52 Days and Random Thoughts

Right now I’m recovering from a wrist fracture that I suffered on 2nd September 2016. I consider myself to be good at household chores but on that day stool slipped (while I tried to fetch some stuff stored at the top) and with that my independence too! Fracture on the right wrist meant, I could only move my fingers since the POP cast covered forearm to palm.
I predominantly use right hand for most things. All of a sudden, I had to come to terms with almost a standstill in life – cannot write, drive, eat easily, ride a bike, even tie shoes laces, open slightly tighter door while carrying a lunch box. Waiting for my wife to do everything that a family needs – ugly feeling that. All my life, I used to feel guilty for not being productive and here I was – those 52 days I had to wait and get used to imperfection.
Apparently, doctor mentioned that fractured bone is healing up well. It was two seconds that resulted an injury to my hand and inflicted agony. Academically, for events there should be a Plan B. Life is not so academic! I learnt patience the hardest way in those 52 days. I hope to be fit better than ever before. As much as I like to do extraordinary things in my life I also come to realise, ‘it’s okay to lead a normal life – that’s also a successful life’. Nope, I am not even proof reading it – I hit publish!

Quick thought on sandboxing

Many people dislike Apple’s tight control over the hardware software integration because there’s very little work around in most cases. Many people make a somewhat legitimate case that software should be allowed to tweak as per individual choices, like placing an App icon at the bottom of blank screen of an iOS device. But what Apple choses to do is to think that they’re the ones creating platform and hence it should be in the best interest of the people who build it (Apple themselves), developers and consumers alike. Therefore, there is app sandboxing in Apple’s operating systems. In simple terms, sandboxing guidelines set the extent to which inter-app communication is allowed in iOS App Store and Mac App Store (let’s ignore tvOS and watchOS for the time being). These guidelines are way stringent when compared to Android or any other platform.
I am thinking about sandboxing because, today I played with an Android phone that belongs to one of my colleagues who has a One Plus X. Even though I do not fully immerse myself into Google’s ecosystem, I like the reliability of Google services. I call them the best software company for masses. About eight months ago, Google launched Google Photos, to backup ‘every picture’ onto cloud storage without any upper cap on space with a quality limit of 16 megapixels. That sounds like a good idea, but my colleague had turned it off intentionally. Reason? It uploads every photo onto cloud, including images from Whatsapp or any other app in his phone. Then I spoke to another colleague of mine who told technical details – because there’s no sandboxing, all photos and videos from any app that is capable of handling media, come and sit in ‘Gallery’. Naturally, Google Photos is designed to back up the Gallery.

Quick comparison of the same on iOS. Whatsapp media can be set to download to Photos or can be turned off to stay only inside Whatsapp application. So even if a user turns off automatic media saving to Photos app on iOS one can still selectively save a few to Photos.app. And then Google Photos, it can continue to back-up the gallery, with unlimited un-throttled storage. Therefore, in Android, either users have to manage Google photos all the time to keep it clean or simply refuse to hit auto back-up (I hope Android has gotten better at background task handling since my last rant). As much as I hate to see apps going out of Mac App Store, I am also happy for ‘normal users’ who do not have to do something like this.

Why Technology is Attractive?

Before getting into the headline topic, I have a confession to make. My passion is not to remain the same for my life time, instead it gets changed over time. Am I feeling guilty or do I regret this? Nope. Living as natural as possible – is important. Time and again, I come across this – ‘you should never end up regretting what you have not done, because that opportunity cost is not going to be compensated in your life time’. So if there is a new found passion – just go for it! I know people who switched career from computer graphics to earn Ph.D. in economics and finance. And there are full time journalists who were engineers before. All this is happening because of internet and the length and breadth of information availability.

So, what are the fields that you can choose for making a career these days? In a broader sense, software and hardware engineering, medical science, economics and finance, arts and craftsmanship, education, supply chain and operations, etc. are the avenues (not a precise list, I understand). If you observe closely, each one of the above is influenced by technology. With due respect to what it is meant for, let us start with an example of accounting and finance. How much do they change over a period of past five to ten years? Not so much. Do they change at all? Yes. Probably new financial products get designed while evolving ever so slowly. However, we still have the same accounting conventions and concepts that haven’t been modified or added with, for decades (not that it should be changed for the sake of it though). Taxation gets refined but its impact for citizens remains same. Quantitative finance has grown leaps and bounds for the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, more sophisticated products have not helped the stakeholders. Subprime crisis appears to be one of biggest self inflicted pain in our time.

