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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview: Kamal Quadir -Founder, CEO Cellbazaar.com

Presenting an email interview with Kamal S Quadir, founder and CEO of Bangladesh based mobile e-commerce company CellBazaar.com. This interview is planned under TED India fellows project and is my first CEO interview. Questions were framed so as to let people know more about Kamal as a person, as well as Cellbazaar and its operations. I thank Kamal for his precious time and for the trouble taken in providing detailed responses to my questions. -Nidhi

1 Cellbazaar’s success stories are very impressive and similar services (for farmers to sell their products) are not available in India at present , except some instances like fishermen in Kerala using SMS to find out which port can offer better price for their catch. (Most of the mobile value added services are focused on urban users). Do you have any plans to enter Indian market or tie up with operators here?

Kamal Quadir, CEO Cellbazaar

Kamal Quadir: Several of the large Indian operators have expressed interest in CellBazaar. We are exploring the possibilities.

2 Ability to send and receive SMS in regional languages can be a tremendous boost to mobile commerce business, particularly in rural segments. However progress towards this hasn’t been good enough. What’s your take on this? Do you see text communication in local language gain prominence or is English likely to dominate for near future?

Kamal Quadir: When I first launched CellBazaar in 2006, I assumed that SMS-based phones would continue to dominate the market for another few years. Only a few people had WAP/Internet enabled mobiles with graphic interfaces; high-end smart-phones were a rarity. Our forecasts said it would take several years before most people had Internet-enabled phones. Our initial launch focused only on an SMS-based application; our plan was for the technical team to continue modifying that application for another year or two, and then we would launch the second-generation applications on WAP and the Web.

But by January of 2007, the handset market experienced a seismic shift, and suddenly high-end phones were proliferating. At least five complex, interlocking factors help explain this rapid penetration, especially into the financially constrained segment:

•Nokia began a major foray into Bangladesh, identifying it as a major consumer market for high-end, prestige phones. Its successful blitz campaign used very unconventional methods for Bangladesh, including road shows with fashion models, celebrity endorsements, and aspirational ads featuring western users at play.

•The status-symbol phones, especially the sliding N95,E95 and Music Express, became hits in 2007.

•The iPhone arrived as the first celebrity phone, Bangladesh-based hackers man-aged to unlock it in record time, and the press was intrigued.

•Cheap clone phones flooded into Bangladesh from China’s grey market; soon look-alike phones were retailing for as little as Taka 8,000 (about US$ 120), while the Nokia originals retailed at Taka 30,000 (about US$ 430).

•More and more local youth were joining networks to trade video clips, and then wanted video-capable phones—Internet capability was an accidental bonus.

Contradicting our cautious estimates, more than 25% of the country’s user base had Internet-enabled phones by early 2007. This led us to change our strategy rapidly, and fast-track the WAP and Web platform. In startup mode all over again, the teams worked around the clock to meet intense deadlines and we launched the WAP and Web applications by mid-2007. Now I could access the growing market simultaneously from net-enabled mobiles as well as computers.

The fast-track gamble paid off: three months after the launch more people were using the WAP platform than the SMS platform and we had 10 times the traffic. The Web platform took off in early 2008.

Although targeted advertising was theoretically possible on SMS, it lacked graphics and animation, and would never have been able to command premium rates. Based on this experience, in fall 2008 I launched a fourth platform, using interactive voice recognition (IVR). This fit with an overall trend among cell phone companies of covering all platforms, and also of earning higher revenues by being easier to use. Because the IVR is in Bengali, and requires no typing, it was the next logical step after WAP and WEB.

3 You’ve been an artist yourself. What would be your tips to emerging artists and musicians who are struggling to make their presence felt? How do you think they can market themselves better using the web and new media?

Kamal Quadir: One aspect of art that I feel strongly is that artists should never feel content that they have to settled with certain media or certain kind of art. Developing a style is one thing and leaving the possibilities of exploring with new media and new type of art is another thing. Artists’ goal is to communicate their inner feeling via certain media and they should use whatever they find to carry that feelings.

4 Besides rapidly growing cell phone network, how is the broadband penetration in Bangladesh? How do you plan to tap that opportunity?

Kamal Quadir: Bangladesh has very effective cell phone network. Broadband is far behind, but, trying to catch up.

Please note that we are working in an environment (which is common in any developing country) where before we teach people how to use CellBazaar, we teach them the basic concept of browsing technologies: what screen icons mean; how to type words, numbers and symbols; and how to use navigation buttons, short cuts, search functions, etc. Having learned all these functions, consumers pick up new features as they are added to mobile phones, or if they get the access of broadband they can capitalize that.

I strongly believe in the future, as all mobile phones are transformed into full-fledged computers, the CellBazaar user will be trained and ready to do anything with mobile devices. I foresee that in the future each “super”user of CellBazaar will be able to start their own digital-based commodity training hub.

5 How are the e-governance initiatives in Bangladesh? Are mobiles being used for utility fee payments and other public service interactions?

Kamal Quadir: I believe e-governance is gradually taking shapes in Bangladesh. The government is very positive and active in such development.

6. Tell us something about your early days of setting up CellBazaar. Any major obstacles you faced, efforts spent in convincing villagers on the potential of how they can use CellBazaar.

Kamal Quadir: CellBazaar has been the subject of sharp learning curve called the pioneer’s penalty. Because we were the first such service in Bangladesh, we had to tackle basic issues of mobile literacy. As phones become cheaper, and clone phones arrive from China, more Internet-enabled mobiles are reaching more financially constrained users—who sometimes have trouble activating the phones’ features.

