Friday, May 29, 2009

Gatekeeper or Enabler?

At a broad level, most of the roles we do as part of our corporate lives are that of a "facilitator".

As a facilitator, your role is to handle a process or a sub process. And you will see that, facilitators fall into two categories - gatekeepers and enablers. Most people who handle a process or control a process or develop a process behave like the security guard (and this was where the fort-builder analogy came about) - they gatekeep.

The security guards job is to prevent people from coming in. He has to verify credentials of those who seek admission and then let people through, once he is satisfied. Too many people mistake their roles (and rules) to that of a security guard at a top secret location. Once they write the rules (or even if they havent written it themselves), they guard it with their life. "It is in the rules, they tell you", very smugly. They get a lot of satisfaction by making people bend as their rules demand. "Why did you not do this as per procedure" or "As per rule #488, you should have raised a request one month ago. 25 days is too less" or "I will need 1 month to add the new pincode to your address." or "Your guarantee is valid for only one year. You bought our product 13 months ago." or "Our policy states that you cannot send a mail to everyone". And that's it. There is no appeal, no nothing. Their word is final. How many times have you encountered people like them and felt like throwing them off the nearest cliff?

If this is your job, remember that you are not adding value to your company, you are merely behaving as a security guard - and probably collecting a lot of ill-will. And if making people follow rules is all you do, you can (and will) be replaced by an electronic system. A lot of HR systems are now electronic - apply for leave, submission of bills, expense statements - with just a person or two to collate and act on it. Even railway ticket booking is electronic. Software is far better at making people follow rules.

People and companies often mistake gatekeeping roles to adding value - it does, but beware if your rules are becoming a bottleneck. And, a lot of times, people who approach gatekeepers are not seeking to break rules at all - they want someone to help them do something - they are looking at someone who can "enable".

Therefore, on the other hand, if you treat your rulebook as an enabler - knowing when to create exceptions and knowing how to facilitate people to achieve their goals, you will be sought after. Well, actually, the people will seek you but your own 'department' will detest you for letting people sneak through the rules they have created. Many a rule is meaningless - it is only because companies don't trust their employees enough.

Are you a gatekeeper or an enabler?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cellphone as center of life

See this piece with a glimpse of life in broadbands and mobiles most happening place on Earth - South Korea. Read the entire piece to get a glimpse of cellphones next steps...

On that note, Mydigitalfc seems to be a nice site too - sort of like a rediff for business. Been checking it out the past few days and sort of like its look and feel...

Lets build a fort...

What is the similarity between middle management and the kings of the Indian princely era?

Once the ancient king found a hill which was difficult to access, he built a fort on that hill. Slowly, he would fortify the hill with stones, walls, moats, crocodiles and other devices. Then they would man the hill with their faithful who will not let any intruder in. Visitors are allowed only after a thorough fisking. Access is difficult, since you have to cross the gatekeepers. You may have to know secret codes to get in. All of their energy is spent in retaining the hill. Any sign of a chink in their fortifications and they respond by fortifying their fortress even further.

And then, one day, somebody uses a lizard or a milkmaid or a technological advancement and reduces the fort to dust...The king and his faithfuls, if they escape seek another hill...

Now, replace hill with a "middle management position" and think of the fort as a "policy and procedure"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Second chance at reform

Got this link from Gauravs blog to a piece in IE by Bibek Debroy, where he questions, if the UPA will enable reforms at all. The stock market seemed to think so, or atleast thats what the papers told us. But, I am not too optimistic. This piece, puts it far better than I ever could.

The popular hypothesis is the following. Under UPA-I, reforms got stuck because of the Left. With the Left out of the way, there will now be a liberalisation blitzkrieg — disinvestment, pensions, insurance, telecom, aviation, retail, labour market, APM (administered price mechanism), power sector, land acquisition.

