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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cool features in Audi BMW luxury cars

Subscribing to auto magazines like TopGear has its advantages. I can keep postponing my car purchase decision forever. In each issue they feature some of the latest and most expensive cars, with all cool features, so that I can feel “Great, I want these features in my car” and then look at the price tag and decide “ok, can’t afford it at present, let me buy later

If you’re not aware of what’s new and cool in auto industry, this post briefs you on the same. Information sourced primarily from recent issues of topgear…

Aston Martin, Ferrari, Maserati, Koenigsegg, Porsche are all here in India now, selling their multi crore cars. These supercars look beautiful and are superfast, but are more of a showpiece than practical vehicles for Indian roads. Their 500+ horses (Koenigsegg has 1000+) will seldom be utilized to full. With pothole and spead breaker filled Indian roads, these cars are not for everyday commute, but their buyers would buy them for status and not really for everyday use.

What interests me more is the Audis and BMWs, who’re adding more and more equipment in their cars. This post about these features:

1. Audi A8L 3.0TDi’s flexible suspension: This 80 lakh car comes with a flexible suspension, which lifts the car up or lower. Setting it to comfort will lift the car by about 4.7 inches or about 120mm, providing additional cushion and smoother ride. Setting to Dynamic will lower it by an inch, but giving better riding control. Auto will allow the computer to decide appropriate suspension. Very cool.

2. Night vision: Both Audi A8L 3.0TDI and BMW 650i are equipped with night vision. During a dark night, you wish to escape from home without turning the light on, or dodge an enemy who might be following you or say your headlights stop working, night vision with pedestrian focus can come to your rescue.

3. Massaging seats are history. Ventilated seats are new in thing- they circulate fresh air between the seat and your body…

5. Seat and steering movements and user position preference memory: Seats move backward and steering tilts upwards to let you move your (assumedly fat) body into the car. Once you are seated, seats will move back to the exact position as selected in your preference memory.

6. Door Hydraulics: People used to have little exercise closing the door (assuming there’s no support staff to do that for you). Modern cars have taken that away as well. Doors are provided with hydraulic assistance- you only have to gently pull the door towards you and hydraulics will close it for you.

7. Park Assist: Self parking cars: Cars park themselves.


Ok, that’s some of the new features in current day luxury saloons. But I have a wishlist. I’ll buy my Audi or BMW only after they implement these features (and other features I can think of in the meanwhile)

Wish item 1: Treadmill under the leg. Ever since the automatic has arrived, drivers legs have very little work. Left leg anyway has no work, while right leg also has little work, thanks to cruise control. So, in order to do some exercise, I’d like a treadmill in my car, under driver’s legs. This way, I can do some walking, while driving

Wish item 2: Steam bathing seats: Massaging and ventilation is all fine.. How about a hot steam bath right in my seat? You need to dream before you can realize. I’ll do the dreaming and let Audi engineers do the realization bit.

Wish item 3: Heat sinking device: Night vision is fine. But what if enemy fires a heat seeking Stinger missile towards my car? I need a dampener which can eliminate all heat and noise output of the car. An escape pod will be nice too- can eject in it, while the car is pushed off the cliff.

Wish item 4: interceptor locator advise: What is the point buying a one crore car capable of several hundred kms an hour and having to drive it under 80kmph? (Car’s speed is already electronically limited to 250kmph) With all the technology, it should be possible for the car to identify where exactly police people are standing with their interceptor vehicles and automatically slowdown in front of them.

Wish item 5: Long jump capability: If only car’s horizontal speed can be converted into vertical thrust and the car can leap in air few meters vertically and few hundred meters horizontally, we can smoothly cover humps and potholes…

Wish item 6: Secondary engine: AN225 jumbo jet has 6 engines. Why should a car have only one? What if it fails? There should be secondary engine in the back (or in the middle, who cares, as long as my legroom and boot space is not compromised)

Wish item 6: Auto argument assist: Cars parking on their own is fine. What we need in India is a car which can fight with the fellow motorist, in case of a scratch or hit. Car should be able to shout in loud decibel and silence the other person.

Audi and BMW: Are you listening?

Social media experts: To hire or not to hire?

Of late I’m only publishing a truck load of photos in this blog with minimal text. This post is an attempt to get back to serious writing.

There were some nice debate recently, with Peter Shankman saying “I will never hire a social media expert and neither should you” while Rand Fishkin defending ‘why one should hire Social media experts’.

Last year, in one of the conferences meant for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) I noticed that industrialists were very eager to know about the potential of social media, but were clueless how to go about it. They were willing to spend a small amount on Social media related marketing, but were finding it difficult to chose a right consultant/agency.

This post shares my thought on the need for hiring social media experts and what and what not to expect from them.

