Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blog on the Go

Ah, yes... Finally.. The freedom to blog - anywhere, anytime! Since the Apple AppStore opened it's doors to third party softwares and games, I've been eagerly musing over the idea of blogging on the go - right from my phone. For people like me who spend a good 3 hours on the trains everyday, this is but a luxury.
Since last month, I've been playing with a few blogging tools and testing them on my iphone. Many free softwares exist, some very close but none having all the right tools for blogging on the go. Some didn't support blogger/blogspot where I host my blog, some didn't have the ability to edit posts once published, some just had a horrendous user interface. Well one of them almost impressed me. I had this blog drafted and ready to publish and right then received a phone call. And alas, I lost everything - the blogging tool simply didn't have the ability to auto save drafts on incoming calls! Then I ventured into paid apps, tried a couple and finally settled for one which delivers in terms of price and functionality - iBlogger. The interface is simple, and thought it doesn't support posting pictures in blogs (atleast for now), it is quite straight forward to use and doesn't fail in ways listed above.
Most of all, I finally have the freedom to blog, on the go.

Friday, August 8, 2008

IPhone 3G and the App Store

So yes... I finally got my hands on the iPhone 3g. Thanks to the high demand and the incredulously ridiculous Apple iPhone activation process, it took me almost 20 days since the release to get my very own.

So I've been using it for a week and here are my initial thoughts
  1. Build quality is much better and sleekier than the original model. The back is plastic now, making it more glossy but also more smudgy.
  2. 3g reception and call quality is very good (despite complaints from many). Browsing is atleast 2x times faster.
  3. Speakerphone volume has drastically improved (finally)
  4. Flush 3.5mm headphones is nice to have. Now I can fit in some high quality earphones or headsets.
  5. Software update 2.0 ain't so good as the previous version - hangs frequently, quite buggy and even crashes now & then. Looks like the phone needs a clean boot every couple of days to keep away the crashes.
  6. GPS is still a big mystery. While this definitely ain't so good as the real GPS devices, it still remains to see if they can be leveraged for turn-by-turn directions. My initial tests had mixed results - indoors, no way it picks up signal and outdoors, sometimes it took too long (>1 min) and sometimes it snapped spot-on in just a few secs.
All besides, I think the real win for Apple is the App Store. Finally I get to have my own games and utilities. And a real way to tap into the iPhone's real computing capabilities. The initial set of apps have been mind-blowing - amazing simulation and intuitiveness - with a wide variety of apps to cater to all target audience.

So here's a list of my top 5 favs - some cater to my needs perfectly and some coz they are just too innovative.
  • Texas hold'em: well yeah - call me biased, towards Apple, towards poker - but this is my most favorite app so far. Very clean game-play, amazing graphics, two modes of play (landscape & portrait) and multiple poker tables make this game a real winner.
  • Shazam: this one is purely purely innovative. Takes a 10-15 sec sample of any song using the microphone and within seconds pull out the whole history of the song. What's more - one more click and you're redirected to the iTunes store. Better still - one more click and the song is already bought and downloaded on your iPhone - beat that!!
  • Box office: For a movie buff, this is a must-have. It takes advantage of the GPS coordinates to list theaters and movies near you, provides reviews from rottentomatoes and finally links to fandango to book your tickets.
  • Remote: turns your phone into a remote controlling the music collection on your laptop/apple tv.
  • City transit: when on the move in NYC and totally lost, this one is a savior. Shows the entire subway map and also the stations closest to you. Lots of scope for improvement but for now, good enough to be a favorite.
Finally, the more interesting part - what apps do I see missing and I really really wanna have
  • Expense calculator: If I ever gotto get my hands on the Apple iPhone SDK, this would be the first thing I would develop. Why? Coz this makes so much more sense on a mobile device than on a desktop/laptop - an app which can keep track of your daily expenses. Any time you spend on anything, pull your phone out and log it in. Categorize your expenses, generate monthly reports and see how they compare with previous months/years - pretty kewl.
  • Turn-by-turn voice navigation: Well, I can then lay my Garmin GPS to rest. The GPS on the iPhone is decent but there's no tool to leverage it to the best. It is known that companies like TomTom are already working on a turn-by-turn guidance software for the iPhone. So we'll see one pretty soon.
  • Zagat-to-go: Zagat is arguably the best site for reviews and comments when exploring for nice restaurants. It has a pretty slick and intuitive iPhone mobile site, but then a zagat app would always be a nice-to-have.
  • Video recording: The iPhone does not inherently support video recording but would love to see a third party app do that
  • An ultimate racing game: F1 racing or the popular motoracer/superbikes, which take advantage of the accelerometer would be very exciting
  • RPG games: my bet is that we'll see a whole lot of role playing games for iPhone in the near future. Would also make sense for the game manufacturers to come up with Lite editions, like AOE lite or Diablo lite. The lack of physical keyboard and haptics support will be the only deterrent.
So exciting exciting times ahead. All I can say is - Bring it on....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

IPhone out... IPhone in...

