Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Moonstone: The Incredible One Hour

This is the title of my first non-fiction humor book that is just about to be released to the market. A short snippet of the book, that you will find on the back cover also is “Performing Arts Festival (PAF) is an inter hostel competition at IIT Powai, where a pair of hostels present an hour long skit. The paired hostels completely own the performance, right from script writing, to dramatization, sets, sound, lights, music, and publicity to attract people to come and watch the show. This story, a laughter riot, is about the PAF presented by H6 and H9 in 1991. With an amazing story line, some never before seen incredible special effects, amazing light and sound effects, great actors, musicians, and dancers, in short with an abundance of talent, Moonstone was headed for a definite victory. Did they succeed?

You can pre-order a copy from hereIt has taken substantial effort over multiple years (there were unavoidable gaps in between) to get this book done, but I am proud to say that the final outcome is very satisfying. The various initial reviews that I have had on the book, are all very positive and now that the book is in production, let’s see what the market says... i.e. what all of you say? J

As I now sit back and think over, I wasn't always into writing. In fact I wasn't even into reading. As a kid I was reading Amar Chitra Katha a bit, but mostly because of their very interesting picture based stories. It was my brother who got me into reading. He was a passionate reader and when not reading, he was playing his favorite game with the book: book cricket. It was probably a kind of sibling competition that got me into reading and there it stayed for a while. Writing was still not something that I liked and writing essays in school exams was always a pain.

In 1995, I had done my graduation and moved to Bangalore for my first job. There, on one of the weekends, I went for a trip along with many of new found friends and after the trip, for some reason, I cannot recall now, I decided to write about this trip. I shared it with some of them and most of them liked it and it gave me the first boost that I could take a shot at writing. So thereafter I wrote about all the trips that we had been to and I still have that collection. Maybe I will publish it someday. However my writing stayed to these short 2-3 page stories covering the trips.

The next level came when in my official capacity and I wrote a few technical papers. The top one on this site is the latest I have co-authored along with a colleague of mine. During this time I also wrote 2 short technical books. These were for internal circulation and not published in the market. These were known as for lounge reading. The idea was that these were short handbooks, something one could quickly check out while waiting at Airport Lounge. I also started writing at our official blog site and soon this became the most popular blogs and that gave me lot of confidence. In early 2011 I co-authored my first full scale technical book for Packt publishing and it was a great experience.

I then started with my, this, personal blog and used this to share mostly interesting and humorous events that happened in my life. Occasionally I wrote about serious topics as well, based on current affairs. After all this writing I felt fairly confident and then picked up this book on Moonstone, something that has been very dear to all of us, who graduated out of IIT Powai. I strongly felt that this was one story that should reach out to everyone and so, here’s the book. I do hope that you would enjoy reading this non-fiction humor story. You can order the printed copy from here. The Kindly version will be available shortly.

You can post your review about the book on the publisher’s website and any generic discussions/comments on the Facebook page

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is Justice Done

December 16, 2012 to September 13, 2013, was the time when the country waited with baited breath for the fast track court to give its verdict in what was one of the most brutal of rapes reported in the country. I say reported, because I have no doubt that similar or more heinous crimes happen that go unreported. I had earlier shared my views on this here and now once the verdict is done, I have some more thoughts.

In a country where its Prime Minister gets murdered in cold blood (31 October 1984) and it takes 5 years for the verdict and where terrorist like Ajmal Kasab openly holds fire (26 November 2008) and kills hundreds of fellow citizens and it takes 4 years for verdict, this was definitely fast track especially when it involved a common person off the street. Given that it was closed within 9 months, the time it takes for a new life to be born... Should we treat this as symbolic that new justice system has been born and that things will be speedy like this in future?

The parents of Nirbhaya would have waited anxiously for these past months hoping that justice will be served and this case become almost a house hold case. The country had declared their verdict long back and in some sense it appears that the judge just repeated what was already decided in the minds of people. Death in return of gruesome rape and murder, to me seems a perfectly logical sentence.

However interestingly there are these so called human rights activists like The Amnesty international who suddenly wake up and feel that human life shouldn’t be taken away like this. I find this very funny and almost idiotic. To me these organizations have people who probably didn’t get any other sensible job and hence decided to pursue something that will get them enough lime light. You can have people take up gun and massacre hundreds of people and even students, as keeps happening in US; you can have terrorists take away lives of innocent people like they did in 9-11 or 26-11 and you have such criminals like the ones in question or the ones involved in the Shakti mills incident wreck human mind and body and even cause untimely death, but when it comes to sentencing these people for their crimes, suddenly we have these activists emerge from no-where and give some absurd reasoning on how human life is important and on one should not have the right to take it. Life imprisonment is OK, they say, but why, I ask? Why should I pay for keeping them alive? Where do you think the money for feeding all the criminals in the jail comes from? For keeping alive the terrorist like Ajmal Kasab, the state spent upwards of 19 crores of the tax payers hard earned money. In a country where hundreds die due to malnutrition, here we had so much money spent on a terrorist who dared enter our country and killed innocent people and seemingly enjoyed it. Why should I slog day in and day out at my job and pay the taxes to government who these uses the money for upkeep of such people? A very interesting tweet I had recently read was “#PleaseTellMeWhy all terrorist are indian jamai??” So very apt and simple and yet shows so much of frustration what we as common people feel. Movies like “A Wednesday” should become reality and maybe then the society may head towards a path of ridding itself from crime.

Another question people have been raising and I also raised myself is that this particular case got lot of media attention and in a sense the justice was served quickly (by our regular standards). There is still the scope of appeal to higher courts and all that, but at least the first level got cleared reasonably fast. But what about other such cases? Will similar justice and speedy trial be repeated elsewhere? But then later, I realized that we should rather look at this as a new beginning and hope that this will set the right precedence from now on. Things need to start some place and some time, right?

