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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Why not Impose delay on live reporting during terrorist operations?

"Several foreign nationals are trapped in Taj Hotel.."

"Terrorists are suspected to be in 9th floor.."

"NSG troop has arrived in Mumbai…"

"NSG commandos have entered the Hotel…"


Some of the information telecasted live by all news channels on the event of recent Mumbai terror attacks. News channels have an objective- to bring latest news and share with readers, much before any competitor channel. But I feel this habit of indiscriminate live reporting, while a combat operation is in progress, can be catastrophic for the success of any military operation against terror.

Let us just think for a while. Do we really need to know everything on a ‘as soon as it happens’ basis? I feel NO. Whether NSG Commandos have just arrived at airport, or have entered the hotel or in first floor or second at this moment, is not necessary to be telecasted to general public in realtime. Showing such news live, will be immensely useful only to terrorists and their supporters outside.

Consider this- the commandos just know that militants are somewhere inside the hotel- but militants know everything through TV-
  • Who is being called (Army/NSG/Marines/Local police etc)
  • What is their ETA (Estimated time of Arrival), which tells them, how much time they have before a gun battle would begin- element of surprise will not there to the benefit of commandos)
  • Where are they right now- at the main entrance/just entered/floor
  • How the world is responding- Is there a pressure mounting on the Govt to succumb to the demands of terrorists to get the hostages freed? (so that they can act tough during negotiation)
  • How many of their friends are alive or dead (so that they can assess their strength)
  • What has been the impact of their strike-how many police and civilian dead, the current morale of police, who all as been detained/suspected?
  • Live visuals of the street-to assess a possible escape strategy
  • What information about them the outside world has (which floor they are in, their head count etc
  • And many more...
Our publicity savvy politicians are also to be blamed for leaking every bit of information to the media.
All these information would help them consolidate their position and pose greater challenge to commandos trying to hunt them down.

Why is our media helping them by airing live all the sensitive information about the anti terror operations? Common man do not need to know them on a live basis. Can’t the I&B (Information & broadcasting) ministry think of banning live reporting? At least the channels should show some responsibility. Let the news channels air the news with a delay of few hours, so that the police and security agencies will have a lead time to finish their task, wherein terrorists would be as equally uninformed as they are. Please note that I am not advocating a censorship- I do not want a situation where Govt decides what to be aired and what not. I am all for free speech and expression. What I am proposing, is that security agencies should have the power to impose a delay of say 3 to 6 hours w.r.t live reporting of anti terror operations, when such operations are still in progress. Let the TV channels record whatever they want, but they should be aired only after a gap of few hours. Few information that generic public should be aware of (areas where curfew is imposed, emergency contact numbers etc) can be aired with permission from security agencies.  I do not think anyone loses anything with this.
 We salute you-Vijay Salaskar, Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte who died fighting terror
The movie- A Wednesday, also shares same opinion. I feel the good old days of Once in a day news bulletin was far better. What do you think?


This post is dedicated to all brave police officials and innocent civilians who lost their lives in yesterday’s terror attack in Mumbai

www.smallchange.in is an online initiative on the same issue- you may go and sign the petition there.
Photo from IBNlive. Cross posted on Churumuri

December 19 Update: This report suggests Media is willing to adopt certain self regulatory guidelines.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are our Traffic police so helpless?

We were at Poonamalai High Road on Saturday morning, trying to decide if we should resume our proposed bike trip to Yelagiri or call it off, as heavy rains meant the risk factor overweighed the adventure and fun part of the trip. More about that in a separate post. [Photos here]
Traffic constable regulating traffic at Poonamalai
It was 8 AM and we were opposite a traffic intersection, manned by a traffic constable as there was no signal lights. Besides regulating traffic, his additional responsibility was to ensure that no cargo vehicles enter the city (as it was past 7 AM). Once a while, a truck or mini lorry would come and try to go into city. If the constable signals them to stop or not to go into the city, the vehicle drivers would pretend as if they didn’t notice the cop and would continue to drive into the city. So, the only way he could make them stop, was to stand infront of the oncoming truck, thereby forcing the driver to stop. Once the vehicle is stopped, what follows is a battle of words with the vehicle crew, who would either insist that they be allowed to go in or plead that there was some problem/urgency. (I couldn’t hear their conversation-just guessing based on the expressions and hand signals). Before the argument would reach a mutually agreeable stage, the traffic would mess up at the junction and the cop will have to rush there to ease things up, but not before instructing the truck drive to pull over.

The above happened with 4 cargo vehicles within a span of 30 minutes, and in all 4 cases, the trucks would speed away, instead of pulling over, much to the dismay and frustration of the topic cop.

A few questions in my mind on this issue-
Why is that our cops never chase and stop a disobeying vehicle? If you respect their signals and pull over, you’ll be forced to pay a fine or bribe on some pretext or other, those who do not care and speed away are never caught and go unpunished. Last year Hyundai gifted some 100 Accent cars to Chennai police-[Read: Chennai police to play NYPD, sporting Accent cars]why don’t those cars be used to chase disobeying vehicles and enforce some fear, respect and discipline among motorists?

