Thursday, February 23, 2012

The best gadget for you

Men are born speco-file - we have the innate urge to compare everything we own in terms of measurable data, comparing them to 3 decimal places, and declaring something a winner. We just can't help it - when we read a review, we jump straight to the comparison section. 

Our buying decisions, the joy of owning something, our social prestige somehow depends on these small differences. If your fast car is revealed to be 0.02 sec slower than model X in 0-100 kmph drag test, life somehow loses all its meaning!

I was no different, but a few episodes over time have changed me somewhat.

Being a motorbike freak, I was looking to buy a new one. The usual modus operandi - pouring over magazines, websites, blogs - comparing data on BHP, torque, acceleration and everything else. Generally getting confused. A friend helpfully guided me to a web-site that had everything on bikes, but do you think these things help? 

While salivating over the sexily shot pictures I came across one small paragraph  near the end. As I loosely recall, it brusquely asked the readers not to worry about the specifications - unlikely that you amateurs would ever push limits - and basically any bike featured would be fabulous for you. Buy whatever your most trusted dealer offers you, as getting it serviced reliably would be your main concern once you own

Trust me, it read PROFOUND to me then. And has served me extremely well since.

The second involved my tennis skill (or the lack of it). Having taken to tennis as part of my keep fit regimen, I was soon consumed by desire to improve it. String type, racket balance, shoes, grip everything went through a makeover without any effect. Like every aspiring tennis player, I blamed my racket for it and went shopping. 

I had a friend accompanying me. Exhaustive search, trial swings and game analysis later, a $450 beaut of a Wilson was my baby. Sharing I tried persuading him to buy it too. The guy was ass-hole to reply "it's OK, I know the limitation in my game is due to my ability, not my equipment"! Well, that ass-hole saved me 300 bucks with his remark!

So sometime back, when I wanted to buy a dSLR, I lapped up a review of Nikon D90 which asked in the end - "D90 is very capable, the question is - are you?". I calmly went ahead and bought a D40. Great buy. I have only recently upgraded to a D7000 after being somewhat confident that I need a better one.

So if you feel caught up in the specifications-war just remember - what do you want it for? And stick by your answer.


A Chaotic Welcome

Nigeria believes in making a good first impression! 

Murtala Mohammad Airport in Lagos is such a joy, easily being one of the most confusing places in the world, where order clashes with chaos & technology with human ingenuity. Where logic comes cropper against whimsical bureaucracy, and where passenger comfort is as scarce as clothes in a porn flick. It's a fascinating place nevertheless - IF you can detach yourself from the surroundings and attain nirvana enough to watch everything uncritically. 

Normally, I love a bit of disorder - at some level it indicates a sign of growth where there is little time to make thing perfect through endless repetitions of the same routine. Things have to adapt to the new and simultaneously keep functioning, even if barely. 

Nigeria must be growing furiously.

Chaos/disorder is not just the preserve of Nigeria - most of the developing world is afflicted by it. A crush of poor humanity being served by insufficient resources rarely produce order. Apathy adds the devilish twists in the tale. Airports are just a part of the whole problem. 

A pattern begins to emerge after you have been through experience a few times. Some will strike you in the face even if you are not very observant:

  • Logic is for fools: most processes would amaze you with sheer stupidity. Lagos airport has two separate queues for Nigerians/Non-Nigerians, enforced strictly, but merge into one just before the immigration desk! Libreville (Gabon) visa-on-arrival process has 3-4 different people doing the same thing and managing to misplace documents with amazing regularity. Ivory Coast will fingerprint you scrupulously every time you pass through - not sure what they do with that data. 
  • Employment generation: seems to be the single aim of any process. Period. In Ghana, relatively well-ordered, 8 different people checked my passport before I reached the aircraft (5-7 people is normal). A Nigerian immigration desk has 3 people - one to look at your immigration sip, another to look through your passport and the 3rd to stamp it.
  • User comfort: Is a concept successively bred out of bureaucracy. After nearly de-clothing you in process of security check, they won't even provide a chair to sit yourself back in order. There would be some chairs, but a posse of security guards would be occupying it. Toilets would be on another floor. Walkways that go in just one direction if at all. Boarding gates that would change without notice. The works!
But what makes up for all this is friendliness and helping attitude of ordinary people. Most would be unfailingly polite, courteous and quick to lend a helping hand. And if you are willing to tip, everything is possible.

