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Micromax P290 Review

I have had the Micromax P290 for a while now. It is simpler to mention immediately that the tablet is perhaps the cheapest tablet anybody can purchased. It cost slightly less than 3500 rupees (roughly 55 dollars). This wasn’t an impulse purchase for me. As a tech guy myself, I do spend a sufficient amount of studying whatever I buy. It could be a 5-dollar memory card, or a 600 dollar Lumia 1520, I do my homework with diligence.

The idea behind the tablet is simple. You need something that can help you do some light browsing, light app usage (like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video), some light photo viewing, email and other ‘light’ stuff. That is what I wanted, and so far, the tablet meets and in some cases exceeds expectations.

Let’s start off with the build quality which is just nice for such a budget device. It’s light weight, probably because of the cheap materials used. The bezel is super thick, so lot of real estate is lost there. The slot for memory card looks very weak and may break even with the slightest hard push. Although the tablet has been dropped from small heights, it has not broken so far. Obviously, there is no gorilla glass and all that nonsense. We are talking basic display with basic plastic/glass something.

The tablet is comfortable to hold. I don’t use a case, but there are a variety of cases available if you are planning to hold it in the hand for long durations. I mostly just let it lie on the ground (a stand is used for this, and must be bought separately. The case will usually include a stand) but on the occasions I use it in the hand, the grip is firm and good. The back has a nice rough exterior which gives solid grip, extremely useful if you are travelling with the tablet in public transport and want to watch or listen to music on the move.

The screen is just okay. The colors are all washed off, the brightness though is too bright. Even at lowest, the display will light up the entire room like a lantern. Touch is alright, although, the low PPI means, you cannot use this draw and stuff. For everyday usage, the screen is good enough. It has extremely low view angles. Unless you are looking directly at it with the proper inclination, everything will look like ghosts on the screen. That is a bad experience but for 55 dollars, I would not expect much else.

Actual usage, is mixed bag. Assuming only a few apps are currently running, the tablet wont ice up. That means, when I open new apps, I should open the app drawer (the tablet only has virtual buttons, of course) and make sure that I kill the apps running in the background. Forgetting to do this means, if the app start consuming too much memory, the tablet will either crash the app, or the entire OS will crash. That leads to the tablet itself restarting. Another issue is when using memory cards. Sometimes the tablet will fail to read cards, at which point, the screen goes blank. You have no choice but to remove the card, and then reinsert it and wait for the length process of ‘checking for errors’ before you can use the SD card files again.

Most apps run fine. Multiple tabs on Firefox (like up to ten, with videos and content) will work just fine. Netflix works fine, although offline videos will occasionally freeze up. YouTube and other apps don’t pose that problem, so may be, it is an issue with Netflix which did not consider playback issues on low end tablets. Browsing on the web is easy, and mostly works okay. However, there will be a slight delay when the keyboard pops up, but that is just how it is. Speaking of keyboards, the tablet’s Bluetooth works beautifully. More importantly, the tablet works beautifully with my Microsoft Wireless (without dongle) Keyboard and Mouse. I usually use the tablet for a lot of writing, for which I use Microsoft Word for Android. It works great and despite it’s low price, the tablet is good enough for writing simple reports, emails and blogs such as the one I am posting right now. Viewing photos and videos is also alright, but compromises in terms of color saturation is important to work with this tablet.

The tablet maker has cut a lot of corner to reach this price point. From that angle, this tablet is excellent device for casual usage, and perhaps for kids and moms and old people to use. I would give it a 5 out of 5, mostly because it delivers what it promises.

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The Appeal and Non-Appeal Of Becoming A Web Developer

One of the many nice things about being a trainer is that I get to understand what is happening with folks, because when certain technologies are demanded, I get enquiries about stuff they wish to learn. That, indirectly, ties into what are the technologies being used. Over the last few months, the number of enquiries related to building apps that run within a web, in other words, web apps, are picking up speed. I must have dealt with at least a dozen students who asked for some work of web development training which involved either dot net, or one of the many Javascript libraries or a combination of both.

That makes me ask a question, one that gets asked a lot by students, why become a web developer? Alternatively, the question also implies, why not become a web developer? I will try to explain the situation to the best of my ability.

