The Uber and Ola menace nobody seems to talk about

It’s more than 3 years now since I wrote my blogpost on my Uber cabs experience in Delhi. Ever since then, the post became wildly successful (my referral code was used to the extent that I did not have to pay for taxi’s for more than a year) and so did Uber and other companies. But with all this growth and success has come a lot of chaos. Even though we are all affected by it, nobody seems to talk about it.

1. Idle drivers have started forming “taxi stands” everywhere they can find some space to park cars. Residential areas are turning into parking lots for drivers and cab owners.

2. Drivers who have just got a booking request wander around their designated pickup points and often park at wrong places to wait for their customers. They are often seen driving while talking on the mobile phone, presumably with their next customer on where to meet them etc.

3. Moving cars often have drivers who don’t even know where they are going. All they are doing is matching their “dot” to the “route” on their GPS navigations. Unsure drivers drive slower, reduce the average traffic speed and also take sudden unplanned turns.

More than half the cars I see around me these days are commercial cars carrying passengers of some app based taxi service or another, so there’s no denying that these services are here to stay. But Uber, Ola and others – Please train your drivers on the above points and prevent our already choked roads from turning into a complete mess.

Simple trick to make your Uber rides safe

In light of the recent rape case of an urban metrosexual girl by an Uber cabbie and the rumors following the incident about the lack of verification records etc., here’s an easy way to keep yourself protected against such incidents from happening in future:

When you’re looking for a cab, don’t book it yourself. Ask a friend or a family member to do it for you.

See how this helps:

1. The friend knows the name and number of the driver and the car which has come to pick you up.

2. He can keep a watch on the movement of the taxi and see what route the driver is taking. Incase anything seems out of place, he can instantly call you and check if everything’s alright.

3. Incase you are in trouble, he knows (atleast to some extent) your exact location and could rush for help.

4. He can immediately inform the police about the car’s number and location even if you may not be in a position to do that yourself.

Yes, there are some hassles of letting your friend pay for you and then getting that money back etc., but the safety benefits you get in exchange definitely outweighs that.

How I lost 27 kgs in 18 months

Sick of the food I was served everyday in my college mess, me and my friends made it a routine affair to go to the “dhabas” near our college for our meals. But I did not realize that it slowly took a toll on my health and I eventually swelled up into a 110 KG monster.

Needless to say, readymade clothes no longer started to fit. No brand had my size of t-shirts and jeans. I had to sometimes ask relatives to bring t-shirts from US because my size was only available there.

Soon enough, I got determined to lose that fat. And here’s what I did:

1. Got a treadmill – I was so fat that I used to find it embarrassing to work out in gym’s. Plus, gym equipment is used by hundreds of sweaty men and women everyday and hardly ever sanitized. If you’re the kind of person who would rather have some basic equipment at home, just go and buy one. 45 minutes of rigorous workout every evening – I made it a habit that stuck with me for nearly 18 months.

2. After dinner walks – A small 15 minutes of slow walking after dinner does wonders to your digestive system. You feel “light” in the morning since that dinner has digested better. Plus, these 15 minutes are a good opportunity to call up old friends and relatives whom you’ve lost touch with.

3. See what you pop – This is probably the biggest one. Stop popping in food mindlessly. Be conscious of each and every bite that goes inside your mouth. Quick snacks between meals? Stop. Went shopping and got a candy instead of change? Don’t pop that in. Getting bored so planning to have a cup of coffee? Stop. Eat food when you are hungry, not when you want to.

4. Diet control – I intentionally decided not to “quit” eating anything but I simply reduced everything by half. Eating 4 slices of bread for breakfast? Make that 2. Eating 4 roti’s for your meal? Make that 2. Desserts after every meal? Make the portion smaller and take just 1 serving. Going out? Eat a sandwich instead of pakora’s. Order roti’s instead of parantha’s or rice. If you feel hungry, add plenty of salad to compensate for it. If you’re a foodie like me, it’s hard to resist good food anyways. Have everything, just moderate the amount.

4. No cold water after meals – Drinking cold water after a meal just kills your digestion. The stomach needs to function at a specific temperature to break down the food you’ve eaten into it’s nutrients. Having a glass full of cold water after that meal completely destroys that process.

I don’t have a before/after picture (I wish I did!) but believe me, losing all that extra flab does make you feel more confident. People started asking me for advice on how to lose weight! Answering those questions is such a lovely feeling!

