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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book review: Make it 2- Sharada Subramanian

Indian Bloggers
Make it 2 is another book I read recently, written by Chennai based author and also revolves around triangular love story. Not my kind of book, as I typically prefer corporate fiction or some suspense/thriller than pure romantic/relationship centred fiction. This book came to my attention because the venue of a recent meet by Chennai bloggers club. That meet was also held in Hablis hotel, which gets a mention in this book. But then after reading the book, I realize that other than mentioning the bar at the Hablis hotel, book has no additional details.

Make it 2 is a story of US returned software project manager who is now looking for a girl to get married to. He had a past love with whom he has not been in touch for about 8 years. Now he finds another equally attractive girl and relationship advances to marriage level. But his first love resurfaces and puts him into a major dilemma.

Most of the book is about the interactions between Karthik and his new love, Sujitha. For those of you who like romance and relationship centred novels, this book makes  a  good read.


Few comments on the plot: In the first page, there was mention of a guy called Amar who lands in Chennai airport, meets family and drives off in their Jetta. I thought this guy will resurface sometime later in the plot, but never heard of him again. So not sure why he got a mention in the book.

I have never seen Deutsche bank launching large scale marketing campaign in Chennai. May be they did and I missed or may be the campaign mentioned in the book was some B2B one. I will go with it.

There was a mention of Goa trip, which didn’t surface again. I guess the story concluded before the ‘next weekend’ when the trip was planned.

Summary
  • Title: Make it 2
  • Author: Sharada Subramanian
  • Publishers: Notionpress
  • Genre: Romance/Relationship/Triangular love story
  • Pages: 150
  • MRP:  Rs 195 (Amazon link)
Cover image taken from publisher's website. Similar books I have reviewed earlier: Bestseller she wrote * Never Mind Yaar * I don't wear sunscreen * Love is Vodka *

With this, I sign off for 2015.

Book Review: I don't wear sunscreen by Kavipriya Moorthy

Indian Bloggers
This book first caught my attention several months ago for its unusual title. It helped create some curiosity as to what this book might be about. It is written by a Chennai based author Kavipriya Moorthy. It is her first book. I added this book to my wishlist and waited for some good offer or something to come by so that I can order it. But over several months, couldn’t spot any major discount or offer (not sure if I missed it). Finally ordered it for my year end reading at its MRP. Only salvage is I saved on shipping cost as I ordered it with 2 other books- Wasted in Engineering and Make it 2.

It is a very short book (97 pages) and plot revolves around college girls, young romance and few incidents that disturb an otherwise happy going life. If this genre excites you, then you should definitely get a copy of this book.

"I don’t wear sunscreen" is a little fiction about two college girls and their life pursuing their life goals. As it would happen in any fiction at some point guys enter the scene, love blossoms.

Broken lines: Somehow I didn’t understand what went wrong in the train journey to Mumbai, Laksha exchanged communications with Sai, all seemed to be fine, she ate little hearts biscuit with fruit juice given by Pallavi's uncle. But when train arrived in Mumabi Laksha went missing, though her bag was in the compartment, after 2 days elderly man has escorts her back to her Chennai home. No one finds out what happened. Later we learn that she has stress related disease, but what happened in the train that day that made her unconscious (that seems only possible explanation- she fell ill or unconscious, so the old man took her to his home)? Why did old man leave her bag behind?Similarly few pages later, Laksha and mother are scheduled to reach Mumbai by train, but next page she is in hospital-when did she learn that she lost her job? There was a mention that receptionist didn't allow her in. I couldn’t get these minor points clear. Felt something missing. I read concerned chapters again to be sure I missed nothing, but couldn’t connect the dots.

A few corrections need to be done for next reprint- minor ones though
Page 19, para 4- It should be ‘favor’ not ‘flavor’, Page 95 Honda Activa, not Active
There’re multiple instances where space between two words is missing


If you are the one who judges a book by its thickness, number of pages, check the price and then decide if the book is worth, ‘I don’t wear sunscreen’ may disappoint you. It is just about 97 pages in length and has a price tag of Rs 199. But then, if you think from another angle, making the book lengthy is not difficult- if one can write 100 pages, he/she can easily add another 100 pages by adding more description, adding some sub plots etc. Keeping the book short is also good in many ways- it saves reader's time and keeps plot simple and focused instead of avoidable elaborations. So assess a book by the value of entertainment it can give you, not per page cost. For example 'Last Man in tower by Arvind Adiga is a very lengthy book at 430+ pages- I am yet to finish it despite trying hard. It has slow narration and too much detailing was very suffocating for me- like mega serials- I could skip lots of pages but story wouldn't have moved forward much. In comparison a short but fast paced book is much better.

