Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aluratek Internet Radio Alarm Clock rocks!

I recently purchased this device from Amazon mostly imagining myself to keep up to date with the news and music from channels other than locally available on FM/AM. Besides the fact that I was in love with the iHome Radio alarm clock which wakes you up to your choice of buzzer, Radio or iPod.

This one beats that, it wakes you up to Internet Radio, FM/AM, Music from USB disc or a simple alarm. As expected it also allows you to use all these options to listen to music. As the photo didn't mention it actually comes with a Remote control.

The setup of the device was pretty straightforward even on a WIFI with security enabled. It did take 2 attempts to get it right but then it immediately showed a impressive list of channels.

First thing I wanted to do was to check Indian news channel, specially seeing people talk about listening to BBC (in Amazon reviews), to my dis-appointment Indian news channels still don't offer internet radio channels, but I could listen to news from BBC or other ones easily.

Next, I was quickly able to get a list of Bollywood channels along with multiple other music channels (Go Locations->Asia->India (the list has about 7-8 channels including Tamil/Telgu music).

As people mentioned on amazon one single issue I can think of with this device is the lack of battery support, but in my extensive review for the products at this price range this one beats all.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Death Valley National Park trip

From Death Valley National Park

On the Thanksgiving long weekend we had a trip to Death Valley National Park (DV). DV is about 8 hours of driving time away from Mountain View, CA. DV turned out to be great. I have been to couple of national parks earlier like Yosemite and Kings Canyon and Sequoia national park, and also few recreation parks like Muir Woods National monument and Point Reyes, but DV seems to have been the best till now.

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

As they say DV is a land of extremes, I have only read about deserts' extreme climate conditions, during this first proper camping experience I felt it. When we reached Death Valley it was about 4:00 PM on Thursday pretty warm, had good sunlight around.then in some time we camped up and by around 5 PM or so things were very different, it got dark, very windy and started getting colder. Within an hour or two I had to put on gloves and head band to feel comfortable outside. Interestingly the second day of the camping we witnessed light showers in the night and early morning.

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

We stayed at the Emigrant site where the camping site we took easily accomdated 2 2-3 ppl camp and a 1 2 ppl camping and still had enough space to park cars around to save ourselves from the winds. The camp-site is about 8 miles from the stove-pipe wells village which had an Okay restaurant and a decent a General store. The Restaurant didn't have any decent Veggie dinner but we could find quick to cook food at the General store which they allowed cooking in their microwave.

Next day we went to points of interest around Furnace Creek which included The Badwater, Zebreikies' point, Natural Bridge, Artists Drive, the 20 mule canyon. All of these places are worth the visit. We missed the Golden canyon trek but had enough trekking at other places like Natural Bridge and at the Artists drive.

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

The next day we went to the Ranger's station at Stovepipe to figure our what was the next thing to try. We decided to head to Scotty's castle direction but not for the castle but the Ubehebe Crator which is an interesting place to visit. Ubehebe crator isn't very big in size compared to ones I have heard of or seen like the Lonar Crator in Maharatra, India.But interestingly this one allows you to go all the way down to the bottom most point as its not being filled with water and has a nicely lade out though a moderately difficult trek. We did see the castle but beside being a pretty one there is nothing much about it.

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

From Death Valley National Park

As planed earlier we left for Las Vegas after that. Vegas is about 3.5 hours away from Death Valley. The return trip from Las Vegas on Sunday of Thankgiving weekend became a painful one taking about 12-13 hours in stead of 7.5 required during normal timing ours.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unhiding KDE applications menubar/toolbar when GUI fails to

Just figured out this by experimentation. If you end up hiding your menubar and toolbar and can't get them back through GUI, you can go edit the applications config file in


for e.g

 [MainWindow Toolbar ToolBar]

Height 1200=1201

Set these values to false and Enabled respectively.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On San Francisco's Public Transport

One of my major complains with Bay Area is about its public transport. I specially realized the problem as I have been renting a car on every time I was visiting but after I moved here the car renting looked too expensive to continue (~900 dollar a month).

I am happy to be have been proven wrong at least about San Francisco's public transport.

