveling.  This means that the gear that drives the wheel makes a lot of difference.  On the other hand, Unicorn reaches 50kmph at about 4500 to 5000rpm engine speed (on top gear).  Beyond this point, the bike's speed is solely controlled by engine speed (which goes to about 8000rpm at 90kmph).  What does this imply?  Let's say I'm going at 65kmph (on top gear) and trying to overtake a bus.  I see some other vehicle from the opposite side so I have to either overtake as soon as possible or back out and wait for that vehicle to pass.  On a Unicorn all I can do is accelerate more to increase the bike's speed.  This, obviously, may not help all the times.  On a Bullet though I can shift down to get some extra power and overtake the bus before the other vehicle comes in my way.
Sometimes it happens that the more we know about things, the more we are confused.  If you ask me which bike I like better -- Unicorn or Bullet, I don't have an answer.  Maybe I will wait for a different bike that mixes the goodness of both these bikes.  That might become my favourite bike :)

August 17, 2008

Weekend trips are fun

"Man proposes, God disposes" is one of my favourite proverbs.  A few weeks back I was planning to go on a bike trip with some friends.  No matter how many rides I do, I always want to go for one more.  But a friend was planning to go to Pondicherry on the same dates.  After a lot of thinking I decided to go to Pondy (Pondy trip photos).  I traveled by train.  Slept in the middle berth.  Fought with mosquitoes all night in Pondicherry.  Even after all this I found myself happy at the end of the trip.  Pondy was pretty.  People I was with were fun.  I think the bike ride wouldn't have been as much fun.

For Independence Day (Aug 15, 2008) I was planning to go with my friend Chenthil on a bike ride to Dhanushkodi.  In total that trip would have come to about 2500km.  I was so eagerly waiting for the day.  But the plans changed slowly and we ended up not going anywhere (except for my ride to Bangalore and back to Hyderabad).  I was in Bangalore for two days doing nothing.  Well, not really doing "nothing".  I spent a good 10 hours with a close friend of mine after a long time.  I went to Forum for shopping.  I rode my Unicorn around for two days.  Although it didn't happen as I wanted it to happen, I was happy.  On the way back I stopped at a beautiful lake near Penukonda.  The road was beautiful and not so crowded.  The weather was pleasant too -- I couldn't see sun at all, and it didn't rain either.  This also turned out to be a nice trip (photos here).

Now I am busy planning the next trip :)

August 06, 2008

A broken brake may lead to a broken theory

A few months ago I took my friend Chenthil's Enfield Thunderbird with me.  On the way to Hyderabad from Bangalore itself I had an accident -- I fell off the bike due to its weird brake behaviour.  I thought then that the disk brake of Thunderbird bikes is too sharp (unlike Unicorn's) and that made me fall.

After this, for some strange reason the bike used to skid occasionally when I apply brakes and I had hard time balancing it.  I thought maybe I am not used to handling the bike well -- or maybe it's too heavy to handle.  I said to a friend that if at all I have any accident with this bike it would be due to its brake.  Soon, the skidding more or less stopped and I was riding away happily.

Then I had a couple more accidents.  The brake invariably had some part to play.  I started thinking maybe there's something wrong with my braking habits.  But I never fell off my Unicorn due to bad braking.  Being the irrational human I am, I concluded that Thunderbird is a badly engineered bike.  I thought, "Bikes like Unicorn are modern.  They were designed end-to-end anew.  But these Enfields are very old technology.  These guys take the existing design and just add a disk brake.  How could that possibly be a balanced design?"

So I thought until yesterday morning.  I knew for a fact that the rear brake of my Thunderbird was not functioning at all.  I could stand on the brake pedal and move the bike.  Somehow I just ignored this fact and never felt like fixing it.  Only yesterday it struck me that this broken brake could be causing all the skidding and thus accidents.

Now the bike is in service center getting its brake serviced.  Hope everything turns out good :)

July 13, 2008

May the gods scatter it to the winds!

She's divine.  When she smiles, she brings in happiness to the surrounding.  I have always wantded to be with her.  Seeing her face alone filled me with joy.  When I sit beside her, my soul is contented; it doesn't ask for anything else.  The moment I say bye and walk away, it sinks in gloomy loneliness which burns my nights.  I could ask her to be with me; but I know it's like asking Brahmaputra to sleep in my cave,  just because I like it.
All I can see is my tears.  I can't say why I weep.  Maybe I'm glad I'll remember her till I die.  Maybe I'm longing to be with her right now.  Maybe I'm afraid she'll leave me.  Maybe all the unspoken words spill through my eyes.  Before my want for her burns me alive, may the gods scatter it to the winds!

