Thursday, October 16, 2014

End of Eternity- Book review

All these years’ time travel looked like a ludicrous topic and any novel based on this was promptly shunned by me. It was only last month that I chanced upon a blog by a Bangalore based writer, wherein he had put out a list of his favourite sci-fi novels, judging that the writer had more literary common sense than me, I decided to  give the first novel in the list a shot. The novel was End of eternity by Isaac Asimov.
Asimov is a name very well-known and the reason for his being so famous came across while reading the book. Creating a world well into the future seems to be a task as difficult as walking on the edge of a blade, every sci-fi writer is an inventor in his own way. Foresight into possible technology developments and the ways in which it will influence the society keeping into account the sensibilities of the readers is an unenviable job. Asimov manages to maintain this fine balance with flying colours.
Harlan is an Eternal, the group which controls trade between different centuries as well as affect any changes in reality if bad things happen. Thus the Eternals try to weed out catastrophes such as wars and other disasters by going back in time and rooting out the cause. Harlan is a hard core Eternal and Eternals are not allowed female company, in fact the Eternals are solely comprised of male population pulled from different centuries. As is bound to happen, Harlan falls in love with a beautiful dame when he is on a mission (Seems like Salman’s Ek tha tiger has some reverberation with the story hereJ). The love blossoms and Harlan starts breaking the rules of the Eternity one by one. In spite of the fact that his misdemeanour could jeopardise the existence of eternity he continuous in his quest to save his love. Where will Harlan’s love lead him to and whether Eternity manage to save itself from the madness wreaked by its rules forms the crux of the novel. 
Time travel through more than one lakh centuries (the number made my eye to pop out, luckily the sockets were strong J) and questions on evolution of mankind based on past actions, whether it be good or bad raises some thought provoking questions. Overall, even though the novel is completely fictional, it is a very cerebral work and I would recommend it to a general audience as well and not just restrict it to sci-fi bozos.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

US Visa and all that jazz

Flicking the slowly forming beads of sweat, I looked at the crowd. Like it usually happens in a Bangalore traffic jam, people were shouldering each other to be at the front. I was not expecting this dance of democracy after having obtained an appointment, but here I was, standing on the street outside the embassy with my bowl. My backpack was stacked with piles of proof regarding my antecedents accompanied with a furrowed brow, hoping against hope that I had not missed anything.
After about an hour of jostling in the crowd, I figured out the reason for the swelling crowd, people who had appointments much later in the day, in their enthusiasm to see the holy shrine had queued up earlier. Seeing the situation going out of hand, a security guard came around shouting out the time of the current appointment, suddenly the waves parted to the sides and like Moses I moved ahead smiling. Another security guard checked my appointment document before letting me in through the temporary barricade erected on the footpath. My sense of relief of having made it through a hurdle was soon dampened with the second queue I was confronted with.
After a wait of 20 minutes, the queue started to move slowly, after a series of pat down’s, I was finally into the den. The den had an array of glass windows with Americans safely enscounded behind them. I was ushered into a line by the visa facilitation guy(vf#), surprisingly these guys called one another as visa facilitators as if calling names would compromise their security. Others ahead in the queue had a smooth sailing with their finger prints scanned at the end of it. When my turn came, the American just kept tapping at his keyboard, after a couple of minutes, with my heart in a state of fight or flight mode, The American nodded at the vf1. Vf1 promptly scratched a number on my card and directed me to another counter, when I asked why my finger print was not taken, I got a curt reply “you will have to come back here”. I was now perspiring, my US dream however small it was, was now quickly fading away. In the other queue, an Indian was diligently tapping away at the computer, when I presented my Passport, he wrote an number at the top of the slip and I was back again at the original queue. This time, the guy didn’t nod his head and finally took my finger print.
I lumbered back and took a seat waiting for the next interview. A local businessman was trying desperately to make sense of the American accented English questions in one of the counters, finally the exasperated American shouted out at the Businessman for more clarity and finding it not forthcoming, the meeting  ended  with businessman being shown the door. In another counter, a college aspirant was happily chatting away until it was noticed that he had dropped his passport in water, he was promptly booted out. One more aspirant had an unknown destination written down in his form which his agent had filled in for him, In the interview he was diffidently mentioning a different destination, finally he was also shown the door. All in all, a significant rate of aspirants were booted out from their America dreams.

