Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Berlin Diaries: Settled

So now I have an apartment and Bluecard(residence card), feels like I am settled.

I read  excellent article - 'How to find a flat in Berlin' by Jon Worth just before I came here, which became very helpful during my search. There are few websites for apartment listing, one has to contact and arrange appointment to visit flat. Usually it's mass viewing i.e agents invite all the people who are looking for flat at same time. In one flat I visited, there were around 25 people who came to visit.  

After viewing, interested people fill form with basic details, monthly income etc. Then agent selects tenant based on above provided information. These all sounds like very competitive. For quite a long, it seems Berlin was known for low rents but not anymore as demand is very high. I visited three flats, got selected by one of them. At the end, I took a flat from a colleague who was moving to some other place. 

I also received Bluecard on third week of September, just two months after I arrived in Germany. I had to go to Foreign Registration Office in Berlin, submit my documents(same documents which were submitted to get work permit, and visa). D category visa allows to work, even though my residence card was processing (so I started work a day after I arrived here :D). I had to pay 110 € as application fee, and they also provide a paper which is temporary residence permit. 

After about three weeks, they said they would send a letter by post office. That letter never came in my case, which was supposed to let me know status of my application.  So, I went there without it, and my residence card was already there ready to be picked up. It was faster than expected :)

So that's that. Now I really want to explore Berlin tech communities, which I haven't done because of above things. I am looking forward to my first Django Meetup. Already feeling jazzy ;) 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Berlin Diaries: Media consumption - a step backward

Recently I had to pay my first rent. There is concept of cold (kaltmiete) and warm rent (warmmiete). Cold rent means that tenant has to pay for heating costs and some other charges himself. Since mine is later one, I thought I only had to pay total rent amount quoted.

 I saw some other charges too. Electricity is not included in it, which is fine. But there is  fee called GEZ amounting €17.98 per month. I asked a local friend what this charge was. She said it's fee I have to pay for TV, even though I don't own any TV or have any connection for that matter. I got bit of a shock there and decided to do bit of research.

Turns out it's a fee every household (flat) has to pay for public broadcasting every month. This fee was initially for public radios and TVs, and people have to pay separately because somehow government won't use tax money for that purpose. Some years ago, only those who subscribed paid for it. Then they started broadcasting over internet as well, and since every household would have internet connection - they made the monthly flat fee required for everybody. 

There is worse than that. Every time when I try to play my favorite song - Wind of Change by Scorpions I get this message.


Yes, Wind of Change and most of popular songs are blocked in Germany. There is an organization called GEMA which collects all fees from public broadcasting and distributes to artists or production company. Then there came internet, and internet is public. Since everything that is put on internet is 'public broadcasting' GEMA wants a flat fee from any website which does so, including Youtube. As far as I understand, Youtube has agreed to pay percentage of ads revenue - but GEMA wants a flat money. The thing I don't understand is why GEMA is after Youtube, because above song was put on Youtube by Scorpions, the band themselves for free. 

There are many good things in Federal Republic, but media consumption is not one of them. It's hard to digest the fact that my favorite song is blocked. For me this is step backward - remember, I lived in India before I moved here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Berlin Diaries: Summer

So I arrived in Berlin :) It's been few weeks already. My previous two visits to Europe was in winter and spring. But, Summer it seems is just great. 

Temperature is hanging around 20-30° Celsius. City looks very green, with many parks. It's rains every two or three days - light rain, compared to monsoon back home. Most of the days it's bright sunny, with cool breeze whole day. There is nice river Spree which flows through center of city. My office is just behind the river, which I very much like it. I am living in a society apartment and travel by public transport all the time, so far people seem very friendly (who said Germans are unfriendly?). Berlin streets are full of graffiti, in some cases more than expected. 

