Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Movie Review: 300-Rise of an Empire

300-Rise of an Empire, or in simple terms, 300 Part-2...
One of those other weekends, I had nothing better to do (in retrospect, I was so wrong!) so I went to catch up on a movie with a buddy, it had been a really long time since I last watched a movie in theater.  To say that the movie was boring, would be a gross understatement, cinematography was good, but only at times and only to a certain extent.
And here's my take, the movie, surprisingly can be very accurately summarized in mere 3 short words/phrases:
  1. Water! Lots of it! In fact it wouldn't hurt to blame California's water shortage entirely on this movie!
  2. Blood! Even more plentiful than water!  Take that Mel Gibson for Apocalypto or even Quentin Tarantino for Kill Bill(s)
  3. One lousy half-a$$ s3x scene (s3x scenes are quintessential part of _every_ American movie)
  4. Slow Motion (ok, I lied, there are 4 items, not 3).
The movie is nothing more than a hodge-podge of dismemberment of body parts (hands, legs, head, anything) that fly everywhere with blood splattering all around in extreme slow motion under a gloomy-n-internally overcast semi-black-and-white environment.  When nobody's hacking bodies, the dialogues in the movie are banal, at best.
Compared to the original 300 (my review here), this movie is almost entirely shot in slow motion. I was afraid even the dialogues would now start appearing in ssslllooowwww mmmoootttiiiooonnn and to tell you the truth, I wouldn't have been surprised if that had actually happened! So much so, that if we played the movie at normal rate then the entire movie would be over in 15 minutes flat!  The time part is a bit of an over statement, but you get the idea.
Good Thing: The only silver lining, watching it in 3D didn't induce a head-ache (and that's only because of the movie being in slo-mo), unlike Superman-Man of Steel, which gave me a splitting headache after I watched it in 3D, TW-freaking-ICE!

Verdict:
Life could only be better if you skip this one.
See Also:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring Is Here

Long time no see???  Well, been sunk in life's shitty boring problems knee deep too long now.  Not a good excuse to not post, but hey, that's the best I've got :(
Anyway, I thought posting some beautiful photos would be a good way to say "hello" to a few fellow readers I have left...


Lately, work-life has gotten a tad boring, mostly as I don't have my discuss-everything-under-the-sun lunches with buddies at work anymore; instead have chosen to watch Youtube videos while I gobble down food at my desk, at wildly irregular times.  But all's not lost, or so it feels...
 
Sun was out for two straight days and skies were clear bright blue, almost made me feel lucky for being alive and be able to see this day (note: this is not an exaggeration when you live in Seattle)!  But my skepticism that Spring is upon me, didn't budge.  That is only until I cared to look around my office while I parked my car and walked towards my building: Cherry Blossom buds opening up!  So the very next day I brought along my camera (luckily it was sunny again!) and went on a stroll after lunch to shoot some pictures around the campus.  And here's the result: Spring is upon us guys!
Time to break out of winter clothes!  Gear up for some hiking, photography and camping!

Yes, if you let her have it her way, Nature does have a way of uplifting your mood on occasion, trying hard to make you re-believe that life is indeed beautiful.
These are just a few shots from around the campus, full album here on flickr: Spring 2014!
 

Equipment:
    Body-Canon EOS 6D (full frame)
    Lenses-Canon 100mm F2.8 Macro Lens & Canon 70-200mm IS F4L


Note: Weather turned sucky the very day after I took pictures and went only southwards for even worse on the weekend.  You know, that's the typical Seattle weather, awesome and great while I'm holed up in my little office but crappy on weekends when I have time to explore the outdoors ~~~sigh~~~ That's the finicky Pacific North West weather we all love so much :-)











Full album with many more photos here on flickr: Spring 2014!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Galaxy S3 4.3 Jelly Bean Update Annoyance

