Thursday, December 31, 2009

Either I am dumb

Or IE is. My Internet Explorer thinks I am dumb. These two "unwelcome" screens pester me each time I log in. And they have been pestering me for a long time now.

Is there some way I can get rid of these screens? I couldnt figure a way out.

Somehow IE thinks I am dumb and dont know which site to go to and need help in setting up IE. Earrrgh!

Worldspace and Long tail

That Worldspace is folding up is no longer news. Surely most readers would be aware of The Long Tail. I thought Worldspace was a true Long Tail business, in the sense of tapping niche music tastes the world over and trying to bundle it and make money off it.

It is well known that making money off the Long Tail is not easy, but Worldspace in that sense was perhaps the biggest possibility. Then again, ipods and personal music players were already there in that space and I am not sure a radio service will be able to compete with this level of personalisation.

That being said, perhaps there was a good opportunity which was perhaps lost. Is this the end of satellite radio or paid radio models?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Indian clothes in the workplace

Why cant we wear Indian clothes to the workplace asks this article? Actually it is not just workplace, it is to a few other "hep" places as well. And no, please dont tell me that the kurta pyjama and bundgalla are the only traditional Indian outfits - these are preferred by politicians and theres a lot more to our attire than these two outfits. If you mean Indian clothes you got to go the whole hog from dhoti to veshti to topless men to what not!

But before we get there, how many of us wear Indian clothes except at cultural or religious functions? How many of us wear Indian clothes at home? Not many I know wear a veshti at home - shorts have taken over, in this generation atleast. And for most of South India traditional clothes mean just a towel on the upper part of the body for men. Perhaps it is comfort, perhaps it is a feeling of being too traditional, but I think for the most part Indian clothing is relegated to politicians, social functions and religious gatherings.

Also, connect it to how we see our culture in general. We are not the kinds who wear our culture on our sleeves. Why? One theory would blame it on education, but I would rather put it on people. Perhaps we see being modern as being away from "tradition". I know, I sound confused, but thats the state of mind as I try to explain it. And again, there is nothing right or wrong about it. One can wear shorts and respect culture and be traditional. And one can wear traditional wear and still have no clue about customs and traditions and culture. Surely there is a way to blend the two? (There surely is...) The connection between attire and respect for culture and tradition is tenuous at best.

But why cant we wear Indian clothes in the workplace? To some extent it is about professionalism, though I dont agree that professionalism originates in the clothes. Some of the biggest bigots in the corporate world wear ties and suits to work. And many bigots wear their culture on their sleeve and their traditional attire.

I would see it more as convenience and preclude our atrocious sense of carrying ourselves apart from a perceived need to look like each other...As usual disparate thoughts, which I need to collate, but in the meantime, thoughts?

Update: Do read this post by Chennaikaran on the same topic!

India, China - let the debate end

China unveils its fastest train that touches a mind ripping 350 kmph on an average with a top speed of 400 kmph. And guess what speed Indias fastest train, Duronto, can do? An "action replaying" 110 kmph max (give or take a few) and that speed is achieved not by speeding up the train per se, but by removing a few stops from the erstwhile fast train.

That should set any doubts on whether there is yet any India China race. If there is, then China has lapped India a few times. I am sure the comparison will bear the same result with most infrastructure measurements...

When can we get around to building a railway line this in India? 20 years is probably an optimistic timeframe...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Printers and Cartridges

We have been fed with the story that using anything other than authorized cartridges would ruin our printer. It is, of course, entirely plausible that it will indeed ruin our printers. But on the other hand, cartridge technology (or ink technology for that matter) isnt rocket science.

There are companies that can refill our print cartrides for much cheaper than the original manufacturer would do so. To me this seems logical given that technology is not so scarce. (Well, any spurious product will harm you, but I am assuming that companies that refill are not into spurious products.)

And if printer companies priced cartridges so that they could milk their printers for a long time, then these guys are the right spoilsports...

I recall cameras of X brand saying, for best results, use X brand film and we all knew that it was a lie. So how different is it with printers?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why does India not produce a Google or an Apple?

Got this link via Emergic, in this article where there is a quote, "Why, they worry, hasn't India produced a Google or an Apple?

Let me answer this for you. But first, who are these Indian Strawmen? Why would they ask this question? And why dont ask a similar question of other places and nations? The reason India has not produced a Google or an Apple is the same reason that the US has not produced an Airtel, Infosys or perhaps even a Reliance or a Tata Motors.

The very fact that some "Indians" are asking this question means that they cannot think differently. Surely, not as different those who thought that work could be offshored to India and the time difference could be put to good use.

For those who think Innovation in India is not happening I will tell you to turn a few pages and read about Nokia1100, Tata Nano, Airtels pathbreaking low low prices, GEs Mac4000. And if that doesn't suffice, also think of Masala Chaas from Amul, Mad Angles from ITC and Sugarcane juice as well and these are just the stuff I can think without even looking up from my computer. Sigh!

The article is only a bit about innovation and then goes into fund raising issues etc...As for India/China, the best is yet to come. Don't write them off yet...

(again from Emergic). But if you want something to worry about, it is this...

GE lessons

GE is one of the pioneers of outsourcing into India. They started the outsourcing story long before others did and they have continued to do so. From an offshoring shop that did back office work to a group that designs some of their global products in India to using the innovation in India(/China) to build products to global markets, GE has shown that all of this can happen. So, an interview with the top guys of GE is a great insight into what we can see the offshoring industry become (if we wished it to) unless of course we want to remain a backwater backoffice.

(That and much more in the current issue of Forbes...)

And the story of the Mac400

And a note to other companies from that piece, "The earlier approach of getting global products, defeaturing them and putting them out into the local market wouldn't work."

My grandfather once asked me if there was a simple way to get blood tests done in villages that are far away from towns. I mean, people need to land up at the place for their fasting test, then have food, hang around, take another test - is there no way to simplify this, especially for older folks? I don't know the exact answer yet...

But Prof James Schrager does not sound very happy

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trapping the hunter

Many years ago in an engineering college was this common predicament would be engineers face. How to submit an assignment on time. Or better still, how to submit it late and still get the grading for it. These were early days for us in college and it so happened that this one person in my class forgot to submit his assignment on time. Not only did he forget, he absolutely had no idea that an assignment of this nature existed with a deadline somewhere in the cosmic realm. With such benign ignorance, he was made to stand up in front of the class and explain when he would submit the said assignment.

Without batting an eyelid, he explained, "Sir, I can submit it by the end of today if you want. I can just copy it, like probably a few of us have done and give it to you. But if you really want me to understand, give me a day and I will do it on my own and submit it tomorrow."

Classic game theory perhaps, but the prof fell for it. And needless to say, our man submitted the assignment the next day after copying it - in the tradition of many engineering students before and after him...

And this Dilbert cartoon captures it like no other

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Indian companies dont layoff

Indian tech companies (we stick to this sub set now) dont do em. They never layoff people. They may slide a few people through the drain pipe or give them a bedsheet to get off through the window, but they dont lay off people at all. A few people might be relieved for performance reasons, but layoffs, nah.

But arent all the above practices just a nickname for layoffs? There in lies a story. Ask any techie and she will tell you their company did lay off people. But ask any official "pokeperson" (intended) and they will tell you a lot of blah wrapped in some more bluff that it was a routine tree pruning or wall painting exercise.

Beyond the lingo, I think (as I discussed with a friend recently) is a cultural issue. Indian companies do not want to use the layoff word at all. So, we keep it under wraps and dont talk about it. The whole lay off thing is confined to the grapevine which, usually, is true.

My suggestion, bring it out in the open. The moment it is out in the open, employees will know that they will be laid off (and this is a fact). And then neither do squeamish wise presidents and human resource and communication heads need to spend late nights coming up with an appropriate politically correct statement for newspapers and employees alike. Also, recruiters, headhunters will no longer balk that someone was laid off - right now, you cannot use the L word except in the case of some huge public layoff like the Satyam tangle. And publish your layoff policy so that folks know what to expect - whether it is compensation, out placement or just office space and phone bills!

TED: Ancient Water Harvesting

And since we are an eco-friendly, climate change believing, water security appreciating blog, here goes a priceless video - Anupam Mishra at TED.

Harvest rain water!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Asha - Horlicks Nano

The great race to the bottom has begun. What started off, really with the mobile phone service providers in India and manifested in the Nano with many other successes in between (ITC e-choupal, microfinance to name a few) is now a full fledged race.

The latest news is a cheaper version of Horlicks. Worth a read.