I have already been to most of popular tourist spots in Berlin in my last visit. So, I won't be much fond of visiting them again. What really excites me are small details, streets, people, parks etc. I have been trying different foods. I love sausages, and eat them all the time. Berlin has significant Turkish and Vietnamese population. I tried Falafel on first day. That was disaster, I could not even eat half of it even though I was hungry. I guess there are different types of falafel - I can't remember which one I ordered. Anyways, since then it's been no go for Turkish foods for a while(definitely want to try all of them sometime later)

Seems Berlin is quite cosmopolitan. I want to learn Deutsch, too bad that everyone speaks English with me. It doesn't seem that easy, especially pronunciation. I can't even pronounce word 'Deutsch'. How do people pronounce it? I have bookmarked this link to practice it :D I believe understanding basic written Deutsch should not be problem after some time though. My tax papers don't come in English, so I need to be able to understand them.

Deutschland has it's own keyboard layout, because there are four more characters in Deutsch than English. Keyboard was major hurdle at work for me. I tried to adapt to it for about a week. At the end, I found it too annoying for having to search for right keys instead of writing code. So had to order QUERTY keyboard.

While the type of work I do hasn't changed much - writing software for fun and profit, I am very excited to be in this city. Ich bin ein Berliner :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

A flight to Shanghai

This is part of series of blog posts on Farewell India

As mentioned in previous post, after visiting so many places I stopped travelling within India. Then last summer, I booked a plane ticket to Shanghai. It only took three days to process my tourist visa. China was one of the few countries I always wanted to visit. This was also an opportunity to see one of the most exciting countries in the world.

On a fine summer day, I headed to Mumbai Airport. I don't understand why government officials in India look so dull, bored and are always in anxiety. The immigration officer looked at me as if I was criminal and he was there to decide highest punishment. Out of blue, he asked me how much I made and how was job market in my field. I hardly found sense there, still answered with smile. He lazily stamped my passport and I headed to boarding gate.

My flight, Air China was full of Indian traders who were going there to get cheap products. Guy next to me joked how come I spoke such a good Hindi, even though I looked like Chinese guy returning home. This is major taboo Indians have towards North East Indians or anyone who looks mongoloid for that matter. 

At afternoon, I landed in huge modern Shanghai airport. I suddenly found myself trying to speak sign language as opposed to India, where you could get away with English (at least in urban areas). Everything else is better though. Train travel takes way less than it takes in India with average intercity passenger train speed of 350 Kms/hour (average speed of fastest intercity train, Deccan Queen between Pune - Mumbai is around 60 Kms/hour. Can you see the differences?). When I saw huge train station in Shanghai, I remembered Indian Railways. The worst place to be in India is train station, where it smells shits everywhere, gets so crowded that your fear you might get lost, full of people sleeping on bare floors all day all night. Whenever I go to train station, it scares me. And there I was in Shanghai station in disbelief, drinking free mineral water that came on my ticket, using their free Wi-FI, seating on a proper waiting room under air-conditioned building.   

Infrastructure is just bigger and better, from airports to roads to train stations, you name it. Roads are wider, traffic is well managed, restaurants look clean. I found women workforce everywhere. In India, people try to compare to China on almost everything. Once you visit there, I will feel China is just way ahead of India, which has solved many of the problems India is facing and comparing two is just useless debate.

After travelling for few days, I had to fly back. But I came to know I was not allowed. There is one clause in travel rules, that any Nepalese travelling directly from China to India has to get visa. This is stupid rule obviously, and I have no idea how it came to effect. Nepalese get almost every rights on par with Indian citizen, except voting. And here they are telling me that I need visa to go back to country where I live. I asked Indian embassy in Shanghai how many days would it take to process visa and what type of visa I needed to apply for. They replied it would take more than a week, and had no idea what type of visa I needed to get. If I go for tourist visa, I was not tourist. Same with other types of visa, business, student etc. I am resident of India, who is living here for past four years and has legal rights on par with Indian citizen. At the end, I did a bit of research online and found that if I take transit flight, then I was allowed. (As stupid as it might sound, I cancelled my ticket and booked Malaysia Airlines flight transit via Kuala-lumpur.)

At immigration, Chinese official smiled and greeted me. He was done with process within less than a minute and wished me safe journey. I happily thanked him. There were few electronic buttons for feedback with options form very happy, happy to not satisfied. I took that opportunity and pressed 'very happy' button. I wish I could have told him how awesome they were.

