Density and accessibility

Around 2 decades back and a bit more I was introduced to computers. The top-line was 386DX which was mainly used as fat servers and some lucky institutions had the 386SX where IF we were lucky we could be able to play some games on it. I was pretty bad at Prince of Persia or most of the games of the era as most of the games depended on lightning reflexes which I didn’t possess. Then 1997 happened and I was introduced to GNU/Linux but my love of/for games still continued even though I was bad at most of them. The only saving grace was turn-based RPG’s (role-playing games) which didn’t have permadeath, so you could plan your next move. Sometimes a wrong decision would lead to getting a place from where it was impossible to move further. As the decision was taken far far break which lead to the tangent, the only recourse was to replay the game which eventually lead to giving most of those kind of games.

Then in/around 2000 Maxis came out with Sims. This was the time where I bought my first Pentium. I had never played a game which had you building stuff, designing stuff, no violence and the whole idea used to be about balancing priorities of trying to get new stuff, go to work, maintain relationships and still make sure you are eating, sleeping, have a good time. While I might have spent probably something close to 500 odd hours in the game or even more so, I spent the least amount of time in building the house. It used to be 4×4 when starting (you don’t have much of in-game money and other stuff you wanted to buy as well) to 8×8 or at the very grand 12×12. It was only the first time I spent time trying to figure out where the bathroom should be, where the kitchen should, where the bedroom should be and after that I could do that blind-folded. The idea behind my house-design used to be simplicity, efficient (for my character). I used to see other people’s grand creations of their houses and couldn’t understand why they made such big houses.

Now few days back, I saw few episodes of a game called ‘Stranded Deep’ . The story, plot is simple. You, the player are going in a chartered plane and suddenly lightning strikes ( game trope as today’s aircrafts are much better able to deal with lightning strikes) and our hero or heroine washes up on a beach with raft with the barest of possessions. Now the whole game is based upon him/her trying to survive, once you get the hang of the basic mechanics and you know what is to be done, you can do it. The only thing the game doesn’t have is farming but as the game has unlimited procedural world, you just paddle or with boat motor go island hopping and take all that what you need.

What was interesting to me was seeing a gamer putting so much time and passion in making a house.

When I was looking at that video, I realized that maybe because I live in a dense environment, even the designs we make either of houses or anything else is more to try to get more and more people rather than making sure that people are happy which leads to my next sharing.

Couple of days back, I read Virali Modi’s account of how she was molested three times when trying to use Indian Railways. She made a petition on

While I do condemn the molestation as it’s an affront against individual rights, freedom, liberty, free movement, dignity.

Few of the root causes as pointed out by her, for instance the inability or non-preference to give differently-abled people the right to board first as well as awaiting to see that everybody’s boarded properly before starting the train are the most minimum steps that Indian Railways could take without spending even a paise. The same could be told/shared about sensitizing people, although I have an idea of why does Indian Railway not employ women porters or women attendants for precisely this job.

I accompanied a blind gentleman friend few times on Indian Railways and let me tell you, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences. The bogies which is given to them is similar or even less than what you see in unreserved compartments. The toilets were/are smelly, the gap between the station and the train was/is considerable for everybody from blind people, differently-abled people, elderly people as well. This is one of the causes of accidents which happen almost every day on Indian Railways. I also learnt that especially for blind people they are ‘looking’ for a sort of low-frequency whistle/noise which tells them the disabled coupe/bogie/coach will come at a specific spot in the Station. In a platform which could have anything between 1500-2000 people navigating it wouldn’t be easy. I don’t know about other places but Indian Railway Stations need to learn a lot to make it a space for differently abled to navigate by themselves.

Pune Station operates (originating or passing through) around 200 odd trains, with exceptions of all the specials and weekly trains that ply through, adding those would probably another 5-10 trains to the mix. Each train carries anywhere between 750-1000 odd people so roughly anywhere between 15-20 million pass through Pune Railway Station daily. Even if we take conservative estimates of around 5% of the public commuting from Pune, it would mean around 750,000 people travelling daily. Pune Railway Station has 6 stations and if I spread them equally it would come to around 100,000 people on one platform in 24 hours. Divide that equally by 24 hours and it comes to 4,160 people per hour.

Now you take those figures and you see the Pune platforms are under severe pressure. I have normalized many figures. For instance, just like airports, even in railways, there are specific timings where more trains come and go. From morning 0500 hrs to late night 2300 hrs. there would be lot many trains, whereas the graveyard shifts would have windows where maintenance of tracks and personnel takes place.

I dunno if people can comprehend 4000 odd people on the platform. Add to that you usually arrive at least an hour or two before a train departs even if you are a healthy person as Indian Railways has a habit of changing platforms of trains at the last minute.