A pricing thought

I have a theory that in supermarkets, unless you know the approximate price of every item, you are bound to be ripped.

Karthik help name this phenomenon if there isn't one. For a long time in life, I was immune to grocery shopping - there was always someone to do that work at home. But since I started living life in a different city etc., that job has fallen on me (or us) with the result that as I walk along supermarket aisles, I keep getting ideas and theories.

One such theory is that supermarkets often jack up the price of some random item - that is not high on the consumption list like grains or pulses - and put a high margin on them. Case in point being, say, groundnuts or sago or something along those lines. And from then on there are two possibilities.

One, being that the customer who comes to the supermarket for a fortnight or a months shopping knows the price. In which case he decides to pick it up anyway because he will have to scout the same at another store. And unless you know the price correctly, there is no saying what is the right price. Maybe it went up overnight? So, the chances that the customer will pick it up anyway is high.

Second, being a trivial choice, is that the customer does not know the price or (which is equally possible) does not see the price. In which case, the item gets picked up anyway.

My question - is such a thing plausible? Predictably Irrational anyone?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Premier web sites

Premier is what premier does. The Times of India is probably the worlds most visited website. Sits at probably the top of the heap as far as internet visits go. And why do they need that a stupid video ad that makes you wait a few seconds as the site loads? Must have been some 'expert' suggestion that one ad for every click will make us richer by some x amount. Probably true. But if the site sees itself as a premier site, why not think different? Why not have less intrusive ads? Or localised ads, pertaining to India? Why mar the user experience by getting someone to see some stupid ad before they see your site?

The TOI is just an example. Ditto for other newspaper websites - all of which look like one another. You already have your viewership. Why not make the user experience great? And why do most newspapers have intrusive ads? (There are a few who dont - I guess Mint for one, Pioneer for another)

While on TOI - I checked out the TOI crest. Nice paper. Nice VFM. Two points. One, to make a sheet like newspaper last the whole week is a pain. Two, Crest will eat into magazine sales at railway stations, airports et al. Interesting to see what the competition will do now :)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Nano water purifier

Tata does a Nano in water purifiers, screams the headline. I like the headline.

Read the piece. If you have read pieces on the Nano, then this is deja vu. Competitors in denial, taken by surprise, offering no comment. Prices marked down significantly with out compromising on quality. Slightly new technology - but no microprocessor controlled GPS enabled nuclear processing water filter. This is simple stuff. Using something that been around in India for ages - paddy husk and a bit of technology.

I havent seen the product or used it, but the article sounded just the way it sounded for the car.

Welcome to the land of frugal engineering and the Tatas are at the forefront. Why do I get the feeling that there will be a "Nano" from every unit of Tata soon? And if that is the case, what do we get from TCS?

The mess we are in...

The little one gets a Rubik Cube. And Rubik cubes are perfect as they come.

He then asks turning it over and over, "Appa what is the game in this?"
"The whole idea is to jumble it up and get it exactly the way it is now'
"Oh" he doesnt sound terribly excited by the prospect...

A few minutes and a few simple jumbles later. "Appa, this is easy"
"It wont be after some time" says the all knowing dad.
"But why? I remember exactly what I did and I am able to make it so...and I turn it more, I only have to remember the twists and it will be easy..."
"That's very good..."

Silence for a while.
"Take this." he says, offering the cube to me
"Make it as it was and give me...I forgot what all I did..." The jumbles have gotten a bit complicated, it looks like. I smile.

"But, it is not something I can do."
"What? You cannot solve this puzzle?"
"Why Appa?" he thinks this is an excuse
"Because it is not something I know..."
"Oh..." I sense a drop of disappointment as the cloak of invincibility that a dad typically has seems to have developed a chink. I can sense the brain think, "This is one mess he cannot get me out of..."

Pause for a few seconds...with the offending cube in his hands being turned over and mulling over it. And idea strikes. "Appa, can we learn it together?"

And thats how I find myself at 6.30 am on a sofa, each of us with our Rubik cubes equally puzzled!

Volt pre-production

Wired reports the first drive of Volt in the model that is the final one prior to mass production. And Wired sounds quite impressed with it. To me, though it is car that will fight terror and climate change together - thats quite a bit for any single to take on...

I believe that every single innovation that helps rid the world of its current oil addiction is important. And this blog, will cheer every single initiative. The question is what will happen first. The end of the oil addiction or the end of terror or the world changing due to climate change.

Go green, fight terror and climate change...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Self Recommendation

Spotted this on a book recently. Actually seen quite a few books with self recommendation like this.

Great book. Unbelievable price.

I am reading "Predictably Irrational" currently and would like to see the effect of this on customer behaviour. Does this make them buy more or ignore books like this?

I suspect that the chaps who know their books would not go anywhere near them. I also think that those who are new to buying books would probably fall for it. As a gifting idea, it has its pros and cons, but this is interesting to see what effect a label like this has.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Paid news...

As a follow up to the previous post, heres a piece from P Sainath - who I do not often agree with - especially with his views on agriculture, farmer suicides etc. But this one is about paid news as seen during the Maharashtra elections (via Contentsutra).

Now given that this is true (unless of course, you like the rest of the world believe that all our electronic and print media is an angel), think of the implications of it.

What it means is that, apart from the upper management of the news media, there are others above them (moneybags) who control what they publish. And given that Trumans like us, have no idea what exists apart from the printed word, we fall for them hook, line and sinker.

Little wonder that there is little diveristy in reporting. Chindu reports on China and Chennai. Others will print whatever is paid for. So much for the paid news. Is it little wonder that the news we read is always pro government (go anti and then you will lose crores of advertisement not to mention raids.)

(Think about why Raju Narisetti quit - in his own words "he left because of a "a 'troubling nexus' of business, politics and publishing that he called 'draining on body and soul'." Follow the curious case of Rizwan and Rajneesh in Tarun Vijays column - a slightly different voice on the TOI website. )

That means that no news is without bias...including perhaps this one. But atleast nobody pays me to write this...

On vultures...

Until the day the news of the Dubai debt obligation broke, nobody told us that Dubai was a paper destination...
Until the day the stock markets crashed and the US financial sector burst, nobody told us that the system was rotten...
Until the day the Satyam scam broke, nobody told us of the analyst who had asked those questions to Mr. Raju...
Until the day the Enron scam broke, it was supposed to be the best company ever...
Until the day the BJP lost elections, it was supposed to be the party that had a great chance of coming to power...
Until the day Raj Thackerays party won 13 seats, it was supposed to be a much hated party...

The last two points, though a bit of an exaggeration - it is an example of the echo chambers we live in, in our day to day life. Go back in time to any scam, including the collapse of Asia or anything far back including the cricket betting scandal.

The news channels all parrot a certain line, talk about certain things in a certain way and we are led to believe that all of the above events are black swan events, where they were infact perfectly predictable events if someone had tracket them down - and if there had been sufficient spotlight on the goings on, perfectly preventable as well. The vultures come down only its all over...they never say anything before.

But no, all the news in this world is like the world of Truman in the Truman show...Get out of it if you can...not the world, but the web of "news"...

Dear HR

Do you realize that you, in recruitment, are the equivalent of the front desk in an organization? It doesn't look like you do, because, then the service levels you provide would need to noticeably improve.

As the front desk, it is necessary for you to welcome every person who comes into your company for an interview. That means, you get back to her on time, on the time that you promised that you would and get back to her regardless of whether they made into your company portals or not. If you are doing it, like many companies do, that leaves the candidate with a nice feeling of wanting to come back, of spreading the word, of being your marketeer (or otherwise) for free. Remember, any person you rejected could be an 'Amitabh Bachchan type reject from AIR' and the last thing you want to do is find your name embossed in stone like that. It is true that the odds for something like that is low, but then, why take a chance? Why not be great?

Yes, perhaps you interview a million candidates each day - big shit. Get back to every single one of them or interview as many as you think you can get back to. The good companies (Infosys for one, ITC for another, the Army too btw) are already doing that (I mean, those who consider themselves good) despite recruiting by the tonne. Tell them that they made it or did not make it or that they are welcome to apply again after 6 months or something. Like it says in Godfather, Always leave the loser with something - don't snatch everything from him.

And like the front desk, be nice when they leave too...It's a small world these days and news travels very fast...

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Raj Thackeray in every state...

Everybody hates Raj Thackeray. Er. Except those 13 seats he won in Maharashtra... And there were other seats where he did not win, but got quite a few votes. What of them? Oh alright, mainstream media hates him then. The truth is that whatever the shouting screaming hosts of English TV channels may want to say, many people think Raj Thackeray is their voice.

