To Vakow or not to Vakow!

This is my recount covering the events of the Barcamp Mumbai 2, October 14th. Unfortunately, the post remained a draft for a while as more urgent concerns took over.

A recommendation to all organizers of future Barcamps – if you ever think of possible venues, give highest priority to an academic venue. IIT Powai lent an almost incredibly romantic and truly academic atmosphere to the Barcamp.

The web idea of the day goes to! They have taken an incredibly simple concept and built it for the web. If you love SMS forwards, you know the ones that go “neeche mat dekh, upar dekh” etc. you will love Vakow. Vakow is the single largest database for all types of SMS forwards. Yes, they will even preserve your white space.

What I really enjoyed was the attitude the founder members displayed when demonstrating their product. They are totally committed to having fun all the way and are unfazed by the idea of someone bigger than them invading their space.

Vakow had an exclusive in store for the campers, they are all set to launch an absolutely killer feature for their users soon. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to discuss the feature. Visit their site to check if they have an update.

Other startups that get an honorable mention,

  • – Video compression algorithms for streaming jerk-free Video on 2.5G Networks. They had an interesting demonstration and it appears the strategy they have adopted is to go through wireless carriers for monetization.
  • WatConsult – Rajiv Dingra walked campers through the basics of corporate blogging. He really ought to have covered corporate blogging a little deeper for those who have already been at it.

UPDATE I – Vakow was also featured on Economic Times “Advertising the most popular revenue model for Internet Biz“.

Pink Floyd and AirTel

AirTel recently revealed a slick new ad for Pink Floyd ringtone downloads. Certainly made me turn my head! The advertisement features Pink Floyd’s famous “The Wall” soundtrack with a backdrop full of animation sourced from the original Pink Floyd concerts.

Marketing messages that cut through the noise are the ones that also come to you in your sleep.

~ Santosh

Pink Floyd - Marching Hammers

You are a true bishopite when

From the Facebook group (Bishop’s School, Pune) .

For all ex and present students of the Bishops School ,Pune who have fond memories of our Alma Mater!!

You know you are a true Bishopite when:

  1. When somebody says that your house is the cock house you actually feel proud.
  2. You know who Smokey is
  3. You knew that the best place to bunk was the infirmary
  4. You knew what Mr. Roberts primary mode of transportation was
  5. You knew which teachers favorite line was ”Your handwriting looks like chicken walked on sand, bloody fool”
  6. You know who ANNA is
  7. You know who PAAPU is
  8. You know there was only one teacher who was known to chain smoke and he stood 6’2
  9. You have run around the race course
  10. When u know what Bulli-Bukka is

    Trendy India defies the rest of the world – huh!

    Click on each link to pull up the Google Trends report.

