Sunday, July 12, 2015

Driving Licence Test in Greenslopes, Brisbane.

Last weekend, Saturday, I got my manual licence on the first go at the notoriously difficult Greenslopes Driving centre in Brisbane. (The pass rate at Greenslopes is 50%). Phew! I am happy and relieved.

I am writing this post to narrate experience and in the process also hoping that it might help some folks out there preparing for the Driving Test in Brisbane or Australia for that matter.

I have been driving a manual transmission for over 9 years in India. My mates say that I am a safe driver and I see myself as a disciplined and a decent city traffic driver. Also, when I say city traffic, it is an 'Indian' city traffic that I have done most of my driving in. I come from the lovely western Indian city of Pune best known for its abundance of quality educational institutions, gazillion software companies, smart people and lovely climate but deplorable traffic conditions and insane drivers who seem to be running away from an imminent apocalypse (read - no observance of traffic rules)!

Add to the fact that the traffic is bumper to bumper (sometimes bumper kisses bumper) at the peak hour. So, in one word - CHAOS. If you drive in such conditions day after day in all seasons and the worst of all, night time during monsoons, I would say you have achieved mastery in car control. Small wonder then, that almost all me Indian mates are very good car drivers. A little insane sometimes, but thoroughly accomplished car drivers.

So when I decided to go for the Australian driving licence in Brisbane, I thought the test would be a formality. I couldn't have been more wrong. The test requires meticulous preparation which includes not just knowing the rules but getting good practical driving experience (by that I mean good feedback from a qualified instructor) and working on your weak areas. In a sentence - You gotta take your test preparation seriously! Overseas drivers might easily take for granted that it is easy get an Australian driving licence in Brisbane in the neat, orderly and sparse traffic. Not so. At least in Queensland.

Brisbane is a rather difficult place in Australia to get a licence it seems. This, because, from what I have gathered over the past 6 months, my Victorian and New South Welsh mates have got the Licences in the first go and all my Brissy friends failed! - Failed for slightest of transgressions. And all these guys that I know are excellent and safe drivers back in India. I ain't blaming the system either. It is just that they got extremely strict examiners and yes there might have been a lack of preparation too.

All this got me very worried about my driving licence test. So I decided to take up a driving lesson with an accredited driving instructor - I should pat myself on the back for that decision. For after the first lesson, I was asked to correct many driving habits. Bad habits picked up over the years. For eg In Indian traffic conditions, you are required to do 'The clutch - Brake - Accelerate' routine every minute during the peak hours. But if you apply this to the traffic here, you would be inclined to hover your leg over the clutch pedal if you are a new driver and the examiners might mark you down for clutch coasting. After the first lesson and some contemplation, I decided to take additional lessons with the instructor and to unlearn my bad habits. It helped.

I also looked up online for driving videos and tips for Brisbane. To my dismay, every You Tube video was about driving test in Victoria or New South Wales. I could find exactly one article about driving test tips in Greenslopes, Brisbane. (link below) from a driving school. It was a tremendous help and I decided to post my experience after the test.

So here's what helped me prepare before and on the test day -

- Take driving lessons from a qualified test instructor - I cannot stress this more. There will be your well meaning mates and people dissuading you from going for driving lessons if you can drive. But bear in mind this is not about just about driving the car. It is about driving the car correctly and safely. Your mates are not the experts in pointing out your bad habits as they themselves may not be aware of what constitutes a bad/unsafe driving habit. Also your mates are not inclined to discipline you. A qualified instructor will give you good feedback about your bad habits and will help you unlearn the bad habits. The instructor will also show you correct way to do various driving manouveus (U-Turns, Reverse Parking, etc). Additionally the driving instructor is also aware of the latest rules and what is actually tested on the driving tests. This helps immensely. What's more, you also ingrain the good driving habits and that makes you a even safer driver in the long run. This is an investment that is well worth the money.

- Secondly, finding a good driving school instructor is as important as taking driving lessons. There are some people out there who just want to make money and they don't really care if you get a licence or not. Read reviews online before going with a particular driving school. Of course you can change the driving school if you are not happy but it is always makes a good economic sense to find a good instructor and use the same car for the lessons and the test day. Many people believe they just need more lessons and hours just to get the hang of driving on Australian roads and hence they look for the cheapest option. There are many of those on Gumtree. Not that they are not good. However like I said, not all of them genuinely care about you correcting your driving habits and getting a licence. It helps a lot to spend 10 bucks more on a good instructor. So read reviews - Positive and negative reviews both...Pro-Tip Read the negative reviews or less than 5 star reviews. If there are no such reviews. That is your first red flag. It will help you choose wisely. Also some driving schools have a lot of instructors so if you get a good instructor stick with him/her. That way the instructor is aware of your driving and your weaknesses and helps you correct your driving habits effectively.

- Practise in the Test Area. This is logical. You will get used to the streets, intersections and tricky turns. Ask your instructor to specifically start from the parking area where the test begins. This will get you accustomed to the test day start.
At Greenslopes Driving Centre - The test starts from a shopping complex parking. The reserved driving test parking spots are very near the exit and so there are a lot of pedestrians walking and cars entering and exiting all the time in the parking. The entrance and exit to the parking is quite steep too. By doing a couple of starts from the parking you will be aware of the exits, the speed limits in the parking and the pedestrian crossings. It always helps to have a mental image of the area you will be driving on the test day.

- Be aware of the speed limits. In Queensland the practical driving test is called the Q-Safe driving test and the current rules of the enhanced practical driving test (changed as of 29 June 2015) will have zero tolerance for speeding. That means exceeding the speed limit by even 1 kmph is a FAIL! So keep your eyes out on the road signs and your speedometer. Better to be under by 2-4 kmph than just to be exactly at the right speed. Watch out when driving downhill - you don't realise your car speeding up! Be very aware of that in Greenslopes which is a hilly area with a lot of such roads. Not to mention school zones speed limits.

