Friday, November 26, 2010

Status of Income Tax Refund

There is a very useful service started by Income tax department to find out status of your Income tax refund. But useful of such an important service is marred by bad data in the Income tax database. For example see following screen-shot from the website.

Notice that contradictory information is shown
Notice the text in bigger red circle. First column says "cheque has not been sent" and next column says "refund cheque is encashed".
Also, notice that refund is sent on 10-8-2006 for the Assessment Year 2007-08 i.e., Financial year ended on 31-3-2007. So, our Income tax department is so efficient and forward looking that they are able to send the refund on 10-8-2006 before year has ended on 31-3-2007!! I like this efficiency.

It clearly shows that Income tax database is in a mess. And such mess can be easily traced back to the people who enter data in to the system. So, it's a garbage in garbage out.

Recently (24-6-2010) there was a press release by Income tax that said:
“The Income Tax Department has taken the initiative to clean up the mismatched TDS data base. Many refunds are pending with the IT Department due to the mismatch of tax paid by the assessee, but the same is not being reflected in the computer software of the department.”


If you are interested in knowing reactions of citizen's of India on such public admission of failure - visit following site:
http://taxguru.in/income-tax/i-t-department-decided-to-clean-up-the-mismatched-tds-database-and-issue-income-tax-refunds.html

I am victim of above mentioned mismatched TDS database. My Income-tax return's TDS figures are no-where near to the data shown on Form AS-26 that I got from TIN website. And when I inquired Income tax department by visiting my Assessing Officer (AO) - TDS data on his computer's AS-26 for me - does not match with AS-26 that I got from the TIN website. So, I'm in a total mess because I'm trying to reconcile three different sets of TDS details viz., one that I've based on TDS certificates, second is Form 26-AS based on TIN website and third is TDS details (AS-26) that I got from AO's computer. You don't believe me? If you want proof - I'm ready to provide the same. Just write to me.

And now Income tax department has issued notices for recovery of tax. When rectification is filed u/s 154 for the correction - poor letter gets filed in AO's files. Ideally AO should do the correction in 6 months. In one of my correction dated 21-4-2003 for Assessment Year 2001-02 - no correction has been done so far and demand is still pending!! My wife has filed for correction u/s 154 on 19-5-2010 for AY 2008-09; and as on 24-11-2010 - when I appeared before her AO and inquired him if corrections were done. He said our CA should bring it to his notice by writing a letter and attaching copy of correction letter u/s 154 filed with him! In fact,  as per IT rules he was bound to have done the correction in 6 months i.e., on or before 18-11-2010!

I don't have doubt that we are living in "Incredible India."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Understanding IT Software Business Model in view of tax confusion

ISODA's writ petition demanding removal of Service tax on Packaged Software got dismissed by the Madras high court on 24th August 2010. The order said that government has right to levy Service tax on IT Software and is well within the rights conferred to it by the Indian Constitution. It further confirmed that software is 'goods' but transaction involving transfer of right to use - between ISODA member (software reseller) and End user could be 'sale' or 'service' depending upon what is written in the End User License Agreement  (EULA) from the software developer / copyright owner.


Tax experts concurred that interpretation of order could pose serious difficulty to the business operations of the software resellers - as would be difficult to read EULA of each Packaged Software license and determine whether the transaction is a 'sale' or 'service' or combination of the two. Doing so would be subject to the interpretation of a legal agreement - which is not within capacity of an ordinary end user or a software reseller or a field level government officer. But order did anticipate such problems and said that ISODA member could resist the tax demand when made; and could approach the court for clarification.

I feel that it is almost impossible for an average person to find out whether the transaction is a 'sale' or 'service' by merely reading the text of the EULA due to its complicated legal language and its interpretation. Due to this difficulty, it is likely that each government officer would interpret the EULA in a way convenient to his department. So, one can foresee a slow but sure build-up of numerous disputes and litigations over sale v/s service interpretation all over India.

Supreme court had opined in the TCS case that EULA is only a mechanism to enforce copyright protection i.e., restrict usage with certain terms and conditions. So, to read and interpret EULA to determine nature of transaction may not turn out to be a practical solution.

Upon doing the fine reading of the order and slight reflection, I came to conclusion that only handful of people understand business model of IT software properly. And all tax confusion is because of lack of this perspective. If one understands nature and characteristics IT software with its different modes of delivery - it is easy for any one to come to the understanding that one may not have to read EULA to determine nature of transaction between the End User and the software developer.

When we say that business of Packaged Software is an industry worth billions of dollars, there has to be a common thread that makes it as one big industry. Currently there is an urgent need to identify such commonality of characteristics and quickly establish nature of IT software transactions. For example, it is established by courts well that sale of Electricity is 'goods', providing Telephony services is a 'service', sale of mobile SIM cards is a 'service' for first transaction and 'goods' subsequently. It is simply not practical to keep reading and interpreting EULA of each packaged product. But, million dollar question is who will do this for the IT software industry in India?

So, I set out to put down basic ground realities of IT software business on a piece of paper for the sake of better understanding. In the piece below I have tried to draw the picture and you may decide - if it adds to your understanding of the nature of software transactions.

Information Technology Software vis-a-vis other types of software
Electronics has brought revolution to the modern world beyond what a men could have ever imagined just 150 years back. Over last 40 years a new branch of Electronics emerged with general purpose or programmable electronic devices called Computers and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Computers were found useful in business and PLCs were found useful in Industries for automation. This general purpose Computers and its network became very popular and started being used widely all over the world. This branch of Electronics popularly came to be known as Information Technology. While PLCs and other special purpose Electronic items also progressed at a fast pace. But among them except for Smart Mobile Phones most of the electronic items remained an item performing one specific function for which it was designed.

So, Information Technology (IT) is a branch of Electronics with attendant Hardware device, Software and network of such devices using Telecommunication Networks. Other programmable electronic items are known as PLCs, CNC machines, Industrial Robots etc.; and special purpose electronic items like Television sets, Audio-Video Players and Recorders, Digital Cameras, Telephone Instruments including Mobile phones, Automobile electronics, Rail Electronics, Satellite Electronics, Home gadget Electronics for Washing Machines, Microwave Ovens, Cooking Stoves etc. All of these electronic devices are run by great piece of software inside it but it's not IT software. In fact, TV programs recorded in studios for telecast on TV channels is called TV software! And we are not talking about it either, here.

Technical Nitti-gritty
Each of this electronic item is made up of two parts - popularly known as hardware and software. Software is of two type - embedded and programmable. Generally speaking, embedded software is hard-coded i.e., non-changeable software and is integral and essential part for working of the electronic device; it is considered part and parcel of hardware. While programmable software is modifiable and replaceable in nature - although non-essential many a times - but could make important contribution to the usefulness of the electronic device. So, when IT software is referred to - we are referring to programmable software used by computers or network of computers.

