Friday, February 26, 2016

Blood Donation Drive - 21 Feb 2016

So, I finally participated in one of the many Blood donation drives conducted by BTC. More than 60 BTCians turned up for the camp, conducted in association with Lions Bhavan at Sanjay nagar.

-------------------------------------
Pictures Courtesy: BTC
-------------------------------------



As reminded and advised, we had breakfast before showing up for donation. The schedule was flexible - 10 AM to 1 PM, to allow for people traveling from all over Bengaluru as well as individual life styles. Some of us planned to meet our trek mates for lunch and MG road open street afterwards.

From the map link sent via email and mybmtc website, it was easy to reach the destination bus stop and walk the short distance to the camp. There were banners and organizers standing outside as well for co-ordinating.



First we filled a form on personal details and medical history qualifications related to blood donation. And we joked about weighing machine falsely adding kgs before adding the detail in the form. Then we had our fingers pricked for determining blood group and hemoglobin count followed by check up for pulse rate and blood pressure. During which the medical examiners would make casual discussion on what breakfast you had and about your previous blood donations.


And then usually we waited for our turn for actual donation. There were couple of beds to lie and few easy stretch long chairs to get comfortable while donating. A medical assistant would strap an arm tight, give a stress ball to grip and relax, and then poke the needle. A few, especially first timers, found it a little disconcerting, but largely it was all easily handled. Just a short while later (during which small talk is made and pics clicked), it is all done and band-aid applied to the pricked spot.



Prevents clotting by agitation

While waiting and after donating, we greeted familiar faces and made acquaintances with others. After donation, we get refreshments in the form of fruit juice, biscuits, banana, water, etc. And of course a certification as a token of appreciation as well as guideline and information on back side.
 
 
The blood units so collected are then transferred for testing, separation of components and storage. During form filling, donors can specify if they want to be intimated of any abnormal results from blood tests. I would request all to donate (for social cause and its health benefits) at least yearly. Happy donating :)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book review - Jan 2016

Since discovering my love for fiction books in high school, I've read more than 300 books. Predominantly, I read them for time pass and prefer easy to read ones. Having read crazy to normal level of discussions on Harry Potter, Cosmere and other book forums, I've come to realize that my understanding is usually limited to summary of the novel. The why and how details are usually beyond my comprehension. Be it a very good book or a movie I want to know more about, I prowl online to further my understanding.

At the same time, I've had happy knack of recommending good books to read. I hope these short reviews (no spoilers) summarized monthly will help other readers. 

-----------------------------

Rating scheme is based on goodreads: 
             liked it
really liked it
   amazing

-----------------------------

Dead Weight: The Tombs


"It's a near-future, dark-urban-fantasy, noir, war thriller about the United States at war with the Faerie of Irish Mythology" - author, M. Todd Gallowglas
Lurking on /r/fantasy, I got the first installment of this serialized novel for free. It was a difficult read for me as well as difficult to follow the country specific references. Epigraphs from various authors were good though :P Read the book as a break from mainstream and it served that purpose.
-----------------------------

Trojan Horse



And this book I got via Quora Bangalore meetup group. Another attempt to read little known novels. Easy to read and fast paced. It does a good impression of showing how vulnerable is any electronic device in this connected era (though am no judge of all the extraordinary computer viruses written in the book)
 -----------------------------

First Law Trilogy

The Blade Itself


Overall 4 stars for the trilogy. Grim dark fantasy (not my favorite type). Amazing characters in Logen and Glokta. Most of them are already established at the height of their power. The usual highly moral fantasy characters are absent. There are quests, wars, twists - but different from usual tropes. There is magic (how of it isn't explained) and visits from spirits. If you like dark fantasy, don't miss it. And there are other stand alone novels set in this world too, if you are left wanting more.
-----------------------------

Sixth of the Dusk



Cosmere has become my favorite fantasy series after Harry Potter. I've read every novel, novella and short stories Brandon has to offer so far. And I was lucky enough to receive unpublished one as well from author's website. 10 novels in this universe have been published so far, at least 26 more planned - that is 30+ more years to look forward too!

This short novella was thrilling to say the least, can be read in single sitting. Brandon is best known for his unique magic systems and this had one as well. And tantalizingly, Brandon put in a future Cosmere reference...