- Read the official guide to taking the Q-Safe Practical Driving Test on the Department of Transport and Motoring, Queensland. (link). You will get an idea of the critical and non critical errors and the marking system. Also keep checking the department of transport websites to be aware of any test changes and other important information. Link.

- Go through the road rules. (For Queensland - go through the latest Keys to driving in Queensland handbook). This may sound silly to do after you have passed your written road rules test but if you have considerable driving experience overseas it is quite normal to forget some rules after your written road rules test and go back to your natural way of driving. Even if you drive regularly in Australia, it is highly possible that you may have picked up incorrect ways to do certain manoeuvres and errors like not signalling left when exiting roundabouts. (Yes, it is a non-critical error and it is very common to see many people doing that on roads!) So as you read and revise the rules again, there will be moments where you will identify such things you are doing incorrectly and this in turn will help you prepare better for the test.

- Adding to the point above, the online practice test on The Department of Transport, Queensland website is a very good resource. The various traffic scenarios it presents will clarify some rules further and get you in the proper driving mindset. Pay special attention to Give Way, Multilane Roundabouts and Merge scenarios.

- Be extremely aware of the critical driving errors. If you commit one critical error you will be failed (at least in Queensland). Some common critical errors to note - Car not stopping at the Stop Sign. Stopping means Stopping. So at the Stop Sign, all the four wheels of the car must come to a stop. Another common critical error - Speeding by 1 kmph over the speedlimit during the test is not allowed.

- Google Street View - If you do not have a car to practise, use Google Street View to go through the various roads close to your centre. The biggest advantage of Street View is that you see the road with the road markings and road signs. It is as if you are driving in a car but at your own pace. Another advantage is that, you can look for various hard to spot road signs such as a No Right Turn or a U Turn permitted sign which you might not notice when you are driving at 60 kmph. This is where you can peacefully wander about on that tricky intersection or the road to get a clear mental image of which lane to be in when you are on that road. Even if you do have a car, try it out - It helps to be in the comforts of your living room and getting familiar with the roads around the test area as you sip your favorite hot beverage.

- For Greenslopes Driving Centre Test Takers, check this and this post from a local Greenslopes Driving school. It gives information about tricky turns and road signage encountered in that area. It really helped me! Check these roads and intersections on Google View.

- You Tube videos - There are hundreds of awesome You Tube videos of the driving exam tips and various manoeuvres such as Reverse Parking, Three Point turn, etc. Sadly not many are from Australia (at least as of now). However there are very good New Zealand videos and some UK videos. They do offer good tips. In any case, do check them. It is another good way to get your head around various manoeuvres.

- The overrated Reverse Parking - When it comes to the Driving Test, a majority of people start getting goose bumps about doing a reverse park. For some, the Driving test is all about Reverse Parking. Hence they go nuts worrying about Reverse parking and overdo it. Get this right - Yes, Reverse parking is an important manoeuvre but doing it perfectly does not mean you PASS the Test. Driving is not just reverse parking! So worry about High Speed Merges, U-Turns, Give Ways at Roundabouts, Right Turns at intersections and keeping under speed limits. Practise all the manoeuvres equally rather than just getting hung up over Reverse Parking. There are many people who failed to do a reverse parking correctly and passed the test.

- The High Speed Merge - Some people do not even consider this as a skill. However, this is one of the most crucial of driving skills requiring observation and decisiveness and it is just as important as the fabled Reverse Parking. In fact, the newly enhanced Q-Safe Test will test people on High Speed Merging situations. Some people are slow on the ramp (I am guilty of that) and this can cause unsafe scenarios when you merge with the high speed traffic on the motorway. This is one skill that every new driver should practise. You gotta match the highway traffic speed and you should be able to do that as you enter the ramp. As always Practise makes perfect.

- On The Test Day - The timeless advice reserved for people on the Test Day is to be calm and confident. Easier said than done. How do we do that? Here are some things that should help.
Get a good night's sleep. Really, I mean, this is easy. Just hit the sack early and get at least 8-9 hours of sleep. Goes without saying avoid partying the night before Get your identification documents, forms and a good pen in an nice handy case the day before the test. Not on the test day.
Do not schedule other important activities on the test day. That means, if you are taking the test on the weekday, take a day off from work if possible. You will be unnecessarily worrying about arriving to work or that stupid meeting to attend (All meetings are silly and a waste of time. But I digress). My test was on the weekend and so I did not have to worry about trains to catch and schedules to keep (and no school zone timings to worry too:)).
Before the test begins go over the car controls i.e. the pre-drive checks (indicators, hazard lights, sound the horn, wipers front and rear, high beam and low beam, etc)...and when the test begins just remember it is just an exam. If you do go wrong anywhere or miss a turn do not panic and try to correct it. Just behave like a normal driver - say, "Sorry I missed that. What do you want me to do next?” After all wouldn't you do that when you are driving your mate back home? You don't panic when you miss a turn!

My Errors and Feedback - I was marked for some non-critical errors and most of them were during one wrong manoeuvre while changing lanes around cyclists. The test was at 8am on a weekend and so there were a lot of cyclists on the road. It was a multi lane road and I saw a couple of cyclists in my lane. I looked in the rear and the side mirror and did a shoulder check and saw that the next lane was all empty. All correct up to this point. Then my instincts took over and I decided to do a lane change after getting closer to the cyclists! I did that correctly but I did not do a shoulder check and no indicator signal because I was aware there was no one in the next lane! Incorrect! But since I had a good driving examiner, at the end of the test, he said you should have changed lanes after seeing the cyclists but you waited and did a lane change as you neared them. Why do that when you know there is a hazard in front of you? (Hazard Perception error).

Another one, at one set of lights when the lights turned green, I saw a pedestrian walking so I slowly went ahead and stopped the car. The examiner told me since your car was moving the pedestrian was unsure and only when you stopped the car the pedestrian crossed. This is one of the classic bad driving habits picked up by most people who drive every day. They slowly crawl ahead in the traffic to the pedestrian crossing lane. It is not incorrect but on a test this is can be a minor error. Ideally you should stop and let the pedestrian cross completely. I was told that my drive was good except for lane change situation which had the potential to be a critical error.

