Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Virgin iPad story

6th December, 2014 - Next stop California!

I was visiting my cousin after almost a decade, and California for the first time in my life!

With a pretty busy week leading up to my vacation I thought the 4 hour flight would be a good time space to catch up on some reading.

With a fluorescent hue permeating every corner of the aircraft, Virgin America possibly has the best domestic airline onboard experience. It was almost like entering a nice club. Now having traveled quite a bit on different airlines from different parts of the world I can tell you that I am not the biggest fan of North American commercial aviation hospitality, however Virgin America was truly a breath of fresh air. 

Forty minutes into a boring book, I fell asleep tucking my iPad into the seat pocket in front of me. I woke up hours later when we touched down on SFO! Quickly packing my stuff I raced out to meet my cousins. Having gained 2 hours in time, traveling to the western coast I had some time and energy (accumulated from that power sleep inflight) in the evening and spent it to catch up with my cousin and my uncle and aunt. Living alone in a distant country can be boring and it is times like these that we all look forward to.

Disaster struck me late at night when I tried to find my iPad so that I could read myself to sleep. The iPad was just not there in my bag. Tracing back my actions logically I realized that I had left my iPad in the seat pocket in my flight. 

It was obviously beyond business hours, so I left a tweet for #VirginAmerica. Interestingly they tweeted back (and also follow me now) within a few minutes and pointed me to instructions on what to do next.

Having activated the lost mode on my iPad, I spent the night using my iPhone to type out detailed emails that I would send out the next morning, so that it hits the reader at the Virgin office during business hours, thus amplifying possibilities of getting a response (this trick always works for me).

Funnily a company called HighView tried leveraging my misery by tweeting about how their product would have ensured that I never lost my iPad (they have deleted their tweet now but their favorite star on my tweet remains!)

7th December:
I send out all the emails and also call up the numbers and fill up lost and found forms on Virgin America's portal. I also checked with the SFO Airport Baggage department. And now the excruciating wait began.

There were 3 possibilities:
1. Before the plane left SFO, the cleaning crew inspect seats and if they found out my iPad they could either nick it or turn it in to the authorities.

2. If they missed it and the iPad remained in the seat pocket while the plane flew out of SFO, the passenger occupying that seat could either nick it or be the good samaritan and turn it over to the onboard personnel.

3. Repeat point 1 and 2. It could happen again at some other airport.

Honestly the chances of getting the iPad back were abysmally low!

I kept calling Virgin America intermittently over the next two weeks. It was almost like calling up SuperLotto and checking if my Lottery/Complaint number had hit a chord. And it never did.

Deeply upset, I decided to write an email to The Richard Branson! I briefly detailed the situation and mentioned that although I was full aware that losing the iPad was my mistake; I was upset that Virgin America never ever contacted/updated me about the incident. I got back a semi-personal, semi-auto reply from him, assuring me that he will make sure that my concern reaches the right people. (I have archived this email!)

24th January, 2015:
I got an email from the Apple Law&Enforcement Office!

Someone had found my iPad and reported the Serial number to Apple, who found my contact address from their database and contacted me. 
The fact that someone (if that person is reading this, I genuinely want to thank you) made the effort of tracking my iPad to me by contacting Apple was amazing on so many levels!

Fifty days later, I was not really expecting this! Needless to say I called up San Diego Airport Lost and Found and boy was the rest of the ride smooth!

1. The nice person at the Lost and Found office asked me factual questions about my iPad
2. I had to fill up some more forms and since I could not pick it up from San Diego I could request them to ship it to me (and they bill the shipping charges on my FedEx account)
3. I got my iPad in a few days time, just like I had left it. Fully functional and without a scratch or dent :)

1. Always back up data (thanks to DropBox, iCloud and OneDrive I never worried about the data)

2. While activating a remote alert on an iDevice helps, it would only work if the device has battery charge and cellular/WiFi data connectivity. This might not be a problem with iPhones (provided they have the charge when recovered) but for a WiFi only iPad or a Mac it is a problem. They are completely locked by a password, without breaking which you cannot connect it to a WiFi. You might be however able to connect it to an Open WiFi (without a Captive Portal), in which case the alert message gets displayed.