So if you a differently abled person with some luggage for a long-distance train, the problems just multiply.

See drag accidents because of gap between railway bogies and platforms.

The width of the entrance to the bogie is probably between 30-40 inches but the design is such that 5-10 inches are taken on each side. I remembered the last year, our current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi had launched Accessible Campaign with great fanfare and we didn’t hear anything much after that.

Unfortunately, the site itself has latency and accessibility issues, besides not giving any real advice even if a person wants to know what building norms should one follow if one wants to make an area accessible. This was easily seen by last year’s audit in Delhi as well as other places. A couple of web-searches later, I landed up at a Canadian site to have some idea about the width of the wheelchair itself as well as additional room to manoeuvre.

Unfortunately, the best or the most modern coaches/bogies that Indian Railways has to offer are the LHB Bogies/Coaches.

Now while the Coaches/Bogies by themselves are a big improvement from the ICF Coaches which we still have and use, if you read the advice and directions shared on the Canadian site, the coaches are far from satisfactory for people who are wheel-chair bound. According to Government’s own census records, 0.6% of the population have movement issues. Getting all the differently-abled people together, it comes between 2, 2.5% of the population which is quite a bit. If 2-3 people out of every 100 people are differently-abled then we need to figure out something for them.While I don’t have any ideas as to how we could improve the surroundings, it is clear that we need the change.

While I was thinking,dreaming,understanding some of the nuances inadvertently, my attention/memories shifted to my ‘toilet’ experiences at both Mumbai and the Doha Airport. As had shared then, had been pleasantly surprised to see that both in Mumbai Airport as well as the Doha Airport, the toilets were pretty wide, a part of me was happy and a part of me was seeing the added space as wastefulness. With the understanding of needs of differently-abled people it started to make whole lot of sense. I don’t remember if I had shared then or not. Although am left wondering where they go for loo in the aircraft. The regular toilets are a tight fit for obese people, I am guessing aircrafts have toilets for differently-abled people as well.

Looking back at last year’s conference, we had 2-3 differently-abled people. I am just guessing that it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for them. For instance, where we were staying, at UCT it had stairs, no lifts so by default they probably were on ground-floor. Then where we were staying and where most of the talks were about a few hundred metres away and the shortest distance were by stairs, the round-about way was by road but had vehicles around so probably not safe that way as well. I am guessing they had to be dependant on other people to figure out things. There were so many places where there were stairs and no ramps and even if there were ramps they were probably a bit more than the 1:12 which is the advice given.

I have heard that this year’s venue is also a bit challenging in terms of accessibility for differently-abled people. I am clueless as to did differently-able find debconf16 in terms of accessibility or not ? A related query to that one, if a Debconf’s final report mentions issues with accessibility, do the venues make any changes so that at some future date, differently-abled people would have a better time. I know of Indian institutions reluctance to change, to do expenditure, dunno how western countries do it. Any ideas, comments are welcome.


Flights of fancy – how to figure trends for Airline tickets.

Google Flights Fees tracking
Google Flights Fees tracking between PNQ and YUL and back, economy fares.

Couple of weeks ago, either on some mailing list, on IRC or somewhere else, somebody mentioned that people always put higher amount of airline expenditure for self when asking for sponsorship.

Now last year, between sending the application and getting the approval for sponsorship, there was 3 months of difference between the two. Now if you put up an application for sponsorship like I did last year, I had added 10% to the cost of flight tickets of the cheapest prevailing prices at that point in time on skyscanner or any of the meta-search-engines were showing me at that point in time.

I was sceptical whether the amount that I had put for the to and fro tickets would be enough or not. Strangely, I was lucky enough to get my ticket around the new estimated price. I would have to mention though that there were only 2 tickets left at the new price and if I had waited just a few hours more, those tickets would have gone too and all other tickets were around 25% more than before. The only reasons I could fathom are –

a. Luck, pure and simple.

b. Going at the end of the tourism season – This was evident as I was able to book my extended stay at any hostel just 2 days before my stay at UCT (University of Cape Town) was over. Was corroborated by hostel staff, shop-owners as well as whatever info. I found on the web before and during my stay in SA.

c. South Africa being more lenient than probably Canada is giving and processing visas.

While looking at the third point, thought I better check world tourism rankings and saw the Wikipedia page for it. Interestingly, South Africa seems to have a slight edge over Canada when it comes to statistics and hence strengthens my assumptions that probably more people apply for SA than Canada as they know the possibility of more people making through visa processing. It would stand to be logical that more people would apply for a tourist or similar short-term resident visas if they know they have a good chance going through.

