Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In the name of innovation

Many crimes have been committed by Microsoft in the name of innovation.
Not the least among them is the pain the company inflicts on the world through its MS Office software.  Though slow on innovation and providing capabilities ot integrate with a collaborative workplace, Word is a behemoth a relic of the past where users worked on standalone computers.  Yet, Office commands a lareg share of the marketplace due to Microsoft's dominance in the OS market.

One instance of how Microsoft freely "infringes" on other firms' copyrights while crying foul about open source comes to light with the news that a court rules against Microsoft.  The feature under discussion, customizing XML is being called as "obscure functionality" by Microsoft.  However, it indicates the technology unfriendliness of a company that only has cash cows in its product portfolio.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Have you Flocked yet?

Flock is a social browser. If you are the type that uses the browser the old fashioned way - meaning you do not engage with a community in consuming online content, then Flock is not for you.

However, if you an hour doe snot go by without you tweeting, blogging or updating your facebook profile, and oh, of course without checking your email (if you still use it), then flock to Flock. Technology is changing how we all interact socially and Flock tries to become the default platform for this social web. Its engine is derived from Mozilla's Firefox browser and that makes it all the more appealing as there is a large community of users who contribute to Flock through add-ons and extensions. Moreover, as Flock is open source anyone is interested in taking Flock and morphing it to suit the next generation of social media technologies, is free to do so.

You may be wondering where this leaves IE8 - well, have you seen any dinosaur fossils recently?:)

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Awesome Indian Food

Some wonderful experiments were done in our kitchen in the past. A few that we photographed.

Asian spicy chicken - it was great with beer !

Haleem - amazing lamb dish. Authentic hyderabadi haleem, courtesy Radhika. It was slow cooked for about seven hours.

Awesome finger food - it is called Chicken 65 in India and I cannot vouch I know the logic behind that name. One thing I can tell you is that it goes well with beer and tastes awesome!

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Open Collaboration

Baldwin and von Hippel have a nice HBS working knowledge article on open innovation models. Many applications of user-involvement exist out there - Twitter, Youtube and Wikipedia, to name a few. The impact of such collaboration has a huge relevance for firms because it offers them new means to engage customers and possible develop and design new products with the aid of such engagement.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An epitome of customer service

There are no words to describe what AT&T is asking its customers to do.   Let me give it a try.

Hey .. use our cell phone service, use our latest phone - iPhone, pay a fortune for doing so.. but you know what.. please go easy on  using it.  If you ask me, Apple is the devil incarnate .. it knows how to tempt people with really smart devices.  However, the laggards that cell phone companies are, they are not able to match the sins of apple in innovation. My guess is that At&T will continue to struggle to meet iPhone's capabilities.  

My take on it is that Apple did the wrong thing by not going to the other providers quicker. The slow pace of change at AT&T's side can be explained by the temporary monopoly it has on iphone customers.  Take that our and the web will be a much better place...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For a Few Dollars More

I like my rights.  In fact, as an immigrant I appreciate what i enjoy here in the US. 

As a dutiful taxpayer I realize that my tax dollars are at work when my car does not hit a single bump on I-40 from Chapel Hill to Greensboro.  I also realize that my tax money pays for public schools, community health programs among other initiatives.  I realize there are benefits I gain by paying for these programs and willing to bear the burden.

So, in really tough times when the Prez calls on everyone to support a health care initiative that has the potential to insure a big chunk of the 40 million who are currently uninsured, I jump right in.  I know that the current system is working but I also see the trajectory and realize that if nothing is done then things will only get worse.  

Individuals without insurance just end up emergencies and add to the taxpayer bill.  I would rather insure these folks, get them to see the doctor regularly and reduce loss of life and cut costs at the same time.  Further, I don't see what is the moral wrong in trying to provide a safety net to the millions who have little hope for good health.  if I have to partake a few hundred dollars for the sake of saving a few kids' lives, I would gladly do do.  Liberal, conservative or libertarian .. I think saving another person's life is never a bad thing.  

For a few dollars more, a life saved is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A pleasant surprise to the sustainability movement

Wal-Mart announced that it is committed to developing a universal rating system to measure the environmental impact of every item it stocks on its shelves.  There couldn’t have been better new than this to groups and individuals interested in reducing the negative impact of consumption.  A typical Wal-Mart stocks close to 100,000 SKU’s and rakes in revenues of about 100 million USD a year.  With sales surpassing 400  billion USD Wal-Mart has a big impact on how other large retailers conduct business. 

If Wal-Mart pulls this stunt successfully then it would have helped energize the revolution in the corporate world.  Yes, many firms have had starts in this direction but the impact that Wal-mart’s decision may cause is manifold.  Its entire supply-chain consisting of many thousands of suppliers would be forced to cough-up information.  Such disclosure would create more competition among suppliers to create products that have a lower negative impact on the environment.

Arguments against the sustainability movement include high costs and a move such as this which leads to higher competition among firms will force them to innovate and hopefully reduce manufacturing costs.  Three cheers to Wal-Mart!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is a good product?

Gone are the days, when firms made a good product, communicated to the customer, made it available and offered financing options towards purchase.

Competitive dynamics, market clutter among other things have forced firms to rethink how they can sell a consumption experience rather than a product or a service.

Latest in this stream of product design innovations is the new offer from Hyundai that comes with a pricelock guarantee on gasoline.  Well, definitely not pioneering because Chrysler used it previously, but, it is definitely a more aggressive tactic in the time of a recession.

Hyundai has clearly shown its intention to grab market share as GM and Chrysler struggle in and out of bankruptcy.  They have adopted a multi-faceted approach that includes product innovation, warranty and now this.

I have used a similar pricelock guarantee when I was a customer of Time Warner a couple of years ago.  However, this is new because the price of the underlying good, gasoline, changes everyday unlike Time Warner’s case.

The company behind this offer describes itself as a technology and risk management company.  The logic is simple – they have hedged their risk against the price of gasoline and can therefore afford to cap the price. 

From the customer’s perspective, there is clearly a nice inventive here.  What is more interesting is if these price guarantees will find their way to other consumption contexts in which a primary good + secondary good together determine the overall utility of the product.

Think of the razor + blades. 

Premier Passenger  status – purchased a priori and then a guarantee of low fares.  Far fetched, maybe …but what else is innovation!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Taking care of the customer

Believe me, when companies want to screw up -  by God, they will.

I had to make a short and unplanned trip to Detroit recently, and tried to make a rental car reservation.  To my dismay, not a single rental agency had any cars available o location. Anyone who has been to Detroit before will realize that getting to the suburbs without a pick-up or a rental car will leave you poorer by about 80 dollars, the amount you will spend on a taxi.  Not willing to spend that kind of money, I decided to gamble and go directly to the rental offices to figure out if I can get a car.

What I did not know was that the Baptists were having their convention in the city and for some godforsaken reason, the rental agencies had blocked every single car for this convention.  I could not believe that their planning was so dismal.  They were not willing to rent a car for a higher price either.  So, eventually I found no cars to rent and took a taxi to my destination.

I tried looking up the internet in the afternoon for a late night rental car pick-up and presto, they were available now.  An economy car, think Chevy Aveo, was going for hundred dollars a day!  With no choices, I got a ride to the airport from my wife's brother-in-law and managed to get an economy car.

Now, the point I am trying to make is this - the rental agencies had cars sitting on their lots all through the afternoon.  However, they were supposedly on reserve for the convention.  They were willing to turn down walk-in customers who are likely to pay a lot more in favor of a group that may never turn-up!

Taking care of customers - it must be some kind of a joke.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A 'king"fishy tale

People were taking to the planes in hoards, I was told back in the summer of 2006 when I was in India on a short trip.  I did not get the chance to fly a domestic route in that trip, but got my chance when I had to fly to Mumbai in December 2007.  The (old) small hyderabad airport in the heart of the city was so crowded that it looked like a local bus stand called "Imliban". 

