Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sleeker solutions

Some of the greatest achievements in technology are taken for granted and overlooked. I look around every now and then I marvel at how small and thin things are getting these days. Question in point the USB power adapter. Some time back I picked up a USB power adapter that I could use for my iPhone. This is not the official sleek adapter that comes with the iPhone but a local adapter which could be used in local power sockets (because I picked up my iPhone in Hong Kong and it comes with a flat pin adapter). Recently I bought a Kindle which came with its own power adapter. Comparison of the three USB power adapters shows how things have definitely progressed over the years. Things are getting smaller, slimmer and much sleeker. Kudos to a product developer somewhere out there. Another unsung hero.

This made me start to think. It must be years since the plug was invented. Yet the world over we still seem to have so many different types of plugs. True we now have universal power adapters (ideal for globe trotters) that bridges the gap. Did you know that the patent for the first grounded plug goes way back to 1915, and was filed by George P Knapp. Today there are around 11 different types of plugs in existence. One would think that after having become so technologically advanced we couldn’t have settled on one standard for the basic plug by now. Another interesting fact I chanced upon was that when electricity was new people used to connect appliances to light bulb sockets because the electricity charged for light sockets was cheaper!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Kindle of hope. My first e-book reader.

It’s been a busy few months since I posted something here. After a lot of deliberation I finally succumbed to temptation and invested in an e-book reader. I first thought of purchasing one when I came across a touch screen e-book reader on my trip to Hong Kong.The device I purchased recently however was the Amazon Kindle DX. Bought from the Computer Bookshop on DN Road near VT, it took about two weeks to reach from the US. As with most gadgets I deliberated quite a bit trying to decide between the iPad and the Kindle. While the former serves many purposes and comes with a nice colour screen, the Kindle was half its price something that my wallet could afford. Also the iPad is in its first iteration and the Kindle is in its third, which tips the balance.

Touch screens have truly taken over. Something I realised when the first thing a few colleagues of mine tried to do when they saw the Kindle was to touch and operate it. I recollect that the device I saw in Hong Kong was in fact a touch sensitive e-book reader which used a stylus. The 9.7 inch Kindle screen lives up its promise of being a no strain reading experience. The clarity of the text is nice and crisp and if you are reading a Kindle book (not a PDF) you can increase text size to a nice and comfortable reading size. The fact that you can orient the Kindle in landscape and portrait helps in reading PDF’s. True you can zoom and pan but that gets tiresome for me.

What is impressive about the Kindle apart from the number of books you can cram into it is the free Whispernet GPRS service it offers. I haven’t really taken the browser out for a spin yet. My one try was to log onto to Facebook which made the site think it was some kind of suspicious activity. Still as an Indian who has an affinity to ‘free’ things, free internet does seem alluring. Not quite sure how long the service will last though.

The one design flaw that I did find with the Kindle DX was the way in which you had to switch it off. One slider button has been given three functions. Depending on how long you hold the slider you either put the Kindle DX to sleep, power it off, or reset the entire software. This can be quite a pain for the new user as that sweet spot of duration to hold the slider to power the Kindle off can be quite elusive. I seem to have reset my Kindle software quite a few times already in the process of trying to switch it off. I am thankfully getting the knack of it now. I would also have liked the Kindle to detect my folder structure of files. Instead I have to add books to collections to segregate them. One hopes they figure something else out for this in future models.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tech thrills - when technology works wonders.

We often say that technology is more a pain than it is worth, but yesterday I was pleasantly surprised, when it does work how it all comes together so well. I landed in Bangalore to attend my cousins wedding reception. I’ve never stepped foot in this city before. Yet when it came to finding the hotel where my relatives were holed up in, and my taxi driver was clueless, I managed to direct with aplomb and a little thing from apple – my trusty iPhone.

As we are speaking about iPhones, I have been trying out the new iOS4 which definitely has given some much needed features to the phone. The most used being the multi task, task bar and the inbuilt dictionary. But back to the point in hand. What is impressive is that even BTRAC bus stops are accurately marked on Google Maps. Things like a small church by the wayside were all marked on Google Maps. We have definitely come a long way since the initial days of cartography.

We have come to take Google Maps, like almost everything else from Google for granted but if we were to sit down and try to understand how the big picture, I am sure like everything else in life, it is highly complex. I mean, I could stand anywhere on the planet and get information in the palm of my hand accurate to a few feet. It is a safety line for a person who is infamous for having a bad sense of direction. What would be our life be like without Google in it. That’s a scary thought. The net would truly be a different place. Ironically it seems just yesterday that I sat in a certain cabin in the Motorola office and explored the internet for the first time, with my sister dolefully keeping me company as I was introduced to Yahoo on a Netscape browser. Yet today the net and my life has taken such leaps and bounds that those days could be another lifetime.

