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Hey people, this blog has gone that way –> http://saurabhj.com/

Have been thinking from quite sometime about self-hosting a WP blog and I have done it now.
Self hosting allows you get a plethora of functionality with various plugins and themes that you can use immediately.

So, the URL again is: http://saurabhj.com/

See you on the other side.

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I was in IIT Powai a couple of months ago for a workshop in marketing which lasted a couple of days.
As such, we were put up in the in-campus residential suites for guests – which to say the least, blew my mind!

The hostel (2 people staying in a room) was nothing less than a 3 star place – which spacious and comfortable rooms, air conditioning, in-room phones, awesome food and even a great view. And all this from within the IIT campus!

I was attending the conference with Gaurang and we would stroll out exploring the IIT campus in the evenings when we had nothing else to do. For those who haven’t been to an IIT Campus, let me describe the place. It was beautiful!

A student haven.

Flood light lit grounds and courts open till late night, students painting the cultural center walls with art and preparing for the upcoming Techfest, some kids hanging out at the local juice wala – it was awesome! Something that I will always miss as a student who went to a day college.

During that time, Gaurang and me got into a discussion as to why there wasn’t any ground breaking research happening at the IITs. There is so much public money going to waste! (After all, the IIT fees are highly subsidized by the government)
For the amounts of money and effort spent on educating people by the government, as an outsider, I don’t see much happening in the research area (specially in the public sector / government fields) at the IITs. That in my opinion is a huge waste of talent.

Compared to us, colleges in the US contribute tonnes (as much as 50%) to the research that goes on within the country.

Well, I learnt something today which went a long way in explaining why our education system is the way it is …

I am reading “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani (the book is pretty awesome if you ever wondered why things are in India the way they are. It takes you on a journey of how the country has sometimes walked, occassionally run and often hobbled the 60+ years after indpendence along with tremendous insights on what can be done to change the systems. A must read for all our bureaucrats!)

Anyways, getting back to the topic – what happened is this.
Post independence, India was an extremely poor country. Inspite of this, Nehru along with the first governments, allocated a sizable amount to the development of the educational institutes in India. (and thankfully at that).

They even greatly subsidized the fees (at that time it was approximately Rs. 500 which was 1/3rd the actual costs).
However, in addition to this, they went and created special research organisations to research on various aspects instead of sending the research down to the IITs.

In addition to this, the amount of research which could be done in the IITs was grossly curtailed by the government itself.
Due to this, the college could not raise funds by doing research and the fees being highly subsidized, the colleges – became a loss making enterprise for the government from day one.

Which is the reason why nobody from the government cares much about the state of IITs and also which is why we have so few of them today.

Fortunately, what needs to be done is very simple.

  1. Free the IITs and institutes from the shackles of the HRD (which has a history of screwing things up at constant intervals of time).
  2. Let the institutes decide what fee structure they should go with and give them a free hand to implement this.
    (All US universities work on the same principle and it has worked well for them so far)
  3. Allow universities to do research in whatever area they please – so they don’t have to depend upon government grants as much as they do now. Not only will our teachers be better paid (thus raising the standard), our students will be more motivated to take up courses which have research in their key areas.
  4. Get rid of the stupid reservation system. It has been decades now since the Mandal Commission and its time for us to move on …
  5. Create thousands of more IITs. (Atleast people now are echoing this sentiment)

Anything more that you guys can think of, please add to the comments below. Thanks!
(I had a couple of more things in mind – but Wikipedia just went down and in that shock, I completely forgot what they were)

I hope the present government makes some drastic changes in this department. Starting with the HRD making an exit. (Don’t they have other things to manage anyways?)

Update (1-Aug-09):
Extremely interesting comments popping up  in the Comments section. Be sure to check them out and add to it :)

2009 promises to be an awesome year for the movies. Now only if the crappy multiplex strike, producers strike, IPL matches get over quickly, we could have real entertainment back on again.

My pick of movies for this year are:

1. Watchmen
I can hear most people going – WHAT?
But sad as it may be, this film has not come to my city of Pune as yet. It has been months since its release and I’ve also seen it doing rounds in the metros – but I’m waiting and watching and really trying very hard not to watch it at home.

