Feb 27, 2011

Eagles live!

It was great watching the 1970s band Eagles live in Taiwan..I only knew them through their most famous songs like Hotel California and Take it Easy.

Their performance was great because they knew what the audience wanted - hear their greatest hits and some new stuff.  And they delivered. Talking of audience, it was mostly local people, surprisingly young crowd for a band that is from another generation. Another surprise is the almost total absence of  'expat' faces. One would have thought there are many in Taiwan that would love to hear them live. I was, of course, the only Indian perhaps in the crowd!

If the very second song was "Hotel California", I need not say much about the choice of songs..they knew what the audience wanted. "Take it easy" was the last piece and between them there were more than  a dozen numbers, including "Witchy woman" and "Take it to the limit" (Glen said his wife calls it the 'credit card song')...most rendered with a lot of passion and energy for their age. The guitar play was simply superb - Glen, Stuart and the rest.

Un-forgetable...worth every cent I paid..

Of course, having listened dozens of times to Hotel California savaged and ripped apart by lots of Fililpino bar and restaurant singers, not to speak of Karaoke bar 'performers' in S.E.Asia, it was a pleasure to hear the original :-)

Earthquake resistant building

Just recently Christchurch (NZ) suffered damage and casualties as a result of an earthquake. Planners in India and elsewhere should sit up and take notice. Not at the size of the death toll, which is tragic even it if is only one, but at the fact that it is really low for a quake that is considered a 'bulls-eye' - shallow, right next to a big city and 6.3 magnitude. Some buildings collapsed, yes, but aerial picture of Christchurch shows most modern buildings standing unaffected, its occupants shielded by technology and adherence to law.

It is anybody's guess how many a quake of this sort would kill, if it were to  strike a populated city in the Indian Himalayan region (or even Delhi which is vulnerable). The numbers would be too high, perhaps in the tens of thousands. And experts have been warning for years that a big one is overdue.

Reason? Total disregard of building codes even by those with money (leaving aside those that cannot afford it) and ignorance. The Ahmedabad quake showed when even costly condominiums are constructed shoddily.

I had to request and even insist my builder to use concrete columns instead of plain brick work over foundation (which is what 99% of home builders do in my city) and to use good quality steel not the remelted scrap that passes for steel in parts of India.

Look at this building under construction in Taiwan - the shell is thick steel, not the kind of wiry rods we tend to use in India (and elsewhere). The concrete comes later. Look at the closeup shot of the steel - it is so thick and riveted together strongly. I am no civil engineer but something tells me this will take a massive quake and barely budge.

While it will take decades for India to have the sort of living standards and afford-ability that goes with a developed economy, there are many things we can do right now to save lives. There is a lot of low hanging fruit..

Experts should highlight many aspects of quake resistant design that is not costly and can be adopted by middle class or lower middle class home builders. For many it is simply a question of not knowing enough, not a question of cost, even it were to increase building costs by 20-30% or so. After all, many willingly spend hundreds of thousands on toilet fixtures, marble flooring, granite facades, kitchen cabinets and LCD televisions.

Big builders who sell flats for high price should be penalised if they construct shoddily or use unsafe practices. Engineers and owners should be jailed or fined substantial amounts that discourage non compliance.

Academics and intellectuals, who in India most often focus on how to turn kids into future recruits for the communist party should instead impart safety knowledge (including road safety, earthquake preparedness, infectious disease control etc) as part of school curriculum and formal training.

All this takes will..

Or we simply multiply the 200+ of Christchurch by a thousand or more...

Feb 11, 2011

Nokia + Microsoft = Joke of the day

Let me first admit one thing upfront here - I have never used a Nokia phone, nor have I used a Windows phone. That should make me completely unfit and incompetent to comment on this matter.

But I do use phones and do have this blog where I and only I can post stuff....so here we go!

My first mobile was an Ericsson and I still remember surprising my wife calling from outside my apartment, she thinking I was still in the office. Ever since I have owned Alcatel, Motorola, Palm and various other phones. Right now I am hooked on Android and I have three Android phones - LG GT540, P500 and the Motorola DEFY. I love them all, with DEFY being the flavor of the month.

Nokia, as we all know, has lost the mojo...interestingly so has M$. That's the beauty of all these smartphones that practically everyone owns or wants to own. They sell by the millions and mint money for many but not the usual suspects. They have come with new chips (ARM, Snapdragon), new Operating Systems (Android, Iphone) and from new companies (HTC, Samsung, LG and others) that were never there when Nokia and (remember?) Ericsson were ruling the mobile world..

And what can Microsoft/Nokia do?

Well they decided to team up. Just like Asus-Garmin, Sony-Ericsson, Benq-Siemens and so many others...

A company with a failed operating system (Windows phone) is partnering with a firm with a business model that, in the CEO's own words, is collapsing around it.

What can Nokia Windows phone do that HTC or other makes can't? Your guess is as good as mine. And what can Nokia do to enhance the pathetic mind share and market share that Windows 7 has managed to command, despite endorsement from LG, HTC and others? God knows.

As for me, I would be happy to place my bets on Motorola - it has embraced Android and it has also shown how it is possible to bounce back into contention with cool models like DEFY (I own one) that use 'commodity' Android system and yet keep USP alive and kicking...

After all, Microsoft has taught us one valuable lesson - there is not much room for too many players in the OS market. Perhaps it is time they read the book they wrote.

Feb 4, 2011

Srilanka's visa move

Peace after decades of war is welcomed by everyone. But for financial reasons, the hotel and tourism business welcomes it more than anyone else. Yet, it would seem ironic almost tragic that government of Srilanka chooses to impose new visa rules that restrict tourist flow just when the floodgates are about to open.

I love visiting Lanka and was happily enjoying visa free travel but I do understand where they are coming from..

Srilanka is simply saying this - if you give our citizens visa free entry, we will reciprocate, if not, well, sorry, please join the queue and apply.

Hats off!

India is introducing visa free entry to numerous nationalities though most, if not all, of them don't offer reciprocal benefits. And our economy is definitely less tourism dependent than Lanka's

But it is a wrong solution to a wrong problem.


The problem is not visa - the problem is with the process that goes with it. Getting anything done with any department associated with Govt. of India means waiting in dingy, poorly lit, crowded rooms with a solitary fan, five pages of forms to fill out in triplicate, waiting in endless queues and if you are unlucky, harassment, bribes and what not. I used to joke that it is easy to find poor facilities, delays and poor service in super-efficient Singapore - just visit the Indian High Commission!

If visas can be applied online, processed without question for 90-95% of the ordinary business or leisure traveler, granted electronically, paid for by credit card and without a trip to any agent, tout or the embassy, no right thinking person would object to applying for it. They will happily pay $20 or more to get it done if they want to visit the Taj Mahal or do business in India.

If that sounds far fetched, that is exactly how Singapore visa works...today and has been that way for years..it can be done.

Do that and then impose prior visa requirement on any nation that that does not provide reciprocal benefits. Then we are sending two powerful messages - India is a nice place to visit and an efficient place to do business and is not a banana republic that bends over backwards to earn a few dollars more.

Will GOI learn from proud Lankans?

PS: GOI should immediately grant Lankans visa free entry now that the lame excuse (LTTE) is not valid anymore...I would go further and strongly recommend that Lankans should be able to work and reside in India if they wish, just like it is in Europe..this is one area where GOI should not wait for reciprocity, and show the way forward for South Asia.