I have a tab in my browser

Tabs on browsers seem to be the norm these days. Looks to be a very useful feature, till you look closely. I think tabs have caused a major change in how we do things, and not all these changes are positive.

Very very long ago, there were browsers that allowed you to view just a single page. If you wanted to view a different page, you navigated away from the current page. Things had a logical start and end, you finished what you were doing and then moved on to something else. There was a lot of patience involved due to Dial-up modem speeds too.

Then, not so long ago, there came a feature for launching multiple browser windows to do concurrent things. That allowed you to do more, but subconsciously, you were wary of launching too many windows. Websites that launched popup windows were seen with contempt. It cluttered your desktop, slowed things down & you were still constrained by the bandwidth available. You could start a couple of things together and get them done, but the number of things/windows were still manageable to keep track of.

Then came Tabs. Like one of the English meaning of the word Tab (a running account for items or services rendered), it allows you to open multiple working windows within a window and continue a “flow of actions” on each. With more bandwidth and less desktop clutter, it provided an easy way of doing concurrent things. You could even have multiple windows and multiple tabs on each. Browsers got the capability to “remember” the windows & tabs if was terminated abnormally, and Operating Systems already had a Standby feature where you didn’t have to close application and shutdown the computer. With this convenience, it became effortless to start new things, so one didn’t have to give it much thought. But the time taken to complete those series of steps became longer. A lot of times, tabs remained open for days & weeks on end, waiting for a reading or action … some sort of logical end. The user, on the other hand, got a sense of progress, when they opened a tab for something, thinking they will get to it. With no limit of the number of tabs and windows, the user is limited by the multi-tasking capability of his/her mind. Realistically, tabs cause a 100 open things, with no pressure to get them to logical closure. It’s the perfect tool to fuel procrastination. Unless Tabs are used with self-discipline, I think they hamper productivity, not aid it. Just some Food for Thought!

Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on Tabs, please do comment if you’re reading this. How’s your experience been? Do you often have 100 open tabs? How do you deal with it?

[Tip:] I find it useful to go over my open Windows & Tabs at the end of the week, if not daily (ideal). The act of clearing your tabs, closing the browser, and shutting down the machine helps close the loop on things, and keep a check on the low-effort tasks that you might be carrying for no reason.

Random chatter on the channel

There are some things that can be categorized and some that cannot be; and then there are these little uncategorizable (I created a new word…Hurray!!!:D) things that have this “Aha” factor about them which tend to not get talked about. Sometimes its an interesting movie, a soulful song, a useful tip from a fellow human being etc. that makes you go “Wow/Gee/Ooh/Mmm/OyeHoye” … somehow these things fall through the cracks when you write, unless you’re writing a review.

My life has been filled with countless such little things (like everyone else’s), and so here I am here trying to share some of these. I decided to call it “Random chatter” because of the randomness that arises from bunching together unrelated things in a bulleted list and also because the phrase sounds nice to my ears. Seems to fit the definition of the word “Arbit” quite well (short for arbitrary, origin: IIT lingo; interesting to see many of the words have been passed on to mainstream language).

-> I came across a series of travel/city books titled “Cheap Bastards guides”, these guides have specific tips on living a free life in cities like Boston, NYC, San Francisco & Chicago. Here’s the website http://www.thecheapbastard.com/, they do mention they even got the website done for free. Pretty Cool! But going by the principle, why would someone want to pay for these guides, shouldn’t they be available for free 😀

-> Found this gem of a website for online music. It has all the good ingredients: very user friendly, is free, Minimal ads, no popups, no clutter, no player installation needed and a very very good music collection. May I present http://www.dhingana.com/. Key features: allows you to create & maintain multiple playlists and share playlists, here’s a more exhaustive list. Do visit their About Us page.

->Some movies that I thoroughly enjoyed (and learnt some things too 😉 ):

  • The Notebook (it feels nice to be a hopeless romantic sometimes)
  • The scent of a woman (watched for te 3rd time, am short of words for this movie, I can just say its fantastic)
  • The Shawshank redemption (it’s good to have a short term and long term plan)
  • The story of Us (very realistic movie, liked the idea of thinking about your high and low for the day)
  • Pay it Forward (based on a beautiful idea that works on the honor system)
  • Ahista Ahista (life can be simple & sweet)
  • Swades (watched 2nd time, it isn’t easy to follow your heart, but it can turn out to be the right choice)
  • Good will hunting (See below)
  • Dead Poets Society (See below)

This is the below that was mentioned above: The world likes conformity, it makes it easy for people to categorize people, but is that the purpose of our being…to be categorized? Humans have individuality and are NOT like Cattle! I look around and see that the majority of our systems are built to treat all people and situations alike … rules, company policies … somewhere somehow individuals are forced to conform. The greatest thinkers, inventors, artists, revolutionists weren’t conformists…gotta remember that!

