Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Archive for August 2007

Flight Mode!

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First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

So there I was, sitting in a Jet Airways flight frantically scrolling the “Pearl” trackball on a Blackberry Curve, engaged in a fearsome battle between paddle and bricks, when the air hostess tapped my shoulder. “I’m sorry Sir, you have to switch that off”, she says politely. “It’s in flight mode”, I tell her, hoping that I haven’t let the ball fall while looking up. “There’s no such thing as flight mode, Sir”, she tells me knowingly. Politeness can be annoying when combined with ignorance. “But if you’re letting people use laptops, how is this any different? It’s just a small computer”. I’m not giving up easily but she doesn’t seem flustered. “No sir, the ‘waves’ cause the screens in the cockpit to flicker”. Now she’s just making stuff up. When I question her as to what waves exactly, since all the radios (GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) on my phone are off, she pulls out her trump card. “I’m sorry sir, DGCA notification 133, prohibits use of phones, sir”. I give up and put my phone away. It could still have its radios on in my pocket and there’s no way she would know. Just to test the idiocy of the rule, I keep my data card in my laptop switched on throughout my next flight. This makes the laptop work exactly like a phone but no one asks me to turn it off. I’m quite certain that I’m not endangering my co-passengers or the aircraft equipment, because I’ve cross checked with at least three people before boarding this flight. A telecom company CTO, a pilot and a professor of electrical engineering all tell me it’s a big bogey with no scientific basis. The rule itself is archaic and my experience clearly proves that it has no way of being effectively implemented even if it were true.

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The new on-board DTH (or actually shouldn’t it be called DTS ie. Direct-To-Seat?) on Kingfisher Airlines is awesome. Watching live television in the air is quite a kick and even makes long flights bearable. The LCD screens have a very good viewing angle and in fact I was easily able to see the screens of passengers sitting on either side in addition to my own. The brightness and contrast control buttons don’t work and not all channels have equally good reception. There was no disturbance at all on my flight though colleagues tell me that it doesn’t work perfectly in bad weather and they’ve had blackouts on certain flights. Scrolling tickers on news channels are a bit blurred but imminently readable and the pixelation is visible only when you stare hard at something static like a channel logo. The headphones that come in the little kit are supposed to clip onto your ears and start biting the earlobes after about an hour. Some of the frequent flyers around me seemed to be aware of this and were using their own headsets. Overall, the experience gets two thumbs up and is definitely a differentiator. The only annoying part of the experience is when the captain interrupts the TV audio feed to make an important announcement: “Ladies and Gentleman … introducing live TV on Kingfisher …”. Considering every single person on the flight is already tuned into some channel or the other, the timing is awful. Suddenly, a bunch of people burst out laughing. I peer through the seats in front of me, expecting to see them all watching The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Nope, that’s Yana Gupta giving flight instructions in Hindi. I agree – that’s pretty hilarious!

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 27, 2007 at 1:44 am

Social NOTworking ?

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First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

Orkut has finally decided to acknowledge that it is a rage in India by announcing that it will conduct special Independence day polls on the site. Google’s social network has been getting all kinds of bad press lately, not to mention threats from the Shiv Sena, even though the party patriarch’s grandchildren are fairly active users. I’ve always wondered why Orkut is such a big hit in some countries (60% of the traffic is from Brazil and about 15% from India) but a complete dud in Europe and North America. Very few Indians use MySpace which rules the roost in the US though Facebook is apparently becoming very popular especially among those who’ve studied overseas. In fact the whole “social networking” thing is a bit crazy and no one knows who’s going to survive and more importantly what can be monetized and how. The original pioneers like Friendster, LinkedIn, Ryze and Classmates have rapidly been overtaken and specialist networks like Youtube (videos) Flickr (photos) and Digg (News) have just complicated the whole thing.

