The best Google joke ever – “Don’t be evil”

First the Google Reader shutdown earlier this year showing that Google is not averse to shutting down services that have a significant user base. Then came the shared personal endorsement that was opt out by default and would have made Facebook proud. And now we have Google experimenting with banner ads. They sure had us fooled.

With the search results already looking like below on the iPad, nothing much left to say other than the world probably ended in 2012, and we are living in an alternate version of reality.

20131028-155243.jpg

If you are a heavy user of their services, good luck trying to get out. Money makes not only people, but also organizations do funny things.

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Apple doing to software what Microsoft did to hardware?

Now that Apple has announced that OS X updates will be free going forward, and many of its first party apps like iWork are going to be free with new devices, Microsoft seems to have its task cut out. Many people seem to think that this move by Apple will really hurt Microsoft. In some ways Apple is trying to commoditize software the way Microsoft commoditized hardware over the last 2 decades. However, there are a few key points that not many have mentioned:

  1. Microsoft has given away major OS updates for free. E.g. Windows XP SP2. In a way, the Apple move was preempted by the free Windows 8.1 update.
  2. Microsoft is a past master of bundling free software with its OS. Remember Internet Explorer vs Netscape? Or more recently, Office being given away with Windows RT.
  3. Apple hardware remains luxury items, and free OS upgrades are not going to make budget conscious people switch from Windows to Apple devices. That said, the real threat comes when people realize that a tablet meets their requirements and is probably cheaper than a PC (desktop\laptop) when it is time to get a new device.
  4. The real threat to Microsoft comes from Android, as OEMs are gradually warming up to Android as an alternative for Windows for laptops. Since the market is undergoing a major shift in the kind of personal devices being used (desktops to laptops to mobiles & tablets), there is a big scope for a free OS. Android has been successful on mobiles while Linux failed on PCs due to this very reason.
  5. OS development has an associated cost even if you do not pay a third party for it. Apple is just subsidizing the software costs through hardware margins. Even if OEMs decide to opt for Android or Chrome OS, they will need an in house team to customize the OS. Of course, OEMs probably already have an in house team developing software for Windows given the typical bloatware that comes pre-installed on PCs.

The bottom line is that Microsoft has to continue to woo its OEM partners who bring in the OS revenue, while at the same time transform its revenue source to hardware. The Nokia acquisition becomes even more important now.

Going from Amber to Update 3 Preview on the Lumia 720

I updated my Lumia 720 to Windows Phone 8 Update 3 Preview last week, and the device seems to be running quite well so far. I had the Amber update for 3 weeks before that and most of the earlier issues seemed to have been fixed in that release itself.

There are a few noticeable new features in the Update 3 Preview:

  • Ability to close open apps from the task switcher (long press the back button to bring up the task switcher and then use the close button)
  • Driving mode when using selected Bluetooth devices – it can start automatically based on your movement speed
  • Screen rotation lock

The update does not seem to have affected the battery life for me, and the device seems to be pretty stable over the past week. The screen freeze issue still happened at times, but it seems to be triggered by the Facebook App. I uninstalled the Facebook App a couple of days back and the screen freeze and random typing issue seems to be gone.

Instructions on how to install Update 3 Preview on your phone for free without a developer account:

  1. Sign up for App Studio
  2. Download the Preview for Developers app on your device
  3. Run the Preview for Developers app and Enable the option
  4. Go to the phone update section of Settings and check for updates
  5. Update 3 Preview should be automatically detected and installed

image

Note that the update cannot be rolled back and Amber\GDR2 update is a prerequisite.

The New Microsoft?

Just replace Google with Microsoft and turn back the clock by 15-20 years in the below article and you will notice striking similarities in their strategies to capture the market:

Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary | Ars Technica.

The decisions make perfect business sense and is possibly the easiest way for Google to maintain control over Android while taking care of the fragmentation issues that have plagued the platform over the last few years. As an end user this has both positive and negative implications. The good part is that we do not have to depend as much on OEMs and carriers for Android updates and features. The bad news is mainly for the open source fanatics who thought that Android was “open”.

Of course, if you are an Android device maker, particularly one that is floundering in the face of the Samsung onslaught, then you are in a tough spot. Case in point is HTC that has been making pretty distinct devices that get good reviews, but doesn’t have any profits to show. Good acquisition target for Amazon it seems.

