Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Review of Windows Phone 8 - Nokia Lumia 720

I used Blackberry 8310 smartphone for five years before buying Lumia 720 in May 2013. Not that I was unhappy with its usage or performance, but it had started showing signs of aging. Also, I craved for bigger font size due to slight deterioration of my eye sight with age; and of course, I wanted Wi-Fi support to save money on data charges.

So, I decided to purchase a new phone. Without much thinking, I thought of purchasing Windows 8 Phone, naively thinking that since it is from Microsoft and it includes Office, it would be able to open and edit Microsoft Office files without any problem. And, to my utter surprise this assumption turned out to be true,  only partially, though. Read on to know more.

Also, another reason was that most of resellers of packaged software had switched to Windows Phone, possibly for the same reason. But, now I find that, many of them feel that they will have to wait for another service pack before they can get a reasonably good smartphone.

Good things about Microsoft (and Nokia) Lumia Windows Phone 8
First I will say what I like about this phone. Most of it is hardware; and some software.

It has a large screen size (4.3") with very good touch quality. In fact, its normal touch is so sensitive that many a times when I'm talking on the phone, my ear accidentally turns 'on' the Mute / Speaker button on the screen!  In such an eventuality i.e., when the other party starts saying 'hello, hello' or when every one around me starts hearing what is being discussed, I sheepishly look at my phone and press the Mute/Speaker button to put it off. I wonder, if this happens on any other touch phones.I checked with few android and iPhone users and their answer was that it does not happen. So, Microsoft, please pay attention to such small details in your software. It goes a long way to create your reputation.

Its build quality is very good, as usual for Nokia. Its sound quality is very good; with very good quality camera pictures even in low light conditions. It has 6.1 MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens and LED flash. In fact, I find photos taken with built-in flash of poor quality. In fact, so bad that I've deleted almost all of them from my phone. Its 720p video recording is of good quality.
Live Tiles

 Its live tiles are good; visually telling if any attention is required. Also, I like the time-display on locked screen, which came with the Amber update. But, I sorely miss my Blackberry's red/orange/green LED light and different sounds telling me that new Email/Message has arrived.



Search on Server
One feature I like the most is its ability to search messages on the server. What I mean is, say you wish to search for a mail and you don't find it on the phone; then you can click on 'search on the server' and get the required message. I have found it life saving; and this feature was not there on my Blackberry 8310 (it could search only on the messages stored on the phone). I love it. Of course, in all fairness, I notice that search results are not accurate. I've tried to search for certain message in the mail box and I could not find it; though later on I could find it on the server using PC's web client software.

History in Contacts
Another feature that I like about Windows Phone is its ability to link contacts from multiple sources. For example, after you have configured various Email and Social media accounts on the phone, it automatically pulls out contacts from outlook.com / hotmail contacts, google contacts, facebook, linkedin, twitter etc. If name and contacts match then it automatically links them to a single contact. Of course, if names of few contacts are same then one is required to unlink them manually.

This feature extends beyond linking contacts. When you choose a contact, upon swiping to right side, you see history of Emails, Phone calls and Messages (SMS, Facebook messages) with that contact.

Also, I like the one line notification that comes on top of the Windows Phone screen (no matter what app you are in) for the incoming Messages (SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook).

Ability to automatically backup set-up and photos etc on cloud is a life saver.

What I wish Microsoft would improve in Windows Phone 8 in the next update
What I don't like or what makes me scream or pull out my hair is in this part.

Any way, first problem I faced was when I tried to copy contacts from Blackberry. Both phones would pair using Bluetooth and transfer few contacts; but would invariably fail after some time, no matter what I do. So, I thought, if I transfer the Blackberry contacts to Microsoft Outlook it should work because Windows Phone would directly get the contacts from the outlook on the PC. But, no. I was wrong. There is no simple way to transfer contacts to the Windows Phone. I had to create a outlook.com mail account, create alias of my work email id, export outlook contact list to an excel file and import it on outlook's mail account. This worked after some frustrating moments. Thank god and Microsoft, of course.

Actually, I find that list of features that I wish were there is simply too big. So, I've listed it below with some short explanations.

Wish List
  • Basic Phone Features
    It is rather sad to note that in the race to become leader in the smartphone operating system Microsoft forgot to incorporate certain basic features which are essential for the phone users. I feel very sorry to have to write about it here.
  • Call duration of incoming and outgoing calls. Here what happens is that when phone is disconnected, it shows the call duration. And, after that it just disappears from the phone. So, if you are trying to find out with which number you spoke to for say 30 minutes - you have to be plain lucky to find that number.
  • How about keeping track of cost of the calls made? Forget about it. Microsoft assumes that all users are super rich.
  • Ability to know from which number a caller called - when the caller is already there in the contact list. In the call history, phone shows caller name and words mobile/work/home etc. But, when multiple numbers are listed under mobile/work/home then it is not possible to know from which number caller called. For example see picture of 'History in Contacts' above.
  • Messaging app does not show number of characters typed. It is important to know this to limit because if number of characters go beyond 160 characters, mobile operator charges for multiple SMSs.
  • It should be possible to send SMS on any number listed in the Contact list. Currently, when a contact has two mobile numbers (Mobile and Mobile 2) and we click on Text/SMS - Microsoft only knows to which number the SMS has gone. Suppose we want to send SMS through Mobile2 then there is no option.

