There is a saying about surgeons, meant as a reproof: “Sometimes wrong; never in doubt.” But this seemed to me their strength. Every day, surgeons are faced with uncertainties. Information is inadequate; the science is ambiguous; one’s knowledge and abilities are never perfect. Even with the simplest operation, it cannot be taken for granted that a patient will come through better off—or even alive. Standing at the table my first time, I wondered how the surgeon knew that he would do this patient good, that all the steps would go as planned, that bleeding would be controlled and infection would not take hold and organs would not be injured. He didn’t, of course. But still he cut.

— Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Dr Atul Gawande

I read this quote in this month’s Reader’s Digest and it struck a chord with me. I thought it was worth sharing.

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I’m always on the lookout for a good playlist to listen to while at work. This is the best I’ve found.

(Source: Spotify)

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Five Ways in Which iOS 7 is Still Behind Android 4.2

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When Apple introduced the world to iOS 7 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 10, I was spellbound at the sheer extent of the overhaul. It was a total makeover and no nook of the operating system had been left untouched. It wasn’t merely an updated user interface either—there were plenty of new features as well.

One of the most common snarks on my Twitter timeline on that day was that it was too much like Android or the late Palm webOS or even Windows Phone (lol). I think that’s a silly way to regard any new product in any industry.

There is a difference between copying something with the intention of fooling customers into buying your product because it looks exactly like a more established competitor’s, thereby diluting that company’s brand value, and coming to terms with the fact that your competitors have leaped over you in some fields and trying to catch up to them by adding similar features to your own products.

While Apple has in the past been guilty of confusing the two things—like when Bertrand Serlet got on stage during one of the company’s events a few years ago and pointed out how Microsoft had “copied” several of OS X’s features in Windows Vista—it is not being hypocritical by bringing Android’s features to iOS while at the same time suing Samsung for blatantly copying the look of its products.

But I digress; the point I wanted to make is that I don’t see why Apple should hesitate in bringing an Android feature to iOS if it deems that it will make the latter better. In fact, I have the opposite complaint: that Apple did not bring over more features from Android that would have made iOS a much more efficient, powerful and useful operating system.

I was overjoyed to hear that Apple was bringing multitasking to all apps in iOS 7, that apps would be able to update their data in the background and that they would be able to use push notifications in a more powerful way. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and unfortunately, it seems that Apple has no interest in digging deeper in this version of the OS.

What follows is a list of Android’s capabilities that will still be sorely missing on iOS 7. I do know that iOS 7 is still very much in beta and its features are subject to change. If it turns out that one of the features I’m mentioning below is actually there in the OS (or is added before release), I’ll be glad to have been wrong. But it doesn’t hurt to have a discussion based on what we know today.

1. Better Sharing Between Apps

When you’re viewing a piece of text in pretty much any app on Android, you can tap on the Share button to put it as a text file in your Dropbox folder, add it to Pocket or other similar apps, send it via Bluetooth, post it to Facebook or Twitter, send it via email, text messaging or Whatsapp, search for it on Google, create an Office document, note or reminder with it, or post it to your blog, among many other things.

The types of things that you can shuttle between various apps, both system and third-party, and the kinds of apps you can share them with are only limited by the creativity of developers and the number of apps you have on your device. Whether it be a document, link, photo, video or any other sort of data, Android frees you to do with it what you please, using whichever app(s) you want.

This is an immensely powerful concept, and iOS is trailing behind with an archaic, half hearted version of it for the past two versions. You can open your email attachments with whichever apps advertise themselves as being able to handle them, but that’s about it. Besides that, if you have data in an app that you want to export to another, you better hope that both of those developers have worked together to make that possible. And if that data happens to be in an Apple app, well, I hope you enjoy using iCloud.

2. Ability to Use One App from Within Another

Let’s say you use Gmail on your iOS device because you prefer it to the standard Mail app. Now, if you want to send an email from within Safari, you simply cannot do it using the Gmail app. Safari will bring up a Compose screen from the Mail app within its own interface, but it won’t do so from the Gmail app. Heck, even the Chrome app can’t work this way with the Gmail app. The best it can do is send you over to the Compose screen within the Gmail app, and you’ll have to then manually switch back later.

On Android, by comparison, if you want to share a link on Facebook from within the default browser, you can tap on the aforementioned Share button and then on Facebook. Facebook will bring up the sharing interface within Chrome, and will dismiss it once you’re done, leaving you to continue with what you were doing. Other apps don’t do this quite as well, so sometimes you’re left staring at the latter app’s interface after you’re done, but you can just hit the Back button to go back to what you were doing (which, in and of itself, is another powerful and time-saving concept that iOS lacks).

A corollary to this feature is that apps should be able to draw their UI over other apps. The lowest brightness setting on my phone is not low enough for me at night, so I have a shortcut to an app in my Notification Shade (another thing that iOS cannot do, by the way) that brings up a small brightness slider over whatever I am using at that time. I can then dim the screen as much as I want, which the app accomplishes by placing a translucent layer over the whole screen and changing its opacity based on the user’s preference. Both of these things aren’t possible on iOS, and they should be.

3. Third-Party App Defaults

When I start typing on Android, it brings up the much more powerful SwiftKey instead of the built-in keyboard. When I click on a shortened link somewhere in the OS, it passes it to an app that un-shortens it first instead of the browser. Then, depending on what the link is pointing towards, it will either open the dedicated app designed to handle it or pass it on to the browser.

Such examples are endless on Android. You can change the default email client, web browser, photo manager, messaging app, camera, alarm clock and even the Home and Lock screens. You can make it so that sending a text message from the Phone app automatically sends it via Whatsapp. Or you can replace the stock dialer with one that uses T9  dialling logic and is faster by several orders of magnitude.

I refuse to believe that Apple simply hasn’t gotten around to adding this feature. It’s so crucial to any computer’s usage that the user be able to dictate which apps they want to use for which tasks, that it boggles the mind that Apple is getting away with forcing users to use its own apps six years after the launch of iOS. Apple needs to let iOS users off the leash with regard to default apps.

4. Making Systemwide Changes

By far my biggest annoyance on iOS is that no app can ever do anything outside its own self. If Apple were to address some of my complaints above, it would reduce that limitation to a significant extent, but to go all the way, Apple has to allow apps to make changes to various parts of the system.

On Android, for example, I have an app that intelligently disables the lock screen on my phone when I am on my home or office wireless network and re-enables it when I am out and about. It makes so much sense and is so useful. Similarly, I have another app that manages my phone’s Bluetooth for me, so it’s turned off while I am at home or work or outside my home city, but enabled otherwise. Yet another app locks Whatsapp on my phone with a passcode and makes it look like it has crashed to stop snoopers in their tracks, but unlocks it when I’m in my office, away from prying eyes.

