Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Grand Canyon-Thrilling Tour by Helicopter

Helicopter Tour Grand Canyon,USA
Helicopter At The Ranch, Grand Canyon,USA
The tour of the Grand Canyon-flight to Grand Canyon, Skywalk, Helicopter Flight over ,around and to the bottom of the Canyon, barbecue lunch ,pontoon jet boat ride on the Colorado-is one of  the most thrilling experiences and a top tourist attraction. It has made The Grand Canyon a top destination in the US. The drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon passes by the  Hoover Dam which is also on the way. 
Hoover Dam Tour, USA
Hoover Dam, USA
Enroute to the Ranch there is a stop at an airport where each one of  passengers are weighed and handed a boarding pass with strict instructions not to change the seats as that would affect the balance of the helicopter. Also if passenger weighs more than 128Kg then  2 tickets have to be purchased. The Hoover Dam is about an hour's drive on US93 from Las Vegas. The tour guides cum driver are very well informed -mostly ex army with tour guide training-and keep up an interesting and humorous commentary  about everything that  can be seen on the road -cars,roads,road signs, weather, tress I think nothing is spared and it is all extremely interesting.
Hoover dam ,USA
Hoover Dam,USA
Built across the Colorado at Black Canyon, the Hoover Dam is located at the boundary between Arizona and Nevada states. It was built between 1931-35 to basically control floods, provide irrigation and generate hydroelectric power. I suppose it served its purpose although some ecological issues arose for about 4 to 5 years ,the time it took Lake Mead to get full and stabilize .Lake Mead was the lake formed by constructing the Dam. 
Western Ranch,Grand Canyon, USA
Ranch At Grand Canyon, USA
After Hoover Dam we were back on the road and after about 3 hours reached a Western Ranch set in among the hills surrounding the Grand Canyon. 

Ancient Joshua Tree,USA
Ancient Joshua Tree-Grand Canyon, USA
On the way was shown a 90 years old Joshua tree. We had no means to confirm the age of the tree but it did look ancient.
The Grand Canyon ranch had a real 1800s look about it and we were told that real outlaws once hid in the same ranch. Lunch was a old-western style meal consisting of roast chicken with chunks of bread and salad eaten on wooden plates with wooden cutlery. 
Cowboy Entertainment at Ranch,Grand Canyon,USA
Cowboys At Grand Canyon, USA
Real cowboys went about with their antics to entertain us with skits and songs. We were also treated to a gunfight show  in which 3 outlaws inside a bar were shot by the Marshals. It was actually quite fast and "Sudden" if you remember the old paperbacks which we used to read in school.
Red Indian Tent,tipis at grand Canyon,USA
Tipis, Grand Canyon,USA
There was a wagon and some tipis around which we explored while waiting our turn for the Helicopter ride. We also tried to perfect the skill of lassoing a wooden cow .

Wagon at ranch,Grand canyon, USA
Wagon,Grand Canyon,USA
The inside of the wagon was quite luxurious and the journeys were probably not as difficult as it seems today.

Wagon Interiors, Grand Canyon, USA
Wagon Interiors, Grand Canyon,USA
The wind being very strong, the helicopters were landing and taking off very carefully and the flights were getting delayed and passengers were drifting towards the Diamond bar.Soon our flight was announced and were boarded a Horse Drawn Wagon to go to the Heliport.
Horse Drawn Wagon,Grand Canyon, USA
Horse Drawan Wagon,Grand Canyon,USA
The helicopter came slowly  and strted hovering 20 ft above the helipad. The stong wind was making it swing from side to side and the thought of flying in that machine  was frightening. 

