A New Addition to the Family

We have been considering getting another dog for a while. But at the same time, being responsible for one more individual in the household especially when things get uncertain have been deterring us. The least we could do was to restart fostering pets. We fostered for more than a year before the kid was born and found the experience immensely rewarding. Since the kid was growing up, we weren’t sure about adding another unknown variable into the mix but now that he’s four and acts responsibly, we thought of giving it a shot again.

We contacted Austin Pets Alive and subscribed to their mailing list where they send out requests for fosters. We are selective about the breeds and sizes we want to foster due to Lucy and our home size. Both of us also work full-time and the kid goes to daycare so the dogs must be crate-trained as well. Sadly, there are a lot of pitbulls in the shelter but as much as sorrow we feel for them, we cannot foster pitbulls. So we keep looking. Finally, one day we came upon a request for a temporary pet-sitting for an adorable chow-chow mix. His foster parents were leaving on a vacation and wanted one of the volunteers to temporarily care for him. Although he was larger than we would’ve liked, we agreed and got Leo for two weeks.


Leo turned out to be the cutest and the friendliest dog we had the pleasure of ‘fostering’. He was a chow-chow mix and we think the mix part [1] won out as there wasn’t an iota of meanness to him and he had this habit of rolling over as soon as you start to pet him a little more vigorously. Lucy, as usual, ignored him and then tried to play roughshod with him in her own inimitable style but he couldn’t care less and was actually a little wary of her although he outsized her three times over. We had steeled ourselves to not fall for him but when it was time to return him to his original foster, Ash was all tears on the way home. It didn’t help that the foster family saw how much he loved us and dropped enough hints trying to make us adopt him permanently.

Our vacillation lasted all of two days as we decided to adopt him and bring him home permanently. We filled out the paperwork and had no troubles being approved. A week later, our family had one more member.

  1. either labrador or golden retriever []

Beware of Phishing Attacks

The majority of the time your online accounts get ‘hacked’, it is because of social engineering more than technical vulnerabilities. This is applicable for normal folks like us and obviously high-value targets face the full ‘brute force’ of the technical attacks. Social engineering hacks or ‘phishing’ makes you believe that the communication mostly via email is from a person you know and trust and it makes you click a link in the email that will further ask for your login details. Once you enter those in, bam! They’re in.

Yesterday, I got an unusual email from my dad [1]:

Phishing Attack

Fortunately, it rang plenty of alarm bells when I opened the email. First, the tone of the email was casual and if you know my dad, his emails even with his sons are extremely formal. Even the ones he sends as personal emails start and end very officiously.

Second, it asked me to click on an allegedly Google Docs link. My dad (and his assistant) are barely able to use email let alone Google Docs. Sometimes I wish they were more technically savvy but in spite of trying several times, I haven’t been able to teach him. In fact, his email is operated entirely by his assistant and we communicate with him via his assistant (we call her Maushi so it’s not that formal of an arrangement). He dictates his email to her and she types it out and sends it to us. Third, if it was some kind of official work, he would call me and tell me about it several times within the span of that call. This email was way too short to be anything from him. Finally, if you hover over the link in the email, it doesn’t point to Google Docs and also, the To: field in the email was blank indicating the use of BCC: My brother confirmed that he too got the same email and so did another family friend.

Anyway, my suspicions were confirmed when I directly called his assistant and told her to change their email password. Obviously, she hadn’t sent the email. But I learnt something more scary. Couple of weeks ago, my dad had received a similar email (except it asked for money to be wired) purportedly from my brother. But instead of calling him first, they exchanged a few emails with the spammer and only when it got a little too suspicious[2], did they call my brother. However, the spammer correctly targeted my dad’s fondness for wanting to send money even when we explicitly always tell him that we don’t want any. Luckily, he did not send any money but I’m sure he must’ve clicked some link in the email that may have given them access to his address book. It must be similar to the script that lets Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn to import your address book.

This post is just meant to warn you to not trust any email containing links from your personal contacts especially if it sounds a little suspicious. Always call or Whatsapp them to first confirm whether it really came from them. The few minutes (or hours) you wait for their reply may end up saving you a lot of trouble.

  1. the screenshot is from my Spam folder where the message now resides []
  2. they wanted to money to be sent within India whereas my brother is currently in Canada []

A Beach Vacation

Be patient. You’re on island time now” said a sign behind the counter at a coffee shop in Port Aransas. That’s exactly how we felt – on island time. With no pressing deadlines and nowhere to go, we could finally kick back and relax. Otherwise even vacations with tightly packed itineraries can be stressful for us. But this time, we did it differently.

