Friday, December 23, 2011

When 20yrs passed by

It must have been the scorching and so famous summer when I met Delhi the first time, because all I remember of the initial days was the nice taste of RoohAfza and me waiting for my Mom to finish off the daily house chores so I could play snakes & ladder to pass my time in the day. 
It was 1985 and I was a five year old kid. My Father was just transferred to Delhi from Jaipur. With me being the smallest of my siblings, I was allowed to accompany my parents. 'Lucky' as far my siblings, who were left with my Grand Parents, were concerned. Not sure what fascinated them about the city, especially when it was dealing with the aftermaths of the country' PM's death. My first feeling wasn't that good. Especially when I wasn't allowed to leave the house too much and there weren't any children my age in the neighborhood. All I had is the top floor heater house and some occasional visits to market in safe company of my parents. It took a few months for my parents to have us shifted from that house and move to a place south of Delhi. Mehrauli. A city within the capital city. The place where we were to spend the next 13yrs of our lives, later joined in by my siblings.
My parent's next mission..getting me in to a school. The search ended with the only convent in the area. St. Johns'.
I don't remember the initial feeling about the school. As I was from a Hindi medium so far, the transition was going to be just a bit tough. I don't think I had any idea how to go about it. A problem indeed, as it is even today and I think will continue to be as is with all kids who land up being in that situation. As my luck determined it to be..the next thing I knew, I was in the company of some fantastic Teachers. From then on the next years that I were to be there, were one of the best era of my life.
I think I was enjoying it the city more with new friends and an awesome family out of my initial habitat. How quickly the years went by, was a mesmerizing surprise. My Parents were keen on getting me in to a new School for some time. They finally decided it was time. Seven yrs later the winters were just moving out and so was I. The year was 1992 and I wasn't liking it. The thought of leaving the School never crossed my mind till that time. It was hard to say no to Parent' in those years. So, practically I had no choice but...obey. 
My Father arranged for a person to pick me up to visit another reputed School in South-Delhi, out of Mehrauli. I got it that from now on my means of travel were going to be another specialty of Delhi, the DTC buses. I guess my seat was already arranged for in this school, since all the time that visit looked nothing more than a mere formality meeting with the Principal there. I..wasn't amazed. I somehow was able to convince my Parents for another School' admission test. How did I do that and what happened in that test is a different story, may be another post :) ..back to my first School' story!
The parting with the School didn't hurt much. Or at least that' what I thought at that time. From my then Principal shifting his base back to America and a couple of small advancements in the School, there were very few updates that rested on my ears for the years after I left. My closest of friends left the town..some for boarding Schools and some because their family decided to move. Very rarely I would meet a few of my old Teachers on my way back to home from my new School. Moving out of that School, I just had a couple of friends who later joined me in my new School and a sound foundation of values/virtues and etiquette. The latter still accompanying me as of the day of writing this post and I am sure will continue the journey with me.
Why I never visited the School later is still a surprise to me. If there was any particular reason, I surely do not remember. A few more years down the line, my Father was provided with a Govt. residence..and we moved out of Mehrauli! Any visits that I had to the place were either at odd hours or on holidays, so there was no chance of visiting the School anyway. All I could do on a couple of instance was have a view from the outside. By all means the infrastructure seemed like changing. Expanding or just being within itself, I didn't know.
All these visits were in the last century. The 19 hundreds.....
The current century saw me grow first as a Graduate and then a Post Graduate in Computers, later to be what I am now..a Software Engineer. The wish to visit the School and meet the Teachers growing stronger and stronger each passing year.
I didn't know but the wish was to be true, soon...
Just a few days before, I had to meet a Friend for some work. We decided to meet at the Qutub Minar, which also happens to be at the outskirts of Mehrauli. How I couldn't be in Mehrauli if I was this close. Qutub parking was the best place for my car to rest as my legs started covering the distance to the inside of the place. "Nothing has changed", I told myself. Its been years so I wanted to visit a few places in there, especially all the houses I resided in once and the famous markets. But, it had to be the School first.
I decided to take the back route which goes trough the bus terminal. The bus terminal hasn't changed a bit. The first turn and I see the Temple in there. Still there since as far as I could remember. I remember visiting the same on numerous occasions with my friends while at School. The back of this Temple touched my School' boundary wall. I bowed my head in front of the temple and with crossed fingers I took the turn to move closer to the School' entrance. It was a Saturday, and I just wasn't sure if it would be open. It never has been whenever I visited it last times. But hey, that was some 12+ years back.
St John' Mehrauli

