nareshovの日記

(TL note: nareshov's diary)

Updates as of 17th July, ’14

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A lot’s happened since I last posted here. Job switches, travel, treks, books, cycle rides, engagement, accidents, and so on. I’ve been uploading quite a few photographs in my Flickr account and keep my Goodreads profile more or less up-to-date.

It must’ve been an exasperating (disenchanted rather) experience with banks that prompts me to post something about them today.

I’ve held more than two savings accounts across banks and thought this must a good time (IT-R season) to cut down on some of the least recently used bank accounts. I started with YES bank: emailed them a couple of days ago asking for a quick outline of the procedure, they responded within 24 hours in email (rather than calling me up out of the blue — which is a good thing) and all they wanted from me was to fill up a closure request form at any branch and destroy the ATM card and cheques.

Visited the branch at JP Nagar (6th phase?) and saw a small branch with four people in there. There were no queues (small banks and branches are neat aren’t they?) and I was quickly and courteously attended to. They were satisfied with my reason for closure (too many accounts) and didn’t bother me anymore about it. Overall quite good experience. The only negative points were the account closure charges: nearly 112 rupees. And they took a few minutes to print out the closure form which they didn’t have handy. I guess they’re entitled to that for the low operations in their personal banking branches and for offering a fabulous interest rate of at least 6% (depending on the type) in their savings accounts. The remaining balance would be NEFT’ed to my HDFC account whose details were filled along while submitting the closure request.

Next up was ICICI bank. This is an account I’ve been holding since 2011 starting off at the Malad branch in Mumbai which I later transferred to the Koramangala branch a year later. I’ve also held credit cards with them and I kind of still have a soft spot for this bank (their phone customer service is usually excellent, even late at night). I’ve raised a closure request for the credit cards which I haven’t been using for a while now over phone banking and it seems to be progressing at its own pace (about a day old). What surprised me was, I think, the home branch portability of this bank. I don’t recall setting the JP Nagar 6th phase branch as my home branch and it appears that they’ve done this by themselves based on proximity to my residential address at JP Nagar 7th phase. That was pretty cool I thought. Onto the actual branch visit, the customer relations lady seemed a little irritable and was mostly on the phone while I sat there patiently waiting for her attention. Their closure request form had options to en-cash the balance out through NEFT, DD or cash withdrawal from the teller. The relations lady flat out refused to do the NEFT stating no reason. She kept pushing me to use the ATM or take a DD. I didn’t have my latest ATM card with me (old account, don’t know where it is) and I don’t like the idea of running around to banks with a DD in hand. Finally she budged and let me withdraw cash from a manned teller. It’s a little disappointing given the “privileged” banking customer status and all. NEFT would’ve been ideal. Now I have quarter’s supply of cash in my wallet.

HDFC bank: I’m not closing any account right now; to the contrary, I purchased a FOREX card through the netbanking which got delivered to me today. The person (3rd party agent on behalf of HDFC) who delivered the card asked me to activate the card through phone banking. I called up the number listed in the kit and IVR’d my way through to an intermediary who was going to forward me to the correct department. This intermediary, like so many intermediaries in the past at various occasions in my HDFC phone banking experience, had some “phone-only” offer to sell me. It was some kind of “savings plan” whose details I can’t remember or lookup, because, as usual, they wouldn’t send me a PDF brochure or a link to my registered email address when I ask them. They’d offer to send me some product manager to discuss the product and its terms, but all I want is a brochure to read at my own leisure and decide whether I want to pursue this or not. It has happened in the past with other products I was being sold such as insurance.

I’ve been using a DBS account since mid Feb this year and I quite like the interface and OTP format it uses. The debit card has offers relevant to me. A good selling point was its ability to allow me to add an external NEFT beneficiary and transfer money without having to wait. (HDFC and SBI has minimum wait times of 12 hours if I recall correctly). It’s been a good experience so far. I wish it had more options in its netbanking such as the ability to download historical statements in PDF (not just a bare-bones CSV that it currently provides). And perhaps more services such as prepaid cards and so on.

The quest for a good savings bank account with secure but not-irritating netbanking, reasonable service charges (100 rupees to close an account (YES) or drop a cheque at a non-home branch (HDFC)? Silliness) is still open. And I wish more workplaces offered a choice with salary deposits like my current company does (that is how I ended up with DBS – my own experimental choice).

Written by Naresh

July 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm

On my first bicycle populaire

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A new experience on my bike. I’ve been to touring-style CAM rides, random commutes, but a timed, marathon-like populaire was a first.