I discovered three challenges in people’s attitudes towards technology:

•Technophobia. People sometimes fear technology. But when our marketing teams interact with individuals and explain the service,users learn very quickly. Thus, human contact, and one-to-one or one-to-many teaching is essential.

•English perception. Although very little English is required to use our service, people perceive that advanced English is required.

•Generation. Many people see new tools on mobile phones as something mainly for young people. Because of the ubiquity of ring-tones and video clips, people automatically assume some association with entertainment, rather than understanding the phones’ other values.

In addition to overcoming these biases, we have to train people in the basic functions of their phones. Beyond dialing and storing numbers, many people do not explore the majority of their phone functions. I used to say it metaphorically that millions of people have NASA computers (NASA computers in 1969 were not as powerful in terms processing power as today’s mobile phones) in their pockets in Bangladesh, but they are severely under-utilized.

I strongly believe that the only thing the un-connected people needed is the audacity to believe that they could use the market, make money, find goods, and complete transactions.

7. If you were to chose between a celebrity cricketer and a common man (who used and benefited from your service) to endorse your brand in an ad campaign, whom would you chose? Why?

Kamal Quadir: A common man.

As I earlier said, I believe that the only thing the un-connected people needed to use CellBazaar is the audacity to believe that they could use the platform. If the un-connected sees that a common man is doing such thing they get the audacity they need.

8 You’re known as creator of CellBazaar, innovator and also as an artist. What career did you dream during your childhood? Are there any other activities/hobbies you’re pursuing that you wish to tell us?

Kamal Quadir: I wanted to work with art when I was a kid. I am trying to have fun in whatever I do.

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Image from Wikimedia. Other interviews: Enda Nasution * Arun Nair, Club Mahindra *

Related posts: mginger SMS advertising * Business through missed calls *

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deccan Chronicle quotes me on Windows7

Deccan Chronicle is a leading English daily in South India. Chennai supplement (Chennai Chronicle) of today’s Deccan Chronicle carried an article in which I was quoted for my opinion about Windows7 and a photo of mine, posing with laptop was selected for publication too.

Shrinidhi-DC-Win7
Click here to read the article in an higher resolution pdf format. This is the first time my solo photograph has appeared in a leading newspaper. A few group photos in which I was present, were published earlier on my Binsar and Wayanad travelogues that were published in The Hindu’s Ergo. This one is the first article that got published after I joined my new employer last week . My designation is spelt incorrectly, but that should be manageable. Last time when Chennai Times quoted me on fuel price hike, my name itself was spelt badly.

Article quotes opinions of several users on Windows7 and a few lines of my opinion, from a detailed response I’d given on phone and email are used.

My photo that has been used in this article was clicked by my roommate Jai yesterday afternoon. DC Chief Sub Editor Meera Pillai who’s composed the article wanted a photo urgently and offered to send photographer if needed. Since I had a good camera and a photographer coming all the way would induce delays, I offered to arrange one myself. Excused myself early from a team lunch, came home and asked Jai to click the snap. The rest is history.

The article is available online at DC epaper. but for a closer look you'll have to register there. You may also read from this pdf since attached image might not be convenient to read.

With this I've got my name into all 3 leading print majors- ToI (via Chennai times), DC (via today's article) and The Hindu group (through their earlier ERGO tabloid) and also Mint (the TOI image lifting incident). I know I am patting my own back, but it feels good.
Also read: Windows7 house party photos *

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Windows7 house party photos

After receiving the house party kit from Microsoftparty-guests , my Windows 7 house party did materialize yesterday at Kiruba Shankar’s office of F5ive Technologies. (Should we call it Windows7 office party?)

New Amazon Kindle was a cool gadget we could explore at the party. I’d not seen a Kindle before and got to spend a few minutes checking it out. It looks very nice, but at a pricing of 20k for the device and about 2$ per book, I doubt if it will succeed in India, more so because most of us do not have a habit or reading. Strong battery life, Wi-Fi, storage and lightweight are the pros while not having a backlight for night reading, no colour display and no touch screen for better navigation can be listed as cons.amazon kindle

We also had a RJ (Radio Jockey) at the party. RJ Dhruv, who conducts a show every Friday 7pm on AIR’s FM channel was with us during the party. (I’d met Dhruv in Club Mahindra’s Coorg trip and Dhruv is a lawyer and UNESCO Certified tourist guide for South India). I also got to drive is new i10 automatic and that warrants a different post.

The name Party doesn’t get justified without some food. So I did spend some money arranging snacks and juice. (Microsoft won’t be reimbursing this expense though). Guests played the Windows 7 puzzle game, got to wipe their hand with Windows7 tissue paper and also got to take home a Windows7 handbag.

Some more people could have been invited, but as timing was short (due to uncertainly and delay induced by DHL) and budget being tight, it was executed with a not so great number of guests.

Since many asked me various questions about Windows 7, listing below some key info about Win7 versions, pricing and features.

Windows 7 versions, features and pricing in India


Version Prince in INR (upgrade) Price in INR (New) Features Remarks
1 Win 7 Home Basic NA 5,899 Bare minimum OS. No Aero Available only in developing countries
2 Home Premium 4,500 6,799

New navigation features like Aero Shake, Jump Lists, and Snap.

Quicker sleep and resume quicker


3 Professional 6,500 11,199

XP Mode,
Advanced networking,back up to a home or business network,
Advanced file management, Location aware printing, Presentation Mode


4 Enterprise
NA
For corporate customers
5 Ultimate
11,799

Parental Controls ,Windows Aero™ with Windows Flip 3D , Windows Media Center, Windows Tablet and Touch Technology, Windows BitLocker™ Drive Encryption, Windows Ultimate Extras, Business Networking


Windows7 is priced lowest in India, but I doubt if people will care to pay. Recently heard is that cracked Win7 are being sold for Rs 200 on Richie street in Chennai. Instead of selling 10 copies at Rs 10k, Microsoft can try selling 100 copies at 1k, earning the same amount they intended to, while achieving goals like killing piracy and gaining better market share. Something Microsoft should try, at least on an experimental basis.solved puzzle

Strong DRM (Digital Rights Management) is another discouraging feature in Win7, from an users’ perspective.

