Archives For Tips

Diwali-Crackers-Store-DisplayOct 17 is going to be a big day in India. The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepavali is going to be celebrated.

(Note: Diwali is not India’s Independence day. Our Independence Day falls on August 15th.)

Diwali is an important festival for the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. But it is a festival that is celebrated by the entire country. In places like Bombay (Mumbai), where I grew up, everyone joined in. Buildings were lined with diyas (oil-fueled-tiny-clay lamps), children got together to have fun with fireworks, sweets were distributed among friends and relatives. It is generally a fun time and schools and offices had holidays.

But over the years, I have grown weary of the firecrackers. They are the noise-making fireworks. Just a lot of noise. In fact, I remember last year, Chennai sounded like a city at war around Diwali.

The picture above is taken at a store in Chennai and those are fireworks on sale. If you enlarge the image, you will see how creative firework companies get when naming their products. There’s actually a box that is called “Dog Fight” in there. I definitely don’t want to hear how that sounds!

And since these fireworks are burst on the road, they make a mess of the place, with burnt paper and whatever stuff is used to make these pollutants.

austin-4-july-fireworks

July 4th Fireworks Display in Austin, Texas (2008)

To solve this problem (I am not sure how many see it as a problem in India), I would recommend the system I have seen in the US. (Again, I am not sure if this is a prescribed system there..but I think it would work.) A common place where people could gather and watch a stunning fireworks display. The fire power could either be pooled in together and arranged as a major fireworks display (like the 4th of July celebration) or we could have smaller groups spread across the city doing the same thing.

Of course, this would bring questions about pollution and related issues like RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter). But that is something the government can look into and I hope they do.

Request: If you are going to burst firecrackers this year, the least you can do is clean up the mess you make, the morning after. Thank you.

Can we try make this year’s Diwali a real festival of lights and not noise? What do you think?

Currency-Exchange-Tips

  1. Do not change currency at the airport.
    If you are traveling to another country, it is always recommended to not change your currency at the airport. Generally, these places charge higher transaction charges and don’t give you the current exchange rate. If you have to change currency at the airport, make sure you keep it to the bare minimum, enough maybe to cover your taxi fare or a cup of coffee.I recommend using a currency exchange trader. In these parts of the world (Asia and Middle East), I have used UAEXchange and they did give me a fair deal.
  2. Check online for current rates.
    This should give you your starting point. I use x-rates.com or oanda.com. Oanda.com has a good feature where you can get exchange rates for any particular day of the year. They also claim support for 164 currencies.
  3. Check multiple currency traders/banks.
    Don’t believe the first trader you meet. If you have the time, get a couple of rates from different traders or banks. You should be able to know what is a good rate after your second or third trader or bank. This will also help you understand who has the lowest transaction charges. There are traders who do not charge any transaction charge. I think it depends on the country you are visiting.
  4. Ask for recommendations.
    Recommendations are always a good thing. If you know anyone who has lived in that city for a while, they would be the best person to ask. You could also ask the hotel staff (they would generally recommend the hotel services), cab driver, cafe waiter etc. Warning: Don’t make it too obvious that you have a lot of money to be changed. You could get mugged, depending on where you are.
  5. Bargain.
    Yes, you read that right. Always ask for a better price. The traders are never giving you their best price. So asking for a better deal is not a cheap thing to do.

Region-Specific Tip: If you are traveling to the Middle East and if you are carrying dollars, remember that the dollar has a fixed exchange rate. This is because the dirham (UAE currency) or any other Middle East currency (e.g. Saudi Riyal, Qatari Riyal etc.) is pegged to the US Dollar, which means that there is very little change in the exchange rate.

Do you have any tips? Share them here.

It has been a while since I wrote here. So to start with – here’s wishing all of you a happy and blessed new year.

It has been hectic at office and church – hence the lag. Right now, I am on my way to Goa, sitting in the Bangalore airport. My flight is at 1.30 p.m. Got a Tata Indicom WiFi Connection – 1 hour for Rs. 50/-. Pretty decent speeds and I am able to access my office mails here too (via VPN). For those of you who came here looking for that information – you need to access the WiFi Hotspot and you can pay online using credit cards or net banking. It’s quite easy to set up but I don’t know about security.

Purpose of my Goa trip – 3 day church meeting. Will try post pictures of the trip. Here’s what Bangalore airport looks like from where I am sitting right now (11.55 am). The Cafe Coffee Day has a Cyber Cafe written on the display but when I inquired with them, they don’t seem to have any Internet access at all!
Bangalore Airport at 11.55am (15 Jan 2008)

Bangalore Airport WiFi Access

I had a discussion today about a client requirement with one of the developers at work. I was thinking we could just build it for this customer and get it over with. I didn’t really see many other customers wanting this. But my developer friend mentioned, “if we build it into the product, our customers will find ways to use it”.

That’s the funny thing about technology. It may be built for certain scenarios. But there is no way, we can consider all use cases. The differing perspective sheds new light.

Today a network that was built for the US defense department in the 60s has transformed the way we communicate, listen to music and shop. Twenty years ago, I had to go to a store to buy a record (on tape). Today, I can download the songs from the Net or just order the CD online.

The Internet was not designed with all this in mind. But differing perspective brings new ideas and is transforming our world every moment.

Kolbrener has come up with a periodic table, but of marketing and branding terms. Quite interesting.

Marketing Table

Marketing and advertising students will find this useful.

If you’re visiting Dubai..

September 27, 2007 — 5 Comments

Well, I am no expert! But here’s my experience from the couple of days spent in Dubai. So if you are visiting Dubai for the first time, this can be your quick guide to the city (definitely, not comprehensive).

The three things that you must check out are:

  • Shopping Malls
  • Places to see
  • and Food (of course!!)

Shopping Malls: Dubai is supposed to be the shopper’s paradise. You can get anything you want there – branded or fake, chinese or american..you name it, you will find it. If you are looking for good bargains on electronics, watches or gold, try Mina Bazaar. A full set of streets lined with shops, where you have work on the bargain. Hypermarkets are very popular. Carrefour and Lulu are huge and you will find some good deals there too, if you don’t mind the crowd. Spinneys and Mercato are nice too if you want a peaceful shopping experience.

Make sure you visit the Dubai Duty Free shops at the Dubai airport. In fact you should get all your chocolates, alcohol and smoke from there. There are two advantages here –

  1. Your check-in luggage will be lighter
  2. Dubai Duty Free have good deals

The Mall of Emirates is also a popular hangout. Ski in DubaiIt also has an indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai. Another place I visited is the City Centre Mall. Both these malls have Carrefour.

Places to see:

I was recommended to visit Sheikh Zayed Road. Sheikh Zayed Road DubaiAnd it is definitely worth one. It has all of Dubai’s sky scrapers, including the soon-to-be tallest building of the world, Burj Dubai. There is the seven star hotel, Burj Al Arab. Burj Al Arab 7 Star Hotel in DubaiI don’t know if you can go in but it is worth the sight from outside, especially after dark. There is a beach near the hotel. You can get a good camera angle from there!

I just enjoyed the long rides in Dubai. There are also some good amusement parks and of course, the indoor ski slope (both places, I didn’t go!)

The artificial islands, Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali are for real. You may have seen the Google Earth pictures. The Palm Jumeirah Main Trunk RoadFor a man-made structure, they are quite impressive. Entry is restricted to residents and officials on the island. So we were able to see only the main trunk road of one of the islands – Palm Jumeirah.

Food:
You should try lebanese cuisine. I missed it!! It’s basically clean and healthy food – not much spice and no much oil. You should definitely try the shawarma. I love it. Laban is Arabic for buttermilk and is available in tetra packs and plastic pet bottles. It is awesome. A famous company is Almarai.

You should also try out the Indian and Pakistani restaurants too. The biriyani you get there is very different from the ones you get in India. Karachi Darbar, Pakistani Restaurant in DubaiWe visited a place called Karachi Darbar – nice place and good food.

If you are keen on Indian vegetarian food, there is the whole host of Indian vegetarian restaurants in Dubai including Saravana Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan and Sangeetha for the South Indian fare.

If you like chocolates, you will find all variety there. Another must-try is the date biscuit. Date Biscuit - MaamoulThey are called Maamoul. It is biscuit with serious filling of fresh dates. I absolutely go nuts over this. My favourite brand is Al-Karamah. A box of 16 biscuits costs around 7-8 AED.

Other pointers:

Stay. Hotel apartments seem a good option. They have all the amenities – phone, washing machine, microvave oven, electric stove etc. We stayed at Golden Sands in Bur Dubai.

Communication. There is only one provider – Etisalat. A new mobile connection would cost 165AED plus recharge. If you have a contact in Dubai, check whether they’ve a free sim card and just recharge it.

Internet. Hotels will have Internet but they’re very slow..even late in the night. We used to frequent an internet cafe in Al-Ain centre in Bur Dubai. They have wired and wireless connections and you can either use your own laptop or one of their desktops. The speed was decent enough and an hour cost 10 AED.

Language. If you know English, you can get around town without much issues. Knowledge of Hindi or Malayalam can have its special benefit. Lot of Indians and Pakistanis there, especially as cab drivers.

Also remember that UAE follow a Sunday to Thursday week. Most of the other GCC countries follow the Saturday to Wednesday schedule. Some companies in the UAE still follow the same schedule.

Hope this helps someone who is visiting Dubai. If you have anything to add to this list, please feel free to add as a comment here.

Update:
Transportation:
Taxis and buses are available as part of the public transport system. The buses look comfortable and in some places, even the bus stops are air-conditioned! Like I mentioned in my previous post, taxis are not freely available everywhere, everytime. There can be a waiting period before you get one. The other way is to book a taxi via telephone. But during peak hours in peak seasons (like Gitex), they don’t even pick up your call! I guess all their taxis are taken.

I don’t know about bus charges. But taxi fares start at AED 3 and during night hours, AED 3.5.

Ok! I made that up. But if you were serious about blogging, one thing you would do is “think”. That process can sometimes turn out to be quite useful over a period of time.

Web Worker Daily has an article on “Ten ways to be productive with your blog“. Good read.

For most businesses, the first mindset is ‘how do I make money out of this?’. It is never – ‘What can I provide to the customer?’ ‘What is the value add that the customer gets?’ I am not saying that we should not look at the viability of our business models but in the process of doing this, we often lose focus of the important – the customer.

When we design the UI or create a website or train the customer support team, do we really do it keeping the customer in mind? ‘How is the user going to interact with my website?’ ‘How should my support team interact with my customers?’ If you believe in processes, are those actually helping your customers or are they just helping you track what your employees are doing?

Seth Godin has a post about how retail stores arrange first by brand, then type, then style and then size. It would be so much easier if they would arrange by type first and then by brand or even type and size first and then by brand. It is quite an obvious way of doing it but I have never seen any retail store do it, except for bookstores. It would be a disaster if they had put all the McGrawHill books together and then separated them by topic.

It is so sad to see stores display the sign “Customers are our greatest asset” but don’t have a system in place to take care of that asset.

Finally got Feedburner activated here. I have found it an easier way to share feeds and add to a wide range of web based rss readers. So if you plan to subscribe to my blog, the link is on top of my right-side panel or click here – http://feeds.feedburner.com/ashed.

Tip: If you are trying to use an offline RSS reader like Mozilla Thunderbird or MS Office Outlook, you just need to use http://feeds.feedburner.com/ashed for Feed URL and the application should automatically detect the posts.

Happy reading!

It can be called “multi search in one”. But it really isn’t. Sputtr.com is a new search website that helps you search across 36 (as of today) different websites and search engines.

Sputtr Search Engine

Simple layout. A text box and a whole lot of buttons underneath. Each button corresponds to a website that you can search. It is quite simple and easy to understand. The last button lets you suggest a website to the Sputtr team to add to their list of sites.

They also have international sites – 7 of them now, including Chinese, Italian, German, Spanish, French and even UK English.

I love the idea. But the issue I am finding now is that I have to keep using the back button in the browser to search with any other search engine and that’s quite a pain. Even the “right click and open in new tab/window” won’t work. It would have been great if they have a “framed” version too. A toolbar with all these options would be a thriller.

But yes, if you like specialised search and don’t always rely on Google for everything, this may make a lot of sense, especially as your browser start page. You have all the options on that page.

Wishing good luck to the Sputtr team!

Isn’t Blackberry a productivity device? Then why is it that when I go to www.blackberrypearl.com (their latest model), that I have to wait for at least 6 minutes to get any information? The Flash took so long to load!

Blackberry Pearl Website

All they had to do is – share some information about the device on the same page or at least have a HTML version for impatient people like me! They do have a HTML version but you have to wait for the initial flash to be loaded before you see that link. It is like the designer wanted to make sure that people see his/her work!!

I bought Seth Godin’s idea on presentations the first time I read it. And I have strived to follow his rules every time I make one.

But problem arises when I have to make presentations for others. I follow the same rule and when I show it to them, the first thing they say is “Where are the words?” :) (No, I really find that funny!)

We have got so conditioned to seeing bulleted points in PPTs that anything without them seems so vacant. Of course, it is a lot of work, as compared to dumping all the words into the PPT. But it would surely be effective. People are really bored with presentations. They expect the drag. So when you are different, they sit up and listen. If that is your goal, you should seriously think of investing some time into your slides.

Borrowing from Seth Godin, these are the rules that I keep in mind when making presentations –

  • Never use more than 5 words in a slide
  • Do not use the template backgrounds. I generally use plain white and stock images.
  • Images speak louder than words. So if you can find an appropriate image for what you want to say, use it.
  • Never read from the slide. Ofcourse, if you have less than 5 words, then you don’t have a choice!
  • If you want the listener/audience to take back something, give them handouts. But please don’t give them the slides.

It really works. Try it!

Happy presenting!