Electricity consumption in winter

Most information is best digested by experiencing it first hand. I had read so much about how cost of heat in winter in the US and other developed countries affects poor people. And I would always think: How is this a real problem? These folks can afford electricity in summer, but not in winter? How much could the increase in electricity consumption be in winter? 25% or 50% increase? That does not seem so bad, I would think.

Here is our handy electricity consumption graph provided by Santa Clara Utilities as an example:

Electricity consumption in winter

Notice the jaw-dropping 175% increase in electricity consumption for us since winter began in December. So, for poor folks who live in countries in colder climates I can see how the heating cost in winter can be a burden for them.

In case you are curious, I do not think our heating use is extravagant. We are not keeping it toasty enough to walk around in shorts inside our home! There is a room thermometer in the living room and going by it we seem to usually maintain temperatures of 21-24 C (71-75 F) using heating. You would need to be fully clothed at these temperatures to feel warm and comfortable.

Our apartment is using two heating devices:

  • GE PTAC unit in the living room: This is used for about 3-6 hours in the day in sporadic bursts when it feels chilly inside. This unit looks old, older than any air conditioning technology I had previously seen in general use in Asia and Europe. I am guessing this air conditioner is probably inefficient by current standards and is probably causing most of that increase in electricity consumption.
  • Baseboard heater in the bedroom: This is used for about 6-8 hours during sleeptime. It takes ages to heat the room. But it is supposed to be highly efficient, drawing power similar to a normal appliance. It does seem efficient too cause I can put my hand inside above its heating strip and feel that it is increasing temperature of the air flowing through it by only a tiny bit.

RIP Roshni

Death is the only constant in our lives. We know that. It hovers behind us, every waking and sleeping second of our life and that of our near and dear ones. But we would not be able to get through life if our mind were constantly contemplating that. So, our mind banishes death away and most of us tend to live our lives as if we are immortal.

Our mind convinces itself. Yes, that old man died, but he was old and had had a fulfilling life. Yes, that baby died, that was tragic, the parents must be devastated, but I did not really know them.

And then it hits someone your age and someone you knew for almost 20 years. Someone you knew from your formative years in college. You took a big leap and moved to a new country and she was that old familiar face there. Someone who was incredibly creative, funny, intelligent. Someone you looked up to, one of the few people you respected and was honored that she considered you as a friend too.

I read the update from Shub and my mind just exploded. I could not comprehend it. This cannot be true. I search on Twitter and her husband has shared the news too. So it sinks into my heart, like a dagger. This is true. This is not going away. This is not a bad dream.

Memories, that is all that is left now. And I start pulling back on those strings.

When did I first see her? There I am, waiting to catch the RVCE college bus on my very first day. Engineering, a huge step in life. The busstop, RV Girls Hostel, 5 minutes walk from home, near Madhavan Park Circle. There is that pretty and nerdy looking girl at the busstop. Seems like a newbie too, going by how she is talking to her senior-looking females. I was not in her class initially, but we would say Hi and exchange names, promptly forget those over the next year. She is just a regular and familiar smiling face from college at this point.

After the first year, I move into Computer Science and she is now a classmate. We go through 3 years together. Seeing each other at the same busstop and at class, we now know each other. She turns out to be involved in several creative activities, has a beautiful handwriting and is one of the toppers. College cultural fest. I do not even need to pull out the photos I took with her and the other female classmates, all dressed beautifully for the occasion. It is that vivid.

College is over. We both end up topping the university rank list. Our faces are in the newspaper. The college hosts an award ceremony in its teaching college, near Ashoka Pillar. There I am with my parents and there she is with her parents. Hi and hello are exchanged between parents and us. A long winding ceremony, terribly boring. We get our awards and byes are said.

A few years later I have to pick universities after handing in my GRE and TOEFL tests. She is the only one I know who has studied at NUS in Singapore. I add NUS to my tests, only because of her. If she had not moved to Singapore for study, I surely would not have. I end up picking NUS for a Masters, and then a PhD.

Mutual classmates from college visit Singapore on a trip and that is when we end up having a dinner together, all of us. Thai Express, Holland Village. She recommends Thai mango salad. That is the first time I try that.

Was she on Livejournal? Cannot recall that. But on Twitter she becomes a steady friend. Arun wins a Grammy nomination. There she is on the red carpet at the Grammys! I know a celebrity now! I name drop her to everyone I talk to.

And it is finally on Twitter, now far away from Singapore, I learn she has passed away. She had occasionally tweeted about health issues, said she lost weight a year or so ago. I never realized it was something this critical. She passed away in her sleep it seems.

