Sunday, October 29, 2006

Left or right?

As the proud owner of a new camera phone and looking forward to more blogs with pics attached, I set about exploring the new features of my phone. The PC synchronizing software has a nice swanky look to it, except that some strange reason, the boxes which appear to accept/reject or confirm/deny actions are counter intuitive.

For any normal, message box to continue or abort during an install, the rightmost box indicates acceptance and moving forward. The left box indicates rejection and moving backward. This hero of a software has all forward moving actions on the left. Why? I don't know, but I figured it out and ultimately managed to load the software onto the computer.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Retro design?

Been going around in a Santro for the past few days. The Santro, in India is a relatively new car - with all its upgrades and is a preferred entry level vehicle. One of its design points in my observation is its door. Some readers will agree that in India, slamming a vehicle door shut is a calorie consuming physical activity thanks to what I call the Ambassador effect. The Santro door is designed in such a way that if someone for whom a car door evokes memories of yesteryear your door remains safe. The door needs more effort than many of the newer cars where a cute push is all that is necessary. So Santro owners can relax when that old uncle of theirs flexes his muscles while waiting to slam that door shut. (Many newer car owners often say, Can I please shut the door for you - and its not chivalry). It may appear under engineered, but its smart engineering.

Sometimes, effects like these please consumers. Like the click sound created in digital cameras when there is no reason or necessity for a click, except that we are tuned to hear a click sound when a photograph is taken.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why search when there's Google?

I am regular web surfer. I am forever searching for something - thats when I am out of bloglines - the only aggregator that I use. I regularly search Amazon or Wikipedia. My favourite search engine is Google. It is fast, reasonably accurate and clutter free. Very often for searching for a book on Amazon or for a post on wikipedia, I find that is faster to just type in the subject in the Google search box and retreive it. Amazon and Wikipedia often seem a lot slower than Google to respond and the Google search takes me to the pages on those sites right away.

Which brings me to the question? Why do sites have a search engine when Google does that job so well? Is it necessary for sites need to have a search box at all especially considering that their search is not as good as Google search?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mineral water, 3 rupees a litre

This is the amazing sight I saw at Mantralayam Road during our visit here. (Yes, yes, apologies are in order for not including a photograph and to rectify this, interim thoughts... plans to acquire a camera phone shortly so that such opportunities are not missed).

It was a water cooler like contraption (presumably an industrial water filter inside) consisting of a stainless steel cabinet and a tap. So if you think Kinley is too expensive (at about 10 INR a litre), please feel free to purchase our mineral water at 3 rupees a liter, but you can have Kinley too (they sell both their water as well as other brands).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A time to recruit

Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Gurgaon - the Indian cities that have "IT " in them will face an exodus this weekend. Techies and non techies alike will leave for their homes this weekend, the Diwali weekend. It is a time to get the most out of the annual leaves and official holidays. As a friend here put it, the only thing you hear on the Chennai Trichy train is "Oracle and Java ".

At least from Bangalore, trains are packed, air tickets horrendously expensive, even bus routes are full. Trains/Buses/flights to Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Chennai, Kerala are full as are the buses but there will still be hopefuls who will throng the stations, teriminus and airports to get that last minute tickets.

Bangalore has seen some innovative ways of recruiting, this weekend might see another one. For a potential recruiter (either in Bangalore or in any of these destinations), it would be a smart idea to go advertise/recruit right at these railways stations, bus terminus or airports. But the railway station is the easiest one to pick. What better place for Bombay based recruiter to advertise/recruit than beside the Udyan express on this weekend!

Cellphones and fishermen

BlognetBiz looks like a good aggregator for business/economics related posts on the web. Heres what I found there today - A report on how Cellphones have made a difference to fishermen from Washington Post.

A convenience taken for granted in wealthy nations, the cellphone is putting cash in the pockets of people for whom a dollar is a good day's wage. And it has made market-savvy entrepreneurs out of sheepherders, rickshaw drivers and even the acrobatic men who shinny up palm trees to harvest coconuts here in Kerala state.

"This has changed the entire dynamics of communications and how they organize their lives," said C.K. Prahalad, an India-born business professor at the University of Michigan who has written extensively about how commerce -- and cellphones -- are used to combat poverty.

"One element of poverty is the lack of information," Prahalad said. "The cellphone gives poor people as much information as the middleman."

Rajan said the dealers don't necessarily like the new balance of power, but they are paying better prices to him and thousands of other fishermen who work this lush stretch of coastline. "They are forced to give us more money because there is competition," said Rajan, who estimated that his income has at least tripled to an average of $150 a month since 2000, when cellphones began booming in India. He said he is providing for his family in ways that his fisherman father never could, including a house with electricity and a television.

