GDM. XFCE. Changing locales.

The GDM on Fedora 15 doesn’t seem to have a way to change the language/locale. I use the GDM when booting into XFCE. So, to change from English to Bengali (India) I had to:

  • use GDM to log in to GNOME3
  • use the Region settings to change the default English to Bengali (India)
  • log out of GNOME 3
  • log back in again using GDM but this time using XFCE

And, then spend a couple of minutes fixing/changing the preferred fonts because they don’t look too good. That’s a very annoying experience. Is there an easier way to accomplish this ?

All about a name.

This is what makes me sad. Seriously, you reply using “@sankarshan” and thereafter butcher it to ‘Sankar’ ? Over the years I’ve had many variations of my name – Sankrasan, Sankarasan, Shankar and what not. Sometimes I used to wonder how difficult would it be to look it up here or, here. During my school days I had this gentleman to thank. A prolific presence on The Telegraph, I believe that he ensured that folks had a good name recall 🙂

In case of MyAkosha I think it is just laziness coupled with lack of awareness. Frustrating. But then my company‘s IT policy ensured that I’ll, till the time I’m employed here, will have a corp ID that is completely different from what my name is. Frustration aplenty.

Customer Support Center Interactions. Can they improve ?

A couple of days back I had this conversation. The question was very clear and, given that everyone has their own special and thereafter the common horror stories of interaction, I figured that I could think about the answer I had provided. So, here’s a small list of what I think could be better.

  • Better documentation. Most companies/organizations do a very bad job with keeping the documentation updated or, even maintaining a FAQ at any place. For example, if you look at the ISPs, they generally end up receiving incoming calls which can probably fall under the buckets like – billing, network connections, services. And yet, they don’t really keep any documentation available in public which can help self diagnose. The computer equipment manufacturers seem to have found out the benefit of this, the service providers haven’t
  • The lack of documentation theory is further strengthened when you call in and get someone on the other side (after umpteen rounds of muzak and “your call is important to us”) who will end up doing a stock template response. I’ve had, in recent times, complained to Airtel about 3G services not working while voice services are active and, in return have received a sales patter about how robust Airtel’s network is.
  • Then of course there is the tendency to distrust the customer. Airtel DTH will practically tell you to your face that whatever your complaint is, it is not true. Airtel (cell phone) are a bit more subtle, they’ll ask you to provide information that is odd viz. your billing cycle, when you complain about a VAS bit not working.
  • Inarticulate agents. Irrespective of whether I am calling in from Pune or, from Kolkata, I’ll end up with someone who has trouble understanding very basic English and has a tendency to lapse into the vernacular. Even if I choose not to speak in the local language. This could be a result of outsourcing to the cheapest service provider but it does suck when you have to take more time than required and break up your problem just so that the person can lodge in the proper complaint.
  • If my call is important to you then ensure that I am not on hold for a long time. The IVRs have odd loops and, more often than not end up keeping you online (and, paying for the call) even though you’d wish that you can read up somewhere what could be wrong. I’ve timed my interactions with the vendors for a period of 6 months now. Here are the results as average (I’ve done more than 10 calls for each vendor around this time):
    • Airtel DTH : 11 minutes before I get a human (calling between 0900 and 2000). 8 minutes when the time is beyond that range.
    • Airtel (cell phone) : 9 minutes before I get a human (calling between 0900 and 2000). 15 minutes when the time is beyond that range.
    • Tata Indicom Broadband : 10 minutes before I get a human (calling between 0900 and 2000). 15 minutes when the time is beyond that range.
    • Tata Teleservices : 8 minutes before I get a human (calling between 0900 and 2000). 5 minutes when the time is beyond that range.
    • ICICI Bank : 12 minutes before I get a human (calling between 0900 and 2000). 10 minutes when the time is beyond that range.

Then of course there are times when you get geniunely hilarious responses (this was in a customer support email addressed to me) like this :

Dear Vijay  Kamble,

Ref: Email dated 23-08-2011, requesting for 3G settings  on your airtel mobile number <edited out>.
Please ignore the previous mail.
Thank you for your email to airtel and the opportunity to assist you.
We regret to inform you that , we are unable to mail the settings that will enable 3G on your airtel mobile number <edited out>, so we request you to contact 12134 .
We hope that this response has addressed your query  suitably.  
Please do write in for any further  assistance.