Why should a traffic cop risk his life in going and standing in front of a speeding vehicle to make it stop? They just need to show appropriate signal to the driver, backed by a whistle may be, indicating him to pullover. If the driver doesn’t pull over, the police should either chase them or note the registration number and send a notice to pay fine.

Why are we so disrespectful to cops? May be because we think- if we stop definitely few hundred rupees will be lost in fine or bribe-so better take a chance in escaping, or may be people are confident- that cop can’t do anything if I speed away.

Similar: Surviving traffic police in India * Chennai police get Hyundai Accent patrol cars

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A painter and his mission

I was at Tenth Planet Technologies, to attend the first Failcamp Chennai. TPT is an open source based IT services firm and they’d offered their office space to be used as a venue for Failcamp.
Painted pillars in Tenth Planet office
What caught our attention at the office was beautiful art work done on pillars and certain walls. Their conference room had huge painting of Dashavatharam (no-not the movie), all pillars were painted with images of god and goddesses. As we carried on with failcamp, later in the day, Kumaran Mani, CEO of Tenth Planet Technologies threw more light on these paintings. He said his idea was to have a palace kind of theme for the entire interior of his office, but the price being expensive, he is going slow.

Kumaran told us that these beautiful paintings were done by Mr. P A Anandakumar, who holds a world record in drawing (16 hours non-stop drawing, without lifting his hand, as I later found out from the painter himself). This painter is working with a unique goal- to build a cancer hospital. Most of his earnings are diverted towards this ambition and he is reportedly half way through his ambition.
From failcampchennai
He made this wonderful painting for former president Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam using ball point pens. The image is formed by writing Abdul Kalam’s name all over (in various colours and shapes). They reportedly presented this painting to Mr former president himself, with a request for some funds for the cancer hospital. His highness returned the image to them, stating that he will collect the artwork back on the day he makes donation to the cancer hospital (WEST-Worldwide Education and Social Welfare Trust) is the name of the trust Anandkumar is running. They do not seem to have a website/blog, hence no links.
From failcampchennai

I spoke with Anand to find some more details on his initiatives-he said he charges anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 300 per square feet for his painting- price depends on quality of materials used. (the deigner wheel you see is probably 8 ft x 12 ft , costing around 25-30k - notice the 3D effect in the painting) He also said his cancer hospital mission is taking shape well.
Stone wheel painting by AnandakumarMy concern was, what if the Tenth Planet had to shift its office building? The paintings done on the wall and pillar can’t be taken along to next office and the huge investment will go waste. If the subsequent occupant of the building does not like the paintings, he may just white wash all these things in one stroke. So I checked with Anand if he can provide paintings such that it can be detached and repositioned. (something like on a canvass or so, which can be detached). He replied in affirmative, and that was a good thing.

I liked his paintings and his mission, so thought of giving it a mention. Anandakumar can be reached at worldwide.trust at gmail.com More about failcamp in a different post.

Dealing with promo requests

One of the perils of blogging, if you wish to call it that way, is having to deal with emails from organizers/promoters/individuals who write with great passion about their event/product/service, followed by a request that you write a post about the same, letting more people know about that unique product/service/event.

If you’ve been blogging regularly for some time I am sure you have got few mails of this nature. This kind of unsolicited mails are otherwise known as SPAM, but due to certain differences listed below, I hesitate to call these mails as SPAM. The reasons:
  • While spammers send their mails to millions, knowing very well that success rate is very low due to aggressive spam filters, these promoters target a small group of people, primarily bloggers.
  • Spammers never respond to your mails-these people often do
  • Spammers use automated means to mail-these people often do it manually, sometime spending extra time and effort to address you by your name and even write a few good words about your blogs.
  • While there’ll be nothing useful in spam mails, the product/event/service promo mails by individuals will have at least some substance and at times might be even worth blogging about.
  • On the other side of the mail I see an enthusiastic individual who has ventured into something- a website or an event or a product/service etc and is hoping that more people get to know about his venture. With budget being tight, mailing few bloggers in hope of some publicity is the simplest and cost free thing he can do. If I was in his shoes, turning to fellow bloggers is probably the first thing that would come to my mind too…
  • Most of the mails begin with 'this is not a SPAM'..! Few explicitly request for a blog post on it, others hesitate to ask directly, but hint at that indirectly...
So with due respects to such promotional requests, I don’t treat them at par with SPAM, but we bloggers will have our own limitations-we just can’t keep entertaining each and every request that comes our way. That will dilute the quality of our blogs and with no gains involved (financial or otherwise) we won’t have any motive to give free publicity to someone else’s event/product services. At times certain products/services will not have enough relevance/significance to our readers or it may not go well with our ideology/principles. We’ll have to use our discretion to assess which of these is really worth sharing with our readers.

Viewing it from another angle, this kind of mails can be an indirect measure of your popularity as a blogger. If more and more people approach you seeking publicity for their initiative, then that is an indication that people are taking you seriously. What do you say?

Giving a quick mention to few mails I got recently about certain products/services-I am not paid to write this and I neither endorse nor recommend these products- Have a look at the description, if sounds interesting you can go ahead and give it a try.

