Your Website Reflects You

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought about sweeping changes in our lives, many of which we wouldn’t have thought possible even five years ago. The use of the internet both for work and for leisure has increased so dramatically over the last few years that people are now talking of “digital wellness.”! Some popular social media sites, like Facebook for example, and makers of devices, like Apple, for example are providing you with the means to bring an abrupt end to your browsing if you exceed laid down limits of time!

In December 1995, only 16 million people or 0.4 % of the world’s population used the internet. In March 2021, this figure had shot up to 5,168 million or 65.6 % of the world’s population, says an article in The Global Village Online.

With such huge growth, one can imagine the competition you, as a business or indeed any organization with a digital presence, face to attract and hold the attention of internet users. The amount of work they do online – and the staggering work hours- is now forcing people in many countries to cut down on their discretionary time online.

So, your website has to be capable of grabbing and holding that attention, which is fleeting, at best . The experience at your website will determine whether or not the person will come back! He/she has so much choice these days, that they would simply go elsewhere for their needs.

Some of the main factors that users value in a website are :_

  1. Ease of use. Can they navigate easily? Is the site too cluttered with so much information and so many options that it is confusing and complex? Many cite the example of Amazon being a site that is considered easy to use, despite the plethora of choices.
  2. It Should Work! Very basic, but frequently we see websites that have links that don’t work, information that is woefully outdated, and an overall feel of being sloppy. Such websites are probably doing more harm than good to the interests of that organization.
  3. Both Attractive and Functional: yes, it has to look good and at the same time work like, to use an old world phrase, a “well- oiled machine”. After all, it represents your business. It is often the first interface with the customer/potential customer. At times, designers in their attempt to dazzle the visitor to the site load so many widgets and jazz on to the page that it becomes sluggish and takes ages to load. No one has that kind of time to wait, these days!
  4. Mobile Friendly: this wasn’t a big consideration when we entered the internet age, but now it has become one of the most important features. The reason is that more people use mobile phones to access the internet than ever before.
  5. The Four Second Test: read this article in Forbes which is indeed an eye-opener. With rapidly decreasing attention spans – an average of 8 seconds for millennials and 2.8 seconds for a younger Gen Z, the content on your page becomes that much more crucial. If it can’t convey what you want in four seconds, it fails the test!!

These are some of the factors that will determine the success of your website in today’s world. Let’s remember that good, bad, or ugly, your website reflects you!

My Podcasting Journey: The Next Steps

In my blog post of August 12 titled, ” Learn About Podcasting” I wrote about my first steps in the world of podcasting. Now that I have published 26 episodes in my podcast show: “Prem Rao- Stories From A Story Teller”, it’s as good a time as any to do some stock taking!

To re-cap, I began with two podcasts in March 2021 then there was a break till mid-June 2021. I then started again in right earnest. I am happy that the number of “plays” till date has crossed 550. Anchor FM where my podcast show is hosted informs me that “Plays” are the number of times your podcast episodes have been streamed or downloaded across all listening platforms. I am extremely happy with Anchor and would recommend it as a good platform for any newbie/budding podcaster.

As is obvious, the approach of a podcaster depends on the type of podcast show he/she has. Alexander Santo has this informative post on “8 Types of Podcasts”. Going by this, as of now, my podcast show falls in the category of ” Repurposed Content” as it has its origins in the blog posts I wrote.

Based on what I have observed, here are some action steps that I plan to do next:-

  1. Firstly, I need to increase the duration of my podcasts. Now that I have got the hang of things and have learnt the basic steps so to speak, the time has come to strengthen the content. I find that the longest podcast I have made so far is only about 9 minutes. In my podcast show, there is (as of now) a single speaker, that is me, and I haven’t graduated to doing interviews yet. My podcasts have largely been reviews of books that I have enjoyed reading, with a few other non-book related podcasts thrown in for good measure. I should aim to increase each episode to a minimum of 15 minutes -over time. I am told 15 to 30 minutes is a good time for podcasts on news and trending items by a single host without any guest or other voice in the show. My show falls in this space.
  2. I may even consider going back to my first few podcasts to check whether their content can be strengthened . I know, of course, that in the end it is the strength of the content more than the duration of the podcast that will make it succeed. While I have spoken about the books in my reviews, I have not spoken much, if at all, about the authors. A few interesting things about each author may make that episode more interesting to the listener.
  3. It is certain that I should , again over time, graduate to having guests on my show and interact with them. Shows with such ” interviews” often last from 30 to 60 minutes, for each episode. This type of podcasting calls for a higher level of skills which I hope to acquire over time.
  4. Having made a start with a frequency of two podcasts per week- on Sundays and Wednesdays- I should not give up this momentum. It is tempting to fall back to just one episode a week! I should build on the initial enthusiasm and continue to meet the demands placed on me to deliver two episodes every week.
  5. Now that more than 25 episodes have been published, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the Introduction and the end- which is currently played at the start and end of each episode. That may need some tweaking too!

