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...