Helicopter Descent,Grand canyon, USA
Helicopter Descent, Grand Canyon, USA
But it descended extremely slowly over almost 5 minutes and as it came down the swinging stopped and it settled very gently on the "H" mark. We quickly boarded and took our pre-allotted seats.The helicopter took off gently and after gaining height started moving towards the Canyon. 
Helicopter View of Grand Canyon,USA
Helicopter View, Grand Canyon, USA
It was moving very slowly and the pilot was perfect and seemed to be a part of the machine ,expertly responding to the gusts of wind which were pushing the craft around. As the helicopter neared the Canyon the ground seemed to fall away and we were 6000 ft high above the Colorado river.The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 wonders of the world and the patterns on the sides tell the geological history of the area over 500 million years.
Geological History of Grand Canyon,USA
Geological History,Grand Canyon, USA
 Since the wind was strong the pilot did not enter the Canyon .On normal days he goes down about 2000 feet into the Canyon. The vegetation on the two sides is totally different, probably because the duration of  the sunlight falling on each side is different.

2 Sides of Grand Canyon,USA
2 Sides of Grand Canyon,USA
After flying for about one and half hours during which the pilot kept up a steady description of each and everything around it was time to head back and an extremely thrilling experience was coming to an end.
Helicopter Pilot at Grand Canyon, USA
The Helicopter Pilot, Grand Canyon, USA
The Helicopter turned around and headed towards the ranch and we could see it growing in size slowly as the helicopter approached.
Helicopter View of Western ranch at Grand Canyon,USA
The Ranch From The Air, Grand Canyon,USA
Inside Helicopter at Grand Canyon, USA
Inside Helicopter 
The landing was almost like a feather coming down and  the Horse wagon took us back to our Car. 
The guide took us on a tour of a nearby Joshua forest and explained how the Red Indians put the tree to 105 uses. Three hours later we were back at the Paris Hotel and the Las Vegas STRIP.

Inside Helicopter at Grand Canyon, USA
Inside Helicopter

Inside Helicopter

Monday, 21 November 2011

Las Vegas-The Entertainment Capital of the World

Slot Machines, Las Vegas
The moment you are out of the aircraft at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas you are greeted with the sight of rows of  slot machines with brightly colored screens ,one arm in the sky, inviting you to try your luck. I think it is all about creating the state of the mind and letting you realise that you are on holiday at the "Entertainment Capital of the World" . Las Vegas is a top destination among the places to travel and has several tourist places in and around it.
Hotel Paris,Las Vegas
Paris Las Vegas is a hotel and casino located on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, NevadaUSA, that is owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment Corp.. As its name suggests, its theme is the city of Paris in France; it includes a half scale replica of the Eiffel Tower, a sign in the shape of the Montgolfier balloon, a two-thirds size Arc de Triomphe and a replica of La Fontaine des Mers.The front of the hotel is modeled on the Paris Opera House and the Louvre. The Eiffer Tower was initially planned to be a full size replica but the airport authorities did not allow it.Also the back legs of the Eiffel Tower are actually inside the main gambling area.