While there is a sense of relief hearing the punishment but at the same time I cannot help but think – is justice really served? They say justice is blind and should rely only on facts. Those who commit crime should be punished and those who don’t should not be. In the current justice I see two issues on this. First is the bus driver. While yes, he was involved in the crime in some sense that he didn’t stop the bus or tried to stop the other people from doing what they did, but at the same time, his crime cannot be treated at the same level. At the same time, the juvenile who while was the most violent of the lot has gotten away almost scot free due to merely being not legally adult at the time of the crime. Does this mean that people can commit crimes just a day before they become 18 and then run away free because they were juvenile then? Also shouldn’t juvenile be looked at alongside the kind of crime done and the general maturity of a person. While unfortunately rape isn’t rare in India but in almost all cases where legally aged adults are involved they still don’t think about using a metal rod and do what this person did. Was that really an act of a “kid”? And compare this person with the bus driver? Is there merit in this person going free in 3 years and the driver getting death penalty?

That some of our laws are archaic is a no brainer, but what are the governments after governments doing about it? What are the courts doing themselves to address the millions of cases pending with them? If only half the money that gets syphoned off due to all the various vote related populists schemes by the governments and various other corruption instances was saved, maybe we will have significant amount in hand to spend in needy places like increasing the police force, increasing the number of courts, having more lawyers etc.

Yes we need more lawyers, but surely not the kinds of Mr. Singh. I can understand that he probably was appointed by the government to defend these people as required by law of the land. But the statements related to government conspiracy and their reasoning not being heard by the court was pure crap. That he will not appeal if there are no more rape crimes, is a totally senseless statement. No verdict can ever cause related crime to just disappear from the face of earth rather it acts as deterrent for future such crimes and people may think twice before committing any. What makes him go against his own daughter and talk in favour of these criminals, is something that I fail to understand. His daughter should probably disown him before he tries any such pathetic acts of burning her for no reason.

In conclusion all I can say is that it is truly tragic that the girl’s life ended in such a way and my heart goes out to her parents, but I hope that with the fast track court’s proceedings being over, things will not catch dust again and die down. The movement that got started in December last year will continue to gain momentum till the society again becomes safe for our mothers, sisters and daughters.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Getting my Passport reissued

It was time to renew my passport and I was feeling scared. I have read many articles in the paper about how people aren’t getting appointments at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSKs) and that those who got, many a times had to come back due to some document issue or the other. Here’s sharing my experience so far

To start with I decided to first understand the process of how to apply for renewal of passport. So I visited the passport website and noticed that they recommend e-filing option. The details of this process are here and I just went about following this. The first step was to download and fill the e-Form, which is a PDF file, so you would need Adobe on your machine for this purpose. After filling the form and validating and generating the XML, the next step was to register online and upload the form, which is done here. Till Step 5 was easy and now came the dreaded scheduling of appointment and yes, I faced the issue of getting the appointment. For Pune the appointment slot opens at 12 noon and typically gets filled up in just a couple of min. While trying to schedule the appointment I had issues like
"All slots are booked, try later". I kept seeing this message
My portal password expired and interestingly the site takes you via “forgot your password” option rather than allowing you just reset the password using the earlier one.
I kept on trying for getting an appointment but could not and eventually my application itself expired. I had to upload the application again and then try again. Fortunately this time, one of my colleagues enlightened me on the basic issue: When trying to apply for the appointment never do from behind a proxy. Proxy and passport site don’t go hand in hand. While I can give more details on the exact issue, but that’s not the point right now. So if you are trying to apply for the appointment from behind a proxy like office network, then you can forget getting the appointment.
I finally used my smart phone for the net access via its 3G network and lo! I got through. The process of booking online appointment has changed a bit. After selecting your application and clicking on the “Schedule Appointment” link as shown in the figure below

