Showing posts with label Jackson Heights Queens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jackson Heights Queens. Show all posts

Friday, October 04, 2013

Tech In Jackson Heights

English: Looking northeast across 74th Street ...
English: Looking northeast across 74th Street at Jackson Diner on a mostl cloudy midday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(published in Vishwa Sandesh)

Tech In Jackson Heights
By Paramendra Bhagat

March Andreessen’s advice to the New York Times – and this was a few years back – was to kill the paper and go 100% digital, Andreessen being the guy who gave the world the Netscape browser back in 1995 that ushered the dot com era. He is now a top venture capitalist. The Huffington Post that was sold to AOL for 300 million dollars does not have a paper edition, never did. It would be hard to have a comments section in a paper newspaper, don’t you think?

But in Jackson Heights, the most famous Desi part of North America, there are a whole bunch of paper newspapers that are doing a thriving business. What gives? There is a lagging behind element to it, but there is also a counter current element to it.

Ecommerce is swell and grew like crazy through the Great Recession. But the intimacy of shopping in person will never go away, and I think the best ecommerce solutions of the future will enhance rather than wholesale replace that in person shopping. I dream of a smart mall. A smart mall is smart the way a smartphone is smart. There are dumb phones, and then there are smartphones.

The lagging behind element can be seen out in the streets of Jackson Heights. Smartphone penetration is not as much as it can be. With some carriers offering four phones with unlimited talk, text and data for $100 a month – which comes to $25 per phone per month – you can argue maybe it is not the monthly bill that is the roadblock. It is the hardware. There is a lot of room for smartphones that might cost less than $50.

The counter current element is that in this foreign land when you are 10,000 miles away from home and where all the road signs are in English, a newspaper written in your language that you can hold in your hand, take home with you perhaps speaks to your homesickness. But then it is not like newspapers from home are not online, all the good ones are. And the top newspapers in Jackson Heights are all free. They are ad supported. You pick up your free copy and take home to read.

I have been walking the streets relentlessly for weeks now, I have had numerous meetings with local merchants. There is this mild cloud of despair that you sense. The neighborhood has been losing business year after year for a few years now. There is a saying in the US South in states like Alabama about snow that falls from the sky. God brought the snow, God will take it away. As in, they are not big on snow ploughs down there, like they are in places like, say, Connecticut. Many merchants in Jackson Heights have that Alabama attitude about the downturn. It will go back on its own, they seem to suggest. I belong in the snow plough school of thought.

I believe use of tech can help put the entire neighborhood on the upswing. There is no place quite like Jackson Heights in all of North America. Jackson Heights has a special appeal all over NYC, and across the tri-state area. Tech can help the local merchants cash into that.

Jackson Heights has a ton of the old economy mindset. The place reminds me of a small town like Sitamadhi in Bihar, not the Connaught Place in Delhi. There has to be a collective effort to break out of that old economy mindset and try out new things, and new ways.

The pie has to be expanded. The local merchants will have to reinvent themselves in ways so more people from near and far show up to shop. If the neighborhood is going to look the exact same that it did 10 years ago, that inflow is not going to happen.

Tech is the way out. Much of the rejuvenation will come through use of tech. There’s also a ton of room for social cross pollinations across the various country groups that are represented in the area. New kinds of businesses will have to sprout out. A further diversification in the local economy would be a good thing.

It is surprising how many of the local businesses don’t even have a simple website online. No business however small can afford to not have a website. A lot of businesses have only token websites when they need interactive ones. There are businesses that should but don’t have ecommerce sites. Only one out of 16 jewelry stores on 74th St has an ecommerce store, and even that one is a dud because it does not do active, monthly online marketing. People have to know you exist. There are businesses that could use business software but don’t. There are businesses that should be looking into mobile apps.

Some of the basic tech steps require only small investments but go a long way. Some of the more ambitious moves are bigger investments but pay for themselves many times over if done right.

Tech can drive up the local commerce. Tech can help build a more close knit local community. Tech can do what bricks and mortar simply cannot do.

A few months back Patel Brothers, perhaps the largest store in the neighborhood, completely redid its checkout lines for the better. Now buyers move faster, and that is a good thing. But there are better, cheaper software solutions that would take the store’s business volumes to whole new levels. To that the local manager says, “We don’t need it!”

That mindset gets in the way and has to change.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jackson Heights: Possibilities And Limitations

Vinod Khosla
Vinod Khosla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(written for Vishwa Sandesh)

Jackson Heights: Possibilities And Limitations
By Paramendra Bhagat (

I have had people tell me, go to California, go to Manhattan at least, this is not the place. I have been to California, and through my daily readings of news in Silicon Valley I have a pretty good feel for the culture there. Manhattan is but a short train ride away. You get on the E or F and you are in Manhattan in 10 minutes, maybe 15. There are people who work in Manhattan but live in Westchester, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania even.

