Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Awesome Response to the post "Keeping Track of the Roads"

A few weeks back, I had blogged about "Keeping Track of the Roads". I shared the link to the blog post in HackerStreet ( a clone of HackerNews, but focused on India). One of the users has shared his experience about the RTI process in the responses and it is an awesome read. Do check it out and join the discussion. 

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keeping track of the Roads


The state of Bangalore’s roads has become pathetic. At least the roads on which I drive frequently. Old Airport Road has been dug every now and then which makes it difficult to ascertain whether the pot hole you encountered was caused by the digging or by the degradation of the road. The stretch from Garuda Mall to Hosmat Hospital had such deep potholes that when I accidently drove over one, the impact was so strong that the attachment holding the headlight broke on the left side. The potholes were filled recently.

But it begs the question why did we have potholes in the first place? When were the roads  last rebuilt? If my memory does not fail me, it was probably around a year and a half ago, somewhere between January and May 2009 (though I cannot be cent percent sure). The roads were built by the present state government, which came to power in May 2008 and it was done during late winter/spring well in advance of the monsoons, so my timing cannot be off by much (If you thought the monsoons only affected when the rice paddies are sown, well there you go.)

Is that the life of our roads? I searched on Google and after trying a few different keywords came across this site, where somebody has answered a similar question. So an asphalt road’s life may vary from 10-20 years depending on various factors. That is a far cry from a road life of 2 years over here. In fact, I am not even sure if all the roads in Bangalore have the same life.

One of the public figures that I follow on twitter, tweeted a few months back that he/she had spoken to someone who was into construction of roads. The roads they had developed in Orissa would last longer than the roads they had developed in Maharashtra even thought the Tender amount was the same. This was because in Maharashtra to win the contract they had to bribe, so accordingly the contractor used less quality materials for development of roads in Maharashtra, so that his business remains viable. ( I would link to the specific tweet if I could find it)

It is hard to believe that such cases do not happen throughout the country. Read this article in the Forbes for instance. Even if corruption cases are uncovered, they are silently shut down due to political pressure.

Is there anyway we can fight this? An idea occurred to me when I read this and this tweet by Indus Khaitan. Why not build an app which tracks all the data related to building of roads which is integrated with google maps and location enabled? Lets again take the case of the stretch of road from Garuda Mall to Hosmat Hospital and also assume that our app (lets call it betterroads) is available. I access the app from my smartphone which is GPS enabled.


It automatically maps my current location to the road and pops up a map with information about the road such as when was it last built/relaid, the expected life, cost of building the road, contractor who built etc. All this info can be available with the app through RTI. Now since I encountered a pot-hole, I can report a pothole and also rate the road.  I can also take a pic of the pothole and upload it on the app. So can anybody else. Now since the road is in a bad shape in 2010 whereas its expected life was till 2014, the following steps could be taken :

1) The road is relaid.

2) It is determined whether any digging etc from other government departments reduced the life of the road.

3) If not, the contractor is blacklisted from participating in any future government contracts.

Imagine if such a thing were possible for each and every road in this country. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Not only would one be able to report bad roads, but be able to pin point possible instances of corruption.

So why not build such an app? What are the challenges? Well I think an app to report potholes is pretty much possible because that is essentially a mashup of Google maps with Crowdsourced data, even though this shall have challenges such as ensuring the data remians relevant and provides true picture. No point in having a road reported a bad when it has been repaired recently.

The bigger challenge comes when you want to have the data about road construction from the government through RTI. Getting and organizing this data in the current scenario is a gargantuan task in itself and probably needs an NGO to focus on this. All the roads on  Google maps will have to be marked according to the way contracts are awarded for road construction. i.e in the db of the app, the stretch of Old Airport Road from Diamond District to Pizza Hut Signal could be one row (road id : 1) in the db whereas from Pizza Hut to Marthahalli would be a different row(road id: 2), even though the whole thing is Old Airport Road. This could be because contracts for repair of the first stretch could be given out at a different time and to a different contractor and if we are capturing this information then we have mark roads accordingly.