Arc D Triumphe,Paris Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas.
 The  massive front area of the Paris has the Casino Games /Bars/Live Entertainment etc and the rooms  at the back of the 24 Acre area. The gaming area at the Paris looks the same all 24 hours of the day with Stars twinkling in the artificial sky and the Moon also moving around.There is hectic activity going on all 24 hours. Tourists/vacationers  decide not to sleep at all once they are in Vegas. They do not want to miss a second of the fun and also I believe that lack of sleep makes people reckless and optimistic. Of the many games available , the Roulette and  the Slot machines were the most popular.When you bet on one number in roulette the return is 36 times. Both these games do not require any strategizing /observation/skill and are relaxing, enjoyable and pure fun.
Arnold,Madame Tussauds, Las Vegas
Arnie Governator, Las Vegas
In addition to Pairs there are several more Hotels in Las Vegas on the strip each competeting with the other for drawing the crowds by having different themes, architecture, decorations like fountains  and statues etc. The popular  Hotel Casinos  are Bellagio, Venetian, Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand, Pallazzo, Ceasar's Palace many more in the 7 KM long STRIP of Las Vegas. Each one of them has its own original theme and characteristic attraction. 
Ceasar's Palace, Las Vegas
Ceasar's Palace Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
Bellagio has its fountains, Ceasar's Palace its statues and the Venetian its Gondola boat ride with the singing Gondolier.
Venetian's Gondola with the Singing Gondolier,Las Vegas
LasVegas started off as a center for  Adult Entertainment  and accordingly in the eveining there are various shows held at different Casinos . We went to the Jubilee at Bally's the first night . It was a stunning show with 90 performers -including 50 topless dancers-going through 7 acts ,one of which was the Titanic . The second night we went to the Le Reve which was at the Wynn and was about a dream sequence enacted by about 100 performers in a pool of water with some suspended in the air and others under the water. It was equally stunning especially the agility and strength of the performers.
Madame Tussauds 2, Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds, Las Vegas
 Las Vegas has some excellent  Indian restaurants and the first day we tried the Namaste which serves both North Indian and South Indian cuisine. On the second day we tried the Tamba which was also excellent.Tamba means copper and there was a lot of copper in the form of plates,cutlery, decorations etc.
Las Vegas
In the departure hall of the airport we found the slot machines. and that was not the end.Even in the area around the gate to the aircraft there were slot machines scattered around and ALL were being used.

Venetian, Las Vegas
Venetian, Las Vegas
Treasure Island Las Vegas
Treasure Island, Las Vegas

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Niagara Falls- A natural wonder of the US

Niagara Falls at Night
 As one approaches Niagara  a hum can be felt in the ears and it  keeps growing louder and louder.  It is the sound  of the falls audible from 10 KMs away and grows louder by the minute.The sound is omnipresent and can be heard all the time and all over the city.
Niagara Falls Lit Up at Night
We were driving along the Niagara river and the flow was faster than I have ever seen anywhere.After checking into the Hotel Crowne Plaza (an excellent Hotel in Niagara Falls) we decided to walk to the fall. It was easy.Just walk towards the roar.
Niagara Falls Lit Up From Canadian side, USA
It was evening and the falls were lit up in various colours with lights from the Canadian side in changing colors. The colour of the lights was changing from Red to Blue to White at 3 or 4 minutes intervals. The wind was strong and the temperature was low ,and being inappropriately dressed we were getting chilled to the bones, and literally. The wind can bite through the clothes and the flesh to chill the bones. I think that is why we have a wind chill factor in weather forecasts. 
Fireworks at Niagara Falls, USA
All of a sudden the fire works started and the sky was filled with exploding lights again in 3 colours, White, Red and Blue.
Exploding Fireworks at Niagara Falls,USA
It was an indeed spectacular sight with falls flooded with colored lights and exploding fireworks above.The show lasted about an hour and a half and despite the cold there was a sizeable crowd of tourists for whom the show was put up everyday during the tourist season.
Fireworks over Ontario ,Niagara Falls, USA

 There was a restaurant close by where one could have dinner and also get some respite from the biting cold wind.It was almost mid night when we went back to the Crowne Plaza for a good nights sleep.
Tours Leaving Crowne Plaza for Niagara Falls Tour,USA
Early next day we booked a tour that was going to take us around the Niagara City, The Falls and the Maid of the Mist ride.    We were given yellow PE Parkas and water proof shoes  at the very beginning,having to carry our own shoes in hand.                                                                                                                                                                                       
Memorial of Nikola Tesla ,Niagara Falls
The first stop was a memorial of Nikola Tesla who  designed and built the first Hydro electric Power Plant at Niagara Falls generating AC power. Uptil then Edison had been setting up DC Power plants. AC power can be generated in one place and transmitted over long distances using transmission lines. This was in fact the start of the  electrification of the world and it has changed the way earth appears from outer space.The US is one of the very few countries where you can see memorials of engineers and scientists,and Tesla was from Yugoslavia. Normally it is the Rulers, Military Generals or Artists who have the good fortune of having memorials built after them.
Niagara River ,before the Falls
From the top of the falls- the bank of the Niagara river - we were transported by an elevator ,down 150 ft to the bottom of the fall. The stone that was dug out was used to construct the building in which the elevator was housed. The place was called Goat Island.It was fun getting wet in the water that was coming down.                                                
Small falls at Goat Island, Niagara                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