And folks, that's my driving licence experience in Greenslopes, Brisbane. Hope it helps someone out there. Good Luck and Happy Driving!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Amazon Prime Air - A radical new way of shipping orders. Mind. Blown.

Amazon revolutionized the book industry with its business model forcing other publishers to reduce book prices and change the way books are delivered to the customers .Then it came up with an awesome eBook reader, Kindle and with it, the amazing wireless delivery system called Whispernet (free in 100 countries!).... Many ebook readers followed but they still could not compete with Amazon Kindle. Then came Kindle Fire HD with its own version of Android OS ( a clever move to distance itself from other tablets).

And now Amazon is experimenting with a radical new delivery system - 'Amazon Prime Air'. With Prime Air, Amazon will deliver orders in 30 mins using Autonomous drones! Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon calls these electric drones, 'octocopters'. These octocopters will be able to carry items (weighing up to 5 pounds/2.3 kgs) and deliver them in 30 mins.Now that is out of the world!

Imagine you are home one evening and decide to order a Dominos pizza and just as you are surfing, you come across an interesting book (or a gadget or some other paraphernalia) on You buy it and select the Amazon Prime delivery option and 30 mins later the doorbell rings and just as the Dominos guy delivers pizza a mysterious looking unmanned flying object (the octocopter) drops your package on your patio and flies away. The Dominos guy is puzzled... Anyways, you happily collect the pizza and the package dropped by Amazon and think about why people go out shopping in brick and mortar stores!....Well this seems sci-fi and futuristic right? No it's not, Amazon is testing this incredible delivery system using drones, now.....And if I wanted to wager who would pull this off, I would bet on Jeff Bezos',
Amazon is a game changer. Period.

Amazon Prime in action

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review - Fermat's Last Theorem

Fermat's Last Theorem

This book takes you on a riveting journey of solving Mathematics' most famous and extremely difficult of riddles, Fermat's Last Theorem. The riddle, Fermat's Last Theorem, itself is very simple to understand but equally extremely difficult to prove that it took over 3 centuries (358 years to be precise) to be proved in 1993 by Sir Andrew Wiles.

Everybody...and I am sure everybody, who has been to high school knows or has heard of Pythagoras theorem or equation which states –

X (raised to the power of 2) + Y (raised to the power of 2) = Z (The Hypotenuse) (raised to the power of 2)

Fermat's Last Theorem is a sister equation of Pythagoras' equation. It states -

X (raised to the power of n) + Y (raised to the power of n) = Z(raised to the power of n) has no whole number solutions for n > 2

The 17th Century French mathematical genius by the name of Pierre de Fermat created this equation while studying the book Arithmetica. Fermat was also notorious for stating a problem and then intentionally not stating the solution! He would also go ahead and challenge his fellow mathematicians to find the proof. Not surprisingly, this used to frustrate his fellow mathematicians who loved to collaborate and build up on one another's methods...This habit of Fermat of hiding the proof of his theorems not only tortured his contemporaries but generations of future mathematicians.

So when Fermat scribbled his above theorem in margin of Arithmetica, he did not explain his proof of the equation. As expected, this mischievous mathematical genius also made a tantalizing note which infuriated and haunted current and future mathematicians. Fermat simply scribbled - “I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

...and with that was born a legendary mathematical monster - Fermat’s Last Theorem (‘Last’ because it was ‘The Last’ remaining theorem of Fermat’s that remained unproved) and the race to prove it, which took the next 358 years and 19th and 20th century mathematical techniques to prove it.

This book is not just about how the talented Andrew Wiles solved the world's most fabled mathematical problem but also a very absorbing journey of Mathematics' famous and infamous legends and their intriguing stories - some tragic, some pure genius and some shockingly astonishing. For example, Calculus was not developed by Issac Newton independently but by someone named Pierre de Fermat!

If you are a Maths, Science or a Engineering student or professional you will find this book absolutely delightful to read as the topics will naturally appeal to your technical self. Even if you are not inclined towards mathematics, at worse, you will find this book to be an enjoyable read! Simon Singh does a brilliant job of explaining the most arcane of mathematical concepts so much so that you will consider taking up mathematics! Go buy a copy. You won't regret it!

Fermat's Last Theorem

Book Review - The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Interestingly, I got to know about The Four-Hour Work Week (4HWW) from So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love book (which is a great read in itself) and which preaches exactly opposite to what Tim Ferriss does in 4 HWW. So, I was ultra convinced that 4 HWW is similar to those get rich quick schemes kinda books which are as silly as they sound. Hence, I scrapped reading it...However, when I skimmed this book after a chance sighting of it in my office library, I was instantly hooked.

I am not gonna talk about what Tim Ferriss teaches and advocates in this book in detail, as already all the reviewers have done that...instead, I am just gonna say that you do not have to actually do what Tim has done. You do not even have to leave your job. What I got from 4HWW is that even if you employ some of Tim's techniques (Parkinson's law, 80/20 principles and the art of avoiding emails and conference calls like plaque), at your current job, it will shoot your productivity through the roof....The lifestyle redesign part comes later when you get plenty of time as result of employing these techniques at your work place. Tim pushes you go beyond your boundaries and take mini-retirements now instead of later. However, it is entirely up to you, what you do with those new found free hours!...4HWW is also a treasure trove of information and other clever hacks which will prove useful to you at some point in life.

For the last 2 weeks, I have been using some of the techniques mentioned in this book (Parkinson's law and avoiding email/con calls) and they have given me a sense of calm at my insanely busy day job as a software engineer...This book will save you a lot of time! I suggest reading So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love first and then The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich which will give a unique and well balanced perspective to look at your 9-5 or 9-8 job like myself.

Rating 5/5. This is a must read!

