Independence Day Celebrations @ Vasantham Special School, Chennai


Today, we went to Vasantham – Special School for the Differently Abled @ Mogappair East, Chennai for the Independence Day celebrations. They had assembled an impressive array of cultural programs. You can have a glimpse into some of those moments in the above-embedded video.

Considering how difficult it might have been to train kids to perform on stage, their efforts ought to be appreciated. The children danced, sang, acted in skits, and even put up fancy dress avatars as Bharathiyar, Vivekananda, Modi, among others!

It seems this school was initially started with six kids in 1989. Now the school has 143 children, 60 of them residential.

They provide vocational training to the children to make products like bags, shawls, files, paintings, greeting cards, etc. which they sell to anyone interested. We bought a nice white jute bag which you see at the end of the above video.

They also arranged to distribute seed bombs during today’s function to increase the green cover. It seems they also have a terrace garden on their premises, which we would love to see someday.

Website for further Information: Vasantham.org

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PS: Wishing you a Happy Independence Day 🙂

Tea Trails Cafe: Teas & Desserts

Tea Trails Cafe is a company/franchise store chain where you get different varieties of teas, chai, coffee & desserts. Did you know that a Tea is different from Chai? Teas are made without milk but Chai is made with milk and sugar. That was something we learned during a recent bloggers’ meet held at Tea Trails Cafe, Anna Nagar East branch, Chennai.

I have long wondered why there was no Coffee Day for Teas. I mean, India is the largest consumer of chai but we mostly have larger cafes selling only coffees! Me personally being a fan of Tea wanted to see a Tea Day in every locality, and looks like Tea Trails is on their way to achieving just that. Currently, Tea Trails has multiple outlets in major South Indian cities and in Delhi. But they are looking for franchise partners to setup shops in other cities too.

The ambiance at Tea Trails is better than most coffee shops I have been to. Have a look at this slideshow to glimpse inside their Anna Nagar East branch at Chennai. You can also find some foods/desserts we had there –

 


Of course, a cafe is not just a place to go and drink a beverage. It’s also a place to go with others and spend a good amount of time socializing. Tea Trails offers the right ambiance for that.

In tea trails, you don’t get a ready made tea. Instead, since teas are best when freshly brewed, you get a jug with hot water at the bottom and the tea extracts on top. Each tea comes with a card to indicate timing required for brewing and an antique stopwatch to measure how long the tea has been brewed. It seems accuracy is important in the art of brewing tea!

We also had the Indian Chai, Cold Teas, detox teas, herbal teas, etc. My favorite drink there was a cold tea called ‘Better Wife’. The range of desserts offered by them is also impressive. Snacks like vada pav, onion bajji, etc. have also been included in the menu.

I know you are jealous on seeing what all we drank/ate. But what to do – bloggers often get invited for such ‘tasty’ sessions and this time it happened to be us. You can always visit the tea trails store in your city and try some of their offerings 🙂 If you are there for the first time, you might get a small discount too – try asking for it.

Website: Tea Trails India.

Destination Infinity

Doing Business with Belgium – Your Gateway to Europe

Today I went to a seminar titled, ‘Doing Business with Belgium – Your Gateway to Europe’ at Taj Coromandel, Nungambakkam, Chennai. The Council General, Mr. Bart De Groof, Consulate General of Chennai (speaking in the below photo) was among a handful of dignitaries who participated and spoke about trade opportunities for Indians in Belgium and vice versa.

The location of Belgium in Europe is central as it is surrounded by major countries like France, Netherlands, Germany & Luxembourg. That’s why all the speakers stressed on the point that Belgium, more importantly, its capital Brussels, could be the central hub/distribution point for Indian businessmen aspiring to do business in the entire European Union market including the UK.

Belgium has recently introduced direct flights from Mumbai to Brussels, and it also provides faster access to major European capitals both by train and by flight. They told us that Belgium provides access to a qualified workforce with lower minimum wages compared to the neighboring countries. It seems the cost of living in Belgium is also relatively less. Something to note for Indians: Belgium has a double-taxation treaty with India.

