Sunday, April 18, 2010

FAQs about my Nexus One

January 5th, Google announced Google Nexus One based on its Android Mobile platform. After reading reviews after reviews of the phone, I decided to take the plunge and buy the latest and greatest Android based smart phone in the market, The Google Nexus One. Since I was about to return to India soon, I bought the phone without a contract, which created a huge dent in my wallet. In return for burning a hole in the pocket, the Nexus One, I would get the rights to brag about it, or so I thought.

Upon returning to India when I went and met my friends, they asked me to show the phone with eagerness in their tones. With a big smile I took out the phone and handed it to them, but with a second that smile vanished when my friend asked, "Is this better than the iPhone?". After playing for a while with it I got a deluge of questions followed. I shrugged this as and one of occurrence. Went and showed it to my colleagues at office, in a striking coincidence all of them asked the same set of questions and pretty much in the same order. This prompted me to compile a list of Frequently asked questions and there answers.

FAQs about my Google Nexus one and the answers.

Q. Is this the iPhone?

A. Nope, this is Google's Nexus One.

Q. When did Google launch this?

A. Jan, 5th 2010

Q. Is it touch screen?

A. Yes.

Q. Is is better than the iPhone?

A. IMO, yes, its better than the iPhone.

Q. The UI looks the same as the iPhone, how is this better?

A. Its hardware specs are better than the iPhone. Supports multitasking! It has multitouch contrary to the popular belief. Its not controlled by an evil empire called the Apple. (While answering this I wish I had the controversial Section 3.3.1 of the Apple SDK couple of months back, but instead I had to stick to "I hate Apple" argument instead.)

Q. No! I heard/read about the 3G/Network connectivity problems, how can it be better?

Google came up with a patch for that, seems to have fixed the problem for many. But I didn't get a chance to use it with 3G yet.

Q. What are the problems you have faced so far?

A. So far none.

Q. What is the camera resolution?

5 Megapixel

Q. What special features does this have?

A. Has a built in GPS receiver as well as AGPS and a digital compass, which compled Linus Torvalds to not hate a phone and actually love it!.

Q. Hmmm. What is the use of a GPS in India anyway?

Well you have to update yourself my friend! (Big broad smile) Google maps now knows how to navigate like a local.

Q. How much did you pay?

A. 529 USD, with tax it comes around 572 USD.

By this time most of my friends just wanted to end this and they just give a smile or just nod and hand back the phone to me. This made me realize that am not good at selling idea/things to others. Although I have sold a used car, I still struggle to sell a new car! May be I should try selling Snake Oil once...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Firefox Lorentz

Mozilla today announced the first beta release of Firefox Lorentz. With this update Firefox will run all the plug-ins like Flash, Quicktime and Silverlight in a separate process outseide of the browser, resulting in better handling of crashed and hung plug-ins. There will be a page load performance improvement as the main browser thread can work on rendering the page as the plug-in takes its own time to load and initialize. So Happy You Tubeing!

Download Firefox Lorentz from here. Lorentz is built on top of Firefox 3.6.3, so will not effect the installed plug-ins and extensions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Battleship Texas

San Jacinto Monument is a 25 mile drive from the city of Houston, it houses a 570 foot tall memorial and USS Texas(BB-35) war ship. This memorial commemorates the battle of Texas, fought between Texas rebel army and Mexican army. Located along the Houston Ship Channel, is well known among the Ship watchers and Ship photographers. Houston being the energy capital of America, one can expect to see a lot of huge oil tankers and cruise ships from the Galveston harbour along the channel. This Time Lapse video gives a fair idea of the number of refineries along the Houston ship channel.

USS Texas served both in World war I and II. After being decommissioned from service in 1948 it has been converted into a floating museum. Improper maintenance and neglect turned USS Texas to a huge rusting wreck. It took a massive restoration programme during February 1990 to restore it to its glory of 1945.

USS Texas

USS BB-35 bell, inside the ship. Strikes of a ship's bell are used to indicate the hour aboard a ship and thereby to regulate the sailors' duty watches.

