jay's old blog

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medium downsizes – we have been living in ad world for a while now

Content Management Solutions or simply CMS, is a web based software that allows easy management of content. There are many types of CMS. Stuff that is companies big and small are a different kind of CMS. Stuff that is used by everyday folks like cooks and students and consultants (like myself) are a different kind of CMS. Here, I am writing about everyday folk CMS. 

A popular CMS that most of us (at least those who read tech stuff, even casually) is wordpress. Wordpress started off as a blogging software but it can be used for so many things. Wordpress provides for free blogs, and google provides for the same and other companies also do so. This blog is powered by a software called BlogEngine.net. The point is, there are so may CMS’s. Then, there are the ‘new and cool’ CMS stuff like medium.

I had heard about medium a while ago. If you look at any of their ‘mediums’, it looks completely out of the world. It looks super cool and it just looks grand. However, a few minutes after spending on any medium site, I realize that it is, at the end of the day, just another blogging platform. It has some neat layout and a highlighting feature (which to me, is distracting than anything else, just like it is in Kindle) and some other neat tricks. Still, below all that, it is just another blogging software, at least as far as I am concerned. I may have made a snap judgement here, but that is my opinion for now. 

Today, I mention medium because they are downsizing. According to the blog posted by the owner of medium, it is because of the ad ecosystem on which almost everything on the internet seems to run. Since that is how the system is built, there is a certain impact it has on the services provided. It impacts how content creators make money in the first place. 

I kind of agree with that blog post. 

Today, the internet (and the many services, and the mobile apps that work with it) have the ‘free’ system. Stuff that we use everyday like search (Bing – you might be using Google), email (Outlook – you might be using Gmail or Yahoo or Rediff), cloud (OneDrive), social networks (Facebook, Instagram), chat (Messenger, Watsapp) and operating systems (Android) and so many other things that I cannot recall now are simply ‘free’. 

Now, free is good. Like everybody else, I like free stuff too. Yet, this creates a problem when someone comes along gives something better and asks for money, we simply refuse to pay. That’s because, an entire generation (folks who reached their teens after 2005) has now raised with the impression that they don’t have to pay for anything that they use. 

The thing is, folks don’t realize that they are paying with their time, and their entire personal lives. Folks who do realize are just fine with their lives being profiled. Either way, the winner are the companies that own these platforms and the companies that can afford to pay for advertising space. This is why almost all apps are now pay to win, and have all sorts of ads. This is also the reason why almost every news site has so much ads that sometimes its difficult to figure out where the content starts and where the ad ends. 

This hits journalism and content creators more than anything else. Article content and headlines have no choice but to be ‘attractive’ even if it is not supposed to be like that. This is what is called click bait. If folks don’t click on the link (on Google and Facebook, the two main drivers of the internet) they don tread the content. They don’t read the content (which is mixed with ads) the site that owns the content wont make money. The cycle repeats itself. God help those sites that are behind a pay wall. It’s either stupidly easy to beat the paywall or folks simply find an alternative and Facebook/Google are only happy to point the user to alternatives. 

This is the issue that medium discusses in its blog post. Medium (I still maintain that it is simply a blog engine with a glorified and extremely cool user interface) is trying to create a platform that will give quality content that is not, well, click baity or articles that are simply ads disguised as content. Medium was swimming against the current, and it is losing. They have lost 25 % of their staff, and I wont be surprised if Medium shutters completely in a few years.

It’s the year 2017 now, and folks who grew up using free things on the internet will not start paying now. Free will always win. This has far reaching ramifications (and in some cases, the circle is already completed) for all of us. Content as we know it will disappear. Companies and the people who build stuff like medium will have to quit or give up altogether. 

To me, that is a scary world, but I guess, this is one of those things that just happen. It’s how it is, and we simply have to embrace it, pick up the broken pieces, throw the pieces in the recycle trash bin and just, live with it.

Uber and it’s drivers – My driving partners

Life in the big city is always tricky. As someone who lives and spent a major portion of his life in a relatively minor city such as Mysore, working in the big cities such as Bangalore, New Delhi, Mumbai and others is always a little imposing. Ignoring all the other stuff that comes with big cities (high cost of food, crime rate, lingual and cultural differences), perhaps the most scariest part has to be travelling within city. Big cities grow too fast for their own good and public infrastructure is always playing catch up to growing demands. 

That is why, services such as Uber are so important. As I keep adding months to my consultant experience, I allow myself that luxury of being able to pick and choose my assignments. The whole process of choosing an assignment depends on dozens of factors and the availability of Uber has become an essential factor. Since Uber started in India, I must have taken over a 1000 trips. Yeah, that is not a typo.