Belgium is not only famous for chocolates, waffles, Tintin & fries but is also popular for its diamonds, mirrors, and leather shoes. They mentioned that a huge community of Indians (particularly Gujaratis) have already settled in Belgium and hold a sizable market share in the diamonds business. Of late, many Indian IT companies have setup operations in the country.

Belgium has a dedicated chamber of commerce for South India and has direct Council presence at Chennai and Bangalore. They also offer the following incentives for new companies wanting to open centers in their country by 2020 –

  • First employee (could be the highest paid one too) is tax-free for life.
  • Tax exemption for the next five employees for three years.
  • Brussels foreign investors hub offers their facilities for free for up to three months for companies wanting to evaluate Belgium to set up their operations.

It seems the Indo-Belgian Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce will shortly open portals to enable buying/selling and acquisition between Indian & Belgian businesses. Listing in these portals is free of cost, according to a speaker. There is an Assist Asia consultancy to help Indians connect with people in the Belgian market.

Belgium seems to be enthusiastic about promoting more cross-country trading between India & Belgium. Are the Indian businesses ready?

Useful links: invest-export.brussels ; Consulate-General in Chennai – Belgium in India.

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Play with Snow in Chennai: VGP Snow Kingdom

The VGP Snow Kingdom, near VGP Golden Beach, is an excellent snow-based theme park in Chennai where you can walk, touch, and play with snow. Maybe ice. I guess since they maintain the 14,000 sq. feet of space at Minux Six Deg. C the snow doesn’t melt.

The Snow Kingdom is right next to VGP Golden Beach & Resorts campus and in the same building as the Click Art Museum. We went there on a Monday afternoon and hence there was not much crowd. The ticket cost was Rs. 450 per adult when we went. Sometimes they run deals that offer a lower ticket price on their website – you can also book tickets online there.

They give a thick jacket, rubber boots, and gloves for everyone to better manage the cold-temp inside. Initially, we halted in an acclimatization area which is slightly cooler. After being there for a few minutes, we were let in.

We were able to FEEL the COLD almost immediately!

For the first few minutes, I was just standing or walking slowly and trying to adjust to the temperature. If you want to take photos inside, there is another issue – you need to remove the gloves! It’s difficult to remove the gloves for longer durations. I did touch the snow a couple of times with bare hands. It was like touching the ice in our fridge 🙂

There is a small resting room (maintained at a higher temperature) near the exit gate where people can go to temporarily get some respite from the cold. I think I went there twice during the 45-minutes session. Whenever I entered that area, my glasses were filled with mist and I had to wipe them off.

There were a few rides. One could skate down the slope sitting on a round tube or lying down on a sledge. For kids, there is a smaller slope. One can know how it feels like to trek over the Himalayas by climbing a small similar setup here. Of course, I didn’t try any of these 🙂

There is a small igloo, there are a few polar bear & sea elephants, there are snow world dolls, there are houses, there are mountains, etc. These locations are great for taking nice photos and selfies. You can see most of them in the above-embedded video. BTW, our new friend narrates our travel story to the Snow Kingdom in the video – so don’t miss 🙂

I think the Snow Kingdom is best enjoyed during a hot afternoon in Chennai. Once you step out make sure to walk briskly to the shops at the neighboring VGP Golden Beach and drink a hot coffee/tea. You’ll need it 🙂

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Timing: 10 A.M. to 8 P.M.; Open all 365 days.

Videobuilder.io – My Honest Review (No Affiliate Links)

Videobuilder.io is a recently released cloud-based app to create ‘3D & Animation videos’ (according to the makers). Since I bought the app on the first day of its release, I want to write a quick review (with advantages & limitations) of Videobuilder.io app from my experience of having worked with it for a couple of days, so that you can make an informed decision.

The most important thing – the jaw-dropping low price of around $30 USD (when I bought) and $35 USD (at the time of writing this article) does not include rights to sell the videos. If you want full rights to make and sell videos to clients with 3D avatars & text-to-speech, which is important for many, be prepared to buy their deluxe & agency plan also.

