Thursday, September 25, 2008

Le Titre - I won

AwardThough I later rued (in the update to my previous post) about not choosing and submitting the best pic for the monthly photo competition at Cuckoo's blog, the judges seem to have liked it and awarded my entry as the best photograph of the month under the title Clouds. As the winner, I get this running trophy for a month, and a T-Shirt from :)

I feel honored, to say the least. Thanks Cuckoo!

There were around 15 entries from amateur photographers. I chipped in just in the last minute and did not hope to win the first time I participated. But I think the trick worked :P. The next month's topic is "Life and Death". Let me start rummaging through my archived clicks.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Well, this post comes in like an unplanned baby among many other posts I had in drafts or on my TO-BLO [sic] list. The motivation comes from Cuckoo's request to participate in her monthly photography contest on her photo blog. You participate by creating a post on your blog containing a photo related to the topic for that month, and then posting a comment on the host blog with your blog's url. Here are the rules.

By sheer eleventh-hour-habit, I just drafted this post 3 minutes before the close of contest. And one hour and seventeen minutes later, here I am, having passed my 3000 odd photographs through 4 levels of sieves, but still left with seven photos where I think I did a not-bad job.

I would make the official entry to the contest with the above photograph. However, if Cuckoo wishes to, she is free to consider any one of the pictures below as well for the contest.

[On reader's choice, increased the above photo's size]

Okay, after enough free publicity of Cuckoo's blog, let me shut up and wait for the results. Other readers please let me know which of the above photos you like the most.

[Update(23 September): It seems I made a wrong choice of photos. Everyone who commented seemed to have liked the second one more than the one I chose; it actually makes sense because that shows clouds, the one I chose shows the sky in general, but I liked the colored clouds there.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Nature Retreat

If you have a trek in the forest, some cool sports among dense trees, a coracle ride and unrestricted swim in Cauvery waters, zero mobile and internet coverage, no pollution and no concrete structures, you agree with the owners of the Anandadhama resort branding it as a nature retreat. I am glad we could not attain majority from one of the four resorts that were suggested for our team outing, and finally this fifth one was chosen.

Having started from office at 7, we had reached there by 10, travelling 100 km. After a rather uninteresting breakfast, we went out for this trek in the jungle, a major part of which was a flat track, at times a few streamlet would accompany us. The latter part seemed interesting, which had some rocks and waterfalls, but it was ruled out for a lack of majority. The guide warned us of cheetahs or elephants, but the only species of the animal kingdom we encountered were a couple of spiders, a snail, and a dog.

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Half of the team went to play cricket after the trek, and the other half decided to rest on the lone hammock and chairs around it, or wander about in the woods. This was okayish, but the real fun began post lunch. There were a series of activities clubbed under Jungle Gym.

The first one was called Trust Fall. You stand at the edge of a high platform, and fall backwards, arms outstretched, onto a mattress placed on a net 8 feet below. It was really difficult letting go. The second activity was the Tarzan Jump. You jump down a high platform, holding a rope, and swinging like Tarzan. Great fun, but no one could oscillate back and land on the platform.

Another interesting sport was balancing yourself on a semicircular beam. We were divided into two teams, both of which started simulataneously at the ends, and had to reach the other end crossing the other team on a beam 3 inches wide. This was followed by archery with quite lethal (per our guide) bow and arrows. Then there was a variation of Tarzan jump where the platform was less higher, the rope smaller, and a water-filled ditch had to be crossed using the jump. None of us could cross, and everyone fell into the slushy ditch. Someone said the water tasted salty, and we wondered if it was the handiwork of the dog that kept accompanying the guide.

The last part was a coracle ride in the Cauvery, which was quite relieving, followed by a swim in the currents. We swam in the river for around two hours, and that was great fun, even though I was too tired in the end to swim back to the shore. Finally we packed our bags after shower, and started back for Bangalore, completely tired and exhausted, but the mind quite refreshed. We had so much adventure and thrill in one day,much more than what we had expected, but one wish still remains: staying back overnight at Anandadhama and wandering about in the woods and watching the sun rise over the Cauvery.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Snakes on a Plane

I was so occupied with the most interesting news last week (the launch of Google Chrome) that I overlooked the second most interesting news: Crew on an Air India passenger jet discovered a snake coiled up under a seat and were unable to catch it as it slithered around the plane.

The snake was discovered on the plane during a routine check on the Air India A319 aircraft, which had landed at Delhi airport after a domestic flight from Srinagar. It evaded capture by slipping into an air vent and could not be found even when staff unscrewed panels inside the fuselage, opened all the doors and fumigated the plane.

The plane takes off for its next flight for Bombay, and scores of snakes appear from all directions creating panic among passengers. A CBI agent on the flight takes charge and devises a plan to expel all snakes from the aircraft.

Okay, the last part is made up and inspired from the Samuel Jackson starrer Snakes on a Plane. But not the part till Delhi airport. The snake was found and then lost on the plane. The airport authorities might not have noticed it unboarding the plane but they did notice it was not a cobra; I fail to see how does that matter.

