New York MetroCard Refill Calculator

Yet another MetroCard refill calculator! Tourists to New York will likely use the stored-value version of the MetroCard. New York MTA makes things difficult by making it hard to figure out how much money to add to minimize leftover amounts, given that they offer a 5% bonus on purchases over $5.

While there are many calculators and Android and iPhone applications that claim to do this, those calculators try to bring the leftover amount to zero. But a tourist is more likely interested in getting a certain number of tickets, and paying for it without having too much leftover - keep it under a nickel, for example.

That is exactly what this calculator does. Use it to get a table of all possible additional subway rides based on current balance on a NYC MetroCard. It also offers a no-rounding mode, which may work for cash purchases at a manned ticket booth.

Also available in the Google Play Store as an Android app that can work offline without internet access.

The source code for this project is available at code.google.com nyc-metrocard-refill. It uses the identical HTML/CSS/JavaScript code for both the online web pages and the offline Android app.

Purple color looks blue in photos - how to fix

Purple is a hard color to capture using a camera. White balance, lighting, brand/model of camera, nothing will help. Purple ends up looking like blue in pictures.

So this requires editing the image to get purple right. Cannot just immediately upload a picture if it is purple you are interested in!

Most times just need an easy fix. Use the Hue color editing tool, change the hue for the blue color by moving it towards the red/purple side.

Using Gimp:
1. (Optional) Select the region to be affected. Using the rough selection free-select hand tool is good enough. Just need to exclude other bluish (or bluish-white) areas of the picture. In many cases, this may not be necessary at all, just apply the hue change to the entire picture and it may be good enough.
2. Use the Colors -> Hue-Saturation command. Select the blue primary color to adjust. Move the Hue slider rightwards, as much as needed.

For this example, a +30 change to Blue Hue was applied.

Now the Balloon Princess has the dress in the color she wants - purple!

Additional info:

The Color Purple and the Digital Camera shows how to use the HSL tool to fix problem colors such as purple, magenta, or dark pink.

2013 Montreal Jazz Festival

Pictures and video clips of some of the final four days at the 34th Edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival which ran from 2013-June 28 through July 7. Also included are some pictures from other events going on at the same time.

The best shows for me were as usual at either the Blues stage, or the Tropiques/Groove stages next to it:
Fatoumata Diawara
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band

The pictures below have more info and some video snippet links too.
There is also a playlist of all snippets on YouTube.
And a few more photos, including full size photos, are at the Google Picasa Album

July 9th saw the start of another festival: Details on Festival de Percussions Longueuil 2013 opening show.

Official Montreal Jazz Festival site.
Montreal Completement Cirque site.
International Fireworks Festival site.
Festival de Percussions Longueuil 2013 site.

Schwartz's Poutine

Schwartz's Poutine

New in 2013!

It is more of a novelty than anything - the Schwartz's Sandwich is far better in terms of enjoying smoked meat. In any case, the best poutine is also the basic nothing-added version, so this smoked-meat added poutine doesn't really increase the pleasure. The poutine itself is good, given that the fries at Schwartz's are truly outstanding.

This is only served at the Schwartz's Next Door Take Out Counter (Schwartz's à côté), which is not open all the time - may only be open during summer rush hours, for example, and closed in winter, etc.

Coursera - Introduction to Data Science

This was my first experience with a MOOC - and it was incredible. This online-course stuff is definitely going to be one of the best things to come out of the Internet. Here is my report on one of the courses: Coursera - Introduction to Data Science by Bill Howe of U of Washington. This is a 8-week course, and the blurb says it needs around 8-10 hours per week attention, and basic programming background. In reality, it is worth allotting 10-20 hours per week, and having more than just basic programming skills to allow spare time to go through the textbook and papers on the recommended reading lists. The video lectures themselves take around 2 hours per week.

The textbook was Mining of Massive Datasets by Anand Rajaraman and Jeff Ullman and worth reading it once at least - even if lack of time necessitates skipping over the difficult parts. And some of the papers assigned were also quite readable - and always fun to see the progression of ideas, especially the continuing march of Map Reduce techniques towards ACID Database concepts and vice-versa.

I highly recommend these online courses to everyone interested in keeping in touch with latest technology or getting an introduction to a new area of interest. It gets things done in a short time, and the key is that motivation is provided by the homework assignments as well as the discussion forums associated with the course. And amazingly, this is all free.

The three best things about this course and probably MOOCs in general:

  1. Course syllabus was very good. This course covers Databases, Relational Algebra, Map Reduce, Analytics (Statistics, Modeling), Visualization. And introduces a bunch of tools and databases and algorithms, with optional assignments that involve using Pig Latin based Hadoop to mine a 500GB dataset using Amazon Elastic Map Reduce frameworks. Woo-hoo!

Notes on Clearmodem 4G Home Internet

Right now am trying out the Clear Hub Express modem from CLEAR 4G Internet provider. I had a cable modem, but they increased prices far too much - funny how cable companies like to charge long-time existing customers a lot, and provide deep discounts to new customers!

