The power of “n”

Quick question:
What is the most obscure, unimaginative and down-right outrageous name for a video game you’ve ever heard of?

As it turns out, it is allowed to name a game after just one letter from the alphabet – and this is what it is:
(and no, the quotes aren’t included!)

This physics-based platformer – which is more completely known as “The way of the Ninja” – comes with heavy emphasis on skill and hardly any on graphics (our main character is actually just a stick figure), but don’t let that fool you. 
As webcomic xkcd once remarked, the greatest, most powerful gaming systems in the world still cannot match the same addictiveness of tiny flash-based games, and “n” is proof of it.


The objective of this incredibly addictive game is to guide our hero the ninja across a series of diabolical mazes (over a hundred of them in all!) and run, jump, slide through it collecting gold, while avoiding mines, laser beams, homing missiles and other death traps liberally spread throughout the mazes and get to the all elusive exit.
You have an unlimited number of lives to play each level; however as the game remarks: your patience may not be!

It falls in the same category as those embedded-flash browser games we used to sneak into our computer labs back in college, and isn’t any short on the fun part.

It also comes with a comprehensive level editor you can use to make your own mazes and upload them for everyone else to use, but from what I’ve seen, most of the user-created levels are way too difficult and aren’t really all that cool.
Nevertheless, there are some really challenging mazes out there, and even if you don’t want to play the online content there’s plenty to do in the original game.

And here’s the best part: 
The full version of this game is completely free for the PC/mac.
(You can download it from here or here)

And in case you’re really interested – there is also a paid version called “n+” on the PSP.

Now, why am I doing this?
Because I just spent the last 4hours hammering the arrow keys on my laptop trying to beat my own record (and cramping my fingers in the process), and so I want to spread the joy!

Regardless of whether you’re a hardcore gamer or just someone looking to kill time on a slow day at work (or college), this is one game you simply have got to play.
Even if you’re not that much into games.

Plane fear

Okay, I'll admit it: flying totally freaks me out.

Now given the fact that I do work for an airline company, hating planes isn't exactly helping my career. But while I'm not nervous about messing around with other peoples' flights, for some reason every time I'm at the airport I get butterflies in my stomach, my pulse starts to race, and I start to get anxious.

Airports are taunting, cold, mean places where no one can be trusted (would you rather watch over that loose bundle while that guy in the shabby jeans goes to the washroom?) and anyone can be a suspect.
The way airport security checks, rechecks and triple-checks everyone’s baggage, its as if anyone could be a possible attacker planning to blow up the next plane. 
And that’s not a comforting thought when you’re waiting in line.

And then there is more:
Since this whole Swine-fluenza started, anyone who so much as sneezes or coughs becomes the target of everyone’s attention and discreet avoidance.
In case you’re wondering – yes, it IS still a big deal, at least at airports. Back in April (when the whole thing started) I was on my way to Munich when I see a guy at the boarding terminal wearing a surgical facemask and holding a passport that boldly declared “Mexico”.
Understandably, there wasn’t a soul within 10meters of him in every direction.

It doesn’t end there. While I’m inside the plane, every time the flight attendant passes the meal tray over my head to the next passenger, I have this morbid fear of the tray slipping off her hand and falling on me.
And with good reason: it has happened to me.

Somehow, economy class food-trays are so designed that they hold stuff in exactly one arrangement: the way it is when you first get it. Any other arrangement and you know the fork’s gonna fall over the salad bowl which then tips over that piece of rehydrated chicken that lands on your lap and all of hell breaks loose as you try to retrieve the fork, causing the little cup of juice to spill over the passenger next to you!

Ah, the joys of air travel…

The Door and Devil May Cry 3

For those of you joining in late, the Devil May Cry series is a best-selling franchise developed by Capcom Ltd., Japan marketed here by Capcom Entertainment Inc, Central Europe.

The series primarily revolve around demons and other dark forces, which Dante – the series protagonist – must overcome. Gameplay is quick with plenty of adrenaline pumping slashing and gore…
…until you get to a scene in the 3rd game (available for PS2 and PC) where Dante's brother enters the Demon's domain through a rather familiar-looking door. Here is what it looks like: 


If you can’t make the connection, here’s a hint:


Above shows a picture of the Door of the Ka’bah, the single most sacred religious location on earth for over a billion people of the Islamic faith.

That this so-called “devil’s door” borrows its design from such an incredibly holy relic causes deep hurt and offence..and is completely unacceptable no matter which side of neutrality you look at it.

Understandably, a lot of people are upset and I personally know people who’ve been shouting their voices (or at any rate, their keyboards) hoarse about “boycotting Capcom” and “banning their products”.
But what I can’t really understand (or accept) is why we as a people – Asians, Muslims and Indians in particular – are so paranoid about banning and boycotting stuff all the time…
…as if its gonna do anyone any good. I mean, assuming boycotts did work, who’s going to tell the statistics guy scratching his head at Capcom that the REAL reason the sales of one particular game dipped by 3% was due to religious indifference?

I’m one guy who doesn’t believe in Online Petitions or boycotts, so I wrote to Capcom at their London headquarters address telling them exactly what I felt about the whole thing.
To be honest I didn’t really expect a reply (who answers back to criticism anyway?) but they did. And here is what they had to say (translated from German):

“Dear Mr. Noor,

Thank you for your message regarding religious artifacts in Devil May Cry 3 We regret that this injury has been caused to religious feelings. The title was developed in a production department of our Japanese parent company, which we will refer to this as soon irreverence.

We will do our best to remedy this artifact representation. Unfortunately, this would be in the form of a patch and would be available only in the PC version because for the PS2 console version it is not possible to produce any program code changes, and also not is not allowed on our part.

With kind regards from Hamburg,

name withheld>
PR Manager
(Capcom Entertainment) Central Europe”

I know we still have no confirmed dates for the rollout of this patch, but at least they acknowledged that the problem exists…and promised to do something about it.
Of course they are saying there’s nothing they could do about the PS2 version but that is understandable – after all the ten-year-old console isn't exactly cutting edge on upgradability.
But still, I guess I'll be okay even if it is just the PC version getting the patch to remove the offending door. 

Personally, for me it means there is still hope in the world and that people are willing to listen, and reaffirms my faith in the power of the Written Word.

And that “boycotts” and “bans” aren’t necessarily the best way to deal with a problem.

7 unique gifts for a geek

Have you ever been in that place where you need to get a gift for a certain someone, and you were fresh out of ideas?
Well I have, and I was so tired of people guessing socially acceptable gifts that I ended up making a wish-list of stuff that I’d appreciate if people got me. (Original post here)

That got me thinking…normal people get normal gifts – and they’re happy about it. But what about that poor geek who gets stuck with a bunch of boutique gift-vouchers and no clue what to do with them?
So for the benefit of all potential gifters and giftees, we present, seven geeky ideas that you can actually buy (online of course!):

1. USB spy-camcorder pen:


Okay, so maybe no one really needs a video camera built into a pen (with 4gigs of storage, I might add), but the idea is neat.

But somehow, this pen seems kinda creepy: Would you rather trust that guy from the next cubicle who leaves a stout pen on top of his computer screen that somehow seems pointed directly at you?