3. Virgin Airlines rocks \m/

I am not sure if my email to Richard Branson did the trick or if the Virgin America crew themselves would have helped me out in due time, but I must say I was completely blown away by the fact that you can still get back a premium gadget, you have left behind at a place as public as a commercial airplane! (THIS STUNT HAS BEEN PERFORMED BY ABSENT-MINDED-PROFESSIONALS, PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME)

It rekindles my faith in Humanity. Oh and did I say Virgin America rocks?

Sent from my iPad ;)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tech that

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. James Whittaker today. He is Distinguished Tech Evangelist at Microsoft Corporation.

I was looking forward to his presentation because doing some amount of back ground research I had the feeling that he was a visionary pivotal in helping shape many projects at Microsoft and Google. I meet top developers often but most of the ones I have met stay contained within the work they have done (which is fine by me). So meeting a rebel kind who has rocked both the world of Microsoft and Google (he reported to Larry Page!) was an eye-opener.

He started his presentation with annoyance over the fact that none  of us follow him on Twitter!
I loved his approach when he told us that his 1 hour talk would span 40 years. Starting from 20 years of history (from today) to what it would look like 20 years into the future. We were ready to be engrossed in his reality distortion field.

While there are parts of the discussion that I cannot talk about owing to their sensitive nature, I would still like to list out some key take-away from the session. This blog would basically be a recap of the talk he gave today, so apologies for sudden context switches. 

To start off, did you know:
More than 500 Billion GiB of data gets generated on the web every 11 minutes.

The web is actually a very interesting paradigm. It will always be there, but the manner in which most of us consume it is radically changing. There is no point trying to write a web crawler that will consume the entire web, which is why we use apps which consume just a part of the web. (Say when you try to use Yelp, it would not bother to crawl the Sports part of the web). Returns quick and effective results.

Microsoft's Cortana came in much later than Siri, but most reports suggest that Cortana performs better than Siri. The obvious reason here is that Siri fetches most of its data from Bing (it also polls Wolfram Alpha and a few other sites). So currently the web has been indexed by Google and Bing. Whittaker pointed out that he does not feel that another company would be able to index the web as well as Google and Bing have done. The reason? The rate of expansion of the web is phenomenally higher than the rate at which it can be indexed. Long story short, you've missed the bus!

He mentioned a game involving payment at a restaurant after a meal. When he goes to restaurants with friends/colleagues everyone typically puts in their credit cards to pay for their own food, but there's a game they play here. They ask the waiter to ask them a question which each of the members of the group would then proceed to find the answer to, using their smart phones. Whoever answers correctly first is exempted from having to pay for their food :) Turns out you can never win if you use a browser to search for this! So its all about having the right apps and learning to use them right!

Dr. Whittaker pointed out that Steve Jobs is never really given the credit that he actually deserves. Yes he caused an industrial design revolution, but one thing that he introduced was the Apps business. What we have taken for granted now, was actually an enormously alternate approach. When everyone was browser driven, Apple introduced tiled apps. The apps being focused on just consuming a part of the web worked more effectively. The browser was not considered a one point solution platform anymore. Today Apple owns the driveways to people's homes and that is ridiculously amazing power.

Now that brings us to the fact that most of the searches we do on Google are typically using smart phones. How does that impact Google, a company which earns 97% of its Billions off ads? The probability of a smart phone user clicking on an ad on that tiny screen is amazingly low, compared to what it is on the desktop.

One of the points that he was trying to make involved the definition of an app in the form of a Noun and in the form of a Verb. I got confused about it. So I am hoping, someone who was there, or maybe Dr. Whittaker himself could help me here. (he had retweeted one of my tweets, I am hoping you are reading this Dr. W:)

One of the interesting anecdotes he talked about involved a date in his life, where he had gone for a movie. His date apparently kept looking at her smart phone for some time and then suddenly left the movie in the middle for a few minutes only to return later. Now social protocol dictates that the person who missed that part would ask their companion about what they missed. But she did not ask him and being proactive he decided to tell her that she did not actually miss anything critical. She replied with a "Yes I know that". Apparently she was monitoring - an app which tells you the right time for taking a pee break in the middle of a movie!! Consuming the web vs consuming more liquids! Hmm!!

During the Q&A one of the questions involved Privacy and Dr. W's take on it. I was hoping he would answer it wittily and he did not disappoint. He defined Privacy as a spectrum with the NSA at one end of it and Santa Claus at the other.

