Friday, October 24, 2008


the light, one evening, from my verandah:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

what makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial

A great read:

The paper talks about Causal Reasoning and comes up with a concept called Effectual Reasoning in contrast that is an inherent quality of entrepreneurs. This scanned document also has bonus comments pencilled in by someone (someone from Khosla Ventures?).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

motivation, or the lack of

Abraham Maslow was a renowned anthropologist, best known for his concepts of the Heirarchy of Human Needs.

Maslow's hierarchy of needsHuman needs are grouped into five categories with various priorities. The lower ones have to be satisfied before the higher needs can act as motivators. A hungry programmer can hardly be motivated to write good code.

One is always shifting between these levels, satisfying multiple needs simultaneously.

The need for self-actualization is notoriously insatiable. "Ultimately happy" is how Maslow described it, which in itself sounds dubious. One is always left wanting for more.

Peter Drucker, another renowned man and a management guru, disagreed with one tenet of this heirarchy. His argument was that as a want approaches fulfillment, its capacity to reward, to act as an incentive, diminshes greatly, while its capacity to deter and act as a disincentive increases.

If you put the two points together - the one about self-actualization being a danger zone, and the diminishing returns from the lower needs - you will see how being only in the upper level of the hierarchy can be dangerous business. Here there is a high chance of ennui setting in, becoming blasé, and getting engulfed in a universal demotivation.

Being grounded in the lower levels is how one can stay focussed on the matter at hand, on real progress. Perhaps this is what Steve Jobs meant when he said "Stay hungry, stay foolish".

missing from google's index

A few days ago, one of my posts went missing from Google's index.
Which was rather strange because I had checked a few hours after publishing it that it was turning up in Google searches and Google Analytics had already started showing me hits on my blog because of that post.

After some digging around I found out that pages get taken out if a spam site links to them and then those pages are inspected in detail before putting them back in the index. And, if the page links to a spam site, it is taken out immediately and kept out. The latter turned out to be the cause of the post going missing. A spam site had left a "backlink" to my post and the post was inadvertently showing the link to the spam site. So I went and disabled all backlinks and the next day my post was showing up again!

The curious thing is that links in comments and backlinks/trackbacks usually have a rel=nofollow set. So I can't imagine why that backlink would have had any affect, but mysterious are the ways of Google. ;-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

marketing essentials

I recently spent a couple of hours doing an online Marketing Essentials course from Harvard Business School. Here is what I figured is the gist:

1. Understand the fundamental need behind demands.
2. Meet customer needs. Then exceed expectations.
3. Keep the conversation with the customer going.
4. Embrace change.
5. Everyone is a marketer.

All else derives from the above.

[Update: added item 5]

Thursday, October 2, 2008

post photos from Nokia E71 to wordpress directly

That is what I initially wanted to do. But this is more about post images or videos to any service for that matter, from any Nokia phone that can run Share Online. But I've tried this for images only from my E71, using Share Online 3.0 to a PHP service.

One day I saw something funny on the road, drew my phone, took aim, and shot. And was inspired enough to want to set up a proper photoblog for candid shots, for all of half a day! But regardless of me eventually not putting up a photoblog, I decided to poke around to see if I could do this in principle. And here is the result of a day and a half of hacking about.

Share Online 3.0 comes pre-installed on the E71, but without Flickr as an option. Their FAQ pointed me to the configuration file to get Flickr in to SO. If you overlook the junk in it (that is the flickr icon, base64-encoded), it looks very simple. Publishing uses the Atom Post protocol and WSSE for authentication. Tweak the media_options section to add video/3gpp or video/mp4 if you like. Change the endpoint_path to your own service and point configure_file_URL back to this configuration file. And you're done.

Here's how my configuration file looked like:
Copy the file over to your phone and open it. The E71 automatically recognized it as a Share Online service configuration and added "UJ" as a new service. Options -> Add new account on the phone will let you specify a username and password for the service.

