Jul 19, 2012

An obsession with forms in triplicate, endorsed by 'gazetted officers'

Even as others move on to the 20th, and 21st centuries, Indian bureaucracy (aka 'babudom' in Indian English) remains obsessed with paper forms, filled out in triplicate or quadruplicate if not quntuplicate, endorsed by 'gazetted officers' which also includes managers working for 'Public sector' banks.

Recently I had to get my 'digital signature' renewed - and my identify 'proof' which is my driving license, has to be photocopied and the copy endorsed by a gazetted officer or bank manager. Needless to say, I had to spend some time finding one. Living in a city it is easier, that too if you are privileged to walk into any bank and ask for one because you are a customer of standing or a potential one. If you are not, and you are one of the proverbial 'unwashed Indian mass' then good luck!

By the way, I went to a 'Public sector' bank to find a manager, because by the standards of government sloth, it is easier to find and beg a bank manager for signature than find a true blue 'babu' in a government office - that will be a half day project, even in the city, unless you happen to be son or nephew of one. Or have servants and minions to despatch on such important matters. Thankfully the manager was a nice man. Perhaps he has been chastened by recent influx of private and foreign banks that has turned unnecessary waste of time tasks such as smiling, serving customer and entertaining visitors a necessary evil.

Incidentally such endorsements and signatures are required for lots and lots of things, not just digital certificates.

Talking of digital signatures, for the recent renewal of signature, I changed vendors because the earlier one, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, (An institution that will probably defend babus and babudom to death because they create enormous revenues through such signatures, endorsements and paperwork requirements) is yet to discover that credit card, net banking and other forms of electronic payments exist. To them it is 'demand draft drawn on a nationalised bank, payable at Delhi'. Yet another uniquely Indian bureaucratic document that requires you to waste half a day queueing up for and getting one, guess where, at a 'Public sector' bank!!

Indians must be one of the very few unfortunate citizens that have to fill out a long form with all the details that are already available in the passport, such as date of birth, address, passport number etc. both while exiting and re-entering India. There is yet another form within a form, that has exact same info, to be handed out to yet another branch of babudom standing guard at our airports - the Customs. Whether or not you have anything to declare other than your tiredness and irritation after a long flight.

Many countries are doing away with such nonsensical forms even for aliens, let alone citizens.

Recently I went to Malaysia and was pleasantly surprised when the Immigration officer said I don't have to fill out any form! Both at entry and at exit, even though I carry an Indian passport.

After all, a swipe of the passport at the machine reader will let the officer see and store everything anyway, without even the form, but then lots of useless public sector or government jobs get created and sustained, keeping lots of parasites busy if forms have to be read, checked, handled, counted, transported, audited, filed away and so on...

And if they are in triplicate, then three times as many are kept busy!! Even better!!!!

It also allows our 'babus' to harass anyone that filled out one field wrong and harangue him. If you are a poor farmer or a labourer, you have even 'better' chances of getting the rough end of the stick. Our babus get pervert and sadistic pleasure out of seeing the discomfort and inconvenience of those they are supposed to serve.

If you ask any question, you will get the omnibus excuse of  'security'. And you are supposed to shut up and not ask how filling out forms can stop terrorist attacks or improve security.

Jul 18, 2012

An update on Nokia - they should consider Android

Back in November, I was not sanguine about the prospects of Nokia+M$ combo. This is what I said..

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.

Here is the link..

Now sales figures confirm the suspicion - Overall Windows phone share is pathetic at about 1% and interestingly, Nokia is not even the leading seller of Windows phone, Samsung is!! Despite all the hype about the Lumia 900.

BTW, my other prediction about Motorola did not unfortunately pan out the way I hoped ..because of ridiculous over pricing by Motorola.

Where is the fragmentation?

Remember all the controversy about Android 'fragmentation' because not all are running the same version of Android? How we were told that such things are not possible with Microsoft Windows Phone because updates apply to all phones?

Now comes the shocker - the new Windows Phone 8 will NOT support old devices, including the so-called flagship Lumia 900. Anyone buying that has guaranteed obsolescence.

And this is a nice gift to Nokia from Microsoft for having agreed to a one-sided monopoly where Nokia gives up on all its other OSs and does only Windows Phone, and Microsoft continues to work with all and sundry.

What can Nokia do?

The answer is simple - even though competition is tough, and the market has moved on, it has to join the Android bandwagon. Samsung, LG, HTC and all other johny-come-latey's to the party will then feel the heat - because a company that has been making great phones for as long as anyone cares to remember will show them there is still life left in Nokia. May be teach them a few design lessons along the way.

After all, it is not as if too many vendors cannot produce phones on the same OS and fail to differentiate...that's not how the PC market works, does it? Tons of companies produce the same Intel+Windows Ultrabooks, laptops and desktops and manage to survive, beat competition and carve out niches.

With Nokia in the same boat, the emphasis will shift to design and features - not whether it is Jelly bean or some other bean inside.

Is this the Plan B that Nokia's Chairman recently spoke about? Hope so..

Jul 15, 2012

The solar paradox

Last year (2011), the world saw installation of solar power reach 27.4 gigawatts or 27 megawatts. A typical modern nuclear reactor is in the range of 1 to 1.3 gigawatts so the world added about 25 nuclear reactors size power capacity.

It is even more strange that Europe, associated more with cool temperate climate, accounts for almost 40% of the installations - primarily Germany, not even southern Europe which is warmer and hence logically more suitable!

That simply shows there is a long way to go and the potential is HUGE!!!.

This year (2012), Japan will literally see a explosion of solar installation, primarily driven by a very attractive subsidy plan that gives generous feed-in-tariffs. China too will add huge capacity.

It is time India gets into this game big time..after all the most logical place in the world for solar to catch on is right here!

The best part of this is, unlike other countries where the solar panels replace electricity produced mostly through relatively clean means - hydro, nuclear or efficient coal based plants, in India, solar, at least in initial years, will replace hugely expensive and noisy, polluting diesel - and reduce reliance on imported oil. Because people use diesel generators to beat power cuts and energy shortages that are chronic and widespread. Many reports claim that solar is ALREADY cheaper for such usage, even factoring in capital costs....

And one wonders if decision makers are even thinking holistically - for example, if you factor in transmission cost, losses and the huge costs involved in running wires to remote villages, locally produced solar and other forms of renewable energy may be cheaper even today! A simple Rupees per watt calculation may not throw up such linkages.

Of course, solar cannot make the grid irrelevant, even for remote villages. But then if you consider the fact that these remote villages are having neither grids nor power, it is not a bad deal to go first with solar.

Jul 8, 2012

Ban on Nexus - big deal!

No one seems to have noticed the most important aspect of the so-called ban on Nexus sales, in the US.

  • Firstly, let us be clear - this ban only affects US, which though an important market, is nowhere as important as it used to be years ago.  
  • Secondly, Google has already gotten around the problem by producing a temporary 'fix' while still fighting the case in court through multiple strategies - invalidating the original patent, claiming non-infringement and mitigating impact if these strategies fail.

But the most important aspect is that the ban is a consequence of alleged violation of the 'Siri' voice search patent - mind you this was not even a feature of iPhone until recently, and hence is nowhere connected to the   ridiculous statement that the entire Android product is a 'rip-off'. That is what Jobs said of Microsoft Windows too, and we know where they stand in terms of market share..

The rest of the so-called patents which US seems to grant to any Tom Dick and Harry that has money to pay to lawyers without doing any homework, are in serious trouble in more sober, less litigation prone locations like U.K. And they did not meet the test of importance that merits a ban.

Thankfully, even in lawyer infested USA where sleaze-bag ambulance chasers and the likes of John Edwards abound, there is growing disgust and disquiet about dubious patents and their abuse by trolls and money-bags to harass competitors and reduce customers' choice.

One hopes to see increasingly louder calls for patent law reform take some concrete legislative shape.

Even now, judges can teach companies like Apple that use litigation aggressively and much too often a hard lesson - if they are ever caught on the wrong foot on patents or copyrights, fine them so high, their entire cash reserve gets wiped out.

One last bit of delicious news before we leave the topic..

A Chinese company is suing APPLE for violating their own patents - guess what? They are targeting the Siri voice search.. You can read all about it here..and in other websites - just GOOGLE!!!

Who knows, they may well succeed!!

We all know even the name IPAD was a "shameless rip-off", a term Apple loves to use..and which it was forced to pay $60m to license. Enough said about paid and unpaid shills and patent experts trying to project Apple as the sole innovator in the whole world and the rest as copy cats.

At the very least, this should provide 'prior art' for Google to take down yet another 'patent'. And provide enough fun to keep us entertained for a while...