June 25, 2008

My Thunderbird Experience

Enough time has passed since I took my friend's Thunderbird for a trial run. For about 2 months, I have been using it for commuting to work, going around the city, and for a couple of long rides. The overall experience has been good. I like the Thunderbird. But definitely I am not in blind love with the bike. I wanted to get a better bike for myself when I took my Unicorn for a ride to Srisailem. It was a hilly area and we were riding as a group. I generally don't push my machines beyond what they can take very easily. During the Srisailem ride I had a pillion rider with me, so my maximum speed was 80 (kmph); sometimes I touched 85, and that's all. I felt a need for a bigger bike that can go at 90 or 100 with little effort. I don't like pushing the engine to/beyond its limits. When I started asking around, my friend Chenthil offered to let me try his Thunderbird for a while (how sweet he is!). So I took his bike and here I am, with the experience of using an Enfield machine for two months. Now I have to make a decision: whether to buy a Thunderbird for myself or not. But I am still clueless. While the power and stability of the Thunderbird is great, certain things really suck. For example, the bike doesn't have a centralised lock; we can't see the dashboard in bright sunlight; it's too noisy than I would like it to be; the rear view mirrors are too small; you can only see up to 2 or 3 meter with its headlamp; and maybe a few other issues. I know, these things are not big a problem. But I think, at least for my usage pattern, these things matter to some extent. What I am waiting for is a competitor for the Enfield range of bikes. Some 300 or 400cc cruiser manufactured by Honda would be a much better alternative. I don't know if some company would come up with such a bike. But for now, I am not buying an Enfield bike for myself. Maybe, I will change my mind after I return the Thunderbird and get back to Unicorn. Let's see what I feel then :-)

June 03, 2008

Turning off display in KDE

Kubuntu Gutsy has a bug that prevents screensaver from starting automatically in KDE. It is supposed to be fixed in the next version (Hardy). However, I am still running Gutsy and I cannot upgrade until my employer officially supports Hardy. I never shut down my laptop. After I go to sleep it keeps running with its LCD turned on for the entire night. This wastes energy unnecessarily. With some reading here and there, I wrote a shell script that will do exactly what I want to do before I go to sleep: lock the screen and turn off the LCD display. The script itself is very simple:
#!/bin/sh
#
# Locks screen and turns off display power.
# CAVEAT: Works only with KDE.

sleep 1                         # Wait for a second to let the user
                                # takes hand off keyboard.
xset dpms force standby         # This switches off the display.
exec kdesktop_lock --forcelock  # This locks the screen.
Now I have bound script to Ctrl+Alt+L key, which by default locks the screen. Whenever I step away from the computer, I can press Ctrl+Alt+L and it will turn off the monitor in addition to locking the screen :) PS: For information on how to assign shortcut keys to arbitrary commands/scripts, see this old post of mine.

May 04, 2008

My First Serious Road Trip

I can think of it as my First Serious Road Trip. I started on Wednesday from Hyderabad and came back just a few hours back (today is Sunday). I have done a few other trips before this. But I have always wanted the trip to not end when we return. This trip is an exception -- I was not too sad that the trip ended soon.

I left Hyderabad and rode my Unicorn to Bangalore. I met a couple friends and spent the night at Chenthil's place. Next morning, we rode over to Wayanad from Bangalore: me on Chenthil's Justforkix, Chenthil on his 650, and Poo on his Maximus (a Thunderbird). That was my very first time on a Royal Enfield. Like I expected, the bike was brilliant: it was a pleasure to ride. A few tiny problems here and there on Justforkix and the 650 made the day more interesting :-)

I met most of Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club people. I must say it was very much fun staying with them. Everybody in the gang was "somebody" and they had something interesting to say or show. For example, Sam drove a Maruti Esteem at real high speeds in the roads around Wayanad. I was just amazed by the way he handled the car. He got a new nickname which was a hilarious event. To cut short the story, a lot of interesting things happened and I enjoyed being with them.

Me and Chenthil rode back to Bangalore on Saturday. We were keeping good speed (good speed according to my standards -- Chenthil was riding slow on his 650 so that I could follow him easily). Suddenly Chenthil stopped his bike and told me that it was going to rain. We wore our rain wear and got ready to face the rain. Within a couple second after we started to ride back, rain started pouring. I was surprised how Chenthil figured that out and happy that I was ready for the rain. We kept riding in the rain albeit slowly. This is the first time in my life to drive this far in rain. Thanks to my jacket and helmet I didn't get drenched. We reached Bangalore in daylight and everything went alright.

I didn't want to miss the opportunity to taste my favourite Corner House ice cream. I went out and picked up ice creams and food for the night. Started sleeping happily at around 11pm. By that time I didn't know the next day would be more eventful and interesting :)

I left Chenthil's house at 5.25 in the morning. It took a good 40km ride to reach NH7. After driving for about 70km in NH7 I fell off the bike[*] and managed to break the front brake. Somebody helped me lift the bike. Thanks to my riding gear there was not even a bruise in my body. Front brake had failed completely -- it didn't respond at all. I drove slowly to a nearby village and asked a mechanic to help. After looking at the brake he said there was no brake fluid in the brake and refilling it would fix the brake. I remembered brake fluid dripping off after the fall. He told me that I can get it fixed only in Penukonda (which was about 40km from there).

In Penukonda, another mechanic examined the brake and tried to fix it with all the tricks he knew. The brake was adamant and refused to work. After spending about 30 minutes he gave up and asked me to try changing the brake pads (which cannot be the problem as the brake pads are only a couple days old). I had to drive the bike till Hyderabad with only the rear brake. To compensate I learned a few braking tricks.

After writing them down those tricks look very simple -- but I learned them all after making small and big mistakes on the road. No need to say, I had my life on stake when I first learned those tricks. (Gear braking was the hardest: I didn't correctly release the clutch for the first two times. Oh boy, I was scared to death when my bike was running fast behind a lorry going at 40kmph.) Slowly I got used to those tricks and started riding fast. In less than an hour I was proficient enough to overtake (which includes slowing down and getting behind the lorry if suddenly a bus appears from the opposite side).