Here's the dilemma I had a few months back. Speculation was in the air that a new iPhone is to be released very soon. I was excited to get a new one on my hands especially if it had 3G and GPS and more. But I wasn't gonna pitch in another couple hundred bucks to lay my hands on it. Also there were a couple other phones which looked enticing. So I basically wanted an exit strategy so that I can test the waters for the next phone.
What pulled the trigger on my decision was my friends insider word that the iPhone is gonna be a 200$ cheaper but will have a more expensive data plan. So off I went and got into the act of unlocking using Ziphone unlock tool. My first attempt was pretty bad - ended up losing Youtube and Visual Voicemail. But then I reverted all my actions and started off afresh. This time, it was all success.A few days before the big announcement, I posted up the unlocked one on ebay. The 3 day posting didn't look promising till the last one hour when the price jumped from 150$ to a whopping 370$. What's more - I got to play around with the unlocked iPhone to get a glimpse of the kind of applications and games that can be developed on the device.
So here I am, back to square one, using a $15 motorola phone, a device while does solely what the name stands for. But then, the next few days are dedicated to exploring the market and zeroing in onto my next device. Let's say - the wizard is on his wand hunt.

Monday, June 9, 2008

IPhone 3G is here! Finally!!!!

The iPhone is itself a revolutionary product in many ways. To take it up, spruce it and notch up to the next level is an extremely difficult challenge and that's exactly what Steve Jobs accomplished in his keynote today.

Come July and the 3G iPhone hits the market. Bolstered by an inbuilt GPS, enterprise support with push-email and the wide array of softwares & games (all thanks to the IPhone SDK), the 3G IPhone is all set to challenge RIM (Blackberry) and Palm and give them a run for the market share. The coming days will uncover an interesting battle, definitely worth watching.

So, here's a short cover-up on what the keynote did right, how the equations changes and what the unplugged holes are.

Where Apple scored with the 3G iPhone?
- 3G Support: Definitely not the first phone to go 3G, but yes definitely amongst the phones which would benefit the most by 3G support. This has been a deal-breaker for many and will go a long way to attract a big market share. 3G speeds of the IPhone has been shown be at least 2-2.4x higher than the traditional EDGE speeds.
- Enterprise Support & Push email: One area where iPhone lagged was the Enterprise market. That required a minimum of Microsoft Exchange support, push email and secure communications. And that's exactly what iPhone delivers in this new Software release.
- A-GPS: GPS support has become a must for the high-end phones of today's market and this can be no exception.
- Software Apps & Games: With the release of Apple Iphone SDK, the development of new apps & games has skyrocketed with interest for the same surpassing that of Mobile development for windows & symbian devices.
- 3.5 mm headphones: Apple finally woke up and decided to offer 3.5 mm headphone support (in constrast to the reduced 2.5 mm ones in the 2G iPhones)
- Innovative Chat/Messaging infrastructure: A modest example to show the extent Apple goes to avoid compromising on power and battery life in the face of power-hogging applications like chat & messengers
- Price: Well, how more enticing can you get than by slashing the price of the iPhone by half from $399 to $199. (Note: The price is actually up by $40 if calculated correctly ;))

Where Apple missed the boat?
- 3D Software Accelerator: An addition of 3D Graphics chip would have enhanced the splendid iPhone display to new levels.
- Haptics support: An advanced technology in touchscreen devices which gives the touch feedback feel as in case of real keys.
- Camera: The current 2MP camera is an unconvincing excuse. Recent Nokia/HTC devices have upto 5MP inbuilt camera in mobile phones
- Copy-paste functionality: So basic & so missing
- MMS support: Not sure why this still miss out on this one
- No video recording/video conferencing: This was one of the much expected features in the new release but the release fell short. While video conferencing was a bit too much to ask, basic video recording is an inexplicable miss
- No A2DP support: Cannot listen to music/video using wireless bluetooth headsets. Again a dealbreaker for a selected audience.

