Sunday, September 09, 2007

Axis Books

A new book shop named Axis Books has opened in Bangalore a few weeks back. It has been started by one of the Gangaram family members.

Here's the address and map:

Axis Books
No 330/9 (near Aiport Road Flyover)
Inner Ring Road
Domlur Layout
Bangalore 560 071

View Larger Map

It is very close to the flyover on the west side of the inner ring road.

The owner said they have only had a "soft launch". When I visited the shop last week, they were still putting signs on book shelves. The shop looks impressive with a large floor area and a wide collection of books spread over 3 floors very neatly arranged with lots of walking space between shelves. Stationery is on the ground floor, general books are on the first floor, and technical/management books are on the second floor.

Parking is available in the basement. However it is quite small (I think only about 4 or 5 cars would fit) and the ramp to the basement is quite steep and blind. If you don't get parking space here, you are quite doomed as there isn't any road side parking available close-by the shop being so close to the flyover.

The book shop is worth a visit.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tagging Indian Classical Music

The defacto standard in music tagging is ID3. In this post, I examine its suitability for tagging Indian classical music.

Be it Hindustani or Carnatic, the following meta data is important to an Indian classical music connoisseur:
  • For a composition, its:
  • For an "album," its:
    • Lead artists and their instruments (e.g., consider a jugalbandi)
    • Accompanying instruments and artists
    • Musician's gharana
    • Concert details (venue, occasion, etc. e.g., Madrasil Margazhi or Savai Gandharva)
ID3 has mainly the following limitations when it comes to tagging Indian classical music:
  • There are no genres corresponding to the carnatic and hindustani classical music forms.
  • There are no text information frames for raga or tala. A common workaround employed by music publishers is to concatenate the song title, raga, and tala all into the TIT2 frame.
  • There is no easy way to associate artists and the instruments they play.
So what can be done? Some possibilities are given below:
  • One mechanism is to use User defined text information frames a acceptable content syntax. However, there is no such common / acceptable syntax defined by anyone.
  • Another mechanism would be to embed an XML document within the tag as suggested in the ID3 FAQ. There is no schema defined by any publisher yet. Further, such a mechanism needs to be supported by software which reads and writes tags including those which run on electronic entertainment devices.
  • A third mechanism is to use standardized notation within existing frames. This is better than the former two.
Indian classical music publishers have to go a long way in this regard. The current situation is quite terrible:
  • Meta data is available only for a subset of CDs. In some cases, information is incomplete or incorrect.
  • Artists are not named consistently. For instance, there are "Mallikarjun Mansur," "Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur," and "Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur." The situation is worse for south Indian names with initials. Is it "M. S. Subbulakshmi," "MS Subbulakshmi," or "M S Subbulakshmi?"
  • Compositions, ragas, and talas are not named consistently because no standard transliteration schema is followed. One has raga kaapi as well as kapi. Raga hamsadhvani, hamsadhwani, and hans dhwani. Tala aadi and adi. Tala roopaka and rupaka.
One solution to the last problem is to avoid transliteration and use devanagari or any regional language characters. I have not seen any publisher doing that yet.

Till there is a common accepted mechanism individuals will continue to use their own notations and mechanisms to mange their Indian classical music collection.

Income Tax Online

Can an Indian individual income tax payer manage his income tax payments and returns filing completely online? That's what I examine here in this post.

Returns forms online

Income tax forms have been available at the income tax web site for many years now. The Income Tax Department of India's web site is . There are many other regional web sites such as for New Delhi, for Mumbai, for Bangalore. Unfortunately, as with many other government department web sites, there is no consistency in the way web sites are hosted: domain names differ; the way content is named and organized differs; and content itself (e.g., returns forms and versions) differs.

The site is meant for e-filing of returns. The returns forms are available from .

TDS forms online

TDS forms such as Form 16 from an employer to an employee and Form 16A from a bank to an account holder still are given only in paper form. The IT department has not specified an XML schema in which these could be represented, a mechanism in which these could be digitally signed by the employer/bank, and electronically transferred to an employee/account holder. Once this happens an individual can use a software of his choice to consolidate the electronic TDS forms to prepare his return form.

Paying income tax online

Income tax can be paid online using the National Securities Depository Limited site . This site lists the following supported banks:
I believe there would be other banks as well which support online income tax payment. You need to have an online account with the bank to pay taxes using money in your bank account.

Filing returns online

The PDF forms available from the Income Tax Department web site are editable and savable. You can generate XML files adhering to the schema from the department which can be submitted online. Complete instructions are available at . A FAQ is available from .

The URL to submit the return file in XML format is . This is a secure web site which presents its certificate from "(n)Code Solutions - A Divsion of GNFC LTD". The root certification authority is CCA India. One can install the root certificate from the URL . Many browsers may not include this root certificate by default and you may need to install this manually.

The XML schema for all forms is available from . There is another link as well: . I am not sure which is the latest, greatest, and correct one.

You need to have an account with the IT web site to submit your returns. The only information you need to provide to create an account is to provide your PAN number, your name, and your date of birth. The user ID for account is the PAN number. You can choose a password of your choice.

Upon submitting the returns XML file, you have an option of digitally signing it. If you don't sign digitally, you need to submit the ITR-V acknowledgment form duly signed at an income tax office.

If you don't have a digital signature, you can get one from the following approved authorities:
Of course, the process of obtaining a digital signature would take a few days which includes submission of various documents for identity and address proofs and verification. The income tax department accepts only Class 2 and Class 3 certificates. Such a certificate for an individual for an year would costs Rs.2245 with TCS (see, Other vendors may have different prices.


For assessment years 2006-7, 2005-06, and 2004-05 (as far as I can remember), the income tax department had published a software called Sampark from Taxmann which could be used to compute the income taxes. This software would generate the filled returns forms and challans. For AY 2007-08 I couldn't find this software. What the income tax department calls "return preparation software" does not compute income tax: it's just the editable PDF form from which you can generate the XML file for submission.

So what are the alternatives? One could approach a chartered accountant or compute the taxes oneself using a spread sheet or some software application. One such application is Taxbase ( I cannot comment on this as I have not tried this software.

This year, I see that there are some web sites which does this job. A few examples include the following:
I have not tried any of these. I have merely listed them here since it's difficult to find these sites together with a simple Google search. These sites charge a few hundred rupees depending on the nature of the return (e.g., income under how many heads).

It is amazing how far India has reached in its e-governance initiatives at least in the income tax department. What further can be done? I have a few suggestions:
  • Provide income tax computation software such as Sampark
  • Develop and publish schema for other forms such as Form 16 and 16A
  • Encourage issue of digital signatures through employers to bring down costs
  • Develop a portal with the following features:
    • registration of tax payers (IT department can mail out passwords)
    • ability to see TDS from employer and banks periodically
    • reminder service for advance payment of taxes
    • ability to compute, pay, and file returns online

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Planet Earth

When I saw billboards on the TV series Planet Earth from Discovery India across Bangalore weeks back, I guessed something big was coming. It has been four weeks since the series started and it has turned out to be one of the best I have ever watched.

To quote the web site: "Planet Earth is the first natural history series to be filmed entirely in high definition, providing an unparalleled view of awe-inspiring landscapes from across the globe and incredible footage of the rarely spotted, almost mythical creatures that live in these habitats. This is Planet Earth. Come, discover a new Planet."

It is indeed true to the words above! Aerial photography, time-lapse photography spanning seasons (with a panning camera!), never before seen locations and creatures (e.g., migrating birds flying over Mount Everest) make this unique and a pleasure to watch.

Show timings in India:

Thursday nights 8 pm (the most advertised-about slot)
Friday early morning 2 am
Friday morning 9 am
Saturday evening 6 pm
Saturday night 11 pm
Sunday morning 9 am
Sunday afternoon 2 pm
Monday afternoon 3 pm

Saturday, February 03, 2007

La Poste, India Post, and Some Missing Shirts

Will foreign parcels sent to India be ripped apart and items stolen? Read along to find my experience.

I had accumulated several books by the time I was about to return to India from France after a three month stay. La Poste, the French postal service, had a mechanism called Colissimo which allowed me to pack my stuff in a standardized box and send to foreign destinations. The largest box could carry up to 7 kgs. La Poste charged 36 euros per box for delivery to India. This seemed to be a good option for a returning student who needed to send valuable books which cannot be carried along due to airline baggage weight restrictions.

I got four boxes and sent them during the last week of December 2006 from Paris to Bangalore. The first three carried books and documents and the last one carried some clothes. Colissimo tracking web site indicated that the baggages were within the Indian territory customs by the second week of January 2007. Beyond this point, tracking was not available.

I learnt from the local delivery post office that apparently foreign posts end up in a foreign post office. (In Bangalore the FPO is located in Museum Road.) Upon inquiries during January second week the FPO informed me that they have not received the parcels yet. After several inquiries and follow-up, I got the last three parcels delivered in the third week of January and the very first parcel in last week of January almost a month after posting. The FPO was not very clear in explaining the work-flow involving customs once a foreign parcel reaches Indian territory.

The cardboard box parcels were covered with dust and dirt, their sides opened, and tied with jute threads, and sealed. Upon opening, I found out that all the plastic bags within which I had packed the books were partly opened perhaps to see the contents. Fortunately, no books or documents were missing. However, I was shocked when I opened the box carrying clothes. All the plastic covers used to pack were missing and clothes were almost strewn around the box. To add to my disgust, two formal full sleeve shirts and a T-shirt (which carried my B-school logo) were missing. Incidentally, these were the only shirts within the box which were in a shrink wrap cover put by a dry cleaner which might have incorrectly signaled that they are perhaps new.

My hypothesis about the missing shirts is that they were likely stolen by the personnel who inspected the box: perhaps customs, perhaps India Post. If the hypothesis is true (which I would never know), it's quite bad and reflects badly on the professional image these organizations are trying to build in the recent years.

Jim Gray Missing Mystery

It has been over five days since Microsoft researcher Jim Gray has been missing. The US Coast Guard has ended their search operations. There are other search efforts on using satellite imagery.

I asked a friend of mine who is a hobbyist vedic astrologer (not a professional) whether he could offer any clues to the mystery. By using the principles of vedic horary astrology (prasna marga), he made the following predictions yesterday night (2 February 2007, 16:30 GMT):

  • He is alive.
  • He is at a place where land and water meet (perhaps a shore or an island).
  • He is at a place north of where he started from.
  • He will return within 2 or 3 days, that is by February 4th or 5th.
  • He is likely to be with a known lady friend or relative.
I should note here that my friend had never heard of this researcher before and I never told him the circumstances in which he went missing. The only information I conveyed was that a US researcher has been missing since nearly 4 days and that I wanted to know about the chances of his return.

I hope Jim Gray is found soon alive. The search efforts must continue.

For the benefit of the students of horary astrology, I have given below the chart which was set for my question. The planetary longitudes are as per N. C. Lahiri's Indian Ephemeris for 2007. The ascendant (or lagna) was set based on an arbitrary number I said.

The predictions are based on the following observations:

The horary Lagna (Ascendant) Lord Jupiter is in the 12th or the house of loss. The person is alive because the planet concerned (Jupiter) is not afflicted. Further the Lagna Lord Jupiter occupies the 12th house whose Lord Mars occupies Lagna forming a parvartana yoga (exchange of houses). Chandra (Moon) Lagna Kataka (Cancer) is occupied by Chandra in own house with Saturn. These indicate safety and fixity.

Lagna Lord is in a female sign. Hence the missing person is likely to be with a lady friend or a relative.

He must have gone to a watery place or a place which is part land and part water because the Lagna lord is in a watery sign Scorpio (Vrischika).

The Lagna Lord occupies Scorpio which indicates northern direction.

The likely date for his return is based on the lunar transit into Simha (Leo) from Kataka (Cancer).