If you are looking for steps to stop that annoying download complete notification, skip to Instructions section.
There have been a lot of issues with the 4.3 Jelly Bean update pushed out so at some point Samsung decided to pull back the update and work on fixing them.  But I was surprised when AT&T pushed the 4.3 update nonetheless.  I didn't want to be guinea pig or spend hours fixing annoyances, so I delayed the update, but, not very unlike Windows ~~~aarrgghhh~~~ it kept insisting every few hours that I update the darn phone.  The only respite being God-sent postpone button that allowed me to postpone the update for up to 1, 2, 4 or 8 hours, I selected the max duration, 8 hours.  After doing that 2-3 times, today morning, to my horror, when I got up and checked my mobile I noticed there was a subtle difference in my lock-screen's appearance.  Even before unlocking it dawned upon me that I have gotten the dreaded upgrade.  Instead of my early morning routine that helps me shake off the slumber, it was this squeamish feeling of being violated that jolted me back from sleepiness.
I haven't used it more than an hour, so I can't say what I like and what I hate about this update, or what are the annoyances, except one...  There's one that's breaking everybody's resolve to NOT swear and that is: randomly showing notification that a file has been downloaded.  Now, this file, in all the cases is either not recognizable or was downloaded years ago, actually in mobile-years, eons ago! So, of course when you tap on it, you get back an error something to the effect of "Cannot find this file".
After Google'ing, I figured this was a very common annoyance and people suggested "Clearing Cache" to get rid of this.  But no one actually shared detailed steps how to do so.  Or more importantly, "which" cache to clear!  After some trial and error I figured how to do it.  And I thought of making a quick post to help others rid themselves of this irritating behavior.
Instructions to Clear Cache:
  1. Pull down the notification center when you have an icon notifying you of some download
  2. Tap-n-Hold on the filename that appears
  3. An "App Info" menu will pop up
  4. Tap on that "App Info" menu
  5. It takes you to Android's standard interface from where you can manage the applications
  6. Just hit "Clear Data", it will warn you, just say ok and proceed with clearing data
  7. VoilĂ !  You will not be bothered with this again, unless you REALLY download something
I couldn't find this app whose data I cleared from Application Manager, so I take it must be some system internal app that's hidden from Application Manager.  And I didn't know if what I was doing was the real solution, so I didn't even take any screenshots to help, but at least I remembered the steps.

Edit: The app is called "Download Manager" and actually is visible if you are patient enough to scroll through "All" apps tab in application manager.  Here's the screenshot.  Blogger is not letting me upload images, so here's the link to screenshot: Screenshot-Clear Download Manager's Cache.

Edit: The BIGGEST annoyance so far has been random battery drains, just yesterday it dropped off from 100% to 85% in less than 5 minutes, the phone's back went warm AND this was while in "power saving" mode!  I fired up Elixir2 and noticed most CPU has been hogged by Samsung's wretched KNOX.  My battery is lasting less than half a day in power saving mode (and I don't have any bells-n-whistles enabled, aka FB, Twitter, Email notifications, etc.).
This is just pathetic. 
Moral: When will these idiots (the ones defining upgrade/update experiences) realize that there are some of us who DON'T want to be forced to upgrade, especially when there are many known unresolved issues with the update.  And if you MUST annoy with hourly reminders, at least don't FORCE upgrade while I'm asleep and can't baby-sit your f!@#$ing notifications! ~~~sigh~~~ There's no dearth of idiots in this world, none whatsoever!

Is Samsung becoming the new Yahoo!/HP, refer to my previous post: Stop Writing Crappy Software

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Dirty Secret: Wettest Dream of My Life

Today, I'm letting you in on my real dirty dream, wettest of wet dreams I would LOVE to experience, vividly comic'ized by the great artist at xkcd...


All the nerds-n-geeks out there are experiencing a nerd-boner as... .. ... ~~~aarrghh~~~ I'll be back shortly!

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Healthful Spinach Smoothie

As I promised in the last post, here's the recipe I promised.  First things first, fret not, as I have told you earlier, I'm not going to convert this blog into a store house of cooking recipes, people have already done wonderful job all around the blogsphere.
But in my quest to improve my eating habits, I will share a few health-filled recipes once in a while.
Making this Spinach Smoothie (Palak Smoothie) is so astoundingly easy and simple, that it really defies the commonly held belief that you have to spend hours in order to cook a healthy meal(*conditions apply!).  Not to mention it would be outrightly criminal NOT to make this regularly!



This is enough to make about 3-4 glasses of smoothie, scale it per your needs:
  1. Banana - 2
  2. Pineapple - 1/4th
  3. Slice of Whole Lemon - 1
  4. Spinach - approx. 3 handfuls
  5. Peeled Oranges - 2
  6. Papaya - 1/4th
  7. Condiments: Black Pepper
  8. Optional: Almost any fruit you want, esp. berries, avocado, Cinnamon, Honey
  9. Water, to get the consistency you prefer
If you don't want to read rest of the boring interesting commentary, then here's your skipping-to-the-best-part...
Quick Recipe: Grind them (0-5) all together, sprinkle freshly ground pepper and top it off with a mint leaf!


If you have time, patience and zest to endure my boring (but not totally useless) commentary, then here you go...
The key idea here is gathering the ingredients, once you have them, it is just a matter of putting them in the mixer and making a smoothie out of it, there's not too much more to it.  But if there's one thing I want to point out is, do not skip on the
slice of a whole-lemon, the lemon's grind (thick outer skin) is what gives this smoothie its unique deep flavor.  If you don't have one handy, DO NOT expect spectacular results when you substitute it for that lowly chemical-laden lemon juice from your fridge.  I recommend running out to the nearest grocery store, instead and picking one up (note that running will also up your appetite for a healthful drink!).  My 3-handfuls of spinach measurement is approximate, keep adding till you get nice vibrant green color.

