Date archives "August 2009"

Things That Make You Go ARAGH!

Today has been a very frustrating day. The God of Karma has been saving up all my bad luck from the 14th August and rained it down on me all day. They say things come in threes, and I wouldn’t want to disapoint an old cliche with my own series of three unfortunate events.

(I do find it a little odd that both this post and my previous one talk about bad luck, but hey ho, that’s the way the cookie crumbles)

The first happened early this afternoon. I went to a friends house and she was complaining about the internet password used by her former housemates. Without going in to too many details, it was sick, wrong and twisted. No problem I said, I’m a guy (of the deadly hunter-gatherer variety), we enjoy fixing things for women.

Changing the password for your wireless internet is a job of about 30 seconds, access the router (duh! By going to stupid!) update the password, click save then update the passwords on the computers accessing the wireless network. No biggie, I’ve done it loads of times before on other routers.

Except this time, sods law caught up with me and what should have been a 30 second job turned into 2 hours of frustrating, hair pulling, pleading and bargaining time spent trying to get the damn computers to work. My friend was convinced I’d broken her internet, but it’s not supposed to work like that, it’s just damn unlucky that the moment you mess around with someone elses computer to ‘fix’ it, everything goes wrong.

After wasting two hours of my time, I did eventually fix it, but the lesson was learned, never offer to fix anyone elses computer. Even if it’s for a girl.

The second round of bad luck came early this evening. I invited a Kenyan expat over to watch the Man U v Arsenal match and we decided to order a take away. Calling up, I was unconvinced that they understood the order. Regardless, we opened a couple of beers and settled down to watch the game.

A couple of hours later, it was apparent that no food was going to turn up, so we got an Indian friend to call up the place. Typically, they had no record of our order, so we went ahead and tried to place it again, the conversation went something like this.

Friend: “We want 3 chicken rolls and a mutton biriyani. M-U-T-T-O-N. Oh, no mutton, umm, ok, fine, chicken biriyani.”

A few minutes later we get a phone call.

Friend: “oh, no chicken biriyani either. Fine, we’ll just have 5 chicken rolls. OK? Good”

I should point out that this is a very regular occurance in restaurants in Chennai, it’s really not uncommon to have the waiter come back to you after placing the order and tell you that that dish or drink is not available. A classic case is illustated in one my previous posts about my quest to get some idlies. Anyway, you can’t get stressed about it, it’s just TII 🙂

Eagerly expecting our food, the phone rang again a few minutes later…

Friend: “What? No chicken rolls? OK, what about paneer rolls? OK, fine. No paneer rolls. This is a take away restaurant you are trying to run here, right? You’re not moonlighting as a stationary shop or something? What? Oh never mind. No, we don’t want anything else, cancel the order. No, we don’t want to order anything…No, we don’t want the paneer rolls because you said you didn’t have any! Sorry, am I talking to a chimpanzee?”

Sidenote: Anyone searching for information on Tandoori Wala in Chennai, avoid at all costs! They don’t speak English or Tamil (we were lucky we had a Hindi speaking friend), they don’t take down your orders and they never have any of the food on their menu! What kind of mickey mouse restaurant is this? On top of that, the prices are at least double what you would pay else where.

So another lesson was learned today. Tandoori Wala in Chennai should be avoided like the plague.

By this point the God of Karma was having a field day and looking down on me in glee as I carried on watching the match, albeit very very hungry. Still, I had my beer, right? Well, so I thought…

The final round of bad luck came during the game. In what can only be described as a freak series of unfortunate events, the way everthing came together at the right moment to create utter destruction verged on the poetic.

First off, we were watching the Man U v Arsenal match. It was the second half and I went to the fridge to pour a couple more cold beers. As I stood behind my friend to hand him his beer, Arsenal decided at that exact moment to have a very close shot on goal and my friend threw back his arms, knocking the beer flying across the room and smashing against my baby laptop (my wonderful Asus eeePC 🙁 ) spilling beer all across the floor and all over my keyboard.

Without thinking, I carefully (even your unconscious mind cares about beer) put the other beer glass down by the chair I was sitting in (which was on the other side of the room) and scampered over to my netbook which was making a worrying crackling noise. Meanwhile my friend also leapt in to action and rushed to get a mop and bucket to clean it all up. As I was tending to my netbook, he shoved my seat out of the way, sending the other beer glass flying and giving about half a dozen shoes a proper beer shampoo.