I never wanted to call this an adventure trip: but the last day was indeed kinda adventure (at least in my definitions). So that's about it -- the trip was a lot of fun, and I want to do more of it :-)

* Why did I fall down? My Unicorn has a very good front brake -- it's one of the safest disk brakes I have used. Since it's safe to hold it, I apply slight pressure on the front brake even when I just have to slow down. On Justforkix (a Thunderbird) I did something similar subconsciously and I was on the ground the next moment :(

Advanced Braking

Welcome to the Advanced Braking session, ladies and gentlemen! Let's say you are riding a motorbike and you want to stop your bike. What would you do? You would apply both front and rear brake and maybe shift down gears if you have enough time. Correct? Imagine you cannot use the front brake. How would you stop then? Applying rear brake alone will not even help to slow down the bike, let alone stopping it. If you don't know how, you have come to the right place :-) I will first tell you about a few braking techniques before answering this question. We will start with something called Gear Braking. This is done by shifting down the gear when the bike is on the move. Steps to follow: (i) Press and hold clutch lever, (ii) shift down, (iii) leave the clutch lever. Step (iii) is very important. If you keep the clutch pressed, the bike would go faster making things worse. If you shift down rapidly, the engine will make noise (because it runs at a higher RPM than it was before you shifted down). Don't worry about that; the bike is safe. When is it appropriate to use gear braking? When your bike is going in a moderate/high speed and you have to slow it down a little, but for some reason you can't use the brakes. The next one is very simple, and I bet you already know it. Rear brake. With your toe push the rear brake pedal down and that applies brake. Simple, huh? Next one is Pull Brake. When your bike is going at a very very low speed (say somewhere around 10kmph) you want to stop it without using the front brake. With rear brake alone, it might be hard to correctly stop the bike in the targeted place. (E.g. you want to stop the bike under the tree not near the tree.) To apply Pull Brake, you put one of your legs on the ground and pull the bike back with your hands so that it stops moving (sounds funny, huh?). You may also simultaneously apply rear brake; that will make things much simpler. Be careful when you do this; if the bike is not slow enough or you don't balance the bike properly you and/or the bike might get injured. Enough techniques. Back to our question: how do we stop a bike without applying front brake? One very important thing to keep in mind is that slowing down the bike without using front brake is a long-term plan, while stopping the bike without front brake is almost a 3-minute plan. As we already discussed, you can use gear braking to just reduce speed. To stop the bike completely, (i) Use gear brake and slow down, (ii) keep shifting down until you reach first gear, (iii) apply rear brake and reduce the speed still further, (iv) when the bike is really slow, use pull brake to bring it to complete halt. I know, I know. There are several other, maybe better ways to do this. But this is what I did when the front brake failed in my bike. So what is your favourite trick? PS: Exercise this with caution. I am no expert in biking and this is just what I did -- I have no clue how good this is to be recommended to others (i.e. I am not recommending this to anyone). PPS: Read my trip notes for more background information.

March 26, 2008

I got my site back :)

Finally, I managed to remove those embarrassing content from my site. Now it looks clean -- the way I want it to be. Let me know if you have any comments. Things that we do at one point in time suddenly looks weird and childish very soon. I don't know why. Maybe we grow up fast. Or maybe things change fast. Whatever reason it is, suddenly I stopped liking my site's content and layout and everything about it. Due to a lot of problems with the ISP hosting the domain I had hard time changing the content. Now that I have moved to a different vendor for hosting, I threw away all the junk as the very first thing. I don't know how the new vendor's ongoing support is going to be; I just have to wait and see.

March 23, 2008

FLV to MPEG conversion

Did you ever want to convert an .flv file to a more common format (.mpg, for example) but didn't find the correct tool to do that? Did you know that your friendly VLC Media Player can do this conversion?
  1. Start VLC Media Player.
  2. Select File > Open File menu option.
  3. Select the .flv file you want to convert. Select Stream/Save checkbox. Click on Settings button.
  4. Select MPEG 1 as Encapsulation Method and mp1v as Video codec[*].
  5. Select File checkbox and provide an output file name.
  6. Selecting OK will close the dialog box and start the conversion.
* You don't necessarily have to select exactly these options. Play around with different combinations. You may also want to try increasing/decreasing the bitrate.