CLEAR 4G has good prices - and very bad reviews on the web, including an ongoing class-action suit related to cutting off service for heavy usage even though they claim "unlimited data and no overage fees". My hope is that they are improving on this front now and are therefore worth a try. End result - mixed feelings about them. Mainly because their software is deficient and has bugs so it requires contacting customer support and that quality continues to be abysmal. Cable modem devices have much better software quality compared to CLEAR devices.

The report below is based on the 1.5Mbps download plan for $35/month as of March 2013. They prefer to have people buy the $50/month plan with 6Mbps service but the lower plan is good enough for most uses, including HQ level YouTube videos. If you want to watch 720p or higher HD resolutions, then something greater than 2Mbps is necessary. And at $50/month cost, it is not competitive with Cable Modems which usually offer $60/month plans for 20Mbps or higher. The YouTube wikipedia page has a table showing rates of different video resolutions.

  • The Hub Express is a router with Wi-Fi and two wired ports. It seems to work fine in my area, and has stayed up for a whole week now without problems. I don't use it all day, but do use it a lot in the evening and some weekends. It seems to hold on to the 4G signal pretty well.

6 hours layover in London Airport - Visit London City too

Given six or more hours between arrival and departure at London, it is possible to make a quick trip into London City. This should easily give around 90 minutes of time in London, assuming 1 hr of travel time from the Airport to Piccadilly Circus.

There are caveats - sometimes, the tube and/or security at London can be a long drawn out affair. But having just made this quick run, I ended up with 45 minutes to spare at London for my departure, so it was all quite comfortable.

Of course, all I did at Piccadilly Circus is walk around a few blocks, basically just exploring streets, shops, and small parks. And the tube ride itself was a novelty. All this activity is much more fun than lounging around at Heathrow!

So here's how it all worked out: Arrived at Heathrow at 9AM. Felt awake and good, so decided to try out a trip to the City. Immigration was quick, under 5 minutes. Note that some passengers are not allowed out of Heathrow - so be sure to check your transit status.
9:30AM was at the Underground station. There is also a faster Heathrow Express, but it is far more expensive, and not really worth it to get to Piccadilly Circus since it requires changing trains at Paddington. Best to just stick to the more frequent tube, and sit in one place for the entire journey.

Explore Montreal by Metro and Bus

The Montreal Metro system includes the subway trains and road buses.
These offer excellent ways to explore the city of Montreal.

STM home page has fares and routes and schedules information.

Exploring Montreal is quite easy using the metro system. The subway trains are good to go someplace fast, and then take a bus to enjoy the street views without exerting much energy. Then, come back to visit the places and restaurants that look interesting.

Astonishingly, the buses manage to keep close to the published schedule. Never seen this happen in any other major city! Some routes at peak hours do miss schedules, given the traffic congestion. Though most times you can depend on the schedule. And there are many smartphone apps that provide schedule information. Here's a good Android app: Transport Montreal by Rhatec. It works offline too, and is indispensable when waiting for some of the less frequent routes.

Fares: Buy the 24hr-from-first-use (aka 1-day), or 3-day (expires midnight 3rd day), or CAM Hebdo Weekly (Mon-Sun validity) pass, for easy travel without worrying about transfers or counting tickets.

The bus routes for sightseeing:

15 east: Travels along Ste Catherine St, the main tourist hot-spot in Montreal. Board at the starting point which is the Atwater Metro station, and disembark at the final stop at the Papineau metro.

55 north: Goes along St Laurent, another important street. Take this from Chinatown, near St Laurent Metro, or a bit more south on St Laurent St, and go north in the bus.

Le Club Sandwich - Poutine

Le Club Sandwich - Poutine

Le Club Sandwich open 24/7. Huge place, cool old fashioned decor.
Near metro Papineau in Montreal at 1570 Ste Catherine St.
Way off the tourist track, but useful to know for late night poutine.
Excellent poutine. Very hearty, thick fries, and they really put on the gravy, which makes it even better.

Google Chromebook tips

[Updated after a week - Chromebook is actually a pain to use, not yet ready for prime time. Fine if you are always online, even then, user experience is not smooth. There are just too many bugs - which means that they will be fixed in due time, but the existence of such basic problems makes it hard to recommend Chrome to everyone at this time. Worse - its offline mode is buggy - I lost hours of work. Read on.]

Having played with the new Google Chromebook for a week now, it is a great device! Well, so I thought after one day of use. After a week, ran into too many bothersome issues, some are listed below. I've played with both the 2012 devices: Samsung Chromebook (US$249) and Acer Chromebook (US$199).

Samsung device looks sleeker, and boots faster (10 seconds), and needs no internal fan. Acer looks a bit clunkier, but its CPU is slightly faster (20% in some web tests), and has a huge 320G hard drive. Full reviews available on the web as well as youtube, and it is worth reading through a few to get some tips on how to use this device well.
web search YouTube search.

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