First up, web development is going to only increase in relevance as time grows. That is tied to the growth of mobile devices. Come to think of it, mobile devices are like everywhere now. At the same time, larger screen devices aren’t going anywhere. I use mobile devices, tablets, desktop PC and laptops with varying time spent, to get my work done and earn a living. A lot of times, I am using some variation of the same service to get work done.

That is where web apps become important. The appeal of web apps is that they run using the rules established for web browsers. That thing about web browsers is that they have a web engine, which in turn can work with these rules and regulations (or technology framework or web platform or…well, there are just so many words) and get things to work. This means, as long as this ‘web engine’ is running, the web app would run. This is where all those ‘hybrid’ apps and development tools become suddenly relevant. Hybrid apps are those that are (usually, because the web is such a stickler for using all kind of crazy words without standardizing it first) build using web technologies (HTML, CSS and many many Javascript libraries) and then deployed as apps. You could, technically, build a code, that can then run on the browser, android, iOS platforms with minimal changes.

This is where the opportunity to become a web developer arises. Let’s talk about the good stuff first. Unlike say, android development or windows development or iOS development, the tools needed to learn web development are pretty simple. An old laptop that costs less than rupees 10000 can be used (with some tradeoffs) to learn essential web development. That’s kind of neat isn’t it? When I started windows phone development, I spent a fortune (Windows Pro license, windows phone, a PC that can run the emulator, the developer license) to actually start learning the whole thing.

With web development, the costs of actual development are low. Along with this, the actual time it takes to learn web development is also on the lower side. The bedrocks of web development – HTML, CSS and JavaScript – are quite easy to become familiar with. A decent student, with enough dedication can become familiar enough to write basic apps in a matter of months. Becoming an expert is another story altogether.

With the mobile devices becoming truly ever prevalent and now in everybody and their mother’s hands, there is dearth of work. That means, even decent skills is enough to land some kind of employment. This is all the good stuff.

The two bad stuff, can get pretty sad for everybody involved. There is such a thing called platform diversity. You know how there are so many versions of android that plays havoc with android developers? You know how game developers complain about developing for windows, when compared to building for a Xbox One? Again, diversity of platform is the problem. Now expand that to include the web engine which should run on everything from PCs to mobiles to tablets to mobile devices. Then, there are so many operating systems. Even the same browser will exhibit different behavior on different platforms. Then, screen resolutions that vary like crazy. This is what is called a messed up kitchen, and this is also where you look at things and go, ‘This is Heavy doc!’!!!

As if this is not enough, there must be dozens of JavaScript libraries out there. Every company wants people to use their own library. Facebook wants people to use React JS. Microsoft wants people to use TypeScript. Then there is jQuery, which has its own agenda. Don’t forget the visual enhancements provided by Bootstrap which also does some script work. There is also good old JavaScript which does a lot of things. Then, there are modules that are in turn used by these libraries, and many of them are self-tested with or without update support.

When I think about all this, all I can think of is a house of cards. It gets scary, and that is why developers should be scared. Or at least worried. There is just too much to keep track of, and more importantly, you never when something (like a module, or a library) will suddenly become not available, and then your app simply stops working! This happens with any software, but at least with a windows environment or an android, there is a big company in charge, which can usually provide some kind of a normalcy by fixing things.

With web, everybody owns some piece of something. In other words, when things go bad, nobody will take responsibility or will not be required take ownership. It can get crazy, but the web is a crazy world.

The second problem is an offshoot of the lower learning costs that I talked about. When costs are low, the barriers of entry also reduce. That means, more people will try and become part of the party. When there are too many people standing in queue to join a party (that is looking for employment) the party organizers (in this case organizers) have more choice. More choice means less pay. This also means less security when it comes to jobs. Given the ever changing nature of the web, folks who just finished learning something must be ready to learn again, or else, someone younger, cheaper and equipped with the latest skills will replace them. Heck, automation (the irony being that they were build using these web languages) itself will begin replacing developers!

If you are looking to enter this crazy world of web development, the key is to look at how talented or desperate you are. If it is the former, you will make a killing. If it is the latter, god help you.

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Elementary – Season Three – Accepting Who They Are

I have been binge watching Elementary for a while now, and finally, season three has really begun to start look like the classic stores of Holmes and Watson. They have really taken their time to get here, but I suppose the wait is worth it, although the ending is a bit of a bummer, despite being a very realistic take on things.

