iSheen addiction. 5 steps to get over it.

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[Updated on October 7th, 2011 – two days after the passing away of Steve Jobs.]

The article below was written in a haze of frustration following the lackluster iPhone 4S launch event. It unfortunately coincided with the death of Steve Jobs – lovingly mentioned in the article as “Turtlenecked Angel”. All said and done Mr. Jobs was a true visionary and business leader of our generation. Whether I agree with Apple’s business practices and technology direction or not, is inconsequential to the fact that Steve Jobs and his organization have redefined technology for most of us today. We will be hard pressed to find a successor of comparable influence and vision in our lifetimes. RIP Steve Jobs.

*Original Article Below*

No this is not about an admission to being a closet Charlie Sheen fan. Though I have to admit that he is AWESOME. Just see this tepid season of “Two and a half men” – and you will immediately start missing his craziness.

But that is a whole other discussion.

The operative letter here is “i” – which is used by Apple to propagate the ridiculous idea that “they” know what “i” want. Well they don’t. Not by a long shot. But something has to be said about the hype juggernaut that Apple is, because they regularly force me to shed my inertia and publish something on my poor blog. As you would have guessed this is about the iPhone 4S.

Last morning, 10 AM Pacific time, I slugged it out with millions of apple voyeurs to catch a glimpse of what Apple had in store for us. I know there were millions because the CNET live blog shut down at 10:05 and Gizmodo didn’t make it past 10:15. It was as if they were handing out free iPhone 3GS’es. As it turns out – they were, and that was the best news of the day.

(notice how they place the iphone 4 at an angle to hide its thickness?)

I wasn’t there in person – but I could feel the underwhelming feeling hurtling down my broadband line. Apple had done it again. They had managed to make a huge song and dance show about catching up with the competition… leaving all those millions of iPhone 5 hopefuls to put on their veil of stubborn submission, and accept this minor update as the greatest thing since the last Apple illusion.

I wish I could just reach out to each and every one of them, give them a hug, and hand them a pamphlet to the nearest rehabilitation center. I have realized that it is not their fault that they will camp outside the nearest Apple store, ready to spend their hard earned money, in these recessionary times, on a phone which is already a couple of generations old. It is not their fault that the moment they receive this gift from the gods, they will clamor for the next dose of awesomeness for which they will patiently wait for many months, until their turtlenecked angel will dispel the clouds of despair with a lightning stroke in the form of the world’s greatest technological hallucination.

It is not their fault… because they are iSheen addicts. They deserve my sympathy and my help. So just for you, my helpless sheep-of-apple I have put together a simple 5 point plan which will help you shed your addiction and see the world again – as it is.

1. Remember – you are not alone. There are plenty of iSheen addicts like you out there. So open your browser, type http://www.ebay.com, register and click on “Sell an item”. Put in the description of your iphone in there, and click “submit”.

2. Sit back and watch as the millions who have not chosen your path towards reality, fight over your piece of metal and glass. This whole exercise of being an “outside” spectator to the silliness will make you see your twisted world with a new perspective. You might get typical withdrawal pangs and might find yourself staring longingly at your iPhone, wondering “What have I done?!!” Don’t give in. Every addict goes through this… and it is important to keep the end of the tunnel in sight. For this move to step 3.

3. Open your web browser again, and type http://www.google.com. In the search field type “Best Smartphones”. A new unknown world of the latest mobile technology will open up in front of you. You might have some trouble understanding the words and the pictures of sleek, thin, large-screened phones – and that is because that part of your brain has been deadened by the Apple drug.  But persist and find your inner droid – which will show you the path. (Note of caution: You will also find your beloved iPhone on many of those lists – but that is because it is not a bad phone. It just won’t be number 1 or 2 or 3 – and you deserve the best.) And soon, you will like something. It will have a dual core processor, a screen you can actually enjoy your games and movies on and it will be thin and light and just plain gorgeous.

samsung galaxy s2

Take a print out of this modern marvel and stick in front of you – for all those times the invisible tentacles of the iPhone try to pull you back into the abyss you are leaving behind. Playing soothing zen music in the background will also help.