What Raj is doing is tapping into the Marathi Manoos "anger". No, not that Gavaskar, Tendulkar or Nana Patekar, Ritesh Deshmukh et al are angry - they got their opportunities. There is a class of people there who feel that they don't have equal opportunities as compared to others. This is his basic premise. And he is right. The truth is that in India, there are no equal opportunities. (There are equal outcomes. And he is trying to fix the outcome the way he perceives.)

Is there anything wrong with that? Perhaps no, considering the state of affairs today. What Raj is saying is a very simple thing. I am a representative of Maharashtrians. My people do not get jobs. (You can argue whether they are his people or whatever, all that is beside the point). Give them jobs. Exactly the same way we dole out reservations. Some representative of a caste (or subcaste, religion or a combination of them all) comes and says, give me reservation. Give me preference, give me jobs. And if it does not happen, burn a few buses, block a few highways to achieve it - and get a few votes transferred en masse from one party to another showing their power. The government (any government, I mean) has shown the way that this is the only way it can happen. So, each time reservation is extended anywhere to any institution, any job - they are all arguing for the same thing. ( Essentially Raj has brought a new dimension to the reservation issue. He is demanding reservation on the basis of language - not religion, not caste - hitherto the favoured basis for reservation. So, other politicians have to be wary. ) Did I hear you say merit? That went out of favour long ago. And reservation is just one thing - it happens in the way ministries are doled out, "important people" are protected - it is all a network of patronage...What is the wrong in the way that Raj is going about his job? The truth is that every government runs scared of mob violence (regardless of whether it is against cartoons or by cartoonists) and bows to it...

And then say, he comes to power with or without support and then, what gives? Every party has pushed its own agenda... (The media may say that is no justification etc. etc. Big deal - as if that is going to stop him. Each time they do it, his popularity increases. It is possible that this is a tacit arrangement between one Maratha strongman and him. Perhaps...)

From reservation in institutions to reservation to a city is just a logical step. We have reserved electorates where you fix the candidates - he is saying fix the city. It is tough to argue with him because we do exactly the same thing everywhere else, dont we? So, what is the way forward? The truth is that given the state of affairs in our country, there is sufficient political space for a Raj in every state. (Actually some of them are already there, they just have different party names.)

The only reason, it may not happen everywhere - is because, you see, not too many places in India have made that kind ofprogress and attracted migration to such a large extent. Until India becomes a meritocratic society with unlimited opportunity, the truth is that there is no other truth...

Friday, November 27, 2009

I am confused

From this report, it looks like oil has been struck at Kerala. Cut the sarcasm, neither is it petroleum nor is it coconut oil. I mean, it looks like the next crop of jihadists will be the really angry people of Kerala. (not some, few, just a tiny miny few)

But how come? From the Congress-Communist controlled dream state with a literacy of 100% and where the majority and minority live in such amazing harmony? (Some parts of this sentence were sarcastic.)Now, what in the boondocks could have caused them to go to war with the country and state they love and adore so much - and which has given so much to them? And hell Narendra Modi and RSS, VHP are as alien here as lotuses in a desert. The BJP has not won a seat here in centuries.

So, why oh why on earth would these cool dudes want to have another terror plot on the anniversary of 26/11, itself a terror plot?

Beats me? They must surely be repressed, oppressed, poor, uneducated, frustrated, angry chaps. On the other hand, they might just be brainwashed and offered good money to blow up a few "bad guys". Choose your answer...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This time, last year

Today you are sitting in your living room enjoying the day watching the news channels "celebrate" an anniversary. Of an event a year back.

If you remember, at this exact point in time, India was facing perhaps its deadliest terror attack yet - we called it a war here. I say yet, not because I am a pessimist. I say yet, because the terror problem remains unresolved. Because the source of the problem and the source of the funding both remain - growing in danger each day, but clearly not abating. And each time there is a time of calm, you know it is because there is a bigger storm coming. And we dont seem to have any warning system in place.

But let me take you back to a year ago. This was the day most media shouted, enough is enough. Apart from the fire in the hotel and other parts of Mumbai, there was fire in every editorial, on every lips. Then from the biggest reality show that lasted for a few days with TRP ratings shooting (yes, pun intended) through the roof even as people were people were being shot on the roof, we moved on. We went back to our daily routine scraping our living while some important people got increased security levels. We gave awards to the dead soldiers and policemen. And named more awards for some more soldiers who are willing to die for us.

From then, we moved on to exchanging dossiers (Sada, Masala, Rava, Rava Masala), finding scapegoats, denying the problem, running to US, sharing proof with many countries not necessarily in that order. So, today as you read this, spare a thought for those 183 people who died unnecessarily. And of course, as trophy, we have one dolt who remains as perhaps the most reported guy in recent Indian history. We chose to make scapegoats of politicians instead of holding any government accountable. And even as we speak, both India and Maharashtra completed an 'issueless' election. And we remain in denial about the terror problem and our friendly neighbourhood...

And a year down the line, we are planning to talk with some of the perpeterators. Are we better prepared? I don't know. Though, this time we will have soldiers ready faster, if their airplanes are available - in some cases we just need buses to ferry them since we now have mulitple NSG hubs. From a reactionary perspective we are ready.

Do we have anything that prevents the adversary from undertaking another adventure along the same lines? Do we have something that puts fear in their hearts? No.

But we have candles to light, just in case...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Truth behind 26/11

See this at MOB...The truth behind 26/11, a beautifully crafted documentary of the terror attacks whose first anniversary we will be marking by creating more dossiers. The video is a little less than an hour long, but worth every minute of your time...

Don't watch it, it could make your blood boil.
Don't watch it, because it will remind you of things that we are all supposed to have forgotten.
Don't watch it because everybody hoped that nobody will produce something like this, so that, you the miserable will forget that 26/11 ever happened, but thanks to the effort of the Dan Reed and the folks who helped put this all together.
Don't watch this, because it isnt good enough for Bollywood to make a (hard hitting?) movie on this - they have better things to cover...

But do watch it if you want to see how 26/11 happened with some dots nobody ever joined for most of us...

Thanks Dan Reed and folks! For all the shouting anchors and the saturation point media coverage, if there was just this one thing that we could have that gave you an insight into how dastardly the terrorist show was, it is this...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


YAOLC is going to be launchedin 3 years...YAOLC? Yet Another One Lakh Car. Get it?

Once upon a time, Ratan Tata visualized the 1 lakh car - now known as the Nano. Many laughed at him, some behind him and many derided it. But then, he and his team went ahead and delivered it anyway.

And now you have the spectacle of yet another 1 lakh car YAOLC. Now, first point is that anything that aims to be YAOLC will be a me-too product. Once Maggi 2 minute noodles was launched, no other 2 (or 1.5 or 3) minute noodle could be Maggi (and many tried that and continue to do so). Unless there is a game changer.

So, Bajaj two things, please don't burn up the wires for YAOLC which will see the light in 3 years or call it something else. By then the Nano will be available in the second hand market for the price of a bike (or less). And god forbid for your project, in an electric avatar. Car sales may have zoomed in October, but petrol aint gonna last us forever...

An idiot bloggers humble suggestion - go for something more radical than the YAOLC, something BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal as Tom Peters would say) perhaps for a 1l akh electric car or something that you promise you will replace all your rickshaws with. Now that will make people sit up and take notice and maybe your marketing will get done for free too...

Digital age

This is a digital age in photography. Scanner technology and digital photography have come of age. Yet, ever so often, we apprehend spies with photographs and documents - hard copies or with maps in an age of wikimapia. I cannot believe that in this digital age, a person who is smart enough to spy is not smart enough to send the whole damn thing via cyberspace.

One plausible explanation (apart from the one obvious explanation) is that they were carrying digital images that were recovered. The other one is that the really important stuff has to be "delivered in person" to "prove their worth".

Now that begets another obvious question. How well protected and guarded is cyberspace? Any idea?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Marathi, Hindi and all that

A nice column on the Marathi Hindi issue. As a non Maharashtrian, who can read, write, understand and converse in Marathi, I could be someone Raj could extol as a Mumbai citizen. (Apart from that to add to my Maharashtrian credentials - I like Maharashtrian food, am an unabashed admirer of Shivaji). But then, I am also someone who someone has learnt to speak Kannada recently, who can vouch for Mohanlal in Mallu movies and can understand Gujarati as well. Point being, force will not work.