Nevertheless, as the season begins, the dynamics of Holmes and Watson relationship has changed. This provides an interesting contrast to the approach taken by how Holmes and Watson approach their jobs. Perhaps at a very young age, Holmes has realized that the genius he possesses and the skills he has learned will not lead to what can be called as a ‘normal’ life. He has accepted this ‘self-sacrifice’ as if it is some kind of reality of what he does. Of course, his addiction and the unexpected company of Holmes has affected his outlook about life, making him more human, which was the whole point of the Season 2 narrative.

Just when he has begun to accept that Watson is his ‘counterpart’ she decides that she is not herself trying to be like Holmes. In other words, she wants to have the so called ‘normal life’. Holmes while devastated, lets her do what she wants. To that effect, he gets a replacement for Watson, which is perhaps the most practical thing anybody could have done in his place. Luckily for Holmes, the replacement herself is single minded about her goals, which are kind of shady but still, she is just the thing that Holmes wants in his life.

As the season progresses, Watson by a cruel twist of fate learns why Holmes has given up on some of things. That was perhaps expected but I was a pretty bad her nevertheless.

Still though, each episode continues to impress with the sort of crimes that are solved in each episode. I would have thought that by now, they would have lost steam, and at least some of the crimes would become repetitive. Unlike the other Sherlock series, this is regular TV drama. That means, there are the standard 24 episodes every year, and some duplication was expected. So far, no such repetition. There is always some room for deductions to be made by Sherlock. There are always impressive dots to connect, and there are crimes that are so obvious, but not until they are actually solved. Each episode, there is just something impressive that can be expected.

A complaint that I have is about ‘visible clues’. The problem comes down to the re-imagining of the character of Watson. In most of the adaptations, it is understood that if Holmes is the sun, Watson is the Moon. At best, Watson can reflect upon things, help Holmes when needed, and even be a bit of a badass. He is the more human of the two which goes well with the ‘calculating mind’ of the other person. This show, perhaps at an attempt at feminism and doing something different at the sake of being different, continues to give Watson scenarios where she is making discoveries. Things that depend a lot of times on stuff that is visible in plain sight and (a big AND) somehow missed by Holmes in the first place.

These are parts that kind of bum me out. Many of these clues that Watson picked up on, but Holmes did not, seem forced in. A detailed mind such as that of Holmes won’t miss such obvious clues. I can only think of two reasons for this. The Holmes character is – out of respect and to keep his partner happy – Holmes intentionally ignores some clues for her to pick up. The second reason is, the premise of the show and its unique factor (among many others) is a female Watson. The show runners have nothing else to do but give her something to do. This leads to a lot Watson seeing something, and then solving the crime based on that. This happens way too often, and leads to questions like ‘how could Holmes have missed that?’. In some ways its bizarre, because it’s just difficult think that a guy has thoroughly inventive as Holmes just miss things with such great consistency. I usually assume that it is the former reason, and enjoy the show anyway.

As is the case with this series, a lot of scenes are dedicated to addiction and cures. Holmes is a former addict but the Watson incident (where she leaves him) has hurt him bad, and he is okay in admitting that. Watson replacement also takes, and even when she was around, she was not as good as Watson. Once the stuff gets boring, and eventually it will, Holmes is smart enough to realize that he will relapse. In season 2, he assumed that Watson will be around for a while, but now she is no longer a certainty in his life. His brother gone, and his father mostly missing in action, and his own refusal to have a family (which would backfire horribly as it did with Watson’s own efforts at a family or relationship stuff) means, soon, there will be nobody to keep Holmes in check.

The show also spends a lot of episodes on trauma. Watson’s replacement is a survivor and her situation is similar to that of what Holmes went through after his addiction. In Holmes case, the situation was self-inflicted but in case of Kitty, it wasn’t her fault. Much of her depiction is pretty serious and when she does what she does, it is difficult to tell if she did the right thing or wrong thing. It happens because it did, and her scenes allow for a lot of interpretation and make up for a lot of good scenes. It was an interesting addition to the series.

All in all, Elementary keeps me hooked. I continue to hope that future seasons will allow the Watson, to become the actual Watson. Also, the ending opens up some interesting possibilities and opportunities for Watson to be just that.  

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Why Does Tim Sweeny Not Love Microsoft and Windows 10

The tech world is going through some serious changes since mobiles became the big Kahuna of everyday computing. Gone are the days of out of the box productivity solutions. Things are more subscription oriented, with people paying for what they use. I myself use subscription services where I pay and pause as necessary. I find it much more economical. That explains all the changes happening to Microsoft, all the more evident with Windows 10, which is perhaps the last final version of Windows.

