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Batman v Superman and Critics

I watched the most recent batman movie, which also featured Superman and Wonder Woman and so many others. The movie is making a decent chunk of money (although it should have made at least 200 million more at box office) and Warner Brothers is continuing with its DC movie slate as planned. 

So far so good. What I don’t understand is the critics reaction towards the movie . I mean, really, it’s like they cannot stop themselves from saying bad things about the movie. What really prompted me to write this post is the Marvel worshipping they are doing with Civil War. That is okay because Marvel make forgettable but funny movies. The thing is, critics cannot help themselves from dragging batman v superman into their civil war review.  

Why this much hatred? 

For one thing, the movie is no where as bad as its aggregate score on rottentomatoes.com. Is the movie as good as Nolan’s take on Batman? No.  

I feel that perhaps, the critics just don’t like Zack Snyder. They did not like his Watchmen (how is it even possible to top that movie adaptation?) and they definitely don’t like his Man of Steel.  

Further, it sort of looks like the critics expect a super hero movie to be filled with lots of funny moments. It does not matter how horrible the situation is, as long as it ends with a funny quip, it’s Okay. Like when Loki has managed to kill thousands of New Yorkers, accepts his defeat and then casually asks for a drink…oh my god, That’s so funny…lol…let’s give this scene a good rating and forget about the carnage that just happened. Superman kills one bad guy, and now Superman himself is the bad guy! Now, Affleck Bat is killing.. Oh my god, no…but Bale Bat also killed a lot of bad guys but still let’s complain about that. 

To me, the movie was good. It took its time to build stuff (although the Batman origin story was redundant…I mean, I have seen Batman’s parents get killed way too many times now), had a lot of nods to comic book lore, neat dream sequences, insane action and a truly hardcore batman, the way it was meant to be. Lex Luther has finally moved away from awful real estate schemes, a big villain powerful enough to take on the big three and they tease future villains and heroes to come in a subtle way. 

Then, there is the presence of female characters. Lois Lane gets to do reporter stuff and Superman’s mother also has a role to play. Some folks are complaining that both these female characters have been reduced to damsel in distress. Well, Lois Lane gets herself into a war zone which is badass, not damsel. The whole Lex kidnapping Superman’s mother, well, Superman does not have anybody else to get kidnapped. Lex is a morally bankrupt villain who is playing the cards that are lent to him. There is also the minor fact that he is probably being controlled by a bigger villain who is running the show. Then, there is wonder woman who is just awesome and a female super hero who stands her own ground. DC even managed to ensure that her outfit is not fan service as compared to Black ‘cleavage’ Widow who is mostly there in every single Marvel movie so that the whole thing does not look a sausage party 

The movie also takes time to address the existence of God like beings around us, the destruction from the last movie and makes superman think about the consequences of his actions have on people. The movie works on so many levels, which is probably why, despite its length it feels short and like so much is left out. 

All In all, I also wish it was a little less dark (actually, it had the appropriate amount of darkness for a batman movie. I wished there were was a little more joyous moments. Like that 'yes Mr. Wayne, it does come in black' line) and there were a couple of light moments. It was too ambitious and that may have compromised the narrative a bit. With all this, it’s a good movie but just not as bad as the critics are making it out to be. 


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Thoughts on 'The Stand'

It was a while ago that I decided that I should read something, a genre that I have never read. I also wanted something that is lengthy and nothing to do with Harry Potter (a series that I have read multiple times). That is when I ran into Stephen King, and one of his many many novels, 'The Stand'. The Stand is pretty lengthy (and I bought the extended, definitive cut book) at more than 1100 pages. The genre is post apocalyptic (a setting that I almost always enjoy) and it seemed to be highly acclaimed.  

I finally bought, and then, there were so many false starts on my side. The book does not take off as I expected. Perhaps it is because of the extended cut, or perhaps it is King's style. Either way, every time I read a few pages, I would get bored and then simply forget about the book. King spends a seriously large amount of time with a lot of characters. Of course, it lays the groundwork (and also helped me get attached to many of them) for things to come.  