Why is  this movie hot?
The movie is directed by Zack Snyder. After watching 300, I would blindly go for any film directed by this man just be part of the 120 minutes of cinematic brilliance!
I have also read part of the graphic novel and it is very intriguing to say the least.

And have you seen the trailer? It’s brilliant.
Can’t wait, can’t wait …

2. Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Coming: 24 June 2009

I had missed Transformers in the theatres – but when I later caught the movie on my tiny TV, I realised what I had missed. The movie sounds kiddish – but the visuals were brilliant and breath taking.

Plus, its Michael Bay. Watch the trailer and you’ll realise why it is going to be an awesome movie – even if nothing else works for it – the visuals and cinematography should be more than enough to recover your investment on that cinema ticket you purchase.

3. Terminator Salvation
Coming: 21 May 2009

Terminator 1 was awesome. Terminator 2 was awesome-r!
Terminator 3 sucked (just like Matrix 3) – but I somehow have hopes for the fourth instalment.

It also has Christian Bale – whom I have high expectations from after Batman and Prestige.
So lets hope for the best.

Either ways, I’m sure its going to be a movie to catch in the theatre.

4. G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA
Coming: 7 August 2009

I could not believe a GI Joe movie was being made when I first heard about it.
I remember waking up at 7 am on Saturdays when I was in school, so I could tune into Star TV (Star World now) and catch GI Joe. The cartoon was pretty kewl (guys never grow up).

I checked out the trailer and it looks very promising.
Directed by Stephen Sommers – the guy who made the Mummy movies along with Van Helsing.

Not expecting the movie to be an Oscar movie – but I’m pretty sure it will be a bang-for-the-buck kinda film.
Really looking forward to this one!

5. Star Trek
Coming: 8 May 2009

I didn’t like the last star trek movie (First Contact). I loved the original 1966 series with William Shatner though.
This movie is based on the original series, is directed by JJ Abrams and has Zachary Quinto playing Mr. Spock.

What other reason you need to go catch this when it comes?
Trailer below …

6. Angels and Demons
Coming: 15 May 2009

I loved both the Robert Langdon books (Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons) but liked the latter one more as it was completely action packed. I remember reading the book non-stop one evening till I finished it. I did not put it down – even for dinner.

The Da Vinci movie was pretty disappointing – especially from Ron Howard’s perspective – but I’m hoping the latter one will live up to the book’s reputation. Hoping for the best!

2009 promises to be an awesome year for films! If only they released them here in India along with the rest of the world!

Network, 1976:

“We’re in a lot of trouble! Because you people, and 62 million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than 3% of you people read books. Because less than 15% of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole and entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube! This tube is the Gospel. The ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamn force in the whole godless world and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people!”

“And when the largest company in the world controls the most awesome, goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network! So you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television’s a goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business.”

“But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colours, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion!”

– From the Zeitgeist transcript

Just a cry for help!
If you have had some bad experience with the Nokia Customer Care, leave a comment.

If you can help me by getting my phone fixed under warranty, please, please do let me know.
My phone *IS* actually under warranty but those dumb nuts at the Nokia Care Center are out to rip me off!

Thanks again.

If you do not fall in either one of those categories above, you can safely skip this post.
Though a dig post would be useful ;)

Here goes:

Nokia is an excellent phone company. It really is.
We have had about 6 Nokia handsets in our house – and all of them have been rock solid and given brilliant performance – even under severe conditions.

I just love the UI of the phones. They are not over the top – just simple, intuitive and gets the job done bloody well. I’m a fan for life and would not dream of getting any other phone.

But that’s where the honeymoon ended a while ago.
God forbid something happens to your phone – you will be at the mercy of one of the worst customer care units you can experience in your lifetime. Even the government run BSNL customer care units are friendlier and more informative than the morons that populate the Nokia Care service centers.

I purchased 2 Nokia E51s for me and my dad last Feb in 2008. The phone is a gem.
It’s a perfect business phone and there is nothing that you cannot do on it. I fell in love with it the moment I read the feature list on the back of the box.

