Saturday, October 16, 2010

There's an opportunity for airlines to launch a new type of return ticket, something I call Nearby Return Ticket (NRT)

Traditionally, a return ticket from place A to place B allows a passenger to travel from A to B and back from B to A. It's no news that a return ticket between A and B is usually significantly cheaper than two individual tickets (A to B; B to A). However, the traditional concept of a return ticket assumes that a passenger disembarking at B will board, a few days later, from B. What if B is in a different country, and the passenger travels to a location C in this country using the road, and wants to fly back to A from C? The traditional concept of a return ticket doesn't apply here, and sometimes a passenger is left with no inexpensive choice.

The best way to explain this is with an example. An Indian wants to experience South Africa, and wants to take a flight from Delhi to Johannesburg. He wants to roam Jo'burg for 2 days, before making a quick hop by the road to Durban and Kruger (another 3 days). Upon returning, he then wants to fly from Jo'burg to Cape Town on a local airline, and experience Cape Town for 3 days, before taking a flight from Cape Town back to Delhi.

The current model of return ticket doesn't apply in the above scenario, a scenario which I believe is a quite common passenger requirement, and such a traveler will have to shell out a total of INR ~63,000 for the DEL-JNB and CPT-DEL flights on Emirates. However, both DEL-JNB-DEL and DEL-CPT-DEL flights on Emirates are significantly cheaper (INR ~44,000 each) than the DEL-JNB plus CPT-DEL combo on Emirates. Why? Because DEL-JNB with CPT-DEL doesn't qualify as a return ticket.

This is unfortunate, because from an operational perspective, DEL-JNB-DEL and DEL-CPT-DEL journeys don't give any extra benefit to Emirates, compared to the DEL-JNB plus CPT-DEL combo. That is, for Emirates a DEL-JNB-Missing-CPT-DEL journey by a passenger is not significantly different from a regular return ticket journey by the same passenger.

And so, I believe that there's an opportunity for airlines to launch a new type of return ticket called Nearby Return Ticket (NRT). NRT will allow a passenger to get the benefit of significantly lower overall price of a regular return ticket, as well as the flexibility of arriving at and departing from different destinations that are nearby. For example, Emirates will allow a passenger choosing the DEL-JNB-Missing-CPT-DEL type journey to fly for INR ~44,000 using NRT (or INR ~49,000, if Emirates wants to make a few extra bucks for providing the NRT service), instead of INR ~63,000.

After all, when it doesn't make any/much difference to an airline from an operational perspective, there's no reason why an airline shouldn't be willing to give a passenger the fare of a regular return ticket on NRT too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

LocalMaps or MicroMaps - an idea for maps at the "micro" level

In Aug'09, I went to the IGI Airport (DEL) to pick a friend who had flown to Delhi, and who had a few hours before she took a connecting train to her final destination. After parking my car at the parking, I wondered where the Arrival terminal might be!

I digress for a moment.

What does one do when one is in Gauteng and wants to drive to Kruger National Park? Simple, one feeds Kruger National Park into one's GPS device and the device guides one to one's destination. This is an example of mapping at the macro level.

I think we also need maps at the micro level - maps that work inside large airports, large entertainment parks, large shopping malls, etc. I name such a feature LocalMaps (or MicroMaps).

Back to IGI. Had there been such a feature, my phone would've sensed that it's inside an area that supports LocalMaps, and would've automatically asked me to either choose (from a list discovered by my phone in that zone) or search for a person, place or product (or service) I'm interested in (in that zone). As soon as I would've started typing Arri, the phone would've suggested Arrival Terminal, and choosing this option would've either displayed (or spoken) the direction in which I should start moving (towers in this zone would've helped my device to pinpoint its location within the zone, and to suggest directions).

I believe LocalMaps can save people time when they're inside large, well-defined areas. Looking for a specific Axe item at a huge shopping mall? Type Axe into the search and you'll be told not only about the availability (and price, etc.) of the item, but also the direction in which you should move to get to the item. Order the phone to check if a friend is inside the same mall, and you'll be told both the answer and the direction, if applicable, to get to him/her. Inside a Pick n Pay store but unable to locate a particular product? Worry not, for you can query the location of the product.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The world needs a "SearchMyStuff" service

I've created content on numerous Web properties:
  1. Emails in Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail
  2. Chats in Gmail
  3. Photos on Flickr, Orkut and  Picasa Web
  4. Tweets on Twitter
  5. Comments on Facebook
  6. Bookmarks and Videos on YouTube
  7. Posts on GMAT Club
  8. Questions on LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Answers
  9. Blogs on Blogger
  10. Scraps on Orkut
  11. Contacts in Google Contacts and Yahoo Contacts
  12. Documents in Google Docs and Zoho
  13. Files on SkyDrive
  14. Events, etc., on Google Calendar
  15. Etc.
I know no service that allows me to conduct a search on all the content created by me, lurking on various Web properties owned by different companies. And I think that the world needs such a service. A service that allows me, for example, to conduct a search for the term Chrome, and retrieve all the content related to Chrome that I've created online. Creating such a service will be a tall order, and will involve APIs, business-interests, privacy, security, etc., but that doesn't mean that such a service won't be worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building Google-like search engine using Google Search Appliance

The idea below is based on certain assumptions made by me. It seems that this idea is workable, unless this "misuse" was foreseen and features/measures were put in place to thwart such a use. I first wrote this idea in Jun'09, but never posted it on the Web.

Online news media is abuzz about the release of an updated version of Google Search Appliance (GSA) - version 6.0. Among the many updates to this version, one feature has intrigued me the most - the ability to index billions of documents (using clustering). (1)

To understand a possible implication of this, it's important realize that Google's search algorithms are one of its most important pieces of IP. What makes Google Google is its secret sauce - the algorithms it uses to rank Web content. Everyone can crawl the Web, but it's the relevance-determining algorithms that give Google much of its competitive edge over rival search engines such as Yahoo, and Bing(2)

It's also known that GSA uses Google's ranking algorithms to rank indexed content. (3)

We also know that the ability to crawl and ingest the Web is not a major source of competitive advantage for search engines. Even a simple program such as HTTrack can do a relatively decent job of downloading a website by jumping from URL to URL. The process that HTTrack uses to crawl a website is similar to how contemporary search engines crawl the Web. It should be easily possible to configure (or customize) HTTrack to crawl the Web, rather than just a website. (4)

Click image to enlarge

What all of this leads me to believe is that it should be possible to cluster multiple GSAs to create a pseudo-Google - a search engine that uses Google's secret algorithms to rank the Web, but is powered by a cluster of GSAs. If this is indeed possible, it'll make it super-easy for clever entrepreneurs to launch new search engines that provide high-quality results.

  1. Google Search Appliance Now Can Index Billions of Documents, PC World, June 2, 2009
  2. The Big Cheese - Powerful Version Of Google Search Appliance Can Grow Exponentially, TechCrunch, June 2, 2009
  3. Google Enterprise Search - Search Appliance
  4. Google Search Appliance on Wikipedia

Thursday, September 9, 2010

By not serving environment-optimized binaries, Mozilla is denying Firefox users an optimum experience (and hurting Firefox)


To summarize, I've observed that Mozilla's practice of distributing official binaries that aren't optimized to take advantage of new features and other improvements in modern CPUs (and possibly operating systems) results in a relatively inferior user-experience for Firefox users, ultimately hurting Firefox (and thus Mozilla).