While trying to read more about the odd incident and trying to find a photo for the post, I hit upon an even more interesting story: Brian Finkelstein becomes a huge fan of Snakes on the Plane as soon as it was announced; he says the name says it all. The common man wants to attend the glitzy Hollywood premiere of the movie, and launches a blog publishing his quest, and hoping someone who has connections to Hollywood might stumble upon his request and help him with a few "table scraps".

Brian's faith is rewarded and his quest accomplished when he receives an official invitation to attend the premiere from Gordon Paddison, a Senior Vice President for New Line Cinema, a major American Studio now acquired by Time Warner.

In due course of 215 days since he began his quest and it was fulfilled, Brian posted 446 stories on his blog, which had 915,000 visitors and 47 millions requests for files (images, comics, and icons), and he had transferred 1.29 terabytes of data. He was interviewed by 3 TV crews and linked by thousands of blogs and over 6,000 other webpages.

Brian became a celebrity from his hard work of 8 months, and his blog became the biggest fan site for the movie. He was invited to the red carpet by the producers of the movie, and a short movie was made on his blog, where he starred too.

The blog is still running even after two years of the release of the rather flop film, functioning as a digital store house of everything the movie is related to, and with snakes on everything now. Though Mr Finkelstein doesn't believe the film is a dud, and why should he about something that changed his life?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Colours of Chrome

Apart from the logo and the name, everything else related to Chrome is almost monochrome, typical Google minimalistic design. Even GMail and GTalk have colorful logos and the rest black and white and a cool shade of blue for the bare minimum borders and bars. The immense power, speed, and security that Google promises behind this plain look should make it the best of all browsers.

Also because it is a product by Google.

However, I could not refrain myself from finding faults since the day Chrome was launched. Without going into the gory details, let me list down the features I missed badly:

1. The Chrome omnibar Google is so proud of, is less powerful than the Firefox 3 'Awesome bar'. [The omnibar learns as you use the browser; it can transform itself into the search bar of various sites you search on frequently, the following limitations still exist.]
      a. In Firefox 3 address bar, type in a term and the autocomplete function shows in a dropdown all possible matching sites from your browsing history, bookmarks and tags. On the other hand, the Chrome omnibar only automatically suggests related queries and popular websites, or if your input string occurs in the url of a page you had already visited.
      b. It also does not go to the most likely page, the I-am-feeling-lucky feature I am so used to in Firefox 3. (For example, you could type in "firefox features" in the address bar and it would take you to the features page on the official Mozilla website).

2. Does not let you perform a text-search inside text areas occuring on a page. Also, the absence of a toolbar doesn't let you search on pages where Ctrl+F is mapped to something else, like in the new Yahoo! mail.

3. Lets you move only one by one between your last viewed pages using the back and forward buttons, unlike FF3 where the back/forward buttons give you a dropdown to directly jump to any of your previously viewed pages. [Lets you move between last viewed pages by right-clicking or click-and-holding on the back/forward buttons. Not intuitive though.]

4. There is no 'Open' option for attachments, it saves them directly to the designated downloads folder, rather than the temporary windows folder. Also, there is no progress bar for a downloading file.

5. The status bar is temporary and not wide enough. You might not be able to view the complete url when you hover over a link.

6. Zoom in and out works only for the text as opposed to the entire page as in Firefox.

7. The powerful Javascript support does not work for some features for some applications. The place it irks the most was Google's very own GMail, where the alerts do not have the default button selected, so they cannot be operated using the spacebar.

8. Chrome doesn't ask you to save tabs when you exit, and therefore they are lost if you accidentally close the browser.

I believe the above list would still expand. Yes, you could write your own or hunt for addons that provide some of the above missing features and make up for some of them.

Google Chrome, however, is not an utter waste. There are quite a few very useful and interesting features:

0. The omnibar learns as you use the browser; it can transform itself into the search bar of various sites you search on frequently. Or you could configure your omnibar to search on specific sites.

1. It is no doubt faster, even though I felt multiple processes instead of threads for various tabs would reduce performance. Multiple processes, however, seem to be effective in a lot of other problem areas, like security and browser crashes. More details in the Google comic book: Google Chrome: Behind the Open Source Browser Project.

2. Chrome persists data you write in a text area. So if you were typing something in a text area and the browser crashes, you do not lose it. Also, you can expand any text area on any page to any dimension you want to.

3. The smart 'new' tab lists your most frequently used, recently closed, and bookmarked pages. The simplistic look without any toolbars makes sure all tools appear as if they are a part of the webpage.

4. The history is much more exhaustive than in any other browser I've seen. It gives you a minute-by-minute history of every day in a full page rather than in the constricted sidebar. Also, you have the power of Google search within your history: search for any word in the text of the pages you previously visited and you get the pages instantaneously.

5. The task manager that manages different tabs comes handy in the case of a single page crashing/hanging, and also for identifying the high resource-intensive tabs.

6. The minimalistic UI gives you much more space on the page as opposed to other browsers that eat up lot of vertical pixels through their toolbars and stuff.