Like all companies, Microsoft is also putting it's best foot forward to give folks what they want. Most of the time, Microsoft succeeds. A few years Microsoft had this colossal setback of an operating system called as Windows RT. The guy who pushed for it, Steven Sinofsky, probably lost his job because of how badly things turned out for Windows RT. One of the many limitations of RT was that apps could only be installed from the App Store. Obviously, the regular version of Windows also has an app store, but it also allows the standard Win32 apps to be installed just like all the older versions of the Windows.

Now, there is a rumor going on that Microsoft will give that 'app only' version of the OS another go, with something called 'Windows Cloud Edition' (or some name like that). then, Tim Sweeney (from Epic Games, who used to make Gears of War and make the amazing Unreal Game  Engine) goes ahead and says the following.

[in case, the above tweet is not loading, this is what is written - "Windows 10 Crush Steam Edition Looks like Microsoft was waiting till after the election to see if they could get away with their lockdown." (tweet link here)

In the above, he insists that this is Microsoft's mega plan to kill Steam, the online game store. He had made similar claims before.

I am not blindly faithful to Microsoft, despite being a full on Microsoft fanboy. Many a times, I have been unhappy with some of the things they do and express the same. However, this time, I must disagree with Tim Sweeny, here. Windows has had a app store since Windows 8, and that came almost 5 years ago. That means, Microsoft has had 5 years to 'kill' Steam, so to speak. It's not that difficult for the super awesome engineers at Microsoft to figure out what are the necessary things required for Steam to run, push an update and render it unrunnable. Why would Microsoft try and 'kill' Steam now? Now when the Windows 10 store is slightly better than how it was 5 years ago?

More importantly, we are talking about a 'cloud' edition, probably designed to help PC makers push some basic, cheap notebooks and tablets at schools and government offices. It will probably licensed for free (like how Windows 10 is already free for devices with less than 10 inches screen size) and simply given away. The other target market would be Enterprise and Government devices where things are so locked down, employees cannot even install Firefox if the company IT admin does not allow it. in simple words, we are talking about a target customer base which cannot install Steam, even if they want to.

There is also the simple matter that Steam is used by gamers. If Microsoft did try anything to block Steam (which they wont) the gamers would be up in arms. Overall, I just think, this whole not liking Windows thing is perhaps a personal thing. Yeah, that's probably what it is.

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James Cameron finally works on Terminator Again

There are a few moments in my life that I would consider landmark incidents. Incidents that had an enormous amount of influence on what I have become. Some parts about our lives are built into us (like when we enter the pooja room, we automatically remove our foot wear before entering a temple) but others we learn after having an experience (like when we see a cybernetic organism understand the concept of pain).

I had one of those latter things, when I was in my high school and I had an opportunity to watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Back then, my English was pretty good (even in high school, I was already the best speaker in the class) and hence could make out much of what was happening on screen with Hollywood movies. In the 2 and half hours it took for the movie to start and end, my life had changed permanently. James Cameron, I knew then and there, would remain the most admired filmmaker in my life. Cameron paved the way for my movie habit, and today, I am something of a movie buff.

The tricky part is, After T2, Cameron moved on. I went back and watched T1 (which was almost as good as T2) and watched all of his other movies as well (like Abyss, and the super awesome Aliens). Over the years, I have come to enjoy all of his movies, with the exception of Titanic. Like any other young man, I enjoyed watching the full breasts of Kate Winslet many times over, but the ending was just too illogical and stupid for me. And this was back when I still a kid. I kept thinking, why did Leo and Kate just switch places every few minutes and keep each other warm? Then, I forget about the stupidity of it all, and rewind back to the point where Winslet slips into her birthday suit.

Then, Cameron finally made Avatar and I was like, whoa! I must have watched the trailer like a 1000 times, and then movie itself like some 30 times in the theatre. To summarize, Cameron is by far the greatest story teller in the world. Sure, I like other film makers. Michael Bay for his explosions. Nolan for his multi-level storytelling and making Batman totally cool, but also extremely sad. Tim Burton for covering everybody in white paint, and turning things gothic. Still, despite making movies less regularly than these directors, I continue to remain a big fan of Cameron.