Hmm, not sure if all great ideas should really make it to manufacturing. But this one did, and this is proof.

2. Wi-fi detecting T-shirt:

Wi-Fi Detecting T-Shirt (Blue - Large)

This tee apparently comes with a built-in circuit chip that detects the presence of any wireless network and then lights up the graphics on the front accordingly.

The best thing I like about t-shirts like this (oh yes, there’s plenty more where that came from) is that it says “geek” in a very subtle way:
You probably don’t even notice anything different unless it lights up; but when it does is a head-turner!

Of course, I wouldn’t wanna wear this on a plane trip – the last thing you need is to explain to Airport Security why your tee shirt has a circuit chip inside it :)

3. Binary watch:

Binary White Sumui Moon Watch SM102W2 with LED Binary Format Display Solid Stainless Steel

Actually this was something I found on the net (or on one of those endless forwarded emails) a long time ago, but I never knew they really existed – or that people actually buy them.

To cut a long story short, the upper row indicates hours and the lower row minutes – and to tell the time all you have to do is think in binary…and if you’re wondering how to do that, then this is probably not for you :)

The perfect gift for a computer programmer I’d think.


4. TV turn-off remote keychain:


This is one of those things that’s funnier than it looks, but then that goes by what’s your definition of “funny”.

This handy little keychain has over 400 frequencies of “off” codes pre-programmed to turn off virtually any TV, DVD and electronic device that has an infra-red port in it.
I’m not sure how well it works but the makers say it works on “99% of all TVs”.

Hmm, I wonder what people would do when they catch the guy who keeps turning off the TV right in the crucial stages of a match – at the game-bar.

5. Solar powered messenger-bag:

O-Range Lounge Solar Messenger Bag

If it weren’t for the fact that it looks kinda lame (and costs over a 100 bucks!) I’d like to buy this messenger bag.

Not only does it scream Environmentally Friendly, but I guess this is one of those things that’s actually more useful than it is cool.

I’ve been stuck a few times with a dead phone and no charger (or, for that matter, a power outlet) for hours, and it seems to happen especially when you’re expecting a call.
Time to put sunshine to good use.

6. Water-powered clock

Water Powered Alarm Clock

If you’re looking to show how green you are without lugging a weird-looking bag around – here’s an easier way to do it:
An alarm clock that’s powered by water.

I didn’t really understand how this thing is supposed to work; but apparently it’s based on some electrochemical reactions between the electrodes and the water – and produces just enough electricity for it to tell time, temperature and even wake you up!

Quite impressed by that I must say!

7. Electronic Rubik’s cube:

Rubik's TouchCube

To be quite honest, I was never much of a puzzle freak and to this day I could never solve a rubik’s cube.
But I think part of the problem was that the traditional cube doesn’t really help once you’re stuck…that’s where this idea comes in handy:

A touch-sensitive Rubik’s Cube with colors that light up when you slide your fingers across it, allowing you to actually ‘solve’ it.
Best thing is, when you’re stuck or something, apparently it even offers hints for solving the current combination!

But I wonder if it could actually substitute for the real thing?

p.s. In case you were wondering, yes, these really are things you can actually buy – not that you’d want to buy them – but I just happened to stumble upon them one bored afternoon and realized there’s so many weird things out there…and this list is by no means even an remotely complete.

Lemme know what you think!

Windows 7 reviewed

Okay, here it is – The full review of Windows 7: Home Premium, 64bit edition brought to you by yours truly :)
It has been nearly two weeks since I first installed it, and so far its been good.
p.s. if you don’t like computers or couldn’t care less for new operating systems, please bear with me on this one. Thanks.

First reaction: I love it.
To be honest here, I guess this is starting out almost the same way as the Bush vs. Obama analogy: Windows 7 is amazing, simply because it is not Vista. It does right a lot of things that Vista messed up.
For instance, the power button doesn't directly put your computer to sleep (which was a major annoyance – how many people actually use “Sleep mode”?!); now you can choose which action you want to do...and the default is "Shutdown" which is quite the way it should be.

Actually customizability is the key here:
Almost every aspect of Vista that drove everyone up the wall can be customized to make it more bearable and even useful.
Like taskbar notifications, Windows defender (yes, its still here), UAC, instant one-click wallpaper changes (‘themes’ is a whole new feature in Windows7), Aero Peek options…it goes on!
But to make this more organized, here’s a list of stuff that makes this a winner:

  1. The taskbar is revamped, quite nice and takes a while getting used to, but I appreciate the fact that you can now "pin" programs to it just like you would on a dock. And the best thing is, a right-click gives you contextual options.
    Like for instance right-clicking Chrome shows new window, new incognito window and even some of your recently visited pages, while a right click on say, a media player shows recently played and so on.

  2. I'm happy it DOES NOT come with Windows Mail, Windows Calendar or Windows Gallery. Actually in Vista I was quite confused why they were there because the EXACT same thing is also available on WindowsLive! (as Live Calendar, Live Mail and Live Gallery.
    So now you don't have twice as many preinstalled software...only one set of them and I have to admit that Live Writer is pretty good.

  3. When installing say a program or something, the installation progress actually shows on the taskbar icon when minimized. Nifty!

  4. ‘Libraries’ is a cool new feature that allows you to collate different folders from all over your computer onto a single location to easily look through it.
    Like say you have your downloads from each of your browsers in different locations. You can now add all these locations to your ‘Downloads Library’ so that you can find all your downloads in one place – even as the folder content changes.

  5. Windows Media Player 12 does not automatically steal file extensions from your existing (already default) video players. Instead, it asks you politely if you do want it to take them. And of course, you only have yourself to blame if you click on 'yes'.

  6. Those gadgets are now on their own on the desktop, without that horrible sidebar. Unfortunately the changes here are only skin deep and it still runs as a single process called (what else?) "sidebar.exe".

  7. The drag-to-resize-windows is a simple yet ingenious new feature in Windows7:
    Drag to the top of the screen to maximize, or drag to either side to snap to it taking up exactly half the screen on any side (previously the only way to do this was to select "Show windows side by side" from the taskbar context menu.
    The best part is that when you drag it away, it automatically shrinks back to the original size when you drag it away. And because most people these days use widescreens, it really makes comparing two windows a ton easier.
    A tip of the hat to whoever at Microsoft though of this!

And I’m sure there’s a lot more to come – just as I am sure there’s gonna be bugs as well, but for now things look good.
Oh and btw, in case you are looking to buy, here’s a link:

Window(s) on the horizon

Yes, today is October 22nd.
Today, the much awaited version of Microsoft’s popular operating system – Windows 7 – officially launches worldwide. And being the crazy electronics freak that I am, the box is already on my desk.

And here’s what it looks like, straight out of the box (along with my laptop and other stuff):


Yeah I know, I haven’t even opened the box yet [23oct, Edit:] Okay, so I’ve just opened the box this morning and can confirm, yes it comes with both the 32bit and 64bit DVDs which is a good thing because I’m looking forward to “going 64”.
And I really hope its worth the hype because I’ve completely lost hope in Vista (recently my Gtalk, Skype and other VOIP software stopped working all of a sudden).

