Category Archives: Misc

Wear a gear that will actually save you!

I may have been lucky, but a major reason I have not caught COVID yet is my discipline with masks and sanitizers. As more research pours in, it is becoming clear that COVID-19 spreads mostly through the aerial route. There have been speculations that aerosol transmission (vs big droplets) is a significant medium. Aerosols are very unlike big droplets, they don’t settles in 5-10 minutes. The fine droplets in an aerosol can stay up in the air for hours with very little or no wafts. Aerosols can defy the 6ft apart logic. Aerosols can follow the air currents setup in a room by fans/ACs and carry the virus even as far as 40ft or more.

Effective protection involves three things –

  • Covering nose+mouth
  • Covering eyes (often missed easily)
  • Frequently sanitizing hands.

I am not going to spend time on the third bullet. It has become common knowledge now. But the first two, which also happen to be the most important ones are often neglected. No wonder we have as many cases as we do in the world right now.

Nose+Mouth

This mask in the above picture is a joke. It does nothing to protect you. It only partially helps to protect other people a bit if you have caught COVID-19. So are the normal surgical masks shown below

The N95 and N99 masks shown below have some limited use. But it requires great skill and discipline to wear these right. Ask a medico to understand how much care they take while wearing these masks. Also, these masks need to be regularly replaced after a few days.

My go-to mask is the combination shown below –

Yes, I look like I am preparing for a chemical warfare holocaust, but the damn thing works. Why does it work?? It is not the filters, it is not the big complex housing.. It comes down to one simple thing… How good is the seal? The tight rubber fit is what makes these masks effective. I have worked with hospital staff for 2 months for ventilators and traveled from India to US with my family without catching COVID-19.

The mask consists of 4 parts.

The half-face unit – This is the skeleton of the mask. It is the re-usable part. The straps help to secure and seal the mask around your nose and mouth. Filters fit onto the holes marked as inlet.

The vapor-filter cartridges fit on to the half-face unit. The vapor-filter cartridges by themselves do not protect you from COVID-19. They are meant to protect you from harmful vapors/oils. The cartridges act as a base for the N95 filters to fit on. Also, they serve a very useful function; They block all smells and help to verify fit. If you get any smell of flowers, deodorants or even your sanitizer, it means you are not wearing the mask properly.

Organic Vapor / Acid Gas Cartridge, 6003| 6003 | 3M

N95 filters – These are the things that protect you from COVID. For a normal user, a replacement once in a month or two is good enough.

3M - 10 Qty 1 Pack White N95 Filter - 00324558 - MSC Industrial Supply

The filters needs retainers that help to fix the filters on the top of the vapour-filter catridges.

The total construction of a mask unit consists of the following –

  • 1 Half-face unit (order the right size). – 6000 series. The second digit indicates the size. e.g 6300 is the medium size. 6800 would be large size. 6100 would be small.
  • 2 vapor filter catridges – 6003
  • 2 N95 filters – 5N11
  • 2 5N11 retainers.

Ordering links on Amazon India –

Ordering links on Amazon US –

Eyes

There is no consensus on how much of COVID-19 transmission is going through eyes, but large virus loaded droplets on landing on your eyes could be as bad as droplets landing in your nose because eye lubrication ultimately drains into your nose. For those of us who do not wear spectacles for optical reason, here are the ordering links for 3M eye protection wear –

I am hoping I haven’t jinxed myself by writing this article! Fingers crossed.

Shenzhen Survival guide – Staying Vegan

I am again at HK airport on my way back to India. The lounge here happens to be my favorite place for blogging. It has been interesting as well as challenging times both at HK and China. Just completed a pilot batch of cradles before CNY and carrying some of them back to India. This completes my nearly 8 month stay at China (broken into chunks of 2 month trips).

Before we proceed, let me set some expectations straight –

  • This blog is for vegans who are vegan for the following reasons –
    • Helps the cause of non-violence
    • Saves the planet
  • It is not for these types –
    • Strict vegans who don’t want to smell/taste meat. To be honest, as a vegan I find the smell at most restaurants disgusting, but I put up with it and don’t make a big fuss amidst friends of varied dietary preferences.
    • Religious vegans. Restaurants may have re-used the oil or the pan they used for cooking meat (exceptions being vegan restaurants).

If one is in for a long haul in Shenzhen, it is impractical to seek out a vegan place everyday. But a typical restaurant usually has 1-2 dishes (of about 50 dishes) that are vegan. Most Chinese laugh and pack me off when I ask them if they have a meal that does not have egg, meat or fish. But there are ways to work around that –

Case 1: You see something interesting, but the menu says it has egg/chicken. This is often the case with fried rice.

Say or show the following in a translate app –

不想要肉,不想要鱼,不想要鸡蛋。只有蔬菜。

请向我显示菜单中的项目。

Translates to –

Dont want meat, dont want fish, dont want egg. Only vegetables.Show me the items in the menu.

Try saying it like this (does not match the text above exactly, but this is what people seem to understand) –

“boo yaw rou, boo yaw yu, boo yaw jidaan. Soo-the” Show the menu and say.. “see-an-she”.