More specifically, the binaries distributed by Mozilla use the Greatest Common Divisor (GCD)/Highest Common Factor (HCF) approach (this approach is mistakenly labeled Least Common Multiple (LCM) by many, many people) for compilation, resulting in binaries that don't make use of relatively newer instruction set extensions such as SSE, SSE2, etc. Additionally, the compilation settings used by Mozilla result in binaries that are optimized for size, at the expense of performance. The result is a non-insignificant deterioration in Firefox's performance (I've observed non-insignificant performance difference between non-optimized and optimized versions of Firefox on popular benchmark tests such as V8). This difference is visible to, and hurts those Firefox users whose systems allow Firefox to provide only slightly less than just-acceptable performance (such users would probably get slightly more than just-acceptable performance with optimized builds).

Mozilla's practice also denies better experience to those users who have faster connections (so they don't mind downloading a larger installer) and newer CPUs (so their systems are capable of performing better).

One of the computers I own and maintain is exactly such a system. Chrome runs smoothly, whereas the official version of Firefox 3.6.8 struggles, as if it's at a loss of breath. Switching to an optimized version of Firefox has improved performance noticeably, and has prevented me from switching full-time to Chrome on this system. What my own example shows is that there's a bunch of users whose machines don't provide them with a satisfactory Firefox experience because Mozilla doesn't optimize Firefox for performance. Is this number of such users large? Is it so large that a switch by these users from Firefox to the undeniably-snappier Chrome will materially hurt Firefox/Mozilla?

How can Mozilla solve this problem? The following options come to my mind:
  1. Fat installer, normal install: An installer will contain multiple versions of binaries, intended to cover the most-common types of systems in existence. During installation, the installer will perform system capability assessment, and those binaries will be installed which are best suited to the environment. This solution will most likely result in a decrease in the number of downloads, due to increased installer size.
  2. Normal installer, normal install: The installer will carry only the GCD/HCF code (thus keeping it small-enough for most people to download), but will perform system capability assessment during installation. If it determines that more optimized binaries can be run on this system, it'll either quietly pull those binaries from the Web, or will ask the user for his consent before pulling the more optimized files.
  3. Separate installer, normal install: Since only power users are expected to be bothered about using optimized binaries, Mozilla should make available official but optimized versions of Firefox on, albeit hidden from general users (so they don't accidentally download an installer which their system might not support). The installer, even for an official but optimized version, will perform system capability assessment to ensure that installation is being conducted on a supported system. This approach has the disadvantage that it serves only power users. It fails to provide the benefits of optimized Firefox to the masses.
  4. Regular installer, deferred optimization: Install the regular Firefox, and on first launch, it'll itself perform system capability assessment and ask your permission to optimize itself by downloading and installing optimized versions of files that are best-suited to the current system. Alternatively, it'll quietly download and install these files, and the effects will be visible after a restart.
  5. Thin installer, normal install: This is the approach that I favor the most. A tiny installer that doesn't carry any binaries will perform system capability assessment and submit the results to, which'll supply the installer with the files best-suited for the system. This type of installer - Chrome also uses a thin installer, although I'm unaware if it pulls system-specific binaries - appears to be suitable for both amateur and power users.
Related content: Swiftweasel; Swiftfox

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We remember "random" sequences of alphabets much better than random sequences of numerical digits. Why?

Ask me to remember the following three words, and I guess I should be able to (quickly):
  • Nipitto
  • Quasquam
  • Zyrectica
Ask me to remember the following three numbers, and in all probability I won't be able to:
  • 5686990
  • 21342137
  • 984631237
Why the difference? There are 26 alphabets in the English language, compared to only 10 numerical digits. And yet we're able to remember thousands of words - most of which are basically random sequences of alphabets (it's we who've given meaning to these random sequences) - but we have trouble remembering more than a few phone numbers. Why?

On a completely fundamental level, alphabets and digits are nothing but visual representations of certain values and sounds, respectively. And words are formed by combinations of letters, while numbers are formed by combinations of digits. Why then is an average human able to remember thousands of words in his memory - sometimes even from multiple languages - but he can't remember too many numbers?

I suspect that sounds are a reason. Since all words in the English language have a unique pronunciation (in the form of a sound), it's possible that we're better at remembering sounds. Numbers - such as 32748746 - don't have any single sounds associated with them, and this might be a reason why numbers are much tougher to remember. The concept of sounds also seems to be applicable to the examples I've given at the start of this blog post - all of the three words can be converted into sounds, which're much easier to remember than pure sequences of alphabets. It's possible that we remember sounds, and later use a sound-to-text engine present in our brain to convert the sounds to sequences of alphabets. It's also possible that each sound can be stored as a single data-chunk, thus requiring less memory compared to a sequence of numbers.

Case in point - remembering the following words is as tough as remembering numbers, because these words can't easily be converted into easy sounds (absence of vowels):
  • Zvtrxttr
  • Nytrpqstj
  • Bcddfktr
These aren't words anymore - they've become as tough to remember as numbers!

Related content:
 Human brain could be storing & retrieving information as 'related blocks'

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How I keep my new computer safe from malware (spyware, viruses, worms, etc.), network attacks, phishing websites, spam, etc.