The spray was getting into the Sony camera and soon it stopped giving clear pictures and then we had to switch to the more resilient Steve Jobs Apple I Phone.The photographs became bigger in size,but lacked the sharpness and clarity of the Sony.
Anyways it was time for the Maid of the Mist ride and our yellow parkas were replaced with Blue ones,probably some kind of colour code for those who have been on the boat and those who have not.

Bridal Veil Falls viewed from The Maid of the Mist,Niagara
These are the smaller Bridal Veil falls which you pass on the boat. Uptil then it seems quite peaceful.The sea gulls are flying around looking for the fish which crash onto the rocks on the sides of the fall  and provide a hearty meal for the birds.
Niagara Falls from Maid of the Mist
As you get closer to the actual falls the spray/mist starts appearing and the water starts getting rough. While passing through the Mist on its Maid, these are the distinct memories which stay with you for ever.
Waves Rocking The Maid of the Mist, Niagara
  1. The boat is rocking almost a good 12 inches up and down forcing you to hold on firmly to something or the other.
  2. The  deafening  roar of the waterfall is pierced by the shrill screams of the sea gulls who are circling  around you looking for fish which has not survived the water fall.
  3. There is a fine mist/spray in the air which gets into your eyes,ears, clothes ,neck almost every where.
  4. There is a smell of fish all around. 
Waves Created by The Falls, Niagara
All of these add to the exihiliration  of the ride and  it is definitely one of the most thrilling experiences one can have.
Falls from the Maid of the Mist, Nigara
The Maid of the Mist turned around and headed back.
Canadian Flag on the Maid of the Mist
We visited a few more places in the city but they were too tame  and simple compared to the Maid of the Mist ride and we headed back to the excellent sports bar of the Crowne Plaza and spent the evening watching some ice hockey match ,live on TV.
Niagara River after the Falls
Sports Bar at The Crowne Plaza, Niagara
 From the groans and the cheering all around it appeared to be some important match.
Ontario from The Niagara Falls
The US is the top destination among places to travel and Niagara Falls is the most popular tourist place in the USA.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Broad band and Network Congestion

Broad Band is traditionally defined as internet data download speed of 256 Kbps or more per OECD standards. However different countries have different cut off levels depending on economic, social and technological conditions prevailing at the time. As a result, in the US, definition   of Broad Band is data speed of 4Mbps or more while in India, as per the new telecom policy of 2011 it has been increased from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps. However, the world wide trend is to keep on increasing the data download speed at which it becomes Broad Band.ITU, which is the telecom wing of UN and has about 98 member countries, has provided certain recommendations   for Broad Band, which the governments of the member countries have to keep in mind while formulating their own telecom policies and regulatory framework. These are that fixed line availability in rural and remote areas will be sparse and expensive, therefore mobile broadband will be the preferred technology for meeting the target of 2 Billion Broad band users by 2015, worldwide. Besides, the governments must push Broad band rollout proactively and extend benefits like no limit to market entry, less taxation on broadband and related service and ensuring ample spectrum availability for mobile broadband growth. Overall Broad Band may be promoted as a key development toll.

Availability of Broad Band has certain benefits and the same are listed below.

  1. Entertainment
  2. Means of communication between family members
  3. Skill up gradation/Learning from home/Self Improvement
  4. Employment search and career advancement.

  1. Access to retail customers.
  2. Reduction in transaction costs
  3. Search for raw materials and supplies
  4. Employment facilitation.

