Sunday, June 25, 2017


Commonly referred to as Lynwood Gold, the forsythia is one of the first profuse bloomers in the spring:

It is amazing to see a tall bush lit up entirely in yellow from ground to the top, the leaves yet to arrive and dilute the effect.

The bleeding heart

A little experiment with the Bleeding Heart, for both its spring blooms as well as for its shade tolerance:

Iris season

A profusion of irises this time around! All of mine were obtained through the largess of a very generous neighbor and a few Freecycle donations:

Beautiful clematis!

Clematis varieties are proving to be quite difficult to get going in my yard. I got one to flower well last year but it is struggling to survive this time around. I am beginning to suspect that my chipmunk epidemic is somehow responsible for this, as evidenced by numerous deep holes around the roots.

One escapee is the clematis I planted last year, somewhat far from all the chipmunk mayhem (but close to deer haven; there is no free lunch, unless you are a deer!). It produced four gorgeous blooms this spring:

There are so many varieties of clematis, and I want to try them all! Well, let's first see how far I get with the eight plants I have now!


The humble beginnings of our first red grapes:

I hope the wildlife leaves at least some of these alone for long enough!

Peonies rock!

From ice cream scoop...

to full bloom, in a couple of hours!

Here is a pink peony in an early state of bloom (it filled up nicely over the next two days):

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fifty shades of black

Now's I've seen it all! According to a recent Business Insider report:

"Apple is expected to launch three new iPhones next year. The most expensive of the three phones would have a new kind of screen, called OLED, that has better battery efficiency and darker blacks." (Emphasis is mine.)

Apple sure does not like gray areas! But I cannot wait for a new phone that displays black darker than black...

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Tracking Amazon deliveries

Amazon has now started its own delivery service using some plain-white vans with a rather under-stated Amazon logo on its body. I saw one of these vans in my office driveway a few weeks ago. They recently used this in-house service to ship a package to my house. Here's how the process went:

1. I placed the order for a couple of rather ubiquitous items: a HP laser printer toner cartridge (black) and a generic cell phone case.

2. I was told that the cartridge would ship in... 1-2 months. That's no typo! Months it was! I reluctantly went ahead, since I had time on my hands. At least for the toner. I could have used the cell phone case sooner.

3. A couple of weeks later, I received a jubilant e-mail from Amazon: great news! They had managed to somehow scrounge up the toner sooner than they had anticipated! I'd have the items sooner than they had predicted!

4. Now, why could they not have sent me the phone case right away?

5. The package shipped on February 4 with a scheduled delivery date of February 6.

6. Yesterday was D-Day. I eagerly tracked the package status online, and half way through my work day, rejoiced at seeing a "delivered" status update.

7. It was dark when I reached home at a very late 6:00 PM. No packages to be found. Not outside, not inside. Not outside the front door. Not outside the garage door. Not outside the other garage door at the opposite end of the house. Not under my car (I checked, in case I had inadvertently run over the package in the dark).

8. I logged in and checked the status again. Delivered, in solid green lettering.

9. That's when I found out that the delivery was not via USPS or UPS, but via Amazon's delivery van.

10. A Google search revealed the following helpful information:

11. Wait 36 hours?! Seriously? Why should this even happen, even in the rarest of rare cases? Why can't the status at least be updated the same night when they find the package in their van instead of at my house?

12. Was this information helpful? I am not sure. I'll decide once I stop scratching my head about this one.

For now, I wait. Maybe today I'll finally have my cell phone case.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Uber-pain with Uber in India

Bangalore, India. A city that was my home for a few early years in my life, and which I then only visited sporadically over the last three decades. Now called Bengaluru, it is known mostly for its ridiculously congested traffic levels (and its IT industry, of course).

I had a chance to re-visit this place recently for work, and found myself planning in advance to smooth out as much as possible the logistics of moving about the city where a mere 5 km (roughly 3 miles) could take an hour to cross.

The primary modes of transport for the car-less in Bengaluru are two-fold: those ubiquitous green-and-yellow autos on the one hand, and app-based taxis such as Uber and Ola on the other. Given the recent drive by the Indian government to demonetize some 86% of the cash reserves and push for a cashless society, I enthusiastically jumped into the fray.

Well before departure from the US, I downloaded the Uber app to my smartphone, created an account and tied it to my international credit card. I called the card company to make sure the Uber (and other) charges would not be declined. I flapped my wings and after a long, tiring flight through the dreaded Heathrow airport, somehow landed on a tree in Bengaluru.

It took a while to navigate to the Uber pick-up point, but the ride to my destination was rather smooth thereafter. The car arrived in about 10 minutes and we were on our way through ridiculously nettled traffic even by Indian standards. It was a flat-rate ride from the airport (ahem... I mean that tree I landed on) into the city.

