National Geographic Photo of the Day

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Egyptian Excursion... Points of Note

This time around, we chose to take our vacation to Egypt. 10 days of fun in the sun, or baking in the oven whichever way you look at it. 10 days of taking in views of monuments that have made it past thousands of years worth of hardships.

I'll be updating the blog regularly (once every 3 days or so) with descriptions of each day (and what I saw there) of my trip. They'll be more like travel notes than fully formed paragraphs I suppose, since I'm a bit short on time. Before that, a few points you should note:

  • Greet people with As-Salāmu `Alaykum (just say "Salam aleikum'), i.e. Peace be upon you. Even if you want to ask the receptionist to send someone to get the luggage from your room, say the aforementioned line or ask how he/she is and then proceed with your request or question. Helps a lot.
  • Egypt's currency is the Egyptian Pound. Smaller units are Piastres. Sadly for ye who are from India, 1 Egyptian Pound = 8.xx rupees. Yup, even Egypt costs you a lot.
  • Despite all the advice I'd read on the net about touts being a constant bother, just say 'No thank you' "La Shukran" (that's pronounced Shook-Run) a few times while you keep walking away and they'll leave you alone without you having to put the cops on them.
  • The police are always around. Plainclothes, with a handgun. Uniformed ones in white or cream with AK-47's (yes, police with AKs, not sticks).
  • Friday's a holiday here for prayers, but some places might be closed on that day. Plan accordingly.
  • Drivers say Cairo is the worst place to drive. They apparently are yet to drive in an Indian metro like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Kolkatta. Drive in an Indian city and you can tolerate driving in any place in the world.
  • Cairo taxi drivers may be quite insistent. They'll keep lining up offering you a ride. Saying no again and again is made a little difficult because of the language barrier (unless you're fluent in Arabic).
  • There are lots of cats around. Not too many dogs, but plenty of the feline kind.
  • Everyone has plenty of makeup, and hair gel for guys. Even little kids seem to sport a perfect haircut and quite a bit of makeup.
  • Many Amitabh Bachchan fans, they put him on a pedestal above their own stars, but not too many know Shah Rukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai. We did meet a guard who just loved Amir Khan's movies though.
  • No Swensen's here, that's one thing I noticed. No big ice cream shops. Only smaller eateries and big bakeries have ice creams. And most often they're the packaged kind (Nestle).
  • 10am to 4/5pm is the only time when most attractions are open. Sightseeing places close beyond 4pm (eg. Saqqarah) and 5pm (eg. pyramids of Giza)
  • In case you're a student (doesn't really matter what you're studying, could be fashion, could be could be medicine, could be meteorology), bring your university ID card or school ID. Quite a few sightseeing spots offer tickets at half price if you can prove that you're a student.
  • Quote Amitabh Bachchan to shopkeepers and tell them you live two blocks away from him ;) , everyone likes him, and you may end up getting a discount. This of course, is because they jack up prices by a few pounds when they see that you're a foreigner.
  • If you're vegetarian, you're gonna find it very difficult. Most eateries (even five star restaurants) will use animal fat to cook the rice. It'll have that characteristic sticky rice feel to it.
  • Folks drive on the right side of the road here, not the left.
  • During summer, the temperature is very high, but the humidity's low, so you won't feel like you're sweating. But it tires you a lot.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Clicking cos you care

In my endless journey through the world wide web, I came upon this site called Care2. They are a company that promotes green living and espouses several causes. Care2 was founded back in 1998 to help connect activists from around the world. The membership stands at 9 million people. No this isn't a paid review, just throwing out a site I frequent to do my little, albeit still insufficient, bit for the planet, just a post to show how you can help by just pressing that mouse button of yours a few times a day.

The reason why I was attracted to this site was their "Care2 Click to Donate" section. Before you go up in arms with "Donations you say, I'm out of here!", note that it is FREE. The site has several ads on it, even though the layout is very neat and green. None of these ads are popups that will have you pulling your hair out either.