Hoping my prayers would be answered, I took the next turn to see the small mosque still there. I think the only place where I see both religion exist..peacefully and quietly. Moving some 20 steps I was in front of the School main gate.
"Lucky day" was my next expression within. Seems my prayers were answered. The School was well was rather crowded. Upon inquiring I was told there is some campaign. Campaign?? The only external visits I knew of in my time were some docs who just for fun used to inject us with some precautionary meds in our times. Anyway, the good news for me was that the School was open and there was still time before it will close for the week.
I decided I will take a small tour around Mehrauli on foot till the staff finishes up with the Campaign..or what ever it was. I looked at my watch and off. I think I went around for an hour and a half before deciding to arrive back at the School, just in time. The visiting Bus and cabs were leaving, the main door/gate of the School was bigger than I could remember. I could peek a boo of the inside of the School as the bus was coming out of the main entrance. For whatever I could see behind the bus there a moment when I was a kid in the backyard.
The School was a complete change to what I imagined in all these years. Before I could realize I was walking within the School premises.
March 1992 was the last time I was inside the Schools. The number of years since then was reflecting the way the School was portrayed now. A complete change to the what ever I could recollect. The security guard was smart enough to notice my presence in between all the movement and before I could digest the look in front of my eyes, he was there asking me of what I wanted. I asked him if i could meet a person who used to be in the admin staff during my time in School. He didn't answer me, but headed straight back in to the building. I could imagine he didn't know anyone by the name I just told him. It was 20yrs and I didn't expect any Teachers I was once so familiar with. I turned my back to the way he went to and started starring at the four floor building, remembering the 4-5 rooms view I was so used to. I realized I was standing on a concrete floor. It used to be full of sand and if I was imaging correctly, from where I stood I could touch the then stationed swing which me and my friends were so fond of. We always made sure no one apart from use cold be on it during the lunch break. Any extension of arms in the present would only have fetched me some funny glances in case some was looking at me. 
I was completely lost when the security guard I had almost forgotten about, fetched a man from the inside. I just turned back on the sound, but it seemed like I turned back 20 yrs in time. The man was one of my Teacher way back then. He still looked the same. A mere introduction to him by my name was enough to tell him who I was. It was surprising he still remembered me, by the name at least if not by my face, which was rather obvious. I talked to him for around half an hour on where I was these years. He took me around the School to let me see how much it has changed. Finally taking me to a lady Teacher who taught me in my initial days in the School. It was hard she could remember me, but was surprised when I told her I remember her. On telling her a bit of details about me, she could recollect me and my then friends group.
The next thing I felt like I was still a kid in her class. She took my hand to take me to meet all the new Teachers exclaiming 'He is Milind, one of the fellows I taught very early in this School some 20+ yrs back..he has grown much taller to me and is a Software Engineer now...'
During all this introduction time all I could do was stand there speechless...unaware of the expressions I was wearing and looking at one of the first Teachers, who taught me, be proud in introducing me. It was that moment I realized how much I missed this School. She is just the same as all Teachers were back then...caring like Mothers and taking the utmost care required of each of the pupil.
Thought of the day..still there

The School, as was evident, changed completely for the exteriors. What existed inside in the roots is still the same. The boundaries still encompasses in them the same virtues and high values that people like me carry out with them in the outer world.
I wasn't lucky to meet more Teachers that day but a couple of whom I met were surprised that I still remember the names of all the Teachers who taught me. For Students to remember and recognize their Teachers is a common thing. For Teachers to be able to remember some students is a miracle. I witnessed one that day and was rather fortunate to have done so!!
The rest of the couple of hours till I got back to my car were like I was still in the School, a kid of old times.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Google Starts Ice Cream Sandwich Rollout

Nexus S on ICS
As a proud Nexus S owner I am a fan of what Google has been able to with Android since thier acquisition back in 2005. With the release of Galaxy Nexus and the newest version of Android, I am looking forward to taste the new dessert Android has this time. Every other day I am on Google searching for some news of an over-the-air update of 2.3.x on my current phone to 4.0.x

The word is here.. Google has started rolling out the Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) update to the GSM Nexus S. The update as we all know was highly anticipated since Google introduced the new Android version and its new features. The official word on the update release comes just a day after the Galaxy Nexus (world' first phone on Android 4.0) was made available in the US.
The news was available on the official 'Google Nexus' Twitter account:
Ice Cream Sandwich Update to Nexus S
The update as obvious would be over the coming month and was started on Dec 16. We are also aware that the Galaxy Nexus (latest in the Nexus line) has already got one OTA (over-the-air) update for a few bug fixes. More could be read on this here. It may be noted that this update is was versioned 4.0.2. 
The news was available on Googlel+ official account of AndroidThe version available for the GSM Nexus S will be 4.0.3. The bad news is that the CDMA Nexus S (Sprint' Nexus S 4G) will have to wait a little longer for the update as there is no official word about this version from Google, but all indications are that it won't be too long.
The update is to be made available as an OTA, so you can either manually check your phone or wait for the notification pop-up to appear. However, if your patience has run thin then you will be glad to know that the ICS ROM is available for download and install manually for those who know what they are doing (do at your own risk as you may be required to root your phone, which s not a good idea if you would like to keep the warranty on your phone intact). If you want to find out how to do that, click here to read on details. Again, please do it at your own risk.
As for the changes that you will see with this update, here is a quick look:
App upgrades
You will have some surprises with the way your phone' apps will work now. The app developer' are working to release new version of their respective apps since the release of Galaxy Nexus. Be patient and look out for these points:
  • To use Adobe Flash with Android 4.0, first update it to the latest version
  • You will need to update most of your apps to their latest version before they could work with Android 4.0
  • For connecting your phone to a Mac via USB, you will first need to install the File Transfer app on your Mac. Use this link to know how to.
Home Screens
As you are supposedly updating from Gingerbread (Android 2.3.x) to ICS (Android 4.0), there will be some changes to how the new Home screen and some functions will work. Google has set up a page for users with Tips on the new transition. Here is the link

