Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monthly Summary & updates: September 2008

Travelled to Kerala and Karnataka this month. Travelogue is yet to be published.
Why should we take off shirts while entering temples?” was the most commented post this month, which also triggered detailed debate among readers. Sandesh and NR Bhat wrote detailed comments. Those who read this post on day 1 might wish to have a second look, as I’ve added some more possible reasons based on readers’ contribution and comments are also worth a read.

Book review of Raga Chintamani was also well received by the readers, though initially I though a music related topic may not fetch much comments. Laddoo Madam even enquired about purchase and this post has facilitated an actual sale (I believe). Besides this, one reader commented that he is able to sell of his club Mahindra membership though one of my posts. I take these two success stories as a proof of effectiveness of this blog.

While everything else was good, only major disappointment was Times of India indulging in plagiarism, lifting one of my photographs from internet and publishing without credit. This post has full details. Subsequently Sudipta gave a call for a blogathon on Plagiarism that would help creating awareness [details]

Added some relevant photos to an old post on Indian Railways adding additional berth in second class coaches. Almost everyone who commented on this post felt it is a bad move by Indian railways.

Buying a ticket inside a crowded MTC bus is an art. This post narrates a related experience and lists pros and cons of this system, vis a vis the traditional system where conductor moves all around to issue tickets

Trouble I went through while finding a self drive car rental in Bangalore and review of Mahindra Scorpio mHawk 2.2 Vls were the two posts associated with my Wayanad trip, about which I am yet to write in detail. Fortunately or unfortunately 2008 has been an year of immense travel for me-before I finish blogging about previous trip, next trip is coming up. Have a north India trip scheduled for next week. Looking forward to it.

We conducted a spot blogging contest and I gave a talk related to blogging-at M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology (MSRIT) on the occasion of one web day. This was my public activity after a gap of few months.

Contributed an article to EvanCarmichael (it’s about reasons why companies should encourage their staff to blog)

Trek to Tada Hills, executed last month was a trekking expedition after a long time. 
How modern restaurants focus more on extracting money from customers than providing stomach full of meals also received a satisfactory number of comments.

Bhupesh has created a MSN group for Club Mahindra members so that CM members can interact better- it can be found here

Harishankar is in the process of developing his own customized blogging platform- he has already made some good progress. Blogger and wordpress can expect serious competition in the days to come…

Trying to revamp about me page. Any feedback/suggestions welcome.
My uncle is not feeling well and taking bed rest after being injured in a road accident. Wishing him a very speedy recovery.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blogathon on plagiarism on October 2

This is an initiative by Sudipta Chaterjee. In response to my concern of TOI lifting one of my photographs from internet and several other such incidents wherein print media has effortlessly lifted someone else’s intellectual property from internet, (blogs, journals, websites, flikr etc) and published them without credit or royalty in their commercial publications. [More examples]

In order to counter this, Sudipta suggests that we all blog about “Plagiarism by Media” on October 2nd using one of the powerful weapons we've all got-our blogs. [Read his post] If you don’t have a blog you can spread awareness by means of comments. You may not understand the significance now, unless until you become the victim, when someone else takes credit for your work.

I support this initiative and request all of you to join in. You only need to write a post about this issue in your blog on October 2, 2008. If you’re wondering what exactly you can write on 2nd October regarding this topic, here’re few ideas:

Your post can:

  • Express solidarity to those who have been victims of plagiarism
  • Suggest ideas how to counter when someone finds his/her text/image stolen and published without credit
  • Tell How to effectively detect plagiarism (other than accidentally spotting it)
  • Suggest tips on how to protect your images from being lifted 
  • Advise How to prove that you’re the original owner of that IP
  • Detail Regulatory and legal options available to individuals to fight this
  • Mention about Websites/agencies/NGOs that can be approached for support/guidance
  • And any such related matters

Thanks in advance.

Also thanks to all my readers for expressing their support. Thanks to Mridula for spreading the word in Blogbhathi, IM and her blog. Thanks to Nikhil and to all readers of our company’s internal blog and of Mouthshut for the support extended.

As of now there’s been no updates as such. The mails sent to TOI through generic email Ids available in the newspaper haven’t fetched any reply. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TOI published clarification about my photograph

Major Update: the below concern that TOI had copied my photograph without credit has been resolved to my satisfaction as Times of India ran a clarification in their 8th October 2008 issue.

Times of India issue dated 26th September 2008, Chennai edition had carried a photo of a police car in page 5 along with an article titled "Green Corridor aids organ transplant"Times of India using my photography without credit I'd clicked this photo few months back at Marina beach and had uploaded it to my blog. Some users have referred to this image in some forum discussions also and incidently, if you search for Chennai police car in google, this image comes first.

This image was first published during Feb 2008 in my post titled "Running for Traffic Awareness" High resolution image of this can be found below:
From Chennai Run 16 Feb 2008
I was surprised to see my photo in TOI, published without credit. However after contacting them TOI did run a clarification to this effect, apologizing for the mistake and giving me credit. More details in this post I am happy to see them responding and acting promptly, upholding the spirits of journalism

Nevertheless this should a lesson for myself and others that we need to be more careful about our intellectual property. In fact many bloggers have been victims of this plagiarism- Yahoo content provider WebDunia was repeatedly accused of lifting recipes from blogs. Top travel blogger Mridula had to fight with airline authorities as some of her photographs were published in in-flight magazines, without credit.(I couldn't locate that exact post-Mridula, if you're reading this pls give the link to that post)
More examples of mainstream media lifting images from blogs without credit can be found in this post

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spot blogging contest at MSRIT and my talk

This Monday (22nd Sep) I had the opportunity of spending some time with students and faculty of M.S.Ramaiah Institute of Technology (MSRIT), Bangalore. As a part of one web day celebrations, (oneWebDay is like an earth day for internet, celebrated worldwide on 22nd September every year) a spot blogging contest was organized in which over 150 participants got exposed to blogging.

