Naga Chokkanathan

Archive for May 2010

‘Hacking’ is one of the most misused terms in information age. Many people (still) believe it refers to criminals and fraudsters who steal credit card numbers and bank account details of unsuspecting victims.

The truth is, Hackers are a proud bunch of super-intelligent individuals who want to be a level above regular users, and programmers. They hack into electronic circuits, software programs, websites and many more, and find (or even create) strange, but many times helpful uses for them. Of course, there may be few people who use this knowledge for doing illegal things, but that doesn’t mean all hackers are criminals.

In fact, recently Hackers have gone ahead and started doing something very useful to the entire humanity (or at least parts of it). That project is called “Random Hacks Of Kindness”.

This group uses technology and innovation to make world a better place. It brings together hackers all across the world and they develop software & applications to support people who are affected by natural disasters.

burning music cds

(Clipart Courtesy: http://www.openclipart.org/detail/6713)

For example, they have a very interesting application called “I’mOK”. This is a mobile software which you can load in your cell phone. Later, if, God forbid there is a disaster in your area, all your friends, relatives and co-workers will be worried if you are okay, At that time, you can press a single button in this mobile application and it will send a SMS and / or Email and / or Facebook message to a predefined set of people, even in a jam-packed network typical in disaster areas.

This is only a sample, when all the intelligent hackers across the globe get together, they can build so many other apps and solve important problems. That’s why major companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! And organizations like NASA, World Bank have come together to found this organization. They work with many government officials, NGOs and other companies to decide on important problems, and build solutions using existing technologies / new innovations.

For many decades, technology is seen (and used) as a tool for improving our convenience in doing day to day activities. But when applied at the right way, it can solve problems for billions of underprivileged people. For example, Nokia has a service which teaches village children “Spoken English”, one word a day, another application tells farmers information such as weather, commodity prices etc., “Random Hacks Of Kindness” should extend beyond just natural disasters, and look at such long term social benefits too, at least in countries like India.

(016)

***

N. Chokkan …

28 05 2010

Whenever I travel, I always carry a book or two with me, Just to save me from boring queues and long waits for the train or flight to arrive.

But at the same time, I don’t miss the opportunity to visit an airport bookstore, or a railway station stall where magazines and books are sold. I just do window shopping. if anything interests me, I may buy, but most of the time I observe people, and what kind of books they buy and I try to imagine why.

In such Privacy-invasing observations, one thing I notice constantly is, people tend to buy short books, especially the ones between 80 to 120 pages, typeset in BIG fonts. These are books you can read quickly, grasp the concepts in a flash and probably finish the book in the same trip. Thesedays I even see books which announce proudly “It Just takes 45 Minutes to read”.

Obviously, people prefer short books, which add value to them, and from that angle, the one I finished reading just now (Classic Wisdom For The Professional Life – Edited By Bryan Curtis) is a real Gem. Its content is very crisp, excellent selection of quotes, amazing book production, something you can gift to any student/ working professional.

Even though the book title says “Classic”, the quotes inside are applicable even today. You can find philosophers, authors, prime ministers, presidents, sports personalities, actors, industrialists and many more sharing their wisdom with us.

I could finish reading this book in flat 32 minutes, Not because its short, But because I could feel most of the quotes directly talk to me and I couldn’t stop reading. Strongly recommended for a quick, insightful read!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Users of Microsoft Office (or Google Chrome browser) will be familiar with this feature – Whenever we make a spelling mistake (or a typo error), these applications underline that wrong word in Red color, so that we can come back and change it. Even if you don’t know the right spelling for that word, No worries, just right click there and you get word suggestions from which you can pick the right one.

Well, everyone knows about this spellchecker functionality since the stone age. What’s new?

Just like these software applications can correct our spelling, won’t it be cool if there is a filter available which removes (or corrects) all negative emotions / attitudes / show stoppers / progress blockers etc., in the Emails and letters we send?

Alexander Kuzmin, Mayor of a city in Siberia thought in this direction, and made an announcement to all his officials, ‘When you are speaking to general public who come to you for a service, You can’t / shouldn’t use certain Phrases!’

What Phrases? There are 27 in all; BBC gives a short sample:

    • I don’t know
    • It’s lunch time
    • There’s no money (Budget)
    • What am I supposed to do?
    • I’m not dealing with this
    • The working day is over
    • Somebody else has the documents


    (Image Courtesy:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/
    )

Mr. Kuzmin considers these excuse words as negative energy and believes banning those words from office spaces can improve the quality of service to a large extend.

We don’t know how much Kuzmin’s Siberian experiment was / is successful, But we can take a lesson from him, and list out the words / phrases what we should avoid while writing Emails / Letters, speaking to people during professional / personal interactions, What will be your ‘Block’ list?

(015)

I hate queues.

For that matter, we all hate queues. Don’t we?

But can Queues be made interesting? There are many tricks (carrying a book, listening to music, TV, mobile games, fill your tummy with snacks, catch-up on phone calls, make new friends etc.,) followed by organizations, and by people waiting on their queues. But believe me, none of them are effective queue-busters.

The reason is, when you are waiting on a queue, the main problem bothering your mind is, when will this be over? Will I get my movie ticket (or travel pass, or visa stamp, or whatever)? When? Until you get a satisfactory answer to these puzzling thoughts, you can’t concentrate on anything wholeheartedly. Means, that queue should be over, for the monkey to be off your back!

So, a simple solution for this complex problem could be, a small progress indicator, which tells the people how big is the queue before them, and how long they may have to wait before reaching the counter. We can see it in many highways, where there is no queue, but people may be hungry for a snack, or need to fill their petrol tank, or empty their bladder, It is also a virtual queue, making them wait for the right place.

For example, one board may say “Delicious south Indian breakfast @ XYZ restaurant, 10 kilometers ahead”. That gives you a clue how long you may have to wait before grabbing something to eat.

Interestingly, it doesn’t stop here. After 2 kilometers, you see another board “Delicious south Indian breakfast @ XYZ restaurant, 8 kilometers ahead”. This continues for every two or three kilometers, preparing us, telling us that we are progressing in that virtual Queue.

You might have seen a similar approach in certain software solutions also. At any given point of time, they tell us how much of our work is done (for example “18% completed”, “Step 8 of 9” etc.,). It makes the boring task of filling a form little bit interesting because we are aware of our progress constantly.

(Image Courtesy: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/32/Progress_bar.png)

This should interest many software developers / designers, because such progress indicators help in improved user adoption / acceptance, resulting in a better customer satisfaction!

With this understanding, just have a relook at your current / previous projects / screens – Are there any virtual queues? If yes, are you telling your users about their progress? What can be done to improve this?

File:Broad chain closeup.jpg

Image: Toni Lozano

Sources: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broad_chain_closeup.jpg & http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiero-un-pantano/176909201

During one of my recent business trips, I stayed in a small hotel. The room was quite good, and clean.

But the problem was, quality of service. Whatever food items I ordered through room service, reached me very late. By the time the door bell rang, my appetite and interest were long gone. Even a simple coffee took them 25 minutes, I decided not to eat anything in that hotel anymore.

Next day, I was in a class and during break time a student asked me ‘where do you stay here?’. The moment I mentioned the name of that hotel, he immediately said, ‘Wow, I love the food there!’

I was surprised. Because, for me food there tasted horrible. But that student insisted that it’s one of the top restaurants in that region and asked me to give it another chance.

That night, Instead of ordering food through room service, I went to the restaurant itself and enjoyed a tasty dinner, with fantastic (and swift) service.

This means, in that hotel, rooms are very well maintained, food is excellent, but the weak link is, the people who carry the food to the people who stay in their rooms. Because of this lousy link, I came to a (hasty) conclusion that their restaurant itself is bad.

In today’s competitive environment, any company having one or two great departments may not be enough, a consistent quality deliverables in every aspect of business is necessary, even a small, careless mistake in an insignificant area can cause the whole show to collapse – As the old saying goes, we are only as strong as our weakest link!

What do you think is your (or your company’s) weakest link? What can you do to bring it up at par with other ‘great’ links?

(014)


Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Organization He works for / belongs to.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 60 other followers

Big Adda