Monthly Archives: August 2006

The Big Picture: The Death Duel Between LCD and Plasma

[From digg.com]

I’ve been watching the LCD and Plasma TV markets for some time now; I intend to buy one. Here’s one article on the two.

Another home entertainment technology death duel is under way as 2 different TV technologies, LCD and plasma, vie for dominance of the big-screen, flat-panel television market. LCD technology is evolving as increasingly larger flat-panel units appear. LCD is now in plasma country, and this means war – a war some say plasma can’t hope to win.

read more | digg story

Must-watch Sonu Nigam mimicry video


Everyone who’s a Sonu Nigam fan and everyone who’s not (quite a difficult thing to find such a person) will enjoy this.

Especially watch out for his renditions of S. P. Balasubramaniam, Kailash Kher and Adnan Sami songs. Also mimics Anu Malik and Udit Narayan’s voices. Simply awesome.

Also look out for his expressions. Priceless.

Thanks to Sujay for pointing out this link.

Settings for the XAVI router

Some people have been asking me what the settings are for my XAVI router given by Tata Indicom / VSNL broadband people. If you have the misfortune of owning a Tata broadband connection, here are the details:

Connect to the router using a web browser (default: http://192.168.1.1/)

Login. Default username/password: admin/admin

In the first tab, click on ‘Quick Configuration’.

Configure the following thusly:

ATM Interface: 0
Operation Mode: Enabled
Encapsulation: PPPoA VC-Mux
VPI: 0
VCI: 32
Bridge: Disabled
IGMP: Disabled
IP Address: 0.0.0.0
Subnet Mask: 0.0.0.0
Use DHCP: Disable
Default Route: Enabled
Gateway IP Address: 0.0.0.0

PPP
Username: <yourusername@eth.net>
Password: <yourpasswd>
Use DNS: Enable

DNS
Primary DNS Server: 202.9.145.6
Secondary DNS Server: 202.9.145.7

Er, customer ser-what?

1. Tata Indicom Broadband: My home broadband connection wasn’t working for 2 months. I had good things to say about Tata Indicom / VSNL broadband in Bangalore. How they prove me wrong! One spell of rains and the cables snap. They take 2-3 weeks to get the cable to work properly. It still doesn’t work. They say they’ll have to come home and check. They work from 10 AM to 7 PM. Very sad that I won’t be home during those times. Someone finally comes home at 8 one day, replaces the ADSL router, but still can’t configure the thing. I go and probe in the router config. It’s web-based. The router’s a Xavi router. No idea what company that is. The web interface is (C) Conexant. Needless to say, it’s an extremely sad interface. It’s slightly better than most, though. So I can’t configure things from there. Nothing works. I do manage to get an IP and ping some remote site once. But after 5s, that’s gone as well.

The customer support people don’t want me to talk to their supervisors. They say they’ve done everything that’s possible and the supervisor won’t be able to help. Each time, they implore me to give them ‘just one more day’. And it’ll be solved. They also wrongly close my complaint saying the connection was working. After 5 minutes of speaking, finally someone is OK with transferring the line to the supervisor. However, I have to wait a further 20 minutes to speak to one. He says it’ll be done within 24 hours. Of course, I’m now used to hearing this. I tell him I know it’s not going to happen. No matter who tells me. He says he’s personally going to escalate the issue. Hmm, this is new. I’m still not convinced, though. The call Tata once-a-day routine continues.

Finally, when I’m home on a weekend, I call the Tata service guy (I have his number now, I don’t have to go through the pain of waiting for 20 mins after dialling the Tata customer care), and he promptly comes home. ‘telnet’s into the router, deletes some config and restarts the router. Done. Connection’s working.

How stupid! What a design! Hmmrph, I don’t want to comment on that at all!

Conclusion: Tata’s very poor at customer service.

