cheeni: (Default)

That's the perfect Youtube video - strangely it doesn't seem to have gotten all that many views :-)
cheeni: (Default)
This is probably a comment on what an exciting city New York is, or I am just having more than my usual share of run-ins with incidents worth writing about.

I was at the Apple Store yesterday, waiting in the checkout line which was being held up by a bunch of people with unusual orders. I saw someone pay cash for two mac book pros - nearly $4000++, someone else paid cash for a $2000+ gift card. While these were unusual, they are not really very surprising. For example the couple buying the macbookpros were from UK and they wanted to use up their spare dollars possibly avoiding their bank's usurious charges.

However what I saw next was something else. There was a kid of 18-21 who was looking to buy $43000 (yes, forty three thousand dollars) worth of Apple store gift cards. Of course, it took for ever for the store clerk to activate the gift cards, but that's not the point.

The kid tried to pay with 3 different credit cards, and each gets rejected. And each card has a different name on it. Everyone around gets really suspicious, and then the kid shows some ID and explains that one has his middle name, and the other card has his last name or some such. Then he says he's got a friend standing outside who has a card that will work, so he goes to fetch him.

A few minutes later, in walks a 30 year old guy, dressed in a leather jacket, turtle neck sweater and baseball cap. He is holding a stack of some 2 dozen credit cards of various colors, held together with a rubber band. He extracts an American Express Gold card which actually works. The ID he produces to validate the sale is a New York State driving license that looks like it has been through the wash cycle more than a few times, it's faded, and bent at the corners. There's really no way to tell if it is fake, but I'll tell you that most bars will not let you in with that kind of ID, but surprisingly the Apple store clerk had no trouble believing the story.

Now there could be a harmless explanation for that kind of thing, in fact I can think of some. However, I am willing to bet money that the credit cards were stolen and the gift cards are already on ebay, like this one...
cheeni: (Default)
Drum roll...

[via Fake steve]

NY Cabs...

Mar. 13th, 2008 08:41 pm
cheeni: (Default)
I took this cab yesterday from JFK to Manhattan driven by a clean-shaven turban-less Sardar. Near the end of my ride we get talking and he discovers that I am Indian. After the usual chit chat, we arrive at my destination, and he says - "Oh, I guess you will be needing a receipt since this is a business trip, oh well here it is." and then he pauses for a moment like he's thinking hard, and then rips out a blank receipt, hands it to me and says, take the "sister fuckers" for all they are worth...

cheeni: (Default)
A common scene among prosperous sections of an Indian city is the ubiquitous presence of new cars and still newer drivers. The drivers are either first time car owners (all too common among the IT districts of Hyderabad and Bangalore - driving brand new cars sporting a huge red L and a dented fender or two) or first time urban immigrant cab drivers - who start with the less popular night shift to master their skills behind the wheel.

If I were to pick the top three cities in India for bad driving, it would have to be Calcutta, Delhi and Hyderabad. I still haven't figured out why exactly they are the worst, but they appear to be so for different reasons, Delhi just seems to breed bad drivers, the traffic cops in Hyderabad are pathetic at stopping violations and Calcutta has perhaps always carried the immigrant burden - where Biharis and Bangladeshis get their first taste of city life before moving on to a better city and the fatalistic attitude of Bengal if not all of India doesn't let the locals be bothered about piddling things like traffic accidents.

I don't think there's a whole lot of effort at educating the drivers to drive better, but I just came across

I haven't watched the videos, but it looks hopeful. BTW, the site says that 10% of all traffic accidents in the globe occur in India. With 1/6th of the world's population that isn't a bad number, but with a tiny fraction of the world's automobiles that's a huge number.

Learning To Drive: Blind Spots - video powered by Metacafe
cheeni: (Default)
ComradeKaramchari Seal

Take care that you don't apply for a "Jumbo" passport - which is 60 pages instead of the usual 30. It is handwritten, and has a non-standard serial number (1-digit less than usual) and is known to cause no end of trouble at foreign embassies and visa offices. This bit of useful information is not found on an application form, but is gently handed out to you when you ask for one. I suspect the Comrade Karamcharis (TM) don't appreciate the extra work.

Me: Do you issue Jumbo passports?

Lady at counter 1: Jumbo passport chahiye? (Rhetorical repetition of my request?)

L@C1 to Man at counter 2: Jumbo passport issue karthe hain kya? ("Do we issue Jumbo passports?")

M@C2: *Nods head in response?*

L@C1: Scribbles "Jumbo passport" across my application (Oh the agony and care it took to fill in the ICR boxes without characters touching the box edges, and all for this?)

