Saturday, October 31, 2015

Touching a tip of the iceberg called Kerala

Left the residence at Sunday early morning 3.30 AM.

Wifey prepared puliyogare, curd rice, Hot milk. Cranked the beast(Mahindra Scorpio SLE) up and we r ready for the malabar.

The first stop was to be at Dindigal to have their special ginger biryaani. But it was not to be so. We reached dindigal around 9.30 AM. Had puliyogare, curd rice and proceeded towards thekkady.

We were supposed to reach thekkady around 2 pm. But we reached the tiger reserve @ 12.15 pm. This was made possible by the awesome tolled roads. I reached 170 kmph( disclaimer: I am not suggesting anybody to speed up. Please be careful while driving and drive within the speed limits and the capabilities of ur vehicle)

I want make few things clear here. I don't know the exact path taken. I just gave myself up to my MapmyIndia navigator. The distances mentioned are approximate and as per the route suggested by the navigator. Ktdc offers different tariffs based on the calendar. Check their website for tariffs of the month. All ktdc hotels tariff default to room + breakfast + dinner. All ktdc hotels don't care for ur vehicles. There r disclaimers everywhere to put the responsibility of vehicles on the owners

The roads in Kerala, well, no words to describe them. U will be shocked that that the roads u r driving through r national highways. People and vehicles will be moving across the broad a as though they are crossing a city road.  It was very difficult to find a secluded spot on the roads to take a leak. Take sufficient breaks between driving.  All the commercial activities r concentrated on these roads. Various stretches are under video surveillance for over speeding. The limits r a max of 60-70 kmph. I heaved a sigh of relief after entering Karnataka and saw that highways are still highways here. One more thing, A complete catch of fish was sold for INR 2k by a fisherman. But sea food was very costly and on par with Bangalore......

dindigal Ponram Briyani Hotel 10.360274, 77.976013(Lat, Long)


First Stop: Periyar tiger reserve

At the periyar tiger reserve I stayed at ktdc periyar house
9.584698, 77.179869(Lat, Long),    INR 2700 per night.

Entry to the Hotel/Forest is allowed only during the Day time 7Am to 5:30 PM.
Beyond this time, forest Guards will not allow. On certain conditions(listed below), entry is still allowed beyond 5:30 PM.
1. Watching the Tribal Dance, which is outside the forest. And the event starts after 6 PM.
2. Jungle Night Scout. Starts outside the forest after 7PM.
If we are participating in these events, then the Forest Guards allow the entry after 6PM.

I just basked in the wild by sitting on the benches spread across the hotel. The sounds are totally different and for once you will love the sounds coming out of the forest. More like a lullaby.

The last boat ride is at 3 pm. If the influx of travellers are high then tickets get sold before 12 pm. The boat ride is best at 7.30 AM, the first ride. But, rememberrrr, U have to wear the most awkward life guards. U have to sit in ur seat without moving. The boat moves at a snails pace to help the visitors sight the wild.

Lunch was junk. Don't eat anything chicken, was, I think in the freezer for eternity. Paid coffee is good. The same for complimentary breakfast was nonsense. It is located a good 2km inside the tiger reserve. Gives u a feeling of living exactly in the heart of the jungle. Lots of monkeys. Close all windows at all points. Towels and beds are fresh. Toilets r clean. There is a badminton court for people interest The staff will arrange for safaris and boat rides, no need to stand in the Q.


Second Stop: Kovalam Beach

tekkady to kovalam 250 Km.

On the way we were suggested to have food at this place, karimpumkala restaurant, 9.531084, 76.512465(Lat, Long). After having food here, I strongly recommend it for anybody wanting to have Kerala cuisine. Service is fast and good. Decide in advance regarding ur choice of food. It will be quicker. It is a decent restaurant in terms of the looks. Dont expect any extravagance.

KTDC Samudra Kovalam 8.400096, 76.973013 INR 5800

U Will be impressed by its location. Constructed on rocks overlooking the beach, this facility is professionally run. It is more in the resort category. Food is good and so is the well maintained outdoor swimming pool, a private beach. Clean rooms, nice breeze, chairs to sit outside coupoutside, hamlocks.


Third stop: Kumarakom

kovalam to kumarakom 200 km

ktdc waterscapes Kumarakom, Kerala, India INR 6200
9.631815, 76.430437

U Will again be impressed by its location. Kumarakom is the biggest backwater in Kerala. Constructed of only wood, the cottages are constructed on man made canals branching water from the backwaters. Ther r some 40 cottages. The ones opposite the backwaters are the costliest. Professionally run. It is in the resort category. Food is good and so is the breakfast. Well maintained outdoor swimming pool, boat rides organized by the hotel itself, with their own boats. The options r a snail pulled, motor boat ànd an adrenaline pumping speed boat. The speed boat option is the best and the experince is awesome. Clean rooms, nice breeze, chairs to sit outside, hamlocks below the cottages. Bird sanctuary is an added attraction.