What exactly was done in spot blogging contest? (And how is it different from essay writing competition?)

The idea behind the contest was to make students familiar with the concept of blogging and make them comfortable with blogging platform like wordpress and blogger. Students were given an internet connected computer each and were required to create a free account in wordpress or blogger and set up their own blog. They were asked to refer to Amit Agarwal’s or Kiruba’s blog as an example to explore and get an idea how a blog is built and maintained. This exercise of setting up a blog took nearly half of the contest time as many were totally new to this. As they created an account and built a blog, they got an idea of various components like title, layout, template, post, comments, publishing, permalink etc.

Next the participants were required to write a post on any topic of their choice in about 200-300 words max. They were free to do any research on internet about the topic they were planning to blog about, but were instructed not to copy paste and give credit to third party content they might be using. Some also experimented with adding images and videos to their post and how to edit the post after publishing. (all these may look like a simple task for a seasoned blogger but for those totally new to blogging, this was a good learning exercise). Once they publish their post they were required to submit their registration number and blog URL so that judges could visit their blog, evaluate it and select prize winners.

Many students felt this exercise very exciting, as they were not aware how to rest of the world through this powerful medium of blogging. I hope most of them will continue to add new posts to the blog they created during the contest. Few students who were familiar to the concept of blogging served as volunteers and guided participants whenever they faced an issue in creating a blog or publishing a post. They introduced me to the participants as a top blogger..blah blah taking me to cloud 9. I also supervised the contest and assisted few participants with the troubles they were facing. Internet connection at the lab gave some trouble at times, teaching participants how important it is to keep a backup of whatever they type.

Evaluation doesn’t seem to be complete yet. It is being done by some of the faculty and ISOC Chennai. Will try to keep you posted on that front.

Subsequent to the contest, Siva from ISOC gave a talk about internet evolution and next to him, I gave a small talk about blogging. I covered topics like how blogging (and other new media) has brought the power of internet to the end users, why many people stop blogging after sometime, the need to build an effective online identity, what and what not to expect from blogging, how having a good blog can aid them in their career prospects etc. I took some questions from students related to money making from blogging and so on.

It was good experience for me supervising the contest and giving a talk. I think I fared better than my talk at Manipal during April. Still lots of things to improve…

Dr. Ashwath Kumar, HOD, Sr. Lecturer Mohan Kumar S and Assistant Professor Mr S.R.Chickerur were instrumental in successful completion of the program. Following students volunteered during the event: Ashwath Desai, Varun Deshpande, Sahana Ramesh, Chethana S, Nisha Sherra, Sritan, Radhika Jodhani, Shweta Raj Mishra, Sourabh Siroya, Srujana, Krupashree, Aniket Deshpande, Pooja R and Vijeta.

M.S. Ramaiah group got autonomous status last year and the institute appears very much enthusiastic in offering new new programs, including few on Social media. Written test for my campus recruitment had happened here and I had done a certification course in M.S.Ramaiah School of Advanced Studies-so I feel connected to this institute. It was a nice feeling to speak with students and members of staff. I was not comfortable with the undue respect and VIP treatment I was given-I would have been more comfortable as a  student standing in front of a professor…

Also I had to do a major rework on the ppt Monday morning. The template I'd downloaded via legitimate version of Office 2007 was just not visible when it was converted into ppt and opened in the cyber cafe. Had to quickly download a 2003 template and move all contents there. Anyway, all's well that ends well. I was given a beautiful gift at the end of the talk and we departed.

Photograph courtesy: Volunteers

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review of New Mahindra Scorpio vls 2.2 mHawk

I drove a brand new Mahindra Scorpio v-series (Vls) powered by mHawk engine for about 900 kms in 3 days recently. I took this beauty cum beast on self drive rental from Hertz Bangalore (details). This post is a review of this vehicle, based on my experience of driving this vehicle in these 3 days.
Scorpio v-series mHawk vls 2.2
I got the delivery from Hertz representative Mr. Anil on 20th Sep morning 5.30 AM at Bangalore city railway station. He explained me the key controls and handed over the keys after rental formalities. This gray coloured Scorpio Vls in which we toured Wayanad during next 2 days, was registered on 15th September and had less than 600 kms on the odometer. It was so new, Hertz people didn’t even had time to attach their sticker on the car. It was as supplied from showroom condition, with plastic seat covers still intact. The green ribbon on the bonnet ensured that almost everyone turned their head when they spotted this vehicle cruising by.

Soon I picked up my team mates from their homes/nearest pickup points and we were on Mysore road, cruising towards Mysore. It gives a great masculine feeling to drive this SUV. Other vehicles willingly give space if they see a Scorpio (or Safari or other SUV) speeding. But I couldn’t go beyond 150 kmph in this-not sure if it is a limitation of the 2.2 liter engine or something else. In June this year I’d pushed a 1.9 litre Skoda Octavia to much higher speeds (upto 170 kmph) on the same stretch in Mysore road.
Negotiating hairpin turns at Lakkidi
Breaking, turn radius, maneuverability and sturdiness is superb. Absolutely no reasons to complain. ( I haven’t driven Safari or other SUVs- so can’t give a comparison or rating). Nearly 20 kms of the road I drove was in very bad condition-From the moment we entered Karnataka border near Nagarahole forest till HD Kote. This stretch of road would have been very hard to near impossible for normal cars but Scorpio’s off-roading abilities ensured that we could clear any kind of road with ease. Engine was smooth and silent, though we could hear some kind of minor odd noise during first gear and reverse hear- I guess it is due to levers/pedals touching the frame