Such IT software is developed by a Software Developer using certain type of software called Development tools which include various type of Software languages like C, Java, Cobol, Pascal, Assembly, Fortran etc. and development tools like Visual Studio, Eclipse; and Databases like Oracle, DB2, Informix, Sybase etc.

IT Software developer would develop a software using above mentioned development tools for a specific client based on his specific requirement - called Customized Software; or develop a general purpose software - designed and developed keeping in mind needs of many users having similar requirement - called Packaged Software.

Packaged Software Business
Development of Packaged software is a business with great risks and great rewards. Few outstanding examples of this business model are Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe, McAfee, Autodesk etc. Software development, Manufacturing and Distribution of Packaged software is internationally a big business running in to billions of Dollars. In India, this business size is estimated to be Rs.10,000 crore a year.

Diagram below depicts the licensing and distribution model of Packaged IT Software.

IT Software Licensing and Distribution Model
First and foremost point to be noted to understand this business model is that packaged software is licensed to the end user by an End User License Agreement. It is an agreement between Software Developer (or Vendor - who is also a copyright owner, say Microsoft) - who is also a copyright owner and End User (say Coal India Ltd or Sachin Tendulkar).

Vendor provides his packaged software in the market to various types of customers like Replicators & Distribution companies, End users including companies/organizations,  hardware vendors on OEM basis and other independent software vendors/developers - by packaging it differently through various license agreements. And Vendor receives money for the same from various customers depending upon terms of the  license agreements.

Typically it's a two tier model - where an intermediate company is given license to replicate and distribute. It is essentially a license to do the "production" or "manufacturing"; and the resulting product is sold or distributed in the market to reach the end user via a traditional distribution channel or via eCommerce transaction.

Packaged Software delivered in many different forms
One important point to be noted here is that packaged software is delivered to end user in various forms of delivery viz., Media (CD/DVD/Storage device), Internet Download, Network Delivery, Backup Media/Storage Device etc. How packaged software is delivered to the end user does not matter or alter the nature of transaction. Even one of the explanatory notes released by Tax Research Unit said following:
------
D.O. F. No.334/1/2008-TRU Date: 29-2-2008
..
4.1.5 Software and upgrades of software are also supplied electronically, known as digital delivery. Taxation is to be neutral and should not depend on forms of delivery. Such supply of IT software electronically shall be covered within the scope of the proposed service.
------

On this point of forms of delivery there has been lot of confusion in the mind of various people - so this point requires careful consideration while deciding on nature of transaction.

Resell of Packaged Services
In the above diagram, one more point to be noted is that in this model - "Subscription License" which involves some kind of service for 1 or 2 year period - is productized (or packaged - in other words). So here, a service (if any) is packaged and sold, resold and distributed like a product. It is important to recognize this unique distribution model of "service" - as its improper understanding may pose some difficulty with respect to taxation issues. I would like to call it as a "resell of a service".

So, in the context of IT software - government should recognize and accept that "resell and distribution of service" should be treated as trading transaction i.e., "sale" - as there is no element of "service" provided by the reseller. Also, the transaction should not be subjected to TDS (Tax Deducted at Source) because its only a "sale" or "trading" transaction. In all these transactions, actual service provider is the software developer and actual service recipient is end user. And reseller is only facilitating the transaction by trading/sale of a productized service.

Given below is the tabular depiction of the Business and Distribution Model of IT Software.

Business and Distribution Model of IT Software
I know, above diagram is difficult at first glance; and would interest you only if you are really interested in understanding business and distribution model of IT software. Any way, give it a try.
 
Current taxation structure for ISODA members is depicted below:
Various Taxes on IT Software distribution in India

So, say when Sachin Tendulkar buys say Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business Edition box pack with DVD by paying say Rs.10,000/- from a store he get a copy of software developed by Microsoft Corporation,USA, manufactured by Microsoft Operations Pte Ltd, Singapore (MO) and sold to Croma through an Indian distributor like Ingram Micro India Ltd (IMIL) via Microsoft Regional Sales Corporation, Singapore (MRSC). So, distribution path is MC --> MO --> MRSC --> IMIL --> Croma --> Sachin Tendulkar.

Similarly when Coal India Ltd (CIL) purchases say 10 licenses of Microsoft Office 2010 Std by paying Rs.15,000/- per license - they get a piece of paper authorising them to use Microsoft Office 2010 Std on 10 PCs. CIL can install the software on 10 PCs from a media pack (DVD) purchased from the reseller at Rs.1,500/- per piece - which could be one time purchase. For the sake of simplicity - we shall assume that CIL had this media pack from its earlier purchase. Note that this paper license also follows same distribution route as shrink wrap box purchased by Sachin Tendulkar.

But Sachin Tendulkar pays VAT @5% on Rs.10,000/- i.e., Rs.10,500/-; and CIL pays Service Tax @10% on Rs.1,50,000/- i.e., cost of paper license; and VAT at 5% on the total viz., 1,65,000/-, taking total payment to Rs.1,73,000/- (rounded off). And while making payment to the reseller - CIL deducts TDS at 10% and pays the balance amount viz., 1,55,700/- to the reseller.

Assuming reseller's purchase price of each Microsoft Office 2010 Std to be Rs.14,000/-; he would had paid (Rs.14,000/- x 10 no.s + 10% Service tax) x 5% VAT = Rs.1,61,700/- to the distributor IMIL. Of course, he would also deduct 10% TDS and pay only balance to the distributor. But he will have to deposit TDS amount with Income tax immediately. So, while reseller made a profit of Rs.10,000/- in books of accounts; he lost Rs.6,000/- from his cash flow. So, net effect of Service tax and TDS on reseller is that reseller keeps on depositing more than 60% of his gross margin to Income tax department.

As far as reseller is concerned he just takes an order from CIL at Rs.15,000/- per license, places it on IMIL at Rs.14,000/- per license, who in turn purchases it from MRSC at say USD 290/- (Rs.45/USD= Rs.13,000/-) per license. And MRSC procures it from MO at say USD 260/- per license. And MO pays say USD 200/- per license as royalty to Microsoft under its replication and distribution agreement.

Summary and Recommendation
So, following points are very clear from the business model described above:
1. Once Packaged software is manufactured by the replication and distribution licensee it assumes nature of a product i.e., goods.
2. In the hand of distributor and reseller the product is sold as it is - without any service addition from his side. So, there is no element of service provided by the distributor or a reseller to the end user. So, it may not be correct to levy 10% service tax on a packaged software product from the reseller/distributor.
3. Since distributor / reseller is not providing any service to the customer, it may not be correct to deduct 10% TDS on his payment.

I hope careful reading of above three diagrams will clear most of the misunderstanding that is prevalent among Government Officials, Judiciary and Politicians; and help them to devise, design and interpret IT Software taxation structure in proper context with reasonable clarity.

In summary, it is easy to understand for any one that transaction related to a Packaged IT Software is essentially a sale / trading activity as far as software reseller is concerned. So, sale and distribution of Packaged IT Software should be treated as trading i.e., sale/purchase of goods/services and should be liable to taxes under Excise/Customs duty, VAT and as Business Income under Income tax.