Lock Screen
The way you answer or reject a call has changed. To answer a call, now drag the lock icon to the right. Here is more detail on this.

Swipes are to be noted especially. Make sure you know what left-right swipes do. For example you  should be able to swipe sideways to:
  • Dismiss notifications
  • dismiss recent app thumbnails
  • navigate through you email messages in your inbox
  • check on your recent G+ notifications
Screenshots made easy
You are now able to take the screenshots from your phone without the help of any app. Press power button and the volume(down) button simultaneously. What' more is that the screenshot is saved automatically. Now just click on the screenshot icon in the notification bar and you will be able to see the screenhot that you just took. Easy!

I am sure the update would be as tasty as the Ice Cream Sandwich itself is. I too am looking for my Nexus S to receive the OTA, hopefully it will be soon enough as my patience is low on this and frankly I would not like to do rooted install of the update.
Have fun and let me know how you liked the new Android version once you have tasted it!!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Oh you Smart-Phone!

Remember the days when you were without a cell phone. Peaceful isn't it :-p. So, once you were out of your home parents couldn't track you, and after a tiring day there was no girl friend disturbance after you landed back in the boundaries of your sweet sweet home ;). Some might disagree..I agree to their disagreement as well !!
So while you thought it worked the best possible way, someone just wasn't happy with it. They decided it was time to destroy the dreamy environment that you lived in and give you a trouble...and there were the tracking devices called cell phones. Then, as you somehow handled (or rater tried to handle) the new trouble in your life..someone again out smarted your thoughts and introduced a more advanced came today' smart-phones. 
I possess one myself and frankly can't do without it in my normal day-to-day life. A dependency I am happily living with. Before you start throwing tantrums and sending abusing comments here is what this post is all about....
Introduction and popularity of smart-phones is a good enough reason to be happy for some, and a good enough reason to be "more" happy for others. If you possess a smart-phone like I do (mine is Nexus S, by the way) and you haven't been visiting Mars in the last fortnight, you probably already have heard about the waves Carrier IQ is creating since the news of it's rootkit tracking (or as most people put it... "spying") the smart-phone user' activity (each of them) broke on every possible blog and site you may have heard that publishes these kind of news.

In case you do not know, here is a fill up for you:
Carrier IQ is a company based in Mountain View, California and provides mobile analytic services for smart-phones to the wireless industry. It came in to picture just a few days back when one of the Android security researcher, Trevor Eckhart, discovered Carrier IQ software on one of the smart-phones that he was using. No problem, I say! The problem and a rather alarming one was that this software was collecting data right from the device' location, to the application installed in it and even (take a deep breath) the key strokes performed on the device. 
Why is Carrier IQ collecting all of that data? According to them, their software is installed on the devices by the carriers who are interested in getting these statistics to improve the user experience.
Now this may be "sky is falling" for some of you out there and may be nothing for others. Its ok if you got a little uncomfortable and curious after the news broke. The next think I did was to search the net to see if there is a way by which I could find if my phone has one (obvious haan!). Much to my dismay there was no app available in the android market at that time. I did, however, find some news on detecting the Carrier IQ but that involved rooting my smartphone..which I wasn't comfortable with.
I did see a few pages/articles/blogs which mentioned Google confirming that the Nexus line of phones (which includes mine) are free from Carrier IQ. That in itself was a calm-er.
Anyway, for those who are still uncomfortable about all this fuss around Carrier IQ, here is a good news. An android app is now available in android market that could tell you if your phone is carrying Carrier IQ or not. Its called 'Voodoo Carrier IQ detector'. At the time of writing this post, it's still in the development phase but is being updated very frequently so we should have some pretty reliable results in no time. I have tried this application myself and below is the result:
Nexus S, running Gingerbread 2.3.6 (No Carrier IQ)
Vodoo Carrier IQ detector
The app already has some 2K plus installs and has a 4.7 avg rating. For those interested here is the QR to the android market install page. Use your smartphone' camera and a QR reader app (as you may already know). 

More links for your read:
1. Carrier IQ, What it means to you !
2. Block Carrier IQ on iPhone (earlier ones) ! 
3. Should you worry? (One of my best ones in the list)
4. What does it do on my Phone? 
5. Apple says no more!

