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Few days back I wanted to end my relationship with an online Bengali movie streaming service called http://www.databazaarmedia.com. I had a nice relationship with them for quite a number of months, but then I felt otherwise and thought about cancelling the subscription I had. It was a monthly subscription where they used to charge my card once a month and everything was hunky dory. So couple of days before the next billing due date, I logged on their site and went to my account maintenance section to un-subscribe. And that’s when the story began.

I un-subscribed. And then I went to the payment section to delete my card information. I found that there was no delete option available. Uncomfortable with this (and remembering something similar I read earlier in a blog), I tried to overwrite the card number I had saved with a random fake number. I tried multiple times, but the system did not accept the number I was typing in. A little bit of googling, and I realised that the credit card numbers have a particular validation algorithm – called Luhn Algorithm. Taking help from http://www.getcreditcardnumbers.com I typed in one of the sample fake numbers, changed the validity month/year values, CVV etc., and the system allowed me to save the details. I understood that their database backups probably will retain a copy of my actual card details, but this was the best I could do at that time.

Surely enough, few days after that during the billing cycle run, I got an email alert that my monthly payment has been ‘declined’ and I should do something about it. Had I not changed my card details, in spite of cancelling the subscription, those guys would have taken the next month’s fees out from my pocket! What a fantastic strategy!

Spoken to a colleague about it, and came to know that he was a victim of same type of nonsense when he tried to cancel his LeapFrog subscription few years back – and kept on paying for TWO YEARS from his AMEX card (till the card expiry) as the company refused to acknowledge their capability of deleting the record or removing his name from the payment batch run (I mean, how ridiculous an excuse can one give)!!!

Hope this experience sharing will help someone in future.

Merry Christmas!

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Android-VersionsIf you have come to this blog page via a web-search, being angry at the header of the post – I am happy for you. I am happy that your android device is keeping you happy and not making you wait for 4 to 5 seconds to know who each incoming call is from as the screen struggles to refresh, or, allowing you to successfully administer the device’s CPU & network consumption by the plethora of apps that you once so lovingly installed (and still find it hard to part ways with) but was never able to stop them from sneakily waking up in the background – to give just a couple of examples. It’s a sad fact that I cannot do either of these things – but it is good to know that you can. I at least have a hope now to know from you which device you use, and maybe can afford to upgrade myself to that user community… and, finally, be happy!

However, if you came here because you could relate to the header of this blog post, I can lend you a shoulder. My promise to you is that I won’t be shying away from the sheer shower of tears spraying on my shoulder as we share our stories with each other. After all, we are those brothers from other mothers who were once awestruck by Google’s Android (till we hadn’t laid our hands on one), then allowed Android to strike us back!

Now, please do not get me wrong. I do not hate android OS. I LOVE android OS. I love it ’cause it is open, it lets me play with it – just the way we, the little computer-literate, always loved to play with Windows or Unix (yes, I can reverse the order – but that’s in descending order of exposure time), it has an app store which is virtually endless (yes, it still does not compare with iOS apps variety, but it’s big enough), and I have a wide spectrum of devices available on the market to choose from. And as I loved it, and so I bought one. I bought one finally after waiting for so many days of doing browsing & comparisons in GSMArena.com (probably the best out there) & local online purchase sites like Flipkart.com (in India). I bought a Sony Ericsson Xperia™ Arc S. xperiaAt the time in Indian market (non-grey), it was probably the optimal one available in my type of price-range – with 1.4 GHz processor, 4+” HD screen with Sony’s Bravia engine, 8MP Sony camera, Sony’s Walkman music, 3G, WiFi, Gingerbread upgradable to ICS, apparently a good (1500 mAh) battery, and the killer curved (Arc, remember?) body, it was a range of specs that bowled me over and I happily sacrificed the front camera (it does not have one) as 3G video calling was not really in my priority list. As the package opened, the experience of android was like a breath of fresh air. Moving away from the older generation of phone OSs, it was like yielding raw power. It was fantastic.

But as days & months passed in my life & times with android, the entire experience slowly start to move towards the other end of the happiness spectrum. And let me share the nuggets of those experience with you in the following sections. (To bring in more focus, I will now leave the storytelling mode, and bring in some focus.)

