Thursday, 13 October 2016

If You Hate Chetan Bhagat, Ignore His Work.

Mohammad Jesus Chaturvedi is an avid reader. He was born with an account on GoodReads and is one of the most active bookworms ever known to the medical community.
As a self-proclaimed descendant of Geoffrey Chaucer, he hates Chetan Bhagat to the core. He blames Bhagat for everything that is wrong with the modern day English literature in India, nay, world. He loathes his literary skills so much that he reads every column CB spits out, every tweet he farts and buys every single one of his 'books'. He will be awake late into the wee hours at night, carefully gliding through each character just to critique CB's skills he so actively despises.
Such self-annointed literature nazis have cropped up across all social platforms. Release of CB's books is followed by week long tweets/posts quoting excerpts from his books, mentioning how degrading his portrayal of point of view of women really is.
They then go home, counting likes and retweets like a cocaine dealer counts his cash, and wonder how the hell is CB one of this country's bestselling authors.
Chetan Bhagat may not go down in history as the most popular English language author of the country, but his seven million sold copies, Filmfare award for best screenplay and much more, will be quoted to justify his popularity and presence in the bookshelves across the globe. Sigh!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Google Allo: What It Brings To The Already Existing Messaging App Space

“The single greatest feature of human species is its ability to effectively communicate and creating the means of accomplishing the same.”

No one great said this till date, but should have. It’s a relevant quote, especially in today’s era. Amazingly even Google has finally jumped on the bandwagon with its offering – Google Allo. Allo; short for Hello, is an apparent social app created to chase and kill WhatsApp, even though it is not obvious yet. With quite a lot of players in the messaging space already, Allo has to play its cards right. A lot of excitement already surrounds this newest entrant. There’s an expectation related to it faring as well as the existing players.
Here’s what our team of technical (not so) experts found on trial analysis of different aspects of the debutante.

Design and Experience

The user interface looks extremely simple with minimalist design and an orgasmic amount of whitespace. The colour scheme overall complements and attracts attention to the chat messanger. However, there are no options to customize the interface according to our liking, which we are pretty used to doing,  by now. For instance, chat background wallpapers, font customization etc is not available. While sharing images,  the image occupies the entire screen and as a result the chat messages get obscured. This seems like a bad UX (user experience) for an application that is supposed to be a messaging app.

Suggestion: Instead, Allo could use small thumbnail versions of the shared images.

In a complete white background on the landing page (a.k.a homepage), there is a single prominent colour element which is a FAB (floating action button). FAB gives you the option to start group chats, a chat with one of your contacts, an incognito chat or feel grand around “Google Assistant”. Google Assistant is a very distasteful rip-off of iOS’s Siri. You cannot really call it a poor man’s Siri, but rather a blind one’s.
Considering Google Assistant is a significant part of Allo, it should have been a loooooot more accessible, strictly from a UX point of view. Maybe another FAB which is a trademark of Google’s Material Design.

Delta Analysis: Allo looks like a product of a half-hearted effort put in User Experience.

Features and Functionalities

Allo heavily banks on its A.I. functionality named as Google Assistant; which is available for now for a preview version. Google Assistant reads and understands the message exchanges in the app. Accordingly comes up with automated reply suggestions. Over time it learns your messaging pattern, keyword preferences and even picks up on the slang you use.
Machine learning is an extremely fascinating approach and with Google’s Allo it seems to take a new shape. The capabilities of Google Assistant commands an opportunity to breathe before being dismissed. Yes we get it, it fails to answer ‘Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali?’. Apart from automated replies, Google Assistant also claims to have the ability to resolve your queries. It can suggest restaurants, movies etc from within Allo. It takes care of basic tasks like setting up alarms, reminders etc which in fact are much better accessible directly instead of going through additional set of actions.
The chats are not end-to-end encrypted and Google stores the chats indefinitely so as to study the messaging patterns and improve the algorithms to provide a more personal experience to users. As a workaround, Allo provides an incognito mode which allows the chats to be encrypted. The chats can also be timed to be deleted after a chosen interval ranging from 5 seconds to 1 week. Obviously you don’t get the luxury of Google Assistant having being cutoff at the source.
Other than these, Allo currently supports voice messages, image and location sharing, doodling on the images and provides some cool stickers you can play around with for an entire day.

