Thursday, December 13, 2012

My experience with Airtel fraudbytes

November was spent mostly outside Bangalore, primarily in Mumbai. I had agreed to be part of the team for our organization’s CMMi Services Level 5 appraisal (it is commonly and wrongly referred to as Level 5 certification, there is no such ‘certificate’ given by CMMi.  It was a good experience, I will detail that in another post, but the primary purpose of this post is to highlight my not-so-pleasant experience with Airtel’s services.

I subscribe to a 3G data pack costing 250 rupees a month, which gives me a data allowance of 1 GB. Normally, I consume 300-400 MB during the month, but given that I was going to be in Mumbai for most of the bill cycle, I expected to cross that limit easily. Airtel has a service called Smartbytes, which allows you to buy additional data usage beyond your monthly limit. Luckily for me, the excellent data usage monitor that is part of Android since 4.0 allows me to keep a close watch on my usage on a real time basis, so my plan was to monitor the usage and once I reach the limit, subscribe to a Smartbytes pack costing 300 rupees that would give me an extra 1 GB of data.

I was naïve to think that it would all work perfectly. Here is what actually happened

-  I reached the limit around the 2nd of December. So, I went over to their page and attempted to subscribe but got an error that my unbilled had exceeded my Credit limit. That was strange, as my bill usually is around 1100-1200 rupees. So, I logged onto their portal and checked the unbilled amount, which was 3500 rupees. Apparently, their unbilled figure calculates data charges at the usual rate of 3 ps/10KB, which works out to 3000 Rs/GB.

- As I wanted to get the Smartbytes activated, I logged into the self service portal and paid 1500 rupees into my account, thinking it would solve the issue. Unfortunately, it did not and I was not able to activate the package.

- Over the next 2 days, I called Airtel thrice and spoke to their customer service rep (and paid for the privilege). Each time, they assured me that it would get activated but it did not.

- I also contacted them on twitter through their customer care as well as sent them an email. Other than meaningless assurances, there was no action taken

- Finally, on 6th, I gave up and told them not to bother, as my billing cycle was ending on that day. I’d consumed around 1.2 GB of data for which I would have to pay an extra 600+ rupees instead of the 300 that I would have paid.

While I have no way of knowing for sure, I feel that I have been made a victim of a deliberate strategy to overcharge. While their credit limits may be in force, it would have been very easy for their CC to override and enable the package, but they chose not to do it. After I got my bill, I tweeted about this and had 2-3 meaningless conversations with some person without any action. If they really cared about a customer who gives them 3000 rupees every month, they would’ve said “Sir, we’re very sorry that you could not activate Smartbytes, to compensate, we will retrospectively apply the package from the date you requested and give you a credit for the difference”. I don’t really expect it from them, though.

 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Work Life Balance


A friend recently put up a post commenting on work life balance. I generally agree but have a slightly different angle on it. This is relevant primarily to the IT services industry, based on my experience, but may be applicable to others as well.

My view is that most of the people who complain about work life balance hate their jobs. They hate it so much that it becomes a chore and drains them physically and mentally. This is especially prevalent among the people in their late 20s and 30s. A big reason for this is the monotony of most IT careers, most projects are very similar in nature and with the industry trying to get into longer term outsourcing contracts, people spending 3-4 years in the same work environment is not unheard of. The solution is to change how people feel about their work. A way to tackle this is to rotate staff between assignments, our PSU banks used to do this on a regular basis in the past and we never heard about people complaining of work-life balance out there. New assignments bring new challenges and helps motivate and keep people on their toes.

Then there are the numbers, the actual time you spend on work versus personal activities. Undeniably, Indian IT workers work harder when compared to their Western peers (I'm not even going into whether the hours spent are all productive), but if you compare it to other categories like the Chinese factory worker or the worker in Indian industry, we are a pampered lot, with pay substantially above the national average for working conditions that are far better than the average. For this privilege, there is a price you pay, and that is a choice that each individual makes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Toshiba Thrive : Comparision with the ipad


People who know me well are aware that I am one of the biggest admirers of the ipad. Though I was very sceptical of the ipad before it launched and openly pooh-poohed it after the unveiling , I had to eat crow once I got my hands on it. I was in love and over the past year and a half, have been dellighted and amazed by the device on innumerable occasions.


