Chennai to Nagpur Road Trip

We decided to take a road trip from Chennai to Nagpur recently in our 2 year old Indica Vista. The plan was to break the trip at Hyderabad for a few days and then proceed to Nagpur. There are many different ways to drive from Chennai to Hyderabad.  The popular route is to take NH-5 from Chennai to Vijaywada and then NH-9 to Hyderabad. However, not being sure of road conditions due to recent cyclone Nilam, we decided to take the following route. Chennai, Renigunta, Kadapa, Kurnool, Hyderabad.  The Chennai – Renigunta road is basically the Chennai Tirupathi route and can again be done in different routes.  Since we left from south Chennai, we decided  to go via Thiruvallur and Thiruthani via NH205. Unfortunately, due to road widening activities, the road is in a dismal condition.  Newly constructed parts of the road are good, but the transitions from the old to the new are in a really bad shape. Therefore, I recommend that this road should be avoided for atleast 6 months.

I found a lack of good eating spots near Renigunta, so a good idea would be to fuel up at some decent restaurant before leaving. From Renigunta, we drove to Kadapa via Rajampet. This route is scenic as it passes through Sri Venkateswara National Park.  The road conditions were good, however it is a 2 lane road and I would recommend against driving in the night. We drove into Kadapa town for lunch. This is not a good idea as traffic is very congested within the city. Later, we discovered an APTDC Haritha restaurant on the outskirts of Kadapa. From Kadapa we drove to Kurnool via Nandyal. Road conditions were fairly good despite four laning activity in progress.  Similar, for Nandyal to Kurnool. At Kurnool, the road meets the Bangalore – Hyderabad NH4 which is a pleasure to drive.

Entering Hyderabad is a smooth experience because of the PV Narasimha Rao expressway which connects the Hyderabad airport to Mehdipatnam, within the city.  Overall driving time with all breaks (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner) included was about 15 hours. However, traffic in Hyderabad is nightmarish compared to Bangalore or Chennai traffic. Road rules are non existent or flouted indiscriminately and traffic congestion is severe on narrow city roads.

Hyderabad – Nagpur route is completely on NH 7 and this is a fantastic road for 95% of the time. Road has quite a few bad stretches once Maharashtra is entered, but gets better when approaching Nagpur.  After coming back to Chennai, we had driven for more than 3000 kms which was a great experience. The Vista was amazing throughout – both  on the highway, city conditions and bad roads without any complaints.

However, the risk of planning routes in India is that road conditions are not guaranteed. This is a real shame, because bad roads really put a major dent in travel plans, in terms of time, fuel economy and adding to frustration. NHAI website does not provide too many details about current road conditions and of course, one cannot realistically expect NHAI to state that a road is not fit for travelling. There is a real need for a website in which road conditions are available. A community edited approach sounds like a good idea to me.


Firefox problems on Ubuntu

Recently, Firefox stopped working on my Ubuntu laptop for no reason. The hand cursor for hyper links turned into the text select icon, browser history stopped working and overall the browser became very sluggish. I couldn’t find any useful troubleshooting information, so I decided to reinstall Firefox.  I fired up Synaptic Package Manager and got rid of the Firefox and the xul-ext-ubufox packages, rebooted the machine and installed Firefox again. Same result as before, the new install had the same broken behaviour.

Since browser history wasn’t working, I then vaguely remembered something about firefox profiles and decided that a corrupted profile could be the problem. So I removed the default profile using the steps here and did a reinstall and everything was back to normal.

Me gusta !

Arriving in the UK and London

I arrived in the UK about a couple of weeks ago for my masters program in York and chose to stay in London for a couple of days.  When I booked my tickets, I acted like a cheapskate and bought tickets online for Etihad which flies Bangalore – London via Abu Dhabi and offered the best possible price. But of course nothing in world is for free and they had a ridiculously low baggage allowance – I ruthlessly packed light and still exceeded the limit, I had to juggle some stuff into my carry on laptop bag to meet the limits. So watch out for this when booking tickets. The connection time in Abu Dhabi was 1.5 hours which I thought was great, but a slight delay in departure to and arrival into Abu Dhabi ended up in me literally running between connecting flights – so make sure you allocate at least 3 hours when you have a connection to make. The flights were cramped and the service was nothing great, but I got my luggage !  Etihad – worth repeating ? I think not.

I stayed at a relative’s place in London who kindly agreed to host me for a couple of days. London was supposedly unusually warm for that time of the year, so I was lucky to take in some sights of the city where it was gloriously warm and sunny. I’ve always been interested in the history of the second world war, so one of the first things I visited was the Imperial War Museum.  It was one of the best museums I’ve been too, they had all kinds of weaponry and vehicles and detailed sections for each major war starting from World War I.   As soon as you walk in, there are some great quotes that are displayed, there’s one which I thought was amazing and stuck with me:

The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. – John Fisher.