While researching on the topic I also came across/ hunted to find the hardest places to get a Visa for and was surprised to find India being lasted therein.Coincidentally, that site also has a UK domain.It does burst the bubble in ‘Incredible India’ a little bit.

As a newbie who had no clue I knew I was probably a victim of Information Asymmetry where the airlines have much more information about travel trends, ongoing trends at Airports, Politics and Economics of Countries, Price of Crude Oil, Profit, Competition and probably many more factors that I haven’t taken into account which decide fares.

While researching on the topic, one of the interesting finds I had while trying to figure the above is that Airlines didn’t pass on fuel savings to their customers. Now I don’t know whether this was the same around the world or was this only in UK. I am shocked that British (and by definition EU, as UK was part of EU at that time) travellers or consumer groups didn’t file a suit in the court of law as reading the above smells of anticompetitive behaviour. The most shocking statement was this –

“Average fares to Spain rose by 10 per cent over the same period.” – Telegraph, UK.

In order to lessen this information asymmetry a bit, I used google flights and its data of the past 2 months to see how the fares have been changing to have some insight of where the fares might end up. I know google is hated by one and all, but in this instance I couldn’t find any comparable site which does this kind of thing.

As can be seen in the graph, the tickets had started relatively cheap from around INR 65k ish to around 80k ish at this point in time. That is a jump of around 30% in the last couple of months. All of these flights have a layover somewhere in Europe and taking a second flight from there to Canada.

The one which didn’t show much of action is the direct plan between BOM – YUL and back but then this seems to be a premium service . Taking a direct flight from BOM – YUL is north of INR 90k/- which doesn’t make much sense unless one is fond of spending 13+ hours in flight. Definitely not my cup of tea.

With layovers it makes the experience a bit more bearable.

While the real action is probably 3 or bit more months away, its interesting to see how things are panning out at least on airline price tickets and the dynamics involved therein.

Even with all the above attempts at finding the answer, I’m no closer to figuring out to estimate airline ticket prices when window is largish 3 months in making. Any ideas anybody?

If the previous jump is any indication, then 10-15% escalation bit might not hack this time around. Any strategies that people could advise while trying to put a ball-park figure.

The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 1

I was going to put a technical post but saw the discussion of one of the meetings of the debconf meets and decided to share a novice’s travel experience.

Before I start here’s the discussion log

and specifically this part which hit me (using fake names for discussion as haven’t taken permission from the folks to cite them by name.) –

20:36:52 abcd: $100 CAD is a lot for some, but you’d only need it if you won’t sleep in sponsored accom, which arguably is acceptable.
20:37:04 it would, efgh, fixed sponsorship sum for everybody and allocation of rooms completely decoupled. Hotel gets the money from everybody and the “base fee” from DebConf.
20:37:15 people who can’t afford also have special needs and may be uncomfortable in sharing rooms. That’s quite frequently in our community. Managing each case will be much more complicated.
20:37:31 hijk: we could set aside budget for such special needs, for sure.
20:37:43 I’m talking about managing each case
20:37:46 hijk: yes, but we’ll have the special cases no matter what.
20:37:48 yes, and the special cases need to be catered for regardless of how everybody else is housed
20:38:06 hijk: room allocation already includes this.
20:38:19 people having to expose their personal problems to have us permitting them staying in the hotel
20:38:23 that’s just too weird

It just goes on. I dunno whether I’m weird or not or the experience I would share is just normal, this I would leave for you to decide.

As have shared before, some friends of mine from the free software community had cajoled me last year to apply for debconf bursary (debconf15), which surprisingly got approved, but as it was late and my pre-conceived myths/notions of visas taking a looooong time decided not to go further. Many things take a long time to happen in the Indian bureaucratic maze. For instance have been in a civil case for almost a decade now among other things so know and accept that things take their own sweet time otherwise known as ‘Indian patience’ 😉

Did the application and again, surprise, surprise this time too I was approved. Luckily, had done the application for bursary early so was a bit positive on the visa-front. There was a goof-up at the embassay but thanks to people at where I asked quite a few questions, I was a bit informed and travel was relatively hassle-free. Internally though, I was nervous as hell. I had been feeling like a ‘conman’ or a ‘fraud’ or being an ‘imposter’ because I knew before-hand that the project is so huge and had done the mistake of putting up a talk and a workshop where the big guns would be, which again was accepted (not good). The only thing I was thinking of as a saving grace is that there might be some newbies who don’t know about the project at all (on Open Day) and hopefully I could help with that but as you will see, even there I was fully inadequate.