Populaires seem to be a starter course to their longer versions called the brevets — which are timed, marathon-like rides starting at 200km.  The time-limit for a brevet is based on a simple formula which assumes the rider to be able to maintain a 15km/h average speed for the entire distance. Populaires organised by the IISc randonneures group are of 55, 100 and 150km.

I woke up at 4AM yesterday and was ready to leave by 0430 to reach the IISc gymkhana gate which is approximately 17km from my home. We were expected to be there by 0530 in order to start off at 0600 for the populaire. The previous day I had commuted to work just to make sure my cycle and I were in a state fit for this populaire. Instead of riding to the start point, I decided to put the bike into my car and drive instead. Wasn’t sure about the route and the time it’d take and not to mention, the dogs. Had I company, I would’ve chosen to ride along as a group.

I was handed a populaire card where the details of the check-points and timings had to be written. A stamp would be pressed and actual arrival times would be written at adjacent boxes when one reaches the checkpoints in the “PLACE” column below.

The final populaire card stamped at various checkpoints

More details (the route-map, the cue-sheet, etc.) are located here.

I started off on time and tried to keep up the folks in front of me until the first check-point. A few roadies who were ahead of me (and the one that went past me in the initial 5 minutes) were nowhere to be spotted hereafter. I noticed in the checkpoint official’s record sheet that some had reached that place at least half an hour before the three-person group I was closely following as to not loose sight of them.

I didn’t have a printed cue-sheet but I had a copy open in my phone’s browser. The populaire website warned that the route-map is not “official”. And best of all, we weren’t on city roads at all for the bulk of the ride and trying to look for landmarks was pointless.

We went past a lot of government research institutes that researched on poultry of various kind: emus, ostriches; and even frozen semen. There was a research institute for poultry feed too. A younger co-rider who was on a BSA mach flatbar roadie showed me an ostrich in one of these compounds.

The route was very scenic. Flowers on the trees of various colours, grasslands, comfortable weather (I guess this is largely owing to the fact that were riding these stretches between 0600 and 0800 when the sun isn’t fierce.) This wasn’t a tour but a timed-marathon. I saw nobody stop to take a break of more than a few minutes. And breaks weren’t taken in locations that were photogenic. So the best I could capture was when I got a chance to slow down because of the terrain while still trying to keep a group of cyclists in sight in front of me whom I was relying on to know the routes.

grasslands at hesarghatta – 1 (also, the guy who showed me the ostrich)

grasslands at hesarghatta – 2

grasslands at hesarghatta – 3

realising that this flatbar may not be ideal for long rides

I had lost track of the people in front of me after the 40km mark when I entered some controlled farmlands which had fields of various kinds of vegetables growing in them. Luckily, I found the 3rd checkpoint, got the stamp and moved on. But at the fork, I took the wrong turn and lost quite a bit of time before I got on track to head to the end. I think I realise the importance of being fit enough to keep with those who have a clue or be lost with at least a company.

Loaded my bike back into my car and left the gates of IISc gymkhana by 1010. Took me close to an hour and forty-five minutes to reach home cruising through the traffic as if I was carrying a heavy load. My bum was sore and I couldn’t sit still in the car. After I got back home, I took a good shower and headed to the nearby Cafe for a brunch and finished up Edgar Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars”.

I have a feeling that I’m going to be doing more of these. There’s something about this brevet-style of riding when compared to a relaxed trek. There are 100 and 150km populaires in the coming months. If I conquer those, I’ll definitely be eyeing the brevet. Hopefully, I should have a roadie with me by then.

Written by Naresh

May 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Travel, Worldly Matters

On road-sense in Bangalore

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Commuting in Bangalore can be a soul-draining adventure for some of us. After all, it ranks in the top-10 worst cities in the world’s worst cities for commuting. Public transport is sparse, over-provisioned (i.e. runs with more people per bus than it should), terribly slow, and generally lacking in many routes.

Size and numbers

Ten years ago, it was a big two-wheeler scene. One could spot the various Bajaj and Kinetic Honda scooters. And motorbikes like Bajaj Calibre. Nowadays, it’s a huge four-wheeler scene — starting from a humble Tata Nano going all the way up to the Porsches and Audis that cost more than 3 decent residential flats. What hasn’t changed is the road capacity. The number of vehicles has surely increased (hundreds of new vehicles enter the roads each day) and so has the size each occupies in the streets.

This growth has not only affected commute times, but also: pollution levels, anxiety and stress levels.

