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Monday, April 30, 2012

TECH SPECIAL..The driverless car is here


The driverless car is here
I finally find it. ‘Shivam Second Hand Super Cars’ turns out to be a dilapidated, rundown warehouse on the outskirts of town. A car salesman in a cheap polyester suit two sizes small for him approaches me while unsuccessfully trying to smoothen down the wrinkles on his shirt with a sweaty palm. I ask about the 2020 Red Roboto Car advertised and for a 10-year-old car, it turns out to be in a pretty good condition.

A seamless transition: An array of sensors, cameras and radars will be built into cars and eventually they’ll look like this

I ask about the number of lasers that the car is equipped with, whether the six infrared cameras on the front and back are all working, the number of pixels on the Heads Up windscreen and most importantly how well the first generation radars work. I sit in the rear seat and as the car starts to drive, I check for steering wheel encoder faults as well as how the two windshield mounted cameras are able to keep the car on a straight road. The car’s voice command system doesn’t work well, the Wireless Net connection modules aren’t as fast as I want them to be – but hey – it’s a 10-year-old car! I’m amused by just how antiquated the technology is, how risky these kind of cars were when they were first unleashed on the roads with very rudimentary safety features and how most of the sensors have delays in executing commands.

We strike a deal and Mr Polyester Crumpled Suit seems very pleased with my offer. Maybe I paid too much – but that’s okay – I truly love collecting first generation driverless cars and this one is a pure classic.

All tech no hands – the best way to drive?

Not wild speculation any more
While all the above may sound like typical rambling when trying to paint a future scenario, it highlights an important detail. Technology being tested today will ensure that the cars in the future will drive themselves. What started off as tests and prototypes has now evolved into very serious technology that works. In the last few months, this category has improved by leaps and bounds and the world’s top car-makers as well as technology forerunners like Mercedes, BMW, GM, Ford, Continental Automotive, VW, Audi, Google, Stanford and dozens of serious contenders – are vying to become the first to unveil a driverless car. Most predict that the first of such cars will be commercially available in less than five years. And while it sounds like a dream come true, it’s not all good.

How it works
Let’s first understand how a driverless car will work. While each company has its own approach – the basic skeleton remains the same. The car will be equipped with a smorgasbord of sensors, radars, lasers, cameras and detection units – all of which together will make sure that the car gets information on everything around it. This will be relayed back to a central command unit within the car that will then give the other systems reactive commands. For instance, keeping to a designated lane with cameras, making the steering wheel automatically turn as the GPS unit tells the car that the destination is on the left, slowly braking as a red light approaches, differentiating between a piece of wood and a human baby on the road and a thousand other scenarios that play out on the roads everyday. The mind boggles to think how much information the human driver is able to process and control without batting an eyelid – and how many sensors are required to try and replicate that same complex control we all have built into us and never think about. When hardware and software take over the wheel, it may well go down as the greatest invention of the century.

iCar: If Apple made a driverless car...

A Dream Drive
Driverless cars may be the greatest boon ever for a country like ours. Imagine order and not chaos on the roads. Every car having built-in discipline, no desire to break rules, driving only in its own lane, no dimwitted macho driving, no overspeeding, none of the sensors on the car will ever get drunk and drive, no cars blocking free left turns, perfect utilisation of every inch of the road and no road rage. The skill of the person behind the wheel doesn’t matter, fewer accidents, better fuel consumption, better road usage, automated efficient parking and pure bliss! It is estimated that if no driver broke any rules, the number of cars on the roads could double and yet you would get to your destination in about half the time.
Breaking the connection
But like I said. It’s not all good. There are technical, legal and emotional issues that haven’t been solved. If a driverless car has an accident, who is responsible – the car manufacturer or you? What about insurance issues or a law being broken due to a car sensor malfunction? You’re going to feel very let down to be issued a ‘challan’ for something you didn’t do. Then there’s the emotional issue. Giving up control over your car is a huge decision. For many, the entire connect between you and the car comes from the driving itself. To give up on all of that – the sheer pleasure of driving – is a big one. To those who say you can

On the right plane: This pilotless concept car can also take to the air

Take over
manually whenever you like, you’re missing the point. The perfect world of driverless cars can only work if ALL cars are driverless. A mix of human-driven, semi-robotic and pure driverless cars would make things much worse. It’s either all or nothing!
Thus the important question is – driverless cars are coming; but do you want one?

Rajiv Makhni, HT Brunch1204 15

FOOD SPECIAL..Eat right this summer

Eat right this summer


As we step slowly towards peak summer, it’s time to think of how we can balance the summer heat by consuming food items which balance the body pitta (heat) and are cooling in nature. Summer is the season of high pitta. During this time, the heat outside and inside the body increases.

Also your body faces a threat of dehydration in this season. To counter these problems, you must take care of your nutrition. Some food items which calm the agni of the body are:

Barley: They are round grains which look white after husking. Barley cools the body post digestion. It can be consumed in different forms like barley water, barley grain salad, barley flour mixed with wheat flour for chapatis and barley grass juice mixed with aloe vera juice and tomato. Barley is not only great for the intestine and liver but is also good for the kidneys. It helps relieve water retention and swelling experienced in summers, especially by women. Just drink a glass of barley and wheat grass juice in the morning to get rid of water retention.

Water: The best way to balance the body’s water is by drinking more more of it. Our body is made up of two thirds water and whenever there is an imbalance in the body, you can treat it by letting the wisdom of the body prevail. In order to auto-balance the body, keep a water fast for a day. During a water fast you can consume nothing but water for an entire day. Of course, you can add a few drops of lemon juice to make it more palatable (but do not turn it into a shikanji by adding salt or sugar).

Summer fruits: Consume as many summer fruits as possible. Fruits have natural sugar, which unlike refined sugar, is cooling and healthy for the body as it balances the pitta of the body. Sweet rasa is one of the chief rasas to balance the agni of the body. Fruits can be consumed as whole fruit, chaat or in the form of shakes.

Vegetables: Bitter and astringent vegetables are very cooling for pitta of the body. You can consume vegetables in the morning as a juice comprising beetroot, tomato, bottle gourd, mint, ginger and half an apple for flavouring.

You can also make fresh salads like boiled potatoes, olives, gherkins, cherry tomatoes, chopped almonds, lettuce, rocket leaves, bell peppers, etc., all tossed together in a pot with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Herbs: Rose water, rose leaves, saunf, elaichi and khus are some useful spices for summers. This season, you must avoid high pitta foods such as fried foods, garam masala, sesame seeds, mustard oil, non-vegetarian foods and eggs.

