Saturday, August 29, 2009

Air India

Just read this here that the Centre will infuse additional equity in Air India.

Any prizes for guessing whether the money will make Air India an intensively competitive world class airline? Or whether you hear the hear of money sucked down the drain?

The answer for it is not far to seek. First of all, the government has no business running an airline, much less an airline that has been sucking and blowing up money all along. That being said, if an airline has to be run it has to be run profitably. And to do so, employees, management alike need to think of it like a business and not like a personal fiefdom. And that is a big cultural change.

Bloated staff, Unions which have no incentive to work, air ghostesses and a mentality that treats people who fly on it like cattle and cabbage means the direction of the airline is down. Of course, there are sectors where cattle and cabbage treatment is de-rigeur and for them the airline is a flying state transport bus. In those sectors surely they will do well...

But all in all, it is a perfect case study of what not to do...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Online ahoy

Got via Aaman Lambas list, this post from Ajay Shahs blog...

Almost every single thing that requires a queue can be moved online. Employment exchanges, tax payment (BBMP Bangalore actually had an option to pay online this year), RTO records, passports - every single thing can go online. Indeed, the government can go online, UID or no UID.

But points worth nothing - 33% transactions of NSE are online and about 34% transactions of Indian railways are online. I disagree a bit with Ajay though on the conclusion seeing the similar numbers - because a lot of the IR bookings would also be happening through 'authorised agents', people book for family, friends etc. on the web - so it may not be representative. Whereas, in trading, by and large (excluding those who trade in their grandparents names), people trade themselves and for themselves...

I love the fact that I never have to meet my bankers - everything is online. I hate standing in queues and wasting my time patiently in banks (RTO, government offices, anything) where instead of an idol, you have a teller who you have to await your turn for darshan and then hope that he fulfils your wish. Online is the way to go for everything. And yes, there is a lot more scope out there as Ajay says...

Great snakes

Yesterday, we found a snake in our apartment and like most apartments in Bangalore we have our own groups - hosted on yahoo - created well before Google groups came into existence. And given the fact that a snake shows up once in a few weeks, someone in the email group had shared a note on snake catchers some time back.

And when I tried to search for "snake" - the great search engine did not return any relevant result and then I had to trawl manually. For me, the engine failed...

Point being, you can test all you like, but I am not going to search on Yahoo anytime soon with results like this...(and btw, it also asked me if I would like to move the message group to the new search engine they are testing - no thanks - I would rather move the group out...)

Communication and revolution

Er, umm, if the Naxalites are well and truly interested in getting their people out of poverty, why the F would they do this - blow up mobile phone towers? Why? Because the darkness of ignorance reduces with the light of communication and the more those poor people know, the lesser the chances of the naxals being supported. Any more illusions as to what the objective of these guys is or about those people who are calling it a mass movement? Get the army, clean the disease once and for all - we have bigger things to fight...

This is also the same reason why there was a new item on how some random groups in Kashmir were banning TV (of course, this turned out to be exactly 4 chaps breaking up exactly one television set)...

Bomb proof world

The MCD wants bomb proof dustbins...

I demand bomb proof buses, ganpati mandaps, markets, trains, temples, hotels and even people. I mean, where will it all end? And then the terroristas will send one person infected with some flu of some kind. No guns required. At all and all those dustbins are a waste...

Now, obviously, I am not saying don't bomb proof the dustbins, but the fact that a market exists for stuff like this is the sad depiction of the times we live in. Can someone try to solve the problem instead of applying some balm here and there...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Forum Value mall and Mega Mart

Had been to the Forum value mall recently at Whitefield. The value proposition seems to be on the lines of outlet shopping - on the lines of similar malls in the US, but the outlets do not seem to have got the message. Certainly not all of them - and we did not find discounts on offer in qutie a few outlets. Also, the mall is not yet fully open - many outlets are still readying themselves for opening. It is also located a little further than usual malls - and they hope that the discounts offered would be tempting enough to pull people there...So the idea is a smart one.

But what took our breath away was the mega sized Megamart (as readers of this blog will know, I am a fan of Megamart). Megamart, once a brand that would sell only Arvinds products has now expanded itself into a separate business, if I am not mistaken. In this space, it probably competes with Pantaloons Brand Factory. And the range on offer and the discounts offered there were pretty good.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Small is the new big

No, this is not Seth Godins book I am talking about, but the average Indian shirt size getting smaller.