But, I'm not one of the ios fanboys, or the more Indian term, a member of the iMafia. I've been using an android phone as my daily driver for the past year and find a lot of areas where Android is far superior to ios. This is reflected in the sales numbers, where android has taken the lead and is pulling away. But, in the tablet market, the ipad is dominant, the 800 pound gorilla in a room full of tarsiers. So, I was very curious to find out why. Are Android tablets really that bad that they haven't been able to make any headway against the ipad? Opportunity came knocking in terms of the Thanksgiving Black Friday sales, where the retailers had heavy discounts on the Android tablets. I was able to pick up a Toshiba Thrive for around 300$. My brother, who lives in Boston, picked it up and I finally got my hands on it last weekend.


The Thrive was(is) one of the most unappealing of the Android tablets. It's bulky(looks like something made in Soviet Russia), was plagued by quality issues at launch and was expensive to boot. A perfect trifecta which caused it to quickly sink to the bottom of the also rans. But, my reasoning went, flaws that are killers at a 500$ price point could be bearable when the price drops to 300. They had also cured the sleep of death issue and it had a few redeeming qualities like a full sized USB, HDMI and SD card slot plus a replacable battery. All these factors made me choose the Thrive over the competition. And the fact that the discounted price was a full 100$ less than the others. Never discount the importance of a good bargain.


The Short Verdict
Now that I have it, what's the verdict. The short answer is that If the ipad 2 is a 10, I'd rate the ipad as a 9. When I first got my hands on the thrive on saturday, my first impression was so negative, that i would have given it a 5. But as I got used to it and understood it a little better, I'll change it to a 6. With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, which fixes a lot of the issues that have plagues Honeycomb, that'll move to a 7. But, it is a big question mark whether the Thrive will ever get ICS. 


Does this mean that Android tablets have no chance, if even with the latest software, they don't even come close to the ipad? I don't think so. Remember, the Thrive is not even the best tablet, there are tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Prime that have far better screens and build quality and would rate a 8 or 9 with the ICS build. But, the issue is that Apple is very close to releasing the ipad 3, which going by past history, would rate as a 11 or 12 at the minimum. How will the manufacturer's be able to counter that? I'm glad that it is someone else's problem and I do not envy them.


The Longer Version


Here's the long version of what I thought of the Thrive


Size (B): My brother had bought the original Toshiba case and boy, was it a piece of crap. Contrast to the original ipad case, which is a piece of art and looks as good as new even after 18 months. The case made the already thick tablet even thicker and was a pain to actually use. I got rid of it and found it quite usable without the case. In terms of thickness, it is not too different from the original ipad. The ipad2, however, takes it to a totally new level.


Sound (F C): I have never heard a speaker that is as bad as the Thrive. It gives the word tinny a whole new meaning. I think 2000 rupee mobile phones have better sounding speakers.


UPDATE: I discovered that Toshiba has its sound enhancement on this tablet and be default, the bass is at the lowest level. Once, I turned off the default and turned up the bass, the quality and volume improved significantly.  I'd have given it a B, but toshiba should be ashamed to have set the default this low.


Display (C): I didn't have high hopes for the display as it wasn't an IPS screen. I was pleasantly surprised, as it looked quite nice. Here are a couple of comparisions with the ipad. The ipad has much better viewing angles, though.
Thrive on the left, ipad to the right

 Thrive at an extreme viewing angle

ipad at an extreme viewing angle, is far better

Software (D): There's no other way to put it, Honeycomb is unfinished software and should never have been released. In just a couple of days of usage, I had multiple apps force closing, including standard apps like Music. Performance was very average, and wasn't much faster than my ipad 1G. 


App Selection (D): Android does scale better than ios to higher resolution, but you still need apps that are designed for the larger screen. Simply stretching out the app to the wider screen is not sufficient. A few like Plume had resigned the app to make use of the wider screen, but they were few and far inbetween. I was very surprised to see the Google + app have a lot of issues just displaying the stream.