Shikha Sharma, HT Br 120415

SUMMER FOOD SPECIAL....YOGURT..CURD


Dessert, Dips & More

Yogurt and summers go hand in hand. From qormas to tarts to lassi, it is a must-keep in the fridge

If milk is our own eau de vie, water of life, yogurt, its derivate, enjoys an equally hallowed status in the subcontinent. Whether it is buttermilk or lassi, rice cooked in it or gushtabas floating in its sauce, “curd” is much more than mere food. It is a marker of civilisation.
    Today, of course, yogurt is the muchhailed superfood, its probiotic benefits extolled and a variety of interesting ways of using it increasingly popular, even if all our traditional dalliances with the likes of lassi, chaas, pachadis, dahi vadas, raitas, and moru kozhambus (curd-based vegetable stew) continue unabated.
Cooling Agent
The best lassi I have had has, of course, been in Amritsar, where saffron strands are soaked in the rich, full-cream milk used to make curd. Try it at home. Or, you could settle for the more diluted buttermilk this summer, with a tadka of mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger and green chillies. A friend from Mangalore suggests having vendekai gojju with steamed rice for a quick meal. Crispy fry thinly sliced okra. Thin the curd with water and add the okra. Temper with mustard and curry leaves just before serving. There’s also bagane gojju. Roast aubergines (as you would for a bharta), crush when cooled and peeled. Add finely chopped onions, green chillies and top with yogurt.
    Bagane gojju belongs to a whole genre of dahi-baigan dishes popular not just in the country but the world over. As far as combos go, this is a classic. There’s of course the popular eggplant-parmigiana rip-off that substitutes the cheese with chilled hung curd. But you can also do baigan ka raita, a popular lunch side dish in Old Delhi homes. Roasted aubergine is dunked in yogurt and seasoned with dry-roasted cumin powder and rock salt. Add pomegranate seeds to lend a touch of Mughal-inspired elegance.
Back in Flavour
Marinating meat in curd is a common practice in our kitchens; yogurt being a souring agent of choice in most Mughal-based meat recipes. The simplest meat curry can be structured by adding a whisked blend of fried onions and yogurt to fried meat in dry spices and letting the whole thing simmer. Or, you could try the famous safed qorma of Mughal courts, variations of which are served in many restaurants.
    A quaint story suggests that the qorma was cooked for Shahjahan’s all-white banquets on full-moon nights in Agra. You need to prepare a spice mix using “white ingredients” like poppy seeds, fried onions, green chillies, cashews, almonds, cinnamon and white pepper powder. Blend these after cooking in oil. Fry the chicken till almost dry, add whisked yogurt and stir continuously to prevent curdling and add the spice-mix.
    But what I really love whipping up during summer is the host of yogurt dips that can be part of any mezze. Tzatziki is ridiculously easy to do: hang yogurt in a muslin cloth to drain out water, mix cucumber juliennes and a bit of chopped garlic, lemon juice and parsley. Serve with pita chips. You can even use this to line sandwiches.
Simple Snacks
Labneh, or strained yogurt cheese, is common to both West Asian and Greek food. I came across a party version recently. Anurudh Khanna, executive chef at The Park, New Delhi, ran me through the recipe: use a mix of hung curd and feta to shape into small balls. Roll these in any of the readymade spice mixes — sumac, zatar but you could also use simple chilli flakes or even powdered pistachio. (My tip: empty out those mixed seasoning sachets you get along with takeaway pizza and roll the labneh in it.)
    Khanna also tells me how to do dahi ke kebab at home. Season hung yogurt, adding a binding agent like roasted chana powder. Stuff with raisins, chopped ginger and green chillies. Make into tikkis and shallow-fry. A yogurt dressing on salads can be ideal too. Make a salad with mangoes, cucumber, melon. For the dressing, use hung yogurt, black pepper, roasted jeera powder, honey and olive oil. Add chopped mint too if you like.
    Finally, hung-curd can be an ideal replacement for cheese in many desserts. Nishant Choubey, executive sous chef , Dusit Bird Hotels, suggests a mango (or lemon) cheese cake by mixing mango puree with hung yogurt, adding some whisked tetrapack cream (and gelatin, if you want more body) for the topping. The base can be made with biscuit crumbs rubbed in butter. Nothing could be more versatile.
WHY DOES HOME-MADE YOGURT TASTE DIFFERENT?
Though early Vedic references, as KT Achaya informs us, suggest that materials like ber fruit or the acidic bark of the palash were used as a curd starter, for thousands of years Indian homes have been following the practice of preparing their own, distinct curd by seeding milk with leftover from the previous day. Which is why, if you have noticed, yogurt tastes different in different homes — at least where they still make it fresh instead of buying it off the racks.
YOGURT TARTS
Chef Nishant Choubey suggests doing this cocktail snack: fill readymade tart shells with hung curd spiced with coriander and chilli powders and a bit of grated cheese. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 180ÂșC. Enjoy!

(:: Anoothi Vishal ET120415)

Watch Live TV & On-demand Movies On The Move




With today’s hectic lifestyle, It’s difficult to stay on top of your favorite movies, TV shows or watch live news and sports.
Apps and websites that let you legally stream your daily dose of entertainement are given below



    Television and movies are popular methods of entertainment, but many of us may not have the liberty to sit in front of a TV at a pre-determined time to catch a movie or a TV show. Thanks to handheld devices becoming more powerful and wireless Internet speeds slowly picking up, you can easily view live TV, full-length movies and TV shows on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. The free services usually offer limited content while the paid options could cost as much as a monthly DTH package. But the price you pay could make sense if you travel and often find some free time on your hands. Just connect to the internet and use these apps/sites to get entertained on the move.

Live TV

Dittotv.com

Ditto is a paid service available for mobile devices (apps available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry) and PCs (downloadable programs for Windows and Mac). It works over 3G or Wi-Fi and even includes an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), just like a digital set top box. They offer various monthly packages, starting at 49 per month (for three channels), going up to 199 per month (for the complete suite of 20 live tv channels).

Mimobi.tv

Apalaya’s Mimobi is a free service and they offer a variety of content on multiple devices. The product is available in two versions — myplex now (live TV and on-demand movies through free apps, available for iOS, Android, Nokia and Windows Phone devices) and through a dedicated website www.myplex.tv (an on-demand movie service, currently free and in Beta with thousands of movies on offer). They also offer a free app for BlackBerry’s Playbook, called ‘TV on the Go’.

Mundu.tv

Mundu offers live TV on mobile devices and computers — a single subscription can be used across devices. There is a choice of monthly, quarterly or yearly payment plans — prices start at 33 per month and can go up to 1499 per quarter for all channels (over 50 channels are available).

Yupptv.com

YuppTV offers apps for iOS, Android, Symbian, BlackBerry devices as well as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 gaming consoles. Media players like Boxee and Netgear’s Neo TV also get the service. Finally, you can also get it on certain Samsung and Panasonic smart TVs & on certain Toshiba and Sony TVs using the Yahoo Widget.

Zengatv.com

Other than Android and iOS apps, ZengaTv’s live streams can be viewed on many mobile devices through a web browser — just head to http://m.zengatv. com. On a computer, www. zengatv.com will instantly stream a channel in one of the categories (news, live, movies, & so on).

 AVANI TV

If you spend a lot of time in your car, you can equip it with Avani’s (www.avanitv. com) solution, which is nothing but a digital set top box powered by a mobile 3G connection. It comes with an infrared remote control and can output video to any commercially available LCD screen (or multiple screens) mounted in the car. The service includes live tv channels, movies on demand, internet video (like YouTube) and various internet radio stations.

Free & Legal Movie Streaming ON THE PC

YouTube (www.youtube.com/boxoffice)

YouTube’s BoxOffice offers full movies and is frequently updated. Not only do they have a large selection of hindi movies, but also movies in other Indian languages. Indian broadcasters such as Sony, Colors and Star India also upload and stream their latest TV shows here (www.youtube.com/shows).

Yahoo MoviePlex (http://in.video.yahoo.com/movieplex)

What sets them apart is the mini movies section — a full 3-hour movie is shrunk down to 30 minutes for a quick watch. They also have a large collection of full movies sorted by genre — comedy, drama and action.

