Clicky

badge

Monday, September 29, 2014

JLR Freelander2 offroad adventure video

Here's one more post on my LandRover Experience. Main purpose is to show you the video I made and share some additional photos

Watch the video below, which depicts what all off road  we tried during Landrover Experience in Chennai a week ago


While I am at it, let me share some more photos clicked at the venue..

This red RangeRover Evoque wasn't part of our convoy that did off roading-could have added some real colours to the otherwise boring combination of white, black, silver and gray coloured SUVs.

LandRover Defender: Defender is much more rugged and capable SUV compared to freelander. It compromises on luxury but compensates with its road taming abilities. Unfortunately Defender is not on sale in India. This old model was doing support duties during the drive and I am sure is one of vehicles used to do a recce.
Few customers drove in with their JLRs- This Jaguar XJ-L for example was long, majestic and inviting. Unfortunate that these were not for test drive.

With fellow bloggers Ashwini CN, Tinu Cherian, and Srinivasan Ethiraju



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bangalore-Hogenakkal from Karnataka side (Via Attibele-Denkanikottai-Anchetti)

My last 2 visits to Hogenakkal were from the regular route via Tamil Nadu side- Krishnagiri- Dharmapuri route. This route from Bangalore is much longer, heavily tolled and tourist vehicles will have to pay interstate permit fee. Still many prefer this route either because they are not familiar with the alternative or prefer highways to scenic country side routes.

There is another way to reach Hogenakkal from Bangalore. This one is much shorter and extremely scenic, but the road is narrower. I wanted to try this route from sometime and finally it materialized last weekend. From Bangalore I took Zoomcar’s XUV500, picked up friends who were interested in the trip and headed towards Hogenakkal, via Electronic city-Attibele-Denkanikottai-Anchetti-Hogenakkal route.

Internet reports suggested that 10-15 kms on this stretch were bad roads. I was mentally prepared for that. But the roads were very good, except a small stretch where we found construction work in progress. Another few weeks that should be covered too.

After Anchetti we encountered lots of hairpin pends and nice views. Road was single lane, but there was hardly any topic. We found a hillock temple, few small but colourful roadside temples etc. I recommend this route any day to the route on the highway, as it is also shorter by close to 50+kms when compared to traditional Hosur-Krishnagiri-Dharmapuri road.
 
Only disadvantage will be not having proper restaurants on the way. Around Attibele there are a few decent hotels, but they weren't open early in the morning. We had some food at a shop that was open. If you skip that, there aren't any decent restaurants along the route. Do pack some food.

Had we gone 2 months earlier, the route would have been much more greener and scenic, due to monsoon. Anyway, September was not bad.

While returning we took Hogenakkal-Anchetti-Anekal-Chandapura-Blr road. This was also very scenic. We could comfortably visit Hogenakkal, explore and return same day.

Map
 
For more photos on Hogenakkal, pls check this post
Update: Watch a video in this post for some of the scenery and road conditions.

Related: A colourful road side temple on way to Hogenakkal

Book Review: Catching the departed by Kulpreet Yadav

Catching the departed is a fiction/thriller by Kulpreet Yadav, with a plot centred around terrorism and investigative journalism, taking place around Mumbai, Delhi and a village in Haryana.

An ex-army person, Andy Karan, currently works as investigative journalist for a popular magazine. Its editor, who gets tip off about a possible sleeper cell in a village few hundred kms from the capital and sends off Andy to investigate more. As Andy tries to uncover more, he faces death threats, more people die and suspense deepens as to who is behind this and what would happen next.

Story was fairly gripping and sustained interest till the last part, wherein plot seems to have a derailment of logic. Carrying a nuclear bomb from Mumbai to Delhi by road in 2 days, Top industrialist deciding to keep the nuclear Bomb in his own house as if it is a Deepavali cracker etc looks like the climax has been arrived in a hurry. Do nuclear bombs explode with just shaking? Being little more factual and realistic could have made the book fully entertaining.

