Category Archives: reviews

  1. Turbulent Trays: The rise and fall of airline food

    Good airline food is an oxymoron. An improbability further diminished by strange reheating apparatus and plastic containers. They do promote food in the non-coach classes. But it is just better cutlery and wine.

    Few years back, my city airport was not a serious international hub. It resembled a state tax office with a wind sock and a large striped scoop looking for its mother on top. I had to do all my international connections at Bombay. Those were times when I did ten days at a stretch to America with visit USA coupons and a crammed itinerary of a city a day. I took bleary red eyes that dumped me across the coast and it was morning as I get ready to sack out. These carriers were filled with large belligerent stewardesses who slammed a pack of pretzels (who invented this outrage?) and a heavily iced plastic cup of soda onto my gullible hands.

    I spent overnights at long-stay hotels with no restaurants. The breakfast was not warm and dinners were microwave packs from the lobby vending machine. I would not call these trips a culinary delight except for weekends at a grill in Dallas with my brother. When I was done I took that long haul through Zurich back to Bombay.

    The lights of home were always inviting as we landed after midnight. I had to wait a few woozy hours on uncomfortable chairs for my Jet connection to Bangalore. That flight made me appreciate a good airline breakfast after days of insipid fodder.

    There was a fluffy folded omelet with translucent onions and cilantro – well cooked outside and gooey inside. The eggs were served with sauteed mushrooms glistening in the streak of morning sun and golden hash browns. A bowl of cold fruit, a croissant and good cup of coffee made it a complete meal tray. The vegetarian option was upma. At times I used my loyalty status and devilish smile to charm those sweet in-flight staff to get me both. And Jet Airways stayed consistent with their quality. I thought I would never say this, but I loved airline food.

    Things have changed. Air Carriers all over the World are bleeding. Travelers have to pay for their meal. Jet airways invented a new low-cost variant called Connect and collected money for your meal on-board. Recently I traveled a standard Jet flight and they were benevolent enough to serve breakfast. The masala scrambled was 99% spice and 1% egg. The grilled vegetables were more like chewing jerky. Stale croissant and an old bowl of papaya did not reach home either.

    Airline food is back to their grandeur of low esteem.

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  2. Window shopping: Is there a re-commerce in India?

    As Apparatus engages in new projects that involve catalogs, payment gateways and retail concepts I am starting a series of posts focussing on ecommerce in India. This is the first of the lot.

    Indian railways is probably responsible for making online users ready to pay and buy things on the web. With their devastatingly ugly website they could generate substantial revenue with payment modes that were compelling – cash on delivery for instance. The air carriers, travel and ticketing websites followed suit. And now this is the sole vertical that generates B2C revenue online. However fashion retailers and bookstores never took to selling online like they did in the west. The users were still wary of identity theft and misuse to swipe their cards online. There were a few retail platforms like rediff or indiatimes that stocked fashion, had their own logistics partners and private labeled shops for big brands. However this was restricted to the privileged credit card holders.

    Sometime early last year with the sweep of social shopping websites in the US and the death of local social networks in India online startups considered commerce again. Venture capital firms were ready to look at this new found interest. Even the new fangled security measure of validating personal credit cards at the über secure bank website did not deter them. Myntra, Flipkart, Bigshoebazaar and more such names appeared and today they are growing or consolidating.

    I personally think there are flaws in these properties and more payment methods do not necessarily make better user experience or more business. The things that ail Indian ecommerce are:

    • The business is not a brand: The principals are from a technology pedigree and they make functionally strong websites. But they do not consider the value proposition, persona or the tone/voice of these brand expressions. They do not engage the users like a brand does. Examples are Myntra’s inconsistent promotionals, human models without a specific statement and a packaging that does not communicate.
    • Product discovery is about an intuitive information model, focussed promotions and an agile search: Category trees can be misleading if they are not thought through. Consolidating categories for more real estate can be detrimental to a seamless ‘buy experience’. Flipkart’s ‘Art, Photography and Design’ as a category has about 100000 books in it and filters like hardcover/paperback or delivery time does not help me narrow down to what I need.
    • Focus the homepage: Why do we all like the Apple homepage? It is an intelligent solution with a single product/promotion occupying over 50% of above-the-fold real estate. The rest can really be interactive stamp size pictures. Cluttered home pages with too many portlets like in Yebhi.com or Letsbuy.com can intimidate a new user. Also the brand gets a boost with a visually lightweight homepage.
    • Fulfill smoothly without much ado: Myntra messaged me twice, called me more than six times before they hand delivered a pair of shoes that I bought. I would have preferred it less intrusive and efficient. So it is important to engage a smart logistics partner to get wares without a hitch.
    • Play the brand always: Engage the users like offline brands engage consumers. Remember amazon’s bookmarks, expedia’s smart guides and goodies from Target to create a brand asset biosystem that goes beyond the online shopping experience.

