Opinions

My Experiences with iOS and Android

The battle of the fanboys will never end. You could argue the minutiae of where one platform triumphs over the other all day but for any relatively unbiased user, both have reached an experience parity. They are both perfectly capable systems for standard usage.

I used an iPhone 5 for about seven months last year and have been using a Nexus 4 after that. I felt noticeable differences in my mobile habits on both. First and foremost, the camera. The iPhone’s camera is better at taking instant shots, perfect for that fleeting moment you want to capture. Sure, the Nexus can take decent photos but they require patience and time, the latter of which I rarely have. You have to hope that the Nexus got the exposure and focus right in your quick snap but it generally doesn’t while the iPhone does. Thanks to the quality+speed of the camera, I found myself using Camera+ and Instagram a lot more. Since I actually got good pictures, I would also post them on Flickr after editing them with Camera+ (and even Snapseed). For the Nexus, no photo app comes close to the blend of speed, functionality and UX pleasure that Camera+ offers, so my attempts at photography consequentially decrease in frequency.

Tweetbot and Day One

Tweetbot and Day One

Next up is Twitter. If someone were to plot my tweets in a graph, there would be a considerable spike in the months where I used the iPhone. Most of the credit for that would go to Atebit’s masterpiece, Tweetbot. Every little animation and sound effect it has are similar to the little bits of perfection I expect from Apple or Google (Now). Another spike would be in my journaling habits. I write for fun sometimes, about trips, events I went to, books I read, for this blog and Day One is the beautiful app which helps me do that. I know the makers were looking for an Android dev, so there will be an Android version someday but until it is, Day One is another thing drawing me to Apple’s ecosystem.

Lock screen notifications are better on iOS because the whole screen lights up with your alert and you can jump straight into the notifying app. Plus, Apple has a patent for this so fat chance of seeing this anywhere else. Beyond the lock screen though, Android wins hands down. The quick-actions and expandability within the notification shade are cool but it’s the icons in the notification bar are the important bit. They are a cognitive reminder of stuff awaiting your attention. I can imagine Apple’s design team deciding against a host of icons cluttering up the top of their pretty OS but a single “notifications waiting” icon would have done wonders. Maybe even a springboard-zoom-out effect where the notification goes into that icon after popping up. Otherwise, if you miss the notification when it shows up initially, you have no way of knowing what’s pending without actually swiping down.

Google Now

Google Now

The majority of my computer usage involves being online and the dominance of Google’s web services online is unparalleled. Built from the ground up to ensure that mobile users have first-class access to Google products, Android apps are well-integrated into their ecosystem. Google Now is the icing-on-the-cake, the cherry on the pastry, the breeze on a sunny day, whatever floats your boat. It unifies all the data Google has on you, analyses it to predict which information you need and presents it in a gorgeous cardified (Is that a word?) format. Under Larry Page, Google has also stepped up their iOS apps which, while not as tightly integrated due to iOS’s restrictions, still offer a great experience for their customers on the rival platform.

Being a human who likes to talk to people, messaging is another big one for me, particularly chat heads. I absolutely love having them accessible everywhere in Android. The floating heads are one possible solution to multitasking on mobile platforms but that problem awaits it’s solution on either OS. However, they are severely handicapped on iOS thanks to how guarded the OS is and the lack of proper inter-app communication . Until Apple allows it’s developers that advantage, Android’s Intents will have the upper hand in allowing the user to choose their app preferences. The iOS keyboard (though very accurate) feels glacial after getting used to one-handed swiping on Jelly Bean. I am sure the folks at Cupertino are experimenting with their own implementation but until they release it, El Goog wins this one. It’s need will be felt a lot more if the iPhone 6 rumors of a larger display screen turn out to be true. They have already solved the unreachable top-left corner by using the screen-edge swipe to navigate backwards in iOS 7.

Chat Heads

Chat Heads

The last one is the filesystem. While I don’t think it’s required for all users to have access to a file browser, it’s a must for powerusers. The developers, tinkerers and enthusiasts (like me) would love a ‘dev mode’ in iOS. Android is very enabling by letting me use the storage in whichever way I want.

My conclusion? If you need a smartphone, the iPhone is your best bet but if you want a computer in your pocket, then get a Nexus. I might switch back to iOS later this year for a couple of reasons. One, I am not satisfied with the camera or battery life of the Nexus and two, I am an iOS developer so owning an iPhone would make my life a lot easier. So, if you judge these phones objectively, they are both good but based on your usage style, you will gravitate towards one or the other.

