Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why Does Federer Need A Coach?

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  Roger Federer o...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I'm not a tennis player but am surely a sports lover and tennis is surely one of my favourites. Over the years, I've realised that this is perhaps the best time to witness tennis. The fact is we have some of the best players on the planet of recent times if not the best players ever playing the game. Without a doubt, Roger Federer's name would be right at the top if a greatest players of all time list is released.

However I wonder why such a great player who is hailed as the best in the world, needs a coach. Paul Annacone has recently been 'coaching' the great man, after a certain drop in form which resulted in Federer not even making it to the semifinals at his favourite tournament, Wimbledon. But one wonders what would a coach tell a man who has already won 16 grand slam titles, has made a record 10 consecutive grand slam finals appearances and is believed widely to be the greatest man to have hit the tennis ball. Well I dont know, maybe because I'm not a tennis player. But anyway, there must be some utility in hiring the coach who coached the great Pete Sampras. Being a Federer fan, I honestly hope Federer overcomes this slump and emerges as a stronger player, with the help of his coach.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Linux Usageshare

Linux is everywhere now. In the servers where it originally belonged and perhaps still belongs, in the desktop and now more recently even in mobile devices and tablets. But what has remained a mystery for a long time is exactly what the Linux market share is. Windows is touted as the most popular OS with over 90% market share. Mac OSX is said to have around 4-5 percent and Linux a measly 1-2% according to Wikipedia.

(Shown below are the relative market share of various OSes according to Wikipedia)

So Windows is the most popular OS. I think there's no controversy regarding that. What creates a controversy though is the market share of Linux. Now keeping a tab on Windows market share is relatively easy, since there is a definite sales figure (and perhaps tracking). But when it comes to Linux, because its free and no "buying issue" is involved, tracking the total number of users is extremely difficult. What complicates the problem further is the presence of literally hundreds of distros. Yes, Ubuntu is without doubt the most popular Linux distro (Distrowatch reports an overwhelming hits per day statistic in favour of Ubuntu), but its not the only one. Fedora is very popular among Linux users, and there is a dedicated fan following for OpenSUSE, Free BSD, CentOS.

(Shown below is a screenshot from Distrowatch showing average hits per day)

Tracking the growth of each of these distros requires an immense amount of coordination effort among companies and developers which unfortunately the Linux sphere has not seen in the past. Distro bashing these days is a favourite pastime for many and the importance of a collective effort to create a platform for collaboration and the bigger picture is missed altogether.

Canonical has recently brought a new tracking application to its distro Ubuntu which helps it to collect info about how long the OS is installed on the PC etc. As of now there is no detailed info about exactly what information Canonical is collecting and what it intends to do with it and as expected there this concern has been reciprocated by a few users. (See Slashdot and Phoronix more info on this)

So why is tracking all that important? Why is the marketshare such a hallowed statistic? Why does a normal user need to even bother about what percentage of users are using the same OS he's using? The answer has been eloquently given by Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack who says:
"There are hundreds of conflicting estimates of how many Linux machines are out there. Knowing how many people are using Linux is important because larger numbers provide leverage when we go asking for drivers from hardware manufacturers, apps from software makers or try and convince OEMs to bundle Linux."
(Source: TechNewsWorld)

Linux needs more support from hardware manufacturers and drivers support to improve the "Linux experience", if I may say so. The only way to convince manufacturers and developers to do that is to give them hard data. Thats a fair argument I think, as long as the user is aware of the info that the company is collecting.

After all for most (if not all) Linux is much more than just an OS.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Alchemy of the Phirang Desire

Indian actor Abhishek Bachchan with wife/actre...Image via Wikipedia
This is quite hilarious, but frankly every single person has a 'little Britain' hidden inside us. Somehow when people venture outside the (ill demarcated) boundaries of this country to literally land in the West, their accents change! All of a sudden. The 'r' gets rolled and rolled and rolled to the point where its no longer the Indian 'aar' but the phirang 'Rrr'. The 'l' gets a certain thing done to it which is too complicated for me to put in words. Its almost as if its shameful and humiliating to have an Indian accent.

