Monthly Archives: January 2007

Old Whine on New Bloggle

(I am allowed the use of imaginary words as and when befitting. See blog URL)

Remember how I pledged to get my drafts out faster than I can write new ones? Well that hasn’t happened as yet, but I keep trying. Atleast I am blogging more regularly (T~30 days) than I did (T~300 days). So another strategy is to blog multiple items together as against blog each one separately. I have picked 2 for this one which were still lying around in my Blogger account – completely unrelated, the only denominator is that unka number pehle aa gaya, and I had something written down already.

1. The Problem with Sony

Sometime back I attended a Group Discussion at an ad firm to help support a pitch they were making to Sony, for their forthcoming MP3 player launch in India. Obviously, a lot of comparisons were made between the iPod and a Sony MP3 player. The thing is I had nothing good to say about Sony MP3 players. First off there were too many of them – several undifferentiated, tacky, yet expensive models, preventing any one from becoming big. Second, what I hated most was how late they were in endorsing mp3, meanwhile continuing to stuff down prorietary ATRAC3 down our throats. As a result, the hallowed Walkman is now dead (except perhaps the brand being reinvented with Sony Ericsson mobile phones.)

Then I thought, did something go wrong with Sony? I mean the Walkman, the PS, the PS2, most things Sony have been great products to use and irresistible to own. When did they start going wrong and why?

And I realised that they had taken their copy protection, anti piracy antics a bit too far. One of the key strategies which Sony adopts to achieve this is by create proprietary formats around their products. While this makes a lot of economic sense to them, several these eventually gets phased out, but nor before customers have spent a lot of money on the trusted Sony brand.
There is the MD, rendered obsolete by the death of line-in recording of audio. There is the UMD, especially UMD movies, only playable on the PSP – which has no TV Out, plus it is a closed format so that no one can put their movie collection on their PSP (alternative being an obscenely expensive 2gb Mem Stick Duo). (Aside: I recently learnt that now you can buy ready to plug and play PSP ISOs from Palika on a 2 gb mem stick for 2.5k – as long as you have firmware 2.71)

Now stepping back for a few bird’s eye view thoughts. You’d say this debate on proprietary formats is a much larger one, and Sony alone can’t be blamed. Why – even the iPOD uses a proprietary AAC format. Well, agreed that it does, but it never prevented you from playing MP3s, from day one. Infact it even allows you to burn a CD from the AACs, and then who is stopping you from converting it back to MP3? In the whole piracy debate (which by the way is a long one, so I shall not get into it in this post), I think Apple is one company which has struck the right balance. It has built in a set of filters which would deter most, while vella people looking for a workaround – like me – can do what they want, which they would have done or tried anyway with any other format. Plus, it addresses important gaps – so, for example, the iPOD video has a TV Out. Stopping Piracy does not mean strangling usability. And in my view, it is very often the Sony experience which can become limiting. I shall leave it at that right now.

2. Smoking – Risk Death for the Life
As I said, two completely unrelated posts :). Smoking. At one point in time, one of my favorite topics. It used to be a pet hate. I have lived through an annoyed dad , embarassed but relenting friends (Me: Yaar, meri gaadi main smoke mat karo), amused women (Me: You smoke? I think it is disgusting!), shocked/angry strangers (Me: This is a public place sir, can you please not smoke?), the works.
Not so much anymore. I am still a non-smoker but over the years I have come to accept it, thanks to most of my friends being smokers. I can now survive living in a passive smoking cloud. I have had a pseudo-cool-smoker phase when after I had had exactly one puff of ganja in Goa, I came up with the very pretentious “I only smoke marijuana!”, which I used to say as if it was the most original thing in the world :)). I have also had some of my demented mental states where I have smoked a whole cigarette or two.