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Life

MHacks : An Unexpected Journey

I have been getting increasingly involved in and learning about the startup scene, and hackathons are a big part of it. I attended a couple last year to get a feel for them but this time at MHacks in Michigan was my first complete hackathon.

It started with my roommate, Harrison, telling me about the roadtrip to Detroit that the online team at the Daily Bruin was planning. Given my nomadic nature and the promise of a fun time hacking with friends, I agreed immediately. It was eight of us on the trip: Calvin, Kenny, Daniel, Jeff, Aman, Amos, Harrison and me. We flew from LAX to Chicago’s O’Hare airport on the 16th of January and rented cars to Detroit.

The hackathon, going to three other states in USA and sub-zero temperatures (yes, Celsius) were among my many firsts on the trip. I was more excited than apprehensive about the latter because it had been a while since I experienced snow, (I lived in Shimla for a while but was too young to form any memories of it). So, with foggy breaths and layered clothes, we departed the airport to get the rental cars. A simple task which should have gone smoothly, if not for our frost-addled brains making us (accidentally) drive out the wrong car. It was a minor mix-up which caused Amos, Harrison and me to be late and miss the Willis Tower Skydeck but our disappointment was appropriately compensated by Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza at Pequod’s. Two large cheesy monsters from the depths of Pequod’s oven served to satisfy eight ravenous boys. If you are in Chicago for a day or two, definitely go there. Maybe climb the stairs to the Skydeck beforehand to burn off the calories?

Brunch at Riviera.

Brunch at Riviera.

With full stomachs and happy hearts (aren’t the two the same anyway? ), we proceeded to the Marriott in Hammond, Indiana for the night. Nothing notable happened there apart from my dismay at the hotel’s gym which consisted of one treadmill, a single bench and one rack of weights. When the other laggards finally woke up, we called upon the Yelp gods to find a local diner for brunch (Riviera Restaurant, if you’re interested) which served omelettes and hash browns in sizes which were only rivaled by their taste. After the sumptuous meal, we braved our way back to our cars, defying the icy winds which tried to impede our way and began the final lap of our journey to Detroit. A few hours later, after a drive filled with siesta, snow and storming for hackathon ideas, we arrived at The Qube.

The check-in line looked about a mile long but we were done in about five minutes thanks to multiple counters to parallelize the process. We quickly grabbed dinner from the tables on the 8th floor of the Chase building and descended to the 7th floor which was our assigned hacking station.  Daniel, Jeff and Kenny started working on a postal service using the Lob API, Calvin on Unoya <links> and Aman on his resume. Harrison, Amos and I worked on an iOS app which would give you clothing recommendations for your trip based on the weather forecast using the Pinterest and Weather Underground APIs. We ran into trouble on the server-side, so weren’t able to get a demo ready in time but there were plenty of other cool ones to check out. From Quidditch using an Oculus Rift to an automated nerf gun, there were numerous fantastic projects that were born at MHacks over the course of those thirty-six hours. We met hackers from all over the country, reached levels of sleeplessness which even made writing loops hard, ate enough junk food to double our body fat and had enough zapping out magical code that we would do it all again within two shakes of a duck tail.

Happy Hackers

Happy Hackers

From friday night to sunday morning, we exhausted ourselves staring at our laptop screens and when it was awards time, everyone except Amos and me had passed out. What were the best and worst parts? Logistically, it was a very well-organized event. Everything from the talks to the check-ins went smoothly but they failed at food. Quality tends to suffer when you have to serve a thousand people but quantity was lacking too. On the brighter side, Calvin won two awards for Unoya, the Dwolla API prize ($250) and the Causes prize (Four Raspberry Pis), effectively paying for his trip. After finishing up, we headed to the Adoba hotel for the night while Daniel, Jeff, Harrison, Amos and Calvin crossed the border to hit up canadian bars. Kenny, Aman and I had a succulent meal at the best Mediterranean restaurant in Detroit, so I didn’t feel too miffed about not going to the land of maple leaf.

On the snow

On the snow

Monday turned out to be a great last day thanks to the impromptu stop at the Great Lake of Michigan. We spent an hour prancing about on the frozen waves where Aman and Jeff proved themselves to be the bravest (and reckless? ) of all of us. They went a quarter mile out on to the ice while Calvin, Harrison and I stood back and waited for them to slip and break their necks. Watching the ice stretch out to the horizon felt surreal. If not for the houses on the beach behind us, it would have felt like a different planet. Almost makes me curious enough to check Antarctica sometime later this decade. When we got tired of being goofy kids in the snow, we rushed to the airport, grabbing spicy Gorditas from El Pollo Vagabundo on the way, only to find out that the flight was delayed by a couple of hours. After twiddling our thumbs at our gate and crashing the touchscreen at the nearby kiosk, we boarded our flight home. Back in LA’s warm weather, we bade farewell to each other and returned to our regular lives as superheroes in disguise.