I use the following policies, tools and techniques to safeguard my new computer from all sorts of privacy and/or security breaches:
  1. DNS level: Use of OpenDNS resolution service ensures that malicious addresses are blocked at the DNS level. Even the basic/free version of OpenDNS provides a decent level of customization, including allowing blocking of specific website categories.
  2. CPU level: The CPU in my new computer supports DEP at hardware level.
  3. BIOS level: The computer's BIOS includes a "Virus Warning" feature, which warns whenever an attempt is made to write to the MBR of the hard disk. Additionally, enabling passwords in the BIOS helps prevent unauthorized changes to BIOS settings, and unauthorized entry into the system.
  4. OS level: Windows 7 provides me with these helpful features - Action Center, ASLR, Automatic Updates, DEP and UAC. Additionally, the computer is normally run with standard user privileges, rather than administrator privileges, and the user accounts are password-protected.
  5. Firewall level: Use of a good firewall such as the one by COMODO keeps the machine secure from unauthorized access through network. Additionally, COMODO's firewall includes useful features such as Image Execution Control, Sandbox, etc., which protect against unknown/untrusted executable code. I would've liked it if COMODO's firewall included its own feature to block malicious websites.
  6. Anti-malware level: An anti-malware application such as ESET NOD32 Antivirus (or Norton AntiVirus) used in real-time protection mode provides effective protection against all sorts of bots, rootkits, spyware, Trojan horses, viruses, worms, etc., and also mandatorily scans all Web traffic. Behavioral-analysis/heuristics features enable such an application to detect new/unknown malware, while the unique Download Insight feature of Norton AntiVirus provides vital crowdsourced information about individual files. Frequent updates ensure that definitions and modules remain up-to-date. NOD32 Antivirus also blocks webpages known to include "potentially dangerous content".
  7. Additional anti-malware: Windows Defender and Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool - both provided by Microsoft - provide additional protection against common malware. Finally, a monthly scan with the free and nice Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner both checks and optimizes the system.
  8. Web browser level: Use of Chrome provides these benefits - it's secure by design, it includes its own anti-phishing feature, it runs Flash inside a sandbox, and it updates automatically and forcibly. Additionally, I use HTTPS (whenever supported); I've even made bookmarks with HTTPS prefixed, so I'm directly taken to secure pages (whenever supported).
  9. Search engine level: Google's search engine includes its own warnings against malicious results, and thus, use of Google provides an additional layer of protection.
  10. Frequent, regular updates for everything: I've configured the system so that everything - anti-malware applications, browser, drivers, operating system, etc. - updates frequently and regularly. I manually update the applications which report that updates are available.
  11. Remove everything unnecessary: Removing everything that doesn't contribute is another policy that increases security. Disabling really unneeded services (without breaking essential functionality), disabling unneeded ports, uninstalling non-essential components of the OS (Internet Explorer, etc.), etc., are examples of this policy.
  12. Functional-but-secure settings throughout: Applications, devices and the OS include many configurations options which allow a trade-off between functionality and security. Some of these include AutoPlay/AutoRun, router settings, USB-related settings, etc. Striking a good balance throughout is essential to increasing security without breaking functionality.
  13. Stay abreast of whatever's new: Stay aware about the latest developments and discoveries, and adopt whatever's good. Google's Chrome is a good example. It's newer and safer than Firefox. Someone who uses Firefox and doesn't stay updated about new developments would've missed Chrome entirely, thus making him a little less safe (than he could be).
  14. Avoid paying too much price: Additional protection is possible by using additional tools such as Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, McAfee SiteAdvisor (or Norton Safe Web), SUPERAntiSpyware, Web of Trust, etc., but I don't use these as I don't see as much benefit from their use as is the price to be paid, especially since the above measures have already kept me safe for years.
I use the above methods (except the 14th point) to safeguard my new machine. One good aspect of the above policies, tools and techniques is that all of these need to be deployed and setup just once. Everything works automatically thereupon, except for occasional manual checks/updates. The few hours it takes initially to set things optimally have paid off nicely for me - I've been breach-free and malware-free for years now!

Google isn't giving away Android for free. Steve Ballmer, was wrong

I can't recollect the article or the video in which I read/saw Steve Ballmer make a claim which meant that because Google is giving the Android operating system for free, Android can't be of as much quality as our paid Windows Mobile operating system can be. Because we charge for Windows Mobile, we can put a lot more investment into the product, compared to Google, which can put only so much investment into its free OS.

I had thought this when I had read those words of Steve Ballmer, and I thought this again when I read a few statements made recently by Eric Schmidt.

Google is not giving away Android for free!

Google has strong reasons - both tactical and strategic - to invest in Android and ensure that it achieves a high adoption on smartphones and other devices from multiple sellers. What Ballmer said appears to imply that Google has neither an incentive to fund Android's development, nor cash (because Android's free, the money has to be pulled from elsewhere inside Google, but doesn't come from the Android product itself).

Incorrect. Google has both.

  1. Cash: Android does generate net revenue for Google. So much, that it's more than enough to fund its development (as quoted recently said by Eric Schmidt. Unfortunately I don't have a link to that news story either). Ballmer's assertion that Android is a free product rests on the incorrect assumption that only the upfront taken revenue (from end-users or hardware-sellers) makes a product a paid product. His claim apparently overlooks the fact that Android-based devices generate advertising revenue for Google, and this revenue is large-enough to more than cover Android's development. Further, Google doesn't have to split advertising revenue generated on Android, unlike the split it does with Apple (for the revenue generated on the iPhone, iPod touch, etc.). Android might come free to the hardware-makers and hence to the end-users, but from Google's point-of-view, it is a paid product - it's the advertisers who pay for it! How do Google's wonderful services such as Web Search, Gmail, etc., come for free to the end-customers? Somebody must be paying Google, after all. It's services such as AdSense and AdWords which allow Google to make both Android and an array of wonderful online services free for both end-customers and hardware-makers. And who funds AdSense/AdWords? It's the advertisers! It's this indirect revenue-stream that Ballmer apparently overlooked.
  2. Incentives: This aspect can be understood better if one believes that market share and revenue are distinct goals. Generating revenue aside, the Android operating system ensures increased exposure to, and adoption of Google's products and services (by being both "defaults" and tightly-integrated). This makes both tactical and strategic sense, and appears to be a sufficient-enough incentive (net revenue incentive aside) to encourage Google to fund Android's development and adoption.
In summary, it's in Google's interest to make sure that Android gets heavy adoption - which means Android must out-innovate rival operating systems, which means the Android team works as furiously as the Windows Mobile team - a contradiction to what Ballmer implied.

A favorable side-effect of increased adoption of Android is that this helps Google to contain and hurt both heavyweight and upstart competitors, including Microsoft.

Steve Ballmer, was wrong.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why is the combined ticket price of three legs of a particular flight lower than the combined ticket price of only the first two legs?

Perhaps I don't understand the economics of civil aviation that well, but what I just saw has puzzled me. A lot.

Ticket price for a commercial flight from DEL to JFK (via HEL) on Finnair is lower than the ticket price for a journey from DEL to YYZ (via HEL and JFK, with the journey from DEL to JFK operated by Finnair, and the journey from JFK to YYZ operated by American Airlines).

This weird pricing looks even more alarming because an American Airlines flight from JFK to YYZ is priced at INR ~8,500, or a good over 27% of the price of the DEL-HEL-JFK flight operated by Finnair.

This effectively translates into: A+B>A+B+C, where A, B and C are positive real numbers. How's it possible? Who's losing money here, if anyone?

Update [11-Sep-16]: Similarly, Turkish Airlines will fly you to Moscow/SVO [and back] via Istanbul for INR 31,159, but if you want to fly to only Istanbul [same dates, same timings, same flights], then you've shell out INR 42,804. Why in the hell is this happening?

iTunes on iPhone/iPod touch is significantly different from the Macintosh/Windows version of iTunes on a fundamental basis

This is what I observed during my past few weeks I with an iPod touch.

 iTunes for Windows (source)

The Mac/Windows version of iTunes is a place where you do at least the following things:
  1. See your complete media collection (assuming you use no other media management software), and choose what music/movies/videos you want to play
  2. Playback any of the content you can see in iTunes
  3. Discover new content, using both catalogs and search queries
  4. Acquire content, by either downloading free content or purchasing paid content
  5. Sync content (including applications, et al.) with your portable Apple device
  6. Etc.
In a nutshell, iTunes on the "desktop" operating systems is a one-stop place, which allows you to do everything that you can possibly want to with content (keeping Web browsers, YouTube, etc., out of the picture for the purpose of this post)

iPod touch (source: Apple)

In contrast, on iOS devices such as iPod touch, there are three distinct applications to do what all could be done in iTunes alone on a Mac/Windows machine.
  1. See: Use 'Music' or 'Videos' applications. You can't see your media collection in iTunes!
  2. Playback: Again, you can't playback locally stored content inside this "iTunes"!
  3. Discover: Use 'iTunes'
  4. Acquire: Use 'iTunes'
  5. Sync: iOS
  6. Etc.
And after this analysis I'm able to understand why I kept opening the iTunes application on the iPod touch every time I wanted to consume the stored music/videos.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Google should launch a contextual advertising product for PDF files

I've wondered for years why we don't have an AdSense for PDF product from Google (or others). Why can't I embed code from this hypothetical AdSense for PDF product into a PDF ebook I've written, and distribute it for free on the Internet. This hypothetical PDF shall be secured in such a manner that it shall open only when there's a Web connection available, so that ads can be pulled from Google's servers in real-time.

