Monday, May 29, 2017

Pluto Is Still A Planet….


…in New Mexico !

As far as most of the world is concerned, poor Pluto got downgraded from planet to dwarf planet (or planetoid) back in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union revised their definition of what constitutes a planet. For the curious, Pluto was downgraded because it lacks enough gravitational pull to distinguish itself from other dwarf planets in similar nearby orbits.

Whatever the reason was for the change in Pluto’s classification, New Mexico’s House of Representatives was having none of it. For you see, the man who discovered Pluto back in the 1930s, Clyde Tombaugh, was a long-time resident and a former professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University. Regardless of what the international astronomy community had to say about the matter, the people of New Mexico had a very strong opinion about the matter. Kandilley, karimeen puttaakee ?

In 2007, the House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring that March 13, 2007 would be observed as Pluto Planet Day and that whenever Pluto is in such a position that it can be observed in New Mexico’s night skies it is, in fact, still a full-fledged planet.

Bonus Trivia: Because Clyde Tombaugh was born in Illinois, the Illinois State Senate passed a resolution in 2009 that asserted Pluto was “unfairly downgraded to a dwarf planet” by the IAU.

Monday, May 15, 2017

India still in denial of WannaCry


The second wave of the wannacry ransomeware attack is in full swing this week. Computers in 150 countries have been affected, specially China. But the Indian government , like always, has chosen to go to denial mode. Government and media are reporting that the threat is minimal, and systems are not affected. Reality is that lakhs of systems were already affected.

Just check the real time tracking of this attack.



Crude reality is that due to mass use of pirated software in India, reports of attacks will go unreported.  Meanwhile, ransomware incidents were reported from Kerala, Kolkata and Andhra Pradesh. However, no corporate office or institution came forward fearing that their brand image will take a hit if the news of their computers being infected goes public. The real impact of cyber attack in India can be only assessed later this week. The government too tried to dispel rumours about banking telecom or aviation being hit by the outbreak


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Today I read about ETOPS certification for planes


“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let twins fly long-haul over-water routes.” Those were the words of Lynn Helms—administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration during the Reagan administration. At the time, no commercial american airplane with two engines was allowed to fly anywhere farther than 60 minutes from a diversion airport. The belief was that, if one engine failed, the other could only safely fly the plane for about an hour, but this rule severely limited what smaller planes could do. On North Atlantic routes like New York to London, twin-engine planes could only fly in these areas but a direct route looked like this. The options were to either fly a twin-engine plane on an inefficient routing or fly a inefficient three or four engine plane. There was no place for long-and-skinny routes between smaller cities using smaller planes since airline couldn’t legally fly those smaller planes. This one simple rule changed the very way airplanes were built. Now, in the 60’s, this 60 minute regulation only applied to planes with two engines. Of course aircraft manufacturers could build quad-engine jets but those had to be huge for airlines to make their money’s worth with their high fuel consumption. The 747’s of the time could carry more than 400 passengers. They could therefore only fly on super high-demand routes like New York to London to have any hope of being full. In order to start flying more convenient non-stop routes from smaller markets, planes had to get smaller while still being legally allowed to hop the pond.

That’s where trijets came into play. With three engines, these planes weren’t subject to the same 60-minute regulation as twinjets. They could easily fly any transatlantic route. That’s why in the 70s or 80s, the long-haul jets you’d see at airpots were, for the most part, either 747’s or trijets like the DC-10.

This 60-minute regulation was inconvenient for Atlantic Crossings, but in the Pacific it actually changed how Hawaii developed. There are zero diversion airports between California and Hawaii so the route isn’t even close to covered under the 60-minute rule. As a result, airlines could only fly huge planes between the mainland and Hawaii which meant that planes could pretty much only fly to Honolulu. Puttakke puttakke karimeen puttaakkee. There was virtually no service between the other islands and the mainland which meant the other islands were severely isolated. That’s part of the reason why the tourism industry only picked up on the other islands in recent decades. Luckily, change was coming. The 60 minute rule originated from the days of piston driven propeller aircraft.

With these, it was far more common for engines to just stop working mid-flight. That’s why there were contingency engines. The regulations just didn’t adapt to the increased reliability of jet engines. Statistically, for every failure of a jet engine, there are 117 piston engine failures. Once the jet age rolled in, engine failure just wasn’t as much of a concern, so, in 1985, the FAA begrudgingly granted permission to Trans World Airlines to fly their twin-engined

767 direct between Boston and Paris—a route taking it up to 120 minutes away from diversion airports. This was the first example of a brand new FAA certification called ETOPS—“Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards,” or more colloquially, “engines turn or passengers swim.” Before an airline can fly a long over-water route they have to buy a plane with what’s known as an ETOPS type rating. Basically that means that the plane was built with adequate redundancies, communications systems, and fire suppression systems to fly safely if one engine fails. For example, the 767—the first plane to get an ETOPS certification—has a type rating of 180 minutes meaning it can fly anywhere as long as its 180 minutes from a diversion airport.