You are taken first to the payment interface. Based on the kind of application, you make the payment and then are automatically given a date and a time. You no longer pick a date or a time. Also when making the payment, note that the options allowed are either SBI or credit card. If you hope to use another bank’s account, then that isn’t the option, at least for now. Online payment is mandatory and is valid for a year. The payment acknowledgement is generated. You need to print this, which also has your appointment date and time, and take it along with you when you visit the passport office.
Pune’s passport office is in Mundhwa, which is ahead of Koregaon Park. For me, this is the opposite end of the city. My appointment time was for 12.45 and they had mentioned that I should reach at least 15 min ahead of time. I was there half an hour ahead of time and the security person at the gate said that they will let us in at 12.30 (15 min ahead of time as mentioned in the appointment letter). Given a choice while taking appointment earlier in the day is a good idea as the backlog keeps increasing during the day and many people work on IST and believe that they can come in at any time. That is however true for walk-in (which is for minors below 15 years or senior citizens). So if you are late, the security person still lets you in.  But now the date and time is auto-assigned so you really can’t do much about it. However, note that since walk-in is allowed from 9 to 11 am, the crowd would be higher in the morning half as well.
We were let inside the gate (of the huge building, where PSK has taken part of a floor) promptly at 12.30 pm and on reaching the office entrance we were again greeted by a queue. However in a few moments the security called from one side for those who had an appointment to show him the letter and go in. The queue that we had wrongly stood in was for general enquiry.
As you enter the main hall, there are counters in front. These counters are for – enquiry, walk-in, fresh application with appointment, re-issue with appointment, minor and senior citizens, walk-ins and finally for Tatkal. See a queue and people just dash for it, without checking what the counter board says. I went and stood in the re-issue with appointment line and eventually after few min people realized their mistakes and re-aligned.
However the security guy walked up to the queues and asked people to spread out. He said that anyone can stand in any queue. How interesting? They why put up the boards? Am not sure if this how it works entire day or from afternoon, when walk-ins are stopped, they probably allow people to use any queue. This first queue is to validate your appointment, passport application form, original passport, and relevant photocopies. Note that the person takes only 1 photocopy for each relevant document and puts in a file, so you can avoid wasting paper and take only 1 copy with you. In case you have missed taking any photocopy, don’t worry, there’s a copier right on the premise. If everything is in order, the person files your photocopies for you and gives you a token number and returns the originals. This token number is what gets you entry to the second stage literally as you need to scan this and walk past a turn style. There are three kinds of token numbers. Those staring with N for normal fresh/reissue, W for walk-in and T for tatkal.
Overall the PSK is nicely built with appropriate care taken for people’s convenience. Once you are past the first counter, there is ample space to sit, there’s a snack center, provision of water and rest rooms. Appropriate monitors guide you as you move from counter to counter (A to B to C) on the basis of your token number. In fact the place is so well labeled that you can just get around without having to ask anyone anything. But that’s not how things work with us. If we see a person or an enquiry counter, we have to go and enquire something. And even if the token system clearly displays next token and where to go, there will always be people whose name would have to be called multiple times before they react (and these aren’t disabled people in anyway). During my visit, there was man, who seemed around his 50s who had come with a novel and he happily kept on reading it while his name got called many times.
After getting the token, there are 3 stages you need to get past. However after clearing all 3, I wonder if these were really required. Surely more efficiency can be brought into the system by avoiding duplicate work. You will understand once you know what each counter does.
So in stage two, we start by waiting in a hall. LCD monitors are mounted on the wall in the front and keep displaying the token number and which counter they need to go to. There are 36 A counters, which is the processing section. Here they collect the documents, scan and upload them, take your photograph and finger prints and store them. The good part of having submitted the online application is that mostly the data is correct. They show you that, but am not sure if they really allowing editing it. So if you made a mistake when uploading the form, am not sure what will happen. A letter to cancel the earlier passport and a receipt for fees paid is issued. I guess you pay in cash here in case it is a walk-in.
After A, we move to counter B, which are 10 in number and are the verification counters. Here all the documents required are validated and re-matched with the photocopies already put in the file (at the first entry counter). All photocopies need to be self-attested. In some way this is the third time when the documents are being scrutinized.
As luck would have it, by the time I reached this, it was 1.30 pm and entire the staff disappeared for lunch. They came back at 2.00 pm and the processing started again. Since there are many counters for each stage fortunately the queues move fast. The challenge for counter B and C however is that there are 4 monitors in this area and all display data for both B and C and it becomes a bit difficult to read that multi-column display to keep track of your token number. To add to the confusion, there was at least one person behind a B counter who would call out the name of the person before updating the monitor with the token number. So while everyone was focusing on the monitor to know when they will be called, we suddenly heard names being called out and took a min to react to it. Am not sure why he was doing this?
After 2 pm I moved fairly quickly from B and then again a wait for C, which is the granting section. There are 9 C counters but not all were operational and no, it wasn’t that the staff was absent, but some counters didn’t had the necessary hardware yet. Hope they will become operational soon. The person at C seemed to do the exact same things that the person at counter B had just done. However in addition this person stamped “Cancelled” on the earlier passport if the application was approved. Why this could not be done at B itself is anyone’s guess. 
Finally, if all is successful, you go to the checkout window of sorts where they print an acknowledgement letter which is a summary of final status. It has things like file number, application status (granted here means you are good to go), police verification (which can be pre, post or no). Mine says pre-verification, which means that police verification needs to happen before they will issue the new passport. You submit your token number paper here, which happens to be a feedback form as well (backside), so fill it up ahead of time to save time now.
Collect the letter and show it to the security person at the exit gate and he/she then opens the gate. So if you get in the PSK, you cannot just get out. Visit back to the portal to track the status of passport processing, like mine was reading "sent for police verification" by the end of the day.  
Overall, one doesn’t takes more than 30 min for work at counters A, B and C. The initial queue to get the token number also clears up pretty fast. So all in all, ideally one should be able to get in and out within an hour. But for me due to the lunch break, I wasted additional 30 min and then the lady at counter C who was busy on her phone. So eventually I managed to get the entire work done in 2 hours. I was out of the PSK by 2.45 pm.
Following are some improvements that I think can make PSKs even better and yes, I will submit these via their portal as well  (is anyone listening)
1.      Ask for only 1 photocopy if that is what is required. Why ask for 2 copies? 
2.      Photocopies and originals are checked at all 4 counters. Why? It seems to me that counters B and C can be easily merged.
3.      Counter B i.e. verification of documents should be before A i.e. the processing and uploading. So in case something is wrong or any documents are missing, why should the person’s photo, fingerprints, document upload etc. should happen?
4.     Since there are so many counters, why should the entire staff go for lunch at the same time? If they can go in two shifts, then half of them could still be servicing the people and more people can be cleared in a day
5.     For counters B and C, based on their location, the monitors should also be split. Two monitors should show only B token data and the other two should only show C data. Mixing all, makes it difficult to track your own token number.
6.     It may be a good idea to split the monitors based on N/W/T tokens as well.
7.     While I accept that the staff are also humans, but there should be some basic rules. One of the lady at a counter got a phone call and she talked on it for about 10 min and the person waiting for her ended up waiting and queue built up.
While I have suggested these improvements, I must say that the staff is mostly all courteous and talk and answer pleasantly. The setup is also good, unlike most other government offices and you can get your work done in fairly good moodJ.

[Updated: 4 Oct 2013]
Typically the passport gets issued in 40 days of applying for it (unless you go in for tatkal). Hence from the date of application, the file should reach the police station, that you filled in the application, within 2-3 weeks. The status is also update on the portal. Surprisingly in my case, the file got delayed and even after end of Sept, i.e. 2 months, the file had still not reached the police station. Since the police station was close to my office, I visited it almost every other day and in the end the passport officer became very friendly and sympathetic to my case. Eventually he only helped trace the file, which seemed to have been sent to some wrong police station (something that isn't uncommon). Eventually my file landed at the police station on 1 Oct and i submitted all the documents on 3rd. Now another wait for the physical passport to arrive.