The trick is to grind all of these properly, putting Spinach in first will make the mixer's motor run on near-zero-load with leaves sitting there almost undisturbed!  Don't curse me when this happens, because it means you haven't read the full post ;-) Luckily for you, you will almost instantly start getting the burning smell, so you'll know something's amiss!  (Note that I have a very cheap 4 year old mixer, so I have to be creative how I grind things in it; chances are you might have better luck with yours, or coincidentally, have a cheapo one like mine!).  Always put juicy fruits first, the juice helps form the base of the smoothie, a thick paste.

Once ready, top it off with freshly ground pepper and a flavorful mint leaf!  That all there is to it!

You can experiment the base recipe in many many ways, the above is a good reference of what all goes into this smoothie, a good starting point, be creative with what you can add.  Like avocado, papaya and black-pepper are my own personal touch to this recipe.
If you want to keep this healthy, then there are a few things I strongly recommend against adding.  Also, unless you want your smoothie to taste like a slush, I recommend keeping ice out too.
Things to keep out of your smoothie: sugar (NO NO NO additional sugar or sweetener is needed, for christ's sake banana and pineapple bring enough sugar already), milk (doesn't go well with citrus fruits), Strawberries (will conflict with pineapple and citrus flavor).

If you have all the ingredients ready(*), it doesn't take more than a minute to whip a glassful of this smoothie, including cleaning time.  Use fresh ingredients, especially spinach leaves, frozen spinach will not get you anywhere close to what fresh ones can achieve.  I'm willing to bet it will not even taste like a smoothie.  I generally chop the fruits over the weekend and keep them in the refrigerator, that way I don't have to spend too much time gathering all the ingredients whenever I want to make a glassful. Chopping pineapple, especially, is a bit time consuming a task best reserved for weekend.
More Tips:
  1. Bananas
  2. Another trick I have picked up for making great smoothies over the period is using frozen bananas. I have had to throw away a lot many bananas for not eating them before they went black and rancid. So now I just peel all the bananas, put them in a nice ziplock bag and put them in deep freezer! They will stay there for at least a month, but I consume them within a week's time. This also means you will never have to use ice in your smoothie again!
  3. Leftovers
  4. Make sure you don't make too much, this tastes best when made fresh. But if you have leftover, then just put the smoothie in a nice air-tight mason jar, it will last for 3 or so days in the fridge.  Spinach is rich in iron, so naturally it will turn a tad dark, don't be scared, it will still be good for consumption.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

I have been hacked!

Have you ever had a feeling that your brain is being hacked into while you are asleep? And by hack I mean programatically, of course, not physically. That's the feeling dream I had early morning today... while I lay half awake I had an unsettling dream that my brain was hacked into and someone was having fun while rummaging through it.  I bet I squirmed a bit, who wouldn't!
Was it not enough that I have, more than once, had recursive dreams, now somebody has to hack into my brain?  I lay perfectly still struggling with my part asleep-part awake-part confused state of mind without perturbing anything just so that I can understand what's happening, or lack hereof! Early morning brain hacks would so very well explain the slow mornings I have had! Stupid me, anything that will convince me I need to spend an extra 5 minutes in the bed :)
My mind then wanders off (hacker seems to have gone by now ~~~phew~~~) first worried about what has been deleted from my brain, not that you can backup a brain (funny, you can hack into one, copy it contents, delete some, but not back it up, attaboy!).  But as it goes, one never knows what has been deleted until the one actually needs it.  And then I get concerned about what inner thoughts the hacker might have tapped into.
I lay there contemplating (ohh.... in reality, here comes another 10 minutes of sweet sleep!), so I lay there contemplating, what would it mean in reality to hack into someone's psyche programatically, if and when it could be done, without the subject knowing it.  That's when I realized it was just a dream (but nothing is ever JUST a dream, never, is it!).  And no, I'm not talking about the stupid movie Inception and again no, neither did I see it before going to bed nor do I intend to see it in foreseeable future, I didn't even think of thinking of seeing it in foreseeable future.
It has been longest break on blog so far, somewhere around 8+ months ~~~sigh~~~ A few people asked me lately why have I stopped writing and I assured them that I haven't stopped writing I just have stopped blogging them for a short while (a popular euphemism for: am being a lazy bum!).  So this useless bizarre dream of today's seemed like a perfect post to resume blogging with, or a good attempt at the very least.
As to life...
It pains me to see that I haven't been making full use of the Sun that's blessing us Seattle'ites (residents of Seattle, not satellites!) with longer days.  Hope to get back on the saddle before winter kicks in and days start getting shorter where it gets dark by 4pm and it starts feeling day ended even before it started.