However, this phone has also been the reason for much pain and suffering.
In June the same year (2008), the message key of my phone suddenly stopped working. It just wouldn’t respond. I ignored the problem as I was not using that key anyways and continued to use the phone – I was able to live with it.

The problem really took off later when by September 4 of the number keys stopped working completely. They would start responding erratically every now and then – but mostly they wouldn’t work at all. So, I was stuck with a brand new 15,0000 bucks phone with the number 5, 6, 8 and 9 keys not responding at all. I could not message any longer – nor could I add contacts to my address book or even dial numbers not within my address book.

I decided to take it to one of the Nokia Customer Care centers (Kaustubh Telecom at Golibar Maidan) in Pune. After checking the piece, to my utter shock and surprise, the guy informed me that the phone was no longer under warranty as the problem I was facing was due to water getting into the handset.

I assured the engineer that no such thing had happened as I was extremely careful about keeping the cellphone dry. It had never gotten wet in the rain and what he said was impossible.

When I told him to show me the water damage, he refused to do so.

He however told me that he would try to fix my phone using one method which would cost me 350 bucks. The other method would be to replace my keypad which would cost me 1200 bucks. I opted for method 1.
He took the phone inside, tried something but could not fix it.

When I later called the manager of the shop and asked him to fix my phone under warranty, he started arguing with me. He hung up on me yelling that his engineers were trained and if they said there was a water problem, there was one.

I left the center completely disillusioned. When I got home, I realized that the engineer had even managed to crack the body of my phone by screwing in the screws real tight.

I kept using the phone as it was – just receiving calls and making calls using the address book.

I later learnt that there were a number of Nokia Care centers in Pune and that Kaustubh Telecom wasn’t the only one.
I decided to go and try another one – at F.C. Road.

On showing the handset there, the engineer informed me that the base plate of the keypad has been scratched by a very sharp object and hence will need to be replaced.

This will definitely not come under warranty as there is a physical damage to the internal parts.
On informing them that I had shown it to Kaustubh Telecom – their own Care Center branch, they told me to take it up with them – which I am sure is going to be of no use.

One more shocking thing is that these Nokia Care centers refuse the warranties of 90% of the phones which come to them on the grounds of water seepage.

Their modulus operandi seems to be:

  1. Accept the phone under warranty.
  2. Open it up (or pretend to do so).
  3. Report a water problem and then charge the hapless victim large amounts of money to do nothing at all.

I am completely angry and disillusioned with this entire episode and my faith in Nokia has gone down quite a bit. Not because they make bad phones – but their after sales service is so pathetic that you would be better off throwing off your 15K phone and getting a new one than get aggravated and cheated in chasing around these Customer Care people.

This is definitely one place where Nokia can learn a lesson or two from the Sony Erricson guys and Motorolla guys. These people atleast honestly repair your handset if it is under warranty even if they charge astronomical sums post warranty.

But I guess it’s the model which Nokia has chosen to follow – that of franchising the service.
There is no non-static room to speak off – their engineers work out in the customer area, they (engineers) also seem completely uneducated, freshly graduated students and their main goal seems to be “ripping off the customer as much as they possibly can”.

I bet they even have a “Ripper of the month” contest going on to see who can extract how much money from an unsuspecting customer.

Feels like your dentist doesn’t it? But believe you me, this one is a lot more painful.

My advice now is – buy a Nokia phone if you really need to – but pray that nothing ever happens to it.
That will probably be your worst nightmare!

The Value of Life …

After a lot of thought and deliberation and musings, I have concluded that:

“The value of a life is directly proportional to the number of people it touches in a good way and inversely proportional to the number of people it touches in a negative way.”

When you are gone, the summation of the loss which a number of people feel is equivalent to the value of your life.

Any thoughts on this?

[Update 1]
Modified the definition to take care of all the bad guys :)
See comment 2 below.

Parking hassles

I have off late started judging businesses depending on their parking policies.
No seriously! If you see some of the extreme arm-twisting techniques and prices some of these malls use, it’s unbelievable.

Firstly, charging for parking is illegal (I think) and yet everyone does it!
But if you think about it, we Indians being the free-loaders that we are – would just abuse free parking and I know tonnes of people who regularly do it.

