Sunday, February 03, 2002

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Thursday, November 22, 2001

BUSINESS LESSONS FROM A BANIA: Late last night, I pulled up at a small grocery store in a dingy lane near home. "Half-dozen eggs, please", I demanded, with visions of an omlette fantastique taking shape inside my head.

"Ek minute ruko saab", said the bania, turning to his flunk. "Chotu, Ahmed ke dukan se ande lekar aare...", he instructed. And when Chotu was on his errand, our man struck up a conversation. "New to this, area, sir?" No, I wasn't. "But you stay in Grinfields?" Yep. "We also give home deliv-ree of atta, oil, vagairah, saab. Take my vijiting card.", he said, just as Chotu reappeared. "Myself, Kalpace."

The point is, Kalpesh Patel (whose store does not even stock eggs) could have just pointed me to Ahmed's. But with a simple gesture, he has earned enormous goodwill and (at least) some of my business.

Now, what customer delight lessons can Big Business learn from our bania?
MORE BRITISH THAN BRITISH: Raj Singh Dungarpur may be the only Indian supporting Mike Denness. "Our boys had it coming" is what he told Wisden.

Interesting fellow, this Dungarpur is. In donkeys' years in charge of the BCCI, the best thing he has done for Indian cricket is to ask Azharuddin, "Mian, Captain Banoge?" What other contributions? A very public spat with Sunny Gavaskar, publicly telling Dravid to be ready to replace Ganguly as captain, and attempts to keep Indian cricket in the colonial age.

And yet, I know he is not a mean, petty politician. I had a friend called Nitul Jain, whose father grew up with Dungarpur in Rajasthan. Turns out Jain Sr. was on hard times, and Raj paid for his education for 15 years. Without ever expecting or accepting any reward later.
MIKE DENNESS TRIVIA: Wisden's resident pundit Steven Lynch tells me Geoff Boycott apparently refused to play Test cricket when Mike Denness was captain between 1974 and '77. Startling, considering 'Sir' Geoffrey played First Class cricket till he was 46, and then said he would gladly sacrifice the rest of his life if he could play five more years for Yorkshire and England.

Now what does that tell you about The Menace?
SITE FOR SORE MINDS: epiph·a·ny: "The illuminating moments of a technology journalist's struggle to understand life and its attendant vagaries."

Mahesh Shantaram is a fine writer with thought-provoking views. And not just about Technology either. But I do wish he would write better page headings and longer essays. Do visit, but navigate using Internet Explorer.
Great piece in The (London) Times, if you enjoy sport, Brit humour and well... sex:

"...in a very short time — four or five years at best — David Beckham will no longer be scoring goals for England. Imagine what it would be like if we were all told, in our early 30s, that we had to retire from sex, that one of the greatest joys and one of the most important things in our lives was taken away for ever."
The BCCI is apparently reluctant to play four cricket Test matches in England next season. Whatever his other merits are, Jagmohan Dalmiya is getting this one awfully wrong. He is, of course, getting back at the English Board who refused to play two more meaningless ODIs in India this season. But what of the Indian game's best interests?

One of the reasons why we never win Tests abroad is that the series' are too short. We get beaten out-of-sight in the first Test, and by the time we acclimatise and start to improve, it's time to catch the plane back home! Politics apart, India should be asking for longer Test series, even if it means 2-3 fewer ODIs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Wisden reports that Steve Waugh is backing the ICC in the Mike Denness affair. I'm amazed at Waugh's impunity.

I mean, is this the (ugly) Australian captain speaking? Is this the same man who has for years failed to contain (and may be, encouraged?) Glenn McGrath's and Michael Slater's ridiculous excesses? Is this the same man whose brother hushed up his dealings with a book-maker for four long years?

What next? May be, a lecture on kindness and tolerance from Osama.
It seems India and South Africa cannot play out “normal” cricket series. This latest Mike Denness affair is just the latest in a long line of out-of-the-ordinary happenings:

’01-’02 in SA: The Mike Denness affair and the ensuing mess.

’00-’01 in Ind: Hansiegate.

’96-’97 in SA: Allan Donald’s infamously boorish behaviour with Rahul Dravid, after Dravid hit him for 6 over long on.

’92-’93 in SA, so-called "Friendship Series": Kepler Wessels middle-finger-salutes and “accidentally” hits Kapil Dev in the shin. After Kapil warns, and then runs out non-striker Peter Kirsten for backing up too far.

’91-’92 in Ind: Thousands throng the Eden Gardens to welcome SA back from cricketing isolation. Remembered by many South African players as the "most emotional day" of their lives.

Monday, November 19, 2001

HI-TECH BLACK TICKETING: New challenge for online content publishers.

Wisden.com is my favourite cricket website, with its unique writing style and humorous treatment of the game's many idiosyncrasies. A far cry from the statistically oriented CricInfo.

Unfortunately, the fun parts of Wisden are going PAY. Now, I would gladly pay (say Rs. 500 per year) for access, but $37.50 (about Rs. 1700) is too much for me in these tough times. So, a couple of evil thoughts are crossing my mind:
1. Why not I get a few like-minded fellows to split the access fee? Like, 10 people pay Rs. 170 each? All of us would then share the username and password, and access the site to our hearts' content.

2. To stretch a point (and to make a tidy profit too), why not I charge 20 blokes about Rs. 200 each? Sure, Wisden would lose out on potential subscribers, but it is a win-win for all the 20 blokes and me.

