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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book Review: Zero percentile by Neeraj Chhibba

Recently finished reading Neeraj Chhibba’s Zero Percentile, an interesting book that details Russian culture and author’s experience learning engineering in Russia. Zero percentile is about an IIT aspirant who misses writing IIT-JEE due to a road accident and gets an opportunity to do his graduation in Russia, his experiences and explorations in Russia during his engineering studies there. (This is summed up by the tag-line-Missed IIT, Kissed Russia)

Book starts with lead character (Pankaj) ’s narration of his birth, his family, childhood days, education and so on. Though narration was good, it got boring after a while and I jumped directly to last few pages of the book, wherein Pankaj tries to convince his Russian friend Sveta to come to India with him. With that, I thought for a moment that this book has nothing interesting and kept it aside for a while and got busy with other work.

However during my recent travel I opened it up again, started reading where I’d abandoned in the middle. Book started getting interesting with Pankaj’s IIT-JEE prep plans, his tie up with senior and junior sirs in running JEE training institute, unfortunate accident and so on. Suddenly Pankaj gets an invite to do his engineering in Russia and from there readers get to feel what it is to go to an unknown country with unknown language for studies (and more importantly study the Russian language first and then study engineering in Russian language)

Just like CB’s Five point someone, here also book explains how students gave more importance to have a fun filled life than focusing on studies. Pressures back home, urge to study well but hurdles and distractions on the path, challenges and opportunities that came their way when Russian economy started opening up and Asian businessmen ventured into Russia with help from Asian students there all these aspects give good insight about Russia, something most of us would have never known otherwise.

I don’t have any complaints or remarks against the book, though I felt initial 50 pages could have been summed up little faster to take the reading to the core of the book (life in Russia). But then, good introduction and background is also essential for better understanding, so can’t really complain. Story is well weaved with no loose threads. Revolves fully around life of Pankaj around his family, school friends, hostel room mates and others. Also connects well with Sikh Riots, World wars and other facts. We all can take home some real life practical tips from various circumstances Pankaj went through and decisions (and risks) he took.

Book is doing very well on the charts (FLIPkart.com) Priced at Rs 95 by Rupa and available even cheaper at Rs 71, this book is an excellent read. Zero percentile is author Neeraj Chibba’s first book and he is also very much reachable through his website, blog, twitter and email if you’d like to interact with him.

Other book reviews: It happened in India * Raga Chintamani * 2 States * Not a penny more, not a penny less

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sanskrit village Mathur near Shimoga

Matturu (ಮತ್ತೂರು in Kannada,also spelt Mathur/Mathooru etc) is a scenic village on the outskirts of Shivamogga (Shimoga) town in Karnataka. Mattur is known for having Sanskrit language as their primary language. Villagers use Sanskrit here for their day to day conversation and not just during poojas. The town also is a hub for those aspiring to learn Vedas. If these things doesn’t interest you, Mattur is also a very scenic place from pure tourist perspective. If you’re traveling to or Via Shimoga and have couple of hours to spare, a quick visit to Mattur can be memorable.
entrance-to-shivalaya shiva-parvathi
One of the potential tourist interests in Mattur is a small Shiva temple built inside a nice garden (inaugurated in 2005 by the then state governor) with flowing freshwater stream nearby. Couple of other temples (Someshwara temple and Lakshmikeshava temple) on the banks of Tunga River are also good. Drive through tall Arica nut trees will be a bonus.
stone-carving of hanuman leaf-lotus-pearl-umbrella
riverbank-near-temple DSC03505
Some interesting birds were also spotted-help me with their names if you can identify them (identified as Cormorants by Ram and Mridula-thanks to them)
bird2 birdie
bhageeratha stonecarving-of-Ganesha
cowfriendly bull in temple
temple1 ramamandira-temple
If you’re heading there early morning, you’ll also see villagers carrying on their bicycles real fresh tender coconuts, just off the tree, to be sold in town.