I slept during whole flight. After hours, I wake up. Plane was about to land at Mumbai Airport, I looked outside. I saw miles of slums. Needless to mention, that was our dear India. 

Five years in India, a lookback

This is part of series of blog posts on Farewell India

On summer of 2009, I and couple of friends boarded in a plane to New Delhi. We had finished high school, and were heading for college. It was first time we were going far away from home, which means there was bit of fear in everyone of us. But we were also very excited for so many reasons. We were young full of energy and enthusiasm. We were too happy to escape from family and parents and live freely in a new country.

While on plane, we watched the Himalayas go further away every passing minute. Within two hours, we landed in 43 degree celsius. Next day we travelled by Indian Railways to Pune, a city known for it's weather and colleges. It takes more than 30 hours from Delhi to Pune in normal passenger trains. I had never done that long journey before, but it's all normal here. Indian Railways is show, passengers outnumber seats in every train by huge margin, it is dirty and feels like it was never upgraded once British left. 

Anyways, the journey itself was very memorable. In school, I was taught India was one of the most populous countries. Here I could see vast endless empty land. For someone like me who grew up in remote hills in western Nepal, that scene itself was unforgettable. 

After arriving in Pune for few days, we got admission into fairly well known colleges under University of Pune. But soon I discovered, colleges here are pathetic. Faculties act like a primary school teachers, the ones who are tough. They didn't seem to have needed knowledge to be a faculty, asking questions in class was discouraged, students were punished like primary school kids, in so many occasions exam papers appear with full of printing mistakes. I could go on and on. My life as college student here was terrible. Sure, the college I attended isn't among best colleges in India. But still is fairly well known all around.

Outside of college, we started to feel freedom of being far away from parents. Personally now I feel had been very rebellious. I rejected so many things that were made to us to believe by school or society (even though I was wrong in many occasions, I believe). We did nonstop partying. Travelling was something that happened so frequently. On winter of 2009/10, we went to Rajasthan. It is full of palaces, which doesn't interest me a single bit. But it has great Indian desert, to my surprise. On summer, we went to northern state of Himachal, from Chandigarh to Shimla to Manali. Within three years, I managed to travel many of the major states and cities reaching mountains, great desert and sand dunes, beaches and crossed thousands miles of empty deserted lands by train. Then I almost stopped travelling within India unless it was needed as I din't find any interesting anymore. Though I still wanted to visit Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

During that time, I also developed deep interests in many other subjects like web/internet, economics, development etc. Many times, we debated whole night on those topics. The fact that college didn't provide the environment I wanted; forced me to look elsewhere. This is where self learning came. I would just search best resources on internet, download and continue reading until I got eye strain or exhausted. With internet getting richer with resources everyday, that habit still continues. 

On last year of my college, I did internship in a small IT firm. After college, I started my first job at Changer Technologies, a Dutch company with development office in Pune. This is where real education started. I worked with people from diverse backgrounds, different countries and cultures. Fast forwards, I spent there more than two years, met some great people, developed great friendships, and needless to say - learned a lot.

My life in India has been wild ride. On next post, I will write about issues that excite and depress me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Solving Nepal’s bus ticketing system


Bus is primary mode of transportation in Nepal. Geographically, most of the country is covered with hills and mountains. This makes other means of transportation very difficult. Indeed, this might be quite strange for outsiders that Nepal doesn’t have rail network.

I needed to travel from Kathmandu to Baglung. I have to book ticket, and for that there is no way but have to go to Bus Park ticket counter. No, travel agencies don’t sell bus tickets except if it is tourist bus, which is luxurious and bit costlier than normal ones.

In the morning, after an hour of travel on local bus (which always faces traffic jam in the valley) I reach ticket counter. There are four guys selling tickets. I book a ticket, and reconfirm my seat number and bus details.

