A Very Isaac Birthday

May 3rd, 2013

My sister and I play a lot of Binding of Isaac. Well I say we play, but it’s more like a ‘Let’s play’ sort of deal, I play and she watches, and we comment and talk and sing and dance to it. So for my birthday, she packed me this brilliant little box with a bunch of items from it:

The Golden Chest

And so it begins…

Good start

 

I wish I got the Pentagram more often.

Polyphemus? Yes please!

Kamikaze for 20 hearts. Maybe Brimstone instead, thank you.

Erh. Necropolis. On the plus side, free Habit! Get yours while it lasts!

Isn’t he handsome? Also, greed heads, die.

 

 

Piece of cake.

No, YOU bring him the photo.

Just wait for him to pop his head down…

Best run ever! We had actually picked up Technology I+II and Polyphemus on one run. Insane damage.

Oh hello, Blue Baby. Here, have a Mom’s knife-Polyphemus-Pentagram-Brimstone-Technology I+II-Stigmata-Belial-shot to the face.

Treasure!

 

 

 

Our cat, Garfield (yes, very creative, I know)

 

To cut the symbolic (and real) birthday cake.

An old family photo that maybe I shouldn’t publish here. :)

We used to play Trump Cards all the time when we were younger. Been looking for a pack now, none of the big chains seem to stock them. Sis hunted this down in a small store.

Oh yes, Triple-H! Guy had all the best stats.

:(

She meant Lemon Mishap. One of the worst items in the game.

My favorite one!

So yeah, it was a great gift, had a lot of fun opening the box and going through the drawings and items.

After that, we played a game of Isaac as Samson and ending up getting some of the same items she mentioned!

Magic 8-ball, Habit, Polyphemus, Mom’s knife, Stigmata.

Nice.

 

 

 

 

 

Capacitive Touchscreens and Static Electricity?

September 8th, 2011

My previous phone, the Moto Milestone, was great, but I had some issues with the touch screen. I eventually got the screen replaced under warranty. A month back, I had the same problems again. This time around, I had been really careful – I’d always carried the phone in a waterproof cover when I was riding or running, never kept it close to my face when I was sweating, used only the official charger and car charger, etc. So I don’t know what the problem could have been. After spending my own money on replacing the touchscreen, I saw symptoms that the problem would recur. so I decided it was about time I got a new phone.

I wanted a phone that would not be as allergic to dust or water (or so I thought) as the Milestone, so I started my research. I narrowed it down to the Samsung Galaxy S2, HTC Sensation and, of course, the iPhone 4 as candidates. Then I googled ‘phone name touch screen problem’ to see if they had crap screens.

Result? A LOT of phones do! Turns out the problem is not water getting in or salt depositing from sweat or voltage variation, like I had suspected. A lot of factors point to the culprit being a build-up of static electricity in the screen. Now I’m not an electrical engineer, but it seems like the most logical explanation to me considering that a capacitive screen works by detecting variations in the screen’s electrostatic field.

I found people facing similar problems with the Sony Ericsson X10, X10 mini, iPhone, Nexus One (HTC), Samsung Glyde, and of course, the good old Droid. Have I covered every major manufacturer there? No Nokia? Yes, that is interesting, though I suspect it may have to do with Nokia only recently adopting capacitive screens and not selling nearly as many phones as the others. I did find a few videos of the touchscreen acting up on the Nokia X6, which look suspiciously like the same problem I had on my Milestone, but in general, it has a better record.

I found this article interesting as well – http://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/showthread.php?t=39426

So anyway, my theory on why my touchscreen went crazy, twice, is that static electricity built up on me when I was out running or on my bike or even in my studio. Reasons:

  • Bikes have rubber tyres, I’m wearing shoes, and I have no contact with grounded appliances or whatever. Bike shirts and shorts are lycra and seem like they generate static (again, I’m no electrical engineer, so my understanding could be completely off).
  • Running has similar issues – no contact with ground, shirts seem like they would generate static.
  • My studio is fully carpeted and always air conditioned (low humidity). I use a rolling chair. All factors.
  • I used to charge my phone next to my pillow. Hair + pillow = static, like we learnt in school.