2. net4domains: I have my amitshah.net domain registered with net4domains.com. No comments right now about their website design. It was due for a renewal. I renew the domain > 1 month in advance. I pay by credit card. I get an email saying some payment was made. So I don’t bother about it. One fine day, I get a notice saying the domain’s not valid anymore because of non-payment. I start wondering what went wrong. I realize that the net4domains site payment doesn’t work well with Firefox. I had to pay through IE last time. I call their customer support people. They’re clueless. They can’t help me. I’ll have to go to their office and pay them by cheque or cash. I was told I may not get my domain renewed at all. There were no guarantees now.

I go on a Saturday. I just tell them I’ve got a payment to make; don’t crib about anything. I managed to keep my cool. I get told they don’t work Saturdays. But they’ll accept my payment this time around. They return, telling me that my domain’s invalidated and there’s just 20% guarantee I’ll get it. Being Saturday, the office is closed. They can’t do anything till Monday. And they have to speak with Australian people, who actually control the domains. I say I had made a CC payment and they never told me it failed. The lady raises her voice to tell me that a mail was sent. She asks me to prove it — she allows me access to email so that she could prove that I indeed got some mail NAKing it.

I have the mails on gmail, so I can show her all the relevant mails. I show her the mail that mentioned they received something via CC. (BTW, my card wasn’t charged for any such transaction.) She takes back her words, mellows down, but says I should’ve checked with my CC company to see if the payment went through. Yeah, the blame’s never ours to keep.

All done, she tells me there’s no guarantee and that if all this fails, I can go back and collect the cash.

On Tuesday, I get a mail saying the domain expired and wasn’t renewed. On Wednesday, I get a mail saying the domain was renewed. I confirmed that I really had the domain back. But then what explains the message I got on Tuesday? They say their system automatically sends such messages. They don’t even know about it.

3. Reliance bill pay: I pay my reliance mobile phone bill through Citibank’s bill-pay service. Citibank confirms they paid the service provider. I get a message on the bill due date asking me to pay the bill. I call up the customer support people and tell them I’ve already paid. They confirm receipt of payment. They ask me to ignore the SMS. A week later, Reliance informs me that my outgoing services are barred because of non-payment. I speak to the customer support again. They don’t know what’s happening. Max. they can do is take a complaint and restore the outgoing calls in 24 hours. I speak to the supervisor. They say they can’t help; they can only check with the billing department to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.

4. Tata Indicom broadband again: The Indian government requested service providers to ban webpages/websites recently that contained content that could incite violence. Some blogs were part of that list. Some were hosted by blogspot. Turns out, all the service providers block entire blog domains. So no blogs are accessible. This was brought to the notice of the government, and they promptly instruct the ISPs to do the right thing. So everyone can access these blogs. Except guess who. VSNL customers. I call the support guys. They say it’s blocked by the backend team, so they can’t do anything about it. They don’t even take a complaint for this.

I write to their customerservice@vsnl.co.in email ID. I don’t know if this helped, or something else, but today I can access this blog from home. Finally, things are back to normal.

Update [2006/08/16]: No, they haven’t yet unblocked (at least) blogspot.com. I’m not sure if they “accidentally” unblocked it when I wrote the post or if I was accessing the ‘net through my company tunnel. Whatever the case, it’s not unblocked. Yet.

Update2 [2006/08/19]: blogspot’s accessible for at least 2 days now. So it does seem they’ve unblocked it.

Linux myths, lies and truth and why I like Debian

Before this blog starts to seem like a travel blog, let me post something I found immensely interesting and not related to travels and treks and such.

Greg Kroah-Hartman‘s keynote speech at this year’s OLS was about debunking myths, setting straight some truths and quashing lies about Linux, the OS.

It’s a must-read. He explains things including, but not limited to:
- Why the kernel development model works and is better than other software models
- Why we don’t support binary modules (or closed-source modules)
- How to start Linux kernel development. Newbies to kernels will find this helpful (as if there were no resources earlier)
- Plug-and-play does work on Linux.
- Maximum number of architectures and devices supported
- Many more

On a slightly different note, I’ve always liked the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, and have been using only Debian for the past 4 years. I’ve recently switched to Kubuntu, but only because it’s based on Debian. I do intend to have a Debian setup as well, but have not gotten around freeing enough disk space on my h/d or buying a new one. I now have a good setup where I believe I can start doing something worthwhile in my spare time, and I don’t want to break it. And of course, I can continue my Debian (and other open source) contributions while being on Kubuntu.