I pack my bag and go to Bus Park in the evening. I try to board in the bus. I see another guy sitting on my seat. I ask him if he has ticket. He says he has, I reluctantly request him to show his ticket. That’s right. He has ticket. I recheck my ticket. Damn, two tickets were issued for same seat. Bus is full by now, those who didn’t buy tickets were standing on the passage. I tell the bus helper either to arrange seat or to refund my ticket money. He looks helpless, and tells me to adjust in packed bus. I travel adjusting whole night without sleep, furious in everything I see. I feel something is quite not right about this whole thing.   

After few days, I plan to travel back to valley. This time I book on bigger bus, hoping this might be better with folding seat where I could actually fall asleep. Luckily, I get a seat. But this bus also had same problem that many passengers had to suffer, multiple tickets for same seat.

There are many other problems our primary mode of transportation has, making millions of traveller’s life worse. Booking ticket itself is difficult that only specified counter sell tickets. The fact that many people travel without ticket shows that getting ticket is ridiculously uneasy. Most of the time, buses are either over packed or almost empty. In case of former, many passengers travel by standing or sitting on passage even in long routes. Since passengers don’t have tickets booked, they charge whatever amount the want. When I see people travelling in horrible situation even after paying money, little bit of humanity dies in me every time.

That bus nightmare actually made me think how we could solve the problem millions of Nepalese face everyday. Is there any solution to problems we described? I don’t know, but I propose one below.

Better bus ticketing system: electronic booking

Electronic booking system, where people can book bus tickets on their computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. All they need is Internet connection. This might sound like crazy idea for most of the Nepalese who know nothing more than Facebook, I think this is most convenient and advanced way of solving above problems.

How does it work?

Basically, passengers can go to for eg. http://nepalbus.com and enter their details (i.e name, place, destination etc). It will show the ticket price. Passengers pay the ticket money via bank account, debit card, credit cards, online transfers etc. Even though many people might not have all those payment methods, a nearby travel agent can easily provide that facility.

Wherever a passenger books from, all the data is stored centrally. So there is no chance of repeated booking unlike doing it manually in current system. For example, if a passenger books a ticket in Pokhara with seat no. A1 on bus ABC, same information will be stored in central server and that information will be available everywhere immediately. So whenever someone in Kathmandu tries to book on bus ABC, seat no. A1 will be shown as taken and it can’t be booked anymore.

Advantages

While most of advantages of electronic booking are apparent, I document some of them below.

1. Booking bus ticket from home.
With electronic booking, I don’t have to travel hours in jam packed traffic to get my ticket. I can book from convenience of my home using my electronic device. This also enables me to do advance booking to get desired seat and bus.

On the larger note, this would enable easier access to tickets that they would not travel without ticket.

 2.  No multiple tickets for single seat
Machines are so good at it that the multiple ticket for same seat issue can be virtually wiped out. As I explained before that since all the data is stored centrally and every information is updated instantly everywhere that there is no possibility of multiple tickets being issued. Book ticket, travel in peace.

3. Better occupancy management
When I was travelling to Baglung, our bus was totally pack, there was no space even on passage while second bus was almost empty. If people had information that second bus had empty seats, they would book for that one.

The other issue is, when a bus ABC travels from Baglung to Kathmandu, there are passengers who booked up to Pokhara. Say if 10 people booked ticket for Pokhara, there are no ways to know in current system that how many seats are available from Pokhara.

In electronic system, it would clearly show that 10 seats are available and can be booked. Better occupancy.

4. Efficiency and cost effective
Electronic booking can be very fast and fact that I don’t have to go to bus counter makes it no brainer. It is also better to reduce human manual errors.

And since people can book tickets themselves, this can be huge cost reduction to bus operators.

5.  Better travel planning
When I visit Europe, I do all the travel planning at least two weeks in advance. Why? Because I can book ticket online, get all the route information, the time it takes, costs and any modes of transportation etc.

When I landed in Kathmandu, I had no idea where I could go and where I couldn’t on my limited holidays. There is no way to know route information, timing, costs etc unless I go to counter or call my old friends who travel frequently in any specified route. And we brag about being tourist friendly country?


All in all, I think this can be really good solution. The whole write up is solely based on my experience. It’s really difficult to get actual data about the issues I mentioned above. After some more time, I plan to add challenges to implement such systems in present context in Nepal. Please feel free to comment, correct and brainstorm.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Notes on Europe Travel - 2013


I was in Europe this March and April. I really wanted to write about everything. Looks I was a bit busy, so could not hit the keyboards.

