New desktop for the house

Jo’s been inquiring about a new system since quite some time – her current laptop is in a state of broken mess(half the keys don’t work/battery ded etc) and she’d require me to give up my desktop if she needed to work on something for a bit. She does read quite a bit, but that’s something she’s sorted using the Kindle PaperWhite and her Nexus 5X.

Past Friday, she gave me a reminder about having it would be nice and me being a bit free, decided to come up with a new build. Mandatory things were:

  • semi decent processor
  • 8GB RAM (she’s a webdev, browsers are memory hogs)
  • Budget cap of ₹30,000

That’s about it. I started with a base 6th gen Skylake based i3-6100 as my system build. Since I wasn’t sure about the pricing, these are what I came up with:

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Two years and 16,000km with Rosemary – The Maruti Suzuki Celerio

Two years back, I bought(rather, Dad bought & leased it to me, I’m still repaying him :-D) the Maruti Suzuki Celerio. Why Celerio? I was looking at something within ₹6,00,000 – that meant the Ford Figo(which I bought, almost took delivery but had to cancel), the Swift etc were out of conisderation.

Dad told me that a new car is coming and is quite within the budget and he was right. The car seemed to be pretty good – looks good(from the front anyway), and with its hype about the AMT(and from Magnetti Marelli of all places) I decided to zero-in on the car.. till I realized the AMT is only upto the VX trim(no ABS/Airbags/BT stereo etc) and with a waiting time of 3 months or so – decided to nix this and went for the Manual transmission Zxi (Optional trim)

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Weekend 2-day roadtrip to Srirangapatna, Kushalnagar and Madikeri – Day 2

Jo always wanted to pay a visit to Kushalnagar, Bylakuppe  and surroundings and I always wanted to drive down that side, but thanks to our sheer laziness or something always coming up, Madikeri – Kushalnagar trip always remained a pipe dream.

Day 2 continues..

So, for Day 2 we had originally planned like so: Nisargadhama – Mysore – Chamundi Temple – Bangalore. However, since we couldn’t visit the Monasteries on day one, we decided to visit Monasteries on day 2 and skip Mysore/Chamundi since it’d have been way too late by the time we reached home.

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Weekend 2-day roadtrip to Srirangapatna, Kushalnagar and Madikeri – Day 1

Jo always wanted to pay a visit to Kushalnagar, Bylakuppe  and surroundings and I always wanted to drive down that side, but thanks to our sheer laziness or something always coming up, Madikeri – Kushalnagar trip always remained a pipe dream.

Last Thursday, we decided to bite the bullet and decided to go ahead with the trip. Although originally planned as a day trip, I felt that doing a trip till Madikeri, exploring nearby places and heading back wouldn’t be possible in a  day(or if indeed possible, it would be incredibly tiring) and decided to split it across 2 days.

We planned it like so:

Day 1: Bangalore – Srirangapatnam – Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace(aka Daria Daulat Bagh) – Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary – Check in to hotel – Kushalnagar/Bylakuppe Monastaries – Raja’s Seat

Day 2: – Nisargadhama – Mysore – Chamundi Temple – Bangalore

Day 1

Day 1 started with us leaving from home at about 6am. For most trips which involve us leaving the city, I prefer to leave as soon as possible, that way we can exit Bangalore city with least traffic and with the time saved, we can use the time elsewhere. This time again was no exception, we took the the Mysore road instead of NICE ring road and within an hour we were at Bidadi and stopped by Adyar Anand Bhavan(A2B) for our first pitstop.

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Bellies filled and caffeine kicking into the system, we started on from A2B. The last time I took the Bangalore – Mysore highway, the umpteen number of speed breakers, especially after Mandya was really annoying. Thankfully, now majority of the speed breakers have been removed. On the flip side, they have been replaced by Nakabandis – and I almost hit them couple of times thanks to trucks blocking the path and my sight till the last minute. With lack of reflectors on them, these will be a huge liability during night.

The drive was event-free and we reached Srirangapatna at around 9:30am and went straight for Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace(aka Daria Daulat Bagh). There wasn’t anyone around, spare for a bus full of school kids. Parked the car, paid the entrance fee (Rs. 5 per person, no extra camera charges) and started exploring.

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There were some repair works going on, so we had to enter the palace via a weird side entrance route. Once past this, the grand gardens welcome you

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The gardens had some other guests as well..

