BIXI Montreal Subscriptions for Tourists

Visiting Montreal between Spring and Fall means it is BIXI bike season!

While the BIXI web site does not make it clear, it is possible for US residents to sign up for a BIXI subscription.
30-day membership is CA$30 for the 2016 season and it is worth it even if you are just visiting for at least 7 days in a 30-day period. These subscriptions also offer 45 minute rides instead of the normal 30 minute rides.

Sign up for the subscription a couple of days before your arrival. The sign up page will ask for a Canadian address. Use your hotel address. You'll receive an email confirming subscription and if the email says that they are going to mail the BIXI key to the address, then call the BIXI customer service center and tell them not to send the key and that you'll pick up the key personally.

You can pick up the key from a handful of main STM Metro Stations during normal working hours. Berri-UQAM is one of the stations that is also open on the weekend.

Once you have the key, call up customer service and they will attach the key to your account and activate it.

BIXI key instructions has a picture and instructions on using the key - ready to ride!

Be sure to read the FAQ and the Instructions at the BIXI web site. Any mistake can end up with $1000+ charge on your credit card. Be sure to check that the LED indicator turns green after you return and dock a bike.

Disclaimer: The above instructions worked for me in 2016. Be sure to read up all the BIXI rules on their website and also call up the customer service center for any additional information.

In addition to the key, it is quite critical to have a smartphone with a data plan since the BIXI phone app is critical to have. Many times you'll find docks full or no bikes at docks so having an app to quickly see all nearby BIXI stations with available bikes or free docks on a map is essential.

Sambar Recipe ( सांबर )

Turned out great. Quantity overshot a lot, did not need that much!

Probably cooked around 16 cups (4 quarts in a 5-qt pot), needed only around 6-10 cups of sambar.

This was very easy to cook using prepared sambar powder. Only thing is that it needs a number of ingredients.
Sambar is great in that one can add any vegetables. For me, drumsticks are a must. For fun and because I like the texture, I also added Woodear mushrooms from the local Korean shop!
Serve sambar with rice or dosa or idli.

The tricky thing here is how much hot red chilli to add. Chillies or chilli powder can't be added as salt can, it requires cooking, so difficult to adjust it while cooking. I added 4 chillies, 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder, along with the 2 tablespoons of sambar powder (which also has the chilli spices), and it turned out a bit on the hot/spicy side. So for the recipe below, I removed the 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, though if you like things hot, feel free to add it.


Time: 60-90 minutes
Serves: 10-16 (makes around 4 quarts or 16 cups)

Toor dal - 1/3 cup
Masoor dal - 1/3 cup
Wash dals, soak in cold water for around 30 minutes.
Then add 3-5 cups water as needed, boil it, lower to simmer and cook until they almost dissolve. No need to mash it, just fine with boiling. Takes around 30-40 minutes.

Tamarind - soak 1-2 tablespoons in 3/4 cup warm water for 30 minutes then filter it out to get tamarind juice. Or use 1 tablespoon tamarind paste and add it while cooking.

In parallel, cook the sambar. Some recipes call for just boiling all the vegetables with the spices, while some saute vegetables and then proceed to boiling. I prefer the latter, though I'm told it probably makes no difference in the final taste.

Mustard seeds - 1 teaspoon
Cumin Seeds - 2 teaspoons
Curry Leaves (kadi patta) - 10-12
Dry red whole chillies - 3-5
Oil - 2-4 tablespoons

Creating a static Drupal site

After years of very little activity and the inability to upgrade Drupal from 6.0 due to missing modules in 7.0, this site will now soon be archived and all the existing content will be served using static pages.

Given the use of the Acidfree module and Forum module, and RSS feeds, it made the task a bit more difficult than the standard techniques blogged about elsewhere. In addition to that, I also wanted to archive it in a sub-dir and continue to serve the old pages from the old path (as much as possible), so need a bunch of new .htaccess rules too. Putting this in a sub-dir would allow me in the future to install another web site management tool on the web site and keep both the new pages and the old Drupal pages around.

First check out all the info at:

The reason we use httrack instead of wget is to keep the internal links as they are without having them get a .html suffix. wget also adds .1, .2, etc to downloaded pages in an unpredictable way, and makes handling Drupal pagination messy, so all this makes it harder to fix up the .html files (which one could do somewhat by using sed scripts on downloaded files to remove the .html from text and use .htaccess RewriteRule commands to add it back in). HTTrack has a -N rewrite option to do this. Only problem is that it only allows for a single rewrite rule, so all filename.jpg files become filename/index.jpg, etc. (But that is easily fixed by a httrack patch provided below which allows for two -N rewrite rules.)

Static archive as of 2014

Well, that was the plan, but turns out it is not a big deal to keep Drupal going on 6.38, the last and final update.

Did have to fix up some modules to disallow Logins and Comments from anonymous users, and now site does not use much load on the hosting machine and still allows me to update the pages. Nearly all of the load was due to hackers/spammers trying to post messages and the need to check for spam.

Old post:
This site is no longer using Drupal. All the pages have been migrated to static web pages that are shown here now.

So there is no commenting or creating new forum topics here anymore. My email address and my Google+ pages will continue to be valid.

See the post Creating a static Drupal site here for details on what was done.

New York MetroCard Refill Calculator

Yet another MetroCard refill calculator! Tourists to New York will likely use the stored-value version of the MetroCard. New York MTA makes things difficult by making it hard to figure out how much money to add to minimize leftover amounts, given that they offer a bonus on purchases over a certain amount.

While there are many calculators and Android and iPhone applications that claim to do this, those calculators try to bring the leftover amount to zero. But a tourist is more likely interested in getting a certain number of tickets, and paying for it without having too much leftover - keep it under a nickel, for example.

