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Friday, April 17, 2015

General Peter Lodwick Memorial Point, Mahabaleshwar

Lodwick Point is one of the several viewpoints in Mahabaleshwar. It is located close to elephant head point. This point was set up in memory of General Peter Lodwick, reportedly the first British Officer to climb up. The memorial is about 25 ft tall and has some inscriptions detailing the general.

Last 1 km needs to be covered by foot. Alternatively one can take a horse ride. 
Some photos of Lodwick point for you.



This stone says Peter Lodwick led British troops in 1824 war in Kittor- against Rani Chennamma and Sangolli Rayanna. Thus he was responsible for lots of bloodshed in South India. Nonetheless Peter Lodwick is credited with establishing Mahabaleshwar hill as a hill resort.

 View from this point is normal- same valleys as you'd see elsewhere in Mahabaleshwar.
Valley and Ghat roads as seen from Elephant head point.

Nearby: Kate's Point * Artur's seat * 

Asus Zenfone 2 features and Pre-launch updates

I am not following the smart phone market closely. New models are being launched every week, some even need an invite for you to buy them. Different specs, different price ranges and features- there're just too many options and very difficult to keep track and stay updated, unless you're full time into it.

Accidentally I landed an invite to attend Asus Zenfone 2 pre-launch event in Chennai. It wasn't a direct invite- I wasn't invited by Asus PR. But they left a message on Chennai Blogger's Club facebook page via Karthikeyan. Since the timing was doable and I decided to check it out.

With little expectations and lots of curiosity, I entered the venue in Park Sheraton, Chennai. We were made to sign up to Asus ZenTalk, a forum for Asus customers and fans. There were many other invitees- few bloggers (Met Mahesh, Satish and Sathya) and many existing zenfone customers/fans.

This post shares my findings and observations at the Zenfone 2 pre-launch event.
Asus Regional Head for South Asia, Peter Chang and his colleagues explained us some key features of the soon to be launched Zenfone 2. We were shown videos and testimonials.

Cutting the marketing stuff, below are the key features of Zenfone 2

1 Ability to charge 60% in 39 minutes
2 Camera with Selfie Panorama feature- that ensures everyone are covered in the selfie.. A sample below- see how wide it is. (ignore the quality- camera output was projected on big screen which I clicked on my camera). Very useful feature to cover more n more people in the selfie shot.
3. Curved design that is easy to grip
4. Child mode- only some selective apps will work- prevents kids from making calls or sending msg or other unwanted stuffs while they are playing with the phone.

5. Dual profile- dubbed as a provision to hide 'private' stuff from probing eyes of your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. If unlock pattern is entered in one way, phone opens in profile 1 (let us say normal profile with no harmful content), if pattern in entered in another way, phone opens in profile 2 (say where you've stored some pics you don't want others to see). Clever thinking. But don't buy the phone just because of this feature- its only a matter of time before your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife learns about this little secret and insist that you show both profiles- even if you don't have a second one...

6. Quick launch- some functions like camera, browser etc can be launched directly from unlock, thanks to ZenUI's smart capabilities

7. 13 mp camera with low light capabilities and DSLR like control are good

8. Massive 4GB Ram (even my laptop doesn't have that much)- world's first reportedly

9. Strong accessory support-power banks, flip covers etc

10 Asus used to pre-load the phone with lots of apps. Now they have reduced no of pre-loaded apps,as many customers didn't want an overload of apps. More apps can be downloaded as needed.

There were a few questions asked by the audience to Asus Management- below are the summary:

Q1: Why Intel Processor? Why Not Snapdragon?
Peter Chang: While many bench-marking tests have rated Snapdragon better, these tests are performed by bombarding the processor with loads of tasks and measuring the response time. If we compare individual experiences (such as browsing, games), Intel is better.

Q2: Are you planning to expand your service network?
Peter: No. This year, we're looking to boost spare part availability. We have service centres in 120 cities and we provide pickup and drop. So coverage is adequate. But repairs get delayed due to spare part non availability- which we will address this year.

Q3: What about Asus Watch?
To sell smart watches we need strong base of smartphone users. We will think of introducing smart watches once we sell enough number of mobile devices.

Few people asked if invitees in the hall will get any preference/discount/priority to buy Zenfone 2- Answer was negative.  Few existing customers complained about wi-fi issues and service etc. Asus management accepted that they are new entrants in the market and are contentiously improving.

