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Technology

An ACCIDENTAL trek to Karnala Fort

After a long time (and yearning for several years) I accomplished what I call ‘the challenging’. While I’m sure some of you (who are avid trekkers) may dismiss this is as not-so-challenging; I maintain my stance. At the other side of 40, with my level of fitness (read sluggishness/lethargy) – it was indeed a challenge to me. Well… so it was, for the other two too, who I accompanied. It was a cool Sunday morning (just like today) on the 27th of January – just one day after my Home Minister’s birthday. She wanted to do this for quite a while – just that domestic chores kept us tethered to Mira Road. We finally managed to break that tether. While our goal was to see birds in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, we missed the bus by a few minutes. We ended up scaling the Karnala fort instead.

Magnificent view of the fort
Magnificent view of the fort

For anyone interested in the trek – here’s how you can get there. Karnala bird sanctuary is located in Panvel. It is 75 km from my place, as the crow flies. Anyone who drives a car can take the Western Express Highway (and then the Mumbai-Bangalore highway) if you can manage a 2-hour drive to Panvel. A suburban commuter can take a Harbour Line train to Panvel.

Once you disembark at Panvel, you need to take a bus to Karnala which is just a 5-10 minute ride from there. For this you have 2 options from the station:

  • Get fleeced by the trike (rickshaw) drivers
  • Walk for just 6-7 minutes and reach the municipal bus stand

I chose option b much to the chagrin of my wife. We boarded the omnipresent RED BUS (not from redbus.in) a.k.a. ESHTEE that promptly dropped us at our destination in 10 minutes. For the first timers (like me) it was shocking to alight at an apparently desolate place. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was not all that desolate. There was an eatery just a few feet away from the highway where one can refuel one’s tummy before even reaching the sanctuary. While the eatery is on the right, the Sanctuary was to our left. We couldn’t see clearly due to the road maintenance works.

At the entrance, you will be greeted (not so politely) my men in jungle fatigues (presumably forest officers/guards). You need to declare any plastic bottles that you may have in your bags. In the wake of ‘Zero-plastic-tolerance’ move, they mark your bottles and you need to pay Rs. 100 as a deposit – needless to say, which you can collect on your way back. If you lose that bottle during your trek – you lose the deposit too. Just a few paces after the check post, you have a few eateries to satiate your appetite. After packing a few carbs, proteins, and calories, we marched ahead.

WARNING: The birds in the sanctuary do an early morning shift. So, if you wanna see them, be there before 8 am. They presumably take the 8 am flight to their destinations (Damn!!!).

Thanks to my ignorance about ‘bird timings’ – I had to face some cold-shoulder from you-know-who. Man! It did take a while for all that ‘ice’ to melt. Those who don’t get my drift – get married. Once we knew for a fact that the birds are gone – we chose to look around. We had a few options left. One of them was a walk along a nature trail. The other was to see the caged birds (that hurt). The third and the most spectacular one was the TREK to KARNALA FORT.

Resting at 1440 ft ASL, the fort offered a magnificent feast unto the eyes. The pinnacle protruded high into the skies, a-la the thumbs-up sign. Here’s another word of caution: Please avoid going there with kids under the age of 10 (personal suggestion). My 6-year old was exhausted beyond recall after the trek. It took her an entire day to recover from the exhaustion. If your kid has a medical condition, then this trip is not for him/her – at least till they grow up.

Now for the nitty-gritty. The trek – I must admit – is not the easiest. There are 2 approach routes – we started with the ‘road-less-travelled’ but after walking a few paces – we had to cancel the idea. We had no clue where we were headed and there was nobody there to ask for directions. Plus… no signals on our phones too. We retraced our steps to the start of that trail. From there we took the beaten track. This time though, we had company. Some of them were locals who were frequent visitors too. All they did was mislead us about the duration – while they said ‘a little over 1 hour’ we needed 2 hours to reach the highest point.