But just because a plane has a type rating doesn’t mean an airline can fly it ETOPS. They have to have a special maintenance plan, a special flight crew, special cabin crew, special dispatchers, special fuel quantities, and special passenger recovery plans since, just because there’s a runway doesn’t mean that a plane can safely divert since the emergency doesn’t end once the plane lands. Cold Bay, Alaska, for example, is a perfect diversion airport for routes between Asia and North America. It only has six commercial flights per week nowadays but as a former Air Force Base it has an enormous runway. The only issue is that the town of Cold Bay has a population of 108—its tiny—so any diversions automatically double or triple the amount of people in the small town. There certainly aren’t enough hotel rooms or restaurants to house and feed stranded passengers so, if airlines plan to use Cold Bay as a diversion airport, they need to make a plan for how to house, feed, and recover passengers within 48 hours of landing. Last year an American Airlines 787 was flying from Shanghai to Chicago when its right engine had an issue halfway across the Pacific Ocean. The plane quickly took a left turn diverting to Cold Bay. Even before landing the plan was implemented as flight attendants served a second meal service early. Just a few hours after safely landing in Cold Bay, American’s mechanics took off from Seattle bound for Cold Bay to start fixing the plane while Alaska Airlines, American’s partner, sent a 737 from Anchorage to pick up the stranded passengers. Meanwhile, flight attendants served the third set of meals they had stocked while waiting on the ground and the coast guard opened their heated hanger to passengers.

Just 10 hours after the emergency landing, passengers were on their way to Anchorage where they spent the night before taking an American 757 to Chicago. That was a perfect example of how the passenger recovery plan worked. The quick response and defined plan helped the airline get passengers out safely and quickly. Now, because of the solid engine reliability, numerous redundancies, and well-designed passenger  recovery plans, airlines and airplanes can now receive insane ETOPS certifications. The 787 Dreamliner, the plane that diverted to Cold Bay, has a type rating of 330 minutes. That means it can fly up to 5.5 hours away from a diversion airport. Certain routes over long-ocean stretches in the southern hemisphere were theoretically possible in the past with four engine planes but were economically impossible since airlines could never fill the large planes on the low-demand city pairs like Melbourne to Santiago.

With the ETOPS 330 certification, LATAM Airlines can fly their small 787 economically on this relatively low-demand route across the South Pacific. The Airbus a350 is even rated for ETOPS 370—it can fly 6 hours and 10 minutes away from diversion airports. This plane can therefore fly everywhere on earth except directly over the South Pole. Because of this simple rule change, three and four engine planes are largely a relic of the past. Boeing and Airbus’ largest jets are both their only four engine planes in production—the 747 and a380. Nearly all North Atlantic traffic today is on twin-engined planes as smaller and smaller planes get ETOPS certifications. Air Canada, for example, flies their tiny 120 passenger a319 with ETOPS certification daily between St Johns Airport and London Heathrow. British Airways even sends the even smaller a318 between New York and London City Airport. These routes would have been unimaginable 30 years ago but the reliability of the airplanes of today mean we need not fear flying small planes over big oceans.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Uninstalled redundant Apps


I just figured out I had a lot of redundant apps on my phone, and I could take them all off, and still carry on. There are a lot of apps there competing and providing the SAME features, and they just stay on the phone and take up space.

Like IMO. I uninstalled it today. IMO provides video calling services, and they actually offered this way before Facebook and Whatsapp. I still feel IMO’s video quality is better that Whatsapps, specially on restricted bandwidth networks, but very few people know about it and use it. Now that Whatsapp provides full video chat, there is no point in keeping IMO around. Uninstalled.

Second one to go, facebook messenger. Seriously, its a lame app. The video quality is worse on slow networks, and takes up so much time to start and run. Mutlitasking sucks. Uninstalled.

And the last to go today….Dropbox sync. Dropbox’s sync works great on desktop systems. But on mobile, they take up a lot of time to run and sync. If you are not on Wifi, it just drinks up all the network and battery juice. Now that whatsapp provides desktop interface, I use that to share all documents I need. Awesome sync. Dropbox…Uninstalled.


So that leave me with a leaner, faster phone. More space for my movies !