For now, I’m taking these precautions:

  • Using the pouch that came with my new phone – it’s made of genuine leather, and should dissipate static. It is dorky, though. :/
  • Keeping the phone on a bedside table overnight while it charges.
  • Grounding myself by touching a pole or gate before and after I run or ride.

For now, considering the odds of something going wrong, I bought myself a mid-range Galaxy SL instead of the S2. It’s a nice enough phone, and if I feel it’s developing problems at any point beyond warranty coverage, I can always resell it and buy myself another phone.

Anyone have any knowledge to share? Similar experiences?

Motorola Milestone Froyo Update problems

March 26th, 2011

Froyo for the Milestone is finally here, and I installed it a couple of days back.

Disaster!

Problem

The phone became terribly slow and laggy. The browser took a long time to start from the desktop (2-3 seconds at least) even when it was already in memory. Switching between tasks was a pain (remniscent of Windows Mobile on my HTC Elfin), and it would constantly run out of memory (LauncherPro would have to reload every time I hit the home button, even if I had just opened the Market app).

A hard reset (Settings > Privacy > Factory data reset) seemed to help at first, but after installing a few apps and switching between them, the phone went back to it’s sluggish ways.

Solution

This worked for me:

Step 1: Settings > Privacy > Disable ‘Back up my data’. When it asks you if you’re sure, reply ‘Yes’.

Step 2: Follow this link to really hard reset your Milestone (thanks, Andrew). I’ll paraphrase the relevant steps here in case that link goes dead:

  • Turn phone off.
  • Press ‘x’ on the hardware keyboard and turn phone on. Keep ‘x’ pressed, don’t let go.
  • You will see an exclamation mark. Let go of ‘x‘.
  • Press Volume up, and without letting it go, press the Camera button.
  • You’ll get a menu.
  • Wipe Cache Partition
  • Wipe data / Factory Reset
  • Once this is done, restart.

My phone works great after this. Performance is noticeably better than 2.1.

Gokarna by Bike

March 21st, 2011

Gokarna was one place that I had always wanted to visit by bike, simply because the route from Bangalore passed through some great country. A friend of mine, Abhishek (also themadman, or TMM) had some time off and agreed to accompany me. The initial plan was to do the whole distance out and back by bike (900+ km), but half of that distance would end up being on heavily-trafficked National Highways. We decided to take our bikes to the half-way point by bus, ride to Gokarna via a longer and more scenic route, and take a bus back to Bangalore.

We would be taking the bus to Chikmagalur, staying there for the night (setting up bikes, etc) and riding to Koppa from there on Day 1. Day 2 – Koppa to Sagar. Day 3 – Sagar to Gokarna. The return journey was tentatively back to Sagar and then on to Shimoga from where we planned to take a bus back to Bangalore (return plan changed later on).

Here is a map of the plan from Chikmagalur to Gokarna, and one of the planned return route.

Day 0 – Bus ride to Chikmagalur

I managed to reach the Majestic KSRTC bus stand early, tied my bike up in the luggage compartment and settled down to wait for TMM. The bus was at 2:30, and he reached at 2:25 – a botched rack installation had delayed him. We quickly put his bike into the bus and settled into our seats. Tip: For those who have a choice, take a Volvo over a Mercedes. The one we took was used, probably an older model, and not as fancy as you may imagine. The suspension, Abhishek pointed out, was not as good as The B7Rs either. Luggage space seems identical, though.

We reached Chikmagalur at night and set out towards our hotel, Planter’s Court. We had to push our bikes there since we had no time to mount our racks. A kilometer away, all downhill, no problem. On the way, though, I felt severe brake rub on my rear wheel. I later found out that it was a broken spoke, probably one that had snapped on the bus ride. Too tired and too late, we decide to defer all our setting-up to the next morning and hit the bar for beer and food. There was a cricket match on (I don’t remember which countries – probably Mozambique and Kentucky) that was fun to watch. Madman explained various cricket rules to me like offside, free kick and black belt. Food was passable, probably the worst on the trip, but the place was alright.

Day 1 – Chikmagalur to Koppa: A Gentle Start

Bikes at our room in Chikmagalur

Early next morning found us wandering around town looking for screws, nuts and washers (and breakfast too). By the time we were finally set up, it was 11. I was going to be riding with 35 spokes instead of 36, thanks to some great truing work by Abhishek. I had also worn out the threading on my seat-stay where the rack attached, so it was fixed only at 3 points instead of 4. Abhishek had problems of his own too – he was tying his bag onto the rack using Nylon rope, which seems to be really hard to get tension on. So… Shaky start.

