Category Archives: general

The TATA Nano Comes Home

Picked up the Nano Twist, primarily for wifey. I used to have a dim view of the Nano. I never considered it in my interest list of small cars, buying was a big NO NO. My wife has this minimalist view. She likes to go for the minimum requirement for her needs. All she needed were 4 wheels to go from point A to point B in relative comfort as opposed to 2 wheels. The Nano fitted that operating model, so she forced me to take a test drive. That changed my whole opinion.

It’s been more than a month since I picked it up and I am loving the little wonder. It is a fantastic car for crowded city roads. Easy to drive, almost like a Go-Cart! Has all the creature comforts. Great fuel efficiency. Smooth ride quality. Little but peppy engine, quick on it’s feet. Electronic power steering smooth as butter. Pedals are light on the feet. Spacious and comfortable interiors, sits 5 average-sized adults with ease. There is good legroom and under-thigh support. Great ground clearance. I am yet to scrape the bottom, even when going over mountain sized speed breakers. Smallest turning radius, can do next to impossible U-turns in a single turn. No reverse and forward monkey business. If you do not believe me, take a test drive. Super easy to park. What more does one ask for? The regular service schedules are infrequent. In addition TATA has a scheme whereby I paid a small amount up front and the next three year regular services are free as in free beer! Probably I will have to dole out some small amounts for a few odd consumables. Combined with high fuel efficiency and low insurance fees, for a vehicle of this segment, it represents exceptional value for money.

The engine sound has been tamed down. Also it now sounds more car-like rather than the earlier commercial vehicle sound. There are a few minor cons. Like the outside rear view mirror is too small. There are quality issues with the finishing on some of the panel edges, though panel gaps are consistent. While I get curious stares on the road, the biggest problem is I do not get respect on the road! I am used to driving my usual SUV and that gets ample respect like a gorilla. On the Nano suddenly, I am a mouse instead of a Gorilla! However the Nano makes up for it by it’s agility. Think of Stuart Little on a busy road. The other big con is the lack of front disc brakes. Braking from speed requires a harder push, which can take some getting used to . However these cons do not take anything away from the value proposition that the Nano represents.

Apart from disc brakes, I do wish that TATA comes out with an automatic transmission variant, probably using the AMT from Magneti Marelli. That would be an excellent addition. It would push the price up, but no harm in having a high-end Nano with a whole bunch of bells and whistles. The age-old marketing technique: attract the customer with the lower-end cheaper models to the showroom and sell them the high-end models 🙂

Anyone looking at cars in the same segment or a second hand Santro or some such, definitely need to give the Nano a serious consideration. One cannot get better value for money that this vehicle in it’s “Twist” Avatar. This vehicle definitely deserves 10x the sales that it is unfortunately garnering today. This is the car that TATA Motors should have launched on day one, but as we all know, Indian car manufacturers like to use customers as test engineers, sometimes with disastrous results! Also for the Nano’s woes TATA got the initial marketing, product positioning and branding wrong.

The children are really excited with the Nano. The little ones with the “Little One”:20140714_191724_Fotor

OH Calcutta!

Calcutta Maidan (By Subhasis Chakraborty (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Back from sweltering, HOT, HUMID, stuffy Calcutta after a couple of weeks. Record temperatures and record humidity left me gasping. Even the locals were crying. However it was definitely not the Calcutta I had expected.

I could see change all around. No sign of the dirty, stinking cesspooled streets, no sign of the broken, moth-eaten street lamps, no sign of the grimy railings, no sign of the pot-holed roads, no sign of the traffic cop whiling time by the roadside. Decorative lamp shades of the road lights, swanky departmental stores and malls. Organized and orderly traffic, taxis with no-refusal signs. They won’t refuse a hire just because the destination does not suit them. Active alert cops, some of them even smart. Yes I am not joking. Active clean-up and concreting ongoing of the various horrid open drains. Large modern residential complexes springing up. No power cuts, not at all, nada – one can take power for granted. Yes the roads are still too narrow, the bylanes are downright claustrophobic, too many people on the roads, many independent houses still being constructed to early 1990’s standards, but still, there was this change. I could feel a wasting giant stirring, rebuilding, repairing, rising phoenix-like brushing aside decades of exploitation, neglect and decay.

The previous time I had visited was almost 2.5 years back. So this coincides with the change in Govt. I am happy to see real impact from the current administration. There is still a long way to go. I am hoping to see more changes the next time I go there.

Getting into the Groove

I’m an audioholic, by birth. My ears tend to be analytical of the sound it is hearing. So I simply lose interest in music unless I’m in a real concert or the audio is being reproduced by a good system. A small stereo system or even the typical consumer Home Theater in a Box setup would not satisfy me. I’d rather not listen to music at all if those are the only sound sources that I could get.