Bringing supply of Packaged IT Software products under Service tax / Royalty regime has brought unnecessary complexities to the sun-rise industry. If government decides to continue taxing this industry with complex taxation laws, Packaged Software industry will die a slow but certain death. It's time we all wake up and take corrective action.

Tryst with Medical Fraternity

My mother aged 72 years had a fall because a young child crossed her way while playing. She sat down on the ground and could not get up. She was brought home by some helpful people.

Upon simple visual examination we did not find any visible signs of a fracture like swelling or unbearable pain. Of course, she found it difficult to move right leg and had pain it was moved. So, a young physiotherapist was called in. She examined her and said that possibly there is no fracture and few sessions would do good to her. She started with some mild treatment on first day. But next day my mother sensed more pain compared to the previous day. So, we stopped her treatment - fearing that exercise may aggravate the pain and some experienced person should be called in.

Our friendly neighbour suggested a local bone-setter (hadd-vaidya) whose 3 generations have been curing ailments related to bones and setting bones. One young man arrived quickly and applied some oil and with a wooden massage aid and did some massage. My mother felt relief after the massage. He asked her to do Ice massage every few hours and apply a ayurvedic concoction (llap) every alternate day. He opined that hip joint ball is safe and fracture is not there. Even if it is there it could be hair line fracture. He suggested X-ray after few days of massage therapy - when things would get normal.

Next day we noticed a small red patch on the upper thigh. Next day it became bigger in size. When we inquired about it the young man said it's a good sign. He said, there is an injury inside (near bone) and blood oozing from there is now coming to the surface. It will become bigger and slowly fade in color and disperse. True to his explanation - the red patch became bigger and slowly started fading. But recovery was not good i.e., pain persisted after few massages also.

In the mean time, we contacted few clinics for a portable X-ray unit. We could locate one in our locality and contacted them. They said technician is on leave due to Diwali festival and he would return only after Diwali. We could not find any other lab with portable X-ray equipment.

So we called in the senior bone-setter. He found one leg to be shorter than other; and did some settings in his own way. He even moved the right leg up to the chest slowly; and there was not much pain. He also opined that possibly there is no fracture and she would become normal in about 10-15 days. My mother felt better after the visit. But after 2-3 days thing were back to old pain; and Diwali also came to an end.

On the first day after the Diwali, we called in the technician with portable X-ray machine. He promptly came and within half hour called saying there is a fracture in the hip joint requiring possibly an operation. My wife rushed to an Orthopaedic Surgeon and showed the report. He suggested surgical operation to fix the fractured bone with the help of a plate and screws. He mentioned his fees for operation and suggested that operation be done in some other hospital with ICU unit because of my mother's old age. He said all other charges for the hospitalisation will be extra. Upon inquiry he said cost of the Medicines, Operation theater and Anesthesiologist fees will be extra. Fine. He suggested two hospitals.

We inquired and settled with one because other one was almost full with only one vacant bed. I got contact of an Ambulance operator from the hospital. Contacted him to get Ambulance with a Wheel Chair. Rates quoted were higher than indicated by the hospital staff. So, after a negotiation we settled for Rs.550/- for a 500 meter ride to hospital!

Next day ambulance came one hour late after half a dozen phone calls. A young boy came in with a folded wheel chair. He did not know even how to open the folded wheel chair. After some struggle he managed and then put my mother in it and took it to the ambulance. The wheel-chair was lifted by 3 people to put inside the ambulance. But the wheel chair won't go inside because space between two cots was not enough to accommodate it. So, they lifted my mother and put her on one of the cots and made her sit there. Thus we reached the hospital. Ambulance guy had not brought the Bill for ambulance and demanded full money with promise to bring Bill by same day evening. After one week's follow-up we got the bill. I vowed not to call this Ambulance Service again and even gave feedback to the hospital about the service we got from them.

Experience at Hospital was good. Hospital insisted and made us sign a letter which stated that we will purchase all medicines from their own medical shop at Maximum Retail Price. Admission staff was naive and in-experienced but nursing staff was adequate in numbers and was of good quality. They were very prompt and gave required services with smile and speed. I paid the required deposit to the hospital by cheque first time on the day of the admission and second time just after the operation.

Just before the operation was to be commence Orthopaedic Surgeon inquired if we want to put 'steel' plate costing Rs.10,000/- or titanium plate costing Rs.17,000/-. This was a googly. He had not even informed us that cost of plate was not included in his fee for operation! My sister and brother-in-law, both of them doctors - who were present there - had no clue. So, we arbitrarily decided for one of them in absence of much information. We wish we had known about this earlier and could have taken an informed decision.

Operation went on well. Then after two days my mother was found fit to be discharged from the hospital. I had done some rough calculations of all expenses and made cash withdrawal from the bank with some extra amount. And we were presented with the rough bill. It turned out to be much higher than my rough calculations. So, upon getting detailed break-up of various items I learnt that they had included following items which I was unaware:

a. Doctor's visit fees for 5 visits at Rs.1,000/- each. One involved short walk with a walker, second involved dressing, other 3 just to inquire if everything was fine.

b. Handling fee charged by hospital at 10% of the cost of the plate that was fixed during the operation.

c. Cost of monitoring equipment used by the Surgeon during the operation was charged extra. We were not informed about its charge earlier.

d. Service Charges at 5% of the total hospital bill including cost of plate and consumables used during the operation.

Upon inquiry I learnt from my insurance agent that Service Charges would not be reimbursed by the insurance company unless proper description of service is given in writing. Upon inquiry I was asked to meet senior administrative staff about details of Service charge. Accounts department had only one person on duty; and she had no clue about description or rationale of service charge; but she knew that insurance company don't pay Service Charge to the patients.

After few days I called up and inquired about it with a senior person (Director - Medical). He said they charge only 5% against 10 to 12% charged by many other hospitals. He explained that it is towards nursing and other services rendered by the hospital to the patient. I requested him to give this explanation about Service charge in writing so that I can check with insurance company for reimbursement of the same. Also, I asked him if is fair to levy this charge on the Doctor's Operation and Visit fees - as I had never factored the same - while agreeing on Doctors fees. Also, I suggested to him that hospital should display notice about this at few prominent places. He promised to look in to it and get back in 2-3 days.

Any way, I paid the balance amount by Credit Card. And brought my mother back home. Now, she is recovering and will take about 1 month with walker; and two more month to get back to normal health.

Summary:
Have medical insurance cover with adequate financial limit. When there is a need to go for hospitalization for a medical treatment be sure of following charges while deciding on hospital and doctor's fees:

1. Surgeon's fee including consultation fee, operation fee, cost of post operative treatment like dressing, physio therapy etc. Ask cost of Implants (if any) for various options available.