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The social networking scene in India is displaying classic “bubble” symptoms. President of Reliance Entertainment, Rajesh Sawhney recently told contentsutra.com that Big Adda, the ADAG group’s social networking site would break even in 3 years. That’s an eternity in the internet business and thus such a prediction about something that nobody in the world has figured out how to milk, is pretty ambitious to say the least. The Indian arm of Sequoia Capital recently invested in minglebox.com adding to its portfolio that already includes dating portal fropper.com. I’ve checked out all these sites and while they seem interesting enough, I don’t see the need to sign up for more than one or maybe two such services. The other day I was in Bhopal and introduced to a local internet entrepreneur who runs scratchmysoul.com which claims to be the world’s only people mapping site. The project is based on the intellectual property of Raghav Chandra who belongs to one of the most important offline social networks in the country – the Indian Administrative Service!

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“Desis” seem to have gotten the short end of the stick as far as cashing out on the social networking boom in Silicon Valley is concerned. Jawed Karim, whose father is Bangladeshi, was the third, ignored co-founder of YouTube and only got crumbs from the sellout to Google (a mere $64.6 million as against $326 million each, for the other two co-founders). Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg is facing a high profile lawsuit from a group of former Harvard colleagues who claim that he stole their idea. One of them is a young man called Divya Narendra, who reportedly works for a hedge fund these days. In both cases the desis seem to have been the technical whizkids who did most of the backend work while the smooth talkers laughed all the way to the bank. In fact Indians or people of Indian origin are yet to make a big impact on what being called “boom 2.0” in the valley. Possibly the most influential Indian 2.0 in the valley these days is Om Malik who runs the Gigaom.com blogging network. Its core competence? Extensive news, information and analysis of the Web 2.0 phenomenon – circular ain’t it?

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FULL DISCLOSURE: There is a rather large official “Tech 2.0” community on Orkut.com

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 13, 2007 at 1:43 am

iPhone At Last!

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First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

We waited for the “unlocked” piece that would, rest assured, hit the Indian grey market a few days after the iPhone launch in the US. It never came! All that chest thumping in the newspapers from the Palika bazaar and Nehru Place wheeler dealers proved to be an empty boast. This baby was secure and unbreakable. There was only one way to do it – the legal way. We called up TV18’s New York bureau chief, Indira Kannan and asked her if she would buy one, activate it and send it across to us. Luckily Indira’s existing plan was coming to an end and she wanted to switch operators anyway. In the US they have number portability which means she could retain her number even if she changed to AT&T. So she bought it, got it up and running, routed her calls to voicemail and set up a cheap international roaming and dialing plan on it. She packed it, shipped it and sent it. Just to make sure that there would be no customs hassles, we asked her not to send it in the box. It arrived safe and sound.

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Suddenly, the geeks at Tech 2.0 are the coolest, most popular people in the office. We’re getting mobbed and manhandled. People are asking us for autographs! Ok, maybe not that last sentence, but the rest is true.

I’ve been reviewing gadgets for half a decade now and never has anything in my hand got the reaction that this gets. Just seeing the joy and wonder on people’s faces when you show them some of the nifty multi-touch tricks, is fantastic. Tech 2.0 Editor, Varun Singh, got to spend a night with it and I’ve pried it outta his hands for a couple of days till the reviewers take over.

I’ve been an iPhone skeptic in the past, but I may just cease to be a naysayer. None of the cool features have any real utility but Apple has never been about pragmatism has it? The sheer “cool” value of flicking your fingers on the screen and “pinching” photographs puts you in another league of user. I’m sure our reviewers will find lots of glitches but the first week preview is a total thumbs up.

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A source at NASSCOM tells me that they’re trying to get Apple founder Steve Jobs to address the big annual summit in February next year. It’s definitely going to be a stretch since Apple has little interest in India. Not only have they refused to officially set up shop in one of the world’s fastest growing markets but they were among the first to pull back tech support from Bangalore.

I suggested that NASSCOM try the emotional route to bringing him here. Jobs, at Stanford’s 2005 convocation, admitted that he used to have his only meal of the week at a Hare Krishna temple. This was when he was hanging around at Reed College for a year, even after dropping out and learning ran dom stuff like calligraphy, which eventually inspired the superb Mac intosh fonts. He then backpacked around India for a bit with a friend before going back to start Apple. And if all that isn’t enough, his spoof online avataar, the consistently hilarious ‘Fake Steve Jobs’ loves saying “Namaste!”

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 6, 2007 at 1:41 am