ON A PHONE/TABLET

BigFlix

Available for Android & iOS, the BigFlix app offers video on demand for English, Hindi and Indian language movies & TV shows. A monthly subscription of 249 gives you access to unlimited movies. Other devices can directly visit http://m. bigflix.com through the web browser to access the content.

Samsung My Movies

Also powered by BigFlix, the app is available only for Samsung Galaxy S series smartphones and Galaxy Tab users. It streams music videos, trailers and full movies to supported Samsung devices and that too for free. The collection usually includes only those movies that have done well at the box office.


IPL.indiatimes.com This dedicated page, in a tie-up with YouTube, only streams live IPL matches. There is other information on the page too — IPL points for various teams, previous match highlights, scorecards & upcoming match schedules.
- Hitesh Raj Bhagat & Karan Bajaj ET 120409

Sunday, April 29, 2012

WOMEN SPECIAL..ARE YOU FINANCIALLY AWARE


Are you Financially Aware?
Don’t be dependent only on the men in your lives to manage your money.
 Find out why and how to upgrade your financial skills for a more secure future.




    Women and money twirl in a curious tango. The woman pirouettes around moolah much like any rational, materialistic person. Yet, in a baffling bout of irrationality, she spins herself away from it, refusing to manage it herself. She lets the men in her life—husband, father or brother—take charge of her finances in a regressive display of reluctance. Why would an educated, working woman refuse to take control of her money? “It’s conditioning. For years, the society hasn’t allowed her to do it. She has been told that she doesn’t understand money and should stay away from it,” says financial planner Kartik Jhaveri. “Besides, finance is perceived by them as a very boring and difficult subject,” says Swati Kulkarni, executive vice-president, UTI Mutual Fund.

    So, even though the income level of the urban Indian woman doubled during 2001-10 from 4,492 per month to 9,457 (according to a 2011 IMRB survey), financial literacy among women continues to be among the lowest in the world. India ranked 11th out of 14 countries, as per the Mastercard Financial Literacy Index 2011. This lack of awareness creates financial insecurity, which translates into a discernably disturbing social fallout—women suffer abuse, find themselves stranded if they are divorced or widowed, are cheated out of their rightful legacies, and are rabidly missold financial instruments.

    The financial insecurity stems from two reasons. One, despite the fact that a lot of women handle their household finances, they depute the investment of money to their spouses. If they are working, they don’t regard themselves as primary providers and relegate themselves to passive roles. Two, they do not proactively seek information that can be critical to the financial well-being in later life, especially for non-working women. They don’t know if they are nominees in investments, if their husbands are insured, how they will fend during retirement, even where the important documents are stored. This, despite the rising incidence of divorce and a higher life expectancy for women; they live 5-7 years longer than men.

    Does this apathy also spring from the notion that men are better than women when it comes to financial dealings? Perhaps, but this belief is not backed by any scientific study. On the contrary, several studies prove that women earn better results in market investing as they take fewer risks and churn less frequently (see page 17). Is this enough to spur women into spunk? Unfortunately, no.

    So, what we attempt in the following pages may seem as puny a propulsion in the desired direction, but it’s necessary. We shall take you women through seven simple steps towards financial empowerment. It doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you are single or married, working or a homemaker. All you need to know is that personal finance is not astrophysics and all you need to do is believe in yourself. “After all, you are the best judge of your needs and it’s better to work towards satisfying these rather than expect someone else to do it for you,” says Kulkarni.

    Follow this advice and we assure you that you shall jive your way to riches, not financial insecurity. 

1 GET A LITTLE BLACK BOOK Budgeting & banking

Simplistic as it may seem, getting a diary or an online planner is your first step towards empowerment. Start recording in this diary the inflow and outflow of money over a period of 2-3 months. Dismayingly, only 27% of Indian women solely manage the household budget, according to the HSBC Future of Retirement report 2011. So, if you are not a part of the lowly figure, undertake this crucial exercise. You can take heart from the fact that Indian women scored the best in financial planning and basic money management among 14 nations, according to the Mastercard Financial Literacy Index 2011.

    Budgeting will give you an idea about the money you save and the amount you can invest. If you are working, squirrel away 10% of your income, and if you get a fixed amount from your spouse, well, do exactly the same.

    The next crucial step is to imbibe the basics of banking. Though most women do this on a regular basis, as Jayant Pai, vice-president, Parag Parikh Financial Advisory Services, says, “I’ve seen well-educated women, who don’t know how to fill up a form for opening a bank account.” So, if you fall in the latter category, figure out how to fill it and open a savings account, which is preferably linked to a fixed deposit. This will ensure a high rate of interest and offer liquidity. Having an account is critical since you can use your money to invest as per your will while making it grow at a nominal rate.

    Now, familiarise yourself with tasks like the working of an ATM card, writing a cheque, knowing the difference between a demand draft and a cheque, and reading the account statement. A simple way to curtail dependency on your spouse and expunge intimidating trips to the bank is to tame your tech phobia (if you have one) and register for Net banking. This will help you view your account statements, pay utility and credit card bills, transfer funds, recharge your phone, even pay loan EMIs. Yes, you are already on your way to financial freedom ....  
2 YOU COME FIRST Specify goals
 
Identify your goals. Thinking about them is not enough. Pen them down: short-term (buying a car, going on a vacation), mediumterm (buying a house, saving for your kids’ education) and long-term goals (retirement), and the amounts you are likely to need for these. “A lot of young women indulge in the present, assuming that the future will take care of itself,” says Monica Agrawal, director, strategies, Aviva Life Insurance. “They should chalk out clear, realistic financial goals at an early stage,” she says.

    At the top of this priority pile should be retirement. But what about kids? Yes, they are important, but saving for retirement is an imperative. Don’t forget that women live 5-7 years longer than men on an average, work for fewer years due to child caring responsibilities, and earn lesser—in India, they make 64% of what men do in the same occupation and at the same level of qualification, according to the Wage Indicator report on gender gaps for 2010 . These three factors can amount to a huge shortfall in savings (see graph). “Due to the difference in earning patterns and priorities women set for themselves, they need to handle their finances differently from men,” says Kanchana TK, executive director, Vantage Insurance Brokers & Risk Advisors.

    So start saving for retirement the minute you start working. If you don’t earn, keep aside a small amount from household expenses for this goal. After all, you need to tap the power of compounding. “First protect and provide for yourself and your spouse, then the kids,” says PV Subramanyam, financial trainer at Iris.

    This should be an important learning for women like 35-year-old Shikha Khullar, who runs her own placement agency in Delhi, and has an extremely high financial acumen when it comes to her insurance needs, emergency preparation and investments. Yet, she is giving retirement the short shrift. “At this point,” she says, “kids’ studies are more important.” No, your kids can take an education loan, you can’t take a loan for retirement. “Everything else can be compromised, but you cannot scale down on your retirement savings,” says Subramanyam.  

3 MAKE YOUR MONEY GROW What is asset allocation?

Asset allocation is the biggest deterrent for women when it comes to financial planning. Now that you have a bank account and have started saving, don’t you want it to grow to a large corpus? So don’t let alliteration scare you into submission or sneak out of financial planning. Asset allocation simply means putting your money in different investment avenues. This will depend on your goals, time horizon and risk appetite. You can put the money in asset classes, such as equity (stocks, mutual funds), debt (fixed deposits, bonds, debt funds), gold or real estate. If you are still dumbstruck by germanely geeky terms like mutual funds and bonds, approach the Internet; it is a one-stop shop for dispelling ignorance. It will be worth putting in the effort to educate yourself if you seriously crave financial independence.