March 22, 2008

Sequoia National Park

4 highways 13.5 hours 840 km I went for a ride today. Yeah, I was a bit concerned about driving long. But that was last week. Today morning I woke up early and by the time I headed towards highway US-101 S, it was about 7.30am. The ride was long. But I enjoyed it. It was awesome to drive on the freeways. My car never felt tired; it just kept going. I averaged around 80mph and reached up to 90mph. The roads were very scenic. I could see a lot of green fields and mountains and lakes on the roadside. Driving on the hills was a very new experience for me. With a lot of hairpin bends and sharp turns, it was very challenging. Every 10 minutes I kept thinking "maybe I can stop here and take some photos." The mountain was very beautiful. As the car climbed up, I started seeing some white things on the road side. As usual, I thought of stopping the car to see if that really was ice. But I kept driving in the interest of time. In a few minutes I started seeing ice on both the sides of the road. You never know how happy and thrilled I was -- I was seeing snow! (It rarely rains in the place where I lived the first 22 years of my life; it's a really hot place.) On the top, I saw General Sherman the largest living tree on the planet. It was completely surrounded by ice. I had to walk on the ice to see the tree. It was not very crowded, so I could get near the tree. I touched it, like a kid touching an elephant's leg. It was huge and I felt like lying on it's feet and surrendering to it. I had to return soon, since I hadn't planned to spend the night in the park. So I left the park immediately after visiting General Sherman. Driving downhill was a challenge and I loved it. Again, I thought of stopping in a few places, but didn't stop as I wanted to reach my hotel before it becomes dark. At one instance, I could imagine how Robert Frost would have felt when he wrote "miles to go before I sleep". Driving back in the night was not as hard as I had imagined. Driving a bike on the highways in India during nights is almost suicidal. With all the cars and vans and buses coming with their high beams on, driving a bike is almost impossible. But in the US, even in the freeways we are not supposed to use high beams. That alone made the ride so much easier. I got back in time. And you know what was the best part of the ride? I didn't lose my way -- not even once :-) PS: I have uploaded some photos, if you are interested.

March 21, 2008

Why three, when two is enough?

When you're driving a car, how would you call the car driver riding before you and ask him to stop so that you can have a chat with him? Maybe you could call him on his cellphone. But what if he is a stranger? Waving your hands, shouting, praying to god are not practically useful ways. That's why police cars have siren with those cool (or intimidating, if you like it that way) blue and red lights. When they want to stop you, they follow you with those lights on. You are supposed to move to the right edge of the road and park it safely. Don't get off the vehicle; wait for the cop to come to you. "When we ask you to stop, you should go to the right side of the road and stop there. You should not stay on left, take a U turn and stop," the cop explained me. (OK, don't laugh :-). I was driving my car with high beams on. I didn't really know if the head light was on high beams. This cop told me I should not do that (for obvious reasons). He also reminded me that I am lucky that I didn't get a ticket for that. ("Oh no, I am lucky that I could get to drive a car," I thought of telling him ;-) My mother doesn't yet know about this (yet). She might be a little worried, and will ask me to be more cautious if she knows about it. If I get a car in India, I am not sure if I will readily take it out like I do here. For several reasons. Driving in the US is easy. You just keep going on your lane. You can expect other cars to also go in their own lanes. When the road turns right, one is not allowed to keep driving straight and somehow end up in the left-most lane. In India too, you are supposed to stay in your own lane; but most people don't care. In Hyderabad especially, if you stick to your lane, either you will be in an accident or people will turn back and abuse you with some nasty words. The cars themselves are much easier to drive. Almost all the cars have only two controls -- an accelerator and a brake. Yes, there's no clutch. Having to use a clutch is not such a big deal, I know. But a beginner like me don't have to go through the learning curve of using a clutch. Also, there is no need to shift gears. The car does everything for me. Wherever I want to go, I start with the complete map and directions got from Google Maps and follow the map religiously. If I miss a turn, I take a U turn and get back to the old place and continue to follow the map. All these comforts are not in India; so don't ask me if I will drive a car after I return to India. I won't. (I like bikes much better than cars, if you ask me. I may switch to a monster bike; but not a car. But that's a different story.)

March 16, 2008

Me, Mountain View, and a Honda Civic

Suddenly, I started writing more (in Jan and Feb 2008 I wrote unusually large number of posts). Suddenly I stopped writing (this is the first post in March). I got a little busy with work, so I couldn't spare enough time on writing, although I had things to say. Now it's 2.35am. I want to finish this post before I sleep. I am right now in Mountain View, where the famous Googleplex is. Although this is not my first visit to Mountain View, this visit is special for me. This is the first time I am traveling alone (to a foreign country). This is the first time I am flying by Lufthansa. This is the first time I am driving in the US. Since I have so much to say, this post will be long and maybe boring. Ok, I have warned you :P During my last trips, I felt constrained since I didn't know driving. I had to depend on my friends to go out. They are good; they took me to wherever I wanted to go. But dependency is a dependency, and I don't generally like to depend on others. I decided to learn driving and get a license. When I went home for Diwali last year, I joined a driving school and practiced driving for a week. Then I went for the "test" and got a license. Like everyone who has got a driving license can guess, driving school classes did not make me a good or at least an average driver. I arrived at Mountain View on March 8th. Since I have a driving license now, I went to Hertz to rent a car. The guy in Hertz explained the options and the procedure. He said the 2-door Honda Civic that he had was the cheapest I could get. I loved the car at the first sight. Gladly I took the key and drove to my hotel. The car was awesome. I got good control in the first ride itself. I think the car has to do more with this than my ability to drive. I took driving directions from Google Maps and went to our office. On the way, I was lost. I didn't know which left turn the map was talking about. I drove back, took a U turn, and tried a different left. I was lost again. Frustrated, I went back to the hotel. Saw the map in the computer again and found the mistake I was making. I drove back again and boy, I reached the office :-) Once I drove to Saravna Bhavan in Sunnyvale for dinner. In three days I became so comfortable and confident driving it. Yesterday (Saturday) morning I woke up. I didn't have much to do. And my new kid was inviting me for a ride. I felt like driving on the freeway is the only way to save my soul. After looking at a few destinations, I decided to drive to Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland. I chose Oakland mainly for the distance. 40 miles was a reasonable goal. I can leave after 11am and return before it's night. Also, I can spend reasonable amout of time on the freeways. Driving on the freeway was the most important reason for this trip. I was lost in the freeway two times. I missed an exit. In the process of getting back to the same freeway, I was lost again. I would have spent about 1 to 1.5 hours roaming around here and there trying to figure out how to get to the missed exit. Somehow I figured out the trick and soon I was back on the right freeway! The park was good; but it was not great. I lost an accessory of my new camera. Since there was no shop or anything in the park I starved till 4.30pm. On the way back, I stopped in a village called Montclair for lunch. Riding back was very easy. With my newly learned Freeway Skills, I reached the hotel without getting lost anywhere. I took some photos too, with my new camera. I am thinking of driving to Yosemite next week (which is about 190 miles away) . I know, it's quite far; I might change the plans. I want to spend some time in the destination, although riding is the most important part. With 380 miles to cover in a day, I don't think I will have time to spend there. Driving on nights in freeways is kinda scary. Who knows, I might get courageous next week. I will add another post if I do something interesting enough to be shared. In any case I will upload the photos. If you are interested, get it from my shared items or Picasa. Bye now!