However, many of these turn out to be a case of 'excess'. Yes, it ensures that none of the characters suddenly start acting the way they do after the apocalypse strikes. It also helps to find out why some folks turn out to be good, some turn out to be bad and others just talk away a lot of stuff. This also means, the actual apocalypse takes a while to happen. All this 'slow development' is probably what made me not read it non-stop the moment I bought. The book is definitely not one of those 'unable to put down' type of books. Rather, it's one of those 'really work hard at reading it' kind of books.  

Once I made up mind to actually finish it, after telling myself that it's not really as 'funny' or as 'action filled' as it could be, I really started to enjoy it. There are loads and loads of characters and King almost always manages to give proper motivation for their actions. Characters die left, right and center and it seems like nobody has hero or heroine insurance. Elaborate descriptions are given to every action that takes place, and there are one too many dream sequences but I am afraid, I had to skip those. Also, there are some pop cultural references which definitely make the book dated and some jokes slipped past me.  

The story is predictable but it’s the characters, their thoughts and the way King presents scenarios that kept me engaged. I also thought the book did not spend enough time with the villain. The book also does not explain much about how he came to be, and how he got things to run as well as he did. The ending is also a rather weird ending. It's not a cliffhanger or a Sixth Sense type of ending. Keeping with the rest of the narrative, it is very predictable.  

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Although, I won't be reading it again (it's simply too long and does not have the 'read again' factor), it is recommended to anyone who is looking for something that can keep them occupied for hours or days or even weeks.


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Developers! Overcome these artificial physical boundaries

As a trainer, one of the things that I like my students to do is get rid of 'physical limitations' that can reduce your actual productivity. As I work as a developer in addition to my training duties, here are some stuff that make me better. 

Wireless Keyboard and Mouse 

In a modern workplace, it is fairly difficult to find desktop machines being used by developers. From a purely maintenance perspective, it makes sense for the IT department to give out portables/laptops. Same goes to college students. It simply makes sense that your daily programming device is a portable.  

However, I find that your speed improves much more if you club this with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The thing about the built in keyboard on the laptop, is that, it's crammed. The standard size of laptops is 15 inches, so your keyboard is no bigger than 14 inches. You also don’t get that tactile feedback when typing. The built in trackpad is good for occasional browsing but for heavy duty usage (which is a given whe you programming) the mouse is the only way to go. 

I must also insist that the keyboard and mouse be wireless. You can have a basic wireless keyboard/mouse for 800 rupees (13 dollars) and never ever buy wired keyboard/mouse please.  

Shortcuts 

Almost every IDE that you use has short cuts. In fact, they are sites dedicated entirely to shortcuts. Then, there are windows shortcuts that can turn you into a powerhouse developer.  

For instance, when switching tabs, use Ctrl Tab. When switching between windows, use Ctrl Window. Then, there are page down, page up, ctrl + arrow keys, and Home and End keys. These keys will take some getting used to. In fact, if you are only now starting to use shortcuts, you will feel that the entire procedure is actually slowing you down. It will takes a while for you to remember the actual shortcut. You will begin to think, the mouse is better. 

However, once you get past the steep learning curve, the shortcuts get built into the muscle memory and you will be saving minutes every day.  

Also, using short cuts makes you look really cool. It does, and trust me on this. 

Comments and Regions 

There is no other to way to say. Your chose IDE will support regions and commenting. Please take a few minutes to write the necessary comments and divvy up the code into regions. Sure, when you are on a roll and coding away on all cylinders, you may feel that the comments and regions are holding you back. 

The truth is, coding is simply a small portion of your role as a 'software developer'. Always aim to be a 'developer' and not just a 'coder' or a 'programmer'. Software development involves a lot of other things like testing and fixing bugs. It also involves adding new features at some later point. Consider that most software is built by teams. These comments and regions ensure that your code becomes readable. 

Sure, writing comments and using regions will consume some time. In fact, I have spent more time writing comments and adding regions when compared to the actual code itself. However, when issues arise (and they always will) it becomes that much easier to narrow down to the actual problem location. This also leads to less time taken to fix issues. 

From a long term perspective, when another developer takes over your projects (developers, as with any other professionals are constantly changing jobs, shifting roles and so on), she will be that much happier when she sees the comments and regions.


