10 years of blogging

10 year badge

Time sure flies.

I started this blog when I had just started off my first job in IBM and while the viewership has never really taken off, there have been posts that have received decent number of hits over the course of time.

Most of my posts have been of the geeky kind centred around technology. I have also posted on movies over the last few years. I had also connected my online bookmarking services at different points in time for daily and weekly posts, but it just seemed to clutter up the site.

Here’s hoping to a few more decades of posting.

My iPhone Home Screen for 2015

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It’s the start of a new year and it’s time to review the apps on my iPhone home screen, an exercise I started last year. Many of the apps remain the same, while a few make it back into the home screen while a couple of others for replaced due to apps getting discontinued. Here goes a brief summary of the apps starting from the top:

  • The first 6 apps remain the same as last year which are the Apple defaults.
  • Todoist: The cross platform support including desktop apps and the convenient IFTTT channel made me pick Todoist as my preferred to do manager. This slot was occupied by the location based reminder Checkmark 2 last year, but I more or less gave up on the concept due to its relative unreliability with reminders not getting triggered in the right locations.
  • Alarmed: It retains its spot as my preferred reminder and timer management app. I had briefly switched to 2Do but that turned out to be a bit of an overkill and not as easy to use for me. Moreover Alarmed finally got an update for iOS 8 notification actions towards the middle of the year to get on with the times.
  • Messages & Whatsapp: The messaging apps remain the same and with more people in office getting iPhones Messages is getting a good workout. Whatsapp also got an update for iOS notification replies and other tweaks over the year to become more convenient to use.
  • Inbox: Dropbox dropped a bomb towards the end of the year with its discontinuation of Mailbox and I promptly made the switch to Google’s own Inbox which seems to be the way forward for Gmail and has many of my regularly used features of Mailbox like swipe based actions.
  • OneNote: This is my preferred note taking app thanks to its cross platform support and I’ve been using it even more thanks to the IFTTT integration that allows me to create stubs based on triggers from other services. E.g. I have my Office365 meetings from the calendar create stubs to record meeting notes.
  • Google Maps, Uber & Ola: The must have travel related services for me. Google Maps continues to be an excellent source to monitor traffic conditions and the locations in India are a lot more up to date than Apple Maps. You can also download maps for offline use now, but that’s going to be difficult on a 16 GB phone like mine. I’ve also done my bit by editing a few places where I found inaccuracies. For the taxi services, Uber joins Ola as my go to services and I’ve been using these 2 services almost exclusively for the last 6 months for my day to day travels instead of the local kaali peeli taxis in Mumbai ever since the strikes started in June.
  • Day One: I’ve managed to continue my journal habits though I’ve toned down the mundane stuff. Not much to add over last year.
  • Safari: It replaces Chrome as my preferred browser on the iPhone due to its support for ad blockers introduced in iOS 9 (I’ve retained the copy of the discontinued Peace). Since I use a MacBook at work, the handoff and continuity features give me the cross platform browsing support I need.
  • Streaks: I’ve been using this app to maintain some habits like hitting step targets, reading a book daily, going to bed in time, leaving office in time etc.
  • Hours: A simple time tracking app for different projects. Had a bit of a buyer’s remorse when the app got a big price cut right after I bought it and then went free within a month. It’s a bit buggy as well. Still, a useful app to have to track my time distribution at work.
  • Left to Spend: A simple app to track a daily budget manually. In my case I use it to track the office food court prepaid card balance.
  • Phone: For voice calls, duh!
  • Outlook: My preferred email client for work and the new avatar of Accompli that Microsoft acquired to create the mobile Outlook app. This retains the best of Accompli’s features like the integrated calendar view and provides better support for other services.
  • Moneybook: I continue to track my expenses manually on this app. I tried a few other options briefly including switching to the Android based Mi 4 with its automated expense trackers, but end up returning to this every time thanks to the simple interface and the ability to perform simple arithmetic operations during entries. This would be the perfect expense tracker for me if only it had a search feature.
  • Camera: Tried a few replacements, but stuck to this as the default.

A few of the home screen apps from last year like Camera+, Shazam and Wikipanion have moved on to the second screen while I removed Paper and Argus due to the limited developments. I also deliberately moved away the social network apps to the second screen to reduce the time spent on them (not very successful yet). Overall, not a big change in the type of apps though I see a few apps moving around over the next year. Also looking forward to the new entries this year.