Finding the route options
So this morning I had to visit a office in San Francisco at 9:00 AM. I figured out ways of transport using Google Transit and SFMuni. Google Transit works well for figuring out route from point to point. As expected routing involved
1) Walking to Cal train Station
2) CalTrain
3) Bus in San Francisco to destination.

Google Transit takes arrive/depart time as an option and I could figure out the right options without looking at too many time tables.

SFMuni website came in handy however as unlike Caltrain the Muni has multiple alternative routes that you can use depending on how much you are willing to walk with a reasonable 1/2 mile walking option I got quite a few buses to choose from.

The Experience

About the transport itself. Well Caltrain experience didn't start very well as it came about 25 minutes late and they asked us to switch platforms twice, but desptite that the train annoucements were helpful and they suggested that At Palo Alto station we can switch to the fast Mini Bullet Cal Train. Doing so we could easily make up for the delay and we did.

In San Francisco after getting down at Cal Train I could catch a single bus (I didn't follow the routing now as I learnt there were quite a few buses) to reach my destination. More interestingly the 2$ ticket issues was valid for next 4.5 hours, so I could use it for multiple return journeys, Muni train and Muni buses. AFAIK you can travel to almost all parts of the city using these two options.

Cost and Time
Overall I spent just 14$ for the round trip. One small point though, the Caltrains frequency varies from 30 minutes (before 11 AM and after 7 PM) to about 1 hour(11 AM to 7 PM), so your trip can get delayed if not planned well. Also it takes the slow train about 70 minutes from Mountain View Downtown to SF station, the faster (baby bullet) takes just 45 minutes.

Carrying Bikes
Carrying bikes in Caltrain is easy, they have two kinds of coaches offering either 24 or 40 cycle carrying capacity. In both my trips the train has enough space for few more bikes. The caltrain stations have different facilities for parking bikes. In general you can easily carry around your bike in SF and lock it to one of the many on street bike lock stands.

In conclusion, SF's public transport is about as good at other cities I have been too, of course nothing beats a proper metro transport like that in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New Delhi*, but MUNI is SF can get you from one point to other and quite time efficiently.

* Didn't get a chance to explore New Delhi metro much but it looked great though it still doesn't have full coverage.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The London Vacation

London turned out wonderful, I spent about a week of my time in London and I have fallen in love with the city, which I only realized some time later after leaving the city. I so want to go there again.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

The starbucks shops at almost ever 2 blocks - As I walked I would typically take a starbucks Chai tea latte to sip on (When in London, drink Tea) ; the Underground metro train system; the pretty efficient bus system, a spectacular night life which is live till 3 AM and also afterwards on the streets. The splendid British accent spoken English and a great mix of modern and historic architecture, London has just about everything you can want from a city. I explored the city by Tube/Underground and Bus using the oyster pay as u go card. I was arguing with my host, Ankur about San Francisco being equally multicultaral and lively but in retrospect London beats SF in those regards.

From UK Trip October 2009

The first two days were spent relaxing and coming in to the holiday mood. The only significant I and Ankur was going to Trafalgar square to see the "Diwali in London" festival which promised much more than what actually happened and was slightly disappointing and we decided to rather skip it and walk around river Thames all the way to Big Ben.

From UK Trip October 2009

At the middle of day2 I decided to head off to Edinburgh, which is mentioned in a future post.

Day 3: The old city of London Tour
Went around the main tourist attraction taking the New Sandman's Old city tour. Interesting pieces of info from the tour: London bridge isn't as fancy as it seems like, Most of the building however old they look are pretty much just 100-300 years old reconstruction of the original once which seems to have gone down 3-4 times each. Heard stories about Knights templar, specially their banking system. Evening was spent was a Couch surfing meeting at the Irish pub O'neil followed by watching movie "Sin Nombre" in Prince Charles cinema (I totally loved the movie, almost everyone did although it had a slightly tragic ending, well it was not Bollywood movie after all :D)

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

Day 4: Buckingham palace, Westminster Catheral and abbey, Big Ben and Ceilidh dancing

Went around Westminster city, Buckingham palace, Google London office - which to my surprise didn't look very remarkable from outside, however the interior decoration was pretty good and most ideas were based on London theme, Westminster cathedral (Free!), St Paul's, Westminster's abbey, Big Ben. Then took random train journeys to Notting Hill Gate, Ealing Broadway before coming to Camden Town to attend the Ceilidh dancing event at the Cecil's Sharp House on the Friday evening.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

Ceilidh dancing was among the best things I did on the trip. If you are in UK you must try searching for Ceilidh dancing events, quite a few of them happen on the weekends in Scotland as well as London.