Case 2: You scan the menu with the waiter, but you cant find anything vegan.

Say or show the following in a translate app –

我要这个。没有肉,没有鱼,没有鸡蛋。

Translates to –

I want this one. Without meat, without fish, without egg.

You can say it like this –

“Wo yaw chege, may-yo rou, may-yo yu, may-yo jidaan”

Popular veggie dishes that are available in most places. One can order some vegetable with rice (say Mee-faan for white rice ) –

Beans, Eggplant or both. This is one of my favorites. Chinese eggplants are the best ones I have ever had.

Cauliflower

Cabbage

Decent places around HQB for vegetarians –

Vegan (Sometimes, there is egg, but you can clearly see it). Futian has limited choices. Nanshan has more choices including some which have imitation meat.

  • Wanshan Tianchang Vegeterian Restaurant (万善天厨素食店) – https://goo.gl/maps/SkSSzZuzJBTJBsMZ7. There is a buffet everyday for lunch (on working days). Super good at supper low cost.
  • New Plum Garden Yuantong – https://goo.gl/maps/kQ62p5vzwn5X1qa9A (福田区深圳市广东省)
  • Namaste Indian Restaurant
  • Dawat Indian Restaurant – On the expensive side.
  • DingDingXiang – Plenty of veggie items to pick up and make your own bowl. Find it in Lotto near the escalators near Huanqiang plaza hotel.
  • Subway sandwiches – Just take the veggies.
  • NYPD pizzas – Has one vegetarian option

Setting up Shadowsocks server on AWS + clients on windows/android/linux

Intent : Secure VPN setup for bypassing firewalls. Not meant for setup of a virtual company network for secure exchange of information.

Step 1 : Setup a free tier AWS account. Can skip this step if an account is already setup. Login into your AWS account.

Step 2: Find a good location for your server. Your VPN server has to sit between the majority of the sites you access and you. For example, if you are in Asia and significant traffic is in US, HK and Tokyo make good choices. Take a look at the undersea cable map below to decide –

Courtesy : http://publichealthintelligence.org

Step 3: Choose the region in the top right corner of your AWS console.

Step 4: Browse to EC2 service

Step 5: Launch an EC2 instance.

Step 6 : Search for ubuntu instance and choose the top result (64-bit, x86)

Step 7 : Launch the instance. You may be asked to create a key or choose one. If you are creating. Make sure you download the key and keep it safely. There is no other way of logging into the newly created instance if you don’t have the key. A couple of useful links are shown on the following page. If you are new to all of this, do check out the links to understand how to login into the instance.

Step 8: Login into the instance using the key.

Step 9: Prepare for fast encryption and decryption (install libsodium). . Read this page and you will understand why – https://bearssl.org/speed.html. Also, change the TCP congestion handling algo

#install libsodium
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get -y install python-m2crypto
sudo apt-get -y install build-essential
git clone https://github.com/jedisct1/libsodium.git
cd libsodium
git checkout stable
./configure 
make 
sudo make install
sudo ldconfig
cd - 

#install BBR
wget --no-check-certificate https://github.com/teddysun/across/raw/master/bbr.sh 
chmod +x bbr.sh 
sudo ./bbr.sh

Step 10: Speed up the routing, congestion handling. Be extremely careful while copying and pasting these commands. You can completely mess up the system by getting it wrong.

sudo su - #all commands as root
echo  "net.ipv4.tcp_congestion_control = bbr" >> /etc/sysctl.conf
echo "* soft nofile 51200" >> /etc/security/limits.conf
echo "* hard nofile 51200" >> /etc/security/limits.conf
echo "session required pam_limits.so" >> /etc/pam.d/common-session
echo "ulimit -n 51200" >> /etc/profile

Step 11 : Install and configure shadowsocks

sudo apt-get -y install shadowsocks

Edit /etc/shadowsocks/config.json

{
   "server":"0.0.0.0",
   "server_port":8888,
   "local_address": "127.0.0.1",
   "local_port":1080,
   "password":"12345678",
   "timeout":300,
   "method":"chacha20",
   "fast_open": false,
   "workers": 1,
   "prefer_ipv6": false
}

Step 12: Go to the EC2 console and edit the security group on AWS to make sure the required ports a open.

Note the name of the security group. Then go the security groups in the EC2 console.

Choose, the security group noted in the earlier step. Although not advised, just for simplicity sake, just open all ports from 1000 onwards for both TCP and UDP –

Step 13 : For client side setup, follow the instructions, go here – https://shadowsocks.org/en/download/clients.html

Setting up Algo VPN on AWS + clients on windows/android/linux

Intent : Secure VPN setup for bypassing firewalls. Not meant for setup of a virtual company network for secure exchange of information.

Step 1 : Setup a free tier AWS account. Can skip this step if an account is already setup. Login into your AWS account.