Windows 7 hardware requirements :
1 GHz or faster 32-bit or 64-bit processor. (Netbooks with Intel Atom can technically run Win7, but avoid if possible)
Minimum 1 GB RAM 32-bit or 2 GB RAM 64-bit .
16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit).
DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver.

Check with Microsoft’s upgrade advisor if you’re not sure. This was my first Party hosting experience- if I had more time and budget it could have been better, anyway I'm happy I did justice to what was expected of me. Thanks to Kiruba for letting me host it in his office, thanks to RJ Dhruv for dropping by and thanks to all guests.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interview: Enda Nasution, father of Indonesian blogosphere

Enda

Presenting a brief email interview with Enda Nasution, who is a prominent Indonesian blogger and author of the Politikana blog. 34 years old Enda has been blogging since 2001 and is better known as father of Indonesian blogger. He is accredited as TED India fellow and I interviewed him as a part of TED India Fellows project, wherein a group of enthusiastic bloggers interviewed TED India fellows, so as to introduce them better to others. Refer links at end of the post for other TED India fellows who have been interviewed by other bloggers. I thank Enda for agreeing and responding to my interview questions, speaking about various aspects concerning the blogosphere.- Shrinidhi

Interview of Enda Nasution

Q: With lots of companies considering advertising through social media, do you see a serious threat to conventional advertising such as print and television?

Enda: Yes, but it depends on the market, market segments demographics and the product itself. Some products such as pet food or soap dishes are not meant to be advertise through social media for example. But a product targeting a young, urban person such as cell phone products needs to be communicating through social media, because that is where its target market is.

Q What’s your take on recent FTC ruling that bloggers must declare any financial/non-financial benefit they would have gained for publishing a post? What would be the best way to bring in credibility in the blogging world?

Enda: There's and probably there will be no easy solution to bloggers’ credibility, it needs time to build and time to be recognized as well and it is difficult to judge a credibility of a blogger from her/his blog face value. And the FTC ruling is fine but it is apply only to certain categories of bloggers, bloggers who blogs professionally. This way they can be included with mainstream media as channel of information.

Q: Lots of technologies have come and gone. Several years since its inception, blogging continues to retain its prominence. But what’s your outlook for blogosphere? Do you see it getting obsolete in near future?

Enda: It will not be going obsolete, like newspaper and magazine have not gone obsolete even after few hundred years and several technologies that tried to replace it. But it will become more sophisticated format-wise, we'll see more video blogging once broadband connection is more available for public, we'll see experimentation in term of collaboration as well. Blog will merge (use) as a person online identity home based, where all of his/her online persona in different places come together.

Q: Can you share with us a few memorable incidents in your blogging tenure?

Enda: Connecting with other people through sharing your personal experience has always been a memorable experience. For me a particular post about "quarter life crisis" strike conversation and receive well responds. I wrote it when I think I was going through it, now when I've passed that stages, the post still receives comments left by people few years younger than me, who are apparently going through the same thing.

Q: How is the broadband penetration and mobile internet growing in Indonesia? At par with other countries or do you feel it is lagging behind?

Enda: We got about 2 million broadband subscribers, that's very small compare with the total population of 237 million people. Mobile internet is freely available with cheaper price, there are about 150 mil mobile users, but not all of them perhaps access internet through their mobile.
If I can make a wish, probably we need more reliable and fast internet connection (infrastructure), on this case I am hoping Indonesian government can create an innovative policy that gives a good incentives for online private sectors to create a massive and reliable online infrastructure

Q: If someone wants to take up blogging as a career option and make a living out of it, what would be your suggestion?

Enda: It won't be as fun as when you blog for yourself, because blogging for money means blogging becomes work. But if you want to do it bear in mind, it won't be easy and needed a lot of patient. Not impossible because people doing it, but it won't be a walk in the park either.

Q Have you ever felt very low and dejected during blogging- say a phase where you felt no one is reading your blog, or receiving highly discouraging comments and the likes? How did you cope up with it?

Enda: Not for me, I always tried to ignore negative comments and focus with what we can do practically.

Q. Any message for your blogging counterparts in India

Enda: Hmm! I think just that we need to communicate more closely. I am sure there are so many things that we can learn from each other due to similarity that our countries shares. And I am looking forward to meet some of Indian bloggers at TED India!

Image sourced from warungsenggol.com.

My other interviews: Kamal Quadir, CEO, Cellbazaar.com * Interview of Club Mahindra senior executive

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kodachadri hills kollur brief visit

Kodachadri is a beautiful and scenic hill station on the western ghats, closer to temple town of Kollur. A place that holds huge potential as a tourist attraction is hardly promoted and practically non existent roads further discourage tourists (from a different perspective, is that a way of preserving nature?

Bhat's residence on top of Kodachadri hillKollur Sri Mookambika temple

Anyway, Kodachadri is a heaven for trekking aspirants. Depending on time you have and distance you wish to trek, plan could be drawn accordingly. Camping is also possible and Bhat’s family who reside on top can accommodate a few, admission at their discretion. Best to go by reference.

