Swachh Bharat Campaign: My Thoughts

Now that (apparently) the initial euphoria around the Swachh Bharat initiative has died down and people are settling back to their normal course of action, here are my thoughts on this great initiative.

The Swachh Bharat initiative is my long term wish for India come true. The moment I set my foot on western hemisphere almost a couple of decades ago, I realized how different surroundings can be made to look like. After relocating back to India a while ago, lack of cleanliness has been one of my big pain points that I have been trying fix across the board.

The Swachh Bharat initiative by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is right on spot and we all should thrive to see a clean and green India. However, just like many of the good initiatives, this one might make people get carried away in executing it the wrong way.

For an initiative to get popularity, we either need to document widespread participation or measurable results. Some popular initiatives get their popularity due to participation and others get popularity due to socializing of sustained results. Often, people take the first route and document the participation. Three hundred people posting their pictures on a social networking site for an event gets an event more popularity than documenting the fact that three thousand people actually participated in it.

People seem to be more inclined to post their participation in Swachh Bharat by clicking a few pictures while cleaning up a road or premises. I haven’t seen anyone posting a picture of a road or premises that stayed clean over a period of time.

In other words, instead of fixing the symptoms, we should fix the root cause and make sure that the symptoms don’t show up time and again. That is the best sustainable path to success.

For Swachh Bharat to become a lifestyle (not just an initiative), we need to focus on the following:

  • Reducing the opportunities to make any road or premises unclean. For example, Indian Railways came a long way in keeping many platforms and stations in clean state when compared to 15 years ago. The train tracks, compartments and some stations are not clean enough yet, but we have seen a good improvement recently. All they did is to force every vendor to keep a trash bin next to the stall and increased the number of general purpose trash bins. This led people to eventually get to the habit of using the trash bins than platforms to dump the waste. We need to take similar approach to ensure that people participate more in keeping things clean than making things clean.
  • Ensuring that people understand the importance of keeping things clean. We need to slowly, but surely, eradicate the “not my job” attitude when it comes to keeping public and common places clean. Some part of it comes from forced legislation (I like the positive impact of “No smoking in public places” rule) and rest of it should come from people’s belief and passion. This is where politicians and celebrities can help by taking the message to masses. I like a celebrity’s picture of cleaning a road, but that should somehow translate to a message that keep things clean first.
  • Clean up – This is how the initiative is currently being perceived in mass media. Even though it is a good start, it should slowly get to the back stage and give room to the other two focus points mentioned above. Clean ups should be regular, can even be voluntary by people who are no way in that role, but shouldn’t be just momentary.

In summary, I want to see Swachh Bharat to become a lifestyle than an being an initiative by our Prime Minister. We all should focus on keeping places clean than cleaning up places as an aftereffect. That way, we can head to seeing a sustainable Swachh Bharat.

Photo Caption Competition

I am running a photo caption competition for a select group. Here is the photo:

Photo for Caption Contest

This photo is a selected entry for TCPC‘s Chayakriti-2013. I clicked this picture in 2012.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Give both a photo caption and a writeup/description about the picture.
  • Limit the photo caption to less than 10 English words
  • Limit the writeup/description to 100 English words

Business unIntelligence

Dr. Barry Devlin ( @BarryDevlin ) presented a webinar this morning on ACM Learning Center ( @acmeducation ). This talk titled “The Marriage of BI and Big Data” is based on Barry’s book – Business unIntelligence: Insight and Innovation beyond Analytics and Big Data. Business unIntelligence discusses how the trends in Analytics and Big Data are changing the way People, Process and Information are to be looked at by businesses.

The moment I looked at Dr. Barry’s book, it reminded me of this talk by Reed Hastings. In that talk, Reed made a good point that the data will never impact creative. Businesses need to look at data in a contextual and meaningful way than using it for statistical substantiation when decisions related to creativity are involved.

Business unIntelligence presents ways to look at data differently while extracting meaningful information from Analytics (legacy) and Big Data (emerging) information stores. Concepts of m3 (Modern meaning model) to give meaning and context to data are good takeouts from this book. Giving the right context and appropriate meaning to data, in my opinion, is what Netflix did when it made the House of Cards series. Netflix made a series for a specific set of viewers than making a series for all age groups and viewer segments.

I recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with Business Intelligence and Big Data. Not just to users of these, but also to people who gather, maintain and operate on.

Do you want to supersize that drug?

I am a big ibuprofen fan for all sprains and related inflammations. The ibuprofen strips in our medical cabinet usually expire before they get consumed and we throw it away, just like we threw away that strip of 200mg dose of ibuprofen last month. Having a backup of a strip of 400mg dose, I didn’t backfill the one I threw away.

