Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 July - Interesting Articles and Links

  • Tsukuba-U - Imagine the Future advt -

  • An NBA Basketballer from Ballo Ke, Punjab -

* Japan - fishing for flavour -

* Swaminomics - Why Pachauri must go -

* Prison break - Shawshak Redemption style -

* Tharoor - Britain does owe India reparations --

* Big ideas from small towns --

* Agony Uncle - Mahinder Watsa, Mumbai --

* Manual Scavenging in Mumbai - Thanks, @shriyamohan , for this eyeopener! #ManualScavenging #Sanitation

* India Innovations from the Common Man -

* E-commerce robberies in Noida --

* Call drops -

* Montek's many lessons from the Greek crisis -

* Independent women of Iceland --

* India's largest maker of towels -Welspun, Anjar -

* Arab flavor to Kerala cooking --

* Labels are for cans, not for people -- Coke advt --

* A ticket examiner captures the beauty of Indian Railways --

* On the Nepal quake --

* Consequences of Greek's No -

* Lessons from the Greek default --
* On debt forginvness --

* India as a global R&D hub --

* History gets a makeover at the National Museum --

* Made in Japan terms --

* The reliable warthog A-10 --

* On the joys of road-travel long ago --

* Theranos disrupts medical diagnostics --

* Solar in India --

* The real Count of Monte Cristo in Arikamedu --

* Scroll - Indians and their incredible sexual problems --

mjunction - the story of a quiet giant

"I didn't know that!"

This is a thought that crossed my mind umpteen number of times while reading this interesting little book.

"Intrapreneurs @ mjunction - The Making of an e-commerce Giant" by Rajeev Kumar tells the story of Metal Junction, an e-commerce JV between Tata Steel and SAIL that succeeded way beyond the expectations of either partner. It is yet another tribute to the ability of the Tata Group to identify and nurture talent within the organisation, and then to give them the wings to deliver on a grand scale.

This time the man on the driver's seat was Viresh Oberoi, a non-engineeer, non-MBA who had joined Tata Steel as a salesman. As he climed the ranks and reached a stage where he wanted to leave and set out as an entrepreneur, the Tata's allowed him to do just that by setting up Metal Junction as a separate entity.

The book, however, is silent on what is under the bonnet. How did Oberoi's team go about creating a robust e-auction website? What were the teething problems? The book is sidesteps this completely.

The new company entered a space where there were already a number of e-commerce players. It had no first mover advantage, but what it did differently was to carefully learn from mistakes of others. Starting out ot with secondary steel products and scrap, it moved on to coal, and then to amazingly diverse areas that could take advantage from e-auctions, such as leasing of an airport at Bhilai, selling of repocessed residential flats, getting the best bargains from mobile-phone companies and transportation of over-dimension cargo. No wonder the name of the company had to be changed to a more generic "mjunction"!

This book reminded me of Porus Munshi's "Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen" which tells the story of 11 Indian who pulled off the impossibe. One of them was Xerxes Desai, MD of Titan Watch Industries who, in 1994, set his team an orbit-shifting challenge - 'to create the slimmest water-resistant watch in the world'. Six years later, Titan Edge was launched.

Everytime I meet a somebody sporting a smart Edge watch, I ask them if they have heard of the amazing story behind it. So far, I have not come across a single person who has answered in affirmative. This is perhaps a small reflection of our own failure at projecting and celebrating home-grown champions.

The story of mjunction goes a long way in turning our attention to the great work being done by Indians in creating world-class products and services.




Saturday, July 25, 2015

Nalanda: A University or Just a Large Monastry?

Nalanda University seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Last year Arun Shourie mocked Marxist historians for their version of how the ancient monastry had been destroyed. Then came the drama around the resignation of Amarya Sen as the Founding Chancellor of the new avatar of Nalanda University.

Today I read an interesting book review by Andre Wink which asks a more basic question. On what basis are we claiming that Nalanda was India's greatest Buddhist monastry or as the world's first university?