I learned my final lesson of the day (and hey, every day is a school day, right?): don’t invite Kenyan expats round to eat, watch football and drink beer!

The rest of this post is only for uber-computer geeks. Normal people can stop reading now.

(seriously, unless you actually own a minimum of two computers and have a computer parts graveyard somewhere in your (moms) house, don’t even bother continuing)

After spilling beer on my precious baby laptop, many of the keys became stuck / stopped working, for example the Num Lock key was permanently on with no way to switch it off (which rendered the U, I, O keys useless unless I planned to do lots of spreadsheets) and so was the F1 key, so every programme I opened up, it kept opening the help pages and would go in to a loop of “help automatically opens” => “manually close help” => “help automatically opens” => “manually close help” (you get the idea).

So I did some research and found that you can manually remap (change / swap) keys on your keyboard. I downloaded a free program called KeyTweak and was able to disable both the Num Lock and F1 keys, making my keyboard usable again. This is probably very useful if you’ve spilt your drink all over your laptop keyboard and some keyboard keys have stopped working or default to the ‘on’ status.

It shouldn’t happen to an expat

I seem to be having a streak of bad luck recently. Whether the gods are playing with my fate in a game of dice or not, I don’t know. Or it could be my natural carelessness (I’m sure my dad would agree with that!).

However, I have a far more interesting theory, so much so that I’m going to pick it up and run with it.

Festival season is in full swing in Chennai. To the open minded foreigner, it could be seen as a time of wonder, the chance to see culture up close and personal. The cultured person may want to understand more, find out the story behind the celebrations.

On the other hand, there’s me. You couldn’t culture me if you covered me in fertilizer and added miracle-gro (my blog, I can create whatever metaphor I want!).

When it comes to festival time, I curse, I swear and I complain bitterly to anyone who wants to listen. And since you’re reading my blog, that would be you!

Part of the preperations for the festivals involves the erection of giant idols outlined in multi-coloured lights. Sure, it looks pretty and it’s even quite impressive. Along with these giant light idols they also hang up so many light bulbs that it has a luminous intensity normally associated with stars. It’s so bright it can be seen from space, lifeforms in different galaxies see it as the brightest light in their sky.

This is all wonderful, except that all these lights are in the street outside my house. At night, despite having curtains, my room is lit up like a flood lit stadium. We’re saving thousands on electricity because we don’t need to use our lights at night.

So the lights are annoying, but if you are really tired, you can eventually get to sleep.

(pictures taken on a Nokia E75 at 2am!)

However, there is a catch. Noise. This is the second part of the culture of festivals. Holy mother of god do they know how to make noise in india. They’ve become so good that it comes in two forms; mechanical and electrical.

In the video below you will see mechanical noise. Keep in mind that I took this video at 1.45am! There’s a hilarious moment around 30 seconds so watch it carefully:

So, this goes on pretty much until 3ish after which you just have the dazzling lights to deal with.

Let’s assume that during all this culture you are able to get to sleep. Well hah! Sucks to be you kiddo because at 5am they start blasting out music through a PA system. I don’t mean that its a bit loud, it’s ridiculously loud. If volume dials could go up to 11, they’ve invented a way to go to 12!

These PA speakers are conveniently located so that they point directly in to my room. From a distance of about 3ft. When they’re blaring, I can’t even hear my own TV, and that’s in the room next door – and it has theatre surround sound. That’s how loud they play this music. So I get to sleep by 3am only to be blasted into next week when they start playing the music at 5am.

I’m sure culture is a wonderful thing, but only when you are an observer, not when it is being thrust and imposed upon you.

So what exactly has this got to do with my bad luck? Simple: sleep deprivation.

Since I’ve been getting at the most a couple of hours of decent sleep each night and a few hours of fitful sleep while the music is playing I’ve been making more and more mistakes as the days go by.

On Saturday I had a true nightmare. Myself and some friends went to a party about 10 miles out of Chennai. I was changing in to shorts (as it was a pool party), I dropped my bag on the back of the seat and it pressed the button on the car keys that locks the car. No problem though, the door was still open. I gathered up the rest of my things and also placed them on the back seat of the car, and then, it one dream like movement, proceeded to shut the door – fully aware that the car was locked and the keys were on the back seat.