There is something to be said to the culture of Silicon Valley. The top venture capitalist in NYC is on record saying it will take NYC decades to get where Silicon Valley is already in terms of startup culture. One generation of successful entrepreneurs provide seed funds and mentorship to the next generation of entrepreneurs, and the network keeps growing.

The first investor to put in half a million dollars in Facebook made his money for being one of the founders of PayPal: that half million became over a billion within years. The first person to put 100,000 dollars in Google made his billions for being one of the founders of Sun Microsystems: that 100,000 became over a billion in less than a decade. The guy who put his money into Twitter made his money by selling his company – Blogger – to Google: he sold Blogger for a few hundred million, his stake in Twitter is worth billions. Vinod Khosla made his money in hardware but is now a top investor in clean tech: he is the richest Indian in America. I don’t know him, but I do know someone who does.

But when I have approached local Nepalis who might have made middle class money through old economy ventures like law or medicine or the restaurant business for seed fund money for Nepal hydro, the reaction is, what’s wrong with you? Do you not have your own money? Are you so lame? That is the cultural difference between Silicon Valley and Queens.

I have met many merchants in Jackson Heights - most of them Indian, several Pakistani and Bangladeshi – to shore up interest in the idea of a virtual mall. The interest level, at least starting out, has been tepid (“Come tomorrow”) to non-existent (“We are not interested”). I have scaled back. I might have to start with an online community to go on to a virtual mall to perhaps a physical mall, a smart physical mall.

Walmart is the most successful company in the history of the world, and Sam Walton built it in the South, the poorest region of America. They are like the American Humla-Jumla. Message: do not underestimate Queens.

So what is the lure in Jackson Heights? The first one for me is that I guess you need a hometown. Jackson Heights for me is like going home without getting on the plane. It is also like being able to go to New York City, the capital city of the world, without getting on the plane. But the bigger lure is diversity: more than 50 countries are represented in Jackson Heights, the most diverse town of the most diverse borough of the most diverse city in the world. Even when I come to software and clean tech, I come from the human interaction angle. My feel for group dynamics is the number one thing I bring to the table for both, that and vision. I need the people to be there.

Jackson Heights has the largest concentration of Nepalis in the city. If you are thinking Nepal hydro, it is a good place to be. After all the idea is to marry NYC money to the fast flowing rivers of Nepal. You are trying to play matchmaker.

There is high tech and then there is high touch. Software would be high tech. People are high touch. In many ways high touch is old like wisdom. In several ways high touch is post high tech. The diversity of Jackson Heights is a great backdrop where to keep honing your people skills.

There are white folks to whom all Chinese look literally the same. I have met white folks to whom I look Arab. The day 9/11 happened I was in a small town in Kentucky. The locals called the cops on me! A month later I was in an office setting in Lexington, KY, in the open foyer. I overheard a guy in a cubicle talk on the phone: “There is an Arab in my office!”

But then there are seniors in my homevillage in Nepal who think the Christians belong to some kind of a fifth caste, way below the Dalits in the village. That village is not exactly progressive on gender issues. You have to maintain perspective when talking about race.

Give me broadband. Give me the subway. Give me my smartphone. Give me a mobile hotspot to go with my smartphone. Give me a Chromebook. Give me people. Give me a water bottle. Give me samosas. Gimme, gimme.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ingress: Taser Green Agents

Niantic Light Parade
Niantic Light Parade (Photo credit: drsmith7383)
Rumor has it Niantic is working on a new ammo item, so far unnamed. If an enemy agent is within your scanner's range, and you fire that ammo item, it will act like a mild taser on that agent. There will be a slight tickling sensation, no bodily harm intended.

It is thought to be of special use during interfaction events. Niantic is worried too many interfaction events are being organized, and it is taking away from the intensity of the game. Once you get to know and become friends with enemy agents, it is hard to then go back to thinking of them as enemies in the game. In many cities the game has supposedly slowed down due to such impacts.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ingress: And I Am Back

Not really. Over the past few days I have learned that (1) I don't miss Ingress, (2) Push-ups are much better exercise, more fulfilling, and way more fun than walking around staring at the phone pretending to get exercise through walking, and (3) The make money department is more gripping than the game of Ingress and I am better off increasing my hours there, since I work for myself and don't have/need regular "office hours." 

Some decisions. 

(1) I am going to completely avoid the COMM like I did all the way to hitting Level 8. In future my use of the COMM will be almost completely for Squad members. Even there a value is that COMM/G+ socializing is largely a waste of game time. 
(2) I am going to wait for my 1,000 portal submissions to go through before I make a serious effort at team building. 
(3) There is going to be a Greater Jackson Heights Resistance for agents that might not qualify for The Squad, but even that is later, I am in no hurry. 
(4) When I play, I will just rack up some more AP, that is all. I will play rarely. Life/Work/Ingress balance is a value to strive for. 
(5) I am glad for the reinstatement. But mostly I am going to act like the reinstatement never happened. I am going to play much less, if that. 

Enhanced by Zemanta