My dad was like that as well. in my early years I grew up listening to a Sonodyne Uranus hand-equalized by my dad. That was the best he could afford at that time and it was a decent beast. It came with a dual cassette deck, an AM/FM Tuner, a discrete 12-band graphic equalizer and an integrated pre-power amp with the output stage driven by two STK 4131 II power mosfets. It also had an optional turntable which we did not go for. There were 2-way ported (bass – reflex) stereo speakers which could handle 50W RMS each. However the mosfets could only deliver 20W RMS per channel. At that day and age it was good enough for us. Stereo nirvana in fact. I plugged in a CD player much later.

After enjoying with that for more than 8 years we had to dispose of it. It had aged and required constant maintenance. Then many life changes happened to me and I could not get my hands on a decent setup, for one reason or the other that would also include lack of budget at the right time. Finally moving into a new house provided the right opportunity. Luckily I managed to allocate some surplus funds. In addition my timing was just right to land a deal with the 3-day ProFx anniversary sale. A 25% discount on the package plus freebies. This is what I grabbed:

  1. KEF Q-series 5.1 spkr system: Q700 Floorstanders, Q200c Center Channel, Q400b Sub and Q800ds dipole surrounds.
  2. Denon AVR 2313 receiver.
  3. 33M speaker cable free gift box.
  4. Free installation.
  5. A pair of Denon Urban Raver earphones via a lucky draw.

I already have a PS3 as my primary media player which I readily hooked onto the AVR. The discount and the effective market price of the KEFs in India meant that I paid for the speakers and got the Denon for peanuts. Yes the AVR 2131 model has been phased out and replaced with the new AVRX series. However Denon, with AVRX, has actually consolidated it’s lineup and reduced the wide range of models on offer to reduce customer confusion along with a few technical improvements. So I did not lose much by going with an older model. In fact who cares when I get it for peanuts. The Denon comes with this awesome Audyssey MultiEQ XT feature which can compensate (equalize) for room imperfections to a good extent.

As I mentioned before, I’m an audioholic but not an excruciatingly technical one. I’d not get into aspects of acoustical engineering to setup this system in my living room. I just wanted something that would sound good to me. Whether it is a good measured audio frequency response or not I’d not really bother (though I’d be curious to find out). As usual, the installer did a basic setup and did not spend too much time. There were several problems with the installation and the room:

  1. The floorstanders were too close to the walls. Possibly because he was trying to match speaker separation to listening distance and get an equilateral triangle for good imaging. I wanted to avoid wall reflections and compromise a bit on imaging.
  2. The room is rectangular with 9’1” height, 11’2” width and 16’2” length. The listening position is lengthwise. So keeping the floorstanders away from the walls meant I could only get an isoceles triangle with respect to the listening position. Moving the rear sofa forward would upset the room decor and badly upset the entire family!
  3. I have a coffee table made of pre-laminated particle board.
  4. The Sub’s volume was at 80% and not the recommended 50%.
  5. The Sub’s crossover knob was set at 80Hz while recommendation is to set it at max (150Hz) and let the AVR decide on the exact crossover values.
  6. I made him run Audyssey but the environment was bad: Some nearby drill machine came on at the wrong time, a dog barked, neighbour’s car went past arrgh!
  7. He did not have a MIC stand with boom. So he placed the Audyssey MIC on the sofa back to do measurements which is crap.
  8. My room has walls on 3 sides the back of the listening side is open with a stariway, followed by dining and kitchen space.
  9. Seen from the listening side, the left side wall ends 3.5ft shorter than the right side wall to allow walking space and access to a guest bedroom.
  10. My TV is a Sony 37-in, HD-ready, flat panel, 6 yrs old. I do not have the budget to go in for a new TV at this time.

In addition to this the room has wooden look flooring made of MDF. The MDF boards rest on two layers of foam which in turn rests on the concrete floor below. Since the floor is not hardwood and it rests on foam, I decided not to go for mats in front of the floorstanders. The coffee table rested on a central carpet in any case.

Initially the sound lacked depth and the bass was missing. I do not like boomy bass but the earth-shattering explosion in Skyline seemed like a tinny Diwali firecracker. Dialogues were too loud. Floorstanders seemed to do a lot of work at the low end leaving the sub idle. Treble seemed analytical. Lastly the sound imaging seemed to be converging at a point a couple of feet above my head!

Eventually it took me a month of playing with speaker positioning and Audyssey and a wild goose chase due to a HDMI weirdness on my old TV to finally get something I like really like listening to. Some aspects of my adventure in summary are below:

  1. Move floorstanders away from wall by upto 2’1”. Move subwoofer from left to right. Left side was being blocked by the larger sofa impairing the subwoofer’s bass.
  2. Cover the darned, but aesthetically and practically required coffee table with a mat to absorb reflections. Looks good as well.
  3. Fix the dipole surrounds to the side walls with screws and two small aluminium brackets. They are not exactly aligned due to the different wall lengths. I could not place them at the rear, on stands, due to aesthetic and practical problems. One of the speakers will then come within the common walking area and if children bump into it, my hard-earned money goes down the drain!
  4. The right side wall has a large window with two – layered curtains which prevents reflections. The right wall was empty, so I placed a decorative grid-design shelf in the middle. Looks good and diffuses reflections somewhat.
  5. Build a boom stand for the Audyssey MIC with some leftover MDF pieces from my modular furniture construction. This kind of a MIC stand is generally considered not good but I did some improvising to get fairly good results.
    • I made the stand short (about 27” tall) and rested it on the sofa, rather than the ground to avoid transmitting vibrations from the ground to the MIC.
    • I set the ear level height to 23”.
    • Covered the base plank of the stand with sofa cushions during measurement to avoid unwanted reflections.
  6. I did the Audyssey measurements during midnight 1AM so there will be pin-drop silence. The only sound is from an UPS fan.
  7. I followed the following guide, though not down to the letter: http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/audio-processing/68407-audyssey-multeq-faq-setup-guide.html
  8. I had to re-run Audyssey about five times as I kept making small mistakes, tweaking the speaker placements and trying a couple of MIC patterns. Five times being a night owl, much to the consternation of my wife and being groggy at office the next day.
  9. I noted down the furniture positioning measurements. This is so that when the furniture is moved for cleaning I can recreate the exact layout that was used to run Audyssey, accurate to the inch.
  10. The HDMI Control (CEC) would not work reliably with my old Sony Bravia. This would result in sound only coming from the TV, not the KEFs!! Imagine my frustration playing movies and music on the PS3 with the expensive KEFs sitting and watching idly. It would work intermittently. I tried to change HDMI cables, update firmware on PS3 and the Denon, reset settings to no avail. After a wild cursing chase I managed to figure this out. Turning off HDMI control fixed the problem. It however, prevented automatic HDMI switching from the DTH set-top box to TV when the AVR is switched off. Luckily my set-top box has component video and stereo audio out which I could directly connect to equivalent inputs on the TV. In any case component video is more than enough for the family to watch standard-definition TV channels. If I want to watch something like NatGeo HD I’d switch on the AVR.
  11. I want to add front height speakers later on, so did not go for bi-amping the fronts. I know I’d have to re-run Audyssey … arrgh.
  12. I set the front crossover points to 60Hz for the front towers and 80Hz for the center. Audyssey had set them all to 40Hz.
  13. Increased the Subwoofer level from -0.5db to 0db.
  14. I switched off Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume.

Finally, after all this circus, I have something that I look forward to listen to and watch. The great thing is that the last Audyssey round was just perfect for my ears that I do not have to mess with the tone control or the speaker levels(except for the slight sub tweak). All I did was to increase the Dialogue level a bit while watching Ender’s Game. Turning up the volume while watching the explosion in Skyline makes one look around to ensure that it is not his living room items that are breaking.

Stereo music sounds equally good with deep thudding, not booming bass and clear treble. The imaging could be better but is not too bad either. I cannot change my living room! Boney-M and the Love At First Sight CD just come to life. Sultans of Swing is smooth. All the instruments in Classic Rock are rendered crystal clear; I can make them out. Kishore Kumar and Hemant Kumar seem sitting right in front of me! The KEFs are truly glorious.

What every Budding Technology Professional should watch

While searching and reading up on various conference proceedings, I came across this awesome presentation by Dawn Foster (Puppet Labs) at the 2013 USENIX Women in Advanced Computing Summit. Even though the conference deals with technology participation of the fairer gender, this is one video that I think, applies to every person irrespective of gender, on a technology career path. You can watch the video or download it here: https://www.usenix.org/conference/wiac13/building-successful-technology-career

The video is 45 mins long but it is 45 mins worth spent. There are many points from the presentation which I can harmonize with, having been through an interesting 15 year tech career till date.

An escape to the Heavenly Himalayas

Lhasa, By ignat (http://plotnikovna.narod.ru/img/), via Wikimedia Commons.

Lhasa, By ignat (http://plotnikovna.narod.ru/img/), via Wikimedia Commons.

Team-BHP has a great report on the Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013 adventure tour across the Himalayas on 4x4s. The awesome pictures and narration from a participant can be found at this link: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travelogues/140074-leg-1-mahindra-monastery-escape-2013-delhi-leh-srinagar.html

It is not hard to experience what possibly, heaven feels like across the timeless, picturesque stretches of Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal etc(and the Nepal Himalayas). Having a small fetish for cars and driving, I do hope to participate in one of the Mahindra sponsored events in future.

Check out Team-BHP’s Travelogues section for other great travel accounts.

R.I.P. Atul Chitnis – End of a Chapter

Very saddened today morning upon hearing the news of Atul Chitnis passing away. He was battling cancer for a while and he finally lost it. I am sure he will be peaceful in the Happy Computing Community.

I have known him from his early PCQuest days and my awareness of Linux was primarily due to his PCQlinux distribution initiative. However he will be remembered the most for the FOSS.IN conference. Without him FOSS.IN has lost a father figure. I have been visiting the conference from the time it was originally called Linux Bangalore and his influence over the flocks gathering there was unmistakable. He did have his quirks and share of disagreements with others in the Indian FOSS community but his far-reaching contributions in the Indian FOSS scene overshadow everything else.

http://www.firstpost.com/tech/indian-tech-world-mourns-death-of-open-source-guru-atul-chitnis-837705.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atul_Chitnis