We set off, and had a few minor hiccups (loose crank, rope coming loose) that we soon sorted out. Ten kilometers out, we were on really pretty roads outside Chikmagalur. The road started to descend gently – an easy start. Pretty soon, we had crossed our first ghat and were on rolling terrain.

Chikmagalur to Koppa

Abhishek perfecting his knot-tying skills

Pretty much our only major stop was for lunch, at a Muslim fish/chicken restaurant called Karavalli IIRC. Surprisingly good food of rice, sambar and chicken curry. They even had some popcorn on sale outside the restaurant – for all those BZ discussions.

We were a little worried that we would have to ride in the dark, but thankfully there was a direct road to Koppa from Jayapura that avoided Shringeri (a good 20 km saved). One last ghat greeted us as we were ready to stumble into Koppa, but we dismissed it quickly enough and reached in daylight (by around 6:15). Koppa is a fairly small but pleasant town and has a few hotels right next to the bus stand. We chose the best looking one, and the managar let us carry our bikes into the hotel. Friendly service, good food, and clean air-conditioned rooms. We had covered 90 kilometers on our first day.

Abhishek performing relaxations

Day 2 – Koppa to Sagar: Plantation Country

We woke up to a bit of mist and Idli for breakfast. Originally aiming for a  7 or 8 AM start, we ended up leaving at 10. First stop was Thirthahalli, and the road to it was a very beautiful descending ghat. We saw many estates near town, and as we got further away, plantations turned to (reserve?) forests. Never any traffic, but there was enough civilization on the way that we could stop for juice, water and snacks. We stopped for a second breakfast at Thirthahalli (Khara Bath and Mangalore Bun), and continued on. On our way, we came across the turn to Kuppalli, birthplace of Kuvempu. We rode down to the museum and back. We weren’t really in a mood to visit, but we stopped for a bit and took in the surroundings. Extremely scenic and quiet roads in this part of the world.

Madman practising 'The Look' on a nonexistant opponent

Did I say scenic and quiet? That reminds me – by now, my drivetrain was going mental. It was noiser than many trucks, and spinning up hills was embarassing. Things needed to be done at the next town.

We rode on. At some point, I got a flat and was disappointed that my so-far-excellent Panaracers had given in to the puncture gods. Turns out it was a pinch flat, probably from all the load I was carrying and the low-ish pressure I was running. We swapped out tubes and managed to pump the tyre up to 70 PSI using borrowed musculature from a helpful local. Another kilometer on, and pressure was dropping again. Luckily, had reached a major rural intersection, and there was both a bicycle shop and a lunch place. I gave my tyre (and plastic tyre levers) to the puncture-walla, and we went in to the lunch-shack for some rice, chicken gravy and kabab. Again, I was surprised at how good the food was. And we visitors were given special treatment by the owner, of course. Always nice.

By the time we were done with lunch, puncture-man had patched up the tube with a motorcycle patch, and we were good to go. The ride from here on was mostly uneventful, though through some extremely scenic land. We made up for lost time by not stopping, and managed to save 7 km by taking a (newly-built?) bypass to Sagar.

After a 20km or so stretch of lonely road, we joined a more populated highway. School boys gave us chase on their roadsters (we sprinted away, of course) and school girls giggled and pointed. There was one particular section where we had to climb, and then descend, a small hill on the road. As we descended, to our left there was this huge mass of screaming school kids converging with our route. What a sight.

We finally met the electric cables Akshay talks about in his ride to Goa and followed them all the way to Sagar. Madman registered a 100+ top speed on his wireless computer, and I found it quite fascinating how loud they were. We finally reached Sagar at around 6:30, having ridden 115 km on the second day. We checked in to the first decent lodge we could find.

At Hotel Varadha Shree

After washing up, we walked into town to find diesel and oil for my chain. Turns out 40:20 oil (diesel engine oil) works well with chains. It is extremely messy and attracts gunk, but it made my chain absolutely noiseless. We also found a distant relative of Pedals & Wheels. We asked around for a decent restaurant to eat in and unknowingly ended up back at our hotel. Oh well. Soup, Naan and vaguely Indian chicken dish for dinner. And beers were had.