  • Reliability
  • Ability to store typed messages even when incoming phone comes. While writing mail if incoming call is attended typed text is lost some times. It is supposed to get saved automatically to draft folder but it does not happen every time.
  • Ability to forward mail attachments reliably. Some times, when a mail is forwarded, attachment doesn't reach the recipient.
  • Better reliability as far as its normal usage is concerned. Well, this complaint is not new to the users of Windows OS on a PC. But, Microsoft is carrying forward same legacy to Windows Phone also.

    Twice, suddenly, for no rhyme or reason, my phone stopped displaying anything on the screen. If I dialed it from other phone the ringer would not ring but it would vibrate. I thought, this phone has gone nuts. Surely it requires a Nokia Service Centre visit. And worst part was that I was in Hyderabad on some important work and I had not carried my laptop. So, I had to made it work as early as possible. Fortunately I had another phone and I called up a friend. He told me to use old time Windows CAD trick i.e., we press Ctrl, Alt and Del key together. He explained that on Windows Phone, we have to press Vol- (minus), Power and Camera keys together; and hold it there for 10-15 seconds. It worked.

    Even today morning, when I typed in a message on Whatsapp and pressed send button, phone suddenly rebooted with 'Nokia' and 'Windows Phone' messages. Fortunately when it came alive, it was back to normal, except that I had to type the message again on Whatsapp and send.
  • Storage  
  • Apps should be able to read/write document files stored on the SD card. It is rather sad to note that this feature has been available on Blackberry and Android phone for more than 4 years now; and it is sadly missing on Windows Phone. Of course, one can copy document files to the SD card on 'Document' folder using Windows 8 PC and later open it on the phone.
    Of course, apps can't be stored on the SD card, thus limiting ability to store apps and documents on the phone severely.
  • When I upgraded to Amber, I had to uninstall several apps to make space for the installation. Out of which Amber Update size was 1.1 gb and it required 2.2 gb free space to download the update file and do the installation.
    Currently, out of 8 gb phone space, only 7.2 is available for users. 1.9 gb is taken by apps, 1.5 gb is taken by media & files (I haven't stored a single photo/video on phone), operating system is taking up 1.9 gb and 1.9 gb is free.
  • Better way to delete a downloaded Nokia map. If you wish to delete a map of say 250 mb you would require 500 mb free space on the phone. This is absolutely counter intuitive to our common sense. In fact, reason for deleting a map is that we are out of space and want to create more space; and if deletion itself requires double free space the how does one delete a downloaded map?
     
  • Smartphone Features
  • Ability to see history and address book in landscape mode.
  • Improved editing features. Very poor compared to my old Blackberry phone.
  • Search - by phone number - Remember search history
  • Partial text Copy and paste from messages.
  • Language keyboard for all major languages of India. Hindi language keyboard is currently there.
  • Flash Player Support.
  • There should be a better way to close open Apps. Currently, apps can be closed only using back button. 
  • Ability to record phone conversations. This could be done in Windows Phone 7 but not now. For security reasons (!) this feature is removed. There are times, when some important discussion is taking place on phone, we want to record it. We are able to record our land line telephone calls. Isn't it?
  • Find My Phone support for users in India. This feature is helpful if you loose your phone. It works by alerting you on the alternate number when SIM card is changed. It can ring, lock, erase, locate or send apps to your phone from WindowsPhone.com.
  • Better SMS and call blocker. Currently it is blocking SMS' from my banks and mutual funds - although I have not blocked them. I believe origin of this problem is SMS Short Codes eg.LM-Citibk, LM-VIDDTH, MD-ICICIB, LM-SNAPDL etc  Surprising all such SMS show sender no as 00...(10 zeros). In blocked Nos I have unblocked 00.. but still SMS lands in blocked SMS.
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Remember History, Import Bookmarks 
  • IE should have forward button. 
  • IE windows can be closed only by hitting back button as many times as one has gone forward.
  • Email
  • Ability to attach documents on phone while replying or forwarding E-Mails. I can't believe still that this I can't do on Windows Phone.
  • Option to keep mails on server. What happens is that if I delete a mail on phone, it gets deleted from the server. I've lost several mails due to this implementation because I'm used to deleting not-needed or already answered mails from my old blackberry phone.
  • When multiple attachments have same file name, only one attachment file is copied to all other.
  • Some times attachment don't come on Windows Phone Email or get forwarded to the recipient.
  • While writing mail if incoming call is attended, typed text is lost some times.
  • Better Email Client app. Mails with subject line more than 64 chars in Gmail when replied or forwarded screws up the mail. The mail recipient sees malformed message viz., mime header in the beginning of message (with few words before the header from the actual message). In short, mail recipient ends up thinking that I'm using some arcane or obscure mail client that leads this crazy mess. This is a known problem that has not been resolved yet.

    Sample of replied mail with subject more than 64 characters in Gmail account:
    ---------------
    Mumbai
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
            boundary="B_3464886549_7950253"
    > This message is in MIME format. Since your mail reader does not understand this format, some or all of this message may not be legible.
    --B_3464886549_7950253
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable 
    Dear Sir,

    Need your help to locate an article.
    .....
    ----------------
  • Some times, some mails without any reason (including one mentioned above for Gmail with more than 64 char in subject line) comes with garbled message. See example of mail received in my outlook.com mail account.