I remember my cousin from Kerala who told me that fishermen were his biggest consumers of the Tata wireless landlines, until it was declared illegal to use landlines out of the home circle area - of course, the phones mentioned above are true cell phones.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Small servings

A while back softdrink companies in India launched 200 ml bottles of softdrinks priced at Rs. 5. That the 5 rupees is a psychological price - it is a single coin of the largest denomination is a different point for some other time. The "standard" bottle sizes in India are 300 ml, 250 ml. Once upon a time these bottles were priced around 10 rupees - now they are costlier.

The new bottles brought the softdrink within the reach of the coffee, tea and nimbu pani (the real competitors to soft drinks) customers from a price perspective. But now, with inflation (or perhaps margins), the prices of these small bottles is inching up. Recently, I was charged 8 for a small (200 ml) bottle of Sprite. If this is the MRP, then that defeats the objective of having a small serving for this price - the competition with tea, coffee is lost. If it is not the MRP and the shopkeeper charges a higher price, then the softdrink companies objective is lost once again.

Very often, the idea of selling stuff in small sachets/servings is to enable people to sample or buy for immediate use or making stuff affordable (this is a funny argument, because the price of 100 grams of a premium product may equal 500 grams of the regular product that they would have used). But inflation or increased margins could defeat the purpose. And I suspect that this is the case with small softdrink servings. The margins of companies may go down, since customers on an average might chose to go with smaller servings than with regular servings.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cellphones everywhere

If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, I got this from my last train journey. No, this journey was on a Bangalore-Nanded train - the kind of train which is lowest on the food chain when it comes to waiting on the sidings for a crossing. The last anecdotal evidence from a train journey, triggered off a train of posts on poverty etc., but this one is not about poverty - not at interim thoughts.

Yes, there were beggars on the train, there were a ton of people who sold things ranging from sweet lime to hairpins to coffee and there were another ton of people who were the day trippers- those who use the mainline train as a local train much to the chagrin of us reservation passengers. There were a humongous number of students taking the train to college, which is a good sign.

My son was playing with my cellphone, which is something he does every now and then. As he was playing with my cellphone, a none too primitive Nokia 3100, a nearby passenger offered his cellphone to my son. This cellphone was a few notches better than my phone complete with camera - I tried to search the model on the Nokia webpage, but couldn't locate it (it was some 6000 series0. The fact that my son now had a choice of 2 cellphones caused another kid nearby to bawl and one of the other co- travellers offered him his cellphone - a Nokia 6600. Now, both these individuals were regular sleeper class travellers - as distinct from the regular AC traveller - and both hailed from rural Karnataka. The point to note is that handsets were not regular 1100s or 2100s - these were high end handsets.

If anecdotal evidence were all that were required, this was proof enough that the cellphone revolution is well and truly here with all its bells and whistles. Heres a rediff report on the same.

According to the February 2006 report by ORG-Gfk, 57 per cent of the total handset sales in the top 35 cities were colour screen mobile phones.

That's a significant change: in October 2004, colour screen phones accounted for just 25 per cent of sales. But a dash of colour is not enough. Roughly one-fourth of the colour screen phones that are sold also have cameras.

And there is a market for these high end handsets, not just in the big cities and not just with the urban rich/upwardly mobile.

Many cab/auto/bus drivers in Bangalore have pretty jazzy phones, colour screens, polyphonic ringtones and even Nokia 6600s with cameras. Throughout the trip, I saw how phones have become more and more pervasive. The number of cellphone users on the train was unbelievable. Phones have made a big difference to people in India - our bus (a local RTC bus plying Mantralayam to Raghavendra Swami Ashram) had a puncture and the driver whipped out his cellphone and informed his "boss" that his bus has gone kaput. To see regular drivers and ordinary people empowered and using a once touted status symbol as a utility was truly a great sight to behold.

Previous posts on the cell revolution in India: For the micro entrepreneur and mobile phones and technology.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Market research in India

Many years back, there was this market research person who had landed up at our apartment in Bombay on a hot summer day. I was jolted from my afternoon siesta and the fact that it led me to being sent for the "first job of my life" is a story for some other time, but this was about a product sample.

The person had brought a soap to sample. We had to smell each soap and tell whether "we liked it". We smelt a few soaps, all of which were equally yucky. It was, I presume, for some new soap variant that was being test marketed. But the "researchers" were not interested in me. They asked my mom on how those soaps smelt. The one that was good (marginally, I thought) got a "very good" on her feedback, but the rest of them got a vacillating answer - the neither agree nor disagree kind. She did not tell them that the product that they were trying to sell was crap. And the usual question which is "will you buy this product if it is available in the market" got a "maybe".

This was not an isolated experience - confirmed by my own later marketing survey experience. That whole "market research" process is hilarious, but like I said, thats for later.

