Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2 weeks left

I am leaving India in two weeks.

The flood of emotions that statement brings up is rather astounding.

Relief, sadness, fear. The transition to a new location in the US will be hard. No doubt about that.

 I will miss Bangalore, India, and South Asia in so many ways I would never have thought about 5 years ago when we arrived.

I'd love to write a big long post about it. But it's hard. I don't want to sound sentimental, and I don't want to offend people. Some things about India drive me crazy and I won't miss them in the least. But that's not worth dwelling on. And the things I will miss terribly are intangibles.

Honestly, I won't miss the food or the weather (good as it is), or the cost of living.

I will miss the freedom and chaos. If you can't understand that, you've probably never lived in India. With the freedom comes chaos and with the chaos comes freedom. They are opposites and they build on each other. Very hard to explain.

 So I won't try.


 Maybe later, with the wisdom of hindsight.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Clif-bar recipe adapted to India

I ride a bicycle and run off-road a lot and sometimes I'm gone for hours at a time.  Here in India, usually I can find a village with someone selling bananas and water, but if you want something more substantial and with more complex carbs your choices in most small villages are limited to some really bad options: 

chikki (peanut brittle)
peanuts (not always available)
glucose biscuits (full of hydrogenated fats and of course, sugar)

Last time I was in the US I brought back a couple boxes of Clif bars, and I was really enjoying them for a change.  I'm nearly out of them, and I am not going to the US soon, so I thought I'd make them.  I found a reasonable recipe here.

The problem is that it calls for brown rice syrup and I have not been able to find that in my stores.  I did however, run across date syrup and it makes a reasonable substitute.

I have made it with rice puffs (bhel churmura) and with standard (unsweetened) corn flakes.  While it comes out denser with the cornflakes, I prefer it.

1.25 cups crisp rice puffs or corn flakes
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats (Bagry's works fine)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (optional but supposed to be good for you says my wife)
1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (seedless raisins, dried figs, dates, etc.)
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts or seeds (almonds-badam, ground nuts, or cashews to your taste)
1/3 cup date syrup
1/2 cup groundnut butter (unsweetened, home made if possible)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, optional)

1) Combine the rice or cornflakes, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl.

2) Combine the syrup and nut butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until melted and well-blended (alternatively microwave in small microwave-safe bowl 30-60 seconds until melted).  I bring it to a full boil, but I'm not sure that is necessary.  Stir in vanilla until blended. 

Now, I found that if I let this mixture cool even just a little, it will start to crystallize. So I try to work quickly and do the next step right away.

3) Pour the hot nut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring as well as you can until coated (use a wooden spoon at first, then get your hands in it after it cools enough. It will be sticky, but it's not too bad. Just wash your hands when you're done).

Once it's thoroughly mixed (doesn't have to be perfect) it's time to make the bars.

Oil a square pan (20cm x 20cm approx) lightly with peanut or other flavorless oil (not olive) so the bars won't stick.

Turn out the mixture into the pan and press it down.  I use the bottom of a drinking glass to get a smooth surface that I can get some pressure on.  The harder you press, the denser the bars will be but the better they'll stay together. It's your call.

Put the pan in the refrigerator for a while to help the bars set, then cut out the 8 bars.

Wrap them each in plastic wrap or put them in small plastic bags in the fridge.

According to Calorie Count, these come out as follows assuming rice syrup is similar to date syrup:

These are higher in fat than clif bars, and I think you could cut back the peanut butter and replace it with more date syrup if you like. If you did this:

1.25 c puffed rice
1c quick oats
1/4 c raisins
1/4 c almonds
1/2 c rice syrup
1/4 c natural peanut butter

You'd land with the following, which looks a bit better to me, though I haven't tried making them this way:

Let me know if you try to make these, and if you have success with alternative additions. 

The nutrition info comes from here: http://caloriecount.about.com/

Monday, March 08, 2010

A new way to fight corruption in India: Use the BPO model and make fighting it profitable.

Have a listen to Shaffi Mather's idea. He takes quite a while to get to the point, but at the end, you do figure out what he's up to. He's done some 40+ cases where he takes a small fee to fight on behalf of the victim. What a great idea to let a for-profit organization work on behalf of the victims.

Let's hope he (and others!) can make this happen.

Apple India repairs: more nightmare

As mentioned earlier, the Apple "authorized" repair places in Bangalore all told me it would take a minimum of two days to get a logic board.  So I left it with the original place that I had taken it.

I dropped it off on Monday, was told on Tuesday that it would need a logic board.  Then on Friday they called and said it was ready, and that they'd delayed for an extra day "to make sure that the logic board was the problem".  I think this means they swapped out my logic board for another one and verified that it would work. (Another 24 hours to do that? Wouldn't that have been part of the original investigation?)

So, I finally picked it up on Friday, and asked for my old logic board. If I'm going to pay 32000 rupees for a logic board, I want the old one back.  They can be refurbished for about $350US at multiple places online, and I figured I might take advantage of that option to have a spare for the future.  That's when I was told that 32000 rupees ($725 US) is the price for a "trade-in" logic board and I would have to leave my old one there.