This is the most powerful (well, I know there’re more powerful cars around-I’ll drive them too, one day) and sophisticated car I’d driven so far. So many sensors-warns you to release hand-break fully or wear your seat belt as applicable. But this sensor can be cheated-keep the seatbelt hooked to its buckle and this sensor won’t know that you’re cheating. Also seat belt sensor is only for driver-not for other passengers (if vehicle moves forward it assumes driver has to be there-it doesn’t seem to have a way of detecting if other passengers exist)
Cheap plastic and uninspiring console
By evening, the dashboard stopped displaying odometer and started showing time in that place. I didn’t try to reset or fix it as I was fine with time being displayed there and trip meter was there for distance calculation. Follow me home lamps were another new thing-in the night, when you park and lock the car, it keeps headlamp on for some 30 seconds (so that you can have some light to get inside your home). I’d parked it in Woodlands hotel Kalpetta, security guard called me back asking me to switch off the headlight. I said it will go off on its own and he was surprised. But there’s no sensor that can guide during parking or other activities (Skoda Laura has it). Also it didn’t say ‘Good Morning’ to me when I entered for the first time in a day. Could have been a simple implementation.
m-Hawk closeup
How to turn on 4 wheel drive?
There was a marking “4WD” on the console, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn on four wheel drive. Didn’t find any controls for this-guess this option might have been disabled intentionally or this particular variant doesn’t have it. Carzonrent (Hertz India licensee) didn’t give me owner’s manual of the vehicle, so I couldn’t help much. Missed one great opportunity…

Looks, as you know, is very impressive. I found the mHawk body graphics missing-Has Mahindra & Mahindra stopped it? (Or may be that is exclusive to vlx variant) Also 2.2 is not mentioned anywhere on the body (earlier variants used to display 2.6) The air scoop on the bonnet is dummy-just a show piece. We were able to catch a FM radio station of Mysore city (92.7 MHz) almost all places in Wayanad district. Strong antenna? The sun pad (not sure of the exact name- the pad near windshield which can be tilted to cover sun beams hitting on your face) couldn’t be tilted side wards. Glove box compartment was not locking smoothly and needed 2-3 attempts. Headlamp was powerful enough to light up the road, even inside a dark NagarhoLe jungle. No indicators embedded in rear view mirrors-most auto makers are giving this fancy feature in their high end offerings- M&M yet to incorporate it in its flagship Scorpio.
In the driver's seat
What I didn’t like-
1. Cheap plastic for the dashboard looks depressing. Interiors could have been better. Console appeared conventional-other cars in similar price band come with much better interiors and sporty console. The provision to keep water bottles in the door were not big enough to accommodate a big bottle, say 2 litre can. It can take only small bottles.

2. Gear shift was rough (or shall I say not smooth enough?). I had to put substantial energy compared to Skoda I’d driven sometimes back, which was much smoother. Scorpio was only marginally better than Mahindra Utility and Pickup jeeps I'd driven earlier. Should a rugged vehicle always have a rough gearbox? Would have been better if this could be improved. My left shoulder still recovering from pain, after changing gears some few thousand times during the 900 km drive…

Haven't checked the top end vlx variant -which has several extra options like 6 speed Automatic transmission, technology to prevent engine from stalling, better interiors, cruise control, on steering audio controls, many more sensors and more.

Fuel economy:
I drove about 900 kms in 3 days- More than 50% on highways, some 20% on ghat and mountain roads, rest on city and village roads. AC was used only for say 20% of the journey. I had to fill a total of 71 litres to return the car full tank to Hertz-
That makes an average mileage of 12.67 kmpl (I'd wrongly mentioned as 11.85 earlier-it was 71 litres not 76. Sorry for the error- a calculation mistake on my part)
This particular model is relatively new in market, so I am not sure if this mileage is above or below average. I feel it is decent. The car was brand new and hadn’t undergone any servicing yet. So may be after few services the fuel economy might improve a bit.

rear view amidst tea plantation

Over all, it is a pretty good car-pros outweigh cons. Scorpio has evolved over time, but still few improvements possible, to take it near perfection.

Returned the car to Hertz in one piece without any dents or scratches on 22nd night- It was a big responsibility to rent a new 10 lakh worth SUV for long drives, be responsible for lives of my passengers, drive the car safely in superfast highways, curvy mountains, bad roads and congested cities and finally return it safe and sound. I enjoyed every bit of it. This Wayanad trip was my 2nd self drive expedition (Chennai Mysore in a Skoda was the first). More about the places we visited and the trip will come up in different posts. Please standby. Those who were doubtful of my driving abilities now seem to have gained confidence in me and have expressed desire to join for next mission. Already receiving enquiries like "which car you're taking next/ where r u going next..."… let me see.

May 2009 update: This vehicle of Hertz Bangalore seems to be in a very high demand. Always I get to hear from them that it is already booked. I accidentally spotted this vehicle again in Ooty last week.

November 2010 Update: Scorpio now has over 2 lakh fans on its facebook page. Scorpio also won 3 awards at 2010 Raid De Himalayas Event. Congratulations!

July 2011: I rented this Scorpio again from Hertz for a day and it was as fun as earlier.
Nov 2011Aria 4x4 review * Aria photoshoot Set 1Set 2 * Aria in Mullayanagiri * ottinene

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Finding a selfdrive car rental in Bangalore

April 2013 Update: Zoom car is the latest and best choice in Bengaluru for self drive car rentals. Detailed review here.