Not for too long though. LAHacks is just a quarter away.

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Opinions

My Problem With Comments and RSS feeds

Unless you are among the people who rely exclusively on twitter to keep up with their favourite blogs and the latest news, you have surely run into the same problem as me. I have noticed a recurring pattern in my browsing habits. Everytime I check my feeds in Google Reader, I star/pocket some item after I have read them. Why? I want to read the comments.

News posts are all right, most of the comments can be ignored as the raving of fanboys. What about reviews, analytical articles and editorials though? These (usually) invite intelligent comments from the readers. Arguments and debates spark up and expand the story in way the original author never can. The simple solution? Subscribe to the comments feed which is available on a few blogs but then I will have to traverse through every comment on the site which is kinda unacceptable. Especially since services like Disqus make it easy to see the most popular/recommended comments in a jiffy. Maybe the sites which provide truncated feeds have got it right. Apart from ensuring page views for advertisers, they give you the complete experience after you click through to the main site but that defeats the point of RSS for me. Also, when I am accessing my subscriptions on my mobile, viewing the full we page isn’t normally an option given the constraints of connectivity and my data plan.

My suggestion for this mess?The top comments should either be included at the bottom of the article or dynamically generated on clicking the link. If the site employs some sort of custom commenting system, a browser extension could pull in the comments when the feed is viewed.
If you have faced this dilemma or (gasp!) solved it, do tell.

Update: I wrote this post in October 2012 but it lounged in my Drafts folder. Obviously, Google Reader is long gone now but this problem still exists with Feedly, Digg Reader, AOL Reader and all other RSS based systems.

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Computing

The ‘Superpower’ You Can Easily Learn

Code. Program. Develop.
Computer Science is not about cryptic lines of text which brainiacs spew out on their computer screens. It’s simply about breaking down a problem and solving it one piece of magic at a time. I wish they would air this video on national television. I hope atleast a few people go ahead and take an introductory programming class to become awesome.

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Just a short post I wrote as an outlet for my feelings after finishing ‘The Wheel Of Time’ series.

AB

Asides

A Beautiful Memory Of Light

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Indians. We are everywhere.
Life

End of year emotions and experiences

I have sat down to write this post a dozen times in the last few months. Pen to paper, hands to keyboard, thumbs to touchscreen – every time I try to put down the experience I have had since I arrived at UCLA, I falter. Not because I don’t have enough to write about but because I don’t know where to begin.It’s just been one quarter so far, but I already know why they say college changes people.

To keep myself from being overwhelmed and to avoid spewing out a book-length post, I am just gonna write about the most remarkable things I have experienced here.

Passionate people

The moment the professor of my ‘Intro to Programming’ class bounced to the podium, I knew the class was gonna be fun. When a man in his fifties talks with the boundless energy of a five-year old, it’s damn admirable. When he holds the attention of a couple hundred teenagers while explaining what a variable is for two hours, it’s worth an ovation. I have been coding for some time but I attended each lecture just for the enthusiasm that the professor injected into the class.

And it’s not just the professors, everyone I have met is incredibly passionate about their field of study. I have talked to students of music history, astrophysics and psychobiology and each one of them talks about their subjects with shining eyes and breathless eagerness. And being surrounded by such smart and motivated people, who strive for self-improvement everyday, just bolsters my desire to better myself as a person and a programmer. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better environment for my higher studies.

Friends Forever

Indians. We are everywhere.

Indians. We are everywhere.

My dad told me that the friends I would make in college would be the ones that I would remember forever. I feel the truth of his words now. Maybe it’s the simple fact of having no one but each other as family in college, but for a nomad like me calling someone a friend forever is a huge thing. I have friends who would rush over to help me at 3 in the morning without a second thought and I would do the same for them. Of course, the midnight adventures all over UCLA’s campus have helped bring us closer but I shouldn’t write about them so publicly.

School Spirit

I mentioned I am a nomad. Living at the same place, staying at the same school for more than a year is an exception. You can imagine it being kinda hard for me to cultivate school spirit, but in just three months here, I have managed to lose my voice cheering for UCLA more than once. The time when we crushed USC at the Rose bowl, the game against UC Irvine where both basketball teams were neck-to-neck, I felt an exhilarating sense of belongingness. It must help that in every presentation during orientation, the speakers would congratulate us for being good enough to be a Bruin. That it was we who made UCLA what it was. The attitude of outdoing yourself to be a better person everyday is one they successfully infect everyone with everyday.