A road less traveled
A road less traveled

A road less travelled

The trek reminded us of how precious WATER is. Although Wikipedia claims there is potable water atop the fort – we couldn’t find any that I could even wash my ass with. So, if you’re there – carry as many gallons of water as you can. Do not forget to pack some ready-to-eat stuff too e.g. biscuits, chips, cookies, or anything else that not too heavy to carry. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible. Carry a stick if possible. That will help you to prod around, if in doubt. Given that it’s also a reserve forest – you can expect some unwelcome critters and reptiles too. I cannot completely rule out the presence of apex predators – just that I didn’t encounter any.

Sneak-peek at the peak

Sneak-peek at the peak

The trek becomes more and more treacherous as once climbs higher and higher. There wasn’t a single well-paved/constructed/cemented step. We had to climb large rocks and boulders. Be sure to wear closed shoes that have an excellent grip. You won’t necessarily die if you slip and fall – just that you will be immobilized (incapacitated, at worst) for a good period of time. I cannot rule out the possibility of a fatal fall. CAUTION needs to be exercised at each point of the climb – especially if you’re new to the terrain.

Overhanging trees
Overhanging trees

All the skill I had at my disposal was my sense of (not-so) keen judgement. The rest just fell in place and before we knew, we stood face-off with the lofty fort – too bad, it’s in ruins now. Just so you know, the pinnacle is practically un-scalable. One needs to be a trained rock climber/mountaineer to do that. The highest point that the less agile ones can reach is the fort. The pinnacle juts out of the fort like a gigantic thumb and rises up to another 300-500 ft. there’s a flag atop the pinnacle – which is a proof that humans have been there – just that we were neither trained nor were quipped to scale that last bit.

The plateau

The plateau

We somehow managed to reach the fort. Now reaching the fort was nothing less of a challenge. From the miniature plateau atop the hill, one needs to climb the steps that lead to the fort. Sounds easy – NO. those steps can scare the daylights out of first-timers. If it were not for the steel railings – I would never reach the fort. At some instances, we had to climb like babies – on all fours. Just one look down could make an acrophobic dizzy. I must admit – I’m borderline acrophobic. But that did not daunt me in any way. I not only reached the fort – but also managed to capture the pristine beauty the landscape had to offer.

This is not all, the downward trek is all the more difficult. While climbing, you know how much strength one needs to use to climb. Also, you’re going against gravity. On the way, gravity keeps pulling you down. Each boulder you climb down weighs you down heavily. Knees start to ache. We were already exhausted with the climb. The harsh sun did not let us rest in the fort. We had to trek down – and now we were trying our best not to slip – thanks to the monstrous gravitational pull. All the time, we trekked down – we just had the base camp (the eatery) in mind. The trek seemed interminable. The path seemed unending. It was as good as free-falling for a plane – just that we wouldn’t crack our skulls open at the end of it all.

While it took me a good night’s sleep to shake off the hangover (of the trek) – it wasn’t so easy for the girls. While the 6-year old recovered in 24 hours – the bigger, meaner one (who always taunted me about my lethargy and lack of fitness) took all of 4 days to completely recover from the ACCIDENTAL trek. For a good measure – she’s open to more such treks in future. I’m waiting for the next long weekend. While I do that – let me sign off for now.

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Technology

SPAM

Hello friends. In this age of internet, everyone has been crying hoarse about spam or to be precise – about having to put up with spam (both email and SMS). For me, this problem dates back to 1998 – that’s when I created my email accounts on Yahoo and Hotmail (now called Outlook.com). I always wondered why anyone would send me emails about Cialis and Viagra – I was just 22 and nowhere within the range of E.D. (go figure!). Maybe sending me emails about Endura Mass or Protein Supplements would have been useful since I was a bag of bones then (tipping the scales at just 56 Kg for a 6’1” frame). It never occurred to me where these unscrupulous fellows got my email address.