As the door clicked shut, there was an awful silence as it sunk in what I had just done. My clothes, my phone, my keys and my wallet were all locked inside, all I had was a pair of swimming trunks and a t-shirt.

Naturally the friends i was with were less than ecstatic, I could tell by the way they told me to go off and join the party and enjoy myself, they would sort it. A few hours later I noticed that they still weren’t back so went to look for them, but in revenge (or spite), they had left – and taken all my stuff with them. Absolute nightmare, all because of sleep deprivation!

Another habit a seem to have developed is putting my phone in the washing machine. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, I recently bought a new Nokia E75 – and bloody good job I did too, because not 5 minutes after I got home, I put my old phone in the washing machine!


Somehow, as I gathered up all my bed clothes the old phone became entagled and in it went into the washing machine.

About half an hour later I was hunting for my old phone to transfer all my old contacts and files, and as the searching turned to desperation, my gaze fell upon the washing machine.

“bugger” I thought, and started fishing around in the bowl (it’s a top loading machine). Eventually, my groping discovered a small hard object and after a quick search and rescue effort, I managed to bring it out in to the light. It was one very dead looking Nokia phone which gurgled with water as I shook it.

Would I have made such a stupid mistake if I wasn’t extremely sleep deprived? I would like to think not.

But anyway, I think my luck is changing. I dried out the phone for 24 hours, put the battery pack back in and after a few false starts, there was the wonderful Nokia tune and the connecting hands. The phone lives!

You Had Me At Hello

Every phone I’ve ever had has been a Nokia. Sure, just like other guys I may have flirted with other phones but in the end, I’d come back to the trusty old Nokia, it’s a guy thing, it’s safe and you know exactly what you’re going to get.

I once got a Sony Ericsson, but that lasted for almost all of 2 hours before I cursed myself for trying something different and got my old Nokia back out the box.

For the last few years, I’ve been using an N73, and it was pretty much perfect, but over time the OS slowed down and it took forever to get things done, even opening text messages resulted in an annoying 10 second delay!

The cynic and conspiracy theorist in me says the shocking slowdown of the Symbian S60 operating system is intentional and designed to make you change phones every few years. But I also sometimes wear tin foil hats, so what do I know?

The final straw came, however, when the main select button stopped working and defaulted to a constantly on status. This resulted in many unintentional prank calls, in one case over 50 calls was made to a single person over a one hour period!

At that point, I knew it was time to get me a new mobile.

The previous week I trawled around all the phone stores looking at various models and checking out specs. I’d like to say I’m free and easy when it comes to styling and design, but i’m not. I’m very fussy and particular. I know exactly what I like and can usually focus in on a particular model quite quickly.

I knew I wanted a phone with a full qwerty keyboard, because I’m constantly typing notes on my phone, and it had to have wi-fi built in, so it narrowed down my options a lot. At first i was looking at the new Nokia N97 with its touch screen and slide out keypad, but when I saw it in real life I was disappointed at how big it was and how unproportioned.

Eventually my eye fell on the E75 and I knew instantly that I had to have it. However, being of the internet generation I know it’s pretty stupid to shell out £275 without consulting the all knowing oracle. So over the past week, I researched what other people were saying and the result was conclusive:

Internet, it says yes

Fortunately I had quite a good week on the internet and my crappy (as in design, not content) little articles site ended up covering the cost of the phone – which is a beautiful thing because it means I can spend nearly all my wage on beer making intelligent and long term investments.

So, armed with 25000 rupees in my pocket, I headed off to the Nokia store in the labyrinth that is Spencer Plaza, where even hardened explorers have got lost and no known floor plan exists, except in the stuff of legends.

