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  • Airtel VCC: Virtual Calling Card for international calls

    Posted on September 28th, 2006 Sandeep 55 comments

    Until a week ago, I was using Reliance’s World Card to call my Shruthi (who, by the way, is still in California). The WC is useful and cheap. You can make calls at as low as Rs. 4.50 per minute. But there’s still that one bit of annoyance with quality. Sometimes you can’t hear what the other person is saying for a few seconds. Details on the tariffs and prepaid cards are available on Reliance’s website.

    I soon found Airtel (my mobile operator) also has its own version, called the Virtual Calling Card, that lets you make international calls from your mobile. It’s a physical card, but they insist on calling it virtual – go figure. Anyway, they offer better rates: with a VCC worth Rs. 561 (including taxes), you get a talktime of Rs. 500 (~ $11), and the charges are Rs. 3.50 per minute.

    Calling from my Reliance phone is useful: I simply dial *345 followed by the country code and phone number. But the Airtel VCC adds a bit of complexity. First, you have to dial their toll free number. Then, you enter the pin number printed on the card followed by #; you get a voice prompt stating the remaining balance, and it then asks you to dial the number. Basically, a pain-in-the-ass.

    So, here’s a shortcut using the “p” (pause) and “w” (tonewait) DTMF actions. RFC 3061 (Text String Notation for Dial Sequences and Global Switched Telephone Network (GSTN)) defines the implementation of pause and tonewait as follows:

    Implementation of “pause” and “tonewait”:
    - one instance of a “pause” SHOULD be interpreted as a pause of
    one second between the preceding and succeeding dial string
    elements;

    - a “tonewait” SHOULD be interpreted as a pause that will last
    until the calling party hears a dial tone or another indication
    that more dial string characters may be processed. An off-hook
    indication MAY also be interpreted as this kind of indication
    (meaning that the audio channel has been opened to the
    receiving party)

    Most phones support the “p” and “w” actions. On Nokia phones, if you press the “*” key repeatedly, you will see it change from “*” to “+”, then “p” and “w”.

    Put simply, the dialing sequence now becomes: Airtel’s toll-free number followed by pause, then the VCC pin and “#”, then a tonewait (for the voice prompt asking you to dial the number), then the telephone number you are trying to call, or

    1802103p12345678#w0012345678

    Airtel’s toll-free number is 1802103. The VCC pin is 12345678, and the telephone number is 0012345678 (country code, etc.). Add your contact’s phone number this way, and it will be a whole lot easier to call the next time. The following images should be a bit more helpful.

    This is how dialing the contact will look like. It first sends the pin and “#” after a pause.

    Pin dialing screen

    Before dialing the telephone number, it waits for you to confirm sending of the DTMF sequence:

    Phone number dial screen

    It’s that simple. Just don’t forget to update the contact details every time you buy a new VCC.

  • Firefox 2 Beta 2

    Posted on September 27th, 2006 Sandeep No comments

    I have been using Firefox 2.0b2 since a while. It’s got some really neat features like the integrated spell-checker (highly useful for blogging, I assure you). Of course, it has its share of bugs and annoyances as well.

    One of the irritating things is that now tabs seem to have a fixed size after reaching a certain number – i.e., it’s not like Firefox 1.5 where the tabs would be just big enough to display the first character in the page’s title (or favicon, if it has been defined). So what happens when you reach that number? Horizontal scrolling is what you get, baby. Yes – you have buttons to the left and right of the tab bar to navigate among the tabs.

    Thankfully, this can be avoided by clicking on the drop-down at the extreme right of the tab bar, and select the tab you want to open. The current tab will be in bold as well.

    With FF 2, you can say goodbye to TabMixPlus, as some of its features have been integrated (like the close button for each tab, instead of just one at the end of the tab bar). Many of the extensions I used with FF 1.5 are not yet compatible with 2.0b2, but that’s okay. (And for some reason, which I noticed just now, FF 2′s spell checker does not have “okay” in its dictionary).

    Update: A few hours after I posted this entry, Firefox 2 RC1 came out.

    Get Firefox!

  • Address

    Posted on September 15th, 2006 Sandeep 2 comments

    A couple of days ago, I went to someone’s house. The address was:

    Number 802, 1st Cross, 1st A Main – 802.11a for short.

    Heh. What interesting address have you visited lately?

  • Half-marathon time again

    Posted on September 14th, 2006 Sandeep No comments

    Shoot. I didn’t know soon enough that there’s going to be a marathon on September 17 (that’s next Sunday!) in Bangalore. I missed the announcement somehow, and as usual, have very little time to prepare. Of course, some (me) would argue that’s where the fun is. Anyway, I started training for it today.

