Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cycling in Croydon, London

As a keen cyclist, I am asked cycling related questions on a regular basis, so thought I should write up an FAQ. The answers (some obvious, others not so) are aimed at those who want to use cycle for commuting to/from work or shopping or just leisure rides. Following is Croydon specific, but also applies to elsewhere in the UK.
Q -Is parking free?
A - Cycle parking is free everywhere. Massive free 2 tier cycle parking facilities at East Croydon station. Loads as well in the city centre and high street.
Many shops (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose) will allow you to keep the bike inside if you forget the lock (like I have smile emoticon
Q - Is theft an issue?
A - Cycle theft is a problem, especially in Croydon. Park in visible spots, lock both wheels, use locks with gold/silver rating. Cyclists leave their stronger locks where they park frequently, so they don’t have to carry the heavy locks back and forth (I do at East Croydon station).
Q - Are helmets compulsory?
A - No, but strongly recommended, especially for kids.
Q - Are lights compulsory?
A - Yes, in the dark. Front white and rear red.https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/…/izn20130902-Buying-bike…
Q - Is it dangerous?
A - Cycling has become safer over the years in spite of rise in the number of cycle journeys .
In Croydon, there are loads of cycle and bus lanes so even on busy roads, you are surprisingly safe. However, you have to be careful along tram lines.
Q - But the weather is bad – cold and rainy always!
A - As they say, there is nothing like bad weather, only bad gear (clothes). Anyway, for short journeys, the gear doesn’t matter much. 5 minutes intocycling will banish all the cold and you will actually enjoy the rain. However, most days of the year, you will need gloves.
Q - Can you carry kids on a cycle?
A - Yes, you can carry kids from toddlers to older ones as long as the cycle is “built or adapted” to carry “a passenger.”
I carry my 8 year old daughter around on a normal cycle with a strong rear rack, a seat mounted on the rack, and footrest.
Q - Is riding on footpath illegal?
A - To quote - "...new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway (legal term for footpath, pavement). However ...FPNs should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others".
Q - I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid?
A - Start slow, on quieter roads, build confidence. Ride regularly. Become a kid

Nationalism and Religion - Opium to fool the masses

There is no dearth of bigoted people in politics, but they flourish because they are smart enough to give credence to the thoughts of a sizeable populace who are themselves bigoted and ignorant. These politicians are using the weapon of nationalism to distract citizens from talking about fundamental issues (poverty, pollution, drought, economy) and brand those who don't tow the line as anti-nationals. Forcing people to say, "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" is one such instance. 

BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Baba Ramdev (brother of Baba Kamdev) are two such specimens of Reptilia Bigota.

Can these two please clarify the following
1. How frequently should we say "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Can we just say once (say in the bathroom)
2. Who will record that we have said "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Does it have to be in front of BJP/Sangh/RSS Office. Is a selfie video ok.
3. If there is a foreign born person who is now resident in India, does he have to say it?
4. What if someone says "Bharat Mata ki Jai", in a sarcastic tone (say when India loses in a game, when they see huge mounds of garbage, when they are bribing a government babu in a hospital to allow carry out life-saving operation on their loved ones). How will you know the difference and who will judge that the statement was heartful or sarcastic?
5. What about the Indians who don't want to say anything positive about India but have no other passports. How do you plan to deport them?
Mr Vijayvargiya you are general secretary of the ruling party and Babaji, you are the 'owner' of the fastest growing FMCG brand in India, so would expect your statements to be logical and actionable. Don't see that being the case. EVER. Any party for that matter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First ever full - Farnham Pilgrim Full Marathon

Phew, ran my first full marathon ever at Farnham Pilgrim. It just wasnt your usual run-of the mill 42.2 km. With an elevation of 1781 ft and a route comprising tarmac, gravel, steps, sand, mud, busy road crossings, wooden stiles, and gates, it was a mini obstacle course.
But there was no masochism in choosing this as my first marathon. I have run about 8-9 half marathons, most on road. 21.1 km distance had become less of a challenge, and I thought its best to check a full marathon off my list before I turn 40. Over the years, I have also realised that road running is a lot less fun that trail running - road  is monotonous and harder on your knees, trail is varied, and more stimulating. The route changes every few feet - grass, mud, gravel, hill - making you alert and forcing you to run a bit slower. At the same time, you use of more of your leg muscles to stabilise your feet, so helps strengthen them rather than breaking them down.

At the same time, mass participation events have become a big turn-off for me. Farnham Pilgrim is still a small event with a total of 700 runners for full and half marathon. The entry fees are not a rip-off and places are guaranteed even at the last minute. You are not herded like sheep at the start of the race and its easier to mingle with family and friends at any time. In spite of it being a small event, the organisation was top class. It has consistently rated in top 10 marathons since its inception.

