Monday, October 1, 2012

The ethics of missed calls

ThoughtWorks is a crazy place. You're walking on thin rope all the time and there's super opiniated crowds on both sides who will eat you alive if you take one wrong step. Most of these arguments are paradoxical as described by Jim Highsmith, and get boring and repetitive very soon... "growth", "specialization", etc. Then there are arguments that are totally futile and endless. Like the lunch served in the India offices. People can go on arguing about how they like OR don't like the "current" caterer and obviously never get anywhere because people have different tastes in food and there's no caterer in the world that will be able to make everyone happy.

But every once in a while a really nice juicy argument comes along and makes it all worth the while :)

Missed calls

Missed Calls were (are?) a big part of the Indian (youth) culture when I was going through college. Cellphones were getting cheap enough for college kids to carry one, but call rates were not cheap in any sense of the word. In that situation missed calls were a legitimate form of communication.
  1. Giving missed calls to the "wealthy" party so they could call back and bear the cost of the call. This worked well with parents :D and sometimes with wealthy / generous friends.
  2. Giving missed calls to indicate yes / no (one ring = yes, two = no). Useful in all manners of covert transactions including flirting with guys / girls from orthodox families that WOULD NOT allow calls from friends of the opposite sex. err... yes this is true.
  3. Giving missed calls to indicate "I'm here". When you were meeting a friend and expected him/her to come down / out of the house so you can get going, you don't go to the house. That's weird; a waste of time; a thing to avoid at all costs (exchanging pleasantaries with the friend's family, having a bit of snack / tea offered to you, sharing awkward silence with your friend's super cute sibling, etc). So you give a missed call meaning "Waiting downstairs. Let's go."
There are several other examples of using missed calls to communicate important stuff. If you picked up your friends call before three rings it was considered treason. It meant you were out to get your friend and in complete violation of the "code"!

A question of ethics!?

Apparently the US is new to all this. No one in the US gives missed calls. People just talk. How boring. But when this subject came up couple of weeks back in the TW NY Office, one of the arguments presented was around ethics!! The argument was something like this...
Although the missed call is free to you, the telecom company incurs cost to connect the call and so it is unethical to use missed calls to communicate because you are not paying the telephone company!!
My very first reaction was, of course, "That's a ridiculous argument!!". After thinking about it long and hard I my reaction changed to "It really is a ridiculous argument!!". I vehemently believe that missed calls are legitimate and you are a fool not to use them. You are totally within your rights & not doing anything illegal. Its the contract that the phone company signed up for and so if you can legitimately use the exploit in the system. I consider is "Fair Use". (listen to that regardless; its a masterpiece)

Its not like the phone companies don't know about this. They can't do anything because of a deadlock in a competitive market. If one of them starts monetizing missed calls the others will eat it alive and gain significant market shares.

The catch

There is however a roadblock I faced while making this argument. I was looking for other examples of this behavior (using the free part of a service to gain benefit) and I couldn't find a single one! I know its impossible but you have to help me out here. Missed calls are at stake! Is this really the last legitimate exploit that we have on out hands? Are we so boring? Say its not true...

UPDATE: A friend pointed me to this episode of "This American Life" that explores the question of loopholes and ethics at a much deeper level than missed calls.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Its sad that my first post after so many months has to be a rant but I am infuriated by this stupid laundry card system. Someone should be shot multiple times for inventing this and making innocent travelers become victims of this insanity.

To be sure, I mean this rant as a view into one of the most ill-designed system that I have come across. As software professionals and entrpreneurs, we have to keep in mind what our users have to go through to use our systems.

I move into my New York apartment 2 weeks back. I find a series of instructions. The ones around laundry are the most incomprehensible but "I'll cross that bridge when I have to..." I say. Two days back I decide that I have to get the laundry done and so the battle begins.


The instructions tell me to
  1. locate the laundry card stuck to my refrigerator
  2. go to and add money to it
  3. go to the building across the street to "activate" it 
  4. and then go to my basement and wash my clothes.
(Weird. But hey I'm new in New York. Maybe this is some really intelligent system so let me play along.)

2) 1st problem asks me to "Create a new account". Whatever. I got to get these clothes washed. I register.

Now it asks me at "Add a card" to my profile. I guess that makes sense. So I enter the serial number of the card as required. "This card is already associated to another users account" it says...

(Obviously the last resident didn't think of de-registering this card from his account. Neither would I. Its stupid to expect that someone would remember to de-register their effing laundry card when moving out!!!)

3) Customer Support

I call customer support but they close at 5pm so I have to wait till the next day. When I call them the next day they tell me it will take two days to give me a new card. (Sigh... what option do I have?)

Two days later I see two cards dropped in my apartment.

(Obviously this is a well known problem and there is a possibility that the second card will turn out to be "Already Registered". So they gave a third one just in case. Great!)

4) I need to blog about this

So I try to add the second card. It works!! (I don't have to wear formals to ThoughtWorks tomorrow like I did today!! I will have washed clothes.)

But alas its not so easy.

When I click on "Revalue" which I can only assume adds credit to this card, this site asks me to enter the code on some machine that looks like this.

What. The. Fuck???

I'm assuming hoping this machine is in my basement OR the building across the street where I'm supposed to "activate" my card. So now I have to
  1. go to this machine
  2. find the serial number 
  3. come back and enter it on this site
  4. add value to my card (like that's going to be straightforward)
  5. go wash my clothes.
I have no idea what fresh hell am I to expect. But I am determined to get laundry done today. Unless of course if I end up requiring customer support... cause those happy people are at home prancing about in their fresh clothes...

Who came up with this shit?? No wonder there's still debates about gun control in America.

Even as I'm publishing this I'm hoping I'm wrong. There must be some higher purpose for me taking these pains to do laundry (apart from being merciful to my fellow subway commuters). I hope someone comments and lets me know what this higher purpose is. But I don't think it likely.

UPDATE: This isn't over yet.

I went to the other building and found the code on this machine and added money to my card. One would have thought he could wash his clothes at last... but NO!!

The money that I added is being "held" by this company. They have given me a "Revalue Code". Now I have go to the other building and enter the revalue code in the machine. That will actually add the amount to my card. Oh and the "Revalue Code" expires in 7 days!!!

And we're back

For several very good reasons, I made a move to wordpress about an year back. But the google ranking for this blog never went down. It ranked second on a search for "akshay dhavle" after more than a year of having a single post saying the blog had moved!

90% of the traffic to the new blog was referral traffic from :(

The other stupid mistake I made was two merge my business analysis blog with my everything else blog. It diluted the content significantly.

So here we are. I am back to the "new & improved" blogger platform which is essentially as crappy as it was earlier if not worse. I hate the templates, I hate the lack of customizations, I hate how much "post-production" work I have to do after writing a post just to make headings and paragraphs work the way they are supposed to. I hope it'll get better.

But I am happy that I will be posting more regularly about business analysis.