A Travel Hack

The best way to travel is to travel light. And with the current heightened state of airport security you really don’t want to be caught in the discomforting web of special inspections just because you happen to be carrying gadgets that you might use on your trip.

I am surprised there haven’t been any real credible businesses set up to tackle this issue, yet. It sounds like an easy problem to fix – loan out laptops and digital cameras to people so that they don’t have to carry these with them on an airplane. I figure it would be difficult for corporate users owing to special software requirements and cloud use rules, but a vast majority of the ‘normal’ people should have absolutely no problems using loaner gadgets.

In fact, you could already do it – buy a new laptop whenever you travel, at the destination. Use it as much as you want, making sure you don’t abuse its condition. Depending on the return policy, return it before you leave your vacation destination. This works flawlessly if you use one of the many cloud services. iCloud will even restore your desktop and documents folders on any new laptop. It’s like you never changed your laptop.

This hack is a bit trickier for cameras as local retail establishments might have varying return policies for camera equipment.

 

Friendliest message to visitors – get rid of immigration lines

These are interesting times. While there are a couple, if not more, wars going on about protection of freedom(s), on America’s home turf, an organization known as the TSA has been given the legislative mandate to aggressively monitor every single person trying to get on an airplane.

People are being violated in public by these employees, threatened, humiliated, etc. etc. On last count, the TSA was successful in apprehending some drug abusers. But, that’s besides the point of this article.

Every country needs safeguards to make sure that air safety is not compromised by rogue elements. The easiest way to implement them is at the physical level right at the port of entry/departure. This is what the TSA seems to be doing. The reason this is inefficient is that in this day and age, there are more reasons to rely on intelligence and psychological analysis than the brute force method of X-Raying individuals or frisking them at the airports.

The problem isn’t just this frisking. When you take into account that pre-boarding security is often complemented by post-arrival immigration checks, the process is visitor unfriendly at best.

Why cannot intelligence be combined at all levels to make the process seamless? Surely, any country that would bar an individual from entry at the immigration post would like to do the same at the point where the individual tries to even get into a flight into the country. This is what is lacking in the current security regime in the US. It is like different organizations are running their own respective shows.

Compare this to traveling within European countries. There is freedom of movement and hence a lot of intelligence is (presumably) utilized to make the process hassle free for genuine travelers while at the same time keeping checks on shady individuals. When you travel from one country to another, you’re often not even forced to get into an immigration line, because there is no immigration! You just show your travel documentation briefly to the airline representative manning the gate at board time. This is convenience, and this truly signals ‘Welcome to our country’.

How much is your time worth?

Just heard on the news about a free gas card promotion that was sponsored by Verizon Yellow Pages at 25 locations in the US. The first 200 cars to line up at each of these locations received a free $40 gas card today.

People started lining up at around 10 PM last night to be able to receive the free gas money. In an age where people camp out for hours to get hold of a gaming console, why I am not surprised?

Growing likeness for Indian culture and cuisine in DC

In times when Indians take amazing pride in giving up their culture and values, I find it amazing that most people I meet in DC are heavily influenced by both Bollywood as well as its cuisine. Nearly everyone I meet (through various meetups, random public transportation encounters, etc.) is keen to learn more about at least Indian cuisine. In fact, a Japanese person I met at a meetup.com outing went so far as to say that Bollywood movies were the next American craze, after Japanese Anime.

Even on yelp.com, I regularly see events at Indian restuarants/movies, and seldom even a cooking class.

I, personally, just love Indian food, and even though I don’t cook, I eat it at least once every two days. No other cuisine offers such a deep and varied assortment of flavors in a meal.

नमस्ते !

अभी अभी पता चला कि OSX में हिन्दी में लिखना कितना अासान है। यह पूरी एन्ट्री मेरे साधारण कीबोर्ड के द्वारा लिखी गयी है।

इतना अासान होगा कभी सोचा न था!

