Bhakt’s guide to Facebook Free Basics & why every Modi fan should oppose it

Yes you. You, who excitedly  changed your profile pic to support Digital India. You, who has very likely already “voiced your opinion on Free Basics” on Facebook. Yes, you.

So you are what the Internet calls a “Bhakt”? Well Sir, I am your nemesis, a liberal, or as you guys refer to us, “commie loving, muslim appeasing, pseudo secular, anti nationalist traitor, libtard”. Fine, I will take that without a whimper of protest because today I am not here to fight about right or left, hindu or muslim, saffron or green, Rajat Sharma or Rajdeep (I am not a fan of either), none of that. Today, we have to unite against a common enemy, Free Basics.

Yes, you have been told it’s gonna revolutionise India and bring Internet to the poor farmer in a remote part of Maharastra or the daily wage labourer in Kolar and we, the taxpayer, won’t even have to pay a penny for it. Sounds awesome, almost too good to be true. Because it is. But we will come to that later. First let’s understand the concept of….

Net Neutrality

Let’s imagine that your city has 8 lane roads, and if you have lived in Surat, it sure does. Yaay Modi. Each lane has a speed rating, 20kmph, 30,40,50, 60,80,100,150. You cannot exceed those speeds limits set for each lane. And now lets assume that the government decides to rent out these lanes to the highest bidder. Companies and retail outlets can now rent lanes to direct traffic to their stores. Anyone can rent a lane, be it Hindustan Lever, Maruti, Nike, Levis, Patanjali Ayurved,  down to your local baniya and that one PCO that still refuses to give up and die. In theory anyone with money can rent out a lane.

So each lane would only drive you to those specific stores that have paid for that particular lane. Do you see where the problem is? Let’s say Nike rents out the 120 kmph lane, while a new sports brand like HRX can only manage to rent out the 30kmph lane. Do you think people will still go to a HRX store? Or say McDonalds rents out the 80kmph lane while your local burger joint, despite making far delicious burgers, can only afford to rent the 20 kmph lane. That burger joint won’t last the next quarter. Or say Big Bazaar rents out the 150 kmph lane. Do you think your local kirana store can match that?

I guess now you are thinking “yeah alright, a few business will go bust, so what? Is mein mere baap ka kya jaata hai?”. Well, jaata hai. With small, fledging businesses going bust, only the big players will dominate. That means less competition. And less competition means bad products and service. Just ask your dad of those times in 70s when you had to wait for 3 years to get a Bajaj Scooter because Bajaj Auto had a virtual monopoly owing to it coziness with the government.

So you see, you would like your roads to remain neutral. And so should your internet because…

Back in 2004, even before startups were cool in India and the only Bansals engineers knew of were Vinod Kumar Bansal of Bansal Classes, Kota and his overbearing brother whose name I can’t recall. At that time, Ebay acquired an Indian e-commerce company Baazee.com which subsequently became ebay.in. Three years later, Sachin and Binny Bansal founded Flipkart.com and the rest as you know is history. But what if Ebay could pay Internet Service Providers (BSNL,MTNL, Airtel, Vodafone) to provide free access to their website? Or worse, what if Ebay could pay ISPs to provide faster access to their website compared to regular sites?  It is possible that Flipkart would have found it extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to compete with Ebay. Flipkart would have had to spend lot more money just to provide access instead of making investments in build the world class supply chain that they currently have. Who loses? You, the consumer. You would still be stuck with archaic Ebay to buy stuff online.

Now you may ask “But Free Basics is not throttling speeds for other sites. It is just providing some sites for free”. Sure. But two things. First, it is entirely upto Facebook to decide what sites should be available for free. And while right now, no one is throttling speeds, that may happen soon. And in case of USA, it already has. Facebook may not do it but your ISP sure as hell is dying to.

And now you might come back to me saying “Yes, that’s good for you because you can afford a broadband connection. But what about the poor farmer in Maharastra or that daily wage labourer in Kolar. You selfish, elitist, pseudo intellectual piece of shit.” 

Well firstly, there is nothing ‘pseudo’ about my intellect. Secondly, yes those people may be benefitted and Facebook would like you to believe that Free Basics is meant for those very people. But is it? Here’s the Reliance Ad for Internet.org (as Free Basics was known only months ago before it drew flak from the Indian public):

Does anything in this ad seem directed to the poor farmer in Maharastra or the daily wage labourer in Kolar? Sure, there are some sites under Free Basics that will help those disadvantaged people but first the ISPs have to invest in expanding their networks to remote locations. And Free Basics isn’t doing that. Most of the users of Free Basics will be from urban areas, school and college kids who will save up some of their pocket money that they otherwise used to buy 3G packs. Not a huge public service now, is it?

But maybe you are still not entirely convinced. Maybe you are thinking “So what if some sites pay the ISPs to provide free access to consumers. Isn’t that just another user acquisition or marketing cost? Isn’t this like getting a prime location for your store on Indiranagar 100 ft road versus having your store on 6th Main of 100 ft road?”.

No and Yes. No it’s not another user acquisition cost because it is anti competitive by nature. This has nothing to do with the value of the product or service and everything to do with how deep the pockets of the company selling that product or service is. And yes, it is kind of like having your store at a prime location versus a shitty location. But then if that’s what it is, why cloak it in altruism and garb of providing free internet to the disadvantaged. And who does it help then? Definitely not the consumer. It helps the big company that can outspend it tiny competitor. It helps ISPs like Reliance who can then make more money off you and in effect decide market outcome – it doesn’t matter whether Flipkart or Amazon provides better service, the guy who wins is the one who can pay Reliance more. Anil bhai wins, you lose. Haha.

The Internet has been so good for commerce because it is a level playing field like no other. And Net Neutrality ensure that the field remain levelled. 

Now you must be wondering, “if Free Basics is not the answer then what is? Will we not have a Digital India?”

Well, there is no reason to be pessimistic. Internet penetration in India is growing at 17% annually and we are expected to have 500m Internet users by 2017. And all of this growth is happening without any Free Basics or Internet.org. If we maintain a 17% growth, we will double the number of users every 4-5 years.

So to recap…

  1. Internet Neutrality is like “Road Neutrality”. You don’t want corporations to rent out lanes for their specific customers and slow lanes for you.
  2. Zero rating services like Free Basics are against Net Neutrality
  3. Net neutrality is good because you want a level playing field for all corporations: big or small.
  4. Free Basics will negligibly help the disadvantages rural poor because ISPs need to first extend their infrastructure to those areas for Internet to work.
  5. As it stands today, ISPs like Reliance seems to be targeting Free Basics at Urban customers and not rural ones.
  6. Internet penetration in India is already expanding rapidly at a rate of 17% without the need of Free Basics. We can and will have a Digital India with Net Neutrality

So if you love your country and don’t want it to be taken over by big business with selfish interest and protect the right of the small guy to compete in a level playing field, you MUST support Net Neutrality. Which means, you must oppose Free Basics.

CloudMagic, Todoist and Evernote : The mobile productivity trifecta

Mobiles (and tablets) are supposed to be more than just for data consumption. You should be able to get work done on them. While I do not see myself making a sales deck on my smartphone or writing 5 level nested formulae on an excel sheet with my tablet, I definitely need to read, create and reply to emails on them and keep track of meetings and tasks.

While apps for social networking (facebook, Twitter, Tweetcaster) and browsing (Chrome. What else?) are well entrenched in their popularity, emailing apps on the phone are still something we use only grudgingly. Its a necessary evil. And when it comes to task management there are even fewer people who use any app – most I know prefer writing it on a white board or Post-its or making an excel sheet (the MBA answer to all problems in life).

Like most of us, I need to be able to access my emails from anywhere. I also like to check my tasks for the day first thing in the morning. I also attend multiple calls a day and like to take notes for reference in future and tag them for easy recall. These are the 3 apps that I use for these tasks and I absolutely cannot live without them

Continue reading

The different types of Group Mates at IIM-A

A study group is perhaps the second most important thing you need to get right at IIM-A (the first being your balance sheet in the
Financial Reporting and Analysis exam). While the PGP Office forms your study group for the first trimester, for the next two trimester you have to form your own group, which is in itself a highly contentious process that often generates heart burn. Your choice of group directly affects your grades in group assignments and there are plenty of them and would also indirectly affect your grades in individual assignments if you happen to have a group full of free riders who leave everything on you. So yes, your peace of mind depends on your group. So, what are the typical group mates?  Continue reading

Lazy journalism by Aakar Patel: India’s alleged cultural apathy towards science

Now I have a love hate relation with Aakar Patel (and it’s a one way relationship at that). While I do like a few of his articles and admire the fact that he can take a contrary position and furnish good arguments to substantiate his stance, I do have issue with some of his articles -like the ones he write for Pakistan’s The Express Tribune (particularly this). But then I guess he is trying to go international and I for one wont begrudge him some ambition. But what really got me all worked up is his commentary on India’s culture of scientific curiosity or lack thereof – “Why science is not in our culture?”  Continue reading

CBR250R 3000 km Ownership Review

Well, here it comes. I have been thinking of writing this for a while now. So yes, I bought a CBR250R last October and have clocked some 3600km so far. My office is rather near to my home so don’t get to ride it as much as I would like to. The CBR250R is my first ever bike, back in school I used to ride my mom’s Kinetic Honda.

So let’s take it step by step and answer  questions that you might have in your mind

But before we get into that, let me tell you the one question I won’t answer : “Kitna deti hai?”. Sorry pal, if you are looking for mileage look elsewhere. One doesn’t just buy a CBR250R for it’s mileage. It’s a rider’s bike not a commuters bike.

Why CBR250R and not the Yamaha R15, Duke 200 or the Pulsar 200?

The R15 is too under-powered. Sure it looks great but looks isn’t all that I was looking for. The Duke looks good and has a great power to weight ratio but it was too naked a bike for my tastes. Besides, me being a rather bulky guy it wouldn’t have suited me as much. And of course its 200 cc. Pulsar 200 of course is value for money but it doesn’t have the refinement or the power I wanted.

But what tilted the scales in favour of the CBR for me was the ABS and the relative exclusivity. The ABS is one of the reasons I haven’t had an accident so far despite speeding quite a bit and braking really hard. As for exclusivity, every fifth bike is a R15 and every second bike is a Pulsar. Dukes are still fewer but not as few as the CBR250R.

That being said, if I were to buy a bike right now in the 250-300 cc category it would be the new 2013 Ninja 300 which has everything the CBR has plus better looks and an extra 50 cc. Also, Yamaha is rumoured to be launching it’s 250 cc bike, so you could wait for that.

And why not the (old)Ninja? Well I didn’t see too much value for the extra 1.5 lakhs I would be paying. The old Ninja had a dated instrument cluster which was a big turn off and while it did have extra power but to me it didn’t justify the price. But the new Ninja is definitely worth a look. I would buy it.

How good does it look in the flesh?

Pretty darn good actually. Though I would have preferred a better tail. The paint job on the Pearl Heron Blue looks good but may be a

Honda CBR250R Pearl Heron Blue

Honda CBR250R Pearl Heron Blue

little too flashy for some. The red looks good too while the black almost hides all the layers and curves on the bike.I actually don’t like the paint job on the new 2013 CBRs.

How does it ride and handle?

To be honest I won’t be able to provide a comparison with either R15 or Duke as I haven’t had the opportunity to ride either of those. That being said, the riding stance isn’t as sporty as the R15 going with the intention of it being a sports tourer, however it’s forward enough to give you good control while your thighs hug the bike. The forward stance will obviously be a problem if you ride continuously for a long time (like say 2-3 hours at a stretch) and yours palms and back will flinch in pain. Your legs also are bent while sitting which means prolonged ride will cause pain in the joints and cramps. But then all of this is expected from any sports bike. If you have a problem with these buy a cruiser.

Handling is good though a bit on the softer side, which is needed for potholed Indian roads and that too in a city like Bangalore which has speed breakers every 100 metres (I once drove over a speed breaker at over 70 kmph). The Continental GT tires are decent but the rear could do with a little more grip, particularly during high speed high lean angled turns. I suggest you replace those with a set of Pirelli Sports Demons for better grip particularly if you are fond of taking high speed turns. On the GT tires, I have so far managed a 100 km 50 degrees lean angle turn on Inner Ring Road and you can easily take most turns here at 40-50 kmph. I will s.facebook_-1640867250oon replace these tires with the PSD and let you know the results.

The softer suspension is of course a bit of an issue during cornering but Honda tried to make a trade off between regular road usage and high speed riding. You can always get the suspension setting changed to lower the damping.

Does the Combined ABS do any good? Is it useful? Is it true that ABS is only useful at very high speeds? Is it worth the extra 30k?

Let me answer the last question first. Yes, the ABS is worth every penny of the 30k you spend. First lets get some clarity on what ABS does on a bike. Put it simply, it prevents your wheels from locking up under heavy breaking. This helps because

  • Since ABS prevents your wheels from locking up, you are able to maneuver the bike while coming to a stop. This is particularly useful if you have an obstacle in front of you that you want to avoid
  • Braking distance is much lesser with ABS because the computer constantly adjust break pressure for optimal breaking. Also if your tires skid, breaking distance would be much higher because, as you would have learnt in Physics class, rolling friction > sliding friction
  • You can always break hard like a pro without worrying about skidding. That’s one less worry on your mind and you can enjoy the ride
  • ABS is even more useful in case of sudden braking where there is a tendency to squeeze the brakes all the way. In non ABS bikes that would lead to a crash
  • ABS adjusts to the surface which means even in wet roads, you would get optimal braking without skidding

You can also check out many of the videos on ABS on bikes posted in Youtube. Of course, there are some among us who think they are Rossi and have perfect braking under all conditions; to them I say “Good Luck”. Just remember that according to a US study, motorcyclists have 30 times greater chance of road accident compared to cars. But then again, you are Rossi.

The other misconception people have is that ABS is activated only at high speed. That’s patently untrue. The CBR250R ABS gets activated above 10kmph.

So why is it called Combined ABS?

Unlike most bikes with independent rear and front ABS, the Honda has a combined system where

  • Pulling the front brake only engages the front brake which has an independent ABS
  • Pulling the rear engages both the rear and front brakes and hence the “Combined” in Combined ABS. In this case, the computer decides how much breaking force to exert on each wheel. Under braking, the weight of any bike shifts forward and onto the front

    Honda Combined ABS

    wheels resulting in higher traction on the front and lower traction on the rear wheel (something like a 70:30 split between front and rear breaking force). Therefore, simply using the rear wheels to stop (in case of non C-ABS bikes) will results in much lower braking force and greater braking distance. In C-ABS, the computer distributes the breaking force between the two wheels and this results in more efficient braking and much lower braking distance.

I generally use the front brakes 90% of the time and lightly press the rear to shave off speed when needed. For very hard braking I press hard on the rear (C-ABS) brakes. From what I figured, pressing the rear brake lightly only engages the rear brakes while pressing it hard engages both brakes.

How good is it? Well I haven’t had an accident so far and we all know how people (particularly auto rickshaw drivers) drive in Bangalore. And did I mention, this is my first ever bike and yet no accident. While in theory there should be no skidding on any surface, it does skid on gravel and sand (personal experience and frightening at that)

Is it very hard to ride because of it’s weight? Hell no. This is the second thing people ask me (first, being the mileage) and almost every friend of mine had cautioned me against buying it and advised me to  go for a docile 125 cc or 150 cc instead as this would be my first bike. Yes, the bike is heavy and the weight would be a huge factor if you had to push the bike with your legs instead of turning on the sweet 250 cc engine. The bike is also slightly harder to maneuver and turn at low speeds but certainly not so hard that you will drop it. My legs aren’t the strongest around and yet I haven’t dropped it ever, even with a 90 kilo pillion on board.

The CBR250R is one the easiest bikes to ride and probably one of the best beginner bike; in fact a lot of it’s riders in US and Europe are women. The ABS makes it even more safer and easier. Go for the ABS, an extra 30k for a bike like this is nothing considering the added safety and peace of mind.

Features and Instrument Cluster

Well I have already mentioned the C-ABS, the most important feature. The instrument cluster looks really good and provides information like fuel, trip meter, tacho, digital speedo and engine temp along with a digital clock. When you start the bike, it does a self test of and the digital speedo counts down from 200 to 0.

Top Speed and Acceleration

I don’t know the top speed though it’s reportedly around 152kmph. The max I have managed was around 120+ on Inner Ring Road. Guess I will have to go to NICE Road to find the top speed. Acceleration is better than anything I have ever ridden and you will always enough grunt in reserve for fast overtaking. While the Duke has a better power to weight ratio, I have overtaken quite a few of those. A lighter rider should be able to do that even more easily.

Any problems?

Yes one. Sometimes the gear shifter refuses to come down from 2nd to 1st or neutral when I have stopped at a red light.

Final Word

Riding gear on. Ready to burn the road :)

Riding gear on. Ready to burn the road:)

I love to ride my bike and every time I get on it is special to me. I am looking to move up in a year or so, preferably a GSX 600r or CBR600RR (if those are launched) or else a CBR400R/CBR500R which are expected to be launched this year. This bike is the first big thing I bought with my own money and therefore will always remain special to me.

Why is there no Indian Steve Jobs?

It’s become rather fashionable for people to complain that our IITs and IIMs have failed to produce any Steve Jobs or Bill Gates . I hear it like a broken record particularly in TOI forums (I can empathize if you don’t read TOI, neither do I; but the comments are pure entertainment, a must read if you are bored), fueled no doubt by Aamir Khan’s redoubtable portrayal of the most condescending self righteous character in the history of Indian cinema, Rancho of 3 Idiots.

Lets sit back and think for a moment. Did Steve Jobs and Bill Gates do their work in isolation? Did they single handedly make the computer revolution? The answer is NO. They sure made a huge contribution but to make that contribution possible they had a support ecosystem, a thriving technological and economic climate not just in their country but particularly more so in the region they lived. Continue reading