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The Future Is Good But Only For Those Who Can Afford It




About 7 yeas ago, I was still working as a salaried guy at this company. It was paying bills, things were alright and what not. Around that time, Microsoft (my favorite tech company by far) released (and they keep releasing interesting videos like all the time) a video depicting in the future. The video – Microsoft’s Concept Future Vision 2020-  is available here at this link, and I have embedded it below, as well.



It is the year 2017 now, and we are 3 years away from whatever the video thought would have happened. Unlike Hollywood movies such as Blade Runner (flying cars, humanoid androids, planet exploration and terraforming) or even poorly made Bollywood movies like Love Story 2050 (which for some reason copies everything from Blade Runner to Star Wars to X-men? What!!! Why god why!!!!) these concept videos are made by folks who are considering the future, trying to build technologies that they can sell. Not a movie audience but an audience that wishes to get work done. In fact, Microsoft has an entire website dedicated to future vision of productivity called Productivity Future Vision.

Thus, much of it is plausible instead of fantastical. I loved that video from 7 years ago, and of course, the website has a more recent vision of productivity and has a different video. A lot of things that are in the concept video are already here. For instance, I see a child write something in English and that gets immediately translated to Hindi, on a transparent wall, for an Indian child to understand. The video is obsessed with transparent screens ( transparent screens are not practical, at least not for everyday usage) but otherwise, everything that happens in the video can happen. Some of it, is already happening.

Skype already has live language translation. That means, two folks who don’t have a common language could (with conditions applied) speak to each other, and let Skype do the translation. In another scene, objects are dragged from one screen to another screen. The HoloLens from Microsoft can do it today. Move stuff from say the television screen to the portable screen. A lot of scenes use a ‘wheel’ type input device, which is exceedingly cool. Although the ‘non-physical’ wheel is not real, Microsoft recently started selling something similar called ‘Surface Dial’. For creative work, the thing is incredible and totally awesome. Of course, I will say awesome so many times when talking about the future.

In another video (with similar stuff, available at this link ) a woman steps down from airport and by the time she steps out, the cab is already waiting for her, and at the hotel, the concierge is already waiting for her, and she is already checked in. Then, we see a guy who scans a screen at the metro station and pledges some money (the photo interacts with him like it does in the Harry Potter movies) and then continues onward with his journey. Then that woman (who checked into that hotel) wraps up a report on her tablet, and then sends the finished work to her colleague who then proceeds to create a virtual conference room. This video in particular, almost everything that is done here is already possible.

I love such things because life is about technology and progress is measured by it. If not for the fire and wheel, humanity would have long gone extinct.

While all this stuff is already happening (except for borderless and transparent displays), there is something that the video will not say. Or perhaps, it is not supposed to. When all is said and done, Microsoft is a company that is essentially making advertisements for future products. As I have mentioned above, a lot of things in these videos are already available to paying customers. It may not be as cool as it is in the video but it is definitely a future come true.

Now, this technology is awesome but as with everything, we live in a world that is mostly driven by capitalism. Money helps make more money. That is how the world is designed. Instead of going on and with imaginary examples, I will use my own work desk as an example. Although I hail from a poor family, due to a combination of luck, wanton recklessness and lack of respect for my father’s feelings, I was able to get round the clock access to computers and internet, early on. This was the year 2005, in a small city such as Mysore. People here were paying 60 rupees per hour (an amount that is worth almost 200 rupees today) to use a computer with an internet connection. I had it at my disposal like all time. By default, I had access to technology that a lot of my peers did not have.

The access to technology (and adult entertainment, obviously) completely changed the way I perceive technology. I was already slightly smarter than the average engineering student (yes, totally self bragging here) and this access to information completely changed things for me. I would spend hours and hours pouring our thousands of online articles. Much of this knowledge was organic and without purpose. In some unconscious way, I am probably still processing all that information. Yet, this access to knowledge (thanks to access to technology) completely changed the way I perceived the world around me.

Now, I never wondered why my peers did not have access to the same technology. Most of them had access to a computer, sure. However, most of them were not connected to the internet. Heck, all they did was watch movies and play video games. I did the same but for some reason, I was always obsessed with reading and now, I had the entire world at my disposal. There was so much to read. Eventually, I realized that the reason many of them were not connected was because internet access, back in 2005 was incredibly expensive. It was my reckless behavior and uncompromising stance and dozens of fights with my father that got me access to internet. My father resisted so much (although he eventually gave in) because it was costing him thousands of rupees every month just to get me basic internet access. Other fathers did not wish to spend thousands on internet. My peers did not wish to go reckless and fight for internet access.