During the waiting for the file to reach police station, I asked the officer, since the entire system is online, why do they still deal with physical files. Why not access the same system online and process the applications much faster. He said that this has been implemented from 1st of September 2013, but they are unable to do much about it due to lack of computers at police stations. Till the physical files will continue.

[Updated: 25 Oct 2013]
Got an SMS stating that the new passport has been dispatched via speed post

[Updated: 26 Oct 2013]
Finally... got the new passport. Took me roughly 3 months. The delay happened in between at the time of police verification.

BTW, you may want to see this.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Travelogue; Relaxing weekend at Radisson Blu, Alibaug

This was our second trip to Alibaug and unlike the earlier one, was intended to be a pure relaxation weekend. One of the best places to stay there is Radisson Blu and this is where I got the booking, with a great deal which had all meals inclusive. It worked best for us since our intention was to get away from routine work and have weekend where we will just relax and eat and sleep. The last few months had been busy (trip to our native and then home renovation work) and hence the interest of a work free weekend and also enjoy a weekend before kid's school would reopen.

We spent the weekend of 7th June 2013 there. The monsoon arrived a few days earlier, so this weekend ended up with a rainy spell, but it did mean that we had a lovely drive to Alibaug and nice stay at the hotel.

We had left from home around 1 pm and drove down in our Mahindra XUV. Since the time I had bought XUV, this was first time I got to take it on the Pune Mumbai expressway and it sure was a pleasure. I did manage to run it in the top 6th gear also for a while, but the best part was enjoying the cruise control. Weather was lovely. It wasn’t raining, but was cloudy and due to rains already, was pretty green all around. A few small waterfalls were visible in Lonvala and Khandala and in about 1 hour we were at the Khapoli expressway food court. Since we had lunch before starting, this was just a quick bio break and then we were back on the road. Taking a U turn at Khalapur toll naka, we then took the Khapoli exit and were on the Khapoli Alibaug road. Pune to Khalapur exit costed us Rs 124.

There is another toll naka where we paid Rs 20 and were on the way to Alibaug. The road is pretty good, though obviously not like the national highway. It has establishments on both sides and at frequent distances, so need to be careful when driving at high speed. It started to rain a bit and overall the weather was just wonderful. The site all around was just amazing with all greenery and clouds over the mountains.

As we neared Penn, we hit a Y junction and while everyone else seemed to go straight, we noticed a sign for Alibaug pointing to the road going towards the right. Unfortunately it was raining very heavily by now and there was no one around to whom we could ask. We saw a house on the road to the right and drove to it and asked a person there. It seemed we were on the correct road so we drove ahead and eventually joined back on the road to Alibaug. What we had just taken was Penn by pass and we had joined the Alibaug road just outside of Penn, avoiding all the internal roads and traffic.

Another toll naka for Rs 15, closer to Alibaug, and we eventually reached Radisson Blu Spa and Resort, Alibaug by 3.30 pm. A quick check in and we landed in our superior room. In my earlier stay a couple of years back, I had got myself a Lake view Villa, which was a duplex with a back small garden and view of the lake. The superior room was inward facing and faced the swimming pool. We were in A block, which is slightly away from the pool. The B block directly overlooks the pool and if you happen to be on the ground floor, then your back door of the room will actually lead you into the swimming pool directly.

The room was set to 16 deg. and we felt the chill, given that it had been raining for a while now. Not realizing what it would mean, we switched off the AC, opened the balcony doors and parked ourselves in the easy chairs there, sipping the tea. Our package included all meals, which unfortunately didn’t include any evening tea and snacks, so we had to make do with whatever little we had carried with us like biscuits and chips.

As we got back into the room we saw layer of dew building up everywhere. The table top was wet, the mirror was totally covered in dew and we were totally surprised. Pune has its fair share of humidity, but this was too much. Immediately we closed the balcony doors and switched on the AC again and in about half an hour, things got back to normal. So keeping AC on was essential for this trip.

From this evening to Sunday, 9th June afternoon, we totally relaxed in the hotel. The weather didn’t allowed much of excursion anyway, so we used all the facilities at hotel to the fullest, played at their games room, spent time reading books in their library, did multiple swimming sessions in the pool and to top it all, ate a lot.

All the meals were buffet at their Aparanta restaurant and were just too good. The options for any of the meals were too many and we had no issues in over eating. The food was really good, perfect in their spice level and no extra dose of butter or ghee. Every meal was followed by equally awesome collection of desserts and am sure managed to put on few extra kilos just due to this.

After the lunch on 9th June, we started on our way back by around 2.30 pm and encountered rains on parts of our journey. We reached home by around 5 pm on Sunday evening and then it was back to routine from next day morning.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Then and Now

