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Bank Of America ATM Surprise

I frequently deposit checks into Bank of America ATM and I am very picky as to how I do it. I usually place one check in one envelope and deposit all envelopes individually so that when the transactions are in my account, I can reconcile them better by their amounts. I am sure I have annoyed several people in line behind me on some days when I had 6 checks to deposit:-).

But this last trip to the ATM surprised me. Withhout paying attention to the instructions warning me of the ATM being new, I proceeded with a check deposit with an envelope. But suddently, the ATM rejected my envelope. I was like, what? Needless to say, I got off the phone and started reading the instructions. The new ATM can read your check!! So you just slide it in and it will confirm the amount for you. It was not something I was expecting and was pleasantly surprised. How often does your bank surprise you pleasantly?

I am back in USA

I am back in the USA after a wonderful (but hectic) trip top India. Jet lag is still not gone completely, so I end up sleeping early and waking up early. Afternoons are especially hard. What is making it worse is allergies that are kicking in. Apparently, there are a lot of pollen in the air (still) in Chattanooga. Well, I will see how I can get rid of these allergies.

Manjiri and Shridhar are still enjoying their stay in Pune at Manjiri's mom's place. That sure must be nice. I miss them a lot.

More soon.

Delhi Trip

I am writing this note from Delhi's Domestic terminal. Wi-Fi is freely available here!.

India Trip 2007 Begins

We are at home with Bhushan's parents at the moment enjoying some family time. We reached Mumbai via NorthWest/KLM flight via Amsterdam which was a pleasant experience overall. The air crafts were relatively new, tons of movies to watch, on demand, and decent food. Of course the seats are still NOT comfortable in the economy class. But we didn't have much to complain about. Amsterdam airport was refreshing, but we couldn't help notice that the airport in general allows smoking in public. Other than that it was a good breaking point during our journey.

At Mumbai airport, the arrival was also very pleasant. First of the cleanliness has improved quite a bit. The long queues are history now, what with some 30+ immigration counters and easy customs lines. The carts were freely available for pick up and there wasn't much hassle from people trying to extort money for smallest thjings. My brother Girish, his wife Deepali, their son Nihar and my cousin Amar came to receive us at the airport and my mom and dad stayed at home. A quick taxi ride (prepaid) brought us home and conversations lasted hours. From 1:00 am till almost 5:00 am we chatted, opened up the bags of gifts etc and finally crashed into makeshift beds after a snack of "pohe" made by Deepali vahini:-)

The whole day Saturday was gone recovering from Jetlag at home, but on Sunday we did something exciting. We joined a group of school children on a field trip to INS Vikrant (look it up on Google Earth at 18.93180792571063N, 72.84226202880814E). We explored this decommissioned Naval Aircraft Carrier.

On Monday we hung out at home and visited a Yoga class with my mom. Ate Indian Chinese and watched cricket world cup match on TV. Today we are headed to a Laughter Club class with my dad and possibly more sightseeing in Mumbai along with some minor shopping. Tomorrow we head out to Kerala.

More later...

Blogging For Business and Going Beyond The Toastmasters Club

I gave two speeches in a day yesterday (first time for me) and enjoyed both the presentations very much. First one was about Blogging and how it can benefit businesses. I gave that one at the Chattanooga Engineers Club. If you were in that audience, I am posting those links at the bottom of this post. Also, the power point will be available via this website or via email soon.

The second speech was at my club and there I talked about what I love doing - going beyond the club and using my toastmasters skill in the area and the community. That presentation was prepared by toastmasters, but I put my heart and soul in it, because I am a living example of it. I talked about how you can participate in Toastmasters contests not just to win them, but to learn from them and enjoy the camaraderie of other Toastmasters in the area. That presentation also focussed on taking on leadership challenges, just as I have done for myself (see my previous post).

