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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On speaking multiple languages


On the video I spoke the following sentences in the 5 languages -- Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Spanish, and, of course, English: “My name is Naba Barkakati. I can speak in five languages.”
Just to give you a timeline of when I learned these languages... Assamese is my mother tongue, but I never learned it formally. I began speaking Bengali at 9 and all the way through age 22, but I didn’t learn it formally either. I studied Hindi in a language course in high school for 7 years. I learned English since I was 6 or 7, it was the language of instruction in school, spoke and used English in engineering school, and began speaking exclusively in English after I came to the United States, for more than 33 years now.
I started learning Spanish at age 53 and now when I speak in Spanish I am often trying to translate from English, which results in awkward sentences (hopefully, I'll learn to avoid translating with more practice). The strange thing is that for all my other languages, I am not translating thoughts from one language to another - - I just speak what I want to say and also when I hear, I just comprehend.
So, the question is how does the brain work for those languages that I learned when I was younger? Also, do we really think “in a language?' Or, are thoughts something more fundamental and not in any language. I feel like I think in English, but when I switch to languages that I learned in my childhood, I don’t seem to be translating from English. For those languages, it is as if I am able to simply switch my brain from one language to another. Anyway, I don’t have any answers to these questions, but perhaps these would be interesting research topics for someone who studies how people learn and retain languages.
Here's some more information to help you...
Although I don't really know the answers to the questions I posed, I did describe in an earlier video how I am learning Spanish, which you may find helpful for learning a new language:
Also found the following books that document the experiences of several language learners and sound intriguing enough to check out (I am reading Kató Lomb's book now):


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rent an apartment when vacationing in a city


After you have gone on one or two guided tours, explored some cities on your own, you may want to consider renting an apartment and use that as your home base. VRBO or vacation rental by owners is a good place to find a rental apartment for your vacation. We typically found this to be a great option for visiting cities, especially in Europe. We have rented from VRBO in Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, and all have turned out well.


An apartment is better than a hotel room because you typically get a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom - - there is more space than a hotel room and you can have your breakfast in the comfort of the apartment. It’s cheaper too, especially if you are traveling with family.


You can browse the VRBO website for apartments in the city you plan to visit. Look for ones in the area where you want to stay and pick one with a number of good reviews. You have to spend some time selecting the apartment and then you can typically reserve it by paying an advance through Paypal and pay the rest in cash when you arrive. Often owners will send you tips on exploring the city and also arrange for airport pickup.


Apart from the rental apartment, you’ll need to arrange your own airfare and plan an itinerary for what you plan to do during your vacation. You’ll find it helpful to have a guidebook with good maps of the city.


If the sights you want to visit require entrance tickets, you should try to buy the tickets online and save the hassle of standing in line.


You may also want to make reservations at restaurants you plan to visit. Just remember that everything is in your hands and you do what you want to do at your own pace. So you do need to spend some time planning, but typically we have found this to be the best way to explore a city on our own, at our own pace.


In future videos, I’ll give more details for some of the cities, such as Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, that we have already visited.


Until then, I hope you are already planning your upcoming trip :-)
Here's some more information to help you...
An alternative to VRBO is: HomeAway Vacation Rentals, (I think HomeAway, in fact, owns VRBO, but they seem to display different selections, so it's worth checking in both sites - note to myself: we have to do this in the future). And here are two more sites you can check: Vacation-Apartments.com and Flipkey.


Please see my previous blog post on exploring a city on your own (after booking air and hotel from a tour company). There I provide links to guidebooks for many different cities, including Budapest, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome.