A view of Kodachadri hill

We didn’t go there for trekking, but just made a quick visit on a jeep. The last 9kms of road that leads to the peak is so bad that only jeeps with trained drivers can take you through it. I was assessing if Scorpio can make it-appears possible but risky due to two reasons: extra dimension of Scorpio can be a challenge in giving way to another vehicle and some body parts of Scorpio are very likely to hit the ground/sideways and suffer a damage. The rugged soft top jeeps and its hard body Commander counterparts are best suited due to smaller width, higher ground clearance. Regular jeep services are available from Kollur town and rates are fixed: Rs 1400 for entire jeep, or 175 per passenger, subject to 8 passengers.Package includes 1.5-2 hours uphill journey, sightseeing for about 1.5 hours and return. Our driver told us that they’ve a union of 76 jeeps and during holidays they get up to 2 trips per day, else only one or two trips per week. He also told that a part of their income goes into maintaining the road. I’ve a feeling that they’re spending more money to ensure that road remains motorable only by jeeps and not other vehicles, else their revenues will take a hit as excellent roads will eliminate need for jeeps. Road is much better now- it was worst during rainy days- we were told.

We started from Kollur by about 1.45pm, reached hill top by 3.40, with a 20 min break for tea on the way. We also stopped near a tiny fall as another jeep had flat tyre and our driver gave his stepney (spare wheel) to that jeep. This jeep overtook us during our tea break and later we found it broken down again, this time another wheel going burst. We took two of their passengers on board and as we started those two remarked “this jeep is much better than that”. A few brave bikers had made it till top, while many had abandoned their bikes mid way and chose to climb up by foot.

There’re two small temples on the top, another small cave temple of Ganapathi and a place where Sri Shankaracharya was believed to have meditated. Path to top is wide enough, but no barricades to protect from an extremely steep slope. A petty shopkeeper was selling Rs 4 tiger biscuit for Rs 10 and a glass of sweet water (supposed to be lime juice, but the vendor said he had to dilute it due to huge demand and short supply of lemon) for Rs 5. Few cows were busy gazing and a pill millipede crossing the road (read more)

Scene en-route and on top are breathtaking. I was hoping for a clear sky which I never got. Managed to take some photos wherever possible, but clouds and fogs played spoilsport.Also the bumpy jeep ride may not let you enjoy the beauty outside. Several movies have been shot here. A young priest and his assistant, who were manning the cave Ganapathi temple boarded our jeep while returning. This guy talks a lot and said he works in Bangalore as a priest+ cooking assistant, came home for vacation and was asked to take care of this temple. He went on to say “Upendra (a Kannada film star) was here sometime back- he wanted a silent place to write some story-but within days people got hint about his presence and crowd started gathering outside his place of stay-he got disturbed and decamped overnight”

A jeep suffering flat tyreAn eagle

We started back by 5.15pm. While returning those two extra passengers (of the other jeep) wanted to join us in our jeep only, but our driver was not ready. Let them come in their jeep. I don’t get any money for ferrying them. That guy (other jeep driver) is owner+driver of that jeep, still he doesn’t maintain it properly. He must have already consumed one packet (nick name for local arrack) before starting and would have had 2 more after reaching the top. I did a mistake giving my stepney to him-tyre puncture shops are closed due to festival and I don’t have a stepney if something goes wrong.

Sri Shankaracharya dhyana peeta Cloud formation

After we disembarked from the jeep, I asked the driver for his contact number. He suddenly asked “Why Sir? Are you giving me a job?” for a moment I didn’t know what to say. Then I recovered and said I may need his help if we plan any trekking or trips in future. We reached Kollur town by 7pm. However there was no private bus from Kollur after 6.30pm and our only options were the 7.45pm KSRTC Rajahamsa bound for Bengaluru, a 9pm bus to Kerala, or another private bus that goes to Byndoor. We took the Rajahamsa to reach Kundapura town where we again got stranded as the last bus towards Udupi (a 9.15pm APM) was not to be seen that day.Then we called our neighbourhood taxi driver and reached home.

Sharavathi river, which forms the famous jog falls is visible from here. (unfortunately jog falls is not visible-would have been nice if it was). Kodachadri is closer to Sagara town in Shimoga district and Bangalore-Shivamogga-Sagar-Kodachadri will be the route to take if you’re starting from Bangalore. Maravanthe beach, Nagara fort, Karkala, Manipal Endpoint, Agumbe, Kapu light house, Malpe beach, VattineNe beach, Mathuru are few other interesting places within 100kms radius. Those keen on devotional places can visit major temples in nearby Kollur (Mookambeshwari), Udupi (Srikrishna), Gokarna, and Mangalore.

Add Kodachadri to your list next time you plan to visit coastal Karnataka/western Ghats

December 2009 updates: I read in local media that a mining company has secured permission to carry out mining operations in Kodachadri hills... Localites have began protest against this. I too feel mining shouldn't be allowed here

Site review: Mobilefun.co.uk

Presenting site review of a mobile phone and accessories website,Mobilefun.co.uk.

Besides selling Mobile phones at competitive prices, Mobilefun also offers iphone accessories, iphone case, iphone car charger and several other accessories and gadgets. Categorization of products by manufacturer, by type, by brand and so on comes handy.

Site also has a blog and forum section, which appear quite active. Blog section has posts on latest mobile accessories and gadgets while forum offer discussions specific to mobile handsets, technologies and operators (But almost all threads appear closed for new posts :( )

Unlike many other similar websites that have diversified into laptop and camera sales besides cellphones, Mobilefun appears focused on mobile phones and its accessories

A few good things I noticed about the site:

1 It promises to comply with WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive on waste management. This means more eco friendly way of disposing used electronic goods and recycling them where possible. (Related: Read my post on e-Waste management). Under this regulation, Mobilefun would collect old electronic gadget of the customer and preserve it from careless disposal. Its more of a regulatory requirement and mobilefun gives some cash value to the consumer for his old phone. But more importantly recycling and disposal of an e-waste is taken care of.