OK, here are the links I promised about Blogging for Business

Jeff Wuorio's Articles:
5 ways blogging can help your business
blogging for business: 7 tips for getting started
Blogs will Change your business: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_18/b3931001_mz001.htm
Wikipedia on Blogs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog
Learning Circuits: http://www.learningcircuits.org/2003/aug2003/cross.htm
Inc.com Business Blogging: http://www.inc.com/articles/2003/07/bblogs.html
Word Bank Group: http://psdblog.worldbank.org/about.html
Bloglines: http://www.bloglines.com/
Blogger Stories: http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com/archives/2006/05/blogger_stories.html
Blogger Stories: http://bloombergmarketing.blogs.com/bloggerstories/
Corporate Blogging: http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com/
Corporate Blogging Tips: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_18/b3931007_mz001.htm
Business Blogging list: http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com/archives/2006/05/fortune_500_tec_2.html
Blogs Statistics and Demographics: http://www.caslon.com.au/weblogprofile1.htm
Pew Survey of Bloggers: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/186/report_display.asp
SFGate Survey of cost of blogging: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2005/07/11/wastingtime.TMP
Sun CEO's blog: http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/entry/sunlight_is_the_best_disinfectant

Toastmasters and Learning about Leadership

My love affair with Toastmasters continues. I joined to improve my confidence couple of years ago and have never left them since then. I got the confidence I was looking for within a first few speech projects and then I started a path I had no idea I would love so much - the path of leadership. One of the club officers in my first Toastmasters club (Sunset Speakers' Steve Waszak) asked me to volunteer as a VP of Membership of that club. I wasn't quite ready for it, but I accepted the challenge anyway. I said to myself, what the heck, I can put together a few fliers and talk to people once in a while to keep the membership going. But then I found out that I was passionate about it. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, the job change forced me to move and had to let go of my stint with Sunset Speakers. But as soon as I landed here in Chattanooga, I found Monday Mumblers and joined the club right away. Since they didn't have a VP of Membership, I volunteered to run that job and decided to continue my learning in this setting. After the year was finished, I had learned a few things about how to market our club and how to maintain the roster and keep the membership building. Talking to people was a major part of that job and I enjoyed every moment of it. I even enjoyed crafting a contest for club members to invite guests which I think did generate some interest among members. I learnt valuable organizational and presentation skills during my stint as VP-Membership.
The following year, I decided to change my role to be VP of Education. Now remember, all officers of Toastmasters clubs, even with fancy names and all, are ultimately volunteers. Club business can consume a lot of your personal time. And AFTER I chose to be VP-Education, all the leaders who do the training of officers patted my pack for choosing that role. I was like, why? I mean, I just want to do my best and all. But no, what I didn't know was that VP-Education is the most time consuming of the officer roles and by far the most important function in the club's business. This person is supposed to make sure members meet their educational goals and arrange schedules. VPE is responsible for many things the club does, including new member orientation; their mentoring, continual education of experienced members and most importantly keep the club meetings varied and interesting at all times. That's not an easy task. I soon realized the hot water I had got myself into. The first challenge I faced was related to scheduling. I can't write enough about this topic, but that experience taught me how tough it can be to handle complex meeting schedules. One of my achievements while I was in office as VPEducation was to get our club a space on the internet. yes, with the help of a webmaster, we now post weekly on http://www.MondayMumblers.com.

I enjoyed working as VPE enough that after a year's work, I volunteered to continue. But suddenly another opportunity opened up, this time beyond my own club. I was offered to work as Area Governor for District 63 of Toastmasters. It meant, apart from my own club's success, I will now be expected to visit 3 other clubs in Chattanooga, and make sure they are following the success plans. This I wasn't sure about, but after a careful evaluation, I accepted the challenge. Now, about 3 months into it, my volunteer workload has increased quite a bit and so is the learning curve. When you go beyond your club, you see the bigger picture in Toastmasters. As Area Governor for Area 30 in Division C, I have visited East Brainerd Toastmasters Club, Cleveland Wordspinners and Chatter Masters Club (Downtown Chattanooga) and learned how they do things in their meetings. Meeting and guiding some of their new members and officers has been a very good exercise in leadership. I learnt very quickly in Toastmasters that we learn by doing, and Being an Area Governor is an exercise in practicing all your people skills. Our next challenge is coming up next week when we conduct Area wide Speech contests for winners from about 12 clubs in the Chattanooga area. This will be a Humorous Speech contest and also Evaluation Contest. I remember participating in these events, now I get to see how we conduct one.