That is exactly what this calculator does. Use it to get a table of all possible additional subway rides based on current balance on a NYC MetroCard. It also offers a no-rounding mode, which may work for cash purchases at a manned ticket booth.

Also available in the Google Play Store as an Android app that can work offline without internet access.

The source code for this project is available at nyc-metrocard-refill (originally at It uses the identical HTML/CSS/JavaScript code for both the online web pages and the offline Android app.

App has been updated in June 2015, with the new rates and bonus amounts.

Purple color looks blue in photos - how to fix

Purple is a hard color to capture using a camera. White balance, lighting, brand/model of camera, nothing will help. Purple ends up looking like blue in pictures.

So this requires editing the image to get purple right. Cannot just immediately upload a picture if it is purple you are interested in!

Most times just need an easy fix. Use the Hue color editing tool, change the hue for the blue color by moving it towards the red/purple side.

Using Gimp:
1. (Optional) Select the region to be affected. Using the rough selection free-select hand tool is good enough. Just need to exclude other bluish (or bluish-white) areas of the picture. In many cases, this may not be necessary at all, just apply the hue change to the entire picture and it may be good enough.
2. Use the Colors -> Hue-Saturation command. Select the blue primary color to adjust. Move the Hue slider rightwards, as much as needed.

For this example, a +30 change to Blue Hue was applied.

Now the Balloon Princess has the dress in the color she wants - purple!

Additional info:

The Color Purple and the Digital Camera shows how to use the HSL tool to fix problem colors such as purple, magenta, or dark pink.

2013 Montreal Jazz Festival

Pictures and video clips of some of the final four days at the 34th Edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival which ran from 2013-June 28 through July 7. Also included are some pictures from other events going on at the same time.

The best shows for me were as usual at either the Blues stage, or the Tropiques/Groove stages next to it:
Fatoumata Diawara
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band

The pictures below have more info and some video snippet links too.
There is also a playlist of all snippets on YouTube.
And a few more photos, including full size photos, are at the Google Picasa Album

July 9th saw the start of another festival: Details on Festival de Percussions Longueuil 2013 opening show.

Official Montreal Jazz Festival site.
Montreal Completement Cirque site.
International Fireworks Festival site.
Festival de Percussions Longueuil 2013 site.

Schwartz's Poutine

Schwartz's Poutine

New in 2013!

It is more of a novelty than anything - the Schwartz's Sandwich is far better in terms of enjoying smoked meat. In any case, the best poutine is also the basic nothing-added version, so this smoked-meat added poutine doesn't really increase the pleasure. The poutine itself is good, given that the fries at Schwartz's are truly outstanding.

This is only served at the Schwartz's Next Door Take Out Counter (Schwartz's à côté), which is not open all the time - may only be open during summer rush hours, for example, and closed in winter, etc.

Coursera - Introduction to Data Science

This was my first experience with a MOOC - and it was incredible. This online-course stuff is definitely going to be one of the best things to come out of the Internet. Here is my report on one of the courses: Coursera - Introduction to Data Science by Bill Howe of U of Washington. This is a 8-week course, and the blurb says it needs around 8-10 hours per week attention, and basic programming background. In reality, it is worth allotting 10-20 hours per week, and having more than just basic programming skills to allow spare time to go through the textbook and papers on the recommended reading lists. The video lectures themselves take around 2 hours per week.

The textbook was Mining of Massive Datasets by Anand Rajaraman and Jeff Ullman and worth reading it once at least - even if lack of time necessitates skipping over the difficult parts. And some of the papers assigned were also quite readable - and always fun to see the progression of ideas, especially the continuing march of Map Reduce techniques towards ACID Database concepts and vice-versa.

I highly recommend these online courses to everyone interested in keeping in touch with latest technology or getting an introduction to a new area of interest. It gets things done in a short time, and the key is that motivation is provided by the homework assignments as well as the discussion forums associated with the course. And amazingly, this is all free.

The three best things about this course and probably MOOCs in general:

  1. Course syllabus was very good. This course covers Databases, Relational Algebra, Map Reduce, Analytics (Statistics, Modeling), Visualization. And introduces a bunch of tools and databases and algorithms, with optional assignments that involve using Pig Latin based Hadoop to mine a 500GB dataset using Amazon Elastic Map Reduce frameworks. Woo-hoo!

Notes on Clearmodem 4G Home Internet

Right now am trying out the Clear Hub Express modem from CLEAR 4G Internet provider. I had a cable modem, but they increased prices far too much - funny how cable companies like to charge long-time existing customers a lot, and provide deep discounts to new customers!

CLEAR 4G has good prices - and very bad reviews on the web, including an ongoing class-action suit related to cutting off service for heavy usage even though they claim "unlimited data and no overage fees". My hope is that they are improving on this front now and are therefore worth a try. End result - mixed feelings about them. Mainly because their software is deficient and has bugs so it requires contacting customer support and that quality continues to be abysmal. Cable modem devices have much better software quality compared to CLEAR devices.

The report below is based on the 1.5Mbps download plan for $35/month as of March 2013. They prefer to have people buy the $50/month plan with 6Mbps service but the lower plan is good enough for most uses, including HQ level YouTube videos. If you want to watch 720p or higher HD resolutions, then something greater than 2Mbps is necessary. And at $50/month cost, it is not competitive with Cable Modems which usually offer $60/month plans for 20Mbps or higher. The YouTube wikipedia page has a table showing rates of different video resolutions.

  • The Hub Express is a router with Wi-Fi and two wired ports. It seems to work fine in my area, and has stayed up for a whole week now without problems. I don't use it all day, but do use it a lot in the evening and some weekends. It seems to hold on to the 4G signal pretty well.