The mobile computing revolution – choosing your next PC

To figure out your needs, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your budget? Are you willing to stretch it a bit if you get a significantly better device for a little more?
  • What are you planning to do with the device?
    • Make phone calls? – you will need a SIM card enabled device like a smartphone or tablet
    • Take photographs?
    • Check mail?
    • Send messages – SMS and\or an online messaging service?
    • Browse the internet? On the go, or at home?
    • Create documents? – smartphones and tablets are still quite limited in this area
    • Read documents and e-books? – a large screen with high resolution screen will help
    • Use maps and navigation capabilities? On the go? – GPS will be required
    • Watch movies?
    • Play games? Demanding ones or casual ones? – the hardware will have to be fairly powerful for a good experience
    • Edit images and videos? Casual or serious?
    • Make video calls? – a front facing camera will be required
    • Listen to music? At home or on the go? Radio or MP3?
    • Play CDs and DVDs?
  • How large a device are you willing to put up with? This will affect both usability and portability.
  • Do you need expandable storage?
  • How comfortable are you using an on screen keyboard?
  • Are you willing to spend time tinkering with the device to improve your experience?
  • Do you care if your device does not get the latest OS updates, but just serves your needs as it is?
  • Do you plan to install additional software on the device, purchasing them if necessary?
  • How important is battery life – are you willing to charge the device at least once a day?

Once you answer them, you will see that you can’t have it all. There will be trade-offs, and you will have to evaluate the areas where you are willing to compromise. Here are a few tips to help you decide:

  • If you don’t have a smartphone yet, get it – you’ll be able to do lots more with it as it’ll be with you all the time.
    • Android is the smartphone OS to go for if you are a big user of Google services like Gmail, Picasa, Maps etc. and also like to tinker with your devices.
    • Windows Phone provides a very good out of box experience with very little setup needed, and the phones are available at pretty attractive prices.
    • The iPhone is definitely nice to have, but the Android and Windows Phone alternatives are much better value propositions.
  • If you are serious about editing documents (Word\Excel\PowerPoint), you still require a laptop as the smartphones are too small for editing and the tablet software is not completely compatible with the document formats.
    • On a tight budget (below Rs 20,000) – AMD ones and not the Intel Atom ones.
    • For portability on a higher budget (above Rs 40,000), consider the Ultrabooks as they are significantly lighter than regular laptops but just as powerful.
  • Video and photo editing is possible on smartphones, tablets and laptops, but for heavy duty editing, you are better off with the laptop as these tasks require a good amount of computing horsepower.
  • Tablets are much better than laptops, netbooks and smartphones for watching movies, reading e-books and internet browsing.
    • Apple has a definitive edge due to its better app ecosystem, albeit at a single size – 10″. The iPad is priced quite reasonably in this area compared to its Android counterparts.
    • Smaller tablets are lighter and better than their larger cousins for reading while handheld.
    • If you are considering Android, then definitely look for the tablets with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or higher as the user experience is much improved than the older versions.

Just to add to the fun, Windows 8 will bring with it a multitude of tablets and hybrid devices (laptop + tablet combo), and the next year should completely overhaul the laptop market. So, if you are looking for a laptop, wait a few months. And, in case you thought the iPad was a bit big for your tastes, but wanted an Apple device, there might even be a smaller iPad announced by the end of the year. Revolutionary enough?

The origins of "bug"

One of the commonly believed origins of the term “bug” (as used in the software context) is the anecdote of a dead moth being causing the malfunction of the Mark II computer in Harvard in 1947. Well, it turns out that the term bug is much older and predates the computer industry by a pretty big margin. I found this out while reading Robert Cringely’s weekly post on Apple’s HD strategy (it is an interesting article by the way) where he’s mentioned the incident and the possible origins as a side note:

It turns out that “bug” was a common term for hardware glitches and dates back to the 19th century and possibly before. Edison used the term in a letter he wrote in 1878. This is no earthshaking news, of course, but simply reminds me how self-centered we are as an industry and there really isn’t much that’s truly new.

Wikipedia also mentions more or less the same thing in the etymology section for software bugs:

While it is certain that the Mark II operators did not coin the term “bug”, it has been suggested that they did coin the related term, “debug“. Even this is unlikely, since the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “debug” contains a use of “debugging” in the context of airplane engines in 1945 (see the debugging article for more).

So that clears up some word origins I guess, but the computer industry can take consolation in finding the first “real” bug :-).

Computer resistant game

I was going through the wikipedia page for Deep Blue (which I had followed through one of my feeds), and came across the game Arimaa (official site). The game was apparently developed by Omar Syed following Garry Kasparov’s defeat at the hands of Deep Blue. The game layout is quite similar to chess, and is played on an 8×8 board, but with different looking pieces, and different rules and objectives. There is also a wikibook for the game, plus a downloadable program.

Omar Syed designed Arimaa as a game which would be difficult for computers to play well, and there is a prize (valid upto 2020) for the first computer program which defeats a top ranked human player. The results so far have been quite convincingly in the favour of human players so far (2004-2007), with even low ranked players dominating the computer challenger.

One of the reasons behind this could be that not too many challengers are lining up. Another reason is likely to be the usual brute force approach used in chess programs does not work too well in this game due to its design.

So, for now we can easily say machine smart, but humans smarter.