At the end of it all, I figured out that, it all came down to money. Back then (unlike today) internet access fell into one of those things that you only buy with discretionary income. In my case, I forced my parents to giving it to me, possibly causing a lot of hardships to them in the process. In fact, the money thing just keeps coming back to haunt every aspect of our lives. I could talk about how better money (most of the time) leads to a better life but I am (as always) limit myself to technology.

The Microsoft videos are about productivity so I will go into the role technology plays in our daily. As mentioned before, the access to internet, completely changed my mind, and the way I look at everyday things. I was using online banking before most people knew what a website was. I was getting products delivered home before folks knew that such a technology was science fiction. That trait that started in 2005, continues in my life, with me almost always using productivity stuff that my peers aren’t using.

One of the first things I do when any assignment starts at a client location is to get a second monitor. I have worked on some assignments in some seriously large companies. It is always disappointing to see people not using a second monitor. Three monitors are almost a rarity. When I discuss with the IT guys, they tell me that second monitors are not offered (I did get mine, and always get because it’s part of my contract) because of cost. The lack of a second screen means a loss of productivity, so imagine the loss of productivity in a team with 200 developers all because the IT has been advised to save some cash? I don’t blame them. Every company (just like individuals) has their priorities and if a rupee can be saved if it can be done.

The same applies to wireless keyboards and mice. Wires indirectly lead to fantastic reduction of property and sometimes even injuries. Then there is the effect of poorly designed keyboards themselves. I spent close to 7000 rupees on my wireless keyboard and mice combo. I had to endure some amount of ridicule from my work colleagues (of course, not directly into my face because I am a senior developer and the architect. They better not openly mock unless they want to lose their jobs) and others who would claim that for the same amount, they could buy 7 wireless ones, or some 20 regular ones. However, my Microsoft Business Keyboard and Mouse comes with tiny enhancements (like the push back buttons on the keys that push back after each key press, the tickaty tackaty sound that makes me feel like a real typist, the clear spacing between the keys, the small size that keeps hand movement to a minimum reducing hand movement and the steel weight that keeps the keyboard in one place) that takes my productivity to a whole new level.

Essentially, this access to improved technology (which comes at a hefty price) allows me to work better and save time. Time that can be utilized elsewhere for something else. I could be saving as little as 1 minute, but that is still 1 minute saved. There is also the major side effect. Expensive productivity tools such as these last way longer than basic keyboards and mice, and they also endure less wear and tear and less downtime due to repairs. Of course, these bad boys don’t even need a dongle so when I am working across multiple PCs and tablets, it is so much easier to use them. Again, massive improvement in terms of productivity.

If I were to extrapolate this experience (expensive keyboard and mice equals improved productivity) imagine what people with access to technology as depicted in the above futuristic productivity videos depict can achieve? Imagine what you and I could do we had a 50 inch touch screen enabled monitor that can also be written on. Imagine being able to use the Surface Dial to switch between multiple menus using natural gestures. Imagine what is possible if we could teach essential programming using HoloLens and sharing that view with hundreds of other students.

Then, I realize, the only thing standing between us and maximum productivity is access to the right tools. The right tools, well, the better tools are the ones that cost a truck load of money. By extension, when the future technology arrives, and it will, the only way that anybody can experience it is if they have access to necessary funds. That means, an ability to earn such money, and then getting access to such tools, which in turn increases productivity, which possibly helps you make more money.

All this seems very apocalyptic but there is a bright side though. Technology usually trickles down to everybody. I had internet access in 2005. People finally started getting internet access a few years ago. However, I had the first mover advantage which I might have taken advantage of. So, when the above futuristic tools become available, the person who gets it first gets to take full advantage of it and the cycle will continue.

The challenge here is a simple one. Can we really be the ones who have the first mover advantage?

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Xiaomi makes its own SOC, so does Samsung Huawei and of course Apple



There is a truck load of money in mobile hardware and the proof is the thick, hard core battle that is still raging among the many, many makers of Android phones.

