Wednesday, July 30, 2008

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

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With the BIAL being situated very far away for most people, traveling to nearby cities increasingly is using train as the mode of transport. Compared to yesteryears, these days Railways has done some serious upgradation to the type of services that are provided on the trains. I found out about this when I had a chance to travel to Chennai city by the First AC coach.

Erstwhile the only real perceiveable difference, other than the fact that there was AC, was that the seats seemed to have a leather covering in First AC which was not present in Second AC. From outside, the compartments look pretty much the same:

Inside too, one could not tell the difference between these two classes of travel

(Second AC) (First AC)

But after sometime, Railways upgraded the FIRST AC to be more cushiony and more decent in looks, the cabin itself looking more airy as well. The roof moulds were also done up from the inside and more neater upholstery was put into place which gave that well shaven look.

But my journey this time, was extremely comfortable due to better seating arrangements on the coach. The seats themselves were much wider than before, enabling most of us to sleep very comfortably. Not only that for people with kids, like me, one could easily put another small kid next to us on these coaches, which we could not easily do in other classes of travel. The cabin itself was done up with the rather old and dated "Incredible India" slogan with a lone tiger peeping out of the poster. Contrast this with the actual situation in Sariska National Park and Sunderbans, where the tiger numbers are dwindling day by day and you would know how incredible India really is.

Back to the topic, the general look and feel of the First AC had vastly improved by now.

Curtains were looking rather dull in colour, but solved the purpose more than necessary. Also there were wardrobes in two passenger coupes (now that sounds like a hotel room). Also there was a large mirror with its own lighting, 12V sockets for using laptops and other tech gizmos of today. All switches were of very good quality and there was nifty little luggage racks all over the place to stash away your luggage. The berth itself was extra large, with two rounds of bedding/bedsheets with one high quality rug to keep you warm in the AC if required. There were also reading lamps towards the headrest which was a good feature. Yeah, they were always there, but this time they worked!

There was also a netted pouch to keep important things like the mobile, purse etc away while sleeping tight. Also the bottle holders were present at necessary places to stack bottles of water for use at night.

The only technical advancement I really found (other than the 12v power socket) was a panel that indicated which of the four toilets were occupied or full. This is a very good feature in my opinion, and one would not want to waste time waiting at the toilet unnecessarily. The toilets themselves had tissue paper rolls and plenty of water (I am kind of ashamed to say that in other classes of travel the paper rolls arent there!, but that is the irony of this country).

Also there is a morning wake up call in once train reaches the destination in case you have overslept in the comfort :) This is again a welcome feature. Perhaps a newspaper and some snacks would complete the story well. The Railways is contemplating providing either wired or Wifi net access and I should think to believe that its perhaps already there in some trains by now. This in my opinion is a giant step ahead for our country. The simple reason is that due to sheer necessity, this feature is NOT available in other countries, which is pathetic. The economies of scale permit India to implement such a thing with ease.

Finally the total ticket value was around Rs.700 (about 16$) which is much lesser than any airfare and the time wasted going to the airport is more than covered by this train journey. Kudos to the railways for constant improvements and I wish them good luck to improve facilities at a much faster rate from now and not take 50 more years to bring in advancements. One grouse though that I had was that I had to carry umpteen bags from platform 4 to platform 1 in Bangalore city station, via an overbridge without any trolley or escalators. Thanks to Porter - Raj (the illegal reign of porters) we always end up paying 150 to 200 bucks to the porter for something that we might ourselves do when we are in the pink of our health. Shame on you Railways for not upgrading platforms and station facilities. The only commendable part is that I did notice an Airtel Buggy (an electric vehicle provided by a local mobile operator) to ferry around handicapped people. And since the definition of handicapped does not include people who have small kids, this lot of people cant use the buggy even on paying a nominal charge. Common Airtel you cant be so mean!

The next time you travel by train, dont forget to check out the First AC, you would have a pleasant sleep I promise!

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

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I have been predominantly using three different types of remote desktop sharing programs, to either send files, or to help people with their pc problems or for just video/voice chat with some remote desktop usage (like shared whiteboards etc). I would like to point out those software here for reference so that others may benefit from it.