February 24, 2008

Rip DVDs

Ever wanted to rip video from DVDs and couldn't do it because you didn't find a good, free software that can do it for you? Try HandBrake. Of course, it's free (as in open source). The best part I like about this software is that it's available for Linux :-)

February 23, 2008

Gmail invisible mode

Gmail has introduced a new feature that I *hate*. Gmail chat now has an invisible mode, which means people can stay online without others knowing it. I haven't used Yahoo messenger much; but I know of people who always stay invisible in Yahoo messenger. And I still remember how pissing off it was when some invisible friend said a "hi". Invisible mode is, in my opinion, technical solution to a social problem. A company that I love for their well thought-out products trying to solve social problem technically makes me sad. Please please Google, don't do this again; remember that you are not another Yahoo!

February 16, 2008

Shitibank login process

Login process for Gmail: 1. Open http://mail.google.com/ Since Gmail remembers my user name and password, it goes directly to my Inbox. Sweet. All Google sites use single sign on, which means I don't have to type my password at all. I like it this way. Login process for Yahoo mail: 1. Open http://mail.yahoo.com/ 2. Enter your password, although Yahoo might remember your user name. 3. Click on "Inbox" link to see mails. Not a very good user experience. But I use a Chickenfoot script to enter my password automatically. I can hear you saying that's not a good idea. I don't care. After all, I use Yahoo mail only for reading low-priority, almost useless mails. Login process for Shitibank: 1. Open http://citibank.co.in/ 2. Click on a "Go" image. 3. If you use Windoze, bear with the monster sized not-resizeable popup window and curse yourself for choosing Shitibank. If you use Linux or some other system that will allow you to resize the browser window, resize the window to a civilized size. 4. Click on one of the dozen "click here" links that says "login using keyboard". 5. Type in your debit card number and a "supposedly strong" password. 6. Move your mouse and click on another "Go" image. (Yes, pressing Enter will not work, for some half-assed programmer thought this is the way it should be.) I have been following the 6-step login process for quite some time now, and today I finally said "Enough is enough" and wrote a Chickenfoot script for automatically clicking on the links. Due to the Super-SecureTM popup of Shitibank, it requires writing two triggers. Here's the first one:
// ==UserScript==
// @name openLoginPage
// @when Pages Match
// @includes https://www.citibank.co.in/
// ==/UserScript==

click('GO');
This trigger clicks on the "GO" button automatically when the browser URL matches "https://www.citibank.co.in/". This will open an ugly popup window. The following trigger applies to that popup.
// ==UserScript==
// @name gotoKeyboardLogin
// @when Pages Match
// @includes https://www.citibank.co.in/ibank/login/loginpage_newdipp1.jsp
// ==/UserScript==

// resize the window to human size
window.innerWidth = 800;
window.innerHeight = 600;

// select human style login
go('https://www.citibank.co.in/ibank/login/guesthpin1.jsp');
enter('Enter Your Card Number', '1234567890987654');
This kinda makes things a bit easier (though it still remains ugly).

February 14, 2008

Shopping for a phone. Again!

I once wrote how much I liked my Palm Treo and why I won't think of switching to another phone though my Palm annoys me sometimes. Well, as they say man proposes and god[*] disposes. Now I have to buy a phone for me. I'm afraid I might end up buying a Nokia phone (I hate Nokia phones' UI, in case you don't know already). Ok, here is the story. My company has given me a BlackBerry (Curve 8320). So now I carry around two bulky smartphones (including my personal Palm), which is not a very good experience. Since I can use the blackberry for all my smartphone needs, I am thinking of getting a small, light-weight, non-smart phone to replace my Palm. At a first look, I think I might buy either a Nokia 3500 or a Nokia 7500 Prism. Unlike my all other phone buying decision, I think I will visit a physical shop and make a decision after seeing real phones. In the meanwhile, if you know of a good phone tell me about it :)
* I am forcing myself to use small 'g' for god. Not that I don't respect god; but I kinda like it this way :)

February 11, 2008

Tamil FM Radios

Update: I don't think any of these links or scripts work anymore.  Maybe you can try out, if you are interested.  But isai.in sounds like a good place now.  They keep playing some song always.  Just leave the site open in a browser tab and do the work :)

Occasionally I listen to Aahaa FM. I started with Chinmayi's Aahaa Kaapi Klub, which is a good companion when I get ready to office. I use GNU/Linux on my computer for the love of command-line. I will show you how I play FM radios on my computer. As you have guessed, I play them from command line :)

This is the script for Aahaa FM:
#!/bin/sh
#
# Play Aahaa FM using Mplayer.

mplayer mms://74.54.85.4/AahaaFM "$@"
Update: This command doesn't work anymore because of the changes to Aahaa FM site. Now the users are required to log in to be able to listen. I use a ChickenFoot script to automate the login process.