    --------- malformed message on phone ------
    Subject:
    RE: SSL re-issue
    --_000_
    6A0B791EFB91774596BDE725416B567BD1798ENMMUMEXCHMBX01net_
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64

    RGVhciBSYWplc2gsDQoNCkkgdW5kZXJzdGFuZCB0aGF0IHRoZXJlIGlzIG1pc3Rha2Ugd2hpY2gg
    aGFzIGhhcHBlbmVkLiBDdXN0b21lciB3YXMgbm90IHVzZWQgdG8gd2l0aCB0aGUgcG9ydGFsIHNl
    Y29uZCB0aGluZyBhcyBhIHNlY3VyaXR5IHBvbGljeSB3ZSBkbyBub3QgZXhlY3V0ZSAvIG1hbmFn...[message truncated]

    ------- actual message is given below ----
    Subject: RE: SSL re-issue
    Importance: High

    Dear Rajesh,

    I understand that there is mistake which has happened. Customer was not used to with the portal second thing as a security policy we do not execute / manage on behalf of customer. So there has to be a policy / mechanism to rectify the mistake.

    If customer doesn’t like the service....[message truncated]

Word - Format Options
Excel - Format Options
  • Office for Windows Phone:
    This is the greatest let down of the Microsoft Windows Phone. At best, it is a very basic Office app. Most of the features are missing. At many places only icons are put without even text to explain what it is supposed to do; and no help feature either. See screenshots of Word and Excel Format Options. This app seems to be developed by school boys.
  • Missing Features in Office
  • Ability to open certain types of Office 2007/2010/2013 files e.g., xlsb files
  • Ability to edit Office 2003 files e.g., doc, xls, ppt
  • Ability to create new PowerPoint files
  • Ability to Copy and Paste with Formulas, Format, Copy Down etc.
  • Ability to open password protected documents
  • New file creation option in the front menu
  • Many more features to edit and format files.
  • Help for each office features.
  • Apps
  • App for Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity.
  • App to securely store all types of passwords.
  • Banking app support e.g., Citibank, ICICI Bank.
  • PDF reader should be able to word wrap the text. I very badly miss this feature from my Blackberry's PDF to Go app. It is very useful for reading ebooks in PDF format.
After Amber update, a feature was added, where if I don't want to pick-up an incoming phone, I just turn the phone upside down. While, I've loved this features, I find a few times that if phone is in the trouser's pocket, it does not ring i.e., when I take out the phone - I find some missed calls. Also, a few times, people say that I re-dialed them number of times. I believe, this did not happen before the Amber update. So, this strange behavior must be result of bad design.

I wish to hear your comments, experience of Windows Phone 7 & 8.

-oOo-

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Problems faced by flat owners of a new building in Maharashtra

Here I am going take up one of the major issue that every society faces, at the time of its incorporation.

Over last many years I have noticed that Builders make the building but fail miserably in handing over charge of the Proposed society to the newly formed Society. Normally there is a gap of about 6 months to 2-3 years between when a builder starts giving possession of the flats to the buyers and formation of Society. During this interim period Builder starts collection of maintenance charge from the flat purchasers in the name of the Proposed Society. And separate accounts are maintained by the builder in the name of Proposed Society (PS).

But, in most of the cases, at the time of handing over possession of the building to the newly formed Society, builder does not give any accounts of the money collected and spent in the name of the PS. Also, builder ensures that there is no money left in the bank account of PS. Only thing builder hands over to the society is details of money collected and fails to give account of where and how money was spent in the PS.

Society members are faced with following practical questions
1. When does a building become ready for possession? This becomes an important question where building construction got delayed for some reason and could not be completed in time as per the time-line promised by the builder while selling the flats.

Since flats are costly and in short supply, flat purchasers insist on taking possession of the flat, moment building construction nears completion, without waiting for Occupation Certificate (OC) from the Municipal Corporation and/or Building Completion Certificate (BCC). And, in variably builder delays getting OC and  BCC under one pretext or other.


2. Newly formed society wonders how to ensure that Builder obtains the OC and BCC quickly and hands them over to the Society.

If not done, flat owners occupation of flats is considered illegal and they can be evicted by law. Also, flat owners have to pay 100% extra towards the Water charges to the Municipal Corporation.
 
3. How to collect maintenance charges from the builder for the unsold flats? Builder invariably does not pay proportionate charges to the society. So, flat owners end up paying Municipal Tax, Electricity and Water charges for such unsold flats. That's unfair. Isn't it?


Questions of law
Above three questions raise following questions of law, for which there does not seem to any satisfactory answers from any authority or law or act.

1. Up to which date and to what extent a builder is liable to pay Municipal Tax, Water and Electricity Charges for the semi or fully constructed building? Is it date from which OC is granted or BCC date or some other date decided unilaterally by the builder?

In practice, builder decides this date and announces to buyers that flat if ready for possession and buyers will be liable to pay maintenance charges from the date of possession of the flat.


2. Which law or act governs the period between Occupation of Flats by the buyers and Society formation date?

It seems that Maharashtra Government has failed to take cognizance of this gap in Maharashtra Ownership Flats act 1963 and Maharashtra Co-operative Society Act (MCS) 1960. Both acts are totally silent on this part. So, what ever happens during this period

3. Is there any provision in the law to ensure that Builder is allowed to hand over possession of the flat only after obtaining OC and BCC?

So, what happens in Maharashtra due to this issue?

Newly formed society's office bearers invariably do not have any idea as to how to get over these problems. And in absence of any guidelines / rules / act /law seeks assistance of Society Consultants. And, in almost all cases, these consultants at best ends up giving ambiguous suggestions and advice, leading to untold suffering for the society members. And, life goes on like this in Maharashtra.