I can’t wait to install this.

When wolves become shepherds…

A shepherd was out with his sheep one day, when a wolf came along and attacked one of them. The man chased after the wolf and took his sheep back. The wolf then turned, and spoke to the shepherd:
”If today you are protecting the sheep, but who will protect the sheep on the Day of Savagery, when there will be no shepherd to protect the sheep, except me.
The day, when wolves become shepherds…”

And today, when US president Barack Hussain Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”…
…my initial reaction was:
”Say WHAT??”

Now don’t get me wrong…its not like I don’t like Obama (his monkey-faced predecessor yes, but not him, really) but I’d like to know two things:
1) What exactly did Obama do to deserve a “peace” award and
2) was there really no one else in the world who made a bigger contribution to peace this year???

Yes, I really would appreciate it if any of those guys from the Nobel Committee cared to explain exactly WHY the hell would they want to give a “peace” award for someone who hasn’t really done anything so far.
I mean okay, so he’s “strengthening diplomacy” but is that what a peace prize is for? Almost seems like an insult to what Mother Teresa did.

Which brings us to my next question:
This whole “strengthening diplomacy” thing – is that honestly the best anyone has done for peace this year; out of 6 billion people? Seriously?
Wow, it that’s really true, the future of humanity doesn’t look very promising.

But then maybe I’m just over-reacting. I guess at some level this is good news; because now the Nobel Prize – the Epitome of all that is Great and High – all of a sudden seems within reach of almost anyone.
I mean come on, if Obama can bag a peace prize after calling for renewed attacks on a country America invaded… its almost surprising why anyone else can’t have one.

Hmm, I wonder if Britney Spears would like a Nobel Prize in Chemistry next year…
Think I’ll start a campaign or something.
Who’s with me?

Why Germans must learn English

This is just a random video I found on YouTube on the most unlikeliest of days, and I found it so hilarious that I had to share it with everyone.

p.s. We’d like to wish everyone on the blessed occasion of Eid Al-Fitr, more commonly known as “Ramzan”. Today was Eid here, as it was in most parts of the world except the Indian Subcontinent. Wherever you are, may this Eid bring you happiness and prosperity.

p.p.s. I know I’m also long overdue for a post, not to mention a load of catching up on other peoples’ blogs. Hopefully will get to that soon.

Ramadan reflections

Today, depending on the part of the world you're currently in, it’s either the 17th or 18th of Ramadan, the blessed month of Fasting.
And today is also the day I realized its been about a month I've been away from (mine and other people's) blogs, and the social internet in general.

Now coming to Ramadan, I’m guessing almost everyone knows at least someone muslim, but I find it alarming that in spite of this, a lot of people have quite a few misconceptions; so here we present, The Square Circle's Guide to Understanding Ramadan... for the people who didn't know it already

Firstly, "Ramadan" (or "Ramzan", depending on how you pronounce it) is NOT the festival. It is the blessed month when we fast and it lasts 29 to 30 days depending on the lunar calendar.
The festival is called "Eid", and that comes at the end of the month.

There’s more to fasting than just staying away from food and water. The fasting person also exercises mental discipline – and that includes staying clear of fights, arguments and abusive language as well.

We don't particularly appreciate it when people ask us if we’re hungry, and then wonder out loud that its incredible how you can go a whole day without eating anything.
Its not like we’re setting up a new world record by being without food and drink for 15hrs – people have been doing this for at least 1,400 years.

Actually, people have been fasting for even longer than that – and every major religion on earth has and requires of its members to undergo fasts.

We don’t fast to lose excess flab, cut down on calories or save on lunch money. Quite surprising even some (educated) people from work think that.
We fast because the Creator of the heavens and the earth asks us to, and we do it to seek His bounty, who has bestowed upon us all we have and don't think twice about.
(including that snickers bar in your hand right now!)

If you’re a smoker, no it is not ridiculous that you have to go through the day without a smoke.
Personally, I think it is smokers who are ridiculous.

Yes, women fast too.

Not everyone gets to eat haleem everyday (or for that matter, knows how to make it). Yes, I do miss it, but there’s only so much a guy can cook for himself.

Iftar (after sun down) is not an excuse to stuff yourself with everything in the fridge and make up for the lost food.
Unfortunately, even most muslims seem to have no clue about this.

Above all, Ramadan is a time to reflect – upon all things that we have been blessed with, of all things we aren’t thankful for, and think about all those people, who involuntarily fast every single day…

…whose fasting doesn’t necessarily end at sunset with a big table of food.

May Peace be upon you all.

The “Khan” effect

Judging by what happened yesterday, I would say US Airport Officials want us to believe that regardless of background or qualifications, anyone with the last name of “Khan” could possibly be a potential terrorist wanting to blow up all of America.

While news channels in different countries portrayed the event – the detention of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan – as either “humiliating” (as per the Indian media) or “a dramatic over-reaction” (as per the pro-American news channels), what this really shows is how fundamentally flawed the American so-called counter-terrorism intelligence really is.

I mean firstly, not only did they manage to attack and invade a sovereign country under the pretext of non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction (does anyone even remember that anymore?) and defend that claim for over a year, but when the truth finally did come out in 2004 – that, in fact, there really was no WMD and that the intelligence was seriously flawed – they conceded that damage was already done. And that they now had stay in order to “stabilize” a country they originally invaded on stupid intelligence.

And coming back to the present, now because Mr. Khan is a global celebrity with good political connections, he was just ‘taken aside’ for questioning and released with the full support of the Indian Embassy 2hours later.
But I shudder to think what would have become of the more common Khan – one who is not so well connected to people in high places.
Would he have been held for days, maybe weeks for the “secondary questioning”?
Or maybe even sent to Guantanamo Bay, just like the countless other innocents languishing for years there, held without any charge?

Regardless of whatever “its-all-for-security” reasons anyone gives, if a computer turns up someone’s name just because of their cultural or religious affiliation without any other basis, it shows how pathetic the whole system really is. I mean seriously, do they program those things to turn red and sound alarm bells just because someone’s NAME sounds funny?

For that, they might as well put up a sign that says,
”People named Khan, Muhammed, or Abdullah not allowed without additional verification”.

And if that’s how they are going to keep their citizens safe anymore, they really shouldn’t call themselves “The Land of The Free” anymore.

Update, 24Aug:
After extensive reading, I find out that there *is* such a thing as a "No-Fly List" in the United States and Canada, detailing names - and nothing more - of passengers who are, quite simply, not allowed to fly. Over time, this list is rumored to have grown to over a million names (although this claim is officially denied) and poses significant hinderance to the common person who unfortunately happens to shares their name with someone on the list.
In such cases, the person is expected to prove that "I am not him/her" using a variety of identification methods, and apparently almost always leads to delays/missed flights for such people.

How the internet can ruin your day

It just occurred to me that there’s a flip side to having practically unlimited high-speed internet access both at home and in the workplace.
And today, it just ruined my day.

