26 August 2015

Book Review - The Einstein Prophecy

I have been fascinated by science fiction stories since my childhood. From Jules Verne's wonderful "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" to Andy Weir's "The Martian", sci-fi books have never been boring. Till I read Robert Masello's "The Einstein Prophecy".

This book was suggested by the Kindle bookstore as number one popular book in sci-fi category. With a print volume of only 326 pages, I immediately bought it on my Kindle.

The story is set in the World War II era with the Allied powers facing off the Axis powers. The story moves briskly at first with good description of the environment and the war situation. Our hero is a US military officer Lucas. Yes, despite the book's title Einstein is not a major player in the story. Also, he does not make a prophecy. Lucas is trying to find an ancient object which will allow Allied forces to defeat Germany. Apparently it is something so important that even Hitler is also looking for it. After setting up this intriguing plot, the story takes a meandering form. If you have seen The Mummy series of movies, you will know what I am talking about.

To be absolutely fair to the book, the story is set on a great premise which could have a lot of potential if presented correctly. Instead for nearly three-fourths of the book, the story does not reveal what that secret object is, despite not much going on in other parts of story either. In many places the author begins describing the trees, birds and surroundings when the story should ideally be revealing the next big secret. It almost seemed that the author ran out of ideas and was just trying to fill in the pages to make the publisher happy!

The end is underwhelming and not worth whatever time you spent reading the story. If you are going to read the book anyway, keep your expectations very low. Also don't try to correlate it to Einstein or any of the historical occurrences.

Good luck!

Rating - 2/5

21 August 2015

The Amazon story and future of (IT) jobs in India


I am sure many of you must have by now read the New York Times article which paints a very unflattering account of Amazon and the way it treats its workers. Examples are cited where a worker was given low performance ratings because she missed work as she was suffering from cancer. In another instance, a worker was asked to go on a business trip just a day after suffering a miscarriage. There are many others instances cited in the article.

While these are horrible stories, I am not here to criticize Amazon. Thing is, that these are the practices followed by nearly every organization. Every company exists to earn profit and they want to squeeze as much out of their resources to maximize it. This is also true of Indian IT industry. In general, the work done by the Indian IT industry is monotonous, not innovative and something which their "onsite" counterparts will prefer not to do. Indians are ready to take these up at much lower wages and thus work comes here. Even with constant pressure put on these workers, these jobs were pretty much the best jobs that one can get in India - which paid well compared to other jobs and had a hygienic work environment. But don't start rejoicing yet, these jobs will soon be automated.

Human beings are resources, and very flaky one at that. They get sick, demand holidays, take lunch and numerous other breaks, which lowers productivity. Add these to the manual nature of jobs done by the Indian IT industry these jobs are prime contenders where automation can be applied. If you are wondering how this is even possible, watch the video below. I will wait.


After watching the above video, if you are a manager who is thinking that this is a good thing for you as it will increase your performance, think again. If all the jobs are done by computers operating at their maximum efficiency, who will you manage? Your job is over too!

Sure all this won't happen tomorrow, or in the next year. We may still be 20-30 years away from the Utopian future where nobody needs to work and everything is in abundance. Till that day comes, have a little empathy - for your maid, for the person who comes to deliver the package you ordered from the e-commerce giants, for the person who comes to deliver that pizza, for your colleagues, friends and family. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

07 August 2015

App-pocalypse

Have you recently tried to shop on any Indian e-commerce website? If you have, you too would be frustrated by the constant nagging done by these sites to download their app. Myntra has gone ahead and shut its website down completely! Others like Flipkart won't let you browse any product in peace and will immediately try to "connect" you to their app - even when you are already at their site and trying to buy a product. Amazon India will release "app-only" offers and discounts.


All this is done in the garb of making customer experience better.


Only problem is that it makes user experience even worse. These companies are trying to lure the consumer into a walled garden so that they make bad, misinformed buying decisions. Let me elaborate.