Cut to scene 2 – this is the year 2004. That’s when I got my first mobile phone – a humble Nokia 3120. It was a small phone with a 128×128 colour screen, had no internet, no Bluetooth and no 3.5mm jack. Those were the days of the SMS. Days when message count was a major concern – more messages would clog the inbox and you’d have to periodically delete unwanted ones. Even in this case I started receiving spam. Again I was clueless where the spammers got my mobile number from – I never gave out my number to strangers.

It took me a good while to realise where I went wrong – most of us are guilty of this too. I’ll break it down for you. To a very good extent we INVITE spam with our full consent (and full imprudence or shall I call it ignorance).

 

SMS SPAM:

I’m sure you have received Quiz SMS that ask inarguably simple questions like “What’s the name of Amitabh Bachchan’s son” or “Who is the President of the US”. We need to type 1/2/3 or a/b/c as the answer and send it to a 5-6 digit short code. We are promised a surprise gift or that coveted iPhone or The Galaxy S8 or S9 as the case may be. Gullible as most of us are – we impulsively press a few keys and send the ANSWER in fond hopes of getting that prize. What we actually did was send a CONFIRMATION to the spammer that they sent the message to a valid mobile number. The spammer got what he wanted.

This is not limited to quizzes. It could also be messages that tell you your future (horoscope) or help you cope with stress at work/home or even foretell the results of a cricket/football match (so you can win that bet). Most of us instantly fall for it and thereby reveal our mobile numbers to the spammers. These days – we reveal lot more than just our mobile numbers, though.

There’s another class of semi-educated people who think they are smart. They send STOP messages as a response to such messages. This works ONLY if the SMS came from reliable/reputed companies e.g. your Email service provider or any other paid subscriptions that you have. In all the other cases – you AGAIN reveal you mobile number to spammers.

 

Email Spam:

Now let’s shift our focus to emails. Again you’re probably thinking how these spammers get your email address. Now try to remember all those “free app/subscription” websites that you visited – they always asked for your Name and Email address – no credit/debit card details required. You readily entered your email address and thought it’s just this one website. How do you think this website pays their employees who made that ‘free’ software for you? Simple – they sell your data (Name and Email address) to several such data-hungry spammers.

The semi-educated class again thought they were smart and clicked the “Unsubscribe” button in those emails – thereby confirming to the spammers that it was indeed a valid email address they sent that spam to. Think for a moment – why would someone let you “Unsubscribe” from something you never “Subscribed” to? They just sent that email to you randomly – never realizing that it was a real/valid email address. Any sort or response just tells them that it is a valid email address.

Yet another class of bird-brained people clicked “Reply” and hurled the choicest abuses at the spammers. And the spammer was in tears – is that what you think? The spammer laughed at his success – he just got a confirmation about the validity of your email address (who’s your daddy now?).

Shopping:

This is a trap that most of us fall into, invariably. Remember when you decide to check out and approach the clerk – he meekly asks you if you have their membership/loyalty card. While some of you have one – a vast majority does not have one – they say that we don’t have it. The clerk then offers you one – says that you just need to fill your name and mobile number – he will take care of the rest. While some still refuse – other gullible ones agree – and ignorantly fill their names and mobile numbers on the enrolment form.

And then we ask – HOW did the spammers get my mobile number?

This brings us to the million dollar question – What do I do to protect myself from spam? Sadly, the answer is “Not much”. There are a few things though. For starters, you can mark those emails as spam as and when they arrive. Some email apps offer you the option to “Report spam and block”. The others just let you “Report spam/Mark as spam”. There is an organisation called SPAMHAUS (https://www.spamhaus.org/). Their job is to keep track of spammers and get them blacklisted. They provide a list of confirmed spammers to ISPs and they in turn are required to block such spammers on their respective networks. How much they can help us – I don’t know yet. I’m still waiting to find out.