Participants were made to play games on the Zenfone 2- to help them realize how fast and lag free the experience is due to 4GB ram. Some skits were also held to explain Zenfone 2's features. Zentalk forum is explained and a contest is announced wherein we were encouraged to upload photos on Zentalk, get many votes and stand a chance to win a Zenfone 2


Asus Zenfone 2 is launching nationwide on April 23rd. Pricing and distribution channel details will be known only then. Expecting this device to have a pricing around 20k and will be sold exclusively on flipkart (as per my information).

We got a hands on experience with Zenfone 2 that were kept on display. But could only check superficial features and couldn't review in detail. (from the outside, almost all smart phones look the same these days- very difficult to tell the differences, unlike a decade ago, where shape and size used to vary greatly) Event prolonged little later than expected. Had some light snacks and left the venue.

Overall the evening helped me catch up with the premium smartphone market and its offerings.

Similar: Mobile Apps: Too many updates * My post on net neutrality * Seagate Backup Plus Slim *

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kate’s point viewpoint Mahabaleshwar

Kate’s point is at about 1280 meters from sea level and offers scenic view of the dam and reservoir below. It is located in the northern tip of Mahabaleshwar tourist area.

Kate was the name of daughter of british Governor- Sir John Malcom.
 Balakwadi Dam and Krishna valley as seen from Kate’s point

Kamal gad fort can be seen from here only if you have superzoom lens or if you pay the telescope operator.

Echo Point, which wasn’t echoing anything when we shouted.. (Not sure if we didn't should loud enough)

There’s a 10 Rs per person entry fee at Kate’s point. A restaurant & fancy items shop also exist near the view point. A few strawberry farms and ice cream shops are closer.

You can stand behind these and get your photos clicked, for a fee.
Horse rides can be had for Rs 100 (300 meters). More about Mahabaleshwar horses here

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pune self drive rental scene update

I had written about self-drive car rental scenario in Pune last year. But by then, Zoomcar hadn’t opened a branch in Pune yet. This year situation is a bit different. Bangalore based Zoomcar is operational in full swing in Pune with lots of locations and cars. Another player in Pune is Selfdrive.in. I had my eyes on their  VW Beetle since long time, but their unfriendly rules and process turned me of. Last month I rented a Figo from Carzonrent in Pune after much deliberation trying to decide between Zoom and Carzonrent. When I sat down in early April to write this post, I realized that couple of things have changed- Selfdrive.in website has been revamped and Carzonrent has started charging extra for weekends. 
So this post is a mixed update of what I observed last month and the changes I noticed this month.


First, the VW Beetle. Last year, Selfdrive.in had their Beetle available for Rs 4000 a day. This year, it is hiked to Rs 4500. But this amount didn’t include insurance and tax. With insurance and tax, the asking amount was around 5.5k INR. Add to that, Selfdrive.in had an extremely unfriendly way of counting a day. From 12 mid night to 11.30PM was one day, while all other agencies count 1 day as 24 hours from any hour chosen (Zoom even allows minutes).  Selfdrive.in had only one location in Pune, despite being in operation for years, while competition has several locations. Selfdrive.in folks would charge about Rs 500 for pickup/drop facility (taxi from airport to their address also could cost as much). All this meant if I wanted to drive beetle, I had to shell out about INR 6500 per day, 50% more than what’s advertised in Selfdrive.in home page. For that amount I can rent a GLA/A/C class that costs twice as much as a Beetle, so I shelved my plans to drive the Beetle for now.
But it looks like people behind Selfdrive.in are waking up to the competition from Zoom and Myles. This month, I noticed that Selfdrive.in has introduced following changes:

1 Pickup/delivery charges reduced to Rs 150 (Pune only
2 Tax and insurance included in rental amount
3 Hourly rental introduced-first 6 hours will be billed at one rate and remaining hours in another way. So the mid night to midnight billing cycle is gone for good. (I spoke to the number mentioned in selfdrive.in website- the person who received my call was still speaking old terms, though website had been updated. Might take some time before they sort out things and sync up.)
4 Beetle is not getting listed in Pune- seems to be moved to Mumbai and hourly rates are not applicable in Mumbai- only weekend (3 day) rates are charged- some weird way of rental calculation and rules which is difficult to grasp

With Selfdrive.in out of the picture, I had to cho0se between Zoomcar and Carzonrent. My arrival in Pune was on Friday late night and return was on Monday early morning.

