[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

inside outside

Friday, April 29th, 2011

?

eyes windowing reality
heart rhyming eternal tunes
mind seeing surreal images
love exposing unknown self
soul searching precipitous destiny
time vaporizing leftover memory
me
roving inside and outside

Next Match: RedBox vs. NetFlix

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Few years ago, we started off with a BlockBuster service to get DVDs by mail and also pick up a couple of in-store free rentals. I liked the in-store deal because I could rent newer movies which usually have a long wait for home delivery.

And then, NetFlix came, conquered BlockBuster with streaming movies and TV shows in addition to the mailed DVDs. They really nailed the deal for me when they streamed via my Wii console, for no additional charge. When the BlockBuster store around where we live closed, we gladly cut the cord from my BlockBuster and switched to NetFlix. Too bad, BlockBuster didn’t copy NetFlix’s strategies even if they couldn’t creatively compete. The rest of the market voted just as I did and blockbuster is limping its way to RIP.

After using NetFlix service for a while, we noticed we were streaming movies more frequently than we were watching the DVDs. Despite the lack of good selection and low-quality streaming video (on 56′ TV), we preferred to pick and chose to watch whatever and whenever we want. Laziness chimed in too, NetFlix DVDs would lie around our entertainment center for days before we got to it. Over time, I figured we weren’t watching more than two movies a month through mailed DVDs. Besides, NetFlix had same queuing issue when it comes to newer movies available for immediate shipping.

Redbox One Billion Movie Rentals!

Around this same time, we finally bought a Samsung Blu-Ray player. Not wanting to wait for NetFlix shipping, I tried renting over night Blu-Ray rentals from RedBox. Blu-ray is spectacular – if you haven’t tried it, run, not walk, to check it out soon, RedBox solved the one problem I had with both BlockBuster and NetFlix: instant access to newer movies. So the combination of RedBox + Blu-Ray, I was royally sold.

We have since discontinued NetFlix DVD mailing service, but staying with streaming, though its usage has gone down even while NetFlix is beefing up its digital catalog. I have written about NetFlix before and I continue to use them as lessons on strategic thinking.

First, RedBox is available in locations that are practically a shout away from where we live. This one idea in itself might be a big winner. It’s ironic that the fast-disappearing BlockBuster stores could have easily stayed to do this cheap, over-night rental thing! In any case, until the other guys can provide Blu-Ray quality streaming and newer movies, RedBox neighborhood kiosks will continue to be prosper. I won’t be surprised if other companies soon flood the market with Kiosk-based services. CoinStar, which owns RedBox, had long established strategic partnership with retail establishments that helped introduce this potentially golden-goose innovation.

Second, by virtue of overnight rental, RedBox is eliminating a typical lazy consumer behavior. At the risk of paying more, I am forced to watch the movies overnight and return them, opening up more revenue for RedBox from the same DVD. Not only that, I am now more inclined to rent (even more revenue!) another newer movie from RedBox sooner than later. What used to be BlockBuster and NetFlix’s proposition, “Keep the DVDs as long you want”, is now wasted asset which otherwise should be making money! So RedBox is re-defining the a strategy which NetFlix previously re-defined which BlockBuster had previously defined. May be RedBox didn’t do this consciously, but at least a good strategy is emerging. This is classic business strategy at work.

Third, RedBox is aggressive about promoting the newer movies, in spite of the studios forcing delay between the day home video is released and the day kiosk rental is available. Nothing beats the joy of watching a good new movie late at night in your own cozy family room, that too on blu-ray and 56′ wide-screen home theater. Add to that the magic number of a $1 rental ($1.50 for Blu-ray) – I think we have a wholesome deal as sweet as mass-market American deals are supposed to be.

While NetFlix and the dozen or so aggressive competitors are vying for the online streaming business, RedBox, in my opinion, is firing on all guns around American neighborhoods. Especially around communities where internet streaming may not as popular as urban centers.

And don’t forget an important, but somewhat subtle proposition: RedBox is silently gaining brand awareness through well-designed, well-placed kiosks across high-traffic locations. If the same spots were to go for advertising, I bet they cost a boat load. Just take Wal-Mart alone; Millions of Americans who walk in and out of Wal-Mart everyday bestow their eye balls on a RedBox kiosks. More and more of these by-standers will be tempted by the site of people queuing up in front of attractive kiosks. Within America, RedBox may soon be as recognizable as Wal-Mart or McDonald. In the marketing world, that awareness is priceless.

Blu-Ray quality streaming may come soon but the idea of renting discs will stay at least for another few years. That is a compelling reason for RedBox’s to keep a watchful eye on the streaming technology as well as consumer wants and behavior choices. If CoinStar can could keep up with both, I am certain they can become the smartest innovator in the self-service segment converging convenience, retail and entertainment.

Next Match: RedBox vs. NetFlix

PS: There is one competition that usually goes unmentioned: Local libraries. They rent free rentals (mostly DVDs, very few offer Blu-ray) but they have the same queueing problem as NetFlix, especially since library rentals are usually for a week. Perhaps, RedBox will soon hit the queueing issue as more folks start embracing it.

One Innovation’s Long Journey to Rest Rooms across America

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Waterfree Urinals

Over the last few weeks, the rest rooms around the floor where I work have been renovated along with brand-new installation of sparkling beauty – water-free urinal wall fixtures.

Their curvy finish and mac-ish design make you want to use them, except there is no handle to flush. You are left to admire it from 12 inches away never having to touch it. Which is a good thing if you are apprehensive about germs spreading through the flush handles. I have used these urinals on and off in recent past, but it feels little different to use them every day. I have to get used to keeping my arms from reaching out for the flush handle!

Over the years, innovation in the toilet segment has tremendously saved water consumption. I have seen toilets with two flush handles at the top – one on each side for urinal (less gallons) flush and other for non-urinal (more gallons) use. The ultimate urinal is one with absolutely no water needed, saving millions of gallons of water per urinal per year. This is indeed an environmentalists’ dream invention. Besides, these innovators have the once popular kodak-formula for business model too. Once the urinal is installed, it will need annual replacement trap-cartridges – a container with special liquid that traps the urinal and sewage gases out of the ceramic fixture.

What I did not realize was how long and how hard it was to bring this innovation to the market. From this Wired article, “Pissing Match: Is the World Ready for the Waterless Urinal?” it likely took a decade for this innovation to reach the building I work at. Apparently, the water-free technology has been commercially available since 1991! I didn’t have a clue that plumbers, of all the people, would pose a huge threat in bringing this technology out to the masses. Apparently, plumbers felt they all would soon go out of business. That’s unlikely – the need to move water to/from every building will keep the plumbing as a profitable business for a long time to come.

One thing I am not entirely not sure is the odor. I have this awkward feeling that if you don’t flush down with water, the odor from the ceramic walls will eventually add up. It is entirely possible that ceramic will not retain any fluid traces, but who knows. Of course, time will tell soon as I use these daily.

Nevertheless, a decade and billions of water later, hip water-less urinals are finally going to adorn rest rooms across America.

Beauty in Zen Philosophy

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

This Zen Buddhist riddle touches the deepest part of my soul so well that I could just meditate on it forever without feeling a bit tired.

Q: How long should you stay at something?
A: However long it takes to get what you came for.
Q: How do you decide what you came for?
A: You don’t, you discover it.
Q: How do you discover it?
A: You notice what isn’t there anymore when you feel like leaving.

You need to be a person of certain nature to have the patience to seriously ponder this riddle. If you do take the time to ruminate on this, you will be rewarded with an illumination that’s priceless. It may even do exactly what riddles and poems are supposed to do: change your outlook on Life.

The reward in this discovery is the next...

There is a sense of spontaneity and now-ness in the first answer. Listen to your soul to know how long you should stay at something. But how did you arrive at this ‘something’ to begin with? Intriguingly enough, the last question answers that. You arrived at this ‘something’ when you felt like leaving the previous ‘something’.

Who said philosophy, that too Zen philosophy, is easy?

We always will have a ‘something’ to stay at. The only conscious or sub-conscious choice we have is to let go of this ‘something’, so we go to the next ‘something’.

Do you realize how the “notice” on the last answer circles back to the “something” in the first question? no? never mind.

What you came to ‘discover’, the reward, in this ‘something’ is really your next ‘something’. Zen is Genius. This is Life. This is exactly who I am.

And, I am not really as nutty as you might have concluded.

India’s Education System – What to make out of it?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

There is a group of journalist who blast India’s education system as horrendous while another group hails it as the next best thing for other educators to learn from!

Here is what a recent WSJ article titled “India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire” has this to say:

Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

Don’t lose heart just yet. A 2008 NYTimes artcile titled “Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools” has this to say:

Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

What the heck is an average reader to make out of this?

Mass-produced graduates..

I am not any expert in India’s education, but for my personal interest in the subject and the credential as a product of India’s education system having spent about one half of my life in the classrooms of an average sub-urban public school and corridors of a private engineering college.

My take is India’s education system produces exactly the kind of graduates it is designed to “mass produce”. Since our schools (factories) and classes (production lines) are dealing with minds (of teachers and students) instead of machines, what results is simply a spectrum of output quality – many good ones, some bad ones and rest fall somewhere in between. Given the factory model with prescribed academic syllabus, I do not think any school or any teacher can mint 100% great pupils year after year – even with 100% great teachers.

By the way, did the WSJ article’s author and the HR executives referenced in it all jump straight from heaven? I mean seriously? They all must have went through the same damned Indian educational system and now that they are at the top of the food chain, they are looking down and blaming it?

Don’t mistake my angst for denial. Heck, even the much-adorned American education system is begging for change! So, indeed the Indian education needs wholesale, transformational changes! But that’s not an excuse to write-off the system altogether. Which is why I think both the articles above are somewhat ill-conceived and poorly positioned without context.

An quote by Paul Tosto summarizes my thought perfectly:

Hand-wringing over education seems to be a national pastime…The other guy always seems to be smarter. The other country always has better ideas. Our kids will end up chumps in the global economy unless we do what those guys do, etc.

The WSJ article reflects a narrow authorship and refers to the NASSCOM Assessment of Competence (NAC) employability tests that have been developed the BPO and the IT industry! While those two industries have been a boon for India, by no means they represent rest of India’s economy. Moreover, it is not as if only IITs and IIMs produce the stellar students. The growth engine of India is primarily fueled by the good load of students produced by the average schools and colleges in the last 20-30 years.

A while ago Fortune magazine chronicled the training facility of Infosys in Mysore, India.

..after the job offer, comes the real test: eight hours a day at Mysore studying lines of Java code, attending team-building workshops, and learning to differentiate the do’s of global workplace etiquette from the don’ts.

The sad truth is India’s colleges are not designed to impart employable skills. They exist to provide theoretical knowledge minting “raw” graduates with unparalleled uniformity. Like it or not, every employer has to mold, train and coach them to some extent to make them employable! A talented kid emerging out of India’s system of education is a by-product of that kid’s own commitment to learning, her parents commitment for positive support, the effect of indulgences from societal & peer pressures, and last, likely the least, the formal educational system she was part of.

Ultimately, the problem with India’s education sector is one of a systemic immaturity and solution has to be multi-pronged:

  1. Enrollment at the primary / secondary levels must improve.
  2. Parents and family members must play an active engage in a kid’s off-school learning.
  3. Learning curricula must aim to produce well-rounded graduates retaining certain level of individual character and innate uniqueness. Education must balance art, creativity, music, sports, thinking skills, behavioral, inter-personal skills besides the science, math and language.
  4. Government must privatize the primary / secondary educational services. Not only will that meet the growing population’s demand but will also stabilize quality.
  5. Most importantly, career development programs must start at the middle schools.
    Career development programs should expose the students to wide-range of post-secondary educational opportunties.
  6. Society at large, including corporations and formal/informal industries must actively partner with schools and universities to set right expectations on what’s needed from students after graduation.

It is all easier to list than getting it done. We have decades to go before we can convincingly enroll, educate, graduate and employ India’s younger generation. Until then, start thinking about how we must shift the paradigm and redefine education as we always knew it.

Keshav – New member of Family!

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

On April 4th, Harini and I were blessed with a boy as a new addition to our family. Rishi picked Keshav as the name of his choice for his little bro. Though we were very anxious, He has embraced his brother pretty well so far. We are slowly settling down amidst the hurry burry. I am getting used to diapers and 2-hour sleep schedules while Harini is beginning to see a “bright” future dealing with all the boys around the house.

Thanks to wishes from everyone.

Team India is the World Cup Champions!

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

It is truly a happiest moment for me as well as all the Indians across the World. May this moment be frozen in time. May the billion hearts forever be as joyous as today.

Dhoni – you are a gem of a Captian and you deserve every bit of it. Sachin – You have it now, the boys did it for you, with you.

Team India brought home the lost legacy and nailed its place as the greatest cricket team in the world! They touched the sky!

The team India that made dreams come true!

Khan way of Transforming Learning

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Listen, you want a glimpse of the future of education? How about Bill Gates vouching for it?

Even If you already know of Khan Academy, still take a few minutes to watch this latest TED Presentation. If you are patient enough, Bill Gates will join Sal Khan on stage around the 18th minute.

I stumbled upon Khan Academy last year, and since that time, he has gone from “somebody” to “the man”. His vision is rather unbelievable – educate the world for free on every topic! His story and rise to limelight is a worth a short film.

This story has been inspiring to me in many fronts. For one, he is making things happen for real. When million others are simply dreaming or talking about just ideas, he is out changing the face of learning, still one day or one video at a time. The realization of his vision in just the last few months is really commendable. They have create an innovative software to facilitate a non-invasive, individualized learning – augmented by the thousands of tutoring videos. Not only that, behind the screen, the software captures tremendous data for the teachers & tutors to evaluate a student’s performance and to have a constructive, thoughtful discussion for further learning and improvement. The best of today’s teachers are manually collating these type of data which takes away the time from focusing on their only goal of positively influencing the development of the students.

When most innovators are behind the startup wagon with a hope of making it big in an IPO, Sal is running this as a non-profit, a social enterprise as I like to think of it. I am certain money is never going to be an issue – even if Gates and Google don’t care for them, scores of philanthropists will line up to write a check for some who is truly impacting the lives of so many people across the world.

Let’s not forget, next to the gift of life, the second best gift to give anyone is education. If he can do that in a simple, easy way that anyone across the globe can use – I salute he is indeed “the man”.

Khan Academy already has a pilot program with Los Altos school district that is showing great promise. Now that he has assembled a fantastic team (I wish I could be part of this team and their mission!!), they are all set to fundamentally transform the way learning will happen in classrooms. No other company, including Microsoft, has been able to introduce this type of transformation. Which is likely why Bill Gates is backing Sal’s vision, besides using it himself to teach math to her daughter.

We need all the other dreamers to take Khan Academy truly global across languages and villages on a mission to educate the masses. Any takers from India?