This is the script for Nila FM:
#!/bin/sh
#
# Play Nila FM using Mplayer.

mplayer http://78.86.174.216:8000/ "$@"

This is the script for Shyam Radio:
#!/bin/sh
#
# Play Nila FM using Mplayer.

mplayer http://wm.chennaistream.net/shyamradio "$@"

February 06, 2008

When Fn+F7 is broken

I already wrote that my OS upgrade broke the functionality of the brightness control keys on my ThinkPad (T60p). Brightness control is not the only thing that's broken. For instance, I cannot use Fn+F7 to project the display to a different device. The scripts available at ThinkWiki work well. To switch display to the externally connected projector, I just type:
sudo /etc/acpi/ati-toggle.sh
Not really very convenient to use; but I can live with this. Maybe I can rewrite this in C to use setuid bit (like I did for fixing the brightness control); since I don't have to project very often, I think I will manage with this script. Thanks to ThinkWiki guys!

February 02, 2008

Grumble Day

Today I was griping^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hblogging about the paranoia of Shitibank's web site. I actually faced this problem when I was trying to transfer some money from my Shitibank account to my ICICI account. In my experience, ICICI is a much better bank than Shiti. I can use any Visa ATM in the country without having to pay a special service charge. And, I am not paranoid enough to protect my debit card purchases with a PIN number. Every month, I transfer almost all of my salary to my ICICI account and spend money from there. Today, after writing about the paranoia of Shitibank web site, I logged into their site to transfer money to my beloved ICICI account. I was greeted by this announcement ("RBI has withdrawn the EFT facility with effect from 31st Jan 2008"): Now I am left with the option of withdrawing money from ATM and depositing it manually in the bank. Why would RBI make such a stupid (IMO) decision? I tried searching the news archive, but couldn't find anything. Maybe today is my grumble day?

Work around paranoia

I like to call my bank Shitibank (commonly it's known as Citibank). Of course, they do a few things well. But I always like to complain about what someone is not doing correctly :) Let's get started. In this post, I will tell you how I handle Shitibank web site's paranoia. Sometimes, their web site will think that you are evil and will not allow you to login. After you type in your username[*] and password, you will be shown the following error message: If you use a decent browser like Firefox[**], it means you have to close *all open browser windows* to get rid of this error message. I find it to be a horrible user experience. It's equally annoying as Windoze telling you "Microsoft just fixed a few more bugs. Now close all your applications and I will restart myself". If you are like me, you would also say "damn!" whenever some stupid program tells you to stop your work and start again a little while later. In this particular case, authentication to Shitibank website failed for some reason. So to try to login again, you must have a clean session. (I know, it's crazy to think like this. But you know, when you're paranoid it's very hard to come up with sane ideas.) But how does Shitibank know if your login attempt already failed or not? Because your browser sends some cookies to identify the existing session. Removing those session identification cookies will make your further login attempts look like new attempts. In Firefox, open Privacy tab of the Preferences window. Click on "Show Cookies" button. Type "citibank" in the Search box. This will show all the cookies set by Shitibank site. Select all the cookies and remove them all[***]. After removing the cookies, you should be able to log in. Don't forget to thank Shitibank, for they are helping you learn how web application sessions work ;-) * You have to type in a 16-digit number to log in. Their "remember this number" feature is horribly broken and never worked correctly on my browser. ** If you use Internet Explorer 6, you can just open a new browser window, and you will get a new session. Note however that you should start a new IE instance by clicking on its icon on desktop/quick launch bar/start menu. Selecting File > New Window menu will not start a new browser instance. *** If the "remember my card number" feature works on your browser, removing all the cookies will make their site "forget" your card number. Only remove the cookies that you see on this screenshot to keep your card number saved.

January 28, 2008

My Bose Story

"After this there's no turning back!" This is not only true with taking the red pill. It's also the case with getting used to comfort. I bought Bose in-ear headphones a few months back. As many reviewers have warned, the tips of the earphones fall out easily. I lost mine twice and luckily found them back. When my friend borrowed my earphones he didn't pay enough attention to the tips so it got lost. (In my opinion, any device that needs special care/attention is badly designed.) I play music almost all the time when I drive. Today I went to Bose store to buy the tips and I was listening to music on the way using my old Panasonic earphones . I couldn't believe myself when my ears started paining within 30 minutes of listening. I'm glad that I bought the slightly overpriced Bose earphones, as they are doing good to my ears. If you are a heavy earphone user, consider getting something really good. I bet it's worth the money.

January 16, 2008

More Linux fun: screen brightness

I like to use a GNU/Linux machine than a Windows machine for at least two reasons:
  • GNU/Linux user environment (especially KDE) is customizable.
  • You get to see how things are implemented, which is kinda fun.
What’s the pain point in using a GNU/Linux machine? Upgrades are scary. New version of the OS may not support your hardware. It takes a while for Linux machines to support new hardware.