Knowing how tough it was going to be, I was less focussed on the time, and more on finishing it. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of not completing it due to injury or hitting the wall.

I trained the best I ever trained for, for any event. Apart from a few missed runs (due to illness and travel), I was mostly on track. Joining my local running club – The Striders – also helped tremendously. Training with others during speed sessions was the key in training at the right intensity which you just don’t achieve when you train alone. At the same time, learnt a few warm-up/cool-down routines which I then incorporated in my sessions.

The plan I followed was of another trail marathon. Didn’t want any more than 4 sessions per week as I know I would struggle to make the time and it would be harder on the body. If you are a regular runner and are only aiming at completing a marathon in good shape and not in any ambitious time, 4 sessions is more than enough.

I even ran most of the Farnham Pilgrim route a month before the race to familiarise myself with the course. Glad I did, because it gave me a sense of the challenge that lay ahead. This race was not to be taken lightly.

Photos from recce run

Photos from recce run

The race day itself was perfect – lightly overcast, but no rain, and temperature in mid teens. 

I had decided to start slow around 6:30 min/km mark. However, just like most runners, got carried away in the moment, and the aim of running negative splits was soon going to go out of the window. For a first timer, it is hard to judge whether running slower will actually help you run negative splits and if you will still have the strength at the end to run faster.

Anyway, was hovering around the 6:00 min/km mark for most of the first 10 kms. This stretch has minimal climbs, so it was easy to keep the pace without feeling fatigued. Though there were some steps to be climbed on the way, the first (and biggest) real test was around 20 km mark at Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill . 

The climb here is continuous 1.5 km or so with a LOT of sand. It was so hard to find a grip that almost everyone was walking up rather than running.

From here, it was steep downhill run for a while. However, there was no scope for taking it easy. There were 5 hills one after the other. Fatigue and pain had set in at this time. Having done distances longer than 30 km in training, I knew that the pain was pure fatigue related and wouldn’t stop me from finishing the marathon. However, now the run was taking a mental toll. Every water station was an excuse to stop, every hill was an excuse to walk, especially when other runners were doing the same.

At around 2 miles to finish, decided to run at a steady fast pace. In my mind, it felt like I was running at 5:30 min/km, however, in my watch, it was hovering around 6 min/km. The legs were heavy as logs and no amount of exertion was making me go faster.

Caught up with a female runner who was running steady. Instead of overtaking, got into first real conversation with her. But she decided to pause before the last hill, so I kept going. Wife and daughter saw me coming and I ran with my daughter to the finish line

I finished the marathon in 4 hours 39 minutes, which was slightly more than what I had anticipated, but can’t complain. The legs are stiff, and my gait will take a few days to get back, but haven’t got any serious injuries. Overall, am glad that I registered for the run and then completed it in good time. One of the highlights of the year, and probably, my life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Focus on Protection and Prevention, Not Punishment

Whenever we hear of a major in India crime that causes national outrage– a heinous rape or a terrorist attack, the only cries I hear, even from the sanest and most ‘educated’ of Indians are to mete out harshest of punishment to the perpetrators. The punishment methods usually suggested are chemical castration, flogging, shooting dead, or hanging. They also want it to be meted out by swiftest possible means. Right Now! Nothing else would do. The criminals don’t have a right to defend their case. They don’t deserve to be heard. They are evil and inhuman and don’t deserve justice reserved for normal folk. They have already been judged.

There are massive moral and legal issues in meting out justice in the swiftest and sternest manner. Think of one innocent amongst the thousands of actual criminals, who didn’t get access to a decent lawyer, and who was not allowed to build his case due to the exigency to ‘carry out justice’. And the case was heard and then he was hanged. We all clapped and applauded, and 2 days later, we found out that he was actually innocent. Oh, well, we murdered an innocent man. Its ok, some collateral damage is fine!

By focusing on punishment, people also miss the real issue, which is of protection and prevention. By the time is crime is committed, the ship has already sailed, and capsized. Lives have been ruined – of the victims, their families, the criminals, their families. Whether they deserve it or not, is not the point. Damage has been done irreversibly.

By focusing on punishment, we have already let the real perpetrators off scott-free. The real perpetrators who are the root cause are the State and its various components who have played a significant hand in the creation and development of the deviant individuals. In the case of social crimes, the factors that contributed to the crime are societal, cultural, and law enforcement failures. In case of terrorist attacks, these could be intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception failures.