  1. E learning/education
  2. Filing returns and paying taxes etc on line.
  3. Travel booking
  4. Promote tourism
  5. Net  Banking

These are just a few and many more will develop as the service improves both in terms of speed and penetration.

Keeping the ITU recommendations and the benefits of broad band the Indian Government has in 2011 announced its new telecom Policy 2011. For broad band, the definition has been changed from 256 KBPS to 512 KBPS and which by 2015 will be increased to 2 MBPS.

Broadband access has been accorded the status of necessity like education and healthcare and the Government will work towards “Right to Broadband access” Affordable and Reliable Broad Band access at 2 Mbps will be provided to all by 2015. Regarding number of users the targets are 175million by 2017 and 600 million by 2020.

Developed countries have Broad Band penetration of 78% as on date and if the Government is targeting 600M users by 2020, it still does not come close to the level of developed countries even 9 years from now.

As on date there are approx 20 million Broadband connections in India using landline and EVDO of Reliance, Tata Photon, BSNL etc. The number of 3G (3G provides both Voice and Data Download at Broad band speed) connections in India today would be approx 15 million taking the total BB subscriber base to 35 Million. The 3G network rollouts are taking place at a high sped all over the country and 3G smart phones and 3G enabled tablets are being introduced and marketed at a high speed and in huge numbers. The prices of smart phones and tablets are also falling and the target of 175 Million by 2017 does seem possible. Also by 2017 LTE networks of Broad band licensees would also be coming on air and that will make the 175 million target feasible.

3G/HSPA networks at present cover only 35% of the world population and by 2017 are expected to cover 80%.

LTE at present is available only to 2% of the world population and is expected to grow to 35% by 2017

Smart phones are so called because they have besides Voice and SMS
  1. PDA capability
  2. Portable Media Playing capability
  3. Web Browsing Capability for standard web pages(not mobile version of web pages)
  4. GPS navigation capability
  5. WI FI capability
  6. Mobile Broad Band capability
  7. Advanced computing ability
  8. Advanced connectivity-2g,edge, 3G, MMS
  9. Camera and associated capability for sending photographs by email/MMS.
  10. Touch screen is a new capability.

Today you can go and purchase a Smart Phone, follow certain instructions and in 20 minutes you can start using all the features of the smart phone. This  is possible because, unknown to you and unseen by you there is an oss/bss system working which has been set up and operated by the service provider. A smart phone, for providing the above facilities generates 5 times as much traffic as a normal phone. Same is the case with tablets. Now when all of the targeted users switch on their devices at the same time the traffic will increase beyond the capacity of the OSS. What will be the result?
  1. Decline in user experience
  2. Unstable internet connection.
  3. Slow download
  4. Delayed reaction
  5. Less productivity
  6. Frustration
  7. Churn

All this is happening today in San Francisco, New York and London. History repeats itself. It will happen in India too (when users are in excess of network capacity) until some proactive steps are taken by Telecom Service Operators today.

To make content reach all corners of India, the government is going to spend Rs 20,000 Crores to build an OFC network which will connect all Gram Panchayats (Village Panchayats) by 2014. After that, all villages and habitats will be connected using OFC or Mobile Broad band, time will tell.

Also the spectrum being used by the defense forces is being released by the Government building a separate network for armed forces by spending 13000 crores separately. This will free the super efficient 700 MHz band which will be used for rolling out the LTE services by the Broad Band service provider companies.

There will be extreme congestion in the last mile access and the following long term steps if  taken NOW  might mitigate the situation.

1.     Shift traffic to congestion free Wi Fi networks in buildings connected by OFC using suitable devices.
2.     Lay more in-ground OFC to rapidly move Radio Access Data to core.
3.     Repalce twisted pair cables with carrier grade OFCwhich is 3 times faster.
4.     Encourage users to install FEMTO cells in their premises.
5.     Encourage creation of Hot Spots connected by OFC.
6.     Planning and ensuring  sufficient back haul capacity at each BTS/NodeB.