In this post, I will tell you how an OS upgrade broke a functionality on my machine and how I fixed it (which was a fun experience).

Update 1: zerosk8 says in a comment that the command xbacklight can be used to control screen brightness from the command line.  On Ubuntu machines, run sudo apt-get install xbacklight to install the command on your machine.  Thank you zerosk8!  (Near the end of this post I am discussing how I set up keyboard shortcuts for adjusting brightness.  This part might be useful even if you use xbacklight command.)

Update 2: The technique described in this post worked on my Lenovo laptop (with an ATI graphics card).  It didn’t, however, work on my Samsung N150 laptop (which has an Intel graphics card).  Check this blog post of mine to see what works on the Samsung machine.

Original post:
My upgrade to Kubuntu Gutsy broke the functionality of Fn+Home and Fn+End keys on my ThinkPad. (If you use Sony Vaio, look at Daniel’s comment. Thanks Daniel for the information!) These keys are used to control the brightness of the LCD screen. When I was Googling around to find a solution, I learned that the LCD screen driver provides a file system-like interface for controlling it. The file /sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness acts as the interface for adjusting screen brightness. So I wrote the following shell script to adjust screen brightness:
#!/bin/sh
#
# Adjust LCD brightness of ThinkPad laptops.

CTRL_FILE=/sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness

usage() {
  echo >&2 Usage: lcd-brightness [value]
}

case $# in
0)
  cat $CTRL_FILE
  ;;
1)
  echo $1 >$CTRL_FILE
  ;;
*)
  usage
esac
The code feels right when looking at it. Let’s try it out.
$ ./lcd-brightness
80
$ ./lcd-brightness 70
./lcd-brightness: line 16: /sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness: Permission denied
$ sudo ./lcd-brightness  # sudo runs the command as root.
80
$ sudo ./lcd-brightness 70  # This worked -- screen brightness changed.
So this problem looks like a permission issue. Just to make sure:
$ ls -l /sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 4.0K Jan 17 16:47 /sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness
So only root can change the screen brightness. But I don’t want to sudo all the time to adjust screen brightness. I said to myself, “I know how to handle this.” And I installed my script like this:
$ sudo cp ./lcd-brightness /usr/local/bin/
$ sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
$ sudo chmod +s /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
$ ls -l /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
-rwsr-sr-x 1 root root 7.3K Jan 17 08:21 /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
Time to test this newly installed script.
$ type lcd-brightness
lcd-brightness is /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
$ lcd-brightness
70
$ lcd-brightness 80
/usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness: line 16: /sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness: Permission denied
# Huh?  Let’s try again as root?
$ sudo lcd-brightness 80   # This changes the brightness
Looks like setuid bit is not working as I expected. Some more Googling around gave me the answer. Wikipedia article on setuid says: “Due to the increased likelihood of security flaws, many operating systems ignore the setuid attribute when applied to executable shell scripts.“ That explains everything. So my next option is to write it as a C program. I translated this shell script into C as follows:
/*
 * Change/query the brightness of LCD screen.
 */

#include <stdio.h>

void usage()
{
  fprintf(stderr, "Usage: lcd-brightness [value]\n");
}

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
  FILE *fp;
  int bright = 0;
  const char *kFileName =
      "/sys/class/backlight/acpi_video0/brightness";

  switch (argc) {
    case 1:
      fp = fopen(kFileName, "r");
      fscanf(fp, "%d", &bright);
      printf("%d\n", bright);
      break;
    case 2:
      fp = fopen(kFileName, "w");
      bright = atoi(argv[1]);
      fprintf(fp, "%d\n", bright);
      break;
    default:
      usage();
      return -1;
  }

  fclose(fp);
  return 0;
}
Compiling this file and installing the binary like earlier does the job. Cool :-)

In case you didn’t know exactly how to install this program, or too lazy to type commands, use these commands:
$ gcc lcd-brightness.c
$ sudo cp ./a.out /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
$ sudo chmod +s /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
$ ls -l /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
-rwsr-sr-x 1 root root 7.3K Jun  7 21:47 /usr/local/bin/lcd-brightness
But this is not the end of story. Later I found a usability problem with this program. I use this program only when I want to either increase or decrease the screen brightness. That is a two-step process — first I have to run the program and find the screen brightness. Then run it again with appropriate brightness argument. This is not an optimal way to use a program like this. So I decided to write two more shell scripts on top of lcd-brightness command. Here are those scripts:
$ cat increase-lcd-brightness
#/bin/bash
#
# Increase LCD brightness by 10.
# Assumes that lcd-brightness command is on $PATH.
lcd-brightness $(expr $(lcd-brightness) + 10)
$ cat decrease-lcd-brightness
#/bin/bash
#
# Decrease LCD brightness by 10.
# Assumes that lcd-brightness command is on $PATH.
lcd-brightness $(expr $(lcd-brightness) - 10)
The scripts are very simple, aren’t they? But there’s still another usability issue: I have to switch to a terminal to invoke these commands, which might be a distraction when I am coding or reading some document. Correct approach would be to use shortcut keys for this. So I went ahead and defined two new global shortcut keys on my machine. On KDE it’s done from Control Center. I opened the corresponding applet by selecting K Menu > System Settings > Accessibility > Input Actions. Added a new action called “Increase LCD Brightness” with type as “Keyboard Shortcut -> Command/URL (simple)”.
Chose the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+=.
For command, I gave the path to increase-lcd-brightness script.
Likewise, I assigned Ctrl+Alt+- to decrease-lcd-brightness script. And that’s about it. Now I can use shortcut keys for adjusting screen brightness. Now you understand when I say “Linux is customizable,” don’t you? ;-)

January 15, 2008

Oh civilisation!

