Tuesday, 30 October 2012

We Chat App: Power-packed beauty

The wesbsite says "Wechat: The New Way To Connect - Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone; Chat any way you want, Voice Video and Text for free! Connect with friends across platforms". Cant describe it better myself. WeChat is the latest in the line of mobile internet messengers; but it comes with a whole list of differentiators that mark it out as different. In the modern hypercompetitive market, it is critical that any product have significant differentiating features, which WeChat is simply loaded with.

First off, it is available for :
  • Android
  • Symbian
  • iOS
  • Windows
The download is fast, and the launch is pretty straightforward and easy. You have the option of synchronising with Facebook as well as with your mobile phone contacts. The chat experience is fast, and trouble free. However, I use a 3G connection, so don't know how well it works on a 2.5G or a 2G network.

The part I liked best is its simple interface. You dont require any held of any kind whatsoever in either the installation, or the operation. The menu has been superbly designed and is easy to understand. As I said, connect with Facebook to include your facebook friends; connect with your mobile number to include your friends and connections through their mobiles. 

The big question that should come to mind is why should you use this app? The biggest, most important add-on liked is the in-built voice chatting facility. Especially the Hold-To-Talk (almost like a walky-talkie) - just press the Hold-To-Talk Key (Present on the screen) :


record your message,,, and release the button to send! A simply, brilliant functionality that places it in a different league entirely. To me, this is the most important function offered by this application. 

Then you also have the full range of other functions, like group chat, adding contacts by a custom QR code, Looking around - wherein you can find wechat-enabled users located  located near where are, as the app uses location determining servies. One nice touch is that this is not by default; you have to physically turn the location services on. Then you also have the feature "Moments" wherein you can upload a picture from your phone and share it with your chat group, or special person. You can also send a broadcast message, a message to several people at once. 

I have deliberately not included technical or firm/company details. The objective is to give the reader a user's perspective. The main problem with this app is the lack of an ecosystem; not one of  my facebook friends or mobile contacts is on this platform. This is a major challange that will have to be overcome - and let us hope that the company's initiatives in the blogosphere as well as other measures will build momentum in the downloads of the application.

The three most powerful features to my mind are:
  • Hold-To-Talk voice messaging
  • Moments
  • Simplicity of speed
This is the perspective of an avid google talker!

All in all, a great new application that now requires the strength of numbers....

This review is a part of the Product Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. For free download of WeChat App and more details visit http://www.wechatapp.com.

'link back to the Product Reviews program at BlogAdda and WeChat.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book Review: Winter Of The World

This is the first Ken Follett that I have picked up, and I must say that it was a great choice. The author has considerable skill in putting together a great story, and keeping you glued to the pages... Winter of the world is the second novel in the century trilogy, and covers the period from 1933 to 1945. It follows the Spanish civil war, onto the Second World War and its intrigues, political background and developments. It is this storyline, somewhat along historical fiction lines, that attracted me to the novel in the first place. No regrets, since the novel is well worth the money. And importantly, it has little links with the previous novel, which means you can read it as a standalone as well!

The Characters: 

(Way too many to put 'em all here, sorry!!!!! But I'll touch on the ones who impressed me the most)

Think I am exaggerating? Well, FYKI I am not exaggerating. There are at least 92 characters. Yup. All of 92. 

Daisy Peshkov: Gutsy, brave - in a different way, not sweet - but not sour, a person in search...
Joanne Rouzroukh: Heart-breaker - but not the way you might think
Earl Fitzherbert: Snooty- the quintessential self-important English nobleman. Not nice
Lloyd Williams: The frontispiece of the novel, bar one
Maude von Ulrich: Mature
Erik von Ulrich: Confused, wayward, always running in the wrong direction
Carla von Ulrich: The frontispiece and the peice-de-resistance of the novel, bar none
Lev Peshkov: Money machine. Period. 

There are others who are equally important - perhaps more. But these listed above are the ones to impress me the most, and leave a lasting impression on my mind...

The Plot

The plot follows five inter-twined familes: American, German, Russian, English and Welsh over the period of turmoil in Europe. The story of the Second World War is told through these families, some of whose members are in significant positions of power or money - or indeed, both. These families are placed such that through their travails one can see the entire history of that period unfold in front of your eyes. That is what makes it an enthralling novel - but more of that later. It follows the sequence of events that lead upto the War through the eyes of The German family (Ulrich) and the English /Welsh Families (Fitzerbert, Williams / Williams), the American saga through the Peshkovs and the Dewars, The Russian coverage through the Peshkovs. The novel goes right on upto the decisions to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the resultant start of the Cold War. 

The Analysis

The storyline is so superbly put together that the reader gets almost a ringside view of the world as the events leading upto the Second World War unfold. The truth blends into fiction virtually effortlessly and takes you deep into the forefront of politics, giving you a ringside view. The implied, and at times explicit references to real characters like Churchill, Truman and Roosevelt add authority to the storyline, enabling it to carry conviction. There is not a single point in the novel that you feel is fictional, so true has the author been to established history. 

