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Aug 28

So I finally entered the digital age or so it seems. I had been eyeing the Roomba for a while now, but the exhorbitant prices ensured I never got around to getting one. Then one day as I was browsing on slickdeals I saw my calling, a Neato for less than 200 bucks. It was a deal I just could not say no to. I researched a bit and bit the bullet and ordered the Neato. And I can say life has been a lot easier since then. No more vacuuming every weekend, no more spending the prime years of your life doing the boring things in life instead of enjoying life.

This Neato device is essentially an autonomous programmable robot. It has a brush underneath and 2 large plastic wheels with great ground clearance. You can progrem the robot to clean at certain times everyday, you can also start ad-hoc cleaning or ask the robot to spot clean which means it would clean a small area. The scheduled cleans and ad hoc cleaning works great. The spot clean is a hit and a miss and might be one of the occasions where getting the old standup vacuum cleaner may make more sense. I also use the standup vacuum cleaner to clean Neato’s air filters and the nooks and crannies on the robot.

When you first turn on Neato, it moves slightly ahead and surveys the room. I believe its actually deciding which side to start on and then it moves, first it covers the corners and then it moves onto the inner room. Much less erratic than Roomba videos you may have seen on the Internet. My Neato lacks a corner brush and that’s its biggest flaw, although it tries to get the edges and corners hugging the wall, its not enough. Quite often dust and debris near the corners is not picked up by the Neato. You do need another vacuum or atleast a broom for the corners.

Also cleaning Neato is also a bit hard, the design has a flaw wherein gears on the brush get a lot of hair and debris and are hard to clean. the brush itself is hard to clean and so is the filter and the dustbox.

The Neato has a decent battery, a lot of the stock at retailers is old so you may need new batteries for your Neato as soon as you purchase it. For me it would barely cover half of my house so I contacted the company for batteries which they sent. In the video below I show you how to replace those batteries.

Now for the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:

  • Good cleaning power
  • Good coverage of the house and obstacle detection and avoidance
  • Easy to use

The Bad:

  • Lacklustre battery life
  • Poor corner cleaning

The Ugly:

Nothing really, overall it’s a pretty decent machine

We would give it 4.5 stars out of 5.


Feb 19

One of my friends recently posted about Transferwise. As a NRI who often has to send remittance to India for various purposes, I was intrigued. For our readers I did the grunt work to find out why this service is buzzing.

So here are my findings :

Its a money transfer service which seems to be headquartered in Estonia from the founders of Skype (claim on every page). I wished to try it out to see if it supports my debit cards. After going through the process I noticed a few things. 

Their exchange rate is competitive, slightly better than Xoom but worse than RIA and Western Union.

I prepared all the details of my transfer entering the recipient’s email address and account information and on the payment information I was surprised to see the method of payment. They want you to actually wire them the money in Estonia. WTH !

Not only would the international wire cost you more money from your bank, wiring money to a third party into a non-escrow account is never a good idea. Yes, the Nigerian prince, I know your game. I also dont see checks and balances of validating who sent the money. Imagine I signup etc. and a terrorist then wires the money, perfect hawala. I wonder if the company addresses identity questions and source of wire transfer some other way. I really hope for the sake of the world that they do.

Another problem I noticed was that the company has a text box for remittance reason to India, most other companies has a list of options in drop down which I think is what it gets classified into at RBI.

Anyway, long story short, I chickened out. Its a billion dollar startup, so chances are you would be ok. However I just cannot wire money to a random bank account in Estonia. Also I fail to see how transferwise makes an iota of sense of non-Americans and NRIs and PIOs in USA. Other sites even without the crappy wire transfer are net green when I compare what value I get in terms of final INR (Indian Rupees received). So even though Transferwise showed a better exchange rate for (USD-INR), the fee made it such that western union turned out to have better overall money in INR.

If you are looking to send money to India, I would suggest using one of these 3, most of these are fee free and do not have bad exchange rates. I usually use whichever is cheapest that day.

Xoom , RIA , Western Union

Ria Logo

Western Union Logo

xoom logo

Since these are affiliate links, you get some bonus for your first transfer anywhere in the world for signing up using the above links. If you have any experiences good or bad to share while sending money using the above links whether to India or elsewhere, let us know in comments. Non Resident Indians and everyone else is welcome. Also let us know if you have any question regarding these services to transfer money to India.


Feb 17

I just learnt today that TopCashBack has an Indian subsidiary. To people who may not know, TopCashBack is a site which gives you cashback for your regular shopping when you click via the website while going to the merchant.

So for example if you want to buy a pizza from Dominos and get extra cashback, do the following :

  1. Goto TopCashBack, signup or login if already signed up..
  2. Search for dominos and click on the link TopCashBack gives you
  3. Then use that window to purchase the pizza. If all goes well a few weeks later you have extra cashback in your account post the clicks.