There are alternatives available but I prefer Uber as my driving partner for a number of reasons. First up, my quantum of trips along with the large amount of data mining that a big company like Uber almost certainly does means my business history is available to them. That means, by design or by accident, I almost always get priority customer support. The priority customer support (something that I enjoy from my bank and other service providers I use so regularly) is something I enjoy. 

Then there is the fantastic professionalism that Uber has maintained despite cut throat competition. It will be a year or two until the app based taxi services industry matures. One of the first things that go down the hill in a cut throat business is professionalism. The user interface of the app itself is great and there is a certain consistency to its fairs as well as the driver behavior. 

The driver behavior…and the drivers! Ah, that is the best part is it not. While I am something of a loner in my life (I have like may be five friends) I am not an introvert. Heck, I would not pick a career as a consultant if not for my ability to strike up conversations with completely random strangers. The drivers, are folks who are almost always, extremely chatty. Of course, it takes a certain level of understanding to actually keep an open conversation with them and it just so happens that I am expert in that. 
During the dozens of conversations I have with the drivers every week, I get so much. I learn about the local news, politics, government stuff, people stuff and just so many things. Sometimes, I end up talking about software development, and other times, they end up telling me about how cars and the taxi business works. Other times it is the constant complaints about the traffic situation. There is almost always so much to talk about, and when the ride ends, both the driver and I would like to continue the conversation. In these scenarios, if it is the end of the work day, I usually ask the driver to join me for a cup of tea and we end up talking even more. After that, the driver moves on and, well, I will never see him again. It’s one of those classic movie situations where you meet some random person, engage some pleasant words and then they simply disappear. 

If there is one thing that bothers me a lot is how some passengers treat the drivers. A lot of folks seem to think that a driver is someone beneath them. I have heard (and seen) folks literally drive the driver crazy with unreasonable requests. Then, when things escalate, many a times, it is the driver who comes out on the wrong end of the conclusion and arguments. I don’t if the folks who are reading this blog are also Uber passengers but if you are an Uber passenger, just take it easy with the driver. Like you and me, he is a tax payer who also wants to do his job.

Elementary – Season Two – Studying the condition that is Holmes

Season One of Elementary was mostly about setting up the situation for this modern take of Sherlock Holmes. I have already written about the first season, and when things ended, the two consulting detectives – Sherlock and Joan – had a nice chemistry going on between them. 

In Season Two, the crimes are just as fascinating as they were in the first season. The situation is presented, and the two consultants look over the clues and figure out what is happening. The dynamics between the leads has been slightly tweaked. The focus is now on Sherlock taking on Joan as some kind of apprentice. Teaching her new things, and allowing her to become a detective on her own right. Along with this, there is also a lot of focus on what he will do to about helping others become sober from the drug habit, something which he himself has suffered from. He has reached a point where he himself is sponsoring other recovering addicts. The theme is all about Sherlock passing on his knowledge as well as sobriety to other people.

The season continues to introduce classical characters with their own twists. This is similar to what they did with Moriarty. Now we have a very different and rather selfish Lestrade. The other two police officers, Gregson and Bell continue to have a nice relationship with Sherlock. Another complaint I had with the first season was that there was no season wide arc. We still don’t have that since there are no mega villains pulling the strings, yet. However, the last few episodes run really fast with surprising twists and a satisfying arc. The show’s take on the Holme’s family is also interesting and I am looking forward to where this goes in the next season. 

As with the first season, the analysis of Sherlock Holmes as a condition, rather than a character continues. This time, the focus is on how, an individual with such unique abilities and outlook about life will fit in to the conventional system. This was always an element in the classic stories as well, but here, the entire season is dedicated to it. In fact, the drug habit that he has is directly linked to what will happen if Sherlock loses access to the people around him. In one of the episodes, Sherlock says that not having another person like him is something that he is worried about a lot. That particular sequence is acted and shot very well, and while it can be funny, it is also heart breaking because it is true for a lot of people. 

The season ends on an odd cliff hanger where in, the relationship between Sherlock and his protégé Joan, changes drastically. Watson realizes that being with Sherlock all the time means that she wont have a life of her own. Obviously, this hurts Sherlock and it is hinted that this is what he was always afraid of. If the support system around him crumbled, that would test his drug habit like crazy. In an odd way, it also shows how different this Sherlock his compared to the classic stories. In the classic stories, the Sherlock did depend on Watson as a friend but the lack of Watson did not bother all that much. When Watson decided to leave for his domestic life, Holmes continued to work his assignments.

This Holmes, is more human. In Season 3, how will things pan out for this more human, Sherlock. Guess I will watch and find out.