Anyway, this is not about smoking or why I hate it, its me ruminating upon smoking as a social phenomena. So the top-x format again (whenever you are struggling to write coherent prose/ running short of time, it is your best way out):
1. A person and his/her cigarette is a self contained system. Ever been to a coffee shop or restaurant all by yourself? Personally, I get conscious and resort to reading a book/playing with my cellphone/acting like I am expecting someone to seem occupied. Now picture the another person but with a smoke. They never seem out of place, on the other hand they seem rather distuinguished and content.
2. Smoking is a very effective means of social bonding. ‘Got a light?/Got a smoke?’ This is probably one of the most commonplace bonding call s between smokers. And, as far as I have seen it works really well.

Also, (I can’t remember much of it now) Malcolm Gladwell has done some good analysis of the Smoking phenomena in his book ‘The Tipping Point’. (Aside: By the way, Malcolm Gladwell seems a lot less impressive after you have read Freakonomics – both books have parts where they analyse why crime fell in New York in the Nineties, and boy how wrong Gladwell is – typical case of confusing correlation with causation).

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Blogging via Email: Blogmailr

Another idea I thought of recently: Allowing Blogging via email.

There are so many people I know who would be completely lost navigating through the Dashboards for Blogger or WordPress. This learning curve denies them the joy of Blogging.

So, How cool would it be if you could marry the ubiquitous email with Blogging?

A Google search revealed that such a service already exists – Blogmailr. Evidently it is quite recent, November 2006, founded by a company called Telligent.

And it solves most things which people would want with Blogging. Tags, Drafts (Save it as an email draft!), Formatting (will see with this post). The only thing it does not allow is editing a blog post.

By the way, I am posting this from Blogmailr, so let’s see how well it works.

Using Cleartrip

One of my friends was returning from the US recently, and he needed to book a few tickets for domestic flights which he asked me to do.

The way I book my tickets usually is this: Go to Travelguru and Cleartrip, search for flights, pick the best one (in my experience no one site gives a complete list) and then book directly from the airline’s website.

However, the flight I had to book was on Indian which has a slightly cumbersome booking process plus there was a discount on Cleartrip so I decided to give them a try. Here’s my review.

The first half: Booking and Ticket Delivery
In one word: Brilliant.
1. The online process is very clean, straight from showing you the best flights to the booking process – the latter is especially well done in terms of user interface.
2. You don’t need to sign up for the first booking (but if you do another booking from the same email address you need to create an account).
3. The paper ticket was delivered the next day – very prompt.

The second half: Cancellation and Refund
This is where things get murky.
1. I discovered one of the key revenue sources for these travel portals : ticket cancellation. They charge a fixed Rs. 250 for each cancellation over and above the airline cancellation charges (though I must add in all fairness that they do state it on their booking receipt), plus take 30 days (!) to refund your money. Last I remember credit card refunds were quite prompt (Air Deccan refunds your money within 4-5 business days.)
2. If you are cancelling a ticket with less than 24 hours remaining for the flight, you have to cancel directly from the airline. Which is fine, but in this case the entire process needs some cleaning up. I had an e-ticket for Air Sahara. First off what Air Sahara calls PNR and what Cleartrip calls PNR are two different things (while in the case of Air Deccan it isn’t). Anyway after the Sahara customer service executive located the ticket through a passenger name search, he needed the ticket number to cancel the ticket. This was nowhere to be found. Not on my Cleartrip account, not on the Booking confirmation page they ask you to print out. Not even in the email link they sent me (which redirects to an itinerary page on virtuallythere.com)

Anyway after a lot of searching, I found this number on the eTicket receipt on the itinerary page, but you will never know that until you have clicked on multiple links on the left, which I wonder how many will do.

Further the airline gives you a cancellation reference which you then have to give back to Cleartrip before they cancel your ticket at their end and you can get your refund (after 30 days!).

So, verdict: Back to the basics. For airline bookings, I will use these sites as meta search engines to locate the best flight, but book directly from the airline – at least for a low frequency traveller like myself.

Trackback Testing

Just trying to see how trackbacks work.

Here is a Guy Kawasaki’s blog post on the ‘Art of Schmoozing’