After reading Atanu Dey on India’s Energy Challenge and Vijay Anand on Why the N-Deal is important, I was wondering if there were some interesting things being done in India regarding energy. And sure enough, I came across these:

  • Water
    • Balakrishna has created a turbine to generate power from slow moving water, and he has even used sewage water at Medahalli near Yellamallappan lake (near Bangalore) to experiment. On a side note, Balakrishna’s family previously were bonded labourers.
  • Wind
    • SasiNarayan has patented a winged vertical axis wind mill that can be put on the roof top of your house.

vertical axis wind mill
Solar
Syed Zahed has created a “Solar Home Energy Pack” that combines a MAGH-I woodgas stove, solar lamps and torch lights with rechargeable batteries and a solar panel. It costs just five thousand rupees. The “Good Stove”, as they call it, is declared as open source technology / Creative Commons. And it’s being used in the Himalayas.

Solar Home Energy Pack
Harish Hande, an IIT Kharagpur graduate, is on a mission of rural electrification using solar home systems.
– On a different note, there is encouragement through the Solar Innovation Program and the Cleantech Ventures Program
Pedal
Energy Conservation Mission, Hyderabad has developed a pedal/solar model that can charge mobiles, PDA, laptops, a fan and colour TV. That’s right, you can pedal to become fitter and generate energy at the same time, and it costs just 5000 rupees! Read the poster for details.
Biomass
– Just a small note that the Rural Business Hubs initiative in India (a partnership between Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Confederation of Indian Industry and the Panchayat) is encouraging jatropa cultivation and other methods of generating bio-diesel.
Waste
BIOTECH is turning food waste and other organic waste into bio-gas which can be used for cooking and even produce electricity.
SKG Sangha is creating biogas for cooking plus fertiliser from slurry using the ‘Deenbandu’ cow dung based biogas plant. As a woman from Mallipatna says: “We have many benefits from biogas. With wood, our hands used to itch when we cleaned off the soot from the pots, our eyes had tears, our chests were painful and we coughed a lot. We had headaches and we had sight problems. With biogas, all these problems are gone.”

There are even people like S S Sivakumar who convert air to water, because “he was convinced that water, or the absence of it, held the key. Water plays a dominant role in Indian politics and economics. Agriculture, which accounts for 18% of the country‚Äôs gross domestic product and which is the livelihood of 60% of the population, depends on the monsoon and most states have long-running disputes with their neighbours over the sharing of river waters”!

Credits: Most of this information is gleaned from Dr. A S Rao’s excellent blog on Indian innovators.

I attended the proto.in 4 conference last week (held at the beautiful IIT Delhi campus) and had a very productive and thought-provoking time.

proto.in

Day 1 was the fastrack “startup school” sessions.

The keynote session was Kiran Karnik, ex-President of NASSCOM, who pointed out that this “recession” is not a bad thing. Just like the BPO and Outsourcing outfits reinvented themselves in the last dotcom bust, this is a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves again during this phase. Why? Because when things are going good, nobody is willing to change or tinker with the processes. And when things are not going well, people are willing to take more chances and bet on newer/different things so that they can survive, such as big companies working with startups or risking new ideas.

Kiran Karnik

The story of BharatMatrimony.com by the founder Murugavel Janakiram was inspiring. The concept maybe so simple and maybe even creating such a website maybe simple, but the kind of business model, customer understanding and outreach, and constant trial of new ideas that they went through was simply amazing. For example, sticking to his gumption that the site should be a paid one and that was the only viable business model, to things like collection of payment at the doorstep. After this talk, I had new-found admiration of his matrimonial site.

Murugavel Janakira

The third session was a talk on “Business is a Game” by Bhavin Turakhia, of Directi. I had never known about Bhavin until this day, and after this talk, most of the audience were his new fans, including me. The first audience question was “Do you have an opening in your company? I want to join.”