    Hope to wake up early tomorrow and run for at least 10 km. Meantime, I am compiling a list of songs that I should listen to while running. Any suggestions? Oh, and in case you missed it, here are my famous tips for running a half-marathon. Last time, I ran the 21-odd kilometers in two hours and forty-three minutes. I hope to do it in under two hours this time around – let’s see how that goes.

    Oops, just remembered – I still gotta register for the event. The half-marathon starts at 0530, so if I complete it early enough, I can still make it to the Spanish classes on time.

  • Yahoo! SMS Backup

    Posted on September 11th, 2006 Sandeep 3 comments

    Yahoo! SMS BackupWhen Yahoo! announced their SMS backup services in India, I thought it was a neat thing – until I found that users have to forward their messages to a Yahoo! number for a fee. The service requires you to register (you should have a Yahoo! ID to begin with). Once registration is complete, select the SMS you want to backup and forward it to 82438243 – and it will land up in your Yahoo! Mail.

    The charges? Rs. 3 if you are on Airtel/Spice, Rs. 2 if you are on Hutch/BPL and Re. 1 if you are on MTNL/BSNL. That’s per SMS. So, if you had a message that came in two parts (more than 160 characters), you would be spending Rs. 6 to back it up. Crazy, if you ask me.

    If anyone has tried it, let me know if your backup contains important details like date/time when the SMS was sent, and who (or rather what number) sent it.

  • eBay Second Chance

    Posted on September 7th, 2006 Sandeep 3 comments

    eBay has a “second chance” offer where a seller can offer the product to a non-winning bidder under certain conditions. For full details, I’ll just drop a link to eBay’s website. Yesterday, I was almost scammed into a fraudulent second chance.

    I am trying to get hold of a Canon Digital Rebel XT (otherwise known as 350D), and naturally, started with eBay. I had made a low bid for one of the sellers, but of course was outbid in no time. After the listing closed, I received an email from eBay stating that the product is open for a second offer, and that I can purchase it at the (ridiculously low) price I had quoted.

    While at first I didn’t believe the email — the timing was perfect, I must admit — I did browse around eBay to figure out what the second offer really is. And here’s the mistake I made: instead of verifying if My eBay had the same “second chance” offer email, I went ahead and contacted the seller. He was more than overjoyed to see my reply, and quickly shot back an email stating I would receive an email from eBay with the invoice – you know, the usual bleh.

    When I received the “invoice”, it was immediately moved to the spam folder by Gmail. Wondering why this happened, I opened the email and looked for the original message (click More options, and select Show original). Surprise, surprise: here’s what the headers said:

    Received: by 10.66.250.11 with SMTP id x11cs437600ugh;
    Sat, 2 Sep 2006 07:35:40 -0700 (PDT)
    Received: by 10.48.242.19 with SMTP id p19mr4364595nfh;
    Sat, 02 Sep 2006 07:35:39 -0700 (PDT)
    Return-Path:
    Received: from individualistic.mmgwebsites.com ([209.97.203.230])
    by mx.gmail.com with ESMTP id z73si5571360nfb.2006.09.02.07.35.38;
    Sat, 02 Sep 2006 07:35:39 -0700 (PDT)
    Received-SPF: neutral (gmail.com: 209.97.203.230 is neither permitted nor denied by best
    guess record for domain of nobody@individualistic.mmgwebsites.com)
    Received: from nobody by individualistic.mmgwebsites.com with local (Exim 4.52)
    id 1GJWYm-0000wM-72
    for ; Sat, 02 Sep 2006 07:33:24 -0700
    To:
    Subject: eBay Second Chance Offer for Item 330021441299

    Whoa. Gmail had properly flagged it, and here I was – about to restore it from the spam folder. The next thing I did was to forward this and the first email to spoof @ebay.com (whodathunk?). A few minutes later, I promptly received a message from eBay stating both mails were not from them.

    All this while, the “seller” sent me a couple of mails, giving his address and payment option as Western Union. Western Union! He had even given a Romanian address. (Oh, and if you are a law agency and want to trace down these guys, the address is Str. Carpati #4, Com. Munteni-Buzau, Ialomita 927185, Romania – not that it’s legit, of course.

    A word of advice. If you get such an email from eBay and it is not in My messages under My eBay, you can bet it’s not legit.

  • Time I learnt a new language

    Posted on September 2nd, 2006 Sandeep No comments

    No, no, not a programming language… this time it’s Spanish I want to learn. Centro Latino in Indiranagar is conducting 1st and 2nd elementary level Spanish courses starting next week and I will be joining it. It should be a good break from working on weekends anyway. In preparation, I have collected — err, Googled — these links.

    BBC Spanish Steps
    English – Spanish dictionary
    Wikipedia entry on Spanish language

    I had been wanting to learn French/German for almost six months now, but finally settled for Spanish. I’ll see how it goes. Classes are on weekends at nine in the morning – giving me an excuse to wake up early.