Modi’s Government Transparency Plan

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attendanceWhen Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, was campaigning for the top job in India he talked about the need for more government transparency. Like many, I figured this was true to a certain extent but really more about campaign politics to get more people on his side and more votes. However, a couple weeks ago the Modi government launched attendance.gov.in – a dashboard to see government employees attendance records. I guess the idea is that if government employees work for the public, then the public should be able to track if those employees are actually going to the office.

That’s a hugh step forward for government transparency, currently it’s not available for every Indian government employee but I’m assuming over time it will encompass them all. However, just because they show up doesn’t mean they are actually doing any real work. So, as more and more services go online I’m sure the system will also be able to track their efficiency as well.

The Indian government loves using paper for everything because they probably hate trees. Actually, the real reason is because when things get heated with a particular government scam, the government officials involved cam throw up their hands and say “the files have been lost.” However, by using computers like the rest of the world you can start to track the progress of the work being done and as a by-product you can have multiple backups of those “files” – crazy right?

The attendance system is just the first piece of the puzzle and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

My Quantified Diet Project

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quantified-dietThe holidays are almost upon us and soon people will start to gorge on food. Then they’ll start a new years resolution to try and lose all that excess weight…it’s a vicious cycle and I’ve been there. For the past 2 months I’ve been running an experiment that is strictly based on numbers – I’ve been tracking EVERYTHING that that goes into my body (food) or gets burned (exercise). This experiment is part of a bigger movement called the quantified self – which is using technology to track all the various numbers and bring some science to the idea of losing weight.

Step 1: The first thing I had to figure out is how much I weigh and how overweight I was. The standard that most clinicians use is the body mass index (BMI) or Quetelet index, which is a measure of my weight based on my mass and height. You can use this calculator to find your BMI. Now that you have your BMI number and number of pounds/kilos you are over you can start. (My BMI was 26.6, which puts me in the overweight category)

Step 2: Next I needed to figure out how many calories my body typically needs which is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). This calculator can help (another one – calorie intake and BMI). I’ve found that the online calculators have a wide variance, so you’ll have to average it out or just pick one and go with it. (My calorie consumption is around 2,400 per day).

Step 3:  Figure out your target BMI. For me it was all about getting into the healthy range of the BMI index, so I decided to shoot for 23.5. That works out to about 173 lbs. which means I have a goal to shed 23 lbs.

Step 4: How many pounds do you want to lose per week? It’s easy to say I want to lose a pound of week but when you look at it mathematically it’s not so easy. As a rule of thumb, 1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So to lose 1 pound you would need to cut 500 calories per day either from your diet or increase your exercise. For me to lose 1 pound a week, I needed cut my calories to around 2,200 and also ran 20 minutes a day…everyday.

Step 5: Track your calories and exercise. For calories I used the MyFitnessPal app, it’s got a massive database of food that you can select from to track your calories consumed. Since I run, I used the Nike+ running app and then would add the calories burned into MyFitnessPal.

Implementing the above system I very surprised of the preliminary results. I was able to drop about 15 lbs. in 10 weeks which is more than I expected. As always, your mileage will vary and the real test will be for me to sustain this level of heightened awareness and determination in the long run.

Tata Motors Revival?

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Tata_zestTata Motors up until last week had been under flying under the radar while they rebuild their company. For many years, the cars that Tata Motors produced were about as exciting as watching paint dry and hence were mainly sold to taxi fleets. Then in early 2008, Tata Motors revealed to the world what was billed as the cheapest car ever made – Tata Nano. Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata unveiled the car and said instead of riding on a bike with 4 people, consumers could instead ride in a car. Two things derailed their plans which the Nano has never recovered from.

The first thing is people don’t necessarily like others to know they bought “the cheapest thing” not a very aspirational way to show the world you have upgraded from a bike to the cheapest possible car. But, what really hurt sales was when several of the cars would spontaneously turn into an instant barbecue grill. What was more surprising was the response from a Tata group company – nothing. They blamed the consumers and said their cars were fine. Ouch, I’m no PR specialist but that just seems like the dumbest possible way to handle the situation.

After that fiasco, Tata Motors got their act together and hired an outsider to run the show. They found Karl Slym who was previously heading up the Indian operations for General Motors. Karl was supposed to clean up the mess and get Tata Motors back on track. Although he was juggling many balls, in the press he talked at great length about streamlining and optimizing the number of vendors they buy parts from. I dropped an email to Karl and mentioned:

I hope design is a priority as well or you will end up streamlining the process to deliver cars more efficiently that only a mother could love.