The novel is rather long, at 900+ pages. Despite this uncomfortable length, it does not lose its pace anywhere. Not only that, the reader does not feel the need to go back a few pages to check the flow of the story, and refresh facts. This has been achieved, in my opinion, by the simple expedient of using established history and historical events, combined with a rapid pace. The combination of the two ensures that the reader does not lose track anywhere. Startlingly (considering its length), the book is a page-turner. 

The characters grow on you, and you begin to empathise with them. The immersion of the reader into the novel and the story is a tribute to the skill of the writer. Character Development is outstanding, as it would have to be to attain reader interest and eyeballs. The author has the luxury of space, with the book being all of 900 pages long - despite this, the characterisation does not linger needlessly, and neither has any needless detail been included.  

All in all, the novel is an eminently readable book. Further, it enables you to understand the ground situation as it existed during those tumultuous years, as it is not a history books. It enables you to estimate what the reality must have been like, since it is told through the eyes of citizens. The unfolding panorama takes you deep into history, and leaves you richer for the experience!  It does not require a reading of the prior book of the series - each novel is independent. At least, I did not feel the need for it. It is a fast read, and easy to follow - and enthralling! 4.5 stars out of 5!


Rating: **

It could have been 3 stars, even 4 but for the food....


This Dussehra we decided to undertake a holiday (not a pilgrimage, like last year). This is what made it special; it was a first holiday in 3 or 4 years, perhaps more. The fact that we enjoyed was more due to this little detail than anything else.

Getting There
There are several ways... flight, train and bus. Plan in advance if in season, for obviously you wont get tickets. And by advance I mean 2 - 3 months in advance. Also select hotel and book in advance, or run the risk of the non-veg food and/or sub-standard accommodation  If possible,  travel by Konkan Railway (that too second class), for you will be treated to some of the most fabulous views of landscapes and waterfalls. A treat for the eyes... so take a day train to Goa. You wont regret it. The flight and bus is meaningless, as it takes this pleasure away. 

A word of advice: If perchance you have to travel by Bus, give first option to Neeta Travels. The service is the best in class. We planned our tour a bit late, so had to take the bus. Mumbai - Goa was by Paulo Travels, which is decidedly the last option. The return journey was by Neeta Travels, which was excellent. Whichever bus operator you choose, check whether they provide blankets in the AC service Paulo Travels does not do so, which is why I have placed it as the last option. Neeta Travels does, so no worries

Season Time
1st April - 15th June; 1st October - 1st January

Staying There
There is no such town as "Goa" as all of you must be aware of. You have Panjim as the capital, with Margao, Vasco and Mapusa as the other major towns. Neither is the right location to stay at unless you dont have an option. The place to stay is near Calangute Beach, which is 20 kms from Panjim. Second option is stay at Panjim. Be warned: outside Calangute, there is no repeat no repeat no repeat no repeat no repeat no Pure Vegetarian Restaurant. Please note the "repeat nos" ... we have suffered due to this, so am emphasising. If you are an orthodox vegetarian, (or even a strict vegetarian), either stay at Calangute, or dont visit Goa. There is only 1 restaurant in the rest of the places: Navtara, which is not so hot, to be very frank. If staying at Panjim or Mapusa, check veg restaurants. Some places serve beef, so check menu before ordering. 

It is recommended that you go through the site www.goa-tourism.com and look at the staying options that are present. They have some good properties, and are in the affordable range. If you are a mid or top budget person, I would recommend a good beach property in Calangute, or a good starrer facility. There are plenty available. And I re-iterate, plan well in advance.

We stayed at Hotel Sapphire Comfort, located opposite KTC Bus Stand in Margao. The rook tariff starts from 2500 and goes upto 5000 plus. The rooms are excellent and luxurious, and well worth the tariff they charge. Most importantly, the food is in a class of its own. It has an excellent roof top restaurant, The Kavira:

The Kavira is a superb place, decked in an all-wood finish, with some superb views, a couple of which are attached for your reference. Problem is that it also serves Non-Veg stuff (No beef, relax), so it is not for strict vegetarians. But if you can compromise. then this is the place to eat. Frankly, in my 2 official and 1 personal visits to Goa, the best food I have ever eaten is at The Kavira, at Hotel Sapphire Comfort. 

Goa is divided into North and South Goa, with the beaches mostly in North Goa and the real stuff worth seeing in South Goa. While you do have the option of conducted tours, I would not recommend them fully. If you are not on a budget, book a cab, It will cost you something like 5000  bucks for 2 days, give or take a thousand. Whatever you do, avoid the private tours, except as a last option. If you do take a guided tour, opt for the Goa Tourism tours which are unreservedly excellent. The rest are not upto scratch. Plan for a minimum of 4 days, that way you can get to see all of the sites at a relaxed pace. Also plan for a mix of a guided tour with visits on your own. There is also an excellent local bus service which can take you as efficiently as a taxi service. We tried all three: guided tour, taxi and bus. Try the mix; you will really get into the skin of Goa. Also take time to visit Margao local market  and/or Panjim - if for nothing else, then for the Cashew Nuts!