PS‘s article refers social media expert’s task as “taking bread out of refrigerator”, meaning it doesn’t need any specialization. I would say, the role of a social media consultant is similar to that of a fitness trainer. A fitness trainer may give lot of tips and can guide you how to do an exercise. But end of the day, it is you who need to do the exercise in order to get a long term healthy body. It is very much possible to maintain a healthy body without hiring fitness trainer, if you learn how to take care of your body and exercise regularly.
There’s not much formal education on social media and nor many recognized certification programs. Since the social media industry itself is yet to mature, there’re no fixed standards for the service, rates, ROI etc. Everyone defines it in their own terms and unsuspecting customers can be easily taken for a ride by every other person who calls himself as ‘Social Media expert’.

In general, social media experts are of two types- I may be wrong or there can always be exceptions:


Young and Energetic 20+ guys: fresh out of college or with few years of experience, who’ve chosen the freelancing or entrepreneur paths. They’re usually tech savvy, quick to learn new developments and might have worked on SEO and internet marketing assignments earlier. These guys might have very little knowledge of any industry or business, but with some pointers, they’ll be quick to learn the basics and be ready to offer social media based solutions.
People who’ve adapted from similar fields: Media, Advertising and PR professionals, who were quick to spot an opportunity in social media consulting and have managed to master it in short time and offer Social media based solutions to challenges which were dealt traditionally so far. These people will have sufficient industry/business knowledge, owing to their previous work experience, but may not be too geeky or innovative in social media space.

Let us understand what Social Media Experts and their teams can do and can’t do:
What social media experts can do to help you:
  • Train you and your staff on social media concepts, technologies and best practices
  • Advise what strategy or approach might work for your business or stated objectives
  • Provide you with tools, technology (such as analytics, facebook app etc) related to social media to achieve above objectives
  • Execute certain resource intensive tasks on your behalf- such as generate good content for your blog, do link building for SEO purposes
  • Manage some social media based events on your behalf (like a twitter contests)
What Social media experts can’t:
  • Change your reputation/popularity overnight. Social Media is no magic wand and social media experts are not magicians. They might have some ideas that can click, but you need to have a commitment towards the implementation of the same and need to execute it properly over a period of time.
  • Serve as a replacement for quality product/service/customer support.  Social media experts will not have full industry knowledge in your area of operation. Your customers wish to connect with YOU and not a twitter account or a 3rd party agency managing your social media portfolio. When an individual raises a question about your company, using your company’s social media channel, some credible face within the company should be able to come forward and respond to that concern. External agencies will not have the depth and authority to handle all queries.
  • Promise an increase in sales
Steps to follow before hiring a social media expert/consultant/agency:
If you decide to adopt social media into your business strategy and feel the need for external help, I suggest adopting following step by step process:
1. Spend some quality time understanding basics of social media yourself- attend a training/workshop or hire a trainer r learn by reading/observing what constitutes social media and how others are using it. You won’t become an expert overnight, but you should get the basics.
2. If possible, put together a team of employees who are active on social media. Brainstorm with this team- these guys will have an idea what will work and what will not. With the ideas generated in this session and with discussion among senior management, identify a tentative plan, budget and objectives for your company’s social media mission.
3. Decide if you need external help or can be done internally- basic activities like creating social media profiles and maintaining it can be done by couple of enthusiastic folks within the company, but you may need help in other aspects-conceptualizing and building an application, extensive promotions and SEO activities, regular quality content for your blog, advanced analytics etc. You may not always have resources and expertise for these, hence can be outsourced
4. Now go ahead and invite proposals from various agencies and experts, for the stated objectives and budget. Keep an eye on measurable outcomes.
5. Social Media assignments shouldn’t be outsourced 100%. Put together a small internal team of social media enthusiasts to oversee the work and give external team the input it needs, ensure that atleast few of the top management is active on social media, to ensure that your brand has a personal face on the net, should there be an escalation or a customer wishes to communicate with a real human and not an account manned by unknown people.
6. Identify what all can backfire: No one will buy your product just because you have a page on facebook. Whenever your customers make genuine complaints/enquiries through social media channels, ensure that they are attended to. Trying to suppress negative opinion can backfire heavily. Also not responding to a question in time can result in loss of a prospective customer. Social media is not a cover up for bad product/service.


How much to spend on Social media?
There’s no definitive answer for this. A simple approach can be to divert a part of your traditional advertising and marketing budget and try it out on Social media, to compare the results with that of traditional advertising and marketing. Social media returns can be measured by No of fans, followers, blog visits, comments, video views and so on, but none of these ensure an increase in immediate actual sales. You can also measure % of leads or enquiries coming from online channels, money saved on customer service or reduction in complaints, increase in brand recall and identity. Do not expect overnight change. Keep a window of 6-12 months to assess the impact of social media initiatives and if it is really worth pursuing.