If you haven’t filled the blog readers’ survey, request you to click here and give your valuable feedback. Got about 21 responses so far. Will share the feedback soon

Related posts: Keladi fort * Kodachadri * Skandagiri * Maravanthe * AmrithapuraKalhatti falls * Thyavarekere * Honnemaradu * Mullayana Giri * 


Gajanur Dam, Jog Falls, Kemmannu Gundi, Madagadde Bird Sanctuary, Tyavarekere Lion-Tiger Safari are other interesting places within short distance from Shimoga

Update: Thanks to Mridula's comment, I realized little late that Bajaj Discover advertisement has featured Mathur village
(but Mathur is about 200 kms from Mangalore and not just 100 kms as claimed in ad)

April 2012 Update: My blog reader ವಿಕಾಸ್ ಹೆಗಡೆ has following comment.
This is wrong. Our medias are also misinformed about this. The people here use 'Sanketi' language as the primary language. May be becoz Sanskrit scholars are more in this village, there is a general misimpression about the usage of Sanskrit as primary language here. U can confirm this with any Shivamogga guy or even directly with any Mattur/Hosalli guy. ! :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

enidhi india Blog readers' survey

Recently Mohan suggested that I do a survey to understand my readers better. Should have done this long back. Request you to take a few mins and respond to this survey. Thanks in advance.

In order to give some incentive for spending your time, I offer a mention of name and link to blog URL (if available) to every prime number entry.


Checked out Survey Monkey, Poll daddy and few other options and felt Google Docs was the best for this purpose. Only disadvantage is readers can't see live response/stats. Will share the responses later in a separate post. if you get any error or have anything more to communicate/share leave a comment below or email to admin@enidhi.net

Monday, December 21, 2009

ICICI phishing, gmail security & more

This post has 3 parts: An alert on typical phishing email, link to an important post by Amit Agarwal about how to protect and recover your gmail account and a quick mention of an article in Chennai times which has my 2 paisa worth opinion


1. All of us receive a good number of phishing emails claiming to be from your banks who have accidentally lost some of your account information and need you to confirm the same to them again. Most of us are intelligent enough to ignore such mails and not to part with our account information, but once in a while people do get fooled and tricksters manage to get hold of sensitive account information and promptly misuse it.
By default I ignore such mails, but below one was very close, so felt like giving it a mention. Mail appears to be coming from alert@icicibank.com, it only wants you to verify the recent details and promptly warns you not to give your account ID and password. There’s high chance that unsuspecting net user might just click on the link. However, Gmail promptly classified this as spam, MCafee siteadvisor promptly warned about the unsafe outbound links and lots of spelling mistakes in the mail were a giveaway.
icici-phishing
Below tips might sound redundant to net savvy readers, still repeating once for the benefit of others.

1. Its highly unlikely that any bank would suddenly loose your personal information. Bank IT systems are robust enough to have adequate backups and fail-over mechanisms to handle most of the problems. Any communication which asks for your personal information needs to be treated with high suspicion irrespective of how genuine it sounds.
2.Avoid using an email Id which is available in public domain for banking and other sensitive business
3 Point mouse on the link to see where the link is actually taking you.
4. Suspicious links, spelling errors and browser/antivirus alerts should warn you that something is wrong. Even if everything sound genuine, never proceed without a personal verification directly with the bank.

Check this beware of fraud link on ICICI website for more abt this.


2. Gmail and Google Aps Account Security:
Ace blogger Amit Agarwal says his gmail account got hacked and he could manage to regain control of his gmail account within hours, mainly by following the right procedure with correct information, partly helped by his internet friends who work in Google. Amit's post about protecting your gmail account and regaining it is a must read for every one of us who use gmail and other google products/services.

Vijaya karnataka editor Vishveshwara Bhat shares his encounter with hacker in one of his recent editorials-he says "I emailed him from an alternate account and threatened him with legal/police action, hacker promptly replied-'I know how to deal with this. Hacking emails and phishing is my full time business and I've made enough money for 2 generations-if you want your account back pay 700 dollars-non negotiable'..."


3. Chennai Times quotes me on trekking

In another unrelated update, yesterday’s Chennai Times quoted me on trekking. You'll have to excuse me for the poor quality image-TOI's online epaper doesn't provide a better quality screenshot/option to save as pdf. Nothing great boasting abt it-the article by Sindhu Vijaykumar says more and more people are opting to trek out during weekends and quotes CTC founder Peter along with opinions of myself and few others about trekking

TOI-trekking


Related posts: Deep forest trekking-advise * Skandagiri * eNidhi India Operational Policies * DC quotes me on Windows 7 *

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best of 2009

2009 was not that great. Satyam scandal, not much travel/trekking, not many events, no major happenings. On the positive side got some print mention and earned some little money via consulting and blogging…

Another 2 weeks to go. Advance new year wishes to all. Not planning much posts for rest of the year. Working on a post on Satyam Scam, to be published around its first anniversary. Here is quick recap of some of the posts published in 2009. Just around 108 posts this year compared to 140+ in 2007 and 2008.