The bell

Being a battleship, USS Texas had massive fire power, which can be seen here.

Fire power

One of the passing oil tankers

Oil tanker

After roaming around the ship and catching a few massive takers pass by we headed to San Jacinto memorial, about a mile from the battleship. San Jacinto memorial has a massive 220 ton star symbolizing the "Lone Star" of Texas. This monument closely resembles the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Reflection pool

Visitors are allowed to the observation deck located 489 feet from the ground. The observation deck gives some really breathe taking views of Gulf of Mexico and the Ship channel. Also in front of the Monument we have a 1800x200 feet long reflection pool. Notice Battleship Texas?

A view of the refineries along the Houston Ship channel from the observation deck.

The memorial also houses a theatre, which plays a 20 minute movie about the battle Texas. We also have a Houston photo gallery depicting Houston in its various stages of development. Since all the photographs are copyrighted, we are not allowed to photograph inside the gallery.

Update: Oops! forgot to credit the photographer. Before I get sued for plagiarism! Photographs courtesy Tapo

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Neutral Buoyancy

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here, the Eagle has landed. - Neil Armstrong, transmitting from the Moon, 3:18 p.m. Houston time 20 July 1969."

Johnson Space Center is located about 25 miles from Houston. Johnson Space Center is used for mainly mission training and Mission Control. NASA has guided tours for general public. We chose to go on Level 9 Tour. This tour takes you inside the Mission control center! But the catch is, the tour is only during weekdays and not weekends! So me and my friends decided to "fall ill" during a weekday so that we can go on this tour. November 12th was the day we choose to reduce suspicion as it was mid week. Tickets had to be booked in advance as there are only 12 seats available for the tour.

Level 9 tour starts at around 11.30am and lasts till 5pm. We reached the Space center around 10.30 and get done with all the formalities. All the Level 9 tourists are given a NASA employee look-alike ID card to give an authentic look. Since there was time before the scheduled departure of the tour, we used that time to go around and checkout the exhibits.

Space shuttle's nose

As a security measure there is a photo session before the tour can commence. All 12 tourists were asked to board a mini bus for the tour, we were joined by a group of airline employees on a company sponsored trip. After the initial introduction the tour bus started its 4.5 hours trip around the NASA facility. Our first stop was building 3 for lunch. This is the Cafeteria for the employees. Sonny Carter Training Facility is our next stop. This is the Neutral Buoyancy training facility, the largest in the world. It can hold the entire 1:1 mock-up of the International Space Station.

Neutral Buoyancy Lab

As the name suggests, Neutral Buoyancy Lab is used to simulate Zero G, an essential component in a days work for the astronauts. Here the astronauts get a first hand experience in doing the most mundane task like walking under zero gravity! That is astronauts preparing for the next ISS mission.

Astronaut preparing

We are familiar with the Hubble Telescope and its breathtaking pictures it can take, now it was time to see the Hubble Telescope Mission control center itself.

Hubble control center

A mission control center controls everything about a mission. We have seen in many Hollywood spy movies, like James Bond's Die Another Day, when Gustav Graves tries to direct the beam from his satellite "Icarus" through the Minefield, such things are done from a mission control center in real life. Moving on, earlier we saw the astronauts preparing for their next space mission, now it was time to see the Mission Control of ISS.

ISS mission control

Finally the moment we were all waiting for, The Apollo Mission control center! This mission control center was used to control all the Apollo missions and the controversial Apollo 11 mission which land on the "Moon"

Apollo mission control

We get to see the technology of the Apollo era. Also we get to sit, where the Mission Director used to sit and pretend to control the whole mission! The mission control also has a replica of the American flag, that was "hoisted" on the lunar surface.

American Flag replica

Coming back to modern era, we never heading to the mock-up facility, then one of the co-passenger realized that India also has a moon mission and asked, "Hey, You guys have something on the Moon too, right?". It was quite a proud moment to be an Indian. It was just 3 days since the historic launch and the images of the launch and the video were fresh in our mind, and we enjoyed bragging about Chandrayaan! Another guy in the group saw us bragging and asked, "Does your space organization have such tours?". Sadly, we had to end the bragging and say the ISRO didnt have such public visits. I really wished ISRO did something like this, its such a morale booster for the youngsters.