So at this point, I'm very suspicious about the whole thing.  Perhaps they just reset the memory chips and told me it was a logic board problem.  Bang, instant 32000 in profit.  So I asked for some proof that the logic board was actually replaced, and they refused.  They wouldn't show me the old one, nor would they show me the order they placed with Apple for the replacement.  They were really losing credibility with this one.

Then they informed me that I'd have to pay cash for the work.  Excuse me?  Rs. 32000 in cash on a Friday afternoon? If you know Bangalore, you know how difficult that would be.  ATMs only dispense 10000 at a time.  Then the guy working there said "I told you this on Monday" which was a complete lie.  This is when I really went ballistic.  Had he told me on Monday I would have taken my business elsewhere.  What computer business today can't accept credit/debit cards?  That's right, a clueless one.

Apple has no business giving these jokers an "authorized repair" license.  If someone told you to pay in cash for a repair but then refused to show you proof that a repair was actually done, you'd tell them where to go, right?  "Sir, your car has a new engine, but no, we won't let you look under the hood or see the old one.  Trust us. And pay cash now please."

In the end the situation was sorted with the involvement of Apple India's sales/service leadership. I didn't like the outcome nor did I like having to escalate, but it was sorted.  My laptop is up and running.  I'm praying that it'll last another 7 months until I leave India and am forced to leave it behind. If it needs further repairs, I certainly won't take it to the same place.  And I fear for all those Apple customers who don't escalate or have the options to escalate.

Bottom line:  32,000 rupees for a trade-in (possibly refurbished) logic board, payable only in cash and delivered after 5 days of downtime.

That is just unacceptable, Apple.

If you rely on an Apple machine for your livelihood in Bangalore, I suggest you look at a disaster-recovery plan. My experience tells me that Apple will not be there for you if deadlines are approaching and your hardware dies.  I suggest you have a second machine ready.  The problem is that most musicians, artists, designers, even software geeks I know here can't afford that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Apple India: not ready for business

Apple is not ready for enterprise business.

Many of my colleagues are moving to Apple hardware, even though our IT department doesn't support them. It's entirely a self-service model, which is actually a pretty good story in terms of cost-savings. As long as you're self-supportable, that is.

Which is where this comes in: Apple hardware support.

I live in Bangalore, India, home of 8 million people and a place that doesn't have an Apple store per se, but does have some authorized resellers and 7 authorized repair centers.

My macbook refused to boot this past week. I removed it from an external monitor and that was then end of it. I get a DVD drive noise, but no video or other movement.

I took it to the repair center closest to me. He "pushed the button" a few times, and agreed that it was broken. Then he said "I'll get back to you after some time". If you know India you know what that means.

24 hours later the expected outcome: "Needs a new logic board". For PC users, this is the motherboard.

Now the big one: it will take 4 days to arrive.

I asked why and was told that he has to get approval from Apple.

Approval to purchase a replacement part?

I called around and spoke with 4 or 5 other repair centers and was told the same thing. One place even said 10 days was more likely. In each case they pointed to the "process" at Apple.

I said: "I have cash and I want the part today, where do I go?" and they all said it wasn't possible even though the Apple parts are physically located in Bangalore already.

Apple, to be even remotely considered for enterprise use, you have to get serious about the inefficiencies in your supply chain. This is ridiculous.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A most heartwarming story

reprinted from an email without permission....  The writer is an acquaintance of mine, and a former neighbor. 

We need more people like Ashim in this place..  Respect, man.



                                                                                                 By Ashim Jain, 8th Feb 2010

were wiring me with two tiny hidden video-cameras, two audio recorders,
stuffing thousands of Rupees in my pockets, and briefing me like a
military commander does his cadets prior to an offensive.  One pocket had thousand-Rupee notes sullied with detective powder that would turn pink as evidence if dipped in treated water.  A cameraman was recording this process.  Had it not been for missing flood lights and makeup artists, it could have been mistaken for a 007-style film shooting.


This was Wednesday, 3rd
Feb. 2010, Bangalore city -- With instructions from Addl Director
General of Police, Mr. Rupak K. Dutta and Superintendent of Police, Mr.
K. Madhukar Shetty, inside the Lokayukt Building the police were
preparing a trap for a known corrupt senior officer of the Department
of Stamps and Registration, Karnataka -- the office that typically
registers real-estate transactions.


ago, I had approached the Lokayukt -- a Karnataka Govt. anticorruption
agency -- complaining that this officer was demanding Rs. 32,000 in
bribes to put a few hundred Rupees worth of revenue stamps on court
documents, blackmailing me that otherwise he would rule the papers to
be real-estate sale deeds that would attract tens of lakhs in taxes and
penalties.  This had left me with few options: a) Pay the
bribe, b) File RTI applications and suffer accompanying delays, or c)
Use a more direct method through police this last one had appeared
worth trying.