According to Frederick M. Asher, author of "Nalanda: Situating the Great Monastry" there is insufficient credible evidence to even claim that the monastry at Nalanda ever was a university that taught a diverse range of subjects. Many of the structures we see today were built in the recent past using over 100,000 bricks of "large Gupta size"!

Since much of our understanding og Buddhist history is based on Tibetan and Chinese texts, perhaps we should continue to have tracking surveys on Nalanda alumni, and take all  tall claims with a pinch of salt..


* Arun Shourie (2015) -

* Asher (2015): Nalanda - Situating the Great Monastry, Marg -

* Wink (2015 review): Learning to unlearn, Indian Express -

WiFi Internet Connectivity

We just graduated from a dongle to a wifi router.

I must thank BSNL, MTS, Reliance and Tata Docomo for forcing us to take this quantum leap. All four of them have been providing such pathetic internet connectivity in Noida that we never really experienced a broadband internet connection at home, until today.

BSNL had everything going for it. It was the first one to lay down optic cables and hubs in the neighborhood and it was offering the most competitive rates too. Unfortunately they also had a bunch of linemen moulded in the licence-permit Raj. Since they just could not kick the habit of demanding  "baksheesh"from customers, they always ensured that the last-mile connectivity was primed to fail, as frequently as possible.

The telecom corporates fared no better. The slick ad campaigns from Reliance, MTS and Tata Docomo offered high-speed internet of "up to 21 Mbps". In reality this meant that the speeds could be anywhere between 0 Kbps and 450 Kbps, well within their promised range!

Our new service provider, a franchisee for Triple Play, simply promises a download speed and then delivers it. We now have a plan for 4Mbps speed till 25GB for Rs. 800/month. Speedtest has consistently confirmed that - at least so far - they have exceeded promises.

Unlike last time with BSNL, we have picked a wireless router on our own from the online market. A Netgear N150 (JNR1010v2) marked with an MRP of Rs. 1600 was available in Atta Market for Rs. 1200. The same thing is on Snapdeal for Rs. 784!

How on earth do they figure a pricing strategy in a market like this?


An attempt to make sense of the technical hocus-pocus:

Q. What is the radio frequency used by wifi routers?
A. Usually 2.4 GHz. for a maximum link speed of 150 Mbps. It is interesting to note that 'larger channel widths do not result in higher range, just faster speeds at close range'. So it is just as well that I did not buy a dual antenna N300 model for double the price!
Netgear's classification - details here.

Q. What is an "External 5dBi antenna"?
A. dBi stands for 'decibels relative to isotropic'. It represents  the direction and efficiency (Antenna Gain) with which a transmitter sends signals across distances. More here.

Q. The router conforms to four sets of international standards: Safety, EMC, Radio Spectrum and RoHS. What are these?
A. EMC = Electromagnetic Compatibility (European Standard - EN and International Electrotechnical Commission or IEC);
RoHS = Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive  - also known as the "lead-free directive" it restricts the use of six substances in manufacturing.




Friday, July 10, 2015

Plotting the History of Power

This remarkable graph has been doing the rounds on the internet.

I wonder who actually thought of this... Quite a bit of effort - and imagination - seems to have gone into creating this and it does give an idea of how people perceive the waxing and waning of power across history.

Please click to enlarge the JPEG file.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A Butterfly in Srinagar

This beauty was spotted atop Hari Parbat Fort in Srinagar, last month (June 2015).

What is it called?

My search led me to this US website called Discover Life. Despite its user-friendly search options, the focus here seems to be on the Americas, and the number of possible options stands at 120!

Then there is Butterflies of India. It seems like a great initiative by subject-specialists but most of its relevant pages are under construction now.

Even a scientific paper from Sher-e-Kashmir University did not seem to have this on their list...

Update - 27 July 2015

The answer is in - Indian Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Aglais kaschmirensis)

(Many thanks to Dr. Z.H. Khan, Associate Professor at SKUAST-K!)


* Khan (2011) - Diversity and Distribution of Butterflies in Kashmir Himalayas --