Every request by Share Online to your service will have authentication requirements. There will be a HTTP_X_WSSE parameter in the http headers. It will look like this:
UsernameToken Username="user1", PasswordDigest="4bHGUQyK7n/2JtGo/Tbjsr0aFww=", Nonce="NrS4fnwVWDB5QiIVR0qtIQ==", Created="2008-10-02T06:30:33Z".
Parse the string to extract the various name/values pairs. WSSE authentication can be checked (PHP code here) with:
$mydigest = base64_encode(pack("H*",

The string in $mydigest should be the same as the PasswordDigest field in the WSSE string.

The first time Share Online tries to get a list of actions possible with this service (the Update Service operation under Options). This is the only GET operation and thus, for all GET requests (upon successful authentication, of course) my service returns:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<feed version="0.3" xmlns="">
<link rel="" href="" type="application/atom+xml" title="my photoblog">
<link rel="service.feed" href="" type="application/atom+xml" title="my photoblog">
<link rel="alternate" href="" type="text/html" title="my photoblog">

With Content-Type set to application/atom+xml.
This tells Share Online where to make POST requests, amongst other things.

Now, about that POST request. Log the HTTP_RAW_POST_DATA to see what the request actually contains. The Atom protocol, again. But for some strange reason, Share Online makes two POST requests to submit a photo. The first one is just the image and in this case the post xml will have this element:
<standalone xmlns="">1</standalone>
The next one actually contains the description and the title and tags that you had entered in Share Online. I'm not sure how to correlate the two - I guess you have to assume that only one client (per authenticated user) is submitting at a time and sequential posts are related.

Since I saw the link above, I guess this is the exact Atom protocol Share Online uses:

This can be made into a nifty little Wordpress plugin. Perhaps some other day, if I decide to set up that photoblog after all.

So far, I'm loving my E71! If you have any cool tips or tricks to share about the phone, please leave me a comment. And check back again soon - I'm going to write about the apps I've set up on it.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Animals run for the love of running.

Children run for the love of running.

I wonder what happens to us human adults that running does not come naturally.
After overcoming the initial unwillingness and a few minutes into it, running is the most exhilarating activity of my day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


(a bookmark of sorts)

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt.
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Touched with fire, we come,
Heavenly, your sanctuary!

Your sweet magic frees all others,
Held in Custom's rigid rings.
Beggars and princes become brothers,
In the haven of your wings.

The music, which completes the magic:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Tabs (wikipedia article) have been around for quite a while. However, it was considered a breakthrough in browsing experience when Firefox popularized it and Safari and IE soon followed suit.

It must have made a big difference, at least for power users - all the clutter in the dektop taskbar was shifted into the tab-bar in the browser window.

object.render() ?
But if you look closely at it, tabs inside a browser window are hardly a UI phenomenon.
They are, in fact, the simplest representation of how the browser stores webpages in memory. If a browser needs to keep multiple pages open at the same time, there would be a list (linked? array?) of these pages. Each of these pages has a history - a list of web addresses that had been displayed on the page previously. You could go back (and even forward!) in time, one step at a time. Does that remind anyone of stack-like behaviour? Just pop from the "back" stack and push into the "forward" stack.

Browsers are creating a visual representation of their data rather than figuring out the right user experience first and then making their internals provide it. Definitely the wrong focus. Check out the "Experience is the Product" slides here.

What's Wrong?

Tabs and their history are so linear it is constraining. Why is a workspace defined only by a list of URLs open at a given point in time? Why is browsing history confined to a tab? Even the Back button is pointless: once you go back and click on a link, the part of the history that was under the Forward button vanishes - like branching out to another time dimension. "Back" makes sense within a particular web application like email or in the context of doing a search. But not as a mechanism to traverse history.

Go Non-Linear
So how do we get out of the confines of linearity imposed on our browsing?
For starters, get rid of tabs. And I don't mean go back to individual windows; I mean using tabs as they are meant to be - as containers for web pages instead of as focal points of browsing sessions.