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Thoughts on "Ready Player One"

Along with "The Stand" another book I completed recently was Ready Player One. This book also dealt with some of the things that pique my interest. Video Games, post apocalyptic scenarios and futuristic settings. Most importantly, I read this book only because they announced in the news that Spielberg is making a movie on it. It's funny how the purchase decision process works sometimes. I am not even a Spielberg fan but the I am a movie buff and the plot synopsis grabbed my attention. 

Ready Player One met most of my expectations but not the whole nine yards though. The book takes an instance of what some gamers love to do. In this case, finding easter eggs. Easter eggs, in gaming and software, are little portions of code that are hidden by developers that have odd results. For instance, searching for 'snake game' not only gives you results about snake game but also presents an actual snake game that you can play on bing.com (yes, I use bing.com). The game takes this easter egg hunting to its logical extreme and builds an entire narrative around it. 

The games follows our hero (first person narrative for the win!) who is a down in the dumps fellow. Of course, in stores like this the hero has to be some poor soul who wins against all odds. Similar to any new RPG character that starts at the lowest level possible with nothing in his inventory and no skills of any kind. Our hero (explicitly mentioned as being a teenager) is part of this global easter egg hunt that is set by a (now dead) online game inventor. There is the mandatory big bad in the novel, and then there are friends and a love interest.  

The novel checks all the necessary story elements, with the hero finally winning at the end. What makes it different is the setting. Although the setting is that of a crapsack world that is steadily getting worse, the narrative can take liberties as it takes place in a virtual world. Think of it like the Matrix but if the Matrix was not controlled in any way, but rather was wide open and a lot of fun. People are voluntarily jacked in, instead of forced into it as part of a battery generation evil overlord scheme.  

The novel reaches out to broad concepts like identity, the value of privacy, the role played by large corporations and also the possibility that love, honor and true spirit will eventually win over any obstacles (mostly from big corporations who simply wish to make more and more money at whatever cost) that are placed in the way. Thanks to the virtual world setting, there are elaborate descriptions of scenes that take place in dungeons to high tech labs to modern workplaces. Then there are avatars and vehicles of all sorts that have place in this story. Magic and Technology co-existing at the same time, just like a video game! 

Further, the author is clearly in love with the 80s and there is just a touch too much of indulgence into 80s stuff. A lot of the clues and riddles will be unfamiliar to anybody who grew up in the 90s and later. While this diminishes the fun of reading the book (and I had to skip large sections of the novel which were nothing but long descriptions of old games or songs or TV shows that had little impact on the story), it is still a well written story.  

Most of the story is believable too (given the novel's context) but what really bothered me was the rate at which the hero's character develops. In a span of months in the novel's timeline he goes from a teenager who has a crush on some virtual girl (and as with any fictional nerd character, cannot bring himself up to talk to her properly) to a guy who is ready to make big sacrifices, pull off long winded plans and what not. This super fast development was something I could not sync with. It's a little off putting, making the lame ending even less bearable.  

Overall, I am looking forward to the adaptation because the novel lends itself to some cool visuals. If some of the story elements can be tweaked (like the half assed love story and the abrupt character development and the ending that could have been better and too much reliance on 80s stuff), this could be a really good movie. 


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Thoughts About Microsoft and Windows Mobile's Continuum Technology

No one is going to argue that Microsoft has step-childed windows phone (now, Windows Mobile and that must be the 10th time they are changing the name now, I think) for a while now. Releasing flagship apps to rival platforms, giving away unique features like Cortana and flow keyboard to said rival platforms, ignoring its own mobile operating system is just another But for Me, It Was Tuesday moment for Microsoft. 

All the above hurts me because I am something of a windows phone fanboy, and I can back up the fanboy claim because Microsoft even awarded me as an MVP (way back in 2014) for my love for windows phone. 

Anyway, for all the step-childing, one thing that is truly awesome about the new crop of Lumia's is the Continuum feature. In short, the continuum feature allows you, the dear user (or rather anybody who dared to buy a new Lumia) to plug your phone and use it like a PC! That is a dream come true for all intents and purposes.  