7. Incognito mode (no trace of visited pages on your machine), application shortcuts (direct shortcuts to desktop like applications without any tabs/address bar), better javascript support by means of a new Javascript Virtual Machine, the Inspect Element, are a few other features of Chrome.

Chrome is being talked about as Google's competition to Microsoft, though I believe it is difficult to wean Internet Explorer loyalists as they are the non-so-tech-savvy ones content with the OS in-built browser. Chrome is built on Apple's WebKit framework, the same used by their Safari, but Apple fans are generally very loyal. Mozilla Firefox is one browser that might feel the heat, if not now, in due course of time.

Out and out, I have mixed feelings for Google's new browser. While the look-and-feel and speed are things I like, it is difficult to un-learn stuff from Firefox. Let me see if I can write some good enough addons for Chrome.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Eatouts in Pondicherry

[Please read this post as an addendum to my earlier post: Give Time a Break: Pondicherry. That is a detailed one and more generic account of the trip, with more photographs.]

This is the final post in the series of posts on Pondicherry, and talks about various restaurants and eateries I could visit on the way and in Pondicherry.

Ghar Dhaba is a dhaba sans the rustic ambiance and an ideal place for breakfast. Around 70 kms and one hour out of Bangalore, placed by a BPCL petrol bunk, this is the only place to have proper breakfast while going to Pondicherry. Its speciality is South Indian food the Tamil way, but they have quite a few North Indian dishes too. I went for the mini-breakfast tray which was quite filling. It is a part of the Adyar Anand Bhavan chain, or A2B as popularly known, which has outlets in Chennai, Bangalore, Pondicherry, and Delhi too.

Salt and Pepper was the first restaurant we went in Pondicherry. Suggested by the receptionist at Ginger Hotel and branded as a '24-hour AC Executive restaurant', this was an utter disappointment. The ambiance and service was pretty third class, and the food was inpalatable, despite the fact that we were eating at 4:30 pm, having not eaten anything after the breakfast at 7:30 am, and driven all the way from Bangalore.

Le Café is a nice cafe midway on the Goubert Avenue with a breathtaking view of the expansive Bay of Bengal. You can sit on the ground floor or on the terrace or in the lawn, and hear the waves hitting the rocks and enjoy the cool breeze and hot coffee and snacks. The building the cafe is housed in was the Pondicherry harbor office during the French time. We had coffee in the evening and breakfast the next morning. There were quite a few local French people enjoying a lazy breakfast there with a book in hand.

Aruvi, the bar at the three-star Hotel Mass is just a normal bar that cuts you off from Pondicherry. That is why I am so against people visiting pubs and counting that as the 'liveliness' of a place. If you want to dilate your pupils in the darkness and shut your ears in the loud music of a pub/bar, why do you need to travel; Bangalore already has lot of them. We had anyways gone there because some of the others had wanted to, had some drinks and snacks, and skipped dinner.

Rendezvous Café Restaurant on Rue Suffren was a good-looking rooftop restaurant recommended by many people. However, this place was a disappointment too. First, it was quite expensive, not value for money basically. Two, the service was extremely bad. They were slow like anything. I had to shell out Rs 200 for a plate of boiled spaghetti and a bowl of tomato mushroom sauce, and had to wait for over an hour. I could have cooked better pasta in less than half the time. But yes, heard that seafood is quite good there, and there were quite a many French customers.

Baker Street on Bussy Street was the best part of the trip, after the drive, of course. This place was totally French, from the decor to the cuisines to the people, the furniture, tiles, crockery, everything. Though when we asked for something spicy and veg and were told they did not have anything. We, however, tried almost all pastries and eclairs. Floating island, Mille-feuilles (thousand leaves), fruit and chocolate éclairs were a few among the delicious delicacies we tried. A must visit for all Pondicherry tourists. We reached Bussy Street by chance when we strolled past MG Road in search of some souvenir. We were initially reluctant to enter because of the bad experience at Rendezvous that afternoon, but I am glad I was able to pursuade the others. I can still feel the taste in my mouth as I write this 10 days later. Unfortunately my camera battery had given up and I could not take any pictures of the lovely place. [Photo copyright: Neel]

Risque is one of the restaurants at the five star Hotel Promenade on Goubert Avenue. We tried North Indian cuisine for our last meal, and it was delicious and authentic. The ambiance was great, with a swimming pool by the side and the sea at an audible distance, and good crowd. This place was cheaper and faster and much better than the Rendezvous we had eaten at the same afternoon.

Hotel Auro Usha at Tiruvannamalai was again a chance find. We were considering very local roadside eateries for breakfast on the return journey when we discovered this place unexpectedly in front of some Ashram. Very good continental breakfast is served here, and we could see many foreigners eating out here. We had two dishes each, which was more than filling for the entire drive back to Bangalore.

Had I got some more time, I would have visited more restaurants and tried out some more authentic French cuisine. Maybe the next time when I visit Pondicherry...

Related posts:
         Give Time a Break: Pondicherry
         Bangalore to Pondicherry in an Alto

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