Disclaimer Generation

This is my opinion, based on my research and preferences. You should do your own, to figure out, yours.

I overheard a young man say this to his father last weekend. Somehow, it just stuck inside my mind, and kept coming back. Today morning, I thought about it a little more. I stepped back, and realised that, I do this too. With family, with friends, with colleagues, with everybody. Step back yourself, and think for just a minute, on how you respond, when someone asks you for an opinion.

We are currently a generation, which gives opinions and recommendations, only with disclaimers. We are afraid of telling it as what it is. We are afraid of people coming back and saying – “you said so.”. I don’t remember it being so hesitant, when I was growing up. There are so many things, that I have done, because I trusted someone’s opinion, went to them, asked for the opinion, and just did exactly this.

Now, where am I coming to, with this? Is this a bad thing? Probably not. The newer generation is becoming more aware. They are making more informed decisions. However, I am just a little sad, that the trust factor is diminishing. Every time, I say, “This is my opinion, you should also do your checks”, it kind of feels like, I am washing it off of me.

What do you guys think?

Solar for the home

Disclaimer: I am no expert in Solar power generation, nor am I an Electrical Engineer. So what I am about to request/propose might be the most absurdest thing – but for me, ignorance is bliss, and I shall propose.

The biggest problem that I see about solar power is that it is available only during the day and that is not the time we consume most of the power at home (work-places is a different issue – I am addressing only homes here). We need a lot more power at night to light up our homes, drive our fans and ACs, and our televisions, and routers and what not. And for doing this, we need to store this energy in batteries.

A premise that I make here is that a lot of us have inverters and they have batteries in them. But with this inverter arrangement, while we keep our batteries fully charged, we use them only if we lose power. Else it is lying unused (dormant).

1. Decouple the battery from the inverter.

2. Split wiring at home into low load and high load. For those who are using an inverter, this would have already been done by now. Keep the high load circuit on direct power (from the utility company).

3. Charge the battery during the day using solar panels. Once the battery is fully charged, divert solar power to the low load circuit to run any day time uses such as fans, TVs etc.

4. For night time power in the low load circuit, use the power stored in the battery. If the battery goes below a certain threshold, switch to main line from utility power company. If there is still power in the battery, even after day breaks the next day, continue using power from battery, switch to utility company only after battery discharges

Couple of advantages that I see here:

1. We use the power that we generate in the day time first, and then, only if needed switch to main line power in the night. So there is definitely a big component of night time power consumption that is offset. If load is low, we can perhaps offset some day time power consumption too.

2. A battery that is charged and discharged continuously lasts longer.

While a lot of this is based on my imagination, I am pretty sure this is doable in the realm of current age electrical circuitry. 

My question: Has someone done this already? Any commercial solutions? 


Twitter Trends – UI Change?

A little while ago, I wrote a post on the awesome new feature in twitter web UI, the quote-and-RT. I am loving it But before the euphoria died down, I just noticed that, twitter has made yet another UI (or maybe trying out on a subset population). When I log in to twitter today morning, I see a dense trends column on the left side of my screen.

2015-04-23 10_17_24-(8) Twitter

To be honest, I do not remember where the trends column used to be before – I rarely look at what is trending. But today seemed to be different. I noticed it because it is crowded and ugly. It is crowded because of the extra text below the actual hashtag. It distracts me from my timeline.

The fact that I never used to look at the trends (and hence did not let it affect/influence) my conversations on the timeline, makes it even harder for me now.

There is definitely a cognitive distraction that is happening here and I am not liking it. Are any of my readers seeing this as well? Are you OK with this?

And deep inside me, there is one more fear in me. Was this a means to drive people towards trending phrases – which could potentially be sponsored. If so, this is nothing short of discrete native advertising. Not that I am saying it is wrong to do advertising (twitter is a publicly listed company after all, and it has to make money), but hopefully not at the cost of distracted users. The last time something like that happened to me was when there used to be these blinking bling pop-up ads on webpages.