2 Paypal is accepted: Those who do not have credit cards, but have a few dollars in paypal can use the same to buy something useful.

3 Guaranteed delivery service: purchasers have the option of opting for state owned Royal Mail or DHL. Unlike in India, Royal Mail is expensive than private operator and is believed to be more reliable as well. To those members who upgrade to premium delivery service, Mobilefun offers full refund if the shipment is not delivered within promised time. When Royal mail staff are likely to go on strike, website is promptly updated to explain its impact on deliver,if any.

However some accessories like invisible shield (scratch guard) appears very expensive at 15 pounds.

Microsoft Windows 7 house party kit arrives

Update: Kiran says he got a reply from DHL that shipper (Houseparty) has paid the custom duty. Read his comment
. More on my party: http://uk.houseparty.com/party/182548

As I’d written earlier in my posts, DHL had screwed up the delivery of my Windows 7 house party kit, by issuing an invoice of an exorbitant amount as custom duty and other charges. (Refer image)

While the consignment was delivered promptly to modhl-invoice st of the hosts worldwide, including many in India in the cities of Mumbai and Pune, hosts in Chennai were in for a surprise as DHL demanded INR 1064 from each of them in the disguise of reimbursement of custom duty. Lots of things appeared out of order in this-since the consignment was a gift item with no commercial value, it shouldn’t have been subject to custom duty in first place. Second, even if a duty is to be levied, non-uniformity of the amount payable (various hosts got invoice for amount ranging from INR 600 to INR 1600) and no reasoning why only Chennai recipients had to pay while it was cleared by customs elsewhere rose suspicions. Some hosts refused to pay the amount and abandoned their plans for the party, while few unfortunate house party hosts paid the custom duty and collected their package, thinking Windows7 OS is much more valuable than the amount they had to pay.

In my case, after I learnt that hosts elsewhere got it without having to cough up any custom duty decided not to pay the amount. When I briefed house-party help centre on the matter they promptly said I am not supposed to be paying anything and promised to check with DHL. Local DHL office was clueless about this and wanted me to visit their head office, which I didn’t. One week later someone from DHL office called me to remind me that I’ve not paid yet, for which I replied explaining the scenario and said that it should be delivered free as it was done in other cities.

After that I went to my hometown for Deepavali and earlier this week I got a communication from my room-mate in Chennai that DHL has delivered the consignment. Apparently the delivery guy was still trying to convince my roommate to make the payment, but after outright refusal to do so, he gave up and handed it over.

I returned to Chennai today and got to see the kit. Images below. I was expecting a very light shipment. But the 1.8kg consignment has set really huge expectations from party hosts. It includes a puzzle game, some tissue papers, a poster, Win7 32 and 64bit version OS media etc. The DHL induced 2 week delay in delivery has kind of jeopardised the party plans which were almost abandoned after custom duty drama. Short time gap and other tasks at hand have made matters worse. I’ve a genuine vista home basic OEM, from which I can’t directly upgrade to Windows7. The only option for me is to do a clean install, which is going to be a time consuming process. My 4+ years of association with Mahindra Satyam (formerly Satyam computers) has ended and I’ll be reporting to my new employer shortly. I’d some free time and got myself busy with several assignments. I just can’t prioritize installation of a new OS right now but will certainly do justice to my responsibilities as a host. Gatecrashers are welcome. Let me know if you need an invite.windows7-party-kit

While I got my kit and do not have a reason to complain anymore, lots of questions are still to be answered as to what exactly happened behind the scene.

Why did a supposed to be reputed company like DHL screw up like this? Did they really pay the said custom duty or were they hand-in-glove with custom officials to make some money from unsuspecting recipients? Invoice quotes Rs 300 as handling fee-what handling fee? Didn’t Microsoft pay them to ship it? If they’d genuinely paid, why did they hand it over for free? In all probability this looks like a fraud attempt from DHL Chennai officials, hoping to make some extra money by issuing fake invoices. (else how do they explain the policy of “let us see if they pay-else we’ll deliver free”. If the custom duty was genuine, DHL would have well anticipated it in advance and communicated to Microsoft. Since they’ve to give proof of delivery and can’t quote the non existent custom duty to the sender, I assume they eventually gave up their hopes of making some extra money and delivered it off.

Did Microsoft reimburse DHL on these expenses? Unlikely, because while delivering, DHL guy was still trying to convince my roommate into paying some money. What about other hosts who paid the amount from their pockets? Can they now seek the money back from DHL? or will MS reimburse them? I’ll make an attempt to get some answer from DHL/house party as to what happened. What’s your take? What do you think is the most appropriate possibility?

Windows7 will be officially launched tomorrow worldwide. General reviews of this new OS from Microsoft are good. Windows 7 has a huge responsibility to neutralize the damage Vista has caused. Let us hope it succeeds.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pill millipede's self defence mechanism

We know several insects, animals and other creatures adopting various techniques to protect themselves from possible dangers. Tortoise hiding itself under its shell, chameleons camouflaging are few such examples. In this post I’m showing another such example, of an unnamed centipede, found in Kodachadri hills off Kollur, Udupi District.

We found this creature crossing our path and clicked a snap.
I touched it with a leaf and it immediately coiled to form a ball. In that spherical shape it could have rolled down the hill and escaped easily (though that’ll be difficult with eyes hidden inside), but it stood still for a minute.
Later it slowly unwinds, checking if everything is safe.
If you know specific name of this species, please share. Centipede and millipede are the smaller variants.