People who don't look anywhere like the frequent flyers in the US were sitting on the floor waiting for their flights to Bangalore, Vizag, Mumbai and other cities.  I was even amazed to learn that th flight to Rajahmundry was full.  Air Deccan.. my friend, had changed the rules of the game.  Through it low pricing and a loss-leader strategy it grabbed a nice market share of a fats growing market.  There were other similar firms - SpiceJet, Indigo which followed a similar low price strategy.  I deliberately use price, instead of cost because operating an airline at low cost is a myth, at least during the period when oil prices where at a peak. 

The incumbents were the state owned Indian Airlines and a couple of large private operators - Jet, Sahara and Kingfisher.  The entry and success of of low cost operators such as Deccan and SpiceJet set forth a wave of acquisitions and eventually Jet Airways ended up buying Sahara and Kingfisher snatched the real prize - Air Deccan.

What Mr. Mallya did not realize was that he wouls have been better off waiting it out and letting Air Deccan collapse due to its low-priceapproach. An implosion that was bound to happen, given the strategy Air Deccan had adopted.  He could have snatched Air Deccan for a much better price today.  However, hubris as they say may have played its role in the King's acquisition of Air Deccan.  He purchased Air Deccan on the premise that the market would continue to grow and that he would be able to somehow integrate Air Deccan's low-end positioning with his airlines' premium positioning and also end up gaining market share.  Surely, wrong timing.

The credit crisis, high oil prices, fall in demand and oversupply all semm to cause a problem of demonic proportions for many airline operators including Kingfisher.  I wouldn't be suprised, if the only choices woudl be Jet and Indian Airlines at the end of the day.  And, maybe one low-cost operator.

Mr. Mallya is still denying that his airline is in trouble but if the current downturn continues then there is no way Kingfisher can come out of this mess.  When Mr. Mallya launched his airlines, I presume he was trying to emulate Mr. Branson, or maybe not.  Whatever maybe his reasons for starting an airline, he sure quite a few reasons for not being able to manage it well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Google’s money making machine

Have you ever wondered how Google makes money. Yes, we all know that they do by placing ads – strategically. However, I always found irrelevant funny ads that were totally out of place – Here's one that I found recently on CNN's website:

Well, the first ad for lowermybills.com does not look like an ad placement. But, I was not sure why that ad popped up there and why those two girls were dancing. Secondly, the ads by Google indicate how much more work is needed before customized ad placement becomes successful.

The original article was reporting protests in Iran and there is an ad for Iranian personals, chronic back pain relief and heart attack survival.

No space for mypsace

The social networking world is crowded. I had blogged about how MySpace a very weak generic positioning that may stop it from becoming a dominant player. If the recently announced layoffs are any indicator Myspace may have more bad things coming their way.

It seems to me that there are too many platforms and too much easy money chasing the wannabes. A classic run-up similar to the heydays of the Morgan Stanley financed B2B exchange for plastic bolts. There were other similar euphoric dramas of course, like the thirtieth online pet food store financed by VCs. I do not buy the argument that because some high-profile VC firm financed a start-up it has future, or because Fox took interest. Most successful ventures are under the radar - just as Google was during the internet boom. I predict that by the time the current economic downturn ends many of the SN wannabes will be gone. I still place my bets on Linkedin and then, Facebook. Linkedin because it gives social networking a clear purpose - maintain professional contacts and thereby possibly benefit from them. This notion seems simple but is elegant and has been studied quite a bit in sociolofgy by great scholars like Mark Granovetter and Ronald Burt. Facebook because it is the most well thought out generic platform for maintaining personal networks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

God's credit crisis

It is said that Lord Balaji had to borrow millions of rupees from Lord Kubera to pay for his grand wedding many thousands of years ago.  Taking inflation into account that must be godzillions of rupees by now.  Devotees make contributions to the Lord so that he can continue to make interest payments to Lord Kubera.

Even God had to be bailed out, no wonder General Motors and Citibank need one.  It is usually the taxpayer who steps in.  Well, I take that back - once in a while a rich devotee such as Mr. Reddy makes a big donation.  A diamond studded gold crown that weighs 34 Kg and costs over 45 crore rupees (about 8 M USD).  I guess Mr. Reddy expects a ticket to heaven or wherever he thinks he will end up after his life here on earth.  What he does not realize is that he is not helping the Lord by any means.  Buying assets for a person who is in deep debt does not help that person. Will Kubera take it easy if Balaji wears a gold crown instead of making payments? It is like a homeowner in Michigan buying a Ferrari - does that make any sense to you.  Throw in the eccentricities of the commodities market and gold may not seem like a good bet if stocks start rising!

Even if we try to convince ourselves that by heaping carbon stones on God we get in his/her good books, we should not forget Economics.  Lord balaji must be cringing looking at the crown and what Mr. Kubera's reaction to the crown will be.  If you believe in God, make a cash donation - so that it will get used in some public works project and at least go to Kubera's coffers and make the Lord's life easier.

Disclaimer: I am an atheist falling off a cliff and therfore have no interest in the credit score of any person real or fictional mentioned in this blog post. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A not so forgetful past

I graduated from IIM Lucknow and I am proud of it. Whenever someone asks me where I got my MBA, I don't say India and neither do I say IIM - I make it a point to say IIM Lucknow. A recent email on our IIM alumni list motivated this post. A guy who graduated a long tiem ago from IIML was appointed as a Senior VP or something at a US firm and he forwarded the press release to the IIM L alumni list. However, this press release said his MBA was from Darden and never mentioned IIM L. I was wondering why in the hell did he post it on the list and another alumnus popped the question on the list :)

I have known a number of people who get an MBA from one of the IIMs and for whatever personal reasons decide to pursue another MBA from one of the top US schools. I don't have a problem with that, but being an alumnus of one of the IIMs I feel sorry for the person who tries to hide the previous MBA, particularly if it is from an IIM.

I had exhilarating fun when I was a student at IIM L. I think I met some of the brightest of minds including Abhijit Rey, Jayarama Krishnan, Shashank Rathi, Puneet Satyawadi, Rohit Sood, Rahul Jain, and Niraj Kumar Singh, just to mention a few. I also met some of the most balanced people including Neeraj Aggarwal, Gautam Mehrotra, and Akhila Patlolla, among others. And there are many such Raghu who will probably remain friends for life. IIM L offered me a chance to interact with these guys and learn from them. IIM L offered me a direction in my life, an ambition and a purpose. I cannot imagine people can spend two years of their life at aninstitution such as an IIM and not credit it for who they are. IIM L shaped who I am right now and offered me two of the best years in my life. If there is anything I have accomplished in my life, I would credit it to the two years that I spent at IIM Lucknow. I don't feel sorry for those who try to forget such a wonderful past.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Solving problems is easy : Watch Telugu Cinema

Yes, I figured it out.  There is a very easy way to solve all the world's tyranny and corruption.  It was in front of my eyes all along, being shown day in
and day out in the hundreds of movies that Telugu Cinema churns out every year - beat up the bad guys! It is that simple.

I have been blessed with the privilege of having access to three telugu channels off late - Maa, Gemini and Teja.  They once again reminded me that, tyranny, corruption and the set of similar problems that plague a country like India are very easy to resolve - just beat up the bad guy or even better make him meet St. Peter.

I can understand if a movie made generation ago or maybe a few movies relied on this ending - but every movie?  It amazes me that today's producers have innovated nothing. They just continue to produce the same movies with the same story line - a boy, a girl, a father, some evil, fights, an item number and then the climax.

Evil gets beat up quite often and hold on, the hero somehow as superhuman powers and can beat up over a thousand guys without tiring.  The race now is to film a fight sequence where the hero beats up over a million guys? I am kidding, but they all seem to take inspiration from Neo.

