Blogs

Montreal Jazz Festival 2012

This year was the 33rd edition of the festival and it ran from Jun 28 through July 7.
They had 800+ concerts, 600+ activity/animation areas around the festival!

For general festival details and tips, visit this local page: Montreal Jazz Festival.

A few samples from the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival, and the stage where they played [ site map ]:

Sidi Touré Les Soirées Jazzy stage

The Pitbull of Blues Band Les Soirées Blues stage

Bob Harrisson Les Soirées Blues stage

Danakil Groove stage

La Chiva Gantiva Les Tropiques stage

Lady Linn and her Magnificent Seven Les Soirées Jazzy stage

Besh O Drom Les Performances TD main stage (Clip 1)
Besh O Drom Les Performances TD main stage (Clip 2)

Chicha Libre Les Tropiques stage

Chromeo Event closing performance (Clip 1) Electronica rules!

Sideshows in the designated activity areas:
Acrobatics
Drums

Official video clips of most of the music shows: All Videos (though not sure how long they will keep the official site up).

US Health Care - Confusing and Confounding

The US medical system continues to confuse and confound - this time my strange tale is regarding the worst aspect of this system - the pricing and the billing.

Some conservatives loudly trumpet that consumers must be made aware of medical costs and that such comparison shopping will reduce the cost of medical care in the US medical system.

Bah, humbug, I say! The system is geared towards making that not work at all. The people who wish to self-insure and pay out of their pocket end up getting a raw deal.

The biggest problem with "comparison shopping" for medical care is that it is not possible. When you are in the doctor's office, and he or she tells you to get a bunch of tests done or a bunch of exams from other specialists - it is impossible to start asking questions and inquire about costs. Then we are told that before getting such exams done, the consumers should call up the insurance company and the doctor to make sure the costs involved are understood. This fails too - it is difficult to get a reasonable answer from them - since they can't know the cost until they examine the patient. And there are so many rules and exceptions that it is really not possible to get any idea of the cost involved before the treatment.

Even after all that, when the time comes to bill the consumer - the self-insured consumer who wants to pay from their own pocket gets completely shafted by the system.

In this story, my mistake was assuming that when my insurance said things like: "we cover preventive care", "we don't cover dental", and "we don't cover eye-glasses", it meant that they would cover preventive eye exams. That was completely wrong. They did not cover preventive eye care.

A tale of two jeans - $200 vs $25

After years of always buying Levi's 505 jeans, curiosity got the better of me and this year I ended up with two different blue jeans:
One is just under $200. Brand name does not matter, but there are many brands in this range: AG Jeans, 7 For All Mankind, Brooks Brothers Levi's, Citizens of Humanity, Hudson Jeans, Fidelity Denim, True Religion Brand Jeans, etc.
The other is $25 - way less cost, newly found at Target and made by Levi's: denizen jeans and sold in a few countries only: denizen USA.

Now all that matters about pants is that they feel comfortable and in the end blue jeans are just blue jeans! Given that the denizen jeans look pretty good, and I frankly can't find the difference between many of the jeans under $50 and the ones over $150. Maybe this year I'll find out if there is any difference, now that I have one of each. I doubt it, will update this post if things change and the cheaper jean just falls apart or zipper just fails or something. Otherwise, for now, I think the inexpensive jeans are just as good as the expensive ones :-)

Computerized directions can be completely wrong

This is a cautionary tale about depending on getting directions from a web site.
This example is using Google Maps, but I suspect such problems lie with all the systems.

I know Montreal pretty well, so when this person looking lost on the street showed me the Google Map directions I was astonished to see that the directions were completely in the opposite direction to the desired destination.
It claimed to provide walking directions from Metro Station Place-d'Armes to The Quays Skating Rink, Ville-Marie, Montreal. Now The Quays are in Old Montreal - which is South of the metro.