Meridhun.com- Bollywood song customization site
This website lets you replace keywords in a bollywood song lyrics and the site will generate the song for you, at a fee of Rs 99 per song (recent songs under premium category costs more,Rs 275). For example, you can take ‘Kabhi kabhi Aditi…’ song of Jaane Tu and replace Aditi with ‘XYZ’, where XYZ can be name of your wife/daughter/sister/mother/girlfriend etc. You can give a pleasant surprise to them by playing this song in a party etc. That should be worth the money. (On registration you get one song worth Rs 99 free)

Also I noticed that this site is using an innovative mechanism- usually when you sign up at a website you get mails from ids like info@abc.com or webmaster@xyz.com or no-reply@sitename.com indicating that your account is created/needs to be activated by clicking a link or sending you a welcome note. In case of Meridhun, they are sending automated mails under female names- priyanka@meridhun.com sends you a mail asking you to click on the link to activate your account, Anita sends a welcome note, some other lady sends a promotional mail- all are auto generated mails sent under Indian female names…May be an attempt to give a personal touch or may be a cheap trick to fool men.

Another site for music creators: Muziboo.com

But I feel they should give out a sample for free- say atleast the title lines and a stanza, so that people can verify if the replaced name syncs properly. (For example, in place of ‘Aditi’ if I insert a very long name such as ‘Annapoorneshwari’ I am sure the beauty of the song will get spoilt- If people realize this after paying for the song, they are going to feel bad-will be good if they can hear the title lines for free and then pay for the full song.

Ajay Podar
http://www.ajaypodar.com/gallery.php
Ajay has photographs for sale- at a whopping price of Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000, which is termed ‘modest’ in his mail. Well, the photos look good, but not sure if they are worth 30k each- may be affordable to rich people and corporates who want to cover their walls with nice paintings. Nothing much artistic in it either. I like photos of Amogha Varsha and Arun Bhat slightly better.

Createonlinebuzz.com- A site similar to the Pay-per-Post concept which several bloggers had subscribed sometime back, before Google started penalizing such sites. Createonlinebuzz is a similar service which offers to pay you for your posts about certain products or services, if you write it as per their guidelines. But be warned, subscribing to this concept can be dangerous for the reputation of your blog, in the eyes of a reader, as well as that of search engines. I replied them saying “I don’t want to publish a post about your products in my blog, as this idea is not acceptable to search engines and majority of readers- I’ll compose the article and give it to you-you can publish anywhere you want”- I didn’t get a reply. Also at this point createonlinebuzz doesn’t seem to have enough inventory of products to ask you blog about. It is not sure how much they will pay per post (they charge Rs 900 per post from advertiser, even a 50% of that, if passed on to bloggers should be a decent amount, and a nofollowed link should be fine with Google as well as advertiser)

GluTV is another service which promises live streaming of various TV Channels
Maja Maadi Radio- A kannada online radio by SN Abhishek
Play MAJA MAADI RADIO by clicking on the play button

Other similar posts-Failcamp-MAD-IGF *
Thank you chief minister *

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Surviving the stock market crash

Seen on a Business channel:
Someone calls the expert on phone and says : “I’d bought x No. of Jet Airways shares at Rs 950. Now it has fallen to Rs 190- Should I hold or should I take losses and exit?

The so called expert on the channel speaks about the aviation industry for one minutes and pulls some statistics on various moving averages of jet Airways and finally says-“I think one should exit this stock at any small rally

We’re all aware of the situation- most of our stocks have lost more than 50% of their value in past 11 months and some worst ones are at 80-90% loss. It is really painful to see our money melt like ice in front of our eyes and it is nothing but natural that common investor panics at such a crash and desperately looks for advice on what to do. The so called experts could never give a slightest hint to the retail investors about the possible crash (at various stages they said “market seems to have found a bottom- when SENSEX was around 17k, then at 14k, then at 11k etc”) and I do not think taking advise from them (and following it too) is a good idea.

Then what should a small investor do? How do we survive this crash?

This is what I feel:
Yes, the sensex has fallen 60% from its all time high and most of us are running our portfolio at anywhere between 40% to 90% loss, depending on the fate of individual shares in our kitty. But as long as we hold it, the loss is only Book Loss, i.e. it indicates the loss you will suffer at this point of time, if you sell off your shares. In other words, unless you sell, the values will automatically increase, if the market recovers, without any additional effort/investment from your side. Selling a stock at a huge loss, just because the market has crashed, looks stupid idea to me. Once you invest in a stock and prices fall heavily your objective will be to recover your investment (break even) and if possible even make a gain too. Exiting at lower price will not facilitate that. In my opinion, one should sell at a loss, only under following situations:

1 You anticipate further dip in the price. Say current value is Rs 180 and you expect it to fall further to say Rs 90 in near future (either due to fundamental or technical reasons). In this case it makes sense to sell of now, hold the cash and buy later at lower price.

