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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review Hotel TempleView, Mahabaleshwar

When I was planning a visit to Mahabaleshwar, I found out that it will be late evening by the time I reach Mahabaleshwar (Had a Balloon ride in the morning, para gliding in the evening at Talegaon/Khamshet area after which I would drive to Mahabaleshwar). So regular hotels with fixed timings like 12 noon to 10 AM etc were not practical. I asked Stayzilla chat assistant to name a budget hotel in Mahabaleshwar that offered 24 hour check in check out facility. They proposed Temple View. The rental was cheap (Rs 878 for 2 people for a night). I tried to book but stopped just short of payment, thinking I will decide a little later.

Stayzilla was quick to call me back, saying that they have spoken to the hotel and rooms are available and they've blocked it for me. I was pleased by their quick response (everyone else want payment first and then will think of the service). So without second thought, I made rest of the payments, for a 8PM to 8PM next day booking.

But as I was driving towards the hotel, I faced some inconvenience. Hotel Temple View was not listed on Google maps, mobile signals were not co-operating. So after some talk with hotel staff, I got manual direction and the fact that Ramsukh Hotel is nearby, which made further navigation easier.

Note to Stayzilla/Temple View Hotel: Add some direction information to the reservation confirmation, not just your postal address.

Once I arrived, the manager showed us the room, which was spacious by all standards. (I was thinking it could be a congested room as seen in many hill station budget hotels). Room had all basic facilities. Power outlet seem to have loose connection- didn't charge my stuff overnight as expected. Common areas were very large too. There is NO A/C in the room, which is not really a problem in a hill station.

I was asked to sign in the register, which showed less than 3 entries for March- either no one visited this hotel or all visitors are not registered or there could be another register.


Temple view hotel is a bit of old fashioned. It is a bit old building. Located right next to two ancient temples in Old Mahabaleshwar area, this hotel is rightly named Temple View.

Hot water is not 24x7. On demand staff will switch on the geyser after which you will get hot water in the room. Ultra low rental means nothing is free- not even breakfast. Their own restaurant in the ground floor serves decent veg food. Tea: Rs 20, Curd Rice: Rs 65. Fair enough pricing.

There isn't much of a parking space in front of the hotel- the street is fine to park a small car but as the day progresses traffic picks up. Bigger vehicles need to be parked little away.

Located in Old Mahabaleshwar (on northern side of hill station), Temple view is closer to half a dozen view point and attractions, but will be far for Southern Mahabaleshwar attractions like Bombay Point.

As you can see in above pictures, common areas are very spacious at Temple View hotel. Overall Temple View is a decent budget hotel in Mahabaleswar hill station. We checked out at 4PM next day, paying only 1 day rent thanks to 24 hour billing model.

Standby for more posts on Mahabaleshwar

Coming up this week on enidhi India

I am back from a weekend trip to Pune, during which I tried Balloon ride, Paragliding and a visit to Mahabaleshwar, Lohgarh etc.

While I am preparing the photos, videos and blog posts, this post gives a glimpse of what's coming up next on this blog, over a week or two.

1 Hot Air Balloon Ride FAQs
This post will answer your most frequently asked questions on Hot Air Balloon ride

2 Skywaltz Balloon Ride Experience
Photos, Video and experience account of flying in a hot air balloon in Talegaon area- Now live here

3. Paragliding with Nirvana
Detailed experience account of Paragliding (Tandem) that I tried near Pune

4. Pune Self drive car rental updates
Recent developments and how I went about selecting a car

5. Mahabaleshwar Temple View Hotel review
A decent budget hotel in Mahabaleshwar where I stayed- Now live

6. Mahabaleshwar view points and attractions

7. Figo photoshoot
Some good photos of the Ford Figo I took during the trip

8. Lohgarh fort
A well designed fort near Lonavla

And may be few more. Standby. May be it is time to subscribe to my blog, so that you get updates by email. Use the box on right top of the sidebar

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mercedes Benz Zoomcar GLA Class Kannada article

Mercedes Benz Zoomcar GLA Class Kannada article in this week's VijayaNext.

Read other print articles here

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Toyota Etios G Diesel Review

I had booked a ford Figo from Carzonrent Chennai but got an upgrade to Etios G diesel as Figo was not available. With that, I realized that I had never driven a diesel version of Etios.  In 2012 it was G Petrol variant from Avis, in December 2014 it was a relative's V Petrol variant again.

So happy with the upgrade, I set off for my drive. Our drive was to Pichavaram, some 200kms from Chennai. On the way, we diverted to check out Sadras Dutch Fort, Chinn-Veer beach etc and in total I logged about 500kms in 24 hours.

This post shares a few thoughts about the Etios diesel sedan, much of it is already well known.

Etios diesel is getting increasingly popular among taxi operators, who are buying more and more Etios than the erstwhile favorites- Indigo and Ford Fiesta-both aging and not getting much attention from their manufacturers.