Day 3 – Sagar to Kumta: Passive-agressive Roads

We left at 9:30ish, and barely 2 km from our hotel, Abhishek rode over some broken glass and ended up with a huge gash on his tyre. I heard a huge hissing noise behind me, but it was so loud that I was sure it couldn’t be our bikes. Well, it was.

The Cut

After a good half hour spent installing a boot (hat tip to GR and the BZ gang), we were off again. We stopped at a nearby town to get ice cream and top up water, just in time to see a guy have a heart attack right in front of us (no kidding). Ah well, life goes on. A short discussion with the shop-keeper about possible routes later, we started off again. I rode some distance with school kids. Invited some to ride along to Jog Falls and they refused saying they had to get to school! Man, kids these days.

Once we were out of town, the road was superb, again. Our original plan was to ignore Jog Falls and push on towards Kumta, but the bridge to Jog was so tempting that we just had to explore it.

Bridge to Jog Falls

Not a soul to be seen, either. We saw a resort in the distance and thought we’d pay a visit. Reached Jog and was disappointed at the quality of accommodation. The place was fine enough, but there was no water in the falls, and the lodge was unreasonable. So we had coffee and bread-omlettes and left after about an hour. The highlight of the detour to Jog was being able to ride on that bridge again.

 

The Jog Falls, dry at the time

There was primarily rolling terrain from there on, and a decent climbing ghat to Siddapur, by which time we were hungry. Stopped for lunch at a small roadside restaurant. This was the only town I didn’t like on the tour, or maybe it was just an off day. After a bit of consulting for routes, we head off again towards Kumta. The first 30-odd kilometers were gently rolling through some lovely countryside, and then out of nowhere, this bloody insane descent started. What a road! First off, the blacktop was in great condition, well designed and perfectly banked. Next, there was no traffic. I think we saw one bus and one car the whole way. Most people take the Honnavar route which we were avoiding. The scenery was also gorgeous  – at some sections, you couldn’t even see the sky, it was like riding along a corridor with trees for walls. And then there was this chorus of crickets cheering us on. Surreal.

 

After a breathless descent, we were on level ground again, and the road started showing signs of being Incredibly Indian. The freshly laid blacktop disappeared, and potholes and craters crawled out from underneath. The scenery was still charming, though, so no complaints. We were riding along a river and were tempted to stop and explore, but riding in the darkness in this sort of country wasn’t very appealing. Besides, we had no idea how the road ahead was.

Good thing we pressed on, because from here to Kumta, road conditions worsened and there was considerable rolling terrain. We avoided breaks, and finally reached the Kumta highway by 6:30. Both our bikes had passed their respective tests (one with a broken rear spoke and one with a booted rear tyre). After inquiring at a couple of places, we finally found a passable air-conditioned hotel called Vaibhav palace. Beers and Tandoori Chickens ensued.

We had covered 128 km on Day 3.

Day 4 – Kumta to Gokarna: Unexpected Climbs

We expected to do this day without much drama. Just 37 km to Gokarna. How wrong we were. We were so unworried that we didn’t even pick up water. We had 800 ml each and thought it would suffice. The ride from Kumta to the Gokarna turn-off was highway, slightly rolling and hot, but we did okay. The turn-off from the highway took us through false flats (all fine so far), villages and markets, past salt farms and regular farms, and finally to a town. All good. And then there was the turn to Om Beach. There was a monster of a climb that led from Gokarna town to Om Beach. I don’t remember this incline from when we drove up last time. Granny-ring, your time to shine. Slowly but steadily, we pushed through searing heat (fast emptying our water bottles) over the last few kilometers. Looking back, the climb wasn’t all that bad. It was just that it was unexpected. Finally, we reached the top of the hill and could see Kudle beach down below.

Now we had to descend the same hill we had just climbed. Reached a small shop selling lassi, had some, and carried our bikes down one last staircase to our destination – Om Beach.

The first place you find, and probably the most well-known, is Namaste Cafe. We parked ourselves at a table and settled down for rehydration, beer, and lunch (in that order). What a feeling to finally reach. Buddha approved and smiled for us. We checked-in at Namaste and spent the rest of the day and two days after that doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the hell out of it.

