A Lazy Weekend In Coorg

It was Thursday, 2nd of October, Gandhi Jayanthi and Saturday, 4th of October was Dasara – A Friday’s leave invested meant another long weekend on offer! Yay! We had planned this well in advance! Actually Jyothi did. We had our stay booked at Meriyanda Nature Lodge. While going through the reviews, this had turned out to be one of the most sought after stays in the Coorg area. We were skeptical about the availability – even three weeks before the actual dates. Fortunately, one of the Planter’s Cottage was still available and we grabbed it without a second thought.

The resort cottages are excellent with a huge sit out opening up to the view of the coffee plantation and the Coorg hills and mountains beyond. One of the walls of the cottage is mostly  glass and fully open giving you a very nice view of the surroundings.

Also, one unique thing about the cottages – no TV, no Cellular signal and other distractions. This meant lots of interactions with other folks in the resort. We made several friends there during our stay! Along with others, Donald Pereira and family were friends we made and got along well – we had breakfast , lunch and dinner together for the rest of our stay there in the woods. Donald and Zarine are originally from Goa and settled in Doha and were visiting their kids – Christian and Stefan, who were on Dasara vacation. What a time we had together!

It was Dasara! That meant, a lot of fun and frolic in the resort! It was a totally festive atmosphere out there! Meriyanda had arranged numerous activities – Dandiya, games , a professional free-style drummer troupe etc.

Sharing some memories from the trip.

Us and the Pereiras

Us and the Pereiras

Kemmanagundi And Around

Republic Day and a long weekend!  Something had to be planned, but had not been planned. It was a last minute dash to head to the western ghats and hike up the mountains there. Mullayanagiri and Bababudangiri were the two candidates chosen. Myself, Boda (Rajavardhan) and Paccha (Prashant) headed out of Bangalore towards Chikmagalur  by around 3pm on the Saturday, the 24th Jan 2015.

While on the way, we frantically try to hunt down a hotel room, motel room, a dormitory or anything which we could just sleep for the night. But Chikmagalur was full, with absolutely nothing available there. We would reach the place by 9pm in the night. Finally, Boda decided to call his uncle and arrange something since his uncle knew someone influential. And Muthodi Forest Camp it would be. We reach there in the dead of the night – it was midnight on the absolutely stunning star filled skies all through our drive in the forests. We woke up the cook as advised and asked him for our accommodation for the night. It was the Salim Ali Room in the forest camp – an open room, museum by the day. With nothing to sleep on, we decided to use our tents and sleeping bags which we had taken along with us. It was a pretty sleepless night. A stuffed tiger on a stone pedestal  gave us company through the rest of the night.

The next morning, we were longing for a hot cup of tea, some warmth and information. We went to the cook’s room and found all that. We freshened up and enquired about the hike to the mountains – Mullayanagiri and Bababudangiri and were told no camping up there. We decided we would try our luck in Kemmanagundi. The road to Kemmanagundi through the Muthodi reserve is a really run down forest trail. We found a small village on our way and had breakfast – neer dosa. That was the only option we had as it was already ready and to prepare anything would take time. We hogged on what was available and proceeded. No metal, very uneven – our progress was slow through the forests. But we were presented with stunning sceneries, beautiful landscapes, blue winter skies. No complaints there. We reached the forest check post and parked out cars there and decided to hike. Again, no camping up in the mountains:( But we decided to head out towards the famous ‘Z’ Point. It didn’t take us long to get to the ‘Z’ Point and reached the top by around 4pm. We spent an hour or so up there and headed back before sunset. The landscape was a beautiful one. Kemmanagundi was slowly but surely restoring its vegetation after several years of abuse through mining the rich ores!

Some pictures from the trip.

Home Automation: NFC And LED Lights

Why and What:

I  bought the LIFX LED Smart Light Bulb some time back. It is a really nice LED bulb which connects to your home WiFi network. Using an app on your smartphone ( Android or iOS ), you can control the light – switch ON/OFF, change the color and intensity, invoke some special effects like – equalizer, alarm, strobe, random etc. Totally liking the bulb. Thanks LIFX!