Some apps, that I found afterwards, that could tell you if Carrier IQ is installed on your smart-phone or not:
1. Lookout Labs (Seems most reliable and user friendly at present) 
2. Trevor Eckhart also developed one

Feel free to contribute more links, I will be glad to add them to this list for the benefit of others.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Diwali to Thanks-Giving

For an eight post and a few months old blog, its enough flattery that I am being constantly asked for when the next post is coming. So the first question I am obliged to answer is where I have been since my last post that was some 50 days back. The answer is, just here! I decided to dedicate a post just to sum things up since my last interaction with you all on this platform. The presence on the virtual world have been as much as it has been in the past, though I have been just a touch away from my blogging habit.
So, in between a couple of nails puncturing my car wheel and a stupid driver making sure my car needed it's first visit to the body-shop department with the SX4' fourth anniversary just close-by, there was enough to do during the festival days.

Diya made out of thermocol beads
Apart from my car not able to celebrate the festival of lights with me, the celebration and the festivities were so much engaging. The decorations in the office and the environment for a couple of days was more of an enjoyment than tiredness. It was nice to be decorating the new building that we shifted in around a couple of months back. A sample of what I contributed is on the right :) 
I couldn't realize how much my car has been involved in my day to day life, not till the accident took place. Luckily, me and my colleague accompanying me didn't had any impact. My car had to be in the body-shop for a few days though, and that was for sure the moment I stepped out to have a look at the impact point. The rest of the days till I got the car back were going to be a little troublesome. 

With Diwali next day, the shopping and gift distribution took nearly double the time as it normally would. At the body-shop they told me it would take around a couple of weeks for the insurance formalities and the repair work to be done. Diving in to a loong weekend gave a bit of respite from travelling and I knew it will have to be the all famous auto rickshaws that will be giving me the ride once the weekend and festival gets over and I am back to my home-office-home routine.
For Diwali, this time, I decided a little more than usual light-cover for my house. And with my better half asking (more of a command ;) ) the same, I couldn't afford another thought on this!
On the right is a sneak peak for you of how the exterior looked like after the lights were installed and functioning. The lights that you see on top of the big tree should look awesome but were as hard to put that  way as you could imagine. That's a guava tree by the way and the fruits on it are usually very sweet, barring a couple of exception when I am not as patient to let them grow big enough. The hard work was paid as the final look (as seen in this pic) was worth a watch. The people passing by during the late evening and night hours couldn't afford not to be jealous of the view. I decided to leave it through for five rather than 3 days :)!

The next two weeks following the Diwali break, were not so comfortable with the auto rickshaw as my ride on my way to office. Got a feel of how much my car has been a part of my day to day life and how much have I been dependent on it for the past nearly 4yrs since I bought my priced possession. Two weeks and my little beauty was back with me and my daily ease just seemed to have come back. Now, I wasn't thinking twice to go out.

During the festive season it was so much fun out there in the markets. The same kind was out there in other parts of the world as my close friends started sharing the the news/pictures of how it was getting on with Thanks-Giving approaching soon. It's always fascinating to read stories about how crazy people could be during these days when its such a fun not only to roam around in the streets but to shop with all sorts of discounts available. And, there are the big guns in the market who love to be in news during these festive times. So we had Apple coming out with a new version of their iPhone and Google announcing a new version of their OS plus a new phone to accompany the mystery. 

One of my friend forwarded a link which had the account of 2 friends who were queuing in front of an Apple store to be the first to take the new version of iPhone 4S. So they were there all day and all night long for quite a number of days and on top were blogging on their websites while being there. Crazy or what !!!!!!! I remember I was in US during the launch of first iPhone...wasn't as much craze then. I agree you got to give it to Apple there.

On the same talks, being a Nexus S owner myself, I am also waiting for the new android version upgrade available for my smart phone. Sadly its been a long wait already as I was thinking it would come by Thanks-Giving. But the latest that I hear is that Google has started the ICS (Android 4.0) dogfooding. Cnet confirms the reports and so does android policeHopefully, I won't have to wait till next year for the upgrade.

With October a big celebration month in here, November and December are made sure the tempo is kept up. Q4 anyway has been very very up, take your pick on 'what'. As for me, since I changed my employer last year..Q4 has been a little relaxing. From what I hear from my ex-colleagues in that company, it's still the same. Hopefully with the last month of the quarter and this year already on its roll, I hope the hectic season comes to an end for all of them. Since I have been part of that group for quite long, I know how hard it goes down there as this festive season picks up. The amount of work that goes in the background is amazingly huge and tiring.
Before I close this post, as a Thanks-Giving note all all my friends, co-workers (current or past) and everybody else.. Thanks for making the world a better place to live in!!