Fourth Stop: Fort Kochi

Time to visit a beach again.
kumarakom to fort kochi 55Km

Stayed at hotel rossitta wood castle 9.966611, 76.241692. Happy to learn that this facility was built 300 years ago. The third generation owner, Mr. Joseph was kind enough to show me around the facility. He has kept it true to its lineage. Parking is a problem. U have to park ur vehicle in the road in front of the hotel. Clean room, bathrooms. For dinner we were recommended to eat at a restaurant whose chef was at rossitta. The food there had a definite twist. The same chef made breakfast and let me be frank, he prepared the best stuffed omelets I had ate to date in flat 10 minutes. Hot water only available on request.

As To the place, no, it is not a regular beach. The beach is full of weeds and u cannot play with the waves. The sunset started well, but clouds took over. The place is rife with foreign visitors to enjoy the visuals of their supremacy at that time as well as today.

Return to Bangalore

The return journey will take a minimum of 12 hours. Be prepared for the return journey because you will pass through the entire hell of path through keral roads before entering into Tamilnadu and Karnataka. Have a plan for the return path to drive through kerala at a minimum.


Mistake made: After the tiger reserve we should have gone to Kumarakom and then to Kovalam. On Kerala roads this mistake is very costly and you will remember the mistake your entire life.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bring on the beta of AI

Majority of the mundane tasks done by consultants and tellers have been outsourced to the customers themselves. Let us take an example of replacing your washing machine. You have to start with the reviews of the various companies in the industry, their customer support, plethora of models, price, features and ...... Then you finalize by comparing various by discussing with friends and other customers. Then you decide where to buy by visiting various websites. By the time you make the decision you will not know how much time you have spent in buying the washing machine.

The above example is just a tip of the iceberg. The iceberg of activities outsourced to the customers themselves. Now, I believe we will have AI will debut in helping customers buy products and services. In fact it should not help, it should decide on the customers behalf. Not again curated links to various web pages. Why? Well that is as simple an AI can get and the amount of data available on buying habits and preferences are abundantly collected by search engines and social websites and blogs. Just imagine our preferences which are now embedded in search engines, apps, social networks, instagrams and the like..

The time we wake up, what time you leave your house, your vehicle, the breakfast we have, distance between your work spot and your home and everything in between up to the book we have been reading before we sleep, how many pages we average everyday and may be map our dreams based on the week day and the way our day was and also alter the dreams accordingly for a pleasant sleep.........

In the context of AI as the first step, the data sources of the following are crucial. In AI, the belief system is the most important link. The belief of the user who generates data in the mining company. The belief of the mining company in the user data generated regarding the authenticity of it. The belief is mutual and should not be compromised at any point by both the agencies. Coming back to the data sources
a. The personal data
b. Generic data available on the public web/sources(Like the mileage of a car)

The simplest AI would be to combine the personal data(to be mined from conversations, posts, comments, search history, buying pattern etc. This is to begin AI. Later as the user plugs in to the actual AI, data collection will be very specific and more to the point avoiding "assumptions" on the part of AI) and the generic data from public domain(information culled from official websites). Here again data integrity should be of the highest level.

The whole experience of buying should be hassle proof and painless. I start by telling the AI of my intent in buying a washing machine. Processing the personal and generic data majority of the decisions are be made and only when contradicting data is reached, user should be prompted. Here again, the prompts should not be beyond two, after which, the experience gets frustrating with the irritating prompts.

We definitely are now in position for the first step in AI. But, the innumerable protocols(open and sucking proprietary), the idiotic app ecosystem, wherein the data gets boxed, the plethora of operating systems and data integrity are the biggest issues combined with Internet connectivity across the world to the last mile. It is time all the data keepers start collaborating by providing API's to supply and share data among themselves for the purpose of AI. The race should be an open and fair one. The race should only benefit the customer. The race to be won by the best AI, not on the amount of data available with each other but by its capability to take decisions on behalf of the customer.

All this brings us to the biggest question regarding the biggest company  with the largest amount of data, Google/Alphabet. How will google/alphabet make money out of AI. Will it charge the customers like maintaining a personal assistant. Only few afford personal assistants. You have to push your personal assistant to the user and the way to do it is not charging the customer. How will google/alphabet make money here, when the user is not provided any web page to click? Will google/alphabet tweak the AI to take decisions based on the amount payed by the manufacturer, similar to improving page rankings. That is a failure when it comes to AI. It has to be fair. If it is not fair, people will ditch it for alternates. Now alternates would have learnt their lesson. How will google\alphabet make money? HOW?