Then, there is also Google’s strategy to suffocate the Windows Phone platform by ignoring it and depriving it of first party Google Apps. Another strategy that makes very good business sense, but not really in the spirit of “Don’t be Evil”.

In a broader sense, the “Don’t be Evil” Google is long gone, having been replaced by a business savvy one which is a natural transition for maturing companies to survive in the marketplace. I just hope that Google Services don’t do to the internet what Microsoft did with Internet Explorer and Office…

What is the most important thing you have learned about leadership?

from a NASA Astronaut

Answer by Garrett Reisman:

I've been meaning to post about leadership for a while now, thanks for asking the question and giving me this opportunity.

Here are some lessons that I have learned along the way from a variety of role models.

1) Have a grand vision – Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, CTO
As a leader, you can inspire and motivate your team to tremendous effect by communicating a vision in a clear, straight-forward way.  But don't think small – raise the bar really really high.  Elon wants us to make the human species multi-planetary.  That's different than a CEO whose vision is to increase the company's market share by 10% within 5 years.

2) Be Competent – Ken Ham, Commander Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-132
Being very good at what you do will inspire others to follow you and trust your judgement.  Ken is the best pilot I have ever flown with, and I've flown with a lot of good ones.  We did stuff in airplanes that I have only seen before or since in video games.  When he was at the controls of Atlantis, you had the feeling that everything was going to be ok.  Kind of like when Captain Kirk walks onto the bridge of the Enterprise.

3) Take Care of Your People – Nancy Currie, NASA Astronaut
This is an important principle that is ingrained into most military officers but is sadly often lacking in civilian managers.  Mentorship is important but moreover, doing whatever you can to advance the careers of your subordinates should be one of your prime duties.  Nancy was my branch chief in the Astronaut Office Robotics Branch when I was a rookie astronaut.  When a prime flight assignment became available for a skilled robotics expert, she went to the chief of the Astronaut Office and relentlessly championed me for the spot – despite the fact that she herself was a much better candidate.  Neither one of us got the job, but I never forgot her loyalty to me.

4) Give Your People as Much Autonomy as Possible – Chris Brennen, Caltech Professor
Resist the temptation to micro-manage.  If you telegraph the answer you expect to your team, then you are not going to get an innovative solution to a problem – or even a correct one.  When I would be struggling in the lab and talking to my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Chris Brennen, he would work with me at his white-board just long enough to make sure I was heading in a pretty good direction.  Then he would take the maker out of my hand and say, "you'll figure it out, now let me show you where we should go canyoneering this weekend" and he would start drawing topo maps of the San Gabriel mountains on the board.

5) Say What You Mean – Carl Fisher, former Senior VP of Northrup Grumman
Be a "straight-shooter".  Don't be passive-aggressive and resist the temptation to tell people what they want to hear, only to proceed in a different direction.  This is harder to do than it seems.  As Carl advised me, "To be a good program manager, don't worry too much about making friends.  If you need a friend, buy a dog."

6) Set the Bar High – Gerry Vandervoort, Parsippany High School Physics Teacher
You should have very high expectations of your team members.  Don't berate them for their failures, but challenge them with goals that seem above their abilities.  Elon Musk is exceedingly good at this too, but I choose to use Mr. Vandervoort as an example.  His physics class was tough, and he didn't suffer fools.  You had to want to be there – but as a result I was instilled with a love of science that never waned.

7)  Lead by Example – Roman Romanenko, Russian Cosmonaut
What you do is so much more important than what you say.  As a leader, you should be the hardest worker, the most well-prepared and the one willing to do all the things no one else wants to do.  When we did our winter survival training in Moscow, our commander Roman was always the first to go out to chop more firewood, the last to eat, and the one who carried the heaviest load through the forest. 

8) Allow Your Subordinates to Tell you That you are Wrong – Garrett Reisman
Often leaders who do their job too well end up surrounded by a bunch of "yes-men/women".  This can have disastrous consequences.  When I was the leader on a desert survival course our task was to navigate to a water source by map and compass.  I studied the map and proclaimed that a certain mountain peak in the distance was the one indicated on the map.  Then I told my team – it is the job of each and every one of you to prove to me that this mountain is not the one on the map.  We found the water and lived to tell the tale…

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On the Canon 70D Image Quality and other stuff

The other stuff is pretty interesting, plus the praise for the Nokia Lumia 1020…

Fake Chuck Westfall

Being the first is overrated. What matters is being the best. Google wasn’t the first search engine, but it’s the best. Facebook wasn’t the first social networking website, but it’s the best. Nikon was the first to deliver autofocus in video mode. But Canon now has the best implementation as seen on the recently released EOS 70D, thanks to the new on-sensor dual pixel autofocus technology. Take that Nikon and Sony.