Over the last three months, I have also attended meetings with other Toastmasters, who are higher up in the leadership chart. They have been learning the leadership principles for very long and it shows in their dedication and knowledge. It’s great to be able to learn from such experienced players rather that learning just from books. And making these connections has also helped me understand Toastmasters on a different level.

All this Leadership talk is not distracting me away from my speaking path. I am now about 3 speeches away from my next award (Advance Communicator Bronze). My next speech presentation is coming up soon with the Chattanooga Engineers Club where I am going to talk about the benefits of blogging from a business perspective. In other words, can blogging help your business? I will talk about that a bit later...

Cincinnati and Detroit Trip (Madness)

In August 2006, we did this crazy trip to see Madhavi Taai and Jaydeep's family. Drove on Friday night from Chattanooga to Cincinnati (374 miles) and got there at 1 am. Then on Saturday, we left after lunch and reached Detroit Airport (275 miles) to pick up Madhavi taai who arrived from London. After picking her up, we went to her cousin Rajashree's place for a few hours and left for Cincinnati. We reached Cincinnati at about midnight on Saturday night after another 275 miles or so. Bhushan did most of the driving so far.

All day Sunday we did some sightseeing (Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati, Kenwood Shopping Center, Udupi Restaurant dinner etc) and lots of talking as family. Madhavi taai, Bhushan-Manjiri, Akshay, Evan and Tej. It was fabulous time. Then after celebrating Jaydeep's birthday at home we left at about 8pm or so for Chattanooga. Manjiri pretty much drove all night and we made it home at about 4 or 5 am.

All in all, we did a lot of driving, but had some great moments of family time, which would not have come our way otherwise. There was that one time we touched lake Erie near Detroit. Then the moment when Elizabeth drove us in our car to downtown Cincinnati. And Madhavi Taai got to experience the Grey Hound bus ride from Cincinnati to Detroit. Those were the interesting parts.

Back to school with H & R Block

Life has gotten busier over the last month. Every day I am learning something new and feel like there isn't enough time left in a day.

Started my class with H & R Block on September 12th. This is their annual tax preparation course for their office employees. I decided to take it because I think I have learned quite a bit over the last few years by doing my own taxes in very complex situations. But boy was I wrong!! I learned in first two sessions that the US Tax law is amazingly complex and what I was using for my own tax preparation was only a small percent of that code and even for that I was using software like Tax Cut and TurboTax. In this class with H & R Block, which meets every Tuesday night and Saturday morning for 3 hours at a time, we are doing everything from scratch, on a piece of paper using 1040 form and pencil. The instructor is helping us understand how important the details can be, using a guide book and workbook prepared with meticulous details and careful planning. We learn by doing and every other week, there's quiz to make sure we remember things as we go along. I have enjoyed this learning so far and will probably enjoy the rest of it (it’s a 6 week class). At the end of this class, there will be a comprehensive exam, which, if I pass with at least 80% marks, I will eligible to work with H & R Block as an employee during the next tax season which begins in January 2007. The money I will make doesn't interest me as much as the knowledge and experience I will get by interacting with actual clients. But one thing is clear, this class is definitely helping me get good with my quantitative skills and paying attention to details. This leads me to the next blog on GMAT.

Huntsville & Birmingham (Alabama Trip)

Last weekend (July 29-30, 2006) we went to Huntsville and Birmingham in Alabama, which is a neighboring state to Tennessee. The roads were quite scenic and the sites spectacular. In Huntsville, we saw the US Space and Rocket Center where as in Birmingham; we canoed and hiked trails in Oak Mountain State Park. All this was done at a very leisurely pace and with lots of time to enjoy food and dining of international kind. In Huntsville, Sitar (Indian Restaurant) fed us great dinner whereas in Birmingham, we enjoyed poha at Shruti's home (made by her) and Caribbean flavored food and drinks (Ultimate Piña Colada) at Bahama Breeze.

