Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rage against the machine

My life has turned into a techno-nightmare. My room seems suddenly to be full of coiled wires and devices with large batteries that need regular charging, so that all I seem to be doing in my spare time is unplugging one battery and putting in another. A laptop and a Tata Indicom wireless (#$%!!#) are the new additions, to go with earlier stuff like the cellphone, but the tragedy is that so far none of it has made my life any richer. It’s like Anakin Skywalker waking up to find he has a cool black suit and mask but no one likes him any more. I’m still unconnected.

This sad tale began some 12 moons ago, when I bought a new laptop. “At last!” I shouted to myself in glee, “This is where I show that Amit Varma a thing or five about blogging prolificity. I’ll be the epitome of Tech Kool now, reclining against the headrest, laptop on my knee, churning out sentence after delectable sentence like a 21st century version of Papa Hemingway. No more making untidy notes on paper and then waiting till morning to type them out in office. Best of all, I’ll have the Internet on Tap.”

It didn’t take me long to discover that “internet on tap” was an apposite description for all the wrong reasons; in Saket the broadband situation is worse than the water supply one. Sify advertisements have been lying around the house for months now, but try calling any of the numbers and you get an error message. Ditto for Reliance. And though I got through to Airtel, for some reason it took them three days to revert and tell me they didn’t have network coverage in my colony yet; “maybe in another two or three months”. This in a place just 200 yards from the famous PVR complex, where the city’s most happening people congregate to watch films and occasionally be evacuated after bomb scares.

Meanwhile the laptop was yet to be registered and I was getting desperate, so I turned to the only option left: Tata Indicom’s wireless phone service. Since then, as they used to say of Orson Welles post-Citizen Kane, it’s been all downhill. In the last few days I’ve seen far more than I would ever have liked of this droopy-faced man from Tata Indicom, who always manages to do something wrong. I rave and rant, he hears me out, nods sadly, assures me I’m right to feel displeased...and then takes money for something or the other and comes back the next day not having done what was required. And still looking sad.

Despite assuring me at our first meeting that his company provides Internet service to lots of customers in my colony, this droopy Tata man turns out to know nothing at all about actually providing the connection. One day he shows up with the wrong installation CD. The next day he brings an incompatible “lead cable”. The third day he brings an overconfident colleague who nearly destroys the laptop in various innovative ways, including trying to shove the CD drive in with half the CD still hanging out of it. And I have to keep making up excuses to leave office early, because none of these people are willing to work after 6 PM.

The upshot is, I’m still Net-less. I have to come to office at 9 to blog - me, a member of a tribe of feature journalists who are never expected to rise before 11. The laptop spends most of its time in its case. Cords wind sinuously around my room. There are frantic beeping sounds when I forget to charge one of the batteries. Amit Varma keeps updating. And the only thing for me to do now is read Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, about a man whose life gets so strange that the only way he can deal with it is by sitting at the bottom of a deep dry well.


  1. *consoling cooing noises*

    If it makes you feel any better, reliance is worse. I'm considering communicating by smoke signal, but that would restrict my audience to South Delhi.

  2. What you should have done:
    Walked into a Reliance Webworld store (South Ex or Green Park) with your laptop
    1)I want an LG 2130 moonlite phone (the cheap B&W model about Rs 3,000)
    2) I want an USB data cable (available either from the store or from LG's dealers - nearest to Saket is Kalkaji- another Rs 1,200)
    3) I want a connection where I pay Rs 650/ month for a 1 Gb datastream.
    4) REFUSED any offers to upgrade to more expensive phones - the LG moonlite B&W is the ONLY CDMA set which has complete connectivity to both Macs and PCs.

    Pointed out that you don't talk much and you have no friends who want to talk to you; you are only interested in watching porn.

    5) Offered proof of ID and paid cash down

    6)Walked out with a working Internet connection inside 30 minutes (you would also get full voice roaming, 100 free SMS, blah-blah).

    What's more, this would have worked anywhere in India where there is a Reliance network at no extra charge.

    But of course, RIM doesn't tell you this - so few of their customers are data-centric, the average salesperson doesn't know what to do or what questions to answer.

    Chalk this upto experience I guess. But I wish you had asked!


  3. oho saket...
    myself residing there also till recently...

    doesnt the cable wallah give you cable anymore? I used to pay 500 bucks for 12 hour a day...

  4. Ah yes, the woes of a fellow Tata Indicom user.

    Do remember to pay your bill 10 full days in advance, coz otherwise, irrespective of the fact that you have a perfect credit record, they WILL terminate your connection - coz you haven't paid a bill that you haven't received. Phucking idiots.

    Reliance is much easier, really. You should have asked DD up there earlier ;)

  5. DD: Thanks for that. I think Nilanjana had told me some of it on the phone but this whole laptop thing happened so fast. I tried three Reliance helpline numbers and when they didn't work I panicked. Anyway, I might yet do what you suggest. If there's one more goof-up I'm getting the Tata Indicom thing disconnected.