-----------------------------

The Bands of Mourning



Third book in Wax and Wayne series (one more left). And originally, this was supposed to be just a filler between Mistborn trilogies, instead became 4 full fledged novels and us fans got more peek into Cosmere level happenings. Brandon's continued development as an author shines as well. Apart from usual Sanderson epic scenes, I liked character development and maturity shown. A particular chapter will leave you literally ROFL.

But with so many things happening, I doubt all things will be tied in the concluding book. Guess certain events will get their own separate novellas :D Epilogue and after word from author leads to next book...
-----------------------------

Mistborn: Secret History



We Cosmere fans were drooling when it was announced that we were getting two novels in back to back months. Imagine our delight when the author announces a novella at the end of second book, releasing on the same day (intended as a surprise). Of course that had to be read A.S.A.P

From various WoB (Word of Brandon), we had an inkling about a certain character from first Mistborn trilogy. This novella fulfilled that yearning and yet again tantalizingly left us wanting more. Full of Cosmere level events, but maybe 10 more years to wait for next in this series :-/


-----------------------------

Bonus Links


-----------------------------

Book title links and images courtesy goodreads

Friday, February 12, 2016

Skandagiri clean up - 7 Feb, 2016

One of the embarrassing incident I remember from school: I was in 6th or 7th standard, roaming the corridors with couple of friends. I threw a toffee wrapper and got caught by a rep, made worse in my immature opinion to be caught by a girl, that too someone from a standard below me. Grudgingly, I swooped down to collect the wrapper. Disciplined to not throw garbage from young age does help in making it a habit.

---------------
Note: Skandagiri is banned for trekking
BTC procured special permission for this clean up drive
---------------

Coming to this trek, I'll be frank that the lure of flagging Skandagiri also played a role whilst enlisting for clean up drive. After hard toil on a Sunday by 53 BTCians, I feel it is best to let the place remain closed to trekkers as well as the special permission required even for a green initiative.



Planning such a behemoth event was top notch from BTC. From organizers starting very early in the morning to arrange breakfast and lunch, to procuring bags, masks and gloves, to dividing the tasks and co-ordinating and finally sending off 860 kilograms for recycling. About 30 members reached the venue on bikes and cars while the rest of us took to public transport.

We reached at half past 9 AM, having first taken bus (luckily got Rajahamsa one with push back seats and better leg space :P) to Chikkaballapur and then another to a village about 10 minutes walk from Skandagiri base. Virander and co were waiting for us - we quickly had breakfast, got lunch parcel and then the cleaning equipments - gloves, masks, bags and ropes to tie them later. Next a round of introduction and getting assigned teams (total five teams, one to clean at top, two teams along the path and other two at hill base and around the temple/parking lot)

 

 
Finally, around 10 AM, with Sun shining hard on us, we were ready to go. The hill rose to our left with village fields all around us. Right from first foot on the hill to top, we had a tough slope to climb with just small stretched of flatter winding paths. Along the way we met the teams collecting trash (many bags already filled) and resting. 

 
 

Our team was going to peak directly. We took breaks often, to rest and quench our thirst despite the need to preserve as much water as possible.  After finally reaching the top about 100 minutes from start, we took another brief rest. Chaitanya's team were already at work at one small section of the vast area.

  

 

For next hour and half, we tried to clean the section starting right from the path joining the peak. While some were easy picks, most trash were trapped in bushes, often near thorny plants or not easily accessible corners. Grassy area between boulders had been burnt off, reducing trash and leaving glass bottles half buried and broken. Small glass pieces were a nuisance. Water bottles were emptied of any remaining water and crushed to save space.



Amidst all the hard toil, we had a pleasant luck - someone had left behind pack of unopened water bottles (presumably when trek was still allowed). They were still within expiry date and cool due to packing. It helped us a lot in our water needs (despite most of us carrying two liters of water from base). By now, members from team 2 and 3 had joined us as well.



After lunch, we spent another hour of trash picking - this time a section to the side facing towards Nandi hills. It was a short climb down as well, with much wider area. Again, our task was heavily impeded by bushes and thorns. Scratches on our arms and legs were proof of that. We had to be careful despite the gloves as thorns and glass pieces could easily pierce (some got torn due to heavy use). Some plants grew from inside of broken glass necks, some place had tiny snails clinging to undersides of plastic and paper.

