Nov 10, 2015

Travelogue - Bali

So we were at this island two weeks before the 'Rinjani' explosion & Chotta Rajan's arrest here made news.

Uluwatu - One of the best Views in Bali
      Indonesian Rupiah or IDR is one of the most depreciated currencies that I've come across. People discount the last three zeros in the currency :) .. Despite not being a net exporter of fuel, Indonesia seems to have kept the fuel rates at very low levels ( Actually comparable to middle east levels ) , thereby resulting in huge pressure on currency . Most of the fuel consumed here apparently comes from Brunei.  

Rice cultivation / Rice Garden
    On the demand side, the tourism industry is booming.  The Island seems to have emerged from the downturn that came along with the bomb blasts of 2005. Even though the currency is very weak, nothing from food to souvenirs is cheap for tourists. Essentially, as the demand is there, the prices are also marked-up  . Government seems to be investing well in the infrastructure as well.. Largely good roads, an exceptionally large airport, very little law and order problem.

  One of the most fertile countries we have been to - practically all varieties of crops and fruits seems to grow here. Probably, that's because of the volcanic soil .Organic farming & associated culinary is a major tourism activity here. And if you are into that, I would say, don't miss out on that aspect in Bali.  The way in which they cultivate rice is quite interesting .  Hill slopes are leveled to create a terrain with many steps where paddy is planted.

   Highlight of Bali was  'Luwak Coffee' for me.  Apparently, one of the most expensive variety of coffee sold across the globe ,  it tastes good as well :) .  And you should not miss the Luwak coffee plantation tours if you are in this island. We picked up a packet of Luwak Coffee :)  .. Believe me, you won't have any apprehensions in tasting this once you see them making it
Luwak Coffee + a variety of others

Bali has something to offer for all segment of tourists -- From the party hopping crowd to the old age couples, you have a range of attractions from water sports to spirituality available here.

 I got a feeling that the Balinese population is deeply religious . Every well-off family apparently builds a temple next to their house. So, this temple building  is probably the next biggest economic activity after  tourism & allied businesses.

 The interior roads of Bali gave me a feeling that I was travelling in Rural Kerala ( especially Northern Kerala - minus the political part )  .. Curved roads, small rural shops , lush greenery all around .

As usual with any island nation, many spots with good views,  apparently you need to spend time to travel to North Bali if you have to experience the natural splendor in its full glory.

Oct 10, 2015 , Net Neutrality & Why Zuckerberg is Right ?

Seldom has people's ignorance surprised me so much than last month when this entire episode of Digital India & played out in the mainstream & social media  .  Regardless of whether or not you are supporting digital India , its absolutely ridiculous to even think that changing your profile pic will "register you as a supporter" of  .  Facebook or any other corporation does not work on any form of democratic decision making in such initiatives ( and they should never )  .  So, whether you change your profile pic or not has got nothing to do with

It also made me think about a point that I emphasized in my last post on this subject .  People tend to be taken in when you put a liberal dose of words like 'liberal' , 'neutral' , 'equal' , 'democratic'  - so on and so forth. The central point in trying to understand this entire proposition is accepting the fact the internet connectivity that you and I enjoy has a cost. And it is congested at many points in many degrees. When a service has an underlying cost,the best way to utilize it rationally is in making people the right amount of money for the right kind of service.

Facebook is not just doing this out of altruistic intentions . They too have a selfish motive. And that motive is to create an underlying eco-system where people are connected based on their social interactions ( the social graph ) so that they can do good amount of targeted advertising or monetize any other kind of revenue generator that they may bring along.  But if they end up creating a platform that gives connectivity and access to millions of people who cannot afford to have that otherwise, it should be welcomed ..  The potential that internet connectivity (even if limited ) can bring to the lives of rural population is really great. Scores of small scale business owners are seeing 'market' differently after the advent of e-commerce. Whether that's in the field of agriculture / education / anything else,  having an accessible connectivity is a game changer. is a platform designed keeping all this in consideration.. It does not support apps that are bandwidth heavy, it welcomes third party apps - Actually it promotes an android / ios type ecosystem for the unconnected world.

