Sunday, March 27, 2011

A dealbreaker weakness in Web standards (CSS, HTML, JavaScript, SVG, etc.)

For me, the fact that all of the code written in Web standards (CSS, HTML, JavaScript, SVG, etc.) is readable by anyone is a dealbreaker. Why do Adobe and Microsoft protect the source code of their desktop applications so fiercely? Because the source code is their most important piece of intellectual property.

These companies, and others, cannot extend the same protection to client-side software (or documents) built using Web standards. These standards have been designed to be human-readable.

An example of a company that's facing serious issues because of this openness of Web standards is Google. Because documents built using Web standards can be read by humans and parsed/processed by machines, Google's rival Bing is able to process Google's search results to better its own ranking. Would this have been possible if Google SERPs were served inside proprietary desktop software? Probably not.

I consider the openness of source code of applications and documents built using Web standards a serious issue. Frankly, I don't like it. I'm not in favor of it.

Disclaimer: I do understand that it is openness that has led to the proliferation of the WWW. I also understand that the proliferation of the WWW and of Web browsers has been a significant contributor to Google's success. I'm not contesting any of this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corrections needed in India's NEFT/RTGS systems

  1. Make NEFT and RTGS free: There's no fee charged for using cheques, and so should NEFT and RTGS be. More so because cheques cost banks much more than the cost of NEFT and RTGS systems. It's unfortunate that these fast, electronic systems are not free, forcing people to use slower, paper-based methods.
  2. Abolish IFSC: We don't need this. Really. If a customer of HDFC Bank wants to transfer some money to someone who holds an account with SBI, only the account number of the recipient should be required. The NEFT/RTGS systems should be redesigned so that the communication is from bank to bank, rather than from branch to branch. HDFC Bank should be concerned with transferring money to the specified account number of SBI. It should be up to SBI's computers to determine the branch and transfer money to it.
  3. Allow hot transfers without addition as beneficiary: It's possible to write anyone's name on a cheque, but it's not the same with doing a NEFT transfer through a bank's website. You have to first add a beneficiary, a process that, for some banks, requires a mandatory 24 hour waiting period before a payment can be made to that beneficiary. Ridiculous! Reminds me of License Raj and how it inhibited India's progress. It should be possible to do hot transfers to anyone without having to go through the ordeal of adding a beneficiary (I'm not sure if this step is mandated by RBI, but it's possible that it's the banks that have implemented this requirement and that this isn't an integral part of the NEFT system). The philosophy should be the one followed in online email services - you can add someone to your address book if you want, and this'll make your life easy, but you can also always send an email to someone without having to add him to your address book.
  4. Introduce a NEFT/RTGS book, like a cheque book: The process of transferring money using cheques (clearing) typically takes two days. This can be reduced by one day if banks introduce a new NEFT/RTGS book (can be named Tatkal cheque book to make it easy to remember by the Average Joe in India). An individual or a firm needs to mention only the name, bank name and account number of the payee (this assumes that IFSC isn't required, as listed above). Give this Tatkal cheque to your bank and the transfer will be done on the same day (using NEFT, RTGS, etc.).
  5. Allow NEFT/RTGS 24x7x365: I find it appalling that two of the most important/popular electronic methods of money transfer in India, NEFT and RTGS, have been handicapped by some arbitrary cutoff timings set by the RBI. Cutoff timings for electronic systems? What's the rationale behind this? Credit and debit cards work 24x7x365, and so should NEFT and RTGS. After all, there's no human involved in these transactions, and barring the occasional maintenance and rare outages, computers can work nonstop without breaking a sweat!
  6. Eliminate "free-floating" RTGS forms: A gaping hole in the way RTGS transfers are conducted is that some banks (such as SBI) have placed booklets of generic RTGS forms at various counters, openly available to anyone. A signature is now the sole barrier to fraud. Unlike cheques, that must be issued to the firm/individual who wants to transfer money, these RTGS forms can be picked up and filled by anyone. This makes it futile to securely keep the forms in your locker (something most people do with their cheque books), since both payer and payee can be filled in these generic forms. This hole must be plugged, by issuing NEFT/RTGS books in the same way that cheque books are issued today.
These are just some of the improvements that I think will encourage the use of electronic money transfer in India, and also make the whole process more convenient, efficient, quick and secure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fiction books - a waste of valuable time or just another source of personal entertainment?

I'm not a fan of fiction novels. I consider them a waste of valuable time. I don't read fiction, and I suggest to others to not read fiction.


Because I believe that one should instead read a nonfiction book, because a nonfiction surely teaches you something, in addition to entertaining you. Better deal! Better utilization of time! And you can't disagree that there are tons of great nonfiction alternatives to fiction books, so you can't say that nonfiction ain't good enough.

This old belief became fresh once again when I read the following opening sentence in a recent article by Dwight Garner in The New York Times:

"Reading a dull, charmless nonfiction book is almost always better than reading a dull, charmless novel. With a nonfiction book, you might at least learn something."

But this time I thought - isn't my belief equivalent to saying that one should watch only documentaries [assuming that most documentaries are based on reality] and never watch movies [assuming that most movies are fiction], because documentaries both entertain and teach you. When I tell others to never waste their time reading fiction, why do I watch scores of fiction movies?

I guess I'll stop opposing fiction from here on and accept it as just another source of personal entertainment.

P.S. Interestingly, I just googled this and found that a lot of debate has already been done on this question!