NetMeeting from Microsoft

This software by far has been the most common one I ve used until date for voice/video and remote desktop tech support. While I do like this software, I find that the remote option is extremely lethargic, slow and sometimes quite unintiutive. For more details you can visit here

CrossLoop

CrossLoop is the name of a startup software company who are also into enabling remote desktop sharing and collaborating. Their software however is NOT a video/voice chat application. Their application is quite simple with either an ACCESS option or a SHARE option. While the former grants you right to access other's machines, the latter grants you rights to enable others to access your machine. However it is to be noted that this application uses codes of some sort (typically a 12 digit unique code for that session), which has to be pre shared via other means to the second user to enable collaboration. I find this pretty unintiutive by nature. Take a look for yourself:

Once the codes are accepted both sides, then the software behaves pretty much like netmeeting itself. I must say here that it is slow however and has some fixed IP issues.

These days the routers that are used at home, have fixed local IP addresses. This means your IP address for the router is 192.168.1.1 and your PC/Laptop, etc could have addresses like 192.168.1.2/ 192.168.1.3, etc and so on and so forth. What this means is that there is a network created within the home, which is totally local. This also means all the devices on this network need a gateway address to access the internet outside. This is nothing but the address of your router (192.168.1.1). Your actual IP address could be something different such as 122.167.240.215. When a friend residing elsewhere tries to connect to your computer using the address 192.168.1.2, etc the connection is NOT established for obvious reasons that this address is local to you and cannot be reached from outside. So then if we try the address 122.167.240.215 to connect to (which is the real address of your system) even then remote desktop sharing software fail. In earlier days, we only had a USB modem which was assigned the actual IP address and hence people could remotely connect to you. But with routers the game is more difficult. So how then do we do remote desktop management ?

This is where services such as LogMeIn surface to help you out.

LogMeIn

LogMeIn is a browser based program that links two computers anywhere in the world. How you use it is very simple. Just go to their website (www.LogMeIn.com) sign up for a user id, and then get into your account details. Here you can see a list of computers known to you. To add your friend's computer, simply click on Add computer and you can add any computer you wish with logmein support. Also you can search for other people's computer provided they have logmein installed. Click on the image below to see more:

Once you add a computer, and can see that computer on your list, connecting to it is very simple. Just click on it, enter a computer access code that you already know, choose connect and Viola!! You can see your friend's desktop right within your browser and you also get to control it! I tried this website (under trial version) to urgently solve some critical connectivity issues on my aunt's PC (thanks to the great aunt who let me experiment with her pc! ) and I could successfully access her PC with least effort and at the same time could solve installtion issues on her PC which was 350 miles away. It was a reassuring experience for my aunt no doubt. I did find the browser interface slow for refreshing, but I believe thats the bane of remote desktop management applications. There is too much of graphics to load each time a mouse movement even is made!

Here is the final proof of the pudding: (click for a bigger image)

To conclude, remote desktop sharing applications have come of age since the older NetMeeting, but nevertheless they have their own new age pros and cons that one has to be fully aware of. Its on a matter of time that these applications are hacked into by the new age crooks!

Help a friend, solve their problems using a tool such as LogMeIn. Teaching hands on will never be the same experience again.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

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Wondering why there are lesser updates on this blog? Well I was off on a break of different sorts!




It was my cousin's marriage after a long long while in the family. This called for a trip to Chennai city after really long years. And a new entrant this time was my son who was the show stopper around there in the function. Chennai was humid as compared to Bangalore which was freezing in the monsoon winds. The cold juice, the hot weather, the humid climate and the stuffiness without sea breeze on some days all made life kind of hell out there in Chennai. Just before starting my trip, my son got hurt twice on his forehead on the same spot, making life hell for himself.

Just when I thought the worst was over, my son fell down headlong from the cot bang on to the floor. Miraculously nothing went majorly wrong though I did have some extreme tense moments taking him to hospitals in the dead of the night at 11pm-ish for clarifiying that indeed nothing was wrong with him. I almost thought of cancelling the rest of the trip and heading home, but then I decided to be more careful with the remaining trip.

Then came the marriage - good food, dance and cultural events, story telling, performances, a grand reception, and then the culmination of months of preparation into the final tying of the knot. Enjoyed every moment of it honestly. Caught up with so many people after years - it was indeed a well deserved break.

Did it end there? You bet not! We reached Namma Bengaluru and a day later we took turns getting into bacterial infections one by one. Temperatures ranging between 100 and 105 (!!), severe throat infections, allergies due to severe antibiotic intake and general fatigues and weaknesses - enough was enough.