The single most factor for Etios's success seem to be its fuel economy. Even when I was done driving 100kms, the fuel indicator still indicated full. (That doesn't mean Etios doesn't consume fuel for first hundred kms, it means fuel indicator is not very precise and could give wrong readings at the top). For the overall 500kms I drove, I had to refill only Rs 1300 worth diesel, which means about 23 litres, resulting in a practical fuel economy of 21.7kmpl. This is on a summer afternoon with AC and a faster than taxi driver style driving. That is brilliant.

Apart from great economy, space is another good thing at Etios.

Reverse gear involves pulling a ring and moving to first gear position, something that takes time to get used to. Central console is difficult to look at while driving. Micro LCD display doesn't even show time. Not much of a use.
Above: Etios clicked with another Carzonrent self drive Swift.

I noticed that Carzonrent has stopped adding a mini TV screen on back of the head rests (Like I used to find them in 2014- they were hardly used, as no one needs a portable TV for entertainment these days and they wouldn't support most of the file formats anyway)



This was an early 2014 model. Etios got some mild facelift later in 2014. Naturally G Variant misses on severalcost saving elements such as alloy wheels, fog lamps and so on compared to V and VX. On the Innova toyota has introduced a ZX variant, but not for Etios.

Overall it was a good car to be in.

Jeremy clarkson will be missed in topgear

News just in states that BBC has decided NOT to renew contract of Jeremy Clarkson, one of the hosts of BBC's very popular auto show- Top Gear.[News]

Jeremy was the senior most of the 3 hosts Top Gear had and talked more than the other two. He opened most of the shows, gave funny one liner about stig, introduced guests and dropped some bombshell at the closing moments of the show.
Image sourced from Telegraph article

Jeremy hated manual labor of any kind, his idea of Off-Roading was "Power and Speed" and overall the laziest of the 3 hosts- but that probably was what differentiated top gear from other auto shows. While other car shows went about their business seriously, Jeremy and team added lots of stupidity, unthinkable level of lazyness and such elements to make the show fun to watch. He was very liberal in using abusive words, though a decent show on automobiles didn't warrant it.

As I learn Jeremy Clarkson is found guilty of abusing a colleague (producer of the show, not some junior staff) and resorting to physical attack on him. All because hotel served him cold meal instead of his specific choice. Apparently there were multiple previous incidents of aggression that had put Clarkson on a final warning mode, which was severed with recent incident on March 4th.

I am not offering any opinion on his sacking.It is unfortunate but

I am sure whoever took that decision would have undergone enough reviews and affirmations before going public with it.

Jeremy's twitter handle seem's confident and doesn't appear to directly acknowledge that he might get separated from BBC. But a modified bio uses past tense to hint that he is no longer a presenter on BBC. We need to see if 55 year old actor will take an early retirement or will seek a career in other places.

More importantly will Topgear producers be able to find a decent enough replacement for Jeremy?

Wikipedia page on Jeremy has lots of interesting details about him. James May's reaction can be seen here

Related: Topgear India magazine Review  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Plan Your Travel Online At Surprisingly Cheaper Rates

E-commerce has changed the outlook of people when it comes to online shopping. People enjoy a peaceful and tension free shopping sitting at their home or office or anywhere they feel like without any hassle. This sector has boomed in so much that people now prefer to do anything and everything online. So is the case when it comes to travelling as well. There are plenty of online travel sites that cater to the various needs of travelers including booking flight, bus and train tickets, hotels and even food.

As we all know, there are plenty of sites including MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Musafir, YatraGenie, RedBus and many more are in the list of online travel websites that help in making you to enjoy a memorable journey at the most affordable and cheaper rate. With the help of MakeMyTrip Coupon Codes and other discount coupons from these travel sites, enjoy your travel at cheaper rates. Check out some of these online travel sites to plan an affordable travel next time…

Yatra
Alike MakeMyTrip, Yatra is also one of the premium online travel booking website from where you can book your flight, bus and train tickets and even get accommodation at affordable prices and that too at premium hotels. All you need to do is to look for YatraCoupon Code and avail surprising discounts on your tickets and accommodation and that too at premium hotels.
Yatra too offers facilities to book your tickets, accommodation and even helps you plan on your holiday, offer you the best and affordable deals to exciting places including domestic as well as International destinations. So, now do not hesitate to plan your journey. Book your tickets now and enjoy some wonderful moments with your family.

RedBus
When MakeMyTrip and Yatra helps those travelers who prefer to plan their travel by flights, RedBus is one such online travel site that helps those people who prefer to travel on bus. RedBus helps to book your bus tickets on Volvo, Benz or any other luxurious vehicle and helps in booking your accommodation in good and affordable hotels at the most cheapest rates.