-> Visited New York city a few days back. It was a trip I was looking forward to and I read a lot on the internet to understand the basics. A few key points:

  1. I over-read :, it’s possible to enjoy the city without the weeks of reading that I did. On the other hand, preparation does help and knowledge, as you know, never goes waste. It did help me navigate around the city more efficiently.
  2. NY City and subways aren’t as dangerous as the movies of 90s made us believe.
  3. The city is fast paced, crowded and the city’s character is similar to Mumbai/Bombay’s.
  4. Walking across the Brooklyn bridge is nice, and view is better if you’re walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan rather than in the other direction.
  5. A visit to Empire State building is worth the wait (it has approx. 90 mins of wait) and the view from the 85th floor is amazing. But, it’s really crowded unlike what we see in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
  6. Walking is the way in NYC, you tend to walk for miles and not know it. Ofcourse you do know later when your feet ache like hell. Good walking shoes help!
  7. NY hotdog & pizza is something you shouldn’t miss.
  8. Taking the one day unlimited use fun pass for the Subway is a good idea.

-> Found two awesome Indian restaurants around Boston to satisfy my Punjabi taste buds and keep me going…(Research has proven that Tandoori chicken contains a chemical that is found to reduce home sickness :D, don’t ask me who the researchers were though)

  1. Punjabi Dhaba @ Cambridge: simple restaurant, self service, the USP of this place is the flavor and price. Flavor is way way better than most Indian places around here and prices are so affordable that makes me wish we could eat there everyday if we lived closer. There’s usually a long queue at this place running right into the street, and its a long wait, but the wait is worth every minute. No cards, only cash.
  2. Kashmir @ Newbury Street: classy 4-star Indian restaurant. USP is food and ambiance, is a little pricey though. There’s also an outdoor seating and the place has flavored hookah, I don’t care much about the hookah as I don’t smoke any more. Here are some reviews.

-> One of my school friends has been working on this India search engine called Dwaar, very interesting website. Give it a shot, it might help you find what you had been looking for … http://www.dwaar.com/

-> To wind up this post, here’s a very interesting article from the Wired magazine that talks about how games can be leveraged to makes machines learn from human behavior.

Cheers!

The SQL query that made me smile

A few days back, I filed my income tax online. To many, that may seem like something ordinary but to me, being able to do that online was a milestone in itself. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I heard that taxes can be filed online, I started off exploring with a pessimistic outlook … maybe the website would be down … the system might be slow … will it be reliable … will it do what it claims. I had reasons for thinking this way, as over the years I’ve seen that these processes and the bookkeeping behind the curtains has been largely manual and on paper. And I’ve had my shares of experiences that have made me form my opinions … I’ve stood in queues for hours, I’ve visited the IT office(*1) and seen how much time & effort it takes to locate a physical file and have always wished that someday (maybe in 10-15 years), things would get computerized. I wasn’t expecting it to come so soon though.

The experience of filing my tax online was a surprise so pleasant, that I was actually …. QUITE surprised. I entered my name, date of birth and PAN number and the query pulled up my address on record. I’m a programmer myself and have written quite a few queries myself but let me tell you … no other query has given me so much happiness. For this query to be able to fetch data meant that the records existed in digital form and could be queried. That, in itself, opens so many avenues and limitless possibilities.

The overall process including registration, downloading and filling up the form and uploading the data took me less than an hour. The overall workflow was very thoughtfully designed, with a few exceptions which I’ll come to. I was able to file my tax from halfway around the world and there was only one manual leg in the process (since I didn’t have a digital signature).

These were my highs and not-so-highs..

The Highs:

  • Was able to file tax online
  • No attachments (Form-16, investment proofs) required
  • Non-proprietary software for filling the return Form. These days, Adobe Acrobat can be considered a standard software.
  • Query for PAN in registration process boosted confidence, was quite fast too
  • Website has an advanced users option (for programmers) where XML data could be edited manually
  • When filing tax without a digital signature, the acknowledgment form is generated as a downloadable PDF file (which has to be printed, signed and submitted in the IT department). Generating a downloadable PDF was a thoughtful design considering people want to retain acknowledgment in soft copy for their records and also may not have a printer at hand to print immediately.

The Not-So-Highs:

  • The name of IT website in digital signature didn’t match with site name verbatim due to which the browser gave a warning.
  • The completely automated option requires a digital certificate. Only certificates issued by one of the 7 affiliate agencies is accepted, even certificates issued by international issuing agencies aren’t accepted. None of these companies sell digital certificates online, so human interaction is required.
  • The return form gave a prompt for upgrading Adobe acrobat when it was opened in Acrobat version 6. When the upgrade option was chosen, Adobe Acrobat got upgraded to Version 7 and not Version 8.1. As per the IT website, the version needed Adobe 8.1.
  • The document opened up without any prompts/warnings when opened in Acrobat 7. While exporting to XML though, all dates in the form were getting dropped from the XML and was causing validation errors wile uploading. This problem was solved when user upgraded to Acrobat version 8.1.
  • IT department could’ve given a FAX number where the signed acknowledgment could be faxed directly. Or maybe an email address where you could send the scanned copy of signed acknowledgment. This would save a trip to the IT office (*2)

Overall, filing tax was a Breeze; IMO, the process isn’t perfect yet but it definitely a big step forward. Believe it or not, I actually jumped with joy after completing the process in less than an hour. And the SQL query for PAN, that’s brought on an instant Smile!

(*1): The best part about visiting the IT office at Mayur Bhawan in Connaught Place, New Delhi … getting to have the Special Choley Bhature/Rajmah Chawal/Kadi Chawal at Shankar Market…Mmmmm, I can smell those bhaturas from here
(*2): Maybe that trip really is worth it (Refer *1).