It started out quite normal – a regular day doing what I normally do, and since it wasn’t very hectic this Thursday morning, I logged on to an online forum where I sometimes participate.
There were a few discussion threads and one of them seemed interesting enough to get into, and a few points exchanged back and forth. Good, constructive criticism. And then all of a sudden, a guy jumps in, accuses me of lying and everything, and before I know it, its a full-fledged war out there.

I had a few heated exchanges with him and finally decided to call it quits…when I realized how badly this really shook me up.
I didn’t enjoy my lunch today, and I really couldn’t concentrate on my work either.  He completely ruined my day, and pretty much most of my evening as well.

I came back from work still thinking about this, and it took me a couple of cake rusks and a load of funny pictures from Oddee to calm me down.
And as I still thought of new ways to get back at him, I realized:
Why am I even doing this?

For some faceless guy on the internet I don’t even know (he goes by the name of Dovey_Descends by the way) and of whom the only image I have is his profile pic?
Why should I care what he thinks?
Why did I let him ruin an otherwise perfect day?

I guess the answer lies in how much we love our online personas. And I for once learnt my lesson: nothing online is important enough to ruin your real life.
Dovey, if you’re reading this, you’re just a pathetic loser who gains from online wackamola. Go get a life!

And now if you’ll excuse me, soup’s on!

The Germanic Language

There’s a famous joke that says that at the time of the American independence, there was much debate over which of the two – German or English – should be the official language. And that even though it was English that finally won, German did manage to make itself quite well established regardless.

I don’t doubt that for a moment. Here’s a list of normal English words I’ve come across that seem to have been directed infused from German:

I guess everyone knows that the children’s playschool is actually a German word. ‘Kinder’ is German for children (singular: Kind) and ‘Garten’ is, well, a garden.

Thinly sliced cabbage in cold cream is not an American invention either. I’m thinking this was derived from ‘Kohl’ (pronounced almost exactly like ‘cole’) which is German for Cabbage.

No, those backpacks aren’t American either. This comes from the German ‘Rückpack’ (with a “ü”) where ‘Rück’ means back.

Apothecary table:
This medieval table having the many compartments for storing medicinal items was made popular in Friends, but I’m not too sure how many people noticed the language it came from.
’Apotheke’ is German for a pharmacy.

And I’m sure there’s lots more where that came from, and I just wanna let you know, I’m still not done with German yet.

The Arab connection

I guess I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been asked if I’m Arab.
Notwithstanding that time on the plane, and that other kid who mistook me for an “arabic person”, the past couple of months I’ve also been asked if I speak Arabic, more times than I’ve been asked if I speak German.

That, and the fact that at the barber saloon I go to, the guy speaks no English, no German and little Arabic, I think it would be more useful than fun to answer “Yes”, the next time someone asks.

With this view in mind, I’d like to announce that effective immediately I now start to learn, a self-taught course on Arabic.
Of course, this is not a new language for me, but having spent most of my school years dreading language classes, I guess it is still going to be a while before I can look someone in the eye and say,
”Na’am, atakallam al-Arabi”

Now, why am I saying all this here?
Because I know that two weeks down the line when I decide to give up because it is getting too way hard to learn TWO languages simultaneously (yes, my German course is still on!) I want to look back at this entry and tell myself that I’m not gonna wimp away from something I promised in Public.

And hope that’s motivation enough.
I wish me luck.

Intelligence India

Despite everything we say about our country being backwardly progressive, apparently a lot of people in the western world think that India in general – and Indians especially – are quite bright sparks.

Here’s quite a few amusing incidents I’ve experienced/found to this effect:

Last June, I happened to sit next to an old German guy on the plane back to Frankfurt from Dubai and we got talking.
He first asked me if I was Arab (I don’t know why, a lot of people have asked me that; starting to wonder if I don’t look Indian enough) and when I said I wasn’t; and that I was from India, he only had one thing on the top of his mind:
”Ah India, you must be a computer programmer then?”

* * *

I was out at dinner with some people from work last month to bid farewell to some colleagues from Argentina. Of course, as the lot involved several colorful nationalities (we had Indian, German, Argentinean, and Spanish speaking people with us that night) the conversation undoubtedly turned towards languages and culture.
That’s when one guy asked me if Indians were supposedly good with programming because;
”Your native languages follow a grammatical structure similar to a programming syntax”

After I nearly rolled over with laughter, I began to wonder if it really could be my bad Tamil grammar that’s causing all the bugs in my programs.

* * *

The character from the comic-strip Dilbert once remarked on the intellectual ability of Indians and their suitability for outsourcing projects. As he presents his report, the first option on his list was,
“highly educated Indians who speak perfect English”

…who were of course finally not chosen because they were also quite “pricey”. :D

* * *

In the recent (2009) animated movie Monsters vs. Aliens, in the scene where the top of the US armed forces meet and realize how bad the situation really is, the US President shouts at an underling,
“We need our top scientific minds on this. Get me India on the phone!”

* * *

Apparently there’s a lot more to India then people imagine.
And if the above is any indication to go by, then I’m only too happy to be part of it.

Windows 7: I update, therefore I am

In case you’ve missed it, the biggest thing going around the geekosphere today is Windows7, which opened for exclusive pre-release orders in Europe at midnight.

If you’re wondering what’s going on, Microsoft is offering Windows7 (which officially launches worldwide on Oct 22) for advance pre-orders in three zones – North America, Europe and Japan – at a ridiculously special price of 49.99 EUR.

Normally, I don’t make a big deal of stuff like this but what was remarkable about this one is, the demand was apparently so high that online stores’ servers started going down all over Europe this morning!
In fact Amazon Germany was sold out in just over an hour!
Amazon UK is still struggling to keep up with demands – and other stores are having a field day as well.

Now as a person who just missed a free upgrade by getting my new laptop a week too early (Dell is offering this to all laptops bought just a week after mine), I wasn’t going to lose out on this. And so, I now stand, the proud recipient of the greatest Windows to come out in a long time.

I’ve always said I hated Windows Vista – and come October 22, I can finally smile and say,
“I told you so” 
…as I get rid of my Vista DVD.

I can hardly wait.

16Jul09. Its finally official: This link from the BBC quotes Amazon as saying that “sales of Windows 7 in the first eight hours it was available outstripped those of Windows Vista's entire 17 week pre-order period”!

Man, talk about sellout! I guess Microsoft grossly underestimated how much people hated Vista to get to the next upgrade as soon as they could!

Going the ‘Open’ Office way

After much deliberation, I finally got rid of my 60-day trial version of MS Office2007 and switched to open source software, namely, (yeah I know, the .org is part of its official name as well).

On a side note, I also got rid of Microsoft Works9 that came preinstalled on my laptop straight away and buried the installation CD deep.
In my opinion, Works is the most ridiculous office suite anyone could have thought of, and I guess the only reason people even use it is because it comes preinstalled on every computer you buy Windows with (along with a trial version of the current MS Office suite).

Now why am I moving to open source?
First and foremost: because its FREE!
I can’t imagine shelling out a good 75 EUR for the home (and “student”) edition of MS Office – whatever the hell that means; it ships with exactly the same version of Word and Excel as every other edition – the only differences being the other extras.