But that hypothesis has two sub-hypotheses. First, reforms require legislative changes and the Left was obstructing those. Substantial liberalisation can be undertaken by the executive and neither the Left nor the Common Minimum Programme was a constraint there. If legislative changes are a pre-condition for liberalisation, there is a problem in 2009 too, with the Congress not possessing numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Logically, we will then revisit the issue in 2014 and explain why these reforms didn’t occur under UPA-II and why they might occur under UPA-III.

The second sub-hypothesis is that the Congress desires reforms. [Indian Express]

And then? Well, read the whole piece. It is a delightful read.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Intrigued by Sony

As I sat through the last semi final and final of IPL, I had to endure a thousand promos by SETMax on the upcoming soaps and movies. If I recall correctly, they are launching a thousand soaps and telecasting some really new movies. But, showing them through a sports event? A sports event that is tiring for non sport viewers? In my view, apart from senior citizens there is not too much intersection between sports and soap viewers. The movie viewing audience might, but IMO, not many movie buffs idea of watching a movie would really match with 50,000 ad breaks. I guess there is a logic at work.

The intriguing thing is that the these slots are at the exact same slot as IPL - yes the exact same slot. So, tomorrow, when I troop in from work, I will switch on SETMax (since I had not moved channels yesterday - Himalayan odds of possibility) and not finding IPL, will lather myself into a somnolence with the latest soap!

Second, slightly better possibility. Absolutely enraptured by the promos, I will set a reminder to watch these very soaps day on day? Possibly. Definitely better odds than the first one - especially if I am an obsessive compulsive soap viewer. But would an OC soapie watch IPL in the first place? The IPL audience would desert SETMax at 11.32 pm and regroup for the next cricketing event. Why? I had to search through the channels to find out where is SETMax located.

In any case, you cant fault them for making a really good effort to keep their viewers engrossed!

Disclaimer: I am not your average TV viewing fanatic. After IPL1, I watched TV during the 26/11 massacre, then Election result day for a couple of hours and then IPL 2 SF and Final. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Prices, discounts

Yesterdays paper had a pullout proclaiming back to school discounts. One of the items advertised was Seagate 320 GB freeagent, external hard drive with a marked price of 7000 and a 30% off being sold at 4599. I was impressed and decided to take the plunge into "unlimited" HDD space. With a capacity of 4 times my existing, HDD and nearly as cheap as my 80GD backup drive purchased once upon a time, it seemed to be a great idea. And then I decided to check on the net.

Of course, it is available for lesser at most places - including e-bay. So, impulse purchasing postponed thanks to the internet. I will wait for the 1 TB solution.

Message for stores: Please understand, people have learnt to compare prices in Indial. If your discounted price is below the price of other dealers, well, you know what will happen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Change the game, border edition

Nitin Pai and Sushant Singh argue for pulling the army away from the borders so that Pkstn can "fight" the Taliban. Though this sounds like changing the game, actually it is not.

As I had argued before on the Acorn, this is a patently bad idea. The enemy wants us to move the army, so that instead of ostensibly "fighting us" it can fight their own creation. As far as I know, we haven't fought on Indias provocation for a long time now. Whatever fights we have had in the recently longish past are mostly retaliations and we have stopped doing that too for a while.

For years now, we have had a ceasefire and yet only party has violated the ceasefire, aided infiltration. India, on the other hand even after the 26/11 massacre has kept quiet. The threat from India has not materialized - be it in Kargil when they pretty much occupied areas within India, be it when they attacked the Parliament or 26/11. So, the threat of India is an empty threat at best. On the other hand Pkstns mischief in India (directly attributable, indirect, plausble denial, via Nepal, with help from China) has only increased day by day.

Moving the army from the border will only let Pkstn dictate terms. Each centimetre that the army moves forward at any point of time in the future will become a "threat" and "distraction".

Our diplomatic capability is non-existent, as has been proved post 26/11. Until India is able to move more diplomatic muscle, this is a pointless exercise. Diplomatic muscle includes choking the flow of fungible aid, arm twisting defence suppliers and to a certain extent, managing China and presently none of this is happening.

Changing the game with Pkstn means moving away from our present policy of showing the other cheek and running to big brother each time.