Disclaimer:
  • I am not trying to that say something is right or wrong. I am not trying to propose a solution. I am just trying to analyse the reason behind eve teasing.
  • This is just a hypothesis I am putting forth. I haven't done any research to verify this.
This is a response to CoNfUsEd's this post. You may want to read that first. Why do men do eve teasing? Because their sex life is not as good as they want it to be. (A man could be sleeping with several women and yet remain "perverted". What he actually wants in his sex life is only up to him. He might still be unsatisfied and looking for more 'different' ways to get sexual pleasure. After all, sex is more and more related to mind than body.) OK. Why some (or most) men are not happy with their sex life? Because they are not allowed to do whatever they want. Because they are not allowed to do sex experiments. Especially in India, people believe that extramarital sex is a Bad Thing and tie it to the so-called Indian culture (IMNSHO this so-called culture is a BS). In addition to that, they are encouraged to repress all their emotions and act like Good Men. How long can someone keep repressing something? Why do we repress our sexual desires? Because that's a part of our so-called civilisation. Civilisation has done several Good Things to us, the society. Like everything else, it brings its own Bad Things. This is just a side effect of the way our society works. Unless we change something very fundamental to our society (e.g. throw the idea of marriages into trash) men will continue to harass women; women will keep saying "WTF?" whenever they face such harassments; people like me who think they have the solution for everything under the sun would keep proposing not-so-practical ideas. Welcome to Civilised World!-)

January 12, 2008

Another nice trick on my Unix machine

My computer had a problem. I could only mount the root and tmp partitions as read-only. But I had to copy the output of a command from my computer to another computer. I would usually run the command with the output redirected to a temporary file. Then I will scp that temporary file to whatever machine the file has to be transfered to. Since the hard disk was mounted as read-only, I could not create a temporary file with the command's output. So, I ran the command (dpkg --get-selections) as follows:
dkpg --get-selections | ssh server 'cat >~/package.txt'
This saved the output of dpkg command on the machine server. Cool, no? :) PS: I am writing this down here because I don't want to forget this and reinvent the same trick again. When I need it sometime later, I can just a do a Google Search and find this :-)

January 08, 2008

Got DataOne

The white box on the left-hand side is my wireless router. The black one on the right-hand side is my ADSL modem. So well, what are they doing at my home? I just got a new BSNL DataOne connection, and these devices help me now update my blog with this news :) I am happy that finally I have got a "good" Internet connection. I am sad at the same time that I cannot continue to support MSify any more. My Sify account is active for at least two more months. If I get any bug report or feature request within this time-frame, I will sure work on it. I won't even mind keeping my Sify connection to support MSify if there are users who want me to maintain it. So if you are a user, please let me know if you want me to keep supporting MSify. If you use Sify Broadband but not MSify, I encourage you to try it out and let me know your comments.

January 04, 2008

Blogger Annoyances

A few minor annoyances with Blogger (aka BlogSpot).
  • Preview: Blog preview is really bad. Unless your blog's background colour is white (or some bright colour), you have no clue how different colours of text actually look on the page. It would be nice if Blogger uses the blog's template to show the preview.
  • Default country: Can you guess how many Blogger users are there in Afghanistan? Blogger says there are 221,000 Afghan users. By default Blogger sets your country to Afghanistan, and many people don't bother to change it or somehow ignore it.
  • Private profiles: I know Blogger does it for privacy concerns of people. But I hate when I see a page like this:

January 01, 2008

Black background for text?

I know how much you love that black background of your blog. I accept, that background colour makes your blog look cool. But you know what? It's very hard to read white text on a black background. Especially when the text is in 8 point sans-serif font. If you wish to do me (and all the people like me who are almost always on computers) a favour, please:
  • Don't use black as the background colour (some dark shade of gray is ok I guess). Switching between other apps that use white as background colour and your blog is a very bad exercise for the eyes.
  • Don't use colours for emphasize -- use bold, italics etc. (Reason: when the post is read from an RSS reader like Google Reader, all we can see is yellow (or that other bright colour you used for highlighting) text on a white background. Obviously, yellow text on white background is not readable.)
  • Don't assume your blog is readable in its current design. Different devices/computers render things differently. Shown below is a typical BlogSpot blog on my GNU/Linux machine. I think it looks much better on a Windows machine.
  • Don't assume everyone can read it if you are able to read it. There are people with all kinds of inabilities. You never know how your readers feel. (I asked my optician, "I can read all the letters that you showed while testing. But I can't read text from that poster out there. Maybe I should try a different lens?" He answered me with a smile, "Human eyes cannot easily read white text on a black background. This is normal, you're fine with this lens.") Just think about it -- almost ALL the software that you use has dark text on a light background. This cannot be a coincidence.
Have a wonderful 2008 you all! PS: I am not complaining here. I am just requesting people to make their blogs/web sites a bit more easier on my eyes.