On a desktop browser, you can easily search for and compare products across various websites with just a few tabs open. You don't need to switch context and lose track of what you were trying to compare when you move to a different product.

On a mobile screen, only one product is visible at a time. Even with only one product visible, you cannot see all the information about that product on one screen - reviews, ratings, QnAs. To read each review or product detail, the screen changes constantly leaving the consumer totally clueless.

I understand the monetary benefits of maintaining only an app with reduced IT, development and maintenance costs. But that should not come at the cost of user experience. 

Apps should exist as a choice. These companies should stop trying to make them the only option and need to actually follow up on their mantra to let consumers "shop anywhere, anytime".

As XKCD has put it very correctly, Flipkart, Amazon IN and others, if you are reading this please just stop. 


03 December 2014

Vaastu Shastra

There are certain tasks that the Indian society expects a person to fulfill - get a good job, get married at a certain age, buy a house, buy a car, have kids etc. So it would seem natural to you that after getting married I have started looking around for a house to buy. It isn't so. My hunt for a house began with a trip to the mall to buy a sofa set.

It should not come as a surprise that I like movies. I have watched hundreds of movies and now that I have means at my disposal I started to improve my movie viewing experience. With TV and audio system out of the way, a comfy couch was all that was needed. So I dragged my wife with me to the mall and started evaluating the over-priced sofas. We hopped and jumped on a lot of them and when the dust finally settled, my heart was with a sofa that was also a recliner, rocking chair, had foot support, was made of high quality dead skin... err leather - the complete package! It also came with a hefty price tag. We came back home to discuss more on whether we can afford it.

With such a hefty price tag, as Indians it is natural to consult your parents before you make such a purchase. In hindsight, it was a mistake. We were lectured as to how important it is to have one's own house before buying such costly furniture. It may get destroyed if we have to shift houses frequently. All of our effort to convince our parents that we won't be flinging sofas around fell on deaf ears. The bottom line was simple - buy a house before you buy that sofa; and I really wanted that sofa.

So we started looking for houses. The one word that you keep encountering while searching for a house is "Vaastu". This is the word that all developers will keep on buzzing in your ears. "100% Vaastu Compliant" makes me wonder if a house can be any other percent compliant.

If you don't already know about Vaastu, you won't know what that actually means. You see its a trick to make absurd house plans seem good. It is a cruel trick played by some people, much like religion, that fools the hard-working population into believing that by following vaastu guidelines their lives will somehow get better. You will be drowned by terms like energy, waves, chi till you give up and accept that it is good thing that the first room in your house is the kitchen as according to Vaastu that is the proper corner for kitchen to be in.

There is no escaping Vaastu. Even renowned builders now draw their floor plans according to Vaastu. When I asked one of them as to why they followed such absurdity instead of following the common sense and architectural guidelines, they answered that no one will buy their houses if they don't follow Vaastu. It is the kool-aid that is now forced down everyone's throat.

Finally I have a humble appeal to all the people out there reading this. If you are planning to buy/build a house, please make an effort to understand if Vaastu really improves your house before you take a decision. If not for ourselves, let's make a better world for future generations (and also a better house).

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

28 July 2013

Remote Keyboard : Wireless Keyboard for your Windows Phone

Download the Remote Keyboard service for you Windows Phone app. You will need administrator privileges on your PC to run the app.

NOTE:

1. Supported OSes are Windows 7 and Windows 8.
2. Your firewall must not be blocking connection to local IP addresses.

18 December 2011

Movie Review : Mission Impossible 4

Mission_impossible_ghost_protocolIf you are going to watch a Mission Impossible movie for emotions, story and nice little subtleties then, and I hate to break this to you, you are at the wrong party! For the past 15 years, people go to theatres to watch Ethan Hunt do stuff that’s not humanly possible. Ethan not only does it but does it in style.