And to my surprise out of all the stores I shopped in the past week it had cashback deals on each of them. And I am not kidding, here is the proof :

1. LensKart.com – Bought some lens solution for my brother here. Post purchase realised that I could have got Rs.120 cashback  had I clicked through via TopCashBack ( for a purchase between 500-999 rupees. Other offers on LensKart :

  • Online Purchase of orders over Rs.1000 ₹ 320.00
  • Online Purchase of orders below Rs.500 ₹ 56.00
  • Online Purchase of orders between Rs.500 and Rs.999 ₹ 120.00

2. Dominos India – So I had a pizza craving, later I realised I could have made Rs. 24 on the Dominos India order had I ordered via that.

3. Paytm – If you are recharging your phone, get Rs.8 back on a minimum recharge of Rs.20

Apart from this there are offers of cashback on FlipKart, Amazon India, SnapDeal, Myntra etc. also . So if you like to save moneyvia cashbacks , signup through one of the links above.

These are affiliate links, but I get something only if you save Rs.500 over some time which I guarantee you will if you use it for all your online shopping.


Jun 15

I officially hate AIRTEL !

Not only do they cheat you off your money, they do it in style. Most of the times they return your money but sometimes the  ingenious people at the nodal officer’s office come up with such stupid explanations, you feel like banging your head on the wall. Same thing happened to me.

I am on the Rs.98 per month GPRS 2G plan. All of a sudden I get a SMS that Rs.60 are now deducted from my account for 2G charges. This is ofcourse some other plan that would overlap with my Rs.98 plan. I write off a letter to the nodal officer directly since this has been happening to me for very long. Instead of helping me with the problem, the people there came up with an ingenious explanation (reproduced later for your viewing pleasure).

Basically they say I accessed internet using Airtel Live. Which is a baseless lie, I never opened Airtel Live. My phone just has APN settings which I havent modified in ages. Anyway I have decided to appeal to the apellate authority since this doesn’t make any sense. Hopefully the people at the appellate authority will have better sense than those at the nodal officer.

 

Thank you for writing to airtel.
This has reference to your e-mail regarding balance depletion towards GPRS for your airtel Prepaid number xxxxxxxxxxx.

There is a charge of Rs. 60/- for browsing Internet service through Airtel Live. Hence, we regret to inform you that charges are valid and waiver for the same could not be processed.
In order to avoid balance depletion, we request you to save the Mobile Office settings as default settings and delete the Airtel Live settings.

Should you require any further online assistance, you may contact our 24×7 helpline at 12118 (Chargeable at 50 paisa for 3 minutes) from any alternate airtel number. While calling from other service providers, please dial 8790912118 (Chargeable as per the respective network charges).

We hope that we have been able to assist you suitably.
Please feel free to speak to our call center executive on 121 regarding any query/ request and 198 (Toll Free) for any complaints. You can also email us at 121@in.airtel.com.
You can get in touch with the Nodal Officer with your earlier request or complaint number if it’s still unresolved. You may send an email at nodalofficer.andhra@airtel.in or you may call at 9959334865 from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM Monday to Friday. The Nodal officer will provide a resolution to your complaint in 10 days.

If you do not receive a satisfactory response from Nodal officer you may send an email at appellate.andhra@airtel.in or you may call at 9959444865 from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM Monday to Friday.

Assuring you the best of our services.
Warm Regards,
Asha J
Nodal Office
Bharti Airtel Limited


Jan 24

This is part 1 of the review : Initial reactions  + Physical features

I have grown up using the Nokia E63 and E71 so when dad lost his E71 (got stolen, no FIR from Delhi Police, deja-vu ? ) , E72 was the natural upgrade for his needs. So he backed off to the Nokia N72 while we searched for a good deal on the Nokia E72. Finally we got the E72 for around $220 from the United States, the phone came with the car navigation attachments which consists of a stand.

Anyway, the background ends here. Moving onto the phone itself. As soon as you hold the phone in your hand, you see it’s a sleeker version of the Nokia E63 and possibly even of the Nokia E71, although it’s a gram heavier than the E71 with the new features built in , it would be injustice to call it a bulkier version of E71.

The phone unlike its earlier version E71 has 2 cameras (one of them 5 MP)  and a much larger internal memory at 250 MB. The dual cameras promise good video calling capabilities and the much needed internal memory upgrade means more good things inside the phone for you. The phone came with a 2GB microSD card.

Physical Upgrades :

Nokia E72

Compared to the Nokia E71, the Nokia E72 while having the same shape does have an individual character about it. The keys are changed, the camera is changed and even the unlock key combination is changed. All these changes add to a non-seamless transition from the Nokia E71. My first impression of the E72 was that it unlocks differently than the E71. That itself takes some getting used to. The email key is also precariously placed underneath the right soft-key. I accidentally keep pressing the email key every now and then. On usability these things push the E72 a notch lower than the E71.