I live in Pune which is around 3.5 hours from Mumbai (BOM) from where international flights take off. While Pune has an Airport, due to defence considerations, there cannot be much improvement either for domestic or International carriers. There have been attempts to have an exclusive civilian Airport for a long time (almost a decade) and would still take a decade or more.

Hence had decided to take an early morning train from Pune to Mumbai, change couple of locals and finally land up at the Mumbai International Airport. Hind-sight as they say is 50:50, while I do have friends in Mumbai, I also found about a homestay which is closer to the Airport and still relatively budget-friendly.

Anyways, met few friends but as was paranoid about missing connections found myself in front of the Airport at 20:00 hrs. with about 7 hours + to go before my flight. While there is nothing to do around the airport rather than hanging around, just hung around outside the airport as knew that inside the airport will be chilling and once you go in, you cannot come out or at least it’s an inconvenience to the security therein. The International Airport in on three levels, the basement is for vehicles, the first level to receive International and Domestic passengers and the upper-most level exclusively for people flying internationally. This again, came to know when I tried to enter into the ones meant for Domestic and International Passengers coming into the city.

Came to the check-in counter at around 02:00 hrs, did the security thing and just had to wait as the flight was of 0400 hrs (from my limited search experience, the cheapest flights are at such times when nobody else (i.e.civilized people) wants to fly). Entered Doha around 5:15 Doha time and saw a much much bigger airport than either the Mumbai International Airport or/and the Delhi International Airport . While I have written some negative stuff about Doha, there were two positives that I am sure, I had forgotten to share –

a. There were no transit Visa Fees that I had to pay. Most countries and airports I researched have something called transit visa and that can really get expensive, so saved money on that.

b. The free ride into the city and back with voluntary tipping the driver or/and guide (approx. 3-4 hours)

While the second from what I could tell/know is a gimmick, this is something I wish other countries and airports emulate.

There are hotels in the airport and I could have had hotel accommodation if I had booked a slightly more expensive ticket, roughly INR 5k/- each way which would have given me a bit more legroom as well as stay as my layover was more than 24 hours. But this information was known at last minute. Qatar Airways has just a toll-free number and trying more than a few times gave up. They don’t have an office in the city. When I reached the check-in counter they said if I had upgraded to ‘Y’ class I would have had the hotel thing. Changing tickets at the last moment was too expensive and anyways for hotel accommodation for layovers they required at least 24 hours notice.

Had to make do with recliners and chairs which are not really comfortable. There were only a couple of waiting rooms on air-side which had a view of the aircraft and hence were a bit more pleasing than those which were on the land-side and were fully blocked without a view. I wish there was a map of the Airport from within the Airport as even with the single terminal it is really easy to get lost.

Somehow the day and night went by and took my second flight and reached Cape Town, South Africa. Throughout the journey had been stressed as had to be awake at all times and make sure that nothing gets stolen. Having attendants at toilets were also good so that there is no possibility of any violence there. So it had been 2 days, no shower and no sleep.

Later also came to know about Airport Sleeping Pods and shower stalls but these also seem to be less in number, at few airports and there always be a bit of premium attached to them as airports are a monopoly business.

Anyways, reached the venue. Throughout the travel there was quite a bit of unnamed fear which I later came to know after seeing Dr. Ramanujan’s ‘The Man who knew Infinity‘ . It was/is the fear or unknown, while in the movie it is articulated as fear of crossing seven seas, symbolically it is the fear or unknown.

Now while I was dead tired, I still pushed myself as I didn’t want to have the effects of jet lag interfere with the normal sleeping and waking patterns. I did freshen myself but didn’t allow myself the luxury of the bath-tub as I knew that if I went in, I would not come out that day. Met all the people, learnt who’s who, where things are happening etc. and slowly night came. Night came and I was so-looking forward to sleep but sleep was not to be. I later learnt it could be either of the two reasons, it could either have been ‘travel-induced insomnia‘ or/and what is known as the first night effect‘.

It was only on the second day when I was in bath-tub for about 2/3 hours I could feel the tension leaving my body. I finally realized that I am in Cape Town, South Africa and could enjoy and be surprised at seeing birds within few feet of me 🙂 .

Now I don’t know whether I’m the only weird/paranoid one, I do know that it would not have been easier for me at least for the first night as I was turning and twisting throughout the night. I opened the lights, read for some time hoping for sleep to take over but that didn’t work. Tried quite a few things but sleep didn’t come. If I had been sleeping with other people I dunno how they would have reacted. I myself am a light sleeper (most of the time) and if I had sleep coming and somebody else acted or been the way I was, I wouldn’t been able to sleep. However much you try, whatever is the natural reaction is, will be. There are still some bits to share but that would be in part 2.