His response:

email-karl-slym

 

It appeared Tata Motors was back on track to streamlining the operations, building cars people would actually buy and making sure the dealers were happy again. Then tragedy struck, in early 2014 Karl committed suicide.

However in his absence Tata Motors seems to have moved past that tragedy and starting to see the fruits of Karl’s labor. The first car out of the newly revamped Tata stable is the Zest. It’s a compact sedan that is going after Maruti’s main market. From the looks of it, the Zest could be a massive success that the Tata group is looking for. It’s the first car in this price segment to have an automatic transmission paired with a diesel engine.

So what’s next for Tata? In the coming months they will launch the Tata Bolt which is their new hatchback that will compete squarely with the Maruti Swift and the Hyundai i10/i20.

I’ve never liked the cars from Tata Motors but that view is changing as Tata is improving their product line. If the Zest and Bolt are big commercial successes then I can see Tata Motors moving up the pricing curve and introduce products to complete against the Honda City. I’m sure this time around Tata Motors will not lose sight of the goal and do whatever it take to make consumers happy.

Rebooting the Computer Platform

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whatsappWintel has been dominating desktop computers since the early 80’s. Never heard of Wintel? Wintel = Windows + Intel. The combination of software from Microsoft and the CPU from Intel powered the desktop computer revolution. The saying used to be, what Intel giveth (in increased computing power), Windows taketh (their crappy software would slow down the computer). Here we are in 2014 and people are still using Windows XP and when they download something, they have no clue where the file is. You almost need a PhD in forensic science to find the file.

No matter what Windows does, it just can’t compete with new platforms like iOS and Android that have been built from scratch. Windows has too much legacy attached to it and they have tried several times to make a run at tablets and phones but have never succeeded. I’m really glad to see the Wintel platform being challenged by smartphones and tablets. If you look at the average user of a computer they are mostly consuming content or typing out emails to friends and family. For them a desktop/laptop computer is a bit like having everyone drive an F1 car to get around…it’s overkill. With the advent of the smartphone and tablet it allows most users to consume content in a very easy to use manner.

I got my first personal computer (PC) in 1984 and it was an IBM PC. For the past 30 years I’ve been hearing my mom tell me she’s going to learn the computer and till this day she hasn’t. However, she just got an Android phone and has started to use WhatsApp. Baby steps, but I’m sure within a year she will start to consume news from websites and potentially start using her Gmail account that was created when she got her Android phone.

In India, WhatsApp is like a gateway drug to many other things available on the internet. Once people get hooked, they start looking for more and more things to do on their phone and tablet. Even my driver was asking me what Samsung Android phone he should buy. I asked him what he wants to do with the phone. His response – WhatsApp, what else is there to do.

A Decade of Blogging

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10-years-blogging-toprankYes, it’s been 520 weeks since I started blogging at celestri.org. What is more surprising is growing up I HATED to write. Back in grade school if I had to write a book report, I would have rather been cut by 1,000 paper cuts then write one word about My Friend Flicka. Somewhere along the way I got into the groove of writing and here I am 128,000 words and 468 blog posts later. Which averages out to about a blog post every 8 days, over the past 2-3 years I’ve slowed down to a blog post every month…focusing on quality over quantity.

What started out as a way to share my pictures online turned into a online version of dear diary. Most people have two questions for me: 1. Why the hell do you write 2. How many people visit your blog.

I write because it allows me to shape my thoughts more clearly and in the process helps hone my grammatical skillz (haha, just kidding – skills). In the process, I have met many people because of this blog and have been able to share ideas with them. It’s just another way to connect with people.

As far as pageviews, I currently have no idea. About 3 or 4 years ago I deleted Google Analytics which allowed me to track visitors, pageviews and 100’s of other metrics. I decided I didn’t care if people read what I wrote. Deep down I wanted to write about what I wanted to write about. And it’s the best advice I give to people when they say “I want to start a blog”, I tell them write about stuff you really care about and don’t worry about the metrics.

When I started 10 years ago, I had no idea that blogging would take off or that I would be writing 10 years later. Do I have any big plans for the future? No. I plan to continue writing about things that excite me, intrigue me and educate me. If you are interested in starting a blog, I would give you the following pieces of wisdom:

  1. Write about things you really care about
  2. Be consistent – I see people start a blog and write every day then after a month they completely stop
  3. Don’t worry about the metrics
  4. What’s the worst outcome? You will improve your grammar skills

Here’s to another 520 weeks of blogging!

P.S. The 128,000 words I’ve written works out to almost 3 full-length novels.

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