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!

My experience with Uber Cabs in Delhi

Uber Cabs has created such a hype of an ultra glam, ultra luxurious cab service that’ll be at your service at the click of a button. You imagine a long black limo with a driver in uniform, ready to salute you when you arrive, greet and pickup your luggage and drop you wherever you demand. Well, it’s time to wake up because that’s definitely NOT what’ll happen when you order a Uber cab! (atleast in Delhi).

I tried out Uber while coming from New Delhi Railway station to my home at Noida.

My experience:

1. I launched the app a few minutes before the train was docking in at the New Delhi Railway Station. You are expected to drag a map and place a pin where you would like to cab to arrive. The map inside the app shows you the nearby cabs and the expected waiting time (which in my case was around 10 mins.).

2. I gave an approximate location of the expected pickup point since it wasn’t easy to make out where the exact pickup point on the railway station would be. When you start the booking, you are shown the cab charges (I have attached the details at the end of this post) and the time it’ll take for the Uber cab to arrive. Immediately, $1 was charged on my AMEX card and the booking was confirmed. I was shown the details of the driver (his name and photo) along with the type and registration number of the Uber cab.

3. Since this was my first booking, I used the “Contact Driver” option and called him up to inform him about my exact location to avoid any confusions and delays later.

4. After stepping out of the station and 2-3 phone calls back and forth with the driver, he was finally able to spot me amongst the huge crowd and traffic jam near the station. In my case, the car was a white Toyota Camry.

5. The driver placed my luggage into the car’s boot. We stepped into the car. He asked me my destination and started driving.

6. The driver dropped us at our residence, smiled and left. My credit card was charged and the trip was complete. There was nothing I had to pay directly to the driver. Overall, it was a smooth and pleasant experience.

Sounds all good? Not quite. There are several things you must know about the service:

Gotcha’s and Things-You-Should-Know:

1. Atleast for now, Uber is just a fancy name for a company they have outsourced the actual cabs to. The company running their operation is a normal taxi operator in Delhi called “Orange Cabs”.

2. Toyota Camry is a spacious but ordinary C-segment sedan. If you own/drive any other C segment sedan (like the City, Verna, Civic, Altis etc.), you won’t find anything impressive about this car to justify the premium you’re paying for the service.

3. Since I live at Noida, Uber cabs have to pay a toll tax on crossing the Delhi-UP border. You will have to pay this fees in addition to the normal Uber fare. Other taxi services like Meru etc. do not need to pay this tax since they have a Delhi-NCR permit. But Uber cabs have only Delhi permits. This toll tax would be in addition to your normal fare and has to be paid at the toll booth directly. In my case, this toll was about Rs. 120. (Note: This toll is different from the toll tax at DND flyway). What’s even worse is that the driver will go an extra 5 kms. to the toll office to pay the tax. All of this (the travel and the waiting) adds up to your bill.

4. As of now, there is no pickup service at Faridabad and Noida. In other words, you cannot start a Uber trip from Faridabad or Noida. But the drop facility is available everywhere in Delhi and NCR. Even in Noida, no pickup and drop exists beyond Kaushambi and Vaishali.

The financial aspect:

The distance from the railway station to my house as per Google Maps is 28 kms. But because of the toll menace, we had to travel 7 kms. extra*. Here are the final stats:

Trip Distance – 35.26 kilometers
Duration – 40 minutes, 59 seconds

Base Fare – Rs. 70.00
Distance @ Rs. 20.00 /km – Rs. 705.06
Time @ Rs. 2.00 /min – Rs. 81.97
Total – Rs. 857.03

Note: The total cost of the trip also depends on the trip duration!

The Tech:

The technology driving this company is the most amazing part of the experience. The entire backbone of the cab service runs on a couple of iPhones and Google Maps. The entire process is completely automated – The driver’s cab has an iPhone mounted inside it, which keeps track of it’s location and keeps sending it to you while you’re waiting for the cab to arrive. The entire route you take to your destination as well as the time you take is calculated on the driver’s iPhone’s application.

More insights: (learnt while I gossiped away with the driver en-route)

1. Uber’s service has lead to a lot more workload for the cab’s drivers, in comparison to doing regular hotel/airport drops. This means a lot more driving and a lot more work.

2. Uber’s cars are premium sedans which run on petrol and diesel and give a lot less mileage compared to econo-sedans like Verito, Dzire and Accent, which run on CNG. Plus premium sedans are often driven by premium drivers. All of this adds to the running cost.