Finally my turn came, suddenly I had a deja-vu effect, my lab viva exams during my Engineering days flashed through my mind. The guy with a bald head, looked menancingly like my viva teacher, Luckily it was a false alram and without any hard questions, things moved smoothly and I was out within 5 minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Transfer of ownership for four wheeler in Bangalore RTO

I transferred my company leased vehicle (CLV) that I was using to my name after the expiry of the lease period. Since the Car was originally registered with Electronic city RTO and I live under the jurisdiction of Jayanagar RTO, I had to get a clearance certificate from the former. My company had provided me with all the required documents. The documents required to obtain the clearance certificate are as follows, I guess it is possible to download and take a printout of these documents and get it signed from the original owner.
Form No 33, RC Card, Insurance, Emission Certificate, No objection letter if car is on Lease from company, Address proof
I went to the Electronic city RTO and encountered a very friendly lady who was sitting at the front desk. She asked me what I wanted and when I informed that I wanted to get the ownership transferred, she asked me to give her the documents. Quickly she stacked up the documents in some order and asked me to go to the cash counter and pay an amount of 135 rupees, I went to the cash counter and got the receipt, once back, the lady directed me to get a self-addressed envelope with 17 rupees postage stamp affixed to it. She indicated that the envelope could be obtained from a shop outside the RTO building. Following her directions I saw a shop selling the envelopes. The guy charged me 30 rupees for the envelope and I paid it grudgingly. Once back, I was directed to another lady sitting in the same counter at the front desk, she again checked the details and gave me the acknowledgement for having taken the documents. It hardly took me 45 minutes to get the job done.
I received the clearance certificate along with the old RC card in 25 days from the date of submission.
Now I prepared the second set of documentation, which I had to submit at the Jayanagar RTO. The document list is as follows
Form No 29, Form No 30 ( In case of Leave vehicles), RC Card, Insurance, Emission certificate, Address Proof, PAN card copy, Clearance certificate from previous RTO.
At the Jayanagar RTO, the going was slightly difficult as the front desk person was not very forth coming in giving directions. She indicated to a group of desks at a corner and I had to double check with a couple of RTO employees before finding the right person. The lady here, took her time in examining the documents, she then directed me to pay an amount of 300 rupees at the cash counter. After waiting in the cash queue for 10 minutes, as I was about to pay the cash, the guy in the cash counter gave back the documents and asked me to get the data entered and indicated to an old guy sitting in the far corner. I went to him and he in turn directed me to a young lady to get a number, by the time I was back to the old guy there was another guy getting his data entered. The other guy’s data entry took 15 minutes as he was transferring his vehicle from Jharkhand. My data entry took around 10 minutes and finally I managed to pay the cash after standing in the queue.  Thinking that I was now almost done, I went back to the first lady, looking at the receipt she asked me to get a self-addressed envelope with 12 rupees postage stamp and also directed me to get the documents verified by the Assistant RTO officer. I went out of the building and found a guy selling the envelopes for 25 rupees. After forking out the change, I went and stood in a queue outside the ARTO chamber, my turn came in 5 minutes, after a cursory glance of the documents he signed it and gave it back to me. Finally the front desk lady took all the documents and gave me an acknowledgement. It took close to 2 hours to get the process done. Since I had gone on a Saturday at 10 in the morning, I was done by 12 and it so happens that the RTO cash counter also closes at 12, so it is always good to reach the place when it opens up.
Even in Jayanagar nobody demanded bribes and if you are proactive in asking what to do next, they usually wave their hands to the right person. I finally felt as if the dense cob web of bureaucracy was opening out to the common man to get his work done without much of a problem.