A second favorite peeve apart from the superhuman powers of the male character - the female lead is a dumb, stupid lass who is only alive to admiringly look at the make lead and imagine getting wet in the rain where she can then take off her clothes. In addition, the number of female leads who can even dub their own voices hovers around zero most of the time.  If I close my eyes and watch a movie, they all sound like Aarti Aggarwal to me. Well, she was the first actress who got the now famous dubbing artist's voice.

And yes, there is a bad local policeman who will turn up at all possible scenes where the presence of police is required.  I almost forgot - there is a villain who relocates to a different city in the past and has a chela who runs the evil deals in hyderabad.

What is going on?  The only thing that sustains this never ending stream of stupid, dumb movies is the stupidity of the audience. I guess, they deserve this nonsense.

What does the future hold for avid telugu cinema fans - more dumb lasses all with Aarti's voice, more telugu heroes beating up even more extras in a single fight scene, more dads wantign to destroy their girl child's love interests and more villains who have relocated to calcutta.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A silent transformation: Google Finance

I realized today that Google Finance was no longer beta!  I guess many would have not noticed, and maybe it is not a big deal.  However, it does show
how Google still is a one trick pony.  As techcrunch reports, the market leader is still Yahoo Finance.

I prefer google for its simplicity and because I am so tied into using its other products - including mail, calendar, reader, news, maps and scholar.  However,
it aches me to see that it is yet to realize benefits from all these new products and monetize them successfully.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Search Engines and Emotion

I could not help rolling on the floor with laughter.  What else could I do after I read this comment by a Microsoft employee in a news article,

He said Microsoft was hoping to build an "emotional connection" between users and its search engines, as well as brand loyalty.

Emotional connection? What the heck is he talking about...ok, here goes.... let me give it a try.

I get up early in the morning, make some coffee, switch on my computer, open a browser, get butterflies in my stomach, think of puppies and infants, sniffle a little, think of gardens filled with flowers, tons of more babies and then make a decision finally ... to open Bing, Microsoft's search engine instead of google.  Maybe, I don't get it.

Too much has been written about search engines and consumers.  Google cracked it through its simple UI, period.  Brand Loyalty is a result of this simplicity in design and execution and there is no way a company like Microsoft can make the same thing happen. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Much ado about nothing

The only hope I had for Chiranjeevi was that he would provide a third non-casteist platform for voicing socio-economic issues. I heard rumors that some of his candidates were distributing money for votes and that even he took money from some of the candidates. Some of these were allegations by defectors from his party. And various stories unfolded.

I had blogged earlier saying that he was grossly mismanaging his campaign and that surrounding himself with people like Allu Arvind was not going to win elections. A disciplined approach to convincing the electorate that his party would be a viable alternative at the state level was completely missing. He resorted to announcing populist schemes that lacked economic rationale - these were good in getting PR but not votes.

A sane advisor would have told Chiru that it is very unlikely that he would win the majority. At best, he would have made a dent in TDP and Congress. If Chiru had run on that premise he could have argued that he was here to stay and that he was concerned about the state's populace. He would have had legitimacy as a leader and created a strong presence for himself in the state's political arena. People would have respected him for what he intended to achieve. However, he let people like Allu Arvind go live and denounce the exit poll results saying that they would win at least 160 assembly seats. What was he thinking? This is not making a stupid movie like "Bunny" with Allu Arjun as the hero.

The people clearly showed that they were not stupid and that they can see through the lack of political legitimacy. Chiranjeevi is no NTR and 2009 is not 1984.

The sole positive was the hope that he would offer a third alternative to the lacklustre performance of the congress party and the caste-ridden politics of TDP, not to mention its film stars. However, he failed miserably due to the masterful leadership of YSR. Full credit to him for making Andhra the former bastion that it was for the INC. Congress strengthened its position at the state level and the usually anti-incumbent Andhra electorate trusted YSR to continue to lead the state. I have little hope for urban development under the congress party. For that we need Babu. YSR has put bigger holes in the state's finances by the pro-poor policies that he had adopted - a good tactic for winning elections but a poor strategy for the development of the state.

It would have been nice if he can make tough choices by focusing on industrial development and incentivizing entrepreneurs rather than subsidizing farmers. My recent trip to Hyderabad indicated that corruption is rampant and the stat infrastructure is falling apart. Hyderabad's residential real estate market is continuing to plummet and commercial real estate has fallen even further. The roads are back to pre-TDP days and APSRTC, once a crown jewel, is shabby and unclean once more.

Although I do not agree with Atanu Dey on many things, he has really convinced me that only cities can be the engines of growth for the 21st century. There are economies of scale at work in urban centers, the benefits of which can never be matched by its alternative - rural centers. The sooner YSR realizes this, the better. One credit that Babu deserves is that by fluke or by design he seemed to have realized this. YSR is yet to show that he understands what is good for the state and not just for himself.

On a final note. I like that fact that all the pesky small regional parties have been wiped out. Stability is boring, but it is good.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Twitter, seriously who has the time

I like blogging.  Tweeting - hell no!  Who has the time?

I cannot understand why people would want to know trivial things about others and let others know what trivial things they do - where they are drinking coffee, what they are reading. As a society it is understandable that we generate and consume more information than we have ever done in the past - but tweeting?

I teach a course on product management to the Tar Heels and most of them seemed to agree with me.  I tried to introduce them to SecondLife, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin and the only thing that seemed to gel with them was facebook and I had to hard sell linkedin.  Secondlife and Twitter got the most sneers.

I agree.  Who has the time to live as an altar in a virtual world and buy fake real estate on an island with real money. There is more wasted land lying aroudn in the real world after the economic bust.  Comign to twitter, I cannot believe that people who have normal jobs and work 8 hours a day have the time to tweet. Much of the marketing hype that surrounds twitter is just liek the hazy cloud that surrounded the 5th online grocer back from the.com days.  I had written earlier about the various social networkign websites here.
That blogpost drew some interetsing comments from someone who claimed to be one of the founders of myspace.  True - you could look at investor interest to figure out the "potential". But history has shown tiem and again that early investors are very poor in calling the right winners.  For all the Ram Shrirams aroudn there are many unknowns who have lost millions.  As an intelligent investor, I woudl rather look at simple things such as if they have 1) a sound business plan to make money 2) invested in processes  and 3) can do it better than others.

Wish it was that simple...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Outrunning the bear

I read a story once whose moral was that if a bear confronts you and a friend in the forest, you don't have to outrun the bear but just your friend. 

The great saga of the detroit Big Three has a similar undertone.  Ford has managed to outrun the other two and come out the winner.  It is so hilarious to watch Goldman pick the winner as Ford, the same day GM announced that it will miss a June 1 debt payment.  Firms that have built-up fortunes by providing financial advice have more than adequately shown that they are no better than a monkey doing the same thing.  It is a wonder that they are still managing to offer advice.

For many years Wall Street has advised common investors to invest long-term while they made short-term profits with the greeks.  The irony is that the greeks came back to haunt them badly and lead to many a firm's demise.  There are no magic tricks to long-term investing except discpline and common sense - something the fianncial world was found wanting.

Real estate, Satyam and local goons in Hyderabad

Yes, Satyam provided livelihood for thousands of employees when it was run as a business. 

However, it was just a front for hoax companies that made money in other investments such as real estate and agriculture.  By inflating Satyam's revenues Mr. Raju and his team created an efficient machine to generate cash on the equity markets and then use that money to do whatever thay wanted - grow grapes and build apartments, among other things.
It seems unbelievable to me that people did not know this was happening.  Maybe many employees did not, however knowing the corruption in India's system I am sure there are many more who got rich due to this nice scheme.  The few auditors are just a drop in the ocean.

