Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Yay! Was on today's episode of @Marketplace talking about New Year's Resolutions.

I love NPR and Marketplace and have been a listener for a long time. It was bucket list moment when I was interviewed on the December 29th episode by Matt Levin. What are your resolutions? Listen and tell me how I did (end of the 4-minute mark)

I Tested Positive For Covid-19 and Here Is My Story

I got my 2 vaccinations and the booster shot of Pfizer plus the flu vaccine. Son went to school and I went to the office 4 days a week. We masked when going indoors to shops and only recently started going a few times to a restaurant. Other than close trusted friends and relatives we did not socialize much. In December my pleasure activity was 2 restaurant visits and a holiday party. Well after these activities, I got a sore throat on Christmas day. Since I was expecting my niece and family, I wanted to make sure that this was not anything more than a common cold.

I drove to the 3 sites listed on the county website along with 100's of others only to find that they were not open after 5 hours of waiting and driving. When I came back home, I took an in-home test and that showed that I was #covidpositive. I immediately messaged my doctor's office and arranged to have a tele-consult the next day.

Tip: Keep stock of in-home tests handy even if you are not sick and test if you come into contact with people in situations where you did not wear a mask

Checking the conversations in my Neighborhood app, one of my neighbors had posted that they were able to get a test within 2 hours at Patient First, Rockville. I drove there to find about 50 people in front of me. The system in Patient First is that you line up to register and then sit in the waiting room or in your car till they call you. I liked that since it was very cold and I had forgotten to get any earbuds to listen to podcasts on my phone. Sitting in the car, I was happy that there was a Roy Rogers so I could get a coffee. Patient First obviously had restrooms. My next interaction was with the reception where they took my information ( ID and Insurance) and then I went back to the car to wait for the nurse to call. They were quite thorough with the nasal swab. I was stumped by the question of whether I wanted a PCR or a rapid antigen test. I chose the Rapid Antigen Test as I would get the results immediately.

Tip: If you have mild symptoms and have already tested positive, you may not need to confirm the positivity again. 

I isolated myself from my family in the master bedroom. My family isolated themselves from others. We ordered an oximeter just to check. The doctor said to check for shortness of breath and high temperature, both of which I do not have. 

This is a time for rest and reflection. My biggest worry is not to spread it to anyone. Till this phenomenon becomes just the flu and everyone is vaccinated to the extent that there are enough hospital resources available, let's be careful. 


Sunday, December 05, 2021

Uber India - Proving Technology Model In India

Written in 2017 for a Indian new site and was not accepted

This week I joined the 369,000 Uber users from the US who use Uber in India annually (Source:NDTV). In 2010 I was in a conversation with Travis Kalanick then CEO of Uber at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC where I had mentioned being impressed by the GPRS tech-enabled radio taxis in Hyderabad. He was curious about how taxis were used in India and little did I know that Uber would launch in India 4 years later.

What did Uber disrupt for visiting NRIs? Usual ways to travel on visits to India

  • Request to be picked up at the airport by relatives

  • Hitched a ride with relatives while going from place to place

  • Used auto-rickshaws

  • Hire cars for trips out of town from independent operators

These methods had their own issues. Flights arrived at an ungodly hour and that meant whoever received you at the airport had to be sleepless as well. Autos were dusty and you never knew what was the right fare. Hired cars had the baggage of driver bata, meals etc.No matter what you paid you always felt cheated when paying cash for anything.

This trip to India was a technology triumph. My Google Pixel with Google’s Project Fi network welcomed me to India. This meant that I no longer had to look for the nearest mobile vendor and fill up paperwork to get a SIM from an Indian telco. I summoned an Uber to take me home and did not have to withdraw cash at an ATM. I can use my ICICI debit card at almost all places. It seems easier to buy a movie ticket online than go to the booking counter. Maps are much better and Google does a fantastic job with directions and addresses. Connectivity is much better everywhere. Internet providers have relaxed the data caps presumably due to the competition.

Uber is not the same experience as you would think. According to an NDTV article, there are 450,000 Uber Cabs in 29 cities in India. An  Uber driver estimated that there are 150,000 in Hyderabad during our conversation about the Uber driving experience.

Uber has proved that technology is changing behavior. Uber Pool lowers the barrier for usage. The navigation using Google Maps helps Uber drivers find shortcuts. Most drivers I used were balanced in their driving and very courteous. To achieve world-class stature Uber may have to take care of these points:

  • Training in GPS usage: The Uber App makes it very easy for you to set up your pickup location yet some drivers get confused. I have had drivers wait on the other side of the road and ask me to cross the road even when the app accurately set my location.