Some Good-To-Have Features

Entering the arena of messaging apps very late, Google had the luxury of exploring features already provided by other major names. Improving on them or at least provide the necessary features as they are. Instead, Allo squandered the opportunity by not including some features users have become habitual to. Some of the features missing are file/document sharing, audio, video and contact sharing. Allo is currently available only on Android and iOS platforms with no support for web or tablet versions of it.
Also it seems odd having Allo compete with Hangouts, both being Google’s offerings. An amalgam of hangouts’ calling capabilities and improved chat capabilities of Allo could prove to be a handful.
Having lost a fair bit of time in launching an app in messaging domain, Google seems to be playing the long haul of releasing a far from perfect app. Just marking their presence instead of spending more time perfecting the app and losing any standing ground, studying user behaviour and habit and drop a better messaging app. Google’s willingness to sacrifice a prime element of messaging service – security, in favour of betting on Google Assistant hints that they may have something else hidden up their sleeve. Allo feels like an unfinished and hastily built app. It’s un-researched and built around the Assistant rather than it being a feature.
However, Google search, Android OS, Google Chrome are testament of Google’s enormous ability of building standards. That is instead of holding flagship in products and dethroning standing giants. We will have to wait and see if the trend continues with Allo too.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Compact Disks and Nostalgia

My laptop has aged well. Still works like a charm. No out of the ordinary demands. It’s been almost 4 years. No Botox. Except when it was opened up and its soul was cleansed some 6 months back. It came back refreshed. One fine day, its CD Drive popped open without being asked to. This became frequent in due course of time. It was like a stroke, in laptop terminology, a cry for help. I don’t know. But the day the drive first popped out surprisingly, I realized that those things had become obsolete. No self-respecting laptop wants it. A complete piece of shit, from a modern digital age perspective.

I have never seen a floppy drive in action. I did, however, had the honor of witnessing a Floppy Drive before they bowed down to evolution and were phased out to accommodate the CD drives.

But thanks to my laptop’s CD Drive’s cry for help, I was reminded of those days when CDs were the norm. That scratch-less, shiny rainbow-ish surfaces were alluring. Scratch CD pe nahi, dil pe lagta tha. Teachers too adopted the hipster way of asking us to submit projects digitally, on CDs. One lousy doc file or a PPT amounting to mere KBs submitted on a 700 MB CD. Dafaq? Pirated Himesh Reshammiya songs were sold in CDs for meagre sum. Oh and computer games – wonderful way of fucking one’s life. Classrooms were the exchange spots for computer games, music CDs, movies and whatnot. Encarta’s, Encyclopedia’s digital copies were exchanged in complete visibility of the teacher. Ladke padh likh ke naam roshan karenge, the teacher thought. Max Paynes, GTAs, IGIs exchanged hands hidden conveniently inside random notebooks.

Those delicate sensitive CD surfaces had to be provided additional security. Along came plastic CD cases, capable of accommodating a couple of the bad boys. Upgraded to CD wallets, comfortably holding tens of them bad boys. DVDs were a welcome upgrade in storage capacity. But what blew my mind were the re-writable CDs/DVDs. Those were a revelation straight from the heaven of digital age. And Nero – the magical software to write data onto the drives. What an age to be alive.

In the near future, the bulky, now useless CD drives will be replaced by an additional hard disk or something. They will be phased away for a more compact, more elegant storage medium, flashier than the flash drives. 2.0 USB ports are already making way for the 3.0 USB ports as our CDs lie peacefully, buried in their comfortable graves in some corner back home. Corrupted, forgotten.

Let’s vow not let the memories of Compact Disks fade away.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Late Night BS - When Your Wi-Fi/Mobile/Laptop Tank

When your Wi-Fi dies on you, you start exploring the rest of your laptop and realize there are a lot more applications installed besides your browser.
You dive into the storage, discovering a whole lot of things, scavenging through some weird folders created couple of years ago. The 2 year old you was weird but he was still you, so you decide not to delete the weirdness and hope your computer password is strong enough to prevent this from being exposed to the outside world, you know, where people judge people.
You end up watching a couple of episodes of F.r.i.e.n.d.s because when you have nothing, you have friends (the TV series of course).
A few minutes later your laptop gives up too because the U.P. government kicked in and electricity went back to it's hometown like 3 hours ago.
You power up your 'smart'phone to find some solace this time of the night/morning. You have no Wi-Fi as has already been established and an Airtel mobile connection is a myth. You end up listening to music, starting off with some soulful ones and all of a sudden Himesh Reshammiya nasal bombs your hearing abilities. It's time to update the playlist but...
'What do we say to effort ??'
'Not today.'
Your android 'smart'phone goes into power saving mode with one of the most annoying sound ever. You are helpless because it's still U.P. and power banks are a just expensive paper weights in these parts.
A little while later, your last escape from the reality - your phone tanks too.
You start introspecting. Guilt and shame surrounds you and that's when you, an atheist, turn into a theist, praying to the old gods and new (of Uttar Pradesh government) for the wonderful gift to humanity - bijli.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Cricket Needs to Give Associate and Affiliate Members a Chance