3. Having made that tidy profit, why not I post my access details right here, for the benefit of all my readers?

Pooling in to but an expensive service/product is of course, quite common in the real world. But when you and your friend share a copy of India Today, both of you cannot read it at the same time: one has to wait for the other to finish. (and then, there is the small matter of physically getting across the copy). Not so with online content: many people can access Wisden.com at (roughly) the same time using the same username and password.

Again, black ticketing (touting) is hardly new: it is rampant in the real world, especially at Wimbledon. But in the real world, tickets are bought by touts at the legitimate price, and one ticket can be sold to only one person. So the 'manufacturer' is not directly harmed.

Does any one know of such shenanigans happening in the online world? Will someone let me know if I can legally post my (paid-for) access details on my site? How is this different from posting my Yahoo! password or details of seats I have bought for tonight's movie?

Friday, November 16, 2001

Yahoo Is Soooo Over: "The portal is making some radical changes to reverse its sagging fortunes. Too bad they won't work."

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Friend Madhu Menon has lambasted Satyam Infoway's new send-email-and-we-shall-plant-trees ad campaign. He calls it 'conditional philanthropy': "This latest attempt by Satyam to make money isn't just desperate; it's downright pathetic. Does anyone out there actually believe that Satyam cares so deeply for the environment? If they did, why don't they just plant the trees without waiting for people to send email?"

Three points that come to mind:
1. Satyam is conveniently and delibarately ambiguous about just how many trees it will plant. Their site says, "Be a part of the Sify GreenMail movement. Every mail you send, will make a difference to the environment. Because, the more mails you send using Sify Mail, the more trees Sify will plant." So if I send 6,874 emails from a Sify.com account, how richer will the environment become? By 1 tree, 10 trees or 100?

2. While 'conditional philanthropy' is commercial, it is surely better than no philanthropy at all? As for me, I would gladly do business with a (say) good restaurant that gives part of its revenues (say, 5%) to a charity I care for. Why is making good profits by doing some social good such bad ethics? And even if it is, I am OK with the restaurant's managers landing up in hell, if my charity is well served. Whatever :)... Asking every firm to be like Infosys ('unconditional undercover philanthropy') is utopian.

3. I do not think the ad campaign will work. Indians are far too down on Maslow's hierarchy, to care about environmental issues. As marketing guru Jack Trout says in his latest book, "Companies should be good citizens, but find non-environmental issues to differentiate themselves. Hotmail, Yahoo, Rediffmail: rest easy!
BADLY OUT-OF-FOCUS: Minolta.com sucks: The website of one of the world's largest camera manufacturers is so unusable, I could hardly believe it:
- The home page took an age to download: More Macromedia Flash than the Flash used in cameras.

- Text on most pages is part-Japanese, part-English.

- No product description, user manual or indeed, any reference at all to one of their more popular (albeit old) models (X-370). The one I own, unfortunately.

- They need me to fill in a complex form (name, address, phone etc.) before they can tell me if they have a blooming service centre in India.

- No tips on how to use their products optimally.

- No general photography tutorials.
Come on Minolta, how much will it cost you to dump this electronic brochure, and get a real website?

IN SHARP CONTRAST: Photo.net is not even a corporate site: It is Phil Greenspun's Labour of love. MIT prof, software stud, author and ace photographer, Phil is as close to 'versatile genius' as there is. His whole site is wonderful, but the tutorials are partcularly so. You can also get storage space for your pics, travel guides, and some neat galleries (including nudes).

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

HAPPY DEEPAVALI TO YOU

But I wonder if you are celebrating with fireworks. Most of Bombay does not seem to be. The economists can say what they want, but if Mumbaikars are not setting off firecrackers during Diwali week, we are most certainly in the midst of a recession.

Anyway, here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful year ahead!
As Kabul falls to the Northern Alliance, Afghans are apparently celebrating. The BBC says, "The people are going crazy...they're shouting 'Death to the Taleban'". What relief they must be feeling, as peace seems set to return! Here's a song that must come pretty close to describing that feeling of jubilation.

It's called WIND OF CHANGE, and is by the German rock band, Scorpions. It was written just as changes were sweeping across Eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change
An August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the wind of change

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change

Walking down the street
Distant memories
Are buried in the past forever
I folow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change

Monday, November 12, 2001

Independents Day is running an essay festival called "The Future Independent Web: Visions of What's to Come". Daily thoughts on websites by people not affiliated with any big company. Such as this one. Enjoy!
SITE FOR SORE MINDS - Madhu Menon belongs to that rarest of rare species - he is an Indian usability professional. His weblog (Madman) is frequently insightful, and entertaining.
JUST FINISHED READING: 'Differentiate or Die : Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition' - Jack Trout and flunk.

Typical Trout book. Small, funny, street-smart and 'Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind' recycled. You could think of it as an update of Rosser Reeves' famous USP.

Amazon: Review and sample pages.
Wilsonweb: Review.
Buy from Fabmart for Rs. 300 odd.
Trout's official website.
Apple's New MP3 player, iPod

The "1000-songs-in-your-pocket" iPod has been roundly criticized as being too expensive, but I think people will for pay for sublime beauty. Really, we need better aesthetics (not more processor power) for some of our computing devices.

Bravo, Apple!