Thursday, June 30, 2011

Test matches

ICC has recently announced its Futures Tours Program which gives overview of the cricketing tours and number of Test matches/ ODIs/ T20s till 2020. One of the thing which ICC could have avoided is 2 test series, as they often do not result in meaningful conclusion. With waning popularity of test cricket, meaningless series is last thing ICC could ask for.

Overall popularity of test cricket, especially crowds in stadiums, has been decreasing over last decade. Apart from England and Australia stadiums are hardly full for test matches, not even in 'cricket-crazy' India. So what could be possibly done to pump up the crowds in stadium? Few ideas based on last Cricinfo podcast and article I had read some time back (I couldn't find article :( )!

Most important sports these days are 'Events'. They are marketed and presented to the audience in nice package as something which would like to have as a part of lifestyle. Take example of EPL, which markets itself as best football league and as a great way to spend Saturday evening. Or tennis Grand Slams, which people aspire to go and watch. With busy lifestyles, it's important to have such sporting occasions on weekends/ holidays, when people can go and watch it. Football matches are played on weekends or at nights during weekdays. Grand Slams, F1, Tour de France are all arranged in European summer, the time when people usually take big vacation.

Even cricket matches in England and Australia are scheduled in summer time, when people can come and watch matches whole day. Test matches in early summer, in say May hardly draw any crowds. So its the occasion which people want to associate with! Boxing Day Test match at Melbourne or Lord's Test. Unfortunately, BCCI fails to create such aura about Test matches. People would flock stadiums if the sporting event is marketed properly. Take example of recently concluded World Cup. People were ready to pay anything just to soak the atmosphere in stadium. IPL which is held during holidays thrives on massive crowds in stadium.

While hosting any test match its imperative that there should be weekend in between. There have been instances in the past when BCCI had scheduled test matches which were between Monday and Friday. It's impossible to get good crowds for such matches. Ideally, as is the case in England, test matches should start on Thursdays.

Now about creating event around test matches. With many people taking holidays during Winter, it won't be very difficult task. Wouldn't it be great to have fixed test centres and dates coinciding with festivals or holidays. For example, how about having Pongal Test in Chennai every year or Republic Day test in Delhi or say Diwali test in Mumbai. If such 'events' are carefully nurtured, people could even think of including such test matches into their itinerary of trips during winter time, just like people plan their trips as per big tennis or football tournaments.

More importantly stadium facilities should be improved a lot. If people have to stay in the stadium for the entire day, it should be comfortable outing with friends and family rather than ordeal of 7 hours in scorching sun. Grass banks and barbecues would be welcome.

Problem is that BCCI takes Indian audience for granted and there is no effort to improve overall experience of cricket watching. I hope BCCI would make most of it's overflowing coffers for this purpose.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Data v/s voice

I came across this article today. It shows how voice is contributing smaller and smaller part of overall network traffic. With increasing penetration of IP telephony, this share is further slated to go down. This is particularly true about fixed-line, as the usage of wired telephone has been decreasing over the time.

This trend is increasingly being seen in the wireless networks as well. Data traffic on mobile networks has overtaken voice data way back in December, 2009, way before India and China had 3G networks. So with launch of 3G networks in India and China (which are fastest going markets), today data traffic must be exceeding voice traffic manifold.

Voice calls are increasingly routed through VoIP, with Skype, Gtalk voice chat or Facetime. In my recent trip to Taiwan, I bought 3G card for a week which was mainly used for data usage rather than voice. With availability of such fast network, calling could be done cheaply over VoIP through Skype or any other software, rendering attractive voice plans unnecessary. With this trend continuing, going forward mobile companies better focus on data plans rather than voice.

This is particularly important in India, where cut-throat competition in mobile markets has reduced call rates and ARPUs of mobile companies have plummeted. In such scenario, companies are increasingly focussing on value added services, especially data-based services. With low computer and broadband penetration in India, mobile could be preferred way to access the Internet.

This finally brings me to something which prompted me to write this blog. Strategies of 2 mobile companies, Uninor and MTS, both of which entered India around same time (they got licenses through A. Raja's spectrum allocation). Uninor chose strategy to focus on voice plans and offered attractive voice plans. Their call rates are really cheap and strategy seems to be to get as many customers as possible, irrespective of ARPUs. On the other hand, MTS has focussed on data plans. Their advertisements are about lightening fast Internet through data cards or mobile. Thus, over the long run MTS model seems more successful, especially in India, where people are cost conscious. With faster Internet speeds and cheaper mobile phones with 3G capabilities, people would be shifting to VoIP from voice calls, as calls from say Skype to Skype are free. So one can make unlimited calls with fixed dataplan.

Thus, in my opinion, MTS or any other mobile service provider which focuses on data would be able to sustain competition over longer period rather than someone like Uninor which is focussing only on data.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trip to Republic of China

To clarify about the title, 'Republic of China' is Taiwan, not the mainland China. Mainland China is called 'People's Republic of China', which has capital Beijing. I came to know this when I got the visa, which mentioned the country I was going to visit is officially called 'Republic of China'. This name is result of some interesting history of the island. So before I narrate about my journey to this country, let me give you some background about the place.

Taiwan is small island on the south of Mainland China. It was part of China in the first half of 20th century. After World War 2, China was ruled by Chiang Kai-Shek. Mao's communist revolution forced him to flee mainland China and he moved his government to small island of Taiwan. Chiang Kai-Shek declared that they are real China and named themselves as 'Republic of China'. Even USA, which opposed communist rule in China, officially recognised Taiwan as the 'real' China and they were given seat in United Nations. Of course, going forward, the relations between USA and Mao's China improved and mainland China were reinstated in UN. So China till date considers Taiwan as part of itself and thus, Taiwan is not recognised as separate country by many countries under China's influence. Enough of history.