The real estate boom created by the economic growth in Andhra has lead to incredible riches for a few.  It is not by happenstance that people like Muralimohan have made thousands of crores in the Madhapur real estate boom.  Why Madhapur and no place else.  We have come to accept the corruption that was behing the whole high-tech city boom because we are just like sheep.  Why don't we ear about that few farmers who made hundreds of croses when they sold their land to developers? Because there aren't any.  Land grabbers just take whatever they want and leave nothing for the true owners.  Local authorities are either spineless and are scared of goons tied to political parties, or are themselves involved in taking bribes for dual registration of such lands. Congress is no better in such grabbing - it is just that whenever the government gives out a good fat contract one of its kith or kin will be a partner in the beneficiary company.  It is amazing how politicans have figured out ways of making money off of the taxpayers.

People who vote for politicians with a criminal record shoudl be ashamed for the same reason.  By giving them a legitimacy to carry on their evil deeds we are foregoing our right to question them.  Once they come to power, we don't see them doing much because they are busy making money for themselves and their family through the intelligence of their own or by riding on the back of people like Mr. Raju.  they also support an entire ecosysmte of local goons who survive in the name of the party's local strength.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Baseball and Marriage

Found an interesting read on Businessweek concerning baseball and marriage.  A study in an academic journal reports a negative relationship between a city's divorce rate and whether it has a baseball team or not.  It even suggests some implications.

The study claims that one could posit that couples in such cities get to spend time with each other by going to such games and hence a lower divorce rate. Seem too indirect to me.  Well, that is the nature of such correlational analysis.  Nothing is reported about whether the study controls for a host of other factors that lead to lower divorce rates, including the changing demographics, presence of immigrants - the semi-retirement of Tom Cruise and the ageing of Madonna and Demi Moore.  Who knows? Maybe they did, maybe they did not.  Taking such news at face value leads to nothing.  A meaningful conclusion can only result after sufficient evidence is pesented concerning all the control variables that may lead to a lower divorce rate.

On a slightly different note - baseball...???!!!!!  Does anyone watch baseball anymore?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Telugu cinema and Marketing

Obviously, I am interested in marketing.  My interest in telugu cinema has waned but I still keep track of what's been happening.  It seems to me that Tollywood is extremely good at one thing - making movies that appeals to the masses.  A market penetration strategy implying that growth can only come from showing people more of the same stuff or gettign them to watch the same stuff multiple times.  Given the content in telugu movies, this is what is happening.  Tollywood is market driven - they cater to the needs of the market much like firms that react to the environment.  Making more movies starring the Nadamuri clan that address various issues using a similar story line.  Sound similar?

What choice do they have? To be market driving - i.e., to define and create new markets through continuous innovation.  This implies that that producers rethink the role of the clan heroes, question the story lines and be creative.  There are a few who make movies in this genre - Varma, Vishwanath, Shekhar Kammula among others.  However, the pity is that their group is still in the minority.

Eventually, the mass market will lead to disaster.  Marketing principles dictate that only differentiation can lead to higher preference for a firm's offerings - there is future for good film-making.  Innovate or die.

Friday, March 06, 2009

An interesting conversation with a Chase customer rep

I came up with following script I intend to use one day with Chase.

I will probably be home and I will get the usual 1.00 PM call from Chase.  Yes, they do try to reach me every day at home at 1:00 PM to ask me the same thing - if I would like to join their Credit Protector program. It will finally get to me and when I answer the call .... read ahead.

Rep: Can I speak to Girish  Mallalallllllll (some incoherent babble trying to pronounce my last name)?
Me: Yes, this is Girish.  What is this call about?
Rep: I am calling from Chase to inform you about a new service.  Before that, I need to ask you a few questions.

Me: Please, go ahead.
Rep:  Can you please verify your name and address?
Me: I already told you my name.  I cannot verify my address because I don't know who you are.  How can I be sure you are from Chase?
Rep: Sir, I am calling from Chase.
Me: You just told me that. I want you to verify somehow that you are indeed calling from chase and that you are not some rip off.

Rep: But, Sir. We call our customers regularly.
Me: Yes Ma'm.  I know that. But what if you are not from Chase and I verify my name, address and social security number with you and you go an use that information to do something nasty?
Ok, let's do something.  Will you please verify my SSN?

Rep:  Sorry, sir. For security reasons I cannot reveal the information to you.

Me: Address?
Rep: Sir, I have told you.  I am not at liberty to share that with you.
Me: Ok.  Let me get it straight.  You will call me and without knowing who you are you want me to verify all my life's details with you.  Sorry, Ma'm.  I cannot go ahead with this call. And, plase do not call me ever unless you have soem way to verify that you are indeed Chase. Bye, now.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Not being born in the sixties..

My biggest complaint about not being born in the sixties is that I missed out on Jimi's guitar playing.  Watch him in action here.

A catharsis of sorts.  I do one of two things, when I lose interest with my everyday life.  Watch Jimi play the guitar on youtube or go and read Francisco d'Anconia's speech from Atlas Shrugged.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

If everyone gets into IIT who will drive my taxi

.. those words were uttered by Dr. Subba Rao, a physics teacher in my high school.  It was his wry sense of humor - poking fun at the banality of life. To give him credit, all he was saying that there are alternative careers and alternative means of making money than becoming engineers.

Much of the US economy depends on services and the argument was that labor was merely migrating to other means of generating returns as our society got efficient in allocating capital.  However, much of the high-end human talent pool that would have gone on to work in nuclear power plants, hydro-electric dams, neonatology, and particle physics was aspiring to work at Lehman, Goldman and Bear Sterns.  Intrinsically, there was no problem with it as long as we had a sizeable pool, portions of which did other things as well.  "Creating" things not merely "conjuring" things.

I am quoting Mr.Friedman from the Times,

As a country, too many of us stopped making money by making "stuff" and started making money from money — consumers making money out of rising home prices and using the profits to buy flat-screen TVs from China on their credit cards, and bankers making money by creating complex securities and leverage so more and more consumers could get in on the credit game.

I remember reading somewhere that much of the value in the last few decades has been created because of better management techniques and I partly agree with it.  The idea might have been oversold but much of the complex global financial landscape has been made possible by innovation in management techniques. However, what has resulted in the guise of financial innovation is merely "hiding" risk and passing the buck than managing it.  The simple marketing principle of keeping the customer at the center of the business has been discarded for the sake of financial returns.  Most firms have forgotten that if they delight the customer, and do it better than others that is the surest path to success - not hiding behind the greeks.  AIG is a classic example where the firm went looking for superior returns via areas that it did not directly understand.  Who were its customers? And, What was it really doing?  As Mr. Bernanke put it - it was a hedge fund riding on the back of an insurer.  The customers where on the insurance side of its business - so what was it doing hedging risk? Hedging risk might be a good thing - but if you are in business only to do that, then who will drive my taxi?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Scientific Freedom, Big Pharma and Detailing

I have never been a big fan of Big Pharma.  They act as if they save the world, but they are not doing a favor to anyone given they charge a fortune to provide us medicines.  They don't deserve any moral high ground.  Further, the more they interfere with free academic thought, the more one needs to be cautious.  I had commented a long time ago on the importance of freedom in academia.  I am reproducing it here.  The original comment is on Jagadguru's blog.

Your point also highlights something more deeper in research and incentives. A scientist needs to be truly "objective" and in that sense detached from the phenomenon and the findings. Research that is closely tied to output that can be monetized severely taints the objectives of the true scientific enterprise.

The tenure system in good universities exists so as to enable such researchers to pursue issues that might lack immediate monetary potential but have long range implications for the benefits of a broader audience.

Sure, academia has to collaborate with the industry - but monetizing research output should not be the only criterion for this collaboration. Industry can provide the necessary real world context for the theoretical models that academia develops and the academia can provide a deeper "causal" understanding of the real world that industry desperately needs.

Research has a much broader purpose that is beyond a few innovative ideas and a few researchers making money. It is to develop a deeper understanding of the real world and advance our understanding about ourselves in such a way that it increases social welfare in general.