What we might be missing is the fact that we are always overwhelmed by the fact that most of the search engines and other services offers help for free, but the data they collect about you might come back to bite you one day. For example you can go to your page and find out what all you have searched about. Remember that you cannot ask Google to forget any of the stuff it knows about you.

Moving into the future Dr.W talked about how the Internet of things might actually be a sucky idea. However quantum computing is one thing that has potential to be a real game-changer. I cannot write much about it, but think of it as a means to construct data using tinier data bits. Right now everything boils down to a sequence of 0's and 1's. What if we have something that is a singular entity which is both a 0 and a 1 together (say more 0 and less 1 or vice versa). This could herald the world where no one goes offline. And should Elon Musk manage to get all of those satellites into orbit in another 10-15 years, everyone would know everything all the time. How do you advertise to people then?? What if your refrigerator already figured out what you need and ordered it on its own. No more coming home to "no beer in the fridge".

This brings us to the concept of a value driven economy instead of a greedy ad-driven economy.

You can read more about him here -
He highly recommended the book "Who owns the future" so that should go into my library soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Seattle Sky!

The sky is a hazy shade of blue-black.

You see the occasional scatter of light in the horizon like one of the stars are moving towards a secret sky. While your rationality argues if that is an airplane you focus your gaze on the trees. The trees no longer dance to the call of the wind. The wind, the harbinger of chill and doom has stripped down almost every one of them.

The incandescence from the street lamps roll on the wet streets trying to give warmth to the fallen, the leaves gasping for their last breath like a fish out of water.

The parking lot looks happy and content for all her kids are back in place. The kids breathe heavily for they have worked hard all day and now enjoy their moment of wait.

The police does his rounds in an aggressive piece of steel. One kid that runs through the night like the bad boy every mom fears his son would become. On the other side of the road sit a few of the tensed bad boys. People associate them with the Fire station. They always look tensed for they never know when they would have to scram. The signal lights lazily flicker although they expect none.

Within the window, his room is dark. There is a silent hum from the refrigerator and a white and bluish hue from all the computers running on standby. At the center lies a restless soul covered in bed sheets. Not wearing his specs, he squints hard at a handheld object emanating magical lights. The object occasionally breaks the silence of the room with a beep. This lights up his face and his fingers move restlessly over the light.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lunch and Religion!

The funniest of things often happen in the most unlikely situations.

There you are sitting in the University cafeteria having a quick lunch (in-between classes), with the most irritating thoughts for company, and on comes a guy with the best discussion topic.

The cafeteria remains particularly crowded around the lunch hours so getting a free table does take a while. So you always try to join someone sitting alone in a table (like me).

Mr. X: "Do you mind if I join you?"
Me: "Not at all"

Mr. X: "So where are you from?"
Me: "I am from India, and where are you from"
Mr. X: "I am from Taiwan"
(at this point I so wanted to smirk and exclaim "Ahh you are made in Taiwan!!")

Mr. X: "Are you from the Northern part of India? "
Me: "Umm no, actually I am from the Eastern part, Calcutta."

Mr. X: "So what religion do you practice?"
Me (a bit taken aback, but I get up again): "I am a Hindu"

Mr. X: "Ahh, a Brahmin?"
Me: "Umm no, I am a Kulin Kayasthya"

Mr. X: "What is that ?"
Me: "Its like the upper crust of the Kayasthyas. So basically we failed to make the cut to qualify as a Brahmin :)"

Mr. X: "Alright, so what is the Hindu religion like?"
Me: "Its very very liberal. Most people just call out to the Gods before exams and result declarations, job interviews, cricket matches, etc"

Mr. X: "Very interesting, so how many Gods do you have?"
Me (I swear to God I was waiting for this question!): "We have 330 million Gods!"