Day 5: St. Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Millennium bridge and Tate modern.

Another day of sight seeing, I decided to start by visiting St. Paul's cathedral which besides being famous for its splendidness and history also provides one of the best Panoramic views of the city from the top.
I dedicate the rest of the day to the bridges and walking around them and river Thames. Much as I remember I walked across about 5 bridges including, Tower bridge, London Bridge, Millennium bridge and two others. Also went to see the Tate modern which didn't make much sense to me with all the modern art exhibits but its free entry so you can always give it a shot. In the evening I joined the New Sandman group's Pub crawl during which I met quite a few interesting people many of which became Friends.

From UK Trip October 2009

From UK Trip October 2009

This night I heard one of the funniest thing ever that was at Leicester square, the police caught a guy and while hand cuffing he said "You are arresting me because you are pu**ies", I so wished someone had a camera phone recording it and uploaded it to you tube. People do get crazy after drinking :P

Then my struggle of finding a Bus to home began and I cursed the Underground system for closing down and not being available. Night buses and transport didn't really feel as easy as did day transport and felt quite a challenge to accomplish in some cases because of multiple bus stands at every place offering different bus services and hardly any routing mechanism.

Day 6: The Temple Church, Greenwich and East Ham

This was effectively the last day in London as I had to catch flight next morning. There was quite a lot to see still. I started with a visit to the Temple's church (which is typically close on Sunday but was open this time). The stories and photos within the temple are pretty fascinating as is the architecture of the Church. then I decided to head to Greenwich. I thought it was probably some small place from where the Longitude goes across but it was almost a different suburb of London. It is more like a small town in fact. So I spent about 3-4 hours walking and watching the sights around which included a long round trip walk through the Greenwich tunnel, a walk around river side watching Greenwich university and other buildings from across the river (Thames).

From UK Trip October 2009

Now I wanted to go to see the Meridian and I figured that was in side the Greenwich Public Park, quite a long walk and I just about made it to the observatory but it was closed. Still the longitude is marked outside the observatory for about 100 meters and you can easily get some good photos on the road within the park.

From UK Trip October 2009

My plans to go to Wimbledon didn't work out, as it was already pretty late and the folks I met at the park were going to get some South Indian meal and I decided to tag along. The whole evening from about 6 PM to about 12:30 AM was then spent just for the dinner at Chennai Dosas in East Ham. Reaching East ham on a Sunday evening turned out to be quite tough, as we spent about 2 hours 30 minutes to reach our destinations talking trains and buses and walking quite a lot. It came to me as a surprise that few Underground stations were closed as early as 7 PM on weekends. Anyhow with a combination of few buses, we figured our way out.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The big move experience :)

This comes pretty late but I guess, I can still do justice to the events ...

As many people mentioned I didn't give enough advance notice about my moving to Mountain View, California. Well it was so because of my ever changing plans and some dependency on the receiving of Visa. I was earlier planning to leave by September beginning for a month long vacation and then heading right away to work. Lately decided to not take that long vacation but instead just have a 10 days stopover. So everything got decided at very close timelines and the departure seemed quite sudden.

About the move part, well moving to a different country could be quite challenging, even if you don't have too much to carry with yourself. Here is what ended up being on my todo list, I searched for these on net and didn't find a good resource.

1) Closing Service connections
- Telephone (I had none)
- Mobile (usually straight forward, just pay the bill online and give them a call to close the account)
- Broadband (again, I didn't have to do it, but this one may take time)
Approx 2-3 days

2) Selling your stuff
Stuff which you don't want to keep or gift away. (taking photograhs and sending email to right groups help, some cities you can use craigslit service for this).