That brings us to the main topic. James Cameron gave up the Terminator rights after T2. Personally, I think he had milked that concept as much as he could. T2 already had more than enough plot holes, but the rest of the things (incredible special effects, meaningful character development, and deep thought evoking scenes) took care of things. I have watched and enjoyed the remaining terminator movies (T3, Salvation and the hilariously bad Genesis) but T1 and T2 is what I think is proper canon. The remaining movies are like, cashing in on already cashed cheque.

Now, Cameron has announced that he is getting involved. Of course, right now Cameron is busy making 1000 sequels to Avatar, so he won’t have time to direct or even write the next Terminator. However, he has chosen to work the director of Deadpool, which is good. At best, Cameron might give a story Idea, and Cameron always gives a full story. He is not one of those ‘franchise’ guys. He always gives a proper narrative, like most old school story tellers. That is why I am very excited for this possibility of a new Terminator movie.

Another possibility is the Cameron won’t try to squeeze in Arnold into the script. Despite being pretty old in Genesis, Arnold did his best. It was the shoddy story, poor narrative and endless plot holes that really ruined the movie. I would say, despite the old age, it was actually Arnold which kept the movie together and made it enjoyable to me. However, Cameron will do the smart thing and keep Arnold out of it because, after the silliness of T3, Salvation and Genisys, I can no longer take Arnold seriously. Although Cameron can make some pretty silly stories, he ensures that there is some gravitas to everything. So yeah, I think Arnold will be kept out. Perhaps some sort of cameo would be cool, but that would be expecting too much.

Considering Cameron never works against a deadline (he has been making sequels to Avatar since 2009 and always moves the released date, even after an official release date is announced) so the new Terminator movie might only come around 2022 or 2023. Hopefully, I will still be a movie buff, and still watch it.

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RIP - John Hurt

Got up this morning to find out that one of my favorite actors, John Hurt, is no more. For a movie buff (I am not sure if there is a definition for a movie buff. I watch at least 15 to 20 movies, and almost all new released movies in multiplex, every month) such as myself, an actor's passing (ah, the inevitable conclusion of every life!) is like losing a dear friend.

The first I saw John Hurt in action was in one of the all time classic science fiction movie, Alien. I remember two scenes very clearly from that movie. The first scene is the one where the Xenomorph comes out of the chest, also called as the chest buster. Another is when Ripley does that slow undressing to wear the space suit (a scene which I now believe is extraneous because I cannot think of one 'logical' reason why it was there). What made the chest buster terrifying rather than comedy was the acting that John Hurt did. I watched Alien when I was like 15, and even today, I remember the horror and the rise of emotions that came with that scene. I knew back then, that John Hurt is that one actor, who I will remember for all time.

Obviously, John Hurt is an English actor. That means, he has probably done a lot of theatrical work, and indie movies and other stuff. I dont know much about that because I am more of a 'blockbuster' and 'popular' movies watching kind of guy. However, I always recognize him in his many, many bit roles in both good and bad movies. Almost all the time, his seasons are the most memorable. Along with his obviously awesome acting, his voice is what got to me. That drawling, slow delivery with effective pauses almost gave me that kindly expression that...I kind of wish, my grandparents gave me. I kept thinking, man, if John Hurt would have been my grandpa, I would hear him talk, like all the time.

I remember him from that Wrath of the Titans movie. Then, Harry Potter with that wand thing. Then, the Hellboy movies, which is just super cool. I see now that he was in only a handful of movies, but that shows how amazing he was at his work.

You are super cool, John Hurt...guy. Rest in Peace, man.

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Paytm problems and Issues with Mobile Wallets In General

Given my extreme usage of online services, it was only a matter of time, before I ran into some issue with mobile wallets. I always suspected that mobile wallets will let me down in the hour of need, and I now I have proof. Further, this is an indication that perhaps, it will be sometime before our economy becomes truly cashless, and why, even someone as obsessed about online services such as me, can only trust cash.  

The other day, I was travelling for work purposes, in a city far from where I live. I am talking at least 100 kilometers away. This distance becomes important later. I purchased some cakes worth a small amount of 80 rupees. I asked the vendor if he has paytm, and he said yes. Happily (I am always happy when I get to use digital money, and I have been like this even before this demonetization stuff happened) I whipped out my phone, scanned the bar code, and made the payment.  