As with other MI movies, Impossible Mission Force (IMF) main agent Ethan Hunt is entrusted with the task of saving the world. The only little twist in the story is the initiation of Ghost protocol, effectively ending any support to Ethan and his gang. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ethan eventually succeeds. But don’t blame yourself if you still get the chills when Ethan cries out, “Mission Accomplished!”.

MI4 is full of action sequences, one better than the other. My favorite scene is when Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) jumps down the Burj Khalifa with little more than a fire hose to support him. The looming sandstorm in the background, in all its IMAX glory, makes it an irresistible watch.

MI4 is also special because it features our very own Anil Kapoor. It’s good to see an Indian actor in a Mission Impossible movie but I think a three-minute long, forgettable role doesn’t do justice to his talent.

Finally to answer the big question: Should you watch this movie? Hell yeah! If you like to be amazed and experience the thrills of being an IMF agent, you should definitely watch it. It will be 133 minutes of your life that you won’t regret.

P.S.- Please watch it in IMAX.

11 December 2011

Hyderabad Reloaded

When I first came to Hyderabad, I did all the touristy things that one is supposed to do when visiting a new city. I was fascinated by the old city charm that Hyderabad exudes but never had I thought that I would ever be living in this city. Strangely enough, here I am writing this, after spending more that six months living here.

Like with yours truly, you have to spend some time with this city to begin liking it. Me being a nerd, the first thing that stood out as a beacon of hope during the initial dark days here was the internet connection provided by Beam Telecom. I have lived in quite a few cities of India and believe me nowhere you will get such blazing fast internet speeds at such affordable prices. It’s a pity that Beam is just limited to Hyderabad.

Next thing that deserves a mention here is the Rajnikant-style driving practiced here. Crossing a road, travelling in an auto-rickshaw, driving a car/bike, everything here gives you an adrenaline rush! You just don’t mess with Hyderabad drivers.

Lastly my Hyderabad experience would be incomplete if I don’t mention the amazing colleagues that I work with. Its only because of them that I have learnt to play Foosball and Mafia – two amazingly addictive games, Try them at your own risk.

Finally although I hate to admit it but after some initial hesitation I have actually started liking this city. Why this Kolaveri, Hyderabad? Smile

18 November 2011

Movie Review – Rockstar

There are some movies that take themselves seriously and then there are some that make a fool of themselves (think Dabangg). Rockstar falls into neither of these categories and thus despite being a movie which could have a lot of potential finally ends up making a mess of itself.

At a running time of nearly 3 hours, I have a lot to nitpick about the movie but  to be fair let’s list down some good things first. The music by A.R. Rahman is fabulous and fresh as ever. The songs reflect the pain, anguish and rebellious nature of a true rock star. Secondly, I was glad to see Ranbir Kapoor come out of his shell and really give the performance of his acting life till date. The (supposed) pain in his eyes looked as real as it could ever be.

Now that niceties are over, lets get down to business. Despite sporting pouty lips and great body, Nargis Fakhri ended up being the biggest disappointment. Frankly, a mannequin would have acted better than her. She is such a disaster that in some scenes which are supposed to be serious and heart-breaking, the audience in the theater was laughing.

The story is convoluted to such an extent that many of the scenes seem improbable. Janardhan Jakhar, a.k.a “J.J.” which was shortened to Jordan (go figure!), is a wannabe singer who seeks advice from his college canteen owner and ends up seeking pain as apparently it is essential to become a rock star. As a rock star, J.J is supposed to do some outrageous things but his only claim to fame was stalking a married lady. Such is the hypocrisy of the movie that in the song “Sadda Haq”, which is supposed to promote freedom, the banners of “Free Tibet” were blurred. There are many bigger flaws but I don’t want to leave spoilers here.

Did I mention the running time of 3 hours? The act of hero addressing the heroine as “Jungli Jawani” can amuse for only so many times and the length of the movie ensured that it crossed that limit.

So the big question dangling before you is whether you should watch the movie? If you are a die-hard Ranbir fan or have nothing better to do then it definitely worth a watch. I am not too sure if you would want a re-run. Winking smile