Walmart starts selling e-tickets for Indian Railways / IRCTC

August 17, 2012 Leave a comment

I was checking on google to find if Indian railways or IRCTC prohibits transportation of lead acid batteries and I found that Walmart has started selling e-tickets for Indian railways. Don’t believe me? Look at the snapshot below.

They clearly claim : “shop for i-ticket & e-ticket irctc… at Walmart.com”. Maybe the inability of IRCTC to cope up with the traffic & tatkal issues lead to this deal?

I guess Walmart has gone overboard with SEO. Anyone watching over a Google Web Spam team?

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Categories: Fun

Outlook.com : Single-use code – security feature or security hole?

August 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The new minimalist looking, outlook.com email service from Microsoft is getting rave reviews for a clean & snappy interface and a host of useful features.

One cool feature is : It lets you create an email alias that can also serve as a disposable email address. That’s very handy for signing up for those annoying web services that love to spam you.

However the one that stood out was using a single-use code to sign in to outlook.com. It’s useful when you want to login from a public computer (that could potentially hijack your account with a keylogger), you could avoid disclosing your password by selecting this option. You get to enter your registered mobile number and then you receive a numeric code via SMS. The code expires after a single use. Sounds like a neat idea !

But the problem starts when you lose your mobile phone. It’s not hard to find out your email address & phone number from your mobile. This opens up instant access to your email.

I’m not sure if other email services let you reset your password with your phone alone, but this is pretty dangerous. Considering how much personal information we’ve started storing online in our inbox / cloud drives, we should expect better security practices. But then again, biggies likes Apple & Amazon had serious security flaws that ruined someone’s digital life recently…

Categories: Web Services

Anna’s battle is every Indian’s battle

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Reproducing a very well written article by @minhazmerchant with some highlights. It’s a must read for everyone, especially the majority who choose to skip the details on ‘Lokpal’ :

 

 

 

Anna Hazare’s battle against corruption isn’t just his battle. It’s every Indian’s battle. If Anna fails, we fail. Politicians across party lines stand to lose most if the movement succeeds in getting a strong Lokpal Bill legislated in parliament.

Anna is a catalyst in the fight to mitigate corruption in public life. He has no personal motive, no personal gain, no financial interest. Instead of criticising his methods, help him improve them. No one is perfect – certainly not Anna and his team members.

But most of them are a lot better than the 162 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 39 MPs in the Rajya Sabha (www.adrindia.org) who have criminal charges against them. Some of these charges are politically motivated. But many are not.

For example, 75 Lok Sabha MPs, again cutting across party lines, face court-framed charges of murder, rape, extortion, kidnapping and dacoity. No wonder many parliamentarians are dead set against Anna and his anti-corruption crusade. They will do anything to discredit his movement.

And in this task they have found witting and unwitting abettors in sections of the media and the intelligentsia. All have one trait: they mock Anna but have no alternative to offer in India’s battle against corruption. Some are so witless they don’t even realise how wrong they’ve got it.

Anna is not the problem. The system is. Anna’s prescription may not be perfect. But it’s every citizen’s job to help improve it. The government, as a beneficiary of institutionalised corruption, isn’t going to go out of its way to do so.

Take just one example to illustrate the serious nature of the court-framed charges many Lok Sabha MPs face. Kameshwar Baitha of the JMM has 11 charges related to murder and 17 charges related to attempt to murder filed against him.

As many at 28 ministers in Akhilesh Yadav’s UP cabinet have criminal cases pending against them. The most notorious is Raja Bhaiya who has 45 criminal cases against him. He spent three years in jail on POTA charges and is today UP’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister.

It is such politicians who threaten our democracy and our institutions – not Team Anna members with their inflated travel vouchers and income-tax arrears due to a technical interpretation of paid study leave for a then-IRS officer.

It has been obvious since Indira Gandhi’s government first introduced – but did not legislate – the Lokpal Bill in 1968 that politicians fear a strong, independent Lokpal. Their argument, parroted by their media handmaidens, is that the Lokpal will be a monstrous bureaucracy accountable to no one.

This of course is nonsense. The Lokpal would be accountable in five ways as I wrote in The Times of India this February (New grid of governance). First, through an internal complaints redressal authority; second, via an annual performance and financial audit by CAG; third, through a Lokpal appellate bench; fourth, from overall jurisdiction of the Lokpal bench by the High Courts and the Supreme Court; and fifth, through a special parliamentary committee.