Just as a note, in case you guys haven't noticed. Each of my posts now accompany a 'ApnaCircle' (AC) share button at the end of each of them. Have fun sharing :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

2 ½ things that came around last week

wake-up, work, home, sleep....wake-up and the circle repeats. Interesting and familiar as it may sound, life sometimes gets sedate. The physical circle becoming smaller as the days in winter and the virtual ones... bigger, seeming like the soap bubble we were so used to in our childhood days, ultimately getting difficult to maintain as it grows.
Decorations, visits, crowded markets are a must at this time. October does start with a nice festive mood. So you wake up every morning with a new decorative idea, or a plan to visit the market and in some cases welcoming relatives (which is as usual such a fun thing to do). Simply put there is some or the other thing/news on mind these days. As I recollect the last week that I lived, it seemed that the week was in much more than a usual hurry and I was left gasping... some moments were rather enjoying while there were others that were good enough for life (professional or personal) to stop momentarily.

The 1st part
I started this festive month welcoming a few relatives, my in-laws and then my maternal aunt and uncle. The only bad thing about your dear ones visiting your place, is that the stay lasts only a few days..never surpassing a week. With just 3 of us in the house, its always a fun with people visiting during celebration/festival time. These visits make even my car happy. With a dull routine of home-office-home nearly all days of a month, it gets to roam around the city a bit more. At least the visits to the railway station and/or airports seems a fun to my sx4. 
This time around though, the visits included a visit to a residential society in Gr. Noida. Couldn't stop myself mentioning the security procedures required to get in to the society. I was required to call the ppl I was visiting and let the security staff talk to them for a  confirmation. Once they were satisfied, they issued me a visiting pass and just as I started to change gear to proceed, I was asked to leave my driving license with them. Surprised myself, I asked the guard again as to what he meant. Smiling he explained, they keep the DL with them to be returned when visitors present the visiting pass on their way out. I agree, it was my first such kind of an experience for both me and my car.
It already was taking ages to enter the society when the guard informed me that if I stayed in for more than 3½ hrs, I will be paying some parking fees. Pheww !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Finally we were able to enter the society. On my way in I couldn't help but admire the way the interiors were maintained. Half an hour of stay and I was ready to move back. On the way out, I must admit I was impressed with the security arrangements in this society. If we all could be patient enough with the procedures employed, life inside the houses would be at least one worry less.
In the last 9 or so yrs, I hardly remember a time when I had these many relatives visiting during the festival time. To quote the message I posted on my fb account "Seems I forgot how it is to have elder's' in the house on pooja days....Feels awesome!"
It was simply awesome!!

The 2nd part (RIPs)
Tragic news of Steve Jobs biding bye to this world. Got to know the news on fb, as I was too busy to be reading the papers or following the idiot box. The world owe a lot to this man, who alone was capable enough to change the way the world communicates. So much the irony (Steve may be loving this though), that people were reading the tragic news on iPhone/iPad....devices that were the revolutions induced by the man himself. With people poring their messages for the genius that now may be busy designing the apps for the heaven world..the best that I liked was the below one:
"Three Apples changed the world: the one that Adam ate, the one that fell on Newton, and the one that Steve Jobs created."
Just as I was closing this part of the post, there cam another tragic news. The Ghazal maestro is no more. Can't remember since how many tears we have been humming the master pieces written/sung by Jagjit Singh. Who can forget the 'Tum itna jo muskara rahe ho...' or the 'hosh walo kp khabar kya....'. Music and words that were so so majestic, yet so simple. For the 42 yrs of singing that we know him, he bought the ghazals to our living rooms. Its sad to realize that the magical voice will sing no more.
RIP both of the greats and I close this part with the best comment that I read about these two loss:
"God! You called Steve because you wanted an iPod, and now u want ghazals in it?"

The ½ part
During the Dussehra days its like a dream to avoid the traffic jams, either on the way to office or back. The best part you see all the melas and multi storey like effigies of mythological characters, ready to be burned as part of the ritual on the Dussehra day. Every day on my way back from office, I would notice the effigies and think that this year again it would be fun to be part of the gatherings when someone dressed up as Lord Ram would send a fire arrow right in to the chest of the Ravan, Meghnath and Kumbhkaran effigies. Unluckily though, as it turned out, the wish for this year remained just that..a wish.

Sorry Mr. Ravan..couldn't be part of your death events this year, and am very sad to have missed it. Family is more important you see. Will try to be there next year, to see the evil burned to death and see a whole lot of goods triumph it is every year. Hopefully the recession will go away so we will be able to see all 10 heads of yours rather than the mere 3 or 5 this year. And also a few more crackers, I am sure this time around it wasn't that noise as we are used to from the burning evil effigy. 

