Friday, August 30, 2013

Giraffe wind solar power system

What you see below is a device called Giraffe. It is a wind+ solar power generating source, using which one can power their homes or charge their hybrid/electric cars etc.

Spotted this device at a park in Malmo, Sweden. The device is made by a company called Innoventum.  It is a green company involved in wide range of eco-friendly energy products, such as solar panels, e-scooters and so on

Giraffe is their latest product and in order to promote it, one of these was installed in a park near Touring Torso, Malmo
Note that panel is slightly inclined, to be able to absorb more light. Below image shows Giraffe clicked along with Touring Torso...

The cost of this device is not known. You'll know if you express an interest to buy. If you wish to know more, you can check the brochure here

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Volkswagen Touareg v6 and Passat attrack in a Malmo Park

I was taking a walk at park in Malmo, Sweden last Sunday morning and found these cars in the middle of the park called Ribersborgsstranden. These weren’t accidentally abandoned by their owner- they were carefully placed in position for display, assumably for promotional purpose.

There were no guards, no barricades.. cars were left there unattended, for people to take a look.

I was tempted to open the door and take a peek inside (and may be drive it around the park if keys were there), but then, resisted my temptation as I was in an unknown country and felt it is risky to take unnecessary liberties.

What you're seeing below is Volkswagen Passat Attrack. This variant of Passat is not available in India. It is a combi variant with extra space, giving it a family vehicle feeling, than a sedan
Volkswagen Passat attrack
 Little ahead, there was this SUV, Touareg.

Notice that touareg wasn’t left in the muddy water just like that. A support is given, so that car doesn’t easily sink into mud. 4motion is VW trademarked term for 4 wheel drive system. Notice the extra hook in the rear- most cars in Europe have this, often used to carry a trailer.
VW certainly can't afford to do this in India- leaving their cars unattended in the park. They would have to hire couple of security guards all to monitor the car all the time
What you see in the background is Touring Torso, one of the tallest buildings in Sweden, tallest in Malmo. More about that later
In India, Touareg is available at about 60 lakhs ex-showroom. Because of this price tag, we don't see many of these. Toyota Landcruiser Prado sells more in India at that range

Almost all popular brands (Passat, Merc, Audi) are available in combi shape in Europe (similar to Indigo Marina or Octavia Combi), which we don’t find in India.

Similar: Cars in Singapore  *

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Copenhagen's narrowest building

What you're looking at is Copenhagen's narrowest building. It is located near the canal, from where most of canal tours start. Not much details are available about the building and couldn't go inside, but it is true that this building is occupied and people do live here

Even in Indian cities people do build homes in like 15x20 sites. But guess this one is still narrower

2 More photos to aid in comparison

Standby for more

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Borsen Building for sale-Copenhagen former stock exchange

The image you see below is that of one of the most popular buildings in Copenhagen, Denmark's capital. The former stock exchange building located at Borsen area
And the confirmed news is, this building is for sale. If you have a few millions to spare, probably you might wish to give it a try.

The building was reportedly constructed by King Christian IV who ruled Denmark and Norway in the 17th century. The King reportedly had great vision for Denmark and had ambitious projects. This building served as the Danish stock-market until 1974. It was home to all kind of traders and was one of the most happening place in the city. Building still stands on the original wooden foundation laid in 1619 and has survived various wars and fire accidents Denmark had to suffer from.

As the times have changed, the current Danish stock-market has moved to more modern building, old building has gained a heritage status and is up for sale.

An interesting part of the building is a tower which is built in the shape of 3 crocodiles, with their tail pointing upwards. This is called Dragon Spiral. This represents a symbol of unity between the 3 countries- Denmark, Sweden and Norway, key countries in the Nordic region

The architect who built this spiral reportedly had never seen a crocodile, hence his creation is deemed creative but not perfect. (Again this is as per our tour guide,use your discretion) 
2 more views...

Børsen (Old Stock Exchange)
1217 Copenhagen

Can be seen during canal tours or can be reached by bus (2A - 40 - 66 - 350S) or Metro train ( Christianshavn Station - Kongens Nytorv). I only saw it from outside. It is reportedly not open for public (mostly due to safety reasons, as it is very old building). But if you show some interest in buying it, probably you'll get a guided tour of the place.

Other Copenhagen posts:
Noma Restaurant-rated world's best and their tactics
Copenhagen to Denmark by Bus
Narrowest Building in Copenhagen (Coming up)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bellevue Presidential Palace, Berlin, Germany

Bellevue palace is the official residence of President of Germany. It is a fairly simple and straight forward building. This was built way back in 1786 and was used by various members of Royal family since then.

The term Belluvue is reportedly dervied from two french words, meaning Beautiful View. Like all other buildings in Germany, Belluvue too was heavily damaged during world wars and was restored post war.