Where are those social networks?

About a couple of years ago, social networks were the rage. I had captured this in a blog post myself. Desimartini (remember their ad), Minglebox, Bigadda were launched with much fanfare, media made a lot of money, but finally Facebook and Myspace and Orkut rule the scene in India. 

Linked in, however, has moved up a few strides - primarily because of its whole job oriented approach to social networking.

Here again, is the story of changing the rules. There cannot be one more Linkedin - unless there is a significant different in the value proposition - but everybody is trying to be the next Facebook or Orkut or Myspace!!

Anyway, my question is, where are they now? Yes, Bigadda has a blog by Amitabh - other than that, did they get much traction? Anybody know?

Change the game

Hardly a week has passed by since Wolfram Alpha made its debut and Microsoft is going to launch yet another search engine?

Why play by the same rules of your competitor Microsoft? Did Zune not teach you anything at all?

Google did not launch a Google Windows, or a Google Word - it launched the cloud to take on Microsoft. Now, I don't know what is the special something that the new Microsoft search engine will bring, but I think people are tired of yet another search engine, unless it does something
different and radical...(like the Wolfram Alpha?)

We do this all the time. At home, at work - everywhere. The instinct in us tells us to treat life as a race or perhaps we teach ourselves to do that.

When you play by the rules set by your competitor, you play into their hands. Change the game!

Update: While it does look like the search engine is radical, I was not way off the mark either! Bing stands for But Its Not Google. OMG.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Future of work

Time looks at the Future of work.

Some very interesting things there. The office as a concept needs to be challenged, for sure. This is covered here. Fascinating. (Incidentally it is written by Seth Godin.) I loved the concepts in this. Simply put, if a company can outsource work from across countries, surely it can get outsource it from its office to employees homes?

Why have a building and tons of resources to gather employees all over a city and get them into an office building, when it can be done just as effectively on virtual mode? Just meet up monthly at an offsite. Ok, if not for 100% of staff, surely for 50% staff, with people working alternate days or whatever?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is latest search engine on the web. Well, they dont call themselves that. They call themselves the computational knowledge engine! Go take it for a spin.

And it has a sense of humour :)

See the answer for this how many roads must a man walk down?

And heres some more Easter eggs via Mashable and Wired- Wolfram Alpha knows the secret of time travel!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A note on Bangalore verdict

The 3 Bangalore seats have unanimously gone to the BJP - (Bangalore rural, well, I have no comment). Reading the reports on the victory, you can see there is much hand wringing on how "moral policing" - which is a nice word for thugs, the pub attack by lumpens etc. did not make a difference. Also, the two other parties - actually one party and one family tried a tacit understanding gamble, but that also did not do the trick.

Bangalore (and Karnataka) have had about 1.5 governments prior to this one. One was ruled by Congress and one half was a HDD Gowda backseat driven government. Both of these governments drove Bangalore to frustration by deciding to ignore Bangalore (or trying to reverse SM Krishnas attention for Bangalore).

For 5 years roads were neglected, traffic and infrastructure was neglected, the NICE road had obstacles placed in its progress and one had to hear homilies on land ownership by companies by these holier than thou elements etc. etc. So, there is no way in hell Bangalore will ever vote for JDS (and anybody associated with them). Congress, well, they still bring in the same names that shone some decades back. (Krishna Byre Gowda was an exception and he will do well in future.)

As for this government - there was been a visible improvement in roads and public infrastructure since it has come into power - the NICE road has not been completed, but it is actually helping a fair bit. Bangalores buses have been given a leg up and we see newer experiments - apart from the Volvos. Metro work is progressing smoothly. There are some new public works that will be undertaken shortly. The BBMP polls will be held soon and it for its party is launching a property guidance cell - so necessary in these areas.

Yes, there is much work to be done - Metro, water, power, but with this majority and verdict, there is more reason for the government to go full steam ahead on infrastructure and development of the state.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Media circus

The results are out, finally. The last few months have been long on rhetoric and short on news, if you have been following the elections. But in this whole election campaign, I think one entity has lost its shirt. And that is the media.