3) Moving stuff you can't sell to your parents'/relatives' place
I could really send almost all my stuff to my relative and didn't have to sell anything. This made it simple. I sent a bunch of stuff from Hyd to Pune for about 8 K, which included bike, TV, computer, computer table, cot and materess. Moving stuff domestically typically could take 3-4 days.

4) Bike/Car NOC.
This one is interesting. You need to get a NOC from the RTA in your city/state to be able to transfer vehicle to other state. With a NOC someone can drive it for 1 year without paying the road taxes again.
If you want to change the number to get a local state number, that could be done too, it would need a NOC too (AFAIK). This took me about 10-15 days in Hyderabad though it should be done quicker usually.

5) Address change/update notifications to concerned departments/services.
Best idea is to switch to electronic statements quite some time in advance.

6) Start informing your friends and relatives, can take quite some time to bid byes to people :)

7) Carry proper adaptor for devices you are carrying with yourself.

Thats about it. I think I am forgetting some stuff, will add things later.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What other Consulates should learn from U.K's

This post is about my experience of getting visa from various consulates when I was planning to take a stopover on my trip to US. [1]

I started with a plan to travel to Greece, Spain, Portugal and then couple of cities on the East Europe covering them in about 1 month. So I figured out by specified rules that I should apply to Greece or Spain consulate, as I should apply to country of entry or that of main stay.

I started with Greece, read their rules for application what they demanded:
0) Passport with 6+ months of validity from date of application.
1) confirmed return tickets
2) show of enough funds in your account, bank account statement, credit card statement
3) payslips, Income tax return receipts for last three years
4) letter from your employer showing they believe that you will come back to work with them after this vacation
5) Hotel reservations for the whole of the trip.
6) Medical insurance for the cost of the say

So you need to get your return tickets to get the visa, how the hell can u book tickets when you don't know you are going to travel. The cheapest tickets are the non-refundable ones so you can't buy them or you have to buy ones with the least cancellation charges.

I got mine from Emirates and then applied, turned out that Swine flu scare was on the go and I decided to wait/change my travel plans. So guess what I had to get my passport back so that they don't get me a visa with restricted dates.

Once I had my travel plans getting more finalized with reduced number of vacations days, I figured out I would probably get Spanish visa as that was still the main destination though Greece fell out of the plan and the new plan was Hyd-Zurich-Spain-Portugal-Budepest etc-Franfurt-SFO. So I applied to Spanish Embassy.

Their list of documents included all of above plus:
7) A statement from bank with "Stamp and signature on each page"
8) A letter from ban describing your relation with the bank
9) Show of enough means of stay (~ 120 USD) per day (apart from everything else you already showed)
10) Complete itinerary for the whole duration of the trip.

I was able to get the 6 with some effort by visiting Citibank office in Hyderabad but 7) looked like something that would take about 4 days to arrive and as I was running out of time to get the visa I asked them to see if they can process the visa with already enough proof of my "eligibility to spend time in Spain".
The VFS for Spain came back saying they would need about 21 working days to process my application. This just ruined all my changes of traveling, All I could do was to get my passport back from them and just head straight to US without any stopover. All this despite I had about 21 days of vacations to use and about 10 days buffer to get a visa.

All this exercise I had to trouble my company HR a lot get letter to the embassies, book tickets with 5000 INR cancellation fees, book hotels/hostels and additionally for step 9 I got my Eurorail pass with cancellation fees of 15%.

Luckily, some friends of mine who have applied to British Highcommision for visa told me how quick and friendly their process was. I figure out the British Consulate needed just these documents
1) Travel itinerary (no confirmed tickets, just rough plan)
2) Payslips with company stamps and sign
3) Coverring letter from HR and from self.
4) Bank Statement, proof of accomodation etc. was all optional

And the process was more staightforward, just fill a form(quite big and detailed one though), go to the local office in Hyderabad with your application and then in some time you get your Passport back by post.