A lot of beer, food, walking around, jumping into the sea, shopping, visiting town, sleeping, talking, lazy tropical yawning, dog-petting, cat-catching, fly-swatting, mosquito outwitting, volleyball watching.

 

Standard table at Namaste

One view of Om Beach

Our room, with Madman photobombing

Table at Breakfast

A lot of boats around. The place is busier than I remember it.

Same boat, more rocks

Wannabe lighthouse. Reminded me of Tintin's 'Black Island'

Crabs were a constant scare for me. This one is dead.

A Croatian cyclist on tour on an old Kona MTB. Looks like he's using an Xtracycle

Look closely at his rim. He's worn it down so much that it's bulging outwards. He was looking for a replacement rim/wheel in Goa, where he was headed next. Passed him Escapade's number from BZ.

Another view of Om Beach, from the opposite side. Lot of sensor dirt in my DSLR; I haven't used it for years.

Dawg chillin' on da waves

My chain, lubed with 40:20 and filthy

Another view of our room

Nice booty

1.25 Panaracers on the left, and 1.75 Contis on the right

Volleyball on the beach

Obligatory Sunset

Madman taking in aforementioned sunset

Coast towards Kudle beach

Rocky coastline on Om beach. This is also visible on the satellite imagery

The breakfast of champions. Or something.

Day 7 – Gokarna to Karwar: All done

The original return route to Sagar and Shimoga was cancelled. 125 kilometers of overlap just seemed like too much. Instead, we thought of heading along the coast to Karwar and then taking a bus back. Karwar was some 60 km from Gokarna. As soon as we hit the highway, we got a mini-ghat. Basically, all along this route, though it isn’t very apparent when driving, you are climbing hills and descending them, even along the coast. Abhishek’s bike lost a front ring thanks to a broken barrel adjuster, so he had only rings 1 and 3.

Fairly scenic road and climbs for the first half, and then it settles into monotonous small townism for the rest of the way. Just before reaching Karwar, the scenery improves. We passed by a huge naval installation for Project Searbird, two fairly short ascending ghats, and entered Karwar just before lunchtime. There was some confusion on our bus bookings, so we sorted that out first. Headed to a restaurant on the bus agent’s recommendation – Hotel Amrut. Amazing food, and a great way to finish our tour. We had rice, fish curry, and two different fried fish. Among the best seafood I’ve eaten. The place also seems to be undergoing a facelift, and seating area is nicely done.

Butter fish

Estuary fish - it was called Rous (sp?)

After lunch, we spent some time chatting with the owner, who was quite taken by the fact that we had ridden down. He showed us around the kitchen and gave us some inside info on how the restaurant business works. Then, by 2:30, we were off again, with no plans till our bus at 10:15. We sat at the beach for a bit lazily watching some guys put up chickenwire. Watched a huge-ass ship take an hour for a tow out to sea, saw some kites fight dogs for fish. Rode around town, got thrown out of the Maritime Museum for having the gall to carry bicycles in, said ‘fuck you very much’, rode around on the beach, and finally found a shady place where we relaxed till it was time to go back to Amrut for dinner. 79 km on day 7.

On Karwar beach

Damn kites, always eyein' our foods.

That huge ship (Tom Swedishsomethingsen) took more than an hour to turn around and head off

Light dinner done, we headed towards Seabird travels and fell asleep waiting for the bus. Somehow, we woke up the next morning in Bangalore.

Total distance on saddle was 467 kilometers.

90 (to Koppa) + 115 (to Sagar) + 128 (to Kumta) + 37 (to Om Beach) + 18 (around Gokarna) + 79 (to Karwar and around)

One year of riding a bike

December 17th, 2010

This was originally posted on BikesZone, here.

So I started riding last Dec 15th on a cheap Indian bike – viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4719.

It hasn’t been all that long, really, and there are so many people here who’ve been riding much longer. But for me it’s a milestone. I’ve never stuck to any sport/physical activity for such a long time. Weights, jogging, badminton. Here’s how it usually goes — 1 week to 3 months of intense involvement, burn-out, and then avoiding the place.