So that was a quick update on where things stand in my podcasting journey, and my plans to take it forward.

Edward Ralph Dexter

In the ongoing Third Test match between India and England at Headingley. Leeds, I noticed that the English cricketers wore black arm bands. This is usually done as a mark of respect for someone who is no more. I soon came to know that the person in question was someone whose cricket career I followed with great interest in my younger days: Edward Ralph Dexter. He passed away on August 25, aged 86.

Born in 1935, he played for Cambridge, Sussex and England. He was called “Lord Ted” for his elegance and languid grace. Dexter was a dashing batsman with a very attacking bent of mind, especially when it came to fast bowlers. He was one of the most powerful hitters of the cricket ball of his times.

In those days, Test cricket wasn’t played as frequently as it is now. From the time he made his debut in 1958, Dexter played 62 Tests for England being captain in 30 of them. He scored 9 Test centuries and finished with an impressive average of 47.89. He last played for England in 1968.

We in India saw him for the first time, when he captained the visiting MCC team in 1961-62 after the more established players like Peter May and Colin Cowdrey opted to skip this tour.

As cricket crazy youngsters, we followed the Tests only though the cricket commentary on the radio, as we didn’t have television in India those days. We of course read every word of the reports of the Test matches in the daily newspapers. Some of the innings that Dexter played still remain fresh in my mind, although decades have gone by since he dazzled the crowds with his batting.

In the Lord’s Test in 1963, facing the menacing fast bowlers Hall and Griffith of the West Indies, Dexter hammered 70 in just 75 balls out of a total of 102. Another innings was his 180 against the Aussies in 1961, the year he was “Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year..”

Dexter in later years served as the Chairman of the Selection Commitee in England, and President of the MCC. He was instrumental in fashioning what we now know as the ICC rankings for players.

In this video, tributes are paid to Dexter on his being inducted in to the ICC’s Hall of Fame in 2021. Ian Chappell recalls that Dexter was the hardest hitter of the cricket ball he had ever seen.

Fans of Dexter would love this delightful piece written about him by Arunabha Sengupta in 2016 . Clearly he was , as that article said, “one of the most colorful characters to grace English cricket.”

Farewell, my childhood hero. May Edward Ralph Dexter, dashing and debonair, rest in peace.

Learn About Podcasting

The never ending process of learning continues on a daily basis. No, I am not talking of life’s lessons in general but about my new found passion for podcasting. My podcast show: ” Prem Rao: Stories From A Story Teller”continues to grab my time and attention. I am happy to say I have published 16 episodes so far, most of them being on books that I have read.

My podcasts are available on some of the biggest platforms in the podcasting world such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and more recently on Amazon Music, as well.

There is an old saying that has remained firmly in my mind, ” A fool is one who doesn’t learn from his own mistakes. The wise guy is one who learns from his mistakes, but the wisest of all s the one who learns from others’ mistakes.” That’s so true, isn’t it?

I decided to see what other’s had experienced and learn from them. Michael Leonard , has shared his experiences of one year of podcasting, which I found interesting. Besides, I liked the title too. ” 12 Lessons From 12 Months of Podcasting.”!

Another informative blog post came from W. Mark Whitlock on ” 4 Lessons Learned From the First 4 Months of Podcasting & Studio CMO” . This post is a year old but the numbers mentioned are staggering. There were over 1.4 million podcasts and more than 34 million episodes out there, so you know the competition as it were. The good news is that more and more people, and not just in the United States are listening to podcasts. I guess one of the beneficiaries of the new life created by the Covid19 pandemic all over the world have been podcasters, since many- across different age bands- have taken to listening to podcasts in the last year or so.

I am pushing 70 but in a sense, we are all students aren’t we? NPR – and they don’t need an introduction- has a detailed guide: “Starting Your Podcasts- A Guide For Students” which has many strong points for the beginner in podcasting.

The excitement is high. I am conscious of the fact that I have a long way to go, but hey, I have made a start! So, happy listening, folks!

“Jerusalema” – Better Late Than Never

Of course, I had heard this song before! Of course, I had felt like dancing to its so very catchy beats. But I had no idea of the origins of the song and how it went viral all over the world. Thanks to internet, I now have a more clear idea of this amazing story of a song that took – and is still taking – the world by storm. Coming as it did during the Covid 19 pandemic, it brought some cheer and hope to millions around the world.