Also, ensuring that data is provided by the government, in the format that is required, consistently is going to be a challenge. I am not even sure what and how does the government track. The essential thing to ease the whole thing would be digitization of government records and provide the data to NGO’s and researchers through an RTI api. Even after the data is available, there are going to be many issues such as agreeing to a road life at given cost, ensuring government agencies act etc. All this just reinforces the adage that “Technology is just an enabler” and the app in itself is not going to solve problems overnight.

Then what is the point of discussing all this? Well for starters this can be tried at a small scale, say only Bangalore. That would be the MVP for this idea. No need to wait for government to digitize its records. File RTI’s and manually get the data for Bangalore or a smaller part of Bangalore and develop the app. See if people use it. After all, as someone once told me, when Naukri.com started, they were manually entering jobs into their website.

Perhaps a few techies along with an NGO such as Janagraha could take a shot at it. What do you think? Worth a try?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Do you really need a Web Designer?

This is a question that has been asked and discussed time and again. While it is awesome if you have a kick ass designer in your team, what does one do when no one in the startup team is has good design skills. I mean no one in the team can start from scratch and design a decent looking UI. What does one do then?  

The first thought that occurs is to outsource your design work. Seems like a good idea. But if the startup is bootstrapped and has not yet found a proven revenue model ( or in other words you have zero revenues) is it a good idea to spend on the design of the website? In India, good designers charge as much as their western counterparts and if someone is not charging enough and promising you awesome designs, he/she is probably giving false promises (at least that has been my experience). If outsourcing to a web designer is within your budget, then, by all means, hire a good designer. But what if the cash situation is a bit tight?

Learn to do stuff on your own? Well if you can then nothing like it. But if you do not have the bandwidth to learn, I would suggest learn just enough to modify somebody else's work. There are tonnes of awesome freely available CSS templates available on the web. Just pick the one which you feel shall suit your needs and learn to modify it according to your needs. It looks decent enough for you to focus on validating your idea. And when your app is growing and you feel a change is needed, hire a kick ass web designer to revamp your app. At this point of time, you shall have much more clarity about what you want from the designer. I recommend this approach to everyone. 

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Friday, November 12, 2010


"Why do people watch Big Boss? Completely fail to understand" This was a tweet on my timeline. 

What interested me in this tweet was the second part. Completely fail to understand. So do I. I have never watched Big Boss and I have no clue why people would like to watch it.

But this only means that I do not have insights which the producers of Big Boss have. The question then is, what are the insights that I have which other people don't have? What are the things that I am sure people would do, but others fail to understand why? And why/ how/since when do I have such insights? What is the basis for such an insight/gut feel?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Perception vs. Reality - Some interesting thoughts

One of the great lessons of starting up has been the realization of the difference between perception and reality. What do I mean by that? Lets say you hit upon an idea which you think has huge potential. You talk to a few friends and they seem to agree. You get down to work, talk to probable future customers, research the market and your hypothesis seems to be validated. You seem to be solving a major pain point for customers. You form a team and start work on the product. As you are nearing the release of your first version, a big company also releases a very similar service, and most of it is for FREE. End of the road for your startup? How does one react to such a situation? Does the motivation level remain the same? 

The above is just an example and if you are starting up, you may come across many similar situations in your journey. It could be something as huge as the example above or something as small as a friend promising to help you out with certain things and then getting caught up with some other important priorities. Whether the startup is going to succeed or fail is just a perception. Take the example above. Its not that the big company was waiting for the release of your first version to near, for it to launch its service. No. It probably started work on developing that service before you did. If , a couple of months ago, you had known that the big company was planning to come up with a service like that, you would probably not have worked your ass off to develop your product.

But you did work your ass off and developed that product, because you thought there was potential. Now, that's interesting, isn't it? A couple of months ago, if you had that bit of information about the big company's plans, the potential did not seem that huge, coz "anyway, they are already doing it." But without that bit of information, the potential seems huge or "nobody has solved this yet, we are going to be rich having solved this." But did the potential of the idea, really change? Before that bit of information, there were say a a supposed 100,000 people who were looking for a service like yours. That number does not change even if you have the information about the big company planning to release their service. The potential of the idea has not changed. What has changed is your perception about the potential, because of the piece of information you were supplied. 

Thus the more information/data you have, the closer is your perception to the reality. This applies everywhere. People are afraid of cancer and not common cold. Why? If I were to tell you that your cancer can be cured by eating a new magic pill, will you be as bothered. 

The reason I write this is to remind myself of this realization. That change in one's perception doesn't necessarily change the reality. 

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Moving towards an Instant World

I love Google Instant Search. It is fast and it has changed the way I search. I expect the search behavior of other users may be changing as well. A question that comes to mind is how is your website affected if it does not feature in the top results. I think users are more likely to change the search query rather than navigate to the next page, when using instant search. 

But apart from web search, Instant is going to change the way applications are developed. The first one which came to my mind is helpdesk software. Imagine a call center operator having access to instant results. He/She can keep talking and search for a resolution to your problem in their knowledge base. Instant results means less chances of putting you on hold. Faster search results could mean lesser Minutes per Incident. Just as my web search behavior has changed, call center operators will change current ways to better handle calls and provide more resolutions. A direct benefit to the customer is in cases where talking to an operator is charged, such as when you now call Airtel helpline and talk to a human being, you are charged. If the operator takes less time answering your call, you save money. 

I think this is a good idea which will make its way into the market sooner or later. A good idea for a startup? I am not so sure. After all, how much time would it take for current helpdesk companies to bring this feature into their products?

What do you think?

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Freaky Facebook


I was absolutely freaked and startled moments ago. I was watching this pic by Bill Gates on twitpic. When suddenly I noticed a facebook badge for the fan page of KissMetrics on the page. See the screenshot below.


It suddenly struck me that I follow KissMetrics CEO Hiten Shah on twitter. Not on facebook, on twitter. Yet there it was, the facebook recommendation that I Like KissMetrics. How did facebook know what my twitter account is? How did it know that I follow Hiten? Why did I get the recommendation to follow KissMetrics and not anything else? Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I know information on twitter is visible to all. But this level of association freaked me out and left me with the above unanswered questions? Have you noticed anything similar?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I answered a question on Aardvark


Aardvark is a great service and the company was recently acquired by Google. Basically, it is an ask and answer service but a very effective one indeed. Sometimes I just try and answer random questions and today I answered one about Currencies.


(From Maurice S./21/M/Beirut,Lebanon -- about 3 hours ago)
I do not understand this business concept:
The flow of goods and services between countries generates a supply of the importer's currency and a demand of the exporter's currency? I do not understand the supply/demand part??


My answer:

me: I am not a business or economics student but let me just try and explain what I understood. Suppose your currency is gold and my currency silver. You are selling some carpets. So you are the exporter. I want those carpets so I am the importer. To pay you, i need Gold which is your currency. Silver is not good for you. So I will go to a third person who exchanges gold for silver. I ask this third person for gold,  If there are other people wanting ur carpets, they will also ask for gold, thus increasing the demand for gold. At the same time, I am giving silver in exchange for this gold, so the supply of silver increases. You can now apply this analogy to countries and currencies. Hope that was helpful

You can see the thread here .

Was my reasoning correct?

How secure is Facebook extension for Chrome?


I recently installed the facebook extension for Google Chrome. But how secure is it? Look at the 2 screenshots below.

Screenshot with the extension


Screenshot after uninstalling the extension


When the extension was installed, my facebook home page was appearing in place of the Techcrunch on facebook badge. What if this happened on a public computer, say at an internet cafe?

Needless to say, I uninstalled the extension immediately. And to end, I wanted to share an article I read sometime this past week but I can’t find it right now. It came down heavily on Chrome for still having some basic loopholes, which other browsers learned long back. Kinda like you put some laws in place after the Great Depression of 1930 to prevent a recession in the future. But some smart people repealed the law (or gave exceptions to some firms) and voila – we have the recession of 2008! Lessons learned in the past have to be applied.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Availability and Capacity Management


For people familiar with ITIL, the above two words should not be alien. I was introduced to ITIL in 2006 as ITIL implementation was sort of my primary job for the first 1.5 years of my professional life. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of best practices that organizations should implement for IT Services Management. However, when I was attending a three day workshop on ITIL v3, I realized the basic principles of ITIL can be applied to manage anything and not just IT Services.