In India, there are lots of people moving from villages to towns to metro cities (probably so in many other countries too) to make a living. Are they really improving their lifestyle? I don’t know. If you are well qualified graduate (and above) it makes sense, because white collar opportunities at country-side are way too limited. However, what is the fun at doing a same blue collar job at even more stressful conditions at (most cases) equal or less than the standard of living that they had in countryside life? Movement itself is the issue. For example, what is a jail? It is a place where you get food and shelter but have no movement from one place to another or to do different things! That is the basic form of punishment we have in judiciary. Something that does not move is a pain to bear. The excitement and fast changing environment makes cities more attractive. Why people change companies to work for or switch careers? Because, movement is a necessity for human beings. Even the government employees who work at the same organisation for over 30 years are transferred to different places to avoid jail-like feeling. If water, which has no brain or feelings, doesn’t retain the quality without movement and ends up generating mosquitoes while destroying itself, imagine what would happen to humans without movement.

This is the exact reason why technology field is attractive. To begin with there is Moore’s law, which is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. Right out of the box your iPhone (and most mid-to-high smartphones) can replace 20 to 30 different objects you had to carry otherwise. Technology evolves, and it never stands still albeit carrying a risk of obsolescence for the greater good. The experiments of drones to Google Glass to self-driving cars to many others, all are in an effort to see how do we evolve for a better future. Not everything will become commercial success and hence we need to remember a few jargons. Lifestyle has changed a lot because of technology. There was/is meter taxi and then there is Uber. There was money-order via Post/Wire, and then there are NEFT, RTGS, SWIFT, IMPS. Recall the traditional agriculture system as against this one! There could be hundreds of such examples to illustrate the importance of technology.

Art and craftsmanship are the purest form of creation. Even copying an old song or a picture means you reproduce it by yourself. Humans are destined for creations. I don’t have an empirical evidence but have always observed most engineers at heart are also artists of some form. They are musicians, photographers of highest calibre or painters or writers. These engineers and artists helped us to shape our life better. Remember Steve Jobs’ take on technology, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” How come we do have better medical facilities? Better supply chain management? Better education and information reach? Better and simpler mode of communication sitting in different continents on this planet? How do we understand the history of mankind better than a century ago? All have one word answer – technology.

The world of technology is also a change agent which happens to be the leader for everything else. People do not want to use feature phones anymore, or to buy TFT display TV even though LED TV shows same channels. Imagine the financial/data analysis without spreadsheets, SQL, Matlab or R Studio, etc. For every field, technology has contributed immensely. I am so happy to have my passion towards technology. It makes my brain strive to create new things, helps me to reduce effort on redundant tasks, can speak to my beloved wife and son even when I am not with them physically, and for many more reasons. Do we like perishing? Not necessarily. But death takes care of itself, and naturally there is something new born every moment – baby, idea, craft or whatever. Hence I chose to live with movement for my life over staying stale.

Uber’s Common Sense

I have always endorsed Uber iOS App over the Ola in my friends and family circle. I ranted about Ola taking ages to update the app to use location only when the App is in use, a feature that was introduced in iOS 8 beta (June 2014). This weekend, I had an offer from Uber to give me half the normal rate in for a couple of rides during 11AM to 5PM. Before starting a ride, I had INR 1172 Uber credit, 3 free rides worth INR 600 as well as one free ride worth INR 300 (all free rides had expiry dates). Note that, all of these were my referral promotions on my Uber account. I booked the cab with a promo for half the normal rate and total bill came up to INR 234 (albeit rate surge applied was 1.4x). Having counted for half the rate promotion, my final bill was INR 117. This bill amount was deducted from Uber credit but not from any of the free rides. Therefore, at the end of my pick up journey, I had INR 1054 left in my Uber credit. While coming back, I booked again and had no half rate promotion. Total bill this time around was 308, as the peak time rate surge 1.8x was applied. Instead of deducting from my Uber credit, this time they debited one of my free rides the one worth INR 300.

I had Ola INR 250 promotion previous weekend and even though the bill had come up to INR 179, they deducted full INR 250 from the offer. But the biggest story about Ola quality can be found right here. Consider the above case, in which my Uber account had all the promotional rides and account credits. In the pick-up trip, INR 117 could have either been deducted using INR 300 worth free ride or INR 600 worth free ride which were already on the account. Similarly, in the drop trip, INR 308 could easily have been deducted from remaining INR 1054. Instead, some human being at Uber chose to showcase common sense! Thank you Uber for making my weekend nice, and here is my promotion coupon if you are yet undecided about Uber – BHASKARB12 – enjoy your first free ride up to INR 600.

 It Just Works

I wrote about selling my smartphone in February 2014. And now that I bought a new one and have been using for a couple of months, would like to share my thoughts about it. Unlike previous instances, this time I managed to buy the best in the market – iPhone 6. I didn’t get the delivery on October 17, 2014 (the India launch date), as I chose to buy most sought after Space Grey 64 Gigabytes version. Many of my friends and acquaintances are aware that, I have been using Apple products for a couple of years with a 21″ iMac (2011) and an iPad 3. Ever since the launch of iOS 8, I knew what was coming in my iPhone 6 as I had also watched the keynote – live. Let us see how the device has helped for me to have better lifestyle. Throughout this post, I would try to draw comparison wherever applicable – some of them are opinions and others are perspectives.