Opening and closing of tabs should be seamless to the user - new ones opening up when required and older ones just fading away. As the sequence of browsing progresses, tabs that are not needed can be closed automatically. The unit of browsing should become the web application. For example, web search: I can have multiple tabs open while I'm searching for something and the "back" button should work consistently across them, allowing me to explore different websites at once, but always from the context of the search engine, jumping back and forth. The navigation needn't be tab-based as it is right now.

The History Too
"Back" for History is horribly broken. Browsing history can be delegated to a separate pane in the browser with items ranked either chronologically or by frequency or other ways that appear to the user as "views". A tree-like structure for history would be better than just a list of web pages. A powerful search on top of a longer window of history would fill in for the impossibility of capturing everything in a single view.

The browser can have two views - one where the user can see at a single glance the history and various browsing sessions currently in progress, and another where only a single browsing session is active and in focus. Currently browsers have only one view where a cluttered (and often barely usable) tab bar shows which tabs are open and the larger part of the screen shows one tab.

As browsers become more of a platform than an application, they are generating more interest and hopefully we'll see a lot more improvement, especially for the user experience.

[Update: As I finish writing this, Google Chrome is made available for download. They claim to have solved a lot of technical issues that people have been complaining about, and have made it open source. Hopefully the other browsers will have the good sense (and grace!) to build on top of this and improve the user experience.]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

experience is the product

The product is just a small part in the entire experience. Here's a great set of slides about creating the experience:

It's almost impossible to know the user's context. Ergo, build, measure, unbuild. Repeat. Of course, learn from other people's measurements.

Creating Passionate Users is another fantastic resource about creating the experience. It is an entire paradigm shift on how to think while designing a product.

Which brings me to Tufte - on the reading list for next weekend. His focus is specifically at data rather than a product, but it is eventually all the same. Will write about it later.

[Update: I later read this post and realised that the ideas I mention here seem disconnected: end-to-end experience, learning and gathering feedback from data, user-focus, and presenting data. Apologies - I was thinking two steps ahead of what I was writing. They are all connected and in a later post I will tie together the connections.]

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Are the real resource. The real investment. And the real returns.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

courtesy call

I got my car serviced this time at a place closer home for the convenience - Pratham Motors on Sarjapur Road. Two days later it died on me, and was taken to the garage closest to where it had choked up.

Just so happened that the next day (or the day after that) someone from Pratham Motors called me up asking for feedback and how my car was doing. Extremely nice of them, except that they horribly screwed up handling a bad experience! I told them what had happened, not even sure of what to expect from them. All I got was "Sorry, Sir. If you want to complain please come down and meet our manager"!!! That got me really mad. If you don't really care, at least don't try and fake it!

There was absolutely no concern on the part of the customer care person. No questions about what was wrong, if they could do anything to make it better for me, no technician who would get back to me for more details. Basic courtesy I would expect. After all, I am trusting these chaps with my car.

Later I found out that my car was down because of adulterated petrol from a petrol pump. So it wasn't Pratham Motors' fault at all. But I am not going back there again. If in case something were truly wrong, I don't think they would know how to handle it.

Training and manuals can't prepare you for everything. It is important to build a culture that provides the right foundations.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


It has been a long time since I last blogged. It's not that I have been particularly busy (well, I have, but not so much that I didn't have half an hour to write) or that I haven't had much to say. The trick is to say it before the moment passes.

And that is true for so many other things!

I am subscribed to this National Geographic video podcast and the episode I was watching today (download it here) shows how a group of conservationists are trying to protect an endangered species of cranes from becoming extinct. They have a website too - These people breed cranes and teach them how to eat, how to fly, even migrating across the continent for the winter. The migratory path is apparently only in the memories of these birds, and handed down generation to generation. If a generation is lost, so is the collective memory.