I am also troubled with the increasing number of research articles being published in leading marketing academic journals on detailing.  Most often detailing is merely a count of the number of visits made by the sales rep.  I have had trouble placing this in a real world context where one can argue that (over) detailing actually causes more harm to consumers.  Physicians may over diagnose and prescribe medicines at the hint of vague symptoms.  Additionally, if you throw in all the possible associations between Big Pharma, sponsored research and the role of opinion leaders in physician networks - things don't look so good.

it is probably time that someone probes this issue taking a social welfare perspective and not merely the financial returns of Big Pharma or their innovation output.

Thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin...

Some of my research deals with communities - specifically those that are involved in developing open source products such as Linux.  My first published paper proposed a model through which the social capital of developers in such communities might influence the success of open source projects.  As an analogy, consider how things an entrepreneur starts might be successful based on who he is connected to in the VC network.  Makes sense, I hope.

In the following years I also followed developments among other communities a list that included Facebook, Wikipedia, Orkut, Linkedin, MySpace and Twitter.  I was never too impressed by MySpace or Orkut because they seemed like glorified personal webpages to me. I watched aghast as Murdoch's empire paid a huge sum for MySpace without a proper plan to monetize the value that resides in this community.  My curiosity in Linkedin is driven by how well their niche positioning paid off in creating a revenue model driven by subscription and focussed services to recruiters.  Further, they have also managed to generate a wealth of knowledge through their section on Q&A.  Facebook ha sits pluses and minues.  I see their ability to provide interfacing applications as the killer proposition; their inability to figure out an optimum way of leveraging the community connections to provide value for marketers is troubling.  Twitter - seems too superficial to become anything.

My favorite is Wikipedia.  It is a hybrid model with some rules and norms in place, yet it thrives on self-policing and self-organizing capabilities of organic networks.  Further, the underlying purpose of providing a platform for all the world's knowledge is huge and has no ultimate end to it.  That will keep Wikipedia goin on forever.  Wikipedia is also closer to home - open source crowds that participate without an expectation for monetary reward.  Manye have brushed aside such community models where there are no incentives to participate, only to watch in dismay as these models became successful.  Now, they scramble to explain why these models work.  They need to read Richard Stallman.

Networking sites need to figure out how to monetize the crowds.  Where there is a clear proposition, as in Linkedin, I see a great potential.  Those that lack focus and are merely meeting places for a lot of youngsters are flirting with financial doom.  There will be carnage in the social networking world and only few sites will survive. I am betting on Linkedin.

Transaction costs, Fair and Free Markets

I am a believer in fair capitalism not free capitalism.  I don't have any issues with firms and individuals earning unfettered returns to their talents - I myself have benefited from this ability to monetize one's own capital - intellectual or any other form.  However, I also think that there are reasons why oversight is needed, by insitutions, so that free capitalism results in unfair capitalism.

All of us have an incentive to deviate from rational behavior when 1) we realize there is no penalty to such deviance and 2) when there is a loophole that offers us cover to such deviance.  Given this inherent opportunism - something that firms like AIG exhibited so blatantly with a cost not just to the firm but to the entire networked economy, I don't see how rational calls for oversight can be shot down. To believe that firms/individuals will not run amuck and will stick to rules, is utopia. The market disaster reeking with corporate greed and consumer stupidity has more than eloquently established that oversight may not be a bad thing.

I belive that when there are disproportional returns to be made through deviant behavior - they will be made, by any means possible.  Whethere it is the CEOs of Citi, AIG and Countrywide making millions a year based on short-term profits or AIG's income division operating a hedge fund with its principals' money, it is clear that agents will deter from their expected behavior.  Additionally, all these agents who were supposedly acting on the behalf of their principals where only "acting" and in reality they were looking out for themselves.  The average shareholder has lost thousands of dollars whereas the average wall-street employee has made the same thousands in bonuses. Why shouldn't then, the principals call for more monitoring so as to reduce the harm caused by these agents?  The oversight has a name " transaction costs", and no matter how vilely the fiscal conservatives try to describe it - this word has an economic basis to it and is at the heart of all economic activity.  Transaction costs come in many forms and the reason they exist is because contracts between two parties - e.g., agreement betwen CEO and the shareholders, cannot be fully specified ex-ante and therefore require a certain degree fo monitoring to ensure that the agent does not deviate from expected behavior. 

If we think of oversight as a bad thing - are we arguing that contractual agreements between parties are frictionless? Isn't that utopia? The only way that I see one can shoot down the need for oversight is by establishing that all economic entities will be 1) rational and 2) not be opportunistic - things that go against all that we know about humans.

Too much rambling....

Monday, March 02, 2009

GOP: Searching for a voice and Mr. Limbaugh answers

Just heard Mr. Limbaugh's rant against Obama. It was atrocious - ironically it stands for two things, one very American and one very un-American. American in the manifestation of a citizen's right to stand up and rant against the President - something that is not easy in many democracies. And, un-American in its intolerance and hatred.

A hatred that has always been a never ending diatribe against progressive policies that are aimed at reducing inequality and reducing poverty in the country.

The republican party has received a much-deserved drubbing in the elections. Even states as red as NC, Iowa and Virginia have turned blue clearly indicating the tide of things to come in the future. Yet, people like Mr. Limbaugh think that it is their god-given gift to be loud-mouthed go on air ranting against how the country lost its course. They forget that the people's verdict was a vote "for" Mr. Obama's policies not against it. Not having a strong leader at the helm and more importantly having lost its "soul", the GOP is increasingly delineating itself from the mainstream public by turning to people like Mr. Limbaugh.

Support cutting taxes - and also support going to a two trillion war! I don't see how you can stick to the first and comfortably pay for the second! Anyways

From Hinduism to Atheism: One person at a time

I was brought up as a hindu. I had very little understanding of what that meant, but, I knew I had to observe many rituals, pray to many gods and eat a lot of offerings. My world was not my own but was determined by the many gods who decided my fortunes, problems, solutions, life and death. It was a bleak world indeed, one which I could not control.

Then, many things happened. At the end of it all, is the reality that I am an atheist now. I no longer believe that an elephant-headed god determines whether I run into problems or not. It was not an easy task accepting this eventuality. But, it sure was a great journey. A world that I can recognize as my own came into being with a denial of polytheism and paganism. However, the demons come back whenever things do not go as I planned them to be. However, I have decided that I will not let go the contro that I wrested with so much difficulty from the many gods of hindusim.

For me, this struggle is of control. A struggle in which I take a stance that I alone have control over my life and that, things I don't see or feel have absolutely no say in what happens in my life. It has taken a lot of effort and discipline.

Now, I am st a stage where I try to convert people I know. I argue, I fight and and I reason with people's beliefs. And, I have realized it is not as easy thing to do. everyone has a right to believe in what they choose and what they want to believe. I respect that right - however, I will still not refrain from questioning their belief. I do it with everyone within my social sphere and whenever I get a chance to do so.

I find it very difficult to face off against the very people who taught me my first prayers. My aunt and my mom. The early confrontations were difficult and filled with anguish. I almost felt I was betraying their upbringing. Now, I am comfortable taking a stance in the denial of an omnipresent god.

I realize that my belief that one's life is determined by one alone and not by the divine, is not an easy principle to live by. Additionally, who am I to say if this is the right belief? I don't know. However, what I do know is that many of the alternative beliefs have caused great damage and destruction in our world. Therefore, I will try my best to reason against these beliefs knowing fully well that it will not be an easy task. One person at a time, many like me, and maybe we will get there. Maybe we won't; at least some of us would have made an effort.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Random thoughts on Andhra politics.

Andhra's politics are on my mind. I had the misfortune of watching a clip of actress Roja speaking at a public function. I think it is time, we banish the woman to the land of Neptune and ask Thor to keep watch over her.