I paid around $130 USD (one-time first-day launch pricing) for Regular, Deluxe & Agency plans. Once I bought the regular plan, the other two were upsold to me immediately afterward. I was told that I will get extra templates every month, I can make videos for a longer duration (which is 6:00 min for the Agency plan – for the regular plan it’s 10x lower, it seems) and I can sell videos with 3D avatars to clients.

Now let me come to the actual utility. I am surprised that a 3D animation video maker app doesn’t support keyframing!! It does support tracks (similar to layers) which will allow you to create a basic animation/movie using the built-in photos, videos, background, 3D avatars, music, etc. But I feel keyframing is extremely critical for an animation app. Hope they’ll include this feature in the near future. Also, you cannot draw/move objects over time.

There are a few intros, outros, text effects and other templates that are useful. But right now there are just around ten to fifteen in each category. I would prefer a more exhaustive collection. Their other product (Viddyoze – I assume it is theirs) has a much better collection. They have promised to include a few more templates each month – let’s see.

I am really impressed with the 3D avatars, text-to-speech technology and lip syncing. If you have some application for this, buy this product without hesitation. Since I do, I don’t regret my purchase and am not going to use the 30-day money back guarantee. But if you want to make custom animations, I am not sure how helpful this app would be. The timeline supports just basic animation.

I am impressed with the text to speech feature and the voices included with this app are quite good. I wish the 3D avatars could be exported using a transparent background. Of course, I can upload my own videos (after compressing them with HandBrake) but I prefer working on other apps for animations.

Professional explainer videos will demand voice-overs by professionals, but since my videos are of a more casual nature, I am fine with the polished robotic voices. They have included multiple speakers in many languages, which is great. I wish I could export just the voice without the avatar.

I am using this app in conjunction with two more video creation apps – one desktop-based and the other cloud-based. Frankly, I like the desktop app more because there are no delays associated with uploading/ downloading/ rendering, etc. But most apps nowadays work in the cloud and we are expected to get used to the delays. However, Videobuilder didn’t freeze while I was working on it – I have experienced a few that have, before. I mailed the support on when one of my videos were not rendering. It was sorted in a few hours. So the support, at least for now, is responsive.

Altogether, a decent app for the launch special one-time price (Agency plan). I wish they were frank upfront about all the three plans they offer, cost, limitations. Why intimate clients about the limitations of the basic plans in the last minute? Also, I guess it’s fine to ignore the exact time left for the offer to end, on their launch page. The launch offer is still On even after a couple of days now while the timer indicated 1.5 hours left for me!!

If you are creating and selling videos, and if you have an application for the 3D avatars to narrate a few parts instead of using just text, this app will be useful to you.

Destination Infinity

Double Action

Yesterday, just for fun, we made a short video using the cloning/double action feature of Hitfilm 4 Express. Actually, I am learning that software for 3D Composting and VFX, but since I learned that I can also do a video edit with double action, I thought why not try making it and put some scene on FB… Here is the result –

This was my first attempt and video editing is totally new to me. I saw this tutorial and quickly finished shooting and editing in just more than a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday evening. It was easier than I expected.

Maybe because no one in my Facebook timeline has published a ‘double-action’ video like this, it (sorta) went viral after I uploaded it yesterday. So I thought why not share it on my blog too. Hope you like it, despite our instantaneously unprofessional attitude towards film-making 🙂

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Dropouts make better Entrepreneurs? Absolutely.

Dropouts and below-average students at schools/colleges make better entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Period.

The Indian education system is… Forget it, education system anywhere is designed to produce disciplined slaves who are good at following rigid systems to complete tasks assigned to them. That’s exactly the trait expected of an employee.

Entrepreneurship is a different beast altogether that requires totally different skillsets. Foremost of them is the ability to take risks, not being afraid of failure and trying out new & innovative ways of doing things. These are exactly what education curriculums in schools and colleges discourage.