    “The investing strategy for both men and women is essentially the same. However, it may differ for the latter since they have to think about easy liquidity of investments and preservation of capital, given the fact that they may be homemakers or may not have the certainty of continuous employment,” says Kulkarni.

    “What they really need to be concerned about is that the world has changed a lot and many good investment vehicles have been defeated,” says Jhaveri. Does this make choosing the right avenue more difficult now? The best way to get around this dilemma is to not put all your eggs in one basket. So, even though a stock-heavy portfolio has delivered stellar returns in the past 10 years, as the visual below shows, it is safer to adopt a balanced approach and spread your money in a mix of equity, debt, gold and real estate.

    Most women, out of fear or ignorance, stick to just one. Take 54-year-old Bandana Kalita from Delhi or 39-year-old Anagha Kulkarni, an entrepreneur from Hyderabad, (see pictures), both of whom have focused on property. In doing so, they may have compromised on the cost opportunity of their savings. Anagha has started trading in stocks in the past five years, and has even benefited from it. However, Pai is disapproving: “Stock trading is for more evolved people. At the most, women should allocate 5% of their portfolio to it. They should treat it as a stepping stone to learning about finances, not as a serious investment avenue.”

    A good alternative to avoiding direct exposure to the risky equity is mutual funds. These buy a bunch of stocks according to the investing mandate and are managed by experts. So you can easily pass on your worries to the fund manager and hedge your bets. “Regularly investing through systematic investment plans (SIPs) of diversified equity mutual funds helps build a large corpus with less hardship. Treat SIPs as a monthly outgo in budgeting and look for a 10-15-year time horizon to reap benefits,” says Kulkarni.

    Gurgaon-based Alka Vishnu, 39, does just this. “I was encouraged by my husband to invest in mutual funds and now have a portfolio of 5-6 funds,” says the homemaker, who not only does her own research, but also monitors it regularly and has her husband, Virendra, depending on her completely.

    The next googly? How do you know which particular stock or fund to pick? The Internet will again dribble out the answers. You will find the returns of mutual funds, stocks, gold, etc, on the company, mutual fund or fund analysis sites like Value Research, and can scan finance newspapers and TV programmes. It is critical to conduct your own research if you do not want to be saddled with a loser.

    If no amount of self-help works, it could be time to employ a financial adviser. He will not only assist you in formulating a plan and deciding the asset allocation that suits you, but also suggest products and monitor your portfolio. This could be money well spent.  

4 BE IN THE KNOW Not all paperwork is boring

Documentation is not a dirty word, especially when it spells security for you. A lot of women are rendered dependent and destitute because they are not aware of the investments, their nominee status or the redemption procedures. How can you make sure you never land in such a situation?

    Even if you are not investing actively, constrained either by time, circumstance, or faith in your own ability, it doesn’t have to be the end of your financial freedom. As important as investing is the knowledge and awareness about investments. “It takes 20-30 minutes in a year to get this information,” says Jhaveri. So, find out about the following from your spouse/father: How many and where have the investments been made? Are you or your kids joint holders/nominees for bank accounts and other investments? What are the EMI size, tenure and size of loans? Is your husband adequately insured if he is the only earning member? (The insurance amount should not only be able to cover your expenses but also liabilities like loans.) Has your spouse/father made a will in which you/kids are beneficiaries? Most importantly, do you know the procedure of processing these documents in case he is not there.

    If your answer to any of these questions is a ‘no’, you face grave risk. “What good does it do to sit on crores of rupees if you can’t access it? Establishing the ownership of assets is critical for women,” says Jhaveri.

    Get your little planner out and note down all these details. You will need the diary even if you are working and investing proactively. What’s valid for the spouse holds for you if you have dependants. So, ensure all your documents are in order and draw up a will if you have assets, no matter how old you are.

    Reading up on documents is also essential if you do not want to be cheated or missold products. “I make it a point to read all documents before buying a product. If I don’t have time, I scan the broader points and even try to read fund newsletters,” says Khullar, mother of two toddlers, whose documents are well-organised. 

5 SECURE YOUR DEPENDANTS Are you insured enough?

This is another pitfall that stares most women in the face even though it holds the key to their financial security. At its worst, women don’t know the difference between life and medical insurance. At its best, there is Vidisha Gupta. The 41-year-old software professional from Bangalore has a term insurance plan worth 2 crore for the next 24 years. The cover is much more than five times her annual salary, the ideal amount you should consider as life cover. However, she also has two unpaid loans—a home loan worth 60 lakh and a car loan worth 9 lakh. It’s a wise move as it will ensure her two kids do not suffer financial pangs if she were to pass away suddenly.

    If all this has winged past your cognitive faculties, do not panic. Most women have no clue about insurance. They don’t really need to know about every insurance policy in the market, but it should be mandatory for them to distinguish their term plans from endowment and Ulips from medical plans.

    It’s equally important not to confuse insurance with investment. Insurance is an instrument that allows you to secure your dependants, health or property, while investment helps your money grow. The two are often mixed up because of the several products in the market that combine the two. Take a look at the above chart to distinguish between the basic types of life insurance policies. So, if you just want to secure your life, go for a term plan and expect no returns on maturity. It’s simply meant to ensure that if you are an earning member, your family doesn’t suffer financially if you pass away during the plan’s tenure. The other types offer insurance and invest your money, but are either too expensive (Ulips) or offer low returns (money-back).

    If, however, you are a homemaker, make sure your husband is adequately covered. “Insurance is the most critical aspect of financial planning and it is advisable to invest in a simple term insurance early enough to ensure financial continuity for dependants,” says Agrawal of Aviva Life Insurance.

    What about medical or health insurance? It’s taken to make sure that if you or any other family member is hospitalised, the expense is covered. You can either go for an individual plan or a family floater, which will cover your husband and kids as well. If you are not employed, prod your husband into buying a plan for the family or check if he’s being offered one by his employer.

 6 PREPARE FOR THE WORST Have a contingency fund

So you are in a sweet spot. You have secured your financial freedom to a large extent. You are a Net-savvy, well-insured, proactive investor, who won’t have to depend on anyone if faced with a crisis during your retirement. But what about now? What if you are in your 30s and left stranded by an adulterous husband? What if your medical bill overshoots the insurance amount by a wide mark or your spouse loses his job unexpectedly? Do you have enough provisions to take care of the immediate financial upheaval?

    Most women don’t have funds that are clearly earmarked for such a contingency. They assume that one or the other investment will stand in good stead at such times without considering the instrument’s liquidity. So if you are banking on real estate, or one of the fixed deposits, even PPF, don’t. Real estate is not easily disposed of, FDs have inflexible limits and PPF should ideally be slotted as a retirement corpus and not dipped into prematurely. Besides, you will incur a penalty or tax if you withdraw these funds. While Anagha is depending on her property in Hyderabad to bail her out of any crisis, 31-year-old Sumedha Kang of Chandigarh is sanguinely falling back on some of her fixed deposits with varying maturities. No financial planner would recommend they do this.

