India Take Two

I first traveled to India in December of 2004. It was a two-week trip where I got to see New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Baroda and Bombay. Had a great time and participated in a lot of wedding shopping.

Fast forward to last Sunday when we (Father-in-law or “FIL”, sister-in-law/”SIL”, wife and me) flew out of Atlanta. Our flight left around 5pm Sunday and arrived in Amsterdamn around 7am Monday (6 hour time change). We then had a flight out of Amsterdam at 10am (Note: security at Amsterdam was a pain) and arrived in Bombay at around 11pm (3.5 hour time change). Both of those flights were roughly nine hour dinkers. In Bombay, we had a huge layover with our flight to Baroda (Vadodara) which departed around 6am and brought us to our final destination at 7am Tuesday. Yeah, quite a travelling experience! I managed it all by reading the first couple
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
books, watching airplane movies (quite a selection these days!), fasting, entertaining other travelers and Bombay airport employees by wearing my Vibram Five Fingers (With new Injinji socks!), and attempting to sleep.

Okay, here is a map of India to help you follow along:

View Larger Map

Note: You can switch to the “map” view and you’ll see more cities, but the Terrain view is somewhat helpful for discussion and lack of map clutter. Baroda is a bit south of Ahmadabad (a two hour drive) and though the politically accepted name for Bombay is now Mumbai, I’ve found that most people here still refer to it as Bombay.

Here in Baroda we’ve spent the week shopping as well as taking care of some familial obligations. My FIL and I have shopped less than my wife and SIL. One of the first things I set out to do upon arrive was attempt to get wireless for my Asus eee 900 as well as set up my Blackberry 8320 with a local sim card for data/EDGE. This required my FIL and our friend Malay as a resident to go to a local mobile provider, Airtel. Unfortunately, what we failed to realize at the time (And the Airtel employees didn’t know) was that the prepaid cards won’t get data working on your blackberry. D’oh! And getting set up on a plan requird committing to a year long contract.

We figured all of that out about 24 hours later upon our second trip to Airtel. This set in motion trips to Reliance (they can’t provide) and finally Vodafone. Vodafone was a near bust until we convinced them that we didn’t care about losing the 500 rupee (Rs) deposit if we cancelled after three months (or was it six?). 500 rupees is only about $10, which I’ve decided is way too low a deposit to affect any Americans behavior. But that is not an insignificant sum to locals, it seems.

Anyway, even after getting a Vodafone card, the instructions we were provided on how to activate the blackberry data on it were out of date. Calling customer service was fruitless. Another day passes.

Finally, on Thursday afternoon (day 3 of trying to get my blackberry up and running), we went back to Vodafone, explained that the instructions were wrong, and then were provided the new instructions that worked within five minutes. Yay! Emails started piling in (Boo!) and I could get onto google maps (triangulation works here!), Jivetalk/beejive, opera, gmail, everything — same as BIS in the states.

Fortunately, throughout all of this I had been hooked up with a TATA wireless modem that an uncle-in-law had set up on a previous trip and left here. That thing, in combination with my eee, has been a godsend, bridging the gap on not having my blackberry working for a few days, enabling me to still keep up with work (Implode business). My only gripe on it is that it is huge in relation to the eee (which is tiny). See here for what I mean. Otherwise, even at max speeds of like 10kbs, it is getting the job done like a champ. And god bless the linux community for ease of setup of a random wireless usb modem on a random wireless provider in India on ubuntu. Works like a charm.

So having completed a good deal of shopping, which meant getting some pimp Indian dress shoes plus some dhoti (“Indian hammer pants”) and a couple new kurta tops, dodging cow patties on Baroda sidewalks (SIL was hilariously unsuccessful in this regard), being stared at, observing the amazing anarchy that is driving/biking/rickshawings/carting/ox’ing/cow-dodging/walking on the streets of India (no traffic lights and lanes are entirely ignored) and eating Papa Johns and Subway (and ate some great Indian food, of course), we are moving on to the South for a week.

We fly out of Ahmadabad down to Bangalore and then drive to Mysore. This is a mountainous region that is apparently beautiful. And our stay will involve being in some sort of rain forest for a couple of days. Should be awesome.