Soft power does.

While on this, it might not be out of context to say that AR Rehman popularized Tamil in Mumbai (perhaps all over the country). During the late nineties, his songs were the rage in college festivals all over in Mumbai. The songs were so good, people forgot "Madrasi" and danced to his tunes. Perhaps they were in other parts of the country as well, but that's for others to comment. And I personally know of Maharashtrians (and other Indians) who have bought his Tamil collection and gone on to love it!

I learnt Kannada here not because of the KRV or somebody like that. I learnt it so that I can get my work done better here than stand up as an "outsider". But I still don't like Kannada movies - I have tried to see a couple and not liked them - sorry folks, lot of work needs to happen there! But give me a good movie in any language and I will see it and that's the only it can happen - by making quality stuff and making people interested.

Hindi films helped spread the language more than "Hindi days" in government organizations ever did. The same holds for other languages...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mobile phone call drops

Its frustrating isn't it to get call drops every few minutes or seconds...and here is a reason why. And the reason, as the author says is not as complicated as we think it is. It is a very simple reason.

While that is one part, remember that call drops happen only when you are connected - the general availability of networks itself is an issue. I have found it extremely frustrating to get a stable network connectivity. Surely the largest (or thereabouts) market in the world deserves better?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We are a nation of...

We are a nation of shoplifters, eh? Asks this article. I don't know and cannot comment. What I do know is that headlines are sometimes catacylsmic...So, I searched about our wretched life for some doomsday predictions and heres what I found...

But what I do know is that previously studies of this nature have told us that India is a country plagued with AIDS. Also heart disease (40% of Indians are at risk). Also diabetes (50.8 million here). Smoking risk is catastrophic. Cancer (one of the highest cancer rates in the world ) Obesity is also an epidemic.

At this point, I gave up.

And then we still have malnourishment, malnutrition, Tubercolosis, Leprosy, High Blood Pressure, Depression and a host of other known and unknown ailments to go. Almost every half big shot who gets arrested, falls sick - this is anecdotal, but if you read the papers, you know it right? Man, we are a sick nation arent we and we shoplift too!

Offered without comment. Perhaps it is someone seeking funding or creating a market - god knows what. Perhaps we are really unhealthy or getting there real fast. Or all this is creating a new health consciousness...Something...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The pit...

These LeT chaps have to be given an award for creativity - even if they get the death sentence for everything else..

Using this Headley guy (aka Daaud Gilani) and others like him is a damn smart idea. You know why! I am sure this guy must have managed to achieve quite a bit during his stay here.

And it appears that he also something to do with 26/11 and left a few days before etc. - there were a lot of rumours about "internal support" for and during 26/11 and I hope we get to the bottom of it, but knowing India, it may never happen. He also ran a visa facilitation agency - now god knows what his contacts here helped him achieve...

More as we get to the bottom of this pit...

A history of social networks...

Humans have always craved attention from other human beings (or their profiles these days). But to think that this is a new phenomenon would be making a big mistake. Social networks and networking are not a new thing at all...

When the phone was invented and launched in India (a difference of a few centuries till the time we did not have to shout), it was used for - you guessed, social networking - remember those wrong numbers were people chatted for hours? The same thing.

Twitter with 140 characters is difficult? Try the phone. Three minutes were the norm for a local call and everything that you wanted to say had to be completed by then. Timers (or beeps) allowed maamis to exchange s(t)weet 3 minute conversations. (And if you think 3 minute conversations is a joke, talk to anybody at a wedding. By the time they reach "today", it will be an hour.)

Once they got used to the phone, maamis called each up other and asked each other the recipe for Molakootal simultaneously sizing up the culinary knowledge of the maami and getting to know 'whats cooking' in the house. (For a long time, this was the only thing people exchanged on phones apart from festival dates). If this were on facebook, Janaki maami would have updated it with a recipe for today and then Chandrika maami would have helpfully suggested frying the jeera before burning it. And then of course her kids would have disliked "molakootal" while the Gujju kids would have died for it...Yes, yes, the maamas were there somewhere, social networking on buses and trains and on platforms while they waited...

But even before that, entire recipes were exchanged on the 15 paise postcard - which is perhaps singularly responsible for many people learning to read (imagine you could read private messages written on something that had no envelope duffer and hence causing atleast a 15 percent jump in Indias literacy levels). Nobody will admit that's how they learnt to read real fast, phonetics or no phonetics, but apart from giving bored sorters on mail trains something to do, this is what the postal network did for us. It made us more social. And then, somebody had to invent the envelope and make those status messages private...(And then literacy went down again, since there was no motivation to read addresses...)

And prior to that for local area gossip, there were temples. The best saris were worn to temples, as was the newest jewellery. Often it made it easy to communicate to god. "Oh god please give me the fancy jewellery that Saraswathy maami is wearing - it is right here in front of you". It was also the then modern equivalent of a watering hole where people gathered and exchanged juicy bits of information in the guise of spirituality. There was a Tuesday group or a Shani group for people who shared a common interest.And now theres Sai baba on Facebook. There were also schools, marriages and many a social function, but we leave them for now...

Prior to that, we social networked across walls and hedges, occasionally throwing something that really poked someone - todays pokes are harmless. Even prior to that, we strutted about in fancy headgear or clothes often borrowed from the latest hunting victim...And that's what we are doing these days. From showing off a trinket we found or a bone we found to updating our status on Facebook, we always were a social animal, now we are a social networking animal.

This was something that kept running in my brain for the last few days and this article had a sentence "Back even further, in the hunting and gathering days - the 60s - there were no computers of any kind. At all. The primary method of social networking was drawing pictures on cave walls."

And this piece begged to be written.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Of sports and sportspersons

I read this from Prem Panickers blog and it set me thinking...The link is about Agassis new book etc., but it is also about Agassi and how he was pushed by his dad (pushed being an understatement - you might want to read either the link or the book) in the formative years.

This will probably be a multi part post as I try to wrestle with my thought process. But one of the first questions that comes to my mind - can anyone reach the pinnacle of sport without being super focussed? Think Abhinav Bindra who trains at his own private range for hours. Think Saina Nehwal who trains so hard she has no friends. And the Abhinavs and the Agassis are the survival bias candidates - the guys who made it big. Many others dont...

Here are some of the questions, I am wrestling with...

Can someone become a top class sportsperson without spending all those hours and sacrifices? (clearly no).
How much of this becoming a top class sportsperson is about self motivation and how much of it is about being pushed (by someone - coach, parent)
At what point does the pushing become self motivation and vice versa?
How self motivated can you be at age 7 or 10 or 13? Is that self motivation? Really? Or is it something else being explained as self motivation?

I remember my better half saying, how in her school days, the poor guys always ran the best. They, in many cases, were running away from their "hard life". This was their potential passport to success or to put it in a different way, training helped them get their mind away from their daily hardships.

(I recall reading something similar about Rajyavardhan Rathores army background in an interview where somebody asked him about stress or something. Does someone have a link to that?)

Initial thoughts I hope to sort better over the next few days...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What an MBA does not teach you...

There is an old Tamil saying which roughly translated states, "What you have been taught and the food you have packed will only last so much when you are out on a journey..."

Obviously, there is no course in the world that teaches you everything you need to know. And yet, there is nothing in the world that cannot be learnt. On that note, we will see what a typical MBA may not cover...

Typically, every MBA course covers the syllabus, the subjects and the groundings in most of the subjects. Add a few seminars, papers, presentations, internships, competitions in the mix and you have the mix of things you will be doing through the course.

Now there are a few things that cannot be taught. And of course, there are a few things that are typically not taught. We will walk a tightrope between these two distinctions.

For one, a course is not real life. Case studies are case studies. They don't make you responsible. Here's what I mean. It is very easy to suggest a radical approach for a company in trouble in a case study. To get it past the screaming board (or others baying for your blood) is an entire story in itself. Which is when, it gets whittled down, beaten, mangled to the final sorry thing that it becomes. And if you have to get it past in the way that you conceived it, it pretty much means putting your neck on line. Of course, this is impossible to teach, but you get a hang of it if you try to go against the grain in any group assignment. Add pressure to this volatile mix. Can a course simulate pressure? Over a long drawn out timeframe?

From then on, it does not teach you either how to set up a business, grow and run a business without compromising your values. As I said above, writing a case study and starting an actual business are completely different things. But if you wish, use your MBA to set one up. If it succeeds, great, if not, you have the learning.

