Monday, November 28, 2005


I love Indian newspapers - I only read the English lanuage ones because my Hindi isn't up to much. However, I am trying to do something about that: I've written an Objective-C app for OS X to test me on the Devanagari (Hindi) alphabet. It displays a Devanagari character, and I have to type in the English phonetic equivalent. I wasn't too bad at the alphabet before, but a few of the less common characters kept catching me out. This simple app has helped me learn the gotchas, and increase my recognition speed for all the characters in general. My next step is to write a simple vocabulary tester... Whether this keeness is an eagerness to learn Hindi, or a fondess for Cocoa coding in OS X is left to the reader.

Back to those newspapers. We get the Times of India - it has a terrific logo consisting of two elephants shoving a shield with their trunks. I'm sure the college of heraldry has a specific name for that: two pachyderms passant opposing a heraldic crest, or some such. But it's the stories rather than mastheads that are the real entertainment. A typical day is not complete without at least a few pages laying into politcians; both local and national. Lalu Prasad, the notorious Chief Minister of Bihar, got ousted the other day which provides a font of stories. Similarly, on a more local level the Maharashtra nationalist party Shiv Sena party are imploding: the leaders nephew has quit, and his mob were most effective at stoning the car of the leader's son. It's all a bit more ribald, not to mention internecine, than the Westminster yah-boo.

In the past couple of weeks though another story has grabbed the headlines from the politicians: the successful extraditition of Abu Salem. He was apparently a player in a Mumbai blast about ten years ago. At the time he had the second lowest price on his head, but now he has been deported from Portugal he is being built up as some sort of kingpin. There seems to be little concept of sub judice over here: the press are full of colourful stories about the crores (10,000,000) of rupees he has amassed. Not only that, plenty of rumoured confessions are printed daily. His companion, Monica Bedi, an erstwhile Bolywood actress was arrested alongside him: great delight was made in describing the rigours of a Hyderabadi women's prison in great detail. They even had a Bollywood vox pop article: possibly uncharitably, everyone who voiced an opinion said that they never really spoke to her, or for that matter knew her at all.

But politics and gangsters aren't the main attraction for me. The other day the Times published just the kind of article that I scour its pages for. The eternal struggle between the Pune-Mumbai-Pune taxi drivers association and their bitter enemies: the Mumbai-Pune-Mumbai taxi drivers association. Apparently they've been at loggerheads since 1974. Admittedly that's less than eternal - but still. It's not even a tale of deep intrigue: just seemingly petty moans about pitches and passenger stealing. I'm sure it's important if you make you're living driving a taxi between these two neighbouring cities, but keeping the feud open for three decades is a supreme achievement by both sides.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Some Pics

Still no ADSL, so suffer the little mobile... I'm not going to say much - so here goes. BTW if the pics look a bit gloomy that's beacuse they're using the one true gamma: 1.8. Turn up your brightness on Windows boxes :)

The living room - complete with a mini chaos generator.

Here's San climbing the hill behind our flat - best attempted in the early morning before the temperature hits 30C.

And here's me on the summit watching eagles eating the rest of the fauna. The ridge extends quite away around Pune. The whole city is surrounded by hills.

There's a temple on the summit, and another further along the ridge in the opposite direction to the previous photo.

Further afield in Mahabaleshwar. A very contorted landscape.

It's a whole geography lesson: we've had a hill, so now a valley...
The concrete in the bottom right is where I'm standing, so the camera is more or less pointing straight down. A steep valley.

...a ridge...
...and a cliff.

It's not all wandering around hills - here's the office.
My desk.
The balcony/verandah where we have our lunch. Not yet been disappointed, or bored, by the solely vegetarian curries.
Five o'clock - time for a swim. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Another week. Work is going better than expected: it appears that I can pretty much do everything remotely that I could sitting at my desk in the UK. Obviously writing code can be done anywhere, the bonus has been in submitting work back. I work on a somewhat out of date codebase, as a result of being somewhat distant from HQ. I get new ones sent to me on DVD every now and then (this being the best available bandwidth, although the latency is hell), which means I tend to have to merge with what's happended since my DVD was burnt. Through the magic of VPNs I can not only merge with the current top level codebase, but also with items in the current putback queue. This means I can pretty much work without any special assistance from the good folks back home - good for me and them!

It's not all work though, last weekend we went to a hill station called Mahabaleshwar. This is located to the south of Pune, amidst some spectacular scenery, in the Western Ghats. Travelling there involved more exciting roads. Being in quite a hilly part of India there are lots of hairpins. Being in India, the drivers think nothing of overtaking around said hairpins. The first such stretch of twisty tarmac turned out not to be as bad as I first feared. The road was in fact one-way: on the return journey I discovered the other carriageway took a huge shortcut under the hill. However, the final stretch of road to Mahabaleshwar was definitely two way, yet the driver kept on overtaking as if there was no possibility of any traffic coming in the opposite direction around the blind corners.

Mahabaleshwar needs more than a single day to visit. Our lack of time was compounded by the hire car turning up late. Normally they turn up at least half an hour before you ask for them and make you feel rushed. When we really did need to leave early it was of course an hour and a half late: kismet. For all the reckless overtaking the journey is a slow one - about two and a half hours to travel 50 miles. The bends didn't agree with Roshni (19 month daughter) and we were further delayed cleaning up vomit. Actually San, my wife, did most of the cleaning on account of most of the ejecta ending up on her. Some pretty amazing forsight on her behalf saw, not one, not two, but four changes of clothes for Roshni. This turned out to be just the right amount to get her there and back in clean clothes - well done!