Conclusion:

Does Uber plan to beat Meru, EasyCabs etc.? If so, they certainly will never be able to do that. Uber runs a “premium” service for people who wish to travel from point A to point B in comfort (and style) and for whom, money is a non-issue.

My opinion – Indians are price conscious. Does the service deserve the premium? For the cars – Yes, once they introduce more of their premium line up of BMW’s and Merc’s. For anything else – No. Meru does a fine job for me. Ola cabs, Easy Cabs etc. would also probably do just fine.

(Tip: If you’re trying Uber, use promo code iuemz and get a Rs. 300 off on your first ride!)

*Update: Uber contacted me and gave me a Rs. 300 discount for the extra distance I had to go to pay the toll tax. Impressive!

Finding the authentic Panchhi Petha store in Agra

Besides the Taj Mahal, Agra is also well known for it’s Panchhi Petha and Dal Moth. As one would expect, hundreds of look-alike brands and shops have sprung up all over the city, in an attempt to fool travellers into buying their brand. Don’t fall into the trap. “Best” Panchhi Peta, “New” Panchhi Peta etc. are all fakes!

The best way to find out the address of the original store is from none other than the Panchhi Petha store’s website! They have 4 stores in Agra and 2 in Delhi. Their addresses can be found here.

The one I personally visited was the one at Dholpur House (Opposite State Bank Of India) and bought almost 5-6 varieties of Petha and a couple of packets of Dal Moth. (Warning: There’s a petha shop right next to the Panchhi Petha store here as well!) Needless to say, they were all unique (tasted unlike anything found in Delhi) and very well prepared. Definitely worth trying out!

The journey is the reward – Eating out on the highways in India

Sukhdev Dhaba at Murthal – Murthal’s paranthas have been famous since years, but some people still wonder which dhaba to stop by. As soon as you enter Murthal from Delhi side, you will see a range of dhaba’s on your left. Keep crossing them all till you reach Sukhdev, probably the biggest and most popular one in the lot. Sukhdev is hard to miss, given the hundreds of cars standing outside.

Try the “Aloo-Pyaaz” parantha, which is the best one among the lot. The others are quite ordinary in comparison. Gulp it down with the loads of white butter served along. Then order a cup of hot chai, which again is extraordinary. Don’t miss the sweet and sour saunf served after the meal. If you like it, you can buy a pack from the shops adjacent to the dhaba.

Floating restaurant on the Amritsar-Delhi highway – Roughly 3 hours from Amritsar, there’s a small little “floating restaurant” on the highway. The food is pretty regular, but the interesting thing about this place is it’s location. Located in the middle of a canal, fitted on a set of air-filled tubes and even tied up by ropes, this is an interesting place to sip down some coffee. The place is also famous because buses coming to India from Pakistan routinely stop at this restaurant for lunch.

 Highway King on the Delhi-Jaipur highway – With “Midway” no longer as popular as it used to be earlier, “Highway King” has quite literally emerged as the new highway king. The food is OK, but the place is spacious and a good place to take a break. If you are coming to Delhi from Jaipur side, then Sagar Ratna is a better choice to stopover compared to Highway King. However, Sagar Ratna does not operate 24×7, which is quite a stupid idea, especially when it’s located on the highway.

More to come!

Interesting places for eating out at Kanpur

You can leave it to a foodie (like me!) to discover interesting places to eat even where supposedly none exist. Take Kanpur for example. Would you believe if I told you that Kanpur is the place to find one of the best Kulfi’s you can ever have?

Thaggu ke ladoo – Famous for it’s ladoos, which are undoubtedly very good. Also try the “Badnaam Kulfi”, which again is excellent. I was told that some scenes of “Bunty aur Bubli” were shot here.

Baba Biryani – Just a few shops away from Thaggu, Baba serves good Biryani in Kanpur. Compared to other cities in India (like Hyderabad), it’s quite ordinary but I can guess this one is popular among the locals for the lack of a better alternative. The shop opens only around 1 PM, so if you are hoping for an “early brunch” like I was, you would be disappointed.

Antarang in Rave 3 – Antarang is a popular fine dine restaurant in Kanpur. Though I could not manage to visit it personally. There are 2 Rave malls in Kanpur, so be careful which one you land up in.

Meetha Paan – Try the meetha paan on the roadsides. It’s fascinating how the same old betel leaf tastes so different in each city!

My stay in Kanpur lasted for only a day, so I am sure I missed out many other good places. Add them in the comments below.