Protos' Musings

"In the long run men hit only what they aim at" — Thoreau

Archive for March 2006

Are you NOT using RSS yet?

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"Let the information come to you instead of [you] actively searching for it." — From the introduction to RSS by LoadAverageZero.

I have been thinking of posting about the greatness of RSS [acronym for Really Simple Syndication] and how it has completely changed the way I browse for about 4 months now (believe me!). I just couldn't motivate myself to write about this thing which might or might not be useful to everyone.

But today I got the bit of inspiration I was looking for. One of my friends who is extremely busy these days, send in this by mail today:

"…are u updating the blog? Tell me if i would get a mail after u update…"

This triggered off a train of actions that ultimately resulted in this post.

OK, having got the why this post part out of the way, let me get down to explaining what this fuss is all about. RSS is a three letter acronym that stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary. Whatever, it is, all we should be worrying about is how to harness the power of RSS.

But, at least some of you might be interested in knowing a bit more about RSS. So please this post by Dan Read of DeveloperDotStar first, where he touches upon the beauty of RSS and how useful it is, and after that links you to this simple intro to RSS posted at LoadAverageZero. However, there is a much simpler and more layman-ish intro available at the BBC Feedfactory site.

So go, first read Dan's post followed by either of those two intros. Till then I will wait, I promise.

Ok, now that you know how simple RSS is — it is just an XML file — you need to know how to harness its power.

There are special (and simple) software available that can make sense of all this XML stuff being spewed out by the various sources, including BBC and DeveloperDotStar. For this, we use something called as a News-Aggregator or a News-Reader, of which there are two kinds — desktop and web-based.

The basic tasks of a feed reader will be to:

  • Keep track of the news and blogs you are interested in
  • Highlight the entries you are yet to read
  • Have a way to link to the original post for each entry

The desktop reader is a simple application that you can download and install in your PC, that will keep track of all the emerging news and blog posts. There are also special plug-ins available that can be added onto either Outlook or Firefox (Sage) to do the same thing. This avoids the use of an external application (other than your browser and/or mail client). Another cute way of achieving the same is to use the mail client Mozilla Thunderbird that has a built-in news aggregator.

The disadvantage of this approach would be that if you are using more than one PC to browse the web (say one at work and one back home as I am doing), then these two versions will not be in sync. So you won't be able to easily find out what all feeds you have already read.

This is where the web-based version comes to our rescue. Here you login to a site — just like logging into your mail account — that keeps track of your feeds for you. The best among the desktop version would be Bloglines, Rojo and Google Reader. I am using Google Reader for about 5 months now though it is still in Beta.

There is a another class of web based aggregators emerging now, that offers much more than just aggregating your feeds. These are popularly known as a web-desktop. The best among the lot would be Netvibes, closely followed by Google Personalised Home, PageFlakes, My Yahoo, MSN Live and countless others.

But of this lot, I prefer Netvibes, which I am using for about 4 months now. I use it to track the feeds, but prefer doing the actual reading in Google Reader.

Now, here comes the best part. To help you experience what I am talking about I have created one account each in Bloglines, Google Reader and Netvibes.

You can access all the three using the same eyedee, pasvord combination of "protos?_DOT_?buddy?_AT_?GeeMail?_DOT_?Com" and "welcomebuddy" respectively. Hope you got the eyedee thing right. Just ignore the question marks and underscores. Replace DOT and AT with the real thing. OK? Please do visit each of the three and see for yourself the power of RSS and web based aggregators, not to mention the extreme usability of a complete web desktop solution like NetVibes.

A few tips: When you visit Bloglines do click on the "My Feeds" link at the top left section. In Netvibes, admire the fact that you can track anything from weather to your mail to news to stock prices just by staring at that page.

So, in a nutshell, RSS is all about letting the info come to you rather than actively searching for it, as mentioned in that LoadAverageZero intro.

I really would appreciate if you can comment about the usability of this article. That will help me in improving my posts in future. Thanks for reading thus far.

Postscript: Yes, I am going to mail my friend that I have posted an entry. But I just hope this will be the last time I will be doing so :). 

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Written by Proto

March 30, 2006 at 02:35 hrs

Posted in computers, internet, rss, web

Multitasking makes us stupid?

with 4 comments

I have been a huge fan of the concept of doing one task at a time, and giving it my best shot. I have, over the years, taken a few flaks for suggesting the same to some of my friends and colleagues. I used to wonder, "how do they manage to do justice to what they are doing?".

I tried it out for sometime (like mixing browsing and chatting-on-the-phone) and soon found out that I am doing a bad job at both. I just can't do either one of them efficiently. So I stopped soon enough. 

Now-a-days, I see lot of guys and gals mixing phoning with driving. I can clearly see that at least 90% of the guys are just not "here" as they are doing their double act. They are very likely causing innumerable accidents — both major and minor — everyday.

Yes, I agree there are certain activities that can be done in parallel. But we are trying to fool ourselves into believing that we can both drive and talk at the same time. We cannot. It is just a miracle that we are not getting involved in serious accidents every time we indulge in serious talk+drive sessions.