Mahabaleshwar town has a shopping street that appears to consist exclusively of stores offering the following: cute leather slippers, strawberries and mulberries, chikki (Indian toffee/nut thing of tooth destroying titanium hardness) and gaming emporia. The games were low level village fair gambling and some oldish arcade cabinets. Strange to see a Ridge Racer cabinet living out its retirement up in these Indian hills.

We eventually left the town (I had a good look at a 100 year old building in the carpark - now used for table tennis and billiards - whilst my wife was off buying the aforementioned cute slippers) to see one of the nearby viewpoints: Monkey Point complete with obligatory monkeys - these ones were eating sweetcorn tossed to them by the tourists. Monkeys are always good, but the views were better. Still no ADSL so the pics will have to wait, and it's hard to describe just how hilly the surrounding area is. The hills are not well spaced out rolling mounds of Scotland, nor are they rocky crags. They are densely forested all the way up - I believe the technical term is jungle - and densely crammed into the landscape. It is all sharp ridges and deep valleys with the hills seemingly contorted to fit into the available space.

From there we moved on to Tableland, a plateau featuring: a neon-tube bedecked Ferris wheel, people offering horse rides, parascending (parachute+rope+Indian Jeep racing across the dusty plateau). We passed by here on the way to Mahabaleshwar earlier in the day and left pretty sharpish after being absolutely mobbed by offers for horse rides. Coming back at dusk was much better: not only cooler, but people had started going home for the day so it was much more relaxing. We opted for a horse and cart ride around the plateau at sunset, Roshni was very interested in the horses and we could all go together this way. It was a fair trek to the far end, and the sun had well and truly set by the time we could see the view. The hills and lakes were still visible though, and very nice it was too under the moonlit twilight. On our return journey we passed a lake in which Ganesh statues are placed for one of the festivals. No elephant headed gods today, just lots of enormous bats flying over the water. These bats were big, at first we thought they were eagles returning to roost, until the silhouette of their wings revealed their identity. There were still waterfalls, forts and temples to see but time had run out. We will definitely be back here to stay for a couple of days so that we can take more in.

Back to Pune. The central region of town is quite interesting. There are a lot of old buildings still standing, albeit mostly is a state of some disrepair. Still, it makes a refreshing change to see the old rather than a relentless swathe of concrete as you do in so much of India. We live on the outskirts and the roads to and fro are in a bit of a state as a result of a very intense monsoon season. Repairs are beginning to start now that dry weather is more or less assured. The weather forecast from 'The Fast Show' will be as accurate as any for at least six months.

Yesterday there was an appartment meeting regarding hot water so we got to see a few of the neighbours. The hot water issue raised some temperatures. The problem: 3,500 litres of solar heated water per appartment block, water only heated during daylight (solar you see), people use hot water, used water is immediately replaced by cold water (well, ambient water - hardly cold). The resultant mixed water is soon no longer hot. The buliding management solution is that everyone showers, bathes and in general carries out all hot water activities from 6am to 9am. This lets the water heat up during the day, store at night and it will be there for the three hours in the morning. The residents' were having none of this. There was widespread agreement that the immediate replacement of hot water with cold is stupid. It means that you don't get full usage of the 3,500 litres that the sun has heated up. After only a third of the water has been used the mix is going to be too cold. This view was expressed by a variety of people along with the unacceptability of the management's scheme: Indians pointing out that no mention of a three hour hot water period whne they bought their flats; an American couple arguing in typically forthright style 'there's a problem, what are you going to do to fix it?', and everyone pointing out that people need to shower in the evenings after coming back from work. We left to go shopping before the meeting finished, but an impasse appeared to have been reached. I suspect further activity on this subject...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I'm in India!

Another blog about to get thoroughly lost in the forest. What's this one about? Well in a stunning bout of originality, this one is about ME! The reason for starting this is that I'm an English software engineer who has reverse-outsourced himself and I finds himself in Pune, India. And I'm vain enough to think that's interesting.

Pune is a pleasant city a couple of hours from Mumbai (ne Bombay) via an exciting three lane motorway that passes through the Western Ghats. Exciting? Well, the road is a pretty good quality three lane toll road that starts off as your standard highway. Then the Ghats happen. Think of an alpine road full of hairpin bends - now make that alpine road a motorway but leave in the hairpins. Add some steep inclines - your car will cope alright but the Indian trucks will be crawling up at walking pace. High speed differentials, Indian motoring discipline, hairpins and chicanes: told you it was exciting.

Pune itself is rather quiter. Surrounded by hills, at a reasonable altitude (560m) and away from the coast it has a much more pleasant climate than Mumbai. Still pretty hot, around 30C at the moment, but not humid and sticky. My flat has a small hill behind it and it is well worth the climb. Eagles soaring around the top eating unfortunate furry things and the whole of Pune and surrounding countryside is visible. There's also a small temple and tree picturesquely perched on the summit.

I've been at work for almost a week now and am getting along just fine so far. The office is quieter than the UK one - more heads down and work than the UK! Lunch is much better: vegetable curry, chapatti, rice and possibly a sweet is simply in a completely different league from a crummy sandwich from ASDA and even cummier service.

Home's not too bad either. A ten minute walk from the office beats rush hour driving between cities in the Midlands. The appartment's shared swimming pool is a nice touch too. Whisky at £4 a bottle goes down a treat, and of course nice sunny days in November are a welcome change to the grey rain of England. Not that homesick then.

That's enough for now. I'm writing this on my work laptop connected to the internet via a mobile. A home broadband connection has been ordered but things can move slowly here. Once that arrives my Macs will be online and I'll start adding some pictures to liven up the page.