The Lokpal is obviously not a panacea as some Congress spokesmen saysotto voce to deliberately obfuscate the issue. It would be just one of five powerful instruments in the integrated, interlocked grid of governance that would include the EC, CAG, the new proposed National Judicial Commission (NJC) and an independent CBI as analysed in detail in The Times piece cited above.

An independent CBI is central to this interlocked governance grid. With the Lokpal excercising jurisdictional oversight, the CBI would thus be accountable to an independent statutory authority which itself would be subject not only to the five internal checks and balances outlined above but to the discipline of being part of an integrated, interlocked governance grid.

Some critics warn that 40,000 extra staff will be needed to man the Lokpal body. This is a deliberate falsehood. In the interlocked grid model, no more than 1,000 new staff will be needed to investigate and allow prosecution of complaints against 60 lakh central government employees (including 78 Union Ministers and Ministers of State).

The reason? An independent CBI will, under the Lokpal body’s supervision, investigate cases forwarded by the Lokpal bench. Special fast-track courts will prosecute them. State Lokayuktas, with similar mechanisms, will supervise the investigation and prosecution of state-level public servants through local CIDs and courts. These institutions already have adequate personnel which the Lokpal will deploy.

Remember too that police autonomy has been mandated by the Supreme Court in September 2006 under a seven-directive order. When it is implemented by the government – a contempt of court petition against non-compliance is pending in the Supreme Court – not only will the CBI be freed of political control, so will state CIDs.

The Mumbai and Delhi police forces alone have over 40,000 personnel each so a central Lokpal body with 1,000 staff and a 7-member bench (not one individual “Lokpal” as some motivated reports misleadingly claim) hardly constitutes a bureaucratic monstrosity.

The so-called elite – intellectual, media, business – disparage Anna because he is not “people like us”. This wannabe-elite is comfortable with the status quo with its cosy nepotism, clubbiness and rich pickings.

A red herring is meanwhile used by the government: “Team Anna members are themselves corrupt – people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”. That unthinking logic would disqualify 90% of the police force from arresting criminals because the police themselves take bribes. Only the corrupt use this spurious argument to deflect the accusations they have no real answers for.

Those who castigate Team Anna for denigrating our institutions are falling into the trap set by politicians: discredit the largely honest whistleblower and therefore by default exonerate the largely dishonest politician.

MPs are lawmakers. They are elected to uphold standards of public life not lower them. As public servants, they exist to serve citizens. “In a democracy,” as US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter declared, “the highest office is the office of the citizen.”

Indian public servants – including the Prime Minister and his cabinet – are subordinate to every Indian citizen. The poorest, most destitute Indian is more important than the President of India. That is the way real democracy operates. It is a principle leaders in democracies with long histories like US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron uphold every working day.

In contrast, some of the comments made by government ministers against Anna’s anti-corruption movement border on the infantile. The MoS in the PMO, V. Narayanasamy, said of Anna’s fast: “It is an attempt fool the people.” He added: “It is good they told very openly today they are forming a political party. Their intentions are exposed.”

Fasting as a protest against corruption and forming a political party are both entirely legitimate. That a government minister can categorise either in the way he did says more about Narayanasamy than Anna.

And yet there are those in the chattering classes who support this unhinged government reaction rather than encouraging a movement against corruption which, if put on the right track, could improve all our lives.

Then there are those, in the government and the media, who insouciantly challenge Anna’s team members to stand for election. But if fighting an election were a criterion for fighting corruption, every activist and – yes – every journalist who exposed corruption would need to first get elected. Such is the thoughtlessness – deliberate and inadvertent – that has lowered the standard of argument over the anti-corruption movement.

Whose side are we on? An imperfect Anna fighting our battle? Or a corruption-riddled political system? If Anna is not doing the job of fighting corruption well enough, help him do it better. Don’t help the corrupt by denigrating a movement’s methods when the end is just.

Since April 2011, the UPA government has dealt with Anna’s movement with deception and bad faith. Corruption is the leitmotif of the political ecosystem. That is why politicians have tried continuously to splinter this citizen’s movement. United, citizens would win. Divided, a corrupt government will win.

Source : http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/headon/entry/anna-s-battle-is-every-indian-s-battle

Categories: Anti-Corruption

Breathing clean air indoors – Do air filters help?

