Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why Can’t: use social inquisitiveness for a safer community

In my recent post I shared my thoughts on this boundary-less world and how it was second nature a few decades ago, to consider all of us as an extended family.
One of the aspects that contributed to that was the transparency of what might otherwise be considered private information.
the WhyCan’t today is:
By making all of our details publicly accessible by others, can we make the world a safer place?
A place where there is greater understanding of each other’s views and positions
A place where core human tendencies to be helpful will be strong

Why Can’t it be so?

Living in a boundary-less world

One of the philosophical ideas associated with ancient India is ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – the world is one family!

I am sure you have experienced it at the apparent lack of privacy or the inquisitivenes of even strangers at what may be considered as something private or confidential.

Time was, when every house on the street knew what was going on in every other house. And of course they were all willing to chip in whenever someone needed help!

It takes a village to raise a child was very true. Everyone in the village was genuinely concerned about every child in the village.

When you are on a long distance – possibly even short distance – journey in a bus or train, depending on your age, someone is likely to ask questions like

- are you married

- where do you work

- how much do you earn

- do you own a house

etc etc etc.

One of the reasons for Facebook’s popularity in India is that it satisfies the unadmitted craving for gossip, about other people – neighbors, friends, colleagues etc

Another behavior I have seen – and have to admit, that I have also been like that during school – is to freely pluck flowers [and sometimes fruits] from random people’s houses, when they actually are accessible from the road easily!

All this was considered as acceptable behavior, that does not harm anyone and the stolen stuff is used to be offered to God [flowers] or satisfy one’s hunger [fruits]!

Recently, while driving back from Chennai to Bangalore, the traffic was held up due to a road block by some villagers, to protest a hit and run on the highway a short while earlier.

While they were waiting for the collector to come and assure them of some actions, traffic was just standing still.

It was a hot day and peopple started stepping out of their vehicles.

We were parked almost right behind a truck carrying sugar cane.

It was interesting to see some persons standing around the truck and looking at the stock of cane longingly


I do not remember now how or who took the first step at pulling a piece successfully!

Soon, many more were encouraged to to that – including being good samaritans who would pull and share with others!


One family – couple with two kids, one that was very yound and on the shoulders of the father – stopping to help themselves as they got down from a bus to – presumably – walk towards their home!

I also saw a lady who seemingly pulled more than she can chew – literally! – and broke the can and inserted the excess portion back into the truck! Talk of fairness..

Reminded me of a trip to a farm, where one could pluck apples and eat all that one can, as long as it is done before we left the farm!

This set me thinking in this era of digitalization and the move to make most interactions online, what is the scope and societal respect for data privacy?

If we are friends on facebook, is it ok to have access to all of each other’s data? be it PAN or Aadhar based data?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

WhyCan’t: Kolams as QR Codes?

090806-2 This is one of a common sights in front of many homes in South India. In many villages, there are friendly, neighborly competitions to capture maximum space on the street and draw the largest ‘kolam’s [or rangolis] on the street.

There are many ‘patterns’ that many of these designs follow.

On another track – I have been receiving monthly mailers from the South Bangalore Dharmik Samaj every month.

These were 4 page notes that were produced with very simple technology and distributed to share some interesting articles as well as news related to upcoming events.

The recent issue was on the theme of Sivaratri.

In addition to an artilce on the background and details of the date etc, there were also 2 QR codes!

These QR codes led one to some youtube videos of chants and slokas!

Hence the Whycant!

If a pattern of dots on a page can lead one to content somewhere on the internet, Why Can’t a pattern on the ground lead one to something out there in space?

Could it be that these patterns could represent some ‘URL’ – a really ‘Universe Resource Locator’?

Just as a phone and a QR code reader is needed to decode the pattern and connect to a source, those with the technology and equipment could possibly decipher..

except that the people who create these patterns may be completely oblivious to the possibility and the implications..

The WhyCan’t series..

We are all used to asking Why?
or being asked Why?
The expectation is that there is a logical or convincing or believable answer.
‘Why’ is a good question. Has been the basis for many scientific and philosophical explorations.
Another approach is to ask why not? This is more argumentative and very useful when we do not have an answer or response and can even be a somewhat intimidating approach to shut off a discussion.
But, to trigger imagination and innovation, the most effective question is Why Can’t?
Over time, I ask myself many Why Can’ts..
Being no authority on most things, I find it easier to wonder why some tings can’t just be!
and stay in wonder of things around us..
From time to time I hope to share some of my why can’ts
If you have any points that would help us get towards some answers, that would be great, to explore some of these together..

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I miss Sankars

sankars-logo This year has seen me at the Bangalore airport five times in the last 3 weeks - almost every weekend.

This is after a break of a few months – and the last visit was in a hurry, when I mde it just in time to board.

The biggest disappointment [or shock?] for me was that there is no decent bookstore at the airport anymore.

The information desk pointed me to the store that, to me, is more like a street corner convenience store. They sell fridge magnets, miscellaneous traveler gadgets, chocolates, snacks.. and.. yes, some newspaper and one pathetic rack of books!

Time was, even with very little time at the old Bangalore airport [i must admit that the airport was much smaller and with fewer flights, about 25 years ago], one could drop in at Sankars.

Though the area was quite small, the variety of books carried and the change in stock every time I visited, even when it was quite frequent, was very good.

Not to mention the friendly, personalized service and recommendations that added to the experience.

While I see Sankars in other places – such as Rangashankara, I miss you at the airport!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Startup thoughts from Yennappa


It has now become very fashionable to talk about startups.

Thanks to the Startup India mission, everyone wants to have a share of the Startup pie!

Starting up is not easy. Most startups that get talked about have gone through phases of struggle, hard lessons they learnt along the way etc.

I have been trying to understand the startup ecosystem and contribute in my little ways through some small time activities in the last couple of years.

So, when the Starup India action plan was announced, I was curious and went through the 40 page, slickly produced document.

The biggest question was related to the definition of a startup.

Other than being a new company – less than 5 years old and beign a small company – less than 25 Crores turnover per year, the plan said:

A business is covered under the definition if it aims to develop and
• a new product or service or process; or
• a significantly improved existing product or service or process,
that will create or add value for customers or workflow.

I was trying to visualize how this could lead to a lot of innovative ideas. Particularly since entrepreneurs would like to be creative and fine opportunities between the lines.

Just then, my good friend Yennappa walked in and saw the confused look on my face.

Hallo.,. what are you thinknig about today, he asked. When I explained my confusion, he said in his usual style, “Saar, please  read the full definition”. The rest of trhe definition went:

The mere act of developing
• products or services or processes which do not have potential for
commercialization; or
• undifferentiated products or services or processes; or
• products or services or processes with no or limited incremental
value for customers or workflow
would not be covered under this definition.

And, he continued, the company cannot be formed out of an existing company, should generate employment etc etc etc

When I said that it would be very difficult to have a startup meeting all these criteria – he said.. “Just think!” and continued

“I was having a conversation with a Paanwalla on my way here. He is also excited about the new policy, as he has been hearing of this onthe radio, TV, magazines etc etc etc and how so many millionaires have been made by startups [I thought that it should be the other way around]”

How would a paanwalla benefit, I asked.

“Aha! that is where you have to be creative. Let me tell you what I told him..”

First, you need to be small – less than 25 Crore turnover.

Check. he qualified

Second, you should have a unique product.

He thought for a while and said that I will create a unique paan that will be made from the Geo-tagged Banarasi Paan or the Thanjavur Betel leaf, with a special filling to meet the tastes of all ages. From Chocolate to Chai, Pizza  I will hire a team of specialist nutritionists and chefs to create options to make teh Paan the main course and have some starters as well as desserts to follow. So far, Paan is considered only as a digestive.

My product will not only reposition the Paan, but also expand the market by taking it to newer segments of people who have never tasted Paan before!

I will have this unique combination, so that all paanwallas have opportunities to cross and up-sell and expand their business. I can look at franchising my model and technology.

That is not all, I will patent a Quick Paan Process, that can nake a paan in less than 28 seconds. That will then help me make and sell paan at traffic junctions, while people wait for the signal to turn green.

Just imagine the social benefit of this. People are more likely to switch off their engines and save the nation valuable fuel. And, more importantly, witih paan in their mouths, swearing and abuse due to road rage – just because the person ahead is a little slow to start – will be a thing of the past.

And wait, I have another idea – before you ask – what will heppen to our roads if all the paan consumed is likely to be spit on the roads.

I will have another startup that will make quickspit bags or a cleanup service at all traffic lights, so that you can spit out in special containers at the next light! Imagine how much more cleaner our roads will be. My little contribution to the Swachch Bharat mission.

And, that is not all, I need to come up with new versions of the product at regular intervals, My R&D team will tie up with leading institutions like CFTRI to some up with dissolving paan, to eliminate any side effects of pollution.

You see, I can already see many agencies waiting to fund me. My plans for the next 5 years is all done. By the time the 5 year window is over, I would be thinking of the next projects.

Hmm. I said – never thought of it like that. Now that you have an idea of how staryups can really change the thinking in India, are you also excited?

By the way, would you like to be an angel investor? I can use my friendship with Yennappa and get you some preferntial terms.

But, please hurry..



Picture of paan leaf from our garden

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Living in a wired world

As the world moves towards wireless connectivity, we still cannot wish away wires in our midst.

Cellphone towers are said to be a major cause for the vanishing sparrows from our urban landscape. In Bangalore, the only place where I find sparrows – or rather, used to find – was the airport. Nowadays, that population is also reducing – not sure if it is just that they are not able to enter the main airport food court area or have moved out of the area..

While in school and college, one of my hobbies was listening to shotwave radio. In order to improve reception of far off and weal stations, I had created a mesh of wires on the terrace – different shapes, orientations etc, in the hope that the signals would be received clearly. The hobby was called DXing or SWLing.

Then we started going miniature and wireless. Transistor radios, walkman etc still needed some chords for power or the headphones.

Then came the bluetooth headsets and connections to car audio or the music system, so that we can stream media across the room.

Even with all the planning, I recently noticed that we cannot avoid wires! Our building, though 15+ years old, had planned to have concealed wiring from the basement to all individual flats.

Not only the power lines, with backup generator, but also wires for cable TV and phone lines were all laid out and termination points created in the basement.

But then, with multiple phone and internet service providers and most of them either not understanding the wiring already done or just not wanting to take the extra effort to draw wired through existing conduits.

I was a little surprised to note the other day that there were more than a dozen wires hanging exposed in one section of the building.

I am sure that there would be at lease a dozen more elsewhere..


Talking of wires laid indiscriminnately, I see that many contractors laying conduits / cables for the optical fibres in the storm water drains. That only clogs and also acts as mini dams for other debris thrown in the drains..

The question is: even wuth all this, are wires less harmful for the environment?

Maybe we will see the sparrows back, if we reduced the wireless radiations and move to a more wired world..