There are so many apps of this kind that have automated several aspects of my Android phone and make it work better for me. That’s the crux of this article: iOS needs more features that allow the user to turn it into their own iPhone after taking it out of the box, rather than keep using Jony Ive’s iPhone.

5. Miscellaneous Suggestions

Besides the features mentioned above, there are many others that exist on Android and iOS would do well to imitate. The ability to remotely install apps, for starters. Why can’t I request iTunes to install an app on my iPad when I’m browsing the App Store on my desktop or run into a link to an app on Twitter while using my Mac? How about the ability to customise Notification Center? Sure, I can post to Facebook and Twitter, but what if I want a quick way to post to Tumblr as well?

Widgets. I know what you want to say, loyal-iOS-user-who-only-thinks-a-feature-is-useful-after-Apple-has-added-it-to-its-own-OS, but I assure you that you’ll find at least one ridiculously useful widget if the feature ever makes it to iOS and then wonder how you ever lived without it. And chances are, you’ll find a bunch of them. I have four on my Android phone that you can pry from my cold, dead hands.

Systemwide accounts would be a useful addition too. It would be like Twitter’s current integration on iOS, except that third party services would be able to take advantage of it too. And side-loading of apps. Yes, it opens up a can of worms, but OS X has had that can open for over a decade now and we’ve still survived somehow. It would allow you to use Spotify on your iPhone even if you’re not in the USA. How can that be a bad thing?

Advance Defence Against Expected Criticism

Before you say, “if you want to make iOS like Android, why don’t you just use Android instead?”, I’ll have you know that (a) I am already following that advice; and (b) if I’d made this list one month ago and had asked Apple to add systemwide access to quick toggles for Bluetooth, brightness and other phone features, you’d have said the exact same thing. And now we have Control Center.

Being more like Android is not a bad thing. I think Android is unquestionably superior to iOS, but even if that weren’t true, you can take the good features of inferior products and still benefit from their addition. There’s nothing stopping Apple from taking a look at Android’s features and putting its own spin on them. It can make them more secure, more easy to use, better looking or better functioning. Borrowing from Android does not make you Android.

But saying that Apple shouldn’t or wouldn’t add features that Android has because it has a different philosophy is being very short sighted indeed. Remember, this is the same Apple that for the longest time did not add cut, copy and paste to the OS, said that native third party apps were unnecessary, declared that books were dead, said multitasking was a terrible idea, had the devices tethered to the computer with a physical wire for over four years, thought that Facebook and Twitter integration were overrated and that had you manually launch the App Store every single day and often download 2 GB updates for tiny bug fixes for FIVE. STRAIGHT. YEARS.

As someone who uses both Android and iOS on a daily basis, and thinks both Apple and Google are excellent companies that are at the top of their game, I can assure you that you’ll find your iOS device to be far more useful if Apple were to add some of the features I’ve suggested above. While it took a bit of setting up to get Android to where I wanted it to be, it worked great out of the box as well and is just as stable and reliable as iOS now, even after all my additions. Guess what, if they made iOS a bit more like Android, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

–Aayush

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 — 2 notes
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“Many years ago, the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’” —John F. Kennedy

(Source: solveforx.com)

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From iOS to Android: Apps I Use and Recommend

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As a follow up to the post about my impressions of Android from an iOS switcher’s perspective, I’d like to list the Android apps I’ve bought and downloaded so far. It includes only those apps that I find myself using regularly, and is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you’re new to Android, it should help you get up and running much faster.

Tip: As you’re going through this list, don’t let the screenshots fool you. Some of these apps look and work better than their screenshots suggest. Where iOS apps try to look their best in the App Store screenshots, Android apps often try to show themselves in the worst possible light. It’s a strange affliction.

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AirDroid [free]: This app lets you wirelessly manage your Android phone from your desktop, and is incredibly powerful. The user interface is also intuitive and well designed. However, I desperately wish that it had native apps for the desktop instead of a web based interface.

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Amazon Mobile [free]: It’s not nearly as much fun to browse through as Amazon Windowshop on the iPad, but if I only have my phone and want to check out the Amazon reviews for a product (I very rarely buy anything from there, because I live on a different continent), it’s better to use this app than the website itself.

Bubble level [free]: It does what it promises, and that’s good enough for me.

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bytNotes [₹56; free]: I find that I am not using bytNotes nearly as much as I’d thought I would, but it’s a great app nonetheless. It allows you to set up reminders associated with specific contacts. The next time you call them, or get a call from them, it’ll show you that reminder before you answer the call. It works great, but I do wish that it had a faster workflow. It’s often easier to just call the person and talk to them straight away that to set up a reminder in bytNotes.

Clipper [₹110; free]: I love having a clipboard history. I use LaunchBar for it on OS X, tried to use Pastebot on iOS (but it never really worked because of iOS’s restrictions on third party apps) and found a great one on Android as well. Cipper puts a permanent notification in Notification Center and it keeps a tab on everything you copy to your clipboard. Tap on the notification, select any item you’ve copied and it immediately returns you to the text field you were in. Hit Paste. I never found a text expander on Android (like the built-in one on iOS and OS X), but Clipper’s saved clippings feature gets me halfway there.

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Contact Sync for Facebook [free]: I hated the tiny, pixelated images that the official Facebook app synced with my contact list, so I downloaded this app. The only thing I use it for is to get large, medium quality (because Facebook doesn’t know what high quality images look like) images into my contacts list, and it does that job well.

Dropbox [freemium]: If you haven’t heard of Dropbox before, I’m about to change your life. Go sign up for Dropbox and download it on your desktop, your tablet and your phone, and any other computing device you own. There, life changed.

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Evernote [freemium]: I don’t think there is a perfect note-taking app. I haven’t really loved anything I’ve ever used. When I switched to Android, I thought I’d give Evernote another shot (as I have several times before), and I haven’t switched away from it so far, so that’s progress. Still, I’m not particularly fond of it. And I’m certainly not paying a ₹2,380 (!!!) yearly subscription for it.

exDialer [donationware]: It is, by far, my most favourite app on Android. exDialer is well designed, integrates seamlessly with the system (once you enable the “Open Stock Dialer” preference for clearing missed call notifications) and is ridiculously speedy. With a combination of the recent call log, speed dial and a T9 dialpad, exDialer makes calling on Android blisteringly fast. I did not hesitate when the app politely requested me to buy its donation pack for ₹212. Take my money, dear developer, for you’ve made my life easier. May you live a healthy life.

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Facebook [free]: It’s Facebook. It’s more populated than most countries. What more do you want to know?

Feedly [free]: I’m told that Press is a better app for reading RSS feeds on Android, but for how rarely I need to use it, Feedly does the job just fine. The interface is beautiful, though confusing at first, and it’s free to boot. I do most of my RSS reading through Reeder on my iPad though.

