Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bloated prices for boating pictures?

Last weekend, I went white-water rafting on the Youghiogheny river with six friends. It was exciting without being dangerous, and for the five hours I spent I had good fun. The company that runs this also had someone take photographs at certain rapids, which we could later purchase.

It was a rare experience for me, for there is hardly any water in the Indian rivers to permit rafting (unless one goes to the Himalaya), and I went to buy the photos as a souvenir and to send home. I asked the person at the counter the price. And was flabbergasted to hear this:
  • $30 for 10 photos, and
  • $15 for 1
Well! [Multiple exclamation marks]

On the way home I was musing about this pricing scheme... No doubt, the objective was to maximise profits. The more photos you sell, the merrier. So make 'em buy more. Getting one at $15 is outrageous; one would rather buy them @ $3 per, by shelling out 30 bucks.

If one can afford 30 bucks, that is.

So what about students? Or the poor? Or, what-the-heck all 10 of them look the same, and I want only one. Which is why the second option exists. The technical term for this, I believe, is market segmentation. Still as I said before, you would rather buy 10 if you could, for it is better deal.

And one more thing: They sell digital photos, duplication cost of which is practically zero. There are atleast 6 people in every raft. If they are clever enough, they will buy one CD of 10 photos and make copies for everybody, thereby splitting the cost ($0.50 per photo per person). On the other hand, if a single photo were more reasonably priced (say $5) the group might now buy only one photo and copy. Why would they buy only one? (1) As I told you, all 10 of them are similar. And (2) anybody would try to spend as little as possible.

Therefore, by arranging the price thus, the seller is happy (sells more) and so is the buyer.

Any other thoughts?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Engineered for marriage

I did my undergraduation in a self-financing college in Tamilnadu. It is a "Telugu-minority institution," which means that only 50% of its seats need be surrendered to the state-wide admission authority (which follows the government rules like reservation, etc for admission); the college management can fill the remaining seats with the minority students, in this case Telugu-speaking students, by its discretion. Such seats are filled, mostly, by charging money for admission.

My college, therefore, had a large number of students from Andhra Pradesh who enrolled under the minority quota by paying their way in. They were generally those who had not done well in their school examinations and thus could not get a college seat of their choice by merit. These students would seldom attend classes. They would have an arrear of at least 5 papers (some 10) in each semester. I often wondered why they had no inclination to perform well and land a good job.

Then, someone told me the reason. They enroll neither to acquire employment nor knowledge, ... but because engineering graduates command enormous amounts of dowry in Andhra! Large sums of money, lands, car and more would be theirs if they merely pass all exams, so why worry? The degree helps them graduate to a higher level in the marriage market.

[Inspired by Sunil Laxman's post on dowry.]

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Prophecies of Jayabhaya and Sabdapalon

I have always been intrigued by the Indian cultural influence in south-east Asia. I have heard of the popularity of Ramayana in those parts, of the Angkor Wat temple, the Bali Hinduism and the considerable presence of Sanskrit words in the languages (Megawati Sukarnoputri, Bahasa Indonesia, Putrajaya). But I know little more and don't remember reading much in our history books either.

Scoble's (mistaken) mention of Indochina whetted my curiosity, and I turned to the treasure-trove that is the Wikipedia to find out more. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

India "influenced the Champa kingdom in Vietnam, the Srivijayan kingdom on Sumatra, the Singhasari kingdom, and the Majapahit Empire [and their descendants, the Tenggerese] based in Java, Bali and a number of the islands of the Phillippine archipelago. The civilization of India influenced the languages, scripts, calendars, and artistic aspects of these peoples and nations." And it all started way back in 200 BC with the Hindu kingdom in Javadvipa.

And in 1942, when Japan took Java from the Dutch, "Indonesians danced in the streets, welcoming the Japanese army as the fulfillment of a prophecy ascribed to Joyoboyo [जयाभय?], who foretold the day when white men would one day establish their rule on Java and tyrannize the people for many years – but they would be driven out by the arrival of yellow men from the north. These yellow men, Joyoboyo predicted, would remain for one crop cycle, and after that Java would be freed from foreign domination. To most of the Javanese, Japan was a liberator: the prophecy had been fulfilled."

More recently, since 1977, "followers of various tribal and animistic religions have identified themselves as Hindu in order to avoid harassment or pressure to convert to Islam or Christianity."

This is what, it seems, Sabdapalon prophesied in 1478.
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Also, check out the Sanskrit (and Tamil) loan-words in Bahasa Indonesia.

If all this is new to you (as it was to me), please follow all the links!

The Prime Minister of Indochina visits Redmond

As I wrote yesterday, who doesn't love a good fight? In the course of my unpardonably long wanderings in the blogland today, I came across a rant by Robert Scoble, the well-known Microsoft blogger, against the remarks of Joel Spolsky, an ex-Microsoftie. To summarise the context, Joel compares Fog Creek (a small software company started by him) to Microsoft, to the latter's disadvantage.

Burning with righteous indignation, Robert enumerates various instances to establish Microsoft's superiority, including the taunt:

"Did the Prime Minister of Indochina visit your offices a few weeks ago?"

Probably not, but the Emperor of Austria-Hungary sure did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The transition - Newspaper to Blogs

I grew up reading The Hindu. In Madras, if someone asks you, "Have you read Gautaman Bhaskaran's review in the 'paper?" you do not ask back, "Which 'paper?" But pick up the day's copy of The Hindu and look for the Movie section. So widely read (and respected [1]) is it in the city.

The paper is a bit resistant to change, mirroring the conservative nature of the city itself. Till around two years back, it was fully black-and-white, with no colour even in the photos; finally switching because the London Times (upon which it was modelled) did so. I think, of late, it has become more adaptive. [2]

Of course, in my family, we have always subscribed only to The Hindu throughout. Mother (the earliest riser at home) would hand over the day's edition to Grandfather, who would pore over it from end to end, sipping (as per the Madras tradition) the morning coffee. Next, it would pass on to Father who would browse through it before leaving for work. My brother and I would get hold of it only after getting back from school.

The paper had a number of writers I would look forward to: S. Muthiah on the history of Madras, Nirmal Shekar's reflections on sports, Gautaman Bhaskaran on movies, and P.V. Indiresan's guest articles. My favourite was the Sunday Magazine which would feature Gowri Ramnarayan who writes exquisitely on music, theatre and literature, V. Gangadhar's nostalgic slices of life, and Ramachandra Guha's columns.

What I liked best was the discussions in the form of arguments and rejoinders. The most enjoyable being the flame-war on the Harappan horse (or the lack of it), between Michael Witzel and David Frawley. Apart from the debate itself (Who doesn't love a good fight?), I came to know quite a bit about Sanskrit that I was not aware of before.

After coming to grad school (with the free Internet thrown in), I have now moved on to blogs as the source of news. E.g., India Uncut gives me an eclectic selection of the important and interesting stories from different sources. Other blogs (such as Sepia Mutiny) also host thought-provoking discussions in their comment sections. I have also much profited professionally from the well-written technical blogs, such as Joel on Software, the first ever blog that I came across.

Blogs give a better sense of participation than newspapers. I have seized opportunities wherever possible to flaunt my scanty knowledge, which gives me (atleast temporary) happiness... In addition, being by nature a little shy of meeting strangers, the blog world has made it possible for me to come in (virtual) contact with various people, with novel perspectives and absorbing styles, and be privy to intelligent conversations.

Multiple hours every day, I roam the blogosphere (time I should actually be working), just the way I would be lost to the world reading The Hindu Sunday Magazine for the better part of the weekend.

I have thus gained my third addiction (after books and newspapers) - blogs.

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[1] The Hindu was started in Madras in the 1900's and is (in Indian terms) an old newspaper. Along with its founder (who was one of the early members of the Congress), it played an important part in the freedom struggle. The idea for the civil disobedience movement took shape when Gandhi and Rajaji met in the residence of its proprietor.

To take a recent example of the respect it commands, a journalist who was molested in a train was given due attention at police station (at least partly) because she was from The Hindu...

[2] Madras, every December, hosts the well-known Music Season, when there are scores of concerts everyday. But for some inexplicable reason, The Hindu would carry the concert reviews only once a week, trying to cover some ten performances in a single article! On the other hand, its rival Indian Express would feature a daily supplement covering the Season in detail.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Enterprising as ever

I had thought Indians started coming to the US in big numbers only since the founding of IITs.

But it turns out I was much mistaken.

[Link via Sepia Mutiny.]