Another point to be observed is the bare minimum security around. Not a single vehicle or security guard could be seen anywhere around. A flag (also called as standard) reportedly indicates whether the President is at home or not.

Visitors are not allowed to go inside the palace (obvious right?) but people are free to relax in the gardens in front of or nearby the building

Similar: Former parliament building, Colombo *

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Noma Copenhagen: World’s best restaurant

Learnt about an interesting fact during our canal tour of Copenhagen.

What you see in this photo is Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen. This restaurant has been consistently winning the award as world’s #1 restaurant. 
However, this year they’ve slipped to 2nd place, loosing first place to a hotel in Spain. (reportedly Noma had an accident of serving a poisonous food early this year, which resulted in hospitalization of several guests and caused lots of negative publicity)

or visit hotel website

But the interesting part of the news is this:

As the hotel  became popular, it turned out to be a tourist destination than an eating joint. Lots of people started visiting the restaurant just out of curiosity- to see what it looks like and what they serve, without any real intention of buying food there. Tourist buses sometimes would unload a bus full of tourists in front of the hotel. The restaurant wasn’t prepared to handle this kind of crowd and too many visitors would disturb their customers. Hence restaurant management had to think of a solution. Instead of building fence or compound around the hotel and employing security guards for crowd control, hotel management came up with an innovative idea.

They set up small garden and introduced honey bees. Bees would be flying around the garden and the fear of getting bitten by bees would keep people from coming closer to hotel. Regular customers would be escorted through a bee free path. Restaurant will also get free supply of honey from the bees.

Well, above is what our tour guide told us. I have a feeling that he was exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect. I did an attempt to find out if this is true. In the below link, I found out that restaurant is indeed building a garden with bees. But there’s no proof that motive of having the bee is to wade off crowd. It says restaurant owner is fond of bees. [Details here ], so I leave the interpretation to you.

The term Noma is reportedly derived from Nordic & Mad. The hotel was once a warehouse and serves different kinds of food, which I am not able to make sense of. So I won't go into details of that and stop this post here.

Another view of the Noma Restaurant, from across the canal
Standby for more on Copenhagen: Bella Sky * Tivoli Garden * F Garden * Skywatch Friday * Copenhagen-Berlin by bus * Copenhagen Sand Festival * 

Copenhagen (Denmark) to Berlin (Germany) by Bus

Last weekend traveled by Bus from Copenhagen, Denmark to Berlin, Germany and back. This was my first experience crossing international border by road and also got  a chance to compare Bus travel in Europe with that in India.
This post shares some of by observations and experience of the to and fro bus journey between Denmark and Germany.
Sunrise en-route to Berlin
Bus travel in Europe vs Bus travel in India
I feel Indian bus operators are far more advanced in terms of process management.
  • When we booked a bus with Euro Bus, to go to Berlin from Copenhagen, we didn’t get any SMS. (Indian operators send SMS with bus details)
  • There were no options for pickup/drop off points. All pickup was at one place- DGI-Byen near Copenhagen Central and all drops were at Berlin ZOB Am Funkturm. No other options
  • No seat assignment. While online booking exists, no seat numbers are assigned. Seats are allotted on first come-first serve basis
  • The seats had no armrest. No entertainment in the bus like movies
  • Print out of the ticket is required. Can't manage with SMS (because none is sent)
However, the timings are perfect. Buses start on time, reach on time. No delays, not even few minutes.

Another positive about the journey is the ferry. The path from Denmark to Germany passes through Baltic sea and ferries are used to cross this distance and save time. The journey lasted for about 7 hours, which included about 2 hours on the ferry and a short break at a border shop supermarket. Once on ferry we can get out and relax in the ferry, buy food, use rest rooms and enjoy a mild cruise.

Even if we take a flight it would probably take similar time- 2 hours in flight, 2 hours before boarding, another hour travel to and from airport. On an average cheapest flight ticket costs about 2 times the bus fare.
Baltic sea ferries
There were no checkposts to check for passport/visa. For all countries under Schengen arrangement,  crossing a country is like going to neighboring state in India. I wish one day will come when Indians can roam freely to neighboring countries with similar freedom.

The bus was supposed to have Wi-Fi, but it didn’t work during our trip. However when at station, I could hook up with wi-fi network of other buses nearby.
Another Bus
Also we had some confusion during the return trip. We’d bought a ticket from a travel agent at ZOB Am Funkturm for a bus scheduled to leave at 4.14PM to Copenhagen, When we went to station 20 minutes ahead of time, we noticed that there were 2 bueses leaving for Copenhagen at 4.15 PM. It wasn’t clear which bus we will be on. Bus 1 was already in position, we checked with its driver and he said we’re not on his bus and should wait for next bus. Bus 2 came, its driver showed us a list of passengers stuck on the door and said only those people whose name is mentioned there can board. Our names were NOT on this list either. After few tense moments, driver of Bus 2 directed us to Bus 1. We went back to driver of Bus 1 and explained our situation and showed the ticket. This time he said he has extra seats and can take us. Eventually we boarded bus 1.
Our bus inside ferry
Looks like they don’t have a clear inventory management system. If they have say 2 buses with 30 seats each, they’d sell up to 60 tickets. Who gets into which bus and which seat is decided last minute or is left to fate.