Step 2: Find a good location for your server. Your VPN server has to sit between the majority of the sites you access and you. For example, if you are in Asia and significant traffic is in US, HK and Tokyo make good choices. Take a look at the undersea cable map below to decide –

Courtesy : http://publichealthintelligence.org

Step 3: Choose the region in the top right corner of your AWS console.

Step 4: Browse to EC2 service

Step 5: Launch an EC2 instance.

Step 6 : Search for ubuntu instance and choose the top result (64-bit, x86)

Step 7 : Launch the instance. You may be asked to create a key or choose one. If you are creating. Make sure you download the key and keep it safely. There is no other way of logging into the newly created instance if you don’t have the key. A couple of useful links are shown on the following page. If you are new to all of this, do check out the links to understand how to login into the instance.

Step 8: Login into the instance using the key.

Step 9: Download Algo VPN scripts from here . Or directly –

git clone https://github.com/trailofbits/algo.git

Step 10: Follow the steps prescribed here to install the dependencies, edit the user list in config.cfg and launch the script – https://github.com/trailofbits/algo

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install python3-pip
sudo apt install -y python3-virtualenv
python3 -m virtualenv --python="$(command -v python3)" .env && source .env/bin/activate && python3 -m pip install -U pip virtualenv && python3 -m pip install -r requirements.txt

While running the script, two questions are important. The rest can be left to defaults.

What provider would you like to use?
11. Install to existing Ubuntu 18.04 or 19.04 server (Advanced)

And,

Enter the public IP address or domain name of your server: (IMPORTANT! This is used to verify the certificate).

Here, you have to enter the domain name as indicated on the EC2 console. Right click on the instance and click on “Connect” to find out the domain name. It should be something like – ec2-XX-XX-XX-XX.eu-central-1.compute.amazonaws.com

Step 11: Go to the EC2 console and edit the security group on AWS to make sure the required ports a open.

Note the name of the security group. Then go the security groups in the EC2 console.

Choose, the security group noted in the earlier step. Although not advised, just for simplicity sake, just open all ports from 1000 onwards for both TCP and UDP –

Step 12 : For client side setup, follow the instructions here.

Windows installer – https://download.wireguard.com/windows-client/wireguard-amd64-0.0.29.msi

You can locate the conf files and the PNG files for scanning in a subdirectory on the server –
/algo/configs/ec2-xx-xx-xx-xx.eu-central-1.compute.amazonaws.com/wireguard

Companies are about to become obsolete. And that is a good thing!

Not too far into the future, we are going to get into a golden era of economics where everyone gets a fair share of the pie. The Economic Utopia. Yes, It is cliched, but I am an optimist, and for the lack of another word, I dare to call it Utopia. I wish I could write with such exuberance about the political structures of the future, but for now I will still stick to economics and hope that politics shall follow economics with a lag of couple of decades.

The history of economic structures has been all about just two dynamics – The creation of value and the subsequent distribution of profits. Different systems use different weights, both for the propagation of value and for the propagation of profits. Before I dive into the future, let’s understand the past through this perspective.

Creation of Value

Barely four centuries ago, very few people even knew the meaning of a company/corporation in it’s modern form. The English East India Company and the Dutch East India Company were formed in 1600 and 1612 respectively. There are examples of companies that date all the way back to 7th Century (Kongo Gumi, Japan), but most companies that existed before the 16th century were essentially family businesses where it was clear who was in-charge. The family died, the company in most cases died. More importantly, the company went bankrupt, the family went bankrupt too. The key innovation that came about in the 16th-17th century was the concept of a virtual entity. The company had a life of it’s own, independent from it’s founders. Which is why in some places it is called a corporation, or an incorporated (literally meaning “formed into a living body” in Latin). Successful companies are essentially value creators. They take raw materials and man power and deliver something that makes the world a better place (not talking about tobacco companies here). Others pay for that value so that the company thrives.

But this was not how it was always. Once upon a time, empires, kingdoms and fiefs ruled the lands. Such entities added value too. For example, they provided basic security, built trade channels and managed food supplies. But the payments received for the value were not necessarily with consent.

Time for some definitions –

VEEs – Value exchange entities. Entities which earn all of their income in commensurate to the value they add. The operative word is all. Individuals drawing fixed salaries from large corporate are obviously not VEEs.

There are two general trends through the history –

  • The creation and sustenance of such VEEs has been simplifying. In the modern era, it has come down to individuals (we refer to them as freelancers).
  • The size of the largest sustainable VEE has been increasing. We are so close to having a trillion dollar valuation company.

But no matter what the size of the VEE is, historically, it has always been challenging to estimate the value added by the VEE. This is where crypto comes in. Public verifiable ledger is the key to measuring contributions and distributing wealth while being fair and transparent.

VEEs could be –

  • A person
  • AI
  • A group of AIs (sort of like a group of people forming a company)
  • A company like it is in the current context
  • A country
  • or even the whole world.
  • If Musk has is way, Mars as one VEE and Earth as another?

PS: I wrote this nearly two years ago. But fast-forward to 2021 : Covid seems to have already accelerated this process. With remote working being the norm, why should any boundaries matter any more. It is this loosely bound system of machines and humans which are the building blocks of the VEEs that I talk about in the article.