    There are two options that you can consider. Keep reserve cash that is equal to 4-6 months of your expenses in a sweep-in savings account. This combines the benefits of liquidity with higher interest rates. The other option is short-term liquid funds, which invest in low-risk instruments and can be redeemed within 24 hours. They also offer higher rates of interest than a savings account. So, go ahead and park your money in one of these options and ensure protection against unexpected events.  

7 DON’T REST ON YOUR LAURELS Keep tabs, keep learning

You have reached the end of your financial learning, but ‘end’ may well be a misnomer. Don’t shunt out your planner, lapse into lethargy, or refuse to upgrade your knowledge in every aspect of personal finance. It’s a sure recipe for risking your long-term security.

    Every investment requires periodic and careful monitoring. If your investment, be it stocks, mutual fund or property, is not performing well, it needs to be weeded out and replaced with one that is doing better. It is essential to have a disciplined portfolio by sticking to an asset allocation plan. You will need to alter your debt and equity components as you grow older and with changing circumstances, which is why it’s essential to be proactive at all times.

    Keep tabs on changes in rules and regulation in the stock market, insurance, banking or taxation, as all these will impact your finances. It’s not important that you personally file your taxes (you can hire a CA), but know your tax slabs, when you should file your returns and how the calculations have been made. Taxation is also innate to any product you purchase or sell, for the tax levied will chip into your returns. Know how much tax you will need to pay at what stage of a product’s life, be it a house, mutual funds, fixed deposits or bonds.

    Finally, remember to pass on your learning to your children, especially daughters. Financially savvy girls will shape up into independent and secure women, who will not have to depend on the men in their lives. You can do this only if you are one yourself. It’s time you took the first step towards empowerment. After all, you need to pirouette around money for the rest of your life.

    —with inputs from Sameer Bhardwaj
-- RIJU MEHTA ETW 120305

TECH SPECIAL...Your Smartphone Will be the New Swipe Card


Your Smartphone Will be the New Swipe Card

Your smartphone will not only help you access offices and secure locations but will pay parking charges & buy sandwiches from the cafeteria too. Thanks to a small innovation

    Imagine walking into the office one day, using the smartphone instead of your access card to open doors, marking attendance and logging onto your computer network without filling in multiple authentication screens. The day isn’t far. You might even end up paying your canteen food and parking fee though the smartphone or use it to borrow books.
Your phone is set to become your key to the world -- literally. An innovation is making it possible for smartphones to be used in place of access cards to open doors, gain entry into networks and secure locations. For starters, nearly 50 top executives of a Bangalore-based mid-sized company will soon be using their smartphones in the same way they would use their access cards.
The trend is new with the technological advances fairly recent. Right now, swipe cards and proximity card systems are mainly used to mark time of an employee’s entry and exit and attendance. But once smartphone-enabled access control systems come into play, the applications can stretch from availing of services at the cafeteria to borrowing books from the library and paying at parking lots.
In a typical large enterprise, access is controlled with the help of proximity cards. These cards, embedded with radio frequency identification chips, are used with a reader to authenticate the person carrying the card.
However, with mobile devices capable of communicating with the reader using the near-field communication technology, legacy technology can be fully done away with. New contactless smart card reader platforms with embedded secure access control capabilities can read NFC-enabled mobile devices, which could be laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
This technology shift, along with the fact that workers are becoming more mobile and want to bring their own devices to work, is changing access control mechanisms at offices. However, balancing corporate security with a growing tribe of mobile work leads to difficulties too.
“The definition of credential is changing,” says Ranjit Nambiar, director of sales-South Asia, Identity & Access Management, HID Global, which is about to close the deal with the mid-sized company. “Earlier, it was established with the smart card but now it could be through your smart phone,” he says.
HID Global – part of the global lock-maker Assa Abloy AB -- is one of the largest technology suppliers to access control systems worldwide and ships nearly 120,000 access cards and about 5,000 readers every month to India.
“Mobile access is one of our key initiatives worldwide,” said Nambiar adding that the success of a pilot program at the University of Arizona where nearly 200 students were given near-field communication-enabled smartphones to test its applications at classrooms, dormitories, libraries, labs and other places goes on to prove the ease with which such technology can be deployed.
THE INNOVATION
So far, access cards carried data unique to each user that was read by the reader fixed on doors and access was granted or denied after a data check is carried out in the backend. But the concept of storing the data structure on the card is changing since it is prone to vulnerabilities. Newer access control systems don’t store a particular data structure on the card but store a piece of code, also called the secure identity object, on it. The secure identity object need not be stored on a card but even on any other device which is capable of communicating with the reader.
Devices are able to communicate with the readers using near-field communication (NFC) technology, which is receiving attention these days. Major technology companies are betting on near-field communication technology to become more and more prevalent as it finds newer applications. “NFC works with most contactless smart cards and readers, meaning it can easily be integrated into the public transit payment systems in cities that already use a smart card swipe,” says Vipul Mehrotra, director and head of Smart Devices, Nokia India. Nokia apart, Microsoft, Google, Visa and Samsung are part of a near-field communications group that will push tech adoption.
Application of NFC-enabled mobile phones are, however, not limited to access control systems only. Trials are being conducted globally to show how mobile phones with built-in NFC capabilities can be used to do many things including getting access, figuring out directions and buying things by tapping them to NFC-enabled tags embedded in kiosks, retail outlets, signage and thousands of other devices.
THE POTENTIAL
The overall access control market in India is likely to be worth in excess of $250 million in 2011, growing at 25-30% year on year, says Deepa Doraiswamy, who tracks electronics and security market for Frost & Sullivan.
Government applications have been key drivers for growth but the increasing awareness on need of security has resulted in other end user segments like commercial, industrial, residential, transportation also driving significant demand for access control systems, she points out.
Apart from HID, ESSL, Sagem, ADT, Aspen Systems and many more Tier II and Tier III companies exist in the access control market, although with niche focus. “Use of NFC-enabled access control using smart phones is indeed the next big wave in access control,” said Doraiswami. However given that most of it is still in testing stages and early level implementations at a global level, it will take a few years before the technology becomes mainstay in India.
Nambiar, who has seen access control technology change from older systems which used magnetic strips to contact less systems in a matter of four to five years, says that the new technology could take a similar amount of time or even less.

JAYADEVAN PK et.technology

Friday, April 27, 2012

FOOD SPECIAL..SARSON SAGA


Mustard can elevate almost any food from hot dogs to sauteed spinach. And it’s rather simple to make


