Archive: Jan 2007

10 bucks for a good cause

Charlie is running a Superbown Charity Wiki – for $10 (ok, $10.59 including PayPal fees, to be exact), you can sign up to a box in his 100 Bloggers, 100 Boxes wiki.

The winner gets to give all the winnings to the charity of his/her choice. I am #99, right ahead of Josh. I signed up with my Tatvam blog and my charity is, of course, Magic Bus.

Join in! It is certainly worth a couple of Starbucks drinks…

Freezing tundra, a.k.a. New York City

If I had been here in early Jan and slowly been introduced to the bone-chilling cold, a few degrees at a time, it might have been bearable.

But spending day x in glorious 85 degree weather in Madras and day x+1 in 25 degree weather in New York? That’s not so great. I spent the past day wearing three layers of clothing, wool socks and freezing – all inside the house. Outside was a lot worse. I thought I was going to become an icicle.

Let’s hope the body adjusts fast – this weekend is going to be 9 degrees!! Makes me want to run back to India. But… I can keep whining or enjoy being home. Let me try the latter for a few hours and get back to you.

P.S.: Apparently this is post #50.

Neo Sports – Tasteless ads

I’ve been in India watching the cricket live on TV, which is much better than on my computer! But one of the downsides is having to watch the advertisements.

The India vs. West Indies series is being shown on Neo Sports which brands itself as “The home of Indian cricket”. A lot of the ads on Neo are house ads for the channel itself. Since it is a new channel, that makes sense.

Now, here’s where things get tricky. For the India-West Indies series, they have come up with a couple of ads to promote the series.

Ad #1 – A West Indian visitor is at an Indian outdoor dhaba. He takes a mouthful of the curry and his mouth is on fire. As he runs around for water, the waiter walks away, the other guests put their hands in the glasses, drop their dentures in their glasses of water and other things that prevent him from drinking water. Finally, in desperation, he turns to a tap and even that has no water. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India “. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.

Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake. The boatman looks at them and then he stands. He throws the oar away and then starts disrobing. The couple look at each other, frightened (I thought he was going to rape the poor woman). Then, when he’s down to his chuddies (boxers), he jumps off the boat, leaving the poor couple in the middle of the lake with no oar and the West Indian guy calling out “Hello? Hello maan??”. Tag line – “It is tough to be a West Indian in India”. And then there are images of the West Indian and Indian teams playing cricket.

At worst, these ads are racist. At best, they shout out a message that Indians are not hospitable and treat our guests terribly.

Let’s address hospitality.

“Atithi Devo Bhava” – The Guest is God

Every Indian has heard that phrase – hospitality has been ingrained in Indian culture. In fact, India’s Tourism Ministry has adopted this slogan as part of their Incredible India campaign. Clearly, this is *not* how we treat our guests. When someone’s mouth is on fire, would you deny them succor? Would you abandon someone in the middle of a lake? Clearly, no.

I understand what they were trying to say – they are trying to talk about how the Indian team will do well against the West Indian team. They thought the ads would be funny – any maybe they are for the first few seconds after you’ve seen them the very first time. But as soon as you think about it for a few seconds, that’s gone.

Here’s a better way do it –

New Ad #1 – The West Indian eats at a dhaba. He has a great time and makes friends with the locals. They go to watch the cricket together. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian hosts are happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”

New Ad #2 – A West Indian couple are snuggling on a boat in the middle of a large and serene lake.. Their guide is very chatty and friendly. The next day, they are in the stands next to each other. India smacks the West Indies and the Indian boatman is happy. Tag line – “It is great to be a West Indian in India – except if you are on the cricket field”

Wouldn’t that accomplish the purpose in a graceful, yet impactful way? I certainly think so.

Now, onto the charge of racism. I don’t believe that the ads were meant to be racist. I think that if the Australians were visiting, Neo might have made the same advertisement and said “It is tough to be an Aussie in India” (except the Aussies always win!). But the reality is that the Aussies aren’t visiting. The reality is that the West Indians are black and the ad could be perceived as racist. From a brand value perspective, as you are trying to establish your brand, why would you even take the risk?

I think Neo Sports and its parent company Nimbus Communications have missed the mark here. Time to pull these ads and issue a clarification.

Many Indians will head to the West Indies in March for the Cricket World Cup. How many will want to go if West Indian television had an ad where an Indian visitor was being treated rudely with the tag line “It is tough to be an Indian in the West Indies”?

As the saying goes, “Its just not cricket!”

UPDATE (January 27th): Another match today – they’ve now started putting out ads with the Sri Lankans. Here’s what they’ve done:

Ad #1: They have a Sri Lankan man being served food at the dhaba (the same hot curry) and the waiters gleefully waiting for him to start eating. The running around looking for water is not there since they’ve established what’s about to happen to him. Tag line ‘Now, even Sri Lankans will have a tough time in India”

Ad #2: A Sri Lankan couple in the boat. Shots of the boatman grinning expectantly at what’s about to happen to them. Shorter ad than the WI one. Same tag line as above.

So Nimbus seems to be sticking to their guns and by doing so, their message seems to be that there is no racist intent – they are treating the Sri Lankans (who are brown like Indians) the same as the West Indians. All very interesting.

Magic Bus

Every child has the right to play

– Article 31, UN Child Rights Convention

Our favorite charity is Magic Bus. It is a completely phenomenal organization.

R met Matthew Spacie, the founder and chairman, in Bombay many years ago and was involved as Matthew started Magic Bus. Matthew lived and worked in Bombay and started to play rugby with a group of street children in 1999. As he spent more time with them, he realized that the ability to play in wide open spaces and learn through playing and having fun had a huge impact on the children – on their attitude and their perspectives. So, Matthew started Magic Bus.

The number of children in need of help in India is staggering1-

  • 11 million children live in slums or on the street. 2.3 in Bombay alone
  • Most will be exposed to crime before they are 8
  • 14% of children in India are involved in child labor
  • India accounts for 20% of the world’s out of school children
  • Over 60% of street children start their day with substance abuse
  • About 900,000 prostitutes are under the age of 18

Magic Bus works with these children – street children and at risk children, the poorest of the poor, to help try and change the trajectory of their lives. A lot of organizations in India work on the basic needs – shelter, food, clothing. Magic Bus supplements this and focuses on letting kids have fun and through having fun, teaches them life skills.

Magic Bus has worked with over 18,000 children to date! The video (below) is a wonderful encapsulation of what they do, is incredibly impactful and is exceptionally well-produced – watch it!

We spent Thanksgiving in London for the Magic Bus Annual Gala. Held in Whitehall, it was a phenomenal event and the auction that night raised a significant amount of money – including funding for a second “magic” bus. It is so great to see an organization that does so much good that is also so superbly run.

This post that is long overdue from our visit to London, but it is perfect to post this now because… for all of his efforts in creating a sustainable organization and for all the accomplishments of Magic Bus, Matthew was recognized with an M.B.E. this year! Congratulations Matthew and the entire Magic Bus team!!!

You can help! Here’s how:


  1. from the video 

How any large company can blow it.

Fred Vogelstein’s article in Wired, How Yahoo Blew It, is a must read. It remains to be seen whether Yahoo can recover from it’s various mess ups, very pithily called a “clusterfuck” by a Yahoo insider. I hope they do recover because we need more than one strong player in search.

But it is a must read because the mistakes Yahoo made could be made by any large company. Endless meetings, inability to actually get stuff done, begging thirty different constituents to approve a project that is critical, idiots with little power exercising it to protect their own turf, people thinking of their groups first – the company second, endless presentations on the same topic… I could go on and on.

So, how do you get around this? I think the issue here is one of prioritization. Why didn’t Semel tell everyone that Panama was the most important project for the company? Why did the Panama team have to beg the homepage team to test placement?

In every company’s life, there will be a few moments where they must win – must be first to market, must get things done quickly with a great product. It is the CEO’s job to be able to identify these situations (Semel seems to have) and then ensure that execution is not bogged down due to the size and politics of the company (he clearly failed here). Even after Weiner was put in charge, there seem to have been several hurdles. The project should have been rammed through like everyone’s life depended on it.

But, culture and politics are very hard to fix. And in the end, that may be the reason they don’t recover.

Link via: Brad Feld

Dreaming of Galle

We were in Sri Lanka over the new year holidays. But whenever we told people we were going to Sri Lanka, they looked at us like we’d lost our minds. But, fortunately, we were going to the southern part of the country, far away from most of the internal conflict. We spent a couple of days at the beach (where this picture was taken). Gorgeous, but as gorgeous as most gorgeous beaches.

Then we spent a few days in Galle Fort – what an amazing place! The Galle Fort is the only living fort in the world Sri Lanka [corrected] and the Galleans are very proud of it and rightfully so. Galle’s history dates back to 1344 AD when merchants from all parts of the world like Portugal, China and Southern India docked for trade. In 1505, the Portuguese stop by Galle on their way to the Maldives and in 1588, the first fortification was built. In 1640, the Dutch captured the fort after a bloody battle and an eighteen day siege. And it was the Dutch that saw the completion of the ramparts of the fort that still stand today.

The name Galle is attributed to the Portuguese. Apparently, the sailor who was on the lookout for land saw a crowing rooster on a rock face and called out “Galla – buonovista”, a rooster – a beautiful sight. In fact, while the English pronunciation of Galle sounds like Gaul (as in the Asterix and Obelix cartoons), the Sri Lankans pronounce it Gal-la or more accurately Gal-le, the le like the French le in le maison.

Galle even claims links to the Ramayana! In the Ramayana, when Lakshmana is injured, Rama sends Hanuman to find the Sanjeevani herb from the Himalayas. Hanuman can’t find the plant and he instead uproots and whole mountain and flies back to Lanka. Apparently a chunk of it fell off, now forming the Rumassala hill in Galle. The locals profess that the hill has some very rare and healing plants which are found only in Galle… and the Himalayas.

Galle itself is a the fourth largest city in Sri Lanka and is filled with ugly buildings and over-construction. But the little city within the fort is very different.

View from the rampartsStanding on the ramparts, the sight of the bay is magnificent. It is amazing to think that the walls built centuries ago withstood the Tsunami of 2004. The water knifed around the rampart walls, and destroyed the city of Galle. As the water receded from the city, through the fort and back to the bay, the fort did flood about 2 feet in the low-lying areas, but the damage was minimal and no houses were affected.

Inside the fort, it is like being thrown back to another century. Life immediately calms down. The pace slows and you want to walk slowly, talk quietly and breathe deeply. Muslims, Christians and Buddhists all live peacefully within the fort – a point of pride for Galleans who told us that unlike the rest of Sri Lanka, the residents of the fort see themselves as a community first, religious distinctions came later. They were eager to give us examples of how the communities helped each other in the upkeep of the mosques, churches and temples.

The fort claims quite a few well-known residents, foremost amongst them, Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous architect. If you are into architecture, check out his work, it is astounding.

houseThere are about 250 houses inside the fort and in recent years, expats have started to move in, charmed by the idyllic lifestyle. The first expat moved in in 1999 and today 72 of the homes have been bought by foreigners. They buy homes that are run down and re-do them, restoring the soaring ceilings, cool interiors and indoor courtyards. They often enhance these with indoor pools to create private havens.

shopShopping is plentiful within the fort. You can wander up and down Leyn Bann street and find much entertainment. Even though we are Indian and I thought we could blend into the Sri Lankan population, we must have had tourists plastered on our foreheads since we were hit on by numerous touts offering to show us around. Eschew all such offers — you can walk the length and breadth of the fort on your own and can’t possibly get lost. Besides the persistent touts though, the people are wonderful – warm, generous with their time and eager to help.

AmanGallaThe most economical way of enjoying the fort is to rent one of the houses from an expat who’s out of town. But there are also two wonderful hotels located inside the fort – the Galle Fort Hotel and the AmanGalla. Both are fabulous hotels that have been painstakingly restored. AmanGalla used to be called the New Orient Hotel hotel and is Sri Lanka’s oldest surviving hotel. It has striking similarities to the Raffles hotel in Singapore. It is the perfect place to spend the afternoon, nestled in a plantation chair, reading a book and the indulging in some wonderful tea with scones and finger sandwiches. Charming doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The Galle Fort is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As it should be. It is a place you’ll want to return to many times.

All too quickly, it was time to leave. Security was tight getting into the Galle Naval Base and fortunately, it was only then that ? (Ohm)1 reminded me that the LTTE had attacked the base just a couple of months ago – thank god he didn’t bring it up earlier or I would have been stressed about it instead of enjoying my time there.

Galle from the airWe waited by a gorgeous lake for my first ever seaplane ride and we headed to Colombo and back to reality. Looking down over Galle, I wished for Galle and Sri Lanka a lasting peace that such a beautiful place and such a warm people truly deserve.


  1. My husband, has now become “The Artist Formerly Known As (Name Hidden)” and will hereby go by this symbol, which is used to denote Ohm. It also sounds like the Sanskrit Om… all very symbolic and all that jazz. 

I want the iPhone – now!

iPhoneI’ve been waiting for this announcement for months! So, here I am following Mac Rumours Live from 11pm to 12:30am in India, Skyping with a fellow mac addict through the entire key note.

Can I say WOW?!!! Oh my holy good god!!! This phone is light years ahead of the competition. At least five years ahead. iPod, phone, plus internet. It has surpassed my wildest expectations.

Ok, let me be structured –

Interface/Hardware

  • The device is one giant screen. One button only – the home button.
  • The Blackberry and the Treo have keypads, this has a virtual keypad since the whole thing is interactive.
  • Touch screen. But not just touch, multi-touch (in multiple places) and ignores errors. Can scroll through songs, contacts, dial a phone number by using your fingers on the screen.
  • Forget your stylus, use what you have – your fingers.
  • 3.5-inch screen, high resolution screen, 160ppi.
  • Only 11.6mm — thinner than the Q.
  • 2 megapixel camera.
  • “Accelerator” – automatically switches orientation between horizontal and vertical.
  • Knows when you take the phone towards your ear with a “proximity sensor” – what? Wow!
  • Ambient light sensor.
  • Shrink and enlarge text by “pinching” the screen and expanding your fingers – jeez!
  • WiFi and EDGE – with auto-detect (meaning you don’t have to do anything, it just connects)
  • 8GB and 4GB. Feels small. Especially for video. And with all your contacts and tunes and video loaded, it could be tight.

OS

  • It runs Mac OS X. Forget the horrible Windows Mobile. This is the beautiful os I am used to on my laptop transported onto the phone. Excellent!
  • Because it runs Mac OS X, it can do a whole bunch of things amazingly well – photos, contacts, calendar, widgets etc. Amazing photo application.

iPod

  • Well, it is the iPod you are used to, but without the click wheel, you use your finger to scroll instead.
  • All the usual stuff – album art etc. Same for movies.
  • Amazing resolution.
  • Speaker.

Phone

  • Excellent call interface. Conference calling made easy.
  • Visual voicemail. Instead of listening to your messages sequentially, see them all on screen and jump to whichever one you want. Just like email. For this they need carrier integration.
  • Can talk and send email at the same time!
  • Multiple SMS conversations using the onscreen keyboard. iChat like interface. Predictive text of some sort.
  • Great new bluetooth headset that is as sleek as the phone.

Email

  • Supports all pop and imap emails.
  • Supports Rich HTML.
  • PUSH IMAP – hello blackberry, goodbye blackberry. Basically makes every imap email account into a blackberry account. Integration with Yahoo, push IMAP for iPhone customers will be free.

Web

  • Safari is the browser.
  • Integrated with Google and Yahoo search.
  • Integrated Google Maps.
  • Location capabilities – it will show you where you are on the Google map, you can then find nearby restaurants, shops etc. Hello geo-targeted local commerce – you are a reality for the first time, my sweet little thing.

Carrier

  • Cingular.
  • Multi-year exclusive.
  • Bad, bad move. Carrier agnostic is the way to go. Own every network, not just the locations Cingular covers well.
  • Cingular service is crap.
  • Cingular’s pricing plan is through the roof.
  • I will not switch to Cingular. Even for this phone. Bad experiences have scarred me.
  • Ah well, someone will crack the lock on it pretty quickly and I can then use it on any GSM network.

Price

  • 4GB – $499.
  • 8GB – $599.
  • This is *with* a two-year Cingular contract.
  • Hmm… feels high. Will be a barrier for a lot of people. Especially since there is no subsidizing by Cingular like they usually do. The explanation is that this is the subsidized price, but the marketing sell is missing ($599 from Apple, but only $299 with a Cingular contract blah blah).

Overall take

  • The product is unbelievable. UN-BEE-LIEVABLE!!! Blown away. Completely. With over 200 patents on this thing, this is a huge leap in innovation.
  • The storage size will increase quickly, I would think. The phone is similar in size to a video iPod, so if they can squeeze 30GB and the phone hardware in there, it would be perfection defined.
  • The business decision on carrier, I find just plain bad. Cingular, I am sure, put up tons of moolah, but for Apple, the customer experience always comes first… Let’s see how it unfolds.

Those who need to worry

  • All phone manufacturers
  • RIM (the makers of Blackberry)
  • Microsoft, who basically said yesterday that this would be very hard for Apple to pull off. Heh!
  • Cingular – since no one is excited it was announced with them. If crappy Cingular service affects iPhone sales (it will), it will be bye bye baby. Contract or no contract.

Apple is SO cool. They have truly redefined the phone. I can’t wait (after someone cracks the Cingular lock on it a week after release).

Congratulations, Apple!

Image from: Engadget

Mandatory resolution list

Feeling compelled to post this. Maybe if I make it public, I will try to stick to these things.

1. Health – eat healthy, drink lots of water, exercise more regularly, fix the niggles in my knee and shoulder (yes, I know, a lot)

2. Maintain regular hours. I’ve never done this in my life — I stay up late, work insane hours and generally throw off my clock. Need to fix that.

3. Write every day. Structuring my day will provide me more time to do this.

4. Watch four movies a week.

5. Spend less time online  Рwithout the pressure of work and meetings, it is easy to spend too much time online.

6. Spend more time in India.

I think that’s it. I want to keep it to an attainable list and while this may be short, it seems pretty daunting to me. Let’s see how far I can get.

Happy new year my imaginary readers. Here’s to a fabulous 2007!