So, how to resolve the problems?
Some practical answers can be thought of if we go back to basics tenets of co-operative society.

When a building is jointly owned by several flat owners Co-operative society is formed because it offers  ease of operations. So, society should collect enough money from the members to cover the common expenses and taxes payable to the government authorities.

Keeping above in view, following are common sense suggestions:

1. When the building is completely ready builder announces a date, calling all flat owners to take possession. This date would be same irrespective of when the flat owner actually takes possession of the flat.

2. Flat owners become liable to pay proportionate outgoings to the PS from this date. For unsold flats builder would become liable to contribute to the PS. As and when such flat is sold builder would stop and new buyer would start paying outgoings to the PS.

3. For the period of Proposed Society, builder would estimate expected outgoings per flat considering municipal taxes, water & electricity charges and common expenses like security, building insurance etc. It would be fixed in such a way that at the end of year there would not be any balance in the name of PS.

4. Builder would maintain, prepare and present accounts of the PS every year, till society is formed. In case monthly outgoings would require revision, such changes would be communicated by builder to all PS members.

5. When society is formed, builder would present audited accounts of PS and hand over all original bills/ papers/documents to the society including OC and BCC.

Here we are assuming that builder gets OC and BCC before Society is formed. If not done, what happens is any one's guess. Please note that above mentioned solution is meant to minimize disputes among society members and builder over the accounts of the PS. In case, any member of the PS or builder has not paid his portion of outgoings society could try to recover the same from the erring member by a mutual discussion. If not resolved, suitable resolution can be passed during the First General Body meeting of the newly formed Society.

But, what happens when builder does not give audited accounts of the PS? 

Read further.


Case Study
Particularly, I am going to narrate here one case study where flat owners got duped by a builder in Mumbai.

In 2003, one builder announced plan to make a 7 storied building with basement parking and gymnasium, brochure stating thus:

Life Style of a Good Living. 
Peace. The most elusive virtue of life. While you can own and enjoy almost anything in life today, peace of mind is hard to find. The wise and intellectuals say that after fighting a tough mental battle with the outside world for the whole day, home is one place where one expects to find mental and physical peace.

Building construction was going on and 3 floor had already come-up. One buyer went and decided and booked a flat on 5th floor of the building. Money was paid to the builder in four installments and agreement was signed and registered in July 2003.

And, after few months buyer learnt that there is some dispute and matter has gone to Bombay High Court and court gave stay order on construction. Matter was fought in the court for 2-3 years and builder did out of court settlement. And construction restarted and builder quickly completed 5 floors and he offered the flat for possession to the buyers. Builder promised that he will complete remaining 2 floors at the earliest, after getting permission from the municipality. So, many buyers moved in to the building in about Sept-Oct 2006. Builder collected 1 years maintenance charges at the time of giving possession.

In 2007, builder got permission for rest of the building and to the buyer's amazement constructed 8 floors on one wing and 6 floors on other wing. When buyers protested builder showed them the agreement and said we are entitled to make modifications, as required. Major construction got over in Sept-Oct 2008 except some amenities like Gymnasium in the basement etc. After that builder kept on giving promise of getting Occupation Certificate in few months but has failed to get the same till date.
 
Builder started sending maintenance bills to the occupants from 1st Oct 2007 in the name of the proposed society. When flat owner asked him clarification for this date, they were told that he has decided to collect maintenance from this date and those who occupied the flats earlier would not be charged any maintenance because building was not completed.

Loss of Peace for the Flat Owners
In 2012, flat owners noticed that municipal corporation pasted notice on the building entrance saying Municipal Tax is not paid to the tune of about 35 lakhs. If it is not paid in short time, building will be auctioned. Flat owners approached builder and asked for explanation as to why Municipal Tax was not paid when flat owners were paying the maintenance charges. After much discussions flat owners realized that unless they take matter in hand, building could get auctioned. So, flat owners got together, met municipal officers and made payment of the municipal taxes through the proposed society's account.

After tax matter got settled flat owners realized that they have no option but to form society on their own. And they formed Society in Aug 2012. When builder was asked for the audited accounts of the proposed society he promised but failed to give the same. During first meeting Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and 2 members were selected by the body.

Upon follow-up builder gave details of maintenance charges collected from each member and details of Electricity and Water charges. And society found that only Rs.5,000/- was there in the proposed society's bank account.

Problems among new Society members
In Dec 2012, society members received a notice for payment of maintenance arrears. Upon some checking they realized managing committee had decided to levy maintenance charges from date of possession (Sept-Oct 2006) to Sept 2007. Reason behind such a move was explained thus: society does not have any corpus and one society consultant advised them to collect money this way. Members protested by collectively writing a letter to the society saying following:

1. Society has right to collect money from members only from 1st Aug 2012 onwards. Past arrears, if any should be based on audited accounts presented by the builder. In absence of audited accounts and no bills raised by the builder for this period, they are not liable to pay any arrears.

2. Money if required should be collected by selling open parking space (this was decided in first AGM) and demanding maintenance charge from the builder for the unsold flats.

In March 2013, instead of giving any written or verbal reply, managing committee sent a letter written by a builder saying following:
a. Bills raised from 1st Oct 2007 by the proposed society were only and exclusively on provisional basis.
b. Possession letter signed by flat owners society clearly stipulated that society dues would be paid from the date of possession.