The Space vehicle Mock-up facility has the 1:1 replica of all NASA space programs currently underway. Majority of the mock-ups were from International Space Station mission components. These mock-ups are used to train the astronauts before the missions.

ISS mock-up

Space spider!

That is a space spider to be sent to Mars for exploration! Our final stop on the tour was Rocket Park. This facility holds a Saturn V rocket from the canceled Apollo 18 mission. Apollo missions were stopped due to budget constraints.

Saturn V

After exploring the various stages of the Saturn V we returned to our starting point concluding our Level 9 tour. It was a memorable experience visiting Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center(JSC) and worth bunking office!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Los Angeles

First Monday of September is observed as Labor Day in US. This long weekend gave us a opportunity to visit the Entertainment Capital of America, Los Angeles, California. Well known for Hollywood, its artists and beautiful beaches along the west coast of America. Our travel plan was simple, reach LA by evening of 29th August, next day visit Universal Studios, LA city tour on Sunday and return to Houston by 1st September. We used a travel website to book our flights, hotel and rental car to get a good deal. And deal is what we got, for 830 bucks per head we got flight tickets, 3 nights stay in Shearaton Gateway and a rental car for 3 days.

Universal Studios is one of the biggest and the oldest movie productions houses in Hollywood. Its located some 30 miles from the Los Angeles airport along the Hollywood Freeway. The Studio opens for general public at 9 in the morning and is open till 9 in the evening, so we reached the studio by around 8.30. We had a red carpet welcome to the studio.

First stop in the studio was the House of Horrors. This is a collection of all the characters, costumes and some live characters from all of Universal's classic horrors movies. Its a dark maze to be navigated and screemed. One of the live character came to catch hold of me, and I said a "Hi" and tried to shake hands, after this failed attempt the artist went back to the his hiding place, making everybody in the vicinity burst into laughter. Felt bad for being a spoilsport later. Continuing further, we went to meet Shrek on his way to rescue his princess from Lord Farquaad's men. In the movie the characters come out of the screen and onto your lap! Its a 4-D presentation, the 4th dimension being the physical effects, were the seats rock, when the character is riding a horse or water is sprayed when the someone spits or throws-up! One princess Fiona was rescued we went to take the 45 minutes guide tour of the whole studio. This tour takes us in the live sets and previously used sets to depict how a movie is shot.

This location is used to shot many flooding sequences in Hollywood movies. Most of the King Kong movie's sea shots were shot in this small pond!

War of the Worlds' famous airplane crash scene was shot in this location. Steven Spielberg, brought an actual Boeing 777 and dismantled it to create this set at a cost of 2 Millions US Dollars!

After the tour we headed to meet the Animal stars of Hollywood. Animals have always had a great part in Hollywood movies. Next we went to get some "Travel Books" and also to meet Anna Scott. But to much to our despair, the book store was closed!

It was noon already, pacifying the bandicoots in the tummy became a priority than searching the Dinosaurs at the Jurassic Park ride! Next it was time to fight "The Mummy". Pyrotechnics has always played a huge part in Hollywood movies, Backdraft is one such movie which uses pyrotechnics to a great extent. The set used to shoot the climax sequence is preserved for public viewing with a live performance. SFX or Special Effects is another great technique used extensively by Hollywood movies. We visited the SFX lab to get a first hand experience of this technique. It was closing time by the time we were done seeing everything. Quick stop at the Souvenir store and we were on our way back to the hotel.

We began our second day early, we had the pickup for Los Angeles City tour at 8am. First stop on the tour was Hollywood Bowl. A Amphitheater with a seating capacity of 17000 plus!

Next we took a walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I managed to capture Donald Duck's Star next to Mickey Mouse's leg!

Grauman's Chinese theatre, home to many movie premieres is also located on Hollywood walk of fame. Next to the Chinese theatre is the Kodak Theatre, Oscar awards are present here. This is The Sunset Boulevard, a famous road with many landmark locations which gave Hollywood many of its artist from its numerous comedy clubs, music lounges.