Related posts: Social Media for students: my talk at CII event * SEO fundamentals * Travel Blog Social Media case study * Social Media for SMEs * Relevance of Blogging- My talk at LIBA * Club Mahindra Social Media case study * 6th year of blogging *

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Birds near Hoysala Village Resort, Hassan

Managed to click some birds during Hoysala Village resort visit earlier this month. As usual these are low res images, as I had to scale down to VGA mode to get better zoom. Only wish I had a DSLR with 300mm lens to capture these things in a more clear and crisp way…

1. Indian Pond Heron
Indian Pond Heron
2. Sunbird: Unlike other sunbird pics seen on net, this one didn’t have bright colours, but notice the shape of its mouth
sunbird
Purple Heron and an unidentified species of duck. These two were resting near a lake and a local dog was trying to chase them away when I was clicking them.
Purple Heronduck
While breasted kingfisher and a dragonfly
DSC05657 dragonfly
Ashy Prinia and another bird (Indian Roller). Sankara and uSandeep told me its name when I’d clicked it, but I later forgot, reminded by Ram. Only the last bird was clicked on the way to Hasan, while others were clicked in and around the resort. There were few more, but I failed to capture them in any decent form.
Ashy Prinia  tobenamed
I’m specially thankful to Ram of Photography-Travel for naming these birds.

Nearby: Shettyhalli Holy Rosary Church * Birds of karanji kere, Mysore * Dancing peacocks in Mysore * Beautiful birds near Bheemeshwari *

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile

Mercado central is the main marketplace in Santiago- much like KR market of Bengaluru or Koyambedu market in Chennai, only more organized and well maintained. Another difference is that all roads leading to a market area in India will usually be crowded, but the surroundings of Mercado Ccentral are as calm and serene as other places in the city. I didn’t get to see the crowd feeling anywhere. Mercado Central is believed to be the inaugurated in 1872.

I spent few minutes there- it did have road side shops just the way we find in India. A lady was also selling noodles by the roadside.
mercado-central
The main complex in Mercado central houses a range of shops and hotels- Shops mainly sell meat and vegetables, while lot of hotels serve food to guests, along with guys playing music…musicians-at-marcado-centrerestaurants-in-mercado-central
I didn’t try any food here, as they were primarily non-vegetarian and I’d language problem emphasizing that I need pure veg food. The ambience was also too crowded and noisy to eat a peaceful meal. Meals were fairly expensive too- ranging from 500-1500 rupees. Without proper description of the food and not knowing if I’ll like them or not,  it was fairly big amount to experiment.
roadside-vegetable-shop  roadside-shops-in-mercado-central
The fruits were fairly cheap: Mangos at Rs 25/kg, Banaga at Rs 35/kg, Apple at Rs 40/kg. I bought a kilo of Bananas at a shop and had them to my stomach’s content.
    war-memorial-statue-santiago guy-selling-dvdscrowded-streets-mercado-central-chile
Mercado Central is also one of the pickup points from where Touristic Tour Buses pickup tourists for out of city tours. More about touristic in a separate post.

Toy train service in Santiago * Ceremony at the Palace * Santiago city views * Valparaiso city views * Cats in Valparaiso *

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Into 6th year of blogging

Last Sunday this blog completed 5 years of existence. You may read the first post, published on May 22, 2006 here. This blog was then on enidhispeaks.blogspot.com

2010-2011 has been very fruitful year as a blogger- I was official blogger for Tata Nano Superdrive 1 (Superdrive 2 is in progress as I write and I’m missing it), live blogged several events and conferences of CII and IAMAI. However I did miss an opportunity of US travel and another opportunity to  join a cycling event as official blogger. Most of the posts were related to travel only, compared to business related posts which I used to write a lot during initial few years.  Travel bloggers’ trip to Hoysala Village Resort has been the recent most activity related to blogging.

For the first time I could publish some international content on this blog during this year, thanks to two international travel opportunities that came my way.

As far as stats concerned, no major improvements. Visitor count still hovering around 400-500 visitors per day (about 1400 pageviews per day on an average) for past few years. Apart from publishing new post in Indivine and facebook, I’m not doing any promotions for the blog. May be I should, but no time. Couldn’t pursue link building either. The current template is about 1 year old- no immediate plans of changing it. The blog continues to be hosted on blogger- no plans of moving it to wordpress or incorporating better comment plugins.

Lucky to have a good number of regular readers, who continue to read and comment on my posts. Have identified regular commenters on two occasions- in two posts here and here. Will publish some more posts featuring regular visitors soon. I take this opportunity to thank all my readers.

Facebook and twitter are eating into one’s time which otherwise would have been spent on reading/writing or commenting on blog posts. The short and instant versions are indeed getting more popular and convenient. Not so serious bloggers are shifting to these, while regular bloggers are holding on to their habit of writing detailed posts. Not sure how future will turn out, but at this moment, I feel blogging will sustain for near future, due to their SEO value and ability to deliver quality long term content.