But, I still needed to open the app and trigger the above – Not exactly equivalent to just flicking the panel switch ON or OFF.  Then came the idea of automatically switching it ON/OFF when certain conditions are met. Also, I do not want any person to operate and be able to control the lights – security matters. I can authorize only a few NFC tags with unique ID to allow the LED bulb operation.

How:

NFC came to the rescue. NFC or Near Field Communication is a technology which is based on secure data exchange between two devices. It is hugely popular off late. NFC capable tags ( similar to RFID tags) are available easily and commonly. NFC Tags these days are not all that expensive. You get 5 re-writable NFC tags for about ₹250.00 and it can be easily sourced from ebay, flipkart etc. I used the Topaz 512, a 512 byte capacity NFC tag for my purpose.  This is compatible with many smartphones and specifically tested and found to be both writable/readable from my Android based Samsung Note 3 (SM-N9005) and my wife’s  Samsung Galaxy S5.

Google Play store has tons of NFC Apps which can read/write the tags with the information you want. I used NFC Writer by Tagstand, having found to be the simplest of them all.

LIFX community developers has developed a LIFX Plugin for Tasker which can control the lights from the Tasker App. Tasker is one of the best automation app available on android today. I regularly use Tasker to automate a lot of things on my smartphone. Now I just needed to tie the NFC Tag with certain information in it to control the LED Lights to Tasker App by creating a Tasker Task.  With that done pretty easily by the above app and the Tasker App Task to switch ON/OFF the LIFX LED Bulb, it was all ready.

One small glitch in this solution. Tasker ( as of writing this blog) doesn’t support the NFC reading for some reason. This made me hunt for the plugins for Tasker, but to no avail. After lot of searching and researching on the web, one android app called Trigger came to the rescue. Ideally I would have liked to eliminate the need for this “wrapper” app to get things done. But I had no choice. Trigger is an app in which you can create trigger tasks/jobs/apps if certain criteria is met. For example, if it is 3:00pm, turn on the radio, put the phone to silent etc. One of the trigger scenarios is the NFC Tag Read. When a pre-programmed NFC tag ( has a unique id)  is read and authenticated,   I can use this as a trigger to launch an app/task/job. This app also has the option of invoking the Tasker Task and I made use of this for my application. See diagram for more details.

Now I really need to just bring my Note3 near the NFC Tag that I have programmed earlier to switch ON/OFF the LED Bulb in my living room. I can stick the NFC Tag on my coffee table, near or on the main door, have it in my wallet or anywhere it is most comfortable to have. I have been using it for the past couple of months and working like a charm.

Block Diagram:

NFC + LIFX + TASKER

NFC + LIFX + TASKER

 

Pictures:

Tasker Setup [ Lifx ON / Lifx OFF]:

Tasker LIFX Setup

Tasker LIFX Setup

Trigger Setup:

Trigger NFC Task

Trigger NFC Task

Lifx Tasker Plugin:

LIFX Tasker Plugin

LIFX Tasker Plugin

 

Topaz 512 NFC tag:

Click on the image to enlarge. You will find a tiny black dot – the NFC Chip, and a coil  – used as antenna or induction coil to induce a current to power the IC Chip. Passive NFC tags work on the principle of induction to inject and power the tiny IC Chip and exchange data to and from the chip.

This particular NFC tag is a little bigger than usual. It’s sensitivity being higher due to the bigger and larger induction coil. But there are much smaller ones available as easily.

 

Topaz 512 NFC Tag

Topaz 512 NFC Tag

Topaz 512 NFCTag - Compared with a ₹2.0 coin.

Topaz 512 NFCTag – Compared with a ₹2.0 coin.

 

Apps / Tools used:

Click  below to open the App/Tool website.

Tasker App

Trigger App

Tagstand NFC Writer

LIFX Tasker Plugin

Hardware devices used:

Samsung Note 3 (SM-N9005) Android Smartphone ( NFC Enabled).