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The chirping of birds with the silence because of lack of people around perked our moods up. Once you cross the gardens and walk into the palace, the sheer brilliance of the architecture and paintings on the walls astound you. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures of these, but they will leave you spell bound. In addition there are quite a lot of framed sketches, paintings, portraits of Tipu’s fight against the British, his sons’, his trusted advisers and other things such as coins and inscriptions hanging by the walls mean you can easily spend couple of hours in the palace without knowing how time flew by. We spent about an hour here and just as we were about to leave, tourists had started to pour in.

From here, we started towards Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. With the distance being just over 6km, it didn’t take us long to head here. You’ll see a big welcome board when you’re close by

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 Once past this, there’s separate entrance fee for vehicle(Rs 30 for car) and for people (Rs 60 each). Remember to keep this ticket with you, even after exit- the forest official insists on you returning back the ticket while the ticket explicitly says this should be avoided.
Once in, there are quite a few benches on the shores of the river and it’s pretty common to see photographers with their huge equipment sit down there. We headed off for the boating, which cost Rs 60 per person. If you want you can take an entire boat for your self or go on a shared boat. We opted for the latter and thankfully, we were the last to board and didn’t have to wait before starting off. The officials will ensure that they don’t start unless all the folks have worn lifejackets.
The boat ride is incredibly relaxing. The pilot is well aware of the different types of birds and will point and explain the names of the birds and their habitats. There were quite a few crocodiles basking in the sun.
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The boat ride took about 20 minutes, though we’d have preferred it to be bit longer. We took a small walk across the sanctuary and then started to head towards our hotel. The road again from Srirangapatna to Kushalnagar was really good, barring the first few kms from Ranganathittu were it was pothole central.

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It took us about 2 hours to reach our stay, Palm Era Resorts.

Palm Era was a nice place to stay – it was just off the main road and surrounded by lush greenery and was quite serene.

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We had originally planned to check-in, grab some lunch and head towards Bylakuppe but were a bit tired from the morning drive + walk around the above places and decided to take a nap and push Bylakuppe trip for the next day. Instead, we decided to head towards Madikeri later on in the evening and watch the sunset from Raja’s Seat.

The evening drive from Kushalnagar to Madikeri was more fun thanks to lot of twists and turns of climbing the mountains – as a driver I always prefer taking ghat roads as it keeps me more engaged than straight 6-lane highways. We reached Raja’s seat in about 30 minutes and the sheer number of cars parked made my jaw drop – didn’t expect that many cars. Raja’s seat had an entrance of Rs 5 person & a parking fee of Rs 10. While it sounds grand, Raja’s Seat is pretty much a small garden. Don’t let that fool you, however – the view was pretty awesome

 

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Due to the clouds and fog, we couldn’t grab the best sunset view but what we saw was good enough.. There was also a Toy train track(for kids and adults) but it was not operational when we visited

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With darkness falling, we grabbed some Charumburi and head towards the town centre in search of places where we can get home made chocolates and fruit wine. After walking around for a bit and asking multiple shops, we finally got a shop.. and stocked up.

 

stash

With us still full from Charumburi, we decided to head back to our resort and have dinner there. The drive back, however was a bit scary since it was pitch dark with absolutely no streetlights whatsoever. Thankfully the board leading to our resort was lit and we didn’t have any problems reaching.

Day 2 will continue in another post.

The Srinagar to Manali Travelogue: Part 1: Srinagar

Few weeks ago, Jo & me went on a 11-day vacation from starting from Srinagar  heading south-west bound towards Manali via Kargil, Leh, Nubra Valley and Jispa. During this 11-day visit, we had a blast, met bunch of great folks, visited some breathtaking places and ran into wee bit of trouble. And since it’s been awhile since I posted here, decided to do a travelogue.

The Plan

So, we booked a tour via A Lifetime Trip. To be honest, I didn’t do much of the research on the tour operators – my college friend Prasad & his wife Shyamala did bulk of the research and finalized on A Lifetime Trip. We pretty much looked at the places to visit, Jo wanted to visit a lot of the places, I was happy with the places. I did a basic check for A Lifetime Trip, saw that they had good reviews and confirmed to go with them.

The tour was supposed to start from Sringar on July 31st and return to Delhi on August 10th, with overnight halts at Kargil, Leh, Nubra, Pangong Lake, Jispa and Manali.

The 4 of us (Prasad, Shyamala, Jo and me) decided to reach Srinagar a day early so that we could have some time to explore Srinagar.

Onwards to Srinagar

I booked the flight to Srinagar pretty early – actually a good 4 months before our journey so I don’t have to worry about not flights not being available later or flights being out of my price band. The flight was to take off at 06:15 and land in Delhi at 09:00 with a follow up flight at 13:20 and land in Srinagar at 15:00.