I believe that an AdSense product for PDF files can bring a revolution in the commercial use of the PDF format. It shall allow both experts and semi-experts to publish individual articles as well as full-blown ebooks in the form of well-protected PDF documents laden with advertising code, without worrying about unauthorized copying of their work. In fact, under this model authors will encourage free-distribution of their PDFs to more and more people.

Such a product shall allow website owners to publish select documents in PDF rather than HTML. Use of PDF shall provide the following benefits to the publisher:
  1. Setting permissions using industrial-strength features of PDF
  2. Not losing out on the per-document ad revenue available in regular Web documents
  3. Providing the usual benefits of PDF files - such as a consistent layout, paper-like readability, etc. - to the users
Because the PDF format is such a tightly-knit format, compared to the relatively loose HTML format, I have a high degree of confidence that a well-designed contextual advertising product for PDFs will usher a revolution in the way PDF files are used. However, I also have a strong belief that a prerequisite for such a product's success is that the use of PDF files be made as seamless as the use of HTML documents currently is. Google's integration of PDF support in Chrome is a good step in that direction.

For Google, such a product can mean a new source of cash - whilst making minimum investment - to feed its desire for continued growth.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A desire to "utilize" human brain's CPU cycles wasted during sleep

ALSO SEE OID 218Z, 219Z.

This thought has been ongoing in my mind for at least the last 2 years, and I'm finally writing it today.

When we sleep, our conscious brain sleeps as well. It goes from a voluntary state to an involuntary (perhaps "unconscious") state. The control on our thoughts - the ability to steer the brain's thinking - is lost during sleep.

I sometimes wish that it was possible to utilize the brain during sleep. That I could be physically asleep - with my body resting - while my brain continues to think. After all, it isn't always the case that one sleeps to get both physical and mental rest - we sometimes sleep when we're only physically tired, although we might not be tired mentally.

An ability to utilize the brain during sleep will expose billions of hours of human brain time each day. Just imagine the incredible potential this yet-unexposed brain time has.

CEOs could be asleep physically, while their brains could be awake, pondering about a competitor's strategy. Scientists could think peacefully about an issue puzzling them. Poets and musicians could compose their next creations. Engineers could hash the next breakthrough. Many tasks on my to-do list - such as think about net neutrality for some time - could be finished without wasting the day's time.

And I'm not even wishing for the full brain to be available during sleep - it's acceptable if only one half the brain is available for the first half of the sleep, while the other half is available for the rest. It's also alright if parts of brain keep sleeping from time to time to give themselves rest.

Unsure if this'll ever be possible...

Related content: Learning While You Dream, NYT, Apr'10
Related phenomenon: Lucid dream

Update [3-Jan-16]: The 1990 Arnold movie Total Recall is somewhat related to this idea.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Financial performance of the initial customers of Bombardier CSeries will be crucial to the future sales of this aircraft

Bombardier might not have been able to announce - so far - any new order for the CSeries aircraft at this year's Farnborough International Airshow 2010, and its current total of confirmed orders is insufficient for even a break-even, but this doesn't mean that game's over for the CSeries.

When deliveries of the CSeries begin in 2013 - assuming that all goes by the schedule - the actual, real-world cost-savings and performance that the CSeries delivers to its first customers will be crucial to the future sales of this aircraft.

Bombardier CSeries mockup (source: Bombardier)

If the CSeries is demonstrably able to bring growth/profits/turnaround to its initial customers, either by itself or by being a significant contributing factor, other airlines as well as lessors will start lining up in droves to add this airliner to their fleet. Conversely, if the CSeries fails to live up to its cost-savings and performance promises for its initial customers, it could spell a disaster for the future of this aircraft, from which it might never recover.

Bottom Line: The gains that the CSeries delivers to the initial few operators are crucial. The CSeries is an all-new aircraft from a company which has never made an aircraft of this size. The aircraft has no track record of proven cost-savings or performance, and it's up against an established duopoly with high-quality and demonstrably-profit-delivering products, in service with worldwide customers for many decades. Hence, it's unsurprising that in the very-high-stakes business of commercial aviation, the CSeries has so far found few takers. Importantly, the lack of many orders is actually less alarming than it seems - after all who would bet their airline on an unproven aircraft (which is not cheap)?

This makes the results delivered by the CSeries all the more important. Bombardier has to realize that its work doesn't finish with a successful delivery. It must try and ensure that the initial few customers deploy the CSeries in a way that they all profit decently from it, thus publicly certifying the aircraft's promised benefits, quashing the doubts of analysts and of the customers sitting on the fence, and making everyone eager to buy this fine airplane.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Apple iPhone 4's FaceTime feature should be extended to all Macs; FaceTime will be heavily used for real-time opinion solicitation

What if a guy with an iPhone 4 wants instant and drop-dead-simple video-chat with his girlfriend (who's at her home and only has access to her MacBook Air)? Shouldn't he be able to video-call her Internet-connected MacBook Air - using FaceTime - as if it were an iPhone 4? What if she only has an iPad or an iPod touch?

I strongly believe that Apple should extend FaceTime to the millions of iPad, iPod touch, iMac, and MacBook devices out there in the market (through iTunes or Safari). The current breed of iPad, iPod touch and iPhone (excluding iPhone 4) devices should be able to at least receive video from an iPhone 4 (at the other end), while all recent iMac and MacBook devices should be able to do FaceTime as completely and effortlessly as is possible between two iPhone 4 devices today (all recent Macs have an inbuilt camera). The future breed of iPad and iPod touch devices should incorporate the necessary hardware and software to allow full-fledged two-way FaceTime calls.

MacBook Air with inbuilt camera - opening the possibility of FaceTime

FaceTime could even be used as the standard way to video-chat between two Macs, or between two (future) iPads or (future) iPod touch devices (over Wi-Fi). Extending FaceTime to these additional Macintosh-based devices will ensure that millions of such devices owned by millions of people are already ready for this feature, helping to establish this feature, while ensuring that the feature-implementation is controlled by Apple in its (usual) clean/simple/unbloated and optimized ways.

Also, although FaceTime is being pitched as a way to do video-calling, I see FaceTime also being heavily used for what I call real-time opinion solicitation. When people will be doing shopping (clothes, footwear, gadgets, ornaments, etc.), they'll increasingly be calling up their colleagues/friends/relatives to solicit opinion on the thing they're thinking of buying.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Usefulness of a power-backup system can be increased using CFLs

By installing CFLs on a home's power-backup system ("inverter" or "UPS") - instead of the typical fluorescent tube lamps or incandescent light bulbs - one can increase the number of illuminating lamps that can be installed on the backup system, and thus serve a higher number of rooms in the home, without sacrificing on the amount of illumination and without putting extra load on the UPS.

I realized this when I got an 800 VA UPS installed in my home a few weeks back.