From now you can enjoy a luxurious travel to such places you had hesitated to plan a travel due to high budget. Enjoy a memorable and joyous trip with your family, with loads of shopping through any of these online travel websites using their discount coupon codes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interview wth Brinda Malhotra, Head of CSR, Aircel

I had an opportunity to do an email interview with Brinda Malhota, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Aircel. She had been working closely on the Save the Tigers campaign that Aircel spearheaded. I used this opportunity to ask some questions about the tiger conservation and related topics, based on little knowledge of tigers that I had. 

    Q1: Congrats for the success of the ‘Save tiger campaign. Whom do you attribute this success to? Government? Forest department? Public? (While we public might have promoted the cause online, we haven’t done much on the ground for the tigers. Wish to know whom you think played key role in increasing tiger population)
What began in 2008 as an effort to bolster the dwindling tiger numbers in India has now started showing encouraging results, thanks to the relentless contribution from various stakeholders. This is evident from the increase in numbers from 1411 tigers in 2008 to the roaring 2226 tigers today. We are absolutely delighted to have contributed to this cause of tiger conservation. This success is the result of collective efforts and commitment of volunteers, forest department officials, locals, conservationists, Aircel employees, people who have contributed funds to this cause and to every citizen who raised their voice to Save Our Tigers – this success belongs to each and every one of us.  It has given a fresh lease of life not only to Tigers, but also to many conservationists who have dedicated their lives to conservation. It gives them renewed hope and optimism. However, we believe that there are miles to go before the roar of the Tiger returns to its full glory.

   Q2: Give us an overview of tiger census- how does the counting happen? How do we know that same tiger is not counted twice or some tigers are not counted at all? How much of it is technology and how much is human effort?
The latest tiger census methodology has been the most comprehensive scientific technique used till date. For the first time, National Tiger Conservation Authority has taken help from Wildlife Institute of India in collaboration with conservationists.  The process consists of three phases: Phase I- on ground data is collected by field personal who follow a standardized protocol. In Phase II- Human intervention is reduced and technology helps in validating data collected by the field personal. Statistical and satellite data is added to this data and analyzed. This data is further validated in Phase III using the camera trapping procedure. This unique process has resulted in capturing photographs of 70 percent unique tigers in the wild. This mix of human and technology has been appreciated by many conservationists and we believe that it is a step in the right direction.
Source: Ministry of Environment & Forests
     Q3:  I would like to know a bit about Pilibhit tiger reserve in UP, close to Nepal Border. Is it an active tiger reserve? Is it open to public? I had as close as 25kms to this reserve but couldn’t proceed because of bad roads, not enough information and shortage of time. [My experience trying to visit Pilibhit here]
Pilibhit Tiger reserve has a very high conservation value in terms of its tiger population. According to a study by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), tiger population in Dudhwa-Pilibhit is the only species having the ecological and behavioral adaptations of the tiger unique to the larger Tarai region on the Indo- Nepal borders. It is an active reserve and is open to public from September to June. The reserve has its own tourist lodges and forest rest houses at Barahi, Mustafabad, Nawadia to name a few.

The Dudhwa-Pilibhit Tiger reserve is very close to our hearts at Aircel and we have many active on ground projects in this reserve. We launched a program called Primary Response Team (PRT) in Dudhwa-Pilibhit Region of UP. PRTs bring additional resources towards managing the Human-Animal conflicts. The PRTs essentially form the ‘first response’ group that not only address the situation on ground, but are also crucial in relaying information to relevant Forest Departments. 

Aircel and WTI have been instrumental in the formation of 9 such PRT teams. Each of these teams has shown remarkable results by addressing conflict situations autonomously. Aircel has recently rewarded two teams for their exceptional performance in defusing tense situations.
Further information can be found on www.tigerreservepilibhit.com.
Q 4. Have there been any improvements in Anti-poaching laws since your campaign? Was there any improvements in its enforcement? Or were there any efforts to reach out to poachers and try convincing them about giving up?
We have been making concerted efforts towards stringent anti-poaching law and also its enforcement. 

We have witnessed a remarkable rise in conviction rates of poachers and wildlife traffickers. Tiger conservation efforts from places like Nepal that has seen zero poaching incidents in 2014 are a learning. Community based anti-poaching units have shown remarkable results in Nepal. We believe that for many years there has been an educated view about different wildlife species wishing to be in the forest, and they enter human habitats only because forests are shrinking. However, the reality is that some level of interaction and conflict is bound to occur when people and wildlife are sharing space and resources more so in a rapidly developing country like ours. By focusing our efforts towards mitigating these conflicts and through our small yet effective initiatives like PRT, we are taking steps in the direction of establishing a process to mitigate perils of co-existence. 

