Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Provident Fund Woes...Part -1

Having moved around couple of organizations for work, consolidating all the Provident Funds from two of the companies took some work. I also realized I had a Public Provident Fund(PPF) in addition to the two Employee Provident Funds(EPF).

PPF Transfer

Easy one first - PPF. This was done by an LIC agent who had disappeared from the radar long time ago(may be he had made his moolah), I checked with my Finacial Advisor also for help, but he had no clue(off course he doesn't recommend PPF).  I had a receipt of the initial investment, but that didn't tell anything. You are supposed to have an account number, a passbook and I had none of it. Also my second name was not there as well. Nor did I know what my address was in the account. You must be your own Financial Adviser is a lesson to be learnt and it isn't that difficult either.

Branch name was printed on the receipt luckily - SBI Bangalore main branch, I went to one PPF department in one of the branches within the St.Marks Road campus(it is a huge one in the center of the city) and they couldn't find one such account. But they said there is an old branch behind in the same campus. There they found it, but the concerned officer was on leave. Also my address guess was wrong(this was almost 20 years ago). After couple of weeks, met the concerned person and she was very professional and helpful unlike the EPFO officers. However, she had difficulty locating my original application form, so I had to go back after some more days. But things got settled during the next visit except for a server failure when I was about to pay INR 800 for not paying up every year. It delayed the procedure by another half an hour, but otherwise I got more money than I expected and faster than I had expected.  But I should have put more money in that PPF. I used to work near that branch for several years and never bothered to check. But luckily, I had the receipt. Things are better these days - you can link it to your online account and tracking and investing are easy.

May be I should've kept the PPF account open and put some more money, but that didn't click even when the Officer asked me - I just want to get the money out.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rubik Cube - You don't need no memorization!

The only way we solved it was breaking it apart and fixing it back in the 80's when our father got one for us -  almost as soon as it was invented. Then a friend in college taught us how to do it, but forgot about it long time back. Recently I picked up one from a roadside vendor at a traffic light, but never really figured out how to solve it.

But then there is YouTube - and found a formula(they call it algorithm - I never thought algorithms could be this bad) that could solve it, but the problem was you have to memorize the moves and you miss one, you are doomed. My memory was failing me - I wrote the moves on my whiteboard, but then someone erased it. I could go on till the two layers, the top layer was a challenge to my memorization skills. But the worrisome part was, I had no idea how everything was coming into place when you use the formula. I couldn't make head or tail of it even though I tried! May be I was that dumb I thought.

But then one of my friends visited us with family and his daughter solved the cube without applying any algorithm. They were there for couple of days and this girl would have a go at it whenever she had a chance. But finally she solved it on her own! That was truly amazing and inspiring! I wanted to capture her video and figure out her method, but couldn't do it.

So I went back to Youtube again with a search "Rubik Cube with no memorization" - bingo! there was this series of four excellent videos by Phillip Broucum who explains the principles and let you figure out the details! This was what I was looking for and it was called Ryan Heise's method, well documented one. There were two other videos also that helped. One was more of a step-by-step instruction which you don't want to look at in the beginning, but it helps when you are stuck. The other is an edge method(a series of 3 videos). You get all the edges right first and then fix the corners later. The advantage here is that you need to worry only about 2 variables(colors) first, which helps a lot initially, and then you can ease into the commutators and conjugates methods to fix the corners. This was the easiest one for me - though initially I stuttered a bit with the corners.

But it took a while(days in fact) for me to solve it completely, watched the video again and again - read the website, but it was worth it. I figured out the "Commutators and Conjugates" and knew very well how things were coming into place. Even if I missed one move, I can go back some moves back and start over. In fact I could only do the conjugates method initially, but with practice, I figured out the commutators as well, which reduces the number of moves significantly at the end. Essentially, you can figure out the moves for yourself, but just follow the principle. It was truly wonderful feeling to get there!

But it appears that the algorithms are the rage among speed cubers - typical modern thing about speed gets in the way of learning things well. So if some kid or their parent boast about their kid doing it in under 1 minute or 30s, ask them if they know the principles of solving it. In fact, all of those algorithms are derived from commutators and conjugates theory - they just give it a sequence of wrapped up moves for the kids to swallow and show off !

But for me - no memorization needed now, commutators and conjugates rule! And I am no speed junkie either!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who stole my TV ?

TV used to be mine in the weekend evenings except for couple of  long months in the UK summer(even though I am in India) to watch English Premier League matches - a fever or craziness that was caught very early in life. And the Game sure is beautiful indeed whether it is the neighborhood boys scrambing around or at the top level.

But there are other inmates at home - the cartoon channels were priority #1 for the daughter and those nonsense serials(in Hindi that too!) that wife was addicted to. So there was tension around the TV most of the time.

And that sure was taxing for my 16+ year TV that helped me watch five World Cups(off course football). The cable TV guy told me loong back that your TV is old though it became brand new after I moved to Tatasky. But I didn't give up on my TV, but then the last time the TV mechanic came, he suggested that I buy a new TV if the problems resurface again. So one fine day my TV lost its color and there was no use paying the Tatasky 400 INR for that. So my TV was dead - my daughter announced to the world that there is no color in our TV, so we stopped watching it.

So I started thinking about the use of it - football is an addiction, and those Hindi channels are as well and may be the cartoon channels could be for the kid also. So the de-addiction program was hatched. NO TV.