Take any media outlet. Take any medium. Each and every one of them have consistenly and methodically shown us, like the old bioscope wallah, the images and stories they want us to see. 

That is the secondary aspect. The primary aspect is that the veneer of impartiality of the media is completely knocked down - in my eyes, atleast. There is only party (or two) that the media shills for. 

The pages and pages they have devoted to scions and scionesses of families while keeping silent about their capability are a witness to their so called impartiality. The many f(y)awning interviews that they conducted with them, while sparing them (m)any uncomfortable questions and doing so, having attempted to build their image in our eyes have left me completely unenthused about them. Every article that had the word youth had a picture of the icon and every article that the name of the icon had both the word "youth" and a smiling picture. Amazing subliminal (actually, remove the sub) messaging. But it will be a long while (surely longer than 15 minutes) before India shares the enthusiasm of the media to someone who merely inherited his position. And now they can all prove themselves worthy of such adulation.

Aside: Btw, there was such huge coverage for the reluctant scioness on Mothers day that I almost mistook it for Daughters day.

A word here on Bangalores media. The only candidate who seemed to have got any coverage was Krishna Byre Gowda, or maybe, I was viewing the paper through KBG coloured lenses. He was there in coffee bars, cycles, padyatras, holding banners and what not. No Ananth Kumar anywhere. And no other candidates at all were covered, except as errata or misprints. He lost after a tough fight, but perhaps Ananth had to fight harder since he did not have media to support him.

They tried their best to tell us that history began in 2002, until Jarnail Singh threw an old shoe and caused a collective eruption of conscience warts. (Ever wonder why 1984 in their words is just "riots" with 4000+ deaths while 2002 is a "pogrom"? And 26/11 is a terror attack - never massacre.) Well, actually he remembered. Most of the others affected in the pre-Gujarat 2002 and others are dead to tell any tales, much less throw a shoe. But, the media had started a new form of history called BG and AG and the focus was always on AG (after Gujarat). So, while they collectively erased the 1984 carnage (hell, we forgot 26/11), one Jarnail Singh did the trick. Of course in many layered edits that would require a cryptoanalyst to decipher, they did remind us that countless enquiry commissions later, not one politician accused has been convicted for 1984. The clean chits would impress any detergent manufacturer - I hear the next clean chit will have one of them as sponsors.

They stood by as the PiP (Party in power) slowly but surely rewarded loyalists their positions. The media did not for once question the Congress proclivity of eroding the neutrality of the watchdogs" of our democratic system. I need not name them.

They did not, remind us that there were dastardly terror attacks in nearly every few months since this government was in power. And each terror attack was fought in words - only. There was nothing done to assure our own security. Mumbai in particular was attacked thrice over. Delhi was. As was Jaipur. Bangalore. Varanasi. Hyderabad. Hundreds of lives were lost while shopping, eating, travelling for no fault of theirs. And towards the fag end of their tenure the only thing that UPA did was bring in a spin bowler as home minister. And the media completely forgot that something like 26/11 had happened. Where 183 people were massacred by jihadi terrorists. 

They swept, very neatly - I would love to have them as maid, the Bofors thing under the carpet so neatly, even a certain Mr. Q would be indebted. They did not tell us that the divisive agenda of the education minister were a good reason to throw him out of politics itself. They have continued to shill for the Congress through and through.

Fortunately, almost all voters are almost equally idiots - with the media, without the media, inspite of the media - and they have done what idiots do best - ignored everybody. This has been translated into a clear majority to one party, by and large.

Post script: So, this time one party has a decent, clear majority. I hope that something good for the country comes out of this over 5 years. There is work to be done - highways, power, security, focus on terror, modernizing forces, equal opportunity rather than outcome, fiscal balancing, balanced foreign policy and an overall air of anti appeasement - typically something the Congress does not focus on. With no Leftist idiots to drag them down, here is a chance for them to do the right things. 

And I hope that the media acts as a government watchdog instead of merely following their line...(or else you have the internet...)

