Abhi 2.0 on Technology

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

Archive for March 2008

Tech Tonic #4: Tech Audit

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Tech Audit

It’s the end of the financial year and while I collate my bills and claims, it’s also high time I audited FY08’s tech purchases. I bought lots of stuff, some cool, some junk so lets take a hard-nosed look and pass judgment:

ASSETS

– Shower Radio:
Technically I didn’t buy it since it was gifted but what a great gift! It really doesn’t get better than (a waterproof) FM Radio in the bathroom. This inexpensive cute chunky plastic box has just two knobs – one for controlling the frequency and one for volume.There’s a small digital clock and holes for the in-built speaker. It takes 4 AA batteries nevertheless highly recommended!

– Nintendo Wii:
This one was swung by WAF (Wife Acceptability Factor). There was no way an Xbox or PlayStation was entering the home and having me glued to it 24×7. The Nintendo Wii on the other hand is the most fun, stress-busting and yet addictive gaming experience I’ve had. We’ve thrown Wii-kend parties with friends who just can’t get enough of it. Whoever said gamers have no social life?

– iPod Touch
I bought this purely on a whim – no iPhone yet in India and I desperately wanted to “flick and pinch” (before dirty thoughts enter your mind) photos, songs and videos. But once this thing gets on the net, it’s the best handheld internet browser EVER made. Its also among the best resolution screens on so slim a device and my VCD collection is now being ripped for use solely on the Touch.

– SMC Mini Wi-Fi Router
It costs less than four thousand bucks, is incredibly easy to set up (just plug the internet cable in) and doesn’t require software installation. Multiple laptops and Wi-Fi gadgets (such as the previous two on this list) then easily share the single net connection at home. Just remember to password protect your router lest the neighbours decided they don’t need to buy their own.

– HP Scanjet 2400
I had no idea that scanners had become so cheap – less than 3k – though when I did order it, I questioned the need to pick up such a big dust collector. However, a little discipline from my side in scanning EVERYTHING to make life paperless has proven to make this the best decision of the year. I’ve not had to pull out anything from old files to xerox – just browse, attach and email/print!

LIABILITIES

– Skype Wireless Phone
This is nothing but a plastic “phone” shaped Wi-Fi device that has no software except on it except Skype. You connect to Wi-Fi, login to Skype, access your friends list and call them. Its basically a substitute for having to sit in front of your PC with headphones and mic. Nice concept, but not worth 5k considering I’ve used it less than a dozen times all year!

– Digital Photo Frame
I bought two of these as gifts, but was too tempted and opened one to keep for myself in the drawing room. The image quality is poor, it has an ugly cable for power supply that gets in the way and most importantly I haven’t had the time or “enthu” to replace the memory card with pictures that I slotted in, when I first opened it nearly a year ago.

– Onkyo Gladiator 5.1 Home Theatre
This one was heavily subsidized thanks to credit card points but took a dozen follow-ups over 4 months with HDFC bank before it landed up. It takes up tons of space and has created a wiring mess. Moreover there aren’t enough movies out there in the market with 5.1 Dolby sound to enjoy. White elephant alert!

– LG xCanvas 37″ HDTV
Its on the same table that the much bulkier “tube” was on, so the space-saving of the thin LCD is redundant. TV signal in India is not HD (High Definition) so my cable actually looks worse on this than on my old 29″. I don’t have an HD gaming console and I don’t intend to buy a Blu-Ray disc player till prices hit 10k ie. mid 2009! Early adoption be damned, this could have easily waited; I’m sure a 46″ will be the same price by next year!

– Sony Cybershot T-100
Never buy a digital camera which requires that the battery be taken out and charged separately. I have no issues with the camera itself; its only the painful charging that has ensured that I’ve never had it ready when I most needed it. In any case, in the future, I’m going either for a great mobile phone-cam or an entry level Digital SLR . The era of these in-between pocket “digicams”, for me, is over!

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Written by Abhi 2.0

March 23, 2008 at 7:28 am

Tech Tonic #3: (Audio) Book Worm

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It had been a while since I’d done a 10-hour long road trip and options to keep myself busy such as reading a book or watching a video on my iPod Touch had been ruled out because of motion sickness. The only alternative was audio but listening to music for more than half an hour, isn’t really my thing. I decided that this was the time to try out Audible.com – the world’s leading ‘audiobook’ provider. I’d read that Amazon had just announced it was buying Audible for 300 million dollars and I’d made a mental note to try out the concept of “listening to a book”.

The night before the trip, I logged on to Audible.com and punched in my credit cards details and other information. The site has a nice clean design, loads quickly and the registration process, at first seems smooth. I initiated the one-time download of the Audible Manager software and while it downloaded in the background, I got down to making the tough choice of picking my first audiobook. You can chose books by category or look at the bestseller lists or even the site’s own recommendations. The most brilliant part about the interface is the ability to hear how the book is going to sound. Under a small image of every book cover is a play/pause button that on clicking, immediately starts a sample excerpt. You get a feel of the narrator’s voice and style which is critical to the selection process. For instance, listening to Lord of the Rings could be a disaster unless you’re a certified Elvish speaker! The narrator pronounces all the names and places using the exact guidelines laid down by author JRR Tolkein himself for these (fictional) languages, which is mind-bogglingly confusing compared to reading it yourself and mentally pronouncing stuff however you want. On the other hand, something like The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss had narration which sounded easy and conversational. I decided that this was my pick and clicked the ‘purchase’ button.

“This title has not been authorized for sale in your geographical region”, was the response – ouch! It became pretty apparent soon, that almost nothing had been authorized (by the publishers who hold the rights) for India. I decided on a whim to try a fabricated address. I didn’t think it would work since many similar services (eg. Apple iTunes store) are able to detect your country from the credit card number itself. Anyway, I made up a posh California residence – hey, it’s the only place in the US whose Zip Code I could remember. Watching ‘Beverly Hills 90210‘ as a teenager in the early days of STAR TV sure came in handy! To my surprise Audible accepted my address at face value and this time around I was able to purchase the book. The download of the eight hour long, 115 MB file had begun. I left the computer on standby since with my ‘Fraudband’ connection from Exatt, it would take all night. Indeed, all I had to do in the morning was drag and drop the file from iTunes onto my iPod Touch.

The listening experience was nothing short of excellent. The book itself was very good and on a player which has video display, you can see which chapter you’re on and skip back and forth easily. The downsides are that its much more tedious to rewind or fast forward compared to turning back a few pages on a real book. Also with the dreadful headphones that most players come bundled with, your earlobes start aching in a couple of hours.Finally, Audible is still an expensive option, especially for a country like India. Books are priced between Rs. 600 and Rs. 1000 which is more than what the hard copy will cost you in a bookstore.

Also, all the files are protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which means they are stored in a proprietary format called .aa and you can’t (officially) rip them into any other format like MP3 to make copies for your friends. In fact you can burn only one copy of a book onto an Audio CD. Geeky types can find workarounds pretty easily with a little googling. Also, this system works best on iPods with iTunes and is a bit cumbersome with other devices and software. However, since I own an iPod am not particularly keen on making copies, everything is fine by me. The problem now is that I’m so taken in with the theme of The 4-hour Work Week that you might just not see a column next fortnight!

Written by Abhi 2.0

March 9, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Hindustan Times

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