From Los Angeles city we entered the city of...

Beverly Hills is the home to the stars of the Hollywood, home to Million dollar houses! Universal studios is located just outside the city limits of Beverly Hills. No wonder people want to be in Beverly Hills.

After going around the Beverly Hills downtown we returned to downtown Los Angeles to visit one of the oldest house called the Avila Adobe

We had lunch at the Farmers Market, a famous meeting place in Los Angeles. "When Walt Disney was preparing his early designs for a place called Disneyland, he did some of his work while dining on Farmers Market patios. Elements of the Market’s unique design are incorporated into his original drawings." Next we saw La Brea Tar Pits, where tar seeps from the ground to form a pool.

Along with Tar, Methane is also liberated in the surrounding areas, hence all the houses in this area have methane monitors, and if the methane reaches a certain level, "drastic actions" are taken to avert a disaster. Someone lighting a smoke better be careful in this area! Next the tour took us back into Beverly Hills to show the houses of Hollywood actors, we ended up seeing only the compounds of famous actors and actresses!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Drive to Corpus Christi

July 4th long weekend gave us a chance to visit the coastal city of Corpus Christi, eight largest city in Texas, located 200 miles from Houston. This time around me and my travel companion decided to drive ourselves and hence we rented a car. Being a long weekend there were lot of rental car booking and by the time we went to pickup our car, we were left with only a Pickup truck!. With no other option left we decided to go with the only available option, a blue Mitsubishi Raider a 3.7 litre V6 engine pickup truck.

We started our journey at around 10 in the morning. Google Maps was our route guide for this trip. This was the first road trip for both of us in America and it was just two days after we got our Texas driving license. We were looking forward for this trip. Soon we were on the out skirts of Houston and the US country side started to emerge on the horizon. Texas is much more greener than what we normally think of. The drive was a great experience for us, but rain played spoil sport. Due to rains the visibility was drastically reduced at many places and everyone on the roads drove at around 20 Mph(30-35 kmph). But when it was not raining it was a pleasant drive. We stopped once to refresh ourselves and change drivers. After a pleasant 3 hour drive we were at Corpus Christi welcomed by heavy rains. By the time we reached our hotel raining had stopped. Since were 3 hours ahead of our check-in time we were not allotted a room. Instead we decided to go to the Texas State Aquarium.

A huge crowd had already formed to gain entry into the aquarium. Apart from marine animals they also had Flamingos as well. Next we visited the Dolphin Bay to watch the Dolphins do stunning acrobatic maneuvers. Later we descended in a underwater viewing room to watch the dolphins play around in the pool.

Next we went to meet the North American River Otter. There were two of them and both were....

Next we watched a Bird show in the Wild Fight Theatre. And we met him

Corpus Christi is known for Jelly Fishes lying on the beaches. They are not as yummy as they sound, when they sting they sting pretty bad! We had our fair share of Jelly fish sightings in the aquarium as exhibits and as well as long the shore. Sea turtles swam in pool of their own with a word of caution!

I tried touching a Stingray but it swam away, but couple of others standing around the pool managed to touch it.

After all this roaming we decided to have lunch as we had covered most of things to see. We just stood near the sea shore admiring USS Lexington and the water traffic passing under the Corpus Christi harbour bridge.

It was around 3 in the afternoon so we checked into our hotel and rested for sometime before going to the beach. We stayed in a hotel right on the beach. We took a stroll along the beach enjoying the gentle breeze. The waves were not very high and the water was quite shallow.

As we were walking my thoughts took me for a trip down the memory lane, bringing back the memories of digging along the shore of Marina beach during my summer holidays. Kulfi ice cream, cold drinks and beach were the things that my mom used to promise only after which I would agree to come to Madras during summer vacation. Soon we reached the other end of the beach. We sat down on the rocks watching others fishing and enjoying the fading daylight. On our way back we saw quite a jelly fishes washed ashore.

