Review #51: Amazon Fire TV (Gen 3 - 4K HDR) ★★★★☆


Normally, whenever I get a new device, the instinct is to analyse it in depth. Unfortunately, certain constraints prevent me from doing so with the Fire TV 4K, primary of them being that I have no 4K display devices at present. However, a lot of thought had gone in to purchasing this device for a 1080p non-HDR TV, even though it is not officially available in India. So, I would like to share these thoughts along with the experience of setting it up so as to get the most out of it. Thus, this article will straddle the line between a tutorial and a review, but I have decided to classify it as the latter since this article, while being instructional, is still appraising the product.

Musing #47: Shipping from AliExpress to India



AliExpress has always been a go-to marketplace for low-value, utilitarian items. However, since time immemorial, there have been two primary concerns about AliExpress - quality and delivery. Many years ago, I remember the sellers being abusive and you didn't always get what you saw, with the delivery being a hit-or-miss affair.

However, things have improved significantly over the years. The customer service has been more prompt in issuing refunds for genuine cases under 'Buyer Protection' which has in turn ensured that the sellers are much more truthful about their product images. Of late, I haven't encountered a single situation where the product wasn't as described.

Musing #44: Shipping from US to India (eBay GEB, Amazon, HopShopGo)


Despite rampant globalisation, there are always a few things that are seemingly out of reach. On the flip side, you can almost get anything you want if you are prepared to the pay the price for it. Custom duties make importing a financially challenging decision, perhaps rightly so, and hence there must be a need rather than a want for those items. However, as human nature goes, it is always the latter and that is mostly the case with me as well.

I am of course not new to importing items that I deem to be worth their price. However, importing anything was not under consideration until eBay launched its Global Easy Buy service in India several years ago. Since Flipkart or Amazon were not in vogue or even existence back then, this service was quite useful in getting hands on some products that are easily available today. However, the major international reseller on eBay, i2cworld_inc is extremely unreliable as their order acceptance rate is around 1 out of 5. Most of the times, the excuse is that the item is unavailable with major retailers when in fact it is listed on every major retailer's site. While I was able to use coupons with this service a couple of years ago, they no longer work with GEB products, even the ones issued by banks. There is no major appeal in using this service, though it is still useful for some items that are only listed on eBay.

The other major and extremely reliable option is to use Amazon. However, there are in fact two import services that are independent of each other. The major one is the International Shipping option offered directly by Amazon.com. The inventory of items is limited but is far greater than what is offered by the other service - the Global Store on Amazon.in. Also, the USD payment is usually cheaper on account of lower conversion rates offered by the credit card provider in comparison to what Amazon charges. The INR rates on the Amazon.in Global Store are on par with the Amazon converted ones and hence a bit more expensive. However, on the flip side, one can avail of the cashback offers that can make the INR purchases cheaper than the USD ones on Amazon.com.

Lastly, there are the forwarding services that allows one to purchase anything under the sun, at least as long as it is not perishable. I had registered on multiple sites but never used any of them since I never quite liked the uncertainty of not knowing how much I will end up paying. However, I finally bit the bullet a couple of weeks back and decided to have a go, if for nothing else than to take in the experience.

HopShopGo had a new user offer which included free Express shipping upgrade along with $10 and 20% off on shipping. I decided to go with two relatively lower priced products to check out whether consolidating packages results in any savings in comparison to other services. The finance didn't quite work out the way I had hoped as I barely ended up saving anything in comparison to purchasing from international resellers on Amazon or eBay. However, the HopShopGo service itself delivered as expected. I would sum up the experience using the following salient points:

1. The unique "c/o" identifier may not be included by the merchant shipping the product, in which case it is opened by HSG and you have to provide the tracking details to confirm the same.

2. If the product arrives without an attached invoice, then the onus falls on you to declare the value of the goods.

3. I had ordered 2 items weighing less than 150g each but HSG rounded each one to  0.5 kg resulting in a 1 kg shipping weight. No repack is allowed for such lightweight items.

4. On the other hand, DHL declared a total shipping weight of 0.45 kg, which means the added weight was to HSG's benefit.

5. When calculating the CIF (cost, insurance, fright) value, HSG used the shipping cost value exclusive of their discounts. Due to this, the CIF value ended up being more than twice the value of the goods.

6. The Indian customs added 10% customs duty on the CIF and then another 28% IGST on the cumulative value of CIF and Customs. ED and SHE cess, though not amounting to much, were added as well.

7. The biggest kicker is DHL's handling fee of ₹500 along with another 18% GST, even though they cleared my package together with 10 others.

Looking back at all the experiences, I would certainly say that Amazon's Global Shipping is the best option available, if you are indeed able to find what you need. Forwarding services hardly save much, though some benefit can be realised by combining packages and picking out the odd items that Amazon wouldn't ship. Anyway you cut it, there is no small price to pay for protectionism.