The prominent argument against this is: For every dropout who is a successful businessman, there are thousands of failures. These people, I feel, don’t realize that the crux of business is failing. And discovering newer ways to overcome failures.

A good businessperson, I feel, should not be able to stand nonsensical lectures and meaningless memorization to excel in useless examinations. No wonder good business people drop out. Or at least fail in exams.

I wish I too had dropped out of high school. Or at least college.

Sigh 🙁

Destination Infinity

Best time to book for Indian travellers’ favourite summer destinations

  • Book 24 weeks in advance for a European summer
  • 72% of Indian travellers don’t know how to get a good deal on flight tickets

New Delhi, 10th July 2017: Leading global travel search engine, Skyscanner has analysed two years’ worth of travel search data from over 60 million monthly users to answer the one question that always puzzles travellers: when is the best time to book flights?

A recent survey of Indian travellers revealed 72% do not know when is the best time to book flights. Skyscanner’s survey further unveiled 69% of travellers incorrectly estimate the best air fares can be found less than 12 weeks before departure, when in fact the best deals are snapped up by travellers who plan in advance. Traveller’s eyeing up Bali for their summer trip can save up to 51% on flight tickets by booking 25 weeks in advance or risk paying 27% more than the average fare when they leave booking to the last minute.

The same trend appears for air fares to Indian traveller’s favourite summer destinations, traveller’s looking to vacation in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok can grab flights for 35% and 33% less than the average fare, respectively, when booking 24 weeks prior to departure.

Skyscanner recommends booking 24 weeks in advance for travellers venturing to Europe or the USA for their summer vacations for savings of 22% and 18%, respectively.

Skyscanner also reveals the most inexpensive months to travel to visit some of Indian travellers’ favourite locations. November is the cheapest month to travel to Bangkok when flights 10% cheaper than the average fare, while visa-friendly Bali can be best enjoyed in April with a 10% saving on the average fare.

Commenting on the findings, Reshmi Roy, Senior Growth Manager, Skyscanner India said, “We hope Skyscanner’s data can provide travellers with clarity on how and when to get the best deal on flights and what to expect if booking is left to the last minute. After reviewing flight prices from the last two years, we can clearly see that it pays to plan. Booking at the right time can make a huge difference to one’s expenditure on their trip, up to 51% in some cases.”

skyscanner

About Skyscanner

  • Skyscanner is a leading global travel search company, providing free search of flights, hotels and car hire around the world
  • Founded in 2003, Skyscanner helps over 60 million people each month to find their travel options
  • Skyscanner is available in 30 languages
  • Skyscanner’s highly-rated free mobile app has been downloaded over 60 million times
  • Skyscanner employs over 800 staff and has 10 offices across the world: Barcelona, Beijing, Budapest, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Miami, Shenzhen, Singapore and Sofia
  • Skyscanner is part of the Ctrip Group

For more information, please visit https://www.skyscanner.co.in/bttb/best-time-to-book-in

Media Contact: Courtney.Lee@skyscanner.net

 

Thrill Valley Adventure Theme Park – Yelagiri Hills, Tamil Nadu


Thrill Valley Adventure Theme Park @ Yelagiri Hills, Tamil Nadu, South India is a nice place to visit if you like adventure games/sports. However, my favorite activity at this park is the Petting Zoo 🙂

Yelagiri is a relatively small hill station (30 sq. KM) located at a low altitude of 1000m. So the place is not as cold as Ooty or Kodai. Luckily for people like me who are comfortable in warmer temperatures, this is the perfect hill station 🙂 It is also relatively close to Vellore and Chennai.

We went to the usual park and boating at Yelagiri, but those were not that interesting. Then we spotted the “Thrill Valley” adventure theme park board and decided to venture in. The gate was around 1 KM inside from the main road – we went in a car, but autos are available from the Nature Park/Punganoor lake entrance.

You can see the above-embedded slideshow to get a better idea about the activities available at Thrill Valley. As an adventure non-enthusiast, I liked the petting zoo and archery. But there are many adventure games in this park including the human slingshot, zurfing, zip line, ATV, zorbing & fwolang boats for kids, rope course, etc.