"Look ma! I am carrying my PC in my pocket...Whoooo Hooo...Let me take my flying car out for a drive now" 

However, this is simply another one of those times when Microsoft (as always) is ahead of its time with its technology. Thanks to a friend of mine who bought the 950 XL, I have a surrogate experience of the continuum and it works as advertised. However, the real question with any technology is, is it useful for everyday life or one of those cool things (cough cough "kinect" cough cough) that you use to impress your friends and family when they come visiting but relegated to far corner of your desk otherwise. 

Let's dig into the details then. To use the continuum feature, you will need... 

  • A device that supports continuum. You see, only high end devices have the necessary hardware prowess to drive a second monitor (of course). That makes sense what is unfair is, suppose you have an existing high power device like the Lumia 930 or Lumia 1520, they cannot do continuum either. So yeah, there is that. 

  • The dock that connects to the Monitor. Of course, continuum can connect wirelessly but when it comes to an essential business presentation, I use wired and wired alone. Let's keep wireless tech out of this discussion. 

  • Keyboard and Mouse.  

That means, while you are technically carrying the PC in your pocket, you are still carrying 3 other accessories that take up a lot of space.  

In addition to this, don’t forget other issues like... 

  • Only the UWP apps are supported by continuum.  

  • Further, even if an app is UWP but the developer never bothered to optimized for the big screen continuum experience, the experience will be less than perfect.  

  • There is also the small matter of Microsoft abandoning platforms (well, just look at the state of windows phone or the Kinect that comes with Xbox One) when it does not take off. I don’t blame Microsoft for doing that, because it's business, but it is the lack of clear communication to consumers and developers that I don’t particularly enjoy. 

To me, it seems like Microsoft is imagining some kind of a very specific future where, everywhere the professional goes, he will run into a office that has a big screen (or at least a monitor), spare continuum compatible dock and spare keyboard and spare mouse. I mean, sure, some offices may actually have that but then again, how many will? It's a lot of investment for a specific mobile platform which is being treated indifferently by its own maker? Remember how, even now, most windows phones have not received the windows 10 update? And, there is still no clarity when we will get it? 

It's essentially a downward spiral. The more time you spend, that much closer you become to being sucked in a hole from which you will never come out. 

However, I am a dreamer. I still hang on to my Lumia 1520 because it is the greatest phone I have ever owned. I use Microsoft products day in and out, I work on Microsoft platforms and I earn my living because of the investments I have made in Microsoft technologies. Overall, I would say, my life is entwined with that of the Redmond technology giant. Somewhere, somehow, I still harbor hopes that with the continue rise of windows 10 perhaps, somehow windows 10 mobile will also be resurrected.

So, what would I do if I was the guy sitting at Microsoft, in charge of making Continuum reach its true potential. 

  • Skip the dock. I keep thinking, what if the phone could directly connect to a display? 

  • Allow the phone to connect wirelessly to a mouse and keyboard.  

  • Bundle one of those foldable, tiny keyboards with the phone purchase. Or, what about those super cool keyboards that can be projected on to the desk? What if the phone itself has that feature that projects a virtual keyboard on to the desk? It's not sci-fi. It just needs some clever engineering and proper pricing.

Why I am leaving Airtel Mobile

The story starts in the month of December 2015. I moved to a new place (and our office moved at the same time) and I realized that my Vodafone 3G was getting spotty at both my office and also at my new residence. I spoke with Vodafone (who are simply amazing as I continue to be their customer for my other number and in process of going back to them as I write this) and they said that in Bangalore (as with Karnataka circle) they don’t have their own 3G network and that they were sharing whatever Airtel Mobile gives them.  

In fact, the Vodafone girls and guys (love them!) were extremely polite, calling me back, following up on my issues and so on and so forth. They said that when it comes to 3G, they are limited by what Airtel provides and their hands are tied, at least until they get their own network. Eventually, I decided to do the only logical thing. Switch to another network, and even at this point, the Vodafone girls and guys were very polite (as always) and told me to come back once they have their own 3G/4G network.  

I asked around and found that Airtel Mobile has the best network. I borrowed a friends Airtel SIM, used it at my new residence, and then at my office. I wasn’t getting great speed but I was getting somewhere around 1 mbps which was good enough for me. So, after doing this trial thing, I finally sent the MNP/Porting (with a heavy heart) code to Vodafone, subscribed to the most expensive plan that Airtel Mobile offers to customers and boom, just like that, I was on Airtel Mobile.  