    My grandmother recently taught me how to make teliya bataka, a signature Kutchi Bhatia recipe she learnt from her mother. It’s an instant pickle in which mustard is rubbed with water until it froths and releases a pungent smell and then tossed with cold cooked potatoes, oil, turmeric and salt. Ever since then, I have taken to making homemade mustard. People rarely make mustard from scratch. But it’s actually quite simple.
    The trick is to manipulate the pungency of mustard seeds. You can use one type of seed (or powder) or experiment till you find a blend that gives you the pungency you desire. Pick from white, brown, or black or make a mix. The reaction of white mustard is milder than brown or black. I use a mix that is two parts kadia, the split mustard Gujaratis use for pickling and one part brown whole mustard seeds. I soften the whole mustard by soaking it in either water, vinegar or beer. (I’ve even used Naga chilli flavoured vodka.)
    I strain and grind the seeds to a paste. To this I add freshly powdered split mustard and cold water. What gives mustard its bite is the chemical inside the seeds reacting with the cold water. Heat damages this reaction, so to make a hot mustard you must use cold water. Warm water will give you a more mellow mustard.
    Now in about 10 minutes you should have the reaction that will create the pungency. Left alone, the bite of your mustard will fade in a few days, or even hours. If you want to preserve and ‘set’ its bite you need to add an acid, usually vinegar. But remember: always add water or a non-acidic liquid first and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes. Add the acid (vinegar, verjus, lemon juice) when the pungency peaks. Then add the salt — about one to two teaspoons per cup of prepared mustard — not just for the flavour but also because it is a preservative. Once made, your mustard will never spoil. Mustard is one of the most powerful antimicrobial plants in existence and the combination with vinegar and salt makes it so potent that nothing can survive in it. They say mustard will never go bad, only dry out. Finally, leave your mustard to set in the fridge or in a cool place for a day before you dip into it. It will be slightly bitter at first. But that’s an initial by-product of the mustard reaction that fades in a day.
    Valued for its medicinal qualities and flavour, mustard is used round the year as an ingredient in daily meals. Its preservative qualities make it a major ingredient in pickling while its astringent properties make it an important digestive.
    In fact in the north, Holi, which signifies the change of season, is celebrated with a sharp drink made with fermented mustard and local black carrots called kanji. Punjabis swear by sarson ka saag — a dish of cooked mustard greens that is typically had in the winter — and north Indian cuisine actually relies more on cold pressed raw mustard oil for that pungent mustard flavour than the seeds themselves.
    Entrapping the pungency of the kanji into a magical condiment that can zing up any meal is a specialty of Bengali cuisine. Bengalis are fond of kasundi, a mustard paste that is served as a dip for fried foods or a condiment for simple meals such as rice and boiled potatoes or sauteed leafy greens. Made of black or brown mustard crushed and pounded with green chillies and salt, kasundi is never ground in a mixer. It’s traditionally ground using a sheel-nora, a stone mortar and
pestle, that draws out the flavour of mustard by agitating the inherent oils in the seeds.
    These oils contain chemicals and enzymes that, when combined with water or vinegar, react to liberate compounds called isothiocyanates, which give mustard its heat. That’s why when you mix dry mustard with water, the heat of the mustard paste starts out low but slowly increases, reaching a peak in about ten to 15 minutes.
    Mustard pastes and sauces are an important part of cuisines the world over. Commonly paired with meats and cheeses, mustard is a popular addition to sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs. It works as an excellent emulsifier in stabilizing a mixture of two or more unblendable liquids such as oil and water which is why it is often added to dressings and marinades. And because mustard curbs the tendency to curdle it, is an important ingredient in hollandaise and other glazes, sauces and soups.
    English mustards are made with both white and brown mustard seeds, are pungent, hot and among the strongest, which makes them great in sandwiches paired with cold meats or with oily fish preparations. French mustards, usually made with brown mustard seeds and wine vinegar or grape juice, have a milder flavour that is ideal on cheese platters and in salads, especially those made with seafood. And it must be said that Moutarde de Dijon is my favourite of the French offerings for its grainy quality. There is something infinitely pleasing about seeds popping in the mouth. German mustards or senf made with brown mustards seeds, vinegar and sweetened with brown sugar or honey are milder still (although there are strong German mustards as well) and ideal in frankfurters and even hot dogs. American mustards made with white mustard seeds are the mildest.
    While there are many other ‘national’ types of mustard, look out for deli style mustards on your travels. Nani’s teliya bataka actually took me back to my visit to Terra Madre, the slow food showcase in Italy last year where I discovered countless lesser known mustards from all over the world. Some were traditional, such as horseradish mustard and mustard made with Irish whiskey. And then there were the relatively new innovations flavoured with all sorts of things from beer to curry powder. Closer home, I am very partial to I2Cook Pink Mustard. This is a deli style whole grain mustard made from organic ingredients in small batches by enterprising food blogger, Megha Goyal, of the blog I2cook.

RUSHINA MUNSHAW GHILDIYAL TOICREST120414•

TECH SPECIAL..Beta Season


In the season of trials, software giants are releasing updated versions of their products, which promise to be faster and smoother

Windows 8
Ever since the iPad came along, desktop operating systems (OS) have moved towards a more mobile look and feel. Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 carries this forward. One look at the number of editions Windows 8 is launching proves greater integration across all devices. Microsoft wants to bring the Metro-style interface that Windows Phone 7 users enjoy, to the desktop as well. Soon we are likely to see similarities across devices running Windows 8. Apple will take some time to achieve this as the iOS may not come to Macs too soon.
As far as the OS is concerned, Microsoft has focused on improving performance, so tablet and netbook owners should be able to enjoy it as much as their desktop-users. The screen is occupied by various tiles, for instance, the email tile will tell you about unread mails, sender details, etc.
The cloud is given greater importance, with a Microsoft account doing all the synchronisation in Windows 8. Users can now sync all settings from one Windows 8 PC to another too. Those using more than one Windows 8 PC need not start from scratch any longer.
OS X 10.8
After Snow Leopard came the Lion. Many Mac users debated about the name of the next release. After all, which creature can be above the lion? Apple’s simple answer was Mountain Lion. It may not be above the lion in the food chain, but it certainly is in altitude.
In Apple’s “post-PC world”, is Mac OS no longer important? Maybe not entirely, but Apple seems to have begun integrating features of its mobile operating system — iOS — with Mac OS. The line between desktop and mobile operating systems is blurring and proof of that is the significant push towards an iCloud-integrated experience. Much more of your usage will be on the cloud when Mountain Lion hits stores. Among other new features are pop-up notifications, iMessage (a chat app), Game Center, etc. With features like Twitter integration and a more secure Mac App Store, the groundwork has been laid for a complete internet ecosystem.
Ubuntu 12.04
Codenamed Precise Pangolin, Ubuntu’s next release is 12.04 LTS. LTS stands for long-term support, which means the developers will keep releasing security and other updates for five years after its release.
The most important feature will be the inclusion of a new heads-up display (HUD), which makes it easy to find common menu items like file, edit, etc. Founder of Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) Mark Shuttleworth had said that the HUD would replace menus and users could simply type to access the options they want, without using the mouse. Imagine hitting the “z” key to gain access to the zoom option.
Other changes involve performance improvements, so the OS is expected to be more responsive and more focused on Ubuntu’s cloud service — Ubuntu One.
Ubuntu’s previous version was a major disappointment due to innumerable crashes and other usability issues. Since then, the operating system has come a long way and this version is expected to set a lot right.
Adobe Photoshop CS6
Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 is in the works and one under-construction product is the industry-standard image-processing software – Photoshop. “I use an older version and I am happy to avoid the clutter in the newer ones” is a common refrain among many Photoshoppers. Not anymore. Adobe, it seems, sat a bunch of developers down and handed them one task – to clean up the interface. The result, quite frankly, is great. The default theme is darker than the older one, and it looks much more professional.
The menus are not intimidating, with handy auto colour-correction features to help new users.
There are far too many tweaks and features (skin selection, for example) to mention here and it should suffice to say that Adobe has managed to improve the basic features of Photoshop, which makes it worth a try.
Pranay Parab : SIE 120408

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CAREER SPECIAL..The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time


Why is it that between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work?