When my 11 years old daughter was doing her English letter writing homework, I got to explaining to her that we used to write inland letters (recall those 35 paise blue papers, which later became 50 paise and were probably around 75 paise or Rs 1 when I eventually stopped using them) and that it used to typically take 3-4 days for it to reach its destination. The receiving person may or may not reply immediately, so it was easily at least 10-15 days or even a month before we would get to hear from the other side. She asked innocently “Papa, why didn’t you just send them an email or if it was urgent why not just call them on their mobile phone?”
It is difficult for my daughter to imagine a life without these technologies and devices and I could not help but smile. It also took me back many many years and comparisons with our lives today just started to happen. In comparison to today, those days seem so simple and relaxed. I capture here a few of those thoughts.
Inland letters for longer letters, post cards for shorter ones and telegrams (like today’s SMS) was the way I recall my life back in early 1980s. The inland letters would typically start with appropriate regards to whomsoever it was being written, a page full of incidents to write and end with regards to elders and love to all those younger than self. There was space provided to write the address, which automatically came from memory. We hardly had to look up the directory for address of any of our relatives (and so was the case for telephone numbers). Then a walk to nearest letter box, the red colored big box either located next to the post office or placed at additional locations for the convenience of people, and had a clearance time of typically 10.30 am and then 2.00 pm. Occasionally I would arrive at the letter box at the time the postman would be clearing the letters and it was with excitement that I would watch the process and happily deposit my letter directly in his bag rather than the letter box. Then would start a patient waiting for the reply that I knew was at least 2 weeks in future. Many times it would take longer, and we would continue to wait patiently.
Today’s generation with emails and mobiles seems to have lost this virtue of patience. Because these things provide instant connectivity, the expectation is also to receive instant responses and when not received, people become impatient. It sometimes is difficult to get past the daily morning routine without the mobile ringing some 10 times and when I finally am ready and get to pick up the phone, the first question “Where were you? I was so worried”. Worried? Why? Isn’t going to bathroom in the morning a common practice? I have seen so many people today answering mobile phones when answering natures call. Eeeeeeeeeeeks! What’s the hurry? The world isn’t going to end. You could wait a few minutes, finish your work and then answer the phone. And if the world is really going to end, you anyway won’t achieve much by answering immediately. You walk on the streets today and easily at least half the people around you would be using their mobile phones and walking with their heads down, eyes glued to the mobile screen, either reading a message or typing a response, oblivious of that speeding vehicle coming straight towards them. As the vehicle will come to a screeching halt, they look up, eyes meet that of the driver and surprisingly they even have the guts to glare at the driver, as if it was his/her fault.
Anyway, somewhere back in late 1980s we got our first phone, that big black monster. Am sure some of you would recall it. It was numbers written below a circular dial and would make interesting “whhhrrriiiinng” noise when you would dial a number. This model of the phone existed for many years and the time it took to dial a number was directly proportional to the kind of digits the phone number had. 1 was shortest to dial and 0 took the longest. Imagine dialing a digit and then wait for the circular dial to rotate back before you could dial the next digit. It wasn’t till many years after that the tone dialing phones came into existence where you could now press individual digits and thus got to dial much faster.
When the phones had first come into being, they had come with various rate slabs. It was very costly to make day time calls, especially those to out station (i.e. long distance). We had local dialing rates, which were reasonable, and then we had national dialing (called subscriber’s trunk dialing, STD) and finally international dialing (ISD). The national dialing used to be cheapest after 11 pm and so was international dialing and for quite some time, we could just not dial international numbers directly from the phone. We had to call the operator, give the international number and wait for hours to get the call connected. The call may often not come through or quality would be bad. A call for just about 10-15 seconds would easily cost upwards of Rs. 200.
Towards end of 1999 rate optimizations had started to happen and the slabs had reduced significantly, but still making a daytime national call was a strict no-no and used only for official work. I recall that during my courtship time in December 1999, we would wait till 9.30 pm to talk and then also typically keep an eye on the watch. These days you can just pick up the phone any time of the day and just about call any number, local, national or even international. With things like chat, Skype, Whatsap twitter, Facebook etc. people are connected all the time.
I was talking about patience earlier and this staying connected always has significantly impacted it. Earlier when travelling to Pune to Delhi, we would make a phone call before leaving home in Pune and then directly meet up with our relatives at the Delhi station about 30 hrs later with no communication in between. Today you make a phone call from home, then when seated in train (or plane) with possibly 10 twitter updates in between, then from every station and finally when about to reach. The about to reach call is surely helpful as the announcements at station are seldom helpful. But so many additional calls? However there is another angle to it as well. I just travelled by train from Delhi to Pune and sent about 10 SMS sharing updates at different time. True that they could not do anything with the fact that the train was running late, but the ability to send and receive SMSs somehow gave that feeling of being connected with the family, even while being many miles apart.
Another aspect of life that has changed significantly is television. I recall our first television was from a company called ElectraVision, and it came with a cabinet with stands and shutter and was black and white TV. The only channel to view was Doordarshan (DD for short). It had very limited hours of telecast daily with a bit more on weekends and these were also frequently interrupted with signage like “rukavat ke liye khed hai” (sorry for interruption). Telecast on DD would start with a 7 band gray scale being displayed on the screen (later 7 colors) with its typical theme music (recall Hrithik singing it in Zingadi Na Milegi Dobara).
There was a program called Saptahiki that would state all the programs that would telecast in the coming week and I recall we would sit with a diary making note of which one we would like to watch. Our favorite being Chitrahar (hindi film songs program) and a Hindi movie itself that was telecast on Sunday evening. There used to be a 8 pm or so Hindi news and repeat of that in English an hour later and due to lack of anything else to watch, many people used to watch both the news programs. The single channel with limited programs went on for years and it allowed us kids ample time to do our studies, play in the evenings and then reach back home to watch the 1-2 programs for that evening (if there were any of interest).
When telecast of DD 2 started many people had to upgrade their TV as they could not watch more than one channel on theirs. At that time came TVs with 10 channels and we would wonder, why have so many additional channels? And yes, TVs had become color as well. Our first color TV was from Crown and these were the bulky ones with sufficient gadgetry behind the screen unlike the flat panel LCD and LED TVs that are becoming common today. Eventually TVs that supported 100 channels came and # channels had started to go up with regional channels also kicking in. There were some innovations like TV + Radio, TV + Cassette player etc. and TV with picture in picture option as well that allowed you to view two channels at the same time, one full screen and another like a small postcard view on top corner. Personally I feel it was a good innovation and should have survived, because it allowed one to easily follow 1 main channel and keep an eye on the second one and switch when appropriate, rather than keep flipping back and forth.
TV serials were typically for 13 episodes and mostly were either short independent stories, or even if a big continuous one, would finish in 13 episodes. Hum log was the first long running serial that ran for one full year with 52 episodes (a serial used to come only once a week in those days). The trend then caught on with others like Buniyaad, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Shanti, Yeh jo Hai Zindagi Dekh Bhai Dekh etc. By mid 90s DD had lost its monopoly and many of us had shifted to viewing serials on other channels, though would return to DD for Chitrahaar and few other serials like Show Theme etc.
Today all the 100 channels are pretty much occupied and not just the quantity but the quality of transmission has increased. These days you almost never see the “rukavat ke liye khed hai”. There are interruptions due to heavy rains when the dish fails to catch the signal, but otherwise it is mostly uninterrupted 24x7 telecast on different channels. During our initial years of having a TV, due to the transmission quality we had to frequently adjust the direction of the antenna to get good quality signal. I recall our neighbor would be up on the terrace every other day and trying to fix the antenna position. With every few degrees turn, he would call, and his son would shout back from below “picture is fine, but too many spots” and he would then turn it a few degrees more.
With the advancement of technology, the TV programs can be watched on mobile phones, computers etc. and devices have become richer and richer with features. The transmission quality has gone up from the antenna days to cable TV to dish TV to HD and so on. So has the other areas like tape audio and video cassettes, to LPs to CD ROMS and VCDs to DVD, to HD to Blue Ray and so on. More and more information is packed in smaller and smaller space. You can easily record and watch your program on your TV’s set top box or watch these on YouTube. In the earlier days, a program missed, meant it is missed and there was no way to see it again unless there was a repeat telecast, which was not so frequent.
When we were kids creating a school project could mean long hours and trying to figure out ways and means to get the right kind of information. Today we have internet. The information boom has been just enormous and you can literally find almost anything on the net (it helped me find the links for this blog). While, yes, there is too much of information and all kinds of it and some of it we would prefer to be not there, but there is no denying that internet boom has done wonders to data connectivity and information availability.
I could go on and on, on this topic, but I just wanted to capture a few things about how we grew up and how things are today. Things that our kids take for granted today didn’t even exist back then. Few years from now, what is novel today would have become commodity or may also be on the path of becoming extinct and some new ways of doing things would have come up for as they say – change is the only constant.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My experience with Reliance Call Center