Made some friends and am sure to have made some enemies as well- there were many requests from Individuals and agencies, asking me to promote their product/service/cause, which I’d to turn down at my own discretion. Haven’t done strong reviews of any products/business schemes of late. The 4 years old Club Mahindra post is still doing strong.

The only regret is the number of articles I’ve sent to print, which is near zero. If I was not active online, I would have written down stuff on paper and send them to newspapers/magazines. At least one in ten would have got published. With blogging, its lot convenient to just type and publish instantly, than writing it down, reviewing, editing it and eventually sending it to some print media, only to wait sine die for a response…

Looking forward to 6th year of blogging and your continued support. Thanks in advance

Related: Best of 2007 * 2008 * 2009 * 2010 * About Me *

TataNano Superdrive2 Blogs: Bad social media strategy?

tata-nano-superdrive2Disclaimer: I’m not a social media expert and this post is a humble and unsolicited opinion only. Tata motors and its agencies are under no obligation to implement these and may have their own reasons to adopt whatever social media approach they’ve adopted. This post just aims to suggest what could have been done in a better way and do not intend to hurt/criticize any individual/agency/company. Accepting/Rejecting it is at the discretion of reader.

This post is purely about the way various blogs are created for nano superdrive and not about the  contents in them or efforts put in by bloggers.
As I was part of Tata Nano Superdrive 1, held during June 2010, I was curious to know more about its second edition, which is currently in progress.

Because I couldn’t get involved due to work related obligations, following the updates through their blogs is the sole way how I can stay tuned to the event. The PR company regularly issued press releases to media, but press release being standard stuff, blogs are the better way to know what’s happening on the ground.

However while attempting to know more about the event,I realized that the blogs for the event are created without proper planning and strategy. I should have brought this to the notice of the company instead of making it public, but looks like people I were in touch with last year aren’t reachable anymore, as mails are bouncing back.

Last year, Tata Nano Superdrive had 3 blogs:
  1. http://superdrive-greenroute.blogspot.com/ (which was being updated by me)
  2. http://superdrive-whiteroute.blogspot.com/ (taken care by Sankara)
  3. http://superdrive-saffronroute.blogspot.com/ (taken care by Deb)
Having 3 different blogs was not advisable, but our task was to blog the event and not worry how and where it is published. Understandably there was also time constraint to do more and eventually the event reached a conclusion.

This year, for 2011 edition (Tata Nano Superdrive2), the organizers have created 6 wordpress blogs, one each for the six routes
  1. superdrive2-south2.wordpress.com,
  2. http://superdrive2west1.wordpress.com/
  3. http://superdrive2east.wordpress.com/
and 3 more... I feel the strategy adopted in creating the blogs is unprofessional and whoever is advising on Social Media to tata motors are not doing a good job.
I see following concerns with the above approach:
  • Not having a custom domain looks very unprofessional
  • No centralized place to keep track of whole event
  • Having too many blogs dilutes attention, PR and makes it difficult for people to keep track. 3 blogs of last year, 3 this year and some more for future editions- having too many blogs is just not a good idea.
  • Newly created blogs will have ZERO Pagerank and their chances of topping google search are very low for generic keywords
  • Any backlinks received for last year’s blogs are rendered useless and any links received for this year’s blogs will be useless next time.
While moving to wordpress from blogger is a good move, A more professional approach would have been as below
  • Create one blog, hosted on wordpress, with a custom domain- may be tatananosuperdrive.com
  • One Category can be created for each route and posts from all routes can be published in one single blog, under respective categories. Wordpress offers category specific RSS feeds, hence those who wish to subscribe to specific route can subscribe to respective category.
  • Having one single blog will make it easier for people to remember and will add SEO value, since there’ll be no need to abandon the site next year.
  • Maintenance becomes easier
Ford India did a relatively better job last year- they used their already running blog, DrivingFord.in Similarly, Tata motors should aim to sustain the nanosuperdrive blog beyond the event and keep it active throughout the year

Similarly some event organizers name their websites like event2011.com, while ideal approach should be to have eventname.com/2011 as the same site can be used next year, instead of creating a new one. Read more about it here

Best wishes to Superdrive 2. Image is sourced from Tata Nano facebook page.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Customer is not always the king

With growing consumerism, we’ve a saying that Customer is always the king and all companies will do whatever it takes to get business from these customers.

In reality, it is not always so. When demand is more than supply, service providers get to chose their pick and often get to chose the customers they wish to serve. Some examples:

1 Several resorts in India prefer foreign tourists to Indians. This is because foreign tourists often tip generously and spend well on additional services, while Indian tourists are often cost sensitive. They expect everything to be included in whatever they’ve paid and in general do not spend much unless necessary. Also the concern is huge that many Indians are notorious for stealing accessories from hotel rooms or damaging the property by plucking flowers etc.

