Sunday, November 30, 2008

So.. what's next??

Unless you live under a rock.. you know about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Here are the events that happened prior to that:
  • November 26: Mumbai terrorist attacks kill over 100, 287 injured
  • October 30: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
  • September 30: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
  • September 27: Bomb blasts kill one in Delhi
  • September 13: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
  • July 26: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
  • July 25: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
  • May 13: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63
Do you see a pattern? Apart from destabilizing Kashmir, terrorists have attacked the other three corners of India (North:Kashmir, East: Assam, South:Bangalore, West:Mumbai and Center:Delhi). What the hell is the Indian Intelligence Service up to? But I won't rant on the state of Indian Union and the politicians, or the eminent lack of crisis management. I want to ask why.. why on earth did the terrorists do it? Was there something they needed? When they held hostages at Taj in Mumbai, they didn't ask for money.. they didn't mention Kashmir, they didn't mention religion.. then what might they possibly want??
Now, am not an intelligence expert or a conspiracy theorists, but I do have a brain which constantly needs to connect the dots. Can't anyone see that these are not terrorist "attacks".. this is an act of war. No.. not between nations, but between India and the "terrorist" (if that's what they choose to call themselves). These are well known guerrilla tacts to overcome a bigger, more sophisticated army. The kind of war which we never have seen before. Of course.. they won't challenge us in a "real" battle. The art of war is to play according to your strengths, not weakness, which is exactly what they are doing.
Let me take off my Indian hat, and look at the situation from a perspective of a third person. (you get good at it if you play AOE/Caesar et al.). Lets call the terrorists X. Now we have to work the facts and have a strategy to understand what they do and why they do it.
Lets have some facts:
  • America is to increase its military presence in Afganistan.
  • India doesn't hate anyone. It has a neutral attitude, ergo it doesn't hate the west, so it is not on the good books of the terrorists.. I mean X.
  • India and Pakistan have a very sensitive border.
  • India and Pakistan are densely populated and diverse, plus being from the same chunk of the continent, its hard to differentiate Indians, Pakistanis and Xs from each another.
  • X is loosing its stronghold in mid-east and Afganistan and is being forced into the Indian subcontinent.
  • India is doing absolutely nothing to resist this.. and seems unaware of this incursion.
  • Pakistan appears to be doing something, but is overwhelmed by religious extremism.. for every forward step it takes, it seems to go back two steps.
  • The whole world is suffering an economic depression and doesn't want to be bothered.
  • High profile outfits remain untouched while their human-bombs, the pawns, continue to wreak havoc on the whole world, continue to get caught, continue to die. Just imagine a chess game in which you have unlimited pawns to gambit..
  • India, Pakistan and US are the most visible players in this game, and they should each verify the authenticity and innocence of the other two countries and ascertain if they are being double crossed.
Feasible actions that can be taken (if and only if none of the major players are helping X out):
  • Put India and Pakistan on a state of war with X and declare emergency in both the countries. Dispense any logistical bureaucratic crap, that has so often hampered progress in both the countries, till the issue is resolved.
  • Let India and Pakistan co-ordinate attacks with USA. Let USA push the X overlords from the west periphery while India and Pakistan do it from the east end.
  • Put the whole world on vigil in case one of the X overlords try to hole up in one of the other countries. (I wish it would be as easy as sending a text message to get some action taken)
Well.. it's all easier said than done. I hope that atleast a common enemy brings India and Pakistan closer to resolve their personal conflicts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008 Review

Couple of days back, I received the following email:

Hi Sridhar,
I'm the co-founder of a startup,
I recently went through some of your blog entries and find your blog
interesting. I would be delighted to have you review this startup
on your blog. Here is a description of how this website serves people:

You need not necessarily provide a positive review on the site,
we would like your honest, unbiased opinion. However please
do add our URL in the review, that will make it easier for the readers to
see the site for themselves.

Thanks in advance,

Amit Meckoni

So here's one for you Amit.. you owe me one :) is a novel idea. In a nutshell:
  • You enter your trip details and ask for a rate quote.
  • Travel Agents (mostly desi ones) bid for lowest price.
  • You buy tickets directly from the travel agent quoting the lowest price.
Many Indians (in America) know that travel agents are the most inexpensive way to get your tickets to India from. Travel agents even suggest you the dates when you can travel to avail certain benefits/schemes in order to get the cheapest flight home. Although being the geek that I am, I don't see why one cannot write a script to automatically query sites like Orbitz , Travelocity , Priceline etc to get the cheapest quotes.. I dont have the inclination or the energy to write one... Calling a travel agent saves a lot of time and energy. Typically I get some travel agents name from friends/google, call them and get the quotes, and settle for one which suits my needs. automates this process.
Desicow is still in its nascent stages but am sure it will grow when it sees alot of end user participation. It depends on user generated content. You can browse through the listing of requested quotes and directly contact the travel agent offering that quote.
How does it compare to other online websites? .. well it doesn't. There is no possible way a travel agent can give you cheaper tickets than that available at (, or negotiated using (reverse bidding site)... PROVIDED you buy the tickets at the right time, you will pay more if you buy the tickets a bit earlier or bit later. Travel agents block the tickets when the price is just right (the process is a bit shady) , so it's worth getting quote from one when you are buying a ticket. The best way would be to get quotes from orbitz and desicow/travel agent and then ask for a lower price at priceline.
The review process: I asked for a rate quote for a flight from SFO to Bangalore and compared it with the rates available on other websites. The turnaround time was a day and only one travel agent responded (something which would change if it gets alot of traffic).. The rate quoted was higher than that on orbitz. Both the rates and the turnaround time were abysmal (in this age of instant "getification"). However it would unfair to judge this service it its nascent stage.. its got potential but still has a long way to go.

Some features I'd like to see implemented though:
  • Searchable requested trip list: I don't want to wade through the list to get find the quote. This would make the website more scalable.
  • I would like to see existing quotes of the trips that I requested (which were requested by someone else).
  • Trip details along with price quotes: I don't want to wait 20 hours in some god forsaken airport..
  • I want prices from various sources like orbitz etc to be listed alongside the quotes.
  • Travel agent ratings: There should be a way for the user to rate a carrier and travel agent. I have burnt my fingers couple of times.
  • Faster turn around times: Do what ever you need to do to get it done fast, even if it means calling the travel agents yourself to get the quotes.
  • Add more travel agents.
  • If a user finds a cheaper deal elsewhere, then he should list his sources.
Final verdict: Any startup that depends on user generated content needs to be jump started. To start generating large amount of data, one needs to spent alot of time selling this idea to a lot of people and getting them involved. All that needs to be done is a lot of boring marketing stuff (well.. i find it boring :) .. I think for the website to be of any use, it needs more data and definitely more travel agents. Although I dont really know what the future has in store for desicow, I certainly do hope that it would be a lot more useful next year when I book my tickets to India.