From the beach we went to a restaurant to have our dinner before the fireworks display began. Soon after finishing our dinner we found a nice place on the beach. Fireworks were arrange from the deck of USS Lexington. Soon after the choppers cleared the air and the coast guards took care of the sea to keep people from harms way the spectacular fireworks display started. It was a 30 minutes spectacle consisting of various mesmerizing fireworks display.

A huge round of applause from the crowd marked the end of the spectacle. Slowly the crowd started to make its way back. We sat for awhile enjoying the cool breeze blowing across the beach and the massive war ship before we went back to our hotel room to call it a day. It was quite an eventful day!

Day two of our trip had an hectic plan ahead of us. Our first stop after breakfast at the hotel was visiting USS Lexington. Its a World War II aircraft carrier converted to a Naval museum after it was decommissioned in 1991. The photo was blurred due the humidity and fog!

Here is a small video about USS Lexington. The tour of ship is divided into 5 different sections. Tour 1 - the Flight Deck and Bridge. One of the aircraft on the flight deck.

Next is the Foc'sle(forecastle). This section is mainly dedicated to the Pearl Harbour attack. Next is the Gallery Deck. This section houses the Combat Information Centre amongst the others. We went down to the lower deck to see the Engine Room. This ship was powered by two massive engines.

As we walked into the lower deck of the ship the smell of the sea and the ship was quite evident. Its a nice experience in itself. The major attraction of the museum is the overnight camping, wherein you will be a peacetime sailor for a day. Inside the museum we have theatre in the Hanger Deck. We watched a movie called "Fighter Pilot", a 45 minute presentation about the pilot combat training programme. After all these tours we had lunch on the deck of the warship itself.

The final destination of our trip was North Padre Island National Seashore. Around 30 miles from Corpus Christi. There are two main beaches on this island North and South Beach. We went to the North beach. This place is quite beach and nothing other than that. Families come here on camping. The biggest thing that I liked about this place is the peace and tranquility, the only sounds that you hear is of the seagulls and the waves. This beach is also quite shallow and we can walk quite a distance and the water wont go beyond our hip. This is also nesting place for sea turtles. We spent quite sometime just walking across the beach and standing in the water enjoying the scenic beauty of this place. We came back to our car and dried our legs before starting our return journey. We started around 5 in the evening and hit the highway to Houston. And we were greeted by quite a heavy downpour almost all the way. At some places we had to drive at very slow speed as the visibility was quite bad. But as we neared Houston rain started to subside and we had clear weather till we reached home at around 8. It was quite a driving experience for both of us. We missed our route twice once while going and once while returning. The best part of losing your way in US is that you wont find people to ask directions for, you have to go by your instincts and common sense. But even that was fun :). All in all it was a memorable drive marked by the majesty of USS Lexington and tranquility of North beach.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

San Antonio Part II

A bright sunny morning greeted us as we prepared to continue on our San Antonio trip. Today's destination was SeaWorld, its a famous water amusement park. We had booked our entry tickets the previous day itself. We expected a huge crowd since it was a long weekend, so we started early to beat the crowd and it was around 30 miles from where we stayed. It took a 30 minute cab ride to reach the water park. Almost a quarter mile long queue of cars had already formed around 10.30. We rented a locker to keep our personal things and headed towards our first section, "The Lost Lagoon", a wave pool and cluster of other smaller rides. Our timing to enter the pool was perfect as the waves were about to start and before crowd could fill up we found ourselves a nice spot (although it doesn't really matter :-P). After floating around in the waves we moved on to water slide. First we went to the tube slide later the same run without tubes called "Body slide". And trust me the Body slide was better than the tube slide.

Dolphins show called the "Viva!" was our next stop. Its a 30 minutes artistic performance by Pacific White-sided Dolphins. The main attraction of this show was a dolphin jumping out of the water and hitting a ball suspended above 10-15 feet from the water surface. After meeting the Dolphins, it was time for some high octane adrenaline rush filled ride the "Steel Eel" the famous roller coaster ride. Its 3700 feet long and the ride last for about 2 minutes from start to finish and has a 15 story drop!. And you don't have to describe roller coaster rides they are always awesome no matter what!