Original post: 

They say well begun is half done. But in my case it began badly but ended extremely well.

I was looking for a car to be rented on self drive basis in Bangalore, for our proposed Wayanad trip. This post is a quick sum up of options and experiences I went through while finding a suitable car.
Scorpio parked besides Tea garden in Wayanad
While Carzonrent (Hertz India franchisee) was my preferred choice, I decided to explore other options first.

Checked classified on internet- There was one person called Thomas, who had a ford Ikon on offer for just Rs 1000 per day. This was pretty cheap, but after little enquiry learnt that the car is a 2002 model. Realized that it can be quite risky to go on a long drive with a old car. (May be for city use we can consider this) Also taking a car from individual has its own pros and cons- mostly this is done without any paperwork or insurance and in case of any dispute it’ll be up to the two individuals to resolve. If the car has some endorsements police will catch us. Also this person wanted passport in original as security-with a visa stamping on it I felt it will be risky to leave my pp in the custody of a stranger.

I tried Avis- These people have some of the best vehicles among all travel agencies- Avis has Honda CR-V, Honda Accord, Ford Endeavor and many such high end cars. But unfortunately they give them on rent only to some corporate clients and not to individuals (for self drive). The best Avis Chennai could offer was Optra Elite Petrol at Rs 3700 a day. Almost all the cars they had were petrol variants, meaning I’d to spend heavily on fuel. Also their security deposit amount is just too much. For Optra it was Rs 60000 and for cars like Corolla it is 1,20,000 –This amount is a bit too much to accept and risk. Compared to this, Hertz blocks only Rs 30000 for Skoda Octavia or 20000 for Ford Fiesta-meaning, my maximum liability is Rs 20000 for a Fiesta in case of damage/loss/accidents, which is sensible and relatively affordable.

Though Avis Bangalore rental is slightly cheaper than Hertz, it was not clear if a particular car was petrol or diesel variant. (For example, Ford Ikon is available in 1.3 litre petrol variant, as well as 1.6 and 1.8 litre diesel variants-driving experience and operating expense will be different for these models, which I wanted to take into consideration before taking final decision. When I sent an email to Bangalore Avis enquiring about age and engine specs, got a stern reply that their entire booking process is online, and I need to book the car online. I was in no mood to make a payment at such a high deposit rates without seeing the car. So avis was out.

Another player, Autoriders didn’t respond to my mails in time.

Coming back to Hertz, the initial response was unimpressive. I was running two parallel enquiries- One person, Anil, replies stating they have 4 of cars- Santro, Getz/Swift and Ford Fiesta. Only Fiesta was diesel while rest were petrol. Fiesta was Rs 3000 per day, while Swift was Rs 1800 per day. I did a quick calculation- we were scheduled to drive nearly 700 kms. For these many kms, the low rent + high fuel expense of Swift would almost equal to high rent +low fuel expense of Fiesta. Another 100+ kms-Fiesta will have clear advantage. Considering more space and power I asked Hertz to book Fiesta. After few days my second enquiry fetches a reply that they have Santro, Getz and Swift for self drive. I promptly reply that I’ve booked Ford Fiesta already. (Lack of coordination) Also it was more economical to rent it for 3 days and avail unlimited km offer, than pay Rs 12 per km extra for each km in excess of permitted 150 kms per day. (Our trip was for only 2 days, but on Monday I was scheduled to give a talk at MSRIT Bangalore and had few other plans, hence booked for a total of 3 days)

I then inform them about my itinerary and ask for a pick up from Bangalore City railway station at 4 AM on 20th. I was asked to come to Hertz office in Adugodi on my own. That was so unprofessional- they run a car rental agency and ask me to come to their office in a car rented from a competition. I mailed back expressing my dissatisfaction. After some hesitation they agreed to send pick up but threw a new bomb that Self drive is open only from 8 AM to 8 PM. If I wait till 8 AM for their shop to open, it will be mid day before I can leave the city limit. That was just not acceptable. Their Chennai office operates 24x7-don’t know why can’t the Bangalore office? I escalated the issue to the person in their Chennai branch, Mr Lazer, with whom I had dealt earlier (Chennai Mysore self drive in Skoda Octavia), saying that I am extremely unhappy about this and I don’t want their service if I can’t get it by 4 AM. Incidentally Lazer calls me as assures me of the required service, Bangalore office agrees to be available on 20th morning 4 AM and ensure that the car is handed over early morning.

Chennai Hertz had sent me a booking confirmation number via SMS. Nothing like that happened from Bangalore. Hertz Bangalore sounded so unprofessional and uninterested- may be because no one asks for a self drive car and all their customers are corporate giants.

Relieved, I proceed with my plan. So much trouble and formalities for self drive. No wonder many people prefer the conventional chauffer driven rental.

7 days to go. One of the participants give a hint that he may pull out due to a possible onsite assignment. Excluding him we still had four persons to keep the trip economically viable-team agreed on the possible increase in per head expense in case 5th person is out, so we ask him give us a final decision in next 5 days, so that we’ll have 2 more days to find a replacement.

Meanwhile Autorider responds with details of the cars they have on self drive. Their rental is cheaper, unlimited kms if rented for 2 or more days, but having confirmed at Hertz, I reply in negative, assuring that I’ll consider them next time.

Monday, 15th Sep, 5 days to the trip, I get a surprise call from Bangalore Hertz. I’m told that they’ll be upgrading me to a brand new Scorpio at the same rent, as the previous rental of Ford Fiesta which I’d booked, is getting extended, making itself unavailable for the dates I had booked. That was great. Scorpio is a pretty good SUV-driving that will be a pleasant experience. Whoever took that Ford Fiesta ahead of me and extended their tenure-god bless them. I instantly agreed-now kind of restless-eagerly waiting for the Saturday to come and when I’ll get my hands on the Scorpio…Raveesh asked “What if they down grade us back to a 5 seater sedan later?” I didn’t have an answer. Hoped that won’t happen.