We had to wait a little for it, but with this kind of technology I’m all for Canon Inc. taking their time to come up with a good solution rather than a crappy first implementation. This is also why we haven’t yet seen a flip out LCD screen on the higher end models, and why there’s no electronic viewfinder in our DSLRs yet. Trust me on this, once we get our electronic viewfinders out, combined with fast on-sensor…

View original post 1,686 more words

How has your age affected what is important to you?

Answer by Stan Hayward:

I am 83. Several years past my 'Sell by Date'.

I try to keep fit, and make more effort (though with less success) than when younger.

I don't make new friends, and every year I lose one or two, and forget to contact one or two others.

I spend much time trying to sort out things that need to be sorted by the time the end comes.

I put greater value on smaller things. That is, I try to enjoy everything I do; eating, walking, talking, and playing with the cat. It is a sort of reversion to childhood where you live for the moment.

I am a great believer in the philosophy of 'Plan as though you will live forever, but act as though you will die tomorrow'.

I no longer dwell on minor irritations, peoples faults, or things I have no control over.

I live a natural life of eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, and generally doing what I feel like doing most at the moment.

I don't dwell on dying, and rarely think of it except as an item in general planning.

Though some people of my age have been isolated by technology such as being computer illiterate and not comprehending the young of today, that has not affected me at all as I worked for years in the Computer animation field, which has always been at the forefront of technology.

So, how has my age affected what is important to me? It affects me in the same way as it affects everyone, and will affect you eventually.

It makes me put a value on who I know that I love, and what I have that gives me pleasure or helps my survival.

It enables me to see life in its simplicity, and gives me hope that the world in general will one day have enlightenment to live in peace.

A baby has three cries: I am hungry, I am lonely, I have pain. They are the only cries one needs to survive. Recognising those cries enables one to help others in need, and helping others makes it all worthwhile.

It is called Experience.

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What are the most difficult things people have to learn in their twenties?

"There  has never been a generation of twenty somethings who haven't identified  many of the ways earlier generations have "got it wrong." I have a  question for you. You are 26 years old. Except for identifying problems,  what have you, personally, done to help any one of the problems you  have identified? You are 26 years old. You have had plenty of time to  have started some improvements, somewhere. So many people want someone  to start the process of revolutionary change but are not willing to put  themselves out there and generate some of those changes, themselves. So,  I challenge you to move forward. You have identified problems, now make  a plan and execute it."

Answer by Kathy Hurst Davis:

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was 26 years old. She was very intelligent and very opinionated about many of the things that were wrong with this country.

Yes, she had it all figured out, from the problems with our two party system, down to the evils of WalMart who had run small business out of existance. She kept saying,  "We need a revolution. We need to make some positive change."

I told her, "You are not going to like what I am going to say." She said, "I hope it isn't the same thing my dad told me. He said that nothing was going to change." I told her, "No. That isn't it." Here is what I told her.

There has never been a generation of twentysomethings who haven't identified many of the ways earlier generations have "got it wrong." I have a question for you. You are 26 years old. Except for identifying problems, what have you, personally, done to help any one of the problems you have identified? You are 26 years old. You have had plenty of time to have started some improvements, somewhere. So many people want someone to start the process of revolutionary change but are not willing to put themselves out there and generate some of those changes, themselves. So, I challenge you to move forward. You have identified problems, now make a plan and execute it.

She was a bit speechless.

People in their twenties need to learn that they have much to offer and they should not wait for someone else to begin. Don't present a problem without presenting some solutions.

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So you really want to buy a DSLR?

Now that you have made up your mind on buying a DSLR and have hopefully allocated a budget, let me present you with what I think are your best options to spend your money based on my experiences over the last 3 years. I have kept the recommendations as platform agnostic as possible and tried to present options that will give you the most value in the long term. To start off, you’ll need to DSLR body and a lens to go with it. You can then add on other lenses and accessories over the course of your photography journey. You also need to choose the company whose platform you want to buy into as this will determine not just your initial options, but also your upgrade roadmap.