Tying a ball of string the entrance, I navigated myself to where the Nokia store lives. The conversation went something like this…

staff: hello sir, can I help you?

me: yes, I would like this e75

staff: ah, good choice sir

me: yep, I’ve read all about it

staff: *eyes glazing over as he launches into his speech* it has a 3.2 megapixel camera and comes with an 8gb memory card

me: yep, so can I…*cut off by the salesrep*

staff: it’s got bluetooth, 3g and WLAN connectivity, so you can check you emails from anywhere

me: uh huh, i just want-

staff: you will even get 3 months subscription to Nokia gps which will give you maps and directions for every major city in India

me: sure will come in handy in spencer plaza, eh? [editor: the place is a maze, I tell you]

staff: the keypad can slide out like this to reveal a full qwerty keypad

me: I know, that’s why I wanted it, can I buy it?

staff: it will play your mp3 files, mp4 videos or you can view your photos in your album

me: I know all this, can I get it!?

staff: and look sir, it has a full office suite, you can create your word docs, excel sheets and power point presentations, all on the phone!

me: I know all this, can we start with the formalities?

staff: sir, this is a true business phone that will keep you connected 24 hours a day.

me: dude! *I shouted, getting completely exasperated*

staff: yessir?

Me: dude, *my face and voice both relax* you had me at hello.

But he didn’t get the joke, I did eventually get the phone though.

And I don’t think I’ve made a bad decision. Infact, this blog entry you’ve just read (or at least scanned) was written, edited and uploaded…all on the Nokia E75.

Attack of the Killer Red Worms (really!)

I’ve been scratching my head, trying to think of a suitable title for this blog entry. There’s not much that can accurately describe the revulsion that you might have after reading this, so if you are of a nervous disposition or have a weak heart, probably best to skip to the next post.

Continue if you are brave enough.

A couple of weeks back I had the worst stomach upset I’ve ever had since being in India. Yeah, you hear the horror stories of people being laid up for days and not being able to move, but that probably affects less than 1 in 2 people. You’ve got less than 50% chance of losing a 1/3rd of your body weight via the toilet, so there’s not that much to worry about.

Well, like I said, the worst stomach upset ever, it just wouldn’t go. I even had to take time off work. It’s not pretty, I know, but we’re about to go downhill even further….

Last week, without warning, the water was shut off. You never know just how much you take running water for granted until you’re a greased up furball who can’t take a shower. Plah. Not nice.

Sometimes the water has gone off before, and it’s usually back on within a few hours. This being a work day and all, I decided not to think too much of it and started working from home.

By the time the evening came around, the water still hadn’t been turned back on and I was starting to worry a bit. We have hand pumps (yeah, think Victorian times, you get the idea) out the front of our apartment which are used by people living in the slums (and on a side note, the noise of the squeaky water pump being operated at 6am every day is both an incessant annoyance and a audible reminder of the privileged life you lead) but even these had run dry.

The evening came round and we had a problem, there was still no water. All I can say is; thank goodness there’s a bucket under my AC to collect the condensed water!

The next morning, and I wasn’t just a greasy furball, but a decidedly odourous one at that. I said a little prayer to the God in the temple next door to me and went to switch on the tap.

Putt, pssst, put, put, psssssssss

(that’s the noise the taps make when there is not enough pressure to make the water run. It’s also one of the worst sounds in the world because roughly translated it means, “buddy, you ain’t gettin’ a shower today”).

Aragh. Nightmare.

I called up my mate and asked what’s going on with the water, it will be back in 5 minutes, he says.

Sidenote: Invariably, if you ask how long something will take in India, it will be an arbitrary five minutes. If you ask for directions, the answer will be keep going straight, when you get to the traffic lights, turn right. These are the subtle clues you need to pick up and determine that the person doesn’t know, without them explicitly telling you that they don’t know. It’s polite or something.

Anyway, translating the “5 minutes” in to “I don’t know”, I set about working from home again.

A few hours later, the God in the temple next door finally got around to reading my triplicated request for running water, and water flowed from the taps once again. I was able to finally take a shower and go through the transformation of greasy furball tramp to sharp, sophisticated businessman.

Later that day, I was on at my friend to find out why the water had been cut off for so long. He knocked on the neighbours door and came back a few minutes later looking very smug with himself.

The reason for the water being turned off was this…

The very same water that I wash in, wash my clothes in and wash up my plates, saucepans, utensils and cutlery…had been infested. With worms. Tiny red ones.

Apparently the whole street had been complaining for over a two weeks and the water authorities finally did something about it by switching the water off without informing anyone and removing and cleaning out the infestation.

I can’t believe I didn’t notice it, but when you switched on the taps, small red worms would come out, tiny little larvae and other crap.

On the bright side, at least that explained the severe stomach upset.