Giving negative feedback does not come easily for a lot of people in India and especially when it is being asked of you or you have to write something. Todays generation perhaps yes, but in the previous generation, they never said that something was bad, even if it was crap. Perhaps it was a generation (the generation just after independence) which was used to a lot of crap, so they survived on hope. But I guess that many a market research would have flopped thanks to the gentle Indian who never said that any product was bad and instead just never bought it off the shelf.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Road to Wipro

To call the Sarjapur road a road would have been a pity a few months ago. But today, a few years after a former Chief Minister promised to double lane the road, the road is slightly better or so I thought. The road work in progress was happening for a long time. Only when I walked a few kms did I realise that the road has been widened only upto the Wipro corporate office. Right after that, the road is what it was a few months ago - a pockmarked, ditch ridden single ribbon of asphalt bordered by red soil.

Now there are two things. I dont know if Wipro has forked out money from its own pocket to improve the road, because the road (even till their office) was exactly as I described above, until recently. If this is the case, well, nobody is to be blamed. But if the government spent the money (taxpayers money), by laying the road right upto Wipro's door, it creates an impression that the road is only for IT. This will only serve to widen the gap between the IT and and other industries that these politicians exploit.

Infrastructure is a crying need in this place, but who will listen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Swamped by marketeers

Any regular user of a cellphone in India will tell you about Telemarketeers. Especially if you have committed the cardinal sin of giving your cellphone number to a bank (any bank) or financial institution. Instantly you are deluged by calls offering yet another free credit card, bank account, home loan, demand draft, personal loan (at some atrocious interest - only for you sir). Some of them, even after you politely refuse (I dont need another credit card, bank account, home loan, demand draft, personal loan.), persist, "Why sir, this offer is so good?".

And they are not alone. Airtel has automated marketing calls tuned to trouble you when you trying to grab a quick nap or when your child has gone off to sleep after an hour of trying. Pesky SMS's exhort you to download latest hits when you are busy in a meeting.

Indeed I have not brought a single thing from telemarketeers. I am not sure it is so different with others, but perhaps it is, otherwise this business would have ended long back. The one time I agreed for an upgrade (free, no information wanted), I did not get it. Perhaps this whole thing is about grabbing personal details and may surface as a scam in the near future.

But I digress. My point is that these telemarketeers (and associated tactics like SMS's, automatic calls) perhaps do more harm than good for the brands they represent. Citibank, HSBC marketeers are perhaps one of the worst offenders. I am pretty sure that I will never open an account with Citi or HSBC "do not call" lists notwithstanding. If they call you so much without you having an account with them, I cant imagine how much they could torment you if you did.

Weather India

I did not know that this site existed. It is Weather India and managed by NIC. Right at the top of the webpage is the first link which gives weather for most Indian cities and towns.

I thought it is a pretty decent weather website. Check it out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Scorpio as a status symbol

The Mahindra Scorpio seems to have replaced the Ambassador as a symbol of power. Earlier it was white Ambassadors that was the symbol of power. For a while pimped up Ambassadors with curtains inside and pretty bells and whistles outside were the symbol of "power". The white ambassador still retains some of its aura in the corridors of power, especially those with a red light at the top, but the Scorpio seems to be the vehicle of choice in many places. It has replaced the old Mahindra "jeep" by a long margin, as also the Ambassador.

The Scorpio with its muscular bumpers, flashy number plates, fog lights, at times suitably pimped up with chrome fittings, flags and whatnots is the new status symbol of sorts on Indian roads. The white Scorpio does beat the white Ambassador by a mile. The Pajero is, of course, the big daddy, but the Scorpio delivers well on this role.

Friday, October 06, 2006

BSNL versus the rest

Everyone knows that in the recent turf wars for more telephone market share, BSNL has been the big loser. Sure, they are still the second or third biggest operator in the mobile phone market and they are really the biggest landline service provider - they are not really known for their nimbleness. It is very evident, when it comes to creating markets, BSNL is a poor second. In many places in Bangalore, there are no land lines. One can argue that we dont need landlines, but they do have a place. In each of these the private chaps have moved first.

The key difference I believe is in the organization structure (and hence some incentives). All of the telcos except BSNL has a sales force driven culture. When there is a new building being built/moved into, Airtel or Tata or Reliance is always there ( a few minutes away from each other) offering, free EPABX, integrated wiring, bulk discounts (more than say, 30 or 50 subscribers), combined offer on broadband. BSNL interestingly has all these (and in some cases lower total cost of ownership), but they are stuck on marketing or in the fact that they still move based on 5 (or something) year plans. So while an Airtel always some infrastructure ready (or they create if you have a small bulk order like an apartment complex), BSNL simply shrugs its shoulders and says, we dont have a line there yet.