I cannot comprehend the news. I remember all our memories. Her Twitter handle roshnimo now mocks at me. Who is going to deliver that clever quip or comeback on Bollywood now? I am just in a bad dream or a different timeline? How could someone I knew through all these shared experiences for 20 years, yes half my life, be gone like this in a poof? Here I sit, silent in the living room, on a winter night, halfway across this planet, contemplating it all. Not being able to fit this puzzle.

RIP Roshni.

Websites to check if a social media forward is a hoax

Fake forwards have been with us since the inception of the internet. It used to be email forwards about miracles, science or political conspiracies. I used to fact check them using websites like Snopes and The Straight Dope.

The fake forward virus has now undergone a fearsome mutation with the advent of social media. They now stoke fear and hatred of other people by using race, religion, political affiliation or culture. With everyone having a smartphone and an internet connection, the fake Whatsapp/Facebook forward poses a real danger.

Almost any such forward should raise suspicions in a rational person. But, common sense is in short supply these days. So, I looked around for websites to fact check such Indian language forwards, so that I could point family or friends to that.

Here are a list of websites that I found to be useful:

Let me know if you find other such fact checking websites.

My guide to Anki

Memory has been shown to be fundamental to our thinking and understanding. It is impossible and pointless to remember everything we learn or discover. But there is some information that we clearly see the value in remembering. Our brain does move some information from short-term memory to long-term memory based on repeated use in the near past. However, not everything we want to is placed in long-term memory. I recently read Michael Nielsen’s essay on augmenting long-term memory, that described the concept of spaced repetition and the use of Anki as a tool to achieve this. I highly recommend reading this essay if this topic sounds interesting to you.

I had used Anki a few times in the past. I was confused by its concepts, UI and usage and did not get any benefit from it. After reading Nielsen’s essay, I started to actively use Anki again and this time I am seeing some benefits. This is a very short guide to using Anki based on solely on my usage.

  • At its simplest, Anki allows you to create flashcards and practice revising the cards. In Anki, flashcards are organized into decks. A flashcard has to belong to exactly one deck. You can create as many decks and flashcards as you wish.

  • Anki clients for Windows and Linux can be downloaded and installed from here. Anki is available as an Android app on the Play store. Anki is also available as a webservice at AnkiWeb.

  • Flashcards are used to test and improve memory. When you create a flashcard, you provide a question and its answer. When you are tested, you are shown the question of the flashcard and the answer is not shown. You try to recall or formulate the answer. Then you look at the flashcard’s answer and check if you were right or not.

  • The advantage of Anki over a paper flashcard is that after answering the card, Anki will ask you how easy or hard it was to answer the card. It provides up to 4 options for you to pick: repeat, hard, good and easy. If it was easy, then it means that there is no need to test you on that card for a long time. If it was hard, then it means that you need to be tested on that card soon in order to help your recall of that. Anki takes care of maintaining the statistics for every card.

  • Keep a single deck: You can create multiple decks, organized by topics. For example, initially I created multiple decks: world history, economics, English, algorithms and so on. After trying this for a while, I have now come to agree with Nielsen’s recommendation that it is best to just keep a single deck. This makes adding new flashcards easy. And it makes your revision very easy. As with any activity, the easier it is, the higher the chance you will do it regularly. Also, by being tested on questions from any corner of human knowledge, you sometimes start to see the connections that lie between them.

  • Revise once a day: You can revise your deck at any frequency you want. You do this by clicking on the deck you want to revise. Anki will start showing you the cards that it thinks you should revise today. You can stop the revision at any point and return to it at any time. It does not matter. Anki is very convenient! I tried wildly varying revision schedules and have found Nielsen’s recommendation of once a day to be the best. Anki too is designed for revising once a day, so this works best. If you do it regularly, you will find that revision takes 5-10 minutes. If you skip revision for a day or more, you will see that the number of cards to revise has increased.

  • I have found it best to use the Anki app on Android for revision. My phone is on me at all times, so I can quickly revise a few questions while I’m using Uber or waiting in line at lunch. During revision, I sometimes find that I want to correct or improve a question or answer. These actions can be done using the Android app.

  • I have found the Windows and Linux apps to be best for adding cards. I mostly read technical blogposts, research papers, longread articles and essays at my computer and it is these tasks that usually lead me to add new flashcards.

  • I have an account on AnkiWeb and use that account on both the Android app and Windows/Linux apps to keep my flashcards synced. Anki will also remember your revision statistics. So, you can revise on the Windows/Linux app one day and revise on the Android app the next day and on AnkiWeb the next day. This whole service is so convenient!

  • I have found it best to make the question and answer of a flashcard to be as small and atomic as possible. If your information is not atomic, then break it down into multiple flashcards until each one is atomic.

