November 22, 2015

Travel jitters

In 2010, I visited Leh, Ladahk and saw the Himalayas for the first time1 in my life. Planning for the trip was a lot of work, but I was so excited it didn’t feel like work. After I had returned, a friend of mine commented that it takes courage to wish a wish and make it happen. Back then I thought no one needs courage for something trivial like travelling.

I have been travelling fairly frequently for over 8 years now. Even now, every trip is a bit daunting. I sometimes even consider cancelling the trip. But every single time, the trip ends up being a great experience, irrespective of whether we have already been to the place several times, or if it’s a totally new place.2

Next week we are off to Salt Lake City for Thanksgiving. As usual I feel a little uncomfortable about the trip. It’s going to be cold in Utah; it might even snow. For the first time we are taking a train which provides food; I am not sure how good the food will be. Like every trip ever, the cost seems to run a bit more than what I’d like. I am a little nervous although deep down I know the trip will be a fulfilling experience in the end.

Maybe that friend of mine was right all along. Even simple things like travel takes courage.

1 and the only time so far, although I want to go there again some day.
2 I am often inflexible when friends ask me to reschedule my trips so they can come along. My usual response is “I’ll go alone this time; let’s make a new plan for all of us together.” Often we don’t make a new plan because they often can’t find the right time to travel. It’s always easy to say No, but finding reasons to say Yes makes our days a bit brighter.

November 04, 2015

Apps lurking on a phone

I noticed that my Nexus 6P had Project Fi app was installed on my phone by default. It was disabled, but it was there. Once I put the Fi SIM card in, it automatically activated itself and prepared my phone to register with Fi’s network.

It’s sure better than asking users to install the app separately. But I am not sure how I feel about random apps lurking in the phone and auto-activating without my knowledge.

November 03, 2015

A few months ago, I dropped my 2014 Moto X and ended up with a shattered screen. While the phone was out for repair, I used a Galaxy Nexus for a few days. Typing on the smaller screen was so painful I realised I couldn’t go back to a smaller phone.

When I was in India a couple months ago, my brother bought a Moto X Play. The Play has a 5.5-inch screen. When I was in India, I used that phone once in a while, and the size didn’t seem all that unmanageable. Actually, it didn’t feel much larger than the 5.2-inch Moto X I was using.

In the context of both of these experiences, I decided getting a Nexus 6P will not be such a bad idea. And I received my 6P today.

Nexus 6P in box

My initial impressions after having the phone for about 5 hours:
  • I’m already missing Moto X’s Active Display feature. (It’s a shame new Moto X uses an LCD display. Active Display with the whole screen lighting up is much less nifty.)
  • I was thinking that the official case sold by Google would inhibit the use of NFC. But it looks like it really may not. I only wish they offered the case in more colours. Both the black and grey are boring colours.
  • As expected, the phone doesn’t feel too big on the hand. But the real test is when I put it in my pant pocket and ride a bicycle. I’ll know it in a few days. Good so far, though.
  • Setting up the phone was super-easy with the new ‘Set up nearby device’ option. It copied over all my apps and almost all settings. Installing all the apps took about an hour or so, but I didn’t have to hunt for apps, so it’s a win.
  • Moving WhatsApp messages to the new phone was a pain. I copied over WhatsApp’s entire folder and still WhatsApp only restored messages till last week. Messages from the past few days are just gone.
  • Fingerprint reader is nice, but I do find the placement a bit hard to use. Hopefully I’ll get used to it in a few days.

In short, nothing spectacular, and also nothing terrible. Let’s see how this goes!

July 20, 2015

My first fall off a bicycle in years

I take Stevens Creek Trail while cycling to work. Taking the trail is safer and easier than riding on the roads because motorcycles and cars are not allowed on the trail. But there’s one part where the trail is significantly less safe: when getting off of it near Google office. The trail is elevated and is about 10 feet above the ground around it. To get off the trail, I have to climb down this steep, irregular descent.
Usually this is fine; I am used to rough trails like this from my childhood. But today was different. I waited about 15 seconds at the top yielding to another cyclist on the ground. By this time, there was another cyclist behind me, waiting for me to move. I became nervous about blocking someone else’s way. As soon as the cyclist on the ground was out of my way, I hurried down the descent and ended up falling off.