Bus entering ferry
Driver seat
 Ours was a normal bus. There were other buses with 2 decks.
German Country side
German autobahns are known for high speed driving and is an experience to be had. Our bus did use autobahn for part of its journey, but being bus, it wasn’t high speed cruising. That is for another day.

View Larger Map

The journey costed about 349 kronas (DKK) per person one way (48 Euros or Rs 4000 approx), for a distance of 450kms (just about Chennai-Mysore). Comparatively, per km bus fares are far lower in India
Early morning near Berlin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm)

Got to explore Berlin, Germany a bit last weekend and this post is my first on any travel destination in Europe. Expect more to come in near future.

Berlin TV tower (known as Berliner Fernsehturm) is Berlin equivalent of Menara KL (Kuala Lumpur tower). We paid a quick visit to this place, but couldn't go up.

Going up involves buying a ticket for 12.5 Euros and returning back at the allotted time. The tower is 368 meters in total height (Highest in Germany and 4th in Europe) has a restaurant on top. Visitors can go upto 203 meters only, where restaurant and observation deck is located.

Berlin TV tower is located close to Alexanderplatz and is worth a visit to get 360 degree view of Berlin city. Some photos below. More details on Wikipedia.
 Watch out for more on Berlin

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mobile Banking App- Suggested feature for better ATM experience

This post shares an idea I've got for Mobile Banking smartphone applications. Any Bank or Banking software firm is free to adapt this idea, a credit will be appreciated.

This idea is related to saving time at the ATMs, for Bank as well as customers.

In current world, most of the banks have mobile apps and many transactions can be done using the mobile phone. However, I realize that there're additional potentials, if we can link Mobile app to ATM systems.
Here's how the feature can work and add value
As is scenario:
Customer goes to ATM, waits in the queue... after his turn comes, goes inside, keys in his details, amount to withdraw etc. In a happy day scenario,this works fine, but if there's not enough balance or if user has exceeded limits or any other error condition is a total waste of customer's time and ATM's time.

To be scenario:
When customer is waiting in line for his turn at ATM, he does the following:
  1. Identifies the ATM on his phone (using his/her location, app can populate nearby ATMs and user can pick the right one
  2. Inputs his request- amount to be withdrawn
  3. App checks the following- ATM is working and has cash, Customer has enough balance and limit 
  4. App communicates this info (Language, Amount to be withdrawn, current ac/saving a/c, receipt required/not required etc) to the ATM
  5. ATM keeps this in memory. Once customer arrives at the machine and identifies himself (inserts card and enters PIN), system populates the input given via app (see #4 above). User doesn't have to key it in again. Saves time for user and saves time at ATM
  6. User withdraws cash and leaves
  7. If there're any errors identified in step #3 (Only 500 notes available, hence 2900 can't be returned; or customer has exceeded his limit or not enough balance etc) the error is communicated to the user and he/she can correct it while waiting in the line or leave immediately, without wasting any time
Advantages to the bank:
  • Better customer satisfaction
  • More transactions per ATM
 Advantages to the customer:
  • Reduced time at ATM
  • Quicker corrections of errors, if any
Pls note that making a request via mobile is not a replacement for traditional authentication. It is only a suggestive feature. User need to authenticate one more time using ATM and PIN at the machine and if there're some issues in between (after user checked on app and when he actually inserted card into the machine), there could still be errors.

What are your thoughts?

Also read: Credit card usage- Best practices * ICICI cycle banking * HSBC credit card issues * Axis Bank ATM Fraud experience * Credit card fraud experience *

Europe calling

I'm all set for a short visit to Europe on work. Heading to Copenhagen, Denmark.

This is first international trip for the year and coming after 1 year.

This is my first visit to Europe. I will get couple of weekends in between and time permitting, hope to explore few neighboring countries.

Expect photos and updates, provided I manage to take some time off work.

Also flying Qatar Airways for the first time.

Frequency of blog posts may be poor during next few weeks.

Let me see how it goes. This time I am slightly better equipped with an entry level smart phone and some apps. Wish me luck.

Dada by Vibhor Tikiya: Book Review

Recently read the book, titled Dada, written by Vibhor Tikiya and this post is a quick review of my findings.

Dada is story of a person who is wrong example for a student. Though he started off as a brilliant student in primary school, after his Dad's death he looses focus and masters the art of manipulation and making money brokering various deals. He gets only 45% in class 12, but manages entry into one of prestigious institutes -Premiere Institute of Technology, using fake cast certificate and sports certificate.