To be fair, it’s not always my fault. When I went to the gym, the brain-dead “instructor” there told me to come early in the morning on an empty stomach, without coffee even, and work on my cardio. Instead of feeling fresh and invigorated, I would be dead tired at the end of my workout – I hated it, and I hated him. I went regularly for 3 months, but then one day I skipped it, and I never felt like going back. I hear now that the gym (one of Bangalore’s older, more popular gyms, mind you) is on the verge of shutting down. Good riddance.

When I started cycling, it was an impulsive thing. I was sitting at my desk, and I thought it would be nice to ride a bike. I googled ‘bangalore bicycles’, found the BOTS site, read the FAQ, didn’t understand anything, and the same evening, I went to a local ‘cycle mart’ and picked up my first LAS for all of 7,500. It’s probably worth mentioning that at this point, I weighed (around) 110 kgs, and was a chain smoker (30 cigarettes a day). Just five years before that, I was a healthy 75 kgs.

The worst part was that I had never realized how much I had let myself go.

So I started to wake up early and ride, because no matter how tiring it was, it was fun goddamit. I would do 10 km and be panting at the end, but I’d come back home happy and the rest of my day would go great. Within a week, I started riding to office (5 km away). Within a month, I had become much stronger, my smoking habit had become very occasional (still is), and I did my first (non-continuous) 100 km on the 10th of Jan. I met a couple of friends there (Sampath and Madhavi), thanks to whom I was able to complete the ride.

That ride was when I became a real cyclist. 100 km without a vehicle? Did I really just do that? The kind of independence and possibility that a bike offers is amazing. It still gives me goosebumps to think about how much farther I will travel on my own power, and what places I still have to explore. Every time I turn off the beaten road and find a new, unknown route that is unexpectedly beautiful, I feel this insane rush of serotonin. It’s addictive.

Like I mentioned in a different thread, I have lost at least 15 kilos since then. I have been suffering severe bouts of manic-depression since I was 16. I now ride/run almost daily, and my mood has stabilized to a large extent. I eat healthier, without trying. I’ve met some great people. I’ve seen some breathtaking views. I’ve had the best meals of my life after long days in the saddle. I drink less now, but I enjoy it more.

Minkey-style observations:

  • Warming up makes all the difference. Don’t push too hard too early.
  • Rest is important. Don’t cycle everyday, take a break when you feel energy dropping. It’ll make you stronger.
  • Some days, you’re a roadie, other days you’re a tourer, and some other days you’re a mountain biker. Go with open arms.
  • Find your rhythm. Once you’re in the sweet spot, you can ride forever.
  • Eat wisely. Feed your face = Turn your feet. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t ride without eating. You will suffer, you will give up.
  • Sometimes, you just can’t. There’s no shame in pushing your bike up that hill. You’ll ride it another time and wonder why it felt so hard the last time.
  • Talk to the locals when you travel. Especially when you’re riding around remote villages, people can be genuinely curious. You’ll find that many are eager to help you if you take the time to talk to, rather than just ask of, them. Of course, there are assholes everywhere, so be smart.
  • Learn to fix a puncture. Carry a spare tube and a pump. Always. I had a flat yesterday after more than six months. And yesterday was the first time I hadn’t taken my pump.
  • Try running. I was the last person you’d expect to see running, but here I am actually enjoying it. It does wonders to your endurance and ability to sustain a sprint.
  • If someone has to ask you why you’re riding, he’ll never understand.
  • In the beginning, you may need company to ride, but after a while, try riding alone. It’s a different, but equally enjoyable, trip. You set your own pace, you’re lost in your random thoughts. Pedaling is a hypnotic motion.

Droid/Milestone Touchscreen ‘Ghost’ problem

November 24th, 2010

Update: The problem resurfaced a couple of days after I wrote this entry and I had to get my touchscreen replaced. If you’re facing the same problem, immediately stop using other chargers. In my experience, that is the culprit.

My Motorola Milestone (Droid in the US) started acting really weird after charging it using an external battery.

The Problem

The touch screen would flake out randomly – operating itself, scrolling, dialing contacts, etc. Some people have posted videos of their screens going mad:

Initially, I thought it was because water had gotten in. After reading this thread on DroidForums, I tried everthing mentioned there – drying it in the Sun, keeping it in a book overnight (completely disassembled), discharging and recharging the battery; I even kept it under a lightbulb for a couple of hours hoping it would dry the phone out effectively. I reset the phone twice. Nothing worked.