You might argue that government doesn’t control society’s attitudes and cultural leanings. But I think it does. A liberal government allows all voices to be heard, all faiths to be practiced, all differences to be allowed. It allows dissent and disagreement, as long as there is no crime committed (i.e damage to property, physically hurting people you disagree with; causing offense and mental anguish are not crimes). If you give confidence to the people that radical or ultra conservative beliefs are not given covert state support over other beliefs, you get a more open and free society, not where you are watching what you say, and looking over your shoulder for being non-conformist. Such a society is fundamental to serve the needs of the minority – women, children, people practising non-majority religions, atheists, gays and disabled.

The government also controls society’s attitudes and cultural leanings through education. It can invest more in education of the weaker section of the societies – women, poor, lower castes – ensuring that they have better chance to move up socially, integrate more fully with the rest of the society, and be well-represented in all important spheres of life. It can also keep education ‘agnostic’ of all religious, philosophical, and economic dogma, and let the kids make up their own minds.

Through genuine freedom and openness, and education, government can not only shape social and cultural views, it also encourages citizens to be more responsible. Promoting genuine freedoms, education, and mobility are significant 'soft' steps in protecting the people and preventing any major crimes.

The 'hard' steps in protection and prevention are with respect to law enforcement, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception. Again, we have seen that there are persistent systemic failures in all of these areas. Crime is frequently under-reported, police stations are notoriously understaffed, police rely on informal khabaris for intelligence gathering, and survelliance is very poor. We know of oil tankers blown off course landing within a kilometre of the Worli Sea-Link without the army/navy/police knowing about it. No major overhaul has happened after 26/11 that will give us confidence that the issues have been addressed.

All these failures on the part of the state need significant step-by-step attention and remediation. They can’t be fixed in a day and there are no easy solutions. The solutions may take time to implement and realise. Sometimes, the solutions may span different departments and jurisdictional areas. Perhaps that's why, there isn’t a willingness to address these. The state just moves from one crisis to another, focussed purely on damage control, and blame-game. Blame the criminal, we have no part to play.

However, the people, by not going after the real problems and instead just focussing only the criminal, allow the state to wash their hands off their sins. 

And that’s the real crime.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pirate Birthday Party - Preparation

Last week, I celebrated my daughter’s 7th Birthday Party. She loves Swashbuckle, a BBC kids games show based on the premise of retrieving jewels from bad pirates. I like the show as well, so decided to give the theme a go. Arraagh!!

Invitation card

a.       Template
I thought the invitation card should look old, worn-out, possibly like a scroll. Here is a template I created.  I used pirate-y language with specially downloaded fonts (‘Rapscallion’, ‘Freebooter’, ‘JLS Smiles’- all are free). Pre-loaded windows fonts should also work alright. I made the template in visio as it was create and move text boxes and images around easily. I converted this into pdf and jpeg.

Visio to edit the above template (download this as it wont open within browser)
Blank background for you to insert your own words and fonts

I wanted the venue location to be shown on a treasure map, so I used http://www.yarrmaps.com/. This is how the final product looked like.

b.      Aging
After printing the main invitation and map on normal paper, I used some aging techniques to make the paper look old. I primarily used wikihow - http://www.wikihow.com/Age-Paper-Using-Tea, but then experimented with the time, and ingredients. First I crumbled the paper in a ball and then uncrumbled it, I mixed unused as well as used tea and soya sauce in water, soaked for about 1-2 hours in the solution, and then hung the papers overnight for drying on a make-shift clothesline on top of the kitchen sink. Sometimes, I dried quicker by putting the papers on a heater. The effect was pretty good.

c.       Presenting
We rolled up the paper like a scroll and tied with a thick plastic thread. I folded the map along the folds printed using yarrmaps, and inserted into the map folded along the fold lines created using yarrmaps. I ensured that the roll was tight enough for the map not to slip through.

Pirate Ship

I created the pirate ship in two parts – front and back. This was driven by the size of the card board available, and also allowing kids to go in and out without damaging the ship or hurting themselves. The two parts were kept independent of each other in order to not affect each other’s stability. It also gave the ship a bigger scale compared to the size of the actual pieces.
The material used was cardboard. I have found cardboard to be great material for house hold crafts and creative work. It holds its shape, easy to cut, easy to flex. Any mistakes in cutting can be corrected when you glue paper on top of it. E.g. if you cut a hole too big, you can correct it when you put a covering paper over it. Then you can cut the hole the right size.
Ensure that you keep the cardboard folds on the smaller sides. This is incredibly useful for stability ensuring the rest of the cardboard holds its shape.
e.g. you may not need the bottom part of the cardboard (in the picture above), but instead of cutting it out, just keep it, as it will stabilise the vertical face of the cardboard, also you can stick the bottom part on the floor to ensure that the structure stands up on its own.

a.       Front part of the ship
The front part of the ship was made of two pieces – The main base(bow) and the ornamental part on top. I used a 40 inch LED TV box. I cut bottom part in a curve without cutting off the joint between the two largest cardboard pieces. I just shaved off the bottom part such that it doesn’t destabilise the box and it stood. I sliced the bottom horizontal face from the middle (without cutting the face off entirely) for reasons given above.  I cut of the top horizontal face entirely. This allowed me to open the front up.

