PfSense – Why I Use and Love it?

Like most people, I too started my journey on broadband internet with an ISP supplied modem-router device. It didn’t take me long to discover that these devices were a compromise – something the ISP supplied to meet a low price-point. They would stop working and need to be rebooted every few weeks if I was lucky, or every few days if I was not. In the beginning my allocated bandwidth was significantly lower than what the technology, ADSL at that time, supported. So I didn’t initially notice the capacity or performance weaknesses of these routers, but as bandwidth and subsequently number of devices and connections grew, these weaknesses became obvious. My ISP-supplied router would grind to a halt when subjected to a few hundred connections during a Bittorrent session.

Continue reading PfSense – Why I Use and Love it?

Mating My Fujifilm Body to My Nikon Lenses

So my trusted old DSLR, a Nikon D80 that I had been using since 2008 finally gave up the ghost sometime last year. I had a decent set of lenses for it. I particularly liked my 18-135mm zoom that was very versatile for travel. But I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to invest in a new Nikon body.

Nikon AF NIKKOR 70-300mm f4-5.6G
Nikon DX AF-S NIKKOR 18-135mm f3.5-5.6G ED
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f1.4G
My modest set of Nikon lenses

One big reason was that I also got a Fujifilm X-Pro1 for a very good price during our 2015 Japan trip. It was one of the few cameras that were made in Japan and buying it in Japan meant you could avoid the various duties and fees you would incur elsewhere. I even got a refund of the Japanese VAT. Sadly though it came with a 35mm prime. An excellent f1. 4 lens, but an effective 52mm focal length made it pretty limited as a travel lens.

So now I was in a dilemma. Should I get a new Fuji zoom lens or a Nikon body? Both are kind of expensive and around the same price. Was there a way around it?

Continue reading Mating My Fujifilm Body to My Nikon Lenses

All About My NAS

For several years I had been casually thinking about building a NAS. Over time we have been gathering more and more data – it’s not just documents now, but high-resolution pictures (and their RAW files) and videos collected over the years. Add to that the movies, music and software files that you need to store somewhere.

And if you’re a video creator, even a casual amateur like me, you are sure to have hundreds of gigabytes, if not several terabytes of footage you need to archive.

Soon, all these add up to such a volume that gets really challenging to manage on a normal computer, even if you have several large hard disks. You have constantly plan and re-plan the distribution of files among the disks, manage the sharing and access control of those files and their backups.

On top of that, we are no longer limited to using a single computer. I use both my desktop and my laptop and it’s a really hassle to sync files between them without messing up versions and potentially losing important work.

Continue reading All About My NAS

My Chapaguri Experience

I was browsing through the online grocer from whom I usually buy my instant noodles and other Asian groceries. While looking around for the usual Shin Ramyun and Kimchi Ramyun, I came across an item not usually seen in India. You can usually spot some varieties of the the extremely spicy Buldaak – popular in India for expected reasons, but way too spicy for my palate. But this was different and didn’t look spicy. It was called Chapaguri.

Continue reading My Chapaguri Experience

In Search of the Perfect Keyboard

I’m not much of a typist. Touch typing is something I never got into, leave alone perfecting it. I’m more of a hunt and peck typist who has evolved. Instead of using just the index finger on each hand, I use one, two, or more fingers on each hand. But my hands still move all over the keyboard instead of staying homed on the home keys like a touch typist’s would.

As a result, my fingers hit the keys much harder than a touch typist’s would. They actually bottom out each key – hard, instead of just depressing each key just to the point of actuation of the switch, or membrane contacts.

I don’t know what kind of keyboard I started with. But it was probably some kind of membrane. By the time I knew about membrane and mechanical keyboards, I was surely using membranes. Sure! I had heard of how cool mechanical keyboards were and all that.

But when I got my first mechanical keyboard, it wasn’t for the great typing experience. It had more to do with the reliability and ease of cleaning. Prior to that my membrane keyboards were going bad quite often. Partly because they were so hard to clean. I would sometimes spray cleaning solutions on them and quickly wipe them clean, hoping the liquid wouldn’t seep inside. But sometimes it would, and there went another keyboard. Sometimes the dirt would interfere with the smooth movement of the keys and even the actuation of the membrane contacts.

Continue reading In Search of the Perfect Keyboard

Google Location History Timeline comes to the Google Maps app

Earlier in August I had written about the Timeline feature or interface for Google Location History. I have been a long term user of Location History and now use the Timeline view frequently to review the places I’ve been to and the routes I have taken.

Last night I was using the Google Maps app on my Android phone and came across the Your Timeline item in the menu. It turns out be the same Timeline view for Location History that we know of from the desktop version.

You can review and edit the visited places that Google tries to auto-detect. But there’s a new feature! It now also tries to detect and show you how you got from one place to another – walking, cycling, driving or various modes of public transit. And like places, you can correct them too. Yes, there’s a motorcycling mode too and I’ve only tried changing to it manually as I don’t see it would differentiate between driving and motorcycling.

The Timeline is now a lot like the iOS version of the Moves app which also lets you select various modes of transportation, including muscle powered modes. Google’s Timeline also lets you choose such modes like swimming, skiing and kayaking, though the list isn’t as exhaustive as Moves’.