Q 5. Being in tiger conservation, I assume you might have visited Tiger Temple in Thailand- Kanchanaburi. Any comments on that place? (There’s some criticism about the whole idea, curious to know your thoughts.) Would something of that sort be viable/useful in India?
We have much ground to cover in India before we can take up initiatives similar to the Tiger Temple in Thailand. With a growing population and booming economy we cannot afford to lose steam towards this cause. Also, in India we are home to 70 % of the world’s Tiger population. Our conservation efforts have been focused on conserving tigers in the wild as they are the indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem and we should continue our efforts towards it.


Q 6. If I am an ordinary citizen and I have a weekend to spare- how can I get involved in tiger conservation or other voluntary activities in this regard? Whom to contact and what kind of contributions everyone can do?
If we want to have more tigers in the world, we must speak up and speak loudly. In the words of renowned field biologist George Schaller, “I learned long ago that conservation has no victories. It’s a never-ending process that each of us must take part in.” The new tiger numbers have given us a lot of hope to continue this fight for tigers, for our future, for our children`s future.  You can also start working with institutions like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) who undertake a number of on ground activities like educating locals about the importance conversation which can be a big boost to the conservation efforts. You could play a major role in mobilizing the masses to support this cause through social media – using Aircel’s Facebook page on Save Our Tigers (https://www.facebook.com/StripeytheCub), Twitter handle (https://twitter.com/SaveOurTigers) and the website (www.saveourtigers.com).  You could use your blogs to voice your concern and support for the tiger and this way you could help us ensure that the cause gets the necessary attention and action from relevant stakeholders.  

Q7. Tiger Safaris in reserve forests- do they disturb wildlife? Or is it better to have them as it deters poaching? What is your take?
The challenge of balancing conservation and economic growth can be answered by spreading the message of responsible tourism. There are stringent guidelines laid out by Ministry of Environment and Forests for tourism activities in tiger reserves in the country. We believe that this should be based on scientific carrying capacity and sustainability principles. We at Aircel are currently working on a model towards responsible tourism in Tiger Reserves. Also, it provides the local population residing around the reserves employment opportunities and helps boost the local economy. This is actually a very significant way to prevent the locals from entering the forests in search of wood for their livelihood and hence, prevents deforestation. 

Q 8.  What motivated Aircel to spend big money on ‘Save Our Tigers’ campaign of all the social causes? Would Aircel continue this initiative or it will be wrapped up after this success?
In 2008, we as a company recognized the urgency of the depleting Tiger population and drew up a sustained and long-term strategy for the cause. The Tiger, also our national animal, symbolizes strength and courage. It has been eulogized in our history, poetry, cinema, literature and the list goes on. As Indians, we transact the Tiger on a daily basis – take a look at a 10 Rupee note – the 3 animals that are featured there is the Elephant, Rhino and the Tiger.

While the fact that ‘1411’ tigers were left in the wild in India triggered the ‘Save Our Tigers’ initiative, Aircel also felt that being in the communication space, we had an opportunity to give voice to the cause of Tiger protection.

We followed a two pronged approach:
First, create a buzz around the importance of conservation through a campaign that highlighted the dwindling tiger population – “Just 1411 left”. This was the first wake up call to people on a mass scale about the significance of Tiger conservation and its impact on our future. Simultaneously, we also launched several on ground initiatives on a war-footing to support and run projects to save this magnificent creature through a collaboration with our NGO partners, conservationists and Forest officials. Today we celebrate the fruits of our labour and are proud that we made a contribution towards increasing the roar of the Tiger.

Our efforts have been and will continue to be focused on promoting conservation and sustainable natural resources management helping eco systems and livelihoods become more resilient towards this cause. Our endeavor to collectively raise voices and act on the issue of sustaining life on this planet will remain by providing life for tigers and ensuring life for our children.

In addition, since Aircel is a young telecom service provider with its key target audience as the youth, ‘Save Our Tigers’ was taken up as a cause  so that we could secure the environment for our future generation, the tiger being one of the key enablers for ensuring ecological balance. We believe that youth of today are much more aware and passionate about causes related to the environment. They can act as key influencers in spreading the message of tiger conservation. We are reaching out to kids and youth through focused initiatives like organizing panel discussions in various universities/colleges on the cause. We are also leveraging the digital medium to drive conversations around the topic.

Q 9. What numbers of tiger population you’re targeting by next census? (say couple of years)
Even as we celebrate this increase in Tiger numbers, we should not be complacent. We still have a long way to go. With strong cooperation among the Centre, the states, corporates and the non-governmental sector, there is no reason why we cannot aspire to eventually have many more tigers in the wild in India.

Q 10. What other species is as endangered as tigers today? What are all should be our other priorities when it comes to wildlife?