The Bangalore Traffic Survival Guide

I have been working at TI for nearly 8 years now. I have also been living in Kadugodi for nearly 7 years in a self-owned apartment. I can already hear readers who are residents of Bangalore going “whoooaaa! Kadugodi to CV Raman Nagar!! How does this guy even do it?”. Thankfully, the truth is not as bad as it appears. I maintain very strict journey times to avoid peak traffic and manage the one way journey in 30-40 mins. My average is about 33 mins. Before I begin the rest of my story, I should thank Lord Vishnu for choosing to rest in Thirupathi. I don’t know if my theory is true, but I think Old Madras Road is maintained so that the travel to Thirupathi remains convenient. The population on this side of the city has burgeoned manifold, numerous junctions have been added, signals have come and gone, but my travel time stubbornly remains between 30-40 mins. There is some crazy disruption every few months, but the almighty gets into action soon to miraculously clear up the mess.

 KR Puram Cable Bridge
KR Puram Cable Bridge

30-40 mins of one way commute is probably in the top 20 percentile levels in Bangalore (higher percentile = lesser travel), but it is still a significant amount of time. For a long time, I was literally at war with myself; I was considering moving back to some place closer. But self-owned homes kind of grow on you; Readers who live self-owned homes can relate with me. The roots just keep going deeper. Reminds me of the great Kannada poet Kuvempu who said “ಮನೆಯನೆಂದೂ ಕಟ್ಟದಿರು …. ಓ ನನ್ನ ಚೇತನ ಆಗು ನೀನು ಅನಿಕೇತನ”. Translated as – “Rest nowhere on the unending road, never build a binding nest …. Never touch the boundary, Remain infinite and boundless!!” in a famous poem. I now know that he meant it both figuratively and literally. Once the realisation dawned upon me that a large part of my life is going to spent on the road for a long time to come, I began to think about the means to use the time spent more efficiently.

KR Puram Cable Bridge
KR Puram Cable Bridge

One could consider hiring a chauffeur, but it is an expensive option that costs upwards of Rs.12k per month and my motion sickness does not help either. I am at ease only when I am in complete control. The brake-gear-clutch-gas drudgery was unavoidable.

Back in the days when smart phone technology was not upto the mark, it was quite hard to do justice to 30-40 mins of travel time. I used some of my time on the way to office planning the day’s activities. If there is a particularly hard technical problem that demands a fair bit of imagination, a stalled car in a traffic signal is one of the best place to think about it. Infact, ~50% of the interesting ideas that I have come up with have been on old madras road.  In the evenings on the return journey, I would spend the time recalling the key events, discussions and decisions. But day dreaming is risky at times; there is always this street ninja who is out to surprise you.  On an average, I could use ~20% of the travel time thinking about things that mattered. Taking calls is another activity that one can do on the road. But our R&D team is entirely located in one office in Bangalore and there are not too many calls that I need to attend around the travel times.

Radio used to be a decent entertainment option, but most of the stuff on Radio these days is reality advertisements and other garbage. With the advent of smart phone, things changed remarkably. Music became a major component of travel. I am terrible singer, but who cares?? No one can hear me outside the car. Singing along classical singers became one of my favourite pass-times. Google Music added an entirely new dimension. I now have my entire collection online. I have playlists for various times-of-the-day, moods, people in my car etc.

Most recently, listening to books on Amazon’s Audible has become my favourite activity. I spend ~Rs.1000 every month, but that covers for nearly 50% of my time in the car. I don’t mind the traffic at all these days. Infact, there are times when I am close to one of those critical moments in a book and I wish that that last signal on my journey stays at red for a little while longer.

Shenzhen Survival Guide – Part 2 – Commute

This is from 2017. Scroll down for updates from 2019.

Between the last blog and this one, I have travelled to Shenzhen another 4 times.  I have survived through one typhoon and multiple flu episodes during the same time in Shenzhen. The construction landscape is so dynamic that the city manages to have some surprise in store every time I land. The last time I visited the place was in mid January (this month).

Deng Xiaoping's statue gets to look at the city of his dreams from Lianhuashan Park
The view that Deng Xiaoping’s statue gets to look at the city of his dreams from Lianhuashan Park.

For any person living far away from Mainland china, the best way to get in and out of the city is to catch a flight to HK airport and use the ferry. They now have an all new swanky port at Shekou!  Try to avoid having a checked in baggage to save precious time. For most part of the day, the ferries are 1 hr apart. It does not matter whether you have a checked in baggge or not, you have to have about 2.5 hrs of margin time between the flight landing time and the ferry departure time. The ferry takes only about 20 mins to cover the distance between HK airport and the Shekou port, but rules are rules. Immigration is a breeze. From the new prince bay port at Shekou, one can take a shuttle to go to the old port. Metro station is closer to the old port. Taxis and buses are also available at the new port.  For departures from HK airport, arrive 4 hrs before scheduled flight departure at the Shekou port. You can choose to check the baggage in at HK airport or at the ferry terminal itself. Be sure to carry Chinese Yuan (Remnibi) to the port (I have had one hell of an experience by not following this guideline, and that should make for another story). They do not accept any card (including union bank card for the smarties who are reading this, smiling and saying “I have a Chinese bank account and a union bank card!! he he he!”) and there is no ATM at the new port as of today. Do not forget to visit the airlines counter once you get to HK airport to collect your tax refund coupon of 120HKD which you can avail at the tax refund counter!