LIFX Smart LED Bulb

Topaz 512 NFC Tag

Dubai And Abu Dhabi

Dubai – a city which needs no introduction. Mention Dubai and you will hear – Shopping Festival, Electronics, Sheikhs, Oil, Money, Buildings, Opulence, Filthy rich etc.

It is all that. And much more – You have to give it to them. From being a small town with a port in the beginning of 1900s  to being a infrastructure and construction hub of the modern world, it’s transformed drastically.

As a traveler, we can expect some interesting “things-to-do”, apart from the usual “touristy” shopping malls, visit to the big buildings like Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab etc.

Overnite desert stay which includes dune bashing, camel rides and camping in the desert are the things to look out for.

Old Dubai ( Bur Dubai) has its own charms and offers some interesting Souks ( markets) – Gold Souks, Spice Souks, Textile Souks, Utensil Souk etc.

Dhows – traditional boats which transport cargo , people and other stuff from one bank of the Dubai Creek to the other.

Bastakiyah – The old quarters. Dubai Museum is a  pleasant surprise.

Abu Dhabi, a hour away and the capital of the UAE, has the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – one of the most beautiful buildings I have been to.

As usual, I present here a small collection of some pictures from Dubai.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | Abu Dhabi

Photo Blog:

Mesh Network In The Air!

Connectivity of the commercial airlines has increased drastically over the past 50-60 years. They now cover pretty much the entire globe. The number of operators are more than ever in the airline industry. The air crafts themselves are highly advanced and now are able to provide sophisticated services and features to the passengers like never before.

Now, How can this be leveraged in telecommunications all over the world? The idea or the concept below might be a very far fetched, futuristic looking and impractical one at this moment. But not an impossible one. Hear it out.

Let’s look at the world map,at any given instant, with the overlay of the flight path data of all the airline operators in the world – both  cargo, as well as passenger airlines. Here is what it looks like for the passenger flights alone at the instant this post was being written. At any given point of time, the map looks more or less the same – the density of air crafts in the air.

This can be leveraged into providing a “Mesh Network In The Air”, the topic for today’s post.

Flight Positions overlay on world map. Courtesy:  http://www.flightradar24.com/

Flight Positions overlay on world map. Courtesy:  http://www.flightradar24.com/

Here is how the flight path of all the air crafts in the world look like.

Simplified Flight Paths

Simplified Flight Paths

How:

Let’s assume we are able to install commercially available routers (communication devices) with powerful radios which can beam data to and from the other air crafts. The air craft has all the power that the router and the radio component needs to go about doing its job. This way each of the aircraft can communicate with other air crafts in the range. The range can be made configurable based on certain criteria and costs.

Each of the routers and the radio module on-board the air craft must be able to advertise itself as operational and ready-to-serve. This way routers can indicate whether they can participate in the building of the Mesh Network.

The protocol-suite(s) itself running on-board these routers must cater to the following:

   (i) Route the path to a different advertised and available router-on-craft to maintain the continuity in communication.

  (ii) Discover (advertising capabilities on radio) and auto-configure themselves with the next router-on-craft that comes up “online” to serve.

 (iii) Handle a particular router’s entry/exit from participating in the formation of the Mesh Network.

 (iv) <More scenarios here – TBD>

Why:

 – An “in-between-solution”  to the very expensive satellite communication and the terrestrial wired/wireless networks.

– If any loss of all means of terrestrial communications (maybe due to natural calamity in a particular geography) , the Mesh-In-The-Air can be made available at short notice restoring critical communications.

– Possibility of more capable services on-board the air craft – both for passengers as well as features for operators – advertising, commercial benefits etc.

–  ATC communication now more efficient and in case of accidents – more relevant and up-to-date data available for post-mortem/analysis. Data might be synced with other air crafts in the vicinity and which is part of the mesh and can be relayed to the ATC.

– Aircraft-to-aircraft direct communication possibility opened –  detection and avoiding collision made more efficient and fool proof. This is a mutual and/or additional benefit.

A Rough Visualization:

It is to be noted that the below is for illustration purposes only. The  air crafts show here forming a mesh network, in the real world scenario, would not be separated in distance as much as shown below.

