Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Plumber Story – Business 2.0

About 6 months back, my domestic water pump stopped working. I called a local plumber to check with the problem and it turned out that it needed a valve replacement. As usual, the plumber replaced it with a new valve and in no time, it was up running perfectly fine. Of-course at a dear cost of Rs 400.

To my disappointment, the problem re-occurred last week. Based on the plumbing expertise I had acquired by them, It seemed obvious that the valve needed a replacement, yet again.

This time, I decided to hire a different plumber who lives two blocks away from my place. It wasn’t a surprise that he identified the problem was with the defective valve. He told me about the choices I had for the replacement valve. He even demonstrated a couple of them to me. There was this rust proof stainless steel valve and a manually operated brass valve. He reasoned this recurring problem to those cheap cast-iron valve that was earlier used. To me, it sounded more pretentious.

I was given a choice to use another cast-iron valve, which would workout cheap or a steel valve which is a little more expensive but had a longer life span. The brass valve wasn’t a choice, it was too expensive, beyond reasons. As he was fixing the steel valve, he mentioned about this new automatic water level controller that was in the market. He elaborated, that one of the reasons for these valves to go wrong was water level going below threshold. And, using this water level controller will further protect from this kind of breakdown. It looked natural for me to put off the conversation. He also mentioned about the worn-out spindle that he noticed while repairing. He was suspicious about a possible pump breakdown in a few more months.

So, that’s about it. He gave me his contact number offering to service if required in future. The pump was again up running fine with another expense of Rs 200 this time.

There were a few things I notice here, worth mentioning. I feel, the key to run a successful next-gen business is the surprise factor. To what extend a business can positively surprise its customers. Now, I am referring to the service that must exceed the customer’s expectation. In this case, all I needed was a valve replacement to get the pump running. But, this plumber took the extra effort to tell me about the choices I had. If I was to spend on any kind of service, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

Another thing to notice here is the business diversification. He might have lost some business by installing a stainless steel valve, but definitely increased the chances of selling an automatic water level controller. He was diversifying his business by offering me to buy this equipment. And, who wouldn’t let go some pea-nut earnings for a bigger piece.

And, all this at a 50% price cut. Pricing plays a crucial role in business sustainability. Neither underpricing nor overpricing will get the business going. The secret is to strike the balance.

The fact that he told about this worn-out spindle is again a service experience that exceeds expectation. This again might get him more business in future. More reasons for me to keep his contact number though.

At the end of it all, its clear that customers these days are ready to experiment in unconventional ways, not much like there predecessors. They are willing to walk that extra mile, if its worth it. Gone are the days when service had to be worth every penny. Now, it must be worth more than it. And all it takes for the businesses is to tender it in an effective way. This, is what I call Business 2.0, more for less. I wont promise to use the same plumber again. But, his number has definitely made a place in my contact book.

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The Un-informed

During my high school days, I had a friend. He was close to me and we shared what we had then, a bicycle, a lunch box and some secrets. He was an average student and faired pretty well in the 10th grade. We didnt meet much after that. I heard from a common friend that he quit education and took over his dad’s business.

Last week, I met him accidentally. As usual, we reminisced our school days. I told him about my profession and he told me about his. I must say, he makes a lot more money in his business than what he would have made otherwise. On a casual talk, we got into an argument about education. He said, education was for dumb and to survive in this world, one has to learn the hard way. I was pulled to surprise when I heard this. I wanted to tell him at that moment, whats it like being educated. I am sure he will kill me if he reads this, anyways. Well, learning the hard way is good. But, “Education is for dumb” – not acceptable. And, to convey my opinion, this is what I said,

Ok, lets do this. Imagine you are at a snake park. You are looking at a huge king cobra lying just about 5ft from you, behind the fence. Its magnificent scales with yellow-black pattern and that lazy crawl, “It deserves to be a king” – you hear yourself say.

Now, change your imagination for a while. Think about yourself and the snake in wild. You wouldnt care to observe it so carefully, would you..? scared to death, you run. This, is when you think about the real power of the snake. The power to take away life. The power that makes it the king.

Well, the king and the slave apart, the point that draws my attention here is that, same two creatures looked at each other differently a few moments back and how, that one fence between them made a world of difference to their perspectives. Either way you call the snake a king, but for different reasons. Does it really matter..? yes it does, if you ought to…

This “fence” between them, is what I call education. It allows a whole new perspective of the world around, yet sounds so insignificant. It gives you space, time and knowledge to observe and understand the wild. A sense of security, makes the difference. It protects you, and exposes you at the same time.

It seemed my friend was pretty much convinced by this drama. I just remembered what was once told to me, “Education earns money for you”. You bet, It does. But, would my rich friend agree with it.? I doubt it though…

Anger

I have a three year old nephew. He is one of the most notorious kids, I have seen around. He meddles with everything thats in his reach. One way or the other, he manages to get his hands on the forbidden things (Scissors, Blade etc). Now, you should see him when his mom takes them back from him. He stiffens his lips, tightens his fist and brings his eyebrows together. One lion roar, and his mom is forced to compensate with a pack of chocolates.