Yours Sincerely, 

Customer Care 
Bharti Airtel Limited

Md. Quamrul H


On reading books.

Yesterday I was at Inorbit Mall at VimanNagar Pune. There’s a sprawling, all glass Crossword store there. Inside there were a couple of folks leafing through glossy magazines and coffee table books which were on sale. And, I started thinking about how I select which books to pick up and read.

  • Every year I re-read a couple of books. Among these are Pather Pachali, Aparajito and Chaander Pahar. Then there’s Padma Nadir Maajhi, Putul Naacher Itikatha, Love in the time of Cholera, Of Love and Other Demons, War and Remembrance, The LoTR. There’s the fun of being able to discover more than I understood in the previous year – of layered meanings and sometimes forgotten episodes.
  • I’ve found to be a good source of reading up on newer books and, their reviews. Interesting book reviews or, even books that have an interesting topic as their core can be picked up.
  • Twitter and Facebook are good, but I don’t harvest recommendations as much as I can.
  • After the purchase of the Kindle and, the subsequent setting up of newsletter notifications, Amazon sends a steady stream of book recommendations by genre. All very nice, linked to reviews and all of that. That forms another source.
  • I usually keep a list of books (on the phone) I’d like to read if I see (and, mostly read through) anything that jumps out and says “read me” at the bookstores. In this aspect, Landmark at Pune does better than Crossword. I haven’t yet visited CMYK. So, perhaps something would come up from there.
  • I get very few book recommendations from acquaintances and friends. The usual complaint that I hear is “I don’t even know whether you’d like to read it !” So, I do a sneaky follow of what they are reading and sometimes ask pretty obvious questions – that gives me an idea about what is interesting to read.
  • The other thing I’ve noticed is that I end up doing “breadcrumb reading”. That’s something I just cooked up as a term. What it means that I might be reading a book and, the reviews of the book or, citations inside would open up a new vista of related books and reading material. So, breadcrumbs … One thing leads to another and I end up reading through a good chunk of stuff.
  • Finally, the newsletters from the publishers (I subscribe to a wide variety of them), help me figure out what should be on the reading list.

I wonder how others make up their reading lists ? Do you make it up at the beginning of the year, or, is it seasonal ?

Done with Thunderbird. Finally !

I had written earlier about my woes. A week filled with inexplicable crashes while “Building summary file for Inbox” and, generally spiking up the CPU during indexing later, I decided that it was time to end a functional relationship.

Thunderbird was replaced with a stack that comprises of mutt+offlineimap+imapfilter+postfix. The last one was more of a necessity as msmtp wasn’t cut out to be receiving the emails and then sending them out later when I went online. With a number of dot-files available that helped bring this configuration up, the only evolving bits is the imapfilter config.lua. With the number of lists and stuff that I am on and the volume of automated notifications I receive, it is going to take some time before I finally get things working (I wish I could export the existing filters from Thunderbird into an imapfilter readable file). The mutt is built with a sidepane patch which means that I have excluded it from yum updates. But that’s fair trade. With the Thunderbird datastore added as a directory, I have the old mails easily read.

That’s about it. I am still tweaking mutt a bit every now and then for ease of use, but otherwise it has been a fairly good ride.

Airtel 3G. Pune.

I have been using Airtel’s 3G services in Pune for a couple of days now. Here are the first impressions.

  • availability/coverage is spotty. For example, it will work near Aurora Towers but not work near the GPO. Which is very odd
  • coupled with the spotty coverage is the fact that it mostly requires you to be near some window etc to get it working. As an example, if you are sitting near one of the Moledina Road facing windows at the Dorabjees Coffee Shop it will work, try it near the yoghurt section on the first floor and be prepared to be disappointed
  • most folks say that 3G causes battery drain, I haven’t noticed anything unusual
  • however, it does take a longer time for network/data signal to align itself (bars on the phone). It could be that the network infrastructure itself is facing issues, but an example could be parking at the ground floor at Mariplex, losing cell signals, coming up till the KFC/Juice Bar and then waiting for close to half a minute before I get signals. Nothing of significance has changed in the phone in terms of firmwire or, application stack. So, it is a curious experience. You can repeat this if you park at Dorabjees and come up.
  • I am noticing more signal drops than before. Again, the network might be congested.
  • It takes some time, sometimes connecting and disconnecting twice to get on to the 3G network and actually send/receive data. Else you can see that data is being sent, but nothing is coming down the pipe.