Two of the processes are Availability management and Capacity Management.What do they mean? Suppose you have been made in-charge of water supply at a 3 day NCC camp for 450 cadets. The first question is how much water are you going to need per day. Lets say you need 1500 liters of water per day. Fine. But  you need to store this water. You have been provided with 2 storage tanks of 500 liters. This is your capacity, ie 1000 liters. But you notice that your capacity is less than the daily requirement. What should you do about it? You ask for another tank, but your commanding officer informs you that a pump powered by a genset will fill the tanks when the need arises. So even though you do not have full capacity to serve the daily need, you can still ensure availability thanks to the genset powered pump. Of course, you will have to ensure that the diesel for the genset is available when required. By finely balancing the capacity and availability, you are able to meet the demand and a lot of satisfied cadets. Also notice that having the tanks (capacity) does not ensure availability.

This is a very simple scenario, but something which we find almost everywhere. Do your servers have the capacity to process 100,000 simultaneous requests? Do you have sufficient developers to finish a particular project in 2 months time (Capacity)? Are all the developers available during this time? I heard a couple of them are going on a trip to Ladakh (unavailable).  You get the basic idea, right!

Anil Enthu Kumar and I made an interesting observation a few weeks back. There is tea shop near his house which we frequent. Opposite to this tea shop is another tea shop, which pretty much provides the same services. However, the tea shop which we visit is more crowded and has more customers. Always! Lets call this the Tea Shop A and the one opposite, the less popular one as Tea shop B.  Both of us asked the same question, Why did we go to this particular tea shop A when we could have easily gone to the other one? The answer to that was, one amongst our group of friends had visited the Tea Shop A and the next time he went with the others, he chose that particular tea shop. So the others started going to the same tea shop. We never considered going to tea shop B. Why? Because Tea Shop A was available whenever we went. Tea shop B wasn’t always open, something which I noticed in the past few weeks. Availability giving the competitive edge to a tea shop, ensuring more customers!

Why the sudden post on availability and capacity management? Well I was trying to book a domain for the new project I am working on, but the site of ZNET India gave an error. It wasn’t available when I wanted it to be. While I am not going to any of their competitors (just yet), the fact is simple things like availability are such a critical part of the customer experience. Look at flipkart. It is one of the hottest startups in India today, and how did they reach here – by simply focusing on ensuring good service availability to their customers.

To end this random post, I think about the pressing problems we face – depleting water table, clean energy etc. Can we ensure availability of water? What happens if there is drought for two consecutive years and the monsoon fails as well? Do we have capacity to sustain the water needs of the ever growing populace? Can simple principles from capacity and availability management be applied to solve such problems? What do you think?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Breadcrumbs – Who needs them anymore?


When I started learning Web Development, breadcrumbs was the way one thought about navigation on a website. For the uninitiated, breadcrumbs are highlighted in the screenshot below.


However, none of the top websites that I visit everyday have breadcrumbs. Take a look at the screen clippings below.





Breadcrumbs, I read, provided easy navigation for users and should be implemented in a website. I tried to implement it in one of the projects for my previous company. I tried to implement it for CAT-NINJA. For implementing breadcrumbs in ASP.NET, you define the navigational structure of your site in Sitemap.xml file and the SiteMapPath control automatically creates the breadcrumb structure for you. The problem was defining the navigational structure. After putting a fair amount of time defining the navigational structure of the web site, we found it very difficult to accommodate changes to the structure. More often than not a page would come up where the navigation on the website would not match the way we put it in the Sitemap xml. At the end of the day, this left users with an inconsistent experience.

I am not sure how helpful breadcrumbs are for site navigation. Looking at some of the sites above I dont think I am going to worry about them anymore. It may be helpful only in some particular cases like the help section of your website or in cases where you are showing some sort of documentation. See the screen clippings below :


Breadcrumbs in Google Help(above). A breadcrumbs like navigation at msdn(below).




How has your experience been implementing breadcrumbs on your website? Is it useful?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My picture on the lpad site


Lpad is a launchpad for startups in Chandigarh area.

I just saw a snap , which was taken at the Morpheus open House at Java City in Bangalore on Feb 28 (I think) where me and Shashank are chatting with Abheek of RobotsAlive, on the site of Lpad.


The screenshot is below.



Remembering the rains!


Rains are amazing. They bring respite from the summer heat. The smell of rainwater falling on burning earth is something else. If its a thunderstorm, I sit and count the seconds between a lighting flash and the sound of thunder, thus determining how far the lightning strike was(its something I picked from a Walt Disney Movie – In Search of the Castaways, anyone seen it?)  Sometimes there is a power cut and you are left with nothing to do but listen to splashing drops of rain and the thunder of the lightning. Its a raw form of communication with Mother Nature - where for a brief moment you forget about the post you just liked on facebook, the tea you put on the kettle, the cell-phone you cant find in the darkness – its just you marveling at the lightning across the sky. You feel you rediscovered a part of yourself – something ancient, something raw – even though moments later the feelings gone.

Rains also bring memories of places, of people, of times gone by. Deepanjan Dey has written what I consider a masterpiece titled “Random Rainy Days”. It expresses what many of us feel on Random Rainy Days.

Today was one such Random Rainy Day! After dinner I felt like having a chilled coke so I walked to the nearby store. There was a slight drizzle but the normally crowded street was empty. Deja Vu! I was reminded of the rainy days of Manipal.

It used to rain non stop – remember! Sometimes I would decide to go to Timmy’s for a Keshto and a chai (no not a sutta – i do not smoke). It was difficult to find people who would accompany me in the rains and thus sometimes I went alone. Of course, on the way people would hand over 10 bucks to me to get some sutta. Sometimes they would also hand over an umbrella, not because they cared that much that I would get drenched, but because it was one of those rare moments when they had somebody’s umbrella with them. Whose? Who cares – just get the ciggs will ya?

I would climb the short wall behind 9th block and jump to the other side, carefully making my way to Timmy’s, on the lookout for snakes who perhaps might decide it was lovely weather for an afternoon crawl! Ever since I saw a cobra crawling on the road next to Timmy’s, I was fairly certain I was going to die bitten by a cobra which was hiding below the bench inside Timmy’s shack. Whenever I entered Timmy’s shack, I tried to see whether there were any snakes around. But it was pitch dark and I reconciled myself by thinking that any snakes in the shack would have crawled away the moment Timmy anna would appear from behind the shack shouting “Kaun hai?”. You cannot imagine how terrified I am of snakes! Yet I used to go to Timmy’s every day, overcoming my fears to savor half fries, keshtos, chai and the sight of the valley. That sight was something else when it rained.

Sometimes I would start playing songs like “Raindrops keep falling on my head..” on my comp and others would join in for some good music and good bakar.

During the rains, you also got to better know random people studying with you. Waiting for the rains to get over, you would start reading the notices on the notice boards, even though you had read all of them a couple of hours ago on the way back from lunch. You would find a notice about the fine you had to pay for some random thing or the available rooms in 10th block for your batch and then you would start cursing the college authorities with some random dude you hardly spoke to. Of course, some years later that random dude became a very good friend as both of you were placed in the same company.

I saw this video on facebook today in Mayur Kislaya’s news feed. Its a recent one of the rains in Manipal. Then I went out and was reminded of Manipal and all of you as I soaked some of the drizzle.

Remembering all the MITians and Manipal on this random rainy day! We Rock!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An example of Bad Design


Looking at the screenshot below, you will be wondering why is this post titled “An example of Bad Design”. After all the design looks fine and elegant.


A wise man once said, “looks can be deceiving” and rightly so in this particular case. While the visual design of this page from the site gojiyo.com seems nice, it is the interaction design which fails. You are asked to choose you username, fill your email address and select a password, which you do. But post that you are asked to install the unity3D plugin and are given a button to download the plugin. Clicking on the button takes you away from this page and into a unity page where you can download the plugin. But what happened to the sign up process. Was that completed? NO!

If you are engaging the user in a flow, you should ensure that the flow is completed. What if I start downloading the plugin and then completely forget about why I was downloading it. It is, after all, an era of short attention spans. In this case the download link should have opened in a new window or perhaps better still it should have appeared after the sign up process.


What do you think?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Am I missing something very obvious here?

Sometimes when I click on the Sign In link on the twitter page, I am taken to the old twitter login page instead of getting the sign in control at the home page. However, there is something which I noticed right now, which I found very strange. The twitter login page does not use https: but uses simple http: .Check out the screenshot below



Contrast this to the login page of Google, where you can clearly see the https and the secure seal on the browser.



Did someone at twitter just forget about the whole https thing? Has this gone unnoticed for this long? Or am I missing something very obvious over here?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Absolutely Brilliant


I came across this youtube video in a tweet. This is simply amazing and it expresses a lot of what I have felt developing applications to work in IE. The composition is awesome and well sung!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Entrepreneurship in India – The role of mainstream media


The Economic Times had a story yesterday on the growing popularity of group buying sites in India. I do not read the Economic Times daily and definitely not from end to end. I rely mostly on recommendations from people I follow on twitter or my friends.  But I had completely forgotten that there are other people I know who read ET.

In the afternoon, I got a call from my grandfather who asked me what was I upto and how was my work coming along. I updated him about my plans. As always, he asked me to focus on my health and have a clear mind on whatever I was planning to do. He then told me about the story he had read in ET about group discount sites. He thought the whole idea of group buying through a website was very innovative. He then encouraged me to be positive and continue my work with a positive frame of mind as there were a lot of opportunities, evident from the success of group buying sites.

The key learning from this incident was the importance of the mainstream media in promoting entrepreneurship in India. One of the biggest barriers to start an entrepreneurial journey in India is the social cost that entrepreneurs have to pay, highlighted well in this article by Gautam Gandhi of Google. Most people who aspire to be entrepreneurs in India follow blogs like pluggd.in, participate in forums like VentureWoods or network with others in organizations like TiE. At such places, the people you interact with are inherently entrepreneurial who understand the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur in India. However, the general junta does not read pluggd.in and it can be sometimes difficult for entrepreneurs to explain what they are trying to achieve.

Here comes the role of mainstream media. If I had told my grandfather about the concept of group buying sites and its potential, it would not have carried the same weight as the story in ET. That is the power of mainstream media. People associate a news story with prestige and if entrepreneurs are covered in ET then surely entrepreneurship must be prestigious.

It takes time for new ideas to be accepted in society. The idea of a private sector job over a government job was unthinkable in the 90’s for most. However, now you have IAS officers quitting their government positions to go through the one year program at ISB to prepare themselves for a private sector job. Similarly, the idea of quitting your job and jumping into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship was and in many cases still is unthinkable. But surely, with coverage like the one in ET yesterday, the unthinkable shall become the acceptable pretty soon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The path of the Doer


I read the following at some blog or site. I can’t remember exactly where. But I really liked it. It was titled “The Path of the Doer”


Set yourself a goal.

Set yourself a deadline.

Define success at the start.

Make a plan to make it happen.

Build a team to help you.

Get the team to sign up, head and heart, to the plan.

Understand there will be hurdles, barriers. Accept them. But defeat them.

Work each day toward getting things done. A little can do a lot.

Keep the end goal in your mind at all times.

Understand the importance of your energy. Your stubbornness. Your persistence.

Half way through a project is always the lowest point. You are neither at the start, nor at the end. Energy dips, morale is low. Have a day off.

The next day remind yourself why you started it in the first place.

Focus. Focus. Focus. But focus on the most important thing.

Tell the world what you are doing.

Tell the world your deadline.

Celebrate progress. Any progress.

Never give up.

Look back at how far you have traveled. It will surprise you.

It will also tell you that you are closer to your goal than ever before.

Keep going.

Then one day, after many, many days, you will complete your goal.

You got there in the end.

Your words and your deeds are one. Most people in life are just talkers. But you are a doer. Well done.

by David Hieatt

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


It’s been a while since the last post. I do have a lot to share and I will do that in the coming weeks. Reading the blogs of others, I have come to realize that my writing skills need to improve. And the best way is to blog.

Some of the things you can expect from now on:

A post every fortnight. Could be anything, though I have decided that I am going to play the analyst and the critic.

You could read book reviews once in a while.

And for those of you who are wondering where have I disappeared, please follow me on twitter.