Musing #38: The case of the mismatching VP count


While the US President has managed to hog all the limelight just about everyday in office, the Indian President was ushered in a more laid-back affair in the past month which is just as well considering the fact that is largely a ceremonial post. However, it was the ushering in of the 13th Vice-President yesterday, as against the 14th President earlier that got me to delve in to the history of these posts and the resulting mismatch in their count.

While Wikipedia has a well structured list of Presidents and Vice-Presidents, it is difficult to follow the changes for both the posts in sequence. Hence, I decided to chronologise the same and have presented it in the table below.

Interestingly, only twice has the Vice-President been ushered in with the President on the same day, which can be considered to be an oddity of sorts, though perfectly justifiable considering the circumstances and the duration of the posts.

Date of taking office Pres/VP Count President Taking Office VP Taking Office
26-Jan-1950
1/0
Rajendra Prasad
-
13-May-1952
1/1
-
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
13-May-1962
2/2
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Zakir Husain
13-May-1967
3/3
Zakir Husain
Varahagiri Venkata Giri
03-May-1969
3/3
Varahagiri Venkata Giri
-
20-Jul-1969
3/3
Mohammad Hidayatullah
-
24-Aug-1969
4/3
Varahagiri Venkata Giri
-
31-Aug-1969
4/4
-
Gopal Swarup Pathak
24-Aug-1974
5/4
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed
-
31-Aug-1974
5/5
-
Basappa Danappa Jatti
11-Feb-1977
5/5
Basappa Danappa Jatti
-
25-Jul-1977
6/5
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy
-
31-Aug-1979
6/6
-
Mohammad Hidayatullah
25-Jul-1982
7/6
Giani Zail Singh
-
31-Aug-1984
7/7
-
Ramaswamy Venkataraman
25-Jul-1987
8/7
Ramaswamy Venkataraman
-
03-Sep-1987
8/8
-
Shankar Dayal Sharma
25-Jul-1992
9/8
Shankar Dayal Sharma
-
21-Aug-1992
9/9
-
Kocheril Raman Narayanan
25-Jul-1997
10/9
Kocheril Raman Narayanan
-
21-Aug-1997
10/10
-
Krishan Kant
25-Jul-2002
11/10
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
-
19-Aug-2002
11/11
-
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat
25-Jul-2007
12/11
Pratibha Patil
-
11-Aug-2007
12/12
-
Mohammad Hamid Ansari
25-Jul-2012
13/12
Pranab Mukherjee
-
25-Jul-2017
14/12
Ram Nath Kovind
-
11-Aug-2017
14/13
-
Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu

Musing #32: Milk Online (Sarda Farms)

Ordering milk online directly from the farm isn't as preposterous now as it would have been half a decade back. With the digital revolution having superseded the white revolution, it was simply a matter of time. When I received a pamphlet from Sarda Farms about direct to home delivery, I couldn't resist subscribing to it. I would like to think of myself as a digital pioneer of sorts, having jumped straight in to every digital service on inception. After all, I can't imagine many Indians purchasing stuff online in the past century and yet I started off purchasing online at a time when there wasn't much digital infrastructure to speak of in this country.

Most of the times, when I receive a pamphlet with a phone number on it, I expect a sparse, showcase online presence. Hence, I was presently surprised to see a fully equipped online ordering portal on the website. Moreover, there are decently designed Android and iOS apps available in the respective stores that allow you to adjust every aspect of your subscription, from delivery planning to delivery mode and renewals. It is not to say that there aren't any design or functionality issues. For example, the dashboard giving an overview of the remaining quantity on the website is sadly missing on the iOS app whose Home tab is simply a replication of the menu options. Similarly, the option to enter a promo code is missing from the app which shows a lack of anticipation for future offers. But it is very encouraging to see such a robust digital presence from a nascent service fulfilling basic requirements.

The true test of a service comes up when something unexpected occurs and demands flexibility from the provider. This happened to me when I inadvertently set a schedule (6 litres/week) which accounted for 27 litres over a 30 calendar day period, thereby omitting me from taking advantage of their free offer of 30 litres for new users (which required a minimum order of 30 litres). As I had already made the payment, I regretted at having missed out on the offer. However, on contacting their customer care, I was surprised to get a fully empathetic response whereby they sent me a link to pay for the remaining 3 litres, following which I had a total of 60 litres credited to my account. Speaking of customer care, I received a response within a couple of hours over email, app and within a minute over the phone.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised considering that there are so many turnkey IT solutions available now-a-days. For example, I can see that their payment services are being offered by EBS on account of which it looks professional from the get-go. Even then, this is an exception rather than a rule. Too many products and services launch with a shoddy implementation which leaves a poor first and consequently last impression.

Having spoken of the digital presence, I now await the physical delivery of the goods which is slated to start a fortnight later. 15 days is a long lead time but I suppose that is excusable, for last-mile logistics is always a difficult proposition. It is certainly not a cheap proposition at Rs. 90/litre, though the new user offer softens the blow by bringing it more or less on par with market prices. To add to the bargain, I managed to get free samples of all their curd offerings along with my first milk delivery which should allow me to form a better opinion of the brand as a whole. Till then, I can only hope that the milk is of the same ilk as the digital setup.