There are a lot of thoughts I have on this trip. They range from observations about people, business, food, overpopulation, anarchy to the bizarre mix of modern times (mobile phones and computers) and age-old tech (you should see how they build stuff here — women carrying bricks on their heads, latticing at construction sites made out of rope-tied sticks) to abundant religious iconography to the omnipresence of cows. India is an amazing place on this planet.

In the meantime, I have to get ready to leave Baroda. If you want, please follow along on my mobog. This is where I’ve been posting pictures from my blackberry live of sites I’m seeing here. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep that up, but a quick review of my mobog will give you a good sense of some of the things I’ve alluded to above.

Anyway, hope to write more when I get a chance. After out trip down south, we’ll be coming back to Baroda in time for Diwali!


Asus eee 900 laptop

As being able to stay functionally connected while traveling is an important part of my work1 and having drooled over one of these for nearly a year, I finally took the ultra-portable plunge and picked up an Asus eee pc laptop (900 series) off ebay. Boy is it small:

I got the 900 eee with Linux (Xandros), quickly activated the “advanced desktop”, and by the next morning had already determined to install Linux Ubuntu 8.042 (Note: Ubuntu on the eee marked my first Linux OS install) so I could run compiz fusion3 and have greater program flexibility.

There are ample reviews on the 900 eee (as well as the 700 series), so I won’t get into all of that here. However, I’d just like to share a couple of first impressions:

  1. Size. It is difficult to appreciate the size of the eee from pictureas on the internet. I don’t have particularly big hands. The phone in the picture is a Blackberry Curve. The nearest everday-object comparison would be to take two DVD cases in your hands. The eee is only a smidge bigger. It is awesomely tiny. The 8.9 inch screen is solid, packing in 1024×600 pixels, which makes web browsing easy, with little (none so far) side-to-side scrolling
  2. Typing. Review upon review critiqued the keyboard as small and difficult to type on. I was a bit concerned that the keyboard would be difficult to touch-type on. I was happy to discover that concerns were entirely misplaced. There is certainly a learning curve on the eee’s diminutive keyboard; however, rather than let words convince you, here is some hard data:
    • I completed the “Enchanted Typewriter” at on my full-sized laptop keyboard at 99 net words per minute.
    • Within 30 minutes of starting up the eee 900 in Xandros, I got 65 net wpm on the “Zebra” test.
    • A couple days later, I’ve managed 78 net wpm on the eee 900 with mixed use (flipping between the full-sized laptop and the eee laptop.

    My only difficulty on the eee’s keyboard has been the apostrophe key, which I frequently miss for enter. With a little practice, I figure that won’t be too “small” a problem to overcome!

  3. Linux » Ubuntu: A complete Ubuntu noob, I’ve been pretty solidly impressed with the ease of installing Ubuntu on the eee. I’m eager to try sticking Ubuntu on my Asus G1S-B2, and thanks to, it seems I can do this without having to reformat the harddrive! More and more I believe that Microsoft and Windows are going the way of the dinosaur. Innovation is in the open source community!4

It will take a bit more use to form a conclusive opinion of the eee 900, but so far, I’ve been nothing but impressed. Ultra-affordaable5 ultra-portability? Done. And if the emergence of competition is any indicator (it is), this market is only going to keep growing. Yay for technology!


1 Though I regularly work on a full desktop-replacement lappy (Asus G1S-B2, quite a powerful system for graphics processing), it weighs in at over six pounds and as its over twice the dimensional size of the eee, it requires its own backpack. As such, its hardly conducive to traveling. As it’s a fairly powerful machine, it’s also not cheap — almost 4X the cost of the eee. This simply makes me even more wary of traveling with the G1S in fear that I might lose it or have it stolen.
2 Here is a list of sites that I ended up using to get Ubuntu Hardy working smoothly:

3 This is a lot cooler than it sounds — “compiz” is a GUI that does a number of things, one of the coolest being that it allows you to rotate amongst the four desktops on a cube-like interface. To see what I’m talking about, check out this video. It puts Vista and Apple O/S to shame.

4 What does that tell you about the “benefits” of intellectual property law? Microsoft was built on IP law — meanwhile, Linux is thriving entirely without IP law and the rent-seeking behavior it induces.

5 The eee 900 can be had for $550 or less. Mine was purchased off of ebay and is the 20 gb version.