Not wanting to take a chance against Bangalore’s famed traffic, I booked an Ola for 03:00. Trust Ola to screw it up, the cab guy was nowhere to be seen even at 02:50. I called up Ola Customer Care, they reassigned another driver… who also didn’t come. I had to call him up, wake him and plead him to come over. On the bright side, we ended up with a new Ciaz to take us to the Airport. The roads were empty, and the driver seemed to make full use of this by treating the road to the Airport like a racetrack and driving like one. We reached the Airport in a record breaking 40 minutes. If you think that’s too long – well, you’ll know when you’re here.

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The Airport routine went without a hitch, Air India was on time and we took off and landed in Delhi on time. Once at Delhi airport, we went over to Starbucks, grabbed couple of coffees and chilled there for couple of hours.

In the which Jo wonders what the fuss is all about

A photo posted by Sathya Bhat (@sathyabhat) on

When it was close to boarding time, went over to the gate. That’s when we realized that the flight was running late. To make matters worse, it started raining outside and visibility was almost nil. Once the cloud cleared and the plane had arrived, we were about an hour off time and by the time we landed in Srinagar and collected our baggage, it was close to 16:00.

Sringar

Srinagar airport was under construction and the main hallway was blocked with either construction materials and barricades indicating construction zone. Result:  Fair bit of chaos near the baggage collection belts since only one was operational. I’m very paranoid about airlines losing my bags, so to see my bags among the first to arrive was a relief. We took a pre-paid taxi from the airport to our accommodation for the night, Welcome Residency. There was a fair bit of confusion about the hotel since Inbox pointed me to the Welcome Residency near Boulevard Road, while the one where we booked was at Shivpora. An email to the hotel and a quick reply from them ensured we landed at the right place. Srinagar was quite a bit hotter than what we expected, with the temperature at around 30 degrees. As our taxi driver drove through the crazy traffic(be it Srinagar or Bangalore, the road madness follows), we talked to him for a bit about what places to visit. He recommended us to visit the Gardens(Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh) followed by a visit to Lal Chowk. As we drove through the traffic, couldn’t help but notice the rather broad presence of machine gun toting J&K Police and CRPF. About 45 minutes later, we reached our hotel, checked in and took a short nap.

Guilt Trip

Fresh from the nap, we decided to head out to explore some places around Srinagar. And despite it being around 6pm, it was incredibly bright – something that we didn’t expect. We walked for about a kilometer to find an auto(since the Hotel was a bit interior), found an auto guy who was asking Rs 350 to head to Shalimar Bagh. We had a deal with him to drop us off at Shalimar Bagh and he reassured us that there will be other autos for us to make the return trip. With not many choices around, we took the auto anyway. While on the auto, we did some small talk with the rick driver, asking him about his family, what places to visit around Srinagar, what places to visit to check the local cuisine and I’m not sure if it was the small talk or that we agreed to his fare without a question or something else, but once we reached Shalimar Bagh, he had a change of heart, he said that he felt it wasn’t right that he asked for Rs 50 more(claiming most would take Rs 300 to here) and told us that he’d be waiting for us outside Shalimar, but will take us only to Nishat and not back to the hotel. DSC03470

Shalimar Bagh was smaller than what we expected, with two parallel short walkway on either side of the fountains and lawn on both sides with few people sitting, looking into the horizon DSC03469

Done with a tour of Shalimar and some pictures taken, we headed out and called our auto rickshaw guy was waiting for us. He repeated his stance of feeling guilty and reinforced that he will drop us only till Nishat. With this expectation on, we headed back towards city via Nishat. Once at Nishat, we realized that Nishat is closed(later we realize that most gardens close post sunset, and it was about 7pm now). Our auto guy was flummoxed as to how this was possible, since he’d told us it’d be open till at least 8. We figured he’d let stop the trip here, but once again he changed his mind saying he’ll take us to Nehru Park, which is actually an island in middle of the Dal lake. Considering the traffic ahead, we requested him to drop us straight to Lal Chowk instead of Nehru Park as it’d been a long day and we decided to have dinner and head back to the hotel – half expecting him to decline. Much to our surprise again, he agreed, without saying a word of protest, repeating his earlier talk of feeling guilty and agreed to drop us to Lal Chowk for free. About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Lal Chowk, headed off into Ahdoos Hotel for some Mutton Seekh Kebabs, Roghan Josh, Rice and Rotis. The Mutton Seekh Kebabs were so yum, we ended up ordering another round of it. Post the awesome dinner, we decided to try Kashmiri Kahwa and absolutely loved it, capping off a fine dinner.