During my experience with Nexus 4, I had talked about the network issues and hence the battery drain, consequently a very bad experience to own a smartphone. Has the situation improved since I sold the Nexus 4? Slightly better but more importantly I got a very good Cellular Plan in which, I can use first 1.5 Gigabytes 3G and unlimited 2G after that during a month. In addition, the carrier officially allowed to tap into a competitor’s network along with 2000 free minutes of monthly mobile to mobile calls. Apple does make a better phone as a package but the battery is just about adequate. It can get charged up from 0% to 100% in about 2 hours time and unlike last year, there are alternatives such as portable power banks.

Lifestyle and Entertainment
Storage is the biggest factor as media file size and quality going up in the recent past. 64 Gigabytes version does not require media/apps back-up/replace too often. iPhone does not slow down even if you fill 100% of device storage capacity. Good quality camera should be the first reason to buy a high-end smartphone. iPhone 5c would mostly do the job here in India for a smartphone, considering the infrastructure and moderate technological penetration. However, iPhone 6 can give way better camera performance as against any previous iPhone models. I have a less than one year old son and would like to capture moments. DSLR is meant for professionals, while I would not like to buy/use a point and shoot camera whenever my son is crawling or learning to stand up. It is so convenient for me to just take my iPhone out and click the moments of joy with my son. The options that are available (third party apps help) and reliability of functioning in iPhone camera 6 is unmatched. If we look at photography history, we have seen tremendous advancement in last five years or so. Photos become memories of our lives and hence it is better to take good quality photos all the time. How many of us would like to see a 3GP quality video these days, and how would do we like to look at bad quality family album of our own? It is true – if you wan’t to beat iPhone, beat the iPhone camera. I have been using flickr to store my photos and planning to migrate to Microsoft One Drive. It is a painful process to bulk download Flickr photos unless you have iPhoto or soon to be retired Aperture on iMac.

iPhone Clicks
Apps such as DayOne, Storehouse, Memoir, Movist, Buy Me a Pie, Thunderspace, etc. vastly help in various situations during a day. Places Around, (Google) Maps, Anchor Pointer, Local Scope, Über (or any cab service), Paytm etc. lets the user to get best out of smartphone in a unfamiliar situations/locations. Some of the app referral programs can be really rewarding too. These days, my wife need not write grocery list on a piece of paper and call again to add something else when I drive to the store. Calendar and Reminders will get used if the device is engaging – iPhone is one for sure. Store ten movies before going on a week long vacation without storage worries. Apple indeed charges not based on components of the device but the on value offered to the user.

This is where one can or fail to justify the purchase of a computing device. For me it starts with two apps – Dropbox and 1Password (check out here, here and here). I do not need to get back home and dig up any of my documents such as copy of PAN card, marriage certificate, rental agreement, or a latest tax filing acknowledgement. There are many cloud storage services but developers support for Dropbox is unmatched. I can take a picture of a document at a bank or in any office and convert that to text (using Translate Photo). Come back home pick up the text from the iMac and do whatever next step in the whole process. 1Password is more than a typical password manager. I’m yet to buy Mac version but amount of flexibility it offers for iOS alone is awesome. Ask me the bank account along with IFSC, address and phone number, I have it anytime. AgileBits have the best features for a password manager and the best security architecture in the industry. iOS 8 has most advanced security measures and also the convenience of inter-app sharing. I am yet to use pro functions of Launch Centre Pro or Workflow or even for that matter IFTTT. Be it finding a definition of a word, creating and sending a dropbox link on email, identifying QR code, sharing a link from Safari on Whatsapp (for whatever reasons Whatsapp does not show up in Safari sheet), creating GIF, speed dials/messaging, Launch Centre Pro and Workflow are the best solutions available. Instapaper and Instacast are the apps that I keep out to reach at one tap launch. Newsify, Nuzzel, Circa, Twitterific and Longform are my favourite apps for keeping myself up-to-date with whatever I have to follow in the world connected by web. Documents and Scanner Pro by Readle, Evernote, Screenshot, Clips, Kindle, etc. are a few of the other apps that really help me to be productive. Of course, cross platform learning apps like Coursera and Lynda do the best job. However, depth of iTunes U and iBooks (Books not sold in India) are a great value add too.

The powerhouse
I just cheked the number of apps on my iPhone – 125 is the number! Guess what? my phone works without stuttering! I managed to create a video and then reverse it – no iPhone did not hang (suicide), did not require reboot. I hardly play games and the one I play is Real Racing 3 – play for half hour, no it does not require a restart to open navigation. So what can make me upgrade this phone to 2015 model? Superlative camera, or an improved battery life, or probably iPad Air 2 level architecture (provided my personal finance permits the expense). I said iPhone 5s as the ‘s’ class last year and unless they bring such under the hood advancements, no need to upgrade my hardware. Except for a bit Wifi issues, iOS 8 has generally been stable for me. Best of 2014? Like it or not Continuity and Extensibility bring the joy of ecosystem. I do not need to figure out where is my iPhone when it rings!