  • Communication:  The concept of Uber’s technology usually makes it unnecessary for any communication between you and the driver. I was at the Uber Pickup point at the main entrance of the popular Forum Mall in Hyderabad. I spent 20 minutes trying to give the driver directions to where I was standing and ultimately had to cancel.

  • Expectations of Car types: When I picked a premier Uber I was surprised that it was not very well maintained  Toyota Etios. I think an Uber Go usually will suffice for 2 people. On one ride the car’s a/c had broken down and we had to cancel the driver and choose another one. Training drivers to keep their car well maintained is very important. 

I am enjoying the freedom to travel by Uber without the need to ask for a ride from friends and I can see that Uber has caught the wave and has completed almost 500 Million rides in India. One of my drivers had almost 6,000 rides in 2 years while other drivers I used had around 3000 rides in two years. Uber has changed the way people ride and also started providing employment. I hope they will invest more in training to make their services even better.

Shashi Bellamkonda is CMO of Surefire Local in Washington DC and teaches Digital Marketing as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He believes knowledge not shared is lost forever. Friends have called him “Social Media Swami”. His work has been written about in 17 leading Marketing books

Sunday, November 07, 2021

What kind of English do you speak?

Languages are fascinating. I was thinking about my own mastery of English and here are my thoughts.

  • Growing up in India, you could be either one of these 3 groups
    • Government schools 
    • Private schools 
    • Convent schools
  • If you spoke English you were higher up in the hierarchy ( Ranked by convent first, Private second, and government third) 
  • In some states like New Delhi, government officials asked you to talk to them in Hindi, and in Tamil Nadu, English was more acceptable than Hindi (This is my experience) Luckily I spoke 6 Indian languages.
  • Now I am in the US and I have my own version of English which depending on the area of the US people may understand
  • I think people who come to the US and learn English are better off as they learn the accent here quicker than English speakers who migrate here.
  • Sometimes depending on the audience, you may need to change your accent 
  • There will be people who will insist they do not understand you despite your efforts only because you have an accent that they are not used to hearing
What English do you speak? 

Monday, July 05, 2021

My Review of Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli on GoodReads

Serena Singh Flips the ScriptSerena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Entering the library after the pandemic for the first time, I headed to the new book section, chanced upon this book, and read it over the July 4th holiday. The book is funny, joyful, emotional and gives you an insight into realistic fiction and the lives of families of South Asian origin in the Washington DC area.

The main character Serena while being highly successful still has self-doubts about her achievements. Some of the exploits in seeking new companionship are hilarious. Immigrant families, parents working hard and children trying to navigate two cultures, office politics, mixed racial couples, bonding between colleagues - you find all that in this book. One of the few books that I read without putting the book down. I am going to check out the other books by @Sonya Lalli

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 21, 2021

What was good about 2020? Quoted in the Washington Post

In life I have learnt to always be thankful. Every morning, I am thankful to be alive, the fresh crisp air,family, a place to live and food to eat. I am originally from India and have lived in the Washington DC area for about 24 years. 

The positive side about the past year has been my calls to my parents using my Amazon Echo Show every morning. I could do this during the time I could save  the absence of the daily commute. They live in Hyderabad, India and have a Amazon Echo Show as well that has the ability to “Drop in” 

The experience is almost like being in the same room together without having to hold a phone in your hand. This was especially useful since after the pandemic lockdown started they were alone and could not have visitors. My father is also losing his memory so being able to see him and spend time with them has been a blessing. I look forward to seeing them in person hopefully at the end of the year when things settle down.

Another wonderful activity for me was just the beautiful color of nature , the sky, the flowers and the pattern of the leaves all of which I had never paid attention to before. Now I am stopping to take photos often.

Dan Zak of the Washington Post wrote about the good things about 2020 and I was happy to be included. 

Read the article here.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Vaccine Distribution - Why reinvent the wheel?

When things are normal, the distribution system of the pharmaceutical drug supply chain in the US has been robust. According to the CDC over 48% of the US population receives one prescription drug in a month. Combine this stat with the fact that the US Pharma industry provides 2.9 Billion drugs in a year, we have an already existing supply chain that can more than adequately take care of the vaccine distribution for everyone who wants one in the US. (source:

Judging by the pain that local communities have been feeling especially in Montgomery County where I live, where there is fragmented information on where, when, and how people will receive the vaccine. We need to think differently which actually means to think traditionally and put the vaccines into the Pharmaceutical system that exists today instead of reinventing or standing up a new distribution system.