Musing #17: Universal basic income


On the face of it, who wouldn't like free money? However, as the recent referendum in Switzerland has shown, if nothing else, people are skeptical of this concept for the time being for the additional expense it will entail. But a concept that had the backing of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Peter Drucker, Milton Friedman in some form is bound to hold some weight.

The primary reason stated in its favour is the rise of automation, its inevitable takeover and outsourcing. The irony of the latter is not lost on me for it is what is driving the economy of the country I live in and hence this concept wouldn't see the light of the day over here for decades to come. However, it doesn't prevent one from having an opinion on it.

If this argument on the loss of jobs sounds familiar, then you are acquainted with the story of the Luddites from the 19th century. It suffices to say that it ended with the epitaph "resistance is futile". Hence, the dogma of embracing change rather than fighting it. With self-driving cars and robotic assembly, one can definitely see the writing on the wall. It would be naive to think otherwise.

To counter it, one can refer to previous revolutions where someone's job loss was someone else's job gain. It only meant a reshuffle to a higher skill level. The same can be said of the next revolution where people equipped with AI and robotics skills will lead the way. It would simply be a question of skill readjustment.

However, the question here is whether such roles would be too much of a niche so as to cause large scale disruption in the general population. The fact is that automation will simultaneously impact multiple facets of life and maintenance of these machines might not require as much manpower as machines of the past have required. This doesn't imply sentient machines that will take over the world but rather that the efficiency of developing and maintaining machines would have reached such a level that the job of not hundreds, but thousands, if not millions can be replaced by one person tending to the machines.

Turning heads to the benefits of universal basic income, it all boils down to social security. The premise is that secure people are happy people. There would hardly be anyone who isn't anxious of the vagaries of the everyday job. This undoubtedly tends to impact personal life as well. The idea is that a basic income would substantially change the outlook of a person towards life. If you have a safety net, you are bound to engage yourself in much more meaningful tasks. To most, that would imply taking up jobs that supplement you happiness rather than income and being able to spend more time with loved ones. Also, government subsidies are a fact of life in most parts of the world and the basic income can only be seen to be a more inclusive extension of that concept.

On the other side is the possibility that any sort of guaranteed money will only beget laziness. It will result in a more self-indulgent society that partakes in anti-social activities. There simply won't be an incentive to work for those who are not inclined to do so. It will end up creating a more bipartisan society than ever before. Then, there is the elephant in the room - who will pay for it?

When you weight the two sides, you can realize how much it relies on trust. Is trust in citizens a good or a bad thing? The fact that we need the police and judiciary would imply that inherently trusting people may not be a good idea. But then, various pilot projects around the world have indicated an upliftment in the lives of those strucken with poverty. The fact of life is that everyone wants a better life and most people will grab the opportunity of getting one. A safety net is as safe as what you do with it. You can't protect a person who cuts a hole in the net and then takes a leap of faith.

This gives rise to the question - just how much is enough? Surely, it just needs to be enough to alleviate poverty and most countries already have a poverty line to determine this limit. Perhaps, the basic income needs to be just about survival for the incentive to live a better life will be in the offing for those engaging in paid jobs. After all basic income is about security and not luxury. Whichever way you cut it, basic income will undoubtedly have an enormous social, political and economic impact.

The Indian context:

As I mentioned previously, I don't expect basic income to become a reality in India for quite a few decades due to the social, political structure and population of the country. However, since then I searched for it online and came across the 'Basic income in India' article on Wikipedia which presents a positive picture. So even if it is hypothetical, can India afford such a scheme? Let us delve a bit in to the numbers and see what comes out of it.


Assuming the same per capita tax payment and not considering indirect taxes, it would be possible to meet the basic income expenditure if the tax base is increased to 21%. In the face of reality, that seems improbable. However, at the same time, it is not impossible. So, as we move towards being a more progressive and inclusive society, one can imagine that the target should be within reach in the next decade or so.

Conclusion:

Who wouldn't like to be paid more? Who wouldn't like to work less? The answer to these questions summarizes the utopian nature of this concept. The fact is that as a society, the need for longer working hours is purely derived from a need for higher economic output. If machines can provide much higher productivity and economic output, then it certainly de-emphasizes the need for manual labour. At the same time, the society, based on its consumption patterns, would ensure that the money flow isn't impacted. This then leaves humans to focus a lot more on living and enjoying their lives. At a fundamental level, this is what humanity is about and the basic income only goes some way in ensuring that. As humans, we have always been suspectful of parting with money that does not seem to directly benefit us and in a way that forms the basis of income inequality. Hence it is a question of the correct mentality as much as it is about the economics of funding such an initiative. Hence, it is inevitable that some country would pave the path for others not too far ahead in the distant future.