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Fuelio [₹90; free]: This is a mileage calculator for your car. The interface is sparse and well laid out and it can work with multiple cars, multiple currencies and multiple measuring units. It’s a well-rounded and very usable app.

GO Locker [free]: I have a love/hate relationship with GO Locker. I love the fact that I get a shortcut to the dialer on my lock screen, so I can either unlock the phone and go to the home screen or, using the same gesture, go to the dialer. It speeds up calling considerably. But I also hate that I’m stuck with a shortcut for messaging, which I would love to replace with the camera, and that it forces me to install GO Launcher EX, even though it could function perfectly without it. The themes are all crappy and—most egregiously—it doesn’t entirely replace the default lock screen. About five to ten times a day, I have to unlock the phone twice, because the default dialer shows up before GO Locker’s. Still, the dialer shortcut makes it worth it for me.

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Google Authenticator [free]: For all the flack Google takes about its stance on user privacy, I’m glad that no one ever blames it for not being innovative. Google is an intensely innovative company, and I offer things like two-step verification as proof of that statement. Enable it for your own Google account, download Google Authenticator on your phone and make your online identity significantly more secure.

GTasks [₹283; free]: There are plenty of task manager apps on Android that sync with Google Tasks, but I found GTasks to be the best. It feels like a system app and is fast and effortless to use. That’s all I wanted, really.

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Holo Compass [free]: If you want a compass on your phone, this is the best one.

IMDb [free]: It’s the Internet Movie Database. If you watch movies, like movies or want to have anything to do with movies, you want IMDb.

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Light Flow [₹130; free]: One of the best hardware features of most Android phones is a notification LED that pulses in various colours to alert you of different notifications. The paid version of Light Flow works with hundreds of apps, and allows you to set custom colours, pulse rates, vibrations, sounds and a whole host of other attributes for all your notifications. It’s another must-have Android app.

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MX Player [₹320; free]: I have not used it much, because I prefer to watch movies and television shows on my iPad, but it’s a great app to keep around because it plays any format you throw at it, has a minimal, user friendly interface, and just plain works.

Minimalistic Text [donationware]: It’s one of the most complicated apps I’ve used on Android—and on this platform, that’s saying something—but it allowed me to put the time and date in words on all my home screens. Just a nice aesthetic touch that I enjoy.

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Nova Launcher [₹210; free]: It’s the other really awesome usability enhancing app on my phone, besides exDialer. Nova Launcher has an exhaustive list of features, and I won’t get into it here, but here’s the best one: Swipe Actions. If you pay for the Prime version of the app, you can set it so that swiping up on icons on your Home screen will do things you want. For instance, I can tap on Evernote to launch it, or swipe up on it to take me straight to the note creation screen. The possibilities are endless. I love Nova Launcher!

Pocket [free]: Save stuff to your Pocket account through the extensive integration it has with a huge array of apps, have it download in the background on your Android phone, and then read it later in a reading-friendly format when your phone doesn’t have an Internet connection. Inspired by Instapaper on iOS, Pocket is a well-executed app and should be on every device you own.

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Power Toggles [free]: Ah, another gem of Android! I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone using an Android phone that did not have toggles for Wi-Fi, 3G, etc. in the Notification Center, but if yours is one of them, get Power Toggles. I’m not the kind of person who aggressively manages their phone’s battery life by constantly switching on and off location services and other features (manually or automatically), but it is handy to be able to do them from the Notification Center for those times when you do need to. Plus, you can turn on the flash and lock screen orientation, which are useful features.

Screen Filter [free]: The lowest screen brightness setting on iPads and iPhones is far lower than that on the Nexus 4, and that’s something I sorely missed on this phone. Screen Filter solves that problem for me. I have set up a Power Toggle in the Notification Center to launch Screen Filter, which puts a brightness overlay on the current screen and allows you to dim is to nearly zero brightness. My only quibble is that the Back, Home and Recent Apps buttons stay at the default brightness, but that’s not something any third party app can do anything about.

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Simple Calendar Widget [free]: I wanted a simple, well designed list of my calendar events and tasks on my home screen, and iOS wouldn’t allow that, so I switched to Android. Among all the options I tried, Simple Calendar Widget is the only one that did exactly what I wanted. It took some setting up, and some trial and error, but I found something that worked for me eventually. It will sometimes stop showing my tasks, though, and I have to launch and quit GTasks once to fix the issue, which is an annoyance.

Smart App Protector [₹76; free]: I love my friends, but some of them are unabashedly foul-mouthed. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but I’d rather not have someone reading their filthy jokes on our WhatsApp group. Smart App Protector, though unintuitive, allowed me to set it up so that WhatsApp fakes a crash when it’s launched and, once you get through with a non-obvious workaround, has you enter a pattern to access it. It’s a very nicely executed app.

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SwiftKey 3 Keyboard [₹99; free]: In many ways, SwiftKey is worse than the default keyboard on iOS. It doesn’t insert its suggested word when you hit the return key or type an apostrophe, for instance, and it sometimes gives preference to an obviously incorrect suggestion instead of what you correctly typed. However, its predictive capabilities are amazing, it supports Hinglish (which is awesome!) and, though there is a lot of room for improvement, it’s a fantastic keyboard replacement for Android.

TeslaUnread [free]: This plugin for Nova Launcher puts an iOS-style unread count on your apps when they have pending notifications. Very useful.

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Truecaller [free]: This is straight up from the future. When I get a call from an unknown number on my phone, even if I don’t always know their exact name, I can almost always tell who it’s from, thanks to Truecaller. I know that the app is able to do this by committing a serious breach of privacy of essentially every phone owner in the world, and it’s weird that it doesn’t have any AI to figure out the correct names of the people in its database, but even to the extent that it works right now, it’s very helpful.

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Twitter [free] / Falcon Pro [₹56]: Falcon Pro has more power user features, but I have to keep the default client around because it doesn’t have push notifications. Or drafts. And neither client has streaming. So if you want the best Twitter experience, buy an iOS device and install Tweetbot, is what I am saying.

WhatsApp Messenger [free, I think]: WhatsApp is a multi-platform and far more powerful text messaging replacement that works via the interwebs and is (probably) free. If you don’t have it, get it. I only wish that the mute settings worked on Android. I had to leave a group because the damned thing would keep sending me notifications, even though I had it muted.

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1Password Reader [free]: It is the worst of the 1Password family of apps, but it remains the best password manager in town, so if you want it to work with your Android phone, this is the only option. It’s also free, which is a relief (given that I’ve already spent upwards of ₹3,000 on this app on iOS and OS X).

Saturday, January 26, 2013 — 2 notes   Read more …
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From iOS to Android, and Living to Tell the Tale

If there is one thing that the world identifies me by, and that is common to both my offline and online acquaintances, it’s being an Apple fanboy. Since 2006, when I bought my first Apple product—a MacBook Pro—my identity has become intertwined with my preference for Apple’s wares.