Coming up next: How to make a quick very healthy smoothie in under a minute! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Amazing Trip To Alaska

Latest copy is always available at: Detailed Itinerary of Alaska Trip.
And Some Photos here.
It was less than a year ago that I had been on a cruise to Alaska with my family which still stands out as THE BEST family trip we all have ever had.  So much so that my mommy pledged that every family trip has to be Cruise to Alaska :)
So when we decided to take a trip, the expectation that we would love it there in Alaska, even without a cruise, was only natural.  We didn't have much time to plan and parts of Alaska you get to see at ports while taking a cruise ship are quite different than what you can/should see on a air/land trip.
So there was only one big problem ahead of us: Planning

Alaska is huge, incredibly beautiful and every place is worth visiting.  Which means we'll need well over few months if we want to do-it-all.  Not an option, at least not yet.  We had less than a week's worth of vacation to use for this trip, so there were compromises that we were going to make in terms of how much ground to cover without killing or overwhelming ourselves.  So we both started reading tons of websites, printed material, etc. almost to no end.
There weren't any reference itineraries we could build upon, as in nothing from reliable sources known to us.  But AAA's travel planning guide (which btw is excellent!) came to the rescue.  The attendant at the counter who handed me the book gladly told me what are a few "must see"'s.   That was a good starting point.  And so began our, more or less haphazard planning.

So after our successful trip, I thought of writing up my thoughts in the hope that it fills that gap for someone in my position: a first-hand reference itinerary to build and improve upon.  Besides, after coming back from the trip quite a few people asked me to share my itinerary.  So here it is... tips, tricks, hotel reviews, things to do, places to visit, clothes to wear and more.  Whether you follow it to the word, improve it, or experiment with it, feel free to share your thoughts so that I can keep this relevant. 
Alyeska Resort

Rescued Bald Eagle

  • Day 0: Anchorage, landed early AM, so had the whole day to explore Anchorage


    • Visit Alyeska Resort (in Girdwood): Tram ride, lunch at top of the resort
      • Info about resort link
      • Unless you want to stay in the hotel (at the base), no need for reservation in advance
      • There's lot of area to walk on around the resort at the top which is free of ice, you might get some nice scenic shots from here
      • Single tram ticket gives you multiple rides up and down, we did only once though due to time constraint
    • Portage Glacier
      • Drive to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, link
      • About 45 mins drive form Anchorage downtown
      • You get a good view of the lake and a glimpse of Portage Glacier
      • Folks at the visitor center are good about providing information on what you can do around
      • You can choose to go on cruise form here (Whittier, I guess), but hold on until later, you might have seen enough glaciers later in the trip, esp. if you are visiting Kenai Fjords, which is a MUST.
    • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
      • Very Close to Begich Boggs Visitor Center, < 10mi
      • Opportunity to view Alaskan wildlife up close, link
      • Bears, Bisons, Eagle, Moose, Caribou, Deer, Lynx, Porcupine
    • Lake Hood Seaplane Base
      • It is the busiest seaplane base in the world
      • We just drove around the lake admiring the beauty and getting of at a spot or two
    • Stay at Extended Stay, not recommended
      • Extended Stay, not a bad hotel, but a little far from airport. You can find better ones, Inlet Tower is a much better choice (see Day 5)
      • You will have to rent a car for this day to cover all of this
    • Clothing: Layered Warm, pretty chilly at a few places
    Days are pretty long, you will have sunlight upto 11pm to 1am in the night, depending on how up North you are.

    Train ride to Denali Princess Lodge

  • Day 1 & Day 2: Denali National Forest


    • Alaska Train Tour: Not only is this scenic, but immensely informative
      • You can choose from multiple source-destination city combinations and also multiple nights option, Princess Lodges is what we had choosen
      • Find the one that fits your needs. We spent just a night there, I recommend spending two nights, so you can do more, esp. the tour to innards of the Denali National Forest
    • We did the Princess Lodge Jet Boat Safari
      • 3 hrs excursion in jet boat for a fun-filled ride on the Nenana River, more info here
      • We spotted a Moose crossing the river, Beavers and saw a few beaver dams upclose
      • After the ride, learn to pan for gold and keep your findings and feed the reindeer
      • This was much better than we expected it to be
    • More TODO
    • We would have loved to do one of these, which would require more time than we had
      • Denali Park Tundra Wilderness Tour
      • Probably the only tour that goes deepest into Denali Forest, 53mi. Private vehicles are not allowed beyond 13mi or so the park.
        More info about this tour here
      • Bus Natural History Tour
      • Slightly smaller tour, compared to above, but is good enough and recommended by our tour guide.
        More info about the tour here
    • Stayed at Denali Princess Lodge (first night), Highly Recommended
      • Nice lodge by the edge of Nenana River and lot of nice views
      • Our lodge reservation was part of the whole train ride package
      • Food at the lodge and on train is NOT included in the package
    • Train ride back to Anchorage
      • The train compartments (both, to and fro) are really nice, two storied, with glass top. One level for general sitting and one level for dining. There are also open areas on compartments from where you can see (and feel) the nature :)
    • Scenic drive to Seward
      • Ride along the Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm (link) was really awesome. Super windy. There's a Beluga point where Beluga Whales are often spotted. We couldn't spot one. But we did spot a bear in the wild, trying to find food on snow covered mountain slope. Even if it is late in the evening, you can enjoy the beauty as the sun is still shinning!
    • Stayed at Breeze Inn, Seward (second night).
    • Mixed feeling about the hotel
    • For the price we paid hotel itself wasn't that good. But it is right in the downtown and super close (literally a hop away!) from the Seward Port. Booking the hotels early might give you option of better hotels.
    • Clothing: Layered Warm, pretty chilly at few places
    Bear Glacier