Few arguments that have been put against are

(1) If Facebook is so altruistic , why don't they just subsidize a data-connectivity charge for the  rural population   ?

Let's face it - Facebook is not just altruistic . It is a corporation which needs to come up with business models. If a business model goes hand-in-hand with social change, there's no reason to oppose that.  Also, these data-caps / bandwidth subsidies etc goes with an underlying assumption - it is that people are rational to use it appropriately. That is not often correct when it comes to the rural masses. One of the reasons cash subsidies in lieu of public distribution systems have not worked out well in developing world is that the cash is utilized for unintended things - alcohol / gambling / entertainment  - other than the primary intended areas - education / food / health . The same goes in this context. A large percentage of population is quite likely to use a subsidized & unrestricted bandwidth in movie downloads / videos / games .

(2) Would this stifle the chances of a small company incoming up with a next generation app ?
- If you glance the annual reports of any telecom company , you will realize the fact that data connectivity is the main driver of revenue growth . Telecom companies always have an incentive to market data plans that make more and more bandwidth heavy applications to the end consumer. Infact a subsidized platform like ( that offers bare basic internet with limited sites ) would be a good launchpad for telecom companies to upgrade customers to the next level of unrestricted internet. So, I would  say that fear is unfounded - except may be for monopoly markets.  And telecom in India is not at all a monopoly.

Any platform or connectivity has a cost - and someone needs to bear that cost - In this case, that cost is carried by telecom players, facebook and any other partner on this platform should make your connectivity charges much cheaper. Today as we are paying a flat fee for unrestricted content, we are effectively cross-subsidizing a bandwidth heavy gamer / movie downloader. If any of you have used Google Apps platform, is an extended concept of that .  And I think in this case, Zuckerberg is more correct than Tim Berners Lee    

Aug 4, 2015

Travelogue - Hamburg

Hanseatic city of Hamburg, as they address themselves is quite interesting. The word Hanseatic comes from the German word Hanse / Hansa signifying the league of cities or merchant association formed to align the policies to maritime trade.

If the Southern German cities like Stuttgart & Munich are known for their automobile expertise, Hamburg is about shipping & transportation. A huge container port with a beautiful harbour, Hamburg embodies the shipping culture into itself.  The maritime museum dedicated to various aspects of shipping from history to engineering ,  the infamous Reeperbahn ( Hamburg's red-light district ) ,  Hafencity - A modern city formed out of old harbor area & reclaimed land,   a la-Venetian style canal system ,  the city is quite engaging in itself.  

The star-attraction in this city was undoubtedly a place called 'Miniature Wunderland' . See the pics & Video .. This is a place where you should take your kids in the age group 10 - 15. Anyone can enjoy it though.

It actually made me realize why Germany is still an engineering super-power. Kids who grow exposed to this as well as the Maritime museum will develop a keen interest in engineering & shipping. Those interests will be honed naturally in a growing teen.  Probably this is the way in which the automobile industry in southern Germany builds engineering talent as well .  Compare this to the state in India where only a miniscule proportion of the engineering first year students know what they are really getting into.
A model in Miniatur Wunderland

One of the rail models in Miniature Wunderland
Hamburg, just like Singapore, preserves the harmony with nature exceptionally well.. There is this beautiful 'Lake Alster' , right in the middle of the city. Unpolluted, serene, Alster cruise will really make you wonder if you are truly in a big city like Hamburg.  Apparently, many millionaires have bought homes on the shores of Alster, pushing up the real-estate prices to sky-high levels

Just like Berlin, Hamburg is exceptionally well connected with U-bahn & S-bahn services,. We never hired a cab in the two days spent here.

Hamburg is bidding for 2024 summer Olympics. I wish I can return to see the games then in this wonderful city!