Book Review - Blink: The Power of Thinking without thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking without thinking

Fascinating psychological stories/studies told the Malcolm Gladwell style and hence an interesting read. The power of information processing is all about thin-slicing (extraneous information to be discarded) an event and how our adaptive unconscious utilizes it brilliantly to provide us with valuable insights in real life situations. The author talks how great decision makers hone and trust their instincts to serve them in times of need and also when this impressive ability clearly fails both the experts and laymen. Particularly, how our biases influence this ability.

However, after a few chapters you do get a gist of the book and then it is just stories with the same message all over. The stories and the case studies cited are engaging and enthralling but somehow they do not appear to flow correctly. I got a the feeling that the author is going off tangent on many occasions for e.g the Coke vs Pepsi case, Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman story and Paul Ekman's FACS. These stories are very intriguing in itself but I felt the author could have talked a little less about it. Having said that this book is engaging and will keep you entertained.

Rating 3/5.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Diwali - Pollution, Hypocrisy and Ignorance

People refraining from bursting crackers during Diwali and urging others to do so and cribbing about air pollution during Diwali, I have this to ask you -

-Do you drive a car or a motorbike and have considered pooling or using Public Transport during the rest of the year?
- Have you stopped using six-seaters that pollute like they are running a factory inside?
- How about your own car? Is it really 'PUC' checked?
- Have you considered not flying and taking the train instead sometime?
- Have you thought of not honking when driving in India?
- Have you considered not buying an AC in a city like Pune when the weather is pleasant except for 2 hot months?

If the answer is No and you are complaining about smoke and noise during Diwali- you are plainly ignorant about air pollution issues or are a hypocrite or both.

If you really care about pollution, voice your opinions about the driving and flying habits of the rich countries first. They are the ones having wrong kind of Diwali all year round. Then question your own habits!
Do not crib about how environmentally unfriendly Diwali is as if it is the sole root cause for climate change round the world!
#ughsomepplinIndia #Diwali #Airpollution

Sunday, March 21, 2010

IPL 3 – Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals.

An out of the blue 30 min Sametime chat in office amongst us, the cricket fans, and in no more than 4 hours, 10 IPL tickets were booked for Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals game. Please, pause and gauge the enormity of accomplishing such a task - getting 10 people to agree to watch an IPL match (without prior notice) not in Pune but Mumbai (which means travelling to a different city) and when 4 of the 10 are girls who wouldn’t watch a full 4 hour innings on telly leave alone travelling to the stadium for that purpose (No offense here ladies, it is just that you know a very few girls are that enthusiastic about any sport as the boys ), then I consider it really lucky to be in such sporting company!

Well once the ticket bookings were done – the office and in-transit chats begun in full swing with everyone dreaming of the big day. Everyday was new topic - what to wear, ways to travel, etc etc. In a couple of days, it was mutually agreed to travel to Mumbai in a train and everything was all set!

The day before

It got big as the match weekend approached. Friends and colleagues, who knew I was going to the IPLs came to my cube all day long with a big smile and constantly reminded me – Awesome dude, we are envious and you’re gonna have one great weekend and stuff. Statements like these got me all the more pumped up about next day’s MI vs RR clash. I mean, C’mon, who wouldn’t be – just the legendary names – Tendulkar, Warne, Jayasuriya, Malinga, Graeme Smith would be enough to get any cricket fan dizzied.
No wonder, the night before, I couldn’t sleep with the adrenaline rush of seeing Sachin and Warnie live at Brabourne, Mumbai.

Match day – 13th March, 2010.

Yogesh, Neha, Hemant, Asawari and I were the first to touch Pune Railway station at 715 am in the morning. Our Pragati express AC chair car was at the Platform within a couple of mins of us reaching there. The AC coach was a bit of a disappointment – we had expected a cleaner and beautiful AC Chair car compartment. Well – it didn’t worry us more than the fact that rest of our group was still en route to the station. Finally everyone turned up just before the scheduled departure time much to our relief. The train journey was over in a jiffy, courtesy – Yogesh and his fantastic PJs (note this is a Hyperbole).
The hot and humid weather of Mumbai welcomed us at CST. A short cab ride to Churchgate, a quick but good lunch at the famous Satkar restaurant and we were ready for the couple mins walk to Brabourne Stadium.

As we walked by the stadium to Gate 12, we could see crazy fans like us lining up at the North Stand entrance. Security was huge and I mean really ‘huge’. Had to be…Police, Army, Private security, you name it. Gate 12, our entrance into the stadium had 100 odd fans waiting to get in. There was a fault in one of the metal detectors or something and hence we were kept waiting in the hot sun. The frustrated crowd got impatient and rightly so. Finally after 20 mins or so we were asked to go in. I couldn’t think of anything but running even when I had a ticket with a seat number in my hand. The excitement to go inside was such that I nearly ran through the metal detector where a burly security guy asked me to slow down! And, as it always happens, when you are in a hurry – there are things that try to slow you down. In my case, the bar code reader was not working! After a couple of attempts, the bar code reader beeped to life and I was a free man! Free man to enter the crazy live world of IPL. Again, Prashant and I ran like hell to West Lower Block entrance. The other 8 were behind us but the excitement got the better of us and we were inside the beautiful Brabourne in just under 120 secs.

Then, I noticed an amazing thing - there were people in the stadium, guiding everyone to their seats like stewards at the cinemas! I had never seen such a thing in a cricket stadium in India before. Instantly, I got a feeling that this was gonna be a well managed event.

Our seats were at a perfect height and along the middle aisle of the West stand. However the best part was that we were in shade and the scorching sun had already crossed our part of the stand. The cheerleaders’ stand was to our left below (couldn’t help grin seeing that) and huge speakers were neatly decked up everywhere around the stadium. The outfield looked great and the Mumbai Indians’ logo was all over the stadium being their home ground.

