Thursday, March 29, 2007

Marketing ploy

I usually get a lot of discount coupons sent to me by random retailers. Citibank sends me something each month. So does Shopper's Stop. Mostly these discount coupons are structured to make me spend money in the hope of getting discounts. However, Wills Lifestyle has this habit of sending gift vouchers (not discount coupons). It was always quite puzzling for me - why would they give away stuff? Today I found out the answer.

I had been sent 2 gift vouchers (for Rs 500 each). One was for the clothing range and the other for the cosmetics brand at Wills Lifestyle stores. The vouchers were due to expire in less than a week, and since I was in the vicinity of a store at a time when I remembered those vouchers, I jumped right in!

And then it struck me - the cosmetics range has NOTHING which is less than Rs. 650 (except soap, but very very fine print on the voucher exclaims in confusing legalese that the offer is not valid on 'bathing bars'). Similarly, the clothing range has NOTHING less than Rs 700 (even a plain T Shirt which would cost Rs 200 at Westside costs close to 4x the amount here). I walked out of the store with socks!! and an unused voucher from the cosmetics range.

However, I did like the Rs 650 deodorant, and I think I will go buy it tomorrow. Thus Wills Lifestyle has been successful in making me spend Rs 150 through its one grand worth of gift vouchers. I'm not sure if I wouldn't be happier without the vouchers, though!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Media rules

Usually when I'm suffering from fever, my mind keeps buzzing with random thoughts and this usually makes it difficult to concentrate on any one thing. Even with slight fever, I had two thoughts today with some kind of business potential - one is actually an old idea, but I tried to put some thought behind it to see how far I could go with it. Interestingly enough, the idea deals with media and how it can be leveraged. I also bounced it off a good friend, and found some support there.

To cut a long story short, the idea is quite simple - it is essentially an advertising revenue driven business model, with low cost outsourced operations. The initial investment required is actually not too much, but the business would not scale rapidly. It would require significant time investment, and I'm sure it is not unique in any way. But I take heart from the fact that most businesses are about execution anyway. I'm excited enough to undertake some rough market research, but I would like to have a proof of concept ready to gauge authentic reactions. I hope I can sustain enthusiasm long enough to make something out of this!!

The other idea I had is still to be fully baked - it is a sub plot in the storyline of my magnum opus :-). Actually I'm not sure if the magnum opus should be a big fat novel or a nice collection of short stories. Certainly the latter is lower effort. But its too early to speak about that!

Today was also the day my friend (and freelance writer) Shraman inspired me to take a crack at a cool idea. This one, I suspect, would be very satisfying creatively, but not so rewarding monetarily.

To sum up, I've got three damn good ideas. Now I need to GET MOVING.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Decidedly funereal

The Namesake is a very popular (and well made) movie playing at theatres these days. It is based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel of the same name, and stars Kal Penn, Irrfan Khan and Tabu. But this post is not about the Namesake. Rather this is a bland summary of Nikolai Gogol's 'The Overcoat', which is the central motif of 'The Namesake'. Thanks to wikipedia for the content.

I must confess, though, that this summary leaves me quite cold and that I would NEVER want to read this mad genius's works. Its too dark and foreboding for me! But I will let you decide for yourself -

The story centers on the life and death of Akakii Akakievich, an impoverished government clerk and copyist in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. Akakii is dedicated to his job, taking special relish in the hand-copying of documents, though little recognized in his department for his hard work. Instead, the younger clerks tease him and attempt to distract him whenever they can. His threadbare overcoat is often the butt of their jokes. Akakii decides it is necessary to have the coat repaired, so he takes it to his tailor, Petrovich, who declares the coat irreparable, telling Akakii he must buy a new overcoat.
The cost of a new overcoat is beyond Akakii's meagre salary, so he forces himself to live within a strict budget to save sufficient money to buy the new overcoat. Meantime, he and Petrovich frequently meet to discuss the style of the new coat. During that time, Akakii's zeal for copying is replaced with excitement about his new overcoat, to the point that he thinks of little else. Finally, with the addition of an unexpectedly large holiday salary bonus, Akakii has saved enough money to buy a new overcoat.
Akakii and Petrovitch go to the shops in St. Petersberg and pick the finest materials they can afford (
beaver fur is unaffordable, but they buy the best cat skin available). The new coat is of impressively good quality and appearance, and is the talk of Akakii's office on the day he arrives wearing it. His clerk superior is host to a party honoring the new overcoat, at which the habitually solitary Akakii is out of place; in the event, Akakii goes home from the party, far later that he normally would. Enroute home, two ruffians confront him, take his coat, kick him down, and leave him unconscious in the snow.
Akakii finds no help with the authorities in recovering his lost overcoat. Finally, on the advice of another clerk in his department, he asks help from a "Very Important Person" (sometimes translated the prominent person, the person of consequence), a high-ranking general. The narrator notes that the general habitually belittles subordinates in attempting to appear more important than he truly is. After keeping Akakii waiting an unnecessarily long time, the general demands of him exactly why he has brought so trivial a matter to him, personally, and not presented it to his secretary (the procedure for separating the VIPerson from the lesser clerks).
Socially inept, Akakii makes an unflattering remark concerning departmental secretaries, provoking so powerful a scolding from the general that he nearly faints and must be led from the general's office. Soon afterwards, Akakii falls sick with fever, likely to die. In his last hours, he is delirious, imagining himself again sitting before the VIP, who is again scolding him. At first, Akakii pleads forgiveness, but as his death nears, he curses the general.
Soon, Akakii's ghost (sometimes translated as "corpse", though Gogol wrote "ghost"--"привидение" in the original text) is reportedly haunting areas of St. Petersburg, taking overcoats from people; the police refusing to approach and stop him. Finally, Akakii's ghost catches up with the VIP — who, since Akakii's death, had felt very guilty over having mistreated him — and takes his overcoat, scaring him severely; satisfied, Akakii is not seen again. The narrator ends his narration with the account of another ghost seen in another part of the city, but that one was larger, muscled, and had a moustache, bearing resemblence to the criminials who had burglered him earlier.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Random analysis

My buddy Alam commented that I was posting much more frequently these days. I decided to test this assertion. Here is a graph showing the distribution of my 66 posts on this blog (including this one). This graph shows (on the columns) the number of posts per month, and (on the line) the average days per post for each month. Clearly, Alam is correct when he says that postings in March are frequent - as can be seen on the RHS y axis, the average post has been occuring every 3.2 days since the inception of this blog, and the March numbers are pretty close to the average. Clearly, September was an aberration, since I posted a flurry of articles in the first romantic blush of blogging. Oct - Dec were normal months, but Jan and Feb really brought down the average (perhaps because I was mentally disturbed? who knows? - interestingly this means that I'm in good mental health in March!!)

What this graph also tells me is that I'm quite inanely (is there such a word?) analytical and should be spending time on better things!!

Errors: Type I and II

Writing about mistakes is not the most positive thing one can do on Monday morning. However, all through this weekend, I have been thinking about the liberal sprinkling of errors that I have made all through my life, and find that they fit a particular pattern.

First, a quick refresher: Type I errors occur when a suitable object is declared defected (i.e. an innocent person is sentenced to jail for some crime, or the rightly coded software is declared buggy). A type II error, on the other hand, occurs when a wrong object is declared suitable (i.e. a defected light bulb is declared fit for sale after testing, or a guilty defendant is declared innocent).

Ideally, one would want to minimize both types of errors, however, it turns out that prevention of these types of errors is mutually exclusive - it cannot be done! Lets take an example - if I was a bank and wanted to make sure that I do not give loans to any potential defaulters (i.e. do not make any type II errors) then the only way of ensuring that would be to not give any loans at all - in which case I would be making TONS of type I errors by declaring perfectly good prospects as unfit for loans.

As I look back, I find that my life has been spent in preventing type II errors - i.e. I usually feel worse at having missed out on rising stocks (i.e. made type II errors) than at having lost money on falling ones (i.e. type I errors). This is contrary to good sense - when I met a friend recently who invests for a living, he told me that their motto was not to make the maximum possible money, but to make money on each deal they did i.e. a conservative approach which ensures that even though you may forgo the best deals (make type II errors), you ensure that you do not do any bad ones (no type I errors).

I agree that making type II errors to ensure you do not make type I errors is risky and sub-optimal. But being congenitally optimistic (and this could be my biggest flaw!!), I feel that it still makes sense to hope for the rainmaking deal, the last-ball six, the perfect answer, even if you lose a few matches or money on the way.

But at the end, its a personal choice!! For more info on error types visit this site.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Too much of a good thing!

I discovered a fascinating thing yesterday - and then promptly tested it out as well to figure out that it is indeed true - that ingesting too much water can intoxicate you!!

In this day and age of experts telling us to drink more and more water, this sounds discordant. Apparently, the human body functions on a balance of water and salts. Drinking too much water disturbs this balance, and causes cells in the kidneys to swell. In extreme cases, when one ingests more than 1.5 quarts of water per hour (that's roughly 2 litres), it could lead to disorientation and even bursting of the brain!!

I actually tried this yesterday - I drank 1.5 litres of water in 15 minutes - and then felt pretty intoxicated for the next 2 hours!! Of course in normal circumstances, none of us would ever need to worry about drinking too much water - can't think of anyone who drinks more than 15 liters of water per day!!

Check out this cool article! if you need more gory detail.

The Board

I write this as I sit unobtrusively in the back of a big bang board meeting of a large company. The board is grilling the management team about their plans going forward. There is discussion around tactics, issues, finances etc. etc. However, all this does not imply anything to me.

What is really exciting about this meeting is POWER. The board has power (and responsibilty, of course) and is using it (judiciously and otherwise). The management team is edgy and jumping to answer questions - doing it rather well, actually. However, there is no doubt about where the power lies.

I seem to keep coming back to this point again and again - and maybe I'm wrong - for true power, you need to be an owner, and not a manager. The game we are all in will give us differing rewards - some will strike it big - CEOs / VPs / Directors etc etc - and some will not strike it so big. But at the end of the day, we will all depend on someone to hand out the prizes.

Is this the best game to be in? Or would a high-stakes, all or nothing kind of game, where you hand out the prizes at the end of the show be better?

Depends on the individual, really. But for me, the thought is sorely tempting!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Another lost opportunity!

While driving today from Faridabad to Gurgaon, I saw this brightly painted truck with a logo on it proclaiming 'Chatak Chaat' - lokkal Indian. This intrigued me quite a bit.

So when I did a quick google search on this name, I got to know that it is a new (soon to be coming?) fast food chain with outlets in Delhi, Gurgaon and Nodia, with a central kitchen in Faridabad which supplies semi cooked food to the front ends.

Also got to know that the promoters are planning a high end wedding management chain, which would also branch out into beauty health spas and a coutoure lifestyle brand.
Now these are ideas which I thought would be sure fire successes (of course given immaculate execution). But I have not done anything about my bright ideas, and therefore Chatak Chat - India's 'lokkal' food chain - has stolen a march!

Never mind, I'm sure there is plenty of space for more than one player in this market!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Another one from the spymaster

I finished reading John Le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama yesterday. And came away strangely disturbed. Like his earlier books (most notably The Little Drummer Girl, The Perfect Spy and Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy), the story has little to do with spying or glamour, and everything to do with human weaknesses, emotions and thoughts.

The Tailor of Panama is as haunting as they come – an all too real, happy family man, the tailor in question sets off in motion a catastrophic chain of events which devastate him and all those he loves.

In Le Carre’s books, as in real life, there is no good or bad. There are only people – unique, real and with their own strengths and demons – who survive or are swept up by life. So the scheming, lying cheat often gets away to his next victim, while the noble-purposed heroes are left behind salvaging remains of their tragedies.

I have often wondered why I find Le Carre so enchanting. I think the reason is that his heroes are so fallible – one would easily identify with them. So George Smiley – master spy par excellence, is frail, human and has an unhappy marriage. Or Harry Pendel (the eponymous tailor of Panama), a weak and kind liar. The villains, on the other hand – the Israeli agent in the Little Drummer Girl, or the dashing someone (forgotten the name!) of Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy, or even Osnard of the Tailor, are winners in life. Even though the reader wants them to get their comeuppance, it never comes. They just move on to their next scheme. And the strong, solid types (always a few in the background) just go on with their lives, seeing and understanding everything, yet unable to do anything.

All in all, every new Le Carre book reveals more to me about myself. That’s something I can’t say about other authors!!

Monday, March 05, 2007


...this year was more like the traditional holi of yore. Last year at this time I was stuck in Bombay and was busy with work, so this year the festival came as a pleasant experience.

Nothing spectacular happened, though. I was fortunate to be applied only with dry color (I'm not a great fan of getting all soaked) and everything would have been fine had i not chanced to partake of some bhang-laden thandai. A lot from my family also indulged in the same, but as far as I know, it had effect only on me! I went to sleep at 5:30 pm right after the festivities, and woke up next morning, a solid 14 hours later!!

Not a pleasant sensation at all!! A bit like Rip van Winkle, actually

News time

I was recently, thanks to my buddy Dominic, inside a news channel's studio. Quite an eye opening experience for me. While I had expected a staid, serious and huge place, I actually found a young, vibrant, dynamic hole-in-the wall (figuratively speaking, of course!) and apparent mayhem ruled the roost.

A studio is made up of 3 different sections - there is the ingress room (a place where reporters file all their video reports and where graphics designers make up cool graphs, designs, charts etc), the processing section - where a) someone writes up a script while watching the uncut report b) another person decided on the layout of the video and the graphics c) yet another matches the voiceover to the video d) a whole host of people edit the news item. Finally there is the airtime room, which is connected to live feeds from the studio (panel discussions, commentaries, VJs etc, as well as all to the edited items from the processing section). Incidently this is also the area where the commercials are scheduled in between the news items.

The studio(s) is actually one room with barely standing space for 3 people. Pretty anchors, eminent experts, news anchors are all shot there (on camera!) on a black background. After that the editors in the processing room put these people in front of whatever the appropriate background would be, and voila! you have a wonderful ring-side view of the action.

But what I really admire about the place is the order in seeming pandemonium. People rushing about here and there (1 sec before going live on camera), shouting out stuff and transforming in a moment into grace personified!!
Truly smoke and mirrors stuff...

As always, here are some photos to describe what mere words cannot...
reporters editors pretty vj on-air!!