Bhavin Turakhia

The talk was about the lessons we should learn from games and sports, and how to apply it to business. And it made so much sense. Sometimes it is the basics that we overlook that make all the difference. This was pretty much in line with my off-late philosophy of “Enough Fundas. Back to Fundamentals.”

Bhavin said that he has read many books and stories about successful companies, and trying to distill why they succeeded, he came down to just two things to run a successful company:

  1. Gather the right players
  2. Empower them to make the right decisions, most of the time.

He said the first point is fairly obvious but hard to do. In this talk, he concentrated on the second point, and gave 7 principles on how to do achieve this:

  1. Teach the Game
    • When you play a game, say cricket, all the team players need to know how to play the game – the rules, the strategies, the howtos. If only few of them know it, and the rest don’t, the team collectively will suffer, right? Same for business.
  2. Share the macrovision
    • What is the final objective? Why are you playing this game?
  3. Near-term targets.
    • A team usually plays for a season or a championship. That consists of multiple games, which means there are milestones and targets to achieve. Same for business.
  4. Keep score
    • Bhavin says he likes games like cricket where every kind of statistic possible is analyzed, right from the average score of the batsman on this particular ground to the average scores of the teams overseas, etc.
    • In a game, the score is always visible on a public scoreboard, which drives the team in achieving real scores.
    • Recommends reading a book by John Hayes called “Open Book Management”
    • Measure everything. Don’t focus on more than 2-3 critical numbers. This reminded me of a quote by Bob Parsons (of GoDaddy fame): “Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
    • Keep changing critical numbers.
    • Explain why these critical numbers are critical.
    • Statistics are fun, make it a game, have real targets, because no one wants to fail a target.
    • Bhavin explained that most of Directi employees have 3-4 monitors at their desk – 1-2 for work, the other 1-2 for monitoring live statistics. People love to watch scoreboards and feel joy when they achieve their targets whether they are number of downloads or response times.
  5. Line of sight
    • Each player should be able to link their actions to the outcome of a game i.e. how they contributed to the outcome directly.
    • This makes the player feel he/she is contributing to the team and feel he/she is a part of the team.
  6. Celebrate your victories
    • Celebrate the small milestones, especially achieving targets.
    • Have a Victory Party
    • The act of recognizing > how you recognize
  7. Align everyone’s interests

    • To the victor(s), belong the spoils
    • In a game, everyone’s equal and aligned, no separate us vs management, because success of each other is interlinked
    • Linden Labs has an internal website to “give love” to other employees who have done good work
    • How direct is the co-relation?
    • Company performs best when its people see themselves as partners in the business
    • American universities are run mostly by student communities and the knowledge is passed on to each new batch. And there’s this feeling that “I belong to my alma mater” vs “I belong to my organization” which people hardly say.
  8. When asked if these ideas put a constraint on the size of the company, Bhavin said this is the only way that you can scale a company. To specifically note, if everybody is not able to take the same decision as you, you become the bottleneck ⇒ size constraint on the company.

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It’s that time of the year when proto.in fever spreads. And the ideaworm has got to me.

Inspired by Vijay Anand’s “Ideas To Toss” series, I thought why not start my own occasional series as well? I’m calling it the “Ideas are Cheap” series. The name is a take on the common proverb “Ideas are Cheap. Execution is Everything.”

So here’s the idea for today:

Can we have a business where the users can customize the hardware that goes into their phone?

This is not a new idea. We are just applying Dell’s business model to mobile phones. If Dell can do it for desktops and laptops, why can’t it be done for mobile phones?

The customization can range from how much memory you want, whether you need a camera or not, etc. to choosing the color and the type of body (candybar or flip or other form factors) and so on.

The range of customization possible depends on the capabilities and costs involved in the assembly process. For example, users may be able to customize the phone by having a name for a special button called ‘Mom’ (or ‘Dad’ or ‘Son’ and so on) that is hotwired to call you. You can gift this to your corresponding loved ones. The advantage is it becomes a wonderful ‘personal’ phone and becomes easy-to-use for technophobic people.

The implementation will be challenging. For one, desktops and laptops can be assembled because of the plug-and-play IBM PC architecture as well as because the operating system easily adjusts to changes in the hardware. AFAIK, mobile phones are not built that way as of today and requires some configuration in the software based on which hardware features are present and which are not (please correct me if I am wrong). Making the software easily adaptable will be a major feature.

The other interesting part is to build a factory that facilitates this. It is very hard to build a supply-chain system for such a factory.

The good part is that the technology could be built on top of OpenMoko – after all, this is the kind of ideas that FIC (the sponsors of the OpenMoko project) had in mind in creating a mostly-open-hardware and open-source-software mobile computing project.

Personalization is one of the buzzwords that is supposed to make the big moolah for companies these days, and allowing people to customize a device that they carry around all day definitely has potential.

End credits: This idea was part of a random discussion between Ramjee and myself.

On a different tangent, there are lots of ideas waiting to happen in the software. For example, it’s not only Apple that can do an App Store for their phone, this can be done for this platform too. Of course, we’ll have to start off a holy war of choosing that one linux distro…

Perhaps similar ideas can be done on top of the Asus EEE PC as well?

Working from home full-time is a different experience than we are used to. You make or break things, there’s no one asking about your progress and there are no deadlines. It’s all up to you.

My productivity has varied a lot during this time and I was wondering how to make more days productive than they are as of now.

So I polled some of my friends who also work out of a home-office on how they they maintain productivity / motivation / focus, and I got some interesting replies:

  • Manish Jethani says:
    • Make a separate “office room” in your home. You could convert your old study room into your office. You go into this room only for work — fully dressed for work (not in pyjamas!). When you get out of this room, you leave your work behind. In other words, you have a proper office located inside your home.
    • Cut out the distractions. Make your family know that this is your office. No visitors, no phone calls (except work-related), etc.
    • Follow proper timings. Work fixed hours.
    • To stay motivated while working out of your home, I think you basically have to enjoy what you do.
    • Self-discipline is the key.
    • The concept of an office, as we know it, is relatively new in our history. Throughout the ages humans have worked out of their homes. Think about it. It’s the more natural way of things. Thanks to the internet, working from home is likely to become the norm in the 21st century (also because commuting might become prohibitively expensive).

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While I was cycling today, I had an interesting thought.

I always have my ol’ iPod Nano with me while I’m cycling. As usual, if I want to listen to a song again, I click the left button to repeat, if I don’t like a song, I click the right button to skip to the next song. But while cycling, I have to do this without looking at it. It is possible because I can feel the click-wheel and it has a good feedback so that I know when the press has worked.

Compare this with the touch-screen rage – can a person use the iPod Touch/iPhone without looking? From my limited usage of a friend’s iphone, I do not think it is possible.

It makes me wonder which is really the “Touch” – the one I can use without looking (using only sense of touch), or the one that has a touch-screen UI (requires both sense of touch and sense of sight)?

This weekend, one of my long-pending wishes came true: I finally trekked Kodachadri.

Kodachadri is a mountain in the Western Ghats, in Karnataka. It is a famous trekking spot.

On Saturday morning, we reached Nittur, grabbed some breakfast and then proceeded towards Kumble, the starting point of the trek. Right there, I could see clouds playing hide-and-seek among the mountains and I knew it was going to be a good trek.

Kodachadri 07

What I didn’t know was how awesome the 14 km of terrain was going to be. At one moment we would be trudging in the mountain avoiding branches and forcing through thick vegetation, the next moment we would be crossing a stream of water…

Kodachadri 09
Kodachadri 15
Kodachadri 18
Kodachadri 27

… Some time later we would be climbing up very slippery stones right next to flowing water, then suddenly in an open area and then walking along the edge of a cliff while it is raining and then walking in the clouds, literally. This was easily one of the best trekking spots I’ve ever been to, and I was so happy that I finally got to be there. We even got to drench ourselves in a freezing cold waterfall.

Kodachadri 36
Kodachadri 37
Kodachadri 41

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