Review: BEYt Guesthouse

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Two weeks ago while in Lebanon I stayed at a guesthouse called BEYt. They’ve been open for nearly a year now and I found out about the place by chance on my last trip there while visiting a small bookshop (Play BEY which belongs to them) and overhearing the owner talk about it. The guesthouse was located on top of the bookshop on the main Mar Mikhael street and when I got a tour of the place I knew I would be staying there on my next trip, which is what I ended up doing.

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As I mentioned above, BEYt is located on the very popular Mar Mikhael street. It’s on the first floor of a traditional Lebanese building with high ceilings, wooden shutters and beautiful floor tiles. They only have four rooms available which are:

Master Bedroom (90$ for 1 person, 110$ for 2, 130$ for 3)
Private bedroom with its own en-suite bathroom
1 queen-size bed & 1 single bed

Private bedroom (75$ for 1 person, 95$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with its dedicated bathroom across the corridor
1 queen-size bed

Twin Bedroom (60$ for 1 person, 80$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom across the corridor
2 single beds (1.20 meters)

Corner Bedroom (50$ for 1 person, 70$ for double occupancy)
Private bedroom with shared bathroom
2 single beds (1.10 meters)

Those are the prices as of this post.

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I ended up taking the “Master Bedroom” and found the room fairly spacious with a pretty large bathroom area thats nearly as big as the room itself. The whole guesthouse is fitted with vintage furniture and various vintage electronics like record players, TVs and cameras. It’s a beautiful space and all the furniture was handpicked by the owner. The biggest seller for me though was the location, being situated right on Mar Mikhael street meant I could walk to my favorite pubs and then clumsily stumble back at the end of the night. For those of you who know Lebanon, BEYt is located 2 minutes away walking from pubs like Radio Beirut, Internazionale, The Train Station and The Junkyard. Walk a minute longer and you’re at Bar Tartine, SUD and The Sandwich Shop. I can’t really imagine a better location to be staying at in Beirut. Because there are no pubs below or right across the street from BEYt the place was actually pretty quiet especially the room I stayed in which didn’t overlook the main road. BEYt also had WiFi and it was a pretty reasonable speed compared to Beirut standards.

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With all the positives I did have a number of issues though. When we first arrived at the guesthouse we were told that they needed our rooms for 2 hours because they were installing new vintage lights in our rooms. Nice but why couldn’t they have done that before we arrived or after we left? The first thing I wanted to do was unpack and head out. Another day I walked into my room and noticed they had removed the window shutters and a guy was standing outside my window working on them while looking into my room. That made me feel really uneasy since I was just sitting there on my computer with a guy looking in from my window. Again it wasn’t anything urgent that needed fixing so they should have done it before or after we left. I called the owner and told him how weird that was and he told me the guy just needed 10 more minutes. I had to wait until he was done so I could go and shower which annoyed me since I don’t like other people managing my personal time. The next morning I woke up to find the guy was back at my window, he had removed the shutters and was working on them again. It was really annoying and an invasion of my personal space.

Other issues I faced, the original room description which I listed above stated my room would have two beds but when I got there I found only one. It didn’t turn out to be an issue for me but it would have for someone wanting the second bed. Finally, the last issue I had was with the AC. We were told that we should shutoff the AC when we leave our rooms. I hate doing that especially when the AC isn’t really powerful like the ones they had installed. I usually come back to the room to sleep and don’t want to come back to a hot stuffy room and wait an hour till it cools. Luckily we managed to keep it on the whole time without any issues.

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There were a few more things that bothered me like the smell of the cooking every morning or the really rough and hard towels. But all the issues were relatively minor and nothing really took away from the whole experience except for the guy with my shutters. I thought the price of my room was pretty fair and the fact they have rooms starting at $50 is ridiculous. It’s all about the location and that’s why I’d stay there again with all the issues I had. For more information on BEYt, check out their website [Here]

Another similar place I would recommend staying at is the Hayete Bed & Breakfast which I’ve previously written about [Here]

Note: Picture of the room taken from the BEYt website

Posted by Mark

Roberto Merhi Could Race With Caterham F1 At Monza

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It’s not confirmed yet but Caterham F1 team has shown interest in Formula Renault 3.5 Series driver Roberto Merhi. I was told that Merhi is of Lebanese origins but I can’t confirm that. If it turns out to be true, we will have two drivers of Lebanese origin in F1, Felipe Nasr and Roberto Merhi.

Formula Renault 3.5 title contenders Carlos Sainz Jr. and Roberto Merhi could make their Formula 1 debuts later this season for the Caterham team. Caterham’s new owners are evaluating their driver options for the remainder of the campaign, having slotted in Andre Lotterer at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

No decision has yet been taken about the plans for who lines up alongside Marcus Ericsson in the remaining races, but AUTOSPORT understands that both Merhi and Sainz are being seriously considered. Merhi has been with the Caterham team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, and told Spain’s Movistar TV that he has already been in the simulator.

“They invited me to visit the factory and try the simulator, which was great,” he said.