The new prince bay port at Shenzhen
The new prince bay port at Shenzhen

Inside the city, metro is the best way to commute. Choose an accommodation that is near a metro station; ideally near a metro junction such as “The windows of the world” station. Airbnb should work fine, but take care to report to a nearby police station and register yourself (They freak out if you are a foreigner who is off the radar. Read the instructions on your landing card for updates on this). Buy a Shenzhen-HK Tong (metro-card) to make your life easy. It looks like the image below –

Shenzhen-HK Tong
Shenzhen-HK Tong

It costs 50 Yuan and you need to add additional 50 Yuan at the minimum to start your commute. It is totally worth it. It works from a couple of cm. So you need not pull it out of your wallet to swipe. You may need to visit a major station such as “The windows of the world” to buy this card.

Shenzhen grows faster than it’s metro. There are many places worth going where the metro won’t take you. For all such places, use Didi (Chinese equivalent of Uber). I have very rarely needed to take a Taxi though. Shenzhen is relatively free from pollution (compared to Shanghai or Beijing); Whenever I get a chance, I walk.

I have not needed to take a bus so far (other than the free shuttle from prince-bay port to older Shekou port). So I can’t speak much about it. But, given the reach of the metro, metro + Didi works just fine.

Updates from 2019

Metro : The Shenzhen-HK Tong is so passe now. Wechat is the new cool tool that solves just about everything in Shenzhen. I will cover the wechat howto in another post. The Shenzhen-HK Tong is still good to have as a backup when you run out of juice in your mobile phone. I had this one situation when I checked-in into a metro station using the phone, but the phone died before I got to the destination station. I just walked up to the help center and explained in broken Chinese + English. But they probably understood the sign language more than spoken words. The guard at the metro was quite helpful. He pulled out a map and asked me to point to me starting station. I had to then pay the remaining amount using my Tong and was let to go. Could also pay using cash here.

Commute to HK airport: Ferry is still my favorite. All the more so because of the unrest in HK. Almost all of the points mentioned above hold true. The port has become better though with more facilities.  There is finally an ATM at the port and the ticket counters now accept Wechat or Alipay. But there are times when Ferry is not an option. The first ferry starts at about 7:00AM. Check the latest timetable here. So if one has to catch a flight before 11:00AM in the morning, Ferry is a risky option. In such cases, going through Huanggang port makes more sense.

Huanggang port details : 

  1. Catch Didi to get to “Huanggang port departure hall” (type this exactly in the English version of the app.  Yes!! Didi has an all English version that actually works.
  2. You will get here

    Courtesy : chinadiscovery.com
  3. Ask around for Limo. Usually you get dropped on 1st floor. You have to go down to ground floor. Get here –
  4. Buy a ticket to HK airport. Should look like this.
  5. You will be guided to go through passport control. You will get on the HK side and be made to wait here
  6. As soon as 4 passengers are ready, you will be taken into a Taxi and escorted to airport. There will be a in vehicle check.

The total journey to airport after you reach Huanggang port can take anywhere between 1.5 hrs to 2.5 hrs. This includes wait time, immigration time and the transit time. So please keep margins accordingly. Typically you are in good shape if you are at the port 4.5hrs before the departure.

Shenzhen Survival Guide – Part 1 – Information Channels

 

ShenzhenHKBridge
Bridge connecting Shenzhen and Hongkong

Given the increasing attention deficit that the youth is suffering from, I decided to split this one into multiple posts. The series is for relevant for any of the following groups (in the decreasing order) –

  • People going for a short period of work to Shenzhen.
  • People who want to do a hardware startup and just figured out that they need to go Shenzhen. It is the Mecca of electronics.
  • People who travel to Shenzhen often (>2 times a year)

I am writing the post on Information Channels first, because communication is more important that anything else. I can’t (for that matter no one can) describe Shenzhen in every detail in one book let alone a blog post. With the right tools to search and communicate, anyone can figure out the rest.

 

The most important basic human rights are – access to clean and healthy air, water, internet, food and shelter (in that order). I don’t believe I have any fish as my audience. So, I don’t need to write about getting air and water in the right proportions in Shenzhen. And to the relief of the land animals, at the least with respect to these two elements, china is no different. But when it comes to internet, if the literary critics allow me a small degree of freedom, china is “infoccating” (intentional double c for the effect). To the uninformed, this is the realization sequence –

  • Our hero lands in china, goes to the hotel, connects to wifi to figure out a few things. Types something in google and nothing happens for a long time. Somebody had mentioned Baidu to this goody-2-shoes and so he types www.baidu.com and yo! bingo ! internet!!. But then, it slowly dawns upon him that majority searches need translation. Also, Baidu’s AI has much to learn. Google natural language search through the years has unknowingly let us become dumb once again.
  • Then he goes to a restaurant and looks at the menu. Recalls that he was bad at Pictionary anyway.  The smarty pants picks up his phone with a grin and tries google translate ….. nothing happens…. 2 mins.. still nothing…. and finally realizes that he has hit the aptly called Great Firewall of China once again!! Now what?? Act like a monkey so someone may toss a banana or two and finally get something vegetarian to eat!