I received the RC card with my name printed on it after about a month.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

No Easy day – Mark Owen

It is a grim life interspersed with adrenaline pumping action for the Navy SEALs whereas for normal mortals like me it is a grim life interspersed with adrenaline pumping action when I try to cross the Outer ring road in Bangalore on foot. Facts apartJ, Hunting down the most wanted guy in the world is no easy job and the book gives a first-hand account from the SEAL who shot him down or rather pumped bullets into an already dying fellow (I wouldn't grudge it though, some guys are better dead than alive). If you have seen the movie “Zero dark thirty “then you have seen it all. In fact the movie manages to give a good account of the whole tracking process of Osama bin laden, whereas this book laps over the five year tracking process in a single paragraph.
 The first half of the book tries a hand at giving an erudite description of the hard and lonely struggle that a Navy SEAL would have to put himself through. This part has more personal anecdotes than any significant information about the training process. Maybe Hrithik in the movie Lakshya managed more sighs in this aspect from the viewers. However, some parts do manage to shed some light on how the rigorous process takes a toll on the personal life of the SEAL’s.
DEVGURU is the group comprised of the best of the best SEAL’s.  The author being part of it is suddenly called back from his vacation to take part in an important mission (In my line of work, it can mean only one thing, the firing squad is ready). Detailed description of the three weeks training process with a mock setup of the target building to the actual mission is well elucidated. The mission ends with Osama reduced to a body bag and flown back to the base with the tired SEAL’s seating on him for comfort. Being a high profile target, the tension experienced in the mission even for SEALs who had undertaken tens of such missions before is understandable.

Finally, it is every nation’s dream to have a military force that can undertake such an operation in the enemy territory. But after reading the book, I got a glimpse of the human side of such a military force. Maybe the movie failed to capture this facet while the book managed it well (But still go for the movie J)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: The Winds of Hastinapur (by Sharath Komarraju)

The clan of kurus ruled in the northern parts of India for centuries together. The high point of the dynasty came during the story of Mahabharatha. Mahabharatha has always been about the Pandavas, the Kauravas and Krishna. Even among Pandavas, prominence is given to Arjuna and Bheema. It is quite possible that this looming towering characters overshadow the different viewpoint or stories of the lesser characters especially the women. The epic started rolling with Shantanu, when he first wed Ganga and then later Satyavati. Bheeshma with his unthinkable vow steals the show during this period of the epic. The extent of loss faced by Bheeshma can be easily felt by the reader but the gains and loss of the other protagonists like Ganga and Satyavati hardly comes to the fore in the original Mahabharatha.  The book titled Winds of Hastinapur effectively brings out the emotional travails faced by the wives of Shantanu using a brilliant narration.
 Jhanavi is the daughter of Ganga who is set to take over from her mother the duties of a river maiden. Residing on mount Meru, life is pretty peaceful. The Ashta vasu’s who being cursed by vashista require the help of a divine maiden to be born on earth and fulfill their penance. Ganga (the daughter) is chosen and she decends on earth to wed Shantanu. The mysterious ways of the Meru people, their life and beliefs is well brought out in the book. The mysterious Crystal lake adds to the suspense in the first half. Most of the story is well thought out and creatively written. On the flip side, some aspects relating to the trinity seemed quite unnecessary to me, it looked like a forced addition to sew in most of the mythology into a logical coop. But since the book makes only passing references to it, it does not deviate too much from the original story.
For me the enjoyable part comes in the second half, when the dark and sensuous Satyavati discovers herself. A forelorn recluse whom nobody even cares to even give a second look due to her fish like smell, transforms herself after she encounters the sage Parashara. The divine gift of smell was conferred on her by the sage in return for her virginity.  The book weaves Satyavati’s tale with a glitter of colors. The emotional turmoil, her desires and the final feeling of helplessness is well brought out in a griping narration.

The book is a refreshing take on the initial stories of the epic through the eyes of the two women protagonists. Finally,  the vividly described scene of  Satyavati lying alone in her boat drifting on the waters of Yamuna, gazing at the stars and trying to find the fish constellation, will instantly relate to everybody’s own inner search.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Growing up with mathematics