It was about 1 pm. Two hours for the match to start. I was wondering how to spend the couple of hours in the stadium when my thoughts were broken by an awesomely familiar Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing and Chics for Free” riff! The DJ had started belting out the song and a feeling of excitement suddenly surged through me. Music and cricket…sorry, great music, superb music system and live cricket! What more can I ask for? Oh yes – babes and beer would seal the deal!....Well the babes/girls/ladies soon started streaming in as the minutes passed…. Beer – I could live without it for some hours. You don’t get everything you ask for. Innit? But beer would have been awesome! Okay Okay! Coming back to the topic…
About 2pm, we got a nearly full stand with 800-900 odd Tendulkar T-shirts. No surprises seeing it! The blue inflatable Mumbai Indians plastic balloons, the horns and the whistles were creating just enough noise …Umm, I would classify this as melodious/harmonious noise typical in a buzzing cricket stadium in India and enough to get any cricket fan excited. The DJ was playing some cool Bollywood and English stuff which got nearly everyone dancing. The shy ones were seen tapping their legs to the music. I couldn’t resist dancing and banging the inflatable balloons to add to the noise.

Amongst 1000 cricket fans in our stand, there was glamour worth ogling at :D. The lovely females were dancing to the music and enjoying the attention from behind their glares.

Players from both teams were practicing and stretching all over the ground. The RR team was near our stand and girls were eyeing Graeme Smith just as the guys were eyeing the girls. However, when a certain 200-dulkar walked across, there was a slight buzz in the ground and every eye in the stadium was on him.

I looked at the watch. It was 230 pm. WOW! Time sure does fly at an IPL match. The atmosphere in the stadium just before the match was enough for me to give full marks to Lalit Modi for such an amazing tournament.
Our stand was now choc-a-bloc. Not one seat was empty. I could see 10,000 MI fans everywhere and 2 RR ones in the crowd.


When Ian Bishop walked into the middle with the match referee and the 2 captains – Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, the sense of excitement could grew as every spectator stood up. As the gold coin was tossed up it was seen by everyone in the ground as it shined in the afternoon sun. When Ian Bishop went to Sachin first with a mike, there was such a deafening roar from the crowd that even Sachin couldn’t hear what Ian was saying! It was as if Mumbai Indians had already won the match!
Not a word of what Sachin said was heard clearly by anyone in the noise! Prashant and I thought, MI elected to bowl and so did a few of the MI fans around us. Then the PA system cleared our doubts – MI had won the toss and elected to bat. Once again there was a huge roar across the stands.

Mumbai Indians - The First Innings

First ball - Jayasuriya started with a four to deep cover! The crowd went berserk with their horns and whistles. The second four by Jayasuriya in the same over and the crowd went mad. By now, everyone was standing. Even those who chose to sit couldn’t help coz their views were being blocked by all the mad crazy cricket fans of India. The third four by Jayasuriya and my throat was starting to hurt.
Second over - Crowd insane and the loudest even before a ball was bowled. Reason - Tendulkar on strike! The whole of Brabourne was chanting SACHIN SACHIN. The first ball was a four to square leg! I almost fell on the cute girl in front of me (Not on purpose…but then again, why didn’t I tumble on her?!)
Second ball to Sachin and it was a four again! This was a dream start! I stood up on my chair. People were already dancing in the aisles. My mobile was ringing. Friends knew I was at the ground and so were calling in to check out the atmosphere. I couldn’t hear a word. I just held out the mobile for them to have a listen to the crowd.

After a while, Sachin got out and the only sound on the ground was of the RR players celebrating! Soon Jayasuriya followed him and there were two new players at the crease – Tiwary and Rayadu. But this pair batted brilliantly and we were dancing, clapping, whistling and blowing our horns all the while. MI scored 212 from the 20. We couldn’t have asked for more!

The humid Mumbai weather and all the shouting and dancing had started taking its toll and we were hungry, thirsty and tired. The refreshment stalls outside were packed but well managed! Again, I was impressed to see that.

Rajasthan Royals - Second Innings

I thought we were we would be switching to “Sit down and watch” mode as the RR innings started. However a direct hit in the first over and the crowd were up like a jack in the boxes at the same instant!
At 40/3 ….RR looked nearly out of the game and MI heading for a comprehensive victory. But then, there was Pathan. And he isn’t called Butcher for nothing. For that day, I would call him an “Angry Butcher” coz what he did to the MI bowlers was merciless. 6,6,6,6,4 and so on. He seemed to be hitting sixes and fours at will. The crowd was stunned to say the least. Pathan kept hitting ball after ball to the boundary. If Pathan missed a ball, the crowd would celebrate but only too soon …coz we would see the outstretched arms of the umpire meaning a WIDE.
The big screen displayed Yusuf Pathan 65 off 24 balls and everybody gave each other shocked glances. Pathan continued his assault ball after ball and I literally mean ball after ball. The crowd that was silent was now confused coz what we were seeing was unbelievable. Pathan reached 100 in just 37 balls and the sporting crowd now gave him a standing ovation .

The only way Pathan could get Out was…. Well… as every cricket fan would know – Run Out. Pathan was on the non striker’s end when Dogra hit the ball and the bowler’s hand touched the ball on its way to the non striker’s stumps. The crowd got something to celebrate. The decision was referred to the Third Umpire. Every one in the ground stood up and focused on the big screen displaying the replay. People watched with bated breath as the replay slowed down to each frame of Pathan’s bat being slid into the crease. As the decisive frame was about to be shown, an advertisement popped onto the screen! A million profanities were hurled at the technical staff! Immediately the technical glitch was corrected and the important frame was back in action. As the replay stopped to the moment where Pathan’s bat was on the line and the bails were off the stumps, the crowd erupted in every sense of the word. Even the cops lining the aisles couldn’t help smiling.