Tamasha or Corsican Cheese

Watched the movie in the night show yesterday and went in with my expectations low based on the feedback from my family and friends. The first half turned out to be pretty decent albeit composed of recycled Imtiaz Ali material, while the second half was definitely better than Rockstar. I’m really beginning to wonder whether we’re part of a really confused generation whose parents spent the better part of their lives to ensure a comfortable living for us for it to only give rise to a set of new problems. 3 Idiots was really onto something and seems to have been a trendsetter along the lines of HAHK & DDLJ. That said, the performances of the leading pair was pretty good.

Nonetheless here go my customary observations:

  • They really used the iPhone to establish the movie timeline with the Corsica episode from 4-5 years ago featuring an iPhone 3G or thereabouts and the present jumping to the iPhone 5s & 6. I wonder whether Deepika Padukone had something to do with this given her handling of the iPhone in Piku.
  • Asterix in Corsica was the first thing that came to my mind when they showed the place label and within 5 minutes the heroine was referring to it as her inspiration to visit the place.
  • The movie is targeted squarely at my generation right from the way they depict the childhood scenes and pastimes, to the corporate life.
  • The Catch-22 book featured has a symbolistic charm of the yesteryears.
  • It’s a mini miracle of sorts to have a thriving library of the kind shown in the movie in the current times. Then again, something of the sort might exist in Delhi that I may not be aware of.
  • Quite a few sequences from the first half brought back memories of Jab We Met (it easily remains my favourite Imtiaz Ali movie and one of my all time favourites as well) but with the hero & heroine roles reversed.

Troubleshooting site loading times on BSNL broadband

My parents got a BSNL fibre connection in Bangalore recently and promised speeds were in the double digit Mbps range. However, the connection was very erratic with many sites like facebook loading ok once and then just refusing to load properly. The speed tests were all ok giving results in the 10+ Mbps range and ping and traceroute from the router also didn’t indicate any issues. Even changing the DNS servers to Google didn’t make any difference.

The problem was persistent across all our devices ranging from laptops to phones & tablets, and faced both on wifi and wired connections. Finally came across this old post recommending an update to the MTU size settings to 1460 (it was set to 1480 for me) and sure enough, things speeded up and seem to be working fine. It seems to have been caused by some changes in the BSNL server setup.

MTU size setting under the PPPoE advanced options on a TP-Link router
MTU size setting under the PPPoE advanced options on a TP-Link router

So, if you have a BSNL connection and are facing a similar issue, just go to your router connection settings and update the MTU settings to 1460. In case you would like to do some more granular troubleshooting, check out this post that lays down the steps to figure out the ideal MTU settings by trial & error.

iOS 9 on the original iPad mini & iPhone 5s

I updated to iOS 9 on my iPad mini and iPhone 5s within the first week of launch, and been using it for nearly 2 weeks now. The update was a lot easier this time due to the space optimisations and I managed to do an OTA update on the iPhone unlike last time.

iOS 9 comes with its share of tweaks and optimisations that are supposed to improve performance on older devices, but I haven’t noticed much difference in terms of performance on either device which is in line with the observations of others. That said a few games like Limbo that were crashing on startup on my iPad mini (even after device restarts) seem to be at least working now.

While the iPhone 5s gets pretty much all the new features introduced in iOS 9 barring the ones that require special hardware, the iPad mini is left out of practically all the marquee features like content blocking, Siri-Spotlight search improvements and all of the split screen features. That said the iPad keyboard is improved and sports the cut-copy-paste & undo-redo buttons and also supports the two finger cursor navigation gesture. iOS 9 also brings back the 4×4 grid of icons in folders on the iPad, so it is not a total lost cause.

Battery life also seems to be in the same ballpark, though the iPhone seems to be exhibiting a slight improvement in the last few days. Of course that is hardly sufficient to last me a full day even with the new Low Power Mode. The additional details in the battery usage section of settings is also quite useful as it shows the screen on time and overall active time for each item as well.

I also noticed that iPhone only apps when run on the iPad no longer show the top status bar as a part of the app, but leave it on the top of the screen. This is possibly a result of the split screen multitasking capabilities introduced in iOS 9.

A gotcha to keep in mind on the iPhone is the Wifi assist feature (something that’s been on Android for a while) that’s on by default and tries to use the mobile network when the wifi is poor. This can easily burn through your data plan and is best left turned off on limited data plans.

There are also some features like app slicing that are currently disabled due to glitches, but should improve the storage situation on all devices. This is one of the features I’m really looking forward to on my 16 GB iPhone.