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Uber Model Doesn’t Translate



So do a lot of other apps offering services across a number of industries. They are super convenient, but the convenience comes at a premium, which seems here to stay. Some of these services could make for fine businesses, but it is hard to call them groundbreaking. After all, paying extra for convenience isn’t really innovative — it is pretty much how the world has always worked.

Before we get to why many on-demand apps have struggled to achieve mass-market prices, it is important to remember why anyone ever thought they could: Because Uber did it. The ride-hailing company that is valued by investors at more than $60 billion began as a luxury service. The magic of Uber was that it used its growth to keep cutting its prices and expand its service. Uber shifted from a convenient alternative to luxury cars to an alternative to taxis to, now, a credible alternative to owning a car.

Investors saw Uber’s success as a template for Ubers for everything. “The industry went through a period where we said, let’s look at any big service industry, stick ‘on-demand’ on it, and we’ve got an Uber,” said Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist at the firm Homebrew, which has invested in at least one on-demand company, the shipping service Shyp.

But Uber’s success was in many ways unique. For one thing, it was attacking a vulnerable market. In many cities, the taxi business was a customer-unfriendly protectionist racket that artificially inflated prices and cared little about customer service. The opportunity for Uber to become a regular part of people’s lives was huge. People take cars every day, so hook them once and you have repeat customers. Finally, cars are the second-most-expensive things people buy, and the most frequent thing we do with them is park. That monumental inefficiency left Uber ample room to extract a profit even after undercutting what we now pay for cars.

But how many other markets are there like that? Not many. Some services were used frequently by consumers, but weren’t that valuable — things related to food, for instance, offered low margins. Other businesses funded in low-frequency and low-value areas “were a trap,” Mr. Walk said.

Another problem was that funding distorted on-demand businesses. So many start-ups raised so much cash in 2014 and 2015 that they were freed from the pressure of having to make money on each of their orders. Now that investor appetite for on-demand companies has cooled, companies have been forced to return sanity to their business, sometimes by raising prices.

Look at grocery shopping. Last year the grocery-delivery start-up Instacart lowered prices because it thought it could extract extra revenue from supermarket chains, which were attracted to the new business Instacart was bringing in.

That has panned out only partway. A representative told me Instacart’s revenue grew by a factor of six since the start of 2015, and it has been able to use data science to find efficiencies in its operations. But the revenue from supermarket chains wasn’t enough to offset costs, so in December, Instacart raised delivery charges to $6 from $4 for most orders. It has also reduced pay for some of its workers.

The changes are in line with a drive toward profit. The company said it had stemmed losses in its biggest cities, and aimed to become “gross-margin positive” — that is, to stop losing money on each order — across its operations by year’s end.

Or consider delivery services. Postmates, one of the most established on-demand delivery start-ups, began as a premium service that charged extraordinary markups — a 50 percent fee isn’t unusual — for the convenience of getting just about anything delivered anywhere. That premium has kept the company’s unit-economics in the black. Postmates does not lose money on the bulk of its orders.

But high prices left the company vulnerable to lower-priced competitors, including the relatively newer entrant DoorDash, which has received piles of funding from Silicon Valley venture firms (the company announced a $127 million funding round on Tuesday after struggling to raise some of the cash).

Last year, Postmates began offering a cheaper service in which restaurants kick back some of the delivery fee in return for the promise of more orders; that price is $3 or $4 for a food order, not including a tip. But so far, that service represents only a fraction of the company’s orders. DoorDash, which charges $5 or $6 an order, has a similar business model which charges restaurants a commission for each order.

Is a fee of $3 to $6 for deliveries of groceries or food a mass-market price? For many people, the savings in time is worth the price. But the median American wage is around $20 an hour, so a fee of even a few dollars is a costly premium.

Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash say they see opportunities for lowering prices as they grow. They are hoping for efficiency gains that come with volume, like bundling two or three orders in each delivery.

But it is wise to be skeptical of claims of future price cuts. Last year, Tri Tran, the founder the of food-delivery company Munchery, told me he expected prices for most dishes on the service to come in at under $10 a person. Today Munchery’s prices are pretty much unchanged. When I asked the company what happened, I got no real answer from a representative.

That brings us to Luxe. A spokesman told me that the problems I was seeing were caused by high demand. The company is growing at 40 percent every month, which has caused hiccups in service. Luxe has no further plans to raise prices and thinks its current model can generate significant profit margins, and lead to lower prices, as it scales.

As a user, I hope so. But I wonder. The lesson so far in the on-demand world is that Uber is the exception, not the norm. Uber, but for Uber — and not much else.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Something good happened this year.



Something good happened this year.







Thursday, May 4, 2017

..damage to the perceived value of software..





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