Travelogues:

Didn’t travel much in 2009 compared to 2008. Yercaud, Skandagiri & Ooty were the only trips involving overnight stay. Other short visits include Maravante beach, Nandi hills, Kodachadri, Keladi Nagara Fort, Gingee Fort, Alamparai (fort & backwaters), Chitradurga, Hogenakkal, Pulicat lake and some more places. Did very little trekking and cycling this year.

In media:

An article got published in Vijaya Karnataka earlier this year and TOI and DC did quote me on fuel price hike and windows7 respectively later. Write up on Ramanagar Rock climbing and AWPT saw light in Ergo. Ergo stopped its print edition and no major articles in print this year.

Guest articles:

Several guest articles were published this year-Tips for Engineering students by Vidyabhushan Hande, car rally for the blind, Santosh’s account on surviving KSRTC bus accident, and Court Reporting career

Interviews:

Interviewed 3 international personalities (and TED India 2009 fellows): Kamal Quadir,CEO of Bangladesh based Cell bazaar.com, Enda N, the father of Indonesian blogosphere and Andy, French director and founder of clam studio and magazine.

Events:

Attended Article 19 at Manipal Institute of Communication, ET power of Ideas and Live blogged CII Connect 2009. No other major events. A Himalayan trekking and 4x4 Safari plans didn’t materialize.

Product/Service/book reviews:

There were lots of them: Mahindra Xylo, Fiat Linea, Sony DSC H50, Unwind School of Music, The associate by John Grisham, 2 States by Chetan Bhagat, Automall 2009, Mitsubishi great driving challenge, BPCL petrocard

Personal favourites:

Life saving skills from movies, my first consulting income, natural drinks for summer, My Dog Marcus, Improvements needed in PSU recruitment drives.

3 Most Commented posts of 2009: Self Drive rentals * Xylo vs Innova * Mouthshut shuts off

Most viewed: Some of my old time posts still rule the chart-Only 2 out 10 most viewed pages were published in 2009.

You may also wish to read: new year resolutions * Best of 2008 *

Review: Moveme.com

Moveme.com is a resourceful website and service solution for those looking to relocate their home/office in UK.

Unlike the normal movers and packers who just transport your household goods, Moveme.com helps in multiple other ways- they help set up your utility accounts (gas, telephone, electricity, insurance and so on. This takes care of most of the workload off your shoulders while you’re relocating.

Moveme.com helps you in cheap conveyancing, so that you can move your goods at low expenses. It gets you conveyancing quote from multiple operators so that you get to select the best. Website also has an advise section which offers various useful tips on renting, buying and selling.

Moveme seems to have partnered with several reputed brands of UK- Sky, BT, Royal Mall, British Gas and others. This partnership is guaranteed to give them an edge over others and indirectly bring better deals and greater quality service to their customers.

Moveme has a dedicated helpline to assist you. The helpline could be reached on 0845 071 2600 and is operational during normal business hours. The site also gets you advise from experts where required and also helps inform everyone (your banks, housing societies and so on) that you’ve moved. Now I feel that is a very convenient service, as that would save me from writing separate communication to each one of them about my change of address. Not sure if they’ll help get an address proof at the new location- Hope they do...

Site has a very nice design. Well optimized and all important things a prospective mover (or shall I say relocator) would need is right there.

Move me has verisign certified payment gateway, and its moving checklist and information on what to do at what stage of relocation can be very helpful to its customers. Not to mention the actual conveyancing that is taken care so well.

India's logistics companies can take several clues from this website...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chennai Roadies

Sharing a few photos clicked on the roads of Chennai. These are clicked over a period of time. You may have to click on them for a closer look.
1. A Honda City nicely modified into a 2-door convertible…Honda-city-convertible 2. Auto displays “Invalid Carriage”-whatever that means… Same auto had an unusual transmission: Gear lever as in bigger vehicles…
auto-invalid-carriage auto-manual-transmission
3. Another auto suffers due to “Operator Overloading”.. lifts itself up while negotiating a slightly uphill ride…
auto-lifts-up auto-overloading
4. Uprooted? A cycle found abandoned upside down with a wheel missing
cycle 5. Off-roading? Clicked few months ago when I was teaching car driving to a friend on the outskirts of Chenai city- we found an Alto that fell into the pit…
offroading6. Flooded streets: This year there wasn't much rain in Chennai. Below is a snap clicked last year, LB Road, Tiruvanmiyur. Its an annual routine where most of Chennai’s subways, low lying areas and roads get submerged in water every year..
floods20087. Keys for grabs:
Spotted while I was walking to office: A Fast Track call taxi driver had gone somewhere leaving the keys for grabs at the door…For a moment I evaluated my prospect of driving to office that day, but later continued to walk…
Fasttrack-city-taxi
8. Found on ECR: A nice big Honda Accord, Karnataka Registered and Belonging to Avis... Asked driver if it is available for self drive... Driver said yes, but said the cost is Rs 22,000 per day. Not sure if he is correct-Usually Avis doesn't give top end cars to individuals-they rent it only under corporate contract
9. Someone's getting down in style...