2 Bangalore autos are notorious for not coming to wherever  you need to go. There was a tweet sometime back “I just asked a driver to take me wherever he is going, he still refused!” I do not know the exact logic used by drivers to decide if they wish to take the passengers to a particular place or not. Some reasons like destination being too far from auto drivers home might make some sense late night, but refusing to come to a nearby place in broad day light must have other reasons. Once I remember reading in Hai Banaglore that because of goonda problem, auto drivers hesitate to pass through certain areas.

3 Buses plying long distance do not entertain passengers who’d like to get down in first few stops, as it may mean opportunity cost of not getting to accommodate a passengers who might travel full distance

4 When it comes to self drive car rentals, India has a long way to go. Many agencies are just not keen on self drive rentals, because of multiple reasons- not much demand, risk of customers mishandling the vehicle which can increase its maintenance, risks involved in vehicles getting used for illegal activates and so on.

5 Certain timeshare company is criticized of buttering the prospects till they signup and subjecting them to all sorts of difficulties once they commit to the membership. Customer is the King as long as he/she parts with his/her money?

6 Getting a passport has been made extremely complicated now, ever since the process is outsourced to a private company by Govt of India. Despite paying the prescribed amount, passport applicants are subjected to all sorts of difficulties and delays.

As a customer, we’ll only be fooled if we expect to be treated like a king. We need to be on guard always and have backup plans. Do you agree?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Belur Chennakeshava temple: The evening pictures

I had been to Beluru chennakeshava temple few times earlier and didn’t have any specific expectations when we visited it again last weekend, as a part of travel bloggers meet at Hoysala village resort.

It had rained while we were heading to Belur and the sky had cleared as we reached there. It was about 6PM and sun was preparing to set for the day, into the Arabian ocean few 100kms away. Fully clear evening sky, coloured further by setting sun offered nice photographic opportunity around this historic monument. Presence of water on the ground allowed attempting reflection shots.

Taking advantage of the special conditions, I’ve taken a few snaps of the Beluru Chennakeshawa temple premises. Encouraged by numerous comments in facebook, I’m sharing them here as a blogpost.
belur-temple-bright-reflection-water
Hope you like them. These are as is photos and no processing was done. If you have some tips on what else I could have done in the given situation (some different settings/angles etc), please do share
belur-chennakeshava-temple-entrance belur-temple-eveningsky  belur-reflection-water1 belur-temple-shot2 belur-temple-sunsetshot2
View from outside the temple campus

There was a rainbow formed and struggled hard to capture it effectively. Below was the best I could get.
rainbow

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Hoysala Village Resort, Belur Road Hasan

Unlike neighbouring Coorg, the town of Hasan in south central Karnataka doesn’t have large number of resorts and home stays. Hoysala Village Resort is your primary option if you’re looking for luxury stay. Me and a group of Bangalore based bloggers spent a day in this resort and based on what was seen and experienced, this post shares a brief review of the resort.  hoysala-village-resort-reception
Hoysala village Resort is setup in a fairly small campus, about 6-7 acres, but every square inch of it is well designed and utilized. Located about about 6 kms from Hasan town on the Belur road Hoysala village resort has about 34 rooms, 4 of which are called Suites and rest are premium cottages. The rooms are spacious enough for a small family. All rooms include a sit out area while suite includes an additional living room. Suites also feature premium paintings and glassware sourced by management from various places. Some cottages are grouped and called as Vataras, which are ideal for large families who’d like to book 4-6 rooms. (Vatara is Kannada name for a group of houses)

Though cottages are close to each other, lot of greenery around won’t let you realize that. A presidential suite was under construction.
birdhouse-at-hoysalavillageresortSwimmingPool
Unlike some of the resorts which are located at vantage points (like a hill station or next to a river or in a forest), Hoysala Village Resort appears to be built from scratch on regular roadside property several years ago.

Hoysala village Resort also incorporates various eco friendly initiatives. Rainwater harvesting is incorporated in all buildings. This was done 7-8 years ago by the then architects, much before the concept of rainwater harvesting gained prominence in India. Food waste from the restaurant is fed to the pigs reared by the employees and the income generated from this goes to employee welfare scheme.
hoysala-village-resort-underconstructionsitout-area
Resort has a water purification unit and by rearing its own set of cows, Hoysala village aims to become self sustainable w.r.t milk in future. (I’m sure milking the cow can also be promoted as a tourist activity, just like Bullock Cart Ride)

The Hoysala village resort campus also houses many fruit laden trees-mango and jackfruits in particular. A tree house is constructed on top of a jackfruit tree. I couldn’t resist plucking a raw mango and tasting it. Besides standard facilities like a pool, campfire, activity centre and ayurvedic massage parlor (Costs between INR 500-700), resort offers cycle rides, bullock cart rides and magic show as added extractions.