Well, then a back muscle spasm hits me early this week. My typical dose pattern is to take 400mg dose on the day a sprain hits and use 200mg dose for a couple of more days. So I was happy with a day of my booster drug of 400mg and then I scout for my normal dose of 200mg. Went to three pharmacies in the neighborhood that morning and couldn’t find the 200mg dose (with the specific brand I use.) The last two pharmacists told me that people are hardly buying that dose. The last pharmacist religiously checked over-the-shelf stocks and then went to the back of the pharmacy to check the reserves. When he came back, he claims that he doesn’t remember refilling his stocks for that dose recently. As a nice salesman, he said he can get that for me in the next 24 hours, but that was a different story.

About 30 years ago, people are prescribed a 200mg dose for about a week and if the pain doesn’t go away, then only they are prescribed a 400mg dose. One should be hosting a monster level pain to consume 400mg dose regularly to start with. But as per the pharmacists I talked to, people use 400mg dose now-a-days as the default over the shelf medication.

Here are the economics – a 10 dose strip of (branded) 400mg costs INR 10.41, that is about USD 0.18. At such a low price, the packaging costs would have forced a 200mg strip to be priced almost the same or at least very close. Given the “more is better” consumer psychology, people might as well be using a 400mg dose when they could have comfortably used a 200mg dose.

In essence, are we super-sizing our drugs, knowingly or unknowingly? Keeping the scale of economics aside, we might as well be going for faster pain relief than containing the level of pain. That might be leading to super-sizing our drugs eventually. The fact that the manufacturer has a 600mg dose now (I found that while searching on my laptop for dosage levels that people use, I admit that I haven’t seen it in the pharmacy, may be because I haven’t asked for it) is an indication that we might as well be super-sizing our drugs.

Free is costlier in reality

As elections are getting closer, political parties in India are announcing more and more populist schemes across India. None of the major national parties or prominent regional parties are exception to this.

Even though these populist schemes work in the short term to please masses (and in return fetch votes), the impact of these schemes are actually felt in the long run. Here are a couple of examples of what went wrong because of some of the populist schemes and how people are indirectly paying higher price for what they are getting for free.

Engineering Fees Reimbursement

The state of Andhra Pradesh started with this scheme a few years ago. The argument – instead of spending lot of money on government maintained colleges, the government will reimburse fee for people who can’t afford professional education (a.k.a. Engineering) in private engineering colleges. The scheme looked great for various sectors of the society. The government spent lot of money on this scheme in the last few years. Now let us see the net result.

  • The infrastructure in the government owned professional colleges became slowly obsolete.
  • The government college infrastructure for non-professional courses got completely collapsed. (For a test, try to think about a government college in Andhra Pradesh which can be seen as a best place for pursuing a Bachelors or Masters degree in commerce or fine arts. How many can you find?)
  • A small percentage of the mid income group are benefited by the scheme. This is the group which got seats in “good” engineering colleges and also got benefits of the reimbursements. For the rest of the people who enjoyed the reimbursement, they are forced to chose a college of lower quality or a engineering stream of lesser demand, just to enjoy the benefit.
  • A majority of mid income groups and low income groups got an engineering seat in (recently mushroomed) colleges that are of zero or very low quality, but this group happily took it because it is “free”. The attitude of “free” led to less efforts to excel from the students. The free phenomena also led to the situation where the colleges invest less on infrastructure and faculty. The consumers don’t question/complain and the suppliers don’t need to ensure quality. Once these students come out of college, they have very low scores, no exposure to the industry and just have a paper degree in hand after investing 4 years of their life on free stuff.
  • As a net result, we end up with spending lot of money for temporary benefit, no improvement in infrastructure even after spending that much money, overall benefit to a small subsection of people and a vast majority of benefactors eventually  realizing that their free benefits got nullified in the process.
Free Electricity

Free Electricity for farmers is a much touted about program in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Started with a big fanfare a few years ago by the government, this scheme eventually led to more losses for the economy than benefits:

  • Government spent most of its money on giving away free electricity than investing in power plants – both existing and new.
  • Private investments on power sector are encouraged than government enhancing its power production capability. However, the cost of power from these plants is much higher, given the commercial nature of the power plants (right from acquiring the land, they had to spend more money than what government would have spent on setting up plants.) Also, there is no assurance that these power plants sell power to the same state. During high consumption seasons like summer, these plants are selling power to high paying states than to the local distribution companies.
  • A section of farmers got free power, but that is no joy. Power is out most of the day and the supply is at odd hours. Due to load and distribution issues, power is of low quality and it impacted farmers’ infrastructure like motors and pumps. There are scenarios where farmers had to spend more on infrastructure issues due to bad quality free power than what they would have spent on good quality power.
  • As the power situation deteriorated, the government started imposing more restrictions on levies on consumers across the board. Like telescoping billing and ridiculously high tariffs during summer. Majority of the consumers are hard hit due to the free policies that gave little or no net benefit to the rest of the consumers.

There are several other populist schemes (within our state and rest of the country) that follow the same path: give an impression that the scheme is using saved money, pretend that the load on rest of the consumers is going to be low and tell that the benefits are huge. Eventually, the scheme leads to neglecting the production/infrastructure, leads to substantially higher costs for vast majority of consumers and lowers the quality to benefactors as well as rest of the paying consumers.

I am not completely against subsidizing or uplifting poor. As a developing country, the economy for sure needs certain levels of stimulus from governments both at the federal and state levels. This stimulus, only in certain critical sections, can be realized by giving well controlled subsidies. These subsidies shouldn’t be across the board, they should rather stimulate only the needy industries, production efforts and low income groups. The subsidy shouldn’t be so high that the full paying consumers feel the pinch. Once they feel the pinch, they either stop paying (by somehow enrolling themselves into the subsidy-needy groups) or stop consuming – both of these will lead to eventual increase in cost to everybody.

So when a government promises anything for free or at a highly subsidized price, it is actually making all of us to pay higher in the long run. Hope we realize that and make political parties announce stimulus packages that work, but not sink the economy. Otherwise, we will continue to be a developing country for a few more decades, if not centuries.

 

 

 

Bye Bye BlackBerry

Today I said adieu to my long term primary phone – the one I use to make most calls – my BlackBerry. I still love the simplicity of the phone, but the phone became a white elephant for the feature set it delivers. I still have two more phones that I use – an Android one and an iPhone. These phones are designated for specific needs. For my large volume calls, I may still be looking out for a phone with considerable battery life. Nokia and Samsung (I am not joking) seem to be the best contenders so far.

Coming back to the BlackBerry – today I took the backups, extracted key contacts from the backup and then pulled the battery off the phone.

Bye bye to this BlackBerry, after about four years with it.

ఉగాది శుభాకాంక్షలు

అందరికీ విజయ నామ సంవత్సర ఉగాది శుభాకాంక్షలు. ప్రతీ రోజూ తెలుగు చదువుదాం. తెలుగు చదివిద్దాం.

Ugaadi

పై ఫొటోలో ఉన్నవి ఈ రోజు చదవడానికి సిద్ధంగా ఉన్న పత్రికలు, పంచాంగం.

House Of Cards

I am not a big fan of watching TV series, except for random watching of shows like AFV or special interest shows like National Geographic. However, when Netflix announced House Of Cards (here), I got a little more curious than usual. Part of the reason is the presence of Kevin Spacey, the actor who left a very strong impression on me when I watched the The Usual Suspects (1995). After watching the first 3.5 minutes of the first episode and liking the next 1 minute of the titles, I am completely sold.

The storyline is very focused; never intends to be a “feel good” one, but tries to give a vivid description of the dark side of politics and its ecosystem (like political journalism). The characters go darker as their inner selves and motives are exposed, yet maintain the political correctness in formal situations. Its an amazing script, from that point of view.

The cast played their roles to the perfection. Kevin Spacey needs no special mention. Whenever he looks into the camera and annotates on the situation and his ruthless next move, he is at his best. Robin Wright is very impressive, especially in situations where the character demands stubbornness. Corey Stoll is surprisingly effective, Michael Kelly plays shroud with ease and Kate Mara plays her complex character with ease. I love the background score and the title sequence – never fast forwarded the title sequence while watching these thirteen episodes.

Friday night happened to be the perfect time to complete the series. Looking back, I couldn’t believe that I completed the entire series in less than one week, given my really hectic work schedules. Credit goes to the gripping series and captivating cast. Waiting for the second series – they left that bait for me!

Replublic Day 2013

My Republic Day morning is spent at SA Palm Meadows. After a brief session of Squash, I headed to the flag hoisting ceremony organized by the community. This short and sweet function is attended by residents of our community – from all age groups.

The sequence of events included flag hoisting, message by the President of the community and views by a few co-residents. Here are the events captured in photographs.

 

RepublicDay-2013

 

Snacks served at the end of the ceremony are delicious!

Busy Weekend

How do we tag a weekend as busy weekend? I could think of several ways to do that.

For example, if the bedroom looked like this during weekend, then it is a busy weekend.

From Misc

Yes, last weekend is a busy one.