C’mon – haven’t you gone and parked at a mall – just to go somewhere else nearby.

So, after a lot of thought and consideration, I kinda agree being charged a nominal fee for parking my vehicle.
But at the same time, the price should be justified.

The places and policies that top my list are:

1. Crosswords (at Sohrab Hall)
They have reserved FREE parking for people visiting crosswords. All you need to do is – on your way back, get the ticket stamped which says that you were in the store.
This seems completely justified – considering the amounts they spend on reserving parking slots for their customers – the least people can do is visit the store and see what they have on offer.

2. Inox (Free parking for 30 minutes)
Inox charges 10 bucks for bikes and 20 bucks for cars – completely justified in Pune – and this also seems like the norm.
However, what I really like about them is that they have 30 minutes of free parking. (This was an hour earlier but I could live with 30 minutes)

What this does is – gives you enough time to hop into the theatre and buy some tickets or grab some lunch at McDonalds without paying the equivalent of your Mc Donalds’ meal. If I am watching a movie for a couple of hours, fine – I agree with being charged – but theatres shouldn’t charge people for coming and buying tickets!

3. Pune Central (Parking charges redeemable during purchase)
Pune Central charges you for parking – but you could exchange the ticket inside when you purchase something.
This seems kinda harsh – considering that you may not like something and still be paying just to browse around the store. (Hey! Wait a minute! Shouldn’t stores be making it more conducive for you to browse around?)

Anyways, so yeah! What Pune Central does seems pretty just to me.
Actually Dorabjees in camp does the same thing – but you need to purchase a minimum amount of things (I think 100 bucks) before they will re-imburse you for the parking. Not entirely fair – but still okay sometimes.

Now for the worst offenders!

1. E-Square
Nothing – and I mean nothing beats paying 40 bucks for parking your car. I have noo idea what these guys do to your car. 40 frikkin bucks for parking! I could put a litre of fuel in my car for that amount and drive half way around Pune.
Totally sadistic, arm twisting tactics (and there is no public parking available near E-Square for miles!!!)

This is one of the reasons I really hate E-Square and avoid going there.
(The other being the weird seat arrangements and the crowds – but thats for another post)

2. Ishanya, Nucleas, Gold Adlabs, Lifestyle, etc. etc.
(And every other place which does not re-imburse you even on purchasing)
Ishanya and I however have a special history …

When Ishanya opened sometime ago near my house – I thought it was fabulous!
The mall was gigantic – you could get anything there, spend a good couple of hours just browsing around and even the parking was free. (and they have ample parking believe you me)

However, I was in for a rude shock one day when I drive in and am charged for parking which is not even redeemable.
The worst thing is that Ishanya is literally in the middle of no where and you have no option but to park your vehicle inside. Its like paying 20 bucks for an entry ticket to the museum!!!

Anyways, I came back and shot an email to them complaining about it.
To my surprise, the next day, I received a call from their head of operations (signing the email as President, ThinkingSpace Technologies has an effect sometimes) who assured me that they would start the redeemable policy soon and that they were charging parking because people would park their bikes there and go off someplace else.
(Yeah right! If you’re in the middle of nowhere, where do you think I’ll go?)

Anyways, its been a year and more since, and still nothing has been done.

However, I have stopped visiting Ishanya.
Result? I try and buy whatever I need from local places around my house. Ishanya being the last option.
(I dunno – I just somehow feel cheated going there)

To cut a long story short, I do empathize with businesses and their problem with free-loaders parking in places reserved for customers – but these businesses need to come up with more amicable solutions to this problem.
Charging monstorous amounts for parking is just going to hurt your business.

I love what Crosswords is doing – but I also understand its difficult to implement.
But I’m completely cool with the Pune Central approach too. (Redeem parking when you buy)

I actually have a better idea!
Redeem double the amount of parking when you buy something! (Applicable over a certain limit. For below the limit, just redeem the amount what you paid for).

Here is wishing some sense manages to creep into the heads of people making such idiotic decisions (especially the ones from E-Square) and hoping that ’09 is a brilliant and fun-filled year for everyone!