Another thing I liked about the Hoysala village was constant chirping of birds. You step out of the room and you’ll be greeted with non-stop birdie sounds. If you have an observatory eye (and optionally equipment like camera/binocular) you can see many birds. Many of them were Minas, but few not-so-common ones were also seen. Photographing them was a challenge as they hide between trees and constantly keep moving. A bird house was also built exclusively for them.
tree-house-on-jackfruittreeactivity-centre-hoysala-village-resort
Adjacent to the resort campus are vast agricultural fields, couple of small lakes and a village. An early morning walk around these can give you lot of opportunities in terms of photography as well understanding village life. Friendly villagers willingly offer assistance and information, if they learn that you’re staying at the resort. During our walk, one total stranger even offered us ripe pineapple from his garden, which we politely declined.

The restaurant has standard south Indian menu of veg and non-veg items, with a special counter which cooks local dishes. My wishlist would have included a more traditional banana leaf meals and loads of local items, but that would have posed lot of practical and cultural challenges (having to train foreign tourists on how to each from a banana leaf)

Cost & tariff at Hoysala Village Resort: HVR’s Cottages cost INR 6900 per day (fo  r 2 people, inclusive of meals and taxes) and suite costs INR 8100. One day stay can be a bit expensive by middle class standards, but the Hosyala Village resort offers 3Day 2Night package, which is more tempting and cost effective (the 3D/2N package, which is effectively translates to 48 hours, costs between INR 10999 to INR 14999 depending on season and type of room) (Note: Rates are as available on May 17 and are subject to change)
suiteunderconstruction-presidentialsuite
We spent a few minutes speaking to resort management, who shared with us their future plans for the resort. Management is buying land around the resort to expand the same and give more space to the guests. A lake next to it is being acquired, a conference room with special theme is being built for corporate events and the whole campus will be enhanced to depict rich heritage of Hoysala dynasty. “In next 6 months, there’ll be lot of changes” we’re told.

Management also told us about their vision and future plans. One point of discussion was managing expectations of tourists-European tourists, used to all luxuries, prefer down to earth setup, without much of the modern facilities, while Indian families prefer to have all possible luxuries like TV, refrigerator, AC etc, as they think it is more value for their money.
resort-campus hoysala-village-resort-signage
Hasan is about 180 kms from Bengaluru and Hoysala village resort can be an ideal stop if you’re aiming to cover places of historic importance in and around Hasan. Resort website has more details.

Touristic places nearby: Belur Chennakeshava temple * Halebeedu temple * Shravanabelagola Gomateshwara*  Shettihalli Holy Rosary Church* Hemavati/Gorur dam * Coorg * Chickkamangalooru * Manjrabad fort *

Similar posts: Club Mahindra Kodagu valley resort, Coorg *

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shettihalli Holy Rosary Church, Hasan

The Holy Rosary Church, located in a village of Shettihalli, few kms off Hasan town was a scenic place to be.
If you come post monsoon, the church would be in a submerged state, as it is located in the region of Hemavathy Reservoir. I was totally unaware of this place and Lakshmi Sharath briefed me on its history as follows: “The Holy Rosary church of Shetty Halli was built in 1860s by the Fresh Missionaries but later, when the Hemavati dam was to be built, the entire village had to evacuate. People moved on with their belongings, leaving behind the church”
church-side-view
Because we went in late Summer, water levels w ere pretty low. If we return post monsoon, pay be October, the dam would be full of water and the church will be submerged almost fully.
 shettihalli-holy-rosary commandoes-in-action
The Shetti Halli Holy Rosary church is in a highly deteriorated state, with its ceilings, windows and most of the structural elements gone. Only few walls and a tower remain, to tell the story… However, with green grass and thick clouds, Holy Rosary church of Shettihalli offered a highly scenic view. The waterbody (hemavathy river) also meant we got to see lot of birds. A bridge passes nearby, which I’m told is a road that will eventually connect to Mysore.
broken-piece holy-rosary-church-tower 
shettyhalli-holy-rosary-church-clouds
Goruru village, village that was birth place of writer Gorur Ramaswamy Iyyengar (Who’s written several books including the popular “Americadalli Goruru” (Kannada) is also believed to be very close
hemavati-river-bridge hemavati-riverbed
Nearby places: Coorg * Sanskrit village near Shimoga * Hoysala Village Resort*

November 2011 update: View photos of this church submerged in water

Monday, May 16, 2011

Speak Asia Online MLM scheme alert

Recently spotted a series of TV ads from SpeakAsia and was trying to figure out what it is. My first thought was it should be some English speaking course like Rapidex. But soon learnt that Speakasia is into a different kind of business. In this post, I’m sharing my person thoughts on the way SpeakAsisaOnline’s business is modeled.