And with that, I take a break from politics - until I break this promise...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Education and Risk

Many years back, me and a partner-in-crime wondered if we could start a consultancy based on our skills. This happened as we bumped into a lot of 'consultants' who were little more than 'fixers' who get would the jobs done through their contacts at RBI or Sales tax or any government department - many of them seemed to have no genuine skill. And there seemed to be nobody in the market with that genuine skill. Whatever our assessment, to cut a short story shorter, we chickened out, each one of us going our different ways.

In the meantime, we observed one of the boys who worked as a peon at a mill (and came often to deliver and collect things to our office). He proudly announced that to us one day as he came to collect a few cheques saying that this was his last. He had decided to go off on his own into the garment business by investing in a couple of sewing machines and some labour.While we congratulated him, we were dumbstruck. Here we were, educated till our ears, unable to decide on starting something and here was this boy, barely educated, who decided to take the plunge. And that was when we came up with the phrase, "Education lowers our risk taking abilities" and promptly settled back at our desks.

In my apartment, there are entrepreneurs - no, not among those who live here, but among those who provide services. There is a chap who started a drinking water dealership and he was the electrician of our building. The chap who worked as a driver for the builder, set up a milk distribution business for the apartments that his boss built. They reinvented themselves, while those in the apartment crib about the changing times in terms of the job market.

As we go through school and college collecting degrees in commerce or science, we unknowingly (or very knowingly) slot ourselves and create boundaries. Much like the elephant parable. It gets worse as we go through professional courses. "I am marketing, I cannot work in finance" or coming from the other side "You are marketing, how can you work in production?" or even worse "You are mainframe, how can you work in java?" are questions that are posed to us either by ourselves or our bosses or peers or interviewers. And in doing so, we unwittingly find ourselves neatly slotted into a pigeonhole where we dig deeper, unable to come out of the rut. (Note that many pigeon holes are very comfortable places to be in...)

And then we wonder where we missed all those opportunities that came by us. Well, most of the time, we let it pass by thinking it is not for us. It is either above you or below you or it is not in your lane at all - the lane that you created for yourself after toiling for a minimum of 20 odd years of education. (Yes, it applies to me too...)

Postscript: There are exceptions around, having been lucky to have friends (highly educated) go on the "high risk" path, atleast I know for sure that it can be done...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free shipping

Just discovered from the many comments left on the internet shopping post. Have ordered one book already and looking at more. And it's a very small reason. And perhaps therein lies a consumer behaviour story.

What I love about the site apart from the simple user interface is - you guessed it - free shipping for orders above 100 (and unless you are buying one Amar Chitra Katha or a magazine, no book is priced below 100).

Heres why: In general, I am not one of those people who will pick a book on impulse. I pick a book which I know is good and has been recommended by a few people I know or some reviewers I trust. Other than that, I am not the kind of guy who will spend hours browsing through a book store and pick up an interesting book. Why? Because books are quite expensive (and my time is precious). By and large, I read reviews on Amazon (and check with friends) before I pick up a book. So, going to a book store to just pick up one book is a drag on my weekend time (and money). Free shipping takes away the cost and time spent going to a book store (and associated expenses) and makes me buy exactly what I want to. Also, it makes the "discount" meaningful.

Does it say anywhere in the annals of consumer behaviour research (feel free to create a word) that people hate spending more than the actual cost of an item while buying it?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Internet shopping in India

My first experience with internet shopping happened through a friend. Many years back, somewhere in 2001 or 2, one of my friends had ordered something from a large portal. What he got was a broken piece of equipment that he had ordered - a complete waste. Of course, the portal washed its hands off it saying that the supplier was to blame and no replacement of any sort was received. That left a bitter taste and I was wary of trying out internet shopping.

Around 2005, I had placed an order for a book with an internet site and it took me tons of follow ups and a few months before I finally received the book. And recently, I ordered Windows for my PC and that took a month and a few calls and some blame exchanges before it finally made it to my place.