If want to graduate from being a renter to owning a vacation property that you can rent out (no, we don't own any such property, but thought you may be curious :-) then check out the following books:




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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NBTMV - Turn on 2-step verification on your Google account



In previous videos I have mentioned how important it is to turn on 2-step verification (or 2-factor authentication) on your Google account. In this three-minute video, I’ll walk you through the process because you really ought to do this.
After you turn on 2-step verification, to log into your Google account, you have to first enter your normal password and then you have to enter a verification code that Google sends to your phone. Even if someone steals your password, they’d face the additional step of having to enter the verification code before getting into your account. That;s why you should turn on 2-step verification -- to get the benefit of an extra layer of security.
To set up 2-step verification, first log into your Gmail (or Google+) account and click on your name or your profile photo on the upper right hand corner. You’ll get a Google Accounts overview page showing all the settings. Click the “Edit” link next to “Using 2-step verification”. That will take you to the page where you have to enter your current password and then you'll get the page where you can click a link to turn on 2-step verification. You’ll then go through steps where you enter a phone number to receive the verification code and test that it works. You also need to enter a backup phone number for the verification code, in case your primary phone is not available.
At this point, you should also generate the printable backup codes that you can use when you don’t have your phone or can’t use your phone. Google generates 10 backup verification codes that you should print out and carry in your wallet. In a pinch, you can use these one at a time when you need them.
For accessing Google services such as Gmail on a smartphone or a tablet or when you read Gmail using Microsoft Outlook, you have to generate and use application-specific passwords. There is a link on 2-factor authentication page for application specific passwords. You should pick a descriptive name for the application such as “Gmail on my smartphone” and then click Generate Password. Then enter that long complicated looking password (ignore the spaces) in place of your normal password. You have to enter the password only once for each application and you can always revoke a password and generate a new one.
That, in a nutshell, is how you turn on 2-step verification. If you haven't done so already, I hope you'd turn it on as soon possible.
Here's some more information to help you...
To learn a bit more about 2-step verification, see the Google support page on Getting started with 2-step verification and for more on application-specific passwords, you can:  Watch the video on application-specific passwords 

Monday, November 21, 2011

NBTMV - Book air and hotel, then explore city on your own


After you have taken one or two escorted tours and feel comfortable traveling around, you can start booking just the air and hotel from a travel company and explore the city on your own. In this video, I give you some pointers on doing this yourself.


This approach is usually good for a major city. You’d book the air and hotel from one of the same travel companies that you used for guided tours. Some offer choice of hotels at different locations for different prices, so you’d have to read up a bit and try to pick a hotel at a convenient location or just go with the lowest cost one. After you book, remember to get the visa, if you need one.


You’ll be exploring the city on your own, so you also must take care of the transfers between the airport and the hotel. You should search and see if there is a train, metro, or bus available for the trip from airport to the hotel and take it, if it’s available.


To plan for sightseeing on your own, you should get a guidebook for the city and study it a bit before you depart. If you are unsure about what to see, a good option is to take a half- or full-day city tour and get an overview of the major attractions.


Mastering the local public transportation options is also helpful. We usually take metro or tram as much as possible.


You should develop a rough itinerary as well. I typically divide the day into two halves and just allocate activities to each half-day, along with times for lunch and dinner. Remember not to cram in too much in a day. If possible buy tickets online (before departing on the trip) for any museums or other sights that require tickets. That way, you can avoid any long lines for the tickets and save some time.


We also consult Tripadvisor to find some restaurants that we may like to try. After returning from the trip, you may want to post your own reviews, as we have done in our own reviews on Tripadvisor for any hotels and restaurants we try out.


That’s about it. With a little bit of peparation, you should have a great time exploring the city of your choice on your own.
Here's some more information to help you...
You can use this approach to visit many prominent cities around the world. Here are some candidates: London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid, Budapest, Istanbul, Prague, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and many more. Browse the Independent Vacations in Gate1Travel for more ideas. Another option is to pick a city and then look for Flight+Hotel packages on travel websites such as Expedia and Travelocity.

Pick up a travel guide for the city you plan to visit and study it before the trip. Check out the map to pick a good location for the hotel. Here are some possible travel guides:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cloud computing from a user’s point of view


In previous videos I had tried to explain cloud computing, its benefits and risks, and why you may want to go for a public cloud. But recently I realized that all those terms such as public vs private cloud or platform-as-a-service or software-as-a-service, are just not relevant from the user’s point of view. That’s why I wanted to provide this brief description of cloud computing from a user’s point of view.