The more important part is to maintain that weight and that’s a struggle in itself. I’ve been conscious of my weight ever since I reduced. Though I have gone up a little bit since then, I swear I will never go back to my “original” 110 KG self ever again. I really never will. Nobody can.

My guide to buying and using a treadmill

Here’s my experience and tips on buying a treadmill which you may find useful.

Most important factors to consider when buying a treadmill at home:

1. Motor capacity – This is by far the most important factor you should consider. However, if you’re buying a non-branded treadmill, shopkeepers would usually lie to you to close their sale. Which motor capacity you should buy depends on how much you weigh – A 130kg man would need a stronger motor to keep the belt rolling compared to a 70kg guy.

2. Padding – When you run on a treadmill, your knees absorb the impact on every step. If your treadmill has a moderate amount of cushion support underneath, it’ll greatly help in reducing the impact. Some amount of cushioning is a must, otherwise your knees will give up after a few days.

3. Jerky or smooth stop – What if you’re running on the treadmill at 10kmph and there’s a powercut? Does the belt stop with a sudden jerk or does it gradually slow down?

4. Belt slips – This is something you want to avoid at all costs. A slippery belt will mean that you will always be scared of losing your balance while you’re running. That could cause a serious injury and could even be fatal. Good quality branded treadmills usually don’t have this problem, but cheaper ones get slippery after just 1-2 months of use!

Less Important factors:

1. Running area – The longer and the wider the running area, the more comfortably you can run without the risk of accidentally stepping outside and falling.

2. Incline – If your treadmill has electronic incline, you can adjust the angle even while running on the treadmill. But inclined treadmills are much much harder to run on and cause far more pain in the knees later – Evaluate carefully if you really need this.

3. Displays and Programmable workouts – The last thing that should be on your list but unfortunately this is what you see first! Fancy LED’s and plenty of buttons on the front console give an appearance of a “high-tech” treadmill and it’s easy to fool a lot of people with that. Hi-tech stuff is a nice addon, provided everything else in this list has been checked off already.

4. Commerical or personal use – If you’re buying a treadmill for home, you need not buy treadmills that are meant for gyms. Gym treadmills are heavy duty and are meant to run for hours together. Home treadmills are usually supposed to be run for a maximum duration of 45-60 minutes per session. If multiple people at home need to share a treadmill, maintain a gap of 30-45 minutes before each use.

Using a treadmill the right way

The number 1 mistake I’ve seen people making – Buy a treadmill => Run at full speed => Have a body ache next day => Blame the treadmill => Close it down and use it for drying their clothes.

Don’t be that guy. Your body will take it’s own sweet time to get used to a fitness regime. Start with speeds of 2-4 kmph and with as little as 2 minutes a day. Go up by 5 minutes after every week. Personally, I took about 2-3 months to warm up myself to my peak running speed of 10 kmph.

Are you buying the treadmill for weight loss?

Then is the biggest trick I learnt – Blindly running on a treadmill day and night will not cause weight loss at all. If all you need to do is reduce a few kilograms, you need to do “interval training”.

You can Google around for details or I’ll explain here in brief – Once you’ve got used to your treadmill for 1-2 months, do one minute of slow walk at around 4kmph and one minute of super fast running at 10kmph or so. Keep doing this in alternation for about 45 minutes. Of course, take 5 minutes to warm up and 5 minutes to cool-down on the treadmill before starting the intervals.

Personally, I bought a Treo 103 from Proline Fitness and I was quite happy with my purchase. It worked well without any belt slips or any other issues. I used it for about 18 months and reduced by 27 kgs. Of course, I also kept my diet in control, but I’ll leave that for another blogpost.

Impressed? 😉

Investing in reusable knowledge

Reusable knowledge is knowledge that can be re-applied and reused in a different situation, to solve a similar problem again. Let’s take an example.

Case 1: Mr. X is a programmer at a software company. Mr. X learns how to tune Apache and MySQL to handle 10x more traffic during a surge. Mr. X invested in reusable knowledge. If he moved to another company some day, and that company faced this problem, he would already know what the answer is.

Case 2: Mr. Y is a programmer at a software company. He knows that company’s systems inside out. He knows what each server does, he knows how the databases inter-connect, he knows how to fix that bug quickly, because he knows exactly which line it’s likely to be in. Great! But once he is out of that system, that company or that project, whatever he knows becomes practically useless. That is non-reusable learning.

I say useless, not worthless, because there is always something to learn in whatever you do. Agreed, that you will often need a little bit of both when you work anywhere. But are you focusing on (2) more than what is required?