Secondly, because I’m not exactly an excel power-user – in fact the only reason I use a spreadsheet is for keeping track of my spending and managing passwords.
I really couldn’t care less for Macros or a Visual Basic editor outside work.

Even so, the incredible power of has completely blown me away; in fact there’s a whole bunch of things it does so much better than MS Office that I’m wondering why I didn’t use it all along. And why more people don’t use it.

If you’re one of those people who’re lugging around a pirated version of MS Office because you can’t afford the real thing and secretly wishing no one calls your foul, I’m talking to you.
I know your excuse: you think you’ve no other options – and you couldn’t be more wrong. And with extensive online support and instant (not to mention FREE!) updates, there couldn’t be a better time to switch to Open Source Software.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go install VLC player (everybody’s favorite open player), GIMP (an open source image editor that’s supposed to rival Photoshop) and 7-zip (open source archive extractor).

The Comeback

Yes, I am back from vacation.
Back from two weeks of fun, good food and family. And back to my regular life.

The past few weeks were good, and the vacation was even better because it helped sort out the few things messing around in my head that I mentioned in the last post and made me see life in the true sense it is meant to be seen.

I realized that you don’t always need a plan, and that things won’t always go according to the one you make.
And that its not even a bad thing.

I realized I should be thankful for everything I have, which includes my family, my friends, the job I have, the food I eat, my new laptop, iPod, PSP and high-speed wireless internet :)

I realized there is no such thing as a dead-end career, and that all jobs will eventually kill your potential unless you keep the edge. And keep moving forward.

I realized knowledge is just about the only thing you can truly own, and that it doesn’t always need to come in a standard package as an MBA or some other degree.
And that to seek knowledge is a quest upon us all till the day we die.

I realized there is more to life that having a job, making money, spending some of it and putting away everything else.
And that money is merely a tool that should help with a greater cause in life.

I realized that time is the most important thing people waste, and many don’t even realize what a crime it really is.
And that it is for that same reason that too much sleep is the refuge of cowards.

I realized... that I realized much today.
I’m really glad I had that vacation; I feel fresh with a ton of ideas, and there’s loads of stuff I wanna write about!

The Square Circle is back in business.

I need a time-out

In case you haven’t noticed already, I haven’t been very actively blogging of late. Actually I haven’t been quite active doing anything creative lately.

I guess part of the reason for that has to do with stuff that’s been going around in my head for a while that kind of needs my attention. Some of this involves what a management guy would probably call “reorientation of short-term goals” and includes (though not limited to) a possible change of career, or geographical relocation, rethinking on continuing school, maybe taking up paid-writing more seriously, getting married, going bungee-jumping and so on, although not necessarily in that order.

And the other thing being the fact that I leave on a 2week vacation shortly and – in the true style of all my vacations – stay as far away from computers as I can while on vacation.

So I’m guessing this is probably the last post in a while, and thus effective right now, I take a break from blogging in pursuit of some, if not of all, of the above.

In case you’re wondering, no I am NOT quitting my blog, and The Square Circle will continue to be online. Like I said, I’m on a break – not on retirement.

Chromatic thoughts...

“Looking at the world though rosy glasses is usually just a pigment of your imagination”

Base Bloggers

Without saying their names I’d like to mention that as of this morning, five people who I’ve known, personally or otherwise, decided to quit off the blogosphere and delete their blogs.

And I’m not sure if any of those people might be reading this post, but just in case you are, I’ve got just one thing to say to you guys:

You’ve let us down.

“Us” is every single person who ever visited your blog, read your posts and was considerate enough to leave a comment on it.
We did all that because we thought it mattered. We thought it was fascinating to glimpse into your lives and look at that special place where all things suddenly become equal – where you write all those interesting happenings in your life, your poems and creative proses, your dreams and those mad little thoughts, everything that you wanted to share with the world.

Until you decided to shut that door upon us forever.
And I say again: I am disappointed.

To all those ex-bloggers who’ve decided to quit and move on; I wish you all the best for your future pursuits, and I do hope that your life takes on a deeper meaning than it has now.

And on behalf of the community, I’d just like to say that while we will not grieve for you, we will surely miss you!


The Square Circle’s guide to the perfect notebook

I’ve been researching on this topic for over 3yrs now…and although “research” is probably not the right word for it, it always intrigues me when people ask on choosing their perfect notebook.

I’ve tried to write this in plain English and leave out the geek-talk as much as possible but kindly excuse if there’s terminology in here that’s over the moon.

This list is by no means complete, but here’s a few simple things to keep in mind buying your next notebook.

a) First things first: Go do your homework

This is about as basic as it gets, and ultimately boils down to just answering two questions:

  1. What am I going to use it for?
  2. And where am I going to use it?

Half the laptops in the world are bought by people who don’t know what they want. Don’t end up paying good money for great features that you don’t really need.

For instance, if you’re just looking to play games and surf the net, yes you need a good graphics card and a large screen…but do you really need that biometric fingerprint reader, backlit keyboard and advanced hard-drive shock protection?

And if it’s just going to be sitting on your desk all the time, who cares about 5hour battery backup.
Here’s another tip: If it really is only going to sit on your desk all day…does it really need to come in pretty colors on the back of the lid where no one will ever see it?

Of course, if you’re planning on running around with it all over, and use it on trains, airplanes and maybe even in your bathroom, it does help to keep it light while eyeing for maxing out the battery.

A couple of years ago when a colleague of mine asked me to look out for a ‘good’ notebook for her, I put together the best configuration I could think of…only to be told later that all she was looking for was “something light-weight with a nice screen and pink colored”.

Lesson to learn: Do your own homework, not someone else’s.

b) You really don’t need a huge hard-disk

Yes, and I may be the only person on earth actually saying it, but it really is true.

One, it helps keeps the clutter down:
When you know you don’t have infinite storage, you’ll start cutting down on the junk you have on it – those lame forwarded emails and the stupid bundles of trial and freeware that you’d never need. There’s nothing worse than a high performance notebook bloated up with trialware.

Two, and more importantly, it encourages you to store more important (and permanent) data on an external drive so that when you laptop crashes (which will happen one day) you don’t lose everything.
I should know…I’ve been a victim of this. Twice.

And here’s an added bonus: When you have a copy of your important data elsewhere, makes it easier to carry it around to say, another computer or even another country.

c) There’s no such thing as a Future-Proof laptop

Let me get this to you straight: No matter what you buy, regardless of whether it has the greatest configuration on earth right now, it WILL get outdated…and sooner than you think.

It’s simply not worth spending that much on a laptop.

So don’t waste your money on specs that you think you ‘might’ need down the line.
I found this out the hard way when I bought my first notebook and spent extras on the highest RAM available at the time, so that it could run memory-intensive applications and OSes like Vista and stuff later on.

Less than three years later, my 1GB of RAM seems almost laughable; and most certainly cannot do most of what I have hoped for.

Moral of the story: If you’re a guy who hardly ever watches movies, you definitely do not need a Blu-Ray drive even if it’s the hottest thing there is right now. Who knows, a year down the line they might become as commonplace as camera-phones are now.