Finishing off dinner with a fine Kashmiri Kehwa A photo posted by Sathya Bhat (@sathyabhat) on

While heading back to the hotel, we had a minor scare as a bunch of guys on a bike came close to Shyamala and catcalled her. They were gone before we could gather our senses, but anyway we grabbed an auto and went back to our hotel for some much needed rest.

Travelogue continues in future posts.

RIP, Airtel SmartBytes – No More SmartBytes for PostPaid plans in Karnataka Circle

Few months back, Anupam Saxena had reported that Airtel is killing off SmartBytes for mobile customers in Delhi. My first reaction to the story was hoping that they wouldn’t do this for Karnataka circle. SmartBytes was great for the rare occasion that you’d require burst data(for example: when travelling or when your home Internet is down) – if you run out of data cap(I detest the pittance of data cap we get, that’s another different story) head over to their SmartBytes website or use the Airtel app & do a top up for SmartBytes – and you get instant data cap upgrade for the billing cycle.

During our recent Leh trip, my wife Jo’s connection was close to hitting the data cap. Trying to top up using SmartBytes resulted in failure. I attributed this to us being on roaming and figure we could top up after being back in our home circle. Fast forward 12 days later, back in Bangalore, tried to top up and got the same message about SmartBytes not being available.

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Called up Airtel customer care, and he confirmed that SmartBytes are indeed, no longer available for PostPaid customers and they’re only for Data card customers. When asked for alternatives, the Customer Care rep told me the alternatives are either to upgrade the data plan, or for ad-hoc purpose, opt for something called MBC – Mobile Broadband Charge. Essentially when you select this, you don’t pay to top up – rather the data limit for the billing cycle gets increased. And like SmartBytes, the unused data isn’t carried forward to the upcoming cycle. While this may seem similar to SmartBytes, the difference is that the MBC options are not as granular as SmartBytes and lot more expensive.

Anyway for now, I’ve put in a request for myPlan for Family plan. Seems to be exactly what I wanted. Word of advice: don’t go by the numbers mentioned on the demo link, they’re only indicative and not reflective of the actual numbers

Ambulance and Bangalore traffic.

Part of this was originally posted as a comment to Nithin‘s facebook post about today’s news article stating that Cops will send you legal notice if you block an Ambulance.

There’s a well known law called Parkinson’s Law which states

work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

There are various corollaries on this – and the one which I resonate the most is

Data expands to fill the space available for storage.

Now, if you drive on Indian roads you’ll pretty much agree with this version:

Vehicles will cram in to fill the space available on road.

I had a situation this morning where the ambulance was about 4-5 cars behind me on Old Airport Road. Right infront of HAL Police Station. The Ambulance’s sirens are blaring, the driver’s desperately trying to make way so that he can move on.  I have 2 BMTC volvo buses back to back on my left – first BMTC bus taken so much as of the road as to crumple me like I was nobody. An rickshaw was less an than inch infront of me(who poked in somehow from mid-lane bulldozing his way, eager to trade paint if necessary) and a biker trying to pass me from the right side with so little gap, his knee would scrape my car and he’d scream bloody murder if I just let the clutch go for a microsecond.  I wondered where and how am I supposed to give way to the Ambulance in this case. If I wait and let the Ambulance go, then I’d have heard more curses than a Bangalorean yelling at an Auto driver for demanding meter mele double at 8pm. Ultimately, I crawled on first gear till the Ambulance passed me, pretty much blocking the entire lane behind me.

Any curses were drowned by Foo Fighters’ My Hero coming through the Celerio’s music system. Also was good to see an auto rick behind me gesturing others to move so that the ambulance can pass. Good going man.

Short Review of the Vu 40″ – 40k16 LED TV

I was on the fence about buying a TV since I don’t watch it that much, but during their recent sale, I came across an offer from Snapdeal on Vu TVs that was too good a deal to pass by, so I grabbed the Vu 40″ TV(aka 40k16).

Delivery, Installation & Unboxing

Snapdeal shipped the TV next day, to be delivered by Bluedart – who took a good 10 days to deliver it. The day the TV was originally scheduled to be delivered, I got a call from Vu’s service rep asking me when would be a convenient time for him to come over and setup the TV and give a demo. I mentioned him that the TV isn’t here yet. He then told me to give him a call the TV arrived, and he’d try to come over and set it up.

The first thing you’ll notice about the TV is how light & thin the entire package is. With the whole box, including wall mounting kit and all, I’d estimate it weighed about 13 kilos.