However, my dealings with Myntra and Dilsebol have been very very positive. They deliver as promised and on time. Indeed many a time, I have been surprised at the speed at which they deliver.

I know a few of my friends have ordered books from some portals as well as music cds and they swear by it. I have never tried ebay.

But is it that relatively newer sites, which have a bigger online presence are better? Do ones well established offline have good online sites that work well too?

What is your experience of Internet shopping in India? Has it been trouble free? Have you got what you wanted on time?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hello, Hello

The hello ad of Tata Indicom is one of the "breaking through the clutter" ad I have seen for telecom in India for a while now.

Now to see their ops live upto the expectations set in the ad

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Your time starts now

You have 15 minutes. What can you accomplish? Lets see

Clear a traffic signal in Bangalore?
Let 3 densely packed trains go by in Mumbai?
Polish a plate of biryani in Hyderabad?
Whip up a decent sabzi?
Have a bath?
Shop for self? (males only)
Move 10 metres in the queue at Tirupati?
Make 7.5 Maggis (via 3M)?

Well, if you did any of these, you wasted your time. 

That much time is enough for the world to be peaceful, end the war on terrorism - indeed end terrorism itself. I did not say this. Your future prime minister did and the newspapers buried it. 

Clearly we have wasted a lot of time and lives over this issue. Including the last 5 years.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Namma trees or Namma metro?

You want a metro, you don't want to cut down trees. You want wide roads, but you dont want to cut down trees. But when you build your own house, you will cut down every tree, bush and shrub that existed in your plot.

I have nothing against tree huggers and I am no anti environmentalist. But to oppose road widening or the Metro because trees will be cut is foolish - thankfully the government has not obliged.

Almost all readers of this blog would have seen Bangalore from the air. It is truly a unique city. Wherever there are houses (or layouts), you will observe from the air that there are no trees inside most compounds. The only trees that exist in Bangalore are on the sides of roads or the military areas or some parks. Thank god for the military inside Bangalore.

Tree huggers might want to check the greenery in plots (theirs too). Typically, homes in Bangalore have cut down every shard of greenery from their plot while they proceed to build it end to end with concrete and marble. (I don't blame them for it, high land prices means that any point a room is worth more than a tree either as living space or its rentability. Ever heard anybody rent a tree? So, only the rich can have trees in their plots.)

Cut to apartment owners. Apartments have few if any trees because they will damage the wall, the frontage, the foundation and the view from the balcony apart from attracting monkeys and bees and some of them may occasionally fall during a thunderstorm (after their roots have been progressively weakened). So, cut it is.

Coming to the Metro. If a sapling or two is planted for every single one cut down, in 20 years you wont remember these trees - because you will have a lot of greenery by then thanks to the Metro. But if the metro is not built, these trees will die of pollution anyway. And this is the same reason why trees on roadsides, progressively hemmed in by asphalt, carbon monoxide fall in minor thunderstorms each year. The fate of Lalbagh wont be any different.

Of course, the current opposition stems from Lalbagh which is, a heritage space, but think of the Metro as a long term story. The metro will reduce pollution, is a cleaner mode of moving people and in the long run, cleaner air means that the flora and fauna at Lalbagh will survive longer and be healthier.

See Bangkok or Singapore. Nearer home, see Delhi. The sooner we build the metro, the better it is for Bangalore. Trees can be transplanted, alternate greenery can be created - even creating a mini forest in other places around Bangalore is a better way to go about it. Better yet, pledge that you wont use your cars once the metro is ready. Or try to use public transport whenever you can even today. There is demand for good clean public transport. The sooner we get there, the better it is for us - it is worth losing a few hundred trees.

Nano homes

Is an idea whose time has come. Low budget houses for 4 lakhs or thereabouts. Now, of course, they are not in Sadashiv Nagar or Malabar Hill - they are some distance away from the city. It is an idea whose time has come - once again, not because of any government, but because of private initiative. 