Pharmacies already have our data. They can determine age, eligibility, and existing medical conditions. They already have our contact information, insurance information, and location. Pharmacies and stores have pivoted their infrastructure to cope with the pandemic. When the pandemic struck, one of the quickest changes was my local CVS who just mailed my medicines and continued the process without any disruption.

The process today to make people search multiple places and set up an appointment is not working. A better system may be to quickly use the existing supply chain for pharmaceutical drugs. Notify people that their turn is arriving and where they need to go and get their vaccine.

Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Communication: Stop people from clogging up appointments by letting them know that they will get their vaccination from their existing pharmacy. They are free to change their pharmacy the same way as they do today. People struggle with multiple channels of communication. Just like I do not hear from the county for my regular doctor prescribed medicine, they can stop talking politics and try to run a supply chain themselves which is already failing miserably
  • Education: Use the enormous marketing and advertising talent available to run ads in all the local media channels on how the process works. Pharmacy companies are masters at selling their prescription drugs in Ads. Even though this is almost a monopoly, they can unleash those ads for letting people know the method of how the vaccination will work.
  • Action: Set up a control room that includes pharmacy retailers, Insurance companies (for data), and logistic experts to monitor the distribution and reroute vaccinations where necessary.
  • Results: For every phased stage, patients will receive a text message or email asking them to set up a time for going to their local pharmacy or clinic to get the vaccine. No stress, confusion or anxiety that the US population is facing today.

This may be simple and I am sure many of the experts have already thought of this. There may be some quick legislation necessary in case data needs to get transferred which I am sure Congress can pass very quickly. This type of system has worked in Israel according to an article in the MIT Technology Review ( I am confident that we can do the same thing if not better. Remember the stress is not only for the patient in this case but to the whole family. Anything we can do in these dark days to reduce the stress is I am sure calming to everyone.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Confusing World of TV and the Internet

How are you doing with your cable and TV subscriptions?
If you are a baby boomer and in some cases a Gen Xer, you may remember a world without the internet, and cable TV was the technology that seemed so advanced. 
  • This is more the late 90's and the competition was cable or over the air TV. Next came the internet which was through your phone providers which was dial-up. Think AOL and the CDs that they distributed all over the world and I got one in India and did not own a computer then.
  • An advance from dial-up was DSL again provided by the phone company
  • Till the late 90's cable companies did not pay attention to the internet providers. They were comfortable that this "internet" was not a threat to the programming of the cable TV providers
  • 2007; All of this changed when Netflix entered the market with streaming
  • We moved from live cable TV (or Over-the-air TV)  and borrowing videotapes or DVDs to streaming.  Netflix did not wait for the providers to get their act together on the internet. They developed a streaming technology that helped make the streaming of videos better so moving from tapes and DVDs gave a great example of instant gratification. The lesson here for companies is to make sure you think of the entire chain of customer connectivity to make the experience better.
Now we have 3 ways to think about media and the internet

1. Choose an internet provider 
2. Evaluate TV with the internet provider and combo of internet and TV packages
3. Choose an internet provider and subscribe to streaming only channels/packages

Of late none of the above alternatives are cost effective.

You can expect to pay about $79.99 for internet. Choose any option and you can expect to pay $65 for content from Hulu + or YouTubeTV . That is $145 and chances are, your local cable and streaming provider may give you both of these at about $125 and save you $20 a month ( No more cord-cutting)

The bargain seems to be choosing an internet provider who does TV too like Comcast. Wait, What? In some counties you may not have a choice. Your TV/Internet provider may have a monopoly. If they do not have a monopoly they may still be the cheapest. Internet plus TV packages may be cheaper than Internet Only packages.

The only issue here is that many companies now have to think of ways to make money. This is the time when you are most likely to go over your data cap (1.2TB for Comcast) .

a) Everyone is working from home
b) For the past few holidays, everyone bought or gifted smart devices, iOT  hubs and convenience tech so your data usage may be higher from these devices

You have a choice or rather you have to spend more money now than before but you can choose to spend it with one provider or have a whole lot of streaming apps. One thing is certain. You are paying the same as you did before you became a cord-cutter.

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