From there on, his life revolves not around studying, but making money selling alcohol in the campus, bartending, copying and so on. He forms a gang of 4, who're at the core of the fiction and undertake lots of adventure- inside and outside campus. How they handle several tricky situations, pull strings and manage to get an engineering degree forms the core of the book. If not fully realistic, enjoyable one at that.

The other half is Dada's sting at US. Where he joins an engineering dept for higher studies, fails miserably in initial tests and changes to department of fine arts. There his luck opens up- from being a student to provisional lecturer to full time employee to visiting professor, life runs on a successful track for someone who barely managed to clear the engineering exams.

'Dada' is well priced and is interesting to read. Apart from the fun quotient, book should be read for following underlying messages:

1) Engineering and Medicine is not the only 2 options. One can have a joyful and satisfying life in other subjects, including fine arts
2) Properties catch fire- Dreams don't
3) Technical skill alone is not enough. One should have negotiation skills, communication skills and analytical skills
4) Life does throw challenges at you and so do people around you. How you handle them determines how successful you will be. Can you confront a challenge, do you plan to run away from it, do you succumb to your fate and adjust to it? Learn to deal with challenges well and you'll enjoy the same.

However I also have following apprehension:
Can anyone manage to keep selling large quantities of alcohol inside the campus for 4 years- unaided, undetected? Supplying alcohol for dorm parties would involve multiple crates and lots of bottles. Carrying them in, taking care of empty bottles etc- doesn't sound realistic, unless someone from college administration is offering silent support.

Also book says MNCs need to pay huge money to visit campus for campus recruitment. I don't if this is really true. I know that there's a fight among companies for the privilege of being first company to visit the campus, but paying money part- I don't know.

Title: Dada
Author: Vibhor Tikiya
Price: Rs 149
Publisher: Indra Publishing House
Pages: 301, soft cover
Genre: Fiction
Released: 9th August 2013

Book was launched only last week and is not yet available on flipkart. May take some time to reach the stores near you. Do grab one when available, for it makes a thoughtful read. 300 pages full of interesting incidents and narration.

Other Book reviews:  My stroke of luck * RIP * Johny Gone down *

Sunday, August 11, 2013

White House Security Enhancement tips

Watched 2 movies recently- White House Down and 'The Olympus has Fallen' , both are about White House, the iconic building in US Capital, Washington DC. Both movies are about how the evil elements breach all the security layers at White house, take the President hostage, gain control of bunker in the basement and aim for world control.

After watching the 2  movies, I've made my own list of counter measures- how this kind of breach can be prevented in future. Sharing it here, for the benefit of US President's security officers.

1. Have an additional bunker for state guests. Don't mix them with the president and other critical staff manning the bunker. Let the guests relax in this additional bunker, while the President and his/her team clears the situation.

2. Need secret cameras from the bunker/on the way to the bunker, which can be seen from Pentagon. If an insider kills security staff and takes president has hostage, people at Pentagon should know about it

3. Please don't make de-activation codes so complex. In 'Olympus has fallen', the deactivation code for Cerberus was so long and had a '#' symbol, making it too complex for our hero Bike Banning, to save the world. He was left with just 2-3 seconds when he completed the task. It was even more longer than the activation codes uttered by the secretary and others. If there was one or two more characters to enter, all the nukes would have gone off in their silos. De-activation saves the world, so pls keep the de-activation code simple, like 1234

4. Chase smart. If you have 2 fighter planes chasing a bomber, it is stupid for each of these to go left and right side of bomber to warn them. While one plane goes close to the bomber to warn them, other should tail it at a safe distance, with its target locked on the unidentified aircraft, ready to fire if need be.

5. Keep an eye on Maintenance staff. It is surprising the no one could identify that the team of theater repairmen were carrying lots of weapons and ammunition. If someone is spending too much time at a place or too many people are working on same task, something should be wrong.

6. Follow my other advise shared in an earlier post- Keep an analog clock in front of CCTV camera. In case of looping, one will be able to detect it. Read more

7. If you don't have inside info, get Burkha Butt as a live reporter. She can extract inside info and let the world know what exactly is happening inside. (This is a fictitious character. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental)

8. Need better safety against people snatching guns from security staff. Something is seriously wrong if world's best security staff can't prevent their guns from being snatched by an unarmed person, all in fraction of a second. Some kind of lock/fingerprinting or voice command should help prevent misuse like this. Or a safer option is to maintain some physical distance.

9. I think the age old approach of lighting a cannon with a fire was best. This "anything can be fired from anywhere using a computer command" looks dangerous.

Good movies both. Worth a watch.

P.S. This post is a trick to get few more additional readers for my blog. From now on, I am sure US secret service will be reading all my posts...