Apart from above, I don't wear sunscreen is a nice read. Plot revolves around a Chennai girl Laksha who wants to be an interior designer and her friend from poor family- Pallavi, whose dream is to complete Engineering, get a job and help uplift her family from financial crisis they are in. Laksha relocates to Mumbai for her internship and lands a dream job and gets a good friend. But what is life without twists and turns? Things start going wrong thereafter and a series of challenges test their will power. They both seem to get involved with same guy and complications arise. Will everything get sorted out? Who gets what? Do read the book to find out.

Best wishes to the author for her next book.

Summary
  • Title: I don't wear sunscreen
  • Author: Kavipriya Moorthy
  • Publishers: Notionpress
  • Genre: Romance/Girl life/College stories
  • Pages: 97
  • MRP:  Rs 199 (Amazon link)
Cover pic taken from publisher's website. Was lazy to click a pic myself and upload.

Cover image taken from publisher's website. Similar books I have reviewed earlier: Bestseller she wrote * Never Mind YaarLove is Vodka *

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: Wasted in Engineering by Prabhu Swaminathan

When I saw the title and description, I thought it is a work of fiction, focused around engineering study and life after that. But the book turned out to one with lots of serious gyan.

I am an engineer too, now working in an IT firm and doing things far different from what I studied for four years. So I can connect 100% with what author has tried to explain and I am with him 100% on all his viewpoints. If you are thinking of joining engineering college, already studying there or have completed your BE course or are aware of someone being forced by family/relatives to join engineering, ‘Wasted in Engineering’ is a must read.

From my reading, I have given below some high level essence of the book, Wasted in Engineering, written by Prabhu Swaminathan. Do read the book for complete information.

First part explains what is wrong with the current system of Engineering Education and society in India
-    Parents see engineering as a way out of poverty and a guaranteed entry to a well-paying job. But the truth is only a small fraction of engineering graduates manage to land a decent job after college.
-    Many students are forced or blackmailed into engineering colleges against their personal wish or desire to study something else. This half hearted study of engineering often kills student’s main hobby/interest.
-    Lots of people realize late in life that Engineering is not their area of interest. They end up taking any job that gets them some money- bank POs, pubic services anything. If they had a provision to identify and pursue their passion earlier in life, several wasted years could have been saved.
-    Though constitution of India gives lots of fundamental rights to every citizen, many engineering colleges think they are above law and enforce lots of rules taking away fundamental rights of students- rules like boys and girls shouldn’t talk, what girls should wear and so on, mostly bundled under the name ‘discipline’ are common in many engineering colleges. Anyone who tries to explain with rationale and reasoning against management’s decision is branded and troubled in various ways possible.

Second half explains possible solutions out of this mess
-    It is never too late- Author explains a way out depending on what stage you are in- still in school, studying Engineering, just graduated etc. 
-    There are several real life examples shared- from Arvind Kejriwal to Hemant Karkare to KV Kamath- you will find dozens of examples around you of people who studied engineering but shifted careers mid-way and became successful/popular in their alternate career path.
-    Prabhu has also shared his own example and few examples from his immediate circle of friends and family members. I learnt that Pradeep of Hellbound bloggers is Prabhu’s brother.

Overall, the book, ‘Wasted in Engineering’ stands as a voice of every individual who is an engineer by education but wanted to be something else in life- may be journalist, photographer, writer, artist, sportsmen and so on. It is also a quick guidebook for everyone involved in or related to Engineering studies- parents, colleges, corporates and so on. It is not a book of fiction written for entertainment purposes, so don’t expect any campus love story or corporate saga. But the harsh truch listed in the book are real- if it can prevent at least a few more people from becoming wasted engineers then author’s effort is worth.

Summary
  • Title: Wasted in Engineering
  • Author: Prabhu Swaminathan
  • Publishers: Notionpress
  • Genre: Life skills/academics
  • Pages: 150
  • MRP:  Rs 180
I bought the book on flipkart directly from publisher who was also a seller on flipkart. Unfortunately book had no discount when I bought. You can finish reading it in one sitting- it is about 150 pages long and not difficult to read- more so when you can connect yourself to the points listed in the book. The first few pages itself hint that the book has no sweetener and you should expect a brutally honest, on your face points to ponder upon.

Cover image taken from publisher's website.