Sure there was withdrawal symptoms for my wife and myself - none for my daughter, she moved on to other things - drawing pictures, playing with her friends, and the make-believe stories that we were pulled into, but she also found out Mickey mouse "programs" on youtube! . But the addicts discovered that there is internet in the house to cope with the loss of TV. With 2 laptops and a smartphone, that released some contention, though there is clamor for one more device - iPad for the daughter now.

So we are now an internet TV family - while things are not very different, there is one crucial difference, we choose the programs to watch !

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Home-Made-Compost for Home-Made-Vegetables

We have been buying compost and cow dung for our vegetable plants till now and was using our home-made-compost only for the flowering plants. Mainly because we were not sure of the quality of the compost. But trying to make the garderning a low effort(not really a Fukoka style one) one, it didn't make sense to buy(money, effort to transport) compost when it was being produced right at our home.

The effects of our compost was very much visible after two weeks - the green and red leaves and the cauli flower that were very shy to get off the ground, grew big in no time! Since we eat meat and fish and eggs other than the vegetables, I am guessing that the compost has a good balance of elements that made it very suitable for the plants.

And the other interesting thing was the compost also contained seeds - especially that of tomatoes that sprouted without any seeding. That was a pleasant surprise!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eating with Chopsticks

This is a trick I picked up from my travels to Korea, Singapore and China. With the help of my Korean and Japanese colleagues I learned the basics in Korea and kept at it whenever I got an opportunity. And a 2 week trip to China perfected it!

So here are my tips for learning how to use the chopsticks!
  • Spoons and forks are not in your book till you learn.
  • No - they are not looking at the way you use your chopsticks!
  • Feel free to use the hand to push things in, or to catch the dropping stuff from the chopsticks
  • Practice! Get one pair and use it at all opportunities, even to pick up non-food stuff!
  • Go to a chopstick country - Korea, China, Japan!
But needless to say, the best way to eat is off course with your fingers - nothing should come in between!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Composting ...

Composting has been a project that has worked very well without much
effort for the past 2 years. After the initial hiccups, things went smoothly with an occasional bump in the ride. And it is a very satisfying one as well because you don't throw any organic waste outside except for the coconut shells and husks. And all the compost is used up by the flower plants in our terrace garden.

Our compost setup is in a corner of our terrace, with one Khamba and two leave-it-pots. The initial processing happens in the khamba and from the bottom vessel it goes into one of the leave-it-pots. Once a leave-it-pot gets full, we leave it to compost till the other one also gets full. By that time, the first one would be ready for compost - so you can either use it or leave it in a jute bag for later use. While we tried sieving the compost to get a fine powder, it is not really worth the effort if you are using it for your own plants. Since the leave-it-pots are large enough, you can pick the things that are not yet composted by hand and put it back. Also the compost without sieving gives you compost and mulch for the plants. And it reduces unnecessary processing for a very natural cycle.

But there were some niggles - the maggots were percieved to be a problem, but we got over it quickly. Though they still get out of the bin at times, that doesn't bother us anymore. And the not-so-done not-so-fresh waste does smell when you stir it. Wet piles make you work a bit, initially we bought sawdust to make it dry, but now with plenty of compost and dry leaves, it is easily managed. You could cover it with a plastic sheet, but not really worth the trouble, it is part and parcel of natural composting.

Our latest issue has been red ants - while we left it as it is, it was time to get the compost out and they weren't going away. We tried placing cut lemons, turmeric powder etc., but nothing really worked. But one fine morning they shifted base to the other leave-it-pot for us to harvest the compost! So for most of the problems, the head-in-the-sand approach works very well.

The ease of getting it done is that you can easily leave it to nature if you have enough vessels - I would highly recommend a kambha and 2 leave-it-pots. Many of the problems that you face in a small composting setup is due the smallnes and the restricted environment - in a large setup many of the problems just vanish. Wet piles gets balanced off, maggots just go underneath. You(and nature) have space to work with which overcomes many of the problems. If you have a garden around, the dry leaves and compost complement each other very well. So keep at it, don't worry too much about it, it'll get done finally!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It was a while before we noticed that one of our neighbors were attracting a lot of pigeons. They swoop in everymorning and eat something and hang around the place. And we wanted the birds in our place as well. They make an occasional visit to pick on our garden when seeds are sown and the gardener complained that they are picking up all the seeds.

We started with a bird bath thinking that would attract them, but I guess there are plenty of watering holes for them around. And the birdbath was too small for the herd of pigeons. So it must have been the food. It got our 3 year old daughter interested as well - she would ensure that the bird bath has water for the birds to drink and spread the feed around. But then they weren't that keen on picking stuff from our terrace. But then they kept looking it at from top of the house.

We weren't sure of the kind of feed they need - figured out corn was a favorite for pigeons. So the feed was spread all around - on the window shades, terrace and on the wall around the terrace. Pigeons were reluctant to try our food - but then one of the days, the corn on the walls were all gone. They were eating our stuff finally! We saw couple of them on the wall, but getting them on camera was tough. They would fly away as soon as they know someone is coming around.

But then one fine morning, they swooped down in full strength - they were all over the place, on the wall, terrace, on top of the sun shade. And they were bolder than earlier which gave us ample time to click some pictures and take a video. So the birds and the bees are finding our small patch of garden more attractive now!