Update: Author has updated me that a dirty bomb is conventional bomb filled with nuclear material, not a professionally made nuclear explosive. "A dirty bomb is a conventional bomb that disperses nuclear materiel. It's not a fission bomb & it's main purpose is just to create panic. It can therefore be small and volatile if not assembled properly. Dirty bombs are the next big thing that can affect all of us and I thought I should share this fact in the form of a story. "

Also it is not clear why Monica's tail killed her abruptly. They were supposed to find out who she will meet/what she will do right?

Apart from the last part, I liked rest of the plot- it sustained interest, no unnecessary deviations.

Summary
  • Title: Catching the Departed
  • Author: Kulpreet Yadav 
  • Publishers: Tara
  • ISBN: 978-81-8386-066-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Pages: 255
  • MRP:  Rs 299 (Now sells at Rs 209 on flipkart)

Of late I am seeing high volatility of prices in flipkart- they change almost everyday. If you're not sure of buying this book at Rs 209, add to wishlist, you'll get a notification when price drops, buy at the right moment.

More about the author, Kulpreet Yadav at his website: www.kulpreetyadav.in

Similar books: RIP31 * 60 Minutes * God is a Gamer

Friday, September 26, 2014

"God is a Gamer" by Ravi Subramanian: Book Review

I just finished reading “God is a Gamer”- Ravi Subramanian’s latest thriller. 

Like his previous thrillers (BankeruptBankster, Devil in Pinstripes, The Incredible banker etc), Ravi Subramanian’s latest thriller is fairly entertaining. This book is focused around the idea of Bitcoins, the virtual currency in the online world. Coupled with a series of interwoven plots of gaming industry, a Bank (how can Ravi’s novel not involve a Bank), A US Senator and few elements from the criminal world, God is a Banker keeps you glued to the plot. I finished God is a Gamer in 2 sittings (2 nights).

Ravi has used names of real companies all over the book- Visa, mastercard and so on, even stating that they lobbied to prevent other payment processing companies from coming into existence. It is a story indeed, but I wonder how these companies don't mind having their names used in negative way.

For the careful reader, there're a few weak spots in the story, which I have listed below. But this doesn't hamper the fun of reading, hence may go unnoticed by most of the readers. 

      1) Phishing attack on NYIB is poorly plotted. Having an user’s account login ID and password is not adequate to transfer funds. All banks have 2 factor authentication like one time password sent to mobile, having to confirm payee first, using grid etc. This second layer of safety feature seem to have been conveniently ignored by the author. (Also use of virtual keyboard can prevent keyloggers from capturing your passwords)

      2) Book suggests Bitcoin founder’s virtual name is derived from the names (Satoshi Nakamoto) of 4 Japanese companies, Sa from Samsung, Toshi from Toshiba, Naka from Nakamichi and Moto from Motorola.(Page278) But Samsung is a Korean company. Sanyo could have been a better example.

3) Not much details are mentioned on what is bit coin mining- How does new bit coins come into system, how to buy them from real cash or how to convert bit coin back to real currency

4) FBI got into Josh’s apartment and retrieved backpacks with money. No details mentioned as to what happened to it. At least about half the heist was still lying there. Assuming this is returned to the bank, it could have reduced the impact on BPO firm.

5) No explanation is given if it was Varun who placed the bottle of seeds into Tanya’s bag (before the party or before she got into Ambulance)

6) Malware that can leverage a computer’s processing power and transfer information even when it is shut down is unheard of. (correct me if I am wrong) This plot seems purely imaginary.

Summary
  • Title: God is a Gamer
  • Author: Ravi Subramanian
  • Publishers: Penguin
  • ISBN: 978-0-143-42139-9
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Pages: 309
  • MRP:  Rs 299 (Now sells at Rs 199 on flipkart)

Other thrillers: 31 * 60 Minutes * Business Doctor * Catching the departed

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Landrover Freelander2 Offroad Experience in Chennai

I was happy on receiving an invitation to be part of Landrover Experience- an off road event organized by JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) to help customers, prospects and the media understand the capabilities of Land Rover SUVs. Cut down my 2 day Blr visit to half and returned to Chennai in time for the event.
JLR Evoque Swimming in water

During the event met up with other bloggers- Tinu Cherian from Blr, Ashwini CN from Chennai and Srinivas Ethiraju from Cudalore. The experience was planned at 'The Farm', a specialty restaurant on the outskirts of the city. Behind the restaurant they had a natural pond, some sandy area and open fields, all natural and perfect for off-roading.