And, thus started my 3 months of hellish experiences. Three months, where I was crippled in terms of mobile and data connectivity.  

The problems started the very first day of getting the new SIM. I immediately noticed that the data connectivity was poor at my office location and also at my residence. I thought perhaps it was a glitch and that the issue is something else, like my SIM is new and the MNP stuff is affecting is. Then, couple of more days passed and I noticed that I was speeds of less than 50 kbps. For reference, 1 mbps equals 1000 kbps.  

Obviously I was disappointed. I called up customer care and that is when things really started to go downhill.  

  1. When I called care (it was midnight) the rep took the call and then simply...let it idle. I figured he probably just went back to sleep. He did not even put me on hold. He just, let it be. 

  1. I called again, the rep took the call, told me that note down the issue, and then...well...he just ended the call. No case number nothing. 

  1. I called again and this time too, I got an agent who was simply not 'alert' and sounded very sleepy to help me out. I gave up on him half-way through the call and decided to end the call. 

After this incident and after having generated a very low opinion of Airtel Support (and it hurt me even more because I was on the highest plan they offered and was expecting some kind of a VIP experience. I had this expectation because when I was on Vodafone, I was a platinum customer and was treated as such) and its service in general, I decided to do some investigation of my own and collected some data.  

Next day, I drove all the way from my residence to office. Every kilometer, I would stop and run a speed test via the speedtest app. The weird part was, I was getting upwards of 5 mbps, every time I tested. I ran multiple tests and each time I got fantastic speeds. So, I knew that Airtel 3G is good but I also realized for very odd reasons, Airtel 3G was not good at my residence (where I spend half of my day and weekends) and at my office (where I spend the other half of my day and weekdays). 

Armed with this intel, I called up Airtel Mobile care later in the evening (I would have preferred to call at midnight but by now I know that although Airtel Mobile care is round the clock, their tech support is sleeping during midnight hours) and spoke to a executive. I told them how I am getting good speeds and connectivity everywhere except at my residence and at my office. They listened to my whole story, said they will investigate. A few days passed and I got this SMS.  

Image

So,  

  • My phone with the same airtel SIM can get high speeds at many places except at my office and residence. 

  • My phone with the different SIM can get high speeds. 

  • My phone, a Mi4 device still under warranty and a medium range, branded device. 

Despite all this data, somehow, the technical investigation department decided that my phone must be faulty and I must buy a new phone! 

That is when I realized that, yup, while Airtel is a great brand and everything, their mobile support is out of touch with its customers. When that happens, it's time to let go.  

For the next three months, this is how my phone life was. Note that I cannot do MNP unless 90 days have been spent on the current network, and my number has been around for more than 8 years, so changing my number was not an option either. 

  • I bought a second phone. Yes, because of Airtel I bought a second phone and used a SIM from another network (Actually Vodafone. They launched their own working, fully awesome 3G/4G network in January). Then, I turned on mobile sharing on my second phone, and connected my main phone which is on Airtel Mobile.  

  • That means, for these three months, I was carrying two phones (when I go for a walk, do some light shopping, have dinner with friends) in my pockets all the time! 

  • As if the data problems were not enough, even the phone service went down after February. Calls would get constantly disconnected, voice clarity is not there and myriad other issues.  

Anyway, now, the 90 days period is over. I can now happily port over to Vodafone. This brings me to the man question, as to why, I wrote this blog post. 

  1. The main reason is, whenever we send that porting request, usually customer care will call and ask, "why am I leaving"? Instead of explaining to them about my ordeal, it is easier if I just show them this blog post. 

  1. Second, airtel is by far the biggest service provider in the country (and I am huge fan of their broadband services. That is why in the entire blog post I have specifically mentioned 'Airtel Mobile' instead of just 'Airtel'. Airtel Broadband service (where I am also a platinum customer) is just amazing and I love those girls and guys. If they are that big, they must be doing something right. Perhaps, my case was unique and someone could look into this issue. 

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