Overall, the experience has been quite good though the iPad mini is beginning to show its age. Pretty evident why Apple pulled the device off the market earlier this year. This year also marks a complete 64 bit transition for Apple’s entire device lineup starting from the iPod Touch to the iPad and Apple TV.

The Rusty Sword of Justice

I managed to watch Talvar on its release day thanks to the holiday yesterday. It was a pretty sad commentary on the state of the investigation organisations, judicial system and society as a whole. The performances all around were excellent as expected. The organisation dynamics (or politics, if you prefer) depicted in the CDI could just as easily be representative of your organisation.

The movie does not leave any ambiguity on the theory it prefers. Personally, I would have preferred some degree of subtlety and the graphic violence to have been off screen. Nonetheless, the movie leaves its mark on you, and shows the importance of forensics.

As for my regular tech thoughts:

  • The mobile phones shown in the movie are pretty much used to establish the period of the events.
  • They managed to get hold of laptops with old Intel logos as well. Then again this may not have been by design given the slow down in laptop replacement cycle.
  • The so called back stabbing video of police brutality captured on the mobile phone was a bit of a stretch given the poor lighting conditions. Most of today’s phones would struggle in those conditions and a Blackberry from 5-7 years ago would’ve captured a blurry unidentifiable mess.

Lifeline

A simple yet engaging game for the mobile world. Imagine you’re communicating with a person stranded in a remote location and guiding them along. Your inputs could easily be a matter of life and death at that.

In terms of game mechanics, it is a very simple game since it’s just plain text with A-B choice making. The real novelty is in the game pacing as the communication happens in real time, so you’ll be playing it over the course of a few days.

The game’s currently on sale on both the App Store (just ₹10 in India) and Play Store, so go get it and enjoy a round of innovative story telling.  

Thoughts on the Sep 2015 Apple event

Looks like Apple is revamping their event calendar and spacing out the events a bit more reasonable with one at the start and one towards the end. It was also a pretty busy event with ton of new launches and quite a few items that were skipped altogether – most notably the Mac OS X update. Of course the gist most of the announcements made in the event were known beforehand, but there were some surprises nonetheless.

The long rumoured iPad Pro finally made its debut and pretty much validated the strategy that Microsoft had pioneered with their Surface Pro series – you need a screen larger than 10″, split screen multitasking and a keyboard to make tablets more productive. And then of course there was the Apple Pencil which was again expected given the need for precision & flexibility when drawing. The 2 biggest takeaways was first, Microsoft demoing Office in the session that pretty much sums up the vastly different approach taken in the Satya Nadella era, and second the near doubling of quoted performance of the iPad Pro over the Air 2. This definitely makes the writing clearer on the wall for Intel, as the iPad Air 2 was nearly half as fast as the Core M processors and this should bring the performance in the same ballpark. In fact, in the last few years, Apple has probably been the biggest factor behind Intel’s innovations given the dearth of competition from AMD.

The fact that there was no other iPad update, unless you count the passing mention of the iPad mini 4, shows the speed at which the tablet market has matured and reached a good enough state. Arguably, the iPad 2 was at a good enough state in terms of hardware power and is still being supported with iOS 9. The iPad Pro is Apple’s attempt to grow the tablet market beyond home users and into the enterprise segment. That will definitely take a good deal of time given that most enterprises are Microsoft strongholds and the cost factor will prevent them from outright replacing PCs. Also, whatever the demos may want you to believe, most enterprise workers do not get to do such fancy stuff with their devices.

Health seems to have become the main usage focus for the Apple Watch given the proportion of time given for fitness and health related aspects. This is also probably one of the scenarios where the performance of the Watch will not be constrained as a first generation hardware. The partnership with Hermes also emphasised the luxury status of the Watch, and unless the pricing changes over the years (unusual for new launches), price will remain one of the major roadblocks to its adoption. The second generation of the Watch is likely to improve the internals significantly, and we are likely to have a white iPhone moment in the future with a round Apple Watch.

Then there was the Apple TV that at last gave us a glimpse of Steve Jobs famous “I finally cracked it” quote. Technology was definitely not one of the factors that had held back the Apple TV from being launched in the last couple of years, as the real battle is with the content providers rather than any of the other apps. In fact, it will probably be a while before people outside the US or some of the typical Apple strongholds will get much in form of regional content on the Apple TV. There was also no mention of HomeKit in the entire session, and this likely means that while the hardware is probably present in the new TV, the ecosystem has some way to go. The Apple TV also affirms the A8s new role as the venerable A5s long term replacement given that the iPod Touch and iPad Mini 4 upgrade to A8.

