Category Archives: work

What entertains you?

If you go to a small town or relatively large village in India, you are likely to find a fair ground – provided that you are not out of luck. I stayed for a week in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh for a research work and the local fair at night was indeed like a cold, fresh air. I simply cannot tell whether I will enjoy visiting this place as much if I visited again. But it was the magical time. Reviewing the photos, I got to ponder on what really entertains people, or what makes people perceived that they are entertained. The rudimentary human nature does not vary much, while the representation may vary greatly.


Aspiration-inducing show
People want to see something amazing, to dream of, to be inspired from. In this case, featuring new technology, not easily attainable and decorated with female bodies that are perceived to be beautiful above norm (or following the known convention).


Food not available at home or should be eaten everyday
Rare fruits taste better. Entertainment venue foods can also be quite messy to make at home, or simply do not taste the same if made too healthy.


Things to buy, to make you feel good or achieving something


Strength measuring machine to let people entertain themselves


Fortune telling machine, which is not your usual human astrologer


Letting the memory last longer – Photobooth
Read more about the photobooth operator in this post on digital imaging entrepreneurs.


Getting exposed to useful information, however practically helpful it is
Pictured are advertisements for: Network & software engineering department of ‘Nice’ college with the slogan of ‘the preferred runway, to fly high’ / Call center training program.


Simple physical moves on the machines or a large man-made structure
Physical movements are particularly good and create a different dimension of shared activities as people are freed from the burden of verbally communicate or do something proactively. This fair appointed the mickey mouse – or its relative as the visually consistent host for these machines.


Reflection on the way home….
On the way back to the reality or everyday environment may be mixed with relief and longing for next time. If you had a very good time, you may not consider this as entertaining at all. In Bareilly, we came back to our hotel on a bicycle rickshaw. I was ridden with the guilt that I felt so heavy for the tiny, thin guy driving the bicycle.

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 2)

Continued from part 1….

There are several tactics to use multiple phone numbers. Four notable solutions are listed here – please keep in mind that at the time of this research (2007), there was only very few mobile phone models that had the dual SIM feature.

Solution 1. Carrying two or more SIM cards but only one mobile
Not everyone can afford to buy multiple phones, or wants to carry two mobile phones with them all the time. The extra SIM card is carried in a safe place such as inside wallet or inside the battery cover of the phone, which makes an intuitive storage for switching the cards. Some people who go for this solution are typically well aware of call divert function as it allows receiving calls from both numbers even though there is only one active number to make calls at a time.

Solution 2. Multiple phones – A phone per number
In markets where users do not have separate SIM cards, this is the only solution for the user to get multiple phone numbers – while in GSM markets it is a matter of users’ preference and affordability. Users may maintain separate phone book on each of the phones – sometimes intentionally (refer to 1. lowering the cost of communication), sometimes because they do not have the option of easily synchronize them. When affordability is not an issue, physically separating the phone per number provides the greater control over managing the multiple points of contacts.

Solution 3. Mobile phone with multiple SIM card slots
At the time of research, there were very few multiple SIM phones in the market from the known brands. However we observed a few Shanzai phones featuring dual SIM. Obviously after 4 years, this feature has become a de facto requirement for a mobile phone. There are numerous new mobile phone brands popping up in India, and invariably all their products feature dual SIM, sometimes triple SIM functionality.

Indian mobile phone brands’ ads: Most phones have the dual SIM feature

Solution 4. Stitching up multiple SIM cards into one
We found a service offered by a local mobile phone dealer (Mobile Phone People, one of the Nokia authorized dealers) in Ghana. It costs 15 euros to have the two SIM cards combined into one. There is an even more advanced operation, which requires a special SIM card imported from Finland. This card can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, but costs 40 euroes. Either of these operations costs considerably high for the market, as it is more than purchasing a mobile phone. Therefore the clientele is mostly business people who do need to have two or more numbers but do not want to go through the inconvenience of switching SIM cards or carrying multiple phones.