July 30, 2012 1 comment

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The amount of pollution around us is continuously increasing (talking about India here). More vehicles are being added to the roads despite rising fuel costs. And, they are not just vehicles, they are gigantic gas guzzling SUVs. I’m guessing real estate is no less of a contributor. The unbridled growth in construction is a menace in so many ways. It’s shocking to see the amount of dust deposited on a surface in a single day. Living in a metropolitan, I have to clean the AC filters every week.

What about our lungs? Was our respiratory system designed to filter out this much dust or are we slowly poisoning the system? It’s time to invest in some air filters for indoor use. But are they actually any good?

Here’s a useful article from US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency). According to them :

  • NO agency of the federal government has approved these devices for use in occupied spaces… because ozone can cause health problems at high concentrations…
  • When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs (see – “Ozone and Your Health”). Relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections
  • contrary to specific claims by some vendors, ozone generators are not effective in removing carbon monoxide
  • ozone does not remove particles (e.g., dust and pollen) from the air, including the particles that cause most allergies
  • ionizers were found to be less effective in removing particles of dust, tobacco smoke, pollen or fungal spores than either high efficiency particle filters or electrostatic precipitators
  • If used at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone applied to indoor air does not effectively remove viruses, bacteria, mold, or other biological pollutants

My suggestion is to skip on these gimmick filters and instead seal your doors/windows effectively. Here’s a nice article on weatherproofing your house. It might be tough to apply these ideas in India due to lack of appropriate sealing material and poorly fitting doors & windows but it’s better than nothing. It may be a good idea to ventilate your house in the morning since the air is fresh and the pollutants have settled through the night.

Categories: Health

Mahagun Builder got served : District Forum Ghaziabad Orders Demolition of Mahagun Mascot Shopping Complex

May 8, 2012 1 comment

Story of how Mr Mahesh Narayanan fought against a big builder in Delhi NCR area and finally won. The sad part is that out of 1200 other occupants of the complex, nobody came forward to join the fight. The builder denied possession to Mr Mahesh but he continued to fight for safety of his family & fellow residents. The nearby shopping complex posed a fire hazard. Finally, the court has given orders for the shopping complex to be demolished. This should set an example for all of us to stand up & fight for our right.

Follow the details here

The court ruling :

Categories: Anti-Corruption

IRCTC ticket confirmation SMS

May 4, 2012 Leave a comment

If you booked an e-ticket on Indian railways (via IRCTC or other websites), you can just show the SMS as proof of booking (with a valid ID). Save trees, don’t need print outs. However, if you didn’t receive the SMS or accidentally deleted it, you can re-create it. Look at the IRCTC sample SMS below :

Example : If you (M Gandhi) & your spouse (+1) are travelling from New Delhi (NDLS) to Mumbai (BCT) via Mumbai Rajdhani (Train #12952) on 15th of May 2012, with PNR number 1234567890 & seat number A1 5, 6 the SMS would look like this :

PNR:1234567890, TRAIN:12952,DOJ:15-05-12,2A,NDLS TO BCT, M Gandhi+1, A1 05 A1 06, FARE:4000, SC:20+PG CHGS

In case you were on a waiting list (e.g. WL8) that got confirmed later, your seat number would be RLWL 08

Alternately, you can log in to your irctc account and go to re-send the SMS by going to ‘Booked History’, selecting the ticket and clicking on ‘Get SMS’

Categories: Railways, Travel

Basics of customer service ! A smile :)

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently became a new customer at Mangostreet.com (offering toys & apparels for kids). I never received an order confirmation so decided to give them a call. Here’s the welcome message I received : “The number that I’ve dialed does not exist”, the CUSTOMER SERVICE number ! I thought maybe I made a mistake and punched in the numbers carefully to get the same message again.

After a while I realize that they have two customer service numbers, #1 in the body of the page and #2 in the header. Cool. I tried the other number. The guy at the other end asks me to call back after half an hour because he’s away from his desk. Puzzled, I asked, “is this customer service for mangostreet.com?”, pat came the reply “Sir, I’m away from my desk, call me after half an hour”.

Trust is very important and you don’t turn away customers by providing incorrect information or asking them to call back.  The online shopping landscape in India is pretty serious with some tough competition around. These could be minor kinks in operations that will get ironed out with time, I hope. All the best.

Categories: Logistics, Shopping
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