Moves however, is no longer a relevant app for me as all of the features I described above are available only on iOS and have not been ported to the Android version for a very long time now.

With Google’s Timeline though, I see it available only on the Android app as of now. I could not find it on the latest iOS app but I hope it’s only a matter of time before it’s available there as well.

Unlike Moves, Google Timeline does not track various details of physical activity like calorie and step counts across various activities and locations. That’s understandable as it’s Google Location History with the primary emphasis being on location. But as Google is already tracking activity related data also with the Google Fit app, maybe we’ll see an integration of that into Location History Timeline as well.

Harley-Davidson heat issues in traffic

This has been bugging me for a while, so thought I’ll write about it. I had long since  heard about bigger motorcycles having trouble managing engine heat in heavy stop-and-go city traffic, even more so with air-cooled Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

They need air moving over the cylinder cooling fins at a minimum speed of 40-50 km/h to take away all the heat generated by the massive engines. Liquid cooled engines have it much easier as most typically have a radiator fan to help with cooling when the bike is stationary or at very low speeds. While the system is much like a car, most motorcycle radiators are much smaller than cars while their engines are not, so they can only cool effectively for a while when stationary or at low speeds, before the engine starts overheating.

Continue reading Harley-Davidson heat issues in traffic

Instant Ramen and why I love it

I wasn’t a ramen fan until I had true ramen for the first time, in a Japanese ramen-ya in Tokyo in 2009. The best way to have ramen is to visit a ramen-ya (typical Japanese ramen bar) which are common anywhere in Japan. For us outsiders, the ramen produced by most outlets in Japan would be nothing short of excellent, so just hopping in to any convenient one would normally do.

But there are still times when a ramen-ya isn’t really convenient. Such as when you return really late and most shops have closed. Or you just want to eat comfortably in your hotel room instead. So during our recent trip to Japan we tried something different. We tried pre-packed instant ramen from the convenience stores. After all most of them are open 24/7.

What surprised me most was how good these instant ramen products were. They usually come in big sealed plastic bowls with the noodles and various other dry and wet ingredients in their individual pouches, to be steeped in hot water. Not unlike many other Asian instant noodle solutions.

But unlike most other Asian instant noodles, these ramen packages don’t skimp on the additional toppings and ingredients, such as menma (fermented bamboo shoot), egg or slices of meat.

The result is a wholesome ramen experience anywhere you want and at any time.

See the video below for for how we prepared our instant ramen from start to finish. Doesn’t it look good?

The sad thing is most of these excellent instant ramen products are not easily available outside of Japan, especially in India.

Google updates Location History with cool new Timeline feature

When I opened up Google Location History yesterday to review my route after a quick motorcycle ride, I was pleasantly surprised by a slick new interface called Timeline.

Gone is the somewhat drab  yet very functional old interface with just the map and a simple calendar based control to view your location history on various dates or date ranges.

The new Timeline interface shows the map on the entire page much like the new Google Maps interface with various places from your entire location history marked on it. On the top left is a simple control with the Timeline heading to filter your view based on year, month and date.

At the bottom part of the page are some interesting bits. There’s a section for your trips that intelligently detects and organizes  your trips, much like how Google Plus does it.

When you open each trip, you can see the individual days from the trip represented as a timeline on the left and a map on the right. The timeline shows the various places you have been at various times. For most of these places you can either confirm you were there by clicking on a “I was here” button, or change an incorrect guess to the correct one using the drop-down menu.

I have been using location history since the days of Google Latitude and consider it a very useful service though many are paranoid about it’s implications on their privacy. I don’t know how popular the service is on the whole as it seemed to be kind of a hidden Google Maps feature after Latitude went away. I have been hoping for a long time that Google continue this service, and with the new Timeline update it looks like they are committed to keeping it going. But with Google, one can never really be sure.

Shin Ramyun Instant Noodles

It may seem awkward to start a food blog with an instant noodle but I am an avid fan of all noodles, the instant variety included. It perhaps goes with my general liking of East Asian culture and food, but anyway, let’s talk about the subject matter here – Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun noodles.

In India the market for non-Indian instant noodles is very scant. So for us connoisseurs of Thai instant noodles or instant Japanese ramen, it is very difficult to find products to stay happy with.

On my recent trip to Japan, I tried several instant ramen products and I must say they are almost as good as those in a ramen-ya (ramen bar) with all the various ingredients and topping included. And they are easy to make too – you only need a kettle of hot water.

So this brings me to Shin Ramyun. It’s a Korean instant noodle but probably the only thing close to Japanese ramen that is at least sometimes available in the Indian market.

Pack of Nongshim's Shin Ramyun instant noodles
Pack of Nongshim’s Shin Ramyun instant noodles

It does not come with the exotic toppings of instant ramen like dehydrated bamboo shoots and egg, it does have enough material to make an wholesome broth, and over 500ml of it. It comes with a generous sachet of dehydrated vegetable flakes including pieces of shiitake mushrooms.

The circular noodle cake and sachets of vegetables and soup powder
The circular noodle cake and sachets of vegetables and soup powder

The particular variety I had this time was the extra spicy kind, so it may be a little too spicy for some but I don’t mind at all. I also like the hint of sesame oil in the flavor. Some would argue that the noodles are different from ramen. But they are very good.

The final product