How do you handle non-performers? Face it. Teams are like trains. There are one or two engines, a motorman, a backup, a guard and lots of passengers and luggage. Will you dump the luggage? Or the ballast? Or the passengers? Or will you chose to be politically correct? I don't have an answer, but there are two things people usually do. One is to suffer silently - the engine is seeing us through in any case. The second is to be politically correct - keeping everybody happy. If, and this is a big if, you manage to create engines out of your "passenger coaches", you can do it anywhere and everywhere. If you avoided this problem, don't. This is a big component of real life. And you will realize that even in the highest offices with values set in stone, handling non performers is tricky, often devious and usually very clumsy. Does the MBA teach you about people? Of course it does. It may not be a course, but teach you it does. However most of us miss the course and the lesson.

Selling is an important art to learn. Before you decide to skip this paragraph thinking it is for the marketers, remember, it is important for all specializations. Which is a pity, because most often people look the other way when it comes to lessons in selling - including marketers - because selling is what the little guys do, right? Cut the jargon - selling or marketing - not too different in a organization. Ultimately, you need a buy in. Coming up with an idea or an initiative (especially one that is 'different') is difficult. But compared to getting the organizations buy-in, it is a cakewalk. And how do you get people to buy-in? Sell. Knowing when to sell, how to sell, who to sell, undersell or oversell is an untrainable skill that you gain by experience or mentoring. Messages need to be customized, 'whats in it for me' is more important than 'this will ensure my promotion'. Think that's the only place? No. Every report you bring out, every feasibility study you create, every requirement document, every proposal needs to be sold. Try getting your class to be in half an hour early for every single day of the course. If you have managed to sell it, tell us about it.

Punctuality. The single biggest problem of the MBA would be solved if people treat it as an extension of work and not as an extension of college. Look at people saunter in ten minutes later into the lecture or presentation. Try doing that in the world of business - especially if you are meeting an American client. They won't. Meetings start sharp on time and typically end on time as well. And yes, nobody can teach you punctuality but yourself. And yes, many deadlines are non-negotiable. And many things will not get done in one all night session before the submission date. Ask those who slog for months trying to get one single project out of the door...

How to manage the boss? This is a skill that cannot be taught because bosses like subordinates come in a million combinations. If you have a boss that does not have to be managed, either your boss is good or you are lucky or badly wrong. But at some point in time, this will be your test. Can it be taught? Well, if you take the profs as your boss, especially if they are leading through an initiative, potentially yes. Put into a nutshell, a large majority of people skills are built over time and there is no single correct answer. You have to keep at it and learn as you go.

A corollary of this is "how to be the boss". A lot of people lose all memory of their people skills the moment they have a couple of people report up to them. And that is when they decide to behave like mini tyrants and dictators.

Does it teach you gratitude? Hopefully, this is one skill which does not need to be taught. Thanking people is like planting a seed. Sometimes, those seeds become trees at the hottest point of time in your journey.

These are some of the skills, an MBA may or may not teach. But when did that ever prevent you from learning these things while you are doing your MBA? Understand that many of the skills that are not taught, can be learnt. Often, all it requires is an open mind.
(This is a draft. A neatly edited version of this made it to print someplace. Will link it when I get the link...)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Choosing the MBA Specialization

Solve this puzzle. How to choose your specialization?

Heres your answer: Marketing is for those who can talk well. Finance is for those who are good with numbers. Operations are for those (who are good with numbers plus) with a manufacturing background. HR is for those who can handle the touchy feely stuff - or those who are bad at maths or non engineers, if you want to be politically incorrect. There is always MBA in IT that is available for those who came from an IT background or those who want to go to an IT company. End of puzzle.

That is the common street talk on the specializations on the MBA circuit. Add minors and majors to the mix and you can think of yourself as a person who has a major ability to talk well and a minor interest in IT, therefore you pick up a Marketing - IT combo. Now, if you can see for yourself how absurd this is, you will know what I am driving at.

What is important to remember is that none of the specializations are mutually exclusive in real life. Which is obvious, considering business is not meant to be mutually exclusive. Anything and everything in an organization and real life is interconnected.

Second, as a human being, who has cleared various tests and reached the doors of the MBA, your ability to learn and pick up any specialization is also a given. Which means, if it was about passing exams and gaining a specialization, you can clear an MBA with flying colours in any specialization. Don't agree. If could you could do so in graduation, why not in post grad?

And then, there are trends. Or call them fads. Organizations see demand going up or down for certain specializations depending on what state of the business cycle they are in, the economy (of their target market) is in. If you wish to cash in on that, don't. Trends will come and go, but both your passion and your qualification will remain.

So, how does one approach specializations?

Many years ago, at an interview for one of Indias most recognized automobile companies, was a line up of eager students, including me. One of us walked out post interview and as it happens, we were eager to know what did they ask him. He said, much to our surprise, 'they asked me about the fielding positions in cricket and I was able to do it instantly'. Instantly, one of the students in the room drew up a sheet of paper, grabbed a friend and having jotted down the positions, started memorizing the fielding positions in cricket. After all that appeared to be the trend. What he did not realize was that the company was basically looking for the level of passion of the engineer when they asked him what his favourite sport was. (Needless to say the guy who drew the cricket fielding positions made it.)

Very often we tend to approach specializations in the same way.

Heres one example. Let us say that you are a Chartered Accountant. So, your grounding in accounts is impeccable. From here, can you become an IT requirements consultant in Finance? Check. Can you move onto marketing financial services or working with potential overseas investors? Check. Can you handle operations in a BPO or a Bank with an added MBA degree? Check Or you are deeply passionate about HR? Check.

Replace CA with any other degree and you will find that it is almost impossible to justify why anybody with any qualification should or should not take up a particular specialization.

Heres a thumb rule. Remember, that the MBA is an addition to your 15 or 16 plus years of what you have already done. So, if you are an engineer or an economics student, the MBA is just the icing on the cake - the cake is what you already have - the sum total of your studies and your experience. Now take a second look at those specializations. And then take a long hard look at your interest and strengths. What do you like to do will answer the former while what you are good at will answer the latter. A combination of these three should ideally lead you to the specializations. If you are in doubt or in a fantasy about the nature of jobs after acquiring the said specialization, please meet a few people who are in the kind of job you long to do and ask them exactly what they do. Beyond jargon, beyond the gloss, beyond the job description, ask them what is the exact work that they do and if that interests you.

So, once again, think about why are you in the race for an MBA. At the end of the MBA what would you want to become and why? It is important to like what you are into, regardless of what your friends are into. It is equally important to be good at your job. By no means does that mean that you can be ignorant of other specializations. And as you work in organizations, you will realize that many are.

So, if you are in for a regular specialization, it is self evident. (If it is not, talk to people you have worked with or know you well or with a professional counsellor - they will help you.) If you have the choice of two, use that choice wisely. Just taking the hottest two together may not be the best message you convey to a potential recruiter - it will not help you masquerade as "either". Think Icing, think Cake.

Now, for the second part of an often asked question. Does it matter?

The answer is a tough one, though I would take a stand here that does not really matter in the long run. Heres why.

Once you enter into a company, the only thing that matters is performance. So, if you a finance specialist, if you perform you get to move higher. If you don't, the person who does, gets to move higher. As you gain in the years, it is important that you broaden your perspective as you go along. And what that means, knowing how the different parts of the business interplay and ensure success. Strategy means holding the different levers like the reins in a chariot so that your business runs smoothly in the right direction. Is that possible for a one trick pony? No.

Heres an exercise. Take a look at a sample size of CEOs (or whatever else is your goal) across industries. Find out what their education/specializations are. Do you see a correlation? Then, into this mix, ensure that you include a mix of large corporates, SMEs, neighbourhood businesses, start-ups in it. See that data again.

My bet is that there will be no correlation (indeed there will not even be a correlation of basic qualification or MBA or anything else).

And if there is, you know which specialization to take...

(This is a draft. A neatly edited version of this made it to print someplace. Will link it when I get the link...)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reality and Imagination

As usual one morning, me and the little one were busy making stuff with Lego bricks. I churned out model after model. He was noticeably slower. He observed us and commented, "Appa, you know why you make models faster and I make them slower?"

"No" I said, not wanting to congratulate myself and readying myself for a pat on my back for my advanced skills in building stuff with building blocks and my ability to find bricks faster and...(you get the picture)

"That is because", he reasoned, "your models are real and mine are from my imagination."
"Alright", I asked, slightly amused and at the answer and the perspicacity of the observation, "What do you mean?"