Traditionally Indian men float in their shirts - lately, fitting is in. And perhaps, a few men now know their real sizes and the stores which had barely any space for 38s and 39s, now, have a market and hence stock them. (Coincidentally, I found more than the usual 39s at a store I visited recently.) It is also possible that as companies started introducing more of 39s, people too began to buy them.

And then again, maybe "business casual" is driving the trend...

Aggarwal thinks the move towards smaller shirt sizes has also to do with ties no longer being seen by many to be a mandatory part of formal, including office, wear. "When one wears a tie, one generally prefers to go for a bigger collar size," she says.[TOI] The article also says that globally men are getting fitter. Well, I dont know - we leave that for the women to mull over.

Well, all I can say is, not everybody can fit into a slim fit. If you are one of those who does, why not flaunt it...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rise of the rest...

Found this video here, as part of a long post (worth a read).

The key ingredients of the video are a generous dose of India and China. Very interesting. The oil revenue part ought to shock us all...


I love e-cash. Indeed, I hate paper money.

About 55 thousand crores went through electronic means in the first two months of this year.

Paper money is too dangerous to carry, but it is a necessary evil. But thanks to plastic and e-money, you don't need to carry it everywhere like you once did. I remember how my dad used to carry money on our long trips. Today, on most days, my wallet has barely a hundred odd bucks - almost regardless of where I am travelling.

And then , writing cheques is a pain - standing in queues is a pain. Why waste time when it can all be done online. And then to send money here and there and everywhere - e-cheques are simple, fast and effective.

And then again, nobody can duplicate e-cash. Muwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahha

The largest open source movement

Finally got around to reading this piece in Newsweek - much tweeted about.

And the more I think of it, the more I am inclined to believe that it is THE natural state of mind - and perhaps this is how the world was before the "discoveries of truth" happened. I had written about this some time back and perhaps thats what makes Hinduism perhaps, the largest open source movement in the world.

Loved this from the piece:

Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great-and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too." [Newsweek]

Well, pause for a moment and reflect on that. There is no single truth in the world (including this one!). The entire article is worth a read. And if you scratch the surface, I guess, most of us are like that - though we may not be Americans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hiring in the slump

HITS - is hiring in the slump. That's just an acronym I made up. But this makes for interesting reading.

Some companies, though, see the hard times as an opportunity to boost productivity and prepare for the next big uptick in the $800 billion global IT business. Top players such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro (WIT), and HCL Technologies remain profitable and are loaded with cash; Infosys has $2.2 billion, and the others have $1 billion-plus.

So even as the industry suffered, the five biggest companies added a total of some 80,000 employees in the 12 months through March-a third less than the previous year but still sizable. And the outsourcers are all cozying up to customers, reinventing how they price and sell their services, and investing millions in training and research to help them take on more complex jobs.[BusinessWeek]

There are two things. One, that hiring during a slump (and not just in India, mind you) is contrarian. Two, the biggies seem to be either thinking alike or they know something we don't.

To me, the latter seems to be truer. And that is that a slump traditionally means companies scramble to become leaner and what better way to cut flab than in their IT departments. I am sure that the consultants that these companies employ are suggesting the same to their prospective clients. Either way, I like the way they think. Hiring during a recession surely builds up brownie points in those countries where a thousand advertisements cannot. And what better time to get those customers when they are in their deepest pain.

I am glad to see the Indian IT industry live up to its spots...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

4 adjectives

Thats 4 adjectives for "Flats"

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ugly Indian

Caution, you are not going to like this post.

But it is a fact is it not? That Indians, in general, are rude travellers?

I have seen it on local and international flights. Queues are always broken. When the boarding for seats is announced for the front row, somebody in the last row always barges in, or tries to barge in? And then, once they are in, it is one mad scramble to capture all the space in the overhead bin, as it were some disputed territory or a gold rush? And take all the free newspapers available to read. And rush to the exit when the plane lands, like there is some emergency in the plane?

And no, it is not just in the planes, we are like this on trains, on buses and would be on rickshaws too, except for the fact that rickshaws really dont offer so much space. And are we any different on the roads? No.