The experience was being facilitated by Cougar Motorsports, who specialize in wide range of OffRoad events in India, such as Tata Motors Full Throttle, The Himalayan Dash and many more.

After lunch, we had a small briefing session, wherein we were told about the few features of the vehicle (Hill Descent Control, that can help prevent vehicle from slipping while climbing downhill), Terrain Response- which can change throttle response and a million other parameters based on the terrain (sand, rock etc) the vehicle is on.

Clear instruction that we should follow our instructor’s command to the letter and if we don’t they may take over the controls.

Indian racing driver Karun Chandok's father Vicky Chandok and brother Suhail were also with us during the experience.

Inside the Freelander
After being paired with an instructor, we went out to the lined up Freelanders. First thing I was told was the correct position to hold the steering- to ensure that fingers are never folded inside of the wheel (In case of a rapid recoil, this can injure fingers). I was given this golden Mantra of Off Roading "As slow as possible, just as fast as necessary". That is, in order to be successful in off road conditions, going slow is very critical- to ensure we stay in control, to ensure we don't damage the vehicle (and also so that freelander's computers get a moment to sense what is happening and adjust accordingly). However, there will be a few situation wherein too slow will get us stuck- such was mud tracks etc, uphill climb, wherein we need to maintain speed, just as much as necessary to clear the obstacle. Making this right judgement of required speed can single-handedly toggle the results between success and failure.
The interiors of Freelander 2
I was not to use the camera during the drive, windows were not to be rolled down. So I just decided to (or rather had to) focus on driving experience and not recording anything. Amazon has not delivered by suction mount since 20 days, so I couldn't mount the goPro on the car. In my excitement I forgot about the head mount.
Black beauty, green terrain
The Drive:
We set out in motion. After negotiating small bushy terrain and sandy path between coconut trees, we entered the area with a few pits. We drove into the pit one by one, most of the time one of the wheels in Air. At times it felt as if the car would topple over, given the steep tilt we had. However, Freelander proved to be extremely stable, holding its ground during extreme maneuvers. Whenever a wheel lost traction, the other wheels take responsibility of pulling the car out. Super cool.
In full action...
Next came the water wading. Freelander has 500mm of water wading depth. (Tata Safari has 300mm, I had thought that is good enough, but now it qualifies as "Only 300mm"). There was a natural pond which I was told to be 4-5 feet deep. We took a peripheral path (always drove closer to the bank), but deep enough (almost up to the headlight level deep in water). While Range Rover sports get a sonar display of water, I was hoping to see that in Freelander but it was not there. I was told to maintain a steady speed so that resistance from water is uniform. Though Freelander was 50% deep in water, not a single drop came inside the cabin. Later when we opened the door, we could see water flowing out through dedicated path in the frame, without affecting the interiors a bit.
Another swimmer in action
Enjoyed this swimming session. Wish I could do it one more time.
RangeRover's Sonar that shows water level and ground... (not available in freelander)
Next was mud track, very light one at that, followed by a steep decline, wherein we had to negotiate a steep decline between a tree and a pond. Little to the left, we might end up in the pond, little to right, car with scratch against the tree. We let LandRover's hill descent control do its work, ensuring that breaks are applied in small instances and facilitating inch by inch movement to safety. Display has an indication that tells us which way the wheels are headed- this will help us in predict which way vehicle will move and take corrective action as needed. We negotiated few other similar paths, testing sand, incline, mud and uphill drive. Terrain Response can be changed on the fly.

My instructor said I am driving a bit fast than required and it is not advisable. 

The final bit was a rocky terrain. A little up climb and we had to maintain the car steady and keep moving forward. Any error could have resulted in car drifting off the track.
We drove back to the venue and got off the vehicle. Felt good experiencing Landrover Freelander's abilities to handle some of the challenging obstacles, and having learnt a few tricks and tips from the off road experts. When life throws some touch challenges at you, it helps to have one of the best off road SUVs and best of technologies on your side. While we got off cherishing our memories, Freelanders were taken in for cleaning and to get ready for next lot.

