I recently got my cycle fixed up at Rider Owned Bikes (ironically, despite the grumpy owner of that shop). I hadn’t done that good a job at reassembling the bike gears after I had taken apart the wheels and put them all in the back-seat of the car when travelling from Bangalore to Pune.

This was one of the fortunate days where I slept early enough and woke up early enough. And I badly wanted to take the refreshed cycle out for a spin. I had been too often to Nagar Road, Viman Nagar and related areas. I wanted to explore a different part of Pune, I wanted to go south. I didn’t have much idea about that. Then, I remembered that NH7 Weekender (which I’m looking forward to) is happening at Amanora Park Town which is south of Nagar Road.

I checked the maps, just ~7 km from where I live, so I set off! I went exploring the gullies of Pune, crossed the Mula-Mutha river to the Mundhwa Road, went under a flyover, crossed a railway track, back to the main road and into Amanora Park Town.

I explored Amanora Park Town quite a bit, lots of residential complexes have come up, but I didn’t see much else, or probably I couldn’t figure out which way to go because it was a massive under-construction area. The security guards were nice and even wished me good morning. I guess they assumed I must be one of the locals, one of the benefits of wearing a cycling helmet which makes people consider you “seriously”, I guess.

And then cycled back. RunKeeper app says that I did 15.5 km in 1 hr 10 min. Not bad for cycling after a long time, that too in unfamiliar territory.

I love exploratory cycling, probably why I should stick to cycling rather than running, even though the latter felt more of a workout.

The only irritating part to this morning’s cycling was the constant fear of my iPhone jumping out of the front basket as it was not tied to anything. It was critical to keep it there because I needed Google Maps to show me the route to take. Of course, the phone did fall out once, luckily I was in one of the gullies where there was no vehicle behind and the protector case did it’s job well. Maybe I should get one of those Quad Lock mounting systems… let’s see!

Crossing the Mula-Mutha river
Crossing the Mula-Mutha river

 

Lifting the cycle across a railway track under a flyover
Lifting the cycle across a railway track under a flyover

 

Amanora Park Town
Amanora Park Town

I came to know there was a water rappelling event organized by VRangers this weekend via the Mumbai Hikers blog. We booked it and only realized later that it was 220+ km away and we’ll have to be there by 10am. Ouch. We inquired for stays in Igatpuri so that we can reach there on Saturday afternoon and head back on Sunday afternoon. No luck – every single hotel we could reach out to was fully booked. Yikes, what is so special about this place Igatpuri that the whole area is full? We were going to find out later since we decided to head out anyway, and started driving at 5:30am on a Sunday morning.

We headed out on the Maharashtra State Highway 50 which is a 2-lane no-divider highway which made it difficult and slow to drive because of the slow heavy trucks. An hour later, we stopped at this beautiful spot to have packed healthy sandwiches for breakfast:

View from our breakfast spot
View from our breakfast spot

 

View of breakfast point
View of breakfast point

 

View from our breakfast spot
View from our breakfast spot

 

Breakfast spot
Breakfast spot

 

Less than an hour later, Google Maps showed a possible route other than going through Nashik and we wanted to avoid going to Nashik. So even though the locals also discouraged us, we decided to take the shorter SH51 route that Google Maps showed us, and boy are we glad that we did!

SH21 to Igatpuri
SH21 to Igatpuri

 

The Road

 

The Road

 

Flower field
Flower field

 

Waterfalls by the road
Waterfalls by the road

 

The road

 

Lush green hillocks
Lush green hillocks

 

The road

 

Field, where we stopped to eat apples
Field, where we stopped to eat apples

 

Raining while driving in the beautiful scenic road
Raining while driving in the beautiful scenic road

 

Clouds into the hills
Clouds into the hills

 

The road

 

Big waterfalls seen at a distance
Big waterfalls seen at a distance

 

Waterfalls, by the road
Waterfalls, by the road

 

The road

After feasting our eyes on lush green hills, beautiful waterfalls far and near (by the road side) and green fields with grazing animals, we reached our final destination – Vihi gaon, near Manas Resort, Igatpuri, after 5.5 hours of driving through countless bends and turns.

We were both excited to do waterfall rappelling but when we reached, they said that due to heavy rainfall and strong water flowing, the number of safe spots that rappelling can be done from is only one and another group had already taken it up, so we were going to do another activity. We were disappointed at first but safety concerns are important, so we were happy there was another activity – the flying fox  (also called a zip-line).

Although there were too many people in queue (nearly a hundred!), the organizers VRangers handled things very well and ensured everyone’s safety as well as fun.