"See, what you make are things which are already there. House, vehicles - they are all already there no?" I nodded. "But the things which I make, like the Dinodon (yes, its a cross between a dinosaur and a vehicle) or the Rhinodon (you got it, am sure) are not already there, so I have think and make it ..."

Suitably chastened, I went back to re-imagining my models...

"Thats why it takes me more time..." he added with a flourish.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Everything I do

Someone else doesn't...I like this new ad campaign titled (?) iDont (or is the title "Droid does") that takes potshots at the iPhone...Any guesses on who the competitor is? Who else, but Google. I doubt if anybody so far has had the nerve to take on Apples iPhone with a direct campaign like this.

Of course both the phone and the app store (by far, the iPhones strength) have to live up to the ads - but that's for another day...

(Sandisk had attempted a similar campaign couple of years ago...)

Building glaciers

What would you do if your glaciers melted and there was no water? You could still deny global warming for one...

For all those in the plains saying there is no global warming, heres a place that's been facing real issues and heres how one person has been trying to stop building glaciers, yes you read that right. (via Kottke)

The principles are the same as building rainwater ponds or checkdams, in case you ever decide to try it out...

But this is such a heartwarming (notwithstanding global warming) story and heres one for all those global warming sceptics...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Forest, Trees and Leaf

Apparently the Nissan Leaf will come to India in the near future. The report is a bit vague so I cant say if its more near or future. While I know Carlos Ghosn or Ratan Tata wont read this, whoever introduces a good electric car at a decent price will get some good market share in the cities.

But I could be wrong, couldn't I? The Reva has not made significant stries in the Indian market and the Leaf (or whichever electric car), whenever it is launched won't be cheap. And infrastructure will be a big big issue - what if your supercool-electric-car-that-needs-no-petrol stopped in a village with no electricity at all or, more likely, in a place which has a 12 hour load shedding? (Then, we get the bullocks out - ha, we have all the answers!)

Well, but that's because we are talking present. We are still away from any sort of tipping point for EVs. For all the work Reva has done in trying to create a market for EVs in India, it is still ploughing a lone furrow. But oil prices have only one way to go and that is up. And electric cars infrastructure have only one way to go, that is also in the direction of better...So, at some point this will happen...Question is who will be lucky?

And in the meantime, you will see small strides like the reported Swift petrol with plug in hybrid that aim to bridge the (big) gap between oil and electricity...But the overall direction is away from oil (this is as much hope as much belief...)

Turning around

This company had started off as yet another JRD Tata enterprise and started life off as Tata Airlines. Soon after independence, it became Indias national carrier. In 1962, it became the worlds first all jet airline - no mean achievement in those days. The Maharajah, its emblem is an icon in Indian marketing tomes. Probably one of the most recognized icons in India. Given the ubiquity of its mindshare, this airline should have been one of the (if not the only) preferred airlines for Indians. But clearly, something (or many things went wrong).

Today, the airline faces bad times with a loss of about 700 to 7000 crore rupees ( depending on whether you count the erstwhile Indian Airlines or not) and a debt of twice that amount. The airline is facing a government bail out (by the time this article makes it to print, it would have been predictably approved). And ask the man on the airport, if they think any of this will make a difference to the airline and whether they will travel on it given a chance, you will be surprised at how many people will say that they will.

The wiki entry on the airline lists out numerous awards that the airline has won but ask the casual traveler and most of them will tell you they won't fly the airline. People will cite a thousand examples (some of which I have experienced myself) on why they wont. Unclean airplanes, indifferent staff are just some of the examples. Culturally it is an even bigger mess.

None of the service mentality that you would see in a Jet airways would be seen on an Air India. People run scared of booking themselves on an Air India flight.

It is well known that globally the airline industry is going through troubled times for a while now. First it was the low cost airlines, then it was fuel prices, then recession, then wars, security checks and what not. The government prepares to give the airline yet another chance by infusing a billion dollar assistance.

So, what will fix the problem? As a management student, this is an ideal case study.

From a management perspective, you will find many Air Indias around you. In the form of people, in the form of projects, in the form of products and services. And these are places where tough decisions have to be taken. You may find yourself saving an Air India in the hot seat or find yourself on a committee that evaluates it.

First of all, employees (stakeholders and members of the project) need to buy in and agree that they will do whatever is necessary to execute the turnaround. If they are not willing, you will need to how much you need their assistance or if there is a need to get fresh blood. Without committed employees, no turnaround can be executed. This is a common occurrence whenever a company takes over a new enterprise. There is
fear, uncertainity, doubt (FUD) factor, people worry about their jobs and their future. They need to be told about it one way or other, yet done so in a sensitive manner.

A cultural change is expected and required. Will your present leader deliver or would need to drive change from the top? The leader may or may not be inspirational, but he needs to have the ability to take people alongwith him. More than leaders, you would need the support of various stakeholders with various levels of influence and needs. How the leader influences th em and has his right of way is very important. Ever
so often, we see a clear strategy, that fails because the stakeholders have not bought into the strategy. A lot of the ERP implementations in companies have gone this way due to the reason of not taking people along.

Do you need to run the business at all? Don't caught fooled by the sunk cost fallacy ("we have already spent so much money on this") or emotional attachments ("it was started as our first business") or delusions of grandeur ("it is prestigious to own this business") The question that you are faced with is, "Is the business in the best interest of the company today and the future"? Either answer demands a separate set of things to be done. For a lot of old world companies getting rid of non-core activities; indeed defining what is core and non-core and getting to it has been no cakewalk.

Even once you decide that you need the business a similar decision would need to taken with the product/service lines. Ever so often you see companies persist with product lines that are not in tune with the market. To me, PAL and Hindustan Motors persisting with their models comes to mind. And on the contrary, a Toyota has adjusted itself very soon.

Executing a turnaround is a tough job. Most businesses can turn around - with a sharp focus on strategy, market and customers, an eagles eye on execution and of course, assuming that you have the right strategy and support from all the stakeholders. We have seen government run enterprises successfully being taken over by private firms, both in India and abroad. Mittals turnaround of loss making steel plants is a
case study in itself.

Coming back to the Air India question, how does the fund infusion help when most of the other factors are not changing. The union appears to be as uncooperative as ever, the culture refuses to change? The government uses Air-India for its junkets. Presumably only the government and some destinations like Gulf are still profitable segments for Air India. And if that is so, do we really need an airline envisaged as a show piece to be in this situation? And is that what is national "prestige"? Would the private carriers not set a better example of service? Many other nations have privatised their national carriers...

Many a time, a turnaround requires a fundamental change. Telco at one time was a manufacturer of trucks and heavy vehicles - by and large. It was a permanent icon of Indian roads alongwith Ambassador and PAL. Today, Telco is still around. It managed to bring on the first 'Indian' LCVs (they are a hit even today), created the first Indian car (Indica), the pathbreaking mini truck (Ace) and of course, broke new ground almost simultaneously in two ends of the market with the Jaguar and the Nano and invested in some advanced truck making capabilities...

What will work for you?

(An edited version of this piece was published in Advancedge this month)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is there a difference between NGOs and Corporates?

Except for the so called profit motive? And in my dictionary (which, really is borrowed from a few capitalists), profit is good - because profit oils the wheels and profit can be taxed and is ploughed back as investment...

In my books, if there are "rogue corporates", there are rogue NGOs and as far as my limited knowledge goes, companies are better regulated and hence have more accountability (and less evil agendas from their funders to paint with a broad brush).

So, if as per this report the NREGS is going to go to NGOs, it means we are wasting more money than is being wasted. Today it is probably pure corruption, tomorrow it will mean something more vicious. Well, give it to the CSR programmes of ITC or Infosys or Azim Premij foundation and you will get more bang for the buck - I mean if thats what you want...

Top of the mind response as of now, but I will put in coherent thoughts soon...

5 rupees for a cheque

If that sounds absurd, imagine you will pay 5 bucks for an e-transaction. Actually some time back the RBI allowed banks to charge 5 rupees for NEFT transactions.

Yes, the same e-transaction that allows banks to employ less people, build less branches and use less manpower and get technology to do all the work.

I don't recall who had blogged about it, but it is one amazing neanderthal move. So, if you want to save 5 rupees, go stand in a queue at the bank or put in a cheque which will then utilize the services of a million people and blow more money than that? Or will e-cheques cross subsidise the paper cheques? Well, many people like me wont, because I value my time too much to stand in a stupid queue, but there are others who will...