Update: Name of this insect is Pill Millipede or Pill bug (Thanks to Namratha) More about this insect on wikipedia

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My first consulting income

It feels good to collect your money directly from the client, compared to working for an employer, who pays you a fixed salary and in turn charges clients for your efforts. I had my first consulting assignment recently and earned a small income. Nothing great about the amount, nevertheless its significant.

Apart from my salary income, I’d earned some money earlier, both online and offline through freelancing and creative writing. I’d done some freelancing for Vijay Times during my engineering days and several articles published online and offline got me some petty income. But all of these had to do with creative writing (event reports, travelogues, reviews and other articles) and none involved any sort of consulting.

After seeing my status message many asked me what did I do and how much did I earn. How much is insignificant. Let us just say it has crossed 4 digits. What I did is something I’ll be able to write in detail once the initiative goes public next month. For now, let me just say I’m involved in setting up some kind of innovation centre.

I do not have decades of experience/expertise to get into consulting full time. May not be able to earn a living out of it-at least not yet. I’ll still have to count on a job for regular income. Giving ideas is something I’ve been doing all through this blog and it feels even better when someone thinks they are worth paying for.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

GPS Navigation: Experience & Missing features

How does it feel to have 9 multi-billion dollar satellites in space monitoring you real-time (to the accuracy of 10 meters) and guide you to your destination? Last week I’d my first trip which was assisted fully by GPS Navigation. Day 1 we went to Pulicat Lake & Srharikota and Day 2 we covered Pondy, Gingee fort and Alamparai Fort. We’d used GPS in Yercaud trip, but that was only in Salem city to find out how to connect to the road that takes us to Yercaud hill. In this trip we used it for all purposes like searching the place, calculating distance & ETA, locating nearest fuel station, identifying shortest path and turn by turn navigation to reach there. Overall it was very useful- There was no need to stop and ask anyone for directions.

Some good things:

We used Google maps. There was no need to buy any maps from 3rd party vendors. Accuracy was very high (except for some of the limitations listed below). Loading time was also very fast (even faster second time onwards as it saves details locally in phone memory), Rerouting was also pretty efficient.The sole limitation was that it drains battery heavily.

Missing features:

In India, I wish GPS navigation comes with following additional features:

Note: Most of the below may not be practical and are written with a humorous note. We recommend sensible driving and paying toll fees. Please drive slow, do not overtake from left and follow lane discipline.

1 Real time Road digging information- Information on construction activities, ongoing road digging activities across and along the roads should be made available to users so that they can avoid such roads where possible.

2 Information on speed breakers, height barriers and potholes ahead. If GPS can warn me that there’s a speed breaker ahead, I can slow down in time and avoid having to abruptly slowdown from 120kmph to 20kmph within 200 meters. Also it should tell me if the hump is too big (so that I’ll have to come to complete halt) or a medium or gentle one (so that I can ride over it in 2nd or 3rd gear). Similarly info on height barriers and major potholes will help.

3 Information on entry restrictions for certain vehicles: In Pondy we were heading towards Cuddalore road following the navigational directions. We were stopped by a board which said “No entry for 3 and 4 wheelers”. This kind of information can be provided by GPS Service provider. (Note: One way information are already provided)

4 Information on width and length of mud road adjacent to main road- While returning from auto-by-sideAlamparai fort, As soon as we crossed Maarg Swarnabhumi campus, we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on ECR. An AR Rehman live concert was happening there that evening. With over 30,000 to 40,000 people heading towards the venue, most of them in their own vehicles, on a narrow 2 lane east coast road, traffic jam was imminent. We were moving inch by inch. At places, where there was some additional land to the left of the road, some vehicles used to overtake from left, gain advantage of few hundred meters and then force their way back to main lane when the side-way abruptly ends. (Refer image of auto overtaking from left) Depending on how aggressive the overtaking driver is and how accommodative vehicles behind, some drivers got struck on the side road when their road ended, while few made decent progress towards their destination overtaking from left and entering main lane several hundred meters ahead. Now, if GPS can tell- “the width & length of mud path adjacent to you can take you for over 5 00 meters”, may be one can take a chance and cut to left. If the length is only 25 meters, then it might make more sense to stick to your lane. This kind of features are missing in GPS. Note: While calculating width of mud path, satellite should consider poles and other obstacles. :)

5 Information on toll gates ahead and ways to bypass it (where feasible): Self explanatory- isn’t it?

6 While it is possible to find out nearest fuel stations (or other utilities), it will be nice if it can tell if ordinary petrol/diesel is currently available there or they’re selling only premium branded fuels under the pretext of not having stock of regular fuel.

7 Manual barricades and private properties: We wanted to reach Paradise island by road ablocked-roadnd were exploring shortcuts to reach there. While map suggested a shorter route, after driving half-way what we saw was this (refer image): it was a private land and road was blocked by half, preventing cars from passing through. We’d to come back, take a detour. (Similarly, Auroville has multiple entrances and map was showing all of them, but only one is open for tourists, so tracing other routes would have resulted in extra travel)

8 battery power is the biggest constraint for using GPS heavily. A mobile phone batter won’t last more than a few hours if used constantly. More energy efficiency should be possible. The standalone GPS units powered by AA batteries last longer and are preferred by heavy users (like trekkers who go on multi-day trekking inside dense forests), but they're a little complicated to use, due to lesser no of keys, smaller screens and not so friendly menu.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ClubMahindra membership sale post triggers copycats

Most of you are aware that we (myself and Bhupesh) had created a page wherein people can buy/sell used club mahindra membership for free. This idea has been tremendously successful and we’ve got more than 400 entries with people listing their memberships for sale or expressing interest to buy. Business close to 30 lakhs has been facilitated by this blog so far [details].