Taking a virgin vehicle that hasn’t even completed its initial 1000 kms (which is crucial to allow the engine components to be bedded in properly) has its own risks. Fuel economy will be low till first few servicing, there might be undetected problems and vehicle may not be at its best-pickup may not be optimum. Whatever it is, Scorpio is a Scorpio and I was determined to ride it. Tthough Scorpio was offered at no extra cost, it would consume more diesel than what was originally budgeted for Ford Fiesta. But I got 2 extra seats (it was a 7 seater Scorpio) Now I made an attempt to see if we can get 2 extra participants, so that we’ll have a car full of people, per head expense comes down and more people get to enjoy the trip. But I guess it was little late- most people replied in Negative as they had other plans. I checked with the team- we felt it will be still be economically viable as long as we’ve minimum four participants.

One day to go, a process optimization idea comes up. After discussion with Anil of Carzonrent, we reach an agreement that I’ll be sending him scanned copies of the documents in advance and he would come prepared with paperwork to railway station and handover the car to me at the railway station itself. There was no need to go to Hertz office in Koramangala and this meant a generous saving of 45-60 minutes. It’s a gray Scorpio-we’ll wait outside the railway station-you can easily find the vehicle-he assures. So kind of him.

Friday evening, my mind is already inside Scorpio, on the driver’s seat. Only my body was in Chennai…

Saturday morning, train gets delayed by more than an hour, Anil from Carzonrent waits for me patiently at the Railway station-the much awaited moment turns into reality and I get my hands on a brand new (registered on 15th Sep, Only 600 kms on the Odo) Scorpio powered by mHawk and I was all set to break free...

That’s the saga how I got my hands on the SUV. More interesting posts to follow. Detailed review of Mahindra Scorpio v Series m-Hawk vls

April 2009 Update: Car Club has some good collection of cars at reasonable rates in Bangalore. Rented their Innova last week. It was good.

Similar: Chennai Mysore Self drive * Complete Guide to self drive car rentals in India * A more detailed post on self drive car rentals, rates etc *

Destinations/weekend getaways from Bangalore: Wayanad * Ooty, Coonoor, Kotagiri * Madhugiri fort * Skandagiri * Chitradurga *

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ticket purchasing excercise in Chennai's MTC buses

Visualize this- You’re in a new city, do not know the local language, you’ve boarded the bus for the first time in this city to reach your office and you do not have a clear idea where exactly to get down. The bus gets crowded, jam packed. Now, suddenly someone gives Rs 10 to you and tells something that you don’t understand.

What will you do?
Option A: Say thanks and pocket the money
Option B: Ask the person what you’re supposed to do now...
Option C: Return the money
Option D: Pass the money to a person in the opposite direction and utter the same word uttered by the person who gave you money.

My first bus journey in Chennai, few years ago, I had to go to Tidel Park where my office was located. I didn’t have an idea where to get down and I was told- “There’ll be a huge blue building visible from a distance with Tidel Park written on top of it-it’s easy to locate” So I was in an overcrowded bus, trying to keep an eye outside the window so that I can locate the Tidel park building and get down.

Suddenly someone passes me Rs 10 and says something. I didn’t understand what he said, nor had a clue what I was supposed to do. There were so many people around I couldn’t exactly identify who gave me money. I was supposed to opt for Option D above, but I conveniently opted for Option A and kept quite.

Then some kind of turmoil started and lots of words were exchanged. I minded my own business and kept looking outside. Then someone shook me and said something. I could make sense of few words like 'Kaasu', 'Ticket' and felt that he might be asking the money back. I took out the note from the pocket and someone literally snatched it and gave it to someone else.

If you have travelled in Chennai MTC buses, you might have got a clue by now. If not read on.

In most of the cities, the conductor of a bus moves all over the bus and issues tickets. In Chennai, the Conductor will be permanently positioned in his designated seat. It will be the responsibility of passengers to somehow reach him/send money to him and collect the ticket.

Because of this, it is a common scene in MTC buses to see people passing money and tickets among themselves. You pass the money to the person near you, in the direction of the conductor and tell your destination. This money and destination reaches the conductor after passing through several hands and a ticket reaches you through a similar exchange of hands. If you’re sitting/standing in-between the conductor and a ticketless passenger, you’re required to the community service of passing money and tickets.

Some observations:

  • Those who have stuffed iPod earphones into their ears are bound to feel disturbed a lot. Whenever someone hands over money, they will be required to pause their ipod, take out the ear phone, ask the sender to repeat his destination, then pass the money to the person behind. By the time they restore earphone and press play button, either the ticket would have come back, or another person would have sent money…
  • Sometimes money undergoes multiple cycles. After a 10 Rs note reaches the conductor, he returns it saying “No change, give Rs 7” now the money flows back in the same direction and couple of coins amounting to Rs 7 come back.
  • Few adamant people do not budge. When money is held to them they simply refuse to cooperate (take it and pass). Now the arm that is carrying money quickly finds an alternate passenger in the vicinity and money travels in a deviated path.
  • 15 minutes after issuing tickets, Conductor says “Royapettah ticket change 3 Rs” and hands over 3 Rs to the crowd. I believe it reaches correct person.
  • Some passengers do not utter the destination. They just say “get me a two rupees ticket”. Conductor issues a 2 rupee ticket without verifying the destination and matching it with the price. No one will be there to verify if someone buying 2 rs ticket travels till the last stop.
  • Ladies usually prefer to pass money through ladies only and gents prefer gents only. (Left half is reserved for ladies-detailed post on this)
  • If the bus is not crowded, the conductor would cut the ticket the moment he hears the destination, before money reaches him. If felt necessary, he will cut short the journey of a note midway and send it back demanding that exact change be sent.
Looks like everyone are comfortable with this mode of buying tickets (Or may be they have got used to it) and the system seems to work with an efficiency at par with of Mumbai's Dabba walas. Do you see any merits in this system? Why can’t the conductor move around like in other states? Are there any advantages in this system that I am not aware of?
Some concerns:
  • If destination gets changed (because of mispronunciation etc) while changing hands and passenger pays extra/less who is responsible?
  • What should I do if my money gets lost while changing so many hands?
  • If the conductor moves from seat to seat and interacts with passengers, he will have an idea who all bought the ticket and who all have not. When he sits at once place, he won’t be able to identify who all have not paid. If money comes he issues ticket, else he keeps quiet.
  • Why should the passengers be disturbed every now and then for someone else to buy ticket?
  • Except Volvos all buses have this system. Ticket verification is almost nill
Veteran Chennai residents might be able to throw some light on this.

Update: Reader Vijay Anand points out 2 advantages:
1)the conductor doesn't have to go through the crowd, as the MTC buses are always crowded.
2)the conductor doesnt have to thrust on the passengers, especially female passengers are jabbed by male passengers in MTC buses, so this system avoid this. 

Similar: Left half for ladies-why? * Chennai Volvo buses * Innovative way to prevent footboard travel *  Sandesh's post- No reservations in BMTC

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Debate: Why should we take off shirts in some temples?

We follow so many rituals in our life, willingly or unwillingly. Some have certain reasoning while others are followed purely because they came as a tradition. All religions have their own set of rituals which are followed in full faith by the members of that religion while outsiders may find it funny. We may not be able to discuss the merits/demerits of all ritual practices as they are so huge in number. However in this post, I’m picking up one practice enforced in most of the south indian temples and trying to assess if this practice has any convincing reasoning behind it. I may be wrong in my assessment-if any of you can throw more light on the same I’ll be happy.

Some of you might have observed- Men are required to remove their shirts and vest (baniyan) before entering certain temples. Most of the temples in Kerala, Temples in Kancheepuram, Sri Mookambika Temple in Kollur, the place where they serve food in Udupi Sri Krishna temple and so many other temples insist that male visitors enter the temple premises half naked and stay that way till they go out. Some temples enforce this rule in specific areas, while others enforce it through out the temple premises.

Since long time I am trying to find out if there’re any convincing reasons-scientific or otherwise, why one should remove 50% of their dresses while entering the temple. I couldn’t get any convincing answers from priests/seniors in this regard. All they had to say was “Rules are rules- our ancestors did this, we’re following, you should also do as told without questioning. Don’t be disobedient”

It has been quite some time since I’ve stopped entering temples that require me to undress. But my attempts to find the cause/reason for this rule is still on. Below, I am listing some of the possible reasons I could think of, as to why men are asked to remove their shirts before entering the temple. Read them, give your comments and if you can think of some other reasons please let me know.

Possible reason number 1:
Hygiene- to keep temple premises hygiene from impurities that may come from outside, along with the devotees (say dust, sweat)

This purpose is not getting served. One- Men are required to remove only shirts and vests-Trousers/bottom clothing are allowed-so all unwanted elements can enter through trousers. Also people keep their shirt on their shoulders after removing. This way impurities enter the temple anyway.

Possible reason number 2:
To ensure that those who enter the temple are not suffering from some diseases/infections
Only few diseases/infections can be detected by watching the skin. For this, they can employ a trained paramedic to check people at the entrance instead of expecting everyone to walk in semi nude and hoping that someone will detect if a particular person is having some disease/infection that is harmful to others.

Possible reason number 3:
To see if the men are wearing the holy thread (Brahmins only rule)
Again, someone can check this at the entry point.

Possible reason number 4:

Be transparent in front of God (not to hide anything from god)
If the God is worth his name, he should be able to see me through even with my clothes on. There’s no way I can hide something from him. Priest telling me “take off your clothes so that God can see you” is technically, logically and ‘everything else-ically’ incorrect.

Possible reason number 5:
Be humble in front of god-keep all luxuries away (reason contributed by Thilak)
Shirts and vests are no more a luxury. Why not ask people to come to temple only by walk and not in vehicles? Why allow people to pay extra money and get into a shorter queue that ensures a quicker darshan?

Possible reason number 6: (Contributed by NR Bhat)
Temple structures constructed from stone will be usually hot inside. It’ll be easy without the shirts on.
If this is the case, it should be left to the discretion of the devotee to decide if he can manage with the shirts on or will he be more comfortable topless. No point in blindly enforcing the topless rule, throughout the day, even when it is evening and cold enough.

Possible reason number 7: (Contributed by Jennifer)
Gods energy is best received though 'heart Chakra' and shirt shields this. Hence men are advised to come bare chest.
Well, what kind of energy is it, if it can't penetrate a thin layer of clothing? We're not wearing metal shields like Roman warriors...

Possible reason number 8: (Contributed by Jennifer and NR Bhat)
Stitched clothes are not our tradition. Hence stitched dresses like shirts should be discouraged.
Not convincing enough. We need to change with time and adapt accordingly...

Updated Jan 17, 2011: Possible Reason No 9 (Contributed by Sheshadri):
Sheshadri has given a detailed explanation (read his comment on this post)-He says the rule is to enforce traditional attire (by humiliating people by asking them to remove non-traditional attire). Again, this purpose is not getting served.