***

I understand that this post might seem a bit abstract to some, a stream of excited emotions to others but to detail everything that has happened since September would take far too long. Future posts will hopefully be more specific if they focus on specific events. For now, I will just finish with a simple thank you. My gratitude for this wonderful new chapter in my life and the promise of another fun-filled eleven quarters. I hope they pass a lot more slowly than this one did.

Hope you had a great year and the coming one is even better!

AB

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Life

Revivals, Relocations and UCLA

It’s been a while since I wrote something on my personal blog. Wait, for that it would have to exist and it didn’t have an independent identity till last week.

Welcome to my blog. I was using this domain for my book blog, Akshul, but it has moved and been rechristened as The Bookmage. I used to post a non-book post every few months at The Bookmage but I have moved all of them here now. This will be my personal blog about my life and filled with my musings.
So, personal blog revived and the book blog relocated. Any updates? Yes.

UCLA. University of California, Los Angeles. I will be moving to Los Angeles this September to enroll at UCLA as a Computer Science major. Even for a nomad like me (LA will be my 12th city), this will be a huge change in culture, cuisine and city, so I am super-excited for this. I will also be blogging about the awesome time I will undoubtedly have there but I can’t promise regular updates because I have no idea how busy/free my schedule there will be. I will try to post as frequently I can.
Until next time.

AB

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Computing, Opinions

Stunning Graphics In Games: A Bad Thing ?

Reading an article NowGamer published, I started thinking if we have had too much of good graphics ?
Sam Bandah provides a good argument, one that I agree with. Not only in games, a visual bias does exist wherever you look. The world’s highest grossing movie if all time ‘Avatar’ was the most vitally stunning movie I have ever seen, but the story ? That was nothing new.
Another movie, Legend Of The Guardians, had amazing CG work but if I ignored the graphical feast, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.

We, I believe, have reached the plateau of the graphics curve. Quake 1, 2 and 3, Warcraft 1,2 and 3, these games had huge differences in their graphics, but when you see today’s games, how different do you find them ?
Assassin’s Creed was a game lauded by everyone for it’s amazing visuals, but if you jump to the gameplay section of any of it’s reviews, you will find the reviewers considerably less enthusiastic. Pushing the envelope is a good thing, but compromising gameplay and story for how well a game looks is not. Plus, the way games have been getting shorter and shorter, it results in less VFM for the gamers. The video game industry relies on games looking more real (because of our inherent bias that nice looks means actually fun ?) and that kinda explains the hype that is built up around games before launch, but eventually fall short. The same phenomenon is creeping into the mobile gaming industry, Epic Games’ Infinity Blade, rightly called the best looking game on mobile devices, is among the most linear games I have ever played. Same is the case with Rage HD. Sure, my eyeballs love them, but they get boring after a while. People bought them for the hype and the artwork, which satisfies them initially but the lack of other elements gets bugging quick.

Unarguably stunning, but can you run it ?

Game Studios need to realize that while a game’s graphics are important, they are there to only augment the fun. Spending a little less on graphics and more on gameplay would surely make a difference. Games like Little Big Planet, Bioshock etc. show that it’s possible to be make a game which looks good and remains fun to play. Half life 2 and it’s episodes are excellent examples as well. The Valve devs already had the Source engine and once they knew they had graphics good enough, they spent time on the story, developing the characters, optimizing the engine and ensuring a smooth experience. The upside of using the same engine  was that gamers didn’t need a new rig for every game ( Crysis anyone ?). I am not saying that graphics are killing innovation, but that a balance needs to be struck between graphics, gamplay and story for a game to achieve greatness. We have had the graphics revolution, now we need a content revolution too.

In the end, all I wanna say to the developers is that, we are happy with the level of graphics we have, give us games with better stories, gameplay and characters. Make them fun, so that we keep returning not only for the multiplayer but for the exciting single player that your game has.

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Entertainment

Chuck: Does A Reason To Dislike This Show Exist ?

Among the numerous boring and uninspired programs on the telly, its hard to find a show which excites you, entertains you and manages to keep doing it. Thankfully, I struck gold while channel surfing and found Chuck. Since then, it has gone on to become among my all time favorite shows. On IMDb, its summarized as : ‘When a twenty-something computer geek inadvertently downloads critical government secrets into his brain, CIA and NSA assign two agents to protect him and exploit such knowledge, turning his life upside down.’ I will admit I thought it was gonna be really cheesy, but once I started watching, I was in love. Let me walk you through why :

The Fantastic Cast Of Giants : You know that feeling you get when you are watching something and think that a role could be played better by a different actor ? That doesn’t happen once in Chuck. The casting is as close to perfect as I have ever seen. Zachary Levi (He’s a point on his own) , the gorgeous Yvonne Strahovski (she can act well too!) , Adam Baldwin (no wait, thats Jayne from Firefly), Joshua Gomez (or Teddy Bear in disguise), the awesome Ryan McPartlin as , uh…. Captain Awesome and Sarah Lancaster as the caring sister everyone wants. The chemistry is so good, the acting so natural that you can’t help but adore the characters. Also, you get some really good guest actors like Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton, Brandon Routh, Rachel Bilson etc. BTW They are called the cast of giants because most of them are over 6 feet tall.