What makes mobile phones different (like how they are always ‘awake’ unlike say a PC) is what is under the hood. PCs are powered by a Motherboard to which a lot of things like Processor, slots, wireless card, Bluetooth card, sound card, power supply socket and so on are available. That is why we tend to use the word ‘assembled PC’ or ‘off the shelf PC’. That is also why PC hardware enthusiasts exist (but there are no mobile hardware enthusiasts exist, at least not amongst the tech crowd) because it is possible swap out and swap things in. This is also why PCs cannot be ‘awake’ like how phones.

So, unlike PCs, mobile phones have under the hood, what is called as ‘System On Chip’ or SOC. As the name indicates, a SOC has everything (except for RAM and hard drive) already plugged into it. In most cases, the RAM and HDD is probably sealed on to the SOC by the phone manufacturer. That would explain why you cannot just upgrade the RAM on your phone, like how you would on the PC. Thanks to a tight integration, SOCs manage to improve power efficiency and make everything work real smooth. Less nuts and bolts equals less replicability but also more efficiency. Thank god for SOCs because I cannot imagine mobile phones being awesome as they are now without them.

While all this is good, there is a small problem. At least for the phone makers. The big dog in SOC making is of course Qualcomm. As mobile phones have grown in popularity, so has Qualcomm revenue, with they are now big enough take on companies such as Intel. This causes a lot of problems for phone manufacturers their fortunes are tied to what Qualcomm can do. Good or bad, this did not happen with the PC market. Probably because, the PC market was fairly well divided. In terms of processors, there was Intel and AMD. Motherboard manufacturers were like so many. Wireless chip makers were so many. Power supply makers were so many. The power, so to speak, did not rest in one hand.

With SOC, a lot of things are welded in. The SOC maker, hence, wield a lot of power. Qualcomm is already pretty big and it can only get bigger as the android market grows. Of course, a company like Qualcomm would continue to innovate and add new features because alternates are readily available, but again, Qualcomm is big because they make excellent SOCs. There is that.

Other than the ‘being held hostage’ scenario, there is another problem. A problem that android makers suffer from greatly. That has to do with being unable to differentiate themselves. With the kind of maturity that we see in the android market, despite being a tech guy, I myself wonder what exactly is the difference between a mid-range phone and a high-end phone.

The phone I have right now, Oppo F1, meets all my needs and it only cost 15000 bucks. It runs all my productivity apps and it helps me take great pictures, and social apps like Instagram compress the photos to such an extent that all photos look like they were taken by a 5-megapixel camera from the late 2010s. A slightly more expensive phone that I might want to buy is OnePlus 3, and then there is the Galaxy S7 and then the Pixel phones by Google.  I like expensive things, but I am unable to justify the purchase of a more expensive phone because I am unable to tell the difference between a basic Oppo F1 and a OnePlus3 or S7 or Pixel. Sure, a more expensive phone means bragging rights, and I could show off. However, there are other things you can use to show off, and a phone is hardly the device to brag about.

All in all, mobile manufacturers are struggling to tell their customers, why their phone is different from the others. That is where SOCs come into the picture. The SOC will allow – to some extent – certain unique features to be included with the phone. It could allow better integration of digital assistants, better power saving features, better photo taking, hardware customizations. A combination just might allow phone makers to differentiate them from each other. It will also save licensing fees that needs to be paid to Qualcomm, and also reduce the power that Qualcomm might wield if everything is buying matchsticks from them.

This is perhaps why Xiaomi is following along the footsteps of Samsung and Huawei. Samsung has its Exynos SOC (which powers a huge percentage of the Galaxy S7 phones they sell, and almost all phones sold in India are Exynos driven and not Qualcomm powered), Huawei has its Kirin series of SOC. Obviously, Apple has its own ‘A’ series of SOCs. Given these reasons, it is good that Xiaomi is hedging its bets in a meaningful way. I have had mixed experiences with Xiaomi and I hope they fix their supply chain issues (it’s almost impossible to actually buy a Xiaomi product when you want it. I don’t know how a company like this can survive with such an inefficient supply chain) so they can actually compete in the big league. They have a good design team, and talented engineers. I wish them all the best.

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Developer Tips – Sticky Notes and One Note and Word to Augment Documentation



I am always going on and on about documentation. That’s my jam because I know and have experienced how much things get delayed and messed up when there is no documentation. I have worked on projects large and small, and one thing is for certain. For years now, we are living in an economy where rarely do enterprising individuals will go through at least five employers in their career. Further, people like, work for at least five different employers in any given year. That means, folks who work are constantly on the move. Work gets paused, and then it gets resumed, and that is how it works.