4) Use the amazing amount of money that other addicts would have paid for your iPhone – and buy your new dream device (it will mostly be one of the many Android devices). And with the money that is left – go and treat yourself to a 1-hr Swedish deep-tissue massage. You deserve it – like you deserve the best technology that’s out there.

5) Play with your new phone… customize it, make it yours in ways that was never possible with your iPhone. The biggest life-altering change will be the realization that “You own your phone” – and not the other way round. Once that realization seeps into every corner of your recovering soul – will you have truly emerged victorious over your addiction and you will see the world for what it is.

You will be once and for all – truly free.

If you are an iSheen addict then use this is as a guide towards enlightenment. If you are not and you know someone who is, pass this message to them. The power is in our hands to rid this world of illusion and show light to the lost.

Peace out.

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Sour Apple

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Since I moved to the great United States a few months ago – I have been bombarded by various threads of self-criticism by the all pervasive media. Indeed, freedom of speech is something this country takes extremely seriously; and when that freedom is applied to talking frankly about one’s own problems, it becomes a veritable theater of the self-centered. So I have been hearing “our government is incompetent”, “we are losing the innovative edge”, “we spend too much on foreign wars”, “we ignore education”, “our justice system is totally screwed up”… etc. To tell you the truth, this is one of the things that I like about this place – they wear their whines on their sleeves. And it is very entertaining – if not underdone. This place, for all visible signs, is not in such a bad place… and maybe it is this unrelenting self-critique that spurs them on to higher levels. So I don’t take a lot of this whining very seriously. Except the one about the justice system being totally screwed up. Especially when applied to wider business practices of US companies.

The company under the microscope over here is the largest company in the world (in terms of market valuation) – and has been responsible, consistently over the past few years, for inducing a kind of mass hypnosis/hysteria that was once the domain of crazy diminutive dictators. I really loved the first (and only) Apple device that I owned – an iPod. It was easy to use and held all my songs. I cringed every time I had to fire up iTunes to add a few new tracks to my collection, but hey it was a small price, at least in the beginning, to pay for the ultimate design experience. That love lasted for a couple of years – before I realized there were cheaper devices which offered more in terms of utility and performance – and my iPod was relegated to a dust gathering corner in my collection of classic tech oddities.

And Apple didn’t stop, while the hubris surrounding its products has escalated to ridiculous proportions… Apple has now become, possibly, the most valuable brand in the world. But this is apparently not enough for Apple. Having lost the PC race to Microsoft, this time they are determined not to lose the mobile race to Android and the various manufacturers that support it. They have successfully managed to sue HTC on some critical software components, and have put their future in the US in jeopardy. They have been after Samsung since their Galaxy class of devices have started selling like hot cakes and have beaten almost every comparable Apple device in terms of performance, features, value and even design. In fact last quarter Samsung sold more mobile devices than Apple. I have been an Android user since the past three years – and I can safely say that the Android is a better and more powerful operating system than the iOS and that the devices from Samsung and HTC are better devices than the iPhone.

Yet, today, Apple managed to move an injunction in a German court, accusing Samsung of copying the iPad, while designing their Galaxy Tab 10.1 inch tablet. So now Samsung will not be able to sell the excellent Galaxy Tab in most countries in the EU – leaving the iPad uncontested in a key market.

I felt sick inside when I read this. In spite of my personal dislike for Apple devices and marketing hype – I used to respect them as a genuinely innovative company which has more or less shaped the technology landscape today. Smartphones and tablets represent a huge, fast growing market – with headroom for more than one manufacturer to exist. But stifling competition through legal wrangling is something that is decimating, in this humble blogger’s opinion, all the good work that Apple has done. Nowadays, I am a vocal anti-Apple campaigner… and I will continue to be so. I try to tell who ever is willing to listen that a Samsung-based Android phone is way better than an iPhone – in almost every possible specification. (and frankly with my awesome Samsung Infuse, it is not so difficult to convince people!)

I do this, because in the name of “user oriented technology” which began with the invention of the mouse and the venerable iPod, Apple today is just another large American corporation trying to fill their coffers with their users’ hard earned money.

I am a firm believer in Karma – and I know one day sooner or later – all this is going to come back and bite Apple Inc. in the ass. Till then I will enjoy what the rest of the world has to offer… and believe me… there is a lot!