This has happened time and again to people and two of the brightest examples I can cite right now are Aishwarya Rai and her hubby. When Ash 'hit' the west, she almost immediately lost her accent. Maybe she got a voice coach or something. Or accent coach actually. I think these are the ones who get paid big bucks in the BPOs for raining newbies, right? Anyway, so I guess when these accent coaches get tired of their job they become coaches for celebs! And of course the pay scale is better. Greener pastures you see.

Anyway, back to the point. If you havent already, take a look at Ash on David Letterman video. Its on youtube and its already gotten quite a few thousand hits from some sane and many perverts. Ash almost behaves like a true phirang woman! At least accent wise.

The other day I saw Rajeev Masand of CNN IBN doing the same thing while interviewing James Cameron. He almost seemed like the perfect NRI! Cant we just be proud of the way we are? Is it all that necessary to American-ize our accent?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The EVM - fallible and insecure

We have been hearing about the 'un-hackability' of the Indian EVMs (Electronic Voting Machine) for a very long time. And frankly this has been reiterated so many times by the Election Commission of this country, that now even questioning the vulnerability of it is held as a crime.

Hari Prasad, a security expert from Hyderabad, demonstrated on Live television the severe security vulnerabilities the Indian EVMs suffer from, shattering the very basis of the boastful claims by the Election Commission. The video has since then become almost viral and the debate has risen to a different level altogether.

There is also a debate about how Mr. Prasad aquired the EVM, supposed to be under strict security vigil. However instead of addressing the basic issues, the Government has committed a blunder by arresting Mr. Hari Prasad for theft. That Prasad exposed a serious issue is of no value to the government or the commission. Both have found an easier way out by trying to bury the incident. Both would have won over the hearts of the countrymen had it made an announcement about patching the security loopholes and going public with the source code. Pity this isnt the election season and hence, winning hearts is the last thing on the government's agenda right now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bad Time to Buy an E-book Reader

various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...Image via Wikipedia
This really is a bad time to buy an e-book reader, especially if you happen to live in India. I'll tell you why. The two of the most popular conventional (read eInk) e-book readers are the Amazon Kindle and the Infibeam Pi. They are slow, colourless and lacked intense multimedia capabilities. But then, after iPad release a host of companies came up with their tablet offerings. The netbook, once a hot product, seemed to dying a painful rather sooner than expected.

The problem with the tablets is that since they have an LCD display, there is a considerable amount of strain on the eyes on prolonged usage. The eInk on the other hand doesnt do colour, so thats a potential let down.

Enter Notion Ink. A revolutionary product in the making which seems to have solved the problems of netbooks and tablets all at the same time. Its powered by android and has a pixel qi display. Pixel qi is something quite revolutionary which inspite of having a brightness comparable to LCDs, has the ability to reflect direct sunlight and also reduces strain on the eyes. Seems too good to be true doesnt it? Even I didnt believe it until my friend Abhirup convinced me about this truly amazing development going on in this country. A lot is being promised and lot of interest has been generated thanks to this cutting edge device and thanks to its really attractive price tag of $498 for the 3G with wifi version. However, no release date for this device has been announced as yet although its expected that it might release by the end of this year or early next.

Incidentally even Infibeam is ready with its tablet offering. They call it the Infibeam Phi (the eInk edition is the 'Pi'). The Phi has Android as well as Windows versions and is decently powered. However since it has an LCD display, its difficult to call it as an ebook reader. The dual screen technology of pixel qi is far superior than the traditional eInk and almost as good if not at par with LCD brightness, this is where I think the Notion Ink tablet scores over the Phi. But even the Phi hasnt been released yet, although Infibeam is taking preorders.

Hence my conclusion that this is indeed the worst time to buy an ebook reader. The suggestion would be to stay put and abstain from investing in any such devices until both the Infibeam Phi and Notion Ink hit the mainstream market.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Stupidity of Indo-Pak Relations

The recent floods in Pakistan has wrecked havoc over large stretches of the country. Pakistan is finding it hard to cope with the scale of the disaster and the ramifications of this could unfold in the near future when there is a rise in water borne diseases. Aid is of the prime essence and it is trickling in but frankly a lot more needs to be done to address the situation. Add to this the complicated relationship India has had with Pakistan and what you have is the recipe for disaster.