Indian railways, take a cue - reduce the quota online, get everybody standing in a queue for booking and cancelling tickets. Ditto theaters. Lets start pushing paper once again like the good old days...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black tickets, anybody

When was the last time you bought a movie ticket in black? 6 years ago? 5? 4? And what happened between then and now?

Have the movies become so bad? Are less movies being released? Or people no longer watch movies@ theaters preferring instead the comfort of their homes? Or has the video-dvd-youtube-piracy combo killed movies? Or people fear visiting movies thanks to our terroristas who may be seeking revenge for a bad movie? (some of my friends suggest that a few recent movies would qualify).

Or has there been a proliferation of theatres that it is no longer necessary to sell in black? Or have all those multiplexes evolved their own pricing system to adjust to supply and demand? Or since we can all book tickets online or using mobile phones, it makes it that much simpler?

Now how about extending that to education? And doing away with reservations? If there are enough colleges with enough seats, would anybody really need reservation?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Germanys energy revolution

A special feature in Der Spiegel.

While it is about the smart grid and new technologies like giant solar power plants in the desert, wind farms, it is also about generation of power closer to the source. And that, for India is another leapfrog opportunity.

We leapfrogged our yawning communication gap (chasm?) between villages and cities thanks to cellphone technology. To a certain extent, organic farming thoughts helped stop us from getting into full industrial agriculture mode. A coming power revolution will enable our villages to be self sufficient in a way Gandhiji would have never imagined.

I like this. Imagine homes and factories and apartment blocks generating part of their own electricity needs and feeding it back to the grid. Imagine microscale wind and solar power plants and probably bio-gas as well and thats one non petroleum future I look forward to...

And on that a Happy Diwali...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Psychology of names

A very simple hypothesis of mine is that people are deeply influenced by film actors (largely - not sure if it applies so much for girl children and actresses) and other successful people like sports starts (mostly cricket) or politicians (some of them) when we name our children.

Therefore, over a few generations rare is the child named Ranjeet, Prem, Jeevan, Amrish but there is a profusion of Amit, Rajesh, even Indira, Priya (after you know who), Sachin, Rajeev, Rahul and others.

Not sure Virender would make it to the list soon, because it is a successful name, but "traditional".

In places where the local industry is dominant, you would see a similar naming pattern me thinks...

(need to do a longer post on this...)

Car Reviews

Been reading a few car reviews on zigwheels and I am not sure if it is only me who feels all the car reviews sound the same. The reviews are vaguely positive or mildly positive or fawningly positive.

It is only in the comparisons (where a few cars are tested simultaneously) that I able to get some differentiating factors.

It is entirely possible that I am an idiot who does not know much about cars and their engines and other parts or there is some trouble with my understanding of the reviews! Clearly all cars in the market are good!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Global food

A cursory glance at your supermarket shelves might show you that India has opened its doors to international cuisine. Ok, may not be all supermarkets, but most of the bigger grocery malls have.

A few weeks back, I was shocked to see Maggi noodles imported from Far East. I have seen imported Kellogs and other break fast cereal products often enough, but this one surprised me. Italian olive oil has also been around for a while now. And I spotted a pack of Thai curry mix, imported by some company in Gujarat and packaged as per Indian specs (with the green dot etc.) - which I duly picked up. And there are many such intrepid traders who source products from all over the world (right now, I see mostly Far East and Italian and European and predictable) but it wont be long before we see some Japanese items here or Korean.

And of course, we don't know how they are selling. Olive oil will sell to gourmets for sure, as will a lot of Italian products since it is already established at the top of the heap. The rest, well, we will have to see. The Indian shopper today is a lot more globalized than she was and might experiment with all these new products.

The second thing being are these products sourced because demand elsewhere is falling or is it because there is true demand here? Or is it that there is race between hypermarkets to brand themselves are more exotic than the other - because otherwise, no shopper will be able to identify which grocer he is shopping from if someone does a "blind taste" experiment...

And while this is happening, there is sufficient ground for Indian products from all over India to be sold too. For instance, Kerala items are quite easily available in Bangalore, but not so Gujarat or Rajasthani (vice versa?). And while I did spot Kolhapuri Bhadang in more than one place, there is significant space there...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

1984 and 2009

Currently reading 1984 by George Orwell. As a fan of his Animal farm (available online), it is my humble conclusion that all movements in the world are exactly of the nature as depicted by Animal farm. (note to myself: Please attempt a longer post on it.)

All rules are like spider webs. The insects (us, common mango chaps) get caught while the sparrows fly through. And coincidentally, I found this yesterday - Road to Serfdom (dont miss it), in comic form.

And in this context comes our ministers comment on vulgar salaries...Aadisht does a neat job of dissecting it. To that I would like to add my twenty five paise. A few more can be targetted instead of the corporate sector.

Film stars are making too much money. Too much money is spent producing dud movies. Reality television and even television channels earn vulgar amounts (and often manage to make a profit). We spend vulgar amounts on national schemes that benefit no one.

Someone should remind him that the days of socialism in India are over. Or are they?

PPP in Education

Simply love this: PPP in education. (via)

Now I am sure the old raggedy politicians sitting the opposition will oppose it with a ton of verbiage etc etc...but this is a great beginning. Hopefully it will reach to its logical intent and meaning...

Finally the world has to be about equal opportunity and this I believe is a step in the right direction...

Food rules...

20 Food rules by Michael Pollan. Very nice!

And here are a few more of mine...(not that I follow each one of them, I try to though)

* Carry food with you at work - otherwise you will be tempted to junk
* Keep fruits in your home at a place where you can see it - not inside a referigerator - that way you will have to eat it before it gets spoilt - and keep you off junk
* Indulge once in a while - it stops you from craving
* Eat leaves twice a week
* Find our what your grandparents ate and try to get closer to it in a few meals atleast
* Anything that leaves colour on your finger, oil on your finger after eating is bad

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Kindl(e)y adjust...

Coming up very soon (Oct 19th) is an ideal Diwali gift for those bibliophiles…The Amazon Kindle. You may love it or hate it, but two things afai can see. One, digital reading is the future of books (Kindle or no Kindle). Second, in terms of convenience, it beats everything else hollow. You cannot lug your library (1500 books capacity) with you in any other way.

Now if that isnt something what is? And at 300 odd USD - that’s about 15k - which is what you would spend on books in a good 2 years (lesser for avid readers).

Now the downsides - The equipment price and book prices at dollar rates may seem costly for now. You also cannot share books that easily - unless you lend the whole damn machine - which come to think of it might be an upside in itself - no more lost books!

This is interesting…

Well, for choice the Sony reader is available too. The iphone and the android phones have their own readers (and google books too). And perhaps the much rumoured Apple tablet too, but all in all Kindle has fired the first salvo in India... May the book lovers win...

We get the infrastruture we deserve

Nice column on infrastructure by Tavleen Singh

And rings true. Have been struggling with the net the past few days and I still never know when it will give up once again. Ditto for mobile networks - not had a decent call without having to walk around "catching" the signal in ages. Yes, our infrastructure is bad, poor, pathetic - notwithstanding Volvo buses and our politicians are busy staying in dalit houses without electricity.

Imagine. 60 plus years so called indepedence, these guys don't have electricity and our media is celebrating the fact that our politicians are spending time in such houses instead of ticking them for the state that the people are in. (Yes, I am referring to the one shall not be asked an uncomfortable question). Or of course, they are independent of electricity too. Smart eh?

Whatever...(and I will be back whenever my net is up. BSNL ought to give up all pretense of running a telecom firm)

Walking - a digression

Over the past few years, I have become a big fan of walking. I try to walk as much as I can - definitely around the place I live in and often combine public transport and walks to reach my destination. Apart from the obvious benefit of fitness, heres what I love about it.

As I walk in the morning, I can see the "morningers" do their job. The car wash guy with a few swings of his hand wipes the cars with the same urgency that the cars display on the road. Then there is the milkman dropping off milk, a liter here and half a liter there hoping he has not made a mistake. The paper wallah is busy sorting out his different papers for households. The ironing guy is coaxing his coals to light up. Dogs lie on the ground, asleep, but only just; alert enough to bark at the some intruder whose presence is triggered by smell on their sensitive nostrils. Small fires busily warm up their surroundings which is usually a huddle of men wrapped in wool kambals. The sun lazily wakes up, first peering through a few clouds before showing up in full resplendence.