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Nintendo Switch might just be my first modern console

Yesterday, Nintendo finally provided more details about its latest console, simply called the ‘Switch’. They did announce it a long time ago, but only now are we getting some more concrete details like the pricing, supported games and other stuff. 

Now, the console market has three major players. Obviously, Nintendo is one of them. Then of course, Microsoft (Xbox) and Sony (Playstation) are the other two. When Nintendo released the Wii, it redefined itself from the Xbox and Sony. While Xbox and Sony went after the traditional couch gamers, Wii did something different. It tried to engage the entire family, and succeeded. With those super cool controllers and all those simple games, Nintendo left the ‘couch gamer’ with all their high resolution, hard core first person shooter and adventure games aside. It went after fun, simple games with simple resolution displays. After that, Nintendo was in its own domain, leaving Xbox and PlayStation to fight it out with each other.

For a while, Wii was great. Families could finally get together and game. Folks got off their couches and just played. Then, Wii U was released which simply could not replicate the success of Wii. The family folks dumped their Wii but did not really upgraded to Wii U. It got less press, less attention and finally, less games.

Now, Nintendo, decides to continue what it started with Wii. It still has no intention of getting back to doing what Xbox and PlayStation. With Switch, it is betting on people being mobile. I am always mobile, and…I love it for that! The last time I played on a TV were those chinese made cartridge based game consoles. That was pretty much. After that, the new generation of consoles came into play and they were just too damn expensive. It all started will Xbox, then the Xbox 360 and now Xbox One. Each time, the consoles were simply way too expensive. First, my parents could not afford it. Now, I can afford it but I simply don’t stay at one place. I could go online and place an order for an Xbox One now, and it would be delivered in less than 3 days. 

That is why the Switch is so important. I am sure, my situation is not unique. Folks are on the move lot more than they were a few years ago. Thanks to the presence of internet, like everywhere with 3G and 4G coverage even in a country like ours, gaming has truly gone mobile. A case can be made that a high end tablet (like the iPad or some of those expensive Android tablets) should do the trick. It’s true. Android does have excellent gaming support, but most of the games are designed for ‘free to play’. Complete experiences are very hard to come by. Even, its touch and no matter how much technology improves, precision (at high speed) will never happen on touch screens. 

Switch solves that problem because the controllers are part of the tablet. So, I can have that precision that I so badly need. I can also connect the device to a television and get a big screen experience. And, if I don’t feel like holding the entire tablet, I could simply let it rest on a stand and use the detachable controllers and game on. It sounds like a dream gaming scenario. I can actually play when I feel like, and that is awesome. 

Now that I have made the decision to get it, one needs to look at pricing. Electronics in general cost a lot more than they do in their origin country. For instance, the Xbox One costs 300 dollars in US, but the same device will cost at least 450 dollars here in India. I do not know why the prices are always so high but since the price difference is constant across different brands, guess it has something to do with taxes and duties imposed on them. The Switch has a launch price of roughly 300 prices. Based on current comparisons, I suppose the device will cost about 25000 to 30000 rupees. Personally, I feel that for what the Switch offers, it is a reasonable price. While the Switch will release in a lot of places in March, I don’t think it will come to India in March. 

Perhaps by Jude, it should arrive. God willing, I will be an early owner of the Nintendo Switch.

Economic Policy Effect - Layoffs and Employment Challenges

The economy of any nation is a complicated web of interconnected links. One disturbance at one distant corner will have impact on the entire web. Similar one 'good thing' at another corner, will create impact on the entire web. That is how it is, and that is how it should be.

As of this blog writing, my country, India, is going through some changes, economic situation wise. A huge chunk of our currency has been declared not-legal tender. Reclaiming this tender involves exchanging to new tender or coverting it into money in number form, like at the bank account. Enough digital ink has been spilt about the inconvenience as well as the convenience of this policy, so I wont add much to that.

My job (as I say again and again) involves meeting a lot of people. Students who are still in college to people who have graduated but looking for an opportunity, those who are currently employment but looking for a change of scenario, and those who are simply planning for the future even if they are doing alright. All these folks meet me and sometimes I run into them. Other times, I simply go on social media and see what might past students are doing, and how they are faring in their lives.

I have had my thougths about the new economic policy had affected my former students, and it just happens that I got to meet two of them, and each of them had stories that reflected my views. One student who completed training by me, informed me that he/she is not going to put down her papers. It goes without saying that he/she was considering doing that earlier. Another student said that, he/she has been simply...let go. Both of these individuals were reasonably bright and had sufficient skills. Yet, they both find themselves in a relatively less nice situation.