2 You see a better alternative-You’ve invested Rs 950, hoping to earn a profit of Rs 50 (or say 10% approx)- But current price is 80% lower than purchase price and under current situation market may take about 2 years to recover and let you take a profit. (2 years is my estimate-for the economies world over to recover properly and markets to reach Jan 2008 levels- Let us hope it recovers much faster). If you sense any other investment opportunity (shares of company B or Gold or something else) wherein you are confident you can earn Rs 1000 by investing Rs 200 now, in less than 2 years, then it makes sense to sell off and invest in the new opportunity. But if you don’t have such an alternative, selling at a loss, collecting cash and exiting is not a good idea. Conventional options like Bank deposits/bonds or Gold cannot give a return of Rs 1000 on an investment of Rs 200 within 2-3 years. With almost all good stocks available at attractive prices, identifying and shifting to a better scrip with stronger fundamentals and higher probability of faster recovery can be considered, provided one has what it takes to identify the right pick. Both ways, holding to the stock market, hoping that it will recover within an year or two, seems like a better bet for those who have decent risk appetite. Investment on land can be a good alternative which has a potential to give huge returns, but buying land would mean investing several lakhs- an option ruled out for those who don’t have that much cash.

3 You’ve a severe liquidity crunch-you need some money urgently and selling stocks at 80% loss is the only option (or seems to be best option compared to other alternatives like-cashing a FD/personal loan or other unsecured borrowing/Using credit cards/mortgage etc)


So, when the so called market experts advise investors to sell off at a huge loss and exit, I expect them to suggest an alternative wherein people can make up their losses. But unfortunately none of them care to do that (whose money is it anyway!). Yes, there is a risk of further fall when you chose to hold, but a long term investor shouldn’t be deterred by it, if you ask me (It’s too late to ask me anyway!)

Averaging at the bottom is another good option, but we often fail to decide on the bottom- If one had bought 10 shares at Rs 950, he would have pumped another 5k to buy another 10 shares when prices were down at Rs 400-500 levels. Now the price is again down at Rs 200, will he have liquidity to pump in more money? Even if some cash is available people will not be in a mood to divert it to stock market (already lost a lot- don’t want to pump in more, even for averaging- what if it goes down to Rs 100 again?) We all have limited amount of money, so can’t always think of averaging. 

The image above shows the mistakes done by retail investors of stock market- who always enter at a wrong time (when the prices are at a high and they finally overcome their fears of losses and gather enough courage to invest in the market) and sell at a wrong time (when the market falls, sheer panic forces them to take loss and exit) (Image was forwarded by Sandesh long back and is also found at couple of places in the web-exact owner/creator of this image not known)
Another image which shows investor mentality, is also very much reasonable. It is easy to swim downstream and most of us fall for the pressure or sentiments and burn our fingers. Only those who can manage to survive the currents and swim upstream can survive in the market.

CJ George, MD, Geojit Financial Services has shared with his customers the below table, which shows the highs and lows of BSE SENSEX (Sensitive Index of Share Prices)-Turbulence is not new to markets and after every low, there has been a new high. So I feel holding against the current will be a wise decision, than swimming downstream. What do you think?

Second photo from www.greekshares.com Similar posts: Market Analyst's job is very easy * My early investment experiences * Ways to make credit cards safer * My new investment strategy (Humor) *

Disclaimer: Author’s personal opinion only. Implementation at readers’ discretion and risk. Author doesn’t accept any responsibility in the event of investors suffering a loss due to contents of this post. In particular, the name of Jet Airways share is used only as an example and we do not assure that holding it for 2 years will fetch you Rs 1000+ per share.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Travel blogger's Binsar trip- part 2

Read part 1
Few missing lines in part 1:
Delhi S Rohilla station looks like a small town station-with just a few tracks and not much people- A peaceful place to board your train and settle down, before the maddening crowd and old Delhi station rushes in. (I had some confusion over Old Delhi and South Delhi- there is no such station called South Delhi)

Next day early morning we went for a walk into the woods- the same path I’d mistakenly covered the previous evening- towards the Manipur villa. We stopped at a place for the day break to happen-the sun rays falling on the mountain peak gave it a red coloured effect. My closest look of the Himalayas ever- Situation forced me to experiment all settings in my camera to get a better view- Increase exposure, reduce ISO, colour filter all these things began to make some sense. The zoom was good, but failed to differentiate effectively between the mountain, fog around it and the background. Compared to few shots taken by Prashanth and Arun in their SLRs, my photos of Himalayas lack the crystal clear effect. Manipur villa is a small view point where Club Mahindra is constructing few cottages. Materials used to construct these cottages were from France and other countries (that’s what’s written on them). On the return journey we passed through the local residence-two dogs-one black and one white, who were initially barking to chase us away, became good friends after we patted them well. The last stretch of the walk involved making our own way through the fields- crossing fences and jumping walls (step irrigation fields).
Nandadevi peak
Post breakfast we set out to visit Jageshwar temple, some 90 kms from the resort, which resulted in about 4 hours travel one way. On the way we stopped at a place which offered good view of the Himalayas. We took a group photo here and proceeded further. (thanks to Prashanth for lending his tripod) We stopped at Almora to meet couple of man eater leopards, while one of the cars had to go into the city to fuel up. In their captive environment these leopards looked as if they’ve lost interest in life-with a rather sad and expressionless face.