    Orca and her Calf

    Calving: Huge chunk of ice falling off a glacier
    Sea Lions

    Matrix Bullet-Time with Harbor Seal :)

    Jelly Fish

  • Day 3: Seward, Cruise to Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Most cruises will start early in the morning, around 8am, so it is good to drive to Seward the night before to avoid traffic delays. Anchorage-Seward is 2.5hrs - 3hrs drive.
    • Day long Cruise to Northwestern Glacier, 9-10 hrs, starting at 8am
    • One of the MOST important excursions is a cruise that takes you up close to the glacier. The ship captain will narrate all the information relevant about glaciers, wildlife, marine life, sea, etc. Very well organized.
    • We took the Northwestern Glacier in Kenai Fjords cruise, check this out.
    • Food is served on board, but if you are a vegetarian, I recommend you get your stuff to eat.
    • But don't stuff yourself, the ride up through Gulf of Alaska is quite bumpy
    • We saw Humpback Whales, Porpoises, Orcas, Sea Otters, Stellar Sealions and lots of birds.
    • But the MOST breathtaking view was that of the glacier standing hundreds feet wide and tall, a stone's throw away, where you see icebergs calving out at the lip of the glacier.
    • More Cruises
      • There are a few other day-long cruises to choose from, but not all will visit the glacier, so choose carefully, link
    • Alaska Sealife Center
      • Very close to the Seward port where you take the cruise from, totally worth visiting. Just takes about an hour or so to take the tour of the whole center, don't miss it
      • Sometimes they are open through late evenings, so better to check it off your list the same day you do the cruise. It is not so tiring, check info here
    • Clothing: Dress in really warm layers, inner thermals are highly recommended, it gets very cold out in the sea
    Drive to Seward: Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm


  • Day 4: Seward: Downtown and Huskies


    • Meet the Huskies
      • Take a ride on sled pulled by huskies, take a tour of their kennel and most fun part, play with the little husky puppies!
      • You can choose to skip the sled ride (because it is NOT on the snow) and just take the tour of the kennel, meet some dogs (there are about about a 100!) and meet the puppies.
    • Exit Glacier
      • Short of landing on one, this is as close as you can get to a mammoth glacier. Take a short 1mile hike up to the Edge of Exit Glacier. The rangers have free hour-long guided tours, I suggest take that. It is better than walking clueless about surroundings. You can check if there are any ranger guided walks, here on the NPS website
    • More TODO
      • Harding Icefield Trail
      • If prepared, gear-wise (and fitness wise!), we would have loved to do this. This strenuous 8+mi hike with about 1000ft elevation gain per mile offers most spectacular view of the glacier. Takes anywhere between 6 to 8 hrs to complete. Trail info here.
    • Stayed at Inlet Tower, Anchorage.
    • Nice hotel, close to airport and in the downtown.
    • Drive in the evening back to Anchorage, and stay at Inlet Tower
    • Clothing: Not too warm, we had nice warm sunny weather, check weather beforehand
    The Exit Glacier

    Exit Glacier

    Exit Glacier

  • Day 5: Anchorage Tour


    • Earthquake Park
      • Park explaining the wrath of 1964 earthquake that changed Alaska forever
      • Do the 5mi loop that offers more opportunity to explore the park, we couldn't due to timing constraint
    • Decision Time!!!
    • Time to decide... if you choose not to stay back in Alaska, you have to fly back home!
    • Clothing: Light, can get very hot on a sunny day 


  • More Information & Tips:
    • Hotel Shuttles
      • Most hotels have shuttle service to-from airport. They will even pick up and drop you around important points, like railway station. So don't be shy to ask them whether they have one you can ride on.