The reasons given by them are that companies in general dont have work to give them. The reasons, my guess, are many. Although IT is part of the formal sector of the economy, some of its clients might still be cash based. This is not unheard of. I have heard of folks walking in to a BMW car dealership and buying their most expensive cars wtih bags of cash. That being the case, These cars cost crores, so it is entirely possible many clients were indeed dealing in cash. Another issue could be with start ups. All startups depend on investor money rather than actual revenue to manage their company. That is what start up means. When the investor quits, the project is paused or shut down, and the folks are now without employment.

These customers and investors who are pulling out, they may not be doing it because their money was earned in the wrong way. It is quite possible that they are doing it because of uncertainty. The current economic policy is something that is radical and new. There are no case studies about how it will play out. Everybody from the so called common man to the industry experts are making guesses. It's the future, so lots of things are up in the air.

When such uncertainty exists, folks need to adjust their plans. My student who has decided to stay put, will probably have to stay that way for another 6 months to 12 months. The other student who was laid is probably looking at a job hunt which will extend the same duration - 6 months to 12 months. It goes without saying that I am doing my part in making things easier for them, either via giving them additional training and helping them with job references.

Obviously, I also gave them advice about what they could do, while they wait. As I always keep saying, it all comes down to skill and experience. The economy will go up, and it will come down. If you wish to survive, you got to have skills. A cocktail of skills will ensure that you can apply yourself in multiple sections of the economy. Further, these skills need to be above what is currently available in the industry.

Lastly, planning for good and bad stuff. This can ony happen if you have people in your life - mentors (those older folks who have been doing this for a while) - who can advise and guide about being prepared. Of course, it follows that you actually have to listen to your mentors. There were a couple of times when I ignored my mentors, and things went horribly bad for me. Of course, I later went back, parked my ego aside, apologized and accepted my fault. So yeah, listening to mentors and following up on their advice can go a long way in avoiding disastrous scenarios.

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They are not making tablet computers anymore

A tablet computer or simply tablets, have been around for a while now. When Apple (10 years ago) introduced the iPhone, it completely changed the landscape of phones. Then, it did it again with the iPad, that completely changed how we could get things done in a new device that was a mix of a desktop computer (larger screen, support for keyboard, increased productivity) but with the convenience of a smart phone (portability, app store, touch screen).

Today, Apple is still the king of tablet making. Obviously, the legion of Android manufacturers go where Apple goes, and have their own range of tablets. All this is good and fun, but things were strangely different when I finally decided to grab one of these bad boys for myself. I found out that many companies simply have stopped making tablets, and there was little choice, if there was any at all. The tablet market has...matured, and has changed drastically.

Oddly enough, the cheapest and decent (at least a 1080 p screen and actually good processor) was from Apple. Can you believe that? Apple making the cheapest product in a given category? Strange world. Despite the low price, buying a tablet (or for that matter, even a phone) is kind of suicidal for a power user or even a casual user. The thing is, Apple steadfastly refuses to allow usage of SD cards. Sure, people in US and Europe and all those modern countries may have super cool broadband access, but here in India, we still have to rely on 'stored on storage' stuff for entertainment. The larger is the storage space on an Apple device, the more insane will the price become. So yes, we dont want to buy Apple stuff. Not yet anyway.

I turned my eyes away from the super attractive apple iPad and looked at the Android offerings. Android has always been the poster child of variations and customizations and give something to everybody. This held true for smartphones (there are phone availabel from as little as 3000 rupees and going all the way up to 70000) and I assumed that they hold true for the android tablets as well. Unfortunately, for me, that wasnt the case at all.

I noticed that there almost all the big name tablet vendors have quit. Taking the 1080 p screen as a minimum benchmark for a decent tablet, there are literally no such tablets being sold at a price that is less than a apple, and has a 1080 p screen. The tablets that are sold fall into two categories. Cheap tablets that cost less than 10000 but have pitiful specifications (like no 1080 p screen) or super expensive ones that cost more than 40000 which are simply not practical to buy.

I looked at myself, and wondered I wanted to buy a tablet. As I have explained in the earlier blog post, I had a niche requirement of a tablet for writing my blog and novels. So, I decided to buy a cheap as salt tablet and now I am blogging on it right now. If not for this writing hobby of mine, I am quite content with my Oppo phone which meets all my other entertainment as well as productivity needs. In other words, the android smartphones have cannibalized their own tablet shaped brothers.