Due to our busy work lives, we couldn’t get away last year. We finally got a chance to take a much-needed beach vacation before the summer heat sets in. Nothing too far or fancy, we booked a condo right off the beach at Port Aransas. This small town is on a barrier island off the south Texas coast. Most of the island is a protected reserve with the exception of several condominium complexes set right off the beachfront. No more than 3,000 people call this town their home and vacationers outnumber them 10 to 1 during the peak summer months. Our daily schedule was simple. Get up at leisure, have a quick and light breakfast in our condo and head straight to the beach. Spend couple of times on the beach with the kid who was returning to the coast after nearly 2 years. Since he’s just beginning to form memories, this could very well have been his first time.

As the sun rises, we drive down to the town’s center for some wonderful fish and shrimp tacos and then head back to the condo for a well deserved afternoon nap. Late afternoon, we could either hit the beach again or drive down to Padre Island, one of America’s ten national seashores. It’s a pristine naturally-preserved 50-mile coastline with only with seaweed as litter. It’s the perfect place for a long beach walks with the kid running up and down the beach with the occasional splash in the sea. We can stop for a while to gaze at some barnacle-crusted driftwood otherwise just pass other beach visitors who are just as peaceful.

The evening ends with yet another stomach-stuffing seafood right on the seafront in two of Corpus Christi’s famed restaurants. One of them offers excellent choices in fried seafood (fish, shrimp, oyster, crawfish, etc.) and the other is a slightly more-classy [1] place with grilled and stuffed fish. We head back to our condo and can take yet another walk on the beach, which is a mere 100 feet from our condo doorstep, separated only by grassy sand dunes. The other option during the evenings is to drive down to Corpus Christi, the larger town on the coast to visit the Texas State Aquarium or the USS Lexington, the now-retired aircraft carrier museum.

We just rinse and repeat our schedule for the next three days until it is time to leave which the kid obviously is not ready to. But return we must. But we’ll be back.

More photos after the fold:

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  1. I use that term very loosely []

Razorblogging Part Trois

Continuing the proud tradition of razorblogging on this blog, I present the third (trois) in the series to reflect the constantly shifting preferences to keep me free of facial hair. After going old school with a stainless steel razor for nearly four years, I’m back to the warm comforts of gliding safety razors that modern innovation has bestowed upon us. However, I do not go back to the arms of Gillette and its ever-increasing number of blades. Instead I decided to give the startup guys a chance. Currently I’m a month-old customer of Harry’s [1]. I heard about them on some tech podcasts and between the Dollar Shave Club, I decided to give them a try.

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  1. Not an affiliate link and definitely not a paid review []

My Photo Management Approach

I’ve been interested and involved in amateur photography for a while now. I started shooting with film and even got around to developing in a darkroom before photography went completely digital. I think my parents still have my crappy first attempts at shooting the Taj Mahal when we first visited it in 1989.

Not Windows XP

Butler Park, Austin

It takes time to develop the technique and have an eye for capturing the right moments or the right angle but all I can say is that it gets better, the more you shoot. Shoot a hundred, keep about 10, and show only 3 and soon people start thinking that all of your photos look like the 3 you show them. You don’t have to dispel that notion.

But given the ease and often ephemeral nature of photos these days, don’t neglect the importance of backing up your photos. I’m describing the approach I use and yours may be different given the tools you use.

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Experimenting with Composting

Sqrlta asked me to write a short post on my experiences with composting. There are several excellent how-to articles on the web on composting that may do a better job but this is my experience and suited for my purpose.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, we were lucky enough to have space demarcated for composting although it was an open-style composting made up of wooden planks and chicken mesh. The previous owners had simply dumped dry leaves and twigs in and weren’t actively composting kitchen waste. The first thing I did was remove the mesh and planks from one side of the composting area and place a plastic composting container that I got from Amazon.

Compost Enclosures

Compost Enclosures – one open and other closed

Although you get composting barrels that make for better aeration and stirring, I found those expensive for my first foray into composting[1]. Plus, this container perfectly fit in the current enclosure I had carved out. The important aspects of composting are that its bottom should be in contact with the ground so organisms like earthworms can make their way through your compost. It should be well aerated and needs to be frequently stirred. Ideally, it should be damp and should have a proportionate mix of brown (dry leaves, small twigs, etc.) and green waste (kitchen waste). The container did not take too long to assemble and I already had some dry brown leaves to start. Also, make sure to keep it covered with a tight lid at all times so you do not attract rodents. It is advisable to place the compost container/area a little away from the house or rather the entrances of your house.