Taiwan is not a place which comes to your mind as travel destination. First thing which comes to mind about Taiwan is electronics. And hence when my friend suggested about travelling to Taiwan, I was wondering what would be there in that country to see. But when I explored about the country on the net, I was pleasantly surprised to know how much the country had to offer. And so began the process of applying for visa.

With only 2 weeks to go for the trip, getting visa was race against time. Taiwanese consulate is in Delhi and they are usually very particular about documents. I sent printouts of my hotel bookings, flight tickets through my agent. But unlike other countries, Taiwan embassy wanted hotel booking details to be faxed from Taiwan to India. Now, that was arduous task. I mailed hotels to fax booking details, but they didn't reply. So I decided to call up the hotel and explain the need 2 fax. And talking to the hotel guys, who hardly knew English, was hell of a task. But somehow they understood and faxed me booking. Now this was on Friday, week before I was supposed to leave. So time was really running out considering that visa processing would take 2 days and it has to be then couriered to Mumbai from Delhi. But that was not all. Embassy folks were not happy with my account statements. They accepted printout of my Standard Chartered statements, but not with IDBI ones. They wanted me to get 'stamped' statements of IDBI bank. So I had to go to IDBI branch and get statements 'stamped'. Thankfully, in spite of being sarkari bank, people over there were really helpful. Now this was on Tuesday and I had almost lost hopes of getting visa within time. But thankfully my visa got ready on Wednesday and I was ready to fly :)

Taiwan is a modern country with lot of scenic places. Often the journey from Airport to the city provides a glimpse of what the country has to offer. And Taipei didn't disappoint me. Distance of 40 km from Airport to Taipei city centre was covered in 20 minutes by High Speed Rail. Overall commute in Taipei was very easy with Google Maps and well connected metro/bus network. Even travelling around Taiwan is easy. With High Speed Rail you can reach from north to south of the island in just one and half hour. Pretty cool for distance of 300+ km! So you could be based out of Taipei and travel around island without much hassle.

So we stayed at hotel opposite Taipei Main station which made really easy for us to travel around. I was really impressed by Museum in the outskirts of the city. When Chiang Kai-Shek fled to Taiwan, he took artefacts and historical documents with him. So apparently Taipei museum contains more historical things about China than mainland China. Porcelain ware was really impressive with even 500 year old artefacts were as good as new.


East coast of Taiwan is rocky and has many good scenic places. Road which winds along east coast is sandwiched between mountain range and Pacific, providing beautiful scenery. There are some great rock forms on the way. The place called Jiufren where this journey ended was a tad disappointing. The place was commercialised hill station like say Lonavala.


One thing I would like to mention is Taiwan has awesome 3G network. We got 3G card, which cost us less than Rs. 500. And great connectivity everywhere at breakneck speed. Even at mountain tops n national parks. We could stream video on youtube on hill stations or check in on Facebook from mountain top. It also helped us to navigate around Taiwan, as we could access google maps from everywhere.

One of the largest national parks in Taiwan, Yangmingshan is in the outskirts of Taipei, which could be reached in 40 minutes from City Centre. This national park has many good mountain trails and hot water springs. We decided to trek Mount Cising, highest peak in Nothern Taiwan. Weather was cloudy, but the view along the trail was really beautiful. Along the way we met few old ladies who were singing mountain songs in Chinese. Reminded me of China episode of Lonely Planet. Good part about the national parks in Taiwan is that they are well connected. So on our way back, when it started raining, we could get back to proper tar road around 250 meters away from us and catch bus to the visitor centre. Hot water springs provided a great way to relax after the trail. Quite an experience in itself!

Every trip should include visiting local markets n trying local cuisines. And Taiwan is known for its exotic food items. On the first day itself we tried Oyster Omlet at Shilin night market. There way few extremely exotic dishes like Snake Soup at Huaxi Night Market. But because of lack of knowledge of Chinese language I decided to skip it as none of the menucards were in English. As many people are aware, actual Chinese food is quite different from Indian Chinese. I can't forget the taste of meat curries n rice. Really awesome! Special thanks to Himanshu for teaching me to eat with chopsticks. Tricky thing, but at least I have learnt basics.

The weather throughout our trip was cloudy. We were waiting for the sun to come out, so that we can go to Taipei 101, second highest tower in the world. But with no sunlight in sight, we decided to go ahead with our plan and visit Taipei 101 in spite of cloud cover. It was stunning view from the top. One could see entire Taipei city from the top, rolling into mountains of Yangmingshan. It was totally paisa vasool view, with clouds floating below. On the last day, we travelled to north of Taiwan for few more rockforms at Yeliu. Some rocks like the 'Queen's head' are wonders of nature.

It was a fun travelling to such less-explored location. Great example of how country can have good infrastructure along with keeping its natural beauty. Public transport is really convenient and comfortable. How much I wish to have such transportation in Mumbai. Trip has generated interest about Chinese Language. Should be an interesting language to learn with pictorial script and tones! Overall a great country to visit. If you want to go to modern country with history and nature, Taiwan is the place to be!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Password

I had decided to start blogging once again and start with post about Taiwan. But I have been procrastinating for a month now. So starting with 1 random post about thing which came to my mind while logging onto my online bank account.

Why do banks or any other authority ask us to change our password regularly? They claim its for added security. But how?

Password I have is something which I only know. I don't write is down anywhere. So there is no question of password being stolen and being used by hacker in future (unless bank fears that password would get stolen from them). If hacker is using brute force, the probability of cracking old and new password remains the same. Is spyware the possible reason? I am not sure. On the contrary changing password creates unnecessary hassles and people tend to forget new ones.

So why does one need to change password frequently?