2. Fees for Anesthesiologist. Typically it is 20% of the surgeon's operation fee.

3. If patient is aged i.e., above 60 years then Physician's medical medical fitness certificate along with various tests like Blood Sugar, X-Ray, Cardiogram etc. will be there.

4. Hospitalization fees e.g., Room Charges, Operation Theater charges, Cost of monitoring equipments, Cost of Implants with handling fee, Cost of various medical tests, Cost of medicines, Service charges on entire amount (typically 5 to 12%).

5. Cost of Ambulance including wheel chair and other equipments.

If you have medical insurance then cost of room per day is typically 1% of the insurance cover. Try to select a room around this amount. If you decide to go for a higher price room then keep in mind that most of the costs (medical tests, doctor's fees etc.) will go up proportionately. Also, if you are not careful you may end up calling dietitian advising you what to eat during and after operation; with accompanying consultation fee bill.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sleeping dog guarding Ghatkopar Post Office

Two weeks back I visited Ghatkopar West Post office in the morning early hours for some work. And I noticed an interesting sight of a sleeping dog on the first floor of the post office.




I'm sure dog's service (if any) are free of charge.

Always Green traffic light

Currently a new Metro line is being constructed between Ghatkopar and Andheri. Due to this new development - at a main junction of Ghatkopar Station Road and LBS Road - near Sarvoday Hospital Junction - the traffic signal has become almost non-functional. This is because road going towards Ghatkopar Stations on west side is completely closed.

On this junction - the traffic signal has been in such a state of neglect that it has developed green cover completely. See the picture below. Please note that traffic lights still function i.e, they turn Red to Amber to Green and vice versa but one can hardly notice. Enjoy 'Always Green Traffic Signal' of Mumbai.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to detect tempering of a Milk Pouch

Second time in last 1 year, my wife suspected that milk supplied to us was not same as regular milk. It is easy for us to find out because we regularly remove cream from the milk and make ghee (butter). In fact, such home made ghee meets our ghee requirement and we never purchase ghee from outside. So, the reduction in quantity of cream is a direct indication of mixing of water in the milk.

Whenever she complained it our supplier, he merely said that I'm not aware - I'm just purchasing it from abc (whom we know for many years). We did not bother to cross check with abc because we don't have his contact number and he is living little far away from our place.

But one of our neighbour suggested that we purchase it from another supplier. And this is what we learnt. Here is a picture of Milk Pouch that is intact i.e., unopened before delivery to us.

Unopened Milk Pouch

Here is a picture of opened and sealed Milk Pouch. (Note: Click on the Picture to expand the view.)

Milk Pouch is opened and sealed on left hand side
So, little visual inspection is enough to find out if your supplier is mixing water in Milk Pouch or not. It is difficult to believe that this happened in spite of severe warning given to same person about 6 months back when we had suspected same mischief. And he had started supplying regular milk. But after 6 months - same mischief. What's way out? Keep on changing suppliers?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Saw movie - Pipli [Live]

We had gone with great expectation but returned empty hearted. What a shame,  Amir Khan has brought to himself.

We are seeing this drama played by hollow politicians and media every day. What's novel about it? Tell me what was it about? About farmers and their life? No, it was about how irresponsible politicians and media are. We know it very well perhaps better than Amir has depicted in his film.

What a botch up of a potentially powerful subject of farmers. With little ingenuity and good research it has potential to make a Oscar winner. Amir Khan did not hit the bull's eye. In fact, he missed it by a kilometre.

Possibly he wanted to make a low budget film with good ROI. Best of luck in his new money making business.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leh Ladakh Tour

End of April, my son pointed out an advertisement in a local news paper saying visit Leh Ladakh for 4 nights / 5 days at Rs.22,000/- per person including Air Fare; and get family discount of Rs.2,000/-. Offer looked fabulous.

I thought there must a catch. Any way, I visited Make My Trip website and filled in a web inquiry form. Next day I got a call from Ahmedabad and lady on the other end said - seats are limited. I asked for available dates and checked on date in the first week of May. Paid advance booking amount of Rs.3,000/- per person through credit card using IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Of course, I got few nervous moments because my usual Credit Card could not be used - since it was expiring by April and new card could not be used because it would become active only in May! So, I tried 2 other cards and both would not go beyond the credit card number. Lady on the other end volunteered to enter the credit card number but again system would not accept valid up to date or CVV. So, I called up one bank and learnt that wrong CVV was entered. That's impossible - so I concluded that MakeMyTrip's IVR system had some noise or problem or they were up to some trick! Any way after few attempts I could manage to make payment through credit card.

Immediately I got an email giving booking number. I was told that I should make balance payment in 3-4 days. Then I just looked around to find out how reliable MakeMyTrip (MMT) people are. To my horror I found  that on one popular web site (GupShup) 80% people had written negative feedback about them. So, I spent some time studying the details and I was relieved to note that most were dissatisfied with service they received for air tickets. Only one feedback was there for their tours saying - time management was poor and restaurants were not good. So, I should give them benefit of doubt because  they could be better at tours.

So, I paid them the balance amount through Credit card - which had failed in CVV verification earlier - after having some trouble - as usual by now.

On the appointed day we all started for Delhi. Reached airport after braving the incredible traffic jam on Western Express highway. I had already done the web check-in for all 9 of us so that we could get some extra points from the airline. Before doing the same I had called up MMT to find out if I should do web check-in with 5 more people travelling with us on the same booking number. They were clue less and advised me not to do it. I asked for their phone number but they refused. So, I went ahead and did the web check-in for all - as group booking tickets don't allow individual web check-ins. Of course, before taking this step I made several calls to Kingfisher's group booking people. But to put it in nut-shell, experience was bad - first they were not picking up calls - when picked up found number had changed - again did not pick up - when picked up said I should call up branch group booking as they were handling national group booking queries - branch people said it's not in their hand to issue separate booking number for a part of a group - what a waste of time!!

Any way, we boarded the aircraft 2 hours later because incoming flight was delayed. We reached Delhi around 12.30 am. After coming out of airport after about 5 min of search we found the MMT representative. He was there with 3 cars. By the time we reached nearby hotel (Lohmod) it was 1.30 am. We quickly filled in Hotel Register, gave driving license for photocopy, collected room key, reached the room. It was 2.15 am. My son's complained that TV is not working! I found that his rooms intercom phone was not working. We complained but nothing happened. We did not care and tried to sleep for 2 hours  in a noisy AC environment - as we had to catch early morning flight of 6 am. We had tea and biscuits. Found there were only 2 cars for 9 of us. All left except me and my wife with 2 bags in hand. Fortunately 3rd car came after 10 min and we could catch the flight.

At airport there was a chaotic long queue. But our web check-in came to our rescue. We got out boarding passes out of turn and quickly ran through the security check and just reached in time to catch the flight. We reached Leh after a comfortable flight with a light break fast.