“And then they invited me to the circuit. There’s nothing else really. I know there may be a chance one day but right now we don’t know.

“We haven’t spoken about the possibility to race. It could happen one day but we haven’t discussed that.” [Link]

Tari2ak: The Best App To Learn About Real-Time Traffic Conditions In Lebanon

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[YouTube]

I get a lot of emails from people in Lebanon asking me to review their apps, and what I usually do is download the app, try it out and write about it if I think it’s a nice and promising one. However, I decided to sit and talk with the guy behind Tari2ak, Rami Khawandi, before posting because his idea is a very smart one and hard to implement so I wanted to know how he made it possible.

[Tari2ak] is basically a mobile app that uses your smartphones as sensors to detect your movement activity (using an AI algorithm) and then detects your location using GPS to report real-time traffic conditions. All is done passively without any effort or human intervention, and without the need to have the app open even. To put it in simpler terms, any user who has the app installed will be transmitting information regarding traffic without having to do anything or draining his battery, and the Tari2ak servers will handle all the traffic reports and update the maps accordingly.

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What you get as a result is a map like the one shown above, with lights indicating the traffic status. Generally, a green traffic line means the average speed on that street is above 40 km/h, orange indicates the average speed is between 20 km/h and 40 km/h, and red is below 20 km/h. There are cases like small streets or big highways were those numbers vary a little.

This is a brief overview of the app but I do recommend that you read the Q&A below as it covers most of the questions you might have in mind, specially the ones related to Google traffic and how the app detects your motion. For those of you who are too lazy to read, you can watch the brief walkthrough video for the user experience and the app in general that was exclusively made for BlogBaladi.

[Tari2ak] has 1500 daily active users and is available for [iOS] and [Android]. It’s a very promising app with a lot of potential, specially in countries like Lebanon with no Google Traffic data available and no government APIs to rely on.

So hurry up and download it because winter is coming (Hello GOT fans) and you will need it with all this traffic!

What is Tari’ak?

Tari’ak is a mobile app that we claim is the simplest most accurate way to learn about real-time traffic conditions, currently available in Lebanon.

How did you come up with the app? Is the app for free or are there any paid versions?

People who work in tech, and software engineers specifically, are constantly on the hunt for the next great idea. It can get very obsessive sometimes because solving a real-life problem is the equivalent of painting the Mona Lisa for us nerds.

It started while I was discussing app ideas with a friend of mine while driving in Beirut, and as you would expect, we got caught in a heavy traffic jam on a road we could have easily avoided if only we knew it was blocked. We then started thinking about how we could possibly avoid traffic jams using smartphones and checked out existing traffic apps but none of them was of any practical use. I spent the next month doing the research and when I finally figured out a better way to crowdsource traffic, I committed to this idea as my senior project. So I guess you can say the idea came from a cocktail of frustration, optimism, and commitment.

Tari’ak is a free app and will continue to be so.

How many users do you have till now? How many active ones daily?

So far we’ve had more than 20,000 downloads and among them are 1500 daily active users, and over 9500 active monthly. Note that we have just launched our Android version last week so the numbers are going up fast.

Each day we receive about 9000 traffic reports from around 1300 streets, and these numbers have doubled since last month. This is only for Lebanon.

Other than downloading the app, do users have to do anything manually? How does it work?

Users can use the app without giving us any information. Our solution crowdsources traffic data passively and is completely automated. We believe users should not report traffic manually for these main reasons:

1- There is no incentive for the user! Informing others about traffic conditions is not the first thing that’s going to come to your mind when you’re stressed or late.

2- People lie!! With manual reporting of traffic, there is no proof-checking. A bunch of friends can choose to misinform the public just for fun… so forget about reliable data.

3- Most importantly, it is not road-safe!!! Prompting users to tell us about traffic manually compromises their safety if they’re driving. We care about people and advise them to avoid distractions when driving.

How Tari’ak works is simple: people move while carrying their phones. That’s really all it takes.

The app wakes up (in the background) whenever you start moving and intelligently identifies your movement activity (walking, running, biking, in a vehicle, on a motorbike, etc..) using an AI algorithm that relies solely on your device’s motion sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope,) not the GPS, in order not to drain the battery. The algorithm works in a similar fashion to fitness apps that measure your steps and it has proved to be pretty accurate.

Once the app knows that you are driving, it then activates the GPS for a few seconds to get the device’s location, speed and direction, and reports this info to our server. All this is done passively without any effort or human intervention, and without the need to have the app open even.

Accordingly, our server is continuously (24/7) receiving speed measurements from people driving, and it can therefore calculate the average speed of each road users are driving on. If that average is low, then there is heavy traffic.

How do u know if someone is walking slowly or driving in traffic?

Most people assume that we detect the type of movement using the speed of the device. We don’t. We rely on motion metrics instead. For example, the acceleration of a car is unmatched by that of a person or a bike, where as the shaky movement of the device in a pocket or purse of a pedestrian is not the same as its steady movement when placed in a car. This is, in simple terms, how the app knows when the smartphone is in a vehicle. Once the movement changes from vehicle to pedestrian then the app assumes that the user has left the car, and takes this as a cue to go back to sleep.