All my life, I have consciously made it a point to invest only in knowledge that’s reusable. Of course I have to do the non-reusable stuff once in a while, but the goal is always to grab as much of (1) as I can. What about you?

Car cleaning done right – This is what you should be using

It’s hard to maintain a car scratch-free in a city like Delhi but it’s not too difficult either. Especially when you know the right tools to get the job done.

On my last visit to my car’s service center, I asked the service manager what products he uses to clean up cars everyday. He showed me what they were, I brought them from a car accessories shop in the market, used them for a couple of years and then finally sharing it here, on my blog.

Luckily they were 3M products, which are known to the best in the world, so I had absolutely no hesitation in trying them out anyway.

1. 3M Finesse It – Practically removes every hairline scratch from your car’s body. Applying it is as simple as applying cold cream on your face! The way it works is by gently thinning the color around the scratch and filling it inside the scratched area.

It’s so neat, you won’t believe it. If scratches are easy to fix, people may not get too angry when they do get a scratch. That means lesser road rage and happier people.

2. Meguiar’s NXT generation car wash – If you live in a housing society like mine, where car cleaners will not even bother to soak their cloth in water before rubbing your car every morning, a car wash will come in handy.

When your car is out in traffic, it picks up smoke and oil fumes from the surroundings which settle on the body and the glasses. Plain water is not enough to wash them away. Use this once a month or so. You will instantly get the original metallic shine back on your car! Meguiar’s is also a 3M company now.

I just wish more people knew about these things!

What is Engineering, asked my little sister

My little cousin who was then still in her last year of school asked me “What is engineering”? Being a computer science engineer, I explained her-

“Computer science has several different areas. They teach you everything there, from computer hardware, to software, to project management, coding, web development, artifical intelligence, data structures, math etc.”

So she asked me – Why should we study all of them?

I said – “You know, it’s like going to an ice-cream parlour. You have 20 different types of ice-creams in there. You ask the shopkeeper to make you taste everything, but you eventually buy a scoop of the one you love the most”

“Engineering is like visiting an ice-cream shop”.

She got it.

Introducing, ClipPod!

After many years of “thinking”, “considering” and “planning”, I finally had the guts to leave my day job and my higher-than-usual salary to take up the journey of my dreams – Starting my own company. I will leave the journey bit for another post (and that will be quite a lengthy one!) but here’s what I would like to talk about right now – My first major product release, which I call – ClipPod.

ClipPod makes Google Calendar social by adding shared notes and attachments to your Google Calendar events. How does that help? Here’s a sneak peek:

1. Think of everything that happens before, during and after a meeting. Files, discussions, presentations, MoM – What if you had everything at one place, without running back and forth between e-mail, calendars and your hard drive? What if you had a ready reference of what happened in the last meeting, without struggling to dig back into countless email threads?

2. Are you sync’ing your favorite project management tool back to your Google Calendar? Trello? Asana? Github? How about using Google Calendar as a project management tool by itself?

I think the possibilities are exciting! I could go on and explain everything here, but that’s what the ClipPod homepage is supposed to do, isn’t it?

ClipPod is currently in public beta and will remain completely free forever for everyone who signs up during the beta program.

Try out ClipPod today.

Learning to code from scratch – The right way

Do you want to learn how to code? It’s mind boggling how many people come to me to learn programming expecting to “build and launch an app” in 4 weeks. Trust me, it won’t happen.

Surely you can copy-paste stuff, steal or clone something that’s already there. But building something from ground up needs solid foundations. There are no shortcuts. It’s not something you can learn in one day, week or month. It takes years of effort and practice to be able to build apps and websites you see and use everyday.

If you’re looking to get started, just pickup a copy of “Object-Oriented Programming in C++” by Robert Lafore (Flipkart link). Read it inside out, don’t skim it. Follow the examples and code as you read.

Perhaps you were planning to pickup Java, PHP, Python or another language? Don’t worry – Once you pickup one language, the rest can be picked up almost intuitively.

Who am I to give you this advice? I’m a programmer who’s been coding since the age of 8. I’m almost 30 now and still regard Robert Lafore’s book as the single most influential book that helped me shape what I am today.