No matter how many bags we filled, there was always more to be picked. So many water bottles to be crushed. We plowed on as best we could, stopping only when we felt we couldn't carry anymore. And even then it turned out to be much more than expected, especially those carrying the very heavy glass bags.






Some of us rested and carried conversation on various topics, while others compressed and repacked as much as possible. Few minutes to 3 PM, we started our trek back - most carrying two bags (filled with plastic, paper, metal, etc), others either a single heavy glass filled bag or mix of the two. 

 

 

 


The plastic ones generally were not tough to lift with one hand upto knee level, but carrying two on downward slope for hour and half was definitely hard and tiring, especially with our low water rations. We did take as many breaks as we wished, throwing the bags down where possible. The ones with heavy luggage preferred to continue as soon and as fast as possible with fewer breaks - hats off stuff really!



Apart from clicking photos and applause on reaching back, water can and snacks were arranged. With everybody assembled in one place, it was time for greeting known faces and cracking jokes. Later, we lined up around all the garbage bags for group pics, that alone took a while :P Then the bags were loaded into mini van to be taken to recycling - BTC later communicated that they weighed in total about 860 kilograms!





After lengthy feedback session, where unanimously everybody was happy being part of this wonderful initiative as well gave suggestions for improvement, we were on our way back to Bengaluru. We got Rajahamsa yet again and had plenty of trekking and traveling stories to pass time.
Afterword:

Prevention is definitely better than cure. Simple rule - carry your own trash back. And experience is a better teacher than reading/viewing about something - we saw for ourselves how much things can accumulate over time and how much more it is difficult to clean than it is to throw.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Konquering Kumara Parvatha - 23,24 Jan 2016

While the previous visit was memorable and disappointing for different reasons, not being able to reach the finishing line rankled the most. And what better way to finally do it than the wonderful company of BTC.

With Republic Day falling on a Tuesday this year, Friday evening rush was worse than normal weekends. Fortunately, with traveling distance less than 300 KM, schedule was flexible. We gathered at the usual spot (Shanthala Silk house near Majestic) along with another group going for Tadiandamol - greeting old timers and chit-chatting on treks, sleeping bags and mats. From our 12 member group, I already knew organizers Channa and Hiren, fellow trekkers Naresh, Prakash, Sathesh, Aditya. Ananya, Jackson, Mukunda, Sushma and Poornima became familiar by end of trek :)

Around 11 PM, we started our journey. A quick round of introduction followed the fuel stop and then we tried our best to catch some sleep despite our crazy speeding driver. At one of the regular stops around 4 AM, some of us had tea/coffee and some had dosas! Around 5 AM, 1-2 KM from Kukke Subramanya, we stopped by the Kumaradhara river to freshen up. The place had restroom facilities, changing rooms, sort of mini-dam to make about 100m of bathing space, large parking lot, sellers and public announcement system! Lots of people were having bath and using the amenities, presumably to visit the temple at Kukke later.

After reaching Kukke Subramanya, we first went to temple. Plenty of devotees were already in queue. After darshan time (6:30 AM), we moved at a steady pace. Once outside, we had breakfast - idli-vadas, Mangalore buns, neer dosas - topped up with tea/coffee.


It was then time for trekking. We left extra baggage in the TT, packed our bags to carry sleeping bags, mats and tents. On the way, we filled our water bottles at the hotel, brought milk and other items as may be needed later. After a minor wrong turn, we were on our way to starting point (also noted that a trekking gears rent shop had been put up) which took us 30 minutes to reach.

Before venturing into forest, Channa and Hiren re-iterated BTC policies and we introduced ourselves again. And of course, we clicked photos :P The steep forest trail is the toughest part of this trek. Like within 10 minutes we were taking a break :P We sweat profusely, which takes a bit to get used to. Though this time it wasn't as much as my previous attempt in Sep 2012, when apart from sweating I felt as if I had 105 degrees of fever.



So, we would climb for 10 minutes or so, those in front waiting for everybody to catch up, catch our breadth and continue. Rinse. Repeat. Little trekking nuggets thrown in here and there. And when opportunity presents for bit of fun - like clinging onto tree trunks with legs and/or arms, we made sure our photos were snapped. 