    Vague: The cable-walleh in our area doesn't. Have called several times. Very frustrating.

  6. Um, as far as updating often is concerned, I think all your fans (and I am one) would agree with that old hoary cliche about quality being more important than quantity. So don't worry too much about, um, "blogging prolificity".

    On the other hand, having to reach office at 9am is cruel.

    I've used RIM extensively, and the damn thing has a problem in that it keeps freezing if I'm not active on it for a certain amount of time (if I'm typing a long email, for instance). And I have to then disconnect and connect again. Except in Bangalore, where I used it in a stadium around which Reliance hoarding boasted of special service in that area, I was constanttly connecting and disconnecting. But at least it works, and you can be mobile with it.

    Also, is that 650 a month all there is to it? I've used my office RIM everywhere, and I was under the impression that it costs 40p a minute in addition to that monthly charge.

  7. Amit: thanks for the "fan" bit (aw shucks etc) but no, quantity is much more important than quality. Much, much, MUCH!! (Of course, in a perfect world the two things would meet, as they do on your blog.)

    Just spoke to the droopy Tata Indicom guy on the phone, told him I'd be force to disconnect if this continues. He said in a sad voice that I'd be perfectly right to do so. I'm beginning to like him.

  8. Does the tata indicom guy happen to use tata indicom for his residence?
    I knew someone in the APSEB (State Electricity Board) once and was immensely fond of asking him if his house was ever blacked out during summer. Never did get a straight answer, so I've always wondered how often employees of a company use their company's products.

  9. Amit,
    With reference to RIM, it's 40p /minute UNLESS you specifically sign up for the 650/month commitment in which case, it's 650/ month until you've crossed the 1 gb data limit and some small per Mb rate beyond that.

    I've used the phone everywhere on 4 different systems (PC desktops, 2 different PC laptops and a G4 Mac) (Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Jaipur,) and never faced this problem.

    I doubt you'll cross the 1Gb limit - I'm a pretty heavy user and so is my missus and we never have 'tween us.

    Apropos your problem, I suspect you're locked into a handset which offers nice expensive voice doodads and bad data connectivity.

    Or you've got a pirated OS and your pirate wasn't very good at ripping off XP's networking modules (assuming that's what you use).
    Or your laptop has a dodgy USB cable/ point.

    It sounds like a hardware problem or possibly something as simple as a "disconnect if no activity for 600 seconds" setting which is ticked in the software options. Look for that btw.

    RIM is no bed of roses though - you will suddenly get a call requesting that you make an advance payment of some absurd amount like Rs 50 on your next month's bill because you've crossed the credit limit.

    BTW the credit limit is "secret" - it was only by saying nasty things about Anil Ambani that I wormed out the fact that the default credit limit on a 650 postpaid is 1300. So if your bill (V&D combined) crosses that laxman rekha, they will ask you to deposit 50 and then another 50 and so on.

    Tata to Tata Jai and have fun.

  10. On the brighter side - at least you didn't go for Sify. They change their billing policies without informing customers. And a limit of just 150mb/day is cruel.

  11. DD, thanks. I was putting off getting a RIM for myself because I assumed it would have the same problems as my office one, but you've helped me make up my mind on that.

  12. BSNL broadband isn't bad. Atleast so far (since Feb) I have been able to log on instantly anytime. They had unlimited download till end of June if you signed up before March 31st. So that has worked out well for me. It is 5000 for 1 year if paid upfront IIRC(or 500 p.m.) and the total cost for the 1st year (including modem, installation (even if you don't want them to do it) etc) comes to 7300 or so.

  13. Oh, and since we're making this a Forum for the Discussion of Mobile Broadband Issues...

    A pal who uses RIM for data access uses this wee little doodad - looks like just an antenna attached to a jack - that plugs into his laptop. Makes sense if you have an existing cellphone you can't ditch because all the world has that number, because it costs much less than the cheapest handset (less than a grand, if I remember right). And it doesn't mean you can't make voice calls - if your laptop has built in mike & speakers, or if you invest in a cheap headset with a mike, you can make calls through the PC. And then of course there's Skype, which you can use with the same set up to make international PC-to-PC voice calls via the net.

  14. Oops. Made a mistake with that previous comment. The doodad isn't cheap. Checked with the pal. It costs 14k. Shall now go do a hundred pushups as punishment.

    Weeell, make that ten.

  15. Exquisite information on internet connections. I have a internet connections secrets blog if you want to see some cool stuff.

  16. hey
    i bought laptop bought phone gprs enabled bought gprs connection for phone and then - thwack! - silly phone no have no modem!!! ding ding ding - so will take dd's word for it and spend more hard earned money on moonliting... unless anyone has a better suggestion...

    and this site mentioned above on exquisite secrets doesnt really work... sigh