Now, has someone written an extension to hide the trends column?

Update: Ok, I found a way to get it back to normal. Click on the ‘Change’  next to the trends. It will ask you for which city you want trends for. Type in your location. There is a button called “Tailored Trends”. Do not click on that button, and just click Done. It will go back to a shorter trends column with just hashtags. Phew.

You lost me, Faasos

Faasos was one restaurant chain which I really wanted to succeed (with me!). I do not really care for it to succeed for everybody. These things are very individual. I loved their wraps the first time I tried them a year or two ago. They were in a much smaller scale. Their phone ordering was good. Their packaging was pretty damned good. Neat small rectangular cardboard boxes the size of the wraps, so that they stay in shape. Then they brought online ordering. They brought an app. Their messaging was funky.

They had it all going for them (for me!)  except for the key ingredient that I deeply care for – service. The first thing you notice when you order online, which seemed to be a flawless workflow was that, after you confirm your order, a message appears in the last screen that, the 20 minute guarantee does not hold good for online orders. Well, that is cheating in my regards, if you tell me that, after I have submitted the order.

Ok. Most phone orders that I place, do not have any guarantees, except for Dominos. So if it is not 20 minutes, I thought it would be 30-40 minutes. I was willing to wait.

I ordered, and got an SMS confirmation stating which store my order had gone to. It was amusing because there is a store (Koramangala Sonyworld) which is way nearer than the store that it was allocated to (Koramangala JNC). I didnt think too much about it because the further store was still slightly less than 2km.

40 minutes pass. I get hungry. I tweet out to @faasos asking for status. I get a “We are looking into asap” response message.

I decide to go back to the webpage. There is a nice track order section in the webpage, which asks for my order number. Hmm. Now where do I get that. The confirmation SMS did not have that. So I cannot track now either.

It is now an hour and I am getting hungrier. So I decide to call the store. The store goes into a dull “All customers are busy. Please hold the line” message for 4 minutes. I cut and call again. I hold 6 minutes. Same treatment.

I go back to the webpage to see if there is any other alternate contact number. Nothing zilch. Meanwhile, I have started tweeting my discontent. No response at all.

It is hour and 20 minutes and I give @Faasos 10 minutes time on twitter after which I would send back the order.

10 minutes later, I pick up my wallet and phone and leave the house to go somewhere and eat. I meet the delivery guy sauntering in near the gate of my complex. He claims that he rushed here in 5 minutes. I send him back. I tell him, I have nothing against him, but this is something to voice my displeasure at the company. I also show him the SMS that I received an hour and half ago, so that he can go and show it to his bosses.

The surprising thing is, a year ago, I had exactly the same thing happened to me. Secretly, I was wishing they had improved. I guess not. And now, I have lost faith completely.


Aur Dikhao – Bordering on Linguistic Chauvinism?

I recently noticed something awkward when I was searching for a product in amazon.in. I had searched for USB hubs and when I scrolled down to the bottom of the list, I saw this:


As much as a nationalist that I am, as much as I am pragmatic to think a common language of communication is a good idea, I feel that this would go against the grain for a significant population of online India.

While the fact that Hindi is India’s national language itself is a contentious issue, I cannot imagine, how an online market place platform such as amazon can generalize and use a non-English phrase in a website which is mostly English otherwise.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not an anti-Hindi person, while most people who have read my name and figured out that I am from South India, have already stereotyped/judged me. I am proud of the fact that there is atleast one incident in a month, where a colleague/acquaintance mistakes me for a “North Indian”. Yes, I speak fairly good colloquial hindi.

Getting back to the issue at hand, I am wondering what the Program Manager, who was handling this campaign was thinking. Hindi is one of several tens of languages in India. Was there an intent to do some data mining and show this Hindi term only for some demographics? Or was it for all? I have worked in an online search entity before, and I know you can do magic like that. In a country like India, linguistic patriotism runs deep in the blood – to the extent, that the first partitioning of the states was done on the basis of language spoken.