The shipped TV box consisted of (obviously) the TV, table mounting bracket, wall mounting bracket, the remote, pair of AAA batteries for the remote, the usual manuals, cable ties, component and coaxial cables

 

Ports, connectors

Unlike other TVs in the the budget range, the Vu comes with a bevy of connectors. This includes not one, not 2 but 3 HDMI ports and 2 USB ports. In addition to these, the 40k16 also comes with VGA input, composite video input, component Video input, 1 RF input, 1 Headphone out, 1 RCA Video out and even an SPDIF out port.

The HDMI and one of the USB connectors are placed on the side panel; what I liked about the placement was that the ports weren’t on the edge of the panel, but slightly recessed in, so even if you have a fairly large USB stick connected to the ports, it really isn’t visible from the front, while being accessible enough to plug it in straightaway without have to boggle your mind too much.

Vu claims it’s TVs have inbuilt DMP(Digital media players), and test it out, I copied a mp4 video to a USB flash drive and plugged it into the USB port. The TV recognized the file and was able to play it. To make things even better, I was able to pause/rewind/fast forward the video right from the remote control, without having to fiddle into the menus.

Unfortunately, the supported file list is pretty limited – though most video/image/audio files should do file, if you copy a vob file(typically found on DVDs), the 40k16 refuses to even show the file & you can’t view it.

Now it’s important to note that this isn’t a “Smart” TV, which is fine by me because most Smart TVs that I’ve seen are either crippled by crappy UI or poor performance – I sorta made up for this by connecting a Chromecast to the TV.

Video quality

I don’t have a cable or a DTH connection, primarily because I use Chromecast to stream media from my Plex Media Server(on my desktop) over to the TV, and the quality has been pretty awesome. I did find the colours a bit over-saturated out-of-the-box, but toning it down from the menu helped that. Something I also noticed was visible backlight bleed, especially over the upper and lower left corners. Normally, it should be fine, but if you’re watching a media which emphasizes on dark backgrounds with the lights off, this might be annoying.

I’ve also been testing Ogle(which uses Plex for their video delivery) and been generally very happy with the quality of the video – both from Ogle as well as the delivery from the TV. I’ll write about Ogle some other day.

Sound Quality

The sounds quality is what I’d call just fine-mediocre. It’s loud enough to be heard, but just falls flat in terms of response – nonexistent bass, flat treble and mids. Vu recommends that you mount the TV on wall for better experience – I can’t help but think that will lead to muffled sounds.  Overall, it should be OK for normal viewing – just don’t expect Home Theater style effects.

Remote Control

The remote control is fairly well designed, fells solid to hold. The remote has also has some ‘extra’ buttons – when asked the Vu rep about them, he mentioned that the remote control unit is common to all Vu TVs, so some of the buttons are apparently useless to few models. Anyway, I found some of the buttons(especially those related to changing the video source) bit harder to press than others. The volume adjustment/menu navigation buttons were pretty fine.

As mentioned above, the remote also has a nifty feature being able to control the playback of files being played from the USB ports – this is really convenient and saves you a lot of hassle.

Service & Warranty

The 40k16 comes with a 1 year warranty. I asked the service rep as to what should be the steps in case something went wrong. The service rep pointed me to a toll-free number & an email account for support, apparently they will take your complaint via the toll free number/email & assign you a service id within one business day and a rep will come over to check.

I inquired about panel replacement for dead/light up pixels – the rep mentioned the panel will be replaced if there are at least 5 completely bright/dark pixels in alternative arrangement.

(must need to verify with manual)

Pricing and Verdict

The Vu 40″ 40k16 model is priced at a MRP of about  ₹35,000 – and you’ll find it on Flipkart or Snapdeal at about  ₹29000. During the Snapdeals savings day, the 40k16 was available for ₹24,990 and I bought it after doing some research and opinions from folks on twitter – and I should say it’s been a good purchase so far.

So overall: if you’re looking for a great budget TV, I’d definitely recommend the Vu 40k16.

Pros

  • Excellent pricing
  • Great form factor
  • Good video quality
  • Lot of connectors

Cons

  • Visible backlight bleed, especially with dark background
  • Meh sound quality

On to a new life

I had originally wanted to publish this back in late August when I shifted from Borg Cube to Borg Cube Grande.. ie, my new home.. but #lazybhat happened and I never got around to finishing that.

Since shifting to Bangalore, I’d been staying in a tiny 1BHK house in Murugeshpalya, off Old Airport Road. Back then, I’d chosen this place mainly for it’s proximity to my workplace – at about 4.4km, it takes me an average of 15 minutes to a maximum of 30 minutes to reach office. With 335E plying in copious amounts, heading to office or to Majestic to head back home was quite easy too. 2 years in, I decided to to move to a bigger place, so that things are all set when the inevitable #cpgweds happens.

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