  • Bookings

    • Of all the things, you need advance booking for the train ride to Denali National Park and the one day cruise to Kenai Fjord. Or at the least I recommend that you do it, so that you have important activities covered. Also felt that the hotels in Seward were out of rooms pretty fast, so good to take a lead on booking them sooner than later. Rest you can manage on the fly. If you take train ride, you will have a rep walk around and offer to book you on some excursions for Denali National Forest. If you don't have time to research in advance, they also give an informative pamphlet you can look through and quiz them about the tour, they generally are quite knowledgeable. Used kayak.com and expedia.com for all flight and hotel bookings. Costco Travel for car rentals.

  • Camera

    • On the cruise, get a raincoat for your cam if you can. This is important if you have an expensive camera or are carrying a DSLR or are just not sure if your cam fares well in light drizzle of water. I personally didn't take one, but would have if I knew it in advance. I saw a few people have plain plastic like covers slapped on their cams, I guess you should get those for pretty cheap. Goes without saying, have a raincoat on yourself too :) But come what may, DO NOT forget to get camera on cruise (with batteries well charged and ample space on memory card). If you have a DSLR, choose a fast lens, helpful for continuous shooting. Don't be afraid to carry a change of lens, I shot with 50mm f/1.8 (landscapes) and 70-200 IS f/4 with 1.4x extender (wildlife) Come to think of it, it won't be that bad an idea to rent a telephoto lens or an extender for your trip. Don't have info on lens rental in Alaska, but know a few places here in Seattle.

  • Mosquito Repellent

    • On open marshlands or wetlands you come face-to-face (quite literally!) with a lot of mosquitoes, and flies, so be prepared with some arsenal to combat them, repellent would work best.

  • Transportation

    • If you want to go places, you will need your own transportation. Other than at Denali National Forest, it is recommended you have your means of transportation most other days, that way you can cover more of Alaska.

    The version on my website is going to be most up-to-date, so head there if you want the latest information.  And More Photos here.

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    Stop Writing Crappy Software

    My diatribe today is aimed at recent (unpleasant) experiences with:
    • HP Printer Deskjet F4400 series
    • Yahoo! Mail
    I know that ranting is NOT the best'est way to resume blogging, but hey, I'm surprisingly disgusted!  Appalled! Sad! Furious! Irritated!  And yes, you have every right to ask how can you feel so many things at one time!  What happened?
    Well, rest assured, I (miraculously) still have my all of my mental faculties ~~touchwood~~
    Let me lay it down upon you...
    I had returned after a long day's work, went on house hunt right away, picked up a few groceries on the way home for dinner, helped prep up the dinner and had just finished dinning.  So far so good.
    It was right then that we got an email asking us to send out a few documents urgently.  It was a race against time, literally, come to think of it.  I printed them, we filled them up and then came (what I could only recall, in retrospect, as the SCARY) part: Scanning them!  No biggie, I said we have that all-in-one copier I just printed these on, don't we!  Having unsuccessfully tried scanning a document last time, I was not too hopeful.  But I was (hopelessly) optimistic.  You know, it is not uncommon for software to have failed you the first time and it works the next time you try it out again.  It is as if software has healing powers and miraculously fix themselves over time or something.
    So, I set out to scan.  I put the first paper on the glass, flipped the cover... Tick-Tick, and the copier starts grunting, sucks in a blank paper and makes an exact hard copy for me.  Tcch... entirely my fault, I hit "copy" button and that is NOT what I wanted.  It turns out, in that incomprehensible maze of buttons, there isn't a "just scan and don't damn print it!" button.  So I fire up "Print and Fax" from my OSX, it connects to my printer promptly (relatively speaking).  And lights up the "Scan" button on the software, which I promptly hit. Poof!  After grunting for good part of few minutes, the scanner was making multiple pass over the document (am guessing once for each of the 3-4 primary colors it can deal with).  Each time pretending to be enhancing the preview on my macbook's screen.  And then it just stuck there, scan completed at 100% but "scanning..." dialog still showed it was working on something.  I let it set for a while but then after too long I killed it.  I checked the destination folder...  No scanned images.  I repeat the process, only this time I don't hit the copy button but the correct "scan" button.  Exact same behavior, but this time I did see a scanned copy of my document.  Got me a bit excited there for a minute.  +1 for optimism!
    One down, 4 more to go!  I swap out for the next page.  Repeat, no luck. Patiently I do it again, no luck.  And try it again!  Still no luck.
    Every time I had to kill the darn program because it would finish a 100% and then never budge from there.  But this time I didn't get any scanned copies as a byproduct.  As it turns, there are multiple ways to scan a doc on OSX, so I fired up "Preview" this time.  No luck with that either.  But I noticed Dropbox stopped sync'ing, the icon turned red.  It complained my disk was full.  Scanning also stopped throwing a "Disk is full" error.  "#@~! Yes right! That is all I needed at this time!" I was starting to loose my cool by now.  I could swear I had plenty of disk space to go around.  So I hit terminal and indeed the good'ol trusted "du" told me I was out of disk space.
    I deleted a few large files and paused Dropbox syncing to free up some disk space.  I restarted scanning and pooff!  The darn scanning window complained I was out of disk space eff'ing yet again.  There's no denying this time I had few MBs worth of free space to begin with because I had deleted the files with my own bare hands (metaphorically) and checked free space with my own eyes (indeed tired and strained by now), but unfailingly I had noticed I had made some space available before restarting the whole scanning ordeal.  What is going on, by this time I was adorning my sentences a few verbal niceties!
    All I needed was a few MBs.  I have noticed that sometimes rebooting OSX gets me back some disk space, I think that comes from reclaiming the filesystem log space, am not sure though.  But it was worth a try.  Plus it would kill any unwanted lingering programs potentially interfering with the scanning.  In parallel, I was trying to snap photos of the document with our phones in the hopes we could get decent photos rather than fight with the copier.  But that wasn't panning out well either.  After reboot, I back up 3 GBs worth of data and delete it off my macbook.  Ahh hhaa!  Now lets try this again.  This time I fire up "Image Capture" to rule out any software issues.  Maybe they all use the same backend to talk to the printer, implying same hung behavior, but it was worth a shot.
    I hit "Scan" and lo-and-behold!  Still the same "hung" behavior after reaching 100% completion.  But... out of curiosity, I check disk space... And ~~~horror in my eyes~~~ Holy Spiderman's mad-cow crap!  It's depleting.  And depleting real fast.  Within few moments of Image Capture being hung, it had consumed nearly 2GB of disk space.  At this time I was more furious than I was frustrated or even tired and started turning red (I'm sure if I looked at myself in the mirror, my eyes were already bloodshot!).  I shot a few more verbal projectiles in the scanner's direction, cursed the software developers under my breath who made this crap and abandoned the idea of scanning altogether.  Two hours into it and it was getting on my nerves.
    I can understand sloppy UI design, hard-to-navigate menus, unintuitive user controls, etc. even an occasional crash (though I would ask why, but say I gave it so much lee way) and I have seen a healthy share of those... but a scanner hogging on my disk space by GBs within seconds... that is taking sucking to totally new heights altogether!  Totally unacceptable. 
    Something that was once a scanner, in my eyes was now an array of dysfunctional mechanical parts clubbed with even crappier software.
    I were all so set to unleash the full wrath of my bottled up verbal abuses on that lowly inanimate object.  But just then Zen took over me: Atul, nothing good has ever come out of violence, you know.  I resisted that stupid inner voice of mine, "Sure as hell it has, you want to try (I almost got into my alert fighting stance)? Look around in the real world, one with the most fire power, rules everyone.  You really want to try it! Huuh!", I felt myself repeatedly muttering it under my fiery breath!  The only thing (thankfully!) missing was a visible flame coming out of my nostrils.  Long story short, cooler mind prevailed, but probably only because there were larger issues to take be taken care of later that night than fighting with the lowly copier.