My weekend getaways from Delhi – Journeys and experiences

After buying my own car a couple of years back, I’ve fallen in love with the idea of small 1-3 day weekend getaways from Delhi to explore places around my city which are self drivable, without getting too tired in the process. Usually the idea is to leave super early on a Saturday morning (around 4 am) and get back late on Sunday (or Monday, incase of a long weekend)

If you are like me, the biggest question on your mind would be – Where should we go? I’ve noticed that there are far too many blogs and websites which list many such possible places. But still, good, tested and authentic information is very hard to find.

This blogpost is an effort to share my own journeys and experiences as well as tried and tested places where my friends have been to.

1. Jaipur – Delhi to Jaipur is roughly a 5-6 hour drive, provided you start super early and cross Manesar before the city wakes up. Otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time standing in a never ending queue of Maruti trucks at the various toll booths that come on the way. The highway is OK-ish but even after years and years of renovation, there are plenty of diversions so your car will pickup speed only in patches.

In Jaipur, you can explore a variety of places including Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal, Chowki Dhaani, LMB Sweet Shop etc. You can find out more on Wikitravel, Tripadvisor etc. Jaipur deserves a minimum of 2 nights stay.

(There’s another route to Jaipur that goes via Agra. So you take the Yamuna expressway to Agra and then from Agra to Jaipur. It’s definitely longer but the drive is smoother, as I’ve come to know.)

2. Neemrana Fort and Palace, Neemrana – This one is roughly mid-way between Delhi and Jaipur on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. Neemrana fort is one of the oldest properties of the super popular Neemrana group. It’s basically a fort converted to a hotel. Book for a maximum of 1 night and explore the fort. You’ll absolutely love it. There are also a few activities that the hotel organizes – Zipping, vintage car rides etc. to name a few.

Rooms can be booked only from the Neemrana Hotel website (not via Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip etc.) and rooms differ by size, number of beds and location inside the fort. If you go on a weekday, your room will probably be upgraded.

3. Rishikesh – The road that connects Delhi to Haridwar is a complete mess, especially after crossing Khatauli. So much that it took us almost 9 hours to reach Rishikesh. But oh boy, once you reach the camp you realize what a place it is! Rishikesh is the place to go camping and rafting. Most camps are situated roughly 20-30 kms after crossing the main Rishikesh city. So if you’re planning to camp as well as explore Rishikesh in the same trip, it won’t be easy.

Another problem with the camps is that most camps are usually empty and deserted, so choose carefully. We stayed at “Camp Rapidfire” and were fortunate to have a large group of school students occupying the remaining tents.

Staying besides the Ganga, on the dry sand, inside a tent where you’ll have to survive with a torchlight at night – It’ll be an experience you’ll cherish forever.

4. Agra – The one thing that’s better than Agra itself is the road that connects Delhi to Agra! Got a good car and really want to rev up the engines? Bring it to the Yamuna Expressway. A flat straight empty road that goes on for miles and miles – What else would you want?

We stayed at Agra for 1 night at the Trident Hotel. The hotel was amazing and so was the city (if you can ignore all the filth and dirt spread all over the city). Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal, Panchi Petha and numerous other places which you can explore at leisure.

Side note- The Yamuna Expressway has no street lighting, no “roadside shops”, just 1 petrol pump, no signboards etc. so avoid travel at night.

5. Vrindavan – Well connected to Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway, Vrindavan is a pilgrimage spot entirely dedicated to Lord Krishna. So much that almost every shop you’ll see would be “Radhe sweets”, “Radhe travels” etc. Your trip will consist almost entirely of visiting one temple after another. Don’t bother with the “ghats” – They’re dirty and not worth your time.

6. Murthal – What’s the harm in a long drive to Murthal just for the paranthas? Go for it on a Sunday morning. The drive is roughly 1-2 hours depending on where you start from. Have the lovely Aloo Pyaaz paranthas at Sukhdev and be back by noon.

7. Lansdowne – Lansdowne is the closest hill station to Delhi, yet so few people know about it. That’s because there’s practically nothing to do there once you arrive. And that might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you like to enjoy your vacation. Being a military base, the place is spick and span – Not even a bit of dirt anywhere. And so are the roads that connect Delhi to Lansdowne.

Gotchas: Many blogs/websites recommend Amritsar, Dharamshala and McLeodganj for a weekend trip. They are quite far off from Delhi and definitely not a weekend trip, especially if you are driving yourself. Please do not attempt them.

Other options that I will be exploring shortly are:

1. Jim Corbett National Park
2. Sariska National Park
3. Tree House Resort (near Jaipur)
4. Pratapgarh Farms

Have you tried any other places? How has your experience been? Please add a comment and share!