Tuesday, April 06, 2010

USPS Clubs Baby Seals

I wanted to title the post "USPS Has No Sense Of Humor", but I was not trying to be funny. I was serious. I considered my mail serious art. Yet USPS rejected it. So much for the trouble. The title honestly reflects how I feel about USPS, justified or not.

The story begins when I read a post on creative young fellows at Syracuse University who came up with the concept of a Google Maps Envelope. Read the post before proceeding with my story here.

The creative folk I am, I decided to try it myself and after a couple of hours of experimenting with Google Maps and MS Word, came up with this masterpiece (addressed to a friend):

Then I waited for my friend to receive it, before I can post about it on Facebook. Little did I know that USPS isn't in the business of fostering creativity. Two days after I posted the envelope, I find my own mail in my mailbox, returned to sender. Here's the clubbed baby seal:

Yeah, they returned it. The envelope was still unopened, but I saw signs of (unsuccessfully) trying to pry it open without tearing it. I am glad that my glue was strong enough for them. I am glad for them too, because the letter inside was in Hindi which they wouldn't have understood anyway.

I knew I must have fallen foul to one of USPS' commandments, so I got searching on their website. Sure enough, their Delivery Address page listed my innumerable heinous crimes, including:

    • (Not) All capital letters
    • Punctuation
    • (Not) Two spaces between State and ZIP
    • (Not) Black ink on white or light paper
    • Fancy fonts and background patterns

I think the last two got me. Looking at the Return Address page, I noticed that I also made the mistake of not placing the return address on top left corner. This may explain why my address is crossed out, but I have always used this format (including over two dozen mails in US), so I don't know why it should matter.

So party's over guys. Concept is cute as a baby seal, but USPS would club it. Now don't try this at home...I mean don't try this in USA.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I hereby proclaim myself as the creator and the sole author of the expression "TGFI", which I define as "Thank Google For It".

The acceptable usage is to thank Google for things that have been made possible because of Google's initiatives. Specifically, where it brought about change in the way the world (or tech companies in general) behaved.

Examples of good use (where Google has been an innovator):
  • I used to get only 2 MB on my webmail. Now I get over a gigabyte. TGFI.
  • Wow! Nokia opened its Ovi Store and now we all can get free voice navigation on our GPS phones. TGFI.

Examples of still acceptable use (where Google does it well):
  • I was able to complete my assignment on time although I knew nothing about the topic with 3 hours to go. TGFI.
  • Take that. I can take a virtual tour of Paris from the comfort of my home on Google Maps. TGFI.

Examples of unacceptable use (where Google is clearly lacking behind; except when it done for irony):
  • With Orkut I can now connect with everyone I know virtually. TGFI.
  • With knol, I have finally found a way to share my expertise with the world. TGFI.

Use of lower case "tgfi" is also acceptable. Feel free to use it as long as you don't take credit for inventing the word. You don't have to credit me for it, but I will be glad if you do. This expression is hereby released to the wilderness of the internet.

Note: The word is based on the expression "TGIF", which is a Public Domain word. Use of "Google" in the expression is allowed under fair-use.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ironical Timelines

A Search Engine, a free Webmail, a web browser, an operating system, and a programming language. This seems to be the history of Google: Google Search (1997) < Gmail (2004) < Chrome (2008) < Chrome OS (2009) < Go (2009). Ironically, this is also the reverse Chronology for Microsoft: MSN Search (1998) > HoTMaiL (1996) > Internet Explorer (1995) > Windows (1985) > BASIC (1975).

Monday, November 09, 2009

Can Anyone Explain What's Going On With India's Education?

I was looking at the historical statistics of school enrollment of Indian students. I saw something that didn't make sense. If you look at the graph below, you will see that there is a sudden drastic dip in both Primary and Middle Level education for 2000-01.

(Click to enlarge)
Source (Warning: 9.90 MB PDF)

I can't think of any plausible reasons why there would be such a drastic drop, and then from next year things continue as if there wasn't a tragedy. The best I could come up with is that they redefined what enrollment is or unearthed a scam on bloated statistics. Both don't seem very plausible. Does anyone know better?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Open Letter to Skype

Hey Skype,

I have wrote to you a few times on this but haven't received a reply yet. So I am posting an open letter here.