CPU: 1.4 GHz Scorpion

1.4 was a mind-boggling value at that time. Now we do see that this is a run-in-the-mill case, but it wasn’t so then when I had bought the device. What slightly eluded me that time was that with all the power dedicated to a single core (it wasn’t dual or quad core like many of the phone CPUs available now), how well the core can serve the needs of the many. And believe you me, “many” is what android as a platform, with all the apps you’d install, is going to run with – always. As the time proved, it was not sufficient. The powerful core can let you play Angry Birds without any apparent performance issues, only if you have chosen to stop data network, ensured all stray processes were killed before you launched the game, and hopefully, not expecting anyone to call you in the middle of the game. Yes – then it works like a charm.

RAM: 512 MB

Now at that time, for an android initiate, it appeared as a very nice value. After all one used to use 1 GB or 2 GB RAMs in workstations or laptops and used to be comfortable with the expience. How much can a small palm-sized device need as runtime memory? Half a GB should be good enough!………… And as the phone started to enjoy it’s life, as it was enriched with more & more fantastic apps from Google Play, and as a battery saver software was installed that started showing the RAM usage, I could see how wrong that thought process was. Device has become smaller indeed – but it’s probably still the same type of applications & executables that are running within a much smaller chip, needing the equivalent amount of memory. If at any time one would see the running processes and services – it’s baffling! However much Google tried to create an OS for mobile devices, after all running Linux on your palmtop (aka, your mobile) was never a child’s play.

Application Management

Now let’s enter the altogether different ballgame of managing the running apps on your device. As Google wants us all to Play, we do play with a multitude of apps that are available for free on the Play store. Many of them are one time loves, whereas there are plenty of others which are really good – a keeper and they find their icons placed on one of the home screens. So you go to Play store, search for stuff, find some, like some, try some, and forget. But wait, forget is what you can’t – at least not with android. You can do that in your PC very conveniently, as long as the app does not add itself in startup menu or in startup services – and to be fair to them, only a few of them actually do that. But it’s so much different in the android world. The apps would keep on becoming active even after you – as a user – have closed them off! Interestingly, the mobile platform and almost all the apps therein don’t really offer you an “exit” option. It’s just the “back” option that takes you back to the home screen – whereas the app may still be active in the background. Yes, within the developer options of the settings you can play around with some of the related settings – but let’s keep that story for a separate day! Worse – even after you kill the processes using one of those battery saver or power booster tools, they somehow rise from the dead and keep haunting your CPU & RAM – f o r e v e r!

Network Usage Management

And this perhaps is the most dreaded of all and probably a core thing, along with application runtime management, that makes your CPU and RAM’s shortfalls so visible. Now I understand the term “ubiquitous internet access” and I know that it is a nice thing to have. But do we have it? I do not know about the data plans available in developed countries like US, UK or France etc. But here in India, mobile data plans on 3G are costly and most of them have a ridiculously low upper usage cap and a stupid pay-per-use ratecard beyond the cap. So one needs to be very careful here about usage of one’s 3G network and one got to ensure that the user is on top of the usage. But then comes your way the plague of zombie apps that never really die their death. Majority of the apps would require some sort of network connection for reasons beyond understanding (e.g., my file manager, my task killer, and my battery saver also need internet access – why on earth??). Even though their usage portions may not be high, but the primary impact of this is drainage of the battery. The battery fares very well against prolonged usages of bluetooth, music player, calls, even screen times. But when it comes to network, even the smallest bits of data exchanges by WhatsApp, GMail, GTalk, Facebook notifications etc., the battery simply gives up too soon.

So what can one do?

A frustrated android user can do only one of 2 things – or maybe both. (1) Ask around – on forums, to friends & colleagues, to virtually every nook & corner of the world – have you got some tips for me? (2) Upgrade to a better phone in a constant search for nirvana if one can afford it. Sure you can upgrade to Sony Xperia S, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy SIII, or LG Google Nexus 4. xperiasonexgalaxys3Give it some more time, and more & more choices will come around, provided price is not a constraint. You look at these devices and realize that the OEMs have now understood these basic problems very well. CPUs are now all either dual or quad core. RAMs are all 1 GB or more (Nexus 4 is probably the only “phone” right now with 2 GB RAM!). Lots of management utilities are around – they manage your app startup/killing pretty well, and give you more control on your data usage (I have 2 questions here: (a) is there a data usage tracker that can track data usage separately while on 3G, on 2G, on Wifi, and on roaming? (b) why, with a x MB or x GB of 3G data plan, I should lose data counts when the only available network that the phone can catch is 2G? Would someone be interested to bring this up as a PIL, please?).