More interesting they had an estimate of how much time applications take to resolve on their website, it showed all the applications would resolve in 10 working days with 70-80% getting resolved in 5 working days. This definitely is a great thing. And it turns out that my application was processed and returned in 5 working days with a visa valid for 6 months and no strict entry /exit dates. More so when the application is being process you get regular SMS notifications about the status of your application.

I simply loved the whole process and I would definitely recommend ppl trying for transits without pain to try U.K embassy.

[1] To give some details for reader who read this post randomly, I am an Indian Citizen, who had already traveled to Europe (Schengen visa) once, traveled 3-4 times to US already with a long duration business visa (seemingly U.K visa get processed fast if you had USA stamps already).

As another peice of advise I came to know, applying to Spanish embassy is a very bad idea, applying to Dutch, French or Germany consulate is better in that order (My experience with French consulate was also pretty positive)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Edinburgh trip.

Once I figured out I was in UK for 11 days, I was sure to visit Edinburgh, for no reasons but the movie "Breavheart" and another documentary about Scotland's castles on Discovery channel. I did realize though that I have heard of this city for some big political/games event, but that was unimportant :)

People whom I have talked to about visiting Edinburgh suggested spending about 1 or 1.5 days as the "city doesn't have much to see". Based on my previous experience of visiting Italy's city without plan and spending all the time there, I decided to keep this one unplanned too. I was happy with the decision. Thought tickets cost may rise because of the last minute booking, you wouldn't want to rush your journey through such a city.

After spending the weekend in London and figuring out that most activities would be on weekend, I decided to head to Edinburgh sooner and return back to London before the next weekend. For the lack of planning/researching about how to travel my host Ankur's presence really helped. I was in the wrong impression that the trains are the cheapest way to travel but it soon turned out that the National Express buses (and others like MegaBus) have very competitive pricing compared to the train and the difference specially goes high for last minute/last day tickets.

My train ticket to Edinburgh would be costing be about 100-120 Pounds for same day/next day travel while the bus ticket for National Express came for 20-30 pounds for next day/same day travel.

So I took a bus for Scotland from Victoria Coach station. The coach worked out fine, it has WC and it doesn't keep running continuously for 8 hrs, it had stop overs may be 3-4 of them.
As experienced travelers suggest, you can use the lockers at the bus stations for day trips and avoid hotels cost if you don't realy need to stay overnight. The public toilets are the bus stations are pretty well maintained and could be used to freshen-up etc.

Since I had already booked the Caledonian hostel for the day I went ahead and checked in and made it to the free city tour in the morning. Like all of new Sandman's free tour this one was totally worth the time and very informative, I came to know abt things like: Church, hanging, Lake of poo, Edinburgh's castles, various nice stories about ppl including that about locksmith guy. The story about the quite a few murders for selling dead bodies for examination. (I am yet to read about these stories in details from somewhere). Then there were interesting stories about the Stone of Destiny as well as that about the spitting spot of Edinburgh and the statue of the King Henry 2.

In the evening I took the New Sandman's Ghost tour of Edinburgh (not free but worth it).
We visited cementaries and went up the carlton hill, heard stories about ferries, half man and red hat about suicides on the North Bridge and vampires, hannibals and witches.
Along the tour some of us traveling alone grouped together and then we had fun at the bar which the tour ends at with a complementary drink. The bar called the Bank Hotel had a lively scottish band playing some nice music. The pub was to be closed at 12 but the group was having so much fun that we decided to head to a club down the road. This place had awesome music and drinks they served vodka, whishkey, Rum for 1£ a peg. Now thats why hostelers(budget travelers) love Edinburgh more than London :)

The next day I went to Edinburgh castle. The castle is pretty big and its better to take their guided tours which are included in the entry ticket. The castle provides amazing views of the city and surrounding and the galleries are very interesting too. I specially like the one dedicated to the war heroes(National War Meuseum and Royal Scotts Regimental Meuseum). The Prisoners of War Exhibition is also a must see. On the other hand after hearing all the talk about the 3 symbols of Scottish Nationhood The sword, the crown and the Stone their gallery didn't really look that great.

