Monday, January 21, 2008

Hutch/Vodafone sms ads

You know the ones.

Wonder why people put up with it? It's cuz they don't know how to unsubscribe. Here's how:

After you do that, you'll notice that the travesty does not end just there. They're nice enough to promise to service your request within 2 months. Enjoy those cricket ads till then!

[This was part of a public service announcement provided for the welfare of the desperate internet searcher. You're welcome.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Puzzle of the day

(Heard this from a friend today)
There are a 100 coins laid out on a table in a dark room. 20 of them are showing heads, and 80 are tails. Your job: When you leave the dark room, the coins should be split into two groups, both of which contain exactly the same number of Heads. You cannot see the coins and you cannot tell heads from tails just by feeling them.
This can be done deterministically. Your time starts now!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Who wants to be a motorcyclist?

Yes, ye avid Indian biker dude, I'm here to answer your questions and dispel your doubts and together we can rev our engines, burn some rubber and take back the word 'bike' from those silly bicycle-owners..

A year ago, I fantacized daily about being the guy on that sleek black honda cbr600 that just whizzed past my clunky car, or the guy on that sleek yam r6 that wheelied on the green light, or that female pillion rider on that massive hayabusa... scratch that last part... well i just wanted to be associated with a sleek superbike one way or the other, and I had nowhere to turn to for advice. So I just bought the damn bike anyways and now I'm here to tell you to do the same.

You: Average desi dude who just started earning $$$ in the U.S. or Canada (excluding some parts of quebec) and who *had some experience* riding wussy bikes (not cycles, mind you) in good ol India or Pakistan (excluding some parts of kashmir) and desires being on two wheels again.

Me: Above-average desi dude (in terms of looks I mean) who had just started earning $$$ in the U.S. and had been riding his trusty hero honda splendor for 2 yrs on good 'ol potholed indian streets, and who fantacized about a lot of bikey things except being a female pillion rider.

Summary: Buy a bike already.

Yes, you can handle 600 ccs, possibly more. No, the sportsbikes are not too sexy for you. And maybe they're quite affordable. That depends on whether you just blew away all your cash and credit limits on a spanking new 4-wheeled cage (a.k.a. "car") or whether you were the nice boy your parents brought you up to be and bought yourself a toyota camry '95. If the latter, you've just bought yourself the backstage pass to superstardom my wise friend.

The dirty details:

I'm going to repeat this - If you haven't had experience on a 125cc for at least a year (anwhere in the world excluding parts of southern costa rica), you should not start with a bike > 250cc; I'm sorry but you lose.

Most japanese 600cc superbikes (yamaha/honda/suzuki/etc) cost less that $10K in the U.S. brand new. More likely in the range $7K - $9K. Yes, it's that cheap. Let's just that keep that our little secret. (Other non-metric bikes, like harleys, cost more.) I bought my sweet Yamaha YZF-R6 '03 used, for $6K. Add $1K for nice riding gear (helmets+jackets+boots+gloves) and $250 for the safety course. I'll get to these in a bit.

There's tons of information out there on the internets. Motorcycle forums are your best bet. Motorcyclists love to help each other out, on the net and on the road. That said, don't post a message asking "I'm a newbie with some experience, what bike do I buy?" (a) because I already told you you're not a newbie, and (b) 40% of the posts on these forums already ask that same exact question. Get your popcorn and read up a bit.

Safety. I'm sure you'll agree with me that westerners in general are much more safety-conscious than we Indians will ever be. But riding in the West is different from riding in India, and what's the harm in postponing death anyways? In the U.S., there's a motorcycle course offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). It is mostly aimed towards newbies who have never been on a bike, but it will teach you a lot. 50% of it is stuff you never knew before, 20% of which is stuff you have been doing Wrong and Dangerously. Take the course. In many states, it waives the DMV riding test (which in California was a little too hard for me.)
The longer you've been riding in the past, the harder it is for you to realise you're not an experienced rider, the harder it is to unlearn the wrong things you do.

Sexy outfits. Besides the usual safety yada yada, buy good gear cuz it's fuckin cool. Helmets are mandatory in most states, and you should use them even if they're not. At freeway speeds, you'll need them anyway. Also a good leather jacket. And good boots. And gloves. Buy these at any motorcycle outlet. I don't own motorcycle pants but you might want them too, for long rides, or when you eventually try riding at the track.

Motorcycling in the US is not just a means of transportation. It's a club. Join us and you'll see what I mean :)

Ride safe buddy.

Guilty as charged. I live next to a mosque.

So once in a while something interesting happens to you that inspires you to finally set up a blog and announce to peoples unknown why you're better than them. This is that instance in my life.

I get a phone call from the service department of the mitsubishi dealership that I was naive enough to take my car to a year ago. This is the third such call in a month. I fail to recall why exactly I fail to remind the salesperson of why exactly they should absolutely not fail to delete my number from their listings. The forgiving nature in me is however not called upon the second time my phone rings, an hour later, at which point I correctly use the sternest of my "Hello"s. It wasn't a mitsubishi dealership.