Google services are Firewalled in China except in few companies and the higher end hotels. So are Facebook and twitter.  Whatsapp works though! You see, Zuckki did not pay $19B for nothing. So what is the way out? VPNs to the rescue. It is said that even a 2 year old in china knows how to connect to VPN. But not all VPN services are really useful. Specially the free ones.  After many trials and errors, I have locked on to VyprVPN. Use the paid version. It costs about $10 a month at the moment. Totally worth it in China. Do not forget to cancel the subscription once you return. It is easy to get fleeced with automatic monthly subscriptions.  Chinese firewall is not that easy to breach, the VPN keeps getting disconnected if you try the usual suspects – HK, any site in US, South East Asia etc. Try something exotic like Argentina or some eastern European country.  Argentina was my personal favorite. As an alternative to all of this, I tried working with Baidu services for sometime – Maps, Translate etc.. But gave up after sometime. For two reasons.. 1. They suck. 2. With the phone permissions that you need to grant them, you have basically sold your soul.

VyprVPN Logo
VyprVPN Logo

For communicating with people, Wechat is a must. It is even better than google translate. Google translate on a VPN or even otherwise takes 2-3 seconds to turn around.  Wechat does it under 1 second. In my cumulative stay of greater than 20 days, I have not come across a single person in China without a Wechat ID.  Wechat features an inbuilt translator. Each person on either end can type in his own language and the other one can view the message with translation. Just walk up to any person you want to talk to and show your Wechat ID QR code. This is one gesture that most people recognize (even though they don’t agree countrywide on the basic gestures such as the gestures for numbers 7 and 10). The other person will scan it and you are instantly connected! Wechat is also more than just the one-to-one chat. It is a platform for chatrooms and other services. One such very useful one is the Spoonhunt service. The service helps find nearby restaurants sorted by cuisines and customer ratings.

Wechat - QR code scanning
Wechat – QR code scanning

To be able to do any of the above on the move, it is necessary to have good mobile internet. There are plenty of options for buying prepaid SIM card. The service that has maximum coverage in China is China Unicom. I usually walk upto a store with some Chinese currency and a passport and buy the appropriate package as per the length of stay and data requirements. Within Shenzhen, the nearest store is typically within 10 minutes of walk. Cash is a must in most places in China. 99.99% of the places do not accept VISA, Amex, Mastercard based cards. At the time of this post, ~200RMB is sufficient to buy a week’s worth of talk-time and data. Google hangout dialer or skype can be used for international calling whenever the tower signal is good. It can be hard using VoIP during the metro rides. In emergencies, GSM based calling is reasonable too. At the time of this post, it is 10RMB/min for a call to India. Although, I have not felt the strong need, some people have suggested using online services to pre-order a SIM card to the hotel – http://www.3gsolutions.com.cn/. The convenience of getting the SIM card without having to walk to a store is probably worth it. Also, when you are buying a SIM card at the physical store, it is one conversation for which you can’t use google translate or Wechat services. The other advantage with the online service is that you can share the Chinese phone number in advance with the people concerned. There is also an option for a pay-as-you-go permanent Chinese phone number. In my last visit, I used the VPN service from 3gsolutions and found it to be good, infact better than VyprVPN. It is a bit pricey though at $7/week. The VPN service works even for people who have not bought a simcard from 3gsolutions. For people who want to frequent between HK and Senzhen, refer to this – http://hktravelblog.com/sim-cards/top-hong-kong-prepaid-sim-card/

China Unicom Store
China Unicom Store

The Mosquiteer! – Reprise

I am writing a blog almost after two years of silence. There is a good reason for the silence as well as the breaking of it. My daughter kept me very busy – That answers the first part. The mosquitoes got back at me.. and not just me, Radhika (my wife) too. My last post was ironically about my fight against mosquitoes when I was trying to secure the home and the surroundings before I got Anushka (my daughter) back to our Bangalore home from the maike at Pune. So I had to write this and get back at the mosquitoes again. Let me begin with some drama –

The Fall

On June 2nd, we were waiting for our Bangalore-Pune flight boarding to begin. I was in some sort of in-cohesive mental and physical state. Suddenly Radhika, who was until that moment running around Anushka, said – “Hey! we are at the wrong gate. What are you doing??” I turned around and saw, she was right! Run!! We were the last people to enter the flight. We were even lucky that they let us in. I still wonder where I got the energy from to run in that state. Earlier that day in the morning, the day started quite normally. We sent Anushka to her pre-school and started taking a peaceful morning walk. A little while later, Radhika went to shop some vegetables, I was preparing to go to office and suddenly I started feeling feverish. By the time Radhika was back, I was lying in two layers of blanket trying to feel normal. Immediately, she took me to the hospital. Columbia Asia is supposed to be a whatever * hospital and still they caused so much delay in just taking my blood while I was sitting (rather trying to sit) on the bench. Anyways, let me get back at them with all the *#& words included  in another blog. 2 hrs later I was diagnosed Dengue positive.