Interviewing the engineer who was working at this service center mentioned that this technology is from Finland, but cannot tell more about its source as it is a business secret. He was proud to say that he was the first one who got trained for this operation in Ghana, and subsequently he trained others working currently in the shop. The way this operation worked was brilliant at the short sight, but obviously I suspect that it may have the legal issues in terms of manipulating the network SIM card directly. 4 years down the road, I don’t see this service booming in the market.

User’s two SIM cards are punched out and combined into one new card

A special chip can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, at high cost of €40

Application to control the stiched SIM card settings. Works with any phone.

I haven’t had a chance yet to study how people actually manage multiple phone numbers – the multiple identities on their dual SIM phones. If the mobile usage goes beyond the voice calls, it will definitely require design considerations in various parts of the mobile phone applications, as it no longer is going to be an issue of cost management, but identity management. Technologically and as a matter of market availability, owning multiple mobile phone numbers is now very easy. But its potential and implications is largely unexplored beyond the manufacturing of physical hardware.

Acknowledgment of the project team: Ti el Attar, Jan Chipchase, Fumiko Ichikawa, Indri Tulusan and local collaborators

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 1)

2 SIM cards with chips punched out to make one integrated SIM card, Accra, Ghana, 2007

I recently visited a shanzai phone market in Shenzhen, China. Due to its proximity to the main production hub of mobile phones of all brands and manufacturers, it is a true showcase of all kinds of mobiles you ever imagined to exist. As with the timing, there were a lot of design copy products of Nokia’s recent model N8. On one visit to the market, I saw several versions of N8 design copies, with very different feature sets – which was a trend I did not witness when I visited the shanzai market in Chengdu a few years ago.

Various fake copies of Nokia N8 in Shenzhen shanzai phone market

The copies of N8 can be categorized as:
– Dual SIM with TV functionality
– Copy close to the real product
– Various chipset (price tag changes according to the CPU speed)

It is interesting to note the competition space even within fake phones of the same product. While these ‘enhanced’ unique selling points may be just a gimmick, you might also think that there is some level of genius in those features reflecting the market norms.

Fake N8 with the antenna out stresses that it has the TV functionality.
Shanzai phone market, Shenzhen, China, 2010

There are numerous mobile phone models designed to take more than one SIM card. Most of fake mobile phones or lesser-known brand names in the market now has the dual SIM feature as if it is as essential as having the mobile network radio itself. In fact, it is one of the big yet stealth changes in the basic feature set of mobile phones in the last 4 years – especially among the lesser-known brands, low-end of the price tags, and shanzai markets. Despite the popularity surrounding us in several large mobile phone markets including India, China and African countries – I have seen few buzz on the ‘dual SIM’ phenomenon. Thereby I put together a brief post, digging information from an internal research report I wrote for my employer in 2007.

Having multiple mobile phone numbers may be seen as an anti-trend when the mobile phone number portability is increasing becoming a part of the basic civil rights in several countries. But for the time being, the following circumstances drive people to use more than one mobile phone numbers:

1. Lowering the cost of communication
Many mobile network operators offer cheaper rates for inter-network calls, especially in markets where competition among network operators is high. Highly cost-conscious consumers naturally get multiple numbers for cheaper calls. While it may not take too much effort to acquire the new number itself, this comes at a cost of efforts and skill: Remembering, or identifying who in your social network has the number belonging to a specific network operator. People develop a tactic, such as indicating the network operator in the name stored on the phonebook. This is not an exclusive behavior only for the developing economies, however. When the 3G network was newly introduced in Japan several years ago, many Japanese consumers also owned two numbers, one from 3G for cheaper messaging & data connection, another from existing network for cheaper voice calls.