Current Position
1. Members are not sure as to what is the correct way to decide date of payment of society dues because when they took possession of the flats in Sept-Oct 2006 only 5 floors were ready. Remaining floors got ready only in Sept-Oct 2008.

2. Members feels that they got in to trouble because members have got divided in two groups. One group feels that those who have taken possession in 2006 should pay up 1 years maintenance; and other group feels cheated because builder had clearly given assurance to people that maintenance will be collected from Oct 2007 only.

Suggestions?
What would you suggest to resolve this issue and establish peace and harmony among divided flat owners?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sold old car to a car dealer? Find out who bought it and when.

One can find out registration details of a vehicle in India at this website.

https://vahan.nic.in/nrservices/faces/search/publicSearchDetails.jsp


Keep Vehicle Registration No. and last 5 characters of the Chassis No. handy.


Although no where it is mentioned, I found out that, Vehicle Registration No is entered in two parts. First part is - say MH24AK and second part is last 4 digits, say 3934. 

In case of Chassis No notice that one is supposed to enter characters and not numbers!

What do you mean?

Although last 5 characters could be a number; practically in a Chassis No it could have special characters as well. For example, the five characters could have dash (-) or underscore (_) or a similar character in it. Point is Chassis No may not be all digits/numbers but could be a combination of digits and some special character e.g., (-2411). Look for correct Chassis No in to your Registration Certificate (RC) Book/Card carefully and then enter the value.

When you enter correct combination of Vehicle Registration No and Chassis No screen displays information as shown above. If you wish to see more details then click on the Vehicle No viz., MH32K etc. It displays complete vehicle details including Insurance Policy details, Name and address of the current owner. It even displays ownership history of the vehicle. 

The database seems quite up-to-date. It has data of vehicles as old as those registered in the year 2000 or prior.

Quite useful. But, it could be mean breach of privacy. 

Privacy?!!!

What is Privacy?

We are in India, where everything is known to everybody.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Visit of Maharashtra Nature Park

On 12th January 2013, IIT Bombay Alumni Association (IITBAA) arranged a visit to Maharashtra Nature Park - a 37 acre man-made forest created on a garbage dumping ground. It is located at Mahim-Dharavi, near Sion. I attended the same along with my son.

Background of Maharashtra Nature Park (also known as Mahim Nature Park):
When people come today to the Mahim Nature Park (MNP) they find it difficult to believe that, the forest they see before their very eyes was once a city garbage dump. But that is exactly what it was less than 20 years ago. Conceived by the WWF-India in the late 1970s, an area of about 37 acres in the "H" Block of Bandra-Kurla Complex, which was earlier a garbage dump or land fill, was decided to be ecologically restored and developed as a Nature Park by MMRDA. Located on Bandra-Sion Link Road and on the Southern bank of Mithi River (which starts from Borivali National Park highlands skirting the airport and meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim Bay and which is one of the major drainages of Mumbai), this mini-forest is nothing short of a miracle. Apart from being a vital green lung for pollution-ridden Mumbai, the MNP also offers Mumbai's citizenry a welcome change from the din and hustle of city life.

Today experts from around the world visit the MNP to study how so many trees could grow on a dumping ground used for decades by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. Naturalists from the Bombay Natural History Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature-India confirm that MNP plays host to about 38 species of butterflies and more than 80 species of birds. What is more, as many as 200 tree species have been listed, many naturally planted by birds and insects. When you walk in the precincts of the MNP you will see numerous insects, amphibians and reptiles and together with the many species of fungi that thrive, the place has a feel of true woodland.    More...
 
Here is a report of same prepared by Madhur Kotharay. I'm reproducing same here because I found it to be extremely well written. I've added photographs to add visual appeal.

---

Last Saturday (12th Jan 2013) morning's IITBAAMCMMM (!!) to Mahim-Dharavi Nature Park must have been the second most inhuman thing, at least for the humans. To get up so early in the morning and head straight to Dharavi was not quite on my dream list. Often, I passed that stretch with nostrils closed (if in rickshaw) or windows closed (if in car). But there I was, at the break of dawn (ok, ok, a bit later, around 7:30 am), standing at the gates of the Nature Park.

I was told to wear neutral colours so as not to startle the birds. I wondered what a neutral colour would be, as against a positive or a negative one. A google search told me that 'neutral colours are the colours that don't show up on the colour wheel'. Now this was rapidly getting high-tech, in IIT tradition, with a quick study needed of the Colour Wheel.

I found that all of my t-shirt colours squarely sat somewhere on the colour wheel. Finally, I decided to settle for greens in my wardrobe, a party green shirt and shoes to match. Of course, I needn't have bothered. Some participants were dressed in Ferrari Reds.

We had 96 registrations. So we expected 48 folks to turn up, given the equal odds of 'will they, won't they'. In the eventuality, we were on the dot (IITians are really predictable, on an average). Interestingly, 28 of us turned up on time; the remaining were fashionably late.


After resolving that the latecomers would be made to do two rounds (running) of the central hall as punishment, we started our exploration of Mother Nature. We were divided into 9 groups and were given to track 9 different laws of Nature. Many laws were deep in meaning. e.g. Nature purges all excesses. I had a light dinner the night before but the law had prevailed even then.

First we saw a huge lake, that was full of water hyacinth. We were told that the lake (Four Olympic swimming pools-size) was made with the efforts of some NSS students. I thought our IIT NCC was the punishment posting; but it appears that NSS is much worse.