It's not just the number of hours we're working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.
What we've lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It's like an itch we can't resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.
Tell the truth: Do you answer email during conference calls (and sometimes even during calls with one other person)? Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you're taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you're driving, and even send the occasional text, even though you know you shouldn't?
The biggest cost — assuming you don't crash — is to your productivity. In part, that's a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you're partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it's because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you're increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.
But most insidiously, it's because if you're always doing something, you're relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.
I know this from my own experience. I get two to three times as much writing accomplished when I focus without interruption for a designated period of time and then take a real break, away from my desk. The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal.
If you're a manager, here are three policies worth promoting:
1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what's been discussed, and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.
2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it's urgent, you can call them — but that won't happen very often.
3. Encourage renewal. Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a midafternoon class in yoga, or meditation, organize a group walk or workout, or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax, or take a nap.

It's also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. Consider these three behaviors for yourself:
1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you'll be. When you're done, take at least a few minutes to renew.
2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don't, you'll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that's relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.
3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you're off, you're truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you'll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.
A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you're engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you're renewing, truly renew. Make waves. Stop living your life in the gray zone.

Tony Schwartz CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. 120304


TECH SPECIAL...Soon from MIT’s lab Self-sculpting sand



Researchers are developing robotic pebbles that can stick together to form functional tools



    Imagine tiny robots that can join together to form functional tools and then split apart after use: researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are trying to developing “selfsculpting sand” that can transform into any shape or object.
    The team from the university’s Distributed Robotics Laboratory (DRL) has already developed 30 prototype “smart pebbles” and the software to run them. The sides of each pebble are 1 cm in length. Attempts are being made to create smaller models.
    “We want to have a bag of this material that can form any shape you demand,” PhD student Kyle Gilpin told the BBC. “So if you are in an isolated situation and you need a certain tool, you can tell that to the bag by making a miniaturised model.”
    He added that the bag would produce a magnified and usable copy of the tool. The prototype cubes have electropermanent magnets embedded into their sides to allow them to stick together, the BBC reported. The magnetic effect can be turned on and off and does not require electric current to stay active. The cubes also contain a microprocessor to figure out which magnets should be activated first.
    Each processor can currently store 32 kilobytes of code and has only two kilobytes of working memory. The MIT researchers will present a paper describing algorithms that could enable such smart sand at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, the world’s top robotics conference, in Minnesota, US, next month.
    Unlike existing approaches for reconfigurable robots, smart sand uses a subtractive method similar to stone carving rather than an additive method of joining LEGO blocks together, MIT News said. In the first step, smart sand will cover the original object. “The idea is that they sense the border of the original shape — if a module detects it doesn’t have a neighbour, it assumes it may be on the border of the shape,” Gilpin said.
    The pebbles will then message each other the shape of the object. They will then define themselves as the perimeter of the duplicate object. If the replicated object is supposed to be five times the size of the original, then each square surrounding the object will map onto five cubes making up the reproduced perimeter, the BBC said.
    Gilpin said a lot work needed to be done to make smart sand a reality. “It’s not something that’s going to happen in two years,” he said. “But in 10 years you might see a product on the market that starts to rival traditional manufacturing approaches.” AGENCIES
HOW IT WILL WORK
STEP 1:
Smart sand will cover the original object
STEP 2: Robotic pebbles will message each other the object’s shape. They will then define themselves as the perimeter of the duplicate object
STEP 3: If replicated object needs to be 5 times the size of the original, each cube will map onto 5 blocks making up the reproduced border
STEP 4: When the recreated object has served its purpose, the pebbles will split apart
MM 120405

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TRAVEL SPECIALHow to Find the Best Tour Package..




Some tips on bagging the best airfares, hotel bookings and tour deals for those planning a vacation this summer



    Come May, and everyone wants to take a break from the sweltering heat. As schools shut for the summer break, families take off to their favourite holiday destinations. For others too, it is a welcome break from mind numbing routines and the cool clime is just an excuse to make get-away plans. For others it may be a good time to avoid the rising mercury or just an opportunity to break away from the routine.

However, thanks to the rising disposable incomes, plethora of information and the increasing willingness to spend, summer holidays are not a humble trip to the nearby hill station anymore. Also, it is not the usual Switzerland or the UK dominating the holiday preference charts of the affluent, but lesser known European destinations are the flavour of the season. And typically, holiday planners and travel portals have lined up several packages for such travellers. For example, a travel portal is offering an Irish package covering Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Killarney and Galway. Similarly, packages on Spain are available where you get to explore Lisbon, Seville, Madrid and Barcelona. You also have the option of designing your own tour if you are well versed with the destination and the local culture.

PLEASURES OF TRAVELING SOLO

This is not to say you can’t do without these packages. If you are the type who don’t want to be herded around in large groups or do not want to be restricted by a rigid itinerary or want to explore destinations off the beaten track, a la carte holidays are the best bet. “Designing one’s own holiday and making individual bookings is perfect when travelling solo, backpacking, as a couple, willing to rough it out and when one has the luxury of time to research and decide,” says Karan Anand, head-relationships, Cox & Kings.

However, there are certain things you should remember if you are planning to do it yourself. For example, if you are travelling with kids or senior citizens, you better be a frequent traveler or be familiar with the place. Also, if you are designing your own holiday, you should cash in on early bird offers as you will be entirely responsible in taking care of finest details of the trip. Pricing in the travel industry is volatile with dynamic fares which oscillate every minute.

“The fluctuations are so variable that they sometimes change in the tiny window of time in between when you search for a flight and when you try to book it,” says Noel Swain – EVP – supplier relations – Cleartrip. “You pay 40% lesser on domestic travel if you book your tickets a month in advance. Similarly, you pay at least 25-30% lower on international air travels. Hence the key to best travel deals is to plan early,” he says. Also be flexible with your dates given that you have a whole month to travel.

Travel portals have a planning tool which shows the cheapest air fares for the entire month. Use this tool to your advantage and choose the best dates possible. Then you can book the accommodation as hotels have flat fares based on the traffic for that season.

PACKAGES COME IN HANDY

Saving money apart, packages ensure a smooth, stress-free holiday for first-timers. Many travel portals work in conjunction with a number of partners which include airlines, hotels and banks. This helps them to offer bundled deals, which are light on the wallet. “Booking a travel package is always the best option for travelers planning a foreign holiday. A travel package covers almost everything a traveler would require, be it booking air tickets and hotels to planning of the itinerary,” says Neelu Singh, chief operating officer of Ezeego1.com.

It can also be a good option if you are travelling in a large group including family and friends. “Apart from flight bookings and accommodation, travel agents also take care of sightseeing, thus easing off the strain of attending to all the finer details. It can get quite cumbersome for an individual to take care of such finer aspects, especially when travelling in a large group. In fact, travelling with a group also brings down the costs if opted for a travel agent,” says Karan Anand, head-relationships at Cox & Kings.