Leaving you to ponder with the QR for this post: 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lucknow Calling

For people who love travelling, its always a fun to go around places. Discovering new areas, knowing all the history is always fun for them. I am home sick, yet have gone around places for one reason or the other. Not as much as I would have liked but at least to a certain extent the trips have always been fun...start, middle or end...always fun!!
So, what do I have for you in this post? My encounter with 'The City of Tehzeeb'
I was rather confused on the title of this post. 'The City of Tehzeeb', 'Adab, Tehzeed and Lucknow', 'A city besides Gomti' being a few candidates but I finally settled for 'Lucknow Calling'. Let me know if you think a more apt title I should have opted for after you are done reading this post :)
Me and wife were to travel to this city dotted with remnants of its rich cultural past. The reason this time of the travel was my wife' interview. I am sure the interviewing authority had good enough a reason to call us there, as we came to know that interviews were also scheduled in Delhi. Or else I fail to understand why they wanted us to travel some 500 km rather than a mere 20-30km. No regrets :) as it turned out to quite an experience.
Interview scheduled for 10:00am on 6th morning of this month, we decided it was ok to take a train on 5th night to reach the city at around 6:45am (the train permitting). A full AC train but a couple general compartments and we were on our way at the right time from New Delhi railway station. Travelling for the first time on a train with no pantry car. Our seats being in the compartment nearly at the start of train it was difficult to get down at any of the first few stations to get a water bottle, knowing the train only stops a min at each station. Thanks to the AC we could sleep nicely for the night w/o much trouble. But that sure was a lesson learnt ;).
Tired after a day in the office, the next thing I knew was my watch striking 6am. Got up to know the train was late. Hoping every minute that we reach on time, we passed around 2.5hrs before finally reaching the much talked about place in this part of the country. Need a rickshaw to the hotel? Well you need to ask them for a room as well or else quite a few don't offer to take you if you have a pre-booking in any of the hotels. Quite strange haan..It was a 4th time lucky for me but finally got one rickshaw. That too made sure I had to pay a little extra once he knew I already had a booking. I should have clicked a pic of the station knowing I may not visit here again as we already had our returned ticket booked in the flight, but a touch concerned on the time as I was...missed the moment.
The hotel was nice, already discounted price with both 6th and 7th morning breakfast complimentary..couldn't have asked for a better deal :). BY the time we reached the room it was nearly 9am. With the warning already issued at the reception that it takes around an hour to reach the interview place, it seemed to be late already. Hurrying here and there..a few fumbles..a real quick breakfast that even the waiters serving were amazed at we were ready to move with around 45 min left to reach the scheduled place. Thanks to the rickshaw driver, the next touch down on the ground was at precisely the moment the watch on my wrist said 10. With a nice deep breath that we made in time, we proceeded to the gathering room nicely helped by the arrow marks on the walls and boards. Nice AC room after a 45 min in the sun and zooming here and there to make sure we reach on time, was a more than welcome. Sitting in the waiting room while my wife went thru some official procedures, it was like a deja vu of my PG counselling around 9yrs back. It was nice to feel it again though :)
A four hr wait to finish the things up and when we started our move back to the hotel, the rain was all it was left for our welcome. None the less, we soon found a rickshaw back to the hotel, hungry and a lot tired but happy with the first half of the day. By the time we finished our lunch relaxed for some 20 minutes, it was already close to 5pm. The next thing on our mind was to go around the city so heard of but never visited.
The spirits were dampened a bit once we were made aware at the reception that the most famous place to visit in the city closes at 5 in the evening and it was already time. Somewhat sad..we were given a tip free of visit the market. The free tips are more costly, I discovered it alright :-p.  We shopped at the most famous shop in the area, visited the Sahara mall and finally as my best half wished, went around in the city in a manual rickshaw to enjoy the  city in the night.
The day was filled with fun and the next was more of a wonderful time as we were to discover the next morning.
We started the 7th morning a bit early as our flight was also scheduled the same day at around 3pm in the afternoon. We were already told that it will take around 2 or so hrs to visit some famous places in the city. All set and after a much refreshing shower and a very nice breakfast we were all set for the next destination for the day...the all famous Imambara!
The history of this place is long and I am afraid wont be covered in this post :( but what a place and what history. It took us around 5-7 min to walk down from the main gate to the big hall that holds its place in the history. As we were told later, the place was built fully in between 1773 and 1784. 11 yrs in total and the architecture tells the story. The architect was an Iranian and all he demanded at the end of his work was to be buried in this place. So as it is the Nawab and the Architect both lay in peace in the main hall of the building.
The whole of this building is around 340 odd feet long. Divided in to 3 halls, named after the type of work they hold. So the first one is called Chinese hall, the second Persian hall and the third Indian hall.
Chinese hall
You see the Chinese hall pic on the left, the windows that peep out are part of Bhul bhulaiya. Strange as it seemed to us, the windows appear to be in a circle to each other from here but once we were in bhul bhulaiya itself, they seemed arranged on a wall that was absolutely straight. Not sure if that is how they planned the architecture or it turned out to be the way it is. Whichever way, standing there for a moment we seemed lost in the beauty of a 220+ yrs old building.. mesmerized by the thought process of a single man who lay just 10 steps from where we stood.
Persian hall 
 If Chinese hall was able to take our breath, there lay another example of how good people were with their design skills way back then. We entered the Persian hall. This 1600 ft long hall is the biggest hall in all of Asia without any iron support. Built like a kitchen tray, the hall holds a religious place. Said to have been lit by candles in the era that the Nawab lived here, the hall has a strange calmness to it. Its kind of scary as well that this length of the hall doesn't have any support of iron and still is as strong as you may know any building around. There are around 10-12 eatable ingredients that constitute the wall, pulses, sheera for example. That's what our guide for the day told us. Hard to believe?
It is in this hall that the Nawab and the Architect still lay in peace. As you may see in the left pic. The emeralds and precious stones that existed in different forms in this room, now take there place somewhere in UK. Look closely and you may see Nawab' crown in the foreground of this pic. This is a replica, the original as you may assume (correctly) was taken to UK by British ppl during that time :(
Indian hall
The third hall, Indian Hall, is of a form of a melon. Again, from inside it looks like round with the windows peeping out and from inside, its as straight as possible.
The bhul bhulaiya that holds these windows is interestingly built within the walls. So from the ground you see walls and as you try to go up the floor floor building, without realizing you are actually travelling within the walls till you reach the absolute top. A wonderful experience.
If you plan on visiting, do take a guide or else bhul bhulaiya is a place you cannot get out of :)
We looked around a couple of places in this hall and one in the bouli later, special thing in these that someone from inside could peep thru the whole area outside but from outside no one can have a look. Seems was used by the army stationed just in case enemy attacked.
The guide took us to the top thru the mesmerizing place called bhul bhulaiya and then asked us to guide him down. We tried for 5-7 min and failed. Such is the surprise at every turn within the walls that you really can't get thru. The guide however, seemed as familiar as the people who would have built this sculpture.
Our guide, Mr Hasan
Thanks largely to our guide for the day for all the lovely time and super information that we got. Our guide, who also happens to be the driver of the Chairman of the Trust that maintains this building, is working here since past 12 yrs. No doubt over his knowledge once we knew this :-P
After some 2-2.5hrs we finally bid goodbye to the lovely place to be back at the hotel to have a nice lunch and begin our journey to Lucknow airport to catch our flight back home. The airport from the outside looks more like a fort that an airport :)
Lucknow Airport
This being my wife' first flight, it was a special one. Enjoy the view from the plane window once we were airborne :)