Why would anyone buy (and carry) a 7 inch tablet (the most popular size among tablets) with them when their phone is already 5.5 inches (the more popular screen of phones these days) and can do everything tablets can do. Since people are not buying tablets, there is less innovation in the tablet category. As I said before, the tablet specs are just pitiful. Another reason I could think of is that, tablets dont need to be replaced as often as phones. I have no choice but to buy a new phone every 10 to 12 months because I use it a lot (the mobile nature of my job) and wear them out. A tablet, on the other hand, wont wear out so fast. So, they get replaced less often.

Then, there is the windows 10 factor in play. Tablets are mostly brough for productivity (since phones, and their big screen have gobble up all the entertainment and communication part) and windows 10 is finally making its presence felt. Windows 10 tablets are cheap, they have support for any and all productivity software. Also, they work flawlessly on cheap and expensive hardware, and Microsoft has actually done a good job of selling Windows 10. If not for the fact that some of the apps I need are not available on windows 10, I would have sprung for a cheap windows 10 tablet than the cheap android tablet I am using solely for blogging and writing.

For tablets, they are fighting a two front war. On one side, their own brothers i.e. android phones, are eating into their share. On the other side, Windows (which was desktop only) is now becoming totally mobile (as far as productivity is concerned), is also eating into their marketshare. Essentially, they have become a niche category like health bands and smart watches and other things only some people will need, and every body will never care for them.

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Microsoft could be that company that finally nails VR

Virtual Reality or VR is the next step in entertainment revolution. The television, except for incremental updates like the upgrade from black and white to color, dome to flat screens, CRT to LEDs and LCDs, more pixels and then even more pixels, mood lighting and so on and so forth.

Despite all this, at its core, TV hasn't changed much. We still sit in front of a 2 dimensional screen and look at things. Sure, when James Cameron did that thing which he does every decade, and released Avatar (and then got busy to make 2000 sequels to it), the TV folks jumped into the 3D bandwagon. Every company started selling 3D televisions. Of course, most of them forgot that there wasn't any 3D content to consume because, although I love Avatar, there is only so many times anybody can watch it. So yeah, the TV  companies were selling empty ice creams with no ice cream in it. One thing did not lead to another thing, and eventually, nobody bought 3D stuff and those who did realized that they have been made chumps. Early adoptors!

Now, VR is here. It sort of has been for a while now. There is the Oculus Rift, which for some reason is currently owned by Facebook. There is HTC Vive, and god knows HTC is betting the farm on this, after losing the mobile battle. Google has its Cardboard. Samsung has its Gear VR, which for some insane reason works only works with its own phones. There is Playstation VR. Even as I type this, I realize how crazy and messy the situation has become. It reminds me of the VHS and Betamax battle. Of course, the HD DVD and the Blu Ray war.

I dont know why but sometimes, companies need to stop confusing the consumer with too many options. Even if I could afford the expensive VR stuff from Sony or Rift or HTC, I wont buy them. I dont know which of them will win this VR format war because then, like the owners of Betamax and HD-DVD, I dont want to stuck with something that will become rather expensive paper weights.

That is why, as shown at CES, the foray of Microsoft (rather, it's many many hardware partners) into VR with windows. Sure, Microsoft lost the mobile battle and it hurt me more than anybody else. Sure, people may think that they can get a lot of work done on their mobile. Heck, I am blogging this on my tablet right now. Still, when you want real work done, you will have to turn on your PC. As long as folks wish to get real work done (and that is a lot of people) Windows and Microsoft is not going anywhere. That is why, I am happy that Microsoft has decided to provide the platform for VR. This is an ideal situation to be in because Microsoft is very strong when it comes to providing the software, and allowing its hardware partners to do the actual stuff building. In fact, CES this year had VR hardware from all the usual PC makers like Dell, Lenovo and such.

I like this for a number of reasons. One reason is that it's Microsoft. The company that knows (after some mistakes) to build solid software. The other vendors like Rift, HTC and Sony wish to control the entire ecosystem. Microsoft VR does not do that. So, all the partners win. Tomorrow if Dell gets out of the VR game, folks who invested in it can look elsewhere and ensure that their investment continues to have value.

The next reason is cost. Windows VR appears to cost a lot less than its peers. Most headset that work with windows VR are looking at prices around 300 dollars. These are simply preview prices. Once the thing hits the market, innovation and scale should reduce it further.

The next reason is the neccessary hardware. Microsoft (and it's Windows 10 OS) are promising that their vision of VR is going to work off onboard graphics card. Stop and think of that for a minute. Currently, almost every VR solution requires dedicated hardware. This applies to everybody from Samsung to Sony. Microsoft is saying that if you have decent laptop or PC (which will have some kind of a onboard graphics solution), it is VR compatible. That means, what you probably already have, is enough to get VR. The only investment is the VR headset which is still cheaper than others.