Well, now, there is proof emerging that multitasking makes us stupid. Nice article. Well worth your time. It is written by none other than Kathy Sierra, of the Head First Series fame. In fact, there are so many good articles — both general and programming related — out there in that site.

I whole heartedly support and approve this theory. What do you think? Are you on the phone as you are reading this? ;)

Written by Proto

March 28, 2006 at 00:31 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings

Windows Is So Slow, but Why?

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This article carried by The New York Times throws some light on why Windows Vista's release getting delayed is no surprise. Well worth your time!

Link courtesy Slashdot (again:). 

Written by Proto

March 28, 2006 at 00:12 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings

All is not well inside M$?

with one comment

Got hold of this post written — allegedly — by a M$ employee, in which he essentially calls for the rolling of a few top heads inside the OS division of M$, for the sake of accountability. The reason: this press release from M$ confirming that the shipping date of the Vista OS has slipped, again!

Link courtesy of Slashdot.

Written by Proto

March 26, 2006 at 23:27 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings

The Week That Was# 12

with 2 comments

First of all, many thanks to each one of you who either left a comment, wrote a mail or called me over the phone to congratulate me for having booked a flat in Chennai.

The Week# 12 turned out to be yet another hectic week, and this time the theme of the week was to identify the best possible home loan for me and my friends. [I don't remember whether I mentioned it in my last post, but the thing is I was on the hunt for a flat with with a colleague of mine, Naresh, for the last three months or so; we were later joined by another colleague and friend, Pradeep. Not surprisingly, all the three of us are in the same team].

I spend the first half of the last week talking to the various "identified" banks, and was trying to negotiate the terms and conditions, and more importantly the Rate of Interest :). Subru had sort of brainwashed me over the last one year to go in for Fixed rate of interest, even though statistics quoted by a banker says that about 88% of loans are Floating in nature. The reason being the perceived lower rate of interest.

I weighed the pros and cons of Fixed and Floating, and under the current market conditions, thought that Fixed would be a better option, at least in the short run (say the first five years). At any point of time, I can study the market condition, and if Floating falls back to the 7.x era, can think about switching over. Yes, I know that there is a charge of anything between 0.5%-1% of the outstanding involved in this switching over. I managed to brainwash both Naresh and Pradeep in the process :).

After a very detailed and careful study, during which I spend countless hours reading the net and talking to various wise guys — both home loan consumers as well as bankers — we zeroed in on the following four options by Tuesday evening:

  • CanFin Homes [9.5% Fixed for 20 years]
  • Union Bank of India [9% Fixed for 20 years]
  • IDBI Housing Finance [8.75% Fixed for only 3 years]
  • LIC Housing Finance [7.5% Floating; a very very attractive rate]

I must confess that whatever mentioned above is not the be all and end all of this game called home-loan. There are so many nitty gritty details (processing fee, mortgage v/s depository notes, reset clause, hidden charges, loan enhancement) to worry about that the process turned out be a prolonged affair (at least for us).

Finally on Friday morning, we decided to seal the deal with Union Bank of India. Our applications have been submitted, and we are expecting to get the approval well within a week's time. Of course, I won't be getting the quantum of loan that I need at this point of time, but hey, I have an year and a half to slog and do something about it :).

We are also having a jolly time at home with lots of guests turning up in the last few weeks. First there was Lakshmi and her cousin (family friends), who came to attend her MBA Contact Classes. Then there was Sundar Anna. That was over the Week# 11. And this time (Week# 12) we are hosting Durai Sir and Mami, who are on a 10 day trip to Madras. So I have been keeping myself busy one way or the other.

Announcement: My good friend Sarath, who recently won the Kerala State award for the Best Dubbing Artist (Male), has decided to settle down in life..well, sort of. His betrothal is fixed for Sun, 02-Apr-06, and the function will be conducted at the girl's place in Kallekulangara, Palghat. She is a distant relative of Sarath, and is currently doing her Graduation in Speech Therapy in Shorannur. However, I don't think I will be able to make it, thanks to the work pressure (at work I am running behind schedule, which was caused by my commitment towards the biggest project of my life — my home :).

In case you didn't know, Kallekulangara houses the famous Kallekulangara Devi temple, also known as the "Kai-pathi" [Malayalam for palm] temple, where the idol is just a pair of hands, and it is said that Indira Gandhi decided to adopt this
symbol for Congress(I), after praying at this temple in the 1970s.

Written by Proto

March 26, 2006 at 23:06 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings

Booked a flat in Chennai

with 29 comments

I am back to blogging after a couple of weeks’ break. The last two weeks were among the most demanding and zapping of my life so far. But at the end of it, I am happy to inform you that I have booked a flat in Chennai.

But before I say anything further, I would like those of you having the time and patience to go through two articles — the first from the pages of The Hindu and the second a blog piece from Thennavan — that explains the current market scenario in Chennai, and how we are witnessing in Chennai today what Mumbai experienced a few decades ago, or what Bangalore experienced over the last decade and a half.