But there is a silver lining. Nokia has addressed a long standing demand from the E71 which even the E63 had. The E63 had a flashlight button, the E71 lacked it but with the E72 Nokia has addressed the particular point.

The Nokia E72 has a trackpad instead of a 5 way navigational key. The trackpad is so small that its actually very annoying and prone to mis-clicks and mis-navigation.  The older nav key was definitely better than the new track pad which just gives the phone some novelty but nothing on the usability. Even browsing photos using the trackpad key is difficult as multiple images get swiped many times.

The Nokia E72 also has a standard micro USB port, to tell you the truth I don’t remember what was on the Nokia E71 as I always used it with bluetooth. 

The E72 also has a 3.5mm audio jack as compared to a non standard 2.5mm jack on the Nokia E71. What it essentially means is that you can use your normal headphones with the Nokia E72. The built in earphones aren’t really that great with respect to quality but do the job.

The E72 also has volume keys which allow you to zoom into and out of images. It took me a bing/google search to figure out on how to zoom in and out of images on the Nokia E72.

Apart from this the E72 comes with an accelerometer (I didn’t see where they use it till now). The phone interface doesn’t seem to have been customized for the accelerometer which is a dampener.

The E72 also has GPS which I am surprised to say is extremely accurate and beats the GPS on my windows phone in terms of accuracy (atleast here in Delhi).

The E72 is also supposed to have a proximity sensor and a magnetometer. Will update as soon as I see how to use those. Overall from a physical perspective, the device is a definite upgrade from its poorer cousin but there are still chinks which Nokia need to address.

Stay tuned for the second part of this review, internals.


Jun 12

Digg!

I am a part time moderator/web administrator on our unofficial college website. Last year our website had been hacked and some malicious script had been placed on it which was causing redirection of some Google referred traffic. It would not resend all Google referred traffic though, it even placed its own cookie in the malicious script to ensure that people are not sent to the offending site every time but only once every 86400 seconds.

For days I searched the internet desperately to find out if it was a known thing, most sites suggested it was a .htaccess attack, but I had already suspected that and our .htaccess file was squeaky clean. Just to be sure I also checked all the .htaccess files above and below out root level and they were clean. So I was sure it was a script. If your site is hacked via the .htaccess method, there would be entries like :

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*google.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*aol.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*msn.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*altavista.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*ask.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*yahoo.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule .* http://newaddress [R,L]

After the .htaccess files were found clean, I tried some workarounds to prevent the redirection, like setting server referrer variable to null and trying to make all URLs 301 redirects but that didn’t work since the script was still able to detect the referrer as Google and redirect the website to tinyurl4.info which probably paid them a lot to get this done. It would be sent to random addresses on the tinyurl4.info site. Since the site may be hosting malware, I would request you not to go there. So this method of cloaking the referrer at my side clearly wasn’t working.

Next I created a zip file from the offending folder of the site and downloaded the whole thing using my 3G connection photon+ connection (wanted to finish it off ASAP). Once the folder was downloaded, I ran a McAfee scan of the whole thing hoping that the anti virus would be able to detect the offending code as it would be obfuscated. But I was wrong McAfee was terribly incompetent. So it was plan B , I started searching for strings like .js and tinyurl4.info to try and find the redirecting code. Windows search wasn’t very helpful here and couldn’t even find base64 which was one of the strings I searched for and was a part of the offending code.

So now it was plan C , this one worked. I listed all files in the site which had been modified within the past one year. Here is where I was able to find the culprit. One PHP file global_lang.php  had been edited in 2009 while all its peers were not listed. I grew suspicious and opened the file. To my shock, horror and relief I found the following piece of code :

injected code

 

which when translated turned out to be malicious code. I am not displaying the malicious code here should you get any ideas. What it was doing was checking if the person was referred by Google, Yahoo etc. and if that was true and there existed no cookie it would redirect that person after setting a cookie. The cookie ensured that once a person was redirected to the fake site, he wouldn’t be redirected for some time.

I have listed these steps here so that webmasters might be able to get a hint of how to recover from this particular type of  injection on their sites. Ofcourse, always take backups, backups ensure you can just dump them on and the malicious code is removed.

Future Proofing

There is probably no way to protect yourself from the super hackers , however you can always take precautions. First and foremost, always take backups and multiple backups. you should ideally have 12 backups from the past 12 months.

Apart from backups, ensure that the permissions on your website are always set correctly. 777 is really the devil .Never grant write permissions to outside users. 755 for folders and 644 for .php files usually works. Incase you suspect hacking, contact your host at the earliest.

Also turn off all directory listing.

Hoping you found this article helpful Smile