It makes sense to split your budget into two in order to choose the lens and body. A 50:50 or 60:40 split (lens:body) should give a good balance. The table below is based on Indian market prices, so if you decide to get the equipment from abroad, you should be able to get them 15-20% cheaper at the very least.

Body

Choosing the right DSLR body is an important first step, and the cost can range from around Rs 20,000 to a few lakhs. We are already in a situation where even the starter bodies give excellent results. However, investing in a higher end model gives you more room for growth as you get accustomed to the DSLR system. Typically, the starter models have the least capable sensor (about sensor formats), while the mid-range to pro\semi-pro models have similar ones. While megapixels should not be a driving force in Point & Shoot or Smartphone camera buying decisions, they still have some value in the DSLR arena. The images you obtain using a DSLR are of a much higher quality and more megapixels give you more cropping room.

Higher end bodies also have better construction quality with the pro models being weather sealed when paired with a suitable lens. Of course, this also means that higher end models are heavier. Apart from this, higher end models have a lot more controls in the form of buttons and dials. This makes it easier to access a lot of the advanced functions that a DSLR offers, but you will appreciate this only later on. In fact, buying a higher end body can seem intimidating if you are not used to tinkering with camera controls. The camera manual is something you should be prepared to read if you want to make the most of your new purchase.

Auto focus performance is an area where a higher end body will have a big leg up on the lower end models. This can make a tangible difference in the images you capture, particularly for moving subjects. Of course, the lens also plays a major role in this area.

A few other features to consider are touch screen capabilities, tilt & swivel screens and wireless flash control capability. While the first two features can make your life easier while using the camera and composing images, the third option is something that you will need a capable external flash to appreciate. An external flash is one of my recommended accessories, and this feature will help you use it even better (explore the Strobist blog on this topic, though you will appreciate it a lot more down the line). This feature is available on most of the mid-range bodies and higher up. Some OEMs (Sony, Olympus, Pentax) also offer image stabilization built into the camera body and this can make for cheaper lenses while making the feature available at all times.

My recommendation is to invest in a mid-range body (unless you can get a relatively recent pro\semi-pro model second hand) as they offer a good set of controls. Also, it is better to buy the model from a year or two earlier as the price will be a lot more reasonable, while offering similar image quality and features to the current year’s model. Starter models, while cheap will begin to feel limited in a couple of years once you get used to the system.

Lens options

First thing you need to do is to make yourself familiar with the terms like aperture and focal length as these are the basic parameters based on which you will be choosing lenses. Secondly, you need to understand that lenses do not come down in price unlike the DSLR bodies. So, it is better to either buy the lens that you want right now or save up for it rather than buying a lower quality lens and upgrading later. Thirdly, lenses are made not just by the companies that manufacture DSLR bodies, but also by other companies like Tamron, Sigma and Tokina for these DSLR platforms. Their lenses are usually cheaper than the OEM versions and can be a good deal on a limited budget.

The lens choice might seem pretty simple to begin with as most DSLR bodies come bundled with a lens or two (usually called kit lens). However, lenses can make the biggest difference in the type and quality of images you can take and it is typically better to skip the kit lens keeping the photography journey in mind. You could go for the kit lens in a few scenarios:

  • Constrained budget (option 1 of the table) – the kit lenses still give you really good images, way better than any Point & Shoot can offer. Plus you get 2 lenses covering a long focal length range (the lenses by themselves would cost over Rs 20,000).
  • 6 figure budget in which case the bundled lenses are actually premium ones
  • You will be shooting a lot of videos in which case going for the silent and smooth focusing kit lenses (Canon uses the STM moniker) makes sense

Other parameters to consider when choosing a lens (apart from focal length and aperture) are availability of image stabilization and the kind of focus motor being used. The former can help when shooting handheld while the latter can make for faster and silent focusing. If you plan to use circular polarizing filters with the lens, it also helps if the front element of the lens does not rotate when focussing or zooming.

My recommendation for a starting lens is to go for a general purpose zoom as this will let you shoot images in different scenarios. A lot of people suggest to start with a prime lens (fixed focal length, i.e., no zoom). While it does help you become a better photographer, a prime lens will make it difficult a lot of images as there will be situations where you won’t be able to move close enough or far enough to compose your shot. However, a prime lens makes for an excellent second lens and my recommendation is to get one of the 50mm versions eventually, unless you have gone for a wide aperture (f/2.8) zoom lens.