Little bit of Sun :)

The wing seemed a slider :)

And here is a video as we left the ground :)

As always, here is the QR to this post :) 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Semantic Web - when machines talk

A difficult topic I agree, but assure you is really interesting if you want a nice afternoon sleep ;). Just kidding, the topic is really deep & interesting and is something that I may not be able to cover at length in one post, although I will try to keep pace with everyone' understanding and will also try to detail the points as far as I am aware of them.
So on a preface, I came across this topic when one of my colleague asked me about this and wanted to discuss this. I agree I had to read a lot as it was my first with this area and will share all links that I came across and found useful and understandable after I am done with my understanding here.
So, lets dive in...

What is this 'Semantic Web' ?
In plain simple terms, Semantic Web is a 'web of data' that helps machines understand the meaning of any information that exists on the web. You may argue that the World Wide Web(www) is that as well? Yes, it is. To elaborate, www is data that is in itself complete (confined within the bounderies of the application that generated this data) but not linked and more importantly this data (or rather documents) can only be interpreted by humans. Semantic Web links one application's data with the other application' data so in theory we do not have clusters of data generated by the applications but one single web of data or database where machines would be able to relate an A to B and deduce if A is part of B or not.
Ideally this will be a movement from documents to data!!

Confusing ? I am sure it is... read on!

When we search something on internet, the systems just present us with the search results without understanding the relevance or connection in a given situation/circumstance. So you may search for 'available flights to Mumbai' and there may be a result about how a bird can fly or about how an Ostrich can't fly. That's WWW as we know it today.
Semantic Web (or more precisely the Semantic Web agents), on the other hand will provide with data based on the relevance. So the 'available flights to Mumbai' will return you with data like, cheapest that suit your time zone.
Imagine a scenario where you would like to book a meeting with one of your clients a couple of days from now on. So all you need to do is tell your Semantic Web agent to book the cab on such a such date for a 3 pm meeting. The agent will book the Cab for you making sure the cab agency is the closest to your pick up place, also make sure that the cab arrives half an hour in time, check your calender for any conflicts and let you know if there is any, update your financial accounts with the charges, book a return cab for you... . All this without your intervention. The agent however, had to find and combine the information from multiple sources, interpret and take decisions. 
This is what we expect the Semantic Web would be able to bring to us in future on its realization.

Semantic Web is not separate from www, it is part of it and more precisely an extension of www. It's no more about the links on the web, its about linking between these data links so machines are able to analyse the data themselves without any human intervention. 
Understand that Semantic Web is a vision to dissolve the application boundaries and let there be one web complete of all data. 