The kind of language the woman uses and the things she says on television are just abhorring. Local media is giving her so much coverage that I cannot figure out if they like her or if they are being satirical! Knowing the talent of local media in AP, I can only assume that they think she makes sense because she is loud-mouthed.

The problem in Andhra is that there is no political leader who makes sense. Maybe YSR, but the man frightens me. In general, every idiot who gets the stage gets attention. Mr.Naidu should be severely penalized in the elections for unleashing an evil such as Roja on the public. Her only objective seems to be bad-mouthing everyone. Second, the couple of Jeevitha and Rajasekhar must be banned as well. They have contributed nothing to the field of cinema and now they are here to represent the common man. It is a pity that winning elections is seen as a path to making money. I am sure they are planning how to purchase properties in Singapore if they win elections.

Finally, I plead that Balakrishna be banned as well. Anyone who has seen his movies will realize that the man does not belong to earth. A man who can stop a train with a thigh-slap and make it go back in a movie can cause immense damage to the fortunes of the state. For him the entire state is a stage and its denizens are merely audience.

The state has become a roadshow. Participation in movies seems to be the only ticket to politics. I am sure NTR would not be turning in his grave.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cooliris, Firefox and Safari

Open Source does beat everything else to the game! I was looking through my unused add-ons in Firefox and realized that I had application called cooliris that had the capability of 3-D visualization within Firefox and that I had actually used it before!
So, I guess Firefox still rules! Bye bye Safari.

Aishwarya bombs .. yet again

What do you get when you take Aishwarya Rai and throw her into a movie with some degree of international favor?

A dud.

She has that effect. She can somehow jinx any movie that has non-indian actors in it. I am not a big fan of her acting skills or even believe that she should be acting - have you seen her in the movie "Mistress of Spices"? I have had the misery of watching the movie and realized I have been a fool all along. I had a trick to cure me of all my evils in my very own spice - green peppers!

Pink Panther 2 is the latest in a series of Aishwarya Rai achievements. I sincerely feel she was the cause of failure. I don't know if there is a rational process which drives this effect, but it works every time she stars in a non-indian movie. I pray that the James Bond franchise takes this into account if/when they consider her.

Further, the husband-wife bonding is too strong in Indian films. Mrs. Bachchan is playing the role of Sita to her husband's Ravana. I don't know what to make of their cinematic relationship. Did the director feel so compelled that they should act in a movie and decided to cast her somehow in the movie. Or is it just that he feels she is too beautiful to be a demon king's wife and that is why she is cast as Sita? Whatever the case maybe, I am sick of seeing the two of them together in movies.

Thoughts on Andhra Politics

As elections approach many Indian states including Andhra Pradesh are gearing up for tough battles between parties. Andhra is interesting for many reasons - the first and foremost being that Congress is at its strongest in this state when compared to any other state in India. Second, and not any less important is that Chiranjeevi, a very popular movie star is in the election foray this time around.

Many of the comments below may not be factual. All the usual legal mumbo jumbo and disclaimers apply. This is my blog and I choose to express my own opinion on it :)

Andhra had been Congress' bastion for many years up until 1983 when NTR launched his Telugu Desam party and forever changed the dynamics of the state's political landscape. Caste politics ruled the roost for many years with TDP being dominated by the kammas and the Congress by the reddys - the dominant castes in Andhra. The roots of the dominance of these two parties lies in their hold over land and trade in the state.

Kammas are very strong in the coastal andhra region whereas reddys are primarily entrenched in the rayalaseema region. After winning the 1984 elections, NTR lost them in 1989 due to the failure of his populist schemes. The following 5 years were of great instability and the Congress party was not able to find a good leader who can take the helm. In 1994, not surprisingly NTR swept to power only to see Chandra Babu Naidu pull a coup and wrest the power from his hands.

After being marooned in his house and seeing all his family members abandon him NTR passed away eventually, leaving a legacy of charisma, vision, and caste politics. The period from 1994-99 was reasonably good for the state and not surprisingly, Mr. Naidu was reelected to power for a second term. Mr. Naidu was able to place Andhra at the leading edge of growth in India and soon AP became part of an elite set of progressive states that included Gujarat, Maharashtra, TN and Karnataka.

However, Mr. Naidu's shortsighted approach that was biased against rural development largely led to his loss in the 2004 elections. YSR came to power on the promises of rural development and has been able to deliver at least partly on the promises that he had made before the election.

In Late 2008, Chiranjeevi announced the formation of a new political party - Praja Rajyam. backed by his fans and well-wishers he set up a non-caste platform and started focusing on the development of masses as a message. Films and politics have always been intertwined in Andhra. NTR's legacy has left an indelible mark with the presence of so many junior and senior artists in the state's assembly. It continues with Chiranjeevi's entry and the subsequent entry of Rajasekhar, Jeevitha, Roja and a lot of other actors and actresses.

I cannot understand why we need so many movie stars as representatives. The local news channels and newspapers have done a terrible job of keeping the people informed about the policy implications of the agenda of various parties. Chiranjeevi has started on a fresh platform and can make a difference if sets up the right campaign that focuses on the challenges that are faced by the state. However, his message has not been clear with so many melodramatic people involved in his campaign. His brother Pavan Kalyan seems to run a campaign almost independently of his brother's -at least in execution. Maybe his magnetism will pull a lot of fans - but in reality fans are not voters!

In a way, I like a third front to Congress and TDP in Andhra because it decimates the caste divide, a legacy of these two parties. The Left has never been a strong presence in Andhra, except in districts where Naxals have sympathizers, and BJP is weak at its best with almost no appeal in coastal areas. Maybe it is driven by the religious make-up of the state. Many of the state's residents do not have strong religious affiliations and the smartha tradition, a weaker version of brahmanism, has been widely prevalent in the state. Moreover, being close to Tamil Nadu the state also seems to have rubbed off a lot of dravidian influence as well and over centuries has been a platform for other religions such as Buddhism and Islam.

At the end of it, it seems these are exciting and nervous times for the state. As I have said before elsewhere in my blog, Chiranjeevi has a good opportunity by I see him scuttling it by not being coherent in his message. He has a clear opportunity to make a difference by adopting a free-market agenda driven by rational economic thought and refrain from adopting populist schemes. He has to build up a scalable political machine that is disciplined and does not resort to melodrama like TDP does. He will be useful to the state as a powerful third front that is secular and pro-markets even if not in power.

Safari, Apple and Crowdsourcing

I am a browser freak!  I have close to 5 browsers installed on my laptop and I religiously update and upgrade them as new releases come out.  And, based on my experience I must admit that Apple deserves a bow.

I stick to using firefox when I am on XP.  However, I realized that on Windows 7, Firefox has a lot of issues and I am not sure why it does not load at all after a couple of weeks !

I installed Safari on Win 7 as soon as the 4.0 came out and it is amazing.  They have taken ipod's user interface and built the browser capabilities around it. The way safari handles search history is simply beautiful - it presents the search pages and bookmarks as what they call "cover flow".  It is similar to viewing music album covers in ipod touch or apps in iphone.  The navigator bar has a smooth fell to it and reminds you of the flipping motion that has become so popular with ipod users.

Apple's strength lies in its ability to match user needs to its product features. What amazes me is how much attention they pay to detail and how fanatically they follow this policy to its depths.

I was at a conference recently where I presented a research paper on product development cycle and factors that influence these stages. Raji Srinivasan, a friend and a professor at UT- Austin pointed out that maybe the iphone apps store is similar in concept to open source community models. That got me thinking - yes I can see some common DNA between the two in the sense that Apple has a base platform on which it open up a few APIs so that developers can write apps and sell it online to users.  The simplicity of the pricing policy and the relatively low cost of the apps is not being a problem for entrepreneurs because the mobile platform itself, ipod or the iphone is selling in huge numbers.  Apple has managed to pull off a user-driven innovation model after losing out to the Microsoft model of licensing computer manufacturers to use its OS on their hardware.