Before setting out on the trip my dad was contemplating taking his netbook, but mum convinced him otherwise. What is surprising is that when we landed at the SBI guest house we were surprised to find that it came fully equipped with an internet connection and nice LCD tv. The tech thrills of today. What more can a guy ask for. The computer was definitely something unexpected. I mean you don’t find a full fledged PC in most 3-star hotels, you are expected to carry your laptop to a 5-Star hotel. Truly, we are truly slaves to technology but I enjoy every minute of it.

One wonders if technology is making us try to make the best of every minute. Have we stopped just relaxing and taking it easy. Enjoying the ride for what it is and not worrying about getting to the destination. The joke is that though we seem so time poor, even by using these devices I don’t feel time rich. I guess its all about us at the end of the day. You know what they say about the grass after all.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Promoting products with augmented reality.

The last time I talked about Augmented reality I spoke about how information could be superimposed on real world places. So you could see a virtual sign post that gave you directions to the nearest metro in Paris or so on. I recently came across how marketers are using augmented reality to allow users to virtually touch and feel products right from the convenience of their desktop. Though it definitely is a gimmick, it is fun nonetheless.

Still I am sure it cannot replace actually going to a store and handling a product.  The example that I came across was for the Olympus Pen camera and I also came across something for Mini Cooper. How it works is you get a marker that is downloadable or available as promotional material. You hold it up to your webcam and presto, instead of a marker you see a virtual 3 D model, which you can interact with. Size doesn’t matter which is evident with the Mini Cooper which provides you a scale model of the car to have a close look at.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


The first shocking thing about this post is how long it has taken for me to put it up.  I am shocked with myself ! It’s been lying half written for such a long time in my In-box. It began when I came across two shocking things in the paper recently both concerning Apple. The first one that I saw was that the iPad seems to be screwing up WiIFi networks. What was really interesting was that not only were some American universities like Princeton and George Washington University banning the thing, an entire country – Israel had done the same because it meddles with local WiFi. Israel is not letting tourists visiting the country carry an iPad. An interesting fact if you think that Israel portrayed the impression of being a high-tech country. So if you landed in Israel you found yourself forking out a hefty sum if you have to store your iPad for more than 48 hours. What was more hilarious was that as an alternative, Israeli customs allowed tourists to sell their iPad to people travelling abroad and had to produce their plane ticket as proof. 

Then there was that ruckus about how an Apple employee lost a next generation iPhone which was found and sold to Gizmodo which promptly tried to bisect it and put it up on its website for the world to see. Head over there if you want to have a look at where the iPhone is heading.  

More recently I came across an article that stated that Steam was finally released for the Apple. This is a harbinger that gaming is finally finding its way to the puritanical Mac. Which is not too bad a thing if you think of the renowned crystal clear clarity of the Apple displays?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tech thoughts from Goa Fest

Last weekend was Goa Fest, the gathering of all advertising professionals across India. Once again we walked away with an award, this being the second award ceremony R K SWAMY Interactive is attending this year. Winning bronze in the interactive category where there were no gold and only three silvers indeed was a feat in itself. But what was more interesting was the underlying tech theme of the entire fest.

The internet has changed the media landscape and there is no doubt in it. Yet while I sat and listened to the masters of the field from abroad I couldn’t help but realise that when it comes to communicating on the internet, we Indians are in the prehistoric ages still. There is a long way for us to go to catch up with the West where the web was born. What’s wrong is that we still continue to use the web like we do any offline medium. We use it to push brand’s communication. Why, probably because the client can’t get his head around what should be done online after having been primarily in the print space, or perhaps because the new age interactive agency is still the new kid on the block of the tried and tested print and OOH agency. The result, online campaigns that fail the ‘talkability’ test. They very often fail to become viral.

But all hope is not lost. There are indicators that this is changing. We are slowly coming out of the woods. The Facebook 20-20 Cricket game that is seeing Indians spend an average of Rs. 800 online to buy players is an example of not only brand connect and talkability but also the importance this medium is gaining. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Greatest Story Ever Told – The Generation Gap

Now I am not referring to the Biblical movie by any chance. I am rather referring to the art of storytelling. Around a week back or so I finished Mass Effect 2. I was so massively impressed that I played the last level twice.  That’s a first for me. I also watched Clash of the Titans, in the cinema hall. However if I were to compare both experiences, the PC game was much more riveting and much more engrossing. Why? Because you are right in it, your every action affects how the story is told. This makes the story being told a more meaningful experience to the one who is watching it.