Date 14th May. Time 7.45 pm. My reliance broadband connection stopped working suddenly. This had happened multiple times in the last few days, so finally I decided to call the Reliance Help desk. I dialed their helpline number and went through the painfully long IVR messages.
IVR: Welcome to Reliance Broadnet Internet services. To continue in English… blah… blah…

I picked the English option.

IVR: Please dial your subscriber ID or blah… blah… and press #
I did

IVR: In case of issues with your broadband connection press 1
I did

IVR: In case you’re broadband connection is not working press 1
What? I just pressed 1 already for it. But it is an IVR system. Cannot argue. So I pressed 1 again.

IVR: All our customer service representatives are busy attending other calls. Someone will attend to you shortly. Note that you may be serviced in Hindi also.
Hindi? Why? Why did you ask for my language of preference then? Anyway, I wait for maybe about 30-40 seconds with the music and message.

Agent: Hi I am Dhiraj. How may I help you?
Me: My broadband connection is not working for past few days.

Dhiraj: Sorry?
Me (slowly): My broadband connection is not working for past few days.

Dhiraj: I am sorry sir. I will help you with it. Can you tell me your subscriber ID?
What? Didn’t I already punch it in when listening to that long IVR message? Don’t you have it on your screen? It seems – No. So I give my 12 digit subscriber ID again.

Dhiraj: Can you tell me your name Sir?
Me: Atul Gupta.

Dhiraj: Atul, your internet is not working.
Bingo! This guy is smartJ, is what I am thinking.

Dhiraj: Atul, can I put you on hold for a minute to check some details?
Me: Yes (do I have any option anyway?)

Dhiraj: Thanks.

Dhiraj: Atul thank you for waiting. You use static IP.
Me: Nooooo. That was almost 1.5 years back. I had already changed it over to dynamic IP.

Dhiraj: Atul My system shows you are using static IP.
Me: No, I am not.

Dhiraj: What operating system are you using? Windows XP or Windows 7?
Me (Why only two options? Can I not use any other?): Windows 7

Dhiraj: Please press start and type ncpa.cpl.
I did.

Dhiraj: a window opens.
Me: I know this. We can go faster.

Dhiraj: Ok. Hmmm… Right click on Local area Connection
I did

Dhiraj: Select the last option – Properties.
I did.

Dhiraj: Do you see TCP IPv6 or IPv4 there?
Me: I see both.

Dhiraj: Click once on IPv6. Of the three options below, click on Properties.
I did.

Dhiraj: In the window that comes up is it “Obtain IP address automatically” or “Use the following IP address”?
Me: It is “Obtain IP address automatically”.

Dhiraj: Please change to use the following IP address and type….
I interrupt him at this point and say: I have already told you that I am not using static IP and I don’t want to set one now.

Dhiraj: Atul, our system shows you have static IP.
Me (getting a bit angry): I don’t know why your system is showing that. But I don’t use static IP. I have already run your quick resolve diagnostic tool and it has given an error code. Shall I tell you that? Will it help?

Dhiraj: OK
Me: 6512-12-16-12

Dhiraj: I will check this. Can I put your call on hold?
Me thinking – on hold again. Oh God! After few moments…

Dhiraj: Let me transfer your call to customer help desk. They will help you.
Me: (Customer help desk? Then what is this? Who am I talking to?)

Dhiraj: Atul this is Dhiraj. I will transfer your call.
Me (sigh): OK.

Back to Music and IVR message - All our customer service representatives are busy attending other calls. Someone will attend to your shortly. An agent eventually picks up and conversation now is in Hindi
Agent: Main aapki kis prakar se sahayata kar sakta hun?

Me: Mera broadband internet connection kaam nahi kar raha hai.
Agent: Mafi chahunga. Kyaa aap apna subscriber ID batayenge?

What? Subscriber ID again? When the call is transferred, why aren’t the details transferred with it? But what to do? So I give it again.
Agent: Connection kiske naam pe hai?

Me (almost answered – mera naam pe, aur kiske naam pe hoga): Atul Gupta
Agent: Ji Dhanyawad. Kyaa mein call hold pe daal sakta hun, details check karne ke liye

Am wondering why do they need to put the call on hold to check the details? Do these systems interfere? But anyway…
Me: Haan.