During my childhood, the honour of the most hated subject by far would have gone to Mathematics. I might have stood probably a hundred times in front of my father for learning the intricacies of the subject, standing was essential to prevent the consequences of my stupid muddled brain. With exams on the morrow, none of nocturnal visits had turned out pleasant to me. A boxed ear and a red bum were the bare minimum results of these necessary excursions. My father after a tiring days’ work, would have preferred to have his piping hot tea in front of doordarshan rather than end up as the tutor of the makeshift tuition. Mother forced these meet-ups on both of us and thus my father had no choice but to become my examiner before the actual exams. Given that, I did my own thing in the exams, I’m surprised how I usually ended up doing it decently. Considered to be the decent bum in school, my repertoire of curses and swear words were limited, thus mathematics managed to save itself from my insistent assault on its roots.
A score of 40 out of 100 in mathematics during my fourth grade brought out loud lamenting gasps from my parents. I had just managed to scrape through and it was also probably the day, when their hidden dreams of seeing me as a big bombing scientist ended.  But, it was also a day of liberation for me, since the dreamy stars were now absent in my parents eyes. I jumped around carefree with joy. The red bum and the boxed ears still made their presence now and then, but I was free now or rather I had a smaller chain of expectation tied around me compared to the heavy clunking metal which I used to lug around before this incident.
It took a beautiful geometry teacher to finally pull me into the whirlpool of mathematics during high school. The classes were now pleasant, the curses were gone. Soft brain petals started crashing on the hard rock faces of mathematics. Asking intelligent doubts inside and after class had become essential. Temporarily there was total malfunction and I scored lesser in the following exams than what I would have normally scored by mugging the whole set of sums. Before things started to take a nasty turn, the teacher left and was promptly replaced by a dour grunting male.  The soft brain petals chose to stay at home and the hard rock faces were left unbothered for years together.
Pre-university was the phase wherein I had mastered the art of solving problems blindly. My soft spoken mathematics tuition tutor made his class solve a barrage of problems in his two hour class every day. With such practise even the dumbest fellows get a hang of the subject and so was the case with me. Every sub topic had a fixed set of different kinds of problems, once I became aware of that fact, the going became easy. With such coaching going on, I decided not to attend the college maths class completely. Our college teacher, a giant of a fellow seeing his class dwindle down from 3 digits to single digits must have taken offence, after the exam results were out, he caught me on a by-lane near my home. Being sure that I might have flunked in mathematics, he took a very aggressive tone and started giving me advice on the need to attend classes. He didn’t know that the ace was up my sleeve. When I finally revealed it, he looked like a chicken caught under headlights. Quickly he simmered down and went back to his previous mode and demanded where I had lost the six marks (score was 94 out of 100), I rolled over my eyes, probably he might have given Kejriwal a run for his money today.
Engineering finally started to bring out the soft brain petals from their cosy spots. This time it was more of an internal drive than an external stimulationJ.  Looking at signals and their behaviours through the eyes of mathematics was probably my first aha moment in mathematics. The soft petals began their painful journey from hard to soft.  Endless hours in library to grapple simple integration over the sine wave and what not and as expected, my score bombed in that subject. Half of my time during that semester was spent on this subject. But, more than the score, it was that momentary joy of having understood something very intricate using mathematics, pulled me towards it. I tried to bring in my intuitive interpretations to the equations, many times I failed but there were few times where I really felt satisfied.

When I read technical papers and see a bunch of equations, the first response is that of fleeing. The fight part of the brain requires some time to wake up and override the flee response.  The grind then begins. Many of these grinds have shown how much an important role mathematics place in explaining phenomenon that is hard to explain intuitively. Looking back, it feels funny that such an important subject is taught in schools with so much apathy. Even the teachers don’t seem to have an idea on the end goal of mathematics. Even now, probably due to my long standing hatred, mathematics doesn’t sit easily inside my head. It looks around as if it is an unwelcome guest, but I have now closed all the doors tightly to make it stay there and give myself a better chance in wooing it. It is too important a guest to let go and I hope one day it will feel at home.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Start-ups & Products

Evolution is probably one of the most profound theories that one can see working in many spheres of life. The theory of natural selection bestows on the most adaptable, the crown of survival in a continuously changing environment.  In the technology industry many start-ups have come and gone and there are many more that will spring up in the future. In the garden of continuously changing environment of consumer’s tastes and preferences, seedlings spring up every now and then. Whether the seedlings manage to grow up into big trees having many branches or wilt under the changing tides is governed by the cycles of time. A vibrant start-up ecosystem will ensure that the technology garden is always ripe with fruits. The best possible idea among the many alternatives will emerge if the idea in its various forms germinates at the level of a startup. A big company pushing for a new product idea will muscle itself through to the consumers hand, who in turn will end up with a substandard product. Finally due to the network effect, the startup’s with good potential products are side-lined into oblivion.
As part of my daily readings of a couple of tech blogs, I thought of sharing some interesting product ideas from start-ups that was in news in the last month. I hope to put this up periodically probably for my own reference.