We look forward to continued support from various stakeholders towards this dream of conservation and co-existence becoming a part of the way we live. Saving Mother Nature and its conversation is not an end, but it is the very essence of our being. In India we are lucky to have not just the world’s largest population of tigers, but also the only surviving population of the Asiatic lion in the Gir forest. Snow leopards in the Hemis National Park; barasingha deer in Kanha; and two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga are a testament to the rich wilderness India beholds. As our economy grows, we will increasingly see pressure on the various wildlife habitats in this country. Rampant destruction of natural habitats through agricultural expansion, urbanization, mining and other industrial and developmental pressures are increasingly pushing wildlife to the edge. We need to conserve these forests for a better future alongside the growth of the economy. Wildlife has been there for generations and they will continue to be a part of lives if we protect their habitat and treat them with respect that they deserve. 

Similar: Tiger upclose photos from Thyavarekoppa

Friday, March 20, 2015

Warning: Fake Call from Delhi court claiming case against you!

What would you do if you’re informed of a legal case someone has filed against you? As a law abiding citizen you don’t want any trouble with the courts and will probably seek advice from advocates to help you tide over the situation. There’re some people trying to exploit this vulnerability from the unsuspecting civilians and extract money from them in the process.
I faced this situation multiple times in recent few months, hence posting this for general public awareness.

I received call from unknown number, claiming to be court staff in some courts in Delhi. They state that someone has filed a case against me and ask me if I know about this. Naturally I say No. Next, I was asked to contact a lawyer for help.

First time, I tried to extract more information- like what is this case about, which court it is etc- but they won’t give any details, just suggest that we contact the specific lawyer whom they are naming.

At this point I grew suspicious-
-  No one initiates a court procedure without talking to opponent even once. Court cases can be lengthy and devastating, so every one goes to court only when other options are exhausted. If you're not involved in any business/criminal activity that could be even remotely illegal or unfair to another party, it is very unlikely  that anyone would initiate a court case against you
-   There is no reason why someone should file a case against me in Delhi, far away from where I am, as I have no personal/business interests in Delhi
- If a court case is registered, details are sent by post usually with instructions to appear in court on specific date.
-   A legitimate court staff shouldn’t have problem giving some more details like summary of the case etc

A little check on internet confirmed that this is fake call trying to extract money.

So I either started ignoring their calls, or would make some statements like “I am recording this conversation to give it to police” after which call would cease abruptly.

I asked Mr Dhruv CKV, who is a lawyer+RJ+Certified Tourist Guide to understand what is the authentic way a court case against me would be communicated. He told that there're two ways
- Court issues what is known as Summons to concerned parties, informing them on the case and seeking their response/presence.
- This is often communicated in person, mostly by a court staff
- Summons is also sent by registered post to your address

So essentially there is no need to fear a phone call. Wait for a formal communication, which will never come for fake calls like above.

Hence please be careful if you get similar calls. Ask for more details without divulging your personal information, try to apply some thought and validate if there’s any truth/sense. These people often get only a database of name and number from some agencies and try calling them one by one, hoping that at least some of them fall into trap. If you follow their instruction, you will be asked to make a deposit for court expenses/lawyer fees etc. They will extract as much money as possible till you suspect foul play and stop paying or till you go bankrupt.

You’ve been warned. Please share to help spread awareness. Thanks Dhruv for the legal inputs.

St Peter's Church, Malmo, Sweden

St Petri or St Peter's Church is a 13th century structure in Malmo, Sweden, with periodic maintenance and enhancements/additions.

St Peters church is right across the canal near Malmo central and is walkable.


On the inside, St Peters church has lots of well crafted artifacts that are a treat to the eye. There were a few brochures detailing church's religious programs and other stuff, but they weren't in English.

In the below pic, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" is Latin phrase that means "Glory to the God is the Greatest"



Apparently I explored the church only partially. If I had taken a walk around the church, I could have got few more good photographs.

Nearby: Lilla Torg * Touring Torso * Swedish Submarine U3 inside out

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Private India, Naked Face n Memories of Midnight: 3 Crime fiction novel reviews

I read 3 novels recently- Sidney Sheldon's Memories of midnight, The Naked Face and Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson. These were not the most exciting books and I don't have enough to write a detailed review, hence this 3 in 1 post giving brief overview/review of all these 3 novels.

1. Memories of Midnight- Sidney Sheldon
This is a story of a millionaire businessman and his revenge. Constantin Demeris (aka Costa) has got his mistress Neolle Page and her lover Larry Douglas executed by the state for the murder of Larry's wife, Catherine. (This part happens in previous Book, The Other Side of Midnight). Only Demeris knows the truth that Catherine is indeed alive and wants to get her killed, along with other few people who knew the truth.

Plot revolves around the murder of different characters and Demeris's business activities. Would Catherine survive the plot? Will Demeis pay for his misdeeds? Read the book to find out. Wikipedia already has a super detailed plot, which if you read, you probably won't have to read the novel.

Compared to some of other novels by Sidney Sheldon than I have read, this book- Memories of Midnight doesn't have too many twists, surprises or excitement. Also the novel was written 2.5 decades ago, so many tactics seem outdated if we read it today.