Although these activities (some of them not available anywhere else – at least not nearby) would attract younger adventure & games enthusiasts like students/friends coming in groups, we wished there were more activities for families and older individuals. Of course, this is an ‘adventure’ theme park and the management has done full justice to that theme.

This place is well staffed and the staff guided us well. Unlike in cities, there is not much crowd – hence no wasting time waiting in queues. Hope they would add a small canteen to buy food/drinks in the future.

Thrill Valley is a much-needed entertainment park in the quickly-becoming-popular hill station of Yelagiri, which even has a major railway junction (Jolarpet) near the foothills.

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Causes for Extinction of Fancy Pigeons in Bangladesh

This is a guest post by Ashraful Kabir, Department of Biology, Saidpur Cantonment Public College, Nilphamari, Bangladesh. E-mail: ashraful.mission@gmail.com

 

Summary: Out of 9 characteristics observed for the causes of fancy pigeons extinction in Bangladesh, natural causes account for 33.33% and artificial (man-made) causes were 66.67%. These nine characteristics and their probability of occurrence (in %) are:  Unequal squab – 40%, Aggressiveness – 50%, Homosexuality – 10%, Feed – 70%, Lack of farmers’ knowledge on pigeons – 80%, Bad collection – 80%, Non-selective breeding – 10%, Overall management – 80% and Diseases – 80%.

 

Introduction

Animal psychology is called zoo psychology. Birds as well as pigeons show lot of stereotypic characteristics during rearing. Pigeons have peculiar features.

Tumbling, a kind of morbid curiosity is found in tumblers pigeon. Lotan is another breed which rolls with slight shaking. Lotan has abnormal flying. Highflying is very ancient characteristics of pigeons.  History says that when tumbler lost its flying it shows parlor rolling. This parlour roller in Asian subcontinent is called lotan (ground tumbler). In England this roller rolls automatically when it attempts to fly.

 

All fancy pigeons have evolved from rock pigeons. Due to its ancestral trait for living on trees sometimes indigenous pigeons live on trees with rock pigeons. Many rearers keep pigeons in unsuitable environments. They do not clean their farms regularly or properly. They do not take suggestions from the experts.

 

Diseases are also a cause for pigeon death.  Aggressive behavior in male pigeons is very dangerous. When female lays eggs and farmers try to catch the female or touch the eggs, it inadvertently flaps its wings and that results in breakage of eggs.

 

Most rearers don’t know the ideal marking of their desirable breed or not try to know the exact features of fancy breeds (Kabir 2014a). Their mode of non-judicious breeding is another cause or loss of its purity (Kabir 2015).

  

Methodology

For this observation the breeds were indigenous, tumbler, lotan, fantail, mookee, Australian red (in Bangladesh this is called parvin), capuchine, montauban (in Bangladesh this is called bombai) etc. were considered.

 

Results

Natural causes

Homosexuality: Pigeons pair with Male-male and female-female. In cases of male-male pairing, there is no egg. Female-female pairing results in eggs. But when these eggs are laid in different times,  rearer can’t understand which of them laid eggs. Due to homosexuality, its numbers are decreasing.

Unequal squab:  Pigeons and doves produce unequal squab naturally. One is more/seriously week by birth. So, in many cases, one dies within a few days. This is a cause for its extinction.

Aggressive behavior: Males are very aggressive with female, other squab, even fight with other males. During the time of feeding these incidents are common. Due to its captivity for a long time also this may happen. After laying alternatively use of those pairs could get rid of such problems. Also, by providing less energetic feed this bad situation may disappear. Squabs in nest are victimized by adult males. Attacks have been observed on the head and eyes. Hand reared pigeons show lot of attachments as well as bad habits (Nice 1950).