Anyway, this is summary of all the things I wanted to write. There might be too generic things for people who are already immersed in western culture. But for a guy from developing country like me, almost everything was interesting, mind blowing or shocking. Also, so many things can be similar to other developed countries. Finally, most of it is my personal observation.

  1. The Background
    I mostly spent my time in The Netherlands, city of Delft to be precise. It is in southern part of the country, near Dutch government town The Hague. Delft is small very old and beautiful university town. From most of what I saw in The Netherlands, it is very clean and really well maintained even for European standard I guess.. City is quite small (with total population around 90,000). Everything is within walking distance. I loved it.

    One random weekend I visited Delft University of Technology, which is one of the major Dutch university for technical degrees. The huge library within the campus is very beautiful. Also probably because of the university, I could see too many Chinese people all around city (And less Indians to my surprise).

    There are canals everywhere. I loved walking on road parallel to canals (except when it's windy, obviously :D). City reflects the old architecture, with numerous historic building. It is perfect example of well maintained city.

  2. Schengen Agreement to European Union
    I got visa stamped. BOOM. Now I can travel to 26 countries in Europe, no checking, no questions asked. Just go wherever you want to (except UK). This is probably the most awesome thing about Europe. I can't be grateful enough to person who came up with this idea.
    Apparently I traveled five countries – The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany. Yay :)

    Schengen Agreement was done in 1985 to abolish passports and immigration controls in common borders. The agreement only deals with travel, which allows a person to travel to another member country without visa. Later, I think Schengen Area was absorbed into European Union. You know about EU – free market zone consisting 27 countries.

    * Yes except United Kingdom – Schengen Visa doesn't cover it. Policy makers there still think that it has some kind of golden soil and everyone will flock there if they liberalize border controls. You might have heard about UKBA.

  3. Observation: Labour is expensive
    This is probably the most interesting thing I saw – labour is very expensive. It sometimes funny the way economics works. In India, there are 2/3 people in all big buildings pressing the buttons inside lifts. Yes, their job is to press button and taken the automatic lift up and down whole day. Parking spaces are more ridiculous. At Inorbit Mall in Pune (there so many malls like one) there are more than 20 people just doing nothing but allocating parking space. In petrol pumps, there are three guys – one for filling petrol, another for collecting cash and yet another for collecting payment via cards. Same with restaurants, helpers etc.

    This is exact opposite there. Almost everything is automatic. I travelled by Eurolines bus. Checking passenger tickets, doing check-in/check-out, handling baggages, driving – for all of these there was only one guy – driver himself. This is too generic I guess, but for me it was weird at first. Ditto with petrol pumps, parking spaces etc – that you have to fill petrol yourself, none is there in parking space. These are just examples. Labour is too expensive. Automate everything. Welcome to machine.

  4. Amsterdam: Sex, Drugs and the City
    I hate to give above title to city of Amsterdam. I really do. Amsterdam is beautiful cosmopolitan city with lots of canals, nice people, many public parks etc . Let me write more about the city. Soft drugs is legal, so is prostitution. Most of the locals I spoke to were a bit sad about it. One reason might be that everyone takes city wrong way.

    But, let's face it. Every city has some form of prostitution. And every city is not drugs free (except Singapore may be – I hear you get death penalty for that. Very costly.) So, all other countries are making their citizens criminal by making illegal to do prostitution and drugs (along with so many consequences). Holland is making it legal, and collects taxes. I liked it.
    But it is very tricky. You can sell drugs, but you can not produce. (I guess you can produce small amount of it for self use). So, where the hell does it come from? Thanks international drugs cartels.

    Place where drugs are sold is called coffeeshop (yes, together two words. And place to find coffee is Cafe :D) So, when illegal drugs enters one of the many coffeeshops, it becomes legal. (too much magic here :D)

    De Wallen is most famous red light district in Amsterdam. And this is also most crowded place in Amsterdam. No, all the people don't go for sex. In fact most of the people you see there are tourists who came to see scene which nowhere on Earth they could see. It's spectacular and very well managed. Quick google search must give you glimpse of the area.