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  1. Most cities offer rebates for composting if you provide a receipt. Check with your city’s recycling/composting department first []

Spring Gardening Prep

It’s that time of the year again when the cold recedes and spring is around the corner. Although the winter isn’t much in Texas, it still prevents you from tending to your garden and everything looks dreary. We have two large live oak trees; one in the front yard and one in the back. The thing with live oak trees is that, they shed leaves in early spring instead of fall. So the truest sign of spring in our parts is when the ground is littered with an inch-deep layers of leaves. Now, you can’t start clearing them up because you’ve to wait until the trees have shed them all otherwise it’s just a futile effort at keeping your yard clean. For 2-3 weeks, your yard looks absolutely dreadful and only when you start seeing fresh buds on the treetops, should you consider cleaning up the leaves. You probably read about how much leaves those two trees shed.

Then follows the hard part; the personal part that you don’t pay someone else to do it because you want your personal touch. I’m talking about the flower beds, the planting beds, and the vegetable garden. We cleared out a corner of our front lawn because it was getting too much sun and not much grass was growing. So rather than force the hand of nature, we decided to plant some flowering and non-flowering/ornamental plants that loved lots of sun. Preparing such beds for the spring seems minor but is an arduous task. First it involves a trip to Lowes where you consider getting plants to replace the ones that did not work last year, plant food, some cow manure to boost, and of course, bags and bags of mulch [1].

However, this year it was different. We did not buy compost which otherwise is an integral part of prepping the garden for the new year. When we bought this house, we learnt that being Austin and all, the previous owners were very environment-friendly. Not only did they have water-saving adaptions in the water closet but also to our delight, two open-air compost enclosures. It wasn’t working exactly as composting should but at least it was a start. I could always work with what we got and then turn it into something we could actually use. I had read and done (rather got done) some composting on our farm in India but never actually done it on a daily basis. So how did we do? Well, I’ll keep that for the next post [2]

  1. Trust me, you can never fall short of mulch []
  2. It will keep me coming back to write, right? []

Nothing Much To Say

Who says blogging has to be hifalutin[1]? Well, sometimes I do. We consider Twitter for stray random thoughts and reserve blogging for serious long rants or as they say now, think pieces. But it doesn’t have to be, just like this post proves it. I started typing without knowing what I was going to write and now I’m just making it up as I write.

I’m just enjoying a rare day when I have no pending tasks. Having submitted a much-worked-on deliverable today morning, I’m content enough to chill out in my freshly-cleaned backyard with a beer and this blog post. Our backyard was cluttered with leaves almost an inch-deep. Our regular lawn guy was out of town so it kept delaying but in hindsight, that let our two large live oaks shed all their leaves, like they do every spring. So basically we experience fall at the beginning of spring. Anyway, he finally got around to cleaning it up yesterday and had quoted us $5 per bag. Over email, he estimated it would be 5-6 bags. It ended up being 30 bags! Holy guacamole!

30 Bags of Live Oak

Anyway, now that it is clean, edged, and trimmed, the front and backyard look fabulous and will finally let us get started on our spring gardening. It’s the time we are probably better off direct depositing our paychecks to Lowes. But as I sit here in my backyard with a beer and 70F sunshine, it all feels worth it. Heck, I even tried out the latest in tech fads – Periscope live streaming.

  1. isn’t that just oxymoronic? Damn, I did it again []


Few months ago, my brother with admits for business schools in both U.S. and Canada, had a long time struggling with the decision to attend one over the other. He had a scholarship to the relatively cheaper U.S. university which was no more than two hours away from where I lived. But in the end, he chose the Canadian university based on just one factor that finally made the difference – immigration. He had a better and far quicker chance of getting permanent residency in Canada than he would in the U.S. even though he would pay nearly three times as much for attending business school there. I fully concurred with his decision. I drafted a letter to the White House explaining this dilemma and asked for speedy action on immigration reform.

