Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paths of Glory- My Review

Though most of my company frankly rubbished Jeffrey Archer’s latest creation, I beg to differ. For starters, I started reading this without ever bothering to read the reviews or lend an ear to the critics. The assumption was that this is the usual JA saga with some class and some kicks at the same time. As my comrades overtook me reading this and started complaining that this is a story based on facts and does not give the kicks like the usual JA’s, I couldn’t pretend not to care any more. My enthusiasm did go down and I finally took a lot more time to finish this than I should have. I was happy reading this as at times, it could help me recall a few scenes from ‘Vertical Limit’- one of my personal favorite.

In the end, I was pretty content reading it and was planning on how to debate my friends on this. For some reason, I happened to read the epilogue with great care. It gives real life facts about all the characters in the book and how they led their lives. The last- yes the last three lines just threw me off my feet. As I closed the book in the aircraft ( I was traveling @ 20000ft when this happened), I was wondering what phenomenon was responsible for creating a static in my body and causing my hair to stand up. Then, I concluded- it were the last three lines to blame!!

Did the German beauty sweep me off my feet??

Usually, the charm of the luxurious German saloons does not work on me. Before I get the critics howling at me, let me point out that I firmly agree that there is nothing that beats the Germans in precision engineering, attention to detail and even creating new stuff and automotive technology which the Japs can ape in a year's time and improvise sometime later.

I have the highest regard for the BMW engines, the S-Class from Mercedes that defines new standards in safety and gadgetry for production cars. The names of Porsche, Bayerische Moteren Werke (a.k.a. the snazzy bimmers), VW will never fade away from the pages of history. Their excellence in engineering led the proud nation to rely on them during the wars too- with BMW into aircrafts and VW & Porsche making ground assault units: including tanks. During the Nazi era, they were also supposed to be iconic to the world and assert German supremacy in the industry. Hitler's backing led to the birth of many masterpieces including the bug- VW beetle. He also gave Daimler Benz the ultimatum to be the # 1 in racing- which it eventually did and has held on to it ever since. The effects of that push, the commitment to excellence can be seen even today with the Mercedes engine powered F1 cars propelling the champions (McLaren included) to glory.


That said, I still do not very much drool over the German beauties. The reason?? Well, its the price!! I still believe that whatever money I may have any fine day, I will go for the Japanese performers. I know I will be assured of more stuff for my money. I just don't need that much detail and that many buttons to adjust my seat. I'm happy with a modest cabin, a robust engine- which I can open up and put some stuff to get a few more horses out of it.

So now that you have a rough idea about my thought process, you can understand that I wasn't exactly biting my nails when I first saw the latest addition to Vaibhav's fleet- the Mercedes E-280. It looks grand- agreed; but a Nissan 350Z would have had a better effect on me. So I get in, Vaibhav puts the vehicle in 'D' mode and pulls down the handbrake. The handbrake is definitely weird and without directions, I would not have managed to deploy it. I have driven a couple of automatics- mostly various generations of Civics. I was expecting a tiny jerk when you change from 'P' to 'D' or to 'R'. However, no matter how hard I tried and how hard I focused whenever Vaibhav shifted between modes, the jerk never came. Well, the jerk I talk about is what I saw in the 2000's Corollas and Civics. Obviously in a Merc, I knew it was silly to expect that jerk when shifting between modes or changing gears. However, I was looking hard for the tiniest vibration, a faint rumble when the gears mesh, at least something. None was to be found. Vaibhav even switched to the semi-auto shift and drove near 6000rpm before he shifted up. Yet again nothing was amiss. The shift was buttery and happened so swiftly that the higher gear was already engaged before the tacho needle could register the change. There was no lag and the car retained it's initial momentum and accelerated seamlessly with the same gregarious magnitude. The acceleration in this sedan though commendable in magnitude is not as thrilling as it would be in something half its size. Yet the thrill of propelling such a weight is a pleasure of a different kind itself. The engine noise is limited to a gentle purr even in the red line.