Monday, July 5, 2010

India lacks a fully modular DTH (DBS) TV service

At my home, we have a regular wired cable service provided to us by a local cablewalla. We pay INR 300 per month (total) for cable connection to two television sets (one on the ground floor, and the other on the first floor). We're four people in the home (one family) and the cablewalla knows this, so he doesn't charge us separately for the two TV sets.

His service is just okay, as in
  1. We get nearly every channel (but not all)
  2. The signal is generally available (but sometimes not)
  3. The clarity is just OK (not great though)
I was contemplating switching to DTH service available in India (from Airtel, DishTV, Reliance, Tata, et al.). To my dismay, after conducting some research I realized that at present, I cannot get all the channels that I want on both the television sets for a total of INR 300 (or even 400) per month using DTH service. What a shame!

There is no ready-made package available that fits my needs, nor was I able to create a customized package (using various combinations of the individual packages and add-on packs provided by the service providers). I was surprised and I realized that even though these service providers have ready-to-consume packages priced as low as INR ~125 per month, there is no way in which I can get all the channels that I want on both the TVs and pay a total of INR 300-400 per month.

Which channels do I want? Using this list (by Airtel) as a reference, I want all of these channels, and only these channels: 9X, 9X Music, Aaj Tak, Animal Planet, Animax, AXN, B4U Music, BBC, Bindaas, Bindaas Movies, Cartoon Network, Channel V, CNBC Awaaz, CNBC TV18, CNN, CNN IBN, Colors, DD1, DD News, DD Punjabi, DD Sports, Discovery, Discovery Travel & Living, Disney, ESPN, ET Now, ETC Punjabi, Fashion TV, HBO, Headlines Today, History Channel, Homeshop 18, Hungama, IBN 7, India TV, MGM, MTV, National Geographic, NDTV 24x7, NDTV Good Times, NDTV Imagine, NDTV India, NDTV Profit, NEO Cricket, NEO Sports, News 24, Nick, PIX, Pogo, PTC News, PTC Punjabi, Russia Today, SAB TV, Sahara Filmy, Sahara ONE, SET MAX, Sony, Star Cricket, Star Gold, Star Movies, Star News, Star ONE, Star Plus, Star Sports, Star Utsav, Star World, TEN Sports, Times NOW, UTV Hindi Movies, WB, Zee Business, Zee Cafe, Zee Cinema, Zee News, Zee Punjabi, Zee Sports, Zee Studio, Zee Trendz, Zee TV, Zoom

That adds up to 80 channels, less than the 93 channels in Airtel's cheapest package (Super Value Pack at INR 115 + taxes per month). Even if the higher individual cost of many of the channels in my list is taken into account, the total cost of these 80 channels shouldn't exceed INR 200-250 a month. A reasonable INR 100-150 for the second TV should allow me to have all my channels on both the TVs for INR 300-400 a month.

What's disappointing is that currently none of the DTH service providers in India allow a customer to pick only the channels he wants. One is forced to have pointless and undesired channels which one does not need or want, and pay for these. A possible reason for this is that some media companies price and sell their channels in groups/packs, rather than individually, making it impossible for DTH providers to allow these to be picked individually.

To summarize, it's both sad and alarming that an Indian customer can't pick only the specific channels he wants and pay just for these. Perhaps a future DTH operator will use this as a differentiating factor. Till then, I'm stranded with the local cablewalla.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A smartphone as a computer's "system unit"

I've been thinking about using my smartphone (currently the Nokia N72; bought Jan'08) as a "system unit" ever since Apple announced the iPhone. The idea goes like this:
  • Display (with inbuilt microphone and speakers): I should have a ~6-7 inch, 352*416 pixels LCD on my table, powered by a standard AC outlet. This shall connect to my N72 via cable
  • Keyboard: A full-sized keyboard, which connects to my N72 with a cable or bluetooth
After the connections are made, my N72 should transmit display and audio signals to the external display, and should accept keystrokes from the external keyboard (its own display and keypad should turn off). This setup will allow me to perform activities such as SMSing, Web browsing, music playback, etc., on a larger screen, and using a full-sized keyboard. The display should either upscale the 176*208 pixels signal coming from the N72, or merely copy each pixel's color in four pixels.

I have a strong belief that the experience of surfing the Web on N72's tiny screen with improve significantly on this setup. While I'm at my desk, I can keep the N72 connected to this setup, and when I'm done, I can place the phone in my pocket and get going.

I have an even stronger belief that the current generation of smartphones (significantly more capable compared to the N72) are even more suitable for use in the setup mentioned above. For example, the iPhone 4 has a 640*960 display (rotatable), which means it can support a ~11-12 inch external display (960*640 resolution). I'm 100% sure that using the iPhone 4 as a system unit will be successful from a user experience standpoint.

More generally speaking, I see a time when our smartphones are the only system units we own - we merely connect them to larger devices (display, keyboard, speakers, etc.) when we want a more complete experience. Otherwise, when we're on the move, we use the smartphones themselves for all our computing.

Update (3-Aug-10): As another example, imagine a souped-up future version of Sony PSP acting as both a pocket computer, as well as the system unit that plugs into a TV using the composite AV cable.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Facebook's 'Reset Password' page has potential for privacy violation

I'm not happy about the way the password-recovery procedure works on Facebook.
  1. You clear the captcha
  2. You supply the email address associated with your Facebook account
  3. If existent, Facebook displays a Facebook account against that email ID
  4. You confirm the account to receive further instructions on the email ID
  5. Etc.
It's step (3) that I believe has the potential for misuse - like violation of someone's privacy. By returning a Facebook account (avatar, name, and a snippet) upon entering an email address (if existent), Facebook's password-recovery webpage effectively acts as a reverse lookup directory, allowing someone to supply email IDs and obtain two pieces of information:
  1. Whether or not any Facebook account is associated with that email ID
  2. If yes, the avatar, name and a brief snippet of the Facebook account
The following screenshots demonstrate how I was able to obtain the Facebook accounts against two different email addresses (private information has been blurred):

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why do pan-India cellphone service providers charge for roaming

I'm increasingly concerned about the roaming charges levied by pan-India mobile phone service providers (Airtel, BSNL, Reliance, Tata, Vodafone, etc.). Why do Indian cellular service operators charge customers to make/receive calls even when roaming on one's own network? If I'm a Bharti Airtel customer whose hometown is Ludhiana, and if I visit Delhi for a few days, and if I continue to stay on the Airtel network while I'm in Delhi, then why should I pay an extra amount to make/receive calls? From an operational point-of-view, my sense tells me that Airtel probably does not incur any extra expenditure on the calls that I make/receive while I'm in Delhi, then why am I made to pay more?

Case in point: There's no concept of roaming in South Africa (at least for nationwide operators such as Vodacom, to the best of my current knowledge). Whether one's in Pretoria or Cape Town or Durban or Nelspruit, one can make/receive calls at the same rate as one would from/in one's hometown (say Jo'burg). Makes complete sense to me.

PS: It's possible that I'm currently unaware of any interconnect/regulatory cost(s) that pan-India cellular service providers incur when they allow a roaming customer to make/receive calls. However, if there are no such costs involved, charging for roaming appears completely unjustified.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why inferences based on percentage growth might be erroneous

What conclusion/inference is most-likely to be drawn by analysts, bloggers and journalists based on the following chart, representing the year-on-year percentage growth in a country's annual GDP (or a company's annual revenue)?