2. The Naked Face- Sidney Sheldon
Another novel by Sidney, written much earlier- in 1970s- The Naked Face has a very simple plot. A pyscho analyst's life is in danger- he must find out who is after him, whom he can trust and whom not to. This is a much simple and straight forward plot, with hardly any twists and turns. No sub plots, no deviation from main story line. The Naked face is apparently Sidney's first novel, so not one of his best works.

3. Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson
Private India is a very thick and long novel-470 odd pages. (Smaller font could have easily saved 100 pages worth paper). I bought this book over an year ago, but couldn't finish reading earlier. Read it in parts over several sittings. Private India is a detective agency based out of Mumbai and is hired to investigate a murder, which soon proves to be a serial murder. Investigators hunt for clues and tries to predict/prevent future murders, but in vein.

Story telling is good, but 400 odd pages might test your patience. Negative backgrounds of now successful public figures makes interesting similarity with many of our leaders today. Climax doesn't really sound exciting (why would someone waste lots of explosives just to blow off one office- it would have been easier and cheaper to kill those 4-5 targets individually) but takes the novel to a fairly logical conclusion.

Similar: Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Intercity Carpooling Apps like Bla Bla & Tripda: Pros and cons

Many websites and apps are coming into play providing a platform for car pooling. People who have a car can post their trip and people who want to hitch a ride can book a seat with such car owners. In principle, this looks like a cool idea for car owners to earn something extra while providing an alternate and probably more convenient and cheaper option to commuters.
Contextual Image: Audi A3 Cabriolet- Would jump in literally if a ride is offered in this, any day any time anywhere!
Bla Bla car is one such platform that has been advertising heavily and I have noticed some of my facebook friends using their service. Tripda.in is another emerging website.

There're some basic challenges in this model- main thing is that it is not legal for white board car owners to ferry general public for money. Such commercial use, if detected by police/RTO officials could lead the owner into trouble.

Second is that not all seats are equally comfortable. Second row middle seat is least comfortable while first row seats are most comfortable. Third being that there's no clear process for negative scenarios- when things go wrong or when there're conflicts of preferences/interest.

In this post, I am presenting a basis analysis of such a service/platform- their pros and cons. Both car owners and consumers must keep these possibilities in mind, in order to avoid inconveniences.
For car owners offering seats during a trip
Pros
Cons
1 Earn some decent extra amount
If you have a 5 seater car and driving solo to Bangalore from Chennai, you can take 4 passengers and charge them say Rs 400 or Rs 500 each, which is a bit cheaper than a AC bus ride. This amount will help you recover most of fuel expense and toll expense, which you otherwise incur anyway

2 Make new friends

3 Serves a greater cause of saving fuel
Compared to everyone driving solo or hiring different vehicles.

1 Commercial use of personal vehicle is NOT legal
White board car owners are not supposed to indulge in commercial activity in their vehicle. Carpooling for money is a clear violation of such a law. This may go unnoticed during initial times, but after sometime owners providing such service might face legal action. Once volume increases and regular taxi operators get affected or when some negative incidents happen, this service will get unwanted publicity and law enforcement machinery will get cracking.

2. Risk of damage to car
Car is your personal thing- you might have customized it a lot and you may have lots of personal stuff inside. A regular passenger may not care much. If they smoke or spill liquids on the seats, spoil the switches or other electro-mechanical things related to the car during the journey, repair expense can exceed any saving/earning you made during the trip.

3. Compromise on convenience
You announced a trip to leave on Friday evening and got some passengers. Now your work is over by noon itself and you’re thinking of leaving post lunch. Others may not be able to change their plans and join early, which means you will have to compromise on the convenience of moving as per your choice and need to stick to what you have committed. Similarly as an owner you are responsible for your passengers, so you need to keep their safety, comfort and convenience in mind while driving- can’t afford to adapt a route/speed etc that might be of your choice.
For commuters buying a seat in a car-pool ride.
Pros
Cons
1 An alternate way to travel
If getting a bus/train ticket is not possible or expensive, hitching a car ride could be convenient option

2 Make new friends.
In the ideal condition, assuming all fellow riders are friendly and well behaved, you might get to make new friends on the move

3. Door to door Pickup & drop
If offered by car owner, can save extra money spent on auto/taxi to reach bus stand/railway station


1 Not being able to select the seat.
In a bus or a train, almost all seats will have same size, space and comfort. But in a car, front seat next to driver will have maximum comfort- push back, arm-rest, headrest, power windows, AC, Airbags etc, while second row usually lacks many of these conveniences. Though a sedan can seat 5, it is comfortable only for 4 people on a long ride. If car is housing 5 people and you happen to sit in the middle of second row, you will have the most inconvenient seat among all.  Both car owners and commuters should be cognizant of this fact. This aspect needs to be discussed manually with car owner.

