Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chicago Fire: Lives that could have been saved...

Yesterday, two of Chicago's firefighters perished when the walls of an "abandoned" warehouse caved in on them while they were looking for possibility of any humans (homeless people) that could have taken shelter in the building. I wonder if human detection technology can be used by firefighters to detect human presence in a building without entering the building. Similar technology is already being used for following purposes:
 . Detecting humans (being smuggled) in shipping containers
 . Detecting trapped humans in collapsed buildings due to earthquake

For example, check..

Moreover, the building had a known history of building code violations. If firefighters can be given this information at the time of the emergency call or on their way to the building (using a on-vehicle computer as cops cars do), then the fire chief can make a call whether to send in the guys inside the building or on the roof.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Business Idea - Automate Sending Birthday Gifts

My wife and I don't have any kids so far but we go to (on average) one birthday party of our friends' kids every month. I am assuming for couples with kids this number would be at least 2 to 3. Now with every party, one needs to shop for a gift. You drive to a store, you try to find a gift suited for kid's age in the budget you set up.... moreover, we are not even sure which toys are "most popular" for kids of a particular age group. In all, I feel its the most tedious part of going to a party. I realize that for some people it may be a joy shopping for gifts but I suspect it will be a small percentage of gift shoppers. I verified the "tedious" nature of this task with a couples with kids. So here's a business idea...

How about you get a gift (nicely wrapped) "automatically selected and shipped" at your house a couple or so days before you have to go the birthday party? No driving to shops and hassle of finding something in your budget!

Here's one suggested way on how it could work:

1. Let's say an online toy vendor (amazon?) starts this "free" service in which you enroll.
2. You provide logistics information: shipping address, credit card, and a default budget for gifts.
3. Amazon also provides an online calendar. 
4. Anytime you are invited to a birthday party, you add an event on the calendar which includes date of event, sex and age of birthday kid. You may also optionally set a different budget for that kid (let's say he/she is the kid of your best friend etc.)
5. Amazon figures out the "most popular" toy for the kid in that age range and ships it to you a few days before the party. This is the step that saves you a lot of trouble!
6. Since the calendar is stored with Amazon, it already has the data populated for the next year. Voila!

I think this presents significant value proposition for both end customers and Amazon and here is how:

 . creates brand stickiness
 . allows them to capture a "new" market segment (parents who otherwise would have shopped at a local store for a gift)

End customers: 
  . makes their life easy AT NO ADDED COST! 
  . Considering amazon does not charge state tax (for california at least for now...though this could change in future) at least customers in California enjoy a cool ~10% discount.

Thoughts/comments welcome... I am most curious to know if birthday gift shopping is a hassle or not for you. 


Monday, October 11, 2010

Order of retrieval of Chile miners...

I am sure most of you (if not everyone) is aware of Chile miners situation... they have been stranded more than 2000 feet below earth's surface for about 2 months now and will be rescued this week by using a special capsule. Now the catch is that the capsule can hold one person at a time... so given that there are 33 miners what should be the order of evacuation... note that these folks have been down there for 2 months now so they must be in an emotionally fragile condition and moreover there is always a possibility of things going wrong between the first and the last retrieval. 

Given all of the above, if you were in charge of figuring out the order of retrieval, how would you do it?

After you have thought of your approach, check theirs at:

(I think their approach is very practical... this could very likely be due to consulting from NASA folks).

In case you are wondering how important is order of evacuation, watch the movie "The Great Escape"...

Comments welcome...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Problem with USB thumb drives...

... is that you don't find them when you need'em. So when do you really need the thumb drives... it is when you have to transfer data from your laptop/desktop/notebook to another computer. Then, why not put pre-package the machines with a thumb drive so that you always them by your side when you need them. I am pretty sure that at least desktop and laptop have enough real estate to house a thumb drive.


Thursday, May 27, 2010


Not sure if you have heard of this company before... at least I hadn't until it was mentioned in a course on strategy in my MBA classes. MediaFLO is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qualcomm. Below I present a quick overview of the technology and my view on their current strategy.