Before I proceed, I’ve following disclaimer to make. Your reading this post further will be deemed as your acceptance of these statements.

Disclaimer: I’m not associated in any way with SpeakAsia/its promoters/partners or rivals. I’ve no commercial interest in its success/failure/existence. Opinions expressed in this post are very personal to me, based on the information I could gather from public domain. My family /friends/ employers/others are not associated with this. Readers are required to cross validate the information mentioned in this post with other reliable sources they can trust, before taking any decision which may have financial implications. Content in the post might be updated without prior notice if more credible information is to be found in future. Readers are required to read the content with open mind and take decisions at their sole discretion.

Ok, that’s enough of a disclaimer. To get back to the topic, Speak Asia claims to be a Singapore based company, which will pay its members (called Panellists) good amounts to take part in surveys commissioned by SpeakAsia’s customers. Panellists also get to earn referral income by enrolling other panellists under them.
That sounds decent. What’s wrong in it? Several bloggers have already dug deep into the company and have written how this can turn out to be a potential scam, looting unsuspecting people of their hard earned money  {Read some such blog posts here, here, here and here}. May be they are right, may be they’re wrong. I’ll share my bit of thought process, you take the decision.

What seems odd with SpeakAsia’s business Model:
I’m forced to think of few other businesses which had similar models:

mGinger: mGinger offered to pay its members to receive sponsored ads by SMS. All you’ve to do is receive promotional SMS and you get to earn decent sum every month. After initial euphoria, the business doesn’t seem to have taken off, as mGinger didn’t have enough inventory to satisfy its members. Not many companies came forward to spend heavily on this concept and eventually mGinger members received negligible amounts

GoldQuest/QuestNet: QuestNet members were called IRs (Independent Representatives),who paid about 35k in exchange for a fancy product and Questnet membership. Huge money was to be made by enrolling others under you. The scheme went on happily for several years, many who’d joined early did earn huge returns. Eventually the bubble burst, its Chennai officials were arrested, thousands filed complaints in police station and then no idea what happened. Questnet’s Singapore office disconnected itself from India unit- it was much easier for them to get rid of the company and start a new scheme elsewhere.

HomeTrade: This company hired Sachin, SRK and the likes, ran huge outdoor campaign without stating what it is selling, raised huge capitals from various sources and eventually vanished without selling a single product.

Coming back to SpeakAsia, its customer base who pay for the surveys remains undisclosed. May be they have a non disclosure agreement, but it is unlikely that any big corporate will spend 1000s of crores just to get survey feedbacks. Further, though the concept of paying for participation in surveys does exist, the payout is usually very small amount. Companies doing market research will have limited budget and if they’re paying 500 Rs per respondent, they can afford only few thousand and not lakhs. Quality of respondents also matter. Usually market research companies look for people who’re qualified to give a response (people who own their or similar products or people of certain income/age groups etc)- general respondents who respond just to earn some money, without owning/experiencing the product/service will be of very little value to a company.

SpeakAsia’s focus is more on enrolling others under you, than participating in more surveys. SpeakAsia’s website has a compensation plan, which limits your earning from surveys to about 20$ per week and explains how you can earn huge amount by having more n more members under you. Obviously the focus is on enrolling more members into the scheme, where each one pays 11k (220$). This clearly sounds like an MLM scheme. You pay a huge amount to signup, a part of it is used to payback your upline and rest goes to Company’s profit. You keep earning only as long as you keep adding more people under you. If the business is genuine, the revenue should not come from signups. People should be allowed to signup for free, money should be earned from external sources (by companies that need survey results) and given back to members after deducting company expenses. Clearly this doesn’t seem to be the case. Prime source of income is the amount paid by new agents (individuals who subscribe to SpeakAsia’s ezine in order to be called as a Panellist). This amount, in all probability is circulated among uplines and used to payback for taking surveys.

There’re questions about SpeakAsia’s legality in India. I’m not an expert in this, so won’t comment much. Even questnet had its base in Singapore, where it is very easy to open companies. Should be noted that both Questnet and SpeakAsia do not have business is countries like US/UK etc where laws are very strict.

Virtual wallet and payout rules: Remember PayPal India's recent mandate that its members should withdraw money within 7 days? This is because of RBI regulations. If paypal is to hold funds for longer duration, it will have to comply with much more regulations, at par with banking institutions. Easy way out for paypal was to ask its Indian users not to leave money in the account for longer duration. I suspect similar regulations should be applicable to SpeakAsia, if RBI takes strong action. Having to withdraw every week and having high withdrawal fee of 7.5$ will eat into most of your earnings.

