Mumbai on the water

In Mumbai/ Bombay today, with the two other company people (two of us are permanently in India, the third runs the Innosight Asia and divides his time between India, Singapore, And the United States).
Expedia apparently had some ridiculous offer on a hotel on Mumbai’s west side, so we are at a Hilton on Marine Drive, overlooking the water. This is pretty much the central park west of Mumbai. I spent part of the afternoon sitting out on the granite balustrade along the ocean, ten feet above the waterline maybe. The city had placed some cement water breaks between the waterline and the promenade and the breaks looked just like oversized cement jacks. At night, giants come down with little bouncy balls and scoop up the jacks out of the water. I’m sure of it. It was great to sit down over the water and listen to music and take a break.
Anyway, I love this city. It reminds me of New York. I went to dinner at Indigo, a restaurant in Bombay’s equivalent of the village.
Curiously, I got to stay inside Delhi this week as well, at a little, shabby chic hotel in Karol Bagh, which made it easier to get to the Vietnam embassy. I spent the evening and then dawn wandering around in the city. This is very unusual since most of my travel is airport-to-hotel business style travel which really isn’t interesting at all.
So, a lucky week. I fly back to Trivandarum on Wednesday morning and then I might take the scooter up to Ponmudi and wander around the tea plantations this coming weekend.

An entry about cockroaches

I slept in the tent last night, on my bed. Well, on three bed frames that I pulled together from two rooms. I set the tent up after switching on the light in one of the house bathrooms and catching several cockroaches re-enacting what I can only guess was a scene from Die Hard II. I killed two of them (one with the base of a steel cup as it tried to scurry up the wall) and then walked out of the bathroom and saw two long antenna poking out of the sink overflow mouth in the living room basin. Between this, the mosquitoes (not very many, but they carry filarisis), and the biting ants (flesh eating might be a better term… Hari told me about them. He had an infestation in his house and woke up with tracks of blood down his legs) I chose to sleep in the tent. I may do this for a while. I have considered purchasing some fake grass mats for the bed.

So it looks like I will get my grass bed. But the grass will be plastic. And there will be a tent in the middle.

5 great things

1. Leaning over the sink to eat a mango ten minutes after I wake

2. Opening the doors and pulling the curtains aside instead of turning on the lights

3. The luffing sound of the ceiling fan, as opposed to the buzz of the AC

3. Hearing birds, insects and peepers when I go to sleep

4. Using power outages as an excuse for a walk

5. Afternoon break: lunch, shower, nap


Blue Steel Ant Farm

There are 1,121 photos matching “ant” and “farm” in flickr right now, including one set of 44 ant farm photos. The ones at the front (I have not searched through all of them) seem to focus on the Antworks farm—an ant farm that uses a translucent blue nutrient gel in the place of dirt and sand. You can light the tank from different directions and the tank is wider than the traditional ant farm so the nest can branch out in three rather than two dimensions.

I have no idea what the ants must think about this farm. Here they are, scrabbling around in the dirt only to be picked up and placed in a posh 70’s Lava Lamp nightmare. Some of the ants are happy. I’ll bet that there is at least one Wendell Berry ant that is terribly disappointed by the whole thing.

Anyway, I was looking at these ant farm pictures and wondering. When do ants decide to make new tunnels? There seems to be no clear pattern to the ant nests featured in flickr. Some ants seem to be early branchers. Others seem to branch late. Is it a function of lighting or of a temperature gradient or of the antgenes? If I placed two sets of genetically identical ants in two separate containers at the same temperature gradient and with the same levels of ambient light, would I end up with identical patterns? I doubt it, since ant farm configurations have an initial conditions feel, but I can see the value of being an early brancher vs a late brancher and being a surface digger vs a deep digger so It might be that ants taken from the same colony will make similar if not identical digging decisions.

These are all important questions. It will be difficult to justify the effort of knitting a scale “ant farm” series if I could just knit together a series of tubes (the internet!) and call it an ant farm. The ant farm sweaters will need to wait until I figure this out.

Tuscan Whole Milk

The Tuscan Whole Milk reviews in 933 (today) and counting. I find this sort of obsessiveness (or the thought that someone else has this sort of obsessiveness) very reassuring. It reminds me that there is nothing wrong with focus and that the real trick is to choose a target rather than frittering around from topic to topic, stoking unevenly a pallid fire of weak intentions in the coal box of an otherwise heavenly dynamo that drives us from birth to death.