Well, Google/Alphabet, I am looking at you. Bring the AI on. Bring it on. Bring on the beta. Let us start. From us being a product take us to what we are, Customers. We are the customers and we are not the product. This is the basic change you have got to do for succeeding in this AI endeavour. If you don't treat us as customers, your AI engine will be flawed. Keep us in the God's place and make AI our slave. Will you?

Friday, October 2, 2015

The ordeal of backing Pebble Time Steel smartwatch as a kickstarter backer

This is the first time I have backed a project on kickstarter. And, boy, it has been one exhillarating roller coaster ride. It is nice to see a project get incubated and grow against the goliaths in the same industry. The pebble time steel was backed in March 2015. I have recieved the watch on october 1st 2015.

There are some 40,000 comments on the kickstarter website. Most comments can be classified under the following headings
1. Backer numbers
2. The choice of colors
3. Requesting language packs
4. Lack of communication from the pebble side
5. Evident proof of lack of customer support
6. Receipt of tracking numbers
7. Receipt of watches
8. Watches shipped without any regard to the backup number
9. Steel bands not shipped with pebble time "steel". The greatest joke on backers
10. Not to forget how much people loved their pebble time and its simple, intuitive interface.

On this web page you need the tracking number given by the importing country's postal service. If that country has an arrangement of EDI with our country then you can track the shipment through India post. Otherwise, Wait for the Force to Help you.

Aug 24      My order is succesfully processed(email from pebble)
sept 15     See the tracking number in the source code of the plege page
sept 17     Recieved email from pebble with the same tracking number
sept 19     Started seeing tracking info on singapore posts website
sept 21     Package arrived at chennai. From now on tracking information will be available only from India post website.

Tracking through India post is at

sept 30     Went to Bangalore foreign post office and found out that the package was opened in the morning(Lucky)

Once the package leaves chennai all the modern tracking technologies(EDI and the like) stop and we are back to the age old excel sheet entry at the post office.

Reached the foreign post office at 12.00 Noon. The visit was not planned but just went ahead on a hunch.

1. Went to the first desk. Gave the tracking number. The tracking number is searched for data in a Microsoft Excel sheet. A tracking number unique to the Foreign post office(It is actually a serial number which may be generated as the parcels are Recieved) is given
2. With this serial number you go to the next person. He will inform you whether the parcel has been inspected or not.
3. If it is inspected, then you have to go to the guy who will value the item and affix duties
4. Bangalore post office has a standard procedure. Affix a duty of 44% of the total cost(price of the item + shipping costs). No questions to be asked and none will be answered.
5. If the total cost of the item is less than INR 2,000/- then you are a lucky guy.
6. If the item is marked as "gift" and the total cost is less than INR 10,000/-, then too you are lucky
7. Otherwise, the duty is a standard 44% of the total cost. If you think otherwise go armed with all the necessary forex docs to state your case and wish you all the very best in your endeavour.
8. Once you recieve notification that the package has arrived at chennai, wait for a minimum of 10 days before visting the post office.
9. The foreign post office is in the Central GPO, Near Indian express building. 1.5 Km from shivajinagar bus stop. On reaching GPO you can ask anybody in the post office and you will be directed to the office.
10. You can bring the item with you on payment of duties at the post office according to the whims of the staff. If they are in good mood, You can get the delivery at the office itself. The requirements keeping aside the mood of the staff are

a. The invoice copy of the item recieved(There should be an invoice in the package also)
b. Proof of transaction of payment(credit card statement of that month and the like)
c. Address proof in your name with the same address as the delivery address with photo.

Once all the above ordeals are over and you were denied collecting the package at the post office, then go back and wait..........
The status in the tracking page should change by another line indicating your local area.

I would suggest to not consider the free shipping option and to select international courier companies like DHL and the like, who know the duties and rules regarding import of various commodities beforehand. They get the item cleared at chennai itself and courier it to you at the earliest. Whatever you are saving in shipping will be doubled or tripled with the duties at the bangalore post office.

I had ordered a second hand book from the U.S and did not have any issues at all. There was no tracking information, just the info that the book is despatched. It reached me through Indian post in approx 20~25 days. The total cost of the book and shipping was approx INR 700/-

Anyhow, congratulations pebble team, for making a "Simple" watch. True to Unix philosophy of "KISS"

UPDATE:  06/11/15 :-  Recieved the steel watch strap and let me tell you, now the watch really shines. It looks awesome on the wrist. I have never worn a watch with a leather strap. It has always been steel straps. The design of the strap is also excellent and goes well with the watch portion.

P.S:  The round pebble watch is a fashion disaster.