The reason I raise Debian here is that it’s the only distribution that supports the maximum number of architectures as its first-class citizens. This means if you’re on an x86 box or a sparc box or a Mac or some ARM board, you’ll get a consistent view of the system. You’re guaranteed all the commands you’re used to on your desktop will also be available and work and more importantly, supported, on some obscure board that you’re working on that has an ARM / PPC CPU. This is a very, very big advantage.

Also, the community around Debian makes sure it stays free and secure and stable. They might have long release cycles; but there’s a guarantee that it’s going to be stable. And we’ll continue to get security updates. I’ve recently switched to Kubuntu (frankly, because my Debian installation was just too old to do an apt-get dist-upgrade with the kind of bandwidth I had and I got Kubuntu CDs from shipit) and I’m getting all the benefits of using a Debian-based box. If I’m not happy with what Kubuntu gives me, I can, at any point of time, update my /etc/apt/sources.list to point to debian mirrors and I would have a debian install. No hassles. If the slow release cycles bother anyone, they can try out Ubuntu/Kubuntu. If they want stability and not very bleeding-edge software, but great support and peace of mind as far as administering the system is concerned, they’ll get Debian.

A testimony to how good Debian is: in my previous company, I started out as the only Debian user. There was one user earlier, but he didn’t continue using it because he couldn’t keep it up-to-date with the kind of bandwidth we had then. At least, that’s what I got to hear. Anyway, I installed Debian, showed the power to everyone else, and in the company of 25 people, I had at least 13 people using Debian in around 6 months. I also set up an apt proxy, so that already downloaded packages could be used by others. It worked really well and everyone was happy. Just the power of apt drew everyone to Debian. And we all ran the ‘unstable’ branch. I made sure no one asked for a package that was < 3 days old in the Sid repository. If it was, there was a high chance of something breaking (sometimes unstable really being unstable), and I didn't want to administer their systems for free. This model really worked well. So much so, people even installed Debian on their laptops.

Yes, GNU/Linux does work on all sorts of hardware. It’s just some vendors who don’t agree to make drivers open. As Greg mentions in his slides about the article Arjan wrote on a hypothetical scenario where binary modules would be accepted in the Linux kernel, the day wouldn’t be far when all our systems would become unusable and Linux would no longer be the OS that we could run seemlessly on varied hardware.

Trip to the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary (River Tern Lodges)

The Junglee group from Juniper went to a trip to the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, (or the River Tern Lodges as it’s now known) [link 2, map]. It’s a tiger reserve as well. Some statistics about the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary are available. (When will I get to spot a tiger in its natural habitat?)

It was organized primarily by yours truly along with the usual Junglee junta — Sowmya, Chirag and Amit Jain. Shivaram got us a great discount with the Jungle Lodges people. Tojo got us a great deal for the travel. So despite the high costs of trekking + safari’ing + enjoying great food + having a blast all the while with the JL group, our costs remained well within the budget. Except that it did overflow in the end, the reasons of which shall be mentioned later (something to do with the water sports there).

Place:
This place is situated on the banks of the river Bhadra, near the Lakavalli dam near Shimoga in the north-west direction of Bangalore in Karnataka. It’s a 6 hours drive. 20 of us made it to this trip. Chirag has the details over at the Junglee blog post.

In addition to what Chirag mentioned, I’d like to give a few behind-the-scenes info and some additional footage of what happened at the RTL.

First, about the place: I kept referring to this outing as a ‘trip’ — there were so many things that could be done here — trekking, safari, canoeing, coracling, playing water sports, swimming, bird-watching and having general fun.