Its amazing what anger can do to you. At the lowest level, the source of anger is helplessness. Does this mean angry people are week..? I dont believe so. Anger in itself is a strength, as patience is.

Well, then I though about my nephew again. Less than a year back, he wouldnt counter on resisting his mischiefs at all. It looked as if he silently accepted what was told. So, I was wondering if anger comes to you at a later point in time. Is it not hardwired into us..? is it induced externally..? I looked out for answers. And to my surprise, I found that anger, like happiness or sadness is a primary emotion that comes by birth. Sacrificing one’s own pleasure is also a way of showing passive anger.

As we all know, anger is an important defense mechanism in animals. Humans, sometimes use it as a manipulative strategy. As with any emotion, displaying anger can be exaggerated. Generally, a person who displays anger is regarded as more powerful than their counterparts who are more soft and submissive. To me, it seems anger is not as bad as it sounds. When used at right time in right places, it can be a lot more productive. Now you know, why your boss behaved so arrogantly in that meeting, before he walked up to you smiling in the cafeteria.

Anger also has dangerous effects. If not controlled, it can drive people crazy. A majority of crimes that we read day-to-day, happens in anger. Interestingly, displaying anger by yelling at or by verbally abusing is considered far better than piling up the emotion secretively and bursting out at once causing physical harm to others. Suppressing anger can be harmful for oneself. Like all other emotions, anger has to be displayed when felt.

Anger can cause disasters as much as it can cause miracles. I dont know whats right or wrong for my nephew. He could grow into an angry boss or a subtly manipulative subordinate. But, one thing is for sure, everyone find there own ways out to lead a happy, or should I say a balanced life.

From Knowing to Doing

I know quite a lot about stock market. I know how money is made in it. I can proudly say that among the section of people I belong to, I know stocks more than the majority. Of course, I have made some investments through some money management company. But, how much of the knowledge have I used it myself..? None.. Honestly, I haven’t made a single investment decision myself, although I speculate a lot.

Money making apart. Be it the desire to cook a special dish, go for an adventure sport, shoot a rare pic, build an awesome product, support a cause or be it an act as simple as writing a blog. How many of us have the right ingredients for these but haven’t used it once.

The point I am trying to make is that there is an element between knowing something and doing it. I call it the go-do factor. You might know everything about cooking a Dosa, you might want to cook one this weekend. But, to actually put on the cooking apron and get into the kitchen, you need some go-do factor.

In my profession, I see a lot of people who speak about technology. They talk about products, policies, Industry dynamics etc.. There knowledge in the field becomes pretty evident. But, my question remains.. why don’t these guys do something with what they know. Statistically, out of 100 updates I read in Facebook + Twitter + Google Reader, only a couple of them say what they have done and the rest speak of what they know. Believe me, its depressing to read about all those amazing ideas and let them go to thrash.

I thought for a while, what stops these people from transferring what they know into what they have done. Are they really incompetent, or do they lack the confidence, is it the fear of failure or are they waiting to see the stars fall..

I remember reading a humorous line in one of Chetan Bhagat’s novel.

“Ananya’s family loved knowledge, irrespective of whether they ever used it”

In this context, it makes some serious sense. Indeed, there are a lot of people around us, who have irresistible thrust for knowledge, they strive to build there knowledge database. And, in that process, they forget to use it.

From my stock market saga to the Dosa expedition, one thing is clear. You gotta roll up the sleeves to see some results, else you better accept the defeat.

Oh yes, there is one exception though, you would cook a Dosa anyways, if you are hungry enough… 🙂

I’m Listening…

It could be a media stunt or it could be a genuine concern, but all I can see is a group of people accusing one person for expressing his/her opinion. Be it Taslima Nasreen or Shashi Tharoor, they are in news for one reason or another. But, mostly for the wrong ones.

What good can a free country offer to its citizens, if it doesn’t allow one to exercise a fundamental right, freedom to speech. I was wondering why people blame these guys for nothing more than expression of personal opinions. Are we deprived of this fundamental right..? What good does it make to call oneself a free man, if he isn’t allowed to even speak freely.

As usual, I decided to dig upon this. First thing I realized was not to generalize the idea and to analyze it case on case basis.

I decided to start with facts about Shashi Tharoor and his much discussed tweets. what makes his opinions so much more important than other’s. Yes, of course he is a very important person, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs. I researched to find if ministers have legal exceptions in the fundamental rights. Well, I guess not. I Looked into the definition of ‘Democracy’, the political framework our country runs on. It clearly says that, in a democratic country, people are represented by one person they have collectively chosen. Which I think, I can safely take as an evidence to say, Shashi Tharoor is a representative of people which in turn implies that his opinions represent people’s opinions. Now, if a minister has to speak an opinion, it definitely has to be in terms with that of the people he represents. Otherwise, you better choose silence.

Yet another case I was interested in was Taslima’s controversial article. she is only a writer and doesn’t represent any group, formally or informally. Then, why should she not speak freely.

I found this,

Article 19 clause 2. (Constitution of India)

” Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. ”

The word to look for in this Article is ‘public order’.

Which means that anybody can speak anything they want unless what they say leads to a public disturbance. One can be legally deprived of the freedom to speech if his/her speech affects public order. So thats it, Taslima is legally in fault for expressing something that led to public disturbance.

Finally, all I could say is, the rules can be taken for refuge or for an armlock. But, as a responsible citizen, everyone is morally bound to speak about what is socially acceptable (I wont promise you publicity for this though). When someone is addressing a group of people, he/she is directly or indirectly affecting their collective opinions.

So, listen all you big mouths, we are all ears…

How to show Flickr Images on your personal photo gallery

Although this is a semi-technical post, all you non-techies who have a personal Homepage can still be benefited from this.

Here, I have guided you through few steps to embed your Flickr images to a personal photo gallery on your homepage.

Requirements

  • A personal homepage which is hosted on a web-server supporting PHP/ Remote Images Hot-linking (most Free hosting doesn’t support this)
  • A Flickr Account
  • A desire to have a photo gallery on your homepage

What do I get from this…?

You can save storage space on your web-hosting by hosting the Images on Flickr. Managing Image Uploads is simple, since it is done one-time on the Flickr, your personal Homepage picks up from there dynamically.

Alternatives

There are many ways of doing this. Flogr and FlickrViewer are good examples. But, these are pretty complicated and an overkill for what we need. So, I decided to make it myself.

Disclaimer

Well.. by profession, I am a mobile application developer, and nowhere near to web-technologies. But as a hobby, I do some stuff in JavaScript and PHP. So in case, I say something stupid, forgive me… 😉

Step 1:

  • Download LightBox (this will be used to display the gallery images in an animated fashion)
  • Extract it to a folder, say “photos”
  • Download this text file and rename it to flickr.php and save it in the “photos” folder. You are welcome to optimize this php script further.

Step 2:

Step 3:

Upload the “photos” folder into you webpage through ftp/online file-manager.. what ever your hosting provider supports. If your webpage is http://www.example.com after uploading the photos folder, your photos page will be http://www.example.com/photos

Step 4:

Creating a link to your personal Flickr Gallery/Photo album (whatever you might want to call). You can use this link anywhere on the web (mostly on your Homepage). It will take the visitor to your Image Gallery.

flickr.php takes 3 arguments

1. user_name

The name which you want to display on top of the page as a Title.

2. user_id

This the ID which Flickr assigns to you when you open the account. If you know your Flickr user name (which I assume you will), you can fetch the ID from this link here

3. api_key

this the api-key that you would have generated in Step 2.

Example:

The final link would look something like this

http://example.com/photos/flickr.php?user_name=Sunil&user_id=47379418@N02&api_key=33197b5a6fcc629b4f4ee5011654986f

Click Here for a working example.

Thats it.. your personal Image gallery is ready. Every time someone visits this gallery page, all the public images uploaded to your Flickr account is picked up dynamically and displayed as a gallery.

Planning Never Works

Plans are nothing; planning is everything Dwight D. Eisenhower
Plans are of little importance, but planning is essentialWinston Churchill

I remember my college days when we friends used to plan for every small activity, be it to watch a movie or just to meet up on a snooker game. And, It often ended up with one of them say sadly, “planning never works, macha”. And it mostly turned out to happen so, we seldom followed our plans.

During the last weekend, I visited a cousin of mine. She has been managing projects in quite a few IT companies for more than a decade now. On a casual talk, she asked me about my job, my career and of course, when I planned to en-cash these (the M-word has been following me since quite some time). Like, one of those MBA newbies who is obsessed with big management fundas, I explained her my plans in “detail”. To my surprise, what did I hear from her… “Planning never works”, rest is story. All that came to my mind was that, the phrase hadn’t changed much since my college days.

On the same evening, I was watching Discovery Channel at home and there was this series called Mega Builders being telecast at that time. This made me think… If, planning didn’t work, would it be possible for these bunch of guys to build a luxury hotel in Ice, and all this in a matter of few days. At such tough conditions with varying temperatures, how would it be possible to build this without a plan.

Ok then, if such is the importance of planning, why do I often hear this phrase “Planning never works”. Could this phrase have a subjective meaning..? Could it change with the context..? I dont know… I could be wasting my time…

Like all petty things, this struck to my head for a while. After googling for some time, I think, I have a vague idea of what planning might actually mean. Planning is more process oriented than it is result oriented. It helps simulate the process mentally so that any possible obstacle can be foreseen. It is a demonstration of one’s inclination towards achieving the goal, a desire for results. A good plan on paper will always help, in getting a Bird’s-eye view of the problem which otherwise might be impossible. Well, practicing what is planned is equally important, otherwise all the plans will go to trash. A plan can change over time but the goal doesn’t.

Finally, my cousin convinced me. She said, I could “plan” to use my horoscope now or postpone it for some-more time. But, the goal is to surrender for the good. And, the sooner it is, the better it is… I am still thinking… 😉