For the time being all I can say is:

  1. Do not provide your mobile numbers/email address(es) to salesmen in the malls for “Lucky Draws” – nobody ever gets any prize/deal. You just compromise your privacy.
  2. Do not click on links in unsolicited emails. They practically reveal you IP address and location to those websites.
  3. Never fall for hoaxes that say “click here and see that happens next” or “click here to win (some highly priced gadget)” or the more common “Spin the wheel and …” emails/links on WhatsApp.
  4. Once marked spam – do not open those emails – no matter how enticing the subject line is.
  5. Click on the delete button next to the spam folder every now and then. Yahoo users beware – some important emails may find their way to the spam folder – so, be careful.
  6. Remember – you are not legally compelled to provide your mobile number and/or other personal details at shopping malls especially at the cash/payment counters. ALWAYS REFUSE!!!
  7. Abstain from downloading free software by providing your email address. There are other smart* ways to download them (*you already know it – others: don’t ask – I won’t tell).
  8. Practise Address Munging (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Address_munging) – simply put – ‘disguise’ your email address when you HAVE to provide it on public forums.
  9. Since you know the pain of handling spam – have a conscience – be responsible and avoid spamming.

There are some necessary evils too – Shopping/Banking/Job Portals/Government service websites – you cannot REFUSE to provide your personal details. So, live with it. While the above steps do not guarantee 100% spam protection – they help minimize the menace.

Till I find a cure for spam (I doubt that) – have a good day.

Categories
Technology

It’s a Google Google Google world!!!

 


Hello friends,

Does the title bear resemblance to a 1963 American comedy movie? Maybe it does – but that’s beside the point. I’m sure there are very few people alive who are NOT impacted by the Californian behemoth of an organization: Google. Me neither. From the time we wake up to the time we crash – we have the all-encompassing, (borderline) omnipresent Google meddling with most of the things we do. Little do we realize how much Google affects us. How about a lowdown? Here’s a page from (almost) everybody’s life. Match this with yours are you’ll see some eerie resemblance.