Driving licenses

One of the major failings of the traffic system here is the fact that driving licenses are given out without sufficiently satisfying tests that demonstrate one’s ability to follow traffic rules — which are there for good reasons. Traffic rules provide a protocol of behaviours one is expected to follow on the roads. Without them, it takes time for interacting entities on the road to figure out what to do in a new type of situation they’ve encountered, affecting those around them as a result. This exact behaviour may not even be reproducible were a similar initial condition to arise again. Rules cut down on time and produce standard operating procedures to follow at appropriate initial conditions.

False assumptions and enforced safety

Notice the lever connections numbered 1 and 2: the former triggered by the front brake levers and latter by the rear ones.

There seems to be a general misunderstanding with how the brakes of a vehicle are to be operated. Many think that applying the front brakes is asking for trouble because it might topple them forward and therefore never apply the front brakes and depend solely on those on the back. This results in skids. Manufacturers that aren’t myopic (i.e., the ones that think “maybe if we build an image of producing safe vehicles, we might get more customers in the long run”) do things like: a. offer full safety features on all of their models and not just the “top-end” ones. (Honda does this, Indian manufacturers such as Tata or Mahindra don’t), b. shunt the front brakes too with the back brake levers so that the back brake levers never operate alone and always applies the front brakes too. (Honda’s two-wheelers do this: see picture)

Pointing fingers

The players: two wheelers, three wheelers (auto-rickshaws with a handler-bar steering), four wheelers (cars and upto buses), and the traffic police.

Nineteen out of twenty people wouldn’t use the rear-view mirrors when breaking their straight, onward path. Some make attempts to look back before shifting their directions on the road, but why not just use the rear view mirrors and be aware of what’s happening of the front too at the same time? This is a general problem with all of them.

Two wheelers have a tendency to take sudden zig-zag paths on the road with complete disregard to those behind them. Some can be found texting or speaking on their phones in one hand while handling their two wheelers with just the one other hand.

Four wheelers, too, sometimes perform the similar sudden zig-zag movements, but not as much as the two wheelers. Cars are generally okay to bear except the cabs who are similar to the three wheelers. Buses are not the way they once were — gracious.

The three wheelers are probably the most irritating of them all because their primary prerogative on the road is to be on the road and not to reach some destination and get off the wheels and on with their lives. The three wheelers work is to be on the road, for hire. When they’re on hire, exhibit the agile zig-zagging behaviours similar to the two wheelers while also being more dangerous because of the width of space they occupy. When they’re not on hire, they tend to slow down everybody else by sticking to the middle or the right most lanes and not using the left most one instead. They barely use indicators, if ever.

Everybody plays the game of tetris on the road.  Many do not use indicators when wanting to take a turn or to stop, let alone using the rear-view mirrors to ascertain whether to do so is safe in the first place. Vehicles are parked just about anywhere with utter disregard to how it might be affecting others.

A car being towed away at Lavelle road. One can see at least a dozen of them every single day.

It’s just downright horrendous. tiring and grossly representative of a mindset that doesn’t respect or value others’ safety, if not their own.

I just wish all driving licenses were invalidated and everyone made to start all over again with stricter tests.

Written by Naresh

May 14, 2012 at 12:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

OpenVZ on a Softlayer managed server

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A post to record list of changes that were made to the configuration to get networking to work within the VZ containers on a managed hardware node.

Softlayer provisions CentOS machines with two bonded network interfaces: bond0 connected to their private network and bond1 to the public. We got a “portable” private network subnet and got them converted to “routed to subnet” so that all IPs in that subnet are usable (instead of 3 of them getting reserved into a broadcast IP, gateway IP and broadcast IP).

OpenVZ sends ARP requests when it’s trying to initialise a container and the interface to which the requests are to be sent has to be explicitly specified in this multi-network case. So, fix the NEIGHBOUR_DEVS variable in /etc/vz/vz.conf before you pick IPs from your portable subnet pool and start assigning it to your containers.

With that, you should be able to ping these containers from other nodes in your primary private subnet and vice versa. But you won’t be able to ping public IPs from within the containers yet. This doesn’t require you to assign public IPs to the containers too. A NAT rule on the host node should fix this: iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o bond1 -j MASQUERADE

Took me a while to recall/realise that the lack of ARP requests in SL’s network was necessary. The NAT rule was something I found later on on the internet.