When I first heard the song, I thought it might be in Arabic (mainly because the first video I saw was set in Dubai! ) or Spanish, but I never imagined it was in the Zulu language from South Africa. I now find the song came from Master KG, a South African RJ and musician. He composed the music for the song and it was sung by his sister, Nomcebo Zikode in 2019. The official music video Jerusalema by Master KG on YouTube has mind boggling numbers! Such figures are seldom seen. Released in December 2019, this video has 424 million views, over 4 million likes and 1,32, 000 comments and still counting!

In this video by Brut, Master KG speaks of the origins of this song, how he chose his sister Nomcebo to sing it, how this song became viral, and what it means to him. He explains that it is a song which has hope and prayer and yet is set to such a catchy tune.

I heard Master KG say this song became viral when some folks in Angola danced to the tune holding plates in their hands. This video became viral and the rest, as they say, is history. This started the Jerusalema Dance Challenge! Young kids, of course have danced to this tune, as have police officers, doctors, nursing staff, firemen, soldiers, nuns, and almost every one else! This video has an interesting compilation of different groups all over the world dancing to Jerusalema.

There are many videos out there which teach you the dance steps. But what are the actual lyrics of the song, and if it is in Zulu, what do the words mean? This video has the lyrics with a translation in English to go with it!

The Covid 19 is still with us but in the gloom that it has created all over the world, there are spots of cheer. Wherever we are in the world, we couldn’t have missed ” Jerusalema”. Hats off to you, MasterKG and Nomcebo Zikode, for giving us this song. You have brought a smile on many a face and something to cheer for millions spanning age, gender, creed, colour, and nationality.

My Podcasting Journey

Yes, I have taken the plunge and I am so glad I did! I have taken a few steps in my journey into my new hobby: podcasting. As they say, it is never too late to learn. I am delighted that I embark upon this journey a few months before I start my eighth decade.

My podcasts can be found here in Anchor FM by Spotify. If you are an Apple aficionado, you can catch me on Apple Podcasts. Another easy way is to check out Google Podcasts. .

I would like to share my initial learnings which could be of use to those interested in podcasting.

Lesson 1 : You need a focus area. There is no point in podcasting on everything under the sun. You might end up covering too little of too much. It is far better to select an area of interest in which you are comfortable. I chose to start with the board theme of “Books” as I am extremely fond of both reading and writing. As you gain confidence, experience and followers, you can always broaden the subjects covered in your show , but you need to start somewhere -with a focus area.

Lesson 2: Learn the Basics: Like in every field, you will come across a lot of jargon. What is a show, an episode, a condenser microphone, a dynamic microphone, a “bed”, media hosting, MP3 Audio files, and so much else. Don’t get unnerved, as there is no need to know everything about podcasting before making a start. Just learn the basics: how to hold and speak into the microphone, best circumstances to record, how to put together segments through editing, and the like. Don’t get scared away by the stuff you read about equipment required, the complex technologies needed to get your podcast to your audience etc. You don’t need a top class recording studio to start with! I am recording on my IPhone and am quite happy with things!

Lesson 3: Make A Plan : After you have started with a few podcasts, you will realize that a plan is essential to move your initiative forward as you ride the first wave of enthusiasm. The plan will cover what you wish to achieve; the amount of time and energy you are willing to commit to the podcast show; the opportunities and difficulties that you foresee; and a broad time frame to achieve immediate objectives. A plan is essential for success!

There are more lessons, I am sure, but these three are good enough to start with on your podcasting journey. They will determine the schedule of podcasts: will your show be twice a week, weekly, monthly or have a longer interval? A gap longer than a month between episodes is certainly not recommended. Will you invite guests to participate in your podcasts? Who will they be? Will you be capable of managing the dynamics of a free flowing conversation? Or will you have a scripted one? Will you get co-hosts , over time, who are like-minded and have similar interests?

Parting tip: it is advisable to script your podcast in the initial stages, if not for all time. Speaking on the fly is great- if you can pull it off. But it often results in mistakes, time consuming corrections, and your repetition of favourite phrases and words that are best avoided. So, script out your podcast to make it more effective.

Poets of The First World War

The trigger for today’s post comes from some research I was doing for our next OL Assembly. As mentioned in earlier posts, this is a virtual meeting held every second Saturday of the month. In the forthcoming issue we cover the First World War in which 18 Old Lawrencians were killed in action in different battle fields of Europe. In those days, many from my Alma Mater, The Lawrence School, Lovedale were enlisted in the British Army. They joined as ordinary soldiers as distinct from being commissioned as officers.