At that time, I was a member of a popular online forum in India called the Digit Forum, and I often got involved with started debates about how Apple’s products were infinitely better than whatever crap Microsoft was peddling at the time. Although Apple’s resurgence was well underway by 2006, it was still impossible to predict just how huge the company would eventually become. Still, I, and a few other of my colleagues on the forum (most notably goobimama), knew it was on to something.

I have since professionally written over a thousand articles about Apple and other related topics over the course of four years for five different publications, and helped found one of my own. I have interned at one of the largest development houses for Apple’s platforms in India and founded my own company to do the same. For a short period, I was the proud publisher of a few lines of code that made the lives easier of the few people who ever used it. It has been a rewarding journey.

None of that meant that I would never jump ship if it made sense though. The reason I still use OS X today is that the competition is still clueless and incompetent and its offerings are just as poor as they were six years ago. I use an iPad because it is the best computing device on the planet right now, and let no one tell you anything different. And I did try switching from iOS to Windows Phone 7.5 with a Nokia Lumia 800, but the less said about that useless, terrible operating system, the better.

But the reason I switched to Android is that I genuinely believed that it was now at least on a par with Apple’s offering and was worth experiencing first hand. What’s more, it’s just the sort of thing you’d expect a diehard Apple fanboy to do!

So What’s So Good About Android Anyway?

MORE POWERFUL APPS

For starters, when I get a call from an unknown number, the majority of the time, I can tell who it is before I pick up the phone. That is a fantastic feature, made possible by the level of integration Android allows third-party apps like Truecaller with the system itself. I also use bytNotes to remind myself of things I need to talk to people about the next time I am on a call with them. When I receive a call from them, it shows a small note to remind me on the calling screen. It’s fantastic!

   

I’ve replaced the stock dialer with exDialer and now I can use a T9 dialer and speed dial shortcuts to fly through my day. From the lock screen, calling my most frequently dialled contacts takes two taps. Just two! It takes a minimum of three taps on an iPhone, and usually more (when the Favourites tab isn’t selected in the Phone app). And searching for contacts and calling them is even faster with T9 dialing (as opposed to switching to the contacts list on an iPhone, scrolling to the top, tapping on the search field, typing slowly on a QWERTY keyboard, tapping on a contact and then on a number to dial it).

I’ve also replaced the stock lock screen with one provided by GO Locker. Like the iPhone (and the stock Android lock screen) gives you fast access to the camera, the lock screen I use gives you similar single-swipe access to the phone and messaging apps. WhatsApp Messenger also integrates beautifully with the system. When I search for a contact on exDialer, I can slide it to the left to send them a text. And here’s the cool part—the text is sent through Whatsapp if they have it, and normally if they don’t (although the latter process needs more streamlining). Do that on an iPhone!

   

The simple fact that Google gives third-party developers a lot of access to the system’s innards means that Android apps are capable of doing much more than their iOS counterparts. Besides the examples mentioned above, there’s Clipper, a clipboard history app that actually works, unlike Pastebot on iOS, which simply was never going to succeed, due to Apple’s restrictions. Contact Sync for Facebook can fetch high resolution photos of your contacts from Facebook in the background. Apps like Pocket can download articles in the background, so you have them ready to read when your phone is out of network coverage.

Then there’s the third-party keyboard SwiftKey. It was the first app I bought on Android and it immediately replaced the stock Android keyboard for me (which was also very good). It supports Hinglish (the part-Hindi part-English Frankenmonster that is the lingua franca of most of India), has an almost magical ability to make sense of the most wayward of keystrokes and excellent predictive abilities. The iOS keyboard is excellent and I hadn’t thought I would ever use anything better. I stand corrected.

   

BETTER MULTITASKING

To be honest, I am not entirely sure how multitasking works on Android, but I do know that the multitasking UI is way ahead of iOS. The recent apps switcher on iOS feels bolted on and kludgy. You double-press the Home button and scroll horizontally through app icons, four at a time. On Android, you get a horizontally scrolling list of app screenshots and you can swipe any of them away to kill the app. When you tap on one and switch to it, you can usually press the back button to get back to the previous app that you’d switched from. It feels like the natural way to do things.

BETTER NOTIFICATIONS

Notifications on Android are fantastic! You can slide down the status bar on the lock screen itself, which is very useful—even more so due to the fact that I have toggles for Bluetooth, screen brightness, LED flash and rotation lock (among other things) in the Notification Center (or whatever it is called on Android). Going from automatic brightness adjustment to the lowest setting on Android takes one slide and a tap, anywhere in the system.

In iOS, you hit the Home button, slide to the Home screen with the Settings app, tap on it (assuming that it is not in a folder), tap on the Brightness option (assuming that you do not have to back out of any other settings screen first) and then use the slider. Then you double-click the Home button and tap on the app you were in to go back. Once you’ve experienced the convenience of Power Toggles on Android, it is hard to see the iOS system as anything but stale and unintuitive.

The Notification Center in Android also gives you actionable notifications. I could have a call in progress and, instead of going back into the phone app and disconnecting the call, I can slide down the status bar, slide down on the call-in-progress notification and tap on Hang Up right there. Because this is a feature new to Android 4.2, and third-party app development on Android is not nearly on par with iOS, it is taking time for the feature to show up in more apps, but once it becomes more commonplace, it will save a ton of time.

Speaking of notifications, the notification LED on the front of the phone is another fantastic feature. Using Light Flow, I have it configured to light up in a range of colours for different notifications—magenta for messages, red for missed calls, yellow while charging, white when silent, etc.—and it subtly lights up to alert me of pending notifications. It’s not too bright and isn’t intrusive at all; you only notice it when you look at the phone. It’s perfect, really.

MORE POWERFUL HOME SCREENS

Any discussion of Android Home screens wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Nova Launcher. This replacement Home screen and launcher app is packed to the gills with useful features. You can install a new icon theme and add sections to your app drawer (which is a much better way to organise apps than folders, which Nova Launcher also adds), some eye candy animations, infinite scrolling and gestures to your Home screens. Two of the most useful features are being able to create shortcuts to specific activities within apps and swipe actions. I can create a shortcut on the desktop that takes me straight to a new calendar event creation screen in the Calendar app and I can configure it so that swiping up on the Evernote icon opens the note creation screen within the app. Speed, speed, speed!