Our landline has a "work order" 2 years old as does our entire building. But there is no sight of BSNL. To figure out that we have a work order, we had to jump through a few hoops and then locate the exchange. True there were a few good employees who helped us out (but to seek them took us a short while) - but in the case of Airtel, Reliance and Tata, it is perhaps the efforts of all the thousands of foot soldiers (and incentive structure) in pushing markets and the effort of their infrastructure team that they make inroads while BSNL lies sleeping.

Earlier, how the individual drives Indian IT.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Of geeks and coders

Recently, I had this discussion around the issue of qualification for a software developer. Indian IT services companies often issue recruitment ads asking for first class engineers from the best colleges in India. Notably the IITs. That was how some of the companies started. Then they climbed down, going to the best non IIT colleges. Then they climbed down and now almost any engineer with a first class can make it through to most companies.

There are many other companies who ask for best in class graduates. Some companies prefer NIIT graduates - who are not engineers, though many of them are engineers too.

Really, what is the level of qualification required to be a software developer? This is a funny question if you ask me, since it is like asking what qualification do you require to be a driver. To be a driver, you need no qualification. If you are an MA or a M Ed, well, good luck to you but that has no bearing on whether you get a driving licence or not. As long you can drive a vehicle well and convince the RTO inspector that you can, you get a licence and you can drive.

To be a coder, is exactly like that. In India many people (and companies) make us believe that you need a science background to learn coding. It is like asking for mechanical engineers when what you really want are drivers.

I have some of my friends as young as 8th standard who have waded knee deep into coding. I know of some who have created small tools and other patches even before they cleared their class Xth exams. I know of accountancy grads who are experts in coding/hacking. One of the guys who studied with me had created his own game - and he was not even a graduate - his dad has passed him a defunct PC which he had made good use of. Qualification - well nothing. Except that they loved doing what they did.

Google Jam is a step in the right direction. I wish service companies in India too tried and picked up geeks this way rather than a traditional formal-tie interview process. These are the geeks who will create more code juice and innovate - they may not follow coding standards though and geeks oten come with their own idiosyncracies - which service industries hate. But Google and Microsoft? They love 'em.

The highly qualified educated coder who gets into the IT service industry today wants to "get out of coding" even as he sets foot in the industry - with the result that the industry is filled with (generally) low technical skills. The industry also "rewards" good coders with management positions with the result that they lose their technical skills and that is often seen as the only way to grow in the firm. (That last part is changing though the hiring is still done the old way.)

One point here is that good educational qualifications (ranging from any graduation to post graduation or an MBA) help in assessing whether a potential employee can create documentation, processes - but thats not the same as coding. What IT service companies do need is a mixture of low to medium end coding skills at the entry level followed by good communication, presentation and documentation skills at the next levels. Honestly, you need neither first class engineers nor first class graduates at the entry level in an IT service company. You do need a high level of presentation skills, negotiation skills, strategic thinking at a managerial level and beyond.

Coming back, coding is a fair bit about self interest, which is about the geek - someone who lives, talks and breathes code - and nobody can teach you to do that (not for code, not for music, not for blogging). This is for those whom computers (or central excise or dance) is a passion.

The other part is around technical training, which is for the NIITs and their ilk to milk. The engineering colleges should really get out of creating newer engineering streams for Information Technology (IT - this thing sells like crazy) and focus on creating engineers not coders.

Make no mistake, the uber technical chaps are highly regarded, paid as much as (if not far better -look at any core tech companies payscales) than uber domain guys and there will always be a continuous demand for technology professionals at all levels. And, once again, it does not matter what qualification you have as long as you have a licence to drive (or code).

Guy Kawasaki on Mumbai

Guy Kawasaki (at his fantastic blog) writes about Mumbai and his impressions:

Sample this.

I’ve never seen such vivid colors in all aspects of dress, decor, etc.—even the money is pretty.

“Traffic safety” is an oxymoron. Luggage isn’t tied down on roof racks. People ride on top of trucks. I saw a family of four on a motorcycle. Having said this, I saw no accidents.

Speaking of traffic, it can take two hours to travel fifteen kilometers there. If you have a choice, try to arrive on Saturday or Sunday. Speaking of arrival, I’ve never been to an airport that’s jam packed at 2:00 am.

Yup, this city never sleeps. Trains are jammed at 12 am and 4 am too.

Forbes on India

It is a regular feel good post on India, this time at Forbes. Good read nonetheless.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Motivational ingredients?

I picked up a bottle of HLLs Vaseline Aloe Fresh recently and on its back was this funny divide in the ingredients. The pic is not clear, but you get the picture (heh). At back of the pack, are two sections Key Ingredients and Motivational Ingredients. The latter lists Aloe Vera Extract, Cucumber Extract and Vitamin E Acetate.

I dont know what this distinction is all about. Any idea?