The final reason why Windows VR makes sense is because, I dont think VR is for mobile. VR, like 3D before it, depends on pushing two sets of videos but with a lot more pixels pushed into the screen. The VR headset then combines these two imags two create teh expected virtual reality stuff. This also means, completely becoming blind to what is in front of you. So, could I ever use VR, say in a public place or at office or at the mall or at the coffee station or any other place where I simply whip out my phone to watch a vide? I really doubt that. It would become a safety issue. Further, it also means, I am going to look like a complete dort. My poor choice of clothing already does that dorking for me. I dont need to strap on an accessory to further that impression.

All this means, VR is best suited for use at home. Home where we have a PC. Unlike phones, a PC has access to some fantastic processing power. It also access to continous power supply. It also has access to storage space. All the stuff that is a huge issue for mobile VR.

So yeah, I think Microsoft may solve the VR problem for all of us. Of course, it may not. Either way, excited times lie ahead of us.

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Automation and Self Driving - Part 2 - Gift of Time

Previous blog post 'Where will the drivers go". This is a continuation of that.

At the end of the automation - in any form - is about the gift of time. I will take two examples from my own life.

Before the examples, lets look at what automation at its most basic definition means. Automation is anything that reduces the total time required to get some work done, usually through 'automating tasks' or by eliminating components required to get work done. For instance, the automatic water dispensing tap at the bathroom. The activity of opening and closing the tap is eliminated, and that would be the automation. Another example would be the smartphone automatically connecting to the office Wi-Fi once it knows that it is within range.

So, coming to my own work example. A few months ago, I upgraded from a basic Microsoft wireless keyboard to a Business/Advanced Microsoft wireless keyboard. The advanced keyboard cost me twice of what the basic keyboard did. The benefit is that, the basic keyboard worked off a dongle. The advanced keyboard has built in wifi. Thanks to this, one, I no longer need to carry a dongle, which reduces maintainance on my part which is 'the plugging' of the dongle. Also, carrying o the dongle. Increased usage because mobile devices usually dont have dongle support by default. Thanks to this 'automation', I am saving a lot of time, which translates into more 'time'.

A second example of automation would be commuting via taxi, specifically app services such as Uber. In any given month, I spend a fortune on Uber. Alternate commuting options would cost me perhaps 1/4th or even 1/8th of this fortune. However, these alternatives would mean that I am actively involved in the actual act of 'commuting'. By opting to spend this small fortune, I 'automate' the process of commuting. There by, giving myself, more 'time'.

Time, in the entire plane of existence, is perhaps the only commodity that is avaiable to each and every one of us. Rich and poor, and everybody else who is stuck in the middle. This time could be utilized efficiently or mundanely, which is dicate every aspect of our lives. Automation is the key to reducing the amount of time we spend everyday on our daily activities. For instance, I could spend 4 hours in grocery shopping by visiting the local store. Alternatively, I could spend 30 minutes on a grocery shopping app, and get the same work done, and allow myself '3 and half hours' which can be used to do something else.

That is where we come back to the automation that is happening in the world of technology. The thing about automation is, every time someone saves some time, someone else is losing a comparable money. When I decide to spend less time at the super market, collectively, it will lead to the loss of at least some employment. That is the truth about automation. When ATMs came, the bank tellers lost their job. When online retailers became popular, the store keepers lost theirs. Now that Netflix is popular and everywhere, it killed the entire rent DVDs industry. In each case, someone decided to automate something that was done by people and replaced it with machines. The internet killed the library and it continues to kill so many other things. Alas, that is why it is called 'march of technology'. It cannot be stopped. It could be stalled or post poned but cannot be stopped. Not without significant sacrifices with the cheif sacrifice being time itself. The one commodity that wont come back once it is gone.

When this automation reaches the auto industry, and it will, scores of people will lose employment. Anyone who was hoping for employment in the driving business will never even get to taste it. It would wither away except in a niche area, but niches are just that niches. They dont generate a whole lot of employment.

Automation in auto industry is just one thing. These things, they happen in collections. The automation is happening in software technology too. I keep saying that each day, technology becomes complicated with more being done with less. A few years ago, it would taken an army to manage a simple API service. Today, it will take perhaps 2 to 3 developers to build and maintain an API service which can be consumed by millions of devices. That's how awesome things have become. That is how incredible automation is, saving so many man hours that is almost criminal. In a sense, it is criminal because an army is no longer required to get a large amount of work done. If the size of the group is 100, now, thanks to automation, a small team of 3 individuals can do their work. Those 100 (who have no skills that is comparable to these 3) are now unemployed not knowing what to do next.