After a long journey we reached Jageshwar, a temple complex of the size of a small football field and houses some 125 shrines, of different sizes. Only few of them are big enough where Poojas are being offered. All shrines have a protective structures built on top, probably to protect from bad weather. While temple complex looks good, I didn’t like the priests there- One of them was chatting with a fellow priest while smoking cigarette and as he spotted someone entering the shrine he was in charge of, he quickly buried his cigarette, entered the shrine from a backdoor and took his seat to offer Pooja. Another person was irritatingly forcing everyone to have Darshan of a particular god of which he was in charge of. Once people near his place he would show them a diya and tell “Sir this lamp runs from the donation given by the devotees”, indicating ‘please donate some money’. Few others tried to strike conversation with us, enquiring if we plan to stay there overnight and should they help us with accommodation.

Thick deodar trees that are centuries old surround the place giving it a great ambience. A small river flows by -didn’t find any fishes in that river (petty shops were selling fish food-so I expected feeding fishes to be an activity here.) The tea we had at a local shop, heated on wooden oven, was tasty. A dedicated shrine to Kubera (supposed to be the richest person of ancient times) was few meters away. Dogs in this region are strong and friendly, compared to thin ones we find at southern cities. (they know their chances of getting something to eat from tourists is higher if they behave well, hence the friendliness)
Lunch time while returning from Jageshwar
On our way back we stopped at another small temple complex, named Dandeshwar. Next stop was for lunch, a few kms ahead. Club Mahindra has custom made lunch boxes in which food can be packed for those who head for outing. I was sensing a stomach upset so didn’t eat much, though couldn’t resist the temptation of biryani.

We returned to the resort by evening and rest of the day was spent in playing games. On Saturday we visited Binsar bird Sanctuary, in an open top jeep. Viewpoint (about 10 kms drive from the sanctuary entrance) is the main attraction here, from where one would get magnificent view of the Himalayas. We reached there just in time, before the clouds could cover up the peaks. This place is also a trekking destination- saw few tourist vehicles dropping people at the top and returning to base. There were no birds to be seen, though Club Mahindra gave us a guide book on birds and an Olympus Binocular. (Club Mahindra’s Binsar Sanctuary visit in an open top jeep costs Rs 600-inclusive of taxes, 6 people max, returnable binocular and guidebook included)
Visit to Binsar sanctuary in an open top jeep
It would have been possible to club Bird Sanctuary and Jageshwar into a single day (eNidhi India process optimization suggestions), leveraging common distances. But that’d be a bit hectic for guests who may prefer to take it easy.

Saturday night was spent in a tent (not any ordinary tent-it’s an ISO 9001 certified tent- Mind it), as a part of our overnight camping. But with Club Mahindra guys taking care of everything-from carrying the goods, setting up the tents, lighting bonfire etc, it was too simplified for us- go there, warm up, eat and sleep. 3 assistants for a group of 5 was a kind of waste of manpower, if you ask me. But then, maybe that’s how guests would prefer it. One of the crew- KG Panth, told us few stories of jungle life he and his family has experienced. We tried to play Antyakshari for a while but that didn’t last long. About a litre of petrol and several logs of woods were burnt into ashes that night. The sleeping bag was much thicker than the one I had few years ago. I am just wondering if I’ll be allowed to set up a tent and camp on the roof of my office and stay there, saving several thousand rupees of rent every month. Moonlight was great as it was just 2 days short of full moon day. Woke up for a sunny morning and the guys made tea for us (heat water on the fire and use tea bags and milk powder to make tea) Kiruba’s post has more photos and write up on the night camping.
bea at sweet shop, Almora
It was time to check out from the resort, bringing 4 days of luxury to an end. Our driver Nitin stopped at a specific shop in Almora for us to buy sweets. (probably it is his relative’s shop) Internet literature had suggested Almora is very famous for sweets- Didn’t find anything great about these sweet shops or their sweets- a normal peda and burfi and one more item whose name I am not able to recall now. I am sure Adyar Anand Bhavan has more varieties. At Rs 120 per kg the shopkeeper refused to give a discount, though we gave him a decent business. I checked at the next shop, who quoted Rs 100 per kg, a savings of Rs 20 over the previous shop. Lots of bees were hovering around the sweet trays- not sure if they were adding to the sweetness or taking it away.

Subsequently we stopped at a river side restaurant for lunch, not before diving into Kosi for a quick swim. Apparently we spent little extra time in the river because of which couldn’t reach Nainital in time to go to a specific view point (Mall roads close at a specific time-most of the hill stations in Uttaranchal have one thing in common- A MALL Road where entry will be restricted either by timing or vehicle type(commercial or non commercial) or both) Had to be content with a good view of the Nainital lake and continue our journey towards Kathagodam. The roads were so nice and tempting- but the driver was hesitant to let me drive-have to try self drive in this region.

Jai Golu Dev and Jai Mata Di appear to be most worshipped gods in the region, as most of the vehicles sported these names.