Pakistan is yet to take a decision on the Indian aid, $5 millions which has been offered by the Indian government. Although to be fair to Pakistan, they have thanked the Indian government for the offer. It is a shame that bilateral relations between two of the most important nations in the subcontinent have reached such a low that even accepting aid for flood victims has to be thought through by taking diplomatic relations into consideration.

However, if one does think deep, there are valid reasons for not accepting Indian aid. India has forever been regarded as the biggest enemy by Pakistan, accepting Indian aid could potentially weaken its anti-India stand, and maybe it would invite the ire of fundamentalists in a country already reeling under immense international pressure for not ating tough on terror.

But frankly, a disaster of this scale requires politicians and leaders in both countries to rise to the occasion and act as good politicians and good leaders for their own respective countries.

What happens to Kalmadi now?

It has been proved beyond considerable doubt that Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee has had a huge involvement in the scam which has shamed the entire nation. Even the Congress has distanced itself from the man reassuring everyone that action would be taken against those responsible. However from the look of things, its unlikely that the government will take actions against the man in the question just now, raising fears amongst all that he might utilise the clout and hide his tracks. That however is probably unlikely since a new committee exclusively selected by the Prime Minister is in place to oversee the Kalmadi and his mates.

The doubt however remains as to why no one is willing to order a probe into the whole scam now, when the games havent started. Kalmadi leading the organising committee is a bad example being set infront of the nation. Someone who is accused of corruption running into hundreds of crores of rupees. Isnt that a shame? Isnt it a shame that the best person India could come up with to head the committee for organising the games is a corrupt politician who is so invaluable that he is not removed from his chair even after prima facie evidence clearly points towards his involvement in perhaps the biggest scandal this nation has seen.

If Kalmadi is allowed to head the panel, even after all these allegations, it will set a bad example for not just India but also about perceptions about the country. Can we as a developing nation poised for exponential growth and hailed as the superpower of the future afford to do that?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Is it time to take a step backwards?

Nokia N900 communicator/internet tabletImage via Wikipedia
Perhaps in this rat race of features and more features and powerful processors, the importance of good battery life for a mobile phone has been lost. Battery life used to be a serious buying criteria back in the 90s and the first half of this decade. But today, its no longer a leading criteria, perhaps lost in the jungle of featues and apps and processors and GPUs.

However the neglect and perhaps the lack of innovation in this regard is quite astonishing. Nokia's once flagship device, the N95 had a fierce reputation of having the worst battery life among mobile phones of the age. The same reputation is being carried forward by the new generation touchscreen devices of the company. The N97 Mini has a hilariously short battery life for a smartphone. Its not just Nokia which is facing problems. Even the hallowed iPhone 4 has battery issues, as in the battery life isnt as impressive as the 3GS. The same problem can be found with the Samsung Galaxy S. Reason? Well for starters, its the super heavy duty processor and battery life-unfriendly OSes. Now tell me somerhing, whats a smartphone which cannot be used for extended hours? Whats the use of a device which requires you to carry chargers or cables as daughter packages wherever you go?

Now would you go back to a simple good old blackberry, or a N70? These truly had awesome battery lives. I guess most would say no. Hence whats required is a better battery management system where every single app will be able to utilise the battery power only as per the minimum requirement. I am hoping that the manufacturers already have this in mind and are working towards a solution. This also goes with the 'green' theme everyone's suddenly obsessed about, hence makes good marketing sense. Else we consumers would be forced to used dated devices with poor functionality.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The $35 Tablet

Kapil Sibal, Union minister in Ministry of Sci...Image via Wikipedia
Yes, its no longer a rumour. There is infact a $35 tablet, waiting to be released to the masses. The minister for human resource and development (HRD), Kapil Sibal, was on Gadget Guru this week where he unveiled the cheapest tablet on the planet.