I was in a state of shock! Not just because it was Dengue, but because if there is a competition on paranoia about mosquitoes, I would be in the top 99.99 percentile range. Damn it, I even wrote a blog about it thinking I have mastered the art of keeping the pesky buzzers away. By evening I was having fever close to 104°F and paracetamol tablets weren’t really helping beyond an hour of relief. Radhika had started to feel unwell too. But it was not as bad as it was with me and so we ignored it assuming that it must be some minor viral fever and she just popped in a paracetamol. But since both were feeling unwell and there was Anushka to be taken care of, we decided to mitigate the risk and fly to Pune immediately. Thankfully my father-in-law is a doctor and runs his own nursing home in Pune with the home on the top floor and the nursing home in the lower floors.

Once we reached Pune, all was taken care of. I was immediately on saline and a cocktail of drugs was pushed into my veins within 1 hr of my arrival. Radhika was feeling all ok for the moment. A day later, her fever started to recur. But since I was the Jamai Raja and she wasn’t falling down like me, people brushed her complaints. Infact, she was taking care of me. Finally, on morning of 4th June, after repeated complaints, they tested her blood and she was turned out to be Dengue positive too. One hell of a Sati Savithiri. She decided to give me company even with Dengue. I hate the movie, but it was our little “The Notebook” moment. From that moment till 9th June, we slept together for the longest time ever!! I can’t remember much in between as it was just drugs and nightmares all through. And oh! yes, I remember the unbelievably bitter Papaya leaf extract too. Supposedly it helped, I reached a lowest platelet count of 75,000 which is considered very safe (but who knows if it really helped. Radhika drank Aloe Vera and she seemed to be doing even better). But there was one particular night I remember. My creativity suddenly spiked. I was thinking, blabbering and writing like never before (must be the tramadol doze, it works like Ganja). If the moment had lasted for 10 more hours, I would have probably solved all the unsolved problems in physics. But alas, I was juiced out after 30 mins. At that moment, I doubt started creeping in my mind that many of the products of genius such as Beethoven’s works, Mozart’s works or even my personal hero Feynman’s works are probably products of Hashish, Ganja, LSD or something like that. Can’t say for sure till we invent a time machine.

Although the fever had subsided, it took us a couple more days before we could start moving around. Even on 12th June, one floor felt like a major trek in the western ghats. The illness had left me feeling like I was part of some major gang war and I was flogged all over. I do not know if something could be worse, but Radhika supposedly felt even worse with major joint pains. She even almost fainted once due to low BP. Finally, we returned to Bangalore on the morning of 13th. The only good news was that Anushka did not get dengue and she spent time happy times with her maternal grandparents.

Back to Paranoia

The battle was lost, but the war had to go on. I realized I can’t fight alone. Some of us in our apartment (mostly dengue veterans) got together and discussed. We started fumigation using citronella and neem oil on a larger scale around the apartments. Got a very good contact in Bangalore to source the same at reasonable prices – Falcon essential oils. For homes, one can put the oils directly in a mist sprayer and spray it around. A mix of 80% citronella with 10% neem and 10% eucalyptus is quite effective as well as pleasant to the senses. Note that the odor is quite strong, so don’t spray it like your car cleaner liquid. Also, it does not help much to spray it all over the house. The spray has to be mainly used near the entry points for mosquitoes such as front doors, windows without insect meshes etc. For common areas in apartments, a minimum of 1 litre per acre is recommended. Since one can’t spray so thin and even, mix 1 litre in 100 litres of water and use a regular fumigation equipment to fumigate the common areas. Spray the oils at about 4:00PM as dengue mosquitoes are day mosquitoes and become active well before the regular mosquitoes start their onslaught. There are some conveniently bottled sprays such as the ones below, but they are way more expensive as compared to procuring from some local essential oils dealer –

CitronellaSpray

Radhika and I started applying the Dabur repellant cream when we step out –

DaburOdomas

it says “naturals”, but it is not. As of now, 100% guarantee from mosquito bytes is provided only by a reasonably safe chemical called DEET and this cream contains the same. it’s safety on children is highly debated on the web. I wouldn’t take a chance given that it can cause neurological disorders. But it is certified by NIMA to be used even on babies. Natural solutions work, but only to some extent. For my daughter, I had to try various creams before finalizing on this one from Vitro –

VitroCitronella

Also, you get various citronella patches such as these – DaburPatches

It is recommended to use two of them simultaneously. One on the leg and one on the shoulder for best effects. But as I mentioned before, none of these natural solutions are 100% percent effective against mosquito bites.