And back to music. Some more moments pass
Agent: Hold pe rehne ke liye dhanyawad. Kyaa aap laptop use karte hain yaa desktop?

I knew that this will again get into configurational discussion, so told him
Me: Mere paas aapke quick resolve tool ka error code hai. Kyaa usse help milegi?

Agent: Ji, bataiye
Me. 6512-12-16-12

Agent: Kyaa mein aapki call hold pe rakh sakta hun, jab tak mein details check karta hun?

There you go again. Call on hold for the nth time.
Me: Ji

More Music…
Agent: Hold pe rehne ke liye dhanyawad. Aap Static IP use kar rahe hain.

Me (oh No! not again): Ji nahi. Static IP band kiye saal see upper ho chukka hai.
Agent: Mein aapki call technical department mein transfer kar deta hun. Wohi aapki madat karenge.

It almost sounded like yours is a mental case and only the right doctors can treat you.
Me (another deep breath): OK.

Back to Music and IVR message - All our customer service representatives are busy attending other calls. Someone will attend to your shortly. Next agent and back to English
Agent: How can I help you today?

I am almost like – can you? No one can help me? I am gone case.
Me: My broadband internet connection is not working and they have been transferring my call over the place. Can you really help me?

Agent: Sorry for that Sir. I will help you. Can you give me your subscriber ID?
And I almost fainted! I once again repeated the 12 digit subscriber ID. The systems really need an overhaul. What’s the point in me giving the subscriber ID again and again and again?

Agent: Thanks. The connection is in whose name?
Me: Atul Gupta. They keep telling me that I have static IP, which I don’t have.

Agent: Sir, the system shows you have a static IP.
Me: Oh God! No, I am not using a static IP.

Agent: Sir, if you want to change to dynamic IP, I can transfer your call to the relevant department.

Me (now pleading): No, please don’t. The connection was working fine few minutes back, but then it suddenly disconnected. I have an error code from your tool. Can you at least tell me what it means?
Agent: Yes Sir. Give me the code.

Me. 6512-12-16-12
Agent: Sir, this code means slow connection. We are actually upgrading our servers and hence some people are facing this connection issue. If you want till end of day tomorrow, it would be fine. The connection should then work properly.

What? I spent the last 20 minutes, talking to all those different people to eventually hear about a server upgrade? Could you not have told me this earlier itself?
Me (I just want to get over with this call now): Thanks so much. That is all I have. Bye.

Agent: Is there anything else I can help you with?
Me (am in a hurry to get off the call): No No. Thanks. Bye.

Agent: Thanks for calling….
I hung up the phone.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where do I stay?

Bachelors not allowed Is a sign that greets you at the entry of many societies in Pune, especially in areas like Aundh, Pimple Saudagar etc. that are closer to the IT Hub in the city – Hinjewadi. Isn’t this like stereotyping an entire set of people? And I used to believe that stereotyping isn’t a good idea. One must not have a prejudice against anyone and must allow the other person to prove himself/herself.

If not here, then Where do I stay? It is unfortunate that some of our bachelor friends are forced to ask this question every now and then.

The various industries (mostly IT) in Hinjewadi area today employ upwards of 1 lac people. This is the floating population that comes in to work daily and returns home in the evening. They do create traffic problems, but this isn’t about the traffic issues. It would be safe to assume that about 30% of this population are bachelors (given the average age of the IT organizations) and many of them have come from out station to create a livelihood for themselves. The issue is where do these 30K people stay?

Many societies have banned bachelors from staying in their premises on the pretext that they create nuisance and their presence is detrimental to good and safe family environment. While there are bad fish everywhere, do we really think that all the bachelors are creating issues? At the same time are all families really setting good examples of how to live in a society and inculcate good family values? So why single out bachelor tenants only?

A simple question to all those ‘family’ folks standing in the forefront and feeling proud of having invoked this ban, where they born married? Didn’t they grow up like all others and weren’t they bachelors at some stage in their lives? Do they claim that they were good well-mannered bachelors setting the right example? And if they were, why can’t the ones of today can be? Or are these people claiming that they were the last of such a breed and the ones now have suddenly lost all moral values? But then isn’t that a tricky question. If they were good people, they would have taught good values to their kids and those kids with good parents, and good values would have grown to become good people themselves, so how come they are now suddenly labeled as not good? Is then that a flaw in that bachelor or the family he/she belongs to?

Another question is if these families have thought about future? About their own kids? They will also grow up, will go someplace to study and the find a job. What happens if tomorrow everyone follows suit and bachelors are banned all over. Where will the kids stay? Ah! But I am forgetting. These are good kids from good families, who will grow up to be great people. It is only today’s bachelors that are not well behaved, right? How ironical!!!

Does anyone recall Satyamev Jayate, the show that Aamir Khan anchored and it got record breaking viewership? Most of the problems shown there are those plaguing the so called family folks. The female foeticide, the child molestation, the honor killing, mostly had examples from families.

Banning all is just trying to look away from the problem and trying to create a solution that doesn’t really addresses the issue, but outcastes an entire generation of people. Yes, I agree that there are some of those who really cross the line, but then we should punish only those and not everyone else. Let’s say if a male commits a crime, we don’t throw entire neighborhood or all males of that age into jail, do we? Societies can easily create a set of rules that everyone should follow to maintain the harmony of the society and anyone violating it should be asked to leave and this should be equally applicable to families and bachelors, anyone staying as tenant. As a punishment, some public service could also be imposed like watering the gardens, cleaning the society or anything else, which could become an example for people intending to create trouble?

If you are thinking that it is easier said than done, then you are wrong. The society where I stay, we have this working for the past 5-6 years. We have bachelors as tenants in our society and all stay amicably. In fact in one of society events, where people had put up food stalls, it was the bachelor’s stall serving corn bhaji that sold the most plates. They had to run back home to cook fresh stock at least two to three times, given the demand. Yes, we have had our share of unwanted incidents and we have promptly asked those specific individuals to leave.