   

While on the subject of Home screens, you can, of course, have as many as you want. You can configure them with icons and folders exactly like you do on an iPhone. But you don’t have to! You can have your calendar events and tasks show up beautifully on the Home screen using the Simple Calendar Widget. You can install a vintage analog clock or a futuristic digital one. You can display the weather there. You can have a permanent search bar…

FEATURES FROM THE FUTURE

Speaking of which, if you have ever used Google Now or Google Voice Search or even plain old Google Search on an Android device, you know that Apple and Siri and Spotlight have a lot of catching up to do. Google Voice Search actually recognises Indian accents and its ability to convert speech to text, though far from flawless, is head and shoulders above what Siri can manage. It’s ridiculously fast and, where Siri takes over ten seconds to produce an inaccurate transcription of what you said, Google Voice Search does it instantly and, usually, accurately. By the time you’ve said “schedule an appointment”, it has already transcribed “schedule an”! I conduct most of my web searches by voice now.

Besides that, you can use the systemwide and ever present search bar not just to search within the default apps but also third-party ones. Search for “ipad” and you get iPad listings from Amazon and eBay. You can tap on them to open them within their respective apps. Searching is instant, both for Google Search results and for those conducted among the installed apps (excepting network delays).

That leaves Google Now, which is just plain from the future. I know that is a cliché description for the service, but it is also the one that fits best. I had a meeting scheduled for 04:00 PM today. At 03:35 PM, without my having done anything at all, Google Now threw up a notification telling me that it was “time to leave for the appointment” and that I should “leave by 3:50 PM to arrive on time”. It knew I was at home, charted out the route to the venue, knew it would take eight minutes by car and threw up that notification at exactly the right time. Tapping on the notification took me to the appointment’s card in Google Now, and another tap started the navigation.

In the morning, I had gone to the railway station to pick up my father. I was fiddling around with the phone and launched Google Now for something. It brought up a card informing me that I was sixteen minutes from home, and offering navigation instructions. Here’s the thing: I never told Google where my home was! Google Now took note of the fact that I spend my nights there and figured out that that must be my house. It did ask for confirmation on that card, and now it knows for sure.

Comparing Google Now to Siri would be like comparing a flying car with a broken Chevy. One gives you an exciting glimpse into the future; the other is a broken, frustrating version of present technologies. It’s no comparison at all.

A MORE ADVANCED AND INCLUSIVE ECOSYSTEM

Then there’s Google’s supporting ecosystem, which is also superior to Apple’s in many ways. For starters, the Google Play Store works properly in a web browser and—this is huge—you can actually target and remotely install apps on the devices you want. On iOS, if you want to remotely install a 2 GB game on your iPhone, you have to download it on iTunes on your computer and watch in barely suppressed rage as it downloads on your four other iOS devices and iTunes on your work computer, only so you can play it on your iPhone. It’s a maddeningly poor implementation and I keep the feature turned off on all my Apple computers and devices.

You also get a fifteen minute refund window when making purchases. As a result, I don’t regret a single one of my app purchases so far. By contrast, of the over $500 I’ve spent on app purchases on iOS over the past five years, the grand total worth of the apps I currently use is probably about $50. You spend far less buying apps on Android and there’s no buyer’s remorse. There are delta updates and they install automatically (which they are configured to only do on Wi-Fi on my phone). Finally, freedom from the app update counts on four iOS devices and two computers! I couldn’t be happier.

It’s great, too, that you get to use the fantastic Chrome, Gmail and Maps apps as your default ones for those tasks. Each of those is way ahead of their iOS counterparts. Google’s ability to keep all your browsing in sync across all your devices is fantastic! So is the granular control and abundant statistics you get for the battery and data usage of your phone in the Settings app. You can set it to warn you when you get close to your monthly data quota and stop it altogether when you have used it up.

   

A WORD ABOUT HARDWARE

I love the huge screen. It has its problems, but it’s a beautiful and large canvas that is a treat to use. The colour reproduction is fantastic and text is gorgeous on the Retina-caliber display. There’s a micro USB port, so charging cables are dirt cheap and ubiquitous. The device is recognised as removable storage on a computer. It does require the free Android File Transfer utility on a Mac, but once you download it, it’s no different from it showing up in the Finder’s sidebar as a removable drive.

While we are on the subject of hardware, it would be a sin not to point out that I only paid ₹20,750 ($375) for this phone. An iPhone 5 would have cost me ₹45,500 ($825). Granted, the latter would’ve been an official purchase from India and would’ve included the standard one-year warranty, but at only 45% of the cost, I got a phone that is actually better than the iPhone 5. It really is. Not in terms of build quality, perhaps, but it is certainly a better phone overall. And I could buy another one and still have $75 to spare!

GREAT DESIGN

Finally, a word about design. Before switching to Android, I had been under the impression that, despite Google’s focus on good design in the past year, Android would be significantly behind iOS in terms of overall user interface design. I’m surprised to find out, however, that this is not the case. Far from it, in fact. Android is, for the most part, a beautiful and cohesive operating system and easily rivals Apple’s best software design. In fact, the whole system and the various bundled apps feel far more in sync with each other than Apple’s do. Because it is inherently more capable, Android can feel a bit more complex and chaotic than iOS, but there is a method to the madness, and while there are some glaring inconsistencies, the same can be said for iOS as well.

What’s Not So Good?

THIRD-PARTY APPS

I spent a lot of time singing the praises of the power of Android’s third-party apps, but Android app development has an ugly side…quite literally. There’s no way of sugar-coating it—the overwhelming vast majority of Android apps are such eyesores that you’d probably smash that giant screen to bits if you were forced to live with them. They’re ugly.

One of the most highly recommended apps on Android is Tasker. It is a scripting app that is very flexible and powerful and can take smartphone automation to a whole new level. But look at it—just look at it! And examples like this are the bread and butter of the Play Store; it is full to bursting with them. Even apps that my Android-using friends recommend to me keeping in mind my need for good design often turn out to be so sucky that I’m forced to wonder if they’ve ever used best of breed iOS apps.

   

That said, the situation is improving now. Due to Android’s fragmentation and, I think, the lack of an OS X SDK, progress is slow, but I’ve found good replacements for most of my iOS must-haves. Still, some exceptions remain. There is no good Twitter app, and the ones that are there don’t support the streaming API. There isn’t any personal finance app worth using.

Then there are the apps that are so needlessly complicated that one wonders how anyone manages to use them at all. For instance, to use location-based reminders on Android, you need to download an app like Astrid and figure out how it works. Then purchase Locale or Tasker and figure out those apps—which, by the way, is no mean task. This step itself was a deal-breaker for me. And then you purchase the Astrid Locale Add-on, which will allow Astrid to use either of the aforementioned apps to serve you location-based reminders. I’d rather not have the feature on my phone, thank you very much!

Another side effect of bestowing so much power upon third party apps is that they sometimes misuse it (either knowingly or due to bugs). Quite a few apps on Android are set to sync every few minutes by default, even though their task could be accomplished perfectly using either push notifications or by only syncing when launched. I installed the popular TV Show Favs app and was surprised to find out that it was using up as much as 25% of my battery just by being installed on the phone (even when not in use). Similarly, apps like 1Password Reader (and others) keep running in the background forever, even though they do nothing useful while they are at it.

