jay's old blog

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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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Elementary – Season Three – Accepting Who They Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Does Tim Sweeny Not Love Microsoft and Windows 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RIP - John Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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Paytm problems and Issues with Mobile Wallets In General

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

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

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

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

Sequence of Events

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

Instance 1  

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

Instance 2 

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

Instance 3 

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

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

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

Instance 4 

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

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

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

Incident 5 

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

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

My Learnings 

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

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

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

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

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

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Typewriters - Tablets - marathon writing

One of those images that stays with you when one thinks of a person who writes stories, novels, would be some guy wearing glasses, hammering away at the type writer like it’s the last day of its rental period. Back when I was a kid, I always thought writing would be a fascinating profession to be in. I even wrote short stories and distribute it among my classmates. I also would get over excited at the prospect of participating in writing stuff, especially in story writing competitions, although most of stuff either went over their head, or more likely, I just was plain bad. 

Of course, I never did anything with it because nobody would read (except when I implore them to) my stuff, and writing only led to more mockery and related incidents. Still though, I sort of never gave up on it, and even took lessons of typing in actual physical keyboards. It was…pretty cool. The nice thing about type writers is that they were the complete package for writing. The whole thing was powered mechanically, so one did not have to depend on a power source. Mistakes would mean, having to re-type the entire page. Then, there is something very satisfying about that sound that comes, every time the keys are pressed…tat-tat-tat-tat…its just amazing. 

Obviously, for so many obvious reasons, none of us type on typewriters anymore. We have laptops and computers now. I have been blogging for a while now, and even self-published a novel. Of course, I have been writing my second novel for some time now. When I look at my diary, I notice that I have been writing my novel for almost 6 months now with only 11 chapters written. I don’t think I have writer’s block but rather, I realized that perhaps I simply don’t have the necessary infrastructure. Hence, I decided to build the necessary infrastructure at the best possible cost and for results. 

I needed something that will be go with me, wherever I go. That means, it has to be functional despite lack of ready power access. It has to be not bulky. I should work with cloud services, allow me to do research and so on. The simplest answer would be a laptop. However, the laptop keyboards are just not designed with typing in mind. The keys are small, and the budget laptops have some of the worst keyboards I have ever seen. Not their fault, because they have to cut corners and keyboards are the readily available culprit. Of course, the trackpad that comes with such laptops are horrible and will be my ticket to losing my thumb sooner rather than later. 

That rules out laptops. By extension, that also rules out PCs. 

That is when, I realized that perhaps, all I need is a simple tablet. I already owned the rather expensive Microsoft Keyboard and Mouse. These two bad boys work with any device that has an operating system and blue tooth. Tablets are essentially cheap, so I can replace them every few months. They are also easy to carry, the weight issue is solved. Further, Microsoft’s Office suite for tablets is so amazing, I cannot see the difference between the PC and the tablet versions. Of course, the Microsoft keyboard I have comes with a case, which also doubles as a stand. So, no need to invest in a separate tablet stand for easy usage.

Overall, I realized that my dedicated writing (and reading) device can be a basic tablet. I opened Amazon and typed in Tablet, simply went for the first option that was available. For a cool sum of three thousand and five hundred rupees, I got the device. I am writing this blog post on the very tablet, with almost no loss of typing or productive efficiency. I have my writing machine, and it meets all my needs.
Now that I have my writing machine, perhaps it is time I finished my second novel. Each week, I have been making notes on top of notes, and may be, just, may be, I am becoming too involved with the characters. Every week, the mind comes up with new stuff, that seems to make the story better. However, perpetually making something better also means, ending up in some kind of a development hell scenario. I don’t want that. So, today, as I write this, I am going to freeze all new additions to the novel, and start writing it. Hopefully, I will wrap it by the end of this month. At least the first draft if not the final publication. 

On a last note, despite being a Microsoft guy in terms of what I do for earning money, I am beginning to see the all around appeal of Google and the impact it’s operating system i.e. Android has on the mobile world. For as little as 3500/- rupees, I have a productive machine that can do most of the things I want a device to do. Sure, this device will die in a few months. However, even the cheapest windows tablet costs 9000, and that still does not run all the essential apps. When you take that into consideration, I can see why Microsoft is worried about Android, and why it lost more than just market share when it went lazy with it’s mobile windows OS. 

So yeah, I need to do some marathon writing and finish my second novel, pronto.  

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Elementary - Season 1 - Realistic Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, the character as described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is a timeless guy. His skills are such that they can be applied to any setting, any timeline and it is possible to make it work. Further, the character is public domain and that folks can just use his character and other elements (although media companies usually make a deal with the Doyle estate to be on the safer side) in their own creations.