Similar: How I braved Anu Aunty and co-founded a million dollar company  * Career options in Engineering- FAQs- part 1 and Part 2

Upcoming event: Emtech by MIT, brought to you by MINT

There are conferences focused on technology or business or sometimes a mix of both.  But we seldom get to see a conference where Technology, Business and Culture converges to bring business leaders, innovators, change makers and entrepreneurs on single platform. One such event is coming up soon- called EmTech India, slated for March 2016. EmTech India is powered by the prestigious MIT (MIT Technology Review to be precise) and executed in India by MINT, a Hindustan Times brand.

India has been seeing a phenomenal growth in tech start-ups and innovations over past few years. Many talented youth are discarding the traditional idea of finding a well-paying job and are heading to start something on their own- creating solutions out of ideas and solving a market problem- creating a business opportunity, employment and wealth in the process. Many great ideas get suppressed prematurely because of lack of moral and financial support. Typically family and society doesn’t encourage new innovations and few minor failures can often force potential entrepreneurs to give up. With some recognition and financial help many innovators can bring in huge difference. It is exactly people like this who deserve a recognition and lots of support for their future ambitions. Emtech India is a great platform for such people. One of the main focus of Emtech India 2016 is an effort to identify young innovators. Under the scheme Innovators Under 35, the Emtech India is looking to select best among the best- top 10 young innovators in India who can represent the nation at global level for the same event (known as TR35 Global). Organizers are looking for nominations on this and the deadline for the same has been set at December 31st, 2015. So if you are a young innovator or know someone who fits the bill, suggest them to nominate themselves fast, before end of this year. Use below link to nominate: http://www2.technologyreview.com/tr35india/nominate/

The good folks at MINT are doing a good job putting the event together. My best wishes to everyone who are getting nominated. Nominations will be evaluated by a panel of experts that includes leading industrialists, well qualified professors and other eminent personalities.

Besides recognizing young Innovators, Emtech India 2016’s two day agenda includes sessions from many prominent speakers- details of the talks will soon be available on event website. Key themes are Digital Life, Cutting Edge (Robots/Drones/3D printing), Smart Cities, Connected Health and Artificial intelligence.

Event Summary

  • Dates: 18th and 19th March 2006
  • Venue: Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, near IGI airport, New Delhi
  • Event Website: http://emtech.livemint.com

South Indian budget hotels we tried in Nov 2015

This post shares brief review of various budget hotels we stayed at during our South India tour in November 2015.

1. Yatri Nivas Trichy- have a detailed review live here.

2. Rameshwaram- Hotel Senthil Murugan
At Rameshwaram, as we were heading towards Hotel Tamil Nadu we reached an area beyond which we are told vehicles are not allowed unless they are residents or have a room. Our first choice was to go to Hotel Tamil Nadu. We called to check butit was sold out. The traffic police who had stopped us, called someone and a guy from a hotel came to escort us to his hotel. So we checked into Hotel Senthil Murugan. Costed Rs 1800 per night for 5 pax (2 queen size beds), Non AC. Rooms are just fine. There was a smaller room for Rs 1600 and standard 2 pax room would cost Rs 900. Main temple is walkable from this hotel through a short cut. Campus has lots of parking space.


Later in the day we did go to Hotel Tamil Nadu- I checked their rate card, which was expensive than Hotel Senthil Murugan. But Hotel Tamil Nadu has a day tariff scheme wherein you can rent a room from morning to evening for a lesser fee than full 24 hours. Useful during short visits.

3. Sukanya Lodge Dindigul.
After leaving Rameshwaram, we headed to Madhurai and then Dindigul. Our destination was Erode but felt we can halt at Dindigul so that I can check out Sirimalai in the morning before proceeding further. As we were driving around Dindigul looking for accommodation, we found Sukanya Lodge. At about Rs 540 per room per day, it was pretty affordable option. We agreed to stay here without bothering to hunt for more options. Later in the night found that there're few other hotels close-by which appeared better than Sukanya.

4. Sri Saai Stay Inn, between Erode and Salem.
Our original plan was to spend a night in Erode, but most hotels we checked were either expensive or didn't have safe parking place or were sold out. So decided to drive further towards Salem and try taking a room in Salem. On my way to Salem, some 40 kms before it, spotted a Saravana bhavan and this lodge besides it. Costed Rs 1500 per night per room (AC). Room was decent and it was good enough to get a good night's rest after full day driving. Probably not the most economical option around, but felt like staying here instead of proceeding to Salem as per original plan.


All these were walk-ins, without any pre-booking. You should also check this post written in 2010 during our Nano superdrive- have reviewed more hotels in other South Indian cities we had stayed at that time.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Swiss Mountain Railway- can we replicate in India?