On an individual level, this happens a lot as well. I myself am juggling half a dozen projects – work and personal – at any given point of time. There is no possible way I can remember what I was doing on project A 2 days ago because I am now neck deep in Project B and Project C. The human brain is not designed for memory storage. It is designed for processing.

To that effect, today, I thought I will blog about the many note taking tools I use for my own work, to keep things documented for efficient work flow for myself and for others.

Sticky Notes

All windows computers come built in with sticky notes. The concept of sticky notes (just like the real sticky notes, which is also something I use in my daily life) is simply. Open up a quick note taking page, and start typing anything and everything. Prior to discovering sticky notes, I was using notepad, but notepad has some problems. The problem is that it was designed in an era when everything had to have a menu bar, and it has extremely poor formatting and it does not auto save.

The sticky notes, in some ways, is like a more advanced version of notepad. It auto saves. It is quick to launch and retains formatting. It also has some neat colors, which I don’t know, brightens up my day.

I normally use sticky notes when I am researching something, developing something or working out a problem. Here, the priority is quick note taking, copy pasting and such.

One Note

Sticky Notes is nice, but if it has one flaw, it is that it does sync with other devices. I love working across multiple devices. Even as I write, I have like at least 6 devices around me, which are all cloud enabled. At a given point of time, I may decide to read or write something on any of those devices. I don’t wish to have that uncertainty where something I wanted to mull over is not available.

That is where OneNote comes into the picture. OneNote is like a book binder, which holds multiple books and each book can have unlimited sections, and unlimited pages. It’s also free. It is available on every platform imaginable.

However, I wont trust OneNote to do quick note taking. For that, I exclusively use sticky notes. OneNote is more long term where in all the research is already done and now I want to push it to the cloud. Usually, stuff that is to be stored permanently will move from sticky notes to OneNote. Quick Note taking is not an option on OneNote because it is heavy, and hence slow. For long term note storage, OneNote is excellent because it has excellent syncing, formatting, organizing and sharing features.

Word

Microsoft (who also make OneNote) makes another entry in my documentation tools via their productivity extraordinaire, Microsoft Word. Together – sticky notes and OneNote – take care of all my note taking needs. So, where does Word come into the picture?

Sometimes (actually a lot of times) a lot of stuff needs to be shared, in a proper format with others. Sometimes, it simply makes sense to have something in an easily readable format. This actually happens more often than you think. Most importantly, it is impossible to assume that other people (or unknown devices) have sticky notes or OneNote. However, most of the time folks will have Microsoft Word (or something similar) installed on their work machine.

Along with this, Microsoft has made an excellent job of integrating the cloud with its flagship productivity software. So, it all syncs up on OneDrive, which itself comes with simple version of Word in the browser. To me, that is the best of both worlds. When these conditions are satisfied, it is best to use Word over sticky notes and OneNote.

Alternatives

Obviously, there are alternatives available for those who don’t wish to use the above. There are quite a few replacements available for sticky notes and they all probably have better tools. Much of them free, and they integrate with windows, mac or linux, no problem.

For OneNote, the only alternative I would recommend is Evernote. I have used Evernote, but they are a paid service for advanced features. So, I am not using that. Not when OneNote gives me everything Evernote can give and I don’t have to create one more account.

For Word, there is LibreOffice which is quite good. Google Docs is also okay, but it runs in a browser and I really don’t want to tie my productivity to a browser based app all the time. It simply does not gel well with me. For the cloud, I have recommended OneDrive above. Alternatives are Google Drive and Dropbox, and here, I would rather you go with the latter.

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The UI Challenge and Tackling It – Mom Mode



Technology is about making life better. Better is a relative term. Technology in itself is a vague term. For instance, fire was the first invention. Wheel is another one of those things that we take for granted. However, fire and wheel changed the very manner of living of our ancestors. Fire made food better. Wheel made transportation faster. Fire and Wheel make things better. In essence, technology should make life better.