Of course, all of us are not like that. Most of us are angels - if you look closely you can see a halo around our heads! But in a country of a billion, occasional devilish streaks can add up to quite a bit, even on each plane or train or traffic signal...But no, most of it is our ingrained habit.

More thoughts on this later...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If the metro were a road...

Heres some fodder to the argument going on over whether cities need the Metro - given that trees are being cut etc. Heres some perspective.

Turns, out, you'd need the equivalent of a 228-lane Brooklyn Bridge to move all those people into Manhattan during Monday morning rush hour.

At best, it would take 167 inbound lanes, or 42 copies of the Queens Midtown Tunnel, to carry what the NYC Subway carries over 22 inbound tracks through 12 tunnels and 2 (partial) bridges. At worst, 200 new copies of 5th Avenue. Somewhere in the middle would be 67 West Side Highways or 76 Brooklyn Bridges. And this neglects the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, NJ Transit, and PATH systems entirely.

What would it take in Mumbai if all those trains did not exist? Don't even ask...

And the trees we are trying to save in Bangalore is a future insurance to the many other trees that would need to be cut for future road widening if there were no Metro...

India in design

I saw myself nodding in agreement over many of the points Aadisht made in his post on Incorporating heritage.

I guess everybody "wants" to be "international" (including airports and malls) and seen as such rather than as a 'local' mall - which is also part of the whole story. Now, clearly, you can incorporate India into a design in US and be called exotic, but in India, well, to be called India and yet sound posh may be a stretch (this IS an assumption) - someone like a FabIndia or the Design store though can show you how. But this is clearly a stretch, so building those glass and silvery structures with artificial palms often works...

But, there are some brave guys, IMO which have incorporated some 'Indian' or 'heritage' aspect in their design. Now, I don't mean putting an odd Taj Mahal here or an odd mango design there or a Rajasthani mural on the wall or upholstery - I mean a little more than that. I am also unsure whether to include things specifically adapted for India under the same head as 'designing with Indian heritage in mind'. Here are a few which I think have done well...

The Titan heritage series incorporates India and its heritage beautifully in its watches. What are the sales of this range compared to the Aviator series (another equally well designed folio) - I don't know.

A lot of restaurants do this theme thing rather well. Bombay post - with the moustachioed doorsman in hunter uniform and the tented look of the place is uniquely Indian (almost British Indian). And they play mostly 70s songs for good measure. And in any case restaurants are not guilty of not using India or its heritage...

Funskool has some neat Indian games. Again, don't know how well they are doing...(I need to pick one or two up and play for starters).

Cochin airport has some elements of local architecture incorporated into it - any user experiences here? It seems to blend beautifully with the landscape though.

Now, for the marketeers, if India sells, they will market it (Tantra t shirts, Fab India, Any heritage silk or jewellery store).

The Indica, for instance was a cleverly designed car for India - as opposed to incorporating Indian design in its design. And no, I don't buy Kishore Biyanis argument that Indians like crowded spaces in shops - and that is one "design element" that must be got rid of forthwith. That's my thoughts, really scattered, for now. Will keep thinking about it until it comes across as a coherent post....

Friday, August 07, 2009

Seventy six

76 is the number of firms which want CISF security.

Thank our friendly neighbours for this, also thank the funders for funding them, also thank the brainwashers for running a brain laundry and also thank the government for letting all of this happen. But of course, the friendhly neighbours deserve a thanks for sending terrorists to India and killing and massacring wantonly over the past few (many?) years in different parts of the country. Until recently though, we always thought that this was not going to affect us. But it has. It has visited all the places we visit as shoppers, tourists, commuters, going about our daily chores.

But finally having the CISF around is like having pesticides when cockroaches invade your kitchen. Pest control is a better option or keeping your house clean.

But then companies cannot solve the problem, atleast they can buy pesiticides. So, if you want to live safely or reduce the probability of death on campus by terror, work at any of these firms. Or else work from home...

How far are we from an attack on a high faultin residential complex? Aha, now apply for security for CISF. BTW, Infosys pays in crores for them...