Crossing the water to the flying fox start point
Crossing the water to the flying fox start point

 

Small waterfall level above and before the big waterfall
Small waterfall level above and before the big waterfall

 

Queue waiting for their turn
Queue waiting for their turn

 

Flying Fox start point
Flying Fox start point

 

Flying Fox start point, my wife
Flying Fox start point, my wife

 

A video of the view from the start of the flying fox rope : this is my wife who is going down the rope, it hard to get a good shot because, due to safety reasons, the waiting folks were at a distance from the crew and the cliff:

A view from the other side, the end of the flying fox rope : this is a random person coming down the rope:

Experiencing the water splashes:

View of the pouring waterfall, from the end point
View of the pouring waterfall, from the end point

 

Waterfall full view
Waterfall full view

 

Waterfall rapelling by another group
Waterfall rapelling by another group

 

Waterfall rappelling by another group
Waterfall rappelling by another group

 

We enjoyed being at the waterfalls for quite some time, then went to a nearby Greelands hotel, changed to dry clothes in the surprisingly clean bathrooms, had lunch and finally headed back to Pune around 4:30pm in the same route.

Waterfalls view, from the road
Waterfalls view, from the road

 

River, by the road
River, by the road

 

Small waterfalls, by the road
Small waterfalls, by the road

 

The road, all rained out
The road, all rained out

 

The highlight on the way back was a beautiful rainbow:

A rainbow
A rainbow!

 

We had dinner around 8 at Chaitrali restaurant – their Veg. Kasuri is a must-try. Then headed out again doing the sometimes-scary highway overtaking and the even-more-scary overtaking from left because of slow-moving moron drivers who insists on being on the right side of the lane. We finally reached home at 10:30pm, I washed up and crashed for the night with a smile on my face and aches everywhere.

I remember when @Ravi_Mohan kept talking about MOOCs and how excited he is by it, I didn’t pay attention to it at the time. A few weeks ago, I watched Daphne Koller’s TED talk and was blown away. I ended up signing up for one of the courses and have been enjoying the course since a week. 4 more weeks of class to go :)

MOOCs stand for “Massively Open Online Courses”. The idea of online educational videos is not new – Academic Earth, Khan Academy, etc. have been around for some time. What is new is online full-length courses taught by the best professors who teach the same courses at the best institutions + actual course schedule (it has a start date and an end date) + actual grading on quizzes and homeworks. This translates to any university course brought online with many more benefits – the videos can be watched any time anywhere, you can pause, replay and rewind the professor’s talk any number of times (I do that more often than I thought I would!), you can interact with other students all over the world in the forums. Phew!

When I was browsing through the list of courses (Coursera has the most courses), I saw a course on gamification. Since it was a business course, something I was curious about and something non-heavy, I decided to take up that course instead of any heavy technical course – out of fear that I might not enjoy a full-length course after having last studied 7 years ago. Watching an hour-long video is one thing, watching a continuous topic for six weeks is something else!

The course I signed up for is on the topic of gamification. The statistics on the students who have signed up for that one course is astounding : in a survey sent to the students, 71,000 students participated which revealed they’re from 147+ countries. Out of 40% who responded to the survey, 9000+ from USA, 1700+ from Brazil, 1700+ from India, 1000+ from Canada. That’s right, 1700+ from India.

The course is taught by Prof. Kevin Werbach (he has his own Wikipedia page) who teaches at the Wharton school, which is supposed to be one of the the best B-schools anywhere. Another plus.

Gamification is defined as “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” If you’ve ever been encouraged to get more followers on twitter by constantly watching the follower count – then you’ve experienced what gamification can feel like. Similarly, if you’ve participated in Stack Overflow and noticed the badges, the points and the avatars, then you’ve seen gamification at work. Gamification as a concept is new, and only commonly known since 2010.

Gamification, obviously, is inspired from games. The most surprising things I’ve learned in this course is how pervasive games are. I grew up playing Atari and video games such as Mario and I played a little “Quake 2” and “Unreal Tournament” when I was at Yahoo! but have not played games since then. Did you know that “the game industry is $66 billion worldwide (DFC 2011), that’s double the Hollywood box office revenues”? I didn’t know that until I took this course.

On top of that, “online games are expected to surpass retail games (playstation, xbox, nintendo wii, PC) in 2013”. This is astounding considering that  “XBox Live currently has 35,000,000 monthly uniques and 1,20,000,000,000 (120,000 million) minutes time spent per month.”

That’s just online – what about mobile? “40% of US/UK adults have played a mobile game in the last month” (PopCap/Information Solutions).

If you consider the ever-increasing use of loyalty programs, social graph connections with businesses, frequent flyer program tiers, gold/platinum credit cards, etc. gamification is all around us and we may not even realize it. Heck, even if you use the Pomodoro technique like I do, you have experienced gamification.

Prof. Werbach does a fantastic job of explaining things and getting the student excited. I already finished the quizzes and written assignment for week 2 ahead of schedule because I finished the videos early because I couldn’t stop listening to him. (I hope I maintain the pace for the rest of the weeks and balance work and this course.)

In contrast, I also had signed up for the Statistics One course on Coursera – the first ten minutes of the first lecture was so undecipherable that I quickly un-enrolled.

In summary, lessons learned: (1) Always listen to Ravi Mohan and (2) MOOCs are a fantastic way forward. Anyone anywhere can learn the best courses. Think about that.

 

Update on 20 Sep, 2012 : Also see this great short article in Forbes magazine by the founders of Coursera talking about the issue of access to education, not only about better education.