Get the specifications you do need, not what you might need.

d) It helps to have inside information

I know a friend who works for a major computer manufacturer, and because his job is selling computers, I dare say he knows a thing or two about laptops and how they are priced.

And he’s also told me inside stuff on their brand that I’d never have otherwise known. Obviously, I can’t write what he said or who he works for…but I’ll just say this: don’t believe everything you read on computer websites.
I leave the rest to your imagination.

e) Stick to the basics

Unless you’re getting a Mac or clever enough to work with Linux, I guess it is safe to say the rest of us are stuck with Windows Vista for the time being.
And since you will probably end up paying for it, might as well make the most of it.

I, for one, prefer Vista Home Basic because it offers a cleaner, more simpler and leaner interface than say, Aero.
Also, the only extras Home Premium provides (apart from 3D flip and all the glitter) are the Media Center and connectivity/maintenance tools I know most people never use.

So unless you’re a sucker for eye-candy, you’re better off without all this trash hogging your resources.
But no matter which version you eventually get, do the logical thing first and get rid off all those stupid extras and trialware you’ll never need.

f) Warranties do matter

If you’re one of those people who looked at the “Extended 3year Complete Cover” and decided it was for children, think again.

Accidents do happen: it could fall off your desk, the motherboard might decide to die, or you just might spill coffee on the keyboard.
It can happen to anyone.

And the worst thing about notebooks is, for the most part there’s nothing inside that you can fix yourself (as opposed to desktops), so you’re left at the mercy of those service centers and their prohibitively expensive costs.
Here’s where warranties, especially extended warranties, help because most problems start approximately a year after you get it.

Yes, it is a bit of an initial investment, but in the long run it pays for itself.

Ultimately, its what you get done "on" your notebook that counts...and not what you need to get done "for" it.
And a few wise decisions, go a long way in achieving that.

Happiness is...

...coming home from the airport after a tiring trip and sinking into a comfortable chair with a steaming cup in hand, catching up on the Emails from over the weekend.

The things I do…Offline

Looking back at this month, I realized I wrote just two posts the whole of this April …which is way below my average!
In fact, now that I think about it, I barely logged into my Facebook account twice all this month; I still have unanswered Email in my inbox and I haven’t even read up on all the blogs I regularly read (I know that’s lame, I’m really sorry you guys!).

So what
did I do all of this month while I was away from blogs and social networking sites?

Well, even though there wasn’t a shortage of stuff to write in my life, turns out there’s a lot more to be accomplished offline, than sitting in front of a computer.
Here’s a list of some of what happened.

A good friend of mine (who recently decided to pursue his masters in management) decided to trust me with correcting, rewriting, proof-reading and otherwise ‘fixing’ his essays for his business school.
I love to write, but when someone trusts me with stuff like this, yes I feel honored, but also nervous. In the end though, it was a good experience…and made me re-think about continuing school again.

I’ve also been invited to write for my company blog; and that feels good too, because it is mostly authored only by people who are almost as twice as old as I am!
Company policy however, dictates that I cannot mention it here, nor can I link up my blog URL to my post; but then I guess it is all the much better keeping my personal life separate from business.

I’ve been travelling. A lot.
Of course (from my previous post) you probably already know about my little trip to
The week after that, me and some guys from work – a colorful mix of Indian, Finnish and Argentinean colleagues – decided to take off on multiple mid-week road trips to
Rudesheim, Wiesbaden and Heidelberg.
It was quite a awesome experience visiting all these places, and doing it in the middle of the work week only added to the fun!
Remind me to write a detailed post on this later.

I’ve been working out.
Yes, don’t give me that look. Now that spring’s finally here, I’ve started this little routine of going out for a run everyday.
According to one guy I know though (who’s a fitness fanatic), it’s not enough to run unless you do it everyday for at least 45min at a stretch!
And even though I’m not at that level yet, I am working my way up.

I’ve finally started my course on learning German.
And about time too! My
“Bitte sprachen Sie Englisch?” was getting me nowhere.

I finally managed to clear away all the junk from my balcony flower pots; and eyeing the lawn downstairs. I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but I do have a bit of a green thumb. In case you’re wondering, gardening is not just for housewives or senior citizens…its really quite fun getting your hands in the dirt.

I spent an afternoon at my neighbor’s place trying to fix their computer. Note, I said
trying to fix it.
I don’t know how they got the weird idea that “those IT guys” should know everything about computers, silly people.

And to all the guys reading this whose blogs I haven’t read, I’m sorry…but there was a load of stuff that kept me away. But I will get to it soon.
Jaffer if you’re reading this, there is life beyond twitter; hence proved :D (don’t hate me!)

Love you guys!

Sidenotes on Brussels

Yup, I am back from another one of my elaborate weekend getaways; this time me and my roomie decided to take off to Brussels – the capital of Belgium – for the easter holidays.

And like any true-blooded blogger, I kept small notes of things that kept intriguing me; and thus I present…

Side-notes on the city: 

a)       At a height of over a hundred meters and weighing over 2,000 tons, the Atomium was incredibly impressive. But even though you’ve probably seen great many pictures of it… I guess the reason this is not a very “popular” landmark (like the Eiffel Tower for instance) is because apparently every single image of the Atomium – regardless of whether they are holiday pictures you took – is protected by copyright and it is illegal to publish images of it.
Ridiculous law I know, but it is true.

b)       Belgian chocolates ARE a big deal. They are amazing.
Ditto for Belgian waffles.

c)       A lot of people in Brussels have no clue about their city.
At the hotel we stayed, the manager didn’t know that the Jardin Botanique, which he claimed was supposedly 10minutes away, had actually been shifted to outside the city.
…No one had any idea what the Autoworld was or where it was located. And it IS in
…The waiter at a restaurant we went to had never heard of a museum that was on his street!

d)       Brussels has a surprisingly sizable arab/muslim population. In fact, leaving aside the tourist traps in the city center, within suburbia you can pretty much get by with just Arabic…even though French and Dutch are the two official languages.

e)       Dutch is remarkably similar to German; which makes little difference to me because I don’t speak German either – but trust me; it does have a lot of similar words.

f)         The Mini-Europe near the Atomium has beautifully crafted and extremely accurate 1:25 scale models of most famous buildings and landmarks in Europe.
However, one of the most famous landmarks in
Europe (not to mention, one of the seven wonders of the world) – the Colosseum – was missing.
What’s up with that?

g)       Apparently the most famous public landmark in Brussels is the bronze statue of a little boy…er…answering the call of nature called the Manneken-Pis. You’ve probably seen pictures of this too; and if you’re wondering if it was just a marketing ploy, you’re absolutely right.
Hidden in the corner of a narrow alley and at just 61cm tall, this was perhaps the most over-hyped and ridiculous-looking famous thing I’ve EVER seen. And I’ve seen quite a few.

What makes it so silly is the fact that there really isn’t any verifiable, historic significance behind this…just a bunch of legends that took this statue to where it is today.

But all said and done, this was quite an enjoyable trip, and Brussels is really a nice little city with a good mix of ancient landmark buildings and glass and steel high-rises that can easily compete with the Manhattan skyline. Do pay it a visit if you get the chance…Brussels will not disappoint you!