Question: Is India the only country where workplaces seek to be guarded by commandos in "peace time"? (And to qualify that, I mean, non sensitive installations - not power plants, nuke plants, dams and the like...)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rainwater harvesting bill

The Rainwater Harvesting bill has been passed for Bangalore. This is something that was much needed in the city.

Cutting to the chase,

Both new and old buildings, houses and apartments need to have the system in place within nine months. Existing houses of 2,400 sqft and more, plus all new houses of 1,200 sqft come under the mandatory umbrella. [TOI]

My humble suggestion - even if your house or apartment does not meet these criteria, please go ahead and implement it. It is worth it. Especially for a rainstarved place like Bangalore.

There is always an alternative

Roger Federrer won the Wimbledon a few weeks back. And if you read the reports, there is one common central theme. The question being asked is, "Is Federrer the greatest tennis player ever?"

For those of my generation, it is nothing but a feeling of déjà vu once again. Why? When we grew up it was the end of a generation. Bjorn Borg was the latest wunderkind in tennis, along with Jimmy Connors. And in came a certain John McEnroe to rule the tennis world. And then there was Ivan Lendl. A man, McEnroe reckoned with as much talent as his little finger, slowly began to gain in ascendancy and began to defeat McEnroe with regularity. And Lendl rose to hold the world number 1 ranking for a record time. And then of course, when he retired, it was the end of an era. Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg took his place without much ado, followed by Jim Courier for a brief while and then Pete Sampras. And about the time I stopped following tennis, Pete Sampras was the greatest.

But to read the recent reports about Federrer and the rivalry of Nadal and Federrer re-kindled my memory. For every single one of these players, their greatness was sung paeans about, reams written about the passing of an era and pages printed lamenting that "there will never be another XYZ". No, this is not a sports report.

Cut to the release of the Google Operating system a few days back. Actually, it was an announcement, not a release. During the days of Borg, IBM was the big daddy of computer companies and Microsoft was the upstart which challenged the old companies' domination. Then IBM went through its own growth pangs and found wings that took to a dominant position at the enterprise level. Apple, the company which built those beautiful machines (supposedly) was found wanting in the face of the onslaught of Microsoft and would have remained confined to a niche market. Until the iPod and later, the iPhone brought them back to everybodys consciousness. Suddenly, Microsoft is the new old company and Google was the upstart. It overtook Yahoo in no time and the search company challenges Microsoft, Apple and IBM. And if you thought this was the end, it is not. Google is building an OS, Apple is a phone and device company, IBM is still god in enterprise and suddenly Microsoft Surface is a happening technology. And out of the blue, Facebook is the threat to Googles internet dominance. And for each of these, their demise has been prematurely written about, they have been alternatively written off and being praised to the skies and each time they have done something different. (There is an element of survival bias here, I agree, but the world is mostly about survivors, is it not?)

Sorry for this rather long winded detour through sports and technology. But do you get the common thread?

One, there is nothing permanent in business (or sports). There is no 'greatest ever' in sports or in business for that matter. If there is something, it is that there is always an upstart waiting in the wings - be it sports, be it business. It could be you, planning one or it could be the old company down the road. But for most persons talking business in those board rooms TINA is the gold standard - There is no alternative. These are those who seek to continue to rule, those who continue to do things in a certain way that they are used to, those who do not want to try out something different.

Once you enter the world of business, you will find yourself surrounded by people who love status quo and are fans of TINA. The arguments for status quo are always the same.
"We have always done it this way."
"You don't know the way business is run."
"This is how we have succeeded all these years."
"Somebody please teach this guy the way to do business."
"Newly minted MBA, keep your ideas to yourself"
"That is different, this is different."
"I have 10 (insert any number) years experience in this industry."
"This is the documented process"
"Changing this will require multiple levels of senior manager approval"
"Everybody else is doing it this way"

If you are not careful or end up with the lifetime subscription to the comfort zone and once fallen, love the comfort of it, you will know that something is going to shake you up soon. Almost everything that we grew up with has been shaken. The radio industry, the television industry, the telephone industry, the dot com boom, bust and resurrection - ever government and governance, even international affairs. These were the guys who did not stop at 'there is no alternative'. They pushed status quo and found a better answer. If TINA was well and truly right, how could they? Therefore TINA is wrong.