10. Wrong side: Not everyone cares to drive all the way to Madhya Kailash and take a U turn, covering 6+kms unnecessarily, while one can drive in wrong way for few hundred meters to reach their destination. Common scene near Tidel Park Signal
11. 2 B.E or Not to B.E?
12. Lock on... (read more about this here)
 two vehicles chain locked
Other Chennai related posts: Chennai MTC Volvo buses * Ticketing in MTC buses * Left half for ladies * How to avoid footboard travel *

Places near Chennai: Gingee fort * Alamparai * Yercaud * Talakona * Hogenakkal *

Review: Eyefloaters.info

Eyes are one of the prime sensory organs and some of us are not very fortunate in having a perfect eye. Some of us suffer from eye floaters and chose to cope up with it instead of trying to find a solution.

Floaters are deposits of various size, shape, consistency, refractive index, and motility within the eye's vitreous humour, which is normally transparent. (Ref: Wikipedia). Vitreous is the gel like substance (99% water, 1% solid) in our eye which constitutes 2/3rd of it. Floaters develop over a period of time and affect our day to day activities like driving, working on computer or watching television.

Floaters usually cause following distraction: strings or streaks of distraction when looked into the light, clouds and fogs that blur your sight, moving dots and pop ups, spider webs around your field of vision... Floaters are usually caused by some debris-that of blood cells, torn retinal tissue and the likes. Cystoid macular edema and asteroid hyalosis are the other causes of floaters. These microscopic foreign objects cause the obstacles in your vision by catching and refracting light resulting in irritation, frustration and disappointment.

Eyefloaters.info is a one stop solution for those suffering from vitreous floaters. Site is built on a very simple html design and has too much vertical scroll. For just about 39.95 dollars, eyefloaters.info promises permanent solution to the floaters issue, without any surgery. Surgeries like Vitrectomy are advised only for very critical conditions, as these surgeries carry a huge risk with them-complete blindness.

The website offers The Secret Cure for Eye Floaters with a 100% guarantee. To the extent I understood it is mainly a set of steps to be followed to cure floaters and not some medicine. Site lists lots of testimonies to build confidence, but details about payback/refund mechanism (if the solution doesn’t work and customers want their money back) is missing.

You deserve to see clearly...without eyefloaters...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

HT Brunch lifts Mridula's photograph

It happened in India again. Hindustan Times Sunday supplement, Brunch, carefully lifted one of Mridula Dwivedi’s photos, brilliantly cropped off "(c) Mridula D" from the image and published in last week’s Brunch edition. HT and brunch editors were probably convinced that that’s the way they conduct their business and lone individuals who become victims of their plagiarism activities will give up after sometime, if at all they notice their photo/content being lifted.

It feels good to see your name/article/photo in print. But certainly not when something is published without your knowledge, without any credit. Mridula was naturally shocked to see her coffee cup photo on page 12 of Bruch’s Dec 6 2009 edition. Mridula is a popular blogger and a very good photographer-she’s already experienced similar incidents of her photographs being lifted by Air Deccan’s in-flight magazine once.

Mridula is currently battling it out with Hindustan Times to get her due credit and apologies from the newspaper. As expected initial responses were very dismissive, no one owning up the responsibility or caring to address her concerns. As if copying her photograph is not enough, what is more disturbing was newspaper’s editing the photograph to get rid of copyright symbol, which is highly condemnable activity.

In her updates Mridula said she’s realized the power of twitter after this. She’s been using twitter very aggressively to chase this matter, drawing support, tips and causing awareness on plagiarism. She’s been marking @WSJ (Wall street Journal, HT’ is WSJ's India Partner), Vir Sanghvi (@virsanghvi, Hindustan Times Editorial Director) on her tweets to drive home her point, #brunchphotodispute

With timely intervention of Sidin Vidukut (Popular Delhi based blogger and Mint Columnist) and others, I understand that current status of this matter is that Editor of Brunch has offered to meet her. We need to wait and watch how this reaches to a conclusion and see if Hindustan Times (and other newspapers too) care to learn a lesson from it. You can stay tuned to Mridula’s blog or follow Mridula on twitter to know more on this

I am wondering if other photos in the article are lifted from internet too (and of course any copyright lines nicely cropped off). This also made me recall my face to face with Times of India last year, over the police car photo issue. I was not that aggressive and settled for a clarification. Arun Bhat had similar issue with NDTV website (details). Mint did a detailed article on this issue subsequently, but mainstream media continues its disrespect for IPR and more shamefully, they try to cover up/ignore the complaints, instead of opting for an unconditional apology and compensation. Most of them do not have a policy on plagiarism or a process to deal with it. Content lifting is routine and once in a while when detected, attempts are made to suppress it or ignore it.