I ran out of time and couldn’t see all the exhibits, because the museum was closing, but I plan on a repeat visit. Best, part of all it’s free – so I highly recommend it.

Other than that, I walked around some of the usual touristy things and spent a couple of very enjoyable days in London before heading north to York.

Here are some pictures:

One of the many tanks at the Imperial War Museum













Lawrence of Arabia's Bike !










Applying for a UK Student (Tier 4) Visa

I’ve decided to study for the MSc Software Engineering degree at the University of York in the UK starting this October.  Applicants from India require a student visa from the UK to enter the country as a student. I just received my student visa a short while ago and here are some tips from my experience that maybe of some use to you.

  • Read up on the official documentation and all the literature on the UKBA site thoroughly.  This is important – don’t just read the VAF9 guide, read the Tier 4 Guidance document thoroughly as well – it has relevant information.  Yeah the document is long, but it contains information for all student categories (child students, medical students etc.) so the sections relevant to you aren’t that long.
  • Check the information regularly. The UKBA keep updating the information all the damn time, introducing new rules etc. so make sure you’re on top of any latest changes. I did this by subscribing to their news feed through my feed reader.
  • Make sure all the supporting documents meet the guidelines specified in the Tier 4 Guidance. I attended a Visa seminar organized by the British Council where I learnt that a lot of visa’s get rejected for not having the right supporting documents.  This is true with the Bank Statement – for e.g. it may not be printed on the Bank’s letterhead or the date of the statement might be older than what is required. So don’t underestimate any minor detail – make sure you get everything right.
  • Take a printout of the forms that you need to fill – the VAF9 and the Appendix8 and practice filling it up. If you have any doubts contact your university or the UKBA and get it clarified.
  • The University of York has very useful guides prepared on how to fill  VAF9 and the Appendix 8. They are the same forms used by the UKBA, but with step by step information for each field. Check them out, they could help you as well. (However, note that some information is York specific, so watch out :))
  • Any questions which are CAS related – make sure you get the full details and everything clarified from the University. This is because the information on the CAS should match what you write in the Visa application forms. For e.g. this could be the tuition fees, accommodation fees and English language test information.
  • You can call the UKBA office in the UK from India for any questions on the Visa form. Their number is buried somewhere in the UKBA Contact Us page. However I did find the best source of information to be the Tier 4 guidance document.
  • I applied at the VFS Bangalore centre. VFS is a global company that many countries outsource their Visa processing logistics to. They handled the Visa application fairly smoothly, but there were some quirks that I noticed as well. It basically works like this – VFS accepts all documents from the applicant, does some preliminary verification and takes your biometrics and forwards the whole lot to the UK High Commission. VFS makes some recommendations on the documents you must include – but the ultimate decision on what documents you wish to submit is in your hands.
  • For some reason, the VFS officer with whom I was dealing was particular that the “CAS letter” be included with the Visa application.  Since the guidance nowhere mentions the CAS letter, I hadn’t bothered with getting a printout of the CAS . The CAS is a virtual document and all that matters is that the right CAS number be filled in on the form.  Anyway, I insisted on submitting the application without a CAS prinout and it all turned out to be fine.
  • The other point what I noticed was that all though the supporting documents guidance mentions that a photocopy must be included with all the originals being submitted, the VFS officer didn’t seem to be keen on accepting the photocopy. I did submit the photocopies – but got them back with the originals after I received my Visa. Guess the UKBA isn’t too keen on the whole photocopy thing any more.
  • While applying, I also signed up for an SMS service for 100 Rs which is supposed to informs  you about “every stage” in the application.  I later discovered that the online tracking facility on the VFS website provides the same information. I guess the SMS can be useful if you aren’t the type who wants to check online frequently, but for me, the SMS thing wasn’t worth the money at all.
  • VFS on their website mention that there is no storage place for bags, etc. and strictly advice you not to carry anything. I was travelling by bike so I needed my backpack to put the documents in. I found that they do have facilities to store luggage. Weird. Why inconvenience people by asking them not to get any bags when you have storage place ?
  • Ditto for parking – they mention that they have no parking facilities, but the building did turn out to have decent parking facilities!
  • Regarding visa processing times, UKBA says most of the visa applicants are decided in a maximum of about three weeks, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive mine in about 8 working days.

Overall, I found the UK visa application process to be well streamlined. Read everything carefully, focus on the details and the visa shouldn’t be a hassle. Good luck !

Troubleshooting GoogleTalk and Webcam problems in Ubuntu

Of late, the google talk plugin wouldn’t allow me to make video calls. Audio used to work fine, but no video. (The tiny movie projector icon was missing.) I tried fiddling around with restarting the plugin, but it wasn’t solving the problem.

I then tried Cheese to see if the problem was with the webcam.  Turned out that it was, Cheese wasn’t recognizing the webcam. That’s why no video in GoogleTalk  – the strange thing is that the GoogleTalkPlugin didn’t provide any error messages at all when it tried to initialize the webcam. When it realized that there was no webcam, it just switched to audio only mode!