We were told that there were snakes near the lake. On hearing that, Ashwin 'Gujju' Doshi promptly ran to the edge of the lake. Poor Gujju! We had to tell him that 'snakes' will be served only at the end in the main 'hole'. :-)

Then we reached Dharavi Creek. All sorts of detritus were floating in the water. Someone said it was river Mithi. I wonder who tasted its water to vouch for the sweetness. However, people were excited about some white birds sitting on the garbage. They started filming them with vehemence. Ooh's and aah's filled the air.

Some people pointed to something like a crow but they called it funny names such as 'egret'. Suddenly, someone shouted 'there is a kite'. Given that we were 2 days away from Sankranti, I was not surprised. However, it was actually a bird they were referring to. I was feeling like a lost soul. So much ignorance.

Then someone clicked something that looked like a faded crow. The person claimed it was a 'Grey Heron'. That sounded familiar. On deeper thought, I realised that there was a vodka by that name. At the next instance, he clicked Sachin's mugshot (sorry, Sachin, I don't know your last name). I politely suggested that he could caption that photo as 'Grey Hair on..."

We moved further. There were weird trees. Actually, there were normal trees but people had weird names for them. For example, I spotted a Banyan tree but they said it was something else, 'Strangler Fig'. I was getting lessons in botany and zoology, left, right, front, back, and up. I wondered what I was going to learn from 'down'.

Then, we came to a funny formation of bamboo trees. Instead of shooting up in the sky, this bamboo gang was spread out like a bunch of optical fibres, bent outwards. We were told that it was because the bamboo roots could not go too deep as the place was built on a landfill. Apparently, there was garbage underneath and the roots were stuck there. Some of you are bent like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Perhaps, your roots are not deep enough or you are sitting right on garbage (as per my botany lesson from 'down').

Then, we saw some creepy creepers. We were told that "Nature makes form fit the function". So we learnt that the 'touch-me-not' plant shrivels on touch because it grows very close to the ground and when grazing animals come closer, its leaves collapse to protect them from being eaten. I noticed many of us had ample paunch. So I started wondering what function that form fitted.


Then, we reached a nursery where we could buy various saplings. At Rs 5 each, they seemed like a great bargain. However, given that the carpet area rates are Rs 45,000 per sq ft in my Khar area, I quickly estimated that those saplings, with 10 cm diameter, would cost me at least Rs 3750 each. I skipped the deal. Ajay Kunnath's tiny daughter, Tia, was super excited to be in this part. After all, this was 'nursery'.

Steeped in our biology wisdom, we returned to the main 'hole' for 'snakes'. The late-comer group had skipped the running punishment, wound their biology lessons up double-quick and were merrily hogging the 'snakes'. Life is unfair.

We had fresh natural breakfast. mashed Solanum Tuberosum mix cooked in arachis hypogaea extract, with baked fleur de farine leavened with saccharomyces. Well, for the uncouth amongst you, I am referring to Batata-wada-Pav, naturally. We also had antioxidants in the form of tea.

Now, it was time for a lecture. We went inside their main auditorium and the lecture started. They were talking about how Bio-Mimicry or imitating nature helps us. They talked about the invention of Velcro, inspired by burrs on plants. I promptly went to sleep as I suffer from a severe disease called Minuophotosomnia (wherein you go to sleep in auditoriums as soon as the lights are dimmed. Tee hee!) After I woke up, they were still talking about Shark Skin and how copying it enabled mankind make bodysuits that helped break swimming records.

I thought about how we could copy nature to improve running. After all, the most inhuman thing on a weekend morning will be happening next Sunday, when I would have to run the whole 42 km Mumbai Marathon starting at 5:40am. The answer is easy: run without shoes. Apparently, the fastest way to run is to run barefoot. The best form, the best motion, the best propulsion is when you run without shoes, provided Mumbai roads spare your feet. It turns out that the best thing you can learn from nature about running is not to add your 'research' to improve upon it.

It was nearly 11 am and I decided to leave the place. It was a nice morning, learning about the bees and the birds and the bougainvillea.

I learnt that over millions of years, nature conferred various evolutionary advantages to plants and animals - the shape of their leaves, barks, flowers, thorns. But I realised that unlike us humans, most trees and animals did not learn from one another. They only learnt from the relentless march of life. Survival of the fittest, it is called. How inefficient! For once, I felt proud of my race, the human race: Animalia kingdom, Chordata phylum, Synapsida Mammalia class, Primates order, Hominidae family; Hominini tribe; Homo genus; H. sapiens species.
----

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Few simple but effective Pre-Budget Suggestions for Direct taxes

To: "Shri Sumit Bose - Revenue Secretary" <rsecy@nic.in>
Sent: Friday, December 28, 2012 1:31 PM
Subject: Few simple but effective Pre-Budget Suggestions for Direct taxes

Dear Shri Sumit Bose (23092653, 23092111 Ext:-5353),

Government is helplessly reeling under pressure to achieve +8% growth under bad economic conditions all over.

Under such circumstance it is required to think of radical measures to increase revenue collection and reduce inefficient operations of government.

Please find enclosed my 3 simple suggestions that will bring following benefits to Indian Government:

1. Increase revenue by making rich people pay taxes proportionate to their income
2. Increase Service tax collection based on negative list by re-deploying Income tax employees to Service tax
3. Free small businesses from the clutch of direct tax machinery by making them pay taxes proportional to their real income.