 

Artificial (man-made) causes

Lack of knowledge:  Most rearers of Bangladesh have no real knowledge on fancy pigeon but have been rearing pigeons for a long time. Most have outdated ideas about pigeons. Moreover, in Bangladesh, this is just a hobby. People buy a pigeon and when it dies, buy again.

Collection: In Bangladesh rearers collect pigeons by seeing external features like colour and size. They can’t match the bloodline with its parents. They don’t know the ideal markings of fancy pigeons. There is a need to maintain a grading system for fancy pigeons while buying (Kabir 2014a).

Feed: Most rearers supply low-quality feed which is not good for its health. Pigeons need different feed, depending on the time – egg laying time, hatching time, juvenile and breeding time, etc. The feed ratio/quantity should also be varied. Rearers generally supply same quality of feed.

 

Many breeders of Bangladesh separate their pigeons in October and join them for mating in April (Kabir 2013b). Crossbred is good as meat (Kabir 2013a). ‘Top quality’ and ‘quality’ – these two types of feed are needed to ensure better lifespan for pigeons (www.teurlings.com). Squab or parental stock selling is more profitable (Hazard 1922). There is no alternative for pigeon milk but 16% blend chicken crumble may be provided for squab in morning and night (Casey 1988). Good feed ration during pre-laying/hatching/suckling stages is corn 6 kg, wheat 4 kg, rape 2.5 kg, Japanese millet 0.5 kg, broiler feed 1 kg, mustard 250 g and green pea 0.5 kg (Kabir 2013a).

Non-selective breeding: Non-scientific breeding is very common in Bangladesh. That’s another reason why pigeon breeds are losing their purity (Kabir 2015).

Overall management: Every pigeon breed requires a different management system. Broiler pigeon, fantail pigeons, pouter pigeon, tumbler pigeons and indigenous pigeons all are different and need different management approaches. Sometimes non-mating females lay eggs at any place of the chamber (Craig 1913). Male always initiates for egg laying, nesting and incubation (Levi 1941).

Diseases: Very narrow space, lack of flying, poor ventilation, lack of cleanliness is the main source of several diseases (Echols 2010). Diseases are one of the major problems for pigeons in Bangladesh. Rearers don’t take enough help from veterinary doctors. In winter season lot of pigeons die due to diseases. In Bangladesh, twisted neck and salmonellosis are two serious diseases affecting pigeons. When pigeons are sick they are treated in common/traditional ways which are mostly wrong (Kabir 2014b).

 

 

                                            

                                              Figure: Indian Fantail (both are male)

                             

 

 

Diagram 1. Showing the causes (%) of pigeons’ extinction

  

References

Casey V. 1988. Hand feeding fancy pigeons. San Martin CA.

Craig W. 1913. The stimulation and inhibition of ovulation in birds. Journ. Anim. Behavior 3: 215-221.

Echols MS. 2010. Captive bird welfare and enrichment (part 1-4). AAVAC/UEPV Annual Conference Hobart 129-200.

Hazard FA. 1922. Profitable pigeon breeding. American Pigeon Journal Company.

Kabir MA. 2013a. Productivity of crossed indigenous pigeon in semi intensive system. Basic Res. J. Agric. Sci. Rev. 2(1): 01-04 pp.

Kabir MA. 2013b. Productivity, management and marketing of pigeons in pet shop. J. Agric. Econ. Dev. 2(4): 147-153.

Kabir MA. 2014a. Grading system of ten common fancy pigeons of Bangladesh. Integrated J. of British 1(1): 19-26.

Kabir MA. 2014b. Symptomatic treatments of some common diseases of fancy pigeons in Bangladesh. Acme J. of Animal Science, Livestock Production and Animal Breeding 1(1): 1-4.

Kabir MA. 2015. Selective breeding of pigeons in Bangladesh. Journal of Advanced Studies in Agricultural, Biological and Environmental Sciences 2(2): 1-6.

Levi WM. 1941. The Pigeons. (R. I. Bryan Co., Columbia, S. C.), 512 pp.

Nice MM. 1950. Development of a Redwing (Agelaius phoeniceus). Wilson Bull., 62: 87-93.