It was already pretty late by the time I came out of the meuseum leaving little time to do anything else. I decided to take a walk on the Royal Mile and discovering whatever came on the way. At one of the food shops I tried the "deep friend Mars" which was yummy.
On the very end of the Royal Mile I reached the Scottish Parliament, which is open to public. The Parliaments intererior design looks like a complicated mess but that just me, somewhere I read "its a mix of modern and old architecture", what do I know about that ?

By this time I had decided to stay over for one more day. The next day I went to Leith which is an ancient port city next to Edinburgh (or part of it). I went all the way to Ocean terminal thinking it was a place with a beach or something, turned out it was a mall. Nevertheless the mall had amazing view of the sea. I enjoyed sipping tea and enjoying that scenic view from the Ocien View restaurant.

Later I walked around in Leith using the "Discover Leith Map" which pointed out points of interest. The Pilrig church is a very interesting one amongst others as in this Church you won't notice any statue of Jesus or Mary or angels, but just prayer seats much like Bahai temple in Delhi. The other points of interest include the Victoria bridge and Rennei's Isle. As the photos suggest this is one of most beautiful places I have been to.

With the remaining time I decided to visit the Cramond beach. (Yeah, I am obsessed with beaches). It was very cold and there fore almost no-one was on the beach. Also the beach isn't that famous and active. The tides are pretty low but interestingly there is an island connected to the beach by a walk through which I was not lucky enought to cross. The island path is open for few hours a day and you can walk to it rather than going though water. A strange thing I noticed was that the moon looked extra huge (only prettier) from here.

Just before leaving I decided to give my shot to meet the local CSers at their mid week meeting at Victoria's pub. I realized quickly that it was the first time I was talking to the locals in Scotland.

I have great memories of this place and still quite a bit left to discover in Edinburgh itself leave aside the whole of Scotland. It turns out that going further north in to the highlands gives you some of the most amazing views of nature. A definite must do next time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hyderabad Half Marathon: My first Half Marathon experience

Hyderabad Full and Half Marathon were organized on the last Sunday (30th August, 2009) by Hyderabad 10K foundation. It was the first time I tried running in a marathon and I felt great after finishing. Nitin also accompanied me for the same.

If you are looking for motivation note that, this is the first time I ever tried running more than 10 KM (that too was 2 years back) and usually I just run about 5-6 KM on treadmill in one session (30-40 minutes).

The half marathon started on time at 5:30 AM at KBR park and following a long route of 21.1 KM concluded at the Gachibowli stadium. The full one has extra forks from the same route.

Met quite a few IIITian including Balu, Sesh and Naman and a few Googlers.

Experiences :
It was quite easy to run the first 7 KMs with almost minimal breaks and continuous running/jogging. After this point I started talking water more regularly almost once every 1 or 2 KM and eating Glucose buscuits (Parle G), Banana peices or Sugar cubes.

The weather was pretty good for most times but started getting hotter towards the end. I noted that I was doing good in speed as per my targets, completed 10 KM in about an hour, then 18 in 2 hrs.

At about 17 KM I thought of taking some rest and walking instead of running but soon figured out it was getting to hard and decided to run slowly again instead of walking, basically the muscle around knee were hurting more on walking or may be I wanted to keep my target of finishing in 2:15.

Ultimately I completed in about 2:20. I figured that the professional's best timing was 1:03 and amateurs was 1:35.

Seeing many ppl around doing it and also been told so I did stretch quite a bit after finishing. It turns out that you should definitely stretch within 30 minutes after finishing.

After effects of the Marathon/Recovery:
1) I didn't quite collapse as I did after sprinting 2.5 KM earlier during the year. May be the slow pace which is usual to treadmill practice helped.
2) After some time I observed quite severe headache. Turns out many ppl feel so. It got much better after taking good amount of rest read 6-7 hrs.
3) As suggested I did follow good Hyderation measures drinking lots of water. As it turns out you should eat well, drink(non-alcohol :)) and rest well.
4) It turns out that by the end of the day I was walking pretty comfortably and by day 2 end (today) I am pretty much normal barring the pain the calf musceles.

Here is Balu's post about the same:

I am pretty satisfied with my experience and performance in this half marathon. Today I came to know of Half Iron man competition. I am looking forward to training myself for the same and participating in it.