DIRECT TAXES
Sr
Issue
Suggestion
Justification
1
Income Tax exemption on Farm Income
Currently farmers are exempted from Income tax. This has been a policy since independence. Due to this exemption many rich and influential people have become ‘farmer’ on paper – thus leading to tremendous loss to the exchequer. While in fact, real farmers are committing suicide for want to reasonable income.



The benefit of Income Tax Exemption on Farm Income should be abolished.

There is a clear and gross mis-use of Income tax exemption by rich and influential people for the detriment of economy. Time has come to plug loop hole.
2
Tax Deducted at Source
Almost 55% of Direct tax revenue is collected by way of TDS. This has made Income tax payment almost redundant.

TDS merely serves to make tax collection faster. Also, both tax payer as well government machinery is set-up to see that TDS system works efficiently.

On the other hand lakhs of small people – who are outside the ambit of Income tax loose their income because they never claim refund of TDS deducted.


Abolish Tax Deducted at Source.



Honest tax payer will be relieved from the heavy burden of tax collection, payment along with attendant paper work.

Government machinery will be saved from the unproductive work of getting income tax before its time.

In fact, now such machinery can be deployed in CBEC (Indirect Tax) for collection Negative list based Service tax.
3
Small Business subjected to Presumptive Tax on 8% of Turnover or Gross Receipts u/s 44-AD (read with 44ab)

Government loses tax revenue when a small business’ income is more than 8% of turn-over.

Many small businesses have income less than 8% of turn-over; in fact, some times even loss also. All such businesses are subjected to compulsory audit u/s 44ab.





Abolish Section 44-AD

Or

Reduce Presumptive tax on 8% to 5%.






It is irrational to assume that small businesses earn 8% or more of Turn-over or Gross Receipts. In many cases it is less than 8% due to increased competition and increased day to day expenses. In such cases he is compulsorily subjected to audit u/s 44ab – costing Rs.15,000/- to 50,000/-.

 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Indian Railway - How to change Boarding Point of a reserved train ticket

In India it is quite common that one may not get a train ticket reservation even on the first day of the ticket reservation cycle - which opens four months in advance. So, what does on do?

If your starting point is other than starting point of the train then some smart people try to book ticket from a earlier station; and then apply for change of boarding point. Of course, if you try to give your boarding point while booking the ticket then the system shows that tickets are not available because system computes availability based on quota reserved for your boarding point. Then, what does one do to change the boarding point after the ticket is booked?

Take a regular Reservation Slip. Write on top 'Change of Boarding Point'. Fill in all details as seen in your ticket including PNR number. Against 'Boarding Point' write new boarding point that you want. Then reach  railway reservation counter (PRS) with your printed ticket, reservation slip and photocopy of one identity proof say PAN card, Election Card etc. One need not go personally i.e., you can send another person to do this.

Go to the Inquiry Counter and give this documents. Person on inquiry counter will make the changes on the system and write with hand on your ticket the new boarding point. Work is done. It is simple and does not cost anything.

Take care not to stand in the regular queue for reservations. If you stand there, your request will not be entertained. Change of Boarding Point is done at the inquiry counters only.

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Some thoughts on future of humanity

Last Sunday, during the group meditation session I got some thoughts on what life would be on earth in the future times.

Some background:
Looking back, say about 200 years back, could any one would have imagined how the world would be say in 2013? Well, I doubt it.

Similarly it takes only a visionary of high order to think of what human life would be say 200 years from now. Fascinating? If yes, then keep reading. One warning - enter with an open mind. One disclaimer - I'm not claiming to be a visionary. These thoughts are based on existing writings that I have been reading for the last 9 years or so.

Thoughts on life on earth in future
There was a steady increase in natural and man made calamities on earth - giving louder and louder warnings to humanity to make amend or perish. Of course, a small but reasonable number of wise and intelligent people known as Indigo/Blue man tried to guide humanity with wise thoughts and actions. But, unfortunately humanity was very slow in understanding their advice and moved headlong towards its doom.

After few decades of regular and increasing rage of elements population on earth reduced considerably and living conditions became very very harsh. Earth's magnetic polarity changed and also very slowly and steadily earth's axis started changing - leading to extreme weather conditions. Established world order of national boundaries, world economy, governance and religious establishments met with extinction. Finally, men finding situation totally beyond his control started praying to its faith / higher power asking for mercy and forgiveness.

And beings of high intelligence and wisdom landed on earth. They were not visible to the mankind. They slowly and steadily introduced mutation of human genes by a secret intervention. Because of this, slowly and steadily different race of children started taking birth. This children looked different and were endowed with higher intelligence and wisdom. Unlike human race they were able to use many abilities of the brain and had a soft but strong heart. Beings responsible for the change left earth when they noticed that sufficient number of newer species had taken birth and were performing as per their expectation.

Following the law of natural evolution and survival of the fittest this new race slowly and steadily managed to flourish and older race met with extinction. They had special ability to communicate with each other directly using their thoughts and had a natural balance between outward and inward going tendencies.

Newer race of human beings first managed to establish a newer life style that was close to nature. As this happened raging elements slowly and steadily reduced and disappeared over few decades.


Then the newer race managed to find and harness naturally occurring source of energy that was cheap, non-polluting and renewable. With this discovery, electricity and fossil fuels of past era were not needed any more. Their new life style centered around the principle of peace, harmony. mutual trust and respect. They no longer needed money and attendant financial economy because all their energy needs were met using locally available resources.