Overall the experience lasted for an hour. I went on foot during next batch to take some more photos. a very nice memorable experience overall.

Having appreciated Freelander’s offroad abilities, here’re few features that are available only in higher model- RangeRover (costs 3 times more) and not in a Freelander2
1    1.  No Automatic Terrain Response (only Manual): Rangerover can sense what kind of terrain you’re on and select right settings automatically. In Freelander 2 this has to be selected manually
2    2.  No Sonar: Rangerover gets a sonar display which can show live how deep the car is in water and how is the surface below. Freelander misses it.
3    3.  Freelander is a 5 seater

Disclaimer:
1. Please note that we drove under the supervision of expert instructors (from Coguar motor sports) and drove exactly as per their guidance. This was to ensure safety to people and vehicle but meant no liberty to drive as per our calculations or drive around as per our wish and convenience.
2. The obstacles we overcame, drove through were put in place after careful consideration of Freelander’s design limitations. In real world there could be more deeper rivers, more steeper climbs and more muddy patches. (Watch videos on youtube). No vehicle is invincible against mother nature. Advanced technology can never fully substitute human intelligence and judgment (or stupidity for that matter). So please use your discretion while attempting these off road attempts on your own.

I've made some videos, which will be published after a few days once I am done with editing. Will include some more details and photos in that second post. Standby.

Do check JLR India official website for more details on the vehicle http://www.landrover.com/in/en/lr/. Thanks to JLR and BlogAdda for facilitating this experience.

Hogenakkal waterfalls latest updates

Last Saturday I had my third visit to Hogenakkal. Last two visits were in Feb 2009 and Nov 2010. Close to 4 years and Hogenakkal has changed a lot compared to my 2010 visit. This time though, we entered the falls from Karnataka side, not via usual Krishnagiri- Dharmapuri route(more about that later) This post shares some latest photos and updates about the falls.
August- September is probably one of the best times to visit Hogenakkal. "You should have come one month earlier-there was much more water" - our boatman told us.


The major difference was the walkway. Earlier, one had to commission a boat-ride in order to get good views of the falls, as the best view is visible from top of the rocks in the middle of water. Coracle rides would cost Rs 200+ per person. Now there is are walkways constructed- one in Tamil Nadu side, another at Karnataka side. Using these one can walk across the river and get good view of the falls. There is no need for the boat-ride. A hanging bridge is constructed on the river as well.

Safe provisions have been made where people can take bath in the river, with barricades to ensure that they don't slip into river.
Now there're 3 key points from where we can view the falls- from the hanging bridge, from the watch tower and from the view point operated by Karnataka tourism. Fourth one is during the coracle ride, where you may be taken as close to the falls as deemed safe by the operator.

Boat prices were about Rs 960 for 1.5 hours ride, for 6 people (Same price for lesser head count). I find the place much more cleaner than what it was 4 years ago. Parking and entry fee were same as last time.

Watch a short video below to experience the hogenakkal waterfalls in action

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chamundi Hills Mysore: Early morning visit photos

Last time I wanted to go on top of Chamundi hills in BMW, the road was closed due to some celebrations. Got lucky next time. In this post I don't have lots to write. Just sharing photos of Chamundi hill, Mysore clicked early in the morning, during our visit there in July 2014.

With all the mist, it was fun. And parking lot attendant hadn't reported to duty yet, so we saved on parking fee.

View of the Main temple in Chamundi hill. Opens at about 7AM

View of a lamp post and a TV tower at a distance
View of Mysore city from Chamundi hills, with and without zoom


And how can I miss not adding few photos of the massive SUV that took us there?

More photos of Fortuner here

Similar/Nearby: Dancing peacocks at Karanji Kere * Some more Chamundi hills photos * Bharachukki falls, Shivanasamudram

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amazon vs Flipkart- My Experience

Amazon India is aiming to take on its archrival flipkart for supremacy in Indian ecommerce space. Both companies are pumping in hot dollars and hoping to outsmart each other. Just like many of you, I’ve been buying regularly from Flipkart since long time and have also made a few purchase from Amazon India. Comparing the services of both, I feel Amazon India is way behind flipkart in overall customer satisfaction.