FloTV is a technology that enables "broadcast" of TV channels to mobile devices (similar to channels you receive on your TV through DirecTV or Dish). Unless you have signed up with ATT or Verizon FloTV service, today you cannot "browse" TV channels on your mobile and then watch a channel you like. FloTV enables this. Even though current 3G technologies permit broadcast of video, it is a non-optimal solution i.e., it uses substantial air resources. Given that cell tower load has increased substantially in recent years primarily due to popularity of smartphones, service providers like ATT can barely maintain their voice/data quality and as such using the airwaves for "always-on" transmission of video  is clearly not an option.

Note that FloTV is designed to work on a "separate" spectrum altogether (which is owned by Qualcomm of course) and as such FloTV will not impact voice/data quality on existing spectrum for service providers. This is the key advantage. 


MediaFLO markets their product as a "platform" that enables video content-delivery over air to be eventually seen on mobile devices (which is not only limited to cell phones - it could be purpose-built devices in your car to watch video etc.).


Verizon (April 2007)
ATT (May 2008)


1.  Marketing (red)

Its interesting to see how little ATT/Verizon spend on MediaFLO marketing even though this could be a revenue generating service for them. To me it seems, they jumped into this technology a little too early (peer-pressure?).

2.  Coverage (red)

As a subscriber, I'll not be happy if I paid $30/month for this service and it stops working when I travel to other cities.

3. Cell phone manufactures (red)

For reasons mentioned earlier, only limited phones have MediaFLO technology (iPhone for one does not have it).



DVB-H (European standard, backed by Nokia)
IMB (Integrated Mobile Broadcast; Endorsed by Vodafone, T-mobile, Orange, SingTel).
ATSC/NH (Advanced Television Systems Committee - Mobile/Handheld). 
ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting - Terrestrial)

[I'm not including pros and cons of each here; if you are interested in knowing about this, please let me know]


Would MediaFLO be more valuable 
(a) as a division of Qualcomm vs. a standalone company vs. a division of a cellular network operator vs. a division of a cable/satellite operator vs. ???

My answer:  For now, being a division of Qualcomm and later maybe as an independent company (my initial answer was an independent company but I changed it while typing my answer :-)).

First, lets look at who is included in the ecosystem of MediaFLO  -- content-providers, wireless service providers, cell phone manufacturers and end-users (in that order).

Content is _the_ key in the current media world. As the margins on delivery medium (cable, satellite) are thinning out, the cable/satellite operators are moving towards owning the content (vertical integration). This was evident by Comcast's recent acquisition of NBC.

ISPs - they would love to enable any revenue generating service. Question for them is at what cost and how would it affect (if at all) the quality of their existing data/voice services.

Cell phone manufacturers could care less what technology they are embedding in the cell phone to enable mobile video as long as the technology is not expensive (could affect the manufacturer margin) and makes cell phone bulky. An exception to above is when cell phone manufactures have their own favorites (i.e., Nokia for DVB-H, a European standard). Amidst competing technologies, device manufacturers don't really know which technology to include in their product. This has been the biggest challenge IMHO so far in promoting broadcast video over cell phones and as such, I think this is the critical link in the value chain. 

End users could also care less whether the live feed they receive on their cell phone is by using MediaFLO technology or something else (similar to the way we don't care how the wireless TV signal comes to our home).  All they care about is following 3 things: content (which channels etc.), quality and price. 

Given above, ...

1. MediaFLO cannot be part of cable operators like Comcast. Even though it would give access to content, it won't work well with existing customers like ATT/Verizon. (Comcast/ATT/Verizon compete on Internet/Voice front). Similar argument holds for MediaFLO being part of satellite operators like DirecTV or DISH.

2. MediaFLO cannot be a division of any cellular network operator as then pretty much it cannot sell its technology to a competing cellular network operator.