Leh is a small town at a height of 3,500 meters with hardly any tourists - even in peak season! One needs to take rest for 24 hours (at least) before one ventures out - even for a walk! Oxygen is just 15% in Air compared to 21% at Sea level. So, one's system requires 24 hours to get used to it. Also, it is recommended to take 1 tablet of Dyamox one day before and one on arrival. But, we were not told by MMT! This happened in spite of my calling them and specifically asking them about travel trips, pre-cautions etc. Even their website has an article on acclimatisation but not a word about this medicine!

And, one of our fellow traveller - who gave us this information and tablets also - said he learnt about it from an email sent to him by MMT. Clearly MMT does not have well trained staff to take care of tours.

After taking one tablet, after about 5 or 6 hours, I started experiencing vibrations on my face - particularly in cheek and forehead area. It vanished after a night's sleep. It was like a small helicopter running inside my head! It was definitely due to the tablet because for next two days I did not take the tablet and I was back to normal health. And, I took one tablet on 4th day and experience repeated. One doctor said may be I needed potassium and should take coconut water. But we got this advice around 8 pm and we could not find any open shops - since all shops close around 7 pm.

We heard that people who were to come in the next day missed their flight at Delhi. Due to some problem their booking was lost and had to stay in Delhi for 1 more day and take flight the next day.  Saving grace was that MMT arranged a free tour to Taj Mahal (Agra) for them and they arrived one day late.


Leh does not have any greenery. It's largest district of India - with 55,000 sq.km area and population of 2 lakhs! All hotels except one (Grand Dragon) close down after 4 months of peak season! It's a dreary desert land with un-predictable weather with heavy winds. I felts Wind farms can be set-up here to provide electricity to entire India - due to its vast expanse.

Pangong lake was too good but we could spend only 30 min - as it takes 5 hours to reach there and 5 hours to return and road condition is not good.  Its beauty simply can't be described. It's a 130 km long and 5 km wide salt water lake with no fish inside. It completely freezes in winter. Around 60% of its area is owned by China. Boating is not allowed. Some locals claim to have seen Chinese submarine few year's back in the lake! It's that deep!

On last day we had come back just before reaching the highest motorable road.

More later.
Picture Perfect Photo

Monastry

Future Buddha - Maitreya

Enjoying Snow fall at 15,000 ft

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How can IT dept collect TDS when they can't give credit for the same to us?

Today we received Intimation u/s 143(1) for my wife from Income tax department for the year ended on 31-3-2008. Major source of her Income is salary and interest from deposits.

To our horror we noticed that although we had paid full tax (Advance tax, TDS deductions and Self Assessment tax) - she was served notice for payment for Income tax along with interest!!!

The delivery staff told me - "Do not worry, sir. There have been some doubts about TDS claims and as a precautionary measure department has not given credit of TDS. Ask your CA (Chartered Accountant) and show all original TDS certificates and you will get the correct order."

Upon simple inspection of the Assessment Order we noticed that except for the Returned Income figure none of the figures on the Assessment Order matched with the filed Return.  Upon a short telephonic discussion with CA, we were advised to approach the Income Tax department directly - as there are too many such cases and they are unable to cope up!

Wonderful. Isn't it? Would any one care to join the party?
 
As far as TDS is concerned we poor citizens have no say. At the end of the year we collect the TDS certificate from the deductor;  and claim credit while filing the Return. And we expect that it will go smoothly because TDS information is available online on Internet - for any one to see and check. But in India, it does not work that way.

What's the way out? Meet the CA or some tax expert personally, decipher every word written on the Assessment Order, write a letter to the Assessment Officer, submit it to the Assessing Officer - show original TDS certificates; and wait for the revised assessment order!

How a salaried class person is expected to do all this? Who will compensate citizens for all this un-necessary extra work?

I have never managed to understand rationale behind Tax Deducted at Source - particularly when we are regularly paying Income tax every year. If Government is not able to give credit for the collected TDS then it has no moral right to continue with the TDS collection.

I hereby urge every citizens of India to demand abolition of TDS. At least, it should be done for the regular tax payers.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cost of outsourced work

For last few years outsourcing work is routinely adopted by companies to reduce costs. Now a days we see various non-core activities like after sales service, salary payments, marketing activities, claim processing, event management, house-keeping, physical security of premises and so on - are routinely handled by outside agencies. While cost reduction may be true in short run - there is a cost that a company pays for outsourcing its activities.

For example, look at the quality of service provided by outsourced agencies for After Sales Service. Is there any credible proof that outsourced agencies can offer to its customers that their customer's are served well and are happy with their service? I doubt.

Take this instance of a leading software product vendor who routinely outsources its Dealer Incentive scheme management to third parties.  Yesterday we learnt about a dealer scheme from this vendor's newsletter and clicked on the link to register for the same. And we got a Google advisory saying:

Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.
Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.
What happened when Google visited this site?
Of the 2 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 2 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-03-13, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-03-13.
Malicious software is hosted on 2 domain(s), including waimaighaiphahxi.in/ , weedshop.org/

I brought this to the notice of the Agency who was administering this scheme with copy to Partner Account Manager of the software vendor. In about 1 hour I got a telephone call from the Agency - a girl told me not worry - as we were pre-registered for the scheme!! When I asked her about Free Malware given out to the dealers upon registration - she feigned ignorance and said she will check up. There is no response from software vendor yet.

Few days back I had written to the same vendor's Senior Manager asking him if any quality checks are in place to ensure that all dealers are informed about the "schemes" launched by them and agency informs and distributes the incentives in time? After a reminder I got a email saying all distributors are advised to include my email id in all their communications to dealers! I asked him why have I not received the Incentive after 10 weeks of scheme closure - I've yet to receive any reply. Of course, I did not ask him about the schemes - which we did not know about - and lost out on incentives in this period of  4 to 5 months.

Take another example, recently we got cheque of more than Rs.1,00,000/- from one of customer through their outsourced agency - a bank - who makes payment to vendors on behalf of this party. Can you believe that this payment was already made to us few months back - as an advance payment after deducting TDS? When we pointed this out to the customer they asked for the cheque back by courier. Not a word of appreciation or complaint! Is this a routine? I believe so. Else how can you explain customer behaviour as noticed by us?

Believe me, this incident is not an isolated incident. We see about 1 or 2 incidents every year like this and return the cheques.

Un-used and expired Sodexo Gift Vouchers have no value?

Sodexo is a french company allowed to issue pre-paid Gift Vouchers in India. There is a guideline given by Reserve Bank of India giving directions for their operations. It's published in April 2009 under "Issuance and Operation of Pre-paid Payment Instruments in India (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2009".

We had got this Sodexho Gift Vouchers in 2006 from one of the Vendor as an Incentive. We thought we had used it all. But recently - while clearing cupboard - my wife found unused Gift coupons worth Rs.2,600/-. They had expiry date of 31-12-2006.

When I approached Sodexo they said nothing can be done about them as everything has been accounted for so far and accounts are closed.