People:
Jojo, Tojo’s brother, who joined us at the last moment, had this to say about the group: “Man, I thought software guys are just nerds and we (shippies) are the best for fun and its not at all true. Absolutely a no hang up attitude gang”

I think this summarizes the group pretty nicely. After the three outings we’ve had — a trek, a fun watersports + trek point and now this — we’ve got to see an amazing bunch of people from Juniper and a few non-Juniperites as well. Although the number of people who have done two trips is less, and the number of people who’ve done all the three trips can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the spirit remains the same — to have fun and explore around Bangalore. Aravinth mentioned that it seemed like the group had been filtered before being formed. Everyone gelled so perfectly well.

Of course, the presence of Jojo and Theo, Mukesh’s friend, made it even more interesting. Jojo’s in the shipping industry and Theo’s a software professional. However (sic), he’s from Greece and works in the UK. Both of them had varied experiences and great stuff to share — something just the Juniperites wouldn’t have come to know otherwise.

Elephant charge:
I also managed to get a couple of videos of a (few?) very protective mother elephant(s). The way they scream is unbelievable — they shriek and make sounds like wild felines. Some of us thought there was a tiger around. Some thought there was a wolf making that sound. The safari guide, Sharanappa said it was just the elephant that was trying to get us out of its territory. The elephant charging video was shot by Theo; I’ll check if he can upload it. I have a couple of videos in which the mother elephant growls. Keep up the volumes to catch them.

Growling elephant video 1

Growling elephant video 2

It was very eerie, you could sense tension in the air. Everyone was scared. Our jeep just missed the charge, but the people in the jeep that got subjected to it have a very interesting tale to tell. Chirag talks about it in the aforementioned blog.

[There are more pictures over at my webshots page in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary album.]

Jungle Lodges:
The JL people were very courteous and helpful. We reached there at 5:30 in the morning and they were already preparing the rooms for us to check-in. All this, even though our check-in time was 12 PM! We had a few Kannada-speaking folks; they had to translate stuff which the staff wanted to get across — and stuff that we wanted to get across to the staff. However, most of the people (and most importantly, the important people) knew English. So communication wasn’t much of a problem.

However, they said they would charge extra for any water sports. Even for swimming. We weren’t intimated about this earlier. Rs. 200 per head extra would mean overshooting the budget. All this for just 2 hours of play in the water! I had to do some bargaining with the guys. They refused to go down on the costs, but then they allowed us unlimited time in the waters and we could also get into the waters (and get to do all the activities) the next day as well. I think this was a good deal. Finally, we ended up overshooting the budget by Rs. 60, despite the extra money we had to fork out. Pretty decent!

Some people, in hopes of spotting other animals in the jungle, wanted to go for another safari the following morning. Gangaswamy, the caretaker of the place, said that the probability of spotting any other animals would be very low in the morning. However, he helped us secure entrance to the jungle and arranged for a jeep and driver (they’re at his disposal anyway) late in the night. The ones who wanted to go for a trek early morning went for a trek. The rest went for the safari. This gesture by the JL people too was well-received. They didn’t even charge us extra for the extra safari.

Wrapping it all up:
Since I volunteered to manage the show this time, handling the finances was on me. I’d like to say I’m good with handling money. I think I did the job pretty well, but there might be a few disappointed souls. I received the bill from the travel guy pretty late (nearly a month and a half since the trip). So the final calculations, settlement, etc. took some time. I’m still to finish settling all the accounts.

Initially, I had planned to write a script to handle the finances. Like the number of people, total costs, money pooled in, money to receive, expenses and so on. But I didn’t get around doing it. It’s still one of the TODOs, but the motivation is much less, as I won’t be doing this for some time now (we have a rotation policy for the head fall-guy for organizing these trips), and there’s just so much on the platter. I do intend to get around to doing it, though.

However, I did the finances using Google spreadsheets. Writing some formulae and such, the task was easier to finish. Google spreadsheets, however, has some bugs (or features, I don’t know), which I found to be pretty irritating. Anyway, it’s all almost done now and I’m getting ready for the next trip being planned.