What I found most interesting was the method employed by these scientists. They dress up to look almost like the cranes - well, close, and not human anyway - and play recordings of crane-speak to the little ones. No human is allowed to come near the cranes, nor are the dressed up scientists allowed to speak. The idea is to not let the cranes get used to humans since they are meant to be wild. They are taught flying by means of an ultra-light, white-painted aircraft that guides them through their migratory course too. And this aircraft is made to be a part of their environs ever since they are born, with the engine running often - so the cranes are used to it and the sound when the time comes for it to teach them flying.

I found it almost magical. You must see the video to experience it first hand.

What got me really thinking was the power of conditioning. It is absolute.
If we were to ever be subject to similar conditioning as these cranes, how would we realise it? What if we already were?

Monday, May 26, 2008

exploring space

This talk on rhythm, science, motion, discovery and dimensionality leaves one gasping. One wonders if there is brilliant music playing somewhere, that Michael Moschen is dancing to, which one cannot hear.

mobile 2.0

It does seem rather cool, given the amount of potential it has; and is perhaps the next logical step in evolution of social and information technology. But logic does not always rule supreme. A peek under the covers shows how different innovation on the mobile will be from what has been a given on the computer.

I was at the Mobile Monday meet some weeks back and it was quite an eye-opener in this hitherto unfamiliar area.

The mobile technology space is the anti-thesis of computer technology. It is a closed world of coteries of large and powerful companies.

Take the network carriers - they control content and distribution. Typical of large companies, they are short-sighted. If a third-party wants to make a service available for free, the carrier worries about losing revenue and lowering ARPUs (which is really the prime measure of their performance), and it has full control on how much it charges you or the user for using that service. Imagine having to PAY Comcast or BSNL or Airtel Broadband to use Facebook or Google Search or Wikipedia! Many startups in the mobile industry are just backend providers for services branded or pushed through exclusivity deals by the carriers. If you look at Airtel Live and look at some of the services there in detail, you will see what I mean. Even something as simple as getting a 5-digit number for interacting with your users means working with the carrier, all the carriers. It is like working with your ISP (and all the ISPs) to get a domain name, and the same domain on all of them!

One of the talks that day at MoMo was titled "Driving innovation for future mobile services". Not surprisingly, it was by a director at one of the largest carriers in the world (SingTel). He gave some case studies of how he and his team had helped startups come up with really useful services - next bus timings through SMS, etc. One of the things, though, that came up in the questions was how most of it was possible only because SingTel was pushing the ideas to the users and the carriers they owned (or had a stake in) etc. It is good to see the carriers trying to "drive innovation" but really, can the centralized model work for innovation? It didn't come across as if they were trying to enable innovation, but trying to get as large a pie of it as they could.

Handset makers play the other important role in this space. I haven't had much of a look-see there, so I desist from commenting. However, an anecdote - a friend asked me if I knew of any application on the mobile that was successful, and only one came to mind: SMS.

Innovation in the mobile space will have to be disruptive. Existing business models will have to be broken to shift focus from hegemonic corporations to users. That is the only way for it to grow as fast as the web as grown. What remains to be seen is who first plays the game to change the game.

Friday, May 2, 2008

marking time

Here's to everything in us larger than ourselves:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some may see them as the crazy ones,
We see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world,
Are the ones who do.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

on the indian premier league

I am not a cricket enthusiast and I have learnt to be grossly outnumbered in this. So I give in and watch the game when everyone around me is watching cricket or when something as interesting as the Indian Premier League is on. So here is an outsider's perspective on this recent phenomena in India - and outsiders to cricket in India are difficult to find.

Cricket aside, the IPL appears to be an interesting experiment. It promises to bring out new team dynamics as teams are multi-national. This will also be apparent when the same players play against each other in the international matches - only, how?

Yesterday I had a tough time trying to figure out which team to root for - Calcutta or Bangalore. I have grown up in one, and made the other my adopted home for a long time now. But it wasn't so difficult making a choice in the 2nd innings. Why was the Bangalore team playing this like a test match? And the funny (and ironic) part was the Vijay Mallya-starring advertisement that kept cropping in the middle of Bangalore getting routed jingling "jeetenge hum shaan se" (we will win gloriously)!

But this seems to be a larger problem. In international matches there is (usually) no question of forming loyalties and cheering for your home team. Here, it is difficult. States or cities don't really have a strong enough identity. I don't think many Indians can clap when Sachin gets out regardless of which team he is on. This might make it difficult to get people to stick to watching the matches with enough fervor.

The other anomaly I found was in the team context. Cricket is a game for the masses in India. It is almost like a religion here. Names like Knight Riders will certainly not be appreciated - they sound too much like out of a western comic book. I don't even know what context the team names, or their jingles, have. Royal Challenge (the Bangalore team name) is a Mallya's United Breweries brand. Other than that, they've just tried to blindly imitate the American league sports team names. What sense would Punjab Kings and Chennai Super Kings make to a majority of the cricket watchers? And even the jingles that the teams have adopted are a little outlandish, perhaps only appreciated by small, fragmented sections. To make my point, the Delhi Daredevils were showing videos from night clubs with loud thumping music in the background.

The Twenty-20 format is extremely skewed in favour of batsman. Cricket has become a game of just swinging your bat as hard as possible. No, really. With 10 wickets in hand for a span of 20 overs, a batsman is not obliged to stay on for more than 2 overs. They should seriously consider reducing the number of available wickets to 4 or 5.

So, in one stroke, the IPL has eliminated the loyalty angle, made the context farther removed for most people, and has taken the sport out of the game. Is this the beginning of the end?

But then, as has been very famously said: "The market for something to believe in is infinite".

downloading youtube videos

I've always been on the lookout of a good way to download YouTube videos and get them on my iPod (to avoid unnecessary computer time). Most of the ones I've come across so far either provide bad quality video or are too cumbersome or both.

Finally here is a good and easy way to get the videos directly as .mp4 files:

Sunday, April 6, 2008

a new food chain

What with Twitter and FriendFeed and all the blogging and facebook-ing and orkut-ing, we are learning to lead public lives. I doubt any of us would really mind the attention and the paparazzi if we were to ever become celebrities. We like to upload our photos on Flickr and make them accessible to all and we like tag them and make them organizable by anyone's computers. That's not all - we like to thrust these photos into the faces of everyone we have ever been acquainted with (or sometimes not even that) through Mini-feeds and FriendFeeds and a dozen other mutli-million dollar company evaluations being sold to VCs right now.

Flickr is just a case in point. Would you like to know what my favourite videos on YouTube are? What I had for dinner yesterday? What I am doing "right now"? Which parties I am attending this month? Who are my friends? What chances I have of becoming a millionaire? What my personality type is? What I read and like? What my friends think of me?

Perhaps we are an attention starved generation.

And we like to hold conversations in public.

Tastes in books, music or movies suddenly seem inadequate information about a person. And how well you know someone depends not on how much time you spend with them, but on how much time you spend trawling the web. Sometimes it can be quite a conversation killer. Perhaps catching up with friends will become scheduling time on each other's calendars to read each other blogs or mini-feeds. "Google me up, next time you're in town!".

But for all my satire, I do think it is a great and powerful thing.
I am on FriendFeed here (feed). It has a lot many things I want to share on the web. But it can be an information overload of sorts; I wish I could customize what I read from the people I have subscribed to. And then there is a little green box to the left (on this blog) that has some of the articles I have liked from my RSS subscriptions (feed).

Someday I think my feed reader will become more valuable to me than my email mailbox.

p.s.: If you are new to RSS/Atom feeds or feed-readers, go here and here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

how to save the world's back office

"What India needs to do to survive as the world's back office boils down to this: It must first adjust its value system, and then it must broaden and strengthen its education programs to increase the supply of trained professionals."
An incisive article on the changing IT outsourcing scene in India: click here.

On may argue that the back office work might move on to other developing countries as India will take on more research and development. But I doubt we are ready to fill in there yet. An internal re-alignment of current businesses is more likely (path of least resistance). This will leave a vacuum (in expectations as well as reality) that will therefore cause some turmoil and heart-burn. The question is - how does one prepare for this and what will be the best way to take advantage of the shifting forces.

Monday, March 17, 2008

righting education

It is a favourite debate of policy historians. Do a Google search for it and you will get a glimpse of the apathy towards the education scene in India. The right to elementary education was made a fundamental right in 2002, but not much has come of it.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan initiative to fill the elementary schools was initially successful but the condition of the education system has led most children to drop out and no one takes the program seriously. A good initiative reduced to dregs. The name given to schools under this scheme is "Education guarantee centers" - very drearily minimalist sounding. Most teachers were hired on a temporary basis. These signs are not reflective of provisions under a fundamental right.

Now, after many failed attempts, there are talks of a new bill about education being introduced this year (not surprisingly, considering early elections might be called this year). A similar bill a couple of years ago was supressed, with no one ready to take the burden (financial and otherwise) of ensuring quality education.

Even if this new bill is passed, I am skeptical about what the bill aims at. I'm not even considering how well the bill might be implemented, but my question is if this is the right way to expend resources.

The Census website tells me that there are about a 160 million children (as of 2001) in India aged 0-6 years. Given that our population has increased by about a 150 million since the last census 10 years ago and assuming that lower deaths counts much less than increased births in this growth, I think there might be 250-odd million children between 0-15 years old. I cannot see how, by just providing good schools, the government can hope to educate one-fourths of our billion-strong people.

The challenge is going to lie on the other side - getting children to come to school (and their parents to send them) and making sure they invest time and energy in the learning process. Something the government should try is pushing this as corporate social responsibility and engaging in some sort of public-private partnership. Small, independent initiatives have a tendency of coming up with new ideas. The ones that work can be replicated elsewhere.

Scaling a transformation like this across the many cultures that are embedded in our land can be tricky. Like I have said before, the government should lay the framework and then get out of the way and let the people do what they will.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

coming full circle

We will all have to, eventually. Collectively, as an entire race. explains it brilliantly. (Pssst.. you can download the video for your iPod if you are averse to sitting any longer at the computer than you absolutely have to, like me.) They also recently won an award at SXSW.

On a related note, also seen on my iPod recently: the impressive TED talk by William McDonough titled "The wisdom of designing from cradle to cradle". Following the same theme as his book Cradle To Cradle, McDonough also talks about real life projects he is working at using the same principles of design he expounds.

How complicated we make our lives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

hp on print

An interview with Vyomesh Joshi, the Exec-VP of HP's Digital Imaging & Printing business about their plans for the changing times. He talks of new ideas and radical changes and draws (sic) a very exciting picture.

It's a great watch, about 11 minutes:
You can download the video for your iPod from that link, or watch it online.

That brings me to the GigaOm Show, which I do recommend. I've been watching it since they launched - an episode odd a week available as a free podcast in iTunes. They've got some good commentary on the Silicon Valley scene and very engaging interviews.

One of the previous shows was with Vinod Khosla. I've read/heard so much about the man but never seen/heard him. Understated and extremely impressive, I must say. Do watch this one too.

speaking of crayon physics deluxe...

... continuing from my previous post "crayon physics deluxe"...

Representations of reality have long been used to teach (or study) reality. Intentionally, or unintentionally. Books and words are the most rudimentary representations. The affect of the television and other modern media have on the perception of reality are a hotly contested (and continuing) debate. Crayon Physics Deluxe, we saw, is a fabulous (and state-of-the-art) way that could be adopted to teach one aspect of reality to children. Other possibilities it opens up seem mind-bogglingly endless.

But what of video/computer games? If an entire generation is brought up playing strategy games where ploughshares win over swords every time, I wonder whether we'd have a different world.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Have you ever noticed that some people tend to start almost all their sentences with "so"?

"So, what time will you be back?"
"So, we don't really like that."
"So, let me finish my story."

And using it not as a conjunction or an adverb, but either as a foot in the door in a conversation or to get that moment's thought before actually saying something. I've noticed this habit (which even borders on the compulsive in cases!) common among the techies here which makes me inclined to believe it might be an Americanism. Who is to say.

It is quite amusing. I hadn't noticed it creeping up until one day I suddenly realised that everyone around me is starting off with "so"!

Friday, February 29, 2008

crayon physics deluxe

Crayon Physics Deluxe. Watch this video:

(if you're reading this in a feedreader, you may have to click-through to see the video)

I can easily see a child playing with this for so much time, and learning so much. Just because he/she can do things and try them out and see the results for themselves, as opposed to being told how things work. It is the perfect tool to spark off that curiousness...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

demo cracy

I'm getting a Voter's ID card made for myself here in Bangalore. With the local elections round the corner, there is somewhat of a drive to get people in Bangalore to register as voters. I'm not sure who is behind that drive, though. I can't imagine any of the political parties interested in that!

I haven't voted yet. Strangely, I've always taken this democracy thing for granted. Somehow it works without me. And not many (none, actually!) of my friends or other acquaintances talk about it. Politics, yes - usually with, at worst, a cynical or, at best, an indifferent attitude. But not about the process or of participating in it. Funny how I end up reading more about the American Presidential elections than the Indian Central Government ones. But in all fairness, it is because the American elections are a larger media event.

Anyhow, this time I'm determined to vote in the state elections. I would love to get my hands on some statistics about the vote bank here - how much is rural, how much is urban, etc. With the population of Bangalore shooting up as it has in the past few years, it must have caused the vote bank to shift and become more urban. Has it really? Do the political parties know that and are they shifting focus for it?

Bangalore probably has the largest number of flux of its denizens - I would estimate a significant percentage of Bangaloreans live here for 3-4 years, not more. That could potentially create a section of people who are being governed without even getting a chance to take part it in it, what with the bureaucracy, delays and disinterest in getting electoral rolls modified.

It would be fantastic if all this data were available somewhere.

Monday, February 18, 2008

reliance retail

Anyone in the big cities in India cannot have missed the Reliance stores mushrooming with increasing frequency all over the place - iStore, Wellness, Fresh, Footprint, Jewels, Timeout etc. - the list is long.

I have been to Footprint and Timeout and both places give the same feel - an individual store with a wide variety of brands and product lines but the range in any one particular brand or product line falls abysmally short of being complete. Although Footprint had nearly 10 brands of men's shoes, I realised that by going to the Nike and Reebok shops at any mall I could get to see a better variety of, say, sports shoes. The same was the case with Timeout when it came to books and even some of their electronics range. Also, I'm not sure why they have electrical appliances at a bookstore.

Of all their chains, only Reliance Fresh is really overcrowded and has queues stretching past your imagination. But I would attribute that to lower prices and the mindset of people here to spend more time/effort/money to save a few rupees on groceries than it is worth. And even then these stores are so small that it takes a lot of determination to shop there. In fact, Tata's newly launched Star Bazaar beats Reliance Fresh hollow in terms of size and convenience.

I haven't understood their strategy. Given that this is Reliance entering retail, given their resources and given the excitement about retail in India, one would have expected Reliance to have a game-changing strategy. But they don't even offer the conveniences of everything under one roof, and aren't part of the usual malls - shoppers have to make the effort of going to a Reliance store to buy something, and to multiple stores to buy different things. And to top that, I don't see a compelling reason for a shopper to go to any of their stores. Perhaps I am missing something.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

accidental inventions

10 accidental inventions. An interesting read.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I wonder how many of these are true and how many are just urban legends. But they do make for very interesting reading.

Do you think coincidences have a deeper significance or are just one of the many possible manifestations of an eventuality following a probabilistic distribution?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

eye on what?, they call it.
The website caught my attention as the founder is Sabeer Bhatia's partner in his latest It claims to help parents protect their children online. Here's how:

"EyeOnIM... will automatically start monitoring and archiving the IM conversation as well as capture the files that are transferred... since EyeOnIM also archives all the chat sessions, you can always view the chat conversation at a later time.... Of course, EyeOnIM is not a spying tool..." Does EyeOnIM Work.htm.