By “user,” I mean individuals like you and I as well as organizations. As far as you and I, as individuals are concerned, we have a laptop or a tablet, or a smartphone (or all of these) with some connection to the Internet (which is the “cloud”), and all we know is that when we need our email, it’s there, when we want to upload a video or share photos with family and friends, we can do it. We don’t care how Google or Facebook manage to store all this information that millions of users upload. That’s what is cloud computing to you and I - - to get access to our email, documents, Facebook, and Google+ etc. from any Internet-connected device, when we need it.


Now, if the user is an organization, they could, for example, go to Amazon Web Services and buy whatever computing services they need - - they can get database, storage, order fulfillment, payment service, or just plain computing platforms. That’s cloud computing to a corporation - - to be able to just go to the Amazon Web Services web site and order whatever type and amount of computing services they need. That’s what cloud computing is to organizations that need more computing than just the email, documents, etc. that we, as individuals need.


In summary, from the user’s point of view, it’s cloud computing if you can go to a vendor and buy whatever computing services you need and pay for just the amounts you use. All the technical definitions with jargon such as virtualization and elasticity are just technical explanations of how the cloud computing vendors do their magic, but that’s really not important to the users. What’s important to the users are: (1) a broadband connection to the Internet and (2) access their email, documents, etc from any device.
Here's some more information to help you...
You can find my previous posts on cloud computing on this blog, but here are direct links to help you get to specific posts: 

Interest in "cloud computing" over time:


Here are some interesting books related to cloud computing:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NBTMV - Create a Google+ page for your organization (or even your blog)


If you are on Google+, you already know that corporations and other organizations can now have Google+ pages. Many companies such as Amazon.com, New York Times, and many more have already started putting up their Google+ pages. What you may not think about is that you can create a page for your blog or personal webpage as well. I did just that for my NBTMV blog. Here's how.
When you are viewing your Stream on Google+, you’ll see a link on the right hand side that says “Create a Google+ Page” . Clicking that link will take you to a webpage where you can create your Google+ page. For my NBTMV page, I picked the Arts and Entertainment category from the left and then, on the right side, after entering a name for the Google+ page and my blog URL nbtmv.blogspot.com , selected Blog as the category. Click Create and you’re done.
Now you can switch between your Google+ account and your Google+ page by clicking the small button under your name on the upper left corner in Google+. When you are on your Google+ page, click Get Started link on the upper left corner and you’ll see helpful suggestions for promoting your page and linking your website or blog to the Google+ page. In particular, you’ll see a link for your Google+ page, similar to this: https://plus.google.com/104988589735282319665 that you can email or tweet to all of your contacts. And click the “Get the badge” link and follow the instructions on how to put a Google+ badge such the following one for my NBTMV blog:
With this Google+ badge on your website or blog your readers will easily be able to get to your Google+ page.
That’s about it! Now all you have to do is start posting updates and news on your Google+ page. And wait for your customers or readers to circle your Google+ page :-)
Seriously though, since Google+ page just got started around Nov 7, 2011, it’s a good strategy to set up your Google+ page as soon as possible. I hope you do so and best of luck!
Here's some more information to help you...
The best source of information about Google+ Pages is Google. You can start by reading Google's official blog post on Google+ Pages, then browse this page on Introducing Pages for Google+. If you are the one maintaining your organization's web page, this Google Webmaster Tools support page provides helpful tips on Google+ Pages. I'm sure there'll be lots more helpful information and books in the future, but this should get you going for now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NBTMV - Start your world travels with some guided tours


In a previous video I mentioned that you can start your world travels with some guided or escorted tours. Here I provide some pointers to doing just that, based on our experience with guided tours originating from the United States.
The nice thing about a guided tour or escorted tour is that the tour company takes care of everything -- air travel, hotels, travel between cities, transfers from airport to hotel, all the sightseeing, and even most of the meals -- plus you have at least one English-speaking guide. It’ll be in a group setting, so you’ll meet some interesting people as well.
First thing you’d want to do is browse the guided tours offered by online travel companies such as Gate1Travel, Smartours, or others such as China Focus Travel that specialize in just one destination, China. As for where to go, you may initially think of Europe or South/Central American countries as safer choices, but it makes more sense to go to a far-off destination such as China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. because those are the trips where a fully guided tour makes everything simple. Think of the weather as well when deciding when to go. For example, it can be very hot in India, Vietnam, etc during the summer. To minimize time off from work, you may also want to pick dates that span a weekend and holiday.
After looking at the itineraries and selecting one, you can book online or call a number to book. The quoted price is usually for one or two selected departure cities such as New York or San Francisco. You have to pay extra if you depart from other cities. There are also some other extra costs such as fees and taxes. You pay some deposit up front and pay the rest sometime before the trip.
If it’s a trip to countries such as China or India, you also have to pay for the visa. You can get it yourself or through the travel company.
You do typically have a half-a day or a whole day all to yourself in major cities, so you should get a guidebook for the cities and prepare to explore a bit on your own. In future videos I’ll tell you about specific escorted tours that we took.
Hope you can get started soon!
Here are some more things to help you
Browse the offerings from some online travel companies such as: Gate1Travel, Smartours, and China Focus TravelNote that some travel companies such as China Focus Travel specialize in tours to just one counrty, in this case, China. You may also want to read reviews by previous customers.

To budget for the trip, look up the advertised amount, then add the taxes and fees, any visa fees (for countries that require visa), and additional airfare if your departure city is different from the default offered by the tour company. You should then add the cost of any meals and estimated expenses for the days that are on your own. Also, remember to include any tips for the tour guide.

Most credit cards charge a currency conversion fee, so you should take along and use a credit card such as the one from Capital One that charge no such fees. Thebest way to get foreign currency would be to wihdraw from ATMs using your debit card. Banks would be the next best place to get foreign currency. The worst place to change currency seems to be the airport and the various currency exchange places (they often display good rates, but charge huge commissions).

Here are some books that may help you plan for that one or half-a-day when you are on your own or on overcoming the inevitable jet lag:



Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why public cloud





In previous videos I discussed what is cloud computing, why it’s important to consider as an option, and what are some of the risks.
Because of the risks, especially those relating to security and loss of control over where data resides, your organization may prefer the private cloud option, which, as I have said previously, is still a good option that provides you with the benefits of reduced number of physical machines along with lower electricity and cooling needs, as well as needing fewer staff to administer the machines.
However, unless your organization has hundreds of thousands of employees, a private cloud is not going to give you the cost savings that come from the economies of scale that public clouds enjoy.
To implement the private cloud, you’ll need upfront investment to virtualize your servers and add the software needed to operate it as a cloud. You are not going to just pay for what computing resources you need - - you basically still have to maintain the systems you need for your worst-case computing load.
Some go as far as to say that a private cloud is not a cloud at all because a cloud should have “elasticity” - - meaning you can create new virtual machines on demand and shut them down when you don’t need them. A private cloud cannot easily provide this elasticity, unless it’s for a huge number of employees.
With a public cloud, you can truly pay for computing as you go - - just buy what you need, when you need it. That’s why, unless you have hundreds of thousands of employees or information that’s very sensitive (like military information), you have to consider public clouds to get the benefits of cloud computing. If that’s not acceptable, you can consider a community cloud suitable for your organization. For example, government agencies could opt for a government community cloud where you could at least get some economies of scale.

Here's some more information to help you
Here are some books on cloud computing that you may consider:

Why I love Google+





By now, I have posted a number of 3-minute videos (TMV), but, today I wanted to pause and tell you why I love Google+.  You see, I won’t be talking to you in this video if it were not for my joining Google+.
What I like best about Google+ is its integration of mail, calendar, documents, photos, and much more. When I get into Google+, I already have access to all of these applications right from the toolbar.That plus when I log into Google+, I can get to everything with the same login. I was already using Gmail with 2-factor authentication (please, do turn on two factor authentication for improved security, just go to your Account Settings page -- if you are on Gmail or Google+, click on your name on the upper right corner and select Account Settings to configure it - - the upshot is that when you log in, after you enter your password, you also must enter a verification code that Google sends to your phone via a text message).
Anyway, I began by sharing some photos with family on Google+ and then discovered that I could post videos on Youtube with the same login. After posting a few vacation videos, I thought why not make some short videos and share some of what I know with others. It was fun getting started with the videos that I am calling "Naba Barkakati's three minute videos" or NBTMV for short :-)
.After posting a few videos, I realized I need to provide some more helpful information, especially names of books or links to websites that I couldn’t possibly provide in the videos themselves. So I got into Blogger and, again, surprise, I could log in with my GMail login. So, I went ahead and created a blog - - nbtmv.blogspot.com and posted each video in a separate blog posting together with the transcript and other helpful information. Of course, I also began sharing these videos on Google+.
Everything was so painless that in no time at all, I had gone from a beginner on Google+ to creating my own 3-minute videos and posting them on my blog, and, of course sharing them on Google+, all of this facilitated by the single login access to mail, calendar, documents, photos, videos, blogs, and much more.
That, in a nutshell, is why I love Google+ and will continue to use it. I hope you agree and will join me on Google+.
(In my video, I didn't mention anything about circles, but I do love to be able to share my posts with selected groups of people based on my circles, but all the productivity applications in one place takes the cake for me :-)
Here's some more helpful information
To keep up with news about Google+ and some interesting posts, check out posts with the Google+ label on the official Google blog.
There are already a bunch of books on Google+, including one Dummies guide that will be published around mid-November 2011. Here are the links to a few books:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How you can ease into world travels






You know how we all say that we’ll travel the world after we retire. Well, why wait until retirement. Once you are an empty nester, as my wife and I are, you can begin easing into your world travels. I am going to tell you how we got started and, hopefully, you can do the same. 

Since we are talking about the world travel, let’s start by looking at a world map. 

Until about 2008, we mostly traveled within United States and at most Canada, Mexico, and, perhaps cruises in the Caribbean. Since then, we have already been to a number of destinations in Asia and Europe, including China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain, Italy. It's not exactly world travel, but we got started.


We were initially apprehensive about traveling to far off places, but, after much searching on the Internet, we decided to sign up for an 11-day guided tour to China from a company called chinafocustravel.com That turned out well, so we went on an 8-day India tour offered by another online travel company smartours.com and a 6-day Guatemala trip, booked with gate1travel.com. This is a good way to start getting your feet wet.


Next, we decided to take some trips where we either booked the air and hotel from the travel company or booked  air and hotel ourselves AND explored the city on our own. We went to Amsterdam, Holland and Istanbul, Turkey, this way and it was even more delightful to be able to manage our own itinerary. So this could be your next stepping stone.


Then we found vrbo.com - - through which you can rent apartments in major cities for as little as 3 days to as many more as you need. So we began to book the air, reserve the apartment from VRBO, and then tour selected cities on our own. We went to Budapest, Hungary, Barcelona and Madrid in Spain, and Rome and Florence in Italy, this way. This approach was even better, especially if you travel with more family members because an apartment is more convenient that hotel rooms. This would be our preferred method of travel to European cities.


Finally, as an example of travel to a more exotic location, we recently successfully planned and completed a family trip to Vietnam and Cambodia by working with a tour company in Vietnam to create a personalized itinerary.

So, in a nutshell, start with guided tours from well-reviewed online companies, explore some cities on your own, then use vrbo.com to find your own apartment and visit cities. Finally, consider trips to exotic locales by arranging tours with local tour companies.


In future videos, I’ll provide more details for each of these approaches.

Here are some more things to help you...

For a number of different guided tours to China, consider China Focus. They specialize in tours to China from the U.S. The offerings change and prices vary some depending on the season.


For guided tours to India, we went with Smartour's Incredible India tour, but you have similar options available from Gate1Travel as well.

And some travel guides for China and India... if you cosider one of these countries as your first guided tour destination:





A few photos to entice you :-)

Beijing - Forbidden City

Great Wall

Beijing - Temple of Heaven

Taj Mahal

Jaipur - Amber Fort - Elephant Ride

Jaipur

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