Zachary Levi : He’s fun. He’s goofy. He’s charming. He’s vulnerable, endearing and kind. He’s actually believable. Levi does such an awesome job as the titular character, using all of the billion expressions he seems to have. Before I dedicate the full post gushing about him, let me just say that he is really talented and balances the drama, comedy and action of the show extremely well. Apparently, he’s a pretty nice guy in real life too if his tweets are anything to go by.

The Music : I am not kidding when I say this series has the best mix of quality music in any TV show I have ever watched. It perfectly fits each situation and is catchy enough that I often find myself humming ‘Cobrastyle’ by the Teddybears. The music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas is a long-time Josh Schwartz collaborator. She has a knack for discovering little-known bands and featuring their music on the show which obviously boosts their popularity and gives us more songs to fill up our iPods with. Even though there’s no official soundtrack, fans have put together an unofficial one. Also, you can see a list of all the music on the show on TVShow Music broken down episodically.

You will fall out of your chair : Unless you have weak bones which might crack when you fall from your chair or tend to choke on your saliva (I have seen it happen), you will find the show’s witty dialogs and general hilarity infectious. There is humor for every kind of person, from sarcasm to slapstick, one thing you won’t fall short when watching this show is laughs. It manages to infuse humor in the most serious situations and even in the action. Come on, after all the serious Bourne and Bond spying, you deserve to see how spying can be fun. Watch the video below for a sample.

The Storyline Just Gets Better

For part of the first season, the story is the usual ‘taking out criminals and assassins’ and is kept up by the humor and acting. Later on, it starts to kick ass. The story gets better, we get to explore the back stories of the characters, have some great villains, criminal organisations and get proper season long arcs. One of the things, the show has been praised for is how well it balances Chuck the Nerd Herder and Chuck the Spy,  every episode has a sub-plot at the Buy More which sometimes blends with the spy missions. The quirky but well-defined characters only help increase the awesomeness of the show. For instance, Vik Sahay’s role as Lester has often been commended for breaking out of the Indian stereotype. The romances, bromances and the mission are all well-written, kudos to the writers. Plus, the underdog story of how an $11 an hour tech support guy turns into the government’s most valuable asset never turns out to be a boring.

Action as good as the Movies

I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the quality of the fights and action sequences of Chuck. You get exotic locations, cool sets and proper combat. The fights and stunts are so nicely choreographed and well done that they even got a couple of Emmys for them. Casey with big guns, Sarah with her high kicks and Chuck…getting in trouble. Thanks to the variety of guest stars, there is always the pleasure of watching beautiful women sort things out the old-fashioned way. A lot of the stunts are done by the actors themselves, so its a lot more fun.

Apart from all the stuff I have said above, don’t you have that little spy inside you who wants all the cool gadgets, travels and the action ?  You know you want the supercomputer which teaches you how to perform martial arts moves ? You know, satisfy your inner geek ? Its available online, on DVD, and on TV. No reason not to watch it. I have heard this show called ‘Joyous’ and its the best description. Tell me if I convinced to check out the show in the comments. :)

Photo Credit : NBC
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Web

Between IPv4 and IPv6, what the heck happened to IPv5 ?

You have probably heard something about all the IPv4 addresses getting used up and the upcoming switch to IPv6. June 8, 2011 has also been declared as IPv6 day, when Google, Facebook and Yahoo! will switch to IPv6 for a test run and motivate other organisations to prepare for the switch to IPv6. Amid all the news about v4 and v6, what happened to v5 ? What was the fate of IPv5 ? Upon a quick google search, I found a helpful article by Raffi Krikorian. The summary of that article is that in 1979, engineers made the Internet Stream Protocol (ST). Its purpose was to transmit audio, video etc over the internet. Its adoption was started at NeXT, Apple , Sun, IBM but it never went mainstream. This was given the name IPv5, so the next iteration of Internet Protocol was given the next version : IPv6.

You can read the original article by Krikorian here. For a slightly enriched, history filled version, look here.

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