Photographs taken during the ride are sold outside, we got one each for ourselves before we continued on to "The Great White". This is Texas' first steel roller coaster ride. In this ride your foot will be dangling in the air as you flip around in loops, like in one of the soft drink commercials (although we didn't carry any such thing on the ride). This ride is again around 2500 feet long and takes close to two minutes from start to end. By the end of this ride we were quite hungry, so we made a quick dash to the nearest food court and had our lunch. After lunch to went to "Pirate - 4D", its a 3D movie with water sprinklers, under the seat vibrations and other special effects. It was a nice time pass and kids really enjoyed this. We went on to meet "Shamu", a giant killer whale. Highlight of this show was water splashing by the whale, which can reach up to 16 rows! A half-an-hour presentation featuring various acrobatic maneuvers. Then we took a plunge in the "Atlantis". Half roller coaster half water ride, in this ride we climb 100 feet in a small boat and then we splash into the water!

Our last stop for the day was "Castaway crusin'" a long stream of water where you can swim, walk or float along and rest your body from the day long activities. After couple of round of this stream we went straight to the wave pool to catch the last wave of the day. Nice 20 minutes in the water and we headed back to our locker and made our way out as it was closing time. We were in no mood to wait for a cab and to our luck an empty cab was waiting and we approached the cab driver and asked if it was free. That cab driver said, "No, the cab is engaged, but people who called the cab don't seem to be insight. You guys wait for a couple of minutes and then if they don't come I will take you." We were more than happy to wait. We waited for few minutes and when we were about to leave the group that has actually called the cab turned up. But the cab driver was not amused by there delay so he agreed to drive us instead of them! Cab driver guessed from our looks that we were Indians and was telling about his close family friend being a Indian, the local Indian restaurants anything and everything related to India in San Antonio. He also felt that India is taking over the world from all the "Science" education that we have in India. At this point to re-assure him I had to quote Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's words that, "For 2,500 years India has never invaded anybody" and added my own words, that it has no plans to invade in the future too. We continued on with our discussion, then the cab driver said he had to refuel and we pulled into a gas station a.k.a petrol pump, this station happens to have an Burger King outlet too, so we packed our dinner and took off heading towards our hotel. After munching down our burgers and cola we decided to call it a day.

Next day was our last day at San Antonio and we had a hectic plan ahead of us. First stop Natural Bridge Caverns. These are naturally occurring caves formed due to underground rivers which have spectacular limestone structures. This place is a 30 minutes drive from our hotel. Since we had lot to cover we started a bit early. There are two kinds of tours, one is a guided tour and another one is a self guided tour. We chose the self guided tour called the "Discovery Tour". Along the route you will have guides giving you details about the important locations inside the cave. The cave formations are just mesmerizing.

The tallest formation is 32 feet tall.

And if you let your imagination run wild, you will "Discover" many interesting formations like this one, the King's throne

The white spot on the photo is just a tiny droplet on the camera lens and not a moon! The deepest point of the tour is 180 feet below ground level. The ground can get quite slippery. We had spent more than 2 hours exploring and taking pictures and we didn't realize the time pass by. After a quarter mile trip down the cavern we emerged at the other side of the natural bridge. Next pit stop for the day was the famous and historical, The Alamo. A mission converted to a fortress in which approximately 187 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis tried resisting 6000 strong Mexican army led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. This fortress has been converted to an museum to stand testimony for the brave men who laid their lives defending Texas on 6th March 1836.

The main entrance leads us to a big hall which houses the memorial, a scale model of the original structure of Alamo with the positions taken by the soldiers. As we exit the hall there is a park and a library. Near library is this pool. Go ahead toss a coin into the pool and make a wish!

At the back of the complex we have the medical center used during the war. It was time for lunch and head to the bus station. We had some more time before bus departed so we decided to take a stroll along the River Walk. And finally the long weekend was drawing to an end and our San Antonio trip. We covered all the places that we thought of covering and a bit more too.