So here we go - the pros & cons of the new iPhone. All said and done, my take on it - the software update and the 3G iPhone is a big improvement despite its shortcomings. Buy, Buy, Buy!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Safari 3.1: Almost there but not yet

Been a couple of weeks since Apple release its Safari 3.1 version browser for Windows. 

I got a chance today to pull it up on my laptop and play around for a couple of hours. A remarkable improvement over the previous versions, Safari is finally set to compete with the real big players in the browser wars. Itz going to be long battle but - especially with IE still hogging more than 70% of the market share in the browser wars. 

The Goods
- Most Web-Compliant browser ever: The biggest strength of Safari 3.1 is this. It is compliant with most of the browsing web-standards. The ACID test is known to be the authoratative standard when it comes to determining how compliant browsers are. Although no browser so far has passed the test (a score of 100/100), Safari 3.1 leads the pack with an impressive 75 followed by a distant 31 (by Firefox) and a meagre 12 (by IE). 
- Memory - a no-hogger: When it comes to memory usage, Safari is very competitive with other browsers like Firefox and Opera (Of-course everyone knows IE is a big big memory hogger).
- Performance: Though the start-up might not be the fastest (well, the only thing that IE can gloat of), Safari is impressive when it comes to rendering speed and overall performance of the browser. 
- The Search feature is nicey-nicey. So are the bookmarks.

The Bads
- Safari does not support some core standards like ActiveX which is increasingly used in large number of websites.
- Safari has its own font rendering (similar to Mac display) and this makes the websites to look very different sometimes (different on the bad side). I went to my own blog, only to realize how horrible it looked!!! It was just impossible to read my blog!!!
- Not much support for customizations and add-ons - but only a matter of time till it arrives.
- The Title bars and Toolbars look a bit hazy and drowsy - could have been a lil brighter.

The last word
The 3.1 version is a signification move by Apple and successfully pitches Safari as the third competitor in the browser war. Safari performs great in terms of compliance, performance and memory. However a few niggles here and there, some of which could be dealbreakers, lead to the final verdict - Almost there but not yet. 

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Movie Spot: Horton hears a whoooooooooo....

whooooooooooo.... nice...
Animation in movies is an art altogether. That way there are very few that really stand apart. When I see a really good animation movie which is neither Ice Age nor one from Pixar, I am really compelled to blog about it.
So here's one - my best pick for 2008 till now - an all out winner, "Horton hears a who". Built on a really crazy storyline, this movie is very well executed and keeps the audience entertained till the very end. To add to it are the amazing vocals from Jim Carrey & Steve Carell and the creative tid-bits which continued to amaze me through out the movie.
In a nutshell, the movie is all about the highly imaginative Horton - an elephant - who happens to hear noises from a tiny speck of dust floating through the air. Despite the popular belief amongst the whole community that there cannot exist a living being as tiny as dust, Horton continues his attempts to talk to the tiny speck of dust, only to realize that what exists within the speck is but a whole world by itself. What happens next is a roller-coaster ride as Horton tries not only to save the speck of dust but also to convince his whole community that a world exists within it.
Anything more I say is a spoiler, so I'll just stop here. For those who are ardent followers of animation as well as those who just want to catch a good movie, this one is a must watch.

Till Walleeee attempts to dethrone, this one remains my hot favorite animation for the year.

PS: Also got to watch the trailers of Walle (June 2008) and for the first time, Ice Age: The dawn of the dinosaurs (July 2009).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Follow-Up: It is official! The war is over - Blue Team wins...

Blu-ray vs HD-DVD - a hard-fought war of over two years and we finally have a winner. The Blue team (Blu-ray) will be the High Definition movie format for the future.

So what tilted the scales?
Well, the war was on since the studio giants were split between the two sides. First Warner switched camps to Blu-Ray, closely followed by Paramount and Dreamworks. The doom was then imminent. Was only a matter of time for Toshiba, the founding father of HD DVD, to accept

So what happens to the millions of HD DVD players in the market?
Firstly it will take time for the umpteen manufacturers of HD DVD players to absorb the loss and shelve their products. Luckily the players are now being sold as Upscaling DVD players which provide better resolution/clarity with normal DVDs. So if you've already bought one at an exorbitant price, just bite your tongue and use it as upscaling/normal DVD player.