That is 2 days and a few hours. Below is the comparison I did, since Figo was sold out with Zoomcar, I had to book with Carzonrent, even after their expensive Rs 750 airport charge. 
Zoomcar
Carzonrent
No extra charge for airport location
Rs 750 charged extra for airport
Figo and Ecosport was listed at Airport, but Figo (close 5k for 2 days and few hours, some 500 kms fuel included) was sold out.

Only available option was Ecosport, costing Rs 7100, which I felt is beyond my budget
Figo was available for about Rs 1800 per day + 750 extra for airport, costing  Rs 4400 approx, fuel extra. I couldn’t book 2 days and 2 hours (I had to pay for 3rd day if I try that), so I chose to book for 2 days only and wait about an hour at the airport instead.
Can’t make the max of Mumbai Pune expressway due to 125kmph speed limit
No speed limit
I wasn’t very sure of exact kms I would cover- Airport to home, them to Talegaon, then probably Lonavala and Khamshet and then to Mahabaleshwar and back. I figured this might come just close to Zoom car’s limit of 240 kms a day

End of the trip, I had logged about 620 kms in 48 hours, for which I would have paid an extra of Rs 1500 for figo, 1800 for Ecosport
Could drive as little or as much as I want, just had to fill up myself.

Spent 2500 on fuel, total expense: Rent + Fuel is close to 7k
If Figo was available, Zoomcar would still be cheaper than Carzonrent overall for my usage.
Had this airport fee of Rs 750 was not there, Carzonrent would have been cheaper for Figo.

Now Carzonrent has started charging 15% extra for weekends, which meant its advantage over Zoomcar is being lost
Modifying  a booking, if needed, is easy
Impossible- have to cancel and rebook
For detailed comparison between Myles and Zoomcar, read this post.
 
But during my 2 day drive around Pune, I found several Zoomcars everywhere and hardly any carzonrent vehicles. (One reason for this could be that all Zoomcars are having bright orange/red colours and is very easy to spot. Carzonrent Myles cars are usually white/silver. (If you want a flashy entrance or people to take notice of your arrival, then rent a zoomcar. If you’re on a spy mission and want to get in and get out without being noticed, use a Myles). I spotted few Ecosports, XUV500, GLA Class andFigos from Zoomcar fleet. Some having KA registration, some having MH registration. Most of the drivers were youngsters. Zoom doesn’t need a credit card and risk liability is low (max 5000), hence is very popular amount students and young professionals. 
Cars from both operators are pretty new and in excellent condition.

Meanwhile, a new company, voler.in seem to be coming up in selfdrive car rental space. It is not very clear about their locations, fleet and tariff. We’ll know next month when they launch.

Varanasi Boat School- Do it right

Much is being talked about River Ganga and central government’s plans to clean her up. In this post written for a social cause, I am introducing a good initiative, taking place on the banks of River Ganga.
The ancient town of Varanasi (Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world) is of religious importance to many of us. Devotees visit Varanasi in large numbers to take a holy dip in river Ganga in the hope of getting all their sins washed away- this continues despite the fact that river Ganga is continuously being polluted by both industrial and human caused pollution.
What tourists do not notice are the children in the locality, majority of whom do not have access to proper education and spend their way either working with their parents or wandering around trying to get something from tourists.
In order to provide them with an ideal learning environment, someone has taken first step in the journey of doing right. Varanasi Boat school is a novel concept visualized by Ajeet Singh, under the umbrella of NGO Guria. Their mission is to enable a magical transformation for these children and show how to do right.
Ajeet Singh has also been instrumental in many other social causes, such as rescuing girls from trafficking [Read]. He was awarded ‘The Week’ Man of the year award in 2012 [Read more]

Coming back to the boat school, Ajeeth Singh is aiming to provide these children with an opportunity to learn science, art, mathematics and other subjects without the pressures of formal education. He is converting boats into floating schools, in which under privileged children can walk in and enrich their knowledge. NGO’s mission is to provide them with #scholarship, books and other learning materials, NGO needs support from educated people around the world. The boat school is already operational and you can see photos of delighted children on Guria’s facebook page. Initiatives like these need our support and encouragement to sustain.
You don’t have to go all the way to UP and take a dip in Ganga to get rid of your sins and win god’s blessings.  Spread the good word about Varanasi Boat School, support their cause and I am sure it will have equal impact. Let us Do it right.
You may please visit the campaign site at http://doright.in/ and assist them in any ways possible- spreading the awareness or may be volunteering if you’re a localite. Corporates like Tata Capital are also lending their helping hand- let us do our bit.

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