Thursday, October 31, 2013

The crazy rules requiring turning the electronic equipment off during take off and landings come to an end

FAA, at long last, has decided to change the ridiculous rules that require one to switch off their personal electronic devices for take off and landing.  It is a mind boggling mystery to me as to why the FAA put this rule in the first place.  Clearly, the rule has been difficult to enforce short of going down the aisle and checking each and every iphone, kindle or computer to make sure that it is in fact off.  I know many a fellow travellers simply turn their devices off or cover them up rather than follow the rule and turn them "off".

Interestingly, one still cannot use the cell phone on the plane.  The article suggests that it is the FCC not FAA that governs the rules on use of cell phones and FCC has not yet rendered verdict on whether it is safe to be talking on the cell phone or not during takeoffs and landings.  This is just another example of how the regulatory bodies failure to act together or coordinate their effort and come up with a ruling once and for all,

I am not arguing for removal of the rule, for the last thing I want is for the passenger sitting next to me to be yapping away while I am trying to get some sleep. But, the rules should be based on scientific rationale.  If the cell phone signal is likely to interfere with pilot communication, I can understand it.  If the cell phone signal could send the plane in a different direction, I can understand that too.  But there is no evidence pointing to this.  In fact, evidence to the contrary has been around for years.

So, let's end these bizarre rules and set the electronic devices free.  FCC, it is your time to let rationality and sanity prevail.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

From tomorrow, I start taking one of the EdX Courses

EdX founder Anant Agarwal. Photo: Jonathan Haeber of Degree of Freedom weblog

Ok, I will be the first one to admit that I am a late comer to the MOOC party.  But if you are newer still, MOOC stands for "Massive Open Online Course", and is a new movement wherein Institutions of higher learning like Harvard, UC Berkley, etc have begun to offer their course work online for any one to take, without charging any thing for it.

Majority of human suffering has one origin - ignorance, ignorance stemming out of inability to access good quality education due to economic circumstances.  So, you can imagine the promise of such a proposition where any one around the world can access education for the cost of internet access!  And when the education comes from top tier professors from top tier Universities, it makes the proposition even sweeter.

No more does an aspiring student in India or Ivory Coast or Burundi or Guatemala have to wonder if they will get a grant or scholarship to attend an institution of higher learning in the US.  They can simply sit in their home and access the same quality education available to a student who can afford to come here and take lessons in real time.

I am sure there are hurdles, and to realize the potential and understand the hurdles, I am going to take an online course myself.  I want to see if the technology holds up to its promise.  I want to see if it is personally challenging to take a course without other students surrounding me, without the kind of structure a university provides.

There are many online offerings offered by different vendors and insitutions, but the one I am interested in is EdX, which was started by Prof. Anant Agarwal.  Prof. Agarwal's vision was to release the EdX platform as a opensource platform which they realized recently.  There are some news reports which are suggesting the China is going to use this platform to open up it's higher education learning system.

EdX has a long list of courses addressing a wide variety of subject matters.  The course I am taking is Fundamentals of Clinical Trials, being offered by Prof. James Ware of Harvard.  Periodically I will be posting my experiences here.  If you are interested in the topic, you can join the course yourself - the course starts tomorrow, October 14th 2013 - and see if the MOOC movement lives up to its promise.

Yet another example of how India is a tough market for Western companies

Walmart decides to buy out Indian partner

Entering a foreign market is challenging for the best of companies.  But when a company like Walmart fails, it is time to sit up and take a look.  There will be detailed analyses of what went wrong, but I can speculate on one reason - cultural difference.  It is quite likely that the Indian partners were not a good cultural fit for Walmart.  In a 50/50 relationship (which is what is mandated by the Indian retail laws for entering the Indian market), it is often difficult to tell who is the decision maker.  Either the Indian partner was not aligned with Walmart decision making process, or Walmart was perhaps seen to want to control the key decisions in the partnership.

When Walmart has done well, as it does in many countries including Mexico, it has full control of the operations.  Walmart was forced into a 50/50 business ownership model created by Indian government at the behest of local businesses and given Walmart's penchant for strict cost controls and inventory management, the partnership was ripe for conflict.  I'm sure many are surprised that the partnership lasted as long as it did (~6 years), but it probably did as Walmart didn't really have a choice.  But perhaps a point was reached where Walmart decided that the cost of doing business with a partner was too high for them, and they would be better off keeping the business they have at the moment and walking away from the rest of the opportunity.

Another factor, some have speculated, may be perhaps it was the investigation into the investment made by Walmart in an investment vehicle created by local partner launched by Indian Government that precipitated this dissolution of partnership.  Walmart is smarting with investigations of its business methods in Mexico, and the last thing they need is for the US Government breathing down its neck for corrupt practices in another market.