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Getting Reading Done

Last month, I got an iPad Mini from my workplace. Apart from my work-related apps, I decided to not install Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or any social media apps [1]. Instead first, I choose to install only Kindle, iBooks, and Instapaper apps. Not even Flipboard or Zite that usually has short news stories. I made this decision consciously as I wanted to get back to my long-form reading habit. It’s almost impossible to get any done during the daytime either due to work commitments or other distractions on other devices. I’ve tried the ‘will power’ and ‘self control’ thing [2] but judge me all you want, it doesn’t work for me. So I had to get my reading done at night in bed [3] . That was usually when I wasted time on Reddit. Ick! Now I feel so bad about it.

Second, I made a conscious decision to also leave my personal iPad Air downstairs each night. I got only my phone that I need to charge at my bedside. I carried my iPad Mini to bed so I had no choice but to read only books or long-form articles. I got the iPad on April 24 and I’ve tried to read books every night ever since. So how did I fare?

Books Read Post-iPad Mini

Source: If you know my real name or are my Facebook friend, you can read my ratings/reviews on GoodReads.

I surprised myself by completing 8 books; more than I had read in the eight months prior to that. Of course, most were non-fiction but I prefer those nowadays over fiction. I wasn’t tried to speed-read so I was also surprised that I could read just as quickly as before. I’m glad to know that this skill doesn’t diminish over time due to lack of practice. I’m trying to get back into reading fiction. Thankfully Ash reads a lot of fiction and knows my preferences so recommends books that I’ll enjoy. The benefits of this re-discovered albeit forced habit of reading books are the usual and obvious ones. As an added benefit, I can now fall asleep much quicker and often sleep better. I used to be an insomniac but it looks like those days are past me. Ash is a voracious reader too so our Kindle app is always bursting with new books [4]. I’ve started frequenting our public library often too. Luckily, Austin’s public library has a lot more ebooks available that you can directly download to your Kindle app. Two of the above eight books were paper books so it’s not like I’m completely relying on eBooks.

I would heartily recommend following my method. If you don’t have the luxury of owning two iPads, you can always delete the social media off your primary iPad and rely on your phone. Or simply buy the Kindle device. It’s well worth it. Happy reading!

  1. My workplace doesn’t explicitly disallow us from installing or using them on work devices. As long as you get your work done, no one really cares what you do []
  2. I don’t mean the apps that disbar you from accessing sites for a fixed period of time []
  3. Nope, the screen neither troubles me nor affects my sleep. In fact, I fall to asleep quicker and sleep better after reading books. []
  4. She has finally moved past paper books to ebooks simply due to the convenience factor although she uses Kindle device and not the app []

Voicing your Displeasure

Long-time readers of this blog are aware that I have a speech impediment that I don’t try to conceal. Even if I did try, it would be in vain. Since coming over to the U.S. I have rarely faced any ridicule or discrimination from strangers. Obviously, people who know me are more empathetic. India was more merciless but that’s in the past. But a recent incident brought back memories.

Recently at a coffee shop I frequent quite often, the manager snickered when I ordered an Americano and stuttered a little [1]. Now, I’ve more often than not ignored and moved along but this time, decided to do something else. When we handed me my coffee, I simply said with a staid expression, “You are only the third person since I came to this country more than 10 years ago who have mocked me for my speech”. The look of panic and shock on his face was evident. He began apologizing immediately and said that he thought I was joking. I replied, “I don’t joke about this” and then added, “Don’t worry about it. It just tells me more about you than it does about me”. Then I walked away from the counter making Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” gesture.

I did not storm out of the coffee shop vowing to never come back. I didn’t even raise my voice or look pissed or hurt. I just expressed my displeasure in a firm voice (nope, I didn’t stutter while saying that). Sometimes that’s all you need – putting the onus back on the perpetrator and making your displeasure clear. Let them simmer in their juices of embarrassment at being called out. If people are even least bit emphatic, they’ll regret their words/actions and make amends. If not, they aren’t worth your time anyway but you’ve voiced out your displeasure. That in itself is cathartic. The guy was still apologizing after nearly an hour so I guess he was the first type. That made a difference.

I still go to that coffee shop and now, he is a little extra friendly and smiles at me more often. So I guess, he did learn something and as a manager of a public establishment, will be more aware of people’s limitations. I just might have made him a better person while expressing my displeasure at his behavior. You know how they say, smile because you never know who’s watching. Same goes for complaints.