When I read the RBI directions- it says following:

Issuance and Operation of Pre-paid Payment Instruments in India (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2009

April 27, 2009



9. Validity
9.1 All pre-paid payment instruments issued in the country shall have a minimum validity period of six months from the date of activation/issuance to the holder.


9.2 In the case of non-reloadable pre-paid payment instruments, the transfer of outstanding amount at the expiry of the payment instrument to a new similar payment instrument of the same issuer, purchased by the holder may be permitted.


9.3 The outstanding balance against any payment instrument shall not be forfeited unless the holder is cautioned at least 15 days in advance as regards the expiry of the validity of the payment instrument.


12. Customer Protection Issue
12.1 All pre-paid payment instrument issuers shall disclose all important terms and conditions in clear and simple language (preferably in English, Hindi and the local language) comprehensible to the holders while issuing the instruments. These disclosures shall include:


i) All charges and fees associated with the use of the instrument.


ii) The expiry period and the terms and conditions pertaining to expiration of the instrument.


iii) The customer service telephone numbers and website URL.


12.2 An effective mechanism for redressal of customer complaints shall be put in place by the entity issuing pre-paid payment instruments.

So, I asked them if Sodexo had given 15 days notice to me (as holder) as per direction 9.3 and also inquired about "effective mechanism for redressal of consumer complaint". They had no answer. They noted my contact number and promised to revert. This happened about 4 days back. Before that, I had written an email to the address they have put on the web site in first week of Feb 2010. But, so far, there is no reply to my email.

I feel that such companies - who are authorised to issue pre-paid  Payment Instruments i.e., Gift Vouchers must be making a lot of money due to such expired and lost Gift vouchers. But RBI guidelines is not detailed enough to stop such operations. What to do?

Update (21 April 2010): After some telephonic follow-up Sodexo agreed to issue revalidated Gift Vouchers. I've sent the original Gift Vouchers to their Mumbai Office. I should get it in 21 days.

Excessive electricity bills paid for 10 years due to a defective electric meter

We were suspecting our electric bills to be high - so after several complaints starting from Feb 2009 - meter was taken for testing in Aug 2009 and found to be defective. Meter was found running even when mains supply was switched off. Reliance gave us 20% refund for 5 months starting from Feb 2009 based on Meter test report - which had tested meter for 10%, 20% and 100% load at Unity and 0.5 lag Power Factor. Average Percentage Error of this 6 readings was 20%.

We went to Grievance Forum - they gave order for 20% refund for additional 3 months - as per MERC regulation. But, our current (new) meter reading shows reduction in consumption of units by 61% compared to old meter. This is in spite of the fact that consumption pattern has remained unchanged - before and after the meter change.


So, we're thinking of approaching Ombudsman for the same. But problem is that of MERC regulation - which states following (relevent provisions are reproduced below):

-------------
MAHARASHTRA ELECTRICITY REGULATORY COMMISSION

Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (Electricity Supply Code and Other Conditions of Supply) Regulations, 2005

15.4 Billing in the Event of Defective Meters
15.4.1 Subject to the provisions of Part XII and Part XIV of the Act, in case of a defective meter, the amount of the consumer’s bill shall be adjusted, for a maximum period of three months prior to the month in which the dispute has arisen, in accordance with the results of the test taken subject to furnishing the test report of the meter alongwith the assessed bill.:

Provided that, in case of broken or damaged meter seal, the meter shall be tested for defectiveness or tampering. In case of defective meter, the assessment shall be carried out as per clause 15.4.1 above and, in case of tampering as per Section 126 or Section 135 of the Act, depending on the circumstances of each case.

Provided further that, in case the meter has stopped recording, the consumer will be billed for the period for which the meter has stopped recording, up to a maximum period of three months, based on the average metered consumption for twelve months immediately preceding the three months prior to the month in which the billing is contemplated.
-----------

I feel that meter was running fast since May 1999 - when we had shifted over from Single Phase to Three Phase supply.

So, problem we are wondering is from where and how to get refund for a fast running meter for almost 10 years? Any sugestions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More on "Ubuntu on Desktop" experiment

After reasonable success with the usage of Ubuntu 9.10 on my desktop - for about 2 weeks, I gathered courage to replace PCQuest Linux 2005 with Ubuntu 9.10 on one more PC.

It is a P-IV 2.4 Ghz, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB harddisk, Intel 845GSVR motherboard and DVD writer. The installation would start fine but would freeze after 3-4 minutes of disk activity. It won't even reach hard-disk partitioning stage. After many attempts, installation worked in Safe Mode. But, after that no matter I did, I just could not make it work in better resolution than 640x480. Installed latest updates worth about 110 MB. No luck. Installed earlier Intel 2.4 graphics drivers. No luck. Tried even manually configuring 'Monitor' section of xorg.conf file. No luck. Gave up after lot of trial and error.

Took out Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop CD from the cup board and put it in the DVD drive. It installed without any problem with full resolution. But, it would just freeze after entering user name password. Found solutions on a blog on the issue, got around the 'compiz' problem by removing this special effect from the desktop appearance. Ever since it's been working like a breeze.

Installed latest updates about 210 MB!!! Ubuntu Software centre even says Ubuntu 9.04 is available. What about 9.10? May be it's not stable release yet!

It has Open Office 2.4. Tried to get version 4.1 but menu system does not have any option to upgrade, as mentioned in the online help. 'Add remove' feature allows just removal of Open Office 2.4. Do I have to uninstall and then re-install? Not sure.

Samba network shares on the Nitix Server works without any problem. What about printing on NetWare printers? Not tried yet. It's working well on other PC running Ubuntu 9.10 with some effort. Of course, it was not printing 2 days back. The print job would just not get released to the Novell NetWare print queue and insist on waiting for 5 minutes. Why? No idea. Even when I manually released it, the print job would again would go in 'wait' for 5 minutes. I gave up then. But it printed properly today. May be it required a 'shut-down' like our good old friend. Well, surely with this feature, Ubuntu will make it in the big league since it has already 'shut-down' before it works mentality some-where in it's spinal cord.

Few things that required lot of search and work and may be it's working now on Ubuntu 9.10 - persistent connection to Samba Network shares. Before this I had to connect to it manually. After manually editing few conf files it's working. But it's far from perfect. I'm unable to get the Samba Network shares on the Nautilus File browser. For example, say I'm in gmail in FireFox and composing an email and want to attach a file on the Samba Network share. I'm just not able to do it directly. I've to copy the file to the local drive and then only able to attach it.

Also, I notice that I'm unable to move e-mail messages in Domino Web Access client 7.0 to domino mail folders. Even I'm unable to attach file attachments or save message to folder while sending mails.

So, I searched if any Notes is available natively for Linux. I found that it is available for Debian but it will not work on Ubuntu 9.10. Bad luck. I found that it works on Ubuntu 8.10 and 9.04 but not on 9.10. In fact, because of this reason alone I decided to quit Ubuntu 9.10 on other PC with low resolution problem and installed 8.10. Of course, I've yet not tried Notes client installation because I'm not sure where to get the Notes Client for Linux. Nitix (now Lotus Foundations) does not offer Linux client on the download site. IBM site offers only 90 day eval copy. Too bad, I've licensed copy of Domino running on Nitix (LFS 1.1) but I'm unable to get Notes Client for Linux (debian). That's about how well IBM has got Nitix in to it's fold!!