It wasn't all negative, though. Here's what I liked
SD Card: I was able to pop in the SD card from my camera and view the pictures immediately
HDMI/USB: I connected my wireless mouse and the tablet to my TV and was able to get a fairly good video watching experience
Sadly for the Thrive, I cannot think of many more positives at this point.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Trip to Munnar




We travelled to Munnar for a 4 day trip from 25/12. We decided against the train as even the train would require a 3-4 hour journey by taxi, having seen the way the tourist taxi guys drive, I just wasn't prepared to take my chances and decided to drive.
Some memories from the trip
- We left Bangalore at 5:45 am. At Hosur, there was a massive jam caused by an accident where a bus was blocking the entire highway. But, we got very lucky as we hit the jam just near a break in the road divider. We crossed over to the service lane on the other side and rejoined after the accident scene.

- I have a lot of memories of the Bangalore-Salem road, as we used to drive to my uncle’s place in Thanjavur regularly during the 80’s. More recently, we had a nightmare drive from Krishnagiri to Salem, when the 4 lane was being constructed. With the construction complete, the drive was a pleasure. I was easily cruising at 110-120 kmph, which enabled us to reach Salem in 2.5 hours.
- We took the Perundurai-Kangeyam-Dharapuram-Udumalpetai-Chinar-Marayoor-Munnar route to avoid any potential problems due to the Mullaperiyar dam issue. There were absolutely no problems and we crossed over into Kerala with ease
- The forest section through Annamalai Tiger reserve and Chinar national park was a bit of a disappointment on the way out. I was hoping to see some wildlife but some birds and a chameleon that I almost ran over was as close as we got.
- The Club Mahindra resort is almost 20 km beyond Munnar. Since the Marayoor and

Theni routes to Munnar are almost the same distance, going via Theni means that you save almost 45 km if you’re going to the resorts at Chinnakanal. No wonder, many of the people at team-bhp were recommending this. Atleast, we got to see some of the spectacular views over Lockhart Valley
- We stayed in a small hotel unit room for the first 2 days and then shifted to a 1 bedroom unit. The resort was good, but not very kid friendly. My son is at an age where he gives up and wants to be lifted whenever he feels like. Usually, this happens when there are steps to be climbed or a steep slope. Lifting a 15 kg child and walking up a 25-30 degree slope is no fun. I can’t wait for the day when he is embarrassed to be lifted.
- As the driver, I hardly got to see any of the views. So, we decided to take the tour offered by the resort. This had another advantage, as we didn’t have to worry about parking the car at the spots.
- The tour was a little disappointing, we went to an area with elephant rides which was quite nice. The next spot was the Mattupettu dam, we were really looking forward to taking the speedboat ride, but it had almost a 3 hour wait. Having already waited 1.5 hours for the elephant ride, we decided to skip and left after taking a few snaps.
- Day 2 was spent mainly at the resort, where we visited the model village set up by the resort.
- On Day 3, we went to the Erivakulam National Park, home of the Nilgiri tahir. We found a huge traffic jam as we neared the NP. Following the cue of other vehicles, we parked right there itself and walked the final 1 km to the entrance. Near the NP entrance, the cause of the problem was clear, the road was only wide enough for a single bus, but there were 2 huge buses on either side of the entrance wanting to get through. On reaching the park, we found a huge line which extended halfway up the side of the mountain. On enquiring with people, we found that it would take almost 4-5 hours to get the bus and decided to just head back. Our decision to park away proved a blessing as we could easily reverse and head back avoiding the jam completely.
- Club Mahindra resort was excellent as always with good food, generally great facilities. However, the activity room was very poor compared to their resort in Coorg and Goa with almost no facilities for infants. As a result, we avoided it completely.
- In view of the jam at Erivakulam, we decided to start back early hoping to avoid the Erivakulam jam and see some wildlife on the way. Till we entered the Annamalai reserve, we did not see even a single eee-kaaka. To our luck, as soon as we entered the reserve, I spotted a movement on the right and sure enough, there were two elephants making their way up the mountain. Further on, we hit paydirt, there was a single wild elephant on the side of the road eating his/her breakfast.
- On the way back, we stopped for 4 hours at Tirrupur, got some good bargains on clothes at a factory outlet and ate a big lunch at Sree Saravana Bhavan. This delayed our return to late evening, and as I am not very comfortable with night driving, dropped our average speed significantly. We finally made it home at 9:45 pm.
- I was very happy with my car's mileage during the trip. With all the high speed cruising and the ghat roads, we still ended up with a little over 14 kmpl. Not bad for a 1.6l engine.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An ode to the n82

Why a post on the n82 out of the blue? After all, it's been 8 months since I stopped using it full time and around 4 months since I gave it to my mother. Something happened in the last few days that made me realize that there is no turning back.