MI surely would win from here was what everyone thought. But how wrong was everyone! Dogra hit a couple of sixes and a boundary and everyone was reminded that the match is not over until the last ball is bowled!
RR needed19 off the last 12 balls and Zaheer Khan bowled a fantastic over conceding just 7 runs. The atmosphere in the crowd was one of excitement and anxiety mixed together. Some worried MI fans (me included) were standing quietly, oblivious to animated fans and the noise. I remember saying to the guy next to me – A wicket on the first delivery would turn the things in MI’s favor.
Malinga was gonna bowl the final over. I was standing on my chair just like the people in front of me ignoring the cops who told us to sit down. The crowd started chanting M-A-L-I-N-G-A, M-A-L-I-N-G-A. Malinga produced a superb run out off his own bowling and we went up in unison. The whole of Brabourne went crazy.

Malinga came steaming in for the second delivery and Uniyal’s stumps went for walk. Every MI fan celebrated wildly. I hi-fived with unknown people and saw similar scenes around me. This is a beauty of watching cricket live in a stadium…Strangers suddenly become friends. Nothing compares with it and nothing would ever.

Soon the match headed for an amazing finish, a finish that everyone hopes for when they enter a cricket stadium. 6 needed of the last ball! What a thriller this was!!…Once again Malinga was impeccably accurate with his blockhole and RR could manage just a single. MI won by 4 runs! Crowd was now dancing everywhere they could find a space! Prashant, Hemant, Manish, Amit and me couldn’t speak was everyone had nearly lost their voice. We just danced and hugged each other.

Happily we exited the stadium not just because MI won the match but the way the game went down to the wire. 1500 bucks for such a thriller was a bargain.
Just across the stadium, the Marine drive was lined with the tired cricket fans enjoying the gentle breeze thinking about the day and chatting about the awesome turning points in the match.

I thought about how amazing a concept IPL was. Action packed cricket lasting just 4 hours and with the music, awesome management, IPL surely has completely transformed watching cricket live in the stadium. It is complete entertainment and good fun day out for everyone. As Ayaz Memon put it, IPL is more gender friendly. More females can be seen at the stadium which was not the case a few years ago. IPL is not only a day of interesting cricket, it is a party - a celebration where even if your team turns up on the losing side, it is at least certain you had pretty good time at the stadium with all the music and power cricket. My friend, Amit Majhi made a wonderful point when he said that our corporate team outings should include going to the IPL matches instead of the boring one day trips to Essel World or some places on the outskirts of Pune. In fact arranging such event is very easier coz all you have to do is to book tickets and the transportation and that’s it. IPL will take care of the entertainment part. (Note to self – Suggest this idea at the next BU meeting).

That night when we sat in the Volvo, I thought about the day. “Perfect” was the only word that came to mind! I mean everything was clockwork perfect right from the start of the day at 530 am in the morning till the time we were back home at 2 am!

For those of you who haven’t yet watched the IPLs, I would suggest at least one match live and you will know what I mean!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Windows 7 - A Review

Microsoft is launching its new Operating System (OS) – Windows 7 world wide on Oct 22, 2009 and MS fans all over the world have been excited about it ever since the release date was announced. Here’s a rundown on Windows 7.

Before diving into the uber-cool features of Win 7, a little about how I managed to get a copy of Win 7 Ultimate Signature Edition much before the World Wide release! It goes like this. Sept 2009 - Microsoft announced that they would be giving away free copies of Windows 7 to a lucky few people called as party hosts on one condition that these party hosts, host a “House Party” by calling their friends and families over to their place to have a first hand look at the features of Windows 7. It would be like a demo of Windows 7, the informal way. Not that the House Party concept is new, but this was surely an amazingly smart move by Microsoft. So when I read about it, I signed up. And here I am - the proud owner of Windows 7 Ultimate Signature Edition! :D

Windows 7 Signature Edition Case

Ok, time now for me to stop bragging and get to the much important review of Windows 7.

Windows 7 is available in three versions – Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. This is a review of the Ultimate version.

Set-up: Windows 7 Set up is a breeze unlike previous versions. The set up process requires minimal human intervention and it was so simple that I felt I was installing a video game off a CD!
My upgrade from Vista Home Premium took just about 3 hours. Mind you, my machine was loaded with a “lot” of software and so 3 hours is very much acceptable. Normally a clean Windows 7 install would be around 25-30 min.

Libraries: An excellent new addition to Windows 7. With libraries it is easier to locate all kinds of files on your machine. Libraries don’t actually store files but the ‘locations’ of files on your machines as well as on external hard drives!
So for instance, if you want to play that latest favorite song but don’t remember the folder where you had saved it…No worries. Just click Music Libraries and all the music on your computer will be shown with the location!

There are 4 libraries by default – Music, Pictures, Documents and Videos. The only thing that you have to do is the next time you save a file of any of the above types is to just include that location to the respective library and it is done.
With libraries, you no longer have to have to keep moving songs and pictures folders all the time in separate locations.

Windows 7 Libraries

Windows 7 Libraries

Win7 Search Capabilities: If I had to say one word…no, a couple of words for the search capabilities, it would be – Monstrous and Awesome! You can pretty much search “any and everything” on your machine with Win7 search. And your search results are neatly grouped into categories too!

Win 7 Search

Windows 7 Search

Windows 7 Search

Win7 Desktop:
Gone are the days of messy and cluttered desktop. Win 7 gives you the ability to hide all your desktop icons and gadgets with a couple of clicks! You’ll always have a clean desktop now. Nice. innit?

Windows 7 Desktop

Windows 7

Windows 7 Desktop

You can ‘pin’ (that is add in Win7 terminology) any of your fave programs to your taskbar. And when you hover your mouse over the taskbar icons, thumbnail previews of the open programs are shown. Take your mouse over any of the previews and a full screen preview will open up. Programs can also be closed from Thumbnail previews.

Win 7 Taskbar and Thumbnail Previews.

Windows 7 Taskbar Preview
Review of Microsoft’s Windows 7

Jump lists:
These lists basically contain all your commonly used documents, pictures, and websites. To access them, right click any program on the task bar.

