Mysore: Airport in search of flights

Now that the city has an airport with no flights,  Mysore is faced with the problem of generating passenger and cargo traffic that would make it worthwhile for airlines to come in here.  A recent seminar on the issue came up with the idea that Mysore-based IT corporates and other business establishments should hold out a promise of minumum seats occupancy to lure the airlines.

The idea doesn’t seem all that bright or workable because no airline can be expected make its business decisions on the minimum seats guaranteed  by a few corporates. Anyway,  no such assurance can be binding on individual companies.  Besides, airlines are reported to be looking for a state subsidy by way of a cut in fuel tax (27 perecent in Karnataka).

Air-traffic projection by Infosys has it that 800 of its employees  would use air services every week to Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. To be meaningful such projection ought to be able to give a break-down, city-wise, and also in terms of seat-occupancy on weekdays,  and weekends.

It doesn’t require much study to say that much of the corporate employees traffic out of Mysore is on weekends. Check the Chennai Shadabthi bookings from Mysore on Friday/Saturday. Viewed in this perspective, Mysore could at best function a weekend airport, to start with.

Among other wild ideas that spring to mind:
1) Make Mysore a cargo hub for carrying  vegetables, fruits, flowers, and other perishables from distrcts and nearby Nilgiris to  major market centre. This would need deep-freeze storage facility.
2) Airlines operating from Mysore would do well to  look at traffic to tier-2 destinations such as Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Bellary, Mangalore, Tirupathi, Cochin.
3) The Airports Authority of India  could consider developing  a shopping complex for air passengers and also local residents, in view of the relative proximity of the airport to the city limits.
4) Doubling the railway track could attract air traffic from towns on railway route.
5) Early completion of the Mysore-Bangalore expressway would make Mysore a credible alternative for air passengers in Bididi, Kengari and other Bangalore suburbs on the Mysore-end.

TED-India Mysore meet

‘Nice, but not excellent ; and TED is in the business of excellence ‘ –  this is how  a  participant  summed up the recent TED-India Mysore meet. The participant,  describing herself as a TED virgin,  blogged the five-day meet.

Excerpts : Easy applause was abundant and standing ovations proffered to individuals who,  in all reality, were small fry in the scale of the battle which India faces.

Some  people whose ideas are most radical and influential in the developmental world – whether through NGOs,  the law,  journalism and activism – were conspicuous by their absence.

Shashi Tharoor,  in his talk, used a ” pedestrian cliché about India’s pluralist democracy, which was true but missed some extremely important political points and was as smooth as Tony Blair in 1997″.

A qawwali  would have been far more illustrative of India’s holistic musical culture than the Sindhi-African dance troupe whose entertainment value was,  at best, dubious.

I wondered, a fair few times,  how many people noticed the women sweeping the lawns with back-breaking brooms, or how many people smiled and spoke to the women waiting to clean the loos in the Infosys campus, where no one is allowed to drink, have sex or walk on the lawn (Did anyone actually read those House Rules).

The  excerpts,  selective,  and, arguably,  taken out of context,  put  TED meet in a negative light. This wasn’t the  blogger’s over-all  impression –  “there was so much positive about TED India that fills my last five blog entries that it was important for me to reflect on what could have been different.”

I plead guilty to highlighting  her negatives.   As a Mysore resident with a sense of entitlement ,  I have my own grievance. TED-India meet was held on the Infosys campus,  Mysore .  It could as well have been held at Melbourne or Manhattan,  so far as Mysore residents were concerned. Here was a unique global event  hosted in our town,  and we weren’t allowed to be a part of it. That most Mysore residents hadn’t even heard of TED   was reason enough to initiate them to such unique  happening .

Shouldn’t Mysore residents benefit from the proceedings ?  Head of the district administration saw merit in this,  and took up our plea with the event managers.  As an upshot ,  I had a call from  Sameer (who said he  took care of  webstreaming  TED talks ) .  And I suggested to him that the TED proceedings at Infosys campus could be  relayed through closed-circuit network on  a screen set up  at a public place  (Institute of Engineers hall)  for the benefit of  interested local residents.