That said, this is not a serious problem; the rogue apps are few and are easily avoided. Given the choice between iOS’s severely limited apps and the freedom to install anything knowing that it can cause no harm to the system, and Android’s much more powerful third-party app ecosystem, I will always choose the latter, even with its inherent problems.

HARDWARE NIGGLES

Not having a physical home button is by far the worst hardware decision Google/LG made with this phone. I can tolerate the poor placement of the speaker, which gets muffled when the phone is placed on its back, but it’s been three weeks since I started using this phone and I still press the Home button on my brother’s iPhone to check the time in the morning. It is far too easy to press the volume buttons when trying to press the power button, you often end up having to search for it with your thumb and the lack of the Home button on the front means that you are never quite sure which way is the right side up.

It would be careless of me not to mention that the screen, though nice and large and beautiful to look at, is simply not designed for single-handed use. You cannot grip the phone securely while also using it, and even when you are holding it gingerly to try and get your fingers to reach the opposite corner of the display, it is quite a stretch. Typing is best done with two thumbs (which is true of the iPhone too, but you can easily get by using a single thumb on most occasions there) and Done buttons are usually out of the reach of the thumb of the hand holding the phone.

Again, I love how much more stuff fits on this display, and how much better media looks on it, but I never thought the iPhone’s display was too small, and I feel like that was a better chosen set of compromises. But then again, my opinion on this point may be different two months down the line.

GOOGLE NOW IS OPTIMISED FOR SEARCH

Google Now can accurately and effortlessly tell me what is the capital of Uganda and in which year Napolean was born, but it loses its marbles when I ask it to call my father. Simple stuff like creating appointments, sending texts and dialling numbers—though supported features—are so much of a hit-and-miss proposition that you end up not using the feature at all. Then there’s the stuff it simply can’t do: ask it to start a ten minute timer and it will set an alarm for ten minutes later. Exactly what you wanted.

I’ve also been noticing lately that it is quite unreliable. From the Google I/O keynote speeches and reading release notes of the latest versions of Jelly Bean, I was under the impression that voice recognition on Android worked offline. It does, but only for a couple of languages (among them American and British English, of course). For Indian English, it still needs the help of an Internet connection, and even when it has one, it refuses to work a lot of the time. When it does work, the accuracy and speed is off the charts, but it fails often. It’s not nearly as bad as Siri, however.

MISCELLANEOUS

The one iOS feature whose absence on Android I find the most grating is scrolling to the top on tapping the status bar. Then there is the lack of a systemwide dictionary. Also, Android does not give you the iOS-style in-call status bar when a call is in progress in the background, so you need to swipe down on the status bar and then tap on the call-in-progress notification to switch back to it (but you can swipe down on it and tap on Hang Up to terminate the call, which is a nice feature).

Android’s multiple call handling is a confusing mess. On iOS, if you get a call while another one is in progress, you get a clear set of options: ignore the call, put the other party on hold and answer it, or end the other call and answer it. If you answer it, the interface for merging, swapping and ending the calls couldn’t be easier.

On Android, when I get a call, I always feel like answering it is my only option due to the way the interface is designed. And once I’ve (accidentally) answered it, I can find no way at all to get back to the previous caller or end that call while keeping this one connected. Call management should be simple on a phone with a large touchscreen. There is no reason not to use big, bold icons to denote important actions and label them using plain English words.

Another personal peeve of mine is the inconsistency of the Done button. Almost always, it is on the top right corner of the screen, where it makes most sense, but then in some apps—including the default ones—it will suddenly show up on the top left and throw you for a loop. The add contact screen is one prominent example of this. The infamous Back button can also be wildly inconsistent, sometimes taking you back to the previous screen you were on, and on other occasions stepping you back through the current app’s navigation hierarchy.

Oh, and here’s the best one: I don’t know how to delete contacts on Android. This is not an exaggeration or a joke. I really don’t know. I don’t think it is possible at all.

PARTING WORDS

There’s much more to be said on both sides of the argument, and despite having already rambled on for over four thousand words, I could easily write an essay twice this size on this topic. The ‘tl;dr’ version, though, would be this: Android is a better phone operating system than iOS. Not just more powerful or more customisable, but unequivocally superior overall. I wanted to try an Android phone and managed to score the best one ever made for less than half the price of an iPhone, but now that I’ve used it, there is no way I am switching back to iOS, at any price.

Apple is in a bit of a rut with iOS, too afraid to add anything exciting, too much of a nanny about what you can and can’t do on your own phone, too intent on forcing users to use its own apps, even when they aren’t best of breed. It needs to do something groundbreaking with iOS 7, not to remain profitable, maybe, and not to fend off this imaginary doom that its critics think it is perpetually heading towards, but certainly to win me back as a user.

Sunday, January 20, 2013 — 6 notes
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Movie Review | Barfi! (2012)

I seldom watch Bollywood movies, but there are some that are recommended so highly to me by so many people that I cannot resist giving them a shot. I regret the decision most times, but sometimes I come out of the theatre with a smile on my face. One recent movie that did that was Kahaani, and Barfi! is another (though not nearly in the same league).

Ever since I saw the first poster for Saawariya, I have always thought of Ranbir Kapoor as any other Bollywood pretty face with the acting skills of an uprooted tree stump. Granted, I never actually saw that movie, so I was judging the book solely by its cover. And the library it was in, I guess.

But everyone kept insisting that Barfi! was an excellent movie, and that Ranbir had done a great job in it, so I became curious enough that I wanted to give it a chance. He didn’t have a single line of dialogue in the movie, so I figured, what the heck, how bad could he be!

I was pleasantly surprised. Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi! was a revelation. Rarely do I see Bollywood movies aim for a particular kind of comedy and restrict themselves to it. What is usually shovelled at the audience is a cacophony of noise, as the writers throw in a mishmash of all varieties of humour, with the restraint of a monkey in a banana plantation! It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s unintelligent and it’s painfully unfunny.

In Barfi!, the writers pay homage to the fantastic mute physical comedy pioneered by that giant of classic Hollywood cinema, Charlie Chaplin. It’s a class above the standard slapstick Bollywood is so infatuated with, and is intelligently done. Ranbir Kapoor entertains you with his perfectly honed and well timed jumps, gestures, expressions and face-plants.

There isn’t too much of it, and it is well paced and fresh throughout the movie. At no point does it feel cheap or overdone, and there’s not a single wasted joke. There’s even a scene where Ranbir Kapoor plays with a bowler hat, which seems to be a clear nod to the man the movie draws its inspiration from. I loved the comedy in this movie!

