Thursday, December 29, 2005

Further thoughts on India

I've been back from India since Dec 17 and have gotten swept up in holiday activities. A comment from somebody calling him/herself paliopolis today asked if I was back. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts on my trip: My flight to Mumbai eventually pushed away from the gate in Frankfurt at 15:40, just over four hours late. Some of this additional delay was caused by a passenger who had been on the plane from Chicago to Frankfurt but was now missing. Since her checked luggage was not missing, there was understandable concern. Ground staff were paging her through the airport, gate staff were walking the aisles on the plane double-checking and the security teams were minutes away from removing her luggage from the hold – when the missing passenger arrived, strolling back onto the plane laden with bags from the duty free shop. My under-standing of the possible security concern did no transfer to the reality of the situation.

Like every long international flight I’ve taken, this flight showed a real time map of the plane’s position and path. What makes this different on Air India was the periodic disclaimer slide:

Physical features map only.
No political borders depicted.
The plane landed in Mumbai at 3:40 am, India Standard Time. Add immigration, baggage claim, customs, driving to hotel, checking in and minimal unpacking and the end result is that it was nearly 5:30 am before I went to sleep. My wake up call was at 7:30 am.

While in India, a scandal erupted in which some fifteen members of Parliament were caught on camera accepting bribes. That was the headline on Tuesday’s paper. The top story in Wednesday’s paper ran the headline “Netas, babus take sting off spy cameras”. That’s two new fun words: “netas” are politicians and “babus” are bureaucrats. The other fun thing is that the substance of the article was about options for detecting and disabling spy cameras. The message seems to be that the only thing they did wrong was getting caught.

I spent most of the week in meetings -- fascinating meetings, but meetings nonetheless. Still, just being there I got a sense of the vast difference between American and Indian culture. Bangalore has clearly progressed much from the influx of IT activity, but the base infrastructure hasn't kept up. Our hotel was about 10 miles from the office, but we allocated an hour and a half to get there each morning. The food was amazing. I've always liked Indian food and everything I ate there was wonderful.

Bangalore isn't much of a tourist center. I saw one interesting temple and visited a botanic garden (with only one tree in bloom). The best statements of the modern Indian culture were two visuals. The first was a flight attendant dressed in a traditional saree, standing on the tarmac, and punching out a text message on a cell phone. The second was an ad on the back of a bus in Bangalore reading "The first ISO certified saree showroom in Karnataka." I'm not really sure how one certifies a saree showroom.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Colored bubbles

photo of blue bubble Yesterday morning NPR aired an interview with the inventor of Zubbles - The World's First Colored Bubbles!. They'll be available this Spring, so I expect we'll be having these at my kids' birthday parties.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Quotes from home

I'm in Bangalore now and have more thoughts on India, but haven't put them together yet. I was talking with my wife and she shared two wonderful quotes from my 4.5 yr old daughter:
We were leaving the house and she saw the reminants of rock salt and asked what it was. I said we put salt down when it is icy because salt melts the ice. She thought a minute and said, "Mom is the sun made of salt?"

We were driving to school and I had the radio on. They were playing some song and then some commercials came on. I was not listening at all, but it must have been some jewelry add because she suddenly said, "Mom, does gold make you feel special?"

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Stranded in Frankfurt

I'm en route to a business trip in India. I arrived around 7:00 am and expected to depart at 11:35, but the Air India flight coming from Chicago was delayed. Seriously delayed. Projected departure time is now 15:05 - three and a half hours late. I'll get into Mumbai around 3:00 am and will be ready to go to meetings at 8:30. I plan to sleep on my flight since I won't be able to sleep much at the hotel tonight.

Other random thoughts about this:

  • Frankfurt is not a wonderful airport to spend a long layover. There are not many comfortable places to sit, the power outlets are few and far between and the food offerings are limited. On my last visit to Europe, I changed planes in Amsterdam. It was a much shorter layover, but it seems like it would be a better place to hang out. Unfortunately, I'm scheduled for another long layover here on my way back.

    At least there's WiFi available.

  • In addition to the typical electric carts used for carting around those who need help getting from gate to gate, some airport employees ride bicycles through the hallways. No, they don't carry the disabled on the back of their bikes. I think these are either managers checking in on different gates or maybe just errand runners.
  • My understanding of circadian rhythms is being reinforced. The first few hours here were exhausting. Now that's it's around 8:00 am at home, I feel much more energized.
Stay tuned, I'll post more thoughts from India during the week. If not during the week, then next Saturday when I'm back here in Frankfurt.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Retro handsets

From an article in the New York Times, retro handsets from Hulger which plug in to cell phones (complete with spiral cords) or connect wirelessly via bluetooth.
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Thursday, December 01, 2005

New Firefox tricks

I've been using Firefox for well over a year now and I'm still finding new tricks. Below I discuss using keywords for easy, fast custom searches, the nifty foXpose extension, keyboard shortcuts, and my current list of installed extensions.

Keyword search shortcuts
The absolutely coolest, most useful new trick is the ability to easily assign a keyword to a search. For example, go to Wikipedia. Right-click on the search box and choose "Add keyword for this search...". You'll get the "Add Bookmark" window: The name will identify this search in your list of bookmarks, but that's not important here. The "keyword" field is the fun part. By assigning the keyword "wik" to this bookmark, I can now search wikipedia via the address bar of my browser. So, I hit Ctrl-L to go to the address bar and type "wik heavy metal umlaut" and I'm taken to the wikipedia search result page (or directly to the article if the search is precise enough). So far I've added searches for technical documentation (Oracle, Python), technical help (, news ( and other reference searches (wikipedia,

Firefox does have a pretty good collection of searches available for the search box, but this is an easier way to add a custom search and it's easier to do these searches without using the mouse to change search engines

foXpose Next is the new Viamatic foXpose extension. Derived from the Macintosh feature, Exposé, this creates small images of all currently open tabs and displays them for the user to choose from. The image to the right shows my browser with tabs open on blogger, gmail, bloglines and Note that this extension won't work with Firefox prior to version 1.5

More keyboard shortcuts
I mentioned above that it was necessary to use the mouse to change search engines. That's what I used to think, but I was wrong. LifeHacker posted a nice article detailing keyboard shortcuts in Firefox -- including how to switch search engines. So, for the record, to search (the old way) without using the mouse: hit Ctrl-K to go to the search box, then Ctrl-Up/Ctrl-Down to get to your search engine of choice. There are many additional search engines which can be added to this search box. I still think it's easier to add a keyword for the search as described above.

My current extensions
Last but not least, here are my currently installed extensions. These are shown in three tiers, with the most frequently used in the top tier and the least used in the bottom tier.
  1. Digger - for chopping off chunks of the current URL. This is a successor to Diggler which I wrote about last year. The most recent version of Diggler doesn't work under Firefox 1.5 and seems to be a stagnant project.
  2. IE View - quick, easy context menu option to load the current page in IE.
  3. Tabbrowser Preferences - adds some extra preference options for controlling tabs.
  4. Aardvark - Again, something I've written about. It's still useful for nicely printing non-print-friendly pages.

  5. Yahoo Companion - only for easy access to my Yahoo bookmarks.
  6. LiveLines - provides an easy way to subscribe to a site's RSS feed into my bloglines account.

  7. Web Developer - I'm not doing a lot with actual development lately, but when I need to explore CSS, table layout, etc., this is the best tool. Aardvark can help with layout analysis, but Web Developer is better.
  8. Viamatic foXpose - discussed above, too new to decide just how useful it will be.

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