Written by Naresh

April 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in LAN, Software

On big-money acquisitions and ads

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In the past few months, we’ve heard of Zynga acquire DrawSomething, and more recently, Facebook acquiring Instagram for huge sums of money. Both Zynga and Facebook might be doing it for the user base acquisition. Or they might simply be doing it to "nip it in the bud."

What attracts these huge businesses to the userbase? Sales in terms of ads? Probably. It’s still mind-boggling to think that the circle of folks I’ve known over the past 6 years (who have all been using those ad-blocking plugins on browsers and have probably clicked ads only by accident) are the minority. Most people are constantly being lied to (through marketing) over radios, televisions, and billboards (Sao Paulo is an exception) out in the streets while they’re stuck in traffic.

What differentiates these from the internet is that they lack ad-filters. And yet, internet-based businesses that serve ads make it big.

Sidebar: It should be noticeable by now how tech stocks have been underwritten in the past few years (with entities like certain powerful investment banks out there).

So, what we have today is a huge internet userbase made by businesses that offer questionably silly services that are later turned into yet another ad market. Why? Because a lot of people still click ads.

The NYTimes maybe operating for over a 100 years and may be valued well under a billion. Many may not even know what the Tesla corp does. Big dreaming tech companies are getting rarer by the day.

Written by Naresh

April 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Worldly Matters

Customer Service in Bangalore

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I’ve had the privilege of experiencing customer service first-hand as a customer over the past year with multiple service providers — consumer banking, internet, mobile, and online/offline retail. In this post, I’ll describe my experiences and point some fingers.

Consumer banking.

Back in early 2011, ICICI’s netbanking barely worked during the day. One had to use it early morning or late at night. It’s come a long way now and the customer service has been quite satisfactory.

Since late 2011, I’ve had to deal with HDFC bank. Enabling a taken-for-granted service such as paying bills through its netbanking portal requires one to submit applications manually. Netbanking (third-party transfer, specifically) didn’t work for me on a couple of occasions and when I vented out on twitter (that’s normal right?) somebody from HDFC spotted that and got in touch from me.

That was a pleasant surprise. It appears there’s a dedicated department that proactively scours the internet and tries to mend the damage caused (if any) called "HDFC-talktous <talktous@hdfcbank.com>."

The second point of comparison is the over-the-phone customer service. While ICICI can be annoying with their long-winded IVR process, HDFC bank gets you in touch with a real person quite quickly. But the quality differs (that’s probably a tradeoff: automate and use few good people or don’t automate and use a lot of not-so-good people; perhaps different target audiences too). Couple of the HDFC folks I spoke to over the phone had trouble comprehending and were just too quick to a "I understand, sir." Fortunately, the talktous@hdfcbank.com folk are quite open to listening to you.

While on phone with the customer service, it takes a couple of hops with ICICI to reach a person who knows his stuff (example: 4-digit CVV codes of Amex vs. 3-digit Mastercard/VISA) whereas in the case of HDFC, the hop hasn’t happened the first time and always through the talktous@ folks.

Internet.

I’ve posted about this extensively in the past. To quickly summarise, Airtel has been a disappointment. Reliance has turned out to be quite reliable — in fact, so reliable that I haven’t had to call their customer service up since I got a connection from them back in September.

Mobile.

I’ve been with Vodafone for nearly 8 years now. They’re the ones who used a dog in their TV adverts while every other mobile service provider used some movie actor or a sports champ. Their ads were simple, modest, and most of all, not annoying.

After procuring an iPhone 4S, I had to get a micro-SIM. Walked into a Vodafone outlet at Koramangala on a Saturday evening. Got a queue-token from the token vending machine, gave a 5-second description of what I wanted, got a light-looking, large-fonted form with limited fields to enter details into that I managed to fill in under 20-seconds, went over to the other counter and got a micro-SIM right there (for free), submitted the stamped form back to the person who gave me the form and was told that my number would move onto the new in an hour’s time. And it did.

A friend’s friend had experienced weird issues with the 4S and other service providers’ networks, my experience with Vodafone’s so far has been smooth. (Too bad they tie up with Airtel for 3G in B’lore, but that’s another story.)

My respect for Vodafone has only increased with time.

Online retail.

Flipkart has been a growing name over the past few years and I’ve made several purchases. I’ve had no complains except for one case where the steam iron had a scratch on the ironing surface. Wasn’t so bad that it had to be replaced but I expected at least a QC pass. There are multiple online retailers cropping up now. Naturally, in the sea of mediocrity and poor service, I expect only the best to survive (is that too obvious?)