Mesh Network Of Aircrafts

Mesh Network Of Aircrafts

 

Update [18th March 2015]:

Brainstorming this idea with a couple of people led to a couple of points to note.

(i)  The aircraft(s) mentioned in the above idea can very well be

  • Hot air balloons which can be kept in flight for long periods of time or self sustaining ones.
  • Solar powered drones ( think Solar Impulse).

(ii)  Geographies covered by these networks need not be just in the flight paths as mentioned above.

       With point (i) in mind, the mesh-networks can be extended to

  • Arctic/Antarctic geographies.
  • Scandinavian geographies.
  • Deserts ( if needed).
  • Areas where either terrestrial network infrastructure is deficient or non-existent.

Friday Evening @ BFlat

It was a new band, formed by a set of people from other band(s) who I followed to some extent. It was called the “Peepal Tree”. A band that describes themselves as below.

“Their music can be described as Indian melodies sitting on funk grooves with overtones of electronica, and sung in Indian languages. This combination of elements makes for a very interesting new sound. Each musician in the band brings a wealth of experience to this new project, having been part of some of the most successful bands from India. Peepal Tree has collectively played more than 1500 concerts globally, in their other projects, and has been a part of the Hindi and Kannada movie industries.”

More here on their soundcloud page : PeepalTreeOfficial

One of my opinions on the band: A band that is sure to bring some respectability to the regional languages especially Kannada language songs, poems and literature. Hope to see many more performances from them.

Some pictures from the event @ B Flat. Pardon me for the quality, all shot from my mobile in a dimly lit environment.

The Setup

The Setup

The Band

The Band

The Band

The Band

Monsoon Drive: Honnavara And Kasargod

With the monsoon in full swing in late July pan India, it was time to head to THE place to be in the monsoons – The Western Ghats. After some deliberation on where to head out for the weekend, the winners were – Honnavara and Kasargod.  Honnavara – the Apsarakonda Falls, just beside the beach, the water falling from a small hill with a thick, dense forest cover. I had never heard of the place, but TripAdvisor and other websites gave solid reviews for the same. Kasargod – for the famous Bekal Fort. I had planned Bekal Fort many a times in the past, but never materialized. I had seen it only in pictures. This monsoon it would be then!

I want this blog to be more of a photo blog than a write-up. So I will allow the pictures to portray the places than my shabby writing skills, which might spoil the whole narrative.

Day 1: Bangalore – Sagara ( 400Kms).

The Drives, the Selfies, the Rain...

The Drives, the Selfies, the Rain…

Day 2: Sagara – Honnavara (90Kms) – Apsarakonda Water Falls (8Kms) – Udupi (127Kms).

Sharavathi View

Sharavathi View

Apsarakonda Falls | Honnavara

Apsarakonda Falls | Honnavara

Maravanthe Beach | NH 17

Maravanthe Beach | NH 17

Day 3: Udupi – Kasargod (104Kms) – Bekal Fort (16Kms) – Bangalore (380Kms).

Bekal Fort Overlooking The Arabian Sea

Bekal Fort Overlooking The Arabian Sea

In Bekal Fort

In Bekal Fort

Total Distance Covered: 1200Kms.

Route Map:

Panoramas:

Bekal Fort |  Kasargod

Bekal Fort | Kasargod

 

Some moments captured in motion ( draft only. not completely mastered yet):

From The Past: Ladakh Bullet Trip

This day, 13th of July in 2008, a good 6 years ago, we were all gearing up for “THE” start!

It was going to be a “India Gate” start.

In YHAI, New Delhi, all ten bikes were getting saddled.

The Black Stallion taken out for a final test ride!

The formation in front of the India Gate!

The caption for the trip:           Ten Men, Ten Bullets, 18 Days, 2700Kms.

Ladakh Biking Expeditiion

Ladakh Biking Expeditiion

The Trip and the Team Tee Shirt:

The Bulletpunters Tee Shirt

The Bulletpunters Tee Shirt.

The route map ( tracked using Nokia 6110 Navigator):

 


View Ladakh Biking Expedition 2008 in a larger map

The Trailer: