Tuesday, February 28, 2006

 

Winding up this blog....

I am winding up this blog...Thanks everyone who stopped by and read, and linked to this blog.

Happy blogging y'all!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

If you are going to San Francisco

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

"Jet Airways" buys "Air Sahara?"

According to a news report in Rediff Jet Airways buys out Air Sahara. This is an interesting development in the Indian aviation sector, considering that Vijay Mallaya of Kingfisher Airlines was making a fierce bid for Air Sahara. Apparently, Mallaya withdrew from the bidding war, making way for Jet.

This acquistion maybe a harbinger of sorts and we can expect to see more action in the domestic aviation sector as well as the International sector. In the past India has been one of the underserved areas in the International aviation sector. The reasons for this state of affairs are numerous and some I suspect had to with protecting the Indian domestic players. But in the past few years things have slowly been moving in a new direction, and we can expect to see more action with the introduction of new technology, planes and players in India. One downside to this growth will be demand for aircraft crew and pilots, and I suspect the Indian aviation industry might face an acute shortage of trained pilots in the near future. The attrition rate of pilots from Indian Airlines and Air India might also increase significantly.

I hope that as end-users we don't end up shelling more money for our tickets. And, my other question is if Jet will improve the quality of service on Air Sahara. Sahara planes have a difficult time sticking to their schedule, and are quite inefficient in communicating the arrival and departure of their flight in a timely manner.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

 

India: The Power of Technology and SMS in Indian Temples

SMS or Short Messaging Service is the default mode of communication for many cell users. The other default method of communication is the "missed call" phenomenon. The "missed call" is a very interesting trend, and a fascinating one. Talk about eeeking out every paisa from your service provider :-)

It is wonderful to see how the world of mobile communication is morping and changing in India. Millions of users have access to mobile phones, and millions of SMS messages fly to and fro between various cell users all over India. Not email, but SMS is the preferred mode of communication. Interestingly there appears to be a limit on the size of the SMS...it is generally about 160 characters. An upshot of the spread of this technology is the new lingo that is being created on the fly. On a personal note, I am sometimes lost when I have to decipher these cryptic SMS messages.

The mobile phone has also turned out to be a new medium for advertisers and advertising revenue. It is an economical way to use your advertising money. You can send one message to many users...that is broadcast the message to a huge user base.

Besides advertisers, other savvy organizations and institutions have discovered the power of SMS. One such institution are the temples in India, who have discovered the power of technology and telecom to deliver rich media solutions to their clients. There are two temples that appear to be in the forefront of implementing IT solutions to make the whole process of praying and seeking blessings a relatively pain-free and hassle-free process. No more pushing and shoving, and jostling in a tightly packed room. Sit back, relax, have a cup of tea and seek your blessings from the comfort of your living room. Welcome the world of virtual living.

Siddhivinayaka Temple at Prabhadevi in Mumbai has a website with all the works. I have passed by this temple numerous times, but have never stepped in.

This is a temple that almost everybody in Bombay appears to visit. It is a "must-do" thing for the folks from the entertainment world. The "60 Minutes" interview of Aishwarya Rai was partially shot at this temple. More recently, Abhishek and Jaya Bachchan were seen praying at this temple. Then there is the famous story of the lady who loves everything that starts with "K"...the head of Balaji Productions...her name slips my mind...who walks from her home in Juhu to the temple. And, that is quite a walk.

The temple appears to have embraced technology completely. They have an official website. You can send donations by downloading a form, and those of you who live outside the country, don't worry all your security and firewall concerns have been addressed: there is a special payment gateway to handle your donations. Not only do you have a choice of banks to route your donation, but you also have the option of using your credit card. Note that there is no bank charge for this transaction.

No time to go for a puja at the temple? Or live far away and cannot drive or fly down? That is not an issue. You can sit in the comfort of your house, and depending on your Internet connectivity speed, you can watch a live webcasting. So, finally I was able to see a bit of live puja through my broadband connection. I no longer feel guilty for not having stepped into the temple. Whew! What a relief! Look Ma, I had a darshan of Ganeshji.

The latest feature that the temple has added is SMS. Yes, you can send SMS prayer requests. The temple has teamed with Mauj, mobile games and content provider for the SMS service. The temple's CEO (yes, there is one) mentioned somewhere that they have not advertised this feature to many people, and yet they have got thousands of SMS. Probably the CEO has not heard about the power of word of mouth advertisment in India.

Other temples are not being left behind in this race, and are fast adopting and utilizing the latest and greatest technology. (I wonder if some of the temples have an IT department? On second thoughts, I think not. They might have outsourced it.)

Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh, the temple which is supposed to have crossed the Vatican in its earnings, is also an IT enabled organization compelete with website, edonations, audio and SMS. (When I checked I got an error from their audio page...somebody needs to check on that and fix it.) They don't seem to have live webcasting. The temple has a call center that handles "queries" from people, and the SMS component is another way of reaching out and getting Lord Venkateshwara's blessings. Tirupathi gets about 14-15 million people a year and that is almost the size of the current population of Bombay! No wonder IT is being harnassed to help sort the log jam.

Indian temples are not the only ones embracing technologies, other religious institutions appear to be on the same path. In the US, many churches have their own radio station, and if you missed a sermon, you can download and listen the sermon on your iPod. I am sure that mosques, Buddhist temples, Parsee temples, and synagogues and other religious institutions have adapted and adopted similar technologies.

As this year draws to an end I am mulling my options. Should I watch the live webcast from Siddhivinayaka and seek virtual blessings, or send an SMS prayer request to Tirupati? I wonder if there is an URL that I can send asking for a particular prayer to be recited for me? (There is a business idea for somebody looking to start one.) Or, do I brave the cold and trek to the nearest temple? Who knows? I might just sleep in after the New Year's celebration.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

Half-Yearly Exams and Christmas Hols

From my various trips to India it sounds like the school structure has undergone quite a bit of change. In fact, it has become quite Americanized. I don’t hear kids talk about quarterly, half-yearly and annual exams. Instead, I hear them discussing about their unit tests, weekly tests and semester exams. Quite a few of them have computer classes from their primary class! By the way, have you seen those mini-suitcases that these kids haul to their classes? The bags these kids carry rival the roll-on carts that I have spotted in various school corridors in Silicon Valley.

I also noticed that there is an absence of fear among many of the young students. There is no fear of that dreaded progress report card, and whether that promotion to the next standard has come through.

As kids our lives were structured around these dreaded exams and quizzes. These exams were punctuated by well-deserved holidays. Right after quarterly exams we had the Navaratri and Diwali holidays. New clothes, good food and cash gifts from our parents made us happy campers during this festive season.

But, all good things have to come to an end, and it was back to school and getting our act together for the half-yearly exams. Our maths teacher who was always behind her schedule would fret about completing x, y, z chapters before the exams, and we would be asked to do extra homework or “sums homework,” as we called them.

On the bright side, some of us were able to bunk classes the legit way. The reason? The annual Christmas play and Christmas carols show. I always managed to land a role in the play and was a member of the choir. This was a perfect excuse for me not to attend those dreaded ‘maths” classes, and in the last minute I could be seen busily cramming the formulae without a clue on how to apply them to the problems and solve them!

I would be off to the roof or “terrace” of the house to study. And guess what? Every terrace in the neighborhood had kids like me cramming for exams. We could be seen pacing back and forth on the terrace and busy “mugging” and learning things “by heart.” Our parents kept a scorecard by pointing out so and so was up studying in the terrace at such a such a time. Believe me there was a lot of competition and pressure to do well in the exams.

The half-yearly exams were typically held in the second-third week of December, and by 20th of December or thereabouts we would have the Christmas Play. Generally the last day of school would be half-a-day, which meant that we could go home by 2 pm or so. For two weeks we had our winter hols, and this was the time for us to goof off. But forces outside our control conspired against us and invariably we would be stuck inside the house.

What were these forces? The first was the fact that December was the tail end of the retreating monsoon and the potential for heavy showers and thunderstorms. I am not a rain-person and don’t enjoy sloshing around in the rain- clogged streets. And traveling to our favorite destination Bangalore was out of the question since it was typically very cold during that time of the year. So, we generally did not travel during the month of December at all.

The second factor was that December was some kind of “masam” or religious season –the month before Pongal-- when religiosity was its peak. (I don’t remember the exact name for this “masam.”) We would be woken up every morning at 5 am sharp with the muezzin’s call for prayers. I did not need any alarm or wake-up call, the muezzin’s call for prayers was sufficient to wake me up. This was just the beginning of the day. There was more in store for us. Starting at 5.45 am we were subjected to loud Tamil religious songs from various loud-speakers. You could listen to MS, and others sing holy bhajans and other religious songs. And the few times that I stepped out of the house, I vividly recollect our neighbors busy sweeping their front-yards and drawing kolam on the cleaned surface. And mind you it was still dark outside at this time of the year.

By 6.15 am the milkman would come with his cows and buffalos and shout, “Ma, pal, ma!” This was a signal for my mother to step out and watch him milk the cow. The goal was there would be no “kalapaddam” or adulteration of the milk. My parents resisted buying the “packet milk” from Aavin for the longest time. We were probably one of the last ones in our block who finally caved and started buying Aavin milk.

Unlike in the US, we did not exchange gifts for Christmas. Our biggest treat was New Year’s Eve when we would be allowed to watch TV until midnight. This was the time when Doordarshan had finally started showing programs from other TV channels. What this meant was we could see Surendernath (I think that is his name) the famous Hindi/Rajasthani “hasia kavi,” and other Hindi programs. This is when we got to see a good portion of Hindi programs in Madras.

And the day after New Year’s was our last day of hols before school opened on 3rd January.

If you cut to the present situation -- many schools have shortened their December hols to just a week. I found out from the kids in my extended family that their schools will stay open until December 24th.

And for me hols has become “vacation.” Christmas time means flying home for “hols” for many desis in the USA. I am going off on a vacation to catch some rays and bask in the sun, and not wear all these layers of clothes to ward off the bitter winter of New York.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

 

MTA Transit Strike On? It is past mid-night...

It is past mid-night and the talks between the negotiating parties has broken down, and from all indications it appears that NYC transit strike will be on. And boy that is not good news for folks in NYC and surrounding areas. Millions of people travel to Manhattan from the outer boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx ...) and states like New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Some of these folks who use non-MTA transport system maybe lucky, but if they need to use local trains they are screwed.

You can read more about the strike, and the latest news in
Metroblogging NYC
.

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Will it or not? The NYC transit strike looms large in people's mind

Like millions of people around the NYC area I am starting to fret if the NY MTA will call a city-wide transit strike. There appears to be no solution in sight between the negotiating parties. The talks continue, and this protracted negotiations are causing a lot of uncertainity and anxiety for commuters. Unless an eleventh hour agreement is arrived and signed, it seems like that this strike may take palce.

I am not alone in thinking that this strike will cause a huge traffic jam problem, and generally make peoples life miserable during this holiday season. Everybody needs a little bit of cheering during this cold, gloomy and cheerless winter season in New York! (People, sunshine is a rare commodity during winter months.)

I believe that after Thanksgiving, Christmas time travelling is one of the busiest times of the year. Can you imagine the thousands of passengers who have to make alternative arrangements to get to the airports, bus stations, and train stations? I shudder to think how badly packed the roads will be to LaGuardia and JFK, and to the various train stations starting from Penn to Grand Central! And now imagine all those tourists and people coming to NYC to celebrate their Christmas and New Year. They might end up being stranded for long at the airports waiting for a ride to go their homes, hotels, hostels or friend's house. There are only so many taxis and limos and vans in the city that can ferry people over. This is going to be a nightmare!

I am keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping that this matter with the NYC transit system is sorted out, and not left unresolved like this. This uncertainity about whether the NYC transit strike will happen today, tomorrow, or next week causes anxiety, stress and uncertainity for a millions of commuters who don't need this at this time of the year.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

BPO tragedy in Bangalore

It was with shock and horror I read about the awful tragedy of Prathiba, a BPO employee who was raped and murdered in Bangalore. Read here for the story from Indian Express.

And I got thinking to see if there was a technology that is instantly available for companies to track the drivers that provide transportation and logistics services to these firms that work round the clock. Typically third party vendors provide these transporation services to the IT and BPO companies. This unfortunate incident could have been avoided if some kind of tracking techology had been installed to track the movement of the vehicles and their drivers.

I researched on the Internet and found out that there are companies in India that have an instant and off-the shelf solution available to track the drivers of these cars. Among others, there are two companies: Mobiapps and Mobiance that provide a tracking service appear to be a good fit.

Mobiapps offers a traditional GPS solution that requires a tracking device be installed in the vehicle to track the movement of the vehicle and its driver. From what I can gather Mobiapps requires a chip in a device that can help in the tracking of vehicles. This might be an expensive proposition since a special device needs to be installed in every vehicle to track its movements.

Mobiance, on the other hand, uses something called location-based services. It appears that they use the location of the mobile phones to track the movements of the mobile phone user. So, this appears like a feature -based service that a telco or wireless provider offers to their end-users. This technology does not need a chip or a special GPS device to be installed in the vehicle. Therefore this might be an economical solution that can be instantly deployed by the transporation and logistics provider to the IT and BPO companies.

Since there are technologies available to track the movement of the vehicles and their drivers, it only seems logical that BPO and IT companies make it compulsory to install such a service in all their cars. There are thousands of female workers that work round the clock in various IT and BPO companies, and every step must be taken to protect their lives.

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Lending Libraries in Madras

Whenever I am in Bangalore my nieces and nephews know that there is a trip to the bookstore in store for them. This has become a ritual and the kids shamelessly question how much I intend to give each one of them to buy their books and CDs in the bookstore. They have the option of going to Gangaram’s or Landmark at Forum Mall.

How times have changed since I was a kid growing up in Madras. We had limited options and lending libraries were our main source for reading new books and comics.

As kids buying books was a treat, and we got a monthly allowance to buy whatever favorite comics or storybooks, or novels we wanted. I remember our monthly trips to Higginbotham’s on Mount Road, or the bookstore in Pondy Bazar. And when I was a little older I learnt how to buy books at the famous Moore Market (which is long gone), or the pavement book vendors on Mount Road. The one exception to this routine is when we traveled out of station when we would get a special treat and could buy books at the railway station or on our way to the airport.

I remember how my siblings and I would pool our money and buy Amar Chitra Katha, Classic Comics, Phantom, Tarzan, Secret Seven and Famous Five. These comics would then be bound with a nice shiny red leather (rexine would be a better description) with gold embossed letters, and these were then lent to our neighbors and friends, and in return we got to read new books and comics that they owned.

But, none of us had access to Archies, Little Lotta, Sad Sack, Richie Rich, Commondos, Star and other American comics. These were very expensive to buy and therefore this was not a high priority "buy" item for us. But there were a few lucky friends who had access to these comics via their aunt or uncle in "foreign" who got them these glossy comics. But for the rest of us who could not get these comics we had a different source. This is when the famous lending libraries of Madras played a crucial role in our lives, and I am guessing it played a similar role in many thousands of other people's life in Madras. To get our regular fix of these comics we would go to the local lending libraries where for a couple of rupees we would rent these comics to read. The goal was to read them as fast as possible, pass them on to our friends. In return we got the books and comics that they had borrowed. This pooling of resources meant that we got to read quite a whole range of comics and books.

There were quite a few famous libraries that we would travel every week to get our stash of books. There was Pick and Choose, Ramona’s, Raviraj, Perfect Lending (I think that is what it was called) and a bunch of neighborhood libraries that were essentially dives whose walls were lined with bookshelves.

Pick and Choose on Thirumalai Pillai Road was the place to go for all the American comics, and later on novels by James Hadley Chase, Mario Puzo, Sidney Sheldon, and not to forgot those staple novels Mills and Boon, Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer. And if you knew the owner of the library then you got first divs on the new comics and books. These new editions would be kept in the drawer and given to you as a special favor.

Ramona Lending Library on Nugambakkam High Road near Sterling Road was another hot favorite. The stern looking Punjabi gentleman (or was he Sindhi?) maintained strict record-keeping of his inventory, and nothing escaped his eagle eyes. I remember as an unsmiling and strict looking guy who never played favorites. Every book that was borrowed from the library was entered in neat-bird-like scratch into these huge ledgers. Each member had a couple of pages devoted to their activity in this ledger. The only time Dame Luck smiled on you was when the stern-looking gentleman’s wife took over the running of the library for the day. And, believe you me this was a rare thing.

The third one in the library pantheon was Raviraj Lending Library on Usman Road, next to Panagal Park and opposite Thangamaligai. Every time anybody from our house went to buy sabzi at Panagal Park, we would get a life to the library. This was a 2-storeyed library and had wonderful books, and the best part was that the library's lending charges were the most economical. What that meant was that a rupee would go a long way.

Besides these three libraries there were other sources for getting books. This was the circle of friends in our schools who would get books from their respective neighborhood libraries, and naturally we had access to more titles.

As we grew older the pressure to read and return the books increased enormously. I believe that is the reason that many of us developed the habit of speed reading and instant and on the fly book reviews. From middle school onwards when Mills and Boons, James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christy and others entered our lives, we would get peer-reviews. Essentially this heuristic device helped us navigate the wonderful world of books. Remember that we had no Internet access, and no Amazon reviews to look up before buying a book.

As we grew older the kinds of libraries we visited also changed. Slowly we ventured to the British Council or BC, and the USCIS on Mount Road. This is where we got to read Punch, The Economist, The Sunday Times, and a host of wonderful new authors like the Durrell Brothers, Catherine Cookson, Evelyn Waugh, Victoria Holt, and watch films and videos. It was at the USCIS that I first saw videos of Alistair Cooke, and ABC News hosted by Peter Jennings.

Somewhere along the way we got introduced to the concept of mobile library, where magazines were delivered to your doorstop for a small feel. This was a wonderful concept that allowed us greater access to a whole range of magazines that were otherwise expensive to buy. Basically you got to keep the magazines for a day or two, and then got a new set of magazines.

Later on in my travels I discovered that this concept of lending library was a quaintly Madras thing. Yes, there were other cities that had lending libraries and their share of BC and USCIS, but I do not think many of them had the range of lending libraries that Madras had.

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