Just around 1/3 the length from the front, I gave two incisions from the inside. I kept the front looking like a triangle, and along the incisions, straightened the top vertical fronts (highlighted part) such that they were almost parallel to each other. This made the front look like a typical ship
I cut off three gunports on either side

Now for the ornamental part – I cut two parts from another smaller cardboard box -  I joined the two pieces around the pointed  edge. The stuck the pieces straight up on the inside of the large pieces.

I stuck brown paper all over including the insides. This allowed to cover all the sticky tapes. I cut the gunport holes again through it, and used to brown paper to adjust any mistakes in cutting.
Note – If you cut the top horizontal edge slanting down from the front, it will look even more like a ship. I did not cut the as didn’t have a cardboard piece that was high enough; it would have made the ship look much smaller (almost a boat).

b.      Back of the ship (Stern)
For the back, I took another box. This was slightly taller than the first box, but it didn’t matter, as frequently, the back of ships are taller than front.  I used an entire card board, slicing it along on edge, and flattening the rest such that I had two equal sized faces joined along an edge. I cut this edge at the bottom in a curve. This stern curve was  less sharper than the bow’s.

For the top part, I cut a cardboard of the shape shown. Again, I used two faces of a box, which were already joined together on the spine, and cut out the rest. When inserted in the bigger piece, it imparted strength and shape (in a manner of ‘>’ sign) to the whole back part.

Repeat the cycle with brown paper, gunports. The entire piece looked like this.

c.       Finishing
I put papers on the edges and (corners, gunports). I also covers the full ornamental pieces and front thin face with the same paper. I put horizontal stripes in brown paper (Doc link) along the length of the ship for additional ironwork detail. I inserted a bamboo stick through the bow and made it stand and hung a A4 printed pirate flag (‘Jolly Roger’) from it. (See the link)

Face in a Hole

Here is the link to the image. Open in mspaint. Hopefully, the settings are intact that will make the picture split on multiple pages. Take printouts and join the pages together like a puzzle, stick it on a cardboard. Cut out the hole. 

Treasure Chest

a.       Base
Take a cardboard box, and cut one of the top flaps. The other flap will go under the lid

a.       Lid
Then, take another cardboard/s, and cut them in two semicircles. Now get a cardboard that is length of the curved part of semi-circle (circumference) and as wide as the front face. Give it incisions every 4 cms or so from the inside to allow it to bend and hug the semi-circle snugly. Now wrap it on the curved edge, and stick it with strong tapes. Cover it with inside face of the semi-circle with brown paper.

Before you stick the chest lid give the flap as well incisions on the inside, so it touches the underside of the lid closely. Use glue and strong tape to bring the two together.
c. Decoration
Brown paper for iron work, highlight the nails, stick on a latch and lock. Here is the final product

Jolly Roger (Pirate Flag)

Here is the visio for the Jolly Roger flag. Visio viewer is freely downloadable

Money Notes

I wanted some money to be put in the treasure chest (we also ran a game around team stealing most from the chest wins. I copied note images using created British currency notes in word and put them in tables, to ensure that the images don’t resize in case they are big. Also you need back to back printouts. Attached is the document that you can use for printout.

Note that the margins need to be adjusted so that the back and front face line up exactly. They are slightly skewed, and I ended up cutting the corners slightly in to remove white in each side.

Here is the link to the doc.

Costumes, Games, Props etc.

We ended up making the jacket ourselves. Rest we bought, stripy, black and white, lose frilly stuff and co-ordinated the pieces with each other to make a complete costume.

Decorations, plates, glasses, table covers and other clothing accessories – Amazon, ebay, poundland, 99p shop

Games planned and props for the day are here

Names Badges

On Birthday day, kids were asked to pick a pirate names from the list, write it on the badge, and pin it on their costume/dress. The template for the badge is in the doc.

Ship Names/Team Names

Kids were put together in teams, and asked to pick a ship name to represent their team.