Google Maps gets that right when you just search for quays skating rink in Montreal. But it somehow gets confused when Get Directions is clicked for that place, with a starting point of Station Place-d'Armes. Instead of telling the user to head south towards the river the directions point northwards into the city!
There is no skating rink in that part of the town at all. And the Quays are quite famous landmarks in Montreal. So this was a fail on the part of Google Maps. Not a big deal actually keeping in mind that it is easy to use Google Maps itself to get a second opinion regarding directions to verify them.

To back up, here are the directions from the Google printout I saw:

1. Head northeast on Avenue Viger O toward Rue Saint-Urbain.
This is actually confusing. The Metro is right on that street, so Ouest or Est is not very helpful. Secondly, people in Montreal are used to calling streets going northeast-southwest as just east-west.
2. Turn left on Rue Saint Urbain.
3. Turn right on Boul Rene-Levesque O S
4. Turn left on Rue Clark - 60m.
Arrive: The Quays Skating Rink, Ville Marie, QC (NOT!)

Getting started with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Until recently I was happy with an old-school phone-only phone. Now I have some time on a phone-that-does-more-than-calls smartphone. It is a unlocked GSM Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

First impressions are that this is great fun - a lot of opportunities to waste time of course. And it also can make and receive phone calls, but that seems like an minor side feature nowadays.

Unfortunately, the whole experience is not yet completely satisfactory. Lot of minor and major glitches abound, and it took a while to get some simple essential tools enabled.
My goal was to get the 16GB device to work mostly over Wi-Fi and use it as an offline MP3 music and .avi/mp4/flv video player. And to play long audio books well, with bookmarking capability.

Not so simple, it turns out!

Google Voice does not work over Wi-Fi
This does not work on the phone! Having been accustomed to using Google Voice on my computer, I expected a phone with no service (no SIM) should have Google Voice work over Wi-Fi. No luck. And a web search does not yield much info - no help at the Google Voice support pages certainly.
Some web pages do suggest that this is probably due to the legacy phone carriers imposing their will on Google. Maybe - but would be nice if this was clear on Google Voice pages, and it is still confusing that this holds true when there is no SIM - and no carrier involved at all.
In any case, the final answer is that Google Voice does not work on the phone over Wi-Fi. It must have a carrier voice and data plan.
Google Voice works great!

Ubunutu 11.10 Installation Issues

After over a year with Fedora 13, I updated my home desktop system to Ubuntu 11.10

Some 10+ years ago I hoped installing Linux would get easier over the years and one day I would be able to recommend it to non-tech family members. No such luck - getting ubuntu 11.10 up and running took too much time, and required too many difficult fixes.

My home machine runs a web browser. It is used for some minor video processing, GIMP image editing, digikam photo management, and is a host for a KVM/QEMU virtual machine that runs a web server for some specific tasks.

When installing a new operating system, I keep existing partitions so /home, etc is left unchanged. / is on its own, so can be completely cleaned and used by the new installer.
Most partitions are in a volume group, so LVM is necessary for booting.

  1. First hurdle was downloading the installer, the Live CD. Pick the recommend 32-bit even though I (and all new computers in past 2+ years too) have 64-bit machines? Pick standard installer or dig into deeper links for the "alternate" installer? After a bunch of wrong downloads, and a lot of web searching - since Ubuntu site itself is not very helpful - determined that 64-bit install is just fine, and since I need to keep my existing partitions, the alternate installer is what I need and standard would not work (maybe!). Or at least that this combination would definitely do what I needed, and it was not clear if the standard install is good enough. So went with 64-bit alternate installer.
  2. To run the alternate installer, I needed this information: info from old fstab and df to assign partitions. During the install, I formatted / but left /home and /data alone. These were all LVM volume groups. /boot was a physical partition. Also needed IP address info - the fixed IP address and gateway IP. For hostname, used name.localdomain (i.e. localdomain single word after hostname).

Unknown Singer in 59th St Subway NYC

There is always something interesting wherever you go in New York.

This weekend, waiting for the #1 downtown train at the 59th St station, the subway travelers were treated to a really incredible singer. She was on the opposite side platform, so the snippet Video of the Unknown 59th St Singer is a bit dark and noisy, but the singer's voice comes through quite nicely. A snapshot grabbed from the video.