Switzerland has mastered the art of setting up safe, efficient and reliable mountain railway system. It is able to ferry lakhs of tourists every day to various peaks across the country through the mountain railway and in return, pocket millions of dollars of tourist money.

For tourists, it is very convenient. No need to spend days trekking to the mountain top, no need to spend time or effort- just spend the money and you will be ferried to top of Europe and back within a day (or any other peak for that matter)

Below are some photos I managed to click of Swiss Mountain railway, on my way to Jungfrau-joch (top most point in Europe). I had to change 3 trains- Geneva to Bern, Bern to Interlaken, Interlaken to Wengen and from there one final leg to Jungfraujoch. It did cost me a lot (About 210 Euro for 3 day Swiss pass, extra ticket for Wengen to Jungfraujoch, totaling close to 24000 INR, four times the cost of my Copenhagen-Geneva flight ticket (Swiss pass is not applicable in some part of the mountain railways, though you are likely to get some discount)- on the positive side, I could cover great distance and altitude in very short time.






 
 

The Swiss mountain railway systems are very capable, have impeccable safety record and extremely reliable in their operation. They have built funicular trams that can climb a hill at 60-70 degree gradient. They can transport hundreds of people up and down in one go and there's brilliant connectivity between train systems that ensures that tourists do not have to wait for too long for a connecting train. Trains also offer adequate information/entertainment to guests. Helicopter rescue is on standby all the time.
Can we build such a mountain rail system in India?
India has taller peaks than Switzerland, more beautiful valleys and destination. But most of these are accessible only road or on foot. Railway network till top of the hill is almost non-existent. A thought came to my mind if we will ever be able to build a mountain railway system like that of Switzerland. In association with Nepal, can we built a railway system till Everest Base camp? or to Leh? I think we will never be able to setup a viable mountain rail system due to multiple factors
1. In India we won't be able to price the tickets high at par with Europe. This means huge investments made in mountain railway may never deliver positive returns
2. Unlike European mountains which are relatively stable, Himalayas are more prone to landslide, avalanche, earthquakes etc. Safety will be a huge concern
3. As such we are very lax towards safety. Mountain railway system needs extremely demanding maintenance, safety precautions and alertness to predict and avert accidents. Unless we can bring that attitude in public and staff alike, mountain railway system is a risky proposition
4. We will need stronger measures and will to ensure tourists do not litter the mountain or do not crowd the compartments or violate other rules in any way.

My exposure to Himalayas has been very minimal, so I am not able to comment much whether extreme mountain railway is viable in India. Your comments are always welcome.

Also see: Niesen peak * Ice Palace at Jungfraujoch * Swiss countryside pictures *

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Delhi Pollution Control-Possible 10 point solution!

Indian Bloggers
This post shares some of my thoughts that can potentially reduce pollution levels around New Delhi and National Capital Region. We are already paying for drinking water- we should act before we are forced to start buying breathing air.

Vehicles are one of the many sources- while banning vehicles outright is one way, providing alternate solutions that discourages people from using vehicles or encourages them to use it less is another way. I have listed about 10 possible steps.

1. Relocate industries- Any factory within 100km radius of Delhi, that has a chimney and emits pollutant gas should be relocated to faraway cities. This will take away one primary pollutant.
2. Discourage MICE. Delhi is cheapest place in the country to own a vehicle. So almost all companies launch their vehicles here, so that they can announce lowest amount possible. Similarly everyday dozens of major events bring in thousands of visitors into NCR. MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) is a major source of money for hotels, cabs etc, but also generates huge carbon footprint as thousands of people hire taxis to get around. If organizers can be discouraged from holding large events in Delhi or if they can be given a better alternative somewhere else close-by, then a large number of visitors can be diverted, reducing their carbon footprint that much.

3. Better public transportation with reliable and easy to find information. Of course strengthening public transportation with more buses is good. But what is needed is an app that can be used by visitors/public to get to plan their day and to their destination. Countries like Switzerland have mastered this. With zero knowledge about city's public transportation, a visitor can use the app to find out how to get to his destination. The real time information on how to get to a destination, what time next bus is expected and how long it will take- if this can be made available online and if the public transportation can be made reliable, then a good number of visitors and city residents alike will be encouraged to try public transportation instead of hiring a taxi.

4. Relocate cargo hubs- thousands of trucks bring cargo to NCR everyday, only to be unloaded and loaded into another truck and sent somewhere else. If such warehouses and transit facilities can be shifted away from city, pollution caused by thousands of trucks that move in and out of these cargo facilities can be saved. This way, if a truck has nothing to load or unload in NCR, then it shouldn't come near city.
5. Try RORO- the unique concept of moving trucks on train. This concept can cut pollution from hundreds of trucks otherwise caused. (More about RORO in this post)

6. Secondary airport- today everyone visiting Taj has to land in Delhi, those visiting the Himalayas have to transit via Delhi. If a secondary airport can be developed then it will take load off Indira Gandhi airport located in the heart of the city. Less planes means less aviation fuel burnt. Less pollution.