Update: The designs used for the case against Samsung have been released. Someone please tell me that is not ridiculous!!

Paati

If you ever met my Paati – you would probably not find anything extraordinary. What you would see, would be just another old smiling South Indian “Mami” dressed in a traditional saree,  disposing of mundane chores gently like a sea breeze would make a leaf flutter. As you saw her tend to a great-grandchild with effortless ease, you might have just missed the fact that her joints ache with pain which would have debilitated athletes. If you saw her talking on the phone – mostly long distance calls to her children in distant lands – you might miss the fact that the person on the other line could have a name like “Adam”. If you saw her smiling at the news of one of her grandchildren – yet again – making a mark in this competitive world; you might just miss the fact that the lives of 15 of us have been immutably influenced by her unconditional love. If you just walked into the unassuming living room of an unassuming two-storied house in Jayanagar, Mysore – and saw her diligently following a Kannada TV show – you might never know that this lady, who spent her young life tending to her family in small villages & towns of Karnataka, played a mean game of Scrabble.

Amma to some, Maami to others and Paati to almost everyone else – Rukmini was a woman of grit, determination and tremendous substance. She was the kind who didn’t need Femina to teach her how to run a house, or to have progressive thoughts and opinions. She was not the kind who would let the fact that she was from “another time” come in the way of typing an email or use the internet. She was not the kind who would blindly hold on to her “way of life” and not let her children and grandchildren go out in the modern world, find their own paths and even marry the person of their choice. She gave the gift of love and freedom to her children and their children and quietly exulted at their successes and supported them through their difficulties.

My Paati was a rare person – a seemingly endless reservoir of love, patience and acceptance which suddenly, on the 23rd of June, came to an end in a hospital in Bangalore. The feeling of shock that has permeated her family is difficult to describe in words. Each one of us carries our own version of her in our minds – and each one of us is trying to deal with the suddenness of this loss. I for one am back to questioning the caprices of fate.

Where does all that love go when it dies?

I think I know the answer. It is here:

Appanna, Sheila, Raghavan, Kumuda, Sarasa, Sampath, Seshadri, Sarasi, Leela, Narsimhan, Latha, Vanamali, Padma, Ram, Shyla, Sanjay, Kavita, Adam, Anita, Abhishek, Dilnavaz, Shilpa, Shridhar, Adviteeya, Chaitanya, Anmol, Manasa, Amit, Apratim, Shree, Raghu, Kaavya, Amaresh, Chaitra, Prasad, Utsav, Kavana, Apu, Pooja, Jay, Dev, Dhruv, Satvika, Vibhav, Abhyu, Ria, Avyukth – and so many others.

She might not be with us today… but her legacy is plain for everyone to see. So many individuals, successful and accomplished in their own right – all today carry her love in their hearts. And it is here where my Paati will live on for generations to come.

Paati (1922 – 2011)

The Google Music Doodle is here to stay!

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What began as a whim a few years back is today Google’s single largest marketing tool. As if to answer the question “What can Google do with that limited space available on its extremely simple homepage?” – the Google Doodle has actually become one of those cultural signposts on the internet – an anchor without which the web would be a constantly changing mass of “stuff”. No matter what happens – one can be sure that the Google doodle will, from time to time, entertain us and remind us of obscure – yet interesting – occasions, birthdays and anniversaries.

But, even Google needs to up its doodling once in a while – and this they did with the wildly popular Google Doodle which marked Les Paul’s 96th birthday.

In a world where that name wouldn’t even strike a simple “C” chord in most minds, that particular Doodle has made him more immortal than Jimmy Page, Slash, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and Frank Zappa ever could. The web is abuzz with tips and tricks on how to play the simple 10 note guitar – and brilliant and not-so-brilliant compositions are cropping up all around. But all doodles come to an end. (24hrs is the typical life of a doodle) So it came as a pleasant surprise when Google announced that the Les Paul Doodle is here to stay!!

http://www.google.com/logos/2011/lespaul.html

Now you can safely compose “Bye Bye Bye” for your music teacher and strum away on the addictive 10 note web-guitar – till you develop some form of Carpal-tunnel.

Enjoy!!

Journey – Eclipse. An album review.