Sameer  mentioned something  webstreaming  TED talks live, for free,  courtesy IndiaTimes.  All one needed was the password and Internet connection.   Sameer couldn’t have known the Mysore realities – 1) most of us here  subscribe to  ‘limited’ broadband access, which is cheaper ;  and  2)  power supply, subject to routine shutdown , was particularly erratic  in Mysore those days.

Hence, the plea for  close-circuit telecast at a public hall.  Wouldn’t it  further  the TED agenda of   ‘spreading  ideas’  ?  ‘Yeah,  but these ideas are expensive,’  quipped  Sameer.  Those coming to the TED India meet from the world over are believed to have paid $2,500 per seat ; and the Mysore meet had been sold out weeks in advance.  Sameer ,  however,  said I could listen to TED talks  free on my PC ; and  offered to e-mail me the relevant password.  I wasn’t pleading  my individual access,  but  thanked him,  nonetheless,  for the  offer.  But then  I didn’t hear  from Sameer after that call, anyway .

Of mimic tweets, and proxy blogs

A Mumbai-based tech media reporter and spare time satirist started (Oct 6) Twitter account ‘Shashi Tharoor Fake’. Why ? Because, she says, satire enriched her soul. Besides, doing it at Shashi Tharoor’s expense gave her media mileage. But Mr Tharoor wasn’t amused with her initiative for soul-enrichment . He had her Twittered out within weeks. Someone else who mimic tweeted Nandan Nelekani had the account – http://www.twitter.com/nandannilekani suspended.

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‘Techgirl’ who authored the short-lived ‘Tharoor Twitter’ (not to be confused for the real one maintained by the ‘cattle-class’ minister himself) was evidently on to something that had been tried out some five years back in the UK through blogs. Twitter wasn’t around then. Tim Ireland, a web marketing guy,  sought to get elected representatives in Britain to interact online with their constituents.

He wanted to initiate MPs into blogging.   Not many bought his line – “It’s not easy getting people off their arse”.  To tackle MPs who didn’t have their own blog or seem to care for one Tim  evolved the concept of running ‘proxy’ blogs.  He persuaded some proactive constituents to blog on behalf of their MPs.

Before he set up his own blog,  Keith Vaz,  a Goa-born MP from Leicester, a constituent ran  an unofficial blog in the name of the MP.  The blogger put it on record, “I’m not Keth Vaz, nor am I a member of his staff; not in anyway associated with him”. Aim of the Keith Vaz proxy blog was to let his constituents know what their MP was is up to.  “This is a job he (MP) should be doing himself”,  said the blogger, adding that he would be happy to close shop,  if Mr Vaz chose to run a blog on his own.

Tim’s proxy blog sought to encourage politicians to take to the web; help them see the value of maintaining a blog,  as a resource material,  as a portal to inform constituents about their work on an ongoing basis.  With the frequency of posts the blogger politician has  potential to reach a wider audience.

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A constituent of Labour MP Jim Cousins ran a proxy blog that declared: “This blog is not run by Jim Cousins; nor does he endorse it.  Maybe Cousins doesn’t even know of it;  if he ever finds out, he can have it”.  Far from trying to shut out the blog, the MP’s aides got in touch and  offered resource materials for the proxy blog in the form of FAQs on Jim’s views and copies of other materials on various matters.  This led to a meeting between Cousins and the blogger. While agreeing  the blog would be a very useful means to communicate with his  constituents Jim wasn’t prepared to take the blog over yet.

The Guardian wrote a number of bloggers took to Tim Ireland’s  proxy blog model . Besides Jim Cousins,  there were blogs  dedicated to six other British MPs,  most of them ,  not friendly.  The moral is:  if you don’t launch your own blog, someone might do it for you.

Classroom blogs

Many of us  get excited  reading  about  innovative  ideas/practices  adopted by others, elsewhere.  Some  rush to blog about it. I usually sign off such posts with a stock query,‘why can’t we?’. We have a blog –  Giving It A Shot –  dedicated to why-can’t-we  posts.

We blogged about  California Youth Energy Services  that engages students  to visit homes in their communities  to conduct energy audits and offer simple energy-saving repairs.  Ashwin picked on the idea for trying it out in Mysore.  With help from some teachers,  he has initiated a training programme for students of  Vidyavardhaka school,Kuvempunagar, in conducting household energy audit .

While he is at it,  we would like to see  Ashwin  volunteer  his expertise in IT applications  for initiating his school contacts into  what they call  Edublogging

Schoolblog 002Teachers,  notably in some Kendriya Vidyalayas,  are familiar with web usage. Principal of a Trivandrum school is quoted in their website  as saying, “Blogomania has hit the portals of KV Pattom too!…I wish all the students and staff members to be part of this ‘techno’  milestone in the history of our Vidyalaya”.

But then school websites , as a teaching tool,  have limitations.  Website maintenance and updating  call for additional work by teachers. In blogs such labour is in-built. Working a blog is simpler and more straight-forward.  A blog,once set up, is sustained by input from  participant teachers and students.

As a teaching tool, a  blog can be used for keeping class-room discussions going  online,  beyond school hours. Teachers can build a blog or start a new topic for discussion by simply typing the text into a box and clicking  ‘publish’  button.

Other benefits of a class-room blog:

1)   It facilitates feedback – a teacher can react to what his sutdents write on a given  topic;  and students can respond to each other leaving  comments online.

2)  Enables teachers to initiate  discussion among students on  issues and concerns of public interest; and to assign students projects that entail Internet search.

3)  Teachers and students are likely to put a lot more thought to what they blog,  when they realise that their writings are open to scrutiny by other students,  and parents as well.

4)  A blog facilitates networking with peers in other schools,  in other parts of the country and the world.

Case for Doordarshan Farming channel

Scene-1

farmweeklyCanegrowers association in Mysore  and  neighbouring  districts  publish a  farm weekly – Raitha Dwani – to share information on farming,  notably,  cane and paddy.  The one-year-old publication plans to increase its subscriber base,  from 1,000 to 5,000 farmers  in six months. Much too modest a goal; and,  presumably, not cost effective either.

Scene-2

farmweekly 002In  neighbouring Tamilnadu  they have a website –  Chandhai.com –  that seeks to bridge buyer-seller gap  caused by  lack of information on commodity prices,  poor marketing,  exploitative middle-men  and inadequate infrastructure.  Online market such as chandhai.com connects buyers and sellers for meaningful trade.

The website provides information pertaining to commodity prices,  cropping pattern,  seeds and fertiliser availability,  agro-based business opportunities,  veterinary,  organic farming,  self employment training,  herbal medicines,  value addition in farm produce and  farm credit. But then the digital divide and illiteracy limits the reach of cyberfarming  among  farmers in  our country.  An overwhelming majority stay untouched by cyberfarming.

Scene-3

farmweekly 005A Tamil channel – Makkal TV –  runs a phone-in programme – Uzhavar Sandhai – that covers the same ground,  and,  given widespread TV viewership and extensive use of cell phone even in rural areas,  telefarming of the type adopted by  Makkal TV  has a reach among illiterate farmers.

At a recent Uzhavar Sandhai programme a  farming expert, responding  to viewers’ questions, came up such info.:

1) Fruit-growers in Cumbum (TN),  where they grow grapes on 2,000 plus acres,  should  come together to put up a  juice-making unit.  In the absence of such value-addition the farmers are constrained  to  sell their grapes  for  Rs.15 a kg .

2) A farmer seeking guidance  on  growing   lemon is advised  to visit Gudur (AP)  where they grow lemon of varied grades on a large scale.

3)  A retired army officer in Chennai has set up a unit that markets lemon concentrate in small sachets, with capacity to make  two glasses of juice.  The sachets have potential for retailing  at grocery stores,  pavement paan-bidi shops,  and platform vendors in railway stations.

4)  With ever-increasing vegetable prices,  people in cities take to roof-top kitchen gardening.  A variety of vegetables,  and spinach, can be grown on roof-top,  with no more than  two feet deep soil cover.  The expert on TV spoke of someone who has grown even  plantains on roof-top.

During an hour long programme  they can’t take very many questions  from viewers.  Besides, Makkal TV runs Uzhavar Sandhai only once a week,  Friday.  There may be a case for such interactive  programming on a daily basis;  even for a full-fledged farming channel.  We have channels dedicated to healthcare,  religious discourse and bhajans.  Why not a TV channel to address concerns of farmers –  about marketing their produce,  procurement of seeds, fertiliser, opportunities for agro-business,  horticulture,  livestock and farm equipment maintenence?

Ad. and sponsorship may be  inhibiting factors for  private channels.  Doordarshan, which apparently has no such concerns and is  not dirven only by ratings  coud think in terms of  a full-fledged channel for farmers.  A krishi channel  would get more ad. revenue for DD than the  Lok Sabha channel.

Nandan Nilekani ‘on the bench’

Infosys guy Nandan Nilekani found himself  put ‘on the bench’ right on his first day in Parliament. It was his fault, in a way – Nilekani’s.  He came to the House with a laptop without any reserve power.  Besides a power socket he needed a screen and projector to make a presentation on his national plan to give every Indian a degital identity.

What folllowed is best described in Nilekani’s own words: “The next couple of minutes were a complete jolt for me. I was completely in a tizzy… A Joint Cabinet Secretary Committee was set up to judge the feasibility of my request.  The Under Secretaries for the Ministries of Power, IT and Broadcasting will prepare a Viability Report after scrutinizing National Security threats to my request.  This was because the power socket comes under Power, laptop comes under IT and projector comes under Broadcasting”.

I had this account on Nilekani’s ministerial avatar forwarded by a  blogger friend.  The honourable minister for our digital identity has been given a presentation slot three months from now. Which,  presumably,  should also give him time enough to acquire a wardrobe with kurtha  by an Itallian designer. The Milan-based kurtha designer has been recommended to Mr Nilekani by fellow MP Mohd. Azharuddin.  The new minister in the Manmohan cabinet was reminded, by a fellow minister rising on a point of order, that Mr Nilekani was not at Infosys and the corporate dress code he had followed there, flashy dark suit,’ did not go well with the image of a minister who should live to serve the common man and should be less ostentatious in his habits’.

The next time he shows up at Lok Sabha, Mr Nilekani  better be in kutha.  About his Day One in the House Nandanji reportedly text-messaged Murthy, “You won’t believe it but these guys work just like us. I am on a National Bench for the next three months!’

I use a mini laptop

scan0004 Mini laptop or the Netbook,  as they call it, is light and handy, energy-efficient and cheaper than a standard laptop.  But would it really popularise computer usage,  the way cell phone did our telecom network?  There aren’t very many households in India that don’t use cell phone. 

Considering the value for money,  the market expects Netbooks to grow, not only in metros but also in Tier-II and III cities.  The targeted customers  for Netbooks will be students,  says L. Ramprasad,  vice-president, Transactional Consumer Sales, Lenovo India.  The mini,  they say,  would be available for Rs.23,000 to Rs.25,000.

The price may not be much for a computer;   but it’s still much, period. The price needs to be lower,  for   average urban households to get interested enough to  go in for the gadget.  Most Internet users rely on their office system or go to the neighbourhood Internet kiosk to check mail. Unlike the cell-phone , the Netbook is unlikely to widen the Internet reach and penetrarion.  The cell-phone caught on,  in slums and swanky suburbs alike, because of pricing plus product positioning.  Price range of cell-phone varies from Rs.3,000 to Rs.30,000.  Our domestic help picked up a used one for Rs.1,000.

 I can’t see her using a computer,  which still remains priced out of much of our population.  Affordablity is an issue even in middle-class households, with competing product priorities and demands on their rupee.  Rs.23,000 is still much for them.  Make it Rs.10, 000,  and you’ve  scope for widening the broadband reach in our country.

100_0795I bought a mini-laptop for $200, Taiwanese ASUS-Eee PC,  in the US,  months before recession set in.  I don’t know how much they sell it for nowadays.  When I went in for the mini-laptop it wasn’t available in stores. Interested customers had to order it online and the laptop was Fedexed to your place from a Target warehouse.  Such elaborate procedure was , presumably,  a promotional drive before they place the product in the market. 

The mini-laptop is okay, and eminently suited for the use of the likes of yours truly. I blog with it,  Google,  send and get e-mail, Skype, transfer photos to computer from a digital camera, and use scanner .  But I can’t  play video-game or burn music CDs ,  which are the features most students look for in a laptop .  Pricing is unlikely to be an issue with students who can’t do without such features.  My only  problem with the mini laptop  is  the screen size.  I got round  it by  connecting my laptop  to  an old desktop screen.