Now these ads would obviously generate a great deal of revenue. While a small portion of it is used to run the website itself, the major part of the cash goes to non-profit organizations who've involved themselves in numerous causes - ranging from protecting baby seals from slaughter to rehabilitating people who've lost homes in earthquakes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Indian Panga League (this one's full of laughs)

With the IPL just having concluded, and the SuperKings taking the trophy, not to mention Modi taking the heat, Virgin mobile have come up with a series of hilarious ads. No, these are not your oh-so-sweet Zoozoos or the (frankly annoying) Docomo ads. Here, 8 passionate IPL fans from 8 different states fight with each other all day long over STD calls. Each call is quite short, and an understanding of Hindi is essential to derive the maximum enjoyment from the following clips. Plus, if you're the kind that doesn't like cuss words (don't worry, they're all beeped out), your attention may be better directed elsewhere.

Three parts, the first two around 10 minutes each, and the last one a mere 3 minutes. The Sardarji is particularly awesome!

Go ahead, hit it, you know you want to. :D You won't regret it.

Hope you enjoyed this one.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bhavayami - a wonderful Carnatic composition

I just had to post this. This song is sung by Malayalam music director Sarath. It's a composition called Bhavayami, sung straight on for 13 mins. Bloody awesome I say.

Start watching the 1st video from around 1:50 (if you want just the song and don't care to know about the other musician), and continue that with the 2nd video.


The clips are from recent episodes of the South Indian channel Asianet's Idea Star Singer show.

Enjoy. :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thankful for Tech

 We keep saying "Oh I wouldn't be able to carry on without computers", but few of us would be able to elucidate why exactly we need technology so much. So I came up with 6 reasons I'm thankful for computers and associated tech.

1. Information - Now with the entire world connected, any information I want is just a fingertip away. All with detailed write-ups, pictures and graphs to boot. Being a student in this age is far easier than 20 years ago. News from an umpteen number of sources is available at the click of a button.
With everyone putting up guides on how to do pretty much everything there's little chance of being unable to accomplish a task - whether it be repairing an RRoD'ed 360 by oneself, submitting an assignment on pressure transducers, making a DIY touchscreen or cooking up some chocolate mousse. Learning is everyone's right.

2. Gaming - Where would I be without games, and the PC was what started it all for me. Endless hours have been spent letting off steam (pun intended ;) ) on some of my favorite games. All the while they've become far more interactive with computing horsepower increasing exponentially and technologies like 3D vision enhancing the level of involvement in the game.

3. Staying connected - I can stay in touch with my family halfway across the globe, share pictures and videos. No more expensive phone calls to another country either, when voice-chat is just a tab away. With all my friends on twitter, orkut and facebook, it's easier to find people you wanted to catch up with long ago but never were quite able to find. On top of this apps like Dropbox help me keep up to date with work, especially collaborate with my project mates. Portability and mobility, thanks to our smartphones and other networked devices is also a welcome change from yesteryear.

4. Entertainment - I remember the hours I spent browsing through music store shelves as a kid trying to find 2 good discs and I couldn't really mix and match all the tracks I wanted. Now it's so easy to listen to the track or see the video on YouTube and then go onto one of the numerous online stores to buy each track or video or movie individually. Besides, with video quality ever increasing the sky's the limit when it comes to satisfying those of us who love bigger displays on our PCs.

5. Paying bills and shopping - There's no substitute to paying bills in the comfort of my home. Movie tickets, train tickets, flight tickets - you name it, they're all online with discounts! I also love shopping on the Internet, helps to grab all those awesome deals that pop up around Christmas and Thanksgiving and around Cyber Monday, even if I'm half a world away. 

6. Simulation and Design - Yeah this is a bit more in the line of work, but anyway with computers, we can test every situation we wish to, thrash out every scenario we want without having to build a complete model and THEN find out that the design doesn't work. These days it helps that the processing power of a supercomputer of a few decades ago is encompassed within most high end processors. The same goes for drug testing too, the effect of drugs doesn't need to be directly tested on animals or people, not to mention the fact that computers have been a great tool in sequencing cures for several diseases.

Exams are still being a pain in the behind for now, so I'll be back with some posts, along with College Chronicles Part 6, when they're done and dusted.