And so too did I the acting. From Ranbir Kapoor to Ileana D’Cruz, and Priyanka Chopra to Saurabh Shukla, everyone does a great job with their characters. There’s not a single line of dialogue delivered like a poem leant by rote and not one interruption where you can clearly see that the actor stopped speaking on cue, not on being actually interrupted. There are no dialogues to explain the movie’s more complex plot points to the laymen in the audience, nor any scenes where characters are thinking out loud for our benefit.

This is a good sign for Bollywood movies. They need to grow up, stop being loud and let the audience use their brain more when watching a movie—movies like Barfi!Kahaani and Peepli Live are steps in the right direction.

But the movie fails on a very critical point: the plot. It’s a muddle. The writers had some great ideas—a loveable and naughty deaf and dumb protagonist who the audience can laugh with, rather than pity or sympathise, an autistic woman who’s trying to find someone to connect with and a (ridiculously) beautiful woman to serve as the protagonist’s love interest—but they failed to make it all work together.

What this movie needed was for the writers to save some of the plot points they had in mind for another movie. The plot of Barfi! seems to have become a victim of trying to cram every good idea into its running time, eventually ending with a confusing and poorly paced mess.

Each of the two actresses in the movie have half the runtime allotted to them, and they don’t even show up in the other half. It’s like two movies squeezed into one, and by the time you are two hours into it, you no longer know which characters you are supposed to care about. There’s too much going on, and the writers fail to tie it all together into a cohesive whole.

I don’t want to post any spoilers here, but who you think is the villain in the first half turns out to not even matter a little bit in the grand scheme of things. The actress you’re rooting for gets what she wants, and you’re not supposed to be happy for her, because it turns out that the other one is the one you were supposed to cheer. The problem is, you don’t give two shits about her character.

The motivations of Barfi’s character are also very unclear; you never quite know why he’s doing the things he’s doing, and the explanation you get in the end is not nearly satisfactory enough. It’s a movie trying to do too much, because the writers weren’t confident that the few plot threads they introduced in the first half were enough to carry the whole movie. And that’s a shame, because they had a good thing going.

Despite all that, however, Barfi! is worth a watch. The movie is funny and entertaining for the most part, the music is great, the acting is fantastic and the actors (read: Ileana D’Cruz) are astoundingly beautiful. The plot is quite terrible, and the emotional scenes never manage to resonate with the audience, but I don’t regret having spent 150 minutes watching this movie.

My only regret is that it could’ve been so much more.

Monday, September 17, 2012 — 2 notes
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The iPad is not a notebook replacement—not yet, anyway

Apple today aired a commercial titled “Do It All” and John Gruber termed it “the best refutation” against the idea that the iPad cannot replace a notebook. This is the commercial:

The ad shows the iPad being used for sending an email. Yes, for replying to a couple of emails while on the move, the iPad is a fine device. I personally do not find it to be as comfortable as the iPhone in this regard, but to each his own.

When it comes to dealing with 47 unread emails, however, and reading, sending responses to them, performing the tasks they pertain to and filing them away, the iPad is far less efficient than a traditional notebook. Tapping your way through all this—and switching between applications while you do it—is simply much slower than getting through it all with a traditional keyboard and trackpad.

The iPad is also shown editing a Keynote presentation in the ad. More specifically, it shows the user adjusting the tilt of a piechart. Now, to be fair, the iPad can do much more than that with Apple’s Keynote app, but pit it against a Mac and it falls apart. A lot of the advanced features of the app are simply not present in its iPad version, and even the ones that are there take much longer to produce the same results as their Mac counterpart.

More importantly, you cannot plug in pen drives with your existing Keynote files on them. Apple has very valid reasons for not putting USB ports on the iPad and taking out the filesystem—and I wouldn’t have it any other way—but not everyone has an office set up with the latest Macs, all running Dropbox and connected to Wi-Fi 24/7. You and I probably do, but we’re not most people.

Also, there’s no PowerPoint on the iPad, and Keynote’s PowerPoint compatibility is laughable. Again, not Apple’s fault, but we’re not playing the blame game here. How many of us have AirPrint-compatible printers? Most of the printers in use today do not even have wireless capability, forget iPad compatibility. Tally is a widely used accounting application tailored to the needs of Indian businesspeople, and it is never even going to come to the Mac, forget the iPad.

Even for doing everyday tasks, an iPad cannot replace a notebook for most people. It happens quite regularly that you are browsing through the native iOS app of a web app and you run into a feature that requires you to use the website. Unless it is something urgent, you prefer to wait till you are back in front of your computer before going to that website.

Long-form writing is something that is best done with a proper keyboard and a multitasking-capable operating system. Even tweeting is much faster on the desktop than fiddling with the magnifying loupe on the iPad, trying to make your tweet fit within 140 characters.

And no matter how many fantastic artists produce paintings, photographs, sketches, movies and music on the iPad, ultimately the device is too limited to allow anyone to shift to it full-time. These occasional works of art that get the press’ attention are only examples of what can be done on an iPad if someone is willing to patiently work within its constraints and spare the time required to get something done on it. But there is no way a musician working in GarageBand on the iPad can ever compete with someone else using the app’s Mac counterpart.

The iPad is perfect for some things: reading books, idly browsing the web, using any of the thousands of iPad-specific apps that are better than their desktop- or web-based counterparts, watching a movie while lying in bed, watching, editing and working with your photos, booking flight tickets, doing online shopping, dealing with email and a thousand other things. And that’s how it should be. I love my iPad for what it does.

But most of the people who I recommend it to realise that they cannot purchase an iPad instead of a full-fledged computer. It is not a notebook replacement yet, and I wish the John Grubers of the world would just learn to accept that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 — 2 notes
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Movie Review | The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers

My review of The Avengers. It’s lengthy, but I wanted to do a good job of explaining what I did not like about a movie that is almost universally loved. I hope I succeeded.

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“The Riddle of the Dinosaur” by Bert Leston Taylor

I was reading The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins and came across this wonderful poem by Bert Leston Taylor in one of its footnotes. Here’s what Dawkins has to say about it, followed by the poem itself:

It is a a little-known fact that some dinosaurs had a ganglion in the pelvis, which was so large (at least relative to the brain in the head) as almost to deserve the title of second brain. This prompted the following delightfully witty verse by the American comic writer Bert Leston Taylor (1866–1921):

Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his weight and length,
But for his intellectual strength.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains,
The one in his head, the usual place,
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason a priori
As well as a posteriori.
No problem bothered him a bit,
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise he was
So wise and solemn
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong,
It passed a few ideas along.
It something slipped the forward mind
’Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
For he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
O gaze upon this noble beast,
Defunct ten million years at least.

The puns and wordplay in this poem are so good! “And if in error he was caught he had a saving afterthought.” Haha!