          Cube Sensors:

I liked the idea of having multiple sensors spread out at different locations in your home. Indirectly you have a spy in every room of your house if you want one. Connected seamlessly with your personal electronic device, these sensors can keep you updated instantaneously. This little things probably will revolutionize the way we see our homes if compelling use cases are found.

           Self-cleaning dishes:

Doing the dishes always sucks. I don’t remember any particular day where I really enjoyed doing it. If the dish has been let out to dry then you end up pulling out the skin from your hand along with stuck gruel. This amazing company is developing dishes which will not allow anything to stick to it. So just pour some water to shake of the whole muck and you end up with sparkling clean plates.

3D keys:        

This one in the outset may not look revolutionary. The option of printing your keys in 3D printer kiosks. Also I’m not so sure how will the business model will work, but they seem to be crazy enough to bring the 3D printer technology into the purview of the normal consumers.

Blood vessel 3D printing

Maybe a couple of centuries back people would have thought flying in the air is a crazy idea. A couple of days back, I would have said printing human organs is a totally outlandish dream. But a start-up in Japan is actually going out for trials of its bio printer which can print arteries of the heart. Soon, that long wait for the replacement body part faced by patients in hospitals will be a footnote in the book of history.

June: the wearable

This one is not coming from a startup and probably that is why the utility factor is looking totally doubtful. A gem of a band will tell you how much sun exposure you have had. At least I don’t see women falling for it unless the gem is actually worth it. 

Friday, January 3, 2014


Probably it is one of the most visited tourist places in India, so my eulogy of the place is one more drop in the huge ocean. In the dust and sands, we had a glorious history of kings and their life long gone and this trip was essentially an experience of reliving the past. The history lessons long forgotten made some comeback here and there. The guides were story tellers in their own right and every ruin, every palace needed their expert skill to make themselves appealing to the visitors.

 I and my wife went on this trip organised by Nirmala travels in the beginning of last year. The whole trip lasted more than two weeks. So we had our fill of sands and forts by the end of it.
The first place that we visited was the royal city of Udaipur. Flanked with hills in all directions, in the mornings it looked as if the misty mountains were not far away.
The most visible symbol of Udaipur is the palace which is built on a hillock. You can see sturdy trees on the top floor of the palace, the reason being the palace has been built around the hillock thus allowing for the soil to reach the top. The soul of the city mainly revolves around the exploits of Maharana Pratap, the memorial at Haldighati, the place of his fierce battle with raja maan singh and the memorial place for his Chetak horse on a small hillock near the big lakes of Udaipur are a proof of this. At the end of two days of sightseeing, I ended up eating hot pakoras and drank masala chai in the shopping hub of the city, with all shops closed for Sunday, I felt happy and my wife bewildered.

Chetak Ghoda memorial

Udaipur Palace
After Udaipur we visited Chittorgarh, the mighty fort situated on the top of the hill. The circumference of the fort is around thirteen kms and it contains in its belly history like no other place. From tales of Meera bhai to Rani Padmini, to the amorous Alaudin khilji and the brutal destruction caused due to Akbar’s attack on the fort, the whole place has a historic halo to it. The place looks sacrosanct and full of those past life that people had lived and sacrificed at its gates. You get an eerie feeling as you visit the jauhar sites where the women in the fort had immolated themselves whenever the fort was about to fall into the hands of the enemies. This had happened three times in the history of the fort.
Inside Chittorgarh Fort