Even in general purpose zooms, you have quite a few options – starting from third party zooms like 17-50mm f/2.8 costing around Rs 20-25K to premium first party models like the 24-70mm f/2.8 costing around a lakh. Here’s a brief explanation of my recommendations from the initial table:

  • Kit lenses (normal zoom + telephoto zoom) – typically the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 & 55-200mm or 55-250mm f/4-5.6. These offer good value for money, but not the best possible image quality or convenience (particularly CPL filters).
  • Wide aperture zoom – typically the 17-50mm or 17-55mm f/2.8 lenses available from both OEMs and third parties. Both image stabilized and non-stabilized versions are available. While they may seem to be similar to the kit lens in terms of focal length, the image quality is considerably better due to the better quality elements used (check out the comparison image in the middle of this review). The other tangible benefit is the constant wide aperture of f/2.8 that results in a 2 stop advantage at the long end. Not only does it help in low light shooting (lower ISO or faster shutter), but it can also help you blur the background when taking portraits. You will also appreciate the constant aperture across the focal length range when shooting in manual mode as you don’t need to adjust the settings when shooting wide open.
  • Ultrazoom – typically the 18-200mm to 18-300mm variable aperture, again available from both OEMs and third parties. These may not offer very good image quality (on par with the kit lens), but make up for it with their focal length range. You are basically paying for the convenience of not having to carry around and change between two lenses. If you are not sure of what situations you will be using your camera or plan to travel quite a bit, this makes for a good choice.
  • High quality zooms – these are usually premium lenses made of high quality components giving you shaper and more colourful images. Most of these lenses have constant apertures and offer fast and silent focusing. Which lens you choose will be governed by your budget and focal length requirements.

Accessories

This is an area where you may not choose to invest immediately, but over time you can add on some basic equipment like a flash and filters for some interesting effects. At times in low light, you will find that even a DSLR does not give you the kind of images you had hoped for and the on camera flash makes things even worse. That will be the time to create your own get an external flash with a tilt and swivel head. Tripods are another frequently recommended equipment, but thus far I have not felt much need for it as I prefer handheld photography and image stabilization takes care of my needs. If you do want to go for a tripod, don’t bother with the cheaper models as they will not be very stable and I doubt you want your investment on the camera to come crashing to the ground. Instead, do some shooting and figure out whether you actually need one, and then be prepared to invest Rs 10-15K on a decent model.

You will also need to good camera bag to carry around your equipment and you are likely to get a decent one bundled with your initial purchase. That should take care of your needs till you decide to buy more lenses and\or a flash.

Which system to choose

My recommendation would be to choose either Canon or Nikon (especially if you are in India) due to their market presence and lens range, while Sony is a distant third option. Olympus also has its DSLRs, but they use a smaller sensor and their network and lens range is limited. Pentax is pretty popular in the USA, but their presence is practically non-existent in India. There are also the mirror-less models from Sony, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic but the lens options are again quite limited and they don’t really give you much advantage over a full-fledged DSLR in terms of size or weight.

Another aspect to factor in is which system your friends and relatives are using and choosing accordingly. This will enable you to borrow and exchange equipment, particularly lenses and open up more avenues for experimentation.

Personally, I am a Canon user (EOS 550D), and my decision was based on having used the Canon system of Point & Shoot cameras starting with the PowerShot A300 and moving up to the A630. Plus, the 550D was the best mid-range model in 2010 (Nikon had the D5000 then).

What you get for your money

Today, when you buy a DSLR, you are entering not just the world of still photography, but also that of videography. It will also be your first step towards building your photography platform of choice. If you are coming from a Point & Shoot or camera-phone background, then you will really appreciate the better quality images to begin with. Over the course of your journey, you will also experience the images that were not technically possible on your previous cameras due to their limited low light capabilities and slow focus. Just remember to carry your new DSLR on your expeditions.

The road ahead

I hope that I have given some basic guidelines that will make it easier to choose which DSLR to buy. You can always read up more on the web and check out the current market prices of the bodies and lenses. So, do some more research, make up your mind on what to get, and go get that DSLR.

It will be pretty tempting to spend more money on equipment once you have got the camera. However, the main area where you should be investing after getting your camera is in improving your skill (shoot as much as you can) and buying a few photography books should be a worthwhile investment.

If you want some ideas from me on what you should do with that DSLR of yours, stay tuned for my next post in this series.