"Hi, this is Agent Harley from the FBI in San Jose"

Now, that's a blog-starting moment if I've ever experienced one. Warning bells are clamoring in the hind portion of my brain and the lower portion of my heart as I instantly recall everything I've ever felt guilty about in the past 14.5 years. To save you the trouble, I shall not enumerate them right here (I need to save them for future blog-starting moments.)

I breathe. I think quickly. This must be a joke. "I'm sorry, from where?" I stall for time.

"Special Agent Harley, from the FBI office in San Jose. I'd like to meet with you and have a small chat."

"Okay..," I say, still being a little skeptical. I need to stay on my guard, just in case this is a smart reporter trying to procure confidential information about my company. Yeah, I could see that happening.

"Do you still live in San Jose on .. and ..?" He confirmed my address, I told him I was at work in Mountain View, and I suggested meeting the next morning at home. He suggested we could meet right away somewhere near my office. I complied and suggested a Starbucks nearby. Finally I mustered up a "What is this about?"...

"It's about an incident in Alaska."

I'd been to Alaska 4 weeks earlier, I met up with a buddy of mine who travelled there from the East coast. It was a last-minute decision on my part, I had spent quite a bit on the flight ticket, but I didn't regret it. We did a bit of touring up there and it was a good experience.

What did I do wrong in Alaska? I could think of nothing. Maybe I was witness to something I didn't realise I was witness to? While I waited for the agent to drive the half hour to my workplace, I walked over to my friend's office (I didn't want to use the phone/email), and told him I'd call him if I was, like, locked up or something and needed bail or whatever. The only possibility I could think of was the number of photographs/videos I had taken on the trip, and maybe I had taken too many pics of airplanes?

He skipped Starbucks and drove straight to my building. As I walked downstairs, I half expected three cops with guns and handcuffs, and prepared myself for the possibility of arrest, reminding myself to ask for a lawyer if that happened.

It didn't turn out that way, of course - that would've been a blog-ending moment. He parked the car and walked up to me. He was dressed regularly, but he was purposeful and exuded authority. We shook hands. I led him to a picnic table outside where we wouldn't be disturbed. Finally, the story.

Turns out, my friend whom I'd met in Alaska (name withheld to protect the innocent), had taken photographs of the oil pipeline north of Anchorage while we were there. He had been questioned immediately upon return from Alaska, and he had provided my name and address so that his story could be corroborated. An hour or so after he had taken the said photographs in Alaska, he had stopped at a gas station, where a trooper showed up and asked him a lot of questions. He didn't realise the issue was the photographs though. Anyway, as it turned out, I wasn't of much help to the investigation, because I hadn't even reached Alaska when the incident occurred. The FBI guy asked me a lot of questions, about how I knew the guy, what we did in Alaska, the dates I was there, etc.

He had done his homework and had pulled up some 'dirt' on me though. He questioned me about my costly last-minute tickets to Alaska. He casually asked me how I got a name like the one I had, and I used the opportunity to let him know I was catholic (yes, it's sad, but I DO reach out to my faith only in times of need!) Most of the information I gave him willingly, much more than I needed to, cuz, well, I was scared and he was a figure of authority. Looking back, it sucks that all that info is now on a file with the FBI, and it's a sacrifice of privacy that I find uncomfortable with. Just before he left, he casually explained that he was familiar with the area I lived in, and he tried to get me to describe it. Okay, so he was suggesting that I was lying about where I lived. Fair enough, I described the place, the athletic club across the intersection and the park across the street. And there's a mosque right here, he added.

Okay, I see what you're saying. I went to Alaska to collect the photographs of the oil pipeline that I then delivered to my terrorist contacts at the mosque next door.

I proceeded to pretend to be the islam-hating person we are all expected to be out here in the U.S. - I denied knowing about the mosque, and indeed, I never knew about it. I later confirmed there really was a mosque, but it looked like an apartment building from the outside, and you'd never know.

At the end of all this, it was just a random false lead for them, they were just doing their job. Sure, but am I still under surveillance? Is my phone being tapped? Were my emails ever subpoenaed? Are they in process of being so? There's no way for me to know. Will my 'record' on file with the FBI affect me in the future? My chances of getting a Green card? Will I be locked up straight away the next time I take a photograph at a tourist destination? Am I just being way paranoid? There's no way to know.

Meanwhile, I've dug up some dirt on the FBI. The next time an Special Agent from the FBI comes knocking at your door, know that you are not required to answer their questions, except for your name and your address. (FBI agents are trained in obtaining information using trickery or appearance of authority.) They cannot tap your phone for domestic calls, only international ones. There *is* something called the National Security Letters (NSL), a provision from the Patriot Act, that essentially allows the FBI to bypass the courts, forcing persons or companies from disclosing information about you without producing a subpoena. Also, every NSL comes with a gag order, prohibiting the person from revealing to "any person" that he/she received an NSL. The FBI has been misusing NSLs ever since the Patriot Act, signed immediately after the Sept 11th attacks.

Stay trigger happy photographers!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

suckers! I got the best blog name ever!

... especially considering that all other pairs of valid english words were already taken...

mmmmmm... caffeine.... mmmmm redbull-vodka........ mmmmmm.. vodka....