A look at the Honors Board for 1914 in the School gives us details of former students, who as young soldiers gained distinction for their bravery during the battles at Mons, Flanders, and Gallipolli amongst others. This in turn reminded me of a poem we learnt in School titled ” Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. This poem mocked the sentiment- prevalent till 1916 or so amongst many English poets, like Rupert Brooke for instance – that it was sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

Owen enlisted in 1915 and saw active service in the trenches in Europe before he was wounded in action in 1916. He returned to England to recover from his war wounds. However, in 1918 he went back to the Front, won the Military Cross for his bravery but ironically was killed in November of that year aged 25 just one week before the Armistice. Like him thousands upon thousands of young men lost their lives in a bitterly fought war which saw the use of poison gas in the trenches. The Armistice signaled the end of the war which left 10 million soldiers and another 7 million civilians dead.

To appreciate what the horrors of the First World War were like, you must see an article in The Sun titled ” Blood, Mud, and Misery” published in 2018. You can understand the plight of the soldiers in the trenches over a hundred years ago.

The Poetry Foundation compiled an impressive list of poems about the Great War of 1914-1918. Here you can read poems by, apart from Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, William Butler Yeats, and Rupert Brooke. It ends with ” Then There Was A Great Calm” written by Thomas Hardy after the signing of the armistice.

“Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?'”

Of Courts & Judges

The Courts in India have an unenviable task of trying to clear the backlog of cases in a litigation friendly country. As per reports there are nearly 4 crore ( 40 million) cases pending before the Courts in our country, with 10 % of them dating back to over a decade! Yet, while one cannot generalize, about Courts or Judges, as an ordinary citizen of India I am surprised by some of the things reported from the Courts.

In the past decades, what happened in the Court largely remained a mystery as the ordinary person had no idea of what went on and who said what. In the area of Industrial Disputes, in which I have some experience, it was common knowledge that between the two lawyers dates were often ” fixed”to suit their convenience. If A asked for an adjournment this week, the opposing lawyer B would ask for one on the next date which was some weeks away. Hence cases dragged on for months together, if not for years.

The pandemic brought about many changes. Most courts these days have taken to having virtual hearings. This is a welcome move. At least cases do go on and in some Courts large number of cases have been settled during the year or more of the pandemic. Also I notice that online portals such as Bar and Bench give almost ball by ball commentary of court cases, much like in a cricket match. The reader gets to know what the lawyers said, what the judge observed and so on. This is totally new to many of us as we would never have had access to such information before.

This new found transparency has sometimes embarrassed the judges and the advocates! A post that went viral on social media in August 2020 showed Senior Advoacate Rajeev Dhawan caught on camera taking puffs on his hookah while arguing a virtual case before the Rajasthan High Court ! One doesn’t know whether the learned Judge had anything to say to the senior advocate. Perhaps he didn’t as the much respected Mr Dhawan is in his ’70s, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. Still, so much for setting a good example to your juniors and the world at large!!

In a more recent case, the Madras High Court made scathing observations about the Election Commission of India saying it was “singularly” responsible for the second wave of Covid. It even went to the extent of observing “Its officials should be booked for murder.” In a situation where deaths are mounting all over the world due to Covid- around 3.2 million as of date- even the casual reader would find these remarks rather puzzling, if not petulant.

The Election Commission naturally was stung by these observations and took the case to the Supreme Court which a few days ago agreed the “murder charge” remarks of the Madras High Court were “harsh” and the “metaphor inappropriate “. It was good that they did so! Sadly, over 230,000 people have died in India as of date due to this pandemic. Holding the Election Commission responsible for the deaths during the political rallies has become fashionable but more people are accountable too. What about the politicians – of all political parties- who organized and held these rallies? What about the people themselves, who flocked to them ? What about the media which gave the rallies such extensive coverage making each political party vie for higher eyeballs? All of them knew fully well these could be super spreader events for the Corona virus.

As mentioned earlier, we are these days becoming privy to what actually happens in Courts. Thanks to Bar and Bench, I am reading with great interest the remarks of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court in the matter of oxygen supply to Delhi during this pandemic. While it makes for interesting reading I couldn’t quite make out what the point in law was for the Courts to decide. Surely, deciding on the amount of oxygen needed for each hospital, city, and State; the methods of reaching oxygen to hospitals; is the job of the executive rather than that of the judiciary?

On Our Advertisements/TV Commercials

I have been an avid follower of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and watch many of the matches. This year there are no ticket sales simply because there is no audience on the ground due to the raging Covid 19. As a result, I guess, the number of TV commercials have increased substantially to make up for the lost revenue.