Now that the battle is over, should I just run over to the nearest CircuitCity store and pick up a Blu-Ray player?
Well - no! The battle being over is far from Blu-Ray becoming an accepted industrial standard.
- The players are still extremely expensive (300-400$) and you can do well to wait for the price to drop.
- Unlike HD-DVD, the Blu-Ray standard is still evolving and far from being complete.
- Tons of Blu-Ray players currently in the market are 1.0 standard players which do not even support an upgradable feature. So what you buy now may become an obsolete device in a year!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Expense Calculator v2dot1 released

Announcing the release of the new and improved Expense Calculator.

What you get?
Go out a lot? Spend time and money with friends? What about trips? Do you always have trouble calculating and setting accounts with friends? Worry no more - in comes the expense calculator.

Just key in every expense - what is the expense? who paid for it? what category? who were involved? - and whenever you want to complete and settle the accounts, just click a button and itz all done. No more hastles - life made simpler :)

How is it improved?
The all-new Accounts Calculator is highly customized to suit your needs. Start-up is now so simple - just key in the names and the various categories of accounts that you want to track. And you are set to roll.

Categorize your accounts now - add a category to every expense. The rows are colored based on the category (Excel 2007 only). And whats more - once you settle your accounts - you get to see how much was spent for each category. Helps you to review and plan future spendings.

The hallmark feature - Auto settling of accounts. Previous versions merely show the net up/down position of the individual people involved in the accounts. This one will now only do that but also give a list of how to settle (i.e. who pays whom) the accounts. And whats more amazing is the Shortest Settlement Algoritm (SSA - patent pending), which ensures the least number of payment transfers for settlement. Now - thats cool.

Screen Shots
1. Start-up screen (Setup users)

2. Accounts screen

3. Settlement screen (Just a click away)

Download Links (Best viewed with Excel 2007)
Account Calculator 2.1
Sample sheet

Feel free to give it a go. Would very much appreciate comments and suggestions for improvement. After all, there has to be a v3.0 in due course of time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Curious Corner: Unwarranted bloodshed - Blu Ray vs HD-DVD

This is one of the biggest battles in the world of technology - Blu Ray vs HD-DVD.
And I decided to take a peek...

The ironic fact - Why is there no clear winner - not because both of them are equally good - just that both are equally bad and exist just due to the big names that back them.

So what do they offer? The next step to DVDs - a smart storage disc which can hold 25-100GB of data. Both format provide high-definition video quality (not available on DVDs) and great interactivity for movies. Blu-ray has a slight edge when it comes to disc capacity but the fact that the cost of the same is almost 50% more than that of the counterpart nullifies the advantage. With the influx of HDTVs into the consumer market, both the formats take movie watching to a new level. Though both the formats allow a good range for interactivity and menu options, neither have defined a standardized way for the same.

Blu-ray was developed by Sony and HD DVD by Toshiba. What is astonishing is the fact that both the formats use similar encoding techniques and offer almost similar benefits. But still they are rivals and will be. An attempt to unify the two into a single standard (a year back) was a miserable failure.

Now the question that every consumer will ask - Which one should I buy? Blu-Ray or HD-DVD Player - since both of them have their own players and are incompatible with the other. The answer is NEITHER!!! The battle has become so big that even movie studios have started taking sides and support only that format. Some movies come ONLY in Blu-Ray while other only in HD-DVD - totally absurd as far as the customer is concerned. Some manufacturers have started to make combined Blu-Ray & HD-DVD Player - but ironically the price of the device is more than two separate players put together.

So for the near future - till a concensus is reached, it's advisable to wait. The battle has gone for long and the more it goes, the worse it is for the industry. Even now, some analysts say that if we create a unified standard and move towards the goal, it will take atleast 2 years to revert all that has been done and move forward. Or will it be a case that one side will lose?

In the very recent days, Blu-Ray got a shot in the arm when Warner Bros moved from HD-DVD to Blu-Ray movie supportability (due to bad HD-DVD sales) but this single event will not entirely tilt the scales.

Let's wait n watch!!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Credit Cards: The saving angel or the devil in disguise?

Well, every one of us invariably has a Credit Card. But how many of us actually stop to think whether it is a saving angel or a devil in disguise. Not many :) . The truth is - it is a double edged weapon - if you are clever and master the game, Credit Cards can be the saving grace. But on the other hand, ignorance mixed with a few goof-ups here and there can result in half your paycheck sliding stealthily into the bank's pockets.