 

Uprooted trees, twisted trunks, spider nests on the ground wrapping leaves and smaller plants, fungus on trees, other trekkers - all contrasts in otherwise monotonic climb. There is also a waterfall somewhere in the middle (which we didn't visit) if one is attentive enough to hear it or notice a small path deviating. Took us about 100 minutes from start of forest to winding paths outside. And that is impressive I would say, though admittedly our early start was very helpful. Unlike those we met the next day, climbing up in sweltering conditions.



Outside the forest clearing, while waiting for others to catch, we observed some fist sized, quick and super cute birds chirping. There wasn't any hurry and we were beginning to find it increasingly difficult to climb, but somehow we kept at it - the rationale being to finish the ordeal asap. We even pushed each other like - lets finish this upward curve, it is flatter afterwards, when it was just more climbing the other side :D

Around 10:40 AM, about two-and-a-half-hours of trekking later, we stopped for a long break under the shade of a tree. Aditya took out first of his Rasna (remember the brand?) packet to mix with water and everybody had a sip. Just a tiny weeny bit of breeze now and then was soothing. Little did we know the grass around this spot would be ashes when we came back the next day.


Just before 11:30 AM, we reached Battarmane (run by an elderly guy, providing shelter and more importantly food), passing smaller hills around us and glimpse of tall ranges ahead. Too many trekkers were already feasting and resting. We settled down amidst trees, maintained by the old guy in front of his huts. It was a bit early for lunch, but we were hungry enough that a short while later, we were having sambhar rice (few lucky ones got left over upma from breakfast) with pickle and buttermilk to go with. Aditya again had snacks to share.


 
Post lunch, everybody spread out to rest. Some laid down on mother earth, some on sleeping mat and some on mats padded with sleeping bags and bed sheet tied across trees for shade :P A few just leaned against not so comfortable trees for chit-chat. By trees I mean tall and narrow pines and bananas. Cattle roamed about eating grass and leaves, cats in search of left-overs and petting while monkeys jumped about above us.



Two hours later, reluctantly in the heat, we packed to trek the short distance (10 minute hike, even shorter if one takes the path amidst those pine trees) to forest office. We knew and expected, but it was still a disappointment to be denied permission to trek to peak or even Kallumantappa and camp for the night. That is a standing decision since the forest fire last December and we saw for ourselves the devastating effects the next day.

Space in front of forest officer's place looked like flattened and cleared (except for grass of course) for trekkers to camp. And sections naturally separated as well. Some were already occupied. We got a good patch more than enough for our 5 tents with three previously used camp fire spaces. As it was pretty hot, we only marked our region by spreading tent base. Our bags were in shade at the officer's place. 

 
A short distance behind the forest office, there is a view point with benches to boot. And another view point is located 10-15 minute climb on the trail ahead. We discussed a bit about visiting that, but didn't materialize. Majority of the afternoon was spent lazying around, chit-chatting and sleeping. Plenty of guava trees around but no ripe fruit. Some climbed to next hill, some just visited the small pond nearby.
Around 4 PM, boredom finally gave way to few rounds of Uno, which we played despite the overhead merciless Sun. We modified the end game and even made up interesting game play with the two void purple cards. Past 5 PM, we tried to see if we could camp near the view point instead. While there was space for a few tents (which others utilized in the end), we decided to stay put.

So, we put up our tents and then went to view point as light started to fade. Lots and lots of trekkers and plenty still coming. Clouds spoiled sunset but we did take plenty of pictures. The view was good all around as well. We trudged back soon to prepare for camp fire. Everybody participated by collecting dry sticks from all around the area and in the end we had more then enough.
The forest officer went rounds to see people were careful with camp fires and gave suggestions as well. We even got a large cooking vessel which made things much easier for us. Thanks all the cooks for tasty coffee followed by soup (and those who got the materials). By then, it was 20 minutes past 7 PM and we decided to continue with dinner preparation - Hiren had brought Theplas, Naresh had two packs of half-cooked rotis (and importantly pickle jars) and others had got ready-to-eat MTR packs, cup noodles and even ready-to-mix poha. The most interesting of it all was the natural tava to heat the rotis! One of the most memorable dinner fest for sure.