I find it the whole concept extremely disgusting: telling parents that it is alright to spy on their kids. There are healthier ways to keep your children safe while maintaining decency and complete trust. After all, a child will not learn to trust if he/she is not trusted; and trust and respect go farther than anything else in carrying through your message.

I'm quite sure the people who would use EyeOnIM are the sorts who would also not hesitate in rummaging through their children's cupboards, or school bags, or tap their phones or even shadow them. And if they are doing any of this, their relationship with their child is so screwed that they are probably responsible for any wayward behaviour.

I'm half inclined to set up a website or at least a forum that lets children figure out if their parents are electronically spying on them. I wonder how the parents would like that!

Monday, January 14, 2008

through the early morning fog i see...

...visions of the things to be.

This is how it looked from my apartment today morning at 7:30 am:


And in stark contrast is a sunset taken from about the same place only the day before:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

broad band

Yeah right! Since when did bandwidth of two hundred and fifty six kilobits per second become broad? Despite all the excitement about IT in India, broadband costs, QoS and penetration are appalling.

I recently switched my ISP. BSNL had had a few consecutive days of interruptions and their false promises just got to me. And I had been eyeing the upgrade to a 512 kbps line for some time. Airtel had been advertising their Rs. 1999 a month, 512 kbps connection which, at double the cost of the 256 kbps one, is a little high. Don't these guys realise that doubling the bandwidth does NOT mean double the cost? Anyhow, I chanced upon a similar broadband plan on their website, with only higher telephone call rates for Rs. 1499 a month and called their salesman to sign me up for that. To my astonishment, he at first refused to believe there was such a plan and kept trying to sell me the other more expensive one. The long and short of it is that I got what I wanted for an affordable rate.

During the signing up process I got talking with the salesman about how bandwidth was so expensive. My brother in Hyderabad says the standard rates there are about a nine hundred bucks for a 384 kbps line - which is 50% cheaper than here. So this salesman dude tells me that in Bangalore no one cares about the broadband expense. Most of his customers work at IT MNCs and get reimbursed for their broadband expenses by their companies. Hence they don't even bat an eyelid at shelling out a 1000 bucks for a measly 256kbps (which also is a best effort claim) or whatever the "standard" rates are.

Shocking. There is no economic incentive for either the service providers or the consumers to increase quality of service and/or reduce charges.

I can't think of any solution to this. It is a larger problem than just broadband reimbursements. These all-expenses-paid perks and habits really trounce the notional value of money or goods or services, as the case may be.

remembering the milk and platform goodness

Ever since being inspired by Gustave Faubert's "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." and Mr. WishfulThinking.Co.Uk, I've been trying to actually be regular and orderly in my life (although I still haven't finished that e-book I mentioned in my earlier post).

One of the firsts things I did was something about task tracking. Lifehacker, that faithful toolsmith, pointed me to RememberTheMilk. It is really really good. After giving up on all to-do lists more complicated than a notepad file, I am actually using RTM and loving it. Their GMail integration is lovely. I have GMail open almost all the time, so task management doesn't mean open up a new website or a file. It's just there. And since it's online, no syncing problems - I don't have to worry about which computer I'm using or where I am. And their integration makes the task list widget look and feel exactly like GMail:

See that little vertical bar of goodness on the right? That's it. Minimal clicks to work it and a simple interface make it very, very usable. It also has task collaboration and more sophisticated organizational features, but I haven't needed to use those. The simplicity is beautiful. Check out the screencast.

GMail 2.0 (and their new API) is a real platform. RTM is just one of the first applications on it and more are bound to come. Yahoo! making their email into a platform seems almost retarded in comparison to GMail 2.0.

I wonder if RememberTheMilk has enough users to be a Google acquisition target. The product is excellent. Perhaps Google has its own to-do list in the offing; there have been enough and more user requests for it for sure.