Update: I'm given to understand that this matter is resolved to the satisfaction of content owner

Sunday, December 06, 2009

PSU recruitment drives need bigtime reforms

A secure job in a public sector company has come back as preferred option for many, courtesy recent recession. Several Govt of India undertaking enterprises-banks and other mega establishments ran recruitments drives recently to fill in a several thousand openings. SBI, ONGC,BHEL, ISRO, Syndicate Bank and Corporation Bank were just a few who got massive response for their recruitment drives, with lakhs of application received for these jobs, more than 100 aspirants for every post.

While managing such a massive number of job aspirants is a tough task, I personally feel that the recruitment process adopted by these companies need a big time reform. This post lists a few observations and suggestions in this aspect.

1. 6-9months of process time: Most of the PSU recruitment drives span over a timeframe of 6-9 months or even more, from announcement of recruitment drive till candidate reporting to work. In my opinion, any reasonably talented individual will find a decent job in private sector in much shorter time and PSUs will loose on talent if they take so much time. it works for them because there’s enough unemployment in our country because of which they’ll have enough aspirants on waitlist, but quality of resources will suffer. This timeframe can be reduced by adopting technology aggressively, decentralizing selection process and opting for direct campus recruitments.

2. Expensive application fees: While most of the private firms take recruitment as an investment and do not charge job aspirants, PSUs comfortably charge Rs 300 to Rs 500 or more per application. Additionally candidate will spend another 100 Rs in bank fees, postage, printouts and photocopying. There is a concession or even complete waiver for SC/ST candidates, but none to economically poor candidates. If a job aspirant wishes to apply for 5-6 PSUs per month, it takes 2000-3000Rs, which is a significant amount for a middleclass family.

3 No communication will be entertained: After charging several hundred rupees, most of the PSUs follow a strict policy that they wont entertain any communication from aspirants. I feel they should provide a helpline, because there’ll be genuine cases where candidate might not have received hall tickets/interview letters due to postal delays, communication address might have changed or many such possibilities because of which he/she may have to communicate. Poor communications, zero accountability and liability seems to symbolize PSUs

4 Age old process: All PSUs claim to have gone online. But when it comes to recruitments, their online-ness is limited to allowing candidates download application forms. After that it is the same age old process of 1990s- fill the application form, print it, affix photographs, printout the challan, go to bank, make payment, photocopy certificates and other documents, affix everything and mail it by ordinary post to some PO Box address in Mumbai or Delhi and then pray for best. No acknowledgement, no reference number to trace things, no one to contact to…

What can be done?

1 Process from Application submission to receiving written test hall ticket can be made online-this can bring down time from few months to a week. (Offline mode can still be retained for those who prefer it, as most of rural India doesn't have proper internet access yet)

2 Have a vision plan to conduct online tests. (We all know the trouble IIM aspirants went through in recent CAT online exams, so it is little early to expect all PSUs to do their recruitment exams online, but they should have a vision at least)

3 Fulfil a part of openings by campus recruitments. Campus recruitments will be far cheaper.

4 Decentralize recruitments to let regional offices take care of recruitments in their regions-I feel this can speed up the process.

5 Have a helpline for applicants to call into and a process in place to handle typical queries and requests

6 Avoid asking for dozens of documents (like copies of marks cards etc) along with application. Since originals can be checked at the time of joining, most of the aspirants are unlikely to lie. Just get the marks in initial application-this will save lots of effort as well as reduce paper usage.

7. Keep application form fee to nil or bare minimum. High fees shouldn’t discourage a talented aspirant from applying.

8 Use technology and process improvement to bring down recruitment time from 9months+ to 2-3 months max.

Disclaimer: Above are generalized observations. There could be minor differences in selection process of one co to other. Personal opinion only.

Hadn’t written a serious post like this in recent post. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Related: Your blog can make or break your career * Careers in Engineering * Workshop on broadcast journalism *