The nearly full moon got a chance to shine now and then. We got music going - thanks to Sushma's bluetooth loudspeaker (Channa had a great time pranking others by getting hold of channel just before the new guy could connect). Aditya and Sushma led the way for dancing. Around 9:30 PM, the officer made another round asking people to put out camp fire and shut shop by 10 PM. Since we had plans for pre-dawn trekking the next day, we were already winding up.

Compared to Bengaluru, the weather wasn't cold. Some even slept outside tent on sleeping mat while some left the tent front open so as to not feel stuffy inside. We got much better sleep than the TT journey but most were woken up around 2 AM - of all reasons, for cattle grazing nearby! The fellows sleeping outside tent took to shooing them off.

Around 4 AM, we woke up, freshened up, packed our bags, mats and tents. We took only absolutely necessary stuff for trekking - two liters of water, stuff for breakfast and snacks, leaving rest of the items in forest officer's room. Some groups had left even earlier than us, still starting at 5:15 AM in the morning felt really early


 
It took us about 15 minutes to reach the next view point. With the moon shining bright and straight forward trail, the relatively gentle climb to start with served as excellent warm-up for our stiff legs. It also helped that we were carrying much lighter baggage. Now and then we would stop for everybody to gather, sip a mouthful of water and take snaps.

As it was nearing dawn, Channa asked Naresh to lead fast trekkers to appropriate hill for sunrise. In effect, most of us just climbed at our natural pace. Hearing stream to our right meant we were nearing Kallumantappa which we reached by 6:30 AM. It was still dark enough to require flash for clicking pics. Naresh and few others were ahead climbing, while we thought Channa was behind and taking it easy until he caught us. Little did we know he had skipped this route, taken a shorter path, and was waiting for us when we finally rounded the hill!



This little section was steeper as well as footing was risky on tiny stones. The blackness from forest fire was all there to see as well - but life goes on and there were new green shoots rising from ashes. Looking back, we could see the path we had trekked and as far as the forest office and nearby view point. Thinking on it felt surreal to have covered so much distance in the early hours of morning.

By 7 AM, huffing and puffing from the climb, we saw what our fast trekkers were upto - climbing an even more steeper path to hill top, with an awesome view of golden sun rays gracing the misty sea of clouds. 



After a prolonged break and photoshoot with beautiful nature, we set our sight on scaling Sesha Parvatha (Kumara Parvatha isn't visible anyway from this side :P). A sign board helpfully pointed the way with estimated distance of 2 KM to KP peak - not sure on what criteria was it measured, but it took us about 2 hours, including breakfast halt time.

Around 8 AM, with Sun blazing in all its glory directly in front of us, we flagged Sesha Parvatha. We met a few trekkers on their way down and a few about to finish their breakfast on their way up. We first gobbled up two bread packs with jam. Then Channa and Poornima surprised us all with bunch of home made lightly stuffed chappathis - the pickle jars came in handy again. Two khakra packets went in next. Finally oranges - doubled as thirst quencher as well its outer skin for washing hands!


Half an hour past 8, we were onto the final stretch. I was thrilled that my resolve of more than 3 years was about to be fulfilled. The trail first led into forest - but much easier as it was bit of downhill and flat track. Stones strewn around were mossy. 20 minutes later we were out of the forest and immediately accosted with sheer rock face to climb. Daring trekkers took that path (with advantage of able to fill water from thin stream flowing), while cautious ones simply used the much easier path on the left side.



It turned into much longer break of 25 minutes. But then again, like yesterday, our average pace was pretty good and plenty of time left in the day. The remaining gentler climb took us about 15 minutes and much to everybody's relief we were finally at the peak, more than 4 hours since we started.


We took few snaps and then went exploring the peak ahead - a spot to relax in the shade. After some time, we went to explore the other side, having a good view point of hills beyond. Overhead might be sunny, but what lay ahead was sea of misty clouds and hills below surfacing only now and then. Simply breadth taking view and few minutes of serenity.


Back at the peak with rocks arranged (and a small temple), we spent some more time shooting pics. And at 20 minutes past 10 AM, we started our long trek back in the heat and tiring body. This time around more daredevils took the steep sheer rock face - and put it to good use, drinking as much water as possible and filling as many bottles as possible.