    So, let's talk about city. So everyone does drugs? And goes to those red windows? This is what most people think after they hear it's legal. Answer is No and No. In fact most of the locals don't really care about it. City is perfectly normal as any other city until you head to De Wallen or some other red light districts. Drugs there is like cigarette elsewhere. Some might smoke, most of population don't.

    Another most interesting thing to me in Red Light District after Red Light District itself was that all the other normal business activities are adjacent to window girls. In fact, world's oldest stock exchange, Amsterdam Stock Exchange is next to De Wallen. Same with so many fast food joints, shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and any business activity. And there is one big church in the center of De Wallen. At the end, prostitution is also normal business activity like massage parlor elsewhere.

  5. Income Tax rate is very high.
    This is another unique thing about Europe. Income tax rate is very high. In The Netherlands it can go up to 52% - which means sometimes you pay more than half of what you make to Government. Every country has similar rate – look at higher end tax rate in three biggest economies in Europe, Germany – 45%, France – 41%, UK - 50%.
    The reason for high tax collection is partly because Government functions as public benefactor. For example, Government takes care of you if you can't make enough to survive. Except in UK, education is virtually free. In fact, In Netherlands government pays money every year to students who go to college/university. I said high income tax, but people who have low wage pay way less tax. These are few example. Basically, system is more geared towards what you expect from socialist state. But with increasing debt, I doubt they will continue big public spending in future.

  6. God Save the Queen
    Fuck you, but God will save the queen and that's all it matters.
    If you grew up in republic state, I am sure you have read about French revolution. Not so with so many EU member states. In Netherlands, Queen's Day or King's Day (their birthday I guess) is biggest festive celebration every year. This again felt strange. May be just because I am from republic state.
    Next hint: Listen to national anthem of United Kingdom.

  7. Let's brew beer in Monastery
    If if think beer means all about those few internationally well known brands, you seriously need to visit Belgium. It's has more than 800 beer brands and about 178 breweries. That was indeed mind blowing.

    I hadn't really heard about Belgian beer before I went there, reason is simple – that most of those brands are not big international brands. Also, monasteries in Belgium brew beer, brand them and sell them. So, some of the great beers I tested were brewed in monastery. I heard monasteries there are self sufficient and don't need funding from state or public donation. What an idea.

  8. EU doesn't like US
    People in Europe don't like America. Generally we think that all the developed countries are similar. I was plain wrong. There seems to be lots of differences between two.

    It's true that US is notorious to some degree all over the world. But, that's limited to political sentiment. It's different in Europe. Except among technical and startups people, if you praise something about US, you will be frown upon. I was just too dumb to think all of the western world is same.    

    That's all I guess. Speaking English will do just fine everywhere (except in French/Roman dialect  speaking area may be. I had difficulty ordering food there) Weather was cruel than what I expected. On the other hand, people were more friendlier than expected. Overall, I had a great time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why doesn't Facebook allow status (post) edit?

Update: Facebook now allows to edit your status.

Facebook is now everywhere. I don't like that part. I just like social part of it. But, people use it for all sort of things, and many use it for discussion. That's worst thing about facebook. 

Recently, I am noticing that so many people want to edit status or posts they make on facebook. One by a friend today on her status.

What’s the logic when Facebook allows you to edit your comment but not your status message?
I am sure she must have made some typo mistake or something like that while using it form her phone. Now to change that she has to remove the status and type it all again. (Just a guess :D)

So, here is my answer.

Well, that's facebook product design decision. 

Say if a guy says to you 'Would you like to join me for coffee?' on his status. You like it and say 'Yes, definitely.'

But the guy edits his status after a while to 'Will you be my Valentine?'

BOOM. You got the answer. 
Yeah, that's exactly what I answered.

I again posted here since Facebook is closed network. I know so many people are asking about it. Now this answer is on open web. Yes, I hate this part of Facebook.

PS. For wiser and better answer this