For completion sake, I want to mention again that insect nets on windows are a must in a city like Bangalore as mentioned in my previous post. There are very good vendors such as the ones below (I have tried both and got excellent service)

Pinchood – Specialize in magnetic nets around the windows. But french windows are not exactly their area of expertize.

Delmen – Good at handling French windows and front doors. Might be good at normal magnetic nets around windows too, but I have not tried.

Even after doing all of the above, it is better to flush mosquitoes by using regular mosquito coils for about 40 mins in the evening with all doors and windows closed. You can go around for a walk to avoid all the Allethrin breathing. Once you are back, open all the windows (with meshes of course) and feel free to breath again. To make it even better, some fragrance from a sandal dhoop from Cauvery can help.

Lastly, I wrote this blog hoping it will spread awareness on prevention of dengue. Note that all I have written about is the last line of defense. The ideal way is to prevent mosquito breeding itself by making sure there is not stagnant water and blah blah!. You will find that on NHP site. But unfortunately, sometimes you don’t exactly have control on what your neighbours are doing.

The Mosquiteer!

If you have been following my blog, you would know that I am a new father. About a month ago I had to bring my wife and kid back from the Maike (Mother’s home in Hindi). One of the big ticket items on my list before I brought them here was mosquito control. Our area (Kadugodi) in Bangalore is one of worst affected in terms of mosquito infestation. The corporation doesn’t give a damn. What’s worse is that a size-able percentage of these mosquitoes are the exotic variety that spread DengueAedes Aegypti.

Aedes_aegypti
Aedes aegypti Courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aedes_aegypti#mediaviewer/File:Aedes_aegypti.jpg

Dengue is a very dangerous disease to ignore. It has no known vaccine or cure. The body can only be helped to survive and heal itself. In kids specially, it can be fatal. All this drove me to Paranoia.  In this post, I have listed the various methods of mosquito control that I have tried and the highlighted ones that seem to work best.

Blockade

The best method of mosquito control is to simply mesh up the entire home. All windows/door/exit fans. We had already meshed our home some 3 years ago. What we had not anticipated was that the nets would tear in a few places within such a short period. I had to search for some kind of glue that will fix it. Finally, some pipe sealing glue worked perfectly. Once the nets were fixed, we were dealing with only a handful of mosquitoes per day that somehow managed to hitchhike a ride whenever someone was going in or out from one of the balcony doors or the main entrance. But to make the night miserable, all it takes is just one mosquito.  So, I had to take the war to the next level.

All out war

I had to try some of the usual suspects – Mosquito coils, liquidators etc. All of them worked, but I was worried about the effects they will have on a 4 month old baby. I myself felt drowsy in the mornings whenever I used a liquidator. I am pretty sure, it would do no good to a small kid. The other issue is that you need to keep using the liquidator day long as Dengue mosquitoes usually bite during the day . But some small harm still sounded better than Dengue/Malaria. I also tried the regular Dhoop (Incense). Dhoop is probably not as harmful to us as most of the commercial products. Also, the sandalwood fragrance is soothing. Overall, Dhoop seemed better than the regular liquidators, but the effects were very temporary.

In the middle of all this, I started wondering if I am the only guy who is struggling with this issue. Definitely this is an age old problem and someone should have solved it! I searched online and came across some mosquito killer machines. Although, I did not believe in their efficacy, I thought of giving it a try. I tried this one – Wantrn.

wantrn

 

They claim two things – Lighting and a special TiO2 coating that emits CO2 to attract mosquitoes. The TiO2 coating claim is obviously a fraud. To emit as much carbon-dioxide as a human, one would have to heat about a Kg of TiO2. A coating would do nothing. I still had some hope that the lighting might trick the mosquitoes. There was no way to know other than ordering one for Rs.1000 and trying it out. The experiment was a disaster. Over a period of one week, under various conditions (light/dark, windy/still air, at various heights) the machine managed to catch zero mosquitoes! absolute zilch! I gave up.

Minimum Deterrence

Serai
Lemongrass. Note the bulbs that contain the oil. Courtesy : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymbopogon#mediaviewer/File:Serai.jpg

I finally zeroed in upon some organic solutions. For example, Lemongrass oil is a very good repellent. Note that repellents are better than those that kill because, if you kill, you let evolution get the better of you eventually. If you just repel, you win! I tried making some oil using lemon grass and it seemed to work. But it turned out to be both cumbersome and expensive. Finally, I ordered some lemon grass oil from a local vendor who sold it for Rs.400/500gms. For an average Indian home, 500gms should last for about 6 to 12 months easily.

For using lemongrass oil as a repellent, pour about 2ml of the oil in about 300ml of water, shake well to form an emulsion. Spray the solution near the entrances. With the combination of lemon grass and the meshing, I am finally getting a good night’s sleep.  Also, lemongrass oil has a refreshing aroma. It is clearly quite harmless as it is also used in some forms of tea. It is quite surprising that such a cost effective and safe solution is not so popular.