The next day, the ride from home base to the city center was equally smooth except for an initial hiccup locating the vehicle. The Uber driver was waiting on a side street, and it caused some confusion.

The troubles started that evening when I had to return home. The first Uber driver who answered my request was shown not too far from where I was, but he was taking a while to get there. He eventually called and said he was so far away (i.e. 4 km, or 2.5 miles) that it would take him 20 minutes to reach me. I offered to wait for him, but he asked me to cancel the ride.

This is how bad Bengaluru traffic is. Drivers would rather look for other passengers than try to drive 4 km to get to you. Anyway, I cancelled the ride and requested another one. This time, I walked to the main road and close to one of the most well-known landmarks in the city, the Vidhana Soudha (home to major government offices and officials). At the least, it would be easy to direct anyone there.

The Uber sat at a rotary just a little distance away. It did not move on my map for ages. Then it did, but it went the other way and re-routed itself to my location at the cost of adding 10 minutes to the arrival time. Then it stopped moving. Traffic, I guess.

I cancelled this one too. Later, I was dinged a fine for cancelling more than 5 minutes after requesting the ride. What nonsense was this?

Like they say, third time's the charm. I got in, we sat in traffic, and I eventually got him. Phew! Live to fight another day!

But boy, what a fight was in store! The next day, as I clicked to request a ride, I was told that my account had been disabled. Disabled! There was no prior notification. No email, no phone call. Just as I was ready to go to my work appointment, I had the carpet pulled from beneath my feet.

I relied on the auto that day. The first two refused to go to the city center due to the traffic. The third one grudgingly asked me to get in. A third of the way over, while we were stopped in traffic as usual, the driver stepped out and had a conversation with another auto drive a few feet away. He returned and asked me to transfer to the other vehicle. Bizarre. Fuel problems, apparently.

That evening, I relied on a friend to call me an Uber from his account. He willingly did, but just as we began to move, the driver saw that the wrong destination had been punched in. Oh boy! And my friend was unreachable on his phone to correct it. But traffic congestion has its side benefits after all. When the friend eventually answered, we had not been able to get too far anyhow. The problem was fixed and I was on my way.

The next three days was spent thus. Auto in the morning, friend's Uber account or another auto in the evening. Repeated e-mail requests to Uber fell on deaf ears. I received an e-mail the next day saying the account hold had been removed. Still no luck signing in, though. There is no customer service phone number. There used to be one, which is listed in some online thread identified through a Google search. But it recites a message about how phone calls are notoriously unclear, and how I should email instead.

I did. I received an automated response saying this was no longer being monitored, and that I should hit Help in the app. Problem: the app first asks me to either login or register. Help comes only later.

That night, plugging my laptop into a relative's WiFi network, I emailed Uber through their website. That was back on Dec 21. I am still awaiting a response. In the mean time, Uber has deleted my account.

So long, Uber, and thanks for all the (smelly) fish. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Competition gets Ugly

No, this is not about the on-going Presidential election campaign. Rather, it is a post for free stuff I received today:

"Brand new ugly Christmas ornaments. Perfect for those ugly Christmas gift competitions. These are truly horrible so you would be sure to win."

Unfortunately, there was no photo to go with the description.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The stuff of grateness

A real-world yard sign:

"Ban shredded cheese. Make America grate again."

The web has a more fool-proof version:

"Ban pre-shredded cheese. Make America grate again."

This Trumps everything!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

And another Freecycle post

Such posts highlight just how difficult it is to get rid of junk these days. A humorous attitude is required in order to grab the discerning junk collector's attention and convince him/her to pick up your stuff for free. Read on!
OFFER: Vintage suitcase (coffee table? display prop?)
Interesting vintage suitcase with "R.E.G." on the side. It opens with an
angled edge, so it is especially funky. I had big dreams of adding some
little legs from Home Depot and calling it a coffee table, but never
did. The inside is in fine shape, with linen dividers. The outside
corners are pretty beat up, but it would still be very cook (sic) as a window
or living room display item or, yes, coffee table.
This goes to the person who can pick it up first.

A funny Freecycle post

The following free offering, via Freecycle, is quite an entertaining "sales" pitch:
OFFER: Round glass table top + custom wood moving crate
This is a 40" round, 1" thick (yes, that thick) piece of glass suitable
for a dining or coffee table. It is crated in a custom-sized wooden
moving crate, ready to go. I believe it is in perfect shape, without
dings or cracks, but since it's crated I'm not 100% sure.

Just imagine: stack up your art books, and put this glass on top. Or
use milk crates and actually read your books. Or serve dinner and
ensure that your dog can beg efficiently, meeting your eyes as you take
each bite.

This goes to the person who can pick it up first. Please bring a friend;
I think it's a pretty substantial piece.