Mr. X (almost chokes on his croquette): "What the he..I mean really? Why?"
Me: "Well Hinduism is a very old religion and over time Gods have had to visit Earth to help us deal with sin"

Mr. X: "How do you pray to all of them?"
Me: "Well we don't really pray to all of them"

Mr. X: "Then why do you have them in the first place "
Me: "Actually we have (say) 10 main Gods and they have taken different incarnations to walk on Earth and fight evil"

Mr. X: "So basically you have 10 Tier-1 Gods and their different forms altogether summing up to 330 million? "
Me: "That is right. So we do not pray to 330 million individual Gods, but we mostly pray to the main Gods"

Mr. X: "Fascinating! So who elects these Gods to Tier-1 level? Is there an election on an annual basis?"
Me: "No, they are more like Dictators for life. So once they got that position they never let go"

Well I am sure some of you might have a much better understanding of Hinduism than I do, but the point was I had an awesome conversation here :D

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I am typically one of those, who emphasize a lot on the beginning line of an article. While that renders a readers attention to the entire article, it makes the job of publishing a composition exceptionally difficult for the writer. This theory kind of explains all the blogs drafts that silently reside in my blog account, unpublished.

So for this blog-post I thought of actually explaining my pain in the beginning lines itself. Kind of takes off the pressure. Though now that I am done with it, it creeps me out about what I am going to do for my next blog post.

This post marks a lot of things.
As you might have already noticed I love to travel, which is why I call my blog "Wanderlust".

I have read a lot of people's view of how one should never settle till they have found their true calling. The whole idea is very challenging and kind of intrigues me. As a matter of fact I always practice it. In the last forty months of professional activities I have relocated five times, traveled all across the European continent, changed jobs, took up a second job as a content writer free lancer (this actually paid me more than my primary job), learned to play the guitar, made new friends and most importantly launched this blog!

The last few months had been very exciting. I had been very active professionally, had expanded my social network largely. Life had been very comfortable (alias my bank account was well fed at the end of every month!). However like I said, I wanted to unsettle it all and go off on a new adventure again.

Higher studies had been in the back of my mind for a long time. I always knew that sooner or later I would return to academics for a higher degree. The way engineering colleges have been mushrooming across the country it was already very difficult to get a new job or grow in the current one. A Masters degree was my window to a better world. But it involved a lot of sacrifice. I had to let go of my job, sacrifice the comfort and privacy of my cozy apartment and most significantly forget the "taken for granted" pleasures of getting a pay-check at the end of every month. I was in-fact trading my life for regular assignments, home works and exams. However thinking of the projected long term benefits I decided to give it a try.

So I packed my bags, sold my stuff and left Bangalore. 40 months of Bangalore surely weaved many happy memories. The city had been good and generous to me. I made friends who became family for me. Moving away from all the laughter and intelligentsia was one of the hardest decisions that I have ever had to take.

My next stop was home. Chandannagar was where I was born and raised, so naturally it yields an extreme attachment to my psyche. The city never disappoints me. The quaint streets are now bullied by flashing glow-boards and a bevy of traffic. A lot of new shops and residential apartments have come up. Chandannagar was never home to apartments and flats. However with the large scale cross pollination happening, a lot have changed and we have learned to accept the new blend in the landscape.

Cracking into insane laughter with friends I had grown up with, going out for late night aimless drives on the national highways and hopelessly trying to figure out our future kept me pretty much occupied throughout the two weeks. Touch basing all the favorite haunts in the city, meeting up every person I know, tasting every delicacy the city has to offer, accompanying mother to all the religious temples and meeting professors who recommended me... I did it all.

The last time I had left home was in March 2010. I was naive and the new world of living all alone was an adventurous thought that I clung on to. It excited me and totally smothered all feelings of home-leaving. However a lot has happened since then. The thrills of living alone or the sheer excitement of traveling to a new foreign country does not excite me any more. I have lived it through over the last 3 years. So this time, when I was actually leaving home, there was no excitement that could mask my sorrow.

I would not be back in a long time. It was a long journey ahead. The next time I would possibly go back home would possibly be in another couple of years. A lot would change. Friends would get married to people I had never met. Maybe they would bring in new life into this world too. My city would change all over again. The traffic would possibly become worse. A lot of people would possibly die too. 

However for me time would stand still. My brain would still cling on to the last mental image of the city I had preserved from my last visit home. I am certain, my city would always embrace the anachronism, that would be me!

Monday, December 31, 2012

See you on the other side

So another year marches towards an end!
Time to set new resolutions and also check whether the one's from last year have in fact been followed up on.
In a way it is like receiving your report card for last year's assessments a day before the start of the next assessments.

Two of my resolutions from last year were:
# Blogging
# Learn to play the guitar
I am happy I did both, but then again there were a few things I missed!

The entire protocol of setting resolutions and then taking up responsibilities to get them done is a huge learning in itself. It is surely one journey that more than meets the eye.