These days though, it’s all about app this and app that. I was exposed to technology at a very young age. I was fascinated with computers, the first time I played that ‘break the bricks’ MSDOS game when I was in my 6th standard. For years now, I have gone completely digital and can get things done in minutes, which would have taken hours otherwise. Take grocery shopping for instance. Except when I have company, I don’t like grocery shopping. To and from the store is like an hour. Actual shopping about 30 minutes. Then, at the counter and other unexpected things, another 30 minutes. We are looking at 120 minutes for a simple activity of getting supplies.

With online, I could get this done in 10 minutes. 5 minutes, if I am fast, which I usually am.

That is why, as a tech guy, it hurts me when my own mother cannot make the most of these facilities. Two weeks ago, I had a discussion with my mom. I told her that, as a gift, I could get her a nice Samsung Tablet or an iPad. I told her that she could get a lot of everyday things that she does – like take an Uber or Ola to the doctors or meeting friends, shop for groceries, listen to the radio and watch television. As of now, she uses me as a proxy for all the above online stuff. I wanted to make her independent of me, in case I am not around.

At first, she was all up for that idea, but then, she gradually withdrew. Eventually, she said that there is no possible way she could figure out how to use all these facilities. I know my mom, and she is not the ‘I don’t want to change with the times’ person. She taught everything I knew and I know she is the one person who supported me during my engineering, MBA and then when I decided to go all independent consultant on my career. The issue was not her, but the gadget itself. I realized that the apps, be it Uber or Ola or Skype or Big Basket are all designed for the ‘internet enabled’. They are not designed with folks like my mom in mind.

There could be many reasons for this. However, reasons are not how technology works. Or innovation. People don’t innovate because there is a reason to do it. At least for me, technology is about making life better. My mother’s life is already better because her children are internet equipped and are providing her with most modern amenities. However, she still has to rely on me. It’s like she is watching a movie, but instead of the reading the subtitles, she needs me to read it for her, and only then she can enjoy. This is the current system, and it’s good. It can be better though.

That is where I decided that at least my apps, starting with Project TD, will have, what I would like to call, ‘the mom mode’. I don’t know how it will work or how it will look. What I do know is this much. I will do everything I can, to make sure that my apps can be used by my mom, and moms who are in similar scenarios.

I will update this post, a few months from now, if I actually do this.

You can get more details about Project TD, right here.

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LAN Messenger and Slack – Instant Connectivity for teams



I am currently in the process of raising a huge team of volunteers to work on Project TD. Obviously, that means, I must prepare for the project, details of which can be found at this page. However, there are so many other things that become known, as and when the need arises. After much research, I have narrowed down on a couple of options that work very well.

LAN Messenger

Even in the worst working conditions where a group of people just get together for a training session or a haphazardly put together workshop, the existence of a LAN network can be assumed. That is where LAN Messenger becomes an interesting option. LAN Messenger (and similar such tools) simply detect every PC on the network that is open to accepting connections, and then allow for quick instant communication. Transfer files, exchange messages and even group calls.

I usually use this when I am working on multiple computers at the same time (which is almost all the time) and wish to exchange data between these computers without having the data leave the LAN setup at my place. Another reason I prefer this option is because, this technique is independent of the internet. For instance, the other option (below mentioned slack) would require constant internet access and that creates a problem when you are exchanging files between users. If the internet goes down so does your communication platform.

One more reason to prefer is that, there is no hassle of setting up an account. Further, internet based communication systems are open to outside interference, which does not happen with LAN Messenger. If you are not physically present within the range of the LAN, you are out of the picture.

Get LAN Messenger Here.

Slack

However, slack (yeah, I am not recommending Skype for team connectivity) is the best option for teams that are spread out and are mature enough to use it. It has all the goodness of LAN Messenger but it is also a full-fledged communication system. It is pretty cool (with mobile apps and everything) and is free! I have used it a lot and when using LAN Messenger becomes impractical, would happily switch to this.

Again, the maturity part is the most important aspect. If your team members are immature (you will know if they are), then slack becomes a horrible option. If not, this is preferred over LAN messenger.

Get Slack Here.

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Evolving from App to App Ecosystem



Few years ago, when I was building my android portfolio, I worked on some essential apps which can be found here, here and here. Obviously, the servers related to them are currently switched off, and the app themselves removed or not function in the google play store. Of course, those apps helped me get the assignments I was looking, so the investment made in those (now) defunct apps have been recovered many times over.