2 Not enough protection against negative scenarios.
Platforms that bring car owner and guest together often do not take responsibility for quality, reliability and safety. If things go wrong (Car owner cancels a ride last minute or fellow passengers are very rude, rash driving, not willing to drop off at a place of choice etc), it is left to customers and car owners to sort out the issue. Without a clear policy to fallback on, sorting out negative scenarios depend on individual’s skill to manage a situation.

3 Dealing with preferences
One person wants loud music, other wants to sleep
One person prefers AC to be turned to high, while other person feels it is very cold
One person wants to stop at a non-veg restaurant, while other is pure vegetarian
One person asks driver to go faster, but other person gets scary of the speed and prefers to go slow
Dealing with situations like above can get tricky, as it is not possible to satisfy everyone. Some people will feel cheated that they didn’t get best of services despite paying same as others.

4 Lack of Standardization
A volvo bus seat or a sleeper train seat is a well known thing and you have a decent idea of what to expect when you book one. But in a car pooling scheme, comfort and convenience varies largely from ride to ride, depending on car type, condition, driver and many other factors. Sometimes experience will be good, at times it may not.
2nd row seats are not as comfortable as first row seats
Do share your opinion. Have you tried offering services in a car pooling tool or have you experienced a ride in car pooling? Do you agree with my points?

Similar posts: Buying vs Renting a car * Road Trip- Bike vs Car which is better? * What happens if Google Self drive car is put to use in Bangalore? * Zoomcar vs Carzonrent self drive rental

Friday, March 13, 2015

Google selfdrive car in Bangalore traffic- Satire!

As you know Google is working on driverless cars. These cars are more disciplined, always alert and in a civilized society with lots of space on the roads, could be more safer than human driven cars. But will it work in India- particularly city like Bangalore? What would happen if Google’s driver-less car is put to use in Bengaluru city as a daily commute vehicle? Read on to find out.

Disclaimer: This is a pure work of fiction.
Image from this website

Monday morning, 7AM, Mr. Bakshi, a project manager with an MNC in Whitefield sits in the back seat of his Google self drive Prius, at his home in Jayanagar and asks the car to take him to work. House gate is opened, car looks to enter the road outside the house.

20 seconds from the portico and into the road outside the gate, car screeches to halt as a cyclist appears from nowhere and zips past. Google car needs certain amount of free space around to move, which is difficult to attain thanks to constant movement of vehicles, people and animals on the road.

10 minutes of patient wait, car gets an opportunity to enter the road. Within minutes, the first signal is encountered. Car stops at a safe distance of 2 meters from the vehicle ahead, but an auto guy squeezes in from nowhere into that spot and a BMTC bus stops behind within 23mm distance of Prius’s rear bumper, sending its sensors and calculation logic haywire.

After waiting patiently for several minutes, a secret program coded by Google’s Bangalore born developer gets activated- it tells car that it is possible to move forward by 13 inches using below tactics:
Step 1: Honk continuously till the auto guy ahead moves to his right by 2.5 inches
Step 2: Steer sharp left, get two left side wheels on the pavement and overtake auto from left
Step 3: Move forward by another 10 inch and figure out whether to wait or if there’s some other strategy to move further

But Google car’s ethical manners coded in by the Bangalore staff’s California counterparts override above proposal and ask the car to wait.  Sensing that Google car is not making optimal use of Bangalore’s road surface- several square inches of which left unused by the car, begins to irritate bikers and vehicles behind. They begin honking impatiently. Google car deploys rear spoiler to ensure car gets extra downforce and doesn’t get pushed ahead by the sheer sound energy of the honks.

Few minutes later signal turns green and vehicles ahead begin to move. But as our Google car is about to cross the zebra crossing, light turns Orange and Google car naturally slows down and stops, agitating the battalion of vehicles behind, for whom orange light means “Speed up and try to escape before the light turns Red”. They are naturally annoyed being blocked by an obedient car, while they could have easily crossed the signal if this idiot computer of a car was not there in front of them.

After repeating above scenario for every few minutes at every signal and turn, car finally reached the legendary silk board junction, by about 10 AM, 3 hours since it left from home 6kms from current point. Here vehicles move only few millimeters at a time. Google car’s refusal to move forward unless there’s a minimum free space of several meters implied that car remained virtually stationery for long time. Then other drivers got really disturbed and they all volunteered to physically lift the google car and move it forward an inch, so that their vehicles could move forward by an inch too, followed by the serpentine queue behind.

At this time Mr Bakshi had missed 3 of his morning meetings, but thanks to technology he could take the calls from his car (which if you remember from above, was being lifted by fellow drivers at silk board junction to move forward).