    1. In India, Movies have always been more popular than TV. The trend is almost always the reverse in all the other countries where both searches are popular.
    2. Rang De Basanti was a lot more popular than Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
    3. Blogs are more popular than newspapers with the online community in India. Only a few other countries exhibit this trend. Update: The trend report for the search term ‘blog’ versus ‘newspaper’ refutes this conclusion, look at the comments for more on using Google Trends reliably.
    4. BSNL and AirTel are the most searched of telecom providers in India. Hutch is a close third and is very popular in West Bengal, while AirTel rules the North.
    5. Searches for Naukri edge out searches for Monster by a close margin. Both trend lines reveal a lot more Indians are going online to look for jobs.
    6. Shah Rukh Khan is more searched than Aamir Khan by online users. Interestingly, more searches for Shah Rukh Khan originated from Rabat, Morocco, than Delhi, India. Amitabh Bachchan does not make much of a dent here. Update: Prateek also suggests that one take into account different ways of spelling – e.g. ‘Shah Rukh’ also becomes ‘Shahrukh’.
    7. Sachin Tendulkar beats Rahul Dravid as far as online trends goDhoni makes a surprise climb up the ranks.
    8. The online community can’t decide between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. On the day of Singh’s appointment to the PM’ship of India, the trend was very different. Pervez Musharraf is eclipsed by the turbaned Indian Prime Minister.
    9. Only for a little while – Football was more popular than Cricket. You guessed it right, the timing coincided with the FIFA world cup, 2006.
    10. Searches for the keyword Matrimony outnumbered searches for Shaadi. Update: Prateek also suggests having a look at the report for ‘marriage ‘ and ‘wedding’ which are much higher than the other two terms.
    11. Mutual Funds are more popular than Shares. The search volumes are the highest in India. Update: The report on ‘stocks’ reveals one more story. In contrast to the rest of the world, the online populace from India still prefer Mutual Funds.
    12. Karan Johar will be happy to hear that he has finally overtaken Mithun as far as online searches go!
    13. IIM’s are catching up to the IIT’s in popularity.
    14. While global interest in GPRS is declining, GPRS interest in India remains just about the same for the last 3 years. Meanwhile, interest in AirTel keeps going climbing. Is India going to be over GPRS even before it can catch on?
    15. Tandoor is just as popular as Chaat or Halwa. Of course, Chaat Cafe (San Jose) has both Chaat and Tandoor, something you won’t see often in India! Update: Prateek points out that a report comparing ‘tandoori’, ‘tandoor’, ‘chaat’, ‘halwa’ would be more on target with tandoori coming out on top.
    16. Goa is much more popular than Himachal, search volumes predict a lot of tourists from the UK in Goa this year.
    17. Google searchers search for India more than its rival China. The pleasures of democracy 🙂 or is this the Baidu effect?

    Inspired by: Micro Persuasion: 25 things I learned from Google Trends.

    Disclaimer: Google Trends is only a tool. Any conclusions you can draw from the trend reports is at your own risk.

    Dor: Nagesh Kukunoor perfects the art of story-telling

    Dor opens with Gul Panag playing Zeenat, a character defined by a strong sense of honesty, determination, and self-will. The focus is on Zeenat’s serene profile. If your looking for any sign of make-up – you won’t find it. Meera, the other protagonist is played by Ayesha Takia.

    Dor is a story of the two women, Zeenat and Meera. Their lives are inextricably linked by a certain sequence of events. At no point are the events incredulous or unbelievable. Also, the events themselves will not dominate your thoughts, rather it is the lives of the two women after these events that will leave a strong mark in your mind. At the risk of oversimplification, you will experience what the majority of women are up against thanks to Indian society and traditions. You will learn that there is at least one solution.

    The talented Shreyas Talpade plays the role of Behroopiya. His entrance into the movie is almost an assurance that Zeenat and Meera will find a way to untangle the events. Shreyas’ brand of comic relief is not annoying or repetitive.

    Last night, I watched the movie in a packed Multiplex-screen in Pune. Surprised? Even more so when you will learn the show was a late-late show (11pm). The movie had just one dance number (and that too, the number is set with Kajra Re from Bunty aur Bubli). Dor is shot only with the beautiful Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan’s arid backdrop. I am so sure that India (urban and maybe even rural) will accept different cinema.

    I admire Nagesh’s work. He has perfected the art of presenting a story to bind the movie-goer. The most memorable scenes have shades of surprise, uncertainty, despair, and hope all painted into brilliant depictions that are alive. I highly recommend Dor if you enjoy watching a rich story unravel. In Nagesh’s own words “The story wrote itself”.

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    Mann yeh Baanwra

    Thursday, April 6th: My fellow workers took me out to lunch and gifted me a t-shirt that said “There is no place like” on the front. Nathan picked it out.

    Friday, April 7th: My last day with the Blackberry Internet Service team at Research in Motion. The shock and situation finally settled in when I got home at 4pm. I keep telling friends I will see them soon. 🙂 Someone pointed out that it was something you would say when your planning not to see them. But I really do. I am going to be saving money for a flight back here!

    Saturday, April 8th: My last resident day in the Greater Seattle area. It poured non-stop between 10am and is still pouring (2pm) outside. Stared outside the window at the rain coming down, melancholy :). The Chirico trail on Tiger mountain is probably not a great idea today. Now I am sure I took the red pill and had my moment on Friday. Peace.

    Earlier in the morning Vishal and I almost got side-rammed when a GMC SUV driver decided to change lanes two times in quick succession without checking his blind spot. A few edgy moments, it felt like we had met the worst driver in Issaquah. 🙂 I’m glad we dealt with that quickly and peacefully.

    I am still wondering what to do with the poster of Kurt Cobain (Unplugged) on my wall. I am glad to have experienced Grunge live at its home.

    I am convinced that I want to be everywhere and anywhere all the time.

    Sahara International Airport, Mumbai

    Reference: Baggage Regulations (Central board of excise and customs).

    Talk about unashamed, barefaced corruption, Customs officials at the Mumbai international airport are up there with the best.

    November 2003: As a student, my companion was a Toshiba Satellite, a decent machine and a tremendous asset for any student. Back then, Laptops were dutiable under Indian customs. Legally, if you have been outside India for longer than 10 days, you were allowed to import certain items, including electronics worth less than Rs. 25,000/-. The spirit of the law clearly applies only when your importing the item – i.e. you intend to leave it in India and not take it back outside the country.

    My Laptop was worth $500 at best. I took it with me to Pune under the naive assumption that it won’t attract any attention. At the customs checkpoint just before the airport terminal exit, a customs official asked me to stand aside. He obviously had noticed the laptop bag. He asked me pointedly, what was I carrying in the bag? I replied, its a used personal laptop. He asked me to walk over to the red channel (i.e. I had something to declare). This was an obvious attempt to shake me up. I joined someone else at the red channel desk (who also appeared to be a student carrying a laptop). About 10 minutes later, the official who asked us to stand aside approached us. Passengers who I had disembarked with had already left the terminal. The pressure was on us. He began with the other guy first, a few harsh words on the value of the laptop followed. He added a threat about how he could impose a duty on the value of the laptop. The threat had its intended effect as my fellow passenger caved in and forked out $10.

    I was obviously stunned, but not surprised. As I followed their brief interaction, I had resolved to stand my ground, partly because I knew I was right and partly because I did not want to pay (see “Indians are cheap, man!” haha). As the official turned his gaze towards me, I made a critical mistake. I buckled and pleaded, saying that I was a student and that the laptop was mine, I did not intend to sell it or leave it behind in India. If I was looking for any pity, there was none to be found. He quickly countered saying that he would have to apply import duty as he did not know if it was really for my personal use. I held my ground, I was a student, I could not pay him – implying that I knew he wanted a token bribe to let me through.

    In the ensuing debate, he repeatedly stated that the laptop could not be for my personal use, and that the rules clearly require that duty be imposed on it. I countered, I was on a student visa, I had a valid return ticket and the laptop would be leaving India with me in about a month. We had reached an impasse. The ordeal had already lasted 30 minutes. His last ditch attempt was to take me to his superior officer. I thought to myself, this is it, every time I enter the country with this laptop, I was going to have pay duty – these guys hated me for not bribing them.

    His superior inspected my passport, return ticket and student visa and said that I should go through, no worries. I wish I had done something about the trouble the earlier officer had caused, I guess I was just glad to get out of the airport. After having spent 45 minutes dealing with crooked customs officials, who would not?

    December 2004: This was the year where IT in India was beginning to make it’s mark. The finance minister had just declared that a single laptop maybe brought into the country without any issues. He had gone to the extent of identifying this one item – the weapon of choice for the many IT warriors. I was sure this was a result of irate IT employees and others who had gone through the same wringer that I had been through. I had a brand new laptop with me, although I did not intend to sell it, I did want to leave it behind with my Brother. Dutiable? Grey area, I say. I’m not profiting from it. The downside is, Indian laptop importers who do pay duty will lose out. Is it justifiable? I would not bother answering that question.

    January 2006: I got here expecting no trouble 🙂 how naive, I did not have a laptop on me (my Brother had one I could use) and I did not give into temptation to buy some Sake to take back home. I did have gifts, all was worth less than 25,000/-. Mumbai airport had some more surprises in store. A lot of folks from Mumbai advise that you should not draw attention to yourself at the airport for good reason.

    As we waited near the luggage belt, a swarm of luggage handlers descended on us. They offered to carry our bags out. Every one of them had an official Mumbai airport employee badge. The game being played was revealed to me when one of them came up to me and asked me if I needed help with my bags. He asked for $20. A princely sum to simply carry the bags. Perhaps he had seen the BlackBerry on my belt. I countered that the bags were not very heavy and that I would be ok. In a low voice he added that the $20 would be good enough to get by customs without any issues. I said, I was all legal and that there was no reason to stop me. This is the part I like – he had the audacity to warn me that I could be stopped and troubled for no reason! I did not relent, emboldened by my previous experience. In the 15 minutes that he spent trying to convince me to let him carry my bags through, he probably lost 2 customers.

    If I want to part with $20 so easily, I would definitely not do so at Mumbai airport. These guys get into your hair like ticks, they want a FAST BUCK! If you fork out $20 now, they will make you pay twice as much eventually. It’s hard not to miss these guys. Year after year, I always spot the same customs officials mingling amongst the passengers. Maybe they are looking for the big offenders. It’s hard to be sure if they are straight or crookied. In fact, my Dad says that the $20 offer could be a honey trap. If you pay up, your sure as hell going to have the customs guy go through the bags. Indeed, a very plausible scenario. All this was going on bang in front of the office of the deputy commisioner for customs.

    As I was about to leave customs, I was questioned by the official about one bag. I was carrying a network router, chocolates but nothing to warrant the questions. They let me through this time.

    Can anyone fill me in on the real story? Mumbai airport security is a laugh. Mumbai customs is even better humour. These baggage handlers who are involved with the customs officials probably don’t even have adequate security clearances. What have your experiences been?

    An Update: I am not the only one baffled by Mumbai airport procedures. I came across some feedback from other passengers. Passenger Opinions about Bombay (Mumbai) airport.

    At one stage we crossed paths with people on their way to boarding a jet and could quite easily have slipped onto the runway through the nearby exit. Even the Hindi-reading Indian girl who sat next to us had difficulty and was clearly embarrassed. The staff were totally unhelpful. After collecting our luggage we joined a huge queue for what looked like a luggage scanner. Why we needed our luggage scanned on exit is anyone’s guess. After queuing here for quite a while I thought it was pointless and walked straight pass. No one stopped us. A chap (in a uniform) did stop me at the exit gate because I didn’t hand in the little tear-off slip on the bottom of my landing card. What he was going to do with that info I have no idea but it was obviously important to him. Indian bureacracy is legendary and still amazes me. On our return the journey through the airport was a bit smoother and seating area after immigration was quite clean. There was one small hitch regarding customs wanting to see what was in my case despite the security section having already sealed it!

    Blackberries may boost your social life?

    I think this is a hilarious title, but it seems to be true, atleast in Washington (DC) according to this NY Times article, (Registration is required, and is free)

    A YEAR ago, Tripp Donnelly saw his BlackBerry as a social liability � an accessory with all the sex appeal of a pocket protector. But now the gadget makes the rounds with Mr. Donnelly, 31, even when he sheds his jacket and tie for a night of barhopping or clubbing. He started keeping it with him when he realized he was missing social e-mail from the growing population of Washington women who were carrying BlackBerries themselves

    What probably leaves a slight feeling of ambiguity is the following statement:

    The BlackBerry gained a foothold in Washington two and a half years ago, after the Sept. 11 attacks left many in the city incommunicado when cellphone services were overwhelmed. BlackBerries worked fine that day (the proprietary network that carries their signals, for a monthly fee, has far less traffic than the networks used by cellphones), and shortly afterward the House allocated more than $500,000 to outfit its members with them.

    The berry uses the ‘pager’ network (I am not sure about the newer berries, like the quark). It is conceivable that the pager network is more robust due to constrained capabilities.