The tablet is apparently decently powered with 2GB of RAM and running Android. The touchscreen is (perhaps as expected) a resistive one. The OS isnt sluggish and thats mainly because of the hardware that has been put in.

And yeah, it gets better. In time, the minister hopes, due to rising competition and demand, the price of this tablet would come down to $10! Now when did one get last hold of $10 tablet?

All is not hunky dory though. First of all, the tablet, because of its no frills design, does look ugly and dated. Finesse is something which you cannot expect from this device. The device lacks a hard drive and although this is primarily the reason why its prices have been kept low, I doubt if this is something which will be appreciated. The presence of resistive touch also does complicate matters and spoils the fun of the touchscreen experience. Also the tablet in its current form and price is meant for educational institutions and its students. The mass market version might be priced higher.

Finally, its a mixed bag to be honest. Mediocre functionality/quality of hardware vs extremely low price. The choice as always lies with the consumer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is wrong with Linkin Park?

Linkin Park performing at Sonisphere Festival ...Image via Wikipedia
Remember those tracks which made you headbang even if you werent in the mood? Remember the rise of nu-metal? Remember those days when In the End was a top hit? Remember Papercut? Remember Numb?

Oh those were the days! A bunch of boys who experimented with rap and hip hop and metal and came up with an absolutely breathtaking combination of the three, which was unlike anything we had ever heard! It was clear to us all that we were going through something new. An uncharted territory where no one else had previously ventured. The realm of Nu Metal. A new genre in its own right.

Although one might argue about its origins, there absolutely no doubt that it was Linkin Park (and Limp Bizkit) who made the genre popular and acceptable. The lyrics were potent, the music strong and the effect was a heady dose of rap and metal.

In its formative years leading to release of their first album, Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park could be classified as a bunch of superb musicians who knew exactly what people wanted to listen to. When Hybrid Theory was released, it became an instant hit. It was certified platinum in 2003, quite an achievement conidering that it was the debut album. Their next album, Metero, took them to astronomical heights of popularity. MTV named Linkin Park as one of the greatest bands of the music video era. Things only got better for them. Tours were a success, concerts sold out and popularity rivalling any of the then popular acts.

What happened a few years later, 2006 onwards, is quite a mystery. Their sound changed, the lyrics stripped down, mellowed, the rapping reduced, overall it was clear that Linkin Park was no longer the same. Many say this led to their music becoming more mainstream. But frankly, thats a lame argument. Mainstream doesnt necessarily denote good music. Infact it does denote quite the opposite. Hardly anyone would call Justin Bieber or Kesha's music revolutionary.

The death knell, in my opinion, came after the release of their song Catalyst on yotube. It sounded so horribly wrong, so un-Linkin Park, so like every other album out there. The comments on the page reflected my concern perfectly well. Many (if not most) felt that Linkin Park was no longer THE group, THE band, THE musicians. Perhaps its not their fault at all. We all know about record companies and their business attitudes. Its no secret that all they care about is maximum number of hits (read mainstream success). Athough I will still remain a fan of the band, I will perhaps cherish what Linkin Park was rather than what it is.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My review of Bombay Rains Bombay Girls

Anirban Bose, a doctor by profession has broken no records, nor traversed uncharted territories with his debut novel, Bombay Rains, Bombay Girls. But perhaps he is part of a very important phenomenon in this country. The rise of new generation Indian writers. No longer bound by the whims and fancies of publishers, no longer bound by the fear of poor sales and no longer bound by the need to script a pathbreaking work of literature, these new writers are proof of the fact that when it comes to writing, what matters is the thought, the ability to touch people's hearts and the ability to stand out as a bold and unhindered.

Describing the life of a med student from a small town (Ranchi), the book follows the travails of Adi, a student of Grant Medical College. The plot wavers and deviates from its roots making it distracting at times, but never boring. The incredible humour element simply adds a strange charm to the book and an accurate depiction of the lives of med students makes it a must read. i wont discuss the novel any further because I dont want to give the plot away and spoil the surprise element.

Its a perfect little novel to have with you when you're lonely or feeling bored. Recommended.