Skype, please fix your spam filter. I get 1~2 spam requests daily with links to obscene webcams online. If you don't know how to do it, or can't afford to offer a premium spam filter, at least give me the option to turn off friend requests with URL in them.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Where Are You From?

I always smile when someone asks me "Where are you from?". Somebody asked me in Houston, and I said 'Mobile, AL'. Somebody asked me in Mobile, and I said 'Bangalore, India'. Somebody asked me in Bangalore, and I said 'Bhagalpur, Bihar'. Somebody asked me in Bhagalpur, and I said 'Jabalpur, MP; but I have spent most of my life in Bhopal and Indore'. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: My Friend Sancho

My Friend Sancho is a fiction novel written by Amit Varma, the blogger celebrity of India Uncut fame. The novel is set in contemporary times, in the city of Mumbai. What I found unique about the novel is that it is contemporary both in temporal sense as well as cultural sense. In order to fully appreciate the novel, one must have kept abreast with the fads and culture of Indian blogosphere in the past three years. This may leave the average reader a bit confused in places the author delivers a punchline. But going by way the protagonist is a confused youth himself, many of the readers won't even notice what they missed. Foreign readers will sure have tough time understanding cultural references and the class-divide, if they haven't been exposed to before.

The writing style of the novel is much similar to populist novels like those written by Chetan Bhagat, but there are some major differences if one goes deep in comparing with the said author. While Chetan's novels are mostly PG-13 rated, My Friend Sancho is strictly R-rated. So hold yourself back if you were planning to gift it to someone like your mom or dad. Also the language and tone of this novel is markedly different owing to different personalities of the authors. Amit has a knack of delivering quick-witted punchlines, which Chetan avoids.

The story is written in first person, that of protagonist Abir Ganguly. The novel revolves around his experience as he goes about doing research for a sensational news story that involved the shooting of an innocent Muslim by the Mumbai Police, and his subsequent meetings with Muneeza, the daughter of the deceased. Muneeza's nickname was 'Sancho', which explains the title of the book. Note that it is 'Sancho' as in 'Sancho Panza' (san-cho) and not sun-cho as I had thought when I came to know that it was the nickname of a poor Indian girl.

Despite what the author claims in interviews, the protagonist of the novel (Abir Ganguly) is the author himself: a Bengali with an embarrassing nickname living in Mumbai, earning his bread via journalism and having a penchant for one-liners and imaginary dialogue. Not just in the setting of the novel, there are strong shades of Amit Varma in the opinions held by Abir Ganguly; be it on Rediff.com, his own blog India Uncut, or even the government. Those who have followed Amit Varma long enough would instantly recognize the half-a-dozen situations where the author puts his own long-held opinions in the mouth of Abir. I would have been compelled to call it an Amit Varma show, but can't because there aren't any cows mentioned in the novel. There are also contemporary cultural references that regulars to the Indian blogosphere will instantly recognize, the Arindam Choudhary reference for example. The novel, despite being set in Mumbai, only touches the aspects of the city that most Indians are aware of: the traffic, the class divide, the Juhu beach. This helps the author as none of the readers would get lost in the city that is Mumbai: the glamour and the cesspool.

I was underwhelmed by the role of the lizard in the novel, which the author claims as himself. Its role was very limited in the 'big picture' of the novel, and its views were too simplistic as compared to that expected from a cold-blooded reptile. Maybe I was expecting a stereotyped lizard which disappointed me, and feel that some stereotypes are just left untouched. The lizard does have negative shades, but it is more like a high-school bully rather than Manthara. It sure can make a strong case of comeback in future Abir Ganguly novels, if they come out, but the lizard would still need a lot of work on its personality.

Overall, I found the novel to be an enjoyable read. It was fun being able to read the minds of people without any censorship. If you have been a regular blogger, then it is a must read. At 217 pages in relatively large type, it would interest the casual readers also who can't keep their attention long enough to complete a book. I was able to complete it in a single sitting of four hours.

I wish Amit Varma all the best for his future novels.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Movie Review: WALL-E

Don't worry, no spoilers ahead.