Flipkart has invested heavily in their logistics and is capable of delivering orders almost next day. But Amazon seems to be way behind- way way behind. While flipkart can deliver an order in 2 days, Amazon takes 2 weeks and more. Flipkart provides much more meaningful status update on the order, but Amazon has no meaningful tracking/update.

Consider this: I ordered few books on flipkart recently (6th September). Flipkart offered standard delivery by Wednesday, 10th September and express delivery on Monday,  8th Sep if I pay Rs 90 more. I was fine with standard delivery and hence opted not to pay extra. However, the consignment was still delivered promptly on 8th Sep, in under 48 hours. Flipkart’s online tracking is also very effective- I can find out if it is shipped, reached destination city etc.


But on the contrary, all my Amazon orders take forever to reach me. (My GoPro order from US reached me faster than a GoPro accessory order on Amazon.in). I ordered a suction Mount for GoPro on 2nd September and 15 days later, still there’s no sign of it. Amazon claims it will be delivered between 15th to 24th September. (They need 9 days buffer- can’t even predict anything properly). I have a feeling that supplier doesn’t have real stock- once customers like me place an order, he will place an order with GoPro.com, get it shipped to him and then ship it to me. If this is the case, they should declare it upfront. I would have placed an order myself directly on GoPro.com, but GoPro website’s 85 $ shipping fee is little expensive for small items.

Also Amazon doesn’t seem to have any status other than Dispatched. Even for completed orders, status is still shown as Dispatched. I don’t know when it was dispatched, has it reached my city, where it is now, how much more time it takes… The courier partner in case of my recent order, Bambino express is equally useless. Up to 10 days after the order is placed, tracking status is “Shipment info received, USA”. For past 1 week, the status has been  “MANIFESTED FOR DEPARTURE 12.09.2014 0635 U.S.A”. It took full one week just to get packed and shipped out of warehouse and five days since 12-09, there’s no update if it actually departed. 
Flipkart has a customer care number called out bold in the home page. On Amazon.in, it is a pain to locate a number to call. Even if I call their helpline (they call back on your number), they have no additional information other than the useless status mentioned on the website. Last week, when I called customer support told me order is still with the vendor, while status on website says “dispatched”. I called one more time and second time I was told “the order was shipped on 5th September and you should be getting it asap”. I am just being made to blindly hope. I was offered that an email will be sent to seller to expedite the process. (mail was spent promptly, but sellers reply was again generic and didn’t serve any purpose).

Today when I call again, I get an unofficial delivery date of 20th or earlier, but the same doesn’t get documented in an email I receive there-after.

I am fine with a delay, but all I want is correct and reliable update- not false promises. When I ask where exactly is the order – is it in US? Has it reached India? Has it arrived at Chennai hub etc, no one- Amazon, 3rd party seller (Retail Therapy India in this case) and the courier company have any clue as to what is happening.

I have a short trip planned for 20th and I am hoping I will get the suction mount before that, so that I can take some good videos. Going by the current rate of progress, I am not really optimistic. My backup plan was to rent a mount from Tapprs (At Rs 50/day), but again I am told they don’t rent the mount alone. I need to rent the camera+ Mount (spending Rs 400 per day) and since they don’t operate 24x7, will have to pay couple of days extra, making the proposition non viable.

Earlier I used to compare prices on Amazon and flipkart to decide from where to buy. These days I have stopped looking at Amazon and go there only when flipkart doesn’t have the product I am looking for. Going further, I will first consider all other alternatives before placing an order on Amazon.

One of the customer care guys told me that since Amazon.in is less than an year old, they need more time to update the website for effective tracking etc. But I feel these are fundamentals which they should have established even before launch. Also tracking part could have been adopted from their parent website and customized faster.

May be the incident is specific to the product I ordered or the seller who has set shop on Amazon.in. Other orders might reach faster. But lack of clear information/real time update and redundant tracking were common to all orders. Also people come to Amazon/Flipkart because of brand name. So these marketplaces should have specific standards/process/checks in place for all sellers on the platform. Those sellers who can’t conform to certain standards should not be allowed on the platform.

