Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Geeky and Meeky 2 - partitioning for FreeBSD

Filed under: Geeky and Meeky comic by Hari
Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2007 at 20:32 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:25 IST)

Here's my second Geeky and Meeky cartoon. It's titled partitioning for FreeBSD.

Geeky and Meeky - partitioning for FreeBSD
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Geeky and Meeky 1 - saint or slacker?

Filed under: Geeky and Meeky comic by Hari
Posted on Tue, Mar 13, 2007 at 10:04 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:25 IST)

I'm writing a new cartoon series called "Geeky and Meeky" - mostly dealing with Linux stuff. Hope you enjoy this. I'm looking forward to your feedback. Here's the first issue titled saint or slacker?

Geeky and Meeky - saint or slacker
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Bad marketing communication

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sun, Mar 11, 2007 at 20:30 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:37 IST)

We were recently shopping around for a digital camera for my brother. We went to a lot of shops, did a lot of research and finally ended up buying a Sony Cybershot DSC W35 from an authorized Sony dealer - Sony World. There was another shop we went to earlier. In that place, the salespeople sounded dubious, wouldn't share any product information (even prices!) and wanted to know what we wanted before committing themselves to a price. These people didn't even offer us genuine company guarantee and instead wanted us to accept their "shop" guarantee, which I suspect is not even worth the paper it's written on. We simply left the shop after that. He had even tried to get us to fill up an order form before that! His over-anxiety to sell coupled with his reluctance to share product information was a definite turn-off and left a bad taste. This might have been an extreme case but the fact was, even authorized camera dealers elsewhere were either reluctant to share product information or ignorant about the finer details we wanted to know on model differences. In contrast, the people at Sony World seemed to know exactly how to treat customers. They weren't keen on selling, but rather were forthcoming with all the details about the product. They even allowed us to handle the demo pieces and take snaps to help us make the decision. They clearly told us what the differences were between two very similar looking models and told us that it was better to buy the lower priced one because it also came with a free 512 MB memory card while the other did not and the only other difference was the size of the LCD panel at the back.. Sony might be slightly more expensive and may not give any discounts - but the fact is, they made a sale because the people at Sony World knew their job. And that professional attitude definitely shifted us in their favour. Even this decision wouldn't have been easy except that we were left with no other choice as other camera dealers simply couldn't tell us enough to decide.

The point is, why did we have to go through so much hassle to buy a digital camera? Granting that half the problem was the immense array of choices available in this particular market, we were genuinely surprised at this lack of transparency from sources we should be able to trust. Without the internet, we couldn't have got half the information we did and even there, most of it was collected from independent reviewers and not from the product manufacturers themselves. Now how many people can afford to turn to the internet in such cases and even if they could, how many would actually be patient and meticulous enough to sift through so many reviews for valid, pertinent information before arriving at a conclusion? Why wasn't even half this information available from even authorized dealers? I'm not talking about mere subjective opinions, but the technical details; for instance - "does this camera have an optical viewfinder?", "how many manual controls does this camera have?" and "how clear is the picture at maximum resolution?", "what is the average battery life?" and so on. If some dealers cannot answer the simple price question, how can they expect customers to trust them on the more intricate details? I can only conclude that:
  1. The majority of their customers are really very poorly informed and,
  2. The majority of their customers trust them completely to take the decision for them.
That's disturbing because it implies that there really are people who spend money without really thinking about what they're getting for it. And people who buy digital cameras aren't exactly illiterate either.

This might be an isolated incident, but it made me think about the broader issue - why are marketers generally so reluctant to share product information which might help customers make more informed purchase decisions? How can they expect people to shell out hard cash for products with sketchy and often inaccurate information? A lot of shopkeepers tend to carry the attitude that customers don't know anything and so will accept their advice and recommendations. Increasingly that's becoming a myth and marketers can no longer expect to continue selling products - especially technology products - without educating both the customer and their own sales force. Time and again, I've experienced extreme frustration when shopping because retail salespeople are either too stupid, too ignorant or too disinterested to help out effectively. And this attitude seems to flow from the top. It's astonishing that they're effectively turning people away by exhibiting such attitudes.

I think there's a strong case for the marketer to be aware that impulsive or uninformed buying is not exactly a healthy trend from a seller's perspective as well. Because rash purchase decisions will more often than not lead to regret and create a base of dissatisfied customers. Take the example of holiday packages. It's not easy selling holiday packages in a country like India because most middle-class people (at whom these packages are targetted) simply cannot afford them and generally the holiday culture just hasn't caught on in this segment. Even people who have a bit of money to spare will generally invest in traditional and safer ways where there is an assured return on investment. Yet, in many cases, these holiday packages get sold because people are temporarily under the influence of glossy full-colour brochures and the picturesque description of exotic foreign resorts and take a decision to buy based on that immediate attraction. Without having a sound idea of where and when to take a holiday and considering the feasibility of taking on a long-term monetary commitment, many people invest in such schemes only to be disappointed later when they find that their work schedule and circumstances simply don't permit them to enjoy the product. The end result is that they will tend to discourage their friends and relatives from investing in such schemes based on their own experience.