Offline retail.

Some of the household names such a BigBazaar when they first arrived stocked up all sorts of stuff. With time, the range has definitely come down. There are newer brands of supermarkets that crop up here and there, they all face a similar challenge. I don’t have much to say here.

Shoppers’ Stop provides these cards where whatever you shop – regardless of the branch – gets accounted into a central database. To relate an experience, I purchased a trackpant at the Koramangala branch, noticed a stitch-issue couple of days later, took it to the Bannerghatta road branch and produced my card so they could confirm that this was bought by me (I wasn’t carrying the bill with me) and got it mended there for no additional cost. Experiences like these are pleasant (and a new thing) to many in these parts of the world.

Conclude

Back at college, the prof. who spoke about competition in the organisational psychology class was right about many things. What we have here is a large population where providing good services makes it profitable only when there are multiple competitors. Had there been just One Internet Service Provider or One Big Bazaar this definitely wouldn’t have been the case.

Written by Naresh

February 27, 2012 at 11:21 am

UCARP for IP failover on CentOS 6

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At $work – 1, I’ve been familiar with the spread + wackamole combo to float and failover two IPs amongst two hosts.

A typical use-case is when we have a couple (or more) web servers independent of each other (say, webmail web servers: webmail.mydomain.com), I’d add multiple A records for the same domain so that DNS resolution happens in a round-robin manner at the client’s end. i.e.,

dig +short webmail.mydomain.com
184.xx.yy.154
184.xx.yy.155

The client uses the first IP it gets during resolution and as the number of clients that are resolving your domain (and making HTTP requests) grow, you’ll start seeing a more or less equitable distribution of HTTP requests hitting each of your hosts.

These IPs are meant to float and be handled by your spread/wackamole tools. (i.e., they’re not hard-configured into network config files like permanent configs: i.e. /etc/sysconfig/networking/ifcfg-*). Say, the .154 IP was on host A and .155 on host B, host B goes down, spread daemon on host A detects that host B isn’t responding to "are you alive?" requests and instructs wackamole daemon on host A to take over the IP that host B had (.155). Sometimes – depending on the router in your environment – one might have to send a gratuitous ARP packet to the router and hook this up with wackamole’s "post-up" action.

This post is about how I couldn’t find usable RPMs for spread/wackamole (and was in a time crunch to shave that yak) and looked for an alternative.

Pacemaker and Keepalived are known entities in the market. So is UCARP (as userland implementation of BSD’s CARP for Linux). Being on a time crunch and noticing how the former options seemed a little complex at first sight, I settled on deploying UCARP.

The configurations on the Internet typically show how one IP is floated around between two hosts. Now this doesn’t let me have DNS-based round-robin’d "load" balanced incoming requests. So here’s how I configured UCARP on host A (assuming you have installed from EPEL repo as `yum install ucarp’):

[root@web02-dal07 nvenkateshappa]# cat /etc/ucarp/vip-001.conf
# Virtual IP configuration file for UCARP
# The number (from 001 to 255) in the name of the file is the identifier

# In the simple scenario, you want a single virtual IP address from the _same_
# network to be taken over by one of the routers.
ID="001"
VIP_ADDRESS="184.xx.yy.154"
PASSWORD="love"
BIND_INTERFACE="eth1"
SOURCE_ADDRESS="184.xx.yy.179"

# In more complex scenarios, check the "vip-common" file for values to override
# and how to add options.

And on host B:

[root@web01-dal07 nvenkateshappa]# cat /etc/ucarp/vip-001.conf
# Virtual IP configuration file for UCARP
# The number (from 001 to 255) in the name of the file is the identifier

# In the simple scenario, you want a single virtual IP address from the _same_
# network to be taken over by one of the routers.
ID="001"
VIP_ADDRESS="184.xx.yy.154"
PASSWORD="love"
BIND_INTERFACE="eth1"
SOURCE_ADDRESS="184.xx.yy.180"
OPTIONS="--shutdown --preempt --advskew=10"

# In more complex scenarios, check the "vip-common" file for values to override
# and how to add options.

The above vip-001.conf on the two hosts is for managing the first floating IP, and the following are for the second: vip-002.conf

Copy over the same configs on each host, change ID to 002, VIP_ADDRESS to 184.xx.yy.155 and swap the OPTIONS line.

The –advskew option (advertisement skew) is what gives a sense of affinity for your virtual IPs.

Let me know in what other interesting use-cases you’ve used UCARP in.

Written by Naresh

December 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Software

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