The same bubble/boom has started in Cochin, where Kathrikadavu area has witnessed a cent percent appreciation of land value and per sq. ft. rates — can you imagine that, a 100% appreciation in an year? — and to a slightly lower extend, Coimbatore. Even in a place like Trivandrum, as per highly reliable sources, the per sq. ft. rate for a flat is pegged at inr 2500, in an area like Sasthamangalam.

Hence, I would like to believe I have taken the right decision, albeit a rather belated and a relatively costly one. I will explain why it is a relatively costly one in a few minutes.

As I was saying, I am happy to inform you that I have booked a flat in Chennai, in a place called Virugambakkam, which is about a km from the much more famous locality of Vadapalani, and half a km from Saligramam. Its a Jain Housing project, named Jains Kences Retreat, and they are constructing 256 flats in an area of about 4.8 acres in one end of Virugambakkam (end adjoining Saligramam), in Reddy Street, just off the Arcot Road. If you are visiting the Jains Kences Retreat link, please do click on the the pix and the map, to get a better idea of the project.

The project has just started, and the construction will happen over a period of one and a half years, and it will be ready for occupation by the end of 2007 (yes, 2007).

I have gone in for a first floor, three-bedroom flat with a Super Built-up area of around 1400 sq. ft., which will roughly translate to a Plinth/Built-up area of about 1250 sq. ft., and finally a Carpet area of about 1100 sq. ft. It will be in the 7th block (if you check the map you can locate block 7 easily).

The rate at time of my booking was 2200 per sq. ft., and that includes the Registration Charges, Stamp Duty, EB, Water and Sewage connections. So, on top of that I need to pay for Covered Car parking (don’t think I can buy a car anytime soon :), Corpus Fund (Resident’s Association), 12% Service Tax on the Labour Cost — about 85k — and Maintenance Fee for an year. I also need to take care of the wood work myself. So, in all it is going to be around 35 lakhs.Right now, I am running around for arranging a Home Loan, and that in itself is a huge task, if you want to zero-in on the best possible deal for your requirement and situation. Things are not as straight-forward as people would like us to believe. There are so many fine points that you need to be extremely careful and cautious in choosing the right loan with the right institution.

Finally, an explanation for the earlier, “costlier” part. Land prices are, on an average, climbing at the rate of INR 100 per sq. ft. per month, in most of the areas of Chennai. Reputed builders are quoting, in a place like Velacherry — which is not actually part of the city of Madras till a few years back as per Subru — is now having a rate of anything between INR 3000 – 3300 per sq. ft. In Saligramam, another reputed builder is rumoured to have plans to open bookings at INR 2700 – 3000 per sq. ft, and that project will be within half a km from Jains. So you understand the rate of appreciation here.

I had attended The Hindu Property Plus Fair in YMCA grounds, Royapettah during the last week of Jan, 2006. At that time the Jains were having a stall, and on telling them that my budget is around 25 lakhs (it was that figure then, during the days of innocence :), they recommended one Virugambakkam and Pallavaram. For the former the rate was around 1900 per sq. ft. I booked the same Virugambakkam project 7 weeks down the line, and the rate has been hiked to 2200 per sq. ft., and still there are more than 3 applicants for every available flat, no matter what the rate quoted!

I am skipping the The Week That Was# 10 and 11. You can believe me when I tell you that life was full of house-hunt, discussion with various builders about upcoming projects, and recently discussions with various bank managers.

Have a great week ahead, and thanks for reading thus far.

Written by Proto

March 19, 2006 at 22:53 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings

The week that was [2006 Wk# 9]

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Yet another hectic week at work, followed by an equally hectic weekend. That was the theme of the the week that was. We are, as I had written earlier, gearing up for the whole design and development cycle of the next version, and since I am now part of the planning team, had a nice time charting out the phases and dates. Incidentally got a taste of Microsoft Project too as part of this process.

During the course of the week, I had a long tele-chat with my good friend Ram who stays in Hyderabad with his wife Uji, where both are working. They stretched the weekend and traveled to Vizag. Yet to get the pix, Rams! send it across.

The weekend saw me accompanying Amma to Cochin to visit her bereaved cousin brother. He lost his wife (my aunt) a couple of weeks ago, and only now we got time to pay them a visit. I lost a very nice aunt, who though was only my first-aunt (first as in first-cousin) was nice and caring, and always ensured that I was comfortable whenever I stayed with them. And yes, I had troubled them a few times during 1999-2000 when I was writing all those exams conducted by the various PSUs, applying for the post of Mechanical Engineer!

She was 68, and passed away due to Cardiac Arrest that developed as she was entering the Hospital to meet the Doctor for a routine checkup. She is survived by my uncle and their four children. They too have inherited the inherent goodness of my aunt in various shades.

Thus ended my week with train travel on both Sat and Sun nights. One more week gone, lot more memories added!

Have a great week ahead, and do post some comments — positive or negative — once in a while :). That will give me an idea about how I am doing. May be, I can do it better, who knows?! ;)

Written by Proto

March 7, 2006 at 23:37 hrs

Posted in Random Ramblings