Jump Lists

Windows 7 Jump lists

Snap: Another amazing new addition and in fact this is my favorite one. Snap lets you work on any two documents simultaneously. The documents remain open your desktop side by side allowing you to compare and edit them without having to Alt+Tab. Handy…very Handy!

Windows 7 Snap

Windows 7 Snap

Snipping Tool: Love this one too. It lets you capture any part of your screen and save it as a picture. This is like a screen capture available in IBM Sametime.

Snipping Tool in Windows 7

Aero Peek and Aero Shake:
These are cool new additions. Aero Peek allows you to ‘peek’ at the desktop by making all the open windows transparent. The effect looks cool and is time saver too!
Aero Shake – Click the title bar of any open window and shake it - all the other windows magically disappear and you are left with only one window to work on. Shake again and the desktop returns to previous state and you don’t need to say Abra-ca-Dabra at all!

Aero Peek in Win7

Windows 7 Aero Peek
MS Paint, WordPad and Calculator: These apps are nearly as old as Windows itself. However in Win7, all these classic apps have a brand new UI called Ribbon UI which makes these applications even more user-friendly. Good on ya Win7!

New look MS Paint

Windows 7 Paint
Win7 Calculator: The calculator has got a total revamp in Win7.
You now have two new modes - Statistician and Programmer apart from Standard and Scientific. Ability to do Unit Conversions, Date Calculations and Templates for calculating Mortgages, Lease, Fuel economy, etc are awesome additions!
Another important feature added is ‘History’. Calculation History can be viewed, edited and copied. Very useful I’d say for long calculations.
All these enhancements make this calc a truly rad app!

Win 7 Calculator

Windows 7 Calculator
Homegroups: Sharing files and printers over your network becomes super easy with this new feature. And creating Homegroups is even easier! No more looking up tech manuals for this one. Click Create Homegroup, follow instructions and you are done. Takes whooping 30 long secs to create a Homegroup.

Windows Media Center:
WMC was awesome. Guess what?! It got even better in Win7. Lots of audio video formats (Divx, Xvid, 3GP, MOV, etc) added.

Windows Media Center Videos

With new slideshow maker you can create slideshows of your pics as well as add background music. Nice! However, I would have loved a Search function when adding music files.

Windows Media Center SlideShow Maker

The Audio Library is more colorful too.

Windows Media Center Library

WMC Song Playing

Best of ‘em all is Turbo Scroll feature. As you hold down your remote button, the song names are blurred and slide by in the background showing only the alphabets of the currently scrolling songs. This is very handy as it makes the search quicker. It works for TV Channel Listings too.

Windows Media Center Turbo Scroll in action.

Window Media Center Turbo Scroll

Virtualization and XP Mode: Virtualization Technology allows you to run some features of another Operating System on the current OS without installing that OS.

But for you to take advantage of Virtualization in Win7, your machine’s processor should support Virtualization.
Win7 has a XP Mode. This allows you to run software in Win 7 as if it was running on XP with the help of Virtualization Technology.
I would have loved to write much about Virtualization but unfortunately my notebook processor does not support Virtualization and hence could not explore this feature.

*** Update – Check out XP Mode on Windows 7 on Dave Thorp’s blog here.

Security in Win7: With improved Windows Defender, Firewall and the awesome Bit Locker you’d be best protected against viruses/spyware/malware. That does not mean you shouldn’t use any Anti Virus Products. It simply implies that Win7 offers you the best protection of all the OSes out there.

Other noticeable improvements were Boot up and Shutdown times, which were a lot lesser than in Vista.

Conclusion: Windows 7 is all kinds of awesomeness! It delivers on all fronts – Performance, Functionality and Security. Win 7 is robust, more user-friendly, much more secure and a lot less power hungry than Vista. If nothing, it will make your life easier with a lot of user friendly features.
So may I suggest that all the Apple fan boys and Linux Penguins go fly a kite….or better still dump the Mac and get back to the real thing – PC.

Windows 7 is a must have!! Go for it folks and if you wanna see the cosmic features first hand, you are welcome to my Win 7 Launch Houseparty.

© Rohan Sawant

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Arrogant Pune Real Estate agents - Bhansali Mutha Associates

This is just a simple example of how arrogant the Pune Real Estate Customer Service/Sales Agents can be.A short account of what happened -

Saturday Morning - Ajay, Hemant and I drive to a place behind Katraj Kondhwa Road to check a few Projects/sites. We start with this one -

Project - Sri Shannti Nagar (
Location - Behind Katraj - Kondhwa Road
Builder - Bhansali Mutha Associates

The project was nearing completion as we could see and so we decide to enquire a few things about it. We walk into the Sales office. Outside, there is this tall guy talking on phone. We stand there waiting - What does he do? Continue talking on phone! Well we decide to step into the office and wait for him.
When he finally finishes talking on the phone, he walks in and asks our names and what we were looking for.
We tell him our names and ask about 1 and 2 BHK flats...Then, as if, he didn't want any 1BHK buyers in his office, he says arrogantly that this project does not have 1BHK flats.The tone of his voice is enough to convey the arrogant bastard that he is. He does not even care to show us any layout plans.

We ask him if we could look at a sample flat and the idiot says that there is no sample flat!....Are you freaking kidding me?! The whole project is nearly ready and there's not even a single sample flat! All of us are furious at this point. Hemant questions how come there is not even a single sample flat? The agent goes - Yeah there is one on the 10th floor but there is no elevator now!! We have had it - Hemant blasts him directly in his typical style by asking- So do you freaking expect people to climb 10 floors themselves when they come looking for flats??! I couldn't control laughing.The agent is speechless...then he mumbles something stupid like that the elevators will be ready in a few days. We storm out of the office.

Chapter closed. Lesson Learnt - Don't buy a flat in 'Sri Shannti Nagar', Pune.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

...and we finally appeared for the ISTQB!