After ensuring I was visibly impressed, Vaibhav stopped the vehicle and spoke out the two magic words- "U drive". The initial inhibitions of laying my hands on a 40 lakh beauty wore away as I took the driver's seat. The first thing that hit me was the simplicity and grandiose (yes, at the same time!!) of the dashboard and the cabin. I knew that I could do all the wizardry and cool stuff from this seat. Yet the controls presented a very graceful look. Had this been a Japanese or a Korean, the buttons would have been screaming out- 'Look I can do this, look I can display this data, look I can light up your cabin like a dance floor'. In fact I do like the way Civic lights up and displays its instrument cluster with shades of blue, purple and red. But this one wanted to be classy rather than snazzy. I got to know later that this happened to be the new 'Special Edition' with the beige dash and upholstry. I played with the buttons till I got the seat right for myself. In this process, I did not use all the dimensions. There were many other adjustment directions left unexplored, but you may understand you don’t have the patience to play with it when you have that wonderful motor idling and raring to go.


I eased the car into 'D' and drove off smoothly. The car does not let you know when it shifts gears and adapts to your driving style to optimize the shifts. Only the tachometer and the LCD gear diplay reveal when a shift happens. Since I was driving with utmost care, I asked Vaibhav to help me engage the transmission override. Now this turned out to be a very complex procedure. I thought the single stick at the center (on your left hand) working as the mode select (P, D, R) and the shifter was quite a multi tasking object. Now I found out that I'm supposed to select the transmission mode using this too! You hold it in 'D', flick it left and keep it there for two seconds. And Eureka!! I'm in manual transmission. I did not have the patience to probe for the partial override- and whatever other modes you engage by carrying out the same procedure on the left side. After flicking the Drive lever and analyzing the torque delivery at different engine speeds, I shut down all drive assists (At least whatever I could find- the traction control and brake assist). Somewhere in between, I also managed to change from manual to partial overdrive. God!! They should have a separate paddle for gear shifting!! Like Civic- the Paddle at the steering- where shifting while steering is the ultimate driving experience. And a lot less complicated..

After engaging to manual again and without the assists, I floored the pedal. The bulky thing shoots forward quite gracefully. The 230 bhp V6 engine seems a bit underpowered for this mass but we know that this is one of the best engineered machine. You don’t exactly want to do burn-outs or drifts on this. You should have bought the Ford Mondeo or something for that. The other things have been taken into consideration with great detail. For instance the precision of the steering was heavenly. The term called body roll seems to have vanished altogether. Turning some medium sized sedans (including the Accord) at higher speeds does freak you out for a fraction of a second. Not this one- it feels deeply rooted to the ground, no matter what the surface. You can also feel this difference when you drive over some troughs and ridges (such as passing the top of a flyover) at high speeds.

Finally I got it back to the parking lot and eased it to its usual place. I searched for the keyhole and switched the engine off. With this I managed to do what I had been trying for a very long time. The car jerked as the engine shut down! Even with my limited experience with automatics, it did not take much time to figure out that I had conveniently forgotten to switch to 'P' mode and had shut it down in 'D'!!

So all that said, did it manage to impress me? Honestly, it did- I’ll give you that.. But still, there’s no way I’m going to put my hypothetical money on a luxury sedan ;)

The day you see money with me, you can bet you’ll find me in a Mitsubishi, Honda or a Nissan speedster the next day..

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Microsoft Exchange vs Lotus Domino

I have always been surrounded by great people who portray Microsoft as the 'Evil Empire'. Most of them have been die hard apple fans. Despite their best efforts, they have been unable to polarize my view. 

When I started as a professional in the world of messaging, I was raring to learn and enter the technological sphere of influence. As time passed, I started considering myself a lot more adept to the features as well as the code and working of Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange.

Today, I stand as a person who has a special regard for the IBM Domino.