In about 40 minutes we reached Sesha Parvatha again. Our group had become more fragmented than while climbing up as everybody was probably tested to their limits on this monster of a difficult trek. Naturally, everybody stopped by the one good spot with trees to provide shade - about 10 minute hike after Sesha. Rasna, Electral, Dates, Chikkis and Biscuits to recharge ourselves. And back to climbing down in the heat and not so easy trail.


The section near Kallumantappa proved tricky again. The sandy trail with small stones littered were prone to slip and so we had make do with small grass holds. At the stream below, we filled our bottles and then took another long break in shade. The remaining oranges were finished off as well.

 
At last, around 1 PM, we reached the forest office - total 8 hours of round trip, phew! While resting and packing our bags again, we got the news about the latest forest fire (apparently due to negligence) - the officer was sweating profusely, like he had taken a bath.

For lunch, we went to Battarmane, taking the short-cut this time. Same menu as previous day. 15 minutes to 3 PM, we started our final stretch back to base, our bag heavy again with two filled water bottles. At least with plenty of time left in the day, we could take it easy.


 
But we somehow took a deviation and ended up rounding an extra hill. Thankfully we realized it soon and could take corrective course. But all wasn't well when we joined the proper trail again - blazing fire across, with the forest officer and his associate trying their best to calm a beast on their own. We said yes to their request to help. No fire extinguishers or even water. Cut down branches were used to beat on the fire directly and (I guess) by denying oxygen, it gets put out. Of course that depends on how fierce the fire was in particular patch and how effectively we could work. We managed to help a little bit in the grand scheme. One section caught fire again after we had moved on and it proved much more difficult to put out the second time around. With such a enormous task, the risk and our tiredness, we had to stop soon and convey our regrets. Am proud that we did our bit for the cause. Though I wish I could forget the crackling of fire as it swept the hills.

 
Our bags felt disturbingly hot when we picked them again. And there were lots of trekkers climbing up at this time! Most of them were huffing and puffing and many were really interested in knowing how long the ordeal was left to reach Battarmane or Forest office.

About half an hour later, I finally took out my Electral pack, mixed it in 3/4th of water bottle, had few sips and shared around. It tastes so good when you are dead tired and need to replenish. Then as we neared the forest stretch, we saw burnt out grass near the very tree we had rested under the previous day and loud cackling of fire further close to forest. I definitely got real scared.


The final stretch through forest proper took us about 70 minutes. It was mindless step after step, ever closer to base. Sathesh and I kept up steady conversation to pass time. With about 20 minutes to go, I played olden goldies songs on my phone - why didn't it strike earlier? It was so good to hear after all the trekking over two days. Once outside, we rested and snacked while Channa called up TT driver to pick us here (a welcome respite to end our 12 hour marathon trek)


We stopped by that Kumaradhara spot again. Most of us had a refreshing dip. And then asked the driver to go to Dharmasthala for temple visit and dinner. I like this aspect of BTC very much - the little things that so much enhances the experience. It is not just some mountain climbing and back to Bengaluru. By end of weekend, it is not just another peak flagged, but another set of friends made, another memorable event to be fondly reminisced in future including interesting tid-bits.

On the way, we stopped for a break - some had tender coconut, some coffee while some preferred to sleep :P At Dharmasthala, we went straight to join the queue to visit temple. Some joined the food queue. Not sure of exactly how long it took, but it was around an hour when we came out - and from elaborate system in place, it can be guessed that at special occasions, it might be several hours longer. And immediately afterwards, we joined the dinner queue - another hour of standing and waiting that some joked it was mini trail. The food was piping hot and tasty, topped up with a sweet.

Once outside (it was after 10 PM by then), we passed time so as to plan leaving by 11 PM and reach Bengaluru after 4 AM . We had feedback session here as well. When we started back, murphy's law came back with a vengeance at us - punctured tyre, which took more than an hour to fix due to lack of appropriate spanner and jammed bolts. We were finally on our way back past midnight and reached around 7 AM in the morning :D

Other Works

Square Tic Tac Toe
Get it on Google Play

Beginner's guide to Command line and Scripting