Lot of people put their personal credibility at stake to defend MLM companies, saying they’ve made huge profit and company is indeed genuine. This is also a desperate measure to try winning new down lines. Everything appears great in the beginning- companies payout ontime to win trust and confidence, since idea is new, finding new members will be easy and those who jump the bandwagon early, might make some decent money out of it. Over a period of time, either the bubble will burst or not many will be left to enrol or the promoters chose to do the vanishing act. A legitimate business should give either a trial period or buy back/refund scheme or some sort of insurance. No such options will be available in MLM schemes- everything runs as dictated by the company and enforced by its early members who make others blindly trust the scheme- either on personal guarantee of their upline or due to mass euphoria.

If you’re tempted to join or are forced by close friends to join such schemes, ask them to let you enrol for free, stating that they can recover the fee from your initial 3-4 months earning. This won’t be entertained usually, because the whole system will collapse if there’s no cash inflow from new joinees.

Hope SpeakAsia will not be another MLM disaster. Not much info is available about its promoters, investors etc and if something goes wrong, you’ll have no one but your up-line to reach out to, who’ll be equally helpless, while promoters will be coolly enjoying their new found wealth and conceptualizing more such schemes and companies.

Watch below: Star News expose of SpeakAsia


Please be alert
Similar: Amway inside story * Typical characteristics of MLM Companies * 12 reasons why MLM companies fail *

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TataNano Superdrive2 is back

Good news and the bad news. June 2010 saw me on the road for an entire month, as I travelled from all across South India along with 3 Tata Nanos, as Official Blogger for Tata Nano Superdrive. Good news is that Tata Motors is planning 2nd edition of Superdrive, from May 16th to June 8th. Bad news is that I can’t be part of it-I won’t be able to do justice to my primary job if I ask such long leaves, hence have to forgo this opportunity. If you’re a quality blogger and interested in being part of Superdrive2, if you can travel with the convoy for 3 weeks, live blogging the journey as it unfolds, do let me know. Will connect with the organizers and you might get a chance to be Official Blogger this time.
Nano-Superdrive-Hajiali-mumbai
I’m waiting to know more details about Superdrive 2 and wishing the team all the best.


DSLR Camera Simulator
In other updates,  found this website very useful for those learning photography. It has got a good DSLR simulator,you can play around and see how the photo comes under various settings.
http://camerasim.com/camera-simulator.html


Murdering the Maharaja
Came across this blog post which gives detailed account of how former Minister for Civil Aviation- Praful Patel sabotaged India’s National Carrier Air India, to benefit his personal friends who run rival airlines. A CNN IBN report citing CAG also states the same thing, that Maharaja was systematically murdered by a series of Political actions- buying more aircrafts than needed (to facilitate aircraft manufacturer), pulling out from profitable routes to benefit Jet and Kingfisher, asking Air India to share Hangers and maintenance facilities with Kingfisher and many other such decisions, all taken to satisfy personal interests of few.
Read this post to know more. I wish another serious investigation kicks off, similar to 2G scam and all culprits who killed Maharaja are sent to jail and losses recovered from these people.
Bloggers Meet at Hoysala Village Resort
Looking forward to join a team of bloggers invited to be part of an exclusive bloggers meet being organized by Hoysala Village Resort, Hassan. More details probably next week

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Plaza de la constitucion, Santiago and Sunday Ceremony

Correct name of this place is “Plaza De La Constitucion” or place where constitution is maintained, but tourist guide told me “it is erstwhile Palace” when asked about it. This Plaza De La Constitution was one of the destinations on Touristik Hop on Hop off city tour. For simplicity let me call it hereafter as Palace. plaza-de-la-constitucion-santiago
When I got down near the Palace, I’m told that it is closed. With a bit of disappointment, I decided to walk around it. Several tourists were gathering on the other side of the Palace and with lot of uniformed men around, it looked like they were preparing for something.As I attempted to guess what’s happening, lot of horse riders (Police personnel on horses) started riding in. 
Santiago plaza-de-la-constitucion-from-a-distancesoldiers-on-horse
Eventually it was apparent that everyone were preparing for some sort of ceremony in front of the palace. I waited for 5-10 minutes. Took lot of photos and eventually decided to move on, as I didn’t know how long they’ll take or what exactly they’re upto.
horses-from-rearsoldiers-on-foot-and-sniffer-dogs  close-look-at-captainhorses-lined-up
May be there was a flag hoisting, some speech and other ceremonies- without any English speaking people around, there was little I could make out. I was short on time and left the place. Below photos are for you to see and enjoy.
  closeup-preparations-for-flag-hoisting another-view-plaza-de-la-consti
Several other administrative buildings are also located around this Plaza De La Constitution. Missed viewing the plaza from inside, but got to see this ceremony (or at least a part of it). Santiago mayor launching Toy Train service near Plaza De Armas was the other event I got to witness the same day.

Wikipedia has some details about the place.

Other Chile posts: Santiago Steet pictures * Valparaiso City views *