  1. Admittedly, saying Americano is a tad difficult than saying small coffee []

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Getting the iPhone 5S

Given how the cellular business is structured in the U.S., every two years, I’m eligible for a smartphone upgrade at the subsidized price of $199 (+tax). I was eligible in May but decided to hold out for the new iPhone to be announced in September. Of course, if you know me well, you know I’m not switching away from Apple yet. The new iPhone was announced on September 10 and as expected, it being the ‘S’ year, it was a modest update over the iPhone 5 announced last year. I have always been aligned with the ‘S’ years due to my contract since I owned the 3GS and 4S earlier.

Strangely, this year, the iPhone 5S was not up for pre-order but the newly-released 5C was. I always go for the top of the line model so I wanted the 5S from the start. I guess, I would have to wait until release day. I would just go to the store [1] and see if it is available. After hearing about it on Twitter, I also placed a ‘pre-order’ at a local Target store [2]. As the release day got closer, rumors were swirling in the tech blogosphere that supplies were running low and surprisingly, the new gold model was getting tons of interest. I wanted the Space Grey 16GB model so was hoping it wouldn’t get as much interest.

On September 20th aka release day, Twitter tells me that orders are already backed up by 7-10 business days and I hadn’t heard from Target by noon. So we thought, what the heck, let’s go to the Apple Store and see how bad is it. It was a Friday so basically a slow workday. The only hitch, thunderstorms were rolling in. We passed the AT&T store in the mall where we were told that only the 5C and 64GB iPhone 5S White were available. From a distance we saw the Apple Store still had a long line outside so decided to forget about it and go home after lunch. We had lunch at the food court and just on a lark decided to at least go check out the phones in person.

The line now looked shorter and the girl handing out the tickets for the line said that only Space Grey 16GB phones were available and the wait was approximately one hour. Now I had swore never to stand in line to get any product…

So as the wife browsed around the mall, I stood in line with a bottle of water and ‘enjoying’ the line experience. The line moved quicker than I expected and we were ushered in after only a 40 minute wait. Was ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ at play here too? The buying process took hardly anytime and the only delay was in processing the wife’s old iPhone 4 for which we received a $121 credit. Not bad for a 3-year-old phone, huh? I was offered $225 by Gazelle and my workplace offers me a $100 credit every two years for a new phone so in fact, we were making $8 after including all taxes.

We picked up two iPhones 5S and were set up in no time, thanks to our iCloud backups. The staff, as widely known, is super friendly and very helpful. They make small talk but not the kind that seems scripted. The girl helping us said, it was her first day working on a new iPhone release but had heard from her colleagues that it was less crazy than when the iPhone 4 released. The lines snaked around the mall and outside at that time. I was glad I wasn’t eligible then.

Finally, new iPhones in hand we drove home in pelting rain. It still gives me joy on the first day of owning a new tech gadget. Yup, Buddha couldn’t convince me to give up on materialistic pleasures.

  1. Now I live in a city with an Apple Store []
  2. I got a call from Target only on Wednesday that my phone was available. Four days later was not bad in hindsight []

Morning at Zilker Park

Leafy Bridge

Zilker Park is the Central Park of Austin. Right in the heart of Austin, the expanse of green bordered by leafy trees is a welcome relief on a hot summer day. The Barton Creek flows right along one edge of the park before joining the Colorado river. The creek is always full of people kayaking, canoeing or just wading. We always head out to the park whenever we’re unsure of how to spend our mornings or evenings. It has been tremendously hot over the past few months so we haven’t been around the park much. But the trails along Zilker are always shaded and cool. It’s the best way to get the kid out and running around to expend his energy. We pass by people on their brisk walks or leisurely jogs. Cyclists occasionally pass you by.

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Gas Expenses v. Commuting

As I’ve mentioned before here, I used to commute from College Station to Austin for work. I commuted for just over five months until Ash also got a job here and we moved to Austin. The other day we’re plotting trends in our household expenses post-move and although it is still too early to note any changes, the one category where the change was immediately noticeable was Gas & Fuel expenses. Given that I used to travel nearly 500 miles a week, the change was inevitable.

Gas Expenses Over Past 12 Months

The drop after May was precipitous. These are the itemized charges by day:

While Telecommuting

While Commuting

After Telecommuting

After Commuting

I used to fill a full tank of gas almost every alternate day when I was commuting. Now it is once in two weeks. Note that some of the charges are for Ash’s Honda Fit as well but since her commuting distance remains unchanged, it cancels itself out. I must admit I felt like I was burning down a forest with each trip and doing that in a Prius was ironic.