In an age where real estate prices have kept going higher and higher, the only way to bring it down is by "urban sprawl" and that means big cities, good public transport. Otherwise demand will keep going up, supply will never increase leading to a Bombay style pricing for houses and rents. It is good to see Tata realize this. I am pretty sure their Boisar project will be lapped up. This needs to happen in other cities too.

Yes, yes, I can see people complaining, but read this old post by Ravikiran before you draw your conclusions.

Now, for the Tatas, this is smart. They have their finger in public transport, real estate as well as Nano transport. (Therefore, they are betting on urban sprawl?)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Meet your match, on TV

A few weeks back, I happened to think on the current state of the media. Whatever can be done on newspaper (or magazine), can be easily replicated by TV and then on the net. So, classifieds and advertisements have moved to the TV and the web as have news and weather forecasts. The big gap seemed to be in matrimonials. Yes, the same thing on which TOI sold their Sunday papers for a while and on which built their enterprise. Nobody on TV, you ask?

Well, down South (I dont recall the channel since I happened to see it at a friends place for a fleeting few moments) there is this interactive programme where prospective brides and grooms can "advertise". It is hosted on an quick interview sort of format where a suitably benevolent looking host interviews the prospects. He asks them a few questions on what they are looking for and if not anything else, it seems to be better than a classified or a web page (minus, say, a video). It would be a nice idea to see on TV and decide? Sure. Indeed, it must be sold like a talent show with the prospects being asked to do something they claim to know - recite a poetry or a song, or sing or dance or whatever.

No, it is not funny, though when I saw the programme, I was laughing. It is actually a good idea which can be better implemented.

Then and now

I had "wished" for the Honda Fit in 2006 and it is here in 2009 odd, but at what price?

The buzz is that it will be launched as the costliest hatchback in India at about 7 lakh. Now, that's a disappointment.

But in any case, the world has changed since 2006 (actually it hadn't, we woke up late) and I am not enthusiastic about any new vehicle launch, especially petroleum powered (except the Nano, for obvious reasons). My suspicion is that Fit wont do well in a market like this.

And while heres my thoughts on Appy Fizz in 2006, theres Grappo Fizz in 2009. I was ambivalent about Appy when it was launched and by the looks of it, it is doing well. But Grappo has been given a thumbs down by the little one after exactly 2 sips (I did not like it too much either). So, we will wait and see if his reaction is "tuned" to the market sentiment :)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

There are buses and then there is the Volvo

One big reason people prefer trains over buses is that bus travel in India has generally been (and continues to be) a very disorganized industry. You could book a ticket, but that was no guarantee of you getting into the bus. Seat numbers were liable to be swapped, buses were liable to be swapped, entire routes were liable to be changed, even luxury buses would magically become ordinary rattletrap buses at the time of travel (always due to extenuating circumstances), pick up points would disappear and what not. Also, people would pack the aisles sitting on small stools (Omar - and others on the Mum Hyd route immediately pop to mind), sleep on the aisles. Buses also transport a fair amount of luggage - see the tops of any of the private operators - apparently it is a ruse to avoid octroi - the passengers are incidental.

Overall, a thoroughly off putting experience, apart from the bad roads, sub standard restaurants, dirty toilets and other associated discomforts of bus travel in India.

Yet, in this messy space, one name has managed to create a name for itself. The Volvo.

No, it has not changed many of the other things listed above, indeed, it has created a few. (Though in general, overbooking has come down in Volvos since chances of operators denting their image is high and people pay a premium price). Now, you book a ticket for a "airconditioned" bus or a Volvo bus. There are chances that your Volvo is not a Volvo at all, just a look alike (and this is big business by the way, more on this some other time). Or, the Volvo got "replaced" at the last minute.

But these shenanigans apart, mostly created by dubious "travel agents", it doesn't happen with the reputed operators (or KSTRC or APSRTC), but remember that all buses are not Volvos. And stick to the reputed travel chaps - my favourite, at all times are the government transport corporations.