TWM is not the best example of this sort of obsessiveness. I kept an ongoing editorial argument between two ornithologists over my desk for year when I worked in Cambridge, MA. as I recall, the article that sparked the argument covered the habits of the piping plover. Both ornithologists posed as Plover experts. The argument, which has now been lost to me (I would need to plow through the Wall Street Journal’s letter archive and I’m too lazy right now), was entirely vicious. Lots of underhanded sarcasm and obsessive, obsessive attention for detail.


I’ve been thinking about housekeeping and janitorial carts today. I saw one of the carts, loaded, when I walked down the stairwell in the back of my building on my way to get some groceries at Bugis Center where I saw another set of carts. I saw a third set (well, a mop bucket with wheels, which counts) on my way back from Bugis. I took photographs of two of the carts but not the mop bucket.

I’ve done only a little bit of janitorial work and this was part of a college landscaping crew so I have no exposure to indoor/ industrial janitorial work. At the same time, I imagine that the cart is a very personal item and that there are strong cart preferences and strong thoughts on cart design. That carts have evolved into so many forms tells me that there has been a sort of natural selection process, where some design features, such as big wheels migrated toward outdoor or trash container applications while narrow carts migrated toward buildings with narrow stairwell platforms (so the cart can be put on stairwell to keep it out of the way when someone is cleaning a hallway.) It would be interesting to see whether carts have changed to accommodate changes in building designs. I am sure that they have changed to accommodate evolving job descriptions. In the future, when our janitor is also the person in charge of the it system, I could expect a cart that has both a trash receptacle and a set of small screwdrivers for removing a server chassis.

But all of that is beside the point. Carts interest me because they have the perfect spectrum of design features. In some cases, such as a car, there are thousands of features which change all of the time and are highly interdependent. It is impossible to see all of the design tradeoffs as they evolve over time. In the case of a janitorial cart, it is possible (maybe) to look back at the history of carts and visualize all of the tradeoffs and to see how well they worked.

That brings me to another question: Why don’t I see carts for carpenters? Are they just too large for a worksite? Would it be a pain to take them up and down from the truck each day? I see small work buckets with cleverly designed tool aprons (this was an innovation a few years ago) and I’ve seen some tool buckets with wheels, but no carts. Curious.

Hope Quotes

“Which book was it set in Venice…oh wait, it was a romance novel…I thought it was a real book, never mind….”

(To gas station attendant, Jersey Turnpike Rest Stop) “How do I get back on the highway?”

(Discussing a map of India) “Wait… your East or my East?”
(Looking at a wood burning fireplace, set into a chimney, with the metal guard doors closed) “Hey…is this thing on?”

Fortune Cookies

I bought some fortune cookies this morning. An acrylic bag of 60 to 80 fortune cookies. I was happy to carry the fortunes of other people back from the 7-11 to my house. It made Santa Claus seem awfully pedestrian. He brings you gifts but this bag brings you fate.

It does not, of course. Fated fortune cookie fortunes cannot be extracted at a restaurant or via a takeout bag. They need to be found instead, on a sidewalk or in a hallway or a train station or bus depot. Someone else needs to open the cookie and reject the fortune. This proves that it is was received by the wrong person. The chance that it was intended for you increases. Delivery is no longer a predictable matter. You might not notice the fortune lying on the ground. In that case, it remains lying in wait, intended for someone else.

Or it could be that the landfill is the natural destination for a fortune cookie fortune. There are probably thousands of them in Fresh Kills (the Staten Island Landfill) alone. They lie there, scrunched between discarded objects, from diapers to newspaper, patiently informing car batteries and discarded tires that “You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you” It is all very surreal from the outside but comforting to the tires. I may be wrong. I don’t speak tire or any other inanimate object.

At any rate. IÂ’m going to give the fortune cookies to the rest of the office and collect the fortunes afterwards. IÂ’ll then tape the fortunes to benches and bridge underpasses around Singapore. IÂ’m not sure why. I just feel compelled to do this. I was compelled to do this from the minute that I decided to purchase the bag. It may,again, be fate. Just last week I got a fortune cookie fortune that told me IÂ’d be doing this. A meta fortune cookie, produced by the queen bee of fortune cookies, from a big hive in Plano, TX, where worker cookies extract fortunes from the queen cookie and implant them on small balls of warm dough.