Google Fools Day!

It comes as no surprise that Google – as one of the world’s leading internet companies – is also the one with the biggest sense of humor when it comes to practical jokes.

Last year on the 1st of April, Google blew the world away when they announced a print service that allowed Gmail users to print out their emails and have them delivered to a physical home address, complete with a Gmail-stickered cardboard box!
Needless to say, the next day everyone realized the joke was on them when Google pointed it out.

And thus history repeats itself again; and I almost instinctively knew Google is up to no good again this year.

So I go to the Google homepage and guess what I find:

Google Chrome in 3D

Yup, you read that right; apparently this time Google wants us to believe there is actually a version of their popular browser that let us see stuff in 3D!
The page actually features a special version of Chrome with 3D along with steps to follow to get the perfect 3D view.

And get this; the site comes complete with a PDF document with a picture of 3D glasses you should print, cut out and wear!!!

I doubt if the site (or at least the link) will stay for long, so here’s a couple of screenshots from the site and the 3D glasses:

Given the amount of following Google has, I'm sure there's lots of downloads of this already; but I really wonder how many people are gonna fall for it this time!!

Putting Vista behind...

I guess it is safe to declare that even after two years after its initial release, Windows Vista is still the worst thing to happen to software in recorded history!

I mean seriously, what were they thinking when they rolled out an Operating System that was slower than the previous one; refused to work with almost all existing devices at the time and hogged entire system resources?

I’m not getting into all the details here; I already wrote another post a long time ago on Why I hate Vista and incredibly, most of it still holds true even today more than a year after I originally wrote it.
And I’m not the only one saying it – ask any guy with a (new) computer and he will agree that Vista should be sent to Computer Hell and put behind us as a bad dream as soon as possible.

In fact, I guess even Microsoft knows this, and this kind of explains why the beta for Windows 7 (which by the way, was already released a couple of months ago) was out in just under 2 years from their this-is-gonna-be-so-great Vista launch, which came nearly 7 years after Windows XP.

All said and done, now why am I still getting so worked up about this?

Because it puts anyone looking to buy a new computer or notebook in a tight spot. Desktop computers are one thing, but laptops normally come with an operating system pre-installed on it by default, and in most cases you need to buy the whole package (as opposed to getting a blank system or one with a free Linux distribution).

And here’s the messed up part – laptops don’t come with Windows XP anymore so like it or not, you are forced to throw away good money on Vista, just because the computer manufacturers had a deal with Microsoft.
How bad is that?

What makes this problem even bigger is the fact that most happy-go-lucky home users don’t really care much; and hence most manufacturers don’t bother to give you too many options selecting your own OS; getting one with Linux or without anything at all! There are far too few notebooks that allow you this freedom.

In fact, I know at least 4 people who bought computers with the ‘mandatory’ Vista pre-installed on it - despite them hating it - just because it was the only easy way out. I just can’t see myself doing that.

And because the only other viable option is the gorgeous-looking and terribly expensive Apple Macbook , I guess the only thing left for me to do is hang on to the ancient monster I have and wait for Windows 7 to hit the streets.

And hope they actually get it right this time!

Simple Life

A lot of people I know may not agree with me on this one; but in a weird way I guess we’re part of history in the making.
I mean, even though I'm not exactly at that age when most people would write a “back-when-I-was-young” post, when I look back at my days as a kid, I guess life was much less complicated than all the stuff what we have now.

A collection of memories of days gone by that were much, much simpler.

Back home in Jeddah, our TV managed to get two channels – one of them from eight in the morning and the other from four in the afternoon; both of which ended their broadcasts at midnight. And because one channel was in Arabic (which I just pretend to understand!) there was only one channel I really watched. But you always had something good to watch – and didn’t have to channel-surf over a hundred channels before you realize there’s nothing good on.

We had a VCR.
And we rented out video cassettes of good movies. Piracy wasn’t such a big deal because apart from the pros, only people with terribly expensive double cassette VCRs could make a copy for themselves – which wasn’t too many people.
Besides, you never had to worry about compatible disk formats, or downloading different codecs or new versions of your video players.

There was one phone in the house.
It was simply called ‘the telephone’. And there were rules for how long you could speak on it and what were appropriate times for calling other people up.
And I could still reach all my friends when I needed to.

The computer was a huge thing with a tower CPU and a 14” CRT screen that preposterously occupied most of the table real estate while cranking out a miserly 300Mhz of computing. Yet it was fast enough to get all your work done; and even play a few games on it.

1.44 MB was all the storage you ever needed to carry around.
In the rare case that your documents didn’t fit on one disk, you could zip them onto two or three disks; but that was usually not a problem because in any case, you never had more than 5MB of data to be made portable.

Music was an audio cassette you bought from real stores.
Maybe borrowed from a friend. Or in any case, could always listen to it on the radio. And you rarely, if ever, really needed to know the album, composer, genre, year and all other “mandatory” the other things that make up IDE tags.

Cars did not have GPS satellite navigators.
But people actually knew how to get where they wanted to go. And still managed to get there in time inspite of having no ‘real-time’ data on the traffic feed and weather conditions.

Written communication was a letter that you manually wrote out with a pen, on paper.
You then put it in an envelope, stuck a stamp on it, put it in the mailbox and waited for the other guy to receive it, read and then reply.
And it actually worked…I used to collect postage stamps at one time.

When the average guy first got it, all the internet was good for was Email, web-chat and search.
You did NOT have twitter, facebook, myspace and the dozens of other channels that feed you internet chatter day after day – to your mobile, desktop, gaming console and virtually every wired thing you own!
But somehow you still knew what your friends were up to.

And when you sum it up all together, it was kind of nice not knowing who was calling when the phone rang, or opening the mailbox and finding a letter from an old friend. I really wonder how things changed so quickly and made things so different...within maybe 10years.

Ah yes; life really was much simpler, and much, much happier back then!

Rich guy, Poor guy

I don’t do this a lot, and I’m guessing its maybe because of the financial crisis thingy, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about money. And the way I see it, you have at least three kinds of rich people in India; though this is probably true all over the world.

1. The illegally rich
As in filthy rich. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. We all know who they are; dirty politicians, the shady guys up in government, the underworld, the over-paid who don’t do their taxes, all the guys who in fact have our money and we don’t do anything about because in a way, we almost expect politicans to be corrupt.

2. The legally rich
These guys are real rich too – except that they get their dough through legal means (which unfortunately includes movie stars, but then that is legal), pay their taxes and sometimes even set up institutes of social welfare. This is a minority; but hey, as long as they have money and know what to do with it, I don’t really mind.

3. The pseudo-rich
This is the part that bothers me. And this is also where most okay-to-do families in our traditional society fit in, because these people don’t have the money for their extravagant quests but they pretend as if they do.
If you’re still wondering, these are the idiots who spend around a million rupees on a wedding; pathetic losers who spend over 4 million on a stupid 2 bedroom apartment on a marshy swampland at an hour’s drive from the city; and throw away unspeakable amounts into medical school admissions.

