Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trip to Newzealand - South Island - Part I

A forced 3 week vacation at work during Christmas and new years made us plan a holiday back in September. Due to visa conditions, holiday period bookings and time restriction we had to plan our itinerary in September itself. I wanted to visit New Zealand for its natural beauty, it being an underrated travel destination and the fact that I live in Melbourne which is closer to NZ than India is.

Tickets to Christchurch
With so much competition between the airlines and the absence of need of food in a 3 hour flight the tickets were cheap. $400 AUD return was a bargain, if I waited a couple of weeks it would've been cheaper. If there are flights from Queenstown to Australia, it would've been better as one needn't drive back to Christchurch.

Car hire
We hired a car as opposed to hiring a campervan or trailer as the requirements were to have a private toilet and cheap at the same time. Campervan's are not economical for a short trip as the cost of hiring a car and living in motels/bed and breakfasts is cheaper than hiring a campervan. Besides campervans need maintenance.

Melbourne to Christchurch
We took the low budget airline Pacific Blue to Christchurch and lost two hours by the time we landed in NZ. The South Island of NZ has a population of 800,000 only of which Christchurch is the largest city, so not much traffic on the roads. Except, of course, tourists like us. Driving in NZ is the same as Australia, but the first thing I noticed is that when turning left at traffic lights one should give way to on coming traffic from the opposite direction, where as in Australia when turning left at the traffic lights you have right of way after the pedestrians if they are crossing.

Our primary reason to travel to NZ was sightseeing and Christchurch doesn't offer much for our requirement, so after checking in to Base Christchurch (Backpackers accomodation with hostel type and hotel type rooms) we drove to Akaroa. As we started off at 5.30 PM and were in a hurry we could not carry our cameras and missed taking pictures of this wonderful harbour town. You can look at Flickr pics of Akaroa here. Akaroa is about an hour's drive from Christchurch. By the time we were back to our hotel it was 8.30 PM and still light.

Christchurch to Hanmer Springs and then to Oamaru
Brochures are a traveller's friend. But not all brochures say the truth. One such not-so-true brochure was the Hanmer Springs one. We thought that the hot springs of Hanmer Springs were natural springs, but were wrong. So an hour plus drive and about $15 entrance to the Springs we were greeted with artificial pools with different temperatures and mineral quality waters in each pool. After spending an hour there we started off to Oamaru. On the road to Hanmer Springs there is river with jade coloured waters, somehow we missed the road to get closer to this place.

Oamaru is a quiet town on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the main attraction of this town are the two Penguin settlements, one of Yellow Eyed Penguins (only about 20 nest on the beach) and one of the smaller Blue Penguins (hundreds of these). The Yellow Eyed Penguins on the Bushy beach were too far to take pictures of but a group called New Friends of Bushy Beach left two pairs of binoculars for viewing pleasure.

Bushy beach Oamaru:

Blue Penguin Colony is about 10 minute drive from Bushy beach. The penguins come back to their nests here after dawn starting at around 9PM during summer. For $20 per adult head one can sit in a viewing platform and watch the penguins coming back to their nests. Photography is not allowed here in case the automatic flash of cameras startle the penguins.

Oamaru to Queenstown
A three hour drive from Oamaru will lead one to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. The journey itself was delightful with lakes, historic paintings, dinosaur remains finds on the way.

On the way to Queenstown from Oamaru:

But the destination was something we didn't quite expect. Situated on Lake Wakatipu, this picturesque town is the stuff made of material for computer wall papers and scenic calendars. The only adventure activity we did in Queenstown was ride the jet boat. For about $75-$90 one can get a ride on this boat which goes at high speeds and takes 360 degree turns.

Queenstown (not just good for Adventure sports):

Queenstown to Te Anau
We ventured into Fiordland part of NZ to visit Milford Sound. While Queenstown to Te Anau in itself is picturesque the drive from Te Anau to Milford (about an hour's drive) takes ones breath away. The combination of snow capped mountains with clouds foraging in between them, rainbows, colourful flowers make the sights overwhelming, there is not enough space in camera memory cards to capture all the beauty.

On road to Milford Sound:

Rest in Part II

Google's new Favicon?

Most of google's services are now posing a new favicon (A web icon where you can identify the website just by looking at the icon).

It was recently changed to this:
And now some Google sites are showing this:

No doubt, this is more colourful, but not all of their sites show this for one reason.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On being amit_123

Krish Ashok's excellent blog here first mentioned amit_123. A typical North Indian who hates everything from Madras and feels that the North is superior in many ways than just the weather (amit_123 hates Chennai’s weather).

We have all heard about the typical South Indian as well (I am from Hyderabad and proud of it), the one who hates learning Hindi and though knows it won't utter a word of it. Both these types of aforementioned people are probably in every Indian. But then I think that is just me giving it not a second thought and letting rip the very human trait of being judgemental. But then are these types of people truly around? Do these people think of themselves as superior in some way?

Living in Australia was the first time I got to meet a very good cross section of Indians. Being from Hyderabad meant for me to know how to speak in Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani and Telugu and determining the part of India where a person comes from just by listening to their first few words of Hindi. I have met both the typical amit_123 who refer to anything from the South as Madrasi and the Tamilian who wouldn't speak one word of Hindi though being a running database of ShahRukh Khan movies.

So, when I first read about amit_123 I didn't think of these people, but promptly left a comment as amit_123 myself to redirect some traffic to my blog.

The great thing about being in Hyderabad is one doesn't run into any amit_123 or Madrasi for that matter. They would feel very comfortable being themselves in most cases as there is free run of good South Indian food with equally good number of Hindi speaking people around. So, no cause to complain. A Hyderabadi probably wouldn't go and live anywhere else in India (may be overseas yes) and if he did, he probably would complain about the lack of proper Biryani joints thus making himself a hyd_123.

I admit that I stumbled across Krish Ashok's blog quite a few times and also read Great Bong regularly, but the first few times have dismissed them as being very regional. But now I have kicked the amit_123 out of myself and do see the better parts of these blogs.

On watching a report about the unrecognised new country of Abkhazia the other day, I heard how the president of this region was saying that they are culturally and linguistically different from Georgia and thus are a different country. This made me realise how the same thing is true about different parts of India, but we still live as together as one, not just now but have been doing so for thousands of years.

So when you find an amit_123 or a Madrasi who complains, smile and take him out to eat Biryani, perfect blend of North and South. You can't change their complaining though. It's just human.

Monday, July 28, 2008

uTorrent - Frequent Error

If like me you are using uTorrent and keep getting the error: "The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process", then the issue might be something very simple... like Google Desktop.

After searching for a fix for this issue on the net and not reading the very apparent messages, I switched so BitComet. Bitcomet used to be good once but not any more, it locks up the entire system after it starts.

To fix the issue, check if you are running Google Desktop and then:

  1. Go to its preferences page
  2. Go to "Do not search these items" option.
  3. Select the folder where the file you are downloading is being saved.
If you are not running Google Desktop then there are other options like Unlocker which I haven't tried (so cannot recommend).

Good news in the Morning

Sleeping on Friday night after hearing the news of Bangalore blasts was bad enough, waking up on Sunday to the news of Ahmedabad blasts made very bad news for the morning. Monday morning, no bad news, should I feel happy or should I feel sad for those who passed away?

The poor average Muslim joe in Gujarat now has to fear more than anything else as he might have to wake up to something like Godhra news again. The Hindu fundamentalists now will come out in full force, no thanks to those Muslim fundamentalists who planted the bombs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blogs I read - Futility Closet

If you have an afternoon to spend reading fascinating stuff, the you probably would like Futility Closet. A Sample:

The first arrest by telegraph took place in 1845. John Tawell poisoned his mistress at her home at Salt Hill and fled by train to London, but police sent the following memorable message ahead to Paddington Station:
Read rest of the story here.

1 Trillion pages on the internet

Official Google Blog: We knew the web was big...
Google now indexing 1 trillion pages and counting. If you read the post above, they say it may be infinite as new pages keep getting created every minute, the crawlers will have a tough time keeping up.

In a college assignment to create a search index for an article containing 1 million words, my program took about 30 seconds to execute. 1 Trillion web pages with so many words in them, it is awesome just to imagine that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blasts in Bangalore

Again, these bastards (whoever they are) did this. 2 dead as per reports. All the hype about how the Indian spirit won't die and people will go back to work tomorrow will be played over and over again. And if there was a cricket match scheduled it will go on.

No one will take long term steps to fix this. Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and now Bangalore. While the government will continue playing cash games in the Parliament.

Hopefully not many people are affected and more hopefully, the Indian government now takes some concrete step about this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Knol - A review

I write this like I write some movie review which comes after much awaiting by fans. This is not a movie review. Unless you have been living in a cave you probably know about Knol by now. Knol is Google's answer to Wikipedia.

So, the search engine giant has created an online encyclopedia for us, so that if wikipedia's answers and the numerous web links wikipedia provides isn't sufficient then we can go over to Knol to get brainier.

I went over and checked the site out. It is impressive the way Google has set it up. Here is how I understand it works:
1. You write a Knol (or an article).
2. Some others who read it make suggestions.
3. You have the control to either make edits based on their suggestions or not.

This throws up many issues: As with Wikipedia Edit Wars, if you disagree with someone you can create your own knol on the subject or worse, can write a very biased article about someone or something and get a few people to agree with you and get your article popular. Imagine how politics would be played on Knol.

The articles themselves are very good and would probably take an afternoon or two just to go through one of them. See the articles on Type 1 Diabetes and While the depth of the article and the knowledge of the author is appreciated, there certainly is lots of information to go through.

What does the above picture mean? Probably nothing. Late nights on TV there used to be ads about random stuff with women just smiling and only at the end of the ad you would realise how dumb those ads are. The articles have pictures very unrelated to the actual article. Not sure what they want us to look for here.

Also, as someone pointed out there are no actual links to other articles within articles. When I first learned about wikipedia it was hailed as the perfect example of internet working with links to other places within articles so that internet grows. None of this here in Knol.

While there are certainly other concerns about search results (will a Knol article rate higher than anything else?) or about how multiple articles on the same subject will be handled, Knol is certainly a good way to get quality information from qualified people.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Australia - No Fair Go!

When trying to look for work as a student, I hit many blocks. It wasn't the number of opportunities available, Australia has been having a very good run of low unemployment rates with a large number of jobs still being advertised. Currently, this report shows that there is a very low unemployment rate in Australia (around 5%), and at the time of this writing, jobs website is advising 212,700 jobs online.

I cannot count the number of applications I made for specific and relevant jobs, but never even got a call back. The same jobs were being advertised time and again, but no go for my application. When I did get one lowly call center job, I met with so many over-qualified professionals working with me, I knew I wasn't alone. That was five years ago.

Now my wife faces the same issues. This is not a rant about not getting a job, but more of a pattern that I see emerging as even my wife's colleagues are still overqualified professionals getting by with a job which will pay the bills, barely. No amount of overseas experience or qualifications matter as she and her colleagues keep applying for different jobs.

Then I read this opinion article in The Age, the author Helen Szoke talks about the something similar:

At a time when we are hearing so much about labour market shortages and skill shortages, Harnessing Diversity reveals stories of people who have lived in Victoria for some time, can't get their overseas work experience recognised and can't get a job. How can this be so, when we know that some sectors of the job market are running at 20% vacancy rates, when employers are using all sorts of strategies to retain workers because of labour market shortages?
This part of the article is certainly very demeaning:
Take, for example, the research on people with Arabic-sounding names who failed to win an interview until they changed their names on their applications to ones that sounded Anglo-Saxon.
If someone looked at this in a different light, they probably would call it racism as this is systematically avoiding outsiders. May be not racism, but some kind of bias towards people only with Australian experience, but you probably see my point. The people who are struggling probably won't be able to speak up as they are too busy worrying about their career.

Helen also says, "The land of the fair go is an illusion for many migrants.", lets hope people in charge of hiring actually do something about this.

Picture courtesy: Auckland Art Gallery

Dark Knight: A different look

Blog LifeDev has listed 8 ways The Dark Knight is different to other movies, I happen to agree with all of them. On Saturday we had to go to two different cinemas to get a ticket for this movie and also had to wait in the for about 20 minutes to get a good seat.

There are only a few movies that break the norms and become something special because they didn’t do what everyone else did before them. The latest Batman movie The Dark Knight is just one of those movies.
Read the rest of the post here.