Few thoughts on Ubuntu as a desktop OS. Ubuntu will put fear of God in to Microsoft. Well this quote is adopted from a PC Magazine article that I had read when it had reviewed newly released Microsoft Excel spreadsheet on Windows. The title was 'Excel will put fear of God in to Lotus 1-2-3'. Well, you know how the situation is now? Young ones ask what is Lotus 1-2-3? They don't even know about existence of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet!!!

There was a time when Lotus 1-2-3 was a un-disputed king of spread-sheets in the DOS world. In fact, I'm unable to even recollect name of un-disputed king of Word Processor in DOS days; and even for few years in Windows era. Such is our IT technology world. Software, Technology, Ideas and People become obsolete very fast in today's world.

So, Microsoft (actually, Windows) better watch out - now Ubuntu is on the scene - alive and kicking.

Well, more on Ubuntu later.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Magnetic north pole is shifting eastwards 40 miles a year

Today I read a news in Mumbai Samachar (Gujarati daily) saying Mangetic North Pole is rapidly advancing eastwards - towards Russia - at about 40 miles (68 kms) a year. Interesting!

Then I came across a 24 Dec 2009 daily news in National Geographic, which is the source of this news item. The article says following:

A rapidly shifting magnetic pole means that magnetic-field maps need to be updated more often to allow compass users to make the crucial adjustment from magnetic north to true North.

Wandering Pole

Geologists think Earth has a magnetic field because the core is made up of a solid iron center surrounded by rapidly spinning liquid metal. This creates a "dynamo" that drives our magnetic field.

(Get more facts about Earth's insides.)

Scientists had long suspected that, since the molten core is constantly moving, changes in its magnetism might be affecting the surface location of magnetic north.


It's predicted that magnetic north and south poles will be reversed, but not in near future. Well, process of magnetic pole reversal has accelerated now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Defective product replacement experience within warranty period

Generally speaking, in India, customer is at a receiving end while asking for replacement for a defective product within warranty period. I shall narrate my experience, one bad and other slightly good.

It's a experience most people in India would agree and say it's not new - it's common. Any way, draw your own conclusions.

We had purchased Creative's EP-630 Ear-phone from a dealer in Lamington Road at about Rs.850/-. After few months, it became defective. When we contacted dealer, he said warranty is only for 2 months. I pointed out to him that on Creative's web site, it's written as 1 year. He said we don't get replacement from the distributor. I contacted distributor - Cyberroam. They said warranty is for 6 months from the date of manufacture. When I saw the date on the box, 6 month had just got over. I pointed out to them that Creative's warranty is for 1 year from date of purchase but they refused to acknowledge same saying it's only for 6 months from the date of manufacturing.

So, I wrote to Creative, Singapore. First they confirmed that warranty is 12 month from the date of purchase. They asked me to contact dealer/distributor. Then I convinced them that they are unwilling to do anything. So, they shipped replacement piece, EP-830 (which was one level higher and slightly costlier) by ordinary post. After waiting for 6 weeks, I informed them that it has not reached. So, they shipped second piece, again by ordinary post, in spite of my telling them to send by other means because their replacement policy did not allow shipment by courier. Again after waiting for about 5 weeks, I wrote to them to give details of shipment. They sent it to me and I registered complaint with Indian Post and sent them details of the same. Also, I advised them to give complaint at Singapore.

After that they sent me third piece, but this time by FedEx courier (priority) and sent me the shipment number. I got it on the 3rd or 4th day without any problem. Of course, it was not in the usual box packing. Earphone was kept inside a simple plastic bag inside an envelope.

Other replacement is about Transcend DDR RAM - 256 MB. We had purchased it at about Rs.2,500/- a piece. At the time of purchase dealer said it carried 3 year warranty. After about 3.5 year, PC started giving problem i.e., it would arbitrarily shut down or hang. After lot of trial and error, we found that it was one of the two 256 MB RAM that was problematic. Upon close inspection, we noticed that small portion of it's leg (that goes inside the PCI slot) had a defect. When we contacted the dealer, he said DDR rams are not available and warranty is also over.

So, I checked the Transcend's website and entered all details. Upon checking warranty details, I found that is carried life time warranty. So, I contacted Transcend for warranty replacement. They confirmed by return mail that my RAM had life time warranty and I should contact distributors. They sent me details of their distributors and I contacted all of them one by one, not knowing from whom the dealer who supplied to me had bought from. Two distributors, who were in Mumbai, when I sent the RAM to them, said they had not sold it. When I asked them details of the Transcend Warranty Replacement Centre, one said there is no one, we only give replacement for units we have sold. Other said there is one in Tardeo A/c Market but did not have any more details.

So, I wrote about this to Transcend, Taiwan. After about 2 weeks delay they sent name and address of Accel Frontline's warranty replacement centre. I sent them the defective RAM, they gave receipt and said contact in 1 week. After 1 week they said replacement is ready, send some one. When we collected it back, we found it was just returned as it is! When we contacted them, they said it was out of warranty, so it was returned. When I wrote about this to Transcend, some one called up from Chennai, saying please send it again because there was a mistake in number entered.

After initially insisting on their collecting the defective item from me, which did not do in spite of my writing to all concerned people and talking to them, I sent it back. They have online system of checking the status. For about 2 weeks, it kept on saying 'checking warranty'. After that it showed 'out of warranty'!!! When we told them the whole history and also told them that we had given proof to them from Transcend that it was under life-time warranty. Then they said, they are waiting for replacement to come. After few days, we noticed that Accel Frontline's website did not have any references to 'Transcend'!!! When we called them on phone they said the reference number had changed and we should contact them after some time. That's last we heard from them. It's been almost 2 months. We have written few mails to Transcend, some of which they forward to Accel but no response from Accel Frontline.

After few months of follow-up on phone, finally we got a brand new DDR-333 256 MB RAM in original packing.

Update Oct 2014
One more Transcend DDR RAM - 512 MB started giving problem by rebooting the PC. I checked the warranty status on Transcend's website by keying in the Serial number. System said it is having Life Time Warranty.

http://in.transcend-info.com/support/verification

---------------
Transcend Part No.TS64MLD64V3F5
Product Description 512MB DDR 333 U-DIMM 2Rx8
Serial Number xxxxxxxxxxx586
Warranty Until Life Time Warranty
---------------

Once again contacted Accel Frontline and got response that as per Transcend's policy they don't accept any RAM module with capacity less than 1 GB! So, I made a complaint on Transcend's website. I got mail reply that I should contact Accel Frontline in Mumbai. After number of mails back and forth - I got a mail from Taiwan that they have spoken to Accel Frontline and we should give the faulty RAM to them. After showing them printout of mail they accepted the faulty RAM and gave receipt. They said replacement would take 2 to 3 months. Let's see what happens.