    Now I don't know if it is Apple's OSX who is at fault or HP, I would guess the driver comes from HP, but I could be wrong.  I would give Apple some benefit of doubt, just because everything else on my MacBook (including bootcamp'ed Windows) works flawlessly and drivers typically come from device manufacturers, so I say it must be HP.  Trying to scan and reproduce the experience on Windows would have definitely narrowed down the culprit, but I dare not scan from that piece of crappy copier again!  As a printer it is not too bad, but as a scanner, God save you.
    Thank you very much however-is-at-fault here, for teaching a lesson (see morals below) here the hard way, I will never forget it!  If it was any consolation, I was reminded that I got the all-in-one crapper printer free with the laptop.  Wonder why, I laughed?  All the more reason to trash it to pulp with a baseball bat.
    Well, that by itself wasn't enough to prompt this post... that last nail-in-the-coffin came in the form of online experience the next morning.
    I have a yahoo mail account that had been attracting nothing but spams for the longest of time.  So I thought of salvaging it for sending craigslist queries.  So I went in and tried to edit my profile.  First off, it was an effort to find "WHERE" should I look for my profile and change it.  There were too many options: Should I look under "Hi, Atul" or should I look under the "Options" or should I look under the most promising "My Y!"??? 
    Confusing Multitude of options
    Well as it turns out "My Y!" is THE LAST place you should go to.  The thing I wanted is under "Hi, Atul", it gave me a drop-down menu with few a options, one of them being "Profile". Gotcha! Wait, not yet! That page throws an annoying 404 Page Not Found Error.
    The annoying 404-Error
    I try to keep it cool.  Moving on. I trace back my steps and then follow other lead, "Account Info".  That looked promising, shows my profile and besides my profile it had an "Edit Profile Details" link.
    Jackpot???
    But guess what, that link too takes me to the same 404 error!  What is even more @!#$'ed up is that all the links on that page are invalid links!  They all land you in the same "404-Page Not Found" world.  Even the f___ing Help link!  Seriously, are you eff'ing kidding me!  Does anybody ever test this crap?  All the links on that page were crapped out.  And this is NOT a transient error, I have been giving it a try for a week now, every single day of the week.  It is permanently damaged.
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://www.yahoo.com
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://help.yahoo.com
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://search.yahoo.com/search/options?p=
    So after that, I give up hopes and dig out the REAL Yahoo help page.  That is even more eff'ed up.  After selecting categories and sub-categories of my issue, Yahoo throws an error saying something to the effect of "We are too busy with other issues, try seeking help in  online forums".  Damn right you are busy, I said, with this kind of crappy web designing you better be busy either helping people or fixing up your shit.  I gave up.  With renewed energy I have been trying it day after day.  One fine day, night actually, it let me type the question after selecting categories.  But THE only thing it showed me were some pretty useless "Quick Answers".  None of them relevant for my problem. I can't actually contact the damn Yahoo engineers who wrote this crap!  Seriously, are you kidding me now? So there is virtually NO way for me to resolve this issue :( If I'm expected to post this on some forum and then wait eternally while some God-sent messiah answers the question, then sorry, I neither have the energy nor hope to do that.  Sorry Yahoo, you are off my list too :(  I can't say I will miss you, but I sure liked using your services in the past.
    While I have some expectations from Yahoo now that the reigns are in the (seemingly able) hands of Marissa Mayer, (esp. after introducing that free food and now new iPhones for every employee), I'm not too hopeful of their online services improving anytime soon despite improved morale.
    I intend to serve multiple purposes by writing and sharing this... 
    First, of course is to vent out the anger and frustration, so that the crap gets out of my system ~~~phew~~~ feels sooooo good now.  Next is to show how rampant the distribution of crappy software/hardware/services is, even from well repudiated companies who are (or rather, once were) industry leaders (wonder why they slipped into irrelevance).  Third is a lesson to myself and other software developers is to understand how important it is to focus on the end-user experience and the quality of whatever we produce.  On which front, Apple is really a role model to follow.  No I'm not Apple fanboy and I hate iPhone, but there is no denying their uber attention to detail and uncanny polish in their products, that was once only afforded by Sony.