Last but not the least, the iPhone 6s\6s+ updates were also along expected lines and oddly enough relegated to the end of the show. Force Touch or rather 3D Touch definitely opens up a new dimension of interaction, but the real innovation will be when we have touchscreens that are able to simulate the feel of different surfaces. The camera improvements were also pretty much mandatory given the older 8 MP sensors inability to shoot 4K videos. The unusual part of the new devices was the increase in weight of both models by almost 10% and an almost imperceptible increase in size. Then there were a bunch of touted features that have been seen before in other phones on the Android and Windows side of the fence like moving photos (HTC Zoe) and using the display as a flash (LG).

Overall, the product launches rounded off a very busy year for Apple, but there was a sense of deja vu with many of the showcased features which other companies have previously demonstrated to about 80% of their potential. It is however, the last 20% of spit, polish and sweat that typically separates the Apple experiences from the rest.

Upgrading to Windows 10 on a 4 year old laptop

Upgrading to Windows 10
Upgrading to Windows 10

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my 4 year old Acer Aspire 5750G laptop to Windows 10 from Windows 7 thanks to the free upgrade offer. I managed to wait for a couple of weeks after the release before pulling the plug. The machine is quite reasonably specced with a Core i5-2410M processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD (upgraded from 500 GB) and the NVIDIA 540M GPU, and barring the slow hard disk is well equipped to run Windows 10.

The upgrade process was itself quite painless – took a good amount of time to download on my 2 Mbps connection, but the installation itself took around 1.5 hours. There were a few updates including one for the touchpad, and they installed without much fuss either. I also updated the NVIDIA graphics drivers to the Windows 10 version.

The OS itself is quite easy to use and I find the interface an improvement over Windows 7 and agree with my most read reviewers. Compared to Windows 8\8.1 that I’ve used intermittently over the last few years, the experience is definitely a marked improvement particularly on laptops.

The overall experience is pretty much as it was in Windows 7 for me as there are not that many useful Windows Store apps yet, and the laptop is without a touchscreen to make use of full screen apps. The improvements to Explorer, Task Manager and rest of the OS are of course welcome, but would definitely have not been a compelling reason to upgrade were it not free. Cortana has unfortunately not yet released for India, and some of the newer security features require newer hardware.

Having used a MacBook Air for over a year and a half now, I do find some of the new features like multiple desktops quite useful but the experience is hampered by the poor touchpad. Then of course there is the HDD vs SSD performance chasm that puts a big dampener on the Windows usage. If you are eligible for an update, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger (unless you have some incompatible components of course). I’ve also signed up for the Insider builds for some more excitement and quicker access to new features.

The next few months should be interesting with the touch versions of Office for Windows being released and the next generation of Intel processors showing up in devices. Maybe a compelling time for an update…

What a commuter wants…

… is a reliable means of transport to get them from point A to point B. Of course, it helps if the commute is pocket friendly, comfortable and fast. While taxis & autos in Mumbai adhere to the fare meters (unlike certain other metros), refusal is a universal problem shared by all commuters irrespective of the availability. The first generation of private cab services like Meru, TabCab, EasyCab did try to sort out this problem to an extent, but never managed to have enough cabs available or offer fares competitive with kaali-peelis or autos (AC notwithstanding).

Ola also jumped into this space following in Meru’s footsteps before significantly restructuring their pricing model upon Uber’s entry. These 2 taxi service aggregators reached near kaali peeli fare levels and offered a much more reliable (read disincentivised refusals) and more readily available service. In fact, Ola even tried to get kaali peelis on their app, but the effort seems to have fizzled out after a promising start.

The rest of the script is also playing out just like in the rest of the world and even a city like Mumbai, the so called commercial capital of India, has witnessed 2 taxi strikes within a couple of months. While the first strike was accompanied by Mumbai commuters discovering the basic Economics concept of supply and demand thanks to the Uber surge pricing, the second one has shown how disabling surge pricing makes life difficult and reduces the availability of cabs. Either way, the commuter has gotten the wrong end of the stick.

I just hope that we find a better solution than the other countries to this whole standoff between the incumbents and upstarts. Too bad the kaali peelis and autos don’t think of adopting a no refusal policy – something that’d get Ola and Uber in real trouble.