7. Relax interstate tourist taxi permit fees. Today if you rent a taxi in Delhi then you need to pay extra at every state Delhi borders- these fees cost several hundred rupees per visit. White board private vehicles are exempt from this fee. Given that NCR borders with many states, owning a vehicle works out cheaper to residents than renting a taxi if they have to make frequent visits to nearby states. If cost of renting a car can be at par (or only marginally higher) than owning a car, more people can be persuaded not to buy a car but rent them on need basis. (More about interstate tourist vehicle tax mafia here)

8. Discourage college students from coming in cars. IIT-M mandates that students should park their vehicles near the entrance and use a cycle for movement inside the campus. Same should be enforced in all institutes in NCR- encourage students to use college bus or public transportation, not their own cars and bike

9. Provide less pollutant fuel to poor- in winter, poor people try to burn whatever they can find and get some warmth. Most of the stuff they burn could add significantly to the air pollution- some research is needed on this. If they can have access to a better way of heating, pollution would come down that much.

10. eGovernance- Delhi has lots of government offices- state and central. Lakhs of people visit these offices everyday to get their work done. If most of these work can be automated or made online- people can apply online, check status and get required stuff online, without having to physically visit a government office, then a significant amount of pollution, caused by these people going to and from govt offices, can be saved.

Few other steps like curbing diesel vehicles is already being implemented, which is good. The Odd/Even formula is also being tried- hopefully it works- I see many loopholes that can reduce the effect of this campaign- rich people will buy more cars.

What are your thoughts?

Similar: Save Bengaluru before it chokes

Villondi Theertham, Rameshwaram: Where lord Rama got freshwater for Sita

Villondi Theertham is a small well dug into ocean near Rameshwaram. Legend is that Lord Rama dug this well by aiming an arrow into the ocean, in order to quench Seetha's thirst.

Villondi Theertham is about 1.5 km deviation from the main road leading to Rameshwaram. Use maps or look for signs by the highway. There is a platform extending about 100 meters into the ocean and at its end is a small well, believed to have freshwater. Location is very scenic and is certainly worth a brief stop on your way to Rameshwaram.


A small temple in the vicinity was not operational.

As of now there is no entry fee or parking fee or any other expense to visit Villondi Theertham.

Also check- Dhanushkodi near Rameshwaram * Offroad experience to Dhanushkodi

Friday, December 25, 2015

Beautiful birds at Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark

Indian Bloggers
Copenhagen Zoo has lots of birds- dozens of species and literally hundreds of birds. I had great time watching them flying around in their spacious premises. Of course nothing beats open space, but compared to Indian zoos, European zoos give lots and lots of liberty to animals.

Below is a quick compilation of various birds I clicked at Copenhagen Zoo.

1. Brazilian Tanager- these bright red tiny birds are very very cute.
 
2. The hornbill- found in South India too like in Dandeli.
 
3. Gray Crowned Crane- it is too busy cleaning itself- never had time to pose properly for a pic
 4. Parrots- were helping each other cleanup
 5. The Macau
 6. Caliber Flamingos- I have a full post on these birds- check here

7. Pelicans?


 I have few more bird pictures below which I am not able to identify. If you can name them, pls help



 Designer duck!
 A sparrow
Also see- views from Copenhagen zoo tower * Polar Bear at CPH zoo * Black capped monkeys at CPH Zoo

De Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church) Amsterdam

The New Church, located in Dam Square, Amsterdam.  After hanging around Dam square for sometime, I went inside paying entry fee. Free WiFi was available. This church is currently being used more as an exhibition space than a church. It is not a very big campus- pretty small space inside. There is provision for guests to sit and observe church ceremonies, there are lots of designer artifacts all around, lots of historical information is made available at relevant spots through audio guides, displays etc.

I waited under this for sometime to hear pleasant musical sound that comes from this device.



Inside there was audio visual exhibition of dutch history- how life was few centuries ago, the then kings and so on. Looks like this below structure is created exclusively for exhibition purposes. I tried to grasp the details of information shown, but it was little too deep for me to comprehend. A summary version would have been nice.

A large souvenir shop hopes to get some extra business before visitors leave the premises.

I spent around an hour in this Church. Check De Nieuwe Kerk's official website for details on timing, fee etc.