What about privacy? Do you track where people are going?

We get asked this all the time. No we don’t! The app does not collect any information that can identify who you are as a person: no name, no e-mail, no Facebook, no phone number, nothing. Therefore, our system knows that some smartphone is in a car at this road at that speed, but can not know who the owner of the device is.

Using Tari’ak is completely anonymous. The app does not require any registration or log-in. You just download it and use it right away.

What do all the colors mean? Are they computed as an average and how frequently?

Our server re-computes the average speed for a street every time a new report arrives from a device on that street. That is how we manage to keep our data in real-time. Some busy streets get several reports per hour, where as some less dense streets get a few per day.

Generally, a green traffic line means the average speed on that street is above 40 km/h, orange indicates the average speed is between 20 km/h and 40 km/h, and red is below 20 km/h. There are cases like small streets or big highways were those numbers vary a little.

How often is the data updated on the maps?

The traffic data you see on the map is automatically refreshed every 3 minutes, though the user can choose to refresh it at will using the ⟲ button. The data you see on the map can be a few seconds ago, several minutes or a maximum of one hour old in order to ensure that you do not see any outdated traffic data.

Does the app affect my battery life anyhow? Last thing I need is another app that kills my battery!

One of the things we test most is battery consumption. Tari’ak is very light on your battery because it only uses the GPS for a few seconds every several hundred meters, and only when you’re driving! So if you have your phone on a desk all day, the app will not consume any battery. This is possible because we rely on motion sensors and not the GPS as stated above.

In one of the early iOS versions, we got some complaints about battery usage from people using iOS 5 due to an unattended compatibility bug. We quickly fixed that with an update and we’re happy to say there have been no complaints about battery usage ever since. Bear in mind that we use the app ourselves and don’t want our batteries dying either!

Can we plan an itinerary on the app?

Not at the moment, no.

What is your business model?

The app itself is, and will remain, free for users to benefit from. We don’t believe people should pay money in order to be able to avoid traffic. Our business model is an intermediary one, and lies in selling a live feed of traffic data to non-competing media such as TV networks and radio stations. We also aggregate historical traffic data and make it available for a fee to interested organizations such as NGOs, urban development organizations, and government ministries.

What are your future plans? New features to be added? Are you planning to expand in other countries?

We’re constantly thinking of new ways to build on top of our traffic data and provide a more valuable experience for users. We are also interested in licensing our traffic data to third parties that can find new uses for it. Future features might include routing based on traffic estimates, and optionally notifying users about nearby traffic jams, yet we have no time estimate when those features might arrive.

We definitely want to expand to other countries and right now we are setting up the technical infrastructure to do so, as well as exploring potential markets to better our understanding on how to enter and who to partner with.

Did any foreign or local companies show interest in your app?

Oh yes! At first I naively thought that traffic was a uniquely Lebanese problem, but people and organizations from all over have expressed interest in Tari’ak as a low-cost solution to crowdsource traffic, especially that it could reveal hidden insights and transportation patterns when you analyze this big data.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting startups that die out after few months or even weeks. How serious are you about this app? And how much time and money are you investing in it?

You’re right. Some very promising startups ended up dying mostly due to lack of funding, inability to scale, or lack of market demand. We don’t know what the future has in store for us but so far our journey has been a positive one.

Personally, I started working on this app about 18 months ago. About 4 months ago when things started getting serious, I quit my job and dedicated myself to Tari’ak full-time. At the risk of sounding silly, I just jumped in the water to see if I could swim. Entrepreneurship is not easy! My opinion is that entrepreneurship is a romanticized idea and entrepreneurs don’t really know what they’re getting into. I didn’t either at the time, but I simply thought that I would rather regret doing this than not doing it.

Time has been kind with us so far though: our user base is growing rapidly, our data is proving to be accurate, we’ve been able to garner interest from investors and media companies, and what started as my tiny project is now a team of 4 people working on 2 mobile platforms along with business partners to make navigating through traffic in Lebanon a little bit easier :)

As for investment, well, anyone would tell you that Lebanon lacks a proper financial foundation for a healthy startup ecosystem, but some recent developments make me believe that that is changing. For us, we’ve been talking with angel investors as well as VCs for funding, and have received several investment opportunities so far but I’m afraid I’m unable to disclose more details due to legal agreements. We’ll make sure to announce any updates when the time is right.

How is Tari’ak different from Google Maps?

A simple answer is that if you open Google Maps it won’t show you the traffic conditions in Lebanon where as Tari’ak has a populated traffic map 24 hours a day. Google Traffic does crowdsource their data but they also rely on government APIs where available. This might be the reason they don’t support Lebanon but this is just a speculative answer. Also, one of the things we do that Google doesn’t is that we have an API to export our traffic data so that third parties can build on it where they see valuable.

tari2ak Tari2ak.com