– सौरभ

Interstate driving pet peeves

I drive a fair amount for leisure and recreation. In fact, most of the miles on my car are from driving from one state to another, or just cruising on the highway. Now, I might not be the best driver in the world, but I try my best to be considerate and adhering towards the written and unwritten rules of highway driving. Every so often, I have to share the highway with drivers who have no business driving. Some of my pet peeves:

1. Driving in the fastest lane at 5 or more mph below the speed limit, and not even realizing that they are holding up the entire traffic flow.
2. Carelessly changing lanes to get on the slower lane just because a trailer truck had to get on the faster lane to overtake someone slow. A truck is HUGE, and needs more length to change lanes. Stop being impatient and let the truck driver move back to the slower lane. If people keep passing him/her on the right, the truck would forever remain on the faster lane. Use common sense.
3. Changing lanes without using an indicator. You’re not slick because you think you got away without using an indicator. You’re an asshole, and never really learned anything from your driving test – always use your indicators.
4. Tailgating. Do it some more when I am driving at 70mph, and I wouldn’t think twice about hitting the brakes just to give you a heart attack. Asshole.
5. Going more than 15 mph over the speed limit. You lack experience, and your car deserves a better driver.
6. Driving with the high beams on when behind me.
7. Not knowing highway merging etiquette. If you’re going fast, don’t slow down to a crawl just to give the merging car a whole minute to merge. Only brake if you can’t change lanes safely, and/or the merging car is almost out of road.
8. Matching speed with the faster lane when driving in the slower lane, just so that everyone behind them is held up until this person gets some common sense.

I think that is all.

2008 is here

The year 2008 is here, finally. Even though a lot of significant things happened in 2007, here’s how I would remember it:

1. India got her first female President.
2. Television got some really great new shows.
3. The US still tried to force-feed its way of life and governance to countries worldwide, only at the cost of national pride, credibility, and the economy.
4. Lots of school shootings, including one in India.
5. The resurgence of Apple Inc. as a dominant force in the computing industry.
6. The year of the iPhone. (This needed special mention)
7. India got some leeway from the insurgency efforts of neighboring Pakistan, who was busy trying to clean its own mess.
8. The job market actually improved a lot.
9. USCIS messed up and people got their GCs in record time for a month.
10. The year it started being really cool to be an Indian.

And then:

1. The year I changed my attitude towards people and ideas.
2. The year I realized I could do anything I wanted.
3. The year that actually made me a whole lot wiser.
4. The year I got rid of the mildew on my friends list.
5. The year I added a tame 19,000 miles to my car’s odometer.

I am sure there’s more I could think of, but this is all my sleep-deprived-shindig-stricken mind could come up with this early Tuesday morning.

Have a Wonderful New Year ’08 !

Local Information – Microsoft: 1 Google: 0

Background: Google runs a mapping service that’s available for mobile devices, as well as in the form of an application for the iPhone. Microsoft’s subsidiary TELLME Networks runs a similar service, only with more features available on their free 411 service.

So, last week, I was in downtown Washington DC for business, and decided to get a hotel room for the night. Someone suggested the ‘Renaissance’. I quickly keyed in the hotel name and location on my iPhone and Google presented me with the address and the phone number. Only problem was that the phone number appeared to have been changed since the last time Google updated their directory. I figured that calling Google’s free 411 service would have the same results, and so decided to call 1-800-555-TELL, which is a Microsoft subsidiary company. The process was something like this:

TELLME: Welcome to TELLME
ME: Business
TELLME: What city and State
ME: Washington DC
TELLME: Business name
ME: Renaissance Washington DC
TELLME: Street or Intersection, or say I am not sure
ME: 9th Street
TELLME: (Address and phone number). Say ‘Text me the info’ to have it sent to your phone.
ME: Text me the info.

As simple as that! The speech recognition was impeccable, even though I was standing on a busy downtown street with a lot of hoo-ha as expected. I was very impressed.

10 years ago: Then and now

I was thinking how much things have changed in the last 10 years. We now live in an increasingly connected society, at least from a technological point of view. Yet, at the same time, there are things that haven’t changed at all. We still have the middle east crisis. We’re still fighting hunger and poverty, and we’re still in search of a new source of energy!

10 years ago:

  1. I was trying to get in a good college.
  2. My primary computer was a desktop PC running Windows 95. The processor was 66Mhz Pentium.
  3. I was experimenting with Linux in a big way.
  4. I did not have an Internet connection at home.
  5. I used to dial in to a few BBS’ across the world.
  6. I was excited about being able to finally have a cable TV connection at home.
  7. I was a computer “whiz-kid”.
  8. I couldn’t cook to save my life.
  9. I wanted to grow up to be an engineer working for the Indian Government.
  10. I never thought I would move to a distant country.

Now, things that have remained unchanged:

  1. The Simpsons is still the longest running prime-time animated series.
  2. Human cloning is still banned.
  3. Tony Blair is still the Prime Minister of Britain (although he’s retiring on June 27th).
  4. India’s President is still from the minorities.
  5. Toyota Prius is still quite a buzzword.
  6. The middle east is still strife-torn.
  7. The space race is still on, albeit between the West and the rest of the world.