3. MediaFLO is best not part of Qualcomm as then it may not be able to have its technology embedded in cell phones made by world's largest cell phone manufacturers -- Nokia/Samsung/Motorola who are clearly against Qualcomm's monopoly. [I contradict myself here but I'll explain why I decided to go with Qualcomm later].

4. I do not see advantages for MediaFLO being an independent company. The only advantage perhaps is the delinking from Qualcomm (which is seen as the bully in town). Another advantage could be more subtle though important, is that of culture. Qualcomm is a company with strong licensing bent and having a strong engineering and litigation culture… I am wondering what options are off the table due to this association (I do not have any evidence to support my claim).

On a related note, MediaFLO announced recently (see their 2009 10K excerpt at the end) that it will be marketing directly to the consumer (presumably due to lack of marketing by ATT/Verizon). To me this strategy seems flawed, as I see MediaFLO as just an infrastructure service and it does not currently fall into customer criteria (content, quality and price) for using any broadcast video service. Quality perhaps. One can, however, argue the very successful "intel inside" marketing campaign -- a criterion that was used by consumers to buy intel-chipset based computers. But that situation was different in the sense that Intel had the bargaining power (vis-a-vis computer manufactures) whereas in this case arguably the cell phone manufacturers have the bargaining power (vis-a-vis MediaFLO). 

5. This leaves us with following choice --  part of another company (couple of more options here: cell phone manufacturers or content providers).  

First, I'll explore on the MediaFLO and cell phone manufacture angle…

As mentioned earlier, I strongly believe cell phone manufacturers are critical part of the value chain. Now, I don't know how feasible it is to package a "combination" of broadcast technologies in one device (my suspicion is that this choice is not feasible) and as such, in absence of a de-facto standard, most of the cell phones being shipped today do not have any such technology embedded in them. Moreover, certain manufactures may have personal preferences (e.g., Nokia for a non-qualcomm standard) which may be impeding growth of MediaFLO. To address this issue, MediaFLO could partner with Taiwanese cell phone companies such that it is able to put its technology on some of the best selling devices on each of ATT or Verizon networks. This implies partnering with iPhone (ATT), HTC (Verizon) and may be even Blackberry (both ATT and Verizon). This synergy will be most valuable for MediaFLO. This strategy can be executed best IMHO being as part of Qualcomm i.e., by leveraging Qualcomm's leadership in wireless space -- one option is to reduce the licensing fees charged to cell phone manufacturers). Very likely, cell phone manufacturers will jump at this offer as now their margins will improve. This, along with working with ATT/Verizon on pricing will very likely result in surge in customer uptake. With customers now considering support for ATT and Verizon's video service (aka MediaFLO) while buying new cell phones, it will put considerable pressure on Nokia/Motorola/Samsung who may then have to concede to this technology otherwise it will impact their cell phone sales in US.

The only reason it may make sense for MediaFLO to partner with content providers is that it would increase value proposition of MediaFLO solution. I believe that is best done outside Qualcomm rather than within Qualcomm (I do not have strong reasons to support this claim though).

(b) selling a bundle of device + transport + service direct to consumers vs. wholesale bundles to existing network operators (cellular or cable/satellite)?

Based on my argument above that MediaFLO is an infrastructure service, I believe they should not sell directly to consumers. I think they should focus on getting their technology be included in cell phones first.

(c) offering standalone mobile devices vs. converged mobile devices vs. targeting the automotive market?

I'd say for now its best if MediaFLO focuses on cell phones -- needless to say, more and more services are being provided through cell phone (email, browser, games) and as such it will be a natural extension to be able to see TV on such devices. 

Borrowing from a Forrester Report in 2005 on the topic of mobile TV, the problem with MediaFLO is - 
"misalignment of the service launch, handset availability, and user uptake." 


900 or so television stations (part of Open Mobile Video Coalition) that implemented ATSC mobile TV standard instead of FloTV. 

Well, the fight is still on. 