Stopped by at the Udupiwala restaurant for dinner- Few ordered Sambar vada expecting Chennai style sambar vada (vadas soaked in Sambar) but got Sambar and Vada separately (Udupi style). Idly was OK and Upma was tasty. We gave some parcel order which seemed forever to take- Had to follow them right into the kitchen to ensure that they packed our order in time. We reached Kathagodam, with only 10 minutes to spare.

Journey consisted of sundry talks and viewing photos. We reached Rohilla by 6 AM, rented two cars to take us to airport- destination reached within 25 mins while it had taken more than 2 hours the other day. Kingfisher and Indian Airline passengers need to go to terminal 1A, using a shuttle. A taxi driver tried to con us saying “no shuttles available-you’ve to take taxi”- as a bus arrived he added “this bus leaves only by 9 AM”. The bus left in next 10 mins.

[An experience at CCD outlet in Delhi Airport] A delayed flight ensured that we reached Chennai only by noon. Kingfisher cost cutting was visible everywhere-now they are giving a cheap Rs 15 earphone. Most of the seats were full, though the seat next to us was empty and we called back Kiruba, who had carefully selected seat no. 12 C
[my earlier post on Kingfisher experience]
Back in hot Chennai, that marked an end to a memorable trip.
More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clayclubmahindra/

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Failcamp, barcamp chennai, IGF meeting & MAD

Not in a mood to write too many posts- clubbing similar topics into one post.

Quick jump: Failcamp * Barcamp Chennai (BCC2) * IGF * MAD

Failcamp Chennai- 16th November

No one succeeded without failing. Still all of us love to boast about our successes-how great we are and what all good things we’ve done/achieved. Have we ever paused for a while to study the mistakes we’ve committed? Are we strong enough to declare our errs to the world, discuss them in public and learn from it?

Failcamp is one such event, where participants will be discussing their failures and subsequently learn from it. Brain child of Kiruba Shankar, this event is scheduled to take place in Chennai on 16th November, Sunday. Participation is free-go ahead and register at the wiki if you wish to participate. It takes a lot to admit your mistakes-but rewards can be equally higher if you can open up and learn from others how a crisis can also be turned into an opportunity.

Register at http://www.barcamp.org/failcamp

Barcamp Chennai, 18 & 19th October

My first barcamp participation ever, I went there only to get a feel of things. It was held at IIT Madras and because of this event I happened to visit IITM campus for the first time, though I’ve been in Chennai for years now. The event was supposed to start at 9 and when I reached the venue by 9.15 (had to search the exact building in that huge IIT campus) I thought I’m late. But it started only by 10 AM.

Kiruba Shankar kicked off the show by explaining “the law of two feet”. (There’re multiple definitions for this law- In an un-conference, the law of two feet suggests that you use your legs and move on to a different discussion, if you feel you are not contributing anything to the current discussion)

There was a quick introduction round and then the discussions started. Kiruba led a discussion on how we can make more and more people contribute to Wikipedia. I had gone there thinking I’ll share my recent Times of India experience. But then I saw someone had registered a topic Piracy on the paper wiki, so I decided I’ll just join that session and contribute. However by 12 noon I had to leave the venue due to some personal work. Day 2 I couldn’t attend as I was scheduled to go on a trek to Nagalapuram. Still my half day experience at Barcamp Chennai was good- will go with better planning for future events of this kind.

(Similar: My post was discussed at barcamp Bangalore * Manipal Bloggers meet * Spot blogging contest @ MSRIT )

Internet Governance forum (IGF) meeting, Hyderabad, 3-6th December 2008

If you’re unaware of this fact, please be informed that the free form and openness of internet is under threat. Ever since its inception, several vested interest groups have been trying to get some kind of control over the way internet is used. To elaborate a bit on this, governments would like to keep a control on who does what on internet, citing security concerns but at the cost of privacy and freedom of expression of individual users. Business houses would like to control internet in a way that they can make people pay in more and more ways for using various aspects of internet. Hackers and terrorists have their own agendas and end users like you and me want internet to be freely accessible and our liberty, privacy and freedom shouldn’t be curtailed

IGF meeting, hosted by India this year and to be held at Hyderabad next month, is one event where thousands of individuals-representing various business establishments, government agencies and other organizations will gather together to discuss how the sanity of internet can be preserved. Registration to the event is fully free (travel and stay at your expense). If you’re in Hyderabad try to attend this-not sure how many can spare a 3 days of weekdays for this, but should be a good experience even if you can attend for one day. - http://www.igf2008.in/

Dr. Stephen Crocker’s talk on evolution of internet *

Want to Vote for MAD?

I do not like the competitions where users are required to vote and select a winner. Sometime back there was a famous Vote for Taj campaign asking people to vote by SMS or online to retain Taj as wonder of the world. Some unofficial and unauthorized personnel triggered a campaign, hitting hard on the sentiments of people and making them waste their time and money voting for their favorite monuments. While everyone voted with pride and felt as if they have saved Taj from total demolition, the website owner smartly enjoyed huge sum of money, hits and links.

If any contest selects winners, it has to be based on expert judgment and other well accepted metrics and not by means of public pole. Selecting winners through public pole requires contestants to divert all their energy into ensuring that lots and lots of people visit a particular website and or vote by SMS. So finally, it won’t be the quality that wins, but the quantity of votes you are capable of generating.