That brings us to Elementary, which takes its own spin on the material. Obviously, comparisons to the other, much more popular Sherlock at BBC is obvious, but I am not going to do that here. In Elementary, there are major changes. As far as I can tell, this Sherlock is just not as gifted as his book counterpart. That also means, his companion Watson is not as dumb as in the books either. Yes, Watson is a female now, so there is that 'unresolved romantic tension' throughout, intentional or otherwise. Same goes to (spoilers!) the primary villain, Moriarty, who is also a female. With Moriarty, the romantic tension is not just resolved, but it has gone way beyond that to the physical realm as well.

The setting is no longer London but USA. This brings in a new set of police officers who do their best to keep up with Mr. Holmes. The crimes are simpler, more everyday, but they have to be because this is regular TV programming with 20 plus episodes every year. Most of the time, simply looking at the guest actors in each episode as the credits roll, is enough to tell who committed the crime. This removes some of the suspense (but that is the nature of television) but the fun comes down to finding out how the crime fighting duo manage to solve the crime.

There is no season wide arc, with each episodes being almost self-contained. One could pick up any episode and watch it in any order without losing much in terms of narrative threads. The Holmes-Watson relationship also takes a while to build, but it seems like a lot of stuff is being kept aside, personal stuff especially, for later episodes and for the sake slow character development. Since the series is not exactly special event, the actors do their best. Both Holmes's and Watson's are good. Nothing quite memorable but nothing too disappointing either. Of course the camera work gets a lot of mileage out of Lucy Liu's insanely gorgeous legs, but you know, television and male gaze stuff.

The series makes a lot of compromises but has just enough stuff going on to keep one interested. Off to Season 2, I go.

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Chinatown - detective noir at its best

Raymond Chandler is my favorite author for a reason. The guy defined the hard boiled detective genre with his Phillip Marlowe character, and to this day, every other creator can only aspire to reach what he did. Although the private detective genre is well known, it is also very difficult to pull off. When it is done well, it is awesome. When it is not done so well (for instance, this Bakshy movie I wrote about recently) it essentially becomes a chore. This applies to written noir as well as visual noir as in movies and television shows.

Chinatown, thank god, falls on the side of excellence. As I watch it, it almost felt like Jake Gittes (It's Gittes, not Gitts) is a distant relative of Marlowe, or perhaps they are the same character from alternative universes. Chinatown has all the tropes of the noir stuff. You have a detective who makes money off cheating wives (and he also investigates cheating husbands too), very snarky and talks and behaves like he has seen the dark side of the world. He gets beaten as often as he lands a punch. While he is not against doing illegal stuff, he also lives (and willing to die) by his own sense of moral code.

The moral code part...that is the defining characteristic of any private detective. Something that is amiss in a lot of would be private detectives. Jake though, he is not got his moral code tight and never ever breaks it. The narrative here has the usual petty crime that eventually connects to a larger, greater crime that is way beyond the scope of the single man. That is how it is, always. Noir is about heroes who find themselves discovering that they are not special. A lot of times, there is very little private detectives can do to influence the outcome.

There is always that female (or females) that have a profound impact on what happens to our protagonist here. The femme fatale here is not as dangerous as others here, but he remains wary. Rightly so because, what we have is an experienced private detective and he will have his share of disappointments. Then, there is the presence of an ominous villain. A villain who is always too big to fall, and seems to have negotiated a deal with the devil so that he is beyond the grasp of human made laws. A villain who has exploited subtle weaknesses and even when caught, knows that there is nothing anybody can do. Such is the tale here, and Jake knows that there is only so much he can do.

That is why, when the credit rolls, we are stuck with an ending that will stay with Jake, and us the viewers, for a long time. All is said and done, there is not much he could do. There is not much anybody can do. There lies the magic of Chinatown. The futility of life itself. Sometimes, the powers that be, are in fact too powerful and one person cannot make a difference.

Two things stand out in the movie. The director, Roman Polanski (who does an insane cameo at one point) has done an excellent job. The camera work is excellent, the music cues that hint at things, and the way the whole thing is tightly managed, just incredible. This guy is the dude and if only he could adapt the novels of Chandler, that would be amazing. What makes the story come truly alive is Nicholson. I already admire that guy from the Batman movie (and it is not surprising that he got first billing in that one) and this movie shows why he deserves all the praise that he gets. The snark, the charm, the dialogue delivery and finally the blue screen of death he experiences...totally powerful stuff.

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