Turns out that the problem was that I had been charging it using an external battery. Apparently, the Milestone (and the Droid) is very sensitive to voltage. Using other chargers, even quality ones from say a Blackberry or HTC, will cause this problem.

The Solution

Do nothing. It’s been a week since the problem started and yesterday, the phone started behaving all by itself.

Use the phone normally. Make sure that you use only the authorized Motorola charger. Give it a week. If things don’t get better, maybe you really need to take it to a technician.

Journey across India

May 31st, 2010

Journey Across India from Mike Matas on Vimeo.

Ear to the Ground

January 1st, 2010

A set of field recordings, with photos and background. Beautiful, beautiful sounds, including the flapping of Monarch Butterfly Wings as they mate, and chirps of Penguin chicks.

http://seedmagazine.com/slideshow/ear_to_the_ground/

Short Film: On Time

December 22nd, 2009

A salesman sells the future in a briefcase.

ON TIME from Bianca Bodmer on Vimeo.

My 2-day trip to Manali

December 13th, 2009

Last month (November/December 2009), I took off on an impromptu trip to Manali, at the base of the Himalayas, accompanied by a friend from Delhi. It was all quite unplanned and haphazard, but he knew enough about the place that it all fell together quite smoothly.

Statutory warning: Phone camera photos with terrible auto-white ahead.

Sage Manu's temple, after which the town was named.

Sage Manu's temple, after which the town was named.

The Bus Journey

We landed up in a bus stand in Delhi (I don’t know which one, but it was huge and filthy). After asking people and shuttling from platform to platform, we finally found the ticket counter (hint: it’s on the first floor of the bus stand). We bought a ticket from the Himachal Pradesh transport corporation counter. If I remember right, it cost us something like 1,500 INR. Which is a lot for an uncomfortable ‘super-luxury’ Volvo bus with no ventilation (the AC was mostly off because of the cold).

The bus was filled with couples headed to Manali for their honeymoons, and we were the only two guys with backpacks and no plan. The ride took us a forgettable 14 hours. We had had a couple of shots of whiskey before boarding, and that helped us sleep. Dinner was at a nondescript Punjabi roadside restaurant.

Next morning, we were at Kullu, and shortly, Manali. We got off, headed to a nice-looking cafe on the main road, and had coffee and excellent momos. We then walked randomly around, getting a feel for the place. Even though it wasn’t tourist season, there were a lot of couples on the main road, and quite a bit of activity, so getting rooms and transport would not be a problem.

Renting a bike

Research on the Internet had led us to believe that old Manali was the place to be, and we decided to get a motorcycle and ride there. There were a lot of touts trying to sell us rooms, we either ignored them or casually said no, and they didn’t bother us too much. We then walked into a travel agency (Special Tours India) with a board that said ‘Motorcycles for hire’, and they were helpful enough. We negotiated a battered Pulsar 150 for 400 INR per day, no fuel included. After making the deposit and riding out, I realized that it had no brakes. The front disc was pretty much down to metal-on-metal, and the rear drums were soft and unresponsive. If you plan to hire a bike, be a little more picky than we were. Apparently, Pulsars are rare, so finding one in good condition is hard. More common are ancient Yamaha RX-100s and Bullet 350s. I didn’t want the Bullet because it was overkill for our purposes, and the Yamaha was too light.

The Pulsar also had a dead battery. Luckily, headlights were working fine (although there was no horn). The front fork was bent, and both rims were wobbly. It was like riding a mule with Parkinson’s. This wasn’t too much of an issue for us since we weren’t planning on doing any touring, just using it to get around. We filled ten litres of petrol and headed towards old Manali after a brief stop at Vashisht.

The temple at Vashisht

The temple at Vashisht

If you’re even half a biker, consider getting a motorcycle in Manali. The roads are well-maintained, weather is pleasant (even though I only saw winter, it wasn’t all too cold), and the views, spectacular.