This is the deal customer gets in India for warranty replacement.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Started New Year with Ubuntu (what is that?)

In past, I tried to switch over my desktop to Linux number of times. I tried SLED 10 (Suse Linux Desktop 10), Fedora 8, PCQuest Linux 2005 and finally Ubuntu 9.10.

But, before gathering courage to try out Ubuntu, it was my tryst with Nitix 5.0, which gave me courage and confidence. About 1 year back; I was seriously looking for replacement for Novell NetWare 4.2; which has been going on non-stop for last 10 years; and earlier versions of NetWare (2.2 and 3.2) for previous 8 year or so. Actually, it will go on for another 25 years, if the server on which it is running won't fail. Even, the server (HP E-45, PII 300 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 4 GB SCSI hard disk) is running for last 11 years with only component failed being 4 GB Tape Drive. I suppose it would run for another 5 years or so. But our accounting software (Work Horse) has outlived it's useful life. So, last year we switched over to Tally ERP 9.2 (finally).

At that time, we signed up with Nitix as their reseller by purchasing Not For Resale copy of Nitix Blue (Nitix - proprietary Linux with Lotus Domino 7) 5 user. We bought a brand new HP ML-110 (Xeon 1065 Server with 1 GB RAM and 2 x 160 GB hard disks, 1 DVD ROM) for the same; at an unbelievably low price. It got installed in 30 min but learning this new animal (Server OS) took us about 1 year. Was it worth? Yes, it was worth it at the end.

In this one year, we migrated e-mails in cc:Mail r8 stored on NetWare 4.2 to NitixBlue (Domino 7) via Notes 5.0. It was daunting work but it worked with few problems. Then we shifted data from NetWare to Nitix's Samba server. Configured MTNL's Triband connection with Nitix Server. Got Firewall and VPN working. So, I could access my office emails even from Home and anywhere from the world through Internet. Backup became automatic because Nitix's backup automatically backs up all files on the first hard-disk to the 2nd hard-disk automatically. It take full backup once a week at 11 O clock on Sunday night. And incremental backup every 1 hour (default settings - which can be changed).

In this one year, Nitix got bought over by IBM. IBM calls it Lotus Foundations Start. So, we upgraded NitixBlue 1.1 (Nitix 5.3) to Lotus Foundations Start 1.0 (Domino 8.0) and 1.1 (Domino 8.5). Transition was smooth technically. But, lot of things changed when IBM took over. First, IBM would not recognize our NFR (Not For Resale) copy. At the time of renewal, they asked us to purchase renewal subscription at regular price (like a normal customer). But partner web site said we could get free subscription renewal and we should get in touch with IBM Manager. IBM Manager said free renewal was only for US and CANADA resellers!!! Why? May be color of their blood is 'blue'!

What's good part? Product is working well, without the usual dose of updates (available only for valid subscriptions). It's like NetWare 4.12. Rock Solid. It would work even when main hard-disk would fail; because backup drive would automatically switch over and start working as first hard disk.

OK. That's long and short of our experience with proprietary Linux on the Server. Having got confidence of mastering a linux animal; I ventured to try Ubuntu 9.10. It came with the Digit CD (Dec 2009). Made Ubuntu 9.10 Desktop boot disk and installed on a brand new HP ML-115 Server (AMD Quad-Core with 1GB RAM and 160 GB hard disk). Installed in 15 minutes. It recognized everything correctly. Worked like a charm. Then installed Win 7 RC on another partition. It also installed and worked flaw-lessly. I gave that PC to my son for his use at the engineering college. When he learnt that I had installed Ubuntu he grumbled. I booted the PC in Ubuntu and he could not find out that it was not Windows 7. He keep saying it does not support 'EXE' files. But when he saw number of programs meant for engineering students, he was shocked. He took the PC to his hostel with both OS on it.

So, I ventured to install Ubuntu 9.10 on another PC (P-IV 2.4 GHz, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard-disk with DVD Writer). It installed in 20 min. Recognized even 20" LCD Wide Monitor (AOC) and automatically sensed 1600x900 resolution and started working. Have you seen this happening on a Windows PC? I doubt. I bet.

I decided to dump good old friend in favour of new found friend Ubuntu. In African language Ubuntu means 'Humanity to others'. So, with Ubuntu we don't win but we live in peace with others. Isn't it great?

Saw '3 Idiots' movie

Last week saw '3 Idiots'. Theater was packed. Very entertaining. Too good. Re-lived many moments of my stay at IIT Bombay. Movie has some really good messages like 'we go to college for learning and not for grades'. 'Enjoy your work, money will be incidental then.' etc.

People just love the movie. If I were to give title to this movie, I would say, "Ajab Dil Ki Gajab Kahani'. It was all about 'heart' ruling over 'head'. Through and Through it was same thing.

But, wait, people don't do this in their real life. In real life, it's almost always head ruling the heart. Isn't it? Then why people love this movie? Because here they see what should be. Vicariously they feel relieved for their inability to allow 'heart' over their 'head'. They feel nice and feel money well spent because it relieves them of the guilt.

In fact, I almost agreed with one critic who said "it's a time-pass". In other words, feel nice and get back to your usual way.

Idea to conserve water discharged from Flush Tanks

This year there has been a threat of water scarcity looming over the city of Mumbai. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is seriously looking at ways and means of conserving water. Given below is my idea which could save tons of water, if implemented.

Recent flush tanks are coming with 2 knobs - one for half discharge and other for full discharge. But, even half discharge knob releases substantial volume of water. I learn from few minutes of Internet search that at least 10 to 15 liter of water is discharged with each press of the knob.

Yesterday I got a simple but good idea to reduce volume of discharge from Flush Tanks. Implementation is easy and would easily conserve about 2 liters of water per discharge.

You will require:
1. A plastic bag which can hold say 1 or 2 liter of water. Ordinary Milk bag or small size plastic carry bag would do.

2. String (Plastic, preferably) 6 to 8 inch long

Step-1:
Take a plastic bag. Fill it with water. Tie it up with the string at the top. Ensure that water does not leak after tying it up.

Step-2:
Open the lid of the flush tank. In most cases, it should be easy. Now, insert the filled plastic bag inside the flush tank, in the empty space. Close the lid.

If tank size permits, you may insert more than one filled plastic bags.

Note: In flush tanks with two knobs, you may have to lift the knob, locate a plastic screw. Open it up using a screw-driver. Pull out the knob, plastic screw assembly. Lift the lid.

It's done. Now, every time you flush, discharge would be reduced to the extent of size of the filled plastic bag.

I've already implemented the idea in all the flush tanks of my house. Here is a video.
How to reduce volume of flush water discharge video


Let me know, if you like the idea. Also, let me know if you have suggestions for improvement.