    Follow our blog for more posts on online shopping user experiences.

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  3. Flip through social

    I have been an active resident of social media. I am alive in three social networks, write two blogs and ardently follow a few. But lately I succumbed to information overload fatigue. I cannot machete my way through tweets and farmville updates anymore. Thought I should recede and reclaim my inner peace instead.

    Enter Flipboard on iPad. Created by Mike McCue, former CEO of a voice search services firm and Evan Doll, a senior iPhone engineer from Apple, Flipboard is an iPad application that effectively merges the beauty of print and the power of social media. And they had me at the first flip. On launch, the cover randomly picks posts from my list and plays them out for me. I can personalize the content page by selecting from a list of trusted sources including my twitter and facebook accounts. Flip on to read stories, photos and comments delivered to me like an attractive magazine. Delectable!

    However, there are a few ‘nice to have’ features that can better this product. I will be happier if I can add my own sources to the list, like a friend’s blog. Or easily post to social networks, which I cannot. The visual design can get better at places. Pages of the magazine filled with photos can be on black or typography can be enhanced on white pages with a few status posts. The landscape version of the pages are not as resolved as the portrait. They fold mid page over the content, which is unlike any good magazine worth it’s salt. There are more such niggling bits of peeves in this early version. I am sure the updates will solve them.

    But Flipboard is probably the most compelling new way to find, read and share social content – served as easily digestible nuggets of well designed magazine snippets. Happy flipping!

    As published in Pool magazine. View the issue online here.

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  4. TED: Strong Women Inspire!

    Isabel Allende, a passionate writer and Paula Scher, graphic designer influenced by the politics of sixties. These women do ignite a vacant mind.

    Isabel Allende has the writers’ passion that is contagious. She is Salvador Allende’s daughter, probably grew up listening to Pablo Neruda and fled from Chile as her father was killed by Pinochet. Hear her speak at TED.

    I heard Paula Scher speak at Designyatra, Goa, India two years back and I fell in love with her. I saw her work that is emotive, political and inspiring. This is she at TED.

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  5. TED: Rives' Lyrical Origami

    My all time favorite TED talk by Rives who folds language and information to meet at points that surprises you or at times makes you wonder whether is actually there. Over to Rives.

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  6. Adobe seeks feedback: Dreamweaver

    An Adobe entourage was at office today talking to our designers about Dreamweaver. In the verge of dreaming up features for the Creative Suite 6 version, they wanted to understand projects, usage environments and the users.

    Bernard, Praveen and José from Apparatus walked them through their views and woes. There are a few things that I would love to have in Dreamweaver. An ability to easily include interaction components like carousels, get ready for html5 and stress more on mobile. Now that Steve Jobs has pronounced strike and Adobe is grappling with Flash they should ready Dreamweaver to help development for Tablets.

    Know more about Dreamweaver here.

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  7. Fall of the Idiyappam Western: Quick Gun Murugan – A Review

    Design education in early nineties was as western as it was before with most of the masters, inspirations and innovations borrowed from video tapes and books. While we were confused, MTV invented very pop vernacular kitschy look and really did not take it further. In 1994 Quick Gun Murugan (QGM) arrived as a short promo in Channel V as a part of the new look. This promo was the most refreshing piece of creative yet. For us young creative bunch Channel V was suddenly the font of exciting ideas. They hired most of my friends who specialized in video.

    Quick Gun Murugan, for a Tamilian, was a proud moment then. We knew the origin of these ideas and could educate the far removed of movies from 70s. Altogether the expectation on a QGM, the feature film was big. Ages back when I was hired to act in a Channel V promo Rajesh Devraj shared the initial script and I loved it. The script did change since then and the movie was late to ride on the initial wave too.

    QGM the movie is a bunch of one minute shorts loosely strung together with a weak narrative thread. Some of these are hilarious and most, downright sad. I think this could have been a brilliant movie if everything was not so over the top, particularly yamalok.

    Grown up on Jaishankar idiayappam westerns, I am appalled by the inferior technical detailing in QGM. Overall reminds me of a Calvin strip where he wonders whether enlarging a popular art comic will ever make it high art.