In India (as in other areas such as Switzerland), it is not a question of whether a user understands the meaning of “Aur Dikhao”. The user would know the meaning and still pretend not know and judge the portal for being linguistically chauvinistic.

Amazon, please be inclusive and remove this abomination of an anomaly. If you really wish to do this, translate the entire damn page into Hindi. And while you are it, translate it also into Tamizh, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, and the two dozen more ‘predominant’ languages of India.

On Flipkart and Dabbawalas

I read an article today that Flipkart is beginning to work with the famous Dabbawalas of Mumbai for last mile delivery. The efficiency of these tiffin box carriers of Mumbai has been lauded so much that there is even an Harvard Business Review Case Study on them. Much has been written about these men who wear the white cotton kurtas and ensure hot food from homes reach office goers at the perfect time. In other words, it is a classic example of a supply chain model which has been perfected over the years.

So, now on to todays news of Flipkart and their tie-up with the dabbawalas. Apparently at this moment in time, this is in pilot, and a group of dabbawalas are being trained for delivery. Initially they would only be handling orders that are already paid for (would not be handling COD).

This is a pretty innovative thing that Flipkart is getting into. I see several areas where both Flipkart and the dabbawalas can mutually benefit from such a tie-up.

Additional income for the dabbawalas: This is probably the one that bubbles up first. The dabbawalas current schedule mostly works in 2 spikes. One spike to delivery the dabbas from home to offices, and the other to collect the dabbas back from the offices and deliver it back to home. The other times are pretty much open to them to earn additional income.

Additional delivery people for Flipkart: They can choose to be the ‘uber’ of delivery-men. Let me elaborate here. When dabbawalas have their spike time done, and they are free, they can intimate to flipkart, that they are free and for how long. If the logistics and supply chain software is able to allot him a ‘ride’ or a ‘job’ that can be executed within that time, and he is comfortable with it, he can pick it up, and deliver it. This creates an additional pool of delivery people for flipkart. (Another pilot is happening in Bangalore with Flipkart trying a crowd-sourced delivery model). 

Processes knowledge sharing: The dabbawalas have perfected the art of sorting, colour-coding, and routing, within a congested city like Mumbai. If they have arrived at this amazing process, which works in a chaotic environment like Mumbai (and mostly using either public transportation or low-key transportation such as bicycles), this model can be replicated in many other cities.

At the end of the day, what the dabbawalas do is to pick up dabba from point X and deliver it to point Y. Isnt this what Flipkart does too, in its last mile delivery – pick up package from Flipkart distribution center  at location X, and drop off at location Y (customer)?

This may not be only one way. For all you know, Ekart (which is the delivery wing of Flipkart) may have come up with some processes as well, which uses more modern tech and the use of sophisticated algorithms. It is very well possible that some of this might end up being beneficial in automating processes in the dabbawala community. An immediate example that comes me is bar-coding stickers instead of the traditional color coding.

Dabba delivery as a business: Well, who knows. If this proves lucrative and serves multiple purposes such as delivery on the way, flipkart might even get on to it.

Food delivery: If you replace the origin of the dabba from home to a restaurant, you have food delivery. If you replace restaurant to a catering service, you have a subscription based tiffin service.

The possibilities are endless…


Don’t do their work!

–Rant alert–

I have ranted a little bit about the implementation approach of the Swachh Bharath campaign by some folks earlier, but it looks like the line is being crossed (literally) in some situations.

Spot cleaning: I am OK with spot cleaning. There are some spots which look super super shabby and the municipality/corporation has been ignoring because it has crossed the threshold (not that I am OK with them ignoring). Spot cleaning and get it to square zero is a good way to get them to a fresh start. This has worked in quite a few places. The municipality and the public takes it up from then on and ‘maintains’ this now clean place.