L@C1 to me: *with a note of warning* 500 Rupees extra!

me:  *submissively* Ok, no problem *followed by a swaying of the head from side to side that Indians understand to be a yes*

L@C1: Wait in line at counter 2 to pay cash

[Wait 1 - notice people heading off to a corner and figting it out for a piece of thread - think, look around - notice fellow applicants with their applications sheafs bound with said thread  - join crowd, notice the ice pick tethered to a railing - prick thumb with tethered pick while poking a hole in my paper stack of application annexures - wait 1 for thread - procure thread - wait 1 - examine thread, dive into crowd and re-procure thread without missing metal edges - wait 1 - knot - wait 1, think - procure second thread - wait 1, suck injured thumb now hurting - knot second thread as a safety - wait turn]

M@C2: *Throws me an irritated look even before I've opened my mouth, I shut my half-open mouth and quietly slide the papers and the money*

M@C2: * Hurls back my additional 500 Rupees without an explanation and continues to scrawl something in a book and type my name into a computer terminal *

Me to M@C2: *Nervously* Don't you issue a Jumbo passport? ... *No response*

Me to Man behind M@C2: *Repeat the question with more confidence - loudly - BUT not disrespectfully - and not with too much confidence - and with a pleading look*

MBM@C2: Useful insight into the workings of the Jumbo passport system as explained above.

How I love my Comarade Karamcharis (TM) - they rule!

P.S. The term Comrade Karamchari was invented during my patient wait in the queue at the passport office. How I love the mental imagery it paints.
cheeni: (Default)
Here is my email to Citibank:

from: me
to: India Service <>
date: Jan 29, 2008

Hi Citibank Support,

Are you aware that exists and isn't owned by you? It's a small step away from your original website. I feel unsafe that you would let exist - I fear that it's trivially simple for someone to hijack the server and create a phishing website even if the current domain squatter  has no such intention. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take action.


So the site is owned by Citi after all, but sits on the standard domain parking server of an ISP not known for its technical savvy, and running a version of Apache with known vulnerabilities. Great going Citicorp.
cheeni: (cheeni in Calcutta)
This is a post with further details about my tryst with Airtel and their not-so-great high-speed DSL plan. Please read on if you are interested in this sort of thing - what follows is my conversation with technical support, some useful debugging information if you are on Airtel and the secret location of their non-flaky DNS servers.

the gory details... )
cheeni: (Default)

Speakeasy tells me I don't have a 2mbps connection, Airtel tells me I do, and what's more expects me to pay for it. Now what should I do?


Jan. 7th, 2008 02:58 pm
cheeni: (Default)
I don't ever make new year resolutions, I think they are impractical.

A year is a very long time to measure yourself. It is all too easy to postpone the realization that your resolutions are failing. I resolve this year to instead hold quarterly resolutions. As the old adage goes, what is tracked well is done well.
cheeni: (Default)

Speech recognition on Windows Vista is exceedingly good. My initial attempts with using it were successful but I did not attach much importance to it since I did not see myself using it in day to day life.

I'm not really sure what has changed, but I've been using it all of today for pretty much everything I do on the computer, which includes typing emails, chatting and suchlike.

Consumer acceptance with regards to speech recognition reached a plateau a few years ago when it seemed like it was universally prevalent on most operating systems, but it never took off because accent training was impossibly hard. Vista seems to have cracked the barrier of intuitiveness - -right out of the box it seems to comprehend any normal accent, and seems to interpret words based on the context. This is awfully hard to do and terribly useful if implemented well, as Microsoft has. For one thing, it distinguishes between speech that is meant to be interpreted as text and system commands. The system commands are not rigid, which means you can pretty much use a logical command and expect the system to comprehend. Furthermore, there is a comprehensive set of navigation aids that allow you to use your voice to achieve a remarkable dexterity in navigating the computer. For example, in the above video you will see a demonstration of using the speech recognition to draw a line using MS paint.

Personally speaking, this is the first time for me that speech recognition has extended beyond an interesting plaything to being a useful tool. I can see myself getting by with speech recognition for most chores where I would have needed to use a keyboard. This is really helpful since I have been using a keyboard for a very long time now and I fear carpal tunnel syndrome and RSI as an occupational hazard.

It works well for now with Microsoft products such as Internet explorer and badly with a browser like firefox. This is to be expected for a number of reasons, but I am not going to complain about having to type my letters in notepad and copy them into gmail. This is my first day and the experience is already quite good, I can only imagine that it will improve with further training.

Mac OS X (leopard) has speech recognition for system commands as well, but I can tell you that it isn't half as good as vista. Which is a pity, because I have come to depend upon the Mac for most of my work. Luckily I also have a Vista desktop at work which I hope to capitalize upon. Give it a try! Soon, you will also sound like a robot, just like me :-)

P.S. This post was not composed using a keyboard.
cheeni: (cheeni in Bangalore)
Big Brother is watching you[x-posted to cyberabad]

Hyderabad gets its own version of the eye-in-the-sky, a set of 4 spy cameras, according to this Hindu article.

"The uniqueness of the system is its capability to view images during the night and the face of a person or number of a vehicle as far as six km. The cameras also help to view and record images till a distance of 15 km."

The cameras are pointed at the city from atop a building at the edge of the city and remotely controlled via an IP circuit. Fancy technology indeed, but there is no mention of accountability in all that journalistic prose. As a society we need to grow a healthy distrust of all things "big-brotherish" to remain free and democratic. The lesser we question institutional safeguards, the more the chances become that there will exist none.