In principle, it seems to me that many of the crowd sourcing ideas have some common DNA.  At the heart of it lies the notion that users of a product or a service can be harnessed for idea generation, creativity and product management.  

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Leveraging crowds for innovation

I came across a very nice article on businessweek.com about this guy Luis von Ahn who has figured out a very clever way for harvesting community efforts. Luis was instrumental in creating the Captcha, the system that throws out an image of a word the letters of which that one has to read and type it in to prove "humanness" at websites. The system is based on Luis' thesis and is very efficient in keeping out bots from logging into websites or spambots from posting spam on online forums. Major websites including yahoo and google use this system to keep out bots.

Apparently, Luis figured that as so many internet users were interpreting images of words and transcribing them it could be employed to convert digital scans into text. What a wonderful mechanism to harvest users for innovation. I remember playing image identification games sponsored by Google when their image search facility was being launched. Clearly, this is good news for people thinking on innovative ways of tapping into the crowds!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Google turns another corner

Barely a fortnight ago Google pulled out of the business of placing ads in newspapers, a very under the radar announcement on which I blogged here.  Today, Google announced that it was pulling out of the radio business as well.

Whether this is good or bad news only time will tell.  One could argue that Google needs to focus on its core competency of placing ads on websites and continue to aggressively pursue its dominance in that market.  However, what is troubling is that Google has not been able to monetize any of its other offerings successfully. The much hyped Youtube acquisition is yet to turn profitable and websites like Hulu that came up later have shown by staying away from user-generated content you could attract advertisers and make money.

It is too early to give up hope on Google.  They have the talent and the resources to keep it going until they figure it out.  I hope it is no the beginnign of the end of their growth period.

Open Source Nationalism

All that a country like Cuba needs is its own operating system! Open source as they say gives freedom of choice and I guess Cuba did the right thing by challenging the notion that the world begins and ends with Microsoft.  If there is one reason that I like the Cuban Nationalism for then this should be it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A fair denial

I was watching an episode on Nova on UNC TV that showed the details of the court battle concerning intelligent design. The more I think about it the more it seems fair to me that people who deny science to accept religion as their savior should be denied the bnefits of science in their everyday life. The intelligent design folks should be asked to go their creator for a cure to cancer or to AIDS. On a similar note, the republicans shoudl be denied the benefits of the bailout package as they opposed it - an idea touted by Stephen Colbert as well!

Why should such people who deny or oppose certain ideas be given the benefits of the ideas themselves. The extreme free market funamentalists who believe government can only play a negative role should be allowed to fend for themselves in the absence of a market structure that the government helps support. So and so forth .. deny the benefits to those who make those arguments based on the very benefits they receive.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Kindle user and the early loser

Amazon announced today that it was launching the second version of its reading device - Kindle.  I knew this was coming and that I might end up being the loser !
 I got the first version of the Kindle back in August 2008 and fell in love with it.  Being an avid reader, I just loved Kindle's one important capability - access to Amazon wirelessly.  I could browse books and download them from Amazon's website very efficiently.  Additionally, the availbility of magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, Time and Newsweek really upped the ante.

However, I had to tradeoff being an early adopter of the first generation device or buy it once it gets better in the second or the third generation. For once, I chose to be the first, and although I feel like a loser, I am still happy I am the first loser!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hollywood: Failing to innovate and fighting a futile battle

I am not a proponent of piracy.  However, I am no fan of media firms trying to fight a war against piracy which they will eventually loose.  The music industry has brought upon itself a downfall that started with its strategy of selling CDs with one single hit and junk music.  they failed to recognize that the rise of napster was a direct consequence of such short-sighted policies.  Eventually, time caught up as Apple innovated first launched the killer ipod-itunes combination. The battle for the music listening customer was won by a elecronics manufacturer and not a music industry incumbent.

Hollywood needs to learn from the music industry's mistakes.  If they continue to pursue piarcy instead of trying to figure out alterantive models of entertainemnet consumption, they will soon go the way of the many failed music firms. As broadband gets faster and more consumers get it, the easier will it be to download entire films or watch them online. The only thing that saves Hollywood is the cinematic experience that comes from visiting the theatres.True, it is a big advanatge and surely it will not go away soon. However, the trend clearly shows that increasingly households are becoming the centers for consumption of entertainemnt as a whole - the rise of netflix, PS3, Xbox Live and Wii re early indicators of a big convergence occuring across multiple product categories.  The sonner film houses realize this and adapt to the change the better.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Why can't some firms innovate for the better

A simple rule like not allowing an adult lookup the profile of someone under the age of 18 seems sensible on a social networking site.  I don't think one should even call this innovation.  It is appropriate product/service design. Yet, the internet's largest social networking site does not get it right the first time. It took a couple of state attorney general's to intervene before they implemented this rule.

Now, these websites have purged more than 90,000 sex offenders from their rosters.  A very infamous distinction to have them in the first place. 

More importantly, the parent firm of msypace.com owned by Rupert Murdoch also runs that foul-mouthed conservative news channel called Fox News.  The kind of "morals" and conservative "ideals" they discuss so much on their conservative shows do not agree with what myspace.com has been doing.  I wonder how they reconcile such things.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hyderabad: A very dubious distinction

Andhra Pradesh is often touted as one of the role model states that have managed to leverage the power of the IT sector to bootstrap themselves from perpetual misery.  However, what many don't know is that Andhra has two of the largest industrial development centers, outside of Gujarat - Jeedimetla and Patancheru are one of the largest industrial hubs in India. Thousands of small to medium sized industrial firms create thousands of jobs and spew out tons of poisonous chemicals.

A new study by a swedish university finds  alarming levels of antibiotics in the drinking water supplies for people living in the surrounding areas. The area could be called the world's supplier of Ciproflaxin as per the report.  

Clearly, a disaster similar to what is happening in much of China is playing out at a smaller scale here.  The Andhra government takes great pride in the fact that provide good governance due to their IT friendly policies. Much needs to be done on basic issues such as ensuring that all citizens get access to basic necessities, at least good drinking water and air.  They have failed miserably in this measure.

i hope something gets done quickly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Google turns a corner?

I have nothing against Google. I admire them for the way they took a simple concept and turned it to everyone's advantage, in the process making many rich, and some extremely rich. Honestly, the only thing I hate about them is that I chose not to buy the shares at 85 USD.

However, I always hope there will be a day when Google's share price will fall to a level at which it will seem more attractive. Maybe there's hope and in that context an interesting bit of news reported on NYT caught my eye today. Google's foray into newspaper ad placements seems a failure. When it was launched, it was touted as the next big revolution - most of the hype coming from wall street analysts and not people in the business. A very common thing of the bull market era when every bit of news was analyzed and gains made, when in reality it meant very little in terms of real business impact.

Well it might seem that this failure shouldn't be much of a problem as many advertisers have already turned their eye to the Internet as a stable medium, making it the focus of the ad-placement wars. Here, Google rules the roost and hence, this failure with print ads might not seem like an issue.

However, Google's growth is always under a threat by some start-up that is surely going to sweep it aside in the next wave of technological evolution. The real question is when and how? If you ask me, we have only begun to exploit the real power of connectivity. The threat may come from some hot start-up that figures out a way of monetizing social networks, or maybe something else, but it will surely come. The other big problem that Google has is its source of revenues. It is still heavily dependent on one single stream - search ad placements and other than that Google has been largely unsuccessful in monetizing any of its other cool applications. I am sure the Google team is working on many more cool apps, however, their killer app still seems to be search. Given this, does this failure give any indication of Google's fortunes? Or, is it just another one of Google's missteps? Only time will tell.