Website owners love this idea of people voting to select final winners, because it is an easy way they get lots of traffic to the site, links and indirectly money. Bring in some sentiments based on country etc and people will promote the poll at their own expense and effort.

Well, coming back to “Stables Youth Social Entrepreneurs Competition” under which an Indian Entry by name MAD-Make a Difference, makeadiff.in project is listed, MAD is a nearly 2 years old social welfare initiative where they teach children in orphanages etc. Refer their site or this page http://changemakers.net/en-us/competition/staplesyv for more details. If you wish to vote for them go here (you need to register-I don’t like that again-why should I give me details to an unknown site?, just to vote? I should be able to use my Google ID or something)

No offence to MAD initiative, just that I don’t like contests where users vote solely based on some sentiments (it’s from my country, I have to support it) without evaluating other contestants effectively or assessing the motive of the website. Kenny Jacob is a volunteer of this and I am sure it is a good initiative. Please use your discretion.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nagala Hills, Parvathamalai and Nagari trek

Past 3 weekends of mine consisted of 3 one day, easy to medium treks. Kind of simple and straight forward treks so nothing great to narrate about, so keeping it simple.

October 19 Nagalapuram, AP

For this trek, I am going to write more about the Innova I rented on self drive than the trek itself. As we were short of vehicles, I offered to get a vehicle on self drive. There is an individual who has lots of vehicles on self drive rental (the website he has on his business card is not working)-we needed a 7 or 8 seater ones, so upon knowing the availability of Innova D-4D I booked it. We wanted it at 4 in the morning, but since that will be odd time for him to deliver, I offered to collect it the previous night. He agreed. The vehicle arrived at 11 PM and the driver (sorry, he was introduced as the Manager at the agency) requested me to drop him at his residence in Velachery, few kms from my place. Upon reaching Velachery he insisted that we go little inside-in some small gully, else he’ll have to walk few kms. I agreed. Before he could leave, I did my general inspection of the vehicle for existing scratches and dents and found that front left wheel was flat. I asked this manager to change the wheel and this turned out to be a nightmare- He didn’t know how to get the spare wheel out-(proving that he was a manager-not a driver)-neither did I. We stopped few vehicles that came along-even they couldn’t figure it out- There was no owner’s manual and this person tried to call someone-after few attempts the other person switched off the phone. Finally, by 1.30 in the morning, we figured out how to get the stepney out- we need to insert the hook into a small hole below the boot and rotate- that would lower the spare wheel. Another 20 mins we changed the wheel and I was all set to go, with an empty tank-All self drive rental agencies used to give the car full tank and I was required to return full tank. This agency had an opposite rule- he would give me empty tank and I could return empty tank. Now this meant I was all set to start the trek with an empty tank vehicle, without a spare wheel. None of the fuel stations were open. Reached home by 2.30 AM and had to leave in another 90 mins. So almost a sleepless night. (Other self drive expeditions- Chennai Mysore in Skoda * Wayanad in Scorpio)
Started by around 3.50 AM, picked up people at Thiruvanmiyur, Tidel park, Madhya Kailash and Koyambedu, where other vehicles joined us and we were all set to go- fueled up at Guindy. We stopped once for a tea break and once more to get the flat wheel fixed. It was my first experience dealing with tubeless tyres- how the shop guy fixed tubeless tyre looked quite simple- enlarge the hole, insert some jelly like grease into it and done-but this ‘looks like simple’ treatment did cost Rs 150 (Haven’t paid more than 30 rs ever to fix my bike wheel punctures). Here some nomads had tied few of their pets(cats, monkeys) to ropes- as I like animals I patted few of them and soon a group of nomads brought more animals towards us, posing them for photos and insist that we pay something for their food. With dozens of such people around, the best we could do was to escape.

By about 9 AM we reached the dam near Nagala hills, some 100 kms from Chennai, in Andhra Pradesh. A total of 31 people in 3 bikes & 5 cars. The dam hardly had any water and we commenced the trek. We (11 of us) got lost once, due to multiple trails and the organizer, Vivek had to come back searching for us. Water stream was with us all along, to give a hint on direction and to help us refresh ourselves-some people jumping into it at every opportunity. Only at few places we had to make our way through the rocks-rest it was easy walk. Upon conquering the peak we stopped for a group photo. But we weren’t at the highest peak-there were few more peaks around-on different hills that were taller. From the top of the hill we could see the parking space and it looked so distant that we thought we might need a full day to reach back our vehicles.

There was a pool at the top to refresh and it also started raining. A rope and a life jacket ensured that even those who didn't know swimming got to enjoy in the pool. Part of the trek was executed in rains. My only concern at that time was that my camera shouldn't catch cold. The descent was steep, with loose mud and rocks rolling down wherever we keep our foot.