Now that I am out of all this mess, as google puts it - Now take a walk, get some real work done, or have a snack! The above feature is part of Google Labs for severe mail-a-holics. Click on take a break on top right of the screen (after enabling this feature in Google labs) and the entire mail screen gets blocked for a full 15 minutes - Good, now I can get back to work!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

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India has progressed a long way in harnessing the internet for all purchase related processes, be it a flight ticket, or home appliance or of late even hotel bookings. Hotel bookings were mostly restricted to filling up the required details online, and waiting endlessly for someone to either call you or mail you regarding your booking. This could be an agent or well, the hotel management itself in some cases where the hotel was well known.




There were many anomalies in this kind of scheme. One for instance is that I sent an email via the form on the internet only to receive no reply after - well about - 5 years now!! Another instance is that I got a response from the hotel after about a month, which was of no use practically for me since I had exhausted the travel date for my trip. Atleast this was bearable to some extent but there was one more case where I began receiving spam for the query I sent which made it a bit intolerable.




From those days, hotel booking has steadily progressed to be associated with branded websites who advertise services like hotel bookings, airline bookings, taxi bookings, etc on all media both print and television and even on the net on partner sites. There are a few sites that I would like to highlight for their services (of which I have already used some of them and found it extremely satisfactory)


 





www.Ezeego1.com


 




Ezeego1 is a website that is fairly simple to use (but I don't think it is web 2.0 enabled as yet - which means more of page refreses than normally required) and gives me all the data I need to see neatly arranged on one single page. I can see the hotels, the photos of hotels, prices with and without taxes and even sort by popularity or price, etc. The site even provides me with a price slider which I can slide to knock off hotels out of my budget range.



This is a unique thing which I liked a lot. Try it out yourself! The photos of each hotel pop up in another window but what I did not like is that in the current age of digital cameras of 7MP and more, I still get to see photos which are dumb and thumbnail sized not giving me the true picture of what I can expect when I land at the hotel. Shame on such photography! The rest is rather straightforward - add hotel to cart, confirm cart, pay and off you go on your holiday equipped with an online confirmation!




Ezeego also has a chat option along with toll free telephone and email customer care.


 





www.travelguru.com


 




Travelguru is somewhat similar to Ezeego, but with some changes. First they are web 2.0 enabled which means I don't divert away from the hotel booking search results page even if I want to say see some photos of a particular hotel or its rates or features. Everything refreshes then and there only in that part of the page. I am impressed! It's just awesome to use web 2.0 technology! Travelguru also allows me to pay at the hotel which is an internet first that I have personally noted.



Travelguru has toll free telephone and email customer care.




www.cleartrip.com




Cleartrip is yet another hotel booking service of a different kind. Firstly all results are displayed much like in other sites, with prices of rooms with and without taxes neatly explained. What I also liked about this listing is that next to the hotel name, is a thumbnail photograph of the hotel, with relevant icons showing its available facilities (such as swimming pool, gym, etc). Upon clicking the thumbnail, there is an in browser page pop, using web 2.0 again, which shows some real good quality photos which presents more or less an actual picture of the hotel that is to be booked by you. With these photos, I am more or less confident of what I can expect at the actual hotel. You wont be probably disappointed.




The rest is the same, add to cart, present your details and make a payment. Cleartrip has among other things a toll free phone and email customer care.


 





www.hotelscombined.com


 




HotelsCombined is a multipartner hotel booking network which caters both national and international too. Their objective is simple; they search for a hotel in your city using their multipartner tie up to find the best deals for you. Since this is based on querying multiple hotel booking partners, you may most likely be diverted to the relevant website while you book a hotel offered by them. In that case you must remember to contact only the partner site in case of issues/queries and not Hotelscombined itself. I don't really know if I would prefer something like this, since it sounds a bit complex for me to reach many other people.




The photos of the hotels themselves are picked from partner sites, so you may not expect the best photos that show you what you get at the hotel really. Sometimes I ve even found that the photos are just thumbnails only. The room cost does not include taxes and the taxes are shown as either at actuals, or zero or sometimes as 'unknown'!! The partner website though has all room price details, etc with their own contact numbers to ensure you can do the booking of your choice easily from anywhere even outside of India.




It's to be noted that Hotelscombined does not offer a direct toll free number to contact them for reasons beyond my understanding. While the local sites would go well with domestic customers, HotelsCombined would do a good job if you are looking at a hotel in another country/city from your current location and would provide more than enough details on such listings.




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About Me
Srikanth Eswaran
Bengloor Huduga

Srikanth is a blogger, reader, photographer, butter dosa eater, an urban car racer & an apple fanboy. He loves music, playing table tennis and traveling. Most times he would like to be solitary to introspect on what life has thrown to him and the bigger purpose of life.