There have been soft murmurs advocating more involvement of non-test playing nations in ICC events and have become more vocal in the recent past. Ireland skipper William Porterfield recently asked ICC to increase the involvement of associates and affiliates so that cricket grows as a global sport in their respective countries. Netherlands made India work hard for their win back in a 2003 World Cup game, Ireland emerged as giant killers in 2007 WC. Afghanistan is making grown ass test playing nations piss their pants ever since they arrived. Taking a cue from Bangladesh team – a test playing nation, resembling an associate, finally seem to have come of age banking on exposure against their subcontinental neighbors. The question is why ICC has been trying to make cricket exclusive to test playing nations and inviting associates nations as and when it suits their interests? Wouldn’t it help throwing some cricketing experience their way right when they are in amazing form and filled with confidence?

Cricket began with one of fiercest rivalry in the sport between England and Australia leading to all that Ashes crap. Other than them, India, Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand were the only test playing nations for a long time, with South Africa suspended for a good 20 years owing to Apartheid. Limited overs cricket became a thing in the 1970s and the first World Cup was took place in 1975. Eight teams participated, including a sneaky little team from Sri Lanka, who were an associate nation back then. From then to now, the World Cup has gone on to include a mind boggling 14 teams and the next edition will feature 10 teams. To someone studying the history of cricket over time, this would be remarked upon as ‘an awfully snail-paced growth of an otherwise popular sport’ not to mention the ironical use of the word ‘world’. Sri Lanka became a test playing nation in 1982 and won a World Cup 14 years later. Not only that, they have made a name for themselves as a respectable cricketing culture which gave us remarkable players like Jayasuriya, Ranatunga, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Muralidaran. Just one example of how proper cricketing exposure can do wonders for not only one country but the entire community as a whole. Ryan ten Doeschate of Netherland has a prolific batting average of 67 in ODIs but doesn’t get the credit he deserves, being from an associate nation. He’s impressive in IPL though. O’Brian brothers from Ireland have been good too. Kevin currently holds the record for the fastest century in an ODI world cup.

Potentially talented teams like Ireland, Netherland and now Afghanistan need an ample dose of big games on a regular basis to identify their strengths and weaknesses and keep evolving into a better side. Quality games against top test playing nations will prove instrumental in the growth of such teams to graduate to the level of teams like Australia, India and the rest and eventually earn test status. Such games should not be limited only to major ICC events as they amount to nothing over a longer period of time. "We played nine ODIs against top-ten teams in the last four years between the World Cups, which is nothing.” points out William Porterfield, the Ireland skipper. A decent confidence in the national side will inspire a generation of youth at the grass root level to aim for the highest level and prevent fizzing out of talent as seen in the case of Zimbabwe who are still searching for their next Heath Streaks, Andy and Grant Flowers. 

A good start would be to include more teams in the major ICC events instead of trimming down the size of the tournament every 4 years. World Cup 2019 will feature 10 teams, down from 14 in the 2015 edition. Instead of making the tournaments favorable for the test playing nations, it should promote even competition with a different format than being used currently, probably take a cue from FIFA World Cup. Another option would be for every team to play a qualifying tournament for ICC World Cups, including all the test playing sides as well. This would ensure the associate nations getting a shot against quality cricket. Associate and affiliate members of ICC could be invited to train and play in the domestic tournaments in the test playing nations. With the advent of multiple T20 leagues in different countries, this seems like a certain possibility. And the richer boards could provide monetary support to promote the game in member countries.

The most popular sport in the world – soccer is played in over 150 countries. Each of them has a shot at playing in the World Cup. The qualifying campaign is not taken lightly as every single country has to earn the right to play in the FIFA World Cup. The second most popular sport, which happens to be cricket has only 10-15 active countries in the public eye. This needs to change soon. Cricket can be addictive. The rest of the world needs to feel the addiction as well.

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