After months of …oops I mean after 7 days of preparation, we were ready (At least we thought we were) to appear for the ISTQB! The “We” comprised of Salil, Pranav, Hrishikesh, Om and Yours truly – Me! We were not only good friends but project mates too…. and now let me rewind some 10 days back when it all started.

It was a late Wednesday morning. I was sitting in my cubicle trying to read some functional specification. There was a murmur on our level consisting of people blabbering away software jargons, discussing timesheets, WSRs, etc etc. Suddenly in all this murmur, I heard a calm clear voice asking me – Mate, are you gonna appear for the ISTQB this month? I turned around to see the face of the voice. It was Hrishikesh. I replied ‘Yep’ and asked him the last date of enrollment. Again, very calmly he said – The last date is …Tomorrow!!…. I thought if we missed this time, the next exam was in Dec and then we would miss that too coz we all are very good at procrastinating. And hence I wasted no time in enrolling both of us online. As I was about to pump my fist in the air for taking the first step, a gentle tap on my shoulder made me turn back. It was Salil looking at both of us. He said he’d been listening to our discussion and he too wanted to have a go at the ISTQB. Well, me, the ‘form-filling expert’ did the needful. And then there was a smile on our faces – a smile that indicated we had done something extraordinary. Yes! We had at last, finally, after so many months, managed to enroll for this exam. This was a proud moment. We all stood up in our cubicles praising each other. Then suddenly a thought crept across our mind - We needed to shell out 4000 bucks each – Exam fees! The smile vanished quickly.

Post lunch, Salil, Pranav and me went to the bank for making the drafts. The pretty lady at the counter handed the drafts in the name of the Indian Testing Board. We felt successful already. Pranav, who had submitted his exam fees was THE guy for “dropping the draft” at the SQTL. Hrishi was gonna submit his exam fees later in the day.

Next day, we learnt that our excitement was so contagious that a fifty guy in our project team, Om, had succumbed...I mean applied for the exam too. Om is reputed for waiting to the last minute of everything and he again stood true to his reputation by submitting his exam fees on the last day. He too had entrusted the draft submission duties with Pranav who did his job brilliantly.

There was no turning back now. We had to study and pass or flunk and lose 4000. If we pass, our benign company would reimburse the exam fees. Akash told us that the Foundation level exam is child’s play. It relaxed us a lot but only for a while coz soon Salil scared the hell out of us…He opened the Pandora’s box. It was a Word document containing a mock ISTQB question paper. He asked me five questions. I got them all wrong. I was perspiring profusely. Salil calmed me by saying no one could answer any of the questions. Immediately an emergency meeting was called. We discussed various options – nah not of studying but of ways to withdraw from the exam.

Akash, the guy, who had told us that Foundation Level exam is easy peasy lemon squeezy, again came to appease our jangled nerves. He said – Don’t worry; the exam has 100 % pass record. We were silent for a minute. Then he added a very important part – “ Guys, you know that you have to mark your answers in pencils. Right?”. He continued to explain his infallible out of the world logic of why they ask us to use pencils only? He said that in order that the results are 100 %, the examiners rub off the wrong answers to pass the candidates! All 7 of us in the cubicle burst out in laughter so big that the whole floor was looking at us. I guess we had woken the floor up out of a deep slumber on a drowsy afternoon!

The next week was spent in studying and reading whenever possible - In the bus, at home (rarely), during work. Everyone was asking random questions to each other at any possible time - lunchtime, coffee breaks and would you believe – washrooms too!! There was exam like atmosphere in our project. Even SameTime – online chat messenger was not spared…Questions were bombarded on it too. Oh how can I forget Orkut…. I was scrapping questions to all (written with a wide grin on my face).

I also learnt that one of me mates, Geeta, was appearing for the exam on the same date! That meant six of us now! Hrishikesh called the exam center 2 days before the exam for our time slots. As luck would have it…all five of us were scheduled for the same time slot at 1:30 pm.

Fast-forward – Sunday Exam Day: When Salil and I reach the venue at 12 pm, the 11:45 pm batch is writing their exam. So we settle comfortably in a room at the venue. Soon Pranav, Om and Hrishi join us. We study for a while but couldn’t concentrate as everyone is asking questions and no one seems to recall anything. Typical exam time blues! Geeta calls me after her exam. We all head down to meet her. She says that the exam was for 90 minutes! That means an increase of 30 minutes but the 40 questions only. She says the exam is very confusing.

As I stand in the line to get in to our exam room, I am reading some chapter and I ask a question to the people standing the line. Me mates stop me saying – “Enough now, no one remembers a thing. We don’t know why we are here!”. Everyone is laughing. Well atleast, I did my part to lighten the atmosphere.

We enter the basement room and manage to find seats such that all five of us are next to each other. The exam begins and I soon realize why Geeta meant the exam was confusing. There were 4 options and we had to tick one. Out of those four, two options seemed so correct that I had to reach for my wallet to toss the coin for deciding the answers! I finish the exam in 45 mins and decide not to hand in my answer sheet so early. So I sit there in my chair observing other people. I see many candidates scratching their heads and looking perplexed. I believe they were thinking of tossing the coin too! After that I start watching the revolving fan in the room. After all, what could I do? I couldn’t look sideways all the time at other people. Someone behind me hands the answer sheet. That gives me courage. I get up and hand mine too. Hrishikesh and Salil look at me as if I am committing a crime. I feel guilty. But heck, I can’t sit there for 30 more minutes. I come out. Salil and Pranav follow me after a while. We discuss answers. Some of them same and some way apart. Hrishikesh and Om come at the end. We congratulate each other for nothing. Still laughing about the exam we make our way to a nearby restaurant. We think of the day when we had filled the exam forms and now! Then we realize that overall it had been a very good experience – a memorable one at least!

Next day, Salil, sends us a message “ The exam fee for reappearing is 2500 bucks”. We decide to bash him. The exam results will be declared after a fortnight by emails. We decide, we won’t tell anyone of the exam until we pass!.....The waiting game is still going on...