So the advice for the day is - Be aware and play the game sharp. I have three credit cards and one fine day realized that I was paying exorbitantly out of my pocket for two of the cards. Finally decided to dig deep and see how they actually work.

Here's an interesting article I came across - it explains every thing a person should know and should keep in mind before apply for a credit card.


A few tips
Though I should put in my two cents on understanding credit cards. The biggest advice - PLEASE READ THE FINE PRINT - in fact, the fine print ain't so difficult to comprehend. In fact, as explained in the article above, every credit card company is required to explain all the essential facts (like APR, balance transfer, cash back, basic rewards, APR calculation cycle, etc) in a standard table in the 'terms & conditions' page. So the simple rule is - Learn what they imply and read the fine print.

Secondly don't blindly choose a credit card - play it smart. Every credit card has a lucrative offering based on the type of card. Some of the common types
- Zero/low intro APR
- Zero/low balance transfer
- Cashback rewards on purchases
- Gas cards
- Airline/hotel points cards

So play a clever game. Eg. choose a card with zero intro APR and use it extensively for 12 months and help to eliminate/minimize your interest payment. If you are paying very high interest on one of the cards, pick up a card which offers 0% balance transfer APR and pay the balance transfer amount in that period. And well, maybe have a card which maximizes rewards/cashback on purchases. For people who travel a lot by car, pick up a good gas card. For those who accumulate frequent flyer miles, pick an airline card which accumulates points from purchases. Maybe go to the extent as to ensure that you have product protection on atleast one of the cards (means that you can get a replacement for the product if the same is stolen or damaged within 90 days of purchase!)

Final advice - read read read the fine print. Some examples of slippery tracks to avoid
- Don't always fall for a 0% intro APR card. Check what the APR will be after the offer expires. Some cards carry ridiculously high APR once the offer period expires
- Verify what the grace period is for the card. Usually cards offer a grace period of 21 days after which the purchase amount will be added into interest calculation. But there are cards which specify in fine print that this is true only if there is zero balance amount from the previous month. Watch out!

It's a cunning world out there - so be sharp and be smart...

Micro Ideas: Rack your brains, a flash of brilliance might just slip by

A great idea is but a flash of brilliance. But often that flash of brilliance does not just occur out-of-the-blue. What it needs is excavation. Consider this - an archaeologist never knows what he's going to find - but that doesn't mean that he digs holes at random places waiting to hit upon something. Based on careful analysis and scientific research, he decides on places to dig hoping to find something.

You cannot find an ExtraTerrestial until you search for one. So is a great idea. It's time to tune the brain to constantly be in search for this flash of brilliance. And what better way can be it than starting off this section - Micro Ideas. May it be that one of the Micro Ideas is 'The One'.

Educational Activity Kits
'The best way to learn is to experience it'. When I was a kid - what used to amaze me the most were the tiny activity kits. I used to harp upon these difficult-to-get science activity kits - they are fun. Finally I could see and experience what these boring science books mean to drive in. This is so much easier - and this is the right way to learn. How many of us have actually taken the effort to see white light split into the multple colours of vibgyor on passing through a prism? How many of us have actually tried to carry out some of the tons and tons of chemical reactions that we read in our childhood. Why do we need to merely accept things without experiencing it. This is where the Educational Activity Kits come in - as I started playing with them, not only did I find understanding the profound concepts so much simpler but I also started exploring beyond the horizons of the Kits - I went on to have a mini Chemical laboratory to run though the reactions I learn in textbooks.

Today, all these look a distant past - but even today when I walk past through the 'toys and games' section in one of these US supermarkets/toystores, I am amazed that there still exists no commercial Education Activity Kit. The target market is quite open and the feasibility of implementation is not too bad. One can bring out an exclusive line of Education Activity Kits (a new brand like Lego). These boxed kits should contain scientific concepts and related experiments. In addition, they should contain all materials required to carry out these simple experiments. For eg: the activity kits can be organized under three categories - Physics, Chemistry & Biology. Under the Physics category will be a kit on 'Light' where concepts like diffraction, diffusion, etc can be explained. This kit will contain a Prism to explain the components of white light, a set of color filters to explain colors & filters, etc. Similarly one can have a Biology kit on observing plants and animals which will include experiments with microscopes and growing mustard plants.

Slowly it would be possible to explore into other areas outside core science like geography, arts & crafts, etc.

The world of EAK (Educational Activity Kits) waits, with doors wide open.