An ideal mobile phone idea hosting 4 SIM cards,
as ‘operators’ rates vary and everyone has more than one SIM card in his community’,
Camp Buduburam – Liberian refugee camp, Ghana, 2007

In the street surveys done in 2007 as part of our research project, the following percentage of users surveyed had two or more mobile phone numbers:
– Accra, Ghana (n=309): 30%
– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (n=230): 28%
– Chongqing, China (n=150): 9%
– Mumbai, India (n=165): 16%

Considering the fast changing nature of the mobile market, this number probably have changed significantly especially with new players joining in the market.

2. Controlling points of contacts
Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

3. Ensuring reliable connectivity
Unreliable network availability or unavailability of the particular network in the area where you live or work may drive users to be ready with multiple numbers from different network operators. In Ghana, people had the perception that the quality of the connection can not be ensured with one network alone hence multiple numbers were essential to prevent disrupted communication. For many prepaid mobile subscribers, having multiple phone numbers means that user can minimize the risk of getting disconnected because of running out of prepaid credit in critical situation.

To be continued in part 2 of the post….

Being prepared : Service mindset

Preparing small notes and changes often becomes the responsibility of consumers in India – based on what I have experienced so far, which is different mentality compared to Japan or Korea especially. If you only have 100 or 500 rupee notes, be prepared for delays in getting your changes back, or even the risk of not being able to buy what you want. I cannot yet find a pattern with which this happens. It just happens. I experienced it so far at: office canteen, food court at the flower show, street vendors, high-end grocery, or entrance fee to an exhibition. If this happens at general stores, I might be offered to buy more products that would fit the corresponding amount of the lacking change.

It so happened when we were driving to Tamil Nadu. One of the highway tollbooths gave a piece of chocolate instead of one rupee coin. It is a witty solution, but I consider it a misdirected effort: getting candies ready instead of one rupee coints. Other more fair and sustainable solutions are abound, however perhaps they might be just slightly out of reach to those who work at the tollbooths.

Blue is (the leading color to) white

While the perception of color is culturally dependent, blue and white are known to be one of the most popular for logos and national flags. In India, the color white is particularly important for clothing. It is typical for male politicians or authoritative figures to wear all whites. Dhotis, always white in color, are essential for formal ceremonies and events too.

India is probably one of the most difficult countries to keep clothes white: colorful food, red pan (chewing tabaco/mouth refreshner), general dust along with the red soil mixed with sweat and body fat and what not. Perhaps this is why putting on spotless white clothes has extra significance.

The fabric whitener bottles are blue. Furthermore I heard that the whitener actually makes the white fabric slightly blue to create the visual effect of looking whiter. Blue seems to be the common color choice for soaps as well. Hand washing stations in restaurants and around toilets I encountered outside of Bangalore often had blue soaps.

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

HIV prevention awareness

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

A signage for warning the danger of HIV and promoting the use of condoms, found across in Uttar Pradesh.

Rural health center in west Karnataka

Getting condoms however may not be an openly accepted behavior. In rural health centers, they try to distribute condoms for free, but people may not visit the center while others can see. One solution to the problem is to place the condom dispenser outside so that people can take them whenever they feel comfortable.

Condom dispenser outside the health center in west Karnataka

condom dispenser in a health center in west Karnataka

a rural health center waiting room in west Karnataka

I wish smart bollywood stars could do more on sexual education in India, given their influence and what they are selling, even though the reality in India is still quite harsh.

an instructional poster at a rural health center in west Karnataka

delhi train station

Standby affordance

A change in the plan of the fieldwork trip – we decided to take the train from Delhi to Bareilly. My suitcase was obviously a wrong form of luggage in the jam-packed Delhi train station on Sunday. We could not even dare to find the platform through the wall of people. A ‘coolie’ was found and I knew it from the moment I saw him that he was our savier for the journey: He not only carried our bags in 40+ degree temperature, but also made space for us to move forward, and guided us to find the platform and the right compartment. I could barely keep up the pace with him to follow. Without him, I am sure our 30-min spare time till the departure would have been a futile struggle.

Delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

When we got near the train, it was even more difficult to move. There was a long queue of people waiting indefinitely to get into the 2nd class compartments. It was first-come, first-serve basis, so they had no idea whether they could possibly get in or not. When the train finally started to move my mind was racing through the indecisive emotion wave of relief, discomfort and pity – looking at the solid human line of those who were waiting patiently in standstill without the success of getting in.

delhi train station

delhi train station

indian train

delhi train station

indian train

What I found out later was that even for 1st class where passengers are given pre-assigned seats, if you are on waiting list, you have to wait at the station. Because there is no way for anyone or any online system to know which seats would actually be available in the train until the physical train arrives. The reserved seat passenger names are listed on a printout outside each compartment. The fact that you could make reservation online didn’t mean much unless you get the confirmed seats at the time of reservation. As there is no obligation to buy the ticket before the train leaves, people have the mentality of just booking the train first anyway. Cancellation fee is too small to make people cancel the reservation they no longer need. So everyone has to wait at the station if you want to travel. If the train gets late, the station officers would tell you ‘its coming in 5 minutes’. After hearing the ‘5 minutes’ answer for about 10 times and the actual waiting time of 2 hours, your romantic image associated with the train journey starts to diminish dramatically. ‘In 5 min’ in India is highly metaphorical. It is a lip service of the person who is in the position to answer you despite the uncertainty of the situation, or the lack of information source available to that person. Alternatively ‘In 5 min’ is an answer simply used by the person who has no sense of time or empathy to understand the urgency you are faced with. I often feel that I am silently mocked by those who watch me get frustrated with delays: “What’s the hurry? You can just watch the world goes by, like me.” I am learning to live with IST (Indian Standard Time) for my mental health.

indian train

What I also found out furthermore was that there is an exception to this reservation system. Our ‘luxury’ 1st class compartment had four full passengers to begin with. After a few stations, a family of 6 turned up, guided by a gunned guard in the train. According to the translation, the man heading the group told us in Hindi: “Make space for us”. He or any of his companions obviously did not say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ for accommodating his family and himself, making the 4-person compartment a 10-person discomfort zone. All Indian passengers fell silent after they got on board. The compartment was only filled with two men’s loud voices of phone calls and conversations. When the baby of the family started to cry, the same guard came over, took the baby in his available arm that was not holding the gun and left.

Implications of dysfunctional infrastructure are multifold. The important question is whether the society and those who are in power both have shared motivations to improve it. Habits and everyday behaviors that people have become used to and take for granted are most difficult to change.

pleasure principle

This rural neighborhood, Horsu, in Tamil Nadu near Bangalore has seen a growing number of green houses for flowers. As the city provides relatively constant consumption of flowers, they make a relatively low-risk yet high-margin business.

The wise farmer we talked to said: “It will be the mobile entertainment service that farmers will adopt first. Why do you think flower farming makes a good business?”

new home in bangalore, india

I took on a new job to lead a research team since the beginning of this year. Along with it I moved to a new homebase, a city often referred to as ‘silicon valley of India’, or formerly as ‘garden city of India’. Compared to any other places I had taken on as my home city, moving to Bangalore seems to trigger varied reactions from people – with stronger emotional undertone. To me, to live in a place is to understand, experiencing the culture rather than being an observer.

For those of you who want to share my experience in Bangalore, I have several open positions in my team: exploratory user researcher, HCI researcher, and a couple of technical positions for developing prototypes, visualization and computational models.

The exploratory user researcher position requires you to speak the local language, as we do a lot of hands-on fieldwork within India. I am also looking for talented designers for internship or short-term contract positions. If you think you are a good match for this young & growing research team and are up for the opportunity to live in Bangalore, drop me a note with your CV, along with your motivation.

If you are interested in technical positions, job ads are found here and you can apply directly through the site. Use the following job number to search for them: SWA0000000F (super prototype developer) / ARC0000001Y (data modeling & visualization) / DES00000020 (HCI researcher). Kindly be pre-warned that using this site may require a lot of patience from you, unfortunately.