The drive was scenic all the way. Chattanooga to Huntsville took about 2 hours on I-75/I-24/US-72. Huntsville to Birmingham was about 1.5 hours on I-565/I-65. Birmingham to Chattanooga was the relatively mundane 2.5-3.0 hour drive on I-59/I-24/I-75. The roads in Alabama, specially in I-59 were in horrible condition, but the greenery and other scenery made up for all of the deficiencies.

Birmingham was exciting to be in. We shopped at the Summit mall and stayed on Highland Ave near downtown. The Oak Mountain State Park, just outside the city provided lots of recreational opportunities within half an hours driving distance. We canoed (simple boat with hand paddles) in a lake and later walked a trail (Peavine Trail) to the a waterfall (which was quite depleted at this time due to droughts in the area).

Shruti lives and works in B'ham and was a great host. She came to Huntsville's US Space and Rocket Center to accompany us and that was fun. The Space Center has fascinating displays of NASA projects, some real, some replicas. The size of Saturn V rocket is shockingly big when you get so close to it. The IMAX dome movie about Roving on Mars was inspiring. The Dome shaped theatre reminded me of the Nehru Planetarium experience in Worli (Mumbai). I had never seen IMAX movie in a dome shaped theatre before, that was really good.

Now we are back to life in Chattanooga. Looking forward to next weekend when we will hit the road again. This time it will be to Cincinnati and Detroit. More when that happens.

Text Your Way To The World!!

SMS (Short Messaging Service) aka Text messaging is becoming a popular way of communcation now here in the US after it has been an established way of communication all over the rest of the world. I am just catching up. Until now, I have been using text messaging to send and and receive occasional messages to family and friends and sometimes get information from Google SMS (more on that later). That was costing me about 10 cents a message. Finally I signed up with my carrier (Cingular) to get 50 messages for 3 dollars. As a promotion, I have free unlimited text messaging for this first month, so I am going to try and text my way to the world to see how far I can get with it.

But I thought while I am on the subject, why don't I share some of the related information I have gathered with all you folk. Some of you may already know this, and for others it may still be way out there. But here it is anyway, take it or leave it. If you think its valuable, share it with your friends and email lists.

Please do send me your feedback though, by Email (not publishing it here), SMS (not publishing it here) or by Emailed-SMS (not publishing it here)

Bhushan

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To send a text message to Cingular/AT&T Wireless subscribers:
Go to http://www.cingularme.com/do/public?l=en-US&v=cingular
or
send an email to: <10 digit phone#>@mobile.mycingular.net

To send a text message to T-Mobile subscribers:
Go to https://wmg.tmomail.net/customer_site/jsp/messaging_lo.jsp
or
send an email to: <10 digit phone#>@tmomail.net

To send a text message to Sprint/NexTel subscribers:
Go to http://messaging.sprintpcs.com/textmessaging/compose
or
email to <10 digit phone#>@messaging.sprintpcs.com

To send a text message to Verizon subscribers:
Go to https://www.vtext.com/customer_site/jsp/messaging_lo.jsp
or
send an email to: <10 digit phone#>@vtext.com

To send a text message to BPL Mobile subscribers (in India)
send an email to <10 digit phone#>@bplmobile.com

I am still looking for information for Reliance Mobile phone subscribers in India. If you know about it, or if you have any other info in this category, please let me know.

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Google SMS

Almost all of you are now familiar with Google's Search web page. Well, most of that power is now available on your text message enabled cell phones as well. They have launched a service called Google SMS. When you are on the road, away from the web and need info, a phone number or address, or movie info, even weather report, you just send a query message (such as weather Chicago) to google's special SMS number 46645 (remember GOOGL on your phone pad) and they will send you the query results in seconds. For more information on Google SMS, see their website http://www.google.com/sms/. Its fantastic.