Is this a generation gap? Am I part of the next generation that finds gaming more meaningful than movies?  Today’s generations are now defined by technology they use and not age alone. So the SMS generation is different from the e-mail generation and the social networking generation. This becomes very evident by people you talk to who use these technologies.  Each uses their own jargon.  This new definition is even finding its way into the popular press. I noticed it in a newspaper article the other day. Something to ponder about.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tech Thoughts

I have just started reading Nicholas Carr’s book, The Big Switch. The author points out an interesting fact that technology and economics go hand in hand. With economies of scale the cost of a certain technology is cheaper.

I noticed today that the reverse is also true. Technology that is now considered to be antiquated is now more costly than ever before. How do I know? I came across a new LP record selling for almost Rs. 2000 (that’s almost 44 USD). A music CD these days is sold at around Rs. 300 to Rs 400. Better tech at what seems to be a parsley sum me thinks.

So how does this relate to Moore’s law? The law for those of you who have never heard of it states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. Basically every two years you see a quantum leap in computing power. So by Moore’s law more and more gadgets are becoming obsolete faster and by the corollary I’ve derived from Nicholas Carr’s book, this gets more and more expensive as the days go by.

Maybe these are the twisted forces at work that ensure you always upgrade. A system that forces mankind to adopt new technology ensuring that obsolete technology is junked and we take bold steps forward into the future.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking Chat Roulette out for a spin!

I recently wrote an article about how social are we on social networks. A few days later I came across an article in the local newspaper about a site called chat roulette. Intrigued I decided to check it out. The site takes a new spin to the age-old chat room. Instead of connecting to a room of people, you spend your time randomly connecting to one person or other. If you like what you see, start chatting. These chat sessions are completely anonymous and meaningless! It is like running into someone at a local coffee shop. A fleeting glance and you are gone.

 A little reading around on the internet and I was amazed to realise that this site is supposedly the invention of a 17 year old. If so, you have to hand it to him for originality to say the least. Think of chat roulette as the internet’s answer to speed dating. Combine that with the speed of the internet means that your average speed date is going to last a mere seconds.

If anyone ever had, any doubt that we live in a shallow world that judges everything by appearances this site is definitely proof! As an advertising professional, the age-old truth bares its ugly head here. It is all in the packaging! The site uses Flash’s ability to capture streaming video from your webcam.  Though minimalistic in design, the site does what it is designed for.  Yet the site is definitely in demand with it being barely able to cope with the load.

Is it a way to meet new people and network online? Only if you believe in serendipity and the odds of that happening are quite rare! Chances are you will just get a cultural snapshot of the thousands of weird people that habit the internet. However, I did run into a student studying avionics with the US Air force and managed a decent tete a tete with him. The other person who seemed interesting got disconnected due to a bad connection. This does seem to be a problem with the site, or probably a testament to its popularity. The site can be quite slow at times. The same person mentioned Omegle to me. I didn’t quite get it at the time. The next day I was curious about how unique this concept was. I came across a few interesting articles and mention of Omegle, which is chat roulette without the webcam. The articles included one about why Chat roulette was worth a try and even an insightful one by the associated press.

What chat roulette does do though is make some of us become innovative with a webcam. I have seen people in V for Vendetta masks, fish tanks and a person who was keeping score to see if anyone would turn their head to see the message he had scribbled on a pad. There was even one camera focused on the person’s computer screen. Something like looking into a mirror. My creative contribution was to prop my Optimus Prime next to the web cam and have him point at the camera. It did get one or two favourable replies :D

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How social are we?

Pick up a newspaper and you can’t fail to read an article about social networking somewhere in the paper. I just saw three articles, (one of which my mum pointed out in fact) that are all related to social networking. The one, which my mother pointed out to me, is related to the field that I am in- Advertising online. In the article, one of my agency’s top honchos Srinivasan Swamy, is quoted about the Indian youth’s online and social networking habits. He says the average Indian youth spends some sixty percent of their time online, via the internet or their mobile phone. This translates into 25,800 minutes a month. Which is why, marketers are now furiously factoring social media into their marketing strategy.

Right next to this article was another important article that should not be overlooked. The article covered how the rise of PC sales is increasing overall. True during one quarter there wasn’t very rosy for computer manufacturers, but the bigger picture tells us that India is growing more and more computer savvy by the minute.