That right there is the price of automation, and the consequences to developers. As machines become complex (and designed to work small teams), the skill required to work them also increases. The relationship between automation and required skill, rather the ratio, rises exponentially. This is why, as I think about the effect of automation on cab drivers, I think about the effect of automation on developers. As a trainer, I get to meet and interact with hundreds of engineering students every year. Each of them carries with them the hopes and dreams of their mother and father and brother and sister and so many others. Sadly, many of these engineers are no better than what I was 10 years ago, in the old days when automation was less and technology much more simplified.

As the world moves towards automation, simplifying life for people but complicating things even more for developers, what happens to these hopes and dreams? By extension, what will happen to our cities, states, nations and perhaps, the impact on the world itself?

A dark world of unemployment and low pay is what i see :(

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Automation and Self Driving Cars - Part I - Where will the drivers go?

CES is currently live and there is a whole load of information coming in about upcoming products. Some of it, either directly or indirectly, has to do with self driving technology. Technology is almost always about making things better, faster and simpler. More popular technologies usually end up replacing something that currently exists, by doing it in less time and less effort. Last year I had a 2 GB RAM phone, and this year, I will have 4 GB. Last year I had a wireless keyboard with a dongle. This year, I own a wireless keyboard that foregoes the wireless dongle, making my life that much better. This is how stuff works and that in turn makes other stuff better, and life evolves.

A similar evolution is taking place (at least in the big cities) in everyday life with app based taxi services such as Uber and Ola. As a everyday user of these services, I know a thing or two about. For one thing, the invisible hand of a larger company ensures that I am guaranteed a minimum standard of experience. Thanks to this, Of the 1000s of times I had to commute in the last 2 years, I may have had to travel by auto or regular taxi only a handful times. Today, the auto and regular taxi stuff still exists but I wont use them, instead opting to go with app based taxi services. As a result, a few years down the line, I imagine that the regular auto and taxis will completely dissapear and all we will have are app based services. This is even more evident when one sees that many existing taxi chains (who worked on a phone based or road hailing based) are either closing shop, trying (and mostly failing) to upgrade to a app based model or staying float only thanks to government based regulations and protectionist measures. One way or other, the app based model will probably win out, simply becuase it is convenient and frankly, more innovation and hence a higher chance of success.

Irrespective of who wins (app based or the old fashioned taxis), one thing is for certain. Commercial driving is poised to grow and it will continue to provide employment to people who have, perhaps, no other option. I use Uber like about 20 to 40 times a week, and I also tend to be pretty chatty. The drivers are by default chatty, and most of them or men in the age group 20 to 40. Many of them have limited education, and have migrated from the allure of city life and better earning opportunities. Commercial driving makes sense to them becuase of its low educational as well as skill requirements. Getting a drivers licence only requires basic education, so almost anybody and everybody has it. Further, obtaining a car is also easily done as the car itself acts as a collateral, making it easy for financing institutions to work with it.

The main appeal of app based services such as Uber (and by extension others such as Ola) is that they dont want people owning their own cars. Uber's propsition varies depending on the country it serves. In India, it tries to position itself as the company that provides 'a driver' for the middle class Indian who likes to be the boss who travels in the back. In Middle East, it positions itself as that company that will safely transport the women becuase women arent allowed to drive. In the developed nations, it talks about stuff like reduced traffic, pollution, parking space, debt (of owning a car) and whatever other things that bother the high income life of the wesetern economies. All in all, right now, Uber wants to have a lot of drivers under its payroll, who will ferry millions (and some day, billions) of passengers from point A to point B. Of course, let us not forget that Uber by itself does not own a single car. At the end of the day, it is a platform like Amazon. Each driver owns his own car, which shifts a substantial risk from the cab company (which is Uber) to the individual driver. Despite this shift of risk, perhaps the biggest expense for Uber are it's large collection of drivers, the same folks who bring in the money.

Folks who own shares in Uber (and Uber is, and continues to be, one of the most valuable companies in the world) are constantly thinking. Thinking about what? Increasing profits of course! They will have a keen eye on this autonomous driving technology. For all we know, many of them probably have direct stakes in these companies that are developing the driving tech. Ealier, rather than later, we will have self driving cars on that road. That would (or already has) give the obvious idea that their biggest cost on the balance sheet is the 'human' i.e the driver. If the driver is eliminated, imagine the cost savings!!!