North Goa is Vagator Beach, Calangute Beach, Anjuna Beach, Baga Beach, Fort Aguada. South Goa comprises Colva Beach, Basilica of Bom Jeses, Dauna Paula Point, Miramar Beach, and the superb temples (aweseome and unique: see it to believe it, very different from elsewhere) - Shantadurga Temple, Mangeshi Mandir, Mhalsa Devi are the ones we visited, which are the best known. 

Shantadurga Mandir:

Mangeshi Mandir:

Mhalsa Devi:

Singham! (Yes, the precise house where Singham was picturised; also Dona Paula, where the first fight scene of the movie was staged.... )

The Beaches: 

(As you can see, nothing too special. But Baga Beach and Anjuna Beach are the good ones, as also Calangute...) Problem is the crowds... you dont get to really enjoy the beach!
Dona Paula Point

Colva Beach


Baga Beach

All in all, it is a good place to visit, although over-rated. If you have visited Marina Beach, or Kovalam, you will be disappointed; but Goa is a good place to visit for a family just starting up, that is if Goa is the first beach vacation you are planning in your life. With the vegetarian caveat, of course.... 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Book Review: The Shadow Throne


It seems hard to believe that only a couple of years ago I was thinking of the lack of quality Indian writing in the English Language... well, this is one time I am glad that I have been proven wrong. Of late, there has been a literal deluge of class books in almost every genre. In this long line, we now have the latest entrant in the person of Aroon Raman with the delightfully enthralling "The Shadow Throne". And to cut a long story short, it is a good read, and well worth the purchase. 

Author's Note: It is my intent to place The Shadow Throne against a backdrop that mirrors current underlying reality - especially as it applies to India's current political predicament and its inevitable impact on our security. That we are passing through challenging times on the internal and external security front seems widely accepted, and political and bureaucratic stasis in times like these can have far reaching consequences

Has the Author succeeded in the intent stated above? That is, has he succeeded in creating a chilling plot that has its basis in the statement above? Yes. Unequivocally, yes. The plot revolves around the increasing anger, pain, hatred and intolerance that is making its presence felt in India-Pakistan relations, and is set against the backdrop of a weakened, scandal ridden central government. While the plot is far fetched - or at least seems far-fetched when examined in the cold light of reason, this does not hit you until after you have read the book. Apparently, a section within Indian security agencies see a simple way of neutering both Pakistan and China with a contrived and lethal plan reminiscent of  the CIA's image, thanks to all those lovely fiction books with CIA as the villain! However, unlike the CIA-based spy thriller, it is not one man against an entire system. A police investigation spanning 3 countries, cooperating with the Media, leads to a sequence of events leading to the unraveling of the entire plot. Saying more would be sacrilege, as it would spoil your reading. The overall plot comes across as very, very believable and terrifying, at least while you are reading it.

Inspector Hassan: Tough, Intelligent with a hidden agenda... only thing is, is this agenda Pro-India, Pro-Pakistan, or...?
Chandra: Well-known freelance journalist, with a nose for trouble....
Meenakshi "Brains with Poise" Pirzada... need I say any more?
Nalini Pant: To Be Brutally Honest, this man is Brutal and Honest!
Gul Mohommad: Top ISI-Spy (And I mean Top), Hassan's cousin. (Did I hear an oh-o? No harm in drawing conclusions, my friends. Conclusions can be right, or wrong, right? Wrong! They can sometimes be confusing as well - like this sentence with its right-wrongs and wrong-rights)

This is one book where as overdose of analysis can kill the fun of reading, so I shall keep it short. It is an out-an-out spy thriller.It is a good book, with a reasonably fast pace that does not slacken from the first page till the last. What is more, there is not even a single expletive in the entire book from start to finish, not even a teensy-weensy little one, which makes it a truly great read. The characters are well-developed, with not a single bit of needless detail anywhere. Just the right amount of mystery in the main characters; with just the right amount being added at each stage, leading to increased curiosity as well as increased suspense. In other words, truly class character development. The writing style is simple, lucid and uncomplicated making for fun and light reading.

Yes, there are weaknesses. It is not in the class of a Day Of The Jackal; but then, very few books are. In fact, not one single book- east or west, will qualify to be as good as that. Having said that, I found the character development in this book to be among the best I have ever read. However, in my opinion,  the hallmark of a truly great fiction book is it comes across as believable. Unfortunately, as you close the book, you do get a feeling that the story is a little over-the-top and unbelievable, of a lack of reality. Further, the entire Kushan section seems out of place. The novel could have been made a much racier and faster read without it. There could have been other ways to achieve the objective (role in the story) assigned to the Kushans, and would have made it terrifyingly believable. That would, in my opinion, have made the book far more powerful, and you would have kept it down after the last page with but one thought in your mind... "aisaa bhi ho saktaa hai".... This can happen... As it turns out, you dont. You enjoy the read, and have fun while it lasts. It can be re-read, but It is just a great book....

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!