Now, the other side of being popular is that many people find it easier to copy it. Everyone from small time individuals like me to multi billion giants like Microsoft are vulnerable to IPR violations. Seeing the success of our page, many individuals have started duplicating the idea, even copying the content from my blog post word to word and stealing user data from displayed spreadsheet and replicating everything on their blog/websites built on free sub domains.

Two such examples are http://www.clubmahindramembership.co.cc and http://gofornautral.blogspot.com, (If you wish to visit pls copy paste the URL in another window/tab and explore. You can verify that it is a clear duplication of my Buy/Sell club Mahindra membership post. If you’re convinced that it is an IPR violation, please click on report abuse and select Copyright infringement as Type of abuse. Thanks for your support). We can also report abuse at .co.cc (hosting site that where the free subdomain is created), selecting type of abuse as phishing. Reporting abuse may not help much as they can create another copy, but it will send out signal that we’re watching
(Update: the first site seems to be shutdown and subdomain is up for grabs-most probably taken down by .co.cc after phishing complaints)

Both sites seems to be manned by same person who's identity is not available anywhere (obviously). Also they’ve made an attempt to make money through it, charging $20 from those looking to sell their memberships. Another major mistake is trying to steal Club Mahindra’s identity, by keeping an URL and banner which are chosen to mislead visitors into believing that they are genuine Club Mahindra group websites. (this qualifies as phishing)

Now this has forced me to identify ways to protect my IPR and more importantly to prevent misuse of information provided by users, who’ve entered their data in the spreadsheet I’d created. One major way to do this was to hide the email IDs of buyers and sellers and giving a provision wherein visitor can send an email by entering text in a form (the data will then be mailed to recipient,whose email ID won’t be revealed to prospects). Thanks to Bhupesh for this idea. Since Google Docs doesn’t have this provision, we’re working on moving the spreadsheet to Zoho.

There’s been some compromise of email IDs which users had chosen to display in the spreadsheet soliciting inquiries for buying or selling a timeshare membership. Other than that, the threat seems to be minimal, as these new sites do not have any search engine presence. I’ve temporarily taken down the spreadsheet displayed in buy/sell page and will make it live once it is migrated to Zoho. Regrets for the inconvenience.

Internet being free for all, its challenging to prevent someone from copying your text. Your thoughts on how duplication of this kind can be prevented, and how the spreadsheets and Google doc forms can be made more secure are welcome.

Similar: Times of India publishes my image without credit (and issues a clarification later)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Windows7 Houseparty, ARR Concert and other updates

Some more random updates

DHL screws up Windows7 House-party

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was selected as a Host for Windows 7 launch party. My windows7 house party kit, which is supposed to include the free Windows 7 disc and some other stuff did arrive promptly, but DHL has issued an invoice for Rs 1064, asking me to pay for Custom Duties (The invoice description says: Basic Custom Duty+ Extra Custom Duty+ some other duty+ handling charges+ Service tax,+Education Cess+ Higher Education Cess)

I understood from twitter and houseparty website that some hosts in India indeed got it for free without having to pay any custom duty. No idea on what criteria they used to decide on custom duty and no custom duty rule. May be its local airport and custom officials who levied it? Also the amount levied to various hosts seems to be non-uniform, ranging between Rs. 600 to 1700.

When asked, DHL gave a standard reply that the don't decide the custom duty and recipients have to pay it. I’ve written to House Party help and sought an explanation.

MRP of Windows 7 ultimate is much more than Rs 1064 and in a sense it may make sense to get it. But then, it seems unfair as some hosts got it for free while others are asked to cough up money. Also since Microsoft or DHL didn't disclose this liability earlier and the amount levied seems to be non-uniform, something is wrong somewhere. I need to do my own evaluation of the same- I have paid for genuine OEM Windows Vista, so should I spend again on an OS? May be and mostly No. Will decide what to do about this within a few days.

Update: Stopped by a local DHL office-they were clueless and asked me to go to Head office instead.

Meanwhile House-party customer care has replied that I shouldn't be paying anything and they'll look into the issue and revert asap. So fingers crossed.

2. A R Rehman Jai Ho concert at Maarg Swarnabhumi

Went out of town after a gap of several weeks. Happened to visit Maarg Swarnabhumi, a 170+ acre integrated township being built by Maarg Constructions. An A R Rehman concert is happening at their campus (30kms from Mahabs towards Pondy) this Sunday. Concert is in aid of Shakti foundation and is organized by Maarg Group, with help of an event management co from Mumbai. Over 30000 people are expected for this Jai Ho concert and massive arrangements were going on when we visited the site. Since the venue is far from the city, free transportation is being arranged for those who buy tickets.

Chairman: A security guard manning huge pile of plastic chairs meant for the concertView from the under construction stage. Click to enlarge

We also visited BVM Global residential school and few of the under construction apartment complexes. A 3 BR model flat which we saw was priced at about 20 lakhs (1328 sq ft * Rs 1499)

Some more photos below

MaargSwarnabhumi visit

3. My LinkedIn profile now has 10 recommendations.Feels good.

4. An interesting input about booking wall space by political parties

Long back I’d written a post showing some photos wherein political parties used to white wash a public wall and write <--AIADMK FULL -- > to indicate that they’re booking that space. Today, Kiruba told me some more interesting info about this. He said when election approaches, ruling party (say DMK) will arrest all chota-mota leaders of opposition for 2 days under some pretext or other. During this time, DMK workers will work overnight and whitewash all walls to make their bookings. Only leftover ones will be used by the rival. When AIADMK comes to power they’ll do the same to DMK leaders and reclaim their wall space. Once marked with- party name-full- other parties won’t override this, lest there’ll be a big clash. Each party respects others' booking.