Can you think of any other reasons?

Few discrepancies: Those who remove the shirt are allowed to cover their body with a towel/shawl or such things. So when some kind of clothing is allowed, why can’t it be a proper shirt?

Disclaimer: This post doesn't intend to humiliate any religion and only attempts to find some answers. Readers are at their discretion not to agree with the thoughts expressed here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Best practice in naming event websites

This article makes a small observation regarding how event websites could be named for a better SEO advantage.

It’s a common practice these days to create a website for any event/conference/summit/show. Whether it is (formerly and, may be they will rename it again to or Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or any other event, all will usually have a dedicated website.

If the event is an annual one, to be held every year, is it a good idea to include event year in the domain name? I feel no.

In other words, having a website like or which includes the year 2008 or 08 is a bad practice. Addresses like or are a good way to name a website for annual event, as they exclude reference to any specific year in the domain name.

Let us check why.

If you include the year in the domain name, it becomes redundant for next season. Next year you’ll be required to buy a new name like and rebuild/migrate the site. This may not be a concern, as money involved in buying a domain and setting up a site is quite small. The biggest disadvantage will be the loss of search engine benefits. During the current season you might have advertised heavily about the event and lots of websites and blogs might have linked to your event website in their articles. Next year, if you ditch the current site and move to a new one, all think links become redundant and you fail to leverage the google advantage secured by means of these links.

You can always have “EventName-2008” in the site title, which can be effortlessly edited to 2009 next year. But I feel having it in domain name should be avoided.

Also, one should plan the design in such a way that there won’t be any need to move/replace contents. For example is a bad idea. It should be so that next year this can be, instead of having to move/replace last year’s content

Further, suppose you’ve set up for this year’s event. If some smart individual registers ahead of you, you’ll be forced to compromise on your identity and settle with say eventname09 or some other combinations, while the culprit gets effortless traffic/publicity

Just my opinion-organizers are at their liberty to chose any name as they wish.

Related: SEO Fundamentals * SEO for regional language bloggers * Live Blogging tips 

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Raga Chintamani- A guide to Carnatic Music through Tamil movie songs

My knowledge of Carnatic music is quite primitive. I can recognize only 2 Ragas- Mayamalava Gowla, the basic raga any music student will be thought first, and Madhyamavathi-because of its simplicity- only black reeds of the harmonium. I used to play songs belonging to some other ragas as well, such as "రార వేణు గోపా బాల రాజిత సద్గుణ జయశీల-Raara Venu Gopa Baala" of Bilahari raga and "Lambodara lakumikara (a.k.a Sree GaNa naatha, Sindhoora varNa...)" & "ಕೆರೆಯ ನೀರನು ಕೆರೆಗೆ ಚೆಲ್ಲಿ -Kereya neeranu kerege chelli" of Malahari raga, but never studied ragas seriously.
With this limited knowledge I am reviewing a book titled Raga Chintamani, guide to Karnatik music through tamil movie songs, compiled by Sundararaman Chintamani.(Author's Blog)

Raga Chintamani is a simple book which contains all ragas of Karnatic music listed in alphabetical order. Arohana and Avarohana (Ascend and descend) of each raga is listed, along with any interesting/useful information related to the said raga. After this all tamil movie songs, composed using this particular raga are listed along with their movie name. The collection of tamil movie songs is pretty exhaustive, some 1800+. But I couldn’t make much sense out of it, as my knowledge/interest in tamil movies is near zero, except few whose Hindi versions have been popular. The book also has music related quiz in each page, some introduction to various types of ragas in the beginning and a comprehensive appendix of all tamil movie songs and their ragas at the end, as well as a quick biography of few doyens of Tamil film music.

"If people can recognize the raga of a cine song, they can also appreciate the classical music in the same raga. If they are able to listen to 10 cine songs in Kalyani, they can easily identify many classical songs that are set in Kalyani..." Author writes, explaining the purpose of the book.

Would have been great if someone could bring out a similar book in other languages-Kannada, Telugu etc.

Some key information/observations from my side (from this book and in general)

1. The harmonium or a keyboard has only 2 reeds for ri, ga, da and ni. But Carnatic music has 3 sub divisions for these (Shudhdha Rishabha, Chatushtrati Rishabha, Shadhyati Rishaba, Shudhdha Gaandhaara, Saadharana Gaandhaara, Antara Gandhaara, Sudha Nishadha, Kaishaki Nidhaadha, Kaakali Nishaada and so on) I am having utter confusion, how to identify the third one. I think G1 is seldom used. The first Ga we encounter is G2 and the one next to it is G3 but which is D3 and R3? Do the differ per raga? Ni used in MayamaLava Gowa is Ni3-which one is Ni1 and Ni2? Can anyone clarify the confusion for me?
2. Avarohana of some ragas are quite complex- for example Kapi- Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S
Avarohanam- S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 M1 D2 P G2 R2 S N3 S (I can make 2 more ragas out of this lengthy Avarohana...)