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After a string of disappointments in other spheres of life (pls refer to my earlier posts on Super 8 & iOS 5) – I had to say something nice about something! Thankfully the rockers at pop-rock outfit Journey have, yet again, come up with a masterpiece. For those who are unaware of Journey, and there will still be some, these guys rocked the scene in the late 70’s and most of the 80’s – before singer Steve Perry departed to pursue a solo career. Journey has sold more than 80 million albums so far and are one of the best selling mainstream rock acts there ever was. “Honestly”, “Open Arms”, “Lights”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”  – all are regular radio staples and for good reason. Silky smooth compositions, amazing vocals (Steve Perry was featured in Rolling Stone’s top 100 voices of all time) and unforgettable choruses. But often, in the background of those soaring vocals, the brilliance of Neal Schon’s guitar-playing abilities and songwriting were overlooked.

When the band got together earlier this decade with Arnel Pineda (discovered while doing Journey covers on Youtube) at the mic, with “Revelation” – it seemed as if Journey was getting back into swing. But unfortunately the world had largely moved on – and even though Revelation hit platinum sales, largely driven by a very loyal fan base – Journey just felt out of place in today’s music scene. So what do a rejuvenated Journey do? The show a finger to the world and its fickleness – and come up with Eclipse. And this time, Schon had a plan. After catering to radio friendly requirements for three decades – he decided to let go and shine. And boy does Eclipse shatter every preconceived notion about Journey.

The first thing noticeable about Eclipse is a distinct heaviness in composition and overall mood. Known for their feel good vibes – Eclipse takes a whole new direction of mature powerful rock while maintaining the catchy hooks and amazing songwriting that made them famous. And the guitar-playing… Neal Schon simply rocks! Almost every song has multiple soaring solos by Schon – and is Rock at its finest. What is also amazing about this album is how songs change mood midway… adding complexity to Journey’s wide repertoire of musical talents.

Eclipse is bound to disappoint traditional Journey fans – as it eschews Radio-friendliness for pure power… I, for one, love it. This just shows that Rock was always at the heart of Journey… and they have realized that one does not have to be mushy to be mainstream.

If you are a fan of Rock music then just got and get this album. You won’t be disappointed. If you love “Open Arms”… well then it just depends on how open a mind you can keep… 😉

Ordinary 8

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I have to admit that I had to visit thesaurus.com to figure out what an appropriate antonym for Super was. Here are some of the choices that were thrown up: bad, inferior, second-rate, poor, contemptible, despicable, detestable, hateful, loathsome, repugnant, repulsive, shameful, unworthy, blah, bland, dull, unimportant. Unfortunately none of them accurately describe the movie I am about to review. So I had to dig deep into my intellectual reservoir to come up with …. Ordinary. Because after sitting through two hours of a special IMAX pre-screening of JJ Abrams’s much hyped Super 8 – I was left with a sense of disillusionment that usually accompanies an “earth shattering” announcement by Steve Jobs. (But that is a topic best left for another tirade.)

Ok – let’s get two things straight. One – I was really looking forward to a collaboration of Messrs Abrams & Spielberg. And that had really nothing to do with the crazy secrecy that shrouded the run-up to the release. I was sincerely looking forward to this movie. Two – Super 8 is not a terrible movie at all.

Just very ordinary.

If this is sounding different from other stuff you have read about the movie – then it is probably because I just don’t get it. That may be – but here are my 8 reasons as to why Super 8 ain’t super at all.

1. This movie has been made to bring back the spirit of adventure, camaraderie & magic, that used to infuse the great summer movies of the past. Many of which were helmed/produced by Steven Spielberg himself. I remember vividly, when I watched ET for the first time, I felt for the kid and his family and their problems and his goofy alien friend. I still do. Same goes for the cult classic “The Goonies”. The dynamics between the children, their individual characters, their personalities – were so vividly portrayed; and more importantly so deftly woven into the plotline. Unfortunately for Super 8  – though the performances are generally strong – there are too many side stories going on, almost independently from the main plot… the “tie-up” is missing. Guess it takes an auteur of Spielberg’s or Donner’s class to do this.

2. Super 8 was supposed to prove that a strong powerful summer movie exists without an heavy dependence on visual effects. Then why do I, at the end of the movie only remember the effects? (Some of which – like the train crash scene – were absolutely spectacular. But the crash itself lent nothing to the movie.)