I got an SMS, and I also got the successful transaction on my app. As I always do this, I showed the shop keeper that I have paid him. I proceeded to collect my purchased products, but the shop keeper stopped me. He said that he has not received an SMS or any updates on the app. I once again showed him (confirming that it was indeed his phone number, to which he agreed) my phone, the SMS and the paytm app transaction confirmation. The shop keeper refused to take this proof. He said that unless he gets and SMS, or the transaction shows up on his phone, he does not think payment has happened.  

I told him that he must then get into touch with support, and they should solve it for him. He flatout refused, and said that I must pay him in cash. I was on my way to a meeting, so I had no choice but to pay him cash, with the happy assumption that paytm will do a reverse charge. 2 days later, I know now, how wrong I was. 

Sequence of Events

For the sake of easy reading, I have divided the sequence of events as instances of communication. 

Instance 1  

I created a ticket through the app, mentioning the incident.  

Instance 2 

Support folks reply and say that, they can confirm the transaction. The email makes no mention of any of the details (like the confusion with the merchant). So, its clear that they did not bother to read the entire contents of my email.  

Instance 3 

I reply asking them to please look into my issue. I ask them to reverse the charge, after confirming with the merchant that cash has been paid.  

I also asked them for their office address, so I can write a complaint or visit the offices personally if the occasion should arise. 

Simultaneously, I contact their support twitter handle, air my grievance. There hasn’t been any responses at the time of this writing.  

Instance 4 

Support folks reply that, they can confirm the transaction. This is the exact same thing they said last time.  

In addition to that, the support folks tell me that, they are no longer responsible and now I must travel to the merchant (who is like at least a 100 kilometers away) and sort things out with him.  

In other words, paytm wishes to take no responsibility for the incident (they never sent him the transaction SMS and nor did the merchant app update the transaction details) and essentially washing their hands off the whole thing.  

Incident 5 

I replied again, asking them to provide me with their office address, so I can write a letter of complaint. So far, I don’t have a reply yet.  

[I will update the incidents if paytm should choose to respond] 

My Learnings 

I am a big time proponent of online stuff. I have been using online banking since 2006, and since then, everything I do, transactions as small as 10 rupees, has been done online, if the other party agrees. Since I turned consultant almost 4 years ago, I have always said no to cash, even forcing people to pay me online.  

Hence, when the demonetization drive started, I liked it. Now, even sundry purchases with the local shop owner (like tea and biscuits and other small shops and hotels) will take digital money. Still, I always felt that app based services (who don’t have a office to walk into or a phone number to call them directly and speak to a human) can be shaky when it comes to providing support. 

Poor access to support when it comes to say, booking a cab or food or hotel or even products such as phones and computers, are okay. If I don’t like a service provider, I can say good bye to him, and move on. I can ditch said product and simply buy another.  

With money, I cannot ditch money can I? The 80 rupees I lost is a small amount, but will I ever trust paytm with a big ticket purchase? Heck, if anything, I will stop using paytm altogether. However, this comes with collateral damage. Paytm is the biggest mobile wallet player in town. If the biggest player in town shows such ignorance, can we, consumers trust other wallet providers?  

I will update this section if someone from paytm contacts me and resolves the issue. Till then, I will simply have to stop using their services.  

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Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – Review

First up, I must thank Reliance Jio for actually making Netflix and Amazon Prime Video something worth paying for. I say this because the whole point of being a subscriber to a streaming video service is to be able to use it when you want, and to at least watch a movie while on the move. If not for Jio, I (and millions of other customers in India) would be stuck with expensive data usage bills. It would be cheaper to watch a movie at a multiplex than watch a movie on the phone with the pre-Reliance Jio data usage charges. 

Anyway, so yes, Jio is an important factor in me being able to enjoy streaming services. I am clubbing the review to include both Netflix and Amazon Prime because they launched (almost) simultaneously and they are both trying to accommodate the unique broadband situation here in India. 

To start off with, Prime Video is dirt cheap and is far more ‘value’ than, say, Netflix. Prime Video cost just 500 rupees (roughly 8 dollars) for an entire year. That’s less than 50 rupees per month. Of course, Prime Video is part of Amazon Prime which gives other benefits like free shopping (especially if you are like me and order lot of stuff on Amazon). In so many ways, Prime is just too good for the money it is asking. If we are simply judging the services based on the money basis, then Prime wins hands down. Seriously, Amazon wins, just like that. 