Gopala Gopala song of Humse Hain Muqabula (Errani Gorrani Gopala of Kadalan)
Kuchi Kuchi Rakamma of Bombay. Roja Jaaneman (Kadhal Rojave) of Roja are all composed in kapi raga

3. Madhyamavathi raga is believed to have powers of washing away your sins attained by singing apaswaras (singing improperly)- If you sing a song of madhyamavati raga at the end of the concert, all your sins will be destroyed. So after irritating your audience for hours and forcing them to stuff cotton into their ears, be sure to sing a song in Madhyamavathi raga. If you’re not sure what song is of Madhyamavathi-here’s one Kannada song- ಬಾರ ವಿಘ್ನ ನಾಶಕಾ ವಿನಾಯಕಾ, ಬಾರ ಬಾ, ಬಾ ವಿವೇಕ ದಾಯಕ... Baara vighna naashakaa vinayaka, Baara baa baa viveka daayakaa…

4. Amritha Varshini raga is believed to be the one that can cause rains. It is not clear which raga can be used to stop rains (and Bihar flood may be)

5. Madhyamavathi raga consists of only black reeds of keyboard- Sa ri ma pa ni sa- Sa ni pa ma ri sa. Is there any raga that is made up of only white reeds? There has to be one- because this is how I play twinkle twinkle little star- gaga nini riri ni dada dada mama ga (all while reads-but it is odd to have both da –D1 and D2 in same raga) (Ragas that begin and end with Ni are called Nishadhantya ragas)

6. Which raga is “Appadi podu Podu….”? Anyone has an idea?

7. Tu hi re-Tu hi re song of Bombay is composed in Hari Kambhoji. The song- Telephone dun main hasne vaali of Hindustani (Telephone Manipol of Indian in Tamil) looks kind of modern, but sung in good old Anandha Bhairavi

8. Looks like there is a tamil movie named Kadhal ViruS (love virus)-Nice name I must say...

Where to buy it?
Raga Chintamani is priced at Rs 200 and is available only with few select shops in Chennai (Mylapore/Royapettha area in particular) Try this link or try the option below:

Send a letter giving your full postal address and requesting to send a copy of Raga Chintamani by VPP. This person, with whom I spoke to, said he can dispatch the book by VPP within a day or two, postage charges Rs 30, total VPP amount-Rs 230
Mr. Vinod Kumar,
The Karnatic Music Book Centre
23-A, Sripuram First Street, Royapettah, Chennai 600014
Ph: 044-28113253
Disclaimer: This blogger is not involved in any way in the sale of this book and will not be answerable to any possible complaints such as delay, payment issues, non delivery etc. You'll have to deal directly with the seller in case of any disputes.

Watch these movies related to Music if possible: Morning Raga (English+telugu, Shabana Azmi), Ananda Bhairavi (Kannada), Upasane (Puttanna KaNagaal, Kannada)

Images from 3rd party websites.

Other posts on Music: Bangalore police Ban live music * My favorite lyrics * * A poem I wrote * Summer of '05 * Review: Unwind Centre music school *
Other book reviews: The 3 mistake of my life * 2 States (Chetan Bhagat) * It happened in India * Bapu * Merchants of Deception * Not a penny more, not a penny less * Zero percentile by neeraj Chhibba

May 2009 update: Mr Sundararaman and his book are featured in ERGO: Refer adjacent image for full article.

Indian Railway goes Crazy-Adds Extra Berths

First published during December 2007. Reposted with relevant photos.

the newly introduced extra berthIndian Railways has decided to increase the capacity of its trains by about 12% by introducing an additional berth in the coaches. Refer the images- an additional berth is being introduced in all coaches, which will be positioned inbetween the side-upper and side-lower berths. Passengers who are allotted this berth need to share the seat with the 3 other people who occupy the main seat (Refer last image)the additional berth in Indian railways when unfolded
Reportedly this idea of increasing the capacity has been accepted to generate more revenue by carrying more passengers in same number of trains, so that the need to increase ticket fare will be eliminated.

This change did cause lots of confusion among passengers w.r.t their seat numbers-as seat numbers mentioned in ticket (booked before the new seating was fed to computer) and seat number assigned in the final chart (which was according to new seating layout) were different-sleeping passengers were forced to wake up by newly entered passengers who thought their seat has been intruded and TTE had to intervene to dose the confusion. (Any change brings in confusion-can't really complain)

But most of the passengers are irked by this move which is guaranteed to cause more and more inconvenience to the passengers as they have to share their seats and luggage space with the extra traveler. Indian Railways has been implementing this without taking passengers into confidence.

1. More passengers in same space-More revenue, no need to hike fares. (This only postpones price hike for few months or years-Doesn't ensure that ticket fare will never be hiked.)
2. Its better to travel somehow than not travel at all (due to non availability of seats) Lot of people are desparate to travel and sleep on floors or wherever there's space. It might be good idea to accomodate them somehow, even if it means inconvenience to others. (If I or You happen to be one of those desparate passengers who could get a berth only because of this new system, we'll certainly thank railways for this, not if otherwise)

old and new seating layout
1. Major compromise on convenience-Less space for seating, luggages and to move around.
2. Money needs to spent in making changes to the coaches (install extra berths), change reservation system.
3. If passengers get irritated by this new system they may head towards low cost airlines, resulting in loss to railways. (very low probability though)
4. Indian Railways monopolistic decision enforced without taking passengers into confidence.
5. The relief it might bring to passengers will be very short termed. Given the rate of population explotion, even the extra seats will soon be insuffecient.

6. The 9th passenger has to travel like an unwanted creature-No dedicated luggage space, seat has to be shared with others, berth has to be folded to let others sit
7. Railway sticker says 9PM to 6AM is night time during which berths can be folded. But not everyone follow this timing-people stay awake till late night and prefer to sleep till 9 AM-Others will have to compromise
8. This is just a temporary work around. With ever exploding population, this also will soon prove to be insuffecient. Adding more compartments/running more trains can be a better alternative.

What do you think of this idea? Drop a comment.
Fourth person to sit here
Will it not be better for railways to add more chair cars where in people can sit and travel, particularly for short haul journeys? Chair cars can accomodate more people than a sleeper coach. better still, what prevents adding few extra bogies?

What next? an additional berth in between the 3 existing berths?