    I would have been happier with some fifty one minute shorts than one big movie. Taxes my threshold!

    Disappointing! But little flower is worth it, is worth it!

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  8. I am media?

    It has been worrying me right through the broadcast of the Mumbai 26/11 incident and further when I read the keen effort behind the meaningful work like Mark Tully or some old reportage of Marquez. As an ardent fan of right representation of information I feel cheated when I can intelligently put the truth together and when I see a seemingly detailed yet superficial illustration of things that matter, in the media.

    It gets worse when it gets sensational and stupid. Picture Barkha Dutt walking up to bedsheets hanging from a window in that cursed hotel talking about how people used that as a lifeline, mindlessly repeating the same thing. Where is the homework? Reportage is like my daughters fighting over who is first. Analysis is about supplying verbiage and making people cry. Presentation is intrusive, voyeuristic and worse, narcissistic (Arnab from Times Now should be seated in front of a two-way mirror).

    We need a media entity that is observant, non-intrusive, analytical and acts as a catalyst to reach solutions. I think social media has a power to be just that. See this http://ushahidi.com/

    (On a completely bitchy note, the high pitched yapping pup din of all of the Prannoy protégés are appalling – Rajdeep, Arnab and Barkha)

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  9. Too wide a spread for forty

    I am officially over the hill. I am forty. I have started squinting at small text, watch what I eat, pass time intensely listening for aberrations within my body, talk about it with others, workout as if life depends on it (does it?), examine my belly whenever time permits and try to upgrade to business with no specific purpose. Overall I have become more self obsessed with a veneer of maturity. I am growing old. This post is not to lament about my age and related inconveniences. It is about one breakfast on a rainy Wednesday.

    Marriott in Hyderabad, used to be Viceroy earlier, perches over the Hussain Sagar lake. If you can manage to coax the guy at the lobby to give you a lake facing room you have a fabulous view too. Let us cut to the breakfast.

    I have not seen such a wide spread in any other boarder. There were house baked goodies – Danish, Croissants, Prune cakes (bowel movement catalyst for the ET reader), cream doughnuts and more. There was South Indian – Pooris, Idlis, Vadas with Bhaji, Sambar and Chutney of astonishing texture and taste. There were parathas and eggs to order. There was another section with no specific nomen clature that had baked beans, potato wedges, grilled mushrooms, baked eggs, breakfast pizzas, bacon, sausages, and grilled chicken with veggies. You walk further to fruits and drinks. There was a well appointed coffee counter with a bored barista who could whip out espresso shots to lactose intelorance nightmare coffee. I was in an intimidating food wonderland.

    Yet I stayed sane and limited my breakfast to six whites omelette, grilled veggies, one croissant, one idli and an espresso shot chased with still water.

    As I said earlier, I am way mature for a wide spread.

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  10. The Jalota Jungle

    Picture this. You walk out of the elevator into a low-lit slatted wooden ramp with rope nets on either side. The ceiling is covered with plastic foliage – stiff, oily and shining. The floor is mottled with halogen shadows of the leaves. You can hear high treble noises of the jungle through some tinny speakers that you cannot see. You walk further to be greeted by a suited maitre’d of this restaurant on a roof in Banjara Hills. This is Serengeti – a bizarre world of awadhi cuisine served in a tacky copy of Amazon jungle named after an African plain.

    The waiters are all dressed like desi Dr Livingstone with pith solar hats and starched khaki gear. They resemble malnourished native helpers standing along with sahibs in faded old retro photos of the Raj.

    There are also strange animatronic and partially truncated menagerie to add to this chaos. If you are eating smoothly minced fried Galouti kababs at the second level you will observe a life size shiny giraffe moving his head jerkily towards you. The Galouti dropped from my mouth and you better hold on to yours. The giraffe stands at the level below with his head poking through the foliage to the level you are on exercising his right to watch you eat every once in a while. Do not tell me that I did not warn you.

    There are more animal accessories like a mutant python with an extra large head (or was it an anaconda?) languorously wrapped on fiberglass branch above the bar stools that are illustrations of animal rumps. We should stay on the bar stools a little longer. I once saw a large man sit on the bar stool that was a zebra hip down (if the zebra was standing on his hind legs) from the back. In that darkness with thin spots of halogen it was very authentic. I was sure that it was a striped centaur ordering a Bacardi Breezer at the bar, in a plastic jungle, on the roof of a hotel in Banjara Hills. Very authentic!

    The awadhi food, though very rich, is not so bad. The music is always ghazals with a preference to Anup Jalota. Bon Appetit!

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