  • Explore your surroundings - whether near your residence or at a tourist spot or anywhere else where you are. Nothing like a morning walk to explore places around you - both in terms of speed and in terms of nature.
  • You are your own company - unless you are walking with someone and if it is not conversation, it is a conversation with yourself, clearing your mind, freeing your mind and just being in the present. I love this particular aspect - company or no company.
  • Slow down - ultimately you will reach back only at the speed that you walk and if you walk a long distance one way and return (unlike going round and round in a park) - you cannot speed up. You have to get used to the pace of walking.
  • Walking with songs - I don't particularly enjoy it, but there are times when I like to listen to music - especially if I am walking in the park and I have to listen intently to a few songs.
  • Talking over the phone - this is something I quite like - it is almost as good as having the person near and with handsfree it does not spoil the experience one bit. It can be distracting though - as would listening to songs, so choose a spot with less traffic or where you don't disturb others.
  • Once you are used to walking, walking anywhere is an option. A radius of about 2 kms one way around your place of residence is an easy walk away. The max I have walked is perhaps about 10 odd kms one way (and then I took the bus back home)

What are you waiting for then? Put on those walking shoes and walk...

Customer service!!!

As long time readers of this blog will know, I am a fan of Megamart. Long before Megamart was spun off as a different brand in itself to become a umbrella brand...

Recently I paid a visit to their flagship store at the Forum Value Mall. Megamart remains true to its promise. Good deals, value for money pricing and in general most offers are in the lines of buy 2 get 1 free or buy 2 get 2 free...

With purchases like this, alterations to trousers has got to be at a fast clip. Most of the smaller Megamarts get your job done in about 20 minutes, but on this particular day the wait at Megamart was about, yes hold your breath, 3 and a half hours. (I have heard about movie theaters being prime draws in malls, but alteration...)

Now, it is one thing to say, as the person in charge of alterations said, that, there is a rush today etc. And to tell customers that if you come on weekdays I will give it soon. Well, big s**t. I dont care and neither do I have the time to spend hours in a store selecting trousers on weekdays...

It is another thing to recognize that weekends can be busy and get a couple of tailors working fast at the alterations desk on alterations. As far as I could see, there were one or two chaps in the alterations room and it was the most mismanaged place in the store.

Also, alterations, obviously, happens after billing - and that means, once you purchase you are screwed philosophy of many organizations.

This is not rocket science, it is simple customer service. Well, I will think twice about buying trousers from there now.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Those who missed the India bus

This is a phenomenal piece from ET (LT nikhilnarayanan). If you havent read it already, please do so right away.

The author here postulates, quite correctly, that the IT services dinosaurs - biggies hitherto who failed to see the India story in IT are badly hit. I must admit that I did not see it this way at all, so kudos for this piece.

If you are a follower (or hater) of Indian IT, it is important that you know this. The IT story in India is about a David upsurging a Goliath. It is about the creation of an industry that was pretty much on nobodys horizons. And that also means, sorry folks, that the Indian IT industry will stay for a while to come. Indeed as disruptive business models come, this is a story that has to be a must be on any business strategists reading list.

Of course there is still a lot for Indian companies to do to be the "real" biggies, but they will get there...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What you build is where you go...

While we build IITs and IIMs and IIITs and ISBs (no, the last two letters do not denote Suicide Bombing - totally inspired by Prem Panickers blog post title ), our friendly neighbours are also building institutions for their future. Makes you want to think of the direction each of these countries are taking no? (my old post here)

After all, what you build is where you go (or want to go)...

There are now 62 odd "institutions" offering courses (pardon the satire) and these turn out to the the bigger ones - exactly like our colleges. There are tons of other smaller, unrecognized, unrewarded doing this totally great job. And they will come out with degrees labelled B Bom, M Bom and they are out to make an impact with (literally) their lives. And sooner or later, expect the alumnus of some of these colleges to make an impact in our life, bullet proof dustbins and buses notwithstanding...

And yes, people who talk (or want to talk) to the powers that be often go there with high security, unlike you and me...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adding value

Just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, a must read book for any foodie.

The book goes through how agriculture has evolved (in the US) from the humble farmer variety to the industrial agriculture - which when you read the book looks so removed from the farming that we read and romanticize about.

The dominance of corn and processing corn to create almost all the elements in any typical fast food meal in the US food scene is a fascinating read. Cows are being fed corn and the herbivores are nearly turned carnivorous (or cannibals) by feeding them cattle bones too.

Its not all gloom and doom though, but read the book for that.

In the wake of reading the book, I found this product there. Mashed potatoes. Potatoes sold between 10 and 20 rupees a kilo at retail rates is now worth 90 rupees a kilo. How? Processing it to add value - Mash potatoes, add a few chemicals, preservatives, package it and sell it...And therein lies a long story.

Follow Pollans advice though when it comes to choosing a meal.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Electric cars, how soon?

I had a discussion with the other blogger here (largely dormant) on whether Electric cars will rule the roost very soon? And how soon can we expect it to happen. It was not intended to come up as a post at all, but coincidentally I saw a few articles about it. This, this and this...Now, bear in mind that none of us are really automobile experts as much as we are market watchers. Here is how we read the tea leaves...

If you have observed, over the past few months, recession or no recession, quite a few new models have found their way into India and this is across car companies. The wait between international launches and Indian launches, if any, is reducing. And clearly, companies want consumers to buy. And I guess the market has been quite obliging so far - helpfully the recession seems to have ended too (thats another story for another day).

But here is our premise, the next few years, will be the oil engines last stand - surely for smaller vehicles. For the bigger vehicles, oil might continue to be dominant for some time longer. Most people we speak to do not share this premise thinking that electric cars are some way off and the oil industry will last for atleast a generation. I hope that it is false, but beyond hope, I see definite signs that the epitaph of the oil driven automobile industry will be written within this generation (20 years for being wiped out and hopefully within the next 5 odd years a decent electric car market will be created.)

(While hybrid as a technology is an accepted and proven technology, it may not be enough. Indeed it will lengthen the demise of oil engines for a little longer than it should. So, while hybrid is a good idea, as oil prices rise, it may or may not make a significant difference down the line. I dont know so much about compressed air or hydrogen and I am a little iffy about the prospects of ethanol. CNG, well, finally is still close to petrol, but for India this might be a solution for the heavy vehicle industry.)

Electric vehicles are making significant strides in technology - US high profile launches of GM Volt and the Nissan Leaf are not too far. The Aptera, Fisker Karma and a few other small manufacturers have already put up their vehicles for sale. It is not "mass production" in terms of huge volumes, but it is pretty close to it. "Better place" - an initiative to create the ecosystem around electric vehicles (charging points, battery replacement stations) is gaining ground too. And similar green highway initiatives are gaining ground in other parts of the world too.

And often, with these sort of initiatives, a tipping point may not be too far away. And when change happens, it will happen swiftly, resistance not withstanding...And thats why we feel that the current launches are an attempt to get people to buy newer vehicles and lock themselves in for 5 years atleast. I hope that my next car is an electric...

Closer home, Reva has been moderately successful in breaking the mindset (and this is a very tough job). And it seems to be the beleaguered GM that is trying to break into the electric market here in India (see linked article). Tata and the Nano, I am sure will follow suit. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Here and there...

"Hammer for breaking the window glass during emergency"

Either someone stole it during an "emergency" or the hammer was too precious to be left in the train or ...

Found another gem "Suggestion book available in guard compartment"

Now, I am sure many people would be enthusiastic to walk from one end of the train to another, locate the guard, write in the complaint book. And another set of people would peruse through the same and implement it....


Notwithstanding the grand name with the confluence of god and king - it is probably the most powerful city. It probably was. Now it is a railway station that sits at the outskirts of Bangalore - been so for a while.

Many many years ago, it used to be a station as nondescript as perhaps, Malgudi. A sleepy railway station punctuated by, perhaps the arrival of a few trains. And I recall having arrived at this station en route to Kerala one of those summers and been pleasantly surprised by the superb weather at this place. "This is a suburb of Bangalore" said my dad then. Suitably impressed that our summer trip went "almost" near Bangalore, it got added to the bragging rights that summer. The station was quite a nondescript one...

Today, as it sits in one corner of Bangalore and city having extended itsself around the station, it is one station that if developed well can serve as alternative to the usual Majestic and other crowded termini. The amazing thing is the low amount of development the station has seen since those days. Coach positions are hard to get, until recently it did not have a decent parking lot (now there is one), a loo is difficult to get and overall access levels are quite bad (dont even think of handicapped access). Only recently a ticket counter was added on one side of the station. But there are more trains today, many more pick ups and drops and quite a well used station this part of the city. It really deserves to be developed in a good manner.