The guardians of the law have a duty to keep the city safe, but there is also a question of ensuring that the technology will not be misused. How does this prevent the creation of a very powerful voyeur cam? Are we sanctioning the creation of unlimited copies of camera recordings to be collected and stored? Who will have access to these recordings? Our laws that protect your right to private phone conversations were certainly not created at a time when such fancy technology could be envisaged. Whither are the debates that should drive this decision? There are important questions to be answered before the city plonks down serious cash that could just as well be used to pave the roads on my morning commute to make it a little less worse.

[Update: Popular mechanics has a really nice story on this general phenomenon]


Dec. 19th, 2007 06:26 pm
cheeni: (Default)
Nukamiso - photo credit: Joi ItoMy web discovery of the day is Nukamiso. Many ancient cultures cherish pickled food, but it takes the Japanese to elevate it to the anthropomorphic nuka-chan.

Imagine a fermentation vat that has been "alive" for 50, maybe a 100 years. That's probably the oldest member of any family. As Joi Ito's excellent layman's guide to Nukamiso exposes, it is a demanding pursuit that requires care and dedication, yet it leaves room for sufficient innovation, so much so it's a chemistry experiment in the kitchen over a few decades. Each Nukamiso is supposed to carry the mark of the family that cares for it, supporting the vat with new nuka material.

Yes, it is possible to over complicate and elevate the preparation of food to ridiculous standards, but it's I guess, also the sign of a gourmand.
cheeni: (Default)


After refusing to acknowledge the problem even exited despite countless [Here, here, here and here] users complainin' in forums Apple releases a fix. FWIW, I had filed a bug with Apple too about this.

Apple update screen

cheeni: (cheeni in Bangalore)
This bottle of wine seemed set on denying its pleasures to us from the very start. Remarkably it survived a motorbike ride in a backpack, ineffectual late-night attempts at opening the bottle with a nail scissor in a hotel room and a plane ride in checked-in baggage.

Today seemed like the night it had been waiting for. We had a hot meal of steamed corn and roast vegetables, and "Snakes on the plane" was playing on the tele. Sturdy looking cork screw in hand I managed to coax the bottle into accepting the screw all the way to its final curves. The slippery cork that threatened to slip down into the bottle held. Nice, now for some wine - NOT. The cork screw snapped at the first pull leaving an orphaned screw in the bottleneck.

These situations seem to happen to me once in a while as if to mock my 20 years of formal education. Never fear, a few Google searches followed by a few interesting videos [on sabering champagne (I'm leaving out the links to 10 other videos on the same subject), making a plum cake, breakfast tacos, ginger bread, Puerco Pibil, christmas turkey and cookie dough] later, I realized the wine bottle was still waiting. Some gentle teasing with a nylon noose around the 0.5 inches of screw jutting out managed to get me a hold on the screw with a plier. Pulling vertically didn't help, so one of us held the bottle and the other pulled at the screw and what do you know it worked.

A great evening's work I'd say...

cheeni: (Default)
Too much email

IMO, the problem from a productivity and health and wellness standpoint isn't too much email, but too much of the wrong kind of email. I'd find my email load tolerable if it was only about stuff that I would find immediately useful.

The extremities of the email load bell curve are easily tackled. I can very successfully ignore or attend to the least and most important emails I receive - i.e. email sent to lists I don't care about which I filter and ignore until I hit a slow weekend, or email sent explicitly to me that I tag and read many times a day.

It's the stuff in the middle that I can neither keep up with nor ignore because they are occasionally useful that annoy me the most.

The email that falls in the middle of my bell curve bucket is usually sent to many people, and it would be trivial to apply the social voting concepts made popular by sites like and digg to these emails if everyone used an extensible email client like Gmail.

Thread count is a useful metric on occasion, but also inaccurate when it comes to predicting the importance of an email sent to an announce only list or where there's an email thread that goes on for ever because it's highly interesting to a small subset of the list.

As an aside you'll get email Karma snobbery if your emails are consistently voted as interesting.

Someone at work pointed out that newsgroups have always had scoring features. It's a shame newsgroups aren't used much anymore.

P.S. I get about 1500-2000 emails a day
cheeni: (Default)

[edit: had to fix the video to point to a new location. Original video sounded much nicer, but has been removed for copyright reasons]

Lyrics... )
cheeni: (Default)

This ho-hum video for some unknown reason made it to the all time list of 100 most viewed videos on YT, becoming the first Indian video to do so. It's currently on #91.
cheeni: (Default)
Every time I pick up a canz of mah favright buvrage in India I spended 10 preshuz minutes wiping thez can top of all durt. WTF is wrong with mah peeplz?

Kl33n your 0wn canz, b*tch!

cheeni: (Default)
I've just returned from a weekend of fun, where among other things I walked barefoot on fire - three times. Unlike the sissy here on the world record firewalk, I walked on charcoal, which has a higher calorific value! So what if he walked a few feet more? ;-)


cheeni: (Default)

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