HOW TO CHOOSE A PACKAGE

First, decide on the budget keeping in mind the number of people travelling. “Scan for offers in terms of your budget and destination preference with at least top 5-6 tour operators. Also compare various inclusions, exclusions, offers etc,” says Neeraj Dev. “While booking a holiday package, ensure all the requirements like the specified budget, return airfare, transportation, accommodation, sightseeing, meals are taken care of. If you are comparing deals offered by different travel planners, check the hotel category before booking the package,” suggests Neelu Singh. Similarly, know the final price of the deal inclusive of taxes. Read through the inclusions and the exclusions of the package. The itinerary may not include some tourist destinations or activities which may be on your preference list. For example, if the travel deal to Mauritius does not include snorkeling, sailing or any water sports, you will have to spend for these out of your own pocket. Make a list of such expenses to arrive at the total cost for a fair comparison of the deals.
- Vidyalaxmi ET120413

TECH SPECIAL..Talking Tech Human Voice as the Next Game Changer



LOOKING @ THE FUTURE

Talking to machines and machines responding is a disruptive idea still. But it could change the way we think about tech



    VLAD Sejnoha is talking to the TV again. OK, maybe you’ve done that, too. But here’s the weird thing: His TV is listening. “Dragon TV,” Sejnoha says to the screen, “find movies with Meryl Streep.” Up pops a list of films like “Out of Africa” and “It’s Complicated.”

“Dragon TV, change to CNN,” he says. Presto — the channel f lips to CNN. Sejnoha is sitting in what looks like a living room but is, in fact, a sort of laboratory inside Nuance Communications, the leading force in voice technology, and the speech-recognition engine behind Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the Apple iPhone 4S.

Here, Sejnoha, the company’s chief technology officer, and other executives are plotting a voice-enabled future where human speech brings responses from not only smartphones and televisions, cars and computers, but also coffee makers, refrigerators, thermostats, alarm systems and other smart devices and appliances. It is a wildly disruptive idea. But such systems are beginning to change the way we interact with the world and, for better and worse, how we think about technology. Until now, after all, we’ve talked only to one another. What if we begin talking to all sorts of machines, too — and, like Siri, those machines respond as if they were human?

Granted, people have been talking into machines and at machines since the days of Edison’s phonograph. By the 1980s, commercial speech recognition systems had become sophisticated enough to transcribe spoken words into text. Today, voice technology is a fixture of many companies’ customer-service operations, albeit an occasionally maddening one.

But now the race is on to make the voice the sought-after new interface between us and our technology. The results could rival innovations like the computer mouse and the graphic icon and, some experts say, eventually pose challenges for giants like Google by bypassing their search engines.

No player is bigger in voice technology than Nuance, an industry pioneer that has acquired more than 40 companies in the field and today employs 7,300 people. It is one of the companies that helped make a big technological leap from programs that take dictation to systems that actually extract meaning from words and respond to them. Now it wants to push far beyond that.

“They are the equivalent of Microsoft, Google or Amazon in a very niche technological space,” says Andrew Rosenberg, an assistant professor of computer science at Queens College. Like many new technologies, sophisticated voice systems have potential drawbacks. Some experts worry about privacy invasions, others about our ever-deepening attachment to devices like smartphones.

Humans are wired for speech and tend to respond to talking devices as if they were kindred spirits, says Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I’m not saying voice recognition is bad,” Professor Turkle says. “I’m saying it’s part of a package of attachments to objects where we should tread carefully because we are pushing a lot of Darwinian buttons.”

Only a decade ago, voice-enabled virtual assistants seemed more science fiction than business fact. But in 2000, Paul Ricci, a former executive at Xerox, concluded that voice software could one day disrupt the marketplace the way the mouse and the icon had in the 1980s.

“We had to decide early on where there were markets where we could successfully deploy the technology,” says Ricci, Nuance’s CEO. Nuance, then known as ScanSoft, went on an aggressive acquisition spree. Its most significant acquisition was Nuance, a rival that had been spun off from SRI International of California. The combined company took the Nuance name. SRI later developed and spun off Siri, which was acquired by Apple in 2010.

Nuance reported revenue of $1.3 billion for 2011, with $515 million of that coming from its healthcare technology business. Not everyone is as enamoured of voice technology. Some privacy advocates worry that it adds an audio track to the digital trail that people leave behind when they use the Web or apps, potentially exposing them to more data mining. Voice recognition software works by sending speech to processors that break down spoken words into sound waves and use algorithms to identify the most likely words formed by the sounds. The system typically records and stores speech so it can teach itself to become more accurate over time. Nuance, for example, believes that, aside from the federal government, it has amassed the largest archive of recorded speech in US.

Nuance says it is impossible to identify consumers from the recordings, because the company’s system recognizes people’s voices only by unique codes on their devices, rather than by their names. The company’s privacy policy says it uses the voice data of consumers only to improve its own internal systems.

“We have no idea who you are today,” says Peter Mahoney, the company’s chief marketing officer. Such assurances aside, voice recognition software could conceivably pose enough of a risk to people’s privacy that regulators in Washington are watching.

Dragon Go, Nuance’s first direct-toconsumer app, is part of a push to build the brand’s visibility and demonstrate Nuance’s technological advances to business customers. Its real goal is even bigger: to disrupt the role of search engines as gatekeepers to the Web.

For the most common queries, Dragon Go usually bypasses search engines by taking users directly to websites of companies like Amazon, Expedia and OpenTable, which are Nuance partners on the app. If people don’t find what they’re looking for there, Dragon Go offers traditional Web search.

The benefit for consumers, Nuance executives say, is faster answers in fewer steps. In many cases, Nuance collects a small fee from partner sites when people make restaurant reservations or complete purchases. The app could be construed as a challenge to the likes of Google and Microsoft, which have their own voice products — such as Google Voice Actions and Microsoft Tellme — as well as search engines.

Christopher Katsaros, a Google spokesman, declined to comment. The company has recently updated Google Voice Actions, its voice-command system for Android phones, with a feature that continuously converts people’s speech to text, making it faster and smoother to dictate and send text messages, search Google aloud, or ask for directions.

Lezli Goheen, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, said that the company had addressed consumers’ expectations for easier access to information through several means. In addition to Tellme, a program included in all new Windows products that lets people dictate text messages and commands to applications like calendars, she said, the company has introduced Bing Voice Search, a program that lets people speak their Bing searches.

Nuance, meanwhile, has similarly ambitious plans for its health care business. In collaboration with IBM, the company is developing analytics to scour the medical notes that doctors dictate after they see patients. The idea is to search the text for common red flags — like medicines that interact dangerously — and automatically alert doctors, hopefully reducing problems and health care costs.

Members of US Airways’ frequent-flier program who have registered their mobile phone numbers are greeted by name by “Wally,” an interactive voice system that Nuance created for the airline.

US Airways introduced Wally last summer, as part of a relocation of its offshore customer service call-in operations back to the United States. Nuance designed the system to anticipate callers’ requests. Wally, for example, can automatically tell frequent-flier members their seat assignments or report whether they have received upgrades. It also converts people’s speech to text, so that, should customers ask to speak a live operator, they don’t have to repeat their original requests. VOICE CODE

Future Sounds Bright ...

THE RACE is on to make the voice the sought-after new interface between us and our technology. The results could rival innovations like the computer mouse and the graphic icons THE TECHNOLOGY, when evolved, can eventually pose challenges for giants like Google by bypassing their traditional search engines

...But the Past Wasn’t Perfect

ONLY A decade ago, voice-enabled virtual assistants seemed more science fiction than business fact. BUT IN 2000, Paul Ricci, a former executive at Xerox, concluded that voice software could one day disrupt the marketplaces

How Does it Work

VOICE RECOGNITION software works by sending speech to processors that break down spoken words into sound waves and use algorithms to identify the most likely words formed by the sounds. THE SYSTEM typically records and stores speech so it can teach itself to become more accurate over time
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