    At this moment, Oatmeal's comic on Printers is spot on: Printers Are From Hell.  No, seriously, some really ARE made by Satan himself!

    Moral 0: I have said this before and saying this again...
    Writing good software is anything but a trivial task, it takes tremendous skill, practice, patience and time to write a functional and elegant piece of code.  As usual, my role-model has always been the ubiquitous all-round best-in-the-class editor: vi[m].  Oh God, there is so much to learn from vi, at least from a user's perspective.  More than a decade of using it on all possible platforms (Linux, Windows, MacOSX, HP-UX, Solaris, AIX) and it is yet to hang or crash on me!  That is something. You can err on the side that vi might not be as complex as, say a scanning software, but the sheer functionality it gives without breaking fundamentals of usability and stability stand unrivaled.
    Moral 1: Never, ever, ever, ever in my life am I going to get another crappy HP printer. 
    My request, an earnest'est request (if such an adjective doesn't exist then let's invent it!) my earnest'est request to the world is PLEASE PLEASE STOP writing crappy software and services.  It is crime against humanity and seriously it won't be long before it will be unlawful to write crappy software and shove it down users' unsuspecting throats.
    I'm no Richard Stallman, nor can I call myself an avid RMS fan, but I do love open source software. And holy bajeesus apesh!t, today I swear I totally understand how frustration drove RMS to start the whole Open Source movement: inability to add code to improve printer functionality in the 1980s.
    Moral 2: Either you sit and crib about your problems or fix what is broken.
    Wait, why can't I do both, sure I can :)
    So, now that I have cribbed about it, I will make sure the work I produce shall meet at least certain quality standards.

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    Anybody there?

    Back Form Hiatus!!!
    I'm not sure if you guys still come here anymore (I know some still do, just don't know which ones of you)... but hey, it is not like I will stop writing if nobody reads, I write because I love to write.

    Lot of (good) changes have happened in my life in around last few months, some at a pace I could not easily comprehend, so I was busily absorbed into my own little world, taking it in, one bit at a time.  Slowly, at a glacial pace, I'm coming out of that hiding and planning on resuming blogging, amongst few other important things that got put on hold.  Top on the list being replying to emails!  Facebook'ing, if you are wondering, didn't make it to the list.

    As usual, I have a huge cache of posts to make, so there is no dearth of stuff to write about, it is time that's the gating factor, always has been time, darn time ~~~sigh~~~ I don't know what I will post first, but if it is any consolation, let it be a pleasant surprise :)

    Say "hello" (or "Hello World", for the nerdy audience) if you are eager to read my next post(s).