I'm not saying that marketers should not be creative while selling their products. The issue is, when it comes to any non-trivial purchase, customers need to be better informed and it's up to the marketers to make that effort in their own interests as well as the interests of the customer. Very often it's the product which sells itself to people who have a genuine need and just simple, direct and accurate communication will do the job. Marketers over-complicate their own jobs by seeking out customers where there are none and by failing to understand their real requirements. Their energies should be focussed on build a strong and technically competent sales force that will build a network of trust and reliability. Credibility is such an important factor - even for the big brands. Customers always feel safer when a company sales executive can talk about the product in dispassionately technical terms. At the very least authorized dealers should have to learn their stuff before being allowed to sell the stuff. Otherwise they're letting down customers and letting down their principal as well.

How much brand equity can you build when you sell products in such a haphazard manner? And how much customer loyalty can they really expect in the long run from people who don't know what your product is really about? It's so easy to turn off genuine customers by being excessively eager to sell without showing complete transparency.

The idea should be to create satisfaction and not merely make a sale.
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Mira Groupware

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Wed, Mar 7, 2007 at 10:32 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:45 IST)

Mira is a proposed FOSS groupware solution. My good friend Max has posted a message on his blog explaining the concept. I thought I would help in spreading the message with a post here as well. :)

For those of you who are excited about working with a new FOSS project, please do visit the new website. The forum is already up and running. Feel free to join up there and pitch in with your design and development ideas. Whether you're good at coding, documentation or giving ideas we need your help. The wiki is a great place to start building up content as the idea starts taking a concrete form.
Comments (2)  

CSS fix for bad layout alignment in Internet Explorer

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted on Tue, Mar 6, 2007 at 16:43 IST (last updated: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 @ 21:58 IST)

The new fixed width theme for this blog was giving me problems with Internet Explorer. I had remembered that IE 6 and previous versions were finicky about margins. Instead of computing the exact margin size from the edge of the previous <div> element, the margin is calculated from the body's edge. This led to a weird problem where the width of the entire layout was shifted a lot more to the right than I intended.

I had used margin-left: 60px; in the CSS of the main layout <div> tags: the header, the content and the footer ids. And also used margin-left to create spaces to the left of the inside content element and the sidebar.

Here's how I fixed the bug to make it pixel correct in Internet Explorer.
  1. Removed the margin-left for each of the main CSS elements (the header, the content and the footer) and instead gave the <body> element a margin-left attribute with the same width to get the same result. The content block is shifted to the right by 60 pixels and doesn't stick to the left edge of the browser.
  2. Replaced the inner margin attributes (for the inside content block as well as for the sidebar block) with the padding attribute to get the same gap.
That's it. The theme is now compatible with IE as well. I suspect that IE 6 and below have problems with the margin CSS attribute and so it makes some bizzare layout decisions when rendering the <div> blocks.

Here are the explanatory screen shots:

Before the fix:
IE 6 Wrong Layout

After the fix:
After the fix

The above fix should be applicable for CSS layout problems of this nature with IE while ensuring that other browsers also render correctly. There are other CSS rendering issues with Internet Explorer, but that's another story altogether :P
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New fixed width look

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Mon, Mar 5, 2007 at 17:34 IST (last updated: Wed, Sep 26, 2007 @ 14:47 IST)

In my constant attempt at tweaking the XHTML and CSS code on this site, I've changed my theme yet again. It shouldn't surprise regular readers of my blog. However, this one is a fixed-width theme (and not a fluid theme like my previous themes). The header image is from a photo taken by my mother several years ago on a business visit to Germany and I thought I should spice up the look with a nice photographic image instead of a solid block of colour or a pattern.

I've taken a lot more effort over this theme, but the result has been pretty decent I think. CSS is quite fun and rewarding for web design and I highly recommend using it to achieve layout effects. You can get a lot of control using <div> tags and I still haven't explored the advanced cool effects that can be attained with CSS (like shadowed borders for boxes, curved layouts using images and so on).

Hope you like this design. On a related note I'm planning on making all my previous themes available for download after removing all the extra code changes made for plugins.

Update: Theme now works correctly with IE 6 too. Just a minor CSS change did the trick (used the padding attribute instead of the margin attribute)
Comments (11)