Traffic woes: More recently an upmarket locale in Bangalore (which has their own very active FB group) decided that the traffic has just gone haywire and requested the Bangalore police for some action. They met with the Commissioner and other officials and presented their plight. The Bangalore police from their end analyzed the situation and has made a proposal to fix the traffic problems by introducing/removing some turns on the congested area. I am fine with this too. In fact, this is probably the right approach. You present the problem to the civic agency and they hopefully help you out. The efficacy of the response or the speed at which they respond to your suggestion is a different story, and is dependent on if you have some heavy influencers in your group. But, having said that, this is the right approach.

Showing respect and friendship to the civic workers: Well, this may get a little touchy, but hey, I am fine with this too. A few residents wanted to show how much they appreciate the civic workers that they helped them on one day by sweeping the streets with them (or laying the roads with them) and bought them snacks/food etc. They communicated how much respect they have their service etc. How much, this is scalable, is another question. But, sure, this was a humane gesture.

DIY – Do it yourself: This is where my problems start. A group recently thought a pot hole in an area was never fixed attempted to fix this by getting their concrete and gravel and a pickup truck. A couple of rains later, the pothole was back. Then they attempted to fix it again. I don’t know what the current state is. But hey, this is something best left to the experts. They know how to do it. Whether they do it right or not is a different question, but this is not something each one of us can go and undertake and do it. This is not scalable. We do not have the right equipment, nor technology, nor the know-how. Also, one of my friends pointed out, one plausible outcome of this is the continued negligence of the civic authorities. Why should they do it, when the residents are doing stuff themselves? Why, for all you know, they showed some bills for fixing it, and made some money themselves too.

Urban planning – Dangerous: Last but not the least, today morning, I read an FB post, where some folks just got together and painted a zebra crossing. What the ???? This is dangerous. There is science behind where a zebra crossing needs to be. There is science behind how that can be monitored. Again, how well, these are done is not my question. It is up to the civic authorities to do this. In fact, it is a combination of multiple departments. The traffic police needs to approve this too. And hey, today was a zebra crossing, can I please get a speed bump in front of my house. I don’t like the way folks are driving on my road. By the way, I have some extra money, can I also put up my own signal?

We all need to get together. We all need to take responsibility. We all need to be the change we want. But this is not the way to do it.

Instead let us:

  • Stop ignoring problems and get in touch with the civic authorities and get them to fix it. If it does not get done, escalate it, Or help them fix it.
  • Have empathy to civic authorities first.
  • Keep our surroundings clean from now on. Do not litter, spit etc.
  • Follow traffic rules and avoid road rage.
  • Help and be sensitive to other folks.

So what, if you work for the Government …

I thoroughly get bugged when I see bumper stickers (or rear windshield stickers) which proclaim what industry you are in.

So what if you work in the government? Do you have the sticker on so that the police should not catch you if you do not heed the traffic rules? If not why?

So what if you work for the government? Do you need preferential treatment? Why? If you need to prove your identity to get ‘things done’, you have already defeated the whole purpose. It means your governance is so bad that, you get things done, only if you have that sticker or the metal plate.

So what if someone you know or even you, are in the army. I have huge respect for folks in uniform. Please don’t ruin it for me. I have had several people actually tell me that, they have the sticker so that the police do not ‘bother’ them. (Remember regular police cannot slap charges on these folks – only military police can).

So what if you are an advocate, are you threatening me that, if I get into an accident or altercation with you, you will drag me to court? Are you trying to tell me that you are a big guy? What is the purpose of that bow tie sticker on your vehicle. I am sure that is not a vehicle pass that lets you into court. You do have some other form of identification. Then what is the need for the neck tie sticker.

