Sunday, December 21, 2014

Too Cold!

There is a local joke out here in Singapore that goes like this – Singapore has two seasons – summer outdoors and winter indoors. While Singapore being on the equator is a tropical country, almost all indoor public places in Singapore are air conditioned. So may it be the trains, the buses, the malls, movie theatres or even indoor recreational areas they are all kept cool.

The problem however is that most of the places are kept too cold. I can of course understand that while some people like their air conditioners cooler than others, as a general principle temperatures between 23.5°C and 25.5°C are good for everyone. However, I have noticed and felt that most places the temperatures are kept at about 16-21°C. Mind you, the outside temperatures range in 25-30°C most days of the year.

Not only is it too cold for most people, but it is a colossal waste of electricity (yeah and a direct contribution to Global warming). I am amazed even though there is an economic incentive (electricity bill reduction) no one seems to care about it! This goes along with my other pet peeve of people using too much paper napkins for drying hands after washing! Sigh!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Avoiding decision fatigue

For a guy wearing tents all my life, the recent news about some great (established people) wearing the same colour clothes everyday came as a big ray of hope. Yeah, if you haven’t read the article yet – here is the gist – People like President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs choose to wear the same colour clothes everyday. This helps them to make less choices (avoid decision fatigue) and thereby utilize their brain’s limited capacity to make other important decisions in life.

I can’t be more elated by this news. I have decided to dump my wardrobe and to go all-in with light-blue shirts and navy blue pants. That’s it. Not that I make important decisions. Nor do I have to think hard to choose what to wear everyday. But the very idea of wearing the same colour and getting away with one big headache of wearing clothes to look cool (or dress for success – whatever you like to call it!) looks extraordinarily appealing. After all, a man in blue shirt and blue pants is as dull and boring as any other person out there in the crowd. I will blend in with others and can happily continue with my minion existence. If that’s not all, if someone indeed notices and questions me about my weird sense of style, I can proudly quote the article. In fact, I have decided to make copies of it and keep it in my shirt pocket so that I can distribute it around.

Besides, making my wardrobe easy and shopping easy, I can occasionally reuse soiled clothes without people noticing. How do you know if I am wearing a different blue shirt than the one I wore yesterday (or the day before)? I will end up saving a lot of water, electricity and detergent. One more step towards a eco-friendly living.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Elevator Door Buttons

Though I have used elevators all my life, if there is one simple task that I still struggle at – it is to keep the door open when someone is trying to get in at the last moment. And the reason? Because the Door open and Door close buttons are hard to differentiate without thinking hard enough.

Elevator Door Open or Close

Japanese have this concept of “Poke-Yoke” (Mistake proof or Idiot proof your design). There are plenty of examples of Poke-yoke online, so I add a few more for you to read here:

  1. Your USB drive can go in only the right direction into the USB socket
  2. The ATM Card comes out before the money is dispensed so that you don’t forget your ATM card
  3. The Ethernet cable can only be inserted in one way into your computer.
  4. Your basin has an emergency extra hole at the top so that even if the main drain chokes, water can flow through an alternate hole.
  5. You can’t start an Automatic gear car unless you put the gear in parking
  6. Your room key doubles up as a key to start/stop your electricity in your hotel room. That way you never leave the lights on when you leave your room.
  7. The Video Component cable uses the same colours as the sockets so that you blindly put the red in red, black/yellow in black/yellow and white in white.

However, I am amazed that no one has yet come up with a UX design for an elevator door open and close button that can be easily identified even by an idiot and not used to mistakenly close the door on someone while being chivalrous. This goes along with my rant about how easy it is to be confused between restroom symbols and elevator symbols in public places!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cost of being a common man

My Twitter and Facebook timeline is abuzz lately for a few celebrities/ politicians taking or not taking public transport. People who are in favour of important people taking public transport voice the fact that those people should represent the common people from where they come from. If majority of people of that country are poor, then the politicians should also travel like them.

Since everyone is entitled to their opinion, I am posting mine here. I strongly believe that politicians should not travel by public transport. The cost of “showing” them poor is way too high. And here is my argument for them staying away from the general public:

  1. As an elected official, you are representing an important post in the Government. Though your life may not seem important to you, the mere title that you are carrying, makes it important. The cost of replacing you if something goes wrong with you, is too high to the economy.
  2. Since people tasked with your security know point 1 above, they have to ensure your safety at all costs. If you plan to travel by public transport, your security detail has to do a lot more effort to make you look “common man”. In reality they are frisking and inconveniencing a lot of people who are going about their daily lives.
  3. Just by traveling public class, you are not messaging anything. If you are rich, we know you are rich. Be what you truly are. Of course, if it is a vote garnering tactic, then go ahead and do your antics.
  4. Just because you are travelling public class, a lot more people are crowding that system to look at you, than to do their daily routines. This burdens public transport. You are best seen on Television or on meet-the-people sessions in an enclosed space specifically meant for that.
  5. If you really wish to show that your humble, make sure that you travel in such a way that you inconvenience the least number of people, and make conscious efforts to reduce the cost of your security detail. And yeah, live a simple lifestyle.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weighed down

While I was having my breakfast the other day and watching my local news channel, my sleepy state of watching daily news was suddenly interrupted by a truly breaking news. The local news channel broadcast live – President Obama giving his impassioned speech on immigration reforms. He is a mighty impressive orator. To be fair, I don’t understand anything about American politics. (Yeah I do see House of Cards once a while, but it gives me an impression that American politicians are sly, scheming and conniving bunch of high-profile scoundrels. And I can safely assume that they are not.)

Anyway, this blog post ain’t about America or Obama. It’s about my weighing scale. That little thing neatly sits besides my Television at home and dutifully tells me how heavy I am everyday (Yup, I make it a point to weigh myself every morning – a sad way to start your day actually!).

However from that morning, my scale has started showing my weight in Pounds. After all these years of showing Kilograms, I don’t know why it suddenly became imperial. The only association I can put together is – it heard the President speak, got inspired (and hoped to be an American someday) and started following the American way of counting. I have no clue why the Americans still use the imperial system (someone has to show them this comic by Oatmeal). Luckily, my scale doesn’t speak else I am sure it would have adopted an American accent as well.

Now everyday morning, after I weigh myself I have to go to Google and convert that weight into Kilograms to feel sad.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


It’s the 11th month of the year. And it’s the month to raise awareness about men’s health. Unless you have been living under a rock, I am sure you are aware of the “Movember” movement. Men grow moustaches in November to raise awareness about men’s health issues. Particularly – Testicular cancer, Prostrate Cancer, Mental Health and general Men’s health.

Though I have known, I stayed away from Movember for the last 2 years. This year however, I gave in and am on day 15 of my moustache growing spree. Why? Beyond the obvious reason of supporting a good cause, I also wanted to grow a moustache. I never dared to sport a moustache (other than the one that I had as an adolescent – the kinds that teenagers keep before they actually resort to shaving), and have pretty much stuck to the “clean-shaven” look for all formal occasions. However, as a kid, a silly Hindi movie imbibed in my impressionable mind  - “Moustache is the mirror of human mind and soul” and I always wanted to experience what that means. Now after 15 days, the only difference I feel now is that my moustache is itchy. Period.

Golmaal–Moustache scene


Ministry of Funny–7 Reasons to Grow a Moustache

So to sum it up, I am waiting for November to end so that I can be peaceful again. I haven’t officially signed up for Movember. Mainly for 2 reasons:

Anyway, now that you are aware, I would love you to contribute directly to any of the causes that you feel like. Even if you don’t, I hope I could do my bit about educating you about men’s health and of course my fascination for moustaches.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Product Pricing

I had the good fortunes of spending half a day with a savvy pricing guy from a local retailer. In the short time that I spent with him, he opened my eyes to how ignorant and gullible a consumer I am, and how retailers make use of that fact quite frequently to con me into parting with more of my money for their products. Enough ink has been spent about all these practices, so I am just gonna give you very short examples that have stuck in my head. Mind you, I am not even talking about the silly promotions that they run all the while. This is the hard-core regular bread and butter stuff:

  1. We don’t really know the exact prices of the consumables that we use everyday but don’t buy that frequently – e.g. – Shampoo, Soap, Toothpaste, Dishwasher etc. We are either brand loyal or we just go by the advertising on the shelf to do our purchases. The retailers use the knowledge of this fact to keep changing (mostly increasing) prices of all their consumables very frequently. The demand for these things is pretty inelastic and unless there is a crazy price increase we hardly bother or even realize.
  2. Besides prices, the other thing that they frequently play with is the packaging (net weight/ volume). This is because for items that are purchased frequently, we really know the prices quite well, and any movement in the price is easily noticed by the consumer (e.g Milk, Biscuits, Yogurt, Cereals etc.). But we are not that cognizant of the quantity of that item that we buy. So they trick us by changing (mostly decreasing) the volume while keeping the price of the product same, there by increasing the per unit cost.

After listening to his sermon, I was pretty sure that now I have “awakened” and have become a smart shopper till a few days ago I got conned again. A “health” drink that I frequently purchase (I know the price right down to the cents) just went through a huge rebranding and repacking exercise (yeah the “new and improved” trick). My local neighbourhood chemist was running a promotion on it and was selling the old product and new product side by side. Using my age old trick, I picked up the rebranded product (from the back) and went to the check-out counter. Luckily, that guy pointed out to me that to maximize my purchase I should buy the old packaging cause the new packaging actually offers 50gm less. Off 900 gm, it’s a decrease of 5.6% weight keeping the price same.

Newer on the left is 50 gm less

I don’t have an opinion about whether it is ethical or not. But I just feel as a consumer, we need to be more aware and not this gullible.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Active Nation

My general observation in Singapore is – people here live healthy. By that I mean – most of them exercise regularly and eat healthy. And then there are tonnes of marathons and other runs that happen in Singapore every year that a huge part of the population participates.

The Government and associated bodies, seem to take public health rather seriously. Giving a discourse about the Government policies is beyond my capacity, but I felt I highlight 2 important things that have affected me in the recent months:

The Health Promotion Board has had a very active campaign for people to sign-up and commit to lose weight. Collectively the country is trying to shed a million kg (after I look at all the healthy people around me, I doubt they will achieve that kind of a weight loss but a noble idea indeed). And if an entire nation is trying to lose weight together, it is probably all the motivation that you can get.

The Singapore Sports Council (SSC) has been promoting active living all this while. Now the SSC has launched a program titled “ActiveSG”. To entice people to actually use the facilities SSC is giving out $100 for each sign-up. That $100 in credits is valid till end of 2015. Swimming, costs $1 a visit (I find it ironic, that I pay less to swim here than I did in India, and the pools are bigger and relatively less crowded). Effectively, that’s more than 3 months of swimming free. And mind you, there are a lot of other facilities you can use beyond swimming (Table Tennis, Badminton, Gymnasium, Group exercises etc.)

With advancements in healthcare, human beings in general have started living longer. However, we aren’t that much healthier than our ancestors. Programs like these should help improve the overall wellbeing of the nation and make the resident population healthier and contribute towards lowering healthcare costs and better productivity off an aging population.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


These days I get to “advise” or “present” to customers in South-east Asia (SEA). Before moving to Singapore, most of my working life involved working “with” the Western world. While the work I do is more or less the same (yeah Enterprise Software related) here are the stark differences I have noticed:

When I travelled from India, I was deemed cheap labour (well, I was!) and judged even before I opened my mouth. When I travel from Singapore, I am coming from a developed nation to some developing nation in SEA. Naturally I get some sort of respect for my place of origin. I am more expensive than their locally hired consultants (many times) and well, I am judged (positively) even before I open my mouth.

My personal opinion is – no one can quite do hospitality like the Asians. Now I know I am generalizing, but I find the concierge and wait staff in Asian countries genuine, helping, friendly and naturally customer oriented. While in the “western” world, at times, I found them pretentious or down right rude. However, this is just an observation, and it could also be because I tend to stay in better places in Asia as compared to the Hotels that I stayed in the West.

Finally, Airports in Asian countries look chic and modern, while those in the West look more utilitarian and rundown. Again, this could be because, the airports that I have visited in this part of the world are newer, handle relatively lesser traffic than their Western counterparts (that I have been to).

Standard disclaimer about generalization based on specific individual observances and experiences apply.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

47 Ronin

I had a rather lazy Saturday yesterday. Early morning I decided to see a movie. And I chose 47 Ronin. Why 47 Ronin? Well because I was so lazy that I didn’t even bother to scroll down the list to see other movie options (47 being numeric, came at the top of the movie options that I could choose). It was a box office disaster and it still rates at 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.

47 Ronin–Trailer

As for me, I loved the movie. I don’t know why. May be I wasn’t that aware of the samurai culture before (Check out bushido for a quick overview.) Or may be because it is based on a true story. Yup. Though the movie says it is “inspired” and changed the story to make it into a Hollywood movie. The true story is quite moving and awe inspiring. Finally, I couldn’t forego the uncanny resemblance to Bollywood movies in which the loyal naukar (servant) will do anything for his benevolent malik (boss) and the beta (son) takes badla (revenge) for the baap (father). Yup, you got the gist.

Anyway, something most troubling and mystical has to be seppuku. The ritual of suicide. Having seen it in many movies before, I didn’t really read about it before till yesterday. The movie ends with a mass gut-wrenching seppuku.

Which brings me to my final fascination. I seem to like Japanese names and words. Especially when you say them out loud. Don’t believe me? Just lock yourself in a room, and say the names given below out loud. These are some of the actual cast of the movie.

  • Hiroyuki Sanada
  • Ko Shibasaki
  • Tadanobu Asano
  • Min Tanaka
  • Jin Akanishi
  • Masayoshi Haneda
  • Hiroshi Sogabe
  • Takato Yonemoto
  • Hiroshi Yamada
  • Rinko Kikuchi

Are you convinced that they sound cool? No? Okay, go back to them and say them out loud again.

Well well, to conclude, I won’t recommend you go see the movie. I just thought I write about it cause I liked it. And here is a cool video teaching you how to correctly pronounce Japanese Car brands.

Real pronunciations of Japanese Car Brands

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Almost every news these days seems to have a different outcome based on who reports. Be it war, politics, or even a simple altercation between two individuals the way it is reported can be poles apart based on where and from whom you are reading.

Never in my life have I questioned and not believed a news article the way I do now. We as a society have become extremely cynical and have lost complete trust in all media and in other people. Though social media has give people power (in general) it has also caused a lot of unnecessary noise and it is  becoming increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish the truth from the lie. Any person with a twitter handle, a blog or a Facebook post can change the course of history. What is a lie and what is the truth is left to the gullible readers to decide.

This also means a lot of what we have read in the past as news from distinguished media outlets, and as history has been manipulated to a great extend to satisfy a person’s or a political party’s agenda. Our world view as we know it today, is just a “view” that was built based on who brainwashed you. The “reality” could be far from what you think you know.

In the last week there have been a series of events that were reported in totally different ways based on where you read them:

  1. A protest against a government policy went wrong in Singapore. Based on whether you read the news as told by the protestors, by the bystanders or by the media you get a completely different picture of what happened.
  2. A news reporter got into an altercation outside Indian Prime Minister’s speech in New York. Again, despite all the conflicting evidence (with those YouTube videos floating around) it is very difficult to decipher what actually happened chronologically.
  3. And any action taken by any political party (however noble it might be), there will always be a counter argument on how bad the consequences are going to be.

Never in my life has news been so complicated and stressful. I miss my good old days when I could blindly trust anyone.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

You too!

Practically every netizen is aware of the new phone launches by Apple last week, followed by a bunch of announcements about the new Apple Watch. So far so good. Apple fans went crazy and Apple’s stock went through the roof yet again. I am sure the products are amazing and everyone will live happily ever after.

In all this frenzy, one of my favourite bands of all times – U2 released a new album. It is titled “Songs of Innocence”. Apple released it for free on iTunes. U2 seems to have a multi-year commercial and philanthropic tie-up with Apple. I am pretty sure both of them have done a fair bit of good in the world through the Product Red Campaign.

Songs of Innocence

However, free is bad. Free gives the wrong perception that the thing that you just received is not valuable. From Joshua Bell (the acclaimed Violinist) playing for “free” at the DC Metro Subway to Open Source software, people have consistently assumed (and many times falsely) that free means – not good.

I am appalled, sad and disappointed that U2 did this. Of course I am happy that I got their album for free. But I am not happy about all the negative reviews and articles that they are getting.

U2 made money in the deal. But they lost a fair bit of their amazing flair and credibility. According to NY Times online, this is what I could gather:

“To release U2’s album free, Apple paid the band and Universal an unspecified fee as a blanket royalty and committed to a marketing campaign for the band worth up to $100 million, according to several people briefed on the deal.”

So, it’s not that U2 gave you the album free, but indeed Apple did it. I feel, rather than pushing the album for free into everyone’s iTunes library, Apple should have made people to do the effort to search for and download the album. That way it would have been more valuable and people who don’t know them wouldn’t have bothered.

As for non-Apple users like me, I had to go download iTunes first then download “Songs of Innocence” and then uninstall iTunes. Anyway, I am listening to the album as I am writing this. And this week is gonna be all U2 for me. To end on a happy note, here is their funny “10 things” appearance on David Letterman:

Top 10 things U2 has learned over the years

Saturday, September 13, 2014

HBR Articles that influenced me

Continuing on my theme from last week, I decided to write on the Harvard Business Review articles that most influenced me. Top 10 makes it banal, so I stuck to the list as my “most favourite” articles. Since a considerable amount of my “reading time” (during my MBA and after) has been spent reading HBR, I feel it’s unfair to not credit it to have influenced me.

Most articles are behind a pay wall, but if you are creative enough with your Google skills, I am sure you can get them online free. I had free access to HBR as a student, and subsequently my organization also gave me free corporate access.

So here is the list:

Competing on Analytics

If there is one thing that I can squarely “blame” for me jumping into Business Intelligence (head first) as a career, this has to be it. Very well written and then followed by a book by the same name, this is a must start if you are wondering what Analytics can do for an organization.

What is strategy?

The first article that I read on my quest to understand “Strategy”. Simple, but effective. Ended up reading a lot of Michael Porter after this.

The Core Competency of the Corporation

If all that strategy talk gets you confused, I suggest you read this article to understand what is “core competence” and what is a “sustainable competitive advantage”. Though they have mostly become jargons now, it’s good to know what they actually stand for

The Five Competitive Forces that shape Strategy

Strategy again. One reason I love so many Strategy articles is because I specialized in Strategy. None the less, I like reading about it more than on topics of People Management, Marketing and the likes. I have written about this before. The classic Porter’s 5 forces.

Managing Oneself

A very thought provoking article on what to do in life in general and choosing careers, and making life-changing decisions. Peter Drucker at his best.

Who’s got the Monkey?

Another article that has featured on my blog before. Helped me change from an over worked worker bee, to a smart working worker bee (yeah still a bee). Easy, funny but insightful.

Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail

Whether in life or at work, we all go through these notions of working on “grand transformations” and then miserably failing. I love this article for its clear “8 step approach”

The Power of Virtual Integration

I love this article for the amazing clarity with which the entire concept of integrating across a Supply Chain is explained.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

10 books that influenced me

A very close friend of mine “nominated” me on Facebook to put this list together. Since Facebook for me is ephemeral (I still love to document my thoughts and life here), I decided to blog the list.

An intellectual exercise indeed. I spent greater part of my weekend ruminating and here is the outcome. I am aghast to see that almost all the books are prescribed “reading materials” in education. What that means is – I don’t read much (or at all!) fiction. That should partially explain why you find me so boring. Anyway, in no particular order, here is my list:

The Dorling Kindersley Science Encyclopaedia

If there is one reason I am what I am, I have to give credit to this book. My parents bought this book for me during my primary school days (1990s), and I got hooked. This book was my source of “all information” till I discovered Google!

Applied Cryptography

This book was a recommended reading for an Information Security course in my Engineering. I loved it so much that I ended up reading it again after I started to work, just to get a kick out of reading Bruce Schneier’s humorous way of presenting a particularly dry subject. Have followed his blog ever since!

Principles of Economics

I always found Economics to be extremely boring till I read this book. It is practically un-put-downable. I read this book during my MBA and I ended up neglecting other subjects during this term just cause I wanted to complete reading this book. And then I wrote the Economics of Love.

Power of Habit

One of my recent reads. Opened my mind to all this procrastinating and not sticking to schedules and plans that I keep doing. Interesting take on how our life is practically ruled by our habits (good or bad!). The Target Pregnancy detection fiasco is also explained in detail in this book.

In Search of Stupidity

This book is a must read for everyone who criticizes companies for their idiotic decisions in hindsight. A humorous account of how big companies managed to screw it up big time and wipe themselves out. If you have read all the happy books about companies succeeding (Built to Last, Good to Great, In Search of Excellence … ) it’s high time you read this one.

Understanding Michael Porter

Did a lot of Michael Porter during my MBA. Understood some theories, confused some others and ignored a few more. Then I saw this book. Pre-ordered it, and loved it. If you wanna understand the “theory” of strategy, I will highly recommend it.

The Data Warehouse Toolkit

Yup a rather technical book. But if you are struggling to understand what is OLAP and why we need star schemas to keep data to analyse, this is the go-to book. The author is amazingly eloquent and the entire concept is made easy to digest and appreciate.

Show me the Numbers

This book completely changed my understanding of Business Intelligence and Design. A must read for every person who has to routinely work with numbers and present them as a part of their job.

Why does E=mc2? (And Why Should We Care?)

Theoretical Physics has always intrigued me. I wanted to read a book to at least get a very layman understanding of theory of relativity, string theory and the likes. I browsed this book in a bookshop and bought it to go home and spend a considerable amount of time to “study” it. Helped me understand a lot of concepts. Highly recommended to all Sheldon Cooper fans.

Da Vinci Code

The only fictional book on my list. This book really got me hooked to the Internet, Wikipedia, Renaissance artists and the history of Christianity. While the story is celebrated, the side plots are laced with partial truths amongst all that fiction. Really made me spend a lot of time to figure out what is the truth and what are the controversies. Made me spend 4 hours staring at the Mona Lisa.

That pretty much concludes my list. Special mention – Harvard Business Review, Joel Spolsky and Seth Godin. I think I have been heavily influenced by the short (30 odd page) articles that are written in HBR, the nuggets of wisdom shared by Seth on his blog and in his books and Joel on Software – the go-to guide for all Software problems.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Creative Zen

My morning routine involves listening to the radio as I go about doing my daily chores. I know many people recommend not listening to the radio first thing in the morning (why worry about the world right at the start of a perfect day?) But I like local radios – they give me a gist of news, a little bit of music and a whole lot of chatter about local happenings at the comfort of my home without really stopping me from going about doing my stuff.

Today morning, as I casually turned on my radio, it just dawned on me – My cute little radio/ MP3 player has spent 10 years with me. A decade of existence! Crazy. It comes in the “disposable electronics” category. The kind which you are supposed to throw and buy a new one every 2 years. That very moment, I decided I am gonna write a post about it.

So my MP3/Radio is – Creative Zen Nano Plus. 512MB of MP3 goodness. I bought it in 2004. Small, compact and runs on a AAA battery. I found a YouTube video for you to adore.

Creative Zen Nano Plus

I know most of you swear by your iPod. But somehow I never ever had an Apple device. I started off with a Sansa clip, quickly followed by this Creative one.

Which brings me to the point that – Creative has been making really amazing and affordable products for a long while. It however never gets that much love and attention from the tech press.

I remember, in my first computer, I had specifically requested my hardware vendor to get me a Creative Sound Blaster 16 card. And then I had a Creative Infra Multimedia system with a CD-ROM Drive and a remote from them in the computer.

Somewhere along the way, Creative lost out to the other companies in the arena. Though they still make really good speakers and headphones, I don’t see them getting the attention like Beats by Dr Dre or Sennheiser and the likes.

Anyway, besides my MP3, I still got a few speakers lying around the house that are Creative. And I hope my Creative Zen Nano Plus continues to entertain me for years to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Speaking assignment

Sorry for disappearing for a while. I had the opportunity to speak in a conference. The topic – Visualizing Big Data. I spent unreasonable amount of time researching for it. I had a 30 minute slot. Which meant, I didn’t have to speak more than 20 minutes. 3 weeks of after-work research for it was totally not needed.

Most of my knowledge of Visualization I can attribute to 3 individuals – Edward Tufte, Stephen Few and Nathan Yau. If you read their books and follow their blogs, you are pretty much covered as far as “talking” about Visualization is concerned.

Big data is a bigger mess. There is no formal definition for it (or I didn’t find one!). And every company and marketer twists it to their own liking.

This was the first time I was very careful about using attributions in my PowerPoint presentations. All images I used were Creative Commons (and I attributed them using the right convention). I spent a lot of time searching for the “right” images (using Flickr and Google) so that I inadvertently don’t violate any licenses. If you have been confused about proper attribution, I highly recommend reading this link.

So what did I learn? If you are the 4th speaker, people don’t really pay much attention. They are hungry and waiting for food. Most of them are also stuck to their phone or are just staring at you blankly without really listening. Also, as a speaker, it doesn’t matter how much you really understand. It is more important on how much you can simplify and convey your ideas. I still got a long way to go to be a good orator. But I had fun. And now, I am back to my lazy old self.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Learning online

If you aren’t living under a rock, then you are probably aware of the revolution that is sweeping education. It is called Massive Open Online Course (MooC). Almost every big university I know of, now has its own online course. Besides, you got the good old ones like Coursera. Finally, even SAP has got into the game with its Open SAP content. Education has been revolutionized for ever. There will be a time when people will no longer have to go to Universities to get a degree. We will all study online and study continuous till we leave for our heavenly abode.

I have been trying to study MooCs over the last 2 years. After over 3 failed attempts (in which I left the course half way – got bored or over whelmed) I finally managed to complete 5 courses now. That makes me a self-proclaimed expert. So here is what I have learnt after several botched attempts:

You have to dedicate time for studying in your week – Yup if you don’t plan and allocate time to it just like every other activity, you won’t have time to study. Make sure you plan your calendar for the week with ample time slots for studying.

You need more time to study than you think you do – Most courses say 4-5 hours of study time required per week. Trust me, they are just trying to make you feel good. On an average every week’s worth of lectures and test take me anywhere between 10-20 hours of work depending on how well I can concentrate.

Load your portable device with the lectures – Yeah, your smartphone ain’t for candy crush and Facebook only. Make time to read and listen to your MooC lectures during your daily commutes. Commutes are the best times to listen to the lectures. It is much better time spent than staring at your co-passengers.

Read the course discussion forums – Most course assignments are difficult. The forums are a treasure house of useful information. These forums are almost always well curated and well managed by the professor and the TA so spend ample amount of time to go through them and read the notes.

Practice to assimilate what you learnt – While you can clear the course and get a certificate by following what I mentioned above, online learning doesn’t ever give you the desired amount of practice that you need to master anything. So, you have to spend a lot of time beyond your course to really sit, practice and imbibe whatever you learnt.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Digital Dinosaurs

After years of vehemently denying that age is catching up, I have finally realized I have become old. I am no longer a digital native. I am a dinosaur. The kinds who live and die by the mechanical keyboards.

Mobile can never be my “first” device of choice. I do carry a smartphone and I do surf and fiddle with it all the time. But each time I have to do some “serious stuff” or write or email, I run to a secure corner, open my good old laptop with the giant keyboard and start typing. I have realized that from e-commerce, to surfing to just about doing anything else other than calling people up, I am just more comfortable with the desktop/ laptop.

While I was just about warming up to the idea of responsive websites (yeah the kinds that figure out whether you are logging in from mobile and change their layout accordingly!) I see all these mobilized millennials around me who pretend like there is nothing beyond mobiles. The kinds whose only device is a portable handheld. Who do everything from coding, shopping, flirting to eating and sleeping on their phones. I can never be like them.

I feel like the cynical grandpa who keeps telling kids about the “good old days”. The new generation of kids that are now growing up are not aware of things like – internet was not always available (you had to dial-up to it!) and that not every screen could be touched and interacted with.

Tch tch, reminds me of this famous quote by Douglas Adams. I have picked it up verbatim from his article published way back in 1999:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Confused pricing

I am sure everyone of you has come across those “souvenir photos”. The kinds that are taken before you go into a world famous attraction or the ones that are taken on top of a roller coaster just when you make your most horrible scared faces. These photos are definitely memorabilia taken at strategic places many a times by semi-professionals. Most photos are nice enough to be “considered” to be bought.

However, they are priced at ridiculously high-prices. The logic is – if you like them enough, money shouldn’t be a problem. And then, you are also covering the cost of all the other people who made a conscious decision not to buy the photo. So in a way, every photo that is purchased ends up covering the cost of 10-15 other photos that are not bought and a partial amount of profit. This might be a good business model when it was invented.

These days however, with everyone having cameras and with the proliferation of digital imaging technology, the cost of actually taking a photograph is minimal. Consequently the “value” associated by consumers with a single photograph is ridiculously low. However human beings are still souvenir hunters.

I believe that if the prices of those photos are cut down by 80 odd percentage, many more people will buy them. The cost of production of each photo anyway is ridiculously low. The current high pricing is to cover the cost of the wasted photographs. With a drastic price cut, the increase in volume should more than cover the drop in per unit revenue.

So says the wise Girish. May be a case of sour grapes. But well, definitely worth a try!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Born to sleep

A small little secret – Sometime end of last year, I read this very inspiring book – “Born to run”. The basic premise of the book is – human beings are naturally (genetically and physiologically) designed to run long distances. Our bodies can endure long distance running without any physical injuries and we can outlast most animals in endurance.

Christopher McDougall–Are we born to run?

The book inspired me quite a lot and I resolved to take up running. Besides endurance and long distance running (ultra-marathons) the book introduced me to the following concepts:

  1. The Tarahumara tribe still runs extremely long distances
  2. They eat chia seeds
  3. They run barefoot

Like the wanna-be sportsman that I am. After reading the book (besides “resolving” to run), I went to the local grocery store and picked up a bag of extremely expensive organic chia seeds. Then I spent countless hours on the internet researching about barefoot running, zero drop shoes, Vibram FiveFingers etc. etc. The FiveFingers looked a bit too sophisticated for a guy who hardly runs a KM, so I settled for the New balance Minimus. That’s the closest I could get to barefoot without looking like a pro.

Barefoot running–Correct running technique

Anyway, come new year, I put on some ceremonial paint on my face (pretending to be a Asian – Tarahumara), got me a new set of running clothes and set my alarm to 6:00 AM in the morning to start my epic running. The only slight problem I faced was that – some lazy bum human beings (me) are also born to sleep. I snoozed myself away to glory.

It’s been 6 months since that glorious day. I have managed to not get up, not sign-up and not train myself for any of the marathons that happened in this part of the world this year. And at my current fitness level, I am sure I ain’t gonna do anything till the end of 2014 (or for eternity). Did I tell you, the shoes are still in their box and the only thing barefoot I do is walk around the house?

As for the chia seeds, I have been religiously having them everyday hoping that I might get inspired and run. Too bad I didn’t realize that though I am born to run, I am also born to sleep and born to procrastinate.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Are you human?

I guess everyone of us by now have been horrified by captchas. If you don’t know what a captcha is, or if you ever wondered why you were asked to type numbers or letters from a super difficult image, well that was because the website wanted to verify that you are a human and not a bot (a program meant to go create millions of accounts automatically – thereby crippling the website).

I have noticed that captchas are becoming increasingly complex. It is sort of obvious because computers have become excellent at character recognition. What that means is – now only highly complex images with highly distorted characters can’t be recognized by computers and their algorithms.

But the reality is – such images can also not be easily recognized by humans. Case in point is the image below that I got lately cause my email account got blocked. I couldn’t get the captcha right for several images after several tries and the website concluded that I am a bot and blocked my IP address.


The dawn of the super computers is coming. I can’t even prove myself to be human. It’s just a matter of time before computers also break the Turing test.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


These days I get to use the airport quite often, though not as much as some of you. Airports are meant to handle passenger traffic efficiently and there are levels of efficiencies that I have noticed at various airports that I have been to. The one airport that consistently beats my expectations is the Changi Airport.

Managing operations and eliminating bottle necks, especially when there is human traffic involved, looks like a very difficult endeavour. Airports are a classic case of too many humans coming together at the same place at the same time. In such cases, effective operations management is very important for passengers to have a pleasant experience.

The two places where other airports generally have queues for Departure are – out immigration and security. Changi Airport effectively eliminates both of them by – having automated clearance – scan passport and finger and leave the country (I don’t need to see a grouchy officer and consequently avoid the long incessant queues) and then doing the security check at the Gate of boarding. Most airports that I have been to the longest queues are at immigration and security.

On Arrivals the efficiency of the airport is commendable. The fastest I have left the airport is in less than 15 minutes the only bottleneck being the speed at which I could walk. There are virtually no bottlenecks once I disembark the plane. After the automated immigration (again scan passport and finger and get into the country) the only place I slow down is to take a taxi (if I ain’t taking the public transport which is readily available in the airport!).

There was this one time when the taxi queue was longer than usual. The airport one upped its customer service by apologizing and providing free mineral water bottles to everyone in the queue. I think the efficiencies and the small friendly gestures like these have put the airport at the top for so many years. I am sure other airports are studying them and we should see more amazing airports around the globe (or there already exist many – I just haven’t been there yet).

Sunday, June 8, 2014


We have a very close friend in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and every once a while we get the chance to see a symphony or opera.

Now I am a noob when it comes to understanding music. I can’t read, sing or for that matter even understand some of the instruments. But I enjoy listening to classical music. It elicits emotional responses (sorrow and happiness) off my numb brain, makes my nerves relax and that’s what really matters.

The general audience in such concerts are the tuxedo wearing, evening gown trotting suave people of the higher societies. The kinds that insist that their wines should be at 18°C and public transport is for the general public. So I stand out (in the wrong way). Anyway, I don’t care.

I had the opportunity to go for the opening day sound-test of the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore. Victoria Concert Hall is the oldest (1905) concert hall in Singapore and was closed for renovation starting 2010. Incidentally, I was lucky enough to go for the last concert before renovation and I made it for the first one after it’s reopening. So, well, I decided to show off and document my achievement here. At my age, these are the only kinds of things you can “achieve” [sarcasm].

Victoria Concert Hall

So, if you have never been for a concert, I highly recommend you go for one. If the orchestra is not that famous, the tickets aren’t that expensive and the experience is just as awesome. Now see this video and imagine you are hearing them live in a hall and the music is flowing around you in it’s purest form. No speakers, no synthesizers.

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 – Ode to Joy

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Long time readers of my blog know that I am left-handed. Being left handed has it’s own quirks and inconveniences that we lefties never complain or whine about. If you are oblivious, I would recommend you go check these few links out.

So, next time when we catch up for dinner don’t think I am rude cause I choose my own seat. It’s just because I don’t wanna keep bumping elbows into you while eating. And being lefty also makes it clumsy for me to use phones, scissors, tin can openers, computer numeric keypads, spiral books, desks and all the other things that right handed people never even notice. And if you wish to see a list of all the things that are inconvenient for us to use, you should check this store “exclusively for left-handed people”.

My general experience with Asian hospitality has been quite positive. However, yesterday was a weird case. I went for this Indian buffet run by an old uncle during rush hour. The ladle kept to take the curries from the vessels were arranged such that they were convenient for right handed people to take. Now, I don’t really mind the way they are kept, I am used to the righty-centric view of the world. Just that after taking my portion I accidentally kept it in a way that a left-handed person would keep. (Imagine how you would take curry from a vessel if you were right handed. Now change your hand and imagine how you would take if it’s your left hand)

Buffet for the right-handed

The old uncle who was standing behind the counter got all ballistic on me. He accused me of slowing down the chain and making it inconvenient for other people! How rude. Though it was completely unintentional, I meekly apologized and walked on.

Only later when I thought about the incident I realized that it was because I was a lefty that I kept the ladle that way, and I inconvenienced the right-handed world. I realized I am a minority and even I am unknowingly ostracized against. Sigh. Life is tough! Lefties of the world – please unite!

Sunday, May 25, 2014


This post is absolutely boring for women. If you are a woman, you may proceed to see cute cat videos.

If there is one FMCG category that seems ripe for disruption and some healthy competition, I frankly believe it is – shaving razors. Men’s shaving razors are essentially ruled by a monopoly – Gillette. I am aware that there are some local competitors here and there, but I have never come across a worthy competitor. At least not in this part of the world. There is a reason why it is the 23rd most valuable brand in the world. With a brand value estimated at $18.3 Billion.

Dollar Shave Club

And monopoly (according to Economics) stifles innovation and raises prices. That’s probably why we pay so high for the replacement shaving blades and the only innovation that we have seen in the last 25 odd years of men’s grooming is – addition of more blades.

Being the ultra-gullible consumer I have always been – I followed the trend. Advertising effectively made me numb (hail oh ye Marketers!). I started off with the single blade safety razors (and yeah was always miserable at it) 15 years ago! Progressed to the disposable twin-blade variety. Then got my first Sensor Excel and then graduated to the Mach 3, Mach 3 Turbo, Fusion, Fusion Proglide etc.

One early morning while I was shaving in a trance with my latest gizmo that vibrates on my skin; I had my own Archimedes Eureka moment when I realized, that having more blades on my razor were causing more harm than really giving me a close or clean shave as the handsome model in the advert claimed.

Here is my understanding : However good my razor is, to get a clean shave, I always shave a second or third time on the same area. So if I do it with 2 blades, I only effectively irritate my skin – 2*3 = 6 times. But when I do that with a 5 blade razor – I do it 15 times. I haven’t really come across a razor yet that can give me a close shave in the first pass.

Anyway, that day I decided, I would go back to my original twin-blade razor Sensor Excel. And that’s the day I realized that the old razors are not available any more in almost all shops in Singapore and India (that I know off!). I panicked and I purchased a bunch off Amazon and paid a bomb for the product and it’s shipping across the seas. I haven’t yet figured out if they are really out of production or is the Monopoly manipulating us into buying their new products by artificially not bringing their old razors into the market (mind you, the replacement blades are available easily). Sensor Excels are remarkable absent from their website.

Gillette Sensor Excel

Now I am back again to where I started off a long time ago. And I don’t find much of a difference in my shave. I am definitely happier with my skin though, cause it’s noticeably less irritated. And for the history buffs – The Gillette Sensor Excel was released in 1993. Yeah 21 years ago.

And last I heard, Gillette is launching another razor this year. And this time, it’s gonna be compatible with all the old blades that they have in the market.

Fusion ProGlide with FlexBall

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Statistical Con

Disclaimer: I am not a statistician, and this post is purely a myopic view of an extremely vast and difficult subject

So I came across an organization that is trying to impose a dress code for its employees. Now, I have a very neutral opinion about whether organizations should or should not impose dress codes. My belief is that it completely depends on the organization’s culture and the business that it is in. (For e.g – I like seeing customer service executives in a certain dress code  so that I know I ain’t asking my questions to a civilian or fellow-shopper) However, the thing that I am more interested in is – how did the organization actually conduct an internal study, and conclude that employees were voluntarily interested in having a dress code imposed on themselves. The study was concluded with a statistical analysis of the answers, and some of the answers went against my understanding of people’s mentality.

This got me interested in the subject – can we actually go and misuse statistics? Apparently we can, and interestingly we have been doing it all the time. There are even books available on “How to lie with statistics” and there is an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to misuse of statistics.

The applicability of a statistic really depends on the completeness of the people sampled.

I went to the Samsung service center to get my mobile phone fixed the other day. And there were 56 people before me on the same day. So we were made to sit in a big room where everyone instantaneously concluded that Samsung mobile phones are the worst because there were so many of us there at that time.

In the dress code survey statistic, it was never revealed how many people in the organization were actually surveyed and what was their demographic (organizational position). People in sales and in higher positions are more customer facing and naturally they have to adhere to a dress code. So if the survey respondent sample contained the above mentioned people, the survey results would be severely biased.

The answer that a survey gets, depends on the way the question is framed.

I have seen that if a righteous question is asked, we come up with noble thoughts and try to be righteous. If a question is framed like “Do you think a person should be penalized for breaking the organization’s dress code policy?”, the chances are, I would reply with a yes. However if it asked “Do you think you should be severely punished for breaking your organization’s dress code policy?”, my answer would expect some leniency towards me.

The way a sentence is framed or a graph is shown could change the severity of the statement.

If I say “25% of a population has a risk of heart disease, it seems a big number but it still seems distant. But if I say “1 in 4 people have a risk of heart disease, suddenly the number appears to be too close”. This is because we know a lot more than 4 people and it means we are gonna know many individuals who actually have that risk!

The way news media blatantly abuses statistics these days is truly appalling (Well summarized in this XKCD comic). Especially when they just interview a small sample of people in a city by calling a select few people (without regard for unbiased sampling!) and then overgeneralize the output to form an attention grabbing newspaper headline like “Indians are lazy”.

And finally – Correlation doesn't necessarily imply causality

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

And I just came across these two amazing websites that have plotted correlations between totally unrelated dimensions to drive home this point!

The first one is from Business Insider

Correlation doesn't mean causation

And this one called spurious correlations by Tyler Vigen actually finds and plots correlations between absolutely random variables.

Spurious Correlations

So the next time when you come across statistical analysis in a news article. Be warned, be very warned. There is a high chance the journalist has no background in statistics.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reduce Paper Towels

I know that most of you are environmentally conscious and take all the steps to reduce your carbon footprint and live in a sustainable way. I also know that you reduce reuse and recycle. But I am flabbergasted by the general population’s ignorance about this.

How to use one paper towel

Now, I can’t go advising random strangers that I meet in the toilet. But what I can definitely do is share a video with my friends (you guys) and in turn hope that you spread the advice. Till about last year (when I saw this video for the first time), I always used 2 paper towels to dry after washing my hands in a public restroom. 2 because 1 paper towel by itself, always tore quite easily and made a sticky mess of shredded paper on my hand. That was, till I saw this video. I implore you to see it. It’s little over 4 minutes and I am sure you can make time to see it right now.

The gist of this TEDx video by Joe Smith is -

  1. Shake your hands vigorously after washing to get rid of the excess water
  2. Take 1 paper towel and fold it
  3. Use the folded paper towel to wipe your fingers and your palm

And why is this technique effective? Well, simply because once you fold the paper it allows “interstitial suspension” (Joe’s words not mine). I researched what that means and apparently the water gets absorbed in between the paper folds and thus 1 paper is effective enough to dry water off your already shaken hands.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


I have spent most of my life on and around the equator. To be precise, currently I live 1°north of the equator and Mumbai was approx. 18° north. So my body is generally used to warm and  humid temperatures. Cold for me is anything below 24° C.

So imagine my plight when I was put in a place where summer was just having positive temperatures (Yeah 0°C or more!). Like a diligent traveller, before I went, I read the news and I saw people all wearing shorts n t-shirts celebrating the summer. So the daring me went with my own shorts n t-shirt and if I say that I almost froze to death then that can be considered as an euphemism.

I ended up wearing up to 5 layers of clothes on a normal day and covered my face with a towel so that I wasn’t exposed to the chilling summer. Enacted the “fatowarmoclothwearus” routine again. So bad, that it’s been almost 3 weeks since I came back and I am still thawing myself.

And well, that is officially my excuse for not writing here for more than a month.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Keep on running

So my new year just passed me by. And the new financial year in India just started. That reminds me, this is the last chance for 2014 for all of us to resolve to keep our resolutions.

I know, I know most of you have managed to keep your 2014 resolutions for the first quarter and are raring to continue for 3 more. But some lazy bums (like me!) need to be cajoled and reminded.

So please put that sinful cookie down right now. I can clearly see you munching. It doesn’t exactly live up to your resolution’s standards. Happy 3 more quarters of 2014. If you consider this year to be still a new year, wake up cause 25% of it is already over!

And my blog title is a song by the real Milli Vanilli. Not the song that effectively ended their career forever. That was 22 years ago? And considering that I liked that song so much as kid, it’s time to remind myself – I am old.

Keep on Running