3. Glaring plot holes tied filled up with contrivances. Like for instance – the entire US airforce couldn’t figure out that the monster was hiding in a shed at the cemetery – when a little kid (Joe) who just happens to be the main character, just happens to visit his mother’s grave and finds the “subterranean” monster. Seriously? And there are many more…

4. The build up to the monster finally gets to you. Most of the movie is over before you get a good glance at the monster. By that time you don’t care for it… and that destroys the ending.

5. Full of boring/uninteresting characters. Joe’s dad – the deputy sheriff, Joe’s girlfriend Alice’s dad who was responsible for Joe’s mother’s death (only in the end we find out he wasn’t really), the rest of the town… BORING. Damn – even the evil Air Force colonel was not really evil. When the most interesting character in the movie is a long haired dude who gets stoned and utters the only instance of the “f” word in the movie… then you know you are in trouble. Even the main character – Joe – builds train models and loves doing make up.

6. Cliche central. Alien crashes, Human captures and tortures, Alien gets pissed, Dogs desert town, Alien abducts people and hangs them upside down in a cave (why?), Little boy manages to communicate with the Alien and shows him that there is good in the world. The only thing missing was a dude listening to a walkman and missing the monster creating havoc outside. Wait a minute… that was in there too…

7. The core group of friends… their banter was neither endearing nor touching. Take the pyromaniac kid for instance. His constant references to explosions and fire eventually fizzle out after the third such reference in 10 minutes. The dialogue writing and screenplay were just plain weak. (Just compare this to the sizzling dialogue from Star Trek… this seems as if JJ penned all this while waiting for a train at Grand Central.)

8. Finally – and this is something hard to describe in a post mortem – the movie felt long. I remember seeing Avatar and realizing at the end that I just sat through three hours of a movie which felt like an hour and a half. Here, when I looked at the time, I thought my watch had stopped! This is a two hour movie that feels way longer.

So folks… in the end Super 8 disappoints. Especially if you consider the legacy it is supposed to be carrying. This is no ET. Not by a long shot. Maybe Steven Spielberg should remake this himself.

See it if you have to… but considering how expensive it is, these days to watch movies at the cinema… I would suggest you get a fourth installment of Capn Jack Sparrow instead. Atleast, you can be sure that at the very least he will be interesting and less ordinary.

Two Stars.

iCloud – Cloud computing for dummies

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“It Just Works”

That is the tagline that goes with the new iCloud. And probably is true too. Finally Apple is getting into the space which Google has been developing and populating with applications, since the past few years. If any of you have every owned an Android device – you would be familiar with how the moment you log-in to your Google account – everything gets synced. Your address books, calendars, documents (on Google docs), Picasa photos, Music on Google Music… everything.

Now this happens on Apple. To quote Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory – “Bazinga!”

Seriously… is there no end of Apple infused hubris? And Steve Jobs came out of hibernation for this. If the stock doesn’t tank after this – I am changing my planet.

Microsoft – this is where you guys strike. Apple has lost the plot… and they have become a victim of their own hype.

iOS 5 – “Plain Ketchup”

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Ok… so I have been following the iOS 5 live blog at CNET. Here is what I have seen as the “NEW” in iOS 5.

1) Better Twitter integration.

2) Browser improvements – Reading list, tabbed browing (for ipad)

3) In built photo editing app (Red-eye reduction etc)

4) “PC-free” – OTA updates etc

5) Better mail “Rich text formatting, can do bold, underline. Can indent. Can drag addresses between the to, cc, bcc. Flagging and unflagging. Search can also now search within messages, not just the from, to and subject lines” (from CNET)

6) Split keyboard!!!! (Sorry MS)

7) iMessage for iOS – like the BBM in Blackberry devices.

Of all this – the last one is a cool feature I think – will push iOS adoption further. (Edit: Having said that one can do this on any device using GTalk or tens of other apps such as Whatapp…etc. ) But for the main part I think iOS 5 is just getting upto speed with Android. This is crowdsourced innovation at its best… take the best parts of third party applications and put them into the core OS. This will hurt third party developers… or maybe push them to innovate more. But I think so far – iOS 5 is just “Plain Ketchup”.