Our FLO TV Business. Our subsidiary, FLO TV Incorporated (FLO TV), formerly MediaFLO USA, Inc., offers its service over our nationwide multicast network based on our MediaFLO Media Distribution System (MDS) and MediaFLO technology, which leverages the Forward Link Only (FLO) air interface standard. This network is utilized as a shared resource for wireless operators and their customers in the United States. The commercial availability of the FLO TV network and service on wireless operator devices will continue, in part, to be determined by our wireless operator partners. FLO TV’s network uses the 700 MHz spectrum for which we hold licenses nationwide. Additionally, FLO TV has and will continue to procure, aggregate and distribute content in service packages, which we will continue to make available on a wholesale basis to our wireless operator customers (whether they operate on CDMA, WCDMA or GSM) in the United States. In fiscal 2010, FLO TV expects to offer the FLO TV service on a subscription basis directly to consumers in the United States. FLO TV plans to provide the services for use in personal television devices, automotive devices and other portable device accessories. These devices are expected to be sold through various retail and distribution channels.
Our MediaFLO Technologies (MFT) division is developing MediaFLO technology and marketing it for deployment outside of the United States. The market for mobile TV remains nascent with numerous competing technologies and standards.

Friday, April 9, 2010

MacPro Design

MacBook Pro - features that can be improved

I recently got MacBook Pro laptop at my new job. Following are some aspects of the product that I believe could use a makeover:

1. Get rid of (very) sharp edges in the closing latch (see figure on right). Really, this is product design 101..

2. Make power button prominent…(it may be visible in the image on the side due to the special lighting in this image) but in normal lighting it is not that visibile; not sure if this is a marketing ploy to suggest that Macs don't need a power shutdown? :-)

3. Increase the length of power cord (this seems to be a no-brainer as currently the cord is too short) and reduce the size of the bulky adaptor at the end of the cord. Of all the design innovations happening at Apple, I wonder if someone is looking at the adaptor design... it seems it has been the same old bulky design since day 1 (I could be wrong though).

4. Provide standard DB-9/DE-9 VGA port on the laptop (for being able to connect laptop to standard monitors). Currently, one needs to carry a separate dongle to convert from Apple's proprietary DisplayPort interface to the DB-9 and believe me its a pain especially when you are about to start a customer preso and....

5. This problem is a unique one and may affect only certain people :-) I wear a metal strap wrist watch and typically wear it at the end of my wrist. Now, since MacBook Pro's shell is made of metal, typing on the keyboard causes the two metals to rub against each other and that is not pretty. To avoid this, I either have to take out my wrist watch or move it up the hand a bit so that it does not interfere with my typing. The usual Dell/IBMs have a plastic shell that used to work well with my wrist watch but oh well !

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saving energy costs by a simple design change

Think of the last time when you operated a 2-handle faucet. Which handle did you turn first? Was it the left handle or the one on the right? Chances are that if you are right-handed, you turned the left tap first and if you are left-handed you turned the one on the right first. If this was any different, please let me know; I'd be curious to know.

Based on quick internet-based research, it seems that the installation instructions for most 2-handle faucet systems indicate that hot water be connected to the left handle and cold water be connected with the right one.

Given that almost 80% of population is right-handed, what that means is 80% of the times when a faucet is operated, the left handle is operated first, which delivers hot water. Now, I do not have data on whether people prefer hot water when they first operate the faucet but I'd guess that there is a significant combined percentage of people who either prefer cold water or who don't care versus the ones who prefer hot water at the first go.

Given above, to reduce energy costs one may want to interchange the hot and cold water connections at the time of installation i.e., connecting hot water to the right handle and cold to the left handle. This of course can be interchanged if the premise has predominantly left-handed folks. Better yet, with a simple design change, this configuration choice can be made dynamically by having a knob that controls the flow of the water to either handle.

The savings achieved at a single premise due to this change depends on several factors - frequency of opening tap, percentage of left-handed/right-handed people using a particular tap etc and may not be significant however economies of scale can be achieved if the modified faucet was used by a large population.