Even legally this isn’t allowed. See some discussions here  

While owners can object to this rules as in the Pune Mirror article, the owners may be a bit apprehensive to take any such steps for fear of repercussions later like at the time of resale of the flat, society make create trouble in granting NOC.

Bachelors have an option to appeal in consumer court for discrimination against them. With a large population being affected, they can come together and raise their voice collectively. But I will strongly urge them to get their act together as well. They need to think with an open mind if breaking rules, creating nuisance for maybe just a little bit of fun really worth it? There are legitimate ways and places to have fun. Even within the society you are staying and want to do a late night, you can do it, but with proper decency and being accommodative of the fact that others in the next flat aren’t doing a night out with you. Is it really worth being adamant and creating that nuisance factor and then being outcast and banned from living in any society?

I think societies need to rethink on their strategy and figure out a better solution that is a win-win for all. They should think of innovative ways to solve the issue and be a leader in that space rather than compete against other societies on who will throw out all the bachelors first. Hinjewadi based organizations and associations like HIA can also possibly take up this cause. An option that organizations can consider is vouch for the character of their employees, but at the same time link it to say employment. In case of complaints not only the person has to leave the society premises, but will also stand to lose his/her job.

Why not just live and let live. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

We are the Best

This is something that I have observed in many of the conversations around me that gives a sense that of the three generations including our parents, ourselves and our kids, we are the best.

While talking about our childhood and how our parents managed us, the usual statements that I hear are – We were good kids. We would listen. Our parents didn’t have much trouble due to us. If they told us no once, we would not ask again. We understood the importance of studies.

And when talking in reference of our current parenthood and our kids, it is – Today’s kids are jet age kids. They are so very fast and very aggressive. It is very difficult to manage them. We keep telling them, but they just won’t listen. We faced such a challenge in bringing them up. Our kids are nothing like us, we were so well mannered.

You feel the same?

What's in a Name?

The other day while washing utensils at home, wife asked me to use Pril. Yes, I do help wash sometimes, especially when it is about our special expensive utensils. Can’t let these to be handled by the maid. Anyway, but to washing and Pril. I reminded her that we didn’t bring Pril this time as there was a scheme at Big Bazar and we had instead picked up Vim liquid soap instead. We did realize that Vim liquid wasn’t as effective as Pril liquid soap was. We got talking about how some of these schemes are on items that aren’t that effective in use and wife stated, “Yes, like that Clean Mate Harpic. That isn’t also very effective and doesn’t clean well”.

In a moment we realized what she said and we both had a good laugh. But this made me realize that there certain products/company names that have become the words of daily usage and replaced their functional names itself like Harpic gets used more than toilet cleaner. Few more that come to mind are

Dettol, though with Savlon also around, both get used
Vicks VapoRub (maybe), Vicks Inhaler
Fevicol, FeviStick

Anymore that you can think off?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Travelogue: Ganapati and Sai baba Darshan @ Shirgaon

Every time I was on the Pune Mumbai Expressway, I would notice the huge Ganesha Idol and make a point in mind to visit it, but such points don’t always convert to reality easily. Finally last weekend, for lack of anything else to do and after a failed attempt to find ourselves a place to stay at any hotel/resort for a night, we decided to revisit open points in our todo list and picked the Ganesh temple.

It is a short drive from my home, given that I am close to Hinjewadi, Pune, so I was quickly only to the express way by-pass and the passed the expressway and went on ahead to join old Pune Mumbai highway (NH4). The idol pretty big and hence there is no way you can miss it, but even then you need not worry till you hit the toll plaza near Shirgaon. You need to cross the toll plaza. I wonder if that was intentional to have made the toll plaza just before Shirgaon? Anyway a return toll is for Rs. 39 and having paid this we crossed the toll plaza and took the immediate left.
The road here is pretty narrow and not well laid out so be prepared for a bit of bumps. At this time you would be able to see the Ganesha idol on your left on a small hill. To reach the base is a bit tricky as like all other places, there are no clear direction markings. Leave the first left (which is almost like a by-lane) and take the second one. It should have a board there calling out Mangal Murti Morya temple. This lane isn’t big by any standards, and if you happen to get in at the same time someone is trying to come out, you may have to practice your car maneuvering skills. A short drive of about 50 m in the lane and you come to parking spot. The spot isn’t very big and they charge Rs 10 for the parking.
From here you start to climb up towards the idol. I ended up counting 161 steps to the top. There is ample sitting provision on to the top so you need not exert yourself and can easily pause and park yourself on the way.
Once at the top, the size of the idol really hits you. It is huge.
Good part is that the place is very clean and very well maintained. The place opens up around 6.00 am and is open till around 9 pm with no break during the day, so you can visit anytime. Since the base is all stone, depending on the season and time of the day, you may end up dancing your way around due to hot stones. We were there on a pleasant evening, so there were no such issues.
We did a parikrama, stood there for a while and then continued on our way to the Sai Baba temple, which is a replica of Shirdi Sai Baba temple. Parking here is again Rs 10. If are at the time of the Aarti you can get the prasad or else you purchase at the various counters. You can sit and enjoy the Prasad at the dining hall besides the temple, which is an intricately carved structure and looks nothing less than some palace. Don’t forget to take the coupon as the entry to the hall is restricted to coupon holders only. We didn’t go in here as it was getting late.
On the way back we came till the crossing of NH4 and the Pune by pass (joining to the expressway and also going all the way to Katraj and Bangalore highway) and took a right to go towards Hinjewadi. Again surprisingly there are no sigh boards highlighting this very important turn. If you are new, drive a bit carefully as if you miss this crossing, you will end up going all the way to main Pune City, which not be what you want to do.

My 2 cents on Reserved Instance Billing and Savings

If you are using Azure Virtual Machines (VMs), you have an option of using Azure Reserved Instance (RI) VMs instead. Microsoft (MS) claims ...