Flipkart began slow and steady- began with only books, built strong delivery network and gradually scaled up. But Amazon seems to be keen on Big Bang launch of multiple categories, without much of a backbone to track & deliver efficiently.

Probably Amazon.in is leaning too much on parent company’s brand name, without making serious efforts to understand how things work in India.

Was your experience any better? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

MGR Memorial Chennai wide angle photos

MGR memorial is a monument in Chennai, next to Marina beach, built in memory of former Chief Minister, MG Ramachandran.

I had been to this memorial multiple times, but couldn't capture the memorial fully from bottom, due to limitations of the camera.

Went there again today with GoPro and below are the results. I couldn't capture the monument fully, but the coverage is satisfactory.



 


Pajero Sports Anniversary Edition Drive

Having spent 4 consecutive weekends at home, this morning we went out to Marina beach in Chennai. I spotted a Pajero sport on display, with a sticker "Ask for a test drive." I did and rest is history!

When I approached the person in charge for test drive, I wasn't very sure. Some of these premium car salesmen over time have developed a knack to weed out those who can't afford to buy a 30 lakh car. By looking at you they figure out if they should spend time explaining the car to you or you're not worth it. But this Pajero sport salesman readily agreed when I asked for a test drive. Without any formalities, I was behind the wheels and we set off.

We went for a short ride and during which we were driving next to the ocean for a while- I asked the salesman if I can drive on the sand. Without slightest hesitation he agreed. I changed to 4x4 and drove on the sand. It was a supershort drive, but it was fun. Back on the main road, we came back to where we started, but on the way policemen stopped us, saying it is one way and we should take a detour.

I happily reversed and we hit the main road again. But now, half of the road from Gandhi statue till Anna memorial was blocked for traffic, because of a marathon. We couldn't go to the beach side, so had to take a really long detour-to Broadway, Central, Secretariat, Anna Salai, Express Avenue, Cathedral road, R K Salai and eventually back to Gandhi statue at Marina, all in all logging over 30-35kms.

Though that is very short drive to pass judgment on the car, it helped me understand Pajero sport much better. I haven't driven the Fortuner 4x4 (have only driven 4x2), hence am unable to pass a verdict which one is better. But during my drive I couldn't really find anything to complain about. Pajero pulls ahead very easily, responded to steering brilliantly and was always game for some action.



The anniversary edition that I drove is actually 1 year old.This new Pajero was launched in 2012 and sometime in June 2013, Anniversary edition was launched with some extra goodies. Unfortunately Mitsubishi's pool sales and service network hasn't helped this good product win customer confidence.

Pajero has following advantages over Fortuner 4x4:
1. Higher power, despite having smallest engine in its peer group
2. Cheaper by a lakh
3. Reportedly better off road capabilities
4. Rear disc brakes
5. Shorter turning radius (5.6 vs fortuner's 5.9)

But Fortuner has following plus points:
1. Higher ground clearance- 230mm (Pajero is 215mm)
2. Pajero has only tilt adjustment, not telescopic
3. Better after sales support
4. Auto transmission and 4x2 variant options
5. Bigger than Pajero by a few mms.

I also learnt from the sales guy about "Heart in Mouth" events- which is similar to Mahindra Great Escape- an offroad event for the owners of Pajeros.

Also Mitsubishi has stopped all other cars in India- Lancer, Evo, Montero, Outlander etc and is currently selling only Pajero. Next few years they plan to come up with a small car (probably Mirage?), sedan and other models.

End of the drive, I wasn't asked the usual "Sir, when are you planning to buy?" question. I guess he made out that I can't afford this kind of car.

I made a short video of the Pajero drive. Watch it below.
Pajero Sports On road price in Chennai:
Pajero sports retails at 28.4 lakhs in Chennai. Fortuner, Ford Endeavor, Isuzu MU-7, Rexton-7 etc compete with Pajero in the premium SUV market.

Similr: Fortuner photoshoot * Is Fortuner worth 10 lakh premium over XUV500 W6? *