This is my first fall in California. I’m a bit embarrassed because I know how to take this descent correctly. Should be more careful in the future. :)

July 15, 2015

Cycling to work

I started cycling to work sometime in 2014. July 2014, I think. The commute is approximately 10km (about 6 miles) one way. After the initial enthusiasm faded away, riding 10km was not really easy. By the time I arrive at work, I’d be short on breath. I’d run to the pantry (micro-kitchen as we call it) and grab anything that looks edible.
There have been times when I wanted to give up cycling altogether. Sitting inside the car is so comfortable, after all. But somehow I kept it going. One or two days every week, I was cycling to work.

A year later, I continue to cycle to work once or twice a week. It’ll be nice to cycle more often, but I am happy with how far I have come. When I arrived at work today after cycling for 10km, I wasn’t even thirsty. I didn’t want snacks, nor did I want coffee. I just put my bag down and started to work. I know things will improve further as time goes by, but I am satisfied with the progress so far.

June 18, 2015

When I feel grim at work

... I fix a bug or two, and that usually makes me happier.

May 08, 2015

Finding blog posts with broken links

How frequently do you end up with erratic HTML in your blog posts?  Not very frequently.  But if you do find your blog in such a state, how do you fix it?  I was playing around with my Picasa settings and in the process I managed to break all my album URLs.  All my albums now returned a 404.

I wanted to find all my blog posts that link to one of my Picasa Web albums and fix the broken links.  Unfortunately Blogger's search will only search the text of the posts, not the HTML.  What this means is that a post containing HTML like "<a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/mankis.pics/Pilgrimage2010>photos</a>" can be found by searching for "photos", but not by searching for "picasaweb" or "mankis.pics".  Like any self-respecting programmer, I decided I'd whip up a script that would do the searching for me.

To access my posts from a script I have two choices: use Blogger's API or get a dump of my blog by exporting it to a file.  API would be a good choice if I have to edit a great number of posts, but I only have to edit a few posts so I went ahead with the latter option.

If I pass the export XML file and the search string, my script would print URLs to edit posts that contain the string.  This is how I found all posts with links to a Picasa album:
% ./find_blog_posts.py \
     -b /tmp/blog-04-30-2011.xml \
     -s 'mankis.pics'
http://draft.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=28645193&postID=5479412993915553873
http://draft.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=28645193&postID=6291962710796224390
...
The script is available online if you want to use.

January 01, 2015

A review of the year 2014

I am not much of a believer in “new years”. It’s just an arbitrary point in time which happens to be a round number (01/01). But, I like the fact you can think of this round number as a new beginning. Counting your blessings is a good thing, they say. I’m going to start this year by reminiscing on 2014 a bit.

If 2013 was when we bought a new car for our family, 2014 was the year when a car became my primary means of transportation. When I had to buy a car, the first thing I wanted was a BMW X3. Though I changed my mind later on after finding out the cost, I ended up getting an X3. Turns out, used cars are considerably cheaper. :-)

Getting this X3 was one of the good decisions of 2014
Before getting the X3, and for a while after getting it, I thought the X3 looked really nice. In a few months, I learned that irrespective of what car you have, you’d think of some other car to be nicer/better. I still wish I had gotten a Jeep Cherokee even though I know deep down that the Cherokee won’t be as refined as the X3, and the X3 is a better match for my needs.

By around the same time, I upgraded from Canon PowerShot S5, which had been my camera for about 6 years. I upgraded to Sony Nex-6 and got two prime lenses, thanks to guidance by +Karthik Nagaraj. I am so pleased with the quality of the images I took 3 to 5 times more pictures this year than the past 5 years. After a few years, I took pictures that I myself liked.
When I moved from Sydney, the most important goal I had in mind was to travel more. I started living outside India with the desire to travel, but I hadn’t travelled much when I was in Sydney. I wanted to change that with the move to California. Armed with my new Nex-6 and the X3, I travelled to a lot more places than I had originally planned.

2014 was my “year of broke” after having lived wealthy for several years. Often in 2014, I had much less money than I needed. It was all due to bad planning from my part, which made it easy to fix the issue. I can say I have a good hold on my monthly expenses now. 2015 might actually get better monetarily. Good times are ahead.

This was the year I bought my first non-Nexus Android phone. This was the year my much loved Toshiba Z830 laptop felt inadequate. It’s underpowered for running things like Android Studio. Has a 1366×768 screen, which is not pleasant to look at anymore. Sadly though, I just haven’t found a laptop in the market that’s worth upgrading to. Hopefully System76 will introduce a successor to their Galago Pro with a 4k display.

Here’s to a great 2015!