Sea Shanties/Pirate Songs

I downloaded stuff from youtube (using http://www.clipconverter.cc/), and torrents. These, I played in the background during games, eating.

Song that my daughter liked the best (she doesn't understand the naughty lyrics yet)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Diwali Play for Kids

We performed a play at Park Hill School Croydon, UK, to explain the stories behind the five days of Diwali and the various traditions and rituals undertaken on each of the five days across various parts of India. The audience was kids from the age of 5 to 7 years. Possibly, can be used as it for still older kids (and even some adults) with minor changes :-)

The full script is here http://goo.gl/BPJQD2
Here is the presentation used (download and view in powerpoint for correct view) - http://goo.gl/TlDLFo

You are free to use with proper attribution. More importantly, do share your videos and photos of performances.

Here is a link to the Ramayana Play for Kids as well

Monday, September 08, 2014

Intolerance and Ignorance in India

Recently, a committee, headed by retired high court judge Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari published a report to outline measures to to curbattacks on women and reduce crime rate in Maharashtra. Instead of presenting findings in an objective and evidence backed manner, and putting the accountability on the responsible parties (police, government, judiciary) to provide active policing, improved crime prevention, better criminal investigations, and swifter prosecution process, it finds easy, but wrong scapegoats, and recommends curtailment of human rights and free speech. 

these relics of the past who sit in our government and such committee force their own prejudices and opinions, without actually bothering to study the evidence on the effectiveness of the measures they propose. 

They especially detest and are opposed to things that they don't understand. Facebook/Whatsapp can be very easily made scapegoats as they are popular channels which the old fogies don't understand or have used. Both are used for productive or even entertainment purposes far far more than they are used to harass people. They may be used to share pornography, but so is a lot of the internet. Does the government need to frame a policy on the internet. What point is framing is a policy, if the government has rats chance
in hell of actually implementing the policy.

The bias demonstrated here is the interpretation that pornography and morality has anything to do with sexual crimes. There is no causation or even correlation. In fact, if at all, there is inverse correlation

between the two. http://goo.gl/CfzJ8Y If at all, these ancient creatures should recommend we encourage pornography (just kidding!).

Another confirmation bias is the interpretation that dance bars led to drop in cases of crimes against women. Even if we assume there was a drop in crimes against women, just considering the insignificant number of
dance bars within the state and their concentration is parts of cities only, it is highly improbable that there was any causative association between the two.

The only way to substantively confirm the committee view is check the crime statistics in areas near to dance bars and check where the bar dancers are now (probably plying their trade underground where it is very difficult for them to report any crimes due to the nature of their trade).

Another bias - "the committee held social networking websites responsible for rising divorce cases" – where is the evidence Sir. Your report should cite studies/surveys undertaken either in India or elsewhere to justify your claims. Probably, when TV came about, the dogmatic folks probably said they were leading to infidelity and divorce.

“Vulgar activities carried out through Facebook, mobile and computer, social networking sites need to be tackled urgently, because it has been observed on a global scale that divorces are on the rise in marriages taking place through Facebook" - This statement is utterly meaningless and incoherent. Marriage taking place based on meeting/connections established to facebook have NO relation to vulgar activities. Just because you put a BECAUSE between the two doesn't make them related. If marriages happening by virtue of people meeting through facebook are failing, are you going to stop people marrying if they meet on facebook? Are you in charge of Hindu arm of Taliban?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Scotland 3 day trip Itinerary

Following is our 3 full day itinerary -
Some notes
1. Itinerary was planned keeping in mind family needs - 2 adults and a kid of 3 years.
2. Wanted to do a bit of walking as well, which we did in an unplanned way at Luss.
3. Though it was May, it was still fairly cold in some places

Day 1 (landed at Glasgow from Gatwick, hired a car from the airport)

  1. Loch Lomond Luss, Argyll and Bute G83
  2. Oban PA34
  3. Kinlochleaven PH50 - nice drive
  4. Glen Coe A82 - must visit.
  5. Fort William PH33  - can be avoided
This was the view from Luss

Day 2

  1. Ben Nevis - must visit.
  2. Fort augustus
  3. Loch Ness
  4. Inverness - Stayed here. Did the Dolphin cruise. No dolphins. The season is Aug onwards.

Day 3

  1. Cairncorm-fenicular railway not done
  2. St Andrews not done
  3. Pitloclry - beautiful views. must visit.
  4. Killicrankie - nice Scottish town
  5. Sterling - lovely castle. great views, easy stopover. Did not enter the castle. Don't really think there is a need
Dropped the car off at the airport, flight at 7 pm.