The road to Solang valley and Rothang pass

The road to Solang valley and Rothang pass

road_to_solang

A local road in Manali

A local road in Manali

Old Manali

Old manali is different from the main town. Whereas the main town (mall road?) is a typical Indian tourist place, with hawkers and touts and restaurants boasting 20 cuisines in one kitchen and families walking down the road sharing two ice-cream cones between the five of them, old Manali is sedate and peaceful. It has fewer (and better) restaurants and hotels, and is much more scenic. There are more non-Indians (mostly Europeans and Israelis), and people are more approachable and less out to sell you something. All this in a distance of maybe five kilometers. We rode till the very end of the road, and finally decided to check into this place called Monal guest house.

Monal Guest House, in Manali

Monal Guest House, in Manali

It had a beautiful view of the valley and the Beas river running through it, piped water, clean rooms and bathrooms, television, and was pretty cheap (INR 400 per night). There wasn’t a restaurant, but we later blundered into a very cool place called Drifers’ Inn, about two minutes by walk from Monal. There were also a couple of shops nearby selling biscuits, pepsi and chocolates, and a shack where a local made omlettes and tea.

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

The Beas river

The Beas river

We later discovered that Drifters’ Inn had rooms as well, at pretty much the same cost. It looks like a nicer place to stay, too, though the view isn’t nearly as spectacular.

The first night, we decided to get something to drink. We rode towards town, and a couple of places caught our eye, Johnson’s Pub, and Caverna Magica. The bartender at Magica was friendly enough, but the place was empty (maybe because we were there off-season). Johnson’s was much more lively, and we spent the rest of the night there, eventually getting back at 12ish. Food and drinks were, while not cheap, reasonably priced, and really good.

Solang valley

The next day, after a considerable breakfast at Drifers’ (and maybe a beer, I won’t say), we rode towards Rothang pass. It was a scenic ride of maybe 20-30 kilometers through hilly terrain. The pass was closed because of avalanches/landslides, so we just rode on. We were on our way to a place called Solang valley. The climb was beautiful, but the valley itself was a crowded tourist spot. There were guys selling quad-bike rides, hang-glider rides, horse-rides and omlettes everywhere.

This criminal sold us Maggi (Ramen) for INR 50ish

This criminal sold us Maggi (Ramen) for INR 50ish

A two kilometer trek took us to a nearby Shiva temple, which was well worth it. You can also get there by horse, but the horses were in such wretched shape that I decided not to, for fear of falling off. We walked. I made my first tentative contact with snow there. It was a let-down. I expected it to be much more magical. With more rainbows and fairies and such.

Shiva temple at Solang valley

Shiva temple at Solang valley

By the time we left (five or six in the evening), it was already getting dark. On our way back to Manali, we found this amazing pizzeria (advertised as using a wood-oven) where we had chicken pizza for INR 120ish (and a quart of whiskey from a wine shop next door) and relaxed a bit before heading out. The place itself was very cozy; it had wooden interiors, and reminded me of the wild-west in all the books I’ve read. I’m giving it two cool points just for that feeling.

Not just pizza, wood-oven god-damned pizza.

Not just pizza, wooden-oven god-damned pizza.

The next day, we shopped a bit in the main town, had a nice lunch at Sher-e-Punjab on mall road and headed back to Delhi.

The Goats

All in all, I found Manali beautiful, provided we kept off the well-trod routes. People were friendly, climate amazing, and the place and surrounding scenery made for a very relaxing stay. If you’re a nature-lover, you can just walk any which way, and you’ll find a postcard-perfect orchard, or cliff, or river, or valley. If you like food and drink, you have enough variety to keep you busy for a long time.

I didn’t hear of any parties while I was there, but I’m guessing they happen at a different time of year, and that’s another attraction of Manali. I’m not big on it, but if you are, marijuana use is common, and not a problem, but taking it out of Manali is dangerous (cops have checkposts).

My two days there were woefully inadequate; I’m guessing you need at least a week to travel to nearby places and still have time to unwind every evening, and that’s what I’m going to do the next time I visit. Dharamshala and Ladakh are nearby, and I’d like to do a circuit through all three places, beginning and ending at Manali.

Also, the rumors are true, there are goats.

Goats. What more can I offer as explanation?

Goats. What more can I offer as explanation?

Contacts

Contact of Monal house: +91.1902-253848
Contact of Special Tours India: +91.94187-76717, info at specialtoursindia dotcom, stitours at gmail
Contact of Drifers’ Inn & Cafe: +91.99103-33127, driftersinn at gmail, driftersinn.in