If you think about the entire life cycle of a new year resolution. It mostly starts with that pang of self realization "I need to learn this, this totally goes into my new year resolution list!!"
Now if these pangs dawn quite often, chances are that you would have a huge list and at the end of the year you would have covered less than 5% of it.
Now there exists a second category of organized people who trim down their resolution list into a more logical one. This significantly improves the chances of realizing most of your plans.

The entire process of realizing a goal is possibly the most enriching part. There are so many pit falls and resurrections. It teaches you to let go of dear methods and embrace new styles. You often end up attaining a goal at the cost of  your obsessions. But after you have attained the goal if you look back on your journey, it makes you realize how you unknowingly touch-based a lot many other goals that had not even made it to your resolution list. The sudden rush of joy on having attained them is pretty much like that time when you found some forgotten money in an old denim.

Let me use my blogging resolution as an instance.
All these years I had my major e-literature footprints on micro-blogging sites. So when I decided to move onto full fledged blogging I realized how all my micro-blogging activities have killed the blogger in me.
Micro-blogging is all about condensing an entire thought into just 160 characters or so. Once you have a couple of regular lines and a punch line, your micro-blog post ends! It is true that the entire activity is very intriguing and grows on you after a while. Now, should you decide to migrate from micro-blogging to blogging, you realize that your entire blog post is getting completed in one paragraph. From there on whatever you write is going to be an unnecessary extension or exaggeration. The micro-blogging concept is like a state of mind, which gets etched so deep in the psyche that no matter how big an idea you had in mind, you ended up condensing it into two-three lines!

So in the end, Blogging ended up teaching me the process of layering a thought and unravelling it gradually over many lines and pages. I am no literature-expert but I do believe that my sister and all of you would agree with me that it is surely a different art altogether. The process being a much longer and engrossing one, taught me to stay focused for a longer time. That also means, the next time I read a novel I realized when the author was actually unwrapping a nice plot and when he was going around in circles!

On my quest with the guitar it just made me realize how fat and inflexible my fingers really are.

No matter how many of your resolutions remained untouched this year, prioritize whether you want to carry them over to the next year or rule them out. Beginning tomorrow write a good 365 page book. We always have a choice!!

Have a great year ahead everyone | Move ahead, protected by the green from the grays of life, and windmills for thrust!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

All over ME!

I have been busy writing something over the last few months.
Writing, getting the grammar checked by someone, getting the facts checked by someone else, and finally accepting/rejecting the changes and getting it edited all over again. The cycle just goes on.

On the whole it was a thoroughly boring process. In fact since I am still working on it, I would rephrase that as "On the whole it is a thoroughly boring process". And one of the best things (perhaps the only one) about boring times are, that a majority of your brain gets like a time off ! Pretty much like Russel Peters' "My brain is on screen-saver"
When the boring gets bored, the bore gets boring. And yes it does bore a deep hole in your brain and chances are you might exhume something witty, funny or bizarre.

So while I was performing this battery of boring tasks, a portion of my brain started pondering over the professional and social protocols of getting a work done by someone. I mean obviously I was tempted to get my whole work done by someone else.
Now if you want to get your work done by someone, you would obviously choose the best person in the business, to do it. Given a chance, I would have asked Hafeez Contractor to complete my Engineering Graphics assignments. But given my limited access I used to ask the person with the best hand-writing to help me out.

Down the years and more importantly over the last couple of months there is this one thing I truly realized. If you want to get a certain work of yours done, it is very important that you invest substantial time and effort on it yourself. Yes I know you would probably say "Hello!! That is why I am getting the work done by someone else in the first place". But trust me it never works. By having someone else to get your job done you would probably have a nice end product, however that product would not be you. Just like building your own house on a plot of land versus buying a ready to move in apartment. The end product is nice but after the initial charm wears off, you wish that window was a bit larger and that door was not there.

Condensing a superfluity of emotions, beliefs and understandings, I believe that :
Being involved in your own project gives two distinct advantages.
One, you have laid its foundation stone and started it from scratch. So obviously you know it in and out.
Two, it has your personal touches. It has YOU written all over it.

At the end would you not like to build a product which would have your point of view?!
Being a music fanatic I realize this stark difference all the time.
Let me know if you find any cover version of "Wish you were here" which actually sounds better than the original.