And as you have seen, the right standard is There is always an alternative - TI3A. For a long time, we thought Indian cricket had no talent. Post IPL there is suddenly an abundance of talent. Were they born yesterday or did more players just get more opportunity?

But that is easier said than done. As persons who enter or seek to enter the business, if you are the person in the room who believes more in TI3A than in TINA, you will know how difficult it is. At the same time, using TI3A as your benchmark will enable to push the envelope in almost all business decisions. Start believing in it as you progress through your MBA.

(An edited version of this piece was published in Advancedge, Aug 09)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

National Solar Mission

This article and the idea is obviously good, but like all good things, this is India where we can take a million years to build, just a flyover.

India’s plan also proposes reducing the price of solar power to the same level as that from fossil fuels by 2020, according to the draft, dated April 29. Solar power in India currently costs about 15 rupees (20p) per kWh, compared with an average 3.5 rupees per kWh for electricity from the national grid, which is largely produced by coal-fired thermal power plants.

Other targets include forcing all government buildings to have solar panels by 2012 and developing micro-financing to encourage 20 million households to install solar lighting by 2020. The plan also outlines a system — similar to Germany’s — of paying households for any surplus power from solar panels fed back into the grid. [Timesonline]

Solar power perhaps has the biggest potential in India - with sunshine nearly all the year round nearly all across the country, if solar power can be made affordable (surely, it can - if NREGS can work why not a National Solar Power Guarantee scheme).

And of course moving away from fossil fuels, means a safer life for all of us...

Daily dump

As part the steps in reducing waste (or recycling or being more environment friendly) in the household, I finally picked this one up from Daily Dump. (see image)

Actually I was never sure of the concept until I saw one in practice in our apartment complex.

We called one person from Daily dump over for a demo and we said, we got to try this out.

And so there we are. Will keep our progress posted on the blog...

Reduce solid waste is something we all ought to do. And perhaps the simple first step is to reduce the organic waste. Ideas like these help us do our bit, even if we live in an urban jungle...

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The little car that could...

They said it cannot be done. You cannot have a real car within a lakh rupees. It has to be a car with curtains for doors. It may be a three wheeler. It could be an autorickshaw on wheels. It will be unsafe...

And then the little car was launched. They came, they saw, they gawked. (Some even announced their plans for 5 years later.) Many still maintained it was not possible - this even after seeing the car running. It is unsafe they cried (as if autorickshaws and bikes are). On our roads, only a battle tank is safe. It is only for Indian roads, it will never be as safe as our cars, said others.

Many of you may not know this, but a "real" crash test was not mandatory in India, until very recently. (See who did not crash test their car when it was launched in 2003 ) And, by the way, just coincidentally, by a strange quirk of fate, only one manufacturer in India has its own crash testing facility - say TATA to the rest - this is as of 2009.

So, after passing the Indian test, the little car went to a facility abroad, to be tested for European standards, so that it can enter the European market as well. And here are the results of the Nano crash test. The little car is a tough cookie.

So, the little car that could not be built, is in reality the cleanest vehicle on the roads (take that, all you other cars) and is perhaps the safest too.

Today they say, wait for it once it hits the road. There will be complaints. Actually they are not saying it. I would put it as hope. Fervent hope. Well, for one, this blog will be watching.

More media reports.

Greening the apartment

We are trying to make our apartment the "Greenest". Having already invested in a rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharging initiative over the last year, this year we are trying to green it further. Some of the thoughts we have got along this track are:

* Grow stuff in the garden that is "beneficial" rather than "ornamental" or "decorative" stuff.
* We already grow herbs like tulsi (and a few others) in our complex
* The next step to perhaps try microfarming (or treat it more like a herbarium) - since we have a gardener anyway who takes care of the plants.
* Reducing solid waste and we have some ideas on this front too...

Most of us, as apartment or house owners can do our bit. By reducing water usage, using grey water for watering plants, building rainwater systems, reducing solid waste etc...

All this inspired by a few friends who are walking the talk...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Please stop the spam

Dear high end restaurant in Bangalore deriving its name from a brand of music I dont like to hear. I am sorry I made a mistake of calling you up and asking for some details a few months ago. Yes, that was my first mistake. The second mistake was I think I gave you my mobile number. Since then, like a bad medicine twice a day, I have been subjected to spam.

Please spare your "customers".