I dont even agree with the police sticker. I have seen folks who are software engineers riding bikes with a ‘Police’ sticker. When asked, they would give some vague answer as, their brother, who is an office, occasionally take their bike, but mostly it is so that, police do not ‘bother’ them. Wow. It bothers me though. If a police officer is really rushing to a place where he is urgently required, either he would be riding an official vehicle, run through traffic like Keanu Reaves, or grab some random persons car in the middle of the road like Chris Tucker. He is not riding his brothers bike.

The one profession sticker that I think ‘could’ potentially be useful is the doctor sticker. Even there, I use could the phrase “potentially” because this need not be the case all the time. But then I am willing to take the extreme case in this one. Perhaps, being a doctor, there may be times when you have to rush to a hospital to which you have been summoned.

Maybe I should just adjust maadi and make this sticker for myself:


But then this would probably ensure that I get flagged by the police more. *Sigh*



A different take on Swacch Bharath

(pic source: news.oneindia.in)
(pic source: news.oneindia.in)

I have been thinking about this Swachh Bharath Abhiyaan that is the “in-thing” nowadays. For those who have been living under a rock for the last 2 months, this is the initiative kicked off by our PM – Narendra Modi – which encourages people to take on a pledge to ‘clean our India’ by spending atleast 2 hours per week. He said his characteristic fervour and said if our ‘sava sow karod desh vaasiyon’ (1.25 crore people of India) each do their bit, our country would be sparkling clean. Very noble initiative, I must say. And yes, we need to do something about our state of the country with respect to cleanliness. It is a mess. And sure, no other PM has ever touched this subject. So it is commendable.

But I digress, let me get back to my thoughts. As much as I think it is a great initiative, it is my personal belief that the implementation methodology might be slightly flawed. Again, disclaimer, I stress on the words “I think” and “my personal belief”. I would love to be proved wrong.

Ever since the initiative started, there have been challenges that have taken place on celebrities who have awkwardly held brooms that they have never held in their hands before, and made pretenses of cleaning a bit of a street (here, here, here, and several more). Our PM did a good job – probably because he had done this kind of thing during his RSS days. My problem fundamentally boils down to two things:

The scale of garbage and junk in our country is way more than can be handled by how many ever people awkwardly wielding brooms, wearing green gloves, and a black plastic garbage bag in hand. It is not a scalable solution.

If the people are going to be cleaning, what are the corporations going to be doing? Are there any initiatives that have percolated down to the Municipal corporations? Atleast I have not seen any change in the BBMP or in the Chennai Municipal Corporations. These fine folk have the equipment, the machinery, and the skilled manpower to handle garbage. Given adequate direction and incentives, they can bring about change that the billion of us cannot achieve together.

Ok, I now see the dozen of you come forward quoting the fabled – “Ask not what the country does for you .. blah blah”. I agree. But be practical. More practical would be the case, where there is a massive drive by the Government with the corporations, panchayats, municipalities (all working together), perhaps even with participation from the public (the ambanis, khans, and the rest of us mango folk too) – and then, the Government says – Now, you sava sow karod vaasiyon, we have given you a clean slate to begin with. We are now giving you a methodology for waste disposal. We are giving you these laws by which we can punish the wrong-doers. Now, do you bit, in preserving this beauty.

Now, you may say, is this scalable? Is such a massive drive even possible? Give it some thought. This does not need happen over night on one day throughout the country. National Clean Our Garbage Day. NO sir. That will not happen, and does not scale. But as a good software engineer will tell you, start incrementally. Start working on portions of a city. It has been proven possible. I have read articles about Surat doing it. I have seen parts of  Electronic City (In Bangalore) do it (the IT companies partly fund this). I have seen portions of Coimbatore like this. In short, I have seen this in all places where there is a good corporator.

In short, get a concerted effort by the government (multiple bodies working together and perhaps public participation) to do a first sweep cleanliness drive. Then work with the public to ‘keep’ it that way. Formalize processes for waste segregation and waste disposal. Impose regulations and penalties. That is the way to go IMHO.