I then ran the dmesg command on the terminal which had the line:

uvcvideo: Failed to initialize the device (-5).

This seemed to point to a UVC problem.  Googling revealed that the problem could be fixed by removing and adding the UVC kernel module. Here are the steps to do that:

sudo modprobe -r uvcvideo;

sudo modprobe uvcvideo;

As soon as I ran the second command, the blue light of the webcam flicked on and voila everything was back to normal.  Hopefully this quick fix works for you if you run into this problem.

Otherwise, the recommended solution is to upgrade to the latest UVC modules. Linux kernels 2.6.26 onwards include the UVC driver natively, so upgrading to the latest kernel should also solve the problem.

Installing MediaWiki on a DreamHost server

I was trying to install MediaWiki on this site yesterday. Site hosting is provided by the good folks at DreamHost and I saw that they had MediaWiki available as a “one-click install”. I chose the custom installation option so that I could use the database of my choice as well as install it to a specified directory. All seemed to go well in the initial stages and I got to the configuration part.  However, after entering all the values and clicking Install, something seemed to be happen in the background, but after a while the same configuration screen showed up with all fields set to blank. I checked the database and did see that MediaWiki tables were being created, so something else seemed to be the issue.  I then viewed the INSTALL readme file which was included in the installation archive and saw specific instructions that the config directory should be made writable by the web server . So I decided to install MediaWiki manually. I downloaded the installation archive and decompressed it.  This time before I got to the configuration part, I ran the following command:

chmod a+w config

This step was all that was needed to solve the problem and MediaWiki installed successfully.  I suppose this wasn’t happening correctly or at the right time in the DreamHost installer script. So if you’re facing problems installing MediaWiki on DreamHost – checking whether the config directory is writable can help.

The best mobile ad so far

This has to be the best ad for mobile phones in India by far. It’s the Spice Popkorn phone ad which had lots of airtime during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.  “Subramanium, Almoonium….”. Hilarious 🙂 !



Hitler Lock !

I went to Hampi some time ago. The hotel where I was staying used a rather imaginatively named padlock.

Hitler Brand Lock











Yeah, you read that right.  It is a “Hitler Star” lock , 8 levers and “Hitler Tested – OK” !  While this is amusing at first, I am not sure how someone Jewish would feel.  Some googling reveals that this morbidly named brand is quite popular with sightings all over India.  It is in fact churned out at “Hitler lock enterprises” in Aligarh, the headquarters of the Indian lock industry.

This also reminded me of the Hari Sadu ad which was incredibly popular on TV a few years ago.


My feeling is that Indian’s overall know Hitler as a “bad person”, but have now come to associate his name with a mild rebuke which is hardly insulting.  I feel that the majority of Indians are hardly aware of the horrific crimes perpetrated by this deranged man. Instead I’ve noticed some folks actually try to magnify Hitler’s connections with India by propagating his ridiculous Aryan theories and citing the use of the Swastika.  Why ? Here is a Wall Street Journal article I found which does a good job at explaining this curious Indian fascination with Hitler.

Rewarding Cricketers – Worth it

After the Indian cricket team won the cricket world cup 2011, there have been, predictably, politicians and businessman outdoing each other in doling out obscene amounts of cash, cars and assorted knick knacks. There has also been, predictably, indignation from the people and media who claim that the cricketers are rich anyway, so why go all crazy with the gifts ? Government distributing taxpayer money to ridiculously rich cricketers particularly rankles them.

I wonder how many people have thought about all the positive economic fallout of India’s historic win ? I’m pretty sure that the seminal and final bought record liquor sales to the state exchequer. Surely this figure runs into hundreds of crores of rupees – easily covering the one crore some state governments have promised to players. The world cup victory will no doubt translate into more sales of cricketing merchandise and sporting gear and increased enrollment in summer cricket camps. Increased ad-spend on all TV networks. Not to forget the huge amounts of money that companies and people have spent during the six week long world cup itself.  All, no doubt significant benefits to the economy.

So, to all the people, especially those in the media who constantly bitch about cricketers being over-awarded, shut the fuck up.

Worst and Best Indian 3G Ads

Now that India finally gets 3G technology, Indian mobile operators are busy rolling out 3G ads during the cricket world cup.  The worst of all the 3G ads has to be the series from Reliance. Their attempt to convey that 3G allows you to easily multi-task is crap.  Note that their ad series doesn’t actually show anyone multi-tasking, instead the characters mouth supposedly funny clever sequences. Doesn’t work at all and is fucking annoying.

The Worst:

The best 3G Ad is the Vodafone ad. Although I have mixed feelings about the ZooZoo and I thought the idea was getting stale, however this was fantastically done. The ad has catchy music and links the superman concept to the potential of 3G amazingly well.

The Best: