Archive for the ‘Reading List’ Category

In praise of inefficiency

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

Setting sun

What price Efficiency?

The glory of the dying sun on the plains of India stirred interesting thoughts. Why is so showy? Why are we so gaudy about everything? Is the beauty of the universe reliant on the waste of energy?

These are heavy thoughts and perhaps belong to the philosophers, poets and mystics among us. On to more prosaic matters, a few weeks ago, I read an article on how Amazon had figured out a no-friction way to make shoppers get what they want. Just this week, the Economist brings in an interesting article on why too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The one-click ordering from Amazon.com that makes me buy too many books or the no-click Pizza buying from Domino’s through it’s app comes to mind.

Similarly, in SAAS products, we try to make the funnel narrower and thinner all the time to induce the customer to buy right away. What we forget many times is that subscription products are longer terms commitments and do require some thinking before the “Buy” button gets clicked. It may help to introduce some inefficiency the process by required watching of a training video or some demos from experienced sales folks before we allow users to swipe their cards. “But we will lose a lot of orders”, you might say. Well, perhaps. Have you considered the amount of churn you already generate by allowing anyone to just swipe their card and then cancel a few days later. I bet, that impacts more of your bottom-line than people taking their time ordering pricey services online.

The Volga Vikings

Talking of inefficiencies, let’s talk of these tribes of marauding Vikings who traded and raided all over Europe, sometimes to everyone’s credit and at other times, just causing mayhem all around. It is conjectured that these people came to so ferocious because a cataclysm(a meteor or comet) hit Northern Europe in the middle of the 6th century. It caused lots of hardship and caused the people to spill out looking for food and provisions for their families. Couldn’t they just trade, one may ask?

Two excuses come to mind. One, there were already established trade networks in Northern Europe and the raiding of Monasteries was to break their stranglehold on these networks. Two, there was lots more loot to be had when you could use physical threats with those you traded, Imperial East India Companies of later years come to mind.

They had mastered the sail and some raided on the coasts of Europe to get loot and other went the route of the Volga and traded with Byzantium and Baghdad. They brought in slaves and furs and traded them for gold, silver and spices.

Volga Trade Routes

Some of these groups of Vikings settled lands like Iceland, parts of Greenland and some early settlements can be seen in the coastal United States and Canada. The trade route linked to the famous silk route and so flourished until the Abbasid Caliphate had control, petering out in the 12th century.

To learn some more of their achievements, please listen to this lovely podcast and read about them in these lovely books.

 

 

 

Interesting reads for the week of 27th March 2017

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Gathering quantitative and qualitative data for sales leads.

We have been struggling to divine what customers tell us via their click trails for the last 2 decades. For the last few years we have the capability to gather data in real time. That doesn’t mean it can be put to proper use. After all, what hits the bottom-line matters most. Real-time engagement and segmentation on where the visitor lands on your site and making them into leads right there is a challenge that Segment is trying to solve. This isn’t the only path but it is a good idea nevertheless.

While bed sheet sales may seem to be a bit of a stretch to move using data but Brooklinen seems to have a good strategy figured out. This site focused on collecting all the quantitative and qualitative feedback, used some good intuition and tested it. They had a great thought in trying to satisfy men who are often under-served customers of bed linen. Also, they carry a ruthlessly narrow inventory based on all that customers demand and don’t go for any frills. Do read this lovely piece on their efforts

 

Les Miserables and how it rings true in every era.

It is a horrible read. Torrid at times, uplifting and cautiously optimistic rarely; and truly sad most of the way. However, Victor Hugo was probably on the money when he said

“AS LONG as there are ignorance and poverty on Earth,” wrote Victor Hugo in his preface to “Les Misérables”, “books such as this one may not be useless.”

The Economist put together a really nice piece on it. Do read it.

The Sasquatch fights, tooth and nail and hide!

Now for some contentious reads. The book by Mr. Meldrum is written for people who operate from a premise that there could be a hominid still living in the boreal forest of North America. He has some personal experience as an encounter with a beast like that while hiking in a very remote area. There is lots of evidence presented, presuming that all sightings are NOT hoaxes.

Mr. Nash operates entirely on the other side. His starting premise is that human cognition fails entirely when they encounter something strange and no eyewitnesses can be trusted at all. He is not really being very cynical. He has lots of data to back up his premise. However, it is impossible to deny certain eye-witness accounts, not only of Sasquatches but also other “monsters”. Just labeling them as cultural myths and not be treated as real beings. Please do read the following books. They are very interesting and quite cheap too!

 

 

Reading list for the midst of March

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

As always, I am going to try to foist only three thoughts on you this week.

Horrors of War

The First World War was one which killed enormous amounts of people. The numbers were truly staggering for the time.  There  were 17 million dead and 20 million wounded!!! All for European powers to prove who could rule over more people. It ended the most prosperous era the western world had seen in a long time and also ended the dominance of the British Empire forever.

The monarchies of Europe felt the brunt of the war and were clearly responsible for starting it. The workers International could not prevent it even by appealing to worker solidarity. The armies of Europe were downright eager for it. The following three books talk very eloquently of each and the part they inadvertently played in each other’s roles; both in fomenting and then exacerbating the conflict.

 

The Ambassador car

AmbassadorCan anyone who lived in India through the 1980’s ever forget this classic car? Even now, Kolkata taxis are all Ambassadors. Why, I asked a taxi driver. He responded ” They are the cheapest to maintain and we can manufacture spare parts locally.

This fabulous article by the sagely Mr. Thomas conveys the mystique and the genuine love for this model that we all possess. He is a Master of branding and he should know.

 

Smoothing the path through a customer’s task flow

All product makers struggle with making it easier for customers to use said products. Stumbling onto a product and not realizing what you can do with it, is probably the most probable cause for abandonment. No amount of hard selling or discounts will effectively make the customer loyal to your product. Well, Amazon understands this very well as this article in the First Round shows us.

Do you want me to cover any specific topics or have questions that are creating a slow burn in your brain? Do write to me and I will recommend the palliative, balmy books or studies to deal with them.

Holi Week Reads

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Holi

This week is Holi, the festival of colors in India. This festival is mainly celebrated to mark the coming of spring. Lots of folk gather around after the winter harvest and sprinkle colored water, throw gulal(made out of flour and psychedelic colored dyes). Let’s take a look at the three interesting articles/videos that came my way this week.

Cooked by Micheal Pollan.

This is a great show in four parts: Fire,Water,Air and Earth. It is really fascinating for old lovers of Mr. Pollan’s books.

 

The Real American Pie: No, it is not Apple Pie. It is mince pie instead. The author explores ways in which this pie became famous and how it lost it’s mojo over time.

Cover of the December 17 Reader; click image to enlarge
Enough about my fascination with food. Let’s get real and talk of one of the most dangerous lads in history: Genghis Khan. I first read about him in Mr. Weatherford’s seminal work, Genghis Khan and the making of a Modern World.

Over time, several other writers have come forward and tried to complete, compare and contrast the picture of this ruler of the largest empire known to man. In this article, the BBC History magazine explores the various facets of this fascinating ruler.

Until next week then! Have a good week and remember to play some Holi with friends and not get too drunk on Bhang. Yes, it is indisputably legal in India, during Holi, at least.

The March Madness starts

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

The first stirrings of spring and rather than bunnies going crazy, this is the good stuff we are looking at this week.

 

An Amazon employee inadvertently took down part of the internet

It transpired that the laddie(has got be a lad, thinking woolly thoughts), working on an issue accidentally switched off more computer servers than intended at 9:37 a.m. Seattle time, resulting in errors that cascaded through the company’s S3 service, Amazon said in a statement Thursday. S3 is used to house data, manage apps and software downloads by nearly 150,000 sites, including ESPN.com and aol.com, according to SimilarTech.com. [More]

For all those of us in need for a little buck me up this week, take a look at these nice TED talks.

7 TED Talks That Will Inspire You to Succeed

Everyone wants to succeed, but not everyone knows how to succeed.

There are many things that will help us go the distance, but few are as empowering and inspiring as a TED Talk.

Listening to a TED Talk is a great way to gain information, discover new sources of innovation, and jump-start your life toward success.

Here are some that are especially powerful with wonderful takeaways. [More]

The MVP is dead. Long live the RAT.

There is a flaw at the heart of the term Minimum Viable Product: it’s not a product. It’s a way of testing whether you’ve found a problem worth solving. A way to reduce risk and quickly test your biggest assumption. Instead of building an MVP identify your Riskiest Assumption and Test it. Replacing your MVP with a RAT will save you a lot of pain.[More]

 

Some nice books for the week:

Given how much the Kohinoor is talked about, it is surprising that it has taken so long for the history of the gem to be written. That, however, may have been for the best, as the delay has led to Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond – a beautifully written, engrossing story about the undesirable fate of conquerors entranced by a small, lustrous ancient stone.

The authors go all the way to Tasmania to experience the thylacine or lack thereof in the beautiful wilds of this island. The challenges to wildlife and the human experience around the very unique creatures, like the Tasmanian Devil is delightfully explained in this book.

 

Well! I bought this one because Steve Bannon was reading it right after the election. Before going off on a rant, please do read it because it is written by a journalist who really deeply cares about the Vietnam War and the danger of an over exuberant and too proactive presidency taking us down the path to ruin. The book is really a list of the character sketches of all the people involved and literally reads like a greek tragedy. It was almost inevitable if you put all these bright people in one heady room.

 

Three fabulous travel writers

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

Today, I will give you three authors who have written really great books on travel. These authors all have a common approach. They don’t judge;they include lots of anecdotes and personal interactions with locals; they use dollops of humor very judiciously.

Paul Theroux

One of the originals in travel writing. Very few people have invested so much effort in knowing and empathizing with people and places they have visited. Two recommendations for you.

Micheal Palin

Monty Python maybe his more famous work but his travelogues are some of the best in recent times. Rich in wry humor, very english! i would recommend that you listen to him in the following books.

Bill Bryson

An American who writes like an Englishman. Great humor! Some of his books read really well as Audio books while you are traveling. I will give you a couple that you will really enjoy.




Interesting reading for Feb 18th 2013

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Search Engines Never Forget

Perhaps they should. How long should people bear the mark of their sins? A harmless bout of drunkenness can be the cause of losing a prospective job. A wardrobe malfunction is visible forever. Some halloween costumes need to be buried after a while. There are also some other concerns. What if my name is that same as a crooked politician? My google vanity searches look horrible!!!

Anti-Jewish nature of Western civilization

No quite convinced about the fact that the only other that Chrsitians had were the jews. I believe this is a way of trying to explain why the holocaust occurred. Such a monstrosity does put a pall on Europe and the achievements post-enlightenment. However, to trace anti-jewish sentiment all the way back ot the ancient egyptians is a bit thin..

Life and Letters of P.G. Wodehouse

All my early reading and most of my writing, is trying to emulate the “Master”. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that there is no bile in his writing. His wit was lush, not dry. His characters so vivid that I would want a Jeeves somewhere close by so he can be consulted about how to deal with Aunts. Hilarious read that, “Aunts aren’t Gentlemen!

The Clear question: Can Online advertising support news portals in India?

Why is this question even being asked, one might think? Well, because Rediff.com reported it’s 18th straight quarter of losses. This is depressing because all my early news I got from this august portal.  I didn’t quite find the ads either. The site should be saturated by them. I do think it is possible to turn this ship around as more and more traffic comes online. Also, Reddif.com will have to change it’s image into a marketplace and start buying traffic on that basis. It also helps to have working payment gateways. Ghastly page design too. Needs lots of changes to make this site truly live up to the brand that they have been over the years.

Churchill and a couple of books that might be interesting.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Warlord
Warlord  Amazon Flipkart

Easy read.

Early life of churchill as a philanderer and a warrior cum journalist

a decided bias towards the commanders as the author is an army man himself.  The defence of Wavell is too long, even if justified to some level.  Ord Wingate and Churchill’s relationship is not really looked into.

The Last Lion  Amazon Flipkart

Well written and very readable. The author tries to sound like Mr. Manchester in his two earlier books, he manages it quite

The second coming of Churchill is quite sad after all the boom and blast of the war years. Churchill was not even able to make it to the last conference of peace after the war in Europe was over.

Lucid reading again. The episodes of Norway are more vivid in this book and the political angle

Business articles of the week July 18 2010

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Tapping Into The Referral Instinct

Neil Berman, Jul 14, 2010 10:30 AM
Every company likes to get referrals. When a customer or friend recommends your product or service, the sales process is streamlined and the close ratio goes way up. Referrals lead to longer term customers that have a higher lifetime customer value.
I just finished reading “The Referral Engine” by John Jantsch, also author of “Duct Tape Marketing.” In the first book, Jantsch discusses how referring is instinctive for most people and shows businesses how to tap into this desire. [MORE]

Starbucks Surpasses 10 Million Fans, Closing In On Lady Gaga

A year ago, Starbucks knocked off Coca-Cola as the most popular corporate brand on Facebook, with its page on the social network drawing 3.7 million fans. Now the coffee giant has become the first brand to clear the 10 million-fan mark on Facebook, with its nearest rivals — Coke and Skittles — both trailing behind at about 6.5 million. To put Starbucks’ social ascent in perspective, the company is close to catching up to pop icon Lady Gaga in Facebook fans.[MORE]

What to Do Against Disruptive Business Models (When and How to Play Two Games at Once)

Increasingly, established companies in industries as diverse as airlines, media and banking are seeing their markets invaded by new and disruptive business models. The success of invaders such as easyJet, Netflix and ING Direct in capturing market share has encouraged established corporations to respond by adopting the new business models alongside their established ones. Yet, despite the best of intentions and the investment of significant resources, most companies are unsuccessful in their efforts to compete with two business models at once.[MORE]

Six Strategies for Successful Niche Marketing

There’s been a lot of buzz about the long-tail phenomenon — the strategy of selling smaller quantities of a wider range of goods that are designed to resonate with consumers’ preferences and earn higher margins. And a quick scan of everyday products seems to confirm the long tail’s merit: Where once we wore jeans from Levi, Wrangler or Lee, we now have scores of options from design houses. If you’re looking for a nutrition bar, there’s one exactly right for you, whether you’re a triathlete, a dieter or a weight lifter. Hundreds of brewers offer thousands of craft beers suited to every conceivable taste.[MORE]

Reading List for the week ending Friday 09 2010

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

The Israel-Turkey Imbroglio

By ROGER COHEN

NEW YORK — Here’s an intriguing nugget, given Turkey’s recent decision to close its airspace to Israeli military planes: When Israel attacked a covert Syrian nuclear reactor on Sept. 6, 2007, its bombers overflew Turkey.

A former senior U.S. official who was intimately involved in handling the fallout from the raid told me Turkish officials raised the issue with Israel, were invited to discuss the matter, but in the end let it drop.

Those were different times, before Turkish-Israeli ties entered their current poisonous phase. [MORE]

Foursquare Launches Location Layers – This is Big

Looking at life through rose-colored glasses? How about walking through your town and seeing it as the Huffington Post or the Independent Film Channel sees it? IFC announced a new campaign this morning with leading location-based social network Foursquare that will allow you to do just that. The Huffington Post launched a Foursquare layer today as well. [MORE]

Us and them

More than anything else, Peter Beinart’s message to Israelis is that something has happened to Americans, and Israelis don’t seem to get it. Something has happened to Americans in general and to American Jews in particular. And if Israel goes on not understanding what is going on in the United States, the outcome will be grave. [MORE]

Hamas thinks time is on its side

KHALED MESHAL, the head of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement widely regarded in the West—and even more so in Israel—as a gang of terrorists bent on destroying the Jewish state, exudes a tranquil confidence as he calmly lays out his case in a well-guarded safe-house in Damascus, the Syrian capital. “The world will deal with us not because it wants to deal with us but because it has to deal with us…Hamas is a moderate and open organisation that is ready to talk to anybody. It has emerged as an important player in the region. It’s clear it cannot be bypassed.” [MORE]

Octavia Nasr fired by CNN over tweet praising late ayatollah

Internal memo said Twitter tribute to Hezbollah’s spiritual leader had compromised senior Middle East editor’s credibility.

Twitter, with its strict 140-character limit, was never going to be the best medium to make a nuanced point about Middle East politics. But Octavia Nasr gave it a go.

The cost was great: Nasr was fired as CNN’s senior Middle East editor after 20 years with the US-based news channel. [MORE]

The emerging online giants

THEY may not have the name recognition of a Google or a Yahoo!, but they can claim to belong in the same league. The websites of Digital Sky Technologies (DST) account for more than 70% of page-views on the Russian-language internet. Naspers is Africa’s biggest media group, both offline and online. And Tencent is China’s largest internet company by market capitalisation—and the third-largest in the world.

Now these firms are increasingly making their presence felt beyond their home markets. Between them they have invested in dozens of internet firms around the globe. The most adventurous of the three, DST, has already moved west—and paid top dollar for stakes in fast-growing American companies, notably Facebook, the world’s biggest social network.[MORE]