The video is of Mad World, Google search says it is by Gary Jules (Mad World), also on Donnie Darko Soundtrack. And covered by many other singers as well. But this unknown singer on the subway, she was the best, and she had the best stage too!

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying, Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very very
Mad World, Mad World ...

The lyrics fit the haunting voice of the singer very well, but she was even better in a previous song she sang,
Simon And Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair.

Really, really, great to hear such nice singing, in the busy underground world of NYC subways. To whoever that singer was, thank for your singing this weekend [2011-Nov-12].

Absurd Logic of the Russell Place Condos Board in Arlington, MA

This is about an interior fence in Arlington that is so revered by the Russell Place Condo Board, that they can think of absolutely no change that can be done to it, whether small or large.

Is this a border or boundary fence, you might ask? No, it isn't.

Is this a structural fence, you might ask? No, it isn't.

Is this protecting an important section, guiding peoples' passage, you might ask? No, it doesn't.

It ends up a pretty funny story and shows the absurd logic of the Board in defending their "No" answers regarding any change to the wooden fence.

The web is filled with the stories about crazy things that Condo Board of Trustees do. Most stories are nightmares, such as the Home Sweet Hell news report, and an entire blog devoted to Condos Nightmares And Other Enigmas.

The links above have quotes like "... That meant they controlled what condo fees everyone in the three-unit building paid, what would or wouldn’t get done to the property’s common areas..." and a description of what happens to normal people when they have to deal with a board of trustees - you enter the world of Rights-Deprived Citizens in America!

The articles above suggest that very small condo associations are a problem because a small number of people can gang up and completely control what goes on in the entire condo complex.
And that larger groups are much better, because no one small group can dictate their terms over all.
It sort-of makes sense, but turns out that does not turn out like that in practice.

Reliance Global Call - Drops Calls

2012 July update: After months of not using Reliance, I tried it again for a few times this month and it seemed to work fine for a couple of times. But then, it failed again - after 5 minutes into the call, the audio got cut-off, but the connection was still alive. So this is still not usable, all that has changed is it takes longer for the audio to cut out.


Starting in the middle of 2011, the calling card from Reliance GlobalCall has been a disaster to use. Every time I connect from the US to some number in India using their local access numbers, the audio abruptly cuts out. And there is just silence on the call at my end, and lot of static at the other end. This happens anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes into the call. At peak times on weekends it is really bad and cuts off in under 10-30 seconds.

For years, using Reliance to call India from US worked fine. Starting sometime in 2011, it has been touch-and-go, most of the time the conversation gets cut off even though the line is still connected.

Craigslist full of rental scams

So Craigslist is making it hard to post ads for real posters who care about their privacy (Craigslist Wants Your Phone Number) and simultaneously letting very easy-to-spot scam postings totally fill their vacation rental pages!

New York, and London - just look at the vacation rental pages on craigslist. So easy to spot the scams - when you see the same pattern of ad repeated many times, it is a scam. In addition to scams, craigslist is now filled with useless Airbnb postings which are just noise and do not provide a contact email address or phone number. The Airbnb automated postings are for Airbnb members only - craigslist should not allow them, they are just ads for Airbnb.

There are many sites with information on scams: Rental Scams, and here's a guide to craigslist scams. And important to note that while it is easy to spot the scammers that are from out-of-town, there are also scams involving local people, as shown in NY Times - Renters Get Swindled and Scammed article.

The easy signs of a scam are poor English in the posting and in subsequent communication, too many postings that look the same with different rentals and different email addresses, "contract" does not contain dates (they want you to fill in dates which means they don't really care), you can change dates a lot and apartment will still be available, and sometimes - low prices (no way a NYC midtown 2-bedroom apartment is available for $200/day). And if you ask to see the apartment and the renting agent immediately (even just as a bait - ask this even if you are not in that town), they will make up a reason why that is not possible, and that indicates a scam.