Most are likely to claim that growth in GDP has slowed down over the years.

Incorrect, in my opinion. The full picture - below - says something else (click to enlarge):

It can be seen quite clearly that even though in percentage terms growth appears to have slowed down over the years, in reality the absolute growth is actually increasing each year (over previous year). Hence, one needs to be careful while drawing inferences based on percentage figures.

An analogy to explain the above is using 'motion' (in context of physics). In the above scenario, GDP represents distance, 1 year can be taken as 1 hour, GDP for a year is the speed, absolute GDP growth is an indicator of acceleration, while 'year-on-year change in absolute GDP growth' represents jerk (rate of change of acceleration). In this case, while the acceleration is positive, jerk is negative ('growth of growth of GDP' is slowing down).

PS: This thought was ongoing in my mind for many months, and I've finally written it today.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Masquerading as someone in Blogger comments (almost)

This concerning thought came to my mind a few days back. How easy is it to disguise your true identity and masquerade as someone else on Blogger? Too easy, it seems, as far as comments given on Blogger posts are concerned.

To exemplify, what do I need to do to make an unsuspecting individual believe that a comment is from the real "Dharma" (as visible in the image below), when it is actually by me? I only need to sign-up and create a Blogger account, and copy the name and photo of the real Dharma in the newly-created account's profile (and possibly copy other information from the real Dharma's profile).

In all probability, a reader (or the post's author) will not realize that the comment is by a masquerader, unless he/she makes the effort of clicking on the name and checking the profile (something I believe cannot practically be done for all the comments on all the posts). So, if I have a friend named X, who sometimes posts comments on my blog, it's possible for a Y to comment on a post, posing as X.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Retroactive extrapolation of Web counter on HyperBlog

On 28-Apr-10, when I deployed a hit counter on HyperBlog, I was a little disappointed about the loss of all the previous hits on this blog. Today, I've decided to use extrapolation to arrive at an approximation of the actual number of cumulative hits till date on this blog.
So, I'm updating the current hit count of this blog to 2,338. Of course, this extrapolation is based on the (seemingly fair) assumptions that hits to my blogs do not have any seasonality, and that the average number of hits per day on HyperBlog hasn't changed materially since Jul'09.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Questioning the benefit of traveling on Ludhiana-Delhi flights

Yesterday, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper about the launch of flights on the Delhi-Ludhiana (DEL-LUH) route (a related news story). I was both surprised and elated, until a thought struck my mind. What benefit, if any, would flying on a LUH-DEL flight provide to a passenger, compared to traveling in a fast and luxury train such as Shatabadi or Rajdhani?

I've arrived at an answer to this question by comparing the "room to room" time (i.e., the time it takes for a passenger to reach from his cabin/room in Ludhiana/Delhi to his cabin/room in Delhi/Ludhiana, respectively) for air journey and train journey.

Total "room to room" time using a LUH to DEL flight = 315 minutes, as follows:
  1. Booking ticket: 15 minutes
  2. Home/office to LUH airport: 45 minutes
  3. Check-in/movement/waiting at LUH airport: 45 minutes
  4. Flight duration: 75 minutes
  5. Landing-clearance delay (likely): 15 minutes
  6. Exiting from DEL airport/miscellaneous: 30 minutes
  7. DEL airport to home/office: 90 minutes
Total "room to room" time using a LDH to NDLS train = 400 minutes, as follows:
  1. Booking ticket: 15 minutes
  2. Home/office to LDH railway station: 20 minutes
  3. Movement/waiting at LDH railway station: 15 minutes
  4. Train journey duration: 240 minutes
  5. Exiting from NDLS railway station/miscellaneous: 20 minutes
  6. NDLS railway station to home/office: 90 minutes
Traveling by flight saves about 85 minutes (~1.5 hours). However, two additional factors need to be considered:
  1. The train ticket costs about INR 575, compared to INR 2,230 for the flight ticket (about four times as costly)
  2. The train ticket includes a full meal, whereas this Air India flight does not
Bottom line: Flying between Delhi and Ludhiana does save time, but not enough, in my opinion, to justify the extra expense, especially when one can avoid wastage of time during the train journey by working on a laptop/reading a book/etc.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Internet Explorer vs. other browsers is the real browser war

In my opinion, the current browser war isn't really about IE vs. Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Safari vs. Opera. It's really about IE vs. the rest.

Why? Because even though these other browsers come from different makers, from the standpoints of intention and technology, they're all in the same camp - the camp that genuinely wants to promote modern Web standards/technologies, privacy, speed, security, ease-of-use, reliability/stability, consumer-choice, freedom (1, 2), interoperability, crowdsourcing (1, 2), innovation, openness/transparency, and extensibility (with the notable exception of Apple, whose intentions are clearly unclear).

This is as opposed to the other camp (Microsoft), which - in my opinion - probably doesn't have a strategic interest in promoting or implementing some of these principles. This camp is seen - rightly so, in my opinion - as the chief bottleneck that's "holding back the Web's full potential" (at least until IE9 is launched).

The alternative/modern browsers are certainly competing with each other (Chrome might be the biggest threat to Firefox; Firefox might be the most important competitor for Opera), but at a macro level, these mutual struggles are collectively leading to frequent and far-reaching improvements in each of the alternative/modern browsers, resulting in a steady erosion of Internet Explorer's market share.

An implication of the above definition of browser war? Once IE's market share dips below 50%, it'll suddenly become important - both statistically and symbolically - for developers/webmasters to optimize their Web applications and websites to take advantage of the increased speed and other features offered by alternative/modern browsers - even if this leads to a poor user experience for IE6/7/8 users - since the alternative/modern browsers would collectively account for the majority share of users now. And even though none of the alternative/modern browsers would individually have a majority share, they're all the same from both philosophical and technological standpoints, making it safe to treat the collective market share as if it resulted from a single entity.

By optimizing Web applications and websites for modern browsers - without caring (much) for the now-minor and ever-decreasing share of slower browsers - developers/webmasters will be doing good to more people, than they would be doing harm to.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The (apparent) similarity between Egypt's Cairo and India's Delhi

I visited Cairo in December of 2009. Although I was in Cairo and Giza for <72 hours, I roamed quite a bit, and one of the things I observed and felt is that Cairo looks and feels very much like India - and more specifically like Delhi (this, by the way, is something I've told to every single person to whom I've spoken about my visit to Egypt). "It's the city closest to Delhi that I've ever seen, either inside or outside of India", I've told many people.

Although there exist some differences, I couldn't help but wonder how could the two cities be so close:
  • The "average look of cars" was Delhi-like
  • The roads and flyovers were so Delhi-like
  • The average height of buildings was similar
  • Khan el-Khalili bazaar was so much India-like
  • People honked a lot - the same as here in Delhi
  • People abused at each other - much like in India
  • The people - especially menfolk - looked like Indians
  • Unorganized retail was common in Cairo - like in India
  • The airports of both Cairo and Delhi are "not that good"
  • The one mall I went to looked like a mid-level mall in Delhi
  • The approximate density of high-risers seemed similar to Delhi
  • Most people's  driving - albeit on the opposite hand - was random and rash
  • The average "stylishness" of youth was close to India, albeit less than Delhi
  • Just like in Delhi, people seemed to be freely littering garbage anywhere and everywhere (the area around the pyramids was badly littered)
The above list is only indicative - there are other similarities that can be listed. For someone who knows India well, the following photos (all taken from Wikimedia/Wikipedia) should make it slightly easier to understand why I feel that the two cities are similar, both from looks and behavior:

It's my belief that for someone who understands India well (particularly Delhi), understanding Cairo should be a lot easier (including from doing-business perspective). Some day, I want to find out whether my feeling is/was correct.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hit counter added to HyperBlog

Just added a hit counter to this blog, with the starting count set to zero. This of course means not counting all the hits since the launch of this blog - about 9 months worth of hits - but I don't see any other choice (except that Google launches its own Web counter, and allows setting the initial count to the actual number of hits registered by this Blogger-hosted blog). The loss will become smaller over time, at least in percentage terms. In retrospect, I should've added a counter as soon as I started this blog. Will take care of this going forward.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It should be possible to search for people similar to a person

Google provides a feature which I find useful - the ability to obtain webpages/websites similar to a webpage/website. For example, when I inputted Scaled Composites' website to this feature, I was returned a useful list of webpages and websites:

I sometimes wish that there should be a website (or a feature in a search engine), that allows me to input a specific person, and obtain a list of individuals related/similar to that person. For example, I read about Burt Rutan for the first time yesterday. Impressed and curious, I wished that Google have a feature which allows me to input something like http://human:Burt.Rutan:ID=1/, to its related feature, to obtain a list of people related/similar to Burt Rutan. Such a feature will probably require a central database, with machine-readable profiles of all contemporary and past notable/popular humans.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

There's opportunity for a "safest path" featuring GPS in South Africa

I've been in Johannesburg for nearly 5 months now, and that crime is a huge problem in Jo'burg - and SA as a whole - is so well known that it's become common sense. Driving on SA's roads for 5 months has shown me a gaping hole in the GPS devices available here - the inability to specify "safest path" as an option.

Being new to Jo'burg, I really don't know which areas are (relatively) safe, and which are not. It has happened sometimes that I wandered-off into an area which I didn't know, and I didn't know whether it was OK to drive through that area (from a safety perspective). My GPS allows me to choose between "Fastest Time" and "Shortest Distance", but it doesn't allow me to choose "Safest Route".

I believe - with reasonable amount of confidence - that there's opportunity for a GPS device (or a feature in an online mapping service such as Google Maps) that provides such an option. How would this feature work? Based on historical records of crime-incidents and their respective locations, a "Threat Score" would be assigned to each area and recorded in the maps. The GPS would then not route the user through areas with a high Threat Score (or alternatively, a low Safety Score). For online services such as Google Maps, the maps could be live-fed with crime information as it happens, allowing the service to modify routes on a daily/hourly/whatever basis.

Such a device/feature seems to have opportunity not only in South Africa and the broader crime-ridden continent of Africa, but everywhere on the planet where crime is an issue.

Is information recall better in dreams?

I've been noticing this for years now - the ability to recall information seems to be better during dreams, than when I'm awake. I observed this most recently when I saw a dream. In this dream, I was traveling through my home - I was flying from room to room, watching the various objects where they actually are. When I try to do this in the awake mode, I'm not able to recall the position and shape of objects to as good an extent, as I'm able to when I'm asleep.

It's possible that this happens because when I'm awake, my concentration keeps shifting from one task to another, and hence the recall isn't as good (a related idea that I wrote ~2 years back is here).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Can a civilian airline be launched, only to unleash terror someday?

These thoughts are based on my current, incomplete knowledge about the process of launching and running an airline. As such, factual inaccuracies might be present.

In mid-January this year, I read the headline of a story on Reuters, which gave me this idea. Is it possible for people-with-malicious-intent to legally launch a civilian airline, and someday use that airline's aircraft for malicious purposes (similar to 9/11, perhaps)?

I tweeted about this, but based on my sister's request, I deleted the tweet (but saved a screenshot). Here's a sanitized version of the screenshot:

Is this possible? Can terrorists convince wealthy, orthodox individuals to fund the launch of a legal civilian airline, purchase of a few (large-sized) aircraft, and its operations for a few months, only to use the aircraft for destructive purposes someday? Have we already thought about this possibility? Do we have processes in place to prevent this?

Update (20-Feb-10): A news story in The Washington Post (annotated PDF here) and in The New York Times prompted me think - is it even required to launch an airline to conduct destructive acts? What prevents people-with-malicious-intent from directly purchasing low-cost, small-or-medium-sized aircraft from Bombardier/ Cessna/ Dassault/ Embraer/ Gulfstream/ etc., purportedly for business/personal use, and using them for destructive purposes? And this doesn't yet include purchase of second-hand aircraft...

Update 2 (20-Feb-10): A related article on a stolen Boeing on BBC (annotated PDF here)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Analysis of work-life balance; Introduction to work-sleep balance

Since I came to Jo'burg, I've sometimes thought about the concept of work-life balance. When can work-life balance be called OK, typically? When is it bad, and when is it worse? Does a very worse work-life balance call for a new term? These were some of the questions I thought about, and here are my semi-processed thoughts on these:
  • A typical weekday can broadly be divided into three parts: 10 hours of work, 6 hours of life, and 8 hours of sleep.
  • Work-life balance is defined by P, the ratio between the number of hours spent on work (W), and the number of hours utilized on life (L). Assuming that W>=10 always, the applicable concept remains 'work-life balance' till W+L=16.
  • The acceptability-level of a person's work-life balance depends on the value of P. The higher the value of P is, the poorer one's work-life balance probably is.
  • Work-life balance is most acceptable when W=10 and L=6 (i.e., P=1.67).
  • Work-life balance - as a concept - no longer exists when W>=16 and L=0, implying that a person works for so many hours that he isn't able to live any life, and probably isn't even able to get an adequate amount of sleep. In such a case, the concept changes to what I term as 'work-sleep balance'.
  • Analogously, the acceptability-level of a person's work-sleep balance depends on Q, the ratio between W and S, where S is the number of hours a person sleeps.
  • Work-sleep balance is most acceptable when W=16 and S=8. However, it has to be noted that the presence of work-sleep balance itself is alarming, since its applicability indicates that work-life balance has been disrupted completely.
  • Basic premise: The basic premise of this idea is that after a day's work, a person deserves some time to live his life, and thereafter needs a certain minimum amount of sleep. If the volume of work is large enough to eat into one's life, one's work-life balance gets poor. However, if the volume of work is so much, that a person is able to live zero life, and is not even able to get an adequate amount of sleep, it shows that work has now moved a step ahead and is also encroaching on one's sleep-time.
  • Relation to one's job: It's okay to work in a company where P>1.67 only sometimes. It's slightly alarming to work in a company in which P>1.67 many times. It's quite alarming to work in a company in which P>1.67 almost always. It's seriously alarming to work in a company, in which Q comes into action, and Q>2 many times. And it's totally unacceptable to work in a company where Q>2 almost always.
Update [Jan'16]: I dearly miss the five-day workweek and two-day weekend of the ways when I was a college student [including MBA] as well as during my job days at Grail/Monitor. Even though there's far more control and reward in one's own business, the six-day workweek is something I strongly despise, as it leaves very little time for enjoyment. Fellows employed in multinational firms have this important advantage over doing one's own business [not considering other things].