Jottings, after yet another trip to Mumbai by KSRTC Airavath Volvo, a 24 hour journey by train, 18 hours by Volvo. Thoroughly professional, rest stops are far more decent than any I have seen on any bus trip in India and the bus takes care of the bad roads neglected by our current government. Once those roads are made, the trip can be cut down easily by a few more hours. Oh yes and you can give Laloo the accolades for rail travel, but unless train travel becomes faster, the race is lost.

As for city travel, nothing beats the Volvos of Bangalore - they are probably the best public transport in India in terms of coverage, usage and comfort. See the crowds to ITPL each day in the Volvos and it is heartening to see people use public transport enthusiastically. And as it happens on these routes it is a positive cycle. People use buses, corporation increases frequency, increases coverage and still more people use them...Way to go.

Pass ya fail?

Bangalores local bus transport system has a bus pass that lets you travel all over Bangalore for about 30 odd rupees. (Theres a golden pass too that lets you go gallivanting on the magnificent air conditioned Volvos for about Rs. 75.) Whatever the type, these passes created an aftermarket.

Because it was a day pass, there is no photographic identify, so in theory someone in a family could buy a pass, use it for the first half of the day and then pass it on to someone else. Why family, anybody could do it. Indeed, an aftermarket was created where people sold used passes for a discount. So, the BMTC required conductors to note the gender on the pass. That makes it that much more difficult. But it was not enough. So, now it requires age to specified as well. Which is a smart move, it limits it further - but it can be done with friends of the same age group. But how really can the BMTC prevent money leaking out through bus passes. Given the tough time conductors have in issuing tickets, how can it be done?

Cut to the Mumbai suburban system. To get a train pass, one has to procure an i-card. But given the suburban train system, ticket checkers find it impossibly difficult to check anything more than the expiry date of the pass. Unless both the pass and the i-card are checked it is quite easy to misuse the pass.

Sure, smart cards etc etc., but that robs people of the convenience and also puts in an entry barrier. Technology also can be used, but is there a way that companies issuing passes can reduce misuse? Any out of the box solution possible?

Interesting problem to resolve, right?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Weekend sprinkler

Smart idea for a sprinkler - a PET bottle with a few holes. Spotted at a restaurant at Sira, a few kms outside Bangalore.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Absent Indian voter?

Based on abysmal polling in Mumbai and Bangalore, Acorn points at the "Absent Indian Voter" and wants a deeper look into it.

I will give my own example and extrapolate. Many years after I have moved out from my earlier constituency in Maharashtra, my name still appears on the list in that constituency. And as my dad days, the names of a few people who are long since dead from our apartment complex also figure in it. Perhaps, the voters list is not as updated as it is made out to be. So, in a place like Bangalore which has a lot of people staying abroad on longish stints, it is possible that a big chunk of "voters" are not voters at all. They may be dead, invalid or may have moved out to other places (and registered there too like in my case) either themselves or with their sons/daughters etc.

Second, there are new voters who register each time. It is "unlikely" (assumption) that many of those who go through the pain of registering will not vote. Some of them may, but in general those who register will vote is a reasonable assumption.

Third, there are those who have never registered in their lives (yes, the hoity toity types) - but they don't figure in the list, so they are out of this calculation anyway.

Fourth, summer vacations and long weekends are times when people take time out to go to their native places or to just chill - this is unlikely to change. This works well in case of people who are not actually registered in their new constituencies, but against those who have registered. Such people are unlikely to make changes to their vacation plans - why or why not, I don't know. Long weekends are a curse. Move the voting day to a Wednesday - that means 2 days leave will need to be taken. Or have elections in winter or when the kids are likely to be in school.

Is there a break up of voting percentage across genders? My gut feel says that there could be a key there - it is possible that men overall have a greater voting percentage than women.

None of this means that we must sit pretty with these voting percentages. It means that we need keep up the momentum of getting more people to vote, especially urban well off voters - because, a democracy is a democracy (cargo cult or otherwise to use Atanus pet phrase) and it is this class which will push for better politicians. Politicians who are professionals rather than history sheeters. Participation, not abstention is the key as Rajesh Jain says.