Of course, everything is not just about the value for money though. If so, Netflix should have been biting dust by now. It should have been shutdown. Fortunately, that is not the case. So, allow me to continue with this review. 

Let’s start with the apps and accessibility. Both the services provide access via browser and mobile apps. In this way, there are almost identical. Log in to the website and simply play the movie or video of choice. They both provide offline access. They both use some fantastic on the fly compression technology. What does this mean? Well, internet speed cannot be always guaranteed. That means, as the internet speed keeps varying, the video service must adapt accordingly, changing the video quality (resolution, or the number of pixels that is being pushed down the pipe to the mobile or tablet or browser) must also change. The idea is to make sure that 24 frames per second is available on the screen, come what may. In my experience, they both do this, and they are both pretty good at it. 

Speaking of video quality, Netflix takes a completely ‘I will do everything myself’ approach. That means, there is no fine control available to users to decide the amount of data. If the speed is good, Netflix will automatically use up the maximum available and if the speed is bad, Netflix will do the opposite. Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, allows fine control over the quality of content that is delivered. I get to choose the lowest quality of speed available, there by consuming the least amount of data that can be consumed. 

I for one, believe the fine control over movie quality is a good thing. Suppose, I am binge watching at a location that has good network speeds. However, although the speed is good, my data cap is not good. On Netflix I cannot control how much data gets consumed. On Amazon Prime, it is possible to set the playback to the lowest possible setting and hence watch more with ending up in a scenario where lots of data is consumed. Perhaps, this (and club that with the fact that Prime Video costs practically nothing) will be the defining reason why Amazon might win the streaming game a few years now, at least in India. 
So far though, it might appear as if I am leaning towards Prime Video as the absolute winner. Yet, Netflix has two Aces up its sleeve and for good or bad, Amazon has a lot of catching up to do. 

The first Ace is the amount of content. Obviously, Netflix has been in the content game lot longer than Amazon. Hence, the amount of Entertainment that is available in Netflix is much more than what is available at Prime. However, this only becomes obvious if one starts using them both regularly. Prime will run out of new stuff to offer (my guess) after 2 to 4 hours of daily watching, after say, 6 to 9 months. Netflix though, will probably not run out of new content even after 4 to 5 years. Then, there are these Netflix exclusives (and there are a lot of them and there seems to be no end in sight for this Netflix original content) which are actually good. 

Along with a huge collection of content, another place where Netflix shines, is content discovery. Content discovery is a issue no matter where you are. You go to a book store to buy a book, but it’s actually difficult to find a book that you might enjoy. Unless you have some very specific tastes (which mostly people don’t) in life, finding what you are looking for is extremely difficult. The same ‘discovery’ issues happen when you are present with a huge digital movie library.

This is where Netflix beats Prime hands down. Netflix has been in the movie business for more than a decade. Prime is simply the new kid on the block. That is why, Prime’s discovery features are just, extremely simple. Netflix seems to better understand what I want as a user and hence keeps recommending what I would probably like to watch next. Prime, just cannot do that right now. This is sort of ironic because Amazon happens to be the world’s largest retailer and hence, knows a lot of stuff about tracking customer behavior. I am shocked that they are unable to implement a subset of that algorithm in their video service. 

Lastly, there are the video players that show the movie. In this case, Prime has both a forward and back button, which is extremely useful if one wishes to skip forward and skip backward quickly. Netflix does not have skip forward, and I wished it has. Amazon also owns imdb, so lot of information is directly integrated into the player which is sort of neat. Netflix does not have this. 

The big question is, which one to choose. Personally, I like both and I will probably keep both. For those who can only pick one, then it comes to down to amount of watching you might do. If you consume less than a few hours of media every week, then Prime should be good enough. If consumption is more than 20 hours per week, Netflix is the best option. 

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Mi Band Review

My experience with Xiaomi has been mixed up. As I said in one of my earlier blog posts, their products are good value for money but their service ecosystem is just horrible. Of course, I will have to another service experience with them before I can revise my opinion about them. Despite my skepticism with the Chinese company’s service pipeline, I am still open to buying their products, especially cost very less money. 