We reached back to parking place by night and were getting ready to commence our return journey. I did two mistakes here- Due to rain, water had deposited around the wheels and I should have taken out the vehicle first and then ask people to board. Instead I asked everyone to get inside and then started the vehicle, this resulted in wheels getting clogged in Mud. With help from Gopal and others we got the vehicle out eventually. Also I did another mistake of keeping headlamp on for few mins- this drained the battery and we had to push start the vehicle.I'll be cautious about these 2 from now on. Another car had developed serious battery problem and we had to toe it for a few kms.
From Nagalapuram
We reached back home by around midnight and I called the agency telling vehicle is ready to be returned. He said he will come and collect it in the morning.

http://picasaweb.google.co.in/enidhi/Nagalapuram#

October 25 Parvathamalai

Parvathamalai is more of a pilgrimage spot than trekking destination. The trail is well marked, the rocks are provided with supportive structures to an easy climbing and there wasn’t anything challenging as such. Again we were short of vehicles and I approached the agency for a vehicle. But he was not comfortable with delivering and collecting it at odd hours and wanted one and a half days rent if I don’t return the vehicle by 10 PM. (he was ok if I take the delivery previous night and return it next day moring-that's his reasoning for one and a half day, but why would I pay to keep the vehicle idle) That was unacceptable to me-All agencies are supposed to operate 24 by 7 and the time would be 24 hours from the moment I take delivery. Most of the agencies do not mind if I take couple of hours extra as well. (they do charge Rs 200 as delivery charge, though) But this person wanted one and a half days rent for 3/4th a day’s usage (morning 4 AM till 12 midnight) and I had to say NO. We eventually rented a force (formerly tempo) traveler. At Rs 9 a km this tempo traveller was quite cheap (Indica's charge about Rs 7 a km and vehicles like Tavera are billed at around 10-11 Rs per km)

Due to time constraint we had only one pickup point and the journey was good. We stopped at proper hotels for breakfast and dinner (in Arcot town), so there was no need to rely on bread, jam and other simple items to feed ourselves. Our destination was some 250 kms from Chennai, somewhere near Arcot, off Bangalore highway. Saw the movie Chennai 28 on the way (a story of 2 local cricket teams) We reached there by 9.20 and started off by 9.40. We had anticipated rain, but it was a clear weather all day, except for few moments in the evening. We had all the time in the world, so climb and descent was done at very slow pace. 80% was walking and 20% was rock climbing. The later part was akin to Edakal caves-support structures built into the rocks to assist climbing. There're also few petty shops enroute that sell food item, juice etc. Monkey menace on top forced us to come retreat fast, else it is a nice place to rest for few hours.

The priest explained the significance of the Shiva lingam and related stories in Tamil. Someone translated it to English , but I wasn’t a fan of these stories, so by and large ignored them. People were allowed well inside Garbha Gudi and sat around the lingam- No restrictions that only priests are allowed near the lingam. Monkeys were having free time all over and were clever enough to open the doors and come inside the temple, to target food items in our bags. Besides offering Pooja at the temple (which was painted recently) there is an under construction building which looked like Bhojana shaala (lunch hall). They served prasadam there-rice mixed with 2 other items. Must be a painful job to carry all those things uphill every day.

Luckily the monkey gang seem to be interested only in food items and they didn’t touch the foot wares kept outside the temple.

On return journey we had a Goli Soda at Rs 8 each. Few worms and butterflies and insects in the jungle provided some subject for photography. We reached back to the base camp where there is an Ashram just when the darkness gulped in. It also started raining now. A cup of hot tea and we were ready to go, to reach Guindy by midnight, with a stop at Arcot for dinner.

http://picasaweb.google.co.in/enidhi/Parvathamalai#

November 1, Nagari

About 28 people in 5 cars and a bike, headed and organized by Vinodha. About 120 kms from Chennai, inside AP, quite close to Nagalapuram range of hills.

On the way one of the cars developed a snag and while the other cars were waiting little ahead, I suddenly saw that a bunch of ducks are being herded across the road. My camera was in the car and for some strange unknown reasons, Rads drove the car some half km ahead and parked it, making it impossible for me to get my camera in time to click that special moment of so many ducks crossing the road. So had to use my mobile camera for this photo.

This trek was a sinusoidal walk-regular stretches of uphill, flat and downhill terrain. Just walk walk walk all the way-no rocks to climb and no rivers to cross-walking was the sole exercise. A small falls and a pool at the end was the sole attraction. By now I am used to the hilly terrain and hardly felt like taking any photos of the rocks, valley, hill etc as I’ve already clicked a lot of such photos. There is a motor-able road (motor-able by tractors) till the falls-few temples and houses were found around. At stretches the trail was considerably wide and looked as if they were planning to lay a road there. We came down by around 6 and there was enough daylight left. Could have reached home in time, had the organizers not decided to head to Chennai Deluxe, which induced a delay of 2-3 hours. Because my vehicle was at Tidel park I was at the mercy of car owners and had to wait at Chennai Deluxe till others are done with their alcohol consumption and dinner. If organizers can declare their intent of heading to CD well in advance, those who do not prefer to go there (as it means spending additional few hours and few hundred rupees) can plan their exit strategies (like bringing their vehicle till Koyambedu etc)

Similar: TADA Trek AP * Skandagiri Trek Bangalore * Anantagiri, off Hyderabad *Yelagiri *

Leisure trips: Binsar * Coorg * Wayanad * Yercaud * Ooty *