Monday, April 23, 2012 — 3 notes
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Kunal Nayyar on Indian Weddings (by bakshiakshay)

So funny! I love how comfortable he is even as he says the most embarrassing stuff.

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The Disconnect Between Free Will and Divine Justice

One of my father’s favourite couplets goes like this:

कर्म किये जा फल की चिंता मत कर ऐ इंसान,

कर्म अच्छा करेगा फल देगा भगवान्।

Translation:

Keep working and don’t worry about results. If you do good deeds, god will reward you with a positive outcome.

This is often combined with the note that human beings are free to do whatever they please, that we enjoy free will. It’s only the results that we have no control over.

FoxTrots Free Will

Every time I hear someone make this argument, my mind starts coming up with these counter-arguments that are always the same. I thought it would be interesting to round up these loose threads of reason and bring them into a cohesive whole.

Let’s imagine that a guy is walking down the street and is run over by a speeding car and dies on the way to the hospital. Ask any religious person if there is an explanation for the death of an innocent person in this fashion and they will be quick to conjecture that he must have done something sinful to deserve such a fate. This is divine retribution, they will say, for wrongdoings in this or a past life.

But in a world that has free will, how can an all-powerful god always arrange for the distribution of this sort of justice?

Did that car driver intend to recklessly drive on that particular street at that time of that day just so he could kill a person and ensure that god’s plan was carried out? Of course not.

So then does it follow that god made him commit this murder by pre-arranging for the victim and the car driver to cross paths with each other on the fateful day in this brutal fashion? Will the driver eventually have to pay for a crime that god made him do?

Like everything else in religion, the concept of divine justice simply does not fly in a world where we have free will. Either god has to force all the sinners in the world to flock to Japan just in time to be swept away in a tsunami or we have to accept that the people who died in the tragedy were innocent and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on their own free will.

The couplet above sets out that we have to work towards achieving our goals, but in a world where divine justice is in effect, there can be no free will, and it therefore wouldn’t make any sense for anyone to work for anything.

Why study hard for that exam when your passing or failing is entirely in the hands of god? Why drive sensibly when you know that you can only die in an accident if it is in your destiny? Why get out of the bed in the morning at all?

Look at the world around you: is it more likely that our actions are being governed by an all-powerful being and that none of us are in control of our destinies, or does it make more sense that there is no divine justice, that we are free to do what we want, that the universe is utterly indifferent?

Monday, April 2, 2012
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OS X’s AirDrop Needs a Better Workflow

Apple’s desktop operating system OS X Lion has a great file-sharing feature called AirDrop that makes it a breeze to send files across to Macs in your vicinity. It is one of the best examples of Apple taking something that is inherently complicated and re-imagining it in a way that your average user can make sense of it.

However, the feature has a flawed workflow that often makes it a poorer alternative to using the traditional file-sharing methods available in the OS.

To use AirDrop, users of both Macs need to click on the AirDrop item in the Finder sidebar (or hit Command-Shift-R on the keyboard). The Finder will then display all the Macs in physical proximity that have AirDrop enabled as well. You can then drag any number of files or folders onto any of those Macs and the person on the other end can accept the file transfer to initiate it.

I have several Macs in my house and I often want to transfer stuff between them. Using the traditional method, I can select the target Mac in the Finder sidebar and, upon logging in to it as a registered user or guest, transfer files to it directly.

With AirDrop, though, I either need to run back and forth between both machines to achieve this or station someone on the other end to do the legwork for me.

I think it would be so much more useful if AirDrop could locate and display all the Macs in your vicinity regardless of whether the feature is currently active on them or not. When you send stuff over, AirDrop could either throw up a notification on that other Mac requesting the user’s permission to initiate the transfer or, based on a preconfigured setting, simply carry it out for machines that are trustworthy.

I am not sure exactly how AirDrop works on a technological level—because, quite frankly, it seems like wizardry that it is able to connect two Macs based on their geographical nearness, even if they are on different wireless networks—and am therefore not sure if my suggestion is feasible, but it would definitely make the feature significantly more useful.

[Header image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense and AirDrop screenshot courtesy of Apple.]

Thursday, March 29, 2012
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Movie Review | A Wednesday (2008)

A friend from Twitter listed A Wednesday as one of his favourite Bollywood movies, so I figured I’d give it a try, hoping to see it change my impression of the industry. I don’t think it did much in that regard.

It’s the sort of Bollywood movie that tries to portray itself as better than it actually is. It’s the kind of movie that bores you throughout and then adds an uplifting speech at the end to make it all seem worthwhile. It’s the kind of movie that most moviegoers feel the need to respect and like even though they may not actually have enjoyed it much.

I, for one, do not feel that need.

If everything else in this movie was stellar, I could have forgiven the absurd cinematography, but the rest of it wasn’t good enough to make up for it. There are at least twenty shots, totalling up to over two minutes of screen time (not all at once though), where the camera makes sweeping pans around the roof to show Naseeruddin Shah sitting, standing or roaming on the terrace in a pensive mood.

It’s almost as if it’s the first time the cameraman has discovered that a camera can be mounted on a crane and manipulated that way and wants to shove the effect in our face every five minutes. It’s like those people who buy iPhones just to show them off and have to fish them out of their pocket at the slightest opportunity. It’s annoying and immature. The score is horrible too, specially in the scenes described above.

It has absolutely no sense of pacing at all. This could have been a 40-minute TV episode and it would not have needed to sacrifice one bit of the plot.

The movie glorifies torture and police brutality and makes it look cool. Were we supposed to like Jimmy Shergill’s character and applaud the way he beat up criminals and took the law into his own hands? What if he beat someone up and it turned out that he was actually innocent? The movie does not address that.

For a serious movie, the subject of torture is not something you can use for comic effect and then brush under the carpet. The writers and directors of this movie have typical knee-jerk reactions to corruption and terrorism in India and they think their ill thought out solutions are the best ways to fix these problems. Clearly, they are not.

And the much ballyhooed monologue at the end, which seems to be the entire reason why people like this movie, was not great either. The sentiment was right but the dialogue was pedestrian and Naseeruddin Shah did not do a particularly good job of injecting the ordinary man’s plight into it.

The movie made great promises but failed to deliver on them. The only good thing I can say about it is that the acting was better than average, and that is indeed commendable, but I still wish I hadn’t seen this movie.

I’d rate it 2.5/5.

Monday, December 26, 2011 — 16 notes
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Why I am not paranoid about privacy on Facebook and Google

When Apple was embroiled in the iPhone location-tracking controversy earlier this year, just reading the articles written on the subject made me chuckle. As if Apple had anything to gain from knowing your location! What were people afraid of anyway? That the company was going to send sales reps after its Windows-using customers while they were sitting in a park and try to sell them on a Mac?

Probably not going to win me any fans, this one.

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