There is definite potential for Google in its foray into software through android and the subsequent implications for open source hardware. With the growth of mobile web applications and Google's dominance over information and mapping, surely there will be a way to make money there. Additionally, Google's expertise in managing large server farms efficiently might give it an edge when cloud computing gains prominence in corporate IT budgets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Windows 7: First Impressions

So far, so good.
I was able to download the .iso file which was about 2.7 GB from the Microsoft downloads site before it started getting crowded yesterday. Today afternoon I downloaded GParted Live and used it to reorganize the partitions on మై hard drive. I made sure that the new partition I created was NTFS and let my old 120 GB partition hold the Win XP. I also left about 20 gigs for a fresh new ubuntu install :)

I was surprised that the ఎంతిరె Win 7 installation process took only about 15-20 minutes and there were no glitches. My hardware is fairly old - 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with about 3 Gigs of DDR SODIMM Ram on it. An ATI card with 128 MB RAM is the hardware for the graphics.
The OS installed nicely and a small nifty dialogue screen that popped up suggested I consider some anti-virus software for Win 7. LO and behold, in the next screen I saw trial anti-virus offerings for Win 7. Microsoft managed to pull off some nice freebies with Kaspersky, AVG and Norton. I went with Kaspersky due to prior bad experiences with Norton 360.
I am keeping my fingers crossed for Win 7. I have never laid a finger on Vista so far and I don't intend to. i think there is some good things here. I hope Microsoft does not mess it up. Finally, I still say I root for Ubuntu .... it has a much slicker interface.

Political Disaster in Andhra

Playing the role of a hero in a movie is different from running a apolitical campaign. My hopes of Chiranjeevi actually making a difference in the political scene are ebbing by the day. I had hoped for good things from him not because I am a "fan", but because I wanted a third front to the caste dominated corrupt politics of Congress and TDP in Andhra.

Chiranjeevi's praja rajyam party seemed to provide that third secular front without any ties to castes. Chiranjeevi's political pitch concerning the downtrodden and their upliftment seemed like a good idea to win the election. However, Chiranjeevi has so far shown little or no leadership in terms of marshaling his resources. He still attracts major crowds - there is no doubt in that. However, based on some news reports it seems like he has no clue how to manage an organization. It is not enough to cheer up a crowd with promises. A political leader shoudl also know how to be a smart negotiator and an able judge of people.

Being a good judge is important because Chiranjeevi has a lot of well-wishers. But, being a well wisher does not mean they are going to be a sound advise giver. Politics are complicated and they need a lot of thinking and honestly I think Chiranjeevi has the charisma but lacks the intellectual horsepower to hold the campaign.

If Chiranjeevi has to make an impact as I believe he wants, he needs to get his act straight. The path is clear - hire sound managers, people who have experience running large teams to manage the campaign. Pay them well. Approach the whole thing in a sound systematic way and there will surely be success. Hire people with sound economic training and the street smarts who will hold the flanks from running amok. Managing the herd is important for Chiranjeevi - now that he has got the herd.

News media is terrible when it comes to Andhra politics.
Surprisingly, there is not much of independent news. The major vernacular newspaper Eenadu is biased towards a particular party and the English dailies fail to capture the nuances of regional politics. Moreover, Deccan is very Hyderabad centric and the other big papers just do not have a grasp about the regional dynamics in Andhra. Blogging is yet to have an impact on the Andhra political scene.

The public do not have access to good independent analysis of the agendas being put out by various political parties. The TV news channels are noisy and seek drama more than intelligent analysis of the issues.

As it is common in India, most parties do not say anything to the detail in their election agenda. Most of what they say remains as false promises.

Clearly, there is an opportunity for Chiranjeevi to get a sound message across the state. A clear simply crystallized message should get him to power or at least hold the balance of power. Getting thsi message is tough. He has what no one else has - a fresh start and the raw materials to start a new era. Something that does not coem by every election cycle. Additionally, he has the public's support, the charisma and the will to make a difference. I hope he has the smarts to pull it off.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kubuntu, Ubuntu and speeding up my laptop

For the last one month I had been struggling with my laptop. Specifically with its ability to connect to my broadband net connection. Webpages were loading incredibly slowly and initially I figured there must be malware on my laptop, although I doubted that as I am extremely careful with the sites I browse and because I use strong anti-virus detection software. Just to be sure, I scanned my laptop and as per my assumption found nothing. I tried various other things I knew, looking for updates to my wireless card, check for hardware issues using PC Doctor, among other things. No issues.

Finally, I gave up and started using Linux more. I have both Kubuntu and ubuntu loaded through Wubi on my laptop and my hardware works beautifully with both. The wireless card is upto its peak speed and the internet is back again! What more can I say?

Chiru's new policy idea

Andhra has no hope, or so does it seem. I guess I was wrong in hoping that a popular movie star like Chiranjeevi will make a difference in politics. I was always skeptical of movie stars entering politics. However, I had hoped that with Chiranjeevi's entry there would be new competition to the dynastic tendencies of both Congress and TDP. The only fear I had was that Chiranjeevi might surround himself with too many actors - novices in public policy, and cause more harm than good.

Recent news is indicating that this is what is exactly happening. Chiranjeevi announced that if his party came into power, he would launch a new scheme - vandake vantinti saruku. Based on the popular 2 kg rice scheme of TDP, this stupid idea is surely going to lead to Andhra's bankruptcy if not anything. Additionally, it also shows that Chiranjeevi has been no different in terms of adopting a sound approach to managing his campaign.

His entry into politics has only lead to more movie stars taking sides and no real policy stance changes from anyone. All the news media is obsessed with movie stars and how they are campaigning, but no one is focusing on the real problems faced by the state. A new website akhilandhra.com is showing some promise in this regard. Some of the opinions written on this website are very straightforward and surprisingly the analysis is quite good.

Additionally, I even stopped having any pity for the electorate. They deserve bad governance because they chose to elect useless leaders. Chiranjeevi still has hope. He needs to get his act straight by appointing people with sound credentials to his team and not his brother-in-law and his brother. The biggest problems facing the state cannot be solved by talking about the downtrodden and giving lectures based on movie roles. Those are good to cheer up a crowd to get votes. If these speeches are backed by a sound approach to policy decisions and new ideas about cleaning out corruption and all the real estate mafia that currently exists in the state, there will be some hope for Andhra. Otherwise, Andhra will be another Bihar - except that we will have movie stars instead of Lallu at the helm.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

R: A not so silent revolution

Many people don't know what R is. However, things are changing fast for a simple open source software that has long been known to graduate students in technical programs and PhD students at many universities. R is an open source statistical software program originally developed by academic researchers. It is robust, flexible and more importantly it allows anyone interested in statistical analysis to have access to the latest in computing solutions through a simple user interface. The beauty of R is that it comes packaged with the community's knowledge. Apart from the meticulously maintained email archives, forums and FAQs a user can download and use thousands of "packages" or routines that have been written by the community.

There is a package for every possible statistical scenario that even a sophisticated user might need. If the problem is too specific then one can either program the solution from scratch or use one of the existing packages as the starting point to build a new solution. The beauty of open source allows for these modifications. Additionally, majority of the packages come with detailed user manuals as well. This article on NYT reports on the ubiquitous presence of R in organizations such as Google. A majority of technically savvy engineers and programmers have been trained on R. Graduate course work in many universities uses R as a programming tool for every conceivable task. This has helped spawn a new generation of programmers who are beginning to use R as a tool at firm like Google which needs to sift through trillions of bits of data. Sophisticated models can then be used to analyze such data for generating BI.

Increasingly, firms will face an overload of information and merely collecting and storing data cannot bestow competitive advantages. Large firms are at an advantage because they will have the resources to buy and use proprietary software tools that will allow them to analyze massive amounts of information and hopefully generate BI. However, there will be millions of small and medium sized firms that will not have such a luxury. Tools such as R will allow them to do so.