Let's raise a toast to these ordinary folks! May you get what you have spent a life-time hoping for. And not succumbing to pressures of simply surviving. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An ode to Steve Jobs - I love you, love you not

Dear Steve, I loved you and loved everything you made. There will never be another visionary like you. May you rest in peace. But I am not divided into camps like gadget-fans seem to be nowadays. I have an enormous debt to MS and what they did for me by their non-elitist approach to computing. You might be critical of their approach but to me and a few million others like me, PC clones and Windows were truly life changing in ways you cannot even imagine. 

Steve Jobs is no more and the world is poorer for it.

I would not go into how he changed the world many times over - Google his name and you'll Internet full of it. I write about Apple and Steve from the perspective of a child growing up in a third world nation.

The first time I saw a computer was in school. It was housed in a closed forbidding room and we had to take off our shoes before entering it. Our teacher was more strict about the no shoes rule than the nearby temple. Not sure who or why came up with that rule, but we were hardly in the position to question it. Allowed only to spend about 15 mins per week, our fascination knew no bounds. There was no question of buying one - our bloody school could afford just a few! There was no "personal" in PCs yet.

Naturally I planned to persuade my dad to buy me one as soon as he could. I got one eventually - a masterpiece with 10MB HDD, 512KB of RAM, and a bootleg copy of DOS. Sometimes it made more noise than my car does today. It cost my dad a bomb - more than a few months worth of salary. I stuck with it for a long time - upgrading the hardware, and the software. I wasn't really a nerd, and was never very comfortable with DOS. Windows 3.1 was a dream come true. Plus the fact a pirated copy did not cost a dime.

All this while, we just used to hear fables about a different kind of computer made by a company called Apple. Read about how you had to leave Apple; breathless reviews of NeXT and exploits of Pixar. And yes, closely followed your return and world domination.

The love was not instantaneous. Apple price-list made me dizzy - 3000 dollars could be small fortune in India of '90s. I first saw one at an advertising agency, and was suitably impressed. But of course, buying one was out of question. My first purchase was in Singapore. Even for an avowed Nokia fan, iPhone 3G was a marvel. Not been able to use any other phone since then. In fact a company provided BB seems almost like a punishment. There have been several other purchases since, and I'm sure there will be more in future.

No doubt, Steve could make products that were unlike anything else. No doubt he made technology cool. He made it easy to use. He made ordinary people comfortable with gadgets.

But for me personally, it will never match up with what MS did for me, unwittingly or by design, and for million others like me. Supporting cheap assembled computers, making affordable software that ran on any machine, especially their office suite. Thank god MS won that battle, otherwise Apple's quest for perfection would have pushed back the computer revolution by another decade.

Apple has been critical of their approach, and scoff at their less-than-pristine product, but the fact is that this very approach has spread computer revolution all over the world and gave people like me a chance to be a part of the digital revolution. THAT was life changing. A Mac might be Rolls Royce to Model T of PC, but it was the latter that brought in the car revolution.

I love Apple but my eternal gratitude will always be with Microsoft. 

Vettel - world champion at 23...but we can still find fault with that!!!

And so with four races to spare, we have a 23 year old F1 world champion in Sebastian Vettel. And a double World Champion at that. While the fans and media world over have hailed this feat, a small section of fans, typically hailing from a small island, are not very impressed. Their objections range from stupid to ridiculous.

  1. Adrian Newey is the real winner: sure, he designed a fast car, faster than anything else on the track, but it still needed someone to drive it to its limit which Seb did fantastically. And Webber not so fantastically - the same Webber that could have been the WC last year!
  2. Put anyone in a red bull and he'll be as fast: more specifically, Hamilton and Button would be faster. Yeah, even the same Hamilton who is being thrashed by his team-mate lately. Unless they have some inside info, or the ability to conduct "what-if" experiments, there is no basis for this objection. 
  3. Cars win races, not drivers: well then, with this line of reasoning, any driver does not deserve any credit.
  4. Seb is a driver, not a racer: nuff said - he has already demonstrated his racing craft this season - Alonso would testify to that!  

This all from people who would not have touched 100 mph in their life! I watched the Sepang GP from the track-side and the speed awesome - to not just control the car but to race at that speed - even the thought is frightening! To have the ability to push your car against the limit and come out tops race after race against the best drivers in the world is an amazing feat.

All this at 23! To be the best in the world at anything - most of us can't even imagine what it must be like. So please don't even try. Salute his genius and hope your heroes can find some way to beat him next year. 

Till then, hail Vettel!

P.S: Would love to see Schumi once more on the podium before he retires!