Now, this maybe fine if you have the money; but I call these guys idiots because they don’t – and do all this just so they “fit in” with society.

I recently met someone whose family had to come up with a 100 sovereign of gold jewelry for a wedding. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term; a sovereign is 8grams, so this works out to nearly a KILO OF GOLD!).
I mean come on, who does she think she is; Paris Hilton?

And why does this happen? Because people believe in the equally brainless justification of it:
“That’s how marriages are arranged, you need that much gold”

I simply believe they are idiots.
After all, when you think about it - you can’t really have a need to spend money you don’t have.

Its time to start rethinking all this.
And the current financial crisis is the perfect place to start.

The coolest thing in another country

This is a meme I picked up from ManiaRavings, my old buddy Jaffer’s blog quite a while ago. Now I don’t usually do memes because most of them kinda seem too clichéd…talking about a single color or animal or whatever; but unlike most other blog memes I’ve seen lately, this is something which asks you to write on (yup, you guessed it!) the coolest thing you’ve seen in another country.

(By the way if you’re wondering, a meme is a kind of a tag thing that goes around the blogosphere – people write on certain topics, and then someone else picks it up and puts their side of the story on it and so on.)

I’m not too sure if this qualifies to fit the description of the ‘coolest’ thing (I don’t believe in coolness); but I’d like to put forth my contribution – this picture – and explain the most awesome thing I’ve seen recently.

The picture above was taken me from an escalator that leads down to “line B” of the city metro in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

The photo in itself may not explain much or look too impressive, but at a steady drop of nearly four floors, this is the most deepest…and not to mention scariest escalator I’ve ever set foot on.

The official depth of the deepest station, Náměstí míru, is 52 meters (that’s over 170 feet for you North Americans!) and for some reason, whoever designed the metro decided that it takes you from ground level to the sub terrarium metro station in one single flight of steps.

This monster escalator runs at nearly twice the speed of a regular one, and still takes over 30seconds to reach the bottom, so you can appreciate how dizzying this is.
Again, I don’t know why but all the escalators in the Prague Metro seem a lot faster than usual.
In fact, they were so fast that just after one weekend, the ones back in Frankfurt almost seemed slow!

And here’s the weird thing:
For some reason, the posters on the sides are tilted to the angle of the descent (instead of being straight up like you’d expect them to be), what this means is that you’d have to tilt your head in order to properly look at them; adding to the already dizzying experience of being hurtled down nearly four floors at twice the regular speed in a claustrophobic tube.

All said and done, it was quite an experience because Prague in itself is a quiet little city with all the charms of an old European town – cobblestone roads, beautiful arch bridges and medieval castles.
It really is worth it to pay a visit if you can.

But in case you do go there…don’t forget to get on the metro!

(p.s. Do feel free to take up the meme and write your experiences. The topic: The coolest/weirdest thing you've ever seen in another country. If you've never been to another country, write on the most fascinating thing you've seen in your country. Looking forward to reading what you have to say on the subject!)

The recession and me

I hate to admit it, but the effects of the world-wide economic disaster are slowly starting to show up in our everyday lives…in places we least expect to find.

To start with, I’ve never bothered much about this whole financial fiasco because,
a) I don’t own any stocks, shares or other ridiculous make-lots-of-money-by-simply-waiting products, and
b) because let’s face it… It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything; I mean statistically speaking, so far more people have died in car accidents last year than because of this ‘crisis’. Heck, I think global warming is a bigger deal than this, and you don’t hear a lot of noise about that!

Now don’t get me wrong. Almost every person I know, knows at least someone who’s either lost their job or on forced-sabbatical. And just for the record, I work for less pay than I did last year too, so there.

And another part of these drastic measures every business, financial organization, and academic institutes use is the introduction of ‘cost-cutting’ measures. In plain English, it means they try to find places where money is wasted and try to minimize it….such as free-coffee-after-seven schemes, or that free bus ride from your office to the nearest public transport, and even those complimentary vouchers you’re entitled to.

And here, in the picture below, is the lousiest example of cost-cutting I’ve seen so far:

Shown above are billing invoices from a popular online store (I’ve deliberately blurred it and masked the name for obvious reasons; if you can still read it – good for you – but please don’t tell them. The last thing I need right now is legal trouble)

The one on the left is the regular A4 sized invoice everyone knows and what we used to get until a few months ago.
The little scrap on the right, at less than half the regular size (even the width has been trimmed) and written in such tiny fonts that your eyes hurt, is the new invoice I got with my stuff this evening.

Now I’m not too sure if there’s another logical explanation behind this, but given the current scenario I’m willing to bet that some genius at the billing department there decided they’re wasting too much paper on the invoices – so what if customers get tiny, hard-to-read invoices – all that matters is that there’s now 60% less paper they need to send customers. Besides, customers probably just throw them away anyway.

Which gets interesting when you think about it. When Greenpeace shouted their voice hoarse over deforestation and saving paper; I don’t know how many people thought about it. And yet when the cash register starts ringing trouble, every means possible become perfectly acceptable.

Hmm, wonder how much did they save on the rest of my invoice?

"This only is our English!"

Let’s face it…we as Indians, live all over the world, with vast majorities in the United States, UK, the Middle East and Australia, and in smaller minorities in the rest of Europe and Asia.
We belong to multiple religions and share diverse cultures. We indulge in diverse cuisines and speak different languages; but one thing unites us all, and that is, how we speak our beloved English language.

A collection of the most common sentences we hear from our comrades living all over the world…and the sheer confusion it causes.

“Back home, I had a two-wheeler”
(Exactly what kind of wheelie is that?)

“I think it is over costly”
(Firstly, what’s expensive isn’t ‘costly’…and two, what’s over it?)

“Is it veg or non-veg?”
(I’ve never failed to have fun with this typical yes-I-am-from-India dialog)

“It was on that street, na?”
(Na…I don’t think so)

“Who and all went there, I don’t know”
(The “and all” adds a desi touch to any statement don’t you think?)

“So only you told him, but he will not listen, isn’t it?”
(If you understood this, congratulations!)

“No, not vacation; I’m going to my native.”
(Another classic that leaves heads spinning)

“I used to go to office by auto, sometimes share-auto”
(To be honest, I’m not sure if anyone outside India will ever understand this one)

“I’m sure he can able to do this one”
(No comments on this, please)

“Tastes very good; especially with brinjal fry”
(I don’t know why, but most Asian vegetables aren’t known in the western world. And our “brinjal” has at least two other names.)

“Sorry, but she is out of station”
(She's out of where?)

“So, where are you put up?”
(Bad enough that I have to put up with this statement, he means to ask where you live)

“Binesh sir is not here – can you call later?”
(Okay, so he’s respected, but surely this guy Binesh is not knighted?)

"Right now I'm taking food"

(...and where are you taking it?)

"What is your good name?"

( mean like I also have a bad one?)

"Since extra work came up, my evening plans went for a toss"

(Cricket-inspired jargon. Another reason I hate that game)

…and there’s probably a ton more - I just can't think of any more for the fear my head might explode. And to all you non-Indians reading this and smirking at us…yes, English is our language too.

And we will speak it like this only.