By noon the car cleared silk board junction. At this moment Mr Bakshi got really hungry and tells the car to take him to a good restaurant nearby. Smart car it is, Google car figures out shortest way to a McDonald in HSR layout and diverts from main road. Unaware to the satellites and Google maps, BBMP had dug the road across at the end of one of the small bylanes the car took in order to reach McDonald's faster. The fact that it was dug 2 weeks ago but still not updated In Google’s data centre simply means Google still has its work pending. Before the smart car could realize the blockade and back out, the road was blocked by a giant dump truck commissioned by the BBMP. The truck driver is not used to going back in order to make way for smaller vehicles, so he suggested that car be driven into another small gully cross road for a while so that he can go further. But Google car’s algorithm was neither designed to be driven over steel rods and sand dumps left on the roadside nor it could understand the clever instructions from the truck driver, so it remained there motionless.

Truck driver’s instructions began to turn into abuses as he realized that the little car is not heeding to his advises. He came down to hurl more abuses face to face, only to realize that no one is driving the car. His abuse now turned to Mr Bakshi- banging on the windshield and asking him where the hell his driver has gone parking the car in the middle of the road. Mr Bakshi was caught unawares from his client escalation meeting. He rolled down the window and impulsively said “No worries, we’ll issue a patch release to fix that”. Sensing that his statement made no impact and he was in the middle of a real world escalation situation, Mr Bakshi had to cut short his call and step out. He had to take manual control of the car, move it aside to make way for the truck and drive to Mc D. He looked for a way to tell the car: “Just remember what I did OK!” but he couldn’t find any such option.

Now that it was already 2 PM, Mr Bakshi didn’t see any point going further towards his office. He might as well begin his return journey and hope to reach home before the evening traffic picks up. So he tells his car “Enough of this mess, turn back and take me home before sunset”

Google car now happily begins its return journey, as traffic is much less mid afternoon. But then, Google car doesn’t know that One-Ways and Two-ways are inter-changed in Bangalore at the whim and fancy of Traffic police. The road that was two way in morning is now turned one way and a traffic constable who was hiding behind a tree jumps in front of the Google car, happy having caught his first victim. Smart car it is, Google car applies brake suddenly to stop in time not to run over the constable, but in the process, the extra large coke Mr Bakshi had picked up at McD and was hoping to enjoy on his relaxed return journey home, spills all over him. (Note: Google’s self driven cars can’t detect a roadside policeman signaling it to stop or pullover. But that doesn’t concern Bangalore traffic police, as they always jump right in-front of a speeding vehicle to make it stop. Google car stops in such instances purely as a pedestrian safety measure, not as a legal compliance ability)

After having stopped his victim, traffic constable moves aside to reach driver's window. Google car thinks its way is clear, hence begins moving. This irritates the cop who runs back to block the car's way. This repeats  few times, till traffic constable gets his sidekick to stand in-front of the car while he investigates. Traffic constable comes to driver’s window and asks for license and insurance. He is taken aback not finding anyone at the driver’s seat. Instead, he finds a man fully drenched in the back seat.
Constable: Where is your driver
Mr Bakshi: There’s no driver. This is driverless car
Constable: What do you mean? You’re driving without a driver and license?
Mr Bakshi: this car drives by itself- It doesn’t need a license
Constable: Then why did it enter One Way street
Mr Bakshi: : See, this road is shown as Two Way in Google maps
Constable: Are you saying we should make our rules based on what Google is saying? Pay Rs 1000 fine
Mr Bakshi: The car is programmed to pay fine electronically directly to traffic department. No need to pay you in cash
Constable: Then I can have this car towed to police station. It can electronically seek a release

Another 15 minutes of arguments later, car is allowed to move...

Heading home, on Jayadeva flyover, a two wheeler rider is ahead of the Google self drive car, with his wife and 3 children positioned precariously all over the two wheeler. Both vehicles were proceeding at decent speed, at which suddenly the two wheeler rider loses balance and skids off on to the road along with other riders. The Google car behind tries to calculate how hard it should brake in order to avoid colliding with the two wheeler and its riders on the road. It determines that however hard it tries to brake, collision is imminent. Now the speeding Google car has two choices. Option 1: Collide with the two wheeler and people ahead, possibly killing many of them (5 souls) Or Option 2: Jump off the flyover, sacrifice one life-that of its owner and occupant. Car now had to make a quick decision and its algorithm was simple- save as many lives as possible! You can guess what option it chose. (Jeremy Clarkson of Topgear rightly had brought this issue up- what should the car be programmed to do in a situation where either people outside can be saved or people inside? Is it ethical to say “Save the car occupants at any cost, even it means running over pedestrians” or should car makers configure it to say “Save people outside even if it means wrecking the car and killing its occupants” or “decide which option kills minimum no of lives and chose that, even if the minimum no of live involves car owner!”

Headline next day: Driverless car commits suicide jumping off Jayadeva flyover, killing its occupant. Police suspect car was highly depressed after suffering wide range of humiliations all through the day.

Note: No persons or cars were injured or killed while writing this post.