While one risk losing OEM warranties if the phone is rooted, but probably that’s one path which can lead you to nirvana for some of these problems. Leaning back on the pristine android versions (enter, the Google Nexus series – OEMed with LG for Nexus 4, OEMed with Asus for Nexus 7, and OEMed with Samsung for Nexus 10) nexus-devicesperhaps also, to some extent, make the users happy. After all each of these Nexus devices are immensly powerful. The Nexus 10 can light up your night sky like a supernova with its so-very-powerful display (you’d lose on battery life, but what the heck, eh?) – more powerful than Apple’s famous Retina one. And moreover, Jelly Bean is supposedly giving more power to the users – like never before. But is that the ultimate answer? Probably not. With the latest Jelly Bean version of android, comes Google Now and I wonder how much CPU, RAM and bandwidth hogging that will be…!

All in all, keep upgrading or keep downgrading (lose apps, restrict net usage hours, restrict number of parallel processes to be kept active in the background by playing with the “developer options” settings etc.) and you can be happy. In the world of android – you can never maintain a status quo!

Or, can you? Eager for opinions.

Geneticists & evolution researchers sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, but there is a notion that our generation, especially times post AD 2000, has started to see a rise in the percentage of babies born with low birth weight (interestingly abbreviated as LBW), that is less than 2.5 kgs.

Maybe the environment of the entire world has now been polluted to that extent, or maybe it is an evolutionary trend, or maybe it just doesn’t matter ’cause the doctors are still telling parents that “these low birth weight babies do real well in future” (now don’t ask me what does ‘real well’ mean here – physically, mentally, or fortune-wise) – but what counts the most is the mothers’ anxieties in the initial days till the time these LBW babies’ height/weight plots merge into the mainstream colored ‘acceptable’ zone in the growth tracker charts.

Having tiny bodies with extraordinary need for nourishment & nutrition, it is also another important and very delicate matter to take care of their cleanliness & bodily hygiene at all times. Hence comes the question of proper diapering. Whilst the western countries & baby product companies have already thought about it and have a proper range of products in the supermarket isles, here in India the companies are still operating in a world of delusion that this is not a market segment they should be interested enough to play in. True to an extent since here in India maybe majority of the mothers are still preferring to use cloth nappies and cost of diapers are not really coming down below the level of Rs 6 to Rs 8 per piece, the fact of the matter remains that unless Indian players are really focusing on this size-segment, and, as a matter of fact, towards the overall diaper product space, the economies of scale won’t come about and pricing won’t really drop below Rs 3-4 range on which it would be affordable to the middle class Indians. For small babies, less than 6 months, at an average usage of 8 diapers per day, we are talking about a monthly budget of less than a 1,000 rupees (at price point of Rs 4 per diaper) which could be affordable, (of course, provided that the quality remains acceptable) compared to the current budget requirement of about Rs 2,500 which is prevalent today. And yes, sometimes the babies will decide to clear their bowels just after a fresh one has been put on – believe you me!

As I personally looked through the available products in the offline & online markets in India, one thing that struck me clearly was that for LBW babies majority of whatever was available wasn’t really suitable. Each diaper comes with a weight range specification on it – something like “for babies between 5-8 kgs”. {Though, on a sidenote, one problem is that you cannot keep using that diaper till your baby is really 8 kgs in weight – you have to move up the weight-chain as your baby weighs more than 7 kgs, typically. Higher the upper weight limit, quicker you have to upgrade (like for 14 kgs limit, upgrade at about 11-12 kgs timeframe).} Now for LBW babies, weighing maybe around 2 kgs +/-, typically what you get in the market are diapers having weight range of 3-7 kgs (and more of the upper brackets’ stuff). If you want the baby to wear a diaper – and not a lungi – you got to have something that fits more snugly. After searching all possible places of baby products, mostly online “free delivery” & “cash on delivery” sites like firstcry.com, hoopos.com, babyoye.com, and even within the newly expanded range of baby products at my all time favorite filpkart.com, all I could find acceptable, and settled down to were these three:

Whilst Pampers and Huggies, as brands, are already quite established in India, the 3rd one here, Bella Baby is an European brand which is still trying to get a good foothold. The diapers, in comparison, are all quite good. Huggies & Bella Baby ones are ranged up to 4 kgs, while the Pampers New Baby one is up to 5 kgs. I would personally recommend the usage of a combination of these – either Huggies & Pampers or Bella Baby & Pampers, as the Pampers ones are better suited for night (when the changing frequency & alertness of the parent may dip) and other ones are better suited for day time. Prices are almost equivalent – ranging between Rs 9-11 per piece.

Filpkart, as usual, always delivers on time and from the point you place the order till it reaches you, you can always track your shipment online. Firstcry does a good job as well – but pricing aspect of Flipkar is something I personally preferred – always. And I don’t know why – but interestingly, the Pampers one is not available in most of the sites except for Flipkart (though that may be just a temporary condition). However, you can still get it locally in big towns in one of those Baby product shops – but do check carefully which of the 2 variants you are getting there : the one imported from Middle East (22 pieces in a pack) or the one packaged in India (24 pieces in a pack). The latter one is cheaper.

Hope the tips are helpful for you. In case you are interested to buy any of the above, or other baby products online – the images are linked to the appropriate website – click away!

There seems to be a craze for fictions that talk about mysteries from the past – prehistoric, as well as medieval – since the mass has been moved by The Da Vinci Code. Years ago I had read Foucault’s Pendulum – which used to be one of its kind. The theories were intriguing, the narration tough, but the materials disturbingly thought-provoking. Then of course came The Da Vinci Code. Again, research was good (even though it was criticised heavily) and it kept the readers glued till the last page. But since then there has been a sudden influx of such novels in the literary market. Many authors have come up with the very first books that show fantastic research in the area, always something new to share or explain the same thing in a new light, and every time the plots and explanations somehow make sense! I have just finished reading Pyramid by Tom Martin (which is actually the author’s pseudonym) and again, nice work!

Now I am not claiming to have done a lot of research on this – so there may be many examples that someone could unearth that will prove that these type of fictions were available even before the days of The Da Vinci Code. But on an overall scale, it’s only recently – say in the last 10-15 years – that we are seeing this particular trend has become a mainstream bestseller category. Turning back the clock near about 80 years, one can find a relatively unknown fiction author named Talbot Mundy who did some great works in this area. I have read one of his books – The Nine Unknown (link to buy this book online in India) – last year, and it was startling to see such work from so many years in the past. Some of his other titles look extremely promising, but are very difficult to come by.

Around the same time, I am sure we could find some of the works from authors like Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and even may be some of less famous authors of that era) qualifying as pioneers of the same genre I am talking about. Intrigue, mystique, and a romanticism for the hazy past were smeared all across those stories. As a matter of fact, one of the prominent theme of this genre – the lost continent of Atlantis – probably originated around this time. For more information, one can try out literature of one W Scott-Elliot of The Theosophical Society of London, named “The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria“.

Coming back to modern days and the abrupt eruption of plethora of titles around the same theme, if one tries to compile a list of good reads, it would be a mammoth exercise. However, I have tried to compile a decent reading list, and hope you, if you are a fan of the genre that is, would surely enjoy majority of these titles (at least I did).

So here we go:

  • Author Andy McDermott – fantastic storytelling pace, nothing short of the Indiana Jones stories, with not one but 2 protagonists, namely Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase:
  1. The Hunt for Atlantis
  2. The Tomb of Hercules
  3. The Secret of Excalibur
  4. The Covenant of Genesis
  5. The Cult of Osiris (also known as The Pyramid of Doom)
  6. The Vault of Shiva (also known as The Sacred Vault)
  7. Empire of Gold
  8. Temple of the Gods (also known as Return of Atlantis)
Books by Andy McDermott, buy online in India from Flipkart.com

Books by Andy McDermott, buy online in India from Flipkart.com

There are lots of other authors & book suggestions, but my fingers seems to have gotten very tired for now. Keep visiting back and I will not disappoint you! Bye for now.