That something was a little option hidden in my Galaxy S camera app, the anti-shake. Until now, most of my photos were blurry, mainly caused by the fact that the SGS doesn't have a dedicated camera button and when you tap the on-screen shutter, it shakes the phone a little bit. But once I enabled this option, my photos became much sharper.

What does it have to do with the n82? Well, the camera on that little gem is a piece of art and a part of me always missed it, no matter how much I like the SGS in other respects. But now, I've realized that it is time to move on.

But there was one last hurrah for the n82. Last sunday, we bought a new cycle for my daughter. Like any normal kid, she wanted to ride it "Right NOW". It was around 6:15 pm and unfortunately, my camera's battery was out of charge. So which phone did I pick up? You guessed it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

F1 - the season so far

I wrote this post after the Monaco race, but forgot to post it. Well, better late than never...

 

We are now 6 races into the F1 season and we’ve had 6 crackers with lots of overtaking, I cannot remember a time when there was so much happening all at once. Why was overtaking so infrequent in F1? What changed to make such a drastic difference? Here’s my take on it. DISCLAIMER:I don’t profess to be a technical expert, just a passionate fan who has been following F1 for the last 25 years . 

 

Firstly coming to overtaking, I think there are three main reasons for why it was so uncommon in F1

Aerodynamics: The most common method of overtaking in a straight line is slipstreaming. Slipstreaming occurs when the car behind occupies the hole in the air created by the car in front before the space is filled up by the displaced air. Due to the reduced wind resistance, the car behind is able to go faster and overtake. You may well ask why slipstreaming has reduced? When a car moves, the air that it displaces has to go somewhere. The goal of the F1 car designers is to direct the air as they pass through in a way that it presses the car down and gives more grip, thus enabling the car to go through the corner faster. It’s the reverse of aeroplanes where they try to achieve lift. That is why the F1 cars have these big wings in the front and back. The downside of the aerodynamics was that the air that exited the back of the cars was so turbulent that the effectiveness of the aerodynamic design was greatly reduced for the car behind. So, the effectiveness of the wings was reduced and the car could not go as fast and fell behind enough to not be able to slipstream

 

Cornering speeds: In the olden days, the cars would be going 300 kmph on the straight but when they came upon a corner, they would need to reduce the speed to 80-90 kmph to have any chance of making it through the corner safely. Since the tyres and brakes of the day were not that advanced, cars had to brake 50-100 m before the corner and this gave the opportunity for the car behind to delay their braking by 10-15 metres and overtake the car going into the corner. However, with the advance in tyre technology (and aerodynamics), the speed that the car could carry through the corner increased and with the advent of carbon-fibre brakes, the braking distances reduced significantly. As a result, the opportunity to “out-brake” someone into a corner reduced significantly.

 

Strategy: One of the biggest changes in the sport was the advent of Michael Schumacher and the usage of pit-stops as an overtaking mechanism. He figured that since modern technology can make it so difficult to overtake cars on the track, why not pass them in the pits? The strategy involved staying out for a couple of laps after the car in front had pitted and driving to the maximum speed so that when you pitted for new tyres, you would come out ahead. He did this with astonishing success during his heyday. The downside to this was that it was very boring for the average spectator who could not understand the intricacies that went into the overtaking.

 

The FIA has been trying to remedy the situation and put up a good show for the spectators for a while now. In 2010, it banned refueling and made the usage of two tyre compounds mandatory. The hope was that teams would adopt different strategies and we would see cars with varying grip levels on track together, thus promoting overtaking. However, it did not work out as the tyres proved very durable and most teams stuck to one or maximum two pitstops, most of which were in sync with each other. The aerodynamic issues remained as before.

 

So, for 2011, they came up with 3 really bold steps, Drag Reduction system, high wearing tyres specification and KERS. Let’s look at each of them

DRS is the most controversial of the three rule changes. Basically the rear wings on the car are inclined at an angle when viewed from the side so that the air flowing over them presses the car down. This is most useful in the corner. However, in a straight line, the wings create more drag. That is why in circuits like Monza, which is a series of straights, we see the cars with wings that are almost parallel to the ground. DRS basically allows the teams to change the angle of the rear wing on the straight so that the car can go faster. Simple really. But, this is F1 and nothing is as simple. The catch is that DRS is only available if the car is less than a second behind the car in front and only on a specified area of the circuit. So, remember when you could not slipstream because you were falling behind on the corner? With DRS, you now have much lesser drag and can go significantly faster than the car in front and hence can get back into the slipstream and overtake.