  • Most of us (except the BPO/KPO employees) start our day at 6 (sometimes 7, even 9 am?).
  • The first thing we do after farting stretching is checking our phones, Android  (an OS developed my Google) phones (iPhone users – no offense meant – read on and have a hearty laugh!)
  • In the phone, we check WhatsApp posts followed by emails viz. Gmail . It doesn’t matter if you’re fond of Gmail or not – your Android phone makes it imperative for you to own a Gmail account.
  • Our tryst with Gmail continues throughout the day – every now and then.
  • For making voice calls – we use the Google Phone app (be honest – you didn’t know that the app was called that ?)
  • For texting, we to use Android Messages  (no prizes for guessing it’s a Google product).
  • In case you wanted to know Google’s answer to WhatsApp/Hike/Telegram/Snapchat – it’s called Allo . You should not forget this was preceded by the ubiquitous (at least in the Android ecosystem) Google Hangouts . Well… Hangouts still survives since you can create groups in Hangouts – not in Allo though.
  • Guess what… our calls, messages and WhatsApp chats are backed-up to our Gmail account (excluding the tech savvy ones who know how to prevent this).
  • The photos we clicked on the phone are backed up on Google Photos .
  • We browse the internet using the Chrome browser (which however uses the Chromium engine).
  • We can backup files and lots of (if-you-know-what-I-mean) stuff on Google Drive .
  • We can have an almost facetime-like experience using Google Duo . Almost!
  • We can listen to online and offline musing using the Google Play Music app.
  • Most phones come pre-loaded with the Google Now launcher (I hate that bland excuse of a launcher – I prefer Nova).
  • Needless to say – you type using the default G-board or the optional Google Indic Keyboard (I use both).
  • When we’re bored typing, we can use the Google Text-to-Speech app.
  • Wanna impress that Spanish/French/Arabic/Japanese/whatever/wherever chick who just enrolled in your class/joined your office? Use Google Translate and enjoy translations to your heart’s content.
  • Lost your way? There’s Google Maps and Google Earth to your rescue. Did I forget to mention Google Navigate that’s used widely by phone junkies (and lousy-ass stalkers too) and cabbies alike? By the way Google lets you customize your map choices via the Google My Maps app. I so miss the Google Latitude service.
  • Vision impaired/Low on vision/Eyesight problems? Use Google TalkBack and let the phone READ BACK stuff to you.
  • How could I miss the oh-so-famous-worldwide video sharing/streaming website/app – YouTube ? Although YouTube was NOT created by Google – they just BOUGHT at a discount sale from its creators – former PayPal employees way back in 2006. Was it a garage sale… I don’t quite remember ?). YouTube has a poor cousin – YouTube Go (lite version of YouTube). There’s something for kids too – YouTube Kids .
  • We plan our day(s) with Google Calendar (I do). In case you haven’t noticed yet – the app icon always shows the current date (I’m sure you’ll go check now).
  • Have a thought that you think may fizz out later – use Google Keep to hold on to that thought and use it effectively.
  • Like reading books – read on Google Play Books – Google’s no-bells-and-whistles answer to Amazon Kindle/Audible/Bluefire/Nook etc.
  • Saw something that you wanted to know more about – indulge in some augmented reality stuff from Google – it’s Google Goggles . Google’s answer to Layar (ring a bell?)
  • Wanna track your fitness regime – use Google Fit .
  • Now whoever said that you can’t do without Adobe Acrobat (don’t scratch your head – it’s the app you need to view PDF files) – was wrong! Google has its own Google PDF Viewer .
  • Working with spreadsheets, presentations etc. – go on – use Google Sheets and Google Slides .
  • Let’s talk about home/in-car entertainment and we all know about streaming content. Some of us also know about Chromecast . Still lesser people know about Google Home devices. Now all these devices can be controlled by one app – Google Home .
  • Feel the need to SCRIBBLE – why not use Google Handwriting Input ?
  • Google can also manage your home Wi-Fi needs – they have Google Wi-Fi app that helps manage your Google Wi-Fi/OnHub routers.
  • If you thought the school and college kids were left out – you’re wrong. Google has Classroom to help connect with your classes and finish your homework too. Isn’t that fun? Too bad – I’m not in school/college anymore.
  • Worried about identity theft or just someone taking a sneak peek and your Google stuff/emails? Strengthen your account security with Google Authenticator .
  • Heading for the great outdoors – plan your trip with Google Trips .
  • Want the world to easily locate your business whilst searching on Google? Use the Google My Business app and stay easily searchable.
  • Lost your phone? My wife keeps forgetting where she kept her phone – once she out on the bike with me. We just use the Find My Device service/app from Google to find her phone.
  • Tired of printer cables – use the Google Cloud Print service/app and fire your print commands from your phone/tab/Chromebook (I knew you’d be gaping at the mention of the last item).
  • Google has an app for almost every task – take Snapseed for instance. It does a neat job in terms of photo editing.
  • For the pros, Google has AdSense and Analytics .

Well the point is, I could go on and on with this seemingly interminable list – but I won’t. Let’s just say it’s a very long list and enumerating all the apps isn’t my idea anyways. Google isn’t paying me for this ?. What I wanted to convey with this brief list is that Google covers us/has an app for almost whatever we intend to do – be it official, creative, productive or whatever epithet suits your tastes. Having said that – I just figured my post would be incomplete without a word of caution. So let me throw in some caveats.

When I say Google has an app for almost all our needs – just imagine the kind of data (personal or otherwise) you need to provide Google. In other words, after a while, Google knows you better than your mom/spouse/significant other. Yes – they do. Unnerving? Be prepared to live with it. Whether you like it or not – Google has your info. They know what you did last summer and winter and Christmas and Halloween and … the list goes on. In short – Google’s the mom who knows everything or the big brother who’s watching you – all the time! Enough said about the problem – now for the solution. Quit the Android universe altogether. Move on – go elsewhere – just hope you reach someplace where the big daddies aren’t as watchful and big mamma Google. Can you? Is there anyone less intrusive – I don’t know yet. I’ll leave you with that thought. Happy rumination, my dear ungulates.