  • Other than plain text, you can also add formatting and images to your flashcard answer. There are plugins to the Windows/Linux apps that allow you easily add formatted source code and so on. I have found it best to restrict myself to plain text and images.

  • Do not restrict Anki just for study or research. Use it for everything and you will find it to be truly useful. Here are some examples: recalling the name of a particular tree you see, recalling the word that has a specific meaning, recalling a phone number that you always forget, and so on.

  • Writing a good flashcard that works well for you is an art. You will see yourself improving in this aspect as you use Anki more. For example, I wanted to remember a math function that is common in deep learning. Initially I had added “Q: What is foobar? A: It is this math formula.” After revising that card a few times, I realized that what I actually wanted was a mental picture of the graph of that function. So, I edited that card to “Q: Recall the graph of the foobar function” and I replaced the answer with an image of that graph.

  • I have not found much value in taking cards or decks shared by other people online. Using shared decks might be useful if you are preparing exams like GRE or a medical exam. But since I am using Anki generally for my memory, I have no use for shared decks. What information I tend to forget, what I would value to remember, what form I would like to have it in is very personal. Also, writing down my own flashcard feels like a useful mental exercise.

To summarize: make your flashcards atomic, keep a single deck, revise once a day, use phone app to revise, desktop app to create cards and AnkiWeb to sync the cards.

Tricks of ZipCar

After I got my license, I was not sure how long it would be before I bought a car. So, I signed up for ZipCar. My friends who lived on university campuses said they had found it very useful for occasional use. I signed on for Zipcar’s plan with fee of $7.5 per month. But I was disappointed to discover that they had no car spots nearby and even the ones which required a lot of walking had one car that was booked for most convenient times.

So, I eventually bought a car and then decided to cancel my ZipCar membership. That is when I discovered some sneaky tricks they use.

  • Cancelling membership: ZipCar makes signup very easy. You need to pay a deposit and provide your details and they will send you a card to use with their cars. However, if you look for an easy way to cancel your membership online, that is not there! You need to call 1-866-4ZIPCAR and speak with a human to do that. When I called, the operator tried a bit to dissuade me from cancelling. Another thing I did not like is that the operator asks for details of the new car I have bought. I caught myself revealing that and questioned why he needed to know that. Only then did he refrain from asking that detail.

  • Getting a lower rate on your plan: Towards the end of the call, the operator offered me a lower monthly fee of $3.5 per month if I chose to stay with ZipCar. This trick I believe is very unfair to normal ZipCar users who use it regularly and do not call in to complain or cancel. So anyway, if you use ZipCar it looks like you can call in and get a lower rate.

How to fax auto insurance proof to loan provider


I took an auto loan from a local credit union to buy a car. Imagine my surprise when the credit union asked me to fax the proof of auto insurance to their fax number. How do you fax in 2018?!


Sending a fax requires an actual phone number, so you will not get any free services to do this online. The most popular paid service I found to fax online was eFax.

Thankfully, I found that my auto insurance provider (Geico) had an option hidden away where they can fax the company financing the car.

Here is how to do that:

  • Add your finance company to your policy: You must have your finance company added on your auto insurance policy. If you have not done this, it is easy: from the top choose My Policy Details β†’ Vehicle β†’ View/Edit. Click the View/Edit button displayed below your car. In the dropdown box choose I want to edit finance company. You should be able to type the name of your finance company and find it listed with full address and add it in.

  • Fax your policy to finance company: From the top choose ID Cards and Documents β†’ Documents β†’ Other proof of coverage. In the Proof of Coverage wizard pick Binders. Later in the wizard you should be able to pick your car and enter the fax number of your finance company and Geico will fax them your insurance info in a few minutes. You can also choose email to get the same emailed to yourself.

Blue Shoes and Happiness

Trying to get over a lull in my reading, I recently picked up yet another book from the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. This is actually the 7th one in the series called Blue Shoes and Happiness.

Our protagonist Mma Ramotswe is happily married and is successfully running her detective agency business from an office inside her husband’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors garage. At this point in time, Mma Ramotswe is thrown a bunch of cases to solve. There is something mysterious underfoot at a nearby nature reserve. Elsewhere, a cook who works at a college canteen is being blackmailed. A nurse believes her doctor is involved in malpractice. And closer to home, Mma’s assistant Mma Makutsi is having relationship troubles with her fiancΓ©.

As always, Botswana lies at the heart of every No. 1 novel. What we get to experience is a peaceful thinly-populated African nation blessed with nature, bits of hardy life and filled with reasonable and friendly people. It is this knitting in of Botswana life into these novels that elevates it in my eyes. As for the cases themselves, they turn out, as always, to be caused by human weaknesses and beliefs. This is simple summer reading, offering smooth and pleasurable sailing.

Rating: 4/4