Runa is still on the 2G plan. And, she doesn’t seem to have the above issues. So, it makes it even more unusual.

On a side note, call drops on the network seems to have increased.

Aren’t you using Milna yet ?

I’ve been using the Milna application on my phone for a couple of days. This is a “social networking” application with a bit of a twist – it is location based and, requires that you post what you want to do. Users near you (the distance is configurable, but you’d want to keep it really near you) can join in and, together you’d have a blast. Good fun really ! You don’t necessarily have to be on any specific network or, be “friends” with anyone. Just make a wish and perhaps you’d have folks joining in. They need to be using the app though. So, you should ideally keep pointing out the website to them.

And, as I was thinking, the app could be a good fit to organize a flash mob 😉 or, a party or, a jamming session. Or, anything that can have you making new acquaintances and perhaps striking up a friendship. Runa pointed out the small concern that it might also be used for stalking, but I guess that is something the app developers have already thought about. The app (or, if there is a custom web service ever) can also be used as private instances. Think of a private Milna server/instance for your team and you could perhaps have a “Chatter” like thing going.

For me the current downside is the lack of users near me using the app. That needs to change.

How does one get to review books ?

How does one get to review books ?

I realized yesterday when looking at my reading statistics for 2011 that I have done a great variety of reading. So, I was thinking if there was a way I can actually get books for review. I am not looking for any payments, just the books. And, a review (on Goodreads and on the blog) is assured.

Question is – where does one begin ?

Parents and retail malls.

Over the weekend we were at the Star Bazaar at Phoenix City Mall, VimanNagar. They have lots of counters for receiving payments but on that day only 5 were functional. While we were standing in queue, a small kid, quite whiny I might add, was demanding ice-cream. The mother dipped into one of the ice cream visi-freezers which are in front of the cash counter and then quite nonchalantly bypassed the queue and demanded that she be served first as she had a single item. The retail shop didn’t have any “express counter” (5 items or less open) and, so she would have had to stand in one of the queues anyway.

The fun was that when pointed out that she wasn’t doing a good thing, she vehemently turned it into a “I am sure you have kids and you know kids get priority” line of argument. Which is kind of funny. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen or, heard this line. And, then again, I’m generally used to folks asking if they can get ahead. That thing, coupled with a self-initiated giving way to the elderly is the norm at Dorabjees (the elderly are so pleasantly polite that the “Thank you, dear” could make one’s day). This annoyance aside, I was thinking about whether the mother would continue doing the same when the child grows up. Would she continue teaching her that jumping the queue with an excuse and without asking for permission is acceptable ? Parenting is tough, and sometimes parents need to make tough choices. I guess these days I see more and more kids getting away just because they are crying their lungs out or, streaming tears which create a puddle.

If love brings joy then why do we find it difficult to love ?

I wonder if it is alright not to regret over a decision which involved firmly believing that consequences be damned there will be no regrets.

Given that it is unusual in any case, is it a normal reaction to feel a tinge of regret ? Or, in other words, can feelings and expressions of regret be completely negated specific to decisions and to individuals ? If indeed that is so, can they be expanded to become the underlying core of leading a life ?

Over a period of a week I’ve watched, read and talked with a not-really-a-friend (as in, I’d have never believed I was on the list which this person maintained to share thoughts with) going through a situation I went through a decade ago. And, taking the same stance, for similar reasons. But, regretting it so deeply that there is some element of personal failure and low self-esteem going around. As I write this I don’t really have a handle on how this situation is going to turn around. I’m a bit not-optimistic about the eventual outcome.

If love brings joy then why do we find it difficult to love ? Purely selfish reasons should compel us to be loving and be eager to lead happy lives.