However, some benefits much deeper than just return on investment, both time and money. As I was building those apps (2 to 3 years ago), I felt that something was missing. I was developing apps, but the bigger question was this. Where do these apps live? If apps were people, then where do people live. Earth is where we live, and we thrive because of the ecosystem.

Of course, this is something which is known to most of us, but I realize that now, back then, I always thought of myself as an app developer. Obviously, even back then, I never thought of myself as a lowly programmer, so I was always thinking of ahead of many of peers. Now, as the years have gone by (hopefully, a little more mature) and over the last few months, I have been thinking about updating my portfolio. Replacing them with newer, and hopeful better (but not necessarily useful apps, because, that is not really the industry I am in) apps.

However, I realized over time that (and this thinking process is what has allowed to work as a solution consultant instead of a simply being a trainer or a developer) that when I rebuild these apps, the focus should be on building an ecosystem rather the apps themselves. Apps don’t work alone. They interact with the user. They interact with other apps installed on the phone. They interact with the operating system that acts as the platform on which they run. Not to forget that apps also interact with the hardware underneath the operating system, and there is the issue of performance and optimization. Then, there is the part about data. There is data storage which happens (or should happen) online as well locally. When it comes to online data, it could be cloud services that enable the app to do its own job, while also integrating with cloud services that provide additional facilities.

As I took time off from android to work on dot net, these thoughts have been consistent. Whether it is a web app or a mobile app or a desktop app, all apps (big and small, huge and tiny) are part of an ecosystem. Interacting with elements that have come before them and with items that come after them. The keyboard I am typing on was probably designed before computers even properly invented. Yet, here we are, living in a magical world where I can talk to a person literally on the other side of the universe.

It’s a wonderful world we live in, and it is finally time for me to absorb this understanding into any and all things I develop. No, I am not a app developer. In fact, I haven’t been an app only developer for a few years now. I am now an ecosystem developer and that is what I should do.

Of course, all talk and no walk is not something anybody will appreciate. Going back to what I said (and have done years ago) about those three projects, the app related to restaurant tipping is the one that is closest to my heart. Mostly because I eat out a lot, and love leaving generous tips. That is where I will start. If all goes well, in a few months from now, I would have built a proper tipping eco system. If not, I would have learnt some really cool stuff and would be even more prepared to restart the eco system building process.

Either way, it will be awesome and win-win situation for me.

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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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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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Revisiting windows phone - Windows Mobile 10

A few months ago, I blogged about how I am giving up on windows mobile or windows phone or whatever Microsoft decides to call its next mobile OS. Then, I decided to buy a pretty expensive keyboard and mouse, and that changed things. I wanted to check the extent to which the wedge keyboard has been programmed to work with its parent mobile operating system.

In all the following scenarios, the wedge has been paired with the device under question. For example, on a laptop (running windows 10), I could press the 'windows start' key and the menu pops up. If i press the same key with the android phone, nothing happens and same applies to the iphone. Now, when I paired with the 640 XL running windows 10 mobile, the home screen appeared. Then, it went further. I could call cortana, and voice the commands. I was also able to use the Tab key, the short cuts in edge, and of course bring up the menu in Word. What I see that, the wedge, being a Microsoft keyboard is wonderfully integrated into the mobile OS of Windows 10. It is truly a universal OS, this windows 10.

Suddenly, I realized something. The potential of the mobile OS of Windows. Of course, the app gap is still there, but if I am willing to get things done via web apps and Microsoft apps, I can get almost everything done on my windows phone. Add in the continuum effect available in current generation windows mobile OS phones, there is a good chance that I can get everything done with just a windows phone and nothing else.

Last night, I was able to write several emails, write an entire chapter of my upcoming novel, browse the internet and of course, chat, all on the windows device, just like I would on a PC. So, perhaps, I was premature in calling windows mobile dead. I cannot imagine the regular folks ditching their smartphone for windows mobile. I myself wont do that. However, I can see that the windows could be a light weight productivity machine, especially for those who are already armed with wireless keyboard and mouse, and dont wish to pull out their laptop for some quick work stuff, and are tired of getting work done on the tiny mobile screen via touch.

I don't know what the future holds for windows mobile. Heck, I am sure, even the big bosses at Microsoft are not sure what to do with it. What I do know is, I am not completely averse to buying a windows phone device. I think, it can complement existing devices that a individual carries. I have half a mind to pull out my 1520 out of the shadows, get it repaired and use it again.