They started cherishing inner values more than external manifestations of grandeur and control over fellow human beings. They understood that their purpose of incarnation is leading a life of wisdom and inner growth that leads to inner fulfillment and contentment. They realized certain eternal truths that everything in creation has its rightful place; and although human being is epitome of creation it has no dominion over other species and natural resources. Newer human race aligned itself to the natural principle of simplicity, love, charity, empathy, minimum utilization of natural resource, no wastage, respect for complimentary roles played by man, woman, birds, animals, trees, water bodies, earth etc.
-oOo-

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mind - Heart Relationship

There is considerable confusion among people on whether to use the mind or heart - while thinking, deciding etc. This confusion is bound to happen because people don't correctly understand what each term represents and their relationship with each other. They naively conclude that since it's an inbuilt capability among human beings and everyone uses it all the time - we all know about it very well. Well, not really.

I will try to explain it in simple words using some modern terminologies.

If you understand working of computers or smart phones, mind is like a random access memory (RAM) i.e., volatile memory of a computer or a smart phone. And heart is like a permanent memory similar to that of hard disk or a SD card.

Come on, I can understand about mind's comparison with RAM but I won't agree with heart's comparison with a hard disk or SD card. How can it be?

You agree that whatever is in the mind is volatile in nature. Right?

Yes. But, how does it make heart like a permanent memory?

It works like this. Whenever we repeatedly think about a certain thing - say about a good movie that we have seen or a good restaurant we have visited or a bad memory about an unfortunate fight with a close friend - all this events leave an impression on the mind first; and after a few mental repetitions of that event in the mind, this impression settles on the heart. If attention is not given to the event, it fades away from the mind; and it does not settle on the heart. But once an impression is formed on the heart, it remains there till it is removed.

It is similar to what is in the RAM (mind) is written to the hard disk (heart) when impression remains in the RAM for reasonably long period of time.

How can one remove it?

Good question. Normally such impression remains settled on the heart like a seed. When suitable circumstances present themselves it comes to life i.e., such impression makes its appearance in the mind in the form of thoughts.

You mean to say, I remember the event. Isn't it?

Yes. Not only you remember, you feel the same emotion that you had felt when you had formed the impression; may be not that intensely but it does appear on the scene.

So, it gets removed/erased from the heart. Isn't it?

Not quite. In fact, it depends on your mental attitude. If you treat it with equanimity and don't give attention to it such thoughts drop off and impression is removed from the heart. But, what happens in such circumstance is quite the opposite i.e., we re-live the old experience and our thoughts and action makes it stronger, making its removal impossible. In fact, we make the impression stronger than it was before by thinking about it.

Come on. You mean to say whatever we indulge in strongly or remember old events and give attention to it, it becomes stronger. And only way out is to behave like a saint by remaining calm and composed without any reaction. That is not possible for an average person. Isn't it?

Quite true. But whether we want it or not that's what happens. That is the reason why even though we wish to follow our heart we are unable to do it because heart is giving us wrong signals. This happens because our heart is full of such past impressions; some mild and some very strong. So, sometimes although we know that mind is fooling us by giving logical (and many times immoral answers) we are unable to follow heart because even heart is giving answers based on what is already stored in the heart in the form of impressions.

There must be a way out? Situation can't be so hopeless.

Surely, there is a way out. But, you tell me, how this problem can be overcome?

Hmm... You said heart is like a hard disk. Isn't it? Then it should be possible for us to delete the impression somehow. Is it true?

Yes, you are right. It is possible to delete or remove the impressions. It is possible to remove impressions by self-effort, if such effort is made soon after its formation.

How does one do it? Is it difficult?

Not really, if one knows how to do it and learn it well by doing it every day.

Tell me please?

Sure. One has to use his will power to remove such impressions. Sit with eyes closed and think that all impressions gathered during the day's thoughts and actions are getting removed from the body from the backside in the form of smoke or vapour. Don't think about situation which lead to the formation of the impression.

This process is similar to cleaning a room using a broom. Here we use our will power to clean the mind, and heart of the impression.

For how long one does this thing? And how do I know it has worked?

One may do it for half an hour. If it done properly you will feel lightness of mind i.e., weight of the impression goes away making mind lighter.

Isn't this same thing, which you described as cleaning process, in our earlier discussion?

Yes. It is same.

And you said, cleaning of older impressions is work of a guide. Isn't it?

True.

I have a question. You say impressions settle on the heart. So, when one dies even heart i.e., hard disk also dies. Isn't it? So, this should not pose any problem really because upon death all this impressions are lost.

That's what people generally believe; but that's not the case.

Think of why some people commit suicide? They do this when they are unable to bear weight of their own thoughts - and they commit suicide thinking that dying will solve their problems.

But, in reality after the death of a person, impressions accumulated on the heart do not get erased but they are carried over by the soul in the afterlife. When I said mind is like a volatile memory and heart is a permanent memory, it is very much true i.e., upon death what was there in mind is lost but what was stored on the heart is carried further by the soul in the next life.

If what you saying is correct, then we should do something when we are alive. Isn't it?

Yes. If we don't wish to become slave of impressions settled on the heart one should adopt such means that would make us free of its effect. By whatever means, when we manage to free ourselves of all impressions, we truly become free of our past. That's what a liberation is. Our mind becomes clean and heart become pure; and it starts guiding the mind without any prejudices. And we are able to gain ability to think and behave right.

Thanks. Now, I understand working of mind, heart and its relationship.

What do you think? Do leave your comments.