I don't know where to start with. Be it administration, features or stability I have no second thoughts on which to pick from MS Exchange and Lotus Domino.

Installation and Use 

Installing an Exchange server is not the end of the story. In the past, I invariably have had to make a few settings and checks as a part of post installation processes to make it work. Domino on the other hand installs in a jiffy and the ease with which the Domino Administrator is installed makes you wonder as to where is the security the IBM guys talked about. Well, the Domino Admin window might scare off some traditional windows people just as it happened to me. However with time, as you tread on the path of discovery, you will fall in love with this. Though exchange administration happens in a more Window-ish format, you still need to work on the Active directory and the Exchange manager separately. Domino administrator on the other hand is a one stop shop for anything you may think of doing.


The Exchange Active Directory and the System Administrator. You can do all this and a lot more with the Administrator in Domino..


Though Outlook is supposed to be feature rich for end users with stuff one might never ever use in a lifetime, it is yet to catch up when it comes to features with substance. One such feature is Instant messaging which Domino has had since ages. Microsoft has finally managed to include this in their new Exchange Server 2010 (I am eagerly waiting for the beta version- should be out in the second half of this year).


Performance and reliability

First things first, Domino is OS independent. Be it Windows server 2003, Linux, or Solaris; the stability and ease of implementation in unbeatable. Though both the servers are stable in normal use, I have faced issues with the web client of Notes and am not very happy about the way they handle SMTP mails.

If you want to bundle a 3rd party product onto any of the mail servers, be assured that Domino will be the serving you better. Though Exchange comes at a price lower than what IBM quotes for the majestic Domino, Microsoft manages to earn quite a big chunk with maintenance.

As a developer, I still have nightmares if I am supposed to start working on exchange the next day. The MAPI profiles and the MFC code in Exchange is just too messy. The Domino architecture is quite modular and relatively easier to comprehend. This Exchange fear has been attaining new heights with experiences with the Microsoft support (little and unstructured documentation, too many objects and involving a Microsoft developer costs a limb- you will need this in a lifetime as Microsoft does not even give away the basic functionalities of their dll's and functions). Domino doesn't fare a lot better but at least their documentation is quite structured and their dll's hardly ever let you down. Note that I am yet to get my hands on a book for Domino while Exchange books on architecture, administration etc are quite easily available.


In all, I seriously want to know how Microsoft manages to sell this product to more than 50% of the world. I don't see a single reason why a small or medium enterprise should not deploy the Domino mail environment. As I am finishing this, I am starting to wonder on the authenticity of the 'Evil Empire' theory.

Is the Castrol Power 1 worth it??

This post might be a bit confusing for some. An average Indian will do just do about anything to give a good answer to that question: "Mileage kitna hai?" Understandably, engine oils are also rated in India in accordance with the phenomenal increase in mileage they can attain.

So I may disappoint you with my first note- a big No.. The Castrol Power1 did not improve mileage for my beautiful Pulsar 200. On the contrary, I get a 44 kmpl on the highway compared to more respectable figures of 47-48 some time back in  same driving conditions. But then why do I still love this oil? The answer is the significant improvement in smoothness and NVH that it can get. In the past, I never fancied taking the P-200 motor beyond 6500 rpm. The sound reveals just how much strain the piston and the ring is under. Though it was not bad, it just didn feel right to torture the motor to that extent. Fast forward today- I have almost no hesitation in taking it to 7000rpm and beyond. The grunt is a lot more meatier and packs substance. So I say, if you love your engine and are willing to do anything for it's health, go for this. Be warned- this is a tidy bit heavier than the standard and if you are able to observe carefully, there is a difference when accelerating from lover revs.

Castrol claims a life of 4k for the Power1 and I can testify for a successful 2.5k on my bike. The primitive Castrol Activ I remember was a goner in not more than 600kms (even without any red revving); though Castrol again quoted a higher figure