A work related aside

Olivier Blanchard has an editorial post at Corante, quoting Mary Schmidt’s review of the new Kraft Cheese grating concept—a bag containing a wedge of parmesan cheese and a miniature grater. He notes that Kraft can spend bundles on market research but still end up throwing darts in a dark room when it comes to innovation and wonders whether there is a target market that really needs this sort of thing.

I suspect that there isn’t, and I suspect that this was obvious to many of the people that worked on the project. Projects like these occur when (1) companies define themselves as innovative (2) a language of innovation is established and (3) department leaders are able to use this language to gain political capital within the company.

I don’t have any knowledge of Kraft’s innovation process, but the product is perfect for gaining internal alignment within a consumer packaged goods company struggling against a market that seems to demand an endless stream of new products. The product is easy to visualize and understand. The product is low cost, save for R&D involved in the cheese grater. The product saves Kraft several processing steps in powdering the cheese and making sure that the cheese powder does not stick together. Importantly, this is the sort of product that can attract participation across the company. While seeming simple, it is new enough that someone in R&D can become a team player and leap onboard, it is a sure win for someone who might otherwise be struggling in marketing. It supports a series of timelines that can be met and is situated in a familiar market where forecasts are easy to make with numbers that are large enough to attract c-level support.

All that this innovation requires now is leadership, a sponsor, someone who believes in the concept. If the concept is generated at an innovation workshop, the innovator may be placed high enough in the company hierarchy that the benefits of forming a special team become obvious. If the innovation occurs in the context of a divisional or company wide ‘incubator’ program then all the better. If innovation occurs in the context of an initiative that requires “y new product launches” by 2007 then the inventor is making a valuable contribution to an internal metric.

Once the concept has surfaced and a team has formed, there is no backing down short of a market launch. If the product fails in the market, then the team has attempted innovation and failed, learning a great deal in the process. This the product fails internally prior to launch then the team leadership has probably spent a great deal of political capital to no avail. That’s the curious thing about innovation processes: in-market failure can be acceptable, particularly if those failures generate new consumer insight, but internal failure prior to launch is often taken to demonstrate a lack of leadership.

Photo from the Accidental Hedonist website:


Tong Shui Cake

The Samosas and the noodles worked so well, IÂ’ve decided to try making it into a cake. IÂ’m basing the recipe on a modified yogurt cake recipe from


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup almond Tong Shui

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan
IÂ’m using a cheap disposable pan

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until smooth. Combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder; stir into the batter alternately with the yogurt. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.
The batter emerges looking yellow (from the butter, a high grade Australian import butter) and very smooth. Sweet to the taste. This cake is going to have a higher sugar content than the original yogurt cake since Tong Shui has a higher sugar content than yogurt.

3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted into the crown comes out clean.

Minute 50: IÂ’m using a crazy combination oven/ microwave/ convection oven. After irradiating half the room and most of myself, IÂ’ve managed to get 175 CÂ’s of convection. I still canÂ’t find the normal oven so the convection oven will need to do. Do people ever cook cakes in convection ovens? I donÂ’t know.

Minute 37: The yellow batter has risen slightly and gone white on top, with a few darker marks indicating that something is actually baking. The oven keeps whirring away. Also, this is the first time I’ve used the oven and a horrible smell—which the oven manual calls the “new oven smell” is wafting through the room. I’ve opened the doors and windows to the apartment but it still smells like roasted badger. New oven smell is much, much less appealing than new car smell. Also, as I write this, the oven has emitted a new hissing sound. That might be the hyperbaric oven chamber equalizing.

Minute 24: the cake has risen and has a nice dark golden dome on top. The wonders of sifting the baking soda, baking powder and flour together so they are evenly distributed through the batter. The warm, golden smell of cake is also overcoming the new oven smell.

Done? Done. It tastes good. Very golden in the middle. I took the cake back to the Tong Shui place and explained what I had done. They said that the cake tasted very good (it was extremely sweet and undercooked a bit so they were being nice). Now they probably think that I am weird.

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