Vijay stamb- Inside Chittorgarh fort

The next stop was Pushkar, the place with the only brahma temple. The climate had deteriorated to almost zero degrees and getting up in the freezing cold was an effort in itself.  Deciding against taking a dip in the holy lake in the freezing cold, we just sat on the banks enjoying the cold breeze. It is said that the lake is the symbol of brahma and the temple per se, doesn’t have much significance.
Pushkar Lake
Jaipur, the city of the Marwari’s has again a rich tradition of rulers, with raja Maan singh being the most famous of them. Having accepted the Mughal overlordship over them, the Jaipuri’s had rarely faced any external dangers. Jaipur has a mix of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture in the buildings. The fort and the palace were impressive but it didn’t look as glamorous as the Udaipur palace. Jantar Mantar which is next to the city palace is a must visit site. Built in the 1700’s by Raja Jai singh, it is a place to be explored at leisure. The various instruments used to determine the accurate time and time of the year etc. makes you a wonder eyed kid looking at some magic happening. The Amer palace and the Jaigarh fort were pretty nice but the eye candy of the day was the giant canon which is on top of the Jaigarh fort. The canon has a range of 35 kms and it was used only once during its test fire. At the end of the city’s visit we had an evening free for shopping, I guess the normal tourists are royally screwed in these places. It is best to start bargain from say 20% of what the seller demands and be an obstinate buyer
Jal Mahal in Jaipur

The Big Canon

Amer fort- Royal Garden

Jantar Mantar
The next location was Bikaner, the place famous for its bujias. Closer to the desert area, Bikaner looked the driest place till now. The fort at the city center was nice, but by now since we had covered a pretty good amount of forts and palaces, there was nothing drastically new here. After the fort visit, we went to the Karni mata mandir. This place is an experience in itself. Thousands of rats scurrying in all directions. I mistakenly stepped on a couple of them, to pull my leg up instantly after feeling the furry touch. According to the local belief, the people who die in the town take birth as rats in the temple.

Bikaner Palace-Walls adorned with Gold

Karni mata mandir- where rats rule
Jaisalmer brought us next to the desert. Dusty and in a way quite sleepy, Jaisalmer seems to transport you back in time. Camels rule the roost in this place. One of the interesting places to visit here is the Patwaon-ki-haveli or the houses of the diamond merchants. Apparently lot of diamond trade happened in the bygone days at this place. The multi storeyed building gives a glimpse of the life of the rich in the times of the kings.
The vast expanse of the desert was finally in front of us. Sitting on the sand and watching the sun set on the sand dunes was quite a rich experience but almost all the tourists in Jaisalmer seemed to be present at the same place, diluting the richness to an extent. The camel ride was also fun, but considering the fact that only an 8 year old boy was guiding the camel, I was twitching in my seat whenever the camel grunted.
Gadisar lake

On the Thar - With the ship of the desert
Jodhpur the blue city has a majestic fort that looms over the city. Apparently some scenes of the movie Dark knight rises was shot in and around this fort including the famous pit scene. The fort is quite huge and the view of the city from the top is breathtaking.
Jodhpur Fort

Jodhpur Fort
The trip was rounded off by our visit to the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu. The Dilwara jain temples are majestic. The intricate carvings on the rocks requires time for the visitors to observe and see. It is unfortunate that photography is not allowed inside the temple complex.  Mount Abu is also a shopping haven for the ladies. Trinkets like earrings, bangles are pretty cheap if you bargain well.
Overall it was a nice trip. Having covered a significant portion of Rajasthan, there was lot to see, enjoy and experience. The experience with Nirmala travels was ok. Food was excellent as the cooks travelled with us and prepared nice south Indian food throughout the tour. Accomodation varied from very good to pretty poor. At least in a couple of places it was wonderful, average in around four places and pretty worse in a couple of places so much so that I had to get the sheets changed and in another place had to fight for a room change. The travel was done in a Rajahamsa kind of bus, whereas I was expecting an A/c bus, the younger people get to warm the last seats of the bus. So if you are not at least above 50, you are screwed. Lot of places were covered in the two weeks, probably it would have been impossible to cover so much if you travel on your own. In conclusion no more such travels for me in the future till I turn 60. I would rather spend double the money on a week long trip.
I would say we enjoyed Rajasthan a lot, it is mostly a history lesson that plays before your eyes. The sand filled forts and the run down relics look like the fast fading remnants of the glorious past that the place had seen.