Being quite interested in advertising, I don’t really mind! I have always believed that the creativity of those who design our advertisements or TV commercials in India is often second to none. What sets the typical Indian TV commercial apart from all others is the raw appeal to the emotions of the viewer. This is seldom the touchpoint in Western advertisements.

I am not talking of emotions flowing from celebrity endorsement of brands. Surely they must be a force to reckon with which is why top celebrities, be they film stars or cricketers these days, are much in demand to endorse every conceivable product. The message goes out that this product or brand should be good because Amitabh Bachchan or Viral Kohli is using it. Likewise, the feeling that you use the same toothpaste as Aishwarya Rai or Kareena Kapoor probably appeals to millions of people. Otherwise, celebrity endorsements would never be as big as they are.

This report by Duff & Phelps may be slightly dated (2019) but it makes for interesting reading. It says that as celebrities feature in 20 % of endorsements in the United States, while in India the figure is much higher at 50 %. It also talks of the growing clout of “star couples” such as Indian Cricket’s super star Virat Kohli and his film star wife, Anushka Sharma.

Sometimes, celebrity endorsements can backfire! M S Dhoni was at one time India’s most loved sports star. However, his being Brand Ambassador for the Amrapalli Group resulted in the kind of embarrassment he had never faced before. His fan base felt cheated when the builder he endorsed did not deliver their flats on time! Many claimed it was his advertising that led them to trust this builder!! On top of that there was an unsavory dispute regarding his own payments from that group! Of course, those cheated in their purchase of flats argued that the amount Dhoni was fighting for was a very small percentage of his overall wealth. They, it was argued, had sunk a substantially higher percentage of their life’s earning in buying that flat from Amrapali!

Personally, however, these advertisements have never appealed to me. I prefer advertisements which touch my heart or tickle my funny bone. I saw one from Cadbury’s recently- one in Hindi called Laundry– which I thought was superb. But then, this is nothing new as Cadbury’s has always been recognized as a strong brand for many decades.

I also lhought this one from Cello for their Butterflow Pen called Lamba Naam was quite hilarious ! There are so many more I can mention but I shall save that for some other time!

Advertisements are expected to inform, to persuade and remind! The fact that even today we remember so many old advertisements seen on Indian television screens indicates that our advertisers have pretty much hit their mark!

T

Gherao!

As you know, the elections in West Bengal are grabbing eyeballs because of the high-octane campaigns launched by the sitting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, and her principal opponent this time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has been ruling the state for 10 years now.

While earlier – before the campaigns began – many believed she would easily win a third term, now- to many observers including me- such a result seems less certain. It is evident from what we see on television and read in the newspapers that it will be a close finish. The bitter battle for votes will go on till we come to know the results on May 2

The central paramilitary forces are on election duty in that state, to support the Election Commission to ensure that free and fair elections take place. An article in the respected Indian Express no less, headlined that the Bengal Chief Minister has exhorted the women of West Bengal to gherao the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF.)

I was shocked to see this headline because it brought back many memories of gheraos in West Bengal. I remember the days in Durgapur when strikes and gheraos were commonplace and there used to a lot of trade union violence. I speak of the period between 1968-1972.

Decades ago, in many parts of the country, especially in West Bengal where it originated, the gherao was used by trade unions and other striking outfits as an offensive weapon. To gherao meant to surround a person or persons in a room and keep them in a form of captivity. On the face of it it was supposed to be peaceful protest but confining people to their room, not allowing them to have food, water, their medicines or use the toilet was harassment of the highest order. I have heard of cases where executives almost died due to the stress and strain of being so ghearaoed.

As a student of Industrial Relations at XLRI Jamshedpur, I remember we had studied famous judgements like the ones delivered in the Calcutta High Court in Jay Engineering Case reported in AIR 1968 CAL.

Coming back to the present situation, to instigate the public at large to gherao the police was asking for trouble. I thought of so many things that could go wrong if the agitated public began to gherao the authorities- in this case- the paramilitary police.

My fears were not unfounded. Today’s Indian Express reports that four people were killed in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district in the state of West Bengal. It is reported that a mob of locals attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) party and tried to snatch their weapons. This led to the police opening fire resulting in four deaths. What a shocking state of affairs!

I realize that politics in West Bengal has always been characterized by violence but I do hope things don’t go totally out of hand. There is no place for such violence in a democracy like ours. The sad part is that the ordinary policeman or the ordinary citizen, in this case, get hurt and at times die. Nothing ever happens to the leaders who instigate violence!