First thing first, WALL-E begins with a short Pixar animation "Presto". It is about a magician named Presto and his apprentice rabbit Alec, which he uses for the traditional Hat-trick. The 5-minute feature documents a stage show where both try to outwit each other, and what follows is a non-stop sequence of outrageously hilarious antics. The video is easily the funniest short animation I have ever seen. It is very fast-paced, yet easy to understand. The only downside is that it is not suitable for people with a weak stomach.

My rating for Presto: 10/10 (This is the closest one could get to perfection)


Now let's get back to WALL-E. The story is set in the future, some eight to nine hundred years from now. WALL-E (acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is the only surviving robot on planet Earth, which goes about collecting and compacting trash generated by humans while they still inhabited the planet. WALL-E is no ordinary robot. It is rich with emotions and child-like curiosity. It even has hobbies. And in WALL-E, lies the biggest strength of the movie. WALL-E rarely speaks, and when he did, it would be in a robotic monotone. Yet never in the film do we see a lack of depth in his character. His eyes (binoculars) are extremely expressive, so are his body movements. His hobbies, lifestyle, and quest for companionship, are easy to relate-to and understand. The romance between WALL-E and EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator; sent to look for plant life on Earth) is cute and mostly the kind of love as understood by 10-year-olds. WALL-E's desire to hold EVE's hand has been very beautifully captured in the movie and each of his attempts in doing so is sure to bring a warm joy to anyone remotely familiar with courting.

The story of the movie has a message, and although it forms the core theme of the movie, it doesn't push it hard. Sort of allowing the audience to either ponder deep on it, or leave as an imaginative plot forming the theme of the film and concentrate on the story. The Direction and Screenplay are other strong points of the movie. It looks so real, that one can easily forget that they are watching an animated movie. The Storyline is also good. My only qualm is that the movie could have had a more concrete ending. It is somewhere between an open-ended one and a "they lived happily ever after" one. Surely the ending is on a positive note, but one can't help but wonder if it is good enough.

Now let's move to what the film does badly. Easily, the guest appearance of actual people in the movie was a big let-down. Not only did it dent the effort made by the graphic artists (who created wonderful animated humans) by pitting them against the actual ones, but the actors selected for it did a pathetic job and were hardly convincing. Also, the lifestyle of humans in the future appeared too stereo-typed to be true. It is true one can't easily predict the way humans would live eight hundred years from now, but somehow the life they led in the movie seemed quite card-board like. The ship's captain appeared very dumb for the better part of the movie, and had a brief ingenuity trying to fool the ship's AUTO (pilot).

Overall, the movie is a complete entertainer, with something for people across all ages. The children can marvel at the animation and the funny parts of the movie, the youngsters can relate to the love between WALL-E and EVE, while the adult and elderly get enough to worry about what are we doing to the planet. Go watch it, and you will get the worth of your money.

Overall rating: 9/10. (A fantastic job, but imagination could have been more creative)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Forward ya Backward?

Remember the 1990s in India's telecom sector? If I were to describe it in two sentences, they will be the salient features of the landline phones and cell phone in that period.
  1. People used to wait for the night (9:30 pm) before placing long-distance calls (STD).
  2. People had to pay Rs. 16 a minute for incoming calls when the cell phones were just introduced.
It is all part of history now, thanks to the telecom revolution. But this revolution seems to have missed one important country, the USA. If someone would have told this to me a couple of months back, I wouldn't have believed him. But now I have a first-hand experience.

When I wanted to break the good news to my friend Anurag a few days back, I found myself waiting for the clock to tick past 9 pm.

Why? Because I had exhausted my cell phone call minutes for the month.

Why? Because I didn't realize that they would be charging minutes even for incoming calls (@ Rs. 4/minute approx.) until it was too late to avoid the inevitable.

Guess what? India is two steps ahead of USA in this regard. Not only were all incoming calls made free years ago, we now have operators who pay you to receive incoming calls. I haven't opted for SMS services in my plan, but my friends tell me that they have to pay to receive SMSes. Isn't that ingenious?

I never thought I would be using Skype for making domestic calls, but that's what I eventually did. It is much cheaper than my cell phone plan.

Ambuj Gets A New Car

The protagonist of this blog has got himself a new car...the 2008 Mazda3 4-door sedan (pictured below).

A first car is always a memorable experience, and I am loving it.