The final straw which prompted this post was an article that I saw in today’s newspaper. It talks about how Catholic priests Father Nigel Barrett and Father Warner D' Souza from Mumbai are getting online to talk to their parishioners and the youth. Their strategy is to take the message where their audiences is. A laudable move, when you think that a lot of churches in South Mumbai are quite empty, and if they are full the number of youth and young adults present do seem to be dwindling The past year has seen everyone jump on the internet bandwagon, from wannabe India politicians who tried to ape Barack Obama’s successful online political strategy to the current generation of net savvy priests. What’s next I wonder.

This entire social networking craze brings me to the point at moot. Everyone knows that man is a social animal. I forget who said that first. We spend so much time on social networking sites, but how social are we? How many of us really meet new people online using such sites?

On one side of the scale is the user whose so-called friends list is just a list of people they’ve run into during their life and are way too impolite to refuse a friend request in the virtual world. On the other hand are those people who seem to add every Tom, Dick and Harriet, just to see the total number of friends in their list growing.

Most people are likely to talk to less than 10% of the people on their list. Honestly, ask yourself this. How many new friends have you made using a social networking site, whom you have been in touch with for over a year at least. Truth is not many I am sure. In addition, if you have, you might be one of the madding crowd who has chucked that friendship after a while because let’s face it, everyone is so busy that even online friends don’t meet. Online social networking is all about instant gratification to connect with someone when you have nobody at hand. And for that it works well, in a generation that is tethered to the mobile phone.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Apple a day

I am still discovering the joys of my new iPhone and the new ipad has already created quite a ruckuss. To me it's a bit like something out of Star Trek or some other science fiction movie.

What interests me is it's potential to be the first fully coloured e-book reader. This means reading photograpy magazines will be possible to say the least. The question though is whether we will be able to read our own PDFs or will be forced to get it from an apple store, a store that will not have books outside the US market. You do have to hand it to Apple for aceing the design.

On one hand some might argue that it's nothing but a larger albeit stripped down verion of an iPhone a closer look tells us that the added screenspace has resulted in additional functionalities. And if the iPhone is anything to judge by, the iPad is going to be easy to use. Make no mistake this is a device that seeks to exist in that space between your PC/laptop And your digital photo frame. What would have really made it nice would have been the inclusion of an optical drive and a USB port. That said it is definitley on my consideration list.

The media though has been having a field day with it, I especially liked the economist cover stating a prophetic book of Jobs. Another is this viral video that is doing the rounds. What Hitler thinks of the iPad, hilarious yet addreses the grievances of most of the crowd.

For now I am keeping an eye on the other products from the stable of Apple :D

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Hong Kong Hangover

The first blog post of the New Year. I've been busy. I just recently got back from a trip to Hong Kong, and am getting over the jet lag and the technology hangover. HK is a city that thrives on technology. Whether it is the superfast and smooth airport express, or the numerous escalators and lifts that the people of hong kong live with, there's something that makes you feel awed by how technology dependent the city is. Not that they have a choice. The kind of distances one has to travel and the numerous levels of public transportation all mean that walking would literally be a pain in the leg. That said I once did decide to walk and not take one of those flat escalators and it did take me quite a while.

So what did I do in this gadget mecca, you ask? Well, I hunted for that gadget which is considered to be one of the most sought after items in the tech world, the iPhone 3 gs. Now just before I left I did find this phone selling here in India, albeit in the grey market. So why buy it in HK when I could get it at a better price here ( I lost a bit on the rupee to HK dollar conversion by using a card and not paying cash.) you ask? Well for one HK is one of those few places where you can pick up an officially unlocked phone , allowing me to use it with whatever carrier I choose. 

I was surprised that even there this was not an easy phone to lay my hands on. I had done some research as to where I might pick one up, but when the day dawned it was a bit of luck actually getting one. Though the official apple reseller DG Life didn't have one I did manage to find another shop at the Windsor house mall ( a computer mall on the 11th floor!).

The highways of Hong Kong near Wanchai

For a guy who is upgrading from a Nokia 6 series phone that is almost 4 years old, this is quite a jump. I am now tethered to the net on mobile more often. The keyboard is quite amazing, being able to figure out what I type even though the keys look a bit cramped. The fact that this entire post is written on my iPhone is a testament to the ease. I have also discovered the joys of free wifi hotspots, Google maps and am developing an apptitude, pun intended.

I am always one who enjoys  tinkering and have already read a lot on jailbreaking. So lo and behold I jailbroke my phone using blackrain, only to revert it back to factory settings soon after.  Such things are not meant for the faint of heart. For now I am content with all the freebies itunes store has to offer and the fond memories of Hong Kong, more on both later!