Categories
Technology

How things work: Electric Iron and its thermostat

Hello, friends. The idea to write this piece struck me just this morning – when I was helping my home minister/manager/ringmaster/better-half (read: wife) with ironing her clothes. Don’t tell her about these adjectives I just used to denominate her (she would not appreciate this verbal imagery, you see). The striking point was when she asked to switch off the iron immediately, lest it should get overheated. I assured her – that would not happen. We use a 2017 model iron and since the past several decades (at least I have lived 3 of them myself) they’ve been making irons with a thermostat control. It’s a simple mechanism that prevents overheating.

I’m sure most of you have noticed the red indicator lamp on the iron go off every few minutes – that’s right – it’s because of the thermostat mechanism. Before thermostat happened, we had the plain old (kinda heavy) irons that got hotter and hotter with each passing minute. In case you ran to get the door/phone and conveniently forgot about the iron – you had to be prepared for trouble. While you ran the risk of getting the iron overheated, you also wasted precious electricity. And if you were bird-brained enough to USE that overheated iron – even for a second – you burnt a gaping hole in your shirt/pants/any other garment that you intended to press/iron.

Still sounds Greek? I’ll break it down… A household/electric iron uses a simple combination of heat and pressure (manual) to remove creases from clothes. When an electric current is passed through a coil /heating element present in the iron, it heats up. This heat is then transferred to the base plate (the smooth, flat surface that you place against clothes while ironing) through conduction, which is how your clothes get pressed/ironed.

Now the concern… If the iron is continuously drawing electricity from the power supply (left plugged unattended), the heating element continues getting hotter. This causes energy wastage (as an iron consumes a great deal of electricity even in a few minutes), ruins your clothes, and in the worst cases, causes nasty accidents. I had a contact burn that got my entire palm (right hand) in blisters. Too bad, I’m right-handed!!!

Then came the thermostat era. Although globally, it was ushered in 1926 by The Liberty Gauge & Instrument Co. of Cleveland, Ohio (thanks to Joseph W. Myers of Jackson, Michigan), India had to wait till the early ‘70s and even then, it was meant only for the affluent class. I got to lay my hands upon one (with thermostat control) only towards the early ‘80s.

A word or two about how a thermostat works…

The thermostat in an iron uses a bimetallic strip. As the name suggests, a bimetallic strip is made up of two different types of metal (with different coefficients of expansion) that are bonded together. When the strip gets heated, the metals expand differently. This bimetallic strip is connected to a contact spring through small pins.

At moderate temperatures, the contact point remains in contact with the bimetallic strip. However, when the temperature of the iron exceeds a certain degree, the strip begins to bend towards the metal with a lower coefficient of expansion. As a result, the strip is no longer physically connected to the contact point, the circuit breaks and current stops flowing.

Bimetallic strip

a/above: normal temperature

b/below: iron becomes too hot

Given that the circuit remains open for some time, the temperature of the iron drops, the strip acquires its original shape, the circuit is completed and the current flows again. This cycle is repeated until you switch off its power supply from the mains. This is why your iron switches on and off of its own accord.

In case you were curious about the innards of an electric iron, here you are:

Thermostat-based irons are now commonplace – however, only a few of us know how this gadget works. I don’t blame anyone for the lack of knowledge. We live in an era when every bit of knowledge that we are given, is so heavily job/work oriented – we tend to ignore other pieces of knowledge that could be equally interesting. A non-conformist that I am – I was blessed with an inquisitive mind. Hence the interest and hence the article.

Want to know (in layman/simple terms) how some of the other mundane gadgets work, ask me. If I know it already – the response will be immediate. All I intend to do is to BE SIMPLE while explaining. I hope I have achieved in this article. Any kind of feedback would be most appreciated.

Bye for now.