Come to think of it, stuff like this has already happened. I remember when I was a kid, ATMs were going up everywhere in and around India. Before the advent of ATMs, a standard Indian bank branch was filled 'bank tellers' like crazy. Despite the low penetration of bank accounts in our country, those who did were still a large number. Folks would visit, and stand in serpentine queues in the bank to withdraw cash alone. The large is the bank, the more tellers would be sitting and doling out cash. Private banks had smaller queues and government banks had longer queues. Some would say, 'going to the bank to withdraw' was almost like a social event. You go there, spend half a day, and then return by evening with the cash you wanted. Then, internet finally came to India, and banks realized that they could eliminate most of the tellers and replace them with machines. That's precisely what they did. A scheme called Voluntary Retirement Scheme was introduced (which was a polite way of the banks saying to its long serving employees that they were no longer needed) which was pretty generous by all accounts. A lot of bankers took the offer because they thought it was one simple way to cash out. Further, those were the days when Indian IT industry was booming like crazy. Many who took the VRS had young sons and daughters who had ready jobs waiting for them. Back then, getting a job in software was easy. I myself saw many of my classmates (100s of them) who did not how to write a proper for loop getting plum jobs simply because the IT industry wanted people. It did not matter if they dont know the difference between a constant and a variable. This is an important note because the loss of monthly income for those who took VRS was offset by their sons and daughters who themselves had confirmed employment.

That brings us back to self-driving cars. Once companies like Uber realize that they have an opportunity to cut their 'human' costs just like the banks did, they will do everything they can to make it happen. Just like the banks, Uber will not outright tell its drivers to go home. It will probably 'phase them out' just like the banks did. It will tell them that they are no longer needed in a polite way. Of course, if the polite way is not possible, alternatives will be created. This may happen in 5 years or 10 years. Perhaps much earlier than that. By extension, individuals who wish to own their own car will also take into self driving cars. Eventually, we will have entire populations who suddenly find themselves travelling in a world which is less accident prone that gives the ultimate gift of all. The gift of time!

Continued in the next blog post, 'The gift of Time'.

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There is no ignoring Android, and Google, of course

For a while now, I have become more open to change when it comes to technology. I switched from windows phone to android. No longer have a deep hatred for Google (and its many, many data collection technologies) and related services. Of course, I still refuse to use Google Search but I see that I cannot escape their other services such as maps.

The annual Consumer Electronic Show or CES, is currently under way in the US. CES is where we get a taste of how the world will shape itself in terms of every day stuff. We are talking stuff that people need or perhaps want, depending on where you stand on the economic ladder. I have been keeping up with the barrage of news through my two favorite news sources - engadget and arstechnica - and it is way too much news. This is what geeks like me call a sumptous meal.

As is the trend for the last few years, everyday stuff is becoming smart. Meaning, they are all hooking up to an operating system so that they can talk to the cloud (in the back end) and to an app (in the user end). That is where the topic of this blog comes into picture. The operating system. When Apple released it's smartphone OS, there were two reactions. Some people like Blackberry thought it was joke. Yeah, Blackberry is now pretty much dead. Others like Google woke up. They ran here and there and put together a smartphone OS of their own. Google realized that they are in the 'free stuff' business. Heck, I would say, Google pretty much invented the 'give us your data and we will tell you if you are pregnant' economy.

So, they released Android. The world has not been the same ever since.

Of course, Microsoft did its thing where it acknowledged that it needs to follow the leader. So they tried with windows phone OS. However, poor management of devices and Nokia ensured that Microsoft lost even before it started.

Now, in CES, it is pretty clear that Android is the choice of OS for almost everything. Mobiles and Tablets, they already own it. Then there are laptops running chrome, which are quite alright for essential productivity. Then, android is now powering the televisions (you see how android is slowly but surely conquering the living room, which is where family spend time, and hence, money) and cars are the next logical step. Home appliances will invariably start using android and soon, I guess, everything will run on android.

As a consumer, my concerns are related to the extreme data collection that Google does. Also, you will notice how whenever there is a phone breaking in scenario, you dont really read or hear about how secure Android really is. In fact, Android is open and hence ideal for experimentation. Experimentation also means, there are hundreds of ways to get into stuff. This is pretty much the same scenario with windows on desktops, and hence I wont hold it against android. If something is popular, it is bound to be broken down in so many ways. If you are popular, that is the price you pay for it.

As a developer, I suppose, I will have to get into the android game (I already earn some share of my earnings via android related assignments) a little more deeper than I thought. Popular opinion is that, if you are not in mobile, then you are not going anywhere. More importantly, a myopic attitude (sadly a common feature among tech graduates) is going to be fatal. That means, if anything, I will have to double down on my android skills because that is where the market is heading.

Android will be everywhere, and there is no escaping. If we (developers) dont prepare ourselves for it...things could get pretty ugly, very fast.

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