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some people's conscious efforts to exhibit "glorified" qualities

This post is my personal observation, which I'm listing here without any substantiation.

For a few years now I've been observing something peculiar exhibited by select people. In situations where these individuals - who I'm not going to name here - are confronted with making a choice between
  1. A: Accepting the rules, involving no risk, but involving an immediate compromise
  2. B: Breaking the rules, involving some risk, but no immediate compromise
these individuals loudly declare something akin to "Why should we follow the rules? We should break the rules. Rules should not be followed...", and then choose B. I find this expression quite unnatural, and somewhat bogus too.

The above example is just one of a number of different situations in which I've observed some people making statements, which reflect their desire to indicate that they possess certain qualities that we all have come to consider as qualities of great men.

My explanation: Upon giving some thought, I've come up with an explanation for this type of behavior. Years and years of our reading and listening to tales of great men, and their character/qualities, has built an impression upon our minds that there are certain specific qualities which all of these great men possess, and that these qualities themselves are great. Qualities such as defying the norms/rules, being courageous, taking calculated risks, etc. And in their attempt to mimic those great men, when they're confronted with situations in which it's possible to exhibit some of these qualities, the select people I referred to earlier loudly declare these qualities as the reason for they choosing B over A. It's probably also an attempt to build an impression about oneself - among friends and colleagues - that the individual possesses great qualities - qualities that are rare, and are symbolic of great men.

While it cannot be denied that it's probably these qualities that led to, in part, the success of great men. However, it's my belief/hypothesis that men who're truly great don't go around trumpeting a bunch of qualities. Perhaps they're unaware that it's certain qualities in their character that are leading to their success. They just act is a specific way - which is rare - without consciously declaring that they're acting in that way. They're breaking rules, not because they already know that it's great to break rules, and that great men have historically broken rules, but because they're like that naturally.

Just a thought.

Update (16-May-10): Observed two other qualities that people usually try to display:
  1. Being upfront: "I'm upfront about how/what I feel...", is something many people emphatically claim
  2. Being transparent: "I'm inside what I'm outside...", is another statement that can be heard from many people (it's related to 'hypocrite')
Additionally, it's important to differentiate between:
  1. A person who really is a 'hypocrite', but doesn't claim that he is not
  2. A person who may or may not be a hypocrite, but nonetheless claims that he is not
This post is concerned with the latter type of people.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Variation in claustrophobia, fear of dark with closed/opened eyes

Today we went to Sun City, South Africa. This popular tourist spot has a good collection of water sports, and we did quite many of these. Among the ones available was a water-slide made out of a closed, dark tunnel. Not a regular water-slide (this was absent at uShaka in Durban), since instead of a regular open-top, this one was completely closed/covered - essentially a narrow, hollow pipe, into which you're released to spend the next 60-odd seconds of your life in near-complete darkness, whizzing downwards through a highly-curved tunnel at a high (and increasing) speed, ultimately splashing into a pool of water. The image below is a decent approximation of what the slide looks like (from inside).

Screams were not uncommon (Source:

I took this slide and enjoyed it quite a lot. When I took it the second time, I conducted a tiny experiment. I compared the levels of my fear with my eyes closed and with my eyes open. I observed that I feared the slide relatively more when I would open my eyes, although there would only be pitch-darkness whether my eyes were open or not (it's not exactly clear at this moment whether the fear was claustrophobic, or only resulting from darkness, or both).

I hypothesize that when I opened my eyes and saw complete darkness, my brain actually saw this darkness. It concluded that I'm inside a narrow and completely dark pipe, and this caused me some fear. In contrast, when I had my eyes closed, the darkness that was visible now was the regular darkness when someone closes his eyes. In this case the brain probably doesn't conclude anything, since the surroundings are unknown to it. It probably doesn't automatically fear this unknown.

The above thoughts are crude and elementary. Further research is needed (if not already done) to understand if and how the brain interprets darkness in two different ways, depending upon whether an individual's eyes are open or closed.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Standard-sized batteries in electric cars, "battery-pumps", etc.

UPDATE [APR'12]: I'm surprised to see this Jan'11 story on Technology Review about the plans of Better Place to do something identical to what I've written in this post.

While I was reading an article on electric cars - focusing on Reva Electric Car Co. - in Emirates' Portfolio magazine (Issue 49, January 2010), I came across the following paragraph:

"Companies like GM and Nissan are already spending billions to develop electric cars. Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan and Renault, said recently that electric vehicles would make up 10 percent of all cars sold by 2020.

But before that can happen, both electric cars and their batteries have to become more efficient and cheaper, a whole battery-charging station infrastructure has to be created, and consumers have to want the cars, which cost considerably more than petrol-powered vehicles."

It's the text in bold that intrigued me. A thought immediately flashed - should all electric car manufacturers agree on a standardized battery specification (size, shape, electrical-characteristics, etc.), so that the consumers don't ever "own" a battery? Instead, like we have "petrol-pumps" today, we might have "battery-pumps" in the future, where a car-owner can drive in and quickly swap the nearly-drained battery (or batteries, if there is more than one) inside his car with a fully-charged pack, in perhaps <2 minutes.

As I thought more about it, I got increasingly convinced that such a system would not only eliminate (or at least mitigate) some of the key barriers to mass-adoption of electric cars, it would also behave in a manner similar to the current system of "petrol pumps", to the users, thus reducing their learning curve.

Following non-exhaustive list of factors shall drive competition among the "battery pumps":
  1. The number of battery-packs that a pump owns (its inventory)
  2. The ability of a pump to keep its inventory fully charged
  3. The price charged by a pump for a fully/partially charged pack
  4. The pricing model of a pump
  5. The quality of battery-packs available at a pump
Note on (3): Pricing might be decided on the basis of the number of kilojoules that a pump claims to deliver in a battery-pack. Alternatively, pricing might be decided on the basis of the actual distance (or energy) that a user is able to extract from the battery (measured by measurement devices inside the vehicle).

Note on (4): Could these "battery pumps" also offer prepaid subscription models analogous to those currently offered by the telcos - subscribe to a particular pump (or its chain), and they offer you either a discounted rate (since you've already paid the upcoming month's subscription-cost to them, encouraging you to buy from them), or unlimited battery replacements, or a capped number of units (e.g., first 500 minutes free, and charged after that).

A user may be allowed to charge the battery-pack(s) inside his vehicle by himself, by plugging his vehicle into a standard power socket at his home (or at a restaurant which offers complementary charging to customers). This option will allow users to self-charge their vehicles, and will further mitigate the issue of availability of charging facilities.

In summary, the model outlined above appears more effective to me than a model where each electric car manufacturer uses a proprietary type of battery (and possibly charging mechanism), leading to the same type of incompatibility and its associated perils that exist in the world of printers (ink cartridges), laptop-computers (batteries), and cell phones (chargers and batteries). We need a system akin to the CD-ROM drive, where all machines use a component with fixed specifications.

Note: Googling portions of the article revealed that it's a reproduction of this NYT story.