Acquiescence

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…that was a long dry spell. Hibernation isn’t as much fun as it used to be. In today’s world,  one doesn’t have legions of loyal fans waiting until the end of time, for the object of their affections to emerge from a bat-ridden cave. They just move on to other objects.

Maybe this über-connected world doesn’t make waiting necessary. There is just so much vying for one’s affections. It’s scary. The rapidly waning and waxing world of celebrities is now a reality for the rest of us. Today if Lady GaGa doesn’t wear a dress hacked out of a piece of meat every two weeks, she will be forgotten. If relatively unknown Grimescene disappears into his batcave for a few months – the only thing waiting for him would be piles of bat-turd – which too, would eventually turn into compost. This just goes to show that once one gets used to being in the public eye, irrespective of whether one is the subject of adoration or ridicule, one would do anything possible to remain there.

I guess I always knew that… but now I have felt it. Now suddenly Charlie Sheen doesn’t look so crazy anymore. (Ok, he still does – but now maybe the craziness is slightly justified.) The social network has now become the ultimate channel for people to express their innate need to be loved and taken seriously.

Boys & Girls. Step back and just think about it for a second. Just a mere five years ago all this did not exist. People still loved you or hated you then. People still killed themselves – even if they didn’t leave suicide notes on their Facebook page for the whole world to see. Nerds were still dumped, only the dumping was not propagated globally through a status change on a social site. Zuckerberg was still a geek – just not on a Time magazine cover (wholly deserved).

How the world of social sites, tweets, status updates, blogs and wikis has irreversibly changed our life will be the subject of anthropological studies for decades to come. My suspicion is that this will eventually lead to a mass consciousness which connects us in ways which were impossible five years ago. I also suspect that the stock market will finally realize that Social Networking has spurred much larger “people” phenomenon, as compared to an economic phenomenon which is driving crazy IPOs and mile-high evaluations.

And all this may be nothing but the rant of someone who has been forgotten in his cave. I tried to fight this change and I lost. I am as much a part of this teeming social fabric which has engulfed the educated world, as the next tweet. I thought there was a larger meaning to life that a few comments from readers. I thought that I was the giver, and that I could withdraw my giving as and when I pleased. But the truth is that my Indiblogger rank just fell faster than I could say “Oblivion”. And it hurt. I know now that I am just a receiver of love and acceptance for my humble place in the social world – which is that of a mere blogger.

Final Tally:

Social Network – 1. Man-island – 0.

Shimmer

Do you ever feel that time has stopped? A moment that stretches on forever – and not in a good way. It is like you are standing still in a crowded place, while thousands of people (could be people, could be just shadows and unnamed figures… hard to tell) move all around you. Even though there is so much motion and noise around you, you feel deathly still. As if some invisible force was pinning you down on the spot. People try to communicate with you but their words are like wisps of air bouncing off your skin; their spittle like rain. You are very aware of the moment, but the awareness is inward. The external world does not exist in this moment. You try to derive a sense of movement from this state of inertia that you find yourself in; you move a hand, affect a quiver of the lips, maybe flick the rain off your eyebrows – but movements, if they do occur are slow, calculated, exaggerated. Like you are stuck in a time-lapse video. The seconds are advancing. You know. But you have no way to prove it. For you it is just entropy. Seconds without a history or a future. Events without meaning. Energy without manifestation. You feel your life-force raising a weak signal of panic. It is trying to tell you that life does not stop when alive. And a louder voice says then maybe I am dead. This little tête-à-tête should be driving you nuts, but it isn’t because you are standing on the outside peering inside the vacuous space that is your consciousness. Wondering if it is all real, or just a dream that you have been secretly given ringside seats to. But though you might find this outside-in view amusing, you cannot ignore the feelings of panic. This is your survival instinct taking control. You know you need to come out of this state of suspended animation, but how does a puppet move without strings? You look desperately upwards for divine intervention. For someone to deliver you, to re-insert you into the time-space that seems to be moving so fast around you. You desperately claw at the surface, reaching out to that last straw that will pull you out…

The precision click of the Zippo lights a flame that shows you the path to the end of the tunnel. You take a deep breaths, and slowly crawl your way towards the disappearing shimmer…