So, when I decided that I want a health band, I had to look at some of the cheaper options. There were a lot of local players which were offering health bands for less than a thousand bucks (approximately 15 dollars) but Xiaomi was the only one that seems to have that nice engineering and a proper app to go with it. Reviews about it were excellent from the tech press. So, I decided to get the band and I did. 
To my credit, I have the band for 34 days now, and I have not missed a single day of my daily goal (which is 10000 steps, approximately 7 kilometers) so I have used it extensively. I hope that makes me enough of a user to share some solid opinion on the device. 

Let’s start off with the engineering of the device. It has the usual Mi simplicity attached to it. It has great finish, and it is extremely small. It’s less than the size of a thumb, and has a simple 3 point LED indicator. The LED indicator works in multiple ways. It indicates charging and it also indicates goals being met. It’s simple and neat, just the way I like it. 

If I have a complaint, that would be about the rubber band that contains the health tracking device. Mi seems to have lost their cool thing with the rubber band because it is a huge pain to remove and replace the health device with the rubber band. However, the remove and replace only needs to be done once in a month or even once in two months. The battery that is built into the band is just too good. Either the health tracking device itself consumes a small amount of power or the battery is too good. Either way, the battery life on this device is just amazing. A single charge that I did when I bought the device is still powering the band a month later. In fact, I am now worried that I will lose the charger of the band because I use it so rarely.

So far, the band itself works beautifully. The Mi Fit app (which is the other half of the package) is available from the play store. It is not as advanced as the other fitness apps. Still, it has the essentials. It counts the steps. It can be used to set targets (like daily targets) and the band will vibrate informatively when the target is hit. The app also has the option to track running (I haven’t tried tracking that yet) or the option to track sleeping (another thing which I am yet to try). Still though, the walking tracking part of the device works beautifully, so the other stuff should work just as fine. The app also has a neat history tracker, and weight tracker. It is simple but it is useful. 

The band does get uncomfortable over long durations of usage. Which means, wearing it round the clock (which is the whole point of a health band I suppose) is ruled out. The rubber material will create sweat and of course, exercising in the sun (which happens a lot) means you have live with the slight tan where the band was worn. 

All in all, I am impressed with the Mi Band. It’s low price, actually utility, the app that completes the picture makes for a fantastic package. Assuming that I continue my (so far unbroken streak of 35 day and counting exercise walk) current usage, I believe that I will probably upgrade to Mi Band 2 in a few months. 

The Little Prince – A book that makes you ask questions about yourself – kind of like the matrix

This year I decided to go out of my comfort zone of science fiction and fantasy and noir, and read something that I would not read otherwise. My mentor gave me a bunch of books and one of them is ‘The Little Prince’. One of the first things I did was not look up the book on the internet. The problem with internet is that, it kind of sets certain expectations which build a perception that has nothing to do with my opinions. 

With a blank slate, I read the book, and finished reading it in an hour at most. I am naturally a fast reader and the book itself is tiny with large illustrations. The narrative is being a pilot who has landed in some unknown place with a broken plane. As he repairs, he runs into this kid with golden hair. They talk and they discuss about pretty much everything under the sun. 

The book deals with pretty much everything. It talks about relationships, mostly. The relationships don’t have to be between people. It talks about the relationship between folks and animals. Folks and money. Folks and responsibilities. About love, friendship and how over time, relationships are built and how they gather momentum. It talks about mistakes being made. It also hints that the same mistakes were also opportunities and how, many don’t see them as such. 

The book also deals with mortality. It talks about women. It subtly hints at their vagueness and their limitations and their own understanding of the world. It also spends a surprisingly large amount of time on predators and preys. The food chain which shows that life is an endless cycle of death and life and death again. 

There is no plot has such. The ending is just as vague as almost every chapter. However, just breezing through it wont get me (or anybody else) far. This is another one of those books that is like the movie matrix. While the matrix has the cool action scenes to keep one engaged and give the brain a gap to relax and chill out, this book has no ‘in your face’ humor. Nothing in the book is obvious, but there are subtle hints splintered all over this thing for folks to interpret. 

I suspect that the book will mean something different to each person, depending on how much of life they have experience. A child might read it like a children’s book. An older might see it differently. Others might just roll their eyes and not go beyond the few pages. Probably because, the book comments on themselves with brutal honesty, in a way only their best friends can. 

I was able to understand some of the life stuff the book had to say. However, I am sure, as I mull over the content in my head over the next few days, I will see that there is more to the book than what is on display.