 

The importance of aerodynamics had overshadowed the role that tyres played in providing the grip to the car. Historically, tyres have tried to strike a balance between softer rubber compounds that provide more grip but wear out faster and harder ones that last longer but aren’t as fast. The idea behind making the use of different compound tyres was the softer compound With the single tyre supplier rule in effect, Bridgestone had no real pressure to innovate. As a result, their tyres were so durable that 2010 saw many races reduced to a single stop race. In 2011, Pirelli won the contract to supply the teams with tyres and they were given the brief that the tyres had to wear out enough such that there was a marked difference in grip between the hard and soft compounds. In tracks like Spain, the hard compounds were two seconds a lap slower. But the soft compounds would wear out quickly, thus requiring more pit-stops. So, you had an option, lose 20+ seconds in a pit-stop but make up the time at 2 seconds a lap. An added twist was provided when top cars (Webber/China and Heidfeld/Spain) were knocked out in Q1. Since they had not used their soft tyres at all in qualifying, they were able to go much longer on these tyres, thus making it possible to gain enormous amounts of time on the cars in front of them during the closing stages of the race.

 

The least impactful change was the re-introduction of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). While braking, the energy is dissipated as heat, KERS allows that to be transformed to electrical energy and stored in a battery. This gives an additional 10% “boost” over the engine power thus enabling the cars to go even faster. KERS can only be used for 6 seconds over a single lap, so the driver must choose the spot carefully.

 

So, what has been the impact of these changes? We’ve had lots of overtaking, some thrilling come from behind drives (Webber from 18th to 3rd in China, Heidfeld from 24th to 8th in Spain) and a huge number of pit-stops. There is so much action that it is impossible to get a complete view just watching it on TV. My usual practice is to have my laptop open with the Live Timing in one window and a twitter feed (where I follow some of the prominent F1 journalists) in another. The live timing gives you wonderful insight especially in the mid-field that rarely gets much coverage. It was fascinating to see the gap from Webber and Heidfeld to the driver in front come down by 2-3 seconds a lap. And just to prove a point that it’s not all about overtaking, we’ve seen Vettel soak up enormous pressure at Turkey and Monaco and still keep it together.

 

With all this excitement, I can barely wait for the next race to come on.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Customer Service...What's that?

I recently replaced my sneakers with a top of the line pair of running shoes from Reebok that cost me 8000 rupees. I started using it on my daily run and on the first day, noticed a pain in my left leg. I attributed it to running-in difficulty and thought it would go away after a couple of days. But it only got worse on the second day. When I inspected it closely, I found that the seam where the flap under the lace was joined to the shoe was not proper in the left shoe and was pressing onto my foot causing the pain. So, I took it to the shop where they acknowledged the problem and said that they would replace it in a day or two. So far so good.

I gave them an extra day and went three days later, expecting to pick up the replacement. They said that the approval for the claim had still not come and may take a few days more. I blew my top and told them that if it wasn’t done the next day, I will place a hold on the payment through my credit card company. That seemed to help matters, as I got a call the next day stating that the claim was approved. But, when I went there, I was told that they did not have another piece in stock. I gave them another extra day before I went back. They had got the shoe but they found a similar problem in it. I had enough and demanded my money back, but there was no refund. I had shortlisted a second pair initially, but even that was not available in my size. Finally, I settled for another model that cost me 6500 rupees. Wherein, I was told that they could not return the balance and I would need to purchase something. I finally ended up with a couple of t-shirts that I didn’t really need and paid an extra 400 rupees to those idiots.

I was trying to think of how the experience would have been in countries where the customer is truly king:

  • I would have been able to return it anytime without any reason (defective or not)
  • I would have been given a replacement on the spot or my money back
  • They would have paid me the difference in cost and not forced me to buy something else

- To add insult to injury, I would have paid less than half the cost. Yes, the same shoe is available for 70-80$ in the US through amazon.com