Tuesday, June 1, 2010

5 steps to improve Bangalore

I have stayed in Bangalore for about 2 years and I have come to like this city very much. I haven't stayed in Mumbai for long but having stayed in Delhi for last two months and having visited Chennai, I think Bangalore is the only 'big' city where I can survive without losing my mind.

The biggest allure of Bangalore, as anybody who has stayed in Bangalore for some time would know, is its weather. Bangalore is the city with best weather in India. Period. No comparisons. A close second in this list is the all year round offering of a variety of quizzes. To a quizzer like me, Bangalore is the next best thing to heaven. Then there are other small goodies like book shops where the owner knows about the book he is selling, people who are not excessively rude, and a collection of young people from different places in India.

Even then, I have a few concerns about Bangalore. Bangalore has still not been able to upstage either Delhi or Mumbai and it has serious competition from cities like Hyderabad and Chennai. In this post, I will look at some of the measures which Bangalore can take to launchpad itself in the same league as Delhi and Mumbai and still retain its old world charm.

1. Complete the Metro

I first came to Bangalore in July 2007. The construction for the Metro had just begin. I figured that the Metro should be up and running by 2009. Its 2010 now and there are still no signs of Metro. To add to the misery, most of the roads of Bangalore have been dug up to construct the towers for Metro. Bangalore didn't have very wide roads to begin with. With the increasing population and roads being dug up, traffic has become really slow moving.

2. Develop the Suburbs

People should be given incentives to move to the suburbs. If you can't guarantee them water and electricity, why would anyone want to move to suburbs, especially when the real estate bubble has pushed the price of property in suburbs very high as well. Bangalore proper can hold only so many people and I think that level was breached quite long back.

3. Drop the Kannada thing

This could be the most controversial point of the post. In an age of globalization, where the world is marching towards one global language, it is foolish to rant and protest about having road signs in Kannada. If you insist on making the city unfriendly to visitors, the visitors would stop coming. I guess it shouldn't be very difficult to understand even for rabble rousers. Its alright to make Kannada compulsory up to a certain standard in schools. It is okay to mark funds to promote Kannada literature. But it is not okay at all to raise trouble because the shop names are not written in Kannada. Even the so called 'cow belt' is not so foolish. Only the smallest shops in UP and Bihar have names written in Hindi. Why should they? Everybody, who has money to shop in there, understands English. So, dear 'Bengaluru', do yourself a favour and drop this language shit.

4. Better Public Transport

Bangalore is crying out for a better and cleaner public transport. First step, kick the butt of Autowallahs. There are simply too many autowallahs in Bangalore. There is a distinct need of consolidations in the autorickshaw industry. There should be two or three big service providers and the autowallahs should be forced to affiliate to them. That would make the autowallahs accountable to someone. Remove the traffic police. These people are totally corrupt and unhelpful to people. Yesterday, I took a prepaid auto from Forum mall to Mysore Road. The Bill - 120 bucks. The day before I had hailed an Auto from the road and paid him 60 bucks for the same ride. If the people designated to protect the commuters are so corrupt, then where should the poor commuter go?
Thankfully, Bangalore has moved in the right direction with Bus transport and there are more number of Buses on the road. The frequency and the number of AC buses has increased as well. This should help in keeping people from using cars and other environmentally ineffecient means of travel.

5. Impose big taxes on cars and petrol

Bangalore hasn't got the infrastructure to be a city where everyone is riding his/her own car to office. To dissuade people from using cars, impose steepling tariff on car purchase and petrol for personal use.

Here are my views. Bangaloreans, please pour in your views/comments about the post.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Looking the other way

Blame it on the non stop viewing of 'World at War' series, so beautifully narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. The question which has been troubling me for the last two weeks is this : "What are the circumstances which allow a person to look the other way while a fellow human being is being killed/maimed/attacked?"

Another factor which lead to this entry was the brilliant opening sequence of Tarantino's latest movie, 'Inglorious Basterds'. I would not spoil the scene for those who have already seen the movie but those who have seen the movie would get the point.

The final push to write this entry came after reading this impartial account, by Ivan Buruma, of life in Paris during the German occupation. In the article, he presents before us two journals maintained by two Parisians during the years of German occupation. One of them is a young author who is merely inconvenienced by the presence of Germans in Paris. The other is a young Jew student who lives under constant threat of deportation and gas chambers. Just like their backgrounds, their fate is also going to be different. He also looks at the response of different members of artistic community. Some choose the path of collaborations while others actively resist the occupation.

Is being apolitical an excuse which can be used to ignore the brutalities? If resistance is futile and doomed to fail, should a man close his eyes to the horrible realities in front of him and continue his normal life seeing nothing and doing nothing?

Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." But why is it that so often good men choose to do nothing. A psychology experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram could be a good starting point to look at the motives of ordinary people who do evil things. He found out that a large percentage of people would go to any lengths to conform. Also, another psychology experiment by Darley and Latane examines  bystander apathy. We have all seen cases of bystander apathy but in an extreme case of bystander apathy, a New York woman named Kitty Genovese was raped, stabbed and  killed in front of an apartment block while during a period of two hours, nearly 30 people witnessed the assault but none of them came out to help Kitty Genovese. This lead to the aforementioned study by Darley and Latane which, unfortunately, confirmed what we all know deep inside our hearts. People do not help people. And, more the number of people who are witness to an assault or an accident, the slower the response time would be because everybody would be waiting for somebody else to come to the help of the victim. 

So, are we lead to the unhappy conclusion that people are generally bad or at the very best, they are not good? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Email Services – The perfect example of imperfect competition

This is a part of the work our group did for our Econ project. I hope I haven't made any blunders here.
The major email service providers in India – Gmail, Yahoo, Rediff, and Hotmail command over a 95% of the market share . The email market in India is thus an example of oligopoly- a market structure in which a small number of shares control a huge market share.
For an imperfect competition to exist there needs to be some amount of market power to be present with the firms. We will now examine the source of market power in case of our market of interest. Firstly, there are patents and copyrights which provide these firms with some amount of market power. Google has its page rank algorithm with the help of which it provides unique services to its customers. But patents are not a major part of the story here. Patents can be and have been circumvented in the past. The two most important reasons for market power vesting with individual firms are – Economies of Scale and Network Economies.
Economies of Scale are apparent in high tech email services industry. With the amount of storage space provided and the number of users of each service, each of these companies has to have big server farms. The average cost of each email account provided falls down with the number of email accounts given by the service provider. This is so because the air conditioning costs of the server farms and the charges for each server would tend to remain constant over a long range of email accounts because they are fixed costs. Hence, the marginal cost of providing one email account would be very small. Therefore, the companies which provide larger number of email accounts or in other words have a larger number of customers have to suffer a lower average cost per email account.
Network economies or externalities are another very important factor contributing to market power of the oligopolist. Network externalities are the effects on a user of a product or service of others using the same or compatible products or services. Positive network externalities exist if the benefits are an increasing function of the number of other users. Negative network externalities exist if the benefits are a decreasing function of the number of other users. A common example is computer software. Emails, through the use of add-ons, also fall in the same category. It was said that Google introduced gtalk only to drive more people to join its mail service gmail. People who wanted to use gtalk to chat with their friends on gtalk could only do so if they had an existing gmail account. Thus, network economies are also an important factor contributing to the market power of the email services.
Being oligopolists, these firms are able to practice price discrimination. They do so by offering the consumers ‘premium account’. These so called premium accounts do not have advertisements displayed with the emails and offer certain other services. The cost associated with offering these services is not much more than the cost of offering the normal vanilla email account. Thus, the firms are able to practice third-degree price discrimination. 

Consumers are divided into two groups, with separate demand curves for each group. The optimal prices and quantities are such that the marginal revenue from each group is the same and equal to marginal cost. Here group 1, with demand curve D1, is charged P1, and group 2, with the more elastic demand curve D2, is charged the lower price P2. Marginal costs depends on the quantity produced QT.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sometimes I forgot to laugh - A book review

Peter Roebuck was a Somerset opener and captain. He currently writes for Sidney Morning Herald and The Hindu. Recently, I had the good fortune of reading his autobiography, 'Sometimes I forgot to laugh'. It provides really good insights into the life of a professional cricketer. People generally believe that professional sportsmen would be the happiest people on the face of the earth, enjoying themselves to the fullest by doing what most people only aspire to do, being on a first name basis with many celebrities and enjoying the camaraderie which should be a part of team sports. Roebuck disabuses the reader of these notions and presents the life of a professional sportsman(in this case a moderately successful one) in its nakedness.

He was selected as part of Somerset team in 1974. Somerset, a not so fashionable English county back then, had decided to invest in youth and as a result had selected many six youngsters in its team. Along with Roebuck, there were two other youngsters who were going to become household names in all cricket playing nations. One was a young all rounder from Yeovil named Ian Botham and another was a batsman in his early 20s from a neglected West Indian island Antigua. His name was Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. The book deals with Roebuck's relationship with these two towering giants of cricket.

Cricket is a cruel game. It is often said that cricket reveals character. But it can also be argued that cricket makes character. Sometimes I forgot to laugh is an excellent character sketch of many of the well known names of the game.

It also makes the point that at the end of the day playing cricket is just another job. Just like any other job, people do get bored playing the game. And it has its own share of office politics. Roebuck deals with the politics part in the chapter The Somerset Affair. As a captain of Somerset, Roebuck had to sack three of the best players(Richards, Botham and Joel Garner) Somerset had after they had finished at the bottom of the table. The backlash from the public and the bad blood between Botham and Roebuck which resulted is typical of affairs in any other profession. As an example consider Larry Ellison's firing of Terry Garnett, his trusted Vice President at Oracle.

I will end this post by quoting from the book a few lines about Steve Waugh.
"Whereas Richards had been a performer and Crowe a stylist, Waugh was a competitor. By his reckoning, a bloke was there to score runs and take wickets, and all else was tomfoolery....Waugh was sustained by an inner drive that was rarely revealed, pushed along by an unwavering commitment to winning"

Most of the autobiographies of former players is filled with just anecdotes and their escapades. Thank God for autobiographies like this which give real insight into a player's mind.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The New Big Mac Index

The Economist has come out with an alternative Big Mac Index. The original Big Mac Index was introduced in Economist by Paul Woodall as an illustration to the concept of purchasing power. Big Mac Index converts the amount needed in the local currency of a country to purchase a Big Mac at McDonalds into US Dollars. An index of these values gives us an idea about the purchasing power of US Dollars in that country. Some of the countries with the highest BMI are Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden(Is it a coincidence that three out of four of these countries have a very high standard of living with high taxation and welfare policies.) The countries with the lowest BMI are the South East Asian nations like Malaysia, Hong Kong(technically not a nation), Thailand etc.

The new BMI calculates the time it takes a person to earn enough to purchase a Big Mac. Chicago, Tokyo and Toronto are the dream destinations for fast food enthusiasts where it takes a person roughly 10 minutes to earn a Big Mac. On the other end of spectrum is Nairobi, a person has to work for three hours before he can have hi Big Mac. Aamchi Mumbai fares not much better. There you will earn your burger with 70 minutes of hard work done.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Desert Survival

"Its 10 AM and you have just crash landed right in the middle of a desert." 

Thus started the exercise given to us as part of today's BIO(Behavior In Organization) class in order to make us aware of the decision making processes in a team and the various pitfalls associated with the popular decision making mechanisms. The exercise was simple. I will paraphrase it. You and a group of people have crash landed bang in the middle of the desert. The nearest town is nearly 110 kms away. You were able to salvage some articles from the wreckage and now you have to decide what should be the ranking of the individual articles. See this for similar but not exactly the same situation.

You are given ten minutes to make your individual priority order. After that you assemble as a group and you are given thirty minutes to decide, as a group, the priority of the items. After thirty minutes are over and you have arrived at a team priority order, you do some math and come up with the team synergy score which tells you how good you decision taking process as a team was. 

The items were knife, pistol, a liter of water, parachute, mirror, sunglasses etc. 

Not going in to the details of how our group went about the discussions, I would like to bring out some interesting observations about the decision making process.

1. Too many cooks spoil the broth - Not necessarily
     Common sense suggests that two heads are better than one and so on. But we have all been part of the situations where the whole was not quite the sum of the parts. So, what is the ideal scenario? What I observed was that the teams where there was just one candidate for the leadership of the team were the teams which did well. In my views, that happened because they were less paranoid about some one else usurping their leadership position and thus were more willing to listen to others and more amenable to change their opinions. On the other hand, the teams where their were a lot of contenders(real or perceived) contenders for the leadership role had a lot of chaos and people were less willing in those teams to concede ground to opposing viewpoints. And that brings me to my next point.

2. Leadership(the common perception of it) is overrated. -  Very true
    What happens when everybody leads? Well, there is nobody to follow and the team goes off at different tangents. This is also, by the way, my main pain point with the IIM and other MBA colleges selection procedures. They reward selfishness over team play. That is why you have a GD where nobody is willing to show the next person the courtesy of listening to the one line he has got to say on the subject, however relevant it may be. And by selecting the guy who got the most air time in the GD you are sending a message that I am going to select a guy who can get his voice heard. I, on the other hand, for the life of me, can not remember the last time I had to shout in a team meeting to get heard when I was working in Samsung. 
On a somewhat different note, I remember reading somewhere that when somebody complained to Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande that his school for music, the sadly neglected Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music in Lucknow itself, was not producing classical singers who could perform very well, he replied back that the purpose of his school was not to produce Taansen but to produce Kaansen. Unfortuanately, IIMs as well as the companies which come to hire need only Taansens

3. BIO is crap - Not Entirely True/Not Entirely False(Depends upon whether you see the glass as half full or half empty)
   BIO is a great tool to analyze why did a particular turn of events take place. And like all tools which are great to use retrospectively, BIO is a perennial butt of the jokes much like Economics.A classic is "An economist is one who has predicted nine out of five recessions." 

All in all, the exercise was much more welcome than the dry lectures. If only, we can have these exercises in all the BIO classes.



Hello World !

This is not the first time I am starting a blog and committing myself to maintain it. Back in my UG days, I had started a blog with the intentions of keeping it alive. It received one and only one post :(

Hopefully, this one(Agniologist) would last a bit longer. Okay, so lets get started without further ado.

First things first. What the hell is an agniologist? You know, I was searching for a very cool and fundoo sort of name to give to my blog. I have subscribed to these two services where I receive a new word in my mail box every day. So, I scanned through those mails and this was the fundoo-est and the most relevant word I came across. Basically, agniologist = a + gnio + logist where a = No, gnio (coming from gnomo, which gives us agnostic etc) means knowledge and logist is our friendly suffix which we encounter on every other page and which means one who studies. So Agniologist is someone who studies ignorance. All things considered, a very apt name for a blog whose agenda would be to record my learnings and insights which I would hopefully gain during my stay in IIM Lucknow. 

With this, I think I would finish my first post.