Web 2.0 is not Semantic Web
So if Web 2.0 is not Semantic Web than what is and how is it different? Well, for one..Web 2.0 is not Semantic Web because Web 2.0 is actually about people. It is focused on the interaction done between people on web, or rather it drives the interaction between people on web. It focuses on the human interaction, its more about people' ability to collaborate the data and share it on the web and thus using the technologies like AJAX, XHTML, SOAP etc... All that people care about is the final result which is the social communication/interaction.

Relation to Web 3.0
Semantic Web is also used as a synonym for Web 3.0. But that remains a topic of debate, as some believe that Web3.0 will be the next revolution and will be more graphical in nature where it will be computers that will be generating more informational data.
As it is, Semantic Web is beyond humans. Its about machines interaction and analytic deduction of data on their own. It is focused on machines; when machines would be able to find, collect, analyze and act on data without any human dependency. So the extension of Web documents to data and metadata will enable the whole Web to be processed by humans and more interestingly by machines independently of humans.
To accomplish the task of converting the web documents to data Web 3.0 introduces some technologies like RDF. More precisely RDF (Resource Description Framework, described later in here), which works on web pages..applications and also databases, is used to turn basic Web data in to structured data that the applications/software can further use.

Semantic Web Technologies
Implementing Semantic web requires adding metadata (data that describes data) to information resources. So when there is enough metadata available, systems will be able to effectively process the data based on this available information.
As an example, the metadata tags available in the html files today helps search engines deduce the rankings and collect information about the type of data the document may contain.
The first step required is to get the data in uniform formats so machines don't end up with the case where at one place the first name is understood by <fname> tag and at other its the <firstname> tag. Semantic Web helps in here to make the data in the same format and also understandable not only to humans but to machines as well.
This is where technologies like RDF, RDFS and OWL come in to picture as they classify data from multiple domains based on their properties and relation to other data.

Resource Description Framework (RDF)
RDF is an XML based standard for describing resources that exists on the web (including intranets). It builds on XML and URI(Uniform Resource Identifiers) technologies, where it uses a single URI for identifying a resource and multiple URIs to analyze the data statements.
RDF statements are often referred to as 'triples'. A triple consists of:
- a subject (basically a resource)
- a predicate (a property)
- an object (property value)
For example:
The blogger site       is      
(subject)           (predicate)            (object)

RDF is normally expressed in an XML format and sometimes graphically as well.

And then we could associate other triples with this triple as well. Once this definition is done, we could code this in RDF/XML as well.
Creating a triple like this sets up a model where data is actually stored, so RDF describes the model and the syntax defining a resource. What RDF doesn't do is specify the semantics (meaning) of the resource. For that we need a schema and a language. Welcome RDFS and OWL !

Resource Description Framework Schema (RDFS) 
RDFS creates the much needed vocabulary that describes groups of related RDF resources and the relation between these resources. A vocab defines the allowable properties that could be linked to the resources in a particular domain. RDFS benefits us in creating classes of resources that may share common properties.
Likewise as in case of triple example provided above, RDFS triples consists of classes, its properties and its values that defines the classes and its relation to resources.
So in a RDFS vocab, resources are defined as instances of classes. A class is also a resource and any class can be a subclass of any other class. This hierarchical meaning (or semantic) information  allows machines to infer the meaning of a resource based  on its properties and property values.
RDFS is a simple vocab language and OWL builds on it to be much more richer.

Web Ontology Language (OWL)
building upon RDF and RDFS, OWL describes the type of relationships that can be expressed in RDF using XML vocab to indicate the structure and relations in between different resources. This is what defined an Ontology.
Semantic Web ontologies contains different sets of inference rules from which machines would be able to take the meaning and logical conclusions.
Taxonomy is nothing but a system of classifications. This classification expresses the hierarchy and the relations that exist between different resources and thus we could use OWL to assign properties to classes of resources and allow the sub-classes of these classes to inherit these properties as well.
So considering that 'Apple' is a 'Fruit' and a 'Fruit' is 'Eatable' a Semantic Web agent could infer that an 'Apple' is 'Eatable'.
OWL in itself has 3 sub-languages each with increasing complexity and each latter comprising of the earlier in below order:
- OWL lit
- OWL Full

Will this be a reality ?
Critics will always be there to question the basic feasibility of the idea. And in a way there are right to question it as well, people lie and may provide wrong metadata, which is basically the backbone on which the idea (will) work.
W3C will obviously argue on this!! However, just to complete the argument, the problem remains with the usage as the Semantic Web idea (though initially conceived by Sir Timothy Berners Lee) is being developed by people who know logical computation and AI.
Looking at the technological work we may soon see a Semantic Web agent at work, fingers crossed!!

More stuff to read on
Here is some more stuff to read. I personally referred to some of them in the build up to write this post.

Phew, yes that was some confusing topic! I agree with that totally. If you have any questions feel free to put them in comments and I may be able to answer them somewhat and may provide you with a link or two in here.

In case you need one, here is the QR for this post: 
Semantic Web QR

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