5.Spotted a new Toyota Fortuner and could have a close look. The full time 4WD SUV looks majestic. Some more related photos here on flickr. Ford also has launched Endeavor with an all new face. Have to drive some of these soon.


6. Yet another post crossed 100 comments count. (Other 2 are CM & laptop comparison guide )

7. Long back, I’d published a photo of a roadside makeshift temple and suspected that soon it may grow and occupy more and more road. Over an year that publication, nothing of that sort has happened. In fact I feel it has been abandoned by its founders. May be because it was not strategically located (say at a corner) and lacked an ambiance (of a tree etc)

8. Lots of things happening around- FTA enforcing disclosure norms for bloggers, floods in Karnataka, Indian origin scientists winning Nobel, Blogathon and more. By not blogging about all these hope I am not deviating from a self assumed responsibility of enriching the world with my thoughts on all these.

9. Finally transferred a few dollars which I'd accumulated over years on internet, from paypal to my bank account. It was smoother and faster than expected.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Site Review: Qype.co.uk

Note: Had to republish this due to some errors. Sorry if it appears again on your feed reader. If so you may check my September Archive here- Admin

Qype is a consumer review website, focused primarily on London. The moment I saw this site what came to my mind was Indian Consumer review site, mouthshut.com. Anyhow this post is a quick review of this website.

Design:
Looks Good. Space is well optimized and clear tabs are provided to facilitate easy navigation. Too much of text is bad, but a content and consumer review site will have to make provisions to display lots of text.

A two box search is designed to help people search something in a specific location. This has its pros and cons. Locations listed are minimal and those searching in general will face a mismatch.

Tabs displayed on the home page are customizable-For example if you prefer 'Transportation' tab visible on homepage instead of 'Nightlife', you can have it that way. Not many sites provide this feature.

Space occupied by ads is not too much.

Content:
While Mouthshut enforces a minimum word limit for reviews, Qype doesn't seem to have such restrictions. Some reviews are too short, some are very long. Registration required for commenting.

Besides consumer written reviews on various places, products and services such as restaurants and pubs London , the site also provides maps, tourist information and updates on various events happening in the city. But their rating system is a bit ambiguous- At times I could not make out if the rating was for the venue that was reviewed (how good it is on a scale of 0-5) or about the review (how well the user has reviewed the subject)

Some of the contents do not qualify as a review (for example, some has reviewed Delhi High court and all he has written in his review is one para history of DHC). Some minimum standards/guidelines should be enforced to ensure that reviews serve their purpose. No provision to add images to the review (one can add tags and youtube videos)

Users:
For registered users Qype offers all options such as import address book, point system to encourage more and more writing as well as all other ingredients to keep members engaged and hooked to the site. (such as Qype Insider and Ninja designations for active users, photo uploads, calendar and complements registry) Registration was easy and fast, but a quick guide for new visitors was missing-that could have helped newcomers get better understanding of the site and its features.

Though focused on London Qype aims to cover other cities and countries also. It has an India section: www.qype.co.uk/in, but not much contents there. Indian business database is also not comprehensive. (I searched for Hyatt, it showed only Hyatt Regency Delhi, not the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai or other Hyatt hotels in India) Probably they haven't focused on India much or couldn't face competition from Indian review sites.

Qype has a strong page rank of 5 and draws decent traffic. Overall a very useful site for zeroing in on places and activities in London. Those visiting UK will find it useful to identify a restaurants London or other similar things. Qype also has presence on twitter and facebook to stay connected. Let me know if you feel I could have reviewed this site in a different way. OkTataByeBye, Burrp are some similar Indian sites.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata-Pictures

As mentioned in my earlier post publishing some photos my room mate Partho clicked in Kolkata during Durga Pooja (Pujo in Bengali) celebrations there. I've tried my best to give some additional description as well, wherever possible.

Just the way we have Lord Ganesha's idol set up in every other street, Bengalis will have Durga Mata's idol set up all over. Each colony would showcase its creativity by building huge mantaps (Mandaps), either replicating designs of world famous monuments or bringing to life some innovative and creative ideas. Below is a collage of various Durga mata idols clicked in various mantaps. Click to enlarge.
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata

Below are 3 such mantaps, built using plaster of paris and other temporary construction materials. Each one is erected at an expense of several lakhs to even few crores, beating any film set that are set up in movie studios. I do not recognize the first and 3rd one, but the middle one is a replica of a temple in Katmandu, Nepal.
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata

This one is a rather simple one, but a floating one built on a boat
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata

Mantap on the left is made entirely from net. There was another one made entirely from Bamboo strips.
Durga Puja celebrations in KolkataDurga Puja celebrations in Kolkata
Decorations on the street also deserves a mention.
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata

Durga Puja celebrations in KolkataDurga Puja celebrations in Kolkata

Left one is made from Bamboo... Right one is made from clay...
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata
Wait, I'm kidding. Durga Puja celebrations in KolkataRight one is a real human being, standing still as a statue. His leg is covered with paper to protect identity. You need to have a closer look at his eyes to believe that he is real. It takes a lot to stay still and not get distracted by various things happening around us. Not sure for how long he managed to stay like that undetected, but those who can do so for a few hours at least are in great demand by the entertainment industry.

Awards: Several companies and TV channels give away awards to best Mantap, with prizes going upto few lakhs. Organizers of each Mantap proudly display various awards they won during the festive season. Certainly a good recognition for their creativity and hard work. Click to have a closer look.
Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata
Only thing I found missing in all these was security. May be policemen were in plain cloths. Photos and inputs from Partho, collage work and narration by Shrinidhi

Related: Ganesha festival aftermath *