sentiments and irresolute courts that favor the accused," one officer
had told me, "...have made us reluctant to conduct chancy operations,
lest it further discredits our department.  So I'm not sure if we can help you, Mr. Jain."  He
was also apprehensive that my lawyer, who had declined my request to
cooperate with the police to nab the crook, could leak this info, which
would surely foil the dragnet.


when the police saw a video that I had recorded a week ago using my own
hidden camera of the same officer negotiating down the Rs. 32,000 to
Rs. 18,000, they became more interested.  Next when I
disclosed the officer's name, one Mr. Mehaboob Khan, Mr. Shetty
immediately recognized him as the accused in another pending corruption
case in which they were unlikely to win a conviction due to weak
evidence.  Now, my case presented an opportunity to collect further evidence to tighten the noose around Khan.


With cautionary advice to me, police agreed to set up a trap.  An F.I.R. was filed and preparations were on, including video-taping all procedures for court evidence later.


After some rehearsals, we, including some 7-8 plainclothesmen, set out in a police van and my car.  Both vehicles stopped 200meters from the target building.  An officer disguised as a lawyer walked with me to the Shivaji Nagar, District Registrar building.  While the 'lawyer' waited outside, I went inside Khan's office and tried hard to get him to repeat his demand of bribes.


40 minutes straight, while another aggrieved citizen like me came and
left Khan's office in disgust, he denied having ever asked unofficial
money!  The fear of someone having spilled the beans
turned into joy when ultimately he came around and told me to hand over
the bribes to his typist.  To ascertain his voice got
recorded properly, my repeating the question promptly resulted in his
reiterating the amounts of bribes and official money.


the whistle meant giving a missed call to the police team waiting
outside but the police inspector's phone was continuously busy at that
time!  I frantically redialed repeatedly.  By
that time, the typist had discovered that the notes were soiled with
detective powder, had alerted Khan and had himself run upstairs to wash
hands.  Khan also become increasingly nervous and was perpetually ringing his office bell to summon his office staff.  He was beckoning me to say that he would give the receipt for the entire amount now.


one of the calls to the police had gone through and the swat team
stormed in within two minutes although these were the longest 2 minutes
of my life.  Ironically, it was the concern and anxiety of
a senior officer from the Lokayukt who was calling the team to find out
the progress that was keeping the critical phone line busy!


trained commandos, every member of the crack team got busy in something
-- video-graphing evidence, detecting traces of the powder, searching
the office for cash, removal of cameras from my body and analysis of
the recordings.  Two hours later, Khan and the typist were formally under arrest being led out of the building into the waiting police van.


Police helped in getting my paperwork stamped with appropriate taxes the very next day.  An
officer from the Stamps and Registrations department had been specially
sent for me to the now empty DR's office where Khan had castigated me
and my lawyer.  Now they treated me with coffee and got the work done in a matter of minutes.  Legally only Rs.2000 was required on the documents.


only five District Registrars in Bangalore, Khan was probably an
officer of the rank of a highly paid judge and also had a side export
business -- his greed to accumulate yet more led to his shameful fall.


asked how the public could felicitate the Lokayukt and their police for
this capture, Mr. Dutta's reply was humble -- they want more public
coming forward with their complaints so culprits can be brought to book.  With spy cameras readily available at low costs, he was right that public can play a huge role in reducing corruption.  In
my opinion, it is in fact the duty of the educated middle-class to step
forward as the marginalized poor cannot in such situations.


we are quick to denounce the police when they botch, it is imperative
that we commend the police at Lokayukt for their brilliant and
professional performance in such cases.  Mr. Dutta, and
Mr. Shetty, senior IPS officers, have always been readily approachable
even on the phone -- contrast it to the impossibility of getting
through to most govt. officers as the lower staff forms an impregnable
brick-wall around them.  Had it not been for these officers, God knows where my papers would have been and where Mr. Khan.


ADDED (9 Feb 10):

objective of writing this report has been to spread the message that
it's easy enough for lots of people to do such acts when they face
corrupt, rude or slow govt. officials.  Any perceived risks in such operations are infinitesimally miniscule and police usually helps.  Arvind
Kejriwal, Magsaysay Awardee and known social activist says, with
people's participation, such acts can be turned into a movement that
would scare the corrupt.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Trouble getting a khata paper? Slip a couple of these in with your request

a zero-rupee note (remember it was India who invented the number zero) helps remind corrupt officials how much their services are supposed to cost you.

The folks in my neighborhood would be well-justified in pulling a few of these out.  Some of them have been waiting 2 years for their certificates.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Thing I won't miss when I leave India: noise

As I sit in a conference hall having my eardrums blown out by the overamped microphones of the speaker, I'm reminded (